Book Showcase: I LET YOU FALL by Sara Downing

I LET YOU FALL by Sara Downing book coverI Let You Fall by Sara Downing
ISBN: 9781631611858 (paperback)
ASIN: B09YYW65T5 (Kindle edition)
Release Date: June 20, 2022
Publisher: Quilla Books
Genre: Fiction | Romance | Romantic Drama

A contemporary tale of tragedy, selflessness, love, and renewal.

On a summer night in London, art teacher Eve Chapman finds herself in a hospital emergency room. She watches surgeons desperately operate on a young woman with a terrible head injury. But when the bandages are removed, Eve is horrified to find her own body on the operating table.

Trapped in a coma, Eve struggles to cope with the fact that no matter how hard she tries, her family and friends cannot see or hear her. But then she meets Luca Diaz, a handsome and comatose lawyer who can see her. He takes Eve under his wing and teaches her how to use her new abilities to help the living.

As the weeks pass, Eve struggles to find a way back to her body and to Nathan, the man she loves. But the more time she spends with Luca, the more she wonders if her old life is worth going back to at all.

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: Indiebound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Barnes and Noble | BookDepository.com | Bookshop.org

Read an excerpt:

Eve and Nathan had drunk a lot of wine the night before the accident—way too much for a school night—and then she’d slept badly, as she often did after a boozy evening. When her alarm went off and she’d hit the snooze button a second time, she finally dragged herself out of bed.

As she stood under the shower, even the warm cascade couldn’t blast away the strange sensation she had woken up with. She couldn’t remember having any dreams, but she woke up unnerved, as though she’d had one which had felt a little too real.

Taking a towel from the rail, she’d rubbed at her hair, dressing and returning quickly to the bathroom to put on her makeup. As she picked up her mascara wand and widened her eyes in the mirror, a sudden movement in the corner of the room caught her attention. The wand slipped and stabbed her in the eye.

‘Damn,’ she said, putting one hand over her eye, which began to leak black tears in protest.

She spun round to see what it was, but other than her own reflection, she was alone in the bathroom. Shrugging, she turned back to the mirror and grabbed a wipe to remove the smudges from her cheek. Her eye was so sore that she couldn’t possibly reapply it now.

Deciding to take the mascara with her for later, she reached to put it into her back pocket. As she did, she felt something brush her arm. It was the most delicate of touches, but it made the hairs on the back of her neck prickle. She rubbed her arm furiously, believing it to be some kind of winged insect that must have come in through the open bathroom window. Eve didn’t much care for small, fluttery things, particularly moths. She couldn’t bear the rustling of tiny wings and the panic these creatures endured when they knew they were trapped. She reached for the catch and snapped the window quickly shut.

‘Eve, don’t go.’

The man’s voice was crystal clear, as though it had come from inside the room. She spun round, dropping her mascara, which rolled away beneath the vanity unit.

‘Nathan?’ she called, as she knelt down and grappled on the floor for the tube. Hearing footsteps in the bedroom, she pulled herself up and followed in, one eye still closed. ‘Did you say something, love?’

The bedroom was empty. Eve jolted to a halt.

‘Nathan?’ she called again, louder this time.

‘Yep, down here,’ came the voice from the kitchen. ‘What’s up?’

‘Oh, nothing,’ she called. ‘It’s fine. Must be Buster up to his usual tricks.’

A shiver ran down Eve’s spine as she examined her eye in the bedroom mirror, grimacing when she saw how red it still was. Choosing some earrings from her jewellery box, she wandered across to the bedroom window as she fixed them into place. Buster was sitting on the fence of her tiny garden, one back foot in the air, his toes pointed like a furry ballet dancer while he carried out his morning ablutions.

‘You daft cat,’ she said. ‘One of these days you’ll fall off that fence.’

As Eve reached for the window catch to pull it closed, a long white feather, as light as gossamer, fluttered to the floor and landed beside her foot. Buster had recently become quite the hunter; she often found stray feathers around the house. But this one was different, far more exquisite. She picked it up and turned it over in the palm of her hand before throwing it into the bin and heading downstairs.

Eve pulled out a chair and sat down beside Nathan, pushing his pile of papers to one side.

‘You OK?’ he asked.

‘Yeah,’ said Eve, frowning. ‘Bad night’s sleep.’

While Nathan crossed his legs and swiped onto the next news article on his iPad, she drank a gulp of the coffee he had poured for her. She thought better of mentioning the voice she had heard and the strange feeling that overcame her in the bathroom. It was probably nothing. She must have still been half-asleep.

‘More coffee?’ said Nathan, returning to the news.

‘No, I’m fine thanks. I’d better get going,’ she said, putting her mug into the dishwasher and planting a kiss on Nathan’s lips. He seemed to be making no move to pack up his papers and follow suit. ‘You coming? I can wait a minute or two if you want to walk to the Tube with me?’

‘No, I’m not quite ready yet,’ he said. ‘Just need to read this lot for later. I’ll be another half-hour or so.’

‘Oh,’ said Eve flatly.

‘Sorry, love, I should have said earlier.’ He pushed back his chair to look up at her. ‘Your eye looks a bit sore.’

‘Yeah, I nearly poked it out with my mascara just now. Looks awful, doesn’t it?’

‘You look beautiful to me,’ said Nathan, putting his arm around her waist and pulling her close. ‘You always do. Don’t worry, it’ll be fine by tonight. You excited?’

‘I can’t wait.’

‘It’s going to be great. And you’ll look gorgeous in that new dress. But hey, don’t go getting on the Tube in it. Book a cab. I can put it on expenses. Now go, or you’ll be late for school.’

He slapped her on the bottom as she left the kitchen, and she let out a little squeal.

‘Bye, then,’ Eve called as she opened the front door, half hoping he would change his mind and come with her.

‘Love you,’ he called back.

And then she heard the voice again.

‘Eve, don’t go,’ it said, quite clearly. A sudden chill made her spine tingle. She sensed someone’s closeness, an intrusion on her personal space, but again she was completely alone.

‘What did you say?’ she called out, all the while knowing the voice hadn’t come from Nathan. By now he was wholly engrossed in his meeting notes.

‘I said I love you, babe,’,’ he replied.

‘Love you, too,’ said Eve.. ‘See you later.’

Just as unexpectedly as it had arrived, the strange feeling was gone, and Eve closed the front door behind her. Her shoes clicked on the cobbled path to the little garden gate, which squeaked in protest as she opened it. But no more voices spoke to her.

Eve was still a bit flustered as she walked to the Tube station, hurrying even though she was only a few minutes later than normal. She could feel the sun’s early heat prickling her bare arms.

In all the confusion she had forgotten to make her lunch, so she popped into a café beside the station and ordered a sandwich and her usual skinny latte with an extra shot, regretting having turned down Nathan’s earlier offer of a top-up. Sipping it on the way into the station she felt herself beginning to regain some of her normal calm.

It was just your imagination, she said to herself again as she waited on the platform.

The train pulled in and Eve hopped on. She sat down, putting her laptop bag on her knees. Rummaging inside, she realised she had left her Kindle on the kitchen counter. Now with nothing to read, she glanced up at the advertising boards over the heads of the passengers across from her. As she did, she caught the eye of the man sitting opposite her and he smiled—a rare event in London, so she smiled back, tucking her hair behind one ear.

Eve could tell that the man was trying not to be caught staring at her, though he wasn’t doing a very good job. She didn’t really mind; it was flattering, and he was far from unpleasant to look at, with blond hair which was slightly too long and piercing blue eyes. She was surprised to find herself a little disappointed when the carriage doors opened at the next stop and standing passengers blocked her view.

When the crowds parted again a few moments later, he was nowhere to be found.

Excerpt from I Let You Fall by Sara Downing.
Copyright © 2022 by Claudia Gray. Published by Quilla Books, A Division of TCK Publishing. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

Author Sara Downing headshot photo

Sara Downing is the author of the popular Head Over Heels contemporary romance series, plus a further romance, Stage Fright, and a historical novel, Urban Venus.

In 2016, Sara published The Lost Boy, her first foray into the world of the supernatural. Her latest novel, I Let You Fall, was released on June 20, 2022.

Sara lives in rural Worcestershire with her husband, three almost grown-up children, a Labrador, and a cat. Before children she was a Chartered Accountant, but always knew her dream career lay elsewhere. She started writing in 2009 and hasn’t since yearned to return to the world of accountancy.

Connect with the author via: Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Twitter | Website

Book Showcase: BOTTLED LIGHTNING by L.M. Weeks

BOTTLED LIGHTNING by LM Weeks book coverBottled Lightning by L. M. Weeks
ISBN: 9798985588019 (paperback)
ISBN: 9798985588002 (hardcover)
ASIN: B09ZWQT54Y (Kindle edition)
Publisher: South Fork Publishers
Release Date: June 14, 2022
Genre: Fiction | Thriller

AN INTRIGUING CLIENT. A PASSIONATE ATTORNEY. A DEADLY GAME.

Top global technology lawyer Tornait “Torn” Sagara knows he shouldn’t get involved with his beautiful client, Saya Brooks, whose revolutionary lightning-on-demand invention will solve climate change and render all other energy sources obsolete. But their shared connection as hafu (half Japanese, half American) draws them irresistibly together.

Saya’s technology could save the world, but what’s good for the planet is bad news for those who profit from the status quo. Now, someone wants to stop Saya from commercializing her invention and will go to any lengths—even murder—to do so. When Torn takes Saya for a spin on his motorcycle, they are viciously attacked. That death-defying battle on a crowded Tokyo expressway is only the start of Torn’s wild ride.

As the violence escalates, Torn discovers that everything he values—his reputation, his family, and even his life—is on the line. Racing from the boardrooms of Tokyo to the wilds of Russia in a desperate search for the truth, Torn is forced to face his own flaws and discover what really matters most.

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: Amazon | Amazon Kindle | BookDepository.com

Read an Excerpt:

Chapter One
Savior
救世主

Saya startled Torn when she tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Wow, that’s quite the bike. It looks like something Batman would drive.”

He was surprised again when he turned around, but this time by her piercing green eyes, which he never grew tired of seeing. Sometimes he wondered whether they were real or contacts, but he’d never seen her eyes any other color. She had let her dark hair down and wore a navy-blue leather jacket, dark blue jeans and black boots with relatively flat heels.

He tried not to stare at her. She was a client, after all. And not just any client, but perhaps the most intriguing client he’d ever had. “That’s quite a departure from what you were wearing a few minutes ago,” he said, his voice echoing slightly in the underground parking garage.

She looked at him for a moment, trying to decide again whether his mixed-race features were more Japanese or Western. “Is it appropriate for motorcycle riding?”

“It’ll work, and the boots with flat heels are a great idea. All motorcyclists, at least the men, dread women dragging their high heels across the seat when they mount the bike.”

“Did you say mount?”

He grinned. “Sorry, I mean when they get on their steed. Is that better?” He was struggling to avoid being too jocular with his beautiful client.

“I get the point. Don’t worry, my high heels are in this bag with the rest of my clothes for the dinner.”

“What about your potential investors? Shouldn’t you be schmoozing with them in the car?”

She cocked her head and smiled. “The technology does all the schmoozing necessary, don’t you think? It’s like showing someone lightning in a bottle.”

“Well, I was impressed with the demonstration even though I’ve seen it before,” he said with genuine enthusiasm. He thought for a moment and added, “I like the imagery of selling little bottles of lightning at combini,” convenience stores.

Saya added, “Besides, I told them I needed a few minutes to discuss an IP matter with my lawyer before I meet them at the hotel. So…” She paused playfully. “Do I get a ride or not?”

“Sure, but how did you know I’d have an extra helmet?”

Still smiling, she said, “Oh, Torn, I know you’re prepared for every eventuality.”

He smiled. “But the ride’s not that interesting. It’s mostly straight expressway.”

“Not a problem. Just go fast! It’s a beautiful bike and I want to see what it can do.” Saya ran her index finger along one of the hard rubber fins protruding from chrome sheaths attached to the side of the fairing. “Hey, what’re these for?”

“Those protect the rider, engine, and fairing if the bike gets dropped.”

“They’re cool. They make the bike look even more aerodynamic, but please don’t drop it.”

Torn swelled with pride about his BMW K 1200 LT. Nothing pumped up a biker, particularly someone who took his riding as seriously as he did, more than compliments about his ride.

“Here’s your helmet.” He took her bag and placed it in the top case where he kept the extra full-face helmet.

After closing his face covering and securing his chin strap, Torn helped Saya with hers. “By the way, we’ve gotta exit the expressway when we get into the city because tandem riding’s illegal past Hatsudai.”

She could hear Torn’s low voice through the helmet’s speakers located near her ears. It made her feel like an astronaut.

“That’s strange. Why’s that?” she asked through the mic in her helmet.

“Short story long, Japan banned tandem motorcycle riding on expressways for decades, starting in the seventies, because motorcycle bosozoku used to attack cars on the expressway with chains back in the sixties and early seventies.”

“What’re bosozoku?”

