Oct 192017
 

Bones To Pick

by Linda Lovely

on Tour October 16 – December 16, 2017

Synopsis:

Bones To Pick by Linda Lovely

Living on a farm with four hundred goats and a cantankerous carnivore isn’t among vegan chef Brie Hooker’s list of lifetime ambitions. But she can’t walk away from her Aunt Eva, who needs help operating her dairy.

Once she calls her aunt’s goat farm home, grisly discoveries offer ample inducements for Brie to employ her entire vocabulary of cheese-and-meat curses. The troubles begin when the farm’s pot-bellied pig unearths the skull of Eva’s husband, who disappeared years back. The sheriff, kin to the deceased, sets out to pin the murder on Eva. He doesn’t reckon on Brie’s resolve to prove her aunt’s innocence. Death threats, ruinous pedicures, psychic shenanigans, and biker bar fisticuffs won’t stop Brie from unmasking the killer, even when romantic befuddlement throws her a curve.

Book Details:

Genre: Humorous Cozy Mystery
Published by: Henery Press
Publication Date: Oct. 24, 2017
Number of Pages: 266
ISBN: 9781635112597
Series: Brie Hooker Mystery, #1
Get Your Copy of Bones To Pick by Linda Lovely at: Amazon Barnes & Noble Goodreads

Author Bio:

Linda Lovely

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

Catch Up With Linda Lovely On:
Website 🔗, Goodreads 🔗, Twitter 🔗, & Facebook 🔗!

INTERVIEW

Welcome!
Writing and Reading:

Do you draw from personal experiences and/or current events?
Both. I was a journalism major in college, and I’ve always written for a living, mostly nonfiction—well, except for ad copy. However, my work brought me into contact with people from different walks of life. For example, I produced a newsletter for an international private investigative firm and wrote speeches for one of the company’s bank fraud specialists. Working with this client gave me the opportunity to do in-depth interviews with experts in forensic accounting, real estate scams, corporate espionage, corruption, counterfeit products, and international bribery and blackmail schemes. What terrific background material for writing crime fiction. Over the years, I’ve also met a number of people who in my opinion never got their just desserts. I’ve stolen elements of their personalities to create villains and then make sure justice is served. Since I know the individuals who inspired my villains, it’s quite satisfying to pen their demise.

Do you start with the conclusion and plot in reverse or start from the beginning and see where the story line brings you?
When I begin a novel, I know the main characters—though I learn more about them as I write. Yes, characters do talk to authors (at least this one). They let me know when I’ve screwed up. I also begin with a core criminal activity—perhaps real estate fraud or counterfeiting. In the back of my mind, I know I also want to weave in relationship themes to give my characters more depth. For instance, lovers may need to learn to trust each other. Over-protective parents may need to let their children make mistakes. At the start, these are just general ideas. I’m a “pantser” not an outliner. I start at the beginning and write to the end. I don’t jump around, but I may backtrack to revise subplots and change or eliminate characters if the story isn’t working.

Are any of your characters based on you or people that you know?
All of my characters are fictional but I often take personality traits and quirks from people I know (or have known in the past). That’s an advantage of being older. You’ve met just about every type of character. But usually my fictional characters are a blend—A’s arrogance coupled with B’s sarcasm. I always, always change names, backgrounds, appearance, and sometimes even the genders of characters so no one will ever guess the people who inspired them.

Your routine when writing? Any idiosyncrasies?
Because I’ve made my living as a writer, I simply put my fanny in a chair and write. I don’t suffer from writer’s block. If I just start writing a scene that’s giving me trouble I’m fine. If I put something (even crapola) down on paper, I can revise it. If I stare at a blank page, nothing good is going to happen. Once I start writing, ideas come. Though I must add that I often get my best ideas while taking a shower. Can’t explain it. Maybe I should take multiple showers every day.

Tell us why we should read this book.
I hope readers will like the characters. All of my novels feature strong, smart women heroines. In Bones To Pick, the main character, Brie, is independent, but she is also very close to her mother and father and her Aunt Eva. In this series, the Hooker family members may have differences of opinion but they love and respect one another. Mollye, Brie’s best friend since childhood, adds sparkle and zest, and gives Brie an adventure sidekick and a confidant. Then there are the two men vying for Brie’s affections. If I were Brie, I’d have a hard time choosing between them. I work hard to achieve a balance between humor and thrills. I want readers to chuckle but also find their hearts hammering in tense action scenes.

Who are some of your favorite authors?
I love Susan Isaacs’ novels that blend humor and mystery. My favorite Isaacs book is After All These Years. I find the main character’s descriptions of her thought processes really funny because I can see myself making similar dumb mistakes. I love Michael Connelly because his books have great pacing but his Harry Bosch character also grows in his series. I’m a big fan of Janet Evanovich’s situational humor, too. On the cozy mystery side, I have to give a shout out to Cindy Sample, a long-time author friend, and to Wendy Tyson and Annette Dashofy, two of my fellow Henery Press authors. Fun reads from all three.

What are you reading now?
I just finished a nonfiction book, April, 1865: The Month That Saved America by Jan Winick. It was this month’s selection by my book club. I have to admit I’d never have picked up this nonfiction if I weren’t in a book club. But I learned so much I didn’t know before about the Civil War. I especially liked the insights into the personalities of the generals and politicians on both sides. Book club selections force me to read outside my usual “happy” zone of mysteries, thrillers, and romantic suspense.

Are you working on your next novel? Can you tell us a little about it?
I just sent my editor at Henery Press the manuscript for the second Brie Hooker Mystery. The core Bones To Pick “family” remains—Brie, her parents, Aunt Eva, Mollye, and Brie’s would-be love interests, Paint and Andy. But there are also new cast members. Eva’s friend Carol is running for governor of South Carolina, and her son, Zack, a pro-football quarterback, is home to attend a fund-raising event at Udderly Kidding Dairy. But, while Zack may be a hero to most people in his hometown, others wish he was dead. Ditto for his mother whose politics are anathema to some and threaten another group’s profits. Brie will have to figure out which of these enemies are willing to commit murder.

Fun questions:
Your novel will be a movie. Who would you cast?
I have the hardest time casting Brie, in part because she’s shorter than most of the actress candidates. But, if Tom Cruise can play Jack Reacher, I guess Katherine Heigl or Kate Winslet could play Brie. I would love to have a younger Shirley MacLaine for Aunt Eva. Jude Law and Liam Hemsworth would be candidates for Brie’s love interests.

Favorite leisure activity/hobby?
I love to swim. I was once on a synchronized swim team and love being in the water. We live on a lake in Upstate South Carolina and it’s such a pleasure to walk down to the dock and jump in.

Read an excerpt:

ONE

Hello, I’m Brie, and I’m a vegan.

It sounds like I’m introducing myself at a Vegetarians Anonymous meeting. But, trust me, there aren’t enough vegetarians in Ardon County, South Carolina, to make a circle much less hold a meeting.

Give yourself ten points if you already know vegans are even pickier than vegetarians. We forgo meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. But we’re big on cashews, walnuts, and almonds. All nuts are good nuts. Appropriate with my family.

Family. That’s why I put my career as a vegan chef on hold to live and work in Ardon, a strong contender for the South’s carnivore-and- grease capital. My current job? I help tend four hundred goats, make verboten cheese, and gather eggs I’ll never poach. Most mornings when Aunt Eva rousts me before the roosters, I roll my eyes and mutter.

Still, I can’t complain. I had a choice. Sort of. Blame it on the pig—Tammy the Pig—for sticking her snout in our family business.

I’d consorted with vegans and vegetarians for too long. I seriously underestimated how much cholesterol meat eaters could snarf down at a good old-fashioned wake. Actually, I wasn’t sure this wake was “old fashioned,” but it was exactly how Aunt Lilly would have planned her own send-off—if she’d had the chance. Ten days ago, the feisty sixty- two-year-old had a toddler’s curiosity and a twenty-year-old’s appetite for adventure. Her death was a total shock.

I glanced at Aunt Lilly’s epitaph hanging behind the picnic buffet. She’d penned it years back. Her twin, Aunt Eva, found it in Lilly’s desk and reprinted it in eighty-point type.

“There once was a farmer named Lilly

Who never liked anything frilly,

She tended her goats,

Sowed a few wild oats,

And said grieving her death would be silly.”

In a nod to Lilly’s spirit, Aunt Eva planned today’s wake complete with fiddling, hooch, goo-gogs of goat cheese, and the whole panoply of Southern fixins—mounds of country ham, fried chicken, barbecue, and mac-and-cheese awash in butter. Every veggie dish came dressed with bacon crumbles, drippings, or cream of mushroom soup.

Not a morsel fit for a vegan. Eva’s revenge. I’d made the mistake of saying I didn’t want to lose her, too, and hinted she’d live longer if she cut back on cholesterol. Not my smartest move. The name of her farm? Udderly Kidding Dairy. Cheese and eggs had been Eva’s meal ticket for decades.

My innocent observation launched a war. Whenever I opened the refrigerator, I’d find a new message. This morning a Post-it on my dish of blueberries advised: The choline in eggs may enhance brain development and memory—as a vegan you probably forgot.

Smoke from the barbeque pit permeated the air as I replenished another platter of shredded pork on the buffet. My mouth watered and I teetered on the verge of drooling. While I was a dedicated vegan, my olfactory senses were still programmed “Genus Carnivorous.” My stomach growled—loudly. Time to thwart its betrayal with the veggies and hummus dip I’d stashed in self-defense.

I’d just stuck a juicy carrot in my mouth when a large hand squeezed my shoulder.

“Brie, honey, you’ve been working nonstop,” Dad said. “Take a break. Mom’s on her way. We can play caterers. The food’s prepared. No risks associated with our cooking.”

I choked on my carrot and sputtered. “Good thing. Do you even remember the last time Mom turned on an oven?”

Dad smiled. “Can’t recall. Maybe when you were a baby? But, hey, we’re wizards at takeout and microwaves.”

His smile faltered. I caught him staring at Aunt Lilly’s epitaph. “Still can’t believe Lilly’s gone.” He attempted a smile. “Knowing her sense of humor, we’re lucky she didn’t open that epitaph with ‘There once was a lass from Nantucket.’”

I’d never seen Dad so sad. Lilly’s unexpected death stunned him to his core. He adored his older sisters.

