Guest Post: Shira Anthony, Mega Contest Time and the Release of Encore!

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“Moving on from Music” by Shira Anthony

Thanks, Melanie, for hosting the Encore release day party on your blog! It’s such a pleasure to be here today. I’d crank up the music, but I’m not sure if we should play Tchaikovsky or The Who. Roger and John might be just as conflicted. They love just about any kind of music.

Those of you who have read any of the Blue Notes Series books probably know that the books are loosely based on people and events from my own life as a professional musician. I’m a former violinist and professional opera singer who gave up my music career about 15 years ago. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but I don’t regret the decision. But having no regrets doesn’t mean “no pain.”

Ask yourself how many people you know who have studied music at the college level or beyond. I bet you can name a few (you may even be one!). How many professional musicians do you know? I know a lot of former professional musicians. There’s a reason for that: it’s an incredibly demanding career that requires total focus, pays poorly (unless you’re a superstar), and often means a nomadic lifestyle (not great for long-term relationships and family). There are many more former musicians than there are professionals. But how do you give up something you love nearly as much as you love the people in your life? The grief is very much like the grief you’d feel over the loss of a loved one.

I know. I’ve been there.

Two of the Blue Notes Series characters are former musicians: Jason Greene from Blue Notes, and Roger Nelson from Encore. Each deals with his grief over the loss of his music differently. For Jason, the perfectionist whose fear of performing became overwhelming, he finds a way to make peace with himself and accept his imperfections. Roger, however, is a different story. Roger loses the physical ability to play the violin. His musical voice aches to be heard, but his body (his hand) can’t translate the music of his heart into sound. It’s the most devastating loss of his life, and one he struggles to come to terms with over many years.

I don’t think it’s a surprise that it took five Blue Notes books for me to finally write my own loss into a Blue Notes character (Roger’s character). A musical soul needs to express itself, but it’s difficult to move forward when you aren’t sure how to do it or where to go. Roger tries to forget about his music and deny his grief. It’s only when he realizes there are other forms of self-expression that he can move on with his life and truly love. I’ve found a new outlet for my own self-expression in my writing and learned how to incorporate my love of music into my books. Even better, readers can still “hear” that musical voice in my books. So I guess in some sense, I haven’t really given up performing, have I?

Encore’s release will be followed on Christmas Day by the release of a Blue Notes holiday novella, Symphony in Blue. SymphonySymphony in Blue-build (1) will be my 10th Dreamspinner Press release, so I’m celebrating the release of both of these books with a blog tour contest ending on New Year’s Eve at midnight! Grand prize is a Kindle loaded with many of my Dreamspinner Press titles. You can get more entries by commenting on blog tour posts, tweeting, and buying the books. Here’s the link to the giveaway:

Contest Details for Blue Notes Series Holiday 2013 Giveaway:

  • Begins on release day for “Encore,” November 11, 2013
  • Ends on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2013, at midnight
  • Drawings are open to both U.S. readers and international readers, but physical prizes (Kindle, necklace, book, and t-shirt) are for U.S. readers only. I will award a virtual set of the first 4 Blue Notes Series books to one winner from outside the U.S.

Prizes (U.S. Only):

  • Grand Prize: A Kindle loaded with the first 4 Blue Notes Series books and some of my other back titles
  • 1st Place: A sterling silver music themed necklace
  • 2nd Place: Winner’s choice of one of my back titles in paperback (i.e., not including the 2 new releases)
  • 3rd Place: Blue Notes t-shirt, cover of the winner’s choice

Encore-BuildBlog Stops Currently Scheduled :
November 11th (release day – Encore): Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words (Melanie Marshall)
November 12th:   Live Your Life, Buy the Book
November 14th:   Michael Rupured’s Blog

Review: Conquer the Flames (Lang Downs #4) by Ariel Tachna

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Conquer The Flames coverThorne Lachlan, a firefighter for the Royal Fire Service, arrives at Lang Downs when a grassfire brings him onto the station to ask for assistance and prepare them for evacuation if necessary.  A former Commando for the Australian Army, Thorne has retired, beset by nightmares and blackouts, a  victim of PTSD.  Lang Downs is a sheep station unlike any other Thorne Lachlan has been to.  With homey cottages ringed with gardens to the people who live there, Lang Downs starts to cast its spell over a man clearly in need of  both sanctuary and home.

