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A CIRCLE OF DEAD GIRLS by Eleanor Kuhns | #Showcase #Interview #Giveaway

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A Circle Of Dead Girls

by Eleanor Kuhns

on Tour September 1-30, 2020

Synopsis:

A Circle Of Dead Girls by Eleanor Kuhns

In the spring of 1800, a traveling circus arrives in town. Rees is about to attend, but sees his nemesis, Magistrate Hanson in the crowd, and leaves. On the way home he meets a party of Shaker brothers searching for a missing girl. They quickly come across her lifeless body thrown into a farmer’s field.

Rees begins investigating and quickly becomes entranced by the exotic circus performers, especially the beautiful young tightrope walker.

Other murders follow. Who is the killer? One of the circus performers? One of the townspeople? Or One of the Shakers?

Book Details:

Genre: Historical Murder Mystery
Published by: Severn House
Publication Date: March 3rd 2020
Number of Pages: 224
ISBN: 0727890085 (ISBN13: 9780727890085)
Series: Will Rees Mysteries #8 (Each book “Stands Alone”)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Eleanor Kuhns

Eleanor Kuhns is the 2011 winner of the Minotaur First Crime novel competition for A Simple Murder. She lives in upstate New York. A Circle of Death Girls is Will Rees Mystery # 8.

Q&A with Eleanor Kuhns

What was the inspiration for this book?

When I was researching Death in Salem, my fourth Will Rees, I came upon a note that said elephants were first brought to this country in 1794. In the same paragraph there was a reference to John Bill Ricketts, who brought the circus to Philadelphia in 1793. Once I knew that, I knew I had to set one of my mysteries set against the circus.

What has been the biggest challenge in your writing career?

I have had few challenges writing mysteries. Most of them came when I wrote SciFi. (I had a male editor tell me women couldn’t write good science fiction.) When I changed genres, I almost immediately achieved some success.

What do you absolutely need while writing?

Coffee. Far more important than quiet.

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

I rise early and write every day without fail.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

Lydia. She is a good counterweight to Rees. I also feel she is smarter than he is. She usually says or does something that inspires him and leads to the solution.

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

I don’t really have one. And I try, even with the less admirable characters, to give them a good quality or two. Take Brother Aaron from the current book. He is difficult and a misogynist. But he is warm and protective to the disabled Calvin. When the chips are down, he is on the side of the angels.

Give us an interesting fun fact or a few about your book?

Although the rebirth of the circus began in Great Britain, it quickly expanded to France. But with the French Revolution in 1789, and the increasing hostilities between England and France, the performers decamped for the new United States. What I did not realize until I was in the midst of my research was how soon after the French Revolution Napoleon began his rise.
Italy had a long tradition of performance art with the commedia del arte, and the stock characters who morphed into clowns. They also already had families of tightrope walkers and other performers. Quite a few were Jewish. When Napoleon invaded Italy, many of these artists fled, coming to the United States.

A clear case of how interconnected everything is.

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

They can reach me at Eleanor.kuhns@gmail.com or www.eleanor-kuhns.com

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I am a lifelong librarian. I wrote my first novelette when I was ten and have really never stopped since. After I won the Mystery Writers of America/Minotaur First Novel competition in 2011, I began the long process of transitioning to full time writing.

What’s next that we can look forward to?

The next book after ‘A Circle of Dead Girls’ sends Rees and Lydia to the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia. The book is titled ‘Death in the Great Dismal.’

Before the Civil War, hundreds, maybe thousands, of fugitive slaves took refuge in the swamp. They were nicknamed maroons. (The theory is that the word is from the French ‘marronage’; to flee.) Some did not leave the swamp until after the Civil War. Children who were born in the swamp had never seen a white person.

In the book, Tobias, a free man who was caught in the north by slave catchers and sold south, but escapes, enlists Rees and Lydia to help him rescue his enslaved wife. They make their way to Virginia, and the swamp. Shortly after their arrival in the tiny village, one of the maroons is found murdered.

There are only a handful of people living in the village. Who among them could be the murderer?

By the way, the swamp still exists although much smaller than it was. It is buggy, hot and overgrown. Since it is a peat swamp, there is little standing water. But it is still dangerous. The peat goes down ten feet or more.

The swamp is still full of bears and bobcats as well as snakes (poisonous as well as non-poisonous.). It is not a welcoming environment.

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Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1

As if God Himself had taken a hand, winter abruptly changed to spring. The six inches of snow that had fallen just last week – the third week of April – was melting in the suddenly balmy air. Instead of hard packed snow, the roads were surfaced in slush and mud. Only on the north sides of the slopes and under the trees did snow remain and even there green spears poked through the white.

Rees had already planted peas and in a few weeks he would begin plowing the rocky fields. He sighed. Although glad to see the spring, he did not like to think about the coming backbreaking toil. He would turn forty this year and his dislike of farm work had, if anything, intensified. His father had died at the age of forty-six, while Rees was away serving with General Washington in the War for Independence, and sometimes he wondered if six years was all he had left. Six years with his arms up to their elbows in mud and manure. Just the thought of it pressed down like a heavy weight. He didn’t think he could bear it.

At least, with the coming warmer weather, he could look forward to a few weeks of freedom as he traveled these roads weaving for the farm wives. Besides the cash he would earn, he looked forward to what he imagined as sunlit days of freedom from the farm.

With a shake of his head, he pushed the gloomy thoughts from his mind. Now he was on his way into town. For the past several days men had been shouting up and down the lanes and byways: Asher’s Circus was coming to town. Rees had brought his children to the Surry road yesterday to watch the circus arrive. First came a man in a scarlet coat and top hat riding a bay. Bells jingled on his harness and feathers danced upon his head. Two carriages followed, the beautiful women seated inside leaning through the curtained windows to wave and blow kisses. At least five wagons followed, wagons that were unlike any that Rees had ever seen. These vehicles looked like the carriages but were bigger and taller and the curtains at their small windows were shut. On every wagon door a bright gold rearing horse glittered in the sunlight. Finally, clowns with colored patches painted over their eyes and vivid clothing walked alongside. One was a dwarf with a pig and a dog and the other a giant of a man. While the little man turned cartwheels, the big fellow walked straight ahead barely acknowledging the crowds lining the street.

Rees’s children were beyond excited, jumping and shouting beside the road. Even Rees, a cosmopolitan traveler who’d visited several large cities, had been enchanted. After a long winter kept mostly inside and occupied solely with mending tack and other chores he was ready for some entertainment.

Now he was on his way into town to see a performance. A sudden wash of muddy water splattered, not only the wagon, but him as well. He swore at the young sprig galloping by, so intent on reaching Durham that he paid no attention to those he passed. But Rees was not really angry. A circus was a grand event and he guessed he could extend a little charity to the eager farmer’s boy. Rees knew Lydia would have liked to join him, and probably the children as well, but no lady would be seen at such rude entertainment, so she must rely on his descriptions.

The streets of Durham were thronged with traffic. Wagons jostled for space next to horses and mules. Pedestrians were forced to cling to the side of the buildings lest they be trampled underfoot. Rees shook his head in amazement; he had never seen the streets so crowded.

And Rouge’s inn! The yard swarmed with horses and shouting men. Rees’s hope – that he could leave his horse and wagon there – died. When he turned down an alley that went to the jail, he found this narrow lane almost as impassible. But he could already see a tall structure in the field that the Durham farmers usually used for Saturday market. It was so early in the season that market was just beginning. Later in the spring the grounds would be in use every Saturday.

Finally, Rees parked his wagon and horse at the jail. He watered Hannibal from a nearby trough and joined the mob streaming toward the large field. Affluent townsmen rubbed shoulders with sunburned farmers in straw hats and dirty clogs. At first, except for the arena built in the center, the fairgrounds looked exactly as normal: an occasional ramshackle hut interspersed with large areas of open ground. The farmers usually set up their wares in one of those small squares; this was how Lydia sold her butter and cheese. Rees lifted his eyes to the tall wooden structure, dazzling with colorful flags flying around the roof, that dominated the field. At first, he did not notice how peculiar the building looked. But as he approached the flimsy construction, the lack of any windows, and the slapdash roof became apparent. An arc of roofed wooden vehicles – the circus wagons – curved around the back.

At several yards distant he could see gaps between the splintered boards that made up the walls. Posters, all designed with a crude woodcut of a horse, papered over the widest of cracks. Rees directed his steps to a bill posted on the wall and paused in front of it. “Asher’s Circus”, he read. “Mr. Joseph Asher, trained by Mr. Phillip Astley and Mr. John B. Ricketts, and just arrived from tours of London, Philadelphia, Boston, and Albany, is pleased to present daring feats of horsemanship, the world -famous rope dancer Bambola, clowns after the Italian fashion and many more acts to amaze and delight.”

Rees grunted, his eyes moving to the bottom. Names and dates scribbled in by different hands, and then crossed off, filled all the white space with the last being Durham, show time five o’clock. Since he didn’t recognize most of the names, he suspected they were for very small villages, not the cities mentioned above. Mr. Asher clearly had grandiose aspirations.

Rees walked around to the front. An opening was screened by a shabby blue curtain, dyed in streaks and with the same look as the boards- used over and over for a long time. Now more curious than ever, he bent down and peered through the gap at the bottom. He could hear the sound of hooves and as he peeked under the curtain he saw the skinny brown legs of a galloping horse thud past.

‘I really must begin my journey.’ Piggy Hanson’s whiny drawl sent Rees’s head whipping around. What the Hell was Piggy doing here? Rees had not seen Hanson, or anyone else from his hometown of Dugard, Maine, for almost two years, not since the magistrate had written an arrest warrants for Lydia – witchcraft – and for Rees – murder. His family had had to flee for their lives. He did not think he would ever forgive the people involved, especially the magistrate who had enabled the persecution. Rage swept over Rees and he turned to look around for the other man.

He saw his nemesis – they’d been enemies since boyhood – standing in a cluster of gentlemen, their cigar smoke forming a cloud around them. With every intention of punching the other man, Rees took a few steps in his direction, but then his anger succumbed to his more rational mind. He did not want Piggy Hanson to know he lived here now and anyway there were far too many men for him to take on by himself.

‘I must leave for the next town on my circuit, you know,’ Hanson continued. A magistrate for a large district, he regularly traveled from town to town ruling on judicial issues. He knew Rees was innocent of murder, Rees was certain of it, but he suspected he would still be treated as though he was guilty. And he doubted he could behave with any civility at all, not with this man. He cast around for a hiding place and, quicker than thought, he dashed behind the blue curtain.

He swiftly moved away from the portal, pressing himself against the wooden wall so that no one who came through the curtain could immediately see him. Then he inhaled a deep breath and looked around.

Stones carried in from the field outside marked off a roughly circular ring. The galloping horse thundered past, a woman in a short red frock standing on the saddle. At first scandalized to see the woman’s legs knee to ankle, Rees’s shock quickly turned to admiration. She stood on the saddle in comfort, her red dress and white petticoats fluttering in the breeze. Puffs of dust from the horse’s hooves sifted into the air.

‘Pip,’ said a voice from above. Rees looked up. A rope had been stretched tautly across the width of the enclosure and a woman in a white dress and stockings stood upon it. She wore white gloves but no hat and her wavy dark hair curled around her face. Rees stared in amazement as her white feet slid across the line. She was totally focused upon her task and did not give any indication she saw him. ‘Pip,’ she said again, and went into a flood of French mixed with some other language. Rees understood enough to know she was complaining about the rope.

This, he thought, must be Bambola, the ropewalker, crossing the sky above his head. She was one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen. As her white dress fluttered around her, all he could think of was angels.

‘Bon.’ A man Rees had not noticed detached himself from the wall and moved forward. He was easily as tall as Rees, if not taller, and lanky. His hair was a peculiar reddish black color. In French he assured the rope dancer that he would fix the rope in a minute.

Holding up his hand, he moved toward the ring. The equestrienne dropped down to the saddle, first riding astride and then moving one leg across so she rode sidesaddle. She pulled the horse to a stop and jumped down with none of the hesitation of a lady. She conferred with Pip for a few moments in tones too low for Rees to hear and then she went out the opening at the back. The man leaped easily into the saddle and urged the horse again into a gallop. He stood in the saddle, balancing even more easily than his female partner, and then, in one fluid motion, dropped to the saddle to stand on his hands. His lean body formed a long streak toward the sky. Rees gasped in amazement. Then the performer began jumping from one face of the saddle to the other, riding diagonally on each side with his feet pointing at the horse’s hindquarters. He was even more skilled than the woman and Rees was so enthralled he forgot why he was there and lost all track of time.

Finally, Pip moved his long body into the saddle and slowed the horse to a walk. He dismounted and, taking hold of the bridle, began to walk the animal around the ring. ‘You,’ he shouted at Rees in a heavy French accent, ‘get out. You must pay.’

Rees half-nodded, listening to the chatter floating over the wall; he could still hear Piggy talking outside, his high-pitched voice carrying over the lower tones of the other men. ‘I didn’t sneak in to see the show,’ Rees told the circus performer in a near-whisper. ‘There’s someone outside I don’t want to meet.’ With a grin – he could also hear Piggy – the other man turned and pointed to the curtain at the back. Rees struck across the ring for the screen. Disappointment – for now he would not be able to stay and enjoy the show – fell heavy upon his shoulders. Another crime to put at Piggy’s door.

Before he dropped the cloth over the opening Rees turned to look back over his shoulder. Now the tall man was scrambling up the pole to the small landing above. Rees wondered if the talented rider was a rope dancer as well as an equestrian but he did not go all the way up. Instead, as the girl withdrew to the landing on the other side, Pip began working with fittings. The rope vibrated.

Rees dropped the curtain and looked around. He found himself in the cluster of the circus carriages, horses, and hurrying people. A dwarf wearing a clown’s short ruffled red pants and with red triangles drawn in around his eyes hurried past, quickly followed by a slender fellow with oiled black hair and an aggressive black mustache streaked with gray. The performance would begin soon. No one took the slightest notice of Rees as he threaded his way through the circus performers.

Close to, the wagons looked beat up, scarred with use. Most of the gold horses on the wagon doors were simply paint and the few that were carved wood or sculpted metal were losing their gilding. Rees distinctly saw the tell- tale red of rust fringing the head of one rearing stallion.

He broke into a run. He would never have expected to meet the Magistrate here in this tiny Maine town. And he prayed Hanson would leave soon. Rees would not dare to return until he could be sure that Piggy Hanson was gone.

Leaving Durham proved just as challenging as entering town in the first place. The streets seemed even more congested now than they had been earlier. Abandoning the main road once again, Rees turned down a side street on the southern side of town. There was a narrow lane, little more than a footpath, that went east, from Durham to the Surry Road. He could follow Surry Road north past the Shaker community and then to his own farm. If he could just reach the lane. The side street was packed with wagons coming from the farms on the southern side of town. It took Rees much longer than it should have to drive the few blocks before he was finally able to turn.

But from what he could see of this winding track, there was little traffic here. Because of the narrow and twisty nature of this lane most of the traffic was on foot. Only a few vehicles were heading into town. Congratulating himself on his foresight, Rees settled himself more comfortably on the hard wooden seat. If one were not in a hurry, this was a pleasant ride through the stands of budding trees and lichen spotted boulders. He glanced at the sky; he’d reach home before it was entirely dark. And, although he had not been able to attend the circus, at least he’d seen enough to make a good story to tell Lydia and the children.

The wagon trundled around the last steep sharp curve. From here the road straightened out, cutting through farmland until it reached Surry Road.

And ahead was a group of Shaker Brothers, walking towards him. Rees was surprised to see them. A devout group that rarely left their well-ordered community, they surely could not be walking into Durham for the circus. He slowed to a stop and jumped to the ground.

Chapter 2

The group of men resolved into individual faces. One man, Brother Daniel, Rees knew well. Daniel had been the caretaker of the boys when Rees and his family had sought refuge here two years ago. Promoted to Elder since then, Daniel was beginning to look much older than his almost thirty years. He’d lost the roundness to his cheeks, his face now appearing almost gaunt, and the gray appearing in his hair made him look as though he were fading like a piece of old cloth. Rees, who’d recently discovered white hairs on his chin and chest, felt a spasm of sympathy.

Now worried lines furrowed Daniel’s forehead. ‘Rees,’ he said. ‘If I may request your assistance?’

‘Of course,’ he said immediately. ‘What do you need?’ Not only was his wife a former Shaker but the members of Zion had helped him more times than he could count.

‘When you came through town did you see a Shaker lass?’ Daniel’s normally quiet voice trembled with fear and desperation. Rees shook his head. He had seen few women or children and none clothed in the sober Shaker garb.

‘What happened? Did she run off to see the circus?’

‘Yes,’ Daniel said with a nod. ‘With one of the boys.’

‘Shem,’ said Brother Aaron. Rees knew the cantankerous old man well. and was surprised to see him here, searching for the girl. Although a Shaker, Aaron was not always kind or compassionate. ‘I fear he was easily led by that girl,’ he added, confirming Rees’s judgement.

‘Apparently they took off right after our noon dinner,’ Daniel continued, ignoring the other man. ‘We wouldn’t know that much but for the fact Shem was almost late for supper.’

‘Well, have you asked him where she is?’

‘Shem had nothing to do with it,’ Aaron said sharply at the same instant Daniel spoke.

‘Of course we did. We aren’t fools.’

Rees held up his hands in contrition. The Shakers were usually the most even-tempered of people. He knew Daniel’s testiness was a measure of his worry. ‘What did he say?’

‘That they were separated.’

‘Shem wanted to see the circus horses,’ Aaron said.

‘Leah wanted to come home,’ Daniel explained, throwing an irritated glance at his fellow Shaker. ‘Well, they wouldn’t allow a woman to enter such a rude entertainment, would they? She was probably bored-.’

‘He is horse mad,’ Aaron interjected.

‘Please Aaron,’ Daniel said in a sharp voice, staring at his fellow in exasperation. Aaron

acknowledged the rebuke with a nod and Daniel continued. ‘How could Leah have been so lost to all propriety as to imagine she would be allowed entry, I don’t know.’ For a moment his frustration with the girl overshadowed his fear. ‘What was she thinking? I’m not surprised that rapscallion Shem would behave so carelessly but Leah is soon to sign the Covenant and join us as a fully adult member. The amusements of the World should hold no attraction for her.’

Rees shook his head in disagreement. He didn’t blame the girl. He thought that this was exactly the time when she would want to see something outside the kitchen. After all, he was a man, well used to traveling, and seeing the circus had made him long to pack his loom in his wagon and go.

‘Like all women, she is flighty,’ Aaron said, frowning in condemnation. ‘Attracted to sins of -.’

‘Did you search Zion?’ Rees interrupted.

‘No,’ Daniel said. ‘When we couldn’t find the children, we suspected they’d left . . .’ His voice trailed away and he looked from side to side as though expecting the girl to spring up beside him.

‘Perhaps she just wanted to go home to her family,’ Rees suggested.

‘She has no family,’ Daniel said curtly. ‘Neither of those children do. Shem is an orphan and Leah has lived with us since she was a baby. Her mother brought her to us and died soon after. Leah knows no other family but us. She would not leave our community.’

All the more reason for her to want to experience something of the world, Rees thought but he kept his opinion to himself. ‘I drove to town on the main road,’ he said aloud. ‘I did not see any children at all.’

‘When was that?”

“About four,’ Rees replied.

Daniel nodded and rubbed a shaking hand over his jaw. ‘You were on the road too late, I think. The children left the village right after noon dinner.’

‘That means they would have been on the main road between one and two,’ Rees said. ‘Depending on their speed.’ And if Leah had parted from Shem and started home by two-thirty or three, walking either road, she would have reached Zion by four. Four-thirty at the latest. Anxiety for the girl tingled through him. He thought of his own children and the kidnapping of his daughter last winter with a shudder of remembered terror. ‘I’ll help you search,’ he said. ‘The more of us the better.’ He already feared this search would not have a good outcome.

Daniel turned to two of the younger Brothers. ‘Search along the road,’ he said. ‘And

hurry. We have less than an hour of daylight left.’ They started down the lane, moving toward town at a run.

Rees looked up at the sky. The fiery ball was almost at the horizon, and long low rays streamed across the earth in ribbons of gold. In thirty – maybe forty minutes the sun would drop below the western hill and the pink and purple streamers across the sky would fade into black. ‘I’ll park the wagon,’ he said, jumping into the seat.

He pulled it to the ditch on the left side and jumped down, looking around him as he did so. Farmer Reynard had planted the sloping fields on Rees’s right; buckwheat probably given the sloping and rocky nature of the ground. But on the left the buckwheat straw from last year stood almost four feet high, waiting to be cut down and then turned over into the soil. Rees inspected that field thoughtfully. Tall thick stems such as that could hide a girl who did not want to be found. ‘We should check the fields,’ he said as he rejoined the Shakers. ‘And the pastures.’ When Daniel looked at him in surprise, he added, ‘She might have started back to Zion and when she saw us coming gone to ground. She might not want to be dragged back to Zion in disgrace.’ Daniel nodded, pleased by the suggestion and quickly asked the other Brothers to spread out across the fields. Rees and Daniel started walking down the lane.

But before they had gone very far, one of the other Shakers called out.

‘Hey, over here.’ A young fellow whose yellow hair stuck out around his straw hat like straw itself, began retching. ‘Oh, dear God.’

Daniel did not pause to remonstrate with the boy for his language but vaulted the fence into the field and ran. Rees struggled to keep up. Was it Leah? Was she hurt? His stomach clenched; he was so afraid the situation was far worse than that.

They arrived at the body lying sprawled in its buckwheat nest at the same time. She lay partly on her right side, partly on her back, her left arm crooked at her waist at an odd angle. Her plain gray skirt was rucked up to her thighs and blood spattered the white flesh. Daniel turned around, his face white, and shouted at the Brothers approaching him, ‘Stay back. Stay back. Don’t come any closer.’

