Monday, October 21, 2013

Guest Blogger Dorothy Bell

Hi, everybody, Dorothy A. Bell here. Thank you, Terri Talley Venters for hosting me on your beautiful blog. As an introduction, I thought I would give visitors a glimpse into my life so far.

I grew up in southern Iowa, moved to Oregon’s Willamette Valley at the age of eleven. I was in the sixth grade when I started school in Oregon. On my first day of school, I encountered the boy I would eventually marry. He kept pestering me, trying to kiss me. I held out until I turned sixteen, then I kind’a got the hang of the kissing thing. We’ve been married for forty-eight years, he’s still a pest, bless him.

I started out writing Regency Romances to entertain myself. I took writing courses, but I think I learned the most by submitting my work to publishers, editors and agents, and getting feedback. Laid low for nearly twenty-five years with arthritis, forced to use a battery-powered cart, I took up aquatic exercise and became an instructor. After two surgeries to replace my knees, I went to work on myself and lost eighty-five pounds, which I have kept off.

My husband and I live in Central Oregon with two West Highland White terriers, an energetic, longhaired Dachshund and one big, angora tuxedo cat. When I need a break from writing Oregon historical western romances, I work in the yard or my garden.

This year I am proud to announce the release of two Laura Creek romances “The Reprobate” and “The Cost of Revenge”, available on Amazon,

 Barnes and Noble,  Good Reads, and Freya’s Bower, as e-books.

The Reprobate
A Laura Creek Western Romance
Fiddle playing, hard drinking Royce O’Bannon believes he’s worthless like his old man, no woman should have anything to do with him.
Music teacher Cleantha Arnaud, her virtue long spent, believes her life is over; crippled and barren, no man would want her. When these two outcasts become lovers, hopes and dreams blossom within their parched souls.
Royce’s vengeful daddy begins a campaign of retaliation against his traitorous sons and the town that gave them a second chance.
Driven by a fledgling sense of responsibility, Royce follows his daddy into the dark tunnels beneath Pendleton’s streets intent on putting a stop to the old man’s vengeful crusade. With a swift crack on the head, all of Royce’s newly found hopes and dreams could be shattered like candied glass. Who would miss a reprobate, a worthless man?


The Cost of Revenge

A Laura Creek Western Romance

Quinn O’Bannon knows it’s time he settled down. He has two likely candidates, both sensible, attractive, young women. However, his fantasies keep straying to Tru McAdam, that thieving, sloe-eyed vixen with the grudge against the whole darn O’Bannon family.

Tru McAdam wants to believe the O’Bannons, all of them are rotten, heartless cheats. God help her, most of all she wants to believe the handsome, arrogant flirt Quinn O’Bannon is the worst of the lot.

When destiny shuffles the cards, strange pairs show up in the hand. Who can fight destiny, not the handsome, flirtatious Quinn O’Bannon, not the thieving, sloe-eyed vixen, Tru McAdam.


Caption: I will not forget this. Someday I will get even.

There’s a little kid inside of me that cannot resist donning a disguise of some sort when Halloween comes around. When my children were small, I dressed up with them and went door to door. Then I had grandchildren, and I dressed up and went door to door. Then the grandkids grew up and no longer wanted to go out with grandma. But I found a way to dress up—celebrate. Not only get in disguise, I inspired others to follow suit.

Monday, September 23, 2013


Join the authors of Wild Child publishing and Freya’s Bower as we Take an Autumn Train Ride through our blogs.
Prizes will include
  • Four $50 gift certificates (two for Wild Child and two for Freya's Bower)
  • An awesome swag package that includes:
    • Bookmarks
    • Books
    • Wild Child T-shirt and mug
    • Wild Child and Freya's Bower bags
    • Four handmade, crochet coasters by Kit Wylde
    • An autographed copy of Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire
    • A rare DVD copy of the Matheson/Furst classic "Up The Creek" (lovingly used)
    • One ebook copy of Nita Wick’s short story, The Dream (previously published as part of a Freya’s Bower anthology.)
    • Book trading cards
    • Signed Dangerous Waters poster
    • copy of "Battle for Blood: The Blood Feud"
    • the winner’s name as a character in Kissa Starling’s next sweet romance story.
    • A Yankee Candle
    • and more...

