Featuring author M.S. Spencer’s “Whirlwind Romance”


What do pirates, princes, Puritans, and propaganda have in common? Lacey Delahaye, forager and jelly maker, finds out in this romantic suspense set in the western Caribbean.

Whirlwind Romance

Secret Cravings Publishing, 9/2/2014

89,000 words; M/F; 3 flames; Adventure/Romance
I didn’t mean to write this story. I meant to write a nice romantic interlude set on Longboat Key, a lovely barrier island on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Even before I’d reached Chapter Two, however, things had taken a geographical turn and veered off into the western Caribbean. Even now I’m not sure how it happened, but everything started to go awry when Lacey Delahaye, my heroine, finds a bedraggled castaway in her mangrove swamp. Fine. Not a problem. He’s handsome, injured, and clearly has a secret. Could he be a lost tourist? A real estate agent caught up in a Florida land scam? An environmentalist who’s discovered that whales have become man-eaters? No, sir. With his exotic, dark looks (flashing black eyes, shimmering ebony hair, etc.), he hardly seemed the real estate agent type. And he has an accent. Therefore he comes from elsewhere. He eventually confesses to Lacey that…well, I certainly won’t divulge his secret. I will say that he and Lacey find themselves in a remote, tiny, tropical paradise, which would be very romantic, except for the vicious serpent lurking there.


In the aftermath of a hurricane, Lacey Delahaye finds herself marooned on the Gulf coast of Florida with a mysterious man. They are immediately drawn to each other, but before Armand can confess his identity, they are kidnapped and taken far from civilization to a tiny, remarkable island in the western Caribbean. With the help of her son Crispin, a small, but proud young boy named Inigo, and a cadre of extraordinary characters, Lacey and Armand must confront pirates, power-mad ideologues, and palace intrigue if they are to restore the once idyllic tropical paradise to its former serenity and find lasting happiness.


Excerpt (R): Makeup Sex

A light tapping woke her. She lifted her head as the mantel clock chimed once. One a.m. “Who is it?”

“It’s me. Armand. Can I come in?”

No! “What do you want?”

“We have to talk.”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Of course.”

“I mean, you’ve locked me in. I’m hardly in a position to refuse.”

The doorknob rattled. “Damn it, you’re right—those two blockheads must have ordered it. Hang on.” She listened to some scratching and bumping and the door yielded. Armand stumbled in.” He held up a small pin with a grin. “Once again the superiority of my education is affirmed.”

“That’s nice. Look, I need some sleep. I’m getting out of your hair tomorrow morning, so you don’t need to threaten me. I apologize for being such a fool.”

He took a step toward her, and she drew her knees up to her chin. “May I sit down?”

“Be my guest.”

He gazed at her a minute. “It’s…it’s good to see you.”

She was too busy clenching her jaw to say anything.

He tried again. “I missed you.”


“I…uh…look, Lacey, you have no right to take that attitude. After all, you were the one who left me.” He stood and paced.


He swung on her, his face pinched, his voice brittle. “Why did you do that? Why did you go?”

“I had to, Armand. I was in the way. You had a family crisis—a national crisis—on your hands. My presence just made things worse.”

“No…no. That’s not true. I wanted…needed you. Lacey—” He bent toward her, his beseeching eyes filled with shade upon shade of black and mahogany and gold.

They reminded her of Maitea’s eyes. “Really?” She tossed her head. “I see you wasted no time getting engaged.”

He lifted his chin. “What else could I do? I’d lost the only woman I’ve ever loved. All I have left is my honor. And honor dictates that the second son of the grand duke marry his second cousin.”

Lacey remembered that awful night in the castle, with Edrigu and Crispin and Inigo, and…Armand—the night when all her options were so cruelly eliminated, leaving her with the one, the inevitable choice. “You didn’t lose me, Armand. You let me go.”

His stricken face shot shards of pain, piercing her heart. Defenses crumbling, she held out her arms. He fell into them.

A long kiss, followed by a rambling conversation in which the words “love” and “forever,” figured prominently, went on for a few minutes. Armand’s hands roamed over Lacey like a blind man memorizing her body, finally reaching the hem of her nightgown. He lifted it up and over her head, pausing to kiss each nipple. She unbuttoned his shirt, planting kisses on his chest. He wiggled out of his jeans and returned to her.