Mom appeared at his side and wrapped an arm around his waist. She loved her sisters-in-law, too, though she complained my childless aunts spoiled me beyond repair.

Of course, Lilly’s passing hit Eva the hardest. A fresh boatload of tears threatened as I thought about the aunt left behind. I figured my tear reservoir had dried up after days of crying. Wrong. The tragedy—a texting teenager smashing head-on into Lilly’s car—provoked a week- long family weep-a-thon. It ended when Eva ordered us to cease and desist.

“This isn’t what Lilly would want,” she declared. “We’re gonna throw a wake. One big, honking party.”

Which explained the fifty-plus crowd of friends and neighbors milling about the farm, tapping their feet to fiddlin’, and consuming enough calories to sustain the populace of a small principality for a week.

I hugged Dad. “Thanks. I could use a break. I’ll find Eva. See how she’s doing.”

I spotted her near a flower garden filled with cheery jonquils. It looked like a spring painting. Unfortunately, the cold March wind that billowed Eva’s scarlet poncho argued the blooms were false advertising. The weatherman predicted the thermometer would struggle to reach the mid-forties today.

My aunt’s build was what I’d call sturdy, yet Eva seemed to sway in the gusty breeze as she chatted with Billy Jackson, the good ol’ boy farrier who shod her mule. Though my parents pretended otherwise, we all knew Billy slept under Eva’s crazy quilt at least two nights a week.

I nodded at the couple. Well, actually, the foursome. Brenda, the farm’s spoiled pet goat, and Kai, Udderly’s lead Border collie, were competing with Billy for my aunt’s attention.

“Mom and Dad are watching the buffet,” I said. “Thought I’d see if you need me to do anything. Are you expecting more folks?”

“No.” Eva reached down and tickled the tiny black goat’s shaggy head. “Imagine everyone who’s coming is here by now. They’ll start clearing out soon. Chow down and run. Can’t blame ’em. Especially the idiot women who thought they ought to wear dresses. That biting wind’s gotta be whistling up their drawers.”

Billy grinned as he looked Eva up and down. Her choice of wake attire—poncho, black pants, and work boots—surprised no one, and would have delighted Lilly.

“Do you even own a dress?” Billy laughed. “You’re one to talk.” Eva gave his baggy plaid suit and clip-on bowtie the stink eye. “I suppose you claim that gristle on your chin is needed to steady your fiddle.”

He kissed Eva’s cheek. “Yep, that’s it. Time to rejoin my fellow fiddlers, but first I have a hankering to take a turn at the Magic Moonshine tent.”

“You do that. Maybe the ’shine will improve your playing. It’ll definitely make you sound better to your listening audience. After enough of that corn liquor even my singing could win applause.”

A dark-haired stranger usurped Billy’s place, bending low to plant a kiss on the white curls that sprang from my aunt’s head like wood shavings. Wow.

They stacked handsome tall when they built him. Had to be at least six-four.

Even minus an introduction, I figured this tall glass of sweet tea had to be Paint, the legendary owner of Magic Moonshine. Sunlight glinted off hair the blue-black of expensive velvet. Deep dimples. Rakish smile.

I’d spent days sobbing, and my libido apparently was saying “enough”—time to rejoin the living. If this bad boy were any more alive, he’d be required to wear a “Danger High Voltage” sign. Of course, Aunt Lilly wouldn’t mind. She’d probably rent us a room.

I ventured a glance and found him smiling at me. My boots were suddenly fascinating. Never stare at shiny objects with the potential to hypnotize. I refused to fall under another playboy’s spell.

“How’s my best gal?” he asked, hugging Eva. “Best for this minute, right?” my aunt challenged. “I bet my niece will be your best gal before I finish the introductions.” Eva put a hand on my shoulder. “Paint, this young whippersnapper is Brie Hooker, my favorite niece. ’Course, she’s my only niece. Brie, it’s with great trepidation that I introduce you to David Paynter, better known as Paint, unrepentant moonshiner and heartbreaker.”

Eva subjected Paint to her pretend badass stare, a sure sign he was one of her favorite sparring partners. “Don’t you go messing with Brie, or I’ll bury you down yonder with Mark, once I nail his hide.”

Paint laughed, a deep, rumbling chuckle. He turned toward me and bowed like Rhett Butler reincarnated.

“Pleased to meet you, Brie. That puzzled look tells me you haven’t met Mark, the wily coyote that harasses Eva’s goats. She’s wasted at least six boxes of buckshot trying to scare him off. Me? I’ll gladly risk her shotgun to make your acquaintance. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Eva gave Paint a shove. “Well, if that’s the case, go on. Give Brie a shot of your peach moonshine. It’s pretty good.”

“Peach moonshine it is,” he said and took my arm. A second later, he tightened his grip and pulled me to the right. “Better watch your step. You almost messed up those pretty boots.”

He pointed at a fresh pile of fragrant poop, steaming in the brisk air inches from my suede boots. “Thanks,” I mumbled. Still holding my arm, he steered me over uneven ground to a clear path. “Eva says you’re staying with her. Hope you don’t have to leave for a while. Your aunt’s a fine lady, and it’s going to be mighty hard on her once this flock of well-wishers flies off.”

His baritone sent vibrations rippling through my body. My brain ordered me to ignore the tingling that remained in places it didn’t belong.

He smiled. “Eva and Lilly spoke about you so often I feel like we’re already friends. ’Course head-shaking accompanied some of their comments. They said you’d need to serve plenty of my moonshine if you ever opened a vegan B&B in Ardon County. Here abouts it’s considered unpatriotic to serve eats that haven’t been baptized in a vat of lard. Vegetables are optional; meat, mandatory.”

Uh, oh. I always gave relatives and friends a free pass on good- natured kidding. But a stranger? This man was poking fun at my profession, yet my hackles—smoothed by the hunk’s lopsided grin— managed only a faint bristle.

Back away. Pronto.

Discovering my ex-fiancé, Jack, was boffing not one, but two co-workers the entire two years we were engaged made me highly allergic to lady-killers. Paint was most definitely a member of that tribe.

“What can I say? I’m a rebel,” I replied. “It’s my life’s ambition to convince finger-lickin’, fried-chicken lovers that life without meat, butter, eggs, and cheese does not involve a descent into the nine circles of hell.”

Paint released me, then raised his hand to brush a wayward curl from my forehead. His flirting seemed to be congenital.

“If you’re as feisty as your aunt claims, why don’t you take me on as a challenge? I do eat tomatoes—fried green ones, anyway—and I’m open to sampling other members of the vegetable kingdom. So long as they don’t get between me and my meat. Anyway, welcome to the Carolina foothills. Time to pour some white lightning. It’s smoother than you might expect.”

And so are you. Too smooth for me.

That’s when we heard the screams.

TWO

Paint zoomed off like a Clemson running back, hurtling toward the screams—human, not goat. I managed to stay within a few yards of him, slipping and sliding as my suede boots unwittingly smooshed a doggie deposit. Udderly’s guardian dogs, five Great Pyrenees, were large enough to saddle, and their poop piles rivaled cow paddies.

I reached the barn, panting, with a stitch in my right side. I stopped to catch my breath. Hallelujah. I braced my palm against the weathered barn siding.

Ouch. Harpooned by a jagged splinter. Blood oozed from the sensitive pad below my right thumb. I stared at the inch-plus spear. Paint had kept running. He was no longer in sight.

The screams stopped. An accident? A heart attack? I hustled around the corner of the barn. A little girl sobbed in the cleared area behind Udderly’s retail sales cabin. I recognized Jenny, a rambunctious five-year-old from a nearby farm. Her mother knelt beside her, stroking her hair.

No child had produced the operatic screams we’d heard. Maybe Jenny’s mother was the screamer. But the farm wife didn’t seem the hysterical type. On prior visits to Udderly, I’d stopped at the roadside stand where she sold her family’s produce. Right now the woman’s face looked redder than one of her Early Girl tomatoes. Was the flush brought on by some danger—a goat butting her daughter, a snake slithering near the little girl?

I walked closer. Then I saw it. A skull poked through the red clay. Soil had tinted the bone an absurd pink.

I gasped. The sizeable cranium looked human. I spotted the grave digger, or should I say re-digger. Udderly’s newest addition, a Vietnamese potbellied pig named Tammy, hunkered in a nearby puddle. Tiny cloven hoof marks led to and from the excavation. Tell-tale red mud dappled her dainty twitching snout. The pig’s hundred-pound body quivered as her porcine gaze roved the audience she’d attracted.

A man squatted beside Tammy, speaking to the swine in soothing, almost musical tones. Pigs were dang smart and sensitive. Aunt Eva told me it was easy to hurt their feelings. The fellow stroking Tammy’s grimy head must’ve been convinced she was one sensitive swine.

“It’s okay,” he repeated. “The lady wasn’t screaming at you, Tammy.”

Tammy snorted, lowered her head, and squeezed her eyes shut. The pig-whisperer gave the swine a final scratch and stood, freeing gangly limbs from his pretzel-like crouch. Mud caked the cuffs and knees of his khaki pants. Didn’t seem to bother him one iota.

The mother shepherded her little girl away from the disturbing scene, and Paint knelt to examine the skeletal remains. “Looks like piggy uncovered more than she bargained for.” He glanced at Muddy Cuffs. “Andy, you’re a vet. Animal or human?”

“Human.” Andy didn’t hesitate. “But all that’s left is bone. Had to have been buried a good while. Yet Tammy’s rooting scratched only inches below the surface. If a settler dug this grave, it was mighty shallow.”

“Probably didn’t start that way.” I pointed to a depression that began uphill near the retail cabin. “This wash has deepened a lot since my aunts built their store and the excavation diverted water away from the cabin. The runoff’s been nibbling away at the ground.”

Mom, Dad, and Aunt Eva joined the group eyeballing the skull. Eva looked peaked, almost ill. I felt a slight panic at the shift in her normally jolly appearance. I thought of my aunts as forces of nature. Unflappable. Indestructible. I’d lost one, and the other suddenly looked fragile. Finding a corpse on her property the same day she bid her twin goodbye had hit her hard.

Dad cocked his head. “Could be a Cherokee burial site. Or maybe a previous farmer buried a loved one and the grave marker got lost. Homestead burials have always been legal in South Carolina. Still are.”