            Danny glanced up as he heard the voice of the middle-aged man who was several seats in front of him.
            “This is sheer hell! What a primitive way to travel!” The man hoisted his suitcase to the rack above his head. He smoothed the thinning hair over his bald spot before he sat down.
            A voice at Danny’s elbow said, “If it weren’t for the trains, our friend would be stuck in a fogged-in airport.”
            Danny turned to survey his seatmate, a man with a long mournful face. Or perhaps the cap he wore with the ear flaps pulled down gave him the appearance of a basset hound: the large brown eyes could and did twinkle. Danny gave a slight smile, then pretended to be fascinated with the luggage being loaded onto the train from the platform. When the train began moving he could legitimately feign sleep; after all, it was 4:30 a.m.
            “This is an ungodly hour of the morning to catch a train, isn’t it?” said his seatmate. “Where you headed?”
            Danny resigned himself to conversation. “Eventually Kansas City. I’m meeting my wife and son in St. Louis, and we’re going on together from there.” Danny forced himself to ask the obligatory question in return: “Where are you going?”
            “To the end of the line.”
            Just then the train lurched several times in its fashion preliminary to actual departure. Escaping steam hissed outside. Danny heard the muted, “’Board!” from the conductor on the steps. The train began to glide now, slowly gathering momentum until it settled into its steady, rhythmic, almost hypnotic speed.
            Danny leaned his head back against the headrest and closed his eyes until the conductor came along punching tickets. Danny handed his ticket over and asked, without much hope, “Any chance of making that morning B&O from Cincinnati to St. Louis?”
            “ ’Fraid not,” said the conductor, shaking his head. “Your best bet is to change your ticket to the New York Central and go to St. Louis by way of Indianapolis. Otherwise, you have to wait for the midnight B&O.”
            Danny watched as his seatmate handed his ticket over, a bulging packet with numerous transfers stapled to it.
            “You must ride the trains a lot.”
            “Oh, all the time.”
            “Tell me. Is it always this bad? I mean the crowds and running behind and all.”
            “Oh, no. Most of the time I have a seat to myself. It’s only a combination of the Christmas season and this storm over the Midwest that’s grounded all the planes.”
            They were interrupted by a loud voice ahead.
            “Where else do you know where you have to ride backwards? Do airplanes have their seats turned around? Or Greyhound?” The middle-aged man who objected to rail travel impeded the conductor’s progress down the aisle with an impassioned diatribe.
            “Some of these cars haven’t seen service since World War II. You can’t even get a pillow, for God’s sake. The cars are overheated. The water pipes are frozen….”
            Danny’s seatmate said to him, “I think we could help our friend turn his seat around, don’t you?”
            Danny rose slowly to join his seatmate in the aisle. With the help of the conductor, they turned his double seat so The Complainer, as Danny dubbed him, could ride facing forward.  With a grudging, “Thanks,” the man sat down and disappeared into his paper.
            “I hate to tell him, but the C&O is state of the art. Wait until he rides on a real cowcatcher.”
            Danny resettled himself in his seat next to the window. He had no exact idea of where he was. Somewhere in southeastern Kentucky. The train supposedly followed the course of the Big Sandy River until it merged with the Ohio, but it was so pitch black out there owing to the time of year and hour of the morning, nothing was visible. Occasionally they passed through a small town vaguely discernible from the glow of streetlights. Danny must have dozed awhile for the next thing he knew the overhead lights came on: the C&O arbitrarily decided what time everyone should awaken. Danny abandoned hope of sleep forever. It wouldn’t have mattered what time the lights came on anyway; the commuters had boarded.
            “Where are we?” Danny asked his seatmate.
