Book Showcase: DEAD TREE TALES by Rush Leaming

DEAD TREE TALES by Rush Leaming Tour Banner courtesy of Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours: book cover features an old live oak tree in the background with the words DEAD TREE TALES in the foreground on upper 75% of cover, lower 25% of book cover has a single bullet beside "By Rush Leaming"; Quote: "Fast-paced, full of action and intrigue" by Lorraine Cobcroft, Reader's Favorites.

Dead Tree Tales

by Rush Leaming

June 7 – July 2, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

Set in Charleston, SC, and the surrounding islands, police are called to investigate the poisoning of a much-loved 1000-year-old tree, only to find evidence of a more brutal crime. From there, the story explodes into a fast-paced, multi-character thriller unlike any you’ve ever read. Not for the faint of heart…

Dead Tree Tales by Rush Leaming is about a lot more than a dead tree. It’s a mystery. It’s a crime story. It’s a thriller. It’s a powerful comment on today’s society and politics… fast-paced, full of action and intrigue… It’s a real page-turner and just a fantastic read.” – Lorraine Cobcroft, Reader’s Favorite

Book Details:

Genre: Crime Thriller
Published by: Bridgewood
Publication Date: June 8th 2021
Number of Pages: 488
ISBN: 0999745654 (ISBN13: 9780999745656)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

It was known simply as The Tree; that is what the locals on Johns Island, South Carolina, called it. A Southern live oak born a thousand years ago (some even said fifteen hundred), its gargantuan limbs swirled and stretched as much as two hundred feet in all directions. The lower arms, heavy with age, sometimes sank into the earth only to reemerge. Other branches flailed recklessly in the sky, like some sort of once-screaming kraken turned to wood by an ancient curse.

Generation after generation had protected it. Rising from the center of a former indigo plantation, and now officially known as Addison’s Oak, The Tree had long been a source of pride, even fear, in the surrounding community, as well as James Island, Wadmalaw Island, and the nearby city of Charleston.

But now, The Tree was dying. It was not from natural causes either, not from time, nor gravity, nor the weather.

Someone had killed it.

“Is that a thing?” Detective Charlie Harper asked as he turned his head to look at his partner, Detective Elena Vasquez.

“I think so.” Elena squinted her eyes toward the top of the canopy, the leafy summit shadowed and backlit by the noon sun.

“Arborcide? That’s a thing?” Charlie asked again.

An Asian-American man in his mid-twenties wearing wraparound sunglasses stood next to the two detectives. “Yep. You remember that incident a few years ago in Auburn? Toomer’s Corner. Crazy Alabama fan poisoned the tree there.”

“Yeah,” Charlie said. “But I mean legally. Is it legally a crime to do this?”

“Cops were involved there,” the man said. “The guy went to jail. Has to be something. Why don’t you call them? See what they did.” He pulled a pack of spearmint gum from the front pocket of his jeans and stuffed five pieces in his mouth, noticing Charlie watching him. “Quitting smoking. Nicotine gum makes me dizzy.”

Charlie nodded. “Been there.” Six feet tall, with a closely trimmed beard under bright-blue eyes, he walked around the perimeter of the field.

Salt air swirled around him—they were only a couple of miles from the beach—and Charlie realized it was the first time he had been away from the city and out on the islands in months, maybe even over a year.

Elena Vasquez, an athletic five-ten with shoulder-length black hair bobby-pinned over her ears, stood in front of the young man and opened a new page in the Notes app on her iPhone. “So, you’re the one who called about this?”

“Yes. It took some digging to figure out who to contact. I didn’t know there weren’t any police stations out here.”

“That’s correct.” She typed the date 5/19/2015 at the top of the page. “Closest station is the Island Sheriff’s Patrol on James Island, but they don’t handle things like this. That’s why you got us from the city. And who are you again?”

“Daniel Lee.”

She looked up from her iPhone. “Daniel is a nice name. It’s my son’s name, though we call him Danny. Where are you from, Mr. Lee?”

“I’m originally from Maryland—Chesapeake Bay area—but now I live in Charleston. West Ashley. I’m a Ph.D. candidate at the college.”

“College of Charleston?” Elena asked and continued typing.

“Yes. Environmental science. Teach a couple of undergrad classes as well. And I’m president of the local Sierra Club chapter. Our service project for this year has been public park maintenance and cleanup. I came here a week ago and saw that broken limb—”

“This one?” Charlie pointed at a fat twisted branch about the length of a Greyhound bus lying near the base of the tree.

“Yes.”

“Well . . .” Charlie said. “How do you know it wasn’t lightning or something?”

Daniel went over to Charlie and squatted next to the fallen limb. “There are no burn marks. Lightning would leave those.”

“Maybe it’s just old age. Isn’t this thing like a thousand years old or something?”

“Possibly more. It is rotting,” Daniel said. “But not from old age. See this discoloration? The rust-colored saturation of the stump where it broke?”

Charlie leaned in a little closer. “Yes.”

“That’s from poison, from a lot of poison. And you can see spots like this forming and spreading all around the trunk and on other branches.”

Elena stood beneath The Tree, placing her hand on a dark-orange splotch on the trunk. The gray bark surrounding the stain felt tough and firm, but inside the color spot, it was soft and crumbling. “I see it.”

“It’s like cancer,” Daniel said. “The Tree is not dead yet, but it will be soon. I had the soil tested as well as samples from the broken limb. They came back positive for massive levels of DS190.”

“And that is?” Charlie said.

“A variant of tebuthiuron. A very powerful herbicide. Similar to what was used at Toomer’s Corner. Somebody has been injecting the tree as well as dumping it into the ground. Probably for a few months to reach these levels.”

“Injecting the tree?” Elena said.

Daniel pulled them over to the base of the trunk where a ring of jagged holes stretched just above the ground. “Yes. See these gashes? Somebody has been boring into the trunk, then filling it with DS190.”

Charlie took out a pair of latex gloves and put them on before touching the holes in the trunk. “You’re sure this is intentional?”

“Has to be. This stuff doesn’t just appear on its own. It’s man-made. Someone has been doing this.”

“But why?” Charlie asked.

Daniel held out a hand, palm up. “Thus, the reason the two of you are here.”

Charlie shook his head. “I don’t know about this. We usually work homicide.”

Daniel gestured towards the gashes in the trunk. “You have a murder victim. Or soon will. Right in front of you.”

“But it’s a tree!” Charlie said.

Elena looked up from her phone. “Okay, Mr. Harper. Easy.”

Daniel motioned for them to follow as he walked to the backside of the trunk. “There’s something else.” He came to a stop in a patch of grass ringed with dandelion sprouts and pointed to dark-red streaks spread across the blades. “That’s blood, isn’t it?”

Charlie bent down and touched his gloved hand to one of the blades. “Maybe.” He took out a plastic bag and a Leatherman multitool from his jacket. He pulled apart the hinged scissors, then clipped away about a dozen pieces of grass and dropped them into the bag.

