Broken Heart Attack – Review

I read this one a couple months ago, but with the way life is going lately, I kept *cough* putting writing the review off. Yes, I’m a horrible person! In my defense, I’d find myself thinking about what I wanted to write for the review at odd times – while doing the dishes/cleaning, cooking, taking a shower. But whenever I was done and seated in front of my laptop, something always came up. And so *wince( two months went by.

Well, here’s what I thought:

My review:

Another great read! James J. Cudney is fast becoming one of my favorite authors.

He knows how to build a plot and make it complex to the point where the reader is wondering how the heck things are going to tie at the end.

Kellan has so much going on in this book, I felt sorry for him. Between his Nana, another murder, his job, the sheriff, and ghosts from the past, I wanted to reach out and give him a hug. Poor thing!

But the marathon kept me engaged, annoyed every time I had to stop reading to check on something.

As usual, there are the funny moments balanced in with the more serious ones, mostly with Kellan trying to keep his Nana out of trouble – and waking with a hangover later. But just when you think the old lady is cruel, she makes up for it.

I don’t find myself reading many murder mysteries, but this one’s got a touch of everything, intrigue, humor, compassion, some detective work – to name but a few.

I enjoyed this read as much as the other books I read by this author, but this time, with the character growth and the hints of things to come, I was left with some book hangover of my own!

I can’t wait to pick up the next book and see what other mess life has in store for Kellan!

Lovers of cozy mysteries with some sleuthing and humor, this one is for you!



Heir of Fury – Excerpt + E-ARCs

The difference between writing a series and a standalone, for me, is the attachment the author feels with their fictional characters. Not that authors don’t get attached with a character if it’s a standalone, but when you work, year after year after year with the same set of MCs, the bond feels stronger.

Today I want to say that my trilogy, The Roxanne Fosch Files is finally done. All three books + a short novella has been written, and the final chapter in Roxanne’s story told. It’s sad and exhilarating at once.

Below is a brief excerpt – that I feel fits perfectly with the current event around the globe – I edited out some of the spoilers to make this excerpt as spoiler-free as possible, but  maybe parts of it would spoil something from book 2.

Note: I’ll be looking for some reviews to help launch the book. If you’d like a copy for review purposes, contact me at If you would like to help in some way, let me know, we can work something out.

High up on the observatory deck of the Empire State, I leaned against the railing and watched the city. The fierce wind stung my eyes, whipped my hair free, and ruffled my wings. I spread them wider, leaned harder against the rail. From up here, I couldn’t make the sound of the traffic below, or smell the traffic plume. There was nothing but the sound of the wind beating at me from all sides, choking me with fresh air.

For a long time, I stood and watched the blinking lights, hoping to mute my thoughts–and failing. Dawn would come soon. And for all that happened during these past days, Dorka, Wallace and Brooks; Vicky; Zantry and me; Roland’s break down; Dathana… one thing kept coming back to haunt me: Remo was ready to move. “Time’s drawn near, Poppet. Everything is set into motion. The portal is too active, my kin are impatient. Get those vessels to me.” His words played in my head over and over, like the lyric to a song that wouldn’t go away. I’d known he was getting close to achieving his goal, but God. I placed a hand over my jittery stomach, over that cold, roiling mess. What had I done?

From the observatory deck of the Empire State, I could almost see it, the end as it may come. Just the lights and the wind left, the clouds and the night. And then I looked down, at all the miniature life still coming and going, focused at those tiny lights blinking on and off in distant windows. And I wondered, not for the first time, what would happen to all the noise, all the people, all those lights, once Remo made his final move? Would a war ensue, destroy everyone and everything? Would the fact the world was unprepared for Remo result in minimal opposition?

I had never, in my wildest dreams considered I’d be well and alive when the end of the world came. I always assumed it’d happen in a far, far away future, at a time my bones were nothing but old dust. I never had reason to fear it, because I was certain I’d never be there.

But here I was, at the cusp of the end, helping the world to break.

I wondered, had things happened differently, would someone, some preternatural group, have found a way to get rid of Remo before he could have gotten this far?

I was the trigger in Remo’s coup, the big surprise at the end of his game. I should have let the guardians of the leeway kill me that first time. My death would have put so many holes in Remo’s plan, eventually, it’d have broken apart, or he’d have to adjust–and add decades, if not centuries, to achieve it. So many times I’d come near death, so many times all I needed was to give up. Hell, if I died now, I’d be giving a fighting chance to those trying to stop him. So why not help everyone? Did I know how to give up? Death, for me, had never been a choice to make, but an enemy to fight. But was my life, after all I’d done, and compared to all that was to come, something worth fighting for?






