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Title: SCORPIO’S KISS
Author: MC Domovitch
Publisher: Lansen Publishing
Scorpio’s Kiss is a spell-binding tale of love, ambition and greed that will keep the reader turning the pages until its surprise ending. Set in New York and Paris amid the glamorous and competitive worlds of art and real estate, Scorpio’s Kiss takes the reader from the late 1940s to the 1960s through the tumultuous lives of its heroes.
There is Alex Ivanov, the son of a Russian immigrant and part-time prostitute. He yearns to escape his sordid life and achieve fame and fortune. His dreams of becoming a world-class builder are met with countless obstacles, yet he perseveres in the hope of someday receiving the recognition he craves.
Half a world away, Brigitte Dartois is an abused teenager who runs into the arms of a benefactor with an agenda all his own. When she finds out that her boss has an ulterior motive, she flees again, determined to earn her living through her art. This career brings her fame, but also the unwanted attention of her early abuser.
Domovitch’s novel is a compelling tale, filled with finely etched characters and a superb understanding of the power of ambition. Scorpio’s Kiss promises to resonate with all who once had a dream.
The days were getting shorter. The boy looked up in surprise at the sky, which had suddenly grown dark. He pulled his worn sweater tight against the October chill, blew warm breath into his cupped hands and hurried on. The newspaper bag strung across his shoulders was almost empty. He no longer had to put it down at every street corner to massage his sore back. He was almost home.
Alexander Ivanov lived at the end of the world. To the twelve-year-old, that was exactly what Brooklyn was; the end of the world. Maybe because the one time he had been to the city, what he called Manhattan, it had taken forever on the subway.
Alex hated living in Brooklyn, and never more so than when his mother talked about her youth in Leningrad with tears running down her face. She would revert to Russian, which he didn’t understand, but the passion in her eyes spoke more volubly of the beauty of her old country than words could convey.
Every day on his way back from school, weighed down by the load of newspapers, he passed the same dusty old stores, their signs barely legible from the peeling paint; the same ratty tenement buildings in which people suffocated in the summer and shivered in the winter; the same old women in their ritual wigs and shapeless dresses, vacant and blank expressions of hopelessness etched on their faces. Hopeless, that was how he sometimes felt; and then he would remember Manhattan and feel better. If there was one thing Alex wished for, it was to live in Manhattan. He yearned for Manhattan the way his mother pined for her old country.
Alex walked along Main Street, where pickles marinated in barrels, salamis swung from hooks, and sausages dried in their cotton bags. He was oblivious to the sights and smells around him. One by one, he took the papers from his bag, and with a quick, experienced motion, he threw them. His aim was almost perfect.
Tomorrow was collection day. He would stop at each house along his route and wait while his clients went to get their money. After making change, he would thank each one of them politely even though most never bothered to leave him a tip. His work would take him more than twice as long as on normal delivery days. Still, he looked forward to it. Collection day was when he could go home, count out his profits and decide how much of the money he could save. This week, if all went well, he might reach the fifty-dollar mark in his bank account. Fifty dollars! It was a fortune.
He reached into his bag, pulled out the last newspaper and aimed it with unerring precision at the Kodesky’s front porch. At that moment the door swung open and old man Kodesky stepped out. The paper flew through the air like a projectile and landed with a thud in the startled man’s well-padded stomach.
“Hey, you no-good little piece of shit!” He waved his fist. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Alex did not hear a word. He was a million miles away, dreaming of the day he would escape the hell of living at the end of the world.
Even now, two years later, he could still remember every detail of his trip to Manhattan. After a long subway ride, he’d emerged in the city surrounded by skyscrapers so tall, he could only see the top by looking up high and leaning back. People on the street rushed about in the lightly falling snow, pushing and jostling each other, their arms full of brightly wrapped packages. It was one week before Christmas and there was a dizzying feeling of joy in the air. Alex had been almost drunk from the excitement. This must be what Leningrad was like.
Deep in his dreams of unlimited delights, he walked home. Three blocks later, Alex climbed the stairs to the dingy one-bedroom apartment where he and his mother lived.
Before he was born, his mother had tried to make the apartment look warm and inviting. She hung pretty paper on the walls and crisp curtains over the windows. The furniture was inexpensive but attractive and functional. Whatever nesting instinct had once inspired Marlena Ivanov’s efforts had long disappeared. For the past twelve years she had done nothing more to improve her home. Indeed, she had not done even the most basic of repairs. Over time, the wallpaper had become worn and faded. The curtains lost their freshness and the once attractive furniture became old and shabby. The sour stench of poverty clung to the apartment like old dirt.
