Character Interview: Dave D’Alessio’s Forest

I ventured into the world of FANTASY/HUMOR author, Dave D’Alessio’s, story ‘The Yak Butter Diaries’ to meet his character, Forest, and asked him some questions. In this interview, ‘Kelly’ was written by me, Kelly Blanchard, and ‘Forest’ was written by Dave D’Alessio.

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A light snow fell the night before, and for long stretched the prairie was nothing more than a white sheet. It did not snow heavily this far south, and the warmth of the sun rising to the east suggested that the blanket would not last long.

The road was empty. People around here had hunkered down for the winter, living off what they had stored, and what they hunted, and what they could draw from their herds. During the winter here people kept each other warm inside. They had plenty of traveling to do once the spring muds had hardened up, driving their herds north to the great stockyards of Chikasa.

It was noon and the snows had started to turn to slush. In the distance, there was a herd of dark shapes standing quietly. Shaggily furred, with large faces and curved horns and strong shoulders: these must be the musk oxen the city was known for. A solitary bull, head up, kept an eye on the herd, and also, it had to be said, the traveler. It was the wrong time of year for the cows to interest him, but as far as he was concerned they were his cows, and no one was going to take them away without a good head butting.

The cows, more sensible by far, pawed at the ground, turning up tufts of prairie grass. Many were accompanied by a calf or two, each less than a year old, their spindly legs barely able to hold up their stately shoulders.

A man was with them. He wore a fringed leather jacket that looked plenty warm enough for the weather, and soft leather trousers, and a flat, broad hat that he took off and waved. “Howdy!” he shouted. “Town’s thataway!”

The town was indeed thataway. It was a good town, a happy town. It sprawled across the prairie willy nilly, houses built wherever the builder felt best building them, daub smeared on wattle, with a good, warm straw roof atop. Smoke rose from each, a fragrant, pungent smoke that made it clear the people knew which end of the musk ox was in, and which was out (in much the same way that big city folk claim, against all evidence, to know which end is up). Happy children played in the street, and here the riches of the town first could be seen, for the toys the children played with, the geegaws and fozwazzlers, had been made in the workshops of Wenyork, many days travel to the north, or even brought across the great ocean Wenyork sat upon. The men and women carried steel knives and kitchens were lined with copper and iron pots, despite the fact that no one could see a mine or smelter or tinker for miles.

One man watched the playing children, a tall, lean man with a broad smile across his leathery face. He looked up. “Howdy,” he said. “I’m Techs, the headman here. Are you lookin’ fer someone special, or just lookin’? Either way’s good.”

Kelly took a look around at everything, and she set her gaze on the man. “I’m looking for someone named Forest. Could you direct me to him?”

“Figured,” Techs said, amiably. A child’s ball skittered near his feet, and he flipped it back with a twist of the ankle. “This time of year he’s about our biggest attraction. Come on along.” He turned and strode off, clearly knowing his way around the randomly constructed streets.

Kelly furrowed her brows as she followed him through the streets. “What do you mean biggest attraction?”

Techs grinned and clarified. “He ain’t from around here. And then he’s his daddy’s boy. That Tamosan Acorn…he was a strange one.” He looked back at her, and added, “No offense but you to be a pretty strange one yerself, and you know about them birds and feathers and such.” He tipped his broad, flat hat to a passing woman and said, “Mornin’, ma’am.”

Kelly was a little confused but smiled. “Well, I’m not from around here either, but I was told to find Forest to ask him some questions. Don’t worry though, I won’t be hanging around too long. Just long enough to have a chat with him, and then I’d be leaving”

“Sure.” He led the way through the twisting paths, chatting amiably about such esoteric topics as differences in preparing roasted bean broth between cities along the Great Ocean and extinction rates among musk ox predators. “And we’ll never know fer sure, since they’s dead,” he concluded at the door to one hut. He raised his voice. “Howdy, you all. Anyone home?”

The hut was constructed much like the others, although the snow in front of the door, what was left of it by now, had been carefully brushed away. Like the others, it was made up of interconnected domes, rooms for cooking and sleeping and entertaining, typically. Unlike most of the others, a fourth, larger dome was connected. “That there’s the buttery,” Techs said. “His daddy built that.”

A hide drape…from the look of it a musk ox hide of a faintly bluish tint…opened up. The man pushing it aside said, “Howdy, Techs. What’s up? Want some hot broth?” He took in the guest and added, “You look like you could use something warm. Come on in.”

Kelly nodded as she followed him inside. “Are you Forest? I was told I could find you here. I’m Kelly. I’m not sure if you were expecting my visit though.”

The man called Techs waved amiably and ambled off as the man led her inside. “Yes, I’m Forest, this is Bethan, and our little girl, Singa,” the man said. He stood out from the others of the town in small ways that the woman did not. Like the other villagers she was very lean, her skin burned dark, and her hair blond and curly. Her eyes were bright, clear, and happy, and she smiled straight white teeth. He was, well, not quite like that. He seemed rounder, somehow, not fat, but rounder at the joints and rounder in the face. He seemed naturally darker of skin, not sun burnt but naturally the color of roasted bean broth with a lot of milk in it, and his short-cropped hair was black and straight. The others seemed athletic, while he appeared graceful as well. And his smile seemed crooked, somehow, as though he’d been fed oddly early in life. “Kuuky’s around here somewhere, too,” Forest added, peeking through the door flap. “I think he’s gone to get some water from the well.”

The hut, for being a daub and wattle hut, was remarkably clean and nicely appointed. Furniture was simple, most just rugs and cushions scattered across the floor, but the rugs and cushions were clean, well-made, and attractively patterned with geometric shapes in primary colors. Clean whitewash on the walls brightened the room. Again, many of the objects scattered around the room informally had a foreign look to them, as though they had been made elsewhere. One, a doll figure of a man with grotesquely padded shoulders caught Forest’s eye. “My dad brought that back from Chikasa,” he explained. “It’s a game they play there.” He pushed the doll into his daughter’s arms. Typical of a child that age, she promptly threw it across the room.

Kelly smiled at the small family. She nodded specifically toward Bethan. “My niece’s name is Bethan. She’s wonderful.” She smiled at her then set her gaze on Forest, watching as he dealt with his child. “So this place seems to be a ‘everyone-knows-everyone’ kind of place, and outsiders are quite obvious. Has that made your life easier or difficult?”

Bethan smiled at the implied complement. “Thank ‘ee,” she said, snatching up little Singa before she could hurtle into the fragrant fireplace. As for Forest, he just shrugged. “For me, no. I love it here. I must have been one when Daddy brought me here, something like that. I’ve never lived anywhere else that I remember.” He glanced to his wife and she said, “Don’t ask me. I don’t remember those days any better than you do.” Forrest waved his hand toward the west, toward the high ground barely visible on the horizon to the west. “Daddy carried me down from out there, and I’ve never seen a reason to go back.”

“So you’ve never left?” Kelly lifted her brows then glimpsed out the window to the horizon. “You’ve never ventured too far?”

“North,” he said immediately. With Bethan holding down the child fort, he got up to pour mugs of fragrant liquid from a pot hanging over the fire. “Want some roasted bean broth?” he asked, handing a mug to Bethan and taking one for himself. “North,” he repeated, “and east to the ocean. Every spring we run the muskies up to Chikasa, trade em up for food and such, and run that over the hills to Wenyork.” He shook the kettle, swirling it. “It’s good Wenyork bean,” he offered. “We make out pretty good working the triangle route for trede.”

“I’m good, thank you.” Kelly declined politely. “It’s definitely beautiful countryside. And it looks like you are very happy here…all of you.” She smiled at the family before setting her gaze on Forest. “Yet I understand that your father isn’t your birth father but rather adopted you. Do you know what happened to your birth parents?” She furrowed her brows.

“I told him,” Forest recalled. “I musta been thirteen, something like that. I told him, ‘You’re not my father, but you’re my daddy.'” He pulled up a cushion, sat on it cross-legged, and blew across his mug. “He helped my mama birth me. She died, and he carried me to the nearest town and took care of me. As for my real father, I don’t know him, I don’t want to know him, and if I meet him I’ll probably punch him in the eye.” “You could hit him with your stick,” Bethan suggested, smiling to indicate she was joking, but he answered seriously, “Do-se-d’oh is for self-defense. If I want to hurt someone personally…” He rubbed his hand across his knuckles and laughed. “But I ain’t gonna see him, so it won’t come up.”

“I don’t blame you for your hostility toward him even though you’ve never meant him, but have you ever simply wondered ‘why’ he wasn’t there? Why he left?” Kelly looked at him. She hadn’t been invited to sit yet, so she didn’t sit. She wasn’t sure what the customs were of this place, but she knew to wait until she was invited rather than simply presuming. “I’m good friends with some siblings that were adopted, and they’ve always had questions. Not because they are unhappy or discontent in their life. They just want to know why. Has that ever plagued you?”

Forest leaned back on his cushion and stretched out his legs. Jokingly, Bethan pushed him aside. “Make room for someone else,” she said, still hanging on the the squirming little girl. Forest pulled his legs back and said, “Take a load off, Mary…Sorry. I know your name is Kelly. It’s a line from an old song.” He smirked to himself. “My daddy couldn’t sing at all…Him I miss. He headed off north a couple years back and no one’s seen him since, not even in Chikasa.” He pulled his legs in and wrapped his arms around them. “You know who I’d like to see? My godmother. But all I know about her is that he name was Mother Nanaw, she gave me my baby name, and she owns a couple donkeys.” He glanced toward the west and asked, “There a lot of ladies that own two donkeys that way?”

Kelly sat finally and furrowed her brows, a little uncertain what he was asking. “Neighbor’s family owns donkeys, but not me or anyone I know other than that.” She shook her head, but then she set her gaze on Forest. She realized he didn’t answer the question she had asked, and she would let it slide–for the moment. “Why did your daddy leave?”

Forest sighed, probably unconsciously. “He was raised by monks, you know?” He voice is quieter. “They send him out down the mountain to find his place in the world…That’s what he was doing before he found me, looking around the world for his place. Man, the stories he used to tell. I think half of us here didn’t believe any of them. Then a couple days before the wedding, a stranger come to town and gave him a walking staff and a pot. It had real yak butter in it,” he said as Bethan reached out to take his hand in hers. “That told him it was time he was on his way again. ‘Now you have your place,’ he told me, ‘and I must find mine.'”

Kelly frowned as she leaned forward.  “But if he was here with you, had a life here, wouldn’t that be his place?”

Forest shrugged. “I guess not. Everyone here thought he was a little strange, so maybe you could say he had a good life in the wrong place.” He thought back, eyes looking away to nowhere. “He used to get up every morning, to meditate and practice his do-se-d’oh, when a regular fellow would have just stayed in the sleeping furs. And he set up the buttery.” He laughed. “We made out good with that. They give us great trades on musky butter, don’t they. After that cow butter they get in Chikasa, they can’t get enough of the musky butter…But dad always said yak butter was better.” He fell silent for a second and said, “Maybe once you’re raised on something, a substitute just isn’t right, if you know what I mean.”

Kelly nodded. “But you’ve settled in quite well, it seems. Even though you too are a bit different, it seems you’ve found your place.” She smiled at him. “So do you wonder about him? Where he is now? If you could tell him anything, what would it be?”

Forest glanced over to Bethan, but she wasn’t looking. Sometimes a mother has nothing better to do than fuss with her daughter. “I think about him all the time,” he said in a quiet voice. “I mean, I’ve talked to old Kuuky. He’s like sixty, and he says you never stop missing your daddy. When he is?” He shrugged. “We went outside that night, out in the dark after the wedding. I asked him where he was going, and he tossed his staff in the air, and in came down pointing north, and he said, ‘North.'” He thought back to day night. “It was pushing fall, so north was not best way to be going that time of year, but the stick pointed north, so north he went. He was like that.” He shrugged his shoulders. “If you see him, tell him he’s welcome back any time. Maybe it’s not his place, but he’s welcome to put his feet up for a while.”

Kelly nodded as she smiled. She thought about the course of the conversation and determined that this was a good stopping point. “Well, I would stick around to ask more questions, but I have elsewhere I need to be, and I think I’ve imposed on all of you for long enough.” She rose to her feet. “Thank you though for agreeing to meet with me and for answering my questions. It was delightful to chat with you.”

Forest got up to his feet, standing politely for the guest. “Sure, you, too,” he agreed. “Want a pot of butter for the road? It’s good musky butter, fermented for three months. Real good on a stack of flat cakes or a porridge.”

“I’m afraid I won’t be able to take it with me where I’m going, but thank you.” She smiled at him. “I’ve got to get going. May all of you have a wonderful day. And thanks again for the meeting! Take care of yourself.” She nodded to them before heading out.

<~>~<~>~<~>

Dave D’Alessio’s novel, ‘The Yak Butter Diaries’ can be found on Amazon. Also, be sure to follow him on social media for more updates on his work!

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N202JXA

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Character Interview: Melissa E. Beckwith’s Rhiannon

Fantasy author, Melissa E. Beckwith, invited me into her story world to meet with her character, Rhiannon Kossi. This gave me the opportunity to sit down with the young woman originally from modern day Montana who found herself in a whole different world when she was trying to discover what happened to her mom. She learned a lot more than she ever expected, and this interview explores a bit of it. ‘Kelly’ is written by me, and ‘Rhiannon’ is written by Melissa E. Beckwith. Enjoy!

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Rhiannon Kossi watched as Flath and Teo brought out a table and sat it in a sunny spot of the small opening.  Tim followed behind them carrying two chairs then quickly ran back to camp to bring some refreshments.

“Thank you, boys!” Rhiannon called and smiled up at Flath

“Anything for you, your Highness.”  Flath gave a ridiculous bow then stood up and smiled at her.  A soft summer breeze ruffled his blond hair, his golden panther earring glinting in the sunlight.  She leaned in and kissed his lips.  “Do not linger too long, Greannmhor, we must be on our way north soon,” he said then turned and left to help the others pack up the camp.

Rhiannon walked over to the table.  Tim had put out some hard bread and a little cheese and some sliced apples.  There was a jug there she knew held some kid of dark liquor and two wooden cups.  Rhiannon sighed, no silver tea service here, she thought.  She hoped Kelly would not mind.

Nervously she walked around the table and picked things up then mindlessly sent them back down.  She thought it was odd that The Muse would want to interview her, but ever since she got taken through that darn Tree of Jur and brought into this world, nothing made sense. Oh well, what harm would there be in giving an interview?  Queen Baobh already knew she was in Beaynid with the rebellion and was now on her way north to Ventra, to her people, the Archigos.

Rhiannon looked through the trees for any sign of Kelly, The Muse, and so far, saw nothing.  She turned her face up to the warmth of the sun and took a deep breath.  Soon she would face the Archigos.  Would they even accept her?  With her eyes closed she listened to the sound of the camp being packed away.  She heard men’s relaxed voices and horses off in the distance.  Song birds sung joyfully in the boughs of trees as squirrels scolded each other.

Suddenly she heard soft foot fall coming towards her and Rhiannon opened her eyes.  There was a beautiful young woman standing in front of her with a knowing smile on her face.  She could only be Kelly, the Muse.

Rhiannon held out her hand in greeting, “Hello, Kelly, it’s nice to meet you.”

Kelly smiled as she shook Rhiannon’s hand, but she also gave her a respectful bow at the same time. “So, what am I to call you? ‘Your Majesty’? ‘Empress’? People with titles can be finicky with how others address them.”

“Oh, well, you  can just call me Rhiannon, really.  I’m not sure how all that will go when we finally reach Ventra,”  Rhiannon laughed nervously, “I’m not the Empress yet, right?”  Rhiannon motioned over to the table.  “Here, please set down.  You’ve probably traveled far.  I mean, we are out in the middle of the Alba Forest.”

Kelly followed Rhiannon to the table and sat down. Then she glimpsed around, taking in her surroundings. “It’s quite a pretty place here. How do you like it compared to Earth?” She glimpsed back at Rhiannon.

“It’s different, that’s for sure.  Every decision I seem to make is either life or death.  And I’d kill for a bubble bath right about now,” Rhiannon snickered. Just then Luna, Rhiannon she-wolf trotted up and lay at Rhiannon feet.  “Please don’t mind, Luna.  She comes and goes as she pleases.”  Rhiannon smiled and petted her wolf’s furry head.

Kelly smiled at the beautiful wolf. “She’s lovely. However though, before we start talking about life here and how you’re adjusting, tell me a bit about what life was like back on Earth for you. Where did you work? Did you get a degree? I’m just curious to see how that life may have helped prepare you for this life.”

Rhiannon looked out over the forest basking in the summer sun trying to remember her life on the ranch.  Then she suddenly remembered she hadn’t even offered Kelly anything to eat or drink.  Please forgive my manners.  Would you like something to eat.  I’m afraid we don’t have anything very fancy here.  But we do have some strong liquor.” Rhiannon smiled nervously and cursed herself for not being more outgoing.  How would she ever lead a nation of warriors if she can’t even keep herself under control during a cozy interview with a friendly woman?

Rhiannon quickly poured two cups for her and Kelly and then she took a quick drink.  The liqueur burned her throat and warmed her body.   “Okay, back to the question.  Sorry. I grew up on a cattle ranch.  My father, Peter was a ranch hand working for Daniel Foster.  My childhood was pretty normal.  I went to public school, and though I was mercilessly teased for having darker skin and being the tallest kid in class, I liked school.”  Rhiannon took another drink trying to bolster her confidence.  Why was talking about her childhood so hard?  She started talking again, “I didn’t want to go to college, though  I just stayed on at the Ranch.  Eventually, Daniel’s son, Matthew, and I fell in love and we were engaged.”  Rhiannon smiled at the thought of Matthew and wondered how he had taken her disappearance.

Kelly leaned forward, setting her chin in her palm as she was curious. “And what happened between the two of you?”

Rhiannon was brought back to the present by the sound of Kelly’s voice.  “Oh, well over the winter I started having these really vivid nightmares.  I could really understand them but slowly I just started to feel numb about Matthew.”  A sad look darkened Rhiannon’s face.  “After a while I broke up with him and moved off the ranch.  I started waiting tables.  God, I hated that.”  Rhiannon shook her head and frowned.  “Finally, in the spring I had had enough and called my father and told him that I wanted answers about how my mom died.  I knew all those nightmares had something to do with her.”  Rhiannon shook her head and sighed.  She quickly took another drink from her wooden cup.  “My father finally said he would tell me everything, so the next afternoon I showed up at his cabin but he was missing!”

