Tag Archives: Valentine’s Day

Blind Date A Book 2020 – Full Recap

I hope you’ve enjoyed this year’s Blind Date A Book event. With all the books to choose from, I also hope you’ve found at least one to fall in love with.

In case you’ve missed any of the books featured during the event, here’s a complete list of links to all the first chapters for you to enjoy…and fall in love!

Book #1

Book #2

Book #3

Book #4

Book #5

Book #6

Book #7

Book #8

Book #9

Book #10

Book #11

Book #12

Book #13

Book #14

Book #15

Book #16

Book #17

Book #18

Book #19

Book #20

Book #21

Book #22

Book #23

Book #24

Book #25

Book #26

Book #27

Book #28

Book #29

Book #30

Book #31

Book #32

Book #33

Book #34

 

Thank you for visiting my blog and enjoying the Blind Date A Book event!

Blind Date A Book 2020 – Book #34

The material (chapter) in this post is copyrighted by the author and may not be used or copied in any way without the author’s permission.

 

Chapter 1

 

“This is going to be epic,” Cane said from the driver’s seat of the van.

“It better be,” Carla said from the passenger’s seat beside him, peering out at the forested landscape that was interspersed with farms.

“I can’t wait to see Hortense Carnival,” Josie said.

Carla turned to look at her friend sitting on the bench seat behind them, unbuckled and snuggling her boyfriend Xander.

“Me too,” she said. “Do you think we’ll meet any members of the band?”

“Probably, and some from the other bands too,” Xander said before kissing Josie on the forehead. “There will be so many bands there it will be impossible not to at least run into a few of our idols.”

“Truth,” Josie agreed. “How many bands are performing again?”

“More than thirty, I think,” Carla said and turned back around to peer out the window again.

“We’re almost there,” Cane announced. “There’s a sign about Unrestival!”

They all looked where Cane was pointing. Along the side of the road was a bright, neon sign with UNRESTIVAL at the top with a bold, black arrow directing them to continue straight ahead. In front of them, the route was filled with RVs, cars, trucks, and vans.

None of the four had told their parents they were blowing off their college courses for a week to go to the festival where they would spend their time listening to bands they loved and protesting corporate America.

A couple of them would be sleeping in the van, the other couple in a tent, and living it up with like-minded people. And together they would change the world through peace and unity. Their vision of the event was one of comradery and sharing—much like the Burning Man Festival on the west coast. Unrestival was to be held in the same place as Woodstock; they’d all heard stories from their parents or grandparents about Woodstock and were excited to have their own place in history to promote their world views.

They’d looked up the event details online and had scraped money together for months so they could attend. They loved most of the bands that would be entertaining at the event, and they had signed up for a number of workshops on living off the grid and going green. The more they could do to reduce their carbon footprint and lessen their dependence on anything that fed into the greed of corporations everywhere was right up their alley.

***

“Is that the last one?” Tara asked as soldiers threw yet another black body bag into the portable incinerator set up for the purpose of burning the infected dead.

“Yes, ma’am,” the solider in charge said.

Tara nodded. “Was anyone injured?”

“No, ma’am,” he said. “It was a clean extermination and extraction.”

“Good to hear,” she said with a nod. “If any of your men begin to feel ill at all, let me know right away. But there’s nothing to be concerned about otherwise, since they were all given the vaccine.”

He nodded sharply, turned, and left the tent while she oversaw the burning of the corpses.

She turned the nob of the incinerator up as high as it would go and retreated as far away from the contraption as she could without leaving. She was in charge of containing the super virus she and her past colleague, Dr. Judy Price, had created. It had taken her almost a year, but she’d been able to devise a working vaccine. Unfortunately she had yet to contrive a serum that would heal someone who was exposed. Thus far she, with the help of the military, or rather the military with her help, had been able to keep the spread under control and the word “zombie” out of any press reports. If they would happen to slip up or make a mistake, she knew they wouldn’t be that lucky, going forward, for long.

They were at their furthest locale from where the virus breached the world, Pleasant Gap, Pennsylvania. They’d hoped to keep it from crossing state lines, but human travel had made that impossible. But, luckily, since those exposed had a different heat signature—their body temperature being at least twenty degrees lower than the average human—they could be spotted using military satellites. If it hadn’t been for that, they wouldn’t have been able to track the infection…and the world would have already fallen into ruin.

General Marks came into the tent, startling Tara to attention.

She stood and said, “Sir.”

He’d been with her through the entire ordeal—he’d been the one to threaten to kill her on day one of the super virus’ release. She’d feared him then. Now she respected him. He’d motivated her to do things she never thought possible.

He glanced at the incinerator that was operating in a low growl as it consumed the diseased flesh inside.

“We’ll be scanning again, circling out from this spot,” he said, returning his attention to Tara. “The scan will continue for forty-eight hours or until we find more infected.”

Tara nodded. That was the norm. She prayed this time there would be none found, that they’d finally gotten them all. But she didn’t hold her breath. She knew how fast a virus could spread, and it was a lot faster than their travel, especially with all their equipment.

“Be ready to move as soon as possible,” General Marks barked before he turned and left the tent.

She smirked. She knew he was hoping the same as she was—that this was over. But she also knew he would be prepared, standing at the ready for any sign they needed to strike. And she would be there with him until it was over. After that she was promised her own lab. She prayed she’d be alive to see it…and the world was still a place where it could exist.

