Sunday, January 6, 2013

Excerpt: Decision Maker (Anniversary of the Veil, Book 2)

I already shared an excerpt from Protector, the first book in my fantasy series Anniversary of the Veil. I also recently released the part 2 of the series, Decision Maker. Here is a little sample from Anniversary of the Veil, Book 2.


She came to meet him as one of them, one of the Lesser beings their leader, Amorannyn, known to the Lessers as Hand of Fate, placed into the weave of the world to amuse them all. Soft, golden colored locks of hair enveloped her face and streamed across her breasts down to her waist. Her bright blue eyes held resolve and a challenge. You will not cause me to change my mind, they seemed to say. Rhyssa's essence filled the lush spring meadow they met in, as it could not all be contained in this Lesser's body she wore.
Her essence called his own to her, just as it had so long ago when they first knew each other, first met in this meadow. How she hoped to live without him, Kraytan couldn't imagine. He willed his own essence to form into the body of a Lesser too. He stood in front of her, his skin dark brown, his legs long and muscled, just like the first men of the world Amorannyn created to amuse them all.
He walked to stand before her, challenge thick in his voice, "Is this how you want me, Rhyssa? Because there is no need to leave me for that wish to come true. All you can have in the Lessers' world can exist here too."
Rhyssa laughed, a sound of birds singing in springtime. She ran her hand along the muscles in his arm, sending sparks all through his body. "You are mimicking a man from the wrong world, Forever Husband. I am bound for the world where the Life Force flows in all, as all were created in our image."
Kraytan pulled his arm out of her grasp and changed into her copy. "So this is what you want? There is no need to tear your essence apart to have your copy, Forever Wife."
She laughed again, then her form disintegrated into pure white light, speckled with gold and silver. Her essence enveloped him, called him to blend with hers.
"Come with me. It will be fun. We will have the power to shape the world, it will not be just boring observation as it is now."
He let go of his own physical form and allowed his essence, red with a hint of yellow and white, to entwine with Rhyssa's. "This is how it should be, forever."
"Forever is a long time and all is always the same here. Do you not want to have some fun, a diversion from all this sameness?" Rhyssa's essence found ways to entwine with his even more tightly.
Kraytan broke the connection and his essence took the form of an essence body, a human shaped being of pure Life Force.
She pulled away from him, once again stood before him as a beautiful golden-haired girl. "I am going. I want to have fun. Please come with me."
"No. Too many things can go wrong with this immature game. I've seen them begin to use their Life Force down there. How long before they realize just how much more of it you, and the rest of you idiots, have to use? How long before something goes wrong?" Kraytan's red essence throbbed and pulsed, burned.
"We are not stupid and there is nothing to worry about. We are the Higher, beings made purely of the Life Force. How could the Lessers ever learn to wield the tiny amount of the Life Force they contain to ever threaten one of us? You worry too much, Kraytan, and you are no fun. When you begin to miss me too much, come after me. If I do not return before then."


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 More about Vanna Smythe-fantasy author:

Read Chapter One--Medicine Man I: The Chief of All Time

I am asked many time who I would have play the main character in a movie.  So here he is: Tatanka Means, just so you can picture him while reading.

Chapter One (Excerpt)
Chance by Design

I parked the Jag in the usual spot, well away from the
trees and the unwelcome contributions the birds always
delivered to the reflective midnight-black paint. The front
bumper blocked the pedestrian crossing; recognized wealth
had its advantages. The police wouldn’t ticket the car. From
the sidewalk, I surveyed the small kiosk before me.

For many years, it had been a concession stand serving
those who frequented Lake Side Park. After undergoing
major renovation, it bore the name Salaam’s Kebabs. Instead
of hotdogs and hamburgers, it would now sell gyros and the
side items to go with them: stuffed grape leaves, Greek
salads, rice, and fries. The park offered a good place to try
out this new venture. On a tour of Europe, I couldn’t get
enough of the sandwiches the European kiosks sold and the
wonderful cucumber sauce, tzatziki, they put on them.

A stiff breeze came in off the lake. I pulled my hair out of
my face and dug in my pocket to find the leather lace I
always kept there and tied it back. My father had worn his
hair in braids his entire life. My grandfather never failed to
point out, as a man of the Niitsitapii, The Real People, my
hair belonged in braids. I no longer lived among The People,
much less on a reservation, so I let mine hang free all the way
to my waist.

Dried leaves, now free from a Wisconsin winter’s snow,
skittered across the red bricks of the patio. The benches wore
fresh coats of gray paint. The tables had new matching
surfaces with closed red and white striped umbrellas
springing from their centers. Things looked ready for the
Memorial Day weekend opening when the park would be full
of holiday revelers. I glanced at my watch. It would be more
than an hour before Carlos, the cook and manager of the
kiosk, showed up. I hated any reference to Indian time so I
always arrived early. In life, there might be time enough for
everything, but I saw nothing wrong with the everything
being on time.

