“Shifting Balance” — Excerpt from BLOOD DEBT (Project Prometheus)

Project Prometheus BadgeTheir mission is to search out and bring down those who trade in terrorism, fear, and human suffering by whatever means necessary. To do this, they must be willing to give up their freedom, and even their lives. They are a mercenary unit with a mission, and a motivation that has nothing to do with what they get paid, and everything to do with the innocent lives they save. Meet the men and women of…

Project Prometheus

While a battle for control of a power capable of reshaping time itself rages, one man’s doubt in the side he’s chosen may be all it takes to tip the balance, and save the world from plummeting straight into a hell beyond all nightmares.

“Shifting Balance” — Excerpt from BLOOD DEBT (Project Prometheus, Book 4) —

He watched the woman’s manic pacing with weary resignation. He’d never admit it, even under torture, but he grew tired of these women and their erratic — sometimes downright psychotic — mood swings. They all had a common element — all of them except Magdalena, whose place as a Widow he’d never been able to figure out in the nearly eighty years he spent serving Onuris and the Brotherhood.

Rachel and Joy, he understood. A psychopathic need for power fueled them, and — in Joy’s case — a psychotic narcissism. Saphra was bent on vengeance, and rarely killed unless it suited her thirst for revenge. And Ramona allowed her lusts to control her, rather than being in control of them. All of them were perfect hosts for a demon like Satmet. But Onuris’ lover set her greedy sights on Magdalena, as well, and that didn’t sit right with Dimitri.

“Are you even listening to me?” Joy’s sharp demand cut through his musing like a heated blade, jerking his attention back to the glaring woman who was Satmet’s current host. He sighed.

Da. If you are so worried that the American doctor will fail, why did you give him the key? Why not do the task yourself?” For once. But he was wise enough to leave those last words unspoken.

It would certainly make his life easier, Dimitri thought bitterly. With every day that passed in the presence of these deranged women and their demonic puppeteer, he questioned his decision to join forces with the Brotherhood more. It had been babushka‘s idea, her urging, that first directed him Rachel’s way, all those years ago. But eighty years of this insanity was more than any man should have to tolerate.

He sighed inwardly, even as he faced down the glaring Widow before him. “Da?

Those dark blue eyes narrowed as if she could read him, but Dimitri refused to be cowed. He knew the Black Arts, and he comforted himself to know he could control the demon, if not the woman.

“I gave him the key because he’s our best chance, and I refuse to go traipsing around in the jungle like bloody Indiana Jones. He actually wants to do it.” Her fingers walked up his chest in a seductive meander.

He grimaced, and his hand closed around her wrist, yanking her touch away. “We have already discussed this. I am not your lap dog. And I do not have to want treasure — or you — to do my job. Do not toy with me, Joy.”

And, as she yanked away, turned on those ridiculously high heels, and stalked from the room in even higher sulk, the door slamming behind her, Dimitri sank into a chair, scrubbed his face, and tried to banish the image of wide turquoise eyes and a beauty too pure to be so selflessly sacrificed, from his mind. He couldn’t wait for this to all be over.

Find out how the story begins! Pick up your copy of IN HER NAME and HOPE OF HEAVEN today, at Amazon.com or Desert Breeze Publishing, and look for SHADOW WALKER, coming soon!

“Aectetis”

image from werner22brigitte

image from werner22brigitte

This is a little something I’ve fooled around with, off and on, for a number of years… Just a little project to keep my muse engaged with the active, battlefield mentality I often need to write suspense.

I’ve always had a love for Greek mythology, for vastly personal reasons. I will note that this isn’t a researched novel. References are ones gleaned from decades of pure fascination and study of Greek mythology and history. If I ever decide to turn this into a novel, I’ll be doing lots of research… for now, it just remains a little exercise for my muse, that I thought I’d share a bit of, with you. Enjoy! :)

 

“Aectetis” —

They were sent from the gates, into the gaping maw of the desert cavern, but neither man went willingly.  No man who knew the tales, or believed in Hades’ wide dominion, would have been willing.  Aectetis blessed himself repeatedly and murmured prayers to Athene, while Taracles muttered curses against the darkness hovering around them.