Then Thorne meets Ian Duncan, a long time resident of Lang Downs and the attraction between the men is both immediate and mutual.  But both men are afraid of committments and relationships.  Thorne because he fears he is a danger to all around him because of his PTSD. And Ian? Ian hides a deep secret that he had only told one man, Michael Lang, when he first arrived at Lang Downs at the age of 20. That secret has kept Ian a solitary man among friends on the sheep station, alone with his woodworking and small house.  Still, neither man is capable of staying away from the other and slowly they begin to build a relationship and hopefully a future together.  However, their pasts combine to raise up obstacles to their future.  Thorne and Ian must face down their demons and get the help they have long needed before they can have a future together.

Conquer the Flames is the fourth book in the Lang Downs series and it comes close to being my favorite story yet.  I had to wait several days to think about this review and why so much about this book spoke to me.  And even now I am still not sure I can answer that question with a clear explanation.

In many ways, Conquer the Flames has a slower, deeper feel to the story as well as the men at the heart of the book.  And that’s unusual considering the title and the profession that Thorne has found himself in as a firefighter.  But if you are to continue the analogy, this is much more a slow burn than a fast moving line fire as the basis and the fuel for the flames have a deep foundation in both mens past history and traumatic events.

Once more Ariel Tachna has taken great care in building her characterizations to go with the beautifully created landscape and setting that is Lang Downs.  Thorne is unlike any character that we have met here before.  He is a former Commando whose time in the Army has left him with PTSD.  He has anger management issues, blackouts and nightmares. And that doesn’t even begin to cover the events in his past that sent him running into the Army.  Ian Duncan is also a damaged soul.  His is a deep trauma inflicted in foster care and one he has never recovered from, even 20 years later.  Both men are so marvelously crafted that it never occurred to me to doubt their authenticity or backgrounds.  They feel so real, their problems and issues are so painful that the reader hurts along with them.

Tachna has treated each man’s problems with the gravity necessary when speaking of PTSD and abuse.  She gets the symptoms right as well as the need for outside medical assistance to help each man overcome years of denial and repression.  There are no immediate cures, no easy answers, just the accurate portrayal of time and the hard mental ,emotional work necessary to recovery and healing for each of them.  The author also sidesteps a common flaw when writing about such damaged characters, and that would be a quick sexual relationship and instant love.  Thank goodness none of that is found here.  I think it would have not only ruined the relationship’s credibility but destroyed the story for me as well.

This is a romance but it is a simmering one.  There can be no flashfires between men as hurt and broken as these two.  Instead we get a slow buildup of trust and understanding that is as sweet and fragile as it is satisfying.  Once you read this remarkable love story, you will understand it completely when I tell you I read and reread certain passages just to savor the scene and the emotions that were flowing over the pages. On more than one occasion I had to grab a tissue or two but they were honest tears brought forth by the real emotion and pain felt by Thorne and Ian, and of course the reader.  Just a remarkable job by the author in every respect.

As with the other books in the series, all the other characters, including Caine and Macklin, are here and well represented.  This story takes place five years after the events of Outlast The Night (Lang Downs #3), but the gap of time feels as seamless as the flow of seasons over Lang Downs.  We see the couples settling into their relationships and lives on the sheep station, the young children are getting older and new ones are being born.  And new people have been introduced to the series that just might make their way onto the sheep station just as the others such as Michael’s Lost Boys have found their way there too.

For the characters involved, and for the reader, Lang Downs remains an extraordinary place.  Its a location where once we arrive, we don’t want to leave just like all those people who have found the path to Lang Down and home.  I hope that Ariel Tachna has many more stories planned for this series.  I  intend to be there for each and every one.  I am putting Conquer The Flames on my Best of 2013 list.

Cover art by Anne Cain is as beautiful as the story within.