Black storm clouds were piling up in great angry layers on
the horizon. An icy wind whisked across the surface of the
lake and whipped the water into a froth of white-capped
waves. The air felt charged with electrical current and
smelled of freshly thawed earth. It would rain soon; most
likely it would be a true thunder banger. The weekend
forecast called for clear skies and sunshine, but I put little
faith in those weather predictors of Television Station,
WTMQ. They were wrong more than they were right.
Near the edge of the lakefront, barely out of reach of the
waves crashing against the shore, a woman sat on the back of
an olive-drab park bench with her bare feet on the worn seat.

Many people sat the same way. Her lack of shoes struck me
as odd since winter still lingered in the chill breeze. The way
she sat puzzled me the most. Her arms were outstretched
and her palms turned skyward. Her oversized red and black
flannel shirt flapped, scarecrow-like, in the breeze. The gray
watch-cap on her head, with her long black ponytail sticking
out, only added to the strange picture.

The seagulls hovering around her hands dashed in to
snap up whatever food she offered them. Occasionally, a bird
would land on her arm and grab more than its share. She
didn’t move and her arm never wavered, as if the weight of
the large birds meant nothing.

A rolled-up sleeping bag, a bulging backpack, and a pair
of worn men’s work boots, sat under the bench. Great. The
season hadn’t even started and already homeless people were
waiting to raid the trash bins.

A huge wave crashed into the breaker rocks. Momentarily
drowning out all other sounds, it sent a spray of water
several feet into the air. One of the gulls squawked and
screeched. The bench-sitter grasped a completely white gull
around its legs. It beat against her arm with its wings. With
an arched neck, it drove its large sharp beak against the flesh
homeless woman killing the bird and eating it raw.

I extracted my money clip from my pants pocket,
unrolled the bills, and peeled off three fives from the outside.
I placed the ones around the hundreds left inside before I
shoved it back into my pocket. With determined steps, I
made my way to the bench. I would offer the fifteen dollars
in exchange for the trapped bird’s life.

At the bench, despite the bird’s upset screams and pecks,
the woman turned to look at me. I forgot what I wanted to
say. She gazed back at me with startling dark brown eyes,
surrounded by a ring of green, set in a face with cheekbones
as high as my own. She’d been without enough food for some
time judging by the prominence of those bones.

I felt like a boy taken by his first crush. My tongue
wouldn’t work. I just stared at her. Cliché lines came into my
head. I refused to utter any of their nonsense. With her
haunting looks, she’d probably heard them a hundred times
before. For a fleeting moment, a smile tugged at the corners
of her sensuous lips. My ribs felt as if they were constricting
the beating of my heart. She could’ve been some legendary
sprite who wanted to steal a man’s spirit away. The wind
blew in from the lake in a sudden gust that gapped open her
shirt to reveal the curve of a shapely breast. I tried to look

Buy Now at Amazon, B&N, Kobo and Wild child Publishing.


Tell us a little about your upcoming release.
My release is a short story, entitled Father of the Bride? It's a contemporary romance set revolving around a wedding in the Caribbean. The heroine or hero are neither the bride nor the groom.

Can you give us a one-sentence synopsis of your book?
She never expected to see her ex again, but at their son's wedding he's father of the bride.

Where did the idea for the book come from?
I read an article about high school sweathearts who reunited later in life. The first line of Father of the Bride? is almost a direct quote from the woman in the article: You are not supposed to meet the love of your life when you're twelve. For some reason that quote stuck with me.

I had just handed in the manuscript for the second book of my contemporary romantic suspense and was looking for a small project as a break before I started working on the third book. My editor, the incomparable Maggie Johnson, told me about a call for submissions The Wild Rose Press had issued for a new digital anthology it was putting together focusing on weddings and older heroines (not necessarily the bride). The story just fell into place.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I generally write full-length novels (about 90,000 words). This short story clocks in at about 16,000 words and it took me two weeks to complete the first draft. I then spent a month layering and revising it before submitting it to my editor.

If this were a movie, who would you choose to play your hero and heroine?
The tall blond-haired, blue-eyed,
all American Tim Robbins
would be fantastic as David Parker.
Dana Delany would make
a wonderful Penny Malloy.

Can you tell us something else about your book that might pique readers' interest?
I have difficulty writing a straight-up romance. I'm always looking to add some element of suspense or a twist to surprise the reader. Father of the Bride? is no exception.

Father of the Bride? is currently available for Kindle at and will be released to the rest of the world January 23.

The Wild Rose Press:

You can connect with Brenda via her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Eternity - Win a Warming Tart

I want to thank everyone for joining me today.  Here is one last excerpt and a commenter will get to win a warming tart made especially for Lucy in Eternity.

"Why stars?" He retrieved the bottle and poured her some more, staying quiet hoping she would continue to reveal bits of herself.

"Stars are endless, they are sort of like looking at hope."

He stared at her profile.

She let out another laugh, this one heartier than the first. "Right there." She motioned up at the night sky.

"Where?" He leaned over.

"Right there." She put out her finger and leaned toward him as if to show him her perspective.

