I know you’re all eagerly waiting for the release of the highly anticipated anthology, Once Upon a Twist, by Michelle Smart and I, but fret not! We have the news you've been waiting for (I may be deluding myself with the grandeur). Read on...
Not convinced Once Upon a Twist is the book for you? We have a review from Desere at Romance Book Haven on Goodreads that may change your mind. “This was a totally fabulous little read from two great authors. Taking the world of fairy tales and fantasy and serving it up with a large dose of kick ass heroines that do not faint in the face of danger and can fight with the best of them. The authors gave a whole new meaning to the words "I will fight for my happy ever after".”
And fight our heroines do, with gusto.
I’ll leave you with the first chapter from Reunited by Red, the winning title of my story as voted by you!
Using her free hand to tug up her hood, Ruby swung her grocery bag in the other as she walked through the forest. Bushes grew wild along either side of the path and the thick canopy of leaves above blocked out what little there was left of the evening sun. She stopped at the fork in the road.
She didn’t have time to take the longer path on the left to Grandma’s house, not unless she ran the whole way, but if she followed the one on the right she’d risk seeing him. After a year of running away from the pain of her broken heart, she had come to the conclusion that she was better off without him—or so her therapist told her.
But the thought of bumping into him made her heart thrum out an unsteady, agonizing beat. She chose the left path. Maybe if she put her speed-walking to good use, she’d make it to Grandma’s before the sunset. The wind picked up and howled through the trees, accompanied by owls’ hoots far in the distance, but the subtle sounds of other nocturnal creatures in the forest was missing. The back of her neck prickled, sending a shiver down her spine. She slammed her feet down faster, breaking into a light jog, keeping a tight hold on the bag in her hand.
The closer she got to Grandma’s house, the darker the path grew under the heavy blanket of leaves above. If she hadn’t spent every other day of her life in these woods until her twenty-fifth birthday last year, she was sure she would have gotten lost. Sliding an arm around her stomach, she tried to hold back the guilt bubbling there, but it was no use. She’d run away and left Grandma, the only family she had in the whole world, because she couldn’t face him. And now Grandma was sick.
She saw lights glowing through the bushes up ahead. She let out a sigh of relief. Grandma was awake. Pushing her legs faster, she hoped the hulking shadows she passed were nothing more than small trees or bushes swaying in the breeze. Not men or monsters reaching out for her. Ruby shook off the thought. Monsters didn’t exist.
Breaking through to the small clearing, she darted a glance around. Her neck still prickled like she was being watched. Slowing to a walk, she opened the carrier bag, mentally tallying the medicine and herbal tea she’d brought Grandma. She hadn’t thought anything would have made her come back to this forest until Grandma had called her saying she had the flu. Especially not with his cottage so close. She hadn’t even come back when a buyer had asked to view her small apartment in town, choosing to have Grandma show him the place.
Nearing the door she heard muffled scratching, a low growl, and then a thud. Her heart bounced into her throat and she pushed the door open.
It took a second for her brain to register the sight before her.
A grey creature, bigger than a dog, loomed over a red-streaked lump on the floor in a puddle of dark liquid. The creature’s skin was hairless, flaking off in places, and covered in dark purple splotches in others.
Low growls rumbled from inside its throat as its teeth sliced into the object, again and again. Her gaze slid over its body, while her feet remained welded to the carpet. The creature’s snout dripped with the same stuff covering the lifeless lump, but when her attention focused on the mound on the floor, she realized the frilly pink nightgown she’d bought Grandma as a gift last Christmas covered the…her…body.
Ruby’s stomach shifted and turned, until acid launched up her throat. Gagging, she tried to swallow it down. Tried to stay silent. The thing’s ears kicked up and it turned its horrifying head to face her. Saliva mingled with blood dripped from the creature’s open mouth, and a wave of grief crashed into her chest so hard she dropped the bag and grabbed onto the door frame for support.
Eyes filling with moisture, she kept her blurry gaze on the creature, and it stared back at her with the intensity of an intelligent being—as if it were studying her. Impossible. Its snout crinkled as it pulled in blood soaked air through its nose. The thing lowered its body into position and sunk down on its skinny haunches. She knew that she was its next prey.
The creature pulled flaky skin back from its teeth in a terrifying grin. Then it pounced.
Ruby’s body unfroze. She jumped back outside and pulled the door closed behind her. It shuddered as the creature hit the wood. Mind blank, body numb, she stared wide-eyed at the door until the thing crashed into it again, the force this time causing a crack to split in the middle.
She staggered back a step, and another, until she heard a grating moan behind her. Spinning, her heart almost burst out of her chest as her blurry vision took in three men, although men was pushing it. They didn’t have lips. Their skin was a dark grey, blackened where the flesh had been removed and their eyes glowed yellow, the same color as the creature’s. They reminded her of those who’d had the disease, but that wasn’t possible. Everyone had been cured. It said so on the news.
But, impossible or not, she was surrounded. She backed up to the door, but the thing inside hit it again, jolting her a step forward and the wood splintered this time. The men hulked closer, their limbs awkward as they moved but they weren’t slow.
“You’re supposed to be dead.” Her whisper was lost in the sound of a gunshot.
One of the men’s heads exploded. Bits of blood and brain and skull flew through the air in every direction. She covered her face with her hands as the cold, wet flesh rained on her.
“Red, get over here!”