“And you went to look for him but somehow ended up here,” Kelly assumed with a nod. She furrowed her brows though as she thought back this some more and sat back in her chair. “And now you’re the leader of a rebellion on an entirely different world. How did that happen?” She chuckled, bewildered at the thought.

Rhiannon looked over at the men still breaking down camp.  She saw Flath busy at work and smiled affectionately at him.  She looked back over to Kelly and smiled.  “Well, Flath is leading the rebellion.  He and his men have been fighting Queen Baobh for over a year now.  But I guess me and my Archigos Warriors are their only chance.  That’s why they are taking me north.  I’m not sure if they will even accept me, but I guess they have to…”  Rhiannon’s voice trailed off.  Then she pulled the neck of her tunic open and showed Kelly the bright, red diamond-shaped birth mark over her heart.  “This is supposedly the Mark Of The Empress.  I don’t think they will have a choice since I am the daughter of Sernia, their Empress that was killed when I was six.”  Rhiannon sighed, “But I’m still nervous about being accepted.  The stakes are so high.  Flath and the Rebellion can’t win without the help of the Archigos.”  Rhiannon had a sad look on her face as she looked at Kelly.

Kelly considered Rhiannon for a moment, and then she leaned forward, locking eyes with her. “Going from being a nobody to being an Empress is a massive change. Are you ready for that?”

Rhiannon laughed softly, bitterly.  “No way.”  She shook her head.  “I don’t want it.  But I’ve seen too much here.  I’ve discovered who I am and what my purpose is in all this and it is as The Empress of Ventra.”  Rhiannon ran her hand through her long dark hair and leaned towards Kelly, looking into her eyes.  “I was told about about a prophecy,”  she began.  I didn’t want to believe it.  I fought not to believe it.  But I can’t fight it any longer.  I must take my place in this prophecy and bring an end to Baobh’s rule.”

“But how do you expect people to believe in you and to follow you when you have nothing to show for it?” Kelly lifted her brows as she sat back in her chair. “I’m merely asking these questions to get you to think, so when the time comes, if others ask the same questions, you will have a ready answer. But truly, these people have dealt with their current ruler for quite sometime now. You’ve a complete stranger. What knowledge do you have of the ways of the court? Or all the traditions and rituals of this land?  Has Flath or someone sat you down and given you a crash course?”

Rhiannon’s laugh was bitter again.  “Living here has been a crash course.  I don’t know anything about the way of the court, and even if I learned about things in Sona Tuath, I’m sure things are much different in Ventra.”  Rhiannon shook her dark head.  “All I have as proof of who I say I am is this birth mark,” she put her hand over the birth mark on her chest.  “and the memories I know have of my mother, their empress, and how she was killed by Baobh.”  Rhiannon took a deep breath and patted Luna’s head for reassurance.  “I suppose the Archigos will train me in the ways I need to know to rule their nation.”  Rhiannon got an unfocused look in her dark eyes as she pictured what it might look like in Màrrach, the capitol city of Ventra.  “The problem will be getting them to agree to come down here and fight with rebellion.  You see, the Suens and the Archigos hate each other.”  Rhiannon gave Kelly a direct look.

“Ahh…” Kelly nodded. “Sounds like you have quite a few complications ahead of you. Okay, so…to understand correctly, is Flath Suen? And you technically Archigo? I’m sorry I don’t know the terminology. Consider this a mini-crash course for me.” She smiled at Rhiannon. “I need to understand a little better, so I can ask the right questions.”

Rhiannon laughed and gave Kelly a warm smile.  “Yes, I am, so I’ve been told constantly since I arrived in this world, an Archigos.”  Rhiannon looked back over to Flath who was in an animated conversation with Tim and Teo.  She looked back over to Kelly.  “And Flath is a Suen, yes.  There in lies the rub…”  Rhiannon’s voice faded away.

“Because you and Flath have feelings for each other?” Kelly raised her brows.

A huge, bashful smile crossed Rhiannon’s face.  She almost blushed.  Oh, come on, she thought.  You’re almost 30, what is wrong with you, acting like a school girl. She looked back up to Kelly, still smiling.  “Yes.  I have quite fallen for the rebellion’s leader.”  She laughed quietly.  “The Archigos will have a hard time accepting him, but they won’t have a choice.  After this war is over he’s going to come up to Ventra and help me rule.”  She lifted her chin, almost in defiance, then thought her self silly.  Kelly didn’t care.  She must be practicing for when she had to face the Archigos.

Kelly regarded Rhiannon for a long time, seeing the defiant look on her face. “Want my personal opinion? Marry him before you become Empress. That way the court won’t have any say in who you marry. Once you become Empress, your life is no longer your own. The people and court will dictate what you will and will not be allowed to do. You may think you will be the most powerful person in the land, but…” Kelly shook her head. “You are a stranger. All you have is a birthmark and memories–which may or may not be induced by some magic user. You need them to trust you. So before all that happens, if you and Flath love each other, marry him before all the royal requirements come into play.” But then Kelly shrugged and smiled. “Of course, you may do it however you see fit, but…knowing how royal courts can be…just because you and a few people believe you are the rightful ruler, doesn’t mean everyone will have the same opinion…especially if they’ve been ruled by another by some time.”

Rhiannon took another drink from her cup and set it down slowly, thinking about just how true Kelly’s words were.  She wondered if Flath would marry her now, before they went to Ventra?  She sighed.  It did look so hopeless.  Kelly was right, all she had was this birth mark.  Would her cousin, Shankee, who had been ruling as the proxy empress for twenty-four years even accept her?  Rhiannon looked up at Kelly and smiled.  “You are very wise, Muse.  I think you’ve seen much.”  She smiled.  “You have given me a lot to think about, for sure.”  She lifted her head and laughed, “even more to worry about, too!”

“I’d rather you know the possibility that are ahead of you instead of having you go in with blind confidence.” Kelly shook her head. “Of course, if you marry him now, the court may demand you annul the marriage before allowing you to take the crown. But on the other hand, if you don’t marry him before you take the throne, they would demand you marry other suitors, and if you insist on Flath, they may want you to abdicate your throne. It’s a tricky situation you’re in. If you can get the two different races to come to an agreement and not hate each other so much, then you have a chance.” Kelly then tilted her head to the side. “How do you plan on accomplishing that anyway?”

Rhiannon shook her head.  “It sounds hopeless, doesn’t it?”  She frowned a little, thinking.  “Well, most of the hatred for the Archigos comes from the Seuns within Sona Tuath.”  Rhiannon swept her arm across the opening.  “Out here, further from the castle people seem to be more tolerant.  But I figure that if the Archigos finally rid Beaynid of their despised queen, they will feel enough gratitude to at least start feeling less hateful towards their neighbors to the north.”  Rhiannon took a deep breath and let it out slowly.  “Now the Archigos might be a whole different story.  I have no idea how deep their hatred of the Suens goes.  I will have to asses the situation once I get there.”  Rhiannon shook her head.  That seemed like a lame plain, even to her.

“Do you have any idea why the hatred is there?” Kelly lifted her brows.

“Luckily it’s not a long standing hatred, so perhaps there is hope.”  Rhiannon looked out over the forest as a flock of starlings flew overhead.  She slowly gathered her thoughts.  Finally she started talking again.  “After Baobh killed my mother and took her necklace, The Necklace of Verna, so that she could take the throne of Beaynid, the Archigos descended upon Sona Tuath seeking vengeance.  However, with the power of the necklace and the help of Lord Rull, the mighty Archigos were slaughtered.  But not without taking most of the men of Sona Tuath down with them.”  Rhiannon shook her head.  “Even though they were not happy with Baobh, they never forgave the Archigos for that war.”  Rhiannon smiled sadly. That is what I have to overcome.

“Well, since it isn’t longstanding, as you said, it should be a bit easier for you to unravel, but you’re gonna have to sit down and talk with them and not let them leave the table until they’ve resolved their issues. That…that’s not going to be a fun conversation.” Kelly grimaced. She knew how complicated it was with such discussions in her own family, and that wasn’t even royalty or members of a court. She did not envy Rhiannon for what she would have to do.

“However, on to another topic,” Kelly smiled. “How did you meet Flath anyway? And what about him has you so…taken?”

Rhiannon immediately seemed a smile, all thought of bloody wars behind her.  “I had just escaped Baobh’s men, the ones that pulled me through the Tree of Jur, and was wondering around lost when Teo found me.”  Rhiannon turned and pointed over to a stocky man in his late thirties with a shock of bright red hair and a bushy red beard.  She turned back to Kelly.  “Teo took me to Flath who thought I was spy,”  She laughed and shook her head.  “He didn’t know what to do with me.  He took e to the Prophecy Keeper, who happens to be Teo’s mother, and that’s where we learned of the prophecy that says I am supposed to be the one to bring ruin to Baobh.”  Rhiannon got a sad look on her face again.  “It was then that Flath decided he needed to take me to the Archigos so that I could be trained and hopefully lend help to the rebellion.”  Rhiannon leaned in and looked into Kelly’s eyes. “But by that time we were already in love.  However, I still have to go and do my duty,” she said in a forlorned voice.

“Unfortunately duty does take precedent over love at times, and that is difficult. However, if the two of you are committed to one another, and are always honest with one another, you can make it work.” Kelly gave Rhiannon a hopeful smile. “Now though, what about your father? You haven’t found him yet, have you? When you do, what are you going to do? I’m sure you will have many questions, but…he did take you from here to Earth for a reason. Do you forgive him for not telling you everything? Or is that still difficult to accept?”

Rhiannon got a faraway look in her dark eyes.  finally a tear slipped down her cheek.  “I do forgive my father.  He was doing what he thought was right.  He was trying to protect me from Baobh.”  She sadly shook her head.  “We have not been able to rescue him.  Baobh still hold him in her dungeons, hoping to lure my to Sona Tuath.  The only hope I have of seeing my father again is if the Archigos help to overthrow Baobh.”  Rhiannon smiled again.  “And then we will have a reunion and I will finally get to ask all those questions that I wanted to.”  Suddenly Flath called out to Rhiannon, “hurry it up, Greannmhor, we must leave soon!  Looks like the weather is turning.”  Rhiannon waved him away in a dismissive manner.  “Sorry about that, Kelly.  Go on.”  She smiled warmly at the woman.

Kelly looked up at the sky and saw clouds were beginning to gather. She could also tell the time of her interview was coming to a close, so she knew she had to wrap it up.

She smiled at Rhiannon. “Flath is right. I’m going to have to go soon anyway, but one final question, do you miss the simplicity of your life back on Earth? Would you trade one for the other? Or are you very content with the new life you’ve found here?”

Rhiannon looked out again over the Alba Forest and mindlessly stroked Luna fur. Finally she sighed and spoke.  “I do, at times, miss the care-free life I had on the ranch.  But I’m part of something so much bigger, now.”  She looked into Kelly’s eyes.  “I have to avenge my mother and help the people of Beaynid who suffer under Baobh’s rule.”  She got a little smile on her face, then.  “And then there’s Flath, of course.  I’m so thankful I met him.”  She laughed.  “I know, sappy.”

Kelly shook her head with a smile. “Not sappy at all.” But then she sighed and rose to her feet. “I must apologize, but my time here has come to an end. I need to be leaving. However, I appreciate you taking the time the talk with me and answer all my questions. I hope you the best with all your endeavors.” She smiled at her.

Rhiannon stood with Kelly and smiled.  “Thank you for your time, Kelly.  You gave me a lot to think about, and hopefully I’ll be more prepared when I do meet my people in Ventra.  Have a safe journey, friend.”

“And you as well.” With that, Kelly bowed to Rhiannon and then turned and went on her way.

<~>~<~>~<~>

Melissa E. Beckwith’s novel, ‘The Empress of Ventra: The Sword of Rhiannon: Book One’ can be found on Amazon here:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Empress-Ventra-Rhiannon-Fantasy-Romantic-ebook/dp/B01NBNZ6VJ

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Character Interview: Nan Sampson’s Charlie

Over the last year or so, I’ve interviewed many of Nan Sampson’s characters. One of those characters was Charlie. If you would like to read the first interview I conducted with him, you can find it on Nan Sampson’s site here: https://nansampsonauthor.com/2015/07/30/an-interactive-character-interview-meet-charlie-mccallum-from-my-ellie-gooden-mystery-series/. 

In this interview, I was able to catch up with Charlie and see how life was treating him. As always, ‘Kelly’ was written by me while ‘Charlie’ was written by Nan Sampson.

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Charlie McCallum sat in one of a pair of broad, chintz-covered, wing back chairs in front of the fireplace in the study of the Birches Inn, crossing one leg over the other and vice versa, drumming his fingers on the arm of the chair.  He ran long fingers through his mop of curls, which had grown overlong during his recuperation from his broken leg.  He really needed to find a place in Horizon to get it cut—maybe Per, his new landlord of sorts, could recommend a barber.

The Birches Inn was a lovingly restored Queen Anne Victorian that sat on a hill just outside the small, southwestern town of Horizon, Wisconsin.  Once the home of a mining baron, it was now the premier place to stay in the county for tourists, wedding parties, honeymooners and even the occasional temporarily displaced local.  Filled with period antiques and seamless replicas, it was genteel, elegant, and yet homey and comfortable.  He loved the place—the lace curtains, the damask wallpaper, the oriental rugs, the rich, mahogany furniture and best of all, the pocket doors.  If he ever had a house, he wanted one with pocket doors.

The study today was lit by firelight and table lamps, the pale winter sun shining ineffectually through the windows.  Outside, snow covered the ground, decorated the birches and aspens that graced the property, and the temperatures were closing in on zero again.  The study, however, was toasty warm and delightfully cozy.  It was the perfect setting and he’d asked Arabella, who owned the Inn with her husband Seth, for private use of the room today.  Since tourists this time of year were few and far between, she’d readily agreed.

He’d met his anticipated visitor, a woman named Kelly Blanchard, once before, at her little shop.  That had been almost a year ago, back when Ellie had first moved to this little one-horse town.  It had been the strangest meeting he’d ever had. 

And now, here he was, meeting with her again, and much like the previous time, he wasn’t really sure why.  But he didn’t mind.  Their conversation had been fun and, in a way, incredibly helpful in terms of his relationship with Ellie.  In fact, without Kelly’s advice, he might not even have a relationship with Ellie.  Not that Ellie was ready yet to admit they had one, but hey.  Baby steps.

He grinned, scrubbed his finger through his curls then stood to pace, trying to keep his hands off the plate of chocolate chip cookies he’d asked Arabella to bake.  Tit for tat, he thought.  Kelly had served him cookies last time, it was proper he return the favor.  His stomach fluttered nervously as he waited.  What on earth, he wondered, would they discuss today?

Kelly entered the inn and was grateful to get out of the cold. She was a Texas girl for a reason! But she did enjoy the occasional snow. The woman at the front directed her to the study, and when Kelly pushed open the door, she smiled at the warm and cozy atmosphere. “Now this is a place I could spend forever in,” she smiled at Charlie when she saw him there. She headed over to him with a plate of chocolate chip cookies she had made just for this meeting, but then she noticed the cookies already on the table. Kelly laughed. “I made these for you because I knew you liked them from our last meeting. Guess great minds think alike. But still.” She placed them on the table and shook Charlie’s hand before sitting down across from him. “So, Charlie, how have you been since our last chat?”

“Aw, you’re so sweet!  Thanks!”  He still remembered the taste of those chocolate chip cookies from their last meeting.  “I’ll save yours—I know they’ll be better, even though Arabella does a bang up job.”

He sat nervously, then stood up again almost immediately to pace.  “Things are good.”  He gestured down at his leg, which was finally cast-free.  “Leg is healing well.  I still limp some around Ellie, just to yank her chain.”  He paused.  “Oh, wait, you probably didn’t hear about that.  I broke my leg in November.  And Ellie nearly got herself shot.  One of her college friends was murdered and Ellie had to jump in to investigate.”  He shook his head.  “Girl needs to learn to wait for back up.”

“Hold up.” Kelly lifted her hand. “First off, was this another murder Ellie has solved? And secondly, she almost shot herself? How? And…how did you break your leg.” Then Kelly paused, realizing she had asked a lot of questions. She chuckled, sitting back in her chair. “And answer those in whatever order you want.”

He grinned, grabbed one of Kelly’s cookies. The things were like crack.  “Maybe I should start from the beginning.  Ellie came back to Chicago in November—she and Kate were going to meet up with their old college friend, Lacey.  But before the three could get together, Lacey turned up dead in an alley.  No one, not even me, believed it was a random street crime, so Ellie hired me to help her investigate.  In the end, we identified the killer and Ellie cornered them.  The killer had a gun, and before I could get into a position to help her, nearly shot Ellie.  As I raced to help, the killer fell and knocked me down a flight of stairs, resulting in me being laid up for eight weeks.”  He grinned.  “So just to keep my hand in the game, so to speak, I decided I’d recuperate up here in Horizon.  Gotta keep an eye on that girl.  I’m staying at her neighbors house, officially, since Per had a spare room, but I try to spend every waking moment in her cabin.  Worming my way into her affections.”  A chuckle.  “And I’m growing on her.  Like fungus!”

Kelly chuckled at his last statement, but she shook her head. “Hate to say this, but it almost sounds like Ellie attracts murder. It’s a bit dangerous to be her friend.” However she shrugged and grinned at Charlie. “But that’s why she has you there at her side.” She winked then leaned forward, took a cookie off the plate and met Charlie’s gaze. “So how are things progressing between the two of you?” She lifted her brows as she sat back in her chair and ate the cookie.

He stared out at the snow for a moment.  “Um…I liken it to the growth of a glacier.  A little progress everyday.  While it’s happening it’s hard to tell, but if you stand back and look at the big picture, you can definitely see the change.”  He rubbed his jeans, watched the fire dance.  “We’re getting somewhere.  Not sure where exactly, but somewhere.  I just need to be patient.”

“And how are you doing with needing to be patient?” Kelly tilted her head to a side. “Do you consider yourself a naturally patient individual, or is that a trait you need to strengthen?”

“Well, I’m not Yoda.  But I guess I’m more Yoda than Han Solo.  Ellie would be Han.  She needs to charge off in a direction—any direction—to feel like she’s getting somewhere.  I’m okay waiting.  One day she’s going to realize we’re an “us”, and it will have happened so gently and so naturally, she won’t feel the need to rail against it.”  He grinned.  “Meanwhile, living with her, around her, certainly isn’t boring.”  He leaned back in his chair.  “But hopefully she won’t trip over another body before spring.  I can’t remember ever being this cold.  And I’m a Chicago boy!”