He moved the basket to the side and slid over, sighing when he finally focused on what she pointed out. "Pisces." The two fish represented Aphrodite and Eros. A few wisps of her hair tickled his face but he didn't move them away.

"Is she your mother?  Are the stories true?"

"Nothing is ever exactly as it seems." He repeated his words from earlier, but appreciated the way she was fluent not only in the stars but the mythology. "Just like Pegasus, there is more than one Cupid. He was the just the most famous."

"Are you a God?" She kept her eyes on the night sky.

"I am what they call an immortal. I work for the Gods." He lowered his voice as to not scare her.

She finished off her wine. "Why is this your last assignment?  Did I break you or something?"

He put his hand over hers. "I was broken way before you were even born."

"What broke you?"

"Every being has wants and needs." He paused. "Sometimes when they go unfulfilled it's hard to keep going."

She looked at her lap. "What happens after you deal with me?"

"It depends on how successful I am." He balled his other hand in a fist. This was not something to put on a human.

"Do you mean how successful I am?"

From one day in her apartment he knew she was not only intelligent, but also insightful. "Something like that."

"What happens if I don't end up with him?" She stared into the empty glass.

"There are things only Gods know. I need to guide you."

She shook her head. "I don't want to think of you down in Hades."

He almost smiled. "Something like that."

"Must be frightening for you," she whispered.

"What do you mean?"

"If you are immortal then you are never really know how or when it will end." She turned her hand over. "Infinite can be as terrifying as finite."

How Woman of Substance came about

In 2011, I participated in the Brenda Novak on-line auction for diabetes. Soul Mate Publishing donated a fifty page critique. When I read, ”Whether you enjoy traditional romance or are searching for stories that push the limits, you'll find what you're looking for. We are NOT the same old thing!” on the webpage, I hoped this would be the place for my manuscript.
My story didn’t quite meet the usual contemporary romance or the women’s fiction guidelines. I watched the bids carefully and won. Therefore diabetes and I were winners.
I submitted my first fifty pages and Ms. Gilbert replied with many helpful suggestions and encouraged me to revise the novel and resubmit because she “got” my story. I cried.
I revised, resubmitted and Ms. Gilbert offered a contract. Woman of Substance became available on 12/12/2012.
Many of the Soul Mate authors have published early in their writing careers. I have not. I worked at the craft and found support through writers groups, published short stories and soon, two novels. Woman of Substance is my second published novel.
My advice to writers is look for opportunities to submit your work, and if a charity wins as well as you. All the better.
Good night and thank you all for coming to the Goddess Fish Party Pavilion. Good night Judy and Marianne.

I can be found at:

Available on Soul Mate Publishing:, Barnes & Noble, Amazon: and Kobo .

Melissa Kendall New Releases

 Fall In Love 
Melissa Kendall

Michael Dunbar runs his family's cattle station in the far north of Western Australia. Station life is lonely and he wishes there was a way he could find a companion that wouldn’t mind living the outback life with him. In hopes of finding a woman, Michael heads to Broome for a few weeks holiday. What he finds is something he never expected.
Mia Mason is a Perth girl who longs to leave the city behind for a life in the country.
Can two like minds fall in love? Only destiny knows.

She Devil
Melissa Kendall

Constance is a Vampire with a heavy appetite, who works as a stripper to find her meals. She is wanton, luscious and wicked—she craves more than just blood.

Benjamin and Jonathon are vampire outcasts who exist by pretending to be as human as possible in order to remain hidden among humanity. When the town they live

Little do they know, the Intruder is one sexy-delicious Vamp. Connie will offer th in starts to report that men are disappearing? They go on the hunt for the Vampire intruder.
 em more than just a hunt… she will pull them into a tryst of sensual heat and naughty thrills.


A big thank you to Marianne and Judy from Goddess Fish for hosting me and the other authors here today. I've enjoyed the various comments and appreciate everyone who has joined us here today. I've also put quite a dent in the Amazon gift card I received for Christmas, having bought a half-dozen of the books spotlighted today (and counting).

I hope you will consider joining me during my Goddess Fish Review Tour from January 7-18, 2013, and comment during the tour for a chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card. Links to the tour stops are as follows:

January 7: DanaSquare
January 8: SnifferWalk
January 8: STOP 2 Harlie's Book Blog
January 9: Maggie's Meanderings
January 10: My Reading Obsession
January 10: STOP 2 Journey with Books
January 11: The Bunny's Review
January 14: Kate Patrick...unlock your fantasies
January 15: My Devotional Thoughts
January 16: Wicked Readings By Tawania
January 17: The Brunette Librarian

Thanks again for joining me here today and please comment before 9 p.m. EST on any of my posts for a chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card. I will pick the winner out of hat just after 9 p.m. EST and post the winner in the comments.
Have a wonderful week!

Away from the Spotlight Synopsis:

In the closing weeks of law school, Shannon Sutherland meets handsome and charming Englishman, Will MacKenzie. Initially swept off her feet, Shannon finds that Will has a secret that, once discovered and the consequences realized, could destroy their fledgling relationship. Will and Shannon take great pains to have a normal relationship but, ultimately, find it impossible to do so. Will the pressures of their careers and the temptations of others drive Will and Shannon apart? Can Will and Shannon live a happy life away from the spotlight?

