Book Showcase: THE MAN WHO SCREAMS AT NIGHTFALL… by Rush Leaming

The Man Who Screams At Nightfall…
and other stories

by Rush Leaming

January 16 – February 10, 2023 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

The Man Who Screams At Nightfall… and other stories by Rush Leaming

Thailand. The Congo. Greece. Spain. America…

Four continents and 40+ years in the making.

The Man Who Screams At Nightfall is a landmark collection of short stories depicting a young man on a classic voyage of self-discovery, scouring the earth in search of some purpose in life.

From childhood to parenthood and everything in between—these tales are at times raw and unflinching, at other times poignant and moving.

Get ready for a literary journey unlike any you’ve experienced before.

WARNING: Some of these stories contain strong language, depictions of graphic violence, and sexual situations.

Book Details:

Genre: Literary Fiction
Published by: Bridgewood Publishing
Publication Date: November 2022
Number of Pages: 150
ISBN-10: 0999745670 (Paperback)
ISBN-13: 9780999745670
ISBN: 9798215340615 (eBook)
ASIN B0BCZ9NW3S (Kindle edition)
Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: IndieBound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Barnes & Noble | B&N NOOK Book | BookDepository.com | BookShop.org | Kobo eBook | Goodreads

Praise for The Man Who Screams At Nightfall…and other stories:

“A powerful, gritty, and exquisitely written anthology —not to be missed.”

J. Miller, Reader’s Favorite

“A short story collection that excels in its sense of literary psychological growth and discovery. Libraries looking for interconnected short stories that represent life journeys and revelations will find The Man Who Screams At Nightfall…and other stories an appealing acquisition that promises much fodder for discussion to book club readers interested in fictional blends of psychological and social revelation.”

Midwest Book Review, D. Donovan

“Sharply observed, nuanced, precise, and morally challenging…”

“Leaming’s light hand with dialogue and keen sense of human psychology create a book that highlights weighty issues by putting a compassionate human face on human struggles. Sharp, inventive, and deeply moving: a fine literary collection.”

Book View

“Without a lengthy description of the characters, just enough to provide the imagery necessary to identify them, he catches and holds the reader’s attention like no other I’ve experienced in the hundreds of books and stories I’ve read over the years.”

Reader’s Favorite, L. Allen

Read an excerpt:

…I could see the glow of a fire up ahead of us, and as we reached the mango tree, Pumbu motioned for me to stay low and follow him along a small wall of honeysuckle bushes. We crouched down, and from our hiding place, I saw Kachamba furiously pacing back and forth in his yard in front of a small bonfire. He swung his arms wildly in the air as if he was fighting off something that was falling on him. He dropped to his knees and then suddenly sprang three feet off the ground. Then he began to dance, swaying and spinning his body so close to the fire that I was certain he was going to fall in. All the while he screamed and shouted deep into the empty black night.

He spoke in a dialect that I couldn’t understand, so I had to ask Pumbu to tell me what he was saying. I asked him many questions: Why was he doing this? Who was he speaking to? Was he drunk? What was going on? Pumbu patiently explained to me that no, he was not drunk, and that he really didn’t know who he was speaking to, but that Kachamba’s wife had left him a few years ago, run off with another man and taken their children, and that ever since, he had not been right in the head. He was not from this village and had been kicked out of all the other places he had lived. He came here only because Kachamba’s father, the chief of Kitengo’s uncle, had once saved the life of the chief’s father (Kachamba’s uncle) and so the chief had to let him stay to repay that old favor. It was all very complicated, Pumbu said, and he didn’t fully understand it himself.

I was hardly listening, instead transfixed and horrified by what I saw. Spinning, swirling, shouting, and screaming—Kachamba’s face, so calm and happy as I had seen it earlier that day, was now knotted and twisted like a grotesque carnival mask, like some gargoyle sprung from the lowest depths of hell. The glow of the fire cut fierce shadows and gorges in his face, adding to the haunting vision that I saw.

For a long while, Pumbu and I hid behind the honeysuckle bushes and watched Kachamba shriek and wail and try to push back the night, until suddenly, all at once, he just stopped. Suddenly, he just stood still and quiet and stared at the sky. I followed his gaze and saw another shooting star. When I looked back, Kachamba had disappeared.

“Is that it?” I asked.

“That’s it,” said Pumbu. “He usually only does this for an hour or so.”

“And he does this every night?”

“Almost,” said Pumbu and yawned. “Mmm. I’m tired. I think I am going to go home.”

We left the bushes, went past the mango tree, and said good night. I walked home alone, both exhilarated and troubled by what I had seen.

I entered my room and prepared for bed, but long after I had extinguished my petrol lantern, I lay there staring into the darkness. I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned. It wasn’t that unusual—I noticed that it had been happening a lot lately, that I couldn’t sleep. I got up and found the bottle of Johnnie Walker and knocked back a tall glass until at last I was floating, and at last, my eyes did shut…

***

Excerpt from The Man Who Screams At Nightfall… and other stories by Rush Leaming.
Copyright 2022 by Rush Leaming.
Reproduced with permission from Rush Leaming.
All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Rush Leaming

RUSH 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 published in the fall of 2016. His second novel followed suit in the summer of 2018, entitled The Whole of the Moon, set in the Congo at the end of the Cold War. 2021 saw the 5-star reception of his crime thriller Dead Tree Tales. His short stories have appeared in Notations, 67 Press, Lightwave, 5k Fiction, and The Electric Eclectic.

He has lived in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Zaire, Thailand, Spain, Greece, South Carolina, England, and Kenya.

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

Tour Participants:

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Book Showcase: VAMPIRE WEEKEND by Mike Chen

VAMPIRE WEEKEND by Mike Chen book cover, gray and reddish-black background with an illustrated image of a woman with short hair in blackVampire Weekend by Mike Chen
ISBN: 9780778386964 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9780369722485 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488218217 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B0B4BPKPZW (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B09VLBFGPX (Kindle edition)
Page Count: 352
Release Date: January 31, 2023
Publisher: Graydon House/HarperCollins
Genre: Fiction | Coming-of-Age | Family Life | Urban Fantasy

Being a vampire is far from glamorous…but it can be pretty punk rock.

Everything you’ve heard about vampires is a lie. They can’t fly. No murders allowed (the community hates that). And turning into a bat? Completely ridiculous. In fact, vampire life is really just a lot of blood bags and night jobs. For Louise Chao, it’s also lonely, since she swore off family ages ago.

At least she’s gone to decades of punk rock shows. And if she can join a band of her own (while keeping her…situation under wraps), maybe she’ll finally feel like she belongs, too.

