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The Wilds is now available in audio! Free copies to be had!

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Hey! It’s that time again : )  That’s right, free audio codes!

If you would like a free copy of The Wilds in audio, email me at Donnaaugustinebooks@gmail.com.

After you email me for a code, follow these instructions:

  1. Go to The Wilds’ page http://www.audible.com/pd/Sci-Fi-Fantasy/The-Wilds-Audiobook/B019R3CIX2/ on Audible.com.
  2. Add The Wilds to your cart.
  3. Log in with your Amazon account.
  4. Enter the promo code and click “Redeem” on the cart page.
  5. To change the price from full price to $0.00, click the box next to “1 Credit” and click the “update” button to apply the credit to your purchase.
  6. Complete checkout, and start listening to the free copy of The Wilds.

Big old tree trunk with roots in rain forest. Jungle landscape a

 

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First Three Karma Books Available on iTunes and Amazon

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All three Karma books are now live on Amazon, Acx and iTunes. Will have promo codes soon so stay tuned!

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iTunes

Amazon

 

 

In other news, The Keepers is going to be in a box set with novels from six other authors. This is going to be a available for a limited time only, probably 3-6 months.

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Amazon

The Keepers

Two days ago, Jo Davids was a waitress by night and a college kid by day, with the unnerving problem of objects floating around her. One Day ago, Jo’s sexy boss, Cormac, noticed her for all the wrong reasons when she witnessed a man transform into a monster in the basement of his casino. Today, Cormac ordered her shot.

Dire Straits

A half-dead daemon, a massacre at her based PI firm and evidence that suggests she’s the main suspect for both … Bo Blackman is having a very bad week.

She might be naive and inexperienced but she’s determined to get to the bottom of the crimes, even if it means involving herself with one of London’s most powerful vampire Families and their enigmatic leader.

Dog with a Bone

Half-bloods with Thierry’s skill set are given two options. They can join the conclave’s marshal program, or they can pack their bags. Turn down the job offer, and you’ve just booked yourself a one-way ticket to Faerie.

Texas is the only home Thierry has ever known, and she’s not going anywhere. Even if it means following in her notorious father’s footsteps as a peacekeeper. But pinning on the badge opens her eyes to the fact sometimes fae need protection too, and that sometimes humans are the real monsters.

A Demon Bound

Samantha Martin is an imp, enjoying an extended vacation from Hell. All she wants to do is drink beer by the pool, play mischievous pranks on the humans, and get her hot neighbor in the sack. It’s a relaxing break from her infernal home as long as she manages to avoid the angels, who won’t hesitate to execute her on sight.

But when her naughty hellhound lands her in trouble with the local werewolf pack, Sam is blackmailed into helping track and catch a killer. The steps she must take to appease the werewolves will put her right in the crosshairs of the angels. And with angels, there is no second chance.

Influential Magic

Willow Rhoswen, part-time vampire hunter for the Void, is having a rough week. Four years after her twin brother’s mysterious death, Willow’s life is threatened and the director saddles her with a new partner—her ex-boyfriend turned vamp, David. But unsure of where David’s loyalties lie, Willow turns to Talisen, her childhood crush, for help. Caught between two gorgeous men and a director who’ll stop at nothing to control Willow’s gifts, she’ll have to follow her instincts and learn who to trust. Otherwise, she risks losing more than just her life.

Forbidden

Flint DeLuca and her dad have moved three times in the past year. But that’s the life of a carnie. Even an ex-carnie like her. Her father swears this is the last move. All Flint wants now is to graduate from High School and put the carnival life behind her. Unfortunately, one of the two ain’t gonna happen.

Cain. No last name. Wears shades in school. Dresses entirely in black. And only speaks to her when he’s insulting her. And yet… there’s something about the Goth boy that draws her like a moth to flame. God, she can’t wait to graduate, only problem is she’s pretty sure her high school’s infested by vampires. Cain might be one of them. And for some reason, she seems to be on their menu.

All For a Rose

A tale as old as time… An enchanted rose. A witch’s curse. A beast’s temper. A maiden who can see the potential for good even beneath the scales of a monster. It’s amazing what can transpire…All for a Rose.

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Interview with Author Donna Taylor and Prologue of Her Book, Copper Moon

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I’m having over a friend of mine for an interview today. She’s a fellow author who I’ve become friendly with and whose writing I love! She writes contemporary romance set in Arkansas.

Before we get to the interview though, I’d like to share her prologue.

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Copper Moon by Donna Taylor

PROLOGUE

10 Years Earlier

My family was really good at keeping secrets, big ones, small ones, and everything in between. Today, I was going to add another one to my own personal list.

My gramps was the best. He totally got that at fourteen, I was old enough to make it to the movies by myself. It was only three streets over from where he’d be hanging out at the feed store. What could happen in three blocks? Besides, it wasn’t like Copper Ridge was a huge city or something. Sure, there were plenty of strangers in town, as summer was in full swing, but most of them would be at the lake or on one of the rivers during the day. Tourists didn’t waste sunshine hanging out at the movies, especially on a weekend. Matinees were pretty much locals only on a Saturday. Which was great, ‘cause that made it the perfect place to meet friends.

“Now Sis, you go straight to the show and don’t make no detours. As soon as it’s over, you get that skinny hinny back here. Your dad will skin the hide clean offin’ me if anything happens to you.” Gramps winked as he finished talking.

Gramps planned on sitting in the storage area of the feed store with all the other men, young and old alike, who showed up to swap stories and share the latest gossip. He said it was better than any newspaper for finding out what was going on with anyone who lived within a fifty mile radius of town. I was tickled when he volunteered to pick up the salt blocks for the cattle so I could catch a ride into town with him instead of Dad. Gramps had a million stories which made the thirty minute ride a blast.

