Thursday 15 December 2011

12 Days of Christmas Blog Hop

As part of the 12 Days of Christmas Blog Hop hosted by Intoxicated By Books I am offering to giveway 3 Amazon Gift Cards worth 10$ each.

I'm a bit late in putting this up, Apologies to the visitors who hopped by and couldn't find the post.

Please leave your name and email address, and you will be entered for a chance to win one of the Gift Cards. 

Have Fun and Happy Holidays!

To go back to the linky list @ Intoxicated By Books, please click HERE

Introducing Alesha Escobar, The Author of The Tower's Alchemist (The Gray Tower Trilogy, #1)

Today I have the pleasure of spotlighting the wonderfully talented author of '
The Tower's Alchemist (The Gray Tower Trilogy, #1)', one of the The Day The Sun Stopped Shining Blog Tour authors, along with a chapter excerpt from her book.

Book:    The Tower's Alchemist (The Gray Tower Trilogy, #1)

Author: Alesha Escobar

Author Bio:

Alesha Escobar writes fantasy and urban fantasy stories to support her chocolate habit. She enjoys reading, watching movies, and crafts. She is currently working on DARK RIFT, #2 of The Gray Tower Trilogy (available December 2011). 


In an alternate WWII era where the Nazis unleash occult powers, the Allies must employ wizards to stand in their way. One wizard who joins the fight is Isabella George, an SOE agent who’s torn between her sense of duty and her desire to retire to a normal life where she can find love and raise a family. As friends and colleagues disappear, she knows that if she continues, she’ll meet the same fate.
The stakes are raised even higher when she discovers a warlock is stalking her in order to steal her powers, and that the very people who trained her as a wizard may be her greatest enemy.



The cab driver flinched when he saw the bomb drop. It fell through the sky with a deadly grace, but I didn’t bat an eyelash. I pressed my hand against the window and reached out with my senses, making sure that a curse hadn’t been laid along with the bomb’s contents.

“Are you sure it’s safe to go to the air hangar?” he asked, slowing the car.

“It was a leaflet bomber,” I told him, as we watched a multitude of folded papers eject from the bomb and swirl through the air. The empty container would land without incident, but the propaganda leaflets would make their way into people’s hands—but hopefully not their hearts.

He wiped his brow. “Thank God. I thought it would explode.”

I shook my head at some of the Royal Air Force officers running over and collecting the leaflets. Though the Nazis dropped their leaflet bombs in city centers where they could reach the civilian population, every now and then a batch would be directed toward a military or industrial site. I didn’t know how many Air Force officers gave credence to the propaganda printed on those papers, but it probably wouldn’t galvanize them to read about how the impeccable prophet Nostradamus predicted their demise four hundred years ago and to see pictures of dead Ally soldiers littering the ground. That is, if you believed in their Black Propaganda.

“You can let me out here, thank you.” I gave him a squeeze on the shoulder and then opened my door.

“SOE isn’t paying me enough for this. One day it’ll fall out of the sky and hit me right on the head.” He let out a nervous laugh.

I smiled back at him and said goodbye. As I exited the car, I saw the sky turn a deep orange and I knew that at sunset I’d have to board the transport plane to Paris. I could hear the engine of a spitfire fighter plane pass over and wondered if it went to hunt down the bomber that had dropped the leaflets. As a couple of officers admitted me into the hangar, I spotted one of the pilots running in from the field with a few leaflets in hand.

“Good evening, Emelie.”

“Hi, Max.” I took one of the leaflets he offered and grunted when I read it. “What are you guys going to do with these?”

“Burn the others.”

That sounded like a good idea, especially since the one I held in my hand made me want to toss it into a fire without looking back. It had a drawing of a dark crooked tower with a caricature of a wizard perched on top and raining his spells down on frightened people. In bolded letters it said, “The Gray Tower helps now, so it can harm later.”

I gave the leaflet back to Max. “Make sure you get rid of all of these.”

We halted when Richard approached us with my supply pack and jumpsuit in hand. He gave them to me and pointed toward a changing room. “We’re leaving in an hour.”

“Lieutenant,” Max said, “We got these—”

Richard jerked his thumb in the direction of one of the large storage bins. “We don’t need any of that bollocks here. Trash them.”

