Homicide at High Noon

Listen to a narrated excerpt of Homicide at High Noon

So there you are facing down an auditor from the bank about unaccounted for funds. A scene that would make anyone shiver in their boots. Where did the money go? That’s what Lily Cranston is asking in Homicide at High Noon.

About the Book

Lily Cranston is soaring high as the manager of the Calico Rock Mine and Ghost Town in Grady, California. Cash is finally flowing in and improvements to the theme park, like the new zipline, are drawing crowds. Even Lily’s previously stalled love life seems to be heading on the right track with CSI Cody West. But all that comes to a halt when the park’s board of directors suddenly comes to Lily with accusations of embezzlement! Someone’s had their fingers in the till and all eyes are on her. To make matters worse, before Lily even has a chance to prove her innocence, murder strikes her small town!

Melvin J. Rinehart is the arrogant, browbeating bank auditor who’s determined to prove Lily has been stealing from the ghost town. But when Lily arrives at his office to set him straight, she finds someone’s beat her to it—killing the man before Lily has a chance to plead her case! Now not only is Lily in danger of facing embezzlement charges, but she’s also a prime murder suspect. Even her family and new boyfriend in law enforcement may not be enough to keep Lily out of jail. She’s worked too hard to lose it all, so Lily puts her skills to the test to find the real guilty party, uncovering shocking truths and unscrupulous practices along the way. Will she be able to find the missing money and the killer before it’s too late? Or will her time run out as the killer sets their sights on her…

Excerpt

When I entered the office, Gretchen greeted me with a tight smile, and my steps slowed. She always wore a bright, cheerful expression on her face, but this one looked strained and forced. Beside the receptionist’s desk stood Steve, the bank president and chairperson of The Park’s planning committee. Next to him, a tall, thin man I’d never seen before, sneered in my direction. His thick dark hair and bushy eyebrows paled when compared to his Fu Manchu style mustache. His dark hair wove around the corners of his mouth until it reached the end of his chin. Short and stout, Steve’s clean-shaven face looked naked next to the stranger. Neither of them appeared pleased to see me.
“Good afternoon.” The hardened look in Steve’s eyes did not bode well. “Lily, this is Melvin Rinehart, from the Rinehart Accounting Firm. He also serves as the bank’s auditor.”
“Hello,” I reached out to shake his hand, but instead of taking mine, he handed me a business card with the name Melvin J. Rinehart printed in gold lettering over a glossy maroon background. Concerned they’d think I’d been playing hooky from work; I said the first thing that came to my mind. “I’ve just returned from trying out one of the nearby ziplines.”
My words didn’t sound as reasonable an explanation as I had hoped, so I dug the hole deeper by babbling. “I never knew how great a place Ward County’s National Park is to visit.”
“Let’s go into your office,” Steve tilted his head toward the hallway leading to the back of the building.
“Sure. Follow me,” I said and then led the way to the room not much larger than a walk-in closet set aside to serve as the park manager’s private office. Thanks to the help of my sisters, we’d made the tiny quarters as cozy as possible. I sat down in the upholstered black captain’s chair behind my desk and the two men took a seat on the chairs across the room from me.
After they were settled, Steve got right to the point of this unplanned meeting. “Melvin is the bank auditor and we’ve asked him to look into The Park’s banking accounts.”
“Oh, I see,” I said, although I really didn’t, but still I believed it was good practice to keep company funds in check.
“There seems to be a discrepancy in spending,” he continued, and my heart sank. Not too long ago, The Park had been struggling to stay open. We’d worked so hard to cut back on spending and keep the numbers out of the red. I’d believed the recent discovery of gold on the property had put all our money troubles behind us.
“What do you mean?” I asked sharply. The fact they’d called in an auditor seemed to imply something more serious than a simple mathematical error in bookkeeping.
“Someone has withdrawn a large amount of money from the account,” Mr. Rinehart explained with more than a hint of accusation in his tone. “And there’s no receipt to show what they used the funds for.” “When we looked deeper, we noticed strange activity on more than one occasion,” Steve added in a stern yet less threatening tone. “And there will need to be an investigation.”
My stomach stiffened like a ball of tightly wound rubber bands. What were they suggesting? From the sound of it, they suspected me of taking the missing money, but Steve knew me better than that. We’d grown up in the same small town. My father and his dad had been fishing buddies. Our mothers had helped organize bingo games at the civic center on Wednesday nights. I wasn’t some stranger off the street. Calm down, Lily. My mother’s gentle voice whispered in my ear as if she’d risen from her final resting place to comfort her high-strung daughter. ‘It’s the curse of being the middle child’ she’d often told me when I had fretted over a seemingly big ordeal as a teenager, but long since forgotten now.
“I can assure you I have not been taking money from the account for myself.” I swung around to face my computer and, like a woodpecker on steroids, tapped the keys to log into The Park’s banking information. “Can you give me the amount and date?”
Steve pulled out his phone and used his index finger to scroll as he looked for the information. “On September 7th, someone withdrew $1000 from The Park’s account, but there is no record of what we used the money for. Does the amount sound familiar to you?”
“No,” I said and stopped typing. There was no need to look any further. Although necessity had forced us as a company to dip into the reserves last summer to pay bills, we never touched the special account now since the mine was back in full operation. Such a large amount taken without a receipt looked highly suspicious and required the attention of an accountant from the outside. Hence Mr. Melvin J. Rinehart.

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About the Author

Jamie L. Adams fell in love with books at an early age. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott opened her imagination and sparked a dream to be a writer. She wrote her first book as a school project in 6th grade. Living in the Ozarks with her husband, twin daughters, and a herd of cats, she spends most of her free time writing, reading, or learning more about the craft near to her heart.

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Cozy Lantern Mysteries 

Thicker Than Water


Listen to a narrated excerpt of Thicker Than Water.

Have you ever found out about someone leading a double life? They are one thing to one group of people and quite another to a different group. It’s a recipe for trouble and the makings of the mystery in Thicker Than Water by Liz Milliron. Thicker Than Water comes out on September 19, but Liz was kind enough to share a sneak preview!

About the Book

Pennsylvania State Trooper Jim Duncan responds to a call regarding a missing autistic young man. When the boy is quickly found, Jim thinks the case is closed…until the young man insists the police need to help a “sleeping blue lady” and leads them to a dead woman in an abandoned shack, clad in only her underwear.

Meanwhile, defense attorney Sally Castle is searching for a troubled young woman who wandered into her office wanting protection from an unnamed man…and disappeared before Sally could obtain any details. Sally is bothered by the incident and unnerved when she discovers that Jim’s dead body and her missing potential client are the same person.

Jim and Sally soon discover the young woman led a secret double life, with ties to the autistic boy who started it all. As Jim and Sally investigate, the case takes increasingly ominous turns, uncovering hidden money and a seamy underbelly of sex work, before turning into a desperate race to stop a killer. Can Jim and Sally solve the case in time to stop the murder of an innocent boy?

Excerpt

Tanelsa emptied the box and tossed it in the pile by the door. “At least the rent on this place is lower.”
“Yeah, but it’s farther away from the courthouse. What we gain in savings, we lose in visibility.”
“True. We get any new clients since we moved?” Tanelsa peeked in another box. “Hanging files. Where’d we decide to put the filing cabinet?”
Sally waved at the opposite corner. “Over there. To answer your question, no. I’m still irritated that our former landlord wouldn’t let us hang a bigger We’ve Moved sign on the door. With all the construction work, I’m afraid no one will see it.”
“We’ll have to think of creative ways to spread the word. You posted it on our social media, right?”
“I did. Cross your fingers it works.”
They worked until noon. The only conversation between them concerned ownership of box contents, how they wanted to arrange furniture and where to put the all-important coffee pot. Sally glanced at her watch. “What do you say we break for lunch?”
“I was hoping you’d say that. Do we order in or go grab a sandwich from the place down the street?”
Before Sally could answer, a soft cough sounded behind her. “Excuse me, are you the lawyers who used to have an office by the courthouse?”
Sally turned to see their visitor. She was a petite redhead, not older than her early twenties. Designer clothing could not disguise a body that would make a Playboy model weep with envy. Her makeup and skin were flawless, with sooty eyelashes framing deep brown eyes. This was a girl who would draw attention in any room she walked into, but at the moment a hesitancy hung over her like a heavy cloak. “That’s us,” Sally said. “I’m Sally Castle. This is my partner, Tanelsa Parson. What’s your name?”
“Madison Tilgher.” The girl’s voice was low-pitched, and it was easy to imagine her talking in sultry tones. “People call me Maddie.”
“Nice to meet you, Maddie. How can we help you?”
She took in the half-unpacked room. “I’m interrupting. I’m sorry.” She turned to go.
“No, wait. We were only talking about lunch.” Sally glanced at Tanelsa.
Her partner waved her on and held her hand to her head, fingers mimicking a phone. What do you want? she mouthed.
Sally nodded. “Get me a turkey on rye, with Swiss, brown mustard, lettuce, onion, and tomato.” She darted after Maddie. “Hey, hold on.”
The girl had reached the door. “I don’t want to keep you.”
“It’s okay. It’ll take a while for food to arrive. Why don’t we go in here?” Sally gestured to the small conference room designated for client meetings. A long rectangular table took up most of the space. Sally removed two chairs from the stack in the corner. “Please, have a seat.”
Maddie hesitated, then sat and held a purse with the Michael Kors logo in her lap. “I’m sorry to bust in on you like this. You must have just moved in.”
“This morning, to tell the truth. We signed the lease on Monday. You’re our first visitor in this space.” Sally wished she could go grab a legal pad and pen, but she was afraid Maddie would disappear. “Did you see our sign?”
“Yeah.” The young woman clutched the handbag. Her manicure, like her makeup, was perfect. “I’m not even sure you can help me.”
“Why don’t you explain your situation and I’ll be the judge of that?” Sally was used to the hesitant type of client who wanted help, but either didn’t know how to ask or didn’t believe they deserved attention.
Maddie bit a plump lower lip. “There’s this guy.”
“Friend, boyfriend, co-worker?”
“None of the above?” Maddie gave a weak laugh. “He’s…it’s complicated.”
“Okay, don’t worry about that now. What’s he done?”
“I want him to go away. But he insists on hounding me. He calls at all hours, when I’m in class, when I’m at the dorm, or even the library.”
Sally leaned on the table. “You’re a student?”
“Yes, a senior at St. Vincent’s College.” Maddie paused. “I’ve told him to beat it, but…”
“He doesn’t follow instructions. I get it.” Maddie had a stalker. It didn’t matter the role in her life, at least not right now. “Is he also a student?”
“No, at least not at St. Vincent’s.”
“Has he hurt you?”
“Oh, gosh no. But he says things, you know? I wouldn’t be surprised if I came out of class one day and he was waiting for me.”
“I see.” Now Sally really wanted that pad. “Have you tried contacting the police?”
“No.” Maddie sent her deep-red hair flying with her head shake. “I don’t think the cops could do anything. Like I said, he hasn’t hurt me.”
“You’d be surprised. Wait here. Let me get a legal pad so I can take some notes. I’ll be right back.” Sally got up and went to her desk. Of course, that box hadn’t been unpacked yet. She yanked open ones containing books, files, and printer materials. Where were the office supplies?
As she found the one she was looking for, slit through the tape on the flaps, and pulled out a pad, she heard the front door open and shut. Maybe it was Tanelsa, but Sally suspected she knew what had happened. Sure enough, when she returned to the conference room, it was empty.

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About the Author

A recovering technical writer, Liz Milliron is the author of The Laurel Highlands Mysteries, set in the scenic Laurel Highlands and The Homefront Mysteries, set in Buffalo NY during the early years of World War II. She is a member of Pennwriters, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers and The Historical Novel Society. She is the current vice-president of the Pittsburgh chapter of Sisters in Crime and is on the National Board as the Education Liaison. Liz splits her time between Pittsburgh and the Laurel Highlands, where she lives with her husband and a very spoiled retired-racer greyhound.

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Design Flaws

 


Listen to a narrated excerpt from Design Flaws

Searching for biological parents raises many questions. The adopted child might feel anger they were adopted out, or joy that they had the chance to become a part of that parent’s life. These questions are on the table today in today’s mystery, Design Flaws by Joe Golemo.

About the Book

After his father dies, Grayson Dyle, the owner of a fledgling product design firm, observes his mother hiding an envelope in the casket. He retrieves the letter, revealing that he and his brother Dean, a home automation guru, were adopted. Eager to learn more, he submits a DNA sample online and connects with a prominent attorney who claims to be their father and who tells the brothers their birth mother died as she was giving Grayson life.

When the attorney is brutally murdered, Grayson has little time to mourn the loss of two fathers because he quickly becomes a prime suspect and the killer’s next target. The brothers investigate and soon discover their mother died suspiciously as well. Their search for justice leads them to a local Catholic Bishop, whose stonewalling and lies are designed to protect the Church and keep family secrets hidden. As Grayson struggles to save his business from collapse, he must overcome his internal conflicts about being adopted, prevent his brother from going off the rails, and find the design flaws in the murderer’s plans before he or Dean becomes the next victim.

Excerpt

James sat back and looked at us for a moment. “Grayson…Dean…I can tell you about your birth family, but it must stay between the three of us. It’s a bit complicated, but this information, this truth, if it got out, would cause tremendous heartache for people I care about. I…”
Just then, the server stopped by with our drinks. His timing was lousy, but James didn’t seem deterred.
As the server left, he looked back and forth between us, his face softened, and his eyes twinkled with pride. “Boys, I am your biological father.” He seemed to relish the idea of having two sons.
After hearing the horror stories about biological parents or their offspring rejecting each other, I was somewhat relieved to have a biological father with whom a normal adult relationship seemed like a real possibility.
Dean smiled before I could get a word in. “I knew it. I knew a seventy-eight percent match wouldn’t lie.” Leave it to my brother to make this a technology issue.
“You do mean both of us, right?” I asked.
“Yes. Both of you.” James’s smile faded a bit, and a hint of shame emerged. The implications of having not one but two children out of wedlock must have hit home.
We all stared at each other, not knowing what to do or say. Should we get up and hug? Fist-bump? High-five? No one seemed to know the proper social protocol when meeting your birth father for the first time.
I was getting a queasy feeling but didn’t know why. “So, what happened?”
James looked down, squirmed a bit, then fidgeted with the flatware so they were parallel with the table side and even across the bottom. “It’s complicated. I’ve thought about reaching out many times over the years, but I didn’t want to create any issues for you two and your adoptive parents.”
“You mean our real parents, right?” Dean was no longer smiling now that his technology triumph was over.
“Yes, yes, of course, your real parents—the only parents you’ve ever known.” James squirmed some more. “You can see why I was concerned about reaching out. There’s no easy way of handling something like this.”
The server stopped by with another server, who carried plates. “Here we are, sir. I believe you ordered the Steak Diane. Here is the Salmon Oscar and the Beef Pot Au Pho for you. Is there anything else I can get you? No? Great—I will check back with you in a bit. Enjoy!”
The break in our conversation gave me a moment to think, and the realization that he deliberately chose not to reach out to Dean or me merely for his convenience was jarring. I needed to try a different approach before anger shut down all rational thought. “We’re not trying to place blame. We’re just looking to understand how things ended up the way they did. What can you tell us about Maggie, for example?”
A smile broke across James’s face. “She was wonderful. Such a free spirit. She made fast friends with everyone she met. Something in her easygoing nature made you feel good about yourself just being in her presence.” Maybe he really did love her.
“She sounded like a very caring person in the letter,” I said between bites.
“Did she mention any names?” That struck me as odd. Why was James concerned about Maggie naming names
? “The only name I recall was a Sister Anna,” said Dean.
James seemed relieved. “I’m not surprised. Sister Anna took Maggie under her wing, even though she was only a few years older. Anyone else?”
“We don’t want to discuss that right now.” I jumped in before Dean could answer, and now he and James were both looking at me funny.
“Okay, I understand. Will you let me read the letter at some point?”
“Maybe the next time we get together.” I was developing severe trust issues with our newfound father. “What was her last name?”
James squinted as he shifted his gaze between Dean and me. He seemed to be mentally calculating the odds of making a deal—we show him the letter, and he tells us her last name. But then he relented. “Fitzgerald. Her name was Margaret Fitzgerald. Everyone called her Maggie.”
“Thanks,” I said. “What did you mean when you said the truth would cause tremendous heartache for people you care about?”
James pushed his dinner plate away and leaned forward on his elbows. “This is embarrassing, but my wife, Cathy, doesn’t know I have children from a previous relationship. I planned on telling her right after we were married, but the timing never seemed right. It’s been over thirty-eight years now. You can imagine how much of a shock this will be. To make matters worse, she’s our office manager, so she has full access to my work schedule and emails. I told her we were meeting to discuss a lawsuit. If you speak with her, please stick with the story, at least until I figure out how to tell her the truth. If she finds out on her own, it could ruin our marriage. Let’s get back together in a few weeks after we’ve all had a chance to think about things. Maybe you can bring the letter with you.”
Dean was consoling, which wasn’t like him. “That’s fine, James. We’re not going anywhere.”
Something was seriously wrong here. Why was this guy so obsessed with reading the letter? I started thinking this was his sole purpose in agreeing to meet with us. I could feel my face turning red, and shot my brother a dirty look. “No, it’s not fine, Dean.”
Then I turned to face James head-on. “How can you sit there and lie like that? Maggie said she couldn’t marry Dean’s father because he was already in a committed relationship. You were already seeing Cathy and having a fling with Maggie on the side when she got pregnant, weren’t you? You have no intention of telling Cathy anything. You’re just trying to pacify us until you can see the letter, make sure there’s nothing incriminating in it, and then make this whole thing go away—make us go away so you can go back to leading your perfect little life. What is wrong with you?”
I must have been getting louder as the people at nearby tables were glancing our way. I didn’t care.
“Hang on, Grayson, that’s not fair…”
“No, you hang on, Dad. Do you really think you can tell us what to do here? You cheated on your girlfriend, knocked up some poor girl, twice, and probably forced her to have her babies in secret and then give them up for adoption, all so you wouldn’t have to deal with them. Then you abandoned her, right? Did you ever talk to her again, our mother? A girl who was so madly in love that she slept with you again after you knocked her up the first time. Do you know where she is now? Maybe send her a Mother’s Day card or two, you heartless bastard.”
Dean was clenching his teeth so hard it looked like they might crack. “Grayson! Will you knock it off?”
“Wait, just a minute… I can explain everything. Grayson. Let me explain…” James’s Irish face was ruddy with anger and fear.

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Joe Golemo Author of Design Flaws

About the Author

When he’s not working on his next murder mystery, Joe is a Partner with a Management and IT Consulting firm. He is originally from Chicago and holds a Chemical Engineering degree from the Illinois Institute of Technology. He moved to Rochester, Minnesota, to work for IBM and fell in love with the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Joe has a lovely wife of over 30 years, two adult children, and a crazy dog named Marco.

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Murder A La Mode

 


Listen to a narrated excerpt of Murder A La Mode

 

Ever think about seeing “that” guy again? You know who I’m talking about. The guy you were crazy for but then for some reason what you hoped for never happened? That’s what’s happening in our mystery excerpt today.

About the Book

From author Lena Gregory comes a delicious new series that will warm your heart and leave you guessing until the very end…
When twenty-five-year-old Danika Delaney, black sheep of the Delaney clan, returns home to Long Island to take over Jimmie’s, her eccentric uncle’s old fashioned malt shop on eastern Long Island, she’s not exactly thrilled. But things start to look up when her uncle tells her she can do whatever she’d like with the shop, and it seems she might realize her dream of a small trendy café. That is, until she discovers the body of her ex-boyfriend’s estranged wife in a melted puddle of rocky road in the malt shop basement. With her two sidekicks, her sister and a good childhood friend, in tow, Dani searches for–or stumbles upon—one clue after another. But as she narrows down the suspect list, she realizes if she’s not careful she may end up in a puddle of her own…

Excerpt

I froze in place and didn’t dare turn around. Why not just shoot me now, Karma, instead of prolonging the torture?
Luca Martinelli, whom I’d dated all through high school right up until senior prom when I’d gone to powder my nose and returned to find him lip-locked with Heather Teague, cheerleader extraordinaire. Heather had been everything I hadn’t—skinny, beautiful, popular, outgoing, sneaky, mean and always jealous Luca was dating me. Of course, he’d sworn it hadn’t been what I’d thought, but what else could he have said? Still, I’d known what I’d seen. Huh…whadda ya know? Seemed I did actually have a breakup that didn’t end on friendly terms.
The last I saw Luca—since classes had been over by prom and I’d managed to avoid him during graduation by showing up at the last minute, taking my place, then disappearing quickly after—he’d been chasing after me as I ran from the inn where the prom had been in full swing. I’d lost him somewhere around Oak Tree Lane, after I’d turned and screamed at him that I never wanted to see him again. If I wasn’t mistaken, which I most definitely was not since I’d kept tabs on him through my sister Meghan, he’d ended up marrying good ole Heather.
Harry had already gone past me and was embracing Luca warmly, which I could see reflected in the glass ice cream case since I hadn’t yet summoned the courage to turn around. Ah well, if I was going to live back in Watchogue, I wouldn’t be able to avoid Luca forever. Might as well get it over with. So, I plastered on my best smile and turned to face him.
Then I stopped short. The breath whooshed from my lungs, and I couldn’t manage more than a sputtered, “H-h-hello.”
Okay, as soon as I got home, Meghan was getting an earful. While she’d updated me on his whereabouts—college then back to Watchogue—his marriage to Heather, his job as some kind of computer expert, and even his volunteer firefighter status, she’d neglected to mention how gorgeous he was.
Luca had always been good-looking, with dark hair perpetually in need of a cut and gray eyes that could make your stomach tingle. He’d always been athletic, lean, and lanky, and he’d always had a killer smile. But now…
“Dani?” He aimed that smile at me with enough wattage to melt every ounce of ice cream in the shop.
My heart melted with it. In an instant, I was transported back to my teenage years and the way he’d made my heart go pitter-pat with just a look. Then the image of him and Heather superimposed itself over everything, and my insides went cold. “Luca. It’s good to see you.”
He took a wary step toward me, then stopped, and stuffed his hands into his well-fitted jeans pockets. “Danika, how are you? You look…amazing.”
“Thank you. You look…” Wonderful, incredible, like a Greek god chiseled in stone come to life. “Good, too.”
“So…um…it’s been a long time.”
“Yes, it has.” This encounter was too overwhelming in my current state. I had to get out of there, needed to breathe, clear my mind, get rid of the pounding headache starting to throb behind my right eye. “Anyway, I was just on my way out. It was good to see you, Luca.”
“Yeah, you too.”
“I’ll see you around.” I kissed Uncle Jimmie goodbye, gave Harry a hug, and started past Luca. I was almost to the door when he reached out and snagged my wrist.
“Wait, Danika, please. I…” He looked around the shop, thankfully empty but for Jimmie and Harry, neither of whom even bothered to feign disinterest. “I never got the chance to say I’m sorry, and I just wanted to let you know I am…sorry, that is. I…uh…that is, things shouldn’t have ended like they did.”
What could I say? I wanted to tell him he’d broken my heart, that he hurt me so badly I’d cried for a week straight, but what difference would it make now? “It’s okay, Luca. Water under the bridge, but I really do have to get going.”
“Oh, well, that explains everything,” a woman’s voice said from over my shoulder.
I whirled toward her. I’d been so wrapped up in Luca’s gaze that I hadn’t even heard the door open.
And there stood Heather, gaze glued to Luca’s hand, which still had a grip on my wrist. A grip that was suddenly uncomfortably tight. “I guess now I know why we’re getting divorced.”
A divorce? Wait, what? Meghan was so gonna get it when I got my hands on her.
Luca dropped my wrist like it was on fire. “Heather, please. It’s not what you think.”
Hmm…funny, those were the same words he’d uttered to me under similar circumstances. Only this time, he was telling the truth.
Uh-oh. A little niggle of doubt crept in. No way. Uh-uh. Forget it. I wasn’t dealing with this right now. I’d caught them kissing, for crying out loud.
“And what do I think, Luca? That you’d dump me for someone like her?” Heather laughed. “I don’t think so.”
“I’m not going to get into this here, Heather.” Luca glanced over his shoulder at Harry and Jimmie, who now sat side by side on matching stools, backs to the counter, slurping coffee and munching on the peanuts Jimmie kept for sundaes with their gazes fully riveted on the action unfolding. Man, this must be more entertaining than The Lawrence Welk Show, which Uncle Jimmie still managed to find on some streaming channel or another. It brought back fond memories of my childhood, sitting cross-legged on the floor while he reclined in his lounger drinking a bloody mary.
Heather huffed and spun on me then pointed a finger, interrupting my trip down memory lane. “And you’re not going to get away with this, either.”
I glanced over my shoulder to see if she was glaring at someone behind me, but no one was there, so I looked straight at her.
Heather stared back at me. “Don’t think for one minute you can prance back into town and take what’s mine because that is so not happening.” With that, she whirled like a pro on her four-inch Christian Louboutins and stormed out.
Not knowing what else to do, and if I was being honest, feeling a little bad for Luca, I looked him in the eyes and said what any self-respecting ex would say. “Good luck with that.”
Twin patches of red flamed on his cheeks, which I might have mistaken for embarrassment if not for his jaw clenched tight enough to shatter teeth. “Yeah, thanks.”
Oo…kaay. Time for me to get out of there. Quite honestly, I’d had about all I could take for one day, and I was seriously considering calling Marie and begging her to let me live in the spare closet. But on the bright side, at least tomorrow should be an improvement. Karma had had her fun. It wasn’t like things could get much worse.

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About the Author

Lena Gregory is the author of the Bay Island Psychic Mysteries, which take place on a small island between the north and south forks of Long Island, New York, the All-Day Breakfast Café Mysteries, which are set on the outskirts of Florida’s Ocala National Forest, the Mini-Meadows Mysteries, set in a community of tiny homes in Central Florida, and the Coffee & Cream Café Mysteries, which take place in a small town on the south shore of eastern Long Island, New York.
Lena grew up in a small town on the south shore of eastern Long Island, but she recently traded in cold, damp, gray winters for the warmth and sunshine of central Florida, where she now lives with her husband, three kids, son-in-law, and four dogs. Her hobbies include spending time with family, reading, and walking. Her love for writing developed when her youngest son was born and didn’t sleep through the night. She works full time as a writer and a freelance editor and is a member of Sisters in Crime.

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Murder of a Good Man


Listen to a narrated excerpt of Murder of a Good Man

Have you ever worked anywhere that was haunted? That’s what happens to Nora Alexander when she starts work in an old hotel. Not to worry though, the ghost wears a bow tie and loves to dance! This week I am doing one of my books, Murder of a Good Man, so let’s head to Texas.

About the Book

When Nora Alexander drives into Piney Woods, Texas, to fulfill her dying mother’s last wish, she has no idea what awaits her. First she is run off the road, then the sealed letter she delivers turns out to be a scathing rebuke to the town’s most beloved citizen and favored candidate for Piney Woods Pioneer: Adam Brockwell. Next thing you know, Adam has been murdered in a nasty knife attack. Suspicion instantly falls on Nora, one of the last people to see him alive. After all, everyone in Piney Woods loved him. Or did they? Turns out Nora’s mother had a complicated past she never shared with her daughter. Told not to leave town by Tuck the flirty sheriff, Nora finds a job with Tuck’s Aunt Marty trying to get the rundown Tunie Hotel back in the black. The old hotel was Piney Woods’ heart and soul in its heyday as an oil boomtown. Now the secrets it harbors may be the key to getting Nora off the hook. She’s going to need to solve the mystery quickly to avoid arrest, or worse: becoming the killer’s next victim.
Book 1 in the Piney Woods Mystery series.

Excerpt

Blinking to keep her tears at bay, Nora reached into her pocket for a tissue. Just as she brought it up to her damp cheek, a red pickup, apparently tired of her snail’s pace, swerved around to pass her. Without considering the passing driver, Nora hit the gas pedal to get back up to speed with traffic. When the red truck re-entered the lane, he nearly ran into her, causing Nora to veer off the country road. She slammed on the brakes, taking deep breaths as her heart thumped in her chest. With shaking hands, she moved farther over to the side of the road as her heart rate returned to normal. The jolt had opened the cut on her hand from that morning’s moving of the boxes and furniture from her mother’s place to the storage unit. The bandage had dislodged itself, and she used her cotton shirt to stop the flow of blood until she could open the first-aid kit on the seat of the car. Thank goodness she was wearing a T-shirt underneath.
Just as she got everything fixed up, a man in a white pickup with a gun rack in the back slowed and rolled down his window. “You okay there, missy?”
Nora straightened up and smiled, not wanting to accept help from a strange man. “Fine, just fine.”
“Okay then. I got a little something for you.” Nora wasn’t sure she wanted to see what that was. He extended his arm out of the cab window and slapped a bumper sticker into her hand. The bright red letters spelled out, BUBBY FOR PINEY WOODS PIONEER.
“Uh, thank you.”
“Name’s Bubby Tidwell and I can see you are about to enter the fair city of Piney Woods, Texas. While you’re there, I’d appreciate it if you cast your vote for me, as the Piney Woods Pioneer. I have personally saved fourteen of our citizens, three cats, and a hamster in my days as a firefighter. They only choose people who have contributed to improving our little community, and even though you don’t know me, I’d sure appreciate your support. You drive safe now.” He waved and headed on down the road.
Nora put the bumper sticker in the passenger seat and stared in the rearview mirror. She had hopped into the car determined to fulfill her mother’s last wish. Now that she was getting close to her destination, she realized she must look pretty rough. She rearranged her hair to create a side braid à la Disney princess while arranging silky strands of auburn hair to frame her face. Pulling a tube of concealer out of her bag, she did her best to repair her makeup. After a few minutes of fussing, she hoped she looked presentable.
She had to do this thing. She had to know. Her mother left her instructions on delivering the letter. As Nora neared Piney Woods, Texas, two giant eyes bored into her from a lighted billboard with the words VOTE FOR BUBBY in glitter letters at the bottom. PINEY WOODS’ FINEST CITIZEN was written under the face of the round-cheeked man with the Cheshire Cat smile. A hundred feet down the road was another billboard with BROCKWELL INDUSTRIES—PINEY WOODS’ TRUE PIONEER NEEDS YOUR VOTE. Brockwell was the name she was looking for, so she knew she was getting close. As she entered town, the election signs multiplied. VOTE FOR BUBBY was on a park bench, VOTE FOR BROCKWELL was on a lamppost, but it was going too far when a blue Porta-Potty sported signs from both sides. Nora guessed they wanted the people of Piney Woods to think about who they were voting for while using the blue plastic necessity. Nothing like a captive audience.
Nora drove down a main street that looked as if it belonged to an earlier time. The two-story brick buildings held lovely little stores, a restaurant, and a coffee shop. The oak and elm trees on either side of the street were so large, they nearly touched branches in some areas, framing the picturesque town with their deep-red and gold leaves. At the end of the main road in Piney Woods was the largest house on the block. The two-story brick structure looked more like the public library or a courthouse than someone’s home. Nora double-checked to make sure there wasn’t a book drop by the front door. No, someone actually lived there. The enormous house had a wraparound porch and windows taller than the height of the average man. What would it be like to sit on the porch, listening to the crickets, on a warm summer’s evening? Nora examined the numbers on the mailbox. This was the address her mother had printed in careful letters on the envelope. Not only was the intended recipient of this letter mysterious, but he was also rich. After driving all the way from south Louisiana to Texas, she was here. All she had to do was park in the cobblestone driveway, ring the doorbell, deliver the letter, gas up, and go home. So why was she nervous? Why hadn’t her mother mailed the letter before her death? What was the big secret about Adam Brockwell? Since her father’s death, Nora had never even seen her mother go on a single date.
If Kay Alexander had a boyfriend, it would have to be someone like a table-calculating insurance adjuster figuring the chances of them ever having a good time. Her mother had a way with figures right up until her death. Nora had been told how much they depended on her bookkeeping skills at the home improvement center where she had worked for so many years.
Nora’s mother had an answer for everything, and most of the time that meant Nora needed to stay inside the little bubble she had created for the two of them. When Nora rebelled, as most young people eventually do, she hadn’t just strayed from the course. She’d found herself a whole new ocean. Kay Alexander’s cancer had steadily worsened.
Once a healthy, vibrant fifty-one-year-old woman, the woman in the bed next to Nora had appeared gaunt and tired. Her red hair, what was left of it, was covered in a brightly colored wrap. It was the brightest thing in the room, as if pink and yellow flowers could dispel the pall of her mother’s illness. It was as if she was holding onto the last threads of color, her attire the one pleasure cancer couldn’t drain out of her. The doctors had promised that the pain and discomfort from the chemo would pay off in the end. Nothing had worked. So here they were, mother and daughter, holding on for time.
Other than her father, Kay Alexander had never trusted men. She had been so strange before she died. Pulling an envelope out of her bedside table, she pressed it in Nora’s hands. “I need you to deliver this to the man at this address.”
Nora examined the letter. The address was in Texas. “Why? Can’t you mail it?”
“No, it’s important this man sees you.”
“Again, why?”
“Let’s just say he’s about to be honored with something and I … want to put in my two cents.”
“How do you know this about a man I’ve never heard of who lives in another state?”
Kay put her hand to her chest and coughed. “I … I … just know. That’s all.”
Her mother’s words still echoed in her ears as her phone GPS informed her she had reached her destination. Whoever this guy was and why he was important to her mother, Nora would never know until the letter was opened. She came close to the driveway and started to pull in, but then checked her watch. It was nearly seven. Maybe it would be better to deliver the letter the next day when she could be sure to catch Mr. Brockwell.

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About the Author

Besides doing the Books to the Ceiling podcast, I am the author of the Swinging Sixties Mystery Series as well as the Piney Woods and Pecan Bayou Mystery Series. I teach writing workshops with one of my favorite writers, Terry Korth Fischer, author of the Rory Naysmith Mysteries. I am a graduate of University of Northern Colorado and a former high and middle school English teacher. I live in South Texas with my husband and son.

Website  TeresaTrent.com 

Devil Within

Devil Within by James L’Etoile Banner


 Listen to a narrated excerpt of Devil Within

Coming from Texas, I can tell you the local news is often about the border. Today we have Devil Within, A Nathan Parker Detective Novel, set in Arizona. Ever think about the devil within a person? That’s what makes great detective fiction.

Synopsis:

Devil Within by James L'Etoile

The border is a hostile place with searing heat and venomous serpents. Yet the deadliest predator targets the innocent.

A sniper strikes in the Valley of the Sun and Detective Nathan Parker soon finds a connection between the victims—each of them had a role in an organization founded to help undocumented migrants make the dangerous crossing. Parker discovers no one is exactly who they seem.

There’s the devil you know and then there’s the devil within—when the two collide, no one is safe.

Devil Within is the sequel to the Anthony and Lefty Award nominated Dead Drop.

Book Details:

Genre: Procedural/Thriller
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: July 2023
Number of Pages: 310
Series: The Nathan Parker Detective Series, Book 2
Book Links: Amazon | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

Nia Saldana didn’t think today would be the day she died. Why would she? She was careful and avoided situations which drew too much attention. She never wanted to be noticed. When you got noticed, it only led to trouble, or worse.

She cursed herself for snooping around her employer’s office as she tidied up. The big man wasn’t who he pretended to be. If others knew what she saw…

Nia fought off anxiety driving home after another twelve-hour day cleaning homes on Camelback Mountain, the upscale enclave in Central Phoenix. Commuter traffic on this section of the 101 loop was a field of brake lights and her hands gripped the wheel, knowing she’d be home after her two girls were asleep. Her sister Sofia never complained when she watched the girls and loved them as if they were her own. Nia regretted every minute away from them, and the envelope of cash on the seat next to her meant she could stop and pick up a little pink box of day-old Mexican pastries for the girls as a sweet surprise.

A job that didn’t require hours away from her girls was a dream. She didn’t dare look for a better-paying job. There was too much at risk for a single, undocumented mother. One wrong move, like getting caught in her employer’s office, and she would join her deported husband in Hermosillo. What would happen to the girls then?

She pushed a worn stuffed animal away from her leg when she caught a sudden blur from the right. A familiar black SUV cut across her path, nearly clipping the front end of her Nissan Sentra. She knew her boss was furious; in a way she’d never seen before. But to chase her on the freeway because of what she’d discovered? Reckless.

A pop caught her attention. Seconds later, the heavy SUV lurched and bumped Nia’s sedan into the left lane, pushing her into the gravel median. A second pop sounded moments before the wheel wrenched from Nia’s hands sending the Sentra into a hard spin to the left until it faced back into the oncoming traffic.

Rubber barked on the asphalt as a semi-truck slammed on its brakes and the trailer jackknifed, a wall of metal rushing toward Nia’s windshield. The Sentra crumpled from the impact of the heavy eighteen-wheeler. The thin metal roof folded in pinning her against the seat. The steering wheel crushed against the driver’s seat, and Nia with it. The pressure against her chest made breathing impossible. If her brother-in-law hadn’t sold the airbag for a few dollars…. Nia glanced at the blood-spattered stuffed animal and pulled it close to her.

Inside her broken passenger side window, Nia watched as the SUV plowed into the metal rails in the center divider without slowing down. The driver slumped over the wheel after his vehicle came to rest. Why? Why did he? The grip on the stuffed animal loosened as she grew cold. The faces of her two young girls were the last images she held while she slipped away.

Chapter Two

Detective Sergeant Nathan Parker weaved his way through the snarl of traffic on the freeway. Phoenix dwellers took it in stride because commute hours meant a sludge across the valley with a daily multi-car pile-up, or a disabled vehicle in the tunnel. None of the usual reasons for traffic meltdowns would justify a Major Crimes detective call out.

Parker’s Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office Ford Explorer was unmarked, but the antenna bristling on the roof and the flashing red and blue lights in the grill gave it away. As he approached, he wasn’t certain what warranted a major crimes investigator. Parker spotted the vehicles spun out in the median, the front end of a compact sedan crumpled under a big rig trailer. No one would survive this one.

Fire engines stopped traffic in the two lanes near the accident. A single lane of cars bled through the remaining gap in the freeway, going slow enough to glimpse the gruesome wreckage.

Deputy Marcus Stone called Parker on his cell phone rather than make the call over the department radio frequency. The call was quick on detail, other than Deputy Stone needed Parker at the scene. Parker’s mind shuffled through the possibilities as he pulled his Explorer to the far left median. He spotted the wrecked SUV on the center divider, twenty yards from the jackknifed semi-truck. A high-profile victim, or an influential Phoenix power player caught in a deadly drunk driving crash? Maybe. Politics was king, even in the desert. The twisted remains of the Nissan underneath the big rig, however, didn’t scream of valley nobility.

Parker spotted deputy Stone near the rear of the Phoenix Metro Fire Department engine. Stone looked gray.

“Marcus.” Stone didn’t take his gaze from the fire crew using an air powered extraction device, sometimes called the Jaws of Life, to peel back the exposed left front quarter panel of the gutted Nissan Sentra . “We’ve got two deceased.” Stone jutted his square jaw at the Nissan. “A young woman. In the SUV against the guardrail, our second victim, a middleaged white male.”

“Looks nasty. Any statements from witnesses about how it happened. Why’d you call me out, anyway? Traffic accidents aren’t usually our thing.” Stone started toward the SUV. “Come with me.” Stone didn’t wait for Parker and made a path around the littered wreckage toward the black SUV. Parker noticed the driver slumped over the wheel after the fire department opened the driver’s door and left him in place. From experience, Parker knew fire crews extracted accident victims from the vehicles and tried to administer lifesaving treatment.

The driver’s razor cut gray hair lay matted in crimson. His skull disappeared in a jagged mess of blood and bone behind his ear.

“He’s been shot. Dammit, this makes three in a month,” Parker said. “That’s why I called you.”

Instinctively, Parker glanced at his surroundings. The freeway sat in the bottom of a wash, with city streets twenty feet above on both sides. An unnatural valley, but a natural killing ground for the Sun Valley Sniper. “Get any ID on this guy?”

Stone held a plastic evidence bag in his hand. Parker hadn’t noticed the deputy gripping the plastic envelope since his arrival.

“Roger Jessup. Local attorney, according to the Arizona Bar card in his wallet.”

“Can’t say I’ve heard of him before. Gives us an angle to look at—you know, the whole disgruntled client thing.”

They both turned at the sound of ripping metal pulled from the Nissan Sentra. Two fire fighters crouched into the passenger compartment, cut the seatbelt, and pulled the driver from the car. They placed her gently on a yellow tarp spread on the gravel shoulder.

“I take it she wasn’t a shooting victim?” Parker said.

“No. The collision with the SUV spun her out and then the big rig finished it. Wrong place, wrong time, poor thing.”

“You call in the Medical Examiner?”

Stone shook his head. “Didn’t know how you would handle it.”

“No problem. While I call the M.E., could you ask the fire crews to set up some tarps to give our victims a bit of respect?”

“On it.” Stone strode off to the closest fire fighter and started pointing at the scene.

Parker approached the Nissan as the fire department crew draped a tarp over the dead woman. Parker saw she was olive skinned, young, perhaps in her early thirties, with dark black hair pulled back in a ponytail. She was attractive, but even in death, she carried signs of stress, lines creasing her forehead, and dark bags under her eyes. Parker dropped to one knee and scanned the passenger compartment. The driver was crushed. If it wasn’t bad enough, Parker spotted a well-loved stuffed animal on the seat.

“Oh man. She’s got kids.”

He reached for her purse and pulled the inexpensive plastic and cardboard handbag from the floorboard. Parker had seen these knockoff items before, carried by women coming over the border. He fished through the purse for a wallet and ID. Nothing. No driver’s license, insurance cards, or credit cards. When he stood, he spotted a blood-stained envelope. When he lifted it from the seat, it held one hundred dollars. No note or message in with the five twenty-dollar bills. The face of the envelope bore a simple inscription: “Nia.”

“Nia, what happened?”

Parker thought deputy Stone might be right. He was about to write it off as another case of a random victim until he found the bullet hole in the Nissan’s front tire. The tire exploded outward on the opposite side of the path of entry. Likely sending the compact sedan into an uncontrolled skid, careening off any vehicles in the next lane.

What were the chances of two cars being shot at in evening commuter traffic?

***

Excerpt from Devil Within by James L’Etoile. Copyright 2023 by James L’Etoile. Reproduced with permission from James L’Etoile. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

James L'Etoile

James L’Etoile uses his twenty-nine years behind bars as an influence in his award-winning novel, short stories, and screenplays. He is a former associate warden in a maximum-security prison, a hostage negotiator, and director of California’s state parole system. Black Label earned the Silver Falchion for Best Book by an Attending Author at Killer Nashville and he was nominated for The Bill Crider Award for short fiction. His most recent novel is the Anthony and Lefty Award nominated Dead Drop. Look for Devil Within and Face of Greed, both coming in 2023.

You can find out more at:
www.JamesLEtoile.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @crimewriter
Instagram – @authorjamesletoile
Twitter – @JamesLEtoile
Facebook – @AuthorJamesLetoile

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#Tag Me For Murder

Listen to a narrated excerpt from #Tag Me for Murder.

Have you heard about social media influencers? They want us to wear what they wear, buy what they buy, and go where they go. A Kardashian, I’ll never be, but I do like the idea of an influencer involved in solving a murder. Today we have #Tag Me for Murder by Sarah Burr, so get your besties together the trend is #murder.

About the Book

When murder trends too close to home, social media influencer Coco Cline will have to swipe through a sea of trolls to tag a killer.
After cracking her first case, Cordelia “Coco” Cline’s life is finally getting back to normal—or as normal as life can be when you have over three million followers online. With a thriving business, a devoted boyfriend, and her two besties living right up the street, Coco is set to have the most fun summer of her life until Larry and Rosalynn Dunmer move into the condo next door.
Coco and her friends do their best to avoid the confrontational duo, but when a party at a swanky new wine bar brings everyone together, things become less than neighborly faster than a celebrity-themed hashtag goes viral. Larry levels some super shady threats toward Coco and her BFF Jasper, which could have dire consequences for their multimedia empires. Just as Coco begins to wonder if she’ll have to spend the rest of the summer looking over her shoulder, she gets a shocking request from police. As part of her PR gig with the Central Shores PD, they need her to come to the beach and keep the public at bay. A body has washed ashore.
Thinking a poor swimmer drowned just before the Salute to Summer festival kicks off, Coco arrives to find Larry Dunmer, dead with a corkscrew sticking out of his neck. What’s even more unbelievable is that Jasper quickly shoots to the top of Chief McInnis’s suspect list. In full-on panic mode, Coco decides to use her tech-savvy sleuthing skills to clear her best friend’s name before his rep is ruined. She soon discovers that Larry made quite a few enemies during his very short stay in town. But who hated him enough to kill him?
Return to the beaches of Central Shores as Coco Cline and her squad assemble to catch a killer before they get canceled…permanently.

Excerpt

My tongue felt like sandpaper. I’d hoped talking everything out with Jasper would help me realize that I was completely overreacting. But he was right. Jasper certainly had the motive to want Larry dead. “Hey, Larry threatened to sabotage Trending Topic, too.”
“Yeah, but your corkscrew wasn’t found shoved into his neck, now, was it?”
I winced at the blunt imagery. “I’m sure once Hudson, Charlotte, and I tell the police you didn’t even take your party favor with you, that will be the end of it.” Oh, the irony. I’d used my boyfriend’s unwelcomed logical explanation to smooth over the situation. “But when the deets about Larry’s death get leaked, you might want to prepare for a boatload of press that could affect Divulge.”
Jasper waved a hand aside. “Please. What’s the golden rule?”
We said it together. “No publicity is bad publicity.”
Our in-sync delivery elicited only a half-hearted laugh from Jasper. His blasé attitude about the whole situation had suddenly evaporated.
I leaned forward in my seat. “What’s wrong?”
“Well, if clearing my name relies solely on you guys saying I left without my corkscrew, we might have a problem.” Jasper scratched his head. “You see, I hit up Vine on my way home from Dover to see if you all were still there.”
My heart somersaulted. “Um, why didn’t you just text?”
“I stupidly decided to install that new, huge software update on my cell during the car ride back. It was on an infuriating load screen for hours.” He shuddered. Jasper was never without his iPhone. He clutched it in his palm as we spoke. Being without it for even a few minutes drove him up a wall. “Since I couldn’t message you, I opted to stop by Vine.”
I didn’t like where this was going. “We left around ten. Charlotte and I had to be up early for work.”
Jasper nodded. “I ran into Andre, and he told me you guys left to get your beauty sleep. He then reminded me to pick up my corkscrew because I mentioned that I hadn’t had a chance to grab it. Since there was no point in hanging around the party without you, I swung by the souvenir table on my way out.” An annoyed frown grew on Jasper’s face. “I couldn’t find one with my name on it. I checked every corkscrew left. Mine wasn’t there.” He sighed. “But I didn’t bother telling Andre. He was too busy schmoozing some folks who reeked of Crestview privilege. So, I just pretended to take a corkscrew and split.”
The implications of Jasper’s polite actions rained down on me. “Oh no.” His statement made anything Hudson, Charlotte, and I could tell the police irrelevant. Any investigator with half a brain could poke holes in Jasper’s story. Of course, he wouldn’t admit to picking up the party favor if he’d used it to kill his onerous neighbor, especially after said neighbor had threatened his media empire.
It was my turn to rub my eyes, not with weariness but with building tension. “Maybe someone else can confirm that you actually didn’t grab a souvenir.”
Jasper sighed as he rose from his chair and shuffled into the open-concept kitchen. “I doubt it. By the time I returned to the party, everyone was thoroughly sloshed on grapes.”
I joined him at the counter as he toasted two slices of bread. I waited until he was done slathering apricot jam on his breakfast before continuing with my questions. “So, you bailed on us to drive up to Dover last night?”
“I told you. I had a meeting,” Jasper mumbled through a crunchy mouthful.
I stared at him for a beat. “You’ve mentioned that much. Who was it with?”
He wrinkled his nose. “Why does it matter?”
I drummed my fingers anxiously on the countertop. “Well, for one, they might be your alibi.”
Jasper shook his head. “I’m sure once I talk to the police, everything will be fine. You’re getting way ahead of yourself, Coco.” He eyed me curiously. “It’s like you want me to be a suspect or something.”
“What? Are you insane?”
He rolled his eyes. “No. But that squeaky denial voice makes me think you actually might be.” His sly expression morphed into a grin. “You want a reason to stick your nose into Larry’s death, don’t you? Like you did with Stacy’s murder?” He tsked as he wiggled a finger in front of my nose. “You’re a murder mystery addict looking for a fix.”
I puffed my chest out defensively. “I only got caught up in Stacy’s murder because the chief tried to pin the crime on my clients.”
Jasper’s groomed eyebrows shot up, but he wisely held his tongue.
“This is totally different,” I pressed onward. “I was there at the beach. I saw Gavin’s reaction to the corkscrew.” My sea-foam gaze pinned Jasper in his place. “The police are going to follow the evidence. What if all the evidence conveniently points to you?”
My best friend’s confidence deflated right before me as confusion settled across his features.
“You think someone is trying to frame me?”

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About the Author

Sarah E. Burr is the award-winning author of the Glenmyre Whim Mysteries, Trending Topic Mysteries, and Court of Mystery series. She currently serves as the social media manager for the New York chapter of Sisters in Crime and is the creative mind behind BookstaBundles, a content creation service for authors. Sarah is the co-host of The Bookish Hour, a live-streamed YouTube series featuring author interviews and book discussions. When she’s not spinning up stories, Sarah is singing Broadway tunes, reading everything from mystery to manga, video gaming, and enjoying walks with her dog, Eevee. Stay connected with Sarah via her newsletter: https://bit.ly/saraheburrsignup

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Secrets Don’t Sink


Listen to a narrated excerpt from Secret’s Don’t Sink.

Today we travel to Chattertowne, Washington, a town known for it’s…wait for it…gossip. What a great place to set a cozy mystery, so let’s dive deeper into Secrets Don’t Sink.

About the Book

Loose lips may sink ships, but bodies and secrets inevitably float to the surface.
Audrey O’Connell has returned from Portland to her hometown of Chattertowne, Washington, a place where gossip is currency but knowing when to stay tight-lipped is priceless.
Procuring a part-time job at the local newspaper to keep an eye on her impetuous sister following Vivienne’s latest romantic scandal, Audrey is assigned a feature series for the upcoming festival which has her digging through the town archives.
When her former boyfriend is found floating dead in the marina not long after reaching out to her in hopes of utilizing her research skills, her investigation reveals his conspiracy theories about Chattertowne and corruption within its leadership might not have been so crazy after all.
As she plumbs the depths of the town’s 150-year history, she discovers that beneath the façade of this idyllic hamlet lie secrets long-submerged–including within her own family–and finds herself in the crosshairs of those who guard them.
Now with three dead bodies, a severe case of aquaphobia, and a narrow window before her deadline, Audrey looks to the handsome City Manager, the town’s octogenarian historian, and her enigmatic almost-boyfriend to help her discover the truth that will forever change her and Chattertowne.

Excerpt

Although my tiny apartment in Portland had been no Taj Mahal, Viv’s spare room was a drab and dreary testament to how my life had stalled.
I suspected the butter-colored walls were once white but had yellowed over time, imbued with nicotine from past residents. The aged synthetic Berber-style carpet was firm and unyielding. Its foam pad had been flattened under decades of foot traffic and carried a permanent whiff of the previous tenants’ pets.
The faulty thermostat vacillated between scorching desert and frozen tundra, but the building super Herbert hadn’t seemed much in a hurry to do anything about it.
By the time Darren arrived, it was in sweltering mode. I’d donned cutoff sweats and a tank top, removed my makeup, and pulled my hair into a messy bun. I’d have been mortified to be seen in that state, but the day’s events had sapped me of any pretense and the crying jag in my car had left me emotionally numb.
I held a flute of Moscato, my second pour. Darren gave an appraising look but didn’t comment on my haggard appearance or the glass.
“I don’t feel like going out after all. I thought maybe we could order in. I’ve started on the wine.” I walked into the living room and slumped onto the sofa.
“I see that.” Darren shut the door. “Geez, it’s hot in here.” He shrugged off his jacket and walked over to the thermostat. He tapped the plastic cover. “It’s set to seventy-one but feels like a hundred and ten.”
“It’s broken. Or possessed. There’s Moscato on the counter if you want it.”
His grimace was my answer. He made no mention of my unsophisticated wine palate or that my apartment looked like that of a starving college student with mismatched thrift shop furniture. I was too buzzed to be embarrassed that I was a thirty-something woman living out a Macklemore song.
The sole exception was the sofa, a treasure among trash that cost her former boss a whopping four thousand dollars. An impractical silver velvet with tufted cushions, dramatic claw feet, and antique brass nail head trim, Viv said it was the best thing that came from their ill-fated tryst.
Darren sat next to me, our legs close enough to touch but not quite. “Are you okay?”
“Not really.”
He watched me, as if waiting for me to say more. “Don’t you want to talk about it?”
“Not really.” I sipped the sweet wine and stared at the wall behind his head. Its blankness was an appropriate metaphor for my emotional condition.
“This isn’t only about seeing a dead body today, is it?”
“Nope.” I took a larger swig.
“How well did you know him? Marcus, I mean.”
“We used to date.”
I was too depleted to play coy, too spent to be irritated at his thinly veiled fishing expedition.
“Was it serious?” He continued casting and reeling, oblivious to the fact he didn’t have to try that hard to get the information. I was like trout in a catch-and-release pond.
I shrugged. “It was serious-ish. I was nineteen. He was eighteen.” I took a sip. “Marcus was a nice guy, but he had a lot of issues. Unmet childhood needs, fear of abandonment, an inability to deal with emotions–his or anyone else’s– it was more than the relationship could bear.”
“So, you haven’t seen him…lately?” Darren shifted, his jaw clenching. “Was something still going on between you two? Romantically?”
“No. He’s married. Shoot. Was married. I guess you could call us friends, sort of. You know.” I waved my glass, wine sloshing. “The way you’re friends with people you used to know back in the day but now only interact with on social media. You see their posts, maybe click a like on occasion.”
“When was the last time you heard from him?” Clench.
“He sent me a message a few days ago but I didn’t read it until this morning. He was worked up about something. Said he needed my help.” I stretched my feet before curling them underneath my legs.
Darren stiffened. “What do you mean? Help with what?” Both his gaze and his tone darkened.
“He said he was in trouble. I got the impression he wanted to say more about it, but…”
“But what?”
“I don’t know, Darren. Maybe he was being paranoid. Maybe he was in trouble. Like, trouble-trouble.”
The smirk he wore wasn’t attractive, and I added it to my growing list of strikes against him. “Trouble-trouble? What does that mean?”
“Like with bad guys.”
“Darren choked out a harsh laugh and I chalked another strike.
“It could be what he meant.” I jutted my chin.
“Audrey, come on. The guy was messaging his beautiful ex-girlfriend. His biggest trouble was a jealous wife.” He crossed his arms.
“What do you know about his wife?”
He paused. “I don’t know specifics, Audrey, I just know women.”
“Hmph.” I yawned, annoyance giving way to wine-induced fatigue. “You know, I saw this man leaving the marina in a rage. It could be unrelated to Marcus, but the dude looked mad enough to kill someone.”
“He was leaving the scene?”
“You sound like Holden.”
His nostrils flared, and his jaw clenched. “Tell me about the man.”
“He stole my parking spot and then had the nerve to glare at me as if I were in the wrong. The next time I saw him was about thirty minutes or so later, and he was on a rampage. It’s probably just a coincidence. The police want me to give a description of him anyway. If it’s nothing, fine. If it’s something, maybe it can help solve what happened to Marcus.”
Darren stayed quiet for a moment before shifting both his position and his temperament. “How’s you research going for your article. Find anything interesting?”
He reached his hand to massage my neck. It was a presumptive move that I hadn’t invited but his kneading fingers elicited a groan of pleasure, and my eyelids grew heavy.
“Gah. That feels good. I’ve had a headache all afternoon, and I don’t think this sweet wine is helping.”
“Audrey.” His fingers tightened as he squeezed the back of my neck. “Did you find anything interesting in your research?”
“Um, I might have a lead.”
He dropped his hand. “What kind of lead?”
“Well…” I yawned again. “I need to talk to Peg at the Chamber of Commerce. People have been strangely resistant and defensive about my questions regarding Chattertowne’s buried history.”
“Buried history?”
“I can’t shake the feeling this town is hiding something.” I let my lids drift shut. “Either I’m pushing up against bureaucrats who enjoy being difficult for no reason other than the inconvenience of everyone else or it’s a stonewalling technique designed to protect information they don’t want to get out.”

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About the Author

Kate B Jackson (KB Jackson) is an author of mystery novels for grownups and mystery/adventure novels for kids. She lives in the Pacific NW with her husband and has four mostly-grown children. Her debut middle grade release is “The Sasquatch of Hawthorne Elementary” (Reycraft Books) about a twelve-year-old boy hired by the most popular girl at his new school to investigate what she saw in the nearby woods. Book one in the Chattertowne Mysteries series, “Secrets Don’t Sink,” (Level Best Books July 2023) introduces Audrey O’Connell, a small town feature reporter who, when her former boyfriend’s body is found floating in the local marina, uncovers the depths to which some will go to keep secrets submerged. Her debut novel in the Cruising Sisters mystery series, Until Depths Do Us Part (Tule Publishing) will be released Spring 2024.