This wasn’t my original post


A scan through headlines every morning gives me a sense of doom, a flashback of dystopian and pre-apocalyptic books I’ve read throughout the years.

Whether aliens, nuclear weapons, biotech destruction–all the books have one thing in common with this coronavirus: mass hysteria.

I wasn’t going to write about this pandemic, I had another post in mind, one with less drama and dread and with an update about my writing. But… this virus is spreading around the world like an ill wind, and suddenly our big, wide world shrank in size and nowhere is far enough.

People dying by the thousands, restrictions, bans, price gouging, quarantines, talk of judgment day and all the finger pointing on who’s the cause. I read the headlines, and I feel half caught in the world of fantasy. It makes me wonder when this pandemic ends, will the blame and accusations without the fear evolve into raging anger and take us to the next step: World war?

People try to underplay the coronavirus by saying it’s just a virus with flu characteristics. It’s a virus, indeed, and as virus do, they infect and they spread. Only this one is highly contagious with a (high?) mortality rate that differs from place to place.

People wonder whose fault it is, where exactly did it start? It could have started in the jungle, in the market, in a pot plant, it could have escaped a lab, a cave, or attached to a person in a flight from place to place. These speculations, at least in the moment, are doing no one any favor. Regardless where it started, it started, it’s spreading, and there’s no end in sight.

We, humanity, have seen pandemics before–The Bubonic Plague, The Red and Yellow Fever, The Spanish Flu–to name but a few. Those have killed millions, if one dare read the accounts, and it took years for them to end (and I’m not counting the occasional appearances still happening), but they didn’t travel as swiftly as this coronavirus.  The difference? This last virus is taking advantage of technology. Long ago, it took months for a virus to reach another continent, today, it takes hours.

Every politician and doctor and people who is who got up and told people not to panic. They go on TV and teach the common folk basic hygiene lessons we learned as children–how to sneeze, cough, eat healthy, and they expect that’s enough to keep people calm. In turn it caused shortages of cleaning supplies, sanitizers, and what not, and people are panicking regardless. Coughing and sneezing? That’s become the new threat to humanity. If someone coughs in public, people scatter in fear.

Enterprises and every commerce are afraid of the impact of the virus in their economy, and so the country wouldn’t lose money, they failed  to keep their citizens safe. Every country decided to wait and see if the virus would reach them before taking measures, so that their stock shares and economy wouldn’t suffer. But, it did suffer, because once the virus was in, it spread like fire on dry kindling. Whether they were aware or not that it was too late then is hard to tell, but their economy is suffering more for their failure in keeping the virus out.

I’m not sure how this is going to end, or how many months or years it will take, but the way things are looking, it’ll definitely get worse before it gets better. Maybe people have considered this, maybe they haven’t – but with a virus that has spread in a few months worldwide, infected over a hundred thousand (that we know) killed thousands…. well, at this rate, it’s going to keep on going until most, if not all the world, have been infected. Whether by then a treatment will be found, or if people will be vaccined or not remains to be seen.

With this grim note, I’ll end this post with prayers  that this pandemic ends soon, with no more elements of the fantasy books I’ve read (they didn’t end well for humanity).


Not a bestselling author? You must be a failure


Lately I’ve noticed that when I tell someone I’m an author, but that no, my books don’t make enough to support me financially, I’m met with silence. I suppose their looks are pitying too. To them, if I’m an author and I’m not making a lot of money, then I must be a failure.  On top of that, my books aren’t worldwide best sellers, so I must be just an eccentric with a delusional affliction.

To some, I explain that to be a best seller, one need to have the right marketing tools, a lot of money, or, if the author is lucky, get a movie adaptation. In fact, I can testify to a lot of books I read who could easily turn into best sellers if they were only marketed right. The same, sadly, is also true – meaning I’ve read best sellers that are hardly worthy of the title.

For one, a few years ago, there was this bestselling trilogy by Amanda Hocking called The Trylle trilogy. There was so much talk around it, naturally, I couldn’t help but pick up the first book.

