Excerpt: The Stressed-Out Girl’s Handbook

Just to offer up proof to my poor readers that I have actually gotten some writing done lately, here’s the first chapter of the third book in The Handbook Series, The Stressed-Out Girl’s Handbook.


My head fell into my hands after I ended the call, thinking for the dozenth time that day that I simply couldn’t add one single more thing to my plate without my head exploding.

The resident-side door opened to the office and Sara walked in. A visit from my favorite resident and friend usually put me in a better mood. The guilty expression on her face said this would be a rare exception.

“Hey, Aspen. I need a small favor,” she began, “if you can squeeze it in tomorrow. I know you’re getting ready for classes to start Monday, and I wouldn’t ask if I had any way of getting there myself.”

I cringed internally, but Sara was the only reason I’d passed calculus last semester and I knew I would do whatever she needed of me. “Of course. What is it?”
“Monroe and I are booked all afternoon tomorrow checking out reception venues,” she began.

Frowning, I couldn’t help interrupting. “I thought you picked a place months ago.”
Sara sighed. “We did. And then a pipe burst and it flooded. The damage was pretty bad and they said there’s a chance repairs won’t be done in time, so we’re scrambling to find a new place.”

The more Sara got into planning her and Monroe’s wedding, the more I wanted to stay far away from marriage for the foreseeable future. “I’m sorry, Sara. That really sucks.”
She shrugged and shook her head. “Something was bound to go wrong. At least we still have a few months before the invitations have to go out.”

For a moment, she seemed lost in her thoughts, probably mentally running through the checklist she reviewed constantly to make sure she wasn’t overlooking something.

“So, what did you need me to do?”

Startled out of her thoughts, she chuckled. “Sorry, yeah. The photographer we booked wants to take a look at the church we’re holding the ceremony in to take some pictures and plan everything out. The only day the caretaker is available while the photographer is in town is tomorrow afternoon, of course. He won’t let the photographer wander around unescorted, and he’s too busy to do it himself.”

“What time?” I asked, trying to keep the wariness from my voice.

“Two,” Sara said in a tone that was hopeful the time wouldn’t be a major inconvenience.

I held back a sigh. “That’s totally fine.”

It wasn’t, but I would figure out how to make it work.

Sara leaned over the dividing wall and hugged me. “You’re a lifesaver!”

“No problem,” I said.

Sara didn’t catch the drop in my tone. After hurriedly giving me the address and contact info for the photographer, she rushed off to meet Monroe for some other wedding planning task. As soon as she disappeared form view, I sank into my chair.
My last weekend before the fall semester started was supposed to be relaxing. I’d even turned down invites from friends and classmates to go out and let loose a little before having to bury myself in lectures and assignments again. Ten minutes after I’d so no to a weekend of drinking and dancing, the calls, favors, and unexpected tasks had begun pouring in. I wasn’t even sure where I was supposed have time to eat at this point.

Plopping my chin onto my hand, I stared at the clock. Half and hour to go until the end of my shift. At least I would have the rest of the afternoon to catch up on cleaning and grocery shopping. I hated starting a new semester already feeling like I was behind. Sadie would be gone all weekend, thankfully. As a roommate, she wasn’t the worst, but she was far from the best either. If I didn’t get the apartment settled this weekend, it would be Christmas break before I had time to de-Sadie the place. Tidiness was not her best attribute. Neither was being quiet while endlessly playing video games.

The office phone rang and I snatched it up. The well-practiced, polite and cheerful greeting I’d perfected over the last year, spilled out of my mouth.

“Aspen,” my boss Archie said, “Cameron called in sick. I need you to stay until six.”
I balked, an absolutely not parked on my lips. I’d already covered for him twice over the past two weeks, and I had no doubt his illness was called going out to party with his friends.

“Is that a problem?” Archie prodded.

“No,” I said, deflated. “I’ll stay.”

“Great. Thanks.”

He ended the call too quickly to hear my sigh. Cameron had worked here two years longer than I had, and despite his spotty track record of showing up on weekends, holidays, or nights when he’d rather be doing something else, Archie never made a big deal about his absences. Part of that was because I had never failed to cover one of Cameron’s missed shifts, but I suspected it was also because he reminded Archie of his grandson.

