“What do you expect to find in my bags?” she asked.
Agent Gonzalez stared at her, and rather than answer what she thought was a pretty logical question, he threw another softball. “I’ll ask you one more time. Do you give your consent to allow us to search your bags? I’m warning you now that I have a federal judge on standby in the event you say no, so one way or another, I will search these bags today. It’s just a matter of whether this will go quickly or take a few hours. Up to you.”
Her heart pounded against the inside of her chest, wanting to run away. She felt much the same way. Not that she thought he’d find anything. It was the absolute certainty she saw on his face that said he knew he’d find something.
“What’s going on?” she asked, hating the meek sound in her voice.
“Yes! Yes, you can search my bags, my—my body, but you won’t find anything in, or rather, on them.”
Agent Gonzalez unzipped her suitcase.
“After you find nothing, I expect an explanation for what’s going on.” There, that sounded firm. Not shaky, like what her insides were doing.
Agent Watson relieved her of her backpack and purse but placed them on the table and didn’t go through them. Instead, he kept his attention on what Agent Gonzalez was doing, though she knew without a doubt she had his full attention too.
Gonzalez removed her clothing in a systematic fashion, placing items one at a time on the table next to the suitcase. Out came her dirty clothes, which lay on top, jeans, dresses, and her underwear. Her cheeks heated as he continued, his movements slow and thorough.
He got to the bottom, having removed everything from within. Her things were scattered across the table like some bizarre game of Clue.
“See?” she said. “Nothing.”
Agent Watson didn’t move, but Gonzalez sure did. He reached inside her suitcase and felt around the corners, then yanked. The sound of fabric tore.
“Hey! What are you doing?” He tossed the fabric aside, and black plastic square packages were stacked inside in a neat and orderly fashion. Had to be about a dozen of them, at least five to six inches in width.
Shock rooted her to the spot for a few moments. “Wait. What is that?” she asked and took a step forward.
Watson held up a hand in front of her. “Ma’am, please stay back.”
“What is that?” she asked him again, hearing the rising hysteria in her voice.
Gonzalez pulled out one package and produced a pocketknife from somewhere, then cut into the wrapping. Everything around her moved in slow motion until she swore the world had ceased to spin. Her attention stayed riveted to the white powder that came out on the shiny blade.
“Gonna need a test kit,” he said to Watson. The other agent immediately set the bags beside the table, at the farthest reach from her, and left the room.
“Agent Gonzalez,” she said, sounding like she pleaded, because she did. She’d never seen that stuff before in her life. “That’s not mine. What’s going on?”
He pulled out twelve packages, and yes, she counted every single one, before grabbing another black trash bag that someone had taped to the inside of her luggage frame. Once he opened that, several brown baggies came tumbling out. She gasped.
No wonder her bag had been so heavy.
Only then, after the whole horrid nightmare was laid out on the table, all the ugliness next to her things, her clothes, and her bag of toiletries, did he look up at her. “Ms. Scaglione,” he said, reverting to formalities, “the intel we received was there would be someone on your plane, matching your description and carrying a suitcase with over ten kilos of cocaine and about a hundred baggies of heroin. Although I haven’t tested it yet, I can tell you I’d bet my next paycheck that’s what is right here.”
“But it’s not mine.” Dryness coated the inside of her mouth, as if cotton balls had been shoved inside and sucked up all the moisture.
“Are those your clothes?” he asked.
“This your bag?” She nodded, getting where he headed. “Yes, but those drugs are not mine!”
“Of course, they aren’t.” But he said the words as if he didn’t believe her.
“They aren’t!” she yelled.He slammed his hands on the table and leaned toward her.
Tuesday, November 29, 2022
Monday, November 28, 2022
Excerpt:A thin mist had covered the city. Inside the fog, cobblestone pavers and streetlamps gave the streets a dreamlike feel, which Ana experienced from the other side of her window. Watching the movement of neighbors hurrying to catch a train or walk to work, she knifed a small wedge of butter and slathered it on a piece of toast. The flavors of the morning, fresh coffee and jam, delighted her. It was a moment of perfection, a fleeting one, full of ideas about art and success, so she took full notice of it. But soon the pleasure of warm French bread and sweet coffee was replaced with worry. Her morning with Joaquim and the strange intuition she had about it kept her heart prisoner and made her attention falter. The strange prophecy and the knot in her stomach alerted her to be careful. As she fell asleep the night before, she had made up her mind that the recent encounter would be their last time together. She reminded herself that no matter the powerful hold Joaquim had on her, she could do whatever she wanted.
