Road Out of Winter by Alison Stine – Feature, Excerpt, Q&A

Publisher: MIRA Books

Publication Date: September 01, 2020

Genre: Sci-fi, Dystopia

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Surrounded by poverty and paranoia her entire life, Wil has been left behind in her small Appalachian town by her mother and her best friend. Not only is she tending her stepfather’s illegal marijuana farm alone, but she’s left to watch the world fall further into chaos in the face of a climate crisis brought on by another year of unending winter. So opens Alison Stine’s moving and lyrical cli-fi novel, ROAD OUT OF WINTER (MIRA Trade; September 1, 2020; $17.99).

With her now priceless grow lights stashed in her truck and a pouch of precious seeds, Wil upends her life to pursue her mother in California, collecting an eclectic crew of fellow refugees along the way. She’s determined to start over and use her skills to grow badly needed food in impossible farming conditions, but the icy roads and desperate strangers are treacherous to Wil and her gang. Her green thumb becomes the target of a violent cult and their volatile leader, and Wil must use all her cunning and resources to protect her newfound family and the hope they have found within each other.

Chapter One

I used to have dreams that Lobo would be arrested. The sheriff and his deputies would roll up the drive, bouncing on the gravel, but coming fast, too fast to be stopped, too fast for Lobo to get away through the fields. Or maybe Lobo would be asleep, and they would surprise him, his eyes red, slit like taillights. My mama and I would weep with joy as they led him off. The deputies would wrap us in blankets, swept in their blue lights. We were innocent, weren’t we? Just at the wrong place at the wrong time, all the time, involved with the wrong man—and we didn’t know, my mama didn’t know, the extent. 

But that wasn’t true, not even close. 

I sold the weed at a gas station called Crossroads to a boy who delivered meals for shut-ins. Brown paper bags filled the back of his station wagon, the tops rolled over like his mama made him lunch. I supposed he could keep the bags straight. That was the arrangement Lobo had made years ago, that was the arrangement I kept. I left things uncomplicated. I didn’t know where the drugs went after the boy with the station wagon, where the boy sold them or for how much. I took the money he gave me and buried most of it in the yard.

After his station wagon bumped back onto the rural route, I went inside the store. There was a counter in the back, a row of cracked plastic tables and chairs that smelled like ketchup: a full menu, breakfast through dinner. They sold a lot of egg sandwiches at Crossroads to frackers, men on their way out to work sites. It was a good place to meet; Lisbeth would come this far. I ordered three cheeseburgers and fries, and sat down.

She was on time. She wore gray sweatpants under her long denim skirt, and not just because of the cold. “You reek, Wil,” she said, sliding onto the chair across from me.

“Lobo says that’s the smell of money,” I said.

“My mama says money smells like dirty hands.”

            The food arrived, delivered by a waitress I didn’t know. Crinkling red and white paper in baskets. I slid two of the burgers over to Lisbeth. The Church forbade pants on women, and short hair, and alcohol. But meat was okay. Lisbeth hunched over a burger, eating with both hands, her braid slipping over her shoulder.

“Heard from them at all?” she asked.

“Not lately.”

“You think he would let her write you? Call?”

“She doesn’t have her own phone,” I said.

            Lisbeth licked ketchup off her thumb. The fries were already getting cold. How about somethin’ home made? read the chalkboard below the menu. I watched the waitress write the dinner specials in handwriting small and careful as my mama’s.

“Hot chocolate?” I read to Lisbeth. “It’s June.”

“It’s freezing,” she said. 

And it was, still. Steam webbed the windows. There was no sign of spring in the lung-colored fields, bordered by trees as spindly as men in a bread line. We were past forsythia time, past when the squirrels should have been rooting around in the trees for sap. 

“What time is it now?” Lisbeth asked.

I showed her my phone, and she swallowed the last of her burger.

“I’ve got to go.”

“Already?”

“Choir rehearsal.” She took a gulp of Coke. Caffeine was frowned upon by The Church, though not, I thought, exclusively forbidden. “I gave all the seniors solos, and they’re terrified. They need help. Don’t forget. Noon tomorrow.”

The Church was strange—strange enough to whisper about. But The Church had a great choir; she had learned so much. They had helped her get her job at the high school, directing the chorus, not easy for a woman without a degree. Also, her folks loved The Church. She couldn’t leave, she said.

“What’s at noon?” I asked.

           She paused long enough to tilt her head at me. “Wylodine, really? Graduation, remember? The kids are singing?”

“I don’t want to go back there.”

“You promised. Take a shower if you been working so my folks don’t lose their 

minds.”  

“If they haven’t figured it out by now, they’re never going to know,” I said, but Lisbeth 

was already shrugging on her coat. Then she was gone, through the jangling door, long braid and layers flapping. In the parking lot, a truck refused to start, balking in the cold.  

I ordered hot chocolate. I was careful to take small bills from my wallet when I went up to the counter. Most of the roll of cash from the paper bag boy was stuffed in a Pepsi can back on the floor of the truck. Lobo, who owned the truck, had never been neat, and drink cans, leaves, and empty Copenhagen tins littered the cab. Though the mud on the floor mats had hardened and caked like makeup, though Lobo and Mama had been gone a year now, I hadn’t bothered cleaning out the truck. Not yet.

The top of the Pepsi can was ripped partially off, and it was dry inside: plenty of room for a wad of cash. I had pushed down the top to hide the money, avoiding the razor-sharp edge. Lobo had taught me well.

I took the hot chocolate to go.

In the morning, I rose early and alone, got the stove going, pulled on my boots to hike up the hill to the big house. I swept the basement room. I checked the supplies. I checked the cistern for clogs. The creek rode up the sides of the driveway. Ice floated in the water, brown as tea. 

No green leaves had appeared on the trees. No buds. My breath hung in the air, a web I walked through. My boots didn’t sink in the mud back to my own house in the lower field; my footprints were still frozen from a year ago. Last year’s walking had made ridges as stiff as craters on the moon. At the door to my tiny house, I knocked the frost from my boots, and yanked them off, but kept my warm coveralls on. I lit the small stove, listening to the whoosh of the flame. The water for coffee ticked in the pot.

I checked the time on the clock above the sink, a freebie from Radiator Palace. 

“Fuck,” I said aloud to no one.

Excerpted from Road Out of Winter by Alison Stine, Copyright © 2020 by Alison Stine. 

Published by MIRA Books

1.       If Wil had a favorite song, what would it be?

I feel like she would have grown up listening to country, and to the music her mama liked, as I did, like Linda Ronstadt, Crystal Gale. I think she would really like Kacey Musgraves, and would have snuck a copy her albums to her friend who was raised very strict. But I think Wil’s favorite song would be Burning House by Cam. It was on the radio when I was writing. I used to sing it to my son. The lyrics speak a lot to Wil’s situation: “stay here with you/til this dream is gone.” It would have been on the radio when she was driving home from seeing the person who could never love her the way she wanted, driving through the place that could never love her back.

2.       Which character in ROAD OUT OF WINTER do you most relate to?

Wil. We were a few months into the pandemic when I realized I actually am Wil. Writing her made me realize I’m stronger than I know. I can get my family cross-country safely. I can make it work. All of her plant knowledge is my own, which I gained from living in rural Appalachia for so long, and from my friends and neighbors. I cry more than she does, though.

3.       What was your favorite scene to write? No spoilers!

Everything involving the skaters, though it scared me too. My son is a skater and my partner is (and I used to be, before getting hurt!). Friends of ours have a homemade skate ramp out in the country. Several of my friends basically have their own compounds which, I’m not gonna lie, is a dream. Anytime I can convey the wildness, strangeness, and the abandon of rural Appalachian Ohio is a good writing day. It can be scary but it can also be really fun, living in the middle of nowhere. You can do what you want, to both good and bad results.

4.       Who was your favorite character to write and why?

Jamey. In my real life, in part because of my disability, I’m quiet, especially in new situations. I hold back. Jamey says the things I wish I could. She’s also, as my smart friend and early reader Ellee pointed out, a survivor: she can be sarcastic and harsh sometimes because of what she had to endure. Her defense mechanism is pretending not to care. But she does care, deeply.  

5.       Why was it important to you to have a queer character in your story?

I didn’t consciously set out to make Wil queer and I don’t know that she would call herself that exactly, if she has that language or community yet. She loves who she loves, but her experience of romantic love in a small town has been things just not working out. Nobody really seeing her. That was also my experience for a long time. I’ve only felt comfortable calling myself bisexual in the past few years, despite having had long-term relationships with both men and women. That was how I grew up, in a small conservative town. Wil wants love, and the woman she loves wants something else, a bigger life, that Wil always hoped she could make somehow right here where she grew up. My experience is that sometimes you have to make that life elsewhere. Sometimes rural spaces are not the friendliest, home is not the easiest. But I am very proud and glad to have a bi woman in a rural space in my book. I guess I wrote the book I needed when I was young and couldn’t find. It’s still hard to find bi characters, especially in adult literary and commercial fiction. It’s even harder to find them celebrated. We seemed to be skipped over quite a lot. Often I feel invisible, like my life and experiences and struggles don’t matter. Being bi is just who she is, it’s not a plot device. Just a fact, as it is in life. 

6.       Are you a pantser or a plotter?

I like to surprise myself so I am mostly just plunging into writing. The best stories come from dreams, in my opinion. Then once you have the dream, you need to wait a little while until characters and the main events take shape. I usually know the three main acts before I start to write a book, but that’s it. I start to know the end by about the middle. With ROAD OUT OF WINTER, I knew nothing, because the book originally did not go where I wanted it to and so I stopped writing. I thought they were going to go clear across the country and so I stopped. When I came back to the manuscript a few months later, I realized, no, they were never supposed to get out of Appalachia. And I finished the book.

7.       Where is your favorite place to write?

I can work anywhere, and have had to, being a single mother for most of my child’s life. But a lot of ROAD OUT OF WINTER, and my next book, were written and revised at The Westend Ciderhouse, a cidery and bar in my town. I would go in the afternoon—they opened early on Fridays—and had my favorite table. Nobody bothered me. Several of the bartenders were my friends but they knew I was working. It was very quiet, and kinda dark and cool, and I would just write—and drink one cider, until it was time for my son to come home from school. I write better in bars than in coffeeshops. I guess I’m just that type.

8.       What’s the worst writing advice you ever received?

That you need the approval of a teacher or professor or workshop or a degree to write. Writing is being a collector and interpreter of experiences. You don’t have to study writing formally or major in it, and looking back, I kinda wish I had explored more of my other interests in music and theatre and art. All that would have helped my writing too. Don’t let go of the other stuff that makes you happy. Everything you do helps fill your well as a writer—other art, sports, travel, friendships. Books are your best teachers. The best thing you can do to be a better writer is to read, to experience, to write, and to live.

9.       What is the best book you’ve read this year?

The best book I read this year so far was Meg Elison’s The Book of the Unnamed Midwife. I read and loved all the books in the trilogy. They were some of the first books I could get through in the early days of the pandemic, when my mind and heart were all over the place. They helped center me, in part because they made me feel seen. The trilogy focuses on women, queer folks, bi folks, and how we might survive in a world that doesn’t really see or even want us—and that matters to me.

10.   What are you working on next?

My second novel TRASHLANDS is coming out from MIRA in the fall of 2021. It’s about a single mom at a strip club at the end of the world. She has to choose between being an artist, being a parent, or being in love, which isn’t much of a choice at all but the kind that women throughout time have been forced to make. And I’m starting to write my next novel, about a reporter who is hard of hearing (like me!) and is called back home to investigate something really bad.

ALISON STINE lives in the rural Appalachian foothills. A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), she was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. She has written for The Atlantic, The Nation, The Guardian, and many others. She is a contributing editor with the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

The Black Swan of Paris by Karen Robards – Feature + Excerpt

Publisher: MIRA

Publication Date: June 30, 2020

Genre: Historical Fiction, WWII

BUY LINKS: Harlequin | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble  | Books-A-Million | Target | Walmart | Google | iBooks | Kobo

For fans of The Alice Network and The Lost Girls of Paris comes a thrilling standalone by New York Times bestselling author Karen Robards about a celebrated singer in WWII occupied France who joins the Resistance to save her estranged family from being killed in a German prison.

In Occupied France, the Resistance trembles on the brink of destruction. Its operatives, its secrets, its plans, all will be revealed. One of its leaders, wealthy aristocrat Baron Paul de Rocheford, has been killed in a raid and the surviving members of his cell, including his wife the elegant Baronness Lillian de Rocheford, have been arrested and transported to Germany for interrogation and, inevitably, execution.

Captain Max Ryan, British SOE, is given the job of penetrating the impregnable German prison where the Baroness and the remnants of the cell are being held and tortured. If they can’t be rescued he must kill them before they can give up their secrets.

Max is in Paris, currently living under a cover identity as a show business impresario whose star attraction is Genevieve Dumont. Young, beautiful Genevieve is the toast of Europe, an icon of the glittering entertainment world that the Nazis celebrate so that the arts can be seen to be thriving in the occupied territories under their rule.

What no one knows about Genevieve is that she is Lillian and Paul de Rocheford’s younger daughter. Her feelings toward her family are bitter since they were estranged twelve years ago. But when she finds out from Max just what his new assignment entails, old, long-buried feelings are rekindled and she knows that no matter what she can’t allow her mother to be killed, not by the Nazis and not by Max. She secretly establishes contact with those in the Resistance who can help her. Through them she is able to contact her sister Emmy, and the sisters put aside their estrangement to work together to rescue their mother.

It all hinges on a command performance that Genevieve is to give for a Gestapo General in the Bavarian town where her mother and the others are imprisoned. While Genevieve sings and the show goes on, a daring rescue is underway that involves terrible danger, heartbreaking choices, and the realization that some ties, like the love between a mother and her daughters and between sisters, are forever.

THE‌ ‌BLACK‌ ‌SWAN‌ ‌OF‌ ‌PARIS‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards‌ ‌

