Spotlight & Excerpt: I Promise You Pain, by Bart Baker

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“Not your daddy’s Jack Reacher, Cordon Finn is a different breed…”

Welcome to the book tour for I Promise You Pain by Bart Baker. Read on for more details!

bookcover I Promise You Pain

I Promise you Pain
(The Cordon Finn Vengeance Series #1)
by Bart Baker
Genre: Crime Fiction/ Action Thriller/ LGBTQ2+ Books
Publication Date: May 11, 2023

Hired by a Chicago billionaire to pluck his runaway son from the Palm Springs compound of a wealthy pedophile, former military extraction and information specialist, Cordon Finn, believes it will be a simple snatch-and-go job with a big payday. But Cordon discovers that his quarry isn’t the billionaire’s underage son, but rather his trans-daughter, Lucious, whose father wants her dead. After fighting off assassins, Cordon vows to keep Lucious alive. But when the billionaire kidnaps Cordon’s girlfriend and comes after his family and friends, Cordon takes the fight back to the billionaire’s door. With the help of Lucious and his sister, Annie, Cordon craves vengeance, even if the cost is his own life.

I PROMISE YOU PAIN contains brutal violence as well as raw language, consensual and nonconsensual sex. There are trans and gay characters. Not your daddy’s Jack Reacher, Cordon Finn is a different breed. Fascinating, faceted, damaged but relatable, Cordon seeks vengeance for those who can’t.

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“I got money,” Lucious says. “Whatever you’re getting paid for, whatever you’re doing, I can get you more.”

“Shut up,” Cordon demands, pushing Lucious behind him as Cordon plots their escape. As he calculates the route out, Cordon is snapped back to the moment when he hears Luscious behind him.

“I’m at Wayne’s! This fucking lunatic is kidnapping me! He about killed Way—” Lucious barks into his phone as Cordon whips around. Yanking the cell phone from Lucious’s hand, Cordon smashes it against the wall. Dropping the pieces to the floor, Cordon stomps on it.

“What the hell!? That’s a brand-new iPhone!”

“Hear me and hear me good, knucklefuck. You pull any bullshit, you call for help, try to signal someone, anything I don’t like, I will rip that little swimsuit off your ass and gag you with it. Understand?”

“Yeah, but—”

Cordon slaps his hand over Lucious’s mouth. “Shut! Up! You talk, you die. You keep your mouth shut, do as I say, you will come out of this alive, Lucas,” Cordon warns in a harsh whisper as he takes his hand away from Lucious’s mouth.

“Lucious! My name is Lucious! She! Her!”

Again, Cordon slaps his hand over Lucious’s mouth again, his face getting close to hers.

“Don’t! Care!” Cordon snaps back.

Lucious glares into Cordon’s eyes, fighting her rage. She carefully reaches up and pulls Cordon’s hand away from her face. “Why are you kidnapping me?”

Cordon’s finger gets right in Lucious’s face, ignoring her question. “We’re going down those stairs together, our arms around each other, and right out the front door. Remember, you try to alert anyone, I will punch you in the head so hard you will wake up in the hospital if you wake up at all. If I’m clear, nod.”

Lucious defiantly does as asked. As Cordon turns back to the door, Lucious seizes the moment and grabs Cordon’s hand, putting a lock on Cordon’s thumb, slamming her elbow into a pressure point in Cordon’s neck. More startled than injured, Cordon’s free hand comes up fast, right into Lucious’s solar plexus, the air blasting from Lucious’s lungs.

Staggering back, Lucious recovers quickly, jumping into the air and surprising Cordon with a kick that connects with his head. Cordon wobbles a step, his fist coming up defensively. Lucious strikes, pummeling Cordon with kicks and punches, her skill as a fighter remarkable but not

unexpected. Cordon knew the kid was a champion and prepared himself for Lucious to fight back.

Blocking Lucious’s attack, Cordon finds his back against the wall. He drops to the floor and sweeps out Lucious’s legs. Lucious hits the floor hard but startling Cordon, Lucious kips back to her feet, ducks under Cordon’s meaty swing, pile-drives a few punches into Cordon’s rib while screaming for help, hoping someone can hear her over the blasting music.

