Jun 262019
 

A Cloud Of Fraud by Linda Ferreri Banner

 

 

A Cloud of Fraud

by Linda Ferreri

on Tour June 1-30, 2019

Synopsis:

A Cloud of Fraud by Linda Ferreri

A man is shot dead in front of City Hall in Philadelphia where his family is tangled in a bitter lawsuit. One brave woman, drawn there by a work of art, finds herself following a twisted trail to the hills of Le Marche in Italy to learn why. All the while, the cloud of fraud grows thicker and darker around her. But, as C. S. Forester said, perhaps the scandal of fraud enhances the flavor.

This thrilling story grabs and holds the reader from the first chapter through unexpected twists all the way to the richly satisfying ending. Art expert Claire Bliss and police Comandante Baldo are joined and antagonized by unforgettable characters in both Philadelphia and Italy. The authenticity of Ferreri’s players and their territories give special vibrance to the novel.

Lovers of the Renaissance will be drawn in immediately by the book’s cover, a painting of Mary Magdalene by Carlo Crivelli (ca. 1480) in the Rijksmuseum. Inside the book, a great art crime story unfolds together with a gem of a murder mystery.

A Cloud of Fraud is colorful, fast-moving entertainment.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery / Thriller
Published by: Linda Ferreri Trustee
Publication Date: May 7, 2017
Number of Pages: 315
ISBN: 978-0-578-47624-7
Purchase Links: Amazon | Kindle | Apple Books | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Linda Ferreri

Linda Ferreri is the author of several art crime novels as well as witty illustrated iBooks. She is a highly respected international art law expert who divides her time between the United States and Le Marche in Italy.

Sometimes she says her most amusing book was her first, The King of UNINI, a sophisticated little romance set in Paris.

Q&A with Linda Ferreri

Welcome and thank you for stopping by CMash Reads

Thanks very much for having me here!

Reading and Writing:
What inspired you to write this book?

A lawsuit is a nasty thing, I believe, and it changes people. I have been a lawyer for many years and seen some of the problems caused by litigation, which I abhor. Nothing is worse than a family lawsuit. So, it began there. But the painting on the cover of the book…oh I really love it. Mary Magdalene by Carlo Crivelli, the version in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. That, too, because he painted in my territory in Italy…Le Marche.

What was the biggest challenge in writing this book?

Not getting stuck in a plot hole. The story is full of twists and turns and red herrings. The author has to follow those closely in a mystery.

Give us a glimpse of the research that went into this book.

Years of being an art historian and studying artworks in museums takes the mind to all sorts of “sources” of information. I had to do some serious work on Carlo Crivelli, the painter. I read an excellent catalogue prepared for a recent exhibition of his works at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. He was long forgotten but has had his own little renaissance, thank goodness.

How did you come up with the title?

A judge once spoke those words. Truer words were never spoken about the affairs in too many courtrooms.

Your routine in writing? Any idiosyncrasies?

I like sunny locations and quiet around me. For these mysteries, I cannot focus with music or too much other noise around me.

Tell us why we should read your book?

The characters are, I think, delicious and the settings, also. Anyone who knows Philadelphia politics will have a chuckle and anyone who dreams of the Italian countryside and those beautiful medieval hill towns will have some lovely images. The story is very satisfying. I think bright people like to read mysteries like this that take them on a ride and satisfy in the end because they fully occupy the mind. It’s quite visual and I really do hope someone makes this tale into a film. The scenery alone is worth that.

Are you working on your next novel? If so, can you tell us a little bit about it?

Yes. There is a strong character in Miami Beach, Florida involved. I’d like to tell you all of what happens to her but I can’t without spoiling the story. She’s young, single, poor and has a major adventure. Along the way, she solves a few life problems. But don’t all heroines do that?

Fun Questions:
Your novel will be a movie. You would you cast?

Oh please, God! And the choice role in this book is Rose. That is the role that all mature actresses should line up to play. Nobody tall or blond. I think that Helen Mirren can play any role, so we’ll put a wig on her and give her the job. Besides, she owns a pomegranate ranch in southern Italy and she knows plenty of Italian.

Favorite leisure activities/hobbies?

I grow roses and make rose water. And I knit all the time. Cant live without roses or knitting. Nope.

Favorite foods?

Italian food, of course, and Vietnamese. I took cooking lessons for a few days in Saigon and learned to make wonderful foods, only to get home to the US to discover that many of the ingredients are impossible to buy. Darn it.

Catch Up With Linda Ferreri On:
acloudoffraud.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Read an excerpt:

Early on in the Hard-heads case, at one of the bar association luncheons, Judge Pirandello had positioned himself next to one of his former clerks who was now a successful litigator in the Probate Court. Biggers, by name. There was the introductory chat about the wellbeing of their family members and the joke about the latest case here or there. The dialogue was familiar to both of them. The Hard-heads plaintiff was a problem person, the judge had learned, and he needed to be squashed to put an end to mostly frivolous claims, driven by greed. Everybody in the family knew it, the judge heard. He knew the type. The Probate Court was littered with greedy relatives, angry children with buxom young stepmothers wearing expensive jewelry their fathers had bought. He knew it all. The judge wanted rid of this case, and so he was pleased to learn that it was not worthy of His Honor’s dignified much less close attention. The Hard-heads case had to go.

It would have gone long before now, the judge was thinking to himself as he growled into the cup of black tea, but these damned people had refused to take the hint, refused to be cowed or put in their places. Here and there at the few hearings he had conducted over this motion or that, he had seen a shrug of the shoulders by one or another lawyer.

“What could we do?” They might as well have said that out loud. The judge understood.

His knee was throbbing, but Judge Pirandello refused to have it replaced. The fact that cold weather was coming on made it worse. The goddamned orthopedic surgeon was another money-grubber. Were there no professionals left in his world who were not money-grubbers? He stretched his corpulence forward over the edge of his chair to reach for his footstool, then winced as he elevated the bad leg. He yelled out for Mary to bring him another cup of tea. Then, he opened the enormous file on the small table beside his chair.

In Re the Estate of Seri. He hated even the name. Italian people should not behave in this fashion, he thought. His own father would have come back from the dead to beat the daylights out of his heirs if they had behaved as these people were behaving. Suing one another. Claiming fraud. All of it. Disgraceful, he thought. They were each poised to receive a generous amount of money but no, that wasn’t good enough. As with errant children, the Judge was both angry with and ashamed of the parties.

***

Excerpt from A Cloud of Fraud by Linda Ferreri. Copyright © 2019 by Linda Ferreri. Reproduced with permission from Linda Ferreri. All rights reserved.

 

 

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This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Linda Ferreri. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. The giveaway begins on June 1, 2019 and runs through July 2, 2019. Void where prohibited.

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Jun 192019
 

The Wedding Crasher

by Nikki Stern

on Tour June 1-30, 2019

The Wedding Crasher by Nikki Stern

Synopsis:

A brunette in a bridal gown turns up in Pickett County, Tennessee, throat slit and ring finger missing. She’s the latest victim of the Wedding Crasher, a serial killer who murders women just weeks before their weddings.

Samantha Tate is Picket County’s yoga-loving, poker-playing new sheriff, a former Nashville homicide detective who struggles with her inner demons. To catch the meticulous murderer, Sam will have to follow her instincts and ignore her worst impulses. Can she stop the Wedding Crasher before another bride-to-be dies?

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Ruthenia Press
Publication Date: May 8, 2019
Number of Pages: 340
ISBN: 978-0-9995487-3-8
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Nikki Stern

Nikki Stern is the author of the inspirational HOPE IN SMALL DOSES, a 2015 Eric Hoffer Montaigne Medal finalist, and the thriller THE FORMER ASSASSIN, a 2018 Kindle Book Review category finalist. Her essays are included in three anthologies and she co-authored the interactive Café Noir murder mystery series, published by Samuel French. Eight of her short stories have been published in various online journals and she was a Mark Twain Royal Nonesuch finalist for her short story “Long Away and Far Ago.” Nikki is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.