CHAPTER‌ ‌ONE‌ 

‌May‌ ‌15,‌ ‌1944‌ 

When‌ ‌the‌ ‌worst‌ ‌thing‌ ‌that‌ ‌could‌ ‌ever‌ ‌happen‌ ‌to‌ ‌you‌ ‌had‌ ‌already‌ ‌happened,‌ ‌nothing‌ ‌that‌ ‌came‌ ‌after‌ ‌really‌ ‌mattered.‌ ‌The‌ ‌resultant‌ ‌state‌ ‌of‌ ‌apathy‌ ‌was‌ ‌‌almost‌ ‌‌pleasant,‌ ‌as‌ ‌long‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌allow‌ ‌herself‌ ‌to‌ ‌think‌ ‌about‌ ‌it—any‌ ‌of‌ ‌it—too‌ ‌much.‌ ‌She‌ ‌‌was‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌Dumont,‌ ‌a‌ ‌singer,‌ ‌a‌ ‌‌star‌.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌latest‌ ‌sold-out‌ ‌performance‌ ‌at‌ ‌one‌ ‌of‌ ‌Paris’s‌ ‌great‌ ‌theaters‌ ‌had‌ ‌ended‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌five-minute‌ ‌standing‌ ‌ovation‌ ‌less‌ ‌than‌ ‌an‌ ‌hour‌ ‌before.‌ ‌She‌ ‌was‌ ‌acclaimed,‌ ‌admired,‌ ‌celebrated‌ ‌wherever‌ ‌she‌ ‌went.‌ ‌The‌ ‌Nazis‌ ‌loved‌ ‌her.‌ ‌She‌ ‌was‌ ‌not‌ ‌quite‌ ‌twenty-five‌ ‌years‌ ‌old.‌ ‌Beautiful‌ ‌when,‌ ‌like‌ ‌now,‌ ‌she‌ ‌was‌ ‌dolled‌ ‌up‌ ‌in‌ ‌all‌ ‌her‌ ‌after-show‌ ‌finery.‌ ‌Not‌ ‌in‌ ‌want,‌ ‌not‌ ‌unhappy.‌ ‌In‌ ‌this‌ ‌time‌ ‌of‌ ‌fear‌ ‌and‌ ‌mass‌ ‌starvation,‌ ‌of‌ ‌worldwide‌ ‌deaths‌ ‌on‌ ‌a‌ ‌scale‌ ‌never‌ ‌seen‌ ‌before‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌whole‌ ‌course‌ ‌of‌ ‌human‌ ‌history,‌ ‌that‌ ‌made‌ ‌her‌ ‌lucky.‌ ‌She‌ ‌knew‌ ‌it.‌ ‌ ‌Whom‌ ‌she‌ ‌had‌ ‌been‌ ‌before,‌ ‌what‌ ‌had‌ ‌almost‌ ‌destroyed‌ ‌her—that‌ ‌life‌ ‌belonged‌ ‌to‌ ‌someone‌ ‌else.‌ ‌Most‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌time,‌ ‌she‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌even‌ ‌remember‌ ‌it‌ ‌herself.‌ ‌She‌ ‌refused‌ ‌to‌ ‌remember‌ ‌it.‌ ‌A‌ ‌siren‌ ‌screamed‌ ‌to‌ ‌life‌ ‌just‌ ‌meters‌ ‌behind‌ ‌the‌ ‌car‌ ‌she‌ ‌was‌ ‌traveling‌ ‌in.‌ ‌Startled,‌ ‌she‌ ‌sat‌ ‌upright‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌back‌ ‌seat,‌ ‌heart‌ ‌lurching‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌looked‌ ‌around.‌ ‌Do‌ ‌they‌ ‌know?‌ ‌Are‌ ‌they‌ ‌after‌ ‌us?‌ ‌A‌ ‌small‌ ‌knot‌ ‌of‌ ‌fans‌ ‌had‌ ‌been‌ ‌waiting‌ ‌outside‌ ‌the‌ ‌stage‌ ‌door‌ ‌as‌ ‌she’d‌ ‌left.‌ ‌One‌ ‌of‌ ‌them‌ ‌had‌ ‌thrust‌ ‌a‌ ‌program‌ ‌at‌ ‌her,‌ ‌requesting‌ ‌an‌ ‌autograph‌ ‌for‌ ‌Francoise.‌ ‌She’d‌ ‌signed—‌May‌ ‌your‌ ‌heart‌ ‌always‌ ‌sing,‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌Dumont‌—as‌ ‌previously‌ ‌instructed.‌ ‌What‌ ‌it‌ ‌meant‌ ‌she‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌know.‌ ‌What‌ ‌she‌ ‌did‌ ‌know‌ ‌was‌ ‌that‌ ‌it‌ ‌meant‌ ‌‌something‌:‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌a‌ ‌prearranged‌ ‌encounter,‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌coded‌ ‌message‌ ‌she’d‌ ‌scribbled‌ ‌down‌ ‌was‌ ‌intended‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌Resistance.‌ ‌And‌ ‌now,‌ ‌mere‌ ‌minutes‌ ‌later,‌ ‌here‌ ‌were‌ ‌the‌ ‌Milice,‌ ‌the‌ ‌despised‌ ‌French‌ ‌police‌ ‌who‌ ‌had‌ ‌long‌ ‌since‌ ‌thrown‌ ‌in‌ ‌their‌ ‌lot‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌Nazis,‌ ‌on‌ ‌their‌ ‌tail.‌ ‌Even‌ ‌as‌ ‌icy‌ ‌jets‌ ‌of‌ ‌fear‌ ‌spurted‌ ‌through‌ ‌her,‌ ‌a‌ ‌pair‌ ‌of‌ ‌police‌ ‌cars‌ ‌followed‌ ‌by‌ ‌a‌ ‌military‌ ‌truck‌ ‌flew‌ ‌by.‌ ‌Running‌ ‌without‌ ‌lights,‌ ‌they‌ ‌appeared‌ ‌as‌ ‌no‌ ‌more‌ ‌than‌ ‌hulking‌ ‌black‌ ‌shapes‌ ‌whose‌ ‌passage‌ ‌rattled‌ ‌the‌ ‌big‌ ‌Citroën‌ ‌that‌ ‌up‌ ‌until‌ ‌then‌ ‌had‌ ‌been‌ ‌alone‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌road.‌ ‌A‌ ‌split‌ ‌second‌ ‌later,‌ ‌her‌ ‌driver—his‌ ‌name‌ ‌was‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌Cordier;‌ ‌he‌ ‌worked‌ ‌for‌ ‌Max,‌ ‌her‌ ‌manager—slammed‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌brakes.‌ ‌The‌ ‌car‌ ‌jerked‌ ‌to‌ ‌a‌ ‌stop.‌ ‌“Sacre‌ ‌bleu!”‌ ‌‌Flying‌ ‌forward,‌ ‌she‌ ‌barely‌ ‌stopped‌ ‌herself‌ ‌from‌ ‌smacking‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌back‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌front‌ ‌seat‌ ‌by‌ ‌throwing‌ ‌her‌ ‌arms‌ ‌out‌ ‌in‌ ‌front‌ ‌of‌ ‌her.‌ ‌“What’s‌ ‌happening?”‌ ‌“A‌ ‌raid,‌ ‌I‌ ‌think.”‌ ‌Peering‌ ‌out‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌windshield,‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌clutched‌ ‌the‌ ‌steering‌ ‌wheel‌ ‌with‌ ‌both‌ ‌hands.‌ ‌He‌ ‌was‌ ‌an‌ ‌old‌ ‌man,‌ ‌short‌ ‌and‌ ‌wiry‌ ‌with‌ ‌white‌ ‌hair.‌ ‌She‌ ‌could‌ ‌read‌ ‌tension‌ ‌in‌ ‌every‌ ‌line‌ ‌of‌ ‌his‌ ‌body.‌ ‌In‌ ‌front‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌car,‌ ‌washed‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌pale‌ ‌moonlight‌ ‌that‌ ‌painted‌ ‌the‌ ‌scene‌ ‌in‌ ‌ghostly‌ ‌shades‌ ‌of‌ ‌gray,‌ ‌the‌ ‌cavalcade‌ ‌that‌ ‌had‌ ‌passed‌ ‌them‌ ‌was‌ ‌now‌ ‌blocking‌ ‌the‌ ‌road.‌ ‌A‌ ‌screech‌ ‌of‌ ‌brakes‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌throwing‌ ‌of‌ ‌a‌ ‌shadow‌ ‌across‌ ‌the‌ ‌nearest‌ ‌building‌ ‌had‌ ‌her‌ ‌casting‌ ‌a‌ ‌quick‌ ‌look‌ ‌over‌ ‌her‌ ‌shoulder.‌ ‌Another‌ ‌military‌ ‌truck‌ ‌shuddered‌ ‌to‌ ‌a‌ ‌halt,‌ ‌filling‌ ‌the‌ ‌road‌ ‌behind‌ ‌them,‌ ‌stopping‌ ‌it‌ ‌up‌ ‌like‌ ‌a‌ ‌cork‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌bottle.‌ ‌Men—German‌ ‌THE‌ ‌BLACK‌ ‌SWAN‌ ‌OF‌ ‌PARIS‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards‌ ‌soldiers‌ ‌along‌ ‌with‌ ‌officers‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌Milice—spilled‌ ‌out‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌stopped‌ ‌vehicles.‌ ‌The‌ ‌ones‌ ‌behind‌ ‌swarmed‌ ‌past‌ ‌the‌ ‌Citroën,‌ ‌and‌ ‌all‌ ‌rushed‌ ‌toward‌ ‌what‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌tentatively‌ ‌identified‌ ‌as‌ ‌an‌ ‌apartment‌ ‌building.‌ ‌Six‌ ‌stories‌ ‌tall,‌ ‌it‌ ‌squatted,‌ ‌dark‌ ‌and‌ ‌silent,‌ ‌in‌ ‌its‌ ‌own‌ ‌walled‌ ‌garden.‌ ‌“Oh,‌ ‌no,”‌ ‌she‌ ‌said.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌fear‌ ‌for‌ ‌herself‌ ‌and‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌subsided,‌ ‌but‌ ‌sympathy‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌targets‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌raid‌ ‌made‌ ‌her‌ ‌chest‌ ‌feel‌ ‌tight.‌ ‌People‌ ‌who‌ ‌were‌ ‌taken‌ ‌away‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌Nazis‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌middle‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌night‌ ‌seldom‌ ‌came‌ ‌back.‌ ‌The‌ ‌officers‌ ‌banged‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌front‌ ‌door.‌ ‌“Open‌ ‌up!‌ ‌Police!”‌ ‌It‌ ‌was‌ ‌just‌ ‌after‌ ‌10:00‌ ‌p.m.‌ ‌Until‌ ‌the‌ ‌siren‌ ‌had‌ ‌ripped‌ ‌it‌ ‌apart,‌ ‌the‌ ‌silence‌ ‌blanketing‌ ‌the‌ ‌city‌ ‌had‌ ‌been‌ ‌close‌ ‌to‌ ‌absolute.‌ ‌Thanks‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌strictly‌ ‌enforced‌ ‌blackout,‌ ‌the‌ ‌streets‌ ‌were‌ ‌as‌ ‌dark‌ ‌and‌ ‌mysterious‌ ‌as‌ ‌the‌ ‌nearby‌ ‌Seine.‌ ‌It‌ ‌had‌ ‌rained‌ ‌earlier‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌day,‌ ‌and‌ ‌before‌ ‌the‌ ‌siren‌ ‌the‌ ‌big‌ ‌Citroën‌ ‌had‌ ‌been‌ ‌the‌ ‌noisiest‌ ‌thing‌ ‌around,‌ ‌splashing‌ ‌through‌ ‌puddles‌ ‌as‌ ‌they‌ ‌headed‌ ‌back‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌Ritz,‌ ‌where‌ ‌she‌ ‌was‌ ‌staying‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌duration‌ ‌of‌ ‌her‌ ‌Paris‌ ‌run.‌ ‌“If‌ ‌they‌ ‌keep‌ ‌arresting‌ ‌people,‌ ‌soon‌ ‌there‌ ‌will‌ ‌be‌ ‌no‌ ‌one‌ ‌left.”‌ ‌Genevieve’s‌ ‌gaze‌ ‌locked‌ ‌on‌ ‌a‌ ‌contingent‌ ‌of‌ ‌soldiers‌ ‌spreading‌ ‌out‌ ‌around‌ ‌the‌ ‌building,‌ ‌apparently‌ ‌looking‌ ‌for‌ ‌another‌ ‌way‌ ‌in—or‌ ‌for‌ ‌exits‌ ‌they‌ ‌could‌ ‌block.‌ ‌One‌ ‌rattled‌ ‌a‌ ‌gate‌ ‌of‌ ‌tall‌ ‌iron‌ ‌spikes‌ ‌that‌ ‌led‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌brick-walled‌ ‌garden.‌ ‌It‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌open,‌ ‌and‌ ‌he‌ ‌moved‌ ‌on,‌ ‌disappearing‌ ‌around‌ ‌the‌ ‌side‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌building.‌ ‌She‌ ‌was‌ ‌able‌ ‌to‌ ‌follow‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldiers’‌ ‌movements‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌torches‌ ‌they‌ ‌carried.‌ ‌Fitted‌ ‌with‌ ‌slotted‌ ‌covers‌ ‌intended‌ ‌to‌ ‌direct‌ ‌their‌ ‌light‌ ‌downward‌ ‌so‌ ‌as‌ ‌to‌ ‌make‌ ‌them‌ ‌invisible‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌Allied‌ ‌air-raid‌ ‌pilots‌ ‌whose‌ ‌increasingly‌ ‌frequent‌ ‌forays‌ ‌over‌ ‌Paris‌ ‌aroused‌ ‌both‌ ‌joy‌ ‌and‌ ‌dread‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌city’s‌ ‌war-weary‌ ‌citizens,‌ ‌the‌ ‌torches’‌ ‌bobbing‌ ‌looked‌ ‌like‌ ‌the‌ ‌erratic‌ ‌flitting‌ ‌of‌ ‌fireflies‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌dark.‌ ‌“They’re‌ ‌afraid,‌ ‌and‌ ‌that‌ ‌makes‌ ‌them‌ ‌all‌ ‌the‌ ‌more‌ ‌dangerous.”‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌rolled‌ ‌down‌ ‌his‌ ‌window‌ ‌a‌ ‌crack,‌ ‌the‌ ‌better‌ ‌to‌ ‌hear‌ ‌what‌ ‌was‌ ‌happening‌ ‌as‌ ‌they‌ ‌followed‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldiers’‌ ‌movements.‌ ‌The‌ ‌earthy‌ ‌scent‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌rain‌ ‌mixed‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌faint‌ ‌smell‌ ‌of‌ ‌cigarette‌ ‌smoke,‌ ‌which,‌ ‌thanks‌ ‌to‌ ‌Max’s‌ ‌never-ending‌ ‌Gauloises,‌ ‌was‌ ‌a‌ ‌permanent‌ ‌feature‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌car.‌ ‌The‌ ‌yellow‌ ‌card‌ ‌that‌ ‌was‌ ‌the‌ ‌pass‌ ‌they‌ ‌needed‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌streets‌ ‌after‌ ‌curfew,‌ ‌prominently‌ ‌displayed‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌windshield,‌ ‌blocked‌ ‌her‌ ‌view‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌far‌ ‌side‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌building,‌ ‌but‌ ‌she‌ ‌thought‌ ‌soldiers‌ ‌were‌ ‌running‌ ‌that‌ ‌way,‌ ‌too.‌ ‌“They‌ ‌know‌ ‌the‌ ‌Allies‌ ‌are‌ ‌coming.‌ ‌The‌ ‌bombings‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌Luftwaffe‌ ‌installations‌ ‌right‌ ‌here‌ ‌in‌ ‌France,‌ ‌the‌ ‌Allied‌ ‌victories‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌eastern‌ ‌front—they’re‌ ‌being‌ ‌backed‌ ‌into‌ ‌a‌ ‌corner.‌ ‌They’ll‌ ‌do‌ ‌whatever‌ ‌they‌ ‌must‌ ‌to‌ ‌survive.”‌ ‌“Open‌ ‌the‌ ‌door,‌ ‌or‌ ‌we‌ ‌will‌ ‌break‌ ‌it‌ ‌down!”‌ ‌The‌ ‌policeman‌ ‌hammered‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌door‌ ‌with‌ ‌his‌ ‌nightstick.‌ ‌The‌ ‌staccato‌ ‌beat‌ ‌echoed‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌night.‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌shivered,‌ ‌imagining‌ ‌the‌ ‌terror‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌people‌ ‌inside.‌ ‌Thin‌ ‌lines‌ ‌of‌ ‌light‌ ‌appeared‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌cracks‌ ‌around‌ ‌some‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌thick‌ ‌curtains‌ ‌covering‌ ‌the‌ ‌windows‌ ‌up‌ ‌and‌ ‌down‌ ‌the‌ ‌building‌ ‌as,‌ ‌at‌ ‌a‌ ‌guess,‌ ‌tenants‌ ‌dared‌ ‌to‌ ‌peek‌ ‌out.‌ ‌A‌ ‌woman,‌ ‌old‌ ‌and‌ ‌stooped—there‌ ‌was‌ ‌enough‌ ‌light‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌hall‌ ‌behind‌ ‌her‌ ‌to‌ ‌allow‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌to‌ ‌see‌ ‌that‌ ‌much—opened‌ ‌the‌ ‌front‌ ‌door.‌ ‌“Out‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌way!”‌ ‌She‌ ‌was‌ ‌shoved‌ ‌roughly‌ ‌back‌ ‌inside‌ ‌the‌ ‌building‌ ‌as‌ ‌the‌ ‌police‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldiers‌ ‌stormed‌ ‌in.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌frightened‌ ‌cry‌ ‌changed‌ ‌to‌ ‌a‌ ‌shrill‌ ‌scream‌ ‌that‌ ‌was‌ ‌quickly‌ ‌cut‌ ‌off.‌ ‌Genevieve’s‌ ‌mouth‌ ‌went‌ ‌dry.‌ ‌She‌ ‌clasped‌ ‌her‌ ‌suddenly‌ ‌cold‌ ‌hands‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌lap.‌ ‌THE‌ ‌BLACK‌ ‌SWAN‌ ‌OF‌ ‌PARIS‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards‌ ‌There’s‌ ‌nothing‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌done.‌ ‌‌It‌ ‌was‌ ‌the‌ ‌mantra‌ ‌of‌ ‌her‌ ‌life.‌ ‌“Can‌ ‌we‌ ‌drive‌ ‌on?”‌ ‌She‌ ‌had‌ ‌learned‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌hard‌ ‌school‌ ‌that‌ ‌there‌ ‌was‌ ‌no‌ ‌point‌ ‌in‌ ‌agonizing‌ ‌over‌ ‌what‌ ‌couldn’t‌ ‌be‌ ‌cured.‌ ‌To‌ ‌stay‌ ‌and‌ ‌watch‌ ‌what‌ ‌she‌ ‌knew‌ ‌was‌ ‌coming—the‌ ‌arrest‌ ‌of‌ ‌partisans,‌ ‌who‌ ‌would‌ ‌face‌ ‌immediate‌ ‌execution‌ ‌upon‌ ‌arrival‌ ‌at‌ ‌wherever‌ ‌they‌ ‌would‌ ‌be‌ ‌taken,‌ ‌or,‌ ‌perhaps‌ ‌and‌ ‌arguably‌ ‌worse,‌ ‌civilians,‌ ‌in‌ ‌some‌ ‌combination‌ ‌of‌ ‌women,‌ ‌children,‌ ‌old‌ ‌people,‌ ‌clutching‌ ‌what‌ ‌few‌ ‌belongings‌ ‌they’d‌ ‌managed‌ ‌to‌ ‌grab,‌ ‌marched‌ ‌at‌ ‌gunpoint‌ ‌out‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌building‌ ‌and‌ ‌loaded‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌trucks‌ ‌for‌ ‌deportation—would‌ ‌tear‌ ‌at‌ ‌her‌ ‌heart‌ ‌for‌ ‌days‌ ‌without‌ ‌helping‌ ‌them‌ ‌at‌ ‌all.‌ ‌“We’re‌ ‌blocked‌ ‌in.”‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌looked‌ ‌around‌ ‌at‌ ‌her.‌ ‌She‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌know‌ ‌what‌ ‌he‌ ‌saw‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌face,‌ ‌but‌ ‌whatever‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌made‌ ‌him‌ ‌grimace‌ ‌and‌ ‌reach‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌door‌ ‌handle.‌ ‌“I’ll‌ ‌go‌ ‌see‌ ‌if‌ ‌I‌ ‌can‌ ‌get‌ ‌one‌ ‌of‌ ‌them‌ ‌to‌ ‌move.”‌ ‌When‌ ‌he‌ ‌exited‌ ‌the‌ ‌car,‌ ‌she‌ ‌let‌ ‌her‌ ‌head‌ ‌drop‌ ‌back‌ ‌to‌ ‌rest‌ ‌against‌ ‌the‌ ‌rolled‌ ‌top‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌Citroën’s‌ ‌leather‌ ‌seat,‌ ‌stared‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌ceiling‌ ‌and‌ ‌tried‌ ‌not‌ ‌to‌ ‌think‌ ‌about‌ ‌what‌ ‌might‌ ‌be‌ ‌happening‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌people‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌building.‌ ‌Taking‌ ‌deep‌ ‌breaths,‌ ‌she‌ ‌did‌ ‌her‌ ‌best‌ ‌to‌ ‌block‌ ‌out‌ ‌the‌ ‌muffled‌ ‌shouts‌ ‌and‌ ‌thuds‌ ‌that‌ ‌reached‌ ‌her‌ ‌ears‌ ‌and‌ ‌focused‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌physical,‌ ‌which,‌ ‌as‌ ‌a‌ ‌performer,‌ ‌she‌ ‌had‌ ‌experience‌ ‌doing.‌ ‌She‌ ‌was‌ ‌so‌ ‌tired‌ ‌she‌ ‌was‌ ‌limp‌ ‌with‌ ‌it.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌temples‌ ‌throbbed.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌legs‌ ‌ached.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌feet‌ ‌hurt.