Books in the Lang Downs series in the order they were written and should be read:

Inherit the Sky (Lang Downs, #1)
Chase the Stars (Lang Downs, #2)
Outlast the Night (Lang Downs #3)
Conquer the Flames (Lang Downs #4)

Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 254 pages
Expected publication: September 27th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN13 9781627983228
edition language English
series Langs Down

Review: Dominant Predator (The Borders War #2) by S.A. McAuley

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Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Dominant Predator coverIt’s the year 2558 and the various governments that rose after the last world war (also known as the Borders War) had come together at their first attempt to revive the Olympic Games.  But instead of peace,  a revolution was started. With one bullet Merq Grayson both assassinated the Premier of an opposing nation and ignited the Borders War once more.  Merq was prepared to die in the aftermath of the assassination, instead, to his shock, the one man who has been both his lover and his enemy for 14 years saves him.  Armise Darcan,  the Dark Ops officer from the People’s Republic of Singapore and the only equal Merq has ever known, defects in order to save his lover and enemy from death.

Now on the same side for the first time, Merq and Armise work together at the behest of the President. Their mission? To save Merq’s parents from the forces of the Opposition and assassinate those on the Committee who have defected to the Opposition’s side. But the Revolution is taking extreme losses from the forces of the Opposition and neither man is sure who to trust even within the Revolution itself.

Merq is also seeing first hand the effects of a stratified population, the extreme poor and the extremely wealthy.  Always so focused upon his missions, Merq had never really seen what the years of fighting had done to the people outside the political bunkers and now he is horrified by the blinders he so willingly wore.  Merq is evaluating not only himself but Armise too.  Armise gave up everything for Merq but is Merq prepared for what that means emotionally as well as physically?  Can two dominant predators come together, trusting each other fully in order to survive the Revolution and the resurrection of the Borders War?

What an incredible series and group of characters S.A. McAuley is giving us.  First introduced in the brutal story, One Breathe One Bullet, Merq Greysonand Armise Darcan are two black op snipers who have been going at each other head to head for over fourteen years from two opposing  countries.  Merq Grayson is a Peacemaker from the Continental States and Armise Darcan, a Black Ops from the People’s Republic of Singapore. In a beautiful twist, McAuley also makes them lovers for most of their careers as well as enemies.  Even when slicing each other open, they harbor intense feelings for each other that they are afraid to name.  I love the manner in which the author delivers this intense, intimate battle between Merq and Armise to the reader in scenes so vivid, so animalistic that they almost explode off the page one incendiary line after another.   It’s white hot, elemental and oh so sexy.

In Dominant Predator, S. A. McAuley also starts to flesh out the back histories for Merq and Armise that had been mostly absent in the first novel. Here we learn for the first time that both men have been genetically modified, something that had been only hinted at before.  But now we learn that the modifications are not only extreme but their nature is also unknown to the men they were made on.  Neither Merq or Armise realize the full extent to which their bodies have been modified, they don’t know exactly how they are affected and what all the modifications can and will do to them.  Merq, in fact, was modified while in the womb, an outlawed procedure.  And both men don’t know how and where the modifications were made.  The knowledge raises more questions about the two men than are answered by this installment.  And that is something this author does again and again.  McAuley dishes out information like specialized ammunition, in small increments and only when it will be the most explosive to the narrative, upping the level of anticipation and anxiety at the same time.

Both the plot and the characterizations are each others equal, much like Merq and Armise.  McAuley lays a web of deceit over all that transpires here, leaving the men to navigate a labrynth of intrigue so convoluted that everyone Merq and Armise is working for and against may change sides and loyalties almost instantaneously.  We as well as Merq and Armise are never sure who is the good guy and who is bad or if there is even such a thing anymore.  It is all dissolving before their eyes, all the rationale they were given, the certainty that the answers they had were real, nothing is as it seems.  Really, McAuley has created a world of smoke and mirrors  that will confound all who walk in it, including two “genetmod” snipers who find they only have each other to trust and rely on.

But the true heart of this story (and series) is the bond between Merq and Armise.  It’s a bond so strong, so magnetic that even the men don’t understand it and never have.  Even when the sex between them was as much a weapon as it was a release, the connection between the two continued to grow in strength and depth.  And now they are both on the same side, fighting for the Revolution, because Armise won’t be denied his spot at Merq’s side any longer.  Both men must move forward into the future together if they are to have one.  And that’s powerful stuff, indeed.