“And another thing,” Daniel said and led Elena to a spot about ten feet away. He pointed to a white card lying in the grass. “I didn’t touch any of this, by the way. I didn’t want to disturb the crime scene . . . I watch a lot of cop shows. I know how that goes.”

“Doesn’t everyone.” Elena squatted down, taking a plastic bag from her jacket. She used tweezers to pick up the card, muddy and frayed at the edges and turned it over to reveal a yellow cat emoji, just the head, whiskers, and a faint smile, printed on the opposite side. There were no words, just the image.

A strong breeze moved through the leaves of the great tree, a sound like rain showers mixed with groaning as the heavy limbs bent in the wind.

Charlie Harper removed his glove and rubbed the edge of his dark-brown beard. Looking at the massive branches, which did seem like the arms of giants, he began to understand why The Tree was such a big deal. “Have to say, it is beautiful here. Can’t believe I’ve been in Charleston four years and never been here. I should bring Amy. She’d love it.”

Daniel looked at Elena for an explanation.

“His daughter,” she said, then turned to Charlie. “You should. My dad brought me here a few times when I was a kid.”

“Well, you better hurry,” Daniel said.

“There’s nothing to stop it?” Elena asked.

“Probably not. I contacted a team of forestry researchers I know from Virginia Tech. They are going to send a team down to look at it, see if anything can be done. I sent a request to the Parks Department to pay for it. If they don’t, Sierra Club will hold a fundraiser.”

Charlie sighed. “Okay. While we decide what to do about this, I’ll call and have some signs and barriers put up to keep the tourists away.”

Elena turned to Daniel. “Thank you for meeting us here. Could you come to our station in the city today or tomorrow to give a formal statement?”

“Sure.”

“Bring copies of the lab work. We gonna find anything when we do a background check on you?”

Daniel shook his head. “No. Just some parking tickets . . . a lot of tickets actually. Parking at the college is a bitch.”

“That it is,” Elena said. “Here is my card if you think of anything else.”

“Thanks,” Daniel said. He stopped a moment as if to say something, then continued toward a white Chevy Volt parked near the road.

Elena looked at Charlie and raised her eyebrows. “So, Mr. Harper, what do you think?”

“Ehh . . . I mean I understand it’s old and rare and special and all that, but it’s a fucking tree. I don’t know anything about trees, do you?”

“No, but . . .”

“But what?”

“I don’t know,” Elena said and looked around the field. “My Spidey-sense tells me there’s more to it than just some weird vandalism.” She took a step forward and winced.

“Back acting up?” Charlie asked.

“A bit,” she said.

“Lunchtime anyway. Let’s take a break. I’m starving. June and I got into it again this morning. Skipped breakfast.”

“Sorry to hear that.” Elena swept a strand of black hair behind her ear. She pointed with her chin down a two-lane road to a crooked sign with a faded image of a pagoda: The Formosa Grill. “Chinese?”

“Sure,” Charlie said.

The two of them began to walk toward their gray Ford Explorer when Charlie saw a flash of white out of the corner of his eye. He stopped and knelt in the grass. He used his Leatherman tool to again pry away several blades.

“What is it?” Elena asked.

Charlie’s head bolted upright, his blue eyes narrowing. “Mr. Lee!” he shouted. He pulled another latex glove from his pocket.

In the parking lot, Daniel climbed out of his car and made his way back to the field. “Yes?”

“Mr. Lee, when was the last time you were here before meeting us today?”

“Yesterday morning,” Daniel said.

Elena knelt next to Charlie, looked into the grass, and let a low whistle escape her lips. She used her phone to take a photo.

Charlie used tweezers to pick up a severed finger. Sliced just below the knuckle, the stump crusted in blood, the flesh covered with red ants, it ended with a sharp green fingernail. He looked at Daniel. “Did you happen to notice this?”

Daniel swallowed hard, turning his face to the side. “No. I did not.”

Charlie put the finger in a plastic bag.

Elena looked at him, her wide brown eyes giving him a knowing shimmer. “You interested in this case now, Mr. Harper?”

Charlie didn’t flinch. He stared at The Tree.

***

Excerpt from Dead Tree Tales by Rush Leaming. Copyright 2021 by Rush Leaming. Reproduced with permission from Rush Leaming. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Author - Rush LeamingRUSH LEAMING has done many things including spending 15+ years in film/video production working on such projects as The Lord of the Rings films. His first novel, Don’t Go, Ramanya, a political thriller set in Thailand, was self-published in the fall of 2016 and reached number one on Amazon. His equally successful second novel, entitled The Whole of the Moon, a coming-of-age tale set in the Congo at the end of the Cold War, was published in 2018. His short stories have appeared in Notations, 67 Press, Lightwave, Green Apple, 5k Fiction, and The Electric Eclectic. He has lived in New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Zaire, Thailand, Spain, Greece, England, and Kenya. He currently lives in South Carolina.

Catch Up With Rush:
LeamingRush.wixsite.com/nightfall
Goodreads
BookBub – @RushLeaming
Instagram – @rushleaming
Twitter – @LeamingRush
Facebook

Tour Participants:

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Enter the Giveaway:

This is a Rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Rush Leaming. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card (U.S. ONLY). The giveaway runs June 7, 2021 through July 4, 2021. Void where prohibited.

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Guest Author: Lois Schmitt – SOMETHING FISHY

Good day, book people. I hope that everyone has had a great week and found some time for reading. I had been in a bit of a reading slump lately due to these incessant migraine headaches accompanied by a bit of vertigo (migraine the gift that keeps on giving). Fortunately, the slump is over and it’s back to reading some favorites (I know, I keep saying I won’t do it then I do…I love re-reading!) as well as some new-to-me authors and books. Having a blog is a great way to be introduced to these new-to-me authors and books considering there are at least 2700 books released each day (yes, that IS the number for daily new releases). Today I’m pleased to introduce you to one such new-to-me authors, Lois Schmitt. Ms. Schmitt writes the Kristy Farrell mysteries including Something Fishy and she’ll be discussing unusual animals with us today. So kick back, grab a cool beverage, and let’s visit with Lois Schmitt for awhile. Thank you, Ms. Schmitt for joining us today, I’m looking forward to what you have to say. I’ll now turn the blog over to you.

 

The Most Unusual Animal

by Lois Schmitt

If you were to pick the most unusual animal in the world what would it be? The giraffe because of its long neck? The elephant with its trunk? The zebra that looks like a horse in crazy striped pajamas?

My mystery series always involves animals in some way. In researching background on wildlife, I’ve come across several strange creatures.

The duck-billed platypus looks as if its body was formed by a committee—with each committee member picking a part. This animal has the beak of a duck, the tail of a beaver, and the torso of an otter. The duck-billed platypus is native to Australia. The male is one of the world’s few venomous mammals. It has sharp stingers on the heel of its feet which can discharge this venom.

Next is the midwife toad—who carries his eggs on the back of his legs. Yes, HIS legs. It is the male who does this. When the eggs are ready to hatch, the midwife toad puts his back legs into the water. Soon after, tiny tadpoles burst out of the eggs and start swimming.