Tamara Carlisle takes you on a romantic ride that explores the consequences of fame and a love that endures all.

Away from the Spotlight Buy Links:

My Website, Social Media and Other Useful Links:

Seven Vices and the Anniversary of the Veil Series

I shared the seven virtues earlier, so now it’s time to share the vices. It’s only fair that way ;)

Lust: This is something that my main character, Protector Kiyarran, struggles with for much of the story. Though, to be completely fair, his lust is borne entirely out of love. However, lust borne of prohibition has been known to lead to dire occurrences and sad situations, but I don’t want to give too much away.

Gluttony: Kiyarran is always hungry. It has led him to stealing food from the kitchens at the castle and lusting after the serving maids.

Greed: The greed for power and control is one of the main threads in Protector, primarily as concerns the Head Priest Rhaldan and his desire to keep the status quo, and the Priesthood in control, at all cost.

Sloth: This one will come through later in the story, though former Catalysts have been known to waste away their vast potential and skill due to this sin.

Wrath: King Ardnan is a very angry man. He will risk much once his wrath spills over.

Envy: Kiyarran envies those who can still enjoy the blissful ignorance, after he learns the true purpose and role of Protectors of the Realm.

Pride: Kiyarran is quite arrogant and proud of his skills and abilities in the beginning. Also, the Priests, and especially Head Priest Rhaldan are very sure of their superiority, and that it is justified. Because of this conviction Rhaldan will make choices and perform actions not in keeping with his highest purpose of striving towards peace and harmony in the realm. Comeuppance for all the prideful will ensue by the end of the story.


Book 1 and Book 2 of the Anniversary of the Veil series are available now!


 More about Vanna Smythe-fantasy author:

The Healer's Shadow Trilogy

The Healer's Shadow Books

Girl in the Glass first in the series about the young healer, Judith. 
I will have to say it: 'I am Anya and I am nothing'. I will look down at the floor as I say it, so that I don't see the smile on my aunt's face, so she won't see the defiance in my eyes. She will get her victory. She always wins these battles. I know it, she knows it. But one day, one day she will not.

In this Cinderella story for adults there is no fairy godmother and no handsome prince, just a girl of spirit and her strange companion.

Orphaned at the age of 10 in circumstances that she refuses to explain, Anya grows up trapped in the house of her abusive aunt where she and Eva, her Shadow, are treated as slaves. As her aunt tries to break her and the punishments become increasingly life-threatening, Anya struggles to find affection and self-esteem. When the inevitable showdown arrives, where will Anya find the strength to survive and escape? And if she does escape, what then? An arduous walk across an unforgiving desert to a city where an even worse danger lies. 

Available at Amazon: , Kobo, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.

"I had always felt most alive, when I was healing. Without healing I was a tin top spinning out of kilter soon to catch the ground. It took all my energy to hold myself from skidding into chaos."

But in the city of Pharsis traditional women healers are banned from practising and the penalty for breaking the law is death by hanging. After being arrested and interrogated twice Judith is careful to avoid suspicion, but then scarlet fever breaks over the city like a poisonous wave, leaving in its wake the small corpses of children. What will the young healer do?

Love of Shadows is the second novel in The Healer's Shadow trilogy. It is a study in grief, love and defiance.

You can find out more about me on:

Look out for the giveaway on my blog.

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NITA CONROY has relocated to the most boring town on the planet.  That is, until would-be boyfriend  BRAD KEELEY spills the beans about a secret group of girls known as THE DARE CLUB.  During her subterranean initiation below the high school. Nita overhears a plan by contractors and school officials to embezzle millions of dollars in grant money. When she is betrayed, The Dare Club's pranks become deadly serious.

With the clock ticking, Nita will need the help of her new friends to expose the chilling plot--and hopefully survive long enough to snag a date to the Homecoming Dance.


THE DARE CLUB is a group of high school girls drawn together by a love of adventure and an aversion to boredom. The members challenge each other with creative pranks to liven their tedious, small-town. It's all in good fun...until their antics land them in dangerous predicaments. When the chips are down, the girls have only their talents and wits to rely upon, as they struggle to uphold a basic club rule: Don't get caught!

Enjoy our bonus chapter of THE DARE CLUB: NITA! And join us on our review tour this week, thanks to our friends at Goddessfish!

(Chapter One can be found elsewhere on this site--enjoy!)

And remember--THE DARE CLUB: NITA is still on sale for just 99 cents through the end of January on!