If Dad ever found out even half the stories Gramps told me it would get ugly. Moonshine, revenuers, shootouts, and fast cars. Best. Stories. Ever! Gramps knew what he was talking about, too. He was a fifth generation moonshiner, and dang proud of it. Dad had broken with tradition and become a cattle rancher. He had taken the few cattle the family owned as a cover for the real business of moonshine and expanded the herd, until now it wasn’t just a front but an honest to goodness ranch. Gramps said that made him even prouder, ‘cause times were changing. Said making shine had always been a dangerous business, sometimes deadly, and he was glad to know his son was walking a different path to make a living.

I waved at Gramps, not sure he even saw. He was already swapping tales with a bunch of old guys, walking toward the open bay doors that gave access to the shaded interior. With a grin I turned and headed out for the theater.

Cutting through a back street to knock off some of the distance, I‘d just entered the alley that ran alongside the theater when a truck thundered past me. Music screamed out the open windows. The bright red four-by-four with monster tires made it easy to identify who the owner was—Billy Wayne, the sheriff’s boy and schoolyard bully. The truck came to a screeching halt at an angle just past me. Typical for BW and his crew. Big time showoffs. The music cut off as the doors opened and the boys spilled out, laughing and knocking into each other the way guys do. All the boys were older than me but I still knew each one. I wasn’t too worried about them, since they’d never paid any attention to me at school or anywhere else I ran across them. I kept walking; doing my best to ignore them.

As I went to pass where they were all horsing around, BW stepped in front of me, bringing me to a halt. The other two guys maneuvered to flank me on either side. I felt the first stirring of nervousness at being surrounded by the likes of BW and his buddies. They were still talking trash to each other, but I knew it would soon be me they turned on to tease. They’d probably talk some dirty crap, impressing nobody but themselves.

Boys had started paying more attention to me this summer. Grow some boobs, have the braces come off, and guys suddenly started seeing you. Whatever, I’d been learning to do a pretty good job of tuning jerks out. But this time it felt different. Uglier. Staring at BW I tried out the best mean look I had.

“Get out of my way.” My stink-eye didn’t seem to have much effect other than to set off hooting and mimicking of my words by the two on either side of me. BW just smiled. He had a better mean look than me, even when he was smiling.

“Ain’t you Moonshine’s granddaughter?”

“Don’t call him that!” Nerves fled and anger took its place. Now I knew how this was gonna go. I’d been dealing with it ever since I got old enough to have guys start trying to get me to sneak booze to them. Sometimes they just wanted to taunt me about what my grandpa did.

“What? Ain’t that what everyone calls him?” BW spread his arms wide and shrugged like he was surprised by my anger.

Trey was quick to chime in, as though he was puzzled, “Man, you mean that ain’t his name?”

Not to be left out, Robbie snickered, “Shit, I’m pretty sure that’s what my old man calls him.”

Standing as straight as possible, trying to make myself look taller and tougher, I glared at each of the morons in turn. “If you don’t let me by I’m gonna start screaming. Someone’ll hear me. Then you’ll be in big trouble.”

“Whooo, that’s scary, boys. We better back off or we’re gonna be in big trouble.” BW pitched his voice high on the last three words, mocking me. He stepped aside and waved me through. Guess I should have known he was letting me go too easy, but all I could think about was getting the heck out of there. If I made it to the end of the alley there’d be people around and these jerks would have to leave me alone.

Taking a cautious step forward, I kept a wary eye on BW. He still had both hands in the air, as though he honestly meant to let me go. I flicked a quick glance at Robbie, then over to Trey, to see if they were also gonna let me get away. They both had puzzled looks, as though wondering why the heck BW was letting me leave, but they didn’t appear to be getting ready to grab me. That was all the encouragement I needed. Gathering myself I went to dart around BW, ready to make a run for it. I moved quickly, but BW was quicker. His arm snaked out as I passed and a hand tightened painfully around my upper arm.

Jerked to a halt, BW dragged me up against his overgrown teenage body. I knew I was trapped when his other arm wrapped across my chest, pulling me in tight. I let lose a scream, which was quickly cut off by the hand that had first grabbed me. I exploded into a mass of kicking, twisting fury.

BW was spitting out the f-bomb and yelled at his two hooting and laughing partners, “Grab those damn legs.”

Eager to jump into the tussle, Trey and Robbie maneuvered into position. Trey bent to make a grab for my right leg, which gave me a perfect shot at his face with my foot. While I’d been busy trying to kick him in the head his buddy, Robbie, went for my other leg. The feel of blunt nails scraping a trail down my shins, as their hands tried to get a firm grip, ignited real fear in me for the first time in my life.

I managed to land a heel to Trey’s chin, but Robbie had gotten control of my left leg. His fingers dug in savagely. BW’s beefy hand more than smothered my screams, it cut off what little air I managed to pull into lungs squeezed tight by the arm he’d wrapped across my upper torso. All the fight in me was slowly being crushed, along with my ability to breathe. I knew it was just a matter of time before Trey would get control of my one remaining flailing limb. Fear jacked into terror as BW’s arm began to shift across my chest until he was able to grab one of my breasts and squeeze painfully. One second of frozen shock was all Trey needed to capture and give a vicious twist to my leg. Payback for the face kick.

“Carry her over behind the truck.” BW ordered, a sick excitement threading through his words. I continued to buck as best I could, but that only seemed to slide my short tee higher and expose more of my body by the second. There was no real thinking involved on how I was going to escape what was happening. All that kept firing off in my thoughts was I had to keep fighting.