***

David pulled up to the gates to present his ticket and parking pass to enter Unrestival. He and his business partner, Ed, were there to give a workshop on wilderness survival. They’d named their workshop “Stayin’ Alive,” since Unrestival was also a music festival. He wasn’t thrilled about the idea, but Ed had insisted attending could open up a new market for them with the hippie, off-grid crowd. Their company’s goods mostly appealed to the hunting, hardcore survivalist crowd. The fact they couldn’t even bring guns to the event said to him that it wasn’t a place for them to be. They just weren’t his crowd and he knew he wasn’t their cup of tea.

“Kinda what I expected,” Ed said from the passenger’s seat of the extended cab pickup.

David smiled and nodded as he pulled through the gate and headed to their campsite.

“I still can’t believe you’re making me do this,” he said.

Ed grinned. “It’ll be worth it. You’ll have a good time and meet a lot of new friends.” He looked out the window at the people meandering around. “Who knows…you might even meet someone! You need to get out there and start dating again.”

“Son-of-a-bitch!” David barked as a group of people who weren’t paying attention walked out in front of him, having been blocked from his view by a monstrously large art piece until they were right in front of him. “God forbid,” he said, giving Ed a sideways scowl as he continued on once the dirt road was clear.

He noticed the pedestrians walked away laughing and happy while he tried to swallow the knot in his throat and calm the snakes that churned in his stomach. Not only was he nervous about being at the festival, but he was stressed from almost mowing down complete strangers.

Ed chuckled and shook his head.

They drove on.

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Blind Date A Book 2020 – Book #33

The material (chapter) in this post is copyrighted by the author and may not be used or copied in any way without the author’s permission.

 

Chapter 1

 

“Did you sleep at all?” Jon asked, sitting on the bench seat across from Lars at the small dining table beside the kitchenette.

Lars Xanthos turned to Jon Franklin and smiled before he returned his attention to the world beyond their tour buses’ windows.

“No. I’m too excited,” he said, his dark eyes scanning the horizon where the sun was just starting to crest and cast its warming light on the world; it glittered on the surface of the water that could be seen in the distance and on the windows of every building it touched. The world seemed to be alight with the magic of promise, of a new day that held great things.

Jon kept forgetting Lars would be seeing the ocean for the first time, and that he’d never thought he would be alive to do it. He could only imagine how excited he was; the twinkle in Lars’ eyes reminded him of a small child discovering something they loved for the first time. As far as he knew, there were no words that could express the wonderment he thought his friend was experiencing. It warmed his heart to watch. Lars was like a brother to him. They’d grown up together and had been through some rough times together.

Jon, and the band, had a difficult time when Lars was diagnosed with cancer. As the bass player, he was a key member of their band and they’d almost fallen apart complete. Especially when Lars was so sick because of his chemo that he couldn’t even get out of bed. They’d made the hard decision to limit their touring and use an alternate bass player when they had to perform.

Once Lars was in remission and had recovered from the side effects of his treatments, the band had also made a comeback. Now they were on the way to their biggest event ever. It was hard to say if it was the new life Lars’ recovery had breathed into their music, or if it was the excitement of their fans for his return. Honestly, it didn’t matter. They were together again and FLXS was doing great.

Tonight they were performing a concert for a sold out crowd of over nineteen thousand fans at “The Rock” Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. And tomorrow they would be taking a trip to the ocean. Their families were coming by train into Newark Penn Station. They planned to all go together and celebrate being alive in the sand and sun. They were excited to have their families come to visit, since a concert of this magnitude was a dream come true. It seemed to be the perfect time to have everyone together.

“There it is,” said Bob Simmons from behind them as he sat down on the couch that ran six feet along the opposite side of the bus.

They both turned and looked at the newcomer with a smile before focusing on the world beyond the window again.

The tour bus moved along Mulberry Street, exposing them to the grand view of the Prudential Center. The four thousand, eight hundred square foot display—divided into two screens—showed “FLXS” and “Stigmata” in huge, bold lettering over dancing flames.

“Sweet,” Lars said.

“It’s epic,” Jon said in agreement.

“It better be epic,” Jenny said, joining the other members of the band, sitting her tall slender frame down beside Jon, forcing him to move over and give her room. “We didn’t travel all this way for the biggest show of our careers for anything less than epic.”

The guys chuckled their agreement as their eyes darted back and forth, taking in all the sights.

The bus maneuvered around The Rock, heading to their entrance destination.

“Wow, there’s a lot of cars here already,” Bob said, standing to get a better view.

“And fans,” Jenny added, rising up slightly to get a better look around before sitting again.

“Well, I know I always like to get to events early to try and beat the rush, or get a sneak peek of the talent,” Jon said. “And since we’re the talent, we shouldn’t keep our adoring fans waiting.”

They laughed, rose from their seats, and wrestled each other to see who would be the first to get to the small bathroom on the bus to check their appearance. They wanted to look perfect to greet their adoring fans…and the press crews that were coming early to interview them before their performance. From the time they stepped off the bus until the concert was over, they would be going nonstop with interviews, sound checks, a short rehearsal to go over their newest songs once more, and then getting ready for the big event. In between all that, there would be fans, especially those who bought backstage passes and wanted to feel like they were one of the band, or as close as they could be, for the evening.

The three that didn’t make it to the restroom first, sat back down on the couch to wait their turn, continuing to take in the sights.

Cars were already filling the parking areas. There was a line waiting to get into the closest parking garages, and there were people milling about everywhere in FLXS gear. They wore hats, t-shirts, face paint, and wild hairstyles.

The sight brought home what a dream come true it was to have so many fans that wanted to see them perform. It brought home what a big deal tonight would be for them.

The band watched it all with a mixture of nerves and excitement.

This was only the beginning…

***

The bus came to a halt at the entrance Wilson, the bus driver, had been directed to go to when they’d passed through the security gate. But, since the place was huge and there was a lot going on, he wanted to make sure they were indeed in the right place before they started to unload cargo and passengers.