Friday, November 25, 2022
A HAUNTING AT MARIANWOOD
Sister Miriam Patrice slid back from the kneeler. The quiet of the church soothed her as it wrapped its velvet cloak of serenity around her. She sat, hands folded, once in prayer but now to stop the trembling. Glancing at the sunlight streaming through the stained-glass windows casting a rainbow on the empty pews, she drew in deep slow breaths. She looked at the watch pinned to her tunic. Time to get back to work. She rose to leave the church, her place of refuge, a place free from the distractions of the running the community and the new retirement home the sisters established to help make ends meet.
The members of the Sisters of the Blessed Mother of God found their numbers dwindling. New recruits, as Sister Miriam Patrice called them mimicking her cousin Dash Hammond’s military jargon, were very rare. The teaching congregation once had more than a hundred sisters. Vocations, callings to either the religious or the educational side of the community, had fallen to less than a handful each year.
As she walked down the aisle to the back of the church, she heard it again. Tap, tap, tap. She stopped to listen, making sure she wasn’t mistaken. That sound sent shivers down her spine. Squaring her shoulders she walked to the doors next to the church exit. One led up to the choir loft, the other down to the cellar. In days past she had gone up the stairs; today she would go down.
Pulling the doorknob, Miriam Patrice met the resistance of a locked door. She pulled out her keys and unlocked it. She struggled with the door, suggesting to her that no one had gone to the cellar in a while.
The stone steps were worn but sturdy. She moved cautiously into the darkness, one hand on the wall to steady her nervous knees, the other searching for the handrail. Her hope was that the security guard forgot to close the door one day and some critter, not two legged, was trapped down here and making the tap, tap, tap sound. Logically she knew this was wrong, but the alternative could be worse.
Decades ago they discovered one of the newer buildings constructed during a period of rapid expansion had been built on an underground spring. It wasn’t long before the building tilted, as did their finances. What a waste of time and money. Fearful that what she would find was a tell-tale pooling or bubbling of water, she moved forward slowly. She said a silent prayer that she would not stumble into a puddle, a precursor of the inevitable unwelcome news.
Her trek seemed unnecessarily slow though reason told Miriam Patrice she should alert one of her sisters where she was just in case she lost her footing. But her reasoning had not been the sharpest of late. She blamed her sleepless nights, not because of an uneasy conscience but an overabundance of concern for her congregation and its uncertain future, both financially and individually.
After spending a half an hour poking into the corners, searching for the origin of the sound, Miriam Patrice gave up. She needed a flashlight if she wanted to do a proper search. Next time she would be prepared. Next time, she told herself, she would be less skittish, more confident that she could deal with whatever sprung up from the tap, tap, tap. After deciding this, she nodded to herself. At least she didn’t hear a drip, drip, drip.
The sound had stopped so she returned to the church. As she locked the door behind her, the tap, tap, tap began again, louder this time. If she permitted herself, she would have said damn.
Thursday, November 17, 2022
She knew Justin wasn’t anything like Max. He didn’t seem at all fazed by his discovery.
If anything, he’d been amused. She hadn’t seen that at first. To her, the situation had been anything but amusing. It wasn’t until he’d threatened to leave that she’d realized she was overreacting.
At least we got the arguing out of the way on the first date. Maybe that means our relationship will be smooth sailing from now on.
That wasn’t exactly a logical thought either, but it made her feel better.
She rummaged through the pile of menus and mail on her kitchen table until she found menus for the three nearest Chinese restaurants. Justin could decide which one he wanted to order from, since he was insisting on paying. For once, she was grateful for the clutter. Having to search for the menus gave her a little more time to calm down and think rationally.
When she returned to the living room, Justin was at the window looking out at the street.
“You have a great neighborhood here,” he said without turning around.
“It is pretty nice.” She’d entered the room quietly, or so she thought. How had he known she was back?
He turned and smiled at her. “I just wanted to tell you how great today has been so far.
