Search Results for: every last fear

#Review | EVERY LAST FEAR by Alex Finlay

Every Last Fear by Alex Finlay
Genre: DomesticThriller, Political Thriller
Published by St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: March 2, 2021
ASIN: B08BYC481D
Pages: 368
Review Copy From: Publisher via NetGalley
Edition: Kindle
My Rating: 5

Synopsis (via GR)

“They found the bodies on a Tuesday.”

So begins this twisty and breathtaking novel that traces the fate of the Pine family, a thriller that will both leave you on the edge of your seat and move you to tears.

After a late night of partying, NYU student Matt Pine returns to his dorm room to devastating news: nearly his entire family—his mom, his dad, his little brother and sister—have been found dead from an apparent gas leak while vacationing in Mexico. The local police claim it was an accident, but the FBI and State Department seem far less certain—and they won’t tell Matt why.

The tragedy makes headlines everywhere because this isn’t the first time the Pine family has been thrust into the media spotlight. Matt’s older brother, Danny—currently serving a life sentence for the murder of his teenage girlfriend Charlotte—was the subject of a viral true crime documentary suggesting that Danny was wrongfully convicted. Though the country has rallied behind Danny, Matt holds a secret about his brother that he’s never told anyone: the night Charlotte was killed Matt saw something that makes him believe his brother is guilty of the crime.

When Matt returns to his small hometown to bury his parents and siblings, he’s faced with a hostile community that was villainized by the documentary, a frenzied media, and memories he’d hoped to leave behind forever. Now, as the deaths in Mexico appear increasingly suspicious and connected to Danny’s case, Matt must unearth the truth behind the crime that sent his brother to prison—putting his own life in peril—and forcing him to confront his every last fear.

Told through multiple points-of-view and alternating between past and present, Alex Finlay’s Every Last Fear is not only a page-turning thriller, it’s also a poignant story about a family managing heartbreak and tragedy, and living through a fame they never wanted.

My Thoughts

After seeing so many posts about this book that I decided to give it a shot. However, I am sometimes skeptical when I see a lot of hype about a book because in the past, unfortunately, I have been disappointed. Was I this time? Especially since, over the past year or so, the majority of my reading has been psychological thrillers, and with this being a debut, could it stand up to those that I have read before it.

The Pine family has become famous, not only in their home state but nationally due to a documentary, whereas the oldest son, Danny, was convicted for the murder of a local girl. His father, Evan, vowed that he would prove that Danny was innocent. On another tip, the family travel to Mexico to chase it down. However, Evan, mother Liv, daughter, Maggie, and youngest son Tommy never make it back alive. Matt, the 2nd oldest son, and Danny are the sole survivors and now there are rumors that they killed the family for the inheritance. Was it foul play or was it a tragic accident as the Mexican officials claimed it was?

I was hooked from that first sentence, “They found the bodies on a Tuesday.”.

The plot was intricately weaved and interweaved where the story was told by different members of the family and alternating between the before and after of the Mexican tragedy. The narrative was so expertly written that I was transported into the story. The characters were believable and three-dimensional. The suspense was intense and profound with no letup. So many twists and turns, and just when I thought I might be onto something, the story veered again.

An extraordinary debut novel that blew me away! A dynamic and captivating read!!! I suggest putting this author on your radar! I can’t wait to see what he has in store next!!!

Purchase Links: Amazon 🔗 | Barnes & Noble 🔗 | Goodreads 🔗

REVIEW DISCLAIMER

  • This blog was founded on the premise to write honest reviews, to the best of my ability, no matter who from, where from and/or how the book was obtained, and will continue to do so, even if it is through PICT or PBP.
  • I received a copy of this book, at no charge to me, in exchange for my honest review. No items that I receive are ever sold…they are kept by me, or given to family and/or friends.
  • I do not have any affiliation with Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble. I am providing link(s) solely for visitors that may be interested in purchasing this Book/EBook.
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    HER EVERY MOVE by Kelly Irvin || #Showcase #Giveaway

    Her Every Move

    by Kelly Irvin

    February 8 – March 5, 2021 Tour

    Synopsis:

    Her Every Move by Kelly Irvin

    He’s a cop trying to stop a serial bomber. And she’ll stop at nothing to clear her own name.

    When a deadly bomb goes off during a climate change debate, librarian and event coordinator Jackie Santoro becomes the prime suspect. Her motive, according to Detective Avery Wick: to avenge the suicide of her prominent father, who was accused of crimes by a city councilman attending the event.

    Though Avery has doubts about Jackie’s guilt, he can’t exonerate her even after an extremist group takes responsibility for the bombing and continues to attack San Antonio’s treasured public spaces.

    As Jackie tries to hold her shattered family together, she has no choice but to proceed with plans for the Caterina Ball, the library system’s biggest annual fundraiser. But she also fears the event provides the perfect opportunity for the bomber to strike again.

    Despite their mistrust, Jackie and Avery join forces to unmask the truth—before the death toll mounts even higher.

    Book Details:

    Genre: Suspense
    Published by: Thomas Nelson
    Publication Date: February 9, 2021
    Number of Pages: 352
    ISBN: 0785231900 (ISBN13: 9780785231905)
    Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Christianbook | Goodreads

     

    Read an excerpt:

    A steady stream of patrons stood and edged toward the center aisle. A low murmur swelled to the sound of hundreds of people all talking at once. Soon they’d be in front of Jackie, impeding her progress from the parking garage and on the narrow, one-way downtown streets of San Antonio.

    “Great job, Jackie. Looks like your boss was wrong.” Sandoval’s constituent services director, Tony Guerra, sauntered up the aisle toward her. “Climate change opponents can coexist amicably in the same space. And so can city manager and city council staff.”

    “Thanks, but it took a whole host of partners to make this happen. And it’s not over yet.” Jackie stuck her hand on the door lever that would release her to the Tobin’s massive lobby.

    She liked Tony, which was a good thing since he’d asked Estrella to marry him. However, he wore his political ambitions like an obnoxious neon-pink tie.

    “I have to go. I want to make sure there are no last-minute snags with the reception. Then it’s back to fine-tuning the altars for the Catrina Ball. It’s only a week away, and I’m behind because of the debate.”

    “You never let up, do you? Are we still on for the Spurs game tomorrow—”

    A powerful force knocked Jackie from her feet.

    Her skull banged on the hardwood floor.

    Sharp projectiles pelted her face in a painful ping-ping.

    What’s happening?

    Estrella? Tony? Bella?

    Muffled screams and even her own moaning seemed strangely distant. “Estrella? Tony? Bella?”

    If they answered, Jackie couldn’t hear them. She dragged herself onto her hands and knees. Glass and sharp metal pierced both. She forced open burning eyes.

    Heavy black smoke shrouded the hall. Metal and debris like deadly confetti showered her. She raised her arm to her forehead to protect her face from the remnants of folding chairs and electronics.

    Warm blood dripped from her nose. The acrid taste of smoke and fear collected in her mouth. Her stomach heaved. Her pulse pounded so hard dizziness threatened to overcome her.

    No, no, no. Do not pass out. People need help.

    Shrieking alarms bellowed.

    Water, like torrential rain, poured from above. Rain, inside? Her ricocheting thoughts made no sense. Jackie shook her head. Neither the smoke nor the clanging in her brain subsided.

    Sprinkler system.

    The smoke had triggered the sprinklers.

    Where there’s smoke there’s fire. The old cliché ran
    circles in her mind like a children’s nursery rhyme.

    Estrella’s mama and papa would never forgive Jackie if something happened to their sweet daughter. Mercedes and Mateo always saw Jackie as the instigator of trouble. And they were usually right.

    Ignoring pain and panic, she crawled forward. Sharp metal bit into her skin. Where were her shoes?

    Finally she encountered a warm, writhing body. “Tony?”

    “What happened?” He struggled to sit up. Blood poured from an open wound on his scalp, his nose, and a cut on his lip. “I have to get to Estrella and Diego.”

    He might have yelled, but Jackie could barely make out the words. She leaned back on her haunches. “You’re hurt. Does anything feel broken?”

    “No, but I can’t hear anything.” He wiped at his face. Blood streaked his once crisply starched white shirt. “Why can’t I hear?”

    “It’ll pass. We have to get everyone out.”

    With a groan, Tony leaned over and vomited on the floor. He wiped his mouth with his sleeve. “Okay, let’s go.”

    “Everyone out. If you can walk on your own, evacuate.” One of the contract security guards hired for the debate loomed over them. “The bomb squad is on the way. Go, go.”

    “We’re fine. We’ll help get the others out.”

    “Negative. Get out, there could be more bombs.”

    Bombs.

    ***

    Excerpt from Her Every Move by Kelly Irvin. Copyright 2021 by Kelly Irvin. Reproduced with permission from HarperCollins. All rights reserved.

     

     

    Author Bio:

    Kelly Irvin

    Bestseller Kelly Irvin is the author of 19 books, including romantic suspense and Amish romance. Publishers Weekly called Closer Than She Knows “a briskly written thriller.” The Library Journal said of her novel Tell Her No Lies, “a complex web with enough twists and turns to keep even the most savvy romantic suspense readers guessing until the end.” The two-time ACFW Carol Award finalist worked as a newspaper reporter for six years on the Texas-Mexico border. Those experiences fuel her romantic suspense novels set in Texas. A retired public relations professional, Kelly now writes fiction full-time. She lives with her husband professional photographer Tim Irvin in San Antonio. They have two children, three grandchildren, and two ornery cats.

    Visit Kelly Irvin Online:
    www.KellyIrvin.com
    Goodreads – kellyirvin
    BookBub – @KellyIrvin
    Instagram – kelly_irvin
    Twitter – @Kelly_S_Irvin
    Facebook – Kelly.Irvin.Author

     

     

    Tour Participants:

    Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!

     

     

    Giveaway!:

    This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Kelly Irvin. There will be 3 winners. Each inner will receive (1) physical copy of Her Every Move by Kelly Irwin (U.S. addresses only). The giveaway begins on February 8, 2021 and runs through March 7, 2021. Void where prohibited.

    a Rafflecopter giveaway

     

     

    Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

     

    THE THINGS THAT LAST FOREVER by Peter W.J. Hayes | #Showcase #Interview #Giveaway

    The Things That Last Forever by Peter W.J. Hayes Banner

     

     

    The Things That Last Forever

    by Peter W. J. Hayes

    On Tour: January 1 – February 28, 2021

    Synopsis:

    The Things That Last Forever by Peter W. J. Hayes

    After a house fire hospitalizes his partner and forces him onto medical leave, Pittsburgh Bureau of Police detective Vic Lenoski starts a desperate search for the woman who set the blaze. She is the one person who knows what happened to his missing teenage daughter, but as a fugitive, she’s disappeared so thoroughly no one can find her.

    Risking his job and the wrath of the district attorney, Vic resorts to bargaining with criminal suspects for new leads, many of which point to North Dakota. He flies there, only to discover he is far from everything he knows, and his long-cherished definitions of good and bad are fading as quickly as his leads. His only chance is one last audacious roll of the dice. Can he stay alive long enough to discover the whereabouts of his daughter and rebuild his life? Or is everything from his past lost forever?

    “The mystery plot itself is riveting…a captivating and emotionally intelligent crime drama.” — Kirkus Reviews

    Book Details:

    Genre: Mystery: Police Procedural
    Published by: Level Best Books
    Publication Date: August 1, 2020
    Number of Pages: 294
    ISBN: 978-1-947915-56-5
    Series: A Vic Lenoski Mystery; Pittsburgh Trilogy #3 || Each is a Stand Alone Mystery
    Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

    Read an excerpt:

    Chapter 1

    Sometimes you walk into a room and what’s inside changes your life forever. That sense stopped Vic just inside the doorway. A woman with skin the color of dark amber lay on the only bed, her bandaged arms shockingly white among the shadows. She was reflected in a large window in the far wall, the outside sky as black and still as the inside of a tomb. He smelled disinfectant and blood. Numbers and graph lines flared on grey-eyed medical monitors. Somewhere in the vast empty spaces of the hospital a voice echoed.

    He’d never visited a burn ward.

    Never had a partner so close to death.

    Never thought a room could seem as hollow as he felt inside.

    The feeling was so disembodying that when he reached the bed and looked into the woman’s face, he half expected to see himself. But it was Liz, her forehead and knobby cheekbones smeared with ointment, eyebrows and eyelashes burned away. A bandage covered her left earlobe where her favorite earring, a small gold star, usually sat. It seemed like every breath she took pained her.

    He wanted to take her hand but the bandages made it impossible. “Liz,” he said softly, her name almost lost among the beeps and clicks of the monitors. Liquid dripped into a tangle of IV tubes at the back of her fist.

    Her eyelids fluttered.

    “Liz. Doctor told me I could talk to you.”

    Her eyes opened. He watched her pupils widen and narrow as they absorbed the distance to the ceiling and distinguished shadows from feeble light.

    “Vic?” A hoarse whisper.

    “I’m here.”

    She turned her face to him. “You got me out.”

    Relief rose in Vic’s throat. “Yeah. But the house didn’t make it.”

    “Cora Stills?”

    Vic squeezed his eyelids shut and rocked on his heels. He didn’t know where to start. Cora Stills. The one person who knew something—anything—about his missing teenage daughter. Liz on her way to arrest her. Instead, Liz, handcuffed to a radiator pipe as flames lathered and stormed through Cora’s house. Cora’s burned-out car found two days later on a crumbling stone dock next to a deserted warehouse, the Allegheny River emptying westward.

    Cora, alive and moving through that tomb of darkness outside the window. Free.

    “Vic…” Liz said something more but he couldn’t make it out.

    He bent closer.

    She forced her words from somewhere deep inside, and as she spoke, he knew this was what she saved through all the fear and pain to tell him. “Someone told Cora I was coming.”

    ***

    Excerpt from The Things That Last Forever by Peter W. J. Hayes. Copyright 2020 by Peter W. J. Hayes. Reproduced with permission from Peter W. J. Hayes. All rights reserved.

     

     

    Author Bio:

    Peter W. J. Hayes

    Peter W. J. Hayes worked as a journalist, advertising copywriter and marketing executive before turning to mystery and crime writing. He is the author of the Silver Falchion-nominated Pittsburgh trilogy, a police procedural series, and is a Derringer-nominated author of more than a dozen short stories. His work has appeared in Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly, Pulp Modern and various anthologies, including two Malice Domestic collections and The Best New England Crime Stories. He is also a past nominee for the Crime Writers Association (CWA) Debut Dagger Award.

    Q&A with Peter W.J. Hayes

    What was the inspiration for this book?

    Given that The Things That Last Forever is the third book of a trilogy, I had several plot lines to tie off. That said, the book starts with the search for a fugitive, and when I thought of placing the fugitive in North Dakota (her birth state), the pieces fell into place. I then travelled to North Dakota to get a feel for the fracking fields south of Williston, and knew almost immediately I had the right location for the novel. That first night in North Dakota I started sketching out the book’s scenes.

    What has been the biggest challenge in your writing career?

