Jul 202017
 

Duplicity

by Jane Haseldine

on Tour July 1-31, 2017

Synopsis:

Duplicity by Jane Haseldine

In Jane Haseldine’s new novel of riveting suspense, Detroit newspaper reporter Julia Gooden is up against the city’s most devious criminal—and her own painful past.
Julia Gooden knows how to juggle different lives. A successful crime reporter, she covers the grittiest stories in the city while raising her two young boys in the suburbs. But beneath that accomplished façade is another Julia, still consumed by a tragedy that unfolded thirty years ago when her nine-year-old brother disappeared without a trace.

Julia’s marriage, too, is a balancing act, as she tries to rekindle her relationship with her husband, Assistant District Attorney David Tanner, while maintaining professional boundaries. David is about to bring Nick Rossi to trial for crimes that include drug trafficking, illegal gambling, and bribery. But the story becomes much more urgent when a courthouse bomb claims several victims—including the prosecution’s key witness—and leaves David critically injured.

Though Julia is certain that Rossi orchestrated the attack, the case against him is collapsing, and his power and connections run high and wide. With the help of Detective Raymond Navarro of the Detroit PD, she starts following a trail of blackmail, payback, and political ambition, little imagining where it will lead. Julia has risked her career before, but this time innocent lives—including her children’s—hang in the balance, and justice may come too late to save what truly matters…

MY REVIEW

5 stars

Julia Gooden, a journalist, and her husband David Tanner, an attorney, are trying to reconcile their marriage after a separation. David is trying a case for the state against an organized crime figure, Nick Rossi, who is charged with dealing in drugs, gambling, and bribery. Jane is attending the trial as the reporter. Then when a protected witness, for the prosecution, enters the courthouse, a massive bomb is detonated killing innocent people and injures her husband. Who was the intended target? Julia is going to find out one way or another even if it means her life may be in jeopardy.

This book was captivating with thrilling suspense throughout. The characters so well developed that they jumped off the pages! So many twists and turns that I could not put it down, wanting to know how it was all going to end. The writing was fluid with such detailed descriptions that I felt as if I was watching a movie in my mind. Totally engrossing with an ending that was shocking!!

This was the first book I read by this author but won’t be the last. I look forward to more titles by this author. Highly recommend!

What Reviewers are Saying about Duplicity:

“Haseldine has a gift for atmosphere, setting, and suspense, and the many twists and turns will keep readers guessing.”—Library Journal

“Julia, introduced in The Last Time She Saw Him (2016), is ferociously bold and persistent as she deals with professional and personal adversity laced with duplicity in this action-packed, plot-driven mystery. This is hard-bitten crime fiction with changes ahead for its unrelenting series protagonist.”—Booklist

“Haseldine (The Last Time She Saw Him, 2016) uses her experience as a crime reporter to bring authenticity to this exciting and gritty tale.”—Kirkus Reviews

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Kensington Publishing
Publication Date: April 2017
Number of Pages: 352
ISBN: 149670407X (ISBN13: 9781496704078)
Series: Julia Gooden Mystery #2 | Duplicity can be read as a stand alone novel
Purchase Links: Amazon 🔗 | Barnes & Noble 🔗 | Goodreads 🔗

Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1

Glenlivet, light on the rocks. A cocktail waitress with bright fuchsia lipstick delivers the drink and motions her head in the direction of the aged fifty-something women two tables down. The recipient of the cocktail turns his head toward the hoots and low whistles from the likely recent divorcees who are ogling him like a lusty spectator sport.

“Want to join us, hon?” the ringleader asks and adjusts her leopard print halter-top to reveal an extra inch of orange, tanned cleavage. In case her intent wasn’t clear enough, the woman scoops a sugar cube from her champagne cocktail, places it between her teeth and starts sucking.

“No thank you,” the businessman answers coolly and places the unwanted drink back on the cocktail waitress’ tray.

He turns his back on the spurned women and locks in on a tall, willowy blond in a white dress that clings to her slender curves as she moves fluidly across the casino floor in his direction.

She pauses at his table, slides into the empty seat across from him and carefully tucks a leather briefcase between her legs.

The rowdy commotion from the neighboring table of women abruptly stops as they wordlessly concede, they’ve been bested by a thoroughbred.

The businessman slips an Italian charcoal grey suit coat over his tall and tightly muscled frame. He tips back the last few sips of the drink he ordered for himself ten minutes earlier and heads toward the lobby, not bothering to look back. He knows the blond will follow.

In the elevator, the mouth of a camera lens captures its occupants’ activities. The pair stand close, but just far enough apart so it doesn’t look obvious they are together, just two attractive strangers in an elevator heading up to their respected rooms. The blond stunner holds the briefcase in her left hand and takes a risk. She lifts her pinky finger up and brushes the back of the businessman’s hand for less than a second.

The elevator arrives on the VIP floor, the best the MGM Grand has to offer.

The blond bends down, slides a key out of the front pocket of the briefcase and opens the hotel room door. Inside, the man stands in front of the floor to ceiling windows. He takes a quick pan of downtown Detroit and then snaps the curtains shut. When it is safe, when they are alone, the blond, now anxious and wanting, drops the briefcase and goes directly for his zipper.

“Wait.” He takes the briefcase over to the bed, opens it, and fans the stack of bills across the mattress like a seasoned blackjack dealer some thirty stories below.

“Two million. You don’t trust me now?” the woman asks with a contrived pout.

He ignores the question until the cash has been fully accounted for.

“Come here,” he commands.

He starts to remove his coat, but she is already there.

“I’ve missed you,” she whispers and cups her long, delicate fingers around his crotch.

He reciprocates by running his hand across the thin silk of her dress directly over her breast, and then squeezes until the blond lets out a gasp.

The blond easily submits when the man pushes her down hard on the bed, letting him believe he still has the upper hand, that he is the aggressor. She stares up at his beautiful face, his breath coming faster now as his body starts to move in a rapid, steady rhythm above her. She doesn’t mind when he closes his eyes. He wants her again, reestablishing her position of control, at least for now. That’s all that matters.

When they are finished, the businessman turns toward the wall in disgust.

“I knew you weren’t through with me yet,” she says. “You take all your hostility out on me in bed. You’re a rough boy, but I like it.”

He ignores her, gets up from the bed, still naked, and heads to the bathroom. The blond is useless to him now. She knows it but still holds on.

“The birthmark on your ass is so sweet. It looks like a crescent moon with a shooting star underneath,” she remarks. “Come back to bed and let me take a closer look.”

The man spins around, anger flashing in his eyes as if the blonde’s comment violated something personal.

“Shut up,” he says.

“No need to talk dirty to me. You know I’ll give you what you want, as long as you give me my share of the money.”

“When it’s over, you’ll get it. That’s the agreement.”

“How do I know you won’t screw me?”

“Because I’m not that guy. The money will be in a safe place.”

“I want access to it.”

“I don’t think so.”

The door to the bathroom slams shut and she is dismissed. Inside the shower, he scrubs every trace of the woman off his body, hoping she will be gone when he comes out. But the blond is still in bed. At least she is sleeping.

The businessman climbs back into his suit, grabs the briefcase and closes the hotel room door quietly behind him. The second elevator in the hallway opens and he disappears inside just as elevator one chimes its arrival to the VIP floor. Its single occupant emerges, a man, squat and thick but moving swiftly like a gymnast. He wears all black, a bulky windbreaker, sweatpants and a baseball cap as if he’s just come from the hotel gym. He lets himself into a room with a key he extracts from a bulky fanny pack that flanks his waist. Inside, he quickly assesses the scene, pulls a tiny camera out from its hiding place inside a fake antique clock on the dresser and tucks it into his coat pocket.