Max immediately headed for the bin to dispose of the leaflets. I was glad Richard refused to even take a look at them because sometimes I’d get odd stares or snide comments from colleagues at SOE who knew I had trained with the Gray Tower.

At first I had dismissed it as plain ignorance, or even a bit of envy on days that I needed my own confidence boosted. However as the war progressed, I realized that many of them were afraid. In the back of their minds they probably wondered if I’d turn rogue and blast them all away.

Though the Masters imposed strict rules on members of the Order while at the Gray Tower, they didn’t have much to say when it came to us being in the outside world. I could understand why people, or governments for that matter, would be wary. Still, it didn’t hurt to show a little friendliness, especially toward those of us who willingly joined the Ally cause and risked our lives each day.

As Richard turned and started barking orders at the maintenance crew that worked on a bomber, I made my way through the bustle on the hangar floor to the changing room. I felt a little guilty about making this my last assignment, but I promised myself that I’d at least make it my most successful one. The average life expectancy of an SOE agent was just a few months, and I’ve lasted over a year. So, if one really wanted to get into the mathematics of it, I’ve basically served a couple of lifetimes.

That had to count for something, right?

When night fell, I rode in a transport plane that could be shot out of the sky any second, and poised myself to leap toward the dark terrain of the northern region of France. From there I’d have to find my way to Paris. Most SOE agents came here by plane or submarine, sneaking their way toward the Maquis resistance fighters or a Nazi target.

We started off doing “small jobs” like operating anti-Nazi radio programs, bringing in food and arms to friends and stranded Ally soldiers, and relaying messages and news back to SOE headquarters. Most of us were women, from all walks of life, from both Europe and America, who wanted to do more for our countries than to stay at home and worry.

The male-dominated intelligence community treated us with disdain, but soon even they couldn’t refute our important contributions. “The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare,” Winston Churchill once jokingly called us, although the epithet was perfectly apt. We did anything and everything to frustrate the Third Reich and set Europe ablaze, and we weren’t afraid to fight dirty.

“Looks like you’re the last one in for the week.” Richard frowned as he closed the cockpit entrance and made his way over and knelt next to me. I was already sitting in the area where the drop hole would open and I’d have to jump out with my parachute.

“You say it as if it’s a bad thing.” I glanced at my hands and clasped them together, unsure of what to say next. I knew that he had known Stella and even took a fancy to her. Though he never admitted this and would vehemently deny it if I ever brought it up, a girl could just tell about these sorts of things.

“How is it faring on your side?” His strong gaze demanded me to face him and answer. He wanted to know if there was any news about Stella, but there wasn’t any. I really didn’t want to talk about this with him, and I didn’t want to plant any nasty seeds of doubt. I wished his co-pilot had come back here to see me off.

I half smiled. “If I’m alive, then I’m faring well. I’ll let you know if I hear anything, you know...”

The signal light flashed and the metal panel beneath us slowly opened. A gust of wind encircled us and I gave a quick nod toward him. Though his facial expression revealed nothing, I felt like I needed to say something to him as a word of encouragement.

“Go, Emelie!” Richard cut me off before I could speak. He didn’t do it in a crass or dismissive manner, but perhaps in that moment he realized that he didn’t want to dwell on Stella any more than I did.

I took a deep breath and scooted myself forward. With a little effort I slipped through the drop hole and went drifting toward land. The first time I had leapt out of a Royal Air Force transport plane, I could barely keep my wits. I kept imagining the Gestapo or SS strolling along a lonely stretch of road to find me splattered all over. I may be an alchemist, but I have yet to figure out a potion or elixir to make me airborne.

My parachute had been released as soon as I jumped out of the plane, and I fell silently through the night air hoping the white umbrella above me didn’t serve as an invitation to enemy gunfire. I thought all was clear as I nearly touched the ground until I noticed a convertible-top jeep barrel down the road and then slow to a halt.

I knew the patrol officer driving the trekker spotted me, and I cursed under my breath as I skidded across the field. My adrenaline went surging through me as I grabbed my knife from my jumpsuit’s outer pocket and cut myself loose. I rolled away and scanned the area, trying to decide whether to lay low or just make a run for it. The only thing I could see was the trekker’s headlight beam; the black of night enveloped everything else, including me.