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Deadly Depths

Deadly Depths by John F Dobbyn Banner


Listen to a narrated excerpt of Deadly Depths

Deadly Depths

We are taking archaeology to a completely new level this week with a little group named The Monkey’s Paws. They are traveling the globe looking for something that will involve action, adventure and murder.

Synopsis:

Deadly Depths by John F Dobbyn

The death by bizarre means of his mentor, Professor Barrington Holmes, draws Mathew Shane into the quest of five archeologists, known to each other as “The Monkey’s Paws”, for an obscure object of unprecedented historic and financial value. The suspected murders of others of the Monkey’s Paws follow their pursuit of five clues found in a packet of five ancient parchments. Shane’s commitment to disprove the police theory of suicide by Professor Holmes carries him to the steamy bayous of New Orleans, the backstreets of Montreal, the sunken wreck of a pirate vessel off Barbados, and the city of Maroon descendants of escaped slaves in Jamaica. By weaving a thread from the sacrificial rites of the Aztec kingdom before the Spanish conquest of Mexico through the African beliefs of Jamaican Maroons and finally to the ventures of Captain Henry Morgan during the Golden Era of Piracy in his conquest and sacking of Spanish cities on the Spanish Main, Shane reaches a conclusion he could never have anticipated.

Praise for Deadly Depths:

Deadly Depths gives readers characters they care about and gets hearts pumping as the mystery and adventure unfold!”
~ Janet Hutchings, Editor, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine

Deadly Depths is an exciting mystery novel that asks who has the right to seek and exploit lost treasures.”
~ Foreword Reviews

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery, Crime Thriller
Published by: Oceanview Publishing
Publication Date: August 2023
Number of Pages: 320
ISBN: 9781608095483 (ISBN10: 1608095487)
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | BookShop.org | Goodreads | Oceanview Publishing

Read an excerpt:

We arrived at an area of private docks in a town called Oistins. The driver stopped at the base of a wharf that anchored power boats of every size, speed, and description. One power yacht stood out as the choice of the fleet. The Sun Catcher. My guide hustled us both directly to the carpeted gangplank that led on board a vessel that could pass for a floating Ritz Carlton.

The engines were already revving. I was escorted to a padded deck-lounge with maximum view on the foredeck. I had scarcely settled in, when we were slicing through late-afternoon sea-swells that barely caused a rise and fall.

My guide, still in suit and tie, brought me, without either of us asking, a tall, cool, planter’s punch with an ample kick of Mount Gay Rum. For the first moment since Mick O’Flynn told me that someone was asking for me, I made a fully-considered decision. This entire fantasy could easily turn into a disaster that could outstrip New Orleans and Montreal together, but to hell with it. It was just too elating not to accept it at face value – at least for the moment.

My mind was just settling into a comfortable neutral, when I heard footsteps from behind that had more heft than I imagined my guide could produce. I made a move to swing out of the padded deck-chair, when I felt the touch of a hand with authoritative strength on my shoulder. The voice that went with it had the same commanding undertone.

“Stay where you are, Michael. I’ll join you.”

A matching deck-chair was set beside me. I found myself looking up at a shadow against the setting sun that appeared double my bulk and yet compact as an Olympic hammer-thrower. The voice came again. “You’re an interesting study, Michael. I may call you ‘Michael’, right? I should. I probably know more about you than anyone you know. You might have guessed that by now.”

An open hand reached down out of the shadow. I took it. The handshake fit the shaker. It took some seconds for the feeling to come back into mine.

Before I could answer, the voice was coming from the deck-lounge beside me. “No need for coy name games. You know that I’m Wayne Barnes. And you know that I’m one of the, shall we say, associates in that little clique we call the Monkey’s Paws. In fact, your escort here, Emile, tells me it was the mention of my name that swung your decision to get on that plane.”

He nodded to my nearly empty Planter’s Punch. “Another?”

Before I could answer, he gave a slight nod to someone behind us. Before I could say “Yes”, or possibly, but less likely, “No”, a native Bajan in a server’s uniform was at my left taking my empty and handing me a full glass.
I was three good sips into the second glass before I said my first word since coming aboard. I looked over at Wayne. I seemed to have his full focus. His engaging smile seemed to carry a full message of relaxed hospitality, and none of the threatening undercurrents I was scanning for. “You have an interesting way of delivering an invitation, Mr. Barnes”

He raised a hand. “Wayne.”

“’Wayne’ it is. You must have an interesting social life.”

“I do. Do you find it offensive?”

I looked over the bow, past the deepening blue crystal water to the reddening horizon. I felt the soothing caress of the slightly salted ocean breeze. I took one more sip of the most perfectly balanced planters punch of a lifetime, and looked back at Wayne. “Not in the slightest. Yet.”

“Ah yes, ‘yet’.”

“Right. I’m sure this won’t impress you, Wayne, and it’s not a complaint, but I’ve had a week full of enough tragedy to fill a lifetime. Hence the ‘yet’.”

His smile and focused attention remained. “I know more about your week, perhaps, than even you do. But go on.”

The second planter’s punch was having a definitely mollifying effect. “I have no idea what you mean by that last statement, Wayne, so I’ll just pass on. Given that week, and the abrupt transport from hell on earth to . . . paradise on earth, I’d have to be Mrs. Shane’s backward child not to listen for a second shoe to drop.”

The smile expanded. Still no alarms. “Or perhaps you’ve come into a sea-change of good luck, Michael. Why not go with that?”

“Why not indeed? For the moment. Just one question. ”

“Alright. One question. For now. Make it a good one.”

“Oh it is. It’s a beaut. Ecstatic as I am with all this, why the hell am I here?”

That brought a bursting laugh. “I think I’m going to enjoy having you around for a couple of days, Michael. You have an instinct for the jugular. No chipping around the edges. We won’t waste each other’s time.”

“Thank you. But that’s not an answer.”

“No it isn’t.” He looked out to the diminishing sunset. “The only answer I can give you at the moment that would do justice to the question is this. And you’ll just have to live with it for now. You’re here for a quick but depthful education. I think you’ll find it well worth two days of your life. Are you in?”

“Do I have a choice?”

We both looked back at the rapidly diminishing shore-line behind us. “None that comes to mind. Now are you in?”

That brought a smile from me, another healthy sip of the planter’s punch, and a deep breath of the ocean-fresh breeze. “I’m in.”

We chatted through the sunset on far-ranging subjects that had no association whatever with Monkeys Paws, Maroons, murder-suicides – in fact nothing that gave a clue as to why my gracious host had chosen my company over the undoubtedly vast range of his acquaintances. By then, the moon had risen.

At some point, I was aware that the engines had stopped. The splash of two anchors could be heard on either side. The sun had set. The shift from twilight to a darkness, penetrated only by a quarter moon went unnoticed.

I was slowly sipping away at my third or possibly fourth Planter’s Punch, when I became aware of a bobbing light approaching from the port side. Without interrupting the flow of conversation, I noticed that Wayne was following its approach with more than the occasional glance until it reached the side of the yacht.

Within a few minutes, my original guide, still in suit and tie, approached Wayne’s side with an inaudible whisper. I sensed that a bit of steel crept into Wayne’s otherwise conversational tone. “I’ll see him.”

I began to get up to provide privacy. Wayne held my arm in position. “Stay, Michael. Let your education begin.” My guide nodded to someone behind us and lit his path with a small flashlight.

I settled back, as a fiftyish man with narrow, cautious eyes and thinning grey hair that might have last been combed by his mother came up along Wayne’s right side. The loose wrinkles in his ageless cotton suit indicated that he might have been close to six feet, but for a constant stoop as if to pass under an unseen beam. The stoop caused his head to bob and gave him the look of one asking for royal permission to approach.

Wayne’s eyes turned to him. I noticed the stoop of the back became more noticeable. Wayne’s voice was calm and soft, but it commanded his visitor’s full attention. “Do you have it? I assume you wouldn’t be here without it, yes, Yusuf?”

The thin mouth cracked into a smile that conveyed no humor. “Of course. Of course. But perhaps our business . . .”

Wayne nodded toward me. “No fear. Mr. Shayne is here for an education. We shouldn’t deprive him of that, should we?”

The smile on the man’s lips did not match the apprehension in the tiny eyes, but he nodded. “As you say.”

“Then what are you waiting for?”

The man gave a slight glance to either side as if it were the habit of a lifetime. He reached into some deep pocket inside his suitcoat. I noticed a slight but tell-tale hesitation before he slipped out what appeared to be a hard, flat, roundish object, about seven inches across. It was wrapped in several layers of ragged cloth.

He held it until Wayne extended a hand and took it onto his lap. He laid it on the small tray on his stomach. He looked back at the man, who simply forced a smile .

“I assume it all went well?”

“Oh yes, Mr. Barnes. No problems,”

Wayne smiled back. “How I do love to hear those words.”

My eyes were glued to Wayne’s hands as he carefully peeled back one layer of cloth after another. When he turned over the last layer, the object in the shape of a disc sent out instant glints of reflections of the rising moonlight.

I could see Wayne running the tips of his fingers over the entire jagged surface of the disc. He took a flip cigarette lighter out of his pocket, opened it, and lit the flame. When he held it close to the object, I could make out the resemblance of a human face, coarsely pieced together from chips of green stone.

Wayne held it up toward me and ran the flame in front of it.

“Do you recognize it Michael?”

“I’m afraid not.”

He nodded. “Most wouldn’t. Your friend, Professor Holmes, would spot it immediately. The Mayans made death masks to protect their important rulers in their journey to the afterlife. They go back to around 700 A.D.”
“What stones are these? They look like jade.”

“Good spotting. The eyes were made of rare seashells.”

“And I assume valuable?”

He laughed again. “Right to the crux of the issue. Right, Michael.”

He turned the object over and ran his fingers over the back side of it. “One that apparently goes back as far as this, and belonged to the ruler we have in mind, the right collector will pay half a million. Isn’t that right, Yusuf?”

Yusuf’s grin was beginning to become genuine. “Oh yes. Oh yes. And more, as you would know, Mr. Barnes.”

Wayne swung his legs over the deck-lounge toward me. He sat up and very carefully replaced the wrapping that had covered the mask. He stood up and walked toward the man. “And the key to its value is that it is absolutely authentic.”

Wayne looked down at the grinning eyes of Yusuf for several seconds. I think I let out a yell that came from the pit of my stomach when Wayne hurled the wrapped object over side of the yacht, into the pitch blackness that absorbed it with barely a splash.

I thought that the man would crumble to the deck. He barely held his balance. In the blackness of the night, I couldn’t make out his features, but I know to a certainty that every drop of blood left his face.

Wayne called a uniformed attendant.

Before the man moved, Wayne took hold of his arm. I was almost as frozen to the spot as the man. I think we were both certain that he would be following the object into the blackness below.

Wayne held him close enough to speak directly into his ear, but spoke loudly enough, I’m sure, so that I could hear.

“It’s a fake, Yusuf. I’m sure you know that. But you’ll live to do me a service. You’re a delivery boy. Nothing more. I want you to take a message back to Istanbul. I want you to say just this. ‘You had my trust. I give it sparingly, and not twice. Rest assured, we’ll speak of this again.’ Do you have that Yusuf?”

The man had all he could do to nod.

Wayne signaled his attendant. “Take him back.”

The man was escorted, practically carried toward the back of the vessel. In a few minutes, I could see running lights heading away from the yacht.

Wayne sat back down. “What do you think, Michael? One more Planter’s Punch before dinner?”

I could only smile at the abrupt change of tone and subject.

“No? Then shall we go in to dinner. The chef should be prepared by now.”

When he stood up, I saw that he took something from under his deck-lounge. My mouth sprung open when a glint of light from an opening door of the yacht cabin lit up the death mask. I could see amusement in the smile of my host.

“What on earth did you throw overboard?”

“Oh that. I substituted my lap tray in the wrapping for the desk mask. I’ll keep the mask.”

“But if it’s a fake.”

“It is, but a fake by a well-respected forger of these antiquities. It has enough value for that reason alone to pay the expenses I’ve already incurred in acquiring it. Shall we go to dinner?”

***

Excerpt from Deadly Depths by John F Dobbyn. Copyright 2023 by John F Dobbyn. Reproduced with permission from John F Dobbyn. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

John F Dobbyn

Following graduation from Boston Latin School and Harvard College with a major in Latin and Linguistics, three years on active duty as fighter intercept director in the United States Air Force, graduation from Boston College Law School, three years of practice in civil and criminal trial work, and graduation from Harvard Law School with a Master of Laws degree, I began a career as a Professor of Law at Villanova Law School. Twenty-five years ago I began writing mystery/thriller fiction. I have so far had twenty-five short stories published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery magazine, and six mystery thriller novels, the Michael Knight/Lex Devlin series, published by Oceanview Publishing. The second novel, Frame Up, was selected as Foreword Review’s Book of the Year.

Catch Up With John F Dobbyn:
JohnDobbyn.com
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Instagram – #JohnFDobbyn
Twitter – @JohnDobbyn
Facebook – @JohnFDobbynAuthor

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Cold Pursuit


Listen to a narrated excerpt of Cold Pursuit

What do you do in a moment of panic? Do you have a clear idea of what to do or do you freeze? That’s what River Ryland is experiencing when she confronts a cold-blooded serial killer.

Cold Pursuit

by Nancy Mehl

July 17 – August 4, 2023 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

Cold Pursuit by Nancy Mehl

Ex-FBI profiler River Ryland still suffers from PTSD after a case went horribly wrong. Needing a fresh start, she moves to St. Louis to be near her ailing mother and opens a private investigation firm with her friend and former FBI partner, Tony St. Clair. They’re soon approached by a grieving mother who wants them to find out what happened to her teenaged son, who disappeared four years ago. River knows there’s almost no hope the boy is still alive, but his mother needs closure, and River and Tony need a case, no matter how cold it might be.

But as they follow the boy’s trail, which gets more complicated at every turn, they find themselves in the path of a murderer determined to punish anyone who gets in his way. As River and Tony race to stop him before he kills again, an even more dangerous threat emerges, stirring up the past that haunts River and plotting an end to her future.

Praise for Cold Pursuit:

“Guaranteed to captivate with plot twists you won’t see coming.”
~ Tosca Lee, New York Times bestselling author

“This story is sure to leave you breathless from the thrill of the ride. Hold on tight, it’s about to get exhilarating!”
~ Lynette Eason, bestselling and award-winning author of the Extreme Measures series

“Cold Pursuit sucked me in from the first riveting page and pulled me deeper into an intricate, danger-filled plot.”
~ Elizabeth Goddard, bestselling author of Cold Light of Day

Book Details:

Genre: Suspense
Published by: Bethany House Publishers
Publication Date: July 2023
Number of Pages: 336
ISBN: 9780764240454 (ISBN10: 0764240455)
Series: Ryland & St. Clair (#1)
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | BookShop.org | ChristianBook.com | Goodreads | Baker Book House

Read an excerpt:

Synesthesia is a neurological phenomenon in which the stimulation of one sense triggers an instantaneous and involuntary experience in another. In other words, it causes two or more senses to cross. People with Synesthesia may be able to “hear” color, or “taste” sound. There are many kinds of Synesthesia, and people who have it sometimes have more than one type.
—The Synesthesia Network

Prologue

River Ryland was convinced that madness exists only a breath away from genius. The man who stood in front of her and Tony had proven this to be true. He’d kept his identity hidden from the FBI’s best. Now River and Tony’s lives were about to end, and there was no one to save them.

Moonlight caused the river to sparkle as if it were layered with precious jewels. But the image didn’t provoke a sense of beauty. It spawned a feeling of terror so deep and evil that her body betrayed her. She couldn’t move. Why were they even here? She and Tony were behavioral analysts for the FBI, not field agents. They wrote profiles for the agents who were trained to confront insanity. A call from another agent had brought them here. “Come and see,” she’d said. “It’s important. I think we got it wrong.”

This was someone they trusted. Someone whose opinion mattered. Jacki was so smart. So naturally intuitive. And so surely dead. Why hadn’t River been alerted by the quiver in her voice? Why hadn’t the profiler profiled her friend and realized she was in trouble? She’d failed Jacki, Tony, . . . and herself. And now, without a miracle, she and Tony were going to die on the bank of this killer river—with moonlight standing guard over their execution.

“Come closer,” the man said to River, his face resembling a Greek theater mask. Was it Comedy or Tragedy? She wasn’t sure. She couldn’t think. Even though she willed her feet to move, she stayed where she was. It was as if her shoes had been glued to the ground. But that wasn’t possible, was it?

The man swung his gun toward Tony. “I said move. If you don’t, I’ll shoot your friend.”

River forced her feet from the spot where she stood. It took every ounce of strength and willpower she possessed. She locked her eyes with Tony’s. Slowly, she made her way toward the man in the moonlight, his gun glinting in the soft light as he pointed it at her. A line from Shakespeare’s Othello echoed in her mind. It is the very error of the moon; She comes more nearer earth than she is wont and makes men mad.

She turned her face toward the man who planned to take her life. She knew she shouldn’t panic. She knew how to fight. How to defend herself. She hated feeling so helpless. So afraid. This was the moment she desperately needed to summon the trained agent inside of her. The one who knew how to confront evil. Yet she was aware of how powerful this man was. How deadly. He’d killed eleven women that they knew of, not counting Jacki, but he’d teased authorities with letters claiming up to eighty. Although it sounded impossible, it wasn’t. Transient women went missing every day. Hookers. Teenagers living on the streets. The number could be right. The one truth that was indisputable? No one had ever survived him. No one.

When she was close enough to smell his sour breath, in one quick move, he swung the gun back toward Tony and fired four times. Tony fell to the ground.

River started to scream his name, but before she could make a sound, the killer’s hands were around her neck, squeezing. Choking the life out of her. Suddenly, something clicked on in her brain, like her alarm clock in the morning. She had to help Tony—if it wasn’t already too late. She struggled, hitting at this horror of a human being. This man full of death and destruction. Then she rolled her eyes back in her head and stopped breathing, holding her breath for dear life. And that’s exactly what it was. Life. Hers and Tony’s. She went limp, hoping the monster would think she was dead.

He finally dropped her on the ground and walked toward his car. She needed to gulp in air but was afraid he’d hear. Breathing in a little at a time hurt her chest, yet she had no choice. She began to crawl quietly toward the gun he’d taken from Tony. It lay only a few feet away. She had no idea where hers was, but that didn’t matter.

She heard him close the trunk. She scrambled as quickly as she could until her fingers closed around the barrel of the gun, but before she could pick it up, he was behind her. He hit her on the head, and she felt herself losing consciousness. She could only stare up at the moon and hate it for watching this happen.

The next sensation she experienced was throbbing pain in her head and neck. Her first reaction wasn’t relief, it was surprise. The pain was awful, but didn’t that mean she was alive? A flash of euphoria gave way to terror when she realized she couldn’t move. Where was she? Why was she wet? She couldn’t see anything, and her hands were bound in front of her. Her fingers reached out and touched something hard. What was it? When she realized she was trapped inside some kind of container—and that water was leaking in—she screamed out in horror. She was in a large chest. All of the Strangler’s victims had been found in the Salt River, and most of them were inside old trunks. But they’d been dead when they went into the water, and she was still alive. He’d done it on purpose because she’d come too close. He needed more than her death. He wanted her to experience the terror he knew his madness could create.

River struggled with all her might, but she couldn’t get free. She pulled her hands up to her mouth and tried to use her teeth to rip through the duct tape wrapped around her wrists. She realized immediately that there was too much of it. She couldn’t make enough progress to help herself before she was completely submerged. The river was seeping in, slowly but surely. She was on her side, and half of her head was already under water. She cried out in terror as she tried to push herself onto her back so she could clear her nose and mouth, but there wasn’t enough room. As hope faded, she did something she never thought she’d do again. Something she hadn’t done in many years. She prayed.

“God, please. If you’re real, if you care anything about me, save me. Get me out of here. I’m sorry I’ve been so angry at you. If you give me another chance . . .” She couldn’t get the rest of the words out because water filled her mouth and she began to choke. She’d swallowed some of it, and she couldn’t catch her breath. She was suffocating. Drowning. Just when she’d decided to give in to the inevitable and let death overtake her, something flashed in her mind. Right before the Strangler hit her . . . there was something. A movement on the hill behind them. Was someone watching? Had they gone for help? Was there a chance? As much as she wanted to believe it, another part of her thought it would be best to just relax and float away. Hope only brought disappointment, and she’d experienced too much of it. Still, she couldn’t help but grab onto a slim chance that . . .

That’s when she felt it. Movement. Something jostled the trunk. Was she being lifted out of the river? As the water level began to decrease inside the trunk, River began to cry. She was going to live. “Thank you, God,” she croaked. “Thank you.”

He was convinced he’d been born to be exceptional. He was certainly smarter than these weak, feckless creatures who revolved around his genius. Was he a god? Or was he a demon? Who was smarter, God or Lucifer? It seemed Lucifer had certainly ruined the plan of the Almighty. If God was really the Creator of all things, how was it that one of His creations was able to rebel and cause such havoc on Earth? Seemed to him that the devil was the winner of that particular contest.

So, on whose side was he working? Being honest about it, he didn’t really care. He only knew that the desire to rid the world of those who were unworthy of life burned in him like a fire. One that he had no power or will to quench. It was his destiny. His reason for living. His fate had been decided for him many years ago, and he’d accepted it gladly. Lucifer or Jehovah. It didn’t matter.

Some would call what he’d done sin. But what was sin anyway? Perhaps it was the road less traveled because of fear of retribution. He didn’t fear judgment. His god didn’t threaten him. Instead, he only fueled the glorious desire that clawed and scratched inside him, demanding release.

He especially enjoyed pitting himself against those who called themselves righteous because they had the ability to forgive. Forgiveness was for the feeble-minded. He would never forgive. He hated anyone who considered themselves moral or spiritually justified and had promised the voice that whispered in the darkness that he would never fail to respond to its unending song of reckoning against them.

He laughed suddenly, the sound echoing around him. These idiotic cattle thought they’d defeated him, but he had a surprise for them. All he had to do was wait. They would rue the day they’d tried to cage him.

The killing hadn’t stopped. It had only just begun.

Chapter One

Brian woke up shivering again, calling out for his mother and father. As he looked around the small room he rented in the rundown boarding house, reality sunk in. He had no idea where his parents were, and even if he could find them, they didn’t want him. They’d stuck him in that residential facility until he was eighteen, like some kind of unwanted dog left in the pound. They’d paid the hospital boatloads of money for all those years, yet when he’d been released there was no family waiting to take him home. So why was he still having the same nightmare? Would it ever leave him alone?

Before they’d kicked him out, the social worker at the hospital had found him a job, but if he wanted to keep it, he had to visit a therapist every week. He hated going, but he couldn’t walk away from his job. Although he didn’t make much, at least he could pay for this room. Fredric, a kind man who’d worked in the hospital cafeteria, had helped him find this rooming house and had even paid his rent for two months. Brian was grateful for Fredric’s help, but this place was really awful. Paint peeling off the walls. A shared bathroom for all three rooms on this floor, which was usually dirty. The guy who lived across the hall drank and didn’t flush the toilet. And at night the cockroaches came out. Brian didn’t blame Fredric. He’d done everything he could with his limited funds. Brian blamed his parents. They were rich. They could have helped him. Kept him safe. Brian hated them with every fiber of his being.

When he was very young, they were attentive—even loving. But as he grew older, and they realized he was different, everything changed. Although he’d never met his father’s father, he’d heard the whispers—that Brian was crazy, just like his grandfather had been. When he first began to tell his parents what he was experiencing, they seemed concerned. Then when doctors informed them he was hallucinating and that he needed professional help, the way they looked at him changed. The word schizophrenia became his enemy—and his identity.

At first, his father appeared to care for his broken son, but as his mother applied pressure, he began to distance himself—just as she had. It was clear he wasn’t the child they’d wanted. And then his brother was born. And his sister. They were perfect. As he grew older and his problems began to increase, it was obvious that his mother only saw him as an embarrassment. Something that interfered with their perfect lives. Thankfully, in their eyes, God had shown them mercy and given them the children they deserved, so sending him away solved their dilemma. He had a memory of his parents fighting one night. His father wanted Brian to stay with them, but his mother had threatened to leave him and take his ideal children away. Finally, his father gave in. Brian hated him even more than his mother for caving in to her demands. For turning his back on the son that needed him so desperately. After he went to live in that terrible hospital with its white walls, disinfectant smells, locked doors, and abusive staff, his parents began to visit him less and less. The more he begged them to take him home, the more uncomfortable they became, and by the time he was thirteen, they stopped coming altogether. As he remembered the anger he’d felt, bad words swirled around in the air, each letter a different color. As they turned red, he mouthed the words he saw, and rage built inside him. He would need to release it soon.

Suddenly his alarm clock went off, causing the air around him to pulsate. He hit the alarm and pushed himself up from the bed. It was an especially cold November. The blanket he’d purchased from Goodwill wasn’t enough to keep him warm, especially in this drafty room, but it was all he could afford if he wanted to pay his rent and eat. As his teeth chattered, the word cold floated in front of his eyes. He couldn’t hold back a sneeze that made his mouth feel funny. He swiped at the bad words that started flying around his head.

“Stop it!” he said loudly. Immediately, he put his hand over his mouth. What if someone complained because he was too loud? No matter what, he couldn’t lose this room. He had nowhere else to go, and he didn’t want to live on the streets. That was a nightmare he couldn’t face.

The afternoon sun shone through a gap in the curtains on his window, but it brought no warmth. He took off his sweatpants and sweatshirt and hurried over to the decrepit chest of drawers where he kept his clothes. He pulled out his work pants and some clean underwear. Then he went over to the hooks on the wall where he hung his three work shirts. There was only one clean shirt left. He’d have to go to the laundromat tomorrow. That could be a problem since he had to see his therapist in the morning. He’d have to wake up early to get everything done. He glanced at the clock on the top of his dresser. Four o’clock. He needed to leave by five-thirty to get to work on time. At least the cleaning company left him alone, since they trusted him and knew he would get the job done. As long as he had a place to live and he could keep his fifteen-year-old car running, he would keep showing up.

His supervisor usually only showed up once a week to collect Brian’s time sheet. He used to check his work, but he didn’t anymore. Most importantly, the man never gave him the look. Brian hated that look. The one he saw on his parents’ faces before they’d shipped him off. Rage burned inside him toward normal people who laughed at him and treated him as less than human. As he headed toward the bathroom, the word blood pulsated in front of his eyes, and he could almost taste its sugary aroma in his mouth.

***

Excerpt from Cold Pursuit by Nancy Mehl. Copyright 2023 by Nancy Mehl. Reproduced with permission from Baker Book House. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Nancy Mehl

Nancy Mehl (www.nancymehl.com) is the author of almost fifty books, a Parable bestseller, as well as the winner of an ACFW Book of the Year Award, a Carol Award, and the Daphne Du Maurier Award. She has also been a finalist for two Carol Awards, and the Christy Award. Nancy writes from her home in Missouri, where she lives with her husband, Norman, and their puggle, Watson. To learn more, visit nancymehl.com.

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Till She Was Done

Listen to an Excerpt of Till She Was Done

High school bullying leaves lasting scars and can imprison a person mentally long after high school ends. This week R. Barri Flowers brings us his psychological thriller, Till She was Done.

About the Book

Twenty years after a high school student’s bullying driven suicide, former students at Landen Creek High are being systematically shot to death in the town of Landen Creek, Oregon.
Homicide detectives Paige Lombard and Garrison Stanton investigate the crimes and search for the killers or a possible serial killer. The case becomes personal for Paige as she attended the high school and knew the victims, including being once romantically involved with the first victim, Ben Huxley.
One of the chief suspects in the case is Ben Huxley’s widow, Rachel Huxley. Garrison finds himself falling for the medical director of a women’s health center who could be a cold-blooded killer or accomplice in her husband’s murder.
Quinn Vogel, a real estate developer, returns to Landen Creek for Ben’s funeral, and finds himself attracted to Paige and vice versa; as Quinn harbors secrets about his high school years as a bully that may catch up to him.
Lily Aberdeen is Paige’s best friend and a bestselling author, who is leading a double life. Having been the victim of high school bullying that escalated into a sexual assault, Lily is out to settle some scores and no one will stop her till she made them all pay.
The spinetingling twists and turns leads up to the Landen Creek High twenty-year class reunion and a never saw coming conclusion in this psychological thriller.

Excerpt

She showed him an old photograph. “Does she ring any bells?”
Ben peered at the overweight teenage girl with short, curly brunette hair and braces in the picture. She did look vaguely familiar. Should she? He strained his memory banks but still drew a blank. What was her connection, if anything, to Henry Cunningham? Studying further, she began to eerily come back to Ben, even if he tried to pretend otherwise. What the hell was her name? Lucy? Lily? Lori? Whatever it was, she was another person he went to high school with. Like Henry, she was a wallflower who was ripe for bullying. He recalled one time when they literally made her eat some dirty leaves, then buried her in a wet pile of them, leaving only her face partially uncovered. The bullying of her was only of short duration, as they grew bored with it and turned their attention elsewhere. Still, Ben admitted to himself that he and his friends were pretty nasty in messing with her and had fun doing it, even if obviously having second thoughts now that the years had passed by. But there was no going back for any of them. Her included.
The photograph was yanked away. “I can see in your eyes that you remember her as well, don’t you, Ben?”
He peered at his captor, looking past her gorgeous face and nice figure, picturing her as she might have appeared at a different time, long ago. Was this even possible? The similarities were there when he pressed hard enough, yet the differences in size, shape, and attractiveness were stark. Beyond stark. Yet when he put two and two together, it added up. “Is that you?” he dared ask the woman he knew as Melinda. “Lori…or, uh—”
“Bingo, asshole! For effort, if nothing else.” Her full lips pursed triumphantly. “Good to see that you finally figured it out. You missed the boat on the name, though. It’s actually Lily.”
“Sorry about that,” Ben muttered shamefacedly, while also a bit confused. “Why go by Melinda?”
“Oh that.” She chuckled humorlessly. “Didn’t want to tip my hand prematurely. On the slightest chance you might remember me.”
He felt even more uncomfortable at being tied up and essentially at the mercy of the crazed woman. “You’ve changed,” he couldn’t help but admit, even while trying again to break free, to no avail.
“You haven’t.” She grunted madly. “You’re still the same bastard you were in high school.”
He furrowed his brow, having enough of these silly games. Was that all this was? Reminding him of what he already knew? Or did she have something else in mind? “All right, you’ve got my attention. What is it that you want?” he demanded.
“Take a wild guess.” Her eyes narrowed dangerously.
He guessed money. She probably had checked him out as a wealthy man whom, in her demented head, she could extract cash from as payment for being wronged twenty years ago. Normally, he would have scoffed at the absurd notion. But at this point, while she had him at a decided disadvantage, he would agree to just about anything. At least till he could loosen these damned ties enough to get his hands on her.
Ben took a breath. “I can make your life easier, if that’s what this is all about.”
“You wish it was that simple.” She laughed hysterically. “This isn’t about your money. I don’t want or need blood money. You ruined lives, dickhead. You and the others who helped you make my life, Henry’s, and others, no doubt, a living hell. Now it’s time for payback.”
“This is about revenge?” His eyes widened with dismay.
“This is about justice,” she countered with asperity. “Justice for Henry, me, and the others you and your bully buddies picked on cruelly.”
Ben could see that she was serious, though never imagining just how much. “Untie me,” he ordered, feeling desperate, while trying to free himself to no avail.
“All in good time,” she said snidely. “But by then, you’ll never realize I did just as you asked.”
Ben hardly had time to digest this, when she lifted from her handbag what looked like a 9-millimeter pistol. She pointed it straight at his face. That was when real fear gripped him like never before. Did she actually plan to use that? Or was she hoping to extract a confession out of him for some perverse thrill?
“We can talk about this,” he said, his voice cracking.
“I don’t think so,” she countered flatly. “No amount of talking can change what you did. The only way you can ever atone for your sins is to die like the miserable form of a human being you are!”
Before Ben could try to find some way out of this, perhaps offer her some form of restitution, she pulled the trigger, and everything went totally black.
* * * Lily Aberdeen fired the silencer-equipped gun once, twice, and a third time for good measure. The bully’s head and face, or what was left of them, were bloodied and shattered at once. There was little doubt in her mind that he was dead and would burn in hell. He deserved no less. The same could be said for the rest of his callous friends. And another person or two she deemed as culpable for allowing them to get away with what they had done. Their time would come. She would see to it.
After untying him, Lily cleaned herself off, wiped everything she had touched, and removed any other evidence, such as the shell casings, that she had ever been there—tossing it in her crossbody handbag. As far as she was concerned, justice, long overdue, had finally been meted out on Ben Huxley. She calmly left the apartment and went down the back stairs for a successful escape, while already looking ahead to the next one on her list to suffer then die.

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About the Author

R. Barri Flowers is the award-winning author of romantic suspense, mystery, thriller and fast-paced crime fiction with more than one hundred books published to date. Chemistry and conflict between the hero and heroine, attention to detail, and incorporating the very latest advances in criminal investigations and modern techno-thrillers, are the cornerstones of his crime novels.
As a literary criminologist, R. Barri Flowers has appeared on the Biography Channel, Investigation Discovery, Oxygen, Peacock, and Tubi true crime documentary series.
Barri enjoys traveling around the country and abroad to scope out intriguing settings and dynamics for future storylines, books, and miniseries. He is a graduate of Michigan State University’s renowned School of Criminal Justice and a recipient of its esteemed Wall of Fame Award.
Upcoming titles by the author include Special Agent Witness (The Lynleys of Law Enforcement Book 1) from Harlequin Intrigue (October 2023), Christmas Lights Killer (The Lynleys of Law Enforcement Book 2) from Harlequin Intrigue (November 2023), Murder in the Blue Ridge Mountains (The Lynleys of Law Enforcement Book 3), from Harlequin Intrigue (March 2024), and Cold Murder in Kolton Lake ((The Lynleys of Law Enforcement Book 4) from Harlequin Intrigue (April 2024).

Death in a Bygone Hue


Hear a narrated excerpt from Death in a Bygone Hue

Don’t you just a love a mystery that centers around a will? You have the people who get money and treasures and those who don’t. It’s the ones who get nothing that start cooking up schemes to get what they think they are entitled to from the deceased. In Susan Van Kirk’s latest Art Center Mystery, Death in a Bygone Hue her main character, Jill, is the lucky one who inherits, but is she?

About the Book

When Jill Madison returns to her hometown to become executive director of a new art center, she never dreams unexpected secrets from the past will put her life in danger. Her parent’s old friend and Jill’s mentor, Judge Ron Spivey, is murdered. He leaves behind more than a few secrets from the past. His baffling will makes Jill a rich woman if she survives the will’s six-month probate period.
She finds a target on her back when the judge’s estranged children return. They form an unholy alliance with a local muckraking journalist who specializes in making up the news. According to the judge’s will, if Jill dies, the family inherits.
Jill and her best friend, Angie Emerson, launch their own investigation determined to find the judge’s killer. In the meantime, Jill must run her first national juried exhibit, launch a new seniors group, and move the weavers guild into the art center. Easy peasy, right?

Excerpt

The rest of the day was an endless whirl of last-minute details to nail down before the installation of Harvest Time. But now Louise had left, the day was starting to get dark, and Chad was whistling as he worked upstairs. Time I should go home and fix something for dinner.
I glanced at the Apple Grove Ledger in the stack of mail on my loveseat. I could take a few minutes to look through it. As always, the police blotter was the best part. 
10 a.m. the police department received a call from a resident of Gooseberry Lane who said someone had broken into the henhouse on his property and let all the hens out. They shouldn’t be hard to track because of a trail of fluffy feathers.
11:44 a.m. A resident called saying their neighbor’s dog, who was in heat, was chased by their dog, who broke through a glass sliding door to go after the female dog of his dreams. Broken glass was everywhere. They needed a police report to file an insurance claim. They also wanted the police to fill out some form saying they weren’t responsible for any progeny that resulted from that chase.
Gee, what an exciting town I live in.
I glanced through the want ads and sports pages. The editorial page was once again filled with nasty innuendo by Jezbhel Gushman, Executive Editor. And her lies all pointed to me. Screaming one loud, angry reaction, I threw the paper on the floor in disgust. I was so angry I grabbed my phone and called [my best friend] Angie. She was the one who helped me at times like this. Was I being unreasonable? I thought not.
“That does it!” I said to her. I was sure my blood pressure was going up, up, up, and I could feel my heart pounding. “I’m going over to her office and tell her off. How can she continue to print these lies about my nonexistent part in the judge’s death?”
“It sells papers,” Angie said.
She was being too reasonable.
“Are you determined to go yell at her?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Great! I’ll meet you there. You’ll need a witness in case she sues you.”
“Keep me from slugging her, OK? I don’t need an assault charge. She doesn’t need more material.”
“Gotcha. No assault.”
I grabbed my car keys and purse and tromped out the back door and down the deck stairs. By the time I reached Gushman’s office, I was a little calmer but not much. Angie was already waiting in the parking lot.
“Who does she think she is?” I shouted. “I’ll tell her a thing or two. Then, I’ll talk to my lawyer, Ken Winters, about libel.”
“Right behind you,” said Angie. “Carry on. No assault. Well, no physical assault.”
We marched through the front door of the Apple Grove Ledger. Straight ahead of me a counter contained a stack of newspapers. No one was sitting at the desk behind the counter. In fact, I glanced around the small newsroom, and while the computer screens were still on, no one was sitting at their desks. They must be out on errands, stories, or at dinner. I had no idea what hours newspaper people kept, but this was the dinner hour in Apple Grove. 
Angie broke the silence. “We have met the enemy, and she is missing.”
“Somebody has to be here. Let’s find her office.” Walking around the counter, I found a hallway with office doors. Two doors down, the window said, “Jezbhel Gushman, Executive Editor” in gold letters.
“This is it,” said Angie. “What’s the plan?”
“A straight-ahead attack.” I paused, thinking. “Maybe we should knock on the door.”
Angie nodded. “Sounds like the civil thing to do.”
Pounding on the door, I noticed lights on through the frosted glass. Feeling my adrenaline pumping, I shouted, “I know you’re in there, Gushman, you crummy excuse for a journalist!” The door was open a fraction of an inch, and I pushed my way in, Angie following behind me.
Shock was my first reaction. Papers all over the floor, books fallen off the desk, a lamp turned over and the bulb broken, two chairs on their sides, and general chaos. 
“What the heck?”
“Terrible housekeeping,” remarked Angie.
We gingerly walked around the papers and books and pulled up short at the side of the desk. Jezbhel Gushman was lying on her side on the floor, an ornamental dagger in her back and blood everywhere. So much blood. I felt light-headed. She wasn’t dead, but her eyes were starting to get glassy.
I knelt beside her. “Hang on, Jezbhel. I’m dialing nine-one-one. Stay with me.” I punched in the numbers on my phone and put my hand on her shoulder.
Angie whispered as she knelt beside me. “I never realized how good you were at finding bodies. Is she going to be alright?”
“She’s still alive. Stay with me, Jezbhel,” I repeated as I heard the dispatcher come on the line.
In my shock, the first thing I thought of was Ivan the Terrible, president of my art center board, counting all the dead bodies I’d found in the last few months. I could see his text in my head:
  AGAIN? ANOTHER BODY? How do you do this? You need to hire yourself out like one of those dogs who sniff out slugs, only you  find bodies. God in heaven, what is going on in your life?
IVAN TRUELOVE III, CPA
I rolled my eyes at “slugs.” Autocorrect strikes again.

Find Death in a Bygone Hue at Amazon

About the Author

Susan Van Kirk is the president of the Guppy Chapter, the online chapter of Sisters in Crime, and a writer of cozy mysteries. She lives at the center of the universe—the Midwest—and writes during the ridiculously cold and icy winters. Why leave the house and break something? Van Kirk taught forty-four years in high school and college and raised three children. Now that the children are launched, she writes.
Her Endurance mysteries include Three May Keep a Secret, Marry in Haste, The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney, Death Takes No Bribes, and The Witch’s Child. She also wrote A Death at Tippitt Pond. Her latest Art Center Mysteries include Death in a Pale Hue and Death in a Bygone Hue from Level Best Books. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.

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SusanVanKirk.com 

Kidnapped in the Woods

Listen to a narrated excerpt of Kidnapped in the Woods

This week let’s mix a little romance in with our suspense! From Harlequin’s Love Inspired Suspense series we have Kidnapped in the Woods, author Deena Alexander mixes a journalist and hunky firefighter. 

About Kidnapped in the Woods

Kidnapped in the Woods (Love Inspired Suspense)

Romantic Suspense

Setting – Eastern Long Island, New York

‎Love Inspired Suspense (June 27, 2023)

Mass Market Paperback ‏ : ‎ 224 page

To solve a kidnapping case they’ll become the hunted.

Firefighter Pat Ryan is stunned when he hears gunfire and two strangers crash through his door. An anonymous tip led journalist Rachel Davenport to a ramshackle cabin, where she helped an abducted teen escape. With Pat and his K-9 rescue dog’s help, they go on the run with deadly kidnappers in pursuit. But with innocent lives at stake, Rachel and Pat must battle foes and fears to live through the night.

Read an Excerpt from Kidnapped in the Wood

Rachel’s heart ached to slow down, comfort the girl, assure her everything would be okay. But it wouldn’t be. Not unless she could get her out of there without drawing any attention. Her mind begged her to shove all compassion aside and move faster. She risked a quick peek out the front window. Bathed in the light cast from the boat stood six men. Four more had joined the two she’d already seen, presumably from the boat. Rachel started to turn away, but a familiar form caught her attention.

Ben Harrison. She’d recognize his stride anywhere, though the confident swagger she’d once found endearing, comforting even, now seemed more like an arrogant strut. For just a moment, her heart soared. Even if they hadn’t spoken in years, surely Detective Harrison would help her and Jane out of this mess. Although, if he was undercover, she could be putting him in danger too. Unless…

She and her cousin Ben had been so close once upon a time. Growing up, he’d been her best friend, her confidant, the one person she trusted with all her heart. And then he betrayed her at the time she needed him the most. He’d taken up with a bad crowd and blown her off when she’d begged him for help finding her sister, Rebecca, when she went missing. Then, when Rachel had nowhere else to go for help when the police botched the investigation into Rebecca’s disappearance, he’d turned her away. Her parents assumed Rebecca had run away and gave up on her, retreated into themselves until it was too late to save her. And in abandoning Rebecca, they’d all abandoned Rachel as well, leaving her with no one to depend on but herself.

When she heard he’d joined the police academy and then made detective, she’d hoped he’d left the bad crowd behind him, turned over a new leaf. She even held out hope he might reach out to her one day, apologize. Not that it could change what had happened with Rebecca. A niggle of fear crept in, raised goose bumps, and she slid deeper into the shadows.

As Ben strode straight toward the shack barking orders, the others fanned out behind him. But if Ben was undercover, why would he appear to be the one in charge? She’d stopped talking to him years ago because she didn’t trust him. No sense changing that opinion now.

“Come on, Jane. We have to go.” She grabbed Jane beneath the arm and hauled her up to stand. “Now.”

Jane staggered but stayed on her feet as Rachel propelled her toward the door through the narrow gap she’d managed to open and out onto the deck. Hopefully, the cold air would help Jane regain her senses enough to run.

All they had to do was make it across the clearing and they could disappear into the heavily wooded Pine Barrens. Maybe. Flurries started to fall, fat white flakes drifting lazily to the ground. A deceptive start to the forecast storm that would soon grip Long Island in its bitter fury.

With a firm hold on Jane’s wrist, Rachel hurried across the deck and started through the stiff dead grass, ignoring the loud crunching sound each footstep made. The girl’s captors would be on them any minute. Stealth wouldn’t do them any good now. Only speed might save them.

Rachel started to run, prodding Jane to move faster, half dragging her by the arm.

A gust of wind carried the sounds of raised voices. A man shouted from inside the shack.

Jane stumbled.

They weren’t going to make it to the tree line, and there was nowhere to hide in the open clearing.

“Run straight for the woods. Go.” She shoved Jane forward. “Now.”

Dazed, Jane glanced over her shoulder toward the shack. Her eyes went wide, and tremors tore through her. Like a deer caught in headlights, she froze, vulnerable.

Six black-clad figures emerged from the shack with Ben in the lead.

The two men who’d been guarding Jane flanked him with their very large guns trained on Rachel and Jane.

Ben poked a finger against one man’s chest. “You were paid to watch her, not dump her in an unsecured shack so she could escape.”

“But we drugged her.” Keeping his weapon level, trained on Rachel, the man turned his head toward Ben. “She was out cold a minute ago.”

“Yeah, well, she’s not now, is she?” Ben pointed his weapon at the man’s chest and fired.

The man crumpled to the ground.

Rachel wheezed in a breath.

“Hey.” The other man started backing up, his gun still aimed at the women. “Hey, dude, I was just the—”

Ben’s second gunshot dropped the man midsentence. Ben gestured for one of the men to go back toward the front, then started forward with the remaining three. “We need the girl alive.”

Bile surged, burning the back of Rachel’s throat. He’d just killed two men. Two of his own men.

She turned to Jane, gripped her shoulders and stared into her unfocused eyes. She shook her once, hard. “You have to run.”

The girl nodded, her eyes seeming to clear a little, then turned and fled toward the woods.

Rachel yanked her weapon from the harness as she ran after Jane.

More shouts reached her. The men were almost on them. She was going to have to turn and fight.

A shot rang out.

Jane went down hard on her stomach, barely getting her hands under her in time to catch herself.

No, no, no! “Are you hurt?”

Jane didn’t answer.

Crouching beside her, Rachel searched desperately for an escape route.

Another shot hit a tree not far from them. Either the gunman was a lousy shot, or the two shots fired so far had been meant as a warning, which was probably the case. If Shannon was correct, and she had been so far, and Jane was set to be sold, the girl was worth too much money for them to shoot to kill. And Ben had said to take the girl alive. He hadn’t said the same about her companion. In the darkness, made even more so by the thick cloud cover and the flurries, they most likely couldn’t tell the two apart. Once they got closer and that changed, Rachel would be expendable.

Another shot sent Jane scrambling to her feet and bolting toward the woods. It seemed the bullets whizzing by her had finally cleared some of the stupor.

Rachel followed, keeping her head down.

Shouts followed them, along with the sound of a car engine turning over. Ben must have sent the guy to get the SUV out front. It would only take a few seconds for them to make it around the small shack to the clearing and join the others chasing them on foot. She had to try to stop them. Or at least slow them down.

Jane dove behind a tree.

“Keep going. I’ll be right behind you.”

The plea for God’s help popped unbidden into her head. She caught herself, remembering the last time she prayed, begged God to return her sister safely, He hadn’t answered. It had been more than fifteen years since Rachel had prayed, and if only for her own sake, she wouldn’t pray now. How could she ask God to help her after she hadn’t trusted Him in so long, after she’d turned away from Him at the moment she’d probably needed faith the most? Please, help me save this child. I failed Rebecca. Please, don’t let me fail Jane.

From Love Inspired Suspense: Courage. Danger. Faith.

About Deena Alexander

Publishers Weekly bestselling author, ​Deena Alexander grew up in a small town on the south shore of eastern Long Island, where she met and married her high school sweetheart. She recently relocated to Florida with her husband, three kids,  a son-in-law, and four dogs. Now she enjoys long walks in nature all year long, despite the occasional alligator or snake she sometimes encounters. Deena’s love for writing developed when her youngest son was born and didn’t sleep through the night, and she now works full-time as a writer and a freelance editor.

Author Links

Webpage: http://deenaalexander.com/index.html

Blog: http://deenaalexander.com/blog.html

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DeenaAlexanderAuthor

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No Time to Breathe


Listen to a narrated excerpt of No Time to Breathe.

This week we’re heading out to do a little kickboxing. That’s right, kickboxing. Lori Duffy Foster brings us No Time to Breathe featuring Lisa Jamison, journalist. Okay, so maybe you don’t kickbox, but it might be fun, that is, if you don’t discover any bodies.

About the Book

Journalist Lisa Jamison wants to blow off some steam after an argument with her boyfriend, so she heads to her friend Ricky’s kickboxing studio for an early morning workout. She expects to find Ricky alone, setting up for his first class of the day, but someone was there before Lisa, uninvited. Ricky is dead, shot only moments before she arrived, and now Lisa is a suspect in his murder. Lisa wants two things: to clear her name and seek justice for Ricky. But the deeper she digs, the more the danger mounts. Can she find Ricky’s killer before the killer eliminates the last obstacle, silencing Lisa for good?

Excerpt

Chapter 1
Ricky’s Jeep was in the lot this morning, parked as far away as possible from the new coffee shop two doors down that attracted a steady stream of vehicles driven by hurried customers who didn’t always stop when they nicked paint or dented fenders. Lisa dodged a sedan as she crossed the pavement, thankful she knew enough to be on the lookout. The car swerved more than necessary, and driver’s eyes were wide when she looked at Lisa, like someone who had been texting and only now realized the consequences. But Lisa wasn’t ready for the delivery truck driver who crossed the lot diagonally, moving too fast, to find her in his path. He slammed on the brakes when he saw her and reached his arm out the window, raising a middle finger in her direction. Lisa was too surprised to even glare in return. The peace she’d found during her run had dissipated, and she was anxious to retrieve it. She slowed to a walk and took a few deep breaths, inhaling the damp morning air and the aromas of coffee and pastries. It was helping, but a jab or two to the bag with that guy’s image in her head would be even more therapeutic.
She found the studio door unlocked when she arrived. The main room was dim, illuminated only by the morning sun that seeped through gaps in the blinds that covered the store-front windows. A shaft of artificial light came through a crack in Ricky’s office door in the back of the building. Lisa flipped on the lights, knowing his clients would start arriving in about fifteen minutes. He was probably catching up on paperwork, his only chance in what would be a busy day. Ricky’s studio was always full, attracting a good mix of cardio lovers who were happy doing the moves to music in large groups, along with the die-hard kickboxers who sparred at tournaments. Lisa fell somewhere in the middle. She preferred to train like the die-hards, but she’d never been interested in stepping into a ring. Not a real ring anyway. She sparred once a week or so as part of a self-defense class, but no one ever followed through with the hits. Instead, they earned points for speed, accuracy, and the choices they made.
“Ricky,” she called out. “It’s just me. Lisa. Don’t bother stopping whatever you’re doing. I’m in a bit of hurry today anyway.”
No one answered, so Lisa threw her jacket into a corner, adjusted her ponytail, and found a pair of wraps she knew belonged to Ricky. Since she was already warmed up, she could get right to it. Her kickboxing shoes were in her locker, but she didn’t have time for all that today, so she’d have to go easy on the kicks. She didn’t want to sprain an ankle again, kickboxing in running shoes. She hooked the string loop over her thumb on her left hand and was wrapping the cloth around her fingers and palm when she heard a faint sound that didn’t belong in the studio, like someone was gargling.
“Ricky? You in there?”
The two small locker rooms with their showers and bathrooms were close by. She listened more intently, but the sound wasn’t coming from there. It grew louder as she moved toward Ricky’s office. Lisa sprinted across the remainder of the room, leaping over the warm-up mats that awaited the morning’s clients, remembering now a conversation when Ricky described a seizure he’d had out of nowhere. He wasn’t epileptic, and he hadn’t had one since. But the doctor warned him it could happen any time, despite the meds they’d put him on. If he was seizing, he could be choking on something.
She pushed on the office door, which was ajar, but something stopped it from opening all the way. Then she smelled it. A familiar odor, metallic but with a sickly sweetness to it. For a moment, she froze. Her heart, her voice, her limbs—nothing seemed to work. She didn’t want to see what was behind that door, but then she heard the sound again—louder, more desperate—and she pushed harder. The scene entered her consciousness like a snapshot, and she studied it from a mental distance, as if she were sifting through photos from a court case. And then, without warning, a scream emerged so violently that it seemed to rip through her chest, breaking her ribs and tearing her flesh as it escaped into the room. This couldn’t be happening. This couldn’t be Ricky, splayed out on the floor, bleeding from his throat and his chest, struggling to call out as he drowned in his own blood.
Lisa leaned over his convulsing body and grabbed the phone from his desk with shaking hands. She punched in 911, not sure what she was saying and not hearing a word the dispatcher said in return. With the phone still in her hand, she squatted and reached to put pressure on his throat in hopes of slowing the bleeding. But as her palm touched the thick flow of dark blood, the gurgling stopped, and his eyes quit searching the room. They remained wide open, seeing nothing. The dispatcher was still talking, but Lisa dropped the phone and stood. Two women had just entered the studio, and she could hear their light chatter. They would call out for Ricky soon. She closed the office door and locked herself in. He shouldn’t be alone, but he shouldn’t be a spectacle either. She would stay with him until the police came. She curled up in a corner, clutching her stomach, with her eyes closed to the mess in front of her, hoping that when she opened them again, she would find it was all a bad dream.

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About the Author

Lori Duffy Foster is a former crime reporter writing from the hills of Northern Pennsylvania and the Agatha and Shamus award-nominated author of the Lisa Jamison Mystery Series. NEVER LET GO, her debut thriller, released in December from Level Best Books and NO TIME TO BREATHE, book 3 in her series, released in April. Lori is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, The Historical Novel Society, International Thriller Writers, and Pennwriters.

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Collecting Can Be Murder

Listen to a narrated excerpt of Collecting Can Be Murder.

We’re back in the world of art this week with Carmen de Luca, Art Sleuth in France along with an eccentric collector, a missing prayer book and of course, murder is a foot. Sacre bleu! 

About Collecting Can Be Murder

Screenshot 2023-05-31 095857

Collecting Can Be Murder (Carmen De Luca Art Sleuth Mysteries)

This cozy mystery is the first in the series and is set in France.

Coming out of retirement can be deadly…

After tragedy struck three years earlier, art sleuth Carmen De Luca vowed to never work in the field again. But fifty is too young to fill her days with water aerobics and bingo, so when her former partner calls and begs for her help, Carmen gladly agrees.

Yet after their first assignment – the recovery of a rare medieval prayer book from an eccentric collector living in rural France – goes horribly wrong, Carmen ends up in the crosshairs of both the local police and a murderer!

With her target dead and the stolen book missing, she and her partner will have to pull out all of the stops to sleuth out the true killer’s identity – before their stay in France becomes permanent.

Introducing Carmen De Luca, an art sleuth with a nose for mystery and the job of locating valuable artwork stolen from museums around the world. If you love strong and resourceful heroines, puzzling mysteries, and a dash of art history, pick up Collecting Can Be Murder now!

Carmen De Luca Art Sleuth Mysteries:

Book One: Collecting Can Be Murder

Book Two: A Statue To Die For

More adventures coming soon!

These mysteries contain no graphic violence, sex, or strong language.

1 Wakey Wakey

“Carmen—wake up!” A light slap greeted my return to consciousness. All around me, voices were crying out, gasping in fear or surprise; I couldn’t tell for certain which. But their anxiety was audible.

I opened my eyes and saw a fuzzy version of the Baroness, my favorite partner in crime, hovering over me.

When she raised her hand to strike my cheek again, I caught it midswing. “I’m awake.”

“Talk to me! Who are you?” Lady Sophie Rutherford—or the Baroness, as I called her—knelt down, the hem of her aquamarine ball gown spreading out around her like a silky pool of water, and grabbed hold of my shoulders, shaking me as hard as her social status allowed.

“Carmen De Luca, art sleuth,” I mumbled as I ran my fingers over my temple, wincing when I hit broken skin. “Why is there a baseball growing out of my forehead?”

“It looks like you got hit by a whole lot of books. Those covers aren’t soft at all. Or maybe the bookshelf nicked you.”

“The bookcase!” My last memory before I lost consciousness was of a mass of books racing towards me. I sat up far too quickly, jarring my bruised skull. Several hardcovers slid off of my chest, adding tiny bruises to my list of injuries. I squeezed my eyes shut and lay back down.

“I guess it did hit me. How’s Harold?”

The Baroness’s eyes widened slightly, enough to tell me something was very wrong. “He took the brunt of it.”

My brain screamed for me to remain still, but I had to see what had happened to my target. I pushed myself up onto my elbows and followed my partner’s gaze over to the ceiling-high bookcase that had been filled with hundreds of rare first editions when I had entered. It was now lying across the room, its valuable contents strewn over the floor and furniture.

The legs of the chair that had been closest to the bookcase had been crushed by the heavy planks, as if they were toothpicks. Sticking out from under the shelving were a pair of burgundy pants and alligator-skin boots—the same ensemble our party’s flamboyant host, Harold Moreau, had been wearing this evening.

Neither the legs nor boots were moving. Billy, a curator at a literature museum on the East Coast, and two of the collectors invited to the private viewing were busy clearing the many books covering Harold’s body, chucking the pricey volumes behind them in their rush to reach his face.

Several almost nicked Harold’s wife, Tammy, who was pacing the floor, seemingly unaware of the heavy books being thrown in her direction.

“I told Harold that bookshelf was top-heavy, but he wouldn’t listen. Instead, he kept buying more and more. It wasn’t a hobby anymore, it was an illness. No wonder it toppled over!”

“That’s not right. I saw a pair of arms pushing the bookcase, just before everything went black,” I muttered, too softly for the anxious wife to hear.