    I think keeping a fire lit for all the years it took to work myself into a place where I had the time to work on a novel. I knew in eighth grade I wanted to be a novelist, but work and family intervened. At different times I did spend a number of years as a journalist, business writer, and advertising copywriter, and spent a fifteen-year stretch in a weekly writing group for fiction writers. However, as work demands increased I had to give that up. Toward the end of my business career, with some planning, but I was able to retire early to pursue writing.

    What do you absolutely need while writing?

    Coffee and a regular time to write each day. I’ve found that habit is the best predictor of success.

    Do you adhere to a strict routine when writing or write when the ideas are flowing?

    Yes. I try and write every afternoon. Some days are more fruitful than others. The best ideas, for me, come while I am writing. Waiting around for inspiration to strike doesn’t work for me.

    Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

    Vic Lenoski, my protagonist for the three books of the Pittsburgh Trilogy. I like the complexity of his emotions and his doggedness. He also has a quiet instinct to teach the younger members of the police department, and absolutely does not suffer fools gladly.

    Who is your least favorite character from your book and why?

    For a long time it was Vic Lenoski’s commander, Tomkins Davis, who is better known as Crush. I disliked him because he was a bit of a caricature of a boss who only cares about his career. That bothered me enough that in The Things That Last Forever, I turned him into a more nuanced character who puts his detectives first (in the end).

    • Give us an interesting fun fact or a few about your book?
    When I was visiting North Dakota to research the book, I was stopped by the side of the road looking at a map. A North Dakota State Policeman stopped and asked if I needed assistance. I explained what I was doing, and was inspired to ask him if he knew of anywhere nearby where a fugitive might hole up. He gave me two suggestions, and one of them is the exact location where Vic Lenoski finally tracks down the fugitive he is chasing.

    Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

    When I started to write, I thought it was about me getting a story on paper. I’ve learned since that writing a book is about much more than that. I’ve been stunned at how supportive and energized the entire ecosystem of booksellers, editors, publishers and readers are. Everyone wants writers to be successful, and I am very thankful of that. It’s completely changed how I think about my readers as I write.

    Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

    I’ve travelled quite a bit in my lifetime. I was born in Newcastle upon Tyne in northern England, and my entire family is English by heritage (with some Irish, Scottish and Viking thrown in—a predictable mix for northern England). My father’s work took him to Paris, France when I was small, and I attended French schools for a few years before moving to the ASP (American School of Paris). My father was then offered a job in Pittsburgh and we emigrated to America. Following college, I lived in Taiwan for a year and backpacked extensively in mainland China (in those days, I was reasonably fluent in French and Mandarin Chinese). I was a marketer by profession, rising ultimately to spend six years as Chief Marketing Officer for one of America’s largest companies, with responsibility for the company’s worldwide marketing activities. In those years business travel took me throughout Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

    What’s next that we can look forward to?

    I’m currently rewriting the first draft of a standalone PI novel. The PI is named Levon Grace, and he appears in all three books of the Pittsburgh Trilogy. He is good friends with Vic Lenoski, the protagonist of those books, and has taken up with Vic’s partner, Liz Timmons. Once that book is delivered, I have a contract with Level Best Books to deliver three more Vic Lenoski books, turning the trilogy into a series.

    Peter can be found at:
    www.peterwjhayes.com
    Goodreads
    BookBub
    Instagram
    Twitter
    Facebook

     

    Read an excerpt:

    Chapter 1

    Sometimes you walk into a room and what’s inside changes your life forever. That sense stopped Vic just inside the doorway. A woman with skin the color of dark amber lay on the only bed, her bandaged arms shockingly white among the shadows. She was reflected in a large window in the far wall, the outside sky as black and still as the inside of a tomb. He smelled disinfectant and blood. Numbers and graph lines flared on grey-eyed medical monitors. Somewhere in the vast empty spaces of the hospital a voice echoed.

    He’d never visited a burn ward.

    Never had a partner so close to death.

    Never thought a room could seem as hollow as he felt inside.

    The feeling was so disembodying that when he reached the bed and looked into the woman’s face, he half expected to see himself. But it was Liz, her forehead and knobby cheekbones smeared with ointment, eyebrows and eyelashes burned away. A bandage covered her left earlobe where her favorite earring, a small gold star, usually sat. It seemed like every breath she took pained her.

    He wanted to take her hand but the bandages made it impossible. “Liz,” he said softly, her name almost lost among the beeps and clicks of the monitors. Liquid dripped into a tangle of IV tubes at the back of her fist.

    Her eyelids fluttered.

    “Liz. Doctor told me I could talk to you.”

    Her eyes opened. He watched her pupils widen and narrow as they absorbed the distance to the ceiling and distinguished shadows from feeble light.

    “Vic?” A hoarse whisper.

    “I’m here.”

    She turned her face to him. “You got me out.”

    Relief rose in Vic’s throat. “Yeah. But the house didn’t make it.”

    “Cora Stills?”

    Vic squeezed his eyelids shut and rocked on his heels. He didn’t know where to start. Cora Stills. The one person who knew something—anything—about his missing teenage daughter. Liz on her way to arrest her. Instead, Liz, handcuffed to a radiator pipe as flames lathered and stormed through Cora’s house. Cora’s burned-out car found two days later on a crumbling stone dock next to a deserted warehouse, the Allegheny River emptying westward.

    Cora, alive and moving through that tomb of darkness outside the window. Free.

    “Vic…” Liz said something more but he couldn’t make it out.

    He bent closer.

    She forced her words from somewhere deep inside, and as she spoke, he knew this was what she saved through all the fear and pain to tell him. “Someone told Cora I was coming.”

    ***

    Excerpt from The Things That Last Forever by Peter W. J. Hayes. Copyright 2020 by Peter W. J. Hayes. Reproduced with permission from Peter W. J. Hayes. All rights reserved.

     

     

    Tour Participants:

    Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!



     

     

    Giveaway!!:

    This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Peter W.J. Hayes. There will be 4 winners for this giveaway. Two (2) winners will each receive one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card and two (2) winners will each receive one (1) physical copy of The Things That Last Forever by Peter W.J. Hayes (US Only). The giveaway begins on January 1, 2021 and runs through March 2, 2021. Void where prohibited.

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    Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

     

    STRANGERS SHE KNOWS by Christina Dodd ~ Book Blast

    Strangers She Knows

    by Christina Dodd

    September 17, 2019

    on Tour September 17 – October 1, 2019

    Synopsis:

    Strangers She Knows by Christina Dodd

    Perfect for fans of Nora Roberts, Sandra Brown, Linda Howard, and Jayne Ann Krentz, New York Times bestselling author Christina Dodd returns with the chilling finale to the Cape Charade trilogy.

    I have three deadly problems:

    1. I’ve seriously offended a maniacal killer.
    2. I just had a bullet removed from my brain.
    3. My new daughter is growing up too fast—and she’s in the line of fire.
    4. Living on an obscure, technology-free island off California means safety from the murderer who hunts Kellen Adams and her new family…or does it? Family time becomes terror time, until Kellen finds herself alone and facing an all-too-familiar psychopath. Only one can survive, and Kellen knows who must win…and who must die.

      Be sure to also check-out the rest of the Cape Charade series, starting with DEAD GIRL RUNNING and WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER, available now wherever books are sold.

      Series STARRED reviews from Booklist

      “From the unforgettable heroine with a past to the incisively etched cast of secondary characters to the brilliantly imaginative plot, Dodd is at her most wildly entertaining, wickedly witty best.” -Booklist STARRED review on DEAD GIRL RUNNING

      “Featuring an unforgettable protagonist…who makes Jack Reacher look like a slacker when it comes to dispatching trouble, and an ingenious plot that includes plenty of white-knuckle twists and turns as well as some touching moments of mother-daughter bonding.” -Booklist STARRED review on WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER

      “Dodd continues her addictively readable Cape Charade series featuring Kellen Adams with another white-knuckle tale that simply begs to be inhaled in one sitting. With a fascinating island setting that includes a spooky old mansion, a secondary storyline involving World War II, and an antagonist who could give Villanelle from Killing Eve a pointer or two, this is Dodd at her brilliant best.” -Booklist STARRED review on STRANGERS SHE KNOWS

      Book Details:

      Genre: Mystery/Suspense
      Published by: HQN Books
      Publication Date: September 17, 2019
      Number of Pages: 352
      ISBN: 1335468331 (ISBN13: 9781335468338)
      Series: Cape Charade #3
      Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

      Read an excerpt:

      Yearning Sands Resort Washington’s Pacific Coast This Spring

      Rae Di Luca stacked up her Level Three lesson books, opened the piano bench and put them away. She got out the Adult Course Level 1A book, opened it to “Silver Bells,” and put it on the music rack. “Mom, you have to practice.”

      Kellen didn’t look up from her book. “I know.”

      “When?”

      “When what?”

      “When are you going to do it?”

      “I’m at the good part. Let me finish this chapter.”

      “No, you have to practice now. You know it helps with your finger dexterity.”

      When had their roles reversed, Kellen wondered? When had ten-year-old Rae become the sensible adult and Kellen become the balky child?

      Oh yeah. When she had the brain surgery, her right hand refused to regain its former abilities, and the physical therapist suggested learning the piano. But there was a reason Kellen hadn’t learned to play the piano earlier in her life. She loved music—and she had no musical talent. That, added to the terrible atrophy that afflicted her fingers, made her lessons and practices an unsurpassed agony…for everyone.

      She looked up, saw Rae standing, poised between coaxing and impatience, and the Rolodex in Kellen’s punctured, operated-on and much-abused brain clicked in:

      RAE DI LUCA:

      FEMALE, 10YO, 5‘0″, 95LBS. KELLEN’S DAUGHTER. HER MIRACLE. IN TRANSITION: GIRL TO WOMAN, BLOND HAIR TO BROWN, BROWN EYES LIGHTENING TO HAZEL. LONG LEGS; GAWKY. SKIN A COMBINATION OF HER ITALIAN HERITAGE FROM HER FATHER AND THE NATIVE AMERICAN BLOOD FROM KELLEN; FIRST PIMPLE ON HER CHIN. NEVER TEMPERAMENTAL. KIND, STRONG, INDEPENDENT.

      Kellen loved this kid. The feeling was more than human. It was feral, too, and Kellen would do anything to protect Rae from threat—and had. “I know. I’m coming. It’s so much more fun to listen to you play than practice myself. You’re good and I’m…awful.”

      “I’m not good. I’m just better than you.” Rae came over and wrapped her arms around Kellen’s neck, hugged and laughed. “But Luna is better than you.”

      “Don’t talk to me about that dog. She howls every time I sit down at the piano. Sometimes she doesn’t even wait until I start playing. The traitor.” Kellen glared at the dog, and once again her brain—which had developed this ability after that shot to the head—sorted through the files of identity cards to read:

      LUNA:

      FEMALE, FULL-SIZED POODLE/AUSTRALIAN CATTLE DOG/AT LEAST ONE OTHER BREED, 50LBS, RED COAT, BROWN EYES, STRONGLY MUSCLED. RESCUED BY RAE AND MAX WHILE KELLEN RECOVERED FROM SURGERY. FAMILY MEMBER. RAE’S FRIEND, COMPANION, PROTECTOR. MUSIC LOVER.

      Luna watched Kellen in return, head resting on her paws, waiting for her chance to sing a solo protest to Kellen’s inept rendition of “Silver Bells.”

      “Everybody’s a critic.” Rae set the timer. “Come on. Ten minutes of scales, then you only have to practice for thirty minutes.”

      “Why do I have to practice ‘Silver Bells’? Christmas isn’t for seven months.”

      “So you’ll have mastered it by the time the season rolls around.”

      “I used to like that song.”

      “We all used to like that song.” Rae took Kellen’s left hand and tugged. “Mom, come on. You know you feel better afterward.”

      Kellen allowed herself to be brought to her feet. “I’m going to do something wild and crazy. I’m going to start learning ‘When the Saints Go Marching In.’ It’s the next song in the book, and I like it.”

      “You can learn anything you want after you practice your scales and work on ‘Silver Bells’ for fifteen minutes.”

      No one wanted to be inside today, certainly not Rae Di Luca, certainly not Kellen Adams Di Luca, certainly not upstairs in their private quarters in the Yearning Sands Resort. Not when spring had come to the Washington state Pacific Coast. April and May’s drenching rains turned the world a soggy brown. Then, on the first of June, one day of blazing sunshine created green that spread across the coastal plain.

      Kellen made her way through the ten minutes of scales—the dog remained quiescent for those—then began plunking out “Silver Bells.” 

      As she struggled with the same passage, her right hand fingers responding only sporadically, Luna started with a slight whine that grew in intensity. At the first high howl, Kellen turned to the dog. 

      “Look, this isn’t easy for me, either.”

      Luna sat, head cocked, one ear up, one ear down, brown eyes pleading with her.

      “I would love to stop,” Kellen told her and turned back to the piano. “How about a different tune? Let’s try ‘When the Saints Go Marching In.’”

      She played the first few notes and out of the corner of her eye, she saw the dog subside. Then, as she worked on a tricky passage, made the same mistake, time after time, the dog sat up again, lifted her nose and howled in mourning for the slaughter of the song.

      Rae giggled, and when her mother glowered, the child controlled herself. “Come on, Luna, I’ll take you outside.”

      The dog didn’t budge.

      “She thinks she’s helping you,” Rae explained. “Come on, Luna. Come on!” She coaxed her out the door, turned back to Kellen and said sternly, “Twenty more minutes!”

      “Yeah, yeah.” Kellen struggled on, trying to make her recalcitrant fingers do her bidding. Even when she finally got the notes right, it wasn’t a piano tune so much as jack-in-the-box music. When at last the timer went off, she slumped over the keyboard and stared at the fingers of her right hand.

      They were trying to atrophy, to curl in and refuse to do her bidding ever again. But the physical therapists assured her she could combat this. She had to create new nerve ways, train another part of her brain to handle the work, and since two hands were better than one and her right hand was her dominant hand, the battle was worth fighting. But every day, the forty minutes at the keyboard left her drained and discouraged. 

      Behind her, Max said, “Turn around and let me rub your hands.”

      She noticed he did not say, That was good. Or even, That was better.

      Max didn’t tell lies.

      Kellen sighed and swiveled on the piano bench. Again that Rolodex in her brain clicked in:

      MAX DI LUCA:

      MALE, 38YO, 6’5″, 220LBS, ITALIAN-AMERICAN, FORMER FOOTBALL PLAYER. HANDSOME, TANNED, CURLY BLACK HAIR, BROWN EYES SURROUNDED BY LONG BLACK LASHES. ONCE HIGH UP IN THE DI LUCA FAMILY CORPORATION, STEPPED DOWN TO RAISE HIS DAUGHTER, NOW DIRECTOR OF THE FAMILY’S YEARNING SANDS RESORT ON THE WASHINGTON COAST. KIND, GENEROUS, RESPONSIBLE, LOVING. A STICKLER FOR DUTY. FAR TOO MUCH WILLPOWER, WHICH WAS IRRITATING TO KELLEN IN MATTERS RELATING TO THEIR MARITAL STATE.

      He took her right hand gently in both of his and, starting at the wrist, he massaged her palm, her thumb, her fingers. He used a lavender-scented oil, and stretched and worked the muscles and bones while she moaned with pleasure.