Q&A with Nikki Stern

Welcome and thank you for stopping by CMash Reads

Reading and Writing:
What inspired you to write this book?

I was thinking I’d like to create a character as compelling, maybe as restless, as Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. A bit more settled than that but not much. No strong attachments, no commitments, running from a nightmare that would extend through a series, if I were writing one.

What was the biggest challenge in writing this book?

The nature of the lead character changed completely per the advice of a developmental editor I resisted for a LONG time. The character had to change, but that particular rewrite, unlike earlier revisions, was a beast. Forty percent of the book changed. Sam Tate’s essence changed. I didn’t know if it would work; I think it did.

Give us a glimpse of the research that went into this book.

I get into the details as to how murders are investigated in an underpopulated rural county like Pickett County. Every state is different, every jurisdiction. The sheriff’s office, the coroners and Medical Examiner, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and any of these departments and agencies might interact with an FBI field agent. I find this kind of crime procedural nitty-gritty fascinating. It has to be accurately portrayed. Fortunately, I was put in touch with some invaluable experts.

How did you come up with the title?

The book takes its title from the name of the serial killer at the center of the investigation

Your routine in writing? Any idiosyncrasies?

When I’m working on a book, I put in four to seven hours a day and that’s not counting my thinking process, which is non-stop. I do take time off between books, sometimes a LOT of time off. But I always end up doing something related to the business end.

Tell us why we should read your book?

The central character, Samantha (Sam) Tate) is a complex, conflicted, utterly likeable character. She’s resourceful, resolute and she’s in danger, which is always appealing. The plot contains plenty of twists and turns; the ending is a surprise; the writing is strong. Readers will have a good time.

Are you working on your next novel? If so, can you tell us a little bit about it?

It’s the second in the Sam Tate series. For reasons I can’t disclose, Sam relocates to the eastern shore of Maryland where she’s joined a local police department and is leading a murder investigation that involves rumors of buried treasure.

Fun Questions:
Your novel will be a movie. You would you cast?

Hmm. I’m not sure these actors are the right age but perhaps Angie Harmon as Sam and Damian Lewis as Terry.

Favorite leisure activities/hobbies?

Biking, reading, yoga, playing with my dog Molly

Favorite foods?

Roast chicken with root vegetables. Graham crackers. Anything chocolate.

Catch Up With Nikki Stern On:
nikkistern.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Read an excerpt:

The dead woman lay in the clearing like a macabre version of Sleeping Beauty. She was dressed in a long-sleeved, high-necked ivory gown, set off by luminescent pearl drop earrings and a matching necklace that almost hid the dried blood around her throat. Her head rested on a satin pillow, her silky walnut hair spread behind her like a fan. The right hand held a bouquet of wilted flowers and rested on her chest underneath the left, absent the fourth finger. The ring finger.

Sheriff Sam Tate stood to one side of the grim tableau, arms folded, and took it all in: the victim; the tall white-haired man who knelt by the body; the deputy who walked the scene in throwaway boots, snapping pictures; the pale young man in running gear sitting on a rock, head almost to his knees; the uniformed officer who squatted beside him.

Sam had dressed in her standard uniform of pressed black slacks and a spotless white shirt. A shaft of early-morning sun bounced off the polished badge at her left breast pocket. On her right wrist, she wore a utilitarian watch. Three small studs twinkled along one earlobe, her single visible concession to a rebellious streak. She’d pulled her unruly dark locks into a tight braid. Ray-Bans shielded her green eyes, though not the line that formed between her brows.

One of the victim’s low-heeled white pumps had dropped off to reveal a slim ankle in hosiery. Stockings, not pantyhose, held up by an old-fashioned garter. Sam didn’t need to look.

He’s back, she thought, adding a curse for good measure.

***

Excerpt from The Wedding Crasher by Nikki Stern. Copyright © 2019 by Nikki Stern. Reproduced with permission from Nikki Stern. All rights reserved.

 

 

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May 302019
 

An Eye For A Lie by Cy Wyss Banner

An Eye for a Lie

by Cy Wyss

on Tour May 27 – July 27, 2019

Synopsis:

An Eye for a Lie by Cy Wyss

Lukas Richter is a San Francisco police detective with a cybernetic eye and heightened senses. He can detect the same autonomous responses as a polygraph machine, so he has a leg up in determining guilt.

In An Eye for a Lie, his first full-length novel, Richter is accused of murder and the evidence seems incontrovertible, including a bullet that was somehow fired from his gun when he claims he was nowhere near the crime scene. In the background, San Francisco is aflame over Richter’s shooting of an unarmed Asian man, an incident some are calling “the Asian Ferguson.”

Can Inspector Richter convince a plucky and suspicious FBI agent of his innocence in the face of overwhelming accusations and public persecution?

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Nighttime Dog Press, LLC
Publication Date: May 27, 2019
Number of Pages: 258
ISBN: 978-0-9965465-3-9
Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Cy Wyss

Cy Wyss is a writer based in Indianapolis, Indiana. She has a Ph.D. in computer science and her day job involves wrangling and analyzing genetic data. Cy is the author of three full-length novels as well as a collection of short stories and the owner and chief editor of Nighttime Dog Press, LLC.

Before studying computer science, Cy obtained her undergraduate degree in mathematics and English literature as well as masters-level degrees in philosophy and artificial intelligence. She studied overseas for three years in the UK, although she never managed to develop a British accent.

Cy currently resides in Indianapolis with her husband, daughter, and two obstreperous but lovable felines. In addition to writing, she enjoys reading, cooking, and walking 5k races to benefit charity.

 

Q&A with Cy Wyss

Welcome and thank you for stopping by CMash Reads

Reading and Writing:

What inspired you to write this book?

There was a time I was fascinated with the idea of the polygraph – a machine that could detect lies (theoretically). I read about how it worked, namely, by detecting changes in your galvanic responses, heart rate, and other physiological signs. At some point I had the idea: what about a human with this ability? In particular, what about a detective who can essentially always tell when someone is lying?

Around the same time, my husband bought an infrared gun to check for heat leaks in our house. It looks kind of like a futuristic phaser and has a readout screen where you can see temperature overlaid on an image of what you’re looking at. Thus, the idea of an infrared-based eye was born, someone whose enhanced senses enabled him to detect lies.

I wondered whether it would really make so much of a difference. He would always know who the villain was if he saw them, but then there would be the little problem of proof so that they would be guilty in a court of law. (Picture: The Green River Killer passed a polygraph and went on to murder at least twenty more women. Credits: Shutterstock and Wikipedia.)

What was the biggest challenge in writing this book?

As usual, I’m my own worst enemy. I wrote the original draft of the book in 2015, then put it aside and didn’t look at it again until the summer of 2017, when I wrote the ending and finally finished it. Alas, I put it down again and didn’t pick it up until just recently, in 2019. Re-reading it, I thought it was not bad, so I decided to publish it (after a thorough edit).

Give us a glimpse of the research that went into this book.

Once I knew I wanted to write about a detective with a cybernetic eye that functioned on similar principles to an infrared gun, I had to know more about the technology and what it could actually do. It can see through walls or ceilings, but not simple glass (because heat is reflected). Also, I looked into what other authors had done with the idea of a human lie detector. I discovered the concept of a truth wizard and the TV show Lie to Me. They didn’t use the idea quite like I wanted to use it, but it was good to know there was precedent. I then went about studying the work of Paul Ekman on body language (great stuff, by the way), so I could write about convincing reactions that might herald deceit (or veracity). (Picture: Wikipedia)

How did you come up with the title?