“Turn her lose you sons-a-bitches.” Barely controlled rage thrummed through the bite of those words.

Whoever was coming to my rescue scared the crap out of Robbie and Trey. They dropped my legs in their scramble to back away. My sandals had been lost in all that wild twisting, when my legs were dropped my bare feet scraped the broken ground. BW released me so quickly there was no time to catch myself to keep from falling. Pitching forward, my knees smashed into gravel. Luckily my hands slapped the ground before my face did.

The meaty thud of a fist contacting flesh registered as background noise, my brain was fighting off terror and my lungs were dragging in huge gulps of oxygen.

My mind was screaming at me to get up. Trying to push to my feet ground small rocks deeper into the palms of my hands and the tender flesh of my knees. Gritting my teeth, determined not to let the bastards know I was scared and hurting, I managed to get to my feet. Trying to get it together gave me time to watch Jase Rydan pull BW up off the ground. Staring at Jase, I now knew who had saved me. The blood streaming out of BW’s nose also made it pretty obvious who’d received a face full of fist.

Little chicken shit wasn’t even trying to fight back. Jase looked disgusted at the fear in BW’s eyes as he growled at him, “You, and your little fucked-up friends, need to get your puckered asses out of here before you end up having to scrape them off the ground.”

I’d no plans on sticking around to see what was going to happen next. Turning around, head up, back stiff, I started limping back in the direction I’d just come from. Praying the whole time…please, just let me get out of here. The humiliation of being caught in a situation like that, piled on top of the fear and anger, had my eyes burning from holding back tears. My throat felt like I’d eaten crushed glass but I couldn’t stop swallowing compulsively. In my desperation to flee the spot where my childish illusions of safety and invincibility had been shattered, I didn’t even stop to thank my rescuer. Though Jase called my name, I just kept on walking.

The sound of boots thudding behind me, then a hand landing gently on my shoulder had me whirling and knocking the light touch away.

 

* * *

 

Jase tried to look as non-threatening as possible. Charlotte Donley, the young girl standing in front of him, had her teeth bared and the wild look of a cornered animal. He had the feeling one wrong move would have her tearing down the street away from him.

Her ponytail was a bedraggled mess of barely contained scarlet strands. Furious blue eyes dared him to take a step closer. He had to admire the fact she was obviously still in defense mode and not quivering in terror.

Hell, she’d been fighting her three attackers with the ferocity of a feral kitten as he drove by the ally. Jase had a feeling she was damn lucky he’d noticed what those little bastards were up to. He scanned down her thin frame, trying to determine if there was any real damage.

Blood oozed sluggishly from a dozen tiny scrapes on both the palms of her hands and caps of her knees. There were four nasty looking scratches on her left shin. The sight of them had him regretting having let those three little cocksuckers run off. Her bare feet reminded him he was holding her sandals in his hand.

“Charlotte, I’m not going to hurt you. You know me and my family. We’re the closest thing you’ve got to a neighbor in our neck of the woods.” Jase tried to calm her. “All I want to do is help you get back to your parents. Are they here in town? Bet they let you walk to the movies all by yourself, right? Kid, you can’t run off without your shoes. At least hang around long enough to get your shoes and let’s see if we can clean you up a bit.” His voice was low and soothing, lips curled at the corners in a tiny smile. Hands in the air, palms up, in a non-threatening show of peace. Sandals dangled by their straps from one of his fingers.

 

* * *

 

I wasn’t an idiot. Of course he wasn’t going to hurt me; he’d just saved me. And duh, everyone knew who Jase Rydan was. It kinda surprised me that he knew who I was, since he was so much older. But right now the thought of anyone touching me was a no-go. I felt pretty desperate to get out of there before I started bawling right in front of him.

All I could focus on was getting back to the feed store, climbing into the truck without anyone seeing me, and then coming up with a believable story as to why I had shredded hands and bleeding knees. Last thing I wanted was my gramps or my parents finding out what had happened.

It was the sight of my shoes held aloft by Jase that had me really taking a good look at myself. Crap! No way was I going to come up with a story to cover the way I looked right now.

“Come on, Charlotte, let me help you. I’ve got some old towels and water in the truck. We can knock some of that blood off you.” Jase’s cajoling tone brought my attention back to him. “Then we’ll go find your parents.”

Taking a deep breath, I realized I was going to have to take his offer of help to clean up but that was it. Afterwards, I needed to figure out a way to keep him from telling my gramps what had happened. I still had hopes of lying my way out of this.

“Thank you.” Why was it so hard to grit that out? Trying to choke back sobs I held out my hand. “Give me my shoes. Please.”

Jase handed over the sandals. “Wait here. I’ll go wet a couple rags. You’ll need to clean off those feet.” He took off for his truck parked at the entrance to the alley.

I sat down in the middle of the alley and began brushing at the bottoms of my feet. I tried to bring my jack-rabbiting heart under control, as well as slow my gulping swallows of air.

Jase was back quicker than I’d expected. Instead of handing over the wet cloth he squatted beside me and took the foot I’d been examining in one of his large, warm hands. Looking up at him warily, I reluctantly let him clean the sole of my foot. He was extremely gentle, and when he’d completed the rock and dirt removal he picked up the appropriate sandal and slid it on. Jase then turned his attention to my other foot.

While he went carefully from one blood, dirt and rock encrusted area to the next I studied him. His dark hair was short with not much peeking out around the edge of his sweat-stained ball cap. I couldn’t see the color of his eyes because of the way his head was lowered while he concentrated on cleaning dirt out of cuts, but figured they were the same gray color his brother’s were. His eyelashes were crazy long for a guy, but they didn’t make him look like a sissy. Looking at his lips made me feel kinda funny. To be honest I’d never really looked at a guy’s lips, or thought much about them. But Jase’s sure were interesting. Kinda full without that gross puffy look.