He looked at her through his helmet visor. “You’ve really lived a sheltered life, haven’t you? They are car and motorcycle gangs. Anyway, when the ban was finally lifted for most expressways in Japan, it was maintained for central Tokyo, ostensibly for safety reasons. Those crowded, narrow and winding expressways in the city center were deemed too dangerous for tandem riding. I think it’s because of the number of deadly motorcycle accidents from late night racing on the Circuit. But it’s not as if the narrow local streets choked with cars, motorbikes, bicycles, and pedestrians are any safer.”

She watched him get on the bike. “Well, it seems silly to me. They should crack down on the illegal racing, not riding with a passenger.”

“You’re preaching to the choir. Are you ready?”

“Yes!”

Torn put the retractable passenger foot pegs down and explained how to get on.

Light on her feet, Saya mounted the bike successfully the first try without scraping the seat or kicking the top case behind her or Torn in front. She was surprised at how stable and comfortable the large well-padded seat and backrest felt. She grabbed handles built into the side cases because she felt like she should hold on to something even though she didn’t need them for balance.

Torn checked his phone one last time and saw that Mayumi had called and Kiwako had texted. He stored it in the small compartment in front of his seat and exited the garage onto a street lined with cherry trees.

On their right flowed a mountain stream strewn with moss-covered boulders. The bike’s windshield and Torn’s body protected her from the wind, but she could still smell the cherry blossoms. They glided along the winding road past rice farms and orchards. The entire scene was bathed in gold from the setting sun. She could not believe how completely secure she felt. It was not a feeling that would last.

“Shall I turn on some music?” He almost didn’t suggest it because he knew he should focus on driving given that he had a passenger, a client no less.

Despite the noise of the engine and the rushing wind, she could hear Torn’s relaxed unrushed voice clearly through the speakers in her helmet. “Definitely.”

Can’t Hold Us by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis poured from the speakers in their helmets, two speakers imbedded in the fairing in front, and two on the sides of the passenger backrest. Saya felt the subtle vibration of the outside speakers on the sides of her backrest.

Torn selected his music based on whether it worked with the acoustics of the bike. Some music was more bike-appropriate than others. One of his favorite things about listening to music on this bike was that the volume automatically increased as the bike accelerated, to compensate for the louder engine noise.

As Torn accelerated the bike out of a turn, Saya’s excitement changed to euphoria. She released the handles and wrapped her arms around Torn’s broad chest.

Once on the expressway, Torn accelerated to ninety kilometers an hour as they drove down the on-ramp to merge into Tokyo-bound traffic.

“Go faster!”

Giving in to the fun, he laughed. “No need to yell. I can hear you just fine!” He throttled up to 120 and seamlessly moved from the left lane through the middle lane to the outside passing lane.

“Can you go faster?”

He accelerated to 140, taking advantage of any openings in the three lanes to pass slower traffic in the other lanes.

Saya found the frequent weaving in and out of traffic exhilarating—like a motorcycle in the movie Tron—and didn’t want Torn to slow down. She giggled. “Can you go faster?”

He turned off the music, raised the adjustable windshield to its maximum height and accelerated to 180. The aerodynamically shaped fairing and the bike’s weight kept the rubber side down. Even this speed didn’t feel too fast, because of the bike’s stability and the wind protection provided by the windshield. However, the louder engine and much faster rate at which they passed the guardrail posts were proof of their significantly greater speed.

“Oh my God,” she squealed as she wrapped her arms more tightly around Torn and put her helmeted head on his shoulder.

Torn smiled. It was intoxicating when the bike had the desired effect of lowering a woman’s inhibitions. “No need for the death grip.”

“Oh, sorry.” She tried to comply, but she liked holding onto him tightly.

Torn sensed her interest in him was more than just as her lawyer. For the first time in his career, his resolve never to become romantically involved with a client began to waver.

Traffic reappeared as they got closer to Hachioji.

“Don’t slow down!”

Ignoring her, he throttled down, knowing there were tollbooths ahead. He weaved in and out of the cars, again using all three lanes to keep progressing faster than the flow of traffic until they had reached the toll plaza.

Just enough traffic remained after the tollbooths to make things fun. He pulled into the left-hand lane and toggled to Imagine Dragons. Demon played from the bike’s speakers. Saya squeezed her arms more tightly around Torn’s waist and closed her eyes. “This is more fun than I ever dreamed.”

Torn felt warm all over.

A few minutes later a big black Mercedes pulled up behind them, its front bumper almost touching the bike’s license plate. Torn sped up but the car continued to tailgate.

Saya, eyes closed and lost in the music, didn’t notice the car right behind her.
Then it sped up, passing them closely on the left. Torn swerved into the middle lane to avoid a collision. He turned off the music, causing Saya to open her eyes. The Mercedes pulled in front of them and slowed down, forcing Torn to decelerate and swerve back into the left lane. It had no rear license plate, rare and illegal in Japan.

“What’s that guy doing?”

“I don’t know.”

The big Mercedes changed lanes, slowing down in the middle lane until it was parallel with them. The tinted passenger window opened. Before Torn could react, a man stuck a gun out of the window and fired. The bullet passed through the soft padding under Saya, exiting the other side of her seat.

With well-practiced fluidity, Torn squeezed the left handle bar lever to open the clutch and shifted down to fourth gear with his left foot, then throttled up with his right hand while releasing the clutch lever with his left hand. The Beemer raced away from the Mercedes. He shifted back up to fifth gear as the RPMs shot up.

“Oh my God!”

“Are you hit?” he asked as calmly as he could while breaking into a cold sweat.

“I don’t think so.”

Things were moving in slow motion for Torn. He thought, No one has a gun in Japan except yaks. All at once he was relieved neither one of them had been hit, scared shitless about being chased by yakuza types, and pissed off at the damage to his motorcycle.

The big car again appeared next to them in the center lane.

Torn slammed on the brakes with his right hand and foot, letting the Mercedes fly by. He shifted down two gears to third and throttled up, accelerating to 120 so fast he almost popped a wheelie. He flew by the driver’s side of the car, the high RPMs making the bike’s engine scream. Shifting up to fourth gear, he rocketed to 160.

The powerful car caught him quickly. He sped up to 180 but the big Mercedes stayed on them. They approached more traffic, forcing both vehicles to slow down. As they reached the Mitaka Highway Bus Turnout, the three lanes of traffic became two, creating a traffic jam.

Salvation.

Torn threaded between the two lanes of stalled traffic. Their pursuer briefly flanked them on the left shoulder until being thwarted by a soundproofing wall built to protect the surrounding homes from expressway noise.

They were safe, but only for a moment. He heard a motorcycle engine being revved until the ugly sound was deafening. It was the sound of a bike with its muffler illegally removed. At the same time he saw the blinding light of a single high beam behind him and heard loud death metal music. His heart sank.

“Motherfucking Yankee,” he muttered, momentarily forgetting his mic was still on.

“What’s a Yankee?”

“The scourge of the roadways. Over-the-hill punk motorcycle gang members who belonged to bosozoku gangs in their teens and early twenties.”

He doubted this was a coincidence. He wasn’t even sure if it was a real Yankee. He had encountered them many times, and while always obnoxiously loud, they’d never hassled him before.

The Yankee motorcycle veered left onto the narrow shoulder and flanked them, barely squeaking by between cars in the left lane and the five-meter-high soundproofing wall.

Torn saw that the hot-pink bike indeed had the Yankee trademark Norton Commando-like fairing with the headlight recessed into a bubble in the fairing’s front and a heavily padded extra-long sissy bar attached to the back of the unoccupied passenger seat. The rider wore a silver Nazi helmet and black mask. Torn saw what looked like a long PVC pipe attached to the side of the bike.

Another screamingly loud bike with its high beam on appeared immediately behind them, revving its engine. It pulled into the right lane and flanked him on the narrow shoulder between the cars and the center guardrail separating the two lanes of inbound traffic from the two lanes of outbound traffic.

Torn accelerated to get ahead of them, then swerved slightly to the right and left in front of cars in each lane. As expected, the cars moved towards the outside of their lanes, leaving no room for the pursuing bikes to proceed between the cars in the left lane and the wall on the left and the cars in the right lane and the central guardrail on the right. Still, this slowed the Yankees down for only a moment and they soon caught up to Torn and Saya yet again.

With the Yankees continuing to flank them on both sides, they approached the Eifukucho Exit, a connector between the Chuo Expressway coming into the city center from the west and the inner-city Metropolitan Expressway.

“Why didn’t you exit?” she screamed.

The fear in her voice made Torn’s heart beat even faster. He took a deep breath and responded, without emotion, “They would catch us at the first light. They’re smaller and more maneuverable.”

The matter-of-fact nature of his response worked. She lowered her voice. “We could find a cop.”

“Not before those guys would be on us. And don’t squeeze so tightly. I can barely breathe. Try to squeeze the bike with your knees and move with the bike. Don’t fight it.”

Saya loosened her death hug.

On the other side of the Eifukucho Tollbooth, traffic thinned for a moment as more cars exited. But traffic would soon increase again, and it would be difficult to lane split with the big BMW because the lanes were narrower on the much older inner city expressway than on the newer feeder expressways entering the city.

The Yankee bikes pulled up next to them. The driver on the left pulled from a sheath a long lead pipe with a chain and spiked ball.

“Is that a mace on the end? He has a mace!” she screamed.

It’s actually a flail, he thought to himself, but this was no time to be a stickler for ancient weapon accuracy. “Yes, I see it. No need to shout. I have speakers next to my ears too.” He regretted correcting her almost before the words had left his mouth.

Torn decided to go on the offensive with his much larger bike, which was surprisingly nimble for its size. He swerved the BMW at the biker wielding the homemade weapon.

“Are you crazy?! What’re you doing?!”

His move had the desired effect. The smaller bike swerved away. Torn accelerated like a rocket, pulling away from both Yankee bikes, but he soon heard them gaining on him. He could not outrun them in the afternoon traffic. They again pulled up on either side of him with their ridiculous—but lethal— weapons in hand. Torn slammed on both the hand and foot brakes so hard he thought he might pop a back wheelie, but the Beemer only skidded slightly before the antilock brakes did their job. The Yankee bikes flew by, then quickly slowed down.

Now Torn needed to pass them. He aimed for the left side of the bike on his left. He calculated that, because the biker held the threatening pipe in his right hand, placing himself and Saya on the left would make it difficult for the assailant to swing at them across his own chest.

Torn forced his way between the Yankee and the wall. Despite the maneuver, Torn had underestimated the biker’s resolve and dexterity; he was able to swing at them across his body and shatter the BMW’s windshield, spraying safety glass on Torn and grazing his right arm. Torn grimaced when the flail’s spikes tore through his jacket and into his right triceps, while his body shielded Saya from harm.

Torn knew he couldn’t avoid them much longer. The Yankees would get them sooner rather than later.

“I’m going to crash into them. Watch your legs,” he warned.

“Can’t you outrun them?!” her voice now a high-pitched scream.

The other biker approached on their left, swinging his flail with his right hand. Torn shifted down and countersteered the left handle bar hard, instantly flicking the BMW left into the other bike. The Yankee tried to avoid the big bike but it was too late. The motorcycles collided with a hard fiberglass-on-metal crunching sound. The smaller bike, already headed towards the soundproofing wall as the driver tried to avoid Torn’s bike, slammed into the wall with a loud crash followed by the clanging of metal scattering across the road. The rider bounced off the wall and cartwheeled across the expressway at an angle before hitting the center guardrail. The BMW’s fairing and front left fin had protected Torn and Saya as it hit the other bike, leaving them unhurt.

One to go.

Traffic increased again as rush-hour cars merged onto the expressway from the local roads.

“Look at that sign. Aren’t we supposed to get off?!”

Torn saw the sign showing a bright red circle-backslash symbol over two figures on a motorcycle. He saw another sign directing tandem riders to exit at Hatsudai.

“Driving tandem may save us if we stay on.”

“I feel much better now,” she said, totally deadpan.

“Your sarcasm’s not helping,” he replied without emotion.

She hugged him tighter.

They passed Hatsudai on the right. Torn could see the remaining Yankee gaining on them in his sideview mirrors. When they reached the Shinjuku on-ramp, traffic slowed to a crawl as more cars merged onto the two narrow curved expressway lanes. The moment of truth.

He maneuvered the bike to the centerline.

“You can’t be serious! There’s not enough room!”

“Who needs mirrors? Keep your legs in tight.”

He sped up. The right mirror was the first to go, then the left, followed by angry honking from the cars his mirrors hit as he threaded the needle between the narrow lanes. The bike remained upright because the big mirrors were designed to pop off on impact.

Torn saw the Yankee’s high beam in the side-view mirrors of the cars between which he drove, and heard the bike’s screaming engine.

“He’s right behind us!”

No shit, thought Torn.

Traffic thinned out right before the Yoyogi Rest Area. Torn accelerated. Please be there.

As he passed the on-ramp from the Yoyogi Rest Area, he heard a siren.
Yes! And there’s our savior.

The patrol car pulled up next to them.