My first impression was that my draft – before the editing – sounded much better. Biased that I am, I put my thoughts aside, aware that a lot of books I read had unappealing beginnings. But it wasn’t just that the beginning was dull, but the characters were 2D, the language boring, the dialogue flat, not counting all the blatant typos. I can’t, in good conscience, mention the plot because I never got around to deciphering it, or even if there was one. Her books sold so many copies, She eventually signed a multi-million dollar deal with St. Martin’s Press.

But before I knew that last tidbit, and  after I realized my draft was much better than this already published, bestselling book, I did what any other person in my situation would do: I googled the author’s name with the question why was she a best seller. And surprise, surprise, google provided me with so many links that I realized just by scanning the headlines that I wasn’t the only one confused with the success.

One of the many articles google provided me said “She’s a case of good luck and the right place at the right time” –

The opposite of Amanda Hocking, I dare say, is Deborah Harkness. The first book, a discovery of Witches, was a best seller when it was released in 2011, but when I read it in 2014 after the final book in the trilogy was released, the books had only a few thousand reviews. The rave reviews came around a few years later when the books were turned into a TV series. Now, around nine years after its release, the book has more than 300K reviews

So then I’m asked, why not send your books to Hollywood?

Hmmm. I’d like to point out the ignorance in that question, but then I remember the days when I too, believed all I needed was to type my thoughts on a page and send a copy off directly to the publisher, and another to Hollywood. Of course, I knew not every book was picked up by a publisher, I was aware there were rejections, but then again, I was also of the mind that I had created a masterpiece and no one would turn it down.

Again, to some, I explain  it isn’t as simple as it sounds, and again, I’m met with pity, because, if I’m not making a lot of money, I’m just deluding myself. That could be true to a degree, but the simple task of creating characters and building a world around them makes me happy, not to count the huge sense of accomplishment that follows when the book is released. Maybe it’s a feeling only other authors and artists can relate to, and maybe only a few outside my virtual life will ever understand the feeling, but I don’t plan to give up my writing, even if I never become a bestselling author.


Three More Great Books

Made a killing by Zach Abrams


Gritty, dark and enticing.

This is not my usual cup of tea, or coffee, but sometimes when I’m in the mood for change, I head off to the mystery/suspense area. Sometimes, I pick up a police/detective book.

This one was a mystery / crime and police procedural read with a touch of humor and the required guess-who-did-it kind of book, and it was done exceptionally well.

The story opens up with a murder investigation – with the dead being the bad guy, killed with an antique elephant tusk. So yes, the bad guy is dead, and from the beginning, we’re wondering if the good guy will turn out to be the murderer.

The story line was gritty, sometimes a little dark, covering heavy topics such as blackmail, prostitution, detailed murder crimes and gore – real stuff real police see a lot in real life; sprinkled every now and then with a romance trying to bud (emphasis on trying) some office humor and family bonding.

I enjoyed the dynamics between the investigative team and the way they were thorough and methodical with the evidence gathering, how things didn’t ‘conveniently’ fall on their laps and make life easier for everyone.

I did have a suspicion halfway through about the killer – I knew the killer would be someone I wasn’t expecting, and I was right, but the killer? I was still surprised.

All in all, it was a great read!



Cause and Effect by Pete Adams


Detective Jack, aka Jane, is a character full of sass and witty comebacks. He’s also a magnet to disaster, the kind of guy who’s always meeting an accident or another.

He’s also a kind, humorous widow with a big heart and a teenager’s attitude.

The topics covered in this book are hard, dramatic and heavy  (not for the faint hearted) – going as far as child abuse.

Detective Jack is determined to get to the bottom of his cases, and he doesn’t care who he’ll have to cross to get there.

Along the way we have some romance, which was a nice addition and somewhat a mood lifter from all the darker aspects of the story.

The writing style is unique and it took me a few chapters to get used to it, but once in, my cynic heart was amused. There are a lot of references to Mary Poppins and other classics, mostly used to humor some other character.

All in all it was a complex, great book. I recommend it to those who enjoy witticism, sarcasm, and heavy and hard British detective work.



Sea Scope by Debbie de Louise


A compelling psychological thriller.

Every now and then I like to delve into a good mystery/thriller. Sea scope is a psychological thriller, the kind of book that gives one pause and makes one wonder how the mind works.

The book oscillates between present time and two decades earlier, slowly bringing the reader up to date with events that caused a business to close, a family to break, a girl to become mentally unstable, and the reasons behind it all. And they’re all connected to a murder that was ruled then as a suicide. The question throughout the book is whether Michael committed suicide – with all the bright opportunities he had ahead of him – or whether he was killed. However, all the suspects on that day had an alibi, and all seemed to actually like the guy. So which was it?