Cordon shoves Lucious back hard into the dresser, but Lucious comes back swinging and kicking. Cordon continues to block most of Lucious’s blows as Lucious continues to scream for help with each swing and kick. The music continues to drown out her pleas.

“I. Should. Be. The. One. Calling. For. Help!” Cordon barks, as he blocks the flurry of Lucious’s punches from doing any damage.

Needing to batter Cordon back long enough to escape, Lucious leaps in the air, her hips jerking hard as she comes around with a furious spin kick to Cordon’s head. But Cordon catches Lucious by the calf and slams her leg into the wall, holding her there, the leg up around Lucious’s face as the barrel of Cordon’s gun jams into Lucious’s balls.

“Hit me again, I’ll open you up like a can of fish,” Cordon snarls into Lucious’s face.

Slowly letting Lucious’s leg drop, Cordon grabs hold of the dozens of necklaces Lucious wears, many appearing homemade, dangling with a charm or amulet, tightening his grip until the necklaces dig into Lucious’s skin, choking her.

“Turn around,” Cordon orders, spinning Lucious towards the wall.

In the small black bag over his shoulder, Cordon pulls out a two zip ties. “I didn’t want to do this,” Cordon says as he binds Lucious’s hands together with the ties, and then grabs the necklaces again to maintain complete control over the kid. Yanking Lucious’s body against his, Cordon holds her tightly, sliding the gun barrel up to Lucious’s cheek. “This is how serious I am about this. I want to get out of here. And unless you want half your pretty face blown off, you’re going to do what I say. I feel you so much as tense a muscle, I’m going to send you home to your family in a plastic trash bag.”

“My father would like that.”

“Let’s not find out, Bruce Lee.”

Available on Amazon

About the Author

Bart Baker headshot (2)

With seven novels, two seasons of a Kindle Vella story, SCRAPS, eight plays, and 19 produced film and TV credits, Bart has been writing for over 40 years. Starting in the theater, the film rights to Bart’s play, RELAY, were bought by Warner Bros., which led him into screenwriting. Bart has had two feature films produced (LIVE WIRE and SUPERCROSS,) eleven produced movies for television for CBS, ABC, USA, Family Channel, and Hallmark as well as work on four television series including DIRT, starring Courtney Cox. Bart’s novel, HONEYMOON WITH HARRY was a critical and commercial success with the movie rights purchased by New Line/Warner Bros when the book was in galleys.

Bart lives in St. Louis, Missouri, with his husband, Joe Elvis, and two children, Isaiah and Emmanuel. Besides writing, Bart is a lifelong swimmer and gym rat. Follow Bart on Facebook, on Twitter at @firstBartBaker, on Instagram @thefirstBartBaker, IMDB as Bart Baker, or his website

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Spotlight & Excerpt: A Plague of Hatred, by Jeremiah Cain

a plague of hatred

Welcome to the tour for dark, epic fantasy A Plague of Hatred by Jeremiah Cain. Read on for more details!


A Plague of Hatred
(The Encroaching Chaos #1)
by Jeremiah Cain
Genre: Dark Epic Fantasy/ LGBTQ2+ Rep
Publication Date: June 13, 2023

“This dazzling epic fantasy is packed with memorable characters in black, white, and gray.” — BookLife Reviews

On the verge of adulthood, Roslyn’s dreams are simple: Marry Jon and become a healer.

But on the world of Perdinok, the capture of the Church of Deagar by hate-filled fanatics puts Roslyn and all other followers of the blue God Karulus at risk. Soon, soldiers arrive to assassinate Roslyn’s mentor and priest. Dreaded Silthex knights lock eight hundred of Roslyn’s fellow villagers in the local inn–intending to burn them alive. Roslyn must act quickly and grow up quickly.

Years later, having become the legendary resistance leader known as the Blue Rose and an ambassador rallying forces against the repressive Empire, Roslyn is given another assignment: Find out how Chaos energy has been allowed to leak into Perdinok from the Plane of Chaos.