‘Oh no,’ Rees said, dropping to one knee. ‘Oh no.’ Although he’d been told Leah was fourteen, she looked much younger. Under the severe Shaker cap, her skin had the translucent quality of the child. Her eyes were open, the cloudy irises staring at the darkening sky. Rees bent over her. Although it was hard to tell in the fading light he thought he saw marks around her throat. ‘She may have been strangled,’ he said, his eyes rising to the worm fence that separated this field from the road that led into Durham. Leah’s body had been dropped only a few yards from the fence but in the high straw it would have been almost invisible, even in daylight. Rees began walking slowly toward the main road, his eyes fixed upon the ground. There did not seem to be any path from the fence to the body; none of the buckwheat stalks were bent or broken in any way. He did not see any footprints in the soft April soil either. But in the setting sun detail was difficult to see and he made a mental note to examine this section of the field more closely tomorrow.

‘The farmer, did he do this terrible thing?’ Daniel cried, glancing from side to side.

‘Perhaps, but I doubt it,’ Rees said. He touched the girl’s upraised arm to see if he could move it. As he suspected, the body was growing stiff. ‘He would be a fool to leave her in his own field.’

‘It was not Shem,’ Aaron said loudly. Rees glanced up at the man. Why was Aaron so protective of that boy?

‘She’s been dead for about some hours,’ Rees said, returning to his examination. Then he thought about the warmth of the day. Leah would have been lying here, in the sun. ‘Maybe since mid-afternoon.’ And that time would be consistent with the time she’d left town.

‘How do you know?’ Daniel stared at Rees in shock, mixed with dawning suspicion.

‘You told me she was seen at noon dinner,’ Rees replied, ‘so we know she was alive then.’ He rose to his feet and looked at Daniel ‘It must be almost six o’clock now.’

‘Probably after,’ Daniel said, looking around at the fading light.

‘A body begins to stiffen a few hours after death and then, maybe half a day later, the rigidity passes off. I saw this frequently during the War for Independence but any good butcher will tell you the same.’ Rees kept his eyes upon the other man who finally nodded with some reluctance. ‘I would guess that Leah was accosted by someone on her way home.’ He paused. The poor child had probably been lying here when he rode past, thinking of the circus. He closed his eyes as a spasm of shame went through him.

‘She knew she was not to leave Zion,’ Daniel said with a hint of wrath in his voice.

Rees sighed. This was not the first time he had seen the victim blamed. And perhaps, for a celibate such as Daniel, anger was an easier emotion right now than horror and disgust and grief as well. ‘Perhaps she behaved foolishly, but she did not deserve this end to her life.’

‘We will take her home -,’ Daniel began. But Rees interrupted.

‘We must send someone for the constable.’

‘No. No. She is one of ours.’

‘This is murder,’ Rees said, staring fixedly at Daniel. Although shocked and horrified, he had witnessed too many violent deaths to be paralyzed by such evil any longer. His calm voice and stern regard had the desired effect. Daniel sucked in a deep breath. After he had mastered himself, he left Rees’s side and joined the group of Shakers.

‘Run back to the village and get a horse,’ he told one of the youngest Brothers. ‘Ride into Durham and fetch Constable Rouge.’ His voice trembled on the final word. Rees looked at Daniel. He was swaying on his feet, his eyes were glassy and his skin pale and slick with perspiration. He looked as though he might faint. Rees drew him away from Leah’s body and pressed him down into a sitting position. Daniel was little more than a boy himself and had lived in the serene Shaker community most of his life. It was no surprise he was ill-equipped to handle such a terrible occurrence. ‘Put your head between your knees,’ Rees said. ‘I’m going to walk to the farmhouse and talk to the farmer. Maybe he saw something.’

‘I’ll go with you.’ Daniel stood up; so unsteady Rees grabbed him to keep him from falling.

‘No,’ he said with a shake of his head.

‘I need to go with you,’ the Brother said fiercely. ‘I need to do something. That poor child!’ Rees stared at the other man. Although Daniel’s face was still white, and he was trembling he had set his mouth in a determined line. ‘I must do this, Rees.’

‘Very well.’ Rees glanced over his shoulder at the body. From here, it appeared to be a bundle of rags dropped among the stalks. ‘Poor chick won’t be going anywhere.’

Daniel looked at Brother Aaron. ‘You were once a soldier,’ he said. ‘You’ve seen violence and death. Please stay with our Sister.’ Aaron nodded and, withdrawing a few steps, sat down in the row between the stalks. In the encroaching shadows he instantly faded from view. Only his pale straw hat remained, shining in the last of the light like a beacon.

Rees and Daniel set off across the fields for the distant farmhouse.

***

Excerpt from A Circle Of Dead Girls by Eleanor Kuhns. Copyright 2020 by Eleanor Kuhns. Reproduced with permission from Eleanor Kuhns. All rights reserved.

 

 

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AIRBORNE by DiAnn Mills | #Showcase #Interview #Giveaway

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Airborne

by DiAnn Mills

on Tour September 1-30, 2020

Synopsis:

Airborne by DiAnn Mills

Heather Lawrence’s long-awaited vacation to Salzburg wasn’t supposed to go like this. Mere hours into the transatlantic flight, the Houston FBI agent is awakened when passengers begin exhibiting horrific symptoms of an unknown infection. As the virus quickly spreads and dozens of passengers fall ill, Heather fears she’s witnessing an epidemic similar to ones her estranged husband studies for a living—but this airborne contagion may have been deliberately released.

While Heather remains quarantined with other survivors, she works with her FBI colleagues to identify the person behind this attack. The prime suspect? Dr. Chad Lawrence, an expert in his field . . . and Heather’s husband. The Lawrences’ marriage has been on the rocks since Chad announced his career took precedence over his wife and future family and moved out.

As more victims fall prey days after the initial outbreak, time’s running out to hunt down the killer, one who may be closer to the victims than anyone ever expected.

Book Details:

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Published by: Tyndale House Publishers
Publication Date: September 8th 2020
Number of Pages: 400
ISBN: 1496427173 (ISBN13: 9781496427175)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Goodreads

Airborne Trailer:

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

Houston
Early July
Monday, 6 p.m.

Vacations offered a distraction for those who longed to relax and rejuvenate, but FBI Special Agent Heather Lawrence wrestled with the decision to take an overseas trip alone. Normally she arrived for a flight at IAH eager to embark upon a new adventure. Not this time. Her vacation expectations had bottomed out over four weeks ago after Chad had slammed the door on reconciliation. Was she working through her grief or avoiding the reality of a husband who no longer wanted her?

She waited to board the flight in a designated line at the gate. The hum of voices blended with airport beeps, and announcements swirled around her as though enticing her to join the enthusiasm. In the line beside her, passengers shifted their carry-ons and positioned their mobile devices or paper boarding passes. Ready. Alert. People eager to be on their way.

Heather offered a smile to those nearest her. An adorable little blond boy with an older woman found it hard to stand still. A middle-aged couple held hands. The bald head and pasty skin of the man indicated a medical condition. He stumbled, and the woman reached for him. A robust man held a violin case next to his heart. A twentysomething woman with pink hair and a man behind her with a scruffy beard exchanged a kiss.

Chad used to steal kisses.

If she pinpointed the exact moment when he chose to separate himself from her, she’d say when he returned from a third trip for Doctors Without Borders late last fall. He’d witnessed suffering and cruel deaths that had scarred him. She’d encouraged his desire to help others, not realizing their future would take a backseat. While he drove toward success, their marriage drifted across the lanes and stalled in a rut.

The boarding line moved toward the Jetway. Each step shook her to the core as though she should turn and try to reverse the past seven months. She’d ignored her and Chad’s deteriorating relationship in an effort to make him happy. A huge mistake. But she didn’t intend to add the labels beaten or weak to her dossier.

A cell phone sounded, and a man boarding in front of her stopped to answer it. His shoulders stiffened under a tan sports coat, and he talked in hushed tones. Heather dug her fingers into her palms and forced one foot in front of the other while the man pocketed his cell phone and proceeded into business class.

A flight attendant greeted her, a dark-haired young man wearing a wide smile, relaxed and genuine, an obvious sign he enjoyed his job. She returned the gesture. His black jacket with two rows of silver braid on the sleeves and black trousers were magazine perfect.

Heather walked to a rear aisle seat in business class and hoisted her tote bag into the overhead compartment. Although it held essentials for every emergency in case her luggage was delayed, the bulging piece weighed less than the burden on her heart.

Easing onto her seat, Heather pulled the brochure from her shoulder bag describing Salzburg’s music festival, a celebration of musicians past and present. First a layover in Frankfurt and then on to her destination. She’d rented an apartment for ten days within walking distance of the historical center. The flexibility allowed her to choose her itinerary and cook or dine out. From the online photos, the centuries-old building had just enough updates to be comfortable without damaging its historic charm. She’d have hours to explore Mozart’s roots, museums, the many churches, immerse herself in the culture, and think.

A female passenger, sporting red spiked hair and chin-length hooped earrings, stopped beside her. The woman carried a Venti Starbucks. “Excuse me.” Her German accent a reminder of the destination. “Would you mind holding my coffee while I store my carry-on?”

“Of course.” Heather held the cup while the woman shoved her small suitcase into the overhead bin.

“Sorry for the inconvenience. I wasn’t thinking when I bought the coffee.”

“It smells heavenly.” Heather stood to let the woman pass and then handed her the cup.

“Thank you.” The woman blew on the lid and took a sip. “I’m Mia.”

“I’m Heather.”

“Long flight ahead but soon I’ll be home.” She pointed to Heather’s brochure. “Salzburg?”

“Yes. For a much-needed vacation.”

“I’m from Frankfurt. Really missing my daughter and husband.”

“You’ll see them soon.”

Mia broke into a wide smile. “We’ve done FaceTime and texted, but I want to touch their faces and hug them.”

Heather continued to read the Salzburg brochure to avoid any personal comments from Mia, like whether she was taking a vacation solo. An elderly man wearing a straw fedora and a white mustache sat in the aisle seat across from Heather. He pulled his phone from his pant pocket and used his thumbs on the keyboard like a kid.

Mia placed her coffee on the tray and made a phone call. “Wie geht es meinem kleinen Mädchen?”

Heather translated the German. How is my little girl? The woman’s excitement resonated through every word. Love. Laughter. Priceless commodities that Heather didn’t possess. Yet this trip offered an opportunity to rekindle her faith in God and chart a course for the future.

While the attendants made their way through business class with drink orders, Heather longed to have confirmation she’d made the right decision to take this trip. No one knew of her vacation plans except her parents and Assistant Special Agent in Charge Wade Mitchell in Houston. No one needed to know the why of her trip until she made a few decisions.

Stuffing the Salzburg brochure into her bag, she snatched the aircraft’s information and confirmed the layout for 267 passengers, restrooms, exit doors, in-seat power, on-demand entertainment, and three galleys. She always noted the details of her surroundings, another habit of working so many FBI cases. Always be prepared for the unexpected.

If the trip had been FBI sanctioned, her present circumstances might not hurt so much. How ironic she worked the critical incident response group as a behavior analyst, and she wrestled to understand her own life.

Right on time, the flight attendants took their assigned posts while miniature screens throughout the plane shared the aircraft’s amenities and explained the passenger safety instructions. The captain welcomed them moments before the plane lifted into the clouds.

On her way. No turning back. She prayed for a safe journey and much-needed answers.

Food smells from business class caught her attention, a mix of roasted chicken and beef. Too often of late, she forgot to eat or nothing appealed to her. To shake off the growing negativity, she paid for Wi-Fi and grabbed her phone from her bag. Time to concentrate on something other than herself.

She glanced at the incoming notifications. No texts. Her emails were an anticipated list of senders when she longed for a change of heart from Chad. Sighing, she closed her eyes. Between her job, Chad, and stress, too often she fought for enough pillow time.

Two hours later, she woke from a deep sleep to the sound of a woman’s scream.

Chapter 2

Heather whirled toward the ear-piercing cry behind her. She released her seat belt and rushed back to the economy section. The overhead lights snapped on to reveal the middle-aged couple whom she’d seen at the gate. The panic-stricken woman beside him held a tissue to his nose. Blood dripped beneath her fingers and down her wrist.

Not a muscle moved on the man’s face, and his eyes rolled back into their sockets. Heather approached him in the aisle seat. Before she could speak, the woman gasped, a mix of sobs and a struggle for composure. “Help me. I can’t stop the bleeding.”

Heather used tissues from the woman’s lap to help block the blood flow. “Try to stay calm.”

The woman nodded. “I shouldn’t have let him talk me into this trip. He’s been so weak.”

From the front of the plane, the male flight attendant who’d greeted passengers earlier rushed their way. He carried two kits, one labeled first aid and the other biohazard. A female attendant trailed after him.

“Help is here,” Heather said to the woman. She moved aside for the attendant to administer aid. She prayed the ill man was undergoing a minor problem—an easily resolved issue—and for the woman’s comfort. But his lifeless face showed a grim reality.

“Sir, how do you feel?” Not a sound or movement came from the man. Blood flowed from Heather’s mass of tissues.

The male attendant twisted off the seal of the biohazard kit and searched inside. He drew out a pair of nitrile gloves and wiggled them on. The female attendant opened the first aid kit, ripped into a gauze package, and handed it to the male attendant, who applied it to the man’s nose. She opened the biohazard waste bag to dispose of the soiled materials.

The male attendant captured the woman’s attention. “Ma’am, I’m Nathan. Is this your husband?”

“Yes. He’s very hot.”

Nathan touched the man’s forehead. “How long has he been feverish?”

“He was fine when we boarded. Perhaps over an hour into the flight?” Her sobs subsided to soft cries. “Do something. Blood’s coming from his mouth.”

Heather touched her shoulder with a clean hand. “Take a deep breath.”

“How can I? Roy’s not breathing.”

“That’s his name?” His gentle voice ushered in compassion.

“Yes. I’m Catherine.”

He bent to speak to Roy. “I’m Nathan. Give me a few minutes to administer first aid.” He replaced the gauze on Roy’s nose for the second time and turned to the female flight attendant, who’d paled but didn’t tremble. “Leave the kits. Call the flight deck and tell them what’s happening.”

She rushed to the front of the cabin.

“This is my fault.” Catherine held Roy’s hand. “He finished chemo and radiation for lung cancer, but his doctor hadn’t cleared him for the trip.”

“Catherine,” Nathan said, “I know you’re worried, but try to stay calm. Has he experienced these symptoms before?”

“No.”

A voice spoke over the interphone. “If a licensed medical professional is on board, we have a medical issue. All other passengers, please remain in your seats.”

Within moments, a lean man arrived from the right side of business class carrying a leather case. “I’m a doctor.” Heather stepped back while he examined Roy and spoke to Nathan.

While the doctor stood over Roy with his back to Heather, Nathan turned to her. “We’ve got this handled. Please return—”

“No, please. Let her stay,” Catherine said. “If she doesn’t mind.”

Nathan frowned. “Okay, for the moment. Our manual states we have to keep the aisle clear around the patient.”

“I understand,” Heather said. “I’d be happy to sit with her, and I’m Heather.”

“Miss, if the pilots call our med service on the ground, I’ll need you out of way so we can relay instructions.”

The doctor and Nathan lowered Roy to the aisle and treated him. They blocked Heather’s view of the procedure, but the doctor rummaged for something inside the leather case. For the next ten minutes, she waited for the doctor to reassure passengers of the man’s recovery.

Catherine’s hysteria spun in a cloud of uncertainty that left unchecked often spread panic. She unfastened her seat belt and rose on unstable legs. “Please, tell me my husband is all right.” The female attendant gently urged her back onto the seat.

The doctor eased up from Roy and spoke reassuring words to Catherine. He peeled off his blood-covered gloves and tossed them into the bag. Had Roy succumbed to the lung cancer or a complication?

Nathan walked to a galley area. “Ladies and gentlemen, I am Nathan Howard, your lead flight attendant on board your flight today. We appreciate your concern for the man receiving medical attention. We will transport him to the rear of the cabin, where he’ll be comfortable. A doctor is tending to him, and the medical concern is under control. Thank you.”

Heather supported the airline’s protocol designed to keep everyone from alarm and terror while the crew addressed issues. Yet a few people craned their necks to watch the scene as though it was a morbid form of entertainment more interesting than the recycled movies on the screens in front of them.

Nathan returned to Catherine. “I know you’d like for the young woman to sit with you, but it would be easier for the flight crew and safer for her if we placed an attendant here. Can we do that?”

“I guess.” Catherine’s lips quivered.

Heather bent to speak. “I’m not far.” She understood how Catherine had latched on to her, a stranger, for moral support.

Nathan and the doctor picked Roy up and carried him to the rear. Roy was either unconscious or dead.

The female flight attendant sat in Roy’s seat and held Catherine’s hand. “I’ll stay with you for as long as you like.”

“Can I join my husband?”

“When the doctor is finished, I’ll escort you back.”

Heather returned to her seat—her mind weighed with concern.

“Gott hab Erbarmen,” Mia said.

“Yes, God have mercy.”

“You speak German?”

“A little. Spent a year in Frankfurt when I was in college.”

“The sound of it makes me long for home.” She hesitated. “What’s wrong with the man?”

“His wife said he’d recently completed chemo treatments for lung cancer. I’m sure the doctor is doing all he can. The airline has doctors on the ground, and they’ll consult with the doctor on board. Between them, they’ll figure out what’s best.”

“Do you work for the airlines?”

“No.” Heather smiled. “I’m with the Department of Justice.”

Mia rubbed her palms together. She’d already stated her desire to see her family. “Will the flight be diverted?”

“It depends on lots of factors. The man may just require rest.” Heather wasn’t going to state the excessive blood from Roy’s mouth and nose pointed to his death. By now the doctors at Medi-Pro-Aire, an advisory service for airlines, had been contacted and put in communication with the pilot.

“I read the airline’s cost to emergency divert range from $10,000 to upwards of $200,000,” Mia said.

“I don’t doubt the cost, but with this airline, the safety and welfare of the passengers always come first. They don’t blink at the cost of diversion. It’s on management’s mind post-action.”

“Can the pilots be called to the carpet for making a safety decision?”

“I’m sure their procedure is in place to protect the passengers.” Heather forced comfort into her voice. “We’ll be okay.”

Muffled voices around her prompted alarm.

A man shouted for help. “My wife has a terrible headache.”

A man in business class vomited.

“My son has a fever,” a woman said.

“Please, the man beside me has a nosebleed, and he can’t stop it.”

“What is going on?” Mia whispered. “All these people are suddenly sick. Frighteningly sick.”

Heather wished she had answers while horror played out around her.

“I’m afraid.” Mia’s face turned ashen.

“We have to stay calm.” Heather craved to heed her own advice.

Throughout the plane, people complained of flu-like symptoms. Another person vomited. Heather touched her stomach. A twinge of apprehension crept through her.

Nathan spoke over the interphone. “If you are experiencing physical distress, press your call button. Flight attendants will be in your area soon with damp paper towels. Use these to cover your mouth and the tops of beverages. As always, remain in your seats.”

Heather messaged ASAC Mitchell in Houston with the medical emergency report, including the symptoms.

He responded. The FBI, TSA, CDC, and Medi-Pro-Aire are on it. Are you okay?

Yes. People’s symptoms indicate a serious virus.

The doctor on board has given a similar conclusion.

She trembled as she typed. Looks similar to what Chad described in Africa.

The doctor said the same. Is the man dead?

I think so.

How many others are sick?

Heather surveyed the passengers within her sight and typed. From my seat, I see around ten in business class, and I hear the sick in economy. Will the plane divert?

No decision yet. Keep me posted. You are our eyes.

Beyond what the doctor on board relayed to those on the ground, ASAC Mitchell must believe she held the voice of reason and objectivity. The irony of their interpretation. The viruses were usually zoonotic or caused by insects, and the symptoms created intense suffering. She blinked to clear her head and not ponder the worst.

With panic gripping her in a stranglehold, she imagined what others were feeling. A man questioned why the plane hadn’t landed. A woman bolted to the galley and held her mouth. The man who held the violin marched to the business class restroom but fell face-first and vomited.

The elderly man across the aisle from her coughed. His nose trickled blood.

Heather grabbed tissues from her bag and handed them to him. “Will this help?”

“Tell me this is a nightmare.” He gripped her arm—fiery hot.

***

Excerpt from Airborne by DiAnn Mills. Copyright 2020 by DiAnn Mills. Reproduced with permission from DiAnn Mills. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

DiAnn Mills

DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She is a storyteller and creates action-packed, suspense-filled novels to thrill readers. Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests.
DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. She is the director of the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference, Mountainside Retreats: Marketing, Speakers, Nonfiction, and Novelist with social media specialist Edie Melson where she continues her passion of helping other writers be successful. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country.

Q&A with DiAnn Mills

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

What was the inspiration for this book?

The story line for Airborne came to me three and a half years ago. All I had was a what-if: a virus unleashed on an international flight. While I have an ongoing relationship with the FBI to ensure my facts are straight, this idea went beyond my normal romantic suspense. The search to find experts who were willing to give me accurate information took another year. Along the way, the right people entered my path:
1. A woman and new friend whose doctorate is in microbiology and immunology.
2. A man who trains flight attendants for the airline that I envisioned in my story. I learned guidelines and procedure.
3. A pilot who not only flies for my designated airline but is also a suspense and thriller writer.
4. The amazing people and resources of the CDC. They offered insight and protocol for those in quarantine.
5. The wisdom and guidance of the FBI to locate the right people with solid answers.

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

Usually current events. Regarding Airborne: the idea came to me as a what-if, and I had no idea what to do with it. While the idea simmered and throughout the research process, I read recommended articles, and watched documentaries and movies about virus outbreaks.
I have a vivid imagination. Some of the steps taken seemed logical to keep people safe from contagion. Later I learned I was right—a weird realization.

Broad research was needed to include exploration of worldwide viruses, quarantine restrictions, the work of the CDC, the involvement of government agencies during times of health crisis, testing requirements, and the courageous work of first responders and medical personnel,

After my book was edited and a cover designed, the coronavirus broke out. One of the results of my research is that I’m not afraid during the current COVID19 crisis. The precautions were expected as though I’d been there before. Eerie at times, yet other times comforting to draw upon insights I’d learned. I have confidence in the guidelines to keep the US as contagion free as possible.