“This is madness,” Taracles muttered as he thrust his torch savagely into the inky passageway, his sword clenched in one hard fist, his dark eyes steely.  “I tell you, Aectetis; Sikander’s run mad.”

Aectetis swallowed hard, but offered no answer.  He couldn’t have spoken, at the moment, had his life depended on it.  His scalp itched with sweat, beneath the cockle-crested helm, and his leather armor might as well have been Prometheus’ stone, about his neck. It suffocated him. Why was he here? He had neither Taracles’ Spartan toughness, nor the great Aristotle’s Athenian scepticism.  He was provincial, a farmer’s son, with little understanding of either war or philosophy. He believed in the power of the Gods, and mere mortals ought not to trifle with such things.

“I heard from the Emperor’s man that Sikander’s gripped with fevers that roll his eyes up in his head; that he hears voices.  Voices!” Taracles scoffed openly, his voice edged with dark humor.  “Can you believe that? The Furies come to claim his fool head, and yet none dares question his whims!”

A skittering in the darkness brought Aectetis’ gaze quickly around, and he battled down a rising wave of pure panic.

“Do you suppose it’s true? What they say of this place?” Aectetis dared not breathe more than that, lest he anger the spirits here.

“That it leads straight to Tartarus; that the voices of the damned echo here?” Taracles shrugged nonchalantly.

“No.  That there’s a demon down here.  A demon unlike any other,” Aectetis whispered, clutching his heavy bronze shield closer.

Taracles laughed harshly. “Demons?  Aectetis, you’re too old for such children’s tales!”

“But what if it’s true?” Aectetis insisted, unable the still the growing panic in his chest. He swore he could hear the monster breathing – Aechidna’s own foul spawn.  “General Ptolomy says the Emperor’s had terrible visions, in his sleep; that he dreams of a demon come to suck the very breath from his lungs.  Do you suppose –?”
Taracles’ scowl effectively cowed Aectetis.  “Now, you listen to me, Aectetis, and listen well.  Sikander’s a raving madman, and any fool with eyes can see it. I can tell you exactly what we’ll find in these caverns.  Nothing.  There are no demons here, or anywhere else, for that matter.”

“But the locals believe—“

“Ignorant peasants!” Taracles spat disgustedly, as if he’d tasted something foul.  “Their superstitions should not sway an Emperor, or a general, from conquest.”

The comment, spoken as only an aristocrat would dare, stung.  Aectetis forced the anger away, aware that it was a small enough matter, at the moment.  Survival was a more pressing concern than pride.

Silence hovered around them, and Aectetis’ heart beat in dread.  This wasn’t right.  There should be sounds – the echo if their sandaled feet on the cavern floor, the drip of underground water, the shift of rocks, even the sound of their breathing – yet no sound penetrated the oppressive stillness.  The closer they moved toward the wide cavern at the tunnel’s end, the heavier the silence grew, until Aectetis feared he’d gone deaf.

Moving cautiously, they entered the subterranean hall, and abruptly stopped.  No wind stirred here, no sound murmured in the stillness.  It was, Aectetis decided with a shiver of dread, a tomb.  The eeriness of it all crawled along his spine.

A form moved in the darkness of the torch’s jumping shadow.  Aectetis turned his head to better see, just as his torch sputtered and blew out.  A moment later, Taracles’ died as well, plunging the cavern into utter darkness.

“What was that?” Aectetis’ horrified whisper finally pierced the hovering silence.  “Taracles?”

“It was probably a draught from the tunnel.” Taracles sounded annoyed.  “Let me find my flint.”

A moment later, a soft glow sparked in the darkness, and Aectetis’ muscles slowly relaxed.  “Thank you, Taracles.  I –“

“Quiet, fool!”  Taracles hissed, brandishing his blade.  “That light isn’t mine.  There’s someone else down here!”

