The Devil of Light

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Enjoy this week’s Thursday teaser-excerpt from the bestselling first Cass Elliott mystery novel

By Gae-Lynn Woods

“ARE THE COWS HURT?” Angie Scarborough asked as they entered her room. She struggled to keep her eyes open as Dr. Ramasubramanian checked her pulse. The left side of her face bloomed red and raw in the fluorescent lights, the white of her eye now a slit of angry scarlet between her swollen eyelids.

A narrow hand snaked from a dim corner next to the bed, reaching to stroke her dark hair. “Now sweetheart, just calm down.”

The younger woman pulled away, eyes clearing. “Are they hurt?”

“Ma’am, were you driving the truck?” Mitch asked.

“The cows,” she demanded, straining to push higher on the pillows.

“They’re fine,” Cass answered, closing her eyes briefly against the hospital’s antiseptic scent and the memories it evoked. “None were injured.”

“Thank God.” She found the position she’d struggled for and settled with a tired sigh. “I guess you want a statement.”

Cass glanced at Dr. Ramasubramanian. The thin man nodded once, balding head gleaming in the overhead lights. “Yes, ma’am, if you’re strong enough to talk.”

“Now Angie, you should wait until we’ve got a lawyer down here.” A pinched woman leaned toward the bed, her face strained in the bright lights. “Think of the children.”

“For once Mother, I am,” she said, softening her words by reaching for the slender hand. Angie drew a shuddering breath and focused on Cass. “I killed Lenny. You found the pictures?”

Cass nodded.

Angie’s eyes filled with tears. She pointed to her face. “He did this when I confronted him. He’s hit me before, but never like this. He’s usually smarter, tries to hide the damage. Maybe he knew what was coming and didn’t care.” She fingered the smooth sheet. “He didn’t deny it. Any of it. Just laughed when I told him I’d found him out. He laughed, can you believe that?”

“What are you talking about?” her mother asked.

“Your perfect son-in-law is – was – a homosexual and abusing your granddaughter.” The older woman gasped as the sound of Angie’s choked laughter filled the small room.

“Lenny was no such thing,” her mother said, voice sharp. “He has always been a kind and gentle husband, and has given selflessly for the children. Detective,” she added, watery voice growing stronger as she pulled herself into the light, “I insist that this stop right now. She’s suffered a severe shock seeing her husband killed like that. And she’s confused from the sedative the doctor’s given her. I may need one myself if this goes on.”

Photo by Stijn te Strake on Unsplash

“That’s enough, Mother! You have no idea who Lenny was. I will not bend to him any longer.” Her words were firm, eyes bright as she found Cass again. “I told him I’d take the pictures to the police. That’s when he started to laugh, and he hit me. It must’ve knocked me silly, because next thing I knew I was flat on the ground and Lenny had gone back to working on the cows.” She drew a deep breath.

Dr. Ramasubramanian shifted his slight weight and placed a hand on Angie’s shoulder. “The police can wait, Mrs. Scarborough. I would like for you to rest now.”

“Not yet, Dr. Rambo. I need to finish it.” She focused on Cass. “I don’t know if it is my daughter in those pictures. Maybe it doesn’t matter. All of Lenny’s preaching at me for all these years, and it was nothing but lies. I knew it wouldn’t stop. So, I climbed in the cab, punched the accelerator and speared him.” A ghastly slash split her face when she smiled. “He turned at the last minute and I watched his face in the rearview mirror. He didn’t think I had it in me.”

“Did he say where the photos came from?” Cass asked.

Angie shook her head. “He just laughed.”

“What photos are you talking about?” her mother asked.

Cass had looked to Mitch when Angie spoke, her tired voice flat. “Pictures of your son-in-law screwing other men and raping at least one child. Pictures don’t lie, Mother.”

“Oh my goodness,” the older woman whispered, skin growing sallow as she looked at Cass. “Lenny? Is this right?”

“There are photographs, but we haven’t confirmed identities yet.”

“Lenny’s in them,” Angie replied. “He has scars on one hip and on his chest. The right side. Match them to his body.”

“Good heavens,” her mother breathed, eyes rolling back in their sockets as she slid toward the floor. Mitch lurched for her as Angie started to giggle, developing a deep belly laugh that brought tears to her eyes.