      He listened with a slight smile, and when she looked into his face, she realized his lips looked fuller, he had a dark flush over his cheekbones and his nostrils flared as he breathed. She looked down at his jeans, leaned close and whispered, “Max, I’m done with practice. Why don’t we wander up to our bedroom and I’ll rub your…hand, too.”

      He met her eyes. He stopped his massage. Except for the rise and fall of his chest, he was frozen in that pose of incipient passion.

      Then he sat back and sighed. “Doctor says no.”

      “Doctor said be careful.” 

      “Woman, if I could be careful, I would. As it is, nothing is best.”

      “I am torn between being flattered and frustrated.” She thought about it. “Mostly frustrated.”

      I’m just fine.” Max didn’t usually resort to sarcasm, so that told her a lot. Married almost two years and no sex. He was a good man, but he was coming to the end of his patience.

      “If we’re refraining because we’re worried I’m going to pop a blood vessel while in the throes of passion, I’d like to point out there are solutions that you might enjoy.”

      “That isn’t fair to you.”

      “You’re massaging my hand. That’s pretty wonderful.”

      “Not the same.” Again he took her tired hand and went to work.

      Bitterly she said, “Kellen’s Brain. It’s like a bad sci-fi fantasy.”

      He laughed. “It’s improving all the time.” When he had made her hand relax and Kellen relax with it, he said, “I’ve been thinking—the Di Luca family owns Isla Paraíso off the coast of Northern California. The family bought the island seventy years ago with the idea of placing a resort on the island, but now that doesn’t seem likely. Someone needs to go there, look things over, make decisions about its fate.”

      Kellen nodded. “You want to go there? See what you think?”

      “Actually, I thought we should all go there.”

      He was still working her hand, but with a little too much forcefulness and concentration.

      “Ouch,” she said softly.

      He pulled away, horrified. “Did I hurt you?”

      “Not at all. Except that you’re treating me like a child.”

      “What do you mean?”

      “You’re not telling me what’s really going on. Why do you want to go to this island?”

      “I told you—”

      “I don’t doubt that what you told me is the truth. But it’s not all the truth. Max, what’s wrong?”

      Max sighed, an understatement of a sigh, as if he dreaded what he was about to say. “You’re not going to like it.”

      “I gathered that.”

      “Mitch Nyugen.”

      “What about him? He’s dead.” She remembered she couldn’t always trust Kellen’s Brain. “Isn’t he?”

      “Yes. He was buried in the Cape Charade cemetery.”

      Was buried?” Unease stirred in her belly.

      “This week, his widow arrived from Wyoming.”

      “He wasn’t married.” That brain thing. “Was he?”

      “No.” Max was as sure as Kellen was not. “Yet the woman who claimed to be his widow had all the necessary paperwork to have his body exhumed.”

      “Oh, no.”

      “She had the coffin placed in the chapel. Last night, the undertaker, Arthur Earthman, found her there, with the coffin open. She murdered him, and almost killed his wife, Cynthia. The widow escaped ahead of the sheriff, and she left her calling card.”

      Kellen knew. She knew what Max was going to say. “She cut off Mitch’s hands.”

      “And took them.” Max looked up at her, his brown eyes wretched with fear. “Mara Philippi is back. And she’s here.”

      ***

      Excerpt from Strangers She Knows by Christina Dodd. Copyright 2019 by Christina Dodd. Reproduced with permission from HQN Books. All rights reserved.

       

       

      Author Bio:

      Christina Dodd

      New York Times bestselling author Christina Dodd writes “edge-of-the-seat suspense” (Iris Johansen) with “brilliantly etched characters, polished writing, and unexpected flashes of sharp humor that are pure Dodd” (ALA Booklist). Her fifty-eight books have been called “scary, sexy, and smartly written” by Booklist and, much to her mother’s delight, Dodd was once a clue in the Los Angeles Times crossword puzzle.

      Enter Christina’s worlds and join her mailing list at:
      christinadodd.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Twitter, Instagram, & Facebook!

       

      Book Blast Participants:



       

       

      Book Blast Giveaway:

      This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Christina Dodd and HQN Books. There will be one (1) winner. The winner will receive an Amazon.com Gift Card. The giveaway begins on September 17, 2019 and runs through September 26, 2019. Void where prohibited.

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    THE FOUND CHILD by Jo Crow (Review, Book Blast & Giveaway)

    The Found Child

    by Jo Crow

    September 18, 2018 Book Blast

    Synopsis:

    The Found Child by Jo Crow

    One mother’s life can change in the blink of an eye—and there’s no going back.

    Elaine’s worst fears become a reality when her beloved son Jakob is diagnosed with cancer. She needs to find a bone marrow donor, and time is running out. While awaiting test results from herself and her husband Nathan, she approaches his business partner, Roger—her ex-lover—to see if he could be a possible match. Instead, an even greater shock awaits: Jakob is not her biological son. For years, she has been raising someone else’s child.

    The news threatens to send Elaine back to the pills that almost destroyed her life once before, pushing her already fragile mental state to the breaking point. As the family faces one crisis, a ghost from her past emerges to jeopardize everything she’s built. But is the threat real, or is it all in her mind? Elaine needs to stay strong for her son, but as her whole reality continues to unravel, she can’t trust anyone—not even herself.

     

    MY THOUGHTS/REVIEW

    5 stars

    WOW! WOW! I read ¾ in the first sitting and couldn’t wait to pick it up the next morning to finish it.

    I put this writer on my “authors to read list” after reading A MOTHER’S LIE and I now know it was a really good move on my part.

    I don’t know where to begin because this was such a phenomenal read. Other than the synopsis, I don’t want to spill 1 iota of information because I don’t want to spoil it for those who want to read it.

    The story has an intense spellbinding detailed plot. The characters are well developed, so much so, that I could feel the mother’s love, devotion, despair, terror, anxiety, confusion just to name a few emotions. The action and suspense is continuous from the first page to the last word.

    Reading this book was like running a marathon and after turning each corner, I had to stop and catch my breath! Continuous tension and turmoil that left me gasping for air because I was holding my breath at every turn. A heart pounding read!

    Did I say WOW!? I wish I could give this book more than 5 stars! It will definitely be one of my 2018 best reads!

    I highly recommend this read if you are looking for uninterrupted action. And especially for mothers because you will be asking yourself what you would do.

    I did, however, find just one negative…..I now have to wait for Ms. Crow’s next book!!!!

    Book Details:

    Genre: Thriller
    Published by: Relay Publishing
    Publication Date: September 4th 2018
    Number of Pages: 372
    ISBN-10: 1726446328
    ISBN-13: 978-1726446327
    Purchase Links: Amazon Goodreads

     

    Read an excerpt:

    Prologue

    Telling parents that the search for their missing infant had gone cold was a job that no one wanted. And honestly, Detective Aaronson had tried to pass it off to someone else—to his partner, Miller, and then to a uniform. Ultimately, though, the chief had put his boot down and pushed it back on Aaronson. He was the point man. He and Miller had worked the case together for a month before the leads dried up, but it had been Aaronson who had sat with the parents, talked to them on the phone, and kept them updated.

    He’d been the one to give them hope, so it followed that he should be the one to take it away… right?

    They had agreed to meet him at the station. That seemed to be the best choice. No one wanted to get this kind of news in their own home—it would put a stain on the place that would never wash out. No, it was more professional to have the talk here in one of the small conference rooms. No decorations, no distractions, nothing to make the moment seem too casual. Only gray brick, white linoleum and a wooden table and chairs that were plain and utilitarian. Unemotional.

    Now he sat across from them, steeling himself and trying to work up some moisture in his mouth. There was water, but they hadn’t poured a glass so he wasn’t about to. Both of them had dark circles under their bloodshot eyes, and a waxy pallor to their skin. They hadn’t slept in a month, he figured. He’d have put money on it. Hell, he could barely sleep when his teenager stayed out late with her friends on a weekend. And their child had been gone for more than a month. As a parent, he understood part of their pain. Just part of it. That’s what made this so damn difficult.

    “We’re not closing the case,” he said, his tone as flat as he could manage. “But as of now, the leads—”

    “You’re not looking anymore?” the mother asked. Fury filled her eyes, and loss. One of those was for him.

    “It’s only been a month,” the father said. “You can’t stop now. Please, our son is out there somewhere—we know it.”

    “I can feel him,” she said. “You have to believe me, I can feel him here.” She clutched at her chest, at the threadbare, peach-colored sweater she wore.

    You have to keep it short, the chief had said. Keep it direct and then refer them to the counselor. That’s your job.

    Aaronson wondered if the chief had ever done this before. He imagined he’d had, but to make it seem so simple… Of course, there were regulations. He couldn’t be the counselor and the detective, and there were good reasons for that. “We will keep the case open,” he told them. “If any new leads come in, we’ll follow up on them.”

    He meant it, too. But the truth that he knew, and that these two knew even if they didn’t want to believe it, was that after seventy-two hours, most of these cases were never solved. Every day after that windows closed, the likelihood of finding a child like theirs dropped exponentially until it plummeted to a fraction of a percent which itself really only represented the handful of miracle cases that had been resolved sometimes decades after a disappearance.

    “Please don’t do this,” the father begged. He took his wife’s hand, and they leaned into one another. “One more month. There was that woman—”

    “At the moment, Andrea Williams has been cleared as a suspect,” Aaronson said. That poor woman’s life had been all but destroyed already. “We’ve been over her life with a fine-toothed comb. If new evidence emerges, we’ll look into it again, but I’m telling you that she’s not who we want.”

    “So, what do we do now?” the mother asked. “What do we do now that you’ve abandoned our boy? Abandoned us?”

    Aaronson was so close to breaking. He stood from the table. “I swear to you both,” he said, the words bitter on his tongue, “that we will pursue any and every lead that comes across my desk. We’re not abandoning anyone. Alright?” And while it may have been technically true, it sure felt like a lie.

    Nothing but contempt came from them, and he didn’t blame them at all. And he hated himself for what he had to say next. “There’s a counselor here. Doctor Amari. She’s a grief counselor, and it’s free to see her. I can send her in, but I have to leave you now. I’m sorry. Really, I am.”

    They turned their faces from him.

    As he left, he closed the door gently even though he wanted to slam it hard enough to shatter the glass. He wasn’t even sure who to be angry with. Himself, mostly, he guessed, or the whole damn department. And Andrea-fucking-Williams, who had wasted their time from the beginning by lying to protect herself instead of telling them the truth about her record so that they could have moved on.

    He took only two steps before the mother wailed loudly behind him. The entire department went quiet. That sound was one they all knew. It was the sound of a woman who had lost the last shred of hope she’d had. The shred that he’d taken away from her.

    That was the sound of a mother whose child had died. And, at this point, Aaronson had nothing to suggest it wasn’t true.

    He’d failed them.

    ***

    Excerpt from The Found Child by Jo Crow. Copyright © 2018 by Jo Crow. Reproduced with permission from Jo Crow. All rights reserved.

     

    Author Bio:

    Jo Crow

    Jo Crow gave ten years of her life to the corporate world of finance, rising to be one of the youngest VPs around. She carved writing time into her commute to the city, but never shared her stories, assuming they were too dark for any publishing house. But when a nosy publishing exec read the initial pages of her latest story over her shoulder, his albeit unsolicited advice made her think twice.

    A month later, she took the leap, quit her job, and sat down for weeks with pen to paper. The words for her first manuscript just flew from her. Now she spends her days reading and writing, dreaming up new ideas for domestic noir fans, and drawing from her own experiences in the cut-throat commercial sector.

    Not one to look back, Jo is all in, and can’t wait for her next book to begin.

    Catch Up With Jo Crow On:
    Goodreads & Facebook!

     

    Tour Participants:

    Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!


     

    ENTER TO WIN!:

    This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Jo Crow. There will be 5 winners of for this tour. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon GC; there will be 3 winners of one (1) A MOTHER’S LIE eBook; and there will be 1 winner of one (1) A MOTHER’S LIE by Jo Crow audiobook. The giveaway begins on September 18, 2018 and runs through September 25, 2018. Void where prohibited.

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    REVIEW DISCLAIMER

  • This blog was founded on the premise to write honest reviews, to the best of my ability, no matter who from, where from and/or how the book was obtained, and will continue to do so, even if it is through PICT or PBP.
  • I received a copy of this book, at no charge to me, in exchange for my honest review. No items that I receive are ever sold…they are kept by me, or given to family and/or friends.
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  • BLACK FLOWERS, WHITE LIES by Yvonne Ventresca (Book Blast & Giveaway)

    Black Flowers, White Lies by Yvonne Ventresca Banner

    Black Flowers, White Lies

    by Yvonne Ventresca

    March 6, 2018 Book Blast

     

    Synopsis:

    Black Flowers, White Lies by Yvonne Ventresca

    “I raced through Black Flowers, White Lies in a single sitting. What a twisty thrill-ride!”
    ~April Henry, New York Times-bestselling author of Girl, Stolen

    LIES CAN COME BACK TO HAUNT YOU.

    Her father died before she was born, but Ella Benton knows they have a connection that transcends the grave. Since her mother disapproves, she keeps her visits to the cemetery where he’s buried secret. But when Ella learns that her mother may have lied about how Dad died sixteen years ago, it’s clear she’s not the only one with secrets. New facts point to his death in a psychiatric hospital, not a car accident as Mom always claimed.

    When a handprint much like the one Ella left on her father’s tombstone mysteriously appears on the bathroom mirror, she wonders if Dad is warning her of danger, as he did once before, or if someone’s playing unsettling tricks on her. But as the unexplained events become more frequent and more sinister, she finds herself terrified about who—or what—might harm her.

    Soon the evidence points to someone new: Ella herself. What if, like Dad, she’s suffering from a mental breakdown? In this second novel from award-winning author Yvonne Ventresca, Ella desperately needs to find answers—no matter how disturbing the truth might be.

     

    NOW IN PAPERBACK!

    Black Flowers, White Lies by Yvonne Ventresca is a 2017 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal Winner!

     

    Book Details:

    Genre: Young Adult Thriller
    Published by: Sky Pony Press
    Publication Date: Paperback March 6, 2018 (Hardcover Oct 2016)
    Number of Pages: 280
    ISBN: 1510725962 (ISBN13: 9781510725966)

    Grab Your copy of Black Flowers, White Lies on: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound, & Add it to your Goodreads list!

     

    Read an excerpt:

    Chapter One, Beautiful Boy:

    I approach Dad’s tombstone with trepidation, then breathe a sigh of relief. No mysterious flowers wilt at his grave as I had feared. Last August, someone left fresh orange lilies for him throughout the month. I never figured out who. Then, in September, the flowers stopped appearing as suddenly as they started. I always wondered, with an odd mixture of anxiety and hope, if I would run into the other mourner— someone else who honored my father. But I never did.

    Usually, the ritual of navigating the same cemetery rows, visiting Thomas Darren Benton, and putting a small rock on his headstone calms me. Now, the heat is relentless and sweat trickles down my back as I search for the perfect pebble. It needs to be a nice, roundish one. Despite the lilies left last summer, Dad wasn’t a bouquet kind of guy.

