Chapter Preview: Bitten

Enjoy this free preview of the bestselling Bitten:

 

Chapter I

 

Madeline Leftwich sat at the train station every day at exactly thirteen minutes past midnight. The faded brown bench on which she sat did not often have consistent occupants, as transients and hobos were sparse this far north.

But there she sat, hands crossed over her lap. The floral pattern of the thick skirt she wore was handmade. Buckles and clasps galore adorned the uneven cut and fold of the garment. Her face possessed an absent quality––not that characteristics were missing, but instead a vacancy of spirit. That bench meant a great deal to her. This was the very place that childhood was left behind.

It had been exactly thirty-nine years since her mother placed her on that very bench, brushed back her hair, and told her everything was going to be alright. She said she would be right back. A promise to a child is a sacred thing. Even as an adult, Madeline couldn’t tear herself away from the compulsion to come wait for her mother every day.

The whistle blew each night as the passenger train rolled into town. Cold air rained down upon the open station. Often, sheets of ice were expelled from the track, lining the waiting area. Attendants were accustomed to her presence. Some even offered her coffee in the wee hours of the morning when they had no other friend.

However, this night she was quite alone.

The heavy bleating of the distant train horn filled the night, filtering through a cloudy fog. The susceptible and otherwise occupied Ms. Leftwich was not yet privy to the gossip of the town. Murder, a topic of great concern no matter the venue, would be especially virulent in such a small community. Distance revealed a dark object hurtling through the night, steam and precipitation sluicing from the hot steel.

The station was empty.

A half-lit banister showed the narrow, icy path that crawled back out to the blacktop just outside the front of the station. She watched the train collide with the open air of the darkness, the squeal of the tight brakes announcing its arrival with startling clarity. Heavy doors opened; artificial light spilled from the side of the train.

Madeline watched the open door––waiting.

Seconds passed into minutes; yet, there was no sound external to the cold nature of Minnesota. Winter had a feeling all its own. Groaning trees fought against the arctic grip of snow and ice. Lakes moving in the distance, far beneath the heavy weight of the ice that had taken residence upon them, filled the night.

Someone stepped out. Her coat was wrapped tightly around her lithe frame. Sandy blonde hair was tucked beneath a brown wool cap. The scarf around her neck, braided and frayed, looked as if it’d been sewn by someone she knew well––not the simple manufacture of mass production. Brown eyes watched the empty train station with great interest and a precision that marked her immediately as more than a mere observer.

A bulge at her side revealed a weapon. The simple black bag slung over the shoulder of her long brown trench coat made her appear to be a woman on the run––or perhaps one who simply liked to travel light.

She made her way toward Madeline. Her voice was sweet, her tone full of purpose. “Excuse me, ma’am. Is this Locke? Locke, Minnesota?”

Ms. Leftwich watched the woman with wide eyes that pooled with tears. She was severely confused. Was this her mother? She hesitated. This woman was younger––younger than she was. Was this possible? A mother who was younger than you?

“Ma’am, I…”

“Mother?” Madeline asked, her voice rising shrilly.

“Pardon me?”

Madeline didn’t stand; instead, she shuffled her purse at her waist. “Are you my mother? You left me here a long time ago. Said you would be back…said you would be back soon.”

Staring into the vacant eyes of Madeline Leftwich, it took the woman a moment of complete incomprehensibility to see that there wasn’t much left. All that remained was a sad example of what could laughingly be called a life.

“No. I’m very sorry. I’m not….”

Madeline stood quickly, her features scrunching in anger. “Why would you lie to me? Why would you leave me here? Why?”

“Ma’am, my name is Lauren Westlake. And I am neither your mother nor a trained therapist. Can you tell me if this is Locke?”

Madeline interrupted Lauren. Her words were filled with venomous rage. “Don’t pretend I’m a child. I know where I am. I know who I am. Just because you’re my mother, doesn’t mean you can leave me behind.”

Lauren looked at the woman in a mixture of shock and horror. She resisted the urge to physically restrain the woman, concerned about the reaction she might have. “What’s your name?”

Madeline’s face was the very picture of surprise.

“You don’t remember your daughter’s name?”

Lauren was uncertain how much further this charade should be carried, whether or not disengaging from the woman would be simpler. Looking at the woman carefully, she noticed that her clothing was handmade. The name Madeline was sewn into the breast of her outermost jacket. Stifling an irritated sigh, she continued. “Madeline. Your name is Madeline.”

And then as quickly as the madness had come, it dissipated. “Why are you talking to me?”

“Excuse me. I….”

Madeline looked at Lauren strangely and stood, gathering her belongings. She moved past Lauren and out into the night as if the interaction didn’t even happen.

