Spotlight & Excerpt: As Fast as She Can, by E. F. Schraeder

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As Fast as She Can - E. F. Schraeder
E. F. Schraeder has a new lesbian horror / coming of age book out: As Fast As She Can.

Living in a quiet house on the outskirts of town, Ginger isn’t like the other girls.

When she wakes up and discovers the unthinkable about her adoptive parents, she runs away and goes on a rampage straight to the only friend she has. Can she control what they both become?

With a violent, growing hunger and more questions than answers, Ginger has nowhere to turn.

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Excerpt

As Fast as She Can meme - E. F. Schraeder
Two dozen camps dotted the acreage around the five-mile perimeter of the lake. The trails that linked the parcels were scarcely marked. Off season, only half of the cottages would have guests, and even fewer would have phones or cell coverage. The land was big enough and remote enough for the girls to stay lost.

Cory and Ginger approached the first camp they saw and crept outside, peering into the windows to see what awaited them. Cory tripped over a rusted canoe leaning against the side of the house. As it crashed to the ground, a light flared on in the back of the house, illuminating the fifteen feet to the shed behind the house.

Cory yelped. “Shit.”

“Shh,” Ginger whispered. She set a hand on Cory’s shoulder. “They’ll think it’s an animal.”

“It is.” Cory bared her teeth and snarled. Cory crouched, her small frame hunched against the peeling blue paint of the cottage. Her slender shoulders pulled up, and the heavy gray hood of her sweatshirt drooped over her head. A shadow across her face accentuated the wide-eyed expression.

“You’re sort of hot when you’re hunting,” Ginger said. She bit her lower lip, immediately regretting the admission. Urgent, warm hunger pressed in Ginger’s stomach. She returned a low growl. “Let’s go,” she whispered, her voice hoarse.

They crashed into the front door, lunged onto the scrawny old man in the kitchen before he had time to squeeze the trigger of his shotgun. They tore the patchy pajama shirt from his lean body and shredded him in seconds.

“That’s it?” Cory asked. A dribble of saliva clung to her mouth as she licked her lips.

“Guess he lives alone.” Ginger wiped her face clean on her sleeve. They kicked through the house, looking for anything interesting to take. “Need a flashlight?” Ginger swatted the heavy silver flashlight that swung from a looped handle on a nail.

“No, I can see in the dark.” Cory paused. “Hey, I can see in the dark. Is that, like, a thing for us?” She smiled, her pupils returned to normal now that she’d fed.

“I guess. I don’t know. Not like I had a course in zombification before I got to you.” Ginger laughed. “How many camps are up here?” she asked.

Cory shrugged. “Hope there’s a bigger family or something we can sink our teeth into.” She rummaged through the old man’s desk drawers. She tossed stacks of papers onto the floor, they scattered in heaps. “Ah ha!” She pulled out a slim, golden-handled hunting knife. “Now this, I like!”

Ginger grabbed the knife, sliced a ‘Z’ shape into the air. “Nice, but I don’t think we need weapons.”

“Whatever. It’s still badass.” Cory tucked the blade into its sheath and undid her belt, slipping the knife holster into position at her waist. “Cool, right?”

“Okay, it does look badass. You’ve got a whole burnout serial killer look happening now.” Ginger clicked off the back porch light. “It’s really working for you.” She opened the door and waved Cory ahead of her.

“Hot, huh?” Cory winked as she walked by, her arm brushed Ginger’s hip.

Ginger let out a quick gasp before she could stop herself. Embarrassed that Cory had heard her and a little curious. She sighed. She wondered if something was going on between them, something way better than eating campers. Ginger bit down on the inside of her mouth briefly and giggled.

“Still hungry?” Cory asked.

Somehow, the question struck Ginger as flirtatious. She didn’t know what to say. I’ve got to be imagining this, right? Ginger shrugged, chasing behind Cory as she ran ahead in search of the next cabin. I mean, we’re pretty messed up right now . . .

For three hours, Cory and Ginger ransacked camps, devouring everyone they found, dragging the residents into the moonlight one at a time. The small camps around the pond were spread out, sparse enough among the trees to conceal the screams. As they gorged they left only blood and destruction in their wake.

Crickets fell quiet as the girls ran over boulders along the water’s edge. Their movements were smooth and silent. Cory stopped abruptly, balancing on one leg in a karate pose.