    I know this even though I never met him. He died before I was born, so I have no memories of him, only stories from Mom that I’ve heard so many times it feels like I was actually there. I see him beam during his graduation from veterinary school and feel his hand pat Mom’s pregnant belly. I hear him pick my name from the baby book: Ariella, meaning lion, although Mom insists they nickname me Ella. I smell the damp on his clothes from the night he rescued Oscar the kitten from a storm drain and brought him home to stay. These recollections have been cobbled together into my own version of Dad for the last fifteen years.

    Today the sky is gray and foreboding, but the occasional burst of wind does nothing to cool me. I finally find just the right rock nestled in a patch of grass and rub off the dirt with my fingers. My friend Jana taught me the tradition of leaving a stone as a way to mark my visits with something more permanent, more enduring than flowers.

    I’m the only person who comes to his grave somewhat regularly, other than last summer’s unknown mourner. I don’t think Mom’s been here since her engagement to Stanley, a non-reading, self-absorbed, stubby man. With the wedding only days away, Stanley’s settled into our apartment, but each awkward conversation we have leaves me yearning for the father who painted my room a cheerful yellow, who created a mini-library of animal books to read to his future daughter.

    I hesitate before Beloved Husband and Father, rolling the pebble between my fingers, then place it in line with the last one, making it the eighth in a row. I let my hand linger against the cool granite. Next week is Dad’s birthday, August 8. That number has been lucky for me since I was eight years old, when I could have died, but because of Dad’s warning, I didn’t.

    The air gusts, whipping strands of hair across my face and scattering the pebbles to the ground. My skin prickles at the eerie timing before I realize that the wind has been stormy on and off throughout the day. Still, it spooks me because nothing has disturbed my markers in months. Until now. It’s almost like Dad is giving me another sign.

    The cemetery turns out to be more peaceful than home. I’m lounging across my bed checking my phone with Oscar purring beside me when—bang—Mom pounds on the adjacent wall. Oscar scampers to the top of my bookcase, his favorite spot in times of trouble.

    The room next to mine serves as Mom’s office, and since my soon-to-be-stepbrother is expected to arrive later tonight, she’s fixing it up. Loudly.

    I give up on coaxing Oscar down and move to the doorway. “What are you doing?”

    “Look.” She points with the hammer at two new pictures of the Manhattan skyline where a framed print of The Cat in the Hat used to be. Besides changing the wall decorations, she also cleared out the closet and moved her many piles of papers from the desk. “Do you think Blake will like it?”

    I have no idea what Blake will like. The only photo I’ve even seen of him is one that Stanley keeps on his nightstand. It’s a faded picture of a young blond boy at the beach, smiling up at him.

    “The room looks nice,” I say. “But it’s not like he’s living here forever.” Blake would only be staying with us for a few weeks until he moved into his dorm at NYU.

    “I know. But I want this to feel like home for him.”

    She certainly cares a lot about this guy we’ve never met. The filing cabinet, the now-spotless desk, and the fax machine are the sole remnants of her office.

    “After we find your dress today, I need to buy some blue sheets and maybe some towels, too,” she says. “Are you ready to go?”

    “Sure.” I sigh quietly.

    Our apartment building is directly across from the Hoboken PATH station. After a short train ride to the Newport Mall, I remember for the hundredth time why I hate shopping with Mom. Every dress she pulls off the rack is revolting. But the wedding is only days away. We need to find something suitable that won’t forever embarrass me when I see the photos in years to come.

    “How about this?” Mom holds up a mauve paisley thing with puffy sleeves, her eyes shiny with hope. “This color will look so flattering on you.”

    “Maybe.” I don’t want to hurt her feelings, so I purposely drift away to shop on my own. And then I see it: a pale yellow dress, strapless, with a flouncy skirt and sequins around the middle. The dress sparkles when I hold it against me. I can’t wait to try it on.

    Mom will hate it. She’ll want me to look conservative for the small group of friends and family at her wedding. My strategy is to show her other dresses she’ll hate even more. I find a black mini she’ll say isn’t long enough and a floral sundress she’ll think is too casual.

    When I get to the dressing room, Mom and three hideous pink dresses await.

    I try on the minidress first, which she predictably declares too short. Luckily, the mauve one bunches at my waist. She likes the sundress, but not for the wedding.

    I put on a blush-colored one.

    “It’s not bad,” she says. “What do you think?”

    “Too much lace. It’s like wearing a tablecloth.”

    She nods in agreement.

    Finally, I try on the yellow one and giggle with delight. I come out, posture perfect, feeling like a princess. “Isn’t it beautiful?”

    Mom frowns. “Strapless? You’d need something over it.”

    I twirl. “I have that silver sweater at home.”

    “Let’s see the rose-colored one.”

    “Fiiine.”

    In the dressing room, I breathe deeply as I put on the last dress.

    Her face lights up when I step out. “Ella! It’s so pretty! It brings a glow to your cheeks. And it’s perfect with your coloring.”

    She calls it my coloring because I inherited Dad’s brown hair and brown eyes instead of her fairness.

    “The rose is all right,” I say. “But don’t you think the ruffles look too childish for a sophomore?”

    “Honey. It’s perfect for an almost-sophomore. And it’s appropriate. The yellow one might be nice for a dance, but for the wedding . . .”

    I close the curtain and put on my shorts and favorite T-shirt, the one with the tabby cat that says Rescued is my favorite breed. It’s her wedding, I remind myself. She should get to choose. I should be mature.

    I walk out and hand her the ruffled dress.

    “Thank you. It means a lot to me,” Mom says. “I’ll pay for this and go to the bedding department. Want to meet at the food court in an hour?”

    “Sure.”

    I shake off my annoyance and detour into the accessories section, where my friend Grace had seen a cute wallet with kittens on it that she thought I’d like. I’m sifting through the clearance items when this guy approaches me, holding a bunch of ties. Whoa. He’s tall and blond, and his white polo shirt shows off his tan.

    “Excuse me,” Beautiful Boy says. “I’m trying to decide between these?” His voice lilts into a question. His smile is friendly, his eyes deep brown and intense. “I suck at this kind of thing.” He somehow manages to look model-perfect and sheepish at the same time. “Would you mind helping me pick one?”

    I blink for a minute, staring at his face instead of the ties. My delayed response verges on awkward. “Okay,” I say. “What are you wearing it with?”

    “A gray suit.”

    I’m conscious of his eyes on me as I study the ones he’s chosen. It makes it hard to think. None of the ties have any yellow, my favorite color. Maybe it’s the dress shopping with Mom, but I point to the gray one with rose-colored diamond shapes. “I like this.”

    “Thanks.”

    I wish I could prolong our interaction somehow so that I can learn more about him. He lingers a too-short moment, then gives me another smile before he turns away.

    I can’t help feeling like something momentous has transpired. I’m a believer in karma and fate and the mysterious workings of the universe. As I watch Beautiful Boy walk away, I hope that meeting him again is meant to be.

    ***

    Excerpt from Black Flowers, White Lies by Yvonne Ventresca. Copyright © 2018 by Yvonne Ventresca. Reproduced with permission from Sky Pony Press. All rights reserved.

     

    Author Bio:

    Yvonne Ventresca

    Whether the topic is psychological manipulation, ghostly encounters, or surviving a deadly outbreak, Yvonne Ventresca enjoys the thrill of writing about frightening situations. BuzzFeed listed her latest novel, BLACK FLOWERS, WHITE LIES at the top of their YA “must read” list for fall 2016, and this psychological thriller received an IPPY Gold Medal for Young Adult Fiction in 2017.

    Her debut YA novel, PANDEMIC (Sky Pony Press, 2014), won a Crystal Kite Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Yvonne’s other credits include several short stories selected for anthologies, as well as two nonfiction books. She is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, SCBWI, The Authors Guild, and International Thriller Writers.

    Besides writing, she loves a good ghost story, and as a third-degree black belt, she studies Isshinryu karate in a haunted dojo. You can learn more about Yvonne and her books at YvonneVentresca.com, where she also features helpful resources for teen writers.

     

    Catch Up With Ms Ventresca on yvonneventresca.com, Goodreads, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, & Facebook!

     

    Tour Participants:

    Visit the other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!

     

    Giveaway:

    This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Yvonne Ventresca. There will be 1 winners of one (1) Amazon.com Giftcard. The giveaway begins on March 6, 2018 and runs through March 13, 2018. Void where prohibited.

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    UNEXPECTED OUTCOMES by Carolyn Ridder Aspenson (Book Blast & Giveaway)

    Unexpected Outcomes by Carolyn Ridder Aspenson Tour Banner

    Unexpected Outcomes

    An Angela Panther Mystery

    by Carolyn Ridder Aspenson

    September 19, 2017 Book Blast

    Synopsis:

    Unexpected Outcomes by Carolyn Ridder Aspenson

    LIES SECRETS AND THE ULTIMATE BETRAYAL.

    When a frantic 911 call stumps a suburban Atlanta police department, psychic medium Angela Panther is asked to help. Without a body or a ransom note, the cops question whether there’s even a crime, but Angela’s certain the woman’s no longer among the living.

    On the outside, the woman’s family seems run of the mill, but Angela’s sixth sense tells her something different, she just has to find the evidence—and the victim’s remains, to prove it.

    With the help of her best friend, Mel, and Fran, her celestial super sleuth mother, she sets out to find it and stumbles into a web of dark, dangerous family secrets worse than she ever imagined.

    When a desperate spirit forces Angela to act on impulse, she makes one wrong move and lands right in the path of the killer. Alone, and begging for her life, Angela realizes she might not make it out alive.

    This book is the 4th in the series but as with all the others, can be read as a stand alone.

    Book Details:

    Genre: Mystery
    Published by: Indie
    Publication Date: September 19 2017
    Number of Pages: 300
    ISBN: ASIN:B074CCC3B2
    Series: The Angela Panther Mystery Series Book 4 | Each is a stand alone mystery
    Purchase Links: Amazon 🔗 | Goodreads 🔗

    Read an excerpt:

    CHAPTER ONE

    “I can’t believe I’m gonna die. Please, no. Why are you shooting at us?”

    I pulled the trigger and watched as the bullet raced through the air, smacking my best friend in the center of her chest.

    I bolted upright; sweat dripping from my forehead, tears streaming down my cheeks, my heart beating faster than ever. I’d just dreamed I’d shot my best friend. My best friend. “It’s just a dream,” I mumbled. “Just a dream.”

    My husband, Jake rolled over and rubbed my leg. “You okay, Babe?”

    I lay down and snuggled into him. “I just shot Mel in my dream.”

    He squeezed his arms tight around me. “We both know that would never happen. You’d be lost without her. It was just a dream. Don’t let it upset you.”

    I glanced at the clock. It was four AM, and I knew I wouldn’t fall back asleep, so I kissed Jake and got up for the day, resigned to the fact that I’d be exhausted before nightfall. I shuffled to the bathroom, closed the double doors, and flipped on the light. My eyes sunk like anchors in the blue and black pits swelling below them. Sleep eluded me most nights, and the nights I did catch a few z’s, were restless and fitful, and it showed.

    Downstairs I made a fresh pot of coffee and while waiting for it to finish, replayed the dream in my head. Nothing was clear except Mel. Images of gravel and trees flashed briefly, too fuzzy and indistinct to identify with any clarity. My gift was communicating with the dead, not predicting the future, and half of me thought the dream meant nothing. The other half though threw red flags up all over the kitchen, practically screaming Danger, Will Robinson. That half knew the Universe didn’t have a rulebook and the fear of what it could mean crushed my heart like a ton of bricks. Six months ago I couldn’t feel what a ghost felt, but that had changed, so I knew anything was possible, and that scared the bejesus out of me. I powered on my phone and pounded out a text to Mel.

    “I had a bad dream,” I wrote.

    It didn’t take long for her to respond. That’s how best friends worked. No matter what time it was, they were there when we needed them. “Wow, me too. It was so strange. I shot you.”

    My heart raced into the anaerobic zone. I snatched my keys from the key box, slipped on my tennis shoes and bolted out the door and into my car in the garage. Both of us having the same dream wasn’t a coincidence. It meant something, and I didn’t need my spidey sense to tell me that.

    I sped fifteen miles over the speed limit and made it to Mel’s house in record time. I killed the lights as I drove into her driveway, and sent her a text. “Don’t freak when the garage door opens; it’s just me.” I’d had the code for years, just like she had mine because best friends shared that kind of stuff.

    She met me in her kitchen, her long black hair pulled into a bun, and her feet snuggled into the fuzzy teddy bear slippers I’d bought her for Christmas last year. “It’s a little early for coffee, doncha think?”

    I couldn’t speak. I just flung myself at her and wrapped my arms around her neck, holding on for dear life.

    “I…I…you’re cutting off my oxygen.”

    I softened my vice-hold but didn’t let go.

    She broke free and raised her eyebrows my direction. “I’m sorry I killed you, but it was just a dream.” She shuffled over to her coffee maker and grabbed the pot. “Flavored or regular?” Clearly, ending my life didn’t impact her as much as her death did me. Then again, she didn’t know I’d bumped her off too. The double sucker punch would surely knock her out, or at least I’d hoped it would.

    I sat at the counter feeling a bit embarrassed for freaking out but based on the changes in my life over the past few years; I was justified. “Either is fine.”

    She rinsed the pot and asked again why I’d showed up at such an ungodly hour.

    I knew Mel’s dream increased the probability of the Universe giving me a message I didn’t want to hear. Was Mel going to die? Was I? And by whose hand? I couldn’t imagine any situation where I’d kill my best friend, but then again, a few years ago I couldn’t imagine talking to dead people, and that was a daily occurrence.

    She placed a fresh cup of coffee next to me. I held it to my nose and took in the spicy, fruity smell, stalling to answer her question.

    “So you gonna spill it or are we gonna sit here and pretend you’re just here to hang out at butt-early o’clock?”

    “How did you kill me?”

    “Why? You do something that would cause me to carry through?” She giggled, but I didn’t think it was funny and my expression told her so. Her smile flipped over. “Come on, what’s going on?”

    “I dreamed I killed you too.”

    She dropped into the seat next to me. “Well, that’s alarming.”

    I nodded.

    “I shot you twice in the chest. Some place outside, but I’m not sure where. It was a quick dream.”

    “Mine too, and it was the same.” I sipped my drink. “Did I say anything to you?”

    She tightened her bun. “I think so, but I can’t remember.”

    “I can’t believe I’m gonna die. Why are you shooting at us?”

    She pointed at me. “That’s really freaky.”

    It was.

    “But,” She rubbed my shoulder. “We didn’t shoot each other, and we’re not going to, so it’s all good. Now can you go home so I can go back to sleep? I’ve got a busy day tomorrow. Deadlines.”

    “It means something. I know it does.”

    She stared into her cup. “I know you’re right, but if I’ve learned anything, it’s that we can’t rush the powers that be into telling us what we don’t know. If you’re supposed to find out, you will. If you’re not, you won’t. But I don’t think one of us is gonna bite the bullet anytime soon.” She grimaced. No pun intended.”

    “I would never shoot you.”

    “Of course not. You don’t have a gun.”

    “There is that.”

    “But I do.” The left side of her upper lip lifted. “And I know how to use it.”

    “So in other words, don’t tick you off.”

    “If I didn’t shoot my cheating ex-husband, there sure as heck ain’t any reason I’d shoot you.”

