Friday, April 28, 2017

Release Day!

I've been kinda busy for the past week or so. Been mowing like a fiend, tilling and planting my garden, and getting Dreams From the Deep ready to publish.

I took the tractor out for the first time this year and mowed the lower field. Didn't take long, then I gave the tractor a bath because the birds had been pooping on it all winter. Funny thing, I used to take my horses out for a ride and then give them a bath. Now I'm doing it with my tractor. Times change, I guess. Anyway, this is what it looked like after I'd finished mowing the big field last fall. I love it!

I mowed the field on Monday, right after I'd gone in for a haircut. When Sherry asked me what I wanted to do, I said, "Dye it red." After her first incredulous response, she went and got her hair color samples and we picked one out. Any other time, she'd have had to schedule another appointment for me, but she didn't have another client for an hour, so we went for it. She said it was fate.

Then I went home, put on my John Deere cap, and climbed aboard my trusty Kubota. I lead such a glamorous life! If you're one of my Facebook friends, you may have already seen this picture, which got more likes and comments than a new book cover. *:D big grin

I'm slowly adjusting to seeing red hair when I look in the mirror. Of course, by the time I get used to it, the color will have faded. Don't know if I'll do it again, but it was fun for once. When you hang around with authors who have pink or purple hair, graying brown hair seems a bit dowdy. A temporary dye job was the best I could do to keep up.

I'm releasing book 2 of the Soul Survivors today. This one reflects the time I spent in Ireland a few years back. Many of the places we visited in County Kerry wound up in the book, and I hope I was at least accurate with the details. I took a bajillion pictures while we were there, but even so, Google Earth has become my favorite research partner. *:D big grin

Echoes From the Deep

Here's the blurb:

Marketing assistant Cleona Mahoney survives a horrific plane crash only to discover that the buzzing sound she hears is not a concussion but the voices of people who died in the crash.

When she meets Kevan MacFinnin, their mutual attraction is swift and powerful, despite the disfiguring scars he sustained in the terrorist bombing that killed his parents. In recent months, several of Kevan’s sheep have been sliced open and left on the hillside, the only clue being a mysterious symbol painted on the fleece.

After her communion with Earth’s spirit reveals Cleona to be the Carrier of Life’s Preservation, she and Kevan decode the revolutionary formula given to her by a solar scientist who perished in the crash. 

The discovery of another marked sheep puts Kevan and Cleona on the trail of a dangerous killer, and together they must strive to prevent a political assassination.

And the cover: She had blue eyes and incredibly voluminous hair when we started. I really like the way she turned out, thanks to Beth at Dragonfly Press Design!

And the first chapter and part of the second. Enjoy!