The fact that I was stuck here for another five hours meant I had plenty of time to make the call knew I would need to make after Sara’s request. I stared at my phone. Texting would be easier, but pointless. She’d never see it. Even if by some miracle she did see a text from me, replying was out of the question, so I would never know whether or not it had been received.

Phone call it was.

I unlocked my phone and immediately felt like it was mocking me. My call history was still up, the number I needed to call at the top of the list, as well as the next in line, and the next, and the next. She wasn’t going to be happy. I’d already agreed to help Sara, though, and that was more time sensitive. Not that she would see it that way when I told her I would be delayed.

The number stared back at me for several more minutes as I choose my words. By the time I finally made the call, I had rehearsed both side of the upcoming conversation and dreaded it even more.

She picked up on the third ring.

“Aspen, is everything all right? You’re still coming, aren’t you?”

Weariness spread through me at her panicked tone. “I’m still coming, but I’ll be a little later than expected.”

“How late? I need you here.”

She didn’t. Not really.

“Half an hour, maybe an hour,” I said. “I’ll be there, though. I promise.”

“But…”

“You’ll be fine.”

“You don’t know that,” she argued.

I did, but saying so wouldn’t make this conversation end any quicker.

“It will be fine.”

She gulped in a worried breath. “I’d really rather you came at noon.”

“I can’t. I don’t even get off work until one. I already told you that.”

Her fear and frustration were almost audible. “I don’t like changes. You know that.”

Boy did I ever.

“I’ll be there as soon as I’m done to check in on you, okay?”

Several seconds passed in silence. “Are you sure you can’t come earlier?”

“I’m sure.”

She sighed so long and deeply that I couldn’t resist rolling my eyes. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

“Okay.” Her voice was morose, her single-word response stretched out.

I offered a quick goodbye and ended the call.

Tossing the phone down did little to ease the mounting stress. It was settling behind my eyes, promising a headache that would linger. I was tempted to lay my head down on the desk, nap and hide from any additional problems.

The office phone rang. I groaned out loud and glare at it before snatching it up.

“Manager’s office. How can I help you?”

“Um…there’s water pouring out from beneath the kitchen sink.”

Excerpt: Memory’s Edge Part 2

Before I move on to the next themed blog series, now that I’ve finished the Marketing Primer series, I thought I’d share an excerpt from Memory’s Edge: Part 2. This is the book I’m currently working on hoping to finish in the next month.

By the time lunch finally arrived, Gretchen was exhausted on every level. She only dragged herself out of her chair to lock the door. Before she could accomplish the task, she saw Desi sprinting down the hall and opened the door for her. Her friend crashed into her, throwing her arms around her and squeezing her hard enough to hurt.

“I am so mad at you! You know that, right?” Desi demanded when she finally pulled back. “I called and called and called!”

Yanking her friend into the classroom, Gretchen locked the door behind her and headed for her desk. Desi plopped down on top of a nearby student desk and glared at her friend. Gretchen collapsed in her seat. “I want to say I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t face talking to anyone.”

“I was so worried about you! John too! It was like I suddenly lost you both!” Her hands flew up dramatically. “How could you do that to me?”

Seeing the tears in her friend’s eyes broke Gretchen down. “I’m sorry, Desi. I know it wasn’t fair, but I just couldn’t. I still haven’t talked to my parents, either. I couldn’t even go home.”

Desi huffed. “Thank goodness Carl at least had sense enough to let everyone know you hadn’t gone off the deep end. I would have banged down your door if he hadn’t texted to say you were alive and as emotionally stable as could be expected.”

“If you had tried to bang down my door, you still wouldn’t have found me.”

Seeming a little surprised by that, Desi asked, “You’re still staying at Carl’s?”

Gretchen looked away from her friend. “Do you remember what the inside of my house looked like before we left for New York?”

Desi sighed as realization set in. “Oh, honey, I’m sorry. I hadn’t considered all the wedding prep scattered everywhere. Of course you didn’t want to go home to that.” She reached forward and squeezed Gretchen’s hand. “Have you heard from John yet?”

Looking up at her, Gretchen stared in confusion. “Why would I? He’s not coming back. He has his old life back now.”

“Yeah,” Desi said, “but what about all the wedding stuff, the catering business, his clothes and things, everything he left behind.”

