Tales of Mystery and Imagination (Hop-Frog) by Edgar Allan Poe GUEST POST

GUEST POST – Surly Joe

“As for myself, I am simply Hop-Frog, the jester and this is my last jest.” – Edgar Allan Poe, Tales of Mystery and Imagination

FROM GOODREADS – Hop-Frog and his friend Trippetta have been captured by one of the king’s generals and brought back to the King as servants. Hop-Frog serves as jester to the king and Trippetta helps to plan and decorate for social events. She is also forced to dance for the king and his court. Both Hop-Frog and Trippetta are dwarves. The King and his ministers enjoy laughing at and abusing Hop-Frog. Even his name is the result of their making fun of the way he walks. When the abuse becomes unbearable, Hop-Frog devises and carries out an ingenious but horrific plan of revenge upon the King and his ministers.

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REVIEW

Edgar Allan Poe was a failure as a businessman, a failure as a husband, an outcast, an impoverished alcoholic. He died mysteriously, found delirious near a poll-booth in Baltimore. His life, by all accounts, was miserable. But in the 1830s and 40s, his literary genius shone and he created some of America’s greatest, most disturbing and most horrific poetry and prose.

His masterpieces are famous, the stories and poems that have been studied, reviewed, dissected for almost two centuries. The opening lines instill an immediate feeling of dread. “I am sick – sick unto death” begins The Pit and the Pendulum. “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary” pulls the reader into The Raven. And perhaps his most famous, The Tell-Tale Heart introduces its murderous psychosis in capital letters with “TRUE! – NERVOUS – VERY, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?”. These are his elite creations.

But lurking in the background are the obscure tales, mostly unknown except to ardent Poe fans. They deal with similar themes of madness, revenge, violence and victimization. They are disturbing and dark and wonderful. They are well-represented by Hop-Frog.

HOP FROGIn an unspecified location at an unspecified time, a king and his seven ministers, all “large, corpulent, oily men” were lovers of practical jokes. For their amusement, they retained a crippled dwarf nicknamed Hop-Frog. He was “a jester to laugh with, and a dwarf to laugh at”. Hop-Frog and his female companion Tripetta had been stolen from their home by the king’s generals and given to the king as gifts. They were treated poorly unless they were amusing him.

When the king and his ministers decide to host a grand masquerade, they demand that Hop-Frog and Tripetta come up with ideas for their costumes. To encourage Hop-Frog’s creativity, they embarrass him and force him to drink wine, even though it “excited the poor cripple almost to madness”. It was the final humiliation.

The night of the masquerade, having convinced the king and his entourage that it would be a hilarious prank to show up dressed as wild orangutans, chained together and acting wildly, Hop-Frog exacts his revenge. Grating his “fang-like teeth” and foaming at the mouth, he captures the “beasts” and burns them alive until they are nothing but a “blackened hideous and indistinguishable mass”. Hop-Frog and Tripetta vanish in the chaos and are never seen again.

In only a few short pages, Hop-Frog touches on themes that still resonate today – abuse of power, victimization, and the difficulties of the less-fortunate. Undoubtedly, Edgar Allan Poe shared these frustrations as his life struggled onward with no hope in sight. Unable to act out in real life, his characters, like Hop-Frog, became his outlet. After almost two centuries, his depictions of rage, violence and madness are as terrifying and disturbing as ever.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

EAPThe name Poe brings to mind images of murderers and madmen, premature burials, and mysterious women who return from the dead. His works have been in print since 1827 and include such literary classics as “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Raven,” and “The Fall of the House of Usher.” This versatile writer’s oeuvre includes short stories, poetry, a novel, a textbook, a book of scientific theory, and hundreds of essays and book reviews. He is widely acknowledged as the inventor of the modern detective story and an innovator in the science fiction genre, but he made his living as America’s first great literary critic and theoretician. Poe’s reputation today rests primarily on his tales of terror as well as on his haunting lyric poetry.

Just as the bizarre characters in Poe’s stories have captured the public imagination so too has Poe himself. He is seen as a morbid, mysterious figure lurking in the shadows of moonlit cemeteries or crumbling castles. This is the Poe of legend. But much of what we know about Poe is wrong, the product of a biography written by one of his enemies in an attempt to defame the author’s name.

The real Poe was born to traveling actors in Boston on January 19, 1809. Edgar was the second of three children. His other brother William Henry Leonard Poe would also become a poet before his early death, and Poe’s sister Rosalie Poe would grow up to teach penmanship at a Richmond girls’ school. Within three years of Poe’s birth both of his parents had died, and he was taken in by the wealthy tobacco merchant John Allan and his wife Frances Valentine Allan in Richmond, Virginia while Poe’s siblings went to live with other families. Mr. Allan would rear Poe to be a businessman and a Virginia gentleman, but Poe had dreams of being a writer in emulation of his childhood hero the British poet Lord Byron. Early poetic verses found written in a young Poe’s handwriting on the backs of Allan’s ledger sheets reveal how little interest Poe had in the tobacco business.

WEBSITE


CKIn his own words – Surly Joe is a moderately nondescript Toronto-based white guy who spends too much time contemplating the nature of boredom.  His aspirations waver between wanting to be either a professional gambler or a Zen monk, with a touch of writing on the side.  After completing university with a degree in a subject that does not readily lead to any sort of viable employment, he wandered through Europe and Northern Africa for a while collecting stories and useless trivia, circumstance led to a career back in Toronto.  He now spends his money on food, friends, wine and annual trips to Las Vegas.

Mercury Retrograde – A Dark Alchemy Novel (Book Two) by Laura Bickle

9780062437617

Mercury Retrograde – A Dark Alchemy Novel (Book Two)

Laura Bickle

On-Sale 10/27/2015

ISBN: 9780062437617


About the Book:

Geologist Petra Dee and the citizens of Temperance, Wyoming come up against a venomous enemy, not to mention a biker gang that’s hell on wheels, in the second book in Laura Bickle’s Dark Alchemy series.

Something venomous has come to Temperance…

It’s been two months since Petra Dee and her coyote sidekick Sig faced off against Temperance’s resident alchemist, but things are far from quiet. When an Internet video of a massive snake in the backcountry of Yellowstone goes viral, a chase for the mythical basilisk is on. Monster hunters swarm into the area, and never one to pass up the promise of discovery, Petra joins in the search.