She pressed closer, squashing her breasts against him, wrapping her thighs around his hips. They held still, savoring the moment, savoring the knowledge of what was to come. He inched down her stomach, pausing to lick her belly button, then on to her waiting pussy. His tongue explored the soft flesh, flicking at the lips. “Hurry, hurry,” she panted. Instead, he lingered on her inner thighs, trailing his lips down the bare flesh. She writhed on the bed, aching for her climax, begging him to unleash the passion building in her.

At last, he came to her toes. He peered up at her, and she caught a mischievous gleam in his eye. Lacey, who a minute before had been consumed by impatience, wanting her orgasm, wanting to come with him immediately if not sooner, settled down to watch. He took each toe gently between his lips and kissed the tips, then ran a finger along her instep. One hand cupped her heel while the other gently stroked the back of her calf. The kneading calmed her. This must be the way a cat feels when she’s petted—all warm and cozy and loved. Her restlessness muzzled, she lay quietly, rejoicing in his caresses.

Armand whispered, “Lacey, I’ve waited for this moment for six weeks. Every night I’d fall asleep thinking of you and every dawn I dreamed you were lying here next to me. I’d wake happy, until the real world crashed in. And here you are, as beautiful and desirable as you were the moment I first set eyes on you.”

“Come to me, Armand.”

The world stood by as two lovers met and enfolded. A roll of thunder and crash of lightning from beyond the window echoed the thrumming of flesh on flesh. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. His scent filled her nostrils and she let go.

Fingers intertwined, lips touching, they rested. The storm faded into the night.

As dawn peeked in through the open window, a knowing smile on her cream-colored face, Lacey pulled Armand close and reminded him again of what he’d missed. Almost sated, they slept again.



Buy Links:

Secret Cravings:


Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Whirlwind-Romance-M-S-Spencer-ebook/dp/B00N105I4E/

ARe: https://www.allromanceebooks.com/product-whirlwindromance-1605591-153.html

Bookstrand: http://www.bookstrand.com/whirlwind-romance


About the Author

Although she has lived or traveled in every continent except Antarctica and Australia (bucket list), M. S. Spencer has spent the last thirty years mostly in Washington, D.C. as a librarian, Congressional staff assistant, speechwriter, editor, birdwatcher, kayaker, policy wonk, non-profit director and parent. She has two fabulous grown children, and currently divides her time between the Gulf coast of Florida and a tiny village in Maine.

Ms. Spencer has published nine romance novels. The first two, Lost in His Arms and Lost and Found, were published by Red Rose Publishing. The other six—Losers Keepers, Triptych, Artful Dodging: The Torpedo Factory Murders, Mai Tais and Mayhem: Murder at Mote Marine (a Sarasota Romance, Lapses of Memory, and the Mason’s Mark —were published by Secret Cravings. Whirlwind Romance, her ninth, was released September 2014.


Blog: http://msspencertalespinner.blogspot.com OR


Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/msspencertalespinner

Twitter: www.twitter.com/msspencerauthor
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/msspencerauthor/


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Join guest author Melissa Aires



Starlander’s Myth will be out next weekend! It is a mixed genre romance, a steampunk/space western with supernatural elements.

My heroine, Sophie Farrel is a single mom, a widow, with a secret. I haven’t read too many mother heroine’s in SFR, though they are common in other romance sub-genres. I thought she was interesting. Having a child makes her conflicts deeper, I thought.

Sophie is a bit of a play on the more common kick-a$$ SFR heroine. She is–can be–very powerful. Scary, even. But she is vulnerable because she is the single mom of a small child, a child young enough to be completely dependent on her. There are things she is capable of doing, but she must restrain herself in order to keep her daughter safe.

Having a child ups the stakes. A job loss is worse if a child is dependent on you. So is a bad relationship. Disasters, tragic circumstance–all harder if you are trying to keep a three year old fed, healthy, and comforted. A parent’s greatest fear is that harm or death will come to their child

That is Sophie’s reality. She wants her daughter to have a happy childhood with stability, but she has fallen into the hands of slavers. She is not helpless, but in some ways her circumstances are pretty hopeless.

Jack Starlander is a good man with survivor’s guilt due to losses in war. He has isolated himself far from his home—and yet somehow he has made a small family with fellow asteroid miners. When he learns of Sophie’s situation, he acts.


