Thursday, July 31, 2014

AP Author Spotlight: Kelly Martin

Kelly Martin
Twitter ID: @martiekay
Describe yourself in three words:
Indecisive. People Pleaser.
Tell us a little about your latest release:
Saving Sloan is the sequel to Saint Sloan and takes place about five months later.
Sloan Bridges is doing her best to move on from a horrible attack that left her scarred, literally. Her attacker is in a wheelchair awaiting trial. With him out of her life, she focuses on other things like school, Prom, and those Hunter boys.
Someone won't allow her to be happy.
On Sunday, she receives five long stem roses and a note in the front seat of her locked car: Five days before the fall.
What the fall is, she has no idea. Whatever it is, it doesn't sound good. Every day, Sloan gets one less rose and another note. No one else sees them, though, and they think she's either losing her mind or taking too much pain medicine.
She knows better. With the countdown nearly complete, can Sloan figure out who is threatening her before someone she loves pays with his life?
What is your earliest memory?
I remember sitting in my sister's lap. I was 3. Not sure why I remember that, but I do.
What would you consider the greatest moment in your life?
When I became a Mommy. When I got my first teaching job... and the first 'yes' from a publisher.
What’s the hardest thing in in life you’ve done?
Tell a child no for it's own good. The look a 3 year old gives you when you 'break their heart' hurts.
What have you learned in life so far?
That I don't know much about life ;)
Everyone’s favourite question: if you could invite five people for dinner, who would it be?
My Daddy (he's been dead 11 years). My mama. Bill Clinton, Judas, and Jesus -- That would be an interesting conversation...
Chance for our readers - what else would you like to know about Kelly Martin?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

RELEASE DAY: Debra Holt "Under Texas Blue Skies"


J.D. Sterling, the sexy star of country music, had come back home to McKenna Springs, Texas.  Years before, he had left to chase his dream and had succeeded.  His life was almost perfect.  Almost.  He was still missing the part of his heart he had left behind…Mandy Lawson. 

Amanda Lawson had changed from the young, innocent Mandy…the teenager madly in love with the bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks.  Heartbreak and tragedy would do that to a person.  She was determined to keep her well-ordered, work-driven life on the successful path she had fought to achieve on her own.  No singing cowboy with a devil’s smile in his green eyes and a sexy body in tight jeans was going to be allowed close enough to break her heart again.


Born and raised in the Lone Star state of Texas, Debbie grew up among horses, cowboys, wide open spaces, and real Texas Rangers. Pride in her state and ancestry knows no bounds and it is these heroes and heroines she loves to write about the most. She also draws upon a variety of life experiences including working with abused children, caring for baby animals at a major zoo, and having a wedding planning business (ah, romance!). Debbie’s real pride and joys, however, are her son, an aspiring film actor, and a daughter with aspirations to join the Federal Bureau of Investigation. (more story ideas!) When Debbie isn’t busy writing about tall Texans and feisty heroines, she can be found

cheering for her favorite football team, the Texas Tech Red Raiders, or heading off on an-other cruise adventure. She read her first romance...Janet Dailey's Fiesta San Antonio, over thirty years ago and became hooked on the genre. Writing romances is both her passion and dream come true, and she hopes her books will bring smiles...and sighs... to all who believe in happily-ever-afters!


Now available on
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Chapter One

J.D. Sterling’s heartbeats were thumping loud as a bass drum at the sight of the red sedan as it pulled into the circular driveway, stopping just behind the other realtor’s Hummer. He had purposely seated himself in a corner of the wide porch, away from the glare of the noonday sun, where climbing vines and shade would enable him to be concealed from the woman’s line of sight. He didn’t want her to know he was there, at least not right away. J.D. needed to see her first, to get his feet under him. At least, that’s the excuse he'd given himself. For someone who always planted his feet solidly in the middle of any situation, this was one time the spotlight was not what he sought. His pulses were racing as he saw the driver’s door swing open and two slender ankles encased in gray high heels become visible as they touched the ground.

The woman stood up, one hand pushed her sunglasses further up on the bridge of her nose, and then she closed the car door behind her. She slung the straps of her leather bag over her shoulder and moved around the hood of the car, her heels making soft crunching sounds on the pea gravel along the drive. In the early afternoon stillness of the ranch, those sounds seemed to be amplified.