Then a long-lost teenage relative shows up at her door. Whether it’s Ian’s love of music or his bad attitude, for the first time in ages, Louise feels a connection.

But as Ian uncovers Louise’s true identity, things get dangerous–especially when he asks her for the ultimate favor. One that goes beyond just family…one that might just change everything vampires know about life and death forever.

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: Indiebound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Audible Audiobook | Audiobooks.com | Barnes and Noble | B&N NOOK Book | B&N Audiobook | BookDepository.com | Bookshop.org | Downpour Audiobook | Kobo Audiobook | Kobo eBook

Read an Excerpt:

CHAPTER 2

VAMPIRE POWER MYTH #2: We can bite into anything.

In movies, veins pop like a balloon hitting a nail. But in reality? Kids constantly bonk into sharp objects and get light scrapes. Construction workers work around nails and metal, but somehow buildings go up without anyone bleeding out. I worked in a hospital, so I saw this firsthand.

In practical terms, biting someone for blood was not easy. Newly turned vampires don’t exactly have functional teeth. A gradual sharpening takes place over the course of a week, but we’re not the instant kill machine from movies.

The so-called “vampire attacks” in the news? Sounded like algorithm-driven clickbait to me. And that was exactly how I thought about it—or didn’t think about it—when I got to work.

Because today was a blood day. And blood days were literally life and death for me.

Not that I gave off that vibe. Instead, I went about my business, pushing my janitorial cart into the blood bank of San Francisco General Hospital. The automatic door shut behind me, my cart’s squeaking wheels announcing my arrival to Sam, the department’s night manager, and some staffer who looked more on break than actually working. They leaned over a monitor, attention pulled away by whatever was on the screen. Which worked to my benefit.

Some vampires worked with blood volunteers—usually fetishists who gladly let someone feed off them, likely thinking it was a kink or a new obscure fad diet rather than real vampire sustenance. That still involved the wholly unhygienic and socially awkward process of drinking from a live human. Underground dealers also existed, pumping blood from their arms into a bottle for an in-person transaction.

Me? I went with blood bag theft.

Which, to be fair, I held zero guilt over. Did you know that hospitals waste about 25 percent of blood bags every year? Thus, my weekly pickup during my janitorial rounds hardly made a dent. It all fell within the normal range of lost, misplaced, or expired. In fact, the managers viewed me as helpful for bringing the soon-to-expire bags to disposal. If some happened to make it into my backpack along the way, no one was the wiser.

This, of course, assumed that there were actually blood bags to take.

Today, the usual inventory of expiring blood bags was empty.

As in, nothing on the shelves. Nothing to deliver. Nothing to steal.

Nothing to feed from.

In fact, even the main storage units for in-date blood bags appeared low.
Any stress from the Copper Beach audition evaporated, as things do when food sources suddenly disappear.

I paused the music on my phone and pulled the earbuds out. Some things required a little more professional behavior. I began scouring the other storage possibilities when I overheard the words the vampire community feared the most.

“I swear, it’s a vampire.”

Eric constantly preached that if humans did discover us, racists would find new reasons to fearmonger, while scientists would capture us for all sorts of poking and prodding. Given that we’d all managed to abide by this for centuries, it seemed like a pretty good suggestion to follow.

My hands squeezed the cart’s handle tighter as I listened.

“That’s ridiculous,” Sam said, shaking his head.

“No, think about it.” The man turned, the tag on his scrubs revealing the name Turner. “After everything we know about viruses these days, who would actually drink blood? Only vampires.”

“Okay, look,” Sam said, rubbing his cleft chin. “You’re assuming someone drank this guy’s blood—”

“Police said he’s missing about ten ounces of blood. Same as the other two attacks.”

“Alright. Let’s assume someone—or something—drank ten ounces from that poor guy. They said his neck looked chewed, dozens of stitches needed. If you’re gonna believe something ridiculous, go with a werewolf.”

Suddenly, that headline didn’t seem like simple clickbait. Ten ounces. Roughly the same amount my body needed daily, though half that offered cranky survival. So that was the typical amount a vampire needed to sustain until the next feeding. And the chewed neck like a werewolf bite? That was a real concern, not because werewolves were real (they’re not), but because biting into a human was not easy.

In theory, you first had to properly locate the carotid artery, then make sure it was easily accessible by positioning the head and neck the right way. Then you needed a well-placed bite—millimeters of accuracy here, from an angle where things are hard to see. I challenge any human to try and bite precisely into a piece of Red Vines stuck on a loaf of sourdough to gauge its difficulty. This was in addition to the fangs’ fairly mediocre ability to puncture.
Biting humans was messy. Factor in an especially scared nondonor human and tools to make the process smoother and, well, the result could easily be mistaken for werewolves.

With the hospital’s blood shortage, their conversation ratcheted my anxiety enough for me to mutter, “Oh shit.”

That little phrase pulled Sam and Turner away from the screen. Their desk chairs creaked as they turned my way, the headline—San Francisco’s Latest “Vampire Attack” Victim Stable In Hospital—now clearly visible on their monitor.

If there was a fixer working in the community, they weren’t doing a great job.

“Oh, hi, Louise,” Sam said. “Need anything?”

Blood bags. A safe community, one without rogue vampires possibly revealing ourselves to humans. While I was at it, someone to play in a band with—human or vampire—though right now neither seemed to be working out.

“No pickups today,” I managed as I pushed the cart through. “What pickups?” Sam asked, his thick eyebrows furrowing. “Expiring blood to pick up on second Fridays. You know,” I said, switching to a very bad generic European accent, “because I’m a vampire and I need to drink it instead of biting people on the neck.” That joke always worked, but doubly so today. Both men laughed, and I almost held up claw hands for emphasis. But no, that joke belonged only to me and Marshall. “I knew it,” Sam said, “you’re the vampire attacker.” “I thought you suspected a werewolf,” Turner said, an Irish lilt to his gravelly voice. “Sorry, boys. It’s a little more boring than that. Management tallies these and I don’t want to piss them off.” That was a lie; I knew they didn’t because otherwise I’d never get away with my theft.

“Right, right. Let me go check in on that.” Sam stood and went to the computer on the far desk, his leg catching his chair enough to kick it over a foot. “You’re right, our last delivery was low. Must not be as many donors. There’s a note saying this might be a thing for a few weeks but it doesn’t say why.”

Just like that, my food supply went from “comfortably fed” to “empty.”

“Cool, cool, no worries,” I said despite the onslaught of emerging worries. I built my whole life around a job that provided blood—and that dried up? Maybe in a parallel universe, I might have my own recording studio with session time paid in blood bags. But here?