Are any of your characters based on people that you know?

No. I have a lengthy process for characterizing a hero or heroine based on two criteria:
1. Who has the most to lose if the situation is not brought under control.
2. Who has the most to gain if the situation is brought under control.

Your routine when writing? Any idiosyncrasies?

Besides being a bit quirky and needing lots of strong, black coffee? 
I’m an organic writer, which means I’m a character-driven panster. I spend hours getting to know a character so I can create authenticity in his/her physical, mental, and spiritual behavior. I may have an idea for a few of the scenes, but mostly the process is discovery.

My best writing is early in the morning … sometimes I prop my laptop on the treadmill. Other times I edit, take notes, or research while exercising.

Tell us why we should read your book?

Airborne is for the reader who enjoys suspense with a thread of romance. The unexpected happens when a deadly virus is unleashed onboard an international flight. Readers will identify with the characters’ fears and emotions. Who is infected? Was it deliberate? What will happen to the people who hope to survive the painful death?

My mission then and now is to show a story that weaves hope, reality, and the sacrificial work of first responders when a deadly virus spreads through innocent people. I want readers to experience God’s presence and peac during our current global crisis.

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

Yes! I’m finished with the first draft of Shadows of the Past – a working title. A woman spends fifteen years in a Texas prison for a murder she didn’t commit to protect her sister. Now someone wants the ex-con dead.

This sounds like a book for me.
Can’t wait!!!!

What are you reading now?

Great Stories Don’t Write Themselves – Larry Brooks
Darkest Fear – Harlan Coben
Prayer – Timothy Keller

Fun Questions:

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

FBI Agent Heather Lawrence – Emma Stone
Dr. Chad Lawrence – Chris Pine
Thomas Powell – Daniel Craig

Favorite leisure activity/hobby?
Cooking
Roasting my own coffee beans
Hiking
Gardening

Favorite meal?

Salmon
Salad with lots of veggies
Hot apple pie topped with vanilla ice cream

What a great meal!! Now I’m craving it!!!

Connect with DiAnn On:
DiAnnMills.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

 

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DERAILED by Mary Keliikoa | #Showcase #Interview #Giveaway

Derailed by Mary Keliikoa Banner

 

 

Derailed

by Mary Keliikoa

on Tour September 1-30, 2020

Synopsis:

Derailed by Mary Keliikoa

A dying wish. A secret world.

Can this grieving investigator stay on the right track?

PI Kelly Pruett is determined to make it on her own. And juggling clients at her late father’s detective agency, a controlling ex, and caring for a deaf daughter was never going to be easy. She takes it as a good sign when a letter left by her dad ties into an unsolved case of a young woman struck by a train.

Hunting down the one person who can prove the mysterious death was not just a drunken accident, Kelly discovers this witness is in no condition to talk. And the closer she gets to the truth the longer her list of sleazy suspects with murderous motives grows. Each clue exposes another layer of the victim’s steamy double life.

Can Kelly pinpoint the murderer, or is she on the fast track to disaster?

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Camel Press
Publication Date: May 12th 2020
Number of Pages: 232
ISBN: 1603817069 (ISBN13: 9781603817066)
Series: PI Kelly Pruett #1
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Mary Keliikoa

Mary Keliikoa spent the first 18 years of her adult life working around lawyers. Combining her love of all things legal and books, she creates a twisting mystery where justice prevails. She has had a short story published in Woman’s World and is the author of the PI Kelly Pruett Mystery Series.

At home in Washington, she enjoys spending time with her family and her writing companions/fur-kids. When not at home, you can find Mary on a beach on the Big Island where she and her husband recharge. But even under the palm trees and blazing sun she’s plotting her next murder—novel that is.

Q&A with Mary Keliikoa

What was the inspiration for this book?

I spent years working in downtown Portland high rises for lawyers and coming to work via mass transit. The inspiration for the book really began there. The MAX tracks run perilously close to the sidewalks and I often wondered how it was that more people didn’t actually fall in front of the train. The plot for DERAILED evolved as I continued to play with the idea of having someone fall because of murderous intent.

What has been the biggest challenge in your writing career?

Right now it’s writing Book 3 of the Kelly Pruett series! But seriously, the biggest challenge was getting an agent. My dream was to be traditionally published, and for that to often occur, an agent is needed. I went through well over 100 rejections on Derailed before I was signed. That was the biggest challenge, and I was only sort of kidding about Book 3. I had the idea that writing books would get easier, but I haven’t found that to be true 😊

What do you absolutely need while writing?

A quiet space and my laptop are my must haves. Coffee is good too, but I can create without it.

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

I show up 5-6 days a week, 2-3 hours each time. I find the routine is helpful and my brain just knows it’s time to work. That’s not to say that I don’t mess around on social media, or get up to refill my coffee cup ten times before my writing session is over, but I find the consistency helps me be creative. I learned long ago that I have to show up and get my fingers typing for inspiration to hit. If I only waited for inspiration, I might not get anything done.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

I love my Kelly Pruett character. She is tenacious, and striving to get out from under her dad’s shadow. She wants to be her own person, but wants to be a good mom. She wants to be someone her daughter looks up to. Maybe I just relate to her the most. Although I have to say her Basset hound Floyd is a very close second.

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

Oh I don’t know if I have a least favorite… I do like them all. But if I have to choose, the bartender in the book. I know I created every bit of him, but I’m not sure I liked his attitude about the whole mess!

Give us an interesting fun fact or a few about your book?

It was written in 1999, and when I did the editing 16 years later, it underwent a huge technology overhaul to bring it into current time. The way PIs worked pre-Facebook was a lot different and we didn’t walk around with Smart phones like we do now!
Another fun fact is the original title was Bamboozled. When I was one of the mentees chosen during the 2016 Pitch Wars contest, the first thing that was changed was the title. Two mentors who had considered my novel came up with the name Derailed, and it stuck.

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

If you enjoy the likes of Sue Grafton and Janet Evanovich, I believe you’d enjoy Kelly Pruett. On her first case, she really comes into her own as a PI, and there are a enough twists and turns to keep you guessing until the very end.

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I’ve long been a lover of mystery and puzzles, and combined with my 18 years in the legal field, I was compelled to try my hand at writing a novel. I live in the Pacific NW with my husband of 30+ years and also have a home on the islands. My favorite place to plot murder, novels that is, will always be on a sandy beach with toes in the sand.

What’s next that we can look forward to?

Book 2 in the series, DENIED, will be out in May 2021. PI Kelly Pruett will be back on the case, this time for a former classmate whose father has gone missing. But the search for the missing father and the truth puts Kelly into a high risk game of chance with a killer willing to gamble everything to win. I’m a little scared for Kelly—but I know she can ultimately handle it!

Catch Up With Mary Keliikoa:
MaryKeliikoa.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER 1

Portland, Oregon has as many parts as the human anatomy. Like the body, some are more attractive than others. My father’s P.I. business that I’d inherited was in what many considered the armpit, the northeast, where pickpockets and drug dealers dotted the narrow streets and spray paint tags of bubble-lettered gang signatures striped the concrete. In other words, home. I’m Kelly Pruett and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

I’d just finished invoicing a client for a skip trace and flicked off the light in the front office my dad and I used to share when a series of taps came from the locked front door. It was three o’clock on a gloomy Friday afternoon. A panhandler looking for a handout or a bathroom was my best guess. Sitting at the desk, I couldn’t tell.

Floyd, my basset hound and the only real man in my life, lifted his droopy eyes to meet mine before flopping his head back down on his bed. No help there.

Another rap, louder this time.

Someone wanted my attention. I retrieved the canister of pepper spray from my purse and opened the door to a woman, her umbrella sheltering her from the late October drizzle. Her angle made it hard to see her face, only the soft curls in her hair and the briefcase hanging from her hand. I slipped the pepper spray into the pocket of my Nike warmup jacket.

“Is Roger Pruett in?” she asked, water droplets splatting the ground.

She hadn’t heard the news and I hadn’t brought myself to update R&K Investigation’s website. I swallowed the lump before it could form and clutch my throat. “No, sorry,” I said. “My dad died earlier this year. I’m his daughter, Kelly.”

“I’m so sorry.” She peered from under the umbrella, her expression pinched. She searched my face for a different answer.

I’d give anything to have one. “What do you need?”

“To hire a P.I. to investigate my daughter’s death. Can you help me?” Her voice cracked.

My stomach fluttered. Process serving, court document searches, and the occasional tedious stakeout had made up the bulk of my fifteen hundred hours of P.I. experience requirement. Not that I wasn’t capable of more. Dad had enjoyed handling cases himself with the plan to train me later. In the year since his death, no one had come knocking, and going through the motions of what I knew how to do well had been hard enough. Now this lady was here for my father’s help. I couldn’t turn her away. I raked my fingers through the top of my shoulder length hair and opened the door. “Come in.”

“Bless you.” She slid her umbrella closed and brushed past me.

After securing the lock, I led her through the small reception area and into my office. A bathroom and another office that substituted for a storage closet were down the long hallway heading to the rear exit. Floyd decided to take interest and lumbered over. With his butt in the air, he stretched at her feet before nearly snuffling my soon-to-be client’s shoe up his nose. She nodded at him before vicious Floyd found his way back to his corner, tail swaying behind him. Guess he approved.

The woman looked in her mid-sixties. She had coiffed hair the color of burnt almonds, high cheekbones, and a prominent nose. She reminded me of my middle school librarian who could get you to shut up with one glance. “Would you like coffee, Ms…?”

“No thank you. It’s Hanson.” She settled in the red vinyl chair across from my dad’s beaten and scarred desk. “Georgette Hanson.”

My skin tingled when she said her name.

“My condolences on your father,” she said.

“Thank you.” Her words were simple, and expected, but her eyes held pain. Having lost her daughter, she clearly could relate.

“How did it happen?” she asked.

I swallowed again. With as many people as I’d had to tell, it should be getting easier. It wasn’t. “Stroke. Were you a former client of my father’s?”

She waved her hand. “Something like that.” She lifted the briefcase to her lap and popped the latch. Her eyes softened. “He was a fine man. You look just like him.”

My confident, broad-shouldered, Welshman father had been quite fit and handsome in his youth. Most of my adult life he’d carried an extra fifty pounds, but that never undermined his strong chin, wise blue eyes, and thick chestnut hair. I’d been blessed with my Dad’s eyes and hair and had my mom’s round chin. But since I’d ballooned a couple of sizes while pregnant with Mitz, I knew which version she thought I resembled. “What were you hoping he could do for you with regards to your daughter?”

“Find out why she’s dead.” Georgette shoved a paper dated a few weeks ago onto the desk and snapped the case lid closed.

A picture of a young woman with a warm smile, a button nose, and long wavy brunette hair sat below the fold on the front page under the headline: WOMAN STRUCK BY MAX TRAIN DIES.

I winced at the thought of her violent end. “I’m sorry. Such a pretty girl.”

“She was perfect.” Georgette pulled off her gloves, her eyes brimming. “The train destroyed that. Do you know what a train does to a hundred-pound woman?” Her voice trembled.

To avoid envisioning the impact, I replaced it with the smiling face of Mitz, my eight-year-old daughter. Which made it worse. If anything ever happened to her… How Georgette wasn’t a puddle on the Formica eluded me. I took a minute to read the story. According to the article, Brooke Hanson fell from the sidewalk into the path of an oncoming MAX train downtown at Ninth and Morrison Street. The police reported alcohol was a contributing factor. “They detained the sole witness who found her, Jay Nightingale. Why?” I set the paper down.

Georgette brushed her hair away from her forehead flashing nails chewed to the quick. “At first, the police thought he had something to do with her fall. He told them he’d seen my Brooke stumble down the sidewalk and teeter on the edge of the curb. Supposedly, he called out the train was coming and she didn’t hear him. He made no effort to get her away from those tracks. When the autopsy showed she’d been drinking, they wrote her death off as an accident, released Mr. Nightingale, and closed the case.”

Their decision couldn’t have been that cut and dry. “How much had she been drinking?”

“You sound like the police.” Georgette lifted her chin and met my gaze. There are many stages to grief. One of them anger, another denial. Georgette straddled both, something I knew plenty about. “Not sure…exactly. You’ll have to check the report.”

I scanned her face for the truth. “You don’t know or you’re afraid to tell me?”

She massaged the palm of her hand with her thumb. “The bartender at the Limbo said she’d had a few before he’d cut her off and asked her to leave. None of that matters because Nightingale’s lying. He had something to do with her fall. He may have even pushed her. At the very least, he knows more than he’s telling.”

My eyebrows raised. The police weren’t perfect, but they had solid procedures in death investigations. They would have explored that angle. “What are you basing that on?”

“My gut.”

A mother’s intuition while undeniable, alone didn’t prove foul play. “Did the MAX operator see Mr. Nightingale next to her at any point?”

“He didn’t even see her because the area wasn’t well lit.”

“Do you have his name?”

“Chris Foley.”

I jotted the information down. “What do the train’s cameras show?”

“There weren’t any. And no passenger statements because the train was done for the night. But Brooke shouldn’t have even been in the vicinity of that train.”

“Where is the Limbo located?”

“Ten blocks from where she was hit.”

A half mile, give or take. “Could she have been heading to catch the MAX to go home?”

“Brooke detested mass transit. The people who ride during the day scared her. She wouldn’t go there at night. Besides, she lived south of town. The train wouldn’t have taken her there.” She sighed. “I’m telling you, she wouldn’t be that far from the bar unless someone…” She closed her eyes.

Georgette talked in circles attempting to make sense of it all, but I had first-hand knowledge of drunk people doing things out of character. Given what she’d described, I could understand why the police had closed the matter. Even so, her devastation gripped my heart. And something had brought her out on this rainy Friday. “What are you holding back, Ms. Hanson? Why do you feel so strongly Mr. Nightingale was involved that you’d come to my dad for help?”

She stared at her hands as if they held the answers. “Brooke had changed in the last year. Become more distant. Not visiting. Missing our weekly calls.” The corner of her mouth turned upward in a sad smile. “We used to go for pie once a month. She loved pie. Apple pie. Cherry pie.” Her smile melted. “One day she was too busy and couldn’t get away. When she did, she didn’t look well. Stressed.”

“Did she say what was bothering her?”

“No. She shut me out, which she’d never done before. Now to have been killed by a train downtown when that Nightingale fellow was close enough to stop it from happening? He’s involved. I can feel it.” She straightened. “Until I know what happened that night, I won’t rest.” Georgette reached into her purse and produced an envelope grasped in her right hand. “Here’s three thousand for you to find the truth. Please say you’ll help me.”

Despite steady work from a few law firms around town, and an adequate divorce settlement, being a single mom often meant more month than money. Georgette was offering twice what I made in a good month of process serving and that would go a long way in taking care of my little girl. Not needing to ever rely on my ex would have been incentive alone, but there was more to it than that.

I’d recognized Georgette’s name the moment she’d said it. At the reading of my dad’s will, his lawyer had handed me a handwritten letter. It was a request from my dad that if a Georgette Hanson ever came to his door asking for help, I should assist and not ask questions why. It had meant nothing at the time. I’d figured it was due to his unending dedication to his clients.

Because Georgette had a connection to my dad in some capacity, that sealed my decision to at least try and help her. While I’d been directed not to ask questions, even he would have needed the obvious one answered before he took her money.

“You said she’d changed. Is there any chance she might have…I mean, was she depressed? Could she have stepped…”

Georgette cut me off. “Stop.” Her eyes grew wide with denial and the damn broke. Tears poured over her cheeks; her shoulders shook, buckling from the weight of her anguish. The anger and determination she’d used as a mask crumbled, and each passing second exposed another layer of her gut-wrenching grief.

I shifted at witnessing her raw emotion, bracing myself against my own around my father, and my thoughts on Mitz. Tears stung my eyes, unsure how to comfort my client when I struggled to do that for myself.

She muffled a wail with the back of her hand and finally drew in deep breaths until the sobs subsided.

I grabbed a box of Kleenex behind me. She already had a handful of tissue ready from her purse. I’d back off the notion of suicide—for the moment. The woman didn’t need any more distress than she’d already endured.

She sniffed hard a couple of times and sopped up her face with the tissue. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.” I swiped under my eyes with my fingers, gaining control over my thoughts. “I’m not sure I’ll uncover anything new, but I will look for you.”

“Thank you.” She composed herself and stuffed the tissue back in her purse for the next inevitable breakdown.

I handed Georgette one of my dad’s old contracts, explaining my hourly rate, and a couple of authorization forms that might come in handy if requesting any case files was necessary.

She signed her name without bothering to read the fine print. She stood, the vinyl chair screeching against the hardwood floor startling Floyd. Her expression softened. “How old are you?”

“Thirty-two.”

“Brooke was a couple of years older, but pretty, like you and with the same flowing brown hair and kind eyes.” She sniffed. “I came to Roger because he could get to the heart of things. If you’re like him, you’ll find out what happened to my baby.”

I’d never be as good as my dad, but I did possess his mule-like stubbornness to get to the bottom of things. My ex could attest to that. “I’ll do what I can.”

She nodded. “Brooke was a good girl. She loved animals, ran every morning, and worked for the law firm Anderson, Hiefield & Price. She was the head accountant there.” Her face beamed with pride before her chin trembled again, but she held it together.

“It might help if I get a better sense of who she was.” I slid the legal pad to her. “If I could get her address, I’d like to start there.”

Georgette jotted the information down and pushed it back to me. She dug into her purse and produced the key. “I haven’t brought myself to go there yet.”

I gave her a sympathetic smile. “Are there family or friends I should start with?”

“Besides my husband, Chester, there’s just her sister, Hannah, who lives in Seattle. They weren’t close.” Georgette cleared her throat. “She never spoke to me about friends or boyfriends. Honestly, with her work schedule, she didn’t have time for any.”

With my own social life lacking, I related. “Do you have her cell? I’d like to check who she had on speed dial.”

She shook her head. “It wasn’t among her belongings.”

What thirty-something didn’t have their phone glued to them? Unless the impact of the train threw it. Another image I pushed away. I rounded my desk and walked her out of my office.

“Please keep in touch on how the investigation is going,” she said.

I assured her I would. She squeezed my arm to thank me as she left. With a twist of the deadbolt, I rested my shoulder against the door and closed my eyes. Mitz would get hugged a little closer tonight.

At my desk, Floyd trotted over and sat at my feet. He rested his chin on my lap while I added a few more notes. His sixth sense of when I needed him never faltered. I tucked the notes, along with a couple of divorce petitions into my bag to serve in between outings with Mitz.

It was early enough to get to Brooke’s place, about twenty minutes away, and to the grocery store so Mitz and I weren’t eating PB&Js for dinner. The faster I got started and found answers, the sooner Georgette could begin healing. If I was lucky, Brooke’s phone would be sitting on her nightstand waiting to be found.

Before getting up, I pulled the letter from my dad out of the top drawer and unfolded the paper. I traced the ruts in the desk we shared with my finger as I read his words. Georgette’s name was there in black and white. I had wanted to ask her more about how she knew my dad, but he’d been explicit in his request. He was a good man, albeit a tough man that I didn’t question. Nor had I ever felt the need to. It hadn’t been easy for him after my mom died, and we became the Two Musketeers. We may have run out of time for him to teach me everything he knew about being a P.I., but I’d learn as I went. I had no other choice. Helping Georgette was the last thing I could do for him. And I would.

“Ready to boogie, Floyd?” I flicked off the lights and Floyd padded behind me down the narrow hall to the backdoor.

We jogged to my yellow 1980 Triumph Spitfire, a gift from my dad when I graduated. “You know the routine, buddy.” Floyd stretched himself halfway into the car, and with a grunt, I lifted in his other half. He tripped over the manual gearshift and settled into the passenger seat as I slunk behind the wheel. The engine started right up, for a change.

Brooke was a couple of years older than me—far too young to die. Was Nightingale involved in her death? Did he know more than he was telling? Or was he just a helpless bystander who could only watch Brooke fall because she was drunk off her ass? I had a feeling I’d be returning the bulk of Georgette’s money after putting in some legwork. With a case the Portland police had already closed and an eyewitness who’d already been cleared, what other possibility was there?

***

Excerpt from Derailed by Mary Keliikoa. Copyright 2020 by Mary Keliikoa. Reproduced with permission from Mary Keliikoa. All rights reserved.

 

 

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LIFE FOR LIFE by JK Franko | #Showcase #GuestPost #Giveaway

Life for Life

by JK Franko

on Tour August 1 – September 30, 2020

Synopsis:

Life for Life by JK Franko

What would YOU do if someone threatened your family?

Roy Cruise and his pregnant wife Susie barely survived an assassination attempt in their own home. The police now have them under surveillance. Meanwhile, Kristy Wise is a loose cannon—she knows too much and is trying to “set things right.”

What goes around comes around. And in this case, Roy and Susie may have pushed things too far. There are too many dead bodies. Too many foes plotting against them.

Roy and Susie must outwit the police and neutralize their enemies once and for all. If not, their days of retribution may end behind bars… or six feet under.

Life for Life is Book Three of the Talion crime thriller series which begins with the Eye for Eye Trilogy.
Eye for Eye
Tooth for Tooth
Life for Life

If you like smart, fast-paced thrillers with unexpected twists, then you’ll love J.K. Franko.

 

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller, Suspense, Crime, Legal
Published by: Talion Publishing
Publication Date: July 31st, 2020
Number of Pages: 396
ISBN:978-1-9993188-2-6
Series: Talion Series, #3
Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

PROLOGUE

Death is always several seconds and a few footsteps away. Look around you, wherever you are right now. How many things are there within five feet of you that could kill you? An improperly grounded electrical outlet plugged into your tablet. A slippery, wet bath tile that sends your head smashing into the side of the tub. An invisible virus silently multiplying in your lungs.