He then retrieves a razor blade and scarf from the pack and heads toward the bed where the blond is still sleeping.

The man moves silently as he eases his body onto the bed. He inches forward across the mattress and then straddles the blond with his hips, locking her in place until she is prone and pinned to the bed. Without opening her eyes, she smiles, thinking her lover has returned. She flicks her tongue across her lips and then opens her mouth expectantly.

“Shhh,” he whispers. “You pay now. We know what you did.”

The woman’s eyes fly open, and she tries to scream out her assailant’s name, but he cuffs one stubby hand across her mouth before she can utter a word. He lifts the razor from his pocket and begins to gently slide the unsharpened side of the blade down her stomach until it reaches the top of her public bone.

“Please!” she begs. “I’ll give you what you want.”

The razor stops short before it makes its final descent.

His breath is warm and steady against her ear. “How do you know what I want?”

“Money. I’ll give it to you.”

He pauses as though considering the request and flicks the dull side of the blade back and forth across her skin.

“God, please. You don’t want money then. Okay. Just tell me what you want and I’ll give it to you.”

He shakes his head and teases the sharp edge of the razor blade against her leg.

“Who is it?” he whispers as the razor makes a tiny, precise knick on the inside of her thigh, drawing a single drop of blood that trickles down her ivory skin like a crimson teardrop.

“The name. I’ll give you the name!” she pleads. “Sammy Biggs, the Butcher. He’s the one. I just found out, I swear. I didn’t betray you. He did. Now please! Let me go.”

The hired hand sighs deeply, as if savoring an indulgent pleasure, now finally satisfied. But not quite. Lessons must be learned and never forgotten. The man stuffs the scarf down the woman’s mouth to muffle the pain of her penance. It is engrained in his soul those who sin must atone. He clasps the razor blade between his thumb and middle finger and cuts the blonde’s left earlobe off in one clean slice.

“Hail Mary, full of grace,” he prays as he pulls out a locket from underneath his black T-shirt. He kisses a likeness of the face of the blessed Virgin Mary etched into the front of the gold necklace charm and stuffs his newly won keepsake from the blond into his pocket.

Chapter 2

Concrete, grey, cold, and quickly passing is the only thing Julia sees. The running started the previous summer when she was at the lake house, the place she mistakenly thought would be a sanctuary for her boys after the separation from her husband David.

The runs started as just one lap around the rocky coastal loop along Lake Huron. But when Julia migrated back to the Detroit suburbs for a second shot at her marriage, her runs progressed and three times a week turned into seven and the start times became earlier and earlier.

Five a.m. Julia conquers the stretch of her Rochester Hills comfortable suburban neighborhood within five minutes. She expands her perimeter to downtown and then all the way to the Auburn Hills border. Ten miles today. No negotiation.

Julia races through the darkness just starting to break and ignores everything she passes, the funky downtown stores, the tidy homes with daily papers waiting on the icy driveway blacktops and the Assembly of God church with its bulletin board warning “Sin: It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time.”

None of the scenery matters. The steady rhythm of her sneakers pounding against the concrete pushes Julia forward, getting her closer to some invisible finish line as she race her one constant opponent: herself.

Spring officially arrived in Michigan a week prior, but the depressing mounds of frozen grey snow from another cruel Midwestern winter obviously didn’t get the memo. Julia pushes herself harder and starts to sprint as she passes her oldest son Logan’s middle school, her half-mile mark to home, and breathes in deeply. The cold air stings as it goes down, but it’s worth it. Julia is certain she can smell the beginnings of the ground starting its impatient thaw and the bulbs, in a deep slumber since October, beginning to stir. Change is coming and she is ready for it.

A car drives by slowly, reaches the corner and then turns back around in her direction. Julia instinctively moves away from the curb and reaches down toward her waist pack. Instead of a water bottle, Julia packs protection, pepper spray and a folding knife with a three-inch blade. Paranoia always ran hard and deep after what happened to her brother when Julia was a little girl, compounded by twelve years covering the crime beat, not to mention a deranged religious fanatic who kidnapped her youngest son. For Julia, it all adds up to one thing: Trust no one.

The car slows to a crawl as it approaches a second time. A dark sedan, nondescript, probably a Ford model about five-years-old with tinted windows, Julia calculates as her hand sweeps inside her pack. She runs her fingers across the flat side of the knife’s blade as the car’s driver side window opens.

“Hey, Gooden, I thought that was you. If you’re going to jog in the dark, you better wear brighter colors or you’re going to get mowed down out here,” Detroit Police Detective Leroy Russell says. Julia recalls Russell lives somewhere in the Rochester Hills community, where his ex-wife is an assistant professor of journalism at Oakland University.

Julia finally exhales, her breath turning into a puff of white that disappears into the frigid late March morning. Now knowing she won’t have to engage in hand-to-hand combat, Julia fixes her gaze back on Russell whose trademark Mr. Clean buzz cut looks freshly-shaven. She feels the sting of adrenaline coursing through her body as the fear leaves her.

She begins to respond to Russell when the smell hits from the open car window. Julia makes out the distinct aroma of almost metabolized late-night, heavy drinking and Old Spice, the latter applied so liberally, it makes her eyes sting.

“How are you doing, Russell?” Julia asks. “Are you on the early shift?”

Russell reaches toward his glove compartment and extracts a green bottle of Excedrin which he pops open and then crushes four white tablets under his tongue.

“Retirement party last night for Sergeant Walter Shaw,” Russell explains. “I’m meeting Navarro for breakfast, so hopefully an order of scrambled eggs and home fries will soak it all up before a hangover hits.”

“You and Navarro are meeting up to discuss the Rossi trial,” Julia states, no question necessary. “I caught both your names on the prosecution’s witness list.”

“That’s right.”

Julia jogs in place without realizing it and strategizes how she can pump Russell for information for her story. The court part of the crime beat is her least favorite, despite the fact Julia is married to a lawyer. To her, courtrooms feel like tight little boxes where various versions of the truth run fast and loose amidst the big show, and the winner is often selected not by the culmination of the presented facts, but by which side puts on a better performance.

“I heard there’s going to be a surprise witness the prosecution is going to pull out at the last minute. Do you know anything about that? We can go off the record. You know I won’t burn you. I just need a name,” Julia pushes.

Russell reaches up and massages his right temple with his index finger.

“I don’t know,” he says. “Even if there is some last-minute witness, Judge Palmer probably won’t allow it if they aren’t on the list. Why are you asking anyway? You’ve got a much better source at home. You and David are back together, right?”

“We’re working on it. I can’t ask David though. It would be a conflict of interest. The D.A.’s office doesn’t want to get sued for leaking information to the press. Plus, David and I are pros. Neither of us would cross that line.”

“Come on. You can’t tell me you don’t pull some favors in the bedroom to get your husband to talk. Sex is a woman’s secret weapon. It always has been since the dawn of time. A sweet, firm ass has toppled many a mighty man. I’m more of a leg man, myself though,” Russell says as he gives Julia’s well-toned runner’s legs a nod of silent approval.

At thirty-seven, Julia has long mastered the fine art of the dodge and weave around unwanted advances. Unless the guy is completely out of line, Julia ignores the come-on like it never happened. The talent serves her well covering the cop beat, where egos and virility are often intertwined, enormous, and surprisingly fragile.

“Where are you and Navarro having breakfast?” she asks.