    “You didn’t have a gun then.”

    “Good point.”

    I guzzled the last bit of my coffee and when I stood, hugged her again. “I love you.”

    “Who doesn’t?” She joked and squeezed me back as hard as I’d squeezed her. “Love you too.”

    I drove home thinking about the dream, the air in the car replaced by an impending doom so thick, if I’d had a knife, I could have sliced it into pieces.

    * * *

    “I can’t believe I’m gonna die. Please, no. Why are you shooting at us?”

    I jumped high enough out of my seat I nearly smacked my head on the ceiling of Detective Aaron Banner’s office. “Oh, my gosh, last night Mel and I dreamed we said the same things to each other.”

    He smacked his hand down on the stop button of the recorder, and we locked eyes. “Care to explain?”

    I did.

    He rewound the tape and played it again from start to finish. The boom of a gunshot echoed through the recorder. Something heavy dropped onto the ground with a thud. A woman screamed. “No, why? Oh my God, no.”

    A man’s voice mumbled something I couldn’t make out. Then another man muttered something else, but I couldn’t understand him either. Whatever happened, happened in real time, and it was abominable.

    “Why? Please God, don’t kill me. My babies. They need me. I can’t believe I’m gonna die. Please, no. Why are you shooting at us?”

    The line went dead.

    I rubbed my neck. The call had come into the dispatch center earlier that morning, and Aaron called me in to help.

    “It’s hard to listen to. Sounds like maybe two men and a woman, but I’m not sure. Thought you might be able to help us with her identity or maybe the location. We don’t know if it’s a robbery or an assault or if the woman is dead—nothing.”

    The woman on the line never spoke to the operator directly, and never said her name. It appeared she was just trying to give clues to what was happening. Because of the shots, time was important, and we didn’t have much of it.

    “The operator called back once the line went dead. Got a voicemail for a girl named Sarah.”

    “Can you trace the call or find out the billing address for the owner?” I asked.

    He shook his head. “Track phone. They’re not traceable. We’ve been calling the number back since we received the call, but it just goes straight to voicemail.” He paused and played the recording one more time. “Usually the phone company doesn’t keep the information on the purchaser, but the carrier gave us the number for the last call. Belongs to a man by the name of Stu Walker.” He tapped a pencil on his desk.

    “Have you called him or sent anyone out there?”

    “Got voicemail on his line, too. Sent a squad out twice already but no one’s been home. Thought I’d call you and have you come out with me.”

    I stood. “Let’s go.”

    Aaron and I met a few years back when a little boy’s spirit asked me to give his parents a message. I’d been able to communicate with spirits for some time, though according to my mother Fran Richter, I’d done it as a child too, but as I aged, the gift lessened until it disappeared completely. It resurfaced when my mother died and decided to test the psychic waters. When her ghost appeared to me, I thought I’d flipped my lid. It was even harder when other ghosts came around asking for help with their earthly business. I wasn’t thrilled at first but eventually realized the curse was truly a gift. Ever since Aaron saw my gift up close and personal, I’d been his psychic medium consultant, off the record and free of charge. We’d also become friends, and I was grateful for all of it, but for the friendship most of all.

    We arrived at a shabby brown stucco house on the outskirts of town, where the city had yet to pilfer all the farmland from its owners and stack two hundred plus home nearly on top of each other in an upscale, amenities-laden subdivisions. The house was in disrepair, with shutters hanging by a hair and a boarded up window in the garage. A Pitbull sat chained to a tree near the gravel driveway. It was thirsty and tired. I wanted to unleash it and take it home with me. The whole scene matched the stereotype image other parts of the country have of the south. I said a silent thank you to the Universe for the blessings in my life.

    Aaron knocked on the door and a young man, maybe in his twenties, with a shaved head and a dark, brown, at least six-inch long beard, opened it. “Yeah?”

    My spidey senses sent a smidgen of a tingle zipping down my spine.

    Aaron flashed his badge. “You Stu Walker?”

    The man’s shoulders curved inward just a bit. “Yessir.”

    “We understand you made a call to a woman named Sarah at about 9 AM this morning. Can you tell me anything about that woman?”

    He shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Uh, yeah. Sarah Rochen. My cousin. Why you asking?”

    “We’re trying to locate her whereabouts. Do you happen to know where she is?”

    I caught his eyes widen for a millisecond. Had I blinked, I would have missed it. It sent my spidey sense shooting back up my spine like a just lit firework.

    He examined the ground near his feet and then shook his head. “I haven’t talked to her since this mornin’, but you might could talk to her ma.”

    Aaron took down the mother’s phone number. “Thank you, Mr. Walker. What was your conversation with Ms. Rochen about?”

    He rubbed his head. “I told her I might could get her a new car, and she was supposed to call me back later today to go and see it before she went back to Savannah.”

    “Do you know why she was going to Savannah?”

    “That’s where she lives.”

    “Do you know what she was planning to do today or why she was in town?”

    He shook his head. “Something ‘bout seeing her kids.” He hemmed and hawed and kicked at the ground. “I don’t know anything about it really, but her ma might know.”

    Aaron cut the meeting short. “You got an address for her mother?”

    “I don’t know the address, but I could get you there from here.”

    “It’s okay. I can get it through my department. Thank you for your time. You have a nice day.”

    I smiled at him and followed Aaron back to the car.

    In the car I gave Aaron my two cents. “Something’s not right about that guy.”

    “He’s just a good ol’ country boy.” He got on his car radio and asked to have an address run on Sarah Rochen’s mother’s cell number. “You have time to go there, too?”

    “Sure.”

    Based on the address, her mother was only fifteen minutes from where we were. Dawsonville was growing, but there were still a lot of traditional neighborhoods and farms instead of designated subdivisions like mine. Sarah’s mother, LuAnn Jacobs, lived in one of them. Her house, a blue and white, hardieplank sided ranch, sat on a small, weed infested hill. Aaron trudged up the gravel and dirt driveway, and the bumping from the holes in it agitated my sciatica. I rubbed my leg to relieve the throbbing.

    LuAnn Jacobs answered the door immediately. “We’re looking to convert, but thanks.” She slammed the door before Aaron could respond.

    I giggled under my breath. Aaron however, did not.

    He tapped on the door once more. “Mrs. Jacobs, I’m Detective Aaron Banner.” He flipped his badge toward where the closed door met the frame.

    She cracked the door open, snuck a peek at the badge, and then swung it open again.

    “G’moring, ma’am. Earlier this morning we received a 911 call from a woman who we now believe to be your daughter, Sarah Rochen.”

    Aaron explained that the call was disturbing, but didn’t go into any detail. “Have you heard from your daughter, Mrs. Jacobs?”

    “Uh, not since breakfast. What’s going on?”

    “Do you know why Sarah was in town?”

    She clasped her arms across her chest, and in a sticky, almost too sweet voice, said, “Yeah. Uh, she and her husband Larry, they came up from Savannah yesterday, for a visit and maybe to buy a new car.”

    A man stood in the doorway behind Mrs. Jacobs. His greasy brown hair was long enough to be pulled into a ponytail at the base of his neck. We made eye contact, and I shivered. The man was scary.

    Mrs. Jacobs chewed a piece of gum the way Emily did, her mouth open, making juicy, chomping sounds while she spoke. “Just for a visit. They came to visit.” She explained that they’d come to see their two daughters, and they’d hoped to take them home if they could get approval for the new car.

    I forced back the anger brewing in the pit of my stomach. My misophonia—generally coined the hatred of human sounds, and particularly those related to eating—fought to get the best of me, but I refused to let it, instead, focusing on the task at hand.

    “Can you explain why her children are here in town?” Aaron asked.

    “The county took them away, and they’re living with family ‘til Sarah and Larry get their house in order. They came here so they could get a safe car. Stu was supposed to get them a deal on one.

    “When did they arrive?”

    “Yesterday.”

    “When was the last time you saw your daughter?”

    “Last night. She came by to visit with Ashley.”

    “Is that one of her daughters?”

    “Her oldest. She’s been living with us,” she angled her body toward the man behind her and placed her hand on his shoulder. “My husband Johnny and me, ‘til this whole mess is handled.”

    I glanced back at the man and caught him eyeing me again, but he cut away and focused on his wife. The hairs on the back of my neck shot to attention.

    “What happened when she came by last night?”

    “Nothing. She came by to visit Ashley, and Larry stayed back at the hotel so she could have some alone time with her kid. Also because we don’t want that man here at our house.”

    “Why is that?”

    “He’s not good enough for my kid or her babies.”

    My brain wrestled between her words and the juicy chomping. I wanted to reach into her mouth and yank the clump of gum out like I used to do with my kids, but of course, I couldn’t. I had to force myself to focus on her words, not the chomping.

    She said they’d decided to stay at a hotel somewhere about halfway between her house and Sarah’s cousin, Jenny’s house, where her other daughter, Lizzie stayed. LuAnn explained that Sarah told her they’d planned to see Lizzie the next day.

    “They got that little two-door thing, and those back seats just aren’t big enough for two car seats, and the seatbelts don’t work neither, so they hoped to get a minivan or an SUV. Stu said he knew someone who could give them a good deal.”

    “Is Ashley here with you now?” Aaron asked.

    She nodded, and I noticed her husband’s facial expression shift. If I’d blinked, I would have missed it. “She’s in the kitchen eating pancakes. You wanna see her?” She poked her husband. “Johnny, go fetch Ash for them, will ya?”

    He stood there for a second, his eyes drilling into his wife’s.

    She grimaced. “Please?” Chomp.

    A minute later a petite, strawberry blond haired girl ambled over to the door, Johnny’s hand squeezing her left shoulder. She kept her eyes glued to the ground, even though I’d raised the tone of my voice several octaves when I said hi. Her skin was so pasty, I assumed she hadn’t seen the sun in months, and it was unlikely she’d had a good meal in that time either, her face shallow, her cheeks barely there. It made my heart hurt. The good news was she was safe with her grandmother, even though she didn’t appear happy about it.

    “Okay,” Aaron said. “So they stayed at the hotel last night?”

    “Right, and then they were going to her cousin’s to see Lizzie. I just…I just talked to her a bit ago. She was happy. She was excited to possibly be getting to take her babies home with her.”

    “What kind of car were they driving?” Aaron asked.

    “Lemme think about that for a bit.” She chewed on the gum like a cow.

    “Johnny, what kind of car they do they have again?”

    “One of those old Datsuns. A 240Z, I think.”

    “That’s right. A gold one. Larry loves that car. He’s torn up that they have to sell it. Too bad for them. Shouldn’t have bought something like that with the babies.” She rubbed her hands together. “Is my baby okay?”

    “We’re doing our best to find out, ma’am.” Aaron asked for Sarah’s cousin’s contact information, wrote it down, and then closed his notebook. “We’ll be in touch as soon as we have more information. In the meantime though, if you could write any phone numbers you have for Larry and Sarah, as well as their address, I’d appreciate it.” He handed her his notepad and pen. “And if you hear from your daughter or think of something that might help us, please call me right away.”

    She wrote out the information and handed him back his things as he gave her his business card.

    As LuAnn closed the door, her husband pushed it back open and stepped outside. “I was you, I’d be looking at Larry Rochen for doing something he ought not to do.” He spoke as if he’d just had a tooth pulled, and his face was still numb, except from the looks of his teeth, it was obvious he hadn’t been to a dentist in years.

    Aaron had already stepped away from the door, but he paused and flipped back around. “Why is that?”

    He pushed back his shoulders. “Marriage was doomed from the start.”

    LuAnn Jacobs opened the door and stepped partially out. “Everything okay out here?”

    Johnny Jacobs’s face morphed into a snarl like one of a dog ready to attack. “Get inside, woman.”

    Her jaw tensed, and I caught her hands form into fists. She noticed me notice them, released them, and did as she was told.

    Back in the car, Aaron called in the make and model of the Rochen’s vehicle and got the tag number. “Set up a BOLO for the vehicle and notify the surrounding counties,” he told his dispatch. He dialed Jenny’s number and put the call on speaker.

    “She’s not here,” Jenny said. “She called and said she had something to do before she came by, and she’d call on her way.” She confirmed Lizzie was still there.

    Aaron asked her to notify him if she heard from her cousin, but didn’t give any details as to why. I assumed he figured the word would get out soon enough.

    “Do you think Larry’s involved?” I asked. “Johnny Jacobs sure threw him under the bus. Actually, LuAnn Jacobs didn’t seem like that big of a fan, either.”

    “We usually look at the spouse first in domestic cases.” He headed south on the highway. “We’ll go back to the department, and I’ll find out what we can about him and his family. I’ll get the DA to ask for a warrant to get their financials. See if there’s been any recent transactions since the call, or shortly before. You get anything from the mother?”

    I exhaled. “I’m pretty sure I’ve explained the difference between psychic and psychic medium before, so…”

    He nodded. “I know the difference, but you’ve got a good—what does Mel call it?”

    “Spidey sense?”

    He snapped his fingers and pointed at me. “Spidey sense. Figured it was worth a shot to ask.”

    “Actually, spidey sense is my term, and I did notice LuAnn didn’t refer to Johnny as Sarah’s father, but other than that, not really. But there’s definitely something off about him.”

    “You don’t have to be psychic to notice that. I’m guessing he’s a stepparent.”

    “Did her chewing grate on your last nerve?”

    He laughed. “The kinds of things I see every day, that’s nothing.”

    “Yeah? Well, someone needs to teach that woman some manners. Five more minutes and my brain would have imploded.”

    “Glad you didn’t leave me with that mess.”

    “You should be. It would have been massive.”

    “I bet.”

    He dropped me off at my car in the department’s parking lot, and I headed home, calling Mel on the way. “Just hung out with your boy toy.”

    “Without me? Rude.”

    “Deadlines, remember?”

    Aaron and Mel had been a couple for some time, and things were serious between them. They were happy, and I was happy they were happy. After Mel’s husband cheated on her with a younger woman—whom he knocked up and married—she definitely deserved happiness. Though the relationship was a bit awkward for me at first, her dating my uno

    “Did you give him a sloppy kiss for me?”

    “Yup. A big one, wet, tongue-wrestling one. I think he liked it, too.”

    “Oh goodie, because that’s all he’s getting today. These deadlines are gonna be the death of me.” She heavy-sighed.

    “You’re working a lot lately.”

    “Don’t I know it.”

    “I miss hanging out with you. ” My voice bordering on whiny.

    “Right back atcha, and you can blame the cheating rat bas—“ She cut herself off. “My ex for that. I don’t get to spend a lotta time with my kids either.”

    “I’m sorry.”

    “It is what it is. I just don’t like it a whole lot.”

    “Neither do I, but you’re providing for your kids and showing them how a single mother steps up, and that’s important.”

    “Can you tell them that, please? All they do is complain about me never having time for them.”

    “They’re young. They’ll understand eventually.” I knew that didn’t matter at the moment, but it was all I could think to say.

    “Well, eventually better come soon because I can only handle so much.”

    I decided not to tell her about the 911 call and the connection between our dream since she already had enough on her plate. “Anyway, he’s got me helping him with a possible case. Lemme know when you’ve got time to discuss.”