“>Ginger, do ya’ think the cops are after us?”

“Duh, of course they are! Or will be. Why?”

“I don’t know. It’s kind of awesome, that’s all.”

“Which part?” Ginger smiled.

“Well, the whole ‘killed my mom and took to the woods’ part, mostly. You know? Or is that like total after school special bullshit?”

“No, it’s way worse than some crap about bulimia or underage drinking.” Ginger’s laughter came in spurts. She wiped her brow. “I mean, I think we’re in a whole different league of problem children.”

“Hey, Ginger,” Cory said after a few moments of silence. “Aren’t we supposed to be like, all ‘uugh, brains’ and shit?” She waved her arms in front of her in a classic Frankenstein pose.

Ginger chuckled. This is perfect. The two of us against the world. What could be better? “No, I mean, I don’t know. We’re pretty quick though, right?” She pushed her hair out of her face and smiled.

“Totally!” Cory squatted low on the stone and then sprang up, kicking out one leg. “I’m like, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Zombie.”

Ginger fell over laughing. It took her a minute to realize Cory had run ahead to another camp. She pushed herself up onto her elbows and ran to the house. Cory was already inside by the time Ginger arrived.

“Look at him!” Cory shrieked with pleasure tugging the long, wavy blonde hair of a thin teenage boy out the front door. He struggled while Cory dragged him easily into the grassy yard.

A motion activated security floodlight clicked on and shone white in their faces. The boy wiggled and winced, tried to yank himself away from her, but he only managed to rip the sleeve off his shirt. Cory sunk her fingers deep into the joint of his rotator cuff and pressed her face into the wound until she felt the dull thud of bone crack against her teeth. “He’s cute. Let’s keep him! Can we keep him?” she squealed.

The boy howled in agony, blood soaking his chest.

“He’s not a puppy, Cory. You can’t just decide to…” Ginger paused, watching Cory pull the boy back into her mouth. Ginger squinted at the boy and nodded. She pursed her lips like she was about to speak, but her expression went blank. She cocked her head to a distant noise. What was that? Voices? Ginger focused. There was nothing in the yard but corpses. Ginger tugged a tangle of auburn hair into a ponytail. She rested a hand on one hip then said, “If you like him, flip him.” She was surprised she felt so amicable to Cory’s idea, but maybe it made a certain sort of sense. Why not a third? Maybe three’s a charm.

The boy wriggled beneath Cory’s clutch for a few moments then the spasms settled. He groaned as if he knew the lucky ones died. Cory tore off the other sleeve of his blood-soaked shirt and gently wiped the mess from his shoulder.

Cory pulled out her hand from his shoulder muscles clenching a soft chunk of wet flesh. She lowered her lips to the fresh wound with a smile then pressed her teeth into him. A satisfying gush of blood spurted into her mouth. She moaned in satisfaction.

“Take it easy if you’re keeping him.” Ginger flung a dismembered hand from the boy’s father at Cory.


Author Bio

E. F. Schraeder

E.F. Schraeder is the author of the queer gothic novella Liar: Memoir of a Haunting (Omnium Gatherum, 2021), which was an Imadjinn Award finalist in 2022. Schraeder is also the author of a story collection and two poetry chapbooks.

Schraeder’s recent work has appeared in Lost Contact, Strange Horizons, The Feminist Wire, Birthing Monsters, Mobius: The Journal of Social Change, Mystery Weekly Magazine, Lavender Review, and other journals and anthologies. Schraeder’s nonfiction has been included in Vastarien: A Literary Journal; Radical Teacher; the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom blog, and elsewhere. Awarded first place in Crystal Lake Publishing’s 2021 Poetry Contest, E.F. Schraeder’s work also placed as a semi-finalist in Headmistress Press’ Charlotte Mew Contest (2019). Current creative projects a full length manuscript of poems and an unruly collection of essays. An ex-professor and youth librarian, Schraeder holds an interdisciplinary Ph.D. and advanced degree in Library Science. An Active Member in the Horror Writers Association and a Lifetime Member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, E. F. Schraeder believes in ghosts, magic, and dogs.

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Book Blitz & Excerpt: Amethyst + Giveaway

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Amethyst by Rebecca Henry

Book 1 in the Ambrosia Hill series

General Release Date: 26th April 2022

Word Count: 31,456
Book Length: SHORT NOVEL
Pages: 117

Genres:

GLBTQI
LESBIAN
PARANORMAL
ROMANCE
YOUNG ADULT

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Book Description


She was sent away because of her feelings for another girl. But what she discovered at her aunts’ lake house was a birthright of magic.