My first title was Ballistics because of a certain technology I invented that would cement Inspector Richter’s framing. (Read the book to find out what.) However, it’s not really “ballistics” that law enforcement applies, it is rather “firearms analysis.” So, I set about looking for another title. I wanted something with “eye” in it and played with various combinations of words until An Eye for a Lie just kind of fell into my lap. When I first saw it, I wasn’t convinced. But I ran it by a couple of other people and they thought it really worked, so the final title was born.

Your routine in writing? Any idiosyncrasies?

I’m an early riser and usually get up around 3:30. I write until about 5:30 when I have to go to work, so that gives me 2 solid hours a day of writing time on most days. I work early as well (thanks to flextime and an awesomely understanding employer) – from 6 to 2 instead of 9 to 5. That leaves me a lot of the afternoon for my second job as well. Of course, some days I’m too beat to get much done in the afternoon or evening, but if I’m really “on” and have a lot of momentum, I can write 6-8 hours in a day as well as work my 8 hours at my “real” job.

Tell us why we should read your book?

Because it’s awesome! No, seriously – it is an interesting premise. I also like to feature next generation technology in my work (because that’s my profession), so you’ll get a glimpse of what might be possible in 5-20 years. Also, the character of Vessa (the FBI agent investigating Richter) is cool, I think. She’s feisty yet flawed and has a sordid past that always makes me laugh when I think about it. She’s also herself got a pretty good sense of humor. It’s awesome – read it! 😊

Are you working on your next novel? If so, can you tell us a little bit about it?

Yes, and if there is enough interest in these characters, there will be a sequel to An Eye for a Lie. I’d like to see Richter in Washington, maybe fighting with his father the senator, as well as see Vessa in her home territory. Her mother is a character I’d like to develop more – she seems like a bit of a wild card. Maybe I’ll have her kidnapped. I don’t know.

My next publication is coming in August: Eyeshine II. My Eyeshine series is about an investigative photojournalist who turns into a cat each night when the sun goes down. Her name’s PJ. In the second book, PJ faces off against a cat kidnapper and, of course, the whole thing turns deadly. There’s also going to be a bit of a controversial turn to PJ’s love life, which isn’t normally seen in cozy mysteries, but I guess there’s a first time for everything.

Fun Questions:

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

There’s a Shutterstock model who says “Richter” to me (pictured left). I’d have either him (if he can act), whoever he is, or else an actor that kind of looks like him. For Vessa, I’m probably dating myself, but Sandra Bullock would be great – I love her style. Is there a younger Sandra Bullock anywhere? Maybe Natalie Portman?

Favorite leisure activities/hobbies?

Writing is my leisure activity and hobby. I tend to think of it more like a second full-time job, though. Outside of writing, I love to read and philosophize. I’m definitely an armchair philosopher. I also love to run, although I’m not sure you would call what I do “running.” It’s more of an extremely slow jog with lots of water breaks.

Favorite foods?
Definitely hamburgers, as well as ice cream cake. I’m also partial to hot dogs. Sensing a theme? Yes, I like fair foods that are holdovers from a misspent youth. When I was 20, I could eat whatever I wanted and always stayed at a decent weight. Now, well, not so much. Alas – time makes fat fools of us all.

Thanks so much for having me!

Catch Up With Cy Wyss On:
cywyss.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Read an excerpt:

“All units, active shooter in progress, be advised perp is SFPD . . .”

The police frequencies in Vessa’s sedan couldn’t get enough of the situation. She was hardly in her car before the address where Richter was came over the air. She headed there immediately, lights flashing, accelerator floored.

He was in a townhouse on ninth, near Tehama, only a handful of blocks from the Hall of Justice. The entire area was cordoned off and blanketed with police cars. Vessa badged her way through and got to Commander Bayes who stood with Deputy Chief Forrest several yards from the front door. The townhouse was painted lime green and the entrance stood ajar.

“Commander, what’s the situation?” Vessa asked.

“He’s holed up in there,” Bayes shook his head toward the house. “Got a hostage.”

“A hostage? You’re kidding.”

“Wish I was. Teenage girl, still up there. He let the rest of the family go.”

Now, Bayes shook his head a different way, indicating Vessa should look near one of the ambulances. There was a man and a woman, firmly behind police lines. Both were slender with brown hair and the woman wore a red sweater. She was crying and the man and a paramedic were trying to comfort her.

“Commander, none of this makes sense. Can you imagine Richter taking a hostage? It doesn’t feel right.”

“C’mon, Agent Drake,” Bayes said. “None of us can say we really know him now.”

Vessa frowned up at the building. Between her and the front door lay perhaps twenty feet of tarmac and parked cars. Bayes turned to Forrest and they conferred. Before Vessa even knew what she was doing, she was off –crossing the street at a sprint.

“Hey!” Bayes yelled.

Forrest pointed. “Stop her!”

It was too late. She broke away from the lines and was at the door before anyone could grab her. She pushed the dark portal open and slipped inside, shutting it behind her, closing it fully so it locked. Inside, it took a couple of minutes for her eyes to adjust to the pale strobe lights coming through the front blinds and door windows. She was in an open living room. It was small and closely furnished with a dining room capping it off near the back of the building. She guessed the kitchen would be around the corner. To her right, a staircase led upward. The landing was dark.

Vessa had taken her gun out without consciously realizing it. Now, she stared at it in the undulating red and blue lights. What was she going to do with it? Shoot her lover when she found him?

She holstered the gun. “Oh, Luke,” she said softly. As if in answer, something moved above her, making a dull thud on the floor. She startled.

Slowly, she made her way up the stairs. “Luke?” she called. “I’m coming upstairs.”

There was no answer. At the top of the stairs were three doors. Two were dark and closed. Wan light traced the outline of the third door. She opened it cautiously.

“Luke?”

The door creaked on its hinges to reveal a seemingly empty bedroom. The air was stale although the room was tidy and sparsely furnished with a queen-sized bed and two nightstands. The fluorescent lights from the street diffused around the edges of a thick curtain drawn across a large window. The occluded light wasn’t strong enough to dispel the rooms shadows.

“Luke?” Vessa noticed she was whispering. She cleared her throat and spoke with as normal a voice as she could muster. “Luke? Where are you?”

“Here,” came a reply.

She was practically on top of him by that time. He sat with his back to a wall across from the foot of the bed.

Vessa jumped. “Oh! You startled me.”

He was staring at her. She half expected his evil eye to glow in the dimness but instead, she saw only normal dark eyes glittering from his outlined face. He sat with his knees bent and his arms resting between his legs. In his hands was a mass of blackness-his gun. That ugly piece of metal was a cursed reminder of what was going on and why they were here, facing each other in this shadowed space.

Vessa craned her neck around but didn’t see anyone else. “Where’s the girl?”

Richter watched Vessa intently for several seconds before answering. “The couple’s outside. I let them go.”

“No, apparently there’s still a teenager in here somewhere.”

Richter’s gaze dropped to the carpet in front of him. “That would explain why it’s just you and not SWAT. They think I have a hostage. Well, I don’t.”

“You have me.”

His head snapped up. “You’re not a hostage. Why are you here, anyway?”

“I’m here to get you. I don’t want them gunning you down.”

“You’re here to arrest me, Special Agent Vessa Belle Drake?”

“Oh, Luke. We’ll figure this out.”

Richter brought the gun up in his right hand and pressed it to the underside of his chin, angled back toward his brain.

Vessa gasped. “No!” She was rooted to the spot, eyes wide.

He stared at her. “I guess whether I do it or SWAT does it, it’s still death by cop.”

Tears burned her eyes. “No, Luke. No. Why would you even think it? There must be some mistake. There must be some reason why those bullets matched.”

“I won’t be locked up. I won’t be put back in the cage and poked and prodded, and studied to death this time.”