Chapter 1

Cleona Mahoney stepped out from beneath the ancient trees and gazed up at a sky shrouded with clouds of quilted gray. Despite the chilly wind, Ireland was a lovely, peaceful country—the perfect cure for the horrors she’d recently endured. If nothing else, her complexion had softened in the days since her arrival. Was the soap responsible or was it the water? Perhaps it was simply the climate, but whatever the reason, she felt more comfortable in her own skin than she had in many years.
If only she could say the same for her mind.
The strange dreams began in Sneem, although there was nothing remotely strange about the charming coastal town. Nothing more sinister than a leprechaun should have lurked in the tiny patch of Irish wilderness on the hill near the hotel. The dark hollow in the mossy tree stretching its roots across the path wasn’t home to anything more frightening than squirrels or rabbits. Tumbled stone fences, also blanketed with moss, lay hidden in the shadows created by the dense canopy above—shadows that should have seemed ominous, but somehow weren’t. Trailing ivy carpeted the ground as well as the trees, the occasional violet blooming from between the leaves. Nothing strange about that at all.
Leaving the woods behind, she strolled down the hill into town to meet her cousin, Sinead Mahoney, for breakfast. Tourists had arrived by the busload in the town’s triangular center, most of them licking ice cream cones and conversing in German or French. Funny how they all looked so foreign—and she rarely saw a smile among them. She’d passed a similar group on her way to the round fort at Staigue; none of them had been smiling then either.
“Dour folk,” Sinead had muttered in an aside.
Her cousin had been begging her to visit Ireland for so long, Cleona had lost count of how many times she’d had to say no. The last time she’d asked—four months ago, now—Sinead was understandably incredulous.
“D’you really mean it this time? No joking?”
“No joking,” Cleona had said. “I’m really coming. It took some doing, but I got my vacation approved for the last two weeks in May.”
She would undoubtedly pay for those two weeks with a month of total chaos at the office, but she had deemed it worthwhile. She was finally going to visit the home of her forefathers, although until now, Cleona’s name was the only thing about her that hinted at her Irish ancestry. Her accent was as American as apple pie with a touch of western twang, courtesy of her mother’s east Texas heritage. Even so, she’d caught herself picking up a slight brogue after only a few days on Irish soil.
“Must come naturally,” Sinead had said when she first noticed the change of inflection. “You’ll be sounding like a true Irishwoman by the time you leave.”
By the time I leave…
Cleona didn’t want to go home. The flight from Newark had been miserable—and that was even before the doomed 747 had taken a dive into the North Atlantic. She’d never been able to sleep on a plane, and that flight—the longest she’d ever been on—was no exception. She’d somehow managed to block the horrific ending from her memory, yet tiny images kept popping into her thoughts. Flying had never frightened her before, but having experienced a plane crash firsthand had changed her perceptions, making her want to remain in Ireland forever, never again setting foot inside any contraption with wings.
Unfortunately, her chances of staying put were pretty slim. Her job was in Dallas, not Ireland, and although she’d been issued temporary documents and could depart as scheduled, everything she’d brought with her had gone down with that plane, everything except her life—and the lives of two others.
A total of four, if you count the dog.
All three of the humans were American women in their late twenties: flight attendant Susan Maxwell and two passengers, Jillian Dulaine and Cleona. The three women had endured a bit of celebrity in the wake of the disaster—along with the questions as to how they’d managed to survive when no one else had.
Cleona still had a hard time replying to those queries.
The last thing she remembered was a tray flying up in her face. After that, holding her breath must have been instinctive because after a lung-bursting eternity, her head finally broke through the surface. Inexplicably, she was wearing a life jacket. The coast of Ireland was visible in the distance, and a small flotilla of fishing boats had sailed directly to the crash site as though they’d anticipated the event. Jillian had released a dog from its cage—a cage that had somehow become entangled with another life preserver, making it buoyant enough to float out of the hold. Jillian said she’d been sitting next to the dog’s owner and had seen pictures. She even knew the dog’s name.
Something in Jillian’s expression and Cleona’s own peculiar feelings ever since suggested there might be more to it than that. Jillian had shouted the dog’s name with such certainty. The dog had even seemed to know her.
Cleona arrived in Sneem a day later than she’d planned, having been issued a clean bill of health by the astonished staff of a Galway hospital, save for a mild concussion and a strange buzzing sound in her ears. Once settled at the hotel, she’d begun having flashbacks of the crash almost immediately. Not of her own experiences, but some that had to have been those of other passengers. Prior to that, she could only assume she’d been too dazed—or sedated—to notice the eerie images. The persistent buzz had since devolved into a cacophony of voices, each attempting to express different thoughts, haunting her like ghosts from within her own mind.
She’d done her best to force those ghosts back into the depths of her psyche without mentioning them to anyone. But the expressions on the faces of the two other survivors also haunted her, making her wonder whether they might also have collected the spirits of those who had perished.
Something Susan had said stuck with her. That was no accident. The flight attendant’s baby-soft voice had seemed incongruous with her brusque statement, and she spoke, not as though making a guess, but rather as a statement of fact. How could she possibly know for certain unless the dead had been speaking to her?
Cleona had quashed the notion as quickly as it had surfaced, refusing to admit to that level of insanity. Any bizarre imaginings were surely the result of post-traumatic stress—or perhaps survivor’s guilt. Even her dreams had been invaded. Sinead must have known sleep wouldn’t come easily in the wake of such a tragedy, and she seemed to have been actively trying to wear her out—and her cousin didn’t even know the weirdest part.
The dream was always the same. According to his tag, the dog’s name was McKnight. Thin and tall with a long tail, he looked like a greyhound and wore a saddle, of all things—a tiny saddle that was small enough to have been a toy, yet appeared to be authentic. Beneath the saddle were festering sores, and a small box labeled “Do not remove” was embedded in his right flank. His collar was embossed with the symbol of a castle with Baja, California written beneath it. What did it mean? Where did he come from and why? In the dream, she’d given the dog a bath and treated his sores.
Then she woke up.
If she’d had nightmares about the crash, she could’ve understood. But this particular dream made no sense whatsoever. Still, if any country could heal her soul and free her of her troubling dreams, Ireland was perfect for the task. The pace in the west country was gentle, although she doubted that Dublin would have the same relaxed feel.
So much to see, so little time.
Sinead had taken her to places on roads she never would’ve ventured down on her own, and she’d fallen into bed exhausted each night. But now, she simply wanted to be for a while. No rushing about, no obligations, and certainly no travel. Staying put had more appeal than ever before.
Today she and Sinead would set out for the family’s farm near Kenmare. Cleona had finally figured out how everything worked in the modern hotel—even the taps and electrical outlets seemed odd at first, and operating the washer and dryer combo was an exercise in futility. Now they would be living in a farmhouse that had been in the family for so long, no one could even say when it was first built. She welcomed the new learning experience as yet another means of diverting her attention from her disturbing thoughts. She longed to focus on more mundane activities, such as how to use an electric tea kettle, which was one of the handier appliances she had yet to run across.
They’d spent some time in Dingle during their sight-seeing travels, having lunch and exploring the shops. Dingle might have been larger than Sneem, but Cleona could still stroll from one end of town to the other—something she’d certainly never done in Dallas—and she enjoyed the small town atmosphere.   
Sinead had accompanied her on those outings, but today, she must’ve sensed that Cleona needed some time alone, having gone ahead to order breakfast, leaving Cleona to catch up after walking the cobwebs from her mind.
The restaurant’s neat stone storefront welcomed her with its green and gold sign, charming her with its petunia-stuffed flower pots. The sweet scent followed her inside, mingling briefly with the aroma of sausages and baking bread before being overwhelmed as the door closed behind her.
“I ordered you the full Irish breakfast,” Sinead announced.
