Dangerous Games- A Novel

This is the first look at my upcoming novel, a blend of imaginary events meant to change your perspective about the truthfulness of social media. Be prepared to travel with Amanda and Mark on a dangerous journey that will keep you turning pages late at night.

I didn’t see it coming. As a skeptic, in my view, each man was a predator, especially if the invitation came from the net. Nothing had prepared me for the changes in my life. At thirty-five, I had reached the peak of my career as a reporter, although I had failed my parents’ expectations to create a family. Eventually, they had given up and had embraced my dreams.

Monday morning supposed to be an ordinary day. The coffeemaker’s ring woke me up at five. I had one hour to be on my way to work. A woman with straight dark hair, shoulder length, hazel eyes and full lips stared back from the mirror. After giving my hair a quick, energetic brush, I pulled it back at the nape of my neck and added a pale blue bandana before heading toward the kitchen for a cup of coffee. After one sip, my nose wrinkled in a frown. It was too strong and too black. Some creamer would help to alter the taste of Colombian coffee. Without time for breakfast, I packed a container of yogurt and some fruits, grabbed my purse, and I was out of the house at five minutes to six.

Too cold again, I thought. There was no one around but a stray dog that had decided to tail me to the bus station.

“Go away,” I yelled, but the dog still followed me around.

I picked up a stick from the side of the road and threw it toward the hungry animal. After a few more barks, it decided to run away and leave me alone.

Snowflakes started to fall, an icy wind carrying the white powder in every direction. It was the end of January, but this winter had decided to stay more than usual in the city. The bus arrived the second I had stepped onto the platform. I chose an empty seat by the window and sank into the warm cushion, watching the flurries wrapping the ground in a snowy blanket. My cheeks were frozen from the arctic blast of the early dawn and felt like cement. The soft music coming from the earbuds stopped me from thinking of the last months’ events. I needed a change to alleviate a pain still vivid in my heart.

Half an hour later, the bus stopped at my station. I picked up my bag and stepped again into the frosty air. In front of One Park Tower on 34 Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta where my office was, I shook the snow from my hair.  Warm, toasty air melted the remains of the icicles as soon as I stepped into the grandiose lobby and, by the time I had reached the tenth floor, their existence became just a memory.

“Good morning, Amanda,” Jeremy, my colleague, and competition, greeted me. “You’re early again, girl. Is anything pressing? Is Joan giving you a hard time?”

“No, sweet face. I like to start the day early,” I mumbled and gave him the thumbs up as I went to my cubicle.

Jeremy said, “All right, then. I’ll see in a bit.” Then, he disappeared inside the elevator.

“Sure, honey, take your time,” I said.

I turned on the lights in the editorial section and set my bag on the floor. There were around forty cubicles and twenty offices in the suite leased by our company in Atlanta. The headquarters were in New York, and we had other satellite offices around the U.S. My cubicle was the one in front of the editor-in-chief’s desk, Joan Murphy, and Jeremy’s cubicle was next to mine.

My laptop woke up slowly, giving me time to arrange the notes on my desk. I was late with my report, so I plugged in the flash drive, and the article popped up on the screen. I reread it before I emailed it to Joan. Mission accomplished, I thought after I clicked the ‘Send’ button.

As I did every morning, I started to browse the internet, reading the news coming from Kabul. I didn’t know why I still made my morning creed to keep informed of the situation in that area. It wasn’t like Joan would ever give me the assignment, although I would have loved to travel to that part of the world and write about what happened there.

Joan’s voice took me by surprise.

“Good morning, sunshine,” Joan said.

“Joan, you startled me,” I said, turning the chair around to face my boss.

“I have news for you,” Joan said and signaled to follow her. “Cold morning!”

“This weather’s a bitch,” I said.

“Amen, sister,” Joan chuckled. “Have a seat, Amanda.”

Her invitation sounded dangerous, especially since Joan had never invited anyone to sit on a chair in her office unless they were getting fired. She usually shouted her orders, and all the editors left the room like lambs.  

“Is it bad?” I asked.

“It depends on your vision of bad.” Joan paused.

A frown formed on my forehead as cold chills traveled up and down my spine.

“How would you feel if I give you the Kabul assignment?”

