August Book Of The Month
“Yebanaya suka!” Ruslan shouted as he switched from using his fists to kicking her with his booted feet. He preferred pointy-toed cowboy boots.
Inessa moaned as she felt another rib give way, the crack inaudible beneath the thud of his boot against her side and his bellowed curses.
“Cheat on me, will you? You dare to sleep with another man?” he yelled in Russian. “Fucking bitch! No man will want to touch you after I’m through with you!”
She groaned again, her voice hoarse and no singular pain distinguishable from another among the contusions and broken bones resulting from yet another perceived infraction of Ruslan’s many rules. She should have known better than to smile when thanking the nice young man for helping to carry and then load the groceries into the car. But it had been so nice to have someone do something for her just that once, especially since she hadn’t quite healed from the last beating.
Inessa felt the blackness of oblivion cloud her mind. She welcomed it and hoped it would stay.
“It’s your damned fault that I can’t pay my debts!” Ruslan screamed at her, the words landing on the edge of her fading consciousness.
With an incongruous sound, the doorbell rang. Ruslan set his booted foot back on the floor and muttered, “Stay put.”
He turned and walked through the house to answer the door. Chest heaving, body sweating, and red-faced with the exertion of pummeling his wife, he flung open the door and gaped. Whipcord lean and sharp-featured, Gennady faced him. The man’s eagle-eyed gaze flickered over him, missing nothing.
“What are you doing in Seattle, Gennady?” Ruslan demanded as he positioned his body to block the man’s entry.
“Maksim and Olivia haven’t heard from Inessa lately and they sent me to check up on her.” Gennady caught sight of the swollen and abraded knuckles on the other man’s hands, the dark, shiny liquid splattered on his black, alligator hide boots.
“She’s fine,” Ruslan answered curtly. “Now go.”
Gennady raised an eyebrow and managed to look down his nose at the bigger man. “I don’t think so. Step aside, Ruslan.”
“What? You don’t trust my word?”
Gennady’s expression turned from skepticism to open contempt. “You’re a worthless shit, Ruslan. You always have been. So, no, I don’t trust your word. Now, step aside.”
Ruslan puffed himself in an attempt to intimidate his father’s man-of-all-work. Faster than his eye could follow, Gennady pulled out a knife and dug the tip of it into the soft bulge of his belly.
“Step aside, Ruslan,” Gennady ordered. “I won’t ask again.”
Ruslan raised his hands, palms open and outward, and stepped back. He pointed in the opposite direction of the kitchen and said, “Inessa’s out.”
“I’ll just check around,” Gennady said as he stepped through the doorway and closed the door behind him with a quiet click. In his peripheral vision, he saw Ruslan gather his courage and coil his body. “Don’t try anything stupid.”
“You invade my house, you pipsqueak,” Ruslan blustered.
“Maksim’s house,” Gennady corrected as he walked in the direction of the bedrooms. “He paid for it and he holds the deed.”
“But I live here.”
Gennady pushed open a door and peered inside. Gleaming and, he suspected, disused exercise equipment filled the room. He walked to the next room and looked into another spotless room devoid of personality, with just a few knickknacks on the shelves. A guest bedroom, he supposed. He proceeded to the third bedroom and wrinkled his nose at the lingering smell of Ruslan emanating from it. Although the room appeared clean, a miasma of despair hung in the air.
“See? The bitch is gone,” Ruslan snapped. “Now get out.”
Losing his patience with the boor, Gennady’s other hand snapped out and struck Ruslan in the throat. With a gasp and a wheeze, the big man dropped to his knees and clutched his throat. Gennady set the razor edge of his knife to Ruslan’s sweaty neck and said, “Shut up.”
Ruslan nodded as the hot smell of urine filled the air. Gennady nearly smiled at the rapidly spreading stain on the bully’s jeans. Straightening, he walked with purpose toward the other side of the house and peered into the kitchen. Dark, wet spatters caught his notice. Muttering an oath, he rushed into the room and gurgled with horror at the bloody bit of hamburger, hair, and fabric that lay curled up and insensible on the tile floor. He reached out to touch the woman. The skin was still warm. He found her arm and followed its line to her wrist, which was obviously broken. Swallowing a bellow of rage and horror, he extended two fingers and pressed them to what he hoped was the pulse point of her neck. Nothing. He slid his fingers around the bloody mess of her until the sensitive fingertips found the right spot. He sighed. Though her heartbeat was rapid and weak, Inessa still lived.