Cleona took her seat, the chair legs screeching across the floor as she scooted up to the lacquered wooden table. “Can’t quite get used to having black pudding with my eggs and bacon, but if you insist…”
“I do.” Sinead flipped out her napkin. “All the good Irish meals you’ve been served have yet to put the roses back in your cheeks. Of course, you actually have to eat that food to gain any benefit from it.”
“I’ve eaten plenty,” Cleona protested. “Maybe not as much as you, but then, I wasn’t blessed with your constitution.”
Tall, slender, and blond, Sinead could put away meals that, inside a month, would have rendered Cleona the size of a young whale. If that was indeed her cousin’s intention, she had a long way to go. The amount of weight Cleona had lost since the crash would have delighted any desperate dieter, leaving her as thin and pale as the ghosts whispering admonitions to her. That is, if they’d bothered to materialize. So far, all they’d done was talk, and their constant babble had ruined her appetite.
See what you’ve done to me?
As if shamed into silence, they allowed her a moment’s respite before resuming their persistent din. There might have only been a handful of other patrons enjoying their breakfasts in the sunny room, but the noise in her mind was like a sports bar during the World Cup finals.
A waitress with warm brown eyes and softly curling hair brought their plates. Cleona picked up her fork, focusing on the tines before squeezing her eyes closed.
Shut up!
Thinking she might have spoken aloud, she cast an apologetic glance at her cousin. “Sorry.”
“For saying I’m a bit piggish?”
Cleona frowned. “Is that what I said?”
“Not exactly,” Sinead replied. “But no worries either way.”
No worries? Although Cleona envied her cousin’s attitude, she had yet to reach that level of complaisance. About the best she could say was that the peculiar voices had diminished over the past few days—in number if not in volume. Was that evidence of her recovery? Perhaps. The doctor had warned her that she might experience headaches and dizziness in addition to her memory loss. Thus far, dizziness had only been a problem once, and though she’d had several headaches, none had lingered long enough for her to take even the mild pain reliever he’d recommended. Of course, he’d never mentioned the possibility that the buzz in her ears might turn out to be voices.
Sinead cleared her throat. “If you’re not going to eat that, we should head back to the hotel and check out.”
Cleona glanced up from her practically untouched meal, noting that Sinead had already finished her breakfast and was sipping her tea, no doubt anxious to get back to her home. The frequent phone conversations with her boyfriend during the past week proved how much Sinead missed him.
“Sorry.” Quickly downing the rest of her egg, she took a bite or two of the bacon and sausage, unable to face even the tiniest taste of the pudding before the waitress brought the bill.
Sinead smiled at her efforts. “Is there anything you want to do here in town before we leave?”
“I just need to mail a postcard, and I’d like to stop at a bookstore.”
In addition to the occasional phone call, Cleona had been writing to her family almost daily, reassuring them that she was still alive and well. Something about writing a note and putting a stamp on a letter made her feel more alive.
“I still think you need more clothes,” Sinead said with an admonitory wag of her head.
“Are you kidding me? We’ve already been to every shop in Sneem and most of the stores in Dingle. Trust me, I have plenty to wear. Right now, all I need are some books.”
The fact that the entirety of Cleona’s belongings fit into one small suitcase was irrelevant anyway. If mere clothing could have erased the residual chill of the North Atlantic, her Aran sweater would have done it with ease. No, what she needed was a good book to silence the voices in her head—something to read at bedtime to keep the memories at bay long enough for her to fall asleep. She only wished she’d hit on that notion sooner. In the wake of the crash, sleep had been hard to come by.
The Irish countryside had helped soothe her during the drive from Connemara to Galway, but the effect had only been temporary. Memories somehow managed to slip past the barriers she’d erected to protect her sanity—creeping thoughts, complete with sights and smells and other sensations that brought it all back. The wake from fishing boats rocking the life raft, simultaneously evoking nausea and hope. The firm grasp of the fisherman’s strong, calloused hands as he hoisted her onto his vessel. The scratch of a rough woolen blanket that smelled faintly of fish, but provided more comforting warmth than the softest goose down quilt. The pleasing aroma of freshly brewed tea, mixed with milk and sugar before being thrust into her trembling hands by one of the men. The voices, the clamor, the shocked expressions on the faces of those gathered at the dock at Inisheer.
Then came the cameras, the questions, the officials—concerned but nameless—assuring her that everything would be taken care of and any costs or losses paid for by the airline. She’d certainly had nothing to declare in Customs. Even the clothes she’d been wearing were gone, left behind in an Inisheer hotel room. Only the rings on her fingers and her watch remained—a testament to the water resistance of that particular brand.
The de-Americanization of Cleona had begun. She smiled to herself, wondering how she would handle the culture shock upon her return to Dallas—sprawling, bustling, and hot.
The time spent at the farm would be the vacation from the vacation, and she was looking forward to it far more than touring the rest of County Kerry.
“No problem,” Sinead said with a sunny smile. “We can stop at the post office on the way, and there’s a bookshop in Kenmare. It won’t take long to get there. Thirty minutes, tops.”
Cleona rose from her chair, biting back a laugh as she went to pay the bill. She’d already discovered that what appeared to be a short distance on a map took far longer to reach than anyone would expect—that is, anyone who’d never traveled the roads that twisted through the mountains and waterways of Ireland. Even excluding the visit to Bunratty Castle and lunch at Durty Nelly’s, the drive from Galway to Sneem would have taken more than three hours. Tours of the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula had each taken a full day, stopping at various towns and points of interest along the way.
She and Sinead strolled back to the hotel, chatting about this and that while at the same time drinking in the flavor of the town. Cleona had never seen such beautiful scenery in her life, but even the view from Geokaun Mountain on Valencia Island hadn’t silenced the racket in her head. In such a lonely, lofty spot, even ghosts should have had the decency to leave a person alone with her thoughts. She had certainly felt small standing up there—or rather, the world had seemed bigger. Either way, she hadn’t been as alone as she’d hoped.
The Fogher Cliffs had reminded her too much of the Cliffs of Moher, which had been the only land visible from the sea where the plane went down. Although she’d been in a life raft at the time and the sight of land should’ve been encouraging, the mere thought of those cliffs evoked images of lifeless bodies being pounded into nothingness by the constant motion of the sea. Peering down at the churning waves had made her dizzy, and she’d had to lean against the stone abutment until her head cleared.
In those moments, the timeless nature of the rocky island seemed to seep into her bones. Ireland was so steeped in history; the culture, the traditions, and even the language seemed rooted in the distant past. There were plenty of historic sites in Texas, some dating back to the earliest inhabitants. But not even the Alamo had affected her in quite the same manner.
A plaque at the Fogher Cliffs told how the women of Dohilla had traversed a path over Geokaun Mountain to harvest peat. During the space of time it took her to read it, the voices in her head were momentarily silenced as though they also stood in awe of that nearly forgotten time. Those women were gone now, even their path eroded by the sea.
Afterward, she’d had to remind herself she’d actually read that account, and that it hadn’t originated with some other source. Even so, the mere mention of peat evoked a long-buried memory of the scent of smoke rising from those fires, a memory that couldn’t have come from simply reading about them.
Her thoughts returned to the present as they entered the hotel lobby with its high ceilings, fresh flowers, and stone fireplace. A glimpse of the bar and the elegant dining room through the open doorway reminded Cleona of the dinner they’d enjoyed there the night before. Freshly caught fish and crab in a creamy Parmesan sauce had tempted her appetite better than anything she’d eaten thus far. Even so, she would’ve done just as well to have ordered a child’s portion.
Sinead paid the hotel bill, promising to settle up with Cleona later.
“It’s easier this way,” she explained.
Cleona doubted that, but for the moment, she let it pass, being preoccupied with matters far more important than mere money. Thus far, she hadn’t heard a word from her fellow survivors. Perhaps they felt as strange as she did—apart from the world, somehow changed forever.
She hoped time spent on a peaceful farm would eradicate that feeling.
But she certainly wasn’t counting on it.