For once, the idea of finding a corpse in an unexpected location didn’t prompt a gleeful chuckle from my dad, Dr. Howard Hooker. Though he was a professor of horticulture at Clemson University by day, he was an aspiring murder mystery author by night. Every time we went for a car ride, Dad made a game of searching the landscape for spots “just perfect” for disposing of bodies. So far, a dense patch of kudzu in a deep ravine topped his picks. “Kudzu grows so fast any flesh peeking through would disappear in a day.”

Good thing Dad confined his commentary to family outings. We knew the corpses in question weren’t real.

Mom whipped out her smartphone. “I’ll call Judge Glenn. It’s Sunday, but he always answers his cell. He’ll know who to call. I’m assuming the Ardon County Sheriff’s Department.”

Dad nodded. “Probably, but I bet SLED—the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division—will take over. The locals don’t have forensic specialists.”

Mom rolled her eyes. “You spend way too much time with your Sisters in Crime.”

It amused Mom that Dad’s enthusiasm for his literary genre earned him the presidency of the Upstate South Carolina Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

Mom didn’t fool with fictional crime. Too busy with the real thing. As the City of Clemson’s attorney, she kept a bevy of lawyers, judges, and city and university cops on speed dial. However, Udderly Kidding wasn’t in the same county as Clemson so it sat outside her domain.

“Judge Glenn, this is Iris Hooker. I’m at the Udderly Kidding Dairy in Ardon. An animal here unearthed a skull. We think it’s human, but not recent. Should we call the sheriff?”

Mom nodded and made occasional I-get-it noises while she clamped the cell to her ear.

“Could you ask them to keep their arrival quiet? Better yet, could they wait until after four? About fifty folks are here for my sister-in- law’s wake. I don’t want to turn her farewell into a circus.”

A minute later, Mom murmured her thanks and pocketed her cell. “The judge agrees an old skull doesn’t warrant sirens or flashing lights. He’ll ask the Ardon County Sheriff, Robbie Jones, to come by after four. Since I’m an officer of the court, his honor just requested that I keep people and animals clear of the area until the sheriff arrives.”

Andy stood. “Paint, help me bring some hay bales from the barn. We can stack them to cordon off the area.”

“Good idea.” Paint stood, and the two men strode off. No needless chitchat. They appeared to be best buds.

I tugged Dad’s sleeve, nodded toward his sister, and whispered, “I think Aunt Eva should sit down. Let’s get her to one of the front porch rockers.”

Dad walked over and draped an arm around his sister’s shoulders. “Eva, let’s sit a while so folks can find you to pay their respects. This skeleton is old news. Not our worry.”

Eva’s lips trembled. “No, Brother. I feel it in my own bones. It’s that son-of-a-bitch Jed Watson come back to haunt me.”

THREE

Jed Watson? The man Eva married in college? The man who vanished a few years later?

Dad’s eyebrows shot up. “Eva, that’s nonsense. That dirtbag ran off forty years back. You’re letting your imagination run wild.”

Eva straightened. “Some crime novelist you are. You know darn well any skeleton unearthed on my property would have something to do with that nasty worm. Nobody wished that sorry excuse for a man dead more than me.”

“Calm down. Don’t spout off and give the sheriff some harebrained notion that pile of bones is Jed,” Dad said. “No profit in fueling gossip or dredging up ancient history. Authorities may have ruled Jed dead, but I always figured that no-good varmint was still alive five states over, most likely beating the stuffing out of some other poor woman.”

Wow. I knew Eva took her maiden name back after they declared her husband dead, but I’d never heard a speck of the unsavory backstory. Dad liked to tell family tales, including ones about long- dead scoundrels. Guess this history wasn’t ancient enough.

Curiosity made me eager to ask a whole passel of none-of-my- business questions, though I felt some justification about poking my nose here. I’d known Eva my entire life. So how come this was the first I’d heard of a mystery surrounding Jed’s disappearance? Was Dad truly worried the sheriff might suspect Eva?

I was dying to play twenty questions. Too bad it wasn’t the time or place.

I smiled at my aunt. “Why don’t I get some of Paint’s brew to settle our nerves? Eva, you like that apple pie flavor, right?”

“Yes, thanks, dear.”

“Good idea, Brie,” Dad added. “I’ll take a toot of Paint’s blackberry hooch. Eva’s not the only one who could use a belt. We’ll greet folks from those rockers. Better than standing like mannequins in a receiving line. And there’s a lot less risk of falling down if we get a little tipsy.”

Aunt Eva ignored Dad’s jest. She looked haunted, lost in memory. A very bad memory.

I hurried to the small tent where Magic Moonshine dispensed free libations. A buxom young lass smiled as she poured shine into miniature Mason jars lined up behind four flavor signs: Apple Pie, Blackberry, Peach, and White Lightnin’.

“What can I do you for, honey?” the busty server purred. I’m still an Iowa girl at heart, but, like my transplanted aunts and parents, I’ve learned not to take offense when strangers of both sexes and all ages call me honey, darlin’, and sweetie. My high school social studies teacher urged us to appreciate foreign customs and cultures. I may not be in Rome, but I’m definitely in Ardon County.

I smiled at Miss Sugarmouth. The top four buttons of her blouse were undone. The way her bosoms oozed over the top, I seriously doubted those buttons had ever met their respective buttonholes. No mystery why Paint hired her. Couldn’t blame him or her. Today’s male mourners would enjoy a dash of cleavage with their shine, and she’d rake in lots more tips.

“Sweetie, do you have a tray I can use to take drinks to the folks on the porch?”

The devil still made me add the “sweetie” when I addressed Miss Sugarmouth. She didn’t bat an eyelash. Probably too weighed down with mascara.

“Sure thing, honey.” I winced when the tray slid over the wood sliver firmly embedded in my palm. Suck it up. No time for minor surgery.

As I walked toward Eva’s cabin, crunching noises advertised some late arrivals ambling down the gravel road. On the porch, Dad and Eva had settled into a rhythm, shaking hands with friends and neighbors and accepting sympathy pats. Hard to hug someone in a rocker.

I handed miniature glass jars to Eva and Dad before offering drinks to the folks who’d already run the gauntlet of the sit-down receiving line. Then I tiptoed behind Dad’s rocker.

“I’ll see if Mom wants anything and check back later to see how you and Eva are doing.”

“Thanks, honey.” He kissed my cheek. I returned to Paint’s moonshine stand and picked up a second drink tray, gingerly hoisting it to avoid bumping my skewered palm. Balancing the drinks, I picked my way across the rutted ground to what I worried might be a crime scene.

Mom perched between Paint and Andy atop the double row of hay bales stacked to keep the grisly discovery out of sight. The five-foot-two height on Mom’s driver’s license was a stretch. At five-four, I had her by at least three, maybe four, inches. My mother’s build was tiny as well as short—a flat-chested size two. I couldn’t recall ever being able to squeeze into her doll-size clothes. My build came courtesy of the females on Dad’s side of the family. Compact but curvy. No possibility of going braless in polite society.

Mom’s delicate appearance often confounded the troublemakers she prosecuted for the city. Too often the accused took one look at Iris Hooker and figured they’d hire some hulking male lawyer to walk all over the little lady in court.

Big mistake. The bullies often reaped unexpected rewards—a costly mélange of jail time, fines, and community service.

Mom spotted my tray-wobbling approach. “Are these Paint’s concoctions?”

I nodded. “Well, Daughter, sip nice and slow. Someday I may file charges against Magic Moonshine. Paint’s shine is often an accomplice when Clemson tailgaters pull stunts that land them in front of a judge.”

Paint lifted his glass in a salute. “Can I help it if all our flavors go down easy?”

Mom turned back to me. “Have you met these, ahem, gentlemen?”

I suddenly felt shy as my gaze flicked between the two males. “I met Paint earlier. This is my first chance to say hi to Andy. I’m Brie Hooker. You must be the veterinarian Aunt Eva’s always talking about.”

Andy rose to his feet. “Andy Green. Pleased to meet you, ma’am. Your aunts were my very first customers when I opened my practice.”

He waved a hand at Tammy, the now demure pig, wallowing a goodly distance away. “I’m really sorry Tammy picked today to root up these bones. I feel partly to blame. Talked your aunts into adopting Miss Piggy. It aggravates me how folks can’t resist buying potbellied pigs as pets when they’re adorable babies, but have no qualms about abandoning them once they start to grow.”

Andy’s outstretched hand awaited my handshake. I held up my palm to display my injury. “Gotta take a rain check on a handshake. Unfortunately, I already shook hands with the barn.”

Andy gently turned up my palm. “I’ll fix you right up, if you don’t mind a vet doing surgery. Give me a minute to wash up and meet me at my truck. Can’t miss it. A double-cab GMC that kinda looks like aliens crash landed an aluminum spaceship in the truck bed. I’m parked by the milking barn.”

As Andy loped off toward the retail shop’s comfort station, Paint called after him. “Sneaky way to hold hands with a pretty lady.”

Andy glanced over his shoulder and grinned. “You’re just mad you didn’t think of it first.”

Paint chuckled and focused his hundred-watt grin on me. “Bet my white lightning could disinfect that sliver. Sure you don’t want me to do the honors?”

I couldn’t help but laugh. “Somehow I doubt honor has anything to do with it.”

The moonshiner faked an injured look. Mom rolled her eyes. “Heaven help me—and you, Brie. Not sure you’re safe with the wildlife that frequents this farm. Forget those coyotes that worry Eva, I’m talking wolves.” She looked toward the porch. “How’s Eva holding up?”

“Better.” I wanted to grill Mom about Jed Watson, but I needed to do so in private. “Guess I should steel myself for surgery.” I took a Mason jar from the tray I’d set on a hay bale. “Down the hatch.” My healthy swallow blazed a burning trail from throat to belly. Before I could stop myself, I sputtered.

“Shut your mouth,” Paint said. Yowzer. My eyes watered, and my throat spasmed. I coughed. “What?”

“Shut your mouth. Oxygen fuels the burn. You need to take a swallow then close your mouth. None of this sipping stuff.”

“Now you tell me.” I choked. Mom laughed. “That’s the best strategy I’ve heard yet to shut Brie up.”

I wiped at the tears running down my cheeks. “Your moonshine packs more punch than my five-alarm Thai stir fry.”

Paint’s eyebrows rose. “My shine is smooth, once you get used to it. You want a little fire in your gut. Keeps life interesting.”