“Chanel’s in Greektown. You want to join us?”

Julia gives just a hint of a smile. Dodge and weave successful.

“Thanks for the invite. I’ll try.”

“All right, Gooden. Tell the assistant D.A. we’ll see him later. And be careful out here in the dark,” Russell answers and raps a red-chafed hand outside his driver side window before he disappears behind the tinted-glass.

Julia watches Russell’s car pull away and a small shiver runs down her back.

(Don’t ever take a ride from a stranger, Julia, or I swear, I’ll kick your butt).

The sudden childhood memory jolts her, and Julia starts to sprint as if she could race fast enough to outrun the passage of time and warn her younger self to lock the door the night her older brother Ben was taken.

Julia finally reaches home, nowhere left to run. She drops onto the front step, looks up at the first soft lights of dawn finally penetrating through night’s heavy cloak of darkness and chokes back a sob. She knows how to get through the pain. She always has. Julia pushes her emotions down deep and focuses on what she can control.

Her mind clicks off the pieces of the Rossi story she will have to assemble and file into some kind of compelling piece to run in the paper’s online edition before opening arguments. The facts will be the bones of her story: Nick Rossi’s illegal Detroit empire is believed to encompass hijacking and shipping stolen goods, mainly computers and electronics, illegal gambling and drug trafficking. Both the feds and the Detroit PD had been trying to nail him for years. Rossi finally got busted in a city police sting courtesy of hidden cameras placed in the VIP suites of the MGM Grand Hotel. Images on the tapes showed payoffs to the former Detroit mayor and a city councilman, in addition to drug trafficking and cash exchanges for high-stakes gambling bets.

Julia kicks at the frozen ground with the toe of her sneaker and assembles the color elements she will add as sidebars to the main article, the ones that will make the story real to the readers and ultimately make them care: the seventeen-year-old West Bloomfield high school track star who overdosed and died at a party after he graduated that night from ecstasy to heroin for the first and final time, courtesy of Rossi’s stash. Then there is the story of Rossi himself, only nine years old when he witnessed the rape and murder of his mother during a home invasion while the young Rossi bore silent witness as he hid inside a closet and watched the horror unfold through a crack in the door. Since Rossi’s dad had taken off before his son was born, the young Rossi moved in with his uncle, Salvatore Gallo, who ran a moderately successful dry cleaning business with a small bookie operation on the side. Julia and Salvatore Gallo have history, and Julia makes a mental note to herself to call Gallo before she gets to the courthouse to see if he’ll talk.

Julia’s cell phone buzzes inside her waist pack. She looks suspiciously at the phone. 6:15 a.m. Even as a reporter, no one calls that early unless it’s an emergency, and she knows David is still at the house with their boys, Logan and Will, who are sound asleep. She is about to hit the ignore button but stops at the last second when she recognizes the number. Gavin Boyles, the acting mayor’s chief of staff. The other piece of color she needs for the story.

“Gooden here. You’re lucky I’m up.”

“You told me you ran at dawn, so I figured I’d catch you before you got into the newsroom,” Boyles answers. “I checked online a few minutes ago, and I didn’t see your story posted yet.”

“It’ll be up later today. Do you have something for me?”

Boyles, a former TV news anchor before he became a flack, still has the oozing, ultra-smooth voice of a game show host. Julia met him ten years earlier at the scene of a major fire that obliterated a Detroit high-rise and eighteen of its residents who were trapped inside. Boyles showed up late and asked Julia if he could take a look at her notes and she could debrief him on the situation.

“Always working the story, that’s why you’re so good,” Boyles says.

“You’re too kind,” Julia answers and plays the pleasantry game while she waits for Boyles to cut through the bullshit.

“Are you including Mayor Anderson in the story?

“Acting Mayor Anderson?” Julia asks.

“Semantics. We’d prefer not to have Mayor Anderson’s name mentioned unless it pertains to how he is working tirelessly to turn the city around since former mayor Slidell’s indictment for his involvement in the Rossi case. If you write another story about how Slidell took bribes from Rossi to shut him up, you’re doing a disservice to the people of the city. Detroit has suffered enough, don’t you think? You could turn this into a positive story.”

“And how has Anderson turned the city around exactly?”

“Public perception. I want to share something with you. This is off the record for now, all right?”

“Of course,” Julia answers and wonders whether the call might not be a complete waste of her time after all.

“Mayor Anderson will be holding a press conference today announcing a strategic task force dedicated solely to promoting all things positive in Detroit, including a volunteer-driven beautification project to help improve blight. It was my idea. Detroit is trying to make its way back. The residents don’t need a rehashing of another corrupt city official story.”

“Politics isn’t my beat.”

“Neither is business, but your articles are hurting the casinos. Detroit got gutted after the auto industry crashed, and God knows we can’t afford to take any more hits. There’s a responsibility, a fine line, we journalists need to ethically tow.”

“I’m still a journalist. Last I checked, you weren’t.”

On the other end of the phone, Boyles blasts an obnoxious guffaw.

“Always blunt, aren’t you? The press conference is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. on the steps of city hall. I assume you’ll be available since the trial will break for lunch. Mayor Anderson specifically asked for you to be there.”

“Thank you for the invitation. I’ll run this by my managing editor and let her decide who to send. You know how this works. It’s not my call.”

“Got it. I’ll call Margie myself and put in the request. I’m surprised the paper is letting you cover the story when your husband is prosecuting it. Good for you though. You won’t have to work as hard this time.”

Julia grits her teeth and forces herself to still play nice. She may need Boyles in the future.

“I always work hard.”

“I just meant…”

Julia cuts off Boyles before he can finish. “Thanks for the call and the heads up on the press conference.”

Julia gives her phone the finger, the sentiment she’d really like to give Boyles directly. Instead, she shuts her phone off and heads into the warmth of her house that hits her like a blowtorch. She strips off her North Face jacket and then peels off her running pants and nylon shirt that stick to her clammy skin. She frees her curly, dark brown hair from its ponytail and pads softly down the hall as not to wake the boys. Inside the office, she leans over the desk and begins to search for her competitor’s coverage of the Rossi trial. She pulls up the Detroit News website and feels a tug in her stomach. In addition to a big picture preview story on the case, Julia knows the Detroit News reporter is writing a sidebar profile on David as first chair for the prosecution and his likely run for D.A. next year, a promise David made to himself after he gave up a lucrative private practice partnership six months earlier to become a public servant. Still standing, Julia bends down closer to the desk and begins to search whether the Detroit News found out about the surprise witness, or worse, if they got the name before she did.

***

Excerpt from Duplicity by Jane Haseldine. Copyright © 2017 by Jane Haseldine. Reproduced with permission from Jane Haseldine. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

author

Jane Haseldine is a journalist, former crime reporter, columnist, newspaper editor, magazine writer, and deputy director of communications for a governor. Jane writes the Julia Gooden mystery series for Kensington Publishing.

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Jul 102017
 

His Guilt

by Shelley Shepard Gray

on Tour July 10 – August 10, 2017

Synopsis:

His Guilt by Shelley Shepard Gray

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Shelley Shepard Gray delivers the next novel in her Amish of Hart County series—a suspenseful tale of an Amish man who will risk all to protect the woman he loves.

Mark Fisher has returned home to Hart County, determined to put the past behind him. Two years ago, after being wrongly accused of assault, he left the Amish community, though never forgot his home. When the one person who had helped him through his rough times asks for help, Mark returns. But it is pretty Waneta Cain who makes him want to stay…

Neeta is one of the few people in Hart County who doesn’t believe Mark is guilty of hurting anyone. However, his worldliness and tough exterior do make her uneasy. As she begins to see the real man behind all the gossip and prejudice, she wonders if he is the man for her.