Thirteen-year-old Zinnia is about to turn fourteen when her life is flipped upside down. With her parents on the brink of a divorce, Zinnia is sent to spend the summer with her eccentric great-aunts at their lake house away from her home in Manhattan. Zinnia arrives at her aunts’ massive Victorian house with a heavy heart after a recent falling out with her best friend Charlotte, who betrayed her trust by showing the meanest and most popular girl in school a letter Zinnia wrote confessing her feelings for Charlotte. The aunts rely on practical magic, acceptance and old family friends to help heal their great-niece in more ways than one.

What Zinnia discovers on Ambrosia Hill is more than just her birthright to magic—she meets Billie, a girl who conjures feelings inside Zinnia that she can no longer deny.

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of homophobia and mild peril.

Excerpt

“It’s just for the summer.” That’s what my parents told me as I boarded the train to spend three months in the countryside with my great-aunts. The city skyline faded into the distance, replaced by rolling hills that climbed high into the horizon. The gentle rocking of the train lulled me into a trance. Three months in an old house, on top of a tall hill overlooking a silent lake in a sleepy village with nothing to do, was enough to make me lose my mind.

“Great,” I said out loud to myself, my thoughts turning to the city that I was leaving behind. There was always something to do in Manhattan, whether it was going out to eat, going to a skateboard park, catching a movie or going to the mall. By the time the conductor announced Ambrosia Hill, I was the only passenger left. Me, myself, and I, all alone, a ticket for one to the last stop on the line.

I peeked out of the window and saw the glistening ripples of Lake Cauldron. The black turrets of a tall Victorian-style house touched the clouds like a church steeple in an empty town. I could almost see both my aunts sitting on the porch overlooking their enormous garden, drinking freshly squeezed lemonade with their long black dresses, wide-brimmed hats and crimson boots. As the train rolled to a stop, I grabbed my suitcase then left the car. The station was quiet and empty, much like my plans for the summer. I swung my bag over my shoulder and rolled my suitcase to the parking lot.

I took a moment to remind myself that this was just for the summer. My old life would still be waiting for me in September with the same boring school, the same bullying kids and the same depressing apartment with my parents still on the verge of a divorce…but it was my life, and I resented being sent away from it. I brushed my long hair out of my face, wishing I could grow up by September, skip high school and be off to college, or go backward in life to when things were happier and be a little kid again. Anything would be better than being thirteen in the twenty-first century.

Charlie was waiting by his old pickup truck. The rusted hubcaps were a deeper shade of orange than the last time he had met me at the station, and I thought a headlight might be out, but overall, the car seemed functional enough. Charlie flashed me a big, fatherly smile. The wrinkles around his eyes traveled down the sides of his face, and for a moment I couldn’t believe how time had caught up to him since my last visit. “Well, look at you, Zinnia! You’ve shot up like a string bean.”

Charlie reached straight for my suitcase and threw it into the truck. His hearty laugh filled the cabin as we both buckled in. “I almost didn’t recognize you there with how you’ve grown.” I looked down at my cramped legs, desperate to stretch out as my knees touched the glove compartment. Charlie patted my back and turned the key inside the ignition, bringing life to the beat-up truck as the engine groaned like an old dog too tired to wake from its nap. “Here we go, String Bean! Off like a herd of turtles at the races.”

I cracked a smile at this, almost by accident, before wiping it away and looking out of the window. I could admit that I liked Ole Charlie. He’d been neighbors with my aunts for over forty years, and I’d known him all my life, so I thought it was safe to say that he was basically family. “Wait till your aunts get a look at you, string bean.”

I rolled my eyes as I tried, and once again failed, to conceal my smile. Every time I visited my aunts, Ole Charlie gave me a new nickname. I suppose my nickname for this summer is going to be string bean. I whispered it to myself for a test drive and annoyingly, it wasn’t so annoying.

“It’s been a few years since you and your mom visited us on Ambrosia Hill.” Charlie looked over at me with his old brown eyes full of affection. “Not ashamed to say we’ve missed you, string bean.”