Dr. Ramasubramanian shouted for a nurse and rushed to help Mitch move the older woman to a chair. He checked her pulse, his dark, solemn eyes watching Angie as she cackled.

“Fainting is a suitable Southern response to anything vulgar, Dr. Rambo. Wave smelling salts under her nose and give her some attention. She’ll be fine,” Angie assured him, blowing her nose. She sighed, cheeks glowing and good eye twinkling. “Lord, I feel better. Look, you might as well sit down. I need a Dr. Pepper and I’ll be fine. Who has change for the machine?”

About The Devil of Light

“This debut effort is further proof that there are undiscovered novelists out there who can more than keep up with the big names. I expect we’ll be hearing more of Gae-Lynn Woods in the future.” — Russell Blake, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Geronimo Breach, Fatal Exchange, and The Zero Sum trilogy.

A BIZARRE MURDER

When young Detective Cass Elliot responds to a 911 call at the home of a prominent businessman, she finds him violently murdered in the barnyard with his battered wife unconscious near the tool that killed him. Still raw from her own unsolved attack six years ago, Cass is stunned when confronted with graphic photographs scattered across their kitchen floor that lead to a shadowy sect called The Church of the True Believer.

A COVERT WEB OF LIES AND EXPLOITATION

Cass and her partner Mitch Stone delve into a cunning world of blackmail and violence – and find a cult concealed for nearly a century beneath the genteel, small town façade of Arcadia in East Texas. Their investigation triggers a brutal response from powerful men who will protect their identities at any cost. They unleash a ruthless killer whose actions create a media frenzy and destroy the fabric of trust within the police department.

A PERVASIVE EVIL

Cass and Mitch circle closer to the cult’s few members, following a slim lead into a night lit by fire. A night that begins with a blood ritual and ends with Cass holding a man’s life – or death – in her hands and struggling to walk the fine line between vengeance and justice.

Get it on Amazon.

Gae-Lynn Woods

Gae-Lynn Woods, mystery, thriller, comic thriller

is a Texan mystery writer who has traveled the world, lived overseas, and come back home. She and her husband, British jazz guitarist Martyn Popey, share a ranch in East Texas with a herd of Black Angus cattle, one very cranky donkey, and The Dude, a rescue kitty with attitude.

Visit Gae-Lynn’s

BestSelling Reads page   |   Amazon author page   |   Facebook   |   Twitter   |   Google+   |   Goodreads   |   LinkedIn   |    Website   |    Blog

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The Sapper’s Plot

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This week’s Thursday teaser is from Book 2 of the Master Sergeant Harper series

By M.L. Doyle

I was afraid of him. It was irrational, I knew. He hadn’t threatened me. In fact, he’d tried to be funny, charming even. Still, his voice, his accent drenched me in memories that left my insides feeling liquid. Dropic was just a guy trying to do his job and had nothing to do with the brutal nightmares I carried with me after my time in his war-torn country. He didn’t resemble the men who had attacked me, the men who had brutalized me, held me prisoner and almost enslaved me.

He didn’t resemble the man I had killed.

My rational mind knew all these things, but it didn’t matter. Upon meeting him, his voice, his accent had stirred up memories still too vivid, too raw to ignore. It didn’t help that he smoked the same damn cigarettes they had smoked. The smell of the unfiltered Camels, the sight of the red package in his hands was enough to make me tremble. God, I hated the smell of those things.

The exhaustion I felt now, the exhaustion that seemed to have settled in my bones so deep I sometimes felt like I could curl up and sleep for weeks, stemmed mostly from the fact that, almost nightly, I’d jerk awake at three a.m. with the smell of horse, hay and those damn cigarettes in my nostrils, the nightmares so vivid I relived the experience over and over again.

None of that was Dropic’s fault, but every time I heard his accent, every time I smelled the cigarette smoke that seemed to cling to him like a second skin, I couldn’t help but blame him for it. Why the hell did he have to be Bosnian?

I moved to the back of the truck where Dropic hiked his battery utility belt around his waist and snapped the fastener in place. I steeled myself for the confrontation, freezing my liquid insides to hard ice.

“That is an American soldier. You will not shoot video of his body.” I said.

