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Free Reads From the Genre-istas will close to story posts in February of 2015.
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ill do Encore Postings each Friday beginning Jan. 9th. Thank you for your interest and support!


Friday, April 27, 2012

The Weight of Magic

by Robin Weaver

Nicki trembled as she traced the golden lettering with her fingertips; the last time she’d opened the book, she’d killed her parents.

Nana had warned, “Be careful about wishes.”  But little Nicki couldn’t help wishing she lived with her grandmother.  After all, Nana was alone in her rambling old Colonial and her parents were so consumed with each other, they rarely noticed Nicki.  When Mom and Dad died a month later, she did indeed move in with her grandmother.  Only she didn’t go to her beloved Nana, she went to live with her other grandmother.

Fourteen years later, she’d earned a scholarship at a university near Nana’s house and even before she settled into her dorm, she had ridden her bike two miles to the hospital for a joyous reunion.  When visiting hours were over, Nicki pedaled the extra two miles to the old Victorian and made the trek up the stairs to Nana’s attic.  She’d started to leave when she noticed that some of the books had fallen, so she bent down, intending to return them to the shelf when she discovered the large volume lying behind the others.  Her throat closed, and she struggled to breathe.  She'd found the book with the hole.  Again.  The book that killed her parents.

She pulled the heavy hardcover from its hiding place, dislodging other books as she did so. She studied the gilded title, Book of Magic.  She’d been unable to read the last time she held the book.

Pushing the book away, she remembered how she’d shrank when Nana’s gaze appraised her at the hospital.  She felt heavier than ever with the extra forty pounds she carried and believed her own nose, and its pronounced hump, had overshadowed their special get-together.  She felt embarrassed as her once beautiful grandmother ran a wrinkled yet still soft hand over her sallow, blemished cheek.

Her grandmother had whispered, “You’ll always be lovely.”  The old woman had chuckled. “It was your birthday, last week, so that means you can have a wish.  But only one.”

Nicki had been stunned.  She’d expected her grandmother to dismiss her childish superstitions and tell her the book wasn’t real.  She’d carried the guilt of her parent’s death too long.

“And, honey, don’t be greedy.”  After that, her grandmother dozed.

Nicki’s hands still trembled but she opened the cover anyway, discovering the crude square area where someone cut a hole in the pages.  She started to slam the book closed when she remembered her grandmother’s words, “Don’t be greedy.”

“Maybe one small wish wouldn’t hurt.”  She placed her hand into the hole and chanted, “I wish I were thin.”  Her hand felt like it had been licked by flames, but she berated her imagination, “I’m chemistry major, not some little girl who believes in magic.”  She restacked the books and then pedaled back to school.

During the next months, she visited her Nana whenever she could and by the last day of the semester, the old woman had recovered enough to return home.  Nicki went to say her goodbye.  “I will see you in the fall, Nana.”

Her eyes teared, but the elderly woman smiled, “You will indeed child.”

Nana pushed a package at her and she protested, knowing her grandmother didn’t have enough money to buy presents.  The bag held a new pair of jeans and a short little shirt—the kind Nicki could never wear and the kind grandmothers didn’t buy.  She gave Nana a kiss of thanks but she intended to return the items and put the money in Nana’s secret jar.

“Try them on.” 

Her grandmother smiled.  Nicki swallowed, desperate for an excuse to forgo the fashion show.  She would never fit into the skinny little clothes.  Nana laughed, as if reading her mind, and pushed her toward the bathroom.

Nicki took the shirt and pulled it over her head hoping it would stretch, but to her amazement, the shirt fit.  Like Angelina Jolie’s tank top.  In a trance, she slipped on the pants and easily pulled the zipper to the top.  She ran from the bathroom to stare at her reflection in the antique standing mirror.

“Good Lord.  I’m thin.”