“What’s he doing?” Torn asked, his eyes trained on the road.

“He’s waving you over!”

Then they heard the loud speaker command. “You there, on the blue motorcycle. Safely pull over at the next exit.”

Torn exited at Gaienmae. He stopped at the bottom of the off-ramp and told Saya to get off.

The police car pulled up behind them, lights flashing.

Torn stood while straddling the bike as he pressed a button to lower the electric center stand. The bike lifted slightly as the electric motor whined and then dropped back down when the center stand locked into place. He dismounted and removed his helmet.

The Yankee bike followed them off the expressway and passed by. Torn couldn’t see the driver’s face, his head covered by a helmet and his face with a bandana. There was no license plate.

Torn wished he had a gun. He made eye contact and flipped the guy off as he passed.

Turning to Saya, “Are you alright?”

She was shooting the Yankee with her phone as he drove by.

“Yes.”

“Great idea. Please AirDrop those to my phone.”

Saya hugged Torn as hard as she could, burying her head into his chest for what felt like an eternity. She was shaking.

He wondered if he was shaking too.

Saya looked up and kissed him on the cheek. “You’re amazing, and here I thought you were just a lawyer.” She kissed him again, but this time on the lips.

Torn didn’t know what to say. His heart pounded, his pulse raced, and his arm started to ache. His skin felt clammy and he felt sick to his stomach. “Don’t barf now,” he told himself.

Two uniformed police officers, one visibly much younger than his partner, approached.

Releasing Saya, Torn turned and said emphatically to the police officers, “That guy on the Yankee bike tried to kill us!”

The young officer, looking like a deer caught in the headlights, stopped for a moment and then said, a bit shakily, “You’re under arrest.”

Excerpt from Bottled Lightning by L.M. Weeks.
Copyright © 2022 by L.M. Weeks
All Rights Reserved.

 

Meet The Author

Author LM Weeks headshot photo

L. M. (“Mark”) Weeks is uniquely qualified to write this international legal thriller. Like Torn, (the protagonist in Bottled Lightning) Mark was born in Alaska and for many years has practiced law in Tokyo, representing technology companies from all over the world in connection with their fundraising, intellectual property matters, cross-border mergers and acquisitions, and related disputes. For more than10 years, Mark was the Managing Partner of the Tokyo office of the global law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP. He speaks, reads, and writes fluent Japanese, was an International Rotary Club scholar to Japan during high school, and graduated from International Christian University, a Japanese liberal arts college. Mark attended Fordham University School of Law in New York City, where he practiced law for almost sixteen years before relocating to Orrick’s Tokyo office in 2004. During his formative years in Japan, Mark earned a black belt in aikido. Also like Torn, he is an avid motorcyclist, and his adult son is biracial and bilingual and lives in Tokyo. In addition to riding motorcycles and writing, Mark’s other passion is saltwater fly fishing.

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Book Showcase: BLOOMSBURY GIRLS by Natalie Jenner

BLOOMSBURY GIRLS by Natalie Jenner book coverBloomsbury Girls by Natalie M. Jenner
ISBN: 9781250276698 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781250276704 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781250852328 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B09CNDV5GJ (Kindle edition)
ASIN: B09ZVJFBDN (Audible audiobook)
Release Date: May 17, 2022
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Historical Fiction | Women’s Fiction

Natalie Jenner, the internationally bestselling author of The Jane Austen Society, returns with a compelling and heartwarming story of post-war London, a century-old bookstore, and three women determined to find their way in a fast-changing world in Bloomsbury Girls.

Bloomsbury Books is an old-fashioned new and rare bookstore that has persisted and resisted change for a hundred years, run by men and guided by the general manager’s unbreakable fifty-one rules. But in 1950, the world is changing, especially the world of books and publishing, and at Bloomsbury Books, the girls in the shop have plans:

Vivien Lowry: Single since her aristocratic fiancé was killed in action during World War II, the brilliant and stylish Vivien has a long list of grievances—most of them well justified and the biggest of which is Alec McDonough, the Head of Fiction.

Grace Perkins: Married with two sons, she’s been working to support the family following her husband’s breakdown in the aftermath of the war. Torn between duty to her family and dreams of her own.

Evie Stone: In the first class of female students from Cambridge permitted to earn a degree, Evie was denied an academic position in favor of her less accomplished male rival. Now she’s working at Bloomsbury Books while she plans to remake her own future.

As they interact with various literary figures of the time—Daphne Du Maurier, Ellen Doubleday, Sonia Blair (widow of George Orwell), Samuel Beckett, Peggy Guggenheim, and others—these three women with their complex web of relationships, goals and dreams are all working to plot out a future that is richer and more rewarding than anything society will allow.

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Watch the Trailer

A Message from Natalie Jenner

Dear readers,

I am immensely grateful for the outpouring of affection that so many of you have expressed for my debut novel The Jane Austen Society and its eight main characters. When I wrote its epilogue (in one go and without ever changing a word), I wanted to give each of Adam, Mimi, Dr. Gray, Adeline, Yardley, Frances, Evie and Andrew the happy Austenesque ending they each deserved. But I could not let go of servant girl Evie Stone, the youngest and only character inspired by real life (my mother, who had to leave school at age fourteen, and my daughter, who does eighteenth-century research for a university professor and his team). Bloomsbury Girls continues Evie’s adventures into a 1950s London bookshop where there is a battle of the sexes raging between the male managers and the female staff, who decide to pull together their smarts, connections, and limited resources to take over the shop and make it their own. There are dozens of new characters in Bloomsbury Girls from several different countries, and audiobook narration was going to require a female voice of the highest training and caliber. When I learned that British stage and screen actress Juliet Stevenson, CBE, had agreed to narrate, I knew that my story could not be in better hands, and I so hope you enjoy reading or listening to it.

Warmest regards,
Natalie

Read an excerpt:

The Tyrant was Alec McDonough, a bachelor in his early thirties who ran the New Books, Fiction & Art Department on the ground floor of Bloomsbury Books. He had read literature and fine art at the University of Bristol and been planning on a career in something big—Vivien accused him of wanting to run a small colony—when the war had intervened. Following his honourable discharge in 1945, Alec had joined the shop on the exact same day as Vivien. “By an hour ahead. Like a dominant twin,” she would quip whenever Alec was rewarded with anything first.

From the start Alec and Vivien were rivals, and not just for increasing control of the fiction floor. Every editor that wandered in, every literary guest speaker, was a chance for them to have access to the powers that be in the publishing industry. As two secretly aspiring writers, they had each come to London and taken the position at Bloomsbury Books for this reason. But they were also both savvy enough to know that the men in charge—from the rigid Mr. Dutton and then-head-of-fiction Graham Kingsley, to the restless Frank Allen and crusty Master Mariner Scott—were whom they first needed to please. Alec had a clear and distinct advantage when it came to that. Between the tales of wartime service, shared grammar schools, and past cricket-match victories, Vivien grew quickly dismayed at her own possibility for promotion.

Sure enough, within weeks Alec had quickly entrenched himself with both the long-standing general manager, Herbert Dutton, and his right-hand man, Frank Allen. By 1948, upon the retirement of Graham Kingsley, Alec had ascended to the post of head of fiction, and within the year had added new books and art to his oversight—an achievement which Vivien still referred to as the Annexation.

She had been first to call him the Tyrant; he called her nothing at all. Vivien’s issues with Alec ranged from the titles they stocked on the shelves, to his preference for booking events exclusively with male authors who had served in war. With her own degree in literature from Durham (Cambridge, her dream university, still refusing in 1941 to graduate women), Vivien had rigorously informed views on the types of books the fiction department should carry. Not surprisingly, Alec disputed these views.

“But he doesn’t even read women,” Vivien would bemoan to Grace, who would nod back in sympathy while trying to remember her grocery list before the bus journey home. “I mean, what—one Jane Austen on the shelves? No Katherine Mansfield. No Porter. I mean, I read that Salinger story in The New Yorker he keeps going on about: shell-shocked soldiers and children all over the place, and I don’t see what’s so masculine about that.”

Unlike Vivien, Grace did not have much time for personal reading, an irony her husband often pointed out. But Grace did not work at the shop for the books. She worked there because the bus journey into Bloomsbury took only twenty minutes, she could drop the children off at school on the way, and she could take the shop newspapers home at the end of the day. Grace had been the one to suggest that they also carry import magazines, in particular The New Yorker. Being so close to the British Museum and the theatre district, Bloomsbury Books received its share of wealthy American tourists. Grace was convinced that such touches from home would increase their time spent browsing, along with jazz music on the wireless by the front cash, one of many ideas that Mr. Dutton was still managing to resist.

Vivien and Alec had manned the ground floor of the shop together for over four years, circling each other within the front cash counter like wary lions inside a very small coliseum. The square, enclosed counter had been placed in the centre of the fiction department in an effort to contain an old electrical outlet box protruding from the floor. Mr. Dutton could not look at this eyesore without seeing a customer lawsuit for damages caused by accidental tripping. Upon his promotion to general manager in the 1930s, Dutton had immediately ordained that the front cash area be relocated and built around the box.

This configuration had turned out to be of great benefit to the staff. One could always spot a customer coming from any direction, prepare the appropriate response to expressions ranging from confused to hostile, and even catch the surreptitious slip of an unpurchased book into a handbag. Other bookshops had taken note of Bloomsbury Books’ ground-floor design and started refurbishing their own. The entire neighbourhood was, in this way, full of spies. Grace and Vivien were not the only two bookstore employees out and about, checking on other stores’ window displays. London was starting to boom again, after five long years of postwar rationing and recovery, and new bookshops were popping up all over. Bloomsbury was home to the British Museum, the University of London, and many famous authors past and present, including the prewar circle of Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, and Lytton Strachey. This made the district a particularly ideal location for readers, authors, and customers alike.

And so, it was here, on a lightly snowing day on the second of January, 1950, that a young Evie Stone arrived, Mr. Allen’s trading card in one pocket, and a one-way train ticket to London in the other.

Excerpt from The Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner.
Copyright © 2022 by Natalie Jenner. Published by St. Martin’s Press, New York. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

Author Natalie Jenner Headshot

Natalie Jenner is the author of the instant international bestseller The Jane Austen Society and Bloomsbury Girls. A Goodreads Choice Award runner-up for historical fiction and finalist for best debut novel, The Jane Austen Society was a USA Today and #1 national bestseller and has been sold for translation in twenty countries. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie has been a corporate lawyer, career coach and, most recently, an independent bookstore owner in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs. Visit her website to learn more.

Connect with the author via: Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Twitter | Website

This excerpt and tour brought to you by AustenProse

Book Showcase: A DISTURBING NATURE by Brian Lebeau

A DISTURBING NATURE by Brian Lebeau book coverA Disturbing Nature by Brian Lebeau
ISBN: 9781953865496 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781953865502 (ebook)
ASIN: B09VYK2NKD (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Books Fluent
Release Date: May 10, 2022
Genre: Fiction | Historical Fiction | Mystery | Suspense

When FBI Chief Investigator Francis Palmer and Maurice Lumen’s paths collide, a dozen young women are already dead—bodies strewn in the woods across southern New England. Crippled by the loss of their families and haunted by mistakes, they wrestle with skeletons and ghosts neither understands. Who is destined to pay for the sins of their fathers, and who will pay for their own?

Under a celebrity veneer, the Beast in Palmer simmers. Called back from an investigation that’s gone dry in Seattle to his field office in Boston, he’s assigned to a case closer to home. Without closure and carrying the scars of every predator he’s hunted down, Palmer’s thrust into a new killer’s destructive path and forced to confront his own demons.

On the surface, Mo Lumen seems an unlikely suspect. Abandoned by the Great Society and sheltered from the countercultural revolution, he’s forced to leave Virginia under the shadow of secrets and accusations. Emerging in Rhode Island, burdened with childlike innocence, reminders of the past threaten to resurrect old carcasses.

Once she arrives, however, it becomes clear the boy’s death was no accident. Someone dangerous lurks within these glittering halls. Someone harboring a disturbing obsession with portrait magic.

A psychological thriller set in the summer of 1975, A Disturbing Nature explores the concept of two deaths, blurring the line between man and monster.

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Read an Excerpt:

Palmer pushes his apartment door open with the key still in the knob. Six months of stale, pent-up air swarms the hallway and infests his nostrils, a bitter greeting following a prolonged absence. Suitcase wheels echo off bare walls and his two daughters smile at him from their easel-backed five-by-sevens as he shuts the door with his foot and heads to the shower.

Water drips from his hair and collects around his feet, the sting of leaving Seattle’s acid rain mixing with the anguish of returning to Boston’s polluted harbor. He wipes the walls and squeegees the glass, clearing the mist, but leaving the grime. Staring into the mirror as he shaves, Palmer sees The Monster. Still in his head. Still on the loose.