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌throat—that‌ ‌golden‌ ‌throat‌ ‌that‌ ‌had‌ ‌allowed‌ ‌her‌ ‌to‌ ‌survive—felt‌ ‌tight.‌ ‌Deliberately‌ ‌she‌ ‌relaxed‌ ‌her‌ ‌muscles‌ ‌and‌ ‌tugged‌ ‌the‌ ‌scarf‌ ‌tucked‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌neckline‌ ‌of‌ ‌her‌ ‌coat‌ ‌higher‌ ‌to‌ ‌warm‌ ‌herself.‌ ‌A‌ ‌flash‌ ‌of‌ ‌light‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌darkness‌ ‌caught‌ ‌her‌ ‌eye.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌head‌ ‌turned‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌sought‌ ‌the‌ ‌source.‌ ‌Looking‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌iron‌ ‌bars‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌garden‌ ‌gate,‌ ‌she‌ ‌discovered‌ ‌a‌ ‌side‌ ‌door‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌building‌ ‌that‌ ‌was‌ ‌slowly,‌ ‌stealthily‌ ‌opening.‌ ‌“Is‌ ‌anyone‌ ‌else‌ ‌in‌ ‌there?‌ ‌Come‌ ‌out‌ ‌or‌ ‌I’ll‌ ‌shoot.”‌ ‌The‌ ‌volume‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldiers’‌ ‌shouts‌ ‌increased‌ ‌exponentially‌ ‌with‌ ‌this‌ ‌new‌ ‌gap‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌walls.‌ ‌That‌ ‌guttural‌ ‌threat‌ ‌rang‌ ‌out‌ ‌above‌ ‌others‌ ‌less‌ ‌distinct,‌ ‌and‌ ‌she‌ ‌gathered‌ ‌from‌ ‌what‌ ‌she‌ ‌heard‌ ‌that‌ ‌they‌ ‌were‌ ‌searching‌ ‌the‌ ‌building.‌ ‌The‌ ‌side‌ ‌door‌ ‌opened‌ ‌wider.‌ ‌Light‌ ‌from‌ ‌inside‌ ‌spilled‌ ‌past‌ ‌a‌ ‌figure‌ ‌slipping‌ ‌out:‌ ‌a‌ ‌girl,‌ ‌tall‌ ‌and‌ ‌thin‌ ‌with‌ ‌dark‌ ‌curly‌ ‌hair,‌ ‌wearing‌ ‌what‌ ‌appeared‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌an‌ ‌unbuttoned‌ ‌coat‌ ‌thrown‌ ‌on‌ ‌over‌ ‌nightclothes.‌ ‌In‌ ‌her‌ ‌arms‌ ‌she‌ ‌carried‌ ‌a‌ ‌small‌ ‌child‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌same‌ ‌dark,‌ ‌curly‌ ‌hair.‌ ‌The‌ ‌light‌ ‌went‌ ‌out.‌ ‌The‌ ‌door‌ ‌had‌ ‌closed.‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌discovered‌ ‌that‌ ‌she‌ ‌was‌ ‌sitting‌ ‌with‌ ‌her‌ ‌nose‌ ‌all‌ ‌but‌ ‌pressed‌ ‌against‌ ‌the‌ ‌window‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌tried‌ ‌to‌ ‌find‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌darkness.‌ ‌It‌ ‌took‌ ‌her‌ ‌a‌ ‌second,‌ ‌but‌ ‌then‌ ‌she‌ ‌spotted‌ ‌the‌ ‌now‌ ‌shadowy‌ ‌figure‌ ‌as‌ ‌it‌ ‌fled‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌garden‌ ‌toward‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate,‌ ‌trying‌ ‌to‌ ‌escape.‌ ‌They’ll‌ ‌shoot‌ ‌her‌ ‌if‌ ‌they‌ ‌catch‌ ‌her.‌ ‌The‌ ‌child,‌ ‌too.‌ ‌The‌ ‌Germans‌ ‌had‌ ‌no‌ ‌mercy‌ ‌for‌ ‌those‌ ‌for‌ ‌whom‌ ‌they‌ ‌came.‌ ‌The‌ ‌girl‌ ‌reached‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate,‌ ‌paused.‌ ‌A‌ ‌pale‌ ‌hand‌ ‌grabbed‌ ‌a‌ ‌bar.‌ ‌From‌ ‌the‌ ‌metallic‌ ‌rattle‌ ‌that‌ ‌reached‌ ‌her‌ ‌ears,‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌thought‌ ‌she‌ ‌must‌ ‌be‌ ‌shoving‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate,‌ ‌shaking‌ ‌it.‌ ‌She‌ ‌assumed‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌locked.‌ ‌In‌ ‌any‌ ‌event,‌ ‌it‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌open.‌ ‌Then‌ ‌that‌ ‌same‌ ‌hand‌ ‌reached‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌bars,‌ ‌along‌ ‌with‌ ‌a‌ ‌too-thin‌ ‌arm,‌ ‌stretching‌ ‌and‌ ‌straining.‌ ‌Toward‌ ‌what?‌ ‌It‌ ‌was‌ ‌too‌ ‌dark‌ ‌to‌ ‌tell.‌ ‌With‌ ‌the‌ ‌Citroën‌ ‌stopped‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌middle‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌narrow‌ ‌street‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌garden‌ ‌set‌ ‌back‌ ‌only‌ ‌a‌ ‌meter‌ ‌or‌ ‌so‌ ‌from‌ ‌the‌ ‌front‌ ‌facade‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌building,‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌was‌ ‌close‌ ‌enough‌ ‌so‌ ‌that‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌could‌ ‌read‌ ‌the‌ ‌desperation‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌body‌ ‌language,‌ ‌see‌ ‌the‌ ‌way‌ ‌she‌ ‌kept‌ ‌looking‌ ‌back‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌now‌ ‌closed‌ ‌door.‌ ‌The‌ ‌child,‌ ‌THE‌ ‌BLACK‌ ‌SWAN‌ ‌OF‌ ‌PARIS‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards‌ ‌who‌ ‌appeared‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌around‌ ‌ten‌ ‌months‌ ‌old,‌ ‌seemed‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌asleep.‌ ‌The‌ ‌small‌ ‌curly‌ ‌head‌ ‌rested‌ ‌trustingly‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl’s‌ ‌shoulder.‌ ‌It‌ ‌wasn’t‌ ‌a‌ ‌conscious‌ ‌decision‌ ‌to‌ ‌leave‌ ‌the‌ ‌car.‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌just‌ ‌did‌ ‌it,‌ ‌then‌ ‌realized‌ ‌the‌ ‌risk‌ ‌she‌ ‌was‌ ‌taking‌ ‌when‌ ‌her‌ ‌pumps‌ ‌clickety-clacked‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌cobblestones.‌ ‌The‌ ‌sound‌ ‌seemed‌ ‌to‌ ‌tear‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌night‌ ‌and‌ ‌sent‌ ‌a‌ ‌lightning‌ ‌bolt‌ ‌of‌ ‌panic‌ ‌through‌ ‌her.‌ ‌Get‌ ‌back‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌car.‌ ‌‌Her‌ ‌sense‌ ‌of‌ ‌self-preservation‌ ‌screamed‌ ‌it‌ ‌at‌ ‌her,‌ ‌but‌ ‌she‌ ‌didn’t.‌ ‌Shivering‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌latent‌ ‌menace‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌big‌ ‌military‌ ‌trucks‌ ‌looming‌ ‌so‌ ‌close‌ ‌on‌ ‌either‌ ‌side‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌Citroën,‌ ‌the‌ ‌police‌ ‌car‌ ‌parked‌ ‌askew‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌street,‌ ‌the‌ ‌light‌ ‌spilling‌ ‌from‌ ‌the‌ ‌still‌ ‌open‌ ‌front‌ ‌door‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌sounds‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌raid‌ ‌going‌ ‌on‌ ‌inside‌ ‌the‌ ‌building,‌ ‌she‌ ‌kept‌ ‌going,‌ ‌taking‌ ‌care‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌quiet‌ ‌now‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌darted‌ ‌toward‌ ‌the‌ ‌trapped‌ ‌girl.‌ ‌You’re‌ ‌putting‌ ‌yourself‌ ‌in‌ ‌danger.‌ ‌You’re‌ ‌putting‌ ‌Otto,‌ ‌Max,‌ ‌everyone‌ ‌in‌ ‌danger.‌ ‌The‌ ‌whole‌ ‌network—‌ ‌Heart‌ ‌thudding,‌ ‌she‌ ‌reached‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate.‌ ‌Even‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌locked‌ ‌eyes‌ ‌through‌ ‌it,‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌jerked‌ ‌her‌ ‌arm‌ ‌back‌ ‌inside‌ ‌and‌ ‌drew‌ ‌herself‌ ‌up.‌ ‌The‌ ‌sweet‌ ‌scent‌ ‌of‌ ‌flowers‌ ‌from‌ ‌the‌ ‌garden‌ ‌felt‌ ‌obscene‌ ‌in‌ ‌contrast‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌fear‌ ‌and‌ ‌despair‌ ‌she‌ ‌sensed‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl.‌ ‌“It’s‌ ‌all‌ ‌right.‌ ‌I’m‌ ‌here‌ ‌to‌ ‌help,”‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌whispered.‌ ‌She‌ ‌grasped‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate,‌ ‌pulling,‌ ‌pushing‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌spoke.‌ ‌The‌ ‌iron‌ ‌bars‌ ‌were‌ ‌solid‌ ‌and‌ ‌cold‌ ‌and‌ ‌slippery‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌moisture‌ ‌that‌ ‌still‌ ‌hung‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌air.‌ ‌The‌ ‌gate‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌budge‌ ‌for‌ ‌her,‌ ‌either.‌ ‌The‌ ‌clanking‌ ‌sound‌ ‌it‌ ‌made‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌joggled‌ ‌it‌ ‌against‌ ‌its‌ ‌moorings‌ ‌made‌ ‌her‌ ‌break‌ ‌out‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌cold‌ ‌sweat.‌ ‌Darkness‌ ‌enfolded‌ ‌her,‌ ‌but‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌leavened‌ ‌by‌ ‌moonlight‌ ‌and‌ ‌she‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌trust‌ ‌it‌ ‌to‌ ‌keep‌ ‌her‌ ‌safe.‌ ‌After‌ ‌all,‌ ‌she’d‌ ‌seen‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌from‌ ‌the‌ ‌car.‌ ‌All‌ ‌it‌ ‌would‌ ‌take‌ ‌was‌ ‌one‌ ‌sharp-eyed‌ ‌soldier,‌ ‌one‌ ‌policeman‌ ‌to‌ ‌come‌ ‌around‌ ‌a‌ ‌corner,‌ ‌or‌ ‌step‌ ‌out‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌building‌ ‌and‌ ‌look‌ ‌her‌ ‌way—and‌ ‌she‌ ‌could‌ ‌be‌ ‌seen,‌ ‌too.‌ ‌Caught.‌ ‌Helping‌ ‌a‌ ‌fugitive‌ ‌escape.‌ ‌The‌ ‌consequences‌ ‌would‌ ‌be‌ ‌dire.‌ ‌Imprisonment,‌ ‌deportation,‌ ‌even‌ ‌death.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌pulse‌ ‌raced.‌ ‌She‌ ‌thought‌ ‌of‌ ‌Max,‌ ‌what‌ ‌he‌ ‌would‌ ‌say.‌ ‌On‌ ‌the‌ ‌other‌ ‌side‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate,‌ ‌moonlight‌ ‌touched‌ ‌on‌ ‌wide‌ ‌dark‌ ‌eyes‌ ‌set‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌face‌ ‌so‌ ‌thin‌ ‌the‌ ‌bones‌ ‌seemed‌ ‌about‌ ‌to‌ ‌push‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌skin.‌ ‌The‌ ‌girl‌ ‌appeared‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌about‌ ‌her‌ ‌own‌ ‌age,‌ ‌and‌ ‌she‌ ‌thought‌ ‌she‌ ‌must‌ ‌be‌ ‌the‌ ‌child’s‌ ‌mother.‌ ‌The‌ ‌sleeping‌ ‌child—Genevieve‌ ‌couldn’t‌ ‌tell‌ ‌if‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌a‌ ‌girl‌ ‌or‌ ‌a‌ ‌boy—was‌ ‌wearing‌ ‌footed‌ ‌pajamas.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌heart‌ ‌turned‌ ‌over.‌ ‌“Oh,‌ ‌thank‌ ‌God.‌ ‌Thank‌ ‌you.”‌ ‌Whispering,‌ ‌too,‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌reached‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌bars‌ ‌to‌ ‌touch‌ ‌Genevieve’s‌ ‌arm‌ ‌in‌ ‌gratitude.‌ ‌“There’s‌ ‌a‌ ‌key.‌ ‌In‌ ‌the‌ ‌fountainhead.‌ ‌In‌ ‌the‌ ‌mouth.‌ ‌It‌ ‌unlocks‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate.”‌ ‌She‌ ‌cast‌ ‌another‌ ‌of‌ ‌those‌ ‌lightning‌ ‌glances‌ ‌over‌ ‌her‌ ‌shoulder.‌ ‌Shifting‌ ‌from‌ ‌foot‌ ‌to‌ ‌foot,‌ ‌she‌ ‌could‌ ‌hardly‌ ‌stand‌ ‌still‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌agitation.‌ ‌Fear‌ ‌rolled‌ ‌off‌ ‌her‌ ‌in‌ ‌waves.‌ ‌“Hurry.‌ ‌Please.”‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌looked‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌direction‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌had‌ ‌been‌ ‌reaching,‌ ‌saw‌ ‌the‌ ‌oval‌ ‌stone‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌fountainhead‌ ‌set‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌brick‌ ‌near‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate,‌ ‌saw‌ ‌the‌ ‌carved‌ ‌lion’s‌ ‌head‌ ‌in‌ ‌its‌ ‌center‌ ‌with‌ ‌its‌ ‌open‌ ‌mouth‌ ‌from‌ ‌which,‌ ‌THE‌ ‌BLACK‌ ‌SWAN‌ ‌OF‌ ‌PARIS‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards‌ ‌presumably,‌ ‌water‌ ‌was‌ ‌meant‌ ‌to‌ ‌pour‌ ‌out.‌ ‌Reaching‌ ‌inside,‌ ‌she‌ ‌probed‌ ‌the‌ ‌cavity,‌ ‌ran‌ ‌her‌ ‌fingers‌ ‌over‌ ‌the‌ ‌worn-smooth‌ ‌stone,‌ ‌then‌ ‌did‌ ‌it‌ ‌again.‌ ‌“There’s‌ ‌no‌ ‌key,”‌ ‌she‌ ‌said.‌ ‌“It’s‌ ‌not‌ ‌here.”‌ ‌“It‌ ‌has‌ ‌to‌ ‌be.‌ ‌It‌ ‌has‌ ‌to‌ ‌be!”‌ ‌The‌ ‌girl’s‌ ‌voice‌ ‌rose,‌ ‌trembled.‌ ‌The‌ ‌child’s‌ ‌head‌ ‌moved.‌ ‌The‌ ‌girl‌ ‌made‌ ‌a‌ ‌soothing‌ ‌sound,‌ ‌rocked‌ ‌back‌ ‌and‌ ‌forth,‌ ‌patted‌ ‌the‌ ‌small‌ ‌back,‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌child‌ ‌settled‌ ‌down‌ ‌again‌ ‌with‌ ‌a‌ ‌sigh.‌ ‌Watching,‌ ‌a‌ ‌pit‌ ‌yawned‌ ‌in‌ ‌Genevieve’s‌ ‌stomach.‌ ‌Glancing‌ ‌hastily‌ ‌down,‌ ‌she‌ ‌crouched‌ ‌to‌ ‌check‌ ‌the‌ ‌ground‌ ‌beneath‌ ‌the‌ ‌fountainhead,‌ ‌in‌ ‌case‌ ‌the‌ ‌key‌ ‌might‌ ‌have‌ ‌fallen‌ ‌out.‌ ‌It‌ ‌was‌ ‌too‌ ‌dark;‌ ‌she‌ ‌couldn’t‌ ‌see.‌ ‌She‌ ‌ran‌ ‌her‌ ‌hand‌ ‌over‌ ‌the‌ ‌cobblestones.‌ ‌Nothing.‌ ‌“It’s‌ ‌not—”‌ ‌she‌ ‌began,‌ ‌standing‌ ‌up,‌ ‌only‌ ‌to‌ ‌break‌ ‌off‌ ‌with‌ ‌a‌ ‌swiftly‌ ‌indrawn‌ ‌breath‌ ‌as‌ ‌the‌ ‌door‌ ‌through‌ ‌which‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌had‌ ‌exited‌ ‌flew‌ ‌open.‌ ‌This‌ ‌time,‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌rectangle‌ ‌of‌ ‌light,‌ ‌a‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌stood.‌ ‌“My‌ ‌God.”‌ ‌The‌ ‌girl’s‌ ‌whisper‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌turned‌ ‌her‌ ‌head‌ ‌to‌ ‌look‌ ‌was‌ ‌scarcely‌ ‌louder‌ ‌than‌ ‌a‌ ‌breath,‌ ‌but‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌so‌ ‌loaded‌ ‌with‌ ‌terror‌ ‌that‌ ‌it‌ ‌made‌ ‌the‌ ‌hair‌ ‌stand‌ ‌up‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌back‌ ‌of‌ ‌Genevieve’s‌ ‌neck.‌ ‌“What‌ ‌do‌ ‌I‌ ‌do?”‌ ‌“Who‌ ‌is‌ ‌out‌ ‌there?”‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌roared.‌ ‌Pistol‌ ‌ready‌ ‌in‌ ‌his‌ ‌hand,‌ ‌he‌ ‌pointed‌ ‌his‌ ‌torch‌ ‌toward‌ ‌the‌ ‌garden.‌ ‌The‌ ‌light‌ ‌played‌ ‌over‌ ‌a‌ ‌tattered‌ ‌cluster‌ ‌of‌ ‌pink‌ ‌peonies,‌ ‌over‌ ‌overgrown‌ ‌green‌ ‌shrubs,‌ ‌over‌ ‌red‌ ‌tulips‌ ‌thrusting‌ ‌their‌ ‌heads‌ ‌through‌ ‌weeds,‌ ‌as‌ ‌it‌ ‌came‌ ‌their‌ ‌way.‌ ‌“Don’t‌ ‌think‌ ‌to‌ ‌hide‌ ‌from‌ ‌me.”‌ ‌“Take‌ ‌the‌ ‌baby.‌ ‌Please.”‌ ‌Voice‌ ‌hoarse‌ ‌with‌ ‌dread,‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌thrust‌ ‌the‌ ‌child‌ ‌toward‌ ‌her.‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌felt‌ ‌a‌ ‌flutter‌ ‌of‌ ‌panic:‌ ‌if‌ ‌this‌ ‌girl‌ ‌only‌ ‌knew,‌ ‌she‌ ‌would‌ ‌be‌ ‌the‌ ‌last‌ ‌person‌ ‌she‌ ‌would‌ ‌ever‌ ‌trust‌ ‌with‌ ‌her‌ ‌child.‌ ‌But‌ ‌there‌ ‌was‌ ‌no‌ ‌one‌ ‌else,‌ ‌and‌ ‌thus‌ ‌no‌ ‌choice‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌made.‌ ‌As‌ ‌a‌ ‌little‌ ‌leg‌ ‌and‌ ‌arm‌ ‌came‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate,‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌reached‌ ‌out‌ ‌to‌ ‌help,‌ ‌taking‌ ‌part‌ ‌and‌ ‌then‌ ‌all‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌baby’s‌ ‌weight‌ ‌as‌ ‌between‌ ‌them‌ ‌she‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌maneuvered‌ ‌the‌ ‌little‌ ‌one‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌bars.‌ ‌As‌ ‌their‌ ‌hands‌ ‌touched,‌ ‌she‌ ‌could‌ ‌feel‌ ‌the‌ ‌cold‌ ‌clamminess‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl’s‌ ‌skin,‌ ‌feel‌ ‌her‌ ‌trembling.‌ ‌With‌ ‌the‌ ‌child‌ ‌no‌ ‌longer‌ ‌clutched‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌arms,‌ ‌the‌ ‌dark‌ ‌shape‌ ‌of‌ ‌a‌ ‌six-pointed‌ ‌yellow‌ ‌star‌ ‌on‌ ‌her‌ ‌coat‌ ‌became‌ ‌visible.‌ ‌The‌ ‌true‌ ‌horror‌ ‌of‌ ‌what‌ ‌was‌ ‌happening‌ ‌struck‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌like‌ ‌a‌ ‌blow.‌ ‌The‌ ‌girl‌ ‌whispered,‌ ‌“Her‌ ‌name’s‌ ‌Anna.‌ ‌Anna‌ ‌Katz.‌ ‌Leave‌ ‌word‌ ‌of‌ ‌where‌ ‌I’m‌ ‌to‌ ‌come‌ ‌for‌ ‌her‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌fountainhead—”‌ ‌The‌ ‌light‌ ‌flashed‌ ‌toward‌ ‌them.