He wasn’t pretty, like a few guys at school, and he wasn’t handsome like my dad. Somehow he was just more and better than either pretty or handsome. I was tall for a girl my age. Even taller than a lot of guys in my class, but Jase was way taller than me.

He wore a t-shirt that hugged his arms and chest. Man, he had some big muscles in his arms, and though I couldn’t see, I’d bet my next week’s allowance he had what the kids at school called a six-pack. Heck, Jase probably had a twelve-pack, and I wasn’t even positive that was possible but if anybody could do it I bet he could.

I knew to him I was just a kid, what with him being twenty to my fourteen, but the way my heart had started picking up the pace sure didn’t make me feel like a kid. Where BW’s hands on me were revolting, Jase’s were having a weird effect. Goosebumps were dotting my arms and legs while a heat I’d never felt before rolled into my stomach. A flush was creeping up my neck, spreading a pink tint across my cheeks.

“There, not great but at least it doesn’t look as bad as it did.” He settled back on his heels and gave me a once over, as though checking to see if he’d missed anything. “Now, let’s go find your parents.”

“No.” That came out a lot louder than I’d intended.

Jase cocked his head sideways not saying anything, just stared at me.

“I really am glad you came along, but please, don’t tell anyone about this.” Well that certainly sounded a lot like begging. Okay, I was begging, but if that’s what it took to keep this a secret between us, that’s what I’d do. Since Jase had cleaned me up I figured I had a real shot at making my family believe I’d tripped and got skinned up. All I needed was to add back a little bit of the dirt Jase had washed off.

“Don’t you think your folks should know what BW and his buddies did?” Jase sounded curious, not like an adult trying to guilt a kid into doing the right thing.

“No. It would just make my folks mad, and Gramps might do something crazy that could get him in trouble. Besides, I don’t want anyone else knowing what happened.” Yeah, lots of pleading going on now. “This could just be our secret.”

Jase kept staring at me for a long minute. His eyes narrowed to slits as though he were thinking things through.

“If I don’t tell your parents you have to let me tell Evan, so he can watch over you for me. Make sure those kids don’t pick on you because of what happened here. That’s the only way I keep my mouth shut.” The firm words and hard look let me know there would be no compromising on this.

Him wanting to tell his brother, Evan, had me squirming. Evan was a couple years older than me. He was younger than BW and crew, but not by much. Not what I wanted to happen, but if Evan could be counted on to keep his mouth shut, how bad could it be? At the most he might check up on me for a couple weeks once school started, then he would let it slide.

“Can you promise Evan won’t tell anyone?”

“Yeah, it won’t be a problem. I’ve got enough crap on him to keep him in line.” Jase flashed a wicked smile at me. Seeing that look made me happy not to have an older brother.

“You can tell Evan, but you can bet your ass I won’t ever let those three catch me alone again.” Guess it was my cussing that had him trying to hide a grin.

I started to push myself up, but Jase got a hold of my arm and pulled me up as he stood. It was hard hiding my grimace as abused skin stretched over skinned knees. My body felt more than a little stiff from the frenzied struggle I’d put up.

Jase got a real mad look on his face when he saw my expression and worried me that he might try to renege on the deal.

“I’ll drive you to wherever your parents are.” Yep, his voice sounded pretty darn angry.

“You can’t. I came into town with my gramps, and he’s at the feed store. If he sees you driving up with me he’s gonna ask a million questions. I’m fine now. Really. I’ll walk back to the store and wait in the truck.” There I was. Back to begging.

Jase’s lips tightened, making it obvious he didn’t like it one bit. His curt nod had me breathing out a sigh of relief, but I’d been a little hasty thinking I’d won this point.

Turning away, I once again began limping back to the feed store. Jase’s truck fired to life behind me and to my annoyance he kept a slow pace as he trailed me. At least he stopped before actually getting to the feed store. He parked about a block away, and I could feel his eyes follow me until he was satisfied I’d reached the safety of Gramps’ truck.

From that moment on, Jase was my hero. The subject of countless fantasies, where the ending turned out far differently than it actually had. As I grew older I tried to put that silly childhood crush out of my mind.

But as with all heroes, Jase proved to be a hard man to forget.

Buy on Amazon

 

Interview

Q: Give us a quick overview of your book Copper Moon.

A: I’m never good at doing anything ‘quick’ but I’ll give it a try. The story is set in Arkansas. It centers on a young woman, Charlotte (Char), and a family secret that she’s grown up with. Her beloved Gramps is a moonshiner; a long standing tradition in his family. Char is fearless and that lands her in trouble more often than not. Fate brings Jase into her life when she is a teenager at the right moment to save her from three teen bullies. When the story picks up ten years later, a chance encounter once again brings Jase back into her life. This time he is determined to stay, whatever the cost. Tragedy strikes and Char becomes caught up in the search for a killer. Jase has his hands full trying to prevent Charlotte from becoming the next victim.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your heroine.

A: Charlotte is a resilient woman. I like to think she is a fair representation of the type of women you find in the south. They handle whatever life throws at them with courage and more likely than not a whole lot of attitude. She’s smart, a little hot headed at times but when she loves it’s an all-in kind of deal.

Q: How about the hero? What’s he like.

A: Jase is the kind of man that isn’t afraid to take on a woman that has a mind of her own. He knows what he wants and he wants Char. When it becomes clear that helping her could place him on the wrong side of the law, Jase doesn’t hesitate to do whatever it takes to keep her safe.