Chapter 2

Kevan MacFinnin cursed as he spotted yet another ewe lying dead on the hillside, her blood a dull red against the ruffling whiteness of her fleece. Anger mixed with despair as he picked his way through the rocks to kneel beside her body. He’d found three such ewes in recent months—their throats cut and their abdomens laid open with surgical precision. Any natural predator would have ripped through the fleece and devoured their kill. Those sheep had undoubtedly been killed by humans, but leaving the meat to be picked apart by scavengers made no sense at all.
He hadn’t noticed the peculiar design painted on the first ewe’s hip, but he’d seen it on the second and again on the third. This one was no different. The design was so unusual he’d begun keeping an eye out for it, but apparently someone else was either watching more closely than he or only applied it after the slaughter.
“Marked for death,” he muttered, although only his dog, Mac, could’ve possibly heard him.
The police and his neighbors had voiced theories ranging from pranksters to ritual sacrifices, neither of which was common in County Kerry. Nor could anyone explain why his farm had been singled out from the others in the area.
He glanced up as he heard a car approaching on the road above him. Although he’d had the occasional loss from road kill, most drivers tended to slow down for sheep. Tourists wanted a closer look and the locals understood a sheep’s value. His pastures were near a main road with no houses in sight, which might provide the opportunity, but motive? He still hadn’t figured out that part, unless he had enemies he didn’t even know about.
A wave from the window caught his eye as the car rounded the bend. Not surprisingly, he recognized the car before the driver.
Sinead Mahoney. No doubt bringing her cousin Cleona home from Sneem. He waved back before immediately returning his attention to the ewe, praying they would pass by without stopping.
They didn’t. Sinead had made no secret of her wish that her cousin would remain in Ireland for good. Unfortunately, introducing her to Kevan now would doom those hopes to failure.
His tall blond neighbor emerged from the vehicle. “Hey, Kevan!” Sinead called. “Come meet my cousin Cleona.” A moment later, her smile vanished. “Not another one!”
“Aye, I’m afraid so,” he replied. “Best not to come any closer.”
The dead ewe’s presence provided an excellent excuse to put off meeting a woman who had survived what was being called one of the most tragic terrorist attacks in recent years. Being a survivor himself might have given them a common bond, but Cleona had witnessed enough horrors before ever setting foot on Irish soil. She didn’t need to see a scarred man and the bloody carcass of a sheep-killer’s latest victim.
Too late.
“Oh, my…” The petite brunette paled as she joined her cousin by the fence. “What happened to it?”
Through force of habit, Kevan turned the undamaged side of his face toward the newcomer without meeting her eyes. “Looks like someone killed it using a very sharp knife,” he said, seeing no point in elaborating on the sheep’s appalling injuries. “This is the fourth I’ve found dead in as many months. If this keeps up, I’ll likely lose the farm.”
“D’you think someone’s trying to force you to sell out?” Sinead asked.
He combed his fingers through the dead ewe’s fleece. “If so, I wish they’d make me an offer and be done with it. There’s no need to go about murdering my sheep.”
Sinead spoke to Cleona in an aside she obviously didn’t intend for him to hear. Sinead had never been one to show pity toward Kevan, but he saw the same sort of behavior every time he was introduced to someone new, no doubt a few quiet words about his tragic past and the disfigured freak he’d become. Not that he truly cared what anyone thought. His parents had been gone for ten years—killed in the same terrorist attack that had maimed their only child—leaving him to carry on the family traditions alone at the age of eighteen. Losing the farm was a far more significant loss than the good opinion of others.  
He drew in a breath, reminding himself why he’d kept on fighting when perseverance had seemed so pointless. Because it wasn’t pointless. Everyone had a life to live, a mark to make, no matter how obscure.
Cleona’s ordeal hadn’t been as devastating to her personally, but that episode was more recent, the pain still raw. He had no call to be surly and remote toward her or any other stranger. But then, Sinead had chided him for the melancholy side of his personality since childhood.
“You’ll never get a girl by scowling like that,” she’d said. “You need to smile more and act friendly.”
She would know. Sinead had dated many a smiling charmer, finally settling on Conall O’Mara, who had the most engaging grin of them all. The two had yet to marry, but everyone knew it was only a matter of time. Despite the hopes of their respective parents, Kevan and Sinead had never connected in a romantic manner. Sinead was a friend, or the sister he’d never had, never a lover. He wished her and Conall all the happiness in the world, still hoping to find someone as special for himself someday.
That is, if the thing that made him good for nothing beyond spending time on lonely hillsides tending sheep hadn’t happened. He wondered why Sinead would inflict him on her cousin, especially now, in the wake of a disaster she had so miraculously survived.
Cleona stood beside Sinead, her white-knuckled grasp on a nearby fencepost demonstrating her need for support. She was a stranger to Ireland, and the cousin of his best friend and closest neighbor. He could at least shake her hand and make her feel welcome. Unfortunately, a downward glance suggested this might not be the best time for that.
He wiped away most of the blood before starting up the hill with Mac at his heels, hoping Sinead had at least prepared her cousin for this meeting. With a lively breeze feathering his hair over his scarred cheek, he probably looked as he had in his youth. He was okay with that. Better to let Cleona see the unblemished side first, before allowing a gust of wind to reveal what he could never completely hide without wearing a mask.
Sinead had described her cousin as pretty, but she had understated the matter. Cleona was lovely; her delicate features and smooth, unblemished complexion suggesting an English rose type rather than a stylish American. Kevan was about to chastise himself for his stereotypical assumptions when he realized her Aran sweater and tweed skirt were more classically Irish than Sinead’s jeans and sweatshirt—the sort of clothing a tourist might buy and wear while vacationing in Ireland.
Or someone who’d lost their luggage in a plane crash.
He tossed a glance over his left shoulder, hoping to prolong the illusion of normalcy a few moments longer. “Sorry you had to see that. It’s a bit gruesome.”
“Don’t worry about me.” Discounting any reticence she might have felt about touching his bloodstained palm, her handshake was unexpectedly firm. “I’m sorry about your sheep.”
Tingling warmth stole up his arm as she shook his hand, and his eyes were focused on hers when the breeze finally betrayed him.
No shock or revulsion marred her expression as she released his hand to stroke his cheek with a fingertip. “That must’ve hurt.” Blushing, she dropped her hand to her side and her gaze from his face. “Forgive me. That was rude.”
His lips parted in surprise before he managed to stammer a denial. “Nnot at all. Although it was a first.” When she didn’t respond, he felt compelled to add, “Most people are too grossed out to even stare, much less touch.”
“And cause you that much more pain?” She paused, frowning. “Seems unnecessarily cruel.”
“Yes, I suppose it is.” He glanced briefly at Sinead, whose befuddled shrug disclaimed any advance coaching. He returned his attention to Cleona. “I hear you’ve had a rough time of it yourself.”
Her blush deepened, reminding him once again of the English rose analogy. She swept a lock of dark brown hair from her face and raised her head, drawing his attention to the cleft in her chin. “Not so much, really. Only a concussion and a few bruises.”
Why would she be embarrassed that her injuries were so minor? Then he remembered.
Survivor’s guilt.
That was a feeling he knew all too well. Quite often the psychological impact of a disaster was more crippling than any physical effects. He’d suffered third degree burns, which reportedly ranked among the more painful injuries, but witnessing the devastation, especially his parents’ mangled bodies, had left far deeper scars.
A cloud drifted overhead, dimming the sunshine and adding darkness to his already dismal thoughts. “I’m glad you made it.” He started to add more—something about what a blow her death would have been to Sinead and her family—but decided against it.
“I’m glad you did too,” she said.
And then she smiled—a smile that sliced through the veil of sadness that had obscured his vision for so long. To say that the grass was greener and the sky more blue was not only trite but inadequate. The air itself seemed more transparent, making every color more vibrant, every edge more clearly defined.
He blinked and found that the radiance persisted even when his eyes were closed. Had her smile changed the world?
Or had it only lightened his soul?
Barnes & Noble

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

WordWranglers: Welcome Author Cheryl Brooks

WordWranglers: Welcome Author Cheryl Brooks: We're so pleased to welcome multi-published author Cheryl Brooks to the round pen today to talk to us about her new and exciting Soul Survivors.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Mediterranean Monday?

This past Saturday, I attended our Indiana RWA's mini conference. Kristin Lamb was our speaker, and she advised us all to blog in order to connect with readers. Some of you may remember the days before I had to shut down the old Cheryl Brooks Erotic Blogspot because my family photos had gotten sucked into a XXX bookmark site. Prior to that date--somewhere around July 4th, 2013--I had blogged every single day for four years. That experience made me a bit blog shy, and I must admit I haven't missed sitting down to write a blog every day--or posting several day's worth in advance if I was going to be away from my computer. I'll never get back the countless hours I spent uploading photos and getting them to line up correctly on the page, not to mention writing the text, but those were good times, and I do miss all the fun we had.

Anyway, after talking with Kristin after the event, she looked at the list of my likes and interests that I'd compiled as a part of the program, and because I had listed cooking as an interest, she asked me what sort of recipes I was currently using. When I told her I was on the Mediterranean diet, she suggested that I do a Mediterranean Monday post with my favorite recipes as a way to get back into blogging.