            “Some town in northern Kentucky. Catlettsburg. We should follow the Ohio River the rest of the way now.”
            Danny looked out the window. It was beginning to be lighter. Danny could discern no difference between this town and some of the other coal towns he had passed through yesterday. They all looked alike: the same lay-out, the same strands of Christmas lights draped across the streets. The greenery festooning the light poles had faded to brown, and the town took on an eerie quality viewed through the opaqueness of frost on the glass. All of these little towns seemed to be overlaid with a thin layer of coal dust.
            Danny turned to watch the garrulous group of commuters as they exchanged comments across the aisle.
            “They’ve each had their shave and cup of coffee,” said Danny’s seatmate.
            “Coffee sounds good to me,” said Danny. He stepped around his seatmate and started back to the dining car. He hesitated. “You coming?”
            His seatmate stretched out his legs in front of him. “No, I don’t think you’re going to have much luck.”
            Danny found this to be true. Sixteen cars later, after being blasted by cold air between cars, overwhelmed with cloying heat in each succeeding car, jostled by passengers in the aisles, and jolted by the lurching train, Danny arrived at the dining car only to find a long line awaiting seats. Discouraged, he made the long trek back.
            The train finally arrived in Cincinnati only two hours late. Danny struggled into his overcoat and hat, grabbed his suitcase and briefcase, and hurried through the swirling snowflakes to the terminal.
            “Good-bye!” shouted his seatmate from the steps of the train.
            Danny turned around. “Oh. Yes. Good-bye,” he said vaguely. He proceeded on his way again. He decided to check his suitcase, which was a mistake; by the time he reached the coffee shop, every stool was occupied. He had to pick someone to stand behind and wait until he was through. Just his luck the guy he picked had ordered steak and eggs.
            “Hope you’re lined with asbestos,” the man said as he left. “The coffee’s hot as hell.”
            His listless waitress had either just come on duty or was coming off a twelve hour shift. The eggs were greasy and overcooked, the bacon was underdone, and the coffee was more than hot: it was scorched. Danny choked it down, wondering if perhaps it would have been better not to eat at all.
            After he finished, he wished he had lingered longer. He now had six hours to kill before the NYC left for Indianapolis, assuming it left on time. The six hours seemed like an eternity to Danny. There were only so many ways to pass the time in a train station, and Danny did them all. He tried washing up in the men’s room, which was none to clean by his standards. The water came out in a trickle. Danny held the faucet on with one hand while he splashed water on himself with the other. When he discovered the restrooms had pay toilets, he hiked the length of the station to change a five. He visited the barber shop in the station and felt better for a shave. He had a shoeshine he didn’t need and then felt grumpy because he was a captive audience for the shoeshine man’s life story. He tried to take a nap on one of the wooden benches. The droning station master’s voice announcing train arrivals and departures prohibited sleep.
            Danny refused to resort to pacing up and down and counting the tiles in the floor. He sat unobtrusively on a bench watching people as they passed back and forth.
            “Well, well. Look who’s here,” said a familiar voice. Danny looked up to see his seatmate from the C&O.
            Danny roused himself. “Have you been here all day? I haven’t seen you.”
            “I’m an old hand, remember? I got a room in the Terminal Hotel and slept all day.”
            A thud on Danny’s other side announced the arrival of another traveler. The Complainer deposited two suitcases and dropped onto the bench with a sigh.
            “Why don’t you check them through?” Danny asked.
            “Are you kidding? And let the railroad send them to Kalamazoo?” He fished in his pocket, took out a cigar, peeled off the cellophane, and lit it with a furious puffing of smoke.