I loaded my email as soon as I stepped into the hallway. My fingers mashed over the virtual keys, autocorrect pulling all the wrong words and constantly changing blood to brood, which I supposed was fitting for a vampire. The message went to the local Red Cross chapter’s volunteer manager, a request for shifts as a Volunteer Transportation Specialist.

Basically, someone who drove donated blood around.

I’d actually trained for the role when I was in between hospital gigs, but never took any actual shifts since most of them were during the day—which wasn’t impossible with proper precautions, but still uncomfortable, and required a lot of extra effort, in addition to messing up my sleep cycle. Circadian rhythm still applied to vampire life.

But this was different. If the supply saw shortages, I’d need alternatives just like the early days when I first started and had no clue what I was doing.
Which really wasn’t my fault. Because no guidebook existed for this life, and the woman who made me only came around a few times to check on me before disappearing forever. Despite the physical transformation to vampiredom creating several months of fuzzy memories, I still clearly pictured her during that last visit: a tall, pale woman with long brown hair in peak late-70s punk styling.

She’d brought weekly bottles, introduced me to a few Southern California sources for no-questions-asked back-alley blood, gave a very uncomfortable primer on feeding off farm animals in emergencies and offered a very dramatic lecture on the importance of not revealing ourselves to humans in any way. Yet, all of those came during surprise drop-ins and sudden departures, and even her final visit was nothing more than a quick hello before “You’ll figure the rest out. You’ll be fine.”

In fact, she never bothered to tell me her name. Or maybe she did and I just forgot it in my fugue state. Whatever the case, I’d have to rely on those lessons now, to ride out any shortages. I spent the rest of my shift trying to recall how many bags remained in my fridge, and how best to ration them. Hours came and went, a low-level panic setting my night to fast-forward all the way until I stepped into an empty parking garage.

Then my phone buzzed. Multiple buzzes, actually. Though I hoped it was something about the Red Cross volunteer gig, that seemed impossible, given the late hour. No, a quick look showed another text from Eric. And this time, I bothered to read it.

I’ve received a few notes tonight about tomorrow evening’s agenda. I share your concerns, but there is a plan to address this. Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our community.

Something was definitely up. A blood shortage, someone attacking humans in the wild, texts about “health and safety.” A second message loaded up, words pushing the first message off the screen.

If you want to learn more, please come to the event. In the meantime, I encourage you all to download our new community app to stream the discussion. Do NOT discuss the media’s ‘vampire attack’ headlines with anyone, not even jokingly. Blood will be served. Reply to RSVP for in person attendance.

Did I want to learn more? Of course. Did I want an app that both invaded my privacy and knew I was a vampire? No. Did I want to get involved with the vampire community?

Not really. Especially given my history with Eric. But I needed blood, and this was a source, however fleeting.

Besides, maybe Eric had forgotten about our last encounter. Still, I refused to download his stupid app. On principle.

Count me in, I typed in a reply text, complete with a little white lie. By the way, I had trouble downloading the app. Maybe later.

On most work nights, I came home just before dawn, changed from scrubs to sweats, let my dog out, and drank blood. Today, that last part remained a sticking point. Lola greeted me as usual, a pitter-patter that told me she needed a potty break. I left the back door ajar for her to go into the small backyard, then checked my blood bag supply in the fridge.

If I’d been more responsible, thorough, careful, and whatever other descriptions my parents threw at me decades ago, I’d have a managed stockpile. Instead, three bags remained, a supply for about four or five days. I could stretch it to a week, though I’d be a grouchy, tired mess. After that? Movie vampires went on killing rampages when they needed blood, but in reality, it meant fatigue and delirium.

And if that went on long enough? Death by starvation.

No wonder someone got desperate enough to bite humans.

I grabbed a mug from the cabinet, white ceramic with a faded photo of a white schnauzer printed on it; Aunt Laura’s old teacup, now used for blood. Mostly empty shelves stared back at me from the fridge, daring me to make a choice.

Did I take one now? Did I really need to drink or could I wait?

Lola returned from the backyard, hopping over the threshold with her short corgi legs, and her nails clacked on the floor as she ignored my mood and waddled past. The jingling of her collar faded as she went down the hall, and I told myself to do the smart thing. I shut the fridge door and left Aunt Laura’s mug on the counter, then followed my dog.

Light flooded the space in my music room as I flipped the wall switch, illuminating everything from the guitars hanging on the walls to the drum kit and keyboard rig sitting in opposite corners. But no dog waited for me. Instead, her collar jingled from across the hall.

The bedroom.

The hour or so before bed normally saw me noodling on a guitar, playing with different pedal effects combinations or trying to work out a lingering melody while Lola stayed at my feet. But as I stood between the two rooms, a crushing fatigue washed over me, something that I knew had nothing to do with appetite.

I peeked in on Lola, the hallway light showing enough that I could see she’d skipped the circular dog bed on the floor to leap straight onto my spot. Usually she’d wait till I fell asleep to pull that off, and perhaps she took advantage of my vulnerable state today. She stretched her little legs into the air, then craned her neck to look at me with ears up, yawning before settling back down.

Maybe she just knew what I needed today.

Instead of going back into my music room, I stepped inside and shut the door, leaving the bedroom in a complete UV protected blackout state as I crawled under soft sheets. I stayed still, the quiet silence of a moment without vampires, without humans, without blood shortages, just a happy corgi resting against my stomach and worries in my head.

Excerpt from Vampire Weekend by Mike Chen.
Copyright © 2023 by Mike Chen.
Published with permission from MIRA Books.
All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

Photo of Mike Chen, an Asian man wearing a black sweater standing in front of a gray wall with block windows
Mike Chen photo by Amanda Chen

Mike Chen is a lifelong writer, from crafting fan fiction as a child to somehow getting paid for words as an adult. He has contributed to major geek websites (The Mary Sue, The Portalist, Tor) and covered the NHL for mainstream media outlets. A member of SFWA and Codex Writers, Mike lives in the Bay Area, where he can be found playing video games and watching Doctor Who with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @mikechenwriter

Connect with the author via: Instagram | Twitter | Website

 

This book showcase and excerpt brought to you by MIRA Books

 

Book Showcase: THE ACCIDENTAL SPY by David Gardner

The Accidental Spy

by David Gardner

January 9 – February 3, 2023 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

The Accidental Spy by David Gardner

Harvey Hudson is an emotionally scarred, fifty-six-year-old history professor who has lost his job, his wife, and his self-respect. In desperation, Harvey takes a high-tech job for which he is totally unqualified.

So he outsources it to India.

Then Harvey discovers that a Russian intelligence agency owns the outsourcing company and are using him to launch a cyberattack on the U.S. petroleum industry.

Harvey now finds himself in a world of trouble with the Russians and the FBI, and he has fallen in love with the woman from New Delhi who’s doing the job he’s outsourced—who might be a Russian agent.