Chapter Two

The clock wasn’t moving in Mr. Close’s geometry class. Someone had rigged the hands to read 3:30, though it was only 1:45. Nita watched as the second hand struggled to tick forward, held in place by long strands of pink bubble gum.
She suppressed a smile. Was the Dare Club responsible? She imagined what it would be like to be a member of such a risky, fascinating club. Was the club coed? Brad didn’t seem to be in it, so maybe it was female only. She hoped that was the case. Some girl time would be great, especially since the only one Nita had to talk to at night was her father. Friends, fun, and adventures would make her life at Midville Vocational High bearable—
Which was more than she could say for this geometry class.
Nita loved math and planned to teach someday. Even now, she knew she could do a better job than this guy. Talk about murdering a subject; she felt like she was falling into a coma as he droned on and on about congruent triangles. Whether it was his monotone, or complete lack of enthusiasm for the subject, Nita had to fight to stay conscious. She wasn’t the only one.
A glance over her shoulder showed the rest of her classmates were similarly unimpressed. Some were doing homework in different subjects. Others were doodling in notebooks; the guy in front of her was penciling an elaborate battle between several fighter planes and a dinosaur. A couple of boys near the window had fallen asleep with their heads on their desks.
Nita chanced a look in Taylor Gann’s direction. Ever since the encounter with him and Mille in the lunchroom, she’d started to notice the varsity quarterback, though she wasn’t sure why. Maybe she wanted to see if he was as nasty as his girlfriend. Nita also kept looking for any indication that he had really winked at her, but no signs were forthcoming. He took no more notice of her now than he ever had.
Good looks and popularity were clearly Taylor’s calling cards. Aside from that, he appeared to be the typical slow-witted jock. He stared at the symbols on the blackboard, his mouth drooping slightly, his eyes glazed over. Even in a state of utter incomprehension, there was no denying that Taylor Gann was a very good-looking guy.
Speaking of good-looking guys, she hadn’t seen Brad at lunch since the day she gave him the bracelet. Nita knew where his locker was and made an effort to walk past it every day before classes started. She wanted an excuse to talk to him, find out more about him—and the club. Still, she’d only managed to see him three times in the last week.
The first time she saw him, she chickened out and just nodded her head. The second time he was walking with a group of friends, so Nita scurried in the opposite direction. Yesterday, she’d caught him alone, and worked up enough nerve to asked him for directions to her English teacher’s office.
But Brad was running late for his fifth hour class, so the conversation she’d hoped to have with him was cut short. He could probably tell that she’d invented that excuse just to talk to him. He certainly wasn’t going out of his way to find her, but that didn’t matter.
Even if Brad wasn’t interested in her, she had no intention of giving up on the Dare Club--in spite of the fact that an entire week had gone by and no one had contacted her about joining. Maybe he hadn’t had the opportunity to say anything to his sister about Nita wanting to be in the club.
“Mr. Sutton, Mr. Waterfield, have you set your alarms?” Mr. Close’s raised tone snapped Nita out of her reverie, and jolted one of the students from slumber. However, the one named Waterfield slept on, oblivious to the teacher’s ire.
How much longer could this class be? Finally, in answer to a dozen silent prayers, the bell rang. Nita glanced across the room. Several of the boys, including Taylor, had gathered around the sleeping Waterfield; even the bell hadn’t woken him. They laughed quietly amongst themselves, shushing each other and waiting for the other students to leave.
This wasn’t the first time she’d seen this happen in Mr. Close’s class. It usually ended with one of the boys knocking the sleeper’s elbows out from under him, in hopes that the victim would bang his chin on the desk.
Today they had apparently decided that the thought of Waterfield waking up in an empty classroom—or, better yet, with a completely different class in progress—would be a nice variation on their standard joke.
“Be quiet and get out!” one of the boys urged Nita as he hustled her toward the door.
“Hilarious,” snorted Nita, who nevertheless decided to comply with their request. “So what’s supposed to happen?”
Taylor Gann suddenly appeared beside her. He walked along with Nita as he explained the plan. “Waterfield will wake up and everybody will be gone.”
“Yes, but why are you doing it?”
Taylor was taken aback by what he clearly perceived to be a stupid question. “So we can see his reaction.”
“And what will that be?” Nita asked, as she accompanied Taylor into the hallway.
“He’ll be surprised.”
Nita nodded. “I see.” They continued to walk down the hall. “So you’ll get a good laugh out of seeing his confusion?”
“Yeah! It’ll be a riot!” Taylor seemed pleased that she was getting the idea.
“I’m sure it will be.” Nita put a thoughtful finger to her lips. “But since you left him in the classroom by himself, how will you get to see his reaction?”
Taylor fell silent.
Nita felt a bit guilty for pointing out how asinine the prank was, but then decided he deserved it for having a witch like Mille as a girlfriend.
Speaking of which, Evil Incarnate now approached, stomping toward them with an expression that would kill a cat. Mille was wearing a black camisole and short pink flouncy skirt over shiny white body armor. She looked like a furious ice cream sundae. “Taylor! Where have you been? I got out of class five minutes ago.”