Mom loved coming to Ambrosia Hill. The aunts had raised her after my grandma became sick and couldn’t take care of my mom anymore. Mom said visiting with Grandma during that time was the hardest thing she’d ever had to do, and it was a sad relief for everyone when Grandma passed away. That was the day Mom packed up a suitcase and moved to the city, where she eventually met my dad and had me. But she never forgot where she came from, and every summer she and I would come up by train to Ambrosia Hill and visit our aunts. At least until my parents started fighting.

I was nine years old when they had their first big fight and I remembered hiding under the kitchen table hugging the wooden leg, hoping that if I stayed hidden, it wouldn’t be real, and everything would go back to the way it was. But that didn’t happen, and the fighting only got worse. Mom was too ashamed to visit the aunts after that. With her marriage on the brink of divorce, she felt like a failure. She’d left home to chase her big-city dreams on Broadway, and instead of achieving that dream, she had gotten a reputable job, one where she could achieve success. But even if she didn’t live her exact dream, at least she was in the city, married and a mother. She’d had a good life before all the fighting began.

I rolled my window down and stuck my head out as we began the long slope up Ambrosia Hill. The village was named after the hill and apparently my aunts’ house was one of the first settlements on Lake Cauldron. Most people with lake houses invested in updating their homes into fancy summer getaways from the city. But not my aunts. They’d lived in their house for the majority of their lives, and they refused to change even a single detail, including their old purple porch.

My great-aunts loved purple and black, from the violet-painted siding to the ebony trimming along every window and doorframe. Even their garden was filled with purple and black flowers mixed amongst the green foliage. The house was the same on the inside, with rich black wood furnishing and purple wallpaper. My room was in the attic when I came to visit and it was a fairytale room hidden from the rest of the massive house. When I was a little girl, we’d painted the ceiling a deep indigo with pale crescent moons and diamond-shaped stars. The walls were papered in pale pink with blue roses. Pink and champagne ceiling lights hung across the attic and warm fairy lights covered every square inch of the room. An old-fashioned canopy bed with four black posts sat in the center.

Growing up, I used to pretend that I was a princess locked in a tower waiting for my one true love to rescue me. But what I didn’t admit to anyone, at least not then, was that I never wanted to be rescued by a prince. I wanted someone else, something different from what the other girls my age wanted in life, and the typical happy ending didn’t feel right to me. Fairy tales screw kids up. It wasn’t who I wanted to rescue me that was the issue—it was the fact I thought I needed to be rescued by anyone. My parents were desperate to understand what I wanted, and when they couldn’t, they started insisting that it was simply a phase, and that I’d grow out of it once I met the right boy. Truthfully, I don’t think they even had the time to worry about me. They were far too busy arguing with each other.

Still, my dad was persistent that time away with my aunts would clear my head and eventually I’d forget all about the girl from my class. The girl with the red hair and freckles who had stabbed me in the back. The girl who had been yanked out of St. Hope and enrolled into another school the second her parents discovered the letter I had written to her. A letter that had gone around my entire middle school and had labeled me forever. It had hurt at first, knowing that kids in school slapped me with a label like I was different from them. I wasn’t different—I was just me and I deserved to be myself like everybody else in the world. I wouldn’t allow some meddling bullies to affect me. I would not let them win by showing them how they’d hurt me.

As the truck stopped outside the garden gate, Aunt Stella and Aunt Luna jumped up from their rickety porch chairs and ran down the driveway to greet me. Aunt Luna was carrying a black kitten in her arms, and Aunt Stella was holding on to the top of her wide-brimmed hat, which shielded her eyes from the glaring sun. Almost unconsciously, I ran to meet them, flying into their arms. The tears that I had been holding back rushed out of me like a waterfall. They burned my flushed face as I clung to my aunts. They comforted and cuddled me like momma birds.

“It’s all right now, my darling girl. You’re with us. No one will hurt you.” I looked into Aunt Stella’s loving eyes. There with them on Ambrosia Hill, I could be me. I didn’t have to wear a mask or pretend to be strong—I could allow my tears to flow freely.

“You are our little love and always will be.” Aunt Luna cupped my face in her chubby hand, and I reached for her like a child hugging a teddy bear.

“Come now. I know exactly what you need,” piped up Aunt Stella.

“Yes, yes, yes!” clucked Aunt Luna as she handed me the black kitten. “A glass of chocolate almond milk with a chocolate chip cookie is just the thing for this occasion.” Both aunts turned on their heels and shuffled back to the house.