I’m glad we’re continuing the date. To be honest, I didn’t want to leave yet.”
“To be honest, I don’t know if I’m going to want you to leave at all. At least not until morning.”
The words seemed to drop out of her mouth without consulting with her brain. Of course she’d considered spending the night with him. She would have had to have been dead not to be attracted to him. And despite the way she’d reacted to his finding her toy, a tiny part of her found it arousing that he knew she’d used it on herself. Maybe he even knew that she’d been fantasizing about him.
No matter what her libido and body wanted, she hadn’t intended to let him know that she might let him stay. They’d agreed to come back to her place and kiss. Maybe more. She’d laid down her ground rules at the beginning. First date, no sex.
Neither of them had said anything about his staying the night, but that was exactly what she’d just suggested.
She bit her lip and managed to look him in the eye. He smiled, and something in his eyes let her know that she could say anything she wanted to him and he would be fine with it.
“I don’t want to leave either,” he said softly. “I’ve already told you I want you. It doesn’t have to happen tonight. If it does, I’m not going to complain about it, and I’m not going to think any less of you.”
It was an odd thing to say. Not something Tareth had ever heard from a guy. And it was exactly what she needed to hear.
“I won’t think less of you either,” she said, trying to make a joke of it.
“Good.” He held out his hand. “Let’s take a look at those menus. Lunch was way too long ago.”
They chose a restaurant and placed their order, then sat on the couch again to wait. Justin held her hand, and for several minutes they sat there together in silence, as they had on the boat. The silence now was just as comfortable as it had been then.
Justin’s touch was just as much a fuel for desire as it had been earlier.
Wednesday, November 16, 2022
Book Trailer: https://youtu.be/DYbFY4LAQ8I
Audiobook Sample: https://youtu.be/mbmkievDPbU
When the lorienok abducted Delaney—after she’d finally accepted that she wasn’t dreaming, in a coma, having a mental breakdown, or in hell—she’d given them a fake name: Jane Smith. Not an exceptionally creative or unique pseudonym by any stretch of the imagination, but having come to grips with the fact that she’d been literally abducted by aliens, her imagination was stretched dangerously thin. Intergalactic kidnapping wasn’t a chronic illness, but for a time—a longer time than she was comfortable admitting to now—wasting away had seemed a preferable fate.
She didn’t accomplish much by hiding her identity. She didn’t have any blood relatives to protect, a criminal record to hide, or a trust fund to safeguard. Delaney Rose McCormick had about as much value associated with her name as did the fictional Jane Smith and left nearly as small a void on Earth. But all Delaney had in those early days directly following her abduction was her name and the hope that everything—the abduction, the tests, the training—was just a big mistake. Which, as it turned out, it was. Her abduction had been the biggest technological mistake in lorienok history, but that didn’t change her circumstances. Days turned to weeks turned to months turned to the abandonment of tracking time. Hope died. She had nothing to her name, but her name, at least, was her own, and she would keep it for herself.
By the time her domestication specialist, Keil Kore’Weidnar, discovered Delaney’s capacity to learn and taught her Lori, his native language, the issue of her name had become moot. He’d already renamed her Reshna, a spiral-shaped handheld tool used to drill into ice. He’d shown her a hologram of it, pointing to the spiral and then to the wild frizz of her unconditioned curls. They had a similar-looking tool on Earth, but they used it to open wine bottles. He’d named her “corkscrew” for her crazy hair.
She’d been called worse names in high school.
She couldn’t say she’d lived in worse places, though. Most of her foster families, with the exception of the Todd household, had been decent people who’d given her clothes, a bed under a roof, and regular meals. Besides clothes, those basic necessities were still being met, so a little gratitude was probably in order. But only just a little, because she also had a cage. And a collar. And if she’d just translated the words and growls of the pet store manager correctly, she had a new owner.
Like most lor, her owner had thick, curved ram horns jutting from his head, and like all lorienok regardless of gender, he was covered head to toe in brown fur. Sasquatch did exist after all; he just wasn’t native to Earth. He was roughly the same size and shape as a human bodybuilder, and in addition to the horns, his nose and mouth protruded slightly into a blunt muzzle, two rows of sharp predator teeth filled his overly large mouth, and pointy bearlike claws tipped each finger and likely each toe on his boot-shod feet.