The Accidental Spy Trailer:

Book Details:

Genre: Humorous Thriller with Literary Pretensions
Published by: Encircle Publications, LLC
Publication Date: November 2, 2022
Number of Pages: 274
ISBN: 9781645994206 (Paperback)
ASIN: B0BDS7QNDG (Kindle edition)
Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: IndieBound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Barnes & Noble | BookDepository.com | BookShop.org | Goodreads | Encircle Publications

Read an excerpt:

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both.”
Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”

Spy: “A person employed by a governmental agency to obtain secret information on a hostile country.”
The Philips Dictionary of Espionage

Accidental Spy: “Some poor jerk dragged into a world of trouble.”
Harvey Hudson

Chapter 1: Bunny Ears

Summer, 2019

Harvey Hudson released the steering wheel and swatted at the blue balloon (“Congrats! You Did It!”) that was banging against the back of his head.

What was the ‘It’ for? Someone earned a law degree? Pulled off a bank heist? Successfully underwent potty training? All three?

One day before turning fifty-six, and here he was, delivering balloons. How had he let this happen to him?

He chewed on the last of the Skittles he’d swiped from a bulky candy basket attached to a red balloon shaped like a birthday cake. Too many sweets for some spoiled kid. He was doing the pudgy brat a favor. The Snickers bar was tempting. Maybe later.

Harvey reached across the front seat, grabbed a handful of candy bars from the Skittle-less basket ($149), and dropped them into its modest neighbor ($39). He often shifted candy from larger baskets to lesser ones. He thought of himself as the Robin Hood of balloon-delivery individuals.

He’d had just $87 in the bank a few weeks ago when he’d shambled past a help-wanted sign in the front window of the Rapid Rabbit Balloon Service. He paused and reread the sign. “Part-time Delivery Person Needed. Become a Rapid Rabbit!” Yeah, what the hell. He hurried inside before he came to his senses. He would have taken any gig—balloon-delivery specialist, male stripper, or get-away driver for a grizzled bank robber.

With his part-time job delivering balloons and his full-time work as a beginning technical writer, Harvey could just stay afloat. His ex-wife had cleaned him out.

He double-parked on a smart street of brick-front homes on Boston’s Beacon Hill. Hesitating, he clamped the hated bunny ears over his head and attached the spongy red nose. Sighing, he grabbed the $149 basket and, head down, ambled up the walkway and rang the bell. The balloon bobbed overhead, taunting him.

The woman who opened the door was a slim and pretty brunette in her fifties. She had a narrow face and large, dark eyes.

She was his boss at his day job.

Also his high school sweetheart.

Harvey wanted to disappear into the ground.

Margo took a step back. “Oh.”

Harvey pulled off the bulbous red nose and stuffed it into his shirt pocket. “Uh…this is where you live?”

Margo shook her head. “I’m here with my daughter for a birthday party.”

Harvey shifted from one foot to the other. “I’m…um…delivering balloons just for tonight to help out a buddy who had two wisdom teeth pulled this morning, a professor who lost his job the same time I did.”

Margo blinked twice.

“A sociologist,” Harvey added.

Margo gripped the edge of the door.

“Named Fred,” Harvey said.

Margo nodded.

“The guy took the job in desperation because he’s broke, recently divorced, and down on his luck,” Harvey said and realized he was describing himself.

He handed the basket to Margo.

Did she believe him? Probably not. Did the company have a rule against moonlighting? He’d soon find out.

Margo poked around inside the basket. “There’s too much candy in here.”

“At least there aren’t any Skittles.”

Margo selected a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. “I’ve moved tomorrow’s team meeting up to 10:00 A.M. Did you get my email?”

Harvey nodded.

Was that her way of telling him that moonlighters don’t get fired? He hoped so. He was pathetically unqualified as a technical writer, and his job was in jeopardy.

Harvey hated meetings. Sometimes he thought the software engineers asked him questions he couldn’t answer just to see him squirm. Many were kids in their twenties, making double his salary.

And he hated lying to Margo. At least he could be honest about one small thing. “Actually, this is my night gig. I’ve had it for a few weeks.”

Margo unwrapped the Reese’s, nipped off a corner, chewed and said, “Is that why I caught you asleep at your desk yesterday?”

No, it’s because the job is so goddamn boring. He shook his head. “I wasn’t sleeping. I have the habit of relaxing and closing my eyes whenever I’m searching for the perfect way to convey a particularly difficult concept to our worthy customers.”

“And snoring?”

Margo was smiling now. That same cute smile from high school. He remembered it from the time they’d sneaked a first kiss in the back row of calculus class. The girl he’d loved and lost.

She set the basket down and pulled a twenty from the side pocket of her slacks. “Um…would you…uh…accept a tip?”

“No.”

She shoved the bill into his shirt pocket. “Yes, you will.”

Harvey shifted his weight to his left foot. A liar doesn’t deserve a $20 tip. At most, a few dimes and nickels, couch-cushion change.

Margo finished the peanut butter cup in silence.

He didn’t quite know what to say now.

Yes, he did know. He should tell her the truth.

He’d outsourced his job to India.

Was that illegal? Probably not. But highly unethical. Would she protect him after he’d confessed? Unlikely, which meant he would lose his job. But living a lie was exhausting and just plain wrong. She’d hired him and trusted him. She deserved better. He cleared his throat, once, twice, a third time. “Margo, there’s something I have to tell you. It seems I—”

“Is that the balloon guy?” a young woman called from inside the house.

“That’s my daughter,” Margo said and picked up the basket. A blue balloon bobbed on a string attached to the handle. “I’ll be right back.”

Harvey stood at the open door, trying to think of some way to soften his upcoming confession. Or maybe just blurt it out and get it over with?

“Happy birthday, Dad!”

The daughter’s voice again from inside.

“Candy and a kid’s balloon again this year! Are you trying to tell me something?”

The daughter laughed.

Harvey recognized the man’s voice.

Tucker Aldrich was the CEO of the company where Harvey worked. He was also Margo’s ex-husband and a first-class dickhead.

So, it meant the balloon and candy basket were for Tucker and not some child. Harvey was sorry he’d passed on the Snickers bar.

The hell with telling the truth.

Margo came back out, holding a glass of white wine. She leaned against the door frame. “What were you going to say earlier?”

“Uh…that you’re an over-tipper.”

“Only when the delivery person is a cute, curly-haired guy with a spongy red nose,” she said and sipped her wine. “Did I mention that the meeting’s moved to 10:00?”

“Yes.”

Silence, then Margo said, “Well, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

She closed the door behind her.