Among the newcomers is a snake cult on wheels – the biker gang Sisters of Serpens. Unlike some, the Sisters don’t want to kill the basilisk – they want to worship it. But things get complicated when the basilisk develops a taste for human flesh that rivals the Sisters’ own murderous skills.

Meanwhile, the alchemical tree of life is dying, and the undead Hanged Men of Temperance who depend on it know the basilisk may be their last chance for survival.

With time running out for everyone around her, Petra will be forced to decide who survives and who she must leave behind in this action-packed sequel to Dark Alchemy.

Publishers Weekly Starred Review!

This wonderfully unusual Weird West novel combines the best of contemporary fantasy with metaphysical magic and mayhem, and even a bit of romance. Bickle has a knack for creating atmosphere, and she fills the fast-paced narrative with vivid scenes of wonder and a poignant story of death and rebirth. Fans of the first book will be enthralled, and new readers will easily fall into the quirky, dusty land that Petra and her unusual friends inhabit.”

EXCERPT

CHAPTER ONE: DUST

No matter how decent Petra Dee’s intentions were, things always went to shit.

Sweat dribbled down the back of her neck, sliding down her shoulder blades and congealing between her skin and the Tyvek biohazard suit. The legs of the suit made a zip-zip sound, snagging on bits of prickly pear as she walked through the underbrush of Yellowstone National Park. She clutched her tool bag tightly in her gloved grip, the plastic of the suit rustling over the hiss of the respirator in her ears. Her breath fogged the scuffed clear mask of the suit, softening the edges of the land before her with a dreamlike filter.

“You don’t have to do this,” Mike said.

“Consider it a professional favor, okay?” she said. “And you said it was weird. Now, I’m curious.”

The park ranger in the suit in front of her stopped, turned, and awkwardly grabbed her sleeve. “Look, you don’t have to. The hikers who found it said it was pretty gruesome.” Mike’s voice was muffled behind his own mask, but his brow creased as he looked at her. It was clear to her that he now thought better of bringing her here. Maybe it was his dumb, misplaced sense of chivalry, or maybe things really did suck as badly as he suggested. With him, it was hard to tell.

“You can go back,” he suggested. Again.

“Mike. You need a geologist. There isn’t anybody on your staff who can tell you if it’s safe to be up here. Weird seismic shit has been happening in the last couple of weeks—new springs and fumaroles and mudpots opening up in this area, stuff that isn’t on the maps. And you’re stuck with me unless you want to wait for the Department of the Interior to show up and tell you what you need to know.” She didn’t want to be having this discussion out in the open.

There were more men and women in suits behind them, far behind, waiting to see what Mike and Petra would do. They might not be within earshot, but it offended her sense of professionalism. “Besides, I owe you.”

And she did, big-time. Petra had a knack for causing trouble for Mike. Since she’d shown up in town two months ago to take a quiet-sounding geology gig with the federal government, she’d managed to stumble into an underground war between a cattle baron and the local drug-dealing alchemist. A shitstorm of administrative paperwork had been generated for Mike when drugs and bodies turned up in his jurisdiction. Pizza and beer only went so far to balance the scales of debt.

Mike rubbed the back of his hood with a crinkling sound. “Yeah, but …”

Petra nodded sharply. “I can do this.” Her voice sounded steadier than she felt.

“If you need outta here, just say the word.” Mike started walking again, pushing aside a branch blocking her way.

She moved forward to the edge of the tree line, beyond where blotches of color swam in her sweaty vision. A campsite. A red tent had been pitched in a clearing, though it tilted in a lopsided fashion on a broken pole, like a giant spider someone had plucked a leg from. Nice tent—a deluxe model, with mesh windows and pop-outs. A dead fire with cold ash was surrounded by a ring of rocks. Laundry dangled from a clothesline: T-shirts, jeans, socks.

And beyond it, a gorgeously pink mudpot. Iron in the underlying slurry likely yielded the soft rose color. The acidic hot spring burbled mud, steaming into the cool air. She was reminded of the steam rising from mountains as the dew baked off in the spring. There were thousands of these mudpots dotted all throughout Yellowstone National Park, too many to catalog, despite the hazards they posed.

Petra ducked under the clothesline, wrestling for a moment with a pair of child-sized purple leggings that seemed determined to get snagged around her respirator hose. After fighting them off, she turned her attention back to the scene.

A dark-haired man sat upright at the edge of the dead fire, hunched forward, his arms tangled in a blanket as if he’d been trying to protect himself from the cold.

Her breath echoed quickly in her mask. Mike moved forward to kneel before the man. Pulling the blanket off, he reached for his neck to take his pulse.

Early morning sunshine illuminated the man’s face. It was slack, jaw open, violet tongue protruding from his lips. Broken capillaries covered his cheeks, the red contrasting with mottled grey skin. His eyes were frozen wide open, and the sclera were bright red instead of white.

The blanket fell away to reveal a red flannel shirt. Oddly enough, it looked as if part of it had been bleached, as if he’d brushed up against a gallon of white paint. A knife glinted in his right hand, trapped in a claw frozen by rigor mortis. Petra squinted to get a good look. The knife was a piece of junk—the blade had been melted.

The body rolled over on its side, landing like an action figure holding its pose in the dirt.

Mike swore and grabbed his radio. “This is L-6, be advised that we’ve confirmed a male victim. Tell the medics to …”

Petra turned. That was a big tent. Too big for just one guy. And then there were the little girls’ leggings that she’d tussled with … damn it. Steeling herself, she crossed to the tent, her suit creaking. Sweating, she grasped the tent zipper. Its teeth stuck in the PVC-coated canvas, and she tried three times before she gave up. Part of the tent had come unstaked on the right side, letting daylight creep in. She worked that seam and pulled it open.

She stumbled back, falling on her ass.

A woman sat bolt upright in a sleeping bag, with speckled and broken skin like the man at the fireside. She stared at Petra with the same blood-red gaze under a tangle of brown hair.