Aectetis’ voice died on a terrified gasp, his heart pounding harshly in his ears as he flattened himself against the wall behind him.  More than ever, he wanted to flee this place.  But Taracles would see that as cowardice, and as long as Taracles remained, Aectetis could do no less.  He would not dishonor his family, or his people.

“Gilded Cage” — Excerpt from MISTRESS OF CATS (Legends of Tirum)

MistressofCatsCoverArt72dpi

Phoenix Telyn Gwndal swore to return her friend and blood sister to her proper place within the Imperial Palace of Targoth. She knows the risks of even showing her face inside the Empire’s borders, but she owes Reaphia a second chance.

When a chance encounter with an out-of-place merchant from a legendary people brings Telyn into the middle of a struggle to free a woman held captive by her own will, Telyn finds herself up against a past she’s never really outrun.

Nothing can prepare her for what comes next.

“Gilded Cage” — Excerpt from MISTRESS OF CATS (Legends of Tirum, Book 4)

“No one said this would be easy.” Maltai circled her cage, watched her stalking movements match his stride warily as she pulled against the golden chain and collar that encircled her neck. “You’re not going to get out of there, no matter what I do, unless you’re ready to quit being so damned noble.”

 

She loosed a warning growl that rumbled in the air between them as he stepped closer, her bright yellow eyes narrowing as she bared her teeth. Then, backing off, she shook herself, shedding her feline form in the process. In the space of a breath, she went from imposing lioness to a lean, proud woman with tawny skin and dark hair, wearing only the short, tattered drape of cloth that denoted her servitude, and the proud, regal tilt of her chin that told him she was far from a broken slave.

 

“If I compromise my very core, and everything I hold dear, then I might as well stay here and become a slave in truth. What reason do I have to be free, if I sacrifice my soul self in the process?”

Want to know more?  Stay tuned for details about Legends of Tirum and this book, Mistress of Cats!  Meanwhile, check out Books 1 & 2 at Desert Breeze Publishing

MORPHEUS – A Short Story

image by hotblack

image by hotblack

I’m taking a departure into something a little bit more unusual.

Many people don’t know this, but along with fiction, I’ve been an avid poet over the years.  I’ve written close to 500 pieces of poetry, on a wide range of subjects.  And one of those poems (one near and dear to my own heart) eventually found its way into story form, of a sort.  So, now I offer you something very different, as I unveil the short story/poem that defined a major transition in my own life.

“Morpheus”

A Short Story by Esther Mitchell

            The old fountain pen clinks against the side of the inkpot, as if shaking loose what little ink it has managed to find in the dry glass jar.  Then, like the dry rasp of dying man’s last breath, it scrapes across the brittle, yellowed paper.  It is the only sound in the eerie stillness of the dark room.  A single dot of light blooms in the withered void of night, barely sufficient to see by.  Yet, pen trembling, a pale hand endeavors to write, spurred by the weary desperation of its mistress.  Only the night bears witness to her cloudy eyes, to the salty water which slips down her parched cheeks.  As the tears slowly fall from face to page, each drop punctuates the words her hand frantically scribbles:

‘Without earthly thought,’ plip

‘I, nightly, spend this tryst,’ plip

‘wrapped in dreams dearly bought,’ plip

‘which vanish, as dawn’s ethereal mist,’  plip

            The words fall from mind to lips to paper without so much as a whisper.  The matted grey hair that wreathes her face stirs as a breeze slips through the room, changing the dimensions of the darkness for an instant.  She is beyond feeling such winds, beyond seeing these changes in shadows.  Her eyes are fixed solely on her unfinished task.

‘Within pages unwritten,

beyond lives never lived in,

rests forbidden fruit, as yet unbitten,

a knowledge offered but never given’

            Her head slips slowly down, her lined face sagging behind curtains of steel and snow.  It is so easy to slip into that other place, to leave this all behind.  Her mind lives in a younger age, a memory she’s never forgotten, and never will.  Lonely years have greyed her hair and wrinkled her skin, but her gaze holds the starlight of eternal youth.  Nearly a century of distrust and solitude have made her hands shake, and her breath a faint tremble through thin lips, but the bloom of youth still lingers in her heart.  She remembers clearly what the night hours have given her, and what they have taken from her, over the years.  As she remembers, the pen scratches out those memories in a fierce symphony of pain and joy.