Kelly tried not to laugh when he said what he said about Yoda and Han, but finally she cracked a smile. “Well, Charlie, gotta tell you somethin’. If she’s Han, then you need to be Princess Leia. Just forgo the whole golden bikini thing, okay?” Kelly laughed but then forced herself to regain her composer. “Okay, okay, I know that’s not what you meant, but just had to say it.”

He laughed, hard.  “So glad you’re one of my tribe, Kelly!”  He glanced down at himself.  “But hey, you don’t think I could pull that outfit off?  Have I gained that much weight?”

Kelly laughed again then tilted her head, giving him a thorough look. “Well, maybe you could pull it off. If you did, there would have to be pics for proof!” She grinned at him, but then shook her head still chuckling. “Okay, but back to the questions! What do you think of Ellie’s habit of stumbling upon dead bodies, and she’s not even a detective or anything. I mean…isn’t that a bit…odd?”

He paused, his expression darkening.  “Ellie…Ellie’s a magnet for shit like that.  I mean, I want to say it started with the murder of her parents.  God, what a horrific crime.  But really, based on stories I’ve heard from Kate about some things that happened back when they were in college and first learning about “the Craft”, it seems like dark stuff—woo-woo creepy stuff—has been following her around for a long time.  So the fact that dead people harass her, or that she stumbles over fresh corpses at the drop of a hat, at some level doesn’t really surprise me.  Death and tragedy seem to follow her around like Erik the Red.”

Kelly frowned. “It’s just odd…to me. But at least she has you there.” She smiled at him. “Are you still working for the police?”

He ducked his head, looked away.  “Um, no.  No, I’m freelancing now.  I got my Private Investigator’s license over the summer.”

This caused Kelly to furrow her brows, and she leaned forward. “What happened that caused you to leave the police?”

“It…the…the job just wasn’t what I thought it was going to be.  Dan says I’m just being a flake, a spoilt prima donna.”  He gave a shrug.  “Maybe he’s right.  Maybe I’m just better off working for myself, doing my own thing.”

Kelly narrowed her eyes, and she regarded him for a long moment. “By all the ‘maybes’ you’re saying, it sounds like you’re not convinced yourself. Leaving your job like that isn’t something you just wake up one day and decide to do. It’s a decision that takes time to process and think through before committing to it. Did something trigger it? Did justice not get served on a case?”

He jerked upright, met her eyes, looked away again.  How did she do that?  “It wasn’t a knee jerk decision, I’ll tell you that.  As for justice…”  His tone became bitter.  “Well, apparently justice is a subjective thing.  Contrary to what I’d always been taught, it doesn’t apply equally to all people.  Whore, junkies, minorities, all those disenfranchised folks at the bottom, they don’t get justice unless it fills a quota or it helps someone’s political ambitions.”  He stood, paced back to the window.  “Hell, it isn’t even just the poor who get the shaft.  Look at Ellie.  Her parents’ were solid upper middle class and their murders were never solves nor will they be unless someone like me…”  He pressed his lips together, shook his head before finally turning to face her again.  “I still support the Force.  There are damn good cops, damn good men putting their life on the line every day.  But justice, the kind with a capital J?  Looking for that these days is like going on a snipe hunt.”  He shrugged again.  “So I got out.  Now I can give justice to people on my own terms, or at least kill myself trying.”

“And justice is supposed to be blind, but sadly it isn’t.” Kelly shook her head, but she leaned forward, intertwining her fingers as she locked eyes with Charlie. “But is it right for you to take justice in your own hands? You may be right on all accords, but…there’s a very thin line between the vigilante and the villain in all spheres of life.”

He clenched his jaw, forced himself to relax.  “Look, I’m no vigilante.  When we cornered Lacey’s killer, I had a cop buddy of mine with us.  He did the Law and Order thing.  I don’t intend to be judge and jury.  But I want like hell to make sure the alleged criminal gets to trial.  That’s all.  I just want to give Truth the chance to be spoken.  What happens after that is in the hands of the system.  I still believe in the system.  Just not some of the people who fancy themselves in charge of it.”

Kelly stared at Charlie for a long moment. She could feel his irritation with her questions, but that only probed her to dig deeper. When she spoke, she spoke with a soft voice. “What was the case that has troubled you so much? Is it Ellie’s parents’ case being unsolved and that is troubling you because you are getting closer to Ellie? What was the case that finally made you take that step?”

He sighed.  She wasn’t going to give up.  And maybe, just maybe, he was ready to talk about this.  “No, it wasn’t Max and Serena Gooden’s murders, although I haven’t given up on that case.  I have the files and one day…”  He ran his fingers through his hair.  he felt sweaty, nauseous.  “There was a young girl.  A young Asian girl.  Fifteen.  She was turning tricks in around Chinatown.  I knew her from working the beat there, knew which pimp she worked for.  I’d even tried to talk her into getting out, getting her into a shelter, but sometimes these kids can’t see the forest for the trees.  Anyway, she turns up in a dumpster near Ravenswood area—hell and gone from her normal haunts.  She’d been raped, strangled and tossed into a dumpster behind shop like a piece of trash.”

He paused, swallowed.  Felt the lump in his throat, the bile rising.  “There were no wits, very little in the way of physical evidence, at least in the official file.  My partner and I worked it hard for three weeks, but every day that passes, more cases pile up on your desk and she was just a girl, just a low class run-away hooker.  She didn’t rate. So we had to let it drop.  Officially.”  He glanced up at Kelly.  “But I couldn’t.  I knew her.  She was a sweet kid.  So I kept digging, on my off time.  And eventually I turned up a witness, someone who’d seen her getting out of a fancy car and heading into a building on the arm of a man.  A very well-placed man.  I took the evidence to my superior…”  He fell back against the chair.  “Well, you can guess what happened.”

“He told you to drop it, and you couldn’t, so you left the force,” Kelly guessed, but allowed him to confirm this or correct her.

“Basically.  I tried going over his head, to the DA, but got shot down there too.  The guy was untouchable.”  He rubbed his face.  “The hell of it is that I’ll bet money this wasn’t the only girl this guy killed.  And I can’t do anything about it.”  Outside, snow was falling again.  A white blanket, covering over the ground.  Hiding all the defects in the landscape.  “So yeah.  I left.  I suppose that makes me a coward, part of the problem.  But I just couldn’t face it.  Plus, by doing what I did, I’d pretty well screwed my chances to advance anyway.”

“Charlie, it doesn’t make you a coward.” Kelly shook her head. “You hold to a higher standard than most people, especially when it comes to justice, and when other people won’t adhere to your standard, you have to move on. It is better to do that than to compromise and lower your standard because if you did *that*, years from now you would look in the mirror and not recognize the man you have become. But standing firm on what you believe, *that* takes strength.” She gave him a reassuring smile then sat back in her chair. “However, have you thought about encouraging Ellie to get her PI license too? I mean, she’s the one who keeps stumbling upon the dead bodies. You two might as well be a team.”

He grinned but shook his head.  “Oh, no.  No, no, no.  I want Ellie to stay a civilian.  She’s a great business woman, and she makes a mean latte, but law enforcement would drive her absolutely crazy.  She’s not exactly a rule-follower.  Even as a P.I., there are a ton of rules to follow.  Besides.  Her getting a PI license would just mean she’d get into even more trouble.  And I don’t think I could take that.” He considered a moment.  “Besides.  We’re already a team.  She just hasn’t realized it yet.”

Kelly laughed at that then reached for another cookie. “Fair enough, and true, I would say you two make a good team.” She smiled at him and broke off a piece of the cookie to eat while she contemplated her next question. Once she had swallowed, she asked, “Now though, you are a PI, so you have other cases than just Ellie’s, right? Have you taken a break from all of that while your leg heals, or how does that work?”

He blew out a breath.  “To be honest, paying cases are hard to find.  I’ve been kind of coasting since I broke my leg.  I mean, it’s not like I’ve actually moved up here.  Not for real.  Most of my stuff is still at Dan and Kate’s – I’m sort of between formal addresses at the moment, since apparently being a PI doesn’t really pay very well and I lost my lease.”  He scanned the room, the book cases, looking anywhere but into Kelly’s penetrating gaze.  “I’ve sort of been helping the local Chief of Police out with a couple of things.  And once in a while I get tagged by a friend of mine who works for the Feds.  But really, at the moment, I’m on, um, oh, let’s call it a sabbatical.”

“And are you enjoying this sabbatical? or are you going stir crazy yet?” Kelly smiled at him.

“God!  Stir crazy doesn’t even cover it.  Especially now that the leg feels better.  So I had Kate send up some of my files – the ones from Ellie’s parent’s murders.  I know if I keep digging I can turn something up, despite how long it’s been.  But I’ve got to do that on the sly.  She’d kill me if she knew what I was doing.”

Kelly furrowed her brows. “She doesn’t want you looking into that?”

“You gotta understand, Ellie is a really private person.  And she has this thing about law enforcement.  They totally bungled the case and put her through hell over it. Because I used to be a cop, I’m sort of painted with the same brush.  If she knew I were looking into it—without her permission, without her asking me to – she’d probably break my leg on purpose.  And leave me out in the snow to freeze.”  He gave a rueful grin.  “She’s got a temper, our Glenda Goodwitch.”

This made sense to Kelly, so she nodded, but it only brought up another issue. She set her chin in her palm and raised her brows. “And what are you going to do when she does eventually find out because she will.”

“Ah.  Heh heh.  Yeah.”  He rubbed his hands on his jeans.  “That’s, um, going to be interesting.  I’m hoping I can find a good time to spring it on her.  Some nice, quiet moment.  After she’s had two or three mojitos maybe.  Or has been sedated for surgery?”

“Yeah, I can totally see you randomly saying something like, ‘Hey, will you marry me? Oh and I’ve been looking into your parents’ case…’ Not sure which of those statements would surprise Ellie the most.” Kelly shook her head, chuckling at the thought.

“I think either might be lethal!”

Kelly gave him a wicked grin. “Well, I guess you’ll just have to wear a bulletproof vest and stay a safe distance from her when you break the news. Hopefully she’ll be stunned for a moment, giving you enough time to get a little of a headstart to run away.” Then Kelly sat back in her chair. “But anyway, you will figure out what to say when the time comes. Hopefully you can tell her yourself rather than her finding out and confronting you. That would be bad.”

“Yeah.  That’s the plan.”  He sighed.  “Pretty sure the guy who wrote the book on relationships never counted on an Ellie Gooden.  She’s unique.  But I can’t imagine spending my life with any one else.”  He glanced up at Kelly.  “I’m sunk.”

Kelly smiled when he said this. She liked that he knew who he wanted to spend his life with but that he wasn’t forcing Ellie into a relationship. “Just be patient, Charlie. You’ve done well as far as I can tell. When the time is right, you’ll be able to tell her what she means to you, and I really hope both of you the best.” Then Kelly glimpsed at the clock on the wall and sighed. “Well, my time here is about done.” She looked back at Charlie and smiled as she rose to her feet. “It was great chatting with you again. Thanks for agreeing to meet with me.”

He stood as well. “No, the pleasure was mine.  I, uh, I haven’t talked about the thing… the reason behind my resignation, with anyone before.  I really appreciate you listening.  And uh, you were right.  About the fine line between vigilantes and villains.  I’ll keep that in mind, especially when I find the a-holes who killed Ellie’s parents.”  He stuck out his hand.  “So.  Thank you.”

Kelly shook his hand and smiled. “It was my pleasure. And some time another, you’re gonna have to be honest with Ellie. Honesty is very important with any relationship. For now though, I need to go. Enjoy the cookie!” With one more smile and a wave, Kelly turned and headed out.

<~>~<~>~<~>

Nan Sampson’s third novel in her Coffee and Crime series, ‘Forest Outings’ is now available. You can find it, along with the other books of her series, at the following links:

Amazon Link to Restless Natives, Book 1 in the Coffee & Crime Mystery Series:  https://www.amazon.com/Restless-Natives-Coffee-Crime-Mystery-ebook/dp/B01EQTOTOS

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Amazon Link to Office Heretics, Book 2 in the Coffee & Crime Mystery Series:

https://www.amazon.com/Office-Heretics-Coffee-Crime-Mystery-ebook/dp/B01KXW537Y

book-2

Amazon Link to Forest Outings, Book 3 in the Coffee & Crime Mystery Series:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N6W6LCK/

book-3

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Character Interview: Arthur David’s Blackmail

I had the opportunity to sit down with Arthur David’s fictional secret agent, Blackmail, from his sci-fi spy thriller novel ‘Agents of the Third Party’. I learned some things about her agency, The Third Party, as well as her own motives to work for them. 

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BlackMail sat on a stone bench that was out on her estate. It was still a little crisp outside in New York at this time of year, but not so bad that she felt the need to be inside. Water babbled through a fountain behind her, the sound helping to calm her. Trees surrounded the yard, each flanked by heaters keeping the bats that live there warm throughout the year.

She tapped her foot impatiently as she waited for an interview to start that she shouldn’t be having. The Party didn’t look nicely on anyone that gives out information on them, but she was going to do it anyways.

“Ma’am, a car has arrived at the front gate.” Alfred’s voice seemed to come from nowhere, just as it always did. “The occupant claims to have an appointment with you, shall I allow her in?”

BlackMail toyed with the idea of having Alfred send her away, she really shouldn’t be doing this. She felt like she should have some record though. She had been witness to too many agents who had died, the world never knowing what they had done for good or bad. She wasn’t looking for fame, just for someone out there to know that there were things happening, there were people making the world better.

“Alfred, let her in. I’ve kept her out there for too long already, and we really don’t have the time to waste. And make sure Jade doesn’t come around or that Kelly is here, this meeting is private.”

“Yes Ma’am. I’m opening the gate for Ms. Kelly right away. How shall I keep Jade away?”

“I really don’t care Alfred, lock her in her room if you have to, just keep this private.”

“Right away Ma’am. Excelsior!”

BlackMail got up to her feet trying to hide the smile Alfred’s last exclamation brought. He always reminded her of her great-grandfather, and he had always made her smile. She composed herself as the car with Kelly silently drives up to her fountain, lights along the driveway directing the automated system to a spot to park at.

Once Kelly parked and climbed out of the car, she looked around, taking in the sight of the estate. Then she saw a woman a little ways off, so Kelly dug her hands into her coat pockets and headed her way. “I’m assuming you are the one they call BlackMail? Thank you for meeting with me. Quite a place you have here.” She glimpsed around before looking back at BlackMail. “Is this something from your family or does the Party just pay their top agents that well?” She smiled as she asked this.

BlackMail smiled back at Kelly and glanced around her estate. “A little bit of both. My family was already very well off before I joined The Party. The Party certainly does take care of its agents, and there have been a few missions that have been pretty lucrative to me personally.”

“I’m sure.” Kelly nodded as she continued to approach. “So, was your family in politics or so? Or just….wisely invested?” She then sat on the bench across from BlackMail and observed her.

“No, my families money…” BlackMail laughed as she thought on where they got started “My family came into money thanks to my great-grandfather. Not a politician, though he did have a run in with politics. Nothing overly bad, more of the knee jerk reactions politicians have to things they don’t understand. He was a very creative man, and he turned that into a fair amount of wealth. He wasn’t always the best at managing it though. However the rest of the family was able to take what he had given them and turned it into much more.” BlackMail gestured around at the garden around them, “They had no idea, my family, what I would end up doing, what that wealth would ultimately help finance.”

“Interesting.” Kelly leaned forward, clasping her hands together. “So do you help finance The Party? Or just your own missions and side projects?”

BlackMail laughed softly for a second. “Oh no, The Party is well financed without me. As I said earlier, they take care of us pretty well. It’s an organization of global reach, interests spread out all over the world in just about anything you can imagine. The Party likes to have its fingers in everything, from the mundane such as entertainment, companies that specialize in computer science and security, Travel, banks and everything in between. I know none of that sounds particularly threatening, but The Party is involved in defense contracts, weapons, and scientific research for curing disease, to the worst of new weaponry. My wealth, really is just for me.”

Kelly smiled as she nodded. “At least you have it and can do whatever you will with it.” With that, she sat back and considered BlackMail for a moment. “I was informed you joined The Party at age 18, so what was life like before you became an agent? Do you have any siblings to speak of? And what of your parents”

BlackMails eyes unfocused for a moment as she thought back to the days before The Party.” Life was normal, I guess. I’m not really even sure what that means anymore. I grew up with my older sister, and my mother and father. My parents weren’t much for flashing our wealth around. You wouldn’t know it from my home now, but we grew up in a 3 bedroom house, with Toyotas in the driveway. They wanted us to know how it was to live like everyone else. Sort of. I mean, we had the latest things, traveled around the world. But nothing outwardly screamed ‘Filthy Rich’.” BlackMail paused a moment to catch her breath and gather her thoughts before continuing. “They, they’re all gone now. I’m the last one in my family. I don’t really see that changing any time soon. Very few agents live to be old or to have families.” A grim smile flickered across her face replaced with a bit of sadness, “My family tree will probably end with me. Thats why, ” BlackMail nodded towards her estate, “I built all this, have all the things I do. There won’t be anyone for me to pass it on to. I might as well enjoy it.”

Kelly frowned when she heard that. “And you’re happy with that. Happy to work so hard all your life and do all the deeds that you must do only for your name to perish with you when you die, for your wealth to go to someone you don’t know, and for you to be forgotten in history? Is it worth it?”

“Am I happy with it? I don’t know that I’m happy with it, I’ve come to terms with it I think. I know that everything I’m doing is for the greater good of humanity, for the betterment of the world. My life, my happiness is a small price to pay for the good that will come from it all.” She sighed and took a deep breath. “I asked you here, because we, Party agents, have done so much, changed the world in ways no one knows. The Party prefers is that way, but I wanted someone to know we exist, that we were here and we changed the world. I can live with that, I can die with that. My old partner, Aurora, taught me that. She died for those ideals, its the least I can do.”

“I understand that, yet you are not Aurora. Do you held firm to those ideals?” Kelly raised her brows as she observed BlackMail. “And please, be honest with me…and with yourself. I just want the truth because this may be the only time you will be able to truly be honest.”

“Those ideals have been my entire life. Even as a child, my parents would take us traveling. I saw the world, the incredible natural beauty and wonder of humanities genius.” BlackMail turned away staring off into the distance at the New York skyline, “But they didn’t shield us from the harsh realities of the world. Poverty, hunger, sickness were everywhere we looked. These things should not exist, not when we can fix them, not when we have the ability to ease or erase that suffering. My work with The Party will help to end all of that.” She turned back to Kelly “It’s a small price to pay. My life, one that may not have appeared to be one of privilege, yet very much was. To dedicate the rest of it, however long or short it may be, to that. It’s something I think that would have made them all proud. It’s something thats made it all worth it.”