The idea had merit, but perhaps I should first explain why was on the Mediterranean diet in the first place. Last September, my doctor left the group practice, so I had to find a new one. I saw the new guy for the first time in mid January. I told him I was tired all the time and just didn't feel good. He looked at my labs and previous CT scans and said that because the CT showed fatty liver disease and my liver enzymes were elevated, that I was at risk for developing cirrhosis of the liver, and that this was probably the cause of my fatigue. The main treatment, he said, was for me to lose weight.

Well, I've been at roughly 220 pounds for a long, damn time, so I didn't have much confidence in my ability to lose a single ounce, but I told him I would try. He said the diet I should follow is essentially the same as the diet for diabetics--a condition I also have--which is to avoid potatoes, pasta, bread, and sugar. When I got home, I looked up the best diet for fatty liver disease, and the Mediterranean diet popped up. I'll leave it to others to explain the diet overall, but I tried a few recipes, started eating more fresh vegetables (my favorites are red bell peppers and cucumbers), avoided those things he mentioned, and stopped eating (or buying) cheese almost entirely.

I know it sounds hard, but it really wasn't. I found plenty of flavorful recipes and discovered foods I'd never even eaten before. As any dieter can tell you, the only real motivation for sticking to any diet is how well it works. I've been on a variety of diets in my 61 years, and most of the time, I either lost weight, then gained it all back plus ten more pounds, or I was starving to death all the time and didn't lose squat. For the first few days of this diet, however, I was losing roughly a half a pound a day, and not only that, I wasn't constantly hungry.

When the rate of weight loss began slowing down, I got back on my Nordic Track for the first time in at least ten years, probably fifteen. I thought I was going to die after the first five minutes, but I've gradually increased the time and the tension to where I was the last time I used it regularly. I have a six-song playlist I listen to, and I try to think about anything else--what I'm going to fix for dinner, my to-do list, my current novel-in-progress, you name it--and the time passes pretty quickly. I stop between songs, get a sip of water and wipe off the sweat, climb back on and start again. I put my favorite of the songs last so it gives me something to look forward to. 

The result is, I feel better. I've lost twenty pounds, my liver enzymes are down in the low end of the normal range, my Hemoglobin A1C is in the normal range, and I can walk almost as well as I did twenty years ago. I did pretty well until Easter, when I sort of fell off the diet wagon for a day or two, but I haven't given up.

One of the first recipes I found in my search was this one for Baked Sun-dried Tomato Cod, from the Oldways site,  which is baked in packets of parchment paper. I had to modify it slightly because the fish never seemed to get done when I baked it in the parchment packets, so I omit the parchment paper and just bake it in a glass baking dish at 400 F for about twenty to thirty minutes depending on the thickness of the fish. I also cut the recipe in half since my son, Sam, wouldn't eat something like this unless he was dying of starvation. *:D big grin However, my husband, who doesn't particularly like baked fish, loves this recipe!

The source of your cod also makes a difference. If you live near the coast, you're in luck, but I've been buying the cod fillets from the Kroger seafood counter, and I find that it has better flavor and texture than the frozen stuff. It smells horrible when you first unwrap it, but if you rinse it well and then dry it off with paper towels, it becomes more tolerable.

Baked Sun-dried Tomato Cod

1/3 cup julienned sun dried tomatoes
1 chopped medium shallot
½ cup baby bella mushrooms, cleaned and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing on cod
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 (4-6-ounce) fresh or frozen cod fillets (thawed if frozen)
2 lemon wedges
4 fresh basil leaves, julienned, for garnish

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Add chopped sun-dried tomatoes, shallots, and mushrooms to a medium mixing bowl. Add vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Stir to combine.
  3. Rinse each fillet well, dry with paper towels, then place them skin side down in a glass baking dish, brush with olive oil, and top with the sun-died tomato mixture. 
  4. Bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on the thickness of the cod until the fish is white and flakes easily with a fork. Garnish the fish with fresh basil, serve with lemon wedges if desired, and enjoy!

Friday, April 7, 2017

New Series!

I finally have some news worth blogging about! Sourcebooks bought two books in a new series about the next generation of Zetithians. We're calling it Cat Star Legacy. The first book is about Althea (Tisana and Leo's daughter) and Larry (Jack and Cat's eldest son). I'm calling it Empath, which refers to Althea's character. No telling what the title will be by the time it's published sometime in the latter half of 2018.

In the meantime, I finished writing the Soul Survivors paranormal romantic suspense trilogy, and the first book, Echoes From the Deep, is now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, and Smashwords. The other ebook platforms (Kobo, iBooks, etc,) will have it whenever Smashwords decides to send it to them. It is also available in print from CreateSpace, which some of the other vendors will find eventually. The second book, Dreams From the Deep is ready to publish as soon as I get the cover from my terrific cover artist at Dragonfly Press Design.

Here's a sneak peek!

Echoes From the Deep

A plane crash survivor acquires the souls of three women. 
Armed with their knowledge, she must solve a murder that points toward a global conspiracy.

Jilted less than a week before her wedding, assistant bank manager Jillian Dulaine elects to go on her honeymoon to England alone. When the plane nose-dives into the sea off the coast of Ireland, she is one of only three survivors and is charged with delivering a message to the son of the woman seated beside her.

When his mother’s dying words send Jillian to him, London Times reporter Ranjiv Tenali suspects her of matchmaking even after her death. His attraction to the lovely American woman cannot be denied, but he is shaken by the suspicion that she carries his mother’s spirit.

The souls she acquired in the midst of the crash provide Jillian with talents and knowledge vital to her survival. But when she visits Stonehenge, her role as the one chosen to connect with Earth’s spirit is revealed, setting her on a path toward romance, conspiracy, and murder.

One miraculous survivor becomes a life raft for souls.