A little too interesting. I’d been at Udderly Kidding Dairy just over a week, and I already felt like a spinning top with a dangerous wobble.

***

Excerpt from Bones To Pick by Linda Lovely. Copyright © 2017 by Linda Lovely. Reproduced with permission from Linda Lovely. All rights reserved.

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Oct 172017
 

Act of Betrayal

by Matthew Dunn

on Tour October 23 – November 30, 2017

Synopsis:

ACT OF BETRAYAL by Matthew Dunn

In this riveting entry in the celebrated thriller series, former intelligence operative Will Cochrane—a “ruthless yet noble” (Ft. Worth Star-Telegram) man from whom “Bond and Bourne could learn a thing or two” (Madison County Herald)—comes out of hiding to expose a conspiracy involving a past assassination that reaches to the highest echelons of the U.S. government.

Three years ago, intelligence officer Will Cochrane was brought in by a Delta Force colonel to assassinate a terrorist financier in Berlin. After the job, the commander vanished, and hasn’t been heard from since. The details don’t quite add up, and one of the CIA agents who was involved has been investigating the mission. He reaches out to Will for help, but before they can connect, the CIA man is poisoned.

Will is determined to uncover the truth about Berlin, even if it means putting himself in the crosshairs. Framed for multiple murders, the skilled former spy has gone deep underground to evade his enemies and the feds. But honor and loyalty to his old colleague thrust him into danger once again.

When Marsha Gage at the FBI discovers that Cochrane—one of America’s Most Wanted—has resurfaced, she immediately launches a manhunt, and she won’t stop until she brings the former CIA/MI6 operative in.

With time running out, Cochrane will use all of his training and formidable skills to outmaneuver the FBI and uncover a shocking conspiracy that will rock the foundations of our nation . . . if he can stay alive.

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller
Published by: William Morrow
Publication Date: October 24th 2017
Number of Pages: 320
ISBN: 0062427229 (ISBN13: 9780062427229)
Series: Spycatcher #7
Purchase Links: Amazon 🔗 | Barnes & Noble 🔗 | Goodreads 🔗

Read an excerpt:

IT WAS PAST midnight as wind and rain pounded the exterior of the tiny bookstore in Chicago. The store was closed and its owner was sitting at his desk checking the week’s receipts. The task wouldn’t take long—his store specialized in rare works that he sourced from around the world. He had some loyal customers, but they were few. This week seven people had made purchases.

The only light in the room came from his green desk lamp, old-fashioned in design to match the ambience of the shop. Aside from some electronic devices on his desk and recessed lights that cast a discreet yellow glow when turned on, the place looked like it could have been a purveyor of fine works established and un- changed since the eighteenth century. He’d constructed it that way: dark maple bookshelves; many of the books leather bound, all of them hardcover; two armchairs for customers to sit in when perusing potential acquisitions; an urn for his more discerning patrons who valued his loose-leaf tea collection; and a cage for his two lovebirds.

He was an old-fashioned guy at heart.

And though he could have done with more cash coming in, he’d deliberately established a business and identity that drew little attention. He playacted a shy man, his trimmed beard intended to put up barriers between him and others, his shoulders artificially stooped during the day as if he were ashamed of his six-foot-four physique, his cropped blond-and-gray hair functional because he had no woman in his life to impress, and his unneeded glasses covering one green eye, one blue. He was always in a smart three-piece suit because the attire was good at hiding his athletic frame and scars. Customers thought he was Edward Pope, a gentleman scholar from the South. They’d probably estimate his age was late forties. They’d be wrong about that and most other things. He’d led a hard life and was forty-five.

His name wasn’t Edward Pope.

It was Will Cochrane.

The assassin. The one Sapper and Kane were terrified of.

He wasn’t from the Deep South. He was raised in Virginia and earned a double first-class degree at England’s Cambridge University. And he’d been a bookseller for only under a year.

But he had to be Pope. In the eyes of the world, Will was a murderer. He’d killed people as a special forces French Foreign Legionnaire and assassinated targets in French intelligence black operations. He had been the West’s prime joint operative with the CIA and Britain’s MI6 for fourteen years, until he went crazy and killed a lot of cops and civilians in the States before throwing himself off the Brooklyn Bridge and dying.

His death was essential. He was America’s Most Wanted. He wasn’t what some thought of him—a psychopath. But he was a former special operative and killer. Had been all his adult life. It started when he was seventeen and walked in on four criminals suffocating his mother and about to kill his sister. His mother died; sister didn’t, because he grabbed his mother’s carving knife and ended the criminals’ lives before fleeing to the Legion. He wished he didn’t know how many people he’d killed since. It would be a lie. He knew every victim. Their souls lingered around him, taunting him, reminding him of who he was.

All 263 souls.

But the souls of the people they say he killed in the States didn’t hassle him.

Because he didn’t kill them. He never killed innocents, only those who needed to be killed.

But in the eyes of the law, that’s not the case and that’s why he had to fake his death and reinvent himself. A year ago, his situation was desperate, despite all of his training and covert operations experience in hostile countries. He’d received only one bit of help, but it was significant. Russia’s most formidable intelligence officer, code name Antaeus—now, thanks to Will, a defector living in the States—had cleverly managed to get $300,000 into Will’s pocket. Will didn’t know exactly why he’d done it. After all, Will had accidentally killed his family with a car bomb when in fact he’d intended only to kill the spy. But he suspected he knew why the Russian had become his benefactor: Antaeus wanted his generosity to plunge the knife that was Will’s guilt deeper.

Regardless of Antaeus’s motives, the cash helped set up Will’s new life.

Will’s family and close acquaintances were all dead. He’d be given the needle if cops found out who he was. The West he’d served with unflinching duty had hung him out to dry. He thought of himself as a scavenging dog, kicked out of its owner’s backyard and left to fend for itself. He was resigned to that, every day expecting the Feds to rush into his store and put a bullet in his skull. That’s what they’d do. No attempt to arrest. No negotiations. Execution only. Will wouldn’t blame them. They knew he’d cause carnage if given the slightest of chances.

He finished his accounts, took a swig of Assam tea, and frowned as he heard the female lovebird make an unusual sound. Like her male companion, she resembled a small parrot, her plumage green and yellow, face and beak red, large eyes pure white with black pupils. He’d taken the birds off the hands of an old lady who frequented his store. Her son, a merchant marine officer, had brought them back from exotic climes, though she couldn’t remember where because she was suffering from dementia. And she could no longer look after them, particularly now that the male had broken his wing. Will hated seeing animals in cages. But the female wouldn’t leave the male’s side. And for the time being, the male had to be kept in the cage until he was fully recuperated. Then Will would release them to a large aviary or the wild.

Their previous owner couldn’t remember their names, so Will called the male Ebb and the female Flo. Flo was now agitated, hopping about as opposed to what she usually did, which was nestling her face against that of her lover. Will opened the cage, knowing Flo wouldn’t go anywhere while Ebb was there. The former special operative bowed his head. Ebb was all wrong, flopping on the base of the cage, his good wing twitching, his broken one immobile. Will knew he was dying and there was nothing he could do about it. What goes through a bird’s brain? He didn’t know. And he didn’t know whether lovebirds were in fact lifelong lovers or if that was a myth. But Will knew how he felt. He had to give Flo closure, let her be free, not allow her to think there was hope that Ebb would return to her. Gently he lifted Ebb. His body was warm but now limp. He carried him to the store’s backyard. Flo followed him. Will had hoped she would.

Will looked at Flo, who was perched close by on the branch of a tree. She was watching. It seemed she and Will didn’t know what to do.

“I have to let you know this is the end,” Will said to her. Actually, he was saying it to himself.

He snapped Ebb’s neck and buried him.

Flo looked at him before flying into the darkness. As tears ran down his face, he wondered if she hated him. Or maybe she understood. Of course, he’d never know.

He returned to his desk and stared at the birdcage. After brushing soil off his fingers, he looked at his laptop and saw he had a new e-mail. Nobody sent him mail apart from spammers.

But this one was different. And shocking. It was from CIA officer Unwin Fox, the man who, alongside Will, had been one of those involved in the Berlin operation. Aside from Colonel Haden, Will didn’t know who the other people on the small team were.

His heart was beating fast as he read the mail. Its tone was desperate. There was no way Fox could know that Will was alive. Something was terribly wrong. Fox wanted to meet. Tomorrow. In Washington, D.C.

In all probability it was a trap. Lure Will out, then bam! Swooped on by cops. But then again, Will knew what happened in Berlin. The law didn’t. This would have been far too implausible a tactic to entrap him.

What to do?

He looked at the lovebirds’ empty cage. The door was open. He glanced at the entrance to his store.

What to fucking do?

He opened the drawer in his desk, pulled out his handgun, grabbed his bag containing all he needed if he ever had to run, and left.

He knew he’d never return.

***

Excerpt from Act of Betrayal by Matthew Dunn. Copyright © 2017 by Matthew Dunn. Reproduced with permission from William Morrow. All rights reserved.

Matthew Dunn

Author Bio:

As an MI6 field officer, Matthew Dunn recruited and ran agents, coordinated and participated in special operations, and acted in deep-cover roles throughout the world. He operated in environments where, if captured, he would have been executed. Dunn was trained in all aspects of intelligence collection, deep-cover deployments, small-arms, explosives, military unarmed combat, surveillance, and infiltration. Medals are never awarded to modern MI6 officers, but Dunn was the recipient of a rare personal commendation from the secretary of state for work he did on one mission, which was deemed so significant that it directly influenced the success of a major international incident. During his time in MI6, Matthew conducted approximately seventy missions. All of them were successful. He currently lives in England, where he is at work on his next novel.

Learn More About Matthew Dunn On harpercollins.com!

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Giveaway:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Matthew Dunn and William Morrow. There will be 5 winners of one (1) print copy of ACT OF BETRAYAL by Matthew Dunn. This giveaway is open to US & Canada addresses only. The giveaway begins on October 23 and runs through November 30, 2017.

