Friday, July 15, 2016

Christmas in July? You bet!

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Christmas in July? You bet!
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Need a treat to beat the heat? Great! Keep reading…

Goodie #1Whispered Pain is now permanently FREE on all ebook retail sites! Download your copy today and spread the good cheer with fellow bookworms! The links are below:
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iTunes
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Give yourself a special bonus and get the audio version (deeply discounted) on Audible.

Goodie #2: Tainted Future is out in print, audio, and ebook! To celebrate, I’m offering the first two books, Tainted Cure and Tainted Reality, for only $0.99 each! PLUS ~ the first 25 people to respond to this email will receive the audio version of Tainted Future for FREE via Audible!

Goodie #3: Fine as Frog Hair is available for preorder at the following sites for less than a buck! Release date is August 31, 2016 and the audio version, featuring the amazing voice talent of Homer V. Jones, will be available as well. Though a short story (less than 15,000 words) I believe you will enjoy the story of Marvin Hermesch.

Below is the synopsis:

Can the past heal the future? 

Ninety-one-year-old Marvin Hermesch is determined to find out.

After sneaking out of the retirement home on a hot and humid Sunday afternoon, Marvin embarks upon a journey. His memory is deteriorating fast, and he’s having difficulty recalling the face of his deceased wife, Ruthie.

As his short-term memory slips, it awakens memories buried deep from his younger days and vivid nightmares of his youth, including the horrors of World War II.

Armed with an empty journal, some water, and his trusty old truck, Marvin heads to his childhood home in the backwoods of Grant County, Arkansas for one last journey; one final battle.

Marvin fights to regain control of his mind and body by confronting the tragedies of the past in hopes of healing the future. 


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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Summertime deal ~ southern style!

When people we love pass on we are left with only our memories of them in our hearts and minds. Recalling touching moments tend to make us shed tears. Hysterical laughter ensues when remembering a funny story involving our loved one. Even a favorite phrase or saying sticks, and when heard again from the lips of another, immediately dredges up memories of the special person in your life who used the same expression.

Knowing they are no longer around to say them hurts the heart and soul like nothing else can.

My grandfather passed away in 2005 and the mere mention of his name makes a lump of tears form in my throat. We were very close and I had the privilege of growing up and listening to stories of his youth told in a deep, rhythmic baritone thick with a southern accent. As most storytellers, Grandpa loved an audience to regal with lavish tales of a world no longer around, interspersing the stories with nuggets of old-school values and ideals. Many humid summer nights were spent on the screened-in front porch shelling peas (yes, I shelled them but no, I refused to eat them) and listening to him talk about life in southern Arkansas. To say I miss those times would be an understatement.

One of his favorite sayings in response to the question, “How are you?” always made me laugh. He’d give a mischievous grin and reply, “I’m fine as frog hair!”

The first time I remember him saying the phrase I was around eight and I giggled. “Grampa! Frogs don’t have hair!” to which he replied, “Darling, it’s so fine you can’t see it, but it’s there. Some things you have to use your heart to see.”

At the age of eight, I really didn’t grasp the meaning of the explanation. All I knew was the phrase made me laugh whenever he said it, and the expression became a running joke between the two of us. The tradition carried on when my son was born, and my beloved grandfather passed on his wisdom, morals, and our family history to his great-grandson with each bedtime story.

Fine as Frog Hair is the title of my latest book, a short novel (under 12,000 words) with certain parts inspired by my grandfather. It’s a tribute to a man I loved, respected, and miss every day
.
Grandpa would cluck his tongue or shake his head if he heard someone use the expression “Those were the good old days.” His response? “Only to those who never experienced them.” This story explains why he felt that way, and how strong previous generations were in a very different world than we live in now.

I’m thrilled to announce the audio version will be narrated by Homer V. Jones. I cried when listening to his audition sample. Mr. Jones sounded so much like my grandfather it was eerie and wonderful at the same time.

Fine as Frog Hair is slated for release August 31, 2016 on all retail channels (Amazon, B&N, and iTunes) and is available for preorder for only .99 cents. The synopsis and an excerpt from Chapter 1 are below.