“I’m going to make sure we’re in the right place,” he shouted before he exited through the folding doors. “You guys sit tight until I come back!”

Once he was outside, he pushed a button on a remote he carried to shut them and keep out any desperate fans. He was glad he had when he saw a group spot the bus as they rushed around the corner of the building, screaming.

He darted toward the closest door of the brick building and just made it inside, using the keycard he’d been given by security, before the fans reached him.

Once the door went closed behind him, he sighed. He was glad he’d been at the correct entrance and the keycard had worked.

He went in search of someone who could confirm this is where the band was supposed to be, and where their cargo could be unloaded.

***

“Holy shit!” Jenny said, as she stood and watched the fans run toward the bus. “Wilson barely made it alive.”

Lars laughed. “But will he make it back out in one piece?”

“We’ll see,” Jenny grinned at Lars, her white teeth contrasting with her dark skin.

“Maybe they’ll send security out with him,” Jon said, coming out of the bathroom in time to catch their conversation.

“Maybe,” Lars said.

They stood together at the same window they’d been staring out earlier, looking out on a new sight while Bob took his turn in the bathroom.

Beyond, and about a foot down from the edge of the glass, was a crowd of a little over a hundred adoring fans. They were elbowing and shoving each other, vying for the closest spot and hopefully the bands’ attention. They held handmade signs that read: I LOVE LARS!; JENNY CAN STRUM ME ANYTIME!; POUND ME, BOB!; and JON IS SEXY!

“Intense,” Bob said, coming out of the bathroom to view of the fans.

“Are they biting each other?” Lars asked, pressing up against the window to see the far reaches of the crowd where a fight seemed to have broken out.

The shoving was more intense where he was looking. People weren’t only elbowing, but were grabbing others by the head and practically ripping them off their feet. The victims would disappear for a moment, and a then reappears, struggling with their assailant who seemed to be trying to bite them.

“I can’t tell,” Jon said, squinting at the area. “They’re either biting or having very heated, clipped words with each other.”

“Here comes Wil,” Jenny said, drawing everyone’s attention closer to the goings on close-by the bus. “It looks like Jon was right, he’s coming back with protection.”

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Blind Date A Book 2020 – Book #32

The material (chapter) in this post is copyrighted by the author and may not be used or copied in any way without the author’s permission.

Prologue

The air inside the nightclub was hazy from smoke machines. Flashes of colored light cut through the swirls in beat with the pulsing music that shook the walls and the floor. The atmosphere was alive with movement―a mass of hot, swaying bodies bent on enjoying the moment. A monster waited in the depths of the darkness to bat her pretty eyes at someone and make them her prey.

The door of the establishment swung open to give way to three eager young men looking to have a good time and celebrate. The trio was instantly surrounded by dancing women. They made their way through the press of bodies to reach the bar.

Daniel forced himself not to scan the crowd for his ex-fiancée, April. But she was the least of his worries, as the real danger was a face he wouldn’t recognize.

Roy got their drinks while Hank and Daniel stood at a balcony that overlooked an even larger dance floor below. The smoke was thicker down there, and there were more lights. The dancers looked like they were paying sensual homage to their deity. The air was tainted with the aroma of perfume and alcohol; it burned the men’s nostrils and fueled their excitement for the revelry to come.

Daniel took a moment to text his twin brother, David, to let him know where they would be celebrating their shared birthday. He received a text back from David saying he was still an hour away.
Roy joined them with three shots and three cold bottles of beer, passing one of each to his friends. They downed the shots in one swallow before turning their attention to their beers.

“Dave will be here in an hour or so,” Daniel announced after downing his shot.

“Awesome—we’re gonna have a great time!” Hank yelled over the music.

As Roy took a drink of his beer, a petite, slim blonde grabbed his waist from behind. He jumped in surprise and turned, recognizing the young woman.

She tucked a finger into the front of his jeans, smiled at him, and tugged him away from his friends toward a table with another girl.
Roy looked back over his shoulder at his friends and shrugged.
“That’s Lynn,” Hank yelled to Daniel. “They’ve been seeing each other for a while. And that’s her cousin Trisha—you don’t want to go there.”

Daniel nodded and looked around. The warming effect of the shot was spreading through his body, relaxing him. He felt less paranoid about running into April.

While he was looking over the crowd, a woman caught his eye. She was a tall, slim brunette, and she was beautiful. She was standing alone at the end of the bar. He watched her for a few moments, and when she looked around, their eyes met.

He smiled and looked away.

Hank noticed Daniel’s mild interest. He knew what his friend had been through recently and why he was gun-shy with women.

“Go for it!” he yelled, nudging Daniel. “Have some fun!”

Daniel looked at his friend, took another swallow of beer, glanced at the woman—noticing she was still alone—and shrugged.

Hank laughed and gave Daniel a shove toward the bar, causing him to slam into two people who happened to be walking past. When he turned to them to apologize, he came face to face with the very woman he was hoping not to run into: April. The man she was with was leaning on her with all his weight while she struggled to hold him up.

Daniel’s heart clenched in his chest and his lungs seized up for a moment. He felt his hand tighten around the neck of his beer bottle. He wanted to slam it over the other man’s head, but he managed to restrain himself. He didn’t want her to know how much the sight of her with another man hurt him, so he put on a brave front.

“Excuse the fuck out of me,” he said with a sadistic smile, raised the bottle in the air like he was toasting them, and then took a big swig of the brew. He was pleased with the shocked expression that spread across April’s face at his harsh greeting.