Harvey stared at the bronze horsehead knocker. He wanted to rip it off. The door too. He in fact wanted to tear the whole damn building down on Tucker’s head.

Margo hadn’t forgotten that she’d told him about the meeting. Margo was incapable of forgetting. She was warning him to show up.

Team meetings were a nightmare. The scruffy programmers spoke computerese, argued over stuff Harvey didn’t understand, and gleefully pointed out errors in his documentation.

But way off in New Delhi, lovely Amaya understood, and with luck she might save his job.

Tomorrow’s meeting would make or break him.

Harvey shuffled down the walkway, his head lowered, his bunny ears slipping down his forehead. He’d been so shocked to see Margo that he’d forgotten to take them off. One of life’s bad moments.

Still, she had called him cute.

Yeah, sure. He was just hours from turning fifty-six, had found addional gray hairs while shaving that morning, and was thickening around the waist from too many Skittles and Snickers.

Harvey climbed into his car and slumped in the driver’s seat. He was angry with Tucker for stealing Margo and angry at Margo for not offering him a glass of wine. But most of all, Harvey was angry with himself for letting her see him in bunny ears.

When he’d first started making deliveries a few weeks earlier, he’d refused to wear them, then thought, what the hell? Doesn’t everyone at some time want to play the fool? There was no pressure to succeed, to show off, to one-up a colleague.

What if everyone from a prisoner sitting out a life term to the President of the United States had to set aside one day a year and play the fool, to go out in public wearing a spongy red nose and bunny ears?

What-Ifs and Whys had obsessed Harvey as a child, who from morning to night had trailed behind his father and mother and pestered them with questions. (What if there was a ladder to the Moon? What if everyone had four arms? Why is cousin Alice getting those bumps on her chest?)

Later, he would turn his pestering curiosity into a profession. He thought of himself as a ‘speculative historian.’ (What if the Allies had lost the Second World War? What if Caesar hadn’t crossed the Rubicon? What if no one had invented the computer?)

Harvey started the engine, reached over to tap the next address into the GPS, then leaned back.

Why humiliate himself like this? His ex-wife had always insisted he was punishing himself in guilt over his younger brother. Harvey denied this, but he knew she was right.

Enough. He had reached his lifetime quota of humiliation.

Here’s another What-If: What if he quit this goddamn job?

Harvey shut off the engine, climbed out of the car, went around back, and popped the trunk.

A dozen balloons bobbed on basket handles, aching to go free.

Harvey tied the spongy red nose to a balloon that read “Get Well Soon!” He cut it loose. Next, he liberated a black balloon picturing a racecar (“Turning Ten!”). Finally, he tied his rabbit ears to a cluster of white orbs trailing a banner that read, “Congrats, New Parents!” and set the bunch free.

He watched until the last of the balloons caught the breeze and disappeared into the night sky.

He slammed the trunk closed, climbed into his car, and right away started to fret. What if a balloon floated to the harbor for some sea creature to swallow (Headline: “Reckless Ex-Professor Kills Orca!”).

Just one more reason to be angry with himself.

***

Excerpt from The Accidental Spy by David Gardner.
Copyright 2022 by David Gardner.
Reproduced with permission from David Gardner.
All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

David Gardner

David Gardner grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm, served in Army Special Forces, and earned a Ph.D. in French from the University of Wisconsin. He has taught college and worked as a reporter and in the computer industry.

He co-authored three programming books for Prentice Hall, wrote dozens of travel articles as well as too many mind-numbing computer manuals before happily turning to fiction: “The Journalist: A Paranormal Thriller,” “The Last Speaker of Skalwegian,” and “The Accidental Spy” (all with Encircle Publications, LLC).

He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, Nancy, also a writer. He hikes, bikes, messes with astrophotography, and plays the keyboard with no discernible talent whatsoever.

Catch Up With David Gardner:
DavidGardnerAuthor.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @davidagardner07
Instagram – @davidagardner07
Facebook

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Book Showcase: ASSUMED by MHR Geer

ASSUMED by MHR Geer book cover; blue-washed photo with palm tree leaves in the foreground and a yacht on stormy seas in the backgroundAssumed by MHR Geer
ISBN: 9798987115923 (Paperback)
ASIN: B0BLXK18LR (Kindle edition)
Page Count: 296
Release Date: December 2, 2022
Publisher: MG3 Publishing
Genre: Fiction | Thriller

When her friend Sandy asks for help, Anne Wilson leaves her small, lonely life in Miami for the picturesque island of Saint Martin. But as soon as she arrives, Sandy is murdered, and her death exposes lies: an alias, a secret past, stolen money. Suspected of murder and trapped on the island, Anne is shocked when a cryptic message arrives:

Find the money. Take it and run.

She follows Sandy’s trail of obscure clues, desperate for proof of her innocence and must decide if she can trust the two men who offer help-the dark, mysterious Brit or the American with a wide grin and a pickup truck. When memories resurface-dark truths she’d rather leave buried and forgotten, her past becomes intertwined with her present.

Her only way forward is to face her own secrets.

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

Read an Excerpt:

A constant stream of jubilant holiday-goers jostled my suitcase as I paced the arrivals gate, but Sandy’s mobile went to voicemail a fourth time. I hung up without leaving another message and strolled past the baggage carousel. Again.

“Where are you, Sandy?” I muttered under my breath.

A man in a white Panama hat vacated a bench, and I collapsed onto the cold metal and hugged the handle of my suitcase. The other passengers exchanged greetings and gathered their baggage, and the automatic door slid open with a swoosh to receive them. Every time the door opened, humid air blasted my face.

The man in the white hat reappeared but saw me and turned away, presumably to find a bench without a slouching, scowling American. I raised my shoulders from a slump and crossed my legs.

“What now, Anne?” I asked myself, tapping the screen of my phone and resisting the urge to check the time.

A young boy, about five years old, wandered over and climbed onto the bench next to me. We exchanged nervous smiles. Couples and families regrouped near the door, and I watched their faces, expecting someone to claim the boy, but the door opened and closed, over and over, and he remained.

I was just about to ask where the boy’s parents were when a tall woman entered and rushed toward us, shouting in French. Her profile was dark against the bright sunlight outside, and her long hair swirled in the vortex of the doorway. The boy pressed against me, and I almost wrapped my arm around him, but the door closed, and she smoothed her hair back into place.

She pulled the boy from the bench, gripping his arms with long, slender fingers. I couldn’t understand her words, but her reprimand was clear. Her green eyes flashed with fear and anger. She blamed me for his disappearance. I shrugged, trying to remember how to apologize in French. Je suis desole? But I was unsure of the words, so I didn’t say anything, and she didn’t wait for my explanation.