The eyes in the shadows drank in the features of the woman as she moved toward the house. Nowhere in sight was the country girl he had last seen. The vision that approached was confident in her stride, her head up and shoulders resolute. The girl he used to know was just short of being painfully shy and always hesitant to stand out of any crowd. Sunglasses concealed her eyes from view so he couldn’t see if they were still the amazingly vivid blue he remembered and had even immortalized in song once. They had filled his dreams on many a night and gotten him through some really hard times. It was those eyes he would see when he closed his own as he sang across the bright lights into the dark recesses of some huge arena, packed with screaming fans and loud music. He would sing to the girl in his dreams… the one he had left behind but never left out of his heart.

For just a second, he did experience a pinch of disappointment. That glorious blond hair, natural and not from any bottle, was gone. It used to cascade straight down her back past her waist. His fingers would get tangled up in it, and he had loved the way it fell in a silver curtain across them when she would bend down to kiss him. Better stop right there. He didn’t need to make a total fool of himself right off the start. His lower body was definitely in danger of doing that if he didn’t keep his thoughts reined in. However, those long tresses were gone, and the stylish cut she wore allowed her face to be framed before just grazing the top of her shoulders. The gray two-piece suit with a coral top showing above the one-button jacket was all business. Maybe the girl he had carried in his memory didn’t exist any longer? That thought unnerved him more than he wanted to admit. Had he left things too late? No, it couldn’t be too late. Not for them.

Amanda’s eyes caught sight of her boss, Morris Bagley, on the top steps of the veranda. “You look very pleased with yourself today. I hope you didn’t bring me out here on a wild goose chase, Morris. I was just about to close on the Farwell building. Where’s this client I just had to come and meet?”

Her voice was more refined than before, with a mature edge to it. It still struck a chord inside J.D., and he rose silently to his feet from his perch on the railing. Now he was just a few steps away but still not in her sight.

“Hello, Mandy,” he spoke softly from the shadows.

Amanda’s head swung in its direction. Her eyes sought to focus on the tall figure that stepped from darkness into light. She went to take a quick breath but found she couldn’t. In fact, for some reason, the light was receding, and the darkness was swallowing them all up.

RELEASE DAY: Laverne St. George "The Master's Plan"


Bad Things Happen…

Caralyn Masters lost both her faith and her sister in a tragic accident. The trauma leaves lingering effects--automobiles give her the literal shakes. She hoped that a grant from the reputable Doncaster Foundation would set her non-profit firmly on its feet. Now the grant funding has disappeared for no good reason. She’ll need a Plan B. Or a Plan C.

Jason Montague knows from painful experience that his seizure disorder is enough to scare most women off.  Finding someone to share his life? Not so easy. Now he’s learned that there’s a problem with the Doncaster accounts in the Midwest office. All the grants he promised are in jeopardy, and he’s off to Kansas (of all places!) to figure out what’s going on.

…Then Love Steps In.


I’m a Romance Addict.

In college, my aunt sent me a box of books, including Kathleen Woodiwiss' THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER. I caught Romance fever and never looked back. Although my favorite books are Inspirational and Clean romance, I’m an avid fan of romance in all its variety. All I need is a well-written book with a fine hero and a happy ending.

I’m a Curious Person.

I was blessed with a mother who, when faced with a flow of “Why...?” and “How...?”, took refuge by answering, “Let’s go look it up.”  If something intrigues me, I want to discover more about it. I became a librarian because I love learning new things. I’ve worked in universities, on US naval bases, in Government consulting firms and in the pharmaceutical industry. My motto has always been “Curious Librarians Need to Know”. 

I’m a Dog and Turtle Person.

There have been pets in my past, but I’m pet-less at the moment. To me, turtles are about the most wondrous creatures ever created, and I have been known to stop on the side of the road to guide a wayward turtle off the pavement and into the grass. I have always considered myself a dog person, but there is a very nice neighborhood cat who greets me when I arrive home. Hm-m-m.

I’m a Writer.

I’ve been writing since grade school.  First there were crayon words and illustrations, then books about space travel, mystery and espionage. I've always carried stories in my head and written them down. My writing style has been described as “a whole lot of sweet with a dash of spice”.  I like to keep a sense of the Divine Presence in everything I write.

When I’m not writing or reading, I enjoy needlework, baking, Scrabble®, traveling, and jigsaw puzzles. So hello from a librarian romance addict-writer dog and turtle and maybe cat person, who’s delighted that you’re here. Enjoy!


Now available on
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Chapter One

Lightning streaked across the sky over the Missouri Ozarks. Thunder rumbled and dissolved into the swaying evergreens overhead while a gust of wind dashed chilled raindrops against Caralyn Masters’ cheeks.