Chapter 1

“Oceana Airways Flight 2324 to London’s Heathrow Airport is now boarding at gate A22.”
For the space of perhaps ten seconds, Jillian Dulaine debated the wisdom of ignoring the announcement. She didn’t have to leave Newark. She could stay there for the next three weeks and no one back home in Memphis would ever know she’d chickened out.
Her friends and family knew how much she hated flying, and they had all applauded her decision to bite the bullet and make this trip alone—a trip that should’ve been fun and exciting, not to mention romantic. But now, instead of leaping up with all the eagerness a new bride ought to feel on her honeymoon, Jillian gritted her teeth while mustering every ounce of willpower she possessed simply to rise from her seat.
An air of excited anticipation surrounded her, people chatting and laughing while she took her place in the queue like a mindless drone. No one else seemed to share her mood. No one else was only going through the motions, pretending their entire world hadn’t fallen completely apart.
After the gate official scanned her ticket, Jillian walked down the ramp to board the plane, the clack of her new sandals muted by the carpeted floor. Unlike many of the other passengers, all she carried was her purse, preferring to let the baggage handlers deal with the bulk of her belongings. Losing her luggage would be no great loss anyway Clothes could easily be replaced, and she didn’t care what anyone thought of her fashion sense. Especially now, when she was just another body in the herd that moved inexorably toward the door of the huge jet.
A smiling flight attendant welcomed her aboard.
The smile Jillian gave her in return contained little in the way of genuine warmth. She wasn’t the least bit thrilled to be embarking on her honeymoon without a husband.
Why am I doing this?
Her sister had insisted she owed it to herself to enjoy the trip, if only to spite Seth Nolan for practically jilting her at the altar. “It wasn’t your fault, Jillian,” Nicola had said. “He led you on. You deserve better than him.”
“Do I?” Jillian asked. What was that old saying? Something about not getting what you deserve but deserving what you get? Or was it the other way around? “Even after being stupid enough to believe he would actually go through with a wedding?” Jillian didn’t think that belief was quite enough to recommend her for greater things.
“Even then,” Nicola replied. “You’re my big sister, and I love you. I want you to be happy.”
Jillian smiled to herself, this time with genuine warmth and affection. Nicola was such a sweet girl. If anyone deserved happiness, she did.
Following the directions from the flight attendants, she made her way past the first class section and all those lovely alcove-like seats that could actually be made into beds. Jillian’s last-minute request for an upgrade had been turned down, and she proceeded on through the belly of the 747 to the economy section. Reaching her assigned seat in the center row, she noted that someone was already seated at the opposite end.
Seth’s seat.
When she and Seth had first booked the flight, the booking agency had said they wouldn’t get to choose their seats, but that families would be seated together whenever possible. Seth probably would have been placed on the aisle so he wouldn’t rub shoulders with another woman during the night. Perhaps this woman wouldn’t have even been on the plane if he hadn’t backed out.
Having canceled so late, he wouldn’t get a refund for that seat, which gave Jillian some satisfaction, even if she would be the one footing the entire bill for the hotel.
“Think of it, Jill,” he’d said. “Three weeks to explore Britain—London, Liverpool, the Cornish coast, Dover—anyplace we want to go.”
Now she was doing it alone, with no desire to see anything.
That wasn’t entirely true. She at least wanted to see Stonehenge. No doubt all of Britain would seem fascinating and enjoyable once she arrived. Everyone assured her this trip would be good for her, the perfect therapy for a broken heart. The idea had seemed plausible, if only in theory. At the moment, she wasn’t so sure.
However, when her gaze met the smiling face of the older woman seated on the aisle, she revised her opinion.
This might not be so bad after all.
The woman was obviously Indian, right down to her dark brown eyes, chignon hairstyle, and deep purple sari. The satiny folds surrounded her like rippling water, giving her an air of serenity. Simply looking at her calmed Jillian’s nerves.
Jillian removed the allotted pillow and blanket from her seat and sat down with a sigh. Already she felt closed in, trapped by the high seat back in front of her. Bile rose in her throat, and she took several deep breaths to force it back down.
“They don’t give us much room on these planes, do they?” the woman asked with an accent as native as her style of dress.
“No, they don’t.” Jillian forced out a laugh. “We’ll probably feel like old pals by the time we get to London.”
“Then we should introduce ourselves now. My name is Kavya.”
“I’m Jillian. Nice to meet you, Kavya. I hope my fidgeting doesn’t drive you crazy. I’m not used to sitting still for so long.”
“Nor am I. I try to think of other more pleasant things. It helps sometimes.”
Jillian knew that to be true. Unfortunately, finding a pleasant thought had been difficult for the past few days.
She should have known Seth would get cold feet. Anyone who’d resisted marriage for as long as he had was bound to be the type to call the whole thing off two days before the wedding.
Seth… It would have been different if she hadn’t loved him so much. She couldn’t even find it in her heart to hate him for breaking up with her the way he had—only a phone call saying he couldn’t go through with the wedding and wouldn’t be coming home. 
Sleep had been elusive since then. Unaccustomed to sleeping alone, she kept turning over expecting to touch him while he slept, only to find nothing beside her but empty space.
As more passengers boarded, two women took their places to Jillian’s left in the four-seat row. She thought it odd that none of them were men.
Then again, perhaps seats were assigned according to gender on overnight flights. She had no idea. She was only thankful not to be seated next to a strange man during what would most likely be a futile attempt to sleep. She reminded herself that if this trip had gone as planned, she would’ve been sitting next to a very familiar man, one on whose shoulder she could’ve rested her head, perhaps even sharing a goodnight kiss.
Closing her eyes, she was vaguely aware when Kavya shifted slightly in her seat. Perhaps she was as uncomfortable as Jillian.
“First trip to London?”
Jillian glanced up as the woman on her left spoke.
Middle-aged and plump with curly, dark red hair, she held out a hand. “The name’s Anna. Figured we ought to get to know one another.”
Anna’s firm handshake seemed incongruous somehow. Given the woman’s appearance, she’d expected a softer grip.
Jillian introduced herself and Kavya before adding, “Yes, this will be my first trip.”
“My third,” Anna said. “It’s a long flight, but definitely worth it. Kate and I adore walking in the Pennines.”
Jillian darted a questioning glance at the woman seated next to Anna, a long, loose-limbed woman with short blond hair wearing capris and a sleeveless blouse that displayed her muscular arms.
“Oh, no,” Anna said with a chuckle. “Kate’s a miniature schnauzer.” Whipping out her smart phone, she tapped the screen and aimed it at Jillian. “Placed sixth at Westminster three years ago.”
A gray dog with perky ears and fluffy white whiskers stared back at her from the phone. “Very cute.” She paused, frowning. “Where is she?”
“Cargo hold,” Anna replied. “Rules, you know.”
Jillian wasn’t much of a dog enthusiast, but a cage in the hold seemed like cruel and unusual punishment for any animal. “How awful.”
“Kate doesn’t seem to mind, and they take good care of the dogs. Never had a problem.” Anna flapped a casual hand. “Great traveler. Very well-behaved and more easygoing than most schnauzers. Was a breeze to train.”
“You’re a trainer then?”
“Trainer, handler, groomer, breeder… I do it all.” As quickly as she’d retrieved her phone, Anna held out a business card. “If you’re in the market for a pup, I’ll be breeding Kate in the fall.”
Jillian scanned the card, which identified her new acquaintance as Anna Lyles, breeder of champion miniature schnauzers, located in Syracuse, New York. “Not in the market. Sorry.”
Anna shrugged. “Hang onto the card. You never know…”