The steady and commanding sound of my voice surprised me and stoked my confidence. When he ignored me, some of that confidence leaked out. He continued to gather his bulky equipment. He attached a small light to the top of the camera and plugged the attaching wires in place. His glance flicked to me for a moment, then he reached into his bag and grabbed a handheld microphone. I crossed my arms over my chest, trying to still my shakes. He wasn’t going to make this easy. At a murder scene like this, I thought it unlikely that any soldier would be willing to talk to him, but evidently he intended to try to get them to talk. A dark smirk played at the corner of his mouth as he hefted the gear from the truck. I stopped him with a hand on his arm and felt his considerable muscles tense. His smirk became a glare. He looked eager and ready to argue his point.

“You can’t stop me,” he said.

“Yes, I can.”

“What happened to freedom of the press?”

“This isn’t America.”

He opened his mouth to say something, then stopped, realizing what I said was true. After a moment, he shook his head as if to brush an insect away and tried to step around me. I stepped in front of him, putting my hand in the middle of his chest.

“Shooting video of dead American soldiers is not permitted. Ever.”

“You can’t cover this up,” Dropic said in frustration. “This is news.”

“It won’t be in a week.”

About The Sapper’s Plot

The last thing Master Sergeant Lauren Harper needs is another difficult mission. Her ordeal in Bosnia left her traumatized and worn out. But a soldier doesn’t get to say no to official orders.

At least this time she’s embarking on a humanitarian mission. What could go wrong?
Turns out, just about everything.

Harper travels with a group of Combat Engineers, also known as Sappers, to the tropical jungles of a Honduran village, only to find a gruesome murder. Cut off from the main base because of the hostile weather, Harper and a man she hoped she’d never see again, CW4 Fletcher Mayes, are forced to take charge of the investigation. Lurking in the shadows are sketchy-looking locals, insolent Sappers and an aggressive TV news team looking for a steamy scandal.

In the midst of it all, the arrival of Sergeant Major Harry Fogg provides some much-needed solace but also muddles her concentration.

Harper begins to think danger will find her wherever she goes, even in the deepest jungles of Honduras. At times, she feels her slightest movement will send her tumbling over a cliff—and heights are about the only thing Harper fears.

Get it on Amazon.

M.L. Doyle, military mystery, erotica and urban fantasy

M.L. Doyle

calls on her years of serving as an Army Reservist to write about women in combat boots. She co-authored the memoirs of two brave soldiers to ensure their stories keep their proper place in history. Her work with Spec. (Ret) Shoshana Johnson, an African-American POW of the Iraq War, was finalist in the NAACP Image Award. She also co-authored with Brig. Gen (Ret.) Julia Cleckley the story of her rise through Army ranks from humble beginnings and despite great personal tragedy.

Mary has written the three-book Master Sergeant Harper mystery series, and Limited Partnerships, a four-novella erotic romance series. Her latest release, The Bonding Blade, is the second book in her Desert Goddess urban fantasy series.

Mary’s essays, reviews and interviews have appeared in The War Horse, The Wrath-Bearing Tree, The Goodman project and O-Dark Thirty.

Check her out on Facebook.com, or Twitter @mldoyleauthor, and you can read excerpts of all of her work on her website at www.mldoyleauthor.com.

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Boxing Day teaser: The Bones of the Earth

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Photo by Tanya Prodan on Unsplash

Today is bestselling author Scott Bury’s birthday, so for this Teaserday we offer a sample of his first-published book, The Bones of the Earth. This is the opening of Chapter 2.

Look down. Two young men, boys really, walk across the meadows and forests on the southern slopes of mountains that rise gently, then heave up suddenly to angry grey crags occasionally topped by snow. One of the boys is very tall, with long yellow-gold hair. His long legs propel him swiftly across a meadow thick with yellow and purple flowers. He pays no attention to flies buzzing around him, to crickets and rabbits that leap out of his way.

His companion is smaller with tangled, long black hair. Blotches of soft black fuzz swirl around his chin and down his neck. He scurries to keep up with the blonde’s strides and is out of breath. They have been walking fast, nearly running, for hours. It is the solstice, some time past the year’s highest noon. Birds are quiet in the hottest part of the day, but insects chirp and hum and trill. Leaves on the trees are still a light green, not yet burned dark by the summer. The air is warm, not hot, not yet.