Lauren watched her go, scrutinizing the entire exchange in her own mind. Shaking her head, she adjusted the bag at her back and moved forward past the dock of the train station and into the cold area just above it.

Ms. Leftwich was nowhere to be seen.

As far as Lauren was concerned, that was for the best.

The night was cold. A heavy veil of fog seemed to grow like a behemoth. She looked down the lane and saw only two endless views of darkness. The blacktop was crystalline, frozen precipitation having created an icy sheet better suited for ice skating than vehicular travel.

“Not exactly a warm welcome,” she muttered, drawing the top of her coat closer to her face. There were muffled sounds in the distance––muted voices. Sounds that could originate from only one kind of establishment: a bar. Lowering her head and pulling the strap of her bag tight, Lauren soldiered on.

 

MADELINE MADE a mistake that would cost her life. Each night she would wait for the sun to rise and then scamper home, ashamed. This night, her emotions got the better of her. Soon, she would now find herself in the presence of a creature of the night, one that would come to haunt and terrorize the inhabitants of the small town of Locke.

The moon overhead stung the fog, driving the ethereal wisps from its view. Wide and threatening, it looked peaceful when viewed in the company of others, in the arms of a lover perhaps. To Madeline Leftwich, a woman lost in her own mind, it was a portent of doom.

Thick branches grew over the sorry excuse for a path she walked each day. By daylight, the intricacies could be gleaned; at night, it was a haunted maze littered with obstructions and potential trip falls.

Her shoes were not suited for hiking through the woods at breakneck speeds, though that is what Madeline would need that night. When she paused at the center of the trail to make sure she wasn’t being followed, the dead silence of the night became a far more frightening sound.

“Who’s there?” she half-whispered, her voice cracking.

A branch snapped, frost claiming yet another soldier.

Another sound echoed in the night; this time much heavier, like weight lingering as a fledging branch gasped for its last breath before being trampled. She pulled her bag close to her chest, her face twisting in fear. Her eyes were wide as she searched the night frantically. “There’s nothing there,” she whispered, tearing her eyes away from the tree line.

Continuing forward, her steps were quicker, more deliberate. The woods around her thinned the faster she walked, white-speckled pines giving way to broken branches. The trail widened in places, enough that little pockets of dirt and soil were pushed up from use.

As if something were urging her forward, she began to run slightly, her breath expelled in heavy puffs of condensed air. She wheezed then––a panicked, hiccupping sound that erupted deep from within her chest.

And that was when she heard the first growl. There was something wrong with it. It sounded like an animal, the guttural low pitches. However, there was something human to it, a strange gargling sound.

Her feet were not as sure beneath her as she thought. The tips of her fabric shoes dug into the hard soil, making her wince in pain. Biting her lip hard, she forged forward, stumbling into an open area of the trail.

Trees crowded the edges of her vision and the clearing. The trail continued on the way she had been trampling, and then split suddenly into two smaller trails. The fog hung ahead of her, pulling away as if it were an entity all its own.

Silence permeated the area.

And then the growl came again. It sounded hungry, desperate; it was the pinnacle of auditory fear. “Who’s there? What? Why are you hiding?” She whimpered. “Please. Please.”

It seemed to come from all around her, enveloping the cold night air. The fog stirred; deep in its belly a shadow formed. Tall and hunched, it was a mass of darkness shaped like a man. Heavy in the shoulders, spines seemed to rise unevenly from the arms and body. Its head was lowered and the knees bowed as if it were ready to pounce.

It did not.

The figure stood, chest heaving. It was safely veiled by the fog bank. Hands that seemed to melt into long thin claws were obscured by the swirling mass of miasma ebbing and flowing within.

Her mouth opened, but no words came out.

Her mind raced. Panicked thoughts flooded her mind, erasing judgment and reason. She watched helplessly.

It took a single step forward.

Madeline Leftwich wasn’t a god-fearing woman. In point of fact, until that moment she never thought about death. Now, when confronted with something drawn from nightmares, her pulse raced and she realized, with a desperate certainty, that she wished to live.

The rain trickled then, a fat droplet striking her hair. Her feet hit the ground hard. She abandoned her bag. Churning, her feet dug into the hard winter earth. Her breath sputtered in front of her in rapid fits of exploding clouds. She whimpered as she ran, tears running down her face as trees slapped her hard across her cold, sensitive features; some left bruises, others broke skin.

The forest was now alive with sound.

Creatures hooted and hollered in the night.

They knew something was happening.

She could hear herself breathing.

She wouldn’t last much longer.

Her foot caught something lodged deep within the frozen ground. The world spun in circles as her back collided with the unforgiving earth.