They didn’t say anything to Daniel, but focused back on each other and moved around him and deeper into the establishment.
Daniel glanced over to Hank, who was grinning from ear to ear.
He smiled at his friend, nodded, and forced himself to put one foot in front of the other until he made it over to the woman at the bar.

While he walked he pretended not to notice that April had glanced back at him several times as she guided her drunken man to a table where he could sit down. He was determined to show April she wasn’t the only woman in the world. He was going to prove to himself and her that he was over the breakup.

“Hi, I’m Daniel!” he yelled when he reached the woman, leaning toward her a little so she could hear him as a new song started to play.

“Grace!” she yelled back.

They smiled at each other.

The couple chatted for a while about nothing important, since it was too loud to carry on a serious conversation, and ordered drink after drink as they stood at the bar. Daniel’s emotional tension eased little by little with every drink. He became more and more relaxed, and friendlier and friendlier with Grace. Before he knew what was happening, they were pressed up against each other while they conversed so they could hear each other better.

“Let’s get out of here,” Grace said. She kissed him and reached down between them to rub his crotch.

Normally Daniel would be shocked and uneasy by such a gesture so soon after meeting a woman, but he’d had enough drinks not to care about how respectable she was or wasn’t being.

He nodded in agreement and looked around for his friends, frowning.

“I have to tell my friends I’m leaving,” he said, taking a step away from Grace.

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Grace said, rubbing his crotch again.

“They’ll figure it out. Besides, you can call them later and they can pick you up from my place.”

That sounded reasonable so he followed her out to the parking lot. The night was clear and felt cool after the heat from the population of patrons inside the nightclub.

They stumbled together through the parking lot and paused to make out, pressed against the side of her car for a couple minutes before they finally separated their bodies to get in.

Daniel had the passenger’s side door open and was about to climb inside when his cell phone beeped, notifying him of a text. He stopped, stood up straight beside the car, and pulled his wallet out of his back pocket by mistake. He reached into his other back pocket and extracted his cell phone. He frowned and squinted to focus on the tiny, bright screen that said David was only a block away.

“What are you doing?” Grace asked.

“I can’t go with you,” he said with a sigh. “Sorry. I—”

He felt a sharp pain in the side of his neck. He reached up to figure out what had hurt him and spun around at the same time, dropping his cell phone and wallet to the asphalt parking lot.

Grace was standing behind him holding an empty syringe.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “but you have to come with me.”

He tried to shove her away, but his limbs wouldn’t do what he wanted them to. His legs gave out from beneath him as the world blurred into a black blob of nothing.

***

Grace shoved Daniel’s tall frame into the passenger seat when he started to fall, smacking his head on the door frame. She quickly picked his feet up from the ground and spun him so she could get him all the way into the car.

She heard laughing as a couple made their way through the parking lot a few rows over, so she didn’t take the time to pick up what Daniel had dropped.

Grace shut the passenger door and ran around to the driver’s side of her car. She scanned the parking lot as she pulled out, not seeing anyone close-by. She’d been careful, watching for people as they’d headed outside, but the distant couple had snuck up on them.

Luckily they hadn’t come close enough to see what she was up to. She tensed slightly when she had to pass another vehicle as she pulled from the lot out onto the street, but the man was looking in the opposite direction and didn’t even glance their way.

Once she was out of the parking lot and a couple blocks away, she pulled out her cell phone and called Roger.

“Hey,” she said into the phone. “I have fresh meat…”

 

Chapter One

FBI Agent David McCoy poured himself a measure of whiskey, sat heavily in the leather recliner in his small living room, and loosened his tie. It had been a rough day at work and he knew he had an even rougher night ahead of him. He’d already scheduled a vacation day so he wouldn’t have to go in to work the next day.

He stared at the large stack of case files sitting on his coffee table as he took a gulp of his drink. Tonight of all nights he didn’t want to deal with anything, but it was unavoidable. He knew his mother would be calling soon—she always called him the exact minute he’d been born. He knew what she’d ask and he knew what his reply would be—the same reply he’d given her last year. There was no news.

Daniel’s picture lay on top of the stack of files—the angular face with a huge smile, sparkling gray eyes, and dark hair so much like his own stared back at him from the rectangle of glossy paper. While Daniel’s missing persons file wasn’t the oldest one in the stack, it was the one that had the most relevance to him. He suspected his twin brother had met the same fate as all the others in the pile, but he couldn’t bring himself to tell his mother. All of them had disappeared without a trace…and that usually meant death.

He finished his drink in one large gulp, let his head fall back against the headrest of his chair, and tried to stop the guilt that burned in his soul.

The “should haves” spun through his brain: I should have been on time. I should have been there to protect my brother. I should have tracked the bastards responsible down by now and made them pay. I should be able to give my mom closure.

While he knew nothing was his fault and there was nothing he could have done to protect his brother, he still felt responsible. He was the one who had to answer to their mother. He was the one who was in law enforcement. He was the one who hadn’t come clean and told her that his brother was most likely dead. Hell, he couldn’t help but hope she was right and he was wrong, and that he would somehow find his brother alive.

His cell phone rang. He opened his eyes and glared at it where it sat on the end table beside his chair. He knew who it was. The ring tone was the one he’d assigned for his mother—a series of rising and falling bells. He cleared his throat, sat up, picked up the phone, took a deep breath, and answered it in a forced cheerful tone.

“Hi, Mom,” he said, standing and walking over to where his bottle of whiskey sat on the counter in his tiny kitchen.

He closed his eyes tightly and held his breath, waiting for the moment he knew was coming…

“Happy Birthday!” she said.

“Thank you,” he said, and slowly let out the breath he was holding.

He lifted the bottle of whiskey and poured himself a double.