Blinking away tears, Gretchen said, “It’s not like he needs any of it now, and I’ll deal with the wedding stuff eventually on my own. It’s not his problem anymore.”

Wincing, Desi asked, “So you looked him up too?”

She didn’t want to admit it, but Gretchen nodded. “I can’t even comprehend how much money he and Corey have. There’s nothing he left behind that he can’t buy again.”

“Except you.”

Gretchen glared at her friend. “It was the right choice.”

Propping her elbow on the desk, Desi dropped her chin into her palm. “I know, honey, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be hurt by his choice.”

“It was my choice as much as his. I’m the one who said goodbye and left the stage.”

“Because you knew what choice he had to make and did it for him so he didn’t have to.”

“It was the right choice,” Gretchen whispered as tears spilled down her cheeks.

Practically laying herself out across the desk, Desi ignored the fact that she was wearing a skirt and hugged her friend fiercely. “Sometimes right choices hurt worse than wrong ones.”

Gretchen clung to her friend for several long minutes before finding enough strength to pull back. “Thank you.”

She smiled and sat back up. They were quiet for a long time before Desi spoke again. “It’s going to be so weird without him here. Jake was so upset when he realized John wasn’t coming back.”

Gretchen instantly felt bad for not considering the impact of John’s leaving on anyone else in their life. Desi had gone through several boyfriends while John lived with Gretchen, but he and Jake had become very close over the last several months. Desi cared about him like a brother as well. And her parents…despite Gretchen’s mother warning her about the potential heartbreak loving John would cause, they both adored him and loved him like a son. They must have been as heartbroken over losing him as they were knowing she was hurting over the loss.

“I need to call my parents when I get home,” Gretchen said tearfully.

Desi smiled sadly. “We’re all going to miss him. I know it’s not the same for us as it is for you, but we do understand some of what you’re going through. Stay with Carl as long as you need to, but know we’re all here for you, okay? Whatever help you need to sort things out, all you have to do is call.”

Gretchen reached over the desk and hugged her again. “Thank you.”

They pulled back from each other and Desi sighed. “I better get going. I have to prep for my next class. Pottery week…” She shook her head at the impending mess and stood. “Call me later, okay?”

Gretchen nodded and watched her walk out. Another half a day to go. Then two more days until the weekend. Then one more week until spring break. She could last that long. Maybe by then she’d be ready to start putting her life back together.

Excerpt: The Children of the Seventh Son by @ScottTheWriter

The Children of the Seventh Son

Excerpt: A riot in Constantinople

By Scott Bury

Andrina returned to the inner courtyard then, carrying a large bundle in one hand and dragging something else behind her in the other. It scraped along the stone floor, adding an irritating note to the clamour from beyond the villa’s walls. “Papa!” she panted, before dropping her burdens with a clamour.

Javor knelt in front of her. “Your armour, Papa,” she panted. She held his steel helmet in the crook of her arm. The bundle was his lamellar cuirass, greaves and arm protectors. But she had not brought several other essential items.

It must have taken all her strength to carry it here.

“Mauricius!” Javor called, loosening his great-grandfather’s dagger in the scabbard he always wore on his side. “Take care of Andrina.”

“I want to help you, papa,” Andrina said before Mauricius swept her into his arms and passed her to one of the slaves he had brought. She struggled until she slipped out of the slave’s arms.

Javor put his hand on her shoulder. “You can help me by staying here with the others and showing them how to be brave. Adam,” he called to his oldest son, “you help your mother stay calm.” Adam nodded and went to Calanthe, who had collapsed back onto her couch. He hugged her and wriggled to find a place to sit on her lap.

Javor picked up his helmet and the armour that his daughter had dragged in and nodded at Gaetan, who followed him to his study in the very centre of the domus. There, he quickly took out the rest of his armour. He pulled on the felt cap that went between his head and the helmet. Gaetan, flinching at every sound from the front gate, helped him with the cuirass and arm braces, then held his long sword as Javor fastened his greaves.

Taking the sheathed sword in his left hand, Javor strode down the corridor to the front courtyard. He took a firm stance in front of the little lemon tree as the pressure on the gate splintered the thick board that, held in place by iron brackets, formed a secure lock.