‘Nightly here, I’ve reverently slipped,

to dance a dream’s darkness,

safe within Morpheus’ grip,

my heart a dark jewel in his starkness;’

 

‘Here in dreams I am safe from harm,

a fugitive child, held so tightly,

in love’s warmth, childhood’s charm,

here, I escape daylight woes, nightly’

            Age has worn her body down, these loveless years in which sleep has become her only solace, her personal haven.  In her dreams alone did she once meet love, and, over the years, it has been in dreams that she learned the lessons of life.  However, her waking hours have left her empty, longing for a sleep she will not awaken from, a dream that never ends.  Her waking life is as bare as her tiny room.

            The shuffle of steps moves past her door, and her eyes turn mournful.  No one stops here anymore, and her room has become a cell.  The walls close in more tightly with every day, it seems.  Only night holds reprieve from the endless suffocation.  Only sleep gives her wings beyond her tiny cage of glass and stone.  She slips into sleep as quickly as she can most nights.  As soon as the sun touches the horizon to the west, she escapes into blessed slumber.  But not this night.  No, this night she will not sleep.  But her hours of agitation are nearly at an end, her time of dreaming nearly come, as she labors to create, in these last hours before dawn, a memory of her only haven, her only friend.  In these dark hours between twilight and dawn, she drives away that welcome weariness as she strives to explain her passage from waking to sleeping, to grant a first and last glimpse of her fragile young heart to those who will come in the hours and days after.  The trembling in her hands seems greater now, her control more frayed, as she scrawls her heart onto that yellowed page.

‘Here I’ve found my only home,

a dream well bought and spent,

to dance before a silver throne,

where time’s veil remains unrent’

            Slowly, her head lifts, and her eyes touch the paleness of dawn beyond the horizon outside her small window.  Pain stabs her chest, briefly, and she feels at last the chill, touching every limb.  Shivering, she draws her shawl up about her quaking shoulders with a violently shaking hand.  Her words on the page before her seem blurred, beyond comprehension, and each stroke she makes slants a little more, wobbles about the page like a drunken oaf.  Her hands tremble with the shivering cold of the dawn, a dawn she will not look at, light she refuses to see.  Her watery, weary eyes fix stoically on the page and her lips compress as the last words jerk from pen to page with the squeal of a tortured animal.

‘Now, as dawn slays the night,

so do I leave the waking place,

and though dawn flees from my sight,

I’ll at last see pale Morpheus’ face.’

            A final squeak leaves a trail of inky blackness down the yellow face of the paper, but no hand moves to correct the error, no eyes scan the final line for its ending.  Only the quivering light of dawn, peeping solemnly through the tiny window, notices the frail figure slumped before her writing table, her eyes fixed beyond the waking world as the last spark of starlight gutters away.

copyright 1993 by Esther Mitchell

“Ghost of the Past” — Excerpt from TWIST OF FATE (Project Prometheus)

Project Prometheus BadgeSix years ago, Misty Jarrod’s husband disappeared on a routine inspection of the No Fly Zone. When he was declared dead, Misty surrendered her contract as a chemical specialist with the military to hide away and lick her wounded heart. But when Project Prometheus came knocking, it was with more than a simple contract. Matt Raleigh offered her the chance to find out what really happened to her husband, and find the closure she seeks. When her mission to protect a Pagan temple opens abilities she didn’t know she possesses, Misty will have to face more than her past doubts. She’s going to have to face a man she thought dead.