            “Look at that poor G.I. over there,” said his seatmate. “Bet he spends most of his leave trying to get home.” He turned as a tired-looking young woman sat on the opposite bench. She seated a child of perhaps three next to her and clasped a baby in one arm and a bulging diaper bag in the other. Danny’s seatmate arose and helped her situate herself. She glanced gratefully at him.
            “Thank you. It’s been such a nightmarish trip.”
            “I can’t think of anything worse than travelling in this weather with two little ones,” said the man.
            “I have to. My mother’s…very ill. I’ve already missed two connections. Susan’s caught a cold, and I’m out of diapers for the baby.”
            The man gently took the baby from her. “I’ll hold him for awhile. You stretch out on the bench and try to rest.”
            The young woman offered token resistance, then obeyed. The baby fretted a bit. The three-year-old whined that she was cold. The man deftly fished in the side pocket of the diaper bag and lifted out a sweater which he draped around the little girl.
            The Complainer chomped on his cigar, picked up his suitcases, muttered, “Squawling brats!” and departed.
            The man hoisted the baby to his shoulder and patted him, gazing steadily at Danny while he did so.
            Danny’s eyes faltered. He stood up slowly, mumbled, “Excuse me,” and left. He walked to the main entrance of the terminal. Danny turned up his coat collar against the icy blast that almost sent him flying against the door. Flakes of snow stung his eyelids and nose. The slush in the streets had already blackened from traffic.
            Danny stepped to the curb. “Taxi!”
            Once in the cab, Danny huddled in the corner, his hands pressed between his knees for warmth. When they came to a business district, Danny said to the driver, “Stop here and wait.” He wasn’t gone long. When he re-entered the cab, he said, “Back to the station.”
            When he returned to the station, wet snow dripped from the brim of his hat. He made his way to the bench he had vacated a half hour earlier.
            The man still held the baby. He held his finger to his lips and said, “Shhh,” as Danny approached. The young woman lay curled on the bench sound asleep. The three-year-old sat next to the man and rested her head against his sleeve, her thumb in her mouth.
            Danny deposited a package.
            “Diapers,” he said.
            A smile started at the corners of the man’s mouth and gradually spread until it suffused his face.
            “Good for you!”
            At last Danny found himself standing in line at the gate to the NYC. An invisible signal had gone through the crowd seated on the benches flanking the gate that told them boarding was imminent. Danny looked intently at the faces of weary, resigned passengers. So might the faces of Auschwitz have looked, he thought.
            Danny’s turn came. The conductor took his ticket, glanced at it, peered at Danny over the top of his glasses, and stamped it.
            Danny took his ticket and re-hoisted his bags. He stopped midway through the tunnel leading down to the tracks to adjust the strap on his suitcase. His glance fell on the red stamp on his ticket under destination: Nowhere. Danny raised a shaking hand to his brow and dashed away the beads of sweat forming there in spite of the bitter cold. He looked up blankly to see the man standing beside him, looking at him intently, a little quizzically.
            “I see,” said Danny. “We’re dead, aren’t we?”
            The man nodded his head slowly and then gripped Danny by the elbow. “It’s all right, Danny. You’re going to be all right…eventually.”
            Someone brushed past them in the tunnel. The Complainer, heedless of his swinging suitcases hitting others, still chomping on his cigar, hurried on looking straight ahead.
            “Do you think we ought to tell him?” Danny asked.
            “No. He’ll find out for himself soon enough. Poor devil.”
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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Guest Blogger Author, C. M. Michaels