Over the summer, she had decided the bike riding, not the Book of Magic, had sculpted her hot new figure.  When she returned to college, she decided to prove that the book was just a book.  She had difficulty finding the leather-covered hardback in Nana’s attic.  Someone had moved the book to another shelf, tucking it under a large dictionary.  Almost as if the mystery person wanted to hide it.  She wished for a pretty nose, knowing that wish couldn’t possibly come true.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Scandalous Deed

 by Christy Carlyle
“I haven’t the time for loneliness.” Lucien lied easily, ignoring the look Marcus shot him in that moment. He loathed the pity he would find there.  
A fracas near the gallery’s entry hall was a welcome distraction. He craned his neck to spot the cause as shouts mingled with cries of outrage.
A woman. A bluestocking, more like, wearing a prim black skirt, plain white shirtwaist and spectacles perched on her nose, was pushing her way through the crowd of women in evening gowns and men in black tails. She looked like a magpie wreaking havoc amongst the canaries, though her hair was as striking in color as any of the finery around her. A rich shade of chestnut, it was arranged in a severe style atop her head. Mercifully, several rebellious strands had escaped and hung down around her shoulders. Lucien couldn’t help but notice how the strands shone like burnished gold in the gaslight.
As he watched the woman’s progress, a gentleman grabbed at her roughly and an uncommon surge of chivalry made Lucien consider interceding. But in the next moment, the woman proved she needed no rescuer. Stomping on the man’s foot with her booted heel, she moved easily out of his grasp and continued on her path. A path that seemed to lead directly to him.
For the hundredth time within the hour, Jessamine Wright called herself a fool for agreeing to Kitty Adderly’s ridiculous plan for revenge against Viscount Grimsby. It will just cause him a spot of bother, Kitty had promised. A bit of tittle tattle. A minor scandal. According to Kitty, it was a comeuppance the arrogant lord richly deserved. Jessamine could not consider whether it was right or wrong. She simply needed the money Kitty offered.
Initially, she made her way into the gallery without notice, but within moments a lady had questioned her. Then the woman’s fat husband had stepped in and it all turned into a ruckus before she had even done what she’d come to do. The deed itself shouldn’t take long, she thought. A quick peck on the mouth - Kitty had insisted that she kiss the man on the lips - and it would all be over.  
He was there at the end of the gallery, as far from the entrance as he could possibly be.  Mina continued through the gamut and a man snatched at her arm. Unthinking, she stepped on his foot and he spluttered and cursed but released her.  
Lord Grimsby saw her now. She was certain of it. His dark head was turned her way. Tall and broad shouldered, he towered over the man and woman beside him. And he did look grim, as cold and uncongenial as Kitty had described.
Jessamine moved quickly through the crowd, eyes down, avoiding his gaze. Then she was before him.  Only inches separated them. She met his eyes and found them glaring down at her. Glaring and blue. Shockingly clear blue eyes. His brows formed a vee as he frowned at her as he might a fly that had just spoiled his soup. She opened her mouth to speak, but said nothing. What explanation could she offer? 