The Baroness leaned in close to my ear. “Are you sure? That would mean…”

“That someone intentionally pushed it onto Harold. He was sitting in that chair when it fell.” I groaned when a horrible thought struck. “He wouldn’t have been able to react and perhaps save himself, either, thanks to the chloroform I’d administered. But why would someone want to harm him?”

About Jennifer S. Alderson

Jennifer S. Alderson was born in San Francisco, grew up in Seattle, and currently lives in Amsterdam. After traveling extensively around Asia, Oceania, and Central America, she lived in Darwin, Australia, before finally settling in the Netherlands.

Jennifer’s love of travel, art, and culture inspires her award-winning Zelda Richardson Mystery series, her Travel Can Be Murder Cozy Mysteries, and her Carmen De Luca Art Sleuth Mysteries. Her background in journalism, multimedia development, and art history enriches her novels.

When not writing, she can be found perusing a museum, biking around Amsterdam, or enjoying a coffee along the canal while planning her next research trip.

For more information about the author and her upcoming novels, please visit http://www.JenniferSAlderson.com.

Author Links

Website: http://www.jennifersalderson.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jenniferSAldersonauthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JSAauthor

Instagram: https://instagram.com/JSAauthor

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/jennifer-s-alderson

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/JennifeSAlderson

Purchase Link – Amazon 

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Passport to Spy


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This week we’re going undercover to Munich. On the outside, Kat Lawson is a journalist, but really, she’s gathering information for the FBI. Let’s escape to a world of mystery, intrigue and murder!

Passport to Spy: A Kat Lawson Mystery

Historical Mystery

2nd in Series

Setting – Germany

Level Best Books (June 6, 2023)

Print length ‏ : ‎ 268 pages

After losing her job as an investigative reporter for The Phoenix Gazette, Kat Lawson has a new gig. The FBI has asked her to work undercover as a reporter for Travel International to cover Munich, Germany’s festive holiday scene—an excuse to get close to Hans von Hausmann, a very charismatic and popular museum curator suspected of hiding a cache of stolen masterpieces believed to be part of the World’s Largest Art Heist. The job comes with lots of perks: airfare, travel expenses, the opportunity to see the world…and for a seasoned reporter like Kat, nothing she can’t handle. But, when a trusted source is found dead, Kat realizes the tables have been turned. Armed with evidence that will expose a cache of artwork stolen from museums and the homes of wealthy Jews during the 2nd World War, Kat must find a way to avoid being caught by the German Polizie, who have enough evidence to charge her with murder, and those who want her dead to keep their hidden treasures forever secret. The hunter has become the hunted; now, Kat has a target on her back.

Click Here to Hear an Excerpt

About Nancy Cole Silverman

Nancy Cole Silverman spent nearly twenty-five years in news and talk radio, beginning her career in college on the talent side as one of the first female voices on the air. Later on the business side in Los Angeles, she retired as one of two female general managers in the nation’s second-largest radio market. After a successful career in the radio industry, Silverman retired to write fiction. Her short stories and crime-focused novels—the Carol Childs and Misty Dawn Mysteries, (Henry Press) are both Los Angeles-based. Her newest series THE NAVIGATOR’S DAUGHTER, (Level Best Books) takes a more international approach. Silverman lives in Los Angeles with her husband and a thoroughly pampered standard poodle.

Author Links

Website www.nancycolesilverman.comFacebook Nancy Cole Silverman | FacebookGoodreads: Nancy Cole Silverman (Author of Shadow Of Doubt) | Goodreads

Purchase Links – Amazon
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The Murderous Type


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Today we’re heading to Riddleton, South Carolina, where local book store owner and writer Jen has to solve a crime with some good old fashioned summer charm. This one will make you smile while you unravel the mystery.

About the Book

I wrote murder mysteries. I didn’t investigate them. Until now…
Crime writer turned amateur sleuth, Jen, has taken over the running of the local bookstore in her hometown of Riddleton.
But balancing the books at Ravenous Readers is nothing compared to meeting the deadline for her new novel.
Dodging phone calls from her editor takes a back seat, however, when the local police chief is poisoned. To solve the murder, Jen must dust off her detective hat once more.
With everyone in town seemingly a suspect, and evidence planted to incriminate local police officer and close friend Eric, Jen is working against the clock. Can she find the killer and beat her own writer’s block before it’s too late?

Excerpt

By the last Saturday in June, outdoor activities in Riddleton, South Carolina, were like a bad marriage. You could survive more or less unscathed if you got out early enough. Wait too long, though, and it turned to hell in a hurry. With that in mind, today’s Riddleton 10k began at six in the morning. Two cups of coffee short of complete brain function, my caffeine-deprived body was camped out on the sidewalk in front of the town hall, at the finish line.
Throngs gathered along the race route to cheer on the runners, and my ears vibrated with the echoes of a hundred conversations, which played snare drum in my head. Mostly arguments about who would win the competition. Although, a young couple behind me argued over whether to spend money they didn’t have on a new fifty-inch flat-screen on clearance at Walmart. No surprise, he was the yes, she the no.
Once a stagecoach rest stop halfway between Blackburn and Sutton, Riddleton had grown when engineers built the dam to create Lake Dester. It remained a small town, though, rife with the typical small-town mentality. Everyone knew everything about everyone else, and help during troubled times was never more than an arm’s length away. It suffocated me as a kid growing up here, and I couldn’t wait to escape to college in Blackburn. When I moved back to town last year, however, I learned how reassuring having people around who cared about me could be.
However, surrounded by densely packed humanity, I shifted my feet and struggled with what to do with my hands. No room in the pockets of my getting-tighter-everyday jeans, so I lowered them to my sides. Unfortunately, my puppy Savannah’s leash occupied one of them.
“Ouch!” A tiny drop of blood welled on my index finger. I stuck the offended digit in my mouth and glanced down. My German shepherd puppy fixed her warm brown eyes on me, ears back, tail wagging. I squatted to her level. “Now see here, Savannah, just because you own a maw full of razor blades doesn’t mean you’re allowed to slice me to ribbons every time you want a little attention.”
She licked my cheek, her silver muzzle prickly against my skin. So much for scolding.
Brittany Dunlop, her flyaway blond hair taking off in the breeze, squeezed in beside us. “A kiss counts as an apology, wouldn’t you say, Jen?”
Brittany had adopted me in kindergarten, and we’d remained best friends ever since. Although she topped the tape measure at a whopping five foot two, she was a formidable presence in my life, and I don’t know how I would’ve survived my childhood without her. The voice of sanity whispering in my ear when my stepfather Gary was having one of his out-of-control days, and home became crazy town.
Savannah leaped towards her in greeting, and her tongue flared like a lizard snapping breakfast off a branch. Brittany yanked her hands out of the danger zone and clasped them behind her back, having already experienced her share of rapier-like love nips.
“Close to one as I’m going to get, I’m sure.” I told the pup to sit, then pushed gently on her hindquarters until she complied and leaned on my leg, tongue dripping saliva on my brand-new Nike cross-trainer. The exercise was a trial for us both, given the distraction of the masses around us. “She needs to potty, but escaping the crowd will be an adventure.”
“Want me to run interference for you? I’m a librarian, remember? People have to listen to me, or I’ll shush them.” Brittany knelt to scratch Savannah’s chest, an offer of some much-needed attention to the self-proclaimed neglected puppy.
“No, you hold our place. I want to see Eric win.” Eric O’Malley—the tall, lanky, red-headed leader of the Riddleton Runners, a group I’d reluctantly joined last year—also represented the police department as a patrol officer. No question about which role meant more to him today, though. He chased the finish line like it was an armed robbery suspect trying to get away.
Brittany pursed her thin lips and inched her oversized, tiger-striped glasses back up to the bridge of her nose. “You think he’s fast enough?”
“Hard to say, but a win would mean a lot to him. Besides, I’ve learned to appreciate his friendship, so I should root for him, don’t you think?”
She raised her so-pale-they-could-barely-be-seen-in-the-sunlight eyebrows. “Yeah, like that’s the only reason.”
I sent her an eye roll. “Please! I’m well aware of what you’re thinking. He’s my running buddy, and a win would make him happy, which is my only interest.”
“If you say so.” Brittany crossed her arms. “Wanna put your money where your mouth is? I say the chief’s a shoo-in again.”
My mind generated a picture of the graying fifty-something who carried his thirty-plus years on the force, the last ten spent behind a desk, like ankle weights. In comparison, Eric was a gazelle being chased by a lion through the Serengeti. A gangly, red-headed gazelle in baggy green shorts and a red tank top. “That old man? No way. I’ll risk five bucks.”
“Throw in lunch, and you’ve got a deal.”
“Done.” I allowed Savannah to maneuver us through the multitude, and smiles flashed from friends and strangers alike. Nothing like puppies and babies to grab attention. Most people were suckers for the young and the helpless. Like The Young and the Restless, only cuter.
A youthful—compared to my ancient twenty-nine, that is—woman in a Sutton High School Track T-shirt peeked around the muscular biceps of the middle-aged man who stood in front of her. She squealed at a pitch an octave above my comfort zone. “Hey, aren’t you Jennifer Dawson?”
Here we go. I resisted the urge to cover my ears as I suspected Savannah wished she could. “Yes.” She powered the rest of the way through and almost trampled the bounding puppy since Biceps Man’s leg blocked her escape route.
Muscles flexed under his tight, black Gold’s Gym T-shirt, he exposed what he clearly believed to be an irresistible smile.
Nice try, fella, but I don’t think so.
“I’m so excited to meet you,” the young woman said. “Catching that killer by yourself was amazing. You’re a real hero.”
Vacant eyes stared up at me from the first floor of the Cunningham house. When Aletha—bookstore owner, muse, and friend—was murdered last year, I became embroiled in the investigation because evidence pointing to me was found at the crime scene. I shook away the memory. At least the woman didn’t have a question about my stalled second novel. “Thank you, but I got lucky. Had lots of help, too.”
“Well, I think you’re terrific. Also, I loved your book, by the way. When’s the next one due out?”
My faux smile made its first appearance of the day. “Soon.” Otherwise known as never, at my current rate of progress.

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About the Author

Sue is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the Crime Writer’s Association. When she isn’t writing, you can find her reading, watching old movies, or hiking the New Mexico desert with her furry best friend.

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Death on the Set


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Have you ever dreamed of being a part of a reality show. No, not on camera where the whole world can see you make a fool of yourself, but as a part of the crew? In Death on the Set, we get to tag along with Brenna Flynn who is working on a cooking show. The minute I mention cooking show in my house my daughter launches into her Mary Berry imitation from the Great British Bake Off. What a great place to set a mystery! Let’s find out more.

About the Book

Former high school guidance counselor, Brenna Flynn, returns home to Bayview City after the sudden death of her husband. Unable to find work in her field, she signs up with a temp agency to find employment. Sent on an interview for a cooking reality show, she aces it and gets the job of production assistant.
On her second day at work, Brenna discovers a body in the studio. She soon learns she’s the police’s primary suspect. Determined to clear her name, she uses some skills she’s honed as a guidance counselor to learn more about the victim. Drawing people in comes naturally to Brenna, and she becomes a confidante to cast and crew on the show.
The stakes are raised with threatening notes, poisonings, and blackmail. Can Brenna uncover who the killer is before someone else dies?

Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE
“Come on, hurry up!” The light was taking forever. Brenna drummed her fingers against the steering wheel. Monday morning traffic should have been over by now. A glance at the clock on her Jeep’s dashboard showed she had less than ten minutes to get across town. She couldn’t be late for this interview. Finally, a lead on a job. The light changed and Brenna hustled to her meeting. It had been a rough six months. Her husband’s sudden death and then losing her position at the school. Coming home to Bayview City in Northern Michigan seemed like a good idea at the time, but work as a high school guidance counsellor didn’t come easily. Most of the school boards had been impacted by the cuts to education funding.
Jackie Randall, of Randall Temp Agency, had been working with Brenna to find her a temporary position for the last month. There wasn’t a lot available and this position had popped up this morning. Jackie had called before eight this morning to let Brenna know about the posting and had secured an interview for her. This job promised good pay and interesting work, even if it wasn’t in her field. How on earth could she translate her skills to a cooking show? Helping high school students deal with the challenges of being a teenager and navigating their futures demanded specialized knowledge, compassion, good listening and speaking skills, and being well organized. Jackie had told her the posting indicated no experience needed. She had to at least try.
Arriving at the studio, she noticed a publicity poster on one side of the door. The poster featured the three chefs starring on the show, Bayview Cooks! She paused for a moment, recognizing two of the chefs. She’d eaten in both of their restaurants, several times. The food and the atmosphere were excellent. Walking into the lobby, she stopped and took a breath. She felt rushed and out of control. Not how she wanted to present herself. Come on. There’s nothing to lose. I’ve got this. She squared her shoulders and went to the reception desk.
The receptionist asked Brenna to have a seat. She took deep breaths to settle herself. Looking around the reception area, she noticed large windows overlooking the harbor. Lake Superior was calm today and there were a few pleasure boats heading out toward Pebble Island. The reception area had comfortable seating and a low coffee table with the local paper. Brenna sent Jackie a quick text letting her know she had made it in time for the interview. A few minutes later, Brenna heard footsteps coming down the hall.
“Hello, Ms. Flynn? I’m Tim Harris, executive producer for Bayview Cooks!” He held out his hand.
Brenna stood to greet him. At five-two, Brenna had to tilt her head back a bit to see him. He was probably just over six feet his dark brown hair cut close on the sides. With his round tortoiseshell glasses and casual sweater and pants, he reminded her of a former college professor. On his feet were a pair of black Keds.
“Nice to meet you.” Brenna clasped his hand.
Tim smiled as they shook hands. “Let’s go to my office. The producer is waiting for us. We’ll talk there.” He pointed down the hall.
Brenna picked up her brown leather tote bag and followed him. They arrived at his office door and she could hear someone speaking.
Tim cleared his throat. “Mathew, what’s wrong?”
Mathew put his hands on his hips. “We’ve got a situation. The electrical contractor isn’t coming in to work on the lights on the set. He says the contract is to do the wiring only. Any issues aren’t his problem. I’ve never heard of such crap.” Mathew’s voice vibrated.
Tim shook his head. He addressed Brenna. “We’ve had some challenges with this contractor. Less than quality workmanship and now refusing to fix the mistakes his employees made. It’s holding up production. Without the lights, we can’t film.”
“Which contractor did you use?” Brenna asked.
Mathew checked the contract. “Bayview Electric.”
“And what does the contract say about them having to fix mistakes or issues that come up as a result of their work?” Brenna’s gaze moved from Mathew to Tim as she asked the question.
Mathew threw the contract on the desk. “Nothing! You’d think a reputable company would do it without question, but these guys are impossible to deal with.” His brow furrowed as he stared at the contract.
“I might be able to help you out with this.” Brenna glanced at Mathew and Tim.
“If you can get the lights working again, the position is yours,” Mathew stated.
“You might want to read through my resume before you make that kind of promise.” Brenna reached in her bag and provided each of them with a copy of her resume. She pulled out her phone and moved by the table at the back of the office to place a call.
“Hi, Mary, Brenna here.”
“Brenna, how are you?”
“I’m well. Mary, I’m at Studio One. They have a problem with the lighting on their set. Are any of the electricians available today to come by and see what the issue is?”
“Let me check the schedule. I just had it open a moment ago. Did Flynn and Family have the contract? I don’t remember seeing anything from Studio One.”
“No. It was Bayview Electric.”
“We have a team of electricians available this afternoon. I can make certain they know to be there by one today.”
“Sounds great. I’ll let management know to expect them. Do you want to talk to someone here about the invoice?”
“Yes. We don’t have anything in our system for Studio One.”
Brenna turned around. “Who does she need to speak to about invoicing?”
Tim glanced up from skimming her resume. “You found someone to come in today?”
“Yes. My family owns a contracting company. They have most of their own tradespeople. The contract with Bayview Electric is completed, right? Otherwise, no one else will come in to do any other work.”
Mathew held out his hand for Brenna’s phone. “Yes. That’s the reason why they aren’t coming in again. I can talk to her about the invoicing.”
Brenna smiled and held up a finger. “Mary, I’m going to hand you off to one of the producers from Studio One. He’ll let you know about the invoicing. We’ll talk soon.” She handed the phone to Mathew.
Tim put her resume on the desk. “Well, I’m impressed. Are you that good with anything else that can go wrong?”
Mathew finished up with Mary and returned Brenna’s phone to her. “I agree. Can we expect the same results with any other problem that may come up?”
Brenna wondered what problems they might be referring to. “I have a lot of personal connections with contractors and people in the construction business. My grandfather started the company, Flynn and Family. My father and one of my uncles run it now. I grew up in Bayview City and studied at the university here. I worked for the city for a while before leaving four years ago. There have been some changes with the city council, but the city employees haven’t changed.”

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About the Author

Rose Kerr lived most of her adult life in small towns. She and her husband raised their family in a small town on the shores of Lake Superior, in Northern Ontario. The town and surrounding communities provided the scenic setting for Rose’s Brenna Flynn Mystery series. Rose has worked in several administration roles throughout her career. Rose has worked for provincial figure skating and synchronized swimming associations, Northern Options for Women, and Contact North.
Currently, Rose and her husband live in Southern Ontario. Rose is a member of Sisters in Crime, and the Guppy Online Chapter of Sisters in Crime. For more info visit www.rosekerr.com

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Marigolds, Mischief and Murder


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We’re heading to Camelot today. Well, Camelot Flowers in the middle of winter-weary Illinois. Gwen has a crush on her handsome best friend and why not? The guy is remodeling a space to make a center for the bored teenagers of their small town. It’s all good until he gets accused of murder.

About the Book

From author Erica Wynters comes a fresh new series about a florist whose life is anything but rosy… Florist Gwen Stevens knows two things to be true. One—her parents are never going to retire and hand over the reins to the family flower shop, Camelot Flowers, if Gwen can’t handle the business while they’re on their yearly trip to escape the cold of central Illinois in the Florida Keys. And two—she needs to get over her unrequited crush on her best friend, Chris Crawford. But when Gwen stumbles on the dead body of a high school friend, everything else in her life suddenly takes a backseat. Especially when Chris becomes the main suspect in the murder, and it seems only Gwen believes in his innocence. With her friend’s freedom on the line, Gwen will use every lifelong connection she has in her small town of Star Junction to find the real killer, even if the sexy new police detective, Finn Butler, doesn’t want her help. Gwen trades gathering flowers for gathering evidence as she hunts down a murderer, and as the stakes grow higher—and Gwen grows closer to Detective Finn—Gwen’s heart may not be the only thing on the line. Can she navigate the seas of suspects who all wanted the victim dead? Can she trust her torn feelings between Chris and Finn well enough to follow the right clues? Or will she be too late to stop the killer from striking again…this time even closer to home?

Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE
“How deep is it? I can’t look,” Chris said as he squeezed his eyes shut, his palm bloody.
“I can’t tell,” I said tightly. “You have to hold still.” I fought a wave of dizziness as I dabbed at the wound on his hand. “It’s not deep. Just long.”
“That hurts,” Chris complained. He tried to pull his hand away, but I tightened my grip.
“Hold still,” I said. I dabbed the cut with a disinfecting wipe. “You’re lucky you’re not on your way to the hospital for a tetanus shot.”
The future youth center looked more like a construction zone. Jagged ends of two- by-fours had been discarded beneath the rusty scaffolding that barely propped up the sagging ceiling. Sawdust floated through the air, filtering the weak winter sunlight as it worked its way through grime-covered windows.
As I shifted my feet, my toe bumped against the wrench that had caused Chris’s injury. This place was going to be the death of me. Or the death of Chris. I might kill him for dragging me into this mess. “Maybe you do need a shot,” I muttered.
“Believe me, I don’t need a shot, Nurse Ratched,” Chris said sourly, although his lips twitched in a barely contained smile. That was Chris, finding the humor in every situation.
I opened a bandage and pressed it to the wound. At least he had a first aid kit. “Why am I always taking care of you?” I asked, trying to remain stern but recognizing the way Chris’s charm always worked its way under any annoyance I might feel.
The boyish grin that always made my stomach drop like I was riding a roller coaster spread across his face. “Because you love me,” he said confidently.
I wrapped gauze around his hand. “Who said anything about love?” I teased.
“Ouch!” Chris clutched his chest as if I’d dealt him a fatal blow. “You really know how to hit a guy where it hurt, Guinevere Stevens.”
“No way,” I protested. “No pulling out the Guinevere. That’s fighting dirty.”
Chris’s eyes twinkled mischievously. He knew I hated my full name, given to me courtesy of my wonderful father, who also happened to be obsessed with all things King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. It was no accident our family business was named Camelot Flowers. At least he hadn’t used my middle name too. Then the cut on his hand would be the least of his worries.
“Fine, Gwen,” he said, relenting. “We both know you love me.”
I scooped up the debris from my makeshift nurse’s station. “Oh, please,” I countered. “What about what’s-her-name? Bambi, Tiffany, Crystal? I’m sure she’s already in love with you.”
Chris chuckled as he scooted off the counter and said, “So, all the women I date have stripper names?”
“What would your mother say if she heard you talking like that?” My words were scolding, but I couldn’t keep the grin off my face. I’d walked right into that one.
Chris draped his arm over my shoulder. “It’s a good thing she’s not here.” He scanned the open space, his smile tightening. “Thanks for all your work today. Not many people would spend their day off in this dump.”
I could already envision the groups of teens hanging out, having fun, knowing Chris was there to talk them through the most difficult parts of adolescence. I’d given him the same pep talk a dozen times over the past year, but it was clear he needed it again. “This place is exactly what the town needs,” I started. “We know what it was like growing up here. It’s easy to get into trouble with nothing to do.”
“Are you saying I got into a lot of trouble growing up?” Chris teased.
“We both know exactly what you were like in high school,” I said with a grin.
Chris picked up the wrench and tossed it into the overflowing toolbox on the counter. “So does everyone else in Star Junction,” he said, his tone bitter.
“Forget about everyone else. The people who matter recognize how much you’ve changed.”
Chris huffed out a breath, as if releasing the weight of everyone else’s expectations. His boyish good looks, blond hair, and perpetually sun-kissed skin, even in the middle of an Illinois winter, only amplified his wide grin and cornflower blue eyes.
“You’re right,” he said. He leaned against the counter, the doubt gone, replaced by the patented Chris Crawford charm. “As usual.”
“Don’t you forget it,” I joked as I brushed at a strand of hair that had fallen out of my ponytail. I caught my reflection in the small mirror Chris had hung above the sink and almost fell over from fright. “Why didn’t you tell me I looked like this?” I said in horror.
Chris glanced over from where he was collecting paintbrushes to rinse off. “Looked like what?” he said absently.
I bugged my eyes out at him in disbelief and gestured at my hair, my face, and then my whole body. A fine layer of dust covered my normally honey-brown hair until it looked like I’d prematurely aged in the five hours I’d been helping Chris. I’d walked in a woman six months away from turning thirty and was leaving looking eighty. There was a streak of what I was praying was dirt but could be some kind of toxic mold under my right eye. My light-blue sweatshirt and black yoga tights were streaked with dust. A mysterious wet patch on the middle of my sweatshirt was concerning since it wasn’t wet to the touch. Gross.
Chris shrugged and said, “You look like you worked hard today.”
“I have dinner with Penny in…” I glanced at my Apple Watch. “Twenty minutes. I’m probably going to have to wash my hair a dozen times to get all plaster dust out.”
Chris paused in his cleaning and really looked at me. “Where’re you guys going for dinner?” he asked.
“Bucky’s,” I said, not sure where he was going with this line of questioning.
Chris smirked, and I knew some kind of joke was coming. “I guess even that place has standards.”
I picked up a shop towel and threw it at him playfully. “That wasn’t nice,” I said.
“I’m kidding. I’m kidding.” He walked over and wrapped me in a hug. “You look like my best friend,” he said as he wiped at the smudge under my eye with this thumb. “Dirty hair and all.” While his smile was still charming, it was also genuine. “What would I do without you?” he asked.
I melted into his embrace, momentarily forgetting I looked more like a zombie out for brains than a florist helping her friend realize his dream. “Probably die of tetanus,” I said into his solid chest.

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About the Author

Erica Wynters may have lived most of her life in the frigid Midwest, but now she spends her time in the warmth and sunshine of Arizona. She loves hiking, hunting down waterfalls in the desert, reading (of course), and napping. Can napping be considered a hobby? When not weaving tales of mystery with plenty of quirky characters, laughs, and a dash of romance, Erica works as a Marriage and Family Therapist helping others find their Happily Ever Afters.

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The Truth We Hide


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This week we’re heading into wartime. 1943 to be exact. In The Truth We Hide, Betty Ahern is a soon-to-be PI and things aren’t looking to good for her client. There are plenty of twist and turns in this one, so after you get your lines drawn on your stockings we’ll head to the case.

About the Book

May 1943. Betty Ahern is studying for her private investigator’s license when a new client—Edward Kettle—hires her to clear his name after he was dismissed from his job at the American Shipbuilding Company. When Edward is brutally murdered, the dead man’s sister hires Betty to finish the original job and find the killer.
The job hurls Betty back into the world of wartime espionage, but with a twist: Edward Kettle was a homosexual. Did he know something about underhanded activities at American Shipbuilding? Or was his secret life the motive for murder?
Once again, Betty must unravel the mystery, which requires uncovering truths that others would prefer to keep hidden—a job that threatens not only her morals and beliefs, but also her life.

Excerpt

I held up a hand. “Stop right there. I don’t wanna hear any official secrets. I don’t do that kind of work.”
“I wasn’t going to say anything specific. It’s enough that you know the project is big and for Uncle Sam. Although everybody will know in a few days at most.” He took a sip. “I’ve worked on it since the beginning, which was last year. A couple of weeks ago, they caught a reporter from the local press sniffing around. He wasn’t from the Courier-Express. It’s some paper named The Daily. A real rag, from what I hear. Nazis next door, mobsters downtown, a lot of sensationalism, not a lot of facts.”
I twiddled my pencil. “Tabloid press.”
“You got it.” Edward took another sip. “The Coast Guard ran him off, and nobody said anything about it. Two days ago, he ran a story about our project. It wasn’t very factual, but it did contain a couple of nuggets that were true and not things the general public could have figured out.”
“Such as?” I didn’t read the tabloid papers. Pop, a dedicated Courier-Express man, would have skinned me alive for bringing trash like that into the house.
“They said the ships we’re building were going to be used in the Pacific, as weapons against the Japanese. The story also said the ships were equipped with a new feature that would put American vessels way ahead of the enemy.” He paused. “The first statement is only sort of true. But the second, well, let’s just say it’s closer to the truth than the company bigwigs want it to be. Naturally, they started looking for the leak.”
I’d said I didn’t want to know any government secrets and I meant it, so I ignored that part of the story. “Let me guess. They landed on you and you were fired.”
He exhaled, peepers fixed on his java. “I protested, of course, but the head office needed a scapegoat. I’m it.”
Lee polished off the last of his pie. “Why would they fix on you?”
“The way I heard it, someone said he saw me talking to the reporter as I was leaving the shipyard a couple of days before the story broke.” Edward picked up his mug, then set it down.
“Did you?” I asked.
He nodded. “The guy waylaid me as I was coming out. He asked a ton of questions, and all I told him was no comment.”
“Did the story quote you?”
“No. Inside sources, no names…you know the drill.”
I did. On the surface, it sounded like Edward got a bum rap. But why? Being seen with a tabloid reporter struck me as flimsy. “That doesn’t answer Lee’s question. Why accuse you? Why not some other guy?”
He squirmed in his seat. “What do you mean?”
Maybe it was my imagination, but Edward got a shifty look in his eyes. I glanced at Lee, who gave me the teeniest frown. “A tabloid writer wouldn’t corner one joe out of what, dozens who work at the shipyard? Hundreds? He’d talk to as many as he could, ’specially if he was an eager beaver, and I bet most of ’em are.” I tilted my head. “But the brass specifically fingered you. Who doesn’t like you, and what’s the reason?”
There was no imagining it. Edward refused to meet my gaze. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve been at American Shipbuilding for a couple of years. No one has ever complained about my…my work.” His foot beat a rapid tattoo against the floor, and he clammed up quick.
I stared at him. Sam told me once that silence was a great tool in an interrogation. People didn’t like being quiet. The chapter in my private investigator course about questioning suspects gave me the same advice. I waited.
Sure enough, before more than a minute had gone by, he broke. “Aren’t you going to ask any more questions?”
“No, I think I’ve got enough dope to know the situation.”
He turned to Lee. “I’m supposed to take her seriously?”
Lee stayed calm. “I’ve seen Betty solve cases with less info than you gave her.”
Edward shook his head. “I’m trusting you, Lee. Don’t make me regret it.” He returned his gaze to me. “We’ve talked. I don’t think I said much, but it’s up to you. Do you want to take my case or not?”
I was pretty certain Edward wasn’t being completely truthful. Normally, I’d tell him to pound salt for lying, but something about him intrigued me. He didn’t wear a wedding band, but he’d not given the waitress, a cutie who gave Judy Garland a run for her money, more than a tentative smile despite the fact the girl beamed right at him. He felt gentle, his language precise and educated, even though I was pretty sure a guy working as a manual laborer at a shipyard hadn’t gone to college. I’d take his case just ’cause he was a little bit of a puzzle. “I’ll look into it.”
“How much?”
This was the part I hadn’t looked forward to. Talking money. The correspondence course hadn’t been much help. I couldn’t charge ordinary folks what I’d asked Lee’s lawyer to pay last March, nor could I afford to charge peanuts, not if I hoped to make a living. “Fifty bucks for the week, plus expenses. If the case takes longer than that, it’s fifteen dollars a day, again, plus expenses. Does that sound fair?”
Edward thought a moment. “Deal.” He took two twenties and a ten out of his wallet and handed them over. Then he reached across the table, took my pad and pencil, and scribbled a phone number. “That’s the number at my boarding house. If you need to reach me. I’d prefer it if you don’t just drop by. Call, and I’ll meet you. This diner is convenient.”
I shot a covert look at Lee, who didn’t look surprised. I’d expected Edward to have to go to the bank first. The bills were not crisp, but they’d still spend. Who carried that kind of cabbage around with him? “Where do you live?”
“I’d rather not say.”
He was either an intensely private person, or he was hiding something. I’d talk to Sam and see if he’d give me the skinny on my client. I didn’t object to working for a convict, but it’d be nice to know. I held out my hand. “Well then, Mr. Kettle. You’ve got yourself a deal.”

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About the Author

Liz Milliron is the author of The Laurel Highlands Mysteries, set in the scenic Laurel highalnds and The Homefront Mysteries, set in Buffalo NY during the early years of World War II. She is a member of Pennwriters, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers and The Historical Novel Society. She is the current vice-president of the Pittsburgh chapter of Sisters in Crime and is on the National Board as the Education Liaison. Liz splits her time between Pittsburgh and the Laurel Highlands, where she lives with her husband and a very spoiled retired-racer greyhound.

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The Girls Dressed for Murder

 



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We’re time traveling today back to 1958. We’re driving cars like the brand new Chevy Impala and listening to Tequila, Catch a Falling Star and Purple People Eater on the radio. We love that button down shirtwaist dress with a full skirt as we dab on a little Chanel on our wrists. Let’s join Izzy at the supper club with her best girlfriends, but don’t get too much into the glamour, darling. There’s going to be a murder.

About the Book

When Izzy gets a killer dress for her birthday, she isn’t expecting to accessorize it with murder…
It’s 1958 in the cozy coastal town of Twin Oaks and amateur sleuth Isabelle (Izzy) Walsh is armed with a fresh perspective, four years after tragedy strikes. The first stop on her journey back to joy is the best little dress shop in town—introduced to her by best friend and fashion fiend, Ava Russell. Izzy falls in love with the store and its style. So when the boutique is marred by murder, Izzy wants to help. But with more suspects to choose from than a spring collection, she isn’t sure where to start.
Can Izzy unravel the twisted truth or will she become the victim of a deadly trend?

Excerpt

In spite of the stressful day, I was in a great mood by nightfall. After a long bath, I was feeling relaxed and flicked on the radio. I took my time getting ready for the evening ahead and set the mood with some music. Never one for a soft melody, I momentarily wondered if the loud volume would cause a raised eyebrow from my neighbors. Dismissing the thought, I had a one-man dance party as Ricky Nelson and Elvis serenaded me with their catchy tunes. When it was time to go, I soaked up the light perspiration and flushed cheeks with my trusted Pan-Cake make-up and thanked Max Factor for allowing me to keep my face respectable while having a little fun.
I arrived at six o’clock. The Mariner’s Whisper was the best dinner club in town. I could feel the energy wafting through the door as I approached, with upbeat jazz music setting the tone, and Clifford Brown’s trumpet adding a little sass to my step. I peered over the crowd waiting to be seated and saw that Ava, Mary, and Jo were already here. I didn’t wait for an escort, making my way to our regular table, available to us whenever we dined there, as long as we gave a little notice.
When the head chef was murdered a few years earlier, the four of us helped the police solve the case. The standing reservation was a way to say thank you. It was the best seat in the house, located on the raised level that gave a panoramic overview of the whole restaurant. Needless to say, it inspired us to come back regularly. Since it was my birthday, we’d agreed to make a night of it. I could see as I approached that the tone had already been set with dimmed candles sitting in the middle of the table, and lovely smiles all around. I grinned in anticipation of the night ahead and opened my arms to virtually embrace my three best friends, each looking her best.
Before I was close enough to voice a hello, an unexpected sound grabbed my attention from a nearby table. It was a gasp. I wouldn’t have paused my intended path had the woman who uttered the sound not looked so terrified. I turned to see where her attention was focused. A jolt shot up my body and my hands shot up to cover my mouth. All thoughts of my birthday were abandoned as I rushed back to help Walter Wiggins, who’d just stumbled into the restaurant, screaming for help. By the time I reached him, the band had stopped playing. His loud cries were the only sound now detectable as people instinctively backed away silently, the lifeless body of Barbara draped across his arms, covered in blood.
Walter was shaking from head-to-toe. A sense of determined calm kicked in as I locked eyes with him momentarily and I recognized his raw fear and panic. I leaned in and gently cradled my hand under Barbara’s neck. Her eyes were closed but there was a welt near the back of her head, seeping blood.
I tried to guide Walter’s attention by pressing on his shoulder firmly. “Walter, Walter, do you remember me? I’m Isabelle Walsh. I need you to gently and carefully lie Barbara down.”
Although he failed to respond verbally, he did his best to follow my instructions. He bent down on one knee and laid her across the floor. I crouched down on the other side and swept matted hair off her face. I looked up and saw the restaurant owner, Harriet Smith, standing nearby. I was relieved to see her pale yet calm face. Her attention was focused on me. “Harriet, I need you to see if there is a doctor here.”
She turned around and called out for a doctor or a medic. A man near the back of the restaurant stood up, raising his hand. She requested his presence, and he made his way over, obviously unaware of what had happened until he was almost on top of us. As he did so, Harriet instructed a nearby waiter to call the police.
The doctor told everyone to back up and give him space. I gently pulled Walter to his feet as the doctor knelt down to examine his unexpected patient. A basic check of Harriet’s vitals told him what he needed to know. He looked up at me, his lips pressed tightly together, and shook his head back and forth. He confirmed what I already knew. Barbara Wiggins was dead.

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About the Author

Lynn McPherson has had a myriad of jobs, from running a small business to teaching English across the globe. She has travelled the world solo, where her daring spirit has led her to jump out of airplanes, dive with sharks, and learn she would never master a surfboard. Lynn served on the Board of Directors for Crime Writers of Canada from 2019-2021. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and International Thriller Writers,

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Brushed Up On Murder

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This week we look at a cozy mystery with cats and we find out about a job that is new to me, the mobile cat groomer. Oh, the scratches that await us in Brushed Up on Murder by Ruth J. Harman.

About the Book

The life of a cat groomer isn’t just pampering purring felines, it’s murder.
Mobile Cat Groomer Molly Stewart loves her job. Until she finds the dead body of one of her pet parents stabbed with a garden implement in his back yard. When Molly’s uncle Russ becomes the prime suspect in the murder and the sheriff won’t consider anyone else, Molly claws through obstacles as she prowls for clues.
With help from handsome veterinarian Hank Chenowith and Molly’s two cats, Percival and Jasper, will Molly succeed in proving her uncle’s innocence before the real murderer pounces on her?

Excerpt

When I’d first started the weekly grooming for their cats, the ladies tried to get me to join them in drinks. I finally convinced them they and their cats might not like the outcome if I was using grooming tools while under the influence.
Once the humans were ready, I reached for Helga. With the cats, I also had to change every week who got groomed first. Believe me, the ladies paid attention to what I did. I’m not sure the cats cared, because as soon as I’d set them in the van, they curled up together for a nap as if that had been their plan all along.
Helga grumbled and huffed when I picked her up, having settled into a comfortable position on a soft blanket. Eleanor closed her eyes and went to sleep. She’d have her chance to be groomed soon enough.
While in the past, I’d always ask the ladies about anything newsworthy they’d heard to keep them occupied as I worked, this time I was hoping for useful bits which could aid in my search for the killer.
I placed Helga on my table and removed her pink sweater. Sphynx cats didn’t like this part as they were always cold, but the nice warm bath I had prepared made up for it. They didn’t fight me or try to get out but seemed to enjoy the warmth soaking into their sparse fur. Helga sighed as I placed her in the sink and poured water in small increments over her back and shoulders.
I kept working and didn’t bother looking down at the ladies before I spoke because they were always watching my every move. “So, anything exciting happen you two have heard about?”
A thunk of glass on concrete sounded as one of them set her glass down on the driveway.
“Well,” said Lottie, “you ‘ll never guess what we heard today.”
“Oh, what’s that?” I lathered some special sensitive skin cat shampoo on Helga’s skin, working it down her back, around her tummy and down her legs.
“Why don’t you let me tell it?” Florence’s voice was petulant.
“Because I started telling it. You had your chance.”
“Not really. You bulldogged your way in there.”
I glanced over to see Lottie raising her hand in a surrender gesture. “Now, now. Let’s not argue. We can both tell it.”
“You’re right. We both can.”
Silence.
I watched them and waited. When nothing more happened, I smiled. “Is someone going to tell me?”
They eyed each other, gave their silent signals and Lottie nodded. “I’ll start. When we were at the Paula’s Pastries this morning, we overheard something interesting.”
I took my time as I poured a pitcher of fresh clean water over Helga’s back. The water drained slowly from the tub, but I kept rinsing her until the sink was empty of soap. After the warmth of her bath, I worked fast to get her to a thick warm towel so she wouldn’t get a chill. “Really?”
“Yes, Ken Evers was talking to Frank Veerk about something which seemed to upset him.”
Oh wow, this could be good. “Could you hear what they were saying?”
“Oh, my goodness yes. Ken was talking loud, wasn’t he, Lottie?”
“Yes, indeed he was.”
Florence took a swig of her drink, which the ladies always assured me were for medicinal purposes, though I had serious doubts their doctor knew anything about their medicine. “He said Frank would get what he deserved.”
My hand stopped mid-motion of drying off Helga, earning me a glare from the cat. “He said that?”
“Indeed, he did,” said Lottie.
I dabbed gently with the towel around the cat’s face, especially her eyes and ears. “Was there anything else?” “Oh, my yes,” said Florence.
I kept working but waited for more. When nothing came, I watched the ladies. They were once again signaling each other, this time with more exaggerated winks and hand circles. The medicinal alcohol must have kicked in. Unable to stand the suspense, I cleared my throat. “Did they say any more?”
Florence nodded and drained her glass— good grief she was fast —and eyed Lottie, who jumped up and retrieved a pitcher from a table right inside her garage. Florence held out her glass for a refill. “Why didn’t you bring the pitcher with you to start with?”
“Well, I had two glasses to carry, didn’t I? Was I supposed to place the pitcher on my head and glide straight and slow like our school deportment lessons so I wouldn’t spill it?”
Finally settled, each with a refilled glass, Florence looked up at me. “While we were there, we got an exciting show, didn’t we Lottie?”
“Indeed, we did.” She took a giant slurp from her fancy straw, burped, excused herself and took another drink. Florence leaned forward in her chair. “There was shoving and growling.”
“Oh, it was exciting.” Her friend nodded her head vigorously.
“When Ken balled up his hand, I thought sure they’re resort to fisticuffs.”
Lottie fanned herself with the hand not holding her drink. “Oh, me too. It would have been so exciting.” She turned to Florence. “Can you imagine if the two men were having their quarrel over a woman?”
She sighed. “It would be exactly like the book.” Eyeing me, she said, “Have you read the book yet?”
I rubbed some lotion on Helga’s skin. “Uh, no, haven’t had the chance.”
“Well, you simply must read it. I think it would give you valuable information on your quest.”
“Quest?”
“You know. For a man.”
“Not any man,” added Lottie. “The cute animal doctor. The book would give you tips on the birds and the bees.”
Florence waggled her eyebrows. “Oh boy, would it.” The ladies fell into a fit of giggles, Lottie splashing part of her pink drink onto her lap, but she didn’t appear to notice.
I rolled my eyes. Here we go. “I’m not after Hank Chenowith.”
Lottie lowered her eyebrows. “Of course, you are, dear. Everyone knows it.”
“What do you mean, everyone? Not that it’s true, but even if it was, how would they know?”
Florence giggled. “Well, we’ve told them, of course.”

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About the Author

Ruth J. Hartman spends her days herding cats and her nights spinning mysterious tales. She, her husband, and their cats love to spend time curled up in their recliners watching old Cary Grant movies. Well, the cats sit in the people’s recliners. Not that the cats couldn’t get their own furniture. They just choose to shed on someone else’s.
Ruth, a left-handed, cat-herding, farmhouse-dwelling writer uses her sense of humor as she writes tales of lovable, klutzy women who seem to find trouble without even trying.
Ruth’s husband and best friend, Garry, reads her manuscripts, rolls his eyes at her weird story ideas, and loves her despite her insistence all of her books have at least one cat in them. See updates about her cozy mysteries at Ruthjhartman.com.

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The Vanishing at Castle Moreau

The Vanishing at Castle Moreau by Jaime Jo Wright Banner

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Don’t you love a gothic story? The big house, the feeling of being watched, the heroine who has been pitted against an unknown evil force. Oh yeah, definitely my cup of tea. This week we’re heading to a castle in Wisconsin in a dual time story of two women who are staying in the Castle Moreau, one in the past and one in the present.

About the Book:

The Vanishing at Castle Moreau by Jaime Jo Wright

A haunting legend. An ominous curse. A search for a secret buried deep within the castle walls.

In 1870, orphaned Daisy François takes a position as housemaid at a Wisconsin castle to escape the horrors of her past life. There she finds a reclusive and eccentric Gothic authoress, who hides tales more harrowing than the ones in her novels. With women disappearing from the area and a legend that seems to parallel these eerie circumstances, Daisy is thrust into a web that threatens to steal her sanity, if not her life. In the present day, Cleo Clemmons is hired by the grandson of an American aristocratic family to help his grandmother face her hoarding in the dilapidated Castle Moreau. But when Cleo uncovers more than just the woman’s stash of collectibles, a century-old mystery of disappearance, insanity, and the dust of the old castle’s curse threaten to rise again. This time to leave no one alive to tell the sordid tale. Award-winning author Jaime Jo Wright seamlessly weaves a dual-time tale of two women who must do all they can to seek the light amidst the darkness shrouding Castle Moreau.

Praise for The Vanishing at Castle Moreau:

“An imaginative and mysterious tale.”
New York Times bestselling author RACHEL HAUCK
“With real, flawed characters, who grapple with real-life struggles, readers will be drawn into this gripping suspense from the very first page. Good luck putting it down. I couldn’t.”
LYNETTE EASON, bestselling, award-winning author of the Extreme Measures series
“Wright pens another delightfully creepy tale where nothing is quite as it seems and characters seek freedom from nightmares both real and imagined.”
Library Journal
“Wright captivates. A thrilling tale. . . . Readers won’t want to put this down.”
Publishers Weekly

The Vanishing at Castle Moreau Trailer:

Book Details:

Genre: Dual time Suspense/Thriller Published by: Bethany House Publishers Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | BookShop.org | Goodreads | Baker Book House

Read an excerpt:

The one who rescues, who loves, and who stands in the gap. God knew I needed you.

The Girl

MAY 8, 1801
When I was a little girl, my father would often come to my bedside after my screams wakened him in the night. He would smooth back my damp ringlets, the mere feel of his callused and strong hand inspiring an instantaneous calm. “What is it, little one?” he would ask me. Every night, the same question. Every night, I would give the same answer. “It is her again, Papa.” “Her?” He would tilt his head, giving credence to my words and refraining from scolding or mockery. “Yes.” I would nod, my head brushing the clean cotton of my pillowcase. “The woman with the crooked hand.” “Crooked hand, hmm?” His query only increased my adamant insistence. “Yes. She has a nub with two fingers.” A tear would often trail down my six-­year-­old cheek. My father would smile with a soothing calm. “You are dreaming again, mon chéri.” “No. She was here.” He must believe me! “Shhh.” Another gentle stroke of his hand across my forehead. “She is the voice of the mistress of your dreams. We all have one, you know. Only yours needs extra-special care because she isn’t beautiful like the rest. She is the one who brings the nightmares, but she doesn’t mean to harm you. She is only doing her best with what she has been given, and what she has been given are her own horrors.” “Her hand?” I would reply, even though we repeated this explanation many nights in a row. “Yes,” my father would nod. “Her hand is a reflection of the ugliness in her stories. Stories she tells to you at night when all is quiet and your eyes are closed.” “But they were open,” I would insist. “No. You only think they were open.” “I am afraid of the ghost, Papa,” I urge. His eyes smile. “Oui. And yet there are no spirits to haunt you. Only the dream mistress. Shoo her away and she will flee. She is a mist. She is not real. See?” And he would wave his hand in the air. “Shoo, mistress. Away and be gone!” We would survey the dark bedroom then, and, seeing nothing, my father would lean over and press his lips to my cheek. “Now sleep. I will send your mother’s dream mistress to you. Her imaginings are pleasant ones.” “Thank you,” I would whisper. Another kiss. The bed would rise a bit as he lifted his weight from the mattress. His nightshirt would hang around his shins, and he would pause at the doorway of my room where I slept. An only child, in a home filled with the fineries of a Frenchman’s success of trade. “Sleep, mon chéri.” “Yes, Papa.” The door would close. My eyes would stay open. I would stare at the woman with the crooked hand, who hovered in the shadows where the door had just closed. I would stare at her and know what my father never would. She existed. She was not a dream.

one

Daisy François
APRIL 1870
The castle cast its hypnotic pull over any passerby who happened along to find it, tucked deep in the woods in a place where no one would build a castle, let alone live in one. It served no purpose there. No strategy of war, no boast of wealth, no respite for a tired soul. Instead, it simply existed. Tugging. Coercing. Entrapping. Its two turrets mimicked bookends, and if removed, one would fear the entire castle would collapse like a row of standing volumes. Windows covered the façade above a stone archway, which drew her eyes to the heavy wooden door with its iron hinges, the bushes along the foundation, and the stone steps leading to the mouth of the edifice. Beyond it was a small orchard of apple trees, their tiny pink blossoms serving as a delicate backdrop for the magnificent property. Castle Moreau. Home to an orphan. Or it would be. Daisy clutched the handles of her carpetbag until her knuckles were sure to be white beneath her threadbare gloves. She stood in the castle’s shadow, staring at its immense size. Who had built such an imposing thing? Here, in the northern territory, where America boasted its own mansions but still rejected any mimicking of the old country. Castles were supposed to stare over their fiefdoms, house lords and ladies, gentry, noblemen, and summon the days of yore when knights rescued fair maidens. Castles were not supposed to center themselves inside a forest, on the shore of a lake, a mile from the nearest town. This made Castle Moreau a mystery. No one knew why Tobias Moreau had built it decades before. Today the castle held but one occupant: Tobias’s daughter, Ora Moreau, who was eighty-­six years old. She was rarely ever seen, and even more rarely, ever heard from. Still, Ora’s words had graced most households in the region, printed between the covers of books with embossed golden titles. Her horror stories had thrilled many readers, and over the years, the books helped in making an enigma of the reclusive old woman. When the newspaper had advertised a need for a housemaid—­preferably one without a home or ties to distract her from her duties—­it was sheer coincidence that Daisy had seen it, even more of a coincidence that she fit the requirements. And so it was a surprise she was hired after only a brief letter inquiring after the position. Now she stood before the castle, her pulse thrumming with the question why? Why had she accepted the position? Why would she allow herself to be swallowed up by this castle? The stories were bold, active. Women disappeared here. It was said that Castle Moreau was a place that consumed the vulnerable. Welcoming them in but never giving them back. Daisy stiffened her shoulders. Swallowed. Tilted her chin upward in determination. She had marched into hell before—­many times, in fact. Castle Moreau couldn’t possibly be much worse than that.
Cleo Clemmons
TWO YEARS BEFORE PRESENT DAY
They had buried most souvenirs of the dead with the traditions of old, and yet what a person didn’t understand before death, they would certainly comprehend after. The need for that ribbon-­tied lock of hair, the memento mori photograph of the deceased, a bone fragment, a capsule of the loved one’s ashes—­morbid to those who had not lost, but understandable to those who had. Needing to touch the tangible was a fatal flaw in humanity. Faith comforted only so far until the gasping panic overcame the grieving like a tsunami, stealing oxygen, with the only cure being something tangible. Something to touch. To hold. To be held. It was in these times the symbolism attached to an item became pivotal to the grieving. A lifeline of sorts. For Cleo, it was a thumbprint. Her grandfather’s thumbprint. Inked after death, digitized into a .png file, uploaded to a jewelry maker, and etched into sterling silver. It hung around her neck, settling between her breasts, just left of her heart. No one would know it was there, and if they did, they wouldn’t ask. A person didn’t ask about what was held closest to another’s heart. That was information that must be offered, and Cleo had no intention of doing so. To anyone. Her grandfather was her memory alone—­the good and the bad. What he’d left behind in the form of Cleo’s broken insides were Cleo’s to disguise. Faith held her hand, or rather, she clenched hands with faith, but in the darkness, when no one was watching, Cleo fit her thumb to her grandfather’s print and attempted to feel the actual warmth of his hand, to infuse all the cracks and offer momentary refuge from the ache. Funny how this was what she thought of. Now. With what was left of her world crashing down around her like shrapnel pieces, blazing lava-­orange and deadly. “Pick up, pick up, pick up,” Cleo muttered into her phone, pressing it harder against her ear than she needed to. She huddled in the driver’s seat of her small car, all of her worldly possessions packed into the trunk and the back seat. She could hear the ringing on the other end. She owed it to Riley. One call. One last goodbye. “Hey.” “Riley!” Cleo stiffened in anticipation. “. . . you’ve reached Riley . . .” the voice message continued, and Cleo laid her head back against the seat. The recording finished, and Cleo squeezed her eyes shut against the world outside of her car, against the darkness, the fear, the grief. This was goodbye. It had to be. The voicemail beep was Cleo’s cue. She swallowed, then spoke, her words shivering with compressed emotion. What did a person say in a last farewell? “Riley, it’s me. Cleo. I—” she bit her lip, tasting blood—“I-­I won’t be calling again. This is it. You know. It’s what I hoped would never happen. I am so, so sorry this happened to you! Just know I tried to protect you. But now—” her breath caught as tears clogged her throat—“this is the only way I can. Whatever happens now, just know I love you. I will always love you.” Desperation warred with practicality. Shut off the phone. There was no explaining this. There never would be. “Goodbye, Ladybug.” Cleo thumbed the end button, then threw the phone against the car’s dashboard. A guttural scream curled up her throat and split her ears as the inside of the vehicle absorbed the sound. Then it was silent. That dreadful, agonizing silence that came with the burgeoning, unknown abyss of a new start. Cleo stared at her phone lying on the passenger-­side floor. She lunged for it, fumbling with a tiny tool until she popped open the slot on its side. Pulling out the SIM card, Cleo bent it back and forth until it snapped. Determined, she pushed open the car door and stepped out. The road was heavily wooded on both sides. Nature was her only observer. She flung the broken SIM card into the ditch, marched to the front of the car, and wedged the phone under the front tire. She’d roll over it when she left, crush it, and leave nothing to be traced. Cleo took a moment to look around her. Oak forest, heavy undergrowth of brush, wild rosebushes whose thorns would take your skin off, and a heap of dead trees and branches from the tornado that had ravaged these woods decades prior. The rotting wood was all that remained to tell the tale now, but it was so like her life. Rotting pieces that never went away. Ever. She climbed back into the car and twisted the key, revving the engine to life. Cleo felt her grandfather’s thumbprint until it turned her skin hot with the memories. Memories of what had set into motion a series of frightful events. Events that were her responsibility to protect her sister from. Goodbye, Ladybug. There was no explaining in a voicemail to a twelve-­year-­old girl that her older sister was abandoning her in order to save her. Cleo knew from this moment on, Riley would play that message, and slowly resentment would seep in as she grew older. Resentment that Cleo had left and would never come back. But she couldn’t go back. Not if she loved Riley. Sometimes love required the ultimate sacrifice. Sometimes love required death. Death to all they knew, all they had known. If Cleo disappeared, then Riley would be left alone. Riley would be safe. She could grow up as innocent as possible. So long as Cleo Clemmons no longer existed. *** Excerpt from The Vanishing at Castle Moreau by JAIME JO WRIGHT. Copyright 2023 by Jaime Sundsmo. Reproduced with permission from Bethany House Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—­for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—­without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

About the Author:

Jaime Jo Wright
Jaime Jo Wright is the author of six novels, including Christy Award winner The House on Foster Hill and Carol Award winner The Reckoning at Gossamer Pond. She’s also the Publishers Weekly and ECPA bestselling author of two novellas. Jaime lives in Wisconsin with her cat named Foo; her husband, Cap’n Hook; and their littles, Peter Pan and CoCo.

To learn more, visit Jamie at: www.jaimewrightbooks.com (& check out her Podcast – MadLit Musings!) Goodreads BookBub – @JaimeJoWright Instagram – @JaimeJoWright Twitter – @JaimeJoWright Facebook – @JaimeJoWright

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Bones Under the Ice

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It’s a cold murder mystery this week with Bones Under the Ice by Mary Ann Miller. There is nothing like solving a mystery in a blizzard and Jhonni Laurent has a doozy of a case. Let’s bundle up and head to Field’s Crossing, Indiana and figure out just what that is hidden by the snow.

More About the Book

Jhonni Laurent is the first female sheriff of Field’ s Crossing, Indiana— and now she has her first murder case 
 
Two days after a blizzard hits Field’ s Crossing, Indiana, Sheriff Jhonni Laurent discovers the frozen body of a high school senior under a fifteen-foot pile of snow and ice. Murder is rare in farm country, and this death marks the beginning of Jhonni’ s first homicide case. 
 
Just as the investigation gets underway, Jhonni’ s opponent for sheriff from four years ago wages a bitter reelection battle to oust her. Then, Jhonni finds another body, and further complications arise when a century-old feud between two families reaches its breaking point. 
 
Soon, a slew of newspaper articles causes the Indiana State Election Board to doubt her credibility. Jhonni must fight to maintain her reputation, keep the small farming community together, and find the murderer at large— all while demons from her own past threaten to crush her. Can she find the killer and mend her battered spirit before it’ s too late? 