Q: Do you have a favorite quote?

A: One of my favorites is by Char’s gramps: We have a long history of not playin’ by the rules in our family, might as well be proud of it.

 There’s a lot of rule breaking in Copper Moon, so Gramps did a pretty good job of summing up the whole book in that one sentence.

 Another quote that means something personal to me, and my family and friends who know me, is this one: “Hell, maybe they went through my recipe boxes because they heard about that fucking amazing blackberry cobbler I make.”

I don’t like to brag…okay, I’m bragging…but I make a heck of a great blackberry cobbler from scratch.

Q: Is there one scene that was especially fun for you to write?

A: Actually, there are a few scenes more fun than others to write, but would have to say my favorite takes place in Chapter 16. It starts around the middle of the chapter and takes place in the parking lot of a backwoods bar called Skeeter’s. Char lets her temper get the best of her (looking back I think Char may have had anger management problems) and she pulls a stunt that ends in not only Jase having to save her hinny, with his brother, Evan, pitching in and a whole bunch of─yeah, not going there. I laughed more than once while writing that scene.

Q: Is there one scene that was especially hard for you to write?

A: When you have to break someone’s heart, even if it’s a character in a book, it’s a hard thing to do. Necessary, but hard. Writing the love scenes weren’t actually difficult, it was the thought of my family and friends reading them that freaked me out. I even told my daughter not to read the chapter that had the really hot and heavy sex in it.

Q: Are you working on anything right now?

A: Right now I’m working on the next book in the Copper Ridge series. Each book in the series can be read as a standalone but one of my main characters for this book was introduced in Copper Moon. Sawyer is as rough as sandpaper and could peel the paint off the walls with his cussing. He’s domineering, arrogant and sexy as heck. My readers love him and I think I’d have a lot of disappointed women out there if his story wasn’t next. Told my daughter that she may have to skip more than one chapter when I tell Sawyer’s story. The woman I have lined up for him is not one he would normally waste his time on. But, hey, when lust..er…love strikes even the most opposites of personalities find a way to make it work.

Q: Do you have a date in mind for when it will be published?

A: I’m hoping to have it completed and ready to publish sometime around the first of February. Keeping my fingers crossed and trying to keep my butt in the chair so I can get it written.

Donna Taylor has one book signing under her belt at a local Hastings and has another one scheduled October 10, 2015 in Blytheville at That Bookstore in Blytheville. She will be there from 1:00 pm until 3:00 pm and would love anyone in the area to come by and visit with her.

 Here are the links to some radio and television interviews for anyone who would like to hear more!

Radio Interview: 15 minutes

Talk of the Town, Mountain Home, Arkansas

August 13, 2015

http://www.ktlo.com/play_window.php?audioType=Episode&audioId=7268537

 

TV Interview: 8 minutes

XL7TV: 726 Mountain Home

September 4, 2015

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New Release: The Wilds

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It’s finally out! Read the first two chapters below.
thewildsfull

 

 

Chapter One

Have you ever wanted to be someone else so desperately that you wished for it with everything you had? Closed your eyes at night and prayed you would wake up as someone else? Would sacrifice anything to just not be you for another day? That’s how I used to feel when I first came here, fourteen years ago a screaming child of four, crying as my parents walked out of this place without me.

I stayed like that for a long time, too, a black hole of emotion. I’d destroy any light that came too close. I cursed the world and everyone that dwelled upon it.

It was six years ago that I was lying in my private cell in The Holy Sanctuary for the Criminally Insane—or the Cement Giant as me and the other inmates called it—and had one of those moments, the kind where I could see beyond the confines I’d erected in my mind. The bars that had kept my mind in this dark place, as surely as the cement walls kept my body, weakened and rusted away.

I don’t know why it happened. Maybe it was simply age or maturity, but the anger that had been pouring out of me like a spigot on full blast started to slow. I realized that this was it, the only life I was going to get. I could either let myself rot here in misery or I could find a way out. I’d already gotten one second chance. I’d survived when so many others hadn’t. Was I really going to waste it here?

See the thing is, I’m a Plaguer, one who’s had the Bloody Death and lived. That’s not something many can say. When the Bloody Death hit the world a hundred and fifty years ago, it had a zero percent rate of survival. From what I’ve heard and read, one day no one had ever heard of the Bloody Death, and the next it ripped through the human population like a forest fire after a six-month drought. And just like a fire, it killed fast and painfully. People would be up walking around fine, only to fall bleeding on the street one moment, and gripped in agony and dead the next.

From the records left behind of that time, ninety-five percent of the population contracted the Bloody Death and all of them died during the initial outbreak. Not to mention that it didn’t spring up and then disappear. No, it’s been coming back every ten or twenty years. You don’t have to be a math genius to know those odds suck. I guess it’s a good thing there were so many humans to start with or we might have gone the way of the dinosaurs.

Everyone is fearful of when the next wave might hit. Maybe that outbreak will be the one to end us all. It’s not like anyone knew where the Bloody Death came from, or why it still mysteriously showed back up from time to time, which added to the fear. The unknown and all that? Some people have a real hang-up about not knowing things. I don’t understand that fear, but maybe it was because as a Plaguer, I’ve always known more than I wanted.

When rumors started creeping up about how a teeny tiny percent of the population, something like less than .001%, was surviving, most people thought it was a lie. Plaguers are so rare you can go your whole life never meeting one, but I’m living proof they exist.

The first couple of days after I’d survived the Bloody Death, I’d thought I was the luckiest girl to walk the Earth. I was young when it happened, only four and so full of childish delusions. Children can be like that before life teaches them better.