Alex closed the door behind him and dropped his canvas bag on the floor. He sniffed the air and wrinkled his nose. From the kitchen came the smell of boiled cabbage.
“Is dat you Alexander? Vere ver you? Is nearly six o’clock and dinner is been ready for hour,” his mother’s heavily accented voice called out from the bathroom. “I getting ready to go out. You vill ave to eat alone.”
Through the thin door came the sound of the toilet flushing. A moment later Marlena appeared wearing a tight pink sweater set and a black satin skirt. Her dark hair was freshly coifed, the marks of the bobby pins still imprinted between each wave. Her mouth was painted crimson in the shape Joan Crawford had made popular a decade earlier. From ten feet away the smell of vodka on her breath was overpowering.
“Will you be coming home by yourself?” asked the boy suspiciously.
“Vat you vant me to do?” She picked up her purse abruptly and threw in her lipstick. “You vant to eat. I not do dis for me. A boy need food to grow big, strong. Someday you understand.” A moment later, she was gone.
Marlena Ivanov was a bitter woman. She made no secret of the fact that raising a boy by herself was a heavy cross to carry, one she deeply resented. Alex sometimes thought his mother hated him almost as much as she did his father. He had never seen his father. He knew, only because his mother repeatedly told him, that Pavel Ivanov had been a gambler and a womanizer. Whatever wages the man had earned, he just as quickly spent on those two vices. The day Alex was born was the day Pavel Ivanov decided that married life was not for him. He disappeared, leaving his seventeen-year-old wife to deal with the struggles of working and raising a son by herself.
After a dinner of cabbage soup, Alex turned off the lights and climbed under his blankets. In the dark, he could clearly see his mother’s empty bed a few feet from his own. He turned his back to it and curled up.
Hours later, the muffled sound of laughter woke him up. The bedroom door swung open and the light turned on.
“Turn dat off. You vake up boy,” his mother ordered in a shrill whisper. The light flicked off. “Das better. I like dark.” She laughed. “Now, come to Marlena.” Clothes rustled. From his cot, in the corner of the room, Alex guessed every gesture, every movement. Old springs creaked. The sounds were loud, magnified by the stillness of the night.
Alex covered his ears. By trying hard, maybe he could keep the noises from reaching him. It was too late. The guilty stirring in his loins had already begun. His mind swirled in a mix of emotions too strong for him to understand. Maybe if he thought of something else. Someday I’ll drive in from the city in a brand new Cadillac. I’ll show them all…
The next morning, Marlena kissed the man goodbye and turned triumphantly to Alex. “See dis?” She pulled out a ten-dollar bill from between her breasts. “Dis can buy food for whole week.”
Alex looked away, embarrassed and ashamed, and returned to the picture he was drawing on the back of his spelling book.
About the Author
Monique Domovitch has had many careers, starting with being one of Canada’s top models. When she retired from modeling she moved on to a career in the financial services as an adviser and planner, specializing in helping women attain financial freedom. During those years, she was also one of the first women in Canada to host her own national financial television show. During all those years, Monique’s dream was always to someday become a writer. Ten years ago, Monique attended a writer’s conference where the first line of one of her novels was read out loud in a workshop, attracting the attention of a publisher and an agent.
Since that life-changing conference, Monique Domovitch has published nine books, four with Penguin using the pen name Carol Ann Martin, two with Harlequin using her own name, and another two with Lansen Publishing. Scorpio’s Kiss was previously published as two novels, Scorpio Rising and The Sting of the Scorpio. Scar Tissue, her latest, is her ninth novel and she is hard at work on her tenth.
A great believer in the energizing power of writers’ conferences, she says that if not for that first conference she attended, she would not be published today.
For More Information
Sam Griffith is a retired Justice on the Texas Twelfth Court of Appeals, a position to which he was elected three times, twice unopposed. As a high school senior, he worked after school each day full time in a manufacturing factory, then worked his way through college and graduate school, and through law school. Before being elected an appellate justice in 2000, he was a trial court judge and trial lawyer. He earned two legal specialization certifications from the Texas State Bar Association’s Board of Legal Specialization, an achievement of less than three percent of Texas lawyers.
Title: NOT QUITE SO STORIES
Author: David S. Atkinson
Publisher: Literary Wanderlus LLC
Genre: Absurdist Literary Fiction
The center of Not Quite So Stories is the idea that life is inherently absurd and all people can do is figure out how they will live in the face of that fact. The traditional explanation for the function of myth (including such works as the relatively modern Rudyard Kiping’s Just So Stories) is as an attempt by humans to explain and demystify the world. However, that’s hollow. We may be able to come to terms with small pieces, but existence as a whole is beyond our grasp. Life simply is absurd, ultimately beyond our comprehension, and the best we can do is to just proceed on with our lives. The stories in this collection proceed from this conception, each focusing on a character encountering an absurdity and focusing on how they manage to live with it.