Can the past heal the future?
Ninety-year-old Marvin Hermesch is determined to find out.
After sneaking out of the retirement home on a hot and humid Sunday afternoon, Marvin embarks upon a journey. His memory is deteriorating fast, and he’s having difficulty recalling the face of his deceased wife, Ruthie.
As his short-term memory slips, it awakens memories buried deep from his younger days and vivid nightmares of his youth, including the horrors of World War II.
Armed with an empty journal, some water, and his trusty old truck, Marvin heads to his childhood home in the backwoods of Grant County, Arkansas for one last journey; one final battle.
Marvin fights to regain control of his mind and body by confronting the tragedies of the past in hopes of healing the future.

Chapter One


MARVIN SHUFFLED DOWN the sprawling concrete steps as fast as his old legs would allow. The smell of gardenias and magnolias hung heavy in the humid, late Sunday afternoon air. The fragrant aroma embedded its natural perfume on his damp shirt—a welcome reprieve from the stench of disinfectants and bleach. Sweat sprinted down his back and face while making his way across the thick grass to the back parking area.
Stopping at the edge of the blacktop to catch his breath, he wiped the dampness from his forehead. Glancing around to ensure no one had noticed him slip outside, ninety-one-year-old Marvin Dean “Junior” Hermesch let a true, genuine smile form—a first in nearly three years. The only thing standing in the yard was the brick inlaid sign proudly proclaiming the name of the place, Rolling Brooks Estates. The faux-gold, trimmed lettering was overly ostentatious and didn’t reflect the continual nightmare of the poor, elderly souls trapped behind the doors, stashed away with nothing to look forward to except death.
When Marvin arrived at his new home two years prior, he’d gasped at the beauty of the building and grounds. At the time, he thought the lovely surroundings would help ease the pain of selling his home and moving into the assisted-living facility full of complete strangers. The three-story, red brick exterior sported six enormous, white columns gracing the porch encircling the entire place. A well-manicured yard dotted with weeping willows made the area look more like a scene from Gone with the Wind than a retirement home.
The beauty was a fake fa├žade—a siren’s call beckoning weary travelers of life with false promises of rest and sanctuary. The place was nothing more than a fancy, large mausoleum, complete with thin and frail corpses shuffling around inside. The residents were dried up husks of their former selves, betrayed by their own bodies and minds. The life sucked out of them little by little each passing day of incarceration.
Squaring his once strong shoulders, Marvin took a deep breath, letting the sweet aroma of the flowers invigorate his soul. They reminded him of his birthplace; made his heart thump with excitement, knowing the backwoods of Grant County was today’s destination.
Marvin refused to spend the remainder of his life withering away while the staff and other residents watched him wilt from afar. He was just a name and number—a frail body occupying Room 272—and when he passed, another aged soul would slip into his spot.
The residents were like elderly cattle huddled together, never noticing when a member of the decrepit herd dropped to the ground.
Two years of having every move monitored, no say in what to eat, when to sleep, who he shared a room with, how he lived, was more than enough.
It was time to go. Time for Marvin to head back home and reconnect with his roots before the dark shadows of confusion overtook his thoughts forever. He feared the next bout would be a permanent break, trapping him inside the twisted hallways of a shattered mind.
Picking up his pace despite the intense waves of heat billowing up from the pavement, Marvin reached his old Dodge truck. He tried, yet couldn’t recall, how long it’d been since he’d driven. Weeks? Months? A year? Would he even remember how to operate the thing?
Gnarled fingers shaking, Marvin unlocked the door and climbed behind the wheel, tossing the bag full of goodies on the floorboard. The tattoo on his right forearm of an anchor with the words USS Langley had faded, yet under the bright afternoon sun, the bluish-black ink seemed brighter. Pride swelled inside his concaved chest. He’d been a Gunner’s Mate on the ship during World War II—and was one of the fortunate who’d survived after she’d sunk.
Unwilling to revisit those memories, Marvin glanced at his hands. The thick, silver wedding band still held its place of honor on his left ring finger even though his beloved wife Ruthie had been gone for almost ten years.
Thinking about his beautiful wife, even though he missed her so bad it made his chest tighten, was much better than reliving the horrors of the war. For years, he’d kept the terrifying images locked away in the deepest recesses of his mind. Once discharged, he’d gone on with life, married, owned a successful construction business, and enjoyed the companionship of friends and his wife. Those activities helped keep the memories sealed away.
Things changed when Ruthie passed on from cancer. The lock inside him weakened, and when Marvin moved into Rolling Brooks Estates after suffering several falls at home, the mental lock snapped in two, releasing the horrid visions of the war which haunted him day and night.
“Not gonna think about that! No you aren’t, Junior. Not today. It’s time for a Sunday drive to clear the cobwebs from the head. Yes siree!”
Forcing all his concentration on the ignition switch, Marvin said a silent prayer for the old V8 to behave. He grinned when the truck started right up. He patted the cracked, worn leather on the dashboard. “That’s my girl. You’re all I got left to rely on. Let’s take us one last journey, okay? Just two old hunks of junk no one cares about riding off into the sunset. It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about us, right? Like Meemaw always said—if we’re breathing, we’re fine as frog hair, aren’t we Bertha?”
With one last, loving caress of the worn dash, Marvin put the truck into drive. He gave a fake salute in the direction of the retirement home then glanced in the rear view mirror. His cloudy, blue eyes stared back at him with a renewed sparkle. The thick waves of white hair curled up at the ends from the sweat on his brow.
“God, when did I get so old? I’m certainly no longer a towhead. I’m an old gray dog ready to revisit—in person—the vivid memories of my younger days before the recollections disappear for good.”



Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Suicide Lake arrives!

My latest release, a romantic suspense entitled Suicide Lake, is slated for release on May 20, 2016. For a limited time, you can snag the ebook for only $.99! 



Those who have secrets… 

Renee Thornton is on the brink of despair, ready to take a final plunge and join the other tragic souls at the bottom of Bradford Lake—known to locals as Suicide Lake. 

Beneath the murky waters… 

Her plans change when she’s startled back to reality after a body brushes up against her from the depths below. Terrified, Renee runs away and slams into her old flame Cliff Simpson, a deputy with Whitten County Sheriff’s Department. 

Will stop at nothing… 

Strange events unfurl after the discovery of the corpse. Renee and Cliff find themselves caught up in a web of lies, deceit, and mystery. 

To keep them hidden… 

Now instead of being able to slip away silently and become another anonymous statistic, Renee finds herself entangled in a murder investigation. Is Cliff her ally or enemy? Who can she trust? What other secrets will rise to the surface?

Partial sneak peek at Chapter One!
POOR ME.
Poor little Renee Michelle Runsford, nee, Thornton.
That’s what people would say when my body was discovered, all bloated and flesh missing from being nibbled on by fish. Yet another sad story to be passed around on social media then forgotten. Boom! A big firework exploding in the sky for all to see and ogle. A burst of excitement for people to ooohh and aaahh over. When the bright lights disappeared, memories of me would last no longer than the smoky remnants.
Boo-freaking-hoo.
I threw a pebble into the water, watching the ripples spread out from the point of entry. They started out small then widened into large, lopsided circles. Some of the edges caught the orange rays of the disappearing sun, making the water look like it was on fire.
I didn’t miss the comparison to my life.

***

THE FIRST BIG boulder that crashed into my personal space happened at thirteen. Up until then, though not anywhere near close to the words normal or perfect, my life had been…tolerable. My father, the late, great piece of shit known to others as Raymond—I’m—too—much—of—a—Redneck—to—have—a—middle—name Thornton, disappeared from my life. Mom—the always sad and perpetually whiny Caroline Clark Thornton, told me dear old Dad found a new family to spend time with rather than us.
I was so hurt, so saddened to see Mom in such pain, I didn’t question her story. I was too preoccupied with other things like helping to pay the bills and attempting to maintain my grades. Determined to be supportive, I lied about my age and snagged my first job at a laundromat. The pay was pathetic yet it did help put food on the table.
Unfortunately, some of the money made its way to Gene’s Liquor Store and bought bottles of wine. I didn’t realize the connection until a few years later. By then, it was too late to help. Caroline—I—was—once—the—Homecoming—Queen Thornton was a raging alcoholic.

***

THE NEXT ROCK thrown into my personal pond happened three years later and I still felt the ripples even after all this time. After a long Saturday working at the laundromat I arrived home and discovered Mom in a drunken stupor. Unlike most times when she overindulged and simply cried herself to sleep, ol’ Caroline Thornton was on a rampage. The ugly memories clouded my vision, my mother’s words as fresh in my mind as the day she spoke them.
“He left us! The no good, dirty, piece-of-shit! Left us to fend for ourselves. How could he? I mean, he married the Caroline Clark! I was homecoming queen, you know. Could’ve had any man I wanted in this county, yet I picked him. Gave him a family. Took care of our home. Cooked dinner. Serviced him whenever he wanted. Ungrateful bastard.”
“Mom, I think you’ve had enough for one night.”
“Don’t you talk to me like I’m a child, Renee! I’m the mother here. I’ll say when I’ve had enough, and I haven’t yet. Don’t think there’s enough booze in the world to forget what he did to me. To us.”
“Okay, Mom. I’m going to fix some coffee. It’s been a really long day. Would you like some?”
“Oh, my sweet Renee. Always looking out for me. Of course I would. You make the best coffee.”
“Thanks. I’ve had a lot of practice,” I muttered.
Fortunately, Mom was too intoxicated to catch my heavy sarcasm.
“You should let me highlight your hair. It’s too boring. You’ll never catch a man with that pile of mouse fur on your head. Some blonde streaks would help. And why aren’t you wearing any makeup? A lady should always put her best face on when she leaves the house. If you keep going out looking so frumpy, people will think you’re nothing but poor, white trash. You could be beautiful, Renee, just like me, if you try a little.”
“We are poor, Mom.”
“Well that certainly isn’t my fault! It’s your father’s. I’ve been trying to get a raise at work, but so far, no luck.”
“Maybe you should look for a different job, Mom. You’ve been slaving away at the store for years. If that doesn’t work, Mr. Richardson might give you one if you quit missing so much work.”
“Oh, little miss high and mighty! Big words coming from a girl who works in a laundromat all day! What you do isn’t near the stress I have at work. Period.”
“Here, Mom. Have some hot coffee.”
For a few minutes, the conversation dwindled down to nothing but sporadic comments about mundane things, mostly about my boring face, bland choice of clothing, and mousey hair. I thought the night would end on a somewhat normal note. I was used to Mom’s constant bitching about my appearance.
Boy, was I wrong.
After Mom finished her coffee, she pushed the empty cup to the center of the table. She fumbled around looking for a cigarette in the pockets of her tattered robe. Twice, she nearly fell from the chair. Once she found the pack, lit one, blew a heavy plume of smoke from thin lips smeared with red lipstick, she dropped the bombshell.
“Your dad didn’t leave us.”
Stunned, I replied, “What do you mean? Of course he did! For that Cyndi chick who worked at Snack-n-Go. Remember?”
“I sort of lied. To protect you.”
“Sort of lied to protect me? Exactly what does that mean? Did he leave you for another man or something?” I blurted out.
For the first time in years, Mom laughed. It was a strange sound, mixed with the heavy wetness constantly in the chest of a smoker. “Wow, sixteen and already a hard-core cynic. No, Renee, your dad wasn’t gay. He was a cheater like I said. And he did have an affair with Cyndi Robertson.”
Confused yet curious, I asked, “Then what part of your story was a lie?”
“That he left us.”
Irritated at her drunken ramblings, I stood and went to the sink, unwilling to listen to any more. “I’m going to take a shower and do my homework. Goodnight, Mom.”
“No, you aren’t. Sit down, I’m not finished with getting this off my chest. I’ve got to. If I don’t, I think I’ll go insane.”
Mom never shared her innermost thoughts and feelings with me. Something about the tone in her voice made the hairs stand up on my arms. “I’m listening.”
“I suspected he was cheating, so one night, I followed him. He said he was going for a ride on his Harley to clear his head. I knew he was lying because I saw it behind his eyes. Sure enough, I caught them together at Bradford Lake. Oh, I was so angry. One minute, I was screaming and yelling at them both, and the next, I was standing at the water’s edge covered in blood.”
“You…are you saying you killed Dad?” I whispered.
“Yep. And Cyndi. Took a tire iron and smashed their cheating heads in. Dumped them and the bike in the lake and came home.”

***
MOM’S WORDS HAD burned a hole in my chest. I left that night, running out of the house despite her drunken pleas to come back. I ran down the dark street of our trailer park, through the center of town, out past the baseball fields, until I collapsed into a sobbing heap.
The only comfort I found was in the arms of the man who would end up being my ex. He happened by and saw me crying and pulled up. His strong arms enveloped me in a warm embrace while I wept. He didn’t ask what was wrong, just provided companionship.
Oh, and a bottle of tequila, which we drank together under the moonlight until both of us were so drunk, I’m not sure how we ended up having sex.
We did, and the stick turned blue two months later.
A month before I gave birth, Mom died in a car accident on her way home from a bar, and I married the father of my child. A sweet, baby boy who only lived for six months. Burying the little body of my son sent me to my first trip inside a psychiatric hospital.
Things had been screwed up ever since.
Now I was homeless after losing my oh-so-exciting menial job. The job prospects were nil for a forty-nine-year-old high school dropout living in a small town. With minimal education, I didn’t qualify for much. I couldn’t compete with young, twenty-somethings who were well schooled in technology. Unemployment kept me fed and the lights on but wasn’t enough to pay the mortgage. After the six months of minuscule checks stopped, I couldn’t even afford the filing fee for bankruptcy.
No siblings. No children. No extended family. No close friends willing to take me in, so things boiled down to one, horrifying truth.
I’d been forced to rely on a woman who for years had been a painful thorn in my side. With my house in foreclosure, I swallowed my pride and showed up on the doorstep of Eleanor Runsford. To her credit, she opened the door and ushered me inside. I’d been living in a back bedroom, hiding myself from the world, for two months. 
God really had a sick sense of humor and to be quite honest, I was tired of it.
Staring down at the worn out comforter I brought with me, I let a deep sigh escape, feeling oddly connected to the disheveled rag.  At one point, it had been a vibrant collage of colors, loved by someone, a warm treasure they snuggled up to every night.
Not anymore. The colors had faded into a dingy mishmash of nothing, a used up rag cared for by no one.  Tossed uncaringly into a back bedroom where no one would see it. Just like me.  No one would ever miss the pile of thread should it disappear, and I doubted anyone would really miss me, either.

***

I ROLLED THE full bottle of Xanax around in my hands for the longest moment. The small piece of plastic, a worthless outer shell that would serve as proof I took my own life, was one of the last things I would ever touch.
How utterly symbolic.
Although Eleanor had a myriad of medications to choose from, Xanax seemed the fastest avenue and was the one she had the most of. This was not the first time I contemplated killing myself but I had never come this close to actually accomplishing it. The previous times I entertained these thoughts I was like Hamlet, lamenting my lot in life and all the sadness and pain that had been my constant companion. All the other times I stopped myself, unwilling to end my life for fear of God’s retribution against suicide.
When these morbid, suicidal thoughts entered my mind, it was due to a panicked state I created over an event leading me to want to end it all. I would bounce between hysterical crying jags to under-the-covers-for-days bouts of depression.
This time was different. My mind was no longer like a tennis ball bouncing around a tennis court. No more thoughts bounding wildly from one side to the other. A few weeks ago, I began wandering into the deepest, darkest recesses and crouched in the back corner, closing every tie to my world as I went.  And as my mind retreated, my soul followed, veering so far away from God I just didn’t care anymore if offing myself would damn me for all eternity. 
Hell, I was damned right here on Earth already.
Fear of fire and brimstone was replaced by this constant throbbing of mind-numbing memories. My new medical issues didn’t help any, either. I wanted more than anything to vanquish everything away. To blink my eyes just once and start over; to be the recipient of some other-worldly miracle. Seriously, just to clasp, even if only briefly, onto the notion that there was some sort of hope.
Those wishes never came to pass, so here I sat, ready for the end.
The enjoyment of life had been drained from my body and soul with each wound I sustained over the years. I was being bled dry and the final mortal wounds came this year, one right after another. Vicious blows that didn’t just knock me on my ass but stomped me into the ground.  Now, I was a lifeless corpse stumbling through life with no purpose or direction.
It was time to go. Time to join the others and take the plunge into Suicide Lake.