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Oct 102017
 

The Grand

by Dennis D. Wilson

on Tour October 1-31, 2017

Synopsis:

The Grand by Dennis D. Wilson

Chicago cop Dean Wister takes a forced vacation when he is on the brink of a breakdown after the death of his wife. During his summer solstice in Jackson Hole, where he met her years before, he is called in to consult by local police when a notorious Chicago mobster is found dead in the Snake River. Dean’s investigation threatens to uncover the secrets of a group of memorable suspects, ranging from rich tycoons to modern day cowboys, and threatens to derail the Presidential prospects of the Senator from Wyoming. As Dean follows the leads from Wyoming to Chicago to Washington D.C., he also struggles to cope with the personal loss that threatens his mental stability, as the nocturnal visits from his deceased wife suppress his will to let her go and make him question his purpose in life. The climactic scenes contain reveals the reader will never see coming. A funny, romantic, sexy, roller coaster thriller.

Book Details:

Genre: Crime Thriller
Published by: Water Street Press
Publication Date: December 2016
Number of Pages: 304
ISBN: 978-1-62134-330-1 (ASIN: B01N682LXW)
Purchase Links: Amazon 🔗 | Kindle 🔗 | Barnes & Noble 🔗 | Goodreads 🔗

Guest Post

CM: Additional facts about the main character, Dean Wister, not included in the story.

DW: Dean’s background is pretty well fleshed out in the story, but here are 10 pieces of Wister Trivia that may interest readers:

Dean has sandy blonde hair and blue eyes and has been told he resembles Matthew McConaughey.

Dean is a lefty.

Dean is a big fan of crime novels and, in particular, James Lee Burke’s crime novels and westerns.

Dean returned an intercepted a pass in his high school state championship game of and returned it for a touchdown. His high school coach was a college classmate of the head coach of the University of Illinois, and was instrumental in arranging for Dean’s football scholarship.

Dean rides a motorcycle, but this wasn’t mentioned in the book. It could provide fodder for a future adventure.

Dean plays the banjo, and played in a bluegrass band in college.

Dean is a huge fan of Taylor Swift, and his wife Sarah would tease him incessantly about this.

Dean’s favorite movie is The Godfather, which he estimates he has seen a hundred times.

Dean’s favorite food is Chicago deep dish pizza, but he also fasts for 36 hours once each month.

Dean has never traveled outside of the U.S.

Read an excerpt:

1

SENATOR THOMAS MCGRAW sat back in the hand-distressed, buffalo-hide easy chair and contemplated the room around him. This was his first visit to the brand new, custom-designed mountain home of his lover. When their affair started a little over a year ago, what a sweet and savory surprise it had been to both of them. A business relationship grew into friendship, and then suddenly and unexpectedly exploded into something else— a red-hot, cross-country, obsessive romance fueled by shared erotic tastes. The senator felt sexually liberated under the spell of his exotic lover, and he was pretty sure those feelings were mutual. True, they needed to be discreet for a variety of reasons— indiscretion had nearly cost them everything— but they had worked it out. Although hectic schedules limited their rendezvous to only a couple of weekends a month, the deprivation and anxiety of anticipation made these weekends that much more satisfying. He was generally in a frenzy by the time he could get to her.

The room was the den of a typical ten-thousand-square-foot vacation home of the rich and powerful in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Decked out in nouveau western, its reclaimed timbers, Wyoming sandstone, and river rock were either complemented by— or detracted from, depending on your esthetic point of view— the original modern paintings depicting bold and most definitely non-earth-toned western landscapes and various forms of neon-colored wildlife. As Tom sipped his twenty-three-year-old Pappy Van Winkle, he studied the visage of a purple and orange moose head sculpted from California mahogany hanging dispiritedly over the fireplace. Damn, any self-respecting Wyoming moose would be embarrassed to know that this is some guy’s idea of what a trophy moose should look like. His personal style was more traditional Western— big wooden beams and a glut of real dead animal heads on the walls. But, the sex was still new and novel, unlike anything he had felt before, and he was willing to overlook these stylistic differences for the time being or, who knew, maybe for a long time. As his mentor had told him a long time ago: “Pussy is a powerful motivator.”

“I am soooo happy we were able to start our weekend a day early,” his lover called from the other room. “I’ve been so horny this week that I’ve been bouncing off the walls. I brought back something special for you from Chicago. Just give me another minute, sweetie.” Charlotte Kidwell dressed, and undressed, to accentuate her best features: her big green eyes, her long, toned legs, and her perfect bubble butt. Her regular head-to-toe salon appointments, personal trainer, and strict dietary regimen were essentials to the healthy, put-together appearance that women of her age and social status often have, if they have the money and motivation to work at it. In her younger days, her insecure attempts to add sex appeal fell short, and she’d ended up with an oddly unfeminine look with her clumsy and unsuccessful experiments with cosmetics. But middle age had actually softened her features, and as she became more adept at the finer points of female grooming, she began to realize how much she resembled her sister. During what she referred to as “The Sexual Awakening,” she had finally developed the confidence in her sexuality to consciously emulate her sister’s makeup and dress. Her older sibling had always exuded effortless sexuality, and throughout high school and college had gone through more boys in most years than Charlotte had dated for her entire youth.

The senator had certainly surprised her. Although his belly professed his lust for food and drink and a disinclination for exercise, his face was the opposite, exuding an irresistible cowboy masculinity. At middle age, most people have to choose between a wrinkle-free face and a toned and youthful body. What was it her friend in Chicago called fat? “Nature’s botox.” He had chosen his beautiful face at the expense of his body, but that was fine with her, because he was a sexual artiste. Certainly no one who knew him could possibly conceive of the hot spring of sexuality that was percolating beneath his surface. In spite of their distinctly different personalities, she considered him her soul mate. The first man in her forty-four years who had ever laid claim to that title. The thought made her giggle.

“Hurry up, baby, and get your pretty little ass out here.”

Appearing in the doorway, she framed herself with the hand-on-the-hip pose so popular with women much younger than herself. “You like? I know this little specialty boutique in Chicago, and it ain’t Macy’s Intimate Apparel.”

He liked the look very much. The red lace push-up bra, matching thong panties, silk kimono, and six-inch stilettos appealed to the man who’d had a weakness for strippers in his younger days. Though the untied robe looked more like a cape than boudoir attire, and the entire outfit reminded him of a porn movie he once saw— Superslut, a parody of Superwoman, he had to give her an “A” for effort. “Wow, you look like a very sexy Little Red Riding Hood. And where in the world did you find a bra that makes those pretty little A cups of yours look like Cs? Now turn around and let me admire your world-class bootie.”

She did a little twirl for him, grinned, and pushed together her bra cups to emphasize her cleavage. “It’s called a miracle bra, and see, it does work miracles. Now you just sit there and sip your whiskey. I have another surprise for you.” She strutted over to the bookcase, flipped a switch, and AC/ DC’s “Shook Me All Night Long” filled the room. And she began to dance.

“Oh my.” Tom took a big swallow and relished the burn. “You are just full of surprises tonight.”

“Just sit back and enjoy, Senator. I’ve got a few more surprises coming your way.”

Watching her rehearsed moves, the familiar hunger began to stir below his opulent belly. And then, in a maneuver that would have been impressive for a woman of any age, she turned away from him, spread her legs, touched her toes, looked straight up at him from her bare inverted V, and twerked. She had been practicing all afternoon, and when she saw the image of her quivering butt in the mirror she couldn’t wait to see his reaction.

“Oh, my god, where did you learn that?” The stirring rising now to a different level. And he was also wondering… her dance routine looked really professional.

“I have a very good friend in Chicago who does this for a living, and she’s been giving me some lessons.”

“Judging from that pose, sweetie, your friend must be an instructor in ‘stripper yoga’.” The senator, feeling the fire down there, leaned forward and reached for that perfect ass. “Get over here and let me take you the way I like, the way I know you like.” Putting his hands on her bare cheeks and grabbing two hands full, he left his chubby fingerprints as indentations on her flesh. Crazed now, pulling off his pants and underwear but not bothering with his shirt and tie, he pulled her thong aside, mounted her, grunting, sighing. Both of them grunting, sighing, grunting some more. And now just the sounds of flesh slapping flesh. And AC/ DC, urging them on…

Hayden Smith was running late. He was always running late. It was common knowledge in town that you had to book every appointment with Hayden an hour early to get him to show up on time. Attorney, county commissioner, real estate broker and developer, owner of a property management company— all that, plus trying to live up to the moniker of Teton County’s most eligible bachelor as determined by Mountain Woman magazine, well, that could take a toll on a man, even a man as fit and athletic as Hayden. And it was taking its toll on Hayden today. Sometimes he thought there was little point in taking any time off because you had to work twice as hard just to clear your schedule.

The last item of the day on his long list was to make sure all was in order in the home of his newest property management client before their arrival the next morning. But what he really was thinking about, as he put the key in the door, was that he was already an hour late for a dinner date at the home of one of Teton County’s richest and most beautiful socialites. And so if he hadn’t been fantasizing about the evening’s upcoming sensual activities, and if he hadn’t assumed that it was his cleaning crew that had left that open bourbon bottle on the counter, and if he hadn’t been formulating the words he was going to use to chew Pablo’s ass about getting control of his maintenance team, and if he had checked his voicemail after his last two meetings instead of engaging in licentious banter on the phone with the young socialite, then he might have reacted differently to the pounding bass of one of the most iconic rock anthems of the 1980s. He might not have followed the mesmerizing sound of Brian Johnson’s sandpaper voice into the den, assuming that he would find some of his employees having an unauthorized party; and he might not have witnessed the sight in front of him that would not only drastically change his life but would also set in motion a chain of events that had the potential to change the course of American history.

If he had looked directly at the man’s face, he almost certainly would have recognized one of the most well-known faces in Wyoming, soon to be equally famous throughout America. However, Hayden looked everywhere but into his face. The man, still dressed for business on top but naked from the waist down, was humping a pretty redhead doggie style, and Hayden was fascinated that with each thrust, her red stilettos would come off the ground about twelve inches, and then at the end of the thrust, the tips of her heels would bang down on the pine floor. Thrust, bang, thrust, bang, thrust, bang. Later when he played that video clip back in his mind, he captioned it “porn star tap dancing.”