Just when Mark starts to believe a new life is possible, a close friend of Neeta’s is attacked. Once again, everyone in the community seems to believe he is guilty. But what hurts most is Neeta’s sudden wariness around him. When another woman is hurt, a woman who is close to both Neeta and himself, Mark fears he knows the real culprit. And time is running out. Will Mark be able to find him before Neeta becomes his next victim?

Book Details:

Genre: Fiction, Amish Fiction
Published by: Avon Inspire/HarperCollins
Publication Date: July 4th 2017
Number of Pages: 304
ISBN: 0062469134 (ISBN13: 9780062469137)
Series: The Amish of Hart County #2 | It is a stand-alone novel
Purchase Links: Amazon 🔗 | Barnes & Noble 🔗 | Goodreads 🔗

Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1

Horse Cove, Kentucky
August 4

He was watching her again.

As she handed her customer change across the counter of the Blooms and Berries nursery, Waneta Cain did her best to pretend that their newest employee was not inordinately interested in everything she did. He was simply observant.

Surely, it was just her imagination playing tricks on her anyway. Mark Fisher was probably trying to see how she handled the checkout counter. She used to watch Mr. Lehmann all the time when she’d first started at the nursery.

That had to be the reason.

“Thanks for your help, Neeta,” Mr. Killian said, interrupting her thoughts. “I’d be lost without you.”

“I’m simply glad I could help ya,” she told the Englisher with a bright smile as he lifted his box of seedlings from the wide well-worn countertop. “See ya soon.”

The man tipped his ball cap. “You sure will if I can’t get these to bear fruit. Wish me luck.”

“Good luck and good blessings, too.” After helping him with the door, she let it close behind her with a satisfying thunk.

She chuckled to herself. That Mr. Killian was a terrible gardener but a frequent customer. She sincerely hoped that one day he would develop that green thumb he wanted so badly.

“Do you always act that way?”

A shiver coursed through her as she turned.

Meeting Mark’s dark-brown eyes, which seemed to be studying her intently, she struggled to appear calm. “Like what?”

Mark stepped away from the row of metal shelves located in the back of the store. He’d been unpacking boxes and restocking shelves for the last hour. Methodically sorting and organizing merchandise while she helped customers. “Like they’re your friends,” he replied. “Like you’re so happy to see them.” Stepping closer, he lifted his shoulder. “Is that how you really are… or is that just an act?”

She didn’t care for the way he seemed to be insinuating that she wasn’t genuine. “It’s not an act. Mr. Killian is in her a lot. He’s nice. We are friends.”

“He’s English and must be fifty years old.”

“I don’t see how that matters. I can like people who are different than me.”

“Maybe you can. But you were sure smiling at him a lot. Or do you do that on purpose? To make sure that he will return?”

His question made her uncomfortable, but his sarcastic tone made her angry. “I don’t know why you are asking such things. I really don’t like what you are suggesting. I’m not doing anything out of the ordinary or smiling at customers in any special way. I’m just being my regular self.”

“Huh. So you treat everyone with smiles and kindness. You are friends with all sorts of people. Even people who are different from you. Except me.”

“I’ve been perfectly amiable to you,” she retorted. Except, of course, that was a lie.

“I don’t think so,” Mark murmured. “I’ve been her seven hours, four of them barely six feet away from you.”

She knew that. She’d known exactly where he was every moment they’d been together. “And?”

“And during all that time you’ve hardly said ten words to me. You sure aren’t smiling at me.”

She opened her mouth, closed it again. What could she say? He wasn’t wrong.

Mark stepped closer, invading her space. She could see the fine brown hairs on his forearms now. Noticed that he hadn’t shaved in a day or two.

“Is it because I was taken in for questioning?” he asked quietly, his dark-brown eyes watching her, as if he feared she would run. “Or, is it just me? Do you not want anything to do with me, Waneta?”

Her palms were sweating. She fisted both as she tried to come up with an answer. He was right on all accounts. She was uneasy around him.

Fact was, Mark Fisher was a large man. Tall and well-muscled. He had a rough way about him, too. It was disconcerting.

Of course, she’d always felt uneasy around him. He’d been an angry teenager, always glaring and short-tempered with most everyone. After he finished school, he’d worked for a few people around town. Rumor had it that his brother, Calvin, had taken off as soon as their mother did. Mark had even lived in Mr. Lehmann’s home for a time, until he was taken in for questioning about Bethany’s assault.

And after he was questioned, then let go for insufficient evidence, he disappeared for two years.

Now he was back.

Mr. Lehmann assured her that Mark hadn’t done anything wrong, but a lot of people in the community still believed that he was the masked man who’d beaten Bethany Williams. It wasn’t much of a stretch. Bethany had told lots of people that her assailant was over six feet tall and was very strong. But she also said she wasn’t able to identify the man.

Few other details had circulated after that. Then Bethany and her family moved up north, practically the moment she was released from the hospital.

Realizing Mark was still waiting, Waneta said, “I haven’t spoken to you much because we don’t’ know each other.”

His eyes narrowed. “But that’s not really true. We knew each other once. We did go to the same Amish school.”

“You were ahead of me in school. We hardly talked then.” He was only three years older than herself, but they were miles apart in terms of how they’d lived their lives. He’d also been the kind of boy she’d been a little scared of. He was rough and always seemed so angry.

For a second, he looked dumbfounded. “So, you do remember.”

“Of course I remember you and your brother, Calvin. Our school wasn’t that big, Mark.” Feeling pretty good about how self-assured she was sounding, Neeta folded her arms across her chest. “But that was a long time ago. Years have gone by.”

“Yeah. You’re right,” he said slowly. “Years have gone by. Practically a whole lifetime.”

He sounded so sad. She wondered what was going through his head. Did he regret hurting Bethany? And what had been doing for the two years since it all happened? Why had he even come back to Horse Cave? Surely, there were other, far better places to start over.

The door jangled as a couple came in. Like Mr. Killian, they were regular customers. James and Katie Eicher were Amish and lived on a large farm on the outskirts of town.

Glad for the reprieve, she smiled at them. “Hiya, Katie. James. How can I help you?”

Just as Katie was about to answer, her husband put a hand on her arm. “Go wait in the buggy, Kate.”

Katie looked at her husband in confusion, then blanched when she caught sight of Mark. Without a word, she turned and walked back out the door.

When it closed again, James glared at Mark. “What are you doing here?”

Mark lifted his chin. “I work here.”

“Is that true, Neeta?” James asked. “Did Henry actually hire him?”

“Jah. Today is Mark’s first day.” Unsure how to handle his anger, she cleared his throat. “Now, um, how may I help you?”

“Where is Henry?”

She looked around the room, which was a ridiculous exercise, seeing as it was perfectly obvious that Mr. Lehmann was not there.

“He’s out back,” Mark said, pointing to one of the four large greenhouses behind the retail store. “You want me to go get him for ya?”

“I don’t want you to do a thing for me,” James said. “I’ll go find him myself.”

Mark rocked back on his heels. “Suit yourself.”

Neeta winced at his flippant tone.

James, however, looked irate. Pointing a finger at him, James said, “I’m telling you now, Fisher. You stay far away from my wife. Don’t talk to her. Don’t even look at her.”

Instead of looking cowed, the corners of Mark’s lips lifted. “Or what?”

“Or I’ll do everything I can to ensure that you leave here for good.”