***

I LOOKED OUT across the water and over to the tree line. Gray, leafless and dead; a perfect summation of what my life had become. My final day in this wretched world and my last view was of dead trees, a used up comforter, and gripping a plastic pill bottle. 
Why would I have expected more?
Uncapping the lid, I shook out my salvation, counting them as I went. Twenty pills seemed enough to do the trick, so I grabbed my water bottle in my lap to chase them. I wanted my body to become as tranquil as the water in front of me, ready for the constant ache in my back and heart, to cease. 
The sun was almost gone. Three pills downed, I stopped. Before swallowing any more, I took in one last look of the beautiful lake. I understood, fully and completely, why others came to this spot to end their lives. The tranquility was a welcome reprieve from the chaotic world. A final memory burned into the brain of peace and beauty.
I glanced back down when something hard bumped against my foot. The last glint of the sun’s rays danced off the top of the water. Squinting, I noticed the dark, red glow was back.
Instead of basking in the lovely color on the gentle ripples, I screamed.
The red sheen wasn’t from the sun.
It was from blood, and it coated my feet, which rested right next to a stiff hand poking up from the depths below.
I jumped to my feet, scrambling to get away from the corpse. The comforter, water bottle, and pills went flying. Instead of going after them, I let them disappear under the water.
Heart pounding and body shaking, I backed away from the edge of the boardwalk. My first instinct was to grab my cell and call for help. I felt around in my pocket, only to remember I didn’t bring it with me because it had been turned off three days earlier for nonpayment.
“Damnit!”
“Ma’am? Are you okay?”
Spinning around, I came face-to-face with a man. It took me several seconds to realize he was a cop.
And I knew him.
“Clifton! You scared the shit out of me! What are you…oh, never mind. I’m just glad you’re here. I, uh, didn’t bring my phone, so I was going to head to town and call for help.”
Clifton Simpson walked toward me. In the dimming light, dressed in his uniform with the vest underneath giving him extra padding, he seemed bigger than I remembered.
“Renee? Renee Runsford?”
“Thornton. I changed back after my divorce.”
Clifton moved closer, all of his six-foot plus frame only inches away. He smelled like stale coffee, sweat, and cheap cologne. I hadn’t seen him in years but recognized the thick head of jet black hair—now interspersed with flecks of white—and his deep, rhythmic voice. How I didn’t hear him walking down the boardwalk earlier escaped me. Guess I was too wrapped up inside thoughts of my horrible life.
“Oh, that’s right. Forgot. Sorry. So, we got a call from a concerned citizen. Said they saw a woman sitting out here on the edge of the dock, alone. Asked for a unit to stop by and check it out, so here I am. What are you doing out here, Renee? You been drinking? You look unsteady.”
“My mother was the drinker in my family, not me, so no. I look unsteady because I just touched a dead body.”
“Excuse me?” Clifton replied. His forehead knitted together in disbelief and confusion. “A body?”
Stepping away, I moved to the edge of the dock and pointed. “Yeah, body. Didn’t you hear me scream?”
Clifton pulled out a flashlight and walked past me, peering over the edge. “I did, but thought…oh, shit. Doesn’t really matter at this point what I thought.”
Backing away, Clifton put his arm on my chest, forcing me to step back. He grabbed the microphone on his shoulder and radioed for assistance.
The warm breeze from earlier was gone, along with the annoying mosquitoes. Darkness settled like a death shroud over the lake. A chill of fear made me shiver. Clifton noticed and led me to his unit. He pulled out a jacket and handed it to me.
“You should’ve worn something warmer,” he said.
“Wasn’t planning on staying out here long,” I grumbled. My mood was deteriorating as the Xanax flowed through my veins. Sirens wailed in the distance. “May I go now? Sounds like your buddies are close.”
“Sorry, Renee, but you’ll need to stay here until one of the detectives speak with you.”
Aghast, worried they’d notice I was barred out, I opened my mouth to protest. I shut it just as fast when I remembered the pills—and the bottle with Eleanor’s name—had fallen into the lake.
The radio on Clifton’s shoulder crackled to life, saving me from having to respond. The sirens were closer and I could see headlights bouncing through the winding road leading to the lake.
So much for a quiet, peaceful evening to end my life. There certainly would be noise and activity now.
Damn.
Of course, someone else’s tragedy trumped my own.
Figures.


Available now for only $.99 at the following retail sites:

Audiobook coming soon, narrated by the incredible Sara Morsey!