Jillian was pretty sure she would never need a dog, especially one that would probably be priced in the thousands. No wonder Anna could afford multiple visits to England.
The woman at the end of the row leaned forward. “Got any more of those cards?” she asked with an accent that was decidedly British.
“Absolutely.” Anna produced another one so quickly Jillian wondered if she moonlighted as a magician.
“Thanks.” The blonde took the card and introduced herself as Shanda.
“Pleasure to meet you,” Anna said, then repeated the name as though something about it—or the woman herself—struck her as familiar. “Wait…you’re Shanda Smythe, aren’t you? The champion swimmer?”
That explains the arms.
Former champion swimmer,” Shanda said. “Retired from competition. Been living in the States for several years now. I’m surprised you recognized me.”
“I’m something of an Anglophile,” Anna said with a shrug. “I follow all sorts of British sports. Soccer, rugby, cricket. I seem to recall reading something about—”
Shanda cleared her throat. “Yes, well, I’m in the process of moving back home. Might need a dog to keep me company.”
The way Shanda cut off Anna’s recollection made it fairly obvious that whatever Anna had read was something Shanda didn’t care to discuss.
Apparently Anna got the message. Without missing a beat, she resumed her sales pitch. “My schnauzers are great companion dogs. More like a member of the family than a pet.”
Jillian’s attention drifted. She and Seth had never had any pets during the five years they’d lived together, which was probably for the best. Dividing up furniture was easy compared to a custody battle over a dog or a cat.
At least we were spared that.
The hours ahead seemed interminable. That speech pilots always gave to the passengers was such a joke. Enjoy the flight? She’d never been on a flight yet that she actually enjoyed. Endured perhaps, but never enjoyed.
The safety instructions speech was already under way. Jillian barely heeded it except that it meant they might be taking off soon. Emergency exits. Life jackets under the seats. Oxygen masks. Place the mask over your nose and mouth and breathe normally.
Yeah, right.
An upward glance revealed that she didn’t even have her own reading light or air flow control. The air was stuffy, almost unbearably so. She could only hope it would improve after takeoff.
Following a difficult swallow, she inhaled deeply. I’m not afraid. I’m just… I don’t know. Perhaps it was because everyone else on board had reasons for taking the flight. She had lost hers.
Why am I here? I should’ve stayed home.
A moment of panic struck her. If she got up now, she could get off the plane. Again, she could stay in Newark. No one would ever know the difference until she returned home without any pictures of London to show her family or the crew at the bank. With no one there to remind her why taking this trip was such a wonderful idea, all the encouragement she’d received was fading fast. Was she the only one on the entire plane who was unhappy?
A baby crying across the aisle answered her question.
Too late. The plane was already moving, taxiing down the runway, picking up speed. The sky outside was dark. She couldn’t even see a window, yet she knew it was true. The roar increased, the acceleration pushing her back against her seat. The nose of the huge plane rose into the air.
These things are too damned big to fly. How many passengers? Hundreds, surely.
She clutched the pillow and blanket to her chest like a frightened child, squeezing her eyes shut. The baby wasn’t crying anymore—probably too stunned by the strange sensations to make a sound.
The air cooled as the plane gained altitude and speed. Blissful, cooling air. She swallowed around a strange lump in her throat.
I’m okay… I’m okay.
Opening her eyes, she stared at the seat back in front of her where a TV screen showed their location. She could watch a movie at some point—something engrossing and thrilling enough to provide some distraction. Would she be able to hear over the deafening engines? Anna still appeared to be chatting with Shanda, but Jillian could barely even hear her own thoughts, let alone a word of their conversation.
As the jet leveled off, she took stock of the contents of the pocket in front of her. Magazines filled with ridiculously expensive items that no one sitting in the economy section could possibly afford. A tiny bag with a set of ear buds. A large, stiff card printed with the safety instructions. She saw nothing of interest but forced herself to focus her attention on everything she found—anything to pass the time.  
After she’d flipped through every magazine and knew everything there was to know about what to do in an emergency, she checked her watch. She’d actually killed an hour.
Only six or seven more to go.
Flying east into the sunrise might shorten the hours of darkness, but nothing would hurry the flight itself, except perhaps a stiff tail wind. Sitting for so long was bound to be bad for the circulation. People got blood clots in their legs on long flights, didn’t they? As wedged in as she was, getting up for a stroll seemed impossible and yet sitting still was just as difficult. Her fidgeting was bound to annoy everyone around her. She was used to moving or standing. Not this endless sitting.
A glance to her right revealed Kavya holding a faded, dog-eared photograph of a man standing beside a small boy.
Not quite as high-tech as a camera phone—or as crisp an image—and yet she held it reverently, like some sort of talisman or her most prized possession.
Glancing up, the woman smiled and gestured with the photo. “My husband and son.”
Jillian replied with a nod. “Very handsome.”
“Yes, he was,” Kavya said softly. “He died many years ago.”
Jillian’s curiosity got the better of her. “Your husband or your son?”
“My husband, Ramesh. I still miss him very much.” A sigh escaped her. “My son is grown now and is even more handsome than his father.”
“You’ve been visiting him?” Jillian prompted.
“No,” she replied. “I’ve been to see my sister in Chicago. My son lives in London, as do I.”
“You’re going home then?”
Kavya nodded. “Yes. I will be glad to get home. My son has had troubles lately.”
“Woman troubles. He will never listen to me.” She shook her head sadly. “Marriages should never be left to chance. Something so important should be planned and arranged many years in advance.”
Given her own recent brush with marriage, Jillian was beginning to wonder if the Indian culture didn’t have the right idea—knowing from childhood whom you would marry. She couldn’t decide if there would be comfort in that or dread.
Dread, probably. On the other hand, the whole dating thing would become a non-issue. She tried to imagine high school without constantly obsessing over her attractiveness to the opposite sex.
How liberating.
“My son, Ranjiv, does not believe in the old ways. Perhaps because the marriage his father and I had planned for him was such a mistake. But he hasn’t had much luck on his own.” She smiled. “Thirty years old, and so very, very British.”
Jillian stared at her.
I’m a complete stranger, and she’s telling me this?
“That doesn’t sound so bad.” Then again, Seth had been so very, very American.
“Ah, but my sister’s daughter already has two sons.”
“And Ranjiv—am I saying that right?—he’s your only child?”
“Yes, and he is very dear to me. A good son in so many ways.” She tucked the picture into the silken fabric wrapped around her waist. “I must be patient.”
Jillian knew all about being patient. She and Seth had been together for five years before becoming engaged, and even then, it had been more of a decision than a romantic episode.
I’d say I was patient in the extreme.
Having had the opportunity to mull it over for the past few days, she concluded that her ticking biological clock had scared Seth away. Still, being twenty-seven didn’t necessarily demand immediate conception. She had several more years before it became imperative.
Truth be told, Seth was an excellent boyfriend and fiancé. He adored a good time and seldom failed to cheer her up whenever she felt down—until now. He just wasn’t cut out to be a husband or a father. At least he’d realized it before it was too late.
Even so, five years was a long time to waste on a man.
Had that time truly been wasted? She wasn’t sure. She loved him so much. They’d had fun, and the sex was great. Something had obviously been missing—but what? 
His love, perhaps?
Not that it mattered now.