He left with her, his little hand firmly inside hers, and when the door opened and whipped her hair back into the air, the boy turned back to me with a smile. I waved.

And then I was alone again.

I jumped when my phone buzzed.

Sorry, Sandy texted. Can’t make it. Take a taxi to 16 Rue de l’Aile Perdue.

I stared at the text and considered purchasing a ticket for a return flight, but my phone buzzed again with a second text.

Please, Anne.

I squared my shoulders and pulled on my sunglasses. Then I walked through the whoosh of the doorway and into the sunlight.

The taxi line had already thinned; it took only a few minutes before a lively man ushered me into the back of a bright green sedan. The driver offered a brusque “Welcome to Saint Martin,” and turned up her radio. Taxi code for no talking. Fine with me.

We sped through narrow streets, dangerously close to sunburned tourists wandering street markets. Stalls spilled out from under a rainbow of awnings, hawking loud shirts and oversized beach towels. The air was thick with cardamom and curry, mixed with the yeasty smell of a patisserie. My stomach rumbled. In my rush to make the early morning flight, I’d skipped breakfast.

We left town and traveled up and down winding roads that cut into the hillsides. The villas grew larger and farther apart and then disappeared into thick foliage behind security gates. I caught occasional glimpses of dirt lanes and even fewer paved driveways. When the driver pulled off the road, I leaned out the window to watch the tops of towering palm trees lining a long gravel driveway. We stopped on a cobbled motor court in front of a massive house.

I stared up at the imposing facade from within the safety of the taxi before I bravely stepped into the blazing sun. I thought there must be some mistake, but before I could say anything, the taxi drove away. Why had Sandy sent me to a dismal mansion and not to one of the dazzling resorts I’d passed?

Beyond the house, the sea stretched to the horizon. Sunlight reflected off the water, awakening childhood fantasies of pirate ships and mermaid tails. But the hot sun quickly melted the daydream, and I retreated into the shadow of the mansion.

Up close, the house was shabby and weather-beaten. Peeling gray paint revealed a history of more colorful choices. The porch railing leaned at a precarious angle, and as I cautiously climbed the rotting steps, the wood complained but held, and I reached the front door and knocked. The sound echoed within the house, but only silence followed. I knocked again, louder, and waited. Nothing.

“Now what?” I asked the house.

The house ignored me, but a piece of paper stuck between two floorboards fluttered in the ocean breeze. I stepped over and picked it up. She’d left a note—an inconsiderate welcome, even for Sandy. I exhaled loudly and unfolded the scrap of paper.

Excerpt from Assumed by MHR Geer.
Copyright © 2022 by MHR Geer.
Published with permission. All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

MHR Geer photo: black and white headshot photograph of a white woman with wavy dark-colored hair
Author – MHR Geer

MHR Geer was born in California but grew up in the Midwest. She attended the University of California, Santa Barbara to study Physics. After school, she moved to Ventura, CA, and started a small bookkeeping business. She lives with her two sons and her unicorn husband (because he’s a magical creature).

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

Giveaway

This is a giveaway for one (1) signed ARC copy of Assumed, one (1) branded tote, one (1) branded koozie, one (1) bookmark, AND a $20 bookstore gift card to a winner in the US or Canada courtesy of MHR Geer. This giveaway is limited to residents of the United States and Canada only. All entries by non-US/Canadian residents will be voided. To enter use the Rafflecopter link below or click here.

This giveaway begins at 12:01 AM ET on 01/16/2023 and ends at 11:59 PM ET on 01/22/2023. The winner will be announced by 10:00 AM ET on 01/23/2023. Void where prohibited.

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Guest Post: Karen Odden – UNDER A VEILED MOON

Saturday Salutations, my bookish peeps. Have you ever visited a place and the history tied to that particular spot just overwhelmed you? There have only been a few places I’ve seen that touched me emotionally. The first was Plimouth Plantation (now Plimouth Patuxet Museums) in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and learning of the freed Blacks that had settled there with many of the first non-Indigenous settlers. The second was Salem, Massachusetts, and the history linked to the Salem Witch Trials. The last place was Mecca, Saudi Arabia. I can’t even begin to describe the feelings brought on by thoughts of all the folks that had previously walked in the same areas I was covering. It probably sounds a bit sappy, but I often ponder who walked or lived in the areas I’m in as well as wondering what might have happened in that location 100 or 200+ years ago. Sadly, I don’t do the research required to obtain the answers to these questions, but I continue to wonder. Today, I’m pleased to welcome someone that wonders about the past, actually does the necessary research, and crafts intriguing stories afterward. Karen Odden is the author of several historical fiction books, including the recently released Under a Veiled Moon, book two in the Inspector Corravan series. Thank you, Ms. Odden, for joining us today and sharing your thoughts on the river Thames. Without further adieu, I’ll now turn the blog over to you.

The Magic of the Thames

By Karen Odden

     Until I started researching for Down a Dark River (Inspector Corravan #1) I had no idea that the Thames was tidal. Did you know this? Twice a day, the flow of the river changes from east to west and then west to east, with some areas rising and falling up to twenty-four feet, from the North Sea in the east to nearly 100 miles inland, well past even the outskirts of London. Think about that: twenty-four feet. The eco-sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor placed four horses in the Thames near Vauxhall, and the sculptures vanish and reappear with the tide, reminding people of our dependence upon water generally and the Thames specifically.

Statues of humans on horse-like creatures
“The Rising Tide” Photo credit: Jason deCaires Taylor

 

     As a result of the changing currents, a mix of trash and treasure alike are thrown upon the banks daily. As a child, in 1850s London, my (fictional) inspector Michael Corravan would mudlark along the banks, scrounging for bits of coal, wood, and metal that might be usable or saleable – and nowadays for about $50 on Tripadvisor, you can book a mud larking tour, complete with high rubber boots and a pail and a stick, and retrace his steps.

Photo of people "mudlarking" on the shore of the Thames
Mudlarkers on the south shore of the Thames, near Blackfriars Bridge. Photo credit: Karen Odden.

 

     Back in 1858, when Michael Corravan was ten years old, London experienced “the Great Stink.” Basically, the industrial waste from tanneries and manufacturing plants combined with approximately four million people’s household waste had turned the Thames into a sludgy, smelly mess.

Black and White drawing of a skeleton wearing a black hooded cap, rowing a boat
“The Silent Highwayman” (1858)

When Parliament met in Westminster, on the north side of the Thames, the Members were in agony. From the windows, they hung sheets which they sprayed with lime to try to keep the stink and the “miasma” (thought to carry disease) out. It didn’t take long before they decided to hire Joseph Bazalgette, a civil engineer, to fix this problem. His solution was to send the waste ten miles downstream (east) to a processing plant. He built enormous pipes (much larger than people thought they needed because, after all, London couldn’t possibly grow any larger than it already was – !) and overlaid them with the Victorian Embankment, which you can still walk on today. The Thames was revitalized, making it possible to romanticize it, which painters including Monet, Grimshaw, Whistler, and Canaletto did.