S.A. McAuley has promised five books for this series and is currently working on the third.  But will it be enough?  Merq and Armise are mesmerizing, larger than life personalities. In the past both men have also felt invulnerable but that is fading away along with Merq’s certainties about the men who have commanded his loyalties and the missions they sent him on.  Reality is setting in and I can’t wait to see where it takes Merq and Armise.  What a journey it has been already and the promise of much more to come from this amazing author will be worth the wait. Here is a taste of what to expect:

“You’ll never be stronger than I am, Merq,” Armise stated, the movement of his throat causing the blade to cut in farther. I eased the steel just a fraction away from his skin. He pressed his neck into the blade—with each centimetre of movement I was forced to either move the knife with him or to deepen the mark where his blood beaded—until his lips were nearly on mine. I relented, letting the steel fall away from his neck, but I spun the handle and gripped it in my fist.

Armise dipped his head down and rubbed his freshly shaven cheek over my lips and along my jaw. The feeling of it was foreign, his scent familiar, the desire now thrumming through me unavoidable.

“But,” he whispered against my skin, “that is why I’m here. We fight together and the world has no choice but to drop to their knees and beg for mercy.” I arched into him, and inhaled the fading scent of Singaporean balms, of him. I bit at his earlobe and scratched my jaw along his. “Mercy which neither of us is likely to give.” Armise dragged his lips across my neck and down to my collarbone and nipped at the fabric of my T-shirt. “Put the knife down, Merq,” he urged. His hands tugged at the hem of my shirt. “And take this off.”

If you are not familiar with this series, start at the beginning.  That’s a must if you are to understand the universe  McAuley is building and the men that stride across it like giants.  It’s compelling, it’s addictive and a must read on every level.

Cover art by Posh Gosh. This cover is just incredible, including the tattoo that has so much meaning for Merq and Armise.  It will be in my list of Best of 2013 this year.

One Breathe One Bullet (The Borders War #1)
Dominant Predator (The Borders War #2)

Book Details:

ebook, 137 pages
Expected publication: September 20th 2013 by Total-E-Bound
ISBN13 9781781844588
edition language English
series The Border Wars

Review: Fragile Bond by Rhi Etzweiler

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Rating: 5 stars

Fragile BondSniper Sergeant Marc Staille and his trusty rifle, Mat are on duty, taking down the tawnies, the native dirt-colored predators that live on the on the desert planet of Horace Deuce-Niner targeted for mining by his employer.  His job is to go in and take out any non sentient indigenous creatures that might threaten their mining operation.  Everything seems normal until his group of snipers is ambushed by the same tawnies they have been hunting, and Marc is taken captive. To Marc’s anguish and surprise, the so called “tawnies” are sentient natives, not mere “fauna” as had been determined, and he is now seen as a murderer as well as invader.

Commander Hamm Orsonna, leader of the fefa clan, had a desperate mission.  Take one of the invaders alive so it could be interrogated and that mission had to succeed at all costs.  Hamm found it hard to believe that such hairless, frail creatures could be the cause of so much death and destruction, mostly from those little metal sticks they carried.  At the high cost of the death of most of his squad, Hamm captured an invader, and found a surprise for both of them.  The furrs as Hamm’s species are called use pheromones (along with fang and claws) to control and dominate others, and when Hamm uses it on Marc, the results are quick and effective submission.  But there is surprise on Hamm’s side as well.   Marc smells different from the other invaders, a smell that compels Hamm to protect him even from other members of the fefa clan.

It soon becomes clear to Marc and Hamm, that the future of both their species might lie in their hands. it will depend on their communication skills and the fragile bond they have established with each other if they are to find a way for them to find a lasting peace and perhaps even love.

What a stunning book!  Fragile Bond is a science fiction tour de force from author Rhi Etzweiler, an amazing example of world building and character development.  Usually I start by breaking out the components of the book that I liked best but that won’t work here.  I found every aspect of Fragile Bond to be just superior, from the tight, suspenseful narrative to the superlative “alien” voice and mind set created for Hamm and his race.  I save my 5 star rating for books I want to gush over and reread often.  I want to do both for Fragile Bond.