Then, there is the pinecone that moves, otherwise known as a pangolin. Of course, it’s not a real pinecone—it just looks like one when it rolls up in a ball for protection. The pangolin does this when it senses danger. Its dark brown scales are very hard, and they act as armor.

A sloth is the slowest animal in the world. It spends most of its life hanging upside down from a tree. It eats, sleeps, and gives birth to its babies this way. The three-toed sloth has arms that are 50% longer than its legs. Sloths sleep more than twenty hours a day. When awake, they barely move.

Another unusual animal is the fainting goat. When frightened, this animal’s muscles become completely stiff, and the goat falls over. Luckily, this causes no pain, and the goat recovers in ten to twenty seconds.

The lyrebird is unique in its ability to imitate sounds of not only human voices and other animals, but also the noises of industrial and power equipment. These birds have been found mimicking the noise of a chainsaw in a forest, a camera shutter opening and closing, and a car alarm. A single lyrebird also has the ability to imitate the sounds made by an entire flock of birds.

One of the world’s funniest looking creatures comes from the ocean—the red lipped batfish. Its bright red lips make it appear as if it is wearing lipstick. It also looks like it has legs, but these are actually fins that it uses to stand on the ocean floor.

While the red lipped batfish may have a comical appearance, the goblin shark, is one of the world’s scariest looking fish. Often called a “living fossil,” it resembles a prehistoric monster with its beady eyes, huge snout, and its bizarre extendable jaw. Elastic tissue allows the jaw to be thrust three inches out when capturing prey. It gets its name from the long nosed, red faced, Japanese demon known as the Tengu.

Since the goblin shark lives deep in the ocean, sightings of it are rare. I don’t have a goblin shark in my mystery, Something Fishy, but my protagonist does have an encounter with a nine foot bull shark. Although the bull shark doesn’t resemble a prehistoric monster, it is frightening to see one coming toward you.

What animal do you think is the most unusual?


 

Something Fishy

by Lois Schmitt

June 1-30, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

When attorney Samuel Wong goes missing. wildlife magazine reporter Kristy Farrell believes the disappearance is tied into her latest story concerning twenty acres of prime beachfront property that the Clam Shell Cove Aquarium hopes to purchase. Sam works for multi-millionaire land developer Lucien Moray who wants to buy the property for an upscale condominium. The waterfront community is divided on this issue like the Hatfields and McCoys with environmentalists siding with the aquarium and local business owners lining up behind Moray.

Meanwhile, a body is found in the bay. Kristy, aided by her veterinarian daughter, investigates and discovers deep secrets among the aquarium staff–secrets that point to one of them as a killer. Soon the aquarium is plagued with accidents, Kristy has a near death encounter with a nine foot bull shark, and a second murder occurs.

But ferreting out the murderer and discovering the story behind Sam’s disappearance aren’t Kristy’s only challenges. When her widowed septuagenarian mother announces her engagement, Kristy suspects her mom’s soon to be husband is not all he appears to be. As Kristy tries to find the truth before her mother ties the knot, she also races the clock to find the aquarium killer before this killer strikes again.

Book Details:

Genre: Cozy Mystery
Published by: Encircle Publications
Publication Date: July 15th 2019
Number of Pages: 244
ISBN: 1948338793 (ISBN13: 9781948338790)
Series: A Kristy Farrell Mystery #2 || Each is a Stand-Alone Novel
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Encircle Publications | Goodreads

Author Bio:

A mystery fan since she read her first Nancy Drew, Lois Schmitt combined a love of mysteries with a love of animals in her series featuring wildlife reporter Kristy Farrell. She is a member of several wildlife and humane organizations as well as Mystery Writers of America. Lois worked for many years as a freelance writer and is the author of Smart Spending, a consumer education book for young people. She previously worked as media spokesperson for a local consumer affairs agency and currently teaches at Nassau Community College on Long Island. Lois lives in Massapequa with her family which includes a 120 pound Bernese Mountain Dog. This dog bears a striking resemblance to Archie, a dog of many breeds who looks like a small bear, featured in her Kristy Farrell Mystery Series. Lois was 2nd runner up for the Killer Nashville Claymore Award for Something Fishy.

Catch Up With Our Author:
LoisSchmitt.com
Goodreads
Twitter: @schmittmystery
Facebook: @LoisSchmittAuthor
Instagram: @loisschmittmysteries

Tour Participants:

Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!

https://www.linkytools.com/basic_linky_include.aspx?id=301443

ENTER TO WIN:

This is a Rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Lois Schmitt. There will be TWO winners. TWO (2) winners will each receive (1) Amazon.com Gift Card of varying amounts. The giveaway begins on June 1, 2021 and ends on July 1, 2021. Void where prohibited.

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Book Spotlight: WHEN YOU CAME by Susan Saxx





When You Came

The Real Men Series Book 10

by Susan Saxx

Genre: Contemporary Romance




Snowy Slopes. Faithful Dogs. Sudden Intrigue.

Golden Boy Ski Patroller meets Plain Jane Geek, anti-skiing heroine.

Military reservist Sven Golden works as a first responder for the Canadian Ski Patrol, saving lives and training avalanche dogs in stunning British Columbia on Canada’s West Coast.

But after the woman he thought he’d marry does indeed get married—only to someone else—and he’s forced to take the harrowing new management job at Snowy Peaks Chalet, things go downhill fast.  And when he’s asked to head the resorts new Valentine’s Day Extravaganza instead of working on the slopes, protecting people, he’s had enough.

But when he meets organizational whiz Keara Linn, a Torontonian desperate for the 2-week temporary job as his assistant, things just don’t add up.  Very plain, somewhat overweight, yet smart and focused, she’s hiding secrets.

But the passion and heart she’s buried deep inside finally explodes his world. Now nothing is going to shut that down—or his feelings. Not even a crazed madman who is determined to bring revenge on Keara and her guardian dog, the one she loves with all her heart.

And when it’s time? The whole quirky Terrence Point community will have something to say…about everything.





Buy Links:  Apple * B&N * Kobo * Books2Read





Hi there! I’m SO glad we’ve connected!

I write books set in the small towns and big cities of Canada. Right now I’m writing the Real Men series – first installment set in Jack’s Bay, northern Ontario – a place I ❤ so much!

My heroes and heroines haven’t had an easy time of it. But they take what life dishes out, and somehow, with grit, determination and heart – especially heart – they transform it into gold. Their gold.

Their stories – like life! – range from sweet to sexy, contemporary to suspenseful.

Want to know when there’s a new Susan Saxx book released? Click the yellow “FOLLOW” button above.

Want more news and special, subscriber ONLY ‘insider’ stories? Join my newsletter at http://eepurl.com/bFwHOb

Interaction your thing? Come hang with me at Saxxy Reads, on FB. I promise – the water’s always fine!

And welcome…to Jack’s Bay, northern Ontario, to the upcoming sister series in B.C., and to the rancher (#1), the tormented dark-net genius (#5), the ‘hit rock-bottom’ ex-Seal (#4), and the ex-star hockey player – all military reservists, and the passionate, heroic women they fall for.