“Nowhere. I’m on my way to Spanish,” he replied.
“With…her?” Mille arched an accusing finger in Nita’s direction.
“No. She’s in my geometry class.” He paused for a moment, but before Nita could respond, he continued, “Your name’s Nita, right?”
He appeared to be proud that he remembered, and Nita was similarly surprised.
“That’s right. We kinda met in the lunchroom last week.” Nita said coolly. “Your girlfriend obviously remembers.”
Mille’s frown deepened. “Taylor, I’d like to talk to you. Alone.”
“Go ahead, Taylor. I wouldn’t want you to be late for Spanish.” Nita dished out the words as if she were granting him permission. The nuance wasn’t lost on Mille, whose gaze turned homicidal.
Boldly, Nita tapped Taylor on the forearm. “I’m sure Waterfield will tell you what happens when he wakes up. That will be almost as funny as being there.”
Taylor’s face brightened. “You’re right. It’ll be really, really funny.”
“See you in class, Taylor!” Nita called. Mille’s glossy lips quivered in rage.
“See ya, Nita.” Taylor waved pleasantly. Nita walked away, smiling to herself. Upsetting Mille was so satisfying. And so easy.
Nita reached the auditorium where study hall was held. The polished hardwood seats were graduated, like in a movie theater. They were lovely, but not very comfortable. She navigated the slight incline, with its treacherous, three-inch-high cascading steps, and took her seat in the back row.
She’d picked the back row to be as far as possible from one particular group of students. They sat on the right side of the room, nearest the windows, and emitted rude remarks and derisive laughter as other students walked into study hall. Nita always tried to hustle in with a crowd so as not to be singled out for special attention. Mille Bertrand probably hung around with them--making them the group Nita wanted to avoid.
Mr. Withers, a chemistry instructor, monitored this study hall. He raced in as soon as the bell rang, not a second before, and always wore a sports team jersey. He’d walk to the front of the class, stretch first to one side, then to the other, and jog in place for a few seconds, making it seem like he’d rather be working out. But his toneless arms and flabby gut said otherwise; Withers was just a typical, middle-aged ex-jock.
On the plus side, he didn’t care what the students did with their time as long as it didn’t interfere with him reading Sports Illustrated. Most of the kids didn’t seem to care either. Few of them actually studied during study hall. It was a like a thirty-minute preview of which ones would be academically successful, and which ones would earn only one diploma in their lives.
True to Nita’s theory, the raven-haired girl who sat next to her usually spent the entire period texting. Texting was not allowed in classrooms. Since they were in the back row, it shouldn’t have been a problem. However, the girl had been nabbed twice in the last two weeks, which was astonishing, considering how little attention Mr. Withers paid to any of them. One more disruption would mean a trip to the principal’s office, he’d warned.
Today, the black-haired girl had a book out and was reading intently. Her lavender fringed purse was wedged tightly between her feet, her cell phone nowhere in sight. Her unusually studious behavior caught Nita’s attention.
Out of the thousand or so students at MVHS, that girl was the only one who ever said hello to Nita on a regular basis. Sad as it seemed, that small gesture made Nita feel good. She wished there was a way for them to get better acquainted, but the girl always left immediately after class. There was never an opportunity to strike up a conversation.
The girl reached down and took a notebook from her book bag; as she did, she carefully re-adjusted the position of her purse, again securing it between her feet. Did she think someone was going to try to steal it? With a highlighter in hand, the girl dove into her homework like a model student.
The class settled in. The room grew silent as students reluctantly gazed at textbooks, or stared ahead toward the empty white board behind Mr. Withers’ desk. Sun spilled in from the south-facing windows. Though Nita was in the upper rows, she could still appreciate its hazy warmth. She’d just started on her history worksheet, when someone screamed from the corner of the room, “What is this? Oh, my God!”
A tall brunette girl wearing a cheerleader’s uniform leapt to her feet, wiping at long brown streaks on her hands and arms. “Help me!” she shrieked. “My uniform!”
With a look of bewilderment, Mr. Withers stood up. “What? Ah, what?”
Everyone stood up to get a look. The cheerleader broke into a hysterical dance, rubbing and swiping at a brown mess that kept growing. Her uniform top was plastered with filthy handprints; the back of her skirt was matted with thick brown clots.
“Help me! Somebody help me!”
“Lauren Wells had an accident!” someone sang out from the back of the room.
Everyone burst into laughter, but suddenly another girl shrieked; she too was covered with streaks of brown. Another shriek. Then another. Two boys stood and rubbed frantically at the disgusting stains on their jeans. One boy was craning his neck to examine his butt, which was now oozing a dark brown liquid.
“They all have diarrhea!”
“Must have had the tuna salad at lunch!”
“Revolting!” Nita laughed. Every student on the right side of the room, nearest the windows, was covered with the flowing brown substance.
“Sit down, everyone,” Mr. Withers shouted, as he made his way toward the goopy students. Nita had no intention of sitting; she wanted to watch like everyone else—
Everyone except the raven-haired girl.