Dangerous Waters


For Emily Waters, a nature-loving, small-town girl with an overprotective father, heading off to Boston University to study conservation biology is a dream come true—until a chance encounter catapults her into a mythical world she’d do anything to escape. 

The latest victim in a rash of abductions near campus, Emily is brutally attacked before being rescued by a powerful new friend. She survives the ordeal, only to find herself held captive and presented with an impossible choice. While preparing for the unimaginable life she must now embrace clues soon emerge that Emily may not be entirely human, and her physical transformation awakens goddess-like powers that her new family cannot begin to explain. Dealing with her human first love, the not-so-platonic relationship with her coven “sister,” and her new vampire sort-of-boyfriend further complicates matters, not to mention being secretly hunted by the psychopaths who attacked her. And as the only known offspring of a once all-powerful race, the climactic battle is only the beginning of her journey.


C.M Michaels grew up in a small town in northern Michigan as the youngest child of a close-knit family of seven. He met his wife, Teresa, while attending Saginaw Valley State University. Together they’ve provided a loving home for several four-legged “kids”, including Sophie, their eternally young at heart, hopelessly spoiled Spaniel.

He has always enjoyed writing, and still has fond memories of reading his first book, a children’s novella, to local grade schools when he was 14. Dangerous Waters, the first book in the Sisters in Blood series, is being published by Freya’s Bower on September 5th, 2013. C.M. is currently working on the second book in the Sisters in Blood series along with a Fantasy romance.

When he’s not writing, C.M. can be found curled up with a good book, watching movies or hitting the hiking trails with his wife. An avid reader since discovering Jim Kjelgaard novels in early childhood, his favorite authors include Kelley Armstrong, Peter V. Brett, Richelle Mead, Rachel Caine, Cassandra Claire, J.R. Ward, Laini Taylor and Tessa Dawn.

C.M. currently resides in Louisville, Kentucky.

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The ornately carved golden doors of the global court swung open, and the raucous crowd settled into their seats. Soldiers outfitted in full battle gear streamed in, marching down the long marble aisle to the raised gallery that formed a half circle behind the five vampire containment chairs. They each carried a debilitating knockout stick and a shoulder-fired laser rifle. The electromagnetic waves generated by the RF frequency systems in their helmets shielded their thoughts and ensured that not even the strongest of their enemy could hijack their minds.

Once they were positioned, the bailiff typed a code into the touch pad on the wall, and a steel panel slid open. Four hooded figures emerged, surrounded by several more guards who forcefully escorted them to their chairs. Their shackled ankles and wrists were smeared with conductive jelly and attached to electrical leads. As soon as they were seated, thick metal bands extended around their shins, thighs, chests, biceps and forearms, firmly securing them in place.

None of the prisoners made a sound, knowing that even a whimper would be met with another punishing jolt of current from the collars fastened around their necks, but that did little to lessen the deafening noise in the room. Every seat of the three-story grand hall was occupied for this momentous event, with another 750,000 people crammed into Central Park outside. Reporters from around the globe scrambled to get their last pretrial clips recorded before the court was called to order.

“Some are questioning the tactics of the global court this morning,” an Austrian reporter stated in her native German, “using vampires and humans as bait in an effort to lure what most people consider to be the Vampire Queen out of hiding. So far their plan doesn’t seem to have worked, as there have been no sensor reports of vampire activity in or around New York, but with the executions moving forward today, things are expected to intensify.”

“All rise!” the bailiff bellowed out through the hall. “This court is now in session. The honorable global court inquisitor O’Callaghan presiding.”

An imposing figure with short, golden locks entered from behind the bailiff, motioning for people to take their seats. He gathered his floor-length white and purple robes in his left hand, made his way over to the furthest prisoner and yanked the hood from her head.

“So this is the all-powerful Sienna,” the inquisitor mocked, squeezing the bound woman’s cheeks with his hand. “How disappointing.”

Her once beautiful face was disfigured by several charred-black electrical burns. Blood and pus oozed out of the open wounds. The pungent salve packed into her broken nose made her eyes tear up and prevented her from smelling anything.

“Do you have anything you wish to say in your defense before I render my verdict?” the inquisitor asked, deactivating the device around her throat so she could speak.

“This will never work—she knows her life is far more important than mine.”

“It’s possible she’d let you die,” he acknowledged. “But both of her parents, her mate and her best friend? No, I think that’s far too much to expect her to endure. Sooner or later she’ll come, and the world will celebrate her execution.”

Sienna snapped to attention, her green eyes widening in horror at the news of who else had been captured. “You have no idea what you’ve done—everyone in this building’s going to die.”