Since we have to start somewhere, let’s start with Etzweiler’s world building.  So many things can go wrong when an author starts to create an alien world that will seem both familiar and alien at the same time.  The world must pull in the reader by its believable aspects yet still make us feel as though we are on an alien planet.  And we totally get that here.  When we first meet Sniper Marc Staille, he is on on the desert planet of Horace Deuce-Niner killing tawnies with amazing accuracy, watching them explode in a pink mist one after the other.  He is dispassionate, a soldier doing his duty, pleased with his marksmanship and his weapon, Mat.   We see the planet and its flora and fauna through his eyes, an important viewpoint because he gives the reader the story’s “human” voice.  He is, at first, our most identifiable connection and his horror at finding out that the “beasts” he has been killing so unmercifully are sentient beings becomes our horror too.  It is also his first step away from the soldier/mercenary life and mindset he has been living.  The more that Marc (and the reader) learns about the race that has captured him and its culture, the more growth he shows as an individual. This journey adds such depth and soul to the story that it alone would make the story memorable.  But Etzweiler goes further, taking us into the minds and culture of the fefa clan.

Commander Hamm Orsanna is another outstanding creation.  A race of felines or furrs, their culture is both advanced enough to have implanted linguistic translators and primal still to use pheromones to control and dominate other members of the clan, and claws and fang when pheromones aren’t sufficient.  They are a race trying to move beyond their animalistic behaviors and this first “meeting” will place untold stress and loss on beings already under duress.  Added to the anguish of the fefa clan, is the huge loss of life that Marc and his group have inflicted with their weaponry, picking them off with the ease shooting tin cans off a fence.  Etzweiler does a fantastic job of giving Hamm and his clan an alien voice and a language not always translatable, even by their own devices.  The author flips the point of view back and forth between Hamm and Marc in a necessary interplay of cultures, mission goals and racial outlook.  We are given an event or situation and then see it from both points of view, a neat balancing act that works to connect us intimately with the characters, all of the characters, and invest us emotionally in the precarious outcome on planet Horace Deuce-Niner.

And thanks to a tightly woven narrative, the suspense and anxiety levels continue to build throughout the story, the outcome is never assured of a happy ending.    Marc has a huge human contingent behind him, and although he says that the fact that an indigenous culture exists on the planet will halt things, the reader also has a vast store of knowledge of situations where that fact has rarely stopped humans at all.  Etzweiler uses this human history to ramp up the tension, as misunderstandings and events start to escalate things out of control.  I love that Etzweiler consistently uses our own knowledge of human history to increase our anxiety over the outcome of the clash of cultures and material needs while bringing us into the side of the race being invaded and exploited.

There are some wonderful secondary characters on both sides who enriched the story by their  presence and made me want to know their  history too. The author gives us at least one more indigenous races while hinting of others, that live on the planet that I wanted to know more of as well. And finally,we had a glimpse of a fascinating backstory of Marc’s employers, the trace supplied had me craving more and speculating wildly on their origin.  But did I feel that I needed any of that to fill out Fragile Bond? No, it wasn’t needed, and might have distracted us from the focus of the story.

Should this story be classified as a m/m romance?  Perhaps. There is a m/m romance here but as part of a larger story and with little sexuality attached to it.  It doesn’t need it.  This is powerful storytelling.  We have two races and two male beings meeting under the worst of circumstances.  That most primal of influences,pheromones,  will bring them together and start them on a path to mutual understanding and perhaps even love.  The story is told concisely, beautifully, and in such a way that this world and everyone you will meet on it will linger in your minds and hearts for some time to come.  Does something this great really need a category?  I don’t think so.  But it does need readers, lots of them to pass the word along.  Pick it up, immerse yourself in this world, and become a fan yourself.  I remain one and hope that someday the author will return to this planet for another walk on the alien wild side.

Cover art Petite-Madame VonApple is gorgeous and subtle.