“But do you think it’s truly possible…to accomplish what The Party wants to accomplish?” Kelly leaned in. “Yes, while it is good not to want hunger or poverty or sickness, and it would be nice if those didn’t exist, there are other evils that exist within each one of us that…if we have the ideal, someone will become discontent, and it’s a very slippery slope from that to full out war especially if the wrong people have the power.”

“Oh, I understand the evils that exist in us very well. We aren’t a charity, Party agents aren’t running around feeding the hungry or taking care of the sick. Assassination, sabotage, blackmailing, those are the tools we tend to employ. I told you earlier that The Party has its fingers in many pies, that isn’t done for money. Entertainment allows us to shape the attitudes of the public. Computer software and security. You put our systems on your computers and phones, and give The Party access to everything about you.” BlackMail gestured out towards the NewYork skyline, now filled with green growing along the sides and tops of the skyscrapers. “None of what you see out there happened by chance. America’s politicians didn’t suddenly see the light for fighting climate change and pollution. Some very dirty information suddenly appeared and would have made its way to the media. Some of that was because they were genuinely dirty, some was manufactured by Party Agents. All true, but things that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.  We work hard to curb the evils and excesses of those in power, and we do not always do so nicely. When the wrong people have the power, we try to work with them, reign them in, put them on the right path. Sometimes that doesn’t happen and then new people get the power.”

Kelly nodded as she came to understand. It reminded her of another agency she’d heard of from a TV show but couldn’t recall the name right now, but it made sense to her now. “I understand better now.” She sat back on the bench. “So, I understand Aurora brought you into The Party, but how did you come to meet her?”

“She and I had been very close for as long as I can remember. Growing up she had just been there, an ever present part of my life. Until she wasn’t anymore. I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without her, or what I would have become. Actually it would likely have ended up very similar to this. The Party seeks out its agents, not the other way around. It’s hard to apply for an agency you don’t know exists. Usually once The Party decides it wants someone, they end up working for them one way or the other. They most likely don’t even realize it. All those pies The Party has its fingers in. So even without Aurora, I would probably have ended up here anyways. Though I don’t think I’d be quite the agent I am now without her.”

“Are you saying that that the Party wanted you, so they sent Aurora to be a part of your life and gradually inform you about the Party and at the right moment bring you into it? Or what exactly? I mean, was she always an agent the entire time you knew her?”

“No, we grew up together. Both kids. I’m not really sure how or when she became a part of The Party. I don’t know when The Party became interested in me, if it was as a child or even earlier due to my families wealth, or later on in high school when I excelled to the top of my class. It may have been some combination of everything. I’m not in recruiting, though apparently I am now a trainer and a mentor.”

“Ah, I see.” This made sense to her now. “And your mentor was someone named Muse? What can you tell me about Muse? What was it like training under Muse?” It was odd asking these questions for Kelly because oftentimes she was considered the Muse, but Kelly dismissed this and looked to BlackMail for answers.

“Harsh. My first ‘mission’ Muse sent me on sent me into a random rundown shack of a house in the middle of nowhere. Supposedly, someone there had managed to develop a cure for HIV. It looked more like a meth lab then a facility for curing disease. But in I went to find the secret formula. God, actually talking about it makes it sound like a bad movie plot.” BlackMail pulled back her sleeve to show off a scar along the underside of her left arm. “I got this in that shack, when Muse caused it to collapse on top of me. It  was made of something that wouldn’t kill me when it fell on top of me, but it didn’t feel good either. When I managed to crawl out, she congratulated me on my death. That wasn’t the last time I ‘died’ under her tutelage. But it was designed to make me think and keep me cautious. To keep me from rushing in without thinking. It was necessary, it’s kept me alive. Earlier I told you most agents don’t live long enough to retire, Muse is one of the few who has.”

When Kelly heard this tale, she lifted her brows. “Well, she certainly sounds like a rough mentor. And you’ve said she’s survived long enough to retire? And the fact that you’ve survived longer than the average age of agents shows that Muse’s methods probably helped prolong your life. I’m assuming you’re teaching Jade similar things?”

“A friend, and fellow agent, Doomsday helped me set up her first mission. Sent her out onto a boat owned by a company with information on The Party. It was her job to find and destroy that information. She did fairly well, but ended up jumping out into the water in January, not a very good idea, and then I shot her.” BlackMail smiled at the reaction she received from that. “Not literally shot her, though Doomsday nearly did. Well not really though, he’s a marksman, he doesn’t miss. I made it very clear that she had died on her mission. She wasn’t happy with me. Doomsday wasn’t thrilled with my training exercise either, but he let me do what needed to be done.”

Kelly chuckled when she heard this, and she shook her head. “I’m guessing that, ‘you die on your first day of training’ isn’t on the contract you sign when you sign up.” She smiled although she suspected The Party didn’t have any actual contracts like that, but still, her point was made. “So what is like, being on THIS end of training?”

BlackMail made a sound of frustration. “Aggravating. Jade listens, thinks about what I tell her. She was pretty mad that first night I killed her. But she took it, learns, grows. But she’s still headstrong, questions me on everything, wants to know why we’re doing what we do. She can’t take an order and simply follow it.  I’m very proud of her. She’s going to be a great agent someday.”

Kelly smiled at the obvious admiration BlackMail had for Jade. “But has she taught you anything in return? You know how students tend to accidentally teach their masters something while being taught.”

“She’s certainly given me a new appreciation for what Muse went through with me. And to never underestimate her. She’s surprised me more then once particularly during some of our sparring sessions,”

Kelly chuckled when she heard this. “Sounds like she’s going to be an incredible agent for sure.” Then Kelly paused, considering the course of their conversation, and then she smiled because she knew her next question. “So, tell me, why is Zenith so annoying?”

BlackMail rolled her eyes at the mention of Zenith’s name. “Aside from him constantly inviting me over or trying to sleep with me. I’m surprised he hasn’t tried the inducer yet. Well no, that would have repercussions he would not enjoy. Zenith hands me my assignments, checks on me, assigned Jade to me. It gives him an inflated sense of worth I think. Unfortunately I can’t get a new contact, and I can’t kill him, ago I’m stuck dealing with him. Fortunately he’s only annoying.”

Kelly chuckled. “Well, at least you can take you anger out when you have to kill an assignment or something.” She shrugged. “Now, our time is almost up, but I’ve been curious. ‘BlackMail’ is your codename, but what is your real name? Or does it have no meaning to you anymore?” She locked eyes with the agent.

BlackMail returned the stare with the muse, “It doesn’t matter anymore. BlackMail is who I am now. The person I was before is gone. Very little of who she was remains. I’ve embraced this life, it’s really all I have anymore and all I’ll ever be.”

Kelly nodded. She had expected that answer. “Well then, BlackMail, this conversation probably hasn’t gone the way you expected it to, but I do appreciate the opportunity to speak with you.” Kelly rose to her feet. “And thank you for answering my questions. You sound like you have had a very interesting life. Be careful out there. Survive long enough, maybe you’ll be able to retire.” She smiled at her.

BlackMail smiled back as reaches out to shake her hand. “Nothing ever goes the way I expect. We’ll see what the future holds for us all.”

Kelly nodded. “And so we shall. Take care of yourself.” With that and a final smile, Kelly headed for her car.

<~>~<~>~<~>

Arthur David’s book ‘Agents of the Third Party’ is available on Amazon. Don’t forget to follow him on Facebook and Twitter for more updates!

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Agents-Third-Party-BlackMail-Beginning-ebook/dp/B01N7OR766 

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Character Interview: Christy Mann’s Derrick

In this interview, Christy Mann invited me into the world of her story ‘Death of a Secret’ to meet with her character, Derrick, who has fallen on some very hard times. I sat down with him and asked questions to learn how he got to this time in his life.

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It was a nice balmy seventy degrees outside while Derrick sat, almost stiff as a board. His wheelchair was sparkling in the bright sunshine. He was a little nervous, not knowing exactly to expect from this interview. He was going to turn it down, but something told him this was something he needed to do. A lot of lives had been lost and others, like his, turned upside down. If it could help someone think twice, then he had to do it.

Kelly approached the house and saw a man in a wheelchair on the porch. She smiled as she drew near. “Derrick Murphy?” When his eyes locked with hers, she nodded to him. “I’m Kelly. Thank you for meeting with me. Do you mind if I sit down?” She motioned to a nearby chair.

Derrick’s eyes widened. He hadn’t realized how beautiful his interviewer was going to be. Lucky for him, most parts of his anatomy were no longer functional. “I am. Thank you for coming. It’s very nice to meet you. This is my wife. Marla. She was keeping me company until you arrived.”

Marla stood up and welcomed Kelly. “Hi, I’m Marla. Please sit. Can I get you something to drink?”

Kelly sat down and smiled at Marla. “I’m quite fine, thank you.” Once Marla left, Kelly turned her attention to Derrick. “I’m going to ask the most obvious question first just to get it out of the way, but…how did you end up in the wheelchair?”

“Stupidity really. I needed money, and a lot of it. So I decided I would go pay the Senator a visit and shake him down. Bad, bad idea. I came out of it better than everyone else, though.” Derrick thought back to that morning. A tear stung at his eye as he thought about everything that happened. He could live with himself for all that he had done. He deserved it. He should never have thought that blackmailing the senator was a good idea.

What he couldn’t live with was being powerless to stop that horrible man from raping his daughter while he watched. All to keep her quiet. He would never forgive himself for that.He fought the tear and cleared his throat. “Sorry. so, yeah. He choked me nearly to death and when I fell, I broke my C5 and C6.”

“Interesting.” Kelly leaned forward, musing over how that was possible. But then she nodded. “But why did you so desperately need the money that you resorted to such measures?”

Derrick chuckled. “Why does anyone desperately need money? We are up to our ears in debt, I owed a not so nice guy a large sum and he was going to come collecting. My lovely wife was threatening divorce if we couldn’t get a handle on the finances, and I had just gotten fired from a really good job. Stupidity again.”

For a long moment, Kelly stared at him. “So did you simply manage your finances poorly or did you have a habit of gambling or so? While a lot of people need money, it sounds like the depths of your debt were more extreme than normal.”

Derrick felt the judgement in Kelly’s stare. He felt enough shame in himself that hers didn’t affect him much. It still stung a little. “Oh no. I mean, we aren’t perfect at managing money, but we bought this house because she loved it. I knew we couldn’t afford it, but I went along with it because she loved it so much. So the bills started piling up. I don’t gamble. I drank a little too much at a bar one night, after a fight with the missus, and made a bet I was certain I couldn’t lose. It would have fixed all of our financial problems. It was a hustle, and I lost. To the tune of $50,000.”

Nodding, Kelly sat back. “I’m sorry. I can see how things spiral out of control there and drive you to desperate measures.” She shook her head. Now that she had that answer, she decided to shift the topic and smiled at him kindly. “So, Derrick, I understand you have a son, DJ, I think his name is? Tell me a bit about him.”

Derrick’s eyes brightened at the mention of DJ’s name. His pride in him was beyond measure. “I do. His name is Derrick Michael Murphy Jr. He’s a great kid. My pride and joy. Helpful and kind. A successful driver for a good company. He visits his mother and I every weekend or calls ahead of time if he can’t make it. He’s smart as a whip and de…” The words trailed off and tears started to well in his eyes. “I’m sorry. He got caught up in all of this mess and…” He sucked in a breath, an attempt to abate the sobs that built up and settled like a lump in his throat. He cleared his throat. “Yeah, he was a great kid. Got his looks from his mother.”

Kelly’s eyes softened. She hoped he could tell she wasn’t here to judge him but would probably ask hard questions but only to understand him better. “What mess exactly are you talking about?” She had a vague idea from some info she’d received about him before the interview, but she wanted to hear it from him.

Derrick inhaled deeply. He knew this being interviewed was going to be tough. He’s braced himself for it. He was tough. He could do this. He exhaled slowly. “I’m not a real sensitive guy, so forgive me if I seem a bit blunt. This is tough and I need just get it out there. The mess that killed my son, and the Senator’s entire family.”

Derrick paused for a moment. “You need a bit more detail, don’t you?”

Kelly frowned. “Wait….DJ is dead? I’m sorry, I misunderstood because the way you were talking about him made him sound like he was still alive.” But then she shook her head. “But yes, if you can tell me more, I would like to know more. It’s not a small matter for your son and the Senator’s entire family to be killed.” She met his gaze. “I know this may be difficult to talk about, but this is your chance to talk. I’m not here to judge you, and I’m not going to tell anyone else anything you said, and after today, you will never see me again. So just talk. Say what you will.”

Derrick attempted a nod and smiled at her. “Ok. I’m not great at this pouring my heart out stuff. Just ask my wife. I’ll try though” He paused for a long moment. Contemplating where he should start. “You see, twenty or so years ago, I had an affair with the Senator’s wife, Olivia. She got pregnant and I called it off. My wife would have ended me. She went back to her husband but I think she became an alcoholic. They only had one child, my daughter, Sarah. He raised her well. I met her for the first time when we worked together at the Senator’s office. She came in and did paper work and stuff for him sometimes. She looked just like her mother, she was sweet and kind, friendly. She had no idea who I was though. So, I left it alone. I guess she found out the day that I showed up to blackmail Jacob.” He took a breath. He looked at Kelly sincerely. “Could you help me out with a sip from that cup sitting there next to you?”

Kelly looked for the cup he mentioned, found it, and then took it and brought it up to his lips. “Here you go.” Once he took a sip, she smiled and put the cup back down, sitting down once more. “I can see the mess of things then.” She nodded. “However, I don’t want to dwell on the mess or the not-so-wise choices you may have made in the past. Instead, what have been some bright moments in your life? Surely not everything has been bleak.”

Derrick cleared his throat. “Thank you for that.” he cleared his throat again. “No. It really wasn’t bleak at all. I worked at the bank for most of it. I made decent money, worked my way up to management, had a great schedule, Banker’s hours.” He winked and chuckled softly. He continued. “We took family vacations every year. I attended every school function DJ ever had, we played catch on the lawn together on the weekends. My wife and I have weekly date nights. The affair almost ruined us, but we pulled it together. It’s been a great life.”

Kelly smiled when she heard all this. “And how did you meet your wife?” She set her chin in her palm as she leaned forward to listen with interest.

“I remember it like it was yesterday.” He laughed. “I was nineteen, she was about to turn eighteen, and she was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. She walked into the movie theater and the whole world stopped. I was going to see Star Wars. I was at the counter buying my popcorn when I glanced over my shoulder. She walked in. I stood there, the cashier trying to give me back my change, and I was just standing there gawking with my jaw on the floor. I wasn’t shy back then. I walked away without my change and strolled right up to her. I asked her what a beautiful creature like her was doing in a place like this. She rolled her eyes and walked off. I stood there, in that very spot, and waited for her movie to end. When she came out, I gave her the then empty popcorn bucket with ‘Your future husband, Derrick, and my phone number written in the bottom of it. She laughed and strolled out with her friends, but she took it home with her and called me later that night.”

Kelly laughed when she heard this. “Okay, I’ve got to ask, did you ever get to watch Star Wars then?”

“Absolutely. It was what she had gone to see that day. She was still excited about it when she called me that night. She loved it and told me that I had to see it. It was our first date the very next weekend.” He laughed.

Kelly grinned. “Well, I’m glad you were able to watch Star Wars finally…and that you, of course met your wife like that. Fantastic memory.” Then she leaned forward. “Now, you said you had an affair, and your wife almost left you and such…but she’s still here.” Kelly motioned to the house. “What has it been like for both of you to come back together and work through things?”

“I won’t lie. It was rough. She kicked me out for a while and refused to talk to me. It hurt her so deeply and I didn’t think she would ever forgive me. I didn’t think I deserved it. One day, I showed up with a popcorn bucket full of flowers, In the bottom of it I wrote “your pitifully sorry husband, Derrick.’ I didn’t even write my phone number in it. I left and didn’t look back. Two weeks later, she called me up at work. She told me I needed to come by the house that night. So I did. She told me she was pregnant. I moved back in that night.” He paused. “Since then, I was the ideal husband for a while. Always home when I was supposed to be, always there for her and Derrick. Things were nice and smooth for a long time. We had our little fights here and there, but we always worked them out. We had a routine date night that always went well, if you know what I mean. She’s my everything.”

“But then you hit financial problems, which eventually brought you to your present state.” Kelly motioned to him. “And as much as I would love to stick around longer to find out much more about you and your story, unfortunately our time is up. I have another interview to attend soon, but I do have one final question for you.” She met his gaze. “Considering everything you’ve been through, what do you see for the future?”

“Well, another affair isn’t going to be an issue.” He laughed. His predicament was dire, but he knew his wife was going to stick by him and that being their only major issue, it was all in the past now. “In all seriousness though, I think the future is going to be just fine. My wife and I are together, she’s taking good care of me. Financially, we are set for quite a while. Latham was fairly well off and the state ordered that his estate pay my medical and living expenses for the rest of my life. So we will be fine in that way. It’s bittersweet though.”

“I’m glad.” Kelly smiled. “I mean, I’m glad you will be fine. You’ve been through a lot.” With a sigh, Kelly rose to her feet. “Unfortunately though, Derrick, I must be going now. It was really great to talk with you, and I’m sorry I couldn’t stay long. I have so many questions to ask but only so much time. Thank you again for agreeing to meet with me and answer my questions. You’ve been much gracious.”

“Thank you for coming. It was less unpleasant than I thought it would be. Thank you for being sensitive and kind. I appreciate that. I’d stand up and shake your hand, but…” He exhaled, intending to be funny, and feeling like he failed. “It was a real pleasure to meet you. Enjoy your next interview and have a great rest of your day”

“You as well. Have a good day, Derrick.” With that, Kelly bowed her head to him as a farewell, and then went on her way.

<~>~<~>~<~>

Christy Mann’s novel has, unfortunately, been delayed in its release. However, she has published a few short stories, which you can find on at the following links. Be sure to follow her on social media to receive updates on the release of her book!

Short Story 1: myBook.to/ChristyFogoyle

Short Story 2: myBook.to/Fogoyle2

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GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/CLMann

GoodReads Blog: https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/14430522-the-original-question

Character Interview: Nancy A. Nation’s Susan

In this interview, I had the privilege to sit down with Nancy A. Nation’s character, Susan, and come to understand her otherworldly adventures as well as hopes she has for her future, especially as she continues making pottery. ‘Kelly’ was written by me, Kelly Blanchard, and ‘Susan’ was written by Nancy A. Nation.