It feels twelve hours later than it is. Palmer closes the curtains to shield himself from the unforgiving midday sun, turns on the television to drown out the vehicular fist thrusts and extended fingers of Boston traffic, and props up a pillow to receive his aching head. Nothing worth watching, he shuffles to bed and stares at the phone on the nightstand. He knows he can’t call; she’ll be at work and the girls will be with their friends. He reaches for the receiver, grabbing a cigarette instead. Sitting at the edge and lighting, he takes an extended drag before resting his head in his palms.

The contrived tension of a soap opera playing in the living room and the heated burbles of Mr. Coffee working in the kitchen serve as background noise to Palmer’s rambling thoughts. Why did Osmond have to go on vacation now? Why would he fly home on a Monday? One more day isn’t so bad, he assures himself, but it’s been over a month since Osmond and Ross left Seattle. They’ve talked on the phone once since then, but Osmond didn’t mention anything about a vacation at the time. This is the longest stretch they haven’t worked together in eighteen years, all the way back to when Osmond was hospitalized.

Palmer knows Osmond kept him safe when the nightmares started. He protected Palmer when The Beast tried to take over, succeeding almost every time Palmer sought to explore the darker path. He shared the responsibility with Marilyn for bringing Palmer back to the respectable world of white-collar family man. Palmer walked the edge and Osmond held his hand.

Again, Palmer looks at the phone. This time he knows there’s no point; Osmond’s on a flight back from Antigua. Palmer pulls himself from the edge of the bed and staggers to the bathroom. Dumping several Valium down his throat, he checks the red clouds forming on the outside edges of his eyes and yawns. Are Ted’s eyes bloodshot, too? Juggling law school and nighttime activities? How many more young girls?

Palmer scoops the excess foam from a can of shaving cream on the counter, smearing it across the mirror. He sees the lines in his forehead and the creases in his neck, nothing in between. This time, Ted’s eyes do not stare back. Palmer knows he must have closure and take down monsters like Ted before they get to his daughters. And he needs a new investigation to purge his mind of The Monster’s depravity.

He walks back to bed, his eyelids almost closed, and crawls under the covers. He imagines Osmond poolside, sharing a rum punch with his wife. Marilyn and the girls are swimming in the pool while he lounges under an umbrella with a scotch mist and a crossword puzzle. And he’s himself again, until the Valium wears off. And the demons return.

Excerpt from A Disturbing Nature by Brian Lebeau.
Copyright © 2022 by Brian Lebeau
Published by arrangement with Books Fluent

 

Meet The Author

Author Brian Lebeau

One month after The Beatles arrived, with much fanfare, in America, Brian Lebeau was born, unceremoniously, in Fall River, Massachusetts, home of the infamous Lizzie Borden. After being awarded an “A” in high school English once and denied a career in music for “lack of talent” repeatedly, he taught economics at several colleges and universities in Massachusetts and Rhode Island before moving to Fauquier County, Virginia, to work as a defense contractor for two decades. In the psychological thriller A Disturbing Nature, Mr. Lebeau merges three key interests: a keen fascination with everything World War II, a morbid curiosity surrounding the motivations and mayhem of notorious serial killers, and a lifelong obsession with the Red Sox. A Disturbing Nature is Mr. Lebeau’s first book.

Connect with the Author:  Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Website
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Book Showcase: THE MURDER OF MR. WICKHAM by Claudia Gray

THE MURDER OF MR. WICKHAM by Claudia GrayThe Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray
ISBN: 9780593313817 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9780593313824 (ebook)
ISBN: 9780593592342 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B09JMN3MQQ (Kindle edition)
ASIN: B09L5DFNFZ (Audible audiobook)
Release Date: May 3, 2022
Publisher: Vintage Books
Genre: Historical Fiction | Historical Mystery | Cozy Mystery | Austenesque

A summer house party turns into a thrilling whodunit when Jane Austen’s Mr. Wickham—one of literature’s most notorious villains—meets a sudden and suspicious end in this brilliantly imagined mystery featuring Austen’s leading literary characters.

The happily married Mr. Knightley and Emma are throwing a party at their country estate, bringing together distant relatives and new acquaintances—characters beloved by Jane Austen fans. Definitely not invited is Mr. Wickham, whose latest financial scheme has netted him an even broader array of enemies. As tempers flare and secrets are revealed, it’s clear that everyone would be happier if Mr. Wickham got his comeuppance. Yet they’re all shocked when Wickham turns up murdered—except, of course, for the killer hidden in their midst.

Nearly everyone at the house party is a suspect, so it falls to the party’s two youngest guests to solve the mystery: Juliet Tilney, the smart and resourceful daughter of Catherine and Henry, eager for adventure beyond Northanger Abbey; and Jonathan Darcy, the Darcys’ eldest son, whose adherence to propriety makes his father seem almost relaxed. In this tantalizing fusion of Austen and Christie, from New York Times bestselling author Claudia Gray, the unlikely pair must put aside their own poor first impressions and uncover the guilty party—before an innocent person is sentenced to hang.

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Advance Praise

“Had Jane Austen sat down to write a country house murder mystery, this is exactly the book she would have written. Devotees of Austen’s timeless novels will get the greatest possible pleasure from this wonderful book. Immense fun and beautifully observed. Delicious!” —Alexander McCall Smith

“What a splendid conceit! . . . Gray provides plenty of backstory and enough depth to her characters that even those who mix up their Pride and Prejudice with their Sense and Sensibility will delight in the Agatha Christie–style mystery. . . . There’s so much fun to be had in this reimagined Austen world—and the mystery is so strong—that one can only hope, dear reader, that more books will follow.” —Ilene Cooper, Booklist (starred review)

“[An] enchanting mystery. . . . Gray perfectly captures the personalities of Austen’s beloved characters. This is a real treat for Austenites.” Publishers Weekly

“Who would NOT want to read a book in which one of literature’s most notorious rakes meets his final demise? . . . A delightful Agatha Christie meets Jane Austen romp.” —Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

Read an excerpt:

 

Chapter Two

 

Three times now, Fitzwilliam Darcy had believed himself permanently rid of the odious presence of George Wickham. Three times, he’d been wrong. The division eight months ago had seemed as though it had to be final, but no. Fate could be pernicious.

“Ah,” Wickham said, strolling forward. “I see my timing is inopportune. In the city, you see, the fashion is for later dinners.”

Knightley stood, pale and drawn. He looked as though he loathed Wickham as much as Darcy did. “You would not have been invited at any hour.”

Wickham’s smile widened. Somehow, in the heart of a confrontation, the man managed to seem even more at ease. “If I waited for an invitation to receive that which is mine in right of law—yes, Mr. Knightley, I imagine my wait would be very long.”

Knightley’s lips pressed together. Emma’s face had flushed with ill-repressed anger. Nor were they the only persons agitated at the table: Wentworth’s expression was dark, and his wife had tensed, as though she expected to have to fly from her chair to hold him back. Worst of all was dear Elizabeth, frozen like ice in her seat; her fingers were wrapped tightly around the hilt of her dinner knife. Jonathan’s distrust of his uncle clearly warred with his concern for his mother.

As for the Brandons, the Bertrams, and the young Miss Tilney: they each appeared deeply confused by the sudden, severe deviation from common civility. Therefore, none of them had ever met George Wickham before. Darcy envied them the privilege.

A loud clap of thunder rumbled through the air, the house, the ground itself. In the next instant, raindrops began to pelt the windows and ground, striking the windowpanes until they rattled.

Darcy could’ve cursed aloud. To judge by the hoofbeats he’d heard outside earlier, Wickham had arrived on horseback rather than by carriage, and not even the most odious company would be thrown out in such weather. Particularly in such hilly country as this corner of Surrey—to attempt to ride in a severe thunderstorm risked the health and nerves of one’s horse, and even one’s life.

Wickham raised an eyebrow, as aware as anyone of the etiquette that imprisoned his hosts. “It seems I shall be staying for a while.”

*

“I fear we cannot accommodate you at the table, Mr. Wickham.” Mrs. Knightley pushed her chair back as abruptly as an ill-mannered child. Jonathan would’ve been scolded for less, as a boy. She said, “Allow me to get you settled, and the servants will bring something up to you for dinner.” With that she strode out of the room. After a moment, Wickham inclined his head to the table—an ironical half bow—then followed her.

Had she done the right thing? The normal rules could not apply to such a situation as this. Jonathan would’ve resolved to ask his parents later had they not appeared so stricken. No, he would be left to interpret this for himself.

A silence followed, empty of words and yet suffocatingly heavy. Finally, Knightley cleared his throat. “My dear guests, I must beg your pardon. The gentleman who has arrived is . . . no friend to this household. Yet there are matters between us that must be resolved.”

“He seemed insolent in the extreme,” said Mrs. Brandon, astonishingly forthright. “What a disagreeable person.”

In any other circumstances, Jonathan might’ve found such a pronouncement rude; tonight, people seemed freed to speak their thoughts—and to the whole table, at that. Understandable, perhaps, but in his opinion it set a dangerous precedent.

“George Wickham is indeed disagreeable,” Knightley agreed, “however skilled he is at pretending otherwise.”

Brandon spoke for the first time at dinner. “Did you say—Mr. George Wickham?”

Knightley nodded. “A former army officer, who now fancies himself an arranger of investments. Bah! Investments that work to his own gain and everyone else’s loss.”

“Certainly to ours,” Wentworth said, his voice hollow.

Jonathan saw Mrs. Wentworth wince.

But she rallied swiftly, turning to Darcy and asking very civilly, “How are you acquainted with Mr. Wickham, sir?”

“We grew up together in Derbyshire,” Darcy said. Brandon’s fork clattered against the dinner plate. Jonathan wondered—How could anyone continue eating at such a time? “He was the son of my late father’s steward. As adults, our ways parted for many years.”

To his surprise, it was Mother who spoke next. “Then Mr. Wickham married my sister Lydia.”

And Lydia and George Wickham had had a daughter.

For a moment, Jonathan remembered Susannah so vividly that she might’ve been sitting at his side, giggling as she so often did, dark curls framing her round, smiling face. To him, she had been more sister than cousin. To his parents, Susannah had been more daughter than niece. He knew himself and his brothers to be dearly loved, but he knew also that for many years his mother and father had longed for a little girl that never came.

Then, eight years ago, Susannah had been born—the belated first and only child of his aunt and uncle. Neither Aunt Lydia nor Uncle George had possessed much interest in the daily tedium of child-rearing; as soon as Susannah had left her wet nurse, she had been packed off to Pemberley for lengthy visits. Indeed, Susannah had spent far more of her short life in his home than she ever had with her parents. This suited everyone: Mother and Father, who doted on the child; Jonathan and his brothers, who were old enough to find her odd little ways amusing rather than irritating; Aunt Lydia and Uncle George, who showed no evidence of ever missing their daughter; and Susannah herself, who wept piteously before each of her journeys home and always ran back into Pemberley as fast as her small legs would bear her.

She would never run through the doors again.

Excerpt from The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray.
Copyright © 2022 by Claudia Gray. Published by Vintage Books, A Division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

Author Claudia Gray

Claudia Gray is the pseudonym of Amy Vincent. She is the writer of multiple young adult novels, including the Evernight series, the Firebird trilogy, and the Constellation trilogy. In addition, she’s written several Star Wars novels, such as Lost Stars and Bloodline. She makes her home in New Orleans with her husband Paul and assorted small dogs.

Connect with the author via:   BookBub | Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Twitter | Website

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Book Showcase: A FORGERY OF ROSES by Jessica S. Olson

A FORGERY OF ROSES by Jessica S. Olson book coverA Forgery of Roses by Jessica S. Olson
ISBN: 9781335418661 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780369705662 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488212956 (digital audiobook)
ISBN: 9798200712441 (audiobook on CD)
ASIN: B0958338P5 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B092MNDBVQ (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Release Date: March 29, 2022
Genre: Fiction | Young Adult | Fantasy | Romance

 

Myra Whitlock has a gift. One many would kill for.

Myra has a gift many would kidnap, blackmail, and worse to control: she’s a portrait artist whose paintings alter people’s bodies. Guarding that secret is the only way to keep her younger sister safe now that their parents are gone.

But one frigid night, the governor’s wife discovers the truth and threatens to expose Myra if she does not complete a special portrait that would resurrect the governor’s dead son. Desperate, Myra ventures to his legendary stone mansion.

Once she arrives, however, it becomes clear the boy’s death was no accident. Someone dangerous lurks within these glittering halls. Someone harboring a disturbing obsession with portrait magic.

Myra cannot do the painting until she knows what really happened, so she turns to the governor’s older son, a captivating redheaded poet. Together, they delve into the family’s most shadowed affairs, racing to uncover the truth before the secret Myra spent her life concealing makes her the killer’s next victim.

From Sing Me Forgotten author Jessica S. Olson comes a gothic fantasy murder mystery perfect for fans of Kerri Maniscalco and Erin A. Craig.

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Read an Excerpt:

When ladyroses burn, they bleed.

“A symbol of life,” Mother used to say when we would bend over the smoke together.

But now, as I hold flame to stem, as I watch hungry, glowing embers devour leaves and thorns, as floral perfume curdles to ribbons of soot in my nose, I know she was wrong. For when the fire reaches the petals, they shrivel, curling as though in pain. And then they melt. Great fat rubies dribbling over my fingers and smattering into my bowl like gore.