“Any news about Daniel?”

“No, there’s no news,” he responded.

“Oh, okay…”

He could hear the disappointment in her voice. He could feel the emotional pressure through the phone. He wanted to comfort her, to give her any kind of news he could, but he had nothing to give. “I’ll go over the case again tonight—you know I always do.” He took a large swallow of his drink and laughed bitterly.

“Yes, I know,” she said in a small voice. “I’ll let you go then. I love you.”

“I love you too,” he sighed. “Thanks for calling.”

He was relieved she wanted to end the call so soon. He figured maybe she could sense how stressed he was and didn’t have the emotional energy to deal with him, just like he didn’t have the emotional energy to deal with her.

He hadn’t talked to his mother much since Daniel’s disappearance. And he spoke to her less and less as every year passed that Daniel wasn’t found. He felt bad about the distance that had crept into their relationship—they were both going through this alone. Daniel’s ghost was haunting them both, making them feel lost and worthless because they couldn’t do anything to fill the void in their lives.

With another sigh, he grabbed the bottle and his glass and headed back into the living room to sit down and go through the stack of files sitting on his coffee table. He knew all of them by heart. He’d read them over and over again multiple times. And he felt helpless as the pile kept growing. The problem was, he kept finding old cases, not new ones. They were on people who’d been missing longer than his brother. What he needed—and he knew it—was a break with newer cases. Then he’d have a lead. Then he’d have a trail. Then he’d be able to find the assholes that took his brother and make them pay.
He sat down, picked up Daniel’s picture, and pulled a gold chain with the Lady Justice pendant he always wore out from under his shirt.

He rubbed the pendant between his thumb and first two fingers—it was something he often did when he thought of his brother. Daniel had wrapped the gift and stuck it in his wallet to give him for their birthday. There seemed to be something symbolic about the blindfolded woman holding a sword and scales…he’d received the ultimate symbol of justice the same night his brother had gone missing. It was as if Daniel were calling out to be found, possibly from beyond the grave.

With a heavy sigh, he laid the picture aside, let go of the pendant, and opened Daniel’s file, praying his brother would speak to him and somehow tell him why he’d been missing for so long.

Everything was the same as the last time he’d read it, but still he took the time to go over every word. As he read the file that night came back to him in vivid clarity.

He remembered arriving and calling his brother, only to hear the phone ring in the parking lot.

He remembered finding Daniel’s phone and wallet beside the parking space he’d pulled into.

He remembered the sickening feeling that settled in his gut as he’d picked them up and looked for the vehicle that had to have been in the space.

The phone calls were possibly the worst part for him. He’d called Hank to have him and Roy search for Daniel in the nightclub, just in case. Then he’d called the police; it had been hard to convince them his brother was indeed missing. They’d wanted to wait 24 hours, claiming he’d probably gone home with some woman and would turn up shortly. David’s law enforcement training and his intimate knowledge of his brother told him something was wrong. He’d insisted they look into the matter, which they reluctantly did with a single cruiser a half hour later. Immediately after getting off the phone with the police, he’d called their mother. Her panic and tears when he’d told her Daniel was missing still hung like weights on his soul.

He’d felt responsible then, and he felt responsible now.

After reading the entire file that revealed nothing new, he went on to the next, and the next, and the next. In each and every case the police had been notified that the person had gone missing in less than 24 hours. In each and every case it was against the missing person’s habits to be out of contact with their friends and family. He knew from experience that most people didn’t even realize their loved one was missing for a day or two, especially if they didn’t live with the person who’d gone missing. Spouses and children were usually reported missing the soonest.

He reached the bottom of the stack of case files the same time he reached the bottom of the whiskey bottle. Neither gave him any peace.

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Blind Date A Book 2020 – Book #31

The material (chapter) in this post is copyrighted by the author and may not be used or copied in any way without the author’s permission.

 

Chapter 1

 

The wind blew dust wildly around the group of four men as they rode out of town on their already tired horses, but the men didn’t slow down. They’d robbed the bank and murdered a few citizens during the event. They knew they needed to put as much distance as they could between themselves and the posse that would soon follow; it was worth risking the storm to be free.

Communication was impossible under the conditions. As soon as they opened their mouths to speak, they were filled with the gritty sand blowing freely in the dessert despite the bandanas they’d tied over their noses and mouths.

Cut Throat Bill Thackard – the leader – reined his horse to a halt, and after almost running into him, the other three men in the band of outlaws did the same. Tugging his rope off his horse’s saddle, he tied one end around his saddle horn and tossed it to the man closest to him – Quick Shot Dan Westville.

Getting the idea, they all did the same and tied in another rope when they needed more length.

Now tied together so they wouldn’t lose each other in the storm, Bill once again took the lead, drawing them away from town and toward the canyon where they’d made their camp.

The ride through the windstorm was arduous and the already over labored horses had a hard time making their way, but they made it to their destination without any of them collapsing, to the shock of the men riding.

The outlaws had been living slim and hard for weeks, which was why they’d decided to rob the bank in Bristleton; the money was supposed to help them continue their escape to Mexico. Having broken out of prison, stolen horses, and hidden out in the dessert to evade authorities and bounty hunters, they’d had little food for themselves and nothing for the horses. Even water was scarce, causing exhaustion in man and beast.

Once they were safely in the canyon the assault of the wind abated and they could breathe easier since the natural stone walls shielded them from the gritty sand onslaught.

Bill tugged his now tan bandana off his face and grinned back at the other men.

“Almost clear, boys!” he yelled in a hoarse voice.

The rest of the band each raised a hand in a silent cheer, agreeing with their fearless leader, before tugging down their bandanas as well.