Alternating in between present and past are notes about lighthouses, real facts with references – a boost of information for the reader to store.

At first I was sure about what happened to Michael, but the author kept throwing new hints here and there, enough to shadow the truth and keep me guessing.

And then, about midway through, I was sure I knew what happened. And yeah, I thought, no surprises here, but I couldn’t see the motive and how it happened so I went on, sure of my assumption.

I was wrong. So wrong, when the twist at the end came, I was left gaping.

The writing is suspenseful throughout the entire book, both in the present and in the past, with first person pov in the present and third in the past, and the distinction was done exceptionally well.

Have you ever had something happen to you as a kid, build your beliefs upon that event, only to realize as a grownup there were other sides to that story?

This was a great book with a great twist. I recommend it!




That’s it for now. Ever read any of the above, or did any entice you?

The Baking Soda Incident

So here it goes, peeps, the third Bartholomew incident. Hope you enjoy it!


I leaned a casual hip on the table edge and watched cousin Laura open and close cabinet doors, muttering to herself. “What are you looking for?” I asked when it was obvious she hadn’t noticed me.

My cousin stiffened, turned her head slowly and smiled at me, the kind of smile that made me straighten and check my back for a sticky note, begging for a kick to the butt.

Dropping a wooden spatula on the counter, she turned and faced me. “You’re my savior!” There was a maniacal gleam in her eyes I wasn’t sure could be blamed on her upcoming nuptials.

“Yeah?” I took a cautious step back, calculating how fast I could run and trying to remember if there was a key for the guest bedroom door.

She came closer, hands outstretched, a patch of white powder on her cheek. “You still like cookie dough, don’t you?”

I scanned the kitchen counter, found  no bowl filled with the sticky dough. “Sure. Want me to taste it?”

cookie dough

“No, no,” she cackled, lowered her voice. “I need you to go pick me some baking soda. I sent Barth earlier and he brought me some white powder I suspect he picked from the meth lab fronting as the grocery store on the corner road.” She showed me a small plastic bag with the label ‘sodium bicarb’ written in black marker. “I think it’s a code for meth.”

“You know, I think baking soda and sodium bicarb is the same thing,” I mused.

“Maybe,” Laura said, raising the bag to my nose. The powder looked suspiciously like sugar, and it smelled like bathroom cleaner and paint thinner.


My eyebrows shot up. I had no idea how meth looked or how it was cooked, but paint thinner definitely didn’t go with cookies.

“You have to help me. I need to get rid of this and I need real baking soda before everyone comes back.”

“So what, you want me to go to the grocery where meth is being cooked and – what?”

“No,” Laura scoffed, “to the Walmart.”

“But that’s seven blocks away.”

“Eight, actually, and Barth can drive you.”

“Absolutely not.”

Before Laura could say anything more, Barth strolled into the kitchen.

“I heard my name,” he said, smiling at me.

I suddenly needed to get out of there fast. “You know what,” I said, snatching the bag from her hand, “I’ll go get you what you need. Anything else?”

“A bag of chocolate chips, I think I’ll make another batch.”

“You’re goin’ out?” Barth asked, taking out keys from his pocket, “I’ll drive you.”

“Thanks, but no, Barf.”

“It’s Barth.”

“That’s what I said.”

“I’ll drive you,” he insisted.

“No,” I enunciated slowly, “I’d like to walk and exercise my legs.”

“Your legs look fine to me.” He gave said legs an appraising look that caused Laura to burst out laughing. Her guffaw turned to sniffs when she caught the death glare I aimed her way. I turned to Barth and gave him a practiced smile people claimed made me look deranged.


Barth, of course, smiled right back.

“I’m going to walk, Barf, and that’s that.” I turned and left through the back door, hurrying to cover more ground faster.

I was congratulating myself for a day gone without a Barth incident when there, right in front of me was the LaCross captain I’d crushed on my entire high school year.


Tom turned around, our eyes met, and everything happened in slow motion. He smiled with recognition. I squealed, covered my mouth. Tom took a step toward me. That’s when Barth came in, charging Tom like an enraged bull. Shouts and punches and grunts rang out and because I was a total fool, I threw myself on Barth, meaning to drag him off, but I ended up pinning Tom under our combined weight.

prison cell

I’ll skip the embarrassing part where people dragged us off, the ride in the back of a police car and the bag of sodium bicarb that may or may not have been meth still in my pocket.