Vessa remembered the shaking man sweating beside her in his bed at night. Even though he didn’t speak of them, she knew he was having nightmares. Was it possible he was actually capable of pulling that trigger? Her chin throbbed where he’d bitten her. She couldn’t stand this. How could she have been so wrong? She was never wrong. She swallowed. Never before had she fallen for a guilty man. How was she so blinded by hubris that she could feel this way about Richter when he was a merciless killer?

He stared at her, gun in his hand. He didn’t move. She shook slightly with the emotions flooding her. Here she was, at the cusp of what she felt was the most important moment in her life. The man she loved sat before her, ready to take his own life if she didn’t do or say the right thing next. She was paralyzed-absolutely paralyzed. All her training, and here she was, a shaking, paralyzed ball of nerves.

She burst into tears. How utterly professional.

Richter frowned.

Vessa’s nose and eyes ran uncontrollably and she heaved great sighs. She didn’t dare wave her arms around and wipe her face. Instead, she simply stood there and let her emotions pour down her cheeks.

Richter sighed. He lowered the gun. He dropped it with a thud to the carpet and kicked it toward her.

“How am I supposed to kill myself with you crying like that?”

She rushed to pick up the weapon and tucked it into the small of her back, under her blazer. She faced Richter, this time allowing herself to wipe the fluids from her face with her hands and sleeves. She could only imagine how many shades of fired she would be if Bully Benson had seen her outburst. She almost felt like declaring herself unfit for duty on the spot.

“I can’t stand it,” she said. “I can’t lose you this way.”

He said nothing. What was there to say? They stared at each other. Tears fell from her eyes until the momentum of her outburst ran its course and she finally managed to get a grip on herself.

Richter sat, inordinately relaxed, leaning against the wall, hands folded innocently between his legs.

“What now?” he asked.

She glanced toward the thick curtains shielding them from the snipers across the street.

“I’ll have to cuff you. Then you won’t be seen as a threat. Keep your head down, and I’ll stay between you and them.”

He craned his neck and looked over the bed toward the window. He watched the dark cloth for several seconds.

“Is your eye working? What do you see?”

“It’s working,” he said. “And, I see only reflections. Your temperature is up, though.”

She came over and stood beside him. “Stay low,” she said softly.

He got up and they crossed the room with him crouched low. They entered the windowless landing. Vessa closed the bedroom door behind them. She looked at the other two doors. The girl was probably behind one of them, asleep or with her headphones on, completely oblivious. Vessa pulled her cuffs out. Richter stood tall.

“All right?” she asked. She needed him to cooperate. She wasn’t about to subdue such a large man in such a small space.

“Just a second,” he said.

He bent and kissed her. They embraced. Vessa wanted the floor to open up and swallow them so they could stay like this forever. Of course it did not, and the moment had to end.

He straightened up again, turned his back to her, and extended his arms behind him so she could easily cuff him.

“I didn’t shoot him,” he said.

Before she could even think about it, Vessa responded.

“I know. I believe you.”

***

Excerpt from An Eye for a Lie by Cy Wyss. Copyright 2019 by Cy Wyss. Reproduced with permission from Cy Wyss. All rights reserved.

 

 

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 Cy Wyss. There will be 2 winners of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card each. The giveaway begins on May 27, 2019 and runs through July 29, 2019. Void where prohibited.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
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Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

 

May 222019
 

The Naming Game by Gabriel Valjan

The Company Files: 2.

The Naming Game

by Gabriel Valjan

on Tour April 22 – June 22, 2019

The Company Files 2 The Naming Game by Gabriel Valjan

Synopsis:

Whether it’s Hollywood or DC, life and death, success or failure hinge on saying a name.

The right name.

When Charlie Loew is found murdered in a seedy flophouse with a cryptic list inside the dead script-fixer’s handkerchief, Jack Marshall sends Walker undercover as a screenwriter at a major studio and Leslie as a secretary to Dr. Phillip Ernest, shrink to the stars. J. Edgar Hoover has his own list. Blacklisted writers and studio politics. Ruthless gangsters and Chief Parker’s LAPD. Paranoia, suspicions, and divided loyalties begin to blur when the House Un-American Activities Committee insists that everyone play the naming game.

Praise for The Naming Game:

“With crackling dialogue and a page turning plot shot-through with authentic period detail, Gabriel Valjan pulls the reader into the hidden world of the 1950’s Hollywood studio scene, involving murder, McCarthyism and mayhem.”
~ James L’Etoile, author of At What Cost and Bury the Past

“Terrific historical noir as Gabriel Valjan takes us on a trip through post-war Hollywood involving scandal, McCarthyism, blacklisting, J. Edgar Hoover and, of course, murder. Compelling story, compelling characters – and all the famous name dropping is great fun. Highly recommended!”
~ R.G. Belsky, author of the Clare Carlson Mystery Series

“Brilliantly written, Gabriel Valjan’s The Naming Game whisks the reader back in time to postwar Los Angeles. Spies, Communism, and Hollywood converge in a first-rate thriller.”
~ Bruce Robert Coffin, Agatha Award nominated author of Beyond the Truth

Book Details:

Genre: Historical Mystery, Crime Fiction
Published by: Winter Goose Publishing
Publication Date: May 4, 2019
Number of Pages: 210
ISBN: 978-1-941058-86-2
Series: The Company Files: 2
Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads

 

Gabriel Valjan

Author Bio:

Gabriel Valjan is the author of two series, The Roma Series and The Company Files, available from Winter Goose Publishing. His short stories have appeared in Level Best anthologies and other publications. Twice shortlisted for the Fish Prize in Ireland, once for the Bridport Prize in England, and an Honorable Mention for the Nero Wolfe Black Orchid Novella Contest, he is a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime National, a local member of Sisters in Crime New England, and an attendee of Bouchercon, Crime Bake, and Malice Domestic conferences.

Q&A with Gabriel Valjan

Welcome and thank you for stopping by CMash Reads
Reading and Writing:

What inspired you to write this book?

Griffin Fariello’s Red Scare inspired me. For readers unfamiliar with the book, which appeared in 1995 and is now available in digital format, Fariello is a journalist who compiled interviews with victims and those who abetted McCarthy’s drive to expose Communists in every stratum of American life. You become cognizant of contradictions, the contagious paranoia, and the frenzy that McCarthy stirred up without ever providing one shred of proof. With only innuendo and the flimsiest of evidence, he hounded people to ruin and, in some cases, early death. Throughout all this surrealism, I was already aware of how government and corporations used Hollywood to shape public thought prior to McCarthy. I became intrigued as to how Hollywood studios, after he’d appeared on the scene, found creative ways to get films written and produced, when the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) had blacklisted writers. Note: HUAC existed before (founded in 1938) Senator McCarthy and it did not officially disband until 1975. It seems that money, regardless of circumstances and politics, had to be made, a profit turned.

What was the biggest challenge in writing this book?

Flow. When you write historical fiction, a writer wants to avoid information dumps or anything that impedes the flow of the story. Smart editing trims the unnecessary or identifies areas where more details are needed. As with anything conjuring up the past, an author doesn’t want their dialogue to sound as if it came from a film noir or a Shakespearean play. Turns of phrase like fashion come and go, but human emotions and concerns remain universal. We love. We hate. We fear what we don’t know or understand. We have hindsight to judge the past, to slap our foreheads with amazement that anyone could believe such-and-such;
but to those people, it was as real as the sky is blue. A writer is challenged to make all that real to the reader. The Spanish Flu and polio once terrified people, just like AIDS and Ebola do today. Communism was yesterday’s terrorism. Technology has improved life, made things once thought impossible, but fundamental conflicts between people and nations have not changed; only names and places.

Give us a glimpse of the research that went into this book.