Excerpt

Sheriff Jhonni Laurent half-strode, half-slid down the huge pile of snow, her breath streaming out in a white plume. A February blizzard had blown through northern Indiana the night before. The gusting winds had now died, but the late morning temperature was plummeting. She glared at the pesky reporter perched at the bottom of the hill, pelting questions.
“What’s going on? What’d you find?” Ralph Howard shouted. “When can I take pictures? My deadline’s in two hours.”
“Your deadline is not my concern,” she snapped back. “The internet does not get to inform next-of-kin.”
“The kid who found the body saw a hand sticking up in the pile of snow,” Ralph Howard persisted. “Can you determine the sex or age of the victim? I need to get a few shots. I’ll hold off publication until this afternoon.”
“Absolutely not. I have no idea what’s underneath that mountain of snow or how long it’s going to take to extract the body. Get back and stay back.” Laurent pointed to the parking lot. She waited until he trudged back to his car, slammed the door, and crawled out of Webster Park’s snow-covered parking lot. As far as Laurent was concerned, freedom of the press didn’t start until after next-of-kin notification. And that was part of her job.
Tucking her long braid inside her fleece-lined jacket, Laurent climbed the pile of snow, knelt once again, the ice-crusted snow cracking under her knees. She was glad she had worn the extra layer of snow gear. She’d need the warmth and moisture protection today. Laurent leaned forward and peered at the slender frozen hand—wrist broken, fingertips resting on the icy ground. Squinting against the glare, she noted the hand was blue, not black, which meant the victim had died before severe frostbite set in. She had seen this before. Frozen extremities. Fingers, toes, top of the ears, tip of the nose—all blackened with frostbite. Old man Dawson lost both pinky fingers and the tip of his right ear rescuing a baby calf and its mother in the last blizzard.
Was there an entire body encased in the snow and ice? Laurent brushed away more snow until the frozen limb was exposed to the elbow. The victim wore a white, puffy coat and purple nail polish. Female.
Laurent swallowed and blinked away tears before they froze. In the small farming community of Field’s Crossing, Indiana, there wouldn’t be a lot of women wearing purple nail polish and certainly no one over the age of forty, possibly even thirty. So young. This was going to hurt. The family, the community, herself. And to make matters worse, today was February 2. A day she dreaded. A reminder of her failure. Exactly thirty years ago she’d given up her baby girl for adoption.
Laurent rose to her feet, head pounding. She had a nasty cold. Her head hurt and she couldn’t breathe through her nose. Every time she swallowed, shards of glass stabbed her in the throat. February in Indiana. Everyone had a cold.
She slid her sunglasses down from her forehead, stomped to her SUV, and grabbed the radio, one foot perched on the running board. “Dispatch. Get a hold of Caleb Martin. I don’t care what he’s doing or where he’s at. I want to talk to him. Send Greene and Dak out to Webster Park. Tell them to bring hand trowels, ice picks, buckets, something to kneel on, and the camera. Also, advise Henry Linville we’ll need to use his refrigerator box to thaw a body.”
“Ten-four, Sheriff.”
“Tell Ingram he’s going to have to handle everything else until we can extract the body. Call me immediately if anyone reports a missing person. Contact Starr at the village office and get her started on the welfare safety checks. Make a list of everyone who doesn’t answer. After Ingram deals with the fender benders, have him start knocking on doors. Greene and Dak should be able to give him a hand this afternoon.”
Laurent grabbed her silver Yeti from the cupholder, slammed the SUV door closed, and strode to the group of parents gathered next to an overturned picnic table. She estimated thirty children had been sledding in the park while ten adults huddled in a circle sipping coffee and chatting. She would need to be careful with what she said.
She took a sip of hot tea from the Yeti and set it in the snow next to her foot before pulling out her notebook. “Thanks for waiting, everyone. I need to get some information. First, who found the hand?”
“We did.” Two red-cheeked boys stepped out of the crowd, their mothers’ hands on their shoulders.
“I like your Spider-man skullcap.” Laurent slid a gloved hand into her pocket and rocked back on her heels. “What’s your name?”
“Danny Gibson. My mom got it for me because I got all As and Bs on my report card.”
She lifted a hand for a high five and then nodded at the other boy hopping from foot to foot. “What’s your name? You have Batman snow pants. Awesome.”
“Tyler Hayes. Batman can beat Spider-man every time.” He punched Danny in the arm.
“Can you tell me what happened?”
“We were racing down the hill,” Danny said. “I got flipped over. I thought it was a rock, so we climbed back up to dig it out, except it wasn’t a rock.”
“I beat him down the hill,” Tyler said.
“Did not.”
“Did too.”
“Doesn’t count.”
Laurent picked up her thermos and sipped her hot tea and tried to hide her smile. Boys. Always trying to one-up each other. “When did you get here?”
“We’d have been here earlier, but Mom said we had to wait for Field Street to be plowed all the way to the park,” Danny said.
Danny’s mom’s breath whooshed out in a long stream. “We got here around ten, and even then, none of the side streets were plowed. What’s going on? Do you know who it is?”
“I’ll know more in a few hours. Were you the first ones to arrive?”
Four heads nodded.
“Did you see anyone leaving the park when you got here?”
Four heads shook.
“How long is it going to take to dig it out? Is it just an arm or is there a whole body buried under all that snow?” Danny asked. “Can we watch?”
“Please, Sheriff. This is so sick,” Tyler said.
“I’m sorry, boys, but no one can watch. I’m not sure what we’re going to find.” Laurent raised her voice. “Folks, I want everyone to go home. No sledding at Webster Park until I say so. Build a snow fort in your front yard. Have a snowball fight with the neighbors. If I catch anyone out here, I’ll ask Principal Li to assign detention.”
Laurent finished her hot tea as kids and parents piled their sleds into minivans and pickup trucks, then she walked to the SUV, her feet squeaking on the snow, and slid behind the wheel. Her heart ached and her eyes blurred. She had been a deputy sheriff for fifteen years before being elected sheriff and had never recovered the body of a child. Grabbing a tissue, she blew her nose. Pulling nasal spray out of her pocket, she inhaled. As she waited for the cold medicine to take effect, she popped two sinus headache pills, smeared Vaseline under her sore nose, and rested her forehead on the steering wheel. Tomorrow was her day off, and she’d been looking forward to staying in her flannel pajamas, fuzzy slippers, and robe all day, binge-watching her favorite Netflix series, The Great British Baking Show. Not anymore.

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About the Author

Mary Ann Miller is a debut author, currently living in Florida with her husband, where she is working on the second novel in the series. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Northern Illinois University and earned a paralegal certificate with Roosevelt University. Miller is a member of MWA, ITW, and Sisters in Crime and when not writing, can be found reading poolside or hosting family and friends fleeing the cold winters of the north. 

You can find Mary Ann Miller Here.

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www.maryannmillerauthor.com 

Danger on Maui

 

 

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Let’s head to Hawaii to solve a mystery from Harlequin. R. Barri Flowers brings us Danger on Maui where a writer and detective get together to solve a murder. Get your flip flops and sunscreen on as we head into this week’s mystery.

About the Book

With a serial killer on the loose A homicide detective is on the hunt…
On Maui, Hawaii, to research a mass murder, author Daphne Dockery seeks out the lead detective on the case. Kenneth Kealoha is glad to help—and eager to get to know her better. They’re exploring their instant connection when Daphne realizes that she’s being followed. Has an obsessed fan tracked her to the island paradise? Or has the serial killer Kenneth is hunting chosen Daphne as his next victim
From Harlequin Intrigue: Seek thrills. Solve crimes. Justice served.

Excerpt

Daphne was up early in the Kiki Shores luxury oceanfront villa on Kai Malina Parkway in Kaanapali. The beautiful and popular resort was on the west shore of Maui. As much as she would have liked to have slept in for another hour or so in the comfortable king-sized bed in the large primary bedroom, with a second bedroom serving as her temporary office, that would have to wait for another day. There were things to do and people to see, one in particular. Having done her research, Daphne had found out that the lead investigator in the murder-suicide case she was working on was a homicide detective named Kenneth Kealoha. From experience, she had learned that interviewing detectives working the investigations provided just the right context needed to ensure the true crime book balanced in its factual basis and verisimilitude while keeping the readers engaged throughout. Hopefully, Detective Kealoha will be cooperative and not just blow me off, she thought while tying her hair up.
After putting on a blue T-shirt and gray shorts, Daphne stepped into a new pair of white running shoes, ready to break them in. She spotted a small gecko on the cream-colored wall as she passed beneath the swirling fern-leaf ceiling fan and across the villa’s ceramic tile flooring. Moving past the vintage furnishings with a modern feel, she headed out for a quick morning run on Kaanapali Beach. It included three miles of pristine golden white sand and an endless view of the clear waters of the deep blue ocean. Then there was Black Rock, the hot spot on the nearshore for cliff diving. She wondered if she could muster up the courage to give it a try during her stay. Beyond that, she could see the Hawaiian islands of Lanai and Molokai. There were a few other runners out, but well spaced from one another. One tall and tanned male runner acknowledged her before picking up speed, as if to show off his powerful legs. She chuckled within. At least I can be myself here and not be bothered by anyone, Daphne mused, knowing full well that being somewhat of a celebrity—at least in Tuscaloosa—was not all it was cracked up to be. Attracting the wrong attention could become a nightmare as thoughts of her stalker, Marissa Sheffield, filled Daphne’s head.
She shut this down, determined not to give in to an ordeal that was now over. Once back in the villa, she took a shower, dressed and grabbed a bite to eat at the Kiki Shores restaurant. Then Daphne got in her rented Chevy Malibu, equipped with a GPS navigation system, and used the voice directions to make her way to the Maui Police Department on Mahalani Street in Wailuku.
At the front desk, Daphne was told by the thirtysomething burly male desk officer where to find Detective Kenneth Kealoha. When she reached his cubicle, there was a tall and dark-haired man standing by a wooden desk with his back to her. Clearing her throat to get his attention, Daphne uttered, “I’m looking for Detective Kealoha…”
The man turned around and locked solid brown-gray eyes with her, looking just as shocked as she was. “You found him,” he said equably.
“Ken.” The word blurted out of Daphne’s mouth even before she began to put the pieces together in sizing up the man she’d met yesterday at her book signing.
“Daphne Dockery, the true crime writer,” he said in return, an amused grin playing on his full mouth. “Ken is short for Detective Kenneth Kealoha, which I’m sure you’ve probably already figured out.”
She blushed. “I gathered that much.”
“Feel free to stick with Ken, if you like.” Kenneth stared at her and stuck out his hand. “Have to say, I didn’t think we’d see each other again. At least not so soon.” He laughed wryly as they shook hands.
“Neither did I,” she had to admit, having no idea of who he was the first time around, while feeling the sensations of their skin contact.
“You’re not stalking me, are you?” he asked playfully.
“Not funny.” Daphne made a face. She considered stalking serious business, having been a victim of it.
Kenneth seemed to pick up on her uneasiness with the subject matter. “Poor choice of words,” he said contritely. “Sorry about that.” He paused. “So, what can I do for you?”
Daphne smoothed a thin eyebrow. “I need your help,” she said tentatively, commanding his contemplation. “Or to get some information from you.”
“Go on,” he prodded gently.
She took a breath. “I’m writing a book about the murder-suicide involving the Takahashi family that took place on the island last summer. Since you were the lead detective on the case, I was hoping to talk to you about it to help fill in some of the blanks.”
“I see.” Kenneth shifted his weight to one leg. “As much as I’d love to help you, Ms. Dockery, right now I’m in the middle of a major investigation.”
“Please call me Daphne,” she told him, sensing that it had suddenly seemed to become more formal between them. But she didn’t come there simply to be turned away. Not without giving it her all. “I understand that you’re busy, Ken,” she allowed in a friendly voice, “but I just need a little bit of your time. I can pay you…”
He frowned. “I don’t want your money.”
Did I just insult him unintentionally, or what? Daphne asked herself. “Perhaps this was a bad idea,” she said. “I’ll just have to work my way around this part. Maybe you could direct me to one of the other detectives who was involved in the investigation?”
Kenneth met her eyes and she could tell he was having second thoughts. “I’m probably your best bet to get what you need,” he spoke evenly. “And while we’re at it, I have a few questions of my own for you.”
“Oh…?” She cocked a brow curiously, wondering if his questions were professional. Or more of a personal nature?
He didn’t follow up on that, instead asking, “Can we get together this afternoon, maybe for lunch?”
“That works for me,” Daphne agreed, perhaps too eagerly. “Lunch is a good time to talk.” Especially if they could do so at a relatively quiet place.
Kenneth concurred. “Where are you staying?” She told him, knowing it was asked for the right reasons, coming from the handsome detective, who then said, “I can meet you at the Seas Grill in Whalers Village at one.”
“I’ll see you there,” she said, knowing of the swanky outdoor shopping center on Kaanapali Beach, having already acquainted herself with it during a walkthrough.
He grinned crookedly. “Look forward to it.”
“Me, too.” Daphne smiled back, wishing she wasn’t so attracted to him, if only to keep her focus on the mission at hand. But then again, she saw no harm in admiring the detective, who seemed to be just as taken with her, even while remaining somewhat aloof.

 

 

Danger on Maui (Hawaii CI) is available in audio, eBook, and print, wherever books are sold, including the following booksellers: Amazon:\ Amazon Australia Amazon UK Apple Books Audible Audiobooks Audiobookstore

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Discover more action-packed stories in the Hawaii CI series. All books are stand-alone with uplifting endings but were published in the following order: 

Book 1: The Big Island Killer 

Book 2: Captured on Kauai 

Book 3: Honolulu Cold Homicide 

Book 4: Danger on Maui 

About the Author

R. Barri Flowers is the award-winning author of romantic suspense, mystery, thriller and fast-paced crime fiction with more than one hundred books published to date. Chemistry and conflict between the hero and heroine, attention to detail, and incorporating the very latest advances in criminal investigations and modern techno-thrillers, are the cornerstones of his crime novels.
As a literary criminologist, R. Barri Flowers has appeared on the Biography Channel, Investigation Discovery, Oxygen, Peacock, and Tubi true crime documentary series. Barri enjoys traveling around the country and abroad to scope out intriguing settings and dynamics for future storylines, books, and miniseries. He is a graduate of Michigan State University’s renowned School of Criminal Justice and a recipient of its esteemed Wall of Fame Award.
Upcoming titles by the author include Till She Was Done (A Psychological Thriller) from Level Best Books (June 2023), Special Agent Witness (The Lynleys of Law Enforcement Book 1) from Harlequin Intrigue (October 2023), and Christmas Lights Killer (The Lynleys of Law Enforcement Book 2) from Harlequin Intrigue (November 2023).

Path of Peril

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Today we take a trip back in time to 1906 in Path of Peril by Marlie Parker Wasserman. Theodore Roosevelt is president and the Panama Canal is being built. In our excerpt we hear an account from Maurice Latta, years afterward.

About Path of Peril

Would the assassins plotting to kill Theodore Roosevelt on his visit to the Panama Canal succeed? Until this trip, no president while in office had ever traveled abroad. White House secretary Maurice Latta, thrilled to accompany the President, could never have anticipated the adventures and dangers ahead. Latta befriends watchful secret service agents, ambitious journalists, and anxious First Lady Edith Roosevelt on their hot and humid trip, where he observes a country teeming with inequalities and abounding in opportunities. Along the way he learns about his own strengths—what he never imagined he could do, and what he discovers he can’t do.  

Theodore Roosevelt did visit Panama in 1906, accompanied by White House staffer Maurice Latta. Path of Peril imagines what the newspapers feared to report and what historians never discovered about Roosevelt’s risky trip. 

Excerpt

Maurice Latta

Sunday, January 19, 1947

For forty-one years I honored my oath to President Theodore Roosevelt and his bodyguard to conceal the events of November 15th and November 17th, 1906. On each of those days I agreed to a conspiracy of silence. Last year, that bodyguard died, and TR is long dead. Before I follow them to the grave, I will disclose the perils we faced during the President’s historic trip to Panama, to clarify the record and to unburden myself.

My tale begins in the White House clerk’s office, where I served as a stenographer during the McKinley administration and where I serve now, with a higher title, fifty years later. At first, I felt no connection with the other fifteen fellows in the clerk’s office. I suppose I looked the part, with my regular features and unremarkable bearing. If my appearance fit in, my background did not. Most men working for the President, even at the turn of the century, were college boys. Some had taken the grand tour of Europe. A few had gone to universities in New England. Three, fancying themselves adventurers, had traveled to the West with President Roosevelt, that is, President Theodore Roosevelt. Two of the older gentlemen had been heroes in battles in the South during the Civil War. Most of the White House office workers had nothing to prove, to the President or to themselves.

I followed a different path to Washington. After an unmemorable youth on a Pennsylvania farm, I moved to Oklahoma, where I took my first job as a junior clerk. I filled in paperwork for the more memorable 1893 land rush. Over time my responsibilities and the commands of the head clerk grew distasteful. A friend back in Pennsylvania recommended me for a position as a clerk for a state senator in Harrisburg. I worked for that state senator for one year and two months. Forgive the precision—I like to be accurate with details. Then the legislator was elected to Congress and took me to Washington. Three years later, almost to the day, word spread across town that President William McKinley’s office needed a stenographer. By that time I had married Clara Hays Bullen and had two sons. I aimed to improve my lowly position and my meager salary.

I moved down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol to the White House. My official duties, those that were known, started on August 8, 1898. Three years and one month after I started, all hell broke loose in the office. Of course I wouldn’t have used such language then. Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist, assassinated President McKinley. Like other Americans, I felt sorrowful. I had seen McKinley pass down the hall daily, but I had never been introduced to him and he never spoke to me.

My clerk’s job continued. Theodore Roosevelt became President. Little changed in the routines of our office, except now the President knew me by my first and last name. Maurice Latta. To be precise, Maurice Cooper Latta.

When the President’s Secretary, William Loeb, promoted me from Stenographic Clerk to Assistant Secretary on June 4, 1906, I hoped I might have the opportunity to travel, at least up and down the East Coast. Two months later, I heard rumors that TR wanted to assess progress on his canal. Oh, let me interrupt myself for a moment. While conducting my official capacities, I called the President President Roosevelt. Informally I called him TR. By the way, he was the first president to be known by his initials. And some called him Teddy, though I never did so. I am told his relatives called him Teedie. You will hear all these names in my tale.

This trip would be the first time a president, while in office, had ever left the United States. Many Americans thought a president should not travel to foreign soil. That seems odd to us now, after Versailles and Yalta. But in 1906 most Americans didn’t give much thought to the rest of the world, not until TR changed that.

I assumed Secretary Loeb, always interested in the press, would accompany the President to the canal. Mr. Loeb would want to shape the stories in the dailies and weeklies. Reporters called him Stonewall Loeb because of the way he controlled their access to the President. To my shock, Mr. Loeb asked me to go in his place.

Today, even after working in the executive offices of nine administrations, now for President Truman (no, I never call him Give ‘Em Hell Harry), and managing a staff of 204 clerks, my title, a rather misleading title, is only Executive Clerk. I am proud, though, that the New York Times has acknowledged my worth. Four years ago, in a Christmas day article my family framed, the reporter wrote, “The actual ‘assistant president’. . . is an official who has been in the White House since 1898 and knows more about its procedure than anyone else. He is Maurice C. Latta, now seventy-four and known as ‘Judge’ Latta to the White House staff.” In truth I know more about what is happening, and what did happen, than most of the presidents I served. That statement is for this memoir only.

I won’t dwell on my years in the White House after Panama, but rather on four days in 1906, in and around the Canal Zone. For the public, I want to add to the historical record, which is silent on certain momentous events. For me and my family, I want to remember the turning point, when I came to realize both my limitations and my strengths. I am writing the tale of what I know, what I saw myself. If you wish, you can fill in gaps with stories you gather from the others present that November, the stories I couldn’t see.

My Review

This is a fascinating trip back in time to a plot to kill Theodore Roosevelt. With a myriad of characters and events, the mystery unfolds as to whether the assassination plot will succeed. The sections on the Panama Canal construction were eye-opening. This is a historical mystery with delights for both the mystery lover and the history buff.

You can find Path of Peril at these online retailers:

Amazon Paperback Amazon Ebook

Barnes and Noble

About the Author

Marlie Parker Wasserman writes historical crime fiction, after a career on the other side of the desk in publishing. In addition to Path of Peril, she is the author of The Murderess Must Die (2021) and the forthcoming Inferno on Fifth (2024). Marlie lives with her husband in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Triangle Chapter of Sisters in Crime. 

Visit Marlie’s Website

Twitter @Marlie Wasserman

Instagram: marliepwasserman

Facebook:Marlie Wasserman

A Flicker of a Doubt

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It’s Spring, so let’s talk about cute little fairies! Daryl Wood Gerber brings us A Flicker of a Doubt today. It’s a cozy mystery with magical elements to it, so let’s put on our gossamer wings and head to California.

About A Flicker of a Doubt 

A Flicker of a Doubt (A Fairy Garden Mystery)

                                                                                         Cozy Mystery

                                                                                           4th in Series

                                                                                    Setting – California

                                                                                     Kensington Cozies

Fairies are trending hard, especially when it comes to fairy garden décor in Walmart and Target and on Amazon. The latest installment in the nationally bestselling Daryl Wood Gerber’s Fairy Garden mysteries is a perfect read for Laura Childs readers and all fans of whimsy and charm.

With a theater foundation tea and an art show planned at Violet Vickers’s estate, Courtney is hired to create charming fairy gardens for the event. It’s not so charming, however, when her best friend Meaghan’s ex-boyfriend turns out to be Violet’s latest artistic protégé. Even worse, not long after Meaghan locks horns with him, his body is found in her yard, bludgeoned with an objet d’murder.

There’s a gallery of suspects, from an unstable former flame to an arts and crafts teacher with a sketchy past. But when the cops focus on Meaghan’s business partner, who’s like a protective older brother to her, and discover he also has a secret financial motive, Courtney decides to draw her own conclusions. Fearing they’re missing the forest for the trees, and with some help from Fiona the sleuthing fairy, she hopes to make them see the light . . .

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1
Down by the spring one morning
Where the shadows still lay deep,
I found in the heart of a flower
A tiny fairy asleep.
~Laura Ingalls Wilder, “The Fairy Dew Drop”

Slam! Slam-slam-slam! Slam!
My insides did a jig. I dashed down the hall to the back of Open Your Imagination,
dusting my hands off on my denim overalls while wondering what in the world was going on.
Fiona, the teensy righteous fairy that appeared to me the day I opened my fairy garden shop,
fluttered to my shoulder. Her limbs and gossamer wings were trembling.
“What’s happening, Courtney?” she managed to squeak out. She hated loud noises. Hated
surprises. I didn’t like them, either.
Pixie, my Ragdoll cat, trailed us. She mewed.
“Don’t worry, you two,” I said. “I’m sure it’s nothing.”
I drew to a halt outside the storage room. The door opened and slammed.
When it opened again, I pressed a hand against it. “Hey! Stop! Meaghan, c’mon.”
The door opened wide, and Meaghan Brownie gawked at me. Her face was red, her eyes
were ablaze with fury, and her curly hair was writhing like wild snakes.
“What the heck has you so angry?” I asked. I’d sent her to fetch a box of gemstones. I
had plenty, so coming up empty wasn’t what was upsetting her.
“Nicolas!” She huffed. “He texted me. And . . . And . . .” She waggled her cell phone.
“Oo-oh!”
Nicolas was her ex-boyfriend, a temperamental artist. A few months back, she’d asked
him to move out while her mother had needed comforting. He’d never returned.
“Oo-oh,” she repeated, before grabbing one of the Tupperware boxes filled with
gemstones and skirting past me. She stalked toward the main showroom.
Pixie and I followed. Fiona flew above my pal, sprinkling her with a calming silver dust.
Fairies couldn’t change human behavior, but they could offer potions that might help the human
solve problems. In this case, to find peace.
“He’s so . . . so . . . ”
Meaghan was not using her inside voice, but I wasn’t worried about her upsetting our
customers. It was early. Nobody was in the shop yet. Not even Joss Timberlake, my right-hand
helper. She’d asked for the morning off, so I’d invited Meaghan to help me prepare some items.
Why did I need help? Because yesterday Violet Vickers, a wealthy widow who donated to
numerous worthy causes, had ordered an additional dozen fairy gardens to be used as
centerpieces for the theater foundation tea she was serving on Mother’s Day. Why additional?
Because she’d already commissioned me to make a dozen very large, elaborate fairy gardens to
be installed when Kelly Landscaping, my father’s company, completed the total redo of her
backyard.
It was May first. I wasn’t hyperventilating. Yet. But I also wasn’t sleeping much.
“Let’s go to the patio,” I said. “I’ll bring some tea.”
“I don’t want tea,” Meaghan groused as she breezed out the French doors to the patio, the
folds of her white lace skirt wafting behind her.
The shop’s telephone jangled. I decided not to answer. Whoever was calling would call
back. Meaghan, my best friend who I’d met a little over ten years ago when we were sophomores
in college, needed me more. I followed her, glancing at Fiona wondering why the calming potion
wasn’t working. Fiona, intuiting my question, shook her head.
“Isn’t it a beautiful morning, Meaghan?” I took the box from her and set it on the
workstation table in the learning-the-craft area at the far end of the patio. “Gorgeous, in fact.”
The fountain was burbling. Sunshine was streaming through the tempered-glass,
pyramid-shaped roof. The leaves of the Ficus trees were clean and shiny. I’d already wiped down
the wrought-iron tables and chairs and organized all the verdigris baker’s racks of fairy figurines.
Plus I’d removed dead leaves from the various decorative fairy gardens. Presentation mattered to
me and to my customers.
Meaghan muttered, “Ugh.”
“Start at the beginning,” I said. “Nicolas texted you.”
“Yes.” She plopped onto a bench and rested her elbows on the table.
“What did he write?” I asked.
“He wants me back.”
I opened the box of colorful gemstones and ran my hands through them: hematite,
labradorite, amethyst, obsidian, and more.
“But I don’t want him back,” Meaghan said.
Fiona landed on the rim of the box. Her eyes widened. “Are they for the fairy doors,
Courtney?”
“Mm-hm.”
“They’re pretty.”
Not only was I making the gardens for Violet, but I had three upcoming fairy garden door
classes scheduled. Fairy doors were miniature doors, usually set at the base of a tree, behind
which might be a small space where people left notes or wishes for fairies. They could also be
installed into a fairy garden pot.
“I mean, I used to,” Meaghan went on. “But I don’t anymore. We have nothing in
common.” Idly, she drew circles on the tabletop with her fingertip. “I did the right thing, don’t
you think? I did, didn’t I?”
Over the course of our friendship, I’d kept my mouth shut. Nicolas and Meaghan had
never made sense. She was outgoing and personable; he was quiet, to the point of being morose.
Granted, he was a talented artist, and she, as a premier art gallery owner, appreciated his gift, but
that was not enough to sustain a healthy relationship. Not in my book, anyway.
“Did he text anything else?” I asked, not answering her question.
“No . . . Yes. That he loved me.” She flopped forward on her arms dramatically.
Pixie pounced onto the bench and nudged Meaghan’s hip with her nose.
Meaghan sat up, drew the cat into her lap, and petted her. “You should have seen Ziggy
the last time Nicolas contacted me.” Ziggy Foxx, an eccentric gay man in his forties, was
Meaghan’s business partner at Flair Gallery.
Cypress and Ivy Courtyard, where Open Your Imagination was located, boasted a highend
jewelry store, collectibles shop, pet-grooming enterprise, my favorite bakery Sweet Treats,
and Flair, Meaghan’s gallery.
“Ziggy was finalizing a sale of one of Hunter Hock’s items, and when he heard me say
Nicolas’s name, he nearly threw Hunter’s art across the room. Hunter was there at the time.”
Hunter Hock, an in-demand artist in his thirties, was known for small pieces of art. Not as
tiny as paintings on almonds or bottle caps or even the insides of lockets. More like three-inchsquare
petite canvases. Many featured landscapes of Carmel-by-the-Sea, my home town and one
of the most incredible places on earth.
“Oh, man, if Hunter could have leaped through the phone receiver”—Meaghan snorted
out a laugh—“he would have strangled Nicolas. You know how he likes to protect me.”
Every man who’d ever met Meaghan had wanted to protect her. Not that she needed it.
She was a force to be reckoned with. But there was something about her femininity that brought
out the he-man in men. Me? Most men wanted to be my friend. Period. I was the girl-next-door
type. Short blond hair, athletic figure. Meaghan towered above me and had curves.
I said, “I’d bet Hunter also didn’t like seeing Ziggy lose his temper.”
“Destroy a piece of his art? Oh, the insanity!” Her laugh turned into giggles. Fits of
giggles. And then tears.
I hurried to her and threw my arm around her. “Hey, c’mon. Deep breaths. You’re
beyond Nicolas. You have Ziggy.”
She arched her eyebrow.
“Okay, you have Hunter,” I joked.
She sobered. “I don’t have Hunter. He’s a friend.”
I twirled a finger. “I’ve seen the way he looks at you.”
“Like this?” She made a googly-eyed face.
“That’s the spirit!” Fiona spiraled to the roof, did a loop the loop, and returned to
Meaghan’s shoulder. “No more crying. What’s done is done.” She caressed my friend’s hair.
“Thank you, Fiona.” Not everyone could see fairies, and Meaghan had struggled at first,
but now, she was quite in tune with them.
“We move onward and upward,” Fiona added. My intrepid fairy knew what she was
talking about. She’d messed up in fairy school, so the queen fairy had booted her from the fairy
realm and subjected her to probation. But she was making the most of it. By helping humans
solve problems, she would earn her way back into the queen fairy’s good graces—the queen
fairy who, until a few months ago, I hadn’t realized was Aurora, the first fairy I’d ever seen; the
fairy who had disappeared from my memory when my mother died.
“When you’re done with your pity party, Meaghan,” I said, “help me sort these stones
before we open up.”
“And then I need to go to Flair.”
I turned on soothing instrumental music that piped through speakers on the patio, and we
worked in companionable silence for an hour, organizing and preparing.
When Meaghan was ready to leave, she gave me a hug. “Thank you for talking me down
from the ledge.”
“No thanks required. Nicolas wants you, but you don’t want him. All you have to say is
no.”
“No.” Meaghan shook her head from side to side. “No, no, no.”
“See?” I grinned. “That isn’t too hard.”
“Until he comes near me and my knees turn to jelly.”
“You won’t turn to jelly. You’ll be strong. Stalwart. You’ve been seeing the therapist.
She’s given you mantras. Repeat those. Over and over.”
Fiona said, “And if those don’t work, squeeze your eyes shut”—she demonstrated—”and
picture what you want out of life.” She popped her eyes open. “What do you want?”
“A man who thinks I’m wonderful,” Meaghan replied. “A man who doesn’t tear me
down. A man who truly loves me for me.”
I hugged her. “That’s my girl.”
She bounded to her feet. “Want me to unlatch the Dutch door on my way out?”
“I’ll do it.” It was time to open.
I followed her through the showroom. In addition to fairy garden items, we sold a variety
of specialty pieces, including tea sets, gardening tools, books about fairies, and windchimes;
fairies enjoyed tinkling sounds. I weaved between display tables to the entrance and swung open
the door. I stepped outside and drew in a deep, cleansing breath. “Remember, Meaghan, I’m here
if you need me.”
She jogged up the stairs of the split-level courtyard. “Don’t forget I brought you doublechocolate
caramel brownies,” she yelled as she disappeared from view.
Given her last name, she’d been a brownie maker since she’d learned how to bake. I was
lucky enough to reap the rewards.
I turned to go back inside.
“Courtney!” a woman called. Violet Vickers exited the silver Rolls Royce coupe she’d
parked on the street.
Inwardly, I moaned. I adored Violet, but what did she need now? I didn’t have more
hours in the day.
“I’m so glad you’re here.” She triggered the car alarm and strode across the sidewalk
toward me while smoothing the shawl collar of her lavender jacquard suit. “I tried phoning, but
you didn’t answer.”
“Hi, Violet.” I beckoned her into the shop. “What’s up?” I asked, closing the Dutch door
behind us, but opening the top half to let in the fresh air. “I’m getting ready to put the fairy
garden centerpieces together this morning. Your big pots are done and all set for delivery.” I’d
made the larger-sized pots in my backyard using items in my greenhouse.
“Lovely,” she said, as she was wont to do. “Has your father seen the big ones?”
My father, a pragmatist in every sense of the word, didn’t believe in fairies. Opening my
fairy garden shop had been a bone of contention between us. But at least he was coming around
to acknowledging that I and others did see them. And he’d accepted that Violet expected twelve
custom-made pots in her garden. No ifs, ands, or buts. Somehow he, as her landscaper, would
make them work with his design.
“Not yet,” I said, “but he has approved of the plant selections and color of the pottery.”
“Excellent. What are the themes of the gardens, if I dare ask?”
“Love, love, love,” I chimed. “As ordered.”
Though she was pushing seventy, Violet applauded like a jubilant schoolgirl. She’d asked
that the fairy gardens reflect love in all its glory. How could I refuse? Fiona, who was turning out
to be quite the reader, had advised me from the get-go to focus on the greatest love stories of all
time: Romeo and Juliet; Wuthering Heights; Dr. Zhivago; Casablanca. Creating Rick’s Café
with its Moroccan décor for the Casablanca-themed garden had been a challenge.
Violet tapped her chin. “Now then, the reason I needed to see you—”
Tires screeched outside. A door slammed.
Fiona flew to my shoulder. “What now?” she asked, quivering with newfound fear.
The Dutch door burst open, and Nicolas Buley charged in, his dark hair askew, apparent
shaving mishaps checked by tissue, and his paint-splattered shirt untucked from his jeans.
“Where is she?”

About Daryl Wood Gerber

Agatha Award-winning author Daryl Wood Gerber is best known for her nationally bestselling Fairy Garden Mysteries,Cookbook Nook Mysteries, and French Bistro Mysteries. As Avery Aames, she penned the popular Cheese Shop Mysteries. In addition, Daryl writes the Aspen Adams Novels of Suspense as well as stand-alone suspense. Daryl loves to cook, fairy garden, and read. She has a frisky Goldendoodle who keeps her in line. And she has been known to jump out of a perfectly good airplane and hitch-hike around Ireland alone. You can learn more on her website: httsp://darylwoodgerber.com

Author Links

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If I Had a Hammer

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Finally! If I Had a Hammer is a published! Thank you so much to my editor Shawn at Level Best Books for helping me bring 1963 to my readers! If you read book one where Dot was in secretarial school, she has graduated and started her first job at a construction firm. The only problem is they’re digging up more than old septic tanks at the demolition of a set of dilapidated rental homes. When I wrote If I Had a Hammer, I wanted to examine what a tragedy like the assassination of John F Kennedy does to the psyche of a group of people. Ellie, Dot’s cousin, goes through the worst time, but her emotions were her close to my heart the same way they were for people who suffered so much in the pandemic and even after 911. Then of course, there’s a murderer out there Dot has to catch, and there is always a chance that this time the murderer will catch her.

About the Book

A new job, a brutal murder, and Camelot has ended. 

In 1963, Dot Morgan’s life was changed forever. She witnessed the assassination of John F Kennedy through the lens of her boxy Kodak Instamatic camera, bringing traumatic aftereffects of the brutality that happened as they stood on the parade route in Dallas.  

She starts her first real secretarial job with a boss who has no sympathy for her trauma. When Dot’s only work friend has a mysterious accident at a demolition site, she digs around on her own only to find very little love between two brothers and no one hammering out justice to find a murderer.  

The suspects are all around Dot and as she tries to sift through their motives, her cousin Ellie is going through PTSD on her own, losing interest in work, and her fiancé all the while quoting some of JFK’s finest speeches. 

With so much change in her world, can Dot still tell the difference between good and evil? 

Read an Excerpt

Ellie screamed, making the driver jump. “Right here! Stop here,” Ellie said as she passed bills from the back seat to the front.
I looked up over a light brown building with straight white letters reading Texas School Book Depository. Above it was an ad for Hertz Rent-a-Car with a clock attached to it. It was straight up noon. The crowd was thickening as people found places to stand in a grassy area next to the street. It was almost as if the original landscaper had known this historic day would take pl.ace and designed the gradual slope along the road. According to the newspaper, Kennedy’s motorcade would arrive soon, and I felt the excitement building as we prepared to join the crowd. I pulled my arms through my sweater.
Ellie extended a hand to help me out of the yellow Checker cab. “Are you ready?”
“Oh yes. Let’s go over there.” I pointed to one of the few open spots next to the curb. “Hurry, before someone else gets it. I just hope we can hold the spot. There are some pretty big guys who might want to stand in front of us.”
Ellie smirked. “You know what I always say. ‘Knee them in the crotch and they sing a new song.’”
“Seriously, Ellie. I’m not attacking some poor man just so I can stand in front.”
“You’re right. I was trying to sound sophisticated, Maybe not here, but remember that. It might come in handy someday.”
I had decided to wear a new pair of black heels and felt them wobbling. We crossed the street and grabbed our spot just in time, causing another viewer to crowd in next to us. The smell of cigarette smoke circled us as people fiddled with cameras and readjusted black-rimmed glasses.
“Jack Kennedy is so handsome.” Ellie placed her hand over her heart, popping it on her chest like a heartbeat. “Too bad he’s already taken.”
“Stop.” I laughed. “I believe you’re already taken as well. Didn’t I hear something about you and Al getting married next June?”
Ellie gave a sweet smile as her eyes drifted upward. “I can’t believe that either. June. That’s just a little more than six months away.”
“Well, you deserve the happiness coming your way.” I patted my cousin’s shoulder. Ellie was in her thirties, practically spinsterhood in 1963. Finding Al, the electrician, had been the best thing for her. Love and marriage. It filled me with warmth. We were all living the American dream just like the characters in our favorite movies at the Rialto theater. The lyrics of “Young at Heart” drifted through my mind.
I sang a few lines from the song.
Ellie linked her arm with mine as she watched the street. A few cars drove by, but none that looked like a presidential motorcade. The breeze drifted across my exposed knees. A longer skirt would have shielded my knees, but I would endure the shivers for the sake of fashion.
“Ellie, did you see that picture of Jackie in the paper? She’s gorgeous. I saw her tour of the White House on TV. She’s so classy and looks beautiful in everything she wears.”
“Except she talks funny,” Ellie said, her Texas drawl turning “talks” into “tawks.”
“That’s because she’s from the East. She can’t help it. I’ll bet she thinks Texans talk funny. I’m sure they hear a lot of Texas twang coming from LBJ and Ladybird.”
“But that’s just music to anyone’s ears,” Ellie said. “Be serious.”
I glanced up and down the parade route. “Ben said he was going to be here. Maybe he’s farther down the street.” I pulled out my new Kodak Instamatic and hooked the leather strap around my neck. I raised the camera up to my eyes. “I hope I can get a clear picture of Jackie and John.”
“Listen to you. You talk like you know them,” Ellie laughed. “Jackie and John.”
“Well, in a way, I feel like I do. They’re America’s perfect family. I love them all. Jackie, John, Caroline, John-John.”
Ellie sighed and then drew in an excited breath with her hands clenched in front of her. “This is so exciting.” People continued to crowd up to the curb. A tall man in a brown plaid sport coat, holding binoculars up to his black boxy glasses, elbowed me to move over. I could feel tension in the air that comes when people anticipate witnessing something spectacular.
Just then, a line of shiny black cars came into view, ambling down the street in our direction. The breeze turned into a slight wind. I leaned forward and squinted, trying to identify who was in each vehicle. I felt my heart race as I recognized John and Jackie Kennedy sitting in the back seat as the car was surrounded by men on motorcycles. She was stunning in a pink wool suit and matching hat. I felt special knowing Jackie and I had worn the same color on this memorable day. She, of course, looked so much better. John had a healthy tan and a wide smile on his face.
I raised my camera and willed the man in the brown plaid coat not to step in front of me. This was a moment I was sure we would always remember. I hoped I could wind the film cartridge fast enough to take several pictures. Maybe they would want to use them in the Camden Courier? I wanted a good one of John, and another of Jackie. Just like real people, I thought but really, they looked like royalty, sitting in the open top limousine with policemen on motorcycles riding silently alongside—sort of a mobile palace guard. When the hood of the limousine was directly in front of me, I brought the Instamatic up and clicked to take a picture. I rolled the film to the next frame, took another, and repeated the process.
Suddenly, I heard a popping sound somewhere behind me. I rolled the film lever with my thumb, now an automatic action, then turned toward the sound, only to see people scrambling and running to higher ground. The sound I heard wasn’t a pop. It was a gunshot. I looked back toward the motorcade and stood in horror as a man crawled over the back of the open convertible and the thing that caught my attention was the splotches of red invading Jackie’s beautiful pink suit. John Kennedy no longer sat smiling in front of me but was down in the seat on Jackie’s lap.

🔨 Pick up your copy of If I Had a Hammer on Amazon🔨

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Fact & Fiction

Fact & Fiction by Justin M. Kiska

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Who would murder a beloved man of the cloth? That’s what two police detectives are determined to find out in Fact & Fiction by Justin Kiska. Get ready as we head to the crime scene on fall day in Parker City, Maryland.

More About Fact and Fiction

Parker City, Autumn 1984…

As the leaves begin to change colors and the weather starts turning cooler in the historic city in the heart of Western Maryland, Parker City Police Detectives Ben Winters and Tommy Mason are called to Saint Paul’s where the recently installed Father Roland Taylor, who has become very popular in the community, has been found dead in his office at the church. By all appearances it seems to be a tragic case of a break-in gone wrong.

Only twenty-four hours later, the detectives find themselves at the home of the city’s well-known morning radio show DJ, Morning Mike Moran, who also seems to have been the victim of a robbery gone wrong. Coincidence?

Neither Ben nor Tommy believe in coincidences. But at first glance, it seems to be just that. Until they find that the victims shared a common interest and begin an investigation that leads them to uncover a secret Parker City has been hiding for over one hundred and twenty years.

Book Details:

Genre: Police Procedural
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: February 2023
Number of Pages: 330
Series: Parker City Mysteries, Book 3 | Each is a Stand Alone
Book Links: Amazon

Read an excerpt:

The best laid plans, Ben thought to himself as he parked in front of Saint Paul’s Roman Catholic Church on Braddock Street. His hope of getting a few extra hours of sleep after spending the last several nights out late on a stakeout was shattered just a little after eight in the morning. The ringing of the telephone entwined seamlessly with his dream of being a concert violinist making his debut at Carnegie Hall. Something he could not in any way understand because he couldn’t play any instrument, let alone the violin. It wasn’t until the conductor in his dream started to tell him to leave his name and number after the beep that he realized he was hearing his own voice on the message answering machine.

With bleary eyes, he crossed out of the bedroom and into the kitchen, grabbing the telephone just as Shirley, one of the PCPD’s dispatchers, was about to hang up.

“Hello. Hello?” he answered, trying to shake away the mental cobwebs.

“Hey, sweetie,” Shirley said with her slight southern drawl. “Sorry to wake you.”

“I wasn’t…I mean, I…”

“It’s okay, sugar. I heard you and Tommy were out late. But you got ‘em, so it’s all good.”

“Yeah. We did. What’s going on?”

“I’m afraid you’re going to have to catch up on your sleep some other time, dumplin’. You need to get over to Saint Paul’s. Patrol is reporting a break-in and Father Taylor was found D.O.A.”

That was all Ben needed to hear. The words were like a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart. He showered, skipped shaving–not that anyone would be able to tell with his baby face–and headed out the door. Just as he was stepping out of the car in front of the church, Tommy’s Bronco pulled up next to him.

Rolling down the window, from behind a pair of what looked like extra dark sunglasses, Tommy asked, “Please tell me I didn’t hear Shirley right?”

“A break-in and possible homicide?”

“Yeah.”

“You heard her right.”

“Dammit.”

Tommy did a quick U-turn and parked across the street. Getting out of the truck, he fumbled around in the back seat, finally pulling out a rumpled corduroy sport coat. Pulling it on over his wrinkled shirt, he noticed his partner giving him the once over as he crossed the road to meet him on the sidewalk.

“This is the best you’re gonna’ get today,” Tommy said pulling his badge out of his pocket and clipping it to the lapel of his jacket. “Hell, you’re lucky I put pants on. But I know how much you like me to dress up for crime scenes.”

It was true, Ben was always wearing a suit. He thought it helped to project a certain amount of authority while working a case. Considering he only looked like he was barely in his twenties when he was now thirty, it also helped him to look a little older. Truth be told, Ben could be wearing ripped up jeans and a leather biker’s jacket and he would still look like the boy next door. He was the poster child for what a stand-up Boy Scout should look like.

Tommy, on the other hand, would love to wear a leather jacket and jeans every day. He preferred comfort when it came to his attire. The reverse of Ben was true for Tommy. Even if he would show up wearing an expensive three-piece suit from a fancy story on New York’s Fifth Avenue, he’d still come off as a bad boy. The kind of guy all the girls fell for but would never take home to meet their mother. Mostly out of fear that their mothers would also fall for him.

“Any other details?” Tommy asked as he checked his Tom Selleck-style mustache in the side mirror of Ben’s car.

“I just got here myself.”

“I thought we were going to be able to take it easy after we picked up that dipshit last night. I mean, come on. We can’t even get a few hours of sleep!”

“Our burden is heavy,” Ben said, wondering if his sarcasm got through.

“The only thing that could make this morning any worse…”

“You mean other than finding the dead body of a popular priest?”

“You know what I mean…” Tommy said putting his hands up in his defense, “…is if the responding officer is…dammit.”

Ben turned to see Officer Buck LuCoco lumber out of the door to the church offices. A very large man, neither Ben nor Tommy understood how LuCoco was still on patrol. The fact he’d been with the department since the ‘50s and never been promoted beyond a patrol officer didn’t surprise either of them. He was one of the PCPD’s old guard that did absolutely as little as possible, while doing just enough to not be fired for complete dereliction of duty. Tommy thought he was a lazy slob. Ben couldn’t argue. The only thing LuCoco had going for him was his institutional knowledge of the city. He’d been around long enough to know a little about everyone and everything.

“Be nice,” Ben said to his partner through gritted teeth as LuCoco waddled his way to them. “Good morning, Buck.”

The officer grunted a response as he wiped his face with a handkerchief, finally saying, “It’s not a good morning for Father Taylor.”

“There was a break-in?” Ben asked.

“Yeah. One of the secretaries got here about seven-forty-five. She found the front door unlocked and thought Taylor already opened up for the day. Then she found the door to the priest’s office smashed and him dead. Now, I’m no expert, but I’ve been around long enough to know what a robbery-gone-wrong looks like. Whoever broke in here musta gotten caught by Taylor then they offed him.”

Not being an expert, what makes you think that?” Tommy asked, barely containing the mockery.

“Well, there’s a pretty good hole in the priest’s head that looks like it coulda been caused by the heavy candlestick with blood on it lying next to him, smartass.”

“Alright,” Ben said in a tone that let both men know they needed to cool it. “Where’s the secretary now?”

“She’s in with Thompson.”

Ben knew Tommy was thinking the same thing he was. If Thompson had also responded, he’d have secured the scene using the protocols they’d been trying to get all of the patrol officers to use. He was one of the officers in the department who understood the importance of the new techniques being employed at a crime scene, and therefore the need to preserve a scene’s integrity. Unlike LuCoco and the guys who’d complained when Ben and Tommy had been promoted who thought if you couldn’t see a clue with your bare eyes, it wasn’t there.

“We’re going to head in and take a look around. Buck, will you radio in and have them roll the Crime Scene Unit and let the coroner know they have a pick-up?”

“Your wish is my command, Detective.”

“Hey. That’s Detective-Sergeant, remember,” Tommy corrected. “Remember, he outranks you in this department.”

Watching LuCoco head for his squad car, Ben said, “You really don’t need to do that.”

“What?” Tommy asked innocently.

“Throw my rank around. Sometimes I think you care more about it than I do.”

“Well, he needs to respect your stripes,” Tommy said in his defense. “And…I just don’t like him. I’m always afraid he’s going to have a heart attack and drop dead right in front of us. Then we’ll have so much paperwork to fill out. Seriously? Do you think he even knows what a salad is?”

Sometimes Ben needed to play the role of a stern father. “Okay. I get it. You have very strong feelings about him. But that’s enough now. If someone really did kill Roland Taylor, we’ve already got a big problem on our hands. I don’t need you starting another one with LuCoco.”

“Fine,” Tommy said, doing his best impression of a petulant child. “I’ll behave myself. Your wish is my command, Detective-Sergeant.”

***

Excerpt from Fact & Fiction by Justin M. Kiska. Copyright 2023 by Justin M. Kiska. Reproduced with permission from Justin M. Kiska. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Justin M. Kiska

When not sitting in his library devising new and clever ways to kill people (for his mysteries), Justin can usually be found at The Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre, outside of Washington, DC, where he is one of the owners and producers. In addition to writing the Parker City Mysteries Series – which includes, NOW & THEN, VICE & VIRTUE, and FACT & FICTION – he is also the mastermind behind Marquee Mysteries, a series of interactive mystery events he has been writing and producing for over fifteen years. Justin and his wife, Jessica, live along Lake Linganore outside of Frederick, Maryland.

Catch Up With Our Author:
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Instagram – @JMKiska
Twitter – @JustinKiska
Facebook – @JMKiska

Neighbors to Die For

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Neighbors to Die for is all about home owner’s associations. They’re the worst. My house is a part of a homeowner’s association, which used to be ruthless, but lately has become pretty low key. Everyone in the neighborhood knew about the white van that drove up and down the streets. If the woman driving it stopped in front of your house and scribbled something down, you were in for a “friendly notice”. Everyone knew about the van, and then…hmmm…it disappeared. Funny that.

More About the Book

Refereeing homeowner association spats over acceptable mulch color was never part of Kylee Kane’s post-Coast Guard retirement plans. The irate combatants are trying the security consultant’s patience when gunfire erupts and a SWAT team swarms in. How did they arrive before any possible report of an active shooter?

Two days later, Kylee discovers a ghost boat. Not a soul onboard. Among the missing—presidents of HOAs managed by her employer. Are the incidents linked?

As Kylee chips away at shift-the-blame deceptions, the ruthless killer expands his hit list to include not only Kylee but everyone she loves. Will it be Kylee’s last Thanksgiving?      

Visit Linda’s Website to Get Your Copy of Neighbors to Die For

Read an Excerpt

Excerpt

ONE
Kylee
Saturday Afternoon
A peek at my watch says the meeting’s twenty-two minutes old. Feels like twenty-two days.
Just shoot me!
“Only wood-hued mulch is acceptable,” Carrie huffs.
“I agree.” Ernie strokes his chubby chin, his deep-thinker pose. “Homeowners know we have a nature-based color scheme. True, our documents only address paint colors, but red mulch violates the spirit of our architectural policy.”
These two bozos on the Lighthouse Cove Homeowners Association board are determined to fine Howie Wynne big bucks for spreading red mulch in his flowerbed.
I imagine Carrie and Ernie would have an even bigger hissy fit had Howie installed black mulch, thinking it might be a Black Mulch Matters statement.
Keep quiet. I’m here as a Welch HOA Management security consultant. Mulch color isn’t a crime. Nonetheless, I’ve heard Ted’s spiel on HOA fines and due process. An offense must be defined and publicized before a fine can be levied. And owners are entitled to a hearing to present their case.
Be patient. Surely another board member will object to Ernie’s and Carrie’s tirade.
Keeping my lips zipped offers a secondary benefit. No deep breaths to inhale the mold-scented odor of the basement conference room. Lighthouse Cove is an exclusive residential/resort enclave with a championship golf course, swimming pools, tennis and pickleball courts, a fitness center, and other amenities. Yet, despite the HOA’s deep pockets, its mold problem persists. If it’s not solved soon, Ted expects they’ll tear down the fancy clubhouse and start over.
Usually, the board gathers upstairs, but the building’s main floor is reserved for a golden anniversary wingding tonight. To ensure no one messes with the fancy decorations, even the HOA directors have been banished to the basement.
BAM! BAM! BAM!
Oh, my God! Gunfire.
“Everyone, get in the bathroom.” As I leap up, my rolling chair crashes against the wall. The directors’ eyes widen, and their mouths hang open. But their derrieres stay glued to their seats.
“Go. Go. Now! It’s the safest place. Lock the door. Call 911,” I order. “Tell them there’s an active shooter. I’ll guard the stairs and the door.”
Ernie leaps up and scurries toward the outside patio. “No way I’m locking myself in a bathroom. I’m getting out while the getting’s good. Y’all can listen to Miss Pretend Annie Oakley. Not me.”
Argh. Don’t raise your voice. Project calm authority.
“What if there’s a shooter outside? I can’t protect you out there. Only two ways to get inside the basement—the stairs and that back patio door. I can cover both.”
To punctuate my promise, I extract my Glock from the pocket holster inside my purse. The holster ensures I don’t accidentally put a hole in my foot while I’m grabbing my Chapstick. A Glock doesn’t have an external safety.
Olivia grabs Ernie’s arm. “Don’t be an idiot. Get in the damn bathroom. Kylee Kane is retired military. She knows a lot more about these situations than you. You own TV stations and a manufacturing company that churns out adult diapers. Not exactly combat training.”
Ernie glares at Olivia, his sworn enemy where HOA rules are concerned. Olivia is one of the three directors who feel colored mulch isn’t a heretical, fine-worthy offense. Ernie’s beady eyes narrow to a squint as he looks my way. “You better be right.”
Or what? You’ll haunt me from the grave.
BAM! BAM! BAM!
Three rapid shots. Gunfire does a terrific job of focusing the mind. Ernie and Olivia sprint to join their fellow directors in the bathroom. The door snicks shut; the lock clicks. Good.
What in heaven’s name is happening?
I slip into a corner, back to the wall, gun ready. My gaze darts between the stairs and the patio door, covering both entrances. My pulse shifts into overdrive. I breathe deep, hold it for a count of three.
Crap, I can practically taste the mold.
BOOM! The whole building shudders. Not an explosion. A sharp, percussive crack. Wood splintering.
Good grief, they’ve breached the front door. A battering ram?
Heavy boots, a herd of them, vibrate the ceiling.
Armed intruders? What in blazes?
“This is the police! Put down your weapons! Show yourselves. Hands up.”
The bellowed orders issued from a bullhorn. SWAT?
My brain stutters, beyond confusion. How could the police—let alone some flavor of SWAT—arrive within seconds of a 911 call? Could this be a trick? Anybody can claim to be “the police.”
Yet, why would terrorists or armed robbers target a clubhouse where party favors and a couple cases of cheap champagne are the only booty? Well, unless someone thinks five Medicare-eligible directors and yours truly would make valuable hostages.
Overhead, footfalls cascade into a waterfall of sound. Shouts of “Clear!…Clear!” erupt every few seconds.
If robbers or fanatics are masquerading as police, they’re doing a bang-up job.
The clomp of heavy boots echoes in the stairwell. Someone’s headed downstairs.
Time to decide.
I go with my hunch. The SWAT team’s the real deal.
I summon my former Coast Guard command voice that Mom claims could wake the dead. “Don’t shoot. There are no gunmen down here.”
“Who are you?” the unseen SWAT leader demands from the stairwell.
“Kylee Kane, an HOA security consultant. When I heard shots, I told the directors to shelter in the bathroom. They’re locked in. I’m alone.”
“Are you armed?” he asks.
“Yes.”
“Lay on the floor. Leave the gun in sight and out of your reach.”
The drumbeat of boots signals the leader’s arrival and his buddies will join him in seconds.
“Understood,” I holler back as I stretch prone and send my Glock skittering across the tile floor.
My face plant makes it tough to discern much about the officer who appears in my peripheral vision. The body shield he’s carrying only allows glimpses of the man behind it. But he’s definitely super-sized and has me clearly in the sights of the Glock peeking around the side of the large shield. A helmet and body armor hide all other details. He looks costumed to appear in a dystopian movie scripted with a dim view of mankind’s future.
The Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office insignia is emblazoned on the shield.
I should have known. Who else but the Sheriff’s Office could field a local SWAT team? I groan.
If my name’s relayed to the Sheriff’s Office, the acting sheriff will ID me as a public enemy.

 

More About the Author

Linda Lovely’s tenth mystery/suspense novel, Neighbors To Die For, debuted in November. Lee Child calls this second installment in Lovely’s HOA Mystery series, “An excellent mystery written with charm, appeal and wry humor—and ex-Coast Guard Kylee Kane is a great main character.”

The author has earned finalist recognition in contests ranging from RWA’s Golden Heart for Romantic Suspense to Thriller Nashville’s Silver Falchion for Best Cozy Mystery. Lovely is secretary of the SE Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, and past president of the Upstate SC Chapter of Sisters in Crime. For several years, she helped organize the Writers’ Police Academy. To learn more: https://lindalovely.com

Catch Up With Linda

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A Killer Unleashed

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Today we are travelling to the Low Country for a Jackie Layton Dog Walker Mystery. Think about it. A dog walker is always on the move and able to pick up clues to a murder while doing their jobs. I also like this one because how often do you get to use the word Schnoodle?

More About the Book

When a client’s dog turns up missing and her husband turns up dead, Low Country dog walker Andi Grace Scott will have to rely on dogged determination to track down a killer . . . 
When a frantic client calls, worried about her dog, Andi Grace is happy to drop by the woman’s home and check in on her beloved pet. She’s initially concerned when she discovers the dog’s not in the house, but she’s out-and-out shocked to discover that the woman’s husband is—strangled to death in his office chair. On top of that, she soon finds a ransom note demanding a hefty sum for the dog’s safe return. Andi Grace knows better than to meddle in a murder investigation, but there’s no way she’s going to let a dognapper get away with it. 
Unsure of whether the killer took the dog or if they were unrelated crimes, Andi Grace finds herself confounded from the start. More puzzling still is that the dog’s owner seems more upset about her missing pooch than her dead husband. Could the whole thing have been a setup? Did the woman murder her own husband and send Andi Grace to the house under false pretenses to discover the body? As sinister as that possibility may be, the trail of clues leads Andi Grace to uncover an even more nefarious scheme, and she knows she’ll have to tie up all the loose ends fast before the whole case goes to the dogs . . . 