A storm, she thought grimly. Just what I need.

Frowning, Cara stopped and shifted the heavy backpack on her shoulders. The temperature had dropped at least twenty degrees in the last hour, and the available light faded steadily as the afternoon sun set behind thickening clouds. On her way up the trail the day before, she had seen a sign for a shelter. Now, on her way back down, she had forgotten exactly how far along it was.

She sighed. I’m out of practice.

Two years ago, she would have automatically placed the location of the shelter in her mind just in case the weather turned. But yesterday she had done nothing but drink in the scenery. Her six-hour trek up the mountainside had been warm and dry. Vistas of dark green peaks thrusting toward robin’s-egg-blue skies had thrilled her at every bend of the path. An exceptional September day. The perfect way to unwind after a day of endless questions and orientation sessions — worth every minute if the Doncaster Foundation awarded her a grant.

Now she hiked down the trail in cold drizzle, picking her way over troublesome stones, kicking others out of the way. She threw a shuddering glance at the two-hundred-foot cliff dropping away to her right. One misstep and she’d break her neck on the slippery path before she found a place to sit out the storm.

Another flash of lightning brightened the somber sky and lit a wooden trail sign. The shelter lay just a quarter-mile to the left.


Cara quickened her steps down the marked path and soon arrived at a wooden structure imitating an open box tipped on its side. Its back, cuddled against a hill, was lined with crude bunk beds. With relief she noted a high, chain-link fence stretched across the opening to ensure safety from animals, and a stone fireplace set in a side wall promised cozy warmth. She manipulated the slip latch on the gate and stepped through the fence. Standing inside on the dry concrete floor, she swung the twenty-pound pack from her shoulders with a groan.

As she stretched her arms overhead to relieve the tightness in her back, the drizzle changed to rain. Softly at first, the drops brushed against the corrugated metal roof like a whisk on a snare drum. Suddenly, the skies opened. Water pelting the shelter thrummed like an orchestra of timpani.

She glanced up. Nothing like a little water hitting metal to remind her that sometimes one had to take the bad with the good.

Within minutes Cara organized her provisions. From her pack, she retrieved a camper’s stove. After setting some water to boil, she touched a match to the kindling already in the fireplace and added a log from the pile in the corner. Slipping her jacket off, she watched as the blaze leaped against the dark stone. She remembered spending nights like this under nothing more than a tarp on open ground, huddled in an oversized sleeping bag. She would crawl in with her sister, Ellen, and they would share ghost stories and tales of gallant knights and beautiful princesses.

A pang of grief tugged at her.

The water on the stove bubbled and gurgled, pulling her from her memories. Cara poured the hot water over a tea bag set in an aluminum mug, concentrating on the action, keeping the images of the past at bay.

RELEASE DAY: Shirley Raye Redmond "Prudence Pursued"


At the advanced age of twenty-seven, vicar’s daughter Prudence Pentrye is on the shelf. Content to occupy her time by attending meetings of Mr. Wilberforce’s Abolition Society and helping her father administer vaccines in an effort to prevent a small pox epidemic, Prudence is resolved to see that her younger cousin Margaret does not share her own unmarried fate.

But Margaret is plain and shy. She is repulsed when a swashbuckling baronet, Sir James Brownell, makes her an offer of marriage.  With his sunburned skin, eye patch, and indifference to fashion, Sir James is not Margaret’s idea of a romantic suitor. Nor does Margaret enjoy his tales of fighting against Malay pirates and trekking through tropical jungles on the island of Borneo in hopes of capturing a living orangutan.

Prudence, however, finds herself secretly smitten. Will she maintain control of her traitorous heart or will she trust God to make her life richer and more rewarding than the one she had planned for herself?


Shirley Raye Redmond is an award-winning author of historical romance. Her regency novel Rosemary’s Glove  won the New Mexico Book Award and was a finalist in the Phoenix Desert Rose Golden Quill Contest  in 2009. Prudence Pursued is Shirley Raye’s second Astraea Press romance.



Now available on
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Chapter One

“You should not wear that to the pox party,” Prudence Pentyre said, indicating her younger cousin’s dress of light green Italian silk. “I recommend something with short sleeves which allows you to expose your forearm to the lancet.”

Margaret shuddered. Her plain face, pale and lightly freckled, appeared downcast. “Oh, Pru, I wish I didn’t have to go.” She stood, slender shoulders drooping, in front of her open wardrobe.