There is no end to the number of resources on Golden Hollywood or Los Angeles of yesteryear. I didn’t want to recycle familiar tropes (the inherent danger of Raymond Chandler as an inspiration). I dug around for bits and pieces that I thought were obscure to readers. Everyone who has read enough stories about LA in the Forties and Fifties knows of Musso and Frank, or the Trocadero. In The Naming Game, I went farther afield. I mentioned a nightclub called Slapsie Maxie, which went by another name in 1951, the year of my story. People then still referred to it as Slapsie, but for accuracy I gave the new name after the establishment changed hands. Other examples: I mention a property once owned by Charlie Chaplin. Because the story was set in 1951, I consulted maps to make sure I had the names of streets and highways right, especially for the artist colony called Malibu. I sought out photographs of the Cocoanut Grove, cocktail menus and researched clothing and cars and the cost of things, so readers could ‘feel’ the snapshot of time. Research conveys fidelity to the era, creditability to the story for the knowledgeable reader, and integrity on the writer.

How did you come up with the title?

Not sure. I certainly wanted an enticing title, and to have this novel evoke the McCarthy era. I picked ‘naming game’ because, in my mind, it denoted a childhood game reminiscent of ‘I Spy.’ The difference, of course, is I’m pointing towards real history and the game resulted in disastrous consequences.

Your routine in writing? Any idiosyncrasies?

My routine is not terribly exciting. Writing involves sitting in a chair with the hands and mind engaged in translating what’s inside your head onto the screen. Other than that, I write in the morning after exercise. I don’t outline, though I may jot down a word or a phrase as a reminder. When I factor in research, I’ll have notes nearby.

Tell us why we should read your book?

With The Company Files, I introduce readers to forgotten chapters of American history. When readers think of the CIA (The Company is a euphemism for the agency), they think and expect high-tech thrillers. James Bond. The reality is far more prosaic. The intelligence community then was inept, made terrible decisions and mistakes, and was easily manipulated by foreign enemies and domestic politicians. This mix of history and fiction makes for compelling reading.

Are you working on your next novel? If so, can you tell us a little bit about it?

The Company Files: 3. Diminished Fifth is written and ready for editing. I’m working on a third book in another series. A little superstitious about providing too much detail, but it involves Shanghai in the Thirties, the European elites of that society and various crimes that require solving.

Fun Questions:

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

The writer in me would like to see unknowns play the roles, but I think there are numerous contemporary actors who have the talent to take viewers back to an earlier era. I can see Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Walker. Donnie Wahlberg as Whittaker from the first book. Michael Shannon as Jack. Gretchen Mol as Vera. Keri Russell or Jennifer Connelly as Leslie.

Favorite leisure activities/hobbies?

Long walks, working out, and drinking coffee. I’m always on the lookout for excellent movies or a series. I don’t care if they are vintage or contemporary. I love a good story, excellent writing and dialogue at work.

Favorite foods?

I’m a bit of a foodie, so I’m an adventuresome eater. I have a short list of what I won’t eat, otherwise I’m game and I enjoy food paired with wines because you can learn so much about culture, geography, and history from a meal.

Catch Up With Gabriel On:
gabrielvaljan.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Read an excerpt:

At seven minutes past the hour while reviewing the classified documents at his desk, one of the two colored phones, the beige one, rang. He placed the receiver next to his ear, closed the folder, and waited for the caller’s voice to speak first.

“Is this Jack Marshall?”

“It is.”

“This is William Parker. Is the line secure?”

“It is,” Jack replied, his hand opening a desk cabinet and flipping the ON switch to start recording the conversation.

“I don’t know you Mr. Marshall and I presume you don’t know me.”

A pause.

“I know of you, Chief Parker.”

“Were you expecting my call?”

“No and it doesn’t matter.” Jack lied.

“Fact of the matter, Mr. Marshall, is an individual, whom I need not name, has suggested I contact you about a sensitive matter. He said matter of security so I listened.”

“Of course. I’m listening.”

“I was instructed to give you an address and have my man at the scene allow you to do whatever it is that you need to do when you arrive there.”

“Pencil and paper are ready. The address, please.”

Jack wrote out the address; it was in town, low rent section with the usual rooming houses, cheap bars, about a fifteen-minute drive on Highway 1 without traffic.

“Ask for Detective Brown. You won’t miss him. Don’t like it that someone steps in and tells me how to mind my own city, but I have no choice in the matter.”

Jack ignored the man’s defensive tone. He knew Detective Brown was a dummy name, like Jones or Smith on a hotel ledger. Plain, unimaginative, but it would do. Most policemen, he conceded, were neither bright nor fully screwed into the socket. A chief was no different except he had more current in him. The chief of police who ruled Los Angeles by day with his cop-syndicate the way Mickey Cohen owned the night must’ve swallowed his pride when he dropped that nickel to make this call.

“Thank you, Chief Parker.”

Jack hung up and flipped the switch to OFF.

Whatever it was at the scene waiting for Jack was sufficient cause to pull back a man like Bill Parker and his boys for twelve hours. Whoever gave this order had enough juice to rein in the LAPD.

Jack took the folder he was reviewing and walked it across the room. He opened the folder once more and reread the phrases ‘malicious international spy’ and, in Ronald Reagan’s own choice of words, ‘Asia’s Mata Hari’, before closing the cover and placing it inside the safe. His review will have to wait. He put on his holster and grabbed a jacket.

Betty came out on the porch as he was putting the key into the car door.

“I won’t be long. Please kiss the children good night for me.”

“Can’t this wait, Jack? The children were expecting you to read to them tonight. Jack Junior set aside the book and you know Elizabeth will be crushed.”

“It can’t wait. I’m sorry. Tell them I’ll make it up to them.”

“You need to look them in the face when you tell them sorry.”

He opened the door as his decision. She understood she dealt him the low card. “Want something for the road?”

“No thanks. I’ll see you soon.”

He closed the door with finesse. He couldn’t help it if the children heard the car. He checked the mirror and saw her on the porch, still standing there, still disappointed and patient, as he drove off.

Detective Brown, sole man on the scene, walked him over to the body without introducing himself. Jack didn’t give his name.

At six-fifteen the vet renting a room down the hall discovered the body. Detective Brown said the veteran was probably a hired hound doing a bag job – break-ins, surveillance, and the like. Recent veterans made the best candidates for that kind of work for Hoover, Jack thought. Worked cheap and they went the extra mile without Hoover’s agents having to worry about technicalities like a citizen’s rights going to law.

“What makes you think he was hired out?” Jack asked.

Brown, a man of few words, handed Jack his notebook, flipped over to the open page he marked Witness Statement and said politely, “Please read it. Words and writing are from the witness himself.”

“The man was a no good ‘commonist’.”

“Nice spelling. A suspect?”

“No, sir. The coroner places the death around early afternoon, about 2ish. Our patriot was across the street drinking his lunch. I verified it.”

Jack viewed the body. The man was fully dressed wearing a light weave gabardine suit costing at least twenty-five. The hardly scuffed oxfords had to cost as much as the suit, and the shirt and tie, both silk, put the entire ensemble near a hundred. Hardly class consciousness for an alleged Communist, Jack thought.

The corpse lying on his side reminded Jack of the children sleeping, minus the red pool seeping into the rug under the right ear. The dead man wore a small sapphire ring on his small finger, left hand. No wedding band. Nice watch on the wrist, face turned in. An odd way to read time. Breast pocket contained a cigarette case with expensive cigarettes, Egyptian. Jack recognized the brand from his work in the Far East. Ten cents a cigarette is nice discretionary income. Wallet in other breast pocket held fifty dollars, various denominations. Ruled out robbery or staging it. Identification card said Charles Loew, Warner Brothers. Another card: Screen Writers Guild, signed by Mary McCall, Jr. President. Back of card presented a pencil scrawl.

“Find a lighter or book of matches?”