REAL MEN is the series – get to know them all at www.susansaxx.com.


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Book Spotlight: DANGEROUS DESIRES by Dawn Altieri




Dangerous Desires 
by Dawn Altieri 
Genre: Romantic Suspense





Three years after Emma Sloane’s wealthy fiance’s mysterious death, she’s finally ready to move on and pursue her own dreams. But her plans are derailed when she’s attacked outside her New York City apartment in what she thinks is a random violent incident. Then other women who look just like her start turning up dead…

Homicide Detective Jake Quinn is haunted by the one case he couldn’t solve. When he’s put in charge of a new high-profile murder case, he interviews a victim who escaped a similar attack—and to his shock, it’s Emma, the former fiancée of his unsolved murder victim.

Neither expects the sparks of attraction between them. But the killer escalates, clearly targeting Emma, and Jake’s job is on the line. Can he solve this case before it’s too late for both of them?






Buy the Book:  Amazon * Apple * B&N *Google * Kobo * Entangled Publishing 



A lifelong resident of northern New Jersey, Dawn Altieri has been scribbling stories practically since birth. After reaching a milestone birthday (she won’t say which one), she figured it was about time she took a shot at writing professionally. 

With an overactive imagination and a slightly twisted mind, she enjoys reading dark and dangerous tales almost as much as writing them. When she’s not curled up on the sofa with her laptop, her latest story, a box of chocolates and a cup of tea (or a glass of wine, depending on the time of day), she can be found volunteering in the world of animal rescue. To keep a roof over her head, she works in the printing industry as a graphic production artist. She shares her home with her husband and daughter, and a menagerie of rescued fur-babies. 



Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram * Bookbub * Amazon * Goodreads 




$10 Amazon Gift Card


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Book Blast: ICED by Avery Daniels

ICED: A Resort to Murder Mystery

Avery Daniels

June 20, 2017 Book Blast



Synopsis:


Iced by Avery Daniels

Julienne has her ideal job as an event planner at a prestigious resort. During a luncheon event she coordinated, a renowned celebrity pastor is killed next to the buffet. All eyes turn to her as the suspect. If she wants to stay out of jail or even keep her job, Julienne needs all the help she can get to solve the crime.

She has her work cut out for her with a vengeful high school rival now reporter, the public demanding she be fired, plus family who know what’s best for her, and a boyfriend who doesn’t understand her. She turns to friends and a new ally to uncover who wanted to put the pastor on ice.

Julienne goes undercover and investigates a local swingers group as she follows the trail of clues before they go cold. Can she gather enough suspects and motives to convince the police to her widen their investigation? Can she do it before the killer sets his murderous sights on her? Will her personal life ever be as simple as unveiling a murderer?




Book Details:


Genre: Amateur Sleuth
Published by: Blazing Sword Publishing, Ltd
Publication Date: May 31st 2017
Number of Pages: 296
ASIN: B071LFD6JV
Series: A Resort to Murder Mystery, 1
Purchase Links: Amazon  | Kindle Unlimited  | Goodreads 


Read an excerpt:




Today everything in my life changed.

I’m the events coordinator and membership manager, in training that is, at a five star resort in Colorado. Some days, like today, it feels like I was sacrificed to some sadistic little idol somewhere. Coordination of conferences and meetings of all sizes in the resort’s convention center facility was part of my training. But this particular event, a Leadership Luncheon that brought together the town’s community leaders to network, was a challenge from the first minutes this morning.

“Julienne, this event must be executed with precision and perfection.” Those are the favorite words of my boss, Chad. This particular event is a daylong exercise in patience.

Every job has its great parts and it’s not so great. Today encompassed one of the more unpleasant aspects of my job. Occasionally, okay usually, the hardest part of my job is the customer relations and today was particularly difficult. Some customers just can’t be satisfied and some events are riddled with issues.

We were only serving a modest seventy-five attendees, but I had already been assailed with special requests and numerous complaints. Picky doesn’t begin to cover it.

“How hard would it be to setup for a video presentation with a large screen and surround sound?”

“There are windows. It’s too distracting, people will be watching the hotel guests walking around.”

“Can we change the setup of room C from an L configuration to a U shape? But only for that one session, then move it back.”

“Can we get the Lobster for the buffet flown in that morning? Scallops are out….Can we have the scallops after all?”

“Music piped in during the breaks?”

“No music piped in at all.”

“Red tablecloths with white napkins.”

“Royal blue tablecloths with white napkins.”

“White tablecloths with yellow napkins.”

“Candles on mirrors for lunch centerpieces.”

“Fresh flowers for centerpieces.”

The changes continued even after the event started.

The Convention Center, with its classic European décor had a small lobby area with a few potted trees and plants on column stands. The rest extended down a hallway with two large areas on each side that could be divided into smaller rooms via partitions that extend from the walls as needed. The space could be up to eight small rooms, four on each side, or any combination from one to four rooms per side of the hallway.

The hallway was wide with several half-circle console tables including marble tops holding large dried floral arrangements and a few elegant chairs. The walls displayed large paintings of the Italian countryside and vineyards with carved gold gilt frames.

I was in a partitioned room overseeing the set up of the lunch buffet. The Italian Renaissance architecture was accentuated with interior details and décor that created a European elegance, all lit with the warm glow of a massive amber glass chandelier.

The room was a rectangle with the entrance from the hallway to one end and the door to the catering staging area at the opposite end. The buffet table was along the wall next to the staging door so wait staff could easy restock food items. The six-person round tables covered in rich golden linens were scattered strategically throughout the room to allow easy traffic flow. The thick carpet felt plush and cloud-like under foot.

I was surveying the buffet table with a critical eye. The five foot long ice sculpture of a swordfish occupied the center of the table and looked as though it was caught in mid leap, frolicking in a wave and ready to dive back into an unseen ocean. My stomach growled as the succulent smells of seafood teased my nose. The attendees would be returning to this room for their lunch and keynote speaker shortly.

“Brad, where are the crab leg metal crackers and little forks? Can you grab a few dozen and bring them right away?” Brad, slim and serious, had joined the team only two months ago and was picking up extra hours at every opportunity. He had asked to work this event as soon as I blocked out the time on the schedule. This would give him a good paycheck. He was lanky and took off with an easy loping stride to the staging area through the back door.

The door to the staging area had barely closed when I felt a hand grab hold of my derriere with an iron hard grip.

“This is more like it honey. I haven’t had any fun today.”

I whirled around and stumbled back. “Don’t touch the staff. That includes me Pastor Tom.” I practically shouted. Pastor Tom Drake was well known around town, and getting national attention lately with his mega church. He was included in the luncheon due to his influence, but he was just Pastor Tom since he was a local guy who started his church and radio ministry from his garage.

I had contended with bad behavior before, but never this grabby. I think I was going to have a bruise left from his vicious hand.

“You’re not being very fri…friendly.” I noticed his eyes were droopy and then I caught a whiff of the scotch he must have gotten at the Gilded Hornet pub next to the convention center building.