Frightened and defeated, she kept very still. Where she had landed proved defensible: high brush bristling with heavy branches and evergreen leaves that hid her partly from view.

The forest beat a heavy drum.

Footfalls of animals loose in the night filled the air. There was one set of footsteps that rung above the others: something primal, something large. She covered her mouth with her hand. Pressing tightly, she watched as a shadow crept across her vision.

She peered out the side of the brush.

It stood like a man.

Up close the fur was matted, uneven, missing in some places. The legs were muscular and covered in fabrics that seemed to sluice fluid. Hemorrhaging from the torso, it moved with a predator’s grace.

Its face was covered in shadow.

Madeline felt a scream rise from deep in her chest and she pressed her hand harder against her mouth. Closing her eyes, tears streamed from them. Her chest heaved, but she tried not to move, locking her body into a paralysis.

She couldn’t tear her eyes away from it.

Turning, the face was still well hidden.

Long slender fingers, like dull blades, bounced against the creature’s legs. The clothing was torn and dirty. A smell emanated from it that could only be described as nausea in the depths of a septic tank. Lifting its head, it sniffed the air, a hood pressing against its mangled hair.

Her breath caught in her throat.

The slow turn of the creature and the bend of its legs as it lowered closer to the ground was more than Madeline could take. And before she could remove her hand from her mouth to scream, it was upon her.

Grab it on Kindle today!

Re-release: Dawn

Re-release: Dawn

Synopsis: The world is divided between a nation of men and a nation women, each of whom rules with absolute authority. A war brews deep beneath the surface of the peaceful negotiations between these two nations as a love blossoms between a princess and her guardian, a slave of the Society of Dawn, in the first entry of this romantic fantasy series.

 

An excerpt from Dawn:

Aurora had never journeyed so far alone. In the six years that Aeschylus served as her guardian, she left Pa’ngarin no more than a handful of times. She touched her saddle horn and rubbed the pearl there delicately.

She thought about the day Aeschylus was chosen as her guardian. It was her twelfth birthday, a milestone among maidens and Children of the Dawn. Her aunt, the Lordess Ascendant, the beautiful and powerful ruler of Pa’ngarin, picked Aeschylus for Aurora from among the horde of unseasoned and dirty men who worked the mines and fields.

Her aunt’s words were soft that day.

Soft speech wasn’t Lordess Ascendant’s way. However, on the day when Aurora was presented before the Court of the Nine Blossoms, she spoke in hurried, loving words. She told the young maiden that this man was the strongest among the bloodthirsty and hate-mongering species of men.

He would protect her until his death.

Her new guardian would be her steadfast companion for as long as she saw fit. He would see to all her needs; and if she required, be her First––marking her ascendance.

Aurora smiled as she remembered young Aeschylus. He was already a man when he was appointed as her guardian. Strong-jawed and tight-lipped, he was a cordial, but removed, warrior just a moon past his eighteenth birthday.

At the time, she didn’t know that Aeschylus followed her around long before he became her guardian. His mother died in the same Scythian raid that killed her mother when she was an infant. Every time young Aurora wandered without supervision, Aeschylus wasn’t far away.

But his assistance had a price.

When he was only thirteen, he carried Aurora from the orchards after she fell down and injured her foot. It was against Pa’ngarin law for a man to touch a woman without consent, especially to treat her as if she were powerless to help herself. His act of compassion earned him ten lashes at the center of the Court of the Nine Blossoms. After that incident, he became more careful, making certain to remain hidden from view as he protected her.

Aurora shook herself from her reverie.

Along the side of the road sat a heavy black stone etched in sparkling silver lettering. The letters read Ma’oren.

Ma’oren was a rich town built around mining and forestry operations and run by a minor ascendant named Eris. Aurora couldn’t remember having met her.

Rows of tall trees obscured her vision to the north and south, but she had little fear in her heart despite the circumstances of the previous evening. The silence enveloping the surrounding forest would’ve been disarming if Aurora didn’t know that mining drove the creatures of the forest deeper into the woods. There were few dangers to a woman of her station in a society governed by women. If she were attacked and kidnapped by brigands, they would swing in the Court of the Nine Blossoms.

The trees lining the road soon gave way to cramped male dormitories built upon each other like sloping cliffs. The buildings had no windows except for a wide opening on the second floor.

A man stepped out of one of the dormitories’ slanted doors. His long gray hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail and his brown eyes, wide and wise, watched the young maiden pass. He didn’t meet her eyes, but instead stared intently at her mount. He knew the penalty for looking at a woman, if not asked to do so, was the sealing of the eyes.