Read an Excerpt

“The door was closed and locked, and I used my key. You should know that I keep keys for all of my clients in case of emergencies. And again, Ivey asked me to enter the house.”
“Right. So you came in here. Then what?”
I explained the events leading up to finding Norris’s dead body.
Deputy Hanks studied his notes. “No sign of the dog but you found Norris strangled with a dog leash.”
“Right.” I folded my hands. “Wait, you know how sometimes you get ready to leave your house only to realize you forgot your sunglasses or purse or phone? Then you have to run back inside and find what you left behind?”
“Yeah. What’s the point you’re trying to make?”
“I didn’t look in the car. What if Lady is in Norris’s Lexus?”
His eyebrows rose, and he called Deputy Denise Harris over. She was a relative newcomer to Heyward Beach but seemed to fit in with the sheriff ’s department. Deputy Hanks spoke to her in such low tones, I couldn’t make out the words. The Black female deputy hurried out of the house, and I hoped she was on the way to check the car.
I met his gaze. “Thanks.”
“No problem. Now, have you shared the news with the victim’s wife?”
I shook my head. “No. I thought you or the sheriff would want to call Ivey and gauge her response in case she’s guilty.”
“Smart move. Is there anything else you need to share?”
Nothing came to mind. “No, sir.”
“Fine. Why don’t you send in Mr. Williams?” He scribbled something on the small sheet of paper.
I left him sitting there and rejoined Marc on the front porch. “Your turn.”
He stood and gave me a hug. “Are you okay?”
“I’ve been better, but you should go in there before Deputy Hanks comes looking for you.”
Marc chuckled. “Yep. There’s no need to get sideways with the man.”
Deputy Harris approached me. “No luck on finding the dog. I’ll let the others know.”
“I appreciate you checking.” After the deputy went inside, I sat on the swing, but restlessness drove me to my feet. I walked down the wooden stairs and paced in the sandy driveway, keeping alert for a sign of Ivey’s schnoodle.
Sunlight glinted off something in the grass. I walked over to inspect the item. Without touching anything, it was easy enough to identify an oyster knife. Shiny and probably new. I snapped a quick picture with my phone.
Norris didn’t seem like the kind of guy to get his hands dirty shucking oysters, so why was it here?
“Hey, what’s going on?” The voice sounded familiar.
My heart skipped a beat. Had the killer come back? No. The place was crawling with law enforcement. I turned, and relief flooded through me as I recognized the man dressed in shorts and running shoes. He held a rolled-up T-shirt in one hand. “Oh, hi, Ethan. You scared me.” Ethan Seitz was a local pharmacist and one of my dog-walking clients. I was also giving obedience lessons to his black Lab, Yoyo.
“What’s happening? Did someone get hurt?” He pulled the shirt on over his sweaty body.
“I’m not sure if I can say anything yet, but I can’t find Ivey Gilbert’s dog. Have you seen Lady? She’s a little black-and-white schnoodle.”
“Not this morning, but I know this many deputies didn’t show up to look for a lost dog.” He pointed toward the official vehicles.
“Funny, but true. Have you seen any strangers wandering around this area today?”
He lifted the bottom of his shirt and wiped the sweat on his face. “I saw an unfamiliar Mini Cooper when I was playing in my front yard with Yoyo. I think a man was driving, but I wouldn’t swear to it.”
“What color was the car?”
“Blue, which surprised me. It was a fun blue, like turquoise. It seems as if most of the people around here drive white Minis.”
“Good point. You know I’d tell you more about what’s going on here if I could, but the sheriff wouldn’t be happy. I sure don’t want to obstruct his investigation and get tossed into jail.” I didn’t think Wade would resort to such drastic measures, but I didn’t want to interfere and push my luck with the sheriff.
Ethan laughed. “Isn’t solving murders what you do when you’re not working with dogs?”
“Shh. Don’t say that when there are so many deputies around.” I smiled.
“Thanks for the tip about the car though. If a deputy questions you, please tell them.”
“Right. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help. Right now, I better finish my run. See you around, Andi Grace.”
“Bye.” I watched him take off in the direction of the entry gate.
I returned to pacing. Lady needed to be found, and it’d be great to locate the driver of the blue Mini Cooper. The person probably had nothing to do with the murder, but it was a starting place. I also needed to point out the oyster knife in case it was a clue.
During Heyward Beach’s last murder investigation, I had told myself to focus on planning my wedding. This time I was completely focused on preparing for my nuptials. No stinking murder was going to hinder my progress.

You can find A Killer Unleashed at these online retailers:

http://bit.ly/3jbGX8u  A Killer Unleashed Paperback B&N 

https://bit.ly/3DbZVmb   Nook 

https://bit.ly/3XxPSAc  Rakuten 

https://amzn.to/3GY3M7H Amazon Kindle 

https://bit.ly/3jbGX8u  Nook 

https://amzn.to/3JqtpRs  Paperback Amazon 

More About the Author

Jackie Layton loves living in the Low Country of South Carolina. She always dreamed of living on the coast, and reality is better than the dream. The warm weather, the beach, and the relaxed people make it special. Most of her travel these days is to Kentucky and Texas to spend time with family. She also enjoys working part-time as a compounding pharmacist and having more time to write cozy mysteries.  

Where to Find Jackie Online

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10-33 Assist PC

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Today we have a police procedural and get to drive-along with cops Mike and Sal as they look for a sixteen-year-old in trouble. If it feels real to you, that’s because it was written by a real cop from Toronto. So hold onto to your seats, and please spit all your sunflower seeds out the window.

About the Book

10-33 Assist PC tells the story of an ambitious young cop with a knack for following hunches on the verge of cracking an international prostitution ring. With only days left before their pimps shuttle the underaged girls out of the country, D/C Mike O’Shea pushes his team into overdrive. Hours later, with too little information, sleep, or luck, the unthinkable happens.
 
And now, the chase is personal.
 
Written by retired Toronto Police Detective Desmond P. Ryan, 10-33 Assist PC, the first in The Mike O’Shea Series, draws us into the dirty world of human trafficking through the eyes of the cops who put their lives on the line every day to shut it down.

Read an Excerpt

Excerpt

Detective Constable Mike O’Shea casually drove the unmarked scout car around the corner. He felt good. Maybe it was the particularly bright October sunlight that he noticed reflecting off of the crushed beer cans scattered on the overgrown lawns. Maybe it was the police-issued snubby holstered in the small of his back. Or maybe it was the anticipation of a successful end to a long project that made him smile.
“Mike! Left!” Sal grabbed the dashboard with one hand while instinctively reaching for his gun with the other.
The clang of metal rang in their ears just as a streak of green flashed in front of them.
Someone bounced off the hood of the car.
Mike slammed the brakes, one hand on the wheel and the other reaching for the snubby. Despite their ratty sweatshirts, stained jeans, and unshaved faces, neither cop looked as rough as the scrappy man who popped up from the pavement beside Mike’s window. They watched, hands on their still-holstered guns, as the scruffy man yanked a battered bike from under the front tire. Without a word, he wobbled away, apparently none the worse for wear.
“Hey!” Mike hollered after the cyclist, who responded with a suggestive finger in the air.
“Bike’s stolen and he’s drunk. Or stoned. Let him go,” Sal said, spitting sunflower seeds on the floor of the car before settling back into the passenger’s seat.
“Unbelievable,” Mike mumbled, shaking his head.
“No shit,” Sal agreed, stuffing another handful of sunflower seeds in his mouth.
“I’m talking about you, asshole. You’re not spitting seeds in the car, are you?”
“Yeah.”
“Use the fucking window.”
Sal spat a seed at Mike’s feet.
Mike continued towards the boarded-up shithole that was their target, his hand tightening on the steering wheel as he considered how close they were to the successful end of this project.
He knew this neighbourhood like the back of his hand. Old houses with good bones that had fallen into disrepair lined the streets. The sidewalks used to be overflowing with women with three and four children in tow during the daytime and old men with meagre pensions in the evenings. Now the only people outside were homeless addicts who would rather live rough than face the violence inside the shelters that had popped up in the neighbourhood over the ten years.
During the past few weeks, Mike and Sal had been gathering bits of intel from those eyes and ears on the street in exchange for a smoke or a couple of bucks. They’d spent days shoving a photo of the girl who sparked the investigation under the nose of anyone who would look. Some of their leads were good; most were bullshit.
The girl in the photo was Chelsea Hendricks: barely sixteen, missing since fourteen, and an apparent runaway. She’d been spotted in several security videos from a fairly upscale hotel lobby in Niagara Falls over a five-day span in February of this year, always with different men, and sometimes with one or two other girls.
Mike knew a couple of the guys who monitored the equipment and would drop a dime on the down-low whenever a new girl appeared. When Chelsea surfaced, he’d got the tip during an ice storm. After a precarious drive down and several drinks with his boys, he had boxes of security videos and a pounding head. It took the team three sleepless days to positively identify Chelsea and sixteen other girls who had been reported missing from Toronto in the preceding two years. But by the time Mike got the warrant to search sworn to, the girls were long gone.
A couple of months later, Chelsea Hendricks was back in Toronto on the stroll. Someone had called police about condoms in their laneway. A neighbour had a decent security video and turned the footage over to the local D’s, who, after hours of footage of cars driving by, saw an emaciated girl getting fucked in the back seat of a car. She looked pretty young, so they called Mike. It didn’t take much work to identify the girl as Chelsea Hendricks.
Mike and Sal set up on the stroll for two weeks with no luck finding her.
In the middle of May, after a call from his counterpart in Buffalo regarding an unrelated project, Mike randomly asked for the names, dates of birth, and photographs of any of their known prostitutes who remotely matched Chelsea Hendricks’s description. It turned out that a girl known to them as twenty-year-old Tracey Henderson was really his sixteen-year-old Chelsea Hendricks. She had been investigated several times on a strip known for girls on the younger side, and each time, she’d had no ID and gave a false name and date of birth that put her past the age of concern for underaged street hookers. The bogus name also didn’t raise any flags regarding her missing status in Canada.
It was now October and Mike, Sal, Julia Vendramini, and her partner, Fred ‘Hoagie’ Hogan, had been working the case for almost a year. Despite their best efforts, they always seemed to be a day late and a dollar short. Until about three weeks ago when the mailman noticed some activity at a house that had been empty for months and called the police. Mike and Sal were in the area and got to the address before the uniforms arrived. They recognized a couple of guys having a smoke out front from another project they had worked on and convinced the attending officers to let them handle the call. Dozens of computer checks, around-the-clock surveillance on the house, and some other intel was enough to give them a signed search warrant for this address.
Today, within the hour, they’d be kicking in the door and shutting down a sizable prostitution ring that ran underaged girls between Toronto, Niagara Falls, and Buffalo. Mike was hopeful that Chelsea Hendricks would be here. His jaw tightened whenever he considered that this girl—like all of the girls whom they dealt with in his unit—had been barely out of childhood when these fuckers had got hold of her. And destroyed her. Now, at sixteen, she was likely the most senior offering, leaving her precariously close to her expiration date.
He could not lose this girl.

 

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About Our Author

Born and raised in Toronto, Desmond P. Ryan graduated from University of Toronto and joined what was then the Toronto Police Force. He has been a front-line officer, a beat cop, a patrol sergeant, an instructor at the Toronto Police College, and a detective over the almost thirty years of his career.

Whether as a beat cop or a plainclothes detective, Des dealt with good people who did bad things and bad people who followed their instincts. Now a retired detective, he writes crime fiction. Des is presently working on the Mike O’Shea Series and the Mary-Margaret Series, both published by Level Best Books.

Des now lives in the Toronto neighbourhood known as Cabbagetown, where he can be seen wandering about, considering his next plot point or on his way to the pub.

Social Media

Twitter: @RealDesmondRyan

Insta:  @desmondpryan

Website: https://realdesmondryan.com/

The Twist and Shout Murder

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More About The Twist and Shout Murder

In 1962, Dot Morgan was told the best thing she could do besides being a nurse or teacher was to learn to type. While attending secretarial school, she decides to rub elbows with an elite ladies’ club to help her father with a struggling campaign for city council. Instead of getting the help she sought, Dot is thrown into a world of adultery, deceit, and murder when one of the town’s sons is found dead.

Time to put that 45 on the record player and bring out your best dance moves in The Twist and Shout Murder.

Read an Excerpt

When I talk to book clubs, I usually read an excerpt from the beginning of the book, but I just had to give you a little time with Miss Robinson, the world’s meanest secretarial school teacher.

After all that had happened, I had to sneak into the back of the class. Miss Robinson was out on another smoke break, and I was lucky I didn’t run into her in the hallway. She barely noticed me when she returned to find the students hammering away at a shorthand transcription assignment. Today’s lesson was easy, but finishing the endless pages of shorthand transcription she had assigned outside of class was another matter. The next morning with an aching arm and a lack of sleep, I slapped the first hundred pages of the textbook gloriously recorded in neat little strokes on Miss Robinson’s desk. She was tearing through another student’s work, merrily marking it with a cruel red pen. When she finally looked up, her eyes were cold.
“Thank you for finally getting your work to me.” She leaned back in her chair, and taking off her glasses, rubbed the back of her neck. “However, it is unfortunate these pages cannot outweigh your latest blunder.”
“I beg your pardon?” How could I have made a blunder so soon after the last one?
“They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. You are a prime example of this. It has come to my attention you’ve been calling yourself a secretary in our community. A noble thing for sure, but a position you are not yet trained for.”
Did Miss Robinson have me under surveillance? Everything I did was making its way back to her. Had it been a coincidence she was walking down the street when we happened upon each other in front of Mr. Armand’s or had she been following me? “Are you…referring to…”
“Linda Manning. How dare you offer her secretarial services you are highly unqualified to perform.” Miss Robinson made me feel like a doctor operating on someone’s appendix while still reading the instructions out of the medical book. Don’t worry about a thing—it says here it’s just a simple cut.
“I only offered to help her with probate for her husband. I made an A in my legal assistance class. I hardly think helping another person with business affairs is out of line. Besides, it gives me experience outside of the school.”
Miss Robinson shook her head in disgust. “Do you realize the problems an untrained individual can cause in proceedings of the court? Are you even thinking of the legal fees you could end up causing this woman?”
Legal fees? I hadn’t thought of it that way. Feeling a little less sure of myself, I said, “Linda…Mrs. Manning needed help, and I offered. Besides that, you were the person who trained me. Don’t you have any confidence in your curriculum? Yes, some of the items were confusing, but I think I did fine with it. What I did wasn’t wrong.”
“The simple financial affairs you encountered in the legal assistance class are not the same as the family of Morton…Anson Manning.”
They say sometimes you can tell more about a person in their blunders than their words. Miss Robinson had just made a significant one. Morton Manning had put her up to this, of that I was sure. Just like Bertram and putting the words into the mechanical wooden mouth of Mr. Sammy, Morton was putting words in Miss Robinson’s mouth.
My frustration rose as I felt Miss Robinson’s scolding of me for using something she, herself, taught me was getting ridiculous. If I wanted to help Linda Manning, then I would. “Honestly, it’s just filing a few forms.”
“This is a glaring misuse of your education and why I am demoting you back to first semester. It is obvious you haven’t learned anything.” She picked up my pages of shorthand transcription and threw them in the trashcan by her desk.
I had worked hard to get to the final semester of secretarial school. First semester? Could she even do that? The secretarial school course lasted two years, with each class taking half a year. Miss Robinson’s decision left me with a choice. I could try to get a job without my certificate of completion, or I could delay my entrance into the workforce for another two years. Either way, it wasn’t right. “I don’t think that’s fair and I’m not even sure you can get away with it. You don’t own this school. You only teach here.”
Other students began to filter in behind me laughing and talking, unaware of the showdown going on between us. “You are correct. The Hudson family owns this school, and Mr. Hudson trusts me completely. That includes a student’s placement in our coursework. It is my opinion this course of action is indeed fair and ultimately for your own good.” She wagged an unvarnished fingernail at me and grinned. “The hardest lessons are the ones from which you gain the most knowledge.”
“You want to know what I think?” My voice was becoming a little louder than I would have liked it, but it was either that or let the tears that were threatening take over. “I think Morton Manning put you up to this.”
Miss Robinson bristled at the mention of his name. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but you can be assured your amateur attempts at secretarial assistance have not gone unnoticed in our community. Seeing as you are starting all over again, you can go home today.”
I was still seething that night when Ellie came home from work. I was ready to unload on her, but she seemed to be in a sour mood already.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Nothing.” She threw down her purse and a bag of hand sewing she brought home every night.
“Doesn’t look like nothing to me.”
“It’s just…this thing with Maureen Johnson getting to have any man she wants has been on my mind, and it’s starting to tear me up.”
Maureen’s ability to seduce a man and Ellie’s inability to do the same was killing her. “I should probably admit this to you now. I know you told me not to, but I told Barb about Maureen and Morton.”
“You did?”
“Yes, and here’s the kicker. She didn’t care. She went right on with her business as if I had just told her slip was showing.”
“That means she already knew. The woman who looks like she has everything has a man who chooses to sleep with someone else. I guess that’s life on a cracker.”
“So that is what has you upset?”
“No, and yes.” To my surprise, she began to cry.
I rushed over and put an arm around her, and we both sat on the bed. “Ellie, what is it?”
“Al still hasn’t answered my…proposition,” she said through tears.
“He said he wanted time to think about it.”
“How much time does the man need?” She threw her hands up in the air and wailed. “I’m not getting any younger, you know.”
“Do you think you should call him again?”
Ellie gave me a sideways look. “Now, that’s just desperate.” She took on a small voice. “It’s me, Ellie. Have you decided to sleep with me, you big electric man?”
I laughed at her voice, and she smiled. “If it weren’t so sad it would be funny. I don’t know what to do.”
“Maybe he’s frightened? I’ve never seen Al with anyone but you. Maybe he’s …inexperienced.”
“Good grief, the man is in his thirties. He isn’t inexperienced.”
“And you don’t know that for sure.”
“I guess all I can do is try to be patient.”
“You want me to blow a fuse? I bet we could get him over here.”
“Maureen Johnson has had four husbands, and I can’t land Al the electrician. What’s wrong with me?”
“There’s nothing wrong with you,” I reassured her.
She began to cry again, and my hugs and kind words were not even making a dent in it.
“I think…” She stopped for a moment.
“What?”
“I think I need to…get more serious with him.”
I wasn’t entirely sure what she was talking about, but I had an idea. “You’ve said that.”
She rose and went to her room. When she came out, she was holding a piece of black silk lingerie. “Sex. Tonight’s the night.”
“Sex? You mean you’re going to go to his house tonight, without an invitation? He opens the door, and there you stand?” I began to worry about how much a rejection could hurt my cousin. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“Sure. I’ll put on the nighty and then wear my raincoat over it. Just like Marilyn Monroe.” She ran back into her room, and I could hear her changing. “When I come back,” she said through the door. “I’ll be a changed woman.”
“I thought you were waiting to get married.”
“Well, that’s not happening anytime soon. If Maureen Johnson can have that many husbands, then so can I.”
“Do you want four husbands?”
She came back out, securing the belt of her raincoat. “Of course not. I’d be happy with one. It’s just a comparison, that’s all.”
“I don’t know Ellie. What if he says no?”
“He won’t.”
“You can’t be sure of that.”
“If he doesn’t want to sleep with me, I’ve been barking up the wrong tree, and maybe I should introduce him to some of my male friends.”
We both laughed at that, and it felt good after what Miss Robinson had just put me through.

 

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The Greenleaf Murders

The Greenleaf Murders by R.J. Koreto Banner

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I dreamed of Manderley again. One of my favorite lines in literature from the classic, Rebecca, and a part of The Greenleaf Murders. If you love the idea of restoring old houses, and I mean old, then today we have an excellent mystery for you by R.J. Koreto! Best of all, the house that will be restored was a part of the Gilded Age. I love historic home tours, so add a little mystery and this is my idea of a perfect afternoon!

The Greenleaf Murders by R.J. Koreto

Synopsis:

Young architect Wren Fontaine lands her dream job: restoring Greenleaf House, New York’s finest Gilded-Age mansion, to its glory days. But old homes have old secrets: Stephen Greenleaf—heir to what’s left of his family’s legacy—refuses to reveal what his plans are once the renovation is completed. And still living in a corner of the home is Stephen’s 90-year-old Aunt Agnes who’s lost in the past, brooding over a long-forgotten scandal while watching Wren with mistrust.

Wren’s job becomes more complex when a shady developer who was trying to acquire Greenleaf House is found murdered. And after breaking into a sealed attic, Wren finds a skeleton stuffed in a trunk. She soon realizes the two deaths, a century apart, are strangely related. Meanwhile, a distraction of a different kind appears in the form of her client’s niece, the beautiful and seductive Hadley Vanderwerf. As Wren gingerly approaches a romance, she finds that Hadley has her own secrets.

Then a third murder occurs, and the introverted architect is forced to think about people, and about how ill-fated love affairs and obsessions continue to haunt the Greenleafs. In the end, Wren risks her own life to uncover a pair of murderers, separated by a century but connected by motive. She reveals an odd twist in the family tree that forever changes the lives of the Greenleafs, the people who served them, the mansion they all called home—and even Wren herself.

Praise for The Greenleaf Murders:

“A delightful who-done-it in which the house is as engaging as the wonderful heroine. Readers will want to get lost in these rooms and these pages.”

Cate Holahan, USA Today bestselling author of Her Three Lives

“If you love houses and puzzles – which I do – you will be captivated by THE GREENLEAF MURDERS, the first in Richard Koreto’s new series. Equally sure-footed in the gilded age of the mansion’s heyday and the contemporary world of its decline, Koreto has woven a pretzel of a plot, introduced a charming new heroine, and whetted appetites for more grave deeds and grandeur.”

Catriona McPherson, multi-award-winning author of the Dandy Gilver series

The Greenleaf Murders mixes a modern suspense mystery with the love of old-world mansions and iconic High Society. Buried secrets threaten a family clinging to their former glory as two murders surface, a century apart. Koreto weaves a story that creates the perfect tension between the beauty of the golden era and the fear of a killer in plain sight.”

L.A. Chandlar, national best selling author of the Art Deco Mystery Series

“One would think that a murder mystery featuring old homes, architecture, and rich blue bloods would be a dull read, but that’s not the case with R.J. Koreto’s finely-written “The Greenleaf Murders.” Filled with twists and turns and sharply-drawn characters, this well-done novel is very much recommended.”

Brendan DuBois, award-wining and New York Times bestselling author

Book Details:

Genre: Cozy Mystery
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: November 2022
Number of Pages: 264
ISBN: 9781685122089
Series: Historic Homes Mysteries, #1
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | BookShop.org | Goodreads | Level Best Books

Read an excerpt:

Last night, Wren had dreamt she went to Manderley again.

When she was fifteen, her mother had given her a copy of Rebecca, saying it was one of her favorites. A voracious reader, Wren finished it in a few days, but her reaction was not what her mother had hoped for.

“Rebecca was horrible, but Maxim was no prize either. And the second Mrs. De Winter—kind of wimpy.”

“You didn’t like anyone in that book?” asked her exasperated mother.

“I liked Mrs. Danvers. I know she was insane, but she really appreciated the house. If people had been nicer to her, maybe she wouldn’t have burned it down. The best part of the book was Manderley. I’d have liked to live there, in splendid isolation, and Mrs. Danvers would take care of things. She was the only one in the book who knew how to do something.”

Her mother just stared. What teenaged girl talked about living by herself in an ivy-covered British mansion? She kissed her daughter on her forehead. “Wren, you really are an old soul.”

But although Manderley was her first love, Wren proved fickle, and also fell in love with Holyrood House, Blenheim Palace, and Versailles.

A succession of guidance counselors worried about Wren, although she gradually learned to make friends, and even go on dates. However, nothing could replace her love for houses, and it was a foregone conclusion by college that she would become an architect like her father and spend as much time as possible working with houses and not people. And not just any houses, but the kind no one had lived in for a long time.

As Wren approached 30, her father made her a junior partner and told her if he could close the deal with Stephen Greenleaf, he’d let her take full responsibility for Greenleaf House. Once the proposal they had worked on so hard had been completed, Wren couldn’t think about anything beyond spending her days in that Gilded Age gem, one of the largest private residences ever built in New York City. Over the years, like the second Mrs. De Winter, she dreamed of Manderley, never more than when she was hoping for the Greenleaf job.

She came home late one evening after visiting a job site and found her father in the study of the home they still shared. Living at home had become a temporary convenience while she was at graduate school, which turned into a habit, as they liked each other’s company. Not that either would admit it.

She watched him sketch. Although the firm had an office in midtown Manhattan, her father preferred to work in the study of their Brooklyn townhouse. For normal work, she knew it was safe to interrupt him, but not while he did the sketches—his avocation, his passion, just him and his pencils, creating columns and cornices, chair railings, and gargoyles. The only light poured from the desk lamp, illuminating the fine paper and her father’s high-domed forehead. She wanted to know if he had heard anything—but had to wait patiently.

Eventually, the scratching stopped, and he put his pencil down.

“If you haven’t eaten yet, Ada left her spaghetti and meat sauce in the refrigerator. She’s a fine housekeeper, but that particular dish is a little common.”

“Only you would describe a dish of pasta as ‘common.’”

“You know what I mean. And if you don’t understand the context, you shouldn’t be an architect.”

“Fine. But I think it’s delicious.”

“Yes,” he said, with a touch of impatience. “I didn’t say it wasn’t delicious. I said it was common.” He swiveled in his chair and smiled. “But you’re really here to ask if I’ve heard from Greenleaf? I told him today that we couldn’t put aside our other projects indefinitely. And that Bobby Fiore was the only contractor we could trust, and we couldn’t ask him to postpone other jobs, so with a few arguments about the price, he agreed.”

Wren laughed, did a little dance, and punched the air. Then she ran and hugged her father, which he tolerated. “I knew you’d convince him. You are the most wonderful father.”

“Wren. Take a seat.” He said it in his even, measured tone, the one he used for serious discussions. Wren wiped the smile from her face, pulled up a chair, and tucked a rebellious lock of hair behind her ear. In the half-dark room, he took her hands in his.

“I have no doubt that you have the technical skills for this job. My concern is the personal skills. These are the Greenleafs. They were a force in this city when it was still New Amsterdam. We see their house merely as an architectural jewel. The family sees it as a symbol of how tightly they are tied to the history of this city. They are different from other people.”

“People are people,” she said.

“First of all, no. People are different. And even if you were right, people are not your strong suit.”

“I’ve worked well with our clients,” she said defensively.

“You referred to one of our clients as ‘a pompous bourgeois vulgarian.’”

Wren rolled her eyes. “Let’s not go there again. I didn’t say it to his face, just to you.”

“Do you think you hid your feelings?”

“You’ve said worse,” she countered. Then realized she had lost the argument when his eyes went up to the framed certificate on the wall—the Pritzker Prize, often called the Nobel Prize of architecture. I’ve earned my right to arrogance. You have a long way to go.

“Just remember that these people pay our bills. I know we often work to protect them from their own worse instincts, but let’s try to be a little more politic. Your mother used to say you lived in your own special world. But you have to join the rest of humanity every now and then. And that brings me back to Greenleaf House. This is the very important symbol of what was once one of the most important families in this city. Keep that in mind when dealing with Stephen Greenleaf.”

“We’ve already had several meetings, don’t forget. He didn’t seem that unusual to me—runs his own asset management firm. I’ve dealt with Wall Street types before. It won’t be a problem.”

“Wren.” Again, heavy on her name—all her life, this had been the sign of a serious conversation. “The Greenleafs made their money before there was a Wall Street. People like this are unusually touchy about their families and histories. Now that you’re actually starting, his behavior may change. There could be some emotional repercussions. To make this a success, you will have to watch out for those feelings and manage them.”

“And you’re about to say—again—that I understand houses but not people.”

“Let’s just say it’s more of an effort for you. You can work with people. You just don’t like to. But I made you a partner. So you can’t just do the fun parts of your job. You have to do it all.”

“Yes, father,” she said. He was serious, so there could be no more pushback from her. No verbal fencing. He wanted her to live up to his expectations.

“It isn’t your father who’s asking you, Wren. It’s the senior partner of this firm, Ms. Fontaine.”

She nodded. “I understand, Ezra.”

And then he lightened his face with a smile. “But before we move on to the particulars, there is one more piece of advice, this time from your father. It may be hard to remember in any residence we work on, but especially in one with more than 70 rooms, it is not just a house. It’s someone’s home. It was Mr. Greenleaf’s childhood home, in fact, and his aunt has lived there her entire life. You’re not very sentimental Wren—and that’s fine. Neither am I. But please remember that—it’s not just a building. It’s a home.”

***

Excerpt from The Greenleaf Murders by R.J. Koreto. Copyright 2022 by R.J. Koreto. Reproduced with permission from R.J. Koreto. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

R.J. Koreto

R.J. Koreto is the author of the Historic Home mystery series, set in modern New York City; the Lady Frances Ffolkes mystery series, set in Edwardian England; and the Alice Roosevelt mystery series, set in turn-of-the-century New York. His short stories have been published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, as well as various anthologies.

In his day job, he works as a business and financial journalist. Over the years, he’s been a magazine writer and editor, website manager, PR consultant, book author, and seaman in the U.S. Merchant Marine. Like his heroine, Lady Frances Ffolkes, he’s a graduate of Vassar College.

With his wife and daughters, he divides his time between Rockland County, N.Y., and Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.

Catch Up With R.J. Koreto:
RJKoreto.com
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BookBub – @rkoreto1
Instagram – @rjkoreto
Twitter – @RJKoreto
Facebook – @RJKoreto

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February News for Books to the Ceiling


The production crew is working hard for the debut of the second book in The Swinging Sixties Series:

If I Had a Hammer.
March 14 is my publication date, but I don’t have the final cover to show you yet.

This is why authors go prematurely gray.

300

Sometimes I add new books in during the month, so be sure to check back every Friday!
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Dark of Night


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This week we visit the U.P. (Upper Penisula of Michigan) to solve a crime with ranger Annie Pederson in Colleen Coble’s Dark of Night. Hope you packed your bug repellant and your powers of deduction as we navigate the wilderness around Lake Superior.

More About Dark of Night

The law is about justice—not grace. But perhaps ranger Annie Pederson can find a way to have both.

As if the last few months haven’t been hard enough—complete with threats on her life and the return of her first love, Jon—Annie has to figure out whether or not to believe a woman who claims to be her sister, Sarah, who was abducted twenty-four years ago at age five. Annie’s eight-year-old daughter, Kylie, has plenty of questions about what’s going on in her mother’s life—but there are some stones Annie doesn’t want uncovered.

As Annie grapples with how to heal the gulf between her and her would-be sister and make room in her daughter’s life for Jon, she’s professionally distracted by the case of yet another missing hiker in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. A woman named Michelle Fraser has now been abducted, and though the woman’s estranged husband is at the top of their suspect list, Annie and her colleagues will need to dig deeper and determine whether these recent mysteries are truly as unrelated as they seem.

In this second novel of bestselling author Colleen Coble’s latest romantic-suspense series, Annie and Jon must fight for the future—and the family—that could once more be theirs.

Book Details:

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Published by: Thomas Nelson
Series: Annie Pederson #2
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | ChristianBook | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1

Should she even be out here alone? Michigan’s U.P. was a whole lotta wilderness. Michelle Fraser’s shoulder blades gave a tingle and made her glance back to see if anyone was following her. No one there. But in spite of seeing no movement in the trees and bushes, she couldn’t discount her gut instinct. She’d been spooked ever since she left the safety of the women’s shelter.

Maybe it was just knowing she was out here with no backup that had her on edge.

The heavy scent of rain hung in the twilight air as she set the last of her wildlife cameras in the crook of a large sugar maple tree. A northern flying squirrel chattered a warning from its nest. The glaucomys sabrinus’s agitation made Michelle pull away in time to avoid being nipped.

Thunder rumbled in the distance, and a spooky mist blew through the forest. The sooner she was out of here, the better. Her last set of cameras hadn’t turned up the elusive mountain lions she’d been searching for, but a hunter in neighboring Ontonagon County had snapped a picture of a large male reclining on a rock. If she could acquire more data, it would aid her research for the magazine article proving mountain lions inhabited the area. And she had to have pictures.

She’d been obsessed with big cats for as long as she could remember. Even the various names held a fascinating mystique: catamount, puma, cougar, mountain lion, panther.

A mosquito landed on her arm, and she swatted it. Her hands came away with a drop of blood on her fingers. Yuck. She wiped the residue on her khaki shorts and turned to go back to her ATV. A sound erupted to her right, and it sounded like either a puma or a woman’s scream. The hair on her neck prickled, and she moved that way.

The scream pealed again, and she removed the lens cap on the camera slung around her neck. Her palms dampened, and her breath came fast. Walking toward danger might not be the smartest thing, but Michelle couldn’t help herself. She yearned to see a puma in the wild in all its power and beauty. Her knees shook as she pulled out a bullhorn from her backpack to frighten away the cat if it sensed her as prey.

Queen pumas would be protecting their litters in June, so she needed to be careful. Her lungs labored as she rushed in that direction. Her black belt in jujitsu wouldn’t do much against the speed and power of a puma. She seized a large branch to make herself seem bigger as she advanced through the forest. Evergreen needles clawed at her arms as she forced her way through a thick stand of white pine.

She paused on the other side and caught the glimmer of water. Lake Superior’s waves lapped at the rocky shore, and she spotted a yellow kayak riding the swells in the shallow surf. A discarded backpack bobbed beside it.

Her sense of unease grew as she observed the scene. Glancing around, she approached the water and snagged the backpack from the lake, then pulled the kayak onto the rocks. Her gut told her someone was in trouble.

Should she call out? If it was wildlife threatening the woman she thought she’d heard, Michelle could scare it off with a flare. But if the attacker was human, she didn’t want to give away her presence and put the woman in greater danger. She scanned the area for bear or cougar scat but found nothing.

The sound of oars slapping the water came from her left, and she ducked back into the shadow of the pines until she could tell the intent of the boaters. Two figures partially shrouded in mist paddled a large canoe around a rocky finger of the shore. The glimpse of broad shoulders through the fog indicated they were probably men. She strained to listen through the sound of the wind and water but couldn’t hear much.

She couldn’t put her finger on why she didn’t want them to see her. Maybe because they were men, and Brandon might have sent them after her.

“I know she ran this way. Trying to get to her kayak, eh.” The man’s heavy Yooper accent carried well over the water.

“Can’t see her through this mist,” the other man said. “I don’t know why I let you talk me into this. Your love life isn’t my business.”

“You owe me. Let’s try on down the shore. There’s a deer trail toward the road she might have tried to take.”

Their voices faded as their canoe moved past. She didn’t get a good look at their faces. Was a woman out there trying to escape an abusive ex? Michelle had seen plenty of that kind of trauma this past year and had experienced abuse personally.

Once they were out of sight, she stepped back into the clearing. “Hello,” she called softly. “Is anyone here? I can help you.”

She walked across the green mossy clearing, searching for a sign of an injured woman. The bushes to her left shivered and rustled, and she stepped closer. “Hello? Do you need help?”

The leaves parted as the mist swirled along the ground, and the pale oval of a woman’s face emerged. Long blonde hair hung in strings along her cheeks, and her eyelids fluttered as though she might faint. Michelle rushed forward and helped the young woman to her feet. She was in her early twenties with a slight build. Mud smeared her khaki shorts and red top, and she was barefoot.

She seemed familiar, and Michelle reached down to touch her forehead. She nearly recoiled at the heat radiating from the young woman. “Wait, aren’t you Grace Mitchell?”

They’d met when Grace first arrived at the shelter, but Michelle hadn’t immediately recognized her with the mud and dirt on her face and hair. The woman’s fever alarmed Michelle. “You’re burning up. We need to get you to a doctor.”

“I-I’ll be fine. Do you have some way out of here?”

“My ATV is this way.” Michelle put her right arm around the woman’s waist and helped her stumble toward the trail. “What are you doing out here?”

Grace paused and wiped the beads of perspiration from her forehead. “I spotted my ex driving past the shelter, and I knew he’d found me. That day we met, you mentioned a remote area you liked with a great camping spot, and I decided to try to find it. You know, hide out until I figured out where to go to get away from Roy. But I stopped by to get camping gear from my parents, and he must have followed me here. He’s out there somewhere. He and a buddy.” Her blue eyes flashed with fear. “I can’t let him find me.”

They reached the ATV, and Michelle got Grace situated, but it was a tight squeeze on the vehicle meant for one person. Michelle got water out of her backpack and helped Grace drink some. She grabbed her phone, too, and took a quick photo of the traumatized girl before she dropped it back into the pack.

Michelle started the machine and pulled out onto the trail back to the cabin where she’d been hiding out. She should have gotten out of here earlier since the weather had caused darkness to fall sooner than expected. It would be slow going on the rough trail with only the headlamps pushing the darkness back a short distance.

After only a few minutes, Michelle realized she’d gotten off the trail. She stopped the machine and looked around. Which way should she go? She consulted her compass and decided to push due west. They’d only gone a few feet when the ground gave out under the machine, and they went flying into the air. When Michelle hit the ground, something in her right leg snapped, and the excruciating pain was instantaneous.

She bit back a scream but couldn’t stop the moan as she pulled her knee to her chest. The swelling was already starting four inches above her ankle, but at least it didn’t appear to be a compound fracture. “I-I’ve broken my leg. Are you all right, Grace?”

When Grace didn’t answer, Michelle felt along the ground until she touched her thigh. “Grace?” She felt up the young woman’s body to her face.

Grace wasn’t breathing. “Oh no,” Michelle whispered. She checked her out in the dark as best as she could. No pulse.

Michelle dragged herself to the machine but it was on its side, and she couldn’t right it with her broken leg. No one would be searching for her out here, so she had to find shelter. But how?

The pain made it hard to think. She froze at the sound of movement in the vegetation. Something big was crashing toward her. A deer? A mountain lion or bear?

A man’s shoulders moved into sight, and his expression sent shivers up her spine. When he reached down to lift her up, the pain intensified in her leg, and her vision went black.

///

Law enforcement ranger Annie Pederson sat at a table by herself in the small interrogation room at the Rock Harbor jail and waited for Taylor Moore to be brought in for questioning. Maybe it was Annie’s imagination, but it seemed as if the beige paint on the walls reeked with the guilt and despair of countless years of interrogations. Even the clean scent of the disinfectant used in the area didn’t dissipate the unpleasantness. She didn’t like this space and wished she could have talked to Taylor at the coffee shop or somewhere more pleasant.

But this meeting might be the end of her lifelong search, so she would have faced even tigers in this place.

The door opened and Taylor entered. Several weeks ago Annie had hired her to help out around the Tremolo Marina and Cabin Resort and with Annie’s eight-year-old daughter, but the woman had been picked up for questioning about the necklace found belonging to a murdered girl. Her claim to be Annie’s sister, Sarah—kidnapped from Tremolo Island twenty-four years ago—had turned Annie’s every thought on its head. According to Taylor’s ID, she was twenty-nine, three years younger than Annie, so that detail matched Sarah.

Annie’s heart squeezed at Taylor’s ducked head and stringy locks. The bright-red hair dye was fading, and glints of her natural blonde color showed through. Her jeans and tee looked like she’d slept in them for days, and the scent of stale perspiration wafted from her.

Taylor glanced up, and Annie bit back a gasp at the defiance gleaming in those vivid blue eyes that matched Annie’s eye color instead of the muddy brown Annie was used to. Jon Dunstan had claimed Taylor was wearing contacts to change her eye color, and it seemed he was right.

Annie had prided herself on her ability to read people in her line of work. She’d always thought she could detect a liar with no problem. Taylor had completely snowed her. After Taylor’s impeccable references, Annie had trusted the woman with her child.

Sheriff Mason Kaleva ambled in behind Taylor. He gestured to the chair across the table from Annie. “Have a seat, Ms. Moore.”

In his forties, his husky form brought solace to Annie. He’d always been there for her and his town, and his kind brown eyes swept over her in a questioning gaze. She gave him a little nod to let him know she was okay.

Taylor’s eyes narrowed. “It’s Ms. Vitanen. Sarah Vitanen.”

A wave of dizziness washed over Annie, and she bit her lip and eyed Taylor closely. “You claim to be my sister, but do you have any proof?”

The chair screeched on the tile floor as Taylor pulled it out before she plopped onto it. “I should have expected you wouldn’t welcome me with open arms. After all, you did nothing to stop my abduction.”

Heat swept up Annie’s neck and lodged in her cheeks. “What could an eight-year-old do to stop an adult? If you’re really Sarah, what was the name of your favorite stuffed animal?”

“Cocoa,” Taylor said without hesitation. “It was a brown kitten. I couldn’t have a real one because Mom was allergic.”

Annie’s eyes widened. She caught her breath as she studied the other woman across the table. “Let me see your left knee.”

Rebellion flashed in Taylor’s blue eyes, and she leaned down to yank up her baggy jeans, then stood with her tanned knee exposed. A faded two-inch scar just below her kneecap matched the one in Annie’s memory. Sarah had gotten snagged on a large metal hook under the dock at the marina. It had taken fifteen stitches to close the wound, and Annie had helped her sister hobble around for several weeks.

But was that proof? Kids had scars from all sorts of things. She wanted to believe her sister was still alive, but was Taylor really Sarah?

Her breath eased from her lips, and Annie couldn’t speak for a long moment. “You really believe you’re Sarah? Did you research all that and make sure the details matched?”

Taylor just stared back at her with that same defiance. In Annie’s dreams, finding Sarah meant a tight embrace and happy tears, but Taylor’s stance with her arms folded across her chest and her jutting chin warned Annie off any displays of affection. Not that she was feeling any warmth toward the other woman in this moment.

When the other woman plopped back in her chair and didn’t answer, Annie licked her lips. “Why didn’t you tell me when you first showed up looking for work? Why the fake name? I’ve been searching for my sister for years.”

“Have you? Have you really?”

Annie glanced at Mason. “Ask him if you don’t believe me.”

Mason shifted his bulky form and nodded. “I’ve been helping Annie search. We’ve sent DNA samples numerous times over the past ten years. Her parents searched for Sarah, and even hired investigators, until their deaths.”

Annie hadn’t known that. Her parents’ business, the Tremolo Marina and Cabin Resort, operated on a shoestring, so they must have taken much needed money to try to find Sarah.

Annie shifted her gaze back to the woman across the table. Taylor twisted a strand of hair around her finger in a coil. Sarah used to do that too. If this was a scam, it was an elaborate one. With all her heart Annie wanted to believe it, but she couldn’t quite accept it. It was so sudden, and the circumstances were bizarre.

Mason cleared his throat. “We’ll need a little more proof. We can get the DNA back in a week or so.”

“I have nothing to hide,” the other woman said.

Annie had spent twenty-four years agonizing over her failure to save Sarah. The guilt had nearly swallowed her alive, though everyone told her she couldn’t have done anything. Until a few days ago, she hadn’t been able to recall much about that awful night. Maybe she hadn’t wanted to remember how she froze in fear when the kidnapper grabbed Sarah.

Annie fingered the scar on her neck where the attacker had wounded her with a knife. She’d been left for dead in the cold waters of Lake Superior, and while logically she knew she was no match for the gruff woman who’d snatched her sister, Annie had struggled to believe it.

“Were any of the things you told me about your life true? Those things you said about your m-mother?”

“I had a rotten life, if that’s what you’re asking. All those things I said about my mother were true. And it was all your fault.”

There was nothing Annie could say to counter that when her own conscience condemned her too. She was only too glad when her boss, Kade Matthews, texted her with a new case. Mason could continue the questioning about the necklace.

***

Excerpt from Dark of Night by Colleen Coble. Copyright 2022 by Colleen Coble. Reproduced with permission from HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Colleen Coble

Colleen Coble is a USA TODAY bestselling author best known for her coastal romantic suspense novels, including The Inn at Ocean’s Edge, Twilight at Blueberry Barrens, and the Lavender Tides, Sunset Cove, Hope Beach, and Rock Harbor series.

Connect with Colleen online at:
colleencoble.com
Goodreads
BookBub: @colleencoble
Instagram: @colleencoble
Twitter: @colleencoble
Facebook: colleencoblebooks

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Snuffed Out


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Do you believe in aromatherapy and nontraditional medicine? In Snuffed Out, the murder victim is given a lotion for migraines. Curious, right? Read more about a brand new mystery from The Magic Candle Shop Mystery Series! 

About Snuffed Out

Snuffed Out (Magic Candle Shop Mystery)
Paranormal Cozy Mystery
1st in Series
Setting – Savannah, GA
Crooked Lane Books (January 10, 2023)

Twin sisters Tabby and Sage co-own a candle shop, but will it all go up in flames in Valona Jones’ series debut, perfect for fans of Amanda Flower and Bailey Cates.

30-year-old fraternal twins Tabby and Sage Winslow own The Book and Candle Shop in Savannah. Sage is hot-headed and impulsive while Tabby is calm and collected, making them the perfect partnership. When one of their customers is found murdered, from a blow to the head, that partnership is put to the test.

Blithe McAdam had been seen in a heated argument with shop clerk Gerard, which immediately makes him suspect number one. The twins are convinced of Gerard’s innocence and start digging into Blithe’s past. But no one is cooperating. The neighbor who found the body isn’t talking, medical examiner Quig won’t give any details about the autopsy, and nasty rumors begin surfacing about the drowning of Blithe’s father years earlier—evidence that could seal Gerard’s fate.

Tabby and Sage dig desperately for the truth. But it’s not only their friend who’s in peril. With the clock ticking, the twins find themselves in the grip of an unseen and deadly energy that has seeped into their midst—and in the sights of a ruthless killer.

Read an Excerpt from Snuffed Out

After each round of customers, I straightened stock, aligned our eclectic collection of books related to Savannah, pinched off brown fronds on our front-window fern pots, which were interspersed with fanciful sculptures of dragons, pirates, and more. The cats stayed closer than usual today, which suggested a brewing storm. To ward off trouble, I tinkled our special wind chimes, pleased with the harmonic notes.

Foot traffic through the shop slowed at about one thirty, and by three, I was counting the moments until five, when I could lock up. Or I was until two cops breezed through my front door.

Detectives Sharmila Belfor and Chase Nowry were a salt-and-pepper pair, him the iodized white salt and her the spicy black pepper. A few years ago the city and county had conjoined their police forces, but recently they’d become separate entities again. No official reason was given, but I suspected there’d been too many cooks in the kitchen. That never worked out.

I’d met the city detectives last month when they dropped by in relation to a burglary at the wine shop down the street. That situation resolved quickly, and I hoped for the same outcome to their Bristol Street visit today. “Good afternoon, Detectives,” I said. “How may I help you?”

“We’re investigating a homicide, ma’am,” Detective Nowry said, easing onto the padded stool by the counter, his expression grim. His deeply lined face attested to his years of service as a law enforcement officer.

His words shook me, and my fevered imagination took flight, imagining a horrific end to someone I knew. I braced my arms on the sales counter and made myself ask, “Who died?”

“Blithe McAdam.”

Buzzing sounded in my ears, as if I’d landed in a beehive. Blithe. She wasn’t a nice person, but I wouldn’t wish homicide on anyone.

“Ms. Winslow,” Detective Nowry asked, “what can you tell us about this woman?”

“I knew her. She bought candles here from time to time.”

Detective Belfor leaned in. “And hand cream?”

“Uh. Yes. The lotion. Um. My sister gave her the lotion on Thursday.”

His head cocked to the side, parrot-wise. “She didn’t purchase it?”

“Well, no.” I didn’t like the way he studied me, as if I were a bug in his private insect collection. Harley left his cozy basket on the floor and jumped onto the stool behind the counter, startling me. Feeling like I was under a magnifying glass, I scooped the cat in my arms, to use as my shield.

“Ms. Winslow, is there something you’re not saying?”

Harley’s contented purr steadied me. “Blithe McAdam suffered from severe headaches. When she couldn’t find pain relief in the traditional medical community, she tried our aromatherapy candles. She bought sets of candles every week for several weeks, but this week she said our candles didn’t help. Sage gave her a full refund and the lotion.”
“Any heated words exchanged?”

I gave them my best shopkeeper smile. “The customer is always right. We addressed her concerns, and she left. That was the end of our conversation.”

“Come now, Ms. Winslow,” Detective Belfor said. “The victim was a disagreeable woman. I’m sure there’s more to the story.”

“We want our customers to be happy, Detectives. She arrived upset, and we eased her concern. She departed in a better frame of mind. What more can I say?”

“Did you see her after Thursday?”

“No, I did not.”

“Did your coworkers see her?”

“Not that I know of. If you don’t believe me, check our security footage.” I pointed to the camera behind the counter. From long usage, I knew the lens captured the sales counter and the front door.

They observed me with their laser-focused cop vision, and I was delighted to have Harley to help me through this. My turn to pose a question. “How’d she die?”

“A blow to the head,” Detective Belfor said. “You know anyone who had a beef with her? Someone who hated her enough to kill her?”

Blithe was a difficult person, but it was one thing to dislike her and quite another to end her life. “No.”

“Are you certain?” Detective Nowry asked. “Perhaps someone who despised her. Are you protecting someone? A coworker, perhaps?”

My chin rose with my indignation. “No one I know would do such a thing.”

“What about her friends or family?”

“She’s a customer. We aren’t best friends with our customers. Shopkeepers are friendly for business reasons.”

“Interesting,” Nowry said, “but you didn’t answer my question.”

About Valona Jones

Valona Jones writes paranormal cozy mysteries set in Southern locales. Her work blends mystery and the unexplained, along with a sprinkle of romance. A former scientist, she’s drawn to the study of personal energy. She sharpened her people-watching skills as a lifelong introvert and thankfully had a bank vault full of personal observations when she began to write fiction. Her forthcoming release, Snuffed Out, A Magic Candle Shop Mystery, is slated for January 10, 2023, release. She’s a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. She lives in coastal Georgia, where time and tide wait for no one. Visit her at https://valonajones.com

Author Links

Website: https://valonajones.com

Facebook: https://facebook.com/valonajonesauthor

BookBub https://www.bookbub.com/authors/valona-jones

GoodReads https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/22140872.Valona_Jones

(Valona is not on twitter, Instagram, TikTok, nor Pinterest)

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Death on the Emerald Isle

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It’s Jessica time again! Jessica is in Ireland for this one, delivering some artwork to the family of a friend from Cabot Cove. Of course, you already know it’s going to be a little more complicated than that!

Murder, She Wrote: Death on the Emerald Isle

Cozy Mystery/56th in Series/Setting – Ireland/ Berkley (January 3, 2023)

A trip to Northern Ireland becomes unexpectedly grim for Jessica Fletcher in this new entry in the USA Today bestselling Murder, She Wrote series.

About Murder, She Wrote: Death on the Emerald Isle

Jessica Fletcher is quick to accept an invitation to replace a speaker who couldn’t attend a Book Festival in Belfast, Ireland. When her Cabot Cove neighbor Maeve O’Bannon hears about the trip, she asks Jessica to deliver some paintings to her family in the village of Bushmills. Happy to extend her travels and see more of the Irish countryside, Jessica agrees.

The festival goes off without a hitch, and it seems like Jessica is in for a relaxing vacation. But then Maeve’s cousin Michael is discovered dead under suspicious circumstances. Jessica finds herself once again in the midst of a murder investigation, and she’ll have to dig into the O’Bannon family’s secrets to unmask the killer.

Excerpt

Chapter One

Seth Hazlitt, my longtime friend and Cabot Cove’s favorite doctor, was sitting at my kitchen table sipping coffee while I was trying to cross as many items off my to-do list as possible.

“Okay, so, now Susan Shevlin checked in with Jed Richardson and has booked all my connecting flights. We’re so lucky to have a world-class travel agent as a friend and neighbor. You are going to look after my house. Oh, and I need to ask Maeve O’Bannon if she will keep an eye on my garden, especially those seedlings I planted two weeks ago.”

Seth tugged at his eyeglasses, peered across the table at my seemingly unending roster of chores, and said, “Jessica, I don’t understand why whenever anyone imposes on your time, you rearrange your entire life to help them out. Doesn’t seem fair to me. Would anyone do the same for you? And I sure could use some pastry to go with this coffee.”

“Well, then, you should have stopped at Charlene Sassi’s bakery before you came by. Since I’m leaving in two days, I need to empty out my refrigerator, not fill it with snacks, although, as you can see, my fruit bowl isn’t quite empty.”

A thought popped into my head and I jotted, “Temporarily cancel delivery of the Cabot Cove Gazette,” on my notepaper before I continued. “I don’t see why you are making such a big fuss over a little trip. I am simply doing a favor for a friend. Believe me, if the situation were reversed, Lorna Winters would do the same for me.”

Seth guffawed. “A little trip? Is that what you’re calling it? Let me tell you, driving an hour or two up the coast to Belfast, Maine, might be something I would consider a little trip. Traveling from here to Belfast, Northern Ireland, that is what I call a l-o-n-g trip. Wasn’t it only last Tuesday that you claimed to be too busy to go fishing on Moon Lake for a few short hours with me along with Mort and Maureen Metzger? But today, at the drop of a hat . . .”

I counted to ten and then replied, hoping my exasperation didn’t show, “Seth, Lorna Winters didn’t drop a hat. Since you are a physician, I would think you’d appreciate the consequences of breaking her leg in several places. The leg is now in what Lorna described as a ‘torturous cast’ from ankle to hip and she is confined to a wheelchair. Her doctor insists that she stay home in Minnesota so that he can look after her. You know how finicky doctors can be, so there is no way she can go to the Belfast Book Festival and accept the American Author Guest of Honor Award without violating her doctor’s orders.”

“It is only common sense to follow doctor’s orders,” Seth said. “But it seems to me some committee member could pack up her award in a tidy box and drop it in the mail, and your friend would have her trophy, or whatever, in no time.”

“There is far more to Lorna’s participation than accepting a plaque. She is scheduled for interviews and panels specifically geared to American mysteries. So many things will have to be rearranged if there wasn’t an American author to take her place.”

A firm rat-a-tat-tat on my kitchen door punctuated my last few words and I turned to see my neighbor Maeve O’Bannon through the glass pane on the top half of the door. Her curly gray hair was escaping from a bun fashioned carelessly atop her head, a sure sign she’d been either baking or gardening, which were her two favorite passions.

When I signaled her to come in, she raised both hands, which were holding a dish covered by a white linen cloth. One glance and it took Seth less than a second to push back his chair and pull the door open.

“Maeve O’Bannon to the rescue,” he said. “A man could starve in this house.”

Maeve sent a meaningful glance to the fruit bowl on my table, which held two apples and an orange. “I guess that would depend on what the man wanted to eat.”

“My nose has me hoping that you’re holding some freshly baked scones. And that you’ve come to share,” Seth said.

“Half a point to you. Tell me what kind of scones and you’ll earn a full point, and a scone besides.” Maeve always enjoyed bantering with Seth about her baked goods.

Seth leaned closer to her and inhaled deeply. “Ah, citrus. Orange. Tell me, Maeve, have you a plateful of your mouthwatering cranberry-orange scones?”

“I have indeed.” Maeve took off the cloth and placed a lovely crystal platter piled high with lightly iced scones on the table.

I took some dessert plates from the cabinet, set out napkins, and reached gratefully for a scone. “Maeve, I didn’t even know I was hungry, but after one look at your scones . . . Can I offer you tea or coffee?”

“I would welcome a cup of tea if it’s not too much trouble,” Maeve said as she settled into the chair between mine and Seth’s.

I served Maeve a cup of tea and sat down to enjoy my scone, which was as delicious as it was fragrant. I was swallowing my final bite and was about to praise her baking skills to the sky when Maeve interrupted my train of thought.

“Jessica, I ran into Alicia Richardson in the Fruit and Veg first thing this morning and she mentioned that Jed would be flying you off on the first leg of a trip to Belfast.”

I automatically reached for my to-do list, hoping to check off “plants and seedlings,” but Maeve distracted me by saying, “I was hoping I could impose on you by asking for a slight favor.”

Seth interjected, “Maeve, you do know that Jessica isn’t merely hopping up the coast to our Belfast. She is flying across the ocean to the original Belfast, the one in Northern Ireland.”

Maeve nodded. “I do indeed know that and I can tell you that Belfast is so very near my father’s ancestral home in the village of Bushmills. That is why I’ve come to ask a favor.”

Although I wasn’t at all familiar with the geography of Northern Ireland, I had a momentary fear of traveling hours and hours out of my way so I could snap a picture or two of some ancient ruins of a thatched-roof cottage, the straw and reeds of which had long since given way. Still, Maeve was a good neighbor and I’d always considered her a friend, so I thought it best to hear her out.

“My father was born and raised on a tenant farm just outside Bushmills, but he always had a love of the sea, and with jobs at home being scarce at the time, he left at the age of seventeen to become a seafaring man. Oh, he traveled the world several times over. And many an evening when I was a child, he’d sit with his pipe in his hand and me on his knee and tell about all the places he’d been and the wondrous things he’d seen.” Maeve’s blue eyes began to glow with the memories.

“How did a sailor from Northern Ireland wind up here in Cabot Cove?” Seth wondered aloud.

“Ah, now, there’s my favorite part of the story. It seems he was a deckhand on a ship bound for Nova Scotia. When it arrived in the Bay of Fundy, it had some serious troubles and needed to be dry-docked for repairs for a length of time that was far too long for my da. At this part of the story, he would look me in the eye and say, ‘Not being a landlubber, it wasn’t my way to sit around and wait,’ and we would both shake our heads really fast.” Maeve laughed. “So when a nearby ship was looking for a hand for a short journey to Portland, Maine, my da jumped at the chance to fill the days until his ship would be ready to be off again.”

I was intrigued, wondering what Maeve’s father had seen in Portland that enticed him to stay in Maine. I should have known.

“At this point in the story, my da would look across the room at my mam, who was in her rocker, often knitting, sometimes sewing, and he would smile and say, ‘When we docked at Portland, as I was helping to lower the gangplank, I saw the most beautiful girl, with hints of copper flowing through her light brown curls and eyes bluer than the sky, standing in line ready to board for our return trip.’ No matter how long they’d been married, my mam always blushed when Da described the scene.” Maeve took a sip of tea before she finished her story.

“By the time Mam left the ship at Jonesport to visit her aunt Lottie, my da was totally smitten. As soon as he’d sailed back to Nova Scotia, he said his good-byes to his shipmates and hitched a ride back down to Maine. Six months later he sailed back to Ireland to invite his family to the wedding. By all accounts a number of the relatives came and it was a joyous event. Da worked the lobster boats and over time was able to buy one of his own. Years of hard work led to my parents buying the house next door, where I have lived ever since and where I hope to die.”