I grew up in the city, where we had streetlights and bright theater marquee signs. The one time I actually went on a trip to the forest where there weren’t convenient lights stationed to guide my path, I found out just how terrified I was of absolute darkness. I still didn’t like the dark, and I dared not move because I wanted to hear where the officer was. All I could hear though was my heavy breathing, and I was so anxious that the only thing I could do was press the back of my hand to my mouth to stifle the sound.

A shot rang out and I quickly dropped to my knees. I didn’t know what direction the bullet came from and I tried encouraging myself with the morbid thought that there have been plenty of people who survived gunshot wounds. I finally steadied my breathing and gripped my knife, waiting for him to make another move. However, I immediately bucked and dropped my weapon when a pair of arms enclosed me in a fierce grip.

I swung my head back and gave him a good head-butt, making him cry out in pain and release me. I quickly turned around and delivered a left hook and dodged his fist when he tried to reciprocate. Although we couldn’t really see each other, we could hear and feel each other’s body movements in this deadly dance. I heard him swing at me again and I blocked, but not before losing my balance and landing on my back. Fighting in a jumpsuit could be cumbersome sometimes.

“Who are you?” he asked in German, grabbing hold of me and dragging me by the scruff of my neck toward the beaming headlights. He shoved me against the front of the car and I slowly faced him with arms raised in surrender. I had to plan my next move very carefully.

“I’m from the Russian Liberation Group,” I answered in perfect Russian. “Praskovya sent me.” I thought I’d add that part since he cocked his revolver. The Russian Liberation Group had been sending in spies and other reinforcements for their Nazi allies for about a month now. Some of these operatives entered France the same way I had.

“She sent you?” He had switched over to speaking Russian. Though his tone sounded doubtful, he slightly lowered his gun.

“You know us...we do everything backward, comrade.” I prayed the codeword we intercepted last week still held.

The back of my neck began to burn and I thought of what I could say next. He saved me the trouble when he slid his gun into his holster and offered me his hand. “Leave it to the Russians to send women to do a man’s job. What does Praskovya want?”

I quickly grasped his hand, one of the easiest access points, and honed my magical senses, tracking the rhythm of his heart and the electrical currents in his brain. As his heartbeat slowed and his mind hazed, I spoke to him.

“What’s your name?”

“Karl Manfried.”
“How many other officers are in the Paris office?”

“Twenty six.”
That was a little more than I cared to handle alone. “Why don’t you go back to your headquarters and greet your comrades with a Molotov cocktail?”

He slowly nodded and let his hand slip from mine. He headed straight for his trekker and jumped inside. The jeep rumbled and slowly reversed, then made a turn in the direction of the city. By this time my hands shook from exhaustion and my head ached from the amount of concentration I had mustered to use body magic on him. It also didn’t help that I was hungry and irritated. In any case I needed to make it to my safe house even though it was apparently past curfew, and I needed as many officers off the streets as possible. Hopefully Karl would be the distraction I needed once I reached the city.

I pulled out my foldable bike from the pack attached to the parachute. After spending twenty minutes longer than I usually would setting it up, I unzipped and shed the jumpsuit to reveal a rather tight-fitting milkmaid’s uniform. I promised myself that I’d make it back to London just to shoot Ian for making me wear this.

I stuffed the jumpsuit into the pack and placed it in the little straw basket attached to the bike’s handlebars. I peddled down the road without looking back and took note of the Seine River that ran to my right. It looked like I was south of Mantes, just outside of Paris. I kept my eyes open for more trekkers, hoping that I could make it through without any trouble.

When I made it to the city proper, I took some backstreets to avoid a few SS officers on patrol and pulled my bike up to an alley and slowly walked through. I scowled when I saw an officer in the middle of the alley, against the wall with his woman, blissfully lost in a dirty and quick cuzzy. They either didn’t notice or didn’t care when I walked by and wrinkled my nose at the scent of garbage and piss.

I wondered if the woman was just another collaborator selling her body for food or gas, or an agent of the Resistance engaged in an act of seduction. Sometimes I wondered what went through women’s heads when they did this. I’ve used my red garnet lipstick twice to kiss men and enthrall them so they would do what I want, and those were the least arousing experiences I’ve ever had. If I were that woman, I’d probably be thinking about how much longer it would be before the deed was done, or why he didn’t get us a hotel room.