I decided to alert security we needed a person to monitor the rest of the event and turned to go. His iron hand grabbed hold of my arm and yanked me to him. Without a thought I took my knee to his groin and enjoyed watching his mouth form an “O” as his breath whooshed out. I broke free and backed away. I wasn’t turning my back on him again.

“I will see you fired for that you bitch.” He whispered with a jagged voice.

He couldn’t do that, at least I was pretty sure he couldn’t. I guess I’d find out. I rubbed my still smarting arm where he grabbed it. Brad would be back or the event participants would start to wander in so he couldn’t do much more, but I didn’t want to stay and find out. I backed out the door to the hallway toward the lobby and took my cell phone from my pants pocket.

“Hey Ron, we have a person under the influence at the luncheon in Convention Center. Can you spare someone for the afternoon?”

“I’ll make sure somebody’s there immediately Julienne. How bad is this guy?”

“Well, I’ll probably have a black-and-blue handprint on my arm and …my backside.” I took a deep breath.

“Son of a … I’ll be right there. You stay away from him.” Like I would go near that Neanderthal again, pastor or not.

The other participants were starting to exit the smaller break out session rooms and meander to the banquet room and bathrooms. The noise level began to creep upward from multiple conversations competing to be heard.

There was a loud crash of metal from the banquet room and a participant jerked open the door and froze in place. “Oh sh…” The participant’s mouth gaped and his eyes were large circles.

I ran over to the open door and saw Pastor Tom impaled through the chest with the sharp end of the Swordfish ice sculpture, from his back right through to the front. His head was forward against his chest. Blood, running down the swordfish tip that jutted from his chest, dripping to the carpet. Drip, drip, drip in a macabre but surreal scene.

***

Excerpt from Iced by Avery Daniels.  Copyright © 2017 by Avery Daniels. Reproduced with permission from Avery Daniels. All rights reserved.



Author Bio:


Avery Daniels

Avery Daniels was born and raised in Colorado, graduated from college with a degree in business administration and has worked in fortune 500 companies and Department of Defense her entire life. Her most eventful job was apartment management for 352 units. She still resides in Colorado with two brother black cats as her spirited companions. She volunteers for a cat shelter, enjoys scrapbooking and card making, photography, and painting in watercolor and acrylic. She inherited a love for reading from her mother and grandmother and grew up talking about books at the dinner table.


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Guest Post: Cara Sue Achterberg, author of PRACTICING NORMAL



Good morning my fellow book lovers. Today, the Book Diva’s Reads is pleased to host a visit by Cara Sue Achterberg, author of I’m Not Her, Girls’ Weekend, and her newest fiction release Practicing Normal. Ms. Achterberg will be discussing being a vigilant observer as an author, the origins of characters, and more.






Here’s the question I get most often: Are the characters in your books based on people you know?

The answer is yes.

And no

Because, sure, they’re based on people I know—but not intentionally

All writers, (even the ones who deny it), base their characters on people they know. There’s really no way around it.

Writers, as a species, are watchers. We watch everyone. We note their eccentricities and their oddities, but also the color of their hair and the size of their noses. We notice their verbal tics. We pay attention to their neuroses. Their habits, shoe size, weird fetishes, obsessions, wardrobe and even their allergies can find their way into our mental data base of people qualities. And then they come back to us when characters are being formed in our imagination. There is nothing new under the sun, right? I’d bank my life on it.

So, yeah, my characters are totally based on people I know, but then again they aren’t. My son once had a fencing instructor who was clearly a character out of a book—his affected speech pattern, his pristine grooming habits, his obsession with medieval customs. It is very tempting to use him for a story. I don’t, because my family and others in our community would recognize him anywhere. And that would be distracting and take the reader completely out of the story. (And yet his salt and pepper, perfectly symmetrical mustache just might show up some day.)

If people thought I openly based my characters on people I know, life could be pretty tough for me here in the small town that I live in where we write the check for our local taxes to Julie Rohrbaugh and we get the first day of hunting season off as a school holiday. Everyone would look at me differently. I’d like to think they’d behave better around me for fear of winding up on my pages, but most likely I’d have a hard time finding an open seat on the bleachers for the Friday night football game or a spot at the bar in the only restaurant in town that serves alcohol.

So, nope. Everett, the philandering husband in my latest novel, Practicing Normal, is no one I know. Just as I don’t know any teenagers who regularly break into houses or any hospice nurses who have seven cats.

Still, it’s the mark of good writing when the characters are recognizable as someone you might know and I hope you will recognize a few of these people, especially JT, the brilliant kid with Asperger’s Syndrome (my favorite character).

Here’s a confession, though, I did base the two dogs in my story on real dogs I know. If you’re a regular reader of my dog blog you might recognize two of my previous fosters dogs trotting through the story. Maybe that’s the best part about being a writer—having the power to create not just worlds and plots, but characters and even dogs. 

Yeah, I like my job.




Practicing Normal

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



Practicing Normal

Book Details


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

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




Synopsis:


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



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

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

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

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

Kudos:


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

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

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


Read an excerpt:



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re late!” she scolds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Cara Sue Achterberg

Author Bio:



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

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



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Book Spotlight: SAPPHIRE PAVILION by David E. Grogan



Sapphire Pavilion by David E. Grogan 
ISBN: 9781603816038 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781603816045 (ebook)
ASIN: B0713MBCCS (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Camel Press 
Release Date: May 1, 2017

Steve Stilwell’s former Navy JAG Corps buddy Ric Stokes has been jailed for possession of heroin in Vietnam. He was found in the same room with his traveling companion Ryan Eversall, dead of an overdose and in the company of a prostitute. Steve knows his friend is a straight arrow. Was he set up? If so, for what reason? Steve travels to Ho Chi Minh City in search of the truth.

In no time Steve is targeted by the people who framed his friend. A beautiful young American businesswoman insinuates her way into the case. Can she really help, or is she just a dangerous distraction? Ric and Ryan came to Vietnam in search of an Air Force transport plane that disappeared in 1968. The pilot was Ryan’s father. Before the heroin bust, they had located the wreckage. Ryan’s notebook, which Steve manages to obtain, spells out the exact location. Ryan’s widow has given Steve’s associate Casey another piece of valuable evidence, a file labeled “Sapphire Pavilion.” Someone is willing to go to any lengths to steal both the notebook and the file. 

From Virginia and Texas to DC and Vietnam, powerful, all-seeing forces with unlimited resources are determined to bury the truth about Sapphire Pavilion. But they have grossly underestimated Steve Stilwell and his associate Casey, a former Army pilot who lost her leg in a helo accident. And the ability to inspire loyalty wherever you go can come in handy when danger lurks behind every corner. 



