Author: Kelly K. Lavender
Published: November 6th, 2014 (2nd edition)
Genre: Suspense Thriller
Recommended Age: 18+
Beautiful Evil Winter, a Russian Action Thriller, earns a list of accolades including an Eric Hoffer Award for “…writing of significant merit” and a Readers’ Favorite International Book Award. The novel takes place in the 1990s after the fall of the USSR, a time reminiscent of the unforgiving, gunslinging days of the frontier west. When mild-mannered Ethan and fiery Sophia board a plane bound for Russia, they hope to secure their son’s safe passage back to the US. An innocent encounter with the Mafia de-rails their plans. Suddenly, they become a target of the iron-fisted Mafioso that wields total control of Russian adoptions. What can make matters worse? An inexperienced untrained adoption coordinator who must complete the legal process and insure a safe return to the US. How much hardship can a couple endure when faced with do or die events? When hope fails and suffering prevails, what’s left?
Awards and Honors:
- The Eric Hoffer Awards – Commercial Fiction - Honorable Mention. The Hoffer Awards spotlight “…writing of significant merit.”
- The National Indie Excellence Awards - The New Fiction Finalist
- Dan Poytner’s Global EBook Awards-Bronze Medalist Suspense
- Readers’ Favorite International Book Awards-Triple Genre Finalist- Suspense, Thriller and Romance Sizzle
- Readers’ Favorite International Book Awards-Honorable Mention Suspense
Readers’ Favorite International Book Awards contestants include New York Times Best-Selling Authors and celebrities, comedian Jim Carey won an award this year.
The conversation with Natasha on the phone last night burns in my brain.
“Adoption very risky in Russia now. The ban make Mafia watch money very close.”
How could she say that on the eve of our trip? I play back what Natasha said.
“This trip big gamble for you. I work to keep adoption away from Mafia. If I do not, police arrest you for human trafficking or Mafia take you. Better to go to prison. My name not appear anywhere, only yours. Phone will be disconnected. And I never know you.”
“Hello, folks. This is your pilot I apologize for the delay. The maintenance crew is working diligently to insure the safety of our trip. Thanks again for your patience.”
I glance over at Ethan, who’s dozing now.
“Honey?” I place my hand on his arm, but he doesn’t stir. Probably, the fatigue finally caught up with him, or... maybe he drank a cocktail, in which case he’ll be comatose. I think I’ll go to the restroom before the plane takes off. “Be back in a minute.”
I carefully unclasp my seat belt and try to skitter by him without disturbing him. As I walk past the rows on either side, I glance at the tendrils of ear plugs reaching upward like small sun- seeking plants, and the hand-held devices, passengers attached to them like farmers admiring prized vegetables pulled from the fields.
As I reach the door, the occupied sign forces me to pause and begin to turn around. Suddenly, I hear the click of the door unlocking.
What luck! I’ll just dash in and dash out. Hopefully, I won’t have to hold my breath to stay in there. My face twists in repulsion at the thought. A haggard looking middle-aged man with a large paunch emerges and smiles too brightly at me.
That look—that look of recognition like I’m a favorite relative, but I’m not. His lids half close as he squeezes past me taking his slow sweet time. And he looks back at me before he stumbles down the aisle way.
I push the door open and inhale a shallow breath. The smell of pump soap greets me. All clear. I can breathe.
Ting, Ting. The strained voice of the stressed-out flight attendant echoes through the tiny bathroom cabin.
“Within the next twenty minutes, The Captain will be turning on the fasten seat belt sign. Until then, you can use your electronic devices. We apologize for the inconvenience”
Turning from the sink to the opposite side to grab paper towels, all 5’2” 115 pounds of me twists like a corkscrew to move around. A quick swipe of the towels, a glance at my nostrils, a push of the level, and I’m free to escape into the main cabin.
As I near my seat, I notice that “Mr. Too Brightly” is sitting next to Ethan.
Damn! I have to sit next to him! Looks like comatose Ethan has just re-positioned himself to face the aisle way. Why doesn’t this plane offer two across seating instead of three?
My steps slow, but I don’t want to wake Ethan up to swap seats since he’s so tired.
As I stand next to our row of seats, Mr. Brightly realizes with a dazzling repugnant smile that I’ll be seated next to him.
“Don’t tell me you’re with that guy,” he says, gesturing at Ethan. “He’s out cold.” Between the screaming baby and me trying to wedge past him, he hasn’t moved an inch.” He smirks, his smile now a beacon of light.
I grit my teeth and carefully squeeze by Ethan’s knees grabbing the headrest of the seat in front of me for support. Glancing back over my shoulder, I see him looking at Ethan.
I focus on the seat space next to him, zeroing-in on the instructions on the pocket pouch for my seat. Someone scribbled in red pen, HELL A MILE HIGH.