From the moment of conception, we fight to cheat death. The majority of what parents do for most of a child’s life is simply keep them from dying. And much of what parents teach kids, from avoiding strangers to keeping their fingers out of their mouths, is about staying alive.

Although the odds are stacked against us, we get very good at cheating death. So good that, maybe out of misplaced pride or just to maintain our sanity, we tell ourselves that death is far off.

But it never is. And it comes for us all.

Given my profession, I have always feared death at the hands of a patient. For years, I imagined an unhinged, unmedicated client lashing out at me. Hopefully with a gun, not a knife. When I met Susie and Roy, that changed somewhat. I feared death at their hands not because they were unstable, but because I was expendable.

I must say that after the murder of former Congressman Getz, I believed that I finally had that situation under control. Susie, Roy, and I—and all of our incentives—were finally aligned. We were on the same team, so to speak. I foolishly believed that my life could simply return to normal.

But as I look back on everything now, with twenty-twenty hindsight, I can see that even as Roy was drowning Jeff Getz in the Bay of Pollença in Spain, the rough outlines of our tragic ending had already been sketched—all of the pieces were in place. Death was watching, and planning.

As you must appreciate by now, my story is inextricably intertwined with the stories of others. This is, of course, fundamental to the human condition. We are all part of a larger whole. Seemingly unrelated people and events, distant in time and location, weave their way in and out of our lives like the threads of a tapestry.

I have told you two stories from the past that directly impacted me, Susie, and Roy. I shared with you the tragic tale of little Joan’s death and how she was finally avenged. And, I shared with you the evil done to Billy Applegate and how Jeff Getz paid the ultimate price for that crime.

To complete the circle, for you to understand everything that happened to us, and so that you can take from all this the same cautionary lessons that I have learned, I need to share one final story with you. It is about a woman whose life was irreversibly impacted by our actions.

It is a story about love and death. And, in this case, depending on your point of view, you might even say that her story had a happy ending.

PART ONE

Rebecca Forsyth Turks and Caicos 2020

My work as a therapist requires imagination. To help someone, to really get inside their head, you have to have some sense of what they are going through. If you haven’t experienced what your patient is suffering firsthand, you must imagine.

For example, I have never had a panic attack. But then, only five percent of humans will experience a panic attack during their lifetimes. A pretty low number. So, how can I relate?

I must imagine.

From what my patients tell me, a panic attack closely resembles the feeling of claustrophobia. This is something that I have experienced. What gets me there instantly is that scene from Kill Bill—the one when the heroine Beatrix is buried under six feet of dirt in a coffin and left to die. Do you know it?

Indulge me.

Imagine that you wake up and open your eyes, but you can’t see anything. It’s pitch dark. So dark, you’re not sure your eyes are even open. You’re lying on your back. The air you’re breathing feels warm and slightly humid, the way it does when you’re sleeping with your head under the sheets.

You don’t know where you are, but you don’t hear the usual sounds you would hear in your bedroom. No ceiling fan. No A/C blowing. Everything is silent around you. Muffled.

You try to sit up and immediately feel a thump as your forehead hits something. Your hands automatically react and reach up, discovering that something dry and smooth—heavy, immovable—is laying on top of you, just inches above your body. Right above your face, your torso, your legs.

You try to stretch your arms out to either side, and you feel the same barrier just inches away from your elbows, from your shoulders. You move your legs, spreading them apart and lifting them up. They are able to move only inches before, again, you feel something boxing you in.

Your nose itches, but you can’t reach your face to scratch it. You clear your throat and can hear that the sound doesn’t travel. It’s close to you, stifled by the box you’re in. The box is made of wood. There’s maybe six inches between you and the box, all around your body. It’s so close you can smell it. Damp wood. You can also smell soil.

You’re in a box that’s been placed in a hole, six feet deep. On top of it, and on top of you, are six feet of dirt. That much dirt weighs over two thousand pounds. One ton.

The weight of the dirt prevents you from opening the box. The lid won’t budge. And even if you could break out of the box somehow, the dirt above you would fall into it, suffocating you before you could dig your way up to air.

There is no way out. No hope.

As you realize this, your heartbeat accelerates—firing more rapidly. Your breathing speeds up. You struggle to take in air. You’re not sure if you’re already running out of oxygen or simply panicking. You can feel the silent, blind weight of two thousand pounds of earth above you crushing down onto your body. Your legs are tight, anxious. Your body fights for more space… to move, to stretch out, to stand, to run. But on every side you are closed in. You know that out there, everywhere, there is air, freedom. A universe of wide-open space.

But not for you.

You scream. The sound is muffled by the box. The only one who can hear it is you, and you know it. And you remember, as you scream, that there is a very small supply of oxygen in the box. With each breath, you are depleting it, converting it into CO2.

You’re going to suffocate. And there is no way out.

That feeling of being closed in, of paralysis, of heart-racing suffocating hopelessness, is what a panic attack feels like. Just like being trapped in a coffin.

My patients say that this is how you will feel when you’re about to die.

When I try to imagine how Rebecca must have felt, 120 feet underwater with an empty scuba tank strapped to her back, I draw on this image.

* * *

Rebecca Forsyth was floating, weightless. Free as a bird. The feeling was otherworldly. And the view was breathtaking. Above her in every direction stretched a majestic canopy of bright blue. Looking heavenward, her eyes traced dancing beams of sunlight up and away until they converged into a round disc of shimmering white firmament. As she gazed downward, the world fell away from her—the bright blue and the light fading, everything becoming darker the further she looked. The only sound she could hear was the too-close, too-loud in-and-out of her own breathing, which she tried to control—relaxing, breathing slowly.

In: one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten. Out: one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten.

She reached up, pinching her nose, and gently blew, equalizing the pressure in her ears—the Valsalva Maneuver.

Scuba diving was something Rebecca enjoyed, to a point. She was no expert, though she was open water certified and dove several times a year. She loved the feeling of weightlessness. And she liked being able to explore the ocean without having to bob up and down for air. She’d never quite mastered using a snorkel—she always had trouble clearing it of water. Scuba was much more convenient. No bobbing up and down. That being said, she had not done many deep dives.

Today was different.

Alan, Rebecca’s husband, had talked her into diving a wreck. A sunken ship. It was all perfectly safe. Alan was an extremely experienced diver. A certified instructor. He had spent numerous summers working as an instructor and had logged hundreds of hours. In fact, he was the one who had gotten Rebecca into the sport.

The plan was for Rebecca and Alan to follow standard protocol and stay close to one another, buddy diving in case of an emergency. As Rebecca floated about 40 feet underwater, Alan was signaling for her to follow him down toward the wreck, which at its deepest was 165 feet below the surface. They weren’t planning to go down that far. The bow of the ship was at about 110 feet.

Although Rebecca wasn’t crazy about diving so deep, she reluctantly followed. They were on vacation, trying to relax. Trying new things to reinvigorate their marriage. After five years married, they’d hit a rough patch. They’d had some issues. Nothing insurmountable, she would have told you.

Part of their problems stemmed from the way they approached things. Rebecca was more conservative in her thinking. Alan was more of a risk-taker. Of course, for her to have chickened out of this dive would only have served to underscore the differences between them.

She checked the air pressure in her tank and noticed that it was dropping a little faster than normal for her, given the amount of time they’d been underwater. But, she knew that she was stressing over the fact that they were going to dive so deep, and she was breathing a little more rapidly than usual. She reached up and slightly reduced the buoyancy of her BCD, then gently frog-kicked her legs to conserve energy and air, following her husband down into the dark blue depths.

Rebecca swam about ten feet behind Alan and a bit to his left. The bow of the wreck still lay another 70 feet below them and hadn’t come into view. Rebecca couldn’t see it yet. She also couldn’t see that, in addition to the bubbles that drifted up and away from her each time she exhaled, a stream of tiny bubbles trailed behind her. Air was escaping from her scuba tank through a small leak in the line to her backup regulator. As she descended into the depths, the water pressure around her grew, increasing the rate at which air was bleeding from her only tank.

Rebecca followed after Alan, taking in the immensity of the ocean floor that lay before her. The vastness of it was almost overwhelming. She tried to focus on keeping pace with her husband, and on breathing slowly.

In: one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten. Out: one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten.

She scanned beyond him, hoping that the wreck would soon come into view as she gently kicked and followed. As they descended, they were following the natural slope of the ocean floor off the coast of the island. The seabed was spotted with seagrass, kelp, small fish, and here and there a lobster. She saw several lionfish as well.

Rebecca enjoyed fish-watching. Although, for her it was always secondary to keeping an eye out for sharks. The Caribbean is home to a great many species—nurse sharks, lemon sharks, reef sharks—which are generally harmless. But now and again, you will see more aggressive bull sharks and hammerheads.

Rebecca followed behind Alan, staying close, but she couldn’t help being entertained admiring the seascape. She regularly pinched her nose to clear her ears. After what felt like just a few minutes, a shape began to take form ahead of them. Alan stuck his arm out to his side and gave her a thumbs-up. It was the wreck. A few more kicks, and she could clearly see the silhouette of the freighter sitting on the ocean floor below.

It was a tranquil day and the water was clear. There was still very good visibility as they passed 100 feet, though at that depth the water filtered out most of the reds and yellows in the color spectrum. Everything was draped in shades of blue and green.

Rebecca and Alan were diving just off the coast of Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands. The wreck they were approaching was the W.E. Freighter, a 100-ton ship that was purposely sunken just north of Turtle Cove to create an artificial reef. The plan for the reef had been for the ship to settle in somewhat shallow waters to create an attraction for recreational divers. The ship had unfortunately ended up much deeper than intended and required a bit of expertise to reach.

Once at the bow of the freighter, Alan stopped and gave Rebecca the “okay” sign. She responded in kind, indicating that she was fine. She checked her depth gauge and saw that they were at 110 feet, just what the guidebook had promised. Alan and Rebecca had agreed on the surface not to go inside the vessel. There was always danger of collapse or of getting trapped due to gear catching on something. There was also the risk of getting cut since what remained of the ship was decaying metal that tended to be sharp and jagged. A cut meant blood in the water. And blood in the water attracted sharks.

They hovered for a moment by the bow of the wreck.

As they looked about them, a small school of fish swam out of the boat through a hole in the hull. They were silver with what appeared to be yellow fins and tails, though the color was muted and dull due to the depth. Most were about two feet long. Rebecca recognized them as horse-eye jacks. They shimmered in the water as they swam past the husband and wife, less than three feet away. Alan reached out and touched one of the fish as it went by. It didn’t seem to notice or care.

Rebecca watched the school of fish briefly, then her focus shifted. Always scanning for sharks, she’d seen a shadowy movement not far from them—maybe forty feet. Whatever it was had whipped its body and quickly disappeared into the dark, murky distance. She kept scanning as the small school of fish swam away from them.

Suddenly, her peripheral vision registered a rapid movement coming from their left. She focused just in time to see sparkling glints of silver—a large barracuda rocketed in from the murkiness and sank its teeth into one of the jacks as the remainder of the school scattered. Thin wisps of black blood trailed behind the barracuda as it swam off, chomping and chewing on its prey. In the wake of the attack, the remaining jacks re-grouped and continued on as if nothing had happened.

It was not the first time that Rebecca had seen a predator make a meal of another fish. It never ceased to amaze her how an underwater scene could turn from completely tranquil to suddenly violent and bloody, and then return once again to the prior calm as though nothing had happened. She turned to Alan, who was shaking a hand back and forth as if to say, “Holy crap!” She gave him a thumbs-up in reply.

Rebecca continued to scan. Now there was blood in the water. And she was nervous—looking for sharks. As she looked around, Alan drifted a bit deeper examining the wreck. Rebecca was about to follow when a strange shape on the seafloor caught her eye. She felt her belly tighten and reached for her dive knife. She froze and watched carefully. Her patience was rewarded.

A sludgy-looking grey rock, which had apparently been laying low waiting for the barracuda incident to pass, decided that the coast was clear. Rebecca marveled as the rock changed color and texture, turning back into an octopus. The little guy half-swam half- crawled away, in the opposite direction of the barracuda. Rebecca smiled to herself. She loved those smart, creepy, eight-legged mollusks.

The octopus gone, she turned and saw that Alan had drifted about twenty feet away from her, deeper, exploring the hull of the wreck. He looked back at her and waved her towards him. Apparently, he’d found something of interest. Rebecca gave him a thumbs-up, and as she began to move, she looked down at her depth gauge.

Still at 110 feet.

They had agreed not to go below 130 feet, which was the official cut-off for recreational divers. Realizing it had been a while since she’d checked, she also took a look at her air pressure gauge.

Red.

A cold claw of panic squeezed Rebecca’s chest when she saw that the needle was in the red zone, between 200 PSI and zero. Almost empty. The gauge had to be wrong. She and Alan had both checked her tank in the boat. It was full then. And they’d not been diving that long—certainly not long enough for her to have used up a full tank of air.

She tapped on the gauge with a gloved finger. The needle didn’t move. Still red.

She carefully reached back behind her head with one hand to make sure the tank was fully open. Sometimes a not fully open tank would give a bad reading on a gauge. She turned the air valve in one direction and the flow of air stopped. Then she turned it in the other direction, fully opening the valve, and air flowed. She checked the gauge. Still red.

Rebecca looked up and saw that Alan had swum farther away from her, about thirty feet. And he was still moving. She fought down the panic and breathed out slowly: one-two-three-four-five-six- seven-eight-nine-ten.

Then in: one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten.

She had two choices.

She could try to ascend. If she did, she’d be abandoning Alan—leaving him at risk. She also had no idea if the air in her tank would get her to the surface. If it didn’t, she’d have to make a “controlled emergency ascent.” She remembered from her training what that meant. Possible decompression sickness. Possible pulmonary barotrauma—essentially her lungs exploding. And, of course, she could drown.

Her other option was to get Alan’s attention and return to the surface using his backup regulator—an “alternate air source ascent.”

She had to choose quickly. Given her options, Rebecca decided she had to get to Alan. She frog-kicked gently, trying not to accelerate her heart rate or breathing, conserving air, swimming down deeper into the cold sea after her husband. As she swam after him, she removed her dive knife from its sheath and used the metal ball on the end of the hilt to bang on her tank, making a high- pitched metallic clink clink clink hoping to get Alan’s attention.

Alan continued to descend. He was too far away to hear her.

She was still breathing. She still had air.

But her brain began to work against her. Fear gripped her throat like a noose slowly tightening. As Rebecca swam deeper into the sea, the ocean began to collapse in on her. Tunnel vision. Panic began to rise in her belly. She felt boxed in.

Trapped.

She fought the fear, trying to keep her breathing slow. Kicking gently, trying to get to her husband. He had air. He was only thirty feet away.

Life was only thirty feet away.

She began to feel desperation. To lose hope.

Is this it?

Is this how I die?

Alan didn’t hear the continued and more desperately rapid clinking of her knife on her tank. He wasn’t turning. He was swimming deeper, and she was barely gaining on him. She began to kick harder, knowing that her heart rate would increase. And her breathing as well. She had to get to him. He was still too far away.

Rebecca kicked and breathed. Kicked and breathed.

Kicked and…

…she breathed in, and three quarters of the way through the breath she hit a wall—it was like she was sucking on a rubber hose that was closed at one end. There was nothing. She was out of air.

She couldn’t fight the panic any longer. Sheer panic.

The feeling of being closed-in, of paralysis, of heart-racing suffocating hopelessness hit Rebecca Forsyth like a brick wall.

***

Excerpt from Life for Life by JK Franko. Copyright 2020 by JK Franko. Reproduced with permission from JK Franko. All rights reserved.

 

Author Bio:

JK Franko

J.K. FRANKO was born and raised in Texas. His Cuban-American parents agreed there were only three acceptable options for a male child: doctor, lawyer, and architect. After a disastrous first year of college pre-Med, he ended up getting a BA in philosophy (not acceptable), then he went to law school (salvaging the family name) and spent many years climbing the big law firm ladder. After ten years, he decided that law and family life weren’t compatible. He went back to school where he got an MBA and pursued a Ph.D. He left law for corporate America, with long stints in Europe and Asia.

His passion was always to be a writer. After publishing a number of non-fiction works, thousands of hours writing, and seven or eight abandoned fictional works over the course of eighteen years, EYE FOR EYE became his first published novel.

J.K. Franko now lives with his wife and children in Florida.

Guest Post

Seven Challenges to Writing a Series

There are some distinct advantages to writing a series. To begin with, once you have laid out who your characters are and what kind of conflicts they typically get into, you can focus on plot. For example, if you think about Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, after reading the first book, your reader knows who the hero is and what kind of messes he gets into. They know what to expect and, if they liked what they read, they will keep coming back for more. So, what challenges do you face in keeping a series interesting for readers?

1. Change the stakes. Many guides to writing a series say that each book should continually raise the stakes. That’s impossible. If you follow that advice, by book three your protagonist will be saving the world from some sort of apocalypse—nuclear, biological, financial. And you will be left with nowhere to go from there. Rather, each book should change the stakes. The stakes should always be high—that’s what makes for good conflict in any plot—but they need to be high for the hero—not necessarily for the rest of us.

2. Supporting cast. If you think about any Bond film, there are two types of supporting characters. The one that are always there—M, Moneypenny, Q. And then there are the ones that are always there, but change—each Bond film has the villain and the villain’s sidekick (usually an assassin with a unique killing style), for example. Bond films are very formulaic, which is why they make for an easy example. But, this concept applies to any series. You need to surround your hero with characters that the readers get as attached to as your main man/woman.

3. Know what works. If readers are returning to read your book two and three, then you know you’ve got something. What you have to figure out is what that “something” is and make sure you deliver it in each book in the series. It could be a formula—like the Bond film structure. It could be a main character that readers are invested in and want to see through to the end—like Harry Potter. It could be a world that you’ve created that is fascinating—like Star Wars. You need to understand what your readers love about your series and make sure to give them more of that.

4. Continuity. Be sure that you clearly map out character details and series events and stay true to them. This goes for protagonists, villains, and supporting cast members. I use Excel to track birth dates, ages, parents, places lived, and character details—likes and dislikes—for all characters. As far as events, I maintain an extensive timeline of all series events to make sure future events are consistent with past.

5. Mix it up. Don’t be afraid to bring in new characters, plot devices, or even play with story structure. If a reader is on book four of your series, they are there because they like what you’ve done in the past. But don’t be afraid to experiment and throw them a curve ball here and there. Readers enjoy surprises.

6. Plan ahead. Map your series out as far ahead as you can. This allows you to drop clues in earlier books that you can later come back to. It also helps you to avoid “blockers”—details or events that you write in an earlier book that prevent you from going a direction you’d like to in a subsequent book due to continuity issues.

7. Have an end in mind. Many series go on, and on, and on. Which is great. But you should have a clear idea of how you want your series to end. This doesn’t mean knowing specifically that Book 10 will be the last. But it does mean having a clear idea of what will happen to your hero and cast in that final book. You want your series to “go out” like Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt series ended, not like George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones.

Copyright 2019 JK Franko

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This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for JK Franko. There will be Six (6) winners for this tour. Two (2) winners will each receive a $10. Amazon GC. Two (2) winners will each receive LIFE FOR LIFE by JK Franko (Print ~ US and Canada Only) and Two (2) winners will each receive LIFE FOR LIFE by JK Franko (eBook). The giveaway begins on August 1, 2020 and runs through October 2, 2020. Void where prohibited.

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STRONG FROM THE HEART by Jon Land | #Showcase #Interview #Giveaway

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Strong from the Heart

by Jon Land

on Tour August 17 – September 18, 2020

Synopsis:

Strong from the Heart by Jon Land

Caitlin Strong wages her own personal war on drugs against the true power behind the illicit opioid trade in Strong from the Heart, the blistering and relentless 11th installment in Jon Land’s award-winning series.

The drug crisis hits home for fifth generation Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong when the son of her outlaw lover Cort Wesley Masters nearly dies from an opioid overdose. On top of that, she’s dealing with the inexplicable tragedy of a small Texas town where all the residents died in a single night.

When Caitlin realizes that these two pursuits are intrinsically connected, she finds herself following a trail that will take her to the truth behind the crisis that claimed 75,000 lives last year. Just in time, since the same force that has taken over the opiate trade has even more deadly intentions in mind, specifically the murder of tens of millions in pursuit of their even more nefarious goals.

The power base she’s up against―comprised of politicians and Big Pharma, along with corrupt doctors and drug distributors―has successfully beaten back all threats in the past. But they’ve never had to deal with the likes of Caitlin Strong before and have no idea what’s in store when the guns of Texas come calling.

At the root of the conspiracy lies a cabal nestled within the highest corridors of power that’s determined to destroy all threats posed to them. Caitlin and Cort Wesley may have finally met their match, finding themselves isolated and ostracized with nowhere to turn, even as they strive to remain strong from the heart.

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller
Published by: Forge Books
Publication Date: July 28, 2020
Number of Pages: 368
ISBN: 0765384701 (ISBN13: 9780765384706)
Series: A Caitlin Strong Novel, #11
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Jon Land

Jon Land is the USA Today bestselling author of fifty-two books, including eleven featuring Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong. The critically acclaimed series has won more than a dozen awards, including the 2019 International Book Award for Best Thriller for Strong as Steel. He also writes the CAPITAL CRIMES series and received the 2019 Rhode Island Authors Legacy Award for his lifetime of literary achievements. A graduate of Brown University, Land lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

Q&A with Jon Land

What was the inspiration for this book?

Great opening question and let me answer it in a way you’re probably not expecting. I don’t draw on inspiration in the traditional sense of the word, because if you’re a professional the work, the writing, becomes its own inspiration. What inspires me when writing the Caitlin Strong series is what inspires every book I write: the desire to write a great story, to lose myself in the writing the same way you will hopefully lose yourself in the reading. In my mind, the most important thing for a writer is loving the story you’re telling. If you don’t love it, how can you expect the reader to love it? And the desire to tell a story that the reader loves makes for the greatest inspiration out there

What has been the biggest challenge in your writing career?