“Truly, Meg, there’s nothing to worry about,” Prudence assured her, slipping a comforting arm around her cousin’s slim waist. “Papa had all of us vaccinated with the cowpox when we were still in the schoolroom—and the servants too. I’m quite surprised my Uncle Giles didn’t do the same.”

A glint of disapproval flashed in her soft brown eyes. Silently, she fumed. Uncle Giles had held too many outmoded notions. Such an old stick! He was dead now, having suffered an apoplexy two years ago. Her mother, if she knew of Prudence’s unspoken condemnation, would have reminded her not to speak ill of the dead. This dictate had never made sense to Prudence. Why were some of life’s most unsavory characters deemed to be saints after their deaths? Not that Uncle Giles was unsavory, but he had been shamefully old-fashioned.

“Look, Meg, there’s not even a scar.” Prudence held out a white arm for her cousin’s perusal. “Mr. Jenner’s procedure is almost painless and quite safe, much safer than buying the smallpox and enduring the dreaded disease.”

“Papa didn’t believe in it. He said it was God’s will some people should die of the smallpox,” Margaret said, turning away from her to examine an array of dresses hanging in the wardrobe.

“God is not so cruel,” Prudence insisted.

“Some say the vaccination will cause one’s facial features to resemble those of a cow,” Margaret ventured, her forehead creasing with anxious wrinkles.

Prudence laughed. “Neither John nor Patience have any cow-like features, and you can see for yourself I do not.” Slightly unsettled by her cousin’s close examination, Prudence shrugged.

“Yes, look at me, Meg! Do I resemble a cow? I can assure you I don’t have a cow tail hidden beneath my skirts either. None of us have bovinized, as you fear. I believe Mr. Jenner’s procedure to have been God-inspired. Truly. Papa has preached this same opinion from the pulpit. Mr. Jenner took notice how milkmaids and dairy farmers did not succumb to the deadly smallpox plague when there was an outbreak in their village. It was because of their exposure to the harmless cowpox. It was an amazing observation which will benefit us all.”

Like her parents, Prudence was an ardent admirer of Edward Jenner. In fact, her father, the Reverend Henry Pentyre, was a member of the Royal Jennerian Society and helped to raise money to give free vaccinations throughout England. Prudence enjoyed accompanying her father when he rode out to the rural areas to administer the vaccine himself to those members of his parish willing to undergo the procedure.

“But what if you should marry and have children?” Margaret hinted, unconvinced. She clutched her hands at her waist. Prudence, noting the slight tremor, realized her cousin was trying not to reveal her agitation.

“Both John and Patience are married with children, and none of my nieces and nephews look like heifers, I assure you!” Prudence insisted. She gave Margaret a reassuring pat on the shoulder. “You’re making a great fuss for nothing.”

With a sigh, Margaret retrieved a short-sleeved muslin gown from the wardrobe and held it up before her. As she considered her image in the mirror, Prudence stepped up behind her, peering over her cousin’s shoulder. Smiling at Margaret’s reflection, she noted the similarity of their features. They were much the same height—too tall and thin to be in fashion. They had dark brown hair, pert noses, and generous mouths, much too wide to be considered beautiful. But each had soulful brown eyes, heavily fringed with thick, dark lashes.

RELEASE DAY: Linda Covella "Yakimali's Gift"