Meet the Author:

David E. Grogan was born in Rome, New York, and was raised in Cleveland, Ohio. After graduating from the College of William & Mary in Virginia with a B.B.A. in Accounting, he began working for the accounting firm Arthur Andersen & Co., in Houston, Texas, as a Certified Public Accountant. He left Arthur Andersen in 1984 to attend the University of Virginia School of Law in Charlottesville, Virginia, graduating in 1987. He earned his Masters in International Law from The George Washington University Law School and is a licensed attorney in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Grogan served on active duty in the United States Navy for over 26 years as a Navy Judge Advocate. He is now retired, but during the course of his Navy career, he prosecuted and defended court-martial cases, traveled to capitals around the world, lived abroad in Japan, Cuba, and Bahrain, and deployed to the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf onboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. His experiences abroad and during the course of his career influence every aspect of his writing. Sapphire Pavilion is his second novel. His first was The Siegel Dispositions.

Grogan’s current home is in Savoy, Illinois, where he lives with his wife of 33 years and their dog, Marley. He has three children.


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




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Book Blast: AZRAEL by M.T. Ellis

Azrael by M.T. Ellis Book Blast


Azrael

by M.T. Ellis

May 9, 2017 Book Blast



Azrael by M.T. Ellis

Synopsis:



Emily thought her ordeal was over after she escaped a brutal kidnapping. She’s wrong. He’s coming for her again.


The body Detective Rose is looking at bears a striking resemblance to Emily, a woman who survived a horrific, sexually motivated abduction five years ago. Her fear is confirmed when Emily goes missing again. When another woman, Grace, is abducted, Detective Rose finds herself doubting the instincts that tell her the disappearance is the result of intimate partner violence. She connects the cases and recruits Grace’s partner, Ethan, to help in the search. Together they must find Grace and Emily before it’s too late.





Book Details:


Genre: Crime, Thriller
Published by: Self-Published
Publication Date: April 30th 2017
Number of Pages: 345
ISBN: 0648043800 (ISBN13: 9780648043805)
Purchase Links: Amazon Goodreads



Read an excerpt:

[Mild profanity alert.]

Prologue


“I think I must have scared the shit out of her,” Azrael joked to himself as he opened the van door and smelt the stench coming from the dark brown stain on the back of the girl’s jeans. He laughed, even though he couldn’t be sure if she had defecated from fear or because she lost control of her bowels from his accidental overuse of the stun gun. He’d only needed to hit the woman for a second or two to disable her, but his nerves got the better of him, and he kept shocking her for a good thirty seconds, just to be sure. He could smell burning flesh as he picked up the woman and dumped her in the van. This was his first abduction, and so far the plan was working.

Azrael looked at his victim lying face down on the floor of his white Toyota HiAce. Conveniently, the commercial van had no back seats, and all of the windows were painted white when it was manufactured. As long as the police didn’t pull him over, and she didn’t wake up, no one would be able to see the sprawled petite twenty-something brunette. He wondered whether, when he bought this van five years ago, he had subconsciously known he would end up using it for this type of adventure.

He had picked up the girl from the university grounds around the corner from his house. It was luck, really. He’d been driving past and saw the woman walking by herself, and since there was no one around, Azrael went in for the kill, so to speak.

There had been no traffic nearby when he drove past the woman the first time, or when he doubled back. He stopped and asked her for directions. She leaned into the window to answer him, and a short squeak came out of her mouth as she was hit on the side of the neck with the stun gun. The woman silently convulsed and then dropped to the ground, whimpering in the fetal position and twitching occasionally. Azrael whistled as he casually got out, walked around, and opened the side door. “In you go, love,” he said as he picked her up and dumped her onto the floor of the van.

He drove around town, looking for a place to take her. He couldn’t take her to his one-bedroom apartment. If the neighbours didn’t see him carry her in, they’d certainly notice when he took her out again. He’d have to cut her up so she’d fit in the wheelie bin outside, but the bins were only collected on Mondays, and since it was Tuesday she’d have to sit around for a week. At the very least, he was sure the seventy-year-old woman who lived in the apartment next to him would be nosey enough to rummage through garbage to find out where an offensive smell was coming from.

Azrael decided to take his victim out to The Common, thousands of acres of City Council-owned bushland about an hour from his apartment. Burnt-out cars were regularly found dumped there. Kids often stole them to go bush-bashing, setting them on fire when they were done. By the time he got there it was nearly 7:00 p.m. Luckily it was spring, so the weather was warm enough for him to wear shorts, a t-shirt, and dirty old Converse sneakers. Springtime also meant the sun went down at about six, so it was dark by the time he got there. The moon was full, so Azrael had no problems seeing where he was going when he turned his lights off. As he drove through the bushland he was happy to note there were no cars on fire tonight. This meant there would be no unexpected interruptions from the local fire brigade.

He settled on a location a few kilometres into the property, where he figured he’d be most hidden. He shut off the van and listened. All he could hear were cicadas clicking outside his window and some muffled whimpers from the back of the van. Ooh, she’s awake, Azrael thought excitedly. He stepped out of the van and looked back towards the clearing he had just driven through. The van was concealed well enough by the dense scrub. He leaned back into the driver’s door to grab the map from the dash and to turn on the light above the rear-view mirror. We are here, he thought as he pointed at the middle of the map. If we go by foot into the bush a few hundred metres, no one will find her.

Azrael walked around the front of the van to the passenger door and pulled out a small backpack that was stuffed underneath the seat. He had been planning this for weeks and had hidden the bag, which contained a hunting knife, zip ties, blue latex gloves, and various other items he might need on his adventure. He took out three zip ties and looped them together to make a chain. He would put an outer ring around each of his victim’s wrists and tighten them to make handcuffs. Azrael put on the latex gloves and zipped up the backpack then shut the driver’s door and pulled the bag onto his back.


As he opened the side door, the woman started to stir. He quickly dragged her towards him by the leg and turned her over onto her stomach. He pulled both of her arms behind her as he attached the makeshift handcuffs.

“Let go of me,” the woman shrieked once she realised what was happening.

“You didn’t have to shit yourself, madam,” he said in his husky voice. “I’m not that scary.”

“W-who, who are you?” she stammered. “What do you want from me?”

“Never mind who I am. You and I are going to have some fun out here tonight,” he said playfully as he dragged the woman by her upper arm out of the van and onto the ground. She landed with a thud. She screamed as he yanked her up onto her feet. “Stand up and start walking. Don’t bother screaming — no one can hear you.”

About ten minutes later, Azrael had pushed her, kicking and screaming, farther into the bushes. Once they had reached a suitable location, he kicked the woman’s feet out from underneath her. She crumpled in a heap on the ground and sobbed, “Please don’t hurt me.” He unhooked one arm of his backpack, twisted the bag around in front of him, and took out the hunting knife. The blade was about thirty centimetres long, and when the woman saw the moonlight gleaming on it, she lost it and started shrieking hysterically.

Azrael became impatient with her screaming and yelled, “Shut up,” before kicking her in the face. The woman stopped screaming, and he could see her right eye already starting to swell. She lay with tears silently streaming down her face. He slid the backpack off his arm and dumped it onto the ground beside her, then bent down and pushed the girl onto her back, crushing her hands, which were still bound behind her. He took the knife and held it to the girl’s throat, putting just enough pressure on it to make a small cut. “Are you going to behave yourself?” he asked as he watched blood trickle in a thin red line just below her ear.