As you know, I do an awful lot of these interviews and no one’s ever asked me that before. And the answer is a combination of remaining relevant as an author and, toward that end, the need to redefine myself more times that I’d care to admit. The simple fact of the matter is all but a very select few authors are in real control of their careers–you see their names high up on the New York Times bestseller list. The rest of us are subject to changes in the marketplace and the world. Like when the thriller genre collapsed at the time the Soviet Union dissolved in the early 1990s. Or, in my case, when the decline in sales for a series lead a publisher to say it’s time to do something else. Or when the mass market paperback industry collapsed and, with it, a great portion of my value as a writer. I don’t write four or five books a year because I want to, I write that much because I have to in order to make a living and pay the mortgage. So the challenge I’m really alluding to here is the need to balance creative concerns with the realities of financial concerns.

What do you absolutely need while writing?

Privacy, light, and my computer. Oh, and my imagination, of course, but that doesn’t take any breaks!

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

The volume of my work requires the former. You show me a writer who only works when the ideas are flowing and I’ll show you an amateur. Being a writer is a job. You get up and you do it every day, no matter your mood, no matter the bad emails that began the day, no matter how well, or not so well, your latest book is doing. Sticking to a routine requires the kind of self-discipline any self-employed professional must have or they’re not going to be chasing their dream very long.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

I’d have to say Colonel Guillermo Paz, Caitlin’s giant and brutally efficient protector who was originally hired to kill her. He wasn’t even supposed to survive the first book in the series, Strong Enough to Die, but he took his scenes over from me and had another idea. I liked how his character developed so much, I knew he had to stick around. His scenes are almost always my favorite to write and it’s such a blast to give him a new set piece to continue his search for enlightenment and redemption. Making one of the world’s deadliest men an elementary school gym teacher was an absolute blast in Strong from the Heart, and that opening scene where he rides to Caitlin’s support when she needs it the most against a half dozen heavily armed ICE agents is pure gold. I wish I could tell you where his dialogue comes from, but you’ll have to ask him!

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

Wow, I wasn’t expecting that one! So I hope you don’t mind me doing a bit of cop-out in my answer. Look, STRONG FROM THE HEART contains some pretty despicable villains and I don’t like any of them—as people—but as characters, well, that’s something else. In STRONG LIGHT OF DAY, the book’s villain Callum Dane early on beats an amputee to death with his prosthetic leg. How can anyone not hate him? You’re supposed to hate him as a person, but I had a blast writing him as a character because he was so heinous. Hey, I wish I had created Hannibal Lecter. I don’t like him either but I love him as a character as well.

Give us an interesting fun fact or a few about your book?

I don’t have to cop out on that question, although I’m not sure I’d call them fun facts. Doing a book where Caitlin Strong takes on the opioid crisis, fighting her own personal War on Drugs, opened up a world to me that was confounding in the depth of the problem. 80,000 people are going to die this year of drug overdoses. There are over 3 million people in this country who are addicted to opioids. And the government has not only allowed this to happen, they actually enabled it because of the pharmaceutical lobby. Sure, public opinion has forced their hand in cases like Purdue Pharma, but this problem has existed for far longer than people realize and the individuals elected to represent us, and look out for our best interests, turned a blind eye and deaf ear to the problem for far, far too long. You want to know why we’ve been losing the War on Drugs since it was declared? Look no further than Washington, DC.

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

I want you to have as much reading STRONG FROM THE HEART as I did writing it!

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I went to Brown University with every intention of becoming a lawyer. Then I got bit by the writing bug, and everything changed—I changed horses in the middle of the stream, so to speak, something that Brown’s then New Curriculum allowed. So I knew I wanted to be a writer; I just didn’t know what kind of writer I wanted to be. My first book was actually a senior thesis in the Honors English and American Literature program. And I didn’t set out to write a thriller, so much as a Hollywood novel in the tradition of Nathaniel West’s The Day of the Locust. But the book became a thriller because that’s where my instincts took me. It was also the genre I enjoyed reading the most so it was natural for me to gravitate in that direction. That’s an important lesson for all writers because you can’t force the process. If you’re not being natural, instinctive, you’re going to write something that is not only unreadable, but also unpublishable.

What’s next that we can look forward to?

I’ve recently taken over Margaret Truman’s CAPITAL CRIMES series and my first effort, MURDER ON THE METRO, publishes next February. Having also done six books in the MURDER, SHE WROTE series, I understand the responsibility and risk that comes with taking over a major brand. In that respect, it’s a totally different process but in another respect, I don’t just want to write the characters, I want to take ownership of them the same way I do for my own. Something I never could have done a decade ago, but that I’ve grown into over the past few years.

Catch Up With Jon Land On:
JonLandBooks.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER 1

San Antonio, Texas

Caitlin Strong pushed her way through the gaggle of reporters and bystanders clustered before the barricade set up just inside the lobby of the Canyon Ridge Elementary School building.

“Look,” she heard somebody say, “the Texas Rangers are here!”

She’d focused her attention on the six men wearing black camo pants and windbreakers labeled I-C-E in big letters on the back, glaring at her from the entrance to the school to which they’d clearly been prevented from entering. She pictured several more Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents stationed at additional exits in case their quarries tried to make a run for it.

“We didn’t call the Rangers,” snarled a bald man, the nametag he was required to wear reading ORLEANS.

“No, sir,” Caitlin told him, “that would’ve been the school principal. She told Dispatch you’d come here to collect some of her students.”

She let her gaze drift to a windowless black truck that looked like a reconfigured SWAT transport vehicle.

“Just following orders, Ranger. Doing our job just like you.”

“My job is to keep the peace, sir.”

“Ours too, so I’m going to assume you’re going to assist our efforts, given that we’re on the same side here.”

“What side would that be?”

Orleans snarled again, seeming to pump air into a head Caitlin figure might’ve been confused for a basketball. “United States government, ma’am.”

“I work for Texas, sir, and the principal told me all the kids you came for were born on Lone Star soil.”

“That’s for a court to decide.”

“Maybe. And, you’re right, the both of us are here because we’ve got a job to do and I respect that, sir, I truly do. My problem is it’s never right in my mind for adults to involve children in somebody else’s mess.”

Canyon Ridge Elementary was located on Stone Oak Parkway, part of San Antonio’s North East Independent School district and featured a comfortable mix of Caucasian and Hispanic students in keeping with the city’s general demographics. The building featured a rounded arch entry where Caitlin could see any number of faces, both child and adult, pressed against the glass. She also glimpsed a heavy chain looped through the double doors to prevent entry, although numerous chairs, boxes, and what looked like an overturned cafeteria table had been piled into place as well. Caitlin pictured similar chains and barricades barring entry at any of the other doors as well, the eyes of both children and adults alike gaping with hope at her arrival through the glass.

“As a Texas Ranger,” Orleans responded finally, “you enjoy a degree of discretion I don’t have. I wish I did, but I don’t. And as long as I don’t, I’ve got orders to follow and that’s where my discretion begins and ends.”

“Where are you from, sir?”

“Not around here, that’s for sure. Does it matter?”

“That ICE is about to take six US citizens, all under the age of ten, into custody matters a lot,” Caitlin told him. “Some might even call it kidnapping.”

“Did you really just say that?”

“Like I said, I’m only trying to keep the peace. Exercise that discretion you mentioned.”

“It’s not your jurisdiction.”

“San Antonio was still part of Texas last time I checked.”

Orleans’ spine stiffened, making him look taller. “Not today, as far as you’re concerned. You don’t want to push this any farther than you already have, Ranger, believe me.”

“It’s about the law, sir—you just said that too. See, the Texas Rangers maintain no Intergovernmental Service Agreement with ICE; neither does the city of San Antonio. And, according to the city’s detainer agreement, a local police officer has to be present whenever you’re staging a raid. And I don’t currently see an officer on site.”

“That’s because this isn’t a raid.”

“What would you call it then?”

Orleans’ face was getting red, taking on the look of sunbaked skin. “There’s a local inside the building now.”

“Right, the school resource officer. What was his name again?”

Orleans worked his mouth around, as if he were chewing the inside of his cheeks.

Caitlin cast her gaze toward the pair of black, unmarked Humvees that must’ve brought the ICE officials here. “You got assault rifles stored in those trucks, sir?”

“Never know when you might need them.”

“Sure, against fourth graders wielding spitballs. Report I got said those and the fifth graders helped barricade the doors.”

“So arrest them and let us do our jobs,” Orleans sneered, his shoulders seeming to widen within the bonds of his flak jacket.

“Be glad to, once you produce the official paperwork that brought you this far.”

“We can give you the names of the students we’re here to detain, Ranger.”

“What about warrants, court orders, something that passes for official?”

Orleans shook his head. “Not necessary.”

“It is for me.” Caitlin took a step closer to him, watching his gaze dip to the SIG Sauer 9-millimeter pistol holstered to her belt.

“Don’t make me the bad guy here, Ranger. I’m doing my job, just like you. You may not like it, all these protesters might not like it, but I don’t suppose they’d disobey the orders of their superiors any more than I can.”

“I know you don’t make the rules, sir, and I respect that, to the point where I have a suggestion: Why don’t you stand down and give me a chance to fetch the kids you’re after from inside before somebody gets hurt?”

A skeptical Orleans nodded stiffly. “Sounds like you’ve come to your senses, Ranger.”

“Never lost them, sir. You’re right about orders and mine were to diffuse the situation through whatever means necessary. That’s what I’m trying to do here. The lawyers can sort things out from that point.”

Orleans hedged a bit. “I didn’t figure something like this fell under Ranger domain.”

“This is Texas, sir. Everything falls under our domain. In this case, we can make that work to your advantage.”

Orleans nodded, his expression dour. “The doors were already chained and barricaded when we got here, Ranger. That means somebody tipped the school off we were coming, even fed them the names of the kids we were coming to pick up.”

“It wasn’t the Rangers,” Caitlin assured him.

“No, but somebody in the Department of Public Safety must’ve been behind the leak after we informed them of our intentions as a courtesy.”

“That’s a separate issue you need to take up with DPS, sir. For now, how about we dial things back a few notches so the two of us can just do our jobs?”

“That sounds good to me, Ranger. The United States government thanks you for your support.”

Caitlin stopped halfway to the school entrance beneath the curved archway and looked back. “Don’t confuse what I’m doing with support, Agent Orleans. When things go from bad to worse, blood often gets spilled. What do you say we do our best to keep the street dry today?”

CHAPTER 2

San Antonio, Texas

Caitlin watched the school’s principal, Mariana Alonzo, unfasten the chains after enough of the makeshift barricade had been removed to allow one of the entry doors to open.

“Thanks for coming, Ranger,” Alonzo greeted, locking the chain back into place.

“I’m sure your sister would have preferred intervening herself, ma’am.”

Alonzo swallowed hard. “Did you mean what you said out there, that you’re going to deliver the kids to ICE?”

“I also said I was here to diffuse the situation through any means necessary.”

Mariana’s Alonzo’s sister Conseulo was a former San Antonio police captain and deputy chief currently climbing the law enforcement ladder at the Department of Public Safety in Austin. She’d called Caitlin immediately after first getting word of ICE’s pending arrival at Canyon Ridge Elementary, though not before alerting her sister to what was coming.

“All six of these kids are honor students, Ranger,” the school principal noted.

“This kind of thing would be just as wrong even if they weren’t, ma’am. I imagine your sister believed that more than anyone. I’m surprised she didn’t come here herself, instead of calling me.”

Now, an hour after that call, the sister of DPS’s Deputy Police Commissioner was looking at Caitlin with the same hope she’d glimpsed on the faces of the kids pressed against the glass.

“She wanted to,” Principal Alonzo said, “but I wasn’t about to let her throw her career away. Then she told me she had another idea. Nobody messes with the Texas Rangers, right?”

“Your sister and I go back a ways, ma’am,” Caitlin told her, not bothering to add that not all their interactions had been positive.

Alonzo steered Caitlin away from the throng of children unable to take their eyes off her badge and gun to a corner of the hall. They stopped beneath an air conditioning baffle blowing bursts of frigid air.

“What now, Ranger?”

“Where are the children, ma’am?”

“In my office,” Alonzo said, tilting her gaze toward an open door through which Caitlin spotted a pair of school secretaries busy fielding a nonstop flurry of phone calls behind their desks. “Be nice to keep as much of a lid on this as possible.”

Caitlin weighed her options. “That lid got blown off when your sister called me in on this. I don’t figure on ICE breaking down the doors, but they’ll wait us out for as long as it takes. Means we need to find a way to take these kids out of their reach.”

“Is that even possible?”

“I’ve got a couple of ideas.”

***

“You want to do what?” D. W. Tepper, captain of Ranger Company G, blared over the phone.

Caitlin pictured him reaching for a cigarette. “You heard me, Captain.”

“Well, that’s a new one, anyway.”

“First time for everything.”

“Our necks better be made of Silly Putty, if we’re going to stick them out this far.”

“Not the first time for that at all. And put down the Marlboro, D.W.”

“Jeeze, Ranger, what are you, psychic now, like that seven-foot Venezuelan giant of yours?”

“Speaking of Colonel Paz . . .”

CHAPTER 3

San Antonio, Texas

Twenty minutes and another phone call later, Caitlin inspected the three-page document Principal Mariana Alonzo had printed off an email attachment she’d just received.

“You Rangers sure work fast,” she complimented.

“Always been our way,” Caitlin told her, folding the document in thirds so the proper section was face out, “long before there was any such thing as email or even electricity.”

“You ever wonder what it was like ranging in those days?”

“Strongs have been Rangers almost as long as there’s been a Texas. I never really had to wonder, since I’ve heard all the stories about their exploits.”

“I’ve heard of your grandfather, your father too.”

“Well, ma’am, my great-grandad William Ray and my great-great-grandad Steeldust Jack had their share of adventures too.”

“I’d love to have you back some time to talk about that history to our students.”

“Let’s take care of the ones I came here about today first,” Caitlin said, pocketing the now tri-folded set of pages.

***

“You sure about this, Ranger?” Mariana Alonzo said to Caitlin, after bringing the six students from Canyon Ridge Elementary that ICE officers had come to collect from her office to the main lobby, just out of sight from the barricaded entrance.

Caitlin ran her hand through the hair of a trembling girl who looked all of ten years old, then used a tissue to wipe the tear stains from the cheeks of a boy who was all of nine.

“As sure as I am that if we don’t do something fast, ICE might breach the building.”

“What happens then?”

“This is still Texas and I’m still a Texas Ranger, ma’am. Just ask your sister.”

“I did, after she told me you were coming.”

“What’d she say?”

“To stay out of your way. That everything I’d heard was true.”

Caitlin bristled. “I wouldn’t put much stock in those stories. The press is prone to exaggeration.”

Alonzo nodded. “She told me you’d say that too.”

Caitlin felt the boy whose cheeks she’d swiped clean tug at her sleeve.

“Are you going to save us from the bad men?”

She knelt so they were eye-to-eye and laid her hands on his shoulders. “What’s your name, son?”

“Diego. I’m scared.”

“Well, Diego, let me show you what happens to men who scare little kids.”

***

The bald ICE agent named Orleans smirked when Caitlin emerged from the school entrance with the six children ICE had come to collect in tow, school principal Mariana Alonzo bringing up the rear. Cameras clacked and whirred, as she brushed aside microphones thrust in her face.

“That wasn’t so hard, was it?” Orleans said, once Caitlin reached him, her charges gathered protectively behind her. “Good thing you came to your senses. If it makes you feel any better, I hate this part of the job as much as anybody.”

“I hope that’s the case, Agent, I truly do.” Caitlin eased the document Captain Tepper had just emailed from her pocket. “Because this is a duly executed warrant naming these six children as material witnesses to a crime, subject to protection by the Texas Rangers until such time they are called to testify.”

Orleans started to turn red. Caitlin could feel the heat radiating through his uniform, dragging an odor that reminded her of a gym bag with yesterday’s dank workout clothes still stuffed inside.

“You lied to me, Ranger.”

“No, I didn’t, sir. I told you I was here to diffuse the situation and that’s what I’m doing. I said I’d fetch the kids from inside before somebody got hurt, and that’s exactly what I did.”

“You mean, nobody’s been hurt yet, Ranger.” With that, Orleans snatched the warrant from her grasp. “This is bullshit and you know it,” he said, having barely regarded it.

“That’s not for either of us to say, sir. It’s for a court to decide now.”

“You want to tell me what crime exactly these six suspects are material witness to?”

“Did you just call them suspects?”

“Answer my question, Ranger.”

“I’m not at liberty to say, sir. It’s a confidential investigation.”

Orleans turned his gaze on the imposing group of five armed men dressed in black tactical garb behind him, then looked back at Caitlin and smirked again. “So you think we’re just going to let you parade these subjects past us all by yourself? You really think we’re going to just back down and stand aside?”

The blistering roar of an engine almost drowned out his last words, as an extended cab pickup truck riding massive tires tore onto the scene and spun to a halt between the ICE agents and their Humvees. The springs recoiled, as a huge figure with a pair of M4 assault rifles shouldered behind him emerged from the cab, towering over those he passed, including the men with I-C-E embroidered on their jackets.

“This is Colonel Guillermo Paz,” Caitlin told Orleans, “an agent of Homeland Security, just like you, sir. He’s going to help me parade these ‘suspects’ past you.”

***

“Colonel Gee!” a first-grade boy beamed, coming up only to Paz’s waist as he hugged him tight before Paz could lift him into the backseat of his truck. “You remember me from pre-school?”

“Of course I do, Marcus.”

“Do you still work there?”

“No, I moved on. I do that a lot. Learn what I can from a place and then try another.”

“I miss you, Colonel Gee. You never finished the story of what you did to those bad men who tried to hurt you when you went home for your mommy’s funeral.”

“They’re not alive anymore, Marcus.”

“Really?”

Paz fixed his gaze on the ICE agents who’d edged closer, weighing their options. “It’s what happens to bad men.”

***

“Thank you, Colonel,” Caitlin said through the window, eyes even with Paz’s in the driver’s seat.

“’The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better.’”

“Robert Kennedy?”

Paz’s eyes widened. “I’m impressed, Ranger.”

“Just a lucky guess.”

“Edward Bulwer-Lytton didn’t believe in luck. He called it a fancy name for being always at the ready when needed.”

“Describes the two of us pretty well, I suppose.” Caitlin looked at the four kids squeezed into the big pickup’s backseat, Diego and Marcus in the front staring wide-eyed at the giant behind the wheel. “You know where to take them.”

Paz cast his gaze back toward the ICE agents, frozen in place fifteen feet away with scowls plastered across their expressions. “And if they follow?”

“They won’t get very far,” Caitlin told him. “Principal Alonzo yanked out the valve stems on their tires while we were loading the kids.”

***

Caitlin’s phone rang with a call from Captain Tepper, just as Guillermo Paz was driving off and the ICE agents were discovering their flat tires.

“Now who’s psychic, Captain?” she greeted. “Kids are safe and I didn’t even have to shoot anybody.”

“Good thing you saved your bullets, Ranger, ‘cause there’s somewhere else you need to be right now. A town in the desert called Camino Pass, formerly with a population of two hundred and eighty-eight according to the last census.”

“Formerly?”

“Looks like they’re all dead, Ranger. Each and every one of them.”

***

Excerpt from Strong from the Heart by Jon Land. Copyright 2020 by Jon Land. Reproduced with permission from Jon Land. All rights reserved.

 

 

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LITTLE FALLS by Elizabeth Lewes | #Showcase #Interview #Giveaway

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Little Falls

by Elizabeth Lewes

on Tour September 1 – October 31, 2020

Synopsis:

Little Falls by Elizabeth Lewes

She tried to forget the horrors of war–but her quiet hometown conceals a litany of new evils.

Sergeant Camille Waresch did everything she could to forget Iraq. She went home to Eastern Washington and got a quiet job. She connected with her daughter, Sophie, whom she had left as a baby. She got sober. But the ghosts of her past were never far behind.

While conducting a routine property tax inspection on an isolated ranch, Camille discovers a teenager’s tortured corpse hanging in a dilapidated outbuilding. In a flash, her combat-related PTSD resurges–and in her dreams, the hanging boy merges with a young soldier whose eerily similar death still haunts her. The case hits home when Sophie reveals that the victim was her ex-boyfriend–and as Camille investigates, she uncovers a tangled trail that leads to his jealous younger brother and her own daughter, wild, defiant, and ensnared.

The closer Camille gets to the truth, the closer she is driven to the edge. Her home is broken into. Her truck is blown up. Evidence and witnesses she remembers clearly are erased. And when Sophie disappears, Camille’s hunt for justice becomes a hunt for her child. At a remote compound where the terrifying truth is finally revealed, Camille has one last chance to save her daughter–and redeem her own shattered soul.

Praise for Little Falls:

“The tight, well-constructed plot complements the searing portrait of Camille as she deals with the guilt she feels over her daughter and her general rage at the world.”
Publisher’s Weekly, Starred Review

Little Falls snaps with suspense from beginning to end. With skilled execution of setting and plot, Elizabeth Lewes shuttles the reader between continents on a thrilling journey that reveals haunting secrets. I couldn’t put this book down!”
—Margaret Mizushima, author of the award-winning Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries, including Hanging Falls

“A dark, dangerous read populated by distinct, well-drawn characters. The tormented heroine is a woman on the edge and fascinating in her unpredictability. You’re rooting for her, afraid for her, but never fully confident that she won’t succumb to her multiple demons. There is a desperate sense of urgency right up until the very end.”
—P. J. Tracy, New York Times bestselling author of the Monkeewrench series

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery, Rural Noir
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: August 11th 2020
Number of Pages: 311
ISBN: 1643855069 (ISBN13: 9781643855066)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Elizabeth Lewes

Elizabeth Lewes is a veteran of the United States Navy who served during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. An analyst and linguist by training, she now practices law in Seattle. Little Falls is her debut novel.

Q&A with Elizabeth Lewes

What was the inspiration for this book?