“You were screamin’,” Barth said from the cell next to mine.

“It’s called a squeal, it’s a scream of happiness.”

“You raised your arms to surrender.”

“I was going to hug him.”

“You helped me subdue him.”


“It’s Barth.”

“Barf,” I said through gritted teeth, “If you don’t stop arguing, I’m going to walk out of this cell only to be put in another for murder.”

“What? Nonsense, we didn’t even give him a scratch.”

“Guard!” I shouted. “Please!”


To read the previous Bartholomew incidents, check it out here:

The Panty liner incident:

The Recliner Incident:

Hope you had fun – and yes, it’s fiction!

Academic Curveball by James J. Cudney Book Review


This was a fun, non-stop intriguing book. Kellan is like a dog with a bone – determined and persistent, and he won’t let go no matter how many times people tell him to.

When a body is found on campus –the same person he travelled to meet – Kellan is pulled into a tangle of who-did-it; with a lot of sarcasm, suspects, and plenty of murderous reasons to go around.

I honestly had no idea how all the threads would tie at the end, there were so many murderer candidates, I was, like Kellan, trying to figure out who-did-it too. And the real killer? (Not telling you!) But it was definitely none of the various people I’d considered.

I enjoyed the brief glimpses of Kellan as a father, his interaction with his Nana (and boy was she scary and fun), and the dry humor that was thrown around. The mystery of the murder was done exceptionally well, with all the threads tied perfectly at the end. And the killer? Oh, I was so not suspecting that particular character! And once the murderer was revealed, I had one of those ah!-of-course moment.

The tone of the book is light throughout most of the way, humorous and mysterious, with a simple writing style. It’s the kind of writing and storytelling one can’t have enough. My second book by this author, I can definitely say it won’t be the last.

Expect the review of the next book in the Braxton Campus Mysteries series, Broken Heart Attack, coming soon!


When Kellan Ayrwick returns home for his father’s retirement from Braxton College, he finds a dead body in Diamond Hall’s stairwell.


Unfortunately, Kellan has a connection to the victim, and so do several members of his family. Could one of them be guilty of murder? Soon after, the college’s athletic program receives mysterious donations, a nasty blog denounces his father and someone attempts to change students’ grades.


Someone is playing games on campus, but none of the facts add up. With the help of his eccentric and trouble-making nana, Kellan tries to stay out of the sheriff’s way. And if that wasn’t enough already, his own past comes spiraling back to change his life forever.


In the debut novel in the Braxton Campus Mysteries Series, you’ll discover a cozy, secluded Pennsylvania village full of quirky, sarcastic and nosy residents.

Add to your Goodreads:

Or get a copy from Amazon:

Note: While I was searching for the link on amazon, I discovered the book is out on promo for FREE!

Two months with cave monsters, beta readers and free stuff


I’m back after a very long hiatus – apologies, apologies. But, like I mentioned on my last post, sometimes life brings out fangs and claws and you have to dodge. Well, dodge didn’t work, but you get used and you go with the flow.

So, what I’ve been up to:

I’m going to keep the bad and the hairy parts out– did you know if you stare at the elephant too long, it grows in size?

Anyway, I was going to post the third episode of Barth and his mishaps, but decided to leave it for next week and keep this one short, and re-introduce myself around WP, see what I missed.

As for the good:

I finished Heir of Fury, the third book in the Roxanne Fosch Files trilogy, FINALLY!!!

I’m looking for beta readers and early readers. Anyone interested please let me know either on the comments below or by email

Another good news is that my books are being made into audio. So, naturally, I went back to earlier books and did another proofread to make sure they’re good to be narrated.

And I’ve discovered I have a few more illnesses – aside from RISD (Revisionitis Intolerance Syndrome Disorder), I have two more conditions:

Andophobia – Every time I come upon the “and” in the middle of a sentence, I break out into a cold sweat, and I have to either delete it or take a break.

Butophilia – I have this tendency to add buts everywhere!

*Credits for Butophilia go to Heather tasker – she was the one who diagnosed this new illness.

So, and this is hard to admit… but both my books are now lighter a few thousand words, wince…. but narration has begun!


Writing wise, this is all, I think, unless I’m forgetting something.

