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Friday Feature

Presents

Two regency romances

by

Emma Lane

New Regency Romance from the incomparable Emma Lane that is destined to be a best seller. A firm believer in love and all things beautiful, Emma has dedicated these two stories to love and lovers everywhere.

A Valentine Masquerade
Two of Ms. Lane’s most interesting characters return in a vignette of mature family romance and affection as Lady Jane discovers the authority of the title, Duchess of Leaver. Romance shimmers with suspicious matchmaking in progress, while a whimsical young viscount creates a hilarious solution to end a perplexing mystery. Into the blissful partnership between Lady Jane and her faux pirate, the Duke of Leaver, an old enemy reappears causing consternation.

A Valentine Surprise
Love is in the air, mysterious adventures and old friendships abound. Which couple solves the mystery of the stolen treasures and who receives a precious necklace of love? A Valentine house party on a country estate creates entertainment for the entire family while cupid works his magic. Romance simmers between the eldest daughter and the young viscount,her handsome suitor. Regency Romance at its finest seduction in Valentine Masquerade.

Emma Lane enjoys leaving her garden for a few hours to dip into the romance genre Regency era of history. Join her for a glimpse of a half selkie fairy as she teases a powerful duke and fights the curse of a lowly, evil warlock. Other Regency romances are available on Amazon and Wild Rose Press. As Janis Lane she writes a series of Cozy Mysteries for Soul Mate Publishing.

Look for information about writing and plants on her new website. Leave a comment or a gardening question and put a smile on Emma’s face.

Stay connected to Emma on Facebook and Twitter.

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Friday Features’

Guest is in the hot seat

discussing his three novels

with

Ellen from ItsWireNow.com.


The year is 1671. René Gilbert’s destiny glints from the blade of a slashing rapier. The only way he can protect those he loves is to regain the power and knowledge of an ancient lifetime. From Bordeaux to Spain to Morocco, René is tested and with each turn of fate he gathers enemies and allies, slowly reclaiming the knowledge and power

To uncover the truths and secrets awaiting in Morocco, Elliot Baker has kindly returned to ItsWriteNow.com for the third time to chat about The Sun God’s Heir: Return. I love seeing authors progress with their writing careers, so I’m glad you’ve taken a few minutes out of your busy schedule to chat with me. What’s been going on since we last caught up in September 2017 with The Sun God’s Heir?

The novel has won a couple of contests which is a hoot. Book one has remained in Amazon’s top 10 Free books in its primary category of Sea Adventures and in the top 20 in Historical and Fantasy since its launch in January of 2016. It has enjoyed over 27,000 downloads.

That’s fantastic news! What a great testament to the quality of your work. With fantastic feedback from both contests and the reading public, I’m sure you’ve had great motivation to keep yourself working hard. What have you been up since September?
Exploring the strange and challenging world of book marketing. Does a tree make a sound when it falls in the woods if no one is there to hear it? I’d like to thank the readers of The Sun God’s Heir for listening. I am also beginning to write the next book continuing with these characters only in other lives and time periods.

I’m eager to hear about your new book, and I’m sure the readers are too, but first let’s chat about that strange world of book marketing. What have you been doing with marketing? Have you been using social media or your own site to kick things off?
I am slowly learning the ropes. I’ve been a member of Instagram since my start, but will soon begin to inhabit the page. A picture is definitely worth a thousand words. I had a graphic artist render René and Akeefa and the drawing of Akeefa is very close to the picture in my head. Who knows. She may show up. Hard to decide whether to leave people’s images of my characters alone or share mine. If you want to see what she looks like in my head, or think I should put the image up on Instagram, use the contact form on my website and let me know.

That is a tricky one. Pictures of the characters are great and can look fantastic, but some readers do get disappointed when the pictures don’t match what’s in their head. Personally, I think it’s a great idea to show a little taste of how you see life in your books. Are these characters in your mind when you write?
I keep my mind as open as I can. I don’t think my characters are alive, but their patterns, which I’ve thought about a lot, are. If I’m open to it, the pattern makes a raspberry sound in my mind when I consider having the character do something contrary to their pattern. There is always the overarching ‘why.’