“Ghost of the Past” – excerpted from TWIST OF FATE (Project Prometheus, Book 22)

            Misty Jarrod hugged her arms close against her body and shivered against the cold desert air that bit through her shirt.  She doubted she’d ever get used to the desert, with its searing hot days and freezing nights.  She missed home.  The flowers would be blooming on the shore of Lake Superior, by now, and homesickness flooded her.  She could almost smell the violets, tulips and hyacinth.  And beneath it all, the subtle scent of cigarette smoke…

            Misty’s head snapped up, her thoughts broken by that out-of-place scent.  No one in Manara’s temple smoked.  These people had an odd purity, for as hung-up on sex as they were.  And none of the Prometheans here at the moment smoked, either.  Her eyes narrowed, Misty sniffed the air, dragging in the scent as she tried to place why it was so familiar.  It wasn’t just a cigarette.  There was a subtle, sweet note to it, reminiscent of vanilla and… cinnamon! The final piece jogged into place, and she decided she’d gone off the deep end.  Those were Nick’s cigarettes she smelled.  Only, Nick was dead.

            Pain twisted in her chest like a python as the scent wove through her, bringing memories of her husband – the man she loved more than life – out from the depths of her heart.  She buried him six years ago, not questioning that he was dead even without a body to prove it.  The empty hollow in her heart told her all she needed to know.  Nick was gone.  Nothing would bring him back.

            Anger followed hard on the heels of pain, and she flipped her sidearm free from its holster, disengaging the safety as she followed the scent toward its origin.  Whoever was smoking that cigarette, she didn’t believe it was coincidence.  Call her paranoid, but since Nick disappeared, she felt like someone was following her.  Even though no one told her exactly how he died – all they would say was that he “disappeared” – she knew he’d been on a deep cover CIA mission under the guise of a UN inspection of the No Fly Zone.  She wasn’t stupid.

            The scent led off toward the eastern boundary of the Temple’s construction zone. Misty kept her breathing silent and steady, moving slowly as she allowed her eyes to adjust to the moonless night.  Whoever was out there, she would find him, and make him answer for following her.  She wouldn’t fail her boss, or these people.  No one was going to get to them through her, no matter how much he pretended to be her dead husband.

            As she reached the boundary, Misty caught sight of a silhouette, and froze.  No way!

            “Who the hell are you?”  She snarled the words, refusing to believe what her senses were telling her.

            The figure turned, stepped toward her, and Misty flicked on the small penlight, casting a narrow, soft beam of light that wouldn’t harm her vision, or her reaction time.  As the beam played over his body, the breath sucked from her, leaving her shaking with disbelief.  She wouldn’t believe this.  She couldn’t believe this.  The beam touched his face, and the cold night had nothing on the chill that spread through her.  Oh my god.

            “Nick?”

            And then, the click of a safety disengaging froze her, as a gun lifted directly into her line of sight.  He was going to shoot her!

Join Project Prometheus from the beginning! Pick up your copy of the EPPIE-nominated IN HER NAME, today at Amazon.com or Desert Breeze Publishing!

“In Morning’s Light” — Excerpt from BURDEN OF PROOF

Burden of Proof Final

HE WANTED JUSTICE,

BUT AT WHAT COST?

Assistant District Attorney Justin Blakely believes only in the letter of the law. When asked to prosecute a dangerous woman accused of killing her husband with sixty-four stab wounds to the chest, he sees only a butcher who should be locked away for her depraved act. But when he comes up against the woman’s driven, feisty attorney, he knows Chelsea Hanover has the power to change his mind. And, as he realizes her aim is truth rather than law, he can do nothing but respect her integrity. Knowing she’s stumbling into trouble, he’ll do anything to save her from herself, even if the casualty of his crusade is the law in which he believes

“In Morning’s Light” — Excerpt from BURDEN OF PROOF —

Justin blinked awake to the feel of warm fingers on his face. Opening burning eyes, he looked up to see Chelsea sitting on the edge of her hospital bed, fully clothed, with her right arm in a sling. The fingers of her good hand traced his stubbly cheek again, as a soft smile touched her face.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you look disreputable, before.” The soft lilt of teasing in her husky voice twisted his heart in the best way. She frowned, then. “I think I remember talking to you, last night. Have you been here all night?”