It’s 1775 in Mexico, New Spain, and 15-year-old Fernanda Marquina, half Spanish and half Pima Indian, can’t seem to live up to her mother’s expectations or fit into the limited female roles of her culture. A tragic accident sets her on a course for the adventure she longed for but at a greater cost than she could ever have imagined. With her family, Fernanda joins Juan Bautista de Anza’s historic colonization expedition to California. On the arduous four month journey, Fernanda will find not only romance, but she’ll discover truths that will change the way she sees her ancestry, her family, and herself.
Linda Covella’s varied job experience and education (associate degrees in art, business and mechanical drafting & design, a BS degree in Manufacturing Management) have led her down many paths and enriched her life experiences. But one thing she never strayed from is her love of writing.
Her first official publication was a restaurant review column in a local newspaper. But when she published articles for various children’s magazines, she realized she’d found her niche, writing for children and teens. She hopes to bring to kids and young adults the feelings books gave her when she was young, the worlds they opened, the things they taught, the feelings they ex-pressed.
No matter what new paths Linda may travel down, she sees her writing as a lifelong joy and commitment.
Now available on
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August – October 1775
Chapter One
Fernanda pressed her heels into the horse’s sides. “Faster, pretty one, faster. We want to feel the wind in our hair, no?”
The horse flicked its ears then galloped across the plain toward the river, kicking up stones from the hard ground. Fernanda leaned closer to the horse’s neck, her long braid slipping over her shoulder. The animal’s smell of grassy manure and sweat filled her with the thrill of riding. It had been too long.
Her body rocked forward and back with the rhythm of the pounding hooves. Water streaked from her eyes as she raced across the desert, dodging barrel cactuses and mesquite bushes. Her rebozo loosened and slipped to her shoulders; then the shawl untied completely and was gone. Fernanda glanced over her shoulder and saw it flutter to the ground. A laugh burst from her chest, and watching a hawk glide, dive, and then fly high into the sky, she thought, I feel as free as that bird!
The power of the horse flowed through her, charging her with the desire for adventure, her heart soaring beyond Tubac to worlds far away, worlds full of golden riches, handsome men, and green hills that rolled on forever. Worlds where she would ride, explore, and each day discover something new.
Before realizing how far she’d gone, she saw her family’s adobe hut. She tightened the reins, stopped the horse, and squinted toward the house. Her soaring heart dropped like the hawk diving to the ground. There, in front of the hut with her hands on her hips, stood her mother. Fernanda braced herself against the scowl she was sure to see on Mama’s face when she returned. The scolding words she was sure to hear.
Fernanda turned the horse around and headed back to her brother Luis, back to the presidio and the market. Keeping the animal at a respectable trot, she clenched the reins. Why did Mama insist galloping was improper? And why did Papa follow her lead when he knew Fernanda had a special way with horses?
She retrieved the rebozo and shook the dust and weeds from the rough cotton weave. Then, stopping the horse in front of Luis, she jumped to the ground and threw the reins to him. Ignoring the sound of disgust he forced from his mouth, she marched over to her mule and flung the shawl across the two baskets of vegetables slung over its back.
“I told you to be quick,” Luis said. “Nicolas is back from Horcasitas, and I promised I would safely deliver these horses to him.” He held the leads of two other horses.
Fernanda eyed in the distance the high adobe walls and closed gates of the presidio, Tubac’s military garrison. She was grateful for a chance to ride, and doubly grateful she’d been able to avoid Nicolas. After pressure from him — and Mama — she’d finally promised to set a date for their marriage once he returned from the capital.
“I’m only back this soon because Mama saw me,” Fernanda said. “I expect I’ll hear her usual lament—“ She held her head between her hands and said in a high wailing voice, “Why oh why must my daughter run around like a wild Apache?”
Luis laughed and nudged his sister. “Perhaps Mama is right. After all, a girl can never ride as well as a man.”
“And you are a man? At twelve years old?” But the truth was, even though Fernanda was three years older than Luis, someday he would have all the privileges of manhood, while she’d always simply be — a woman. She straightened her bodice and dusted off the sleeves of her blouse and her skirt. “You’d best deliver your horses, and I must sell my vegetables, or Mama will have another reason to be angry with her wild, troublesome daughter.”

Saturday, July 26, 2014

My Town in Three Photos - Los Angeles

by Therese Gilardi
Everything in Los Angeles is in a constant state of reinvention.
 Proof that magic is not limited to the silver screen
 in this corner of the world.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

AP Author Spotlight: Krysten Lindsay Hager

Krysten Lindsay Hager

Twitter ID: @KrystenLindsay
Google +:
Describe yourself in three words:
Tell us a little about your latest release:
True Colors is about Landry Albright, an eighth grader, who enters a modeling competition with her two best friends, but runs into jealousy when she advances to the next level without them. Enter the gorgeous Devon, who also made the first cut of the modeling contest and becomes the perfect best friend, but can their friendship survive the competition? Throw in a new boy, jealousy issues, and hair stylist insults. How’s a girl to deal?
What is your earliest memory?
Watching soap operas with my mom...from my high chair!
What would you consider the greatest moment in your life?
Getting my master's degree because it showed me I could accomplish a goal I had set for myself. Plus, getting my novel published.
What’s the hardest thing in in life you’ve done?
Moving overseas for three years and being away from family and friends. I had a great time in Portugal, but it was hard to be away sometimes.
What have you learned in life so far?
Recently I learned that you can't wait for life to calm down to accomplish what you want to do. You have to roll with the punches and make the best out of your situation. Also, having a sense of humor about any situation helps a lot.
Everyone’s favourite question: if you could invite five people for dinner, who would it be?
First, I would invite George Michael because I have had a crush on him since I was a kid! Then I'd invite Judy Blume to ask her all about her career (and if she's planning to ever write the Allison book since she followed the Just As Long As We're Together book with a Rachel one. I was obsessed with that book in the sixth grade). I'd want Agnes Nixon there (who created many soap operas like One Life to Live) because I think it's so fascinating to have such a powerful woman who created so much in a time when women were not dominating the industry at all. Then, Liam Neeson because he's my favorite actor and I love his accent. He could read the phone book and I'd listen.  And Cristiano Ronaldo because...well, do I need to explain that one?
Chance for our readers - what else would you like to know about Krysten Lindsay Hager?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