    I made it home just in time for my oldest kid Emily, to ignore me. She’d been on a roll as of late, only talking to me when it was an absolute must. She felt she had reason and to a point she sort of did, but it’d been going on for months, and my patience bucket had reached its limit and teetered on its edge.

    A few months back her boyfriend Mike’s mother was killed in a car accident. He was at our house when I found out, and since the Universe had a wicked sense of humor, that’s when his mother’s spirit decided to make an appearance. As the saying goes, the poop hit the fan.

    Emily didn’t know about my gift. Jake and I had decided to keep it from her because she bordered a bit on ridiculously overly dramatic to the hundredth power, and what she didn’t know wouldn’t make us crazy. With the death of Michelle Stevenson, Mike’s mom, she’d obviously found out. I’d been working to re-establish trust with her ever since but to no avail. Emily got her stubbornness from me, and sometimes dealing with her was like looking into a magical mirror and glimpsing bits of teenaged Angela and middle-aged Fran and their relationship. It made me want to apologize to my mom.

    Repeatedly.

    I’d chosen to handle Emily’s latest angst with a slow and steady approach. It hadn’t worked, but I refused to give up. It was better than the alternative; losing my cool, which never worked either, and usually just caused more drama. “Hey Em, how’s it hangin’?” Ugh. My attempts at being cool, calm and collected had such an 80s air to them.

    She sat on the couch, I assumed, planning creative ways to ignore me.

    My mother shimmered in beside her. “Ah Madone, this kid ain’t ever gonna forgive you if you don’t try and make her.”

    I’d already told Emily her grandmother was present more often than not, but she couldn’t see her, and that just made her even more angry with me. Knowing her brother, Josh also had the gift made it a billion times worse, too.

    “Your grandmother says I should use force to get you to stop being mad at me.”

    “I didn’t say that. I said you oughta make her forgive you.”

    “Okay, I stand corrected. She’s saying I should make you forgive me. Apparently, there’s a difference.”

    Emily scanned the room for her grandmother. When she couldn’t see her, she huffed and stood. “Can you not? It’s really bizarre, you like, talking to Grandma.” She stomped to the stairs and pounded up them to her room where she drove her point home by banging her bedroom door closed.

    “That went well,” I said.

    “You oughta drag her back down here by her ear lobe. Time she stops acting like a two-year-old.”

    Well then, Ma’s patience had plummeted to rock bottom too, but she was right. I initially thought I’d give Emily some time to adjust to the news, to deal with the fact that ghosts actually existed, and that some of them, her grandmother included, showed up at our house. It turned out my gift didn’t impress her, and she already believed in ghosts. She was peeved we’d kept it a secret, but wouldn’t fess up to what bothered her the most, so all I could do was assume it was that Josh shared my ability. And that was somehow my fault because apparently, I could control what the Universe did. “Why is everything always my fault with that kid? It’s impossible to change something I can’t control.”

    “That right there is whatcha call karma. You did the same thing to me when you were her age.”

    I rolled my eyes. “I didn’t blame you for everything.”

    “You gotta be kidding me. You blamed me for your wavy hair, those child-bearing hips, and remember that whole 1966 red Mustang thing? That was my fault too.”

    “Well, actually that kinda was. Had you married that guy I could have had it.”

    When I was sixteen, her fiancé Buddy died, she briefly dated a wealthy man who wanted to marry her so badly he told me if I could convince her to, he’d get me a 1966 red Mustang. I gave it my best shot, but couldn’t close the deal, and I never let her forget it.

    “I didn’t love him, and I couldn’t help that. I wanted my Buddy, and no one else compared.”

    I didn’t understand that until I met Jake. If something–God forbid—ever happened to him, I’d spend the rest of my life alone. My stepmother Helen once said something about my father, and it made sense to me. She said, when you’ve had the best, no one else could live up to that, so why bother trying? I realized my mother never dated anyone after Buddy died, and I understood why.

    “I know, but it was a red 1966 Mustang.”

    “But it was a red 1966 Mustang. Madone, and it woulda been a loveless marriage.”

    “I know, and I get that now, but then all I cared about was myself. What you wanted didn’t even cross my mind.”

    She raised her eyebrows.

    The irony hit me. I dipped my head back and sighed. “I hate it when you do that.” I poured myself a glass of water and plopped onto a barstool. “I don’t know what to do.”

    “You gotta show her that she’s got a bit of the gift, too.”

    “But she doesn’t.”

    “That don’t matter.”

    “Okay then, how do you propose I do that?”

    “Ya know, give her a few signs, make her recognize them. Like you got mad at me for doing before.”

    Ma had tossed a few pillows, moved a few things on Em’s dressers, and one time she ripped the sheets off her bed after a miracle had happened, and Emily had actually made the thing. Instead of getting the hints, Emily just accused a family member—me—of deliberately messing up her room and of course, snooping. But now that she knows her grandmother is around if Ma did it again, she might realize it’s not me, but her Grandmother, and maybe she’ll think she’s got a little bit of the gift. Maybe being the operative word in that sentence.

    “That’s not a bad idea,” I said. “But it’s probably—”

    Before I could add to that, she interrupted me. “I’m on it.”

    I chuckled, figuring she’d probably headed up to her granddaughter’s room to toss a pillow or two.

    I snatched a Diet Coke—affectionately known as Diet Crack in my house—from the fridge and headed to the deck, my place for contemplation and focus. I wanted to try and connect with Sarah Rochen. If she was dead, and I was pretty sure she was, I might be able to concentrate on her spirit and find her. If I was wrong, and she wasn’t, then I was out of luck.

    Summoning spirit wasn’t tops on my list of things to do. I could do it, but I didn’t like it, so I avoided it as much as possible. Mel once asked me what I didn’t like about it, and I couldn’t come up with anything other than it made me feel icky. Feeling icky wasn’t reason enough not to do something except workout, so I centered my mind on the photo LuAnn Jacobs gave Aaron and gave it a shot.

    “Sarah, can you hear me?” I closed my eyes and thought about the things she’d done since coming to town. “Sarah? Hello? You there?”
    The dream played like a movie in my mind’s eye. Me holding a gun pointed at Mel. Mel on her knees, begging me not to shoot her. The gravel, the trees. Pulling the trigger. The booming sound of the bullet exploding from the gun.

    I flinched, and my eyes burst open. Sarah was definitely dead. I just had to figure out what was trying to tell me through the dream. Whatever it was, was key to what happened, where we’d find her body, and the answers to the questions running through my mind. And I wouldn’t stop trying to find out until I figured it out.

    ***

    Excerpt from Unexpected Outcomes by Carolyn Ridder Aspenson. Copyright © 2017 by Carolyn Ridder Aspenson. Reproduced with permission from Carolyn Ridder Aspenson. All rights reserved.

    Author Bio:

    Carolyn Ridder Aspenson

    Carolyn Ridder Aspenson currently calls the Atlanta suburbs home, but can’t rule out her other two homes, Indianapolis and somewhere in the Chicago suburbs.

    She is old enough to share her empty nest with her husband, two dogs and two cats, all of which she strongly obsesses over repeatedly noted on her Facebook and Instagram accounts, and is working on forgiving her kids for growing up and leaving the nest. When she is not writing, editing, playing with her animals or contemplating forgiving her kids, she is sitting at Starbucks listening in on people’s conversations and taking notes, because that stuff is great for book ideas. (You have officially been warned!)

    On a more professional note, she is the bestselling author of the Angela Panther cozy mystery series featuring Unfinished Business An Angela Panther Mystery, Unbreakable Bonds An Angela Panther Mystery and Uncharted Territory An Angela Panther Mystery, The Christmas Elf, An Angela Panther Holiday Short, The Ghosts, An Angela Panther Holiday Short, The Inn At Laurel Creek, a contemporary romance novella, Santa’s Gift, a Cumming Christmas Novella and 8 To Lose The Weight, a lifestyle eating program. Carolyn is also a freelance writer and editor with Literati Editing.

    For more information, visit http://carolynridderaspenson.com ;
    www.facebook.com/carolynridderaspensonauthor;
    Carolyn Ridder Aspenson Author on Pinterest
    Carolynridderaspenson on Instagram
    Twitter: @awritingwoman

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    WAR HAWK by James Rollins and Grant Blackwood ~ Book Blast

    War Hawk

    by James Rollins & Grant Blackwood

    January 10, 2017 Book Blast

    on Tour February 13 – 28, 2017

    Synopsis:

    War Hawk by James Rollins

    Former Army Ranger Tucker Wayne and his war dog Kane are thrust into a global conspiracy in this second Sigma Force spinoff adventure from #1 New York Times bestselling author James Rollins and Grant Blackwood.

    Tucker Wayne’s past and present collide when a former army colleague comes to him for help. She’s on the run from brutal assassins hunting her and her son. To keep them safe, Tucker must discover who killed a brilliant young idealist-a crime that leads back to the most powerful figures in the U.S. government.

    From the haunted swamplands of the deep South to the beachheads of a savage civil war in Trinidad, Tucker and his beloved war dog, Kane, must work together to discover the truth behind a mystery that dates back to World War II, involving the genius of a young code-breaker, Alan Turing…

    They will be forced to break the law, expose national secrets, and risk everything to stop a madman determined to control the future of modern warfare for his own diabolical ends. But can Tucker and Kane withstand a force so indomitable that it threatens our future?

    Book Details:

    Genre: Thriller
    Published by: William Morrow
    Publication Date:December 27th 2016 (first published April 19th 2016)
    Number of Pages: 544
    ISBN: 0062135295 (ISBN13: 9780062135292)
    Series: Tucker Wayne #2
    Purchase Links: Amazon 🔗 | Barnes & Noble 🔗 | Goodreads 🔗

    Read an excerpt:

    Prologue

    Spring 1940

    Buckinghamshire, England

    Few in the Abwehr’s military intelligence knew his true name or even his intent here on British soil. The spy went by the code name Geist, the German word for ghost, and for him failure was not an option.

    He lay on his stomach in a muddy ditch, with ice-encrusted cattails stabbing at his face. He ignored the midnight cold, the frigid gusts of breezes, the ache of his frozen joints. Instead, he concentrated on the view through the binoculars fixed to his face.

    He and his assigned team lay alongside the banks of a small lake. A hundred yards off, on the opposite shore, a row of stately rural mansions sat dark, brightened here and there by the rare sliver of yellow light peeking through blackout curtains. Still, he spotted rolls of barbed wire mounted atop the garden walls of one particular estate.

    Bletchley Park.

    The place also went by a code name: Station X.

    The seemingly nondescript country house masked an operation run by British intelligence, a joint effort by MI6 and the Government Code and Cypher School. In a series of wooden huts set up on those idyllic acres, the Allied forces had gathered the greatest mathematicians and cryptographers from around the globe, including one man, Alan Turing, who was decades ahead of his peers. Station X’s goal was to break the German military’s Enigma code, using tools built by the geniuses here. The group had already succeeded in building an electromechanical decrypting device called The Bombe, and rumors abounded about a new project already under way, to build Colossus, the world’s first programmable electric computer.

    But destroying such devices was not his goal this night.

    Hidden upon those grounds was a prize beyond anything his superiors could imagine: a breakthrough that held the potential to change the very fate of the world.

    And I will possess it—or die trying.

    Geist felt his heart quicken.

    To his left, his second in command, Lieutenant Hoffman, pulled the collar of his jacket tighter around his neck as an icy rain began to fall. He shifted, cursing his complaint. “Gott verlassenen Land.

    Geist kept his binoculars in place as he scolded the head of the commandos. “Silence. If anyone hears you speaking German, we’ll be stuck here for the rest of the war.”

    Geist knew a firm hand was needed with the eight-man team under his charge. The members had been handpicked by the Abwehr not only for their superb martial skills but for their grasp of English. Whatever the British might lack in military presence out here in the rural regions, they made up for by a vigilant citizenry.

    “Truck!” Hoffman rasped.

    Geist glanced over his shoulder to the road passing through the woods behind him. A lorry trundled along, its headlights muted by blackout slits.

    “Hold your breath,” Geist hissed.

    He wasn’t about to let their presence catch the attention of the passing driver. He and the others kept their faces pressed low until the sound of the truck’s puttering engine faded away.

    “Clear,” Hoffman said.

    Geist checked his watch and searched again with his binoculars.

    What is taking them so long?

    Everything depended on clockwork timing. He and his team had offloaded from a U-boat five days ago onto a lonely beach. Afterward, the group had split into teams of two or three and worked their way across the countryside, ready with papers identifying them as day laborers and farmhands. Once they reached the target area, they had regrouped at a nearby hunting shack, where a cache of weapons awaited them, left by sleeper agents who had prepped the way in advance for Geist’s team.

    Only one last detail remained.

    A wink of light caught his attention from the grounds neighboring the Bletchley Park estate. It shuttered off once, then back on again—then finally darkness returned.

    It was the signal he had been waiting for.

    Geist rolled up to an elbow. “Time to move out.”

    Hoffman’s team gathered their weapons: assault rifles and noise-suppressed pistols. The largest commando—a true bull of a man named Kraus—hauled up an MG42 heavy machine gun, capable of firing twelve hundred rounds per minute.

    Geist studied the black-streaked faces around him. They had trained for three months within a life-sized mock-up of Bletchley Park. By now, they could all walk those grounds blindfolded. The only unknown variable was the level of on-site defense. The research campus was secured by both soldiers and guards in civilian clothes.

    Geist went over the plan one last time. “Once inside the estate, torch your assigned buildings. Cause as much panic and confusion as possible. In that chaos, Hoffman and I will attempt to secure the package. If shooting starts, take down anything that moves. Is that understood?”

    Each man nodded his head.

    With everyone prepared—ready to die if need be—the group set off and followed the contour of the lake, sticking to the mist-shrouded forest. Geist led them past the neighboring estates. Most of these old homes were shuttered, awaiting the summer months. Soon servants and staff would be arriving to prepare the country homes for the leisure season, but that was still a couple of weeks away.

    It was one of the many reasons this narrow window of opportunity had been chosen by Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of German military intelligence. And there was one other time-critical element.

    “Access to the bunker should be just up ahead,” Geist whispered back to Hoffman. “Ready the men.”

    The British government—aware that Adolf Hitler would soon launch an air war against this island nation—had begun constructing underground bunkers for its critical installations, including Bletchley Park. The bunker at Station X was only half completed, offering a brief break in the secure perimeter around the estate.

    Geist intended to take advantage of that weakness this night.

    He led his team toward a country house that neighbored Bletchley Park. It was a red-brick Tudor with yellow shutters. He approached the stacked-stone fence that surrounded the grounds and waved his team to flatten against it.

    “Where are we going?” Hoffman whispered. “I thought we were going through some bunker.”

    “We are.” Only Geist had been given this last piece of intelligence.

    He crouched low and hurried toward the gate, which he found unlocked. The winking signal earlier had confirmed that all was in readiness here.

    Geist pushed open the gate, slipped through, and led his team across the lawn to the home’s glass-enclosed conservatory. He found another unlocked door there, hurried inside with his men, and crossed to the kitchen. The all-white cabinetry glowed in the moonlight streaming through the windows.

    Wasting no time, he stepped to a door beside the pantry. He opened it and turned on his flashlight, revealing a set of stairs. At the bottom, he found a stone-floored cellar; the walls were white-painted brick, the exposed ceiling a maze of water pipes running through the floor joists. The cellar spanned the width of the house.