Her thoughts scattered as she studied her objective. His lips. They were wide, well shaped but firmly set. Not as firm as stone, as Kitty would have her believe, but unyielding. Unwelcoming. She reached up to remove her spectacles and noticed that her hands were shaking. She hooked them inside the high neckline of her shirt. His eyes followed the movement of her hands, the vee burrowing deeper between his brows.
Behind her, a man shouted. “How dare you!” She felt a hand grasp at her elbow. Jessamine was pulled backwards, nearly off her feet. Then a deep, raspy male voice rang out and stopped all movement.  
“Unhand the woman. Now.” He had spoken. The stone giant. Lord Grim. He glared past her, over her head. The hand released her and his eyes found hers again. They were discerning eyes, not cold and lifeless as she’d expected.  
“Are we acquainted, madam?” The deep timbre of his voice rumbled through her, sending a shiver down her spine.  
Jessmine took a deep breath and moved closer. Lord Grimsby’s eyebrows shot up.  She had crossed the line now. Bursting uninvited into a room filled with the wealthy and titled was one thing. Pressing one’s bosom into the chest of a man with whom one was not acquainted was something else entirely.
He didn’t move away.  She had to lift onto her toes if this kiss was to be accomplished. She took a step toward him, closer, and her body swayed into his. He reached an arm out to steady her.   
A woman said his name, her voice laced with chastisement.  “Lucien.”
Placing one hand on his chest to balance herself, she stretched up on the tips of her toes and touched her lips to his.  
A shock of sensation snaked through her. His lips were not made of stone. They were warm, smooth flesh. His breathing hitched, a small gasp and then his mouth opened, responding to her. His hand slid to the small of her back and tightened there, inching her towards him. The palm of his hand was hot and firm through the layers of of her clothing. She let him take her weight. He smelled delicious. Like fresh air and a subtle, spicy cologne. There was liquor on his breath and she tasted it when she felt his tongue slide between her lips. She felt drunk, but knew the brief taste of spirits wasn’t the cause. His free hand grasped her arm. He enveloped her now, his mouth moving over hers, his arms and scent surrounding her. She felt protected and, for a moment, no longer alone.
Then the spell was broken. A woman shrieked. The sound was high, ear piercing and blessedly brief. Yet it was long enough for Mina to snap back to the moment, the scene she had created.  She pulled away from Lord Grimsby and he loosened his hold, though one hand still lay lightly on her arm. To steady her or himself? His eyes looked dazed, though his expression remained as firm and humorless as before she had kissed him. Only his eyes told her how she had affected him.  A heat there singed her skin as much as the warmth of his still rapid breath against her face. 
She was breathing hard too. They stood staring at each other while those around them clucked and fussed. Mina heard them as if from a distance. She was only aware of the man whose flavor was still on her lips. An arrogant viscount. The man she had just scandalized in public.