I grew more confident as I turned a corner and headed down another lonely street, but unfortunately fate would not have it be that easy for me. Before I was halfway down the street, two SS officers headed toward me from the opposite end and hailed me. Though I put on a stoic face, my fingers trembled and my heart raced. Our confrontation would be inevitable since they would be complete idiots not to question a milkmaid out riding her bike after curfew.
“Halt right there, mademoiselle.” The first officer, whose nametag read Adelbert, approached and grabbed hold of my bike.

The second, whose name was Gerhardt, grabbed my arm and spoke to me in French. “A little late to be delivering milk, isn’t it?”

“I...I was with my Pierre. I didn’t mean to take off so late.”

Adelbert leaned my bike against the brick wall of the closed shop we stood in front of. The menacing look in his dark eyes worried me more than the gun in his holster. “Well lucky for you that your sweetheart didn’t accompany you.”

Gerhardt forced me against the wall with my back to him. “Is it the same Pierre who lives by Le Petit bakery?” He had asked the question in English.
“I’m sorry,” I said back to him in French, “I don’t understand much English.”

He ran his hands along my body, pretending to frisk me. more grope and you’ll get a kick to your face!

“Check her bag, Adelbert.”
My body tensed and I quickly assessed my options. I could stun Gerhardt with a blow and fight Adelbert, or even beat him to the bag so I could grab my weapons. However a bullet in the back of my head would end it all. If he opened the pack sitting in the basket, I would be the next one in front of a firing squad. Suddenly an explosion went off a few blocks down, and the sky lit up. I prayed the mind-hazed Karl Manfried had carried out my order.

Scheisse! It’s the office!” Gerhardt, with a bewildered look on his face as if he couldn’t believe someone would dare attack his office, began running in the direction of the fire. Adelbert drew his revolver and followed.

I slid away from the wall and opened and shut my mouth. Thank goodness Gerhardt hadn’t broken my jaw. After rotating my aching shoulders I hopped on my bike and continued down the street, pedaling as hard as I could until I reached a winding road that led to the dark and quiet neighborhood near Vincennes where my safe house stood. I slowed and parked my bike at a small prayer chapel, taking my pack with me and quietly entering.

No one sat or prayed inside, but a beautiful statue of the Madonna oversaw a corner full of flickering candles. I went to the back room where the caretaker stored his cleaning supplies and extra candles, and I crawled beneath the small table where a trapdoor lay hidden beneath a rug. I lifted it and pulled on the iron handle as I carefully slipped inside. It was tricky getting the rug back over and then closing the door, but I managed to do it and began trekking through a dark underground passageway.

Though the path led me down a straight line, I wished I had at least swiped a candle. I felt like I was going to be swallowed by the darkness. I didn’t feel like going back so I just went at a steady pace and held my hands out in front of me just in case I stumbled. After walking through the underground passage for five minutes, I finally felt the false dirt wall that signaled the end of my journey.

I recalled Ian’s instructions for getting to the safe house and I felt for the hidden lever and pulled; the false wall cracked open. I pried it open further and then opened a reinforced wooden door behind it. I quickly slipped through, covering the door the way I found it. I crawled up a ladder and pushed open a trapdoor like the one in the chapel, except this one opened into a tool shed.

I supposed they really wanted to make me work to get here. I almost broke the trapdoor shutting it so hard out of irritation, and covered it with the rug that was in there. I listened for any noises—a voice, footsteps, or trekkers. When I was sure no one was nearby, I crept from the tool shed toward the back of the safe house which had an angel ornament hanging in the middle of the back door. I held my pack and slowly approached, giving a slightly urgent knock. I heard slow and hesitant footsteps and after a few seconds had elapsed, someone finally answered from the other side of the door.

“Who is it?” a woman’s muffled voice queried in French.

“Emelie.” I gave a grateful but tired grin when she opened the door.
“It’s late, Emelie.”

“Yes, but I have gifts.”

“From whom?”

All I wanted at this hour was a hot meal and a soft bed. “From 64 Baker Street.”

The woman nodded and smiled. “Then come in, Emelie, and make yourself at home.”

What a  fantastic excerpt!

The Tower's Alchemist is on Kindle:

Please visit the links below to link up with Alesha, see what she is upto, and her latest writing projec, which is bound to be as exceptional as the excerpt.

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Fantastically Yours,