Instead, she calmly took out her phone, snapped a photo, and began texting. Must be documenting the event, Nita mused, but her attention was immediately drawn back to the filth-covered students.
Lauren the cheerleader was crying, wailing loudly over her soiled uniform. Mr. Withers was mingling with the afflicted students, trying to calm everyone down. One student had grabbed his shoulder, leaving globs of crud on Withers’ white Indianapolis Colts jersey.
To Nita, the chaos was epic. At least a dozen of the most popular, meanest students on campus were now spinning manically, twisting and turning, swiping at stains that just kept getting bigger. More students had rushed to their aid, and now those do-gooders were frantically trying to rid themselves of the mysterious goo that seemed to be everywhere. One brave soul put hand to mouth, and a cry went up that the substance was chocolate.
Runny, melted chocolate was extruding everywhere.
The students began to examine their chairs. The dark wood seats had perfectly camouflaged the squishy chocolate bars that had been placed on them. The chairs could be wiped off, the clothing would come clean again, but Lauren Wells might never recover from the humiliation.
“Lauren needs her diaper changed!” someone shouted. “It’s already on YouTube!”
“Epic,” Nita whispered under her breath.
It took several minutes for order to be restored. Mr. Withers excused all of the candy-coated students, while the rest of the class—Nita included—were instructed to remain in their seats.
Mr. Withers began walking up and down each aisle, dabbing at the stains on his shirt, making them larger and more noticeable. “There will be an investigation into this matter,” he said. “And when I find out who is responsible…”
He had just started up Nita’s aisle when the bell rang. The raven-haired girl literally sprang from her seat. As she did, a candy bar bounced from her purse and landed right in Mr. Withers path. Nita heard the sharp intake of breath, and saw the girl’s panicked look. Mr. Withers saw it too, and began weaving up the aisle through a cluster of departing students. For a moment he was buried in the crowd. In that instant, Nita scooped up the candy bar and stuck it in her own backpack.
Then Mr. Withers was there.
His eyes narrowed. “Miss Sandahl, did I just see what I think I saw?”
The raven-haired girl licked her lips nervously. She shot a glance in Nita’s direction. Nita tossed her backpack over her shoulder, shook out her hair to feign nonchalance.
“I don’t know what you saw, Mr. Withers,” Miss Sandahl said, contritely. “All I have is my homework and books.”
“Would you be willing to show me what you have in your purse, or should we take a walk to Mr. Stone’s office?”
Miss Sandahl shrugged and began rummaging through her purse, first removing her cell phone, a makeup case, and a wallet. All the while Mr. Withers wore a smug look of assurance. After sorting through some small items, she flipped her bag upside down and spilled the contents onto her chair. A variety of coins, paper clips, old gum wrappers cast about, but nothing else. Not the thing that Mr. Withers was looking for. His face caved in disappointment.
“Is it okay for me to go now?” Miss Sandahl asked, as she re-stuffed her purse.
Mr. Withers dismissed her with a wave of his hand. As he turned away, Nita noticed a chunky brown blob on the seat of his light blue polyester slacks. The chocolate bar that Mr. Withers was wearing had almonds in it. Perfect.
Nita could barely hold her laughter. She waited and walked out with the dark-haired girl. When they were out of the room, Nita whispered, “I hope you don’t mind that I did that. I thought it would look bad for you having a candy bar, after what happened with the chocolate and all.”
“Oh-my-God.” The girl patted her chest to catch her breath. “You saved my life,” she said breathlessly. “Withers has had it in for me since last fall.”
“I sort of got that idea,” Nita said. “He always seems to catch you texting.”
“Ain’t that the truth? I’m Allie Sandahl.”
“Nita Conroy.”
“Thanks, Nita, and I mean it. One more trip to the principal’s office and I could be suspended.”
“No problem. It’s really not fair that Mr. Withers singles you out like that.”
“Well, I had him for study hall last year.”
Allie said that as if it explained everything. Maybe it did. Nita was going to ask more, but decided against it. When she turned down the main hall and headed toward her locker, she found that Allie was heading in the same direction.
“You’re new here, aren’t you?” asked Allie as they walked.
“Yeah, that’s me. The new girl,” Nita said good-naturedly.
“Sorry. You must get that all the time.”
“Nah, it’s fine.”
Allie’s phone began vibrate. She peered at the incoming caller and silenced it without answering. “Just the ‘ex from hell’ again.”
“I know how that goes.” Nita said it in the spirit of camaraderie, though she had no experience of the kind. “I couldn’t help but notice that you text a lot.”
“You and Mr. Withers both,” Allie said with a chuckle.
“Does your ex keep harassing you?”
When Allie shook her head, her perfectly straight hair swayed side to side like a black silk curtain. “Not really. Mostly my friends and I have been texting about the Olsen Grant.”
She paused and looked at Nita uncertainly. “Oh, wait, you probably don’t know about the vote, do you?”
“I’ve heard about it, but--”
Allie dove into an explanation. “See, this old rich dude left a ton of money to the high school. It has to be used for either a new stadium, or for the Learning Resource Center to give out scholarships. But the cool part is, the students get to decide which they want the most.”
“Very cool.” Nita already knew most of the details, but let Allie continue. She also looked at the girl for the first time. If having an attractive friend helped a person get noticed, having Allie as a pal would propel someone into the spotlight.