The dark one gets more anxious with every step. But all morning, the blonde boy has ignored him. The dark boy recognizes this trait in his friend: his ability to focus on one thing to the exclusion of everything else, for hours at a time. In their village, he was called “the dreamer,” or worse. Even in normal circumstances, you had to call him by name two or three times to get his attention. But now, he is following the trail of horsemen, mounted raiders, and no matter how many times the dark boy calls “Javor,” no matter how futile the quest, he cannot be pulled away.

Sometimes, it is easy to see the trampled grass or broken twigs and bushes, or a torn bit of cloth on a branch. Often, the light-haired boy seems to follow signs that his dark companion cannot see, and every time the dark boy doubts his friend and thinks they have lost the trail, he sees another sign—horse droppings, the surest of all, or once, a girl’s colourfully embroidered apron.

The dark boy begins touching every oak and birch tree they pass to pray to their spirits for protection, help, sanity for his friend. “You know, we keep going east. East is bad luck, Javor,” he puffs as they start up a slope.

Javor ignores that, too. At the crest of a ridge, he looks around, sees something that his friend cannot, continues at his same obsessive pace.

“You realize,” his friend says, trying hard to keep up, “that we fall farther behind them with every step we take. They’re on horses.” Still no response, so he reaches out and grabs Javor’s arm, forcing him to stop.

The blonde turns and looks at his friend without recognizing him. “Javor, we’re chasing mounted warriors,” the dark boy repeats. “We’ll never catch up.”

Javor blinks and looks uncomfortable. He seems to realize where he is, comes out of the trance he can put himself into.

“We’ve been chasing them for hours, and we have no more hope now of ever catching up to them than we ever did. Let’s go back home.”

“Home?” Javor says it like he has never heard the word before. “No. We have to get the girls back, Hrech.”

Scott Bury

can’t stay in one genre. After a 20-year career in journalism, he turned to writing fiction. “Sam, the Strawb Part,” a children’s story, came out in 2011, with all the proceeds going to an autism charity. Next was a paranormal short story for grown-ups, “Dark Clouds.”

The Bones of the Earth, a historical fantasy, came out in 2012. It was followed in 2013 with One Shade of Red, an erotic romance.

He has several mysteries and thrillers, including Torn RootsPalm Trees & Snowflakes and Wildfire.

Scott’s articles have been published in newspapers and magazines in Canada, the US, UK and Australia.

He has two mighty sons, two pesky cats and a loving wife who puts up with a lot. He lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

Learn more about Scott on his:

Website   |   Blog    |  Facebook    |   Twitter

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Clipped Wings

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Enjoy this sample of the brand new Paradise Crime Mystery Novella Book 4.5 with Hawaii Recipes

By Toby Neal

Rosario dried her hands on a clean white towel and took the order sheet on its clipboard off of the metal rack that held her favorite pots and pans, and headed for the walk-in refrigerator.

She pulled open the heavy steel door of the walk-in, and parted the dangling plastic panels that helped keep the cold inside. As she stepped through, she inhaled deeply, taking in the rich smells of ginger, onions, garlic, and fresh vegetables, with overtones of the tropical fruits that were a unique part of Hawaiian cooking. She stepped forward on the raised rubber flooring with its round holes for traction and drainage, and examined the rack of metal shelves that lined the chilly room.

She had established an order of storage for the items, so it was a fairly rapid process to check how many eggs and how much butter, cheese, salad dressing, sauces, fruits and greens she had.

Rosario and her brother Wayne had grown up poor on the Big Island. They were the surviving offspring of a Portuguese paniolo ‘Hawaiian cowboy’ on a big Waimea estate, and his Hawaiian wife, their beloved Mama, who’d cleaned and cooked for the family that owned the ranch. Wayne had taken to the paniolo lifestyle in his father’s footsteps, while Rosario had learned her mother’s skills in cooking and estate management.

Photo of the Island of Hawai’i by Sarah Humer on Unsplash

Their parents had died in a car wreck when she and her brother were in their late teens, and Rosario had moved to California, hoping to build a better life for herself—which she had done in working her way up to into establishing Aunty’s Hawaiian Food Place with her partner, Momi.