‌ ‌“You‌ ‌there,‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate,”‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌shouted.‌ ‌With‌ ‌a‌ ‌gasp,‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌whirled‌ ‌away.‌ ‌“Halt!‌ ‌Stay‌ ‌where‌ ‌you‌ ‌are!”‌ ‌Heart‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌throat,‌ ‌blood‌ ‌turning‌ ‌to‌ ‌ice,‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌whirled‌ ‌away,‌ ‌too,‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌opposite‌ ‌direction.‌ ‌Cloaked‌ ‌by‌ ‌night,‌ ‌she‌ ‌ran‌ ‌as‌ ‌lightly‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌could‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌car,‌ ‌careful‌ ‌to‌ ‌keep‌ ‌her‌ ‌heels‌ ‌from‌ ‌striking‌ ‌the‌ ‌cobblestones,‌ ‌holding‌ ‌the‌ ‌child‌ ‌close‌ ‌to‌ ‌her‌ ‌chest,‌ ‌one‌ ‌hand‌ ‌splayed‌ ‌against‌ ‌short,‌ ‌silky‌ ‌curls.‌ ‌The‌ ‌soft‌ ‌baby‌ ‌smell,‌ ‌the‌ ‌feel‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌firm‌ ‌little‌ ‌body‌ ‌against‌ ‌her,‌ ‌triggered‌ ‌such‌ ‌an‌ ‌explosion‌ ‌of‌ ‌emotion‌ ‌that‌ ‌she‌ ‌went‌ ‌briefly‌ ‌light-headed.‌ ‌The‌ ‌panicky‌ ‌flutter‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌stomach‌ ‌solidified‌ ‌into‌ ‌a‌ ‌knot—and‌ ‌then‌ ‌the‌ ‌child’s‌ ‌wriggling‌ ‌and‌ ‌soft‌ ‌sounds‌ ‌of‌ ‌discontent‌ ‌brought‌ ‌the‌ ‌present‌ ‌sharply‌ ‌back‌ ‌into‌ ‌focus.‌ ‌If‌ ‌she‌ ‌cried…‌ ‌THE‌ ‌BLACK‌ ‌SWAN‌ ‌OF‌ ‌PARIS‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards‌ ‌Terror‌ ‌tasted‌ ‌sharp‌ ‌and‌ ‌bitter‌ ‌in‌ ‌Genevieve’s‌ ‌mouth.‌ ‌“Shh.‌ ‌Shh,‌ ‌Anna,”‌ ‌she‌ ‌crooned‌ ‌desperately.‌ ‌“Shh.”‌ ‌“I‌ ‌said‌ ‌‌halt‌!”‌ ‌The‌ ‌soldier’s‌ ‌roar‌ ‌came‌ ‌as‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌reached‌ ‌the‌ ‌car,‌ ‌grabbed‌ ‌the‌ ‌door‌ ‌handle,‌ ‌wrenched‌ ‌the‌ ‌door‌ ‌open—‌ ‌Bang.‌ ‌‌The‌ ‌bark‌ ‌of‌ ‌a‌ ‌pistol.‌ ‌A‌ ‌woman’s‌ ‌piercing‌ ‌cry.‌ ‌‌The‌ ‌girl’s‌ ‌‌piercing‌ ‌cry.‌ ‌No.‌ ‌‌Genevieve‌ ‌screamed‌ ‌it,‌ ‌but‌ ‌only‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌mind.‌ ‌The‌ ‌guilt‌ ‌of‌ ‌running‌ ‌away,‌ ‌of‌ ‌leaving‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌behind,‌ ‌crashed‌ ‌into‌ ‌her‌ ‌like‌ ‌a‌ ‌speeding‌ ‌car.‌ ‌Blowing‌ ‌his‌ ‌whistle‌ ‌furiously,‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌ran‌ ‌down‌ ‌the‌ ‌steps.‌ ‌More‌ ‌soldiers‌ ‌burst‌ ‌through‌ ‌the‌ ‌door,‌ ‌following‌ ‌the‌ ‌first‌ ‌one‌ ‌down‌ ‌the‌ ‌steps‌ ‌and‌ ‌out‌ ‌of‌ ‌sight.‌ ‌Had‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌been‌ ‌shot?‌ ‌Was‌ ‌she‌ ‌dead?‌ ‌ ‌My‌ ‌God,‌ ‌my‌ ‌God.‌ ‌‌Genevieve’s‌ ‌heart‌ ‌slammed‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌chest.‌ ‌She‌ ‌threw‌ ‌herself‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌child‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌back‌ ‌seat‌ ‌and—softly,‌ ‌carefully—closed‌ ‌the‌ ‌door.‌ ‌Because‌ ‌she‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌dare‌ ‌do‌ ‌anything‌ ‌else.‌ ‌Coward.‌ ‌The‌ ‌baby‌ ‌started‌ ‌to‌ ‌cry.‌ ‌Staring‌ ‌out‌ ‌the‌ ‌window‌ ‌in‌ ‌petrified‌ ‌expectation‌ ‌of‌ ‌seeing‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldiers‌ ‌come‌ ‌charging‌ ‌after‌ ‌her‌ ‌at‌ ‌any‌ ‌second,‌ ‌she‌ ‌found‌ ‌herself‌ ‌panting‌ ‌with‌ ‌fear‌ ‌even‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌did‌ ‌her‌ ‌best‌ ‌to‌ ‌quiet‌ ‌the‌ ‌now‌ ‌wailing‌ ‌child.‌ ‌Could‌ ‌anyone‌ ‌hear?‌ ‌Did‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldiers‌ ‌know‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl‌ ‌had‌ ‌been‌ ‌carrying‌ ‌a‌ ‌baby?‌ ‌If‌ ‌she‌ ‌was‌ ‌caught‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌child…‌ ‌What‌ ‌else‌ ‌could‌ ‌I‌ ‌have‌ ‌done?‌ ‌Max‌ ‌would‌ ‌say‌ ‌she‌ ‌should‌ ‌have‌ ‌stayed‌ ‌out‌ ‌of‌ ‌it,‌ ‌stayed‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌car.‌ ‌That‌ ‌the‌ ‌common‌ ‌good‌ ‌was‌ ‌more‌ ‌important‌ ‌than‌ ‌the‌ ‌plight‌ ‌of‌ ‌any‌ ‌single‌ ‌individual.‌ ‌Even‌ ‌a‌ ‌terrified‌ ‌girl.‌ ‌Even‌ ‌a‌ ‌baby.‌ ‌“It’s‌ ‌all‌ ‌right,‌ ‌Anna.‌ ‌I’ve‌ ‌got‌ ‌you‌ ‌safe.‌ ‌Shh.”‌ ‌Settling‌ ‌back‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌seat‌ ‌to‌ ‌position‌ ‌the‌ ‌child‌ ‌more‌ ‌comfortably‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌arms,‌ ‌she‌ ‌murmured‌ ‌and‌ ‌patted‌ ‌and‌ ‌rocked.‌ ‌Instinctive‌ ‌actions,‌ ‌long‌ ‌forgotten,‌ ‌reemerged‌ ‌in‌ ‌this‌ ‌moment‌ ‌of‌ ‌crisis.‌ ‌Through‌ ‌the‌ ‌gate‌ ‌she‌ ‌could‌ ‌see‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldiers‌ ‌clustering‌ ‌around‌ ‌something‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌ground.‌ ‌The‌ ‌girl,‌ ‌she‌ ‌had‌ ‌little‌ ‌doubt,‌ ‌although‌ ‌the‌ ‌darkness‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌garden’s‌ ‌riotous‌ ‌blooms‌ ‌blocked‌ ‌her‌ ‌view.‌ ‌With‌ ‌Anna,‌ ‌quiet‌ ‌now,‌ ‌sprawled‌ ‌against‌ ‌her‌ ‌chest,‌ ‌a‌ ‌delayed‌ ‌reaction‌ ‌set‌ ‌in‌ ‌and‌ ‌she‌ ‌started‌ ‌to‌ ‌shake.‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌got‌ ‌back‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌car.‌ ‌THE‌ ‌BLACK‌ ‌SWAN‌ ‌OF‌ ‌PARIS‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards‌ ‌“They’re‌ ‌going‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌moving‌ ‌the‌ ‌truck‌ ‌in‌ ‌front‌ ‌as‌ ‌soon‌ ‌as‌ ‌it’s‌ ‌loaded‌ ‌up.”‌ ‌His‌ ‌voice‌ ‌was‌ ‌gritty‌ ‌with‌ ‌emotion.‌ ‌Anger?‌ ‌Bitterness?‌ ‌“Someone‌ ‌tipped‌ ‌them‌ ‌off‌ ‌that‌ ‌Jews‌ ‌were‌ ‌hiding‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌building,‌ ‌and‌ ‌they’re‌ ‌arresting‌ ‌everybody.‌ ‌Once‌ ‌they’re—”‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌broke‌ ‌off‌ ‌as‌ ‌the‌ ‌child‌ ‌made‌ ‌a‌ ‌sound.‌ ‌“Shh.”‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌patted,‌ ‌rocked.‌ ‌“Shh,‌ ‌shh.”‌ ‌ ‌His‌ ‌face‌ ‌a‌ ‌study‌ ‌in‌ ‌incredulity,‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌leaned‌ ‌around‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌seat‌ ‌to‌ ‌look.‌ ‌“Holy‌ ‌hell,‌ ‌is‌ ‌that‌ ‌a‌ ‌‌baby‌?”‌ ‌“Her‌ ‌mother‌ ‌was‌ ‌trapped‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌garden.‌ ‌She‌ ‌couldn’t‌ ‌get‌ ‌out.”‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌shot‌ ‌an‌ ‌alarmed‌ ‌look‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌building,‌ ‌where‌ ‌soldiers‌ ‌now‌ ‌marched‌ ‌a‌ ‌line‌ ‌of‌ ‌people,‌ ‌young‌ ‌and‌ ‌old,‌ ‌including‌ ‌a‌ ‌couple‌ ‌of‌ ‌small‌ ‌children‌ ‌clutching‌ ‌adults’‌ ‌hands,‌ ‌out‌ ‌the‌ ‌front‌ ‌door.‌ ‌“My‌ ‌God,”‌ ‌he‌ ‌said,‌ ‌sounding‌ ‌appalled.‌ ‌“We’ve‌ ‌got‌ ‌to‌ ‌get—”‌ ‌Appearing‌ ‌out‌ ‌of‌ ‌seemingly‌ ‌nowhere,‌ ‌a‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌rapped‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌driver’s‌ ‌window.‌ ‌With‌ ‌his‌ ‌knuckles,‌ ‌hard.‌ ‌Oh,‌ ‌no.‌ ‌Please‌ ‌no.‌ ‌Genevieve’s‌ ‌heart‌ ‌pounded.‌ ‌Her‌ ‌stomach‌ ‌dropped‌ ‌like‌ ‌a‌ ‌rock‌ ‌as‌ ‌she‌ ‌stared‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌shadowy‌ ‌figure‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌other‌ ‌side‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌glass.‌ ‌We’re‌ ‌going‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌arrested.‌ ‌Or‌ ‌shot.‌ ‌Whipping‌ ‌the‌ ‌scarf‌ ‌out‌ ‌of‌ ‌her‌ ‌neckline,‌ ‌she‌ ‌draped‌ ‌the‌ ‌brightly‌ ‌printed‌ ‌square‌ ‌across‌ ‌her‌ ‌shoulder‌ ‌and‌ ‌over‌ ‌the‌ ‌child.‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌cranked‌ ‌the‌ ‌window‌ ‌down.‌ ‌“Papers,”‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌barked.‌ ‌Fear‌ ‌formed‌ ‌a‌ ‌hard‌ ‌knot‌ ‌under‌ ‌Genevieve’s‌ ‌breastbone.‌ ‌Despite‌ ‌the‌ ‌night’s‌ ‌chilly‌ ‌temperature,‌ ‌she‌ ‌could‌ ‌feel‌ ‌sweat‌ ‌popping‌ ‌out‌ ‌on‌ ‌her‌ ‌forehead‌ ‌and‌ ‌upper‌ ‌lip.‌ ‌On‌ ‌penalty‌ ‌of‌ ‌arrest,‌ ‌everyone‌ ‌in‌ ‌Occupied‌ ‌France,‌ ‌from‌ ‌the‌ ‌oldest‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌youngest,‌ ‌was‌ ‌required‌ ‌to‌ ‌have‌ ‌identity‌ ‌documents‌ ‌readily‌ ‌available‌ ‌at‌ ‌all‌ ‌times.‌ ‌Hers‌ ‌were‌ ‌in‌ ‌her‌ ‌handbag,‌ ‌beside‌ ‌her‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌seat.‌ ‌But‌ ‌Anna‌ ‌had‌ ‌none.‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌passed‌ ‌his‌ ‌cards‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldier,‌ ‌who‌ ‌turned‌ ‌his‌ ‌torch‌ ‌on‌ ‌them.‌ ‌As‌ ‌she‌ ‌picked‌ ‌up‌ ‌her‌ ‌handbag,‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌felt‌ ‌Anna‌ ‌stir.‌ ‌Please,‌ ‌God,‌ ‌don’t‌ ‌let‌ ‌her‌ ‌cry.‌ ‌“Here.”‌ ‌Quickly‌ ‌she‌ ‌thrust‌ ‌her‌ ‌handbag‌ ‌over‌ ‌the‌ ‌top‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌seat‌ ‌to‌ ‌Otto.‌ ‌Anna‌ ‌was‌ ‌squirming‌ ‌now.‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌had‌ ‌to‌ ‌grab‌ ‌and‌ ‌secure‌ ‌the‌ ‌scarf‌ ‌from‌ ‌underneath‌ ‌to‌ ‌make‌ ‌sure‌ ‌the‌ ‌baby’s‌ ‌movements‌ ‌didn’t‌ ‌knock‌ ‌it‌ ‌askew.‌ ‌If‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌saw‌ ‌her…‌ ‌THE‌ ‌BLACK‌ ‌SWAN‌ ‌OF‌ ‌PARIS‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards‌ ‌Anna‌ ‌whimpered.‌ ‌Muffled‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌scarf,‌ ‌the‌ ‌sound‌ ‌wasn’t‌ ‌loud,‌ ‌but‌ ‌its‌ ‌effect‌ ‌on‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌was‌ ‌electric.‌ ‌She‌ ‌caught‌ ‌her‌ ‌breath‌ ‌as‌ ‌her‌ ‌heart‌ ‌shot‌ ‌into‌ ‌her‌ ‌throat—and‌ ‌reacted‌ ‌instinctively,‌ ‌as,‌ ‌once‌ ‌upon‌ ‌a‌ ‌time,‌ ‌it‌ ‌had‌ ‌been‌ ‌second‌ ‌nature‌ ‌to‌ ‌do.‌ ‌She‌ ‌slid‌ ‌the‌ ‌tip‌ ‌of‌ ‌her‌ ‌little‌ ‌finger‌ ‌between‌ ‌Anna’s‌ ‌lips.‌ ‌The‌ ‌baby‌ ‌responded‌ ‌as‌ ‌babies‌ ‌typically‌ ‌did:‌ ‌she‌ ‌latched‌ ‌on‌ ‌and‌ ‌sucked.‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌felt‌ ‌the‌ ‌world‌ ‌start‌ ‌to‌ ‌slide‌ ‌out‌ ‌of‌ ‌focus.‌ ‌The‌ ‌familiarity‌ ‌of‌ ‌it,‌ ‌the‌ ‌bittersweet‌ ‌memories‌ ‌it‌ ‌evoked,‌ ‌made‌ ‌her‌ ‌dizzy.‌ ‌She‌ ‌had‌ ‌to‌ ‌force‌ ‌herself‌ ‌to‌ ‌stay‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌present,‌ ‌to‌ ‌concentrate‌ ‌on‌ ‌‌this‌ ‌‌child‌ ‌and‌ ‌this‌ ‌‌moment‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌exclusion‌ ‌of‌ ‌all‌ ‌else.‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌had‌ ‌handed‌ ‌her‌ ‌identity‌ ‌cards‌ ‌over.‌ ‌The‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌examined‌ ‌them‌ ‌with‌ ‌his‌ ‌torch,‌ ‌then‌ ‌bent‌ ‌closer‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌window‌ ‌and‌ ‌looked‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌back‌ ‌seat‌.‌ ‌She‌ ‌almost‌ ‌expired‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌spot.‌ ‌“Mademoiselle‌ ‌Dumont.‌ ‌It‌ ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌pleasure.‌ ‌I‌ ‌have‌ ‌enjoyed‌ ‌your‌ ‌singing‌ ‌very‌ ‌much.”‌ ‌Anna’s‌ ‌hungry‌ ‌little‌ ‌mouth‌ ‌tugged‌ ‌vigorously‌ ‌at‌ ‌her‌ ‌finger.‌ ‌“Thank‌ ‌you,”‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌said,‌ ‌and‌ ‌smiled.‌ ‌The‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌smiled‌ ‌back.‌ ‌Then‌ ‌he‌ ‌straightened,‌ ‌handed‌ ‌the‌ ‌papers‌ ‌back‌ ‌and,‌ ‌with‌ ‌a‌ ‌thump‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌roof,‌ ‌stepped‌ ‌away‌ ‌from‌ ‌the‌ ‌car.‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌cranked‌ ‌the‌ ‌window‌ ‌up.‌ ‌The‌ ‌tension‌ ‌inside‌ ‌the‌ ‌car‌ ‌was‌ ‌so‌ ‌thick‌ ‌she‌ ‌could‌ ‌almost‌ ‌physically‌ ‌feel‌ ‌the‌ ‌weight‌ ‌of‌ ‌it.‌ ‌“Let‌ ‌them‌ ‌through,”‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌called‌ ‌to‌ ‌someone‌ ‌near‌ ‌the‌ ‌first‌ ‌truck.‌ ‌Now‌ ‌loaded‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌unfortunate‌ ‌new‌ ‌prisoners,‌ ‌it‌ ‌was‌ ‌just‌ ‌starting‌ ‌to‌ ‌pull‌ ‌out.‌ ‌With‌ ‌a‌ ‌wave‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌soldier,‌ ‌Otto‌ ‌followed,‌ ‌although‌ ‌far‌ ‌too‌ ‌slowly‌ ‌for‌ ‌Genevieve’s‌ ‌peace‌ ‌of‌ ‌mind.‌ ‌As‌ ‌the‌ ‌car‌ ‌crawled‌ ‌after‌ ‌the‌ ‌truck,‌ ‌she‌ ‌cast‌ ‌a‌ ‌last,‌ ‌quick‌ ‌glance‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌garden:‌ ‌she‌ ‌could‌ ‌see‌ ‌nothing,‌ ‌not‌ ‌even‌ ‌soldiers.‌ ‌Was‌ ‌the‌ ‌girl—Anna’s‌ ‌mother—still‌ ‌there‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌ground?‌ ‌Or‌ ‌had‌ ‌she‌ ‌already‌ ‌been‌ ‌taken‌ ‌away?‌ ‌Was‌ ‌she‌ ‌dead?‌ ‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌felt‌ ‌sick‌ ‌to‌ ‌her‌ ‌stomach.‌ ‌But‌ ‌once‌ ‌again,‌ ‌there‌ ‌was‌ ‌nothing‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌done.‌ ‌Acutely‌ ‌aware‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌truck’s‌ ‌large‌ ‌side‌ ‌and‌ ‌rear‌ ‌mirrors‌ ‌and‌ ‌what‌ ‌might‌ ‌be‌ ‌able‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌seen‌ ‌through‌ ‌them,‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌managed‌ ‌to‌ ‌stay‌ ‌upright‌ ‌and‌ ‌keep‌ ‌the‌ ‌baby‌ ‌hidden‌ ‌until‌ ‌the‌ ‌Citroën‌ ‌turned‌ ‌a‌ ‌corner‌ ‌and‌ ‌went‌ ‌its‌ ‌own‌ ‌way.‌ ‌Then,‌ ‌feeling‌ ‌as‌ ‌though‌ ‌her‌ ‌bones‌ ‌had‌ ‌turned‌ ‌to‌ ‌jelly,‌ ‌she‌ ‌slumped‌ ‌against‌ ‌the‌ ‌door.‌ ‌Anna‌ ‌gave‌ ‌up‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌finger‌ ‌and‌ ‌started‌ ‌to‌ ‌cry,‌ ‌shrill,‌ ‌distressed‌ ‌wails‌ ‌that‌ ‌filled‌ ‌the‌ ‌car.‌ ‌With‌ ‌what‌ ‌felt‌ ‌like‌ ‌the‌ ‌last‌ ‌bit‌ ‌of‌ ‌her‌ ‌strength,‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌pushed‌ ‌the‌ ‌scarf‌ ‌away‌ ‌and‌ ‌gathered‌ ‌her‌ ‌up‌ ‌and‌ ‌rocked‌ ‌and‌ ‌patted‌ ‌and‌ ‌crooned‌ ‌to‌ ‌her.‌ ‌Just‌ ‌like‌ ‌she‌ ‌had‌ ‌long‌ ‌ago‌ ‌done‌ ‌with—‌ ‌Do‌ ‌not‌ ‌think‌ ‌about‌ ‌it.‌ ‌THE‌ ‌BLACK‌ ‌SWAN‌ ‌OF‌ ‌PARIS‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards‌ ‌“Shh,‌ ‌Anna.‌ ‌Shh.”‌ ‌“That‌ ‌was‌ ‌almost‌ ‌a‌ ‌disaster.”‌ ‌Otto’s‌ ‌voice,‌ ‌tight‌ ‌with‌ ‌reaction,‌ ‌was‌ ‌nonetheless‌ ‌soft‌ ‌for‌ ‌fear‌ ‌of‌ ‌disturbing‌ ‌the‌ ‌quieting‌ ‌child.‌ ‌“What‌ ‌do‌ ‌we‌ ‌do‌ ‌now?‌ ‌You‌ ‌can’t‌ ‌take‌ ‌a‌ ‌baby‌ ‌back‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌hotel.‌ ‌Think‌ ‌questions‌ ‌won’t‌ ‌be‌ ‌asked?‌ ‌What‌ ‌do‌ ‌you‌ ‌bet‌ ‌that‌ ‌soldier‌ ‌won’t‌ ‌talk‌ ‌about‌ ‌having‌ ‌met‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌Dumont?‌ ‌All‌ ‌it‌ ‌takes‌ ‌is‌ ‌one‌ ‌person‌ ‌to‌ ‌make‌ ‌the‌ ‌connection‌ ‌between‌ ‌the‌ ‌raid‌ ‌and‌ ‌you‌ ‌showing‌ ‌up‌ ‌with‌ ‌a‌ ‌baby‌ ‌and‌ ‌it‌ ‌will‌ ‌ruin‌ ‌us‌ ‌all.‌ ‌It‌ ‌will‌ ‌ruin‌ ‌everything.”‌ ‌“I‌ ‌know.”‌ ‌Genevieve‌ ‌was‌ ‌limp.‌ ‌“Find‌ ‌Max.‌ ‌He’ll‌ ‌know‌ ‌what‌ ‌to‌ ‌do.”‌ ‌ ‌