Standing at least five foot eight, Allie’s light olive skin was flawless, even without makeup. Nita recognized the brand of her pricey, layered-shirt combo. Her tight jeans were ripped in strategic spots, and she sported a fringed scarf tied low over her hips. In addition, she wore a thick layer of rope, chain, and jeweled bracelets wrapped around her left wrist. Nita hadn’t realized how totally cool Allie dressed. It certainly wasn’t typical of what she’d seen so far in central Illinois.
“There’s going to be this big election, and everyone is trying to sway everyone else’s vote,” Allie continued.
“Wow,” Nita said. “So it’s jocks versus geeks, eh?” She decided to try that analogy again. When they approached her row of lockers, Nita began to slow down.
“You’re so right.” Allie seemed to think about it. “But there are lots more kids who need scholarship money than there are athletes who want a new stadium. Or at least we hope there are,” Allie mused. “And there’s millions and millions of dollars riding on this.”
“Millions, really?”
Allie brushed her hair aside. “Yeah, and my friends and I are going to do all we can to get those scholarships. Whatever it takes.”
Nita thought of Brad’s sister streaking the cafeteria to gain support for the LRC. Lots of students were apparently willing to do whatever it took to sway the voting.
“Looks like you’ve made your decision,” Nita said.
Allie’s laugh was like tinkling glass. “I might change my mind after the game this weekend. Those bleachers are a pain in the ass—literally--so maybe padded seats in a luxury stadium will sound pretty good.”
“Well, keep me informed.” Nita hoped she could keep this new line of communication open. Allie reached in the side compartment of her purse and pulled out a maroon business card, embossed with her name, email, and phone number. In Chicago, only the clubbers had cards like that.
“Sure, Nita. If you’ve got any questions about school or anything, just text me--but not during study hall!”
They laughed, and Nita came to a stop in front of her locker. As she grabbed her lock to spin the combination, Allie stopped for a moment and stood with her.
“Anyway, thanks again, Nita. That was a really brave thing for you to do. If Withers saw you with the chocolate, you could have been blamed for the whole thing.” Allie flashed a dazzling smile, which Nita could only attribute to gratitude. Cool. Picking up that candy bar might have won Nita her first real friend at MVHS.
“I’d tell Mr. Withers to prove it,” Nita said. “Can you imagine what’ll happen when they catch the person who did do it?”
If they catch the person,” Allie corrected, with a laugh. “Never underestimate the doltishness of the faculty.”
“Well, it was really funny,” Nita confided. “Especially all over that cheerleader.”
“That’s Lauren Wells, one of Mille Bertrand’s followers,” Allie sniffed.
If Lauren was anything like Mille, she probably deserved it. But Nita didn’t say it aloud. Anyway, she had to hurry; she still had to suit up for gym class. “It was really nice meeting you, Allie.”
Allie jolted as if she’d forgotten the time. “Yeah, I’ve got to get going myself.” With that, she spun around and was gone.
As it was, gym class also turned out to be entertaining. Cheerleading practice was also during the last period of the day, so Nita had the opportunity to watch Lauren do her “Rah! Rahs!” with chocolate stains all over her.
Better yet, Mille Bertrand also got chocolate on her uniform after forming a human pyramid with Lauren. So it was truly a case of sweet revenge, even though Nita hadn’t initiated the prank, and had no idea who did… Or did she?
Could it have been the Dare Club? If they were responsible, how cool would that be?
While Nita was considering the possibility, Brad and Lindy walked past the glass door in the hallway. Brad glanced into the gym, did a double take when he saw Nita, and raised his hand in a wave. His sister looked at Nita and said something to Brad as they walked past the doorway. At least Lindy now knew that Nita existed.
More importantly, Brad had actually waved at her.
Nita was so surprised, she didn’t think to wave back. By time she did, he was gone. No matter. He had noticed her! Things were looking up. Maybe seeing her would remind him to tell his sister that Nita should be in the club.
Would Nita put smeary chocolate on chairs if she were asked to? She glanced toward the cheerleaders, only to have Mille Bertrand shoot her a hateful look.
Oh, yeah, she would.
After class, Nita left the locker room wondering if she’d ever get a chance to be in the secret club. If Brad had remembered to tell his sister that Nita wanted to join, she might have a chance. After all, a good word from him might go far with Lindy.
Nita dodged groups of stampeding students as they made for the door and their blissful 3:30 freedom. She had to wait for some of her neighbors to get their books out before she could even get near her locker. When the crowd finally thinned, Nita dialed her combination and opened her locker door.
From the mess inside, a manila envelope fell into her hands. Someone had obviously shoved it in through one of the vents. Nita looked around, but no one showed the slightest interest in her find.
Without waiting for privacy, she tore open the envelope. Letters cut from magazines and newspapers were pasted onto a piece of notebook paper. It looked like the ransom notes she’d seen in TV movies, but it was the first time she’d encountered anything like it in real life. Some of the letters had started to peel off, but its message was loud and clear:
Nita’s heart thrilled: Brad had come through for her after all.

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