“Come along, dear!” called Aunt Stella. I turned and waved goodbye to Ole Charlie, who tipped his cap at me with a wink before getting back in his truck and driving away.

The purple and black walls swelled when I walked inside the dark house, then surrounded me like a giant hug and for a moment, it felt like the house was alive and greeting me with love. Nothing had changed in the three years since I had last visited. Black candles sat inside tall iron holders. Old dusty books decorated the built-in bookshelves along the far wall. Dried herbs hung from every rafter and exposed beam. Inside the large wood-burning fireplace were towers of quartz crystals. Branches of eucalyptus draped around the mantel, trailing to the floor. Wicker baskets littered the house, filled with yarn, empty glass jars and pouches of dried herbs.

I inhaled, breathing in the scent of my summer home, my other life…a part of me I had almost forgotten existed. Suddenly, I was overcome with the realization I had forgotten my true self. Standing amongst my aunts’ collection of tarot cards, pentagrams and spell books, I remembered the inner strength I had inside me. There is another identity to the Fern women, an identity my mother tried to hide from the world. Only in Ambrosia Hill were we free to be who we truly were—a lineage of magical women.

My aunts scurried back from the kitchen with Aunt Luna carrying a tray of homemade cookies and three glasses of chocolate almond milk. Aunt Stella caught me eyeballing the clutter surrounding me and placed a hand upon her hip.

“Darling girl, a clean house is a sign of a misspent life.” She raised her eyebrows to support her statement.

“Come along, dear. We have something important to do,” Aunt Luna said as she skipped past me, stopping to kiss the kitten, which was, by then, curled up like a baby in the crook of my arm.

“You won’t want to miss it, dear!” added in Aunt Stella as she raced up behind me, shoving me back out the front door and onto the porch. A tote bag was draped over her shoulder.

The aunts placed the tote bag and tray of treats onto the porch table as they chirped back and forth to one another in playful banter. “She forgot what day it is! Why, this used to be her favorite day of the summer. Apart from her birthday, that is.” Aunt Luna laughed.

Aunt Stella nodded, positioning a stack of card paper neatly on the table. “She’s been inhaling too much smog in that city. The fresh air will do her lungs some good, she’ll remember any moment now,” she replied. Her heeled boot tapped against the weathered wood floor. I sat down between them, setting the kitten on the table next to a vase of purple orchids and some black candles.

“What am I supposed to be remembering?” I could feel the creases in my forehead grow deeper as I desperately tried to recall what special day it was. My aunts both looked at me with their eyebrows raised gesturing at the random items scattered on the table in front of them. I shrugged in apology, still not grasping the significance of the day.

“It’s the summer solstice!” they sang in union.

I turned my wrist up and caught the date on my smartwatch. “Oh, my gosh, it’s June twenty-first.”

Coming from a historical line of green witches, the summer solstice had always been a significant day with an important purpose for the Fern women. Every June twenty-first, my aunts wrote about the things they wanted to let go of in their lives, things that no longer served a purpose. After they wrote their messages in gold ink, they folded the paper into a tiny boat and placed a tealight inside it. When the crescent moon appeared in the night sky, they lit the candle and released the boats into Lake Cauldron. It was a symbol of new beginnings and a chance for positive self-growth. I shook my head, amazed that I had forgotten about the summer solstice.

Both my great aunts had lived their entire lives as green witches, just as their mother and her mother before her had done, going back three hundred years. My aunts had educated me at an early age on how to be a green witch. The very essence of a green witch was to be a naturalist, someone who connected with nature on a personal and powerful level. Green witches were wise women, herbalists and healers who helped those around them by using the properties of nature. We may never use magic to harm others or for personal gain. I was a green witch by birth rite, and fourteen was a significant year for a teenage witch. I hadn’t identified as a practicing witch before. I’d never cast spells on my own. Any spells I had done were guided by my aunts. However, at fourteen, Fern witches developed individual traits and branched out into our own magic. I could feel a change coming. One that would redirect my path forever.

“Ha! She remembers! I told you she would. You worry too much, that’s your problem, Luna.”

Aunt Luna placed her hands on her round hips with her head cocked defiantly to the side. “I do not. You’re the one who worries.”

Aunt Stella waved her hand in the air. “Pish-posh. I am as calm as a cucumber, but you could worry the horns off a billy goat.”