Excerpted‌ ‌from‌ ‌‌The‌ ‌Black‌ ‌Swan‌ ‌of‌ ‌Paris‌ ‌‌by‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards,‌ ‌Copyright‌ ‌©‌ ‌2020‌ ‌by‌ ‌Karen‌ ‌Robards.‌ ‌Published‌ ‌by‌ ‌MIRA‌ ‌Books.‌ ‌ ‌ ‌

Karen Robards is the New York Times, USA TODAY and Publishers Weekly bestselling author of more than fifty novels and one novella. She is the winner of six Silver Pen awards and numerous other awards.

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Author Website: http://karenrobards.com/

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Red Sky Over Hawaii by Sara Ackerman – Feature & Excerpt

Publisher: MIRA Books

Publication Date: June 09, 2020

Genre: Fiction, Historical, World War II

Buy Links:

Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Bookshop.org | Amazon | AppleBooks | Books-A-Million | Kobo

I am so excited to be on the blog tour for Red Sky Over Hawaii! I am trying to get my hands on aaalll the Hawaiian books since I am Hawaiian! Thank you so much to MIRA Books for having me on the tour! I can’t wait to dig into this one!

For fans of Chanel Cleeton and Beatriz Williams, RED SKY OVER HAWAII is historical women’s fiction set in the islands during WWII. It’s the story of a woman who has to put her safety and her heart on the line when she becomes the unexpected guardian of a misfit group and decides to hide with them in a secret home in the forest on Kilauea Volcano.

The attack on Pearl Harbor changes everything for Lana Hitchcock. Arriving home on the Big Island too late to reconcile with her estranged father, all she can do is untangle the clues of his legacy, which lead to a secret property in the forest on Kilauea Volcano. America has been drawn into WWII, and amid rumors of impending invasion, the army places the islands under martial law. When they start taking away neighbors as possible sympathizers, Lana finds herself suddenly guardian to two girls, as well as accomplice to an old family friend who is Japanese, along with his son. In a heartbeat, she makes the decision to go into hiding with them all.

The hideaway house is not what Lana expected, revealing its secrets slowly, and things become even more complicated by the interest of Major Grant Bailey, a soldier from the nearby internment camp. Lana is drawn to him, too, but needs to protect her little group. With a little help from the magic on the volcano, Lana finds she can open her bruised heart to the children–and maybe to Grant.

A lush and evocative novel about doing what is right against the odds, following your heart, and what makes a family.

THE ROAD

December 8, 1941

WITH EVERY MILE CLOSER TO VOLCANO, THE FOG thickened, until they were driving through a forest of white gauze with the occasional branch showing through. Lana considered turning the truck around no less than forty-six times. Going back to Hilo would have been the prudent thing to do, but this was not a time for prudence. Of that she was sure. She slowed the Chevy to a crawl and checked the rearview mirror. The cage with the geese was now invisible, and she could barely make out the dog’s big black spots.

Maybe the fog would be to their advantage.

“I don’t like it here at all,” said Coco, who was smashed up next to Lana, scrawny arms folded in protest. The child had to almost yell to be heard above the chug of the motor.

Lana grabbed a blanket from the floor. “Put this over you. It should help.”

Coco shook her head. “I’m not cold. I want to go home. Can you please take us back?”

Goose bumps had formed up and down her limbs, but she was so stubborn that she had refused to put on a jacket. True, Hilo was insufferably hot, but where they were headed—four thousand feet up the mountain—the air was cold and damp and flimsy.

It had been over ten years since Lana had set foot at Kı¯lauea. Never would she have guessed to be returning under these circumstances.

Marie chimed in. “We can’t go back now, sis. And anyway, there’s no one to go back to at the moment.”

Poor Coco trembled. Lana wished she could hug the girl and tell her everything was going to be okay. But that would be a lie. Things were liable to get a whole lot worse before they got any better.

“Sorry, honey. I wish things were different, but right now you two are my priority. Once we get to the house, we can make a plan,” Lana said.

“But you don’t even know where it is,” Coco whined.

“I have a good idea.”

More like a vague notion.

“What if we don’t find it by dark? Are they going to shoot us?” Coco said.

Marie put her arm around Coco and pulled her in. “Turn off that little overactive imagination of yours. No one is going to shoot us,” she said, but threw a questioning glance Lana’s way.

“We’ll be fine,” Lana said, wishing she believed that.

The girls were not the real problem here. Of greater concern was what they had hidden in the back of the truck. Curfew was six o’clock, but people had been ordered to stay off the roads unless their travel was essential to the war. Lana hadn’t told the girls that. Driving up here was a huge risk, but she had invented a story she hoped and prayed would let them get through if anyone stopped them. The thought of a checkpoint caused her palms to break out in sweat, despite the icy air blowing in through the cracks in the floorboard.