“Are you serious? You would give it to me?”

“I thought you wanted it. Was I wrong?”

Joan scrutinized me from behind her thick glasses and the rise in her eyebrows made me swallow hard. She was around my age, and, just like me, she spent most of her time working. Her eighteenth-year-old daughter started college last fall, and Joan’s husband was always traveling around the world, selling books.

Joan tapped her fingers on the desk while she waited. I wanted to jump on my feet and kiss her instead of sitting still on the chair, but I managed to keep myself composed when I answered her.

“No, not at all,” I said. “When do I leave?”

“Saturday,” she answered.

“This Saturday?” I jumped to my feet. “I better get ready.”

“Are you happy now?”

Joan’s voice softened a bit.

“You know I am, Joan. I’ve always wanted to cover the war zone. I won’t disappoint you,” I promised.

“Go, now! I have things to do.”

Joan concentrated at the papers on her desk, but she couldn’t hide the smile growing on her face.

As soon as I sat at my desk, I couldn’t stop grinning. My head was in the clouds, and even the horrible coffee from the tower’s cafeteria tasted better. I thought of Mark. Maybe he had already left Kabul. I couldn’t face him. Not after everything we’d been through. Perhaps he had moved to another part of the world, just as he said he would when his assignment ended.

“Anything interesting happened in Joan’s office?” Jeremy asked as he leaned over my chair.

I kicked his leg to release my seat. He took one step back.

“You bet. I’m going to Kabul.”

“You are a bad ass. The Taliban should run in fear knowing you’re coming,” he chuckled.

“Is this your idea of being funny? Because you’re not,” I said, smacking his arm.

“Ouch!” Jeremy took two steps back. “Good luck,” he said.

I knew he had competed against me for this assignment. He joked that only passionate reporters should go overseas. Too bad for him he didn’t get it. I was determined to transmit the best reports from the area. And if I were fortunate, maybe I would get the chance to meet General Mark Niese in person.

The week flew by, and Saturday morning I loaded my bags into the van. My flight was in three hours, and I had to make it to the airport in time. I locked the front door, leaving the past behind and embracing the challenges ahead.

“Take care of you, sis,” Eric said, “and be safe. Let me know when you reach the camp.”

“Sure, and, please, don’t worry about me. I’ll be just fine.”

“Yeah, that’s what I’m afraid of,” Eric added and kissed my forehead before he left me at the Departures section of Atlanta International Airport.

Eric was my younger brother, and he had made it his mission to worry about me. I waved until his car disappeared from view, picked up my luggage, and went to the check-in point.

“Good morning, Ms. White,” the attendant said as he checked my bags in and returned the passport and the boarding passes. “Your flight leaves in two hours. Please, proceed to the security point,” he instructed and turned to the next traveler.

“Thank you,” I said.

The security point was busy, as usual. The airport was the largest and most crowded in the United States, people flying from Atlanta all over the world. I fidgeted in my spot because it was my first overseas assignment. I had to live in a military camp for the next weeks and, for a city girl like me, it was exciting and scary at the same time. Being the milestone of my career, I had every intention to make it worth the risk even if Taliban weren’t the friendliest of people in the zone.

“You’re set to go, Ms. White. Your flight leaves from the gate A40,” the security officer said after he had checked every inch of my body.

“Be strong. Be cool. Be a bad ass,” Joan had encouraged me on Friday afternoon before I left the office, and I had every intention to be just that. A bad ass girl with a mission…

“Passengers for the Kabul flight prepare for boarding. Have your passport and boarding pass ready,” I heard a woman saying into the microphone.

I didn’t know if I was ready. I was worried. It was a war zone, after all. But it wasn’t the war zone that worried me. No, I could handle it. It was the uncertainty of being face-to-face with the man I met online. This perspective scared the hell out of me. I intended to play it cool if he was still in the camp.

I extended the boarding pass to the beautiful blonde at the desk, and she checked me in.

“You’re all set, Ms. White. Please, proceed to the plane.”

“Thanks,” I said and stepped into the corridor toward the plane. My seat was by the window, a special gift from Joan. I smiled and placed my bag in the compartment above my head, except for the laptop. With my head resting on the seat, I closed my eyes. The next weeks would be rough for sure. And what if we would finally meet? What if he was indeed the man he said he was? I’d handle the situation if, or when, it came up.