 © Christy Carlyle 2012 All rights reserved.

Friday, April 13, 2012

That Explains the Zombie

by Sarah Raplee

 “This time Mother has gone too bloody far!” Sojie Headley slammed the cellar door behind her so hard that windowpanes rattled throughout the first floor of Headley House. A hairpin slipped from her upswept curls and plinked onto the floorboards, a victim of her uncharacteristic violence.
Warmth and the heavenly aroma of breakfast cooking in the Headley kitchen enfolded her. Her stomach growled. Cookie finished spooning golden pancake batter next to hissing bacon on the wood-fired range’s hot griddle before casting a reproving glance her way.
“I’ll thank you to watch your language in my kitchen, Miss Sojie,” the tall, dark-skinned woman said. Lowering her brows with mock ferocity, she lifted her batter-covered wooden spoon and pointed it at Sojie. “Get ahold of yourself, now. What’s the missus done to rile you up?”
Heat rose in Sojie’s face at the gentle rebuke. Dredging up a modicum of common sense, she refrained from elaborating on the reason for her temper. Cookie had no idea that Mother was experimenting with a time machine in their basement.
She blew out a frustrated sigh. Why did she let Mother’s ill-conceived actions provoke her as if she were an ignorant eight-year-old instead of a young woman of eighteen?
“Please accept my apology for using inappropriate language,” she said with a rueful smile.
The older woman nodded. “Jus’ remember that buttin’ heads with your mother is no excuse to disrespect her.”
The wind’s howl had them both looking out at the storm that had raged in Portland since yesterday afternoon. The streets had no doubt turned to rivers of mud by now, making even local travel nigh unto impossible. Sojie was glad they were well-stocked with supplies.
“March sho’ came in like a lion this year,” Cookie said, shaking her head. She reached for her spatula.
Still seething, Sojie strode across the oil-clothed floor through the scullery and then lifted her long skirts to climb the servants’ stairs. Despite her promise to care for Mother until Father returned, she wanted nothing more than to be done with the woman. If she didn’t speak to Mrs. Bell immediately, surely she’d boil her top and end up on the front lawn, screeching like a deranged teakettle. Her mother’s assistant’s calm demeanor and wise counsel had soothed Sojie’s inner turmoil more than once over the years.
Mrs. Bell opened the door to her small apartment on the first knock. The clockwork privacy lock must not have been set. Whilst amazingly secure, the newfangled devices took time to undo.
The petite blond woman was dressed for the day in a serviceable brown muslin frock, but she hadn’t yet donned her laboratory coat. She looked up into Sojie’s face and her welcoming smile faded. Taking Sojie’s arm, she pulled her into the tiny, lavender-scented sitting room. A silver tea tray sat on a polished cherry table between two chairs facing the cheery fire. “Please sit down, dear. I’ll pour the tea.”
Sojie suspected she would need something stronger than tea to calm her, but she chose her usual worn blue velvet chair with Egyptian hieroglyphics carved into the wooden arms. Tracing the indentations in the wood with her fingers, she waited for Mrs. Bell to pour the steaming brew into flowered china cups. Then she picked up the nearest cup and saucer and sipped carefully before launching into a description of her scientist mother’s latest escapade.
“A poor, half-grown kitten, Mrs. Bell. How could Mother justify experimenting on such a helpless creature?
Mrs. Bell pressed her pretty lips into a disapproving line, but her green eyes crinkled slightly at the corners. “It’s not as if she dissected the little animal,” Mrs. Bell said. “The kitten is fine. I examined him myself. And I wouldn’t characterize him as helpless. He’s quite energetic, in fact.” She turned her head to one side to reveal an angry red scratch marring the milky white skin of her throat.
Sojie’s stomach tightened. She set down her beverage with a clink. “Your injury only proves Mouser is not fine at all. I’ve tamed him and his brother. They’re as gentle as—as kittens, for heaven’s sake. Cookie invites them into the kitchen for a few hours a day to catch vermin. Now Mouser’s wild again. I swear he doesn’t even remember me, but Hunter is fine.”
Sojie swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat. “When I confronted Mother about Mouser’s change in behavior, she admitted she'd sent him forward a day in that infernal time machine, the one she was ordered to scrap. She’s secretly pursuing an illegal project, putting us all at risk. I fear this goes beyond eccentricity into the realm of madness. Her behavior has grown significantly more erratic of late, wouldn’t you agree?”
She’d a good mind to contact General Morgan herself. The general had oversight of Mother’s government-funded research. Sojie knew for a fact that the time machine project was forbidden after the accident that tore her family apart. The general had assured the family that given time, Dr. Headley and her brother, Lincoln, would reappear. Unfortunately, not even Mother could predict the date with any real accuracy. Five to eight years in the future, give or take was as close as she could come. Only more than ten years had passed since the accident with no trace of them.
Mrs. Bell gave her a considering look. Then she set down her teacup and stared into Sojie’s eyes as if searching for the answer to an unvoiced question. Goosebumps pricked Sojie’s skin.
At last, seemingly satisfied, Mrs. Bell spoke. “I’m going to tell you something that no one knows outside this house, not even the United States Government. Repeating the information outside these walls could get you or someone you love killed. Do you understand?”
Sojie blinked at the unexpected turn the conversation had taken. Then she sighed. She shouldn’t be surprised, considering this had always been a house of intrigue. “I’m sworn to secrecy. I understand.”
“You may find what I have to say disturbing, but it’s vital that you understand your mother’s motivations in attempting what we must over the next months. These experiments have far-reaching moral as well as practical implications. Things will become even more strange than usual at Headley House, and more dangerous.”
Sojie shivered at the prospect, then nodded. She needed to know what was going on.
A tap on the door made them jump.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Charity's Desire