On a good day, the road from Hilo to Volcano would take about an hour and a half. Today was not a good day. Every so often they hit a rut the size of a whiskey barrel that bounced her head straight into the roof. The continuous drizzle of the rain forest had undermined all attempts at smooth roads here. At times the ride was reminiscent of the plane ride from Honolulu. Exactly two days ago, but felt more like a lifetime.

Lana’s main worry was what they would encounter once in the vicinity of the national park entrance. With the Kı¯lauea military camp nearby, there were bound to be soldiers and roadblocks in the area. She had so many questions for her father and felt a mixed ache of sadness and resentment that he was not here to answer them. How were you so sure the Japanese were coming? Why the volcano, of all places? How are we going to survive up here? Why didn’t you call me sooner?

Coco seemed to settle down, leaning her nut-brown ringlets against her sister’s shoulder and closing her eyes. There was something comforting in the roar of the engine and the jostle of the truck. With the whiteout it was hard to tell where they were, but by all estimates they should be arriving soon.

Lana was dreaming of a cup of hot coffee when Coco sat upright and said, “I have to go tinkle.”

“Tinkle?” Lana asked.

Marie said, “She means she has to go to the bathroom.”

They drove until they found a grassy shoulder, and Lana pulled the truck aside, though they could have stopped in the middle of the road. They had met only one other vehicle the whole way, a police car that fortunately had passed by.

The rain had let up, and they all climbed out. It was like walking through a cloud, and the air smelled metallic and faintly lemony from the eucalyptus that lined the road. Lana went to check on Sailor. The dog stood up and whined, yanking on the rope around her neck, straining to be pet. Poor thing was drenched and shaking. Lana had wanted to leave her behind with a neighbor, but Coco had put up such a fuss, throwing herself onto her bed and wailing and punching the pillow, that Lana relented. Caring for the girls would be hard enough, but a hundred-and-twenty-pound dog?

“Just a bathroom stop. Is everyone okay back here?” she asked in a hushed voice. Two low grunts came from under the tarp. “We should be there soon. Remember, be still and don’t make a sound if we stop again.”

As if on cue, one of the hidden passengers started a coughing fit, shaking the whole tarp. She wondered how wise it was to subject him to this long and chilly ride, and if it might be the death of him. But the alternative was worse.

“Deep breaths…you can do it,” Lana said.

Coco showed up and hopped onto the back tire. “I think we should put Sailor inside with us. She looks miserable.”

“Whose lap do you propose she sits on?” Lana said.

Sailor was as tall as a small horse, but half as wide.

“I can sit in the back of the truck and she can come up here, then,” Coco said in all seriousness.

“Not in those clothes you won’t. We don’t need you catching pneumonia on us.”

They started off again, and ten seconds down the road, Sailor started howling at the top of her lungs. Lana felt herself on the verge of unraveling. The last thing they needed was one extra ounce of attention. The whole idea of coming up here was preposterous when she thought about it. At the time it had seemed like a good idea, but now she wondered at her sanity.

“What is wrong with that dog?” Lana said, annoyed.

Coco turned around, and Lana felt her hot breath against her arm. In the smallest of voices, she said, “Sailor is scared.”

Lana felt her heart crack. “Oh, honey, we’re all a bit scared.

It’s perfectly normal under the circumstances. But I promise you this—I will do everything in my power to keep you out of harm’s way.”

“But you hardly know us,” Coco said.

“My father knew you, and you knew him, right?” Lana said. “And remember, if anyone asks, we tell them our story.”

They had rehearsed it many times already, but with kids one could never be sure. Not that Lana had much experience with kids. With none of her own and no nieces or nephews in the islands, she felt the lack palpably, smack in the center of her chest. There had been a time when she saw children in her future, but that dream had come and gone and left her sitting on the curb with a jarful of tears.

Her mind immediately went to Buck. Strange how your future with a person could veer so far off course from how you’d originally pictured it. How the one person you swore you would have and hold could end up wreaking havoc on your heart instead. She blinked the thought away.

As they neared Volcano, the fog remained like a curtain, but the air around them brightened. Lana knew from all her time up here as a young girl that the trees got smaller as the elevation rose, and the terrain changed from towering eucalyptus and fields of yellow-and-white ginger to a more cindery terrain covered with red-blossomed ‘ohi‘a trees, and prehistoriclooking ha¯pu’u ferns and the crawling uluhe. At one time in her life, this had been one of her happiest places. Coco reached for the letter on the dashboard and began reading it for the fourth time. “Coco Hitchcock. It sounds funny.” The paper was already getting worn.

Marie swiped it out of her hands. “You’re going to ruin that. Give it to me.”

Where Coco was whip thin and dark and spirited—a nice way of putting it—Marie was blonde and full-bodied and sweet as coconut taffy. But Lana could tell even Marie’s patience was wearing thin.

“Mrs. Hitchcock said we need to memorize our new names or we’ll be shot.”

Lana said as calmly as she could, “I never said anything of the sort. And, Coco, you have to get used to calling me Aunt Lana for now. Both of you do.”

“And stop talking about getting shot,” Marie added, rolling her eyes.

If they could all just hold it together a little bit longer.

There was sweat pooling between her breasts and behind her kneecaps. Lying was not her strong suit, and she was hoping that, by some strange miracle, they could sail on through without anyone stopping them. She rolled her window down a couple of inches for a burst of fresh air. “We’re just about here. So if we get stopped, let me do the talking. Speak only if someone asks you a direct question, okay?”

Neither girl said anything; they both just nodded. Lana could almost see the fear condensing on the windshield. And pretty soon little Coco started sniffling. Lana would have said something to comfort her, but her mind was void of words. Next the sniffles turned into heaving sobs big enough to break the poor girl in half. Marie rubbed her hand up and down Coco’s back in a warm, smooth circle.

“You can cry when we get there, but no tears now,” she said.

Tears and snot were smeared across Coco’s face in one big shiny layer. “But they might kill Mama and Papa.” Her face was pinched and twisted into such anguish that Lana had to fight back a sob of her own.
Excerpted from Red Sky Over Hawaii by Sara Ackerman, Copyright © 2020 by Sara Sckerman. Published by MIRA Books.

Sara Ackerman is the USA Today bestselling author of The Lieutenant’s Nurse and Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers. Born and raised in Hawaii, she studied journalism and earned graduate degrees in psychology and Chinese medicine. She blames Hawaii for her addiction to writing, and sees no end to its untapped stories. When she’s not writing or teaching, you’ll find her in the mountains or in the ocean. She currently lives on the Big Island with her boyfriend and a houseful of bossy animals. Find out more about Sara and her books at http://www.ackermanbooks.com and follow her on Instagram @saraackermanbooks and on FB @ackermanbooks.

Author Website | Facebook: @ackermanbooks | Twitter: @AckermanBooks | Instagram: @saraackermanbooks | Pinterest

The Unwilling by Kelly Braffet – Feature & Excerpt

Publisher: Mira

Publication Date: February 11, 2020

Genre: YA Fantasy

Buy Links: Oblong Books: Signed, personalized preorders! | Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Powell’s | Apple Books | IndieBound

I am so excited to feature and post an excerpt of this gorgeous book! I am drooling over this cover! It sounds absolutely magical and I can’t wait to read it!

“A penetrating tale of magic, faith and pride…

The Unwilling is the story of Judah, a foundling born with a special gift and raised inside Highfall castle along with Gavin, the son and heir to Lord Elban’s vast empire. Judah and Gavin share an unnatural bond that is both the key to her survival… and possibly her undoing.

As Gavin is groomed for his future role, Judah comes to realize that she has no real position within the kingdom, in fact, no hope at all of ever traveling beyond its castle walls. Elban – a lord as mighty as he is cruel – has his own plans for her, for all of them. She is a mere pawn to him, and he will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

But outside the walls, in the starving, desperate city, a magus, a healer with his own secret power unlike anything Highfall has seen in years, is newly arrived from the provinces. He, too, has plans for the empire, and at the heart of those plans lies Judah… The girl who started life with no name and no history will soon uncover more to her story than she ever imagined.

An epic tale of greed and ambition, cruelty and love, this deeply immersive novel is about bowing to traditions and burning them down.”

Prologue

On the third day of the convocation, two of the Slonimi scouts killed a calf, and the herbalist’s boy wept because he’d watched the calf being born and grown to love it. His
mother stroked his hair and promised he would forget by the time the feast came, the following night. He told her he would never forget. She said, “Just wait.”

He spent all of the next day playing with the children from the other caravan; three days before, they’d all been strangers, but Slonimi children were used to making friends quickly. The group the boy and his mother traveled with had come across the desert to the south, and they found the cool air of the rocky plain a relief from the heat. The others had come from the grassy plains farther west, and were used to milder weather. While the adults traded news and maps and equipment, the children ran wild. Only one boy, from the other caravan, didn’t run or play: a pale boy, with fine features, who followed by habit a few feet behind one of the older women from the other caravan. “Derie’s apprentice,” the other children told him, and shrugged, as if there was nothing more to say. The older woman was the other group’s best Worker, with dark hair going to grizzle and gimlet eyes. Every time she appeared the herbalist suddenly remembered an herb her son needed to help her prepare, or something in their wagon that needed cleaning. The boy was observant, and clever, and it didn’t take him long to figure out that his mother was trying to keep him away from the older woman: she, who had always demanded he face everything head-on, who had no patience for what she called squeamishness and megrims.

After a hard day of play over the rocks and dry, grayish grass, the boy was starving. A cold wind blew down over the rocky plain from the never-melting snow that topped the high peaks of the Barriers to the east; the bonfire was warm. The meat smelled good. The boy had not forgotten the calf but when his mother brought him meat and roasted potatoes and soft pan bread on a plate, he did not think of him. Gerta—the head driver of the boy’s caravan—had spent the last three days with the other head driver, poring over bloodline records to figure out who between their two groups might be well matched for breeding, and as soon as everybody had a plate of food in front of them they announced the results. The adults and older teenagers seemed to find this all fascinating. The herbalist’s boy was nine years old and he didn’t understand the fuss. He knew how it went: the matched pairs would travel together until a child was on the way, and then most likely never see each other again. Sometimes they liked each other, sometimes they didn’t. That, his mother had told him, was what brandy was for.

The Slonimi caravans kept to well-defined territories, and any time two caravans met there was feasting and trading and music and matching, but this was no ordinary meeting, and both sides knew it. After everyone had eaten their fill, a few bottles were passed. Someone had a set of pipes and someone else had a sitar, but after a song or two, nobody wanted any more music. Gerta—who was older than the other driver—stood up. She was tall and strong, with ropy, muscular limbs. “Well,” she said, “let’s see them.”

In the back, the herbalist slid an arm around her son. He squirmed under the attention but bore it.

From opposite sides of the fire, a young man and a young woman were produced. The young man, Tobin, had been traveling with Gerta’s people for years. He was smart but not unkind, but the herbalist’s son thought him aloof. With good reason, maybe; Tobin’s power was so strong that being near him made the hair on the back of the boy’s neck stand up. Unlike all the other Workers—who were always champing at the bit to get a chance to show off—Tobin was secretive about his skills. He shared a wagon with Tash, Gerta’s best Worker, even though the two men didn’t seem particularly friendly with each other. More than once the boy had glimpsed their lantern burning late into the night, long after the main fire was embers.

The young woman had come across the plains with the others. The boy had seen her a few times; she was small, round, and pleasant-enough looking. She didn’t strike the boy as particularly remarkable. But when she came forward, the other caravan’s best Worker—the woman named Derie—came with her. Tash stood up when Tobin did, and when they all stood in front of Gerta, the caravan driver looked from one of them to the other. “Tash and Derie,” she said, “you’re sure?”

“Already decided, and by smarter heads than yours,” the gimlet-eyed woman snapped.

Tash, who wasn’t much of a talker, merely said, “Sure.”

Gerta looked back at the couple. For couple they were; the boy could see the strings tied round each wrist, to show they’d already been matched. “Hard to believe,” she said. “But I know it’s true. I can feel it down my spine. Quite a legacy you two carry; five generations’ worth, ever since mad old Martin bound up the power in the world. Five generations of working and planning and plotting and hoping; that’s the legacy you two carry.” The corner of her mouth twitched slightly. “No pressure.”

A faint ripple of mirth ran through the listeners around the fire. “Nothing to joke about, Gerta,” Derie said, lofty and hard, and Gerta nodded.

“I know it. They just seem so damn young, that’s all.” The driver sighed and shook her head. “Well, it’s a momentous occasion. We’ve come here to see the two of you off, and we send with you the hopes of all the Slonimi, all the Workers of all of our lines, back to the great John Slonim himself, whose plan this was. His blood runs in both of you. It’s strong and good and when we put it up against what’s left of Martin’s, we’re bound to prevail, and the world will be free.”

“What’ll we do with ourselves then, Gert?” someone called out from the darkness, and this time the laughter was a full burst, loud and relieved.

Gerta smiled. “Teach the rest of humanity how to use the power, that’s what we’ll do. Except you, Fausto. You can clean up after the horses.”

More laughter. Gerta let it run out, and then turned to the girl.

“Maia,” she said, serious once more. “I know Derie’s been drilling this into you since you were knee-high, but once you’re carrying, the clock is ticking. Got to be inside, at the end.”

“I know,” Maia said.

Gerta scanned the crowd. “Caterina? Cat, where are you?”

Next to the boy, the herbalist cleared her throat. “Here, Gerta.”

Gerta found her, nodded, and turned back to Maia. “Our Cat’s the best healer the Slonimi have. Go see her before you set out. If you’ve caught already, she’ll know. If you haven’t, she’ll know how to help.”

“It’s only been three days,” Tobin said, sounding slighted.

“Nothing against you, Tobe,” Gerta said. “Nature does what it will. Sometimes it takes a while.”

“Not this time,” Maia said calmly.

A murmur ran through the crowd. Derie sat up bolt-straight, her lips pressed together. “You think so?” Gerta said, matching Maia’s tone—although nobody was calm, even the boy could feel the sudden excited tension around the bonfire.

“I know so,” Maia said, laying a hand on her stomach. “I can feel her.”

The tension exploded in a mighty cheer. Instantly, Tobin wiped the sulk off his face and replaced it with pride. The boy leaned into his mother and whispered, under the roar, “Isn’t it too soon to tell?”

“For most women, far too soon, by a good ten days. For Maia?” Caterina sounded as if she were talking to herself, as much as to her son. The boy felt her arm tighten around him. “If she says there’s a baby, there’s a baby.”

After that the adults got drunk. Maia and Tobin slipped away early. Caterina knew a scout from the other group, a man named Sadao, and watching the two of them dancing together, the boy decided to make himself scarce. Tash would have an empty bunk, now that Tobin was gone, and he never brought women home. He’d probably share. If not, there would be a bed somewhere. There always was.

In the morning, the boy found Caterina by the fire, only slightly bleary, and brewing a kettle of strong-smelling tea. Her best hangover cure, she told her son. He took out his notebook and asked what was in it. Ginger, she told him, and willowbark, and a few other things; he wrote them all down carefully. Labeled the page. Caterina’s Hangover Cure.

Then he looked up to find the old woman from the bonfire, Derie, listening with shrewd, narrow eyes. Behind her hovered her apprentice, the pale boy, who this morning had a bruised cheek. “Charles, go fetch my satchel,” she said to him, and he scurried away. To Caterina, Derie said, “Your boy’s conscientious.”

“He learns quickly,” Caterina said, and maybe she just hadn’t had enough hangover tea yet, but the boy thought she sounded wary.

“And fair skinned,” Derie said. “Who’s his father?”

“Jasper Arasgain.”

Derie nodded. “Travels with Afia’s caravan, doesn’t he? Solid man.”

Caterina shrugged. The boy had only met his father a few times. He knew Caterina found Jasper boring.

“Healer’s a good trade. Everywhere needs healers.” Derie paused. “A healer could find his way in anywhere, I’d say. And with that skin—”

The boy noticed Gerta nearby, listening. Her own skin was black as obsidian. “Say what you’re thinking, Derie,” the driver said.

“Highfall,” the old woman said, and immediately, Caterina said, “No.”

“It’d be a great honor for him, Cat,” Gerta said. The boy thought he detected a hint of reluctance in Gerta’s voice.

“Has he done his first Work yet?” Derie said.

Caterina’s lips pressed together. “Not yet.”

Charles, the bruised boy, reappeared with Derie’s satchel.

“We’ll soon change that,” the old woman said, taking the satchel without a word and rooting through until she found a small leather case. Inside was a small knife, silver-colored but without the sheen of real silver.

The boy noticed his own heartbeat, hard hollow thuds in his chest. He glanced at his mother. She looked unhappy, her brow furrowed. But she said nothing.

“Come here, boy,” Derie said.

He sneaked another look at his mother, who still said nothing, and went to stand next to the woman. “Give me your arm,” she said, and he did. She held his wrist with a hand that was both soft and hard at the same time. Her eyes were the most terrifying thing he’d ever seen.