    He led his team past stacks of boxes and furniture draped in dusty sheets to the cellar’s eastern wall. As directed, he pulled away a rug to reveal a hole that had been recently dug through the floor. Another bit of handiwork from Canaris’s sleeper agents.

    Geist shone his flashlight down the hole, revealing water flowing below.

    “What is it?” Hoffman asked.

    “Old sewer pipe. It connects all the estates circling the lake.”

    “Including Bletchley Park,” Hoffman realized with a nod.

    “And its partially completed bunker,” Geist confirmed. “It’ll be a tight squeeze, but we’ll only need to cross a hundred meters to reach the construction site of that underground bomb shelter and climb back up.”

    According to the latest intelligence, those new foundations of the bunker were mostly unguarded and should offer them immediate access into the very heart of the estate’s grounds.

    “The Brits won’t know what hit them,” Hoffman said with a mean grin.

    Geist again led the way, slipping feetfirst through the hole and dropping with a splash into the ankle-deep dank water. He kept one hand on the moldy wall and headed along the old stone pipe. It was only a meter and a half wide, so he had to keep his back bowed, holding his breath against the stink.

    After a handful of steps, he clicked off his flashlight and aimed for the distant glow of moonlight. He moved more slowly along the curving pipe, keeping his sloshing to a minimum, not wanting to alert any guards who might be canvassing the bunker’s construction site. Hoffman’s teammates followed his example.

    At last, he reached that moonlit hole in the pipe’s roof. A temporary grate covered the newly excavated access point to the old sewer. He fingered the chain and padlock that secured the grate in place.

    Unexpected but not a problem.

    Hoffman noted his attention and passed him a set of bolt cutters. With great care, Geist snapped through the lock’s hasp and freed the chain. He shared a glance with the lieutenant, confirming everyone was ready—then pushed the grate open and pulled himself up through the hole.

    He found himself crouched atop the raw concrete foundations of the future bunker. The skeletal structure of walls, conduits, and plumbing surrounded him. Scaffolding and ladders led up toward the open grounds of the estate above. He hurried to one side, ducking under a scaffold, out of direct view. One by one the remaining eight commandoes joined him.

    Geist took a moment to orient himself. He should be within forty meters of their target: Hut 8. It was one of several green-planked structures built on these grounds. Each had its own purpose, but his team’s goal was the research section overseen by the mathematician and cryptanalyst Alan Turing.

    He gestured for the men to huddle together.

    “Remember, no shooting unless you’re intercepted. Toss those incendiaries into Huts 4 and 6. Let the fire do the work for us. With any luck, the distraction will create enough confusion to cover our escape.”

    Hoffman pointed to two of his men. “Schwab, you take your team to Hut 4. Faber, you and your men have Hut 6. Kraus, you trail us. Be ready to use that machine gun of yours if there is any trouble.”

    The lieutenant’s men nodded in agreement, then scaled the ladders and disappeared out of the open pit of the bunker. Geist followed on their heels with Hoffman and Kraus trailing him.

    Staying low, he headed north until he reached Hut 8 and flattened against the wooden siding. The door should be around the next corner. He waited a breath, making sure no alarm had been raised.

    He counted down in his head until finally shouts arose to the east and west. “Fire, fire, fire!

    Upon that signal, he slid around the corner and climbed a set of plank steps to reach the door into Hut 8. He turned the knob as the night grew brighter, flickering with fresh flames.

    As more shouts rose, he pushed through the doorway and into a small room. The center was dominated by two trestle tables covered in stacks of punch cards. The whitewashed walls were plastered with propaganda posters warning about ever-present Nazi eyes and ears.

    With his pistol raised, he and Hoffman rushed across and burst through the far doorway into the next room. Seated at a long table, two women sorted through more piles of punch cards. The woman to the right was already looking up. She spun in her chair, reaching for a red panic button on the wall.

    Hoffmann shot her twice in the side. The suppressed gunfire was no louder than a couple of firm coughs.

    Geist took out the second woman with a single round through her throat. She toppled backward, her face still frozen in an expression of surprise.

    They must have been Wrens—members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service—who were assisting in the work being conducted here.

    Geist hurried to the first woman, searched her pockets, and came up with a thumb-sized brass key. On the second woman, he found a second key, this one iron.

    With his prizes in hand, he hurried back to the main room.

    From outside, there arose the wonk-wonk-wonk of an alarm klaxon.

    So far our subterfuge seems to be—

    The rattling blasts of a submachine gun cut off this last thought. More gunfire followed. Hoffman cursed.

    “We’ve been discovered,” the lieutenant warned.

    Geist refused to give up. He crossed to a waist-high safe along one wall. As expected, it was secured by two keyed locks, top and bottom, and a combination dial in the center.

    “Need to hurry, sir,” Hoffmann rasped next to him. “Sounds like we got a lot of foot traffic outside.”

    Geist pointed to the door. “Kraus, clear a path for us back to the bunker.”

    The large soldier nodded, hefted up his heavy weapon, and vanished out the door. As Geist inserted his two keys, Kraus’s MG42 opened up outside, roaring into the night.

    Geist focused on the task at hand, turning one key, then the other, getting a satisfying thunk-thunk in return. He moved his hand to the combination lock. This was truly the test of the Abwehr’s reach.

    He spun the dial: nine…twenty-nine…four.

    He took a breath, let it out, and depressed the lever.

    The safe door swung open.

    Thank God.

    A quick search inside revealed only one item: a brown accordion folder wrapped in red rubber bands. He read the name stenciled on the outside.

    The ARES Project

    He knew Ares was the Greek god of war, which was appropriate, considering the contents. But that connotation only hinted at the true nature of the work found inside. The acronym—ARES—stood for something far more earth-shattering, something powerful enough to rewrite history. He grabbed the folder with trembling hands, knowing the terrifying wonders it held, and stuffed the prize into his jacket.

    His second in command, Hoffman, stepped over to the hut’s door, cracked it open, and yelled outside. “Kraus!”

    “Komm!” Kraus answered in German, forsaking any need for further subterfuge. “Get out here before they regroup!”

    Geist joined Hoffman at the door, pulled the pin on an incendiary grenade, and tossed it back into the center of the room. Both men lunged outside as it exploded behind them, blowing out the windows with gouts of flames

    To their left, a pair of British soldiers sprinted around the corner of the hut. Kraus cut them down with his machine gun, but more soldiers followed, taking cover and returning fire, forcing Geist’s team away from the excavated bunker—away from their only escape route.

    As they retreated deeper into the grounds, smoke billowed more thickly, accompanied by the acrid stench of burning wood.

    Another set of figures burst through the pall. Kraus came close to carving them in half with his weapon, but at the last moment, he halted, recognizing his fellow commandos. It was Schwab’s team.

    “What about Faber and the others?” Hoffman asked.

    Schwab shook his head. “Saw them killed.”

    That left only the six of them.

    Geist quickly improvised. “We’ll make for the motor pool.”

    He led the way at a dead run. The team tossed incendiaries as they went, adding to the confusion, strafing down alleyways, dropping anything that moved.

    Finally they reached a row of small sheds. Fifty meters beyond, the main gate came into view. It looked like a dozen soldiers crouched behind concrete barriers, guns up, looking for targets. Spotlights panned the area.

    Before being seen, Geist directed his group into a neighboring Quonset hut, where three canvas-sided lorries were parked.

    “We need that gate cleared,” Geist said, looking at Hoffman and his men, knowing what he was asking of them. For any chance of escape, many of them would likely die in the attempt.

    The lieutenant stared him down. “We’ll get it done.”

    Geist clapped Hoffman on the shoulder, thanking him.

    The lieutenant set out with his remaining four men.

    Geist crossed and climbed into one of the lorries, where he found the keys in the ignition. He started the engine, warming it up, then hopped back out again. He crossed to the remaining two trucks and popped their hoods.

    In the distance, Kraus’s machine gun began a lethal chattering, accompanied by the rattle of assault rifles and the overlapping crump of exploding grenades.

    Finally, a faint call reached him.

    Klar, klar, klar!” Hoffman shouted.

    Geist hurried back to the idling lorry, climbed inside, and put the truck into gear—but not before tossing two grenades into each of the open engine compartments of the remaining lorries. As he rolled out and hit the accelerator, the grenades exploded behind him.

    He raced to the main gate and braked hard. British soldiers lay dead; the spotlights shot out. Hoffman rolled the gate open, limping on a bloody leg. Supported by a teammate, Kraus hobbled his way into the back of the lorry. Hoffman joined him up front, climbing into the passenger seat and slamming the door angrily.

    “Lost Schwab and Braatz.” Hoffman waved ahead. “Go, go.”

    With no time to mourn, Geist gunned the engine and raced down the country road. He kept one eye on the side mirror, watching for any sign of pursuit. Taking a maze of turns, he tried to further confound their escape route. Finally, he steered the lorry down a narrow dirt tract lined by overgrown English oaks. At the end was a large barn, its roof half collapsed. To the left was a burned-out farmhouse.

    Geist parked beneath some overhanging boughs and shut off the engine. “We should see to everyone’s injuries,” he said. “We’ve lost enough good men.”

    “Everybody out,” Hoffman ordered, rapping a knuckle on the back of the compartment.

    After they all climbed free, Geist surveyed the damage. “You’ll all get the Knight’s Cross for your bravery tonight. We should—”

    A harsh shout cut him off, barked in German. “Halt! Hände hoch!

    A dozen men, bristling with weapons, emerged from the foliage and from behind the barn.

    “Nobody move!” the voice called again, revealing a tall American with a Tommy gun in hand.

    Geist recognized the impossibility of their team’s situation and lifted his arms. Hoffman and his last two men followed his example, dropping their weapons and raising their hands.

    It was over.

    As the Americans frisked Hoffman and the others, a lone figure stepped from the darkened barn door and approached Geist. He pointed a .45-caliber pistol at Geist’s chest.

    “Tie him up,” he ordered one of his men.

    As his wrists were efficiently bound in rope, his captor spoke in a rich southern twang. “Colonel Ernie Duncan, 101st Airborne. You speak English?”

    “Yes.”

    “Whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?”

    Schweinhund,” Geist answered with a sneer.

    “Son, I’m pretty sure that isn’t your name. I’ll assume that slur is intended for me. So then let’s just call you Fritz. You and I are going to have a talk. Whether it’s pleasant or ugly is up to you.”

    The American colonel called to one of his men. “Lieutenant Ross, put those other three men into the back of their truck and get them ready for transport. Say good-bye to your team, Fritz.”

    Geist turned to face his men and shouted, “Für das Vaterland!

    Das Vaterland!” Hoffman and the others repeated in unison.

    The American soldiers herded the commandos into the back of the lorry, while Colonel Duncan marched Geist over to the barn. Once inside, he closed the doors and waved to encompass the piles of hay and manure.

    “Sorry for our meager accommodations, Fritz.”

    Geist turned to face him and broke into a smile. “Damned good to see you, too, Duncan.”

    “And you, my friend. How’d it go? Find what you were looking for?”

    “It’s in my jacket. For whatever’s it worth, those Germans fight like the devil. Bletchley’s burning. But they should be up and running again in a week.”

    “Good to know.” Duncan used a razor blade to free his bound wrists. “How do you want to play this from here?”

    “I’ve got a small Mauser hidden in a crotch holster.” Geist stood up and rubbed his wrists, then unwound his scarf and folded it into a thick square. He reached into the front of his pants and withdrew the Mauser.

    Geist glanced behind him. “Where’s the back door?”

    Duncan pointed. “By those old horse stalls. Nobody’ll be back behind the barn to see you escape. But you’ll have to make it look convincing, you know. Really smack me good. Remember, we Americans are tough.”

    “Duncan, I’m not keen on this idea.”

    “Necessities of war, buddy. You can buy me a case of scotch when we get back to the States.”

    Geist shook the colonel’s hand.

    Duncan dropped his .45 to the ground and smiled. “Oh look, you’ve disarmed me.”

    “We Germans are crafty that way.”

    Next Duncan ripped open the front of his fatigue blouse, popping buttons off onto the straw-covered floor. “And there’s been a struggle.”

    “Okay, Duncan, enough. Turn your head. I’ll rap you behind the ear. When you wake up, you’ll have a knot the size of a golf ball and a raging headache, but you asked for it.”

    “Right.” He clasped Geist by the forearm. “Watch yourself out there. It’s a long way back to DC.”

    As Duncan turned his head away, a flicker of guilt passed through Geist. Still, he knew what needed to be done.

    Geist pressed the wadded scarf to the Mauser’s barrel and jammed it against Duncan’s ear.

    The colonel shifted slightly. “Hey, what are you—”

    He pulled the trigger. With the sound of a sharp slap, the bullet tore through Duncan’s skull, snapping his friend’s head back as the body toppled forward to the ground.

    Geist stared down. “So sorry, my friend. As you said before, necessities of war. If it makes you feel any better, you’ve just changed the world.”

    He pocketed the pistol, walked to the barn’s back door, and disappeared into the misty night, becoming at last…a true ghost.

    FIRST

    Ghost Hunt

    1

    October 10, 6:39 p.m. MDT
    Bitterroot Mountains, Montana

    All this trouble from a single damned nail…

    Tucker Wayne tossed the flat tire into the back of his rental. The Jeep Grand Cherokee sat parked on the shoulder of a lonely stretch of road in the forested mountains of southwest Montana. These millions of acres of pines, glacier-cut canyons, and rugged peaks formed the largest expanse of pristine wilderness in the Lower 48.

    He stretched a kink out of his back and searched down the winding stretch of blacktop, bracketed on both sides by sloping hills and dense stands of lodgepole pines.

    Just my luck. Here in the middle of nowhere, I pick up a nail.

    It seemed impossible that this great beast of an SUV could be brought low by a simple sliver of iron shorter than his pinkie. It was a reminder of how modern technological progress could still be ground to a halt by a single bit of antiquated hardware like a roofing nail.

    He slammed the rear cargo hatch and whistled sharply. His companion on this cross-country journey pulled his long furry nose out of a huckleberry bush at the edge of the forest and glanced back at Tucker. Eyes the color of dark caramel looked plainly disappointed that this roadside pit stop had come to an end.

    “Sorry, buddy. But we’ve got a long way to go if we hope to reach Yellowstone.”

    Kane shook his heavy coat of black and tan fur, his thick tail flagging as he turned, readily accepting this reality. The two of them had been partners going back to his years with the U.S. Army Rangers, surviving multiple deployments across Afghanistan together. Upon leaving the service, Tucker took Kane with him—not exactly with the army’s permission, but that matter had been settled in the recent past.

    The two were now an inseparable team, on their own, seeking new roads, new paths. Together.

    Tucker opened the front passenger door and Kane hopped inside, his lean muscular seventy pounds fitting snugly into the seat. He was a Belgian Malinois, a breed of compact shepherd commonly used by the military and law enforcement. Known for their fierce loyalty and sharp intelligence, the breed was also well respected for their nimbleness and raw power in a battlefield environment.

    But there was no one like Kane.