I giggled, breaking up their banter. I reached for the gold pen and a piece of black cardstock. I stared at the paper, unable to find the words I needed to write. I could feel them stirring inside me and I could see them take form in the shape of her face.

Aunt Luna reached for my hand, understanding my internal struggle. Aunt Luna was the maternal one of the two sisters. She lived to nurture those around her, and her maternal instincts were fierce when it came to me. Although Aunt Stella was stern, she had an intense love that ran deeper than any river marked on a map, and I could feel that love surrounding me as I stared at the pen in my hand. It baffled me why neither she nor Aunt Luna ever had children of their own. I made a mental note to ask them someday.

“Draw, dear,” whispered Aunt Luna. “A picture can be just as powerful as words. If your artistic expression helps you, then draw whatever you need to let go of.”

Before I could respond, my hand moved involuntarily, sketching the outline of her face. Of all their faces, everyone who had hurt me.

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About the Author

Rebecca Henry

Rebecca Henry is an American author living abroad in England. She is a devoted vegan who gardens, practices yoga, crafts, travels the world, and bakes. Rebecca’s favorite holiday is Halloween, and she is obsessed with anything and everything witchy! Besides writing fiction, Rebecca is also the author of her vegan holiday cookbook collection. Her love for animals, baking with her family, having a plant-based diet and cruelty-free food all came together in her holiday cookbook collection.

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Book Blitz & Excerpt: Love Burns + Giveaway

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Love Burns, By Adrian J. Smith

Word Count: 79,076
Book Length: SUPER NOVEL
Pages: 303

Genres:

CELEBRITIES
CONTEMPORARY
EROTIC ROMANCE
GLBTQI
LESBIAN

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Book Description

A chef must learn to open her heart when challenged by her young but wise nanny, who has a knack for turning up the heat.

Kimberly Thompson—or Kim Burns, her stage name—is a celebrity chef whose career is taking off. As a single mom who has a penchant for being a bit of a bitch, she goes through nannies like the flavor of the month until Becca Kline is sent to her by Kiddie Academy.

Becca—known as ‘the fixer’—is often sent to homes considered to be troublemakers. In charge of caring for four-year-old Michael, she is determined to make this job her last before student teaching in the fall and finishing up her degree, which she has been working on for the better part of a decade.

Neither Kimberly nor Becca are prepared for the changes headed toward them, and they both have to learn the hard way that love doesn’t wait or discriminate.

Reader advisory: This book contains references to drug use.

Excerpt

Becca carefully set the last of her picture frames into the cardboard box then shoved two shirts around them, making sure they were tight against the sides. Folding over the flaps, she pressed down lightly as she pulled the packing tape across to seal the box. This day had come far sooner than she had hoped, but the twins she had watched over for the past year were officially on track with life, and she was no longer needed. It was time for them and her to move on.

The agency, Kiddie Academy, was sending her to a new home. They had warned her it would most likely be a temporary position. No one lasted long at this appointment. Becca had heard the rumors before Kiddie Academy had even decided to send her there. The other nannies all talked, all shared, and she had seen a vast number of women go through that house in just two short years.

Nerves ramped up in her belly as she picked up the box and walked it out in a light March rain to her run-down car. After opening the back door, she slid it in, her entire life fitting into the small sedan. Sighing and brushing away a few tears, Becca went to the house, triple-checked that she had everything, then set the alarm and left. All her goodbyes had been said, and this was how she’d wanted it—quiet and without fanfare.

Slipping behind the wheel, Becca turned the engine and backed out of the drive. A year had been a good run, her longest nanny position yet, but it was time for a new life—perhaps her last before she finally finished her degree. She was the fixer, the one who went into struggling homes and helped the kids turn around. That was what her employer Kiddie Academy called her, anyway. With a steadying breath, Becca headed to the address on the files she’d acquired, ready to begin her new job.

When she pulled up outside the house, she was gobsmacked. The house itself was beautiful, but it was also huge. This was the upper class. They routinely had nannies and maids who were live-ins and had their own sections of the house. That was why she’d opted to work for those families, to cut down her costs, pay more for school—that’d been her theory, anyway.

But this house? There was something different about it. The tans and browns blended together to look like a vast desert in the middle of a rainforest because of the number of trees and shrubs and green things that surrounded the building. Stepping out of her car, the glimmer of the sun off the waters in the pool caught her eye. She took a step to the side of the house to get a better look and let out a deep breath. Clenching her jaw, Becca flipped through the papers in her hand again and looked for the name of her new employer.