“It’s polite to ask permission before you do this,” she told him. “Not always possible, but polite. I need to see what’s in you, so if you say no, I’ll probably still cut you, but—do I have your permission?”

Behind Derie, Gerta nodded. The bruised boy watched curiously.

“Yes,” the boy said.

“Good,” Derie said. She made a quick, confident cut in the ball of her thumb, made an identical cut in his small hand, quickly drew their two sigils on her skin in the blood, and pressed the cuts together.

The world unfolded. But unfolded was too neat a word, too tidy. This was like when he’d gone wading in the western sea and been knocked off his feet, snatched underwater, tossed in a maelstrom of sand and sun and green water and foam—but this time it wasn’t merely sand and sun and water and foam that swirled around him, it was everything. All of existence, all that had ever been, all that would ever be. His mother was there, bright and hot as the bonfire the night before—not her face or her voice but the Caterina of her, her very essence rendered into flame and warmth.

But most of what he felt was Derie. Derie, immense and powerful and fierce: Derie, reaching into him, unfolding him as surely as she’d unfolded the world. And this was neat and tidy, methodical, almost cold. She unpacked him like a trunk, explored him like a new village. She sought out his secret corners and dark places. When he felt her approval, he thrilled. When he felt her contempt, he trembled. And everywhere she went she left a trace of herself behind like a scent, like the chalk marks the Slonimi sometimes left for each other. Her sigil was hard-edged, multi-cornered. It was everywhere. There was no part of him where it wasn’t.

Then it was over, and he was kneeling by the campfire, throwing up. Caterina was next to him, making soothing noises as she wrapped a cloth around his hand. He leaned against her, weak and grateful.

“It’s all right, my love,” she whispered in his ear, and the nervousness was gone. Now she sounded proud, and sad, and as if she might be crying. “You did well.”

He closed his eyes and saw, on the inside of his eyelids, the woman’s hard, angular sigil, burning like a horse brand.

“Don’t coddle him,” Derie said, and her voice reached through him, back into the places inside him where she’d left her mark. Caterina’s arm dropped away. He forced himself to open his eyes and stand up. His entire body hurt. Derie was watching him, calculating but—yes—pleased. “Well, boy,” she said. “You’ll never be anyone’s best Worker, but you’re malleable, and you’ve got the right look. There’s enough power in you to be of use, once you’re taught to use it. You want to learn?”

“Yes,” he said, without hesitating.

“Good,” she said. “Then you’re my apprentice now, as much as your mother’s. You’ll still learn herbs from your mother, so we’ll join our wagon to your group. But don’t expect the kisses and cuddles from me you get from her. For me, you’ll work hard and you’ll learn hard and maybe someday you’ll be worthy of the knowledge I’ll pass on to you. Say, Yes, Derie.”

“Yes, Derie,” he said.

“You’ve got a lot to learn,” she said. “Go with Charles. He’ll show you where you sleep.”

He hesitated, looked at his mother, because it hadn’t occurred to him that he would be leaving her. Suddenly, swiftly, Derie kicked hard at his leg. He yelped and jumped out of the way. Behind her he saw Charles—he of the bruised face—wince, unsurprised but not unsympathetic.

“Don’t ever make me ask you anything twice,” she said.

“Yes, Derie,” he said, and ran.

Excerpted from The Unwilling by Kelly Braffet. Copyright © 2020 by Kelly Braffet. Published by MIRA Books.

Kelly Braffet is the author of the novels Save Yourself, Last Seen Leaving and Josie & Jack. Her writing has been published in The Fairy Tale Review, Post Road, and several anthologies. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and received her MFA in Creative Writing at Columbia University. She currently lives in upstate New York with her husband, the author Owen King. A lifelong reader of speculative fiction, the idea for The Unwilling originally came to her in college; twenty years later, it’s her first fantasy novel. Visit her at kellybraffet.com.

Social Links:

Author website: https://www.kellybraffet.com/

Facebook: @kellybraffetfiction

Let’s talk! What is a gorgeous-ly written book that you love?

A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen – Feature, Excerpt and Author Q&A

Publisher: MIRA Books

Publication Date: January 14, 2020

Genre: Sci-fi, Dystopia

Buy Links:

Harlequin| Amazon| Barnes & Noble| Books-a-Million| IndieBound| Apple Books| Kobo| Google Play

I am so excited to feature A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen today on my blog! Plus a few extras to go along with it! Check out an excerpt and a Q&A with the author below! Thank you to Harper Collins for having me on the tour!

An emotional story about what happens after the end of the world, A BEGINNING AT THE END is a tale of four survivors trying to rebuild their personal lives after a literal apocalypse. For commercial readers who enjoy a speculative twist, or their sci-fi with a heavy dose of family and feelings.

Six years after a global pandemic, it turns out that the End of the World was more like a big pause. Coming out of quarantine, 2 billion unsure survivors split between self-governing big cities, hippie communes, and wasteland gangs. When the father of a presumed-dead pop star announces a global search for his daughter, four lives collide: Krista, a cynical event planner; Moira, the ex-pop star in hiding; Rob, a widowed single father; and Sunny, his seven-year-old daughter. As their lives begin to intertwine, reports of a new outbreak send the fragile society into a panic. And when the government enacts new rules in response to the threat, long-buried secrets surface, causing Sunny to run away seeking the truth behind her mother’s death. Now, Krista, Rob, and Moira must finally confront the demons of their past in order to hit the road and reunite with Sunny — before a coastal lockdown puts the world on pause again.”

Q: Parent characters are a large part of A Beginning at the End. Did you know your character’s family backgrounds before you began? How do the characters take form in your writing process?

A: Somewhat. Usually the core problem comes first in my drafting process. I tend to write in layers and my initial drafts are always very light — initial scenes may only be about ¼ of their final length because I don’t know the characters too well yet. At that stage, I’m trying to find the main conflict of the scene and the voice for their characters. I typically need 5-7 passes through a book to turn it from a 45k-50k word skeleton to a reasonably polished 90-100k word draft. During that time, the characters start to form.

As an example, my current work in progress (which will be released after 2021’s upcoming WE COULD BE HEROES), I’m on my third pass through for the first act and only now am I beginning to understand each character’s unique voice as well as their physical appearances. Core conflicts (such as character X has trouble with character Y) are established during the initial outline phase as part of the initial concept, but the how and why those conflicts happen (Is it family history? Is it a traumatic event? Is it sibling rivalry?), that takes a little longer to establish. 

For the characters in A BEGINNING AT THE END, I started out immediately knowing what drove Krista and Rob. Moira didn’t really become fully three-dimensional until much later, and in fact in early revisions, she was just a minor supporting character. My agent noted that she was far too interesting to push to the side, so the book was rebuilt around her to hold equal footing to Rob and Krista.

Q: Where did you take inspiration for this pandemic? Do you have any other book or film recommendations?

A: Though it wasn’t a direct inspiration for this book, there’s a scene in the second season of The Walking Dead that began the train of thought for A BEGINNING AT THE END. It was the season on Hershel’s farm, and there’s a scene where Lori is trying to go over homework with her son Carl. A lot of viewers mocked the scene at the time with comments like “Why would you do math in the zombie apocalypse?” but I thought that was a smart bit of human grounding against a fantastical backdrop. Because those characters didn’t know if and when the apocalypse would end, and I think it makes sense that 1) a mom would try to keep some form of normalcy for her son 2) they wouldn’t just assume the world was completely over.

Because a lot of apocalyptic fiction focuses on either the event itself or a grimdark survival world, that scene sparked a lot of ideas for me — what if society did crawl back from the brink, and instead of a true “end of the world” it was more like a big pause button? Then all these people would move past day-to-day survival and suddenly have a lot of trauma to unpack, and i hadn’t really seen that covered much at the time. That seemed really interesting to me, much more so than the idea of tribal factions attacking each other to survive.

Q: Which main character is your favorite? And which was the hardest to write?

A: It’s been interesting seeing early reader feedback because the “favorite character” opinion has been pretty evenly split. I think that’s a good sign that things are pretty balanced. For me personally, I always viewed Krista as the main character in this book and it was originally written with her to be the main focus (the original draft of this from 2011ish only had her POV and Rob’s POV). She has such a snappy voice that it’s just fun to write her responses and reactions to stuff, and a big challenge came from cutting out unnecessary dialogue that made it in there simply because she was so fun to write.

The hardest character to write was definitely Sunny. Simply because I needed to get into the head of a seven-year-old. Her POV was one of the last major structural changes my agent recommended before we sold this to my publisher and it was tricky my daughter was still very young at that point (she’s still only five). I ran those chapters by my friends who had survived parenting those years for accuracy: complexity of thought, vocabulary, rhythm, etc.

Q: Your characters struggle with confronting their past while their future is so uncertain. What are some important lessons you’ve learned as a writer that you previously struggled with?

A: I think the keys to success as a writer are also keys to a happy and fulfilled life: don’t give up and keep an open mind. Every writer I know that started around my time eventually broke through and got an agent by improving their craft through feedback and simply chipping away. If one book wasn’t good enough, then it got shelved as a stepping stone and they marched forward. Doing that requires a certain amount of humility because it recognizes that you’ve got room to improve, and that improvement is going to come from listening to others rather than being defensive. Those are hard lessons to learn so I try to tell new writers that right away, so they understand the value of harsh-but-true constructive criticism from critique partners — you’ll never make it without that.

Q: What is a genre you don’t think you’d ever write? A Beginning at the End and Here and Now and Then are both SF, do you think you would ever write something that’s vastly different? What draws you to SF?

A: Writing character-driven stories in sci-fi settings comes pretty naturally to me, as it takes my favorite type of story (slice of life) and my favorite genre and brings them together. I’m fortunate that the market has turned around on that now to support books like mine. If I wrote something different, I imagine it would lean further in one direction or another — either a contemporary drama or space opera. I am also a big fan of gothic horror, and I would love to try a haunted house story at some point.

As for what draws me to sci-fi, I can’t put my finger on it but it’s been really important to me my entire life. I grew up on Star Wars and Robotech as cornerstones of my media influences. At the same time, I’ve never really been too into fantasy despite them often being opposite sides of the same coin. My wife loves both sci-fi and fantasy, and there are things she loves that I just can’t get into like The Elder Scrolls.

Q: What are some of your writing goals for the future?

A: Keep writing and not run out of ideas! In a perfect world, I’d love to be able to be a full-time author — which is basically 50% writing and 50% the business of being an author. I don’t think that’s feasible since I live in Silicon Valley and need health insurance for a family situation, so I will likely always have one foot in corporate life unless the political landscape changes regarding medical care.

An obvious dream would be to have one of my books be adapted to a movie or TV series — I’m of the mindset that HERE AND NOW AND THEM would work as a movie while A BEGINNING AT THE END has a deep enough world that it would work well as a TV series. I really want to try writing a video game, something like Telltale’s games. And I would love to write for my favorite franchises: Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who. I’ve been pretty vocal about Clone Wars-era story ideas, and I’m friends with several authors on the Lucasfilm roster, so fingers crossed.

Q: If there was a global disaster in the future, what would your plan of action be?

A: Well, I have a bunch of animals and family health issues, so I’d say we’d be pretty screwed. I’m pretty organized and have a diplomatic approach, so hopefully that would earn me an in with some survivalists until society stabilizes.

Q: Both of your books, Here and Now and Then & A Beginning at the End, have a strong emotional foundation. Why did you choose that route?

A: It goes back to my favorite types of stories. To me, the emotional core is always the most important part of any story; it turns it from being surface level entertainment to something that resonates deeper.

Q: How has the success of your first novel affected your writing process for your second novel? Is there anything the first time around you did, that you didn’t do the second time?

A: I am lucky that A BEGINNING AT THE END was mostly finished when we sold it because it had been a project I’d shelved years ago but revised with my agent. I had a complete and fairly polished manuscript, and my editors revisions didn’t affect much of the structure, they were mostly about tightening and adding more flashbacks, more world-building. So in that regard, that process was very similar to HERE AND NOW AND THEN.

However, having now experienced deadlines and commitments on top of a day job and parenting, the biggest change is that I draft by acts rather than the whole thing. For books 3 (WE COULD BE HEROES) and 4 (in WIP stages), I drafted a first act to get a sense of characters and world, then sent that to a few critique partners for their input before investing further energy into it. There’s just no time. Also, I have to limit myself on reading for fun or video games because that time has to be used for writing and editing. Being published is a great privilege but its time demands do create numerous sacrifices.

Q: How do you balance being a reader and being a writer? 

A: I use my phone a lot! I’ve discovered audiobooks, though my preferred method right now is ebooks through Google Play. Their app has a text-to-speech feature which, while nowhere near the quality of real audiobooks, allow me to listen while I’m commuting or doing dishes or whatever, but then also allow me to switch back to reading in the app when I want to. It’s funny, I just don’t read physical books that much now because my time is so compartmentalized that having it available on my phone is the best way to go. 

The great irony about this is that as I’ve gotten to know more authors, agents, and editors, I’m often offered advance review copies by authors I really love and I simply have no time for them.

Q: What does literary success look like to you and with that definition in mind, are you successful? 

A: This is tricky because I think all authors at all stages are looking up at someone and mentally comparing sales and awards. I know I’m doing better than some of my peers and worse than others, and one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the past year is that it is totally okay to be happy for someone while also jealous of their success. In fact, that is 100% normal.

With that in mind, I think success means that I’m selling enough copies to get the next contract and a chance to audition for licensed franchise work. Aspiring for bestseller status or awards is kind of silly because so many other factors go into that, many of which (marketing budgets, publicity selections) are simply out of your control. But if you keep producing at a high level of quality, I think you’ll be able to gradually grow your readership with each book, and that’s good enough for me.

Also, it’s really cool to hear your book has touched a reader. That level of engagement is always a good measure of success. 

Q: Finally, for you, what makes a book a good book?

A: I think the things that I always look for are interesting characters, emotional conflicts, and good prose. While I appreciate great action scenes or immense worldbuilding, I can often overlook those things if characters, emotions, and prose are all clicking. On the other hand, if I lose any of those main three, I’ll often have to drop a book, even if, say, the worldbuilding is amazing.

Shameless shoutout to some friends: if you want impeccable examples of ALL of those (characters, emotions, prose, action, and worldbuilding), I suggest Fonda Lee’s JADE CITY / JADE WAR and Kat Howard’s AN UNKINDNESS OF MAGICIANS.

Prologue

People were too scared for music tonight. Not that MoJo cared.

Her handlers had broken the news about the low attendance nearly an hour ago with some explanation about how the recent flu epidemic and subsequent rioting and looting kept people at home. They’d served the news with high-end vodka, the good shit imported from Russia, conveniently hidden in a water bottle which she carried from the greenroom to the stage.

“The show must go on,” her father proclaimed, like she was doing humanity a service by performing. She suspected his bravado actually stemmed from the fact that her sophomore album’s second single had stalled at number thirteen—a far cry from the lead single’s number-one debut or her four straight top-five hits off her first album. Either way, the audience, filled with beaming girls a few years younger than herself and their mothers, seemed to agree. Flu or no flu, some people still wanted their songs—or maybe they just wanted normalcy—so MoJo delivered, perfect note after perfect note, each in time to choreographed dance routines. She even gave her trademark smile.

The crowd screamed and sang along, waving their arms to the beat. Halfway through the second song, a peculiar vibe grabbed the audience. Usually, a handful of parents disappeared into their phones, especially as the flu scare had heightened over the past week. This time nearly every adult in the arena was looking at their phone. In the front row, MoJo saw lines of concern on each face.

Before the song even finished, some parents grabbed their children and left, pushing through the arena’s floor seats and funneling to the exit door.

MoJo pushed on, just like she’d always promised her dad. She practically heard his voice over the backup music blasting in her in-ear monitors. There is no sophomore slump. Smile! Between the second and third songs, she gave her customary “Thank you!” and fake talk about how great it was to be wherever they were. New York City, this time, at Madison Square Garden. A girl of nineteen embarking on a tour bigger, more ambitious than she could have ever dreamed and taking the pop world by storm, and yet, she knew nothing real about New York City. She’d never left her hotel room without chaperones and handlers. Not under her dad’s watch.

One long swig of vodka later, and a warmth rushed to her face, so much so that she wondered if it melted her face paint off. She looked off at the side stage, past the elaborate video set and cadre of backup dancers. But where was the gaffer? Why wasn’t anyone at the sound board? The fourth song had a violin section, yet the contracted violinist wasn’t in her spot.

Panic raced through MoJo’s veins, mental checklists of her marks, all trailed by echoes from her dad’s lectures about accountability. Her feet were planted exactly where they should be. Her poise, straight and high. Her last few notes, on key, and her words to the audience, cheerful. It couldn’t have been something she’d done, could it?

No. Not her fault this time. Someone else is facing Dad’s wrath tonight, she thought.

The next song’s opening electronic beats kicked in. Eyes closed, head tilted back, and arms up, her voice pushed out the song’s highest note, despite the fuzziness of the vodka making the vibrato a little harder to sustain. For a few seconds, nothing existed except the sound of her voice and the music behind it— no handlers, no tour, no audience, no record company, no father telling her the next way she’d earn the family fortune—and it almost made the whole thing worth it.