Margaret’s heels clicked repetitiously on the polished marble floors of Finklebean’s Mortuary. The sharp sound echoed down aisles of metal-faced vaults in the chilled, solemn hallways. Her steps were quick but purposeful, her stride constrained by the tight skirt of her starched navy business dress. An invoice was clutched tightly in her talon-like hand. Someone owed her an explanation…and that debt would be paid.
Catching sight of the plain brown wooden door hidden off in a back hallway bearing a faded Caretaker’s Office sign, Margaret halted, causing her heels to clack loudly on the stone. She pursed her lips as she scrutinized the sign. As if using the white metal sign with flaking black letters as a mirror, she adjusted the smartly coiled chestnut bun of her hair. Then she shoved open the weathered door and marched inside.
“Excuse me,” she called out sternly before looking what the room happened to contain, or even whether it was occupied.
A portly man in old blue coveralls sitting at a rough wooden worktable looked up at her calmly. Long stringy gray hair framed his face around a set of coke bottle eyeglasses perched on the end of his reddened bulbous nose. A metal cart, half full of plastic funeral flower arrangements, was positioned next to the worktable. Individual plastic flowers littered the table surface.
Unlike the somber and silent polished gray marble trimmed in shining brass of the hallway outside, the caretaker’s room felt more like a basement or garage. The walls were cinderblock, unpainted, and the floor was bare concrete. Obviously, the room was not used for professional services.
“My bill is incorrect,” Margaret said, thrusting the invoice out at the frumpy little man between a thumb and forefinger, both with nails bearing a French manicure. “You maintain my grandfather’s plot, but this month’s bill is way over the usual twenty-five sixty-three…nine hundred dollars more to be precise. You may not be the person in charge of this, but you’re who I found.”
The older man quietly looked at her still presenting the invoice even though he had made no move to take it. “Name?”
“Margaret Lane,” Margaret said curtly.
“No,” the caretaker shook his mess of oily old hair. “I won’t remember you. I meant your granddad’s.”
Margaret pursed her lips again. “Winston Lane.”
“Ah, yes.” The heavyset man leaned back in his chair, putting his hands behind his head and cocking out his elbows. His belly pushed on the table slightly, causing loose plastic flowers to roll around on the tabletop. The flowers were separated into piles according to color: red, white, yellow, purple, and orange. “Winston Lane. His is over on hillside four, I believe.”
“I’m sure.” Margaret crossed her arms, still clutching the invoice. “So why do I have a bill for over nine hundred dollars?”
The caretaker hunched forward, setting his chin on a pudgy arm and wrapping a flabby hand around his mouth. “Let’s see…Winston Lane…bigger than normal bill…oh, that’s right!” His face brightened with recollection.
Margaret smugly waited for the expected rationalization to begin, the extras and add-ons designed to take advantage of the gullible grieving. She wouldn’t be so easily manipulated.
“He got an apartment.”
Margaret’s expression cracked.
“That’s what the extra money is,” he pleasantly explained. “It’s to cover the rent.”
Margaret stared, blinking occasionally. A thin purple vein throbbed angrily at the side of her neck.
The man smiled. Then he pushed his round glasses further back up his nose and grabbed one of the plastic funeral arrangements from the cart. It had a block of dense green foam set in a fake bronze vase and various colors of plastic flowers stuck in the foam. The man pulled all the flowers out in a single movement and set each in the respective colored pile on the worktable. Then he placed the vase in a pile of similar vases on the floor.
“You…rented my grandfather an apartment?” Margaret finally asked. “Why?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” the older man snorted, dismembering another arrangement. “He rented the apartment, not us.”
Margaret sneered, having recovered her self-possession and indignation. “Sir, my grandfather is deceased.”
“Yep,” the caretaker agreed. He started quickly taking vases from the cart, ripping them apart, and then tossing the materials in the respective sort piles. “Guess he didn’t like the plot he picked out. Maybe it wasn’t roomy enough, I don’t know. Some things like that you just can’t be sure of till you get in a place and stay there a while. Anyway, he must not have liked something about it because he went and got himself that apartment. He wouldn’t have done that if he’d been happy where he was at.”
Margaret stood rigid. The toe of one foot tapped irritably. “How could my grandfather possibly rent an apartment? He’s dead!”