As I wiggle into my seat and grope for my seatbelt, he watches my every move.
“Lucky me!” he says as he cranes his neck over my armrest to glance down my V-neck shirt.
“The flight attendant let me change seats. Person next to me was sick. She coughed all over me,” he says, waving his hand in front of his face as if shooing flies.
A puff of whiskey more noxious than cigarette smoke wafts my way. My nose wrinkles in disgust.
“Now, honey, tell me all about you,” he says patting my white knuckles which grip the armrest.
“I’m too tired to talk.” Turning away from him, I grab a blanket and reposition my entire body as close as possible to Ethan’s seat.
“Okay, well, I’ll get comfortable. Must finish my movie,” he announces as he shifts around in his seat and loosens his tie.
From the corner of my semi-closed eye, I see him push off his shoes and remove his socks. Wiggling his now naked toes, he grabs his iPad and powers it on.
Gathering the blanket closer, I relax and try to drift away.
“Aw, Melissa, moan for me, “ a breathless male pleas as he grunts.
“Yes, yes, that’s it!” A female pants in reply.
A glance reveals more than I want to see, a totally naked couple pleasuring each other.
I feel my cheeks redden with anger. There are children on this flight!
As I glance across the aisle, I see a Mom hugging a toddler acutely aware. Her sour expression says it all as she positions her child’s head in the direction of the seat window. Re-adjusting my body, I turn to face him, carefully choosing my words.
“Look, you may enjoy that movie, but a lot of people wouldn’t—especially the parents of children on this plane. If you’ll angle your screen toward the window and turn the volume down or use your ear plugs, I think several passengers will be grateful.”
“Mind your own business, bitch! I’ll watch whatever I want in the seat I paid for!” His eyes gleam. He enjoys this too much.
In my peripheral vision, I can see slack-jawed Mom across the aisle, her toddler now in the arms of his Dad. Her gripping hand like a talon, flexing as waves of rage engulf her. I see fury fill her eyes and heart—morphing her into a predator and a protector of her young.
Gripping the hand rest, I reach up for the call button. Immediately, his hand covers mine.
“You didn’t say that you don’t like porn,” he says with a smile as his hand squeezes mine.
My eyes glitter with cold, hard hate—hate as tangible as a slab of black marble. Hate that maims and kills, without regret.
“Let me be clear,” I hiss.
“Your movie disgusts me as much as you do! Leave me alone, and don’t talk to me!”
Turning my upper body away from him, I grab a pillow and blanket—positioning myself toward Ethan and away from him.
“And I let my fingers do the walking walking walking—all the way up your back.”
With unbridled fury, I turn and slap him with the force of my pent-up anger—anger at his moronic behavior, anger at having to sit on the tarmac for two hours and anger at having to deal with idiocy all along this journey.
Chuckling, he touches his now red-striped cheek.
I glance over at Ethan for help, but he’s still comatose, only a gunshot wound would wake him up.
Where’s that flight attendant? I did manage to push the button.
Some little kid is crying in the background. The 5-year-old girl adjacent to us is wearing white socks splattered with dirt. She’s picking her nose and staring at us in wide-eyed wonder.
Finally, a tall, heavyset flight attendant hurries down the aisle looking irate.
“What’s going on here?” he demands.
In a well rehearsed move, he kicks Ethan’s boot to wake him.
“What? Why did you kick me?” Ethan whines as he rubs his eyes, finally looking back and forth between me and Brightly. “Good God, what’s going on here?”
“I was just asking myself the same thing,” says the flight attendant, shooting daggers at me.
Clearly, he thinks this is all my fault.
Rising to his feet and stepping into the aisle, Ethan blinks in disbelief, then grabs my arm and yanks me out of my seat to stand beside him.
“Are you ok?”
I nod, my lips trembling.
As Ethan turns to face Brightly, I watch him straighten his body and fold his arms across his chest, blocking Brightly into our three-seat space. But instead of looking at the jerk in the eye, Ethan stares out the window behind his head.
Anger bubbles in the pit of my stomach, and this time not at Mr. Brightly. A thought that haunts me re-surfaces. Why is Ethan always so non-confrontational? You’d think he was Perseus managing Medusa. Sure, no one wants to brawl, but shouldn’t a husband take a stand when it’s necessary to protect his wife? I don’t know what would happen if I was in serious trouble—trouble that he couldn’t talk his way out of or rely on someone to fix. Got to hold on to the hope that his resolve would trump his reluctance— that he’d defend me. Looking away from Ethan, I grit my teeth in disapproval.
“What happened here, sir?” – asks the flight attendant as his eyes lock-in on Brightly.
“Well, I was watching my movie when this woman became irate with me.” Leaning in my direction, he smiles adoringly, tilting his head to the right.