Asteroid miner Jack Starlander stumbles upon the illegal sale of a woman and child with unusual abilities. In the ensuing shoot out, two important men die. Jack, Sophie and her daughter, and Jack’s close neighbors are forced to flee to safety. Their journey takes them into deadly danger.

Sophie is a creature from myth and she recognizes the mythic thread in Starlander’s family legend. Perhaps his family’s story can save them.

You can read an excerpt here: http://www.melisseaires.com/excerpt-starlanders-myth.html

It is coming this weekend.  Check my Amazon Author page for links! http://amazon.com/author/melisseaires

or Blog:  Http://melisseaires.blogspot.com


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Panhandling, and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service by S.S. Hampton, Sr.

Saturday afternoon, almost a week ago, I thought of panhandling to raise money—survival funds, I call it. I never gave such a thing serious thought before in my life, and I am 60 years old.

The next questions were where to go, what sign to carry, and what to use for collecting money that someone might be kind enough to donate. The world-famous Strip? Plenty of well-to-do tourists there—plus hotel security and police. Maybe not such a great idea. Fremont Street in “old Las Vegas?” That is basically private property, but the homeless and panhandlers seem to be somewhat tolerated. And then the sign. Maybe “Retired Military Veteran Needs a Helping Hand?” I already tried that on Indiegogo, the crowdfunding site (60-year old Native American Veteran Needs Help); the Indiegogo campaign has been a dismal failure. And what to collect money in when panhandling—perhaps my ACU cap that I wore while deployed to Iraq.

Decisions, decisions, decisions. All because of a policy that excuses all, and an institutional business as usual attitude.

To back up for a moment, let us consider the background. When a “weekend warrior” retires from the National Guard, retirement military pay is not paid until the first month following their 60-year old birth month. The retirement pay packet goes to the Human Resources Command (HRC) at Fort Knox, Kentucky, for processing. Retirement orders are “cut” and the packet goes to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) for processing. The soldier receives a partial retirement paycheck the first month after the birth month of their 60th birthday.

Of course, as usual, my situation is a little more…interesting. Because of the unexpected impact of the Global War On Terrorism (GWOT) on the Guard and Reserves, there is a program that, broadly speaking, allows for retirement pay to be issued earlier than the 60th birthday. There are all sorts of rules to the program and it is based on the type of orders a soldier was on.

I thought I qualified for the program. Before I retired in July 2013 I asked my higher headquarters and the response was “NO NO NO.” No one looked at my documentation. I raised the issue again in May 2014 when HRC was processing my retirement pay packet; they asked for documentation. Of course they did not receive the fax so I had to scan and e-mail. It took HRC 30 days to make up their mind, but the result was new orders. My retirement date should not have been 21 June 2014, it should have been 21 March 2014. My packet had already gone to DFAS a month before, but on 17 June 2014 DFAS received the amended orders.

And since 17 June 2014, as it is DFAS policy that they have up to 30 days before touching incoming documents, my amended orders sat there—just sat there, untouched. Phone calls did not accomplish anything, nor did DFAS Customer Service notes that I was experiencing a severe financial hardship. After all, they had up to 30 days to act on incoming documents, so everything was business as usual as enabled by their policy.

Of course, in mid-June I ran out of money.

The only money I have had in my pocket since mid-June is from asking family and friends for loans. Hundreds of dollars in loans. After all, car insurance, property insurance, rent, etc., does not wait for 3-months backpay from DFAS. The greater world wants their money now.

It has been years since I have been in a similar situation. In a sense it is worse because my fate is in the hands of others to whom all is business as usual.

I wake up early in the mornings wondering who I can borrow money from, how much, and when it will arrive. Because I find it difficult to sleep, I usually sit up until early morning with the same thoughts. Without money to get my 1996 Honda Civic worked on, I drive it only when I have to. Otherwise, I stare at Netflix and YouTube on my computer, and the TV. I check my bank account each day, hoping against hope, that the backpay will magically appear one morning.

On that morning there will be a well-deserved buffet breakfast to enjoy. After that, the car needs to be worked on. Car insurance to pay and property insurance to reinstate. Lien taken off of one of my storage units and bring the other storage units up to date (if I emptied them, the apartment would not be so empty as it is now). Broom, mop and mop bucket; shower curtains; trash cans; and a lamp for each bedroom. I can redeem my camera equipment that I pawned in June for survival funds. Then I will finally (I hope) feel like resuming my life and getting things going again.