Now, on the slopes of Mount Triumph, Roslyn must call upon all her skills as an Azerent Mage to wrest truth from the twisted temptations and taunts that spew from the mouth of the devious Harpy that she has called up from the Nightmare Realm. Unless she can distill the tint of truth contained in the Harpy’s obscure prophecy of doom, her very planet may be at risk.


She kept walking, continuing unhurriedly down the thin dirt road through the dark woodlands. Her legs ached from the extensive journey, yet she could not risk a carriage driver knowing her destination. Nocturnal insects provided the only sound she’d heard in hours. A hooded cloak, long and forest green, hid all that she was. The constant need to hide had become a crucial necessity.

For over a decade, the Church of Déagar had stood as the one and only legal church within the Dayigan Empire. The worship of God Karulus, her God and savior, was punishable by death.

Nevertheless, Roslyn would not bow.

And so it came to be that, on this cool early spring night of her thirty-second year, she arrived in the shadowy yard of a moonlit cabin.

She knocked five times on the simple wooden door and waited five seconds. She knocked twice more.

A square panel at eye level opened within the door, and a young man peered out. “Bit late, innit, miss? Who may I ask is calling?”

She drew back her hood, showing a thin face with delicate features. Sadness lingered in the blue of her eyes and a frown crossed her lips. Her hair, dirty blond in both color and state, hung limp, retreating into her cloak.

“My name is Roslyn.” Even as she talked to him, she did not meet his gaze. Instead, she kept her eyes, as well as her head, lowered, as was proper. “I’ve come to sail the Veiled River. Will you allow me passage?”

“Sorry, miss. If such a river did exist, ’twould be unsafe to travel.” He began to close the panel.

“But yet, I have my ticket here.” She removed a folded note from a purse on her belt and held it to the hole.

The man pulled in the page and closed the panel door, leaving her in dark silence.

Roslyn waited. As nervous as she was, she remained calm. In the unlikely event that she was being watched, the observer should see nothing but an unsuspicious woman at an unsuspicious door. Luckily—or sadly—she’d had much practice in this sort of thing.

Finally, the door opened and the same young man showed her in. “Welcome to Port Lytel, miss. Lord Karhelm will see you.”

By flickering candlelight, he led Roslyn down a slight, tight hall.

“In here, miss.” He opened a final door, but did not enter with her.

This room was better lit. A fireplace cast a glow supplemented by a tin candelabra on a simple table. Its tallow candles streamed thick lines of black smoke.

A tall, well-built man in his mid-thirties stood in the center of the room.

Even as Roslyn entered, his face gave no sign of salutation.

“I was told you wished to see me, my lord,” she said, keeping her head at a downward tilt.

“You are the Azerent Mage sent by Father Hanugfrie.”

“Azerent Master Healer, my lord. I primarily perform the magic of my specialty and have taken a vow to do no harm. But I trained under Father Hanugfrie for three years and studied at Azerent College for five. Afterwards, I served God Karulus as a healer in multiple ports, during which time I received accolades for skill and merit from both the Order of Azerents and the Karulent Church. Also, I received multiple awards from the Veiled River Commission for bravery as a healer and as an evacuation coordinator, both under life-threatening conditions. I am pleased to join your port, and I know I will be an asset to your team.”

“Quite a mouthful.” He paused without expression and looked her up and down. “At least your appearance is adequate,” he said. “They warned me you’d be a woman. You should know, I find it obscene. A woman casting magic.”

“The Déagrians would say the same of all who practice magic.”

He crossed his arms. “I assume that was meant to be humorous. It wasn’t.”

“Actually, I meant it to be accurate, which it was.”

“Regardless, you are here. Let us hope God Karulus keeps you strong, for in this desperate time, we have no other choice than to utilize your gifts.”

“My thanks, my lord, for allowing me to serve our God.”

“I prefer that you call me Lieutenant.”

“An army rank? You are a soldier?”

“Once, at twenty, I was an honored Dayigan soldier with a royal commission and on my way to commanding thousands. But in an hour, I became a despised criminal. I continue to use the rank to remember that the world can change in a moment. You’d do well to remember the same.”

“Lessons I’ve learnt quite well on my own, Lieutenant.”