Hugging the red lined sandstone canyon wall, they slowed their exhausted horses to a walk, heading toward where they thought their camp was located; it wasn’t until almost an hour later that they realized they were lost.

“Where da hell are we?” Scofield Sam Cuthburt asked.

“We’re lost,” Mountain Man Matt Lander jeered, and spit a stream of tobacco juice into the sand. “Bill lost his bearings in the dust, me thinks.”

Sam laughed, and joked back, “Not da firs’ time dat’s happened.”

“You know I can hear you, right?” Bill asked, turning to glare at the two men.

They fell silent and wouldn’t meet his gaze. There was a reason Bill was called cut throat. Despite being the best “educated” and “proper” one out of the bunch, he’d killed many men back in the prison for “cutting” on him. He didn’t like to be jeered about or made fun of, and he didn’t let anyone get away with it.

“They’s jus’ tryin’ ta ease some o’ da tension,” Dan said, guiding his mount up beside Bill’s. “We be tired, hungry, and hell, we jus’ robbed a bank. Ya can’t blame a man fo’ needing a little laugh. ‘Sides, being lost ain’t the greatest t’ing fo’ us right now either. Where we supposed ta hide out and res’? Horses can’t take much mo’e. . .”

Bill glared at Sam and Matt for a couple more seconds before facing forward again and surveying the landscape. He couldn’t place any of the landmarks and knew for certain they were lost – he just didn’t want to admit that he’d messed up.

“What we gonna do?” Matt asked, spitting on the ground again. “We be almost outta water and I canna take much more of this grit in me mouth.”

“What’s wrong wit’ a lil bit o’ dessert flavor?” Sam asked, elbowing Matt.

Matt spite again and glared at Sam.

Sam laughed, and teased, “I know, ya’d ratha be in da mountains wit’ all dat clear, col’ air.”

Matt nodded and turned his attention to the two men in front of them, who were now talking quietly amongst themselves.

“What we doin’, boys?” he called out. “That posse is gonna be on our tails as soon as the wind dies down.”

“We knows dat,” Dan threw back over his shoulder, “but dey won’t fin’ a trail so dey won’ knows where we gone – dat’s da good t’ing ‘bout da winds’orm. Da bad part be that we’s now los’ because o’ it and need ta fin’ a place to res’ and hopefully fin’ water.”

“We’re going to search for someplace to hole up,” Bill said, nodding. “There are a bunch of caves in the walls of the canyon. Let’s go see if we can find one to hide in – one that hopefully has a stream running through it.”

“Dat’s no’ as’ing fo’ much,” Sam muttered.

Matt elbowed Sam so hard that he almost fell off his horse.

Sam scowled at Matt, who was grinning broadly.

Dan and Bill spurred their mounts and started down the steep bank between them and the canyon floor; the other two followed close behind.

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Blind Date A Book 2020 – Book #30

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Chapter 1

 

The world is a big place, gigantic actually, but most people don’t realize it. Most people stay close to what’s comfortable and just visit other places once in a while, but they’re never brave enough to make real changes in their lives that expand their world.

I’m never going to be one of those people. I’ve already escaped the small town where I was born and grew up…even though everyone and everything tried to keep me there. I’ve expanded my world to make it bigger than most people, and I’m still stretching it further. I travel when I can, visit every restaurant and bar in town, as well as visit any museum, art gallery, or any other attraction that’s near enough to school that the trip doesn’t risk or hinder my education.

Education is important. Most people would say one of the most important things. Not my father… To him, the farm and farm life was the most important thing. He has never understood me or my brain. I think because thought and knowledge are something invisible, he doesn’t know how to handle them. He’s a man of tangible things. He likes things you can see and touch. He likes things in this world that can be weighed and measured.

I was never one of those things, other than that I was a warm body that had to do his bidding—albeit reluctantly as I grew older—until I was able to escape my father’s farm with my full scholarship. My IQ is off the charts, or so the results of tests tell me. Even through that had been a measure of sorts, my father still didn’t understand it. He didn’t understand why I would want to learn and grow and acquire knowledge when I could have my hands in the dirt…or on the goats he raised. And he seemed to take it personally that I didn’t want to be exactly like him.

I’ll never understand why parents expect their children to be just like them. Just because another human being shares your DNA, it doesn’t mean they’ll be anything like you in anything but appearance. Even then, it’s just a hope. God is the only one who can decide such things, and He made me nothing like my father.

Even my mother doesn’t understand me. She struggled just to make it through high school. But, at least she seemed pleased that I had an expansive intellect. She bought me books and would encourage me even as my father was being hard on me. I don’t know that she did it to encourage my mind… I believe she gave me books because I asked for them and she loved me and wanted me to be happy. So, therefore she gave me the things that made me happy. And no matter our disagreements, I’ll always love her for that.

“Do you want another?” the bartender asked me.

“Uh, yeah,” I answered, looking up from the screen of my cell phone. I pushed the glass across the top of the bar so it would be easier for him to reach as he replaced it with a new, fresh drink. “Thanks.”

I slid the drink closer to me with the help of the fresh napkin he’d placed beneath it, lifted the glass to my lips, took a sip of the bourbon, and set the glass back down without paying much attention. My thoughts were still on my parents. I had four missed calls from my mother, and four voicemails. I’d spent the night at Stella’s place and my phone went dead while I was at school. I’d plugged it in and charged it during my short shift at work. Now I’m scared to listen to the messages. Four calls from my mother was a lot. Usually, she called once a month. If I didn’t answer she would leave a message and I would get back to her when I could. She knew I was busy and would call her back. The fact she’d called so many times in such a short amount of time meant something was up…probably something with Dad.