Petra leaned forward to touch her shoulder. The woman didn’t move, frozen in some unfathomable moment of shock. Heart hammering, Petra fumbled for a pulse. Through her gloves, the woman felt cold, and her chest didn’t move. Her skin felt swollen, as if stretched over an unseen trauma.

Mike crawled into the tent to stare at a bundle beside the woman. He peeled back a sleeping bag on a little girl, maybe five or six, clutching a dinosaur plush toy. Her eyes were closed, seeming very peaceful under bruised skin.

“Please let her be alive,” Petra whispered.

Mike shook his head. “No pulse. But … not a mark on her.”

Petra backed out of the tent into the clearing. Blinking, she reached for her equipment bag and dug out a handheld yellow gas monitor. Stabbing at the buttons, she waited for the sensors to start analyzing the air.

She glanced at the mudpot, that beautiful pink jewel barely the size of a bathtub. The warmth it radiated condensed against her plastic suit. When the call came in that a man had been found dead near a mudpot in Yellowstone, the rangers had all assumed that the culprit was poisonous gas, carbon dioxide or hydrogen sulfide. And that would make sense, but …

While waiting for the gas monitor to calibrate, Petra stood to peer into the bubbling mud. It was possible, but poisoning by those gases was a relatively rare phenomenon. She fished some tongue depressors out of her pack to dip a glob of the mud out into a specimen bottle for analysis.

A sharp drumming sounded overhead, and she looked up.

A woodpecker drilled into a pine tree above her, making a sound like a jackhammer. Birds had much more delicate respiratory systems than humans. If poisonous gas had seeped up from the mud here, then the bird should be showing ill effects. But instead it had found its breakfast, plucking bugs from bark, ignoring the humans below.

Her gaze scraped the perimeter of the camp. The vegetation was all wrong here—brittle and yellow and spotted, as if burned by something acidic. She knelt to pluck a piece of curled grass to stuff into a specimen bottle. Low-level amounts of hydrogen sulfide were likely to enhance plant growth. High levels could kill plants, but not quickly.

She glanced down at her gas detector. “Huh.”

Mike had backed away from the tent. “Well?”

“No carbon monoxide. No sulfur dioxide. Normal amounts of carbon dioxide. No appreciable levels of hydrogen sulfide right now, which is what I assumed the culprit would be, since that’s the most common airborne poison spewed by mudpots.” She pulled the hood of her suit back to take a sniff of the air. It smelled like pine needles, not like rotten eggs. “I think that it’s safe for your people to come in. Just … tell them not to touch anything they don’t have to. Gloves and suits.”

Mike nodded and began barking orders into his walkie-talkie.

Petra lifted her freckled face to the sky, feeling the blessedly cool breeze against her cheeks. She spat a bit of dark blond hair out of her mouth and reached to take another soil sample. Maybe there was some other toxin here? Something more exotic that would need more tests run. Arsenic could be here, but it wouldn’t have killed these people so quickly. The ground was opening up in pockets in the whole Pelican Creek area. Geologists had been detecting midlevel quakes in previously quiet land. In a place like Yellowstone, the geology was always changing, but this was unusual. And it needed to be investigated.

Mike mopped his brow. “Maybe there were high levels here overnight, and the wind swept it all away,” he mused. “Or the mudpot belched. A one-time thing.”

“Could be.” Inspiration struck her, and she stood to examine the man’s body by the dead fire. He lay where he’d fallen, rigidly on his side. “Could you help me with him?”

“Sure. What do you need?”

“I need to check his pockets for change.”

Mike rolled the guy over. The body didn’t turn over with a normal thick, human sound. Petra heard sloshing, as if they were moving a cooler full of melted ice. Mike came up with a set of car keys and a fistful of change, which he handed to Petra. She stared at the debris, pushing aside the quarters, nickels, and dimes in her palm.

“Whatcha lookin’ for?”

“Pennies … ah.” She held a penny up to the light. A 2015 penny, bright and shiny and new. “It wasn’t hydrogen sulfide poisoning.”

“How can you tell?”

“If he’d been exposed to hydrogen sulfide, the copper in the penny would have oxidized. No evidence of that, here. When hydrogen sulfide was used as a chemical weapon in World War I, copper coins in the pockets of victims turned nearly black.”

“Great. Maybe the coroner’s toxicology report will tell us what it was. I’m mostly just concerned that we’ve got an ongoing hazard situation here.”

“I’ll run some soil samples,” Petra said. “In the meantime, you should have your rangers cordon this off for at least a hundred yards until we know for sure what it was.” She wrinkled her

nose and reached for her respirator. “What the hell is that smell?” It wasn’t the rotten-eggs smell of hydrogen sulfide. This smelled worse, like roadkill.

Mike turned to the body. “It …” The smell hit him, and he struggled to pull his hood over his head. “It’s the body.”

Where the camper’s corpse had been turned over to the earth, a black, viscous substance oozed. Two medics had arrived in full gear and grasped the body, one at the arms and the other at the feet. As they lifted, it seemed as if some fragile surface tension held by the man’s skin failed. The skin split open, and dark fluid soaked the dirt to splash against the white suits of the medics.

“Christ,” Mike said behind his mask. “Only a floater would behave like that.”

“A floater?” she echoed.

“A body that’s been in a river for weeks. The gases build up while the organs rot. But … these guys can’t have been here that long. We’ll know for sure when we get an ID.”

More plastic suits showed up with body bags into which to pour what remained of the camper. They discussed how best to remove the woman and the child from the tent without rupturing them. It was decided to start with the child.

Petra turned away. She just didn’t want to see that. She began picking at samples around the edge of the campsite, trying to fade into the background. But the scene burned behind her eyelids. It wasn’t just the people that were dead. Death had spread to the vegetation around the campsite in a circle, as if someone had sprayed the plants with weed killer. As she ventured farther and farther away, she found a trail of rust-colored grass vanishing into the forest.

Ignoring the chatter and radio static behind her, she began to follow the trail. It spanned an area a little over three feet wide, a perfect path of brittle vegetation that contrasted sharply

with the early autumn grass that still thrived. She paused before a pine tree that seemed to have had its bark scorched away by some kind of chemical reaction.

She began to regret removing her hood. Holding her breath, she chipped a piece of bark away with an awl and dropped it into a sample bottle.