Slack-jawed Mom is on her feet now, pointing at Mr. Brightly. Her eyes full of fire and focused on felling her target.
“Who do you think you are?” she says. “Shoving your garbage down our throats and exposing our innocent children to your trash!” Her moral outrage now silencing the once noisy cabin. Turning to the flight attendant, she continues--
“He pestered this woman. He put his hands on her!”
Taking a breath, she pauses satiated—even if momentarily. With a steady searing stare, she looks at me, ready to pounce again if needed.
“Thank you!” I say, relieved to have a witness.
“He was watching porn without ear plugs. I could hear it very clearly. When I asked him to lower the volume, he began harassing me. Then, he escalated the situation by putting his hands on me!” I answer, my indignation incinerating any thought of restraint.
“This man harassed my wife,” Ethan says to the flight attendant. He should be removed from this p-p-p...lane.” He stammers.” What are you g-g-g...oing to do about it
An opportunity for me, Ethan’s body turned toward the flight attendant. In a flash, I lunge for Brightly. Bitch deserves some justice. “Get away from me! Grab her!” Brightly shouts as he raises his fore arms to shield his face.
I feel hands on my shoulders now, pulling me away from my prey. Gritting my teeth, I resist leaning in, my hands a riverboat paddle wheel of slaps and punches.
“Stop, Sophia! It’s under control now!” Ethan yells, re-doubling his efforts to tear me away from my quarry.
His arms cocoon me and pull me back—allowing the flight attendant to drag Brightly from his “foxhole” across the seats.
Ethan tightens his hold as Brightly stumbles into the aisle, grimacing. Brightly’s face is ghoulish and green as his hand reaches out toward the seat back pocket to attempt to grab the small paper bag poking out. Abruptly, a cough and a stream of vomit flows from his mouth, clouding the cabin with the sour gut-twisting stench of onions and whiskey.
Catching the brunt of it, the splattered attendant gasps. “You moron! You’re coming up front with me to sit near the Air Marshall!’
“Wait! I have something to say to him.”
Ethan releases my arms sensing the passing of the raging storm that lives within me now.
There’s no cup. Could use a sick bag, but that may arouse suspicion and possible restraint. Must be quick.
Grimacing, I reach toward the floor and grab a hand full of warm vomit from the putrid pool in the aisle. It feels squishy and chunky—my gag reflex glows bright red.
Swallowing hard, I hold my breath for a moment to fight the nausea. As I exhale, I pull his belt buckle toward my belly with my left hand while my right hand empties the vomit inside his fly.
“You want some action? Here’s your action!” I sneer.
With a smile of satisfaction, I wipe my hand clean on his clothing.
I liked the overall concept of the story. I've always wondered about the adoption process of other countries, and the fact that this one was about Russia certainly piqued my interest. There were some good parts and bad parts.
I'll start with the parts I disliked. There were some grammatical errors I encountered while reading that made me have to stop and reread a passage to understand what was going on.
I also couldn't connect very much with some of the characters. I tried very hard to like them, but some of them, like Ethan, exasperated me with their passive nature. He improved later on, but at the beginning he irritated me.
I do have some good parts I want to congratulate the author on. There is one scene in this book that absolutely disgusted me. It literally makes me queasy everytime I read it because it is so graphic and such a scary situation is being described. Kudos to the author for making me want to hit those men in the face with a shovel.
There is one character that I did connect with in the story. Her name is Natasha. Something about the way she acts and certain situations intrigued me as to what was her story. Why is she the way she is? What is going on in her home life? I wish we had gotten a bit more of her story, as it really did pique my interest.
I have to say Sophia, the main character of this story, was a strong female character, all things considered. She always came out fighting when the situation called for it, which is a great quality to have if you are trying to protect yourself and your loved ones. I admired her quick thinking throughout the book, especially with her cleverness in turning everyday household items into weapons.
All things considered, I did like the book, but I didn't love it. It gets 3 Platypires
In contrast to that, I'll state that Sophia proved to be quite the lioness, and I actually admired the strength and determination she displayed in protecting her adoptive son Zack and herself when it was necessary. By the end of the book, I found that I had warmed up to her as a character more than at the beginning. Natasha, their contact in Russia and their guide through the adoption process was someone that intrigued me from the beginning, and I liked her a lot. I could almost hear her heavily accented English as I read her dialogue. She, by far, was my favorite character out of everyone. I also loved little Zack, and enjoyed reading about him.
Now, for the things I picked up on that could be improved. I did catch several grammatical errors which threw me out of the story from time to time, which caused me to lose the flow of the novel a little. I was fluctuating a little on my rating, but in the end, I decided based on the character strength of Natasha and the way Sophia proved to be formidable, I'll give Beautiful Evil Winter a 4/5 Platypire rating.