Mother called it beautiful. But now that she and Father have gone, all I see is death.

Gritting my teeth, I tear my gaze from the slow trickle of red and try to steady the quake of my movements as I drop the scorched ladyrose stems into the trash bin and blow out my candle. Crossing to a pot of water I’ve got heating over the fire in the corner, I tip the bowl of ladyrose drippings in.

As soon as it hits the water, the rose blood fans out, a spiderweb of shimmering scarlet veins crawling through the pot until the whole thing clouds like it’s full of sparkling garnet dust. I dip a spoon into the mixture and stir. It bubbles, smokes, and blackens.

Closing my eyes, I breathe in the sharp, cloying scent. Mother used to come home every day smelling like this—her clothes, her hair, her skin. With my head thick in a fog of exhaustion, it’s easy to allow myself to imagine she’s here next to me, chatting happily about how mixing burnt umber with ultramarine blue makes a far superior black than the tube of flat paint many artists purchase at the store. “It creates a more eye-catching hue,” I can almost hear her say. “Make the shadows breathe, Myra.”

From across the studio, the piercing laugh of my employer, portrait artist Elsie Moore, breaks through my thoughts, and I sigh as the echo of Mother’s voice fades from my mind.

How long will it be before I forget what that sounded like?

Forcing away thoughts of Mother, I continue stirring the contents of my pot. Another few minutes, and it should be ready to remove from the heat, cover, and set in a cool place to coagulate. Three days hence, the bubbling charcoal syrup will thicken into a clear jellylike substance that I’ll then transfer into tubes to stock alongside Elsie’s paints, solvents, and brushes. Ladyrose gel. A painting medium I both revere and fear.

I toss the spoon into the sink and wrap a towel around the pot. Then I hoist it to the counter beneath the window to cool and drape a cloth over its top. Satisfied, I turn to my next task of the morning: a bouquet of dirty brushes waiting to be cleaned. As I unscrew the cap from a bottle of turpentine, I let my gaze wander to where Elsie’s putting the finishing touches on a portrait of Mrs. Ramos across the room. Cadmium bright paints, eye-catching phthalo hues, and quinacridone details swirl together like smoke on Elsie’s canvas. She holds her brushes with a steady hand, chattering animatedly to Mrs. Ramos without a care in the world.

What would it be like to paint so freely? To wield a brush without the threat of magic commandeering the portrait? To give in to the high of pure creation?

Painting used to be like that for me, back before my powers sparked to life a few years ago. In those days, there was no greater ecstasy than the promise of a blank canvas and a palette full of colors. Before magic, painting was magic.

The memory of it is enough to make me weep.

I press the bristles of a filbert brush against the coil at the bottom of the jar of turpentine to loosen the oils, but when Elsie gasps, I glance back up.

“No!” She presses a dramatic hand to her heart. “Wilburt Jr.? What does he have?”

Mrs. Ramos, sitting daintily on a settee in a pale pink dress, nods, her mouth twisted in a frown. “The papers don’t say. I think it could be pneumonia, though. It’s been going around this year. Mrs. Potsworth down the street passed away from a nasty case of it not last week!”

I frown. The only Wilburt Jr. they can possibly be talking about is the governor’s son. A tall, strikingly handsome boy around my age whom I’ve only ever glimpsed at Lalverton city events.

Pursing my lips, I set aside the turpentine and dunk the brushes into the sink. Soap bubbles in my palm as I work it through the bristles, and I stare absently out the window at the snow swirling in the street and the passersby kicking through muddy slush on the sidewalk. I fall into a rhythm, imagining I’m back at the flat my family used to live in downtown. Mother is at my side in front of the kitchen sink, scrubbing burnt sienna out from underneath her fingernails. Father bustles in through the door, arms laden with bowls of leftover soups from his restaurant. My little sister, Lucy, rushes at him, asking if her pet frog can have the lobster bisque. You know it’s his favorite, Pa!

“Myra?” Elsie says behind me, and I jump, dropping the brushes, which hit the bottom of the basin with a faint series of plinks.

“Ms. Moore!” I say, looking back to where she was chatting with Mrs. Ramos earlier. I catch sight of the curly haired woman tugging a coat over her dress as she heads out the door. “You scared me.”

Elsie chuckles, thunking down another cupful of dirty brushes. “An ox could sneak up on you, dear. You spend too much time in your head.” She turns her back to me and gestures at the buttons down her spine. “Help me off with my smock, please.”

I obey. Sweat glistens on the back of her neck, dampening the gray curls that have escaped her tight bun.

“I know it’s not my place to ask questions,” the old woman continues, patting at her hair, “but…are you sleeping? How’s Lucy?”

I paste on a neutral expression and slide the smock from Elsie’s shoulders. “The same.”

She sighs. “I do wish I could help.”

The words are like a backhanded blow. I wonder what Mother would think if she heard them. Whether Father would scoff in that indignant way of his at the blatant lie.

I stare at my feet to keep from glancing at the fat amethysts drooping from Elsie’s soft white earlobes, the glitter of half a dozen gold chains around her neck, or the bulbous gems on her gnarled fingers. Any one of those sold to a jeweler would fetch the money Lucy and I need, but three months ago when I came begging Elsie for the help she claims she wishes she could give me, she balked at the idea. Said it would do me no favors to hand me a reward I didn’t earn.

I knew before I even asked her that she would say no. If there’s anything life has taught me, it’s that I can’t count on anyone but my sister. We’re all each other has. And, in the past, that would have been enough. But with Lucy’s illness having taken a turn for the worse and our funds being too meager to afford the medical care she needs, Elsie’s patronizing words about “wishing she could help” make me want to scream.

“How was Mrs. Ramos?” I ask a bit too brightly as I fold the smock into a tidy little square and set it on a pile of linens I plan to wash tomorrow.

Elsie draws the back of her hand across her brow. “She’s doing well, I think. Her son is visiting this week.”

“The senator?”

“Yes. He took her to see Governor Harris’s public address yesterday.” Her expression sours.

“And?” I ask, not sure if I want to hear any more.

“She said the governor went on for at least five minutes berating Lalverton citizens for buying paintings and thus making light of the Holy Artist’s divinity.” She huffs. “That man is never going to let it go, is he?”

I groan. “When is he going to remember he’s not a priest and that people’s worship is not actually his concern?”

“He also said allowing secular art to become such a thriving business is the reason so many painters have gone missing. He apparently thinks it’s a sign that the Artist is displeased.”

I hiss through my teeth.

Painters have been disappearing one by one over the past year, starting with my mother, and yet the governor—the man whose duty it is to protect Lalverton—has done nothing. No major investigations, no questions asked.

Because we are the scum of the earth to him. Worse, even.

It’s nothing I haven’t heard before. I used to be forced to stand by as pompous worshippers spit on my mother, accusing her of desecrating the Artist by painting for profit. I watched others cross the street when they passed Elsie’s studio, as though merely being in the presence of such heresy could taint their souls.

As the years have trickled by, though, the disdain seems to have eased up a bit. Only the most devout hold painters like Elsie and Mother in such contempt. The majority of people don’t seem to mind what we do, and in recent months, portraiture has become quite popular in Lalverton.

But anytime Governor Harris goes on one of his burn-all-the-studios-to-the-ground rampages, my heart sinks.

I want to be a painter, just like Mother was—is—but it seems that particular life will always come with a healthy measure of judgment and disgust.

Elsie drops her voice to a whisper. “My bet—and don’t you dare repeat this to a soul, dear—is that the governor is exterminating us one by one himself. Wiping us out like stink bugs under his boot.”

A jolt zaps through my body.

Elsie registers my expression. “I’m sorry,” she says quickly. “I should not have—”

“It’s fine,” I say, my voice a pitch too high as the image of my parents under Governor Harris’s boot, twitching like a pair of dead insects, makes my stomach churn.

“Besides—” Elsie flounders for words “—the fact that your father is among the missing is a testament to the fact that it’s not only painters, right?” She gives a nervous chuckle, as if such a statement should comfort me.

I stare at her.

The bell on the front door tinkles.

“Mr. Markleton!” Elsie almost shouts, diving across the room toward the short, balding merchant in the doorway in her hurry to get away from me. “Right on time, as usual!” Her voice fills the air with exaggerated cheeriness. “Come, come!” She weaves among easels stacked with paintings in varying stages of completion and directs Mr. Markleton to a cushy settee in front of one of the backdrops that line the far wall.

“Brought along this—I know how you love to keep up on the Lalverton gossip,” he says with a smile, offering Elsie a rolled-up newspaper.

“Oh, yes! I heard about Governor Harris’s son.” She nods at me to take the paper. “But I did want to read the story myself. Thank you for bringing it along.”

Mr. Markleton gives me a friendly wink as I carry the newspaper to the back table. Elsie’s careless words about the missing people, about my parents, echo ceaselessly in my head, and I try to catch my breath as a wave of nausea rolls through me.

Elsie means well, I know that. She’s always had a knack for speaking before she thinks.

And it’s not like I could ever forget my parents are missing anyway. My whole world unraveled when they vanished, and it’s only gotten harder the past few months as our bank accounts have emptied. We can scarcely afford food and rent, let alone the medical care Lucy needs now that her illness has worsened.

We had our whole lives planned out. I was to attend the Lalverton Conservatory for Music and the Arts when I turned eighteen next spring, just like Mother. I would graduate with highest marks, just like Mother. Then I would open my own studio, just like Mother did here with Elsie.

Lucy, who was only twelve when our parents disappeared, was already on track to be accepted into some of the most prestigious biology programs in the country. She planned to change the world with her discoveries. Improve the environment and save endangered animals.

But now, those plans are nothing more than dreams from another life. A memory of wishes that will never come true. I’ve spent the past several months painting portraits until dawn to build up a portfolio in hopes of securing one of the full-ride scholarships the conservatory offers, but…well. Thanks to my magic’s interference, my portfolio is meager at best. I have a better chance at winning a scholarship to the moon.

Maybe my dreams were foolish anyway. Keeping my power from being discovered in a place like the conservatory would have been difficult. I don’t know how Mother managed it.

Rubbing a fist over my aching eyes, I glance down at the newspaper in my hands. A black-and-white photograph of a square-jawed man smiles kindly back at me from the front page. Why do I recognize him?

I unfurl the paper and read the article.

The body of Frederick Bennett, who was reported missing eight years ago, was discovered in the cellar of Roderick Lowell’s home last week.

My fists tighten on the paper, crinkling it. Of course I know his face. Frederick Bennett’s somber eyes have stared out from missing-person posters all over the city since I was nine years old. Mother told me she knew him from the conservatory and always wondered if he was a Prodigy like her. When he disappeared, she said she hoped he hadn’t been kidnapped and coerced into using his magic for someone cruel and desperate.

With unease stinging in my gut, I read on.

Autopsy reports reveal that the cause of death was starvation, though many lacerations, bruises, and broken bones were observed. Extensive scarring on his back and arms was noted, as well.

Lowell, a prominent stockholder in Lalverton, has declined to respond to inquiries and is being held for questioning at the Lalverton Police Station.

A roaring fills my ears, and I stumble back several steps before sinking into Elsie’s chair.

The report doesn’t say the word “Prodigy,” but it doesn’t have to.

Prodigy magic, which flows through my body just as it did through Mother’s, gives an artist the ability to alter human and animal bodies with their paintings, and it is considered by the Church to be even more of an abomination than normal portrait work. According to scripture, my very existence is a defilement of the power of our god, the Great Artist. Prodigies like us have been persecuted by the pious and captured by the greedy since the dawn of time. My head is full of the stories Mother told from her history books, the ones in which entire nations banded together to force a Prodigy to do their bidding. Where the holy priests burned them at the stake to cleanse the world of what they believed to be sinful imitation of the Artist.

As centuries have passed, the number of Prodigies in the world has dwindled—though whether it’s because their genetic lines have been killed off or because the ones who have survived have kept their powers hidden like Mother, it’s hard to say. With men like Governor Harris in charge of regions across the world, men willing to falsify charges in order to get Prodigies locked up in the name of “purifying” their streets, there’s no telling how many of us are out there, hiding.

All I know is that someone found out what Mother was, and then she and Father vanished.

Just like Frederick Bennett.

A flicker of orange flashes in the corner of my eye from the front window, and I glance up from the paper. A small red-haired woman stands outside the studio entrance with a tiny white dog in a sparkling collar tucked under one arm. She nudges the door open, sending the bell above it tinkling once again. A swirl of snow twists into the room as she slips inside, and I stifle a gasp when I catch sight of her face.

Mrs. Adelia Harris, wife to the merciless governor set on destroying every art studio in town, meets my gaze with a cold, hard stare. I tighten my grip on the newspaper.

With her husband’s reelection campaign in full swing, her son in a sickbed, and her belief that portrait art is a sin of the vilest degree, what could she possibly want with us?