Her eyes opened, body coiled for the middle-eight’s dance routine, but the brightness of the house lights threw her off the beat. The drummer and keyboard player stopped, though the prerecorded backing track continued for a few more seconds before leaving an echo chamber.

No applause. No eyes looked MoJo’s way. Only random yelling and an undecipherable buzz saw of backstage clamor from her in-ear monitors. She stood, frozen, unable to tell if this was from laced vodka or if it was actually unfolding: people—adults and children, parents and daughters— scrambling to the exits, climbing over chairs and tripping on stairs, ushers pushing back at the masses before some turned and ran as well.

Someone grabbed her shoulder and jerked back hard. “We have to go,” said the voice behind her.

“What’s going on?” she asked, allowing the hands to push her toward the stage exit. Steven, her huge forty-something bodyguard, took her by the arm and helped her down the short staircase to the backstage area.

“The flu’s spread,” he said. “A government quarantine. There’s some sort of lockdown on travel. The busing starts tonight. First come, first serve. I think everyone’s trying to get home or get there. I can’t reach your father. Cell phones are jammed up.”

They worked their way through the concrete hallways and industrial lighting of the backstage area, people crossing in a mad scramble left and right. MoJo clutched onto her bottle of vodka, both hands to her chest as Steven ushered her onward. People collapsed in front of her, crying, tripping on their own anxieties, and Steven shoved her around them, apologizing all the way. Something draped over her shoulders, and it took her a moment to realize that he’d put a thick parka around her. She chuckled at the thought of her sparkly halter top and leather pants wrapped in a down parka that smelled like BO, but Steven kept pushing her forward, forward, forward until they hit a set of double doors.

The doors flew open, but rather than the arena’s quiet loading area from a few hours ago, MoJo saw a thick wall of people: all ages and all colors in a current of movement, pushing back and forth. “I’ve got your dad on the line,” Steven yelled over the din, “His car is that way. He wants to get to the airport now. Same thing’s happening back home.” His arm stretched out over her head. “That way! Go!”

They moved as a pair, Steven yelling “excuse me” over and over until the crowd became too dense to overcome. In front of her, a woman with wisps of gray woven into black hair trembled on her knees. Even with the racket around them, MoJo heard her cry. “This is the end. This is the end.”

The end.

People had been making cracks about the End of the World since the flu changed from online rumors to this big thing that everyone talked about all the time. But she’d always figured the “end” meant a giant pit opening, Satan ushering everyone down a staircase to Hell. Not stuck outside Madison Square Garden.

“Hey,” Steven yelled, arms spread out to clear a path through the traffic jam of bodies. “This way!”

MoJo looked at the sobbing woman in front of her, then at Steven. Somewhere further down the road, her father sat in a car and waited. She could feel his pull, an invisible tether that never let her get too far away.

“The end, the end,” the sobbing woman repeated, pausing MoJo in her tracks. But where to go? Every direction just pointed at more chaos, people scrambling with a panic that had overtaken everyone in the loading dock, possibly the neighborhood, possibly all New York City, possibly even the world. And it wasn’t just about a flu.

It was everything.

But… maybe that was good?

No more tours. No more studio sessions. No more threats about financial security, no more lawyer meetings, no more searches through her luggage. No more worrying about hitting every mark. In the studio. Onstage.

In life.

All of that was done.

The very thought caused MoJo to smirk.

If this was the end, then she was going out on her own terms.

“Steven!” she yelled. He turned and met her gaze.

She twisted the cap off the water-turned-vodka bottle, then took most of it down in one long gulp. She poured the remainder on her face paint, a star around her left eye, then wiped it off with her sleeve. The empty bottle flew through the air, probably hitting some poor bloke in the head.

“Tell my dad,” she said, trying extra hard to pronounce the words with the clear British diction she was raised with, “to go fuck himself.”

For an instant, she caught Steven’s widemouthed look, a mix of fear and confusion and disappointment on his face, as though her words crushed his worldview more than the madness around them. But MoJo wouldn’t let herself revel in her first, possibly only victory over her father; she ducked and turned quickly, parka pulled over her head, crushing the product-molded spikes in her hair.

Each step pushing forward, shoulders and arms bumping into her as her eyes locked onto the ground, one step at a time. Left, right, left, then right, all as fast as she could go, screams and car horns and smashing glass building in a wave of desperation around her.

Maybe it was the end. But even though her head was down, she walked with dignity for the first time in years, perhaps ever.Excerpted from A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen, Copyright © 2020 by Mike Chen. Published by MIRA Books. 

Mike Chen is a lifelong writer, from crafting fan fiction as a child to somehow getting paid for words as an adult. He has contributed to major geek websites (The Mary Sue, The Portalist, Tor) and covered the NHL for mainstream media outlets. A member of SFWA and Codex Writers, Mike lives in the Bay Area, where he can be found playing video games and watching Doctor Who with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @mikechenwriter

Christmas from the Heart by Sheila Roberts – Feature and Excerpt

Publisher: Mira books

Publication Date: September 24, 2019

Genre: Romance, Holiday, Contemporary

Amazon

USA TODAY bestselling author Sheila Roberts takes readers to the charming, snowbound town of Pine River in this irresistible holiday romance.

Sometimes you need to look beyond the big picture to see what really matters

Olivia Berg’s charity, Christmas from the Heart, has helped generations of families in need in Pine River, Washington, but this year might be the end of the road. Hightower Enterprises, one of their biggest donors since way back when Olivia’s grandmother ran the charity, has been taken over by Ebenezer Scrooge the Second, aka CFO Guy Hightower, and he’s declared there will be no more money coming to Christmas from the Heart.

Guy is simply being practical. Hightower Enterprises needs to tighten its belt, and when you don’t have money to spare, you don’t have money to share. You’d think even the pushy Olivia Berg could understand that.

With charitable donations dwindling, Olivia’s Christmas budget depends on Hightower’s contribution. She’s focused her whole life on helping this small town, even putting her love life on hold to support her mission.

When Guy’s Maserati breaks down at the edge of the Cascade foothills, he’s relieved to be rescued by a pretty young woman who drives him to the nearby town of Pine River. Until he realizes his rescuer is none other than Olivia Berg. What’s a Scrooge to do? Plug his nose and eat fruitcake and hope she doesn’t learn his true identity before he can get out of town. What could go wrong?”

I am very excited to be featuring Christmas from the Heart and I get to share an excerpt! It already sounds so good. I love all of the warm and cozy Christmas movies, books, and music! I can’t wait to read this! I am loving the cover. I want to live there, or at least visit for a long time.

From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
Date: 2-14-19
To: Ms. Marla Thompson, CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises
Subject: Holiday Joy
Dear Ms. Thompson,
Happy Valentine’s Day to you! I’m following up our January newsletter with a special greeting as this is,
of course, the month for love. Love for our sweethearts, our family and friends, and for those in need.
As you could see from the newsletter, we put the money our loyal supporters donated to us to good
use. So many families benefited from your generous donation to Christmas from the Heart last year and
I just wanted to remind you that, even though the holidays seem far away they will be here before we
know it. I hope we can count on Hightower Enterprises again this year. We have such a history together.
Let’s keep up the good work!
Warmly,
Olivia Berg
Christmas from the Heart
Giving from the heart makes all the difference

From: Marla Thompson, CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises
Date: 2-14-19
To: Ms. Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
Subject: Holiday Joy
Dear Ms. Berg,
Thanks for reaching out. Our fiscal year is just ending and I haven’t yet received word as to how our
charitable donations will be dispersed this year. I will keep you apprised.
Best, Marla Thompson
CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises

From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
Date: 2-14-19
To: Ms. Marla Thompson, CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises
Subject: Holiday Joy
Thank you so much. Looking forward to hearing from you!
Olivia Berg
Christmas from the Heart
Giving from the heart makes all the difference

From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
Date: 5-1-19
To: Ms. Marla Thompson, CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises
Subject: Happy May Day!
Dear Ms. Thompson, just wanted to wish you a happy May Day. The flowers here in Pine River are now
in full bloom, and our organization has been busy helping people make their dreams bloom, as well. As
you know, while our focus is primarily the holidays, Christmas from the Heart tries to help people all
year round when needs arise. Of course, Christmas is our big thrust, and as there is no other
organization working in this area, we are much needed. As are your kind contributions. I still haven’t
heard and I do hope we can count on you.
Warmly,
Olivia Berg
Christmas from the Heart
Giving from the heart makes all the difference

From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
Date: 5-5-19
To: Ms. Marla Thompson
Subject: Just checking
Reaching out again in case my last email went astray. I’m wondering if you have any news for me
regarding Hightower’s involvement with our cause for this coming year.
Thanks!
Olivia Berg
Christmas from the Heart
Giving from the heart makes all the difference

From: Marla Thompson, CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises
Date: 5-5-19
To: Ms. Olivia Berg
Subject: Just checking
Ms. Berg, sorry I haven’t been able to get back to you sooner. I’m afraid I have some bad news for you. It
appears that the company is going to be scaling back on their charitable giving this year and funds have
already been budgeted for other causes. I’m aware of the fact that in the past we’ve donated to your
organization and I’m sorry I don’t have better news for you. I do wish you all the best in your search for
other funding.
Best,
Marla Thompson
CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises

From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
Date: 5-5-19
To: Ms. Marla Thompson
Subject: Just checking
There must be some sort of misunderstanding! Hightower has always donated to Christmas from the
Heart. The company’s founder, Elias Hightower, was my great-grandmother’s first contributor, and he
promised her that Hightower would always be there for this organization. This is a company tradition!
Please speak to your director.
Hopefully,
Olivia Berg
Christmas from the Heart
Giving from the heart makes all the difference

From: Marla Thompson, CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises
Date: 5-5-19
To: Ms. Olivia Berg
Subject: Just checking
I’m sorry. The decision is out of my hands.
Marla Thompson
CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises

From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
Date: 5-5-19
To: Ms. Marla Thompson
Subject: Just checking
Then please tell me who I need to talk to. Who’s your CFO?
Olivia Berg
Christmas from the Heart
Giving from the heart makes all the difference

From: Marla Thompson, CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises
Date: 5-5-19
To: Ms. Olivia Berg
Subject: Just checking
Our CFO is Guy Hightower, and his email is ghightower@hightowerenterprises.com
Good luck!
Marla Thompson
CSR Director, Hightower Enterprises

From: Olivia Berg, Director, Christmas from the Heart
Date: 5-5-19
To: Guy Hightower, CFO, Hightower Enterprises
Subject: Please reconsider


Dear Mr. Hightower, I understand from your corporate social resources director that Hightower isn’t
planning on making any donation to Christmas from the Heart this year. There must be some mistake!
Surely you’re aware of the long-standing relationship between your company and our organization. I’m sure I can count on you for some small amount.
Best, Olivia Berg


Christmas from the Heart Giving from the heart makes all the difference
Guy Hightower frowned when he saw the email from Olivia Berg in his in-box. Marla Thompson had been forwarding her emails to him, keeping him abreast of Olivia Berg’s varied begging tactics, and had finally even come into his office, trying to dump the load of guilt the woman had laid on her from her shoulders to his.
“Don’t open it,” he told himself. He opened it anyway. Then he read it and swore.
Actually, he’d been swearing ever since meeting with his brothers to discuss the budget back in December. If either of them had listened to him three years ago, they wouldn’t be having to pull the company belt so tight now. This was the problem with being the youngest. It didn’t matter how many degrees you had, how smart you were or what your job title was. Big brothers never listened. Hard to listen when you were going through your third divorce.
That was Mike’s excuse. What was Bryan’s? Oh yeah. He was a wuss. He always agreed with Mike, no matter what. And Mike hadn’t wanted to change directions. Never mind that the company was struggling, keep on doing the same thing. The definition of insanity. Sorry, Little Miss Christmas. Times were tough all over. Hightower had kept its commitment to the more visible causes and turned the little fish loose. And that was how it worked in the corporate world.
He typed his reply.


Dear Ms. Berg, I regret that Hightower can’t help you this year. We’ve had to reassess our commitments to various causes. I’m sure you’ll understand.

Then he signed off with the time-honored adios: Respectfully, Guy Hightower. And if she didn’t understand, well, not his problem. He had his hands full trying to keep the family company afloat. Maybe now Mike would be ready to take his advice and diversify. Olivia Berg—Livi to her family and friends—read the email from Guy Hightower a second time. Yes, the message was the same. Really? Really? Who was this man, Ebenezer Scrooge the Second? She plowed her fingers through her hair, the birthstone ring Morris had given her for her birthday catching in the curls. She was so angry she barely noticed. With a snarl, she began to type. You should be ashamed. Your great-grandfather is probably turning in his grave right now. What’s the matter with you, anyway, you selfish bastard?

She pulled her fingers off the keyboard with a gasp. What was she thinking? Was this any way to get someone to contribute to her cause? And what kind of language was this? Her great-grandmother would be turning in her grave right now, along with Elias. Adelaide Brimwell had been a lady through and through. So had Livi’s grandmother, Olivia, as well as Livi’s mom.
The thought of her mother made her tear up. How she wished Mom was still around to advise her. They’d always planned that Livi would take over running the organization one day, but neither had dreamed that day would come so soon. Her mother’s heart attack had struck like lightning. Livi’s brother had left town, moving to Seattle, which was just far enough south to keep the memories at bay. Livi had stayed put, holding on to every single one, weaving them together into a lifeline to cling to as she kept Christmas from the Heart afloat.
Oh, Mom. What should I do?
Try again came the answer.
Yes, her mother never gave up. She’d chased one potential donor for two years before he finally came through. Livi still remembered the day her mom left the house, clad in a Mrs. Santa costume she’d created—requisite white wig along with a frilly white blouse and a red skirt topped with a red-striped apron. She’d taken with her a batch of home-baked cookies nestled in a red basket and returned home with a check for five hundred dollars. The man had been a loyal contributor ever since. Livi still took him cookies every year. “Persistence pays,” she told herself as she deleted what she’d typed. She started over. I’m asking you to reconsider. Your company is our major donor, and without you so many people will have little joy this Christmas. Any amount you can give will be greatly appreciated. There. He’d have to be a heartless monster not to respond to that. Guy trashed the guilt-inflicting email. What was he, Santa Claus? He had his hands full keeping his company solvent. But then, people like Olivia Berg never considered the fact that a company might have needs of its own. What made them feel so entitled to sit at the edge of the salt mine while a man slaved away and then greet him with their hands out when he emerged broken and bruised? Maybe some of those people always begging for money should get out there and actually earn a living. Let them work their tails off, putting in seventy-hour weeks. Sheesh.
Anyway, the company had already met their good deed quota for the year. The only cause Guy was interested in now was Hightower Enterprises. By the end of the workday, Guy Hightower still hadn’t responded to Livi’s last email. “You are a heartless monster,” she grumbled, glaring at her empty email in-box.
“No word yet?” her part-time assistant, Bettina Thomas, asked as she shut down her computer. Livi sighed and shook her head.
“That is so wrong,” Bettina said in disgust.
It sure was. “They’ve been our major donor ever since my great-grandmother founded Christmas from the Heart. Without their contribution how will we put on the Christmas dinner at the community center? How many families won’t have presents under the tree or Christmas stockings or a Christmas turkey?” There was no Salvation Army in Pine River, no Toys for Tots— none of the usual organizations serviced this area. There had been no need. Christmas from the Heart had it under control. Until now.

“We’ve had to reassess our commitments,” Livi quoted. The words left a bad taste in her mouth and she frowned. “It sounds like something your boyfriend says when he’s dumping you.”
“They are dumping us,” Bettina pointed out. “But don’t worry. We have time. We’ll find someone else to come through.”
“Not like Hightower. There must be something I can do,” Livi mused.
“There is. Go home and eat chocolate.”
And try not to think bad thoughts about Guy Hightower.
In all fairness, he probably didn’t grasp the situation. She’d call him the next day and invite him to come to Pine River for a visit so she could let him see the need, show him a little of what Christmas from the Heart did for the community. She could take him to lunch, introduce him to some of the people in town, put a face—or better yet, several—to Christmas from the Heart. She’d top it all off by following in her mother’s footsteps and baking him cookies. Then how could he help but catch the vision his great-
grandfather and her great-grandmother had shared?
Yes, that would do it. Sometimes you had to be a little patient, give people a second chance.

Excerpted from Christmas From the Heart by Sheila Roberts. Copyright © 2019 by Roberts Ink LLC. Published by MIRA Books.

Sheila Roberts lives on a lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her novels have been published in several languages. Her book, Angel Lane, was an Amazon Top Ten Romance pick for 2009. Her holiday perennial, On Strike for Christmas, was made into a movie for the Lifetime Movie Network and her novel, The Nine Lives of Christmas, was made into a movie for Hallmark . You can visit Sheila on Twitter and Facebook or at her website (http://www.sheilasplace.com).

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Check out these other fun Christmas books that are on tour now from Harlequin!