Detective Brown shook his head. Jack patted the breast pockets again and the man’s jacket’s side-pockets. Some loose change, but nothing else. The man was unarmed, except for a nice pen. Much as he disliked the idea Jack put his hands into the man’s front pockets. Nothing. He found a book of matches in the left rear pocket, black with gold telltale lettering, Trocadero on Sunset. Jack flipped the matchbook open and as he suspected, found a telephone number written in silver ink; different ink than the man’s own pen. Other back pocket contained a handkerchief square Jack found interesting, as did Detective Brown.

“What’s that?” he asked, head peering over for a better look.

“Not sure,” answered Jack, unfolding the several-times folded piece of paper hidden inside the hanky. The unfolded paper revealed a bunch of typewritten names that had bled out onto other parts of the paper. It must have been folded while the ink was still wet. It didn’t help someone spilt something on the paper. Smelled faintly of recent whiskey. Jack reviewed what he thought were names when he realized the letters were nonsense words.

“Might be a Commie membership list. Looks like code.” But Brown zipped it when Jack folded the paper back up and put it into his pocket.

“The paper and the matches stay with me. We clear?”

“Uh, yes sir. The Chief told me himself to do whatever you said and not ask questions.”

“Good. Other than the coroner – who else was here? Photographers, fingerprints?”

“Nobody else. Medical pronounced him dead, but nothing more. Chief had them called off to another scene – a multiple homicide, few blocks away. We’re short-staffed tonight. The Chief said he’d send Homicide after you leave. They’ll process the scene however you leave it. They won’t know about the matches or the paper. Chief’s orders.”

Jack checked his watch. Man down, found at six fifteen. Chief called a little after seven. He arrived not much later than seven forty. The busy bodies would get the stiff by eight or eight thirty, the latest. Perfectly reasonable Jack thought. He squatted down to see the man’s watch, noticing light bruising on the wrist and the throw rug bunched into a small hill near the man’s time hand. Intriguing.

“Thank you, Detective. I’ll be going now. If I speak to the chief I’ll let him know you’ve done your job to the letter.”

“You’re welcome. Night.”

Jack knew he and the chief would be speaking again.

Outside on the street, Jack pulled out his handkerchief and wiped both hands for any traces of dead man as he headed for the parked car. Compulsive habit. He pulled up the collar on his jacket. It was cold for late May.

The street sign said he was not far from Broadway. In this part of town thousands lived crowded in on themselves as lodgers in dilapidated Gothic mansions or residence hotels, working the downtown stores, factories, and offices, riding public transit and the other funicular railway in the area, Court Flight, a two-track railway climb towards Hill Street.

Los Angeles changed with the world. The war was over and there was a new war, possibly domestic, definitely foreign. Court Flight is gone, ceased operations. Its owner and his faithful cat had passed on. His good widow tried. In ’43 a careless brush fire destroyed the tracks and the Board of Public Utilities signed the death warrant; and now Jack was hearing whispers Mayor Bowron planned to revitalize the area International Style, which meant dotting the desert city with skyscrapers.

Jack opened the door and sat behind the wheel a moment. He took the family once to nearby Angels Flight. Junior wondered why there was no apostrophe on the sign. Betty tolerated the excursion, indifferent to Los Angeles because she preferred their home in DC. He released the clutch. Betty disliked LA because it changed too much without reason. She might have had a point. He shifted gear. Pueblo city would level whole blocks of thriving masses just to create a parking lot. He pulled the car from the curb.

***

Excerpt from The Naming Game by Gabriel Valjan. Copyright 2019 by Gabriel Valjan. Reproduced with permission from Gabriel Valjan. All rights reserved.

 

 

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May 152019
 

Bad Pick

by Linda Lovely

on Tour April 1-May 31, 2019

Synopsis:

Bad Pick by Linda Lovely

Vegan Brie Hooker lives and works with her feisty Aunt Eva at Udderly Kidding Dairy, a hop, skip, and jump away from South Carolina’s Clemson University. Brie’s fun farm outreach attempt backfires when religious extremists decide goat yoga is a form of devil worship. Believing one of the zealots might be persuaded to see reason, Brie’s free-wheeling friend Mollye convinces her they should call on the young woman. Big mistake.

Picketers at Udderly’s gates soon become the least of Brie’s troubles. Not only is she accused of murder, she worries the death might actually be her fault. Danger mounts when an old family friend’s visit ensnares Brie in a high-stakes feud between a U.S. Supreme Court nominee and the woman determined to expose his secrets. In her personal life, Brie’s still torn between the town’s two most eligible bachelors. While she’s edging toward a decision, she must first survive a cunning killer adept at crafting murders that look like tragic accidents. Will Brie be another “accident” victim? Pay a visit to Udderly Kidding Dairy and find out!

Praise for Bad Pick

“There’s such a lot to enjoy in Linda Lovely’s third Brie Hooker mystery Bad Pick. Of course, I came for the goat yoga and the religious extremists (I’m only human), but I stayed for the love triangle, the female friendships, the family members rubbing along so realistically, the sidelights on vegan cooking and the rich depiction of small-town life. And what kept me flicking the pages fast enough to cause a draft? The twisty, knotty, killer plot underneath all that charm. Bad Pick is a good un!”—Catriona McPherson, Multi-Award-Winning Author of the Last Ditch Mysteries.

“Wow! In Bad Pick, Lovely wrote an amazing novel only to see one part of the plot come to life in headlines all over the country. A fringe religious cult, a Supreme Court nominee, and goat yoga combine together in a tale that fans of mysteries won’t want to miss. –Sherry Harris, Agatha Award Nominee and Author of the Sarah Winston Garage Sale mysteries.

“The Brie Hooker mysteries from author Linda Lovely continue to entertain, this time with extremists who really don’t like the farm’s new goat yoga offering. You’ll find yourself muttering, “What the feta?” as you follow the action around not one but two murders from the edge of your seat. Fix yourself a chevre sandwich and sit down to enjoy a delightful – and suspense-filled – read.”—Edith Maxwell, Author of the Local Foods Mysteries and the Quaker Midwife Mysteries.

Book Details:

Genre: Cozy Mystery
Published by: Henery Press
Publication Date: April 16, 2019
Number of Pages: 270
ISBN: 9781635114744
Series: Brie Hooker Mystery Series
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Linda Lovely

Hundreds of mystery writers have met Linda Lovely at check-in for the annual Writers’ Police Academy, which she helps organize. Lovely finds writing pure fiction isn’t a huge stretch given the years she’s spent penning PR and ad copy. She writes a blend of mystery and humor, chuckling as she plots to “disappear” the types of characters who most annoy her. Quite satisfying plus there’s no need to pester relatives for bail. Her new Brie Hooker Mystery series offers good-natured salutes to both her vegan family doctor and her cheese-addicted kin. Bad Pick is her eighth published mystery novel. She served as president of her local Sisters in Crime chapter for five years and belongs to International Thriller Writers and Romance Writers of America.

Q&A with Linda Lovely

Writing:
Which of your characters do you dislike the most and why?

Jeannie Nickles. She’s a sweet-smiling, kindly-grandmotherly-appearing hypocrite who projects an image of Christian virtue but manipulates everyone in her orbit to do decidedly un-Christian things.

Which of your characters was the hardest to write and why?
Ursula Billings. She’s a celebrity judge on a reality TV show. It was hard to imagine her day-to-day life and mesh it with her history.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned through writing?
Once you have even a hazy idea of your plot and characters just start writing. You can’t edit and improve on a blank page. After you start writing, your characters will get in the act and suggest plot twists and options that never occurred to you when you began.

What has been your biggest challenge to your writing career?
There are so many books written each year—many of them excellent—that it’s very hard to be “discovered.” I also handicap myself in this regard by my ineptness at social media. I don’t get Twitter, and I resent spending a lot of time on social media posts when I could be working on a book.