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A week after Christmas, Susan had agreed to meet Kelly, the Muse, at the local diner in Firth, Idaho. Outside the sky was partly cloudy and a light snow was falling. On a day like today, Bosloe’s cafe makes the best stew. She walked in and asked the hostess for Kelly’s table and spotted her right away. “Hi, are you Kelly?”

“Yes, and you must be Susan.”

Just as Susan was about to remove her sweater the server asked if they wanted anything. “Just hot chocolate for me, Kelly? I’m buying,” Susan responded.

“I already got my hot chocolate, but thanks.” Kelly smiled at Susan as she rose to her feet and shook Susan’s hand before both of them sat down at the table. “Thank you for meeting with me. How are you doing today?”

“I’m fine, thanks. Sorry, I’m late, but I had to get ride with my friend, Nancy.”

“That’s quite all right. Don’t worry.” Kelly brushed it off and smiled at her. “Now, I understand you took up pottery classes. I’ve *always* wanted to do pottery, so what is it like? Do you like it?”

“Yes, it was fun. I thought the process would be messy, but my neighbor convinced me to go with her,” Susan explained.

Kelly nodded when she heard this. “Well, I’ll definitely have to try my hand at it sometime. So tell me, I understand you got involved in investigating a few murders?” She furrowed her brows. “How did that happen? I mean, are you a detective as well?” Kelly was a little confused because the information she had gotten ahead of time had been vague, but that allowed for more questions anyway.

Susan leaned forward. “No, not really, things just happen around me and I just want to find out. Our local police officer tolerates my theories. I’m just an ordinary housewife that gets into the wrong places at the wrong times.”

Kelly raised her brows. “So what have you discovered?” She leaned in quite curious.

“Let me back up a moment. When my husband died, I was, how shall I say, not all there. Maybe it was myself or the people in the other world, Vesda. There those people helped me return to my home and find out what really happened to my husband. Eventually, my friends and I found out he was murdered. Having that solved, me and my pottery classmates walked in on the first murder. A man was head down in a rotating clay bowl. Not a pretty sight.” Susan hot chocolate arrived, and she took a sip.

Kelly grimaced when she heard this. “Definitely doesn’t sound like it.” She shook her head and sat back in her chair, reaching for her cup of hot chocolate on the table. “So this other world, Vesda…tell me about. What’s it like?” She smiled at Susan before taking a sip of her drink.

“Thankfully, it’s gone now. It was an enclosed world run by my little friend and gnome, Hobnobby. Another friend as we were escaping, blew Vesda up. As I was learning pottery techniques, Hobs, as that is what I call him, located a underground fairy world called Bailory. Naturally, he gets me involved after the second murder. Honestly, our little town is usually so quiet.”

Kelly chuckled when she heard this last part. “Aren’t all small towns?” But still, this other world bewildered her. “So….there was another world, but it’s been blown up now? And you’re thankful it’s gone. Was it a bad place then?”

Susan sipped some more from her cup and arranged a napkin under it. “Sort of, I just wanted to leave and get back home. I kept bugging the two scientists who wanted to do other things until one them built a machine than transported us back to my home. Bailory is kind of like Vesda, in the way that the people, if you can call elves and Norse gods people, can’t leave their world.” Susan brushed her short blond hair to one side.

“Ah.” Kelly nodded. She could understand the desire to return home. “So, now that you’re back, are you content? Knowing there’s more to life than just this…world?” Kelly gestured to their surroundings.

“I am but I’m bored. That’s why when my neighbor suggested the pottery class, I jumped right in. At this time of my life I don’t have to work, but I do love to making pies. My other friend from Vesda has a diner down the road and I make pies for him to sell.”

Kelly nodded when she heard this. It was hard to find a thrill in a small town after visiting an altogether different world. “Susan, I understand you had a husband who you lost. Now, I understand it may be a topic you won’t want to discuss, but can you tell me what he was like?” Kelly offered a kind, warm smile. “He must have been an amazing guy.”

“He was, he was my rock, my support, my advisor. Unfortunately when he passed, I discovered, like most women in my position, I didn’t know the first thing about electronics, hot water heaters, you name it. All the stuff that keeps a house going. My friend at the cafe, Bosloe, and my friend’s husband next door are always helping me get something fixed. Why just the other day, my hall ceiling fixture fell down. What a mess.” Susan relaxed and took another sip of her drink.I forgot to mention that I miss my Henry.”

Kelly nodded. “And it’s a good thing you do. Shows how much you loved him.” She smiled. “How did you two meet?”

“We met in college, but when he joined the insurance firm in town and I had a little girl, we didn’t get our degrees. Say there’s something I could do. When my daughter, Jan moved out to go to college, Henry and I christened her empty bedroom, if you know what I mean. I have been looking at the packed boxes with his clothes. There’s a chore I don’t really want to do.”

“Because you don’t want to let him go.” Kelly stared at Susan, observing her. She leaned forward. “Susan.” Waiting until she had eye contact with her, Kelly finally went on, “Go ahead and talk. You’ve never going to see me again, and I’m not going to tell anyone what you say, so….whatever you say is safe with me. It’s hard to lose someone that close to you, and it’s hard that life just moves on. I’m sure you hard the phrase now. I’m sure you’re also annoyed with how everyone says ‘I’m sorry’ because it doesn’t change the fact that you lost the love of your life. So…go ahead, vent if you want. Cry. I don’t mind.” She offered Susan a kind smile. “I’m here to listen. Not to judge.”

Susan smiled back. “I’m doing better now, it has been six months since he died. Just the other day, my neighbor wanted to know if there was going to be anything between Bosloe and me. Well, I set her straight. I don’t want to think of that in my life right now. Getting Hobs out of trouble seems to keep me from thinking of the sad times. Ahem, I’m certainly not interested in that little old man,” Susan clarified and brushed her hair aside again.

Kelly chuckled. She could respect that, so she sat back in her chair. “Well then, what are you planning on doing with your future then?”

“Keep up with my pottery, I converted Henry’s old study into an art room where I can relax and read. I even had a wall knocked out to install a large picture window. Going back to college maybe hard as I’m 46 now. I’ll think about that. Occasionally, I still visit Hobs in Bailor. At least that is still there. I forgot, I’m going on a cruise.”

“College is definitely a possibility, and 48 isn’t old.” Kelly smiled at Susan. “My mom would whack you over the head if she heard you say that because she’s much older than that.” Then she heard the bit about the cruise. “Ah, a cruise! Sounds exciting. Are you going to try and travel the world eventually? I mean, after traveling to ANOTHER world, exploring this one won’t seem so daunting.”

“Maybe, what started out as a Christmas gift to my wonderful next door neighbors, backfired on me, when Larry offered me a ticket to join them. Henry and I did a cruise once to the Caribbean when we were first married, but nothing since.” Susan folded the chocolate stained napkin into a smaller square.

“So will you be going alone?” Kelly lifted her brows before taking another drink of her hot chocolate.

“Just with my neighbors as far as I know. Maybe getting aboard a ship will seem normal in my life. The people at the pottery shop and in Bailory were weird enough. We are flying to SanDiego, then flying to Oahu to take the ship around the Hawaiian islands. It should be fun and relaxing,” Susan said folding her hands together on the table.

“Sounds like it.” Kelly then tilted her head as she observed Susan. “Something seems to be bothering you though. Are you nervous about something?”

“I have just never talked to a muse before. Your life must be interesting. I shouldn’t have had the hot chocolate but I’m fine now. What makes me nervous is surprises that I didn’t expect. Like when my husband’s murderer came through my bedroom window. But that was a long time ago.”

“Talking with me is just like talking with any ordinary person,” Kelly reassured her with a kind smile, but then she furrowed her brows when she heard what she said about the murderer. “Okay, now I have to ask, what exactly happened with your husband? Were you there?”

“My husband and his car was forced off a bridge over the Snake River. I had nightmares every morning for a long time. When the murderer forced me into Henry’s study, Hobs and my other friends saved the day. He did it again when one of the bad guys was after us in the old warehouse.” Susan shook her head not wanting to remember.

“Hobs seems to save the day on a regular basis,” Kelly observed with a small smile. “Tell me about him. How did the two of you meet?”

“He was the first one I met in Vesda, and a cranky fellow at that. He thought he was in control of the planet’s machine and didn’t want to leave when explosions were going on around him. I saved him that time. I was curious as to where he was going at nights from my house and while I was at pottery class I saw him walk by the back door. After I found him, I found out that this abandoned building was used as a thieves meeting place. Yes, my friend gave that same look you have, when I told her.”

“So you met him in Vesda? Which means you ended up in Vesda on you own somehow then?”

“Yes, one of the scientists was experimenting and had captured inanimate objects around my home as well as other people’s homes. Then I guess I just disappeared into Vesda.”

“Very interesting.” Kelly nodded when she came to understand better. “What did you first think when you realized you were no longer in your own world?”

“It took some time. I knew I was in what looked like the countryside, but when everyone said to go back and talk to Hobs pointing ahead of my stroll when I just came from behind. It didn’t make sense until one of the characters blurted out where I was. I guess they hadn’t seen a new person in a long time and were having fun with me. I kind of knew about Bailory beforehand after Hobs wanted to know how to destroy a witch. Our conversation was like pulling teeth. he didn’t want to tell me.”

Kelly chuckled and nodded. “I know what that’s like. I’ve endured conversations like that too. If you had the chance though, if Vesda still existed, would you go back to explore it–on your own terms, of course? Rather than abruptly being transported to another world.”

“I really don’t know. I was glad to leave at the time. Maybe there’s another out there somewhere. Uh, no, I don’t think so. Once was enough. Then there’s this new place under Firth…”

Kelly furrowed her brows. “Go on….”

“Well, Bailory is peaceful now. The elves and Nissens are working. The water spirits still try to lure me into their water pond but I know better and maybe I’ll take my other Vesda Friend, Thyla to meet Huldra. They seem alike. I can only think of doing one thing at a time,” Susan replied.

“Sounds like you have much adventure ahead of you if only you choose to take it.” Kelly smiled at Susan. “However though, I have a question that I must ask. I know you only lost your husband six months ago, and you’ve been through much, but…do you ever think you’ll marry again?” She lifted her brows as she observed Susan.

“Not in the near future. How can anyone match up to the man my Henry was? Bosloe is nice but rough and unschool. One of the scientists is a wonderful housekeeper, but he’s dedicated to his friend and their inventions. I was stirred at the Nokken water spirit, but he can’t leave the pond. I thought I had found a kindred spirit in the pottery owner when his wife died but he was definitely not a good catch. So I’ll just relax and see if anything pops up on my cruise. Don’t hold your breath on me.”

“It’s all right to be single. Discover who you are independent of anyone else. You don’t *need* to have someone…especially if you’re not sure you will ever find someone who can stand up to your late husband. So, spend time alone, go out on cruises, have adventures, learn new things, meet new people, and if there is someone else out there, you’ll meet him at the right time. No need to rush or to worry.” She gave Susan a reassuring smile. However, she decided to shift the topic a bit. “Do you have any children, by the way? I think you mentioned Jan…?”

“Oh, Jan is my daughter, the only one we had. She’s in her twenties now and just informed me about her new boyfriend. He looks like a good boy. How it would have been if she had a place like Bailory to visit growing up.”

Kelly smiled at the mention of Jan. “Where is she now? Does she come to visit you at all?”

“She lives in Boise while she’s going to college there and has a part time job. It’s about a two hour boring drive from Firth. When I was in a terrible way after Henry died, she and my sister took turns watching over me with my neighbor doing the same. I love her and she’s just like her dad in the sports she pursues and her curiosity.”

Kelly nodded. “Well, I’m glad she was there for you.” For a moment, she paused, contemplating her next question. She sat back in her chair. “Our time is coming to a close, but we still have time for a few more questions, So tell me, if you could change anything in your life or in your past, what would it be?”

Susan thought for a moment, then remembered her nightmares. “I had one bad dream that I was in the back seat of a car. I thought it was a taxi until the driver turned his head. He was my husband. The man or my husband began to drive across the bridge when I saw a car to my right clip the back fender. I was yelling for Henry to turn with it when I woke up. Yes, if I could turn the clock back I woudn’t let him go to work that day. Unfortunately, the fates to be were already in progress.”

Kelly considered Susan for a moment before nodding. “Without him with you now, you will learn new things about yourself. You will be challenged in ways you never thought possible. And you will always miss him. But there might be another out there for you somewhere.” Kelly glimpsed out the window then back at Susan with a small smile. “I hope you the best with all your endeavors and adventures. Unfortunately though, it is time for me to leave.” Kelly rose to her feet. “Thank you again for meeting with me. This chat was delightful.” She smiled at her.

“Thank you for your time and stop by the pottery shop to see our wares for sale. Bye”

“I’d love that. Have a good day, Susan!” With another smile and a wave, Kelly headed out.

<~>~<~>~<~>

Nancy A. Nation’s novel ‘The Pottery Sale’ is available online. You can find it along with her other books at the following links. Be sure to follow her on social media too!

Similar:  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HL2I084     

Deflection:    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00PD8LW56

Crossroads:  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01E9N6FPW                                                     

Found:  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B015Y0OS1M

Return:  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01EP2C47U

Desert:     https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01LZ43IQU

Where:  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B019S493BU   

Pottery (soon):  https://www.amazon.com/Pottery-Sale-What-Beneath-Urban-ebook/dp/B01N49IECN   

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Character Interview: K. M. Vanderbilt’s Tyr

In this interview, I visited K. M. Vanderbilt’s story world of ‘Skeins Unfurled‘ to meet her character, Tyr. Kelly was written by me, Kelly Blanchard, while Tyr was written by K. M. Vanderbilt.

book-cover

Tyr situated himself more comfortably in the chair, running his finger over the carven images that decorated the table. Sweeping his gaze around the room, he found the marble clean and white, striations sparkling. Table and chairs were free of dust. Everything appeared to be in order.

His guest would be arriving soon. He wasn’t sure what to expect of the meeting, but he had prepared the usual hospitality–mead and bread. Tapping his finger on the table, he glanced out the window, green eyes meeting with sunshine and verdant hills beyond.

What did a muse want with an Aesir king? It seemed she should stick with her own kind. Then, again, that meant relinquishing his position in favor of a lesser king, and Zeus would not be afforded such consideration. His eyes narrowed at the thought, lips turning down to shift the length of his gray beard.

No, whatever the muse wanted would remain in his hands. Hand, he silently corrected, looking down to his mangled arm and the wrist which ended in a stump. He still caught himself trying to use an appendage which no longer existed.

Uncomfortable all over again, he rearranged the table, scooting the utensils and mead jug into alignment. Cup and knife gleamed, polished to a high sheen. He would not be accused of being an ungracious host. Everything would be just so.

A gust of wind whipped through the room, and when it settle,d Kelly stood there and looked around. She nodded at the nice setup of the room then fixed her gaze upon Tyr and smiled at him. “Greetings. I am Kelly. You must be Tyr, God on High, Aesir King, God of Justice. Thank you for taking the time to meet with me. How are you doing today?” She always liked to start with a simple question to see how the individual would respond.

Tyr grunted, taken by surprise as he jerked back against the chair. His eyes went to the door and back to the muse. He’d expected her to come by dark water so the runner would announce her presence. Her sorcery reeked of her Olympian brethren. Stifling his distaste, he forced a tight smile, rising to offer his forearm in traditional greeting. “Well met, friend Blanchard. I am quite well. And you?”

She smiled as she accepted the traditional greeting and nodded to him. “I am well.” With the introduction out of the way, she stepped back and glimpsed around. “I have to say, it’s quite a lovely place you have here.” Then she looked back at him. “But we’re not here to talk about this room. So tell me, what is it like being the God of Justice. That doesn’t sound like a very easy job at all.”

Tyr nodded and indicated a seat at the table. “Sit with me. Drink my mead, eat my bread, and I will tell you what it means to be a god.” He sat, poured their drinks, and regarded her with a stern eye. “A god of justice must always weigh the needs of his people against their well-being. What is just is not always the easiest path, as you may imagine.” After taking a sip of the mead, he put his cup away, once more tapping his finger on the table. “I find myself having to juggle many responsibilities my people would never imagine.”

Kelly sat down and partook of his bread and mead. It was always interesting talking with a god. “People’s needs against their well-being…isn’t that the same thing though? Technically? I mean, their well-being creates those needs…” She trailed off to let him explain.

“No,” he corrected, “it is far from the same thing.” Sighing, he looked away. “They don’t always know what they need, but it falls to me to make sure their well-being is taken care of. As God on High, I have made the hard choices, some of which seem to run counter to the idea of justice, but all of it stems from the need to keep them safe, to protect what we have built here. In the end, it serves the same goal.” A pained smile tugged at one corner of his mouth as he finally met her eyes again. “I don’t expect you to understand, friend Blanchard.”

Kelly shrugged. “I may understand more than you realize, but that doesn’t mean I won’t ask questions.” She smiled. “So have you always been God on High? Or has that been something you’ve acquired? I’m not sure how gods and their ranking works here. It’s different in every realm I visit.”

“God on High is a title bestowed upon me by the Norns, the day I created Do Bzerania from the bones of the conquered worlds.” He smirked, more at ease with this vein of conversation even if he did chafe under the memories. “I became a king among kings by uniting the god realms under one rule.”  He waved his good hand to dispel the idea of rankings. “Titles are trifles in the scheme of things.”

“So you rule over all the gods? I’m sure that some gods didn’t quite appreciate that.” Kelly motioned to his missing hand. “Some fought you? Rebelled? What happened exactly?” She leaned forward, setting her chin in her palm as she observed Tyr.

He glanced down at his stump, slowly pulling his arm from the table so it was hidden from view. When his gaze landed on her again, it was with rage in his eyes. “Rebellion is a crass idea. All who live in the light of Do Bzerania’s sun do so with full voice under their pantheon’s council member. I am not a dictator in that sense.” Grunting, he sat back, fingers clenching around the arm of the table. “My hand was lost due to stupidity and a long-standing hatred. The wolf abomination, Fenrir, attacked me when I came unarmed into the wastelands of Asgaard.” Teeth gritted, he very nearly choked on his tongue when he spat, “His traitorous father broke the thousand year peace and was forced from this plain. We do not honor the troll-kin and their trickery! With Loki and his family banished, the last vestiges of dissent have gone!”