Available on Amazon

About the Author


Jeremiah Cain is a dark epic fantasy writer of a vivid world that BookLife Reviews called, “rich with detail and myth-lore that traipses brightly through the darker themes.” He served as an army medic and has a BA in Communication with a minor in English. In addition to reading and writing, he loves video games, particularly RPGs.

Jeremiah Cain

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Spotlight & Excerpt: Crescentville Haunting + Giveaway


I am thrilled to be hosting a spot on the CRESCENTVILLE HAUNTING by MN Bennet Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. Check out my post and make sure to enter the giveaway!



Author: MN Bennet

Pub. Date: March 19, 2023

Publisher: M.N. Bennet LLC

Formats:  Paperback, eBook

Pages: 327

Find it: Goodreads, books2read


Determined to pass junior year, Logan won’t let Henry distract him—much. Logan’s focusing on all things human, which means his swoony vampire ex-boyfriend will have to file his own fangs for a change. When he goes to the school bonfire and runs into Henry, wandering into the woods seems like a great escape. Until he’s bitten by a wicked Crone with some twisted magical munchies.

Logan is certain his ex-free human future is done when he’s dragged off to a scientific institution for study. There, he’s presented with an opportunity to keep his life, family, and future. All he has to do is stick to human ideology, since all things paranormal are illegal. But complications arise when the Crone begins to haunt him and Logan realizes that if he wants to get his life back, he has to navigate his lingering feelings for Henry.

With the Crone set on devouring him and the institution ready to obliterate him for any missteps, Logan must decide between pursuing the human future his family wants—one that he thought he wanted too—or the chance to embrace Henry, even if the world isn’t ready.


Henry gripped my shirt and shoved me away. I hit the stall door and  froze momentarily, paranoid someone would walk in and catch us at  any moment. The bathroom remained silent except for the leaky  automatic faucet; it maintained a small but steady stream. 

The last thing I wanted was to get caught in the boy’s bathroom  with Henry. Honestly, I shouldn’t have come in here at all. But he  swore it’d be a quick in and out and off to class. Like most things  Henry swore, it proved untrue.  

“Can you stay still for five seconds?” I tapped my foot on the  sticky floor. 

This was why we had never worked. Every day, he brought  something new to my life. A new adventure. A new risk. A new  situation I didn’t want myself involved in. I buried the rush that had  initially swelled in my chest and took a deep breath. There was  nothing fun about hiding in a boy’s bathroom. There was nothing  romantic about it. There was nothing exciting—  

He huffed. “Well, maybe if you’d stop trying to choke me.” 

“You wouldn’t gag so much if you, you know, stopped moving  your head.” My face burned. Whenever we were alone together, Henry would leave me flustered, at a loss for words. But here I was,  alone with him once again, even though the whole point of a breakup  was to avoid him. 

“Fine. Just hurry up already.” 

Of course. He dragged me into the stall for help and then rushed me. I gripped Henry’s curly, black hair and tilted his head back.  “Now, say ah.” 

He stretched his jaw wide. I held the iron file with my other hand,  running it along his sharpened fang. Staring down at his dark brown  eyes, I was grateful he trusted me enough to stop me in the hallway.  No. Not grateful. Reminded he never had the sense of handling  anything on his own and relied on me. 

When he shared his secret, it was the best day of my life. Exciting.  Exhilarating. Electrifying. Sometimes, quite literally. But the longer  we were together, the more the thrill faded. I continued filing the fang  down, taking all my frustrations out on his sharpened eyeteeth.  Everything in our relationship turned into learning his world— finding my place in it—which turned into balancing a web of secrets,  remembering the rules, proper etiquette, and hiding his tracks if slip ups like this happened. 

I filed until my hand ached. Cleaning up after Henry became  second nature. Two years, and our relationship had taken over my  whole world. It ruined my attendance and my grades. My social life tanked. I wanted something new. Needed it. 

“I can’t believe you didn’t bother checking your teeth this  morning.” 

“They hathened gwown back in like thwee weeks,” he said or  attempted to without moving his tongue. “I canth help it. They were  fine one minute and bam, fangs in sethond block.” 