When she didn’t answer, Azrael knelt down beside her and slowly used the knife to cut her white singlet. She shivered as he cut each strap just above her shoulder and again as he made a single long slash down the right side of the singlet. He pulled the top out from underneath her, scrunched it up, and put it to his nose. He breathed in the scent of her berry body wash and became aroused. He crawled over her until he was straddling her upper thighs. He was still holding the knife in his right hand but didn’t have any trouble using it to steady himself as he put his hands down on the ground on either side of her shoulders to keep his balance. He leaned in to rub his face on her chest and let his lips rest between her breasts. She recoiled from his touch, and he could feel the friction from his five o’clock shadow scratching at her skin like razors. Suddenly, he turned his head to the right a little and bit down on her breast, just above where her lacy white bra was covering her nipple. He twisted his head and tore away a small chunk of flesh. She let out a blood-curdling scream and started to buck fiercely beneath him.

He sat up and looked down at the bite-sized hole in the woman’s breast. He followed the blood trail down her stomach, onto his groin, and up the front of his shirt. He started to chew on the chunk of tissue, savouring the taste. Just as he moved his knife hand towards his face, so he could wipe away the blood dripping from his mouth with the back of his hand, the girl bucked her hips up and knocked him off sideways. She raised her right leg up to her chest and kicked him in the stomach, which forced him off her. The shock of the woman’s defence made Azrael gasp. It rammed the piece of flesh he had bitten off towards the back of his throat, and he started to choke.

He dropped the knife, lay on his side, and clutched at his neck. The woman used this second of freedom to clamber to her feet and run away through the trees. By the time she had taken her first step, Azrael had coughed hard enough to dislodge the flesh from his throat and spat it onto the ground. He grunted as he got to his feet and gave chase.

*

He’s coming. Emily found it impossible to avoid branches whipping her in the face as she ran with her hands still cable-tied behind her. She had only been running for a few seconds before she could hear her attacker’s breaths behind her. Run! He can’t catch you, she thought urgently. Fear gripped her, and she moved faster than she had ever run before. There was a sharp sting in her wrists as he grabbed the centre of the zip-tie chain that was holding her arms together and yanked her backwards. She was pulled into the air, and just as she thought her shoulders would pop out of their sockets, the middle zip tie snapped. Her arms flew out to her sides just in time for her to land with a thump on her back. Her attacker tripped, fell forward on top of her, and knocked the wind out of her. They both lay for a second, his head near her feet, gasping for breath.

“Gotcha, you little bitch,” he said breathlessly.

His weight crushed the air out of her lungs. Pain seared through her limbs, one by one, as he pressed down on them while he turned his body around until he straddled her again. Then his strong hands were on her throat. She could feel his wild eyes burn into her soul as he started to squeeze the life out of her. She coughed and choked as she struggled underneath him. Emily scratched desperately at his hands. He wouldn’t let go. She reached out in search of anything that could help her and found a rock the size of her hand. She stretched out her arm and tried to grab it with her fingertips but couldn’t get it into her grasp. She had just started to feel light-headed from the lack of oxygen from the short, quick breaths she took when her attacker readjusted his grip. Come on, you can’t die out here. Not like this, she thought as she tried once more to pick up the rock.

Emily stretched her whole body as far as it could go and rolled the rock towards herself with her fingertips. She eventually got it close enough to pick up. She grabbed the rock in her right hand and beat him repeatedly in the temple. She felt her attacker’s warm blood trickle down her arm as he lost consciousness. His full weight fell on top of her as she strained to get out from underneath him. Emily grunted as she pushed him off her and slowly got to her feet. She stood there for a few seconds, bent over with her hands resting on her knees, and tried to catch her breath. In between gasps, she saw her attacker start to stir. Emily stood up immediately and started to run through the dark bushes.

*

Azrael woke to a pounding inside his head. The left side of his face felt hot and swollen. When he touched his temple, he could feel the warm blood oozing through his gloved fingers. Shit, he thought as he started to get up.

Where’d the little bitch get to? He was dizzy as he got to his feet and had to stand still for nearly a minute to get his bearings. Once the nausea subsided, he looked around in the moonlight to find the girl’s trail. He noticed some flattened and broken branches on a bush in front of him and figured she must have damaged them as she took off. He started to follow the trail.

*

Emily wandered hysterically. She ran into bushes and tripped over roots for what seemed like hours. She eventually collapsed, exhausted; she couldn’t stop sobbing. Once on the ground, she thought, Slow, deep breaths. Calm down, he can’t find you. You are going to be okay. She looked around for a bush or a fallen tree to hide behind until daylight, when she hoped she’d be able to find her way out of the maze of trees and scrub.

She crawled on her hands and knees for another ten minutes and then unexpectedly heard something in the distance. Her heart fluttered as she tried to keep down the rising panic. She kept low to the ground as she crept slowly towards the noises and hid behind a cluster of bushes.

While keeping concealed, she poked her head out from behind a bush and listened intently. She heard laughter and the sound of empty beer cans clinking as they were thrown to the ground. Her stomach lurched as she saw a group of teenagers in the shadows. She crept over to some bushes nearer to them to get a better look. There must be six of them, four boys and two girls, standing around an old red V8 Commodore. Judging by the smashed rear quarter glass, it was stolen. She peeked through the scrub and saw two more later model Commodores sitting back a few hundred metres. Suddenly a fireball erupted around the stolen car, and they all started running towards the getaway cars. Shit, they’re leaving! I have to get their attention, she thought as she ran out of the bushes, directly towards the group. “Help me!” she shrieked. “Help me, I’ve been abducted, let me come with you!”

She was a horrid sight: blood poured from cuts to her face, neck, and chest. Bruises had formed on her eye, cheek, and wrists. She was wearing only her stained jeans and bra, with no shoes, and was covered in dirt and clotting blood. Her wrists still had zip ties around them, and her hair was full of leaves and clumps of dirt. The teenagers didn’t hear her, and by the time she had gotten to the burning car, they were in their getaway cars with the engines running. She ran towards the closest Commodore. The driver had just turned on its headlights, and it started to turn away from the burning car.

Suddenly, the Commodore’s headlights swept back in her direction. The car stopped as if it was trying to figure out whether what it was seeing was real. It slowly started moving towards her. The car stopped about ten metres away, and a blonde guy with a southern cross tattoo down one leg got out of the passenger side and came over to her. “Are you okay? Who are you?” the boy asked. He could not have been more than seventeen.

“Please take me with you, he’s coming!” Emily screamed as she limped towards him. “Please.”

The boy looked frightened as he stared wildly around. He focused back on her and said, “Quick, get in the car!”

*

“Fuck!” Azrael yelled. Exhausted from running, he stopped and gathered his wits. I’m never going to find her, he thought after searching for what seemed like an eternity. He looked down at the torn and bloodied latex gloves on his hands and thought, Fuck this shit, I’m out of here. He turned around and headed back towards the van.