Mark narrowed his eyes. “Are you threatening me?”

Ignoring Mark again, James turned to her. “I can’t believe you are working in here with him. Do your parents even know?”

Before she could say that they did not, James strode out the door. It slammed in his wake.

For a good couple of seconds, Neeta stared at the door. She tried to calm herself, especially since she’d just realized that her hands were shaking.

Why was she so rattled? Was it because she was afraid of Mark Fisher?

Or because James’s anger had been so scorching?

“You never answered him,” Mark said from behind her, startling her out of her dark thoughts. “Do your parents know that you are working here with me?”

“Nee.”

“Why not?” he asked. “Is it because you’re afraid that they’ll want you to stay far, far away from the dangerous Mark Fisher, too?”

Before she could answer, the door opened again. This time it brought in Mr. Lehmann.

He looked from Mark to her and signed. “I came to check on how you two are doing after James Eicher’s visit. It doesn’t look like you’re doing too gut.”

“I’m fine, Mr. Lehmann,” she said. “But, um, well, it’s four o’clock.”

“Which means it’s time for you to get on him,” he said with a kind smile. “Grab your things and get on your way. We’ll see you tomorrow.”

She smiled weakly as she turned toward the back storage room, where her belongings were stowed. For the first time since she’s started working at the nursery, returning to work filled her with dread.

She didn’t trust Mark. Worse, she didn’t trust herself when she was around him.

Excerpt from His Guilt by Shelley Shepard Gray. Copyright © 2017 by Shelley Shepard Gray. Reproduced with permission from HarperCollins. All rights reserved.

Shelley Shepard Gray

Author Bio:

Shelley Shepard Gray is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, a finalist for the American Christian Fiction Writers prestigious Carol Award, and a two-time HOLT Medallion winner. She lives in southern Ohio, where she writes full-time, bakes too much, and can often be found walking her dachshunds on her town’s bike trail.

Catch Up With Ms. Gray On:
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Jun 282017
 

Friend (With Benefits) Zone
by Laura Brown
on Tour June 26 – July 13, 2017

Friend (With Benefits) Zone by Laura Brown

Book Details

Genre: New Adult, Contemporary Romance

Published by: Avon Impulse

Publication Date: June 27th 2017

Number of Pages: 384

ISBN-13: 9780062495594 (ASIN: B01EFM8NC0)

Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Synopsis:

I’m ridiculously attracted to my best friend.

Today is a bad day. The worst actually. After dealing with the constant manhandling that comes with being a cocktail waitress at a dive bar and surviving a date from hell, I see an eviction notice slapped on the door of my sketchy basement apartment. Great.

When my best friend Devon shows up at my door and uses his stubborn charm (emphasis on stubborn) to get me to move in with him, I give in. We’ve had about a million sleepovers since we met in the kindergarten Deaf program, but this time it’s different because I can’t stop thinking about his hard body covering mine, every single night.

I know Devon would do anything for me, but I’m afraid what I want to happen will ruin our friendship forever. And the more time we spend together in close quarters, the harder it’ll be to resist the spark of attraction I’ve always felt. But maybe it’s possible to have the best of both worlds: keep the one relationship I can’t live without and indulge in an attraction I can’t deny.

I guess the only thing we can do is try…

Read an excerpt:

I was still staring at my notebook when a light flashed by my tiny window. Outside someone stood with a flashlight, shining it into my apartment. I didn’t need to adjust to the light to know who that someone was with the one, two, three blinking pattern.

It took five steps to stomp over to the door. Dev came in once I wedged it open. He pushed the door closed.

“You can’t have your clothes back,” I signed, even as I was grateful to see him. When Dev was around, even this place sorta felt like a home.

“I don’t want my clothes back. Not now, at least. I wanted to make sure you were OK.”

I held out my hands, showing that I was fine. Even if I did scan my coffee table and breathe in relief that the eviction letter was face down in a crumpled mess.

He studied me, searching for all my little tics that spelled I was in trouble, tics only he knew. I blanked my face; otherwise he would latch onto there being a problem. A big one. Dev shoved a hand through his hair, those wavy locks rioting into one massive sexy-as-hell bedhead. I missed the days when he was a spindly little thing, before he grew into this hunk I could never unfriendzone. He meant too much to rock the boat, and I didn’t dare risk losing him. He scratched at a day’s worth of scruff, the black stubble contrasting with his pale skin. Then he kicked off his shoes, tossed his coat on the back of a chair, and plopped down on my bed in a way that had to have a spring or two digging into his back.

He didn’t budge.

I wanted to laugh. Forget me time—neither one of us had given the other the right to be alone since we first met. Still, I couldn’t let go of our usual bickering match. “Go home.”

He folded his hands behind his head, not moving. I crossed my arms. A few seconds later he sat up, grabbed my laptop off the floor, and flipped it open. “We’ll watch a movie.”

“My laptop can’t handle Netflix. You know that.”

He closed the laptop. “Right. Forgot.” He unlocked his phone and placed it on the bed.

“Tiny viewing tonight?”

“You refused to come to my place.” Underlining meaning: we could have watched on a large flat-screen TV.

Since there was no budging him now that he had settled in, I climbed onto the bed with him. He picked up the phone so we could watch, and I settled my head on his chest.

I didn’t pay much attention to the action flick he put on. Most days I loved the intensity of those movies. Tonight, those explosions felt too close for comfort. Instead I made a mental list of my options. Had to before Dev found out. He’d want me to stay with him. And being cuddled up with him, I had to admit, had potential. More so when I placed my hand on his firm stomach and took in a deep breath of the ocean scent of his soap. Problem was, I needed to be on my own two feet. The last person to take care of me—my mother—had failed. I couldn’t trust anyone else.

Not even Dev.

***

Excerpt from Friend (With Benefits) Zone by Laura Brown. Copyright © 2017 by Laura Brown. Reproduced with permission from HarperCollins. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Laura Brown

Laura Brown lives in Massachusetts with her quirky abnormal family. Her husband’s put up with her since high school, her young son keeps her on her toes, and her three cats think they deserve more scratches. Hearing loss is a big part of who she is, from her own Hard of Hearing ears, to the characters she creates.

Visit Laura on her Website, Twitter, Facebook, & Goodreads pages!

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Giveaway:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Laura Brown and Harper Collins. There will be 3 winners of one (1) eBook copy of Signs of Attraction by Laura Brown. The giveaway begins on June 24 and runs through July 14 2017.

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Jun 262017
 

Bad Blood

by Brian McGilloway

on Tour June 26 – July 31, 2017

Synopsis:

Bad Blood by Brian McGilloway

A young man is found in a riverside park, his head bashed in with a rock. One clue is left behind to uncover his identity—an admission stamp for the local gay club.

DS Lucy Black is called in to investigate. As Lucy delves into the community, tensions begin to rise as the man’s death draws the attention of the local Gay Rights group to a hate-speech Pastor who, days earlier, had advocated the stoning of gay people and who refuses to retract his statement.

Things become further complicated with the emergence of a far-right group targeting immigrants in a local working-class estate. As their attacks escalate, Lucy and her boss, Tom Fleming, must also deal with the building power struggle between an old paramilitary commander and his deputy that threatens to further enflame an already volatile situation.

Hatred and complicity abound in McGilloway’s new Lucy Black thriller. Compelling and current, Bad Blood is an expertly crafted and acutely observed page-turner, delivering the punch that readers of Little Lost Girl have grown to expect.