I continued sanding down the point of a fang until it matched the  others. He could’ve totally helped it. He could’ve come to school  prepared.

“Quiet”—I pressed the tip of the file against his tongue—“or  you’ll end up with a second piercing.”  

“That acthually sounds hot.” He pushed his tongue toward the  file, and it clinked against his tongue ring.  

Insufferable. Only Henry could whine about the iron file in one  breath and make light of its danger in the next.  

I finished trimming his tooth and blew the shavings off the file.  Right in his smug, smiley face. He pouted, and his eyes softened.  Briefly. That damn grin filled his face again, and he shook his head. Now the white flecks of his fangs covered my black shirt.  “Great.”  

“Looks like you should condition more, Logan.”  

“Ha, ha, HA.” I brushed my shirt clean.  

The bathroom door creaked open and smacked the tile wall. I held  my breath like that’d somehow take back my sarcastic laughter a  moment ago. Or like it’d somehow make me invisible. 

Henry reached for the latch to the stall door. I swatted his hand  and cringed at the popping sound.  

“Stop,” I hissed.  

“Why?” he asked in a breathy whisper. “Thought you were  desperate to get to class?” 

“Not this second.”  

“Afraid what folks will say?” He winked.  

I turned and stared at the graffiti on the stall wall. Carefully, I  unfastened my belt buckle and softly slid the iron file back into the  slot. It stuck. Cheap piece of crap always jammed. Henry stood,  towering a solid half-foot above me, and closed the distance between  us. Not that there was much to begin with in this tiny stall. 

Heat warmed my face, moving down to my chest, and sent a rush  of blood coursing through me. causing all sorts of sensations I didn’t  want. “Do you mind?”  

“Not at all.” His knuckles ran along my lower abdomen. “Just  offering my assistance.” 


He snapped the file back into the buckle. Whoever came into the  bathroom flushed the urinal. The bathroom door slammed open and  slowly creaked closed. 

Henry unlatched the stall door and strutted toward the runny  faucet. 

“Didn’t even wash their hands”—he shuddered—“and folks call  Vices gross.” 

He gargled water and spat out the chalky residue of his former  fangs. 

“Maybe it’s time you remembered to bring your own iron,” I said, tightening my belt and adjusting the buckle. 

“Probably,” he said, sucking his teeth. “Guess I really lucked out  you still wear that flashy piece.” 

A large, gaudy buckle in the shape of a flame. I always came  prepared with iron in one form or another. It made it clear to anyone  who noticed that I didn’t trust or involve myself with Vices, though  in truth, Henry had given me the buckle. A gift that benefited him, 

especially at times like this. It didn’t actually burn him, either. The  iron thing was just a superstition a lot of people believed. Iron weakened Vices, but it wasn’t like kryptonite. It was  resistant to their abilities or something—I didn’t fully understand it. Mainly because it had different effects on each type of Vice. All I  knew was it didn’t harm Henry directly, but it could hurt him.  Henry’s flesh could withstand a steel blade with ease, but an iron file  could cut right through him. Or, in the case of maintaining a discreet  human appearance, file down his vampiric fangs. 

I grabbed my book bag off the countertop, and we walked toward  the bathroom door together. 

“Hold on.” Henry squeezed my arm. My heart fluttered. “You  should probably wait a few minutes. Wouldn’t want anyone spotting  us walk out at the same time.” 

He chuckled and released my arm. I brushed by him, leaving the  bathroom. A part of me wanted to race down the hallway to class so  I could escape him, if only for a few minutes. Another part of me knew if Henry wanted a last word, I’d never outrun him. Henry’s dress shoes clicked behind me. Each step echoed in the  empty hallway. Unlike everyone else at Sterling High, Henry loved  uniforms. He always wore polished shoes, a fancy button-up shirt, wrinkle-free dress slacks, and a matching blazer. His ties were where  his wacky, carefree personality shined best. Today, he’d gone with  bright neon duckies because, much like everything about him, it  made zero sense. 