As a reader, you always hope there is an overarching why. Looking back on it, what do you think was the greatest why or what you want readers to take from your characters?
The accumulation of power will not bring you joy. It will not even bring you security and the escape from that which you fear. Fear and its manifestation, anger does not lead to joy which is the only reason to play this game. Good thing we get to choose.

Indeed we do. Was the exploration of these ideas of power, security, fear and joy what you had in your mind when you first started writing or did you have another target that you were working towards?
There are three books in the Sun God’s Heir trilogy. I had a general idea of how I wanted to finish, but the actual story of the main characters did not present itself until near the end of the writing. I had a couple of what if it doesn’t moments, but for the most part, (I don’t know why) I was confident that it would show up. I’m very pleased with the ending. After you’ve read over eleven hundred pages, the ending better be satisfying.

There’s nothing worse as a reader or writer than to be emotionally invested in a story, and finally get to the end and find that it is rubbish. What steps did you take to make sure your endings were satisfying? Did you bring in elements from your life to make the overall story solid?
Writing is a funny thing. We all enter the zone. Olympic athletes train to do it. So do yogis. Most of the time it’s unconscious and fleeting and we’re not even aware we passed through the state. A writer or musician or artist experiences the zone after a time of concentration. Stuff comes out that seems to be better or beyond what the writer or musician feels capable of. I think that we touch our subconscious and download patterns that we’ve unconsciously put together. The output seems brighter and though we take credit for it, we are always a little dubious of our ability to have created it. There are characters in The Sun God’s Heir from whom I learn as they speak. One of my greatest motivations to write is to get them to speak so I can listen. Sounds pretentious, but I’m glad for the help.

I’m glad you found satisfaction reaching the end, but do you have the same satisfaction at the beginning. What was the original idea behind your book that you wanted to continue to explore until you were fully satisfied?
The Sun God’s Heir began with a remembered dream. Like most folks, I don’t remember dreaming that often, but this one morning, I carried the dream into waking consciousness. It wasn’t the whole story, but there was the protagonist and antagonist as well as the germ of the story and the setting. The story stayed with me and refused to go away until years later, with the help of NANOWRIMO, I began to write it down.

Other than trying to conquer the challenge of NANOWRIMO, why do you write?
The easiest answer and the most trite is because I can. A great joy for me in reading a story is when I am transported somewhere else for a few minutes. When I come back to this reality, to my chair, I feel nothing so much as gratitude to the writer for having helped me take a break from the stress of this life. Often I feel recharged with the emotional energy from the scene or story. I wanted to do that. There is nothing so sweet as when someone tells me in so many words that they went somewhere for a few minutes.

Do you feel that your author voice or writing, in general, has progressed as you’ve continued to practice your craft?
We all have a voice in our heads. And we all have stories to tell. The trick is to stay seated long enough to access our authentic voice. Takes time and patience. Unfortunately it also often takes a support system to give the writer the energy that can’t be found in the moment. Just like listening to yourself in a tape recorder, you are often less than excited by the sound of your own voice. Stay with it.

The publishing process is fairly straight-forward if you set up your work well in the first place, which means that you can spend more time on what matters. The content. And speaking about content and deciding what you want, what are you working on at the moment?
Research for the next series of novels.

It sounds like early days. At the beginning stage of a new project, you must be asking yourself a lot of questions. I’m going to ask you a few questions that you may not have considered when you’ve been busy beavering away. But you never know, your book might be better from answering a question like, if you’re in a vehicle going the speed of light, what happens when you turn on the headlights?
You run into less stuff.

Always advantageous when driving. Continuing onto the advantages, why is lemon juice made with artificial flavour, and dishwashing liquid made with real lemons?
Because the paradoxes of life are what make it fun.

You gotta love those paradoxes. Looking back on the Sun God’s Heir, what was your biggest learning experience?
It ain’t over till it’s over.

Elliott, I’m so glad that the door has already opened for your writing career, but I hope that you are able to open it wider and have so much more fun and success with it!
Thanks, Ellen, I really do appreciate your support.

BUY LINKS
The Sun God’s Heir RETURN Book One FREE on Amazon
The Sun God’s Heir REBIRTH Amazon
The Sun God’s Heir REDEMPTION Book Three Amazon

Award winning novelist and international playwright Elliott Baker grew up in Jacksonville, Florida. With four musicals and one play published and performed throughout the United States, New Zealand, Portugal, England, and Canada, Elliott has turned to writing novels. His debut novel, The Sun God’s Heir: Return, Book One of the trilogy, was released this past January and Rebirth, Book Two released in May.