Elsie catches sight of her and leaps to her feet with a gasp, knocking over her stool, which clangs against the tile.

“Hello.” Mrs. Harris’s voice is quiet. Lethal. “I’d like to get a portrait done.”

Excerpt from A Forgery of Roses by Jessica S. Olson.
Copyright © 2022 by Jessica S. Olson
Published by arrangement with Inkyard Press/HarperCollins

Meet The Author

Author Jessica S. Olson photo by Breanna Olson
Jessica S. Olson photo by Breanna Olson

Jessica S. Olson claims New Hampshire as her home but has somehow found herself in Texas, where she spends most of her time singing praises to the inventor of the air conditioner. When she’s not hiding from the heat, she’s corralling her four wild—but adorable—children, dreaming up stories about kissing and murder and magic, and eating peanut butter by the spoonful straight from the jar. She earned a bachelor’s in English with minors in editing and French, which essentially means she spent all of her university time reading and eating French pastries. She is the author of Sing Me Forgotten (2021) and A Forgery of Roses (2022).

Connect with the Author:  Goodreads | Instagram | Twitter | Website

This excerpt brought to you by Inkyard Press

Book Showcase: THE PILATE SCROLL by M.B. Lewis

The Pilate Scroll

by M.B. Lewis

March 14 – April 8, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

The Pilate Scroll by M.B. Lewis

An artifact with untold power. An unlikely protector. Can she prevent the past from being used to destroy the future?

Kadie Jenkins lost her faith long ago. Traveling to Egypt as part of a research team battling a lethal virus, the talented scholar’s already weakened beliefs take a deadly dive when her colleague and mentor is murdered. With the man about to share a shocking finding before he met his demise, Kadie frantically gathers his papers… and barely escapes when the killer returns.

Fleeing by plane and forced into an emergency landing in Israel, Kadie questions who in her group she can actually trust. And as the murderers close in, she’s stunned to discover they’re all hunting for an ancient relic that could change the course of history…

Will this headstrong academic lean on powers from above to keep the wicked from wreaking havoc on Earth?

The Pilate Scroll is a pulse-pounding Christian thriller. If you like complicated heroines, stunning twists, and divine light shining through the darkness, then you’ll love M.B. Lewis’s breakneck page-turner.

Book Details:

Genre: Christian Thriller / Action-Adventure
Published by: Satcom Publishing
Publication Date: April 27th 2021
Number of Pages: 346
ISBN10: 1733098917 (paperback)
ISBN13: 9781733098915 (paperback)
ASIN: B08SMQTPZC (Kindle edition)
Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: IndieBound.org | Amazon | Kindle Unlimited | Barnes and Noble | BookDepository.com | Bookshop.org | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1

Port Said, Egypt
The Market District

Samuel Jacobson was a dead man. Or at least he thought so. His phone call had been erratic, anxious—almost in a panic.

“Brian, we have to go.” Kadie Jenkins stood and slid her iPhone back in the pocket of her tan 5.11 cargo pants. She grabbed her purse and rose from the table in the back of the tiny restaurant, dragging her nineteen-year-old brother out before they had a chance to order their dinner. The restaurant sat tucked between shops selling hookahs on one side and women’s clothes on the other. The aroma of fresh bread and grilled meats dissipated, replaced by the pungent scent of car exhaust and camel dung.

“It’s only a fifteen-minute walk back to the hotel,” Kadie said. “I bet we can make it in ten.”

Brian stumbled behind her as they hurried along dusty streets. They turned into the souk, or open-air market, the brick-laid section of the market that was pedestrian-only this time of night. While many of the shops had their “roll-up” metal security doors pulled down, the market bristled with life.

Vendors waved items in their faces, children tugged on their pant legs, and beggars held their palms up hoping for a handout. Her eyes studied everyone who came close, gauging their intentions in a moment’s glance. She was one of only a few women in the market not wearing a hijab.

“Kadie slow down,” Brian said. His breathing came deep and awkward, despite being a regular participant in the Special Olympics.

“Sorry, Brian. We could get a cab at the other end of the market. But by the time we find one, describe our hotel, and negotiate a price, we could walk to the hotel.” While she relished the exercise, she worried her pace was too much for him. He was fit for a young man with Down syndrome, but she moved swiftly.

Their team had been in Egypt for almost three weeks. Starting in Cairo, the small group of seven from GDI, the Global Disease Initiative, had been scouring the city for clues to an ancient cure. Their quest had led them from the United States to Cairo, then to Port Said. Their four days here had not yet proven fruitful.

The goosebumps on her skin reminded her of Samuel’s phone call. His message was brief yet concise: his life was in danger because he knew what they were really searching for. What did he mean? Their team was one of four positioned across the Middle East in search of their goal. Now, for some reason, Samuel questioned what that was.

GDI had been contracted by the United States government to locate an ancient cure for an even older virus—the hantavirus. Kadie researched the topic before they left for Egypt. Rodents generally spread it, and this strain was a particularly virulent “Old World” virus that had proven resistant to modern medicine.

The Central Intelligence Agency learned that ISIS weaponized the hantavirus in aerosol form and planned to unleash it across the West. The virus was known at the CDC to cause hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome. Initial symptoms include fever, chills, blurred vision, back and abdominal pain, and intense headaches known to bring a grown man to his knees. Later, those exposed would experience shock, low blood pressure, kidney failure, and vascular leakage—all in all, a nasty virus to thrust upon any population. The logistics involved in treating the virus were obvious.

The unique thing about the “Old World” hantavirus, was that it had predominantly appeared in Europe and Asia. GDI discovered that the virus had been eliminated in the Middle East, which was odd, as rodents were prevalent throughout the region.

Through one of their many connections, GDI learned of a legendary cure developed in ancient Israel around 30 A.D. The virus had a different name back then, but the symptoms were the same. The cure was a simple combination of plants and minerals. The formula was stored in a vase with Aramaic writing on the side and lay hidden for millennia. That was why she was here. Kadie was fluent in Latin, Greek, and Aramaic. The executive vice president for the Science and Technology Division of GDI had contacted her personally, telling her she was “uniquely qualified” for this job. Kadie was enthralled to join the team when the offer came.

Samuel was in his early sixties, and he and Kadie had struck up a friendship at the beginning of their journey. He became her mentor and father figure, occasionally giving her advice on what to do with her career. Samuel was the team’s expert on carbon dating. His equipment was state-of-the-art, but other than testing its functionality the day after they arrived, he hadn’t used it. So, what did he discover? What did he know that was worth killing for?

Halfway to the hotel, she mumbled something she shouldn’t have as she pulled out her phone and dialed. Her eyes darted toward her brother.

“Do not c-cuss,” Brian said between heavy breaths.

Brian. Her moral compass there to steer her back on course. She squeezed her brother’s hand. Brian always kept her grounded. What would she do when he was gone? But he was here now, and she needed to make sure he would be safe, something she had done for him since the day he was born.

“Sorry, Brian. I just remembered I need to call Curt. He’s probably on his way to the restaurant to meet us.”

“He is probably s-still wor—king.” Brian’s eyes darted back and forth. His speech impediment that made his ‘r’s sometimes sound like ‘w’s wasn’t nearly as bad as it was when he was younger, and his stutter only showed up when he was nervous.

Kadie grimaced. Curt didn’t answer his phone. He was GDI’s security man and the only full-time employee on their team. Kadie left a message, telling him she was sorry, but she had to leave the restaurant. They’d talk later.

Next, she called Samuel. He didn’t answer either. She slipped her phone back in her cargo pocket and glanced at her brother. He was doing all he could to keep up with Kadie and avoid the distractions of the numerous shops in the marketplace. Gasping, his jaw jutted forward, brow furrowed, and his eyes bulged. He had been reluctant to leave the restaurant; he must be starving. She had to plead with him to get him to budge.

“We did not stay—for food. I am hungry,” Brian said.

“I know. I’m sorry. I am, too.” Her eyes darted back and forth in search of something they could eat. A few moments later she smiled. Near the end of the market, a vendor baked and sold bread. They stopped next to the giant metal oven that extended back into a yellowing mud-brick building. The bread rolled out of the front like doughnuts at Krispy Kreme, and two men placed the warm food on a rack woven out of sticks to cool. Her limited vocabulary in conversational Arabic helped her in situations like this. Kadie bought two loaves of Aish Baladi, an Egyptian flatbread made with whole wheat flour, similar to a pita. Handing the bag of bread to Brian, they continued on their way.

The dust of the market peeled away as they rounded the corner, and their hotel came into sight. Well-lit against the black sky, it sat on the edge of the water where the Suez Canal merged into the Mediterranean Sea. An outdoor restaurant sat to her left; the numerous tables had their umbrellas open, lit candles centered on each table. To her right, a small mosque lay nestled amongst other buildings. This street was far less crowded than the souk.

“What do you think about Curt?” Her chestnut-brown hair bounced as she slowed her pace so Brian could keep up. She needed a conversation to take her mind off Samuel.

“He is okay.” Brian looked away when he answered. Kadie knew what that meant. Brian’s instincts on people were spot on, and he wasn’t very fond of Curt. She wasn’t sure why; she was still trying to figure him out herself. Curt was a few years older than her. He was handsome, dashing, and brave—former Delta Force. There was something to be said for that.

They entered the newly renovated hotel, leaving the Third World atmosphere behind them. Kadie sighed as they weaved through the crowded lobby and lumbered up the stairs to their room on the second floor. She dropped Brian off in their room before she went to check on Samuel.

“Don’t leave,” she said. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

“Okay.” Brian moved to the couch and pressed the big green button on the television remote.

Kadie closed the door; the hairs on the back of her neck bristled, and her heartbeat raced higher than usual. She hurried down the hall to Samuel’s room. Inside, she heard a loud crash and the sound of something hitting the wall, followed by a solid thud.

That’s not good, she thought.

Kadie tried the door handle. Locked. She pulled a small FOB out of her pocket. It was called a Gomer, a new device that opened almost any electronic lock. It had wreaked havoc on the hotel industry, but she had picked one up back in the States knowing she’d be living in hotels abroad for three months.

She was hesitant to use it. She shouldn’t just barge into his room. Then came a second thud, followed by a muffled cry.

Kadie swiped the FOB across the lock and pushed hard against the door. The door cracked open about two inches and abruptly stopped; the chain secured on the inside.

“Samuel?” She peered through the gap; a body lay on the floor. Oh my, he’s had a heart attack. Kadie lowered her shoulder and bulldozed the door. It started to give way. On the second try, the chain burst free from the wall and the door flew open.

Kadie gasped. In the center of the room, a large man stood over Samuel’s body, wearing a faded brown futa, the traditional Yemini male shirt, and black pants. A black keffiyeh covered his face, with only his eyes exposed.

The man stood over Samuel, the bloody knife in his hand dripping on the floor.

***

Excerpt from The Pilate Scroll by M.B. Lewis. Copyright 2022 by Michael Byars Lewis. Reproduced with permission from Michael Byars Lewis. All rights reserved.

 

Author Bio:

Michael Byars Lewis

Michael Byars Lewis is an Amazon #1 International Bestselling Author, and his books have also been on the Bestseller lists on Barnes and Noble Nook and Kobo platforms. The author of the award-winning Jason Conrad Thriller series has been on numerous author panels at writer’s conferences such as Thrillerfest, The Louisiana Book Festival, The Pensacola Book and Writers Festival, and Killer Nashville.

A 25-year Air Force pilot, he has flown special operations combat missions in Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan in the AC-130U Spooky Gunship. Michael is currently a pilot for a major U.S. airline.

A proud Christian active in his community, Michael has mentored college students on leadership development and team-building and is a facilitator for an international leadership training program. He has participated as a buddy for the Tim Tebow Foundation’s “Night to Shine” and in his church’s Military Ministry program. Michael has also teamed with the Air Commando Foundation, which supports Air Commando’s and their families’ unmet needs during critical times. ​While his adventures have led to travels all around the world, Michael lives in Florida with his wife Kim.

Catch Up With M.B. Lewis:
www.MichaelByarsLewis.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @MichaelByarsLewis
Instagram – @michaelbyarslewis
Facebook – @mblauthor

Plus, join in the Twitter chat – #MichaelByarsLewis!

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Book Showcase: SAVVY SHELDON FEELS GOOD AS HELL by Taj McCoy

SAVVY SHELDON FEELS GOOD AS HELL by Taj McCoy book coverSavvy Sheldon Feels Good as Hell by Taj McCoy
ISBN: 9780778311843 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9780369717597 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488213472 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B09F5BXNG1 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B093DM7SMT (Kindle edition)
Publisher: MIRA
Release Date: March 22, 2022
Genre: Fiction | Romance | Romantic Comedy

A delicious debut rom-com about a plus-size sweetheart who gets a full-life makeover after a brutal breakup.

Savvy Sheldon spends a lot of time tiptoeing around the cracks in her life: her high-stress and low-thanks job, her clueless boyfriend and the falling-apart kitchen she inherited from her beloved grandma—who taught her how to cook and how to love people by feeding them. But when Savvy’s world starts to crash down around her, she knows it’s time for some renovations.