What was your biggest challenge writing this book?
Bringing together the main plot with two different subplots and finding ways to ensure all the villains were brought to justice. That’s one of the reasons I write crime fiction—to show that good can triumph over evil and to make sure villains get their just desserts. That’s what I call a happy ending.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I hope they enjoy reading my books as much as I do writing them. I try to balance the crimes and villains in my mysteries with humor and romance. When they turn the last page of one of my books, I want them to feel every loose end has been tied up and they have a reason to smile. Of course, I’d also love it if they’d leave reviews, which are so important to authors in this age of algorithms that often determine a book’s online visibility.

Fun Questions:
Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from your most recent book?

Emma Stone would make an excellent Brie Hooker. I loved Stone in the movie, The Help.

Give us an interesting fun fact or a few about your book or series
I owe the Writers’ Police Academy and the many subject experts I’ve met and made friends with there over the years for both giving me ideas for plots and for helping me with forensics and other details to make my books as realistic as possible. For example, in BAD PICK, WPA friends provided me with several alternate scenarios when I wanted a tainted dish served at a luncheon to prove fatal to one person while only making the other guests sick. This August I’ll attend my seventh Writers’ Police Academy, which I’m helping to organize. It’s a unique once-a-year, four-day event that gives authors and fans of crime fiction a chance for hands-on learning with instructors who normally teach law enforcement professionals from around the world.

Favorite foods?
I love most pasta dishes, the entire Thanksgiving menu including turkey, gravy and all the sides, and, of course, I love chocolate.

Favorite activities?
Reading, tennis, walking with my husband, kayaking, gardening, spending time with friends and family.

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Catch Up With Our Author On:
lindalovely.com, Goodreads, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Read an excerpt:

ONE

“How many people did you con into trying this goat yoga?” Aunt Eva asked as she slapped two strips of cold bacon in a skillet.

“No conning needed,” I answered. “Everyone’s looking forward to the class.”

“You sure goat yoga’s a good idea?”

I laughed. “I’m sure. People love it. Admittedly, a sense of humor’s required, but it’s caught on all across the country. Why don’t you join the fun? Class starts at three. We don’t have many Sunday customers this time of year. We’ll probably have the farm to ourselves by then. You up for some downward-facing dog?”

“No.” Eva harrumphed. “Don’t go insulting our noble dogs. Bad enough you’ll expose our baby goats to human pretzels. It’s bound to confuse the poor kids. Won’t know which human end is supposed to be up. They’ll think all us two-legged beings are bonkers. So who’s coming?”

“Jayla, our yoga instructor, wanted to limit the trial class to four students so it’s just Mollye, Fara, Mimi, and me.”

I pulled out a bag of frozen blueberries I’d picked at the Happy Berry Farm last summer. While Udderly Kidding Dairy, my home for the past seven months, boasted dozens of blueberry bushes, our four-hundred goats called first dibs on the fruit.

“Oh, and Paint’s shooting video to promote the class,” I added.

Aunt Eva chuckled as she flipped her sizzling bacon strips. “Not a hardship for Paint, videoing young ladies in nothing but skivvies and tutus.”

I glanced heavenward. “We don’t wear tutus. Our workout clothes show less skin than you do on the Fourth of July.”

Eva cocked an eyebrow. “Could be you’re helping Paint select babes for the weeks he’s not your designated beau.”

I opened the cupboard and grabbed a microwave packet of steel-cut oatmeal. “Paint sees a variety of ladies when we’re not dating, and he knows everyone in this class. No behind-the-camera scouting required.”

“Maybe, but as far as I know, he hasn’t seen any of them with their ankles up around their ears.”

“And he won’t today.”

“If you say so, but I swear my old bones creak just looking at some of those yoga contortions.”

Eva cracked two eggs in the hot bacon grease, while I used our microwave—a new kitchen addition—to thaw my frozen berries and heat the oats. My usual February morning fare. At Udderly, we didn’t chow down until the morning chores were done. That meant I was starved and in dire need of a caffeine injection.

Eva glanced over. “So how’s that boyfriend-for-a-week plan working? Who’s ahead in the Brie Hooker heart throb race? Any close calls on the clothing discard clause?”

I smiled. “Paint and Andy try to outdo each other in dreaming up ways to initiate a striptease. Despite their enterprising efforts, the nude- default clause remains unchallenged.”

Last November, I’d agreed to this bizarre boyfriend pact with Andy Green, our veterinarian, and David “Paint” Paynter, an entrepreneurial moonshiner. Though strongly attracted to both thirty-four-year-old hunks, I’d sworn I’d date neither. Didn’t want to lose them as friends or come between them. They’d been best buds for thirty years, practically since they left diapers.

The boys came up with an alternative. I’d date Paint one week, Andy the next, until either I selected a fulltime beau, one of them opted out, or a ridiculous nudity clause kicked in. If I disrobed on any date, the magician who assisted in making my clothes disappear would win by default. Both men swore the arrangement would not affect their friendship.

Me? I felt like I’d been locked in a chastity belt. Foreplay’s a lot less fun when there’s no after.

“You know it can’t last, don’t you?” Aunt Eva asked, giving voice to my own misgivings.

“Yep, I do. But like today’s sunny warmth—way too early for mid- February—I’ll enjoy it while I can.”

TWO

Jayla Johnson, our tall, willowy teacher waved as she walked toward me. Had to admit Paint would get an eyeful watching her stretch every which way. He was male, and Jayla was a stunner. As a shorty—I’m five four—I’d always envied long-legged ladies like Jayla. Somehow those extra inches made them look cool and sophisticated.

Luckily, Jayla wasn’t in the running to join Paint’s off-week harem. She was happily married to one of Clemson University’s football coaches and had a darling three-year-old son.

“Do we have a plan B?” Jayla glanced up at the Carolina blue sky. “It’s really warm for February, but the ground’s too muddy to put our mats down in a pasture. After five minutes, we’d look like we’d been mud wrestling.”

“Agreed. It’d be a shame to get that outfit muddy.” Jayla looked like an Oreo cookie, her ebony skin a sharp contrast to her snowy outfit. “I did warn you baby goats aren’t potty-trained, didn’t I? Accidents can happen.” “Not to worry.” Jayla smiled. “My laundry room has one whole shelf devoted to stain removers for husband-son accidents. So where are we setting up?”

“The horse barn. Plenty of room and it will be easier to keep Curly, Moe, and Larry contained.”

“Who?”

“Curly, Moe, and Larry are the baby goats—five-day-old triplets. We named the kids after The Three Stooges. Full of energetic hijinks. They’re also super cuddly.”

We turned as Mollye Camp’s psychedelic van crunched down the gravel drive. Her van’s midnight blue paint job served as a backdrop for a galaxy of glittering stars, a super-sized harvest moon, and a broom-riding witch. Moll, my best friend since childhood, was a gifted potter who sold her creations along with an eclectic hodgepodge of homeopathic remedies, herbs, and astrological doodads in her Starry Skies shop.

Moll jangled as she hopped down from her ride. She adored jewelry and had more piercings than a rapper. A vibrant purple streak adorned her white-blonde hair. She chose a new neon hue every month.

Mollye hustled over. “Who we waiting for?”

“Mimi and Fara,” I answered. “We’re keeping the group small for the test run. Paint’s shooting video.”

Mollye checked the amount of cleavage revealed by her scoop-necked purple top and inspected the seams of her orange leggings as they meandered south of her shorts. “Glad I didn’t wear anything too revealing. Don’t want folks thinking I’d participate in some racy video.”

Mimi and Fara’s arrival cut short Jayla’s and my eye rolls. Racy might not be Mollye’s middle name, but outrageous could be. I loved Mollye and her adventurous spirit though it sometimes landed me in hot water. Okay, in one case, freezing water.

With rolled mats tucked under their arms, the class newcomers looked like an odd couple. Mimi, who’d emigrated from Vietnam at age two, stood four feet nine on tiptoe, while Fara, a busty blonde with long braids, topped out at five ten. Mimi was a pharmacist; Fara grew up in her family’s funeral parlor and was now the town’s youngest funeral director.