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller, Mystery
Published by: Witness Impulse
Publication Date: June 13th 2017
Number of Pages: 320
ISBN: 0062684558 (ISBN13: 9780062684554)
Series: DS Lucy Black #4
Purchase Links: Amazon 🔗 | Barnes & Noble 🔗 | Goodreads 🔗

Read an excerpt:

The hall was already packed by the time Detective Inspector Tom Fleming arrived. The air was sweet with perfume and talc and, beneath that, from the farmers still wearing their work clothes, the scent of sweat and the smell of the earth.

The congregation were on their feet, being led in the opening hymn by Pastor James Nixon. Fleming smiled apologetically at those he squeezed past to get to a free seat in the third row from the back. The hymn finished, the assembly took their seats just as Fleming reached his, and settled to listen to the words of Pastor Nixon.

‘My brothers and sisters, it is a great honour to be here with you this evening and to see so many of you have taken the time to come and pray with me.’ His voice was strong despite his age, a rich baritone still carrying the inflections of his native Ballymena accent.

‘But it is a time of great challenge for us all. Daily, all good people face an assault on their morality with the rampant homosexual agenda that assails us and belittles everything we hold to be true and dear. Men of conscience are tried for refusing to make a cake celebrating homosexuality or print leaflets and posters furthering that agenda. And on the other side of the border, the Irish Republic has voted to allow homosexuals to marry, as if two women playing house is no different to the consummated union of a man and a woman. As if it is not a perversion which shames us all.

A few voices appended his comment with ‘Amen’.

Nixon raised his hands, acknowledging their support. ‘There are those who would silence me, silence us. They tell us we must accept homosexuals in our town, our shops, allow homosexual bars and public houses to operate on our streets. We must allow sodomites to teach our children and to corrupt our young. We must stay silent while a new Gomorrah is built next to our homes and farms, our shops and schools. They say I am dangerous. They say I preach hatred. They say I should be silent. But I say this: I say that there is no danger in truth. I say that there is no hatred in goodness. And I say that I will not be silent.’

Another chorus of ‘Amens’ greeted his proclamation, accompanied by a smattering of applause which began at the front and rippled its way through the hall.

‘I will not stand idly by as our families are exposed to sin and depravity. I will not countenance the laws of the land being used to protect profane persons, allowing them to indulge their lustful practices, forcing those of us with consciences to humour this lifestyle. It is an abomination. The people who practise it are abominations and, like those before them, they will end in fire and brimstone.’

Fleming glanced around at the others in the congregation. While one or two shifted uncomfortably in their seats, for the most part the listeners sat intently waiting for Nixon to continue.

‘Friends, only last week, I read of an African nation – a heathen nation, a Godless nation – who arrested two men for homosexual acts. One of these men was sixteen. Sixteen! And do you know what they did to the pair of them? They stoned them. They took them out of the town and they threw rocks at them until the pair of them were dead. And do you know what I thought? Shall I tell you?’

An elderly lady in the front row called out ‘Yes’, to the amusement of those around her. Nixon smiled mildly at her, as if indulging her.

‘Stoning was too good for those men. Every rock that struck them was a just reward for their sinfulness, their immorality, their ungodly behaviour. Every drop of their blood that stained the ground was a reminder that they deserved to die. It was the wages of their sin!’

***

Excerpt from Bad Blood by Brian McGilloway. Copyright © 2017 by Brian McGilloway. Reproduced with permission from Witness Impulse. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Brian McGilloway

Brian McGilloway was born in Derry, Northern Ireland. After studying English at Queen’s University, Belfast, he took up a teaching position in St Columb’s College in Derry, where he was Head of English. He is the author of the New York Times bestselling Lucy Black series, all to be published by Witness. Brian lives near the Irish borderlands with his wife and their four children.

Q&A with Brian McGilloway

Writing and Reading:
Do you draw from personal experiences and/or current events?

Very much. Writing to me is like dreaming awake and in the same way your experiences and concerns bleed into your dreams, so too do they bleed into your writing. More specifically, most of my books are triggered by real world events’ Little Girl lost by a child found wandering in a snow storm and, in Bad Blood, the targeting of Romanian families in Belfast housing estates with slogans which included ‘Romans Out’ daubed on the gable wall of the family home.

Do you start with the conclusion and plot in reverse or start from the beginning and see where the story line brings you?
Never. I start at the start and work my way through the story and the plot. It should be as much a journey of discovery for me as for the reader. With one book I did have an ending in mind from the start and then worried that id made the villain of the book too obvious as a result and so changed it half way through!

Are any of your characters based on you or people that you know?
I suspect all my characters have facets of me – even the bad ones. That doesn’t mean I share their views of behaviour, but I need to understand them to be able to write them. Devlin and Lucy, my two series characters, certainly have a lot in common with me. Devlin’s voice is pretty much mine, I think, and his concern with family and balancing his responsibilities is mine. Lucy’s stories are set in Prehen where I grew up and many of her memories are my memories.

Your routine when writing? Any idiosyncrasies?
I’ve started writing in cafes more and more. I have an office at home but as my children have got older, it’s harder to find quiet to work. Ironically, I find the bustle of a cafe helps me concentrate and I know I’ve an hour without interruption to work so I’m less inclined to surf the net or check Facebook!

Tell us why we should read this book.
I guess this book is about the rise of right wing populism and the manner in which hate is enflamed through the words of people who then decry when others take those words and act on them. That’s a pattern which is being replicated in various parts of the world at the moment, not just in Northern Ireland.

Who are some of your favorite authors?
James Lee Burke, John Connolly, Michael Connelly, Stuart Neville, Adrian McKinty, Steve Cavanagh, Arlene Hunt, Dennis Lehane, Ian Rankin…

What are you reading now?
Here and Gone by Haylen Beck. It’s excellent so far.

Are you working on your next novel? Can you tell us a little about it?
I am – it’s a new Devlin book. I’ve only just started it so I can’t really say what it’s about at the moment.

Fun questions:
Your novel will be a movie. Who would you cast?

That’s a tricky one. For Devlin, I think someone like Brian Gleeson would be perfect. For Lucy, I’m not so sure. An actress called Laura Pyper played Lucy in a radio adaptation of one of the short stories and I thought she was excellent.

Favorite leisure activity/hobby?
Going to the cinema!

Favorite meal?
I’ve started making paella for the kids these past few months and have developed a bit of a love for it at the moment.

Catch Up With Our Author On:
Website 🔗, Goodreads 🔗, Twitter 🔗, & Facebook 🔗!

Tour Participants:

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This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Brian McGilloway and WitnessImpulse. There will be 3 winners of one (1) non-Kindle eBook coupon for a copy of THE FORGOTTEN ONES by Brian McGilloway. The giveaway begins on June 24 and runs through August 1, 2017.

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Jun 202017
 

Practicing Normal
by Cara Sue Achterberg
on Tour June 1 – July 31, 2017

Practicing Normal

Book Details
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Published by: The Story Plant
Publication Date: June 6th 2017
Number of Pages: 336
ISBN: 1611882443 (ISBN13: 9781611882445)

Get Your Copy of Practicing Normal by Cara Sue Achterberg on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads!

Synopsis:

The houses in Pine Estates are beautiful McMansions filled with high-achieving parents, children on the fast track to top colleges, all of the comforts of modern living, and the best security systems money can buy. Welcome to normal upper-middle-class suburbia.

The Turners know in their hearts that they’re anything but normal. Jenna is a high-schooler dressed in black who is fascinated with breaking into her neighbors’ homes, security systems be damned. Everett genuinely believes he loves his wife . . . he just loves having a continuing stream of mistresses more. JT is a genius kid with Asperger’s who moves from one obsession to the next. And Kate tries to manage her family, manage her mother (who lives down the street), and avoid wondering why her life is passing her by.