I still regard myself as lucky, but now I know survival comes at a cost. The Bloody Death changes you, makes you see things. They say these things aren’t true, but I know better. They say all Plaguers are psychotic, contaminated and ruined, need to be locked away to protect society from the evil they spew about monsters.

I say they’re blind. But maybe willfully so. I know what the Plaguers before me have said. I’ve seen the things they’ve seen. There’s a reason no one wanted to believe them. I understand why they hide us in places like this.

The people here, they tell me that this is the only safe place for me. That I would be killed if I’d been born somewhere else, like the Wilds, which encompasses the vast majority of what used to be the United States now except for the small slivers pieced out to form the few smaller countries that exist.

I’d prefer to take my chances. I didn’t survive the Bloody Death to only go on and live as if I were truly dead. If I was meant to be alive, I didn’t want to walk this Earth—I wanted to truly live it, dance and revel in everything it had to offer, feel every sensation and emotion open to the human psyche. I would. Even if it took me until I was a hundred and I only had one single day of freedom, I would not die here; I would die living.

The door to my cell opened and startled me. It wasn’t time for the daily release yet. I looked up from my bed, already dressed for the day in the simple white dresses we were given, to the guard.

“You’re getting a visitor.”

I let out a sigh. It was going to be one of those days.

 

 

Chapter Two

I sat on a metal folding chair in the bleak visiting room of painted cement, among a handful of other “patients” sitting with their parents or other family members who hadn’t given up on their kin yet. It was only a matter of time. They all threw in the towel eventually.

It was almost understandable. I had a pretty thick callous built up over my heart from hearing the crying and pleading all the time, and it still clawed at me. Seeing it once a month or so when you had that fresh heart meat all tender like? Brutal.

Plus, no one ever got out. Once you were here, there was no release. You died here. But not me. That wouldn’t be my end.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of the woman across the room watching me. She was one of the nurses, or at least that’s what she pretended to be. Like the Plaguers before me, I knew better. A dark haze clung to her like a storm cloud she couldn’t shake or maybe didn’t want to. There was a name for them. Dark Walkers, the Plaguers had called them. Even before I’d come here, before I’d gotten sick, I remembered the tales spread by the Plaguers. I’d thought they were ghost stories. My mother had told me Dark Walkers didn’t exist. Of course I believed her. My parents had been my entire world—until they weren’t.

As the Dark Walker stared at me, I worried another knot in a head already full of red ones, never breaking from the act that helped keep me alive. Once upon a time, behaving as crazy as they said I was had been an act. I’d watched some of the other inhabitants of the Cement Giant and learned it all from them, the actions that would deem me mentally unstable. I’d embraced the facade because it was better to have your enemy think you were crazy and weak than having them know you were just waiting for your moment.

The nurse’s attention was fine-tuned on me worse than normal today, but I was always on their radar. The Dark Walkers knew, or at least suspected, that I could see them for what they were. They ran test after test, each more painful than the last, but I never gave them what they wanted. It was ironic that my hunters were the only ones that wanted the truth and the last ones I’d ever tell it to.

I switched gears from forming knots to chewing on the stub of a thumbnail worn down to almost nothing, while I wondered who was going to walk through that door, the one that led out of this place.

At exactly nine, my visitor made his entrance. He had to be here for me, as I was the only one left sitting alone across from an empty seat. But even though it had to be him, I doubted what my eyes were seeing. He looked nothing like the others the Dark Walkers had sent, trying to trick me in to divulging my secrets in the past.

He was late twenties or maybe a very well aged early thirties. Even dressed up in his suit, he didn’t look like a pencil pusher or a government worker. There was an edge to him that had nothing to do with his dark coloring or deep-set eyes. He scanned the room, like I did when I was sizing up which guards were on duty.

I’d thought I was going to sit here, spew the normal bullshit about how everything was just grand while the Dark Walker’s spy tried to find a way to trip me up. After the first ten or twenty of these visits, I’d gotten the role I was playing down to the point I could nap through it, but this visit had just become interesting.

He handed his badge over to a nurse of the normal human variety. She made a show of flipping it over like she had some clue, clearly not viewing him as the threat I saw him to be. Sometimes I found it shocking how easily people believed what they were told. I wanted to shake her and tell her to wake the hell up. I’d tried doing that in my younger years. It never worked. People believed what they wanted. Most of the time it’s the things they find most beneficial to their situation, and they do all sorts of mental gymnastics to make it fit neatly into their reality.

I never understood that. The truth was so much easier to deal with, no mental backflips or cartwheels required.

The Dark Walker in the room with us noticed, though. They didn’t miss much and didn’t seem to have the same aversion to reality that humans sometimes had. This one had been here for a few years and she was even savvier than most of the ones I’d met. I watched her watching him. She seemed to be at full alert, as if she was viewing him as a threat.

She didn’t wait long before she turned and left the room, probably to get reinforcements. This morning might turn out to be the most action I’d seen in years, or at least since Piggy Iggy, one of the other inmates, had gone nuclear all over the cafeteria after eating bad food out of the garbage.

The stupid human nurse handed him back his ID. She pulled out something for him to sign, but his attention had already settled on me.

I didn’t break eye contact. After all, I could only play meek so much, and I didn’t see a reason here for the charade. This wasn’t a Dark Walker or one of their spies that I needed to hide my true self from. I shot him my what the hell do you want stare. It was a particular favorite of mine and handled quite a versatile amount of situations with little effort. It was also something that flew under the radar if a guard wasn’t looking at your face at the time. It ranked even higher than my you’ve got to be fucking kidding me with this shit stare, which usually needed more information about what was happening before it could be used.

There was a subtle movement of his head that may or may not have been a nod, a picking up of the gauntlet—challenge accepted? I’d like to think I was right, but every so often I did wonder if perhaps I was as crazy as they said. How the hell would I know, anyway? It’s hard to be objective about one’s own sanity. What if the guy just had a crick in his neck?

He turned away to sign the paper and then the nurse pointed him in my direction, even though it was clear he knew exactly where to go. He wasn’t getting any credit for knowing. I was the only person sitting alone. He could have the IQ of a rock and have figured that out.

He walked over toward the table in a sluggish manner, completely at odds with the physique his ill-fitting suit tried to hide. He pulled out the chair and sat down across from me, again with the stilted movements of someone fifty years older and horribly out of shape. I couldn’t believe this act actually worked on some people.

There was something hard about his pale eyes but I wasn’t afraid of him. Most people probably were when he wasn’t playing dress-up. I should’ve been too, but it was difficult to dredge up fear for a human when you lived your life next to monsters.

Now that he was in range, generally within five feet of me, I waited for some of my “Plaguer Delusions” to hit. The information I got from people was never delivered in the same way but there were usually certain similarities. Sometimes the memories hit hard and fast and other times they leaked out in a small trickle.

I waited for something to come to me, a snippet of history so traumatic that it was burned into their mind, just waiting to be seen and heard, relived. Occasionally they didn’t come at all, which was looking like it would be the case with him as he bent over paperwork that I suspected was nothing more than a prop.

It wasn’t like I’d never drawn a blank before; it just wasn’t often. Figured it would be him who would leave a big fat blank. Most of the time, I didn’t want to see the things people shared. The flashes of a person’s history, the stuff from the darkest corners of their mind, no matter how short, told me a lot. It always seemed to be the bad stuff too, never the good, only experiences so bad they cut out their own niche in the human psyche.

With a Plaguer, it was almost impossible to put your best foot forward. A good first impression meant that you didn’t kill your brother last week or rape the neighbor’s daughter. Because the truth of it is, in times like these, there wasn’t anyone who was squeaky clean. I judged people on a sliding scale and a body count. I usually gave them the first murder for free and didn’t knock serious points off until the third.

Still, I didn’t need a red flag in my face to know this guy was on the hunt right now; maybe he always was. I hadn’t survived this long without learning how to identify the threats. But what would he want with me? I had nothing to take.

“Your name is Dahlia Franks?” he asked, finally looking up from his notepad.

I didn’t bother answering, just continued to sit and play the crazy part. This was one of the perks of being nuts. No one expected you to behave in accordance to the general population’s playbook, and I enjoyed being a nonconformist.

He already knew who I was anyway. It made me wonder why people asked unnecessary questions.

He continued on, not missing a beat. “I’m here on behalf of our government of Newco. My name is Samuel Right. I’m doing randomized interviews to assess the living conditions in the Newco’s various government-run facilities. Quality control, you could say.”

I nodded as I swapped my thumbnail out for the pinky. It was my least favorite nail and, as such, had a decent stub left on it. In the last fourteen years I’d been here, not once had I ever heard of quality control interviews. No, this guy was a spy of some sort, but for who? For what? Not the Dark Walkers.

The Dark Walkers had sent in plenty of spies over the years, trying to trick me into telling them I knew they were different. They always posed as visiting experts that might be able to help me. They’d even sent in a supposed aunt I didn’t know of, who could take me home with her if I just told her the truth. That one had almost gotten me snagged. It had mentally fucked me for weeks, too. But I never did tell, and I had a feeling that was why I was the only Plaguer left standing in this compound.

I didn’t know how, even then at the young age of four, I knew instinctively to hide my knowledge of them, but I had. Just shows self-preservation is hard-wired into us. After all, I’d never seen a mouse sit back and wait for the cat to eat it, no matter how tiny and young it was.

“May I ask you some questions?” he asked, and I thought I caught a glimpse of something in those light eyes before they shuttered closed. It wasn’t from fear. No, this guy didn’t seem timid, and he certainly wasn’t worried about me. He was hiding something, and if I had to guess, he’d heard enough about Plaguers to know something about what we could do but not enough to be accurate or to know how much.

He was playing a part but not well enough, and yet I still didn’t think he was working for the Dark Walkers. That didn’t mean he could be trusted.

“Just to get some background, you were brought here at age four after you killed your teacher. Is that correct?”

I leaned back in my chair and dropped the nervous nail-chewing act. I set my gaze on him, barely blinking. I said, “That is what the records say.”

One of the things I hated most was thinking of the past, in particular that time after I’d gotten sick. My parents had told me I’d never had the Bloody Death. I’d just had a bad flu.

They sent me to school like nothing had changed, warning me to say nothing of any sickness. It might have worked if there hadn’t been monsters there, just like they were here. This Dark Walker had been pretending to be a teacher.

I’d told my parents but they’d said monsters didn’t exist. That I shouldn’t speak of such things and that I was bad.

I’d gone back to school the next day and I saw the monster watching my friend. He was going to do something to him. I just knew it. Even then, I’d known that just because the people around me were stupid, didn’t mean they should die.

So I lay in wait at recess. While the monster was eating his sandwich, I snuck up behind him and stabbed the monster in the neck repeatedly with my pencil until there was nothing but gurgling noises. The monster was defeated. They should’ve thanked me. They didn’t.

There was a lot of chaos after that. They talked to my parents. I don’t know what was said but I’d like to think they’d fought for me, that they hadn’t had a choice. The next day I’d thought we were going to the beach. They drove me here instead.

That was when I’d become the hunted. There were monsters here as well but I never got the opportunity to kill another. That didn’t mean I wouldn’t in the future.