He looked all around the room, but his eyes kept coming back to those red shoes, maybe because he didn’t really want to look at the man’s jiggling ass, or maybe because when his eyes followed those shoes north he was treated to a pair of the finest legs and most delicious bootie that he had ever seen. If he had been thinking clearly, he would have just turned around and walked right out of the house and he would have been able to go back to his great life as Teton County’s busiest and most eligible bachelor. But for whatever reason— the shock of the scene, or his own perverse voyeurism— he did not turn back around. He knocked on the door jamb with his clipboard and stammered loudly enough to be heard over AC/ DC. “Ah, ah, ah, I thought you weren’t coming in until tomorrow. I just came to check on the house. Is everything OK? I mean, just call me if anything isn’t OK. Sorry to interrupt. I’ll just let myself out…” And then he backed out of the room and nearly sprinted out the door.

Tom jumped up with impressive agility considering his exertion and girth, partly hopping, definitely bobbing. “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.”

Charlotte rolled over onto her side. “What the fuck, I left him a message that I was coming in today. What was he thinking?”

And the senator just kept repeating, “Oh, shit, oh, shit, oh, shit.” Then, catching his breath, added to his mantra, “I’m sure he saw me, I’m sure he saw me, I’m sure he saw me.”

His lover, handing him the rest of his twenty-three-year-old Pappy, said, “Here, drink this,” trying not to let the panic sound in her voice. She thought for a moment. “We’ll call Mario. He’ll know what to do. If that asshole tells anyone it’ll hurt Mario as much as us. Well, maybe not quite as much as us, but you know what I mean.”

Tom sat down for a minute, his white dress shirt soaked through, wheezing from the exertion, from the excitement, from the fear, his heart a thumping kettle drum in his chest. Neither of them said a word for a minute, then two. Finally realizing the heart attack wasn’t coming, he took a huge breath and said, “OK, call him.”

Charlotte punched the number into her mobile phone. “Mario? Sorry to bother you, but we have a problem. Some asshole just walked in on the two of us. Walked in on us… you know. What do you think we were doing? How could he not recognize him? Yeah, he’s my property manager. Hold on. Honey, would you hand me that business card on the table?”

2

THE FIRST TIME Dean Wister had visited the Tetons was twelve years ago, the summer before his senior year in college. Although he said it was adventure he was looking for, it was escape that he was really seeking when he answered an ad to guide for one of the rafting companies that run whitewater trips down the Snake River, just south of Teton National Park. It was a grueling twenty-four-hour drive from his home in Chicago to Jackson Hole, the mountain town at the foot of the spectacular Teton Range, and the route that he was taking, I-90 across Illinois, Wisconsin, and South Dakota, was one of the most monotonous and boring stretches of highway across America. Hour after hour he would stare at the road between truck stops, trying to keep alert for the highway patrol and the erratic driving of drowsy long-distance truckers. He tried listening to music and audio books, but his mind wouldn’t let him focus. Lately, he had a lot of trouble focusing. He’d once tried meditation, taking a Transcendental Meditation workshop with his wife, Sara, but meditation wasn’t for him. His mind would inevitably wander from the rhythm of his breathing to some problem from work that he was trying to solve. Dean had always been more of a ruminator than a meditator. And so he ruminated for hour after hour. He ruminated about all that had happened over the last twelve years. He ruminated about the horror of the last year. And he ruminated about what the future might, or more importantly, might not, hold.

That first trip had also been a time of transition for him. His mother died after his freshman year in high school, and his dad was killed in a work accident at the lumber yard just before Dean started college. As an only child he had led a solitary existence growing up, but by the time he left for college he was officially an orphan, no parents to cheer him as the starting safety on the University of Illinois football team, and no siblings to share the empty and confused feelings of losing the only responsible adults he had ever known. His hometown of Summersville, West Virginia, was near the banks of the Gauley River, one of the most famous whitewater-rafting rivers in the East, and the gray, small-minded, and cruel little town resembled what Mayberry may have looked like if Andy hadn’t been born. Until he was seventeen, Dean had never met a college graduate outside of a classroom, and growing up with his nose stuck in a book most of the time, his peers, and even most of the adults he knew, looked down on his habit as a sign of either homosexuality, laziness, or both. Maybe it was resentment for not living the fantastic and interesting life of the characters in the books that he read, or maybe it was the bullying that he experienced from his literature-averse peers, or maybe it was his sense of insecurity and inferiority from his hillbilly background, or maybe it was just his nature— for whatever reason, there was a well of anger deep inside of Dean.

The bullying stopped the first time he stepped on a football field. He loved to play defense, and putting the hammer to the ball carrier or receiver was equally pleasurable to him, whether in practice or during an actual game. He loved the rush of power he felt when a body crushed beneath him as he delivered the blow. As he would take aim at his target coming across the field, he imagined his body as a sledge hammer and he would launch himself, helmet first, at his opponents, relishing the pain he received nearly as much as the pain he delivered. As his scrawny adolescent body matured into a six-foot, one-hundred-ninety-pound defensive back, his football hits became ever more fearsome, and attracted the attention of a recruiter for the University of Illinois. Football would end for him upon college graduation for, as a pro scout told him, “Son, you sure have the meanness for pro football, but not the speed.” But that was all right; football had served its purpose.

The first time his dad had taken him along to run the rapids of the Gauley he was only nine years old, but after that he was addicted to the river. Working as a gofer for one of the rafting companies, imagining himself as one of the cocky swaggering guides, he would do anything to be near the river. The owner of the company took a liking to him, and broke the rules to put him on as a guide at sixteen. He worked on the Gauley through high school and college. But, with the death of his father, West Virginia held too many painful memories; he needed to get away. He heard from some fellow guides that the Snake River in Wyoming, south of Jackson, could be fun. Sure, its mostly Class 2 and 3 rapids were nothing compared to the Gauley, but he had always wanted to see the Rockies, and it was about as far away from West Virginia as he could imagine. That summer on the Snake, in the Tetons, revealed another side that he didn’t know he had. He learned how to cap that well of anger, to regulate the flow, to use it instead of letting it use him, and for the next decade was able to let it out only when his job demanded it. He discovered that there was another well, an untapped well, within him. A well of love and sweetness, of kindness and generosity. And the auger that tapped that well was Sara.

He’d just sent some food back at the Pioneer Grill, the coffee shop in Jackson Lake Lodge in Teton National Park. His order of sautéed Rocky Mountain rainbow trout appeared on his plate as buffalo meatloaf. His anger rising at this inexcusable display of disrespect and incompetence, he called over the pretty blonde server and pointed at the food in front of him. “Miss, do you think you would recognize a Rocky Mountain rainbow trout if you saw one?” She’d looked first at the gravy-smothered brown glob, and then directly into his twisted angry face, and behind her best smile said, “Apparently not, but I can recognize an asshole when I see one.”

Dean was overmatched by the spunky girl with eyes of a deeper blue than the summer skies over the Grand Tetons, and he fell in love on the spot. They laughed at the story forever, and she still called him “meatloaf asshole” on occasion, either when she was feeling especially fond or, more often, particularly annoyed with him. She loved to tease him and ridicule his quirks, calling him “schizo” for the many paradoxical elements in his personality: jock/ intellectual, hot head/ sentimentalist, loner/ showoff. But when she would call him “schizo” and flash him her irresistible smile, it would always soften his mood, and he was able to laugh at himself.

As a trust-fund baby of a power couple in Chicago’s legal community, Sara’s suburban childhood was exactly the opposite of Dean’s. Her bookworm ways were admired by her parents, friends, and her community. The vivacious blond with the sharp wit and the ability to fit in with every social group was a psych major at the University of Chicago, less than a two-hour drive up the interstate from Champaign if you are a hormone-crazed college boy, more like three hours for everyone else. Her well of anger was only a fraction of Dean’s and reserved exclusively for bullies and people who abused children, animals, and the less fortunate. But if you happened to occupy that territory, her fierceness could make even Dean flinch.

When he thought of their first summer, it played back in his head like some film made from a Nicolas Sparks novel. As he watched the movie, alone in the theater seat of his Jeep Cherokee, he smiled at the “meet cute” first scene in the coffee shop, marveled at the on-location, awe-inspiring backdrops of the Snake and the Tetons, was moved to tears by the scene where he makes love to Sara for the first time. And he couldn’t criticize the filmmaker’s decision to leave every sex scene of the summer in the movie. There they are making love on the window seat in the tiny apartment shared by Dean and his four other river rat roommates. There they are making love after a picnic at Schwabacher’s landing, the Tetons reflected like a painting in the beaver pond. And there they are on their last day of the summer, on a picnic in the alpine meadow they had discovered on their long hike into the mountains. The meadow they had named “Sara’s Meadow.” The meadow where Dean proposed. The meadow they pledged to return to each year on their anniversary. They talked of it often, and relived the moment every year on that special day. But they never came back. Life, and careers, and bullshit got in the way.

Careers included the single-minded ambition they shared. Dean’s resulted in a meteoric rise to detective in the Chicago Police Department and, after being handpicked to join the Midwest Organized Crime Task Force as the only local police detective among FBI and ATF agents, his days and weeks became an unending blur of clues, criminals, and cases. Sara’s graduate degree at Northwestern led to a tenure track appointment at Loyola University. But tenure track meant running never-ending, back-to-back-to-back marathons of teaching, research, and publishing. Their career ambitions allowed no room for children, or travel, or a return to Sara’s Meadow.

And then, over the last year, came the bullshit. Dean was working eighty-hour weeks on a high-profile case involving government and police corruption, and many of the Chicago cops whom he considered friends turned away from him. And then, just when they thought they were getting close to breaking the case, the investigation was shut down and he was reassigned. He was exhausted, disappointed, stressed, and his friends treated him like a traitor.

And then there was Sara. She had been diagnosed with cancer just as Dean began the investigation from hell. After her initial treatment, she received a clean report, and he was too preoccupied to notice when she continued to lose weight. A check-up a few months later showed that the cancer had returned. The rebound was aggressive, additional treatment failed to stop the spread, and she continued to get weaker and weaker in spite of what she would call “frequent invitations for happy hour cancer cocktails with my oncologist.” She even made up names for the cocktails based on the side effects she would experience afterward. There was the Diarrhea Daiquiri, the Migraine Martini, and the Vomit-rita. No subject was out of bounds for her wicked and irreverent sense of humor. Once, when she was bedridden near the end, Dean asked her how she was feeling, and in her best Sally Field Mama Gump imitation, she said “Well, Forrest, I’ve got the cancer.”