And now everything is changing for them. Jenna suddenly finds herself in a boy-next-door romance she never could have predicted. Everett’s secrets are beginning to unravel on him. JT is getting his first taste of success at navigating the world. And Kate is facing truths about her husband, her mother, and her father that she might have preferred not to face.

Life on Pine Road has never been more challenging for the Turners. That’s what happens when you’re practicing normal.

Combining her trademark combination of wit, insight, and tremendous empathy for her characters, Cara Sue Achterberg has written a novel that is at once familiar and startlingly fresh.

Kudos:

“Does facing the truth beat living a lie? In PRACTICING NORMAL, Cara Sue Achterberg has given us a smart story that is both a window and a mirror, about the extraordinary pain ― and the occasional gifts ― of an ordinary life.”
– Jacquelyn Mitchard, New York Times bestselling author of THE DEEP END OF THE OCEAN

“What does it really mean to have a normal life? Achterberg’s stunning new novel explores how a family can fracture just trying to survive, and how what makes us different is also what can make us most divine.”
– Caroline Leavitt, author of CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD and the New York Times bestsellers PICTURES OF YOU and IS THIS TOMORROW

“PRACTICING NORMAL takes a deep dive into the dysfunctional dynamics of a ‘picture perfect family.’ A compelling story about the beautiful humanity in the most ordinary of lives: from first love to a marriage on the downward slide to an unexpected family tragedy. Achterberg handles each thread with tender care and we can’t help but root for every member of the Turner family.”
– Kate Moretti, New York Times bestselling author of THE VANISHING YEAR

Check out my review HERE

Read an excerpt:

Waving to Jenna as she waits at the bus stop, all I can think is, Please let her go to school today and stay in school all day. Jenna is such a smart girl; I don’t understand why she doesn’t apply herself to her studies. She could be anything. A doctor, even. I was a nurse, but Jenna is smarter than me. Of course, that was twenty years ago. Before I married Everett. Before Jenna and JT were born. Before we ever lived in Pine Estates.

I was the one who chose the house. Everett thought it was pretentious, and it was. All the houses on our end of Pine Road were pretentious. But it was the nineties. Everyone was building McMansions and taking out ridiculous loans to pay for them. Everett had just left his job as a police officer for the job at FABSO (Family and Business Security Options).

We needed to start a new life. We celebrated the new job and didn’t talk about the fact that things could have turned out very differently if his captain had chosen to bring charges against him. Instead, he recommended Everett for the job at FABSO and made it clear Everett would be wise to take it.

I remember lying in bed holding Everett the day he turned in his gun and his badge. He was devastated. Being a cop had been Everett’s dream since childhood. “All I’ve ever wanted to be is a cop. If I can’t be a cop, who am I?”

“You’re a father and a husband. That’s so much more,” I told him. He didn’t say anything about it again. He got to work. He made something of FABSO. And he’s tried so hard to be a good dad.

I don’t remember much about my own dad, and whenever I asked my mother she would say, “There’s nothing to remember about that louse except that he was a louse.” When I pressed her later, after I’d grown up, she’d said, “It doesn’t matter now. He didn’t want to be with us enough to stay.”

All that bitterness can’t hide the fact that when my father left, he apparently took my mother’s heart. She’s spent the rest of her life alone. Except for me. And Evelyn. Although, once Evelyn left home, she didn’t come around much. These days she visits Mama on Saturdays, unless she has something more pressing to do, which is most weeks. Mama annoys her. I suppose I do too. We don’t fit into Evelyn’s shiny, perfect life.

When I first met Everett and told Mama about him, she was skeptical. “A cop?”

I told her how he’d wanted to be a cop since he was a little boy, the same way I always wanted to be a nurse. I gushed about how he told me I was beautiful and how he said he’d been certain about us the first time he saw me. Mama said, “Men will say whatever it takes, Kate. When will you realize that?” But I knew she was wrong about Everett.

I met Everett in the ER. I was treating a patient who was high on coke or meth or God knows what. He was lean and riddled with track marks, his strength coming from whatever drug was flooding his body. I didn’t recognize him as one of our regulars—the ones who showed up like clockwork in search of pain meds. This guy was out of his mind and covered in his own blood from where he’d scratched his thin skin. Another nurse helped me attempt to strap him to the gurney with the Velcro holds, but he was out of his mind and reached for the needle I was about to use to sedate him. Everett was nearby at the desk filling out forms and heard me yell. In just moments, he wrestled the junkie to the ground and held him still as I plunged the needle in. When the man finally collapsed, Everett lifted him back onto the gurney and secured him.

When he turned and looked at me with his green eyes, the same eyes Jenna has, I knew I would marry him. I told him that on our second date. He laughed. I’ve always loved his laugh.

When Everett started at FABSO, he made nearly twice the salary he’d made as a cop. I didn’t need to work any longer. It was our chance. I would stay home and take care of our happy family in our beautiful house in Pine Estates. It was our new start. I thought we belonged there.

When I open the door to Mama’s house, she’s already calling for me. She may be losing her mind, but her hearing hasn’t deteriorated one bit.

“You’re late!” she scolds.

“Sorry, JT had a hard time picking out a shirt to wear today.”

“He’s not a baby! I don’t know why you put up with it.”

I smile at her. No sense taking the bait. “You’re right, Mama.”

“You’ve always been so indecisive. I swear if I didn’t tell you what to do next, you’d stand there like a statue.”

“Good thing you’re so good at telling me what to do,” I mutter as I go to prepare her tea.

Mama wasn’t always like this. When Evelyn and I were little, she was our whole world. She baked homemade cakes for our birthdays, and elaborately decorated them with whatever we were currently obsessing over—Tinker Bell, Barbies, guitars, or, for Evelyn, a computer one year, and the scales of justice the year she announced she was going to be a judge when she grew up.

Mama read to us every night. I remember snuggling into the crook of her arm, even when I was too old to be doing it. Evelyn would be on her other side and our hands would meet on Mama’s flat tummy. I loved the stories with a happy ending, but Evelyn demanded that she read “real books.” She wanted mysteries and thrillers instead of the children’s books Mama picked out at the library. So Mama began to read Nancy Drew, but Evelyn went to the adult aisle and picked out John Grisham, Tom Clancy, and Stephen King. Mama tried to read them to us. She’d come to a part that she felt was too racy for us and she’d hum while she skimmed ahead til she found a more appropriate section before beginning to read again. This drove Evelyn nuts. She’d pout and complain, eventually stomping off. Mama would return the books to the library unread, but it wasn’t long before Evelyn was old enough to have her own library card and checked them out for herself.

In the mornings, Mama would braid our hair, pack our lunches with tiny handwritten notes, and walk us to the bus stop for more years than was appropriate. When Evelyn reached high school, she demanded that Mama stop, but she still followed us with her car and waited to be certain we got on the bus safely.

Now that I’m a mom, I know it couldn’t have been easy raising us alone. As she’s gotten older, she’s gotten difficult. But I put up with her increasing number of quirks because I feel I owe her. Evelyn doesn’t see it that way, but then again Evelyn doesn’t feel she owes anybody anything.

“Here you go.” I hand Mama the bitter Earl Grey tea she likes over-steeped with no sweetener.

“I’ve already missed Phillip,” she says as I help her out the door to the back porch. She spends most mornings there, talking to the birds that frequent her multiple bird feeders.