Oil painting of the Thames at Moonlight with the Southwark Bridge by J.A. Grimshaw
The Thames by Moonlight with Southwark Bridge by J.A. Grimshaw (1836-1893), Photo credit: City of London Corp.

(For a range of paintings of the Thames, see https://www.standard.co.uk/culture/london-art-nine-paintings-of-the-river-thames-you-have-to-see-a3900821.html)

     The spectacular, fascinating thing about the Victorian Thames is it was both changeful and steady, old and modern, a disgusting sewer and the vital lifeblood of a city all at once. As such, it’s a wonderfully suggestive setting for my books, Down a Dark River and Under a Veiled Moon, because there are no neat divisions of good and evil. My protagonist and the important secondary characters are complex, driven by motives they may not even know, and acting in ways that bring about results they don’t necessarily intend. A man or woman can be both kind and cruel, clever and obtuse, frightened and courageous, depending on the tide of events at any given moment. (See what I did there? Tide?)

     Frankly, I do not like books with flat secondary characters whose only purpose is to either enable or foil the protagonist. So I don’t want to write them. People are complicated. Their backstories are varied and unique and a messy composite of a variety of experiences. And I believe characters can and should surprise us. They can stretch our compassion and our powers of sympathy. They can make it possible for us to imagine what it is to be an Irish inspector at Scotland Yard in the 1870s, tasked with discovering the truth about the tragic Princess Alice steamship disaster, and caught between warring factions, impossible choices, and a past and present both wondrous and appalling. ♦

Black and White graphic drawing depicting the loss of "The Princess Alice" ship
Pamphlet, 1878. Photo Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

 

Under a Veiled Moon

by Karen Odden

January 2-27, 2023 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

Under a Veiled Moon by Karen Odden

In the tradition of C. S. Harris and Anne Perry, a fatal disaster on the Thames and a roiling political conflict set the stage for Karen Odden’s second Inspector Corravan historical mystery.

September 1878. One night, as the pleasure boat the Princess Alice makes her daily trip up the Thames, she collides with the Bywell Castle, a huge iron-hulled collier. The Princess Alice shears apart, throwing all 600 passengers into the river; only 130 survive. It is the worst maritime disaster London has ever seen, and early clues point to sabotage by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, who believe violence is the path to restoring Irish Home Rule.

For Scotland Yard Inspector Michael Corravan, born in Ireland and adopted by the Irish Doyle family, the case presents a challenge. Accused by the Home Office of willfully disregarding the obvious conclusion, and berated by his Irish friends for bowing to prejudice, Corravan doggedly pursues the truth, knowing that if the Princess Alice disaster is pinned on the IRB, hopes for Home Rule could be dashed forever.

Corrovan’s dilemma is compounded by Colin, the youngest Doyle, who has joined James McCabe’s Irish gang. As violence in Whitechapel rises, Corravan strikes a deal with McCabe to get Colin out of harm’s way. But unbeknownst to Corravan, Colin bears longstanding resentments against his adopted brother and scorns his help.

As the newspapers link the IRB to further accidents, London threatens to devolve into terror and chaos. With the help of his young colleague, the loyal Mr. Stiles, and his friend Belinda Gale, Corravan uncovers the harrowing truth—one that will shake his faith in his countrymen, the law, and himself.

Book Details:

Genre: Historical Mystery
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: October 11, 2022
Number of Pages: 336
ISBN: 9781639101191 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 9781639101207 (eBook)
ISBN: 9781666616354 (digital Audiobook)
ASIN: B09S3J7LRP (Kindle edition)
ASIN: B0B622C43J (Audible Audiobook)
Series: Inspector Corravan, #2
Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: IndieBound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Audible Audiobook | Audiobooks.com | Barnes and Noble | B&N NOOK Book | BookDepository.com | Bookshop.org | eBooks.com | Kobo Audiobook | Kobo eBook | Goodreads

Praise for Under a Veiled Moon:

“[An] exceptional sequel … Odden never strikes a false note, and she combines a sympathetic lead with a twisty plot grounded in the British politics of the day and peopled with fully fleshed-out characters. Fans of Lyndsay Faye’s Gods of Gotham trilogy will be enthralled.”

Publishers Weekly, starred review

 

“Victorian skulduggery with a heaping side of Irish troubles.”

Kirkus Reviews

 

“Will keep readers curious and guessing to the end.”

Manhattan Book Review, 5-star review

 

“Damn fine historical crime fiction.”

Bolo Books

 

“Rich in emotion and historical detail, Under a Veiled Moon is a brilliant tale of the dark, thorny places where the personal and the political intertwine.”

Mariah Fredericks, Edgar award-nominated author of the Jane Prescott series

Author Bio:

Karen Odden

Karen received her Ph.D. in English literature from New York University and subsequently taught at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She has published numerous essays and articles on Victorian literature, written introductions for Victorian novels in the Barnes and Noble Classics Series, and edited for the journal Victorian Literature and Culture. Her first novel, A Lady in the Smoke, was a USA Today bestseller and A Dangerous Duet and A Trace of Deceit have won awards for historical mystery and historical fiction. Her fourth mystery, Down a Dark River, introduced readers to Michael Corravan, a former thief and bare-knuckles boxer from Whitechapel who serves as an inspector at Scotland Yard in 1870s London. The sequel, Under a Veiled Moon, is available in hardcover, e-book, and audiobook. A member of Mystery Writers of America and a national board member for Sisters in Crime, Karen lives in Arizona with her family.

Catch Up With Karen Odden:
KarenOdden.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @KarenOdden
Instagram – @karen_m_odden
Twitter – @karen_odden
Facebook – @karen.odden

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Book Showcase: WHAT MEETS THE EYE by Alex Kenna

What Meets the Eye

by Alex Kenna

January 9 – February 3, 2023 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

What Meets the Eye by Alex Kenna

From debut author Alex Kenna comes a pulse-pounding tapestry of secrets, retribution, and greed for fans of Jeffrey Archer.

Kate Myles was a promising Los Angeles police detective, until an accident and opioid addiction blew up her family and destroyed her career. Struggling to rebuild her life, Kate decides to try her hand at private detective work—but she gets much more than she bargained for when she takes on the case of a celebrated painter found dead in a downtown loft.