Starting from the outside in, Savvy tackles her crumbling kitchen, her relationship with her body, her work–life balance (or lack thereof) and, last but not least, her love life. The only thing that doesn’t seem to require effort is her ride-or-die squad of friends. But as any home-reno-show junkie can tell you, something always falls apart during renovations. First, Savvy passes out during hot yoga. Then it turns out that the contractor she hires is the same sexy stranger she unintentionally offended by judging based on appearances. Worst of all, Savvy can’t seem to go anywhere without tripping over her ex and his latest “upgrade.” Savvy begins to realize that maybe she should’ve started her renovations the other way around: beginning with how she sees herself before building a love that lasts.

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: IndieBound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Audible | Audiobooks.com | Barnes and Noble | Nook Book | BookDepository.com | Books-A-Million | Bookshop.org | Downpour Audiobook | eBooks.com | Google Play | !ndigo | Kobo Audiobook | Kobo eBook

Read an Excerpt:

“Shit!” Savvy whispered. A bubble of bacon grease popped on her arm, and she jumped back. Rubbing away the grease, she turned down the white knob on her gas stove to calm the crackling bacon, flipping thick slices of applewood-smoked goodness with a pair of tongs. Crisper this time.

Other than her occasional muttered curses, the only sounds in the house came from the sizzling on the stove and the deep hum of a cranky old refrigerator. The kind of hum that keeps you guessing whether it actually still functions. Tugging on the door, she ducked her head in to pull out baby portobello mushrooms, fresh spinach, and a red bell pepper from the crisper. She grabbed Gruyère cheese, a carton of eggs, and a pint of fresh strawberries, closing the door slowly to avoid its signature creak.

Savvy skillfully ran her chef’s knife through mushrooms, peppers, and onion more slowly than usual. She took great care not to wake the man sleeping down the hall. She eyed the black silk camisole and lacy short set hanging nearby, and a shiver of excitement ran down her spine. She looked down at Jason’s old basketball shirt, a relic from some college intramural tournament that he and his boys played in. Not exactly a seductive look. Whoever those guys were that enjoyed women with their hair tied back and no makeup on, Jason was not one of them.

She separated egg yolks from whites and tossed the veggies into a heated omelet pan, adding handfuls of fresh spinach as they softened, then the beaten egg whites a moment later. Using a handheld cheese grater, curls of Gruyère sprinkled onto the omelet, slowly expanding and flattening into a melty pool.

Savvy had moved into her childhood home eight months ago, right after Mama moved to San Jose with her new husband, leaving it empty. Very little had changed in the house since her childhood. Carpets still covered pristine hardwood floors, and plastic runners lined the hallway leading to the bedrooms. Dingy from years of wear and tear, the edges of the runners were yellowed with age. Mama’s house, with its floral decor, took clutter to hoarding levels—she never threw anything away.

The faded yellow paint on the walls, dry and peeling, reminded Savvy of the lists of contractors Mama had given her, tucked between the milk crate and the French press. She intended to renovate the house to make it feel more like her own, but work was too busy to take on a project. The tea kettle hissed hot steam, and she snatched it from the stove before whistling interrupted the morning quiet. Boiling water cascaded over finely ground Kona coffee, the aroma carrying just enough caffeine to raise her energy level.

After peeking over her shoulder, Savvy reached into the oven and grabbed a slice of chewy bacon from the tray. If it’s eaten straight from the pan, it has no calories. These are the Bacon Rules.

Sliced strawberries and cubed mangoes with a chiffonade of fresh mint joined the omelet and crispy bacon, making for a colorful, drool-worthy presentation. Savvy ran a paper towel around the rim of the plate before capturing the aesthetic for her IG Story.

She kicked off her slippers and lifted the enormous T-shirt over her head before realizing with a flash of embarrassment that the kitchen curtains were wide open. She rushed to shut them, stubbing her toe on a loose piece of tile and yelling silently into the morning. Once she regained her composure, she slipped the camisole over her head, sucking in her breath and running her fingers over the slightly taut, black fabric. Don’t overthink it, Savvy. With her silky cream kimono robe with pale pink peonies framing her sexy new pj’s and Jason’s meal on an enameled wooden tray, she shook out her hair one last time and headed down the hall.

“Good morning, Baby I have breakfast for you,” Savvy cooed softly as she reached the doorway.

Jason opened his eyes slowly, rolling toward her onto his side as he yawned. “How long you been up, Savs?” His beard was flattened on his left side from being pressed into the pillow. He smoothed a hand over the crown of his head, flattening the top of his fade, then grabbed his phone before turning to look at her. Jason took in her attempt at seduction, his deep voice thick from sleep. “What you got on?”

Dammit. “Just something new. I thought you’d like it. I was up for maybe an hour?” she lied. More like two. “Couldn’t get back to sleep, so I thought I’d surprise you.” Setting the tray on the nightstand, she stole a quick kiss.

“I taste bacon on your lips.” He dug into his plate, shoving bacon and mango into his mouth at the same time. His hooded eyes chastised her before returning back to his meal.

How does he even taste his own food eating that fast? She sat down next to him with a bowl of fresh fruit, resting her pedicured toes on the edge of the bed frame. “What do you have going on today?”

“Need to stop by my momma’s after she gets out of church, go home and walk Ginger, and then play a couple of pickup games with the fellas. What’s on your plate today? You cookin’ tonight?” He crunched through his bacon with enthusiasm, moving half of his omelet onto a piece of toast.

“I need to check on my uncle before I go shopping for some work clothes. You could come over for dinner later.”

He grunted, looking up from his omelet on toast, cheeks threatening to burst. “What you cookin’?” he repeated.

She rolled her eyes as she fixed her mouth to give him options, but her phone pinged.

Jason hit her with a side-eye, shaking his head. His mouth bursting with food. “Is that who I think it is?” His voice peaked, like a kid three seconds away from a tantrum.

Grabbing her phone from the nightstand, Savvy eyed him carefully. “Yes, Babe, it is.” Her voice calm, she scrutinized the request from her boss. He needed data about insured millennials to present to a new insurance client, and she’d forgotten to incorporate that into her presentation slides.

“He’s interrupting quality time, Savvy.” Jason stood, bare chested in basketball shorts, his deep voice booming with displeasure. Athletic, but not overly muscular, he ran his fingers over his flat stomach, stretching his long limbs, as she pounded away on her phone’s keyboard with her thumbs. “Why am I just waking up on Sunday morning, and you’re already working?”

Shit. “Just one sec, Jay, I promise.” Biting her lip, she ran through report data in her head to pinpoint the figures her boss wanted. She’d always had a good memory for numbers. She typed her response as quickly as her thumbs allowed, noting that she would be in the office for a few hours in the afternoon if he had any additional questions. Jason didn’t need to know that last part. “There, see? Done.” Savvy smiled up at him, willing him to sit next to her.

He did. “I don’t know anyone else who is okay with their boss interrupting their weekend. He can’t just wait till tomorrow?”

“Well, I’m not working now…” Nuzzling his shoulder, she traced her fingertips down his back. “You know, Babe, I was hoping that we could…you know.” The kimono robe slipped suggestively, exposing her shoulders.

Jason avoided eye contact as he handed Savvy his empty tray. “You ain’t got time for all that, Boss Lady.” Tsking, he shook his head, making his way to the bathroom. The sound of a shower curtain being shoved aside and water raining from the showerhead followed. As steam spread across the bathroom mirror, he called out to her. “You should probably see if you can take them clothes back. Fit’s too tight.”

Savvy set the tray down on the bed next to her, then stood, wrapping the kimono tightly around her middle. Shoulders rounded, she returned to the kitchen with Jason’s empty plate, helping herself to another slice of perfect, chewy bacon. So much for quality time.

Jason left as Savvy showered, calling out to her that he’d come back for dinner. After getting ready, she pulled containers of last night’s leftovers out of the fridge and shoved them into a heavy cloth grocery bag. Baked chicken breasts with sautéed mushrooms covered in a marsala wine sauce. Parmesan and asparagus risotto. Mixed greens with grape tomatoes and a mason jar of fresh lemon and shallot vinaigrette. After grabbing her purse and a sealed envelope from her desk, she walked out into the sunshine. The sky swirled a perfect blue, a breeze ruffled through the treetops kissing wind chimes on her neighbor’s porch. A good-looking Black man in dusty jeans, a torn T-shirt, and work boots walked by with a beautiful chocolate Lab. He raised a hand in greeting as they strolled by, and she nodded in response.

Her surroundings changed from lush greenery to concrete skyscrapers and industrial buildings, as she navigated south on the 5 freeway, past Downtown LA. Spotting USC on her right, she threw a strong side-eye at the home of the Trojans. Bruin blood for life, baby.

Big brick buildings blurred into dilapidated warehouses and older residential neighborhoods. Exiting at Century Boulevard, she steered toward Uncle’s house, which he’d inherited from Savvy’s grandparents, since Granny and PopPop had already bought the Los Feliz house for Savvy, her mom, and her brothers. Mama complained that Uncle’s place was an old money pit, always needing repairs, but Unc and Savvy loved that house.

Pulling up in the driveway, she took in the dip in the roof that Uncle described on the phone. He’d sunk the last of his savings into the front porch when the steps needed replacing. The upkeep crept up faster now, but there was no letting go of Granny and PopPop’s most prized possession.

Whenever she needed money in college, Savvy’d called her uncle to avoid stressing Mama, who worked hard to put three kids through school. Unc helped whenever he could, treating her like the daughter he never had. Now, with the stability she found at work, Savvy reciprocated as often as she could, while still building a renovation fund for her own house.

Walking up the steps, Savvy looked through the screen door into the sitting room. “Unc! Where you at?”

“Now, why do you always have to holler like you ain’t got no home training?” Uncle’s husky voice rang with amusement. He leaned hard against a crutch, swinging open the screen door for her to walk through.

Savvy grinned at him, planting a big kiss on his cheek as she walked past. “Any home training I received was undone by a certain someone.” In her childhood, Unc had been her hero; he helped to raise her and her brothers when their dad took off. Ma’s older brother, Uncle Joe always came by to check on them. When money ran short, he stepped in and made sure they were never without.

“Mmm-hmm.” His smile twitched at the corners of his mouth. “What you up to today, Baby Girl?”

Inside, her uncle’s security uniform hung on the back of a chair in a plastic cover from the dry cleaner. A retired police officer, he’d taken on part-time work as a night watchman for an office building in Inglewood. On his limited retirement pay and meager income handling security, making ends meet had been a challenge, especially after he got injured on the job. At the time, Savvy had shaken her head at his explanation. “They vandalized the side of the building—of course I chased after them.” Who did he think he was, Usain Bolt? Unc sprained his ankle running after the vandals, and, under doctor’s orders, had to take time off until he could put full weight on his foot.

Savvy waved her bag of food containers at him, carrying it into the kitchen. She put the containers in the fridge and placed the sealed envelope on the Formica countertop; she had written “ROOF” on the front with a Sharpie. “I’m supposed to run an errand, but I think I’m just going to go into the office for a few hours. How was your week?”

He stood in the doorway, rolling his eyes. “I’m bored. I want to be back at work, but they want me to be off the crutches first.”

“I support that decision.”

“Yeah, well. Ain’t got much to do, other than checkin’ in on Mabel.”

Her eyebrows shot up. “Miss Mabel, huh?” Mabel Winslow lived across the street from Savvy’s grandparents’ house most of her life. Like Unc, Miss Mabel grew up in her house.

She’d moved away when she married but returned after a bad divorce to help care for her parents. When her parents passed within a month of each other, they left Mabel the house and their golden retriever, Samson. A smile curved across her lips. “You’ve been jonesing after Miss Mabel since I was in high school. Tell me you finally asked her out.”

Uncle Joe shook his head, fighting a smile, his upper lip curled slightly with amusement. “I’m a gentleman, Baby Girl.”

“Uh, gentlemen go on dates, Unc.” She winked at him, coaxing laughter.

“We ain’t there yet. I just stopped by to see how she’s doing. You know she was in that car accident a couple weeks ago. Tweaked her back.”

“Is she okay?” She leaned against the counter.

“Says she is, but I think she might need a couple rounds of physical therapy. Doesn’t hurt to make sure she’s fully recovered.”

Savvy eyed her uncle. “Sounds like somebody can dish advice he isn’t willing to take…”

He tsked, pursing his lips at her. “Thank you for the help with the roof, but listen, Baby Girl. You workin’ too much. And you should be putting this money toward your own house.”

She rolled her eyes, following him into the den, where his favorite leather recliner faced a big screen TV. “You are forever saying I work too much. And I want to help, Unc.”

He sat gingerly, leaning his crutch against one of his armrests. “You need a vacation.”

“You know I work the way I do because of what I learned from you and Mama. It’s just what we do.”

“Nah. We worked hard so that you wouldn’t have to, Savvy. Your mama pushes you because she thinks you have to climb the corporate ladder to stay on it.” He wagged a finger at her.