Hard for this class to be more diverse. Paint would enjoy himself. “Hey, Fara, you boxing anyone up today?” Mollye joked.

“Maybe you after class,” the funeral director quipped. “You want the deluxe mahogany coffin or a pine box? I’m thinking you and Brie have used up eight of your nine lives. Better not exert yourselves today.”

Jayla clapped her hands. “Now children. Snarky is not the proper frame of mind for yoga. Think serenity. We want to clear our minds, be one with nature.”

I chuckled at the good-natured kidding. “Follow me to our classroom. We have the horse barn to ourselves. The smell alone will remind you we’re one with nature. I evicted Rita and Hank. They’re grazing in the pasture. Figured Lilly’s mule and Eva’s horse were more inclined to nicker than meditate.”

“Where are the goats in this goat yoga?” Fara asked.

“Eva will bring Curly, Moe, and Larry in after we start. We need to leave the barn door open for the light. Jim, our Border collie, will keep the little goat Houdinis from escaping.”

The triplets’ antics drove Jim nuts. Yesterday Moe pranced on top of a picnic table for five minutes taunting the poor herd dog. Jim ran circles around the table, barking in protest, unable to figure out how to nudge Moe back to her pen. After we placed our mats, Jayla led us through a series of simple warm-up stretches and breathing exercises. I’d been an avid runner and swimmer for years, but yoga was a new pursuit. I was pleasantly surprised to find its emphasis on breathing and mindfulness and its practiced movements helped me shed stress and fall asleep faster.

Believe me, falling asleep quickly is a prized skill for anyone required to rise before the sun. At Udderly, one of my jobs appeared to be waking the roosters.

Jayla announced the cat pose. I knelt on my mat and set my arms to provide four-point support. Then I arched my back like cats do when threatened. I lowered my head, giving my neck muscles a pleasant stretch.

“Looking good, ladies.” With my head down I heard the man’s voice before I saw him.

“Don’t mind me,” the newcomer continued. “I’m gonna wander around and take photos.”

The sexy baritone belonged to Paint. It should be outlawed.

“Have fun, kids—human and goat.” Eva laughed as she let the baby goats loose in the barn. Moe immediately darted under my arched back, executed a one-eighty, and raced back again as if she were playing a game of London Bridge.

My concentration faltered as Curly discovered she had easy access to one of my earlobes and began to nibble with her lips. It tickled.

Fara broke out laughing as Larry scrambled up her arched back and danced a little jig on his newly discovered perch.

“I’ve got a miniature geisha doing a four-footed massage.” Fara giggled. “Actually feels kind of good, though very strange.”

“No talking,” Jayla admonished. “Concentrate on your breathing, your muscles. Be one with nature.”

Paint hooted. “Nature’s winning.”

Paint obviously felt he was exempt from Jayla’s no-talking reprimand. The instructor began laughing, too. Moe had curled her body around Jayla’s legs as she attempted to hold the Big Toe pose.

We were all bent in half, butts in the air, when a loud voice brayed, “Oh dear God, save us. They are bowing to the devil, mocking the Lord Jesus by thrusting their bottoms at heaven above.”

THREE

What the feta?

I snapped around to see who was calling us devil worshippers. Was this a joke?

Flipping out of downward dog, I body slammed the mat. A second after hitting the plastic, a furry comedian bounced against my side. Curly shook her head as she attempted an impressive four-legged hop. She’d taken my tumble to the ground as an invitation to play. The little goat butted my side again.

“Lord Jesus, help us keep these devil worshippers from claiming more souls!” the stranger bellowed.

I was flabbergasted. No other word for it. Then my shock morphed into anger. Who did this woman think she was, calling us devil worshippers? Who invited her to our private workout? How did she even find out about it?

The plump leader held a super-sized wooden cross before her as if she were fending off a clutch of vampires. I figured her for mid-fifties. Gray streaks wound through her mousy brown hair. Light glinting off oversized spectacles lent her the look of an alien with round yellow bug eyes.

Two cross-carrying acolytes hovered about a foot behind her.

Were these people serious? I felt the blood rush to my cheeks. My heartbeat raced. Angry? You betcha.

I almost yelled one of my old-time favorite curses. Years back, I cleaned up my salty language for dear old Mom. As a vegan, processed- meat-and-cheese exclamations had become my exclamatory substitutes. But Cruddy corndogs! didn’t quite express my outrage.

Mollye, closest to the barn door, marched toward the scowling leader. “Susan, what in blazes do you think you’re doing?” she growled. “I got a restraining order to keep you and your looney-tune zealots off my property. Now you’re following me?”

“I didn’t know you’d be here,” the intruder raged, “though I’m not surprised. Goat yoga! What blasphemy. At church this morning, one of our faithful told me you were planning this abomination. I prayed on it, and decided we had to stop the spread of this evil in Ardon County.”

She waved her cross at us. “In the name of the Father and the Son we demand—”

“You need to leave,” Paint spoke through gritted teeth. “The only evil here is you.”

Susan closed her eyes and rocked back and forth on her heels. “You are Satan’s handmaidens duping people into believing Baphomet goat worship is fun.”

Susan’s diatribe was accompanied by a murmur of “Amen, Sister, Amen” from her backups. The sidekicks still wore church-go-to-meeting dresses, nylons, and heels. They kept sneaking peeks at the ground. Worried their high heels might sink in goat doo-doo during their barnyard sortie?

One of the acolytes looked to be Susan’s age; the other much younger, about my age.

“Knights Templar worshipped Baphomet as a deity.” Susan’s tone changed. Her words flowed in a singsong chant. “These monsters with their snake eyes are his descendants.”

“Are you nuts?” Jayla broke in. “How can you think these adorable babies are evil?”

Susan’s rant hadn’t cowed my friends.

The harpy wasn’t deterred. “Open your eyes. The Satanic goat is a source of evil.” Her yellow bug eyes flashed at each of us in turn. “You worship the Devil. We won’t allow your sickness to infect the pious people of Ardon County.”

Aunt Eva appeared in the barn door carrying two pails of goat milk. “You’re trespassing and you’re scaring the baby goats.”

My aunt’s face flamed red.

“We’ll leave,” Susan said. “But this isn’t over. We will fight to the death for the soul of Ardon County. Goat yoga will not corrupt our world.”

Curly made a break for it. The tiny kid ran pell-mell toward the barn door, which happened to be a few feet beyond where the intruding trio stood. Susan screeched. Did she really believe the Devil inhabited the itty- bitty creature?

The woman raised her leg to kick Curly.

Eva flung both buckets of goat milk, drenching Susan. The white liquid plastered her beehive hairdo to her scalp and her puffy blouse to her chest.

Oh my, was she really wearing a flaming red teddy under her prim white cotton?

A laugh bubbled up. I laughed so hard I doubled over.

Susan shrieked like a storm-warning siren and ran. Though only a few drops of goat’s milk spattered her companions, they caterwauled like they’d been doused with acid as they scurried after their leader.

The entire Udderly Kidding Dairy crew exploded in laughter.

Eva halted her hee-haws long enough to imitate a cackling witch. “You’ve been baptized with the milk of Baaa-Phooey. Your souls belong to us!”

Susan spun when she reached a shiny Chevy van. “You’ll pay for this!” she yelled. “Laugh all you want. You’ll see Hell sooner than you thought.”

I quit laughing as abruptly as I’d started. It was Susan’s tone not her words that gave me the heebie-jeebies. We’d embarrassed the woman. Humiliated her. Perhaps she’d started this protest as some form of ecclesiastical theater, art for show, a way to rally the troops.

Now it was personal. Susan had been scorned.

***

Excerpt from Bad Pick by Linda Lovely. Copyright © 2019 by Linda Lovely. Reproduced with permission from Linda Lovely. All rights reserved.

 

 

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