“And from what I recall of your recent physical examination, that final event won’t be coming along anytime soon.” As Maeve’s doctor, Seth gave his opinion.

Maeve smiled and patted Seth’s hand. “Maybe not, but I do know that the years are piling on, one after the other, far faster than they used to. And that brings me to the reason I need a favor from Jessica. I have four watercolors that my grandfather painted for my parents and brought over as a wedding present. They are local scenes surrounding the village. He even included one that was his own interpretation of the Giant’s Causeway-beautifully done, I might add.”

“The Giant’s Causeway? Is that a bridge of some sort?” Seth asked.

Maeve laughed. “If you were Finn McCool, ‘bridge’ might be the perfect description. I’ve a book of Irish mythology in the house and it includes a fine explanation of the legend of Finn McCool-or Fionn mac Cumhaill, as it’s pronounced in the Irish-and the Giant’s Causeway. I’d be glad to pass it along.”

Seth nodded but I could see he was disappointed not to get an immediate answer to his question. I decided to bring the conversation back to the reason Maeve had arrived, scones in hand.

“Maeve, you said you needed a favor? What exactly can I do for you?”

“Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandfather’s paintings. I’m not getting any younger and I have neither siblings nor children. But I do have cousins and they have children.” Maeve paused.

Although I was quick to see where this was headed, I waited for Maeve to continue.

“Jessica, if it wouldn’t be too great an ask, I was wondering if you would be kind enough to escort my grandfather’s paintings home. I would arrange for you to stay at a lovely small hotel in Bushmills where I myself have stayed more than once. It’s run by the Nolan family, who are gracious hosts, and they will welcome you as my guest. I will ask Dougal Nolan to arrange for a small reception where you can present the paintings to the cousins and their children. From that point on, they can decide among themselves where the paintings should reside, but I think it is important that the family are all together when they see the paintings for the first time. Don’t you agree?”

Of course I had no actual view on the matter, but since it was Maeve’s family, I accepted her judgment on what was best.

On the other hand, Seth had a number of opinions. “Maeve, don’t you think you are asking a lot of Jessica? How is she to carry four paintings? If you’ve had them all this while, I suppose they are framed.”

“Dr. Hazlitt, what do you take me for? A ninny? I have had them removed from their frames and packed in tubes so that they will travel lightly and arrive safely. The cousins can buy their own frames if they’ve a mind.” Maeve huffed.

Seth nodded, satisfied that his concern had been met. “That’s the spirit, Maeve. You’re giving the paintings. Let the cousins decide how they should be exhibited.”

“And suppose they have poor taste? I can’t allow that. Jessica, I had planned to write you a brief description of my cousins and their kin. Now I’ll be sure to add a letter to them explaining how the paintings should be framed as well as my own suggestions for display.”

I sighed as I reached for my to-do list and put a big star next to Susan Shevlin’s name. It was becoming obvious that she was going to have to make my return trip open-ended.

My Review

I loved Death on the Emerald Isle. Terrie Farley Moran does a wonderful job telling a Jessica Fletcher story. The thing about reading a mystery that has 55 others before it is you want to experience a new story, but it has to have the elements of the other stories and in this case, stories written by other authors. I felt securely landed in Jessica’s world with Seth Hazlett complaining about the lack of pastry and Jessica’s polite gracefulness in tricky situations. The mystery is well-paced and the Irish characters were loveable, especially Jessica’s young assistant from the Bushmills hotel. If you love Murder She Wrote, you won’t want to miss this one.

About the Authors

Along with Jessica Fletcher, Terrie Farley Moran co-writes the Murder She Wrote mystery series including  Murder, She Wrote: Killer on the Court. She is the author of the Read ‘Em and Eat cozy mystery series and also co-writes the Scrapbooking Mysteries with Laura Childs. Recipient of both the Agatha and the Derringer Awards, Moran has published numerous mystery short stories. The only thing Terrie enjoys more than wrangling mystery plots into submission is hanging out with any or all of her seven grandchildren.

Author Links – Webpage   Facebook 

Purchase Links – Amazon – B&N – Kobo – IndieBound – Bookshop.org – PenguinRandomHouse – 

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Of Mushrooms and Matrimony

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Have you ever thought of being a caterer? Your wonderful recipes would be enjoyed by people everywhere. A dream come true, that is until something you cook goes wrong. That’s what happens today in our cozy mystery Of Mushrooms and Matrimony.

Of Mushrooms and Matrimony (A Tish Tarragon Mystery)

This is a Cozy Mystery that is the 6th in the Tish Tarragon Mystery Series from Severn House; Main edition (January 3, 2023)

About Of Mushrooms and Matrimony

Tish Tarragon is catering for a wedding, but the weekend goes from sweet to sour when a guest at the venue is poisoned.

Literary caterer and owner of Cookin’ the Books cafe Tish Tarragon is pushing thoughts of her impending eviction aside to prepare an appetising welcome buffet for a wedding weekend at Abbingdon Green Bed and Breakfast. While there, Tish witnesses one of the guests, controversial TV chef and restaurant critic, Gunner Randall, threatening staff after missing breakfast and making do with a mushroom omelet.

When Randall is found dead the following day, it soon becomes clear that poisoned mushrooms were behind his demise. With no shortage of potential suspects and motives, can Tish and her new beau, Sheriff Clemson Reade, uncover who was enraged enough with the unsavoury star to silence him for good?

Read an Excerpt

‘I can’t believe it. My café is closed, and once this job is finished, my catering business is on hiatus until I can find a new kitchen,’ Tish Tarragon, owner of Cookin’ the Books literary café, lamented as she loaded a crate of dishes into her bright red van in preparation for a book-themed wedding weekend at Abbingdon Green Bed and Breakfast. ‘When I opened this business, I knew there was a chance it might close because it wasn’t successful, but I never imagined it would close because I’d been evicted.’Julian Davis, Channel Ten weatherman and one of Tish’s dearest friends since college, slid a box of crystal stemware into the spot beside the dishes. ‘Well, you did tell your landlord to shut up, honey. And rather angrily, too.’

‘When I said that, I wasn’t talking to Schuyler Thompson, my landlord. I was talking to Schuyler Thompson, my ex-boyfriend and Hobson Glen’s crummy new mayor who was working with the town council to cover up the identity of a murderer.’

‘Clearly, Schuyler doesn’t compartmentalize these matters as well as you do,’ Jules deadpanned. ‘I’ve gotta say, though, you got the crummy mayor part right. Do you know that man is imposing a town tax on vehicle registrations in addition to the state fee we already pay?’

‘Yes, I heard. The tax would be on a sliding scale, with owners of larger vehicles paying more than those with smaller cars. I can’t wait to see how much it will be to re-register this van.’

‘Disgraceful. I’m proud to say I didn’t vote for him. Although I have a bit of a confession to make – even before you and he split up, I’d decided not to vote for Schuyler.’

‘I have a confession to make, too. Even before he and I split up, I’d decided not to vote for Schuyler either,’ Tish replied, eliciting a loud cackle from Jules.

‘Well, let’s forget him. Now you have yourself a hot, hunky man who treats you like a goddess.’

Tish thought back to the previous night and the lovely candlelight dinner Sheriff Clemson Reade had cooked in the kitchen of his cozy circa-1930 bungalow. ‘He really is wonderful,’ she gushed. ‘He’s been so incredibly supportive through all of this. Helping me scour real estate ads, listening to my fears . . . he even arranged for his friend Shirley – remember, she owns Justine’s, the restaurant by the Canal Walk in Richmond? – to buy leftover stock from me. I don’t have a lot to sell, but it’s good to know that food won’t go to waste. It will also be nice to have a little extra pocket money.’

‘Mary Jo and the kids are staying with Celestine until they can find a new apartment,’ Jules said, referring to their other college chum who had been living in the apartment above the café after a nasty divorce and was now rooming with Tish’s recently widowed baker. ‘The café is closed to the public, you’re selling off extra supplies, and you’re completing the last of your catering gigs this weekend. You also need to be out of here before the end of the month which – need I remind you – is mere days away. So why are you still staying here?’

Tish gazed at the flower-and-plant-festooned porch with its wide cushion-lined swing and blinked back her tears. She had put so much time and care into transforming the café into not just a thriving, welcoming business, but a comfortable home, that it was difficult to imagine leaving it all behind. ‘I suppose I’m not ready to let go quite yet,’ she confessed. ‘There’s also the matter of Tuna—’

‘Tuna will be fine. Out of all the porches in Hobson Glen that cat could have wandered on to, he chose yours. He’s your cat, honey. Wherever you go, he’ll follow and he’ll adapt.’

‘So long as he can follow. Do you know how difficult it is to find an apartment that allows pets?’

‘No, luckily, my landlady loves Biscuit.’ Jules glanced down at the Bichon Frisé sniffing the ground at his feet. ‘But why are you even bothering to look at apartments? I’m sure Clemson wouldn’t mind Tuna coming along for the ride. He has suggested that you move in with him, hasn’t he?’

‘He has,’ she confirmed. ‘I told him I’d think about it.’

‘What’s there to think about? You love him, and he’s loaded to the gills with love for you. What else do you need?’

‘Assurance. The last time I moved in with someone so quickly, things didn’t end very well.’

‘Your relationship with Schuyler didn’t break up because you moved in with him too soon. Your relationship ended because Schuyler’s a jackass.’

‘I understand that, but—’

‘But what?’

‘I don’t want to do anything to put my relationship with Clemson in jeopardy. I’d like us to progress to the next step naturally, instead of being pushed into it by circumstance.’

‘Sometimes circumstance is simply fate lending a helping hand,’ Jules philosophized. ‘Considering it took five murder cases and a totaled car before the two of you even started to date, I’m thinking y’all should grab on to any helping hand that comes your way.’

‘I didn’t say no, Jules,’ Tish reinforced with a sigh. ‘I just need some time.’

‘Time for what? To perfect your shadow-puppet skills on the empty walls of your tiny bedroom?’

‘To grieve a little.’

Jules folded his arms across his chest and rolled his eyes. ‘This space is gone, but your business isn’t.’

‘To find a new location for the café,’ she added to the list of excuses.

‘A new, improved, and possibly expanded location,’ he added with a broad grin.

‘I agree with you on the new, but I’m afraid the improved and expanded isn’t quite in the stars at the moment. The only place I can afford is nearly a third the size of this one. I’ll have to limit my business to takeout only.’

‘Oh, you mean that little storefront for rent over in Coleton Creek?’

‘If you’re talking about the one in the strip mall between Jenny Craig and the check-cashing place, then yes, that’s the one.’

‘Well, being next door to Jenny Craig probably won’t help sell Celestine’s fabulous cakes, but the check-cashing place might bring in some business, what with all those people with money in their pockets waiting to be spent.’

‘Yeah, the check-cashing place also runs a pawn service, which means after you hock that engagement ring you no longer need or cash in your late Aunt Hattie’s pearls, you can swing by my place and treat yourself to a scone,’ she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. ‘The ads will practically write themselves.’

‘OK, so maybe it’s not the ideal location,’ Jules admitted. ‘But I know one that is – the Hobson Glen Bar and Grill building. It’s bigger than this place, has plenty of parking, a newly renovated living area upstairs, a back room you could rent out for parties, and enough surrounding property to expand into an outdoor eating area. Plus, a little birdie told me that the owner turned the deed back over to the bank who, in turn, is selling it for a song.’

‘Yes, I heard the same news, so I took a look online. Even with the discounted price, that song is still way out of my key.’

‘Oh, but it’s perfect! You worked in finance for years. Surely someone you know back at the bank might be able to help you.’

‘Maybe. It’s Friday morning – the work week isn’t over yet. I’ll email my old boss this morning and see if some new financing options have opened up,’ she thought aloud. ‘But I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime, we need to pack this van. I have a wedding weekend to cater.’

‘Not just a wedding weekend, but a bookish wedding weekend. Ever since you started your business, I’ve been waiting for you to get a gig like this one. Romance, reading, great food . . . sounds like it could be your wedding.’

‘I already had a wedding, remember?’

‘How could I forget?’ Jules asked dramatically. ‘In addition to feeling like an oversized eggplant in that suit you made me wear—’

‘Aubergine was a hot color for bridesmaids that year!’ Tish interrupted.

‘—I spent most of that morning in the ladies’ room with Mary Jo while she suffered from morning sickness.’

‘That’s right. She was pregnant with Kayla. It’s hard to believe that was nearly sixteen years ago.’

‘It is, but you’re missing my point. A wedding isn’t a funeral, honey. A person can have more than one.’

‘A person also can also have more than one best friend,’ Tish volleyed, ‘but sometimes that additional best friend can be a real nag.’

About Amy Patricia Meade 

Author of the critically acclaimed Marjorie McClelland Mysteries, Vermont Country Living Mysteries, and Tish Tarragon Mysteries, Amy Patricia Meade is a native of Long Island, NY, where she cut her teeth on classic films and books featuring Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown.

After stints as an Operations Manager for a document imaging company and as a freelance technical writer, Amy left the bright lights of New York City and headed north to pursue her creative writing career amidst the idyllic beauty of Vermont’s Green Mountains.

After five years living in Bristol, England, Amy now resides in upstate New York.

When not writing, Amy spends her time working for her musician husband, watching classic films, testing new recipes, belly dancing, and cleaning cat hair from her lap.

Author Links: 

Website https://amypatriciameade.com/

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000211411314

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/amypatriciameade/

Purchase Links – AmazonB&NKoboIndieBound - 

Oh Holy Fright

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I love to write stories about Christmas, so was excited to write Oh Holy Fright as a part of my Pecan Bayou Series. The characters of this little town in Texas feel like family to me, so why not go for a little visit around the holidays!

About Oh Holy Fright

It’s Christmas in Pecan Bayou, Texas. Join Betsy (aka The Happy Hinter) for a good old small-town Christmas complete with Christmas carols, over the top light displays, delicious food, loving friends and…a Christmas Creeper. One of the residents of Pecan Bayou has a secret and you’d better lock the door because that isn’t Santa out there or even an elf off his shelf. Enjoy spending Christmas with the town and family you’ve come to know in the Pecan Bayou Series. Recipes and helpful hints included!

Excerpt

A Washing Machine Full of Rocks
“What would possess Joe Nelson to give the Christmas solo to a woman who sings like a washing machine full of rocks?” Aunt Maggie’s voice echoed in the community center gym, the location hosting many of the neighborhood churches for the Christmas Eve service. Her attitude was in direct contrast to Rudolph’s blinking nose on her fire engine red Christmas sweatshirt.
“Ooh. You better watch out,” Danny whispered in my ear. “When Mama says words like that, it’s best to look busy.” I had just picked up Danny from the Christmas party for people with disabilities held at his adult care center. Today he seemed especially happy for some reason. And from the way he kept giggling, I could tell Danny had a secret he was bursting to tell me.
“Joe!” Aunt Maggie called out.
The choir director, who was busily engaged in a conversation with Enid Sanford—solo-stealer and owner of the voice that sounded like a washing machine full of rocks—didn’t respond.
“Joe!” she bellowed.
When he failed to respond a second time, she stomped back, turned him around by the shoulders, and plopped her slender black music folder into his hands.
“Take it. I can’t sing in a choir where my voice isn’t heard.”
I had to admit, Maggie was one of the better singers in the holiday choir. Some of the other vocalists possessed lesser talent. One time when I was watching Joe’s friend Howard Gunther at the soundboard, I noticed he was turning down certain microphones. It was wonderful these people volunteered, but some of the singers could be described as cats screeching in the night. Enid Sanford was one of those people; when she hit a high C, it could make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
Leaving an astonished Joe, Maggie returned to us. “Well, that’s it. You’re hearing it right here and now. I am quitting the Pecan Bayou Singers. They can jingle their bells with somebody else.”
Lester Jibbets, a tall wiry man with protruding cheekbones and the owner of the most successful port-a-potty business in Central Texas, walked over waving a bony hand. “I totally agree, Maggie. What happened here is nothing short of criminal. It will ruin the Christmas Eve performance, uh huh.” He nodded his head to reinforce his point.
“Thanks, Lester,” Maggie said, about to continue her tirade, but Lester just kept talking.
“Yes, sir, I knew right away I needed to come over and help a beautiful lady in trouble, I did.” More nods.
“Thank you, Lester,” Maggie repeated, but this time she waited. Lester Jibbets was not an easy man to shut up once he got started. I guess the portable bathroom business is pretty lonely, even if you’re at the top of your game.
“May I walk you to your car? I would hate for you to swoon right here, and I would have to catch you in my strong yet surprisingly gentle arms.” His eyes lit up at the thought. This was getting downright creepy.
“That’s okay, Mr. Jibbets,” I reassured him. “Maggie’s not the swooning type.” I took Maggie by the elbow and led her to the car, leaving Jibbets standing alone. He gave us a final wave, just in case we wanted to turn around and talk to him again.
Danny took Maggie’s other arm and said, “Mama, you can’t quit the Pecan Bayou Singers. They need you. You told me that if you weren’t there, the whole group of idiots would fall apart. I don’t want to see the whole group of idiots fall apart.”
Even I had heard her say that more than once. Leave it to a man with Down syndrome to keep things honest.
Pastor Green careened over, ever the crisis counselor. He had sniffed this one out like a bloodhound. He was dressed in what Leo called his “cool pastor casual wear,” a black shirt, white liturgical collar, husky man jeans, and sneakers.
“Maggie, I saw what just happened. I don’t know why Joe made a decision like that, but you need to be charitable.”
“Charitable! That’s rich!” Maggie said, launching into the speech that Lester had kept interrupting. I knew she couldn’t hold it in for much longer. “Everybody wants me to be charitable all of a sudden. I get enough offers to be charitable in my own mailbox. Next thing they’ll be asking me for money for blind Seeing-Eye dogs and displaced squirrels. It’s ridiculous.”
The pastor moved closer and whispered, “I don’t know if they can handle some of the music without you.”
“Well then, they’re just going to have to fall apart. Couldn’t Joe hear how Enid sounded? Lord knows it’s Christmastime and I have plenty of baking and wrapping to do. I certainly don’t need another commitment on my calendar. Let’s go home, Betsy.”
Joe Nelson hurried over and joined Pastor Green. He held the folder up to his brown-and-gray argyle sweater vest. “Now, Maggie, I can see you’re pretty upset with me right now. Please know there was a lot to making this decision. I do hope you will be gracious and let Enid enjoy her solo. There was just something about her voice I hadn’t heard before.”
Maggie’s nose went up in the air as if she smelled something bad. “Oh, I’ll be gracious. I’ll be so gracious, you’ll think I’m Martha Stewart with a new scone recipe.” She jabbed him in the chest where he still held her thin black choir folder. “I quit.”
Joe gave my aunt a gentle smile, tucked the folder under his arm, and reached out to take her hand. “You can’t mean that, Maggie. We need you. I don’t know what we would sound like without your lovely soprano voice. It’s just that this time, I do wish you would reconsider.”
Where Jibbets was a little off-putting, Joe was sweet, and Aunt Maggie became flustered by this heartfelt plea. I had to wonder if she was a little ashamed by her outburst.
“All I can say is, I’ll think about it.”
Cupping his hand behind his ear, Joe gave her a confused look. Pastor Green, who usually had an excellent poker face, pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes. Enid was doing a little extra rehearsing in the background. Listening to her again, I would have to say she wasn’t rocks in a washing machine—more like a cross between nails on a chalkboard and the sound a balloon makes when the air is slowly released. “What?”
“I said,” she shouted, “I’ll think about it.”
“And that is all I can ask. Running a choir is never easy because people’s egos are at stake. You can certainly understand that about Enid, right?” Joe shouted now as Enid reached the volume of a plane revving up engines for takeoff.
“So, are you telling me you gave her the solo because you wanted to pump up her ego?” Maggie cupped her hands together like a megaphone. “I don’t think that’s how you direct a choir.”
Luckily, Enid stopped before Joe had to answer.
“You may be right about that, Maggie. I am what you would call an amateur choir director, and I’m afraid I lead with my heart before my head. I do hope you’ll understand and maybe forgive me. It is the Christmas season, after all, and sometimes we have to think of our fellow man or woman.”
“Amen, brother,” Pastor Green added.
Joe’s words were simple and yet very stirring. He was right. It was Christmastime, a time to think of others, and he was thinking of Enid Sanford. Most people in town really didn’t like Enid because she was bossy and arrogant. I’d had my own experiences with her I would rather forget. I supposed even a person as obnoxious as Enid deserved a break now and again. It looked like this was going to be Enid’s lucky day. Or should I say she was going to get her Christmas miracle?

 

It’s been a wonderful year at Books to the Ceiling with fantastic books and authors to fill our days! Thank you to all the readers and listeners of the podcast and to all the authors who stopped by to share their work. Merry Christmas!

~Teresa

Murder in Third Position

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Christmas trees, carols and performances of The Nutcracker abound! Murder in Third Position takes us into the world of dance with cranky choreographers, aging dancers and a rickety set design. Hmm, this sounds like an excellent set up for a murder mystery!

More About Murder in Third Position

Deadly rivalries. Ruthless enemies. And that’s just the first act.

The Nutcracker ballet is filled with holiday cheer, but no one is happy, least of all lead dancer Leah Siderova. It’s bad enough when Maurice Kaminsky forces her to perform upon a shaky platform, which teeters high above the stage. It’s worse when the curtain opens on the first murder victim, and the scene looks more like the end of Romeo and Juliet than a child’s vision of Christmas.

The dancers were unanimous in their dislike of Maurice, and they eagerly anticipated his departure. What they didn’t foresee is that he would exit in a body bag, and not on a nonstop flight to LA.

Leah doesn’t want to get involved in the ensuing murder investigation, but when suspicion falls upon Tex, her dance partner and friend, she has no choice but to act. She enlists the Choreographers of Crime for help, but it’s her life, her career, and her complicated romance with homicide detective Jonah Sobol that’s on the line.

With opening night less than a week away, and the future of American Ballet Company hanging in the balance, can Leah save Tex in time to save the show?

Read an Excerpt from Murder in Third Position

I’ve danced naked in front of thousands of people, watched a tidal wave sweep away my pointe shoes, and fallen into a bottomless pit. Waking up in a cold sweat rescued me from those pre-performance nightmares, but reality couldn’t save me from Maurice Kaminsky’s Deathtrap.
After several failed attempts, I stepped back from a nearly vertical escalator and said what everyone else was thinking. “Maurice, your set design is beautiful, but it looks as if one grand jeté will send it crashing to the ground.”
I couldn’t deny that the scenery for our new production of The Nutcracker ballet, with its cantilevered platform and glittering gears, was dramatic, imposing, and imaginatively designed. The rickety structure, however, was without one essential element: Me.
With short, powerful arms, Maurice hauled himself onto the stage from the orchestra pit below. “Get on with it, Leah. We don’t have all day.” He banged the side of the staircase, as if to demonstrate its strength, but which instead caused the interior mechanism to clank and rattle in protest. The grinding gears sounded like a ride in a traveling amusement park, the kind that routinely made headlines for some horrible accident.
I took a deep breath and placed one trembling foot onto moving stairs that vibrated with the strain of my puny weight. By the time his contraption transported me to the narrow platform that loomed overhead I could barely breathe, let alone dance Brett Cameron’s complex choreography.
The Nutcracker was Brett’s first full-length ballet, and he feared the collapse of his career more than the collapse of his principal dancer. “Move downstage, Sugar Plum! Your solo is supposed to be the highlight of the Nutcracker Ballet. Not its best-kept secret.”
The choreographer’s indifference to me and his support of Maurice came as no surprise, although their artistic partnership was almost as fiery as their marriage.
I inched closer to the edge, but Brett continued to harangue me. “Stop mincing! You look like a scared kid creeping around the edge of the playground on the first day of seventh grade.”
His middle school analogy was apt. My face burned with the same self-conscious embarrassment I endured when I was thirteen. This time, however, everyone really was looking critically at me.
Actually, it was worse than that. Nelson Merrill, a filmmaker better known for true-crime documentaries, had the cameras rolling, capturing my cowardice for all eternity. I hoped, not without reason, the day’s footage would end up on the cutting room floor. The dancers were incidental to Nelson’s film project, which was Maurice’s life and art. Our egotistical set designer was famous for his paintings, his sculptures, and his multi-media installations. The Nutcracker was his first commission for the ballet. He had a lot to learn.
When Maurice realized the camera was focused on him, he dropped his combative attitude and struck a more conciliatory pose. He rested his chin on his hand, as if posing for a shorter, older, and considerably less contemplative version of Rodin’s The Thinker. “No need to worry, Sugar Plum. I built a set of ridges into the flooring, so you can feel when you’re getting too close to the edge.”
The only thing I could feel was an incipient panic attack. Those cautionary ridges weren’t deep enough to penetrate the hard surface of my pointe shoes, and the solo included a tightly choreographed sequence of tricky balances and turns. Unless my toes were to magically achieve the sensitivity of the title character in The Princess and the Pea, dire consequences were sure to follow. Those fears unfolded in a series of scary images. I could trip on the pebbled, wavy surface and fall flat on my face. I could stumble out of my pirouette and land on the stage below.
Given the state of my nerves, a massive heart attack was another distinct possibility. Medically, I would qualify as unusually young for any serious coronary event. As a dancer, however, I was closing in on ancient. And perched on that platform, I was aging rapidly.
Forgetting how sharp the acoustics were in the theater, I said, in an undertone not meant to carry beyond the apron of the stage, “Why can’t Tex dance up here and let me dance on solid ground?”
Maurice clapped his hands to stop the music. “I heard that. Let me explain, once and for all, that this set design symbolizes the mood Hoffman envisioned when he wrote the original story of The Nutcracker. Artistic decisions are my area of expertise. Not yours.”
Brett, annoyed at Maurice’s intrusion into his territory, took his irritation out on me. “I don’t hear anyone else complaining. And just so you know,” he turned to toss a baleful look at his husband, “my work is an homage to Petipa’s original ballet. The set design is not the star of the show.” He surveyed the dancers, as if daring them to speak.
None did. Between Maurice’s claim to have channeled the famous writer of The Nutcracker, and Brett’s claim to have surpassed one of the greatest choreographers of all time, there wasn’t much room for ordinary people to take a position on the matter. I didn’t blame my colleagues for their silence and averted looks.
Brett signaled for the music to resume, and I threw myself with renewed determination into the role. The amount of time allotted to my variation was less than three minutes. But it took Brett and Maurice more than an hour to figure out how those three minutes would look from the audience.
The general consensus was bad. Not naked-in-front-of-an-audience bad. But not good.

You can purchase Murder in Third Position at these online retailers:

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About the Author

Lori Robbins is the author of the On Pointe and Master Class mystery series. Her work has garnered multiple awards, including the Indie Award for Best Mystery and the Silver Falchion for Best Cozy Mystery. Short stories include “Accidents Happen” in Mystery Most Diabolical and “Leading Ladies” in Justice for All. She’s also a contributor to The Secret Ingredient: A Mystery Writers Cookbook.

A former dancer, Lori performed with a number of modern and ballet companies, including Ballet Hispanico and the St. Louis Ballet. Her commercial work included featured ads for Pavlova Perfume and Macy’s. After ten very lean years onstage she became an English teacher and now writes full time.

As a dancer, teacher, and mother of six, Lori is an expert in the homicidal impulses everyday life inspires.

Where to Find Lori Online

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Twitter: @LoriRobbins

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Murder in Third Position

Death of a Snow Ghost

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If you were called upon to deliver a baby, could you? I’ve seen every Call the Midwife ever made, but don’t really want to be tested on my delivery methods. That’s what happens to Jamie Forest in Death of a Snow Ghost. This is the third book in the Cabin by the Lake Mystery Series by Linda Norlander.

More About Death of a Snow Ghost

Jamie Forest, ex-New Yorker, is on her way to her cabin to prepare for her first Thanksgiving in Minnesota when she sees through the swirl of snow a ghostly apparition. It turns out not to be a ghost, but a young woman in labor. Not only is she about to deliver, but she doesn’t speak English. Jamie can’t ask her what she is doing in a lowland bog in the middle of a snowstorm. With the snow falling, she becomes an accidental midwife delivering a healthy baby girl in the backseat of her car. In the aftermath, it’s clear the new mother is afraid someone will take her baby. Three days later, a young woman is found drowned in Black Crow Pond. Is she Jamie’s new mother? As she seeks answers, Jamie learns that winter in the Northwoods can be both beautiful and deadly.

A Roadside Delivery

The car filled with the aroma of fresh baked pumpkin pies for my first Thanksgiving in the cabin by Lake Larissa. Since my cooking skills did not include making pies, I’d ordered them from the bakery in town. Tomorrow I would thaw the twenty-two-pound turkey sitting in a box in the back seat and use the tattered Betty Crocker cookbook I’d bought at a garage sale to make a stuffing for it. I would show my skeptical Minnesota friends that even a girl from New York City could make a Norman Rockwell feast.
I was driving on the highway between town and the cabin in an area the locals called the marsh. It was a lowland filled with high weeds, cattails and skeletal tamarack. It had the air of desolation and loneliness, a wasteland before coming upon the Northwoods forest. I never liked driving the five miles across it.
As I breathed in the spicy nutmeg of the pumpkin pies, I was reminded of the Thanksgiving in New York when my mother and I came across the snow lady. I must have been about seven and we were on our way to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. A light dusting of snow covered the park as we walked by the bench where she lay. She was wrapped in an olive- green blanket with a thin layer of snow covering her.
Something about the color of the skin on her face intrigued me. I ran to her before my mother could hold me back. Close up I saw her eyes, wide open, clouded and unseeing. As my mother pulled me away, I remember crying out. “Mama, is that lady a ghost?”
“No, honey, she’s just sleeping.”
She hurried me to a bakery across from the park where she told me to stay in front. She went back to talk with the clerk, and I stood in the doorway inhaling the rich smells of pumpkin pies.
Later, when the parade was over and we were walking back by the park, the bench was empty. “Mama, I guess the snow ghost lady waked up.”
Mama grabbed my arm and tugged me along. All she said was, “It’s not ‘waked’ honey, it’s ‘woke.’” Mother was a stickler about grammar.
Today I noticed how a light snowfall had dusted the weeds in the ditch just like that day in the park. With a light shudder, I brought my thoughts back to the present. While I mentally ticked off the tasks to do before Thanksgiving a sudden snow squall blew across the road. The swirling snow created hypnotic patterns on the pavement. As I watched the dancing snow in front of me, I thought I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye.
“What was that?”
It looked like a ghost shrouded in a white haze. Ahead on my side of the road, it weaved in and out of my sight. The snow squall thickened, and the apparition disappeared. Did I really see a ghost?
Squeezing my eyes shut for a moment, I muttered, “Come on Jamie. You know there are no ghosts.”
I slowed down, creeping forward in hopes that I had imagined the movement. I had too much to do before Thanksgiving to have to deal with someone drunk on the side of the road. For a moment, the air cleared. I saw nothing on the road or on the shoulder.
Just as I was speeding up, the ghost lurched back on the shoulder from the tall, boggy weeds of the ditch. This time I saw it was a human dressed in a white puffy jacket and white pants. I slammed on my brakes as the person in white turned and staggered onto the road. In the millisecond it took for the brakes to hold, I prayed not to hear a thump against the car.
The car skidded to a halt as my heart pounded so hard, I felt it in my eyes. Quickly unstrapping my seatbelt, I threw open the car door and dashed out. A gust of wind sent icy stinging snow into my face and a chill down my back. The ghost stood in front of the car swaying. She was no phantom, just a young woman, possibly a teenager. She grimaced in pain.
“My God. Did I hit you?”
She continued to sway.
Was she drunk? I stepped closer to her. “Are you alright?”
Moaning, she bent over, clutching her stomach. I saw the swell of her belly beneath the puffy jacket. When I reached her, she gasped, “Bebe coming!”
I took her arm, hoping for a passing car to flag down. This part of the road had little traffic after tourist season. Still, I strained to hear a car approaching. All I heard was the sweep of wind whistling through the weeds. Guiding her back to car, I helped her into the passenger seat. “It’s okay. I’ll get help.”
I tried my phone knowing the cell reception in the marsh was spotty. Please have some bars.
Nothing.
Next to me, her face reddened as she started to bear down. My knowledge of women in labor was limited to season one of Call the Midwife. Even so, I knew she shouldn’t be pushing until I got help.
“Don’t push,” I pleaded. “We have to get you to the hospital.”
She ignored me. “Bebé coming!”
What now? I shut my eyes, picturing the television midwives. I needed to look, to see if the baby’s head was coming out.
“Back seat. We need to put you in the backseat so I can check for the baby.”
“¡Ayudame! ¡Ayudame!”
As she cried out, I noticed her Hispanic features—the tangle of dark hair that had slipped out of a ponytail and the smooth tan of her skin. “Do you speak English?”
“¡No mucha!”
I tugged at her to get her out of the front of the car and into the back. This time I kept up a mantra from my limited knowledge of Spanish. “Está bien.”
Shoving the box with the frozen turkey and the boxes of pies onto the floor, I eased her into the back seat. “I have to look.”
She grunted with effort. I got as close to her face as possible and showed her how to blow with her lips closed like the laboring women on television did.
While she panted and blew, I pulled down the white pants and underwear. They were soaked. I didn’t want to look. I wanted to be happily on my way to the cabin.
The top of a little head with dark hair shown through. “Crowning,” I gasped, remembering what the midwives had called it. What did they do next? My brain stalled as I swallowed back panic. Come on, Jamie. People have babies every day. You can do this.
I didn’t hear the car pull up behind me as I bent over to get closer to the baby. My mind was on autopilot. Catch the baby, make sure it’s breathing, keep it warm. My Spanish disappeared as I repeated over and over. “It’s okay, it’s okay.”

Death of a Snow Ghost can be purchased on Amazon

About the Author

Linda Norlander is the author of A Cabin by the Lake mystery series set in Northern Minnesota. Books in the series include Death of an Editor and Death of a Starling and Death of a Snow Ghost. The fourth book, Death of a Fox will be released in May, 2023. The first book in her new series, Liza, Mrs. Wilkens and the Ghost Mysteries will debut in 2023. Norlander has published award winning short stories, op-ed pieces and short humor featured in regional and national publications. Before taking up the pen to write murder mysteries, she worked in end-of-life care. Norlander resides in Tacoma, Washington with her spouse.

Social media links:

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www.twitter.com/LindaNorlander

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Murder at First Blush

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Ah yes, the world of beauty. Everything is highlighted, plumped, thinned and lined. What if we mixed that world with murder? What a grisly contrast and that’s what Arlene Kay brings us today in Murder at First Blush.

About Murder at First Blush

Marketta Davis was Harbor Bay’s golden girl until the Chicago Art Institute sent her packing. She returns to her hometown, determined to succeed by operating a beauty emporium stocked with upscale products. Unfortunately, on opening night a grisly corpse litters the alleyway of her store. Marky and her partner Gemma Reid team up to save their business and their lives by finding the culprit.

Read an Excerpt from Murder at First Blush

I put on a brave public face.
Count your blessings, I told myself. Nobody likes a whiner. Most people would gladly trade places with you.
One sunny afternoon, I strolled down main street, reliving the familiar scenes from my past. The Soda Spot, our high school hangout still stood, looking somewhat the worse for wear, but the Harbor Bake Shop had been replaced by a sleek edifice that boasted fresh croissants, espresso, and bagels. Sign of the times, I supposed. A sense of nostalgia overwhelmed me as I recalled the innocence of those simple childhood pleasures I had discarded. Life in Harbor Bay wasn’t exciting, but it had provided me with security and comfort. Too bad my bid for the brass ring had fizzled out so spectacularly.
It took a chance encounter with an old high school pal to administer a healthy dose of reality and tough love to me. Gemma Watts, a vivacious redhead with a bellowing laugh, slapped me on the back and stated the obvious. “Okay. Stop moping around. You struck out. Now that you know what it’s like to be normal, what’s next? You’ve always had it way too easy. Blonde hair, blue eyes, perfect skin. You never even had one pimple during high school. The rest of us had to claw and scramble for everything we ever had. It’s your turn now. What’s your game plan?”
What indeed? I pondered this question as I assessed the business climate in Harbor Bay during my survey of main street.
“Things have changed in Harbor Bay over the past few years,” I observed. “Lattes, yoga studios, and hair emporiums all around us. Maybe this town is ready to accept something new.”
Gemma nodded. “Lots of upscale houses being built around the waterfront. Gentrification they call it. Good for business but kind of sad too.”
“How so?” I asked. “Isn’t that part of progress?”
Gemma shrugged. “Maybe. I kinda miss some of the old things though. You know, the soda counter and the penny candy store. The people are still the same though. A pretty nice bunch overall.”
Maybe that’s what I had missed in Chicago. Big cities are exciting, but they can be lonely too. Aunt Violet succeeded in conquering Paris. Unlike me she was fearless. Perhaps a smaller stage suited me just fine.
My parents urged me to teach art for the local school district, an underwhelming prospect at best. An entrepreneurial spirit stirred within me, but a lack of capital put paid to that idea.
Even my college mentor admitted that I had a flair for color. During art school I earned extra cash by working the cosmetic counters of some of Chicago’s premier specialty stores. That allowed me to gain expertise in their product lines and burnish my customer relations skills. My list of grateful clients included some of the city’s prominent matrons and trendsetters many of whom summered in Harbor Bay. Why not capitalize on those talents and connections? It wasn’t the Art Institute, but it was artistry of sorts.
“Ask your parents for some help,” Gemma said. “Lord knows, they could spare a few bucks for their only child. What’s wrong with running a cosmetics store anyway?”
“A beauty emporium, my dear. So much more upscale. Think of my Aunt Violet’s empire. Even she started with a single store.” I was teasing Gemma, but considering the empty store fronts I’d just seen, there was a grain of truth to it. Aunt Violet might be the answer to my prayers. When it came to business acumen Violet had few equals. If anyone could assess the prospects for success, it was Violet.
I crossed my fingers and called Violet at her office in Paris. Seeking advice was easy but asking for money was unfamiliar and somewhat humiliating. After listening to my ideas, Violet immediately switched to business mode.
“Harbor Bay has real potential,” she said, “especially with that summer crowd it draws. Quaint stores are a big draw in a place like that, and it doesn’t sound like you’d have any competition.”
Before I summoned my courage, Violet beat me to it. “How are you fixed for capital, Poppet? Most small businesses fall flat on their face due to start-up costs.”
I confessed that my funds were limited, in fact almost non-existent.
My aunt chuckled and said something in French that I didn’t quite understand. “Looks like you need an investor. Would I do? Sometimes I still miss Harbor Bay, believe it or not. The people. The sense of community. Those things are hard to replicate even in a glamorous place like Paris. Don’t ever discount them, Marky.”
I could barely believe my luck. Good fortune had smiled upon me and suddenly I’d found my future right in the very place I’d once abandoned. Gemma’s reaction was priceless. She slapped me on the back and did her version of a victory dance.
“I knew you’d make it,” she whooped. “Marky Davis, the star of Harbor Bay.”
I immediately enlisted her as my partner. Gemma was a certified aesthetician and a natural salesperson who never met a stranger. Plus, her local connections were far stronger than mine.
“Are you serious?” she asked, shaking her auburn curls wildly. “It’s like a dream come true. I don’t have any money to contribute but I swear I’ll work my fingers to the bone for you.”
I hugged my friend. “For us, you mean. We’re partners. Fifty-fifty. Even Stephen. You know the drill.”
Together we brainstormed an appropriate title. I opted for APHRODITE, a Temple of beauty, but Gemma nixed that right away. “You’ve got to be kidding,” she said. “Way too artsy-fartsy for our crowd. You’ll scare away most potential customers who haven’t studied Greek.” She suggested something homey instead. “Not too homey,” I groused. “We’re trying for something friendly but different.”
Once again, my aunt came to the rescue. She had always called me Poppet. Poppet a friendly, affectionate term that made me smile. It was perfect for a shop like ours that stressed beauty with a light touch.
“Face it,” Gemma said with a smirk. “Half the women in town think lipstick is something exotic. Probably call you a hussy behind your back for lining your eyes.”
That was sobering news. I’d always seen myself as the wholesome type, not some femme fatale. Still, Gemma had a point. I’d asked her mother to quiz her friends about the issue while Gemma surveyed the under thirty crowd. The results jolted me but helped to inform our business plan. Women in Harbor Bay even those with generous incomes were intimidated by approaching a “fancy” place. “They don’t want to be judged,” Gemma said. “You know how off-putting some of those snooty places are. Who needs that? A name like Poppet sounds welcoming.”
“No problem luring the summer crowd into the store,” I said. “They’ll love it.”
“Yeah, but what about the other six months of the year?” Gemma asked. “Gotta get the locals involved too.”
We needed advice from someone in the beauty biz, and I knew just who to call.
Aunt Violet came to the rescue once more. “Look Marky,” she said. “European women care more about skin care than face paint. Facials, eye creams, massage, and the like. Emphasize that to lure the crowd in, then show ‘em how a touch of makeup can change their outlook. Oh, and once you get established, hire a mature woman too. Works like a charm.”
After we hung up, my head was swimming with ideas, advice, and fear. The vacant storefront directly on Main Street that I’d scoped out was the perfect location. If only the price was right.

You can purchase Murder at First Blush on Amazon

About the Author

Arlene Kay spent twenty years as a Senior Federal Executive before repenting of her bureaucratic ways and turning to crime. (writing) Assignments from Texas to Washington DC allowed this unconventional executive to observe both corporate and human foibles and rejoice in unintentional humor. These locations and the many people she encountered are celebrated in her mystery novels. Fans enjoy the intriguing plots and the snarky sense of humor spiked with the occasional hint of romance.

Published novels include Intrusion; Die Laughing; The Abacus Prize (Mainly Murder Press); The Boston Uncommon Series—Swann Dive; Mantrap; Gilt Trip; and Swann Songs (Bellebridge Books); The Creature Comfort Series—Death by Dog Show; Homicide by Horseshow; and Murder at the Falls (Kensington Publishing); and the forthcoming Cosmetic Crimes Series—Murder at First Blush; the Mascara Murders; and Conditioned for Murder from Level Best Books. She recently completed a traditional novel, The Acolyte, a Cape Cod mystery

Ms. Kay holds graduate degrees in Political Science and Constitutional Law.

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Chaos at Carnegie Hall

Chaos at Carnegie Hall by Kelly Oliver Banner

Chaos at Carnegie Hall

by Kelly Oliver

December 5 – 30, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

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One of the things I love about historical mysteries is the famous people they meet along the way. In Chaos at Carnegie Hall, Fiona Figg runs into Margaret Sanger, and the hilarious Dorothy Parker. There were times when I laughed out loud reading this one. Let’s embark on a journey to New York with Fiona as she is on the case trying to keep her mine on espionage, not romance.

About Chaos at Carnegie Hall

Agatha Christie meets Downton Abbey in the Fiona Figg and Kitty Lane Mystery series opener.

Can Fiona catch a killer and find a decent cup of tea before her mustache wax melts?

1917. New York.

Notorious spy, Fredrick Fredricks, has invited Fiona to Carnegie Hall to hear a famous soprano. It’s an opportunity the War Office can’t turn down. Fiona and Clifford are soon on their way, but not before Fiona is saddled with chaperon duties for Captain Hall’s niece. Is Fiona a spy or a glorified babysitter?

From the minute Fiona meets the soprano aboard the RMS Adriatic it’s treble on the high C’s. Fiona sees something—or someone—thrown overboard, and then she overhears a chemist plotting in German with one of her own countrymen!

And the trouble doesn’t stop when they disembark. Soon Fiona is doing time with a group of suffragettes and investigating America’s most impressive inventor Thomas Edison.

When her number one suspect turns up dead at the opera and Fredrick Fredricks is caught red-handed, it looks like it’s finally curtains for the notorious spy.

But all the evidence points to his innocence. Will Fiona change her tune and clear her nemesis’ name? Or will she do her duty? And just what is she going to do with the pesky Kitty Lane? Not to mention swoon-worthy Archie Somersby . . .

If Fiona’s going to come out on top, she’s going to have to make the most difficult decision of her life: the choice between her head and her heart.

Read an Excerpt from Chaos at Carnegie Hall

Inside, the cabin was the opposite of Hugo Schweitzer’s. Whereas the German’s room was disorderly and repulsive, this man’s berth was tidy and attractive. In fact, it hardly looked occupied. The bed was made in a neat military style. There wasn’t an article of clothing nor a personal item in sight. A faint scent of pine and citrus graced the room. Like a familiar embrace, the uniform order and pleasing smell put me at ease. Hugo Schweitzer’s disgusting mess had allowed clues to remain hidden in plain sight. This man’s neatness required clever hiding places. Where would I hide a secret document in this room? Under the mattress? In the wardrobe? Sewn inside an article of clothing?
I crossed the room. Getting to the wardrobe was considerably easier than it had been in Schweitzer’s clutter. When I opened the wardrobe, a waft of pine and citrus caressed my nostrils again. I thought of Archie. When would I see him again?
Concentrate, Fiona. Now was not the time to behave like a lovesick schoolgirl.
Two neat suits hung on hangers, spaced apart like sentries guarding a gate. One was a uniform. A British uniform. Could this traitor be in the British army? The other was a black evening suit. Whatever the blackguard was wearing under that trench coat constituted his third and final outfit. There were no more.
Standing to attention at the bottom of the wardrobe were two tall black boots. I bent down to get a closer look. Inside a boot would make a decent hiding place.
“Looking for something?” a man’s voice boomed from behind me.
I gasped and squeezed my eyes shut tight.
If only I were wearing my maid’s costume—although what maid would be cleaning at this time of night? I should have changed into Harold the helpful bellboy. At least then I’d be dressed as a man. As it was, I was wearing a flimsy evening gown and as vulnerable as a lamb in a ship full of wolves. Did I dare turn around and face my accuser? “Did you find it?” The voice was closer now… and softer… and familiar.
Good heavens. I whipped around and practically flew into his arms. “Archie.”
He chuckled. “I should have known I’d find you breaking into my room.” He pulled me into an embrace. “Fiona. Dear Fiona.” He kissed the top of my head.
I buried my head in his shoulder. Ahhh. The scent of pine and citrus… and those horrible Kenilworth cigarettes. The scent of Lieutenant Archie Somersby.
My heart was racing. From being scared out of my wits, or from being in Archie’s embrace, I didn’t know. “What are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same.” He held me tighter.
“You, first.” I inhaled his familiar presence.
“I’ll tell you, but only because it’s necessary.” He pulled out of the embrace and held me out at arm’s length. “It’s crucial that you don’t expose me.”
“Expose you?” I had to censor my imagination. His earnest green eyes framed by those dark lashes and that wild lock of chestnut hair falling across his forehead made it deuced difficult.
“I’m on an important mission.” He fortified his countenance with a steely gaze. “You mustn’t let on that you know me. In fact, you should stay away from me.”
I tugged my arm out of his grip. “Does your mission involve Hugo Schweitzer?” My tone was pained, but I couldn’t help it. I wished my feelings for him weren’t so strong. After all, I hardly knew him. Still, I knew he worked for British Intelligence, despite Fredrick Fredricks’s accusations to the contrary. Who was more trustworthy? A German spy or a British soldier, an especially attractive one too?
Archie tilted his head and gave me a quizzical look.
“Tell me about Mr. Schweitzer and the chemist’s war.”
“You know I can’t do that.” He sighed. “It’s classified.”
“What does the war have to do with aspirin, the headache remedy?”
He led me to the bed, sat down, and patted the bedcover, inviting me to sit too.
My cheeks flamed. It was only then that I realized I was alone in a gentleman’s room… after midnight, no less. Dilly Knox’s words echoed through my head. “Our Fiona will do anything for King and country, don’t you know.” That only strengthened my resolve. I was on official business and not a romantic getaway.
I took a seat on the bed and tucked my gown tightly around my thighs. “You were going to tell me about aspirin?”
“You’re nothing if not persistent.” Archie smiled and put his arm around my shoulders.
I scooted to the head of the bed and out of his reach. “Aspirin?”
He shook his head. “You really are quite a girl.”
I folded my arms over my chest and glared at him.
“Righto.” His smiled faded. “Aspirin is made from a chemical called phenol.”
“What does phenol have to do with the war?”
“We need phenol to make trinitrotoluene.” Archie gave me a knowing look.
I gave him an ignorant stare in return. “What is trinitrotoluene?”
“TNT.”
“The explosive?”
He nodded.
“Golly.” Still, why did it matter if aspirin and TNT shared one element? How did that affect the war? Could aspirin be turned into an explosive?
“Golly is right.” When he smiled, tiny dimples appeared at the corners of his mouth.
I had to stop myself from reaching across the bed to touch that tempting lock of wavy hair… and those dimples. Stop it, Fiona. You’re on an espionage mission and not on holiday.
“I’m sorry we can’t work together in the open.” He took my hand and kissed it. “But for now, I’m undercover.” His eyes hardened. “I’ve got to stop Schweitzer.”
I gazed up at him with as much resolve as I could muster.
“You mean we’ve got to stop him.”

You can find Chaos at Carnegie Hall at these online retailers.

Amazon

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Kobo

My Review

Get ready to go on an adventure into the past with Chaos in Carnegie Hall. Fiona Figg is right in the middle of the world of British spies as she bumps elbows with famous people on a voyage and then at Carnegie Hall. I enjoyed the humor, the mystery, the historical flavor and the pace of this well plotted story.

About the Author

Kelly Oliver is the award-winning and bestselling author of three mystery series: the seven-book suspense series, The Jessica James Mysteries; the three-book middle grade series, Pet Detective Mysteries; and the four-book historical cozy series, The Fiona Figg Mysteries.

Chaos at Carnegie Hall is the latest Fiona Figg mystery, and the first to feature sidekick, Kitty Lane.

When she’s not writing novels, Kelly is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University. To learn more about Kelly and her books, go to www.kellyoliverbooks.com.

To learn more about Kelly and her books, go to:
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This is a giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Tours for Kelly Oliver. See the widget for entry terms and conditions. Void where prohibited.

 

Dewey Decimated

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I love libraries and I love ghosts who haunt them. That is why I’m excited about Alison Brook’s latest novel in her Haunted Library Series, Dewey Decimated. Have you ever seen a ghost? If you did, do you think you could have a conversation with it? That’s what Carrie Singleton and the ghost that haunts her library are going to do with their new friend, Charlie.

More about Dewey Decimated

Librarian Carrie Singleton is back on the case, alongside library ghost Evelyn, in the sixth installment of Agatha Award nominee Allison Brook’s Haunted Library mysteries.

Carrie Singleton is just off a hot string of murder cases centered around the spooky local library in Clover Ridge, Connecticut. She could really use a break—but no such luck, as she; Smoky Joe, the resident cat; and Evelyn, the library’s ghost, are drawn into another tantalizing whodunit.

First, a dead body is found in the basement of the building attached to the library, and it turns out to be Carrie’s fiancé’s Uncle Alec, who Dylan hasn’t seen in years. But Alec has no intention of truly checking out, and his ghost makes itself at home in the library, greatly upsetting the patrons. Carrie and Evelyn work hard to keep Alec out of sight, but what was he doing in Clover Ridge to begin with? And why was he killed?
 
Meanwhile, the town council, of which Carrie is also a member, is embroiled in a hot-headed debate over the fate of the Seabrook Preserve, a lovely and valuable piece of property that runs along Long Island Sound. Turn it into an upscale park? Sell it to a condo developer? Or keep it as protected land?
 
As the dispute rages, there’s another murder, this time involving a council member. Could the two murders be connected? And could Carrie be next on the hit list? 

Excerpt: Dewey Decimated

I’d no sooner stepped out of my office when a strong breeze tousled my hair. A man in his mid-fifties came stumbling towards me. He wore a tan blazer, beneath which his striped shirt hung outside his pants. His clothes were wrinkled and soiled. What’s more, one of his shoes was missing.
I approached him cautiously, not certain what I was about to say or do. If he was drunk, I needed to find Max. If he was ill . . .
“Can I help you?” I asked when I was a few feet from him.
He kept on walking. I stepped aside, afraid he would run into me and was grateful when he suddenly halted. Closer, I noticed his eyes darting from side to side.
The air current had grown strong enough to turn the pages of a book propped open on a shelf.
Is he causing this?
“Where am I?” he asked.
“In the Clover Ridge Library,” I said, doing my best to remain calm.
“How did I get here?”
“I have no idea. I suppose through one of the doors.”
As he moved past me I felt a chill. It was the kind of sensation I felt when Evelyn came too close to me. No! He couldn’t be . . .
I covered my mouth to keep from shouting “stop!” as he wandered into the reading room, bumping into chairs and brushing by people. A magazine fell to the ground. Then another. Patrons stared after him as he passed, expressions of puzzlement or fear on their faces. I realized that they couldn’t see him, but they felt the air current he was causing, sensed an eerie presence that disturbed their peace of mind.
So this was the ghost that Buzz Coleman had encountered! I had to stop him from wreaking havoc in the library. I also wanted to help him, but I hadn’t the slightest idea what to do.
Panic was building inside me as the apparition only I could see bumbled toward the circulation desk where several people stood waiting to have their books, movies, and tapes checked out. It was impossible to grab hold of him and lead him away. And calling to him would make people think I’d lost it. From the way patrons touched their ruffled hair and stared at papers fluttering to the ground, I knew they were wondering what on earth was happening.
What to do! What to do!
Suddenly Evelyn appeared. I’d never been so happy to see her! I watched as she took hold of the ghost’s arm and, a finger to her lips, urged him to turn around and walk towards me.
“Carrie, is your office empty?” she whispered when they came closer.
I nodded.
“Let’s go there now and figure out what to do with Charlie over here.”
“His name is Charlie?” I asked.
She rolled her eyes. “It is for the time being.”
* * *
“I still can’t figure out how I ended up in your library,” Charlie said for the eighth time. Or was it the twelfth? I had no idea since that was how he responded to every question Evelyn and I asked him, even after we’d explained repeatedly that we were assuming he belonged to the body recently discovered next door, and that he’d entered the library through the break in the wall.
He was either dazed at having found himself in unfamiliar surroundings or had suffered some form of amnesia. Which was a big disappointment. I’d expected Charlie to tell us who he was and how he’d ended up in the house next door. And while I appreciated the way Evelyn had managed to convince our visitor to accompany us to my office, she wasn’t any more successful than me. Didn’t all ghosts function on the same level? Observe the same protocol? Clearly this wasn’t the case, judging from her lack of results.
“Charlie,” I began. “Can we call you Charlie until we find out your real name?”
He nodded. “Okay. I guess. Why not?”
I exhaled loudly. He seemed calmer. Still very confused but definitely calmer. And the gusts of wind had died down. “Okay. Our library bought the building next door so we could expand. The building has been abandoned for years. Last week a body wrapped in a blanket was discovered in the basement. They think it’s been there at least five, maybe eight years. Recently, one of the workers broke through the adjoining wall. We think that’s how you came to wander into the library.”
Charlie nodded as he thought this over. “And you think that body is—was me?”
“It could be. Do you remember entering that building?”
“No.”
“What do you remember?” Evelyn asked.
Charlie stared at her. “You’re like me, aren’t you?”
Evelyn, who had been perched on the corner of my assistants’ desk, came to stand in front of him and drew back her shoulders. “If you mean that your body and mine have both left this corporal plane, the answer is yes. Other than that, we are worlds apart.”
“Sorry,” Charlie said quickly.
“No need to apologize,” Evelyn said, her tone warming. “Carrie and I want to help you get where you belong.”
“Much appreciated,” Charlie said. “As to your question, I wish I had a good answer for you. My mind is fuzzy when I try to remember my life. My history. I get flashes of places I recognize, people I knew, but nothing more.” He sighed. “I can’t even tell you my name.”
“That’s all right,” I said quickly. “Just tell us what you can remember.”

You can Find Dewey Decimated at these online Retailers

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About The Author

A former Spanish teacher, Marilyn Levinson writes mysteries, romantic suspense, and novels for kids. Her books have received many accolades. As Allison Brook she writes the Haunted Library series. DEATH OVERDUE, the first in the series, was an Agatha nominee for Best Contemporary Novel in 2018. Other mysteries include the Golden Age of Mystery Book Club series, the Twin Lakes series, and GIVING UP THE GHOST.

 Her juvenile novel, RUFUS AND MAGIC RUN AMOK, was an International Reading Association-Children’s Book Council Children’s Choice. It will soon be reissued, followed by three more books in the series. AND DON’T BRING JEREMY was a nominee for six state awards.

 Marilyn lives on Long Island, where many of her books take place. She loves traveling, reading, doing crossword puzzles and Sudoku, and chatting on FaceTime with her grandkids

Where to Catch Up With Marilyn Levinson/Alison Brook

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Click Here to Enter! This includes my short story, “Alone at Christmas”.

Film Crews and Rendezvous

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Have you ever have a movie crew come to your town? It happened to me as a teenager when they filmed at an old train station not far from my house. I was so excited to see everything, the extras, the makeup tables, and the stars. The local car club lined up vintage autos for the filming and we were transformed into the Great Depression. Not wanting to miss anything, I rode my bike over to the filming site early in the morning. I quietly observed it all, like writers tend to do, even ones who don’t yet know they will become one. We have a visit from Hollywood today in Heather Weidner’s second book in the Jules Keene Glamping Mystery Series, Film Crews and Rendezvous. Lets make a visit to Fern Valley and do a little glamping.

About the Book

Hollywood has come to Fern Valley, and the one stoplight town may never be the same. Everyone wants to get in on the act.