Gennady drew back his hand and pulled his cell phone from his pocket and dialed 911. When assured that an ambulance was on its way, he went back to deal with Ruslan.
Ruslan had fled.
Gennady cursed. He returned to squat beside Inessa and found her other hand. He held her limp hand in his, hoping to impart some small measure of warmth and caring to the young woman he’d always regarded as an innocent little sister to be protected from depraved men like himself and bullies like Ruslan. Suddenly, the sight of a woman’s bruised and broken body nauseated him. Releasing Inessa’s hand, he lurched to the scrupulously clean bathroom and vomited. Gennady vowed to be more gentle with his beloved Suzanne when he returned to Cleveland. She’d given him her trust and he would not abuse it.
Russian Love Series
With regard to networking, I frequent LinkedIn. It's a source of business-related information, news, professional contacts and, apparently, romance.
I know I'm not a bombshell beauty. (Not fishing for compliments here.) I'm an older woman, overweight with bad skin and a permanent frown, aka "resting bitch face." But to receive connection requests from men--usually engineers or in the forex/bitcoin fields--who then compliment me on my "alluring" profile photo and "sweet smile" and then ask about my marital status ... yuck. That makes my skin crawl. Folks, LinkedIn is not a dating site. If you can't keep the exchange professional, then don't contact me.
To fend off such creeps, I tried adding "Mrs." to my profile: you know, a subtle hint that I'm married and not interested. It didn't work. <insert heavy sigh here>
As if that weren't enough to cast a pall over the past week, I found myself targeted by another employment scam. Again, assuming honesty, I responded to a post stating that a company needed to hire a proofreader. There's a difference between editing and proofreading, but most folks don't understand that and, since I do proofreading as well as editing, I responded with an expression of interest. The person to whom I responded said the company wanted to interview me. Then things got weird.
A gentleman (and I use that term loosely) who called himself Tom Fred engaged me in an interview via Skype chat. Yeah, that's a red flag right there. Next came a strange discussion. Red flat #2. I received an offer of employment, which I did not accept. I responded with questions. Tom Fred handed me off to another person who, I was told, would be my point of contact and supervise my assignments. I attempted to verify that they understood my status as a contractor, not as an employee. After glossing that over, the new person engaged me in a chat thread that was, yes, weird and also strangely familiar. I've been through this before, you know.
I engaged in a little research. The company exists. Tom Fred cannot be found listed on the company's website. The second person's name is found, but the Skype profile picture belongs to someone else at the company. I contacted the company to notify them of fraudulent representation by some imposter. I haven't heard back. They probably don't care.
Then I receive an invoice for the equipment and software that are supposedly to be installed for my use. I replied in a message: "I'm not going to pay that."
The gig is up, folks.
I returned to LinkedIn. The message thread of that original conversation had disappeared, so there went my opportunity to alert LinkedIn administrators to have that user account banned.
Yes, unfortunately, that's become business as usual and I'm back to my regularly scheduled programming. When engaging in business networking or business-related discussions, I expect professional behavior and honesty. I get a bad taste in my mouth when that expectation crumbles and find myself admiring the Muppets' two curmudgeonly hecklers, Statler and Waldorf. I want to be them when I grow up.
In the meantime, I think I'll write.
The Diamond Gate
Available on Kindle Unlimited https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01E0V73T0
Every night for two years, seven sisters—princesses all—walked beneath silver trees hung with jeweled fruit, crossed a still black lake, and danced to liquid music with their faerie suitors. Every night for two years, their shoes collapsed and kept the city's cobblers busy.
His schemes for political and trade alliances thwarted by his daughters' nightly disappearances, the royal duke of Nuygenie invited royalty and aristocrats from far and wide to solve the mystery and win the hand of a princess. They came and they failed.
Then a common soldier, aged by war and years, thought to try his luck and improve his circumstances. A kindness to an old hag resulted in a magic cloak of invisibility and excellent advice that he put to good use to break the enchantment that held the princesses in thrall to their fey suitors.
Rejoicing, the duke elevated the soldier to serve as his general, so that the man might have rank befitting his royal bride. General Miles Carrow chose the eldest sister, Aurora, and wondered at the emptiness of their betrothal.
The passage beneath was blocked and sealed with iron. The sisters did not discuss all they had lost. No one ever asked them if they had even wanted to be rescued.
This is the story after the faerie tale.
No one slept well that night.
Thus it was nineteen soldiers, two princesses, four messenger pigeons, and one each of a general and a prince and a lady’s maid who gathered at the foot of the Diamond Gate beneath the shadow of Nar-Amn and with the pale winter sun at their backs.