The track ended abruptly at a spine of rocks that composed the next ridge. There were no plants to speak of here, only fine milk quartz pebbles and sandstone gravel.

She blew out her breath, frustrated at having lost the trail. Had there been some kind of chemical accident here? She ran through the desiccants and herbicides she knew, most of which were not good for people, but the most likely short-term effects would have been simple respiratory distress or skin contact allergies. Nothing that could cause the amount of squish and slop that the medics were dealing with.

No rational explanation.

Maybe there was an irrational one.

She glanced behind her. No one had followed her this far, to the edge of the forest. She fumbled in her gear bag for the last bit of equipment she’d brought: a golden compass. Glinting in the sun, it lay flat in the palm of her hand. Seven rays extended to the rim, with an image of a golden lion devouring the sun in the center. The Venificus Locus, a magic detector that she still wasn’t entirely sure she believed in, but couldn’t discount. Maybe it would have something to say. Maybe it wouldn’t. But not asking the question would be stupid.

She stripped off her glove, wiggling her sweaty fingers in the air. A hangnail that she’d neglected to trim kept annoying her. She ripped it off and hissed when blood welled up around the cuticle. Clumsily, she sloshed a bright drop of it into the groove circumscribing the outside of

the compass. The blood sizzled on contact, then gathered itself into a perfectly round bead. It circled the rim of the compass once, twice …

Petra held her breath, as much in anticipation as not wanting to spill the blood. The bead of blood swung back and forth in an agitated fashion, then settled on north, pointing to the campsite right behind her.

“Great,” she muttered. That was pretty decisive. The compass would have just sucked up the blood if no magic was present.

This was weird land. The nearby town, Temperance, had been founded by Lascaris, an alchemist who’d conjured gold from dead rocks. Some of Lascaris’s old experiments still wandered the countryside. She’d encountered a few of them in her short time here: the Hanged Men, the Alchemical Tree of Life, and the Locus itself—which she’d been told had been made by Lascaris’s own hands.

A shadow flickering through sunlight caught her eye, and she looked up. She half-anticipated it to be the woodpecker foraging for more insects, but froze when she spied a raven watching her, balanced on the edge of a branch. His eyes reflected no light, his shadow mingling among the flickers of needles and branches of the lodgepole pine.

She stared back at it. It might be an ordinary raven. Or it might be one of the raven familiars of the Hanged Men. She turned the compass toward the bird. The drop of blood spiraled halfway around the disk before the bird, alerted, took wing and vanished.

Things around here were rarely ordinary.

****

Clear now.

The raven pumped his wings, pulling himself into the blue sky, as far as he could get from the smell of blood in the compass and the aura of poison clinging to the campsite. He caught an updraft from the sun-warmed land, skimming along the south edge of the mountains, over the dark ribbons of road and the dry grasses of autumn fields.

This draft required little effort from him. He stretched his wings and allowed his eyes to drift shut. The sun felt gloriously warm on his back, seeping through his feathers into his light body. In the sky, things were simple. There was no magic that could touch him here. No blood. No pain. There was just sun and air and sky.

He sailed along the current until it weakened. He twitched his feathers, gave in to the instinct to flap his wings, and opened his eyes to look down.

A vast field spread below him, gold and grassy and glinting with dew. A massive elm tree stood at its center, and below its shade stood a man in a white hat.

The raven made a slow spiral, relishing the last bit of air through his feathers. He skimmed around the tree in a lazy arc, approaching the motionless man on the ground.

The man opened his arms, as if inviting a lover back. His amber eyes glowed brighter than the dawn.

The bird slammed into his chest. Feathers melded with flesh, fluttering into a pulse and soaking into skin.

Gabriel let his hands fall. The bird twitched through his consciousness as he absorbed all it had seen.

Above him, leaves rustled. Some were living leaves, some dead. The tree stood, scarred and ancient, but its shadow had grown thin. He reached up to pluck a brown leaf from a branch of the Hangman’s Tree. This wasn’t the only withered branch; the tree’s leaves had begun to curl at the center, as if autumn’s breath had come weeks earlier.

He turned the leaf over in his hands. The tree was dying. He’d felt it even before the leaves had begun to drop, as the magic in it faltered. Even the Lunaria, the Alchemical Tree of Life, couldn’t survive forever. Not after what it had been put through, creating generations of undead to haunt the Rutherford Ranch.

Not after what he had been put through. If he closed his eyes, he could still remember bleeding into the roots of the Lunaria and the tree’s frantic efforts to put him back together. He’d been torn to pieces in the explosion of a collapsing house. Wood had pierced and rent his body to bits. It would have been best to leave him to dust.

But no … the other Hanged Men had brought him back here, out of sheer instinct. And the last raven had been brought back to him, the last fragment of himself. Through excruciating pain and light, he’d been revived.

Though not wholly. He was conscious of vast gaps in his memory, as if time had eaten away at an old tintype photograph. He’d forgotten his middle name. He couldn’t remember the exact year he’d come here, though he knew it had happened over a century ago. He recalled bits and pieces of alchemy, arcane bits of ephemera about dissolution and phoenixes. His right hand shook when he wasn’t concentrating on it, and he’d developed a somewhat mechanical twitch in his left eye. An irritating limp came and went, even if he parsed his feet away as ravens and brought them back again.

Revived. But at terrible cost. The light running through the veins of the tree grew more sluggish with each sunrise. He could feel it choked off, as if some force had girdled it beyond retrieval. The end of the tree would be the end of all the Hanged Men. He remembered that much.

Behind closed eyes, he thought about that possibility of oblivion. Nothingness was seductive. No more striving to see another day. Just dust. He’d had a taste of it, when he’d lain in pieces within the Lunaria’s embrace.

He crumpled the brittle leaf in his fist and opened his eyes. His gaze traveled to the south fence, where the rest of the Hanged Men toiled, herding the cattle to the north pasture. This wasn’t just about him; there were the others to think of. The others, who had no voice, who would simply cease to exist along with him if the tree died. He could choose to give up—but the decision was not his alone.

And yet … perhaps he had seen a solution. The part of his consciousness he’d sent out as a bird had detected something strange.