Book Details:

ebook, 175 pages
Published February 18th 2013 by Riptide Publishing
ISBN 1937551911 (ISBN13: 9781937551919)
edition languageEnglish
url:http://www.rhianonetzweiler.com/fragile-bond.html

Riptide Publishing buy link

Sneak Peak at the Sequel to The General and The Horse-Lord by Sarah Black (Excerpt)

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Early this month, we had a guest blog by author Sarah Black and a giveaway of her latest book, The General and the Horse-Lord.  Well, the response was wonderful and the book’s reception has been great.  I gave it 5 stars (as have other  reviewers) and picked it to land on Scattered Thoughts Best of 2013.  So I was delighted to hear that Ms. Black was hard at work on the sequel, The General and the Elephant clock of Al-Jazari.

Recently Sarah Black posted an excerpt on her blog.  It was wonderful so I asked permission to post it here for those readers who loved The General and the Horse-Lord as much as I did.  I think it will blow you away.  At the end of the excerpt, watch the You Tube vid on The Elephant Clock of Al-Jazari, such an elegant and amazing invention. Thank you, Sarah, for bringing it to my attention.  Here is the promised excerpt:

The General and the Elephant clock of Al-Jazari by Sarah Black

John received a couple of interesting emails the next morning. Gabriel was up and gone early, with plans to stop by his house and have breakfast with the kids. The first email was from an old colleague and fellow Brigadier General, David Painter. John didn’t particularly like the man. They had worked together several times in the past. Painter was good, had what John would call episodic brilliance, but his work tended to be sloppy. He didn’t always put in the time and research that John felt was needed for their work to bring about lasting change. He also tended to be sloppy in his dress, in his personal manner, as if his wild and original mind meant the same rules didn’t apply to him. But they knew each other well, both strengths and weaknesses. John winced at the name on the email, thinking Painter was exactly the sort of man he did not want to discuss his coming out with in any detail. Not that he had much choice, since he’d splashed every bit of privacy he’d ever had across the cover of Out magazine.

The second email was from Abdullah, a very polite thank you note to himself and Gabriel for rescuing him yesterday. John looked at it for a moment, appreciating Abdullah’s good manners, and then he replied: Are you sending me an email from the garage? Or have you skipped town already?

The answer came moments later: I’m in the garage.

If you would like, you can come into the kitchen and speak to me in person.

Abdullah wrote back: I’m about to climb into the shower. See you in a few minutes.

John shook his head at the screen for a long moment, and wondered if Abdullah and Kim emailed each other from the bathroom. No, email was dead, he’d read that somewhere. Instant Messaging? Texting, that was it. So much easier than speech, apparently. Maybe they would evolve right out of their vocal cords, and human communications would consist exclusively of written messages and a few grunts and gentle hoots, like the Great Apes.

John turned back to the first email, wondering if he needed to complain about the younger generation first thing in the morning, every morning, or if his time would be better spent doing pushups.

“Hey, John, long time. I saw the cover of Out. It’s making the rounds in DC, everybody saying they knew it all along and wondering what took you so long to grab your cojones and tell the truth. Your pilot looks like he’s held up well.”

John could feel his blood pressure spike, a drumbeat behind his eye that might be an aneurysm getting ready to blow.

“I heard you quit the university. Little dust up with the locals? Well, you were always a sucker for a boy in trouble. That’s why I’m calling on you. I’ve got a couple of boys in serious trouble, former Rangers, in lovely Tunisia. They’ve been working for me as contractors in Algeria. I could go in and level the fuckers and get my boys out of there, but things seem a bit fragile in northern Africa right now. Maybe a peacemaker would be a better choice. And no matter our differences, John, you were a peacemaker. You always brought home the right solution. That was your great gift, understanding the right solution to the problem. So how about you hop on a plane to DC and talk to me about these boys? I heard your pilot went to law school. Why don’t you bring him along? I’ve got a couple of plane tickets at the airport for tomorrow, and a hotel reservation. First class, if you care about that shit. I’m assuming you two can share a room? Appreciate it, John.”

He forwarded the email to Gabriel. John Painter knew how to hit the soft spots. “Just give me a little job to do, and I’ll follow you anywhere, you fuckhead,” John said to the kitchen wall. He walked back to their bedroom, pulled an overnight bag from the closet shelf.

Kim found him putting a load of clothes into the washer. “Hey, Uncle J. What’s up?”