But most of all, there will be the freedom from daily stress and wondering who next to ask for money.

Until that morning arrives, I feel like a beggar.

recon 024

Stan Hampton, Sr. is a full-blood Choctaw of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, a divorced grandfather to 13 wonderful grandchildren, and a published photographer and photojournalist. He retired on 1 July 2013 from the Army National Guard with the rank of Sergeant First Class; he previously served in the active duty Army (1974-1985), the Army Individual Ready Reserve (1985-1995) (mobilized for the Persian Gulf War), and enlisted in the Nevada Army National Guard in October 2004, after which he was mobilized for Federal active duty for almost three years. Hampton is a veteran of Operations Noble Eagle (2004-2006) and Iraqi Freedom (2006-2007) with deployment to northern Kuwait and several convoy security missions into Iraq.

His writings have appeared as stand-alone stories and in anthologies from Dark Opus Press, Edge Science Fiction & Fantasy, Melange Books, Musa Publishing, MuseItUp Publishing, Ravenous Romance, and as stand-alone stories in Horror Bound Magazine, The Harrow, and River Walk Journal, among others.

In May 2014 he graduated from the College of Southern Nevada with an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Photography – Commercial Photography Emphasis. A future goal is to study for a degree in archaeology—hopefully to someday work in and photograph underwater archaeology (and also learning to paint).

After 13 years of brown desert in the Southwest and overseas, he misses the Rocky Mountains, yellow aspens in the fall, running rivers, and a warm fireplace during snowy winters.

As of April 2014, after being in a 2-year Veterans Administration program for Homeless Veterans, Hampton is officially no longer a homeless Iraq War veteran, though he is still struggling to get back on his feet.

S.S. Hampton, Sr.’s books can be found at:

Dark Opus Press

Edge Science Fiction & Fantasy Publishing

Melange Books

Musa Publishing


MuseItUp Publishing

Amazon.com Author Page

Amazon.com. UK Author Page


Goodreads Author Page


“Better Than a Rabbit’s Foot.” Ed. Joelle Walker. MuseItUp Publishing, June 2012.

ISBN: 978-1-77127-078-6



BLURB:Sergeant Jerry Stanton is a young soldier serving in the War in Iraq. He is a gunner on a gun truck nicknamed “Lucky Bear,” one of those tireless workhorses that escort supply convoys from camps in Kuwait to destinations scattered throughout the war-torn country. In the early morning hours before a scheduled mission, a dust storm howls across his camp and threatens to bring convoy operations to a halt. Worse, the camp receives word that a gunner from his company was killed by an IED while on a convoy mission. Unlike most soldiers, Jerry doesn’t carry a lucky charm, but upon receiving news of the death of the gunner, he begins to mull over/ponder the merit/virtue of a good luck charm—only, what would work for him? Perhaps mail call will provide the answer.


EXCERPT: “People like a happy ending.”

Sergeant Jerry Stanton, an M4 Carbine slung across his chest, glanced at the dark form that trudged alongside him in the hot, early morning darkness. It was all the darker for the dust storm howling across the small camp, a dusty and sandy convoy support center, CSC, a mile south of the Iraqi border. He placed his hand over the tall styrofoam coffee cup from the messhall that was open at all hours to serve those about to head out on a mission. He felt the itchy dust filtering down his back, along his arms, and coating his fingers.

In spite of his short time deployed to Kuwait, he had learned that dust storms were worse than sand storms; they were hot and itchy while the sand storms stung exposed skin and chilled the air. Breakfast was good but tasted flat, more due to the question of whether their mission would be a go or no-go because of the storm that roared out of the midnight darkness hours before.


“People like a happy ending,” the soldier repeated. He was a gunner from another gun truck as the squat, venerable M1114 HMMWVs, which were never meant to be combat vehicles, were called. He held up a rabbit foot that spun frantically in the wind and added, “I like a happy ending. Especially now.” They rounded the corner of a small building, actually a renovated mobile home trailer with a covered wooden porch lit by a bare electric bulb. The gunner pointed to a small black flag, suspended from a log overhang, flapping furiously in the wind.

“Oh shit.” Jerry sighed as a cold chill raced through him.

“It’s been there for an hour or so,” the soldier said as he enclosed the rabbit’s foot within both hands and brought it up to his lips as if to kiss it. He glanced at Jerry. “I’m not superstitious, but still, I mean, there’s nothing wrong with having a lucky charm. You know?”

