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Christmas With Dakota Banks + Giveaway (INT)!


Christmas with Maliha

Maliha Crayne raised the blinds in her condo, high overlooking Lake Michigan on Lake Shore Drive. She was hoping for a glimpse of a beautiful sunset, but was greeted by a more common sight in winter in Chicago: low-hanging grey clouds, sleet tapping against the windows, and wind whipping the waves on the lake.


“Surf’s up,” she said. She left the blinds open because the weather suited her mood.

It was Christmas Eve, and she was spending it alone. Her teammates were scattered around the world. Hound and Glass were hunting rhino poachers in a South African national park; Amaro was working his day job, trying to see if he could break into the network security at MI5; Yanmeng and his wife Eliu were trekking in Bolivia; and the newest member of her team, Mickey, was doing something in Death Valley.

 That afternoon, she’d made her favorite cookies, English Toffee Squares, packed a box, and gone to visit her girlfriend Brandy, only to find that Brandy had been swept off her feet by her latest love and was leaving on a holiday cruise.


With her soulmate Lucius stuck in a demon’s hell, it looked like Santa would be Maliha’s only visitor tonight.

What’s a rogue demon’s assassin to do? Eat toffee squares, decorate the fresh Christmas tree, a beautiful Fraser fir she’d lugged home yesterday from a farm, and have an early evening.
 She nibbled on a toffee square and then set the tree up in its stand. The tree wasn’t perfectly shaped, but she fixed that with some trimming of branches with one of her swords. Untangling the strands of lights almost made her give up, but half an hour later, she’d conquered the task and strung them on the tree. By now it was dark. Approaching the large expanse of windows, she couldn’t see much outside, but she could see her face reflected in the panes. She didn’t like the forlorn expression she saw there, so she grinned into the glass and then lowered the blinds.

Glancing over at the kitchen counter, she saw the presents she’d bought for her friends sitting there, looking cheerful and sad simultaneously, since they were a reminder of her solitary state. She put them under the tree so their owners could pick them up whenever they happened by.

“Of course, the tree might be gone by then—too many needles fallen off. Oh, cut out the pity party.”

More toffee squares disappeared from the plate and the evergreen smell spread throughout the condo as Maliha pulled boxes of ornaments from a closet.

Though they weren’t all traditional Christmas ornaments, they were lovely, handmade, and gathered from her travels around the globe and through the past three hundred years of her life.

Each of them had a story, like the small bowl with a hole drilled near its rim, tied to the tree with ribbon. She had used it to share butter tea with the thirteenth Dalai Lama at the top of the world. It was also her first experience with tsampa, roasted barley flour added to the leftover tea and stirred to make a Tibetan dumpling. Maliha’s dumpling wasn’t coming out right, so the Dalai Lama took her fingers in his and showed her how to manipulate the dough and turn the bowl in her hands.


Next out of the box was a violet-tinted diamond of about twenty carats, round cut and mounted in a gold holder with a delicate chain for hanging on the tree. It was a fragment of the Tavernier Blue Diamond, from which the Hope Diamond was cut. It was given to Maliha in 1798 by an eager suitor, soon after the Blue disappeared during the French Revolution. She ditched the suitor, but kept the diamond. In those days, she saw relationships as unnecessary entanglements.

After arranging the presents under the tree, she fixed some hot chocolate and sat in the darkened apartment watching the gleam of the tree’s lights and the dancing flames in the fireplace. The toffee plate was in the kitchen, out of easy reach. There was a knock at the door. She was startled. Normally the building’s doorman Chick alerted her when she had company. Maliha walked quietly in her bare feet to a cabinet nearby and grabbed one of her knives. Armed, she approached the door from the side and pressed a button to view the scene outside her door. The security camera was a recent installation.

Two people—one turned his face up to the camera—it was Yanmeng! Maliha slipped the knife out of sight and opened the door to let in Yanmeng and his wife. After an enthusiastic greeting, Eliu put some presents under the tree.

“For you and the others,” Yanmeng said. “We hurried back. Didn’t want you spending Christmas Eve by yourself.”

“Really, you shouldn’t have bothered. But it’s good to see you,” Maliha said.

Another ring of the bell brought Mickey to her door. He was dressed for desert weather and hadn’t even bothered with a coat for travel. His eyes lit up when he saw her and he gave her a bag of presents that were a bit soggy from the weather outside. He was shivering and a little damp, so after a quick greeting, she pushed him in front of the fireplace. Steam began rising gently from his clothes. She offered him a change of clothing but he said he was okay with being a walking humidifier. Soon he was fortified with hot chocolate and asking for more toffee.


The doorbell rang again. This time it was Hound and Amaro, who’d coincidentally arrived together. They each deposited an armload of presents under the tree. Hugs all around were followed by a passionate kiss from Hound planted on Maliha’s lips.

Amaro whistled. “Does your wife know about this?” he said to Hound.

Hound said, “A guy’s got a right to greet a former lover properly, doesn’t he? Besides, there must be mistletoe around somewhere.” He reached around and patted Maliha’s posterior. In an instant, Hound found himself on the floor, with Maliha’s pointed fingers an inch from his throat.

“There’s greeting and then there’s groping,” Maliha said. “Married men should know the difference.” She was smiling, though, and helped him up from the floor.

“Darn, woman, you’re getting faster!” Hound said.

“No,” Amaro said, “You’re getting older and slower.”

“What? I’ll fix you for that …”

Maliha looked around as her home was filled with the happy commotion caused by her friends. Only one missing, she thought, and he’s not likely to be walking through my door anytime soon. My love, my Lucius, if only I could figure out how to bring you back to me!

A tear slid down her cheek, unnoticed by the group except for Yanmeng, who was a remote viewer and closely bonded with Maliha. He was sitting across the room from her, but his head swiveled in her direction. She felt the feathery touch of his contact on her shoulder, and then his invisible hand lifting her chin. They exchanged smiles, and Maliha realized how fortunate she was to be sitting here with these remarkable people who called themselves her friends.

Mickey was eying the presents under the tree, including a big one with his name on it. “Hey, everybody, let’s open the gifts.”

“Sounds fine to me,” Maliha said.
 Copyright @ Dakota Banks


Serves: 24

Ingredients:

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup pecans, chopped

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 275°F/135°C. In large bowl with an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until creamy.
2. Separate egg, then beat yolk into butter mixture; cover and reserve the egg white.
3. In another bowl, stir together flour and cinnamon; add to butter mixture.
4. With your hands, spread dough evenly over bottom of a greased 10 by 15-inch rimmed baking pan.
5. Beat egg white lightly, then brush over dough to cover evenly.
6. Sprinkle pecans over top; press in lightly.
7. Bake for 1 hour or until firm when lightly touched. While still hot, cut into 1/2-inch squares.
Let cool in pan on a rack. Store in an airtight container.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Love to All,
Dakota
___________________________________________
 A pseudonym used by Shirley Kennett.

I have to believe that growing up in a converted turn-of-the-century funeral home, complete with blood gutters and a drain in the basement floor, warped my mind.

I set aside all those macabre thoughts spawned by reading books in the basement at night with a flashlight and undertook a relatively normal life. College, science fiction, husband, computers, Star Trek, mortgage, fantasy, Star Wars, kids, mysteries, writing, thrillers, horror, and cats. I'm not sure in which order all those things happened, but I haven't killed off enough gray cells yet that I've forgotten any of them. That brings me up to now, or at least the last decade.

I wrote short stories in high school and college, submitted them, and got rejection letters. I still have some of them. Writing was shelved while life ran amuck, and I came back to it in the 1990s. I published six books, all hard-edged suspense thrillers dealing with virtual reality, one of them set in a future world. None were written under the Dakota Banks name. I enjoyed these books because they were my first taste of the writing life, not to mention that they brought in some money and put 600,000 published words under my belt.

Something was missing, though, and it took me six books to find out what the missing piece was. Although my books were highly imaginative and extrapolated then-current trends in forensic science, computer simulation, and virtual reality, they didn't go far enough. I felt hemmed in by reality.

I needed to get back into the basement with a flashlight.

I took a deep breath and thought about what I really wanted to do with my writing career. I had an idea that had been playing around at the edge of my mind for a while, and I decided to see what I could make of it. Combining my love of archaeology with the freedom that comes from using mythological elements in a story, I came up with the basic concepts for the Mortal Path series. Developing that world and the characters who bring it to life has been tremendously rewarding for me, and I hope the books provide pleasurable reading for you.

I live on the western fringe of St. Louis, Missouri with my husband. Our two sons, one adopted from Peru and the other from Ethiopia, are in college. My cats Peanut and Marble sometimes ghostwrite my books. Good stuff, too, if you speak Cat.

I'm a member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, the Horror Writers Association, and Mystery Writers of America.
Find Dakota


I love Dakota's books - they are very hard-edged urban fantasy adventures in Indiana Jones style with a unique mythology!

GIVEAWAY
Dakota graciously offered a Mortal Path goodie bag to one international reader.

Open to all.
Ends December 30th 2012.
Good luck and Merry Christmas!


a Rafflecopter giveaway
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