The crew from the wildly popular, fan favorite, Fatal Impressions, takes over Jules Keene’s glamping resort, and they bring a lot of offscreen drama and baggage that doesn’t include the scads of costumes, props, and crowds that descend on the bucolic resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Added security, hundreds of calls from hopeful extras, and some demanding divas keep Jules’s team hopping.

When the show’s prickly head writer ends up dead under the L. Frank Baum tiny house in what looks like a staged murder scene with a kitschy homage to the Wizard of Oz, Jules has to figure out who would want the writer dead. Then while they are still reeling from the first murder, the popular publicist gets lost after a long night at the local honky-tonk and winds up strangled. Jules needs to solve both crimes before filming is canceled, and her business is ruined.

Read an Excerpt

Monday                                                                                                                                                      Jules Keene’s phone buzzed as she clipped the leash on Bijou, her Jack Russell Terrier. Another text from someone in town who just had to be an extra for the filming at her resort. Ignoring the latest request, she headed across the grassy area to the office.
Hollywood had arrived in Fern Valley, and Jules wasn’t sure the one-stoplight town would be the same. She had had to keep all the location scouting a secret, and that was difficult with the town’s active gossip grapevine. Now, everyone seemed to be plotting ways to get close to the action.
Jules enjoyed the calm walk across the resort before her day started. With all the arrivals this week, the peacefulness would not last long. Normally, the Fern Valley Luxury Camping Resort was a place for visitors looking for solitude in refurbished, vintage trailers stocked with posh amenities. Recently, the resort had been a hive of activity as crews turned it into ground zero for the on-location filming in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
Bijou took off after a butterfly, and when she got bored with the insect, she checked out all the new smells since the day before. The terrier bounded up the wooden steps, where she waited patiently for Jules to open the screen door to the resort’s office and store.
The summer season had ended Labor Day weekend, but this year, the film crew for Fatal Impressions, a cult classic for streaming TV fans, had rented the resort for two months to do location shots in a small town. Jules, excited to have the opportunity to extend the season, had been inundated daily with requests from friends and townsfolk who knew they had talents that the casting director had to see.
A screeching voice echoed through the resort’s store, interrupting Jules’s quiet morning. “I thought I told you I didn’t want to be disturbed before ten. What kind of place is this?” Sorbonne, the show’s head writer, pounded her fist on the counter and shook her head.
Bijou hurdled into the store with an overabundance of energy.
Sorbonne, an overly thin woman with a jet-black bob, whipped around. The jagged points of hair on each side of her face sprang forward. She pointed her blood-red fingernail at Bijou and screamed, “What is that?” When Bijou darted forward for a pat, Sorbonne’s face turned the same color as her nails, and the vein on the side of her sinewy neck bulged. Jules tugged lightly on the leash, and Bijou sat. Neither were sure what to make of the woman who waved her arms and ranted.
“Who allows animals in a place of business?” Sorbonne pointed at the dog and then at Jules’s aunt, Roxanne Mallory, who leaned one elbow on the front counter.
Surprised that her aunt had not responded with her usual sassiness, Jules said, “That’s Bijou. She works here.” She led the Jack Russell Terrier to her office, unclicked her leash, and closed the bottom portion of the Dutch door to keep Bijou out of the fray.
“First all the noise and now this. I’m going to have to be moved to other accommodations if this keeps up. Rod is going to hear about this. I have to be able to work. I am critical to this production.” She spun on her four-inch stilettos and stomped toward the door.
“Ms., uh,” Jules said to her back.
“It’s Sorbonne. Just Sorbonne. And I want this rectified now. I want quiet or new accommodations. And I’m still going to let Rod, the producer, know. He’ll be interested in how I was treated at this place.” She looked down her pointed nose and made a face like she had licked a lemon.
“What disturbed you? Our goal is for you to enjoy your stay in Fern Valley,” Jules said.
“She’ll tell you.” Sorbonne wagged her daggered fingernail at Roxanne. “And it better not happen again.” The show’s writer stormed out the door, slamming it hard enough to make it rattle for several seconds in her wake. A pained look crossed Roxanne’s face. “Sorbet blew in here complaining of excessive noise in the early hours of the morning. She’s in the Beatrix Potter tiny house. It seems Jake stopped by to do some work on the new house going up next to it, and it woke her up. At ten-thirty.”
Last summer, Jules added tiny houses to the resort’s offering with the help of her maintenance/security guy, Jake Evans. Each tiny space was themed for a different author and came with a cozy reading nook. The houses ranged from about four hundred square feet to larger, modular models with lofts and upstairs. These let guests try out tiny house living and also served as model homes for Jake’s side business.
Roxanne rolled her eyes. “I thought these movie folks started work early. I saw a lot of activity when I got here at eight.”
Jules tried to stifle a grin. “She must keep different hours than the crew. I’ll talk to Jake.”
“About what?” Jake Evans asked as he came in through the back door. He picked up Bijou, carried her into the store, and kissed her on the head.
“It seems you woke up one of our fussy guests.” Roxanne added an extended pause between each word and returned to straightening the flyers on the front counter.
“I waited until ten. It just needed a few touch-ups. My buddies helped me move the Baum tiny house in place yesterday at dinner time.” Jake made a beeline for the coffee maker.
“I love the ruby red door on that one,” Roxanne yelled behind him.
“All I have left to do is the hookups and install the lattice work around the bottom to cover up the crawlspace and the cement trailer pad. I didn’t think I made any noise. I was trying to get it ready in case you needed the extra space,” Jake said from the back room.
“It wasn’t you, Jake. She’s a temperamental writer if you ask me,” Roxanne said. “That’s the third time she’s been in here since she checked in. The first time she was appalled that we didn’t have room-darkening shades in the Potter house. Then she wanted to know where she could get a case of her designer mineral water since no stores in town stocked it. Oh, and I forgot her request for lightbulbs that give off Vitamin D. It seems our regular bulbs are substandard.”
“We need to be patient. They’re bringing a lot of business to the valley and lots of media attention. Let’s be as helpful as we can,” Jules added.
Roxanne put on a half-smile and did a fake clutch of her pearl necklace in her best southern drawl. “Customer service is my middle name.” She winked at her niece and busied herself at the reservation desk.
“I’m going to check on things and leave Bijou in the back if you’re going to be here for a little while,” Jules said. “She’ll be fine. I’ll sic her on Ms. Sauvignon if she comes back. Some people.” Roxanne shrugged her shoulder and flipped through a magazine at the front counter. “And don’t forget to wear your lanyard with your credentials. I hear their security teams are working hard to keep the riffraff off the property. Lester got stopped over near the barn this morning.”
Jules held up her lanyard with the show’s logo on it. She cut through her office and headed to the golf cart parked under the carport at the back of the store. Hopefully, Lester and the rest of her team could do their work without bumping into the film crew.
Jake followed his boss. He shut the door and touched her shoulder as she descended the steps.
“I’ll figure out a way to finish the Baum house during daylight hours. It shouldn’t take me that long.” Jules turned and faced him. “I appreciate it. Sorbonne seems to be easily disturbed.” “It must be a Left Coast thing,” he said, drawing her closer and kissing her. He folded her in his arms. She returned the kiss and pulled away, staring into his jade-green eyes. “I thought we agreed to keep this under the radar,” she whispered.
“Embarrassed?” Jake pushed his longish brown bangs out of his face.
“You know that’s not it, but I’m a little concerned about how an employer-employee relationship looks.”
“Then I quit. Problem solved.”
Jules’s jaw dropped. She could feel the flush cross her cheeks.
“I know. You need me. I wouldn’t let you down.” Jake grinned.
“Dinner tonight?” she asked, smiling back and giving him a quick peck on his lightly stubbled cheek.
“You cooking?”
“Spaghetti okay? I need to catch up on the earlier seasons of Fatal Impressions. I think I’m the only one in Fern Valley who hasn’t seen all of the first three seasons.”
Jake rushed down the steps. “See you around six.”

You can find Film Crews and Rendezvous at these online retailers:

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Barnes and Noble: Film Crews and Rendezvous: A Jules Keene Glamping Mystery by Heather Weidner, Paperback | Barnes & Noble® (barnesandnoble.com)

BookBub: Film Crews and Rendezvous: A Jules Keene Glamping Mystery by Heather Weidner – BookBub

Books a Million: film crews and rendezvous : : Booksamillion.com

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Fantastic Fiction: Film Crews and Rendezvous (Jules Keene Glamping Mystery, book 2) by Heather Weidner (fantasticfiction.com)

Goodreads: Film Crews and Rendezvous by Heather Weidner | Goodreads

Kobo: Film Crews and Rendezvous eBook by Heather Weidner – EPUB | Rakuten Kobo United States

Scribd: Film Crews and Rendezvous by Heather Weidner – Ebook | Scribd

About the Author

Through the years, Heather Weidner has been a cop’s kid, technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, and IT manager. Vintage Trailers and Blackmailers is the first in her cozy mystery series, the Jules Keene Glamping Mysteries. She also writes the Delanie Fitzgerald mystery series set in Virginia. Her Mermaid Bay Christmas Shoppe Mysteries debut in 2023.

Her short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series, 50 Shades of CabernetDeadly Southern Charm, and Murder by the Glass, and her novellas appear in The Mutt Mysteries series.

Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather has been a mystery fan since Scooby-Doo and Nancy Drew. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers.

Where to Catch Up With Heather Weidner

Website and Blog: http://www.heatherweidner.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/HeatherWeidner1

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HeatherWeidnerAuthor

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/heather_mystery_writer/

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TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@heather_weidner_author?lang=en

Lost Little Girl

Listen to this blog post as a podcast.

Today we are heading to Nashville to go on a case with Gregory Stout’s PI Jackson Gamble. Teenagers run away all the time, but in this case there’s so much more going on than that.

About Lost Little Girl

Nashville PI Jackson Gamble takes on a case that on the surface seems simple enough. All he has to do is find and return home a fourteen-year old girl named Gabrielle Hawkins who has disappeared from home. Gamble’s experience tells him the girl is just another runaway, but her mother insists she has been kidnapped. The search for Gabrielle sets Gamble on a path that leads him through the city’s underbelly of sex for hire, pornography, snake-handling religious fundamentalists, and ultimately a serial killer of teenaged girls.

With the help of an attractive woman who has a heartbreaking past of her own, he closes in on the conclusion of his investigation, with results that are both tragic and unforgettable, where the smallest mistake could spell the end of both his career and his life.

Excerpt

LOST LITTLE GIRL
Tuesday morning, I was out of bed before Maggie. I got cleaned up and then got on the telephone. The first call was to Woodcrest High School. I told the secretary that I was a friend of Ms. Totten. I explained that she had been the victim of a criminal assault and would not be back at work for at least the rest of the week, possibly longer. I gave her the name of Detective Lorraine Proctor at Metro Police Headquarters if the school needed to verify the information.
My second call was to the admissions office at Baptist Hospital. When I asked to speak to Delsey Hawkins, I was informed that she had not been at work on Monday, nor had she come in that morning. That set alarm bells jangling in my head.
I told Maggie I needed to go out for a while. The weather had turned quite chilly, so before I left, I turned up the thermostat to be sure she’d be comfortable. I waited until she took her meds, then warmed up a can of soup and gave her a quick tutorial on how the TV remote worked. After that, I drove over to talk to Delsey, but not before taking a detour past Maggie’s place to make certain her broken doors had been repaired.
When I arrived at the Newsome Street address, I found Jericho’s crapwagon Dodge parked on the street as it had been the first night that I visited the Hawkins home. Delsey’s car was in the driveway. Both cars being there gave me hope that perhaps Delsey’s absence from work and Gabrielle’s evident disappearance was nothing more than a case of the whole family holed up in the house with the flu.
I had to knock several times before Delsey came to the door. In a word, she looked awful, and at first, I thought my idea that the whole family had taken sick was a correct one. But when I looked closer, I saw that she had been crying, and her posture suggested that whatever energy she possessed had been all but drained out of her. I also noticed the way she was dressed, in a simple white dress like the ones the women wore at the service Maggie and I had attended a few weeks earlier.
And I knew. Something was very wrong.
I said, “Can I come in?”
She nodded and unhooked the screen door.
I entered the front room and looked around. Everything looked the same as the last time I had visited, except that the picture of Gabrielle that hung on the wall next to the picture of Jericho, Junior, had been turned toward the wall.
Once, when I was a kid, I was walking with some friends through a cemetery. We weren’t there to upend any tombstones or to smoke some dope. It was daylight, and it was just a shortcut to get where we were going. One of my friends, or maybe it was me, I don’t remember, noticed that the door to one of the private mausoleums was open. Evidently, the groundskeepers were performing some maintenance and had left the doors open while they went to lunch. It was a perfect opportunity to take a look inside a place where none of us had ever been.
The interior of the mausoleum was quite confined, about half the size of a single car garage. The overhead lights were extinguished, so it was partly dark, and although it was a hot day, it was cool inside. There were crypts set into the walls with bronze plaques indicating the names and the birth and death dates of the occupants. It wasn’t a frightening place, but being inside left me with the unmistakable feeling that this was a place where only the dead could find comfort. It was the same feeling that I got now, standing in Delsey’s front room.
I was unsure how to begin. “I wanted to come by to talk to you because there have been some developments. I won’t call it good news, but the young man who Gabrielle was planning to run away with has died. He won’t threaten your family ever again.”
“I know.” Her voice sounded flat and empty of feeling. “The police called yesterday. They said he was shot. Was that you?”
“I’m afraid it was. He didn’t leave me any choice.” I waited to see whether she would react. After a moment I said, “Does Gabrielle know?”
“She knows, and she understands. She understands everything now.”
“Is she here now? I’d like to talk to her if it’s all right.”
“She isn’t here. She’s at church, with Jericho.”
I said, “You look as though you’re dressed for church yourself. Do you want to go there now? I’ll drive you if you’d like.”
She nodded. “That would be nice, thank you. I’m not feeling quite myself today. Just let me get my coat.”
Delsey had nothing else to say to me on the drive to the Divine Light Pentecostal Congregation Church. What speaking she did was with her eyes closed, praying quietly to herself. When we got to our destination, I drove into the lot and parked the car next to the front steps. I saw that there was a length of heavy chain looped around the doorknobs and fastened with a padlock. A handwritten cardboard sign taped to one of the doors said Sunday services were cancelled on account of a family emergency.
Delsey got out of the car first. She walked up to the doors and turned a key in the lock. Then we went inside. The scene that greeted us when we went through the inner doors was like a tableau such as might be found in a wax museum. The first thing I saw was Gabrielle. She was laid out on a long table, surrounded by flowers. She was dressed in a long-sleeved white, full-length gown. Her hands, which held a crucifix, were folded across her stomach. Her feet were bare, and her hair was brushed out and arranged like flowing water around her face. On her head she wore a halo of delicate white flowers. Baby’s breath, I thought, or perhaps jasmine. Her face had been washed clean of any makeup, and her skin was pale and waxy. Dark circles were beginning to form around her eyes. From her appearance, I estimated she had died sometime late Saturday night or early Sunday morning.
Next, I saw Jericho, on the floor in front of the table. Like Gabrielle, his pose in death had been carefully arranged, except that instead of a crucifix, his hands were wrapped around a Bible. His suit jacket was buttoned, as was the collar of his shirt. However, unlike Gabrielle, who had been lovingly prepared, he was dressed in the clothes he was wearing at the moment of his death. I noticed there were still-damp bloodstains in three different spots on the front of his coat. Three shots, just like Bobby Fury, only all three were in his chest. He had been dead for only a short time, perhaps no more than a few hours.
Not knowing what to say or do, and feeling weak in the knees, I sat down in one of the front-row pews. I tried to take it all in, but it was too much, and words failed me. And although it had been decades since I last practiced the Catholic faith I had been baptized into, I bowed my head and said a silent prayer for Jericho and Gabrielle, asking a God whom I barely knew any longer to mercifully receive into a peaceful and eternal rest the souls of a sadly misguided father, and his beautiful, unhappy daughter.

You can purchase a copy of Lost Little Girl at Amazon.

About the Author

Greg Stout is the author of Gideon’s Ghost, and Connor’s War, both young adult novels set in small-town America in the mid-1960s, and Lost Little Girl, a contemporary detective novel set in Nashville, Tennessee, and which has been announced as the winner of the 2022 Shamus Award for best first novel. A complete listing of Greg Stout’s published works, including 22 titles related to American railroad history,  can be found at www.gregorystoutauthor.com.  Greg resides with his wife and two cats, Wallace and Gromit, in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, where he is a member of the Heartland Writers Guild, the Southeast Missouri Writers Guild and is a member of the board of directors for the Missouri Writers Guild. His second Jackson Gamble mystery for Level Best Books, The Gone Man, is scheduled for release in late 2022.

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

Web site:  www.gregorystoutauthor.com

Goodreads home:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/958863.Greg_Stout

Facebook author page:  https://www.facebook.com/gregstout48

Twitter page:  @GregStout16

Other Books by Greg Stout

Gideon’s Ghost

Connor’s War

Any of Greg Stout’s novels (plus several of the 22 railroad histories) are available through his website, or at the Amazon links below. The railroad titles are also available at Morning Sun Books or at the WRP Bookstore

Old Sins

Old Sins by Lynne Handy Banner

Listen to this blog post as a podcast.

Why would a poet make a good detective? A poet spends a great amount of time focusing on small details in a single line of verse. Just imagine that focus in an amateur detective. In Old Sins, poet Maria Bell demonstrates attention to detail as well as a little bit of supernatural ability. Let’s travel to a small village in Ireland and get ready for a little history, a few plot twists, and murder.

Synopsis:

Old Sins by Lynne Handy

Battered by her archeologist lover’s betrayal, poet Maria Pell flees to an Irish village to study prehistoric people and write her next volume of poetry, but her sanctuary is invaded first by her moody cousin and then by her Togolese lover who unexpectedly show up on her doorstep. When the discovery of a girl’s body on a rocky shore reawakens Maria’s devastating childhood memory of finding a dead baby floating in a stream, her days become haunted by this child’s death. As teenage girls disappear, villagers are terrified that sex-traffickers are targeting their community. With crimes to be solved, both past and present, Maria risks her life to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Praise for Old Sins:

“The story is ingenious and unpredictable . . . ”

Kirkus Reviews

“A dynamic, roller coaster ride of plot twists and turns. . . a truly mesmerizing and moving, mystery thriller that will stump the audience until the secrets are revealed.”

Reader Review

“A satisfying, well-written mystery you won’t be able to put down”

Valerie Biel, author of the award-winning Circle of Nine series

“Author Lynne Handy weaves a dark and stormy tale in Old Sins, the third ominously addictive novel in the Maria Pell Mystery Series.”

Self-Publishing Review

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery / Suspense
Published by: Indie Published
Publication Date: August 2022
Number of Pages: 310
ISBN: 979-8839003903
Series: The Maria Pell Mystery Series, Book 3
Book Links: Amazon | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

PROLOGUE

In the summer of 1988 when I was ten, I found a baby girl caught in the cattails of a stream running through my parents’ property. At first, I thought she was another baby Moses waiting to be discovered in the bulrushes. It was when I knelt to free her from the fronds that I saw her ashen face, her vacant eyes, and knew she was dead.

I see it all in slow motion now: I, in a yellow sundress, scrambling to my feet, knowing something was horribly wrong that a baby had been thrown in the creek. I ran toward my house crying, “There’s a dead baby in the creek!”

My academician father was sitting in the porch swing, reading a newspaper. He threw it down and came running. The kitchen door banged behind my mother. “John? What is it?”

I ran to her and pressed my face against her chest.“It’s a dead baby,” I sobbed.“She’s wearing a pink dress.”

“A pink dress?”

My mother folded her arms around me and stared after my father, who admonished her to stay where she was. I’m sure my mother looked at the baby afterward, but not on the day that I found her.

No one ever claimed her. No one ever admitted throwing her in the creek. The town called her Baby Doe. The coroner said she’d been alive when she went in the water. She had been a throwaway child. Until finding her, I had not known that children could be so unloved they would be discarded. I was so distressed that my parents sent me to a psychiatrist who told my mother that I had merged my psyche with that of the unwanted infant and feared no one would ever want me.

How many times during my childhood had my mother asked if I knew how much she and my father loved me? Taken literally, it was a difficult question to answer, so I had kept silent. How do you measure love? Fear of abandonment helped form the woman I became, and in some ways, I remained stuck emotionally in my tenth year.

CHAPTER ONE

Coomara, Ireland April 29, 2016

Bridget Vale was so faithful in her prayers that the nuns selected her as May Queen. On Sunday, she would reign over the village’s spring festival. Today was her thirteenth birthday, and my cousin Elizabeth and I remembered with a strawberry frosted cake, balloons, and a pair of gold earrings depicting St. Brigid’s eternal flame. Wearing her blue school uniform, Bridget danced on strong-muscled legs among the daffodils and tulips in my garden. Her gracefulness seeded a poem in my mind— toss of silk-spun hair, gypsy feet….

Bridget gripped the balloon strings with both hands so they could not fly away and become lodged in the stomachs of terns and sea turtles. Then catastrophe! In the middle of a pirouette, the sky darkened and a sea wind rushed in, batting the balloons against each other, swooping them up, ripping them from her hands. The pretty globes—pink, yellow, and blue—merged into the brew of clouds. I felt a sense of loss.

Before I could pursue the feeling, Iris, Bridget’s mother, called to me from the open kitchen window. “Maria, I’m done vacuuming. Do you want me to sweep the front porch?”

“There’s rain coming,” I answered. “It’ll wash the porch clean.”

Iris went to the back door. “Come in, Bridget. Time to go home.”

As the girl climbed the porch steps, I saw her aura, previously a healthy red, was now tinged with green—a loss of positive energy. “I’m sorry I lost the balloons, Ms. Pell,” she said sadly.

I patted her on the shoulder. “Couldn’t be helped. The wind came out of nowhere.”

Elizabeth, who had also seen the balloon mishap, sought to distract by asking Bridget to help box up the leftover cake. I paid Iris her weekly wage for cleaning the cottage, and mother and daughter prepared to go home.

“I’ll see you at Mass on Sunday,” Elizabeth said.

“I’m coming, too,” I said. “It’s not every day I get to see a queen coronated.”

As Bridget walked down the hill with her mother, I saw her aura had not changed and it worried me—perhaps something more was at work in her young mind than the loss of the balloons.

The ability to visualize auras was both a blessing and a curse; it was invasive: perhaps people minded having someone privy to the secrets of their well-being. I had not worked to develop the skill; it had come to me early, perhaps, a result of my self-imposed isolation as a child.

Most of the time, my mind was focused on the routines that comprised my life, and especially, my work. I could go days without consciously seeing haloes around people’s heads—either that or I did see them as a natural occurrence and did not notice, as one becomes used to floaters in the eye.

I looked at Elizabeth. Her aura was pink. She was running low on energy,

She sighed as she closed the window over the sink. “Too bad about the balloons, Maria. I hope they don’t end up in some creature’s stomach.”

“I hope so, too. Elizabeth, why don’t you lie down. You seem tired.”

“I may go sit in the garden.” Climbing the stairs to my study, I thought how capricious the weather was. Sunlight, one moment. Rain, the next. No wonder the ancient Celts found divinity in weather phenomena like thunder. So much of life was mystery.

As a poet, I loved mystery, for it tugged at my right brain, inviting possibilities. I’d been granted an eighteen-month leave of absence from my teaching position at Midwestern University in Indiana and was in Ireland on a Lewison Fellowship to study Celtic prehistory. Hopefully, the research would inspire a new book of poems.

The previous year, I had won the prestigious Innisfree Award for Footprints, a collection of poems based on the trek of a Celtic tribe from northern France to County Kildare in Ireland. Though I’d won several awards for feminist poetry, Footprints had earned the fellowship for me. Three years earlier, my research for Footprints had led me to County Kildare, west of Dublin. I had been overwhelmed by the beauty of the country’s landscape—forests and grass-covered hills, monolithic rocks heaved up from the soil, lakes and rivers carved out by long ago glaciers. Mists drifting in from the sea added to a sense of wonder. I felt the pull of history.

While I was in Kildare, Mathieu, my partner of twelve years, began an affair with one of his colleagues, a woman named Zara. All my life, I had been plagued by fear of rejection, and his betrayal sent me into a tailspin of despondency. The Lewison Fellowship allowed me to put an ocean between him and me, and to bury myself in work.

Pausing at the study window, I looked out onto the seaside village of Coomara, which dated to the early fifth century (BCE), when Ireland was carved into unstable tuatha, or kingdoms, with shifting boundaries dependent on the outcome of battles. Coomara, loosely translated as sea hound, was probably named for a Viking who came to settle long ago. A mile from my cottage, where the ruins of a thirteenth century castle hugged the ground, was my favorite place to linger. Closing my eyes, I could hear hoof-beats of an ancient army echoing from the earth. Easterly, lay a tumble of pale gray stones—once an abbey.

My five-room rented cottage came furnished and had been built on a promontory overlooking the Irish Sea, yet was within walking distance of the main part of town. Green-shingled, constructed of wood and stone, the house was painted hot pink. Gardens were walled in with a heavy oak gate in front, and a smaller gate in back leading to stone steps descending to the shore. Front and back porches were high enough that I could see into the garden of my neighbor and landlord, Brendan Calloway.

Brendan stood in his garden, looking out to sea. He was an odd sort and I didn’t quite trust him. When I rented the cottage, I made sure he handed over all the keys.

Tearing myself away from the window, I sat down at my desk and began sorting through photocopies of mythical stories I’d brought back from my recent bus trip to the Trinity College Library in Dublin, fifty miles north of Coomara. It was the myths that fueled my understanding of prehistoric people, who came in waves during the sixth century (BCE), and with whom, through my late maternal grandmother, I shared a genetic core.

I bent to my work, reading about Dagda, known as the Good God, not because he was particularly moral, but because he was skilled as a warrior, ruler, artisan, and magician. He possessed a cauldron with an inexhaustible supply of treasure for his followers and a gigantic club, which had to be hauled on wheels. Some scholars thought he was a storm god like Thor with his hammer. Others compared him to Hercules.

The wind that had taken Bridget’s balloons blew in through my open window and rustled a page on my wall calendar. Glancing up, I saw Elizabeth had penned in her tiny handwriting a reminder of Pearce Mulligan’s soiree on April 30. We’d both forgotten about it.

I went to the top of the stairs. “Elizabeth,” I called down. “Pearce Mulligan’s party is tomorrow evening.”

No reply. She must still be in the garden.

Pearce Mulligan was a bore, but I hoped to meet his reclusive poet mother, Margaret. Though I’d been in Ireland for six weeks, her path and mine had not crossed. The public librarian said Margaret had published only one chapbook. I’d read the library copy. Her verses were clever, based on rules of nature.

Rain was coming in my open bedroom window and I rushed to close it. Too many interruptions. My mind could not focus. Putting the notebooks aside, I went downstairs. Soaked to the skin, Elizabeth came in the back door, holding a wisp of pink latex in her hand.

“Part of a balloon,” she said, handing it to me. “I found it on top of the wall. At least, this didn’t kill some turtle.”

I held it in the palm of my hand, thinking it was shaped like a human ear. For some inexplicable reason, I was troubled.

***

The following evening, Elizabeth and I were about to leave on foot for Ravensclaw, the Mulligan family estate, when she was detained by a telephone call from her mother in Indiana. Not wanting to be late, I went ahead. Halfway to the Mulligan estate, I heard Elizabeth shout my name and turned to see her running up the hill.

“Maria! Something dreadful has happened to Bridget!”

My heart lurched. “What? What happened?”

Elizabeth grabbed my hand. “A local boy found her body on the rocks.”

“Her body?”

Bridget was dead? I felt as if I’d been kicked in the stomach. Yesterday, Bridget had danced with balloons in my garden. Had she fallen into the sea and drowned? Why had she gone down to the rocks? The village children were well aware of the danger. Signs were posted. Beware: Slippery Rocks.

“Where exactly was Bridget found?” I asked.

“Just below the park dock. A boy found her body when he went to arrange his father’s fishing nets.”

“And you learned about this how?”

“I was walking past the pub on my way to Ravensclaw when a garda officer pulled Iris and Freddy out of the pub to tell them. Iris…”

I could well imagine Iris’sr eaction. Years ago,she lost her first child, and now Bridget was dead. With anxious hearts, we hurried down the hill, reaching the edge of the village. As we neared St. Columba’s Catholic Church, Judy Moriarity, the priest’s gossipy housekeeper, darted out of the priory.

“Did you hear about the Vale girl?” she asked. “What do you think happened?”

She didn’t expect us to respond and we didn’t.

A mournful chant drifted upward, and I glanced toward the shore where people—possibly latter-day druids—had built a bonfire. They had heard about Bridget. Word of tragedy traveled fast in the village and its environs. On the other side of the street, Daniel Aherne, owner of a pub called Gaelic Earls, broke away from a group of men and waited for a car to pass. He hurried over and fell into step with us.

“Headed for the Vale cottage?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied. “Maybe there’s something we can do to help.”

A loud, piercing cry tore through the darkness. I could not mistake the source—it was Iris. Elizabeth and I broke into a run. A crowd had gathered at the Vale cottage. The front door was flung open. Iris stood on the threshold, pounding her fists on her husband’s chest. Freddy Vale took her blows, tried to comfort her.

Two officers from An Garda Siochána, the Irish police force, stood on the porch. At their feet lay a stretcher holding a body covered with a white sheet.

Why have the garda brought the body to the cottage?

Iris’ despair tore through me as if it were my own. I closed my eyes, shrank against a tree trunk to find my bearings. Knowing I could be paralyzed by the strong emotion of others, Elizabeth grabbed my upper arm. I took several deep breaths and nodded, nearly recovered from the onslaught of Iris’s grief.

Iris scooped up her daughter’s corpse and ran into the house.

The officers stared at each other. “Here, here,” one said. “We must take the body to the morgue.”

Iris slammed the door. The lock snapped shut.

I turned to the officer nearest me. “Why did you bring the body here?”

“Mrs. Vale was with it there at the docks. She refused to let us touch her girl unless we promised to bring her to the house.”

Judy seared him with penetrating brown eyes. “You shouldn’t have listened to her. Now she’ll never give up her girl. She lost her first-born, you know.”

“We are Mrs. Vale’s friends,” I said. “Let us try to talk to her.”

The officers stepped aside and we climbed the steps to the porch. “Iris,” Elizabeth called out, “it’s Maria and Elizabeth. Please let us in.” Her hair a riotous mess, Iris threw open the door and lunged into Elizabeth’s arms. Bracing myself, I reached out to keep them both from falling. Iris smelled of whiskey.

“Not you, Mrs. Clatterfart,” Iris yelled at Judy. “I know the wickedness of your tongue.”

Judy’s kewpie doll mouth opened and closed. She stepped back.

I shut the door but didn’t lock it.

“We’re so sorry,” Elizabeth said. “Bridget was such a good girl. Your heart must be broken.”
Her words sent Iris into a paroxysm of weeping. Holding the grieving woman against my shoulder, I guided her into the kitchen where Freddy sat at the table staring numbly out the window, his large workman’s hands gripping a bottle of Powers whiskey. I extended my condolences to him and he mumbled something in return. Iris sat down, reached for Freddy’s bottle, and took a large swig. Then she returned to the front room and knelt in front of Bridget’s body.

When Iris laid her girl on the sofa, the sheet had slipped from Bridget’s face. Elizabeth and Iris dropped to their knees to recite the rosary. I moved closer to the dead girl to get a better look. My heart broke. Bridget’s dark lashes were fallen against white cheeks, no longer plump with the vigor of youth, but flat and bloodless. One of the earrings Elizabeth and I had given her hung from her left ear.

Her right ear lobe was torn—someone had ripped off the other earring. The torn balloon. A tendril of plankton graced her forehead. That detail thrust into my brain the image of the dead child, Baby Doe, whose body had floated in a stream and lodged in a stand of cattails. Feeling the onrush of panic that vision never failed to call up, I steadied myself on the back of a chair.

Not now.

I dragged myself back to the tragedy at hand. Behind me, Iris and Elizabeth were still praying. Steeling myself, I bent to study the wound on Bridget’s throat: deep, about a half-inch wide. Bridget had been strangled—a garrote of some type that cut into her skin and sliced through her right carotid artery. A garrote! An outrageous weapon to use on a defenseless girl.

I knew I shouldn’t touch Bridget, as the medical examiner had not seen her, but I did lift the blanket. Bridget was naked. Her small breasts lay vulnerable and still. I flinched, but continued my gaze downward to her sex, sparsely-haired. No bruising. Perhaps she hadn’t been violated. Her hands were fisted. Did she hold a clue to her murder?

“Holy Mother of God,” Elizabeth and Iris recited, “pray for us sinners…”

Freddy Vale came in and dropped to his knees to join the women in prayer. I uncurled Bridget’s fists and found cuts on the inside of her fingers. She had gripped the garrote at some point, in an effort to pull it away from her throat. What happened to you, little Bridget? What kind of maniac did this?

***

Excerpt from Old Sins by Lynne Handy. Copyright 2022 by Lynne Handy. Reproduced with permission from Lynne Handy. All rights reserved.

My Review

Poet Maria Bell is on sabbatical in a small town in Ireland. The mystery unfolds with both an old and new death. The opening scene with the baby is particularly gripping. I liked how Handy wove the historical element along with a touch of the paranormal. This is the first book I’ve read by Lynne Handy, but the third book in the Maria Pell Mystery Series. That being said, I didn’t feel like I was behind on details. I really like the idea of a poet who sees auras as the sleuth.

Author Bio:

Lynne Handy

The eldest child in a farm family, I grew up in western Indiana where the tall corn drove me inward to create fantasy worlds. Books were my salvation. I was drawn to poetry in the beginning. Wordsworth and other poets taught me that metaphor, sound, and cadence made a good poem. From authors like Dickens, I learned that rhythmic sentences advanced plot. Hemingway taught me about verbs. Upon graduating from library school, I worked as a librarian in Illinois, Texas, and Michigan. In retirement, I co-founded Open Sky Poets, a collaboration of poets in the western suburbs of Chicago, and published poems and short stories in literary journals. I self-published three novels—two are mysteries. Current projects involve a mystery series with author Jake Westin, who, like Christie’s Miss Marple, somehow lands in the middle of murder investigations. I live in a blue, yellow, and brown house with a yucca plant out front and two wonderful rescue dogs.

Catch Up With Lynne Handy:
LynneHandy.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @lchandy610
Instagram – @lynne_handy
Twitter – @LynneHandy
Facebook – @Lynne.C.Handy

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The Midnight Call

The Midnight Call by Jodé Millman Banner

Listen to this blog as a podcast.

Everyone had a favorite teacher from high school. Remember yours? Now imagine if that same person called you in the middle of the night to tell you that he or she has committed a murder. What would you do? That’s what Jessie Martin has to decide in The Midnight Call by Jodé Millman.

😉Be sure to scroll down for the giveaway!

The Midnight Call by Jodé Millman

Who would ever suspect that their mentor, teacher, and friend was a cold-blooded killer? Jessie Martin didn’t—at least not until she answers the midnight call.

Synopsis:

Late one August night, Jessie’s lifelong mentor and friend–and presently a popular, charismatic, and handsome high school teacher–Terrence Butterfield calls. He utters a startling admission: he’s killed someone. He pleads for Jessie’s help, so out of loyalty she rushes to his aid completely unaware that she’s risking her relationship, her career, and her life–and that of her unborn child–to help Terrence.

Does Jessie’s presence at Terrence’s home implicate her in the gruesome murder of the teenage boy found in the basement? Why does Terrence betray Jessie when he has a chance to exonerate her of all charges? Has he been a monster in disguise for all these years?

To reclaim her life and prove her innocence, Jessie must untangle the web of lies and reveal the shocking truths behind the homicide. The quest turns out to be the fight of her life: to preserve everything and everyone she holds dear.

Praise for The Midnight Call:

WINNER OF THE 2020 BRONZE IPPY AWARD, 2020 INDEPENDENT PUBLISHER BOOK AWARD FOR SUSPENSE/THRILLER AND THE 2020 AMERICAN FICTION AWARD FOR LEGAL THRILLER.

“A Must-Read”

USA Today Network

“The tricky legal maneuvering intrigues…Millman writes with verve.”

Publishers Weekly

“If you like courtroom battles, this legal thriller fits the bill!”

Chanticleer Reviews, Four Star Review. The Midnight Call won First Place in the 2014 CIBAs in the CLUE Awards

“An intriguing courtroom thriller.”

Top Shelf Magazine

“Friendship, insanity, the drama of a courtroom, with a touch of romance rounding out the narrative, will have readers struggling to answer the question: What happens after you answer that terrifying midnight call?”

Booktrib.com

Book Details:

Genre: Suspense, Thriller, Romantic Suspense
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: September 2022
Number of Pages: 400
Series: Queen City Crimes, Book 1
Book Links: Amazon

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

“I think I killed someone,” the man’s voice whispered across the phone lines.

“Terrence,” Jessie Martin’s voice croaked, husky with sleep. She’d know her mentor’s voice anywhere, anytime, even in the middle of the night. In the pitch darkness she bolted upright in bed and blinked the sleep out of her eyes. “What are you talking about?”

“I’ve done a terrible thing, committed a sin against God,” he said.

The anguish in his voice made the fine hairs on her skin prickle with fear, and her hand flew up with a desire to protect the baby tumbling around inside her swollen belly. Yet, it was the slow, quiet monotone of his voice that frightened Jessie even more than his confession. Her mentor usually had a confident, intense voice that commanded attention. Tonight, it was flat, as if he were no longer aware of reality.

“There’s blood everywhere.” Terrence’s hollow voice cracked. “He was just a boy… a boy. I don’t know how it happened. Oh my God, what have I done?”

Nothing was making any sense. Terrence Butterfield. Her mentor. Her teacher. Her friend. A killer? Impossible. But if what he said was true, the only way for her to help him was to remain cool and calm. She inhaled deeply to repress the panic crushing her chest and blew it out in a slow, cleansing breath as she’d learned in Lamaze class.

She turned toward Kyle’s side of the bed. Empty. She gripped his pillow in her fist. She’d find him in a moment.

“Terrence, how—what happened? Was there an accident?” She tried to control the tremor in her voice.

“No, it was not… an accident.”

Jessie tried to get him to talk, pushed him for more details. It wasn’t normal for Terrence to stay quiet for so long about anything. Ever. So his lengthy, heavy silence only intensified her unease over his vague confession about killing a kid. If she’d gone into criminal law instead of corporate law, the right questions would’ve rolled off her tongue. For now, she’d have to rely on the adrenaline rush and her instincts.

“Just tell me where you are,” Jessie demanded. “Whatever’s happened, I can help you.”

“I’m at home and… I have a gun. I can’t continue to live. I need to make peace with God.”

“Listen to me. Put the gun down.” Jessie’s mind raced. If Terrence had intended to kill himself he wouldn’t have called her. He wanted her to keep him alive. “There are people who love you. Your family, your students —we all love you.”

“I don’t know what to do. I’m so confused.”

“This is what you are going to do.” It felt odd commanding him, reversing the roles so that she was the mentor and he was the pupil. Hopefully, Terrence had enough wits about him to comply with her instructions, but there was no response except for the clicking of his tongue as he wheezed into the receiver. “Just put down the gun and call the police. Tell them there’s been an accident. Don’t say anything else. Are you with me? I’m on my way. I’ll be there in a few minutes. Please don’t do anything foolish. Promise me.”

The cell phone hung like a dead weight in Jessie’s hand as the line went dead. Moist palms stroked the curve of her child in a strong, circular motion. A tiny foot rose up to accept the caresses like a cat seeking to nuzzle, and once sated, the appendage receded into the depths of her womb.

Jessie thought there must be some mistake, but she knew what she’d heard. The stretched-thin quality of his voice convinced her that something was seriously wrong.

Kyle, her fiancé, hadn’t returned to their room, so she called out his name. No answer. Flinging back the covers, Jessie set her bare feet on the cold wood floor and ran toward the dresser.

Get dressed. Find Kyle. Go to Terrence. Before — She didn’t want to consider the possibilities.

“Kyle,” Jessie called out again, rifling through the drawers. Three shirts spilled out onto her feet. She grabbed a striped t-shirt and wriggled into it. It was a bit snug over her belly, but there was no time. She had to go. “Kyle!”

The bedroom door flew open with a crash and Kyle burst into the room, wild-eyed. “Is it the baby?”

“No, no, it’s not me, I’m fine, but we’ve got to go,” Jessie said, yanking on her sweatpants. “Terrence said that he’s killed someone and he’s going to kill himself.” She gathered her flyaway hair into a ponytail and hurried toward the bathroom door, but Kyle stepped in front of her blocking her path.

“You scared me half to death… and this was, yet again, about that old—I mean, about Terrence.”

Jessie flinched and jerked back, glaring at him.

“Let’s a take a second before you do anything crazy and discuss this.” Kyle paused. “Babe, as odd as he is, you don’t believe that Terrence killed anyone, do you?” He raised his eyebrows and cocked his head. When she didn’t respond, he added, “Just in case, why don’t we call the police and let them handle it?”

Jessie shook her head adamantly. “Kyle, there’s no time to get into this right now so please, call my dad. Have him call Terrence.” She shivered uncontrollably from the tension ricocheting through her body, her teeth chattering so violently she believed they’d shatter. “Ma-make him stay on the phone until we g-get there.”

“Come ‘ere.” His tone softened. Kyle encircled her in his arms and a tender hand reached down to embrace their child. She trembled, immune to the warmth of his touch and his soft, cajoling whispers in her ear. “You shouldn’t be running around in the middle of the night.”

“Sweetie, look, I’ve got to go and I’d appreciate it if you came along,” she said, disguising her fear with determination.

After four years together, Jessie knew that Kyle knew better than to argue with her; after all, she was a lawyer. A damn good one, and once she set her mind on something there was no stopping her. It was all part of her job. Her clients demanded it. But this was the first time the call had come before the arrest. And it was the first time the late night call had been from Terrence.

Kyle growled and released her, shaking his head in resignation. “I guess I can’t stop you, can I?” He stepped into the crumpled jeans lying on the floor, then zipped them up and was tugging a Yankees sweatshirt over his head when she disappeared into the bathroom. When she returned to the bedroom, it was empty.

Jessie discovered Kyle downstairs in the kitchen. He shoved his phone into his jean’s pocket and fiddled with her car keys with his free hand.

“Did you call my dad?”

Kyle nodded. “Ready? Come on, let’s go.”

She reached into the pocket of her hoodie and discovered her phone wasn’t there. “Damn, I must have left my phone upstairs. I’ll be right back.”

He twisted his mouth in a soured expression. “Okay. I’ll meet you in the car.”

As she returned upstairs, she tried to remember where she’d last seen her phone. She’d been in such a rush to get ready that she could have set it down anywhere in the bedroom or bathroom. She couldn’t believe she’d been so stupid, especially with Terrence’s life at stake.

Jessie entered her bedroom and gave the room a quick once-over. Her phone was nowhere in sight.

#

Several minutes later, Jessie slipped into the Jeep that was idling in the driveway. Kyle was anxiously tapping his fingers on the steering wheel.

“Sorry I took so long. My phone was under the nightstand. I must have knocked it there when I was getting dressed.”

Kyle grunted, threw the car into reverse, and backed out of the driveway.

Jessie’s eyes were drawn to the keychain dangling from her Jeep’s ignition. It contained the motley gray rabbit’s foot that Terrence had bagged on one of the many hunting trips with her father. They’d made an odd couple, her father and the younger teacher, but they had a lot in common, and they’d always come home with a kill or two. After one trip, Terrence had presented the token to her with great flourish on the night before she’d left for law school, attaching it to a Black’s Law Dictionary and a pound of Ethiopian coffee beans. Jessie had kept it with her always for good luck: during finals, the bar exam, and her job interviews. Whenever the fates needed an extra boost.

Now, the sight of the cherished charm made her shudder as it assumed a more grisly visage. She felt sorry for the little critter so brutally killed and felt a twinge of doubt as to whether she really knew the man who’d been on the other end of the line—the patient friend who’d spent his Saturday mornings laboring with her over her college admission essays, the charismatic bachelor who’d delivered yellow roses on her mother’s birthday, the popular high school teacher who’d brought history to life by dressing as Genghis Khan, George Washington, and Gandhi. And who, ever since she was a teenager, had been the keeper of her deepest secrets and dreams.

For Terrence’s sake, Jessie hoped that he’d been mistaken tonight. Otherwise, he’d need more than her rabbit’s foot to protect him.

Kyle screeched to a halt at the curb in front of Terrence’s home, and she glanced toward the small white clapboard ranch. While the neighboring houses were dark, Terrence’s house shone like a beacon among the Cape Cod cottages nestled along the quiet, tree-lined boulevard in Poughkeepsie, New York. In the humid August night, hazy lights blazed from every window, illuminating the well-manicured lawn and beds of roses and daylilies that she’d helped him plant more than a decade ago.

Terrence’s tall, lean silhouette was framed within the front bay window. He was speaking on the phone, presumably to her father. The front door stood ajar, inviting her to enter.

In the darkness, Jessie glimpsed two black and white cop cars creeping toward them from the opposite direction. With sirens silenced and headlights extinguished, the cars glided toward the far curb and parked. Bathed in the amber glow of the overhead street lamps, the officers were motionless inside their cars.

“Did you call the police?” Jessie asked.

Kyle didn’t answer. “What are they doing?” he whispered, as though the cops could hear.

Jessie eyed Kyle, but there were more pressing matters. “They’re probably waiting for back up. Come on. Let’s go.” She cocked the door handle, but Kyle grabbed her arm and squeezed. She glanced over at him, confused.

“You’re not going out there, Jessie.”

“This is Terrence’s life, Kyle.” Her voice trembled with conviction, fear, and the desire to help the one man she trusted and revered almost as much as her own father. Kyle never understood that before Terrence entered her life, she’d floundered in school. At best, she’d been a B student. Terrence’s energy and enthusiasm had ignited a spark inside her, instilling knowledge, values, and moral lessons that had helped her achieve her goal of law school. She’d had many teachers and professors over the years, and recognized the rarity of such a man. She was deeply grateful to Terrence but Kyle insisted that the man was a fraud.

Jessie started at the sudden sound of the patrol cars’ doors banging open like cannon fire. She blinked rapidly to dispel the horrible image unfolding in slow motion. A pair of officers emerged from each vehicle. They drew their guns and strode in the direction of Terrence’s house. Her eyes tracked them through the pools of streetlight dotting the avenue, knowing they were on a collision course with Terrence. She felt paralyzed, like during the surreal seconds before an automobile accident, and the powerlessness of skidding toward the unavoidable impact.

“Come on, Kyle.”

“Please stay in the car, at least until we know it’s safe.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Terrence won’t shoot us.” Instinctively, Jessie ran a hand over her belly, and in response to the baby’s sharp jab to her ribs, she yanked her arm free from Kyle’s hold. Opening the door, Jessie slid out of the Jeep and sprinted up the sidewalk toward the broad front steps with Kyle trailing on her heels.

“Stop! Police!” commanded a gravelly voice. “Hands up. Over your head, where we can see them.”

Jessie gasped, stopping in mid-stride. She froze in place, the toes of her sneakers flirting with the bottom step of the porch. Fumbling through the pitch darkness, she threaded her fingers in her fiancé’s. Kyle clasped them, tugged her close to his side, and slowly, they raised their joined hands into the air.

“Sir, I’m here to see Mr. Butterfield. I’m an attorney. He’s expecting me,” Jessie shouted. Judging from the cop’s voice, he was still a good fifty feet away. Far enough for her to make a mad dash for the front door. The door was so close, but Kyle’s grip tightened, digging her engagement ring into her flesh.

“Miss, don’t move,” the officer said. “Please remain where you are. For your own safety.”

“It’s all right, Jessica.” Terrence leaned against the doorjamb, swinging the screen door open to the night air. His voice sounded distant, otherworldly, and his fine-boned features were obscured by the night’s shadows. “Officers, please come in.”

The four police officers swarmed past them with their pistols aimed at the waiting figure. Two officers inched their way up the steps onto the front porch, while a few yards away, the other two covered them from the bottom step. As the team passed, Kyle stepped forward, shielding her from danger and obstructing her path to Terrence.

Terrence might need her, she thought, so she skirted around Kyle and waited and listened. She needed to be ready.

“Sir, are you Terrence Butterfield?” an officer asked.

“Yes.”

Jessie had instructed him to keep quiet and sensed that he was about to break the golden rule—never admit anything.

“We’re investigating a report about the discharging of a firearm at this address. Sir, do you have a weapon? Please show me your hands,” said an older officer with a pockmarked face, as he edged another step closer.

Terrence raised his hands over his head. In his right hand, he gripped an old-fashioned revolver, like Jessie had seen in the Westerns. “I think I have killed someone.”

“Terrence, stop talking!” Jessie exclaimed.

As long as Terrence kept his mouth shut, maybe she could salvage the situation. There had to be a reasonable explanation. Maybe there had been some horrible accident. Maybe he’d stood his ground against an intruder. Maybe he was drunk or stoned or he was hallucinating. She needed to know. To hear the truth from him.

“Sir, I’m Sergeant Mike Rossi and this is my partner, Officer Jen Macy.” Rossi crossed the threshold, while Macy signaled for the other team to spread out around the back of the house. Cautiously, Rossi inched his way toward Terrence. “Mr. Butterfield, please set the gun on the floor.”

Terrence’s trembling hand offered him the weapon.

Rossi stepped backward, looking startled by the movement, but keeping his gun steady, trained on his target. “Just do as I say. Put the gun down and place your hands on top of your head.”

“Please take it. I don’t want it.”

On the bottom porch step, Jessie balanced on her tiptoes, craning her neck to spy on the action through the screen door and windows. She held her breath as Terrence and Rossi eyed each other across the barrel of the shiny gun aimed point-blank at Terrence’s chest. Tension seized Terrence’s muscles, accentuating the slight tic along his jaw that appeared only when he felt threatened. It was a sign that he could attack with little provocation, something she’d witnessed more than once when he’d fended off troublemakers in his classroom.

Locked in a stalemate, Terrence and Rossi continued to glare at each other. Time seemed to stand still, interrupted only by the echoes of the midnight freight trains snaking along the banks of the Hudson River.

Jessie’s pulse thrummed in her ears as she watched, too terrified to move.

The seconds ticked by and then, suddenly as if his nerve had drained away, Terrence’s jaw slackened. He lowered his hand and set the weapon on the coffee table to his right. Then, he hung his head and cradled his temples with his hands.

“Drop to your knees,” Rossi shouted, backing Terrence away from the window so that both men vanished from sight.

Jessie inhaled, inviting humid, sweet air into her lungs, and steadied herself against the steps’ banister. “I should really be in there.” She edged her way up to the next step. “He needs me.”

“Let the police do their job, babe.” Kyle’s fingers clamped around her wrist like a vice. His eyes darted to her baby bump, and then they shifted, staring directly into her eyes, concern crinkling his brow.

Jessie’s gaze swung back toward the house, consumed with the frustration that a bizarre tableau was being played out only a few yards away. Helplessly, she listened to doors slamming, footsteps thundering through rooms, and snippets of conversations and commands drifting outside into the night. As hard as Jessie tried, she couldn’t hear Terrence or see him, and she prayed that he was holding up under the pressure. At least Terrence knew that she and Kyle were there for him and had his back.

Relief flooded her when Rossi herded Terrence back into view in the front hallway, but her chest tightened when a voice crackled over the two-way radio dangling from the officer’s belt.

“Sarge, can you read me? You need to see this… down here in the basement. Copy?”

A scowl hardened on Kyle’s face, and his fingers turned to steel bands squeezing her wrist past the point of pain. Jessie flinched, and he released her.

“Keep your eye on Butterfield,” Rossi said to Macy. “I’ll be right back.”

Jessie massaged the shelf of her belly as the baby’s angular limb stabbed deep into her chest cavity. She lowered herself to the dew-covered steps to ease the wooziness engulfing her like fog. The hour. The heat. The rush. It was all catching up with her.

She needed to shake it off. Stay alert and focused for Terrence. He’d always been there for her—the proms, graduations, fender benders, and panic attacks before the bar exam. Now, it was Jessie’s turn. She owed it to him, and herself, to unearth the truth.

“Terrence, we’re still here. Just do as they say,” Jessie blurted, hoping that the sound of her voice would give him the strength to carry on, although her grit was circling the drain.

“Let’s go.” Kyle loomed over her, his mouth pinched at the corners. “You can’t even stay on your feet. You’re tired and there’s nothing more you can do for him. Not tonight.” He offered her a hand.

Jessie glared at him with an anger that recharged her depleted battery. Kyle knew better. Once she committed to a cause, she never budged. “I’ve got to help him get this mess cleared up. There’s been a mistake.”

“A mistake? It looks to me like Terrence finally flipped out and killed somebody. But I can’t expect you to be objective about him. You wanted him to be our kid’s godfather.” Kyle paused, clenching and unclenching his fists. “You know, sometimes Terrence seems like a third party to our relationship.”

Kyle had a way of believing the worst whenever it came to Terrence. It never bothered her when Terrence called to chat about the latest movies or books he’d read or stopped by to watch a football game with Kyle. He was Terrence being Terrence, and she knew that there was no ulterior motive on his part. Ever since she’d been a kid, she and Terrence had been close, and over the years he’d done plenty for her. And she for him. He’d worn many hats in her life—friend, confidante, teacher, mentor, even an uncle—and Kyle had known that from the beginning but Kyle insisted that Terrence was taking advantage of their friendship by calling and popping in uninvited. Why couldn’t he acknowledge that each man had a special place in her life?

Low voices discussed the need to secure the crime scene and call the paramedics, the forensic team, the district attorney, and the medical examiner. Although criminal law was outside her wheelhouse, Jessie knew the working parts of a homicide investigation, so these whisperings confirmed her worst suspicions. First, there was a dead body or bodies somewhere in the house —probably the basement. And second, Terrence was implicated in the homicide.

Suddenly, the screen door swung open, and the dark figure of Terrence Butterfield emerged from the house in handcuffs shepherded by Rossi and Macy. With his head drooped forward against his chest and his limp arms shackled at the wrist, he shuffled across the whitewashed porch and down the entry steps.

Terrence drew closer and the veil of night shadow enshrouding his face and body revealed something much more sinister. His handsome face was smeared with glossy red liquid and his dark brown hair was clumped into a tangled mess. A rank stench, like rotten cabbage boiled in sulfur, emanated from the tattered, bloody shirt clinging to his chest. The smell of death on him hit her like a slap and grew worse with every step he took toward her.

Stifling a gag, Jessie garnered her strength and stepped into their path. She double-checked the name on his silver badge. “Officer Rossi, I know that you’ve got a job to do, but I do, too. Before you take Mr. Butterfield anywhere, I’m putting you on notice that he is not to be interrogated without my being present.” She cleared her throat. “And has he been read his rights?”

Rossi eyed her with contempt, as though insinuating that she had no right to question his actions or authority. “We can discuss that after Mr. Butterfield has been booked.”

“I think that we should discuss it now.” Jessie’s tone was insistent, hard.

Before they could respond, Terrence spoke up, “I believe that I’m entitled to speak with my attorney.”

“You can speak with her down at the station. Move along, Mr. Butterfield,” Macy said, shoving the captive’s shoulder. “Ma’am, please move out of the way.”

For a long moment, Jessie remained stationary, considering how far she could push the cops before she crossed the line. Her heart urged her to defy Rossi and speak with Terrence right then and there, yet her head warned her to follow the protocol. Strategically, the latter would be best for both of them.

“Not a word,” Jessie counseled him as she stepped aside. Terrence stopped before her and gently rested his cuffed hands on the round of her belly. She smiled and cupped her hands over his in reassurance. “Don’t worry. We’ll be right behind you.”

Gazing into his eyes, she searched for the truth, but instead, found cold, dead-fish eyes, and his dry, cracked lips were curled in a crooked, haunting smile. She shrank away from him, huddling against Kyle to steady her buckling knees.

The officers grabbed Terrence’s shoulder, ushered him toward their patrol car, and loaded him into the back seat. The engine started and with lights flashing and sirens blaring, the police car sped off into the night.

Nothing in her thirty years of life had prepared her for this moment. This tragedy.

Terrence’s life was in her hands. And in that instant, Jessie realized that she must follow her heart. She knew the kind, caring friend, teacher, and confidante that he’d been to her. She needed to disregard the blood, the stench, and the nagging worry that he was a cold-blooded killer. She’d prove him innocent. She owed him that.

As the police car taillights disappeared into the darkness, an undeniable dampness seeped onto Jessie’s abdomen. Her eyes widened in horror as she looked down at her sweatshirt. Beneath the Syracuse University logo, a grisly tattoo of handprints smeared across her belly. Jessie flipped over her quivering hands and stared at her palms, black and sticky with blood.

“Oh, my God.”

***

Excerpt from The Midnight Call by Jodé Millman. Copyright 2022 by Jodé Millman. Reproduced with permission from Jodé Millman. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Jodé Millman

Jodé Millman is the acclaimed author of HOOKER AVENUE and THE MIDNIGHT CALL, which won the Independent Press, American Fiction, and Independent Publisher Bronze IPPY Awards for Legal Thriller. She’s an attorney, a reviewer for Booktrib.com, the host/producer of The Backstage with the Bardavon podcast, and creator of The Writer’s Law. Jodé lives with her family in the Hudson Valley, where she is at work on the next installment of her “Queen City Crimes” series —novels inspired by true crimes in the region she calls home.

