Blair's adorbs animal pic at the bottom.


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Blaze continued reconnaissance in Sarah Bell’s cornfield, watching her patterns, evaluating her chores, and watching the sun trace an arc through the turquoise Iowa sky.

Yes, the plan was probably over-engineered, but Blaze never failed to plan because he planned never to fail.

As he lay among the cornstalks, the hot sun beating down on his wilting ghillie suit, the list of Mary Varvara Bell’s demands rolled through his mind. Procuring the types and amounts of weapons that she demanded would place law enforcement, military personnel, and civilians the world over in danger because people didn’t buy automatic rifles, grenades, and worse unless they intended to use them.

No goddamn way.

On the day Blaze’s plan was to be executed, Sarah Bell stuck to her daily routine, which made his operation easier.

But at eight-twenty when she’d left the barn, she turned and looked right at Blaze, lying on the side of a hill in the cornfield, his long burlap robe covered with broad cornstalk leaves and a few local weeds to soften the edges.

The image in his scope of the young woman, standing with arms akimbo, dark braid lying over her shoulder, glaring at his sniper hide as he’d watched her, unnerved him.

Sunlight must have flashed on the lens of his scope as he’d glassed her, and she’d caught the glare.

But she picked up her milk and eggs and hurried back to her house because she had an appointment at nine o’clock.

At eight-fifty-five, Blaze stood outside her weathered gray farmhouse, checking the video feed on his phone. A few days before, he’d placed cameras inside the house when she’d left the farm for a few hours.

He checked his phone, ensuring it was silenced but receiving signals, and then surveyed his weapons for readiness.

On his phone’s screen, he watched Sarah abandon her breakfast plate on the kitchen counter and sprint up the stairs two at a time, grabbing her garish psychic costume from where it hung on the wall and whirling it around her shoulders as she skidded into her black-draped studio.

Phase one, complete. The operation began.

Blaze slowly opened the kitchen door and caught it behind himself, letting it settle silently into its frame.

Unlike Sarah Bell, Blaze locked the door.

The cat rubbed his leg, purring, and he stepped gingerly while infiltrating the dining room and then the kitchen area. He fed the cat another scrap of chicken, reinforcing the behavior from when he’d befriended it when he’d broken in to place the cameras two days before.

On his phone, the video feed from the tiny camera he’d hidden between the fabric folds on the wall of Sarah’s social media studio showed her back as she sat ready to perform her tarot card reading. The Zoom link was still unanswered on her computer screen.

Blaze’s black trail-running shoes silently pressed against the wooden floor as he moved through the kitchen. He checked his six every few seconds as he watched his environs through the sights on his Beretta handgun and ascended the stairs.

The fourth stair from the top shrilled as he stepped on it, the squeal echoing in the silent house.

Dammit. Infiltrating the house to place the cameras had been risky enough. Finding all the squeak points in the wooden floorboards would have taken longer than he’d been comfortable staying.

On his phone’s screen, Sarah looked up but didn’t bolt.

Luckily, civilians were less wary opponents than his usual paramilitary targets.

Sarah looked back to her phone in the ring light, where the Zoom link was opening.

Blaze pressed himself against the wall, looking at his phone, alert to any noise in the still house, until a woman answered Sarah’s video call.

Go time.

Damn, he hated doing this.

He shook it off. Emotion had no place during an op.

He kicked in the door, holding his Beretta at eye level and staring down the sights at Sarah Nevaeh Bell.

She started to stand, bobbling the table, and then she yelled something as he strode to where she stood.

Blaze grabbed Sarah Bell’s arm, shoved her back into the chair, and crouched behind her, staring at the middle-aged woman on the screen. He holstered his handgun and drew out a long knife, jamming it under Sarah Bell’s chin and pressing the edge against her throat.

Sarah Bell was smaller in his arms than he’d thought she’d be, wiry from farm work. Her hair beside his face smelled like fresh herbs, and her satiny cheek pressed against his.

On the phone screen, Mary Varvara Bell sat back in her office chair and folded her arms over her chest. “Hello, Mr. Robinson. I didn’t think this would be how I heard from you.”

Blaze growled, “Now that I’m holding a machete to your niece’s throat, let’s talk about your demands.”


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Over the Christmas holiday, my family and I went to India for about two weeks because that's where my husband is from. We went to an archaeological site called Mahabalipuram, which has temples and other buildings and art from the Chola Dynasty, which means that these pieces of art are around 1200 years old. It was an amazing experience.

Because these areas are protected, wild and feral animals also live there. They were not aggressive, but they weren't tame either. The monkeys appeared to be bonnet macaques, also called zati.

I was standing right next to this mother monkey and her twins. She was such a good mother, constantly keeping both of them right beside her, grooming them, and making sure they fed and had water. She was so sweet.