As if he sensed my agitation with the subject, he switched gears. “Do you like your accommodations here?” he asked, pencil poised over paper.

Now this was the perfect opportunity to use my you’ve got to be fucking kidding me with this shit stare.

No reaction from him. He shot off more questions. “And the food? Would you say the meals are acceptable?”

It was hard not to laugh in his face. I was a walking stick figure of almost comical proportions. We were all thin here, but not like me. My friends called me Olive Oyl after some cartoon they’d found a while back.

The powers that be said I needed to be on a restricted diet, that the plague would return if I were at full strength. I couldn’t say whether they were right or wrong. It wasn’t my choice and I hadn’t been given the opportunity to test the theory. I’d like to think that there were easier ways to kill me if that was what they were after. “I eat like a queen,” I replied. “Can’t you tell?”

I waited to see how he’d take that answer. He didn’t even blink. “You are a Plaguer? Is that correct?”

I fisted my right hand where it was resting on my lap underneath the table. “Isn’t that in your records, too?”

I watched his expression close enough that I could see his pupils dilate against the light background of his irises. Why would this be good news to him when most were disgusted by this fact and almost all were frightened that contact with me was lethal?

I wondered what any of this had to do with quality control. Did he not realize he’d gone way off script, or did he not care?

“And you’re prone to delusions?” he asked.

Why was he asking this? It was common knowledge that Plaguers had them. We were insane. We spread lies and talked of monsters. Everyone knew it.

“Delusions?” I asked, pretending to have no idea what he was saying. Maybe he was with the Dark Walkers. This was more in line with what they would send people out to ask. Normal humans didn’t like to hear what Plaguers said, let alone give it any merit. There was a reason lines like don’t shoot the messenger came about. People didn’t like to hear bad things. If they could deny them, more than nine out of ten people would. I know, the math is a little funny there because what’s more than nine out of ten? Yeah, you got it. Pretty much everybody.

He leaned across the expanse of metal table. “Yes. Do you see things like most Plaguers?”

“I don’t know any other Plaguers—anymore. I can’t answer what most see,” I said. My calm was starting to be rattled. I wanted to know who this guy was. Government worker? That was total bull. Spy for the Dark Walkers? No, I still didn’t think so.

His eyes were still dead set on me. “Do you see delusions?”

For some reason I thought he wanted me to say yes. Like it meant a great deal to him. That this was what he had been hunting down. Part of me wanted to speak the truth to him that I denied so often. It wasn’t about making him happy or not. I was tired of pretending. Eighteen years old but I felt like I was a hundred.

We openly stared at each other, sizing the other up. He finally broke the standoff by the slightest softening of his tone as he said, “You want to answer this.”

It felt like something was left hanging off the end of that sentence. I didn’t know what I saw in him, why I felt like he wanted this or why his slight softening undid me, but for some reason, I spoke and gave him what I knew he wanted. “Yes. I see things.”

He leaned back in his chair, and for the first time since he’d walked in the door, he openly showed me a tiny glimpse of who he really was as he smiled like he’d just had a bloody meal of raw meat. There was someone brutal hiding behind this act. Whoever he really was, he was happy that I was a Plaguer who “had delusions.” Who the hell was this?

I wouldn’t get to find out, though. The door to the visiting room opened and I knew who it was immediately. Not only did the Dark Walkers have a cloud that clung to them, but they also had a smell. It was like a sickly sweet perfume that repelled instead of attracted. The woman who just walked in was the worst and also the one in charge.

Ms. Edith, as we were told to address her, walked over to our table. Black suit, white shirt and hair pulled back without a single stray in sight. She was one of them, the dark haze clinging to her. I forced myself to sit still even though my body tensed. I hated being near them, couldn’t breathe through the smell. Luckily there weren’t too many that I came in close contact with. There were others here, but only her and the other nurse came within a few feet of me.

“How are things going over here, Mr. Right? We hadn’t expected a visit,” she said, looking at him and then me. My fingers started knotting into my hair, reflexively going into the crazy act. I hadn’t even thought of the action until Mr. Right’s eyes flickered to my hand in my hair and then back to her.

“Last minute. Sorry for the abrupt arrival.”

Her smell was stronger than normal, and I’d been around her enough times to know it happened when she was irritated. So he wasn’t working for them? I looked up through lowered lashes to watch the interaction now that I knew for sure she hadn’t been aware of this visit. His eyes darted to me a few times and I had the strangest feeling he sensed how much I hated to be around her.

He stood and smiled. “We’re just finishing up.”

“And how did things go?” she asked, her normally shrill voice sweetened unnaturally.

“Splendid. I’ll send this report back to headquarters and I’m sure everyone will be very pleased.”

Boy, this guy was just oozing with lies today. He looked down at his notebook and then back to her and that was when the fun really started. He softened his smile, leaned in closer to her and then offered up his arm to her. He was dialing up the sex appeal until even my inexperienced little heart was doing flip-flops, and I wasn’t even the target. Nothing of the raw brutality I sensed was showing through now, or the earlier awkward act. Seemed my visitor was quite the chameleon.

“If I could get a quick tour, I’ll be out of your hair.”

Whatever Dark Walkers were, which I’d bet my ass wasn’t human, they apparently still liked human men. She smiled back and locked her hand down on him in a way that made me imagine claws hidden under that flesh. “I have a free moment. I can show you around.”

They walked off and he didn’t even glance back at me. I wasn’t sure where I’d gotten the crazy feeling that being truthful with him was going to set something in motion, but I had. Watching him disappear with one of the monsters made me feel a little heavier in my chair, and the adrenaline that had coursed through my veins while I’d been squaring off with him was now receding.

This was turning into one really strange day.

 

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