She groaned, rolling her eyes. “Well, I am my mother’s daughter, and I feel most secure knowing that if either of you need me, I am in a position to help.”

Mama carried two, sometimes three jobs when Savvy and her brothers were little to make sure they were fed, that their shoes fit, and that they could participate in sports or other activities. Their dad had a wandering eye and left to be with another woman, leaving Mama to be Wonder Woman for the family. Savvy missed one first grade field trip due to a lack of funds, and Mama worked herself ragged to avoid that ever happening again. Pops never really got his shit together, losing touch with Savvy when he started his third family.

“The roof money is from a rainy-day fund, and if you think about it, those rainy days are exactly what we need to keep out of this house. I can do my renovations anytime.” She offered Uncle a crooked smile.

He shook his head, annoyed at her humor. “I know you’re itchin’ to redo that kitchen.”

She stood, ready to leave before he could march into an assessment of her current setup. An updated kitchen was at the very top of her bucket list. “I am. But you always came through for me. Let me do that for you.”

He pursed his lips, offered his cheek, and she leaned in to kiss it.

“You’ll be back on your feet in no time. In the meantime, call me whenever you need. Got that?”

“Mmm-hmm. Love you, Baby Girl.”

“I love you more, Uncle.” Savvy winked at him and turned to leave. “Let me know when you and Miss Mabel go out on your hot date!”

Excerpt from Savvy Sheldon Feels Good As Hell by Taj McCoy.
Copyright © 2022 by Taj McCoy.
Published by MIRA. All rights reserved.
Published by arrangement with MIRA/HarperCollins

Meet The Author

Taj McCoy photo by Alaysia Jordan

Oakland native and attorney Taj McCoy is committed to writing stories championing black and biracial women of color, plus-sized protagonists, and characters with a strong sense of sisterhood and familial bonds. When she’s not writing, she may be on Twitter boosting other marginalized writers, trying to zen out in yoga, sharing recipes on her website, or cooking private supper club meals for close friends.

 
Connect with the Author: Goodreads | Instagram | Twitter | Website
This excerpt brought to you by MIRA

Book Showcase: THE SUMMER GETAWAY by Susan Mallery

THE SUMMER GETAWAY by Susan Mallery book coverThe Summer Getaway by Susan Mallery
ISBN: 9781335479990 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780369703668 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488213335 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B09NB4R5ZY (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B093T6319S (Kindle edition)
Publisher: HQN Books
Release Date: March 15, 2022
Genre: Fiction | Women’s Fiction | Siblings

One woman takes the vacation of a lifetime in this poignant and heartwarming story about the threads that hold a family together from #1 New York Times bestselling author Susan Mallery.

Single mom Robyn Caldwell needs a new plan for her future. She has always put her family first. Now, with her kids grown, she yearns for a change. But what can she do when her daughter has become the most demanding bride ever, her son won’t even consider college, her best friend is on the brink of marital disaster and her ex is making a monumentally bad decision that could ruin everything?

Take a vacation, of course. Press reset. When her great-aunt Lillian invites her to Santa Barbara for the summer, Robyn hops on the first plane to sunny California.

But it’s hard to get away when you’re the heart of the family. One by one, everyone she loves follows her across the country. Somehow, their baggage doesn’t feel as heavy in the sun-drenched, mishmash mansion. The more time Robyn spends with free-spirited Lillian, the more possibilities she sees—for dreams, love, family. She can have everything she ever wanted, if only she can muster the courage to take a chance on herself.

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: IndieBound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Audible | Apple Books | Audiobooks.com | Barnes and Noble | Nook Book | BookDepository.com | Books-A-Million | Bookshop.org | Downpour Audiobook | eBooks.com | Google Play | !ndigo | Kobo Audiobook | Kobo eBook | Target | Walmart

Read an Excerpt:

ONE

“I’m going to sleep with Dimitri.”

Robyn Caldwell picked up her glass of white wine and briefly thought about swallowing the entire contents in one gulp. Mindy’s statement was certainly gulp-worthy. But she knew pacing herself through lunch was the responsible thing to do. A lesson her friend had yet to learn.

“You are not,” Robyn murmured, because shrieking wasn’t attractive. Especially at “the club,” where their friends and frenemies were also enjoying Thursday’s lobster salad. The dining room was filled with forty or so women, all dressed in Florida chic—diamonds sparkling, gold or platinum charm bracelets clinking, necklaces resting on tanned and toned skin.

“I might,” Mindy Krause said, picking up her champagne. “He’s gorgeous.”

“Of course. He’s a thirty-year-old tennis pro. What else would he be?”

Mindy, a petite brunette who was six months from turning forty, sighed. “I need a Dimitri in my life.”

“You have a great husband. Payne loves you and the kids, and never has eyes for another woman. Why would you screw that up?”

“Payne would never know.”

“There aren’t any secrets in this town. Not in our social circle.”

Something Robyn had learned the hard way herself. She’d been blissfully unaware of her ex-husband’s affairs until a “friend” had oh-so-sweetly informed her.

“Maybe just some kissing,” Mindy mused. “I want a little Dimitri action. The fantasies make me happy, so imagine what the real thing would do.”

“The fantasies are safe. The real thing could destroy everything you have. Knowing you’ve cheated would devastate Payne.”

Mindy’s mouth formed a pout. “I never see him anymore. All he does is work.”

Robyn stared at her friend-slash-boss. “You two talked about how that promotion would be more work for him but that it would be worth it. You wanted this for him.”

“I didn’t know how much he’d be gone.”

The unreasonable statement grated nearly as much as Mindy’s whine. “This isn’t a good look for you,” Robyn murmured. “You’re changing the rules without telling your husband. That never ends well.”

Mindy dismissed the warning with a quick shake of her head. “I’m not worried. Besides, if he does find out, I can just move in with you.” She laughed. “You’ll soon have that big house all to yourself.”

“You have four kids,” Robyn pointed out. “If things go south in your marriage, I’d rather have Payne move in.”

“Well, that would get people talking.” Mindy held up her empty glass to the server. “More, please.”

The server obliged.

Mindy took another sip. “My sister called, swears she found a Thomas Pister chest in a tiny shop in Wales. It’s dirt cheap, so I’m afraid it’s a fake. She’s looking for someone to prove authenticity. Wouldn’t that be a find?”

“It would. I’d love to see it.”

Thomas Pister had built beautiful chests and cabinets in the late 1600s and early 1700s. His intricate designs with stunning inlays sold quickly and for huge amounts. Depending on the condition and the materials, a good-sized chest of drawers could go for sixty or eighty thousand dollars.

Excerpt from The Summer Getaway by Susan Mallery.
Copyright © 2022 by Susan Mallery.
Published by HQN Books. All rights reserved.
Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

Meet The Author

Author Susan Mallery Headshot

Susan Mallery is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of novels about the relationships that define women’s lives—family, friendship and romance. Library Journal says, “Mallery is the master of blending emotionally believable characters in realistic situations,” and readers seem to agree—forty million copies of her books have been sold worldwide. Her warm, humorous stories make the world a happier place to live.

Susan grew up in California and now lives in Seattle with her husband. She’s passionate about animal welfare, especially that of the two Ragdoll cats and adorable poodle who think of her as Mom.

Connect with the Author:  Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Twitter | Website
This excerpt brought to you by HQN Books

Book Showcase: VICE & VIRTUE by Justin M. Kiska

Vice & Virtue by Justin M. Kiska Banner

Vice & Virtue

by Justin M. Kiska

February 14 – March 11, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

Vice & Virtue by Justin M. Kiska

Parker City, 1984…

Three years after the Spring Strangler case rocked the historic Western Maryland city nestled at the foot of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, life has returned to normal for Detective Ben Winters and his partner, Tommy Mason. With a new chief now leading the department and the city slowly crawling out of its economic distress, everything seems to be moving in the right direction.

Until one sweltering summer day, a killer begins targeting police officers. Ben and Tommy find themselves once again leading an investigation the likes of which Parker City has never seen. The detectives quickly come to realize that until the shooter is found, everyone wearing a badge is in danger. To complicate matters even further, when a recently unearthed skeleton mysteriously connects to the string of police homicides, Ben and Tommy begin to think their current case may be tied to events twenty years earlier.

But how could a skeleton buried two decades ago hold the key to solving their current case?

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: February 15, 2022
Number of Pages: 288
ISBN: 9781685120696
Series:  Parker City Mysteries, #2 || Each book is a stand alone novel.
Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Tall and athletic, Tommy Mason always reminded Ben of Tom Selleck’s Magnum P.I. character from television. Tommy always had that whole ruggedly handsome thing going for him. Mixed with a little bit of a “bad boy” vibe and he drove the women wild.

Next to Ben’s clean-cut, buttoned-down appearance, their pairing caused many to do a doubletake. At first glance, they appeared to be complete opposites. But as one got to know them, they were very much alike. Each brought out the best in the other and at the end of the day, it was all about getting the job done. Sure, each had his own style, but that’s what made them such a formidable team.

Tommy’s apparent willingness to skirt the rules was always offset by Ben’s ability to find ways to use the rules to their benefit. Just as Ben’s refusal to play the internal politics game allowed Tommy to use his charm to keep too many feathers from getting ruffled amongst the powers-that-be. They each knew the other’s strengths and weaknesses and how to adapt them to their own, which is why they’d been so impressive in getting the PCPD’s Detective Squad off the ground.

“What are you doing here?” Ben asked, more than a little surprised to see his partner.

“Shirley from Dispatch called me. She thought I’d be interested,” Tommy explained. “And before you say anything about what I’m wearing, I just want to remind you, it is our day off, so I didn’t think I needed to get dressed up to come to a potential crime scene. Especially when we don’t actually know this is a crime scene yet.”

He was referring to the fact he had on a T-shirt and comfortable pair of jeans, as opposed to the full suit and tie Ben was wearing.

“Besides, now you don’t have to worry about getting your fancy suit muddy. I have no problems getting down there in the dirt,” Tommy smiled, pointing at the fresh mud stains on his knees. With that, he knelt back down to take another look at the exposed skeletal remains under the floorboards.

“So, tell me. What do we have?” Ben asked, crouching next to Tommy so he could get a better look.

“You can see there’s a pretty big cavity here under this part of the floor,” Tommy pointed out. “It’s got to be a good ten by ten area where the ground has been eaten away, even though it’s not too deep, less than a foot in some places. It’s definitely because of water…there’s a lot of mud down there. As the earth under the floor eroded, it uncovered the skeleton. Partway, at least. Of course, no one could see what was happening under here until our friend Mr. Haggarty had the unfortunate experience of stepping on a board that was rotted through and it snapped, sending him falling through the floor. You can see where he landed in the mud.

“And right there,” Tommy pointed, “you see the skull and top portion of the skeleton sticking out of the ground.”

“You came face-to-face with that thing, man?” Tommy looked over at the construction worker who was leaning against the wall. “Not a good way to start the day.”

“Yeah. You’re telling me,” Haggarty answered.

Turning back to the skeleton, Tommy said, “I’m no expert, but that hole in the skull right there…see it, it looks like it could be a GSW from a pretty heavy caliber gun.”

Leaning down and twisting his head so he could try and get a better look at the skull, Ben saw the hole and wondered if his partner was right. Finding a skeleton buried under the floor was one thing. Finding a skeleton buried under the floor with a bullet hole in its skull was something else. It took everything to a different level.

Standing and stretching their legs, Tommy said, “When Shirley first called me, I thought this was going to have been some kind of prank. Some kids snuck into the site on a dare and left a skeleton for the crew to find.”

“You thought kids somehow buried a skeleton under this building in the hopes someone would fall through the floor and find it?” Ben asked, raising an eyebrow. “Not to mention having to figure out how to bury the thing under the floor?”

“In my defense,” Tommy started, raising a finger and shaking it at his partner, “I didn’t know the skeleton was buried under the warehouse. I just knew they’d found a skeleton at the warehouse.”

The first thing that needed to happen was to get the skeleton out of the ground. That would be up to the crime scene techs. Even though he could easily reach in and pull the skull out to get a better look, Ben didn’t want to disturb anything more than it already had been when Lance Haggarty crashed through the floor. Thankfully, he hadn’t actually landed on the skull itself.

“So much for our day off,” Ben said, looking at his watch, wondering where the crime scene guys were.

***

Excerpt from Vice & Virtue by Justin M. Kiska. Copyright 2022 by Justin M. Kiska. Reproduced with permission from Justin M. Kiska. All rights reserved.

 

Author Bio:

Justin M. Kiska

When not sitting in his library devising new and clever ways to kill people (for his mysteries), Justin can usually be found at The Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre, outside of Washington, DC, where he is one of the owners and producers. In addition to writing the Parker City Mysteries Series, he is also the mastermind behind Marquee Mysteries, a series of interactive mystery events he has been writing and producing for over fifteen years. Justin and his wife, Jessica, live along Lake Linganore outside of Frederick, Maryland.

Catch Up With Our Author:
JustinKiska.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @JMKiska
Twitter – @JustinKiska
Facebook – @JMKiska

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