Something that might save the last thing he held dear.

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About the Author:

LauraBickleLaura Bickle grew up in rural Ohio, reading entirely too many comic books out loud to her favorite Wonder Woman doll. After graduating with an MA in Sociology – Criminology from Ohio State University and an MLIS in Library Science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, she patrolled the stacks at the public library and worked with data systems in criminal justice. She now dreams up stories about the monsters under the stairs. Her work has been included in the ALA’s Amelia Bloomer Project 2013 reading list and the State Library of Ohio’s Choose to Read Ohio reading list for 2015-2016.

More information about Laura’s work can be found at:

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK

 

 

Frisk Me (New York’s Finest #1) – Lauren Layne ON SALE NOW!

FRISK ME

New York’s Finest #1

Lauren Layne

Released July 28th,2015

Forever Romance

After a photograph of Luc Moretti saving a tourist hits social media, he instantly becomes New York’s most famous and beloved cop. When a major network decides to run a special on the “American Hero,” Luc’s boss gives him no choice but to cooperate in the name of good exposure for the department. Luc doesn’t mind the celebrity status-what he does mind is the gorgeous brunette journalist who’s been assigned to follow his every move. Especially since she also happens to be the same knockout that rejected him rather publicly the week before.

Ava Sims is a woman who gets what she wants. And what she wants is to be CBC’s lead anchor-but to get there, she’ll need to nail the fluff piece on the playboy cop. Luc Moretti is everything Ava knows to stay away from: a stubborn charmer with a hero-complex. But the more Ava gets to know Luc and his oddball family, the more she realizes that beneath the swagger and the blue uniform is a complex man who makes her heart beat too fast. Soon, Ava’s doing the unthinkable, and falling for the best of New York’s finest …

 

ONLY $0.99

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EXCERPT

“Holy crap! You’re like, that guy! You’re the cop!”

Luc Moretti deliberately ignored the high-pitched squeal.

He took a slow sip of his much-needed coffee and threw up a silent prayer that for once, the women would be talking about some other cop.

“Tina, it is him! The cop from the YouTube video!”

Shit.

Pray as he might, it was never some other officer who was subjected to over-enthusiastic hero-worship. Not these days, anyway. It was always Luc who couldn’t do so much as get on the A train without hearing some form of, hey, aren’t you that guy…?

Yes. Yes he was that fucking guy. Unfortunately.

“Can we get a picture with you?” one of the women asked as they both closed in on him.

“Actually, I—”

Luc’s ready protest was interrupted by the deep voice of his partner.

“Ladies, ladies, let’s give Officer Moretti some space! The man likes to refresh his makeup before a photo op. Moretti, did you bring that special lip balm you like to use? The one you say makes your lips all rosy?”

Luc’s eyes narrowed at his partner as he reached up and scratched his nose with his middle finger.

Both women had already pulled cell phones out of their purses, ready for a shot with New York’s latest hero.


Lauren Layne is the USA Today Bestselling author of more than a dozen contemporary romance novels.

Prior to becoming an author, Lauren worked in e-commerce and web-marketing. A year after moving from Seattle to Manhattan to pursue a writing career, she had a fabulous agent and multiple New York publishing deals.

Lauren currently lives in Chicago with her husband and plus-sized Pomeranian. When not writing, you’ll likely find her running (rarely), reading (sometimes), or at happy hour (often).

 

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

 

 

Don’t Miss the Moretti’s

Releasing Nov 24th, 2015

 

Releasing March 29th, 2015

 

Soul of a Man – Jamie Begley Re-Release Sale Blitz

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SOUL OF A MAN

Dark Souls #1

Jamie Begley

Re-Released Oct 28th, 2015

Young Ink Press

 

Cara, a powerful Moirae, finds herself stranded on Earth made human by an enemy of her mother, Fate. Lost and alone, she is forced to accept the reluctant help of Jericho Hawk. Jericho is determined not to become involved with Cara, even as their sexual attraction for each other cannot keep them apart. When Cara’s Cousin Grimm appears and proves Cara’s crazy stories are actually true, he must overcome the horrors her mother is responsible for to gain an eternity with the woman he has come to love.

 

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EXCERPT

(Copyright Jamie Begley/Young Ink Press Oct 2015)

“What are you, an alien or one of the loons who believe they were abducted then returned by aliens?”

“I am not an alien, nor have I ever met one. I can guarantee they do not exist.”

“Not that I’m disagreeing with you, and I’m sincerely grateful that you have no relationship with aliens, but how can you guarantee that they don’t exist. Even scientists don’t agree on that one.”

“Because I know every creature known and unknown ever created.”

“You do? And how is that possible?” Cara didn’t miss that his voice had changed its tone, now sounding as if he were placating a crazy person. Cara didn’t appreciate the condescending attitude.

“Because I am a Moraie.” Cara’s own tone had turned smug. She was very proud of her heritage.

“Exactly what is a Moraie?” Again with the attitude. It was seriously beginning to grate on her nerves.

“Have you ever heard of the three fates?” Looking at him, she guessed he hadn’t. ”One is present at birth guiding souls to the correct child’s body. This is my sister Zerina. Another is present during your life, helping to fight battles along the way, ensuring the correct outcome, for the good or bad. This is my sister Broni.” As she spoke, Cara noticed his hands tightening on the steering wheel.

“And you?”

“I am the third fate. My name is Cara.”

“And what do you do?”

“I cut the thread. I free the soul and escort it to their next life.”

“So you are a serial killer?”

 

 

“I was born in a small town in Kentucky. My family began poor, but worked their way to owning a restaurant. My mother was one of the best cooks I have ever known, and she instilled in all her children the value of hard work, and education.

Taking after my mother, I’ve always love to cook, and became pretty good if I do say so myself. I love to experiment and my unfortunate family has suffered through many. They now have learned to steer clear of those dishes. I absolutely love the holidays and my family puts up with my zany decorations.

For now, my days are spent writing, writing, and writing. I have two children who both graduated this year from college. My daughter does my book covers, and my son just tries not to blush when someone asks him about my books.

Currently I am writing five series of books- The Last Riders, The VIP Room, Predators MC, Biker Bitches, and The Dark Souls.