    Tucker closed the door but lingered long enough to scratch his partner through the open window. His fingers discovered old scars under the fur, reminding Tucker of his own wounds: some easy to see, others just as well hidden.

    “Let’s keep going,” he whispered before the ghosts of his past caught up with him.

    He climbed behind the wheel and soon had them flying through the hills of the Bitterroot National Forest. Kane kept his head stuck out the passenger side, his tongue lolling, his nose taking in every scent. Tucker grinned, finding the tension melting from his shoulders as it always did when he was moving.

    For the moment, he was between jobs—and he intended to keep it that way for as long as possible. He only took the occasional security position when his finances required it. After his last job—when he had been hired by Sigma Force, a covert branch of the military’s research-and-development department—his bank accounts continued to remain flush.

    Taking advantage of the downtime, he and Kane had spent the last couple of days hiking the Lost Trail Pass, following in the footsteps of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and now they were moving onto Yellowstone National Park. He had timed this trip to the popular park to reach it in the late fall, to avoid the crush of the high season, preferring the company of Kane to anyone on two legs.

    Around a bend in the dark road, a pool of fluorescent lights revealed a roadside gas station. The sign at the entrance read

    Fort Edwin Gas and Grocery. He checked his fuel gauge.

    Almost empty.

    He flipped on his turn signal and swung into the small station. His motel was three miles farther up the road. His plan had been to take a fast shower, collect his bags, and continue straight toward Yellowstone, taking advantage of the empty roads at night.

    Now he had a snag in those plans. He needed to replace the flat tire as soon as possible. Hopefully someone at the gas station knew the closest place to get that done in these remote hills.

    He pulled next to one of the pumps and climbed out. Kane hopped through the window on the other side. Together they headed for the station.

    Tucker pulled open the glass door, setting a brass bell to tinkling. The shop was laid out in the usual fashion: rows of snacks and food staples, backed up by a tall stand of coolers along the back wall. The air smelled of floor wax and microwaved sandwiches.

    “Good evening, good evening,” a male voice greeted him, his voice rising and falling in a familiar singsong manner.

    Tucker immediately recognized the accent as Dari Persian. From his years in the deserts of Afghanistan, he was familiar with the various dialects of that desert country. Despite the friendliness of the tone, Tucker’s belly tightened in a knot of old dread. Men with that very same accent had tried to kill him more times than he could count. Worse still, they had succeeded in butchering Kane’s littermate.

    He flashed to the bounding joy of his lost partner, the unique bond they had shared. It took all of his effort to force that memory back into that knot of old pain, grief, and guilt.

    “Good evening,” the man behind the counter repeated, smiling, oblivious to the tension along Tucker’s spine. The proprietor’s face was nut brown, his teeth perfectly white. He was mostly bald, save for a monk’s fringe of gray hair. His eyes twinkled as though Tucker was a friend he hadn’t seen in years.

    Having met hundreds of Afghan villagers in his time, Tucker knew the man’s demeanor was genuine. Still, he found it hard to step inside.

    The man’s brow formed one concerned crinkle at his obvious hesitation. “Welcome,” he offered again, waving an arm to encourage him.

    “Thanks,” Tucker finally managed to reply. He kept one hand on Kane’s flank. “Okay if I bring my dog in?”

    “Yes, of course. All are welcome.”

    Tucker took a deep breath and crossed past the front shelves, neatly stocked with packets of beef jerky, Slim Jims, and corn chips. He stepped to the counter, noting he was the only one in the place.

    “You have a beautiful dog,” the man said. “Is he a shepherd?”

    “A Belgian Malinois…a type of shepherd. Name’s Kane.”

    “And I am Aasif Qazi, owner of this fine establishment.”

    The proprietor stretched a hand across the counter. Tucker took it, finding the man’s grip firm, the palm slightly calloused from hard labor.

    “You’re from Kabul,” Tucker said.

    The man’s eyebrows rose high. “How did you know?”

    “Your accent. I spent some time in Afghanistan.”

    “Recently, I am guessing.”

    Not so recently, Tucker thought, but some days it felt like yesterday. “And you?” he asked.

    “I came to the States as a boy. My parents wisely chose to emigrate when the Russians invaded back in the seventies. I met my wife in New York.” He raised his voice. “Lila, come say hello.”

    From an office in the back, a petite, gray-haired Afghani woman peeked out and smiled. “Hello. Nice to meet you.”

    “So how did you both end up here?”

    “You mean in the middle of nowhere?” Aasif’s grin widened. “Lila and I got tired of the city. We wanted something that was exact opposite.”

    “Looks like you succeeded.” Tucker glanced around the empty shop and the dark forest beyond the windows.

    “We love it here. And it’s normally not this deserted. We’re between seasons at the moment. The summer crowds have left, and the skiers have yet to arrive. But we still have our regulars.”

    Proving this, a diesel engine roared outside, and a white, rust-stained pickup truck pulled between the pumps, fishtailing slightly as it came to a stop.

    Tucker turned back at Aasif. “Seems like business is picking—”

    The man’s eyes had narrowed, his jaw clenched. The army had handpicked Tucker as a dog handler because of his unusually high empathy scores. Such sensitivity allowed him to bond more readily and deeply with his partner—and to read people. Still, it took no skill at all to tell Aasif was scared.

    Aasif waved to his wife. “Lila, go back in the office.”

    She obeyed, but not before casting a frightened glance toward her husband.

    Tucker moved closer to the windows, trailed by Kane. He quickly assessed the situation, noting one odd detail: duct tape covered the truck’s license plate.

    Definitely trouble.

    No one with good intentions blacked out his license plate.

    Tucker took a deep breath. The air suddenly felt heavier, crackling with electricity. He knew it was only a figment of his own spiking adrenaline. Still, he knew a storm was brewing. Kane reacted to his mood, the hackles rising along the shepherd’s back, accompanied by a low growl.

    Two men in flannel shirts and baseball caps hopped out of the cab; a third jumped down from the truck’s bed. The driver of the truck sported a dirty red goatee and wore a green baseball cap emblazoned with

    I’d rather be doin’ your wife.

    Great…not only are these yokels trouble, they have a terrible sense of humor.

    Without turning, he asked, “Aasif, do you have security cameras?”

    “They’re broken. We haven’t been able to fix them.”

    He sighed loudly. Not good.

    The trio strutted toward the station entrance. Each man carried a wooden baseball bat.

    “Call the sheriff. If you can trust him.”

    “He’s a decent man.”

    “Then call him.”

    “Tucker, perhaps it is best if you do not —”

    “Make the call, Aasif.”

    Tucker headed to the door with Kane and pushed outside before the others could enter. Given the odds, he would need room to maneuver.

    Tucker stopped the trio at the curb. “Evening, fellas.”

    “Hey,” replied Mr. Goatee, making a move to slip past him.

    Tucker stepped to block him. “Store’s closed.”

    “Bull,” said one of the others and pointed his bat. “Look, Shane, I can see that raghead from here.”

    “Then you can also see he’s on the phone,” Tucker said. “He’s calling the sheriff.”

    “That idiot?” Shane said. “We’ll be long gone before he pulls his head outta his ass and gets here.”

    Tucker let his grin turn dark. “I wouldn’t be so sure of that.”

    He silently signaled Kane, pointing an index finger down—then tightening a fist. The command clear: threaten.

    Kane lowered his head, bared his teeth, and let out a menacing growl. Still, the shepherd remained at his side. Kane wouldn’t move unless given another command or if this confrontation became physical.

    Shane took a step back. “That mutt comes at me and I’ll bash his brains in.”

    If this mutt comes at you, you’ll never know what hit you.

    Tucker raised his hands. “Listen, guys, I get it. It’s Friday night, time to blow off some steam. All I’m asking is you find some other way of doing it. The people inside are just trying to make a living. Just like you and me.”

    Shane snorted. “Like us? Them towelheads ain’t nothing like us. We’re Americans.”

    “So are they.”

    “I lost buddies in Iraq—”

    “We all have.”

    “What the hell do you know about it?” asked the third man.

    “Enough to know the difference between these store owners and the kind of people you’re talking about.”

    Tucker remembered his own reaction upon first entering the shop and felt a twinge of guilt.

    Shane lifted his bat and aimed the end at Tucker’s face. “Get outta our way or you’ll regret siding with the enemy.”

    Tucker knew the talking part of this encounter was over.

    Proving this, Shane jabbed Tucker in the chest with the bat.

    So be it.

    Tucker’s left hand snapped out and grabbed the bat. He gave it a jerk, pulling Shane off balance toward him.

    He whispered a command to his partner: “grab and drop.”

    * * *

    Kane hears those words—and reacts. He recognizes the threat in his target: the rasp of menace in his breath, the fury that has turned his sweat bitter. Tense muscles explode as the order is given. Kane is already moving before the last word is spoken, anticipating the other’s need, knowing what he must do.

    He leaps upward, his jaws wide.

    Teeth find flesh.

    Blood swells over his tongue.

    * * *

    With satisfaction, Tucker watched Kane latch on to Shane’s forearm. Upon landing on his paws, the shepherd twisted and threw the combatant to the ground. The bat clattered across the concrete.

    Shane screamed, froth flecking his words. “Get him off, get him off!”

    One of the man’s friends charged forward, his bat swinging down toward Kane. Anticipating this, Tucker dove low and took the hit with his own body. Expertly blunting the blow by turning his back at an angle, he reached up and wrapped his forearm around the bat. He pinned it in place—then side kicked. His heel slammed into the man’s kneecap, triggering a muffled pop.

    The man hollered, released the bat, and staggered backward.

    Tucker swung his captured weapon toward the third attacker. “It’s over. Drop it.”

    The last man glared, but he let the bat fall—

    —then reached into his jacket and lashed out with his arm again.

    Tucker’s mind barely had time to register the glint of a knife blade. He backpedaled, dodging the first slash. His heel struck the curb behind him, and he went down, crashing into a row of empty propane tanks and losing the bat.

    Grinning cruelly, the man loomed over Tucker and brandished his knife. “Time to teach you a lesson about—”

    Tucker reached over his shoulder and grabbed a loose propane tank as it rolled along the sidewalk behind him. He swung it low, cutting the man’s legs out from under him. With a pained cry of surprise, the attacker crashed to the ground.

    Tucker rolled to him, snatched the man’s wrist, and bent it backward until a bone snapped. The knife fell free. Tucker retrieved the blade as the man curled into a ball, groaning and clutching his hand. His left ankle was also cocked sideways, plainly broken.

    Lesson over.

    He stood up and walked over to Shane, whose lips were compressed in fear and agony. Kane still held him pinned down, clamped on to the man’s bloody arm, his teeth sunk to bone.

    “Release,” Tucker ordered.

    The shepherd obeyed but stayed close, baring his bloody fangs at Shane. Tucker backed his partner up with the knife.

    Sirens echoed through the forest, growing steadily louder.

    Tucker felt his belly tighten. Though he’d acted in self-defense, he was in the middle of nowhere awaiting a sheriff who could arrest them if the whim struck him. Flashing lights appeared through the trees, and a cruiser swung fast into the parking lot and pulled to a stop twenty feet away.

    Tucker raised his hands and tossed the knife aside.

    He didn’t want anyone making a mistake here.

    “Sit,” he told Kane. “Be happy.”

    The dog dropped to his haunches, wagging his tail, his head cocked to the side quizzically.

    Aasif joined him outside and must have noticed his tension. “Sheriff Walton is a fair man, Tucker.”

    “If you say so.”

    In the end, Aasif proved a good judge of character. It helped that the sheriff knew the trio on the ground and held them in no high opinion. These boys been raising hell for a year now, the sheriff eventually explained. So far, nobody’s had the sand to press charges against them.

    Sheriff Walton took down their statements and noted the truck’s blacked-out license plate with a sad shake of his head. “I believe that would be your third strike, Shane. And from what I hear, redheads are very popular at the state pen this year.”

    Shane lowered his head and groaned.

    After another two cruisers arrived and the men were hauled away, Tucker faced the sheriff. “Do I need to stick around?”

    “Do you want to?”

    “Not especially.”

    “Didn’t think so. I’ve got your details. I doubt you’ll need to testify, but if you do—”

    “I’ll come back.”

    “Good.” Walton passed him a card. Tucker expected it to have the local sheriff’s department’s contact information on it, but instead it was emblazoned with the image of a car with a smashed fender. “My brother owns a body-repair shop in Wisdom, next town down the highway. I’ll make sure he gets that flat tire of yours fixed at cost.”

    Tucker took the card happily. “Thanks.”

    With matters settled, Tucker was soon back on the road with Kane. He held out the card toward the shepherd as he sped toward his motel. “See, Kane. Who says no good deed goes unpunished?”

    Unfortunately, he spoke too soon. As he turned into his motel and parked before the door to his room, his headlight shone upon an impossible sight.

    Sitting on the bench before his cabin was a woman—a ghost out of his past. Only this figment wasn’t outfitted in desert khaki or in the blues of her dress uniform. Instead, she wore jeans and a light-blue blouse with an open wool cardigan.

    Tucker’s heart missed several beats. He sat behind the wheel, engine idling, struggling to understand how she could be here, how she had found him.

    Her name was Jane Sabatello. It had been over six years since he’d last set eyes on her. He found his gaze sweeping over her every feature, each triggering distinct memories, blurring past and present: the softness of her full lips, the shine of moonlight that turned her blond hair silver, the joy in her eyes each morning.

    Tucker had never married, but Jane was as close as he’d come.

    And now here she was, waiting for him—and she wasn’t alone.

    A child sat at her side, a young boy tucked close to her hip.

    For the briefest of moments, he wondered if the boy—

    No, she would have told me.

    He finally cut off the engine and stepped out of the vehicle. She stood up as she recognized him in turn.

    “Jane?” he murmured.

    She rushed to him and wrapped him in a hug, clinging to him for a long thirty seconds before pulling back. She searched his face, her eyes moist. Under the glare of the Cherokee’s headlamps, he noted a dark bruise under one cheekbone, poorly obscured by a smear of cosmetic concealer.

    Even less hidden was the panic and raw fear in her face.

    She kept one hand firmly on his arm, her fingers tight with desperation. “Tucker, I need your help.”

    Before he could speak, she glanced to the boy.

    “Someone’s trying to kill us.”

    Our Authors Bios:

    James Rollins

    JAMES ROLLINS is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of international thrillers, translated into more than forty languages. His Sigma series has been lauded as one of the “top crowd pleasers” (New York Times) and one of the “hottest summer reads” (People magazine). In each novel, acclaimed for its originality, Rollins unveils unseen worlds, scientific breakthroughs, and historical secrets–and he does it all at breakneck speed and with stunning insight.

    Catch Up with James Rollins on his Website 🔗, Twitter 🔗, & Facebook 🔗.

    GRANT BLACKWOOD

    In addition to his New York Times bestselling collaborations with Clive Cussler and Tom Clancy, GRANT BLACKWOOD is the author of three novels featuring Briggs Tanner: The End of Enemies, The Wall of Night, and An Echo of War. A U. S. Navy veteran, Grant spent three years as an Operations Specialist and a Pilot Rescue Swimmer. He lives in Colorado.

    Catch Up with Grant Blackwood on his Website 🔗, Twitter 🔗, & Facebook 🔗

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