RELEASE DAY: Elizabeth Jackson "This Beautiful World"



As children, RaeAnne and her sidekick King were held captive after they discovered the body of a boy their age in a crate of apples in their small town’s peculiar orchard. Now RaeAnne is grown and the mother of a troubled young daughter. After her mother is killed in an accident, she travels home to her father with her daughter. But RaeAnne finds that she is not welcomed by everyone, and frightening incidents start to happen involving her and her family. As RaeAnne unravels the mysteries of her childhood, including what happened to her older brother, who vanished on the same night RaeAnne and King found terror in the orchard, she reunites with King. The boy she knew has grown up to be very handsome and guarded. But can the two ever be more than old friends who share a terrifying secret?



Elisabeth Jackson lives in rural New York, where she works as a freelance business writer, loves dogs, and is an all-around outdoorswoman.



Now available on
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Chapter One

My past didn’t just haunt me. It became a part of me. I’m grown now, with a daughter of my own, but every time I sink my teeth into an apple’s smooth skin, I think of the orchard. I think of the secret I became a part of one day when I was twelve. A secret I shared with my friend, King.

In 1998, King and I searched through the crates of apples picked earlier in the morning at the Gray orchard to take a few for a snack. We’d made it all the way to the center of the orchard, where the apple crates were set out along the trail for the trucks to collect.

A bird screeched and the lanky apple trees, with branches like a witch’s curved, gnarled fingers, seemed to close in on us, as though we could become forever lost in this crowded world of trees. If the Gray family caught us, would anyone be able to hear our cries for help?

King plucked an especially red apple and tossed it to me.

“Thanks,” I said, catching it in my hand. I wiped the fruit against my shirt until it shone in the summertime light and bit through the tender skin, into the crisp white center, the sweet juice filling my mouth. I glanced up and King was gone.

“Hey,” I said, my voice faint.

He laughed, and his tall frame jumped out from behind the line of trees, where apples hung in the sunlight like glittering red jewels.

I dropped my half-eaten apple to the ground as he walked back to me. “Don’t ever do that again,” I said, facing him, the sun warming my arms. “I thought you’d left me here.”

“I’d never leave you alone.”


“Sure,” he said, and I made him shake on it.

A slender bird appeared like a wisp of dark paper in the pale blue sky, and I watched it glide. King gasped and I turned to look at him.

“What?” I asked. Then I saw what he saw – a smooth, white thing protruding out of one of the crates. I craned my neck for a closer look. It was a limp hand, reaching out to us from below a mass of apples unlike the kind I’d seen other times at the orchard, the just-picked beauties with red, dusty skins. The skins on these apples were peeling away from the browning fruit. There was a sickly sweet smell of cider.

The hand was still attached to an arm somewhere down below. In its appearance, it wasn’t like mine or Mama’s, and not like Daddy’s either. Dark, curly hairs were rooted in Daddy’s knuckles like underwater seagrass. This hand was fresh, like a newborn’s skin.

I touched the skin as fast as running my finger through a candle flame, and the surface was cold, yet soft. The hand, with smooth, blood-stained fingernails, grasped toward us from inside an old crate held together with warped slats punctured by loose nails. I gagged. My next instinct was to run. Run far away.

Behind me, King approached and I whirled around, tried to hold him back. He shrugged past me and edged closer to the waist-high apple crate, looking inside, searching for something more than a hand. He ran his fingers across the Gray Family Orchard stamp on the side.

“Is he way down in there somewhere?” he asked. Standing on his toes, he leaned over the high crate’s rim, reached to touch the inside.

“Don’t touch it,” I said, bringing his arm down, and it bumped against the rim of the crate.

His boyish curiosity got the better of him. “What did it feel like?”