He’d attended some prep school before high school and never  quit the tacky wardrobe choice. It didn’t matter that he could wear  whatever he wanted here. A few exceptions, of course, but even those  were subjective, depending on the teacher. Some only complained  about baggy pants; others sent any girl with too much stomach or the  slightest cleavage to the office; most didn’t care so long as we weren’t  loud or disruptive. It was always funny how inappropriate a teacher  might find someone’s clothes when that person was also too noisy. 

We walked the halls and up the steps to the third floor, the main  reason I hated my schedule. At least I could blame my tardiness on  the long trek from Chemistry to English. They designed the science  hallway in the worst place ever, all the way down on the first floor,  past the library, past the gym, and down the longest hall ever in the  furthest reaches of the school. 

When I reached Ms. Goto’s room, Henry waltzed ahead and  knocked on the glass window frame of the door. He grinned at me.  “I’ve got this.”  

Yet another reason to loathe my current class schedule: Henry  and I had half our classes together, a schedule we worked tirelessly  to map out at the end of sophomore year. When we broke up, I knew  I’d have to see him regularly around school, but I’d hoped to have  my classes switched by this point. Two weeks into junior year and  the counselors were apparently “backed up” with flipping schedules.  With my luck, I’d have a few more weeks at this rate before someone  switched my courses. 

Ms. Goto ignored the knock. She stood at her podium, continuing her lecture. Henry tapped on the glass again, this time rattling the  door handle with his other hand. Her gaze shifted ever so slightly, but  she continued talking. I couldn’t quite make out what she said, but I was certain she weaved a message about showing up promptly into  her current lecture. She had a way of throwing in student behavior or 

responses into her lessons. It mainly came from Henry’s comments. “Wow, she’s gonna teach the whole damn lesson before letting  us in.” Henry huffed and knocked on the door. “Come on, Ms. Goto.  I came here to learn. Teach me!” 

He shook the handle again and again. I fought off familiar  laughter that bubbled inside me. Henry possessed this ridiculous  charm even when acting like a complete fool. I resisted the laugh and  frowned in response to his grin. He pouted and blew a heavy, hot  breath onto the glass. It fogged over, and Henry drew a little heart.  Ms. Goto glared, gripped the podium, and I was almost certain she  dug her nails into the wood as she continued talking to the class. 

“What a jerk,” Henry said, tracing his finger along the heart and  stabbing it. “You wound me, Ms. Goto.” 

After the longest five-minute wait of my life, she finally opened  the door and let us into the room.  

“Do you have a pass?” She stood with her arms crossed and a leg  extended, the tip of her heel practically ready to trip Henry if he went  to his desk without an explanation. “Well, Mr. Hart? Mr. Ashford?” “Sorry,” I said. “You know the science h—” 

“There was a massive SGA emergency,” Henry interrupted. “You  wouldn’t believe the nonsense. The beginning of the year is really off  to a busy start. It’s one thing after another. Madness. I don’t want to  bore you with the details, but it was utterly urgent, and I needed  Logan’s help. And while we managed to put out the fire—figurative,  of course. See? I listen when you talk—it took far longer than I  anticipated. Deepest apologies. Sincerely.” 

Henry’s grin didn’t falter, and he managed to spin that lie in one  quickly worded breath. Ms. Goto uncrossed her arms, musing over  his story with a furrowed brow.

“And I suppose if I emailed Mr. Belmont, he’d confirm your top secret SGA emergency that didn’t involve any other SGA members  in this class but somehow required Logan’s help?”  

I gulped. Student Government, like most extracurriculars, was too  much to manage with my already busy schedule. My hope was that  now that I didn’t have to juggle Vice drama into my daily life, I could  try signing up for some clubs. Unfortunately, Henry dominated most  of the interesting clubs, which made avoiding him that much harder.  Henry whipped out his phone, typing furiously. 

“If you emailed Mr. Belmont, at this very moment, he would  certainly,” Henry dragged out each word while texting, “absolutely,  definitely, most likely”—his phone dinged—“tell you we were, in  fact, working on important, highly classified SGA stuff.” 

Mr. Belmont always kept an eye out for Henry, so when Henry  shot him a text in the middle of class, he naturally agreed to cover for  him. Mr. Belmont was old school and believed vampires should stick  together. Henry, on the other hand, tried to have an in with every Vice  at Sterling High. It was part of why I spent so much time researching  the various types.  