He sat up straighter, stifling a yawn as he glanced at his watch. Six-thirty. “Yeah, you did. And yes, I have.”

Her frown deepened, confusion and fear written in its lines. “You’ve been here every night when I go to sleep, and every morning when I wake up. Why?”

He tensed in surprise. He hadn’t expected to be cross-examined about his motives.

“Because I l–” He stopped, sucking in the words he was about to say. She wasn’t ready to hear how he felt. Not yet.

“Because I promised you I’d stay,” he answered instead, his voice husky with sleep and emotion. “The doctor says you have nightmares when I’m not here. I promised you I’d be here for you, and so…”

He managed an awkward shrug. He couldn’t tell her how important helping her was to him.

She shook her head slowly, as if having trouble thinking. With the amount of blunt force trauma she took to the head, he wasn’t surprised. Fresh anger shot through him, and he squeezed her good hand gently.

“You still haven’t told me what happened.” Her worried gaze searched his.

“Don’t you remember?”

“I… I think so. I just don’t know what’s real, and what’s a nightmare.” She pressed slim fingers to her forehead, eyes squeezed shut in effort. “I remember coming to your office. Talking. We were trying to reach a deal on Marlene’s case.”

He nodded, silently encouraging her to continue. The doctor told him to let her recall things at her own pace. Telling her what happened would force her to face the attack before her psyche was ready, and could be even more damaging.

“We had to go see the D.A. I remember that. And seeing–“

She cut off sharply, sucking in a shaky breath.

He straightened, alerted by her response. “Chelsea? What do you remember?”

She shook her head. “Running. I had to get away. I,” she stopped, thought. “I went home. I needed to hide.”

“From what? From who?”

“From… from everything! From him!”

Look for BURDEN OF PROOF, coming soon from Esther Mitchell and FyrRose Productions!

“Unmake the Past” – Excerpt from CHILD OF FALLEN WATERS (Legends of Tirum)

image by bogglyeyes

image by bogglyeyes

A friend’s quest for identity sends Telyn and her party into a land long draped in secrecy and legend. The truth they find staggers them all, because when the next Chosen is revealed, her identity will leave Telyn questioning her own fate, and the choices she’s made. And when Telyn’s life is upended by a disaster she never saw coming, she finds herself up against the most important question of her life: Is her pride and fear worth the cost, if that cost is everything she loves?

 

 

“Unmake the Past” — Excerpt from CHILD OF FALLEN WATERS (Legends of Tirum, Book 6) —

Telyn’s expression was pensive, even sad, and it tugged at Nacaris’ heart. It was an expression she wore whenever she thought about her parents. She must be thinking about her mother.

Moving to her side, Nacaris eased down beside her, hiding his wince as pain radiated up his left leg. He didn’t want to worry her more than she clearly already was.

“How are you doing?” He squeezed her knee lightly.

She glanced up at him with a wan smile, her lavender eyes so dull with sadness and guilt it twisted his heart. “Do you ever wish you could turn back time, do things differently?”

He frowned. “Not really. If I undid everything before, what would I be? Not myself. And I would run the risk of never meeting you. I wouldn’t do anything to risk what we have.”

She loosed a small sigh, and leaned her head against his shoulder. He liked that, liked knowing she felt she could still lean on him. She was silent for a long moment, only the crackle of the fire breaking the silence. Then, he heard her sigh again before, in a small voice, she murmured, “Does it make me a horrible person that I would?”

He told himself those words didn’t hurt — not much. Right now, Telyn was reeling with guilt, fear and pain. She didn’t mean it the way it sounded.

“No, balnyt.” He nuzzled her temple, wrapping an arm around her waist to snuggle her closer. “You’re facing something terrifying. Something I never had to face. I can’t imagine I’d feel any differently, if our roles were reversed.”

Find out what happened. Look for CHILD OF FALLEN WATERS, coming August 11 from Desert Breeze Publishing. Read the story from the beginning, with DAUGHTER OF ASHES, from Amazon.com or Desert Breeze Publishing.