John looked at him for a long moment. Kim had his hands on his hips, had prepared himself for a royal ass-chewing. He was a brave kid, John thought suddenly, and the affection he felt for the boy was suddenly on his face. Kim reached out and hugged him, his face buried in John’s neck. Even at twenty-three, his first thought had been to come find his uncle and face the music. But John had no time right now to get into it.

“Kim, I’ve got to leave tomorrow, go up to DC. I don’t know any more than that.”

“What can I do?”

John shook his head. “Everything’s done. I’ll need you to watch over Billy and Juan if Gabriel comes with.”

“Sure, no problem.”

“Keep everyone safe,” John said, and Kim’s face flushed.

“I hear you. You can count on me.”

“I always do, kiddo.”

He followed John to his bedroom, studied the clothes laid out on the bed, and the passport. “Not that white shirt. Take the gray one. You have to leave the country? Where are you going? I can keep an eye on CNN for a sudden flare in hostilities.”

“Not exactly sure, but I heard talk about Algeria and Tunisia.”

“Oh, God.” Kim sat down on the side of the bed. “Tunisia, isn’t that where Arab Spring turned from smoke to fire?”
John glanced at him. “Nice metaphor. And yes, it started in Tunisia. But we don’t have to assume that’s the only trouble that can brew. It’s still a Muslim country at the end of the day. Lots of ways for Americans to get into trouble.”

“That’s what this is? A rescue mission?”

“Seems likely, but I don’t really know. Kim, you know that stupid magazine came out this week and every jerk at St. Matthews High School is going to mention to Juan that they’ve seen it. I’m worried about him.”

“And the Horse-Lord says he needs to just suck it up and take it like a man?”

“No, it’s not like that.” John sat down on the bed. “He wants Juan to stop making Martha crazy with his behavior, using this issue as an excuse to act out every hostile teenaged impulse, and he also wants to let the adults handle issues of bullying. The school authorities, or the police.”

Kim was nodding. “Right. That is so not going to happen. Have you both forgotten Juan is fifteen now?”

“He’s not one of your baby gang-bangers, Kim. He’s an Army kid. He has braces and goes to Catholic school and lives in the suburbs.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m worried, too. He’s hardly talking to me anymore, or Billy. It’s like he’s grown up really fast and he’s tough inside. He’s strong in his anger. Young Luke is turning toward the dark side.” Kim grinned for a moment. “I wonder how I would show that in a picture? Maybe I’ll get him to let me take his picture. Feel him out a little bit.”

“Whatever you think is best, Kim. I usually try to stay out of sight until a crisis looms. He’s not speaking to me, either.”

“You’ll keep yourself safe, won’t you? And the Horse-Lord? Just because I’m grown up doesn’t mean I don’t need you anymore.”

“Now you have Abdullah. Is that what I’m to understand? The two of you, together?”

Kim nodded, pulled at a loose thread on the bedspread. “Yeah. I think so. I think we’re going to be like you and Gabriel. Two bodies, one heart, all our lives. That’s how it seems to me, but I don’t want to jump the gun. It’s early days yet. Half the time we start a conversation getting along and end the conversation fighting and I have no idea why.”

“You’re just feeling your boundaries, defining yourselves to each other. That’s what I’ve always wanted for you, a real relationship, a family of your own. You guys can even adopt kids if you wanted. I’m really very pleased, Kim.” He looked at what Kim was doing and frowned. “Don’t pull on that thread. I’ve got some scissors in the bathroom if you need to clip a loose thread. I know how much you spent on this new bedspread.”

“Speaking of that.” Kim stared at him until he put the tie down on the bed.

“What? We’re not going to talk about the furniture again, are we?”

“No, we’re not. But there is something I want to talk to you about. Uncle John, you need to update your style.” Kim raised a hand to quell any protests, but John was too surprised to complain. “You’re still wearing your military haircut, still wearing suits that look to my eye about twenty years out of date. I mean, a single breasted navy blue with three buttons? Please, stop torturing me. You need a makeover, and you needed it, like, yesterday.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“You’re out now. You have to maintain a certain style, up your cool factor just a bit. You have an image to maintain now you’re out of the closet.”