I walked to my desk and slid into the seat. Ms. Goto arranged the  desks inside her classroom into small groups, and the only person in  my assigned area I wanted to talk to was absent—again. I ignored the  others and pulled out my phone to send a text.  

“Perhaps you should try to catch up with what the rest of us are  covering in today’s activity, Mr. Ashford.”  

Ms. Goto remained close to my desk, likely ensuring I caught up  on whatever lesson she’d covered before arriving. Oh, and calling me  by my last name. That meant I’d done something I shouldn’t have.  

“Huh?” I stared at Ms. Goto, whose eyes lingered on the phone  in my lap under my desk. “Oh, yeah. Duh. Sorry.”  

I slipped it back into my pocket, respecting her ‘no phone’ policy.  Even though she said absolutely nothing to Henry, who fired off a  message in front of her and was still using his phone on the other side  of the classroom. She had a policy for everything, including her 

seating arrangement. Normally, I didn’t like assigned seats, but in  English, I lucked out. Henry ended up in the furthest corner, away  from everyone else, with the rowdiest group and close to the  window—a location Ms. Goto probably put a lot of thought into. 

“What exactly are we doing today?” I skimmed the whiteboard for her instructions. 

“We’re using our text from The Crucible. You’re familiar with  the story by now, correct?” 

“Of course.” I nodded, understanding the story more or less. It  was old and hard to read or, in this case, listen to the audio Ms. Goto  played. 

Basically, a bunch of fake witches blamed the devil for what they  did, then accused other people they didn’t like of being witches, who  in turn accused more people of being witches. And if you didn’t  accuse someone and beg God for forgiveness afterward, they killed  you. But then it turned into people sleeping with married people, and  that was why they were put on trial. Or maybe they were bad because  they screwed each other without being married. Whatever. It was  long and boring, and Ms. Goto kept talking about what it really  meant. Apparently, it meant a lot. Like five pages worth of notes. 

And I wrote small. Tiny scribbles that honestly even I had trouble  reading sometimes. 

Ms. Goto grabbed the textbook from under my desk. “Based on  the text, today we’re focused on—” 

“What are we doing?” Henry raised a flailing hand. 

“Have you checked the board?” Ms. Goto asked in response. “No.” 

“Can you read”—she paused for a breath—“the board?” “Well, yeah.” 

“Then, perhaps you should read it before shouting across the  room.” 

Henry’s face scrunched in visible confusion. Not for the agenda.  No, this was the type of expression where he held a breath to think of  something witty, but today, he came up short. Ms. Goto gave as good as she got when it came to Henry’s theatrics in class.  Most people, students and teachers alike, found it charming. He  did everything in his power to draw attention to himself at school.  From the clubs he joined to his behavior in class to the parties he  threw, Henry shined a bright spotlight on his presence at Sterling  High—something I warned could easily backfire given his secret. But  did he ever listen? 

I reread the whiteboard notes and hung on the objective for  today’s lesson:  

I can identify the allegory within The Crucible and correlate it to  current events by providing three succinct examples. 

This year, I vowed to do everything I could to show my  commitment to improving my grades, but everything about that  sentence confused me.  

“Today’s objective is to take what we’ve learned while reading  The Crucible and find modern comparisons.”  

I wished she’d written that on the board instead.  

“As you know, the play is based on the Salem witch trials and is  literally about citizens accusing their neighbors of witchcraft, but it  serves as an allegory for McCarthyism.”  

McCarthy—what? Must be in my notes somewhere. I flipped  through my notebook. Geez. Not sure I followed half her explanation.  If that was really an explanation. 

“Okay. Got it.” I nodded.  

“Do you remember what an allegory is?” 

“Yep.” I nodded again.  

“And it’s a…”  

I bit the inside of my lower lip and hesitated.  

“It’s a lot like a big metaphor.”  

“Right, right.” I jotted that down in my notebook.  