Discover more about Jodé, her work, and sign up for her newsletter at:
www.JodeMillman.com
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Giveaway:

This is a giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Tours for Jodé Millman. See the widget for entry terms and conditions. Void where prohibited.

What the Walls Know

Listen to this blog as a podcast.

We’re getting close to Halloween, so let’s take a ride with a group of jazz musicians about to play a creepy looking place in the year 1925. A Halloween mystery! What’s that you say? It kind of looks like Dracula’s castle? Love it!

About What the Walls Know

In October 1925, four New York City jazz musicians travel to a spooky castle near Gloucester, MA to perform at a Halloween birthday party for an occultist and his eccentric friends, including an astrologer, a tarot card reader, and a wizard. On the first night of their stay, a Ouija board predicts the murder of one of the guests, a medium who swindled grieving people by pretending to communicate with their departed loved ones. When Lizzie Crane, a beautiful and talented chanteuse, hears strange voices behind the castle’s walls she begins snooping into the mysterious death, and nearly loses her own life in the process.

Read an Excerpt

Excerpt: WHAT THE WALLS KNOW

October 1925, Gloucester, Massachusetts

“Are you sure Dracula doesn’t live here?” Melody asked as they approached Halcyon Castle. The pretty blond musician peered nervously out the window of Sidney’s Buick, like a child watching a horror movie through her fingers.

            “Don’t be a silly goose,” Lizzie chided her nineteen-year-old friend. “That’s just stuff and nonsense, designed to keep you awake all night. Bram Stoker has made a bundle scaring girls like you with his wicked tales.”

            But she had to admit the Gothic Revival castle, perched on a rocky bluff overlooking the ocean, exuded doom and gloom. The estate sat on an isolated promontory that jutted into the north Atlantic, with only a single, winding driveway leading in and out. Two ferocious-looking metal dragons guarded the entry gate. The chilly drizzle and drifting fog made the place seem even more eerie. Lizzie stared up at the castle’s turrets with their slit-like windows, while thoughts of Anne Boleyn and other imprisoned ladies rose in her mind.

            “I think it’s exciting,” said Bert, the young horn player who’d joined their group only a month ago, after the murder of their previous saxophonist.

Melody hugged her arms across her chest and scrunched down in the backseat. “I think it’s creepy.”

            “Well, I think it’s quite dramatic and theatrical, don’t you, Sidney?” Lizzie asked her longtime friend, who sat beside her gripping the steering wheel as he assessed the situation.

“It’s a job, and a high-paying one at that,” he said flatly.

The dragon-guarded gate swung open to admit them. No sooner had they crossed through than it shut behind them with a loud clang. Despite her appreciation of drama, Lizzie felt apprehension rise in her chest. As Sidney shifted his prized 1925 Buick convertible into second gear, she realized they were cut off now from the mainland, trapped on the peninsula.

Beneath them, waves broke on the rocky neck. Sidney drove another fifty yards until he came to a moat of foaming seawater, spanned by a narrow wooden bridge. Fog slithered around them, veiling the way. Cautiously, he inched across the wet planks, into the castle’s parking area where gas lamps struggled to cut through the thick evening mist.

            Waving her hand dismissively, Lizzie said with more confidence than she felt, “Anyway, Stoker wrote all that Dracula stuff more than twenty-five years ago and no one’s produced a vampire yet. There’s nothing to worry about.”

            Leaving the motorcar’s engine running, Sidney grabbed his umbrella and stepped out into the drizzle. “Wait here while I find out what’s what.”

            “I’m coming with you,” Lizzie said. She pulled her cloche hat tight over her bobbed hair and turned up the collar of her rubber slicker.

            They picked their way carefully across the slippery paving stones to a portico lit by a dim yellow lamp. Sidney grabbed a doorknocker shaped like a gargoyle and banged on an oak door studded with hand-cut iron nails. After waiting a minute or so, he knocked again. This time a panel the size of a sheet of writing paper slid open behind a metal grate, and someone eyed them from within.

            “Good evening. I’m Sidney Somerset and this is Elizabeth Crane. We’re with The Troubadours from New York City.”

            When the person behind the grate didn’t respond, he said, “We’re entertainers. Mr. Duncan Fox invited us here to perform for his guests this week.”

            The panel slammed shut.

            They waited a bit longer, then Sidney hammered on the door again.

            “Do you think we’re in the wrong place?” Lizzie asked. She brushed at the wet sleeves of her raincoat and turned to go back to the auto.

            “There couldn’t possibly be two places like this in Gloucester, Massachusetts. But it is rather odd. I telephoned Mr. Fox yesterday to let him know when to expect us.”

            Just then the door creaked open on its iron hinges. A man with frazzled gray hair, a cardigan sweater buttoned haphazardly over his ample belly, stood staring out at them with intense dark eyes. A crimson scarf circled his neck and wire-rimmed spectacles perched on his nose. As he stepped back to let them enter, a broad smile lit up his face.

            “Entrez-vous,” he said heartily and held out his hand. “I’m Duncan Fox, your delighted host. So good of you to come. You must forgive my sister’s manners. Frances is the skeptical sort. Doesn’t trust anyone, not even me.”

Purchase What the Walls Know on Amazon

About Skye Alexander

Skye Alexander is the author of nearly 50 fiction and nonfiction books. Her stories have appeared in anthologies internationally, and her work has been published in more than a dozen languages. In 2003, she cofounded Level Best Books with fellow authors Kate Flora and Susan Oleksiw. The first novel in her Lizzie Crane mystery series, Never Try to Catch a Falling Knife, set in 1925, was published in 2021; the second, What the Walls Know, is scheduled for release in November 2022. Skye lives in Texas with her black Manx cat Zoe.

Website: www.skyealexander.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/skye.alexander.92

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/search?q=skye+alexander&qid=38woUg8Hrm

Death in a Pale Hue

Listen to this blog post as a podcast.

Let’s all head to the community art center to try and figure out what all that artwork means. I’ll admit it. I’m an art novice and often say to myself, I don’t know what it is, but I know what I like. Susan Van Kirk brings us Death in a Pale Hue today, where art is front and center in this murder mystery. Hint: Don’t go in the basement. (Actually, I feel this is a good rule of thought for any mystery!)

About Death in a Pale Hue

Who knew going home could be deadly?

I will show them success. Thirty-year-old artist Jill Madison repeats this mantra when she returns to her small hometown to restart her life. Hired to manage a new community art center, she vows to make it successful so the people of her town will have what she did not have—an education in the arts. She no sooner accepts the job than a burglar makes off with an irreplaceable sculpture and workers find a ghastly surprise in the basement. Investigating places Jill right in the path of a murderer.

How will she keep her job, run her first big event, and escape a killer who plans to paint her out of the picture permanently?

Read an Excerpt

Excerpt: Death in a Pale Hue

Our old neighbors’ yards came into view, and I took, out of habit, the short cut through the back yards to get to my house faster.
I heard my brother Tom’s voice in my head. “Don’t go out alone. Don’t be by yourself after dark. This guy means business.” We had huge trees all through the neighborhood, and if anyone were following me, he would have had lots of cover and shadows. I walked as fast as I could, my breath coming heavily, my heart pounding in my ears. Besides the thump-thump of my heartbeat, I thought I could hear footsteps following me. Was I imagining them? I couldn’t stop to check it out, so I kept moving as fast as I could. I was into the Wendovers’ yard, and once I cleared the house, I took a tiny glance back. I was sure I saw a shadow move near the old oak in the Palmers’ yard.
That was when I began to run.
I sprinted across Mary Street, its one meager streetlight down the block shining on the asphalt. Racing across the smooth surface, I had two more neighborhood yards to go. Looking back, I thought I saw a dark figure—a black shadow—moving along near Palmers’ trees on an exact line with me. Into Driscolls’ yard, running, running, with another swing set and a round umbrella-table, an above-ground pool affording me a little cover. Out of Driscolls’ yard and into ours, running as fast as I could go now, my breath coming out in spurts, my legs exhausted.
My red silk neck scarf had come loose from my neck and fallen off behind me, but instead of stopping to go back for it, I pulled my tote from my elbow where it had slipped, and my fingers rifled through lipstick, wallet, tissues, pens, receipts, lip balm, and, finally, thank God, keys. Grasping them, my fingers sorted around until I found the familiar house key. Up the steps to the back deck. Opening the screen door, I pushed the key home, pulled it out, stumbled over the threshold, dropped my tote, locked the screen and the inside door, and collapsed into a kitchen chair, totally out of breath and shaking. I hadn’t turned on a light. I simply sat in the dark, my chest heaving up and down, up and down, my legs stretched out to stop their shaking.
I’m not sure how long I sat there, quivering in the dark. Had I imagined someone? I knew I had heard twigs breaking, but couldn’t it have been squirrels or neighborhood cats or other nocturnal creatures? The shadows—trees? I was used to studying shadows since they were an integral part of painting, but right now my terror was conflicting with my vision. I began to take deep smooth breaths, laid my head back, listened to the quiet. Not gonna tell Tom, I thought. He’d kill me. He’d lock me in their house until I was forty.
Finally, I rose, kicked off my shoes, almost stumbled over my tote, and carried it out to the dining room, still not turning on a light. I began systematically pulling shades and curtains on the first floor. My anxiety level was still high, my heart slower but still pounding softly in my head.
There, I thought. Home at last. Doors locked. All is well. I walked back out to the kitchen and considered turning on the light. No, I’d turn on the light out on the back pole at the far end of the yard near the shed, plus the one on the deck. Clicking the switches by the back door, I pulled open the curtains on the window a narrow slit and peeked out into the now well-lit yard. No one lurked anywhere.
Just before pulling the curtains shut again, I gasped, my face flushed and tingly.
Hanging from the handrail on the deck, tied with a knot, was my red silk scarf.

About the Author

Susan Van Kirk lives at the center of the universe—the Midwest—and writes during the ridiculously cold, snowy, icy winters. Why leave the house and break something? Her Endurance Mysteries—Three May Keep a Secret, The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney, Marry in Haste, Death Takes No Bribes and The Witch’s Child—are humorous cozies about a retired schoolteacher in the small town of Endurance who keeps finding herself in the middle of murders. She has also written a historical mystery called A Death at Tippitt Pond. Her latest book, Death in a Pale Hue, is the first of a new series from Level Best Books. She’s a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, and president of the online writing group at Sisters in Crime. Her website is http://www.susanvankirk.com

 Facebook:      http://www.facebook.com/SusanVanKirkAuthor/

Twitter:    http://twitter.com/susan_vankirk/

Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/author/show/586.Susan_Vankirk

Instagram  https://www.instagram.com/susanivankirk/

Fallout

Listen to this blog as a podcast.

Ever just want to live the simple life? Pursue interests on your own, like jigsaw puzzles or taking a class? In this day and age I think we all feel this sometimes. Today’s book, Fallout introduces us to a character who wants to do just that. She’s alone in this world, and likes it that way, that is until our author Carrie Stuart Parks gets ahold of her. 

Don’t forget to scroll down and enter the giveaway!

About the Book

Her carefully crafted life is about to be demolished.

After a difficult childhood, Samantha Williams craves simplicity: jigsaw puzzles, lectures at the library, and the students she adores in her role as an elementary art teacher in the dusty farming community of LaCrosse, Washington.

But when an SUV crashes into the school where she teaches, her entire world is upended. She manages to keep all of the children safe, but her car isn’t so lucky. Oddly, her purse—containing her driver’s license, credit cards, and other identification—is missing from the wreckage.

After authorities discover that the driver in the school accident was shot seconds before the crash, Samantha quickly becomes entangled in increasingly strange events that have her looking over her shoulder.

Samantha has long tried to forget the tragedy of her past, but the twisting maze she discovers between the murdered driver, a deadly secret government project, and an abandoned town can’t be ignored. Those involved are determined to keep these secrets buried, and they’ll use any means necessary to stop Samantha’s search for truth.

Praise for Fallout:

“An intriguing story based on events around a part of Washington. Tight timeline with tons of action. Twists and turns that will keep readers engaged and guessing. I enjoyed this book and recommend it to those who want a whisper of romance included with the mystery.”

Book Details:

Genre: Suspense
Published by: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: September 13th 2022
Number of Pages: 336
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | ChristianBook | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Prologue

Hanford, Washington
November 23, 1988

The November wind blew across the almost-barren plain, attempting to leach any warmth from the man’s black wool coat. He pulled the woolen balaclava higher on his nose and wished he’d worn goggles. The wind raised icy tears that blurred his vision.

Snow clung to the scant protection offered by basalt outcroppings and meager shrubs.

The moon provided weedy light, enough to avoid the sagebrush and tumbleweeds, but not enough to reveal the ground squirrels’ burrows. He’d fallen twice.

He paused for a moment to check his compass. He figured he’d covered about six of the eight miles. There was little chance he’d be detected. He’d approached the area by boat on the Columbia River, which flowed down the eastern side of the remote facility in South Central Washington State. Though the site was massive—570 square miles—the roads were heavily patrolled. After all, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation was the largest producer of postwar nuclear weapons.

Hanford’s creation of the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, had provided the turning point in World War II. Afterward, the plant morphed into a Cold War arsenal against the Soviet Union until the last nuclear reactor finally shut down just a year ago.

He’d chosen the date carefully—Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. All the staff and workers would have left early in preparation for the holidays. Only a minimal number of employees would be working, and they’d not be inclined to venture into the frigid night.

Though he’d been on the Hanford Site since he’d left the river, his goal was the Hanford Tank Farms. The tanks held 53 million gallons of the highest-level radioactive waste found in the United States. He would be targeting the SY Tank Farm, three double-shelled waste storage units built between 1974 and 1976, located at the 200 West site. The tanks at this location were each capable of holding 1.16 million gallons of nuclear waste.

He shifted the backpack slightly. The bomb, made with C-4, was safe enough from his jostling cross-country run. It took a detonator to set off the explosion, which he’d rig once the materials were in place.

The tanks themselves were built of one-foot-thick reinforced steel and concrete and had been buried under eight feet of dirt, but the hydrogen from the slurry had built up in these particular tanks to dangerous levels. He didn’t need to reach the tanks themselves, only disable the exhaust vent and the temperature thermocouple assembly. He knew no maintenance work was going on around the tanks that might create a spark or heat, so chance of discovery was extremely slim.

He paused for a moment to catch his breath. He’d paddled down the treacherous icy river, then jogged for miles, but his fury fueled his drive. In February of 1986, the Department of Energy had released nineteen thousand pages of documents describing the declassified history of the Hanford operations. Hints of a darker truth were written between the lines, and more evidence came out in the batch of documents released the following year. Everyone else would have missed it, but he’d been able to piece the sequence of events together.

They’d grown rich while he’d been discarded like so much trash.

Now was his time to get even.

He’d use the threat of the bomb to force the acknowledgment of their role and his own innocence. Anything less than the possibility of a Chernobyl-size disaster would lead to a governmental cover up.

A massive press conference. Facts and figures. Undeniable evidence.

In the meantime, he’d personally take care of those directly responsible.

He increased his pace. Soon now.

He knew this part of the facility well.

He found the location he’d identified before, knelt beside the various ports, detectors, and vents, and swiftly assembled the parts according to the bomb-maker’s directions. All that was left was the trigger mechanism. He’d placed it in a secure box inside his backpack.

The box was gone.

He ran his hands over the backpack again. Then again. Then a third time. It was gone. Did I forget to pack it? No. It was here in this backpack when he’d left home.

He broke out in a clammy sweat and rocked back on his heels. How could this have happened? Where had it dropped out? Could it be back in the boat? Somewhere on the ground between here and the river’s edge? Separated from him when he fell?

Calm down. He had a backup. Even if he didn’t find the trigger, all it would take is a reasonable-sized explosion on the surface to start the process.

If it took the rest of his miserable life, he’d carry out his plan. They wouldn’t get away with it. Not this time.

One

September 2015

Bam! Bam! An engine roared, growing louder, closer.

I glanced up from the shading technique I was demonstrating for my elementary-school art class.

A black Suburban was barreling across the parking lot directly at my classroom.

“Run!” I screamed.

The children didn’t hesitate, bolting for the door. I shoved the last boy outside toward the gym just as the Suburban smashed into the side of the building and plowed into the room. The portable classroom moved with a screech. Desks, chairs, books, glass, and chunks of the wall and ceiling exploded in a cacophony of sound and movement. Metal fragments, shattered glass, and hunks of wood pelted me. I found myself outside next to the gym doors, not knowing how I got there. I curled up and covered my head, praying nothing would crash down on me.

Hissssssssss. The stench of an overheated engine and hot rubber made me gag.

The crushed front of the Suburban had shoved the classroom into a covered storage shed before punching through the opposite wall. Fluids hissed and dripped from under the smashed hood, right beside me. The shed had collapsed onto the SUV.

I was shaking so hard I didn’t think I could get my legs to work. The children.

Don’t worry about the children. Someone will help them. Someone will help me. I just needed to stay put. I’m safe here.

But they wouldn’t respond to someone calling to them. I taught them to be cautious.

If I move, the roof will come down on me. I’ll be crushed. Stay put and be safe. Someone will come for me.

But my students are frightened. I need to help them. Heavenly Father, help me.

I placed my hands on the ground. White powder drifted down on my head. Carefully I crawled away from the SUV.

The beam shifted, sliding sideways.

My crawl became a scramble.

The beam shrieked as it slid across the metal desk holding it up.

I plunged, then rolled away.

The roof of the shed slammed against the ground, sending up more dust and powder.

Leaning against the school, I waited until I could catch my breath. The glass in the door to the gym beside me had shattered. I couldn’t see anything of the driver. I slipped through the frame, wincing at the stabs of pain from the hurtled projectiles.

Ahead of me was a second door leading to the front of the school. A quick glance into the gym showed it empty. I was pretty sure the children had raced through both sets of doors, scattered, and found safety. I’d trained my class of first-through-third graders on what to do in case of an emergency or active shooter. The school board had rolled their eyes at me, assuring me that this was covered in the student handbook and that school shootings wouldn’t happen in a sleepy farming community like LaCrosse, Washington, population 330.

I’d finally convinced them. They allowed the drills and the self-defense class I offered on Tuesday evenings.

Fortunately, my art class was an after-school event, and the rest of the school was essentially empty. We met in a portable building because some of the classrooms were under repair for water damage.

I staggered outside. Mr. Parsons, the school maintenance man, rushed over to me.

“Samantha? Sam? Miss Williams? Are you all right? You’re bleeding. What happened?”

“Help me find the children first.”

“They’re fine. They ran as you taught them.” We looked around the manicured lawns in front of the school buildings.

“Olly olly oxen free!” I called out, voice shaking. I cleared my throat and tried again. “Olly olly oxen free!”

Slowly my class emerged from their hiding places. I counted them as they appeared. Please, Lord . . . Five, six, seven, eight . . . nine. All present and accounted for. My stomach tightened on what could have happened, would have happened, if even one of them had paused to ask, Why run?

“Aren’t you supposed to just say ‘all clear’?” Mr. Parsons asked.

“I know the handbook says that, but anyone could access the emergency plans and use them against the children.”

Several of the children had tear streaks running down their faces, but as soon as they caught sight of me, they started to giggle.

“Miss Williams, you’re all white!”

“You have stuff all over you!”

“You should see yourself!”

I looked down. I was indeed covered in a white powder, probably from the recently installed smashed Sheetrock and insulation. “Oh my. It looks like I’ve turned into the magical snowman.”

“Nooo!” The giggles grew louder. “It’s not winter!”

I bent forward to be on eye level with most of them. “Maybe I’ve become Belle, the white Great Pyrenees from Belle and Sebastien?

“That’s a dog.” The giggles became high-pitched laughter.

I grinned at them. “How about Casper, the friendly ghost?”

The kids were now laughing so hard they couldn’t answer for a moment. Finally Bethany gasped out, “You’re not dead.”

Thank You, Lord. I straightened. “Well then, if I’m not a snowman, dog, or ghost, I must be Miss Williams, and you know what that means.” As they eagerly lined up, I said, “‘I am not afraid of storms . . .’”

“‘For I am learning how to sail my ship,’” the children finished.

Leave it to children’s books. As they approached me, each one gave me a sign as to what type of interaction they wanted. Hands out to the side, a hug. Hand held up in the air, a high five. Closed hand, a fist bump. Right hand sideways, a handshake.

They all wanted hugs.

So did I.

Bethany was the last in line. I tried not to hug her the longest. Teachers aren’t supposed to have favorites.

The school buildings rested on a hill facing the town park. The wail of sirens and stream of cars and trucks announced the arrival of help and parents. I moved my small huddle of children around to the front toward the parking lot so their folks could find them. The parents, once reunited with their son or daughter, peppered me with questions.

“What happened?”

“Was anyone hurt?”

“Was that a drunk driver?”

“Are you okay?”

As I stumbled through various versions of “I don’t know,” a deputy from the Whitman County Sheriff’s Department strolled over. He had to be at least six foot three inches tall, with silver hair, thick black eyebrows, and dark brown eyes that looked like they’d ferret out the facts of any case. He smelled of cigarettes. His name tag said R. Adams. “Ma’am. Looks like you were in the building when the accident happened.”

“Yes. Is the driver—”

“Come with me.” He had a slight New York accent. We walked to the gym, then around to the back side where the accident happened. I had to trot to keep up with him.

“Do you know if the driver is okay?”

His long stride covered a lot of ground. “We don’t know yet.”

The raised gravel parking area near the gym was filling with the LaCrosse ambulance, volunteer fire department, and sheriff’s department vehicles. People were rushing around like ants in a disturbed mound. The Suburban was completely buried under the collapsed roof, and a large group of men and women were working to clear the debris.

Deputy Adams led me to the ambulance where an EMT waited. “Are you hurt?”

“I don’t think—”

“You have a cut on your head.” The EMT had me sit while he checked me over.

Deputy Adams kept an eye on the rescue efforts as he pulled out a small notebook. “You got all the children out safely?”

I winced as the EMT removed a sliver of glass from my hairline. “By the grace of God, yes. They’re all on their way home.”

He nodded and gave me a slight smile, softening his face. “Absolutely. How many people were in the SUV?”

“I don’t know.” I told him about what sounded like gunfire and the sound of an engine and getting the children clear of the room. I left out my cowering in the debris.

“Gunfire? Are you sure?”

“It could have been backfire.”

He looked around, then motioned for an officer to come over. They spoke for a few moments before the man left.

I glanced over at the gathered first responders, parents, and neighbors. What if—

“When did you first see the SUV?” Deputy Adams asked.

I pointed. “He, or whoever was driving, must have come up either First or Hill Avenue, crossed this lot, then shot straight into the building.”

A farmer drove up on a John Deere tractor and began lifting larger chunks of rubble with the bucket.

After the deputy took my name, address, and phone number, he handed me a business card. “I’ll be contacting you soon for your statement. You might want to head home as soon as possible. We want to clear the area.” He strolled away.

More people had arrived and pitched in to free the SUV and its occupants. A truck with a Miller Construction sign on the side parked next to us. Men in hard hats, work boots, and lime-green safety vests got out and set to work.

A pregnant woman in her thirties with long, dark hair pulled into a french braid drifted over and hovered nearby. When the EMT finished putting a bandage on my head and moved away, she approached me. “Hi. I’m Mary Thompson. I overheard you talking to that deputy. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”

“I guess. You’re a reporter?”

“No. Copywriter for a medical company in Spokane.” She rolled her eyes. “Boooooring. You’re Samantha Williams?”

I nodded.

“Well, Samantha—”

“Call me Sam.”

She grinned. “Sam then. You saved all those children. You’re so brave. I would have been scared out of my mind.”

Warmth burned up my neck and across my cheeks. “I . . . ah . . . so . . . um . . . what brought you to LaCrosse from Spokane?” I stood. “That’s 86.9 miles from here.”

“I was already here.”

An officer started herding the onlookers away from the crash. “Move on, folks. Nothing for you to do here.”

“Come on,” Mary grabbed my elbow and pulled me into the shade under a tree.

My brain was buzzing from the adrenaline and all the activity. “I’m sorry. I’m a little—”

“I bet you are. I guess I should start at the beginning. I’m following the story about the body they found last week. And the one they just found.” She waved her hand at the construction workers.

“Bodies?” I knew I was out of touch with the news. I didn’t own a television, computer, or phone. “What bodies? Wait . . . I’m not sure I want to know.” My legs started to buckle.

“Let me help you.” Mary grabbed my arm and helped me sit on a patch of grass. She sat next to me. “Can I get you something or—”

“No, I’ll be fine. Just a little woozy.”

“Take your time.”

Most of the onlookers had now moved around to the front of the school. With nothing to see, they started wandering back to their homes or cars.

She cleared her throat. “So do you want to talk about what just happened or—”

“No. You go ahead. You said there was a body . . . or was it two? Here at the school?”

“No, of course not. I followed someone to here and . . .” She paused at my expression. “I’m not weird or a stalker.” She twisted her lips. “As you can see, I’m pregnant. The baby’s father, my husband, Mike, disappeared two months ago. I reported it to the police but they’re not doing anything. I mean, he could be dead!”

I blinked at her. “Why would you think that?”

“Mike had—I guess you’d call it a wild streak. He had . . . questionable friends. Some issues with drugs in the past, stuff like that.” She absently rubbed her stomach. “I thought the baby would . . . redirect him.” She looked at me. “He’s a good man, just impulsive. And he’d never leave me. Not now. Not without telling me . . . something.”

I took a deep breath. The shaking threatened to start again. “So you thought one of the bodies—”

“Could be Mike.” She swiped a hand across her eyes. “That deputy.” She pointed to Deputy Adams. “I was told he was the investigator on the case. I’ve been following him around trying to get him to talk to me, but he says it’s an active case and won’t talk about it. I followed him here to the school earlier—he has kids here that he was picking up—and was giving it one last go around.”

“Did you find out anything?”

“No. Not yet.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a leather-bound notebook. “I keep track of everything.” She flipped it open and fanned the pages, displaying a mass of tightly written notes. “I won’t give up until I know for sure.”

***

Excerpt from Fallout by Carrie Stuart Parks. Copyright 2022 by Carrie Stuart Parks. Reproduced with permission from Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved.

My Review:

Sam is a woman who just wants time to pursue her interests on her own. While she’s teaching art at a local grade school and SUV comes crashing through wall into her classroom. Because Sam is a safety nut, she has drilled the children on disaster response and everyone gets out alive. The SUV was being driven by employees of Clan Firinn, a rehab center for law enforcement. After that, the story takes a strange turn. Sam’s purse is gone, her apartment is vandalized and she loses her job. Wow. Talk about life taking a turn. We get glimpses into Sam’s past which build into the suspense of the story. Then we meet Dutch who has problems of his own. Carrie Stuart Parks takes us on this bumpy ride leading the reader in all directions. This is an excellent Christian suspense mystery! 

Author Bio:

Carrie Stuart Parks

Carrie Stuart Parks is a Christy, multiple Carol, and Inspy Award–winning author. She was a 2019 finalist in the Daphne du Maurier Award for excellence in mainstream mystery/suspense and has won numerous awards for her fine art as well. An internationally known forensic artist, she travels with her husband, Rick, across the US and Canada teaching courses in forensic art to law-enforcement professionals. The author/illustrator of numerous books on drawing and painting, Carrie continues to create dramatic watercolors from her studio in the mountains of Idaho.

Catch Up With Carrie Stuart Parks:
www.CarrieStuartParks.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @CarrieStuartParks
Instagram – @carriestuarparks
Facebook – @CarrieStuartParksAuthor

GIVEAWAY:

This is a giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Tours for Carrie Stuart Parks and Thomas Nelson. See the widget for entry terms and conditions. Void where prohibited.
 

 

Gambling With Murder

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Ever think about becoming a private investigator? Gambling with Murder has a pretty funny P.I. team of Corrie and Veera and in today’s excerpt they’re looking for treasure in a Los Angeles warehouse. Let’s check out the latest Southern California mystery!

About Gambling With Murder

A late-night call is all it takes for rookie lawyer Corrie Locke to kiss her day job at the movie studio goodbye, and do what she does best: flex her sweet P.I. skills and go undercover to find a senior who’s missing from a posh retirement community. One small stumbling block: skirting past security to gain inside access to the exclusive Villa Sunset. Time to call in the heavy artillery.

Besides former security guard turned legal assistant—now wannabe P.I.—Veera, Corrie relies on a secret weapon: her mother, a surprisingly eager addition to Corrie’s team. Armed with enough pepper spray to take down a band of Navy Seals, Mom impersonates a senior to infiltrate the Villa, Corrie, and Veera in tow. Turns out the job’s not as easy as they’d thought. These seniors have tricks tucked up their sleeves and aren’t afraid of using them.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One – Gambling with Murder by Lida Sideris
Luck be a Lady
I maneuvered around shattered glass, splintered picture frames, and fragments of bubble wrap strewn along the cracked cement floor. Something crunched or crackled beneath my every step. Empty spaces joined hands to form a footpath meandering through the old warehouse. The beam of my flashlight circled around stacks of crates, blankets, old tires—
“Ninja One, see anything yet?” Veera Bankhead’s voice sputtered through the walkie-talkie cinched onto my belt.
Dressing up like ninjas had been Veera’s idea. To help us blend into the night. We wore matching black tunics over black slacks. The hood hid my long hair. A facemask rendered me incognito. Only the slit across my eyes kept me from tripping. Veera was posted in the parking lot outside to discourage unwelcome visitors.
“Looks like a hoarder’s paradise.” I stepped over a pile of well-used sneakers.
“Any idea of what we’re looking for?” she asked.
“Oh, the usual hidden-in-a-warehouse items. A barrel labeled ‘TNT’. A nondescript briefcase filled with rolls of cash. Dorothy’s ruby slippers would be nice.”
By day, Veera and I worked in the legal department of Ameripictures Film Studios. Tonight’s side gig was connected to our day job…by a nearly invisible thread. Props had gone missing from a high-budget movie currently in production. A police investigation was underway, but Veera suspected an inside job. She’d convinced studio security into letting us take a look. An anonymous tip led to a Los Angeles warehouse hidden beneath the 405- freeway. I stepped gingerly over dented soda cans to stay on the path.
“We gotta find something,” Veera said. “Our reputation’s at stake.”
She didn’t mean our reputation in the legal department. She meant our reputation as quasi-professional, unlicensed private investigators. I had my father to thank for showing me the P.I. ropes. Investigating suspicious deaths was what I did best, with help from Veera. It had earned us a level of respect from the studio security crew. That’s how we got the nosing around for missing props gig.
“I still say that new intern is behind the thefts,” Veera said. “He’s been hangin’ out at the prop house every day.”
“Isn’t he inventorying the props?” I asked.
“So he says,” Veera replied.
I had low hopes of finding anything tonight but I had to admit, this was the perfect location to hide stolen goods. A baby elephant could get lost in here. “Did you find out who owns this place?” I asked.
“Working on it,” she replied.
It didn’t hurt matters that Veera had handled parking lot security before becoming my legal assistant. She had connections far and wide in the Southern California security guard world.
I pinned the beam of my light into a dark corner. “That’s strange.” Four large pieces of luggage lay side-by-side, atop a long folding table. Everything surrounding me was in stacks and piles. I quick-stepped closer. The luggage exteriors, aluminum handles, and zippers looked new. Why store unused luggage in a place with worn-out, broken-down stuff?
“Oh-oh,” Veera said.
“Hold on.” I grabbed a suitcase and slid it closer to me. I shone my light on a combination lock. Next to it sat a small keyhole. Pulling out a paperclip from my pants pocket, I shoved it into the keyhole and jiggled it around.
“Two unmarked vehicles drove up,” Veera whispered.
We’d parked my car behind the warehouse. I’d left Veera hiding behind a bottle brush shrub near the entry.
I popped open the lid of the suitcase. Folded bedsheets lay on top. Easing them aside, I gaped at the blood-red cape with a stylized golden “S” on the back. “It’s Superman.”
“The cars parked next to each other,” Veera said.
To the side of the cape lay a pillowcase. I ran my fingers over something odd-shaped and bulky inside. I unwrapped it to find a one-of-a-kind, golden gun.
“No way.” A cigarette case formed the handle. The trigger was a cufflink and a fountain pen served as the barrel. It was a prop gun from a James Bond film.
“Two muscular guys came out of a van,” Veera said. “There’s a third-person taking his sweet time exiting a Prius. Looks to be someone smaller, older by the way he moves. And he’s wearing a dress, which means he could be a female. Headed your way. If there’s a backdoor, I’d use it.”
“Can’t. I hit the jackpot.” I spun around. Where to hide?

Pick up your copy of Gambling with Murder from these online retailers:

Amazon

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About the Author

Lida Sideris’ first stint after law school was a newbie lawyer’s dream: working as an entertainment attorney for a movie studio…kind of like her heroine, Corrie Locke, except without the homicides. Lida was one of two national winners of the Helen McCloy Mystery Writers of America Scholarship and a Killer Nashville, Silver Falchion Award Finalist. She lives in the northern tip of Southern California with her family, rescue dogs and a flock of uppity chickens.

www.lidasideris.com

https://www.facebook.com/lidasideris

Twitter: @lidasideris

Instagram: @lida_sideris

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The Killer Sermon

Listen to this blog post as a podcast.

We all seem to have different opinions these days, but what happens when people on different sides of an issue have to come together to find a killer? The issue? Pro-choice and pro-life. I love the idea of any story that promotes unity to achieve a common goal. It’s what the world needs now.

More About The Killer Sermon

An aging priest in rural Wisconsin gives an impassioned Christmas homily condemning abortion as murder and exhorting his parishioners to stop it.  A former mayor responds by starting a hunger strike in city hall, and the editor of the local weekly newspaper begins running a counter at the top of each edition that estimates the number of abortions performed since Roe v Wade.  A third member of the congregation takes a more lethal approach and begins to target reproductive rights physicians for murder.  Cole Huebsch is a pro-life leaning Milwaukee FBI agent. Michele Fields is a pro-choice leaning reporter. They need to set aside their differences to catch the killer before the country is torn apart. The Killer Sermon is a fast moving thriller that reminds us that our words matter, and that regardless of how big our differences on divisive issues, we can still find respect, and maybe more…

The Killer Sermon is Available on Amazon

Excerpt: THE KILLER SERMON
Chapter Twenty-Three
The Fast
“Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning…” — Joel 2:12
John Lawler sat in the lobby of the small, three-story painted-white brick building on Blackhawk Avenue that served as Prairie du Chien’s City Hall. He’d been there three days and the city employees worried about him. The former mayor was eighty-six. His thin, white hair was cropped so close to his scalp it mirrored the three-day stubble that covered his chin and sagging cheeks. His eyes were slate gray and had a depth to them that spoke of wisdom. His heavily lined face showed the wear and tear of hard battles with prostate cancer and a heart attack, combined with deep laugh lines carved by raising four children to adulthood in the best possible way.
The oldest of Lawler’s four children burst through the doors of City Hall just then. Matthew was at his father’s side in six long strides. “Dad! What the hell are you doing here in your pajamas?” he said, looking down at his father snuggled into a sleeping bag on the floor. “The mayor said you’ve been here haunting the place for days.”
“I’m on a hunger strike,” the old man said in a quiet, dignified voice. He wasn’t used to one of his kids towering over him with his voice raised. He felt somewhat intimidated, but wasn’t about to show it.
“Against what, for Pete’s sakes?” Matthew demanded loudly. All around them, in the rooms that faced the lobby, people could hear at least the son’s side of the conversation. Some of those people listening had worked for the old man and loved him greatly.
The father’s voice was steady and firm, but low. “I’m not eating again until people in this country stop killing their babies. I’m fasting until we outlaw abortions.”
“What? Does this have anything to do with that Christmas sermon Father Wagner gave?” The son was worried. When his father made up his mind about something, when he felt he was right on something important, he wasn’t easily deterred. If he was serious about this, then he’d just told his eldest son that he was going to kill himself, slowly, here in the lobby of City Hall. Matthew slid down the wall and slumped into a sitting position near his father’s head. His voice lost its bravado and came out soft and scared. “Please, Dad,” he whispered, “come home with me. You’ve got kids and a wife who need you and love you. Grandkids, too. If you won’t reconsider for me, then do it for Mom. Have you thought about how this will affect her?”
“It was her idea,” his father said, a broad smile lighting his face. “I told her I wanted to do something, to tilt at one more windmill before I die, and she suggested this. She said, ‘If it worked for men like Gandhi and Cesar Chavez, then why not me? And why not now?’ She’s wonderful. Almost seventy years I’ve been with her, and she still surprises me. Oh, how I love her, and you kids. You’ve been my greatest gifts.”
Matthew shook his head. “I appreciate your commitment, Dad. But I can’t let you go through with it. The mayor has called a special meeting of the common council tonight, and I’ll be there to tell them that your sons and daughters want you home, even if you have to be dragged out of here in handcuffs by Prairie’s finest.” He started to get to his feet, but his dad caught his shirt in surprisingly strong fingers and pulled his son back down to him.
He leaned in close. “Listen, son,” he began, tears pooling in his eyes, “I’ve tried to do the best I could for you. There’s no book that teaches a young man how to be a perfect dad, but I did my best. The one thing I always wanted you to know was that I would love you…come hell or high water…forever. Like with your mom, in good times and in bad. People with better educations than mine call it unconditional love. Well, that’s the only kind my parents taught me, and the only kind I ever wanted you to know.”
“But, Dad. I can’t walk out of here and come back in a few weeks to bury you. That’s not love.”
“I’m not asking you to turn your back on me, Matty. I want you to go to that meeting tonight and fight for me. You’re the best damn lawyer in La Crosse. Make sure they don’t forget that! Tell them your dad’s not crazy, and that his entire family stands behind him. Tell them there’s still something called free speech in this country and something else called civil disobedience. Tell them your old man’s willing to die trying to save the lives of kids who haven’t even been born yet. And get Grant Grae from the Courier Press there; make sure he gets it all down. We may not change any laws before I die, Matty, but we could sure raise some awareness on this issue. We need to move this sick business into the bright light of the truth. I don’t think it will survive that, not in the end.” His father held Matthew’s hand and spoke to him in a voice swirling with emotions. “All my life I’ve wanted to be there when you and the rest of my family needed me,” he said, squeezing the hand more tightly. “Now, I’m depending on you to be there for me.”
His son broke down and grabbed his dad, burying his face in his father’s pajama top, staining it with his tears.

The Killer Sermon is Available on Amazon

About the Author

Kevin earned both a BA in journalism and later an MBA from Marquette University. He has worked as the outdoor writer for a daily newspaper, taught marketing and management classes at both the undergraduate and graduate level, and served as an administrator of an urban safety net hospital. 

The Killer Sermon is Kevin Kluesner’s debut novel.  It introduces FBI agent Cole Huebsch and a thriller series set in Wisconsin and the Midwest. He might be the only person to claim membership in both the American College of Healthcare Executives and the International Thriller Writers. Kevin live in New Berlin, Wisconsin, with his soulmate and wife Janet. 

Catch Up with Kevin

 kevinkluesner.net

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Sanctuary

Sanctuary by C.L. Tolbert Banner

 

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We have another story in New Orleans this week, a city filled with haunting mysteries and interesting people. Sanctuary takes us to that underbelly with law professor Emma Thornton who tries to help a young woman accused of a crime she didn’t commit. Throw in a cult leader and the nearly impossible job of figuring out who to trust and you have today’s mystery. 

 

Synopsis:

Sanctuary by C.L. Tolbert

A Thornton Mystery

In SANCTUARY, the third book in the Thornton Mystery Series, Emma is back again. This time she’s agreed to represent a former client accused of killing the leader of a suspicious cult in New Orleans.

James Crosby, the charismatic leader of the Japaprajnas, is found dead one late afternoon, his body draped over an iron fence in the courtyard of the nineteenth-century house where he and several cult members work and live. Although police initially presumed his fall was an accident, they quickly discover that James received a lethal dose of a drug before he was pushed from his office balcony.

The next day the police discover a syringe and a substantial amount of the drug which killed James in Stacey Robert’s bedroom. The nineteen-year-old cult member is brought in for questioning, which leads to her arrest. Emma, who had represented Stacey when she was a sixteen-year-old runaway, agrees to take the case.

Convinced she is innocent Emma begins an investigation into the cult and its members. Emma’s questions uncover dangerous secrets, illicit activities, and the exploitation of innocent victims. Emma’s suspicions lead her to the killer’s trail and the case’s final resolution.

Praise for Sanctuary:

“Brace yourself. Deadly personalities, hidden agendas, and long-buried secrets threaten law professor Emma Thornton, after she agrees to defend a terrified young woman accused of murdering the charismatic leader of an oppressive cult. The dark heart of New Orleans has never felt so dangerous.”

Roger Johns, Author of the Wallace Hartman Mysteries

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Level Best Books
Series: The Thornton Mystery Series, Book 3
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Chapter Twelve

The French Quarter was home to Stacey. She could relax there. She loved the winding streets, the ancient buildings, the ironwork on the balconies, and the festival-like spirit of Jackson Square. Plus, it was easy to blend in. With at least as many tourists as native New Orleanians, no one stood out more than anyone else. The exceptions ˗ the homeless, the street performers, and artists ˗ were part of the scenery. They blended into the background in a multicolor splash.

She needed money and had been watching the tarot card readers in the square. They made thirty-five dollars a read, plus tips. She could do that. She’d been taught the Celtic spread years ago and still had her deck tucked away with the rest of her stuff. It had taken her a few days to get squared away. Yesterday, she’d found a discarded chair on the street in one of the residential areas of the Quarter. She knew someone who worked at a pizza place right off of Pirate’s Alley, a small street next to St. Louis Cathedral. She’d asked if she could stash the chair behind their dumpster, and he’d agreed to it. That was helpful since she could store her things close to the place where she’d be reading. Now she just needed a small table or a box and a second chair, and she’d be ready.

Even though the city required a license and permit for the artists who painted in Jackson Square, there were no such requirements for card readers. But, every once in a while, the Jackson Square artists proposed an ordinance to the City Council to remove the fortune-tellers. So far, they’d been unsuccessful, and recently the readers had come back in full force. They added an ambiance to the area, especially when they burned their incense. She liked the way it smelled.

Stacey glanced at her reflection as she walked by a shop with a large plate glass window. She still wasn’t accustomed to her new look. She’d used some of the money she’d saved to purchase hair color and had dyed her honey blonde hair a dark brown. She’d also cut it much shorter with a pair of cheap scissors in hopes of disguising her appearance. She’d done it herself, and not very well. She didn’t like the jagged ends. But overall, it worked. She had to admit she looked like a different person and thought it was possible to sit in full view in the middle of Jackson Square, conduct tarot card readings, and not be recognized. At least not by the likes of police officers or others who might be looking for her.

She crammed her hand in her pocket, making sure that the wad of dollar bills she’d neatly folded and covered with several rubber bands was still there. One of the problems of not having a place with a door to lock was that you had to carry your valuables with you. She still had some of the money she’d saved from working at the Temple. She was frugal, eating only one meal a day, and that was a cheap one. But she’d been on her own for four days, and her money would run out soon. She hoped her plan to make more money in Jackson Square was a good one.

Stacey avoided shelters. Emma knew everyone in the city who ran them and would look for her at women’s shelters before she’d look anywhere else. But Stacey had found the perfect place to stay about three miles away from the Quarter—a small chapel in the middle of a cemetery in the Bywater District. It was called St. Roch’s and was named after the patron saint of dogs, invalids, and the falsely accused. The cemetery, the street, and the surrounding community were all named after the saint. Locals mispronounced the chapel’s name, calling it St. Roach’s. Even though the structure was crumbling, it still provided the shelter Stacey needed.

St. Roch’s had been built in 1867 by a priest who had prayed to St. Roch during the yellow fever pandemic in New Orleans, asking the saint to spare his community. Ten years later, when no one from his parish had succumbed to yellow fever, he made good on his promise, built the shrine, and dedicated it to the saint. It was a small chapel comprised of only two tiny rooms. One room contained a statue of St. Roch and his loyal dog, and the other room was filled with human prostheses, braces, glass eyeballs, glasses, false teeth, and praying hands, rosaries, and religious figurines, all offered to St. Roch as thanks for healing. Bricks on the ground in that room were inscribed with the word thanks and littered with coins. Over the years, a dusty haze had settled over the various prostheses at the shrine. The walls were crumbling, and a statue of Mary had started to disintegrate. Most people considered the chapel creepy, so creepy, that they avoided it at night, although tourists occasionally visited during the day. Rumor had it that voodoo ceremonies were carried out in the cemetery after dark, although Stacey never saw anything like that. She slept in the tiny room with St. Roch and his dog.

It took between forty-five minutes and an hour to walk to the French Quarter from the chapel, depending on whether Stacey stopped for anything. She woke up early in the morning and left the chapel well before any tourists might arrive. She usually walked to Decatur Street, then down to the Riverwalk Mall, avoiding Esplanade Avenue entirely. She liked the restrooms at the mall. They were clean and usually unoccupied early in the morning. She washed up and brushed her teeth. Once, she’d even shampooed her hair. She carried her bag of dirty laundry with her and would occasionally rinse out her things in the sink. What little makeup and toiletries she needed were easily picked up from department store samples. She walked back to the chapel before dark. At night, the same laundry bag served as her pillow.

By Friday, Stacey had found the second chair, a wooden box tall enough to use as a table, and an interesting scarf someone had stuffed in a Goodwill box along the side of the road. She’d decided to throw it over the makeshift table to give her fortune-telling booth some panache. She was ready for business.

On Saturday morning, Stacey walked to the Quarter, freshened up, grabbed her table and chairs from behind the dumpster at the pizza place, and set up her tarot stand, all before ten o’clock. She was pleased with the location. Only five feet from the steps of the St. Louis Cathedral, it was a prime spot. Tourists swarmed to the cathedral at all hours of the day and were already beginning to mill about. Within fifteen minutes, a middle-aged woman wearing a baseball hat, a neon green bandana, and pink tennis shoes, approached Stacey.

“How much do you charge?”

Stacey stood, her hands behind her back, and smiled. “Thirty-five dollars.”

“How long’s the reading?”

“It’s for fifteen minutes.”

“Okay.” She looked around the square. “Looks like that’s the going rate. But you need a sign. Let’s go.”

She sat down across from Stacey, perched on the tiny seat, and waited for Stacey to shuffle the deck.

Stacey mixed the cards a couple of times, then set the stack in front of the woman.

“Cut the cards into three smaller decks.” She’d noticed a man staring at them from a distance. He was too far away to see clearly. Perhaps he was staring at someone else.

The woman cut the cards.

“Now pick one of the three decks.”

The woman chose one.

Stacey fanned the cards from the chosen deck out in front of the woman and removed the other cards. She thought the man looked familiar. He started to walk toward them. As he approached, she could tell who he was. Raphael. He stopped on the stairs of the cathedral to watch.

“Choose fourteen cards.” Stacey glanced up at Raphael. He hadn’t budged.

The woman carefully chose fourteen cards and handed them to Stacey, who began laying them out in the traditional Celtic cross. The woman had chosen the King of Pentacles as card one, crossed by the Tower. The King of Pentacles, which represented business acumen, was in the position of present influence. And the Tower, which was a card of catastrophic or shocking change, and chaos, crossed the King, indicating the nature of his obstacles. The third card, placed under the cross, was the Death card. Death also represented change, and even occasionally, but rarely, death. Stacey froze. Had the cards picked up on what had happened to James instead of the woman’s situation?

Stacey sensed movement and glanced up. She flinched when she saw Raphael walking toward their table. Raphael stopped about a foot away from where she was reading, stopped, then crossed his arms.

“This is a private reading.” Stacey stopped laying out cards. Her heart was pounding.

“Interesting that you got the death card, don’t you think?”

“Sir, please leave. This isn’t any of your concern.” She didn’t want him drawing attention to her. She just wanted him to go away.

“I’ll leave. Sorry I interrupted.” He nodded toward Stacey’s client. “Thousand pardons, ma’am.”

“If you haven’t cut into my fifteen minutes, I’m fine.”

“Of course not.” Stacey smiled at the woman. “You’ll get your full reading.” She stood and turned toward Raphael. “We have nothing further to discuss.”

Raphael shrugged. “I’ve been worried about you, and so are a couple of other people. And just in case you thought that new hair color was a disguise, let me just tell you it isn’t. If I know who you are, so will others. They’d be very interested in knowing where you are now and what you’re doing.” He nodded toward the cards in her hand. “Good luck with that.”

“You need to leave immediately.”

Raphael started backing away. “I’ll be back.” He put his hand to his forehead in a farewell salute. “You can count on that.”

Stacey didn’t know if Raphael was threatening or warning her. But she knew she didn’t want him to come back to the Quarter to see her anytime soon.

Stacey glanced back at her client. “I’m so sorry for the interruption. Where were we?” She sat back down. “Oh yes.” She examined the cards. “Has a man in your life undergone a significant change, the end of a relationship, or even a death?”

“No, not that I know of.”

“Alright, well, let’s proceed.” Stacey watched as Raphael retreated across the square and took a right at Pirate’s Alley.

She continued to lay out cards for the woman.

The fourth card, the card of past events, was the seven of swords, the card of deception. As far as she was concerned, that card certainly applied to James. He’d deceived her from the very beginning. She’d fallen for his tricks. She couldn’t see through his deception at first, but she caught on, finally. The fifth card, the card of the present, was the Chariot, the card of courage and movement. She smiled. She was hoping to do something about the mess she’d gotten herself in. At least she wasn’t sitting in jail like a scared rabbit. For the final card in the cross, the card of the near future, the woman had drawn Justice. She held the final card in her hand for a couple of seconds before laying it down in front of the woman. Even though she hadn’t drawn the cards, Stacey still believed they were telling her story, not the woman’s. Justice, the card of fair decisions, gave her comfort.

“The final outcome, Justice, relates to karmic justice. It refers to legal matters as well, but generally, it’s telling you that all actions have consequences. Have your own actions contributed in any way to any of the circumstances you find yourself in today?”

The woman nodded. “I can see that they have. I’m not sure that a man in my life has met any sort of catastrophic end, though. Maybe something’s coming up. I hope not.” She shook her head, reached into her pocket, and handed Stacey three tens and a five. “That was fun. I love getting tarot readings.”

Stacey watched the woman walk off and thought about the consequences of her recent actions. She’d been trying to avoid that for months. It was so easy to blame others. It was also easy to turn a blind eye to what was going on in front of you. She was young, but she wasn’t stupid.

That day she had four other readings, making a total of $175.00. She was stunned. She’d made money at the temple, but they held on to it for her rent and food. So, she’d never had much cash, even though the temple made seventy-five dollars per massage. She packed up for the night, brought her table and chairs back to the pizza restaurant, stashed them behind the dumpster again, and tipped the manager. She was glad she knew the guy. That was the thing about New Orleans. If you knew how to get around, you could make things work for you, even though it could be a dangerous place.

She was starved and decided to treat herself to a shrimp po’ boy from Felix’s on Bourbon. She hadn’t had one in forever, and she felt like celebrating. And now that she had enough cash to last a few days, she could afford it. Plus, she wanted to walk by ETC to talk to the girl who was working in the back of the shop. She didn’t know who it was, and she didn’t care. But she hoped she could work out a deal with her. Pay her a little cash and get her to leave the back door open so she could start sleeping there at night instead of St. Roch’s. The chapel floor wasn’t comfortable, and the cemetery wasn’t safe at night. An option would be nice. It was worth a try.

***

Excerpt from Sanctuary by C.L. Tolbert. Copyright 2022 by C.L. Tolbert. Reproduced with permission from C.L. Tolbert. All rights reserved.

My Review

Professor Emma Thornton comes to the rescue of a young woman and former client who works as a masseuse at the Japaprajna house located in New Orleans. The girl has a troubled history, and when the leader of the cult experiences a grisly death after being drugged, she is set up for the crime. Emma begins to investigate the shady doings at the house including a newly-formed religion and young women who are the victims of the leader. There are plenty of ins and outs to the investigation and the reader never quite knows who to trust. Tolbert shows us the scary side of New Orleans through the character of Emma who takes her share of chances to get to the bottom of the mystery. Nicely written, fast-paced mystery!

Author Bio:

C.L. Tolbert

After winning the Georgia State Bar Journal’s fiction contest in 2010, C.L. Tolbert developed the winning story into a full-scale novel. OUT FROM SILENCE was published in December of 2019, and is the first novel in the Thornton Mysteries series. Her second book, THE REDEMPTION, was published in February of 2021, and SANCTUARY, the third book in the series, was published in July of 2022.

Licensed in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Georgia, C.L. practiced law for thirty-five years before retiring to pursue writing. During her legal career she spent several years teaching at Loyola Law School in New Orleans, where she was the Director of the Homeless Clinic. She also has a Masters of Special Education, and taught in a public school prior to enrolling in law school.

C.L. has two children and three grandchildren, and lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and schnauzer.

Catch Up With C.L. Tolbert:
www.CLTolbert.com
Goodreads
Instagram – @cltolbertwrites
Twitter – @cltolbertwrites
Facebook – @cltolbertwriter

Giveaway:

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A Nice Place to Die

Listen to this blog post as a podcast.

Time for a mystery with a policeman at the center of the story! No amateur sleuths today as we joined the Belfast Police investigating a murder. A Nice Place to Die is a true Irish police procedural with rich characters and a fascinating mystery to solve.

More About A Nice Place to Die

The body of a young woman is found by a river outside Belfast and Detective Sergeant Ryan McBride makes a heart-wrenching discovery at the scene, a discovery he chooses to hide even though it could cost him the investigation – and his career.

The victim was a loner but well-liked. Why would someone want to harm her? And is her murder connected to a rapist who’s stalking the local pubs? As Ryan untangles a web of deception and lies, his suspects die one by one, leading him to a dangerous family secret and a murderer who will stop at nothing to keep it.

And still he harbors his secret …

Excerpt

Nice Place to Die
Chapter 1
Sunday, October 23
They reminded him of mourners at a funeral.
Down where the body lay, officers searched the undergrowth, their hands clasped behind their backs and their heads bowed.
Detective Sergeant Ryan McBride pulled on his gloves. He should really grab a Tyvek suit, or booties at least, but he’d run out of patience, couldn’t be arsed to hang around any longer. Now that he was here, he wanted to get to the scene. The CSIs were clustered near the river and had locked the vans. God forbid, in the middle of an area crawling with police, they should leave the doors open. In Portglenone Forest’s windswept car park, that scent of an Irish autumn, damp leaves and woodsmoke, hung in the air, while crows, black and boisterous, flapped and cawed in the dark trees.
Ryan’s partner stood by one of the cars interviewing the man who had found the body. Tall and thin, DS Billy Lamont shivered in the cool air, his boyish face blotched red and his shoulders tight. The witness, a stocky man with a thatch of ginger hair, slumped sideways inside the vehicle’s open back door, his feet touching the wet grass. A little black terrier jumped and yapped incessantly at his heels, aware perhaps of its owner’s distress.
Ryan headed over to the burly constable manning the entrance and signed the crime log.
“Here,” the officer said and, reaching behind him, produced a pair of booties.
“Cheers,” Ryan nodded his thanks as he passed around the tape. The crime-scene photographer, carrying a large bag and a couple of cameras, huffed up toward him. He was a strapping, florid-faced lad. “I already took shots of everything, boss, but if there’s anything extra you want, let me know. I needed to shoot the video before the FMO sees her, he should be here any minute. I’m going to grab a coffee—freezing my tits off here.”
Ryan flailed a little on the way down and cursed under his breath. Too much of a hurry—too keen. He glanced around, remembering. He’d walked along the banks of the River Bann years ago with a girl called Maggie. He’d told her that the river had its source on Slieve Muck in the Mournes, and they’d had a good laugh at that—trust the Irish to name a mountain after muck.
But there was nothing to laugh at now.
An early mist drifted in fragments around a young woman’s body. With her face twisted to the right and hidden by a tumble of copper hair, she looked like a careless sunbather. She wore a thick, cream-coloured sweater over black trousers. One of her red shoes had toppled away and lay abandoned by a mossy rock. It caught his eye, shiny leather. A shock of crimson in the weeds.
He crouched on a protective metal grid the crime scene techs had set by the body. For the first time he hesitated. Caught something about her, what was it? The shade of her hair? He took out his pen and gently lifted a glossy, reddish-brown ringlet from her cheek. His heart skipped a beat.
No, no.
He stood quickly and inhaled cold morning air. The sudden blood rush made him lightheaded.
He knew her.
Oh, Christ, he’d slept with her….
He glanced at the river—a pretty enough place, if a little gloomy when the sun went in. On the far bank, a willow tree’s bare branches skimmed the water’s surface like long pale fingers.
Further along to his left, two constables ran blue and white tape between the trees while scenes-of-crime officers searched the undergrowth. The little dog’s sharp barks echoed across the water as he exhaled, hunkered down again, and focused on her body.
He studied her, the skin as white and textured as eggshell. A few faint freckles dotted the side of her nose. Half open eyes. Thick brown eyelashes cast a soft shadow across her cheek. She had been pretty in life—beautiful. And more than that, he’d felt a connection to her, a vulnerability. The beginnings of a bruise crept around from the other side of her face. She hadn’t died right away, and that small detail bothered him. Someone had hit her hard, a brutal blow. Blood, viscous and mat