Reading wise – I haven’t read one single book in the past 2 months, but I still have a few reviews from before then that I mean to post in the coming days.

That’s it, I guess. I’m eager to do a round and see how everyone is doing!

And oh yes, I remember now – I have a book out for free!

Download your free copy here from anywhere in the world:



It’s been a while since I’ve last posted something and (I hope) some of you may have wondered where I went.

Sometimes life throws us a curve, and we manage to swerve, sometimes we don’t and we learn to adapt. This time around, I swung and I missed, and adapting is somewhat draining.

But I’m still around and still swinging. I just need some time off. I’ll be trying to get around and see what I missed – I have some comments I still need to reply to, and I’ll be getting around to those first.

Hopefully by next week, I’ll be back – the third part in the Bartholomew episode has been sitting for more than a month catching dust in my document folder.

I’d have waited till next week and just surprised everyone with the new Barth post, but given I’ve been telling myself “next week” for the past two, I decided to come and let everyone know I’m taking this hiatus.

Comments here are closed as I don’t think I’ll be getting back around here today, but if I do, I’ll try to visit those blogs I missed.

Hope everyone is doing well, and have a nice week ahead!




The Quest for Home

Earlier this year I posted about Jacqui Murray’s prehistoric book, Survival of the fittest, book 1 in the Crossroads series. Today I’m happy to announce that part two, Quest for Home, was released earlier this month. Here’s a little about the book and the author. And don’t miss the excerpt at the end!


Driven from her home. Stalked by enemies. Now her closest ally may be a traitor.


Blurb: Chased by a ruthless and powerful enemy, Xhosa flees with her People, leaving behind her African homeland, leading her People on a grueling journey through unknown and perilous lands. As they struggle to overcome treachery, lies, danger, tragedy, hidden secrets, and Nature herself, Xhosa must face the reality that her most dangerous enemy isn’t the one she expected. It may be one she trusts with her life. 

The story is set 850,000 years ago, a time in prehistory when man populated Eurasia. He was a violent species, fully capable of addressing the many hardships that threatened his survival except for one: future man, the one destined to obliterate any who came before.

Based on a true story, this is the unforgettable saga of hardship and determination, conflict and passion as early man makes his way across Eurasia, fleeing those who would kill him. He must be bigger-than-life, prepared time and again to do the impossible because nothing less than the future of mankind is at stake.

Author: Jacqui Murray

Genre: Prehistoric fiction

Print length: 356 pages

Available at:

Kindle US; Kindle UK; Kindle CA; Kindle Au.


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the Man vs. Nature saga. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, blog webmaster, an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for  NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, In the Footsteps of Giants, Winter 2020, the final chapter in the Crossroads Trilogy.

Social Media contacts:

Amazon Author Page:








Book Excerpt:

Chapter 1

Northern shore of what we now call the Mediterranean Sea

Pain came first, pulsing through her body like cactus spines. When she moved her head, it exploded. Flat on her back and lying as still as possible, Xhosa blindly clawed for her neck sack with the healing plants. Her shoulder screamed and she froze, gasping.

How can anything hurt that much?

She cracked one eye, slowly. The bright sun filled the sky, almost straight over her head.

And how did I sleep so long?

Fractured memories hit her—the raging storm, death, and helplessness, unconnected pieces that made no sense. Overshadowing it was a visceral sense of tragedy that made her shake so violently she hugged her chest despite the searing pain. After it passed, she pushed up on her arms and shook her head to shed the twigs and grit that clung to her long hair. Fire burned through her shoulders, up her neck and down her arms, but less than before. She ignored it.

A shadow blocked Sun’s glare replaced by dark worried eyes that relaxed when hers caught his.

“Nightshade.” Relief washed over her and she tried to smile. Somehow, with him here, everything would work out.

Her Lead Warrior leaned forward. Dripping water pooled at her side, smelling of salt, rotten vegetation, mud, and blood.

“You are alright, Leader Xhosa,” he motioned, hands erratic. Her People communicated with a rich collection of grunts, sounds, gestures, facial expressions, and arm movements, all augmented with whistles, hoots, howls, and chirps.

“Yes,” but her answer came out low and scratchy, the beat inside her chest noisy as it tried to burst through her skin. Tears filled her eyes, not from pain but happiness that Nightshade was here, exactly where she needed him. His face, the one that brought fear to those who might attack the People and devastation to those who did, projected fear.

She cocked her head and motioned, “You?”

Deep bruises marred swaths of Nightshade’s handsome physique, as though he had been pummeled by rocks.  An angry gash pulsed at the top of his leg. His strong upper arm wept from a fresh wound, its raw redness extending up his stout neck, over his stubbled cheek, and into his thick hair. Cuts and tears shredded his hands.

“I am fine,” and he fell silent. Why would he say more? He protected the People, not whined about injuries.

When she fumbled again for her neck sack, he reached in and handed her the plant she needed, a root tipped with white bulbs. She chewed as Nightshade scanned the surroundings, never pausing anywhere long, always coming back to her.

The sun shone brightly in a cloudless sky. Sweltering heat hammered down, sucking up the last of the rain that had collected in puddles on the shore. Xhosa’s protective animal skin was torn into shreds but what bothered her was she couldn’t remember how she got here.

“Nightshade, what happened?”

Her memories were a blur—terrified screams and flashes of people flying through the air, some drowning, others clinging desperately to bits of wood.

Nightshade motioned, slowly, “The storm—it hit us with a fury, the rain as heavy and fierce as a waterfall.”

A memory surfaced. Hawk, the powerful leader of the Hawk People, one arm clutching someone as the other clawed at the wet sand, dragging himself up the beach.

He was alive!

It was Hawk who offered her People a home when they had none, after more than a Moon of fleeing for their lives through lands so desolate, she didn’t know how anyone survived. Finding Hawk and his People, she thought she’d found a new homeland.

Her last hunt with Hawk flashed through her mind—the stone tip they created like the Big Head’s weapon, how she had hung by her ankles from a tree trunk to cross a deep ravine. How he grinned when she reached the other side, chest heaving but radiant with satisfaction. He told her many of his warriors shook with fear as they crossed. His pride in her that day glowed like flames at night.

For the first time in her life, she felt Sun’s warmth inside of her.

She looked around, saw quiet groups huddled together, males talking and females grooming children. Pan-do bent over a child, whispering something in her ear but no Hawk.

Where is he? But she didn’t ask Nightshade. The last time she’d seen the two together, they had fought.

She couldn’t imagine a world without Hawk. They had planned to pairmate, combine their groups into one so strong no one could ever again drive her away. She hadn’t known there were enemies worse than Big Heads until Hawk told her about the Ice Mountain invaders. They attacked Hawk’s People long before Xhosa arrived. Hawk had killed most and chased the rest back to their home, icy white cliffs that extended from Sun’s waking place to its sleeping nest, bereft of plants and animals. When he saw where they lived, he understood why they wanted his land.

The children of those dead invaders grew up and wanted revenge.

Someone moaned. She jerked to find who needed help and realized it was her. She hoped Nightshade didn’t hear.

He glanced at her and then away. “All the rafts were destroyed.”

She shook, trying to dislodge the spider webs in her brain. Hawk’s homebase was squashed between a vast stretch of open land and an uncrossable pond. They should have been safe but the Ice Mountain invaders attacked in a massive horde. Her People—and Hawk’s—were driven into the water. The rafts became their only escape. Floating on a log platform to the middle of a pond too deep to walk across was something no one had ever done but they must or die. The plan was the rafts would carry the People to safety, away from the Invaders.

That hadn’t worked.

“There were too many enemy warriors, Xhosa,” and Nightshade opened and closed his hands over and over to show her. “More than I have ever seen in one place.”

Images of warclubs slashed through her thoughts, flying spears, the howls of warriors in battle. Many died, beaten until they stopped moving, children dragged screaming from mothers. The giant female—Zvi—sprinting faster than Xhosa thought someone her size could, the children El-ga and Gadi in her arms, a spear bouncing off her back. Her size stunned the enemy, immobilized them for a breath which gave Zvi the time she needed to reach safety.

Almost to himself, Nightshade motioned, “I’ve never seen him this brave.”

Xhosa didn’t understand. “Him?” Did he mean Zvi?

“Pan-do. His warriors attacked. They saved us.” Nightshade locked onto the figure of Pan-do as he wandered among the bedraggled groups, settling by an elder with a gash across his chest and began to minister to the wound. 

“I remember,” Xhosa murmured. When the People were trapped between the trees and the water, prey waiting to be picked off, Pan-do’s warriors pounced. That gave Xhosa precious time to push the rafts out onto the water. It seemed none of the enemy knew how to swim. Pan-do sliced through the Ice Mountain invaders without fear, never giving ground.

Nightshade motioned, “He isn’t the same Leader who arrived at our homebase, desperate for protection, his People defeated.”

Xhosa’s hands suddenly felt clammy. “Is Lyta alive?”

Since the death of his pairmate, before Xhosa met him, Pan-do’s world revolved around his daughter, Lyta. He became Leader of his People to protect her. When he arrived at the People’s homebase, Lyta stood out, unusual in an otherwise homogenous group. First, it was her haunting beauty, as though she shined from within, her hair as radiant as Sun. Awe turned to shock when she walked, her gait awkward on malformed feet. She should have been destroyed as a child but Pan-do said he had never considered it. He explained that in Moons of migration, before joining Xhosa’s People, Lyta had never slowed them down. He didn’t expect that to change if the two groups traveled together.

And then she spoke. Her voice was like bird’s song and a gift to People exhausted from the day’s work. It cheered up worried adults and put smiles on the faces of children, its melodic beauty convincing them that everything would work out.

It was more than a Moon after his arrival before Pan-do told Xhosa what he valued most about his daughter. Lyta could see truth simply by watching. No one could hide a lie from her, and she never hid it from her father. Pan-do kept it secret because the people it threatened might try to silence her. He only told Xhosa because Lyta had witnessed a conversation about a plan to kill Xhosa.

One of the people Lyta didn’t recognize but the other, he was someone Xhosa trusted.

When Nightshade nodded, Yes, Lyta lives, Xhosa relaxed but only for a moment.


Nightshade nodded toward a group of warriors. In the middle, eyes alert and hands energetic, stood Sa-mo-ke.

She sighed with relief. Pan-do’s Lead Warrior was also Nightshade’s greatest supporter outside of the People. When he first arrived, Sa-mo-ke spent Moons mimicking her Lead Warrior’s fighting techniques until his skill became almost as formidable as Nightshade’s with one critical difference. While Nightshade liked killing, Sa-mo-ke did so only when necessary.

Nightshade motioned, “Escape came at a tremendous cost, Xhosa. Many died, the rafts were destroyed, and we are now stranded in an unfamiliar land filled with nameless threats.”

It doesn’t matter, she whispered to herself. We are good at migrating.

She jerked her head around, and then motioned, “Where’s Spirit?”

The loyal wolf had lived with people his entire life. He proved himself often while hunting, defending his packmates, and being a good friend. An image flitted across her mind, Spirit streaking toward the rafts, thrusting his formidable body like a spear through the shocked hordes. The enemy had never seen an animal treat People as pack. Then, the wolf swimming, paws churning the water into whitecaps, gaze locked onto Seeker. Endless Pond was too deep for him to touch the bottom so his head bobbed up and down, feet paddling like a duck’s as he fought to stay above the surface.

Nightshade gestured, “The attackers almost killed Spirit.”

She bit her lip, concentrating. “I remember Mammoth’s trumpets.”

The rare hint of a smile creased his mouth. “Another of Pan-do’s tricks. It saved Spirit and probably all of us. He brayed like a herd of Mammoth thundering toward the shoreline. The invaders fled for their lives.”

Pan-do is clever.

Nightshade grimaced. “But the storm worsened and the rafts foundered. Many of the People managed to cling to logs long enough to crash onto this shore. Then, they saved others. But many died.”

He opened and closed his hands to show how many.

A stillness descended as Nightshade’s gaze filled with a raw emotion he never showed. It shook Xhosa. Nothing frightened her Lead Warrior.

She gulped which hurt her insides. Shallow breaths worked better. Rolling to her hands and knees, she stood which made her head swim and she threw up.

Finally, the dizziness subsided and Xhosa asked, “Hawk?”

Nightshade peered around, hands fidgeting. He examined something on the ground, toed it with his foot. “When the tempest destroyed the rafts, he dragged many to shore, to safety. The last time, he did not return. I tried to find him.”

Soundless tears dampened her face. Nightshade touched her but Xhosa focused on a trail of ants and a worm burrowing into the soft earth. Her vision dimmed and she stumbled, fell, and then crawled, happy for the pain that took her mind off Hawk. When she forced herself up, everything blurred but she inhaled, slowly, and again, until she could finally see clearly.

How dare Hawk die! We had plans. Xhosa shoved those thoughts away. Later was soon enough to deal with them.

“His People—do they know?”