“Yeah.” Jerry nodded as he watched the twisting flag. “I know.”

The soldier looked once more at the black flag andthen walked toward the shower and restroom trailers beyond which were the air-conditioned sleeping tents they called home…




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Senate Bill 838 vs. Juvenile Offenders

As a social liberal, I long ago signed up to receive by e-mail various petitions through Change.org. I considered this a route in enabling small voices to collectively stand up against powerful corporations, and to elicit social change when merited.

One most recent petition was related to California State Senate Bill (SB) 838, and a high-profile juvenile criminal case here in the Bay Area, specifically Santa Clara County. A fifteen year-old high school student, Audrie Pott, attended what her parents thought was an innocent sleepover, which turned out to be an adolescents-only drinking party. To make a long, cruel story short, Audrie, while under the influence and passed out cold, was sexually assaulted by three male classmates. Proof of the assault was filmed by cell phone, and distributed to peers. Eight days after the incident, Audrie Pott committed suicide, presumably unable to face the fallout of being labeled a social pariah.

This event is deeply disturbing in so many ways. First, because a girl who was obviously physically incapacitated and vulnerable was sexually compromised by boys she must have known and trusted. Secondly, these boys, afflicted with the resulting fever of pack mentality, committed an egregious assault upon a person they would have been less likely have perpetrated as individuals, without the influence of the juvenile dog pack.

Some questions enter into the fray—where were the owners of the house where the party took place? Why was Audrie allowed at stay where there was no apparent adult supervision? And why, in the end, did no one stand up for Audrie, to mitigate the bullying that took place after the assault? The complexity of this case sends the mind reeling in many directions.

The criminal penalties for the perpetrators of this act, and subsequent distribution of photos considered to be underaged pornography, aren’t a very steep price to pay as they currently stand. Although I don’t agree that the boys are fundamentally responsible for Audrie’s death, and hence, should not be tried for murder, I do believe their photo sharing and virtual bullying directly compelled Audrie’s choice to take her own life.

These boys displayed behaviors that are not likely to change after the magic age of eighteen, or in the case of the California Youth Authority, twenty-one. In fact, the crime demonstrates a deviant pattern of sexual acting out that would categorize them as lifetime sex offenders had they been of legal age. The choice these juveniles made to assault a helpless girl portends a foreshadowing of crimes to come.

I am also troubled by a lack of documented outrage through the media by the parents of the juvenile male perpetrators, though this may have to do with pending civil litigation by Audrie Pott’s parents.

The kneejerk reaction of any parent is to protect one’s child. Our society has become more open to female empowerment, and less tolerant to juvenile sexual hijinks, but the attitude that “boys will be boys,” seems to downplay the seriousness of the crime due to their supposed tender young age. The callousness of the assault reveals that no tenderness existed in these juveniles whatsoever.

When a petition request arrived in my inbox, imploring me to consider increasing the criminal penalties against this type of juvenile offense, I didn’t hesitate to sign it. After all, my gut instinct suggests that these boys may have a proclivity to reoffend in college, perhaps finding an inert drunken female in a frat house, easily separated by a closed, locked door from the raucous drinking party.

While immediately adding my signature to this petition, I also feel very strongly that we, as parents, and society as a whole, must teach our daughters—as well as our sons—to avoid placing themselves in compromising situations. I’m not saying that Audrie asked for these three juveniles to sexually assault her. But empowerment, knowing the limits and the effects of alcohol, and loss of judgment could have been key to Audrie saving herself from this attack.

I am appalled that the parents of the juvenile sex offenders didn’t teach their male offspring to respect all people. What does this say about their parenting? What does this say about each boy’s character in terms of how he views his grandmother, mother, sister, and perhaps in the future, his own daughter? Would he want his own grandmother, mother, sister, or daughter to be a victim of the dog pack mentality, and the attack distributed by electronic device and social media? Or does each individual perpetrator compartmentalize certain girls they deem as “loose,” deserving of horrendous brutality and exploitation?

This is the archaic double standard our society clings to, where the sex act for males can be construed as a coming-of-age triumph, while the female, whether consenting or a victim of crime, is portrayed as less than desirable.