Kelly listened to all this and tilted her head to a side. “What exactly did Loki do?”

Tyr leaned forward, voice dipping to a low growl. “He killed his own brother.”

Kelly waited to see if there was more, but when he said nothing, she shrugged. “Well, that’s a horrible thing indeed, I’ve met people who’ve done worse. Maybe it’s worse though when a god kills a god. I don’t know how all this works.” She met his gaze. “Okay, answer me this question I’ve always wondered. Are gods actually immortal? I mean, a god can die, then they’re not really immortal.”

Taken aback by the question, Tyr shook his head. “Another crass idea.” Scoffing, he attempted to dodge the true answer. It was dangerous to touch that information. “We are immortal, Muse. Do not think otherwise.”

“I think you’re merely immortal until you die. And I think your time of death is one set in stone but unknown to anyone including you. So yes, nothing can kill you until then, but then…then you’d be as mortal as the rest of us. It must be a startling realization for gods when that moment comes because they’re so used to immortality. I suppose mortals have a slight advantage in that regard.” She shrugged. “Not that it matters. They’re merely mortal.”

Then she shifted the conversation to something she had considered earlier. “You said that you must balance the well-being of all. Where does free will play into all this? Or is that a myth as well?”

Though he ground his teeth in irritation, Tyr gladly accepted the change of topic. “Free will exists. The wyrd is composed of choices. All make choices, and those choices have far flung consequences. They may not reveal themselves in weft and warp for thousands of years.” His thoughts turned inward to the wasted death mask of the Arbiter of the Future, the destruction of the Norns and their visions of Ragnarok. “But they do exist.” He exhaled, long and slow. “Control is an illusion.” But it was little more than a whisper.

“Control is an illusion?” Kelly raised her brows. “Some people say choice is an illusion—that all things are already predestined or set in stone and cannot be changed.”

“Lies.” He stared into her eyes, judging her intent. “Inevitably, everything moves toward an end,” he said, “but we have no control over anything but our own choices, how we respond to the challenges laid before us.” Cocking his head to the side, he smiled and said, “You choose to address me as an equal, and I choose to let it stand because I have offered hospitality. Our conversation will end without bloodshed, but it is because of choice rather than a predetermined set of events. 1000 years from now, what credence does this hold for the wyrd?” Shrugging, he answered, “None knows that answer now. But we are given the choice to comport ourselves however we please…and we also accept we must deal with the consequences of that choice.”

Kelly smiled at him. Even if he chose to strike out at her, she knew it would have no effect on her. That was the safeguard she was given when traveling to realms. No one could touch her unless she allowed it. It always amused her when someone tried to attack her only to pass through her.

However, she kept all this to herself and asked him yet another question. “And how did you respond to Freyr’s betrayal?”

Tyr’s self-satisfied grin faltered. Looking down at his good hand and the burnt skin there, he replied evenly, “I answered it in kind. His betrayal threatened the well-being of all the gods.” When he met her eyes, it was without an ounce of remorse. “I will tell you that justice is not about turning your cheek to a blow. It demands blood, and I took it from all who tried to trample on the dreams we built here.”

“We built? Or you?” She met his gaze unflinching.

“Perhaps it was me.” He shrugged.  “They all benefit from it now. Is it not the same thing?”

“Do they? Or do you? Do you get the peace you want, but at what cost? Does it even matter what they want? Because, after all, you know what’s best for them.” She tilted her head to a side.

“As I said, I am not a dictator.” Smirking once more, he leaned back and crossed his arms. “My wife leads the Egyptian pantheon, and her voice is not diminished, but strengthened by that alliance. Zeus, also, has married into the strength of the Aesir. We are as one now.” Raising a brow, he reminded, “Our voices rule this gathering with as much fairness as can be afforded, but war is sometimes needed. If it results in lasting peace, I fail to see the difference.”

“All this talk of gods and goddesses. Makes me wonder where are the mortals are in all of this? How do they fit in?” She folded her arms as she sat back in her chair to watch and listen.

“The mortals…” Chuckling, he rapped his knuckle on the table a few times, watching the movement as he sought words to frame his answer. “They live upon their own plain. The middle-realm was theirs to do with as they pleased, but now they serve our will. They choose a patron, offer worship, and fuel the power of our world. In turn, we offer protection and blessing.” Pausing his tapping, he looked up at her. “Freyr’s betrayal brought that unfortunate aspect back into their lives. If he had left Dodriki abandoned as the Norns decreed, the mortals would be free of gods’ interference. Now, we have no choice but to rule their realm alongside ours. To do otherwise invites destruction.”

Kelly regarded him for a long moment before finally speaking her mind. “You have a very interesting life, that is for sure. So why do you hate the Jötunn so much? You’ve basically have everything you want. Why the hatred toward them?”

“That—“ He sighed and shook his head, eyes tightening at the corners as he glared at the table. “The God Wars saw us as allies, but I mentioned their trickery. They intended to destroy us by unexpected betrayal when they could not meet us by force. In the end, I was forced to kill them all.” Sighing, he met her gaze. “That is what justice demands, what weighing needs versus well-being means. I gave them every opportunity to be as one with us, to live among us as did the other pantheons.”  Shaking his head, he added under his breath, “Had I known the corruption they spread, I would have sent Freyr and Loki to the same end when I had the chance.”

“And where is mercy in all this? Where this is justice, there is also mercy, so how that that work with everything you do?”

“Mercy is afforded when it is deserved.” His face remained locked into a stoic mask. “Mercy exists as a tool. Loki knows it’s touch, for whatever the Norns saw in him worth salvaging. I trust to that still, even if everything he touches turns to putrid rot.”

Pointing at her, he said, “Do not think me merciless because I kill when it is demanded. Freyr and Loki may be shorn from the gathering, but they live still. Odin—wherever he may be—lives still. All are traitors, but their betrayals have been answered, mercy dispensed.”

Kelly stared at him for a very long time. She could tell he was irritated with her, but she knew they only had a little longer before she would leave. She enjoyed probing this god too much.

Leaning forward, she searched his eyes, reading him. “Mercy is a tool….so who decides to use that tool? You? As the god of Justice, how can you make that decision? It would be completely against your constitution. Who counterbalances you?”

“I am also a tool,” he responded evenly. “I may make the hard decisions, but I do it with support from those who remain.” He expanded to explain, “When Loki killed Baldr, it was the Norns who decreed punishment. My word does serve as law in the absolute. I am not without fault, though I do take into consideration all facets which may be examined. Wyrd is a strange concept to grasp in that sense, but all choices have consequences. Loki’s choice moved the pantheons to answer. It trickled down to affect us all—Freyr and Odin became entangled in it, for instance. Freyr refused to remain among the gathering and was thus corrupted by Odin. And Odin… Well, he chose a banished mongrel over his own kind, and that moved us to an answer to preserve our lives. One choice can have far-flung consequences, and it falls in our laps to make another choice, and so on.”

Kelly noticed how he really didn’t answer her question, but she allowed it. Yet she paused to consider his words and what her next question should. “Do you mind if I meander a bit? I like to pace a bit. It helps me think.” She didn’t wait for his answer but stood and meandered around the room, taking in all the oddities she saw there.

Finally, she turned back to him. “It almost sounds as though a single god made a single choice, and chaos erupted from there. Why do you think Loki did it?”

“I make no claims to know the inner workings of a troll, but that question has plagued me for some time.” He watched her for a moment before revealing the truth. “Had Loki not killed Baldr, you may have had this meeting with a different God on High. Baldr was considered more suited to the task of peace than an old conqueror. And perhaps he may have been a good replacement, but we will never know what may have been. Loki made a choice, and it changed everything down to undoing the skeins of the worlds’ end.”

“You don’t wish to be God on High?” Kelly lifted her brows as she glimpsed at him before turning way to look at the interesting artifacts.

“I tremble to think of putting this mantle on another’s shoulders.” He looked out the window, finger once more taping up that tapping rhythm. “I would not wish it on another.”

Kelly finally turned to face him. “That doesn’t answer my question.” And she approached the table, placing her hands on the back of a chair, leaning in to meet his face. “Did you not want to be God on High at all? Was it a responsibility you only took because there was no other to take it?”

“I answered your question.” It was said with resignation, though. “I vied against Odin for title of King of the Aesir before I knew what it would mean. I took the mantle of God on High because I conquered the god realms and so had the burden of their people to take under my wing. What am I if I take them and do not offer the rule that title assumes?”

“Why did you take all of it?” She studied him. “Why did you take all of it?”

“Because it was what it meant to rule as Aesir in that time upon Asgaard.” He tried to keep the sadness from his gaze, but it did not abate. “Things change.”

Kelly regarded him and then nodded. She offered him a smile as she straightened her posture. “Well, you would be pleased to know my time here has about come to an end. That means it’s an end of this…interrogation, I suppose you may call it. I appreciate all the answers you have provided for me though. It is quite insightful.”

Nodding, he took a deep breath, burying the things the muse had dredged up. “You are a most insistent creature, friend Blanchard.” Regarding her with narrowed gaze, Tyr said, “A most odd meeting, though not entirely unpleasant.”

Kelly had to smirk. “Well, I enjoyed it even if you didn’t. I learned quite a bit, that is for sure.” But then she met his gaze and told him. “Something weighs heavy on you though. You keep it to yourself, locked away. It’s a source of sorrow and regret. Something you may not let the others ever see because they have to see you as strong. If I had more time, I would ask you to open up to me since…after all, I’m a mere mortal who will, of course, die before a mere minute has passed for you in this realm. But unfortunately, I am tied to time, and my time here has come to an end. Perhaps another time….if your’e willing to have me back, of course.” She smiled gently at him.

He took a deep breath, truly examining her. How strange that she could see through the heart. What he wouldn’t give for that ability—to intuit intent beyond masks and false words. Almost wistfully, he nodded and agreed, “Another time.”

She bowed to him and then vanished away in a gust of wind.

<~>~<~>~<~>

YOU CAN FIND THE CONTINUATION OF THIS INTERVIEW ON K. M. VANDERBILT’S WEBSITE HERE: http://www.kmvanderbilt.com/single-post/2017/01/05/Tyr-An-Interview-Part-2

K. M. Vanderbilt’s book ‘Skeins Unfurled: Prequel to the Breadth Key Cycle’ is now available. You can find it here: getBook.at/SkeinsUnfurled

Be sure to follow her on social media for more updates!

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Character Interview: Adam Priestley’s Lazarus Sinclair

Earlier this week, I had the honor of meeting with Adam Priestley to discuss his not yet released novel, ‘Lava Lounge Nights’, which is a blend of many genres—sci-fi, romantic mystery and thriller with a futuristic edge. However, in this interview, I was escorted into the story world of ‘Lava Lounge Nights’ and met, Lazarus Sinclair, one of Adam’s characters. ‘Kelly’ was written by me, Kelly Blanchard, and ‘Lazarus’ was written by Adam Priestley.

adam-priestleys-cover

Kelly was woken by the telephone constantly ringing. She rubbed her eyes and looked at the clock. It was 4AM. As she answered the phone, a gruff voice she didn’t recognise greeted her. “Ello darling a car has been arranged to take you to the Lava Lounge Night club, the boss Lazarus Sinclair would like a word. His wife went awol last night and the only person he’s prepared to talk to is you. I hope your not a bleedin’ reporter, I take it your not afraid of flying!”

Kelly barely had time to get dressed before there was a knock at the door. She opened the door to a blanket of white. It had been constantly snowing all night. A stranger in a sharp suit and a scar down his left cheek ushered her into the back of a stretched Rolls Royce. She held on tightly. Kelly heard the noise of the hover jets roar to life as the car took off into the night sky.

Kelly was quickly ushered into the club straight up past the punters. A cat like singer on the stage eyed Kelly suspiciously. Kelly’s eyes set on the mighty Sagosian Taunogh standing guard outside of Lazarus’ office. His stag like antlers almost scraping the ceiling. He bellowed down his nose as he saw her approach.

“It’s alright, Tauny.” She heard the gruff voice she recognised from her phone call. “This is Miss Blanchard. Mr Sinclair is expecting her.” Taunogh stood aside to allow Kelly access into the room.

Lazarus sat at his desk looking at a locket as saw the door open he quickly put it back in his pocket. He looked up and smiled as he saw Kelly enter. He steepled his hands in front of him. “Ah, Miss Blanchard. I am so pleased you could make it.”

Kelly greeted him with a nod. “Thank you for the invite. A little more notice would have been nice, but I work with what I get.” She smiled at him then glimpsed around the office. “It’s quite a place you have here. How long have you been running this business?” She raised her brows as she glanced back at Lazarus.

Lazarus smiled. He stared straight at her with his piercing blue eyes. “I’m sorry where are my manners.” He stood up to shake her hands. “My boys can be a little over zealous. i just needed to talk to you. You see I need someone I can confide in, there’s a lot going on at the moment and I need someone outside of the picture i can rely on.” He gestured to the chair in front of his desk. “Please sit down, would you care fior a drink?” He paused for a moment, the muscle in his jaw clenched. “Ah yes you wanted to know how long the Lava Lounge has been mine. Now let me think was it before Italy or after, yes, yes that was it. We, that is Angelica and myself took over the club in 2073 just before little Aaron was born.” He glanced at the holographic picture of his eldest son Aaron sitting on his grandmothers knee and smiled.

Kelly sat when he offered the chair, but she declined the offer for a drink. She nodded when she heard his answer, but the first part of his response had caught her attention. “What sort of things did you need to confide in someone?” She furrowed her brows.

Lazarus sat back down in his chair, pulled open the desk drawer and took out a tumbler of Rybekian brandy. As the dark red contents splashed into the glass, silver sparkles swirled in the light. “All this.” he sighed. “It’s been all over the holovids. My wife angelica disappeared last night.” He started to ramble, the words just falling out of his mouth. “My lovely, gorgeous wife. Some one  just took her, someone.” A hard lump started to form at the back of his throat and he struggled to continue.

Kelly tilted her head to a side as she observed his emotion of the situation. “And yet I understand you were with a mystery blonde last night. Is it an understanding between you and your wife that you have such…entertainment on the side? Or is this unique to last night?”

“Who told you that!” he snapped. “Nothing happened, we’re just friends. I loved….” He stuttered and corrected himself. “I love my wife dearly I would never do anything to hurt her, you have to believe me. I asked you here Kelly because I, I need someone to believe me.”

“Lazarus, let me explain to you how this works…” Kelly leaned forward and locked eyes with him. “Whether or not I believe you is irrelevant, but I do believe that you believe you are right, and I’m not here to judge you. I’m here to make you think, and some of the things you think about and realize might not be something you like, but it’ll be the truth. And the good thing about me is, after today you won’t see or hear from me again, and I won’t be spreading any rumors about you at all. I won’t speak a word of this conversation to anyone, so you can trust me, but I need you to trust me.” She made sure she had his attention before continuing. “You don’t love your wife anymore. I caught the use of past tense a moment ago. When did that change?”

Lazarus stood up and walked to the window, he gazed up at the stars through the glass doors of his office leading out into the hover car parking lot. He sighed heavily, as he glanced back over his shoulder at Kelly. “It’s no that I don’t love her anymore. I will always love her. She is the mother of my children.” He crossed back to his desk and took a big swallow of his drink. The brandy stung the back of his throat. “Okay.” he sighed “So I’ll admit I did have company last night but it’s not what you think and no I can’t name her, it would put her in danger if I did. But I did not kill my wife. You have to understand the stress I’m under at the moment. The club is crawling with filth, all of them certain I have done something.” He paused and glared at her. “Which I did not, no matter what anyone says. I wanted you hear because somebody has to know the truth. The press are going to have a field day with this one. Do you know how many years they have been waiting for me to slip up. Every little thing they are at me like a blood hound trying to get the big scoop and why because I’m a little bit more successful than some.” He sat back down, heavy in his chair. “Do you want to know the real reason i used past tense?” Not really giving her time to answer he fixed her in his sights with his penetrating blue eyes.”Well?”

“Why did you use the past tense?” Kelly raised her brows but listened.

Lazarus sighed, not for the first time that day. He ran his hans through his hair, desperate to have something to do with herself. “Because I think she was murdered, and I think I know who did it!”

Kelly wasn’t surprised by this because he specifically said that he hadn’t killed her, and until that moment Kelly only thought she had been missing. Nevertheless, she nodded and continued to listen. “First of all, why do you think she was murdered?”

“The only possible reason.” He breathed down through his nose. He thought everybody would know. It just made sense to him.  “To get at me. Why else would anybody just grab a mother of two. When the police have had enough of torturing the innocent they’ll realise the same thing.”

“And what has happened to the children? I understand they were with her when she was taken.” Kelly watched him. “Are they home now?”

“No.” Lazarus looked away. “As the police suspect that I am guilty of murdering their mother. They have been taken into overnight care. They said something about safe guarding. What do they need to guard them from. I’m their father.”

Kelly nodded when she heard this. “And you said you believe you know who is responsible? Who might that be?”

“Thank you, that’s the question I’ve been waiting for someone to ask all day. The person, in fact the only person the police should be talking to right now is.”

The doors to Lazarus’ office suddenly hissed open and Lazarus twin sister, Lydia, walked in. Kelly noticed how identical they actually were, despite the obvious gender difference. They both had the same jet black, hair, mesmerizing blue eyes and thin aquiline nose, That on Lydia reminded Kelly of Audrey Hepburn. “I heard we had company.” Lydia said as she entered the room. She glared at Kelly as she walked across to the desk. She picked up the bottle of Rybekina Brandy. “Bruv, are you drinking again. You know how lethal that stuff is.” She turned to look at Kelly, sizing her up, glaring deep into her eyes, trying to psyche her out. “So who do we have here?”

Kelly just met Lydia’s eyes unbothered, and she even offered her a smile. “Hello, Lydia. I’m Kelly, and your brother was just about to tell me who he thinks supposedly killed his wife.”

“Was he now? Let me guess–Hartman.” She snorted. “You’re going to have to forgive him he thinks everything that goes wrong in his life is Wolfric ‘bleedin’ Hartman.

“If you don’t mind, I would like to hear it from your brother.” Kelly shifted her attention to Lazarus. As long as Lydia didn’t keep interjecting into the conversation, she didn’t mind her presence, but if she started answering the questions and such, Kelly would have to ask her to leave, but she understood the siblings were close.

Lazarus glared at his sister. “What do you want, Lyds, I was hoping for a private conversation.”

Lydia shrugged. “I’m trying to look after you bruv, you know what your like letting everyone in on all the dirty little secrets in your life. Do we even know who this Kelly is, I don’t know her from Eve.”