My notes on the Vice community were so meticulous. Hopefully,  that skill would transfer over to my academics soon enough. It’d only been a few weeks. A bit more time and I’d catch up. “And a metaphor is?” Ms. Goto tilted her head, her eyes fixed on  the back wall, which was crammed with colorful words written in  bubble letters with definitions below. 

I scanned the wall, anxiously searching for metaphor. It was  stressful not having an answer to what must’ve been a basic question.  I was too far behind. Years behind. 

“Jesus, dude,” Declan snapped. “It’s a comparison of two things.” I fought a groan. Declan sat across from me, the front of his desk  pressed to mine, and he was the most annoying person in this  classroom. No, the school. Possibly the city. No, there were worse  people in Crescentville—maybe

I knew what a metaphor was. I did. It was just I never really used  the word except for class. 

“You should’ve learned this shit in middle school. How’d you  even get this far?” 

“Language, Mr. Smythe.” 

Declan rolled his eyes. “This sort of feels like a waste of time.  Comparing this story to current events? To what exactly? Seems like  you want us to compare it to the SPU tracking down Vices, which  isn’t fair.” 

There it was. The biggest annoyance about Declan. His father  worked for the SPU, and he dropped that tidbit every chance he had.  Made it real clear where he stood when it came to the state’s Vice  policy. 

“They’re a lot of similarities between the SPU’s current approach  and the tactics utilized in The Crucible.” 

She meant pointing fingers and accusing people. Aside from  visible features many Vices worked to hide, there weren’t tests  anyone could run to distinguish them from humans. 

“Yeah, except they were accusing people when there were no  witches in Salem,” Declan said. “There are actual witches here,  among other monsters.” 

Henry glared, and light shimmered against his brown eyes. He quickly went back to talking to his group and laughing.  “What makes you think there weren’t real witches in Salem?” Ms.  Goto leaned forward; strands of her long black hair draped the side  of her face. “Maybe they were just clever enough not to get caught.” “That’d actually make sense,” Declan said. “Witches are like the  only Vices that look totally human. The rest all have something ugly  and monstrous about them.”  

“That’s not true,” I said. 

Declan spouted almost as much Vice misinformation as the news.  God, they really knew how to pick and choose their Vice stories.  “What?” he asked. “The only witches’ part or the ugly bit?”  I hesitated and chose not to engage. But he was wrong on both  counts. There was nothing ugly about Henry or any Vice I’d met.  “Guess vampires look mostly human, that’s true,” he continued.  “But my dad says they smell like rotten ass because they’re basically  living corpses.”  


“Dude, what the hell?” one of Henry’s group members shouted.  Henry held a broken ruler in his hands. His sharp jaw clenched  for a moment before he released a breath and smirked. “What can I  say? Gotta flex these muscles every chance I get.” He laughed, filling  the room. I fought a smile. There was something so joyful in his  carefree laughter. Even despite what Declan had said, how it made  Henry feel, he released that rage as quickly as it’d arrived. It was  difficult not to get swept up by that pure happiness.  “You owe me a new ruler.”  

“Gentleman, do you mind?” Ms. Goto turned to Henry’s group. “Last time I’m going to warn you, Mr. Hart.”  

“When was the first warning?” Henry muttered. 

I ignored him, ignored Declan, ignored the world, and focused on  my classwork.

 About MN Bennet:

M.N. Bennet is a high school teacher, writer, and reader. He lives in the Midwest, still adjusting to the cold after being born and raised in the South.

He enjoys writing paranormal and fantasy stories with huge worlds (sometimes too big), loveable romances (with so much angst and banter), and Happily Ever Afters (once he’s dragged his characters through some emotional turmoil).

When he’s not balancing classes, writing, or reading, he can be found binge watching anime or replaying Dragon Age II for the millionth time.

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Week One:


The Momma Spot



#BRVL Book Review Virginia Lee Blog

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Two Chicks on Books

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Cara North

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Sadie’s Spotlight

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A Dream Within A Dream



Never Hollowed By The Stare



The Chirpy Bookaholic

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Week Two:


Fire and Ice

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Rajiv’s Reviews

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IG Review/TikTok Post


Country Mamas With Kids

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Lifestyle of Me




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The Book Countess

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Locks, Hooks and Books




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