A member of the Authors Guild and the Dramatists Guild, Elliott lives in New Hampshire with his beautiful wife Sally Ann.

Learn more about Elliot Baker on his website. Stay connected on Twitter and Facebook. Like Elliott’s Author Page on Facebook to learn all his latest news.

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Friday Features’

Guest talks about

Heart Surgery Romance

by

Sarah Daniel

Write what you know, they say. But what happens when you’re a romance author and congenital heart defects and their repair surgeries are what you know?

You end up accidentally creating your own heart surgery romance niche.

To be clear, the books I’ve written that involved heart surgery aren’t a series and don’t have much in common at first glance.

Captivating the CEO is an all-in serious look at a woman facing her own mortality, daily health struggles and—yes—open heart surgery. A Model Hero is a story of derailed dreams and post-surgery body image struggles. At the other end of the spectrum, Once Upon a Marriage is a romantic comedy based on an obscure fairy tale, where the heroine’s uncle receives a heart transplant…from a pig!

I’m not a heart expert, but when I write about heart defects and heart surgery it comes from a place of deep emotion, personal turmoil and love. No matter how many times I reread Willow’s surgery updates in Captivating the CEO, I cry because it is real and raw for me.

I don’t expect congenital heart defect romances or heart surgery romances will ever become a trending or sought-after genre, and that’s just fine with me. I only want to read the stories that come from a place of authenticity and love.

~Sara

He’s all about the future. She might not have one…

When live-for-the-moment massage therapist Willow Jeffries bursts into Colin Vanderhayden’s office, she makes it her mission to loosen up the future-focused CEO, knowing each moment of the present is too precious to waste. Despite her immediate attraction, the only future she can offer is one full of heartache.

The last thing Colin needs is a flighty woman messing up his carefully-constructed plans, but her heavenly massages and addictive personality prove hard to resist. But he has no idea how sick she is.

No longer able to ignore her life-threatening medical condition, Willow slips away to spare Colin a miserable future with her. Is Colin willing to sacrifice his well-laid future plans to get Willow back?

BUY LINKS
AmazonBarnes & NobleiTunesKobo

AUDIO VERSION – Narrated by Nina Price
AmazonAudibleiTunes

Sara Daniel writes what she loves to read—irresistible romance, from sweet to erotic and everything in between. She battles a serious NASCAR addiction, was once a landlord of two uninvited squirrels, and loses her car keys several times a day.

Learn more about Sara on her website and blog. Subscribe to Sara’s newsletter.

Stay connected on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

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Friday Features’

Author

Rebecca E. Neely

Talks about her

CROSSING REALMS paranormal romance series

The CROSSING REALMS paranormal romance series by Rebecca E. Neely ~ Sacrifice or salvation? A chosen psychic few may be both. As Keepers battle Betrayers to save the human race, all’s not fair in love and war.

THE KEEPER, Book 1 – A tortured leader of human guardians must join forces with the one woman in the city who can save his clan from destruction: an anxious – and psychic – accountant who has no memory of him. http://amzn.to/2fOZEIC .

THE WATCHER, Book 2 – Can a Keeper hell bent on avenging his own death find the answers the clan so desperately needs in the seven days he’s been given, or will he be forced to abandon the woman he loves and his clan, leaving them all to face imminent destruction? http://amzn.to/2j1ethN.

THE BETRAYER, Book 3 – Can a Betrayer with a mysterious ability, ousted by her brood and left for dead, fight alongside the Keeper who saves her—and falls for her—in the throes of the second rebellion, or will she forsake herself and the man she loves as the clan wages what may be its final battle to save the human race?

Welcome to my world, er…realm!

SOME JARGON TO GET YOU ACQUAINTED

WATCHERS – Beings that exist in their own realm, guiding and guarding the Keepers through missions called Compulsions.

KEEPERS – ‘close to human as you can get’ beings who guard humans, live in the human realm and exude and exist on light energy.

BETRAYERS – Keepers turned bad. Banished from the Watchers’ realm after the Rebellion, they too live in the human realm, wreaking havoc on humans, from which they harvest dark energy to feed on.

VITALITY STONE – a bright green stone hewn from the Watchers’ realm that gives the Keepers their amazing powers, and defends against Betrayers dark energy…

SIMILITUDE STONE – The antithesis of Vitality stone, this deadly black stone is a conduit for dark energy that enables Betrayers to drain Keepers’ energy…

The Geary clan of Keepers lives and works in Pittsburgh, PA as carpenters. They’re almost exactly what they appear to be: blue collar Irish Catholics, born and bred in the ‘Burgh. Their M.O.? Humans forget their interaction with them, so they’re able to go about their Compulsions more easily…

The Pittsburgh brood of Betrayers lives in the recesses of the city, and can be found wherever human pain, violence and suffering exists…

SOME CHARACTERS YOU’LL MEET ALONG THE WAY

Haenus Vickery – brood master of the Betrayers, who’s hell bent on destroying both humans and Keepers, and reclaiming the Watchers’ realm as his own…

Nick Geary – Jaded clan leader of the Keepers, who seems doomed to love a human woman who’s forgotten him, time after time, for thirteen years…

Libby Klink – a skittish accountant who’s as terrified of her recent and strange intuitions as she is of her mundane existence…

Dev Geary – a former Keeper, hell bent on avenging his own death…

Meda Gabriel – a cagey, street smart bar owner with a unique skill set…

Curtis Geary – A Keeper/computer guru whose neat, logical world is about to tilt on its axis…

Jordan – A Betrayer with a mysterious ability, ousted by her brood and left for dead…

Tan – Meda’s German Shepherd, a rescue who’s got an uncanny sense about people…

TATTOO, MOTORCYCLE OR GERMAN SHEPHERD FAN? I also blog about cool stuff from each story. I invite you to stop by and have a read. https://rebeccaneelysite.wordpress.com/.

THE KEEPER, Book 1 in the series, is a finalist for the RONE award for Best Paranormal short, sponsored by InD’Tale Magazine.

Both Book 1 and THE WATCHER, Book 2 are out now and available in Kindle and print, on Amazon.

Stay tuned for news about THE BETRAYER, Crossing Realms Series Book 3. My Street Team will have an opportunity to read it before anyone else does – JOIN NOW!.

REBECCA E. NEELY, AUTHOR ~ Romance. Paranormal. Suspense.

A sucker for a happy ending, Rebecca strives to write the kind of stories she loves to read—gritty, suspenseful and featuring authentic, edgy and vulnerable characters, smack dab in the middle of action that explodes from page one.

Careers, past and present, include freelance writing, accounting, mother, problem solver, doer and head bottle washer.

Rebecca is a member of Three Rivers Romance Writers (TRRW), a PAN member of Romance Writers of America (RWA), and is proud to serve as a judge for several writing contests each year.

CONNECT WITH REBECCA

Website
Blog
Mailing List
Facebook
Twitter
Amazon
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Friday Features’

Guest talks about

Easy Vegan Fruit Cake

by

Carol Browne

We Brits love our traditions, especially at Christmas when plum puddings or fruit cakes grace the tables after a hearty meal. Many times the lady of the house serves both cakes. That is a great deal of work for her. In the Browne household we are partial to the fruit cake I’m sharing with you today. I hope you enjoy it.

Easy Vegan Fruit Cake

1½ lbs (675g) mixed sultanas and currants
¾ pint (450ml) water
¼ pint (150ml) vegetable oil
12oz. (350g) 100% self-rising wholemeal flour
2oz. (50g) blanched almonds, chopped
1 tbsp. molasses/black treacle
2 tsp. grated lemon rind
2 tsp. ground mixed spice
3oz. (75g) brown sugar
3 tbsp. sherry or rum (optional)

Preheat oven 150C – 300° F – Mark 2

Grease and line a 7 ½ inch (19cm) round cake tin.

Place all the ingredients (except the sherry) in a basin and beat well until evenly mixed. Pour into the prepared tin.

Bake about two hours or until the cake rises and is firm to the touch. Allow to cool slightly in the tin, then spoon sherry over the top and leave in the tin until completely cold.

This cake doesn’t keep for very long. There are two reasons for this! The lack of fat in the recipe is one. The fact that it is delicious and you won’t be able to leave it alone is another. But the cake does freeze extremely well if you do want to save some for another day!

How about curling up with an epic fantasy while your cake is baking?

Elgiva, a young elf banished from Elvendom, must seek shelter among the Saxons as her only hope of surviving the coming winter.

Godwin, a Briton enslaved by the Saxons, is a man ignorant of his own inheritance and the secret of power he possesses.

A mysterious enemy, who will stop at nothing to wield absolute power over Elvendom, is about to make his move.

When destiny throws Elgiva and Godwin together, they embark upon the quest for the legendary Lorestone, the only thing that can save Elvendom from the evil that threatens to destroy it.

There is help to be found along the way from a petulant pony and a timid elf boy but, as the strength of their adversary grows, can Elgiva’s friends help her to find the Lorestone before it falls into the wrong hands?

EXCERPT
The night was waning when Elgiva woke, wondering where she was. The dark ceiling of Joskin’s cave hung above her, and everything had a reddish glow, cast by the embers of the fire. She slid from under the fur coverlet, her skin tightening at the loss of its warmth, and searched for her leather sandals.

Something had woken her, something that waited outside the cave. A runnel of dread ran down her spine.

She had an inexplicable sense of impending danger, but it was too insistent to ignore. An unnamed instinct stopped her from alerting her companions. She must face this menace alone.

She left the cave as quietly as she could. Her heart pounded in her throat as she peered between the rowan trees and searched the night. Whatever had awakened her, it beckoned. She held her breath and listened, but her ears detected nothing, save for a silence as dark and empty as an abandoned crypt.

It would soon be daybreak, but the sun had yet to rise, and the dark beyond the cave swarmed with potential horrors. She stepped out from among the rowans, relying on her acute senses to make out her surroundings. An unnatural calm gripped the night and as her sandals whispered against the cold grass, they sounded abnormally loud. She feared they would betray her presence.

After a while, she came to a stop and searched the trees. Thin strands of mist curled along the ground, cold and clammy, like an exhalation of sickness.

She hugged her shoulders, knotted her fingers in the cascade of her hair, and shivered in her ragged robe. All around her, the silence seemed to be drawing into focus.

“Who is it?” Her throat was too dry for her purpose. She swallowed and licked her lips. “Who’s there? I know you’re there. I can . . . I can feel you!”

Feel you.

A flash of silver sliced through the dark, and Elgiva gasped in fear. Her arms came up to shield her face as the beam struck a rock several yards ahead. It exploded with a whoosh and sent up thousands of splinters of light, which fell to the ground and sizzled in the mist.

A shape now stood upon the rock, its form concealed in a black, hooded cloak.

Elgiva clutched the amulet to her breast. Her hands were white with terror. “In the name of Faine, who are you? What sort of trick is this?”

A soft, sly voice spoke back to her. “Why should you fear magic?”

“What do you want?” she pleaded, her voice a croak of fear.

“To see for myself.”

“To see what?”

The dark shape sniggered, but made no answer. Instead, it swept its cloak aside, and a cloud of sparks flew out and covered the ground with beads of light.

Elgiva stepped back unsteadily, resolved to flee.

“Stay!” commanded the creature.

It raised a skeletal hand, and the forefinger swung towards Elgiva and pinned her against the darkness, holding her like a rivet of bone. No elf, no wilthkin, ever owned such a hand. Her legs threatened to buckle beneath her. This had to be a nightmare; she was still asleep in the cave. But no, it was all too real.

“Who are you? What do you want?” she cried. “I have . . . I have an amulet!”

The creature laughed derisively. “I am Death, and I have come for you.”

It began to radiate a sickly green light, enveloping itself in a caul of brilliance that pulsated with force. The light grew in size until the trees behind it were bathed in its angry glare. It reached for Elgiva, like a foul stench creeping along a breeze, and she was helpless. The creature’s power throbbed in the darkness.

Within the taut coils of her fear, her instincts screamed at her to run, but her limbs had turned to stone.

Siriol, Siriol, help me . . . help . . .

With a shriek of glee, the creature increased the throb of its power. Elgiva’s mind was suddenly invaded by an inexplicable force. She became divorced from herself and watched from a great distance, waiting for the horror to unfold.

Born in Stafford in the UK, Carol Browne was raised in Crewe, Cheshire, which she thinks of as her home town. Interested in reading and writing at an early age, Carol pursued her passions at Nottingham University and was awarded an honours degree in English Language and Literature. Now living and working in the Cambridgeshire countryside, Carol usually writes fiction and is a contracted author at Burning Willow Press. Being Krystyna, published by Dilliebooks on 11th November, 2016, is her first non-fiction book.

Stay connected with Carol on her website and blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

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Friday Features’

Guest talks about

a perfect sweet for the holidays or any time of the year the desire for something sweet and cool strikes your fancy

from

Vonnie Hughes

COCONUT ICE

Taryn Navarro on Unsplash.com

3 breakfast cups (mugs) of white sugar
1 ounce of butter
¾ breakfast cup (mug) of desiccated coconut*
½ breakfast cup (mug) of milk
Pinch of salt
Coloring if wanted

Put all the ingredients, except the coloring, into a saucepan and boil for 10 minutes.

Add coloring.

Beat until thick. This won’t take long, it sets quickly.

Pour into a greased tin and mark into squares.

* Dried coconut may substitute if desiccated isn’t available.

Here is a peek at Vonnie’s latest romantic suspense.

Who can you trust if you can’t trust your own mother? Through the clammy fog, Celie Francis hears the chilling message. “I know who you are, Celie. I know where you live.” And in the terrifying aftermath she reconnects with her dysfunctional family in ways she had never imagined.

BLURB:
Abused and abandoned as a child, Célie Francis knows better than to trust anyone. But after she witnesses a murder, she’s placed in the Unit “New Zealand’s witness protection program” where she’s expected to trust strangers with her life.

It’s psychologist Brand Turner’s job to ease witnesses into their new identities, not to protect them, but Célie stirs feelings in him that are far from professional. When it appears someone is leaking critical information that could endanger Célie, Brand will do anything to protect her. But first he has to convince her to trust him.

Adrift in a frightening world, Célie would like to believe the handsome psychologist is everything he seems, but as witnesses are murdered and danger swirls around them, Célie must decide “can she trust Brand with her life? 

Please click a vendor’s name to read more from Lethal Refuge The Wild Rose Press and Amazon.

Vonnie Hughes is a multi-published author in both Regency books and contemporary suspense. She loves the intricacies of the social rules of the Regency period and the far-ranging consequences of the Napoleonic Code. And with suspense she has free rein to explore forensic matters and the strong convolutions of the human mind. Like many writers, some days she hates the whole process, but somehow she just cannot let it go.

Vonnie was born in New Zealand, but she and her husband now live happily in Australia. If you visit Hamilton Gardens in New Zealand be sure to stroll through the Japanese Garden. These is a bronze plaque engraved with a haiku describing the peacefulness of that environment. The poem was written by Vonnie.

All of Vonnie’s books are available on The Wild Rose Press and Amazon.

Learn more about Vonnie Hughes on her website and blog. Stay connected on Facebook and Goodreads.

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Friday Features’

Guest talks about

When Good Yeast Goes Bad, It’s Time for Dessert!

by

Chris Pavesic

In baking, the primary function of yeast is to make dough rise. By partially consuming the sugars in the flour the natural metabolism of these microorganisms produces carbon dioxide and ethanol that cause an increase in volume during baking.

Yet yeast can get old. If it is exposed to air or humidity, it may not function correctly. Even a bread machine cannot produce a light, fluffy loaf if the yeast has “gone bad.”

But the loaf is still edible, if somewhat “heavy” or “dense.” It might be a bit misshapen, but it generally tastes good. So what can someone do with a lumpy loaf?

Bread puddings are a great way to transform the unfortunate loaf into a delicious dessert. Add some chocolate and fruit and suddenly the lumpy loaf is the star of the meal!

Note: This can also be prepared with a regular loaf of bread, but it won’t provide as much humor.

BREAD PUDDING

5 large eggs
¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar
3 cups milk
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 loaf of bread (about 10 ounces) cut or torn into 1-inch cubes
1½ cups dried fruit (my family loves blueberries or cherries.)
9 oz. bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Mix eggs, brown sugar, milk, and vanilla extract in a large bowl. Add handfuls of bread cubes, fruit, and chocolate chips in alternating layers, stirring with each addition.

Now it’s time to get busy. Roll up your sleeves and mix everything together. You want to get some of that flavorful liquid onto every scrap of bread. The mix may seem a little dry. Resist the urge to drown it in more milk or you will end up with a soggy dessert.

Coat a 13 x 9 inch baking dish with butter. Press the mixture into the pan. If you like a dense, heavy bread pudding, keep pressing until there is no air left. If you prefer yours fluffier, just pile it in and spread it around.

Bake uncovered for 45-55 minutes. The top will become a wonderful crunchy brown while the middle stays moist.

Be careful when you remove the pudding from the oven. It’s easy to pick away at the entire dish—whether you are going after a piece of the crusty top, a chewy berry, or a melting chunk of chocolate.

While you indulge in this fantastic dessert, enjoy a brief glimpse into my new novel, Starter Zone.

When hydrologists inscribe the consciousness of a human mind onto a single drop of water, a Revelation sweeps the land. The wealthy race to upload their minds into self-contained virtual realities nicknamed Aquariums. In these containers people achieve every hope, dream, and desire. But governments wage war for control of the technology. Terrorist attacks cause massive destruction. The Aquariums fail. Inscribed human minds leech into the water cycle, wreaking havoc.

Street gangs rule the cities in the three years since the fall of civilization. Sixteen-year-old Cami and her younger sister Alby struggle to survive. Every drop of untreated water puts their lives in peril. Caught and imprisoned by soldiers who plan to sell them into slavery, Cami will do anything to escape and rescue her sister. Even if it means leaving the real word for a life in the realms, a new game-like reality created by the hydrologists for the chosen few.

But life in the realms isn’t as simple as it seems. Magic, combat, gear scores, quests, and dungeons are all puzzles to be solved as the sisters navigate their new surroundings. And they encounter more dangerous enemies than any they faced in the real world.

Time to play the game.

CHAPTER ONE
As the sun hovers near the horizon, ready to dip below and plunge the world into darkness, the weather changes for the worse. Clouds gather. Peeking out my window and over the outline of rooftops in the distance is what looks like thunderheads moving toward me in the invisible polluted gusts of wind.

I try not to think about the coming storm as I methodically pull on my boots and zip up my jacket. It is supposed to be waterproof, but I would not risk going out in anything above a light drizzle. Water has a way of seeping through even the best defenses. There’s also a lining that’s overly warm for a summer evening. I’m already sweating and the discomfort adds to my nerves.

I check the hunting knife strapped to my left leg. It was one of the first weapons purchased for me by my dad back when the sporting goods stores were still open for business. He didn’t think I was ready to handle a handgun at thirteen, but he taught me to shoot a rifle in the open fields by our house, helping me hold the weapon steady until I grew strong enough to support the weight. Now, three years later, I have a handgun, a Ruger semi-automatic, but bullets are scarce and loud noises are problematic. My small ammo stash sits in the bottom of my backpack next to the gun.

Instead of the gun, I carry an extra-light crossbow as my go-to weapon. I can hand-make the bolts so I don’t worry about running out of ammunition and the shot is relatively silent. I carry the spare bolts in a quiver strapped to my right leg. It’s awkward when running, but I can draw the bolts fast when needed.

My little sister, Alby, has loaded her own backpack. I lift it to test the weight and then pull a few things out. I place them in my own pack without comment. I help her position the lighter pack over her shoulders, tightening the straps so that it will stay balanced. She always tries to do more than she should, but I don’t like the way her face has a perpetual pinched, strained look or the deep shadows under her eyes. She looks far older than her seven years. This scares me more than everything else and that fear threatens to register on my face. I force myself to stay calm.

I check her raincoat and boots, making sure everything fits snugly. I help Alby pull up the hood of her coat, tucking in a strand of dark hair that has escaped her ponytail. As frightened as she is, she manages to give me a smile. I smile back, trying to present a brave front. As my dad used to say, “fake it till you make it.” Over the last few years, I’ve been faking confidence more and more often for Alby’s sake.

“Ready to go?” I ask with all the false cheer I can muster in my voice. I take one last glance over the motel room that had served as a temporary home for the last few days, looking for anything that we might have left behind. The room is swept clean. No trace whatsoever that we had ever been there.

Alby nods. “Ready, Cami.”

“If we get separated, remember to keep going north,” I say. “Follow the road till you get to the park, then take the walking paths. No matter what happens, keep going. Stop when you get to the Stone River. I’ll meet you at the bridge in the center of the park where we used to feed the ducks, okay?”

She nods again, looking up at me with those dark eyes so full of trust. I hug her, because if we do get separated, there isn’t much hope we will ever see each other again. I need to keep up the pretense of hope, though, because that’s all we have to keep us going.

Stone River Park is at the very limits of the city and the area surrounding it is relatively unpopulated. I figure that once we are out of the city, our chances of survival will dramatically increase. After reaching the park, we can follow the Stone River north. There’s bound to be deserted houses in the country and less chance that any of the gangs would be interested in the meager pickings outside of the city. We might even be able to find a place to stay before winter.

I crack open the door of our motel room. It is still light enough to stain everything with graying shades of color. The setting sun casts long shadows between the buildings, so I depend more upon my ears to find signs of other humans. I hear no motorcycle engines and no voices, only the wind, blowing and moaning, and the far-off call of a bird. The coming storm appears to have cleared the streets. They are deserted except for empty, crashed vehicles abandoned in every lane.

Alby and I had been lucky to reach the motel a few days ago. The single-story building is on the outskirts of the main town and catered to big rig truck drivers and other traffic from the interstate. I had found the skeleton key in the motel office after climbing in through the bathroom window. Alby and I spent the nights scouring every room for supplies.

No one had broken into it before we got there. Too many other rich targets to go around. But inside each room was a mini-fridge filled with snacks. Even though the electricity had been turned off, the chocolates and small bags of honey-coated nuts were edible. The tiny bottles of alcoholic beverages in each fridge did not seem useful, but I kept a few. They might be helpful in starting a fire someday when we made it outside the city. We even discovered coffee filters and a small bottle of chlorine bleach—a major score for treating our drinking water.

If I hadn’t spent days secretly peering out the dark windows of the motel, I might believe my sister and I were the last two people left on earth. But I know that out there, behind the ruined buildings and boarded-up windows, there are at least a few pairs of eyes whose owners would kill us without a second thought. My eyes flick toward the two bodies hanging from the traffic lights in the nearby intersection. They hadn’t been moved. Good.

The daytime usually belongs to looter-gangs, each with spray-can marked territories in bright displays of color that start on the buildings and drip down toward the pavement. The gangs wear something marked as well, usually a jacket or bandanna that will stand out from a distance. The snipers hole up in their nests and target anyone who encroaches on their gang’s territory. They particularly looked for members of other factions trying to increase their terrain.

Paint tags don’t show up well after dark, though, so the gangs have started leaving their victims as warnings to others not to encroach on their holding. These bodies have been hanging undisturbed in the intersection for several days, indicating a lack of activity in the area. I can only hope that the gangs have moved inward, toward the center of the city and more supply-rich targets.

No one is ever going to catch the murderers, or the ones who strung up the bodies like macabre trophies, and put them in jail. They’ll just go on and do it again and again. Like animals in the jungle—except that animals are not cruel.

We were lucky to go unmolested by the local gangs. Heaven knows we don’t look like we have much of anything, and we don’t look threatening, but that will only last for so long. Someday someone will try to kill us, possibly for no other reason than wanting to watch us die. The whole world, it seems, is at war, and no one is on my side except Alby. We only have each other.

A streak of lightning splits the sky almost directly overhead, making me wince. It is followed by a heavy clap of thunder. As frightening as it is, the bad weather is to our advantage. No one wants to be caught outside in the rain. Everyone is more afraid of fresh, untreated water and what it can do than they are of each other. But I believe we can make it out of the area and to shelter before the rain poses any danger.

In fact, I’m betting our lives on it.

Chris Pavesic is a fantasy author who lives in the Midwestern United States and loves Kona coffee, steampunk, fairy tales, and all types of speculative fiction. Between writing projects, Chris can most often be found reading, gaming, gardening, working on an endless list of DIY household projects, or hanging out with friends.

Learn more about Chris on her website and blog.

Stay connected on Facebook, Twitter, and her Amazon Author Page.

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