“But enough about me and my troubles,” Kavya went on. “Do you have business in London, or are you on holiday?”
Jillian smiled grimly. “To be honest, this was supposed to be my honeymoon.”
“Oh my. What happened?”
Despite the whole “complete stranger” thing, Jillian suddenly found herself telling Kavya things she hadn’t even confided to her sister. In many ways it was cathartic, telling her story to someone so far removed from the events, similar to talking to a counselor or a shrink. Either way, she felt better afterward.
Kavya patted her hand. “Well, I am sure you will have a wonderful time in London. Perhaps I should introduce you to my son. He will, of course, accuse me of matchmaking.”
Jillian grinned. “Can’t help it, can you?”
Kavya chuckled. “It has become something of a habit.”
Time passed. Dinner was served. Kavya asked for the pasta. Jillian followed suit, suddenly stricken with an intense abhorrence for eating any part of a chicken.
Lowering her tray table, Jillian took the tray from the flight attendant. Tiny containers of food. So uniform, so precise, so impersonal.
“I’ll have the chicken,” Anna said. “It smells divine.”
Divine? Seriously? A dead bird could smell divine?
Jillian’s brain felt like a sponge—filled with holes and air—her thoughts escaping like water through a sieve.
She hadn’t shed a tear when Seth informed her of his decision not to marry. Perhaps because deep down, she had expected it. And now, thousands of feet above the Atlantic, her brain chose to go into meltdown mode.
Did they keep straightjackets on board for passengers who went nuts?
Picking up her fork, she was momentarily at a loss to explain its function.
Hours. She had to sit there for hours when another second was too much.
“You’re still upset, aren’t you?” Kavya’s voice sounded odd, like she had already said those words before and was having to repeat them.
Jillian finally found her own voice. “I’m not sure. I feel so strange. I’m not sick. I’m—I can’t explain it.”
“Perhaps you just need to eat something,” the older woman said. “The pasta isn’t bad, although it’s nothing like my own cooking.” She smiled. “I’ve never made anything remotely Italian in my life.”
And I’ve never made anything remotely Indian, unless you count curried rice.
She squeezed her eyes shut. Rice flavored with curry powder. That was Indian, surely. Opening her eyes again, she asked the only question she seemed capable of putting into words. “Are you a vegetarian?”
“For the most part,” Kavya replied. “Although not strictly. I sometimes eat seafood or chicken—never beef, of course—but I’m simply not in the mood for chicken.”
“Neither am I.” At least, not that chicken. Anna might think it smelled divine, but Jillian thought it smelled…wrong—yet another thing she couldn’t explain.
Peeling back the cover on the pasta, she inhaled the aromas of Parmesan, tomato, and basil… perhaps a touch of rosemary.
Nope. Nothing wrong with my nose.
Only her brain was messed up.
Jillian picked at her meal until someone finally took away the tray. Closing her eyes, she listened to the jet engines—the dull roar that would fill her ears for the next several hours.
She hitched in her seat, feeling more claustrophobic than ever. With nowhere else to put them except the floor, she held the blanket and pillow in her lap. She didn’t need them. The cabin temperature was much too hot. Even with so many sleepless nights behind her, sleep just wasn’t going to happen.
Her sidelong glance revealed Kavya sitting quietly, her eyes closed as though lost in thought, perhaps even meditating.
Wish I knew how to do that.
Somehow she didn’t think this would be the best time to learn the technique.
The lights dimmed. She could still see, but the idea was obviously to get everyone to go to sleep—or at least allow them to.
The cabin temperature rose even further. Did they seriously think that being hot would make everyone drowsy? Jillian was perfectly miserable. She stuffed her blanket under the seat in front of her and picked up the emergency instructions card to use as a fan.
Time crawled by. She tried to watch a movie but could scarcely hear the words over the drone of the engines, even with ear buds. Now and then, she glanced at the people sitting around her. Every one of them appeared to be asleep. She rang her call light and asked for ice water. She had already learned that among the Brits, one had to specify ice or receive a tepid beverage.
So civilized, and yet they ignore ice. It wasn’t that cold in Britain. Granted, their summers were nothing like those back home in Memphis, but the temps got up to eighty degrees or so now and then. She knew because she’d researched it.
Good thing I don’t mind drinking hot tea.
But not now.
After what seemed like an eternity, the lights slowly brightened. Jillian heaved a sigh of relief as the seat belt light came on and the announcement was made regarding their approach to the British Isles. Someone handed her another tray with juice and a muffin.
Ah, yes, a continental breakfast.
Odd, on a flight to London. Or maybe it wasn’t.
She had just taken a bite of the dry muffin when the plane shuddered, first rising and then falling through the air—straight down in a nose dive.
Plates and trays went flying. Screams sounded all around her. Her own tray flew up and hit her in the face. Oxygen masks deployed, but the rate of descent flung them against the ceiling rather than allowing them to dangle within reach. Overhead compartments exploded, their contents now deadly missiles. Blood splattered on the seat in front of her. She glanced at Anna, whose mouth was open in a frozen scream. Kavya clutched her chest, her eyes wide and staring in blank terror.
Were they over water or land? She had no idea. Either way, with such a steep, rapid descent, they were doomed.
I’m going to die. Right here. Right now.
Seth would read the headlines and know he’d made the right choice.
For some ungodly reason, that thought sent her off in a peal of hysterical laughter—laughing harder than she ever had in her life until tears flowed from her eyes.
She tried to lean forward and couldn’t. In fact, she could barely move at all. In a crash, you were supposed to lean forward and clasp your hands behind your head. That was the “crash position” wasn’t it? The best she could do was to clutch the top of her head with both hands. Not that it mattered. She was going to die anyway.  
Someone shouted something about seat belts and life jackets. A flight attendant, perhaps. Due to her study of the emergency procedures card, Jillian knew precisely where her life jacket was. Not that she would ever be able to actually reach it. Not that it would make any difference.
This was no gentle glide to the surface, no floating freefall that suggested that anyone might survive. Her life didn’t pass before her eyes the way everyone claimed it would when death was imminent. All she could see was the bloodstained surface above her head. The plane shuddered again, the screaming engines and screeching metal joints drowning out the cries of the passengers—or perhaps no one had enough breath left in them to scream. She certainly didn’t. The air had been stripped from her lungs, as though a heavy weight on her stomach had forced her diaphragm into her throat.
She tried to think about her mother, her sister, and the sadness they and the loved ones of everyone aboard the plane would feel. Kavya’s son, Ranjiv, who would never see his mother’s face again, never hear her voice or feel her arms around him. So much loss. So much death.
Including my own.
The impact was so horrific it should have snapped her neck, or at the very least collapsed her spine. The crushing pressure from her seatbelt nearly cut her in half, making her heave up what little she had eaten. Seawater gushed in, quickly filling the fuselage, proving that they had indeed been flying over the ocean.  
Too late. Now completely submerged, Jillian held her breath in a futile attempt to remain alive. People were dying all around her. She witnessed their death throes and tasted the blood and jet fuel mixed in with the seawater, still not quite believing she wasn’t dead.
I’m okay?
For the moment, perhaps, but probably not for long.
Through the eerie underwater silence a voice that was strangely calm amid the chaos spoke to her. “Unbuckle your seatbelt, Jillian. You’re going to make it.”
With barely enough light to see, she turned toward Kavya. Her eyes were open and staring, but were now completely lifeless. 
“Tell my son I love him. Now, go.”

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