The basic idea of a property tax inspector who sees too much came to me while I was reviewing documents for work. (I’m a tax lawyer by day.) The deal concerned a property in Little Falls, New York, so I was reviewing property tax returns. In the process, I learned that in much of New York state, property tax collectors/inspectors are community members and, in some cases, taxpayers drop off payments at the collector’s home. That’s when it occurred to me that property tax inspectors must see all sorts of interesting things, particularly out in the county! A few days later, I had this image of a female veteran who finds a body that plunges her back into her memories of Iraq. And that’s how Camille Waresch was born!

What has been the biggest challenge in your writing career?

A lot of folks are not ready to try to understand the complexity of being a woman in our society, let alone a female veteran. Despite coming up in a relatively progressive age when many women have been told that they can be whomever they want to be and encouraged to execute on that, there are still very rigid ideas of what women, and particularly mothers, should be. Finding people in the publishing industry who get it, who understand that women are as different and diverse as men, that most women do not fit any mold, and that readers do want to read those complicated and sometimes not endearing characters has been excruciating at times.

What do you absolutely need while writing?

To hear the characters! I can’t tell you how many scenes I’ve started and then scrapped because I couldn’t hear Camille telling me the story.

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

Not at all! My days are very full, so I whip out my phone and jot down plot notes or snippets of scenes whenever they come to me. (I’m typing this while my children and husband are having three different conversations in the car at the same time.) I also have a bad habit of writing in the bathroom—it’s the only place I can reliably hide from my children and clients for a few minutes! However, I always start with an outline to develop most of the plot and sit down several times during the course of the book to order/reorder scenes and fill in gaps in the plot using my outline.

Who is your favorite character from your book and why?

That’s a hard question! I love the sheer grit and determination that my MC, Camille, has, but she is also rigid in a lot of undesirable ways. I kind of love to hate Lyle, Camille’s not-quite brother-in-law. He seems like a complete disaster, but has very much unplumbed depths. I also have a real soft spot for Camille’s daughter, Sophie. She is a mess and has suffered a lot because of her mother’s choices, but she definitely inherited her mother’s grit. She also inherited quite a bit from her father that I hope to explore in more books.

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

The apparent villain, Jimmy King. He’s a petty show-off who thinks he’s a brilliant con. He is, unfortunately, so similar to a lot of people I knew in the military….

Give us an interesting fun fact or a few about your book?

Little Falls is set in the Okanogan because I became entranced with the county after hearing a good friend’s stories about his hunting cabin in the woods out there. After driving to Tonasket in a snowstorm to pick up a couple of beef one winter, I fell in love with the place and knew that it was Camille’s home. However, since I’m not from there, I spent a ton of time getting to know how Okanogan County looks and feels, even smells. I hope the reader can feel the dirt under their nails and smell the pines dripping sap in the searing summer heat!

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

Listen to women, especially those of us who have been in a man’s world and lived to tell the tale!

Tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I’m a fifth-generation Oregonian and Washington transplant who spent six years in the Navy as a linguist. After the Navy, I went to law school and have spent the last 10 years learning (then unlearning) how to write like a lawyer.

What’s next that we can look forward to?

I am currently working on the next book about Camille and Sophie. In PERSECUTION, a woman who claimed to be searching for money Camille’s ex stole years before ends up in Camille’s protection before being brutally murdered. What Camille learns about the dead woman’s past in the Okanogan and elsewhere forces Camille to confront her own choices and pain, but will she do it fast enough to avoid the same fate?

Catch Up With Elizabeth Lewes:
ElizabethLewes.com! , Goodreads, BookBub, Instagram, & Twitter!

 

Read an excerpt:

I remember fragments: the color of the desert burning, the smell of the blood drying in the sun, the sound of the glass shattering under fire. Never what happened after. Rarely what happened before.

But sometimes … sometimes, I remember everything. Time slows, crystallizes. I see everything, I smell everything, I hear everything. I feel everything.

Then something… snaps. Fragments.

It just happened. Here. In the barn. Flakes of snow are melting on my jacket; they’re damp on my numb fingers. It happened when he looked up, when he turned toward me, when I saw her blood matted in his long hair, his hand on her face.

Then I fired

This is what happened before.

1

Dust: long, fat streamers of it rose from the wheels of my truck as I drove up into the hills of Jeremy Leamon’s ranch. It was dry that Friday, dry as early August in Okanogan County usually is, but Leamon’s black steers were still bent low in the parched pastures, scrounging for tufts of yellow grass under the orange morning sun. The windows in the truck were down, and I was tapping my fingernails on the window frame, but not to the beat of the honky-tonk on the radio.

An outcrop shot up out of the pasture and became a ridge. I steered the truck around it, bounced over the stones that had crumbled off, and powered through a mess of tree roots and washouts that made the steering column jerk and the axles whine. Not long after the truck stopped buck ing, an outbuilding peeked out of the stand of ponderosa pines that washed down the hillside. Its corrugated steel paneling and wooden barn door had seen better days. Hell, better decades. But the thick padlock on the door was shiny and new.

Suspicious? Yeah.

The country is not that peaceful, you know. Drugs—we got plenty. Prostitution, too. And guns. Jesus Christ, do we have guns. In the years I had been inspecting properties for the County Assessor’s Office, I had seen more than my fair share out on the back roads, in the hidden valleys, and in forgotten forest clearings just like the one I found that day on the edge of Jeremy Leamon’s property. That’s why I carried my official ID in my pocket and my unofficial Glock in my right hand. Why I let the truck roll through the potholes until I turned a bend, then switched off the ignition and listened long and hard before I got out to take a look.

I remember that when my boots hit the ground, puffs of yellow dirt rose around my ankles, drifted on air heavy with the smell of sunburned pine needles: dry, hot, resinous. The smell of summer. The smell of fire.

I padded through the trees. A hundred yards in, I saw the back end of the building above me on the hill. I came up on the south side and approached the tree line, then doubled back to the north side. No sounds from the building, not even the whisper of a ventilation fan. So why lock it up, all the way out here in the hills?

My finger slipped closer to the Glock’s trigger.

Slowly, cautiously, I approached the building. There was only the one door and no windows. No way to see what the padlock was protecting. But as I rounded a corner, a gust of wind blew through the trees, and a steel panel on the side of the building swayed with it. I held my breath, waited for some sound, some shout, from inside the building. When it didn’t come, I caught the edge of the panel with the toe of my boot. It swung out easily, and daylight shot through holes where nails had once secured it to the building’s wooden skeleton.

Inside was a stall for an animal, a horse maybe. Beyond it, open space, sunlight pouring through a hole in the roof onto messy stacks of last year’s hay. The air glittered with dust and stank of decay, the funk of rot. But there was something else there too, something sweet and high and spoiled. And buzzing, buzzing that filled my ears, that vibrated my brain …

I ducked under the steel panel and clambered in, breathing shallowly. Holding my weapon at the ready, I rounded the corner of the stall, and then I saw him.

Hanging

Hanging from a loop of braided wire stretched over a wooden beam. His fingers were at his neck, but not to scratch it or run over his scant, patchy beard. They were stuck. Stuck in the noose. Stuck when he’d clawed at it, tried to pry it away, tried to make room to breathe.

I’m sure he tried.

Because he hadn’t jumped: there was no chair, no ladder. Nothing kicked away, nothing standing.

Nothing but the kid and the flies.

* * *

I don’t remember much of what happened next, but I know I went back to the truck, and I must have made a call. Because I know I watched the helicopter erupt over the rock and sweep down the hillside and land in the track I had driven down. And I can still feel the dirt from the downwash blasting my face and the icy cold steel of the stairs when I pulled them out just after the bird settled on the ground. And I remember not understanding why everyone was acting so strange, why the doctor set down her things in slow motion, and the pilot just switched off the bird and strolled to the trees to light up a smoke and why both of them were so casual, like they were going to the park. But then I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I turned around. And everything snapped into focus.

Sergeant Darren Moses. My God, you should have seen him that day, in his mirrored sunglasses and chocolate-brown uniform, his black buzz cut and those high Indian cheekbones. He was always good looking-even when we were kids—but I guess I hadn’t seen him for a while.

He asked me how I was, reached out and touched my shoulder again, looked concerned. I had on this green tank top, and the rough pads of his fingers were cool against my skin. He was standing close, almost intimately, his aftershave musky and faint. But I stood there and watched my reflection in his sunglasses and was an asshole.

“I’m glad to see the Sheriff’s Office hasn’t cleaned out the stables yet.”

Darren laughed, smiled broadly, his teeth flashing white in the sun. “You know I’m the kind of shit that sticks to the floor.”

He moved his hand away. My shoulder was suddenly cold. I smiled, tried to laugh, then grabbed another bag instead.

Darren held out his hand to take it. “You don’t have to haul our gear, Camille.”

I shrugged. “May as well. I’m here.” “Really.” “It’s not a big deal.” Darren’s smile disappeared.

“I’m sorry. I need you to stay here.”

My fingers tightened on the handle of the black Sheriff’s Office duffel. “What are you talking about?”

“I can’t let you into the crime scene.”

I shook my head. “I’ve already seen it. My fibers or whatever you’re worried about are already in there.”

“It’s procedure,” Darren said, his shoulders lifting slightly. “No exceptions, not even for old friends.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“And you’ve had a shock. Listen-Lucky’s on his way up here. He took a truck so he could stop and talk to Leamon. He can take you back into town, and I’ll drive your truck down after we’re done.”

I frowned. “What? No.”

“Camille. If you’re right and he’s…” “Hey, Moses!” someone shouted.

I spun toward the building and saw a second officer standing by the peeled-back panel of corrugated steel: Deputy Jesus Moreno. His voice tight and flat and deathly calm, he said: “You need to see this.”

Darren took the duffle from my hand and jogged over to the building. I followed. I’m not good at following orders. Never have been.

Inside the building, the two men stood side by side, their chins lifted, their eyes fixed on the corpse. Moreno was frowning, his arms crossed over his chest. He looked like a man at a museum: interested, but removed, dis tant. Darren looked like a man taking it personally. His jaw was clenched, his neck rigid, his thumb twitching on the safety catch of his holster.

In the corner, the medical examiner—a small woman with graying curls—busily set out her equipment on a bale of hay she’d draped with a white sheet. When she turned, she was zipping a white jumpsuit closed over a blue buttondown shirt.

“It’s just decomposition, gentlemen,” the examiner said. “Part of the natural process.”

“How long would you say?” Darren asked, still studying the corpse. “Three or four days,” I said without thinking.

Darren shot me a look and started to say something, probably to tell me I was violating his procedure, to threaten me with arrest if I didn’t get out of his crime scene. But the examiner was faster.

“Yes.” She adjusted her glasses, squinted at the body, then said slowly, like she was really thinking about it: “It’s been hot-hot enough for that much bloating-and the maggots are pretty far along. So, yes, that’s a fair assessment.”

Darren glanced from me to the examiner and back again, then opened his mouth.

“Aren’t you going to introduce me, Sergeant?” the examiner said.

For a moment, Darren was caught between irritation and manners. He was staring at me like I had strung up the kid myself, his eyes dark and intense, a vein in his neck jumping. The examiner was staring at him like he was a naughty schoolboy.

“Doctor Marguerite Fleischman, Camille Waresch,” Darren said. “Camille found the body this morning, Doc. She works for the County Assessor’s Office.”

“And?” the doctor said, looking over her wire rims at Darren.

“And she’s leaving,” he said, taking a step forward, one hand reaching toward my arm.

The examiner raised her hand to him. “Not until she answers my ques tions,” she said, then turned to me. “How is it you know the body’s been there for three or four days?”

I shrugged. “Just a guess.”

“Camille was a medic, Doc,” Darren said through gritted teeth. “She was in Iraq.”

I clenched my jaw, looked away. “And Afghanistan.” “I see.”

Doctor Fleischman pulled on a pair of latex gloves, snapping them against her wrists. Then she squatted and rifled through one of her bags. When she stood, she was holding a notebook and pen out to me.

“My recorder is broken. You remember how to take notes?”

We had been at it for a couple of hours when a truck pulled up outside. The engine died and one door, then another, slammed. I stood up quickly and backed toward the wall, skittish, my eyes on the big door by the road.

“I’m telling you,” a male voice said outside, his voice escalating from exasperation to anger.

“That ain’t my building. I don’t know what your problem is, but it ain’t mine.”

Leamon, Jeremy Leamon. My dad had known him. I had knocked on his front door and chatted with him about the weather that morning when I arrived at the property for the inspection.

“All right,” another man said in this sort of soothing, persuasive voice, the kind of voice you want in commercials for condoms or caramels. Lucky Phillips, it had to be. He was Darren’s partner back then. And he was an outsider, one of the few people who’d moved into the Okanogan instead of out.

“I believe you, Jeremy,” Lucky said. “But you know I’m a curious kind of guy—I just want to see if any of these keys work.”

“It ain’t mine,” Leamon growled, but there was panic in his voice.

Someone thumped the door and fiddled with the padlock, its steel loop rattling against the cleats on the door. The door jerked open, sliding to the side on the top rail. Lucky stepped into the doorway, all tall and broad in his brown uniform and flaming orange hair. And beside him, his arm clamped in one of Lucky’s big hands, was Jeremy Leamon, a man with too much denim wrinkled around his body and a halo of gray stubble on top of his head.

“What’s that then, Jeremy?” Lucky asked, still cool, still smooth.

Leamon ducked out of Lucky’s grip, his gnarled, liver-spotted hands clenched in enormous fists. But Lucky was younger and faster. He stepped forward, taking the older man’s arm and spinning him, forcing him to look into the building, to look at the body still hanging from the beam, still crawling with flies, dripping slowly onto the packed earth floor.

Leamon staggered back. “What is that?”

“What do you mean?” Lucky said in mock surprise. “You aren’t going to introduce us to your new neighbor?”

“Neighbor?” Leamon’s face went white as butcher paper, his knees wavered and shook. He shoved Lucky to one side and, bent double, ran outside, his hand clamped to his mouth as he began to retch.

* * *

Later, much later, I could still smell the decay, hear the smack of flies against the inside of the plastic body bag after Moreno finally cut the kid down and zipped him up. I was fine when they loaded him into the helicopter, fine when Darren asked me how I was for the second time that day. He said he knew I’d seen things before, but did I want someone to drive me to my place? I shook my head again, told him no. Then he climbed into the helicopter and I stowed the stairs, and I was fine until the bird disappeared over the rock, until even the sound of its rotors faded away, and I was alone again, alone in the narrow track, dust clinging to my jeans and caked in my hair.

That’s when the shaking started.

I fell to my knees and tried to not let it happen, but sometimes it just does. Sometimes the movie inside my head just won’t stop, and I see the sniper bullet blow off half that staff sergeant’s skull, see that corporal go limp on the table in the field hospital when everything went wrong, see that lieutenant’s eyes gazing blindly into the deep, blue desert sky while his blood sank into the sand. And then the mortar rounds, the streaks of fire in the night sky, the staccato burst of AK-47s in the bone-dry morning, the sudden sick rocking of an IED going off under the tires of the forward Humvee.

After some time—God knows how long—I stood up and half-stumbled, half-ran to my truck and threw myself into the cab, then tore down the mountain faster than I should have. The assessment didn’t matter; the rocks slamming against the chassis didn’t matter; the cattle scattering wildly at the reckless rumble of the truck didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was getting out.

I still don’t know how I got back that day. I just remember looking out the window of my one-bedroom apartment, my hair wet, my skin raw from the shower, watching people drive into the gravel lot below, go into the mart—my mart; felt strange to remember that, to remember that my father had bought it for me when I came home from the desert for the last time, that it was supposed to be my unwanted salvation-then leave again, a half rack of beer or a gallon of milk in hand. Across the street, my neighbor’s trees, their leaves still green, waved in the heat rising off the pavement of the two-lane road that went through my two-street town. Behind them, behind the trees, the hill rose yellow and pale, dried-out green, the dirt streaked with orange. Like it was rusting.

Numb. I was numb. That’s how it is at first. First bomb. First kill. You’re scared out of your mind, scared straight. Get shit done, accomplish the mission. And then—it gets quiet. You’re out, you’re back at base. You’re safe. And then numb. It’s like floating, and nothing can touch you, nothing can make you feel. You’re floating through the day, through the tour, through life. Then someone shoots down your balloon and it’s all pain.

Most days, I miss the desert. But what I really miss is that numb.

* * *

As the shadows were lengthening, a key turned in the front door.

I was sitting at the scuffed kitchen table, staring at the property report for Jeremy Leamon’s ranch in the black binder I’d had with me on-site that morning. My hair was dry and sticking to the sweat on my neck, so it must have been awhile since I had gotten back. I leapt to my feet-bare feet grabbed the Glock, cocked it, and held it down, but ready, my index finger hovering next to the trigger. God, I must have looked insane when the door opened and my teenage daughter walked in.

“Uh, hi,” Sophie said and dropped her backpack on the floor. “Hi,” I said without breathing.

“What’s with you?”

Sophie sauntered into the kitchen. Hastily, I slid the Glock under the county map draped over the table.

“Nothing.”

Across the narrow room, Sophie raised her eyebrows. I looked away, my jaw clenched. Be calm. Be normal.

“How was work?” I said, trying and failing. “Okay.”

Sophie opened the fridge, rummaged, smacked things around until she found the last can of soda.

“Crystal was okay?”

“Yeah, Crystal was okay.” Sophie stood up, closed the fridge, and popped open her drink.

“Roseann dropped you off?” She paused. “I asked if Roseann dropped you off.” “No,” she snapped, her back still toward me. I ground my teeth.

“She had to go to Coulee City for something,” Sophie said before I could open my mouth. “She said she wouldn’t be back until late.”

“Why didn’t you call me?”

“I got home.” Sophie hesitated, her back stiffened. “I mean, I got back okay, didn’t I?”

And that was it, really. Home. Her home was my home: the white farmhouse I had grown up in, the same place she had grown up after I left her to join the Army and then after I came back, when it was too much for me to take care of myself and take care of her too. And it had stayed that way, me in the apartment over the mart, her and my father in the old farmhouse thirty miles away. Until he died that May. After that, home was … well, not my apartment.

“Who brought you?” I asked as evenly as I could. “Who brought you back?”

“A friend.”

Sophie turned quickly and stalked past me until, like a toy tied to her with string, I sprang up and reached out to grab her. But then she stopped and the string broke. My hand snapped back.

“Who?” I insisted, my voice cracking with the strain of holding back the fury, the anxiety and fear.

“Just a friend.”

“A name. Give me a name.”

Sophie glared at me, then bent to pick up her backpack. I rushed forward and put myself in her path. Her brown eyes—flecked with gold like mine-flashed dangerously, just like her father’s had when he’d been pushed too far. Just like mine must have too.

“Jason,” Sophie said through clenched teeth. “Jason Sprague.” I stared her down. “Never heard of him.”

“You wouldn’t have,” she sneered. But then she dropped her eyes, dropped her head, and a lock of dark hair fell over her forehead.

“Granddad thought he was okay.”

She said it so quietly, almost reverently, her eyes so downcast that her long lashes fanned over her cheeks. Even I felt tears welling. But my father thought everyone was okay; he was everyone’s hero. And here’s the thing, here’s what I had learned about being a mother during those few months that Sophie and I had been the only ones left: your kid is the predator and you are the prey. They smell blood. They smell fear. And then—just then Sophie was playing with her food.

“Fine,” I said, biting off the word. “I’ll meet him next time.”

I let her push past me. She slammed the bedroom door behind her; I stomped to the kitchen, poured a glass of water, and took it to the table.

Hours later, I was still there, trying to write my report about Leamon’s ranch on my laptop when Sophie burst out of the bedroom. Her eyes were wild, and her long black hair flew behind her as she darted to the front door.

“Where are you going?” I demanded, rising from the table.

Sophie was pulling on her shoes, didn’t even glance up when she said, “To Tracy’s.”

“Why?”

“I just am,” she said dismissively, snarling in that way that burned through all my nerves.

“No.” Pulling the laces tight, her face away from me, she muttered, “Fuck

you.”

In the blink of an eye, I was standing over her, the muscles in my arms screaming against the force it took to hold back my fists. “Stop.”

Her head jerked up: trails of tears streaked down her face, smeared mascara haloed her eyes.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” she shouted.

The heat of her anguish drove me back to the kitchen counter. Fury I could deal with, but anything else, anything more … My chest tightened, my vision narrowed, darkened. Pinholed. I closed my eyes, shook my head, pushed down all the thoughts, the impulses, and the screams.

And when I opened my eyes, there was just Sophie. On the ground. Crying and tying her shoes like a child. My child. I dropped to my knees.

“What’s going on, Sophie?” I said quietly, tentatively. “Why are you, why do you need to go to Tracy’s right now? It’s late.”

“Because,” she wailed, then breathed deeply, the air shuddering in her chest. “Because Patrick is dead.”

I shook my head. “Patrick?”

“Yeah, Patrick.”

“Okay.” I nodded. “Who is Patrick?”

“A friend,” Sophie said impatiently. She scrambled to her feet, grabbed her bag.

“A friend.”

Sophie wove to push past me; I wove too, pushing back.

“Like Jason?” I said too sharply.

Sophie’s eyes flashed through her tears. “No. He’s my-he’s just a really good friend. From school.”

“From school,” I repeated, trying to keep myself in check.

Sophie rolled her eyes. “I mean, he just graduated in May.”

What?

“Patrick?” I whispered, looking past Sophie, looking over her shoulder into the distance where I could still see a male, his bloated body black and purple with pooled blood, patches of peach fuzz on his face, hanging at the end of a length of braided wire.

“Yeah, Patrick!” Sophie hitched up her backpack. Fresh tears were puddling in her eyes, her shoulders were tense. “He hasn’t been around for a couple of weeks and now—” Her shoulders rose, her voice shuddered. “And now someone found him up in the hills and he’s … he’s dead.”

My heartbeat quickened. “What do you mean in the hills? Where?” “I don’t know! Why would I know? Tracy just called me, okay?”