Rosario ticked down her order sheet on autopilot, her mind drifting back to the ways that life had taken dark turns: her brother Wayne and his wife Maylene falling into drugs. Maylene’s death by overdose while Wayne was incarcerated, which had brought their feisty daughter Lei to live with Rosario at age nine.

Her niece Lei had had a traumatic and abuse-filled childhood that had left her with lasting scars, but Lei had come so far in overcoming her past that she was now an FBI agent on Oahu.

And with any luck at all, she’d be coming to her aunt’s for Christmas this year.

Rosario inhaled the smell of baby new potatoes, parsley, mint, and ginger in their boxes, instinctively sniffing for anything spoiled.

There was—a small red potato with a spot of black rot. Rosario extracted the offending tuber from the box and opened the square, sealed bin where she stored spoiling food and leftovers from the restaurant to feed to pigs at a friend’s farm, in trade for a supply of fresh pork.

Her eyebrows rose as she dropped the spoiled potato into the bin.

It should be nearly full after three days. She had the waitstaff scrape plates into a special garbage bag, and then deposit it in the bin along with any expired, unsold food from the stand of convenience foods Rosario kept stocked at the counter. Several bags of leftover food and a half dozen expired hard-boiled eggs, along with some papayas and avocados she’d bought for garnishes that had been overripe, should be in the bin.

But there were only two eggs, no papayas or avocados, and a couple of white plastic bags of leftovers.

Rosario was the one to take the bin to the pig farm twice a week; who would take food meant for the animals?

Clipped Wings

Clipped Wings cover

Even Christmas can be darkest before dawn.

She just wants to survive.

The sixteen-year-old Robin Hood bandit responsible for starting an anarchy movement in Hawaii is now the target of an escape plot at a juvenile detention center, sparking FBI agent Lei Texeira to get involved with a manhunt.

She just wants to find the burglar.

Someone is stealing food from Aunty Rosario’s restaurant kitchen, but the holiday takes an unexpected turn when she catches the thief in the act.

Favorite Hawaii recipes submitted by readers and served in Aunty Rosario’s Hawaiian Food Place restaurant are included!

Clipped Wings 4.5 takes place between Broken Ferns #4 and Twisted Vine #5. A portion appeared as a short story in an anthology.

Find out more on the author’s website.

Toby Neal

Award-winning, USA Today bestselling social worker turned author Toby Neal grew up on the island of Kaua`i in Hawaii. Neal is a mental health therapist, a career that has informed the depth and complexity of the characters in her stories. Neal’s mysteries and thrillers explore the crimes and issues of Hawaii from the bottom of the ocean to the top of volcanoes. Fans call her stories, “Immersive, addicting, and the next best thing to being there.”

Neal also pens romance, romantic thrillers, and writes memoir/nonfiction under TW Neal.

 Visit her on her:

And follow her on Twitter @TobywNeal.

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S’nogged: A Jenna Ray Christmas story

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A seasonal Thursday teaser

By Kayla Dawn Thomas

The house buzzed with energy and alcohol. Around nine-thirty a loud, “HO! HO! HO!” came from the foyer followed by the slamming of the front door. Silence followed until a man in a Santa Suit entered the living room where most of us had settled. Cheers erupted at the sight of him. This was a new addition to the party lineup.

“Has everyone been good this year?” Santa shouted over the crowd.

A chorus of catcalls and whoops filled the room, and Santa threw his head back and laughed jiggling his padded belly. Mack pressed a mug of eggnog into Santa’s hand, and with that, Jolly Old Saint Nick became part of the party. The red suit mingled its way through the living room, somehow keeping its back to me. The voice seemed familiar, but I’d had just enough champagne to doubt myself. No matter how I moved, I couldn’t get a good look at the eyes above the beard.

Finally, I made my way over to Kennedy. “Who’s Santa?”

“Oh, it’s one of the new guys from Mack’s office. He’s a total clown,” she replied with a dismissive flick of her wrist. Then she clapped her hands to get everyone’s attention. “It’s time for the white elephant gift exchange!”

Another round of cheers went up, and everyone refreshed their drinks before heading to the corner where a giant Christmas tree covered in delicate designer ornaments held court.

“Hey, Santa, why don’t you pass out the gifts?” Mack said.