“You’re looking at that phone like it’s going to blow up in your hand and rip your face off.”

I looked up, startled out of my dread-filled thoughts to see Stella sliding onto the barstool next to me. Her long, wavy auburn hair hung loose over her practically bare shoulders; she favored sundresses during warmer weather.

“Hey, beautiful,” I said, and leaned forward to give her a quick kiss.

She slid her hand up my neck and cupped the back of my head to make sure it wasn’t as quick as I’d intended.

“You coming home with me again tonight?” she asked as we separated.

I grinned. “Maybe.”

“Maybe?” she asked, pretending to be hurt. “Didn’t you have a good time last night?”

“You know I did!” I laughed and held up my phone, growing serious. “It depends on what these messages from my mom are about.”

Stella frowned. “Didn’t she already call you this month? I thought she only called once in a while.”

I nodded and picked up my drink, taking a big gulp before putting it back down. “Yeah, we’ve already had our normal chat. That’s why I’m dreading this.”

The bartender came over and stalled our conversation; Stella ordered a drink. We waited silently until he filled her order and headed off to the other end of the bar to attend to another patron.

“The longer you put it off, the worse it’s gonna be,” Stella said, taking a sip of her drink. “Bite the bullet, get it done, so you don’t work yourself up into an anxious mess.”

“Aw, don’t you want to help me relieve my anxiety?” I teased with a lopsided grin.

She fought it, but a giggle slipped out. She bit her bottom lip and looked me in the eyes, her blue ones dancing with mirth.

I knew she was thinking about last night. We were electric in bed and we were both addicted to each other. We’d been hot and heavy for a couple months. I didn’t know if we were getting serious… She wasn’t showing any signs other than just wanting to have fun, and I knew I wasn’t ready to settle down yet. There was so much of life I still wanted to live. There were still parts of the big world I wanted to see and explore. Granted, we could do it together if we got serious, but we hadn’t known each other long enough for me to know if she was someone I wanted to do everything with. I wasn’t sure there would ever be one woman I wanted to do everything with.

“I wouldn’t mind being your sexual therapist,” she said with a smirk, putting her hand on my knee, “but I doubt you could keep me entertained long enough for a full session if you’re mind’s somewhere else.” She winked, removed her hand, and sipped her drink again.

I snickered, taking a long drink, nearly draining my glass.

“Go to the bathroom, or outside, and listen to the damn messages,” she said, growing serious and leaning over to nudge me with her shoulder. “I’ll be right here after, for whatever.”

I sighed. I had to admit it felt good to know someone would be waiting to share my burden no matter what it was. If there was a burden. I was really starting to stress myself, thinking the calls and messages may be about something sinister and not benign. Maybe Mom was excited about something and wanted to share it with me. Maybe it was good news. I wouldn’t know until I listened to the messages and found out.

I held up my phone, nodded to Stella, stood, and headed for the door of the bar that led out to the sidewalk.

People were coming and going, laughing, talking loudly, and joking. But, even with all the noise around me, I felt like I was in a bubble of solitude.

My hands shook as I dialed my voicemail and punched in my passcode.

I held my phone up to my ear and knew the instant I heard my mom say my name at the beginning of the first message that something was very, very wrong. She was crying so hard I had to close my eyes and plug my other ear with my finger to even halfway make out what she was saying. And it wasn’t until the end of the last message that I got what exactly was going on.

Dad was dead.

She wanted me to come home and help her deal with the funeral, the farm, and everything else.

I deleted the messages and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. My eyes were burning, my throat felt like it was closing off, and my stomach felt like a heavy weight had settled into it, while, at the same time, a giant bat was trying to escape from inside me with frantically flapping wings. I bent over with my hands on my knees, my phone dangling from the fingers of one hand. I closed my eyes and alternated between taking short, quick breaths, and long deep ones until I figured out what made me feel better and settled into that rhythm.

Someone bumped into me from behind, almost knocking me over.

“Damn. Sorry, man, didn’t see you there,” some drunk guy said as he reached out to help keep me on my feet.

I clutched his arms, dropping my phone.

I mumbled something, but if I’d been asked what I’d said with the threat of death hanging over my head I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what it was.

“Oh, shit, sorry,” the guy said again, picking up my cell phone and handing it to me.

I reached out and took it from him, muttering it was okay, vaguely noticing my phone was undamaged from the exchange.

One of his companions said something to him—a young woman.

He said something to her then turned back to me.

“I’m really sorry,” he said. “Are you gonna be okay?”

I nodded. “I’m fine.” I waved him away and turned toward the door and forced myself to put one foot in front of the other to go back to Stella. I had to tell her what had happened, what was going on…if I could.

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Blind Date A Book 2020 – Book #29

The material (chapter) in this post is copyrighted by the author and may not be used or copied in any way without the author’s permission.

 

Chapter 1

 

Something was going to happen. Something big. Something important. I felt it as soon as I woke up. The foreboding almost as tangible as a thing, embracing me with tingling energy and making the hair on the back of neck and arms stand up. I felt that if I could figure out what the elusive “something” was, my brain would feel that little shock one felt when touching something metal after dragging their feet across the carpet; it would be that quick and that painful and painless at the same time.

The energy gave me optimism, not dreed. Having a day of something had to be better than the bland days that seemed to flow into each other as one big snooze-fest of a life.

“Maybe today Brad will notice me,” I muttered to myself as I threw my covers back and climbed out of bed.

I stretched, lifting my arms high above my head, arching my back, and standing on my toes to take full advantage of waking up my joints and muscles for the day. Once I felt sufficiently stretched, I let my body relax again and turned to pull my teal, flower-print bedspread and white sheets up to make my bed.