But I couldn’t believe the kid that morning had been Sophie’s friend, that the casualty was that close. I couldn’t believe the medical examiner would have released an identification that early, that she could even know yet who the dead boy was. And why would some kid—why would Sophie’s friend-know about it anyway?

Then everything sort of slowed down, came into focus: the tears on Sophie’s cheeks crept down to her jaw, the smell of her shampoo-green apple-filled my nostrils; the dim light from the lamp by the sofa was suddenly blinding.

“Who found him?” I asked, my voice sounding tinny and distant in my ears.

“I don’t know!” Sophie was shrieking now, her voice echoing in my brain, overloading every circuit. “How would I know?”

“How old was he?” I said urgently. “How old was Patrick?”

“It doesn’t matter; he’s dead!” She tore my fingers from her arms, even though I didn’t remember—don’t remember-grabbing her.

“Tell me.”

“Nineteen, okay?” Released, Sophie lunged for the door. “He just turned nineteen!”

Nineteen.

I had written nineteen on Doctor Fleischman’s yellow notepad that morning.

“Victim is a Caucasian male, approximately nineteen to twenty-two years of age,” she had said from her perch on the ladder. “Death likely caused by asphyxiation, likely involuntary hanging, but”-she had leaned closer, peering through a magnifying glass at the discolored skin on the

kid’s chest— “what appear to be electrical burns were inflicted to the torso prior to death. Two, maybe three days prior.”

She had pulled back then and shifted her attention downward. “Other indications of torture include nails missing from digits two through four of the right hand, pre-mortem bruising and lacerations on the left side of the face, including the eye …”

Downstairs, the heavy steel door slammed.

* * *

I waited for Sophie to come back, waited while I was stretched out, rigid, on the couch, with my jeans on and my boots lined up on the floor by my feet. All the lights in the apartment were off, so I studied the ridges and valleys on the ceiling by the yellow light of the sodium streetlamp.

Around two, I heard footsteps on the gravel in the parking lot, and then the door downstairs opened. She crept up quietly; I smiled because it sounded like she’d even taken off her shoes. When her key turned in the lock of the apartment door, I threw my arm over my eyes and pretended to sleep.

Later, I crept to her door and opened it silently. Inside, the bedroom that had always been bare when it was mine was now anything but. Clothes were scattered everywhere, books were stacked in uneven piles. Sophie’s pink backpack had been slung onto the chipped wooden desk. In the middle of it all was the girly white bed my parents had bought her for Christmas one year when I couldn’t-or wouldn’t-come home. She lay on the covers, curled in the fetal position, her hair tied up in a messy bun, her hands balled up under her chin.

I walked into the room, fighting the urge to pick up the mess, and watched her in the light that seeped through the thin, frilly white curtains that had once hung at the window of the bedroom we had both spent our childhoods in. At just barely fifteen, she still looked like the child I had watched growing up during visits two or three times a week for years. Her cheeks were thinning but were still rounded; the skin on her arms peeking out from under her T-shirt was still silky and down covered. Regret surged through my body as though it were a physical force—a shock wave. I closed my eyes to keep it in.

When I opened them again, the first thing I saw were the freckles sprinkled over her nose and cheeks. She looked like her Colville father, like Oren, with her dark hair and pale brown skin and almond eyes. Only her freckles were me.

Her phone, clutched in her hand, buzzed. She stirred but didn’t wake. I glanced at the screen, then did a double take. The phone background was of her and a boy. He was a little older than her, but sort of wholesome looking—if you looked past their glassy eyes and flyaway hair and flushed cheeks. I thought I recognized the boy, imagined there was some resemblance there to the kid who had been hanging in Jeremy Leamon’s barn. But then the screen went dark, and I glanced back at my daughter, her rounded cheeks not so childlike, her arms more sinew than down. And I looked past the freckles and saw a lot more of me.

***

Excerpt from Little Falls by Elizabeth Lewes. Copyright 2020 by Elizabeth Lewes. Reproduced with permission from Elizabeth Lewes. All rights reserved.

 

 

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THE MAGDALENE DECEPTION by Gary McAvoy | #Showcase #GuestPost #Giveaway

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The Magdalene Deception

by Gary McAvoy

on Tour August 1 – September 30, 2020

Synopsis:

The Magdalene Deception by Gary McAvoy

For two thousand years, believers have relied on Christ’s Resurrection as the bedrock of Christian faith. But what if the Vatican had been blackmailed into suppressing a first-century manuscript revealing a very different story about what happened after Christ’s death—and that long-hidden document suddenly reappears?

Michael Dominic, a young Jesuit priest expert in the study of ancient writings, is assigned to the Vatican as an archivist in the Church’s legendary Secret Archives. Hana Sinclair, a reporter for a Paris newspaper whose privileged family owns a prominent Swiss bank, is chasing a story about Jewish gold stolen by the Nazis during World War II—millions of dollars in bullion that ended up in the vaults of the Vatican Bank.

When Dominic discovers a long-hidden papyrus written by Mary Magdalene—one that threatens the very foundations of Christianity—he and Hana, aided by brave Swiss Guards, try to prevent sinister forces from obtaining the manuscript, among them the feared Ustasha underground fascist movement, Interpol, and shadowy figures at the highest levels of the Vatican itself.

Based on illuminating historical facts—including the intriguing true story of Bérenger Saunière, the mysterious abbé in the French village of Rennes-le-Château; and the Cathars, fabled keepers of the Holy Grail—“The Magdalene Deception” will take readers on a gripping journey through one of the world’s most secretive institutions and the sensitive, often explosive manuscripts found in its vaults.

Book Details:

Genre: Suspense Thriller
Published by: Literati Editions
Publication Date: July 1st 2020
Number of Pages: 368
ISBN: 0990837653 (ISBN-13: 978-0990837657)
Series: The Magdalene Chronicles (Book 1)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

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Author Bio:

Gary McAvoy

Gary McAvoy is a veteran technology executive, entrepreneur, and author of “And Every Word Is True,” a sequel to Truman Capote’s landmark book “In Cold blood.” “The Magdalene Deception” is his fiction debut, and is the first in a series called The Magdalene Chronicles.

Guest Post

Topic: Your book is based on historical facts, what were the most challenging and easiest items that you encountered in your research.

Like many authors, research is often the most fun part of writing (sometimes the only fun…). I love researching. As a lifelong reader I’ve often put down a book to further explore what the author had just described, which in most cases is something I’d never heard or known about before and piqued my interest. In research for The Magdalene Deception, I already knew a great deal about the legendary Cathars, fabled keepers of the Holy Grail, and the unusual story of Bérenger Saunière, the mysterious 19th-century abbé of the village of Rennes-le-Château in southern France. Those two topics are somewhat linked in history, so I read several books about both which gave me a deeper understanding of each. But it did present challenges in firming up the historical relationships, and wading through the stories of real individuals associated with these legends required intense mental departmentation. There were so many people instrumental in forging these tales that it all got to be rather perplexing. I didn’t want my readers to be confused, so I had to cull only the most relevant people—and that took a lot of historical cutting and pasting.

As for which topics were easiest, the Vatican itself stands out as the one topic I had no trouble writing about. I’ve visited Rome a couple times and had a full day in the Vatican (still not enough time), so I recall the visceral feel of history within its walls, the awe-inspiring artworks and architecture, the lush gardens, and the ever-present colorful Swiss Guard. Supplementing that personal experience, I read more than a dozen books on the institution itself, from every angle possible, and watched several documentaries and films featuring the Church and its power structure inside the Vatican. I also made contact with people who actually lived and worked in Vatican City, and their firsthand stories were invaluable.

Researching World War II, including the Holocaust and the fascist Ustasha government of the Independent State of Croatia, was a mix between challenging and easy. As a Baby Boomer myself I grew up in the later post-war years, so I heard a lot about it from relatives who served in the military. That sparked my interest and I’ve been drawn to the topic ever since. I’d actually never heard of the Ustasha before, though, so learning about that vile movement—the Croatian version of the Nazis—was at times a tough slog.

Whether challenging or not, researching this book was a great experience, and will be useful as I move into other books in the same series.

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Read an excerpt:

1
Southern France – March 1244

The relentless siege of the last surviving Cathar fortress, perched strategically on the majestic peak of Montségur in the French Pyrenees, entered its tenth month.

The massive army of crusaders dispatched from Rome, thirty thousand strong, were garbed in distinctive white tunics, their mantles emblazoned with the scarlet Latin cross. Knight commanders led hordes of common foot soldiers, some seeking personal salvation, others simply out for adventure and the promise of plunder. They had already devastated most of the Languedoc region of southern France in the years preceding. Tens of thousands of men, women, and children had been slain, regardless of age, sex, or religious belief. Entire villages were burned, rich crops destroyed, and the fertile land which yielded them was poisoned, in a cruel, single-minded quest to root out and extinguish a small and peaceful, yet influential mystic order known as the Cathars.

The defeat of the impregnable Montségur remained the ultimate prize for the Church’s troops. Rumors of a vast treasure had reached the ears of every soldier, stirring up the passion with which these feared European mercenaries carried out their holy mission. As was the customary practice during a crusade, whatever pillage remained after the plundering—spolia opima, the richest spoils for supreme achievement—could be claimed by the victor. That temptation, bonded by the personal assurance of the pope that all sins would be forgiven and their paths to heaven assured, was enough to seduce anyone, nobleman or peasant, to take up cudgel, pike, or arrow in the name of God.

In 1209 Pope Innocent III had ordered a Holy Crusade to crush the spirit, and if necessary, the life of each and every dissident in the Languedoc region bordering France and Spain.

This independent principality had distinguished itself by fostering an artistic and intellectual populace well beyond that of most northern European societies at the time. The people of the Languedoc practiced a religious tolerance that encouraged spiritual and secular diversity. Schools teaching Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic languages and the customs which accompanied them flourished, as did those espousing the Cabala, an occult form of Judaism that dated from the second century.

Most settlers in the Languedoc viewed Christianity with the utmost repugnance; at the very least its practices were perceived as being more materialistic than godly in nature. The irreligious of the region passed over Christianity in large part due to the scandalous corruption exhibited by its local priests and bishops who, unable to influence the heathens within their provinces, came to prefer the rewards of commerce and land ownership over the tending of a meager flock.

Consequently, the authorities in Rome felt compelled to deal with this unforgivable heresy once and for all, in towns such as Toulouse and Albi within the Languedoc area.

Consigning his troops to their commanders, Pope Innocent III invoked a special benediction to all, lauding the divinity of their mission. Asked how they might distinguish their Christian brethren from the heretics, however, the crusaders were simply told, “Kill them all. God will spare His own.”

And so the Albigensian Crusade began.

The new moon cast no light over Montségur as night fell on the first day of March 1244, obscuring not only the hastened activities of its occupants, but the lingering threat conspiring outside its walls. A dense alpine fog had settled over the mountain, and the castle that straddled its inaccessible peak had withstood nearly a year of unceasing battle.

Weakened by the tenacity of their predators and yielding to the hopelessness of their situation, Raymond de Péreille, Lord of Château du Montségur and leader of the remaining four hundred defenders, commanded his troops to lay down their arms, and descended the mountain to negotiate terms of their capitulation.

Though offered lenient conditions in return for their surrender, de Péreille requested a fourteen-day truce, ostensibly to consider the terms, and handed over hostages as an assurance of good faith. Knowing there was no alternative for their captives—nearly half of whom were priest-knights, or parfaits, sworn to do God’s work—the commanders of the pope’s regiment agreed to the truce.

Over the next two weeks, reprieved from the constant threat of attack they had been enduring for months, the inhabitants of Montségur resolved to fulfill their own destiny before relinquishing their fortress—and their lives—to the Inquisition.

On the last day of the truce, as if guided collectively by a single will on a predestined course, the surviving members of the last Cathar settlement made special preparations for their departure.

Four of the strongest and most loyal of the parfaits were led by Bishop Bertrand Marty, the senior abbé of the fortress, as they descended deep within the mountain down a long, stepped passageway carved into alternating layers of earth and limestone. The end of the passage appeared to be just that, as if the original tunnelers had simply stopped work and retreated without finishing the job. But, while the others held torches, Abbé Marty withdrew a large rusted key-like wedge from beneath his cassock, thrusting it into a hidden cavity near the low ceiling.

The abbé manipulated the key for a few moments. A muffled sound of grating metal from beyond the stone wall echoed through the tunnel, and the seemingly impenetrable granite slid inward slightly, revealing a door.

Aided by the parfaits, the door swung open into a small dank chamber filled with an enormous cache of riches—gold and silver in varied forms, gilded chalices and bejeweled crosses, an abundance of gems and precious stones, sagging bags of coins from many lands.

And, in a far corner removed from the bulk of the treasure itself, stood a wide granite pedestal on which rested an ornately carved wooden reliquary, crafted to hold the most holy of relics, next to which sat a large book wrapped in brown sackcloth.

Standing before the legendary treasure of the Cathars—glittering and hypnotic in the dim torchlight—would prove seductive for most men. But the Albigensians held little regard for earthly goods, other than as a useful political means to achieve their spiritual destiny. Ignoring the abundant wealth spread before them, the abbé fetched the sackcloth while the other four parfaits hoisted the ancient reliquary to their shoulders, then they left the room and solemnly proceeded back up the granite stairway. In the thousand-year history of the Cathars, these would be the last of the order ever to see the treasure.

But the most sacred relic of the Christian world would never, they vowed, fall into the unholy hands of the Inquisition.

Emerging from the stone passage, Abbé Marty led the parfaits and their venerable cargo through the hundreds of waiting Cathars who had assembled outside, forming a candlelit gauntlet leading to the sanctuary. All were dressed in traditional black tunics, all wearing shoulder length hair covered by round taqiyah caps as was the custom of the sect.

Once inside, the parfaits lowered the reliquary onto the stone altar. The abbé removed the ancient book from the sackcloth and began the sacred Consolamentum, a ritual of consecration, while the four appointed guardians prepared themselves for their special mission.

Armed with short blades and truncheons, the parfaits carefully secured the reliquary in the safety of a rope sling, then fastened taut harnesses around themselves.

“Go with God, my sons,” Abbé Marty intoned as he gave them his blessing, “and in His name ensure this sacred reliquary be protected for generations to come.”

The four men climbed over the precipice and, assisted by their brothers gripping the ropes tied to their harnesses, gently and silently rappelled hundreds of meters down the escarpment. Sympathizers waiting at the base of the mountain assisted the parfaits in liberating their holy treasure, guiding them away from the danger of other troops and hiding them and the reliquary deep in one of many nearby caves.

Throughout the night, those remaining at Montségur celebrated their brotherhood, their holy calling, and their last hours alive. Descending the mountain the next morning, in a state of pure spiritual release from the material world, Abbé Marty led the last of the Cathars as they willingly marched into the blazing pyres awaiting them, martyrs to their cause.

The holy reliquary of the Cathars has never since been found.

2
Present Day

Rounding the northern wall of the Colosseum with a measured stride, a tall young man with longish black hair glanced at the Tag Heuer chronometer strapped to his left wrist. Noting the elapsed time of his eighth mile, he wiped away the sweat that was now stinging his eyes.

Damn this Roman heat. Not even sunrise, and it’s already a scorcher.

Approaching the wide crosswalks flanking the west side of the immense Colosseum, he wondered if this was the morning he would meet God. Dodging the murderous, unrestrained traffic circling the stadium became a daily act of supreme faith, as the blur of steel sub-compacts, one after another, careened around the massive structure on their way, no doubt, to some less hostile place. Since his arrival here he had discovered that this was the way with Italian motorists in general, though Roman drivers excelled at the sport. Veteran observers could always tell the difference between natives and visitors: a local would cross the road seemingly ambivalent to the rush of oncoming traffic. Non-Romans, who could as likely be from Milan as from Boston or Paris, approached the threat of each curb-to-curb confrontation with a trepidation bordering on mortal terror.

Crossing the broad Via dei Fori Imperiali, his route took him through the Suburra, the most ancient inhabited area of Rome and off the beaten path of most tourists. As a newcomer to a city whose normal pulse was barely evident beneath the confusing ambiguities of new and old, the runner felt most comfortable here in the Suburra, a semi-industrial working-class neighborhood, much like the one he only recently left in New York. In the summer, people got up early to tend their gardens before the real heat forced them indoors. The early morning air was thick with alternating scents of Chilean jasmine, honeysuckle, and petrol fumes.

He ran another five miles, long blooms of sweat accentuating a lean, muscular frame beneath a gauzy white t-shirt as he burst into a sprint up the final few blocks, past the empty trattorias and shuttered shops whose merchants were just beginning their morning rituals.

Slowing to a cool down pace as he crossed the Sant’Angelo bridge spanning the Tiber River, he turned left up Via della Conciliazione as the massive dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica loomed suddenly ahead. Though it could be seen from almost anywhere in Rome, this approach always gave him the impression that the dome seemed to tip backwards, being swallowed up by the grand facade of the church the closer he got to it.

“Buongiorno, padre.” Several female voices, almost in unison, broke the cobblestone pattern of his reverie.

Father Michael Dominic looked up and smiled politely, lifting his hand in a slight wave as he swiftly passed a small cluster of nuns, some of whom he recognized as Vatican employees. The younger girls blushed, leaning their hooded heads toward each other in hushed gossip as their eyes followed the handsome priest; the older women simply bobbed a chilly nod to the young cleric, dutifully herding their novitiates into obedient silence on their way to morning Mass.

Though he had only been in Rome a couple of weeks, Michael Dominic’s youthful exuberance and keen intellect had become known quickly throughout the cloistered population of Vatican City, setting him apart from the more monastic attitudes prevalent since the Middle Ages.

But despite the fusty parochialism and an atmosphere of suspended time he found within its walls, Dominic still felt the intoxication of privilege at having been assigned to Rome so early in his religious career. It had not been even two years since he lay prostrate at the altar of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, ordained by his family friend and mentor Cardinal Enrico Petrini.

It was no secret to Vatican insiders that the eminent cardinal’s influence was chiefly responsible for Dominic’s swift rise to the marbled corridors of ecclesiastic power now surrounding him. The young priest’s scholarly achievements as a classical medievalist were essential to the work being done in the Vatican Library. But the progressive cardinal was also grateful for the vitality Dominic brought to his vocation, not to mention the charismatic ways in which he could get things accomplished in an otherwise plodding bureaucracy. Though Dominic could not account for his mentor’s vigorous inducement that he come to Rome—and knowing this particular prince of the Church so well, it was surely more than a familial gesture—he had trusted Enrico Petrini completely, and simply accepted the fact that this powerful man had believed in him strongly enough to give him an opportunity which he most certainly would not have had otherwise.

Pacing slower now, Dominic drew in rhythmic gulps of searing air as he neared the Vatican. A block or so before reaching the gate, he stepped inside the Pergamino Caffè on the Piazza del Risorgimento. Later in the day the cramped room would be filled with tourists seeking postcards and gelato, but mornings found it crowded with locals, most nibbling on small, sticky cakes washed down with a demitasse of thick, sweet coffee.

Across the room Dominic spotted Signora Palazzolo, the ample wife of the proprietor, whose wisps of white hair were already damp with perspiration. Seeing the priest approach, the older woman’s face broke into a broad, gap-toothed smile as she reached beneath the counter and withdrew a neatly folded black cassock Dominic had dropped off earlier, which she handed to him with deliberate satisfaction.

“Buongiorno, padre,” she said. “And will you take caffè this morning?”

“Molto grazie, signora,” Dominic said, accepting the cassock graciously. “Not today. I’m already late as it is.”

“Okay this time,” she said with a gently scolding tone, “but it is not healthy for a strong young man to skip his breakfast, especially after making his heart work so hard in this unforgiving heat.” Her hand reached up to wipe away the dampness as she spoke, coifing what little hair she had left in a vain attempt to make herself more attractive.

Heading toward the back of the shop, Dominic slipped into the restroom, quickly washed his face and raked his hair into some semblance of order, then drew the cassock over his head and buttoned it to the starched white collar now encircling his neck. Emerging from the restroom minutes later and making for the door, he glanced back to see the signora waving to him, now with a different look on her face—one beaming with respect for the clergyman he had suddenly become, as if she herself had had a role in the transformation.

Of the three official entrances to the Vatican, Porta Sant’Anna, or Saint Anne’s Gate, is the one generally used by employees, visitors, and tradesmen, situated on the east side of the frontier just north of Saint Peter’s Square. Although duties of security come first, guards at all gates are also responsible for monitoring the encroachment of dishabille into the city. Dominic learned from an earlier orientation that casual attire of any sort worn by employees or official visitors was not permitted past the border. Jeans and t-shirts were barely tolerated on tourists, but the careless informality of shorts, sweatpants, or other lounging attire on anyone was strictly forbidden. An atmosphere of respect and reverence was to be observed at all times.

Vatican City maintains an actual live-in population of less than a thousand souls, but each workday nearly five thousand people report for duty within the diminutive confines of its imposing walls—walls originally built to defend against the invading Saracens a thousand years before—and the Swiss Guards at each gate either recognize or authenticate every person coming or going by face and by name.

One of the Guards whom Dominic had recognized from previous occasions, dressed in the less formal blue and black doublet and beret of the corps, waved him through with a courteous smile as he reached for his ID card.

“It is no longer necessary to present your credentials now that you are recognized at this gate, Father Dominic,” the solidly built young guard said in English. “But it is a good idea to keep it with you just in case.”

“Grazie,” Dominic responded, continuing in Italian, “but it would be helpful to me if we could speak the local language. I haven’t used it fluently since I was younger, and I am outnumbered here by those who have an obvious preference. You know, ‘When in Rome….’”

The guard’s smile faded instantly, replaced by a slight but obvious discomfort as he attempted to translate, then respond to Dominic’s rapid Italian.

“Yes, it would be pleasure for me, padre,” the young soldier said in halting Italian, “but only if we speak slowly. German is native tongue of my own home, Zurich, and though I speak good English, my Italian learning have only just started; but I understand much more than I speak.”

Dominic smiled at the younger man’s well-intended phrasing. “It’s a deal then. I’m Michael Dominic,” he said formally, offering a sweaty palm.