“Kelly is a friend of mine. Now if you don’t mind I’d like to talk to her alone.”

Lydia glared at him. “No bleedin chance, you’ve got cops all over the place down there and your up here having a nice cosy little chat with her.” She glanced over her shoulder at Kelly, who just shrugged and smiled.

“And yes, Lyds, yes, I do think Hartman killed Angelica. If you don’t mind I’d like to talk to Kelly for a while alone. Now get out.” Lazarus stared at Lydia. “Or I’ll have to get security in here to chuck you out.”

“Fine. but you just watch what your saying and don’t keep drinking that stuff you know you can’t control your moth when your on that muck.” Lydia gave Kelly a dirty look as she left the room. As she got to the door. “Brothers.”

As Lydia left the room Lazarus turned his attention back to Kelly. “Sorry about that, now where were we?”

Kelly nodded. She understood siblings all too well. “Hartman. I understand he’s been a rival of yours for a long time. Why would he take the chance to kill your wife?”

Lazarus sighed heavily and then looked up at Kelly. “Because it’s him, because he can.” He shook his head and reached for the bottle of brandy picking it up. He looked at it before deciding to put it down. “Me and Wolfric go years back, hell, we once even worked together once. Well for his dad anyway. It all used to be hunky dory, we’d hit a few securicor vans, split the dosh and go on our merry ways. then she came on to the scene.” He smiled as fond memories came into his head. “You know whatever he says she was mine first.”

“Sounds reasonable, but…too easy.” Kelly shook her head. “Yes, I know you two have a feud, and I’m sure both of you would like to possibly put the other in the ground—or out of business—but still, I say it’s too easy. You’re the obvious target for your wife’s death, and people would expect you to blame him. As I said, too easy.” Kelly sat back in her chair. “I’m not saying he didn’t have a hand in it, but…I think it’s more complicated than that. Think harder. Think back to the last time you saw your wife, and the last interaction you had with her. Did she let on to anything? Did she seem uneasy about something or someone?” Kelly felt more like a detective than an interviewer, but that was all right. If it opened him up and got her answers as well as possibly brought a bit of peace to him, she was okay with that.

Lazarus sat still for a moment, quietly contemplating what Kelly had just said. “She was at her parents all last week and what with running this place we didn’t really have that much contact. To be honest I didn’t even know she was back in the country until the Police rang. It all came as such a surprise. The only thing I do remember is that before she left she was banging on about some diamonds, called the Kadam stones or something. To be honest I thought she was just dropping hints as to what she wanted for Christmas presents.” He ran his hand shakily through his hair, thinking again. “You do know her mother hates me right. Whether she had an argument with her parents i don’t know but I wouldn’t trust her father as far as I could throw him.”

“I doubt either of her parents would kill their own daughter to get to you. There are other ways to hurt you than killing her.” Kelly pointed out then rose to her feet. “You don’t mind if I meander about, do you? Helps me think.” And she began moving around the room, looking at different things. “These diamonds though…that sounds like a lead. Have you looked into that?” She turned back to Lazarus with raised brows.

“No, like I said I just thought she was trying to give me an idea about what she wanted for Christmas.” He turned to look at her. “Feel free to have a good nosey around, Christ everybody else whose come in here today had. Why should you be the exception?” He looked absentmindedly out of the window again. “I wouldn’t rule her father out though. He’s no saint. Have I told you he once asked me to shoot somebody for him.”

Kelly wasn’t walking around to be nosy. To be honest, her mind wasn’t on what she was seeing but whether many other possibilities. “You think he would have killed his own daughter?”

“Christ, there was rumours he killed his own mother.” He looked at her with a straight poker face. “The thing you need to know about Roberto Accorsi is that he plays from his own rule book and boy does that one hold a grudge. Like I said he once asked me to shoot somebody for him. A business rival I think. I told him straight to forget it. Despite what anybody says i’m not a gangster.”

Kelly turned to look straight at him. “Have you killed anyone before? I’m not asking because I think you’re guilty of this, but depending your answer, I want to make a specific point.”

Lazarus shrugged. “What can I say stuff happens, but I’ve never killed anybody who didn’t deserve it.”

“Now, with that in mind, would you be able to kill your own children just to hurt someone you don’t like?” Kelly locked eyes with Lazarus.

Lazarus looked stunned. “No of course not.” Lazarus laughed. “I see what your driving at but hell I’m not Accorsi.”

“I’m not saying he’s not innocent. I’m merely giving you a different angle to look at. You can’t just pin it on someone you think is guilty.  You need to have people out there digging and trying to find the truth because right now, everyone thinks you’re responsible, so they’re not going to look any further than that.” Kelly stepped up to Lazarus. “But at the same time, you can’t control this to paint the target on someone else’s back. If you want to catch her killer, I suggest your people find the crime scene and work from there. Of course, if the whereabouts of that is unknown, someone needs to go to her last known location and backtrack her every movement. Have you done that yet?”

“That’s the police’s job, but I promise you I’m not exactly going to sit back and let them pin this on me darling, but what can I do I’m just a man in a sharp suit.” He poured himself a large glass of brandy. “You sure you don’t want one?”

“You may be a man in a sharp suit, but you have people, don’t you? Because, like you said, you’re not the kind of man to just sit back. It might be the police’s job, but how much do you trust them–really?” She raised her brows as a small smile tugged at the corner of her lips. “I’m sure they’d just love to put you away, so who’s to say they’re investigating wholeheartedly? Who’s to say they want the truth? Who’s to say they care about it? But you do, don’t you? You want to know what happened to the mother of your children, and you would like to see the person responsible for it punished. So…use your resources.” Then Kelly shrugged as she came around a chair and sat down once more. “That’s my suggestion anyway, but I’m really not here for the investigation. I’m here to discuss you. You said you have children. Tell me about them. What are they like?”

Outside of the room Eddie the gruff voiced man was stood outside of Lazarus office, trying to listen in on the conversation. When the cat like singer sashayed across the room towards him. Her amber eyes sparkled. “Darling, I never had you down as a gossip.”

“I’m not.” Eddie flushed. “But what’s going on in there? First Angelica goes missing, which I’m still not sure she just didn’t run off with another man.”

The cat like Singer glared at him, “Angelica wouldn’t do that. Then the place is crawling with cops adamant that he’s guilty as sin. Then he secludes himself with some mystery girl. I don’t like it I don’t like it one little bit.”

Inside the office, Lazarus smiled. “Oh honey don’t worry I’m not just going to sit here, curl over and die. I just don’t want to get you implicated in all of that.” He shuffled nervously in his seat. “I purely asked you here so that I could give you my side of events. To answer your question about my family. i couldn’t wish for better. I notice you keep looking at your watch when you ready to leave you can, say the word and I’ll have my guys drop you back home or anywhere else you’d like.”

“I have a few more minutes, but yes, I will be having to leave soon.” She smiled and nodded. “But answer me this, Lazarus…is there anything in your life that you would have changed if you could? That you would have done differently?”

“Never let my wife out of my sight.” He sighed. “My poor boys having to grow up without their mother.” He looked down at his glass. “You know what i really don’t need this.” He picked up the glass, walked to the widow and threw it out into the cold night. “I really do appreciate you giving me these two hours.” He said glancing over his shoulder at Kelly. “Especially when everybody else think I’m as guilty as hell. I promise you one thing Kelly I’m innocent and my boys are not going to grow up without their father.” Kelly smiled as she left the room, as she opened the door she almost tripped over Eddie who was still trying to eavesdrop. “Ah Eddie.” Lazarus smiled. “Please be a good chap and make sure Miss Blanchard gets home safely, won’t you?”

“Sure boss.” Eddie grunted.

“Goodbye, Kelly, and thank you.”

Kelly watched as the doors hissed shut behind her, leaving Lazarus alone in the confines of his office.

<~>~<~>~<~>

Adam Priestley’s novel, ‘Lava Lounge Nights’, is not yet published, but there is a taster chapter of Adam’s forthcoming story available on Wattpad: www.wattpad.com/story/85092855-lava-lounge-nights.

Character Interview: E. M. McGowen’s Tenshi

(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard. Tenshi was written by E. M. McGowen.)

A small bell made a ringing sound as a gentleman made his way through the doors of Cafe Bella, a local coffee and smoothie shop located in south Oklahoma City.  In the couple of years since Tenshi had made his home in Oklahoma, he’d discovered one very important and vital fact—coffee in the United States was shit.  Still, there were places, like this particular haven, that managed to make it at least tolerable.

He ordered his drink and sat, waiting for both his order and the woman he was supposed to be meeting.  It had been a bit of a surprise to find he was someone who could be interviewed, but he figured why not—it couldn’t hurt anything.  Tenshi grabbed his drink as it was placed on the counter, taking a drink and making a noise of approval.

Soon the bell rang again, and a young woman in professional attire walked in. Even though she liked being casual when she could, Kelly learned most people took her interviews serious when she was dressed professionally, so she went to the counter, ordered a drink, and took the opportunity to look around until her eyes landed on Tenshi. While waiting for her order, she approached Tenshi with a smile. “Tenshi…? I would attempt to say your last name, but I’m afraid I would completely fail.” She offered her hand for him to shake if he wished to. “I’m Kelly Blanchard. Thank you for meeting me. I trust you are well?”

Tenshi watched as she walked in, almost positive this was the woman he was supposed to talk to.  He waited until she ordered to approach her, but was surprised when she came to him first.  He stood to meet her and took her hand, shaking it firmly before gesturing for her to take a seat.  He laughed at her quip about his last name, the smile reaching his eyes.  “It isn’t as hard as it looks, honestly.  Japanese is fairly easy to pronounce if you break it down phonetically.  It would be Ih-ch-ee-joe-gee.  The first part is similar to the word “itch”.”  Tenshi shook his head a little, chuckling again.  “Sorry.  I teach Japanese at my University.  It’s habit to try to break things down now.  It’s very nice to meet you, Kelly.  I’m doing very well—are you the same?”

She bowed her head. “I am doing quite well, thank you.” Then she lifted her gaze again with a smile. “I didn’t know that about Japanese, so that’s very informative! And I was going to ask what it is that you do, but you just told me you teach Japanese. Fantastic!” She gave him a grin. “I can already tell you have a teacher’s spirit, and that is very important.”

By this time, both of their orders were ready, so they retrieved them, and Kelly followed Tenshi to the table where he had been sitting, and she sat across from him and sipped on her drink. “So, Tenshi, you’re from Japan, correct? How did you end up in Oklahoma ?”

Tenshi sipped his drink, looking over the woman in front of him as they talked. He watched her mannerisms, the way her eyes moved and where they moved.  He tilted his head a little, making a mental note to ask her about this later. Instead, he crossed his legs and took a sip of his drink and answered her question.

“I am—I was born and raised in Tokyo.  Spent several years in London before moving back.  I moved to Oklahoma about two years ago…I had a falling out with my partner of almost ten years and needed a change of scenery.  When the University of Oklahoma offered me the teaching position, I took it.  My sister-in-law is from Norman, OK, so I was familiar with the area.”

Kelly nodded as she took this in, and she drummed her fingers on the table as she contemplated her next question. Finally, she lifted her gaze to lock with his, and she offered him a smile. “Forgive me for my bluntness, but I understand you lead a gay lifestyle. Don’t worry, I’m not going to judge you for it, but when you said partner, I’m assuming that’s what you meant about Japan, correct?” She raised her brows, curious. “And have you found life…acceptable here?”

Tenshi’s eyebrows went up at her question, slightly surprised at her bluntness, but not opposed to it. If anything, he was impressed with her ability to get to heart of the question she wanted. He nodded a little. “I am gay, yes, and that is what I meant by partner.  His name was Ryoua.”  He tilted his head as he thought about her question. “I’ve found it to  be more open and accepting here.  I can walk down the street and hold my partner’s hand and not get too many odd looks.  In Japan, we often conceal it.  It’s not as accepted.”

Kelly nodded in understanding. “So what happened between Ryoua and you? I know it might be difficult to talk about but…think of it this way: you’ll never see me again, and I’m a total stranger, and talking it out might be exactly what you need.” She offered him a kind smile.

Tenshi bit his lip, looking past her to stare at the wall.  He was unused to talking about this particular subject with strangers. “I…well, he cheated on me.  He’d began cheating on me four days after our fifth anniversary.  We were at a Christmas party for his company, he got drunk and disappeared. Didn’t think of it then, but looking about on it …” He shook his head. “I’m an idiot.  I found out about it because he left his phone at home, and his lover called for him.  I could handle maybe one affair.  People have worked through that, but I couldn’t handle multiple people.  Especially not … not after what happened after.  The repercussions of the affairs were very, very horrible.”

“Because you have HIV.” Kelly locked eyes with him.

He stared at her for a full minute before replying. “Yes.”

“I’m sorry about that.” Kelly bowed her head before lifting her gaze once more. “I know that can’t be easy at all, and to be honest, I don’t completely understand it myself, so I can’t imagine what it’s like to life with that. How do you manage?” She furrowed her brows, sincerely both curious but also concerned.

“It is what it is.” Tenshi stated bluntly, lifting his shoulder in a shrug. “It’s easily managed with medication.  HIV, or even AIDS, is no longer the death sentence it was in the 80’s or 90’s.  The average person diagnosed with it now has at least a 40 year life span to look forward to – possibly more depending on how young and healthy they are.  I’m fairly health conscious, and I’ve managed very well.  Unlike my partner, who is going to end up giving himself lung cancer if he doesn’t stop smoking.” He said this with an amused look and a chuckle.

“A new partner? Or are you still talking about Ryoua?” Kelly raised her brows a little confused.

“Oh! Sorry, I should have explained.  No, Ryouta is my ex.  I have a boyfriend now.  His name is Jaime.”

Kelly smiled then took another sip of her drink–she’d almost forgotten about the drink. “So, tell me about Jaime. How did you two meet?”

“We met at the college.  He teachers English.  Jaime very literally crashed into met at the orientation they held for all the teachers.  Spilled Coke down all over himself and me.”  Tenshi finished his drink and set the cup to the side.  He reached up to unconsciously run a hand through what he could of his hair, reaching behind to make sure the braid was still in place.  It was a habit he’d had since he’d grown his hair out this long.

“Jaime was straight, but we had a connection.  I’ve…never known connections like that actually happened between people.  He followed me around everywhere, talked to me all the time.  Finally, he asked me to take him on a date and I did.  The rest is history.”

“Interesting.” Kelly nodded with a smile as she took all this in. Now I understand you have a son, Kouji…and this is going to sound like a stupid question, but how do you have a son?”

Tenshi let out a merry laugh. “I was wondering when that question would happen!”

Kelly grinned. “Well, I’m glad I don’t disappoint.”

“I was married to a woman for years.  I spent quite a bit of time in denial of the fact I was gay.  I come from a very prestigious family and I was supposed to marry and have sons.  I went to England for a year during medical school and met Kouji’s mother.  There was a mutual attraction.  She’s the only woman I’ve ever been attracted to in my life.  I think I’m mostly attracted to her personality – she’s my best friend.”  Tenshi smiled. “But we were together for about fifteen years, married for almost eleven of those years.  She very literally set me up with Ryouta.  She’d figured out ages ago that I was gay.”

Kelly smiled. “Interesting! And you say that she’s your best friend still? The fact that she set you up with Ryouta—I bet she feels bad about how that worked out.” She frowned

“She is. Jaime had to learn early on she’s going to be in my life forever, and not just because she the mother of my child.” Tenshi frowned and looked down at the table. “She does.  I’ve told her it isn’t her fault, and it isn’t.  Emelia…well, I think it is something she is going to feel guilty over for a while.”

“Understandable but unfortunate.” Kelly nodded then went to take another sip of her drink only to realize it was gone now, so she set it aside. “Okay, so, you’ve got Jaime in your life, and Kouji and even Emelia in a way. You’re a teacher at a university, so life seems to be going quite well for you.” She smiled but observed Tenshi’s face. “So, what do you want out of life? If your wildest dreams could come true, what would they be?”

“And I have Jaime’s daugher, Kitlyn.  She’s a big part of my life now, too.” Tenshi brushed a little hair from his face and thought about her question.  A smile crossed his face as he stared at her, looking her straight in the eye.  “Honestly? I have it.  This is my happiest, wildest dreams.  I have a great job – even if they did try to fire me for being gay a few years ago, but we got that resolved. I have a son who is doing great on his own – in fact he goes to my college.  I have a man who loves me, and a great little step-daughter.  I’m happy.  I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”

Hearing all this made Kelly smile again. “That’s good. I’m happy for you. Not many people achieve the level of happiness you have.” Then she tilted her head to a side before answering her next question, “And what is your biggest regret?”

The question made him think hard, his brows furrowing in concentration before they focused on her face. “I…well…probably my relationship with my mother.”

Kelly lifted her brows. “What do you mean?”

“My mother hates me.  We have never had a great relationship.  She has a slew of mental illnesses.  Last diagnosis, she was schizo-affective.  My nephew has schizophrenia.  Her behavior was one reason I decided to go into psychiatry.  To make sense of why she acted the way she did toward me.  I regret that she and I don’t have a better relationship, seeing as she’s my only living parent.”  Tenshi fidgeted in his chair. “I am a disappointment to her.  I’m gay, and in her eyes, that’s a terrible thing and something I should be ashamed of.  She’s even gone so far as to say I should have been the twin that died, not my brother.”

“I’m sorry.” Kelly shook her head. “That is never easy. My great-grandmother actually said the same thing about my grandfather—how he should have died instead of his brother. Living as a ‘disappointment’ to a parent—especially your only living parent—is one of the hardest thing anyone can endure, and I’m sorry that is that case for you.” But then she paused, searching his gaze then furrowed her brows. “Do you think there’s at all the chance for you two to reconcile? Or is that completely off the table?”

“Oh wow, that’s horrible to hear.  It was a shock when she said that to me.  I understand it was only a few days after the death of my father, and perhaps she was just in shock…but she wouldn’t allow me to bring Ryouta to the funeral. Ryouta knew and loved him as well.  Mikiko told me I was a disappointment to the family name and that my stillborn twin would have been a better son than I.  It hurt.  It hurt a lot coming from her right then.” Tenshi rolled his eyes, but the hurt still shone there.  “Of course, this is from the woman who named her SON ‘Tenshi’.” He took a deep breath, tapping his foot against the table a little. “I don’t know.  I’d like to say we could.  My brother, Shin, says that she’s getting nicer as she’s older.  Not as acidic as she used to be. Maybe someday, but I’m not holding my breath.”