Dean wanted to take a leave to stay at Sara’s bedside, but she made up her mind that that was not an option. And when Sara made up her mind about something, he had learned to let her have her way. So Dean was relegated to spending every hour that he wasn’t working by her side, holding her close, imagining how they would live their lives differently when she was well.
The night she died, she asked him to describe that day in Sara’s Meadow. And when he finished, she said, “Promise we can go there when I get well. Will you take me there next summer?” He nodded, unable to speak. She slept peacefully that night for the first time in quite a while, and in the morning she was gone.

Strangely, although she was the center of his universe, the only person that he could say he ever truly loved, he showed little emotion when she died. He didn’t cry. He felt almost as if he were an outside observer of these terrible events. He experienced only numbness. An unrelenting, withering numbness. A numbness interrupted only by random bursts of anger that disturbed even the hardened cops he worked with. Dean was not unaware of his problem, and tried to channel the anger by hooking up with Manny Cohen, a mixed martial arts coach and self-proclaimed king of “Jew-Jitsu”. He loved the physicality of the MMA bouts, and that the jiu-jitsu moves he learned permitted him to disable much bigger and stronger fighters, even if he was on the ground being pummeled. He justified the training as part of his law-enforcement skills, but he knew what it was really about— the ability to inflict some of the horrible hurt he was feeling on others.

The changes in Dean since Sara’s death were most troubling to his boss, Carlos Alvarez. Carlos had been crushed when, on the verge of busting a Chicago mob guy who had both political and police connections, which evidently reached all the way to Washington, the whole operation had been shut down. In his heart, he knew it was those same connections he was investigating that had defeated him. He looked at Dean and watched one of the most competitive spirits he had ever known flicker out, starved for the oxygen that Sara could no longer supply. The case they had put their hearts and souls into for the last year was ripped out of their hands and Dean, who normally would be just as pissed off as he was, seemed to be only going through the motions.

But the most disturbing problem, as far as he was concerned, was Dean’s refusal to mourn Sara. Carlos watched as Dean’s isolation became extreme, and he refused all offers to talk or socialize. Dean’s robotic demeanor and increasingly unpredictable violent outbursts were scaring him. When Carlos sent him to meet with the psychologist assigned to their department, he refused to cooperate. He insisted that he was fine. But Carlos knew he wasn’t fine. He saw a man on the brink of a breakdown and finally decided that drastic action was needed to rescue the man from himself. One morning he walked into Dean’s office and handed him a letter worded as an authorization, which was actually an order, to take a three-month leave of absence.

“But where will I go? What will I do?” Dean said, seemingly incapable of entertaining any change to his barely functional routine. Carlos looked toward the picture on his desk, the one taken twelve years earlier. It showed Dean standing on a whitewater raft. Sara was sitting in the boat looking up at him with a combination of love and lust in her eyes. In the background, the grandeur of the Tetons loomed. “You have to get out of town. You have to get away from here, from all this. And I know where I would go if I had no obligations and three months off. I’ve been envying that picture since the day you moved in here.”

What his boss didn’t know, and what Dean couldn’t tell him, or anyone else for that matter, was the real reason that he wouldn’t see the psychologist— something that would make him seem crazy to outsiders. Hell, he often had that thought about himself. Not every evening, but maybe two or three nights a week, he would spend the night with Sara. He would wake up a couple of hours after he went to sleep, and she would be there, sitting in the chair next to his bed. He would get up, and they would talk just like they used to, about everything, what was happening in his life and in his job, or what was going on in the news. They would make love, and it was every bit as passionate and real as before she was sick. When he would wake up in the morning, she would be gone. At first, he tried to convince himself that it was all a dream, until one night he washed the sheets before he went to bed, and the next morning her perfume lingered on the bedding. She was really there, and she was as real as anything he had ever experienced.

He had nothing against psychologists. He had seen a therapist in college after a particularly hard break-up and had found it very helpful. In fact, he visited that same therapist when Carlos was pushing him to see the department shrink— he wasn’t about to have his craziness officially certified to his employer. And his own therapist confirmed what he instinctively knew himself. “Your hallucinations of your dead wife will go away when you allow yourself to fully mourn her.” But that was exactly the problem. Her very real apparition was the only tangible thing he had left of her. Her visits were the only thing that let him get through the day, that kept him from becoming totally out of control, and he wasn’t going to let anyone take that away from him. He was determined to hold on to whatever was left of her, for as long as he could.

Sara was the one that convinced him to take the trip. She told him during one of their nocturnal visits that he could use the time off; that she knew he was stressed out. He agreed on one condition. That she would come with him. She gave him her mischievous smile, the one that had captured him that first day in the coffee shop, and said, “That’s not a problem. I’m not going without sex for three months. And the ghosts here are too creepy to sleep with.”

That first summer twelve years ago, he had come into town from the south, getting off I-80 west of Rock Springs, approaching Jackson via Alpine and driving up through the Snake River canyon so that he could view the whitewater section he would be working. Wyoming is mostly high plains except for the northwestern part, which is an endless vista of scrub grass, prickly pear, sage brush, with occasional red-rock battleships and gargoyles. On that first trip he was able to view the Wind River Range in the distance outside his window, but he didn’t really get a good view of the Teton Range until he reached the outskirts of the town of Jackson. This time he had decided to take the Northern route via I-90, because he wanted to see the Black Hills, one of the few topographic areas of interest that is easily accessible from the interstate. So he was not really prepared for what happened when his Jeep rounded the bend on Route 26, east of Teton National Park, and he looked west. The fragrance hit him first. He had the windows in his Jeep rolled down and, as the road increased in elevation, the air turned cooler and became infused with snow runoff blended into mountain streams and the bouquet of lodgepole pine forests to form the unique perfume that his unconscious associated with his first summer there. He was looking down for a station on the radio when he felt the jolt, as if a switch was flipped in his brain, and when he turned his face back to the road, the windshield was suddenly and magically filled with the panorama of the majestic purple, snow-tipped peaks of the mountain range that symbolized all that had been true and pure in his life. All that was lost and would never ever return. The image struck him like a bullet in his chest, sucking all the air from his body. The next thing he knew, he was out of his car, on the side of the road, on his knees, gasping for air, heaving, sobbing. “Oh, Sara. My sweet, sweet, Sara.”

***

Excerpt from The Grand by Dennis D. Wilson. Copyright © 2017 by Dennis D. Wilson. Reproduced with permission from Dennis D. Wilson. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Dennis D. Wilson

After a career working in an international consulting firm and as a financial executive with two public companies, Dennis D. Wilson returns to the roots he established as a high school literature and writing teacher at the beginning of his career. For his debut novel, he draws upon his experiences from his hometown of Chicago, his years living, working, hiking and climbing in Jackson Hole, and secrets gleaned from time spent in corporate boardrooms to craft a political crime thriller straight from today’s headlines. Dennis lives in suburban Chicago with his wife Paula and Black Lab Jenny, but spends as much time as he can looking for adventure in the mountains and riding his motorcycle.

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Oct 042017
 

The Names of Dead Girls

by Eric Rickstad

on Tour from September 18 – October 2, 2017

Synopsis:

The Names of Dead Girls by Eric Rickstad

William Morrow is thrilled to present the sequel to the New York Times and USA Today mega-bestseller The Silent Girls, which went on to sell more than 300,000 copies. The Names of Dead Girls is a dark, twisty thriller that once again features detectives Frank Rath and Sonja Test as they track a perverse killer through rural Vermont. By popular demand, the story picks up after the shocking cliffhanger on the last page of The Silent Girls and reveals what exactly happens between Rath and his nemesis, Ned Preacher. Although The Names of Dead Girls is a sequel, it reads perfectly as a standalone – new readers can dive in seamlessly.

After years spent retired as a private investigator, Frank Rath is lured back into his role as lead detective in a case that hits far too close to home. Sixteen years ago, depraved serial rapist and killer Ned Preacher brutally murdered Rath’s sister and brother-in-law while their baby daughter, Rachel, slept upstairs. In the aftermath, Rath quit his job as a state police detective and abandoned his drinking and womanizing to adopt Rachel and devote his life to raising her alone.

Now, unthinkably, Preacher has been paroled early and is watching—and plotting cruelties for—Rachel, who has just learned the truth about her parents’ murders after years of Rath trying to protect her from it. The danger intensifies when local girls begin to go missing, in crimes that echo the past. Is the fact that girls are showing up dead right when Preacher was released a coincidence? Or is he taunting Frank Rath, circling his prey until he comes closer and closer to the one he left behind—Rachel? Rath’s investigation takes him from the wilds of Vermont to the strip clubs of Montreal, but it seems that some evil force is always one step ahead of him.

Eric Rickstad is a master of the bone-chilling, nightmare-inducing thriller, and The Names of Dead Girls is one you won’t want to miss.

MY REVIEW

5 stars

This book was calling me with the cover, synopsis, and reviews that I had seen and I made quite a good decision to read it, which I did in two sittings. Even though this was 2nd in the series, it read easily as a stand-alone.

The novel had layer upon layer of suspense with a cast of unsavory characters that I had difficulty in trying to figure out the “whodunit” and even then, was quite shocked with the climatic ending. Didn’t see that one coming!!!

The story flowed at a frantic pace. An exciting and thrilling read!! This author is now on my “authors to read list” and will be reading his previous books while patiently waiting for his future novels.

I highly recommend this book if you are looking for a thrilling and tense read!!

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery / Thriller
Published by: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication Date: September 12th 2017
Number of Pages: 400
ISBN: 0062672819 (ISBN13: 9780062672810)
Series: The Silent Girls #2
Purchase Links: Amazon 🔗 | Barnes & Noble 🔗 | Goodreads 🔗

Read an excerpt:

Rath drove the Scout as fast as he could without crashing into the cedars along the desolate stretch of road known as Moose Alley that wound through thirty miles of remote bog and boreal forest. The rain was not as violent here, the fog just starting to crawl out of the ditch.

Rath hoped the police were at Rachel’s and had prevented whatever cruelty Preacher had in store; but hope was as useful as an unloaded gun.

The Scout’s temperature gauge climbed perilously into the red. If the engine overheated, Rath would be stuck out here, miles from nowhere, cut off from contact. In this remote country, cell service was like the eastern mountain lion: its existence rumored, but never proven.

Finally, Rath reached the bridge that spanned the Lamoille River into the town of Johnson. His relief to be near Rachel crushed by fear of what he might find.