Opposite the dormitories stood a vast cavern dug deep into the earth, beside which sprawling mining equipment was placed. A piercing whine filtered from the mine’s entrance, as if a whistle were being blown deep below. Aurora spurred her mount forward through the haze of dirt and dust spewing from the mine and made her way up the road toward the city proper.

As if by magic, the haze disappeared and a gleaming citadel rose in the distance. A dawn sphere was a great, ribbed structure composed of symmetrical, ivory pillars from ground to sky.

Get it today on Kindle!

Guest Post: The Long Road to Publication by Anna Belle Rose

Guest Post: The Long Road to Publication by Anna Belle Rose

Years and years ago, actually decades ago, I was a stay-at-home mom for a bit, with my then youngest child who would not fall asleep at nap time. Over time, I realized that while he wouldn’t sleep, he would sit in his crib for a bit each afternoon, listening to Yanni at the Acropolis, looking at story books, and I could sit and write. And write I did. I wrote and wrote and wrote over many months. By then, my youngest was talking, and he somehow understood that Mommy was writing a book, and he kept nagging me to keep going. And I did.

Fast forward many years, and I’d keep opening the word file of that first novel, print it out, edit and revise, and eventually send it out to a few agents. Rejections would come in, and I’d put it away for a while, then that same son would poke at me again, and the process would start all over again. During this same time, I also started several other novels, and kept working on them in the same way. All of them were contemporary romances, heavily linked to life in Vermont, and all have gloriously happy endings – I mean, who doesn’t love a happily ever after?

Finally, late in 2016, I decided I needed to either get serious about writing, or give it up for good. So I pulled those two complete novels out again, and hired incredible professional editors to go at them. Then I started submitting them to a few agents, and a couple publishing houses that didn’t require representation by agents. And on June 13th, a publishing contract arrived on the novel I wrote first, The Phone Call. And on July 13th, a contract arrived for my second, That One Small Omission. And joy of joys, on December 4th, a contract was offered on my third, More Than I Can Say.

On October 11, 2017, That One Small Omission was published in e-book and print versions, and on December 12th, The Phone Call will be published. The joy and excitement I feel each time I look at my mantle and see my first published novel is an emotion that I think only other authors can understand!

 

Amazon link to That One Small Omission: https://tinyurl.com/yb5bc2ux

Amazon link to my author’s page: https://tinyurl.com/y8uzgxeh

 

The Marketing Blues

The Marketing Blues

Writing a book is difficult; revising and editing is an odyssey.

However, marketing looms large, hanging around your neck like an anchor. Indie authors face an uphill battle. There are hundreds of thousands of new books created each year across a myriad of genres. Depending on the pool you dive into, you may (or may not) have a bastion of potential supportive fans.

Unfortunately, the grind is indeed a millstone.

You must learn to embrace the suck.

I love a rousing speech, but marketing is about discipline and a real desire to share what you have made with the world. Often, in the throes of sending out review emails or contacting media outlets, you are struck by a desperation to simply give up. You might consider just being content with having completed a book.

And truthfully, finishing a book is a real accomplishment. Very real.

Some things that help me get through the grind (and also result in some progress):

  1. Advertising.  Not everyone has the budget to run a full-page ad in The New York Times (I certainly don’t). However, you can chip away with a smaller budget using Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon. If you ran an ad 2-3 times a week, you might be able to run an ad that reaches 10,000 new potential readers for as little as $50.
  2. Starting a conversation. You’re probably on social media; you probably even retweet some truly interesting people. But you likely aren’t having a conversation. The importance of this is in building relationships, showing potential readers that you don’t just want to sell them something: you want to make them a lifelong reader.
  3. Talking to someone new. Every so often I like to shoot for the stars and reach out to someone on social media who’ll probably never respond. You don’t need to tweet Chris Pratt in order to talk to someone new. You could reach out to a columnist you admire (Lauren Duca) or just someone who covers your genre to say you enjoyed what they wrote. Writers are always excited to hear from people who enjoyed their work.
  4. Making a plan. Wondering what to do next? Decide what you want to do. Sell 10 books today? Sell 10,000 books by the end of the year? Get a thousand new followers on Twitter by the end of the year? Figure out what you are aiming for and then build a step-by-step plan to reach it. That’s what I do anyways.
  5. Throwing out the plan. Then sometimes plans change…goals change. You need to adapt with them. Throw out what wasn’t working and plan for something new. The world is constantly changing; you need to be changing with it.

All I know is that if you are unwilling to share your book, then potential readers will likely not be interested in reading it.

 

Purchase Sixth Prime before Fifth Prime arrives!

Sign up for my newsletter to get free ebooks and to be entered into contests for cool gifts!