“Why?”

“Because people will judge you by your clothes. For God’s sake, nobody would believe you’re related to me! This is my rep too, Uncle John. You’re about to go back to DC, and you need to stroll in with some killer style, not like some lonely, bored, miserable retired general who’s mooning around, thinking about the glory days. DC has seen plenty of those. You want to blast in there and have the town talking about you.”

“I think that ship already sailed, Kim.”

“Talking about you in a good way. Look, you’re a winter. You shouldn’t be playing about with all these muddy blues.” Kim was flipping through his ties.

“What are you talking about? It’s the middle of summer.”

That got him a pitiful look. Kim stood up and crossed his arms. “What I am talking about is gunmetal gray with teal accents, made by Emporio Armani. What the Army cares about is the work. But you’re about to jump into a new shark tank, Uncle John, and in this shark tank they care about money. I will not have those dickhead bluebloods look down on you because of your clothes. We’re going shopping tonight, after supper.”

John’s mind was flipping frantically through any reasonable excuse. “But what about Abdullah? He just got here.”

“He’s not going anywhere. I know more about this than you.” Kim’s face softened, and he looked at John kindly, a doting smile on his face. “I know more about this than you, and I’m not going to argue anymore. We’re going to buy a new suit, along with two shirts and ties, and one leisure outfit. I repeat, I will not argue with you. I know there is available credit on your Navy Federal Visa. You paid off the furniture already. If you argue with me,” he said, holding up a hand to stop John, “I am going to start going to the plasma bank and I will sell blood until I have paid back every cent I spent on the couch.” John had no doubt, looking at the angle of his jaw, that Kim meant every word.

What the hell was a leisure outfit? John looked down at himself, jeans and a faded chambray shirt. Kim closed his eyes as if he were in pain.

“These are weapons, Uncle John.” Kim was speaking as if John were a little slow. “This is a new war, and these are your weapons.”

Glorious Books, A Web Hunt and Glorious Weather Too! What A Week It’s Going To Be!

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The weather is perfection today so I am getting ready to pull on the gardening gloves, turn the water for the outside faucets back on and prepare to spend the day getting down and dirty.  I have ferns, some grasses and even an English Daisy or two to plant and weeds to uproot.  To say the least, I am grinning like crazy in anticipation.

Also this week I am reviewing some books that are not only on Scattered Thoughts “Must Read” lists, they have made my Best of 2013 List as well.  Among them are Sarah Black’s The General and the Horse-Lord, T.J. Klune’s Into This River I Drown, Abigail Roux’s Touch & Geaux and Jay Kirkpatrick’s Freedom.  I can’t remember when I had so many wonderful books to read and recommend that released almost at the same time.  A surfeit of riches for us all to enjoy time and time again.

And on Monday, Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is participating along with many other websites in Riptide Publishing’s Web Hunt for ???????????????????????????????????????Abigail Roux’s Touch & Geaux, book 7 in the amazing Cut & Run series.  On April 8, 2013, all participating book blogs will be joining the party by posting about the book and including one of their favorite quotes from any book in the Cut & Run series. Readers who collect each quote and submit their findings to marketing@riptidepublishing.com will be eligible to win one of two runner-up prizes and one grand prize.  More about this Cut & Run fun will be posted tomorrow along with my blog of Cut & Run favorite moments in the afternoon.

What a week!  So here is the full schedule, don’t miss a day!

Monday, April 8:          Riptide Publishing’s Web Hunt for Touch & Geaux,

Scattered Thoughts Favorite Cut & Run Moments

Tuesday, April 9:          Touch & Geaux (Cut & Run #7) by Abigail Roux

Wed., April 10:             Freedom by Jay Kirkpatrick

Thursday, April 11:      The General and the Horse-Lord by Sarah Black

Friday, April 12:           Brute by Kim Fielding

Saturday, April 13:       Into This River I Drown by T.J. Klune

Really, just turn this week’s lineup into a shopping list because you won’t want to miss a single one.  Now the flowers and worms are calling me, really I can hear them right now.  So off I go or should I say Geaux in keeping with the books this week.  Have a wonderful Sunday everyone and I will see you right here on Monday.