All my books are written for one purpose- the enjoyment others find in them, and the expectations of my fans that inspire me to give it my best.”

 

 

 

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WISHES FOR CHRISTMAS – Fern Michaels

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WISHES FOR CHRISTMAS

Fern Michaels

Releasing Oct 27th, 2015

Kensington Books

 

New York Times bestselling author Fern Michaels brings together the beloved heroines from two celebrated series—the Sisterhood and the Godmothers—for a holiday to remember…

This Christmas, instead of finding and punishing bad guys, all Maggie Spritzer wants is to bring a little more joy to the world—especially to a beloved teacher from her past. And as the Sisterhood unites to find her, they learn that no holiday treat is as fulfilling as giving to others…

Meanwhile, with a little help from the other Godmothers, Toots Loudenberry is preparing for Charleston’s annual holiday showcase of historic homes. But when the Godmothers sense trouble with one of the decorators, they must tackle a mystery and hope for a happy ending…

When Sisters and Godmothers unite, the result is a warm and wonderful holiday—with a special touch of magic…

 

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EXCERPT

What had started out as a simple, run-of-the-mill luncheon had somehow turned into a major culinary event sponsored by Maggie Spritzer for her Sisters, known to their many adoring fans as the Vigilantes.

Normal luncheons with the Sisters were usually done on the fly and, for the most part, held in favorite cafés or restaurants. When Maggie first came up with the idea, it was because she had a serious matter to discuss with the Sisters. She knew the luncheon would go into overtime, and at a public eatery, they would be rushed, hence this luncheon was in her own home in Georgetown.

It was well known that Maggie was not a cook, not even a fair to middling one. Oh, to be sure, she could throw things together and manage somehow to make the result edible, but she much preferred takeout, which she warmed up and pretended that she’d prepared. She did, however, have one dish that always garnered praise, a broccoli, three cheese casserole that was beyond delicious. She always served it with a crisp garden salad, warm, tiny, spongy garlic rolls, and a peach cobbler straight out of the supermarket freezer section.

No one ever complained, and there was never enough left to save, so Maggie was confident her luncheon menu would meet with the Sisters’ approval.

Maggie took one last look at her dining-room table. She knew she should have used her once-a-year good dishes, but she’d just been too lazy to take them out and wash them, so she had opted for colorful hard plastic plates with an autumn theme. All gold, orange, and rustic brown. Her centerpiece was an arrangement of fall leaves that matched the plastic plates. All in all, she was satisfied. And she also knew the Sisters wouldn’t complain even if she served the food on Styrofoam plates, because things like that simply were not important.

The timer in the kitchen went off just as the doorbell rang. Talk about timing. She grinned as she ran to the door with Hero, her cat, right on her heels.

As always, the Sisters oohed and aahed over the delicious aromas as they hugged and squealed over seeing each other. Coats and jackets were hung up. It was the end of October, and there was a definite chill in the air.

The women all headed for the kitchen and were surprised when Maggie said, “No, we’re eating in the dining room today. And guess what? Today we are having fresh apple cider. I picked it up this morning. Someone pour while I get the food on the table.”

The moment everyone was seated, Maggie held up her glass and said, “Happy harvest, everyone! Tomorrow is Halloween. And, by the way, I personally carved that pumpkin you all saw on the front stoop. I just love autumn.”

The Sisters all toasted Halloween, then sat back and waited, because they all knew Maggie’s casserole had to set for ten minutes before it could be scooped onto plates.

“Are we celebrating something today, or is this just a get-together, dear?” Myra asked.

“Both,” Maggie responded smartly.

“Well, speaking strictly for myself, I am all ears,” Kathryn said as she eyed the golden brown casserole sitting in the center of the table. Everyone knew and teased Kathryn that she had the appetite of a truck driver because she was an overland driver who handled her eighteen-wheeler like the pro she was.

“Me, too.” Yoko laughed. “Spit it out, Maggie, or do we have to eat first?”

“Why don’t we be devilish today and break Charles’s golden rule that we don’t talk business while we eat?” Annie suggested. The others hooted that they were in agreement.

“Any reason why you didn’t invite the boys?” Nikki asked.

“Well, yeah, this is girls only. I thought we agreed to do that once a month,” Maggie said as she toyed with the serving spoon that would scoop up her casserole.

“Okay, I get it. This is that once-a-month social gathering, plus some business, right?” Alexis grinned.

“A hint, a clue, something would be nice,” Isabelle said as she popped a tiny garlic roll into her mouth. She rolled her eyes at the delectable delight.

“Does whatever you have in mind involve just us girls or the boys at some point?” Nikki asked, the lawyer in her wanting details and facts.

“To be decided,” Maggie said, waving the spoon. “It’s just an idea. An idea I’ve had for a long time. With the holidays fast approaching, it always takes over my mind at this time of year, and I simply cannot stop thinking about it.”

“What? What?” Annie exploded as Kathryn reached over to take the serving spoon out of Maggie’s hand. Reaching for the plates, she put spoon to casserole and filled them.

“The money from my husband’s insurance. I tried to give it to Gus’s nephew, but he refused to take it. I never spent a dime of it. I couldn’t. I want to give it away this Christmas. I want you all to help me. And then I took it one step further and thought, wouldn’t it be nice if you all kicked in some money to match it and . . .”

“And what, dear?” Myra asked.

“Make someone’s world brighter and happier. Save someone’s life. Do something for someone, or more than someone, who otherwise would stay in whatever position they’re in at the moment.


 

 

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FERN MICHAELS is the USA Today and New York Times bestselling author of the Sisterhood and Godmothers series, and dozens of other novels and novellas. There are over seventy-five million copies of her books in print.

Fern Michaels has built and funded several large day-care centers in her hometown, and is a passionate animal lover who has outfitted police dogs across the country with special bulletproof vests. She shares her home in South Carolina with her four dogs and a resident ghost named Mary Margaret. Visit her website at www.fernmichaels.com

Redemption River, Resurrection River and Reckless River Men of Mercy Books 1 – 3 By: Lindsay Cross

 

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REDEMPTION RIVER

Men of Mercy #1

Lindsay Cross

Releasing Oct 21st, 2015

Cypress Bend Publishing

Hunter James didn’t want or need redemption. Until one mission turns his world upside down. He left Mercy to fight for his country and escape a broken heart. Years later, he is hard. Cold. A man without mercy.  Part of an elite Task Force, he tracks a brutal terrorist to his home town. And runs into the woman who betrayed him…

Evangeline Videl was destroyed when Hunter left. Determined to move on, she finds another man, but discovers too late the monster hidden beneath his smooth smile. Struggling to find the conviction to live, Evie finds her life spinning out of control.