By Paty Jager
copyright 2012

Charity looked up as Miss Vonnie ambled over to the wash tub. She’d finished the six sets of sheets and was working on the personal clothes of each girl. Her back and shoulders ached, but for the week the group camped here, Sammy and Sadie would eat more than beans and biscuits, and she would have money for more supplies to move on to the next town hiring a teacher.  Ray and Jane might not like she and the children had taken up with a group of prostitutes, but they'd run out of options. Doing laundry was better than starving.
“Charity?” Miss Vonnie’s voice startled her from her reveries.
She dried her hands on her apron and shifted away from the washboard. “Yes?”
“Mr. Jamison would like to meet you.”
Jamison.  Could the woman who turned the school board against her have changed her mind? Hope swelled in her chest. The woman’s cold eyes and even colder heart asking for proof Sadie and Sammy were her niece and nephew and not her children had speared her with mortification. She would have had to have been pregnant at fourteen to be their mother.
“Did he say why?” She tucked loose strands of hair behind her ears and wiped a hand across her perspiring brow.
The older woman held up a coin.  “He gave me this to talk to you.” She grasped Charity’s hand and placed the coin in it.
“He paid to talk to me?” Anger swirled in her stomach and infused her neck and ears with heat. She peered past Miss Vonnie and nearly choked. It was the handsome man who held the door for her when she left the school after the interview. His smiling brown eyes had given her a measure of comfort after having her character attacked. Did he believe as his mother? That she was of low moral conscience.
She held the coin between her fingers, grasped her skirt in the other hand, and marched over to the man. Stopping far enough back she didn’t have to tip her head too much to look into his face, she held out the coin. “I don’t know you and you sure don’t know me if you think you have to buy my time to talk with me.”
“Charity, it was—” Miss Vonnie started, but Charity cut her off by slicing her hand through the air.
“I take it Mrs. Jamison of the Clancy school board is a relation? Did she send you here to gloat?” Charity fisted her hand on her hips and glared at Mr. Jamison. It wasn’t a hardship to keep her eyes feasting on his curly blond hair, brown eyes, and square chin.  The hard part was remaining mad while staring into his perplexed eyes.
“She’s my mother. And I didn’t come here to verify her accusations.”
She tilted her head and gave him an “I don’t believe you” snort.
“I came at my father’s request to make sure Miss Vonnie is treating our hands fairly. But I recognized you from the school and wanted to see how you’re doing.”
The honesty in his deep voice chipped away at her huff. “Why do you care?”
He smiled and her knees lost all the starch she’d shorn them up with in anger.
“Let’s just say, I like to prove my mother wrong. But…” He looked around at the scantily clad women, then cast his gaze to her wagon set off from the rest where Sammy and Sadie were playing.  “I’m thinking my mother may have been right this time.”
“How dare you!” She threw the coin at his chest and spun, stomping toward the creek. If she stood near that man any longer she was sure she’d have said something that would have confirmed his assumptions. Her mother, and later her brother-in-law, were continually cautioning her on the colorful language she’d picked up from the local boys while growing up.
Her anger took her all the way to the creek. She paced up and down the bank hidden from view of the camp. The secluded spot was where the women came to bathe and cool off in the hot August afternoons.
She sat down on a rock. Her thoughts immediately went to Mr. Jamison. Any woman with a breath of life in her would find the man easy to look at. She sighed. Don’t go thinking anything other than he’s an enemy. He as much as said he believed his mother by offering money to talk to me. Her anger sparked again at the affront. How dare he… Why hadn’t Miss Vonnie rejected the money? 
“Can we start over?” The deep voice shot her to her feet. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.” He grasped her arm, steadying her swaying body.
Her head whooshed, and her heart slammed into her ribs at his gentle grip on her arm. Her gaze locked on his face. Concern and sincerity flashed in his eyes and reflected in the self-conscience smile on his lips. To break the hold he had on her senses, she glanced at his hand still on her arm. He let go and extended his hand.
“I’m Duke Jamison. My family owns the land Miss Vonnie and her girls are camped on.”
Reluctant to touch him again, she slowly extended her hand. He grasped her fingers and drew her knuckles to his lips. The softness of his lips and warmth of his breath, stole her air. She stared into his eyes which lit with amusement.
“And you are?”
She tugged her hand from his, tucking it against her quivering stomach. Why was this man triggering a plethora of reactions? She stared into his waiting face. A simple patient smile curved his lips. What had he asked? Racing through the last few minutes, she captured his question.
“Charity Bowen.”  She scowled. “But you know that. I’m sure your mother would have mentioned my name since you seem to know everything else she thought about me.” Anger. Yes, much better than the other emotions he tangled in her.
“My mother merely mentioned they’d turned down an applicant. When I first saw you I didn’t realize you were the teacher they were interviewing.” He waved an arm back toward the camp. “And finding you here, I wasn’t sure you were the same person.”
She walked away from him, before her temper took over.
“Did I say something that upset you?” His voice came from only a step behind her.
“Stop following me.” She spun around and nearly banged her nose on his chest. Her neck hurt tipping her head back to peer into his face. Charity took two steps back. “Why don’t you just ride back to your ranch and tell your mother ‘guess who I found working for Miss Vonnie’.”
“It’s not my habit to prove my mother correct. In fact, I enjoy proving her wrong.”