So, let’s understand why Senate Bill 838 was introduced. A tragic crime was allowed to occur. While in a defenseless state at an unsupervised high school party, Audrie Pott was raped by three underaged boys. The boys filmed the assault, and shared the pictures with their peers. The sharing has been described as an “attempt to shame and bully” Audrie. In my harsh opinion—because let’s face it, these boys acted in a manner far harsher than my opinion—they shared because they wanted to behave like sexual deviants. They were proud of their “boys will be boys” achievement.

Some would say the offenders have been duly punished, if you can call concealed identities, and 30 to 45 days of incarceration “punishment.” I don’t agree that it is sufficient punishment to fit the crime.

SB 838 intends to legislate the following penalties against future juvenile sexual deviants in the state of California:

  • A minimum sentence of 2 years of incarceration at a juvenile facility, if the victim of the crime is unconscious, and thereby unprotected and non-consenting.
  • Instead of juvenile sex criminals hiding behind privacy laws and closed court proceedings designed to protect disclosure of their names, the court proceedings would be open to the public, with the names available to be published by the media. After all, the public should know what to expect in the future from young sex offenders like these.
  • Taking pictures of the crime, and distribution of said photos will be a criminal enhancement (such as in a hate crime—because in its own way, rape is a hate crime). The enhancement adds another year to a potential sentence, plus additional fines up to ten thousand dollars.

If I had my way, I’d add one other choice item to SB 838:

  • Any juvenile convicted of engaging in such a crime will not have their juvenile record automatically expunged at age 21, but will have the crime attached to a criminal record for perpetuity. In addition, any juvenile convicted of engaging in such a crime will be required to register as a sex offender for life.

I’m certain there would be an outcry of protest if this stipulation were added to SB 838. Most naïve individuals carry the incorrect supposition that a crime like this is simply a youthful dalliance, and because “boys will be boys,” the offenders should have no permanent culpability for their brutal acts. They do things as children they wouldn’t dream of committing as men. The juvenile justice system is designed to offer youthful offenders a “second chance.”

As for rehabilitation, one should keep in mind that the notorious Green River Killer, Gary Ridgeway, began his carnage as a juvenile, by stabbing a young child with the intent to kill. To paraphrase Ridgeway’s statement as he walked away from the scene of his crime, “So that’s how it feels like to kill someone.”

We must ask ourselves if juveniles who have engaged in rape, murder and other “adult” crimes can be cured of their criminal propensity. Statistics indicate that an uncontrollable compulsion drives the high rate of recidivism among adult sex offenders, and wipes any chance for rehabilitation completely off the board. Why isn’t this statistic considered as true for those under that magic age of 18?

We all know that legislating severe penalties, such currently proposed through SB 838 won’t prevent juveniles engaged either alone or through pack mentality from victimizing young women in compromising situations. The adherence to capital punishment has failed the litmus test for criminal deterrence of murder. At the very least, registering juvenile sex offenders on the Megan’s Law database will keep the public aware of the dangerous dogs set loose in our midst.

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Kleptocracy and Self-Discovery

I’m in the midst of reading Jared Diamond’s fascinating treatise on the evolution of organized societies. In Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Diamond writes a particular section on kleptocracy, a fancy word applied to thieves who install themselves as undisputed leaders in an organized society, and then proceed to pilfer from their constituents for personal financial gain. Diamond utilizes President Mobutu of Zaire as the classic example of a kleptocrat, who keeps the equilvalent of billions of dollars for his own gain, and yet allows nothing to trickle down to his people, the result of which is the lack of a functioning telephone system in Zaire.

Duping an entire populace into supporting self-serving behavior is only viable when kleptrocrats enlist public support by creating a religious ideology. Humans inherently suffer from a belief in the supernatural, which is often based on fear or suspicion of the natural world and unexplained phenomena. In order to justify a central authority bent on the transfer of wealth from a large number of workers to the elite few—and to continue the ruse—supernatural beliefs become institutionalized as…religion.

The predominant example of a kleptocracy is well represented by the present-day Catholic Church, and institutionalized religious dogma that historically held the power to make or break people. With the concept of excommunication, violators of the faith—that is, people who failed to comply with church edicts or offer up payola—were often marginalized by their communities. Unable to make a living, to feed their children and support their descendants, excommunication was treated as a disease. In essence, if your neighbor was excommunicated, you didn’t want to catch his virus, so you wouldn’t buy his livestock, nor have your daughter marry his son. Excommunication based in fear was a powerful tool of manipulation wielded by kleptrocrats who were more self-serving, and thus far from examples of brotherly love.