At the red light where Route 15 met Main Street, he waited, stuck behind a school bus full of kids likely coming from a sporting event.

He needed to get around the bus, run the light, but a Winnebago swayed through the intersection.

The light turned green.

Rath tromped on the gas pedal. The Scout lurched through the light. On the other side of the intersection, Rath jammed the brake pedal to avoid ramming into the back of the braking bus, the bus’s red lights flashing.

A woman on the sidewalk glared at Rath as she cupped the back of the head of a boy who jumped off the bus. She fixed the boy’s knit cap and flashed Rath a last scalding look as she hustled the boy into a liquor store.

The bus crept forward.

No vehicles approached from the opposing lane.

Rath passed the bus and ran the next two red lights.

The rain was a mist here, and the low afternoon sun broke briefly through western clouds, a silvery brilliance mirroring off the damp asphalt, nearly blinding Rath.

Rachel’s road lay just ahead.

Rath swerved onto it and sped up the steep hill.

A state police cruiser and a sheriff’s sedan were parked at hurried angles in front of Felix and Rachel’s place.

He feared what was inside that apartment. Feared what Preacher had done to Rachel.

Sixteen years ago, standing at the feet of his sister’s body, Rath had heard a whine, like that of a wet finger traced on the rim of a crystal glass, piercing his brain. He’d charged upstairs into the bedroom, to the crib. There she’d lain, tiny legs and arms pumping as if she’d been set afire, that shrill escape of air rising from the back of her throat.

Rachel.

In the moment Rath had picked Rachel up, he’d felt a permanent upheaval, like one plate of the earth’s lithosphere slipping beneath another; his selfish past life subducting beneath a selfless future life; a niece transformed into a daughter by acts of violent cruelty.

For months, Rath had kept Rachel’s crib beside his bed and lain sleepless as he’d listened to her every frayed breath at night. He’d panicked when she’d fallen quiet, shaken her lightly to make certain she was alive, been flooded with relief when she’d wriggled. He’d picked her up and cradled her, promised to keep her safe. Thinking, If we just get through this phase, I won’t ever have to worry like this again.

But peril pressed in at the edges of a girl’s life, and worry planted roots in Rath’s heart and bloomed wild and reckless. As Rachel had grown, Rath’s worry had grown, and he’d kept vigilant for the lone man who stood with his hands jammed in his trouser pockets behind the playground fence. In public, he’d gripped Rachel’s hand, his love ferocious and animal. If anyone ever harmed her.

Rath yanked the Scout over a bank of plowed snow onto a spit of dead lawn.

He jumped out, tucked his .22 revolver into the back waistband of his jeans, and ran for the stairs that led up the side of the old house to the attic apartment.

He hoped he wasn’t too late.

***

Excerpt from The Names of Dead Girls by Eric Rickstad. Copyright © 2017 by Eric Rickstad. Reproduced with permission from Eric Rickstad. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Eric Rickstad

Eric Rickstad is the New York Times, USA Today, and international bestselling author of The Canaan Crime Series—Lie in Wait, The Silent Girls, and The Names of Dead Girls, psychological thrillers set in northern Vermont and heralded as intelligent, profound, dark, disturbing, and heartbreaking. His first novel Reap was a New York Times Noteworthy Novel. Rickstad lives in his home state of Vermont with his wife, daughter, and son.

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REVIEW DISCLAIMER

This blog was founded on the premise to write honest reviews, to the best of my ability, no matter who from, where from and/or how the book was obtained, and will continue to do so, even if it is through PICT or PBP.
DISCLAIMER

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No items that I receive are ever sold…they are kept by me, or given to family and/or friends.
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Oct 032017
 

37 Hours by J.F. Kirwan

37 Hours

by J.F. Kirwan

on Tour October 1-14, 2017

37 Hours by J.F. Kirwan

Synopsis:

 

The only way to hunt down a killer is to become one…

Imprisoned by MI6 for two long years in solitary, Nadia suddenly finds herself free again. But there is a price to pay for her release. Another dangerous and near impossible mission – retrieve the Russian nuclear warhead stolen by her old nemesis, the deadliest of terrorists.

But he is always one step ahead, and soon Nadia finds herself at the front line of preventing London from disappearing into a cloud of ash. Only this time, she is ready to pull the trigger at any cost.

And with the clock counting down from 37 hours, time is running out…

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller
Published by: Harper Collins
Publication Date: March 2017
Number of Pages: 315
ID: B01N3KP711 (ASIN) 9780008226978 (BN)
Series: Nadia Laksheva Spy Thriller Series, Book 2 | 37 Hours is a Stand Alone Novel (You’re welcome to read/review 66 Metres if you’d like)
Purchase Links: Amazon 🔗 | Barnes & Noble 🔗 | iTunes 🔗 | Goodreads 🔗

Read an excerpt:

Vladimir was cuffed and hooded, but his guards had made a fatal mistake. His hands were behind him, but not attached to the inner structure of the military van, a standard Russian UAZ 452 – he’d know those rickety creaks and the pungent blend of oil and diesel anywhere. The vehicle trundled towards some unknown destination where he would be interrogated, beaten some more, then shot in the back of the head.

Three of the four men chattered as they picked up speed down a straighter road. Their second mistake. Clearly they weren’t Special Forces – Spetsnaz – like he’d been until recently. They were regular army. He’d only seen the two heavies who’d snatched him from breakfast with his daughter. Now he knew there were four – one other had engaged in the banter, another had remained silent but was referred to as the butt of several bawdy jokes. The hierarchy of the men was also clear. The leader was in the front passenger seat, the silent one the driver, leaving the two musclemen in the back with him.

He waited. They’d been driving for an hour or so, initially dirt tracks, now a highway, which meant they were on the E119 to Vostok. If they turned right, he had a chance, as they would have to cross the Volga River. Then he would make his move.

If they turned left, he was a dead man.

Vladimir wasn’t one for options, or for hedging his bets. Not a question of making the right choice, but of making the choice right. In all his missions he’d never cared much for a Plan B. Leave too many options open, and events control you. You invite failure.

The van would turn right.

Vladimir mapped the van inside his head. The van layout was standard: two seats in the front facing forward, two benches in the back facing each other. Two front doors on the driver and passenger side, a double door at the rear. He was on the left-side bench, a heavy beside him, one opposite. The leader was in the left-hand front seat, the driver on the right. He needed to know if there was anything between him and the driver, in front on the opposite side, such as a vertical strut, or a metal grill. Because if there was either of those things, his plan wouldn’t work.

Nobody had talked to him since his arrest. Why talk to a hooded, dead man? But they were military, or at least they had been at one stage or another, so it should work. He waited for a pause in their talk fuelled by bravado – they were probably wondering which one of them would get to pop him in the skull. He reckoned they’d make the driver do it. A rite of passage. Probably a rookie, not yet blooded.

The pause came.

‘Cigarette?’ he asked, nodding through his hood to the one opposite. ‘My last, we all know that.’

Silence, except for the van’s creaking suspension and the drone of its throaty engine. He imagined questioning looks from the musclemen to the leader, the driver fixing his eyes on the road, maybe a glance in the rear-view mirror.

The dead man had spoken.

A sigh, the rustle of clothing, a pocket unzipped, the sound of a cigarette tapped from the pack. He could smell the nicotine despite the strong diesel fumes. A hand heavy on his shoulder – the muscleman by his side – while the hood was pulled up, just above his mouth, by the one opposite. Vladimir felt cool air on his lips, and smelt the stale coffee breath of the man about to give him a cigarette.

The smack in the mouth wasn’t entirely unexpected. Stunned him all the same. He slid off the bench onto the floor, and while three of the men burst out laughing, he stretched out his left leg towards the rear of the driver’s seat – nothing in the way, no vertical strut. But there could still be a wire mesh separating the rear compartment from the front. He rocked back onto his knees, and addressed the one who’d hit him. He lowered his head, bychit-style, a bull about to charge, and spat out the words amidst spittle and blood from a split lip.

‘Mudak, suka, blyad!’

This time the punch was fully expected. He railed back and up, travelling with the force of the uppercut, his head in the gap between the driver and the leader. That cost him a whack from the latter on the top of his head. Didn’t matter. No wire mesh. Rough hands slotted him back on the bench where he’d started. Profanities poured forth. Nothing he hadn’t heard before, or said himself. His face stung. He ignored it. Things settled down. The banter resumed.

He began drawing long breaths, oxygenating his body. He was chilled, because he had no coat. The other men were wrapped in thick commando jackets. It was early spring, still cold. The Volga would be near freezing. Not a problem, he bathed in it every morning. For them, though, it was going to be a different story.

The van slowed. The tick, tick, tick of the indicator. They slowed down further. Stopped. A truck passed fast ahead of them, rocking the high suspension van in its wake. The leader bellowed a command, though he wasn’t stupid enough to name the destination. ‘This way, this way.’ Another lorry – no, a tractor, given the smell of manure – the leader cursing the young driver for not pulling out sooner. The engine revved, the gears engaged, the van pulled forward.

And turned right.

***

Excerpt from 37 Hours by J.F. Kirwan. Copyright © 2017 by J.F. Kirwan. Reproduced with permission from J.F. Kirwan. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

J.F. Kirwan

After school J.F. Kirwan studied psychology, then worked in heavy industries, including offshore oil rigs in the North Sea, and nuclear power plants in the UK, US and Japan. Lately he’s been working with airplane safety, which enables him to travel to some far-flung places.

His job is about trying to prevent large-scale accidents. Having studied them for years gives him a sense of how catastrophic events start off slow, simmer awhile, then gather speed and accelerate towards the final event. He uses this experience when writing, and calls it tourniquet plotting. He also spent years as a martial artist, training in Hong Kong, and knows a thing or two about writing fight scenes. But his main passion is diving. He used to be an instructor, and has dived all over the world, and so all three books have an underwater element. Readers – whether divers or not – often say that the books are most vivid in the underwater scenes.

After a scuba-diving injury, and surgery on his back, he couldn’t dive for eighteen months. He missed it so much he started a novel about a young woman, Nadia, who was coerced into working for the Mafia. A fan of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, as well as other thriller writers such as David Baldacci, Stieg Larsson and Andy McNab, he wanted to create a female protagonist who could mete out justice when required. What started out as a bit of fun gathered momentum as a couple of agents got interested, and then HarperCollins snapped it up with a three-book deal.

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