The crowd erupted at her outburst, and the inquisitor held up his hand to silence them. “And how exactly is your precious queen going to manage that? She’ll be welcomed to our fair city by twenty thousand volts from the first alarm she trips. Not enough to kill your kind, but plenty to leave her unconscious until—”

“Sir, a perimeter alarm’s been triggered just outside the north gate,” a soldier interrupted from the gallery.

He wheeled on the man in a fit of anger. “Interrupt me again, and I’ll disembowel you! People have been jumping the fence all day—contact the guards at the gate and have them check it out.”

“We tried sir. Calls have been placed to the guard desk, the three closest perimeter sweep teams and the north tactical unit—they’re not responding.”

“Who’s not responding, you imbecile!”

“Any of them.”

“It’s too late,” Sienna said, gazing at his panic-stricken face. “She’s here.”

“Clear the courtroom and take the prisoners back into custody!” he commanded.

Before anyone could move, a massive explosion rocked the third-floor balcony, raining debris and body parts down on the crowd below. The auditorium filled with a choking white smoke. The crowd flooded for the exits, which were soon hopelessly jammed. They started to push and trample each other in a desperate attempt to escape.

The lone set of stairs to the balcony was located outside the courtroom, so the soldiers had no choice but to yield the high ground to their unseen enemy. Several of them panicked and fired blindly into the smoke, only adding to the chaos. The commanding officer who’d been talking with the inquisitor raised his rifle—his body no longer under his control—and sent a chest high laser beam though the entire gallery, cutting several of his fellow soldiers in half. The ones who survived were turned to dust by an energy burst that blew out the entire back of the building.

Moments later, a woman dressed in skin-tight black leather swooped down onto the marble floor, drawing two broadswords from the sheaths on her back. Her vengeful glare bore into the inquisitor, who took three running steps and dove for a knockout stick that had come to rest a few feet in front of him. His body was suspended mid leap. The inquisitor glanced down in total disbelief at the marble tile he was now hovering over before being catapulted sideways into the solid steel outer wall of the holding cells.

The vampire advanced but had to break off her attack when a laser tore through the floor inches in front of her black leather boots. In a move too fast to be seen, she coiled and launched herself across the courtroom, landing amongst the small group of soldiers who had fought their way through the crowd. A bright red mist filled the air as she executed her elegant dance of death, moving with the grace and agility of a jungle cat.

By the time she returned to the inquisitor, he’d managed to pull his body up into a sitting position and was taking short, labored breaths. She raised his chin with the tip of her blood-covered blade, wanting him to see who was delivering him to hell.

He let out something between a choking sound and a chuckle, spitting blood from his mouth. “Releasing the locks requires an order from me, and the code can only be entered remotely by central command. They’re all going to burn.”

“Don’t flatter yourself—there’s nothing I need from you.” She fixed her gaze on the restraints binding Sienna to the chair. Within seconds they started to rattle, shaking more and more violently until they broke free and dropped to the floor.

His lower lip trembled in fear. “Wh—what are you?”

“The last thing your wife and three kids are ever going to see.” She flicked her wrist, and his severed head fell into his lap.

Fire was rapidly engulfing the courtroom, and waves of torrid heat washed over her face. She scanned the hall in search of any additional threats. Most of the remaining people had succumbed to the noxious gas that was making her gag. Those who were left were sprawled out on the floor, clinging to the last threads of life. Assured that they weren’t in any imminent danger, she sheathed her weapons and turned toward Sienna. “Hi Mom.”

“I told you not to come.”

She laughed, wiping some of the blood from her face. “You can ground me when we get home. Can you walk?”

Sienna took a tentative step forward before gripping her side and doubling over in pain. “Not far. Your father’s in worse shape, though. Brooke, his heart—”

“I know—I can hear it.” Brooke reached behind her back, pulled a sports bottle out of the top of her pants and tossed it to Sienna. “You’ll need your strength.”

“Thanks.” Using both hands, she reset the bones in her nose, and then popped the top, poured about a quarter of the bottle over her face and chugged down the rest. Within a few seconds the wounds healed over. They both jumped when one of the rafters crashed to the floor behind them. “I think that’s our cue. Let’s get out of here.”

Brooke concentrated on her father’s restraints. As soon as they broke free, his hunched-over body pitched forward into Sienna’s waiting arms, and she eased him onto his back. “Hang in there, David,” she whispered, removing his hood. “We’ll get you to a hospital soon.”

The whirling noise from dozens of approaching helicopters sent them scrambling to free the others. Countless soldiers—an entire brigade at least—charged into the mouth of the blown-out opening just as the last of the restraints fell.

“My God,” Sienna gasped. “There’s too many, sweetheart, even for you.”

“I’m what they want,” Brooke said with a resigned nod. “Take my father and head north. Stick to the rooftops until you get outside the city so you don’t trip any alarms.”

Sienna was appalled. “We’re not leaving you here to die.”

“No fucking way!” Her quirky, endlessly compassionate soul mate grabbed her by the shoulders, glaring at her. “You’re my wife—I’m not going anywhere without you.”

Stepping forward to flank her mate, her goddess of a best friend—still looking runway ready in spite of her ordeal—flashed a warm but determined smile. “Neither am I. Like it or not, we’re in this together.”

Tears pricked the corners of her eyes. Part of her wanted to say yes, to have them all fight together to the end, but she knew how selfish that was. Three vampires with too weak of a trance ability to penetrate the RF jamming would be all but useless against an army this size, and if she fled with them, any chance they had of escaping vanished. She’d resisted the stupid “Queen” title from the moment it’d been forced upon her—the first and only order she’d ever given her family was that they never bow to her—but invoking that authority was the only way she’d get them to leave. Using her telekinetic ability, Brooke pushed them away, knocking her mate to the floor. “As your queen I command it! Move!”

They all shot her stunned looks laced with an edge of betrayal. Without another word, Sienna hoisted David into her arms and disappeared into what remained of the third floor balcony, the other two vampires close behind.

The exchange had cost her precious seconds she could have used to move to a far more defensible position. As it was, she was now surrounded, with the only gap coming from the roaring wall of flames at her back. All of the soldiers had their knockout sticks in hand. Apparently they were intent on taking her alive. Brooke arched her hands out in front of her, and a glimmering light began to radiate between them. Once it had fully materialized, she thrust her arms forward, hurling a ball of plasma into the advancing troops that obliterated the entire first wave. The hundreds behind them closed in, driving her back toward the flames. There was no escape. She defiantly drew her swords before the first blow from a knockout stick sent her tumbling to her knees. The second incapacitated her completely.

When she came to, she was in the cargo hold of a Blackhawk helicopter, and a soldier was fitting a voice restraint collar around her neck. Her boots had been removed, and her wrists and ankles were bound together with the latest alloy composite, stronger than even she could break with sheer force alone.

“Sir? We’ve got her,” the commanding officer called over his satellite phone. He listened for a few moments, and then handed the phone back to his first lieutenant. “Bring me the laser shears.”

“Yes, Colonel.” The first lieutenant relayed the order and soon had them in his hand. “Here you go, sir.”

“Prop her up.”

Two soldiers stepped forward and raised Brooke into a sitting position. The Colonel flipped on the shears, took hold of her chin and shaved off all of her milk-chocolate colored hair.

“This cap is packed with lorazepam,” he said, sliding a black swim cap onto her now bald head. “It’s a potent tranquilizer that’s absorbed through your skin. In a couple minutes you won’t be able to remember your name, let alone trance anyone.”

He started to walk away, and then stopped and turned back toward her. “And this is a gift from me, for killing over three hundred of my men.” The Colonel removed the guard from the shears and stuck the tip of his combat knife into the beam, heating it to a molten red. The other soldiers moved aside as he bent down over her and burned a large V deep into her forehead. Brooke screamed in agony, and five thousand volts fired into her throat. Her eyes rolled back in her head, and her jaw fell slack.