Now I understand the nagging embarrassment inflicted upon the masses during the Annual Diocesan Appeal. Although no priest ever stood at the ambo and pointed a crooked finger at any of the numerous members of the assembly, defining the least generous of the bunch, we were all tacitly shamed into compliance. The final year of our church attendance, we actually pledged twice the recommended ADA amount, simply because we felt guilty on behalf of those who couldn’t/wouldn’t commit their own basic ADA pledge. Although I felt not an ounce of resentment, I did harbor a sense of responsibility. However, I was intelligent enough for free thought. I didn’t believe that if I were stingy in the amount of my financial donation, young children would not have the financial backing to attain their Sacrament of First Communion, and would then be relegated to some pitiless limbo if they died unfulfilled.

In truth, the only facet of my life that suffered from being involved in the church choir and attending a weekly Mass was my writing. I was reluctant to write about physical love in detail. Lust was more of a basic animal reaction, and not a lofty human attribute, and though I knew I was an animal, free to share my lustful feelings with both my husband, and in the pages of my fictional works, I held back.

This is not to say that I was loath to scrutinize my faith, or the so-called invincible bastion that Christianity is portrayed. Much of my writing focuses on the eternal conflict between western religious ideology, and its methodical efforts to restrict women to a lower rung on society’s ladder.

In contrast, the original Native American societies recognized that women and men could not exist in harmony without mutual respect. Hunter-gatherer societies of which formed the core of many Indigenous peoples were more egalitarian by virtue of necessity, with bands and tribes that consisted of low populations, where everyone knew everyone.

The Hutterites understood this concept, also known as “Dunbar’s Number,” the idea that most human societies can only effectively exist if they number between 100 and 230, with the optimal number being 150. Think about it: how many people are your Facebook friends? Do they exceed a count of 230, and do you know them all by name? Are you ever surprised when you see a post from an FB friend who communicates only sparsely, and then realize this individual has been on your friends list for the last three years?

Getting back to writing, while being church-going folk. I loved singing at church. I loved the Mass parts and the hymns. And yet, I intentionally restricted the language in the novels I wrote, knowing that fellow choir members might read one of my works. Perhaps that gaze from across the room was less friendly, and more judgmental. I was personally freed when my husband left his position with the Diocese. Unbeknownst to me, this relief translated into a wider vocabulary and sense of freedom in my prose. Let me conclude by stating this type of self-discovery has been utterly refreshing.

The added benefit is a dearth of yammering by kleptrocrats bent on slurping up our hard-earned income. At the end of my days, there will be just me and my Creator, and I doubt She’s going to tally up my ADA contributions as a testament to my eligibility into the afterlife.

Thank God I don’t go to church anymore.

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STRUCK by guest author Clarissa Johal

The shadows hadn’t been waiting.
The shadows had been invited.

After a painful breakup, Gwynneth Reese moves in with her best friend and takes a job at a retirement home. She grows especially close to one resident, who dies alone the night of a terrific storm. On the way home from paying her last respects, Gwynneth is caught in another storm and is struck by lightning. She wakes in the hospital with a vague memory of being rescued by a mysterious stranger. Following her release from the hospital, the stranger visits her at will and offers Gwynneth a gift–one that will stay the hands of death. Gwynneth is uncertain whether Julian is a savior or something more sinister… for as he shares more and more of this gift, his price becomes more and more deadly.

She stared into his pale eyes, which were the color of storm clouds. A scream welled up in her throat. He pushed her against the wall and shook his head in a warning.

“Do not scream.”

His voice was low and soothing. She nodded quickly, with every intention of screaming her lungs out as soon as he removed his hand.

“Do not scream,” he repeated.

Gwynneth could hear her breath heavy against his hand. He wore finely made black leather gloves. Why would he be wearing gloves inside? She thought frantically. It wasn’t cold enough to wear gloves. Dressed in the same black material from top to bottom, except for a white, high-collared dress shirt, he looked archaic. She tried to match him with a time period. Mid-eighteenth century? His demeanor, too, was somehow…archaic, proud. Small silver buttons ran the length of his jacket. They pressed sharply against her thin hospital gown.

“Do you trust me?” He studied her intently and removed his hand.

“You were there when I got hit,” she whispered.


“Why didn’t you bring me to the hospital? You left me at the funeral home.”

“I had no transportation. I left you where you would be found.”