“That’s understandable.” Kelly nodded but then gave him a hopeful smile. “But I do hope the best for you in that regard.” Then she thinned her lips as she pondered her next question before shifting her gaze once more to lock with his. “We spoke of your dreams, of your regrets–what is your deepest fear?”

“Loneliness.  I don’t mean that in the sense of not having a partner.  Deeper than that—not having anyone.  I’m also terrified of losing myself, or my dignity as I get older and eventually my virus starts taking a toll on my body.”

“As we age, unfortunately dignity isn’t often retained.” Kelly shook her head, frustrated with this reality, but then she sighed and looked up at him. “So what if you begin to lose yourself? It’s a terrifying thought, but if it’s going to happen, you need to have a single ray of hope you can hold on to even in that darkness. Do you have something like that?” She tilted her head. “Because, I’ve found, if we have a fear and no way to truly combat that fear, when it finally comes upon us, it will truly ruin us. So, how will you combat this fear of yours if it ever comes?”

“I suppose my single ray of hope would have to be my son or Jaime.  That they’d take care of me, no matter how bad I got.  No matter how much of a shell of myself I was, they wouldn’t let me waste away in a home or in a bed where no one will take care of me.  That at least will give me a little dignity.”  It was a thought Tenshi didn’t like to think about, even if it was a reality he may one day face. His stomach twisted as he spoke, and his hands began to nervously play with whatever was on the table.

“I’m 54 years old, I know that age is already starting to take a toll on me.  I’m not entirely certain if Ryouta caught HIV from the cheating or if he’d already had it when we got together and it was dormant.  But…I saw how he was toward the end.  His had already progressed to AIDS.  He never had the best immune system to begin with, and then he was diagnosed with cancer on top of it.  He visited me a couple of months before he passed away and just looked like a skeleton—a shell of himself.  I guess it scared me more than I realized.  I don’t want my son or lover, or my baby girl to see me like that.”

Kelly met his gaze firmly, so he could see the sincerity in her eyes. “I hope it doesn’t come to that.” Then something off to the side of the room caught her attention, and she looked to see someone almost drop their coffee but managed to somehow save it, and this brief moment was enough to pull Kelly out of her deep thoughts and smile as she returned her gaze back to Tenshi. “Now, we haven’t much time left, but let’s move on to a brighter topic, shall we?” She raised her brows as she smiled again. “Your son, what are your hopes for him?”

Tenshi stared at the wall just past her again after their gaze broke, swallowing the emotion that was building in his throat.  He took a deep breath and returned her look, noting she was looking him straight in the eyes now, and not so much looking between the table and himself.  Showed confidence. Comfortableness.  He smiled.  “My hope for him is that he is true to himself.  I am not that worried for Kouji, to be honest.  He’s a very smart, eccentric, hilarious and open young man. A young man who happens to be dating my boyfriend’s sister.”  He made an odd face. “I don’t even care anymore  They aren’t related by anything, so all the more power to them.  They’ve been together for a year now and seem the happiest I’ve ever seen either of them. I probably should mention that Jaime is about 19 years younger than myself.  His sister is only 27, and my son 23.  It’s not a huge age difference between the two of them. “

“Interesting.” Kelly raised her brows, but then she smiled. “Well, I hope the best for all of you–whatever life may bring your way.” Then she happened to catch a glimpse of the clock on the wall and sighed before looked back at Tenshi. “Unfortunately, it’s about time for me to leave.” She rose to her feet, taking her empty cup to throw away on the way out, but she gave Tenshi a brilliant smile. “But it was a pleasure to meet you! Thank you for answering all my questions regardless how…blunt they may have been.”

Tenshi stood as well, pushing in his chair and tossing his trash into the bin next to the door.  He stood in front of her, looking down at her and smiling at her brightly.  He held out his hand again for her to shake. “It was a pleasure to meet you as well, Ms. Blanchard.  I hope that we can meet again.  I would like that.”

She shook his hand. “It would be a pleasure.” With that, she smiled once more and bowed her head respectfully before leaving the coffee shop.

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E.M McGowen’s story, ‘Les Cœur a Ses Raisons’ is not yet published but is due to be released sometime in 2017. Follow her on social media for more updates!

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Character Interview: Lynda J. Cox’s Rachel

(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard. Rachel was written by Lynda J. Cox.)

Rachel took one last look around the kitchen. Everything seemed to be in order. A bouquet of fresh picked prairie sunflowers stood in a half full mason jar. The counters were wiped down and freshly coated with lemon oil. The floors were swept and even the ash pan on the Hoosier had been emptied. Father was in the study and Ben had promised to keep him occupied while this woman showed up to talk to her. If Harrison could just keep Joshua from running into the house every five minutes, it should be a relatively simple task to talk to this person.

Was it too cool in here with the windows wide open to catch the ever-constant Wyoming breezes? Maybe she should close a window or two down. Should she start a pot of Arbuckles brewing? What if that woman wanted tea, instead? She should have asked. She should have sent someone into town to meet the woman at the train depot. Directions out here usually were composed of “Follow the road to the first fork. At the lightning split Ponderosa pine, go to the west until you come to the stream…” What if she got lost?

Kelly rode through the countryside enjoying the scenery. Being a country girl herself, she appreciated the peace it brought. Soon she came up to the house described, and she dismounted her horse then came up to the front door and knocked then glimpsed around and listened to the sounds inside the house while waiting.

Finally the door opened revealing a woman, and Kelly smiled at her and offered her hand to shake. “Hi, I’m Kelly Blanchard. I trust you are Rachel? I believe you’re expecting me.” She glimpsed around at the ranch again the smiled at Rachel once more. “Lovely place you have here.”

Rachel took the offered hand, surprised at the strength in the firm handshake. “You’re being polite.” She was too aware that even with Harrison’s help, there was still so much to do. The house needed a thick coat of whitewash a year ago. The garden fence had been repaired but everything in it had bolted and gone to seed. “I’m glad you could find the place. Come on in.”

Kelly smiled as she entered the house and took in the comfortable home, and she followed Rachel where she would lead her. “So, my impression is this is a fairly large ranch. Do you run it all on your own?” She raised her brows glancing back at Rachel because that’d be an impressive feat if that were the case.

Rachel gestured to the kitchen table and allowed a small laugh to escape her. “thirty three thousand acres that I tried to manage on my own. That didn’t work. Of course, I didn’t know at the time my father had already gambled half half of it away to Harrison Taylor.” She placed a plate of cookies on the table. “Coffee?”

“Thirty three thousand acres!!” Kelly’s eyes widened when she heard this. “Wow!” She shook her head amazed, and then she sat down at the table and took an offered cookie. At the offer for coffee, Kelly smiled, “if I may have water, I’d prefer that. Thank you.” Then she thought on what Rachel said of Harrison Taylor. “So, why did your father gamble off half the land?”

Rachel opened the ice box and poured a glass. “My father to this day hates losing. He was losing in a poker game and was certain his luck would turn around. He was busted and to cover his bets in that game to Harrison, he deeded half this ranch to him. And lost.” Rachel sat at the table. “Imagine my surprise when Harrison showed up with that deed, some ten years after the event.”

“And what was your reaction?” Kelly smile just imagining it already.

“Anger doesn’t even start to cover what I felt.” Rachel toyed with her coffee cup. “My father hadn’t seen fit to tell me in those years what he did. Harrison’s half brother was lower than what I’d scrape off the bottom of my boot and here I was partnered with him?” She sipped from the cup. “If I could have shoot both of them and hidden the bodies, I might have done it in those first few minutes.”

“Okay, tell me the history of Harrison and his brother. Other than the fact that your father did this without informing you of it, why would you hate them so much?” Kelly tilted her head as she furrowed her brows.

“Didn’t trust Harrison but never hated him.” she smiled. “Which I suppose is a good thing when you’re married to the man. As to Jason…how do I put this in polite terms?” Her gaze drifted to the opened back door. “My son is the result of Jason’s unwanted attentions.”

“I see.” Kelly nodded but then tried to figure out the details. “Okay, so…you weren’t married to Harrison when he came to claim the land, right?” She raised her brows. “Sorry, I don’t understand the timing of things.”

“No, I wasn’t married to anyone at the time, even though my father told anyone passing through that I had married Jason.” A shudder passed over her. “I would have been in jail for murder had he forced me to marry that snake.” the depths of the coffee cup drew her attention again. “And, the funny thing about Harrison claiming the land is he wasn’t here to do that. He was following the best lead he’d had on Jason’s whereabouts. He was going to take him back to Kentucky to face charges for murdering a woman and her two daughters.”

“So, Jason came here, and…that resulted in your son, and then Harrison came around looking for Jason? What happened to Jason then?” Kelly furrowed her brows as she observed Rachel.

Rachel still stared into the depths of her coffee cup. “Jason drifted out here about a year after the War ended. He actually worked for a while for my father. About the time Joshua was born, Jason disappeared. And, almost five years later, Harrison Taylor rode in.” Rachel lifted her head and met Kelly’s gaze across the table. “And before you ask, I had nothing to do with his disappearance, other than to thank the Almighty every night in my prayers.”

Kelly nodded then smiled, “I wasn’t going to ask that, so what was life like before Jason?”

“You’re the first one to not make any assumptions about that.” Rachel leaned back in her chair. “Before Jason, even though my father was a hard man, he was fair. Even though women aren’t supposed to ride for the brand, because I’m an only child and this ranch was supposed to go to me, he allowed it. He made a fortune when I was a child, selling cattle back East and to the Army. He sent me to boarding school, which I hated. I would hide clumps of sage brush in my trunks, so when I got too homesick, I could crumble it up and smell it.” She gestured around the kitchen. “This place, this hard land, is home. My father wanted me to be a lady. I tried. Jason destroyed that.”

There were several things Kelly wanted to touch about, but she wasn’t sure what she should focus on, so she settled on one of the more natural questions. “What happened to your mother?”

“She died of birthing fever a month after I was born.” Rachel never knew her mother, so speaking of the woman presented little heartache. “And, she is the measurement that my father has judged my whole life with. From my earliest memories, I was told ‘Your mother would never do that. She was a lady.’ Or, ‘I want you to be the lady she was.’ It’s rather hard to live up to an ideal that becomes perfected through guilt. My father blames himself for her death.” Rachel stood and paced the kitchen. “When he learned I was in a delicate condition—“ A snort broke from her, ”he was so angry. He called me every name in the book, including a few in Spanish that I could only guess at. I had dishonored her memory. I had tarnished her image.”

Kelly frowned. “I can imagine it is hard to live up to that memory, but since your son was born, has your father accepted him and the circumstances of everything?” Then she had to add, ” And did he even know Harrison was Jason’s brother when he made the bet?” And she also wondered if her father knew that Jason had been responsible at the time of the bet, but Kelly didn’t want to ask too many questions at one time. She still wasn’t sure of the timeline of everything.

“No—to both questions.” Rachel turned to her guest. “My father barely speaks to Joshua and when he does, it’s to criticize everything he does. He still claims that I led Jason on. At the time he made the bet with Harrison, Jason hadn’t drifted out here, yet. I never understood why he hired him in the first place, but knowing what my father was hiding from me about that bet, I can guess he hired him because of his last name.”

“Hmm…sounds like your father carries around a lot of guilt—with what happened with your mother, with the land, and then with you.” Kelly made the mental note that she should talk to the father too—just to see what she could pry out of him, but then she focused on Rachel. “So, then Harrison came along, and you two hated each other, but now you’re married, so things are working out for you two quite well now?” She fixed her gaze on Rachel once more.

Another smile crossed her face. “I never hated Harrison. I didn’t trust him. I admit I was a bit unsettled that he was tracking his own brother to take back East, but I never hated him. I’m not sure how well things are working out, but I think we can make a partnership go. And the marriage…that was his idea, to protect the ranch and keep it intact. We have a completely platonic marriage—my idea—and I don’t think I like my own terms, any longer.”

“You’re married to him out of convenience, but do you love him?” Kelly raised her brows as she sat back in her chair and folded an arm across her body while listening.

“I don’t know.” Rachel sat at the table again. “If I can imagine my life without him, not any more. Do I miss him when he goes into town for the day? Yes. Have I wondered if what would happen between us if we didn’t have a platonic marriage would be different than what was done to me by Jason—every time he’s in the same room with me.” Rachel sighed. “I don’t know if that’s love.”

Kelly took this all in with a nod and considered her words. “And how does Harrison treat Joshua?”

Rachel didn’t even try to stop her smile. “Ever since Harrison’s been here, he’s taken Joshua under his wing. He takes him everywhere with him. Joshua asked me the other day if Harrison was staying. And, Harrison calls him ‘son’ and I don’t think he realizes he calls Josh that.”

Kelly smiled when she heard this. “And that is important to you—very important.” Then her smile morphed into a smirk. “You love him—might not realize it, might not want to admit it, but it’s true.”

“I have never blamed Joshua for his father. I have loved my son from the first moment I felt him move. I carried him under my heart for nine months. What kind of a monster would I be if I didn’t love my son? And what kind of a monster would I be if I ever allowed anyone to hurt him? so, yes, it’s important to me that Harrison treat Joshua gently and kindly.”

Kelly frowned. “I mean you love Harrison. Of course you would love your own son.”

“I’m sorry.” Rachel’s posture softened. “I’ve heard from too many people that I should have just given Joshua away when he was born. My dander just goes up when I think I’m being questioned about how I feel about my son. As to loving Harrison, I’ll have to take your word for it.”

“Oh, no, you shouldn’t have given Joshua away.” Kelly shook her head. “You need him more than you may realize. For instance, without him, it would make accepting Harrison even harder because you would just see him as someone who wants your land. With Joshua though, you can see him as an actual human, and…well, that has a way to sneaking under your guard.” Kelly tilted her head to a side with slight smile. “Would it be such a bad thing if you did love Harrison?”

She heaved a long, deep breath. “I suppose I should tell you the rest of my terms for this platonic marriage or business partnership—however you want to look at it. It’s for a year only, hence my insistence on a platonic relationship. At the end of a year, we decide if we keep the ranch intact or split it and go our separate ways. Or as separate as we can be living on our own halves. So, if I actually love him and he decides to go, where does that leave me and my son?”

“Rachel, does he treat you well? Does he treat Joshua well?”

“I suppose if he was his own son, he couldn’t treat him better. And, he treats me the like the lady my father wanted me to be.”

Kelly nodded but pressed on, “And has Harrison ever hinted at leaving or what life would be like away from here without you and without Joshua?”

“No.” Rachel picked up her cup. “He’s never once said anything about leaving, about coming up with a name for his half of the ranch, or registering a brand—everything I’ve told him he would have to do at the beginning of this partnership.

“Then that’s a pretty good indication that he’s not going to leave.” Kelly smiled warmly as she nodded but then she tipped her head to Rachel. “Of course, caution, in your situation, is prudent, but…” She paused to consider Rachel once more, and then she leaned forward, resting her forearms on the table as she locked eyes with Rachel. “You need to be honest with yourself with how you feel about him—regardless whether or not he leaves. Yes, it’s scary because you don’t know, but once you acknowledge how you feel about him, you then need to be honest with him. And yes that’s scary too, but you don’t want to be rejected, but by everything you’ve told me and how you’ve described him, I don’t think you need to worry about it.” She gave her an encouraging smile. “Wouldn’t it be nice to not have that uncertainty hanging over your head?”

“I suppose.” Rachel drew her hands down the front of her skirt. “I sound so decisive, don’t I?”

Kelly shrugged. “It’s not easy. You’ve been hurt, and you don’t want to repeat that, so it make sense that you’re guarded, and I speak form personal experience with that. I was hurt—not as badly as you, but still—and it took over a decade before I allowed myself to even entertain the thought of love, so…” she nodded. “It’s not easy. You’re trying to run a ranch, and you are trying to protect and provide for your son. You want to be as independent as possible in order to prevent hurt, but…in a way that can be hurting you more especially if someone like Harrison comes along and really cares for both of you. Does that make sense?” Kelly furrowed her brows as she observed Rachel’s face.

“I…I didn’t look at it that way. I don’t want to give up my independence. I’ve fought too hard and for too long to gain it. And, for too long, I haven’t had anyone to rely on. that makes it even harder to be vulnerable–to anyone.” Rachel leaned onto the table. “And, if this talk has brought up hurtful memories for you, I’m sorry. Let me say this. I will think very long on what you’ve said and one way or another, I will tell Harrison how I feel.”

Kelly smiled. “Oh, they may be painful memories, but they put me on the path I needed to be put on, so I could eventually create the life I now lead and find the man I’m now with, so I accept it, and it’s not so painful.” But she nodded, accepting Rachel’s words. “All I ask if you to think on it and be honest with yourself…and then be honest with Harrison.” She paused before adding. “Joshua deserves that much at least.” Then Kelly looked down at her pocket watch and frowned before looking up at Rachel. “My time here has just about come to an end. I really appreciate this conversation, and I do hope you think about what I said. From what I can tell–and I’m good at reading people—Harrison seems like a genuinely caring person…just unfortunately related to a bad person.” Kelly rose to her feet, still smiling at Rachel. “I hope you the best–regardless which way you go.”

Rachel stood and walked Kelly to the door. “Safe travels, to wherever you must go. And, thank you. Sometimes I can be too stubborn for my own good.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that–especially with all your responsibilities.” Kelly nodded as she came to the door. “May you take care, Rachel.” She bowed her head to her then left.

Rachel watched the woman ride away. It had been a strange conversation. She had never confided such intimate details to anyone, not even Fr. O’Cleary in the confessional. But, somehow, talking to Miss Kelly had felt right. And, the woman was correct about one thing. No matter which way this all ended, she had to tell Harrison how she felt about him, about their relationship, and actually making their marriage complete. She owed it to Joshua, to Harrison, but most of all, she owed it to herself. Now, just to manage a way to swallow her pride and defeat her own fears…yeah, and she might as well move the Medicine Bow range aside with wishing.

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Lynda J. Cox’s novel, ‘West of Forgotten’ is not yet published, but her other books are! Also you can follow her on social media for more updates!

Smolder on a Slow Burn: https://www.amazon.com/Smolder-Slow-Burn-Lynda-Cox-ebook/dp/B013RJVDQU

The Devil’s Own Desperado: https://www.amazon.com/Devils-Own-Desperado-Lynda-Cox-ebook/dp/B0153Q7NIM

Seize the Flame: https://www.amazon.com/Seize-Flame-Lynda-J-Cox-ebook/dp/B0165X2M6K

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LyndaCox

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e-mail: lynda.cox@aol.com