Unlike most, this male wore his hair long. His locks were tied back from his face in a messy bun with a forest-green elastic band. His beard was also long and came to a point at the end, hanging a few inches below his chin. But his eyes were his most striking feature, assuming that one had already become accustomed to the ram horns, claws, abundance of muscle, and close-cropped body fur. His left eye was the same doe brown common to all lorienok—a smidge rounder and larger than human eyes, like calf eyes with those thick lashes and soul-deep stare—but his other eye was ice blue. A thick scar bisected his right brow, eyelid, and upper cheek, slicing directly over that unique, penetrating gaze.
His bearing was regal and confident, the sharp cut of his jawline proud, but his eyes betrayed him. He was sad—horribly sad—and he glowered at Delaney through the wire door of her cage like he was the Greek king Sisyphus and she his boulder, resigning himself to an eternity of labor over an impossible, futile undertaking.
Or maybe Delaney was just projecting because she couldn’t imagine anything more impossible and futile than her current existence. I am not a pet! she wanted to yell. But after witnessing Keil’s cold-blooded murder, she knew to keep her mouth firmly shut. If anyone suspected her more intelligent than a golden retriever, her death would be next.
Accomplishing impossible feats while enduring debilitating injury and sensory deprivation were challenges both expected and anticipated by the young cadets training to enter the combat and strategic intelligence division of the Federation. Qualifying exams were brutal. Training was rigorous. But for the few who didn’t fail, drop out, or obtain an infirmary discharge, the rewards were astronomical. Torek Lore’Onik Weidnar Kenzo Lesh’Aerai Renaar had certainly reaped those rewards many times over, as evidenced by the four property titles bestowed to his name. He’d never been one to flinch when facing a challenge, but this order—the court-mandated appointment of an animal companion to “facilitate mental recovery”—was the challenge that finally made him flinch.
Torek stared at the human—at the beautiful, riotous hair that sprang like coils from its head and would obviously need continual cleaning and grooming, at its tiny stature and lean form that probably couldn’t lift its own weight, at the lovely gray eyes and smooth, bare skin that would need layers upon layers of protective coverings to keep it warm—and he seriously considered the merits of simply retiring from the Federation.
No one would blame him after what had happened. He could return to his home in Aerai and resume the quiet, peaceful, unappreciated toil of plant cultivation he’d abandoned so many seasons ago along with his dreams of filling that home with a family.
The store manager hefted a bound book from the counter and plopped it into Torek’s unwilling arms.
“What’s this?” A tingle of cold dread crept across the back of Torek’s neck.
“Why, it’s your owner’s manual, of course.”
“Of course.” The Federation’s policies and procedures manual was the thickest book Torek had ever had the displeasure of memorizing, and it wasn’t even half the size of this tome.
“You’ll be the envy of all Lorien. The first to purchase a human, our newest species.
She’s the pilot for her breed, of course, but her domestication is progressing fabulously. They dispatched a harvester while she was still in transit, so until the next shipment arrives, she’s the only human we’ll have for a while yet, six kair at the least. You must be thrilled.”
As Torek flipped through a few of the manual’s pages and skimmed the table of contents, the tingle of dread that had started at his neck devoured the rest of his body and intensified to nausea. An entire chapter was dedicated to heating and insulating the human’s living quarters. If her rooms dipped below a specific temperature—Torek brought the book closer and squinted, but no, his eyes didn’t deceive him—and the human didn’t have tailored, fur-lined coverings to retain heat, she would sicken and die. If he didn’t provide her with private sleeping quarters, she would become lethargic and depressed, then sicken and die. If he didn’t feed her three meals a day, complete with a cooked protein, vegetables, and some grain, she would sicken and die. She was even allergic to ukok, a simple seasoning. If consumed, her throat would swell, cutting off her air supply, and she would immediately die.
He would kill her.
Not intentionally, of course, but despite the wild popularity of owning foreign domesticated animals, he’d never even owned a zeprak let alone something as exotic, delicate, and temperamental as this human. She wouldn’t survive a week in his care.
His throat tightened. His breath shortened. His chest ached, and suddenly, black starbursts shadowed his vision.
Not now. Not in public. Not again.