“How do we get through?” the question came over and over again. None wished to remain with the corpse of a foolish soldier who sought nothing more than water. But none wished, exactly, to venture into the unknown that lay beyond the Gate. A tendril of mist extended down, licked Aurora’s cheek. She recoiled at its frigid touch and then found herself avoiding another finger of mist. And then another. And another.
“Aurora!” the general yelled and kicked his horse into a lumbering gallop.
She whimpered and jerked herself back, nearly unseating herself. The sturdy mountain pony sidled beneath her. With another whimper, she leaned forward over the pony’s neck, buried her face in its thick, coarse mane, and walloped her heels into its sides. The animal squealed and shot forward, the lick of a finger of mist on its rump spurring it to even greater speed.
Miles steered his horse toward the panicked pony. With the animals’ lurching through the heavy snow, he did not attempt to grab the pony’s reins from his own seat, but maneuvered his gelding so that the pony either stopped or ran into the much larger, more aggressive animal. Being a sensible creature, the pony stopped, but not before the charger delivered it a nasty nip.
Sides heaving, the pony dropped its head until its muzzle touched the snow. Aurora tumbled forward. Miles launched himself from the charger and landed barely in time to catch her. He gathered the princess to him. Her terrified shivering incited tremors that shook his own body.
“Shh, Aurora,” he whispered in her ear. “I’ve got you now. Shh.”
And she turned her face into his coat and wept. Miles nearly wept himself. It took ugliness and terror to make his betrothed turn to him. What would it take to make her love him and did he want to put her or himself through that?
Jonathan and two of the soldiers pulled up with another pony in tow. The prince dismounted and humbly assisted in transferring his sister from the general’s arms to the saddle of the other pony.
“Thank you,” he said somberly.
Carrow nodded, his face grim. Then he heard a voice, a woman’s sweet voice, singing. And he knew a terrible dread.
“What’s that song?” Jonathan asked.
“Those aren’t human words,” Carrow grated and picked up his horse’s reins. They walked toward the other princess and the helpless soldiers surrounding her. The remaining soldiers stood still, each within an arm’s distance of Pearl, each immobile. Fingers of mist caressed her lovingly as she sang.
“Don’t go closer,” Carrow warned.
Jonathan frowned, but stopped.
Carrow bent down, gathered a handful of snow, breathed heavily on it to moisten it and form a snowball cohesive enough to throw. And he threw it. The snowball disintegrated in the air.
“Here, I have some water,” one of the two soldiers with him volunteered and handed over a canteen.
Carrow made another snowball and instructed the soldier to form a few more. The slight dampening of water quickly fused the snow into a dead weight of ice. The general threw it and impassively watched as it thudded into the princess’ side. She barely twitched. He launched several more snowballs, most hitting the target. Jonathan, not yet understanding the general’s plan but trusting in the older man, set to forming and throwing snowballs. It was a sick parody of a children’s winter game, but finally a ball of ice thwacked the princess’ head. The singing stuttered, her eyelids fluttered. She gasped, her concentration broken, the spell breaking. Two snowballs simultaneously slammed into her chest and belly and she doubled over. Another one struck her head and she tumbled beyond the mist’s immediate reach. Bright red blossomed in the snow beneath her face and Pearl looked up, nose bloodied and streaming copiously.
“See to Aurora,” Carrow ordered and he went over to Pearl as the soldiers eased from the enchantment she had unknowing woven around them. Digging into his pocket, he brought up a wrinkled handkerchief and staunched the flow of blood. And then Pearl began sobbing.
“What happened?” he asked her gently when the sobs lessened.
“I don’t know,” she replied with a soggy sniff. “I was watching you save Aurora and then…then…I don’t know.”
Before the weeping could begin anew, he kissed her brow and assured her that he was not angry with her.
“Such familiarity was uncalled for,” Jonathan snapped a few minutes later.
“Sometimes a princess is just a woman,” Carrow replied imperturbed, “and needs to be treated as such.”
They passed another uneasy night beneath the Diamond Gate. The general regretted the loss of what few messenger pigeons had remained.
“We’ll have to assume the Guardian isn’t here and isn’t coming back,” Carrow said as he gazed upward at the gleaming, glittering fall of ice.
Hard boiled, scrambled, over easy, and sunny side up: eggs are the musings of Holly Bargo, the pseudonym for the author.
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Looking for a place to swap blogs? Holly Bargo at Hen House Publishing is happy to reciprocate Blog Swaps in 2019.
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