“How couldn’t he?” The caretaker snorted again. “It’s a great apartment. Plenty of light. Nice carpets. Good amount of space. It’s got a nice pool, too. Not that pools make much of a difference to a guy like him, being dead and all. Anyway, take a look; happen to have a photo of the place right here. Can’t rightly remember why.”
The man handed Margaret a bent-up photograph he pulled from a coverall pocket. It depicted a pleasantly-lit living room with vaulted ceilings. Tasteful black leather and chrome furniture was arranged around a delicate glass coffee table. On top of the coffee table sat her grandfather’s mahogany coffin, looking just as stately as it had at her grandfather’s funeral service.
Margaret glowered, unsure what to make of the photograph, noticing after a moment that she was chewing her lip as she ground her teeth. Her brain couldn’t keep up, it was all just too ludicrous for her to grasp. The man sorted more funeral arrangements. “So…you’re telling me that my deceased grandfather rented an apartment. Him, not you.”
“Yep. That’s the long and short of it.” The man jammed the photograph back into his pocket.
“My dead grandfather.”
“Yes’m.” He took the last arrangement off the cart and disposed of it as he had the others. He paused to dust off his hands. Then he grabbed a vase from the floor, jammed a plastic flower inside from each stack, and set the newly arranged arrangement on the cart.
“How could anyone rent my grandfather an apartment!?” Margaret threw up her arms. “He’s dead! The landlord couldn’t do that!”
“Sure they can,” the caretaker countered, paying more attention to the funeral arrangements than Margaret. “The building is zoned for mixed use.”
“Mixed use?! He’s dead!” She wiped her hand down her face slowly, stretching her skin as it went.
“So? He’s residing there. That’s a residential use. Certainly isn’t commercial.” The caretaker accidentally shoved two red plastic flowers in the same vase. Laughing at himself, he ripped them out again and started over.
Margaret stepped back, perhaps wondering if the caretaker was insane as opposed to just conning her. That would explain the photograph.
She crossed her arms loosely and tilted her chin upwards just a little, trying to mentally get a handle on the situation. Her brain felt like an overheated car with no oil in the engine. “I’m sorry, but that’s very distracting,” Margaret commented, pointing at the plastic flower piles on the worktable. “Is there any way that you could stop a moment?”
“Sorry.” The older man shook a thick calloused finger at an old clock on the wall, stopped as far as Margaret could tell. “I got to get this done.”
“But…what exactly are you doing? You’re just taking them apart and putting them back together.”
The rumpled man gestured at the flowers. “Well, people pay us to put these on graves, don’t they?”
“They come from a factory, don’t they? Someone paying someone else to bring something a machine made? I don’t think much of that. My way, there’s at least some thought in it.”
Margaret did not respond. Instead, she watched the man fill up the cart again. The arrangements looked exactly the same as before.
“Anyway,” the caretaker went on, “don’t you owe your granddad?”
“Pardon me?” Margaret puffed out her chest.
“Sure,” the man said, peering up at her through the finger-smudged lenses of his glasses. “He said when he bought the plot that you were going to take care of it and he was going to leave you money to keep going to school. He thought you should start working, but helped you out since you were going to mind his spot.”
Margaret swallowed, ruining her attempt to look indignant. A few beads of sweat gathered at her temples.
“You figure you’ve done enough?” The man had his head held low, hiding the tiny smirk on his face.
Margaret’s eyes widened. Her arms hung limply at her sides and her shoulders slumped. “But…”
“Hey, that’s between you two. I just take care of things like I’m paid to. If he wants his plot, I do that. If he wants a two-bedroom palace, I do that instead.”
Margaret absentmindedly twisted an old, ornate gold ring on her finger. Suddenly, her eyes narrowed as if the light in the dim room had gotten brighter. The meticulously squared corners of her mind twisted and stretched deliciously. “That’s right…it was a deal.”
“I agreed to have his plot cared for.”
“Well…” Her lips slipped into a pointed grin. “I pay you a fixed monthly amount to care for that plot. Apparently this apartment is his plot now, so the rent should be part of your monthly care. I expect you to take care of it accordingly. After all, caring for his plot is caring for his plot.”
“Now see here–”
“Regardless, I can’t help but think,” she went on, “that it reflects poorly on your services if grandfather isn’t happy with his plot, not mine.”
The caretaker gawked at Margaret, his mouth hanging loose. “Is that what you think now?” The older man finally growled.
“It is,” she responded with a saccharine tone, “and I expect that all future bills will be for the correct amount.”
“Hmph,” he huffed, settling back into his chair. “Wonder what your granddad would say about that.”
Margaret smirked. “You’re welcome to go and ask him, if you think it will get you anywhere.”