Kimberly Thompson.

Something about it rang a bell, but she couldn’t place the name. Still, the niggling feeling in the back of her mind didn’t leave. Turning on her toes, Becca headed for the front door. Nerves swelled in her belly, but she tamped them down before pressing the bell. The ring echoed through the house. There was a loud thump then pattering feet as their owner no doubt raced toward the door.

Becca heard a small voice on the other side, squeaky but clear.

“Can I open it, Mama? Can I? Can I?”

“Wait until I get there, please. You know better than to just open doors for strangers.”

“But can I open it?”

Becca smiled to herself, knowing she’d likely have the same conversation with any child in her care. It was only a few more seconds before the handle turned and the left side of the French door snicked open a crack, revealing the bright brown eyes and red cheeks of a small, cheery boy. Becca planted the softest smile she could on her face and bent down to his level.

“Afternoon,” she offered. “I’m Becca. You must be Michael.”

“Open it all the way, kid.” The woman’s voice, still behind the door, was solid and strong, but her admonition to Michael was said with a tone of love.

Michael shoved the door the rest of the way open, the door itself flinging rapidly toward the wall. A small hand with thick, short fingers caught it before it slammed to a stop.

“Michael…we don’t open doors like that.”

“Who are you?” His small voice was full of curiosity. He completely ignored the beautiful woman now standing fully revealed before Becca.

Becca had to work hard to pry her eyes away from her, but she managed to glance again at Michael and hold her hand out for him. “I’m Becca. It’s good to meet you.”

The woman stepped behind Michael and pressed her fingers to his shoulder in a protective manner. “Are you from Kiddie Academy?”

“I am.” Becca straightened her back and turned her smile toward whom she presumed was Kimberly, her new employer, hoping it would disarm some of the hostility coming off her in waves. “I know I’m a little early.”

Kimberly waved her away before stepping forward and extending her own hand. “It’s all right. I’m Kim. This is Michael. We just finished dinner. Come on in. Michael can give you the grand tour while I clean up.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Becca put her focus on Michael as she swallowed the lump in her throat. First impressions were everything, and while she was there for Michael, her impressions of Kimberly mattered far more, since she was the source of Kiddie Academy’s problems. “What are you going to show me first?”

Michael bounced on his bare feet briefly before running inside. “My room!”

Chuckling, Becca waited for Kimberly to move to the side so she could come in, but Kimberly hesitated. Their eyes locked, and Becca found herself lost in the pale hazel with a hint of yellow. Becca raised an eyebrow and cocked her head to the side, surprised when Kimberly jerked and held her hand open for Becca to walk through the doorway.

As soon as Becca was inside with Kimberly behind her, out of her immediate sight, she was able to relax briefly. But she was just as lost as ever. Michael was nowhere to be found, and the inside of the house matched the outside. It was huge. The living area took over most of what she could see, and from there, all she saw was a kitchen.

Kimberly stepped beside her. “His room is down the hall off the kitchen. Third door on the left.”

“Right. Thanks.”

Becca headed away from Kimberly, hoping she’d masked the shudder racing up her spine. The niggling feeling that she knew Kimberly came back sharply, but Becca ignored it and focused on Michael—the main reason she was there. She knocked on the door and grinned.

“You left so fast that I missed where you went. You must be as fast as Flash!”

Michael stopped where he stood and cocked his head to the side, the toy tractor slipping from his fingers onto the floor. “Who’s Flash?”

“What? You don’t know who Flash is?”

Michael shook his head. Becca stepped onto the carpet and curled her legs under her to sit down on the floor in front of him. She grabbed the tractor and set it the right way. “Flash is the fastest man alive. He was struck by lightning, and he became as fast as lightning. He can run for days and never stop. He can run so fast that you can’t see him.”

“Is he a superhero?”

“He sure is.”

“Cool!” Michael plopped down on the floor and grabbed the controller for his tractor. He drove it in circles around Becca, and she laughed as he ran into things and narrowly avoided her. Occasionally, she would pretend she was scared he was going to scoop her up and dump her somewhere else. Michael roared with laughter as he attempted to run her over.

Becca had no idea how much time had passed, but when she glanced out of the window after hearing footsteps down the hall, she realized it was dusk. She glanced around the room for a clock, found none then looked at her watch. “Michael, do you suppose it’s getting close to bedtime?”