Then Hunter returns

Forced to band together to find the terrorist before its too late, Hunter and Evie must learn to forgive or risk losing the promise of redemption and their lives…

 

RESURRECTION RIVER

Men of Mercy #2

Lindsay Cross

Releasing Oct 21st, 2015

Cypress Bend Publishing

Ranger James accepted his best friend’s death like a good soldier. With guilt. Regret. Vengeance. But a forbidden desire keeps pulling him from his mission…

Desire for his best friend’s widow. Killed in Action. That’s why Rachel Carter’s husband wasn’t coming home.

A war widow, alone and broke, Rachel struggles to revive her family’s crop dusting service to survive. Now she takes to the skies to find escape. Escape from the pain. From the guilt. From the earth-shattering desire for her husband’s best friend.

Rachel and Ranger can’t fight the attraction between them any longer. But one fateful night cleaves their new found love in two…
Can they find the will to fight for true love? Or will an evil so shocking destroy their lives for good?

EXCERPT

Rachel spun around, the yellow airplane a perfect backdrop to her beautiful face. “What are you doing here?”

Ranger let his gaze travel from her scruffy boots, torn jeans and gloriously figure hugging tank, to the top of her dark red head. Her pink cheeks flushed.

“Like what you see?”

Ranger approached, her green gaze turned wary. Good. She should be worried. She’d doused him in chemicals. His skin still itched. He reached forward, plucked an oil stick from her ponytail and sent her hair spilling to her shoulders. He caught the brief scent of flowers and oil.

Rachel grabbed her hair, lips parted. Angry. Stubborn. Sexy.

He held up the stick right in front of her face. “Oil stick.”

Rachel snatched it from his fingers and tossed it across the room. “I told you to stay away from me.”

Ranger shrugged, his brain still caught on the image of her jean-clad ass hanging out of that airplane. Forget Sports Illustrated. He had farm fucking fantastic right here.

“Don’t you think dropping that all-natural excuse for chemicals on me is a bit dramatic? If you want to get me naked all you had to do is ask.” Ranger gestured to himself, sweeping his hand from his head down to his torso, Rachel’s eyes followed.

That definitely wasn’t desperation or anger in her gaze.

The desire he’d been trying to hold in check for months reared up inside him.

“You think I want to see you naked?” Rachel snorted, lifted her chin. “Besides, I figured anything would be an improvement to your normal smell.” So much for her vulnerability.

The wind picked up, blew into the hangar. Ranger shifted, praying the wind wouldn’t open the fly on his boxers, and almost covered himself. Almost. Until he remembered she was the reason for his stench. Instead, he stood tall. “You’ve never had a problem with the way I smelled before.”

“My manners were just too good to say anything.” She strode past him, punishing him with the sexy sway of her hips.

Dammit, he was so hard up for her, even her walk had his mind blanking. He stood there, nearly naked, and drenched in herbicide, and she walked past him like a stranger on a sidewalk.

Running from him. Again.

“Rachel Ann.” He didn’t yell, but she stopped mid-stride. Turned. Lips parted.

“You did that on purpose,” Ranger said. She’d been hard headed even in high-school, when he tried to break up with her, explaining that he needed a little space to see if life in Mercy was what he really wanted. Jumping on the marriage and kids bandwagon at eighteen

years old had scared the shit out of him. But he’d obliterated any chance for reconnecting with Rachel when she’d seen him making out with Tonya at the football game senior year.

He hadn’t thought that leaving her to sow the wild oats of his youth would be a self-fulfilling prophecy of regret. Or that his best friend would move in on Rachel so fast and fill the void that Ranger had left in her heart.

“You bet your ass I did.”

“What the hell for?” He couldn’t get her smell, her taste, her touch out of his head. But she’d dumped shit on him for the last time.

Her eyes narrowed and her lips flattened. “I warned you.”

Yeah, she’d warned him to stay away from her. He’d stayed with her for weeks, helping her after the funeral. She’d healed physically, but remained an emotional tomb.

“I promised Shane, if anything ever happened to him, I’d look out for you.” He wanted to take her in his arms and kiss that angry expression right off her face. He’d wanted her since high-school, but when she’d married Shane, he’d vowed to put those feelings away. Forever. But the attraction hadn’t disappeared. And he knew it never would. “I know the chemistry between us is weird. Scary. But dammit it’s real and it’s here and now. You’re just flying through the clouds because you don’t want to see what’s on the ground right in front of you.”

If he hadn’t been studying every minute expression on her face he would have missed the brief flash of vulnerability in her gaze. Then her anger slid back in place. “The only thing I feel is annoyance. Are you so desperate that you have to chase after what you can’t have? You dumped me first, remember?”

Him? Desperate? No. He’d never had a problem getting women. Until Rachel.

If he hadn’t been so young and stupid he would have been the one she’d married. Not Shane.

Now all he could think, all he could see, was the small sprinkle of freckles across her pert nose. He could be on a mission in a third world country or down the road. It didn’t matter. She affected him.

He had an all-consuming need for his best friend’s wife. He hadn’t counted on lust eating him alive.

But he had honor. He had loyalty. Ranger had vowed over Shane’s grave to take care of Rachel.

 

 

RECKLESS RIVER

Men of Mercy #3

Lindsay Cross

Releasing Oct 21st, 2015

Cypress Bend Publishing

 

 

They say you can’t go home again. Jared Crowe never wanted to.

Home meant facing memories of abuse and neglect.

Of dark closets and evil nightmares. Of his own relatives intent on killing him. But now his brother’s kidnapping forces him to face those demons. Only this time, Jared isn’t a scared little boy. He’s a full-grown Special Forces operative bent on revenge.