“Why didn’t you stay with me?”

“I have my reasons. I am here now.”

“Well, thank you for saving me.”

“I wish something in return.”

“I-I don’t have anything.” She flinched as she felt a small tug from deep inside. It was as if probing fingers were searching for something. Fear bloomed within her. The probing stopped.

“Are you saying no?” His voice held an edge.

“I don’t understand.”


Confused, she nodded slightly. Suddenly, Julian grabbed her and they fell into blackness. Something powerful swirled around them. Something malevolent. She panicked and clung to him. There was pressure on all sides of her, as if the air was folding around them and becoming heavier and heavier. And then, everything stopped.

“Open your eyes, Gwynneth,” he whispered.

They were in a house. A Victorian. Fire burned in the fireplace. She could smell the burning wood. The light reflected off elaborate, but worn, wallpaper and furniture. A half-eaten biscuit lay on a delicate-looking plate. An empty teacup lay on its side.

Julian took her by the hand and led her up a winding staircase. She studied him from behind. Tall and lean, he was quite broad-shouldered. Fine white hair draped across his back like silk. His form-fitting, tailored jacket hit mid-thigh, and matching black pants were tucked into knee-high leather boots. He walked with catlike grace, his boots making light sounds on the stairs.

Otherworldly, her thoughts whispered. Still in her hospital gown, Gwynneth felt vulnerable and naked. Her bare feet pressed against the wooden floor. Grit stuck to her toes.

He led her down a hallway lit by fluted glass light fixtures along the walls. At the end of the hallway was a door.

Never taking his eyes off hers, Julian opened it.

Dark figures scattered like exploding glass. Red, so much red. There was blood everywhere. Blood-soaked sheets, pillows; blood pooled onto the wooden floor and soaked into an ornate carpet.

A woman lay across the bed. She wore an old-fashioned white nightgown, which was plastered to her body. Her long dark hair spilled across the sheets. Gaping wounds covered her chest. A knife lay on the floor. The windows were open, and white curtains fluttered in the evening breeze.

The creatures writhed in the corners as light from the hallway shattered their darkness.

A strangled sound escaped Gwynneth’s throat. Julian wrapped his arms around her and urged her forward. The figures that had fled into the corners seeped into the scene once more.

“They come for her. I want you to watch.”

Gwynneth shook violently, and he gripped her tighter.

The figures swarmed over the dead woman’s body, into her hair, along her bare legs. They snaked up and down her torso and made her body shudder. Gwynneth felt their need, burning and relentless.

“Oh my God, she’s not dead,” she moaned.

Her vision went black. 



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Musa Publishing

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Fun with Gift Cards in California

Have you ever, as a consumer, visited a retail outlet in California, armed with a gift card, and been told, when the balance dips to below ten dollars, that you are totally insane to ask for the balance in cash?

Happens all the time at Starbucks and Jamba Juice. For amusement, we used a gift card today, hoping to cash out as per California State law on a balance of $5.61, so we could at least go to Taco Bell and have a bite to eat. Lo and behold, the staff displayed complete ignorance that the statute even existed.

If you ever find yourself in this ridiculous nickel-and-dime situation, just cut and paste the letter below, which I sent off to Jamba Juice (as though I have nothing else to amuse myself with, right?).

* * * *

Dear Jamba Juice,

I visited a Jamba Juice outlet on Thursday, April 17, 2014, located at 4848 San Felipe Road, San Jose, CA 95135. My gift card contained $10.00, and my purchase amounted to $ 4.39. When I requested that the remaining balance of $ 5.61 be refunded to me, as California state law governing gift cards dictates, the staff at this outlet claimed ignorance, and refused to refund me the remaining balance on this card in cash.

I am advising Jamba Juice that according to Section 1749.5(b)(2), merchants are required by this statute in the State of California to “redeem or cash gift cards with balances less than $10.00 upon request.” It is my understanding that Jamba Juice is fully aware of the existence of this statute, and of the landmark case Marilao v. McDonald’s Corp. I have included an easy-to-read link defining the case for you that prohibits Jamba Juice and like corporations from being “unjustly enriched by (its) practice of refusing cash redemptions.” Please refer to this LINK for further information

Proof of my gift card and a copy of the receipt can be furnished to Jamba Juice upon request.


Karen K Samoranos

* * * *

I’ll let you know what happens. I sure could use that $5.61…


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