“My pleasure, ho, ho, ho!” Santa’s voice had a mock depth to it. Sandwiched between my mother and sister on the floor, I wiggled around trying to get a good look at his face, but he turned around and presented me with a red, polyester-clad ass. Stretched taut, the pants revealed well-shaped, firm buns. This Santa was no fatty.

“Mmm…Santa’s been working out,” Nora murmured in my ear.

The sound of her voice pissed me off. We’d never been the type of sisters to giggle and share secrets and ogle boys together. I was happy her life was on an upswing but was struggling with it colliding into the one I’d built. It should have been Kennedy whispering in my ear.

A small box plopped into my lap wrapped in red paper with elves frolicking on it. I tore my attention away from my sister to watch as gifts were unwrapped, and the thievery began. The Dean white elephant gift exchange had a long tradition of randomness. There were usually a couple of really nice items, lots of cheesy things, and the occasional suggestive oddball. I was pleased when Nora unwrapped an ugly teddy bear candleholder.

“That’ll look great in your new living room,” I said loud enough for the whole group to hear bringing a roll of laughter.

Nora flashed a fake smile and cradled the ceramic bears in her hands. “Hey, Mom, you know you want it.”

“Like hell I do, unless Jenna opens something amazing, I’m going for that bottle of Jameson. That guy doesn’t look old enough to appreciate it.” One of Mack’s baby faced techs flushed and pretended to hide the whiskey under his shirt.

“All right, Jenna, you’re up,” Kennedy called from the couch where she’d stretched her legs across Mack’s lap.

Feeling adventurous, I decided to go with the package in my lap. Dropping the paper to the side, I revealed a glossy black box with a model wearing dark purple edible panties on the front. Grape flavored. Laughter bubbled up from deep within me, the silent kind that just makes you shake. Really? Two years in a row I get the naughty gift.

“What did you get?” Someone hollered from across the room. “Hold it up so everyone can see!”

Before I could react, Nora squealed and snatched the box, holding it triumphantly over her head. “Who’s hungry?”

“Oooo,” Mom said in my ear. “I had a pair of those recently. Strawberry. Tasted like a stale fruit roll-up.”

I snorted as a fresh wave of laughter tore through me. This was just surreal. Then I peed a little. Startled, I yipped and jumped to my feet making a mad dash for the bathroom. The living room buzzed with laughter and dirty jokes in my wake, but I didn’t care, I was about to completely wet myself.

Someone caught my arm as I passed through the doorway leading from the living room to the hallway. Startled, I whirled around and found myself nose to nose with Santa. A pair of familiar, electric blue eyes pierced me with an intense stare from above the white beard. My heart jumped into my throat, and I couldn’t swallow it.

The Collection

S’Nogged is Story 3 in the Jenna Ray series, available in The Collection.

Think twice before you slip off that ring, boys.

Arriving at her parents’ house for an impromptu visit, Jenna Ray gets her own surprise when she finds her father lip locked with a strange woman. Then, her brother-in-law defiles her sister’s car with a waitress in a parking lot. Jenna Ray snaps the night she discovers her mentor with his receptionist wrapped around his waist and proceeds to dump the guy in nothing but his boxers at his wife’s feet. Discovering her hidden talent to seduce, Jenna walks away from her IT career and reinvents herself as a vigilante seeking justice for women who are too tired and hurt to stand up for themselves.

A side effect of the job is losing her ability to trust any man. So, when she finds herself getting lost in Thad Benson’s hypnotic blue eyes, Jenna fights the attraction with all she’s got. But Thad’s a patient man, who’s up to the challenge of taming Jenna.

With a cast of quirky friends, clients, and family, the Jenna Ray Stories will have you laughing and cringing at Jenna’s predicaments.

Get it on Amazon.

You can also get the full S’Nogged story for free by subscribing to the BestSelling Reads email newsletter. Just fill out the form above right.

Kayla Dawn Thomas

has been telling stories since she could talk, telling her wild tales to a jump rope until she learned to read and write. Her mother was relieved when she made the transition to paper.

Today Kayla writes contemporary romance, weaving her experiences growing up on a cattle ranch into her work as well as whatever is striking her funny bone or curiosity at the moment. When Kayla isn’t writing she enjoys swimming, reading, and spending time with her husband, daughter, and two dogs.