“Would you like tea or coffee?” the flight attendant asked, interrupting the flow of my thoughts.

“Coffee, please,” I said. I didn’t feel hungry, but my stomach thought otherwise. It was going to be a long day, and it wouldn’t serve any purpose for me to starve to death. “A bagel, honey and butter would be much appreciated.”

The attendant smiled and handed me the coffee. The black liquid burned my throat after the first sip. A child cried in the background. I put my earbuds on since I was barely coping with the noise in my head. My eyes felt heavy. I closed them for a few minutes. And the minutes turned into hours by the time I opened them again.

“We’re over the ocean,” I said to myself after I looked out the plane’s window at the blanket of white clouds. A few blue spots appeared here and there in the white foam, and I spotted boats that looked like ants on the blue expanse below. I pulled back the blinds. It was just too bright. And every time I closed my eyes, Mark’s face came to life. Everywhere I went, he followed like a shadow.

“General Mark Niese from the military unit stationed in Kabul, I’m coming,” I whispered. “I told you that one day we’d meet. You said it was impossible. I guess I was right, and you were wrong,” I mumbled.

If those imprudent feelings would fade too and let me breathe, I couldn’t be happier. No way could he still be in love with me after I had called him a scammer and had reported him to the DOD. I didn’t find out what had happened to him after the trial. Maybe he had returned to San Francisco after he had received his vacation letter as he called it.

I checked my watch. In exactly six hours, I would reach Kabul. Soldiers would wait for me at the airport and take me to the camp. Those were the instructions I had received when they debriefed me at Wednesday’s meeting. My duty was to report about people’s lives, their fight for freedom, and about our soldiers’ sacrifice in the war zone in their battle against the Black Spider, a notorious terrorist organization responsible for the bombings in Boston, London, and Paris. With everything going on in that part of the world, fewer journalists were willing to endanger their lives or, worse, lose their heads.

Since Eric was my only family, I didn’t leave anyone else behind to wonder about my safety or my head. I had never considered myself ready to become a full-time wife or a mother. I just couldn’t do it. Journalism was like the air I breathed, my true love if something like true love even existed. Eric teased me about the love affair between me and my profession. He didn’t know that I’d dated a man, that I loved him, and that I broke both of our hearts in the end.

Maybe love wasn’t part of my destiny.

Happy Reading everyone!

Love,

Carmen Monica

 

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Buried Dreams

To be able to excavate buried dreams we need great love and courage. Today is a day dedicated to love, a perfect occasion to look inside our souls and glance back with affection and understanding.

When we fall in love, we are ready to set the world on fire. Do you remember the times when you thought nobody would crash your dreams? Do you recall the love that burned every cell in your body and took your breath away? Everyone has own shares of ashes and the memory of the few bright sparks to remember the efforts. With the passage of time, we buried many of our precious dreams under layers upon layers of naivete, good intentions, bitter failures, disappointments, rejections, wrong choices, bad timings, stupid mistakes, whims of fate and missed opportunities.

No wonder that some of us will need the courage to retrace our steps

Today is a day for being with those we love, so be kind to yourselves. Remain quiet and recall the dreams you buried a long time ago. See them in your minds and hold them in your hearts. When there is great love, there are always miracles. Believe in miracles for they will open windows you haven’t yet noticed or seen, and they will carry you on the wings of success.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Love,

Carmen Monica

Saturday’s blessings

Today, let your mind be quiet, understand the beauty of the world and the immense treasures that it holds. All that it is within you, all your heart’s desires, all that it is created for you wait patiently just for you. It will come to you at the right time and the right moment. All the crying and the fighting and your reaching out for what you most want will make no difference.

Therefore, do not begin that game again. Just wait for your destiny to unfold; whatever it is that you seek: peace of mind, grace, contentment. They will come to you when you are ready to receive it with an open and grateful heart. And during this waiting trial, you should enjoy the simple things in life: a shady tree, the stacks of books in an old library, a museum gallery, the tranquil of a chapel where you can pray after you lit a candle, an outdoor cafe where you can bask in the sun. Do whatever makes you happy while you wait for the great things prepared just for you.