“It is an honor meeting you, Father Michael. I am Corporal Dengler. Karl Dengler.” Dengler’s face brightened at the unusual respect he was accorded, extending his own white-gloved hand in a firm grip. Recently recruited into the prestigious Pontificia Cohors Helvetica, the elite corps of papal security forces more commonly known as the Swiss Guard, Dengler had found that most people in the Vatican—indeed, most Romans—were inclined to keep to themselves. It was never this difficult to make friends in Switzerland, and he welcomed the opportunity to meet new people. He also knew, as did everyone by now, that this particular priest had a powerful ally close to the Holy Father.

“An honor for me as well, Corporal,” Dominic said a bit more slowly, yet not enough to cause the young man further embarrassment. “And my apologies for soiling your glove.”

“No problem,” Dengler said as he smiled. “With this heat it will be dry in no time. And if you ever want a running partner, let me know.”

“I’ll take you up on that!” Michael said with a wave as he passed through the gate.

Already the Vatican grounds were bustling with activity. Throngs of workers, shopkeepers, and official visitors with global diversities of purpose made their way along the Via di Belvedere to the myriad offices, shops, and museums—any indoor or shaded haven, in fact, that might offer escape from the heat of the rising sun.

Another Swiss Guard stood commandingly in the center of the street—looking remarkably dry and cool, Dominic thought, despite the obvious burden of his red-plumed steel helmet and the traditional billowy gala uniform of orange, red, and blue stripes—directing foot and vehicular traffic while smartly saluting the occasional dignitaries passing by.

To any observer, Vatican City appears to be in a state of perpetual reconstruction. Comprising little more than a hundred acres, the ancient city state is in constant need of repair and maintenance. Architectural face-lifts, general structural reinforcement, and contained expansion take place at most any time and in various stages, manifested in the skeletal maze of scaffolding surrounding portions of the basilica and adjoining buildings. Sampietrini, the uniquely skilled maintenance workers responsible for the upkeep of Saint Peter’s, are ever-present throughout the grottoes, corridors, and courtyards as they practice time-honored skills of the artisans who have gone before them, traditionally their fathers and their fathers’ fathers. It was quite probable, in fact, that a given sampietrino working on, say, a crumbling cornerstone of the basilica itself, could very well be shoring up work that was originally performed by his great-great-grandfather more than a century before him.

Dominic walked to the end of the Belvedere, then turned right up the Stradone dei Giardini and alongside the buildings housing the Vatican Museums, until he reached the northern wall of the city.

A priest learns early that his life will suffer many rituals, and in at least one secular aspect, Michael Dominic’s was no different. Every day he ended his morning run with a meditative walk along the inner walls surrounding the immaculately maintained papal gardens. The fact that many of the same trees which lined the paths have been rooted here for centuries—serving the contemplative needs of whichever pope might be ruling at the time—gave Dominic a more natural feeling of historical connectedness, in subtle contrast to other abundant yet more imposing reminders of where he now happened to be living and working.

“Ah! Good morning, Miguel.” It was a gentle breeze of a voice, yet Dominic recognized it clearly in the early warm quiescence of the Vatican gardens.

“Buongiorno, Cal!” Dominic said brightly. Brother Calvino Mendoza, prefect of the Vatican Archives and Dominic’s superior, was approaching the entrance to the building. Clad in the characteristic brown robe and leather sandals of his Franciscan order, Mendoza was a round, timorous man in his seventies—quite pleasant to work with, Dominic thought, if a little indiscreet in his obvious affection for men.

“You are up early today,” Mendoza said in heavily accented English, furtively appraising Dominic’s form beneath the cassock. “But then, defying the wicked heat and traffic of Rome is best done before sunrise, no?”

“It is, yes,” Dominic laughed easily, his damp hair glistening in the sun as he shook his head in amusement, “but in another hour or so I expect the pavement to start buckling.”

Dominic had come to enjoy Mendoza’s fey demeanor and playful flirting. Nearly everyone he had met here seemed overly stern and impassive to be really likable, and Dominic was naturally drawn to people he found more hospitable anyway. This gentle man had a quick mind for humor and was never, Dominic found, lacking for a proverb appropriate to the moment. It was also common for Mendoza to call many on his staff by the Portuguese equivalent of their name, maintaining an affectionate cultural touchstone to his native home of Brazil. As for the subtle intimations, Mendoza grasped early on that Dominic’s vow of chastity was not likely to be compromised, and particularly not by another man.

“You’ll get used to it,” Mendoza nodded, smiling. “It is worse in the mornings, to be sure, but come late afternoon we are blessed by the ponentino, a cool wind off the Tyrrhenian Sea.

“And besides,” he quipped, “’To slip upon a pavement is better than to slip with the tongue—so the fall of the wicked shall come speedily.’” He finished by glancing around the garden with mock suspicion, as if every word were prey to overcurious but unseen ears.

“‘Ecclesiastes,’” Dominic responded. “And thanks for the admonition.”

Pleased that the young priest indulged his occasional whimsy, Mendoza shuffled up the few steps of the entrance to the Archives.

“Now come, Miguel, your days of orientation are over. Let’s get on with the real work,” he said dramatically, his arms nearly flapping as his large body moved up the steps into the Archives. “Today is a very special day.”

“I’ll catch up with you shortly, Cal. I’ve got to take a quick shower first. But why is today so special?”

From the top of the steps, Mendoza turned around to face Dominic and, like a child with a tantalizing secret, whispered with barely contained excitement, “The treasures we are about to exhume have not been seen by any living soul for several hundred years.”

Clearly a man who enjoyed his work, Calvino Mendoza’s eyes gleamed with anticipation as he lifted one heavy eyebrow in an arch, then spun as quickly as his heavy frame would allow and disappeared through the heavy wooden door.

As Dominic walked back to his apartment at the Domus Santa Marta, the resident guesthouse just south of Saint Peter’s Basilica, two men in a golf cart were heading in his direction, both dressed in the familiar black and red garb of cardinals. The cart stopped directly in his path, and one of the men stepped out, approaching him.

“Father Dominic, I presume?” The heavyset man had a thick Balkan accent, with an intelligent face bearing an inscrutable mask of expression.

“Yes, how can I help you?” Dominic said.

“I am Cardinal Sokolov, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I simply wanted to extend a hand of welcome on behalf of those of us who have been expecting you.”

Dominic recognized the cardinal’s department, better known as the infamous Office of the Holy Inquisition before someone came up with a less intrusive name.

“Good to meet you, Your Eminence,” he said, surprised by the comment. “I didn’t realize anyone was actually expecting me, though.”

“Oh, yes,” Sokolov said, holding Dominic’s hand in an uncomfortably firm grip as they shook. “Having Cardinal Petrini’s endorsement carries a great deal of influence here. But it also comes with certain expectations. First and foremost, keep to yourself. Do not expect to make many friends here. One is surrounded by vipers masquerading as pious souls.

“Secondly, know that you are being watched at all times. Conduct yourself appropriately and you may survive your time here. There are many who were vying for your job as scrittore in the Secret Archives, and they will seek any opportunity to displace you.

“Lastly,” the cardinal said scowling, his eyebrows a black bar across his fleshy face, “come to me directly if you witness or suspect anyone of illicit or unbecoming activities. Such careful scrutiny will be viewed with admiration by His Holiness, for whom I speak in this regard.”

Dominic was dumbfounded by the man’s audacity, hardly the kind of welcome he would have imagined, one that shed a darker light on his exhilaration at now working and living in the Vatican.

“I will keep all that in mind, Eminence,” he said, forcibly pulling back his hand from the cardinal’s cloying grasp.

Sokolov stood a moment longer appraising Dominic’s face, then turned and shuffled himself back into the golf cart, which pulled away with a mounting whine as it headed into the papal gardens.

Troubled by the encounter, Dominic returned to his apartment, the fresh burdens expected of him weighing on his mind. What have I gotten myself into, he thought, stepping into the shower.

***

Excerpt from The Magdalene Deception by Gary McAvoy. Copyright 2020 by Gary McAvoy. Reproduced with permission from Gary McAvoy. All rights reserved.

 

 

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This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Gary McAvoy. There will be 2 winners of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card each. The giveaway begins on August 1, 2020 and runs through October 2, 2020.Void where prohibited.

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SPENT IDENTITY by Marlene M. Bell | #Showcase #Interview #Giveaway

Spent Identity by Marlene M. Bell Banner

 

 

Spent Identity

by Marlene M. Bell

on Tour August 1-31, 2020

Synopsis:

Spent Identity by Marlene M. Bell

Farm For Sale. 360-acre lot with ranch-style home. Refurbished barn. Corpse not included.

To find her missing aunt, she has to unearth the secrets of the past. But lies and deceit run through the very heart of their town…

What started out as a promising relationship with adventurer and tycoon Alec Zavos has fizzled into an uncertain future for antiquities expert Annalisse Drury. Returning to Walker Farm in Upstate New York to see her Aunt Kate should have been a welcome homecoming and distraction. Instead, she finds the childhood home she expected to inherit is for sale, without her permission. What’s worse, Kate’s ranch manager makes a gruesome discovery in the barn: the body of an unidentified man, dead by foul play.

Annalisse turns to Alec for help. She and her aunt shelter on his estate in the Catskills while the authorities canvass the scene. But when Kate herself disappears without a trace, Annalisse fears the worst: that one of the many secrets of her hometown has ensnared her family—a secret someone is willing to kill for to keep hidden.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Ewephoric Publishing
Publication Date: December 11th 2019
Number of Pages: 378
ISBN: 0999539426 (ISBN13: 9780999539422)
Series: Annalisse Series #2 || This is a Stand-Alone novel but the reader may gain more about the character’s past if they pick up the first book.
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

Author Bio:

Marlene M. Bell

Marlene M. Bell is an award-winning writer and acclaimed artist as well as a photographer. Her sheep landscapes grace the covers of Sheep!, The Shepherd, Ranch & Rural Living, and Sheep Industry News, to name a few.

Her catalog venture, Ewephoric, began in 1985 out of her desire to locate personalized sheep stationery. She rarely found sheep products through catalogs and set out to design them herself. Order Ewephoric gifts online or request a catalog at TexasSheep.com.

Marlene and her husband, Gregg, reside in beautiful East Texas on a wooded ranch with their dreadfully spoiled horned Dorset sheep, a large Maremma guard dog named Tia, along with Hollywood, Leo, and Squeaks, the cats that believe they rule the household—and do.

Q&A with Marlene M. Bell


What inspired you to write SPENT IDENTITY?

When I met my husband in 1979, he was in the middle of a nasty divorce. They were in the process of selling the ranch they’d built together when oil prices were high and banks were loaning at a whopping 17% interest rate. No one could afford expensive homes in the Tracy, California area at that time. His soon-to-be-ex made outrageous personal charges, and her attorney letters were an everyday occurrence. I could write an entire novel over her accusations. It was a miserable three years for the man I dated.

When she left and filed for divorce, she also stripped their ranch of furniture and all that wasn’t tied down. Brought a moving truck home one day and took everything inside their home. A hateful thing to do. The neighbor had watched the van fill up with belongings and told my husband this happened while he remained at work.
After we married, the old ranch finally sold—with a first mortgage, a second mortgage and my husband’s ex-wife and new husband carrying back the third note. Thankfully, we were out of that arrangement living on a small ranch of our own. (They later sold that third note for cash and lost half of the value!)

After the sale, I packed the kitchen drawers at the old ranch and found something interesting. One of the bottom drawers had condolence letters inside. While my husband packed from another room, I nosed around the envelopes. It’s a terrible thing to read another person’s mail, but in this case, I made an exception. They were all addressed to my husband’s hellish ex-wife. I was surprised to find them, especially when I skimmed a few of the notes.

I asked my husband about his ex-wife’s father since the notes told of his untimely death. I was shocked to learn that he had been a successful dentist in the bay area and had jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge, but no one knew why. I didn’t press further, and we gathered all of the cards and letters for the burn bin. The story left me with so many questions.
About ten years later, my husband mentioned that he’d heard his ex-father-in-law had reappeared in his home town. How intriguing! Had he faked his death because of debt? Did he run away to be with another woman, or man? I have to wonder why he came back when he’d hatched the perfect escape plan. It mystifies me to this day. Read Spent Identity. My imagination comes to a conclusion on this very topic!

Does your writing draw from personal experiences and/or current events?

My writing stems from an all-of-the-above approach. Sometimes a past event comes to mind and I make a few notes in the book I carry around with me. I use the best and most juicy parts of the event, and if I need to, embellish it so that it will work for a future book. Because my current series takes place a couple of years in the past, (2016/2017,) current events typically won’t make it into the drafts. It might fool the reader into thinking about the world we live in and confuse the timeline. Nature and a walk in the woods that surround our home is also a great place to filter ideas for where a killer might hide out while waiting to spring on prey, or to imagine what might go through a killer’s head while he/she awaits.

Are characters based on people I know?

My main character, Annalisse Drury is very much like me. She’s a professional by day and animal lover after hours. Her personal experiences with livestock come from raising sheep on our ranch. These sections of her past or history are the easiest to write because I can pull from my memories to fill in the blanks.
Some minor characters may have quirky characteristics of relatives and friends that I’ve had in the past, but I take care to make any character too much like a being, alive or dead. I like to watch people and make notes when I can about their mannerisms and habits. It’s amazing how much good fiction can be found by watching people in the most mundane situations like, shopping, in restaurants, or even strolling with their dog.

What is your writing routine?

I do my best thinking and writing in the early morning hours. Some of my greatest ideas come to me while laying in bed before I begin the day. If I happen to be thinking about how to fill in the blanks on a chapter I’m working on, I always keep a notepad and pen on the nightstand. If an epiphany happens, I won’t lose the idea in the middle of the night, or while I doze off in the morning.

First thing each day, I get up and feed the inside cats their canned food, then go outdoors and feed the sheep. Coffee usually isn’t too far behind to keep my mind energized and ready to hit the manuscript at a full gallop. After about an hour on the computer, I may step away and pull out the latest mystery I’m reading by another author. Reading the words of others keeps my words flowing much better in my own work. If you’ve ever been blocked in your writing, this is the best thing to do. It jumpstarts the mind.

I typically write until lunch, take a break and start again after the noon hour. By four, I’m ready to hang up the writing for the day. In between working on the manuscript, there’s tons of email correspondence to look at and time to pick up a little news on my phone. I receive about 1,000 emails per day, so there’s usually a few that need my attention with my sheep gifts website and author site tied into me, like a chain at my waist. Email is a wonderful thing, but sorting through the junk can be a nuisance.

Tell us why we should read the Annalisse Series

My writing voice is one of the reasons the series is unique. I completely outline each one of the books before I write a single word, and layer in lots of red herrings and twists to add as much complication to the plot as possible. My goal is to keep the reader engaged in finding out who the real bad guy or woman is until the last few pages when they’re revealed.

I like to torture my readers to stay with each chapter, leaving them hanging at the end of each one. The stories are written in cozy mystery style at times, and at others, the story may turn more graphic. You won’t find a cookie cutter ending to my work. I dare the reader to figure out who the villain is at the end!

The first two books in the series, Stolen Obsession and Spent Identity, are written in third-person point of view, in multiple views. The third installment is written in first-person to give the reader a different vantage point from within the main characters, Annalisse, Alec and their detective sidekick, Bill Drake.

What’s in store next for Marlene M. Bell in 2020 and beyond?

Book three, CALICO RAVEN! The novel has a stunning cover I’ll reveal to my followers and readers in a few months. I’m one-third of the way through the first draft. I hope to have Calico out in early 2021 if all clips along at a good pace. Annalisse and Alec are drawn into a murder that takes place on Grand Cayman Island. At first, they believe the victim is random, but soon find out that Alec is tied to her by other means and Annalisse’s past is drawn into events as well.

MIA and NATTIE: One Great Team is my first picture book for children ages 3-6. This book has special meaning to me because it’s based on the true story of Natalie, the bottle lamb we raised in the laundry room. She lived with us for 13 years. It’s a heartwarming, read-aloud book for the entire family. Mia and Nattie will be available in hardbound and eBook well ahead of the 2020 holidays. The picture book will also offer the option of a plush Nattie character. It’s a welcome break from the sea of children’s books without a plot or theme.

What are you reading now?

I have three authors to read over the next couple of months in July and August. Books in Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache Series, and two local Texas authors, Kayla Krantz and Becki Willis. I read in the same genre that I write. (At least for now.) I used to read nothing but romance, but found the novels full of too much hyperbole to be interesting. Mystery and Suspense keeps me thinking and turning the pages.

If Spent Identity were turned into a movie dream team…

I would like to pair two unlikely directors together for Spent Identity. Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood. Both are seasoned directors who excel in portraying broody mysteries and real-life drama. My lead actress to play Annalisse would be Anne Hathaway, and her love interest Alec would be played by Bradley Cooper. Alec’s mother, Generosa, would have to be Meryl Streep.

The locations in the series are international— winging to places like, Crete, Turkey, Grand Cayman, New Zealand, Sicily and Southern Italy. Home base for the movie will always be Manhattan or upstate New York where Alec’s estate is located. I’d also have James Cameron write the screenplay based on the novel. There would be big bucks involved to produce this movie!!

Your favorite leisure hobbies and favorite meal?

Food first ~ I spent a lot of time with my Italian grandparents and lived with a grandmother for seven years. Grandma Virgilio was a phenomenal cook and taught me all that she knew. My favorite foods hands down are anything made with pasta: lasagna with lamb sauce, pasta salads especially with sea food and lots of sourdough bread! Since all of that adds to the waistline, I can’t eat grains like I’d like. 😊 We weren’t as much on desserts, but give me semolina wheat and I’m in heaven!

Hobbies ~ I love to draw, paint and take pictures. Many of my photos are turned into product for my gifts business (Ewephoric) I’ve had since 1985. https://www.texassheep.com I photograph our sheep as the main subjects for beautiful Texas sunsets. We live on fifty acres of woods with a pond and an unbelievable amount of wildlife including white-tail deer.

I garden during the season, can tomatoes for homemade sauce, and I’ve just started to make punch rugs with the Oxford punch. Of course, sheep are the subject! Oh, and I write mysteries and children’s books somewhere in there also!

Catch Up With Marlene M. Bell:
MarleneMBell.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Read an excerpt:

…from chapter fifteen

 

She caught a glimpse of Bill’s scarred neck and considered prying. “May I ask a personal question?”

“Sure.” He steered the next turn. “I’ll answer if I can.”

“Did you get burned?”

He rubbed the side of his neck as if to soothe a haunting memory. “I used to be a fireman. Got caught in a seven-story roof collapse. Almost bought it.” He tapped cruise control and slid his shoe off the accelerator.

An injured fireman with a near-death experience turned private investigator made more sense to her now. Bill didn’t fit the cookie-cutter-investigator type.

They hit smooth asphalt in the cross into Sullivan County. Annalisse relished the soothing hum from the roadway. At the county border, they passed a renovated eighteenth-century church refurbished into a modern brick farmhouse. The original belfry and bell sat atop the gable roof at the midpoint, with a new masonry chimney erected on one side near the redwood decking. She hadn’t noticed it the first time with Woody.

“What a horrible experience for you, Bill. I’m sorry. Alec didn’t mention it.”

“We don’t talk about it much. For a bunch of reasons.” Bill fiddled with a tabloid-size newspaper wedged next to the console. “My hours are better now anyway.” He chuckled, rolling the newsprint into a tube and blowing into it.

“A gossip rag? Haven’t read any juicy dirt in a while. I could use a laugh.” She reached for the paper, expecting him to hand it to her.
“Boring issue.” Bill tossed the roll over the headrest, wiping newsprint from his fingers to the seat.

That was strange.

She tried to grab it, but it landed just out of her reach.

Annalisse unbuckled and twisted for a closer look at the huge headline, reading aloud, “THE HOUND CHASES ANOTHER FOX. Please people. Such original journalism. Who this time?” She laughed as she lunged for the paper.

Bill’s arm moved in like a slingshot and bumped her sore cheek, blocking her.

“Ow. Watch the road,” she exclaimed and bounced backward. “Walking wounded here. Just drive, Bill. Allow me to revel in someone else’s grief for a while.”

He touched her elbow. “Please don’t.”

Bill wasn’t smiling, and his skin had morphed to ashen of the dead. He had the look of a man who’d just lost his best friend and was about to lose his faithful dog too.

It clicked. “What don’t you want me to see what thousands of other people have already seen?”

“Wait till we get to Brookehaven so he can—”

“Who can?” Annalisse hung over the seat and stretched her sore body far enough to snag the tabloid with her fingertips. She braced herself—the photo had to be disturbing.

“The timing is bad. Really bad.” Bill stared at the road and in a low voice added, “I’m so sorry.”

The pang of the unknown boomeranged through her heart, and she looked down at the front page of Reveal Reality.

A couple with their backs to the camera, overlooking an ocean at sunset at some kind of event. She wasn’t sure where but expected the piece would say. The paparazzi photographer had zoomed in on a brunette in a skimpy, backless sundress leaning into a man with his elegant hand cupping her barely covered butt cheek. His chiseled profile and windblown curls were unmistakable.

Say bye-bye to the mysterious, green-eyed Annalisse! Italian starlet Monica Corsetti on Italy’s Riviera with Greek magnate, Alec Zavos of the Signorile Corporation. They were…

She covered her mouth.

“Pull over, Bill. I’m gonna throw up.”

***

Excerpt from Spent Identity by Marlene M. Bell. Copyright 2020 by Marlene M. Bell. Reproduced with permission from Marlene M. Bell. All rights reserved.

 

 

Tour Participants:

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



 

 

Giveaway Image

Enter To Win!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Marlene M. Bell. There will be 4 winners. Two (2) winners will each win one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. Two (2) winners will each win a set of autographed books, a notebook, and silver jewelry. The giveaway begins on August 1, 2020 and runs through September 2, 2020. Open to U.S. and Canada addresses only. Void where prohibited.

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

 

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours