Among the Shine Clan, Dellani Oakes, Uncategorized

Among the Shine Clan – Part 10 by Dellani

among-the-shine-clan-coverAlthough Fiddlestix and Deacon had a confrontation, they know they must work together. She asks to speak to him privately, as leaders. Once he’s calmed down, he comes to get her. Much subdued, he invites her to go for a walk. She goes with him, leaving Kaz with Harmony, who soon leaves with Jasper to plan their next attack.

Kaz sat quietly at his table, suddenly at loose ends. Several of the Shine Clan women eyed him curiously. Used to the men of their clan, they found the outsider interesting. The most brazen approached him, sitting across the table from him.

“Howdy,” she said quietly. “My name’s Betsy. What’s yours?”

She made conversation very easy and following her to her quarters even more so. Kaz quite decidedly enjoyed Betsy’s style of Southern Hospitality.

Deacon Scott walked beside Fiddlestix, his arm barely touching hers. He’d said nothing since leaving the dining room five minutes earlier. He walked her to an isolated part of the underground bunker. The door opened and she found herself quite unexpectedly, outside. After examining the place, she realized they were still inside, but that the cavern had been landscaped and lit as if they were in the woods. There were birds and small animals making noises in the trees and bushes. A few deer grazed nearby. A gaggle of geese swam in the pond a few feet away. He showed her to a cast iron bench, sitting after she settled herself. Picking some grass, he fiddled with it for a moment, then cast it from him.

“It’s an illusion,” told her quietly. “The geese and deer, squirrels and all. But the plants and water are real. It gives us a place to come and relax.”

She nodded, gazing around her with longing. One didn’t see this kind of untouched beauty anymore. “It’s beautiful,” she sighed. “Even if it’s not real.”

For the first time since meeting him, he smiled. A distant expression filled his eyes. He hesitated, as if he wanted to say something, but didn’t know how. Instead of playing a game, he was genuinely at a loss of words.

Fiddlestix decided to break the silence surrounding them. “I think we got off on the wrong foot, General Scott.”

Deacon’s smile flashed again. “Still not used to that. My father was General Scott. I’m just plain old Deacon.”

“Hardly plain,” she blurted. Stopping suddenly, she blushed and looked away. Smooth, Hannah, she castigated herself. Really great. Let the man know you have the hots for him, why don’t you? Tip your hand early. Dumb ass!

“Why, Master Sergeant Braun, was that a compliment?”

“Maybe,” she teased, still not looking at him.

“I agree. We did. I guess I took those insults you hurled my way a little too personally.”

“I had to get your attention,” she said in her defense. “It was all I could think of, short of stripping myself naked and dangling from the trees by my tits.”

“That would have worked better,” he eyed her more like a man than a warrior. “I wouldn’t have been so pissed off then.”

“True. But would you have been able to concentrate?”

“What do you think?” He grinned, holding out his hand. “Let’s start over. I’m Deacon Scott, and you are?”

“Hannah Braun, also known as Fiddlestix.” She took his hand.

“Pleased to meet you, Hannah Braun.” He raised her hand to his lips, kissing it.

“And I you, Deacon Scott.”

Hardly able to stop himself, Deacon leaned forward to kiss her. She made him giddy. He wasn’t used to that. He was always in tight control, so much so that he never let his guard down. She’d gotten in under his guard, taken him totally by surprise, infiltrated his personal security, circumventing his defenses. The funny thing was, she hadn’t even tried. His lips brushed air as she moved out of his way, neatly avoiding his clumsy embrace. Suddenly embarrassed, he sat back, trying to pretend none of it had happened. Fortunately, she let him.

“So, tell me about our problem. Right now, things are quiet. That makes me suspicious.”

“Have you got them under surveillance?”

“Yes. They aren’t moving. They’re just sitting in one of the tunnels they took. There’s this little blue light flashing on their necks. They’ve been like that for the last hour, since y’all got here.”

“Oh, shit. Why didn’t you tell me this before?”

© 2017 Dellani Oakes

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Amanda Thrasher, Cereal Authors, Dellani Oakes, Karen Vaughan, Ruth Davis Hays, Stephanie Osborn

Happy New Year from Cereal Authors

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Reflections on a Year by Ruth Davis Hays

2017, what have you done to me?

I dreaded the coming of 2017. Long hours of painful work anticipated. Anxiety over payments owed or debts that would accumulate. Rollbacks of regulations and freedoms that were imagined to be permanent for our future collective good. But, nothing had braced me for the fears that did arise this last year.

In the past year, I have gone from devastation to thankful and grateful reprieve.

Let me preface this by saying that I am close to my mother. Very close. Early on in 2017, my mother was hospitalized with jaundice. That led to the discovery that she had a cancerous tumor blocking her pancreas.

Now, pancreatic cancer is one of the most pervasive and aggressive cancers. I know this because a dear friend of mine died just a few years ago after fighting pancreatic cancer for six years.

This news shook me to my core. I had to face the real possibility that my mother, the stable influence throughout my life, might not live past my fiftieth birthday this year. So many things raced into my mind of what my sister and I needed to decide on, from an estate and parental care point of view concerning our aging father and the house our parents owned. We suddenly found ourselves in the realm of having to deal with “what might happen after…”

And it was the After part that tore us to ribbons. We both love our mother more than words can say. She was our rock. She was our inspiration. We would both rather die than see her in pain. But, we both had already seen friends dealing with cancer, up close and personal. So, we dreaded having to see our mother in that position.

But, by the grace of all that is holy, her jaundice was a blessing in disguise. The cancer had not spread beyond her pancreas and she was able to be connected with the best surgeons in Florida.

It is the second week of December. It has been a long and emotional year for my family, but after chemo and surgery, my mother has been labeled as clear of cancer. I am beyond thankful to have her healing and still with us for this holiday season. I am thankful that she is celebrating the new year with us. And, through it all, I am thankful for the love and support that we have received from friends and relatives.

Politically and artistically, not much has been achieved in my personal life, but as far as my family life is concerned… 2017 was a win, because it helped my mother heal her body against a frightful foe.

© 2018 Ruth Davis Hays

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My 2017 in a Nutshell by Karen Vaughan

Wow what a year and boy, did it go fast. I feel like I did a lot this year professionally and personally speaking, but lets just stick to writing and promoting.

OWL AND PUSSYCAT/OWL BRANCH PROMOTIONS:

My promotional business with Viv Drewa morphed into a partnership with Crystal Gauthier and we became part of The Owl Book Promotions. I met a lot of great new authors that have since become great Facebook friends if they already weren’t. However due to Health issues of one of the partners we went back to Owl and Pussycat Promotions.

WRITERS ROUNDTABLE saw a lot of new literary guests come to the show. In essence, my interviews were entertaining, to say the least and look forward to an exciting 4th year on the air.

WRITING, WRITING, AND MORE WRITING:

I had Dead Men Don’t Swing republished during the year through Southern Owl Publications, which is owned and run by Crystal Gauthier. I plan to do this more in 2018.

I also attempted to work on some WIP projects and get them done but alas they are still WIPS. Maybe next year! I won the NaNoWriMo this year for What the Heart Wants

I have tons of ideas for stories but again the muse is fickle.

When not doing writing related things I dabble in arts and crafts or I can be found reading and gaming.

Here’s Merry Christmas to everyone and a happy 2018

© 2018 Karen Vaughan

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Reflections of 2017 – Amanda M. Thrasher

2017 is coming to an end; shocking, since it seems like the year was a blur. As I reflect upon the past twelve months, it feels as if I lost time (I didn’t), but the year that was filled with successes, regrets, and joy, indeed flew by. My oldest daughter, now a beautiful young lady, is about to jump into the next phase of her life. As she visits colleges, I’m terrified she’s unprepared, but surely I’m mistaken? She’s as ready as every other kid about to leave home, right?

My personal work, writing, suffered this year due to a lack of time dedicated to existing projects and for that, I have sincere regrets. I am thrilled that Bitter Betrayal released, and in time for TLA, that was a huge relief. Despite my lack of writing time our company is thriving, and that is a direct result of our (mine personally) and the commitment of others to ensure that we worked tirelessly on behalf of the authors that we represent. The company is in an excellent position and will start 2018 with the most robust first quarter that we’ve ever experienced to date. Starting off the year in such a way will allow me, as an author, to take back the time I need to commit to writing and finishing existing projects. Projects that mean a lot to me and that I’m passionate about such as finishing Captain Fin.

I believe 2017 was a fruitful year, but a year where I wished I’d spent more time with my family, and as I stated wanted to finish Captain Fin (which will be a priority in 2018). My daughter, the senior in high school, should have spent more time with me (not that she would have) but I wished I’d forced the issue a little more, though I was pleased I was able to attend most of her soccer games this year. She experienced her first real heartbreak; every young woman goes through such, but it was awful to witness, and my heart broke for her. She learned from that experience to never look backward and is now excited about her future and a new relationship.

My youngest daughter continually challenges me as a mom, but in the neatest way. Learning to drive, testing those around her, she still has the sweetest spirit of any child I know. Others would not understand this statement, one of the mysteries of this young girl. 2017 was a year in which she truly blossomed, and it was a beautiful thing to witness.

Watching my son work and grow is always a treat. Continually striving to be his best, a great father, husband, and son. Spending time with him is still a joy, and one of the greatest gifts of 2017 was going on vacation with him and his family. Our family (Mike, the girls), my dad, who I adore, and my sister who I appreciate more now than ever. Having us all together at the same time, in the same place for an entire week, was the highlight of my year.

As an author during 2017, my work The Greenlee Project, a book about bullying, won the Readers’ Favorite International Book Award for YA-Social Issues. Because this book is so important to me, I was naturally thrilled about this, and the news brought me to tears. Bitter Betrayal was the Gold Recipient of The Mom’s Choice Awards® (MCA) for YA and General Fiction. The Mom’s Choice Awards® evaluates products and services created for children, families, and educators. The program is globally recognized for establishing the benchmark of excellence in family-friendly media, products, and services. The organization is based in the United States and has reviewed thousands of items from more than 55 countries. It, Bitter Betrayal, also won the New Apple Literary Award for YA and General Fiction.

My goal for 2018: Finish Captain Fin and write the fourth installment of the Mischief series. And of course, continue my role as CEO of Progressive Rising Phoenix Press.

© 2018 Amanda Thrasher

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It Was a Fairly Good Year by Dellani Oakes

2017 has been an eventful year, in one way or another. We witnessed the birth of our second granddaughter in July, and rode out a hurricane. (When I say rode out, I really mean that we retreated to Virginia and visited our daughter for nearly two weeks) The good thing about that trip was that I got some uninterrupted time with my beautiful granddaughters. (The eldest is 9 going on 90)

Hurricane Irma gifted Florida with something to which my body has strenuously objected. I’ve been sick on and off since she roared through. Whatever it is, I sincerely hope someone takes it back, because I’m tired of it.

On a professional note, I consider 2017 more of a success. A few years ago, after looking at the queue of unfinished work, I set myself a goal of finishing a book a month. In 2014, I finished 14 books. 2015 was even better, with 25. I reverted to 14 in 2016, but 5 of those were start to finish books: two at 9 days each, then 6, 4 and 2 days. To be fair, the 2 day one was a novella, but the rest are over 50,000 words each. Shortly after writing of this article, I finished a piece for December. Making a total of 14 once again. It’s a novella, but I’m still pleased with it. Not bad, considering how much time I spent on the road between here and Virginia, and how much of that time, I was sick.

I published several books this year. So Much It Hurts, a contemporary romance, was released by Tirgearr Publishing on November 1. I also released an adult coloring book, Doodle Your Stress Away. I re-released a new and improved version of Indian Summer, as well as publishing its sequel, Savage Heart. I also published The Maker – Book 3 in my sci-fi series. Now, if they would sell, I’d be ecstatic.

Looking toward 2018, I hope for better health, and the ability to release a few more books. I’m constantly writing, creating interesting blog posts, and enjoying my days in the literary universe. I call it that, because it’s much more than a world. Books set us free from the here and now, carrying us far away from the everyday. What a blessed release, to lose oneself in somewhere completely different, even if for a short time.

© 2018 Dellani Oakes

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Happy New Year By Stephanie Osborn

The Earth does orbit Sun from year to year,

And on each pass, it reaches such a place

As makes no diff’rence to the orbit’s sphere;

Still, yet the natives pause in daily chase.

Anon, the New Year comes around each pass,

Tho’ meaningless the point in orbit be.

And number’d high, the planet does amass’

And celebrations raucous we shall see.

For me, ‘tis most a time to sit and think.

Of what has passed and what is yet to come.

Of past, of present, future, all to link.

Of old and new, and stories yet to plumb.

So Happy New Year to you all, my friends!

I lift libation as the old year ends!

© 2018 Stephanie Osborn

 

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From all of us at Cereal Authors, we hope you are blessed with a happy and healthy 2018.

 

Among the Shine Clan, Dellani Oakes

Among the Shine Clan by Dellani

among-the-shine-clan-coverFiddlestix explains that she thinks McLain sent the cyber warriors in on purpose, to attack the Shine Clan and punish them for how they had treated him. She further says that her team was sent, in hopes they would all die at the hands of the warriors, or the Shine Clan. Deacon doesn’t want to believe her, and storms out of their meeting.

“Could I talk to Deacon alone? Maybe without everyone else around, we could hammer this out.”

“Sometimes having to be in command in front of an audience makes it hard to think logically,” Frank agreed. “When you have to be strong, defiant…. I think talking to him is a good idea.”

“But will he do it?” Jasper asked his uncle.

“Hell if I know, boy. But I’ll ask.” He rose hesitantly as if his wounds had stiffened while he was sitting down. Grasping his side, he limped slowly to the door. “Jasper, take these folks for some victuals.”

“Yes, sir.” Jasper rose.

Followed by Fiddlestix and her men, he walked casually down a corridor, made a few turns that she couldn’t keep track of, and eventually led them to a large, high roofed dining hall.

Eyes followed them as they walked to the cafeteria line. Fiddlestix was aware of the stares, but didn’t let on that she knew. Instead, she chatted with Jasper, laughing and joking as he led her through the line. Her plate was piled high with different foods that he felt she should try. Unsure she could eat it all, she agreed so she wouldn’t disappoint him. He was sweet and charming in an innocent way. She wasn’t surprised to find out that he was barely twenty. Drawn to him, she would have liked to spend some time in his company, but sensed that would be a terrible breach of protocol. Besides, he was a little young for her. She liked her men seasoned, with experience. Deacon, who was six years older, was hot, spicy and seasoned just right.

When they finished their meal, she realized she’d eaten most of what she’d been served. Kaz and Harmony went back for seconds and had two slices of apple pie each. Jasper ate just as much as they did. Heaving a delighted sigh, he tipped back in his chair, placing an arm casually behind her shoulders. It wasn’t a come-on, it was just Jasper.

He grinned at her. “Nothing like a pretty dinner companion to make a meal, eh boys?” he directed this comment at her soldiers.

Kaz and Harmony hadn’t ever really thought of Fiddlestix as anything but Master Sergeant. Thinking of her as a woman was a new concept. Since that pretty dinner companion could easily eviscerate them or rip out their hearts with her cyber arm, they tended to remember that instead. But they agreed with Jasper so they wouldn’t offend her.

Jasper’s grin faded slightly and he looked over his right shoulder toward the door. Standing there, rather lost and alone, was Deacon. His face was haggard, drawn over the bones in tight lines. He said nothing, but looked at Fiddlestix, jerking his head toward the door behind him.

“Excuse me, gentlemen. I think I’m being summoned to the royal presence.”

Jasper took her hand gently as she stood. “Don’t be too hard on him, Hannah. He’s a good man and a strong leader. The last couple days haven’t been easy.”

Nodding sharply, she strutted casually to Deacon’s side. He allowed her to precede him through the doorway, watching as she passed with more than a little interest. Jasper saw his brother’s expression and smirked.

“If she don’t charm the pants right off him, she can slap my ass and call me Sally,” he chuckled.

Kaz and Harmony exchanged a knowing look. They hadn’t missed Deacon’s expression either. They were still floundering around, trying to imagine Fiddlestix as anything but a ruthless killer. It didn’t work.

“If she don’t kill him first,” Harmony mumbled, frowning deeply. “You don’t know The Sarge like we do. She don’t take no for an answer and she don’t much like being argued with.”

“I’d match her against my brother any day,” Jasper smirked. “And bet heavily on Deacon. Not that it matters. What matters is getting this situation resolved. We’ve already sent in reinforcements. I’m organizing another platoon to go out. You boys want to come?”

“I’m stuck till I know what Sarge wants to do,” Kaz replied.

“I’ll go,” Harmony agreed. “Fiddlestix don’t need me for right now. I know a thing or two about how these boys work,” he told Jasper as they walked out the door. “I used to be a handler for another bunch.”

© 2017 Dellani Oakes

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Among the Shine Clan – Part 8 by Dellani

among-the-shine-clan-coverNeither Fiddlestix, nor Deacon Scott, are happy with one another. They’ve decidedly gotten off on the wrong foot. Of course, the curses she hurled at him, in order to get his attention, might have something to do with it. Both realize they have to work together to capture the rogue cyber warriors, but it doesn’t mean they have to like it—or each other.

“I didn’t ask to be sent here, General Scott,” she turned back to Deacon. “But if I’d had my way, I’d have asked before I barged in. I would have brought no more than twenty people and we would have taken care of this nice and quiet. Unfortunately, I had no way to contact you.”

“Why do you think McLain sent you in like this then?” Deacon couldn’t keep the curiosity out of his voice.

“Slap in the face to you and a burning desire to see me cut down. He hates me. He’s a dumb ass and I’ve told him that more than once. I used to be Captain Hannah Braun. About six months ago, he busted me to Master Sergeant. Only because he couldn’t really take me any lower without raising a few eyebrows. There’s not a man or woman on my team who hasn’t had some sort of confrontation with him.”

“Except Lieutenant Frieze,” Harmony added quietly.

“Yeah, well, look where that sorry sack of shit’s hiding out,” Kaz added vehemently. “Doped up in the hospital. Coward.”

Fiddlestix grinned, her eyes twinkling. “Oh, Kaz, is that any way to talk about our superior officer?” She snorted derisively.

Harmony and Kaz joined her in a short, hearty laugh at Frieze’s expense.

“Superior, my ass….” Harmony chuckled.

One look at Deacon and the laughter stopped. His eyes were hard, like crystals. His face bland, dangerous.

“So, you’re telling me,” he said quietly. “You think this whole thing was McLain’s way of getting even with us and taking you and your people down? Is that it? That’s your brilliant theory as to why all this transpired? My father is dead because of this! My men are dying, my people terrified. I’ve got a society that’s falling apart around my ears and you think it’s for revenge?” He leaned over the table once more, banging both fists on it forcefully.

“Deacon,” Frank Lord spoke so softly, Fiddlestix barely heard him. “Sit down, son.”

Deacon’s glare turned to his uncle. He pointed angrily at the older man. “I’m not your son. Don’t be thinking because we’re kin that it gives you any kind of advantage here. I will see hell burn before I believe this is simply revenge.”

He headed for the door, his men in his wake. All but Frank Lord and Jasper followed him. Deacon hesitated at the door. Shrugging his shoulders, he tossed his long, blond hair aside. Jerking the door open, he nearly took it off its hinges. Without another word, he was gone. The silence settled in the room somewhat uncomfortably.

“Well, that was fun,” Jasper smirked.

“Not really.” Fiddlestix didn’t smile. “Jasper, I know I’m right about this. McLain isn’t a devious man, he’s not smart enough. To him, this makes sense. To me, it’s stupid as hell, but he would see it as the perfect way to get rid of a number of pesky problems.”

“I don’t disbelieve you, Hannah. Deacon believes you too, he just won’t admit it. He took our father’s death hard. It has registered with him that he’s the man in charge now and our daddy was a hard act to follow. He’s got big boots to fill. He can do it, if he’ll let himself. Can’t grieve and lead.” His eyes grew sorrowful and he stopped talking abruptly.

“What do you need from us?” Frank Lord asked her politely. “I want this over and done.”

“I have to get close. I’m serious when I say I have to have line of sight. I can’t do my job without help.”

“What if you gave us the codes, let us handle it?” Jasper asked.

It was more than just a question. It could be interpreted as a veiled threat. Fiddlestix chose to take it at face value.

“It’s voice coded as well as imprinted. The codes will work for me or Kaz. No one else has been coded to them. So if we both go down, you’re stuck with those guys until hell freezes.”

“F**k me,” Jasper whispered. His dark eyes sparkled and he smiled disarmingly. “You could, you know.” He left it at that.

Fiddlestix’ laugh popped out loudly. She’d heard some come-ons in her time, but that one was certainly unique. Were the circumstances different, she’d have gladly taken Jasper up on his invitation, but they had a job to do.

© 2017 Dellani Oakes

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Among the Shine Clan, Dellani Oakes

Among the Shine Clan – Part 7

among-the-shine-clan-coverFiddlestix has met the leader of the Shine Clan, General Deacon Scott, newly promoted after the death of his father. Though they don’t really trust one another, they have an uneasy truce. Fiddlestix says she’s been sent by General T. H. McLain. The name resonates with Deacon – and not in a good way.

“He used to be one of us,” Deacon sighed. “There was some trouble about twenty years ago between him and our father. He got tossed out on his ass.”

Fiddlestix took in this information without blinking. Her mind clicked into high gear. All sorts of new, unpleasant possible scenarios popped into her head. As she sorted through them, she listened to what Deacon Scott had to say.

“This makes your story somewhat less plausible, Miss Braun.”

Fiddlestix pursed her lips, relaxing her pose. “I’d say it has pretty much the opposite effect, Mr. Scott.” If he was going to leave off her hard earned rank, she’d do the same. “Sounds to me like we just validated everything. McLain’s a snake. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’d done this on purpose.”

“With what motivation, Miss Braun?” Deacon rose, leaning across the table.

“Well, Mr. Scott,” she stood up, looking small and vulnerable in comparison. “I can think of half a dozen different reasons. You look like a relatively intelligent man. I bet if a little, bitty girl like me can think of that many, a big, strapping man like you could come up with a least—four.” She hid a smirk, but it was in her voice, the tilt of her head, the angle of her shoulders. She was laughing at him.

Deacon wanted to throw something. He fought the urge to roar, punch the wall or toss his chair across the table at her. He heard Jasper snicker, trying hard to make it sound like a sneeze. At least three of his men were also finding humor in this confrontation. If it hadn’t pissed him off so damn much, he’d have been laughing too.

Fiddlestix’ men looked terrified. They saw an enormous, angry man looming across a narrow, flimsy table in a room deep underground with no sure way out. What was Sarge doing? Why was she baiting him like that? Shouldn’t she be negotiating? Playing nice? Maybe doing whatever a woman did to a man to make him more compliant? So far, she’d done everything except shoot him. If it was possible to verbally castrate a man, she was working on it. Kaz, who was a short, wiry built man, swallowed with difficulty, his hands shaking. Harmony, who wasn’t used to feeling small, was. They didn’t dare speak. Neither man wanted to draw attention to himself.

“Suppose you share one of your theories with us.” An older man with graying hair leaned over, striking a pose much like Jasper’s.

Fiddlestix’ eyes flickered over to him. She liked what she saw. He was slightly shorter than Jasper, lean built, but strong. His green eyes glimmered with humor, his lips twitched with suppressed humor.

“Yes, sir,” she sat smoothly, crossing her legs elegantly. Despite her combat gear, she comported herself like a lady.

“No need to sir me, Master Sergeant. We’re the same rank. Master Sergeant Frank Lord.” He nodded at Jasper and Deacon. “Their uncle. I was by their father’s side when some of those wild men cut him down.”

She saw now that he carried himself carefully, as if nursing a wound. There was a tightness around his lips that spoke of great pain. He’d been wounded, rather severely, but he’d never in a million years show weakness in front of her.

“Yes, Master Sergeant Lord. I’d be happy to. Provided General Scott doesn’t object.”

Frank Lord glanced at his nephew. “He don’t mind. He’s just a dumb hillbilly who can’t control his temper.” He nodded sharply at Deacon to sit. Fiddlestix suppressed a smile as Deacon sat without argument.

“If General McLain is who we think,” she continued. “Then none of this should surprise us. In fact, it fills in a lot of gaps in his narrative. I think it’s a good possibility that he sent them here to attack you. If they can get a toehold, they can wipe the whole lot of you out. There’s very little defense against these guys.”

“Why would he want to do that, Master Sergeant?” Lord asked quietly.

“Like I said, he’s a snake and a dumb son-of-a-bitch. He carries a grudge and he’s now in a position to do something about it. Even if they don’t take you all out, you’re weakened and vulnerable. Then he sends me in with my people, without asking, and that would, in my opinion, constitute a warlike act. I don’t take kindly to well armed interlopers on my turf. I don’t suppose you do either.”

Jasper’s eyes twinkled, but he didn’t speak. Frank Lord smiled gently, his eyes softening. “No, I don’t suppose we do.”

© 2017 Dellani Oakes

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Among the Shine Clan – Part 6

among-the-shine-clan-coverFiddlestix, Kaz and Harmony agree to accompany General Scott and his men inside their fortress under the mountain. Part of the agreement includes them disarming, as well as neutralizing any cyber weapons. It’s not ideal, but they really have no other choice.

No one said anything until they were deep underground in a conference room. Deacon, Jasper and ten of their men took up one end of the table. Fiddlestix and her two men sat at the other. She waited for Deacon Scott to speak, but he just stared at her. Good at playing mind games herself, she stared back, letting her eyes travel over his body without expression. She lingered on his massive chest, her gaze drifting down to the tabletop, though one got the impression that wasn’t what she was looking at.

She didn’t appear to be impressed, but her mind was dancing around, singing a song of great appreciation. Deacon Scott exuded sexual virility. Like a scent, it surrounded her, burrowing deep inside. Never in her life had she been so attracted to a man. It really irritated her, because he was one of the most arrogant, annoying, hard edged, coldhearted men it had ever been her bad luck to encounter. He was a walking, talking contradiction from whom she got mixed signals. Priding herself on her ability to size up an adversary, she couldn’t get a handle on General Scott. She quit trying, waiting for him to speak. He seemed bent on the same thing. It was a silent standoff.

Fidgeting nervously, Jasper Scott nudged his brother. He didn’t play the silent game like Deacon did. It wasn’t that he couldn’t, he just thought it was a waste of time. He wanted answers as much as his brother, but he was willing to go about it differently. Given the need, Jasper could extract information from even the most reticent. Clearing his throat, he nudged his brother again. Deacon broke eye contact with Fiddlestix long enough to glare at his brother.

He didn’t say a word, but his eyes asked a question, “What?”

Jasper raised an eyebrow asking a question of his own. Deacon blinked, cutting his eyes at the three at the end of the table as if giving permission. Jasper leaned forward, laying his forearms and palms on the table in front of him. His dark hair flowed around him like molten chocolate. He too wore a thin, red tied braid.

“Miss Braun,” he started.

“Master Sergeant,” Kaz corrected automatically. Reddening, his lips snapped shut and he deemed it wise not to talk again.

“Beg pardon, ma’am. Master Sergeant. I’m sure you can understand our hesitation in accepting what you say.”

Fiddlestix nodded. “But you’ve had trouble at your north gate. I’d say, if it’s a well populated area, you’ve lost close to fifty people since they broke through. Probably took them roughly twenty-five hours to get in, now you can’t get them out. Am I close?”

The brothers exchanged a look that she couldn’t interpret. Deacon nodded ever so slightly.

“Twenty-four and a half to be precise,” Jasper said quietly. “Upwards of forty people. Mostly soldiers but a few civilians too.”

“Look….” She sighed heavily, running her fingers through her short blond hair. “I didn’t want to come in like this. I asked my commanding officer, General McLain, to contact you. He knew about your father, he knew this location.”

“How would he know that?” Jasper was incredulous.

“He didn’t share that with me, Jasper.”

She had no idea what his rank was. The Shine Clan wore identical uniforms but no insignia.

“General McLain?” Deacon frowned deeply. “Thomas McLain?”

Fiddlestix thought for a moment. Did she know the general’s first name. She visualized the nameplate on his desk. General T. H. McLain.

“Could be. I don’t know the general that well,” she smirked. “Not like the old man and I are on a first name basis. His initials are T.H.”

For the first time, Deacon’s eyes twinkled. His face remained stony, but there was a glimmer of something in his eyes.

“If it’s Thomas McLain, it would explain a lot. Short guy, bad attitude, sort of exudes this aura of….” He hesitated for a word that wouldn’t offend a lady.

“Abject stupidity?” She nodded. “That’s our general. Dumbest son-of-a-bitch I ever met.”

© 2017 Dellani Oakes

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Among the Shine Clan

Among the Shine Clan – Part 5

among-the-shine-clan-coverAfter her people disappear, Fiddlestix is left with only Kaz and Harmony. Convinced that the Shine Clan are monitoring them, she hurls insults at thin air, until her men think she’s insane. Out of the woods, a group of huge men appear—not the least of whom is General Deacon Scott, leader of the of the Shine Clan. He’s not happy with her.

“Yes. Is there somewhere else we could talk? More private?”

“Anything you have to say to me, Master Sergeant, you can say in front of my men. You folks may keep secrets from your subordinates, but that’s not Shine Clan way.”

“The men who attacked you are AWOL, General Scott. Their handler, Pete Livingston, decided to walk out with his cyber unit.”

“Anyone know why a man would do a fool thing like that?” This from the dark man to General Scott’s left.

“No one shared that information with me,” Fiddlestix said. “That being the U.S. Army’s way.”

“Jasper, get the lady a stool. I think we’re gonna be here awhile.”

“Yes, Deacon.” He didn’t salute, but he treated the other man with deference.

Returning a moment later, he carried two camp stools. He set one behind Fiddlestix, carelessly brushing the back of her leg as he set it up. She had no doubt he’d done it on purpose, but she didn’t mind. Under different circumstances, she’d have encouraged him. Instead, she sat down and waited for General Scott to speak again. He sat slowly, warily.

“So, for reasons unknown, old Pete decides to go walkies with a bunch of cyber crazies? Has he gone addlepated in the brainpan?”

“Truthfully, General Scott, I don’t know. As you say, we do keep secrets. My general didn’t share that tidbit with me. McLain is playing this one close. I know very little about the circumstances of their leaving.”

“And yet you’re here to help? I fail to see how three people can help me and us at all.”

“I had a few more when I started.”

He didn’t respond.

“I know how to turn them off.”

“Well, why didn’t you say so? Do it, be my guest. Turn the bastards off and let us bury our dead.”

“It’s not that simple. I have to have line of sight with them. It’s a security measure. The receiver is very low range and the mountains drop it to just about nil.”

Deacon Scott’s eyes scanned Fiddlestix from the top of her spiky blonde hair to the toes of her combat boots. He allowed himself to be momentarily distracted by some parts in between. Despite the fact that she was an Army officer, she was all woman. Her tempestuous gray eyes met his confidently. The tilt of her chin and set of her jaw were defiant, challenging him to give her an excuse to kiss him…. He meant kill him. Yes, that was it.

He didn’t let himself linger over her firm breasts and taut thighs, focusing instead on the incredibly powerful cyber arm that marred the outline of her body with a harsh, metallic reminder that she was a deadly and capable warrior first and a beautiful woman second.

“Well,” he said softly. “Supposing I allow you into our territory, what can you offer besides you three and the codes? I don’t see how you’re in any way useful to me.”

“I had a squad of forty-four when I hit these woods, but I expect you know that already.” Her full, pink lips snapped shut.

Deacon nodded slowly, assessing the situation more closely. She was pissed about her people. He couldn’t say he blamed her, but she couldn’t fault him for protecting his home.

“That you did,” he conceded. “So?”

“So? I’d like them back, General Scott. We didn’t come here to cause trouble.”

“Deacon,” Jasper touched his shoulder hesitantly. “We should probably go inside. It doesn’t feel safe out here.”

Deacon’s eyes flickered over to his brother, taking in the concern. Jasper might be several years younger, but he’d be hard pressed to find a better soldier or a more cautious one. Knowing that Jasper’s wariness bordered on telepathic, he nodded slightly. Jasper motioned to the men who surrounded Fiddlestix and her companions, disarming them.

She, Kaz and Harmony allowed themselves to be escorted into the Shine Clan stronghold without protest. Even Fiddlestix said nothing when a man virtually twice her size and circumference attached a miniaturized cyber damper to her arm so she couldn’t activate her weaponry.

© 2017 Dellani Oakes

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Among the Shine Clan

Among the Shine Clan – Part 4

among-the-shine-clan-coverThe mission has hardly begun when strange things start to happen. Without warning, several of the platoon disappear off the scanner. No one can explain it, including Kaz, who is watching the scanner.

“What?” Fiddlestix rounded on Kaz who looked at his computer screen helplessly.

“They were there a second ago, then poof! Gone!”

“Thirty people don’t go poof!”

“They just did!” Kaz was worried and scared, which made him rather surly.

Feeling surly herself, Fiddlestix grabbed the computer from his hands, nearly dropping it. Aside from the three of them, there were no other life forms showing on the screen.

“Not even a squirrel! You can’t tell me on this entire mountain there’s no squirrels!” She stopped, lowering her gun, turning in a slow circle. “I don’t know what you’re playing at, but if anything happens to my people, there will be hell to pay! I promise you that! Just so we’re clear, we’re here to help you. Or haven’t you noticed you’ve got a passel of crazy, cyber soldiers battering down your back door?”

“Master Sergeant? Are you okay?” Harmony’s dark face was clouded with worry.

“I know they’re watching, or listening, monitoring us somehow! Come on! Show yourselves! If I wanted to cause you trouble, would I march in here like a fool? Cowards! Hiding under your mountain! Come out!”

Spinning in a low, continuous circle, she bellowed for all she was worth. Hurling insults, she castigated the landscape. Harmony and Kaz looked more and more concerned. Kaz gasped suddenly, pointing over Fiddlestix’ left shoulder. She felt a tingling. Moving around so she faced the opposite direction, she kept her hands carefully away from her weapons, motioning her men to do the same. Taking a step forward, she focused on the bracken to the west, waiting.

A moment later, the bushes rustled and dozens of huge men poured forth. Even the smallest of them dwarfed Harmony, who was six foot seven. Their bodies were muscled in ways that Fiddlestix had never seen before. All of them were tall, buff and disarmingly handsome. None of them were smiling.

One man stepped forward, literally toe to toe with Fiddlestix. Well over seven feet tall, he loomed over her. At six three, she was used to looking down on most of her team members. This man made her lean back, gazing at his chin. Despite her irritation and disquietude, her heart fluttered, but not from fear. He was, for lack of a more descriptive term, gorgeous. Built along the lines of a Norse god, his golden blond hair flowed down his back. A tight, narrow braid was knotted with a red strip of leather and tossed casually over his left shoulder. His crystal blue eyes bored into her stormy gray ones.

“I’m here.” His deep, husky, musical voice filled her ears. His Southern accent was strong, flavoring his words like honey. “I can’t say I much appreciate the disparaging remarks about my character, though.” His lips made a firm, tight line. A steely glint flickered in the back of his eyes.

“I need to speak to your leader.”

Fiddlestix folded her arms across her ample chest, eyes flickering around the perimeter of the clearing, taking in the opposition. She counted twenty, but figured there were at least twice that many that she couldn’t see.

“About?”

“I don’t wanna explain twice, so I’d like to talk to him.” She made it clear she wasn’t moving until he granted her what she wanted.

“Look, lady, I don’t know who the hell you think you are, but do you know who you’re talking to?” A slightly shorter, but more muscular man detached himself from the group behind the blond god.

He was even more massively built than the other man, dark and brooding. They had to be brothers, there was a strong family resemblance. Especially in that defiant jaw. His eyes were dark brown, the other man’s were a clear, vivid blue with a steely edge.

“I’m Master Sergeant Hannah Braun of the United States Army,” she began confidently. “I demand to speak….”

“Honey,” the dark haired man’s brown eyes danced happily. “You’re speakin’ to him right now. After the noise you made in our woods, do you think anyone else was gonna come? Master Sergeant Hannah Braun, meet General Deacon Scott of the Shine Clan.”

Fiddlestix looked stunned. This was the leader of the Shine Clan? He wasn’t any older than she was! Had she heard right?

“You’re General Scott? We were led to believe that your leader was an older man, in his fifties?”

Deacon’s eyes clouded and his jaw worked fitfully as he tried to control his emotions. “My father was killed recently in a raid. You say you know something about the freaks who took our north gate two days ago?”

© 2017 Dellani Oakes

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Among the Shine Clan – Part 3

among-the-shine-clan-coverFiddlestix and her platoon are on their way. She’s found herself in charge, and isn’t happy about it. Hoping that things will go well, she’s prepared for the mission to go horribly wrong.

CAUTION STRONG LANGUAGE

“I have the feeling I’ve got cross hairs trained on me,” she mused, not voicing her disquiet to her people.

Her attitude was cocky and confident. She was damned if her troops were going to see her scared. Her gut might be tied in knots, but they wouldn’t know it. She’d learned a long time ago that the leader’s worry could transmit itself to the troops.

Less than five miles into Shine territory, strange things started to happen. Kaz contacted her over her headset. He wasn’t very clear, his signal breaking up.

“Uh, Master Sergeant?”

“Talk to me, Kaz.”

“The point team just disappeared.”

“Do you mean you lost sight of them?”

“No, Master Sergeant. They fuckin’ disappeared. Right off my screen. I sent Diaz and Harmony out to look for them, nothing. No sign.”

“On my way.”

Using hand signals, she brought her people in to tight formation and sped up. She was with Kaz in less than two minutes. Looking at the screen, she saw he was telling the truth. There should be a readout of all the squad members, but the bars for the point team were blank. Not flat lined, just blank. Not even their names appeared by the bar.

“Shit! Sound off!” she growled into her headset.

For the next thirty seconds, her soldiers stated their names. She came up another three short. That made, with the point team, seven.

“What the hell?”

Something was happening she had no control over and didn’t understand. Was it Shine Clan or the cyber unit? They weren’t finding bodies, so maybe they were still alive. She didn’t like it, but she didn’t have to like a situation to get the job done.

“Sound off every five minutes,”she ordered.

Walking slowly, cautiously, quietly, they proceeded deeper into Shine territory. The hairs on Fiddlestix’ neck danced with nervous energy. The feeling that she was being watched through a powerful scope increased the closer they got. She’d picked up the trail of the cyber unit shortly after the point team disappeared. They might be super soldiers, but they sucked at covering their trail. It occurred to her that they might have done it on purpose to lure them in. Her paranoia increased and she tightened security.

Five minutes later, three more of her people were gone. She called a halt. No one had seen the people disappear. It was as if they melted into the mist that surrounded them.

“It isn’t possible,” she muttered. “Grown people, soldiers, don’t just disappear! It is not possible!”

After the next sound off, four more were gone. Stifling a scream, she called another halt. Anticipating that the Shine Clan had sophisticated surveillance equipment, she ordered her people to stay put.

“Set up a perimeter patrol. No one leaves for any reason. I don’t care what you see or hear. Take cover and stay put. Kazinski, Harmony, you’re with me. Diaz, you’re in charge.”

“Yes, Master Sergeant,” she responded.

“I don’t give a shit what McLain says,” she told Harmony and Kaz. “I’m looking for the Shine Clan leader. If I can talk to the person in charge, I’ll feel better.”

They kept walking and she kept talking. To the men, it seemed like she was babbling, but she was banking on the fact that the Shine Clan could hear her.

“I don’t want my people hurt. We didn’t come here to cause trouble. We want to get the cyber unit and go home, then everyone’s happy.”

Kaz and Harmony looked at her like she was crazy. They knew this, why was she telling them something they already knew?

“Master Sergeant?” Kaz sounded worried.

“What?” She stopped babbling long enough to listen to him, but she kept moving.

“They’re gone.”

“What? Who?”

“The rest of them. Diaz and them. Just like the others.”

“What?” She rounded on Kaz who looked at his computer screen helplessly.

“They were there a second ago, then poof! Gone!”

© 2017 Dellani Oakes

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Among the Shine Clan – Part 2

among-the-shine-clan-coverFiddlestix’ day isn’t going well. First, she is given a hell of an assignment, then she finds out that Lieutenant Frieze, who was supposed to be in command, is probably malingering. To confirm this, she goes to the infirmary to find him doped up on pain meds.

“He came in complaining of a pulled muscle. Honest, Stix, I couldn’t find evidence of it, no matter what tests I ran. He didn’t have a bump, bruise, strain or—bulge,” his voice caught and he gasped as her hand moved up his thigh. “Nothing, babe, I swear. He’s as healthy as you or me.”

“But yet he’s doped to the gillies, why’s that?”

“He insisted. Low pain tolerance, he claims.”

“Is that in addition to his yellow streak and cold feet?”

Brant chuckled seductively. He held the same opinion of Frieze and McLain that she did. His hand fell on hers gently, holding it at the top of his thigh, moving her fingers between his legs a bit.

“Hey, why don’t you come by later? I get off shift at 1900.”

“Can’t. We’re ready to bug out. I have to go.”

“Will you come by if you get back?” He turned worried gray eyes to hers. “I don’t have a good feeling about this, Hannah.” He only used her given name when he was concerned.

When I get back, I’ll come see you.”

“Be safe, Hannah. I know you’re not religious, but I’ll be praying for you.”

Heedless of what others might think of him associating with a non-commissioned officer, he leaned over and kissed her lingeringly. “Be careful. Listen to that little, paranoid voice of yours and do exactly what it says. I’ve never known your hunches to be wrong, Hannah.”

“I’ll be careful, Brant. I promise.”

She left the infirmary, feeling even less confident than before. Muttering and mumbling to herself, she nearly walked into Captain Ingrid Bark. The captain stopped Fiddlestix with one arm, nearly clotheslining her.

“Whoa,” she said sharply, grabbing the other woman by the shoulder. “What’s up, Master Sergeant? I heard your squad is going into combat without Frieze?”

“He claims he’s injured, ma’am.”

“Does he really?” She didn’t like Frieze either.

“Let’s just say that I’m skeptical, shall we?” Never one to gossip, she wasn’t going to start now.

“Do you need me to go?”

“No, Captain. I can handle it. Do me a favor though?”

“Anything, name it.”

“Watch my back. Have me a way out. I don’t like this one, Ingrid. This is not wise, entering Shine Clan territory without asking. It could be construed as an act of war, and that’s a giant we don’t want to wake. We have no idea what their actual manpower is.”

“McLain can’t contact them?”

Fiddlestix shrugged. “Can’t or won’t. Take your pick. I need to go. Thanks for your help.”

“Come back safe, Hannah. I’ll get the ball rolling for you before you lift off.”

Fiddlestix tried to smile, but it was nearly impossible. She ran to the airship just as Kaz was jumping out to come after her.

“What about Frieze?”

“He’s not coming.”

“I got that. Is he really hurt?”

She gave him a level look. Kaz turned away, bellowing at the members of the elite force.

“Heads up! Master Sergeant’s in charge! Sit down, shut up, mind your manners!”

The airships took off, carrying them in stages to the drop point. Twenty miles from the target, they were unceremoniously jerked out the back in a low altitude drop that left Fiddlestix slightly bruised and breathless. After her people regrouped, she did a headcount, ordering everyone to take a few minutes to eat. She would have preferred to take a smaller group, no more than twenty well trained men and women, into the mountains. Upwards of forty were too many to keep track of. They were nervous and that made them unpredictable. Going after the cyber unit was scary enough, but the idea of going into hostile territory to get them made it worse.

© 2016 Dellani Oakes

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