As a little girl, Sparrow Pickney risked her life to free two abused boys. As a grown woman Sparrow needs to earn a place in her adopted family’s business or be forced into a life of degradation. The chance to prove her family loyalty comes when she catches Jared spying on the compound and captures him.

When Jared sees his captor, he realizes she’s the girl of his dreams and vows to rescue her from a life of poverty. What Jared doesn’t know is Sparrow may not be the savior he remembers…but the one responsible for abducting and torturing his brother.

Jared is determined to find the truth. But that truth may be more than his heart can take.

 

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Lindsay Cross is the award-winning author of the Men of Mercy series. She is the fun loving mom of two beautiful daughters and one precocious Great Dane. Lindsay is happily married to the man of her dreams – a soldier and veteran. During one of her husband’s deployments from home, writing became her escape and motivation.

An avid reader since childhood, reading and writing is in her blood. After years of reading, she discovered her true passion – writing. Her alpha military men are damaged, drop-dead gorgeous and determined to win the heart of the woman of their dreams.

A Review for A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley

GUEST POST – teachergirl73

Susanna Kearsley is by far one of my favourite authors, and her being a Canadian is like the icing on the cake. After suffering through required Canadian literature in high school, i.e.The Stone Angel (shudder) I was ready to swear off Canadian authors altogether. A very distressing prospect since I’m a proud Canadian and believe we should support our arts and culture. The often seriously depressing overtones that seem to riddle many of Canada’s literary greats was more than I could handle. Isn’t real life hard enough on its own? Do we have to wallow in the extreme miseries which seem to follow the protagonists in Canadian literature? It is only cold part of the year and sometimes not even that in Vancouver!

So when I discovered Susanna Kearsley via a recommendation from my BFF, I was pleasantly surprised and later as I consumed more of her novels, overjoyed at the fact that here was a Canadian author I really loved to read!

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What I love most about Kearsley’s books is the way that she simultaneously weaves the threads of two stories, one in the past and one in the present, pulling the reader often into a mystery that needs to be solved in both places. If you enjoyed Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, then you would probably enjoy Kearsley’s novels, even though they don’t involve time travel as such, they follow a similar pattern of flipping between the past and present stories with lots of intrigue and romance rolled into both.

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Her background and training as a former museum curator, ensures that her details are meticulously well-researched and authentic, which enhances her stories. Kearsley’s commitment to details means that she is also able to paint the most magnificent settings, which inevitably leaves me wanting to hop on a plane and head off to Scotland, or Wales or France to her latest location and go find my own adventures.

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From GoodreadsFor nearly 300 years, the mysterious journal of Jacobite exile Mary Dundas has lain unread — its secrets safe from prying eyes. Now, amateur codebreaker Sara Thomas has been hired by a once-famous historian to crack the journal’s cipher. But when she arrives in Paris, Sara finds herself besieged by complications from all sides: the journal’s reclusive owner, her charming Parisian neighbor, and Mary, whose journal doesn’t hold the secrets Sara expects.

It turns out that Mary Dundas wasn’t keeping a record of everyday life, but a first-hand account of her part in a dangerous intrigue. In the first wintry months of 1732, with a scandal gaining steam in London, driving many into bankruptcy and ruin, the man accused of being at its center is concealed among the Jacobites in Paris, with Mary posing as his sister to aid his disguise.

When their location is betrayed, they’re forced to put a desperate plan in action, heading south along the road to Rome, protected by the enigmatic Highlander Hugh MacPherson.

As Mary’s tale grows more and more dire, Sara, too, must carefully choose which turning to take… to find the road that will lead her safely home.  


REVIEW

A Desperate Fortune begins in the present with a young woman named Sara Thomas, who lives in the London area and is at loose ends. She’s an unemployed computer programmer, with Asperger’s Syndrome, which falls under the umbrella of the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Individuals with an Asperger’s diagnosis, just like any ASD diagnosis can have wide-ranging symptoms impacting each person very differently. In Sara’s case, she seems to be very high-functioning, and as an adult has developed excellent coping mechanisms to help her get through daily life. Sara’s cousin Jacqui, a book editor, introduces her to one of her author’s, Alistair Scott, a historian in need of a code breaker to decipher a journal for his research for his latest book. It is at this point that Sara’s life takes a detour and she finally starts to live.

Sara’s new job takes her to France to decode a journal by a young woman, by the name of Mary Dundas, who lived in France during the early 18th century and who’s journal holds important Jacobite secrets that Alistair needs. As Sara decodes Mary’s long forgotten journal, we start to see how the intricate the web of secrets and lies were for the Jacobites, the supporters of the exiled King James VIII of Scotland, who believed that the Stuarts were the “rightful” heirs to the British throne. As the young Mary, gets swept up into the intrigue, the reader is taken on a fascinating journey from Paris, through France and eventually ending up in Rome at the court of King James. Mary learns some heart-breaking lessons through her journey, and Sara begins to realize that her own life could have more fullness as she meets Luc, the neighbour next door, who manages to shake Sara’s belief system and show her all of the possibilities of the world.

Overall, A Desperate Fortune is an enjoyable read, one that I felt improved as the story developed. At the beginning, I wasn’t grabbed in the same way as I have been in the past with Kearsley’s novels, such as The Winter Sea or Mariana, but as the plot filled out, I was completely engrossed in the story. Kearsley’s romantic flare manages to pull off the best PG-rated love scenes that I’ve ever encountered. When I shared that musing with my BFF, her response was, “Why can’t she turn up the heat a little?” All kidding aside, Kearsley has once again delivered a novel ripe with romance, history, and intrigue. I particularly liked at the end of the story, Kearsley included a detailed explanation of how her characters came to be developed and I thought it was the perfect touch to what turned out to be a lovely novel.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Photo By: Ashleigh Bonang
Photo By: Ashleigh Bonang

Susanna Kearsley studied politics and international development at university, and has worked as a museum curator.

Her first novel Mariana won the prestigious Catherine Cookson Literary Prize and launched her writing career. Susanna continued her mix of the historical and paranormal in novels The Splendour Falls, Named of the Dragon, Shadowy Horses and Season of Storms.

Susanna Kearsley also writes classic-style thrillers under the name of Emma Cole.

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