A glance at the alarm clock on my nightstand told me I had time for a shower before Mom would have breakfast ready.

I headed to my bathroom – my favorite feature of the move to this new house two years ago – stripped, opened the door to the shower stall, turned on the water and adjusted it to just the right temperature, stepped inside, and closed the door behind myself. I let the hot water run over me with a sigh.

While I washed, I once again, for the millionth time, thought about what I would do or say if Brad actually talked to me. He was the hottest boy at school. I wasn’t one of those girls that went all gooey inside over boys, but for some reason, I couldn’t help myself when it came to Brad. He was tall, muscular, and played the guitar. He and his friends had started up their own band last year, but I’d never gotten a chance to go to any of the parties they’d played at – my parents were too strict to let me go to parties. They said I could go when I was older…like thirty.

As I rinsed, I couldn’t help but wonder if the something I was feeling could be him asking me out…and my parents actually letting me go.

I tried not to get my hopes up as I turned off the water, opened the door, stepped out, grabbed a clean towel off the shelf between the shower stall and toilet, and dried off. It was farfetched at best. I mean, I could see the world coming to an end before I could see my parents letting me to go a party or out on a date. But still, a girl could dream.

“What should I wear today?” I said aloud as I hung up the towel and headed out into my bedroom to examine the contents of my closet. “I’m thinking something super cute, just in case.”

Brad’s favorite color seemed to be red. At least, that’s what I’ve observed from far away. The only time I’d ever talked to him was when I accidently bumped into him outside History class. “Uh, sorry,” was all I’d been capable of at the time. He’d just smiled at me and kept on going about his business. Apparently I wasn’t even important enough to stop for.

I pushed that thought away as I chose my newest, best fitting jeans – I called them my lucky jeans. I felt I had to wear lucky jeans on a day something was going to happen, that’s only logical, after all. Then I selected a red, ribbed, form-fitting tank top and a red plaid shirt I’d gotten for the past fall that I hadn’t worn yet.

After selecting a bra and panties and slipping them on, I slid into the jeans, pulled the tank top over my head, and slid my arms into the flannel. It took me a few minutes to decide if I should button the flannel, leave it open, or tie it in the front. I finally decided to tie it in the front.

Since I kinda had the “country girl” vibe going on, I decided my long, dark hair would look best pulled up into a ponytail, so I headed back to the bathroom to blow-dry the damp strands.

Just as I was wrapping the elastic band around my hair for the last time, I heard Mom’s voice downstairs. I couldn’t hear what she said, but I assumed she was calling me down to breakfast, since it was past the time I would normal be down there.

I rushed out into my bedroom, grabbed what I would need for school, and headed out into the hall and downstairs. The house smelled good, like cinnamon baking. That meant Mom had made my favorite oatmeal muffins. Upon reaching the kitchen, I discovered I’d been correct in my assumption. There was a dozen of them sitting on a cooling rack on the center island.

“Muffins!”

Mom turned from the counter by the sink, where she was slicing fresh fruit, and smiled at me.

“Yes, muffins,” she acknowledged. “I hadn’t made them in a while, so I thought you’d enjoy them.”

“You were right,” I said, slid onto one of the bar stools that lined the island, dropped my book bag on the floor at my feet, and grabbed a still warm muffin. I took a bite out of the top. “Mmmm! Did you use white flour and sugar?”

Mom nodded. “Just the way you like them.”

“What’s the special occasion?” I asked, taking the plate of fruit and fork she handed me across the counter.

Mom was a health food nut. She rarely let me have anything she didn’t think was the “best option.” I wasn’t allowed to have white bread. We didn’t eat anything processed if she could help it, and there was an “absolutely no junk food” rule. This led to my terrible addiction to potato chips. My addiction was so bad that my friends stashed chips at their house, knowing I’d go through an entire bag every time I visited. Heck, my best friend, Tiffany, called me “Chips” most of the time as a joke. I don’t know if Mom knew about my addiction…if she did, she hadn’t said anything.

“I wanted to get rid of the ingredients because I’m starting us on a new regiment,” she said, starting to do the few dishes in the sink before enjoying her own fruit breakfast; she never ate the muffins.

“Does Dad know?”

My heart sank at the news that she was going to impose another of her diet regiments on the family. I didn’t like them, but Dad hated them. They always fought when she tried to get controlling about stuff. I knew this evening wasn’t going to be pleasant because of it.

She sighed, put the last dish in the drainer on the counter, shut off the water, picked up the hand-towel from the counter, and turned to face me.

“You know we do these diets for your dad’s health,” she said, looking me in the eye as she dried her hands. “I know he doesn’t like them, but we have to keep his cholesterol down – we don’t want him to have another heart attack.”

That was always her excuse. His cholesterol had been under control for over a year, but still she did this; it was a way for her to feel in control. She always seemed to need to be in control, but after Dad’s heart attack almost three years ago, she’d gotten worse. Even though I could see this in her, she didn’t seem to be capable of seeing it in herself.

I grabbed another muffin after I finished the first, picked up my fork, and alternated bites of muffin with fruit. I ignored the way Mom flinched when I grabbed a third muffin to eat on my way to school.

“See you later,” I called out around a mouthful as I headed out of the kitchen and toward the front door.

“I have yoga today!” she hollered after me.

“Okay!” I yelled before shutting the front door behind myself.

Yoga meant she might not be here when I arrived home. Sometimes she was, sometimes she wasn’t; it depended on the traffic.

The “something” feeling returned as I walked the five blocks to school. The sun was shining, people were out and about doing their morning routines, and everything seemed to be alive with excitement.

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