With a final sickening crack, the gate burst open. A group of young men in ragged tunics, shock on their faces, stood just beyond it.

“Rich man,” said the one in front. He grinned, a gap black in his teeth. He had thick black hair and blood on his cheek, dully illuminated by a flaming torch held by the young man beside him.

“I do not want to kill any of you,” Javor announced in a firm, steady voice. “But if you take one more step, I will.” He drew the long sword with a ringing sound. Under his shirt, Preyatel’s vibration decreased to a dull tickle against his chest.

The gap-toothed man stepped inside, grinning. He raised a heavy wooden club. “There are many of us, rich man,” he said, and spat at Javor’s feet. “Let us take what we want and maybe we will not kill you.” The other men behind him stepped closer, too, but not as far as their leader.

The lead man’s eyes flicked to a vase with gold leaf on its edges, sitting in a little alcove on the wall. “Take that,” he said, and a thin teenaged boy behind him ran up and grabbed it. “What are you going to do about that, rich man?” the leader teased.

Javor moved his right foot behind him, presenting a narrow target to the mob. He scanned them. A number held blazing torches, others pikes, heavy clubs or knives. None of them looked like former legionnaires.

What does a former legionnaire look like?

Shut up, brain.

The leader barked a laugh. “I knew it. Didn’t I tell you, boys? These rich men have no balls. That’s why I father all their children!” Behind him, some of the others laughed.

“Take the vase,” Javor said. “Go home. No one else needs to die tonight.”

The leader laughed, and the followers behind him echoed.

Javor stepped closer. If he leaned forward, he could sever the leader’s head. “One warning. You cannot harm me.” Preyatel thrummed against his chest in agreement. “But I can hurt you. If I have to, I will kill you. But I do not want to.”

The leader laughed again. Preyatel leaped under Javor’s shirt, hot as the torch in the hand of the man beside the leader.

Fast as flame, the leader swung his club at Javor’s head. But faster was Javor’s sword into the man’s neck. His amulet vibrated, filling his head with a keening song. Blood spurted, covering Javor’s face and cuirass. Before he could control it, his sword found its way into two of the men with torches. It sang a death song as Javor followed, dancing into the mob, led by the blade and the amulet’s direction.

When he halted in the middle of the street, the mob streamed away down the side alleys. Javor drew his breath slowly, calmly, his sword comfortable in his grip. Light from two sputtering torches on the cobblestones illuminated one side of a single face, trembling before him. Overhead, the moon filtered through smoke.

“Please,” said the half-face. The cheek below the wide eye glistened wetly.

“Go. Tell the others,” Javor said, shaking his sword.

The eye blinked, then vanished. Javor heard slapping footfalls fade into the distance.

About this book

The Children of the Seventh Son is the second novel in the Dark Age series, which began with The Bones of the Earth.

The year 600 of the Christian Era is the darkest time of the Dark Age. Young Javor the Sklavene has settled in Constantinople, the last bastion of civilization against dark forces that have shattered the Western Roman Empire.

Wielding two special weapons made from the Bones of the Earth, Javor has become the favourite monster-killer of the secret Gnostic Order. As his young family grows, he is sent to distant, exotic lands to eliminate threats and learn more about why the earth is intent on destroying humanity.

Every mission seems to bring more questions than answers—until he finds the greatest danger comes not from forces from beneath the surface of the world, but from the very civilization he has been defending.

Pre-order now from Amazon for just 99 cents US.

Read more about The Dark Age series.

Read reviews on Goodreads.

Follow the latest announcements about The Children of the Seventh Son and the Dark Age series on Scott’s blog.

About the author

Scott Bury can’t stay in one genre. After a 20-year career in journalism, he turned to writing fiction. “Sam, the Strawb Part,” a children’s story, came out in 2011, with all the proceeds going to an autism charity. Next was a paranormal short story for grown-ups, “Dark Clouds.”

The Bones of the Earth, a historical fantasy, came out in 2012. It was followed in 2013 with One Shade of Red, an erotic romance.

He has several mysteries and thrillers, including Torn RootsPalm Trees & Snowflakes and Wildfire.

Scott’s articles have been published in newspapers and magazines in Canada, the US, UK and Australia.

He has two mighty sons, two pesky cats and a loving wife who puts up with a lot. He lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

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