“Who’s Phillip?” I ask, mostly to make conversation. She loves to talk about the birds.

The look she gives me is just like the one JT gives me when my random “Wow” comes at the wrong time in one of his lengthy soliloquies on his current obsession. “Phillip is the male cardinal who has begun stopping by each morning. He comes over the fence from the southeast. He’s usually here before the chickadees move in and take over the birdbath.”

I look at the crowd of birds fighting over the seed at the feeder. They all look the same to me. “I’ve got to take care of a few things at home after I run JT to school; I’ll be back at lunchtime.”

“Always leaving me!” she complains. “You can’t even spend five minutes with your mother.”

I’d protest, but there’s no point. She sees things the way she needs to see them. Rewriting history is one of her specialties. I’ve been listening to her do it all my life. When Everett and I took the kids to the beach last summer, she said, “Must be nice! I’ve never had a vacation.” Yet, I remember several summers when Mama took Evelyn and me to the same beach we were headed to. Or when I graduated from nursing school, Mama said, “I’ve always said you’d make a fine nurse,” when, in reality, she’d been telling me for years that I could never be a nurse because I was so weak at chemistry. She thought I should have considered something in business—like being a secretary. She’s been spinning her stories of Evelyn’s escapades, my mistakes, and my father’s general louse-likeness for so long, she probably believes them as gospel truth. They are, I suppose, at least to her mind.

I hurry home, hoping JT has finally decided on a shirt for school. We’re going to be late if we have to argue about it.

Excerpt from Practicing Normal by Cara Sue Achterberg. Copyright © 2017 by Cara Sue Achterberg. Reproduced with permission from The Story Plant. All rights reserved.

Q&A with Cara Sue Achterberg

Writing and Reading:
Do you draw from personal experiences and/or current events?

Most of my stories grow out of my personal experience, or more specifically, an issue or idea that I’ve been wanting to explore. Occasionally, though current events can draw me in. The idea for my next novel focuses on a current issue. Practicing Normal, though, came from my heart. Perhaps, it grew out of the isolation I’ve always felt in the small rural community where I live. It’s very insular and I’ve often judged others and felt judged by the people who live around me. Practicing Normal explores the question of how well we know each other and pokes holes in our assumptions based on appearances, financial situations, and employment.

Do you start with the conclusion and plot in reverse or start from the beginning and see where the story line brings you?
I always, always start at the beginning and see where the story takes me. I can’t imagine writing any other way. In fact, if I knew the answer or the ending, I doubt I could enjoy the writing or even find the motivation to write the story in the first place. Every story is a journey of discovery for me. I know that sounds new-agey, but that’s exactly what it is – I learn something about myself, the world, people. Once the story is set in motion, I can’t let go of it and I follow where it takes me. Sometimes that’s scary, especially when the word count creeps up and I don’t see any hint of an ending. Many times I’m surprised by where the story takes me and I marvel at how magical it feels. Practicing Normal spilled out of me quickly like I was watching a movie.

Are any of your characters based on you or people that you know?
My characters are absolutely based on people I know, and at the same time they are definitely not based on anyone I know. There’s no way around using what you know to devise characters. Is it done intentionally? At least for me – no. That would be too weird and basing a character on someone I know would take me (and possibly my readers) out of the story. That wouldn’t work.

Your routine when writing? Any idiosyncrasies?
It’s very hard to have a writing routine when you have kids living at home, multiple foster dogs, a small farm with horses and chickens, and a distractable personality. But if I have a routine, it’s this: I read and journal early before breakfast. I work on ‘nonfiction’ (blog posts, research, social media, email, website) before lunch, and after lunch I turn to my fiction. I love the afternoons when no one is home and no animal is in need and I can lose myself in a story. The only idiosyncrasies I have about writing are that I need silence to write (no music, no people talking, no TV in the other room) and an enormous cup of tea. I favor black tea in the morning and green tea in the afternoon.

Tell us why we should read this book.
Hmmm….this should be my elevator speech, right? You should read my book because it’s a good story. It will make you think about marriage and family and love and probably make you wonder what your neighbors are up to. But mostly, its characters will touch your heart, helping you to realize that there’s some good (and some bad) in all of us.

Who are some of your favorite authors?
I love so many authors that it’ll be hard to keep this list short. I’ve always loved John Irving, Joyce Maynard, Wally Lamb, and Anne Lamott, but I laugh outloud at Jonathon Tropper and love the worlds that Barbara Kingsolver creates. Michael Perry and Barbara Brown Taylor are two of the most talented writers I can think of who consistently make me think and wish I wrote better. I’ve recently discovered Kathryn Craft and Christopher Scotten, and can’t wait to read more from them. Sarah Gruen, Elizabeth Brundage, and T. Greenwood make me turn the page happily. I’ll forever love the writing of Connie May Fowler, Jacquelyn Mitchard, Katrina Kennison, and Kate Braestrup because they were the voices that helped me begin to find my own. I have a lot of favorites. I could go on, but that’s enough for now.

What are you reading now?
Right now I’m reading a fascinating nonfiction book call the The Dog Merchants by Kim Kavin. She’s a journalist digging deep into the world of puppy mills and dog rescue and the big business of dogs. As far as fiction, my choices are many times dictated by my book club who have me currently reading, A Tale of the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, but the book I’m really enjoying right now is Kate Moretti’s Thought I Knew You.

Are you working on your next novel? Can you tell us a little about it?
I’ve actually got two in the editing phase, plus my agent is currently shopping a memoir I wrote about my family and our first fifty foster dogs. One of my fiction manuscripts revolves around a mother and daughter in the aftermath of a texting and driving accident, while the other is a bit less dark and follows a quirky young waitress who goes on a honeymoon with a customer whose just been stood up at the alter.

Fun questions:
Your novel will be a movie. Who would you cast?

I hate this question because it exposes how out of touch I am with the current movie scene. I guess I’m a cheapskate because I can’t bring myself to blow a hundred bucks on taking our family to the movies, so we wait for most everything to come out online. Add to that my complete inability to retain the names of movies stars and I’m at a loss. If I could freeze them in time, I’d cast Meg Ryan as Kate (because I love Meg and Kate) and Ellen Page (at the age she was in Juno) as Jenna. Everett is a bit tougher – maybe Leonardo DiCaprio or Matt Damon or Robert Downy Jr, but not because any of them are ‘perfect’ just, once again, because I like them.

Favorite leisure activity/hobby?
I love to hang out with dogs – does that count? I also, very occasionally, ride horses. I run or hike most days and love to go wine-tasting at little wineries in Virginia. Any pretty day will find me poking around in my gardens.

Favorite meal?
Easy – steamed shrimp (which I rarely get to eat because my husband is allergic!), Caesar salad (with the dressing on the side), a loaf of crusty wheat bread, olive oil for dipping, and plenty of wine.

Cara Sue Achterberg

Author Bio:

Cara Sue Achterberg is a writer and blogger who lives in New Freedom, PA with her family and an embarrassing number of animals. Her first novel, I’m Not Her, was a national bestseller, as was her second, Girls’ Weekend. Cara’s nonfiction book, Live Intentionally, is a guide to the organic life filled with ideas, recipes, and inspiration for liv- ing a more intentional life. Cara is a prolific blogger, occasional cowgirl, and busy mom whose essays and articles have been published in numerous anthologies, magazines, and websites. Links to her blogs, news about upcoming publications, and pictures of her foster dogs can be found at CaraWrites.com.

CaraWrites.com | Cara Sue Achterberg on Twitter | Cara Sue Achterberg on Facebook

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