Love,

Carmen Monica

Optimism

Optimism is a habit that can be learned. As an exercise, start by smiling at everyone you meet. Expect something good to happen to you regardless of what occurred yesterday. Start by accepting that the past no longer holds you captive. It will continue to hurt you if you hold on to it. How liberating is to let the past go when you realize that an abundant world awaits you!

You can learn to be optimistic, to believe that tomorrow will be a better day than today. Because of your past, you are capable to discover that by making changes you allow your spirit to soar. These changes don’t happen overnight. It takes courage to let go of the familiar and throw yourself into the unknown. It takes courage to start all over, to meet new people and to find yourself in new circumstances.

If you trust yourself, then any obstacle is pushed away.

Love,

Carmen Monica

A right to be happy

How many have thought that they would be happy if they got a bigger house, landed a new job, or found the perfect someone with whom to share their lives?

Every morning when we wake up, we are given a wonderful gift– another day of life– so let’s just make the most of it because no one can do it for us. It’s essential to adopt the right state of mind about happiness and to stop thinking that things out of our control can bring us joy. I believe that happiness is a living emotion and not an expendable luxury. Therefore, we need to commit to making it a personal priority even if it may turn out to be a new behavior for some of us and quite intimidating.

We should be gentle with ourselves because everything would unfold in due time. We should make peace with the knowledge that we can’t have everything we want. We should find happiness in the things we already have, in the friends loving us, in the art we had created. Perhaps today we may not be familiar with this habit, but like anything new, we can learn to be happy. We only have to be willing to pursue happiness.

Daphne du Maurier wrote in Rebecca:

“Happiness is not a possession to be prized. It is a quality of thought, a state of mind.”

Love,

Carmen Monica

Dying of Thirst

The other day, I talked with an uncle I haven’t seen in eleven years. He had just got a new cell phone and learned how to use it, and he dialed a facetime call. I was stuck in my home with a case of flu and worked from the comfort of my office when my phone rang. He appeared on the screen, and my heart jolted with a pleasure I haven’t had in a while. I touched the screen as if I was touching his face and laughed. He had changed a lot, wore glasses and had a lot of silver in his hair. We talked for a while, sharing our ups and downs, and the thousands of miles between us disappeared in the fraction of a second. They were wiped away by the modern technology.

That morning, I realized how much I was taking for granted. I kept thinking about the friends I have lost, about a friendship taken for granted, and I forgot about the beautiful world of strangers just waiting to make a connection with me while I turned my eyes away, and something stirred within me. There was so much I was taking for granted. At that moment, I had decided not to live unconsciously.

The revelation that I had everything I needed in life to make me happy was as refreshing as a breeze on a hot day. I wonder how many of us go through life empty, thirsting after happiness when, in fact, we are standing right in the middle of an abundant river? One way or another, the world will get our attention with a splash or a slap. Let’s choose to quench our thirst for a better life by acknowledging the good that already exists in our lives. Only then we will be prepared to return to the world the gift of our grateful hearts.

Love,

Carmen Monica

 

Angel Wings

There comes a time when you withdraw from the world in the serenity of your heart and listen to your soul. It does speak to you if you bother to listen. It tries telling you something that you definitely need to know, one of the most compelling truths. Perhaps you already learned this truth while you endured hardship and struggled through the stormy torrents of your daily life. But once you become aware that you are not alone, you will never look again in the face of evil with fear or walk in darkness feeling lost and abandoned.

You feel the wings of an angel while you look at the sky and you tell yourself that you are not alone. Angels send you celestial blessings in unexpected packages that take the shape of your friends, your family, your employers, and even strangers. They are sent to you in times of joy and in times of sadness to remind you that everything passes. Time will change you, will mature you, will strengthen you, and it will open doors you’ve never thought existed. You should learn to embrace the infinite power of the universe that bestows its gifts upon you. You should open your arms and accept the gifts that the universe sends you.

A knock on your door from a neighbor, a letter from a loved one, a call from a concerned friend, an encouraging word from a family member, all these touches of human kindness are in fact gifts from the universe.

Sometimes you recognize them, and sometimes you don’t.

Love,

Carmen Monica