Ruby barely registered her old nickname, nor could she move. Her chest had constricted so tightly it was an effort to breathe. The husky demand jolted through her skin, sinking into her pounding heart and breaking it all over again. Tears stung her eyes and she wondered if her mind really was that cruel. Playing tricks on her so soon after her witnessing all this.
A shot sounded just as the door behind her groaned in protest at the force of the creature’s attack. She could give in. Best case scenario, the thing would kill her, but she knew if the man-like creatures got anywhere near her she’d become one of them.
Another shot echoed in her ears. The men were close and the bullet took them both out. She closed her eyes against the sight of brain and blood and yuck. Once had been enough.
“Now!” he demanded.
Without thinking, she took off down Grandma’s garden path, ignoring the bodies on the floor. The sound of the wood splitting made her push her legs faster as she headed for the forest.
A muffled curse sounded to her left. She turned in time to see him running toward her, a shot gun aimed directly at her head. Her heart missed a few beats. She stopped immediately.
“I’m not…I’ve not been bitten. I—”
She spun around. Another few of the infected were at the edge of the forest. He let off another shot and her ears rang with the sound. It didn’t muffle the crack of more wood splintering, or the snarl that came from the creature which had managed to make a hole in the door big enough for its head to get through. Snapping jaws gnawed at the gap, trying to create a way out.
He caught her around the waist and picked her off the ground with one arm, pressing her close to every hard, unrelenting muscle of his body. His scent engulfed her, and his rough skin comforted her.
Anger and gratitude rippled through her, as well as something she didn’t want to think about. She bit her tongue to distract herself, but the tears streaming down her face reminded her that Grandma was gone. Her breath choked out on a sob. His arms squeezed tighter around her.
Ruby pushed at his chest. “Don’t touch me, put me down!”
He lowered her to the ground, his jaw tense, his sharp features so severe she probably imagined the flash of hurt in his black eyes. Eyes she’d once happily fallen into. Eyes that had once made her forget everything else in the world. Eyes she’d wanted to gouge out for betraying her in the worst way possible.
“We need to get out of here.” His voice tore her back to the present. She heard the creature tear another chunk of wood from the door. “Now.”
She reached for his outstretched hand, but hesitated. “Grandma.” Her voice broke around the word.
They had to go back, what if there was still a… Ruby stopped the thought dead. Even she knew hoping was ridiculous. Still if they could get her to a hospital… She snatched her hand away and turned back to the house.
His strong, constricting arms banded around her waist and he picked her up again. She kicked and screamed, unwilling to go easy, her mind a haze of grief. The bastard didn’t even flinch, didn’t loosen his hold. And then they were moving. She tried another kick, aiming for his knees.
“Red, quit it.”
Her limbs froze, but her chest ripped out sobs with every breath. “Stop… calling… me… that.” Her hair was more blonde than red, especially now she’d had it highlighted, and the nickname took her back to a time she wanted to forget.
The ground met her feet and suddenly he was in front of her, wiping her eyes, her cheeks. The severe expression on his face had been replaced with wide eyes and a frown.
“She’s…” He cleared his throat. “We can’t save her. It’s too late.”
Rage boiled through her veins, wiping away rational thought. After all, what was the point? She had nothing left. No family. Not even him. “No.”
His teeth snapped together and he grabbed her hand. She tried to pull it away but he was too strong; his grip almost crushed her bones. He turned and tugged her hard. It was either fall or follow, though she was sure if she fell he’d drag her along anyway. Any man who could lug around trees didn’t worry about the weight of a hundred and thirty pound woman. The bastard broke into a sprint, leading them into the thick of the forest in the opposite direction of his home. She tried to push the grief down, concentrate on following him through the darkness.
“Where are we going?” she asked, pushing her legs faster to keep up with him.
She couldn’t see a foot in front of her. Darker shadows than the night around them gave no indication of where they were. The moon hid beneath clouds above, somewhere through the trees. If he crashed into something she was going down with him.
“We need to mask your scent.”
If stranger words had come out of his mouth, she hadn’t heard them. But then it clicked. “The thing can smell me.”
And it did get a good whiff at the house. She swallowed against the tears in her throat. It wasn’t the time to grieve. Now she could think rationally and, although she grudged it, she was grateful he’d come when he did or she’d either be an infected monster by now or the thing would have eaten her.
He didn’t answer, just ran faster. She kept up, but her calf muscles burned and her lungs heaved with the effort. Over her ragged panting, she heard the sound of the river, but she knew they were too high up. He must be taking her to…
Ruby slowed, tried to yank her hand free. “You’ve lost your mind!”
His grip didn’t ease up as he dragged her closer to the ledge. “There’s no other way.”
“It’s at least a ten foot drop. You know I can’t swim!”
He stopped at the ledge and launched the gun into the darkness. She thought for a second he’d thrown it into the river, but it landed in the distance with a thud. The moonlight broke through the clouds, illuminating the scary jump and rushing water below. Her heart sped.
“You’ll be fine. I won’t let you drown.” His lips quirked, like he found her terror entertaining.
All the pent up anger, grief, and fear fought for supremacy inside. She couldn’t control what came out of her mouth. “And I’m supposed to trust you? Are you kidding me?”
His arms banded around her, holding her arms down by her sides in a steely grip. “You could always trust me, Red. I told you everything I was allowed to.”
Before she could argue, or before she could wonder what he meant by allowed, he picked her up and jumped off the ledge.
And the news? You can buy it now! Exclusive to Amazon at the moment.
Would love to know what you all think.