Learn more about Kayla and her books at her

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Thursday teaser: The Christmas Well

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Enjoy this seasonal treat

By J.L. Oakley

When the city pipes broke at four above zero, the water spread out across our road like the thick roots of a crystal Banyan tree and froze. We all came out to stare, our boots slipping on the remains of last week’s snow. It was three days before Christmas. Our trees and lights were up, our cookies in the canisters, and stockings on the mantle, but we had no water.

“Not until the twenty-eight,” the Forest Hills Water Department said and would have left it at that until someone got the brilliant idea of hauling up a water tank and putting it at the top of the hill.

“At least it’s something,” a neighbor said and went to organize her pots. Others weren’t so sure and said that the season was ruined.

Our community well arrived that afternoon. An old World War II water tankard bristling with spigots, its camouflage shell looked odd against the neat pre-war brick homes lined with hedges and crusted with old snow. Curious children and their parents watched a brief demonstration, and then were left to their imaginations how they would actually do it.  

I heard about the tankard after I came home from junior high school. Mom, Dad, and my brothers, John and Bruce, had already carried enough pots of water into the kitchen to make it look like a battlefield after a major roof leak. (There was a leak of some sort, a family member later recalled. A pipe had snapped from the cold.) We had water in stew pots, canning pots, sauce pans, and even a few tin cans for the powder room. A large boiler was on the stove for doing dishes and washing hands.

In the living room behind the swinging kitchen doors, Handel played on the radio. The windows were painted with angels and snowflakes. The tree was ready to trim. Christmas was not going to be delayed.

Photo by Євгенія Височина on Unsplash

Winters are cold and often snowy in Pittsburgh. Except for the hordes of children with whom I sledded in the open field below the alley, neighbors only glimpsed and waved at one another as they communally scrapped ice or snow off windshields on the way to work or to shop. Snowman-worthy snow might bring out a few townspeople for a moment’s divertissement, but that was usually reserved for the younger crowd. Most folks kept to their calendar of baking, Christmas card writing, and package sending-off. Visiting applied only to a few close friends and often it was by telephone to catch up on the day’s news. In winter we just stayed inside. The Christmas well changed that.

From morning to night we bundled up in our bright wool coats and scarves and rubber over-boots and trudged up the hill to the tankard with our pails and pots in hand, like ants making lines to a picnic. Neighbors that we hadn’t seen since summer or hardly knew at all tiptoed down their steep stairs or off their brick porches to go to the well. As we gathered at the spigots, conversations blossomed in the frigid air, puffing out like little smoke signals.

“What’s news, Mrs. Hanna? Did you get your tree?”

“My car didn’t start again.”

“My grandkids are coming for Christmas Eve.”

The pots and pans were filled, but so were the spaces between neighbors. Older times were recalled and strategies on hauling water offered. “When I was growing up on the farm we had a pump. Had to prime it every time. Mother always kept a can of water next to it just for that.”

“We had a well in Italy. The whole village used it.”

We stopped and listened to the stories. We filled and hauled and laughed at our communal inconvenience. Our own village was born right there in our neighborhood.

The Christmas Well

In this charming essay, a city street is without water three days before Christmas. All the families think Christmas was lost. Then the city brings in a water tank.

Going to get water from the “well” on Christmas Eve becomes a special childhood memory as neighbors young and old fill their buckets and pans and share their joys of the season despite a little more than inconvenience.

Find it on Amazon.

J.L. Oakley

J.L. Oakley, historical fiction

writes award-winning historical fiction that spans the mid-19th century to WW II. Her characters come from all walks of life, but all stand up for something in their own time and place.

Her books have been recognized with a 2013 Bellingham Mayor’s Arts Award, the 2013 Chanticleer Grand Prize, the 2014 First Place Chaucer Award, 2015 WILLA Silver Award and the 2016 Goethe Grand Prise.

When not writing, Janet demonstrates 19th century folkways, including churning some pretty mean butter.

Her most recent historical novel, Mist-chi-mas: A Novel Of Captivity, launched in September 2017. It is set in 1860 on San Juan Island in Pacific NW during a time with the British Royal Marines and US Army jointly occupied the island—peacefully.

Visit her on her:

And follow her on Twitter @JlOakley13.

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