As Azrael got to the van, he saw an orange glow from the top of some trees a few kilometres away. Great, the Firies will be here soon. Just what I need. About twenty minutes later, as he pulled onto the main road after leaving the gates, Azrael saw three fire trucks with sirens and lights blaring turn off into The Common.




Excerpt from Azrael by M.T. Ellis.  Copyright © 2017 by M.T. Ellis. Reproduced with permission from M.T. Ellis. All rights reserved.




Author Bio:


M.T. Ellis

M.T. Ellis is a Brisbane-based author. She got kicked out of high school in year 11 for non-attendance. She then went on to attempt a Business Management degree at University, but dropped out half-way through. Despite these failures, she managed to get a job and is currently driving boats for a living.
Her dogs, Opal and Zeus, occupy a lot of her time. She would write books about their adventures if she thought people were even half as interested in them as she is.
M.T. Ellis is currently working on the second novel in her Detective Allira Rose series.


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Book Showcase: BRYANT’S GAP by Michael Burge


Bryant’s Gap


Michael E. Burge


on Tour October 12 – November 13, 2015




Synopsis:

coverIn 1947 postwar Chicago, mob related violence is commonplace. Nothing stands in the way of the “Outfit” when it comes to making money; a body here or there, who really cares as long as everyone’s pockets are lined, but when a man is found dead in a small Illinois town—people take notice.

Bargetown’s Chief of Police Bert Thatcher looks to a seasoned and astute railroad detective, Grady Colston, for help in solving the case. Fate has brought them together, but they soon realize just how much they have in common. A tight bond develops between the two men as they strive to uncover the identity of the man found dead on the railroad tracks—his right arm severed. As the investigation unfolds, surprising details of the man’s past come to light, and the circumstances of his death pose a major dilemma for Grady and Bert.



Book Details:



Genre:  Mystery


Published by:   Michael E. Burge


Publication Date:  May 19, 2015 


Number of Pages:  306


ISBN:   9780996309806


Purchase Links: Amazon Goodreads





Read an excerpt:


Excerpted from Chapter 2



FOLLOW THE TRACKS

Bargetown, IL
Thursday—August 7, 1947
Afternoon

Bert Thatcher, Bargetown’s chief of police for the last twenty years, was standing about a hundred yards down the railroad tracks when Grady Colston spotted him from the highway.

Grady slowly worked his way down the steep, moss-covered concrete embankment under the overpass. A foot in the wrong place and he would be on his ass, sliding toward the thick patch of bramble below.

When he reached level ground, he walked along the narrow, overgrown path to a small clearing where he had access to the tracks. A dozen crows were circling overhead, and from a nearby grove of pines, he could hear the annoying chatter of a host of others. He climbed the mound of ballast, stepped between the rails, and began moving from one tie to the next, carefully avoiding the pools of oil that had collected in several locations along the way. The last time he’d walked a stretch of tracks he had to scrap the pants he was wearing and use turpentine to remove the tar and oil that coated his newly polished Florsheims.

Grady had been a railroad detective for more than two decades. He had walked miles of track. Not my favorite part of the job, he thought, as he moved gingerly along, instinctively looking for anything that didn’t fit the scene.  

He could smell the diesel fuel from the exhaust vents in the corrugated-metal Quonset hut in the lot adjacent to the tracks. The mechanics were busy inside. He could hear the sound of motors and metal-to-metal hammering. The sign on the front of the building read:

WILKES DIESEL ENGINE REPAIR

As he approached, he could see patches of sweat adorning the Chief’s khaki shirt. His dark green trousers were sharply creased, and there was a narrow black stripe running down the outside seam. The green matched the wide-brimmed straw campaign hat that sat high on his head. His holster was slung low around his waist to accommodate his melon-sized belly, and the .45 revolver looked a lot like the one Joel McCrea used to shoot his way through Indian Territory in a movie Grady had seen a year ago.

He’d never met Bert Thatcher, but recognized him from photographs. Bert was puffing on a cigar, studying the scene around the body that lay at his feet. Grady extended his hand. Bert grabbed it, squeezed, and pumped like he was trying to bring water up from a dry well.

“Good to finally meet you, Mr. Colston.”

“It’s a pleasure, please, call me Grady. I don’t know why we haven’t bumped into each other over the years, Chief. We’ve both been at this business a long time.”

“I saw you around the depot a time or two. Meant to introduce myself, but wasn’t quick enough on the draw. You were gone before I could get to you.”

“How did you know I was in town?”

“I had my secretary call the Illinois Central office about an hour ago to get some information on the train schedules, and they told her you were here. Good thing they were able to get ahold of you before you checked out. I’m bettin’ you’ve dealt with a lot more stiffs over the years than I have, and I’ve got a strong feelin’ I’m going to need all the help I can get on this one.”

Bert reached down, lifted the gray tarp from the body, and tossed it aside. It was a man’s body, lying face down, outside and parallel to one of the track rails. The light green short-sleeved shirt and dark pants he wore were matted with dried blood that had flowed from a place below his right shoulder, where his arm had been attached.

“Where the hell is his arm?” Grady asked, scanning the area for a clue.

“Not much mystery there,” Bert said, and pointed to a spot down the tracks about thirty yards. “We threw a tarp over the limb as well. Birds were feeding on it. I reckon dogs may have dragged it to where it is now. There’s a pack of wild ones that cross through this patch a few times a day on their way to the dump. Some of the men who work at Wilkes’ don’t even like walking to their vehicles at night. A couple of those hounds looked rabid.”

While the chief was talking, Grady spotted the trail of blood from the body along the track toward the severed limb.

“The way I see it, this fella was looking for a hitch to somewhere down the line and decided to let the I.C. pay for the ticket.” Bert was chewing on the end of his cigar stub between words. “Looks like he may have made a slight miscalculation when he tried to grab on, got caught up somehow and was dragged a ways. Got a contusion on the side of his coconut the size of a baseball, and cuts and bruises all over his body. He probably fell under the train and it lopped off his arm, or maybe he was lyin’ there and another train came along and did the job. Either way, let’s hope the blow to the head knocked him silly before the arm got ripped. I wouldn’t wish that kind of pain on my worst enemy.”


Review:

Bryant’s Gap is an intriguing murder mystery with much stronger character development than you see in many of today’s bestsellers. ~ Kimberly @ Lazy Day Books



Author Bio:

Michael E. Burge learned to play the piano in his forties, golf in his fifties, and now, recently retired from a career in marketing, has gone on to publish his first novel—Bryant’s Gap. Set in 1947, the story is peppered with childhood memories of the locations where he grew up; a small town on the Wabash River and the suburbs of Chicago.

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Don’t Miss Out on Your Chance to Win!

This is a giveaway hosted by Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours for Michael E. Burge. There will be 1 US winner of a $20 Amazon Gift card & multiple US winners of 1 eBook copy of Bryant’s Gap by Michael E. Burge. The giveaway begins on October 12th, 2015 and runs through October 13th, 2015. For US residents only.

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