He sheepishly crossed his legs and looked down at his hands in his lap. “I guess.”

“Do you think we should clean up your toys before bed, so your room is nice and clean in the morning?”

“I guess…” he muttered.

Becca smirked and picked up the tractor. “Where does this go?”

He jumped up, took it from her and put it in a cubby against the wall. It didn’t take them long before the room was cleaned, and when he turned to look toward the door and not Becca, Becca was taken off-guard.

“We cleaned my room!” He beamed.

“That you did.” Kimberly’s voice was like silk, floating over Becca’s skin and warming her. “Did you show Becca anywhere else other than your room?”

“Ummm. I did.”

Becca glanced up in time to see Kimberly give Michael a look that meant business. “Did you?”

“No. We just played.”

The smile that brushed Kimberly’s lips was one of pure love. “Why don’t you get changed into your jammies, and I will show Becca the rest of the house.”

“Okay!”

He jumped up without another question. Becca, however, rolled to her side then got up to her feet. When she stood, facing the door, she found herself within an arm’s reach of Kimberly. Her heart rate ratcheted up and her breath left her lungs.

“This way.”

The curt tone was back, and Becca couldn’t figure out if it was just her Kimberly wasn’t liking or if she was like this with everyone. Doubling down on her efforts, Becca knew she’d have to make progress, otherwise her name would end up back on the available list like everyone else who had been through this house.

Becca followed Kimberly the way she had come before, her eyes focused on Kimberly’s swaying hips. Kimberly had generous curves and a rounded butt covered by skin-tight leggings. Her shirt billowed a little more as she moved, her dark hair straight down her back.

“There’s a bathroom at the end of the hall that Michael uses. The kitchen’s here, living area… There is a den down that hall, along with two guest rooms. There’s also the sunroom that leads to the pool that way. Michael is not allowed near the pool or in the backyard without you or me. You are CPR trained, correct?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Becca answered.

Kimberly wrinkled her nose. “No need for that. You can call me Kim.”

“Kim. Kim Burns.” The click in Becca’s head was nearly audible. “You’re Kim Burns. How did I not put that together?”

Kimberly hummed to herself. “I am. Didn’t think you recognized me. I tell Kiddie Academy not to share, so I’m not surprised they didn’t tell you. That, and Burns is my maiden name, not my married name.”

Becca’s eyes widened again, her muscles locking up with a touch of fear and worry. “I’m so sorry. I should have recognized you. I’ve seen your cooking show.”

“I don’t expect people to know who I am, but thank you.”

Becca grinned and winked. “I didn’t say I liked your show. I just said I’d seen it.”

Kimberly smirked, and it was the first time Becca felt she’d made a chink in Kimberly’s thick and solid armor. It was a small one, but a chink at that. Kimberly pushed open the door to a room down a hallway the complete opposite direction from Michael’s.

“This is your wing…bedroom and bathroom. You’ll have to share the kitchen with us. I do apologize for that, but I rarely cook when I’m home.”

“Don’t blame you for that. I can’t imagine cooking all day then coming home after work and wanting to cook again.”

Kimberly let out a snort. “Exactly. We can discuss everything else once you get a bit more settled and once Michael is asleep. I’d rather not mess up his routine any more than necessary.”

“Absolutely. I’ll just bring in my stuff then.”

“Here’s a key.” Kimberly held out the single key between her thumb and forefinger, dangling it in front of Becca. “I’ve got a file for you with the alarm code and everything else that you’ll need to know.”

“Got it.” Becca reached forward and held her hand open so Kimberly could drop the key into her palm. She would much prefer to avoid touching Kimberly if at all possible. Something about her set Becca’s nerves on fire.

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About the Author

Adrian J. Smith

Adrian J. Smith has been publishing since 2013 but has been writing nearly her entire life. With a focus on women loving women fiction, AJ jumps genres from action-packed police procedurals to the seedier life of vampires and witches to sweet romances with a May-December twist. She loves writing and reading about women in the midst of the ordinariness of life. Two of her novels received honorable mentions with the Rainbow Awards.

AJ currently lives in Cheyenne, WY, although she moves often and has lived all over the United States. She loves to travel to different countries and places. She currently plays the roles of author, wife, mother to two rambunctious toddlers, and occasional handy-woman. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, or her blog.

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