When Margot Starling’s body was found, the cause of death was assumed to be suicide. Despite her beauty, talent, and fame, she struggled with a host of demons. But as Kate digs deeper, she learns that Margot had a growing list of powerful enemies—among them a shady art dealer who had been selling forged works by Margot. Kate soon uncovers a dirty trail that leads straight into the heart of the city’s deadly underworld.

Margot died for her art—and if Kate doesn’t tread lightly, she could be the next to get brushed out.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: December 2022
Number of Pages: 288
ISBN10: 1639101845
ISBN: 9781639101849 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 9781639101856 (eBook)
ASIN: B09TZP1DCF (Kindle edition)
ASIN: B0BBPHT776 (Audible Audiobook)
Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: Indiebound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Audible Audiobook | Audiobooks.com | Barnes & Noble | B&N NOOK Book | BookDepository.com | BookShop.org | eBooks.com | Kobo eBook | Goodreads | Penguin Random House

Praise for What Meets the Eye:

“[An] impressive debut . . . Sara Paretsky fans will be pleased.”

Publishers Weekly

 

“Alex Kenna is the real deal, a true talent. Her prose is stunningly eloquent and characterization masterful.”

Crime Fiction Critic

 

“A righteous, painful debut. More, please.”

Kirkus Reviews

 

“Dragging the world of high art down into the muck of Los Angeles’ criminal underbelly, Alex Kenna has created an engaging mystery buoyed by the heart of its heroine, Kate Myles. Trying to win against stacked decks in her professional and personal lives, Myles’ resilience and hustle makes her an easy hero to stand up and cheer for.”

James Queally, author of the Russel Avery novels and Los Angeles Times crime reporter

 

“With the sure hand of an old master, Alex Kenna’s debut blurs the line between catharsis and crime in this gritty and nimble noir mystery. When a routine investigation into the apparent suicide of art superstar Margot Starling becomes anything but, down-on-her-luck PI Kate Myles must square herself up for the fight of her life or lose it all. Entertaining and provocative, What Meets the Eye reminds us that truth often comes with a price tag much higher—and deadlier—than anything Sotheby’s could ever hope to fetch at auction.”

Katie Lattari, author of Dark Things I Adore

 

“Kenna gives us the LA crime story we want—a fronded, sun-beaten carousel of depravity and murder, all laced up with tight plotting, sharply hewn characters, and a gripping, original story.”

Joseph Schneider, author of the Tully Jarsdel Mysteries

 

“A suspicious death dismissed as suicide leads PI Kate Myles deep into a web of blackmail and deceit, set against an intriguing backdrop of shady dealings in the art world. An all too human character, Kate is determined to piece together the wreckage of her life and career, and salvage her fractured relationship with her daughter. With clever twists & turns, and a host of convincing suspects along the way, the plot delivers a satisfying ending, but leaves us with tantalizing hints of more to come from Kate…”

Julie Cameron, author of Nameless Acts of Cruelty

Read an excerpt:

Prologue

Six Months Ago – Margot

All week long, I’d felt a fire in my belly. The spirit passed through me like lightning, brushes flying from wet canvas to wet canvas. Cooking was a waste of time, so I ordered takeout and drank whiskey. Sleep was out of the question. I cranked up the music and worked to the beat. Sometimes I sang along, dripping globs of color onto the floor. The paint went on smooth, like buttery icing. After a while, my brushes stayed in their jar and my fingers danced across the canvas. No bristles between skin and cloth.

Soon the images came alive. I’d been studying the Spanish greats: Velasquez, Goya, Zurbaran, Ribera. For them, it was all about bottomless darks with hints of warm, mellow light. I took a break from bold colors, indulging in white and yellow ochre on burnt sienna. The effect was sinister but mesmerizing. One after another, my hands pulled ghostly figures out of a dark void.

I finally passed out around dawn on Thursday, just as the birds were starting to chatter. When I woke, it was midafternoon, and the magic was gone. My mouth tasted of bile and I felt like someone had scooped out my eyeballs and punched me in the sockets.

I wandered into the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. One of Goya’s haggard witches stared back at me. My skin was the color of rice pudding. There were purple half-moons under my eyes and a cadmium streak in my hair. I picked at my nail beds, filled with Prussian blue. The thought of cleaning them was exhausting so I didn’t bother.

My stomach let out a growl and I stumbled over to the fridge. Nothing inside was fresh enough to tempt me. I turned to a soggy takeout container on the kitchen table. The waxed cardboard had partially melted, and a puddle of sauce oozed onto the table. A dead fruit fly was trapped inside the congealed orange liquid like a mosquito in amber. I pulled a half-eaten egg roll off last night’s dinner plate and popped it in my mouth. At least it was still crispy.

After lunch-breakfast-dinner, I had an edible and downed a pot of coffee. I tried to get back to work, but the electricity was gone. The images that were so alive last night now looked dull and mannered. A self-portrait smirked at me. I’d given myself a pouty red mouth like an Instagram twat and artificial jolly-rancher-green eyes. It was pathetic. The last desperate cry of a lonely train wreck nearing forty. I felt worthless. I should go jump off a bridge or wander onto the freeway.

I lay on the couch for what must have been hours, binge watching some show about British aristocrats and their servants. Thank God I wasn’t born in nineteenth century England. You can’t be a British lady if you’re a mouthy alcoholic who screws half the landed gentry. I would’ve done worse as a servant. I can barely fry an egg and half the time I’m too paralyzed by my own shit to get out of bed. I’d end up as a consumptive whore blowing sailors for my supper in a London tenement.

The curtains were drawn, and eventually light stopped leaking in from the window edges. I usually do better when the sun goes down. But nightfall didn’t bring me a second wind. It made me feel worse. I poured myself another drink and lit a cigarette.

My cell kept blowing up with a number I didn’t recognize. I’d had this phone for six months and never transferred my contacts over from the last one. Now my caller ID served as a kind of litmus test. If someone hadn’t reached out in half a year, they weren’t worth my time. I let it go to voicemail and turned back to the aristocrats. The only decent one was dead now. This show was making me tired.

There was a knock on the door. Probably the neighbor coming to tell me her baby couldn’t sleep because I make use of my electronics. I ignored it, took a swig of whiskey, and lit another cigarette.

Then whoever it was started pounding. “Margot, open up,” said a loud baritone. The voice was familiar, but I couldn’t place it. His tone had an edge of desperation. Could it be that cop from last week? A wave of dread flowed through me. My hands started shaking and a clump of ash fell on the couch. If I kept very still, maybe he’d think I wasn’t home and go away. No, the TV was too loud. He knew I was in here.

I tiptoed over to the keyhole and gasped. My drink flew from my hand and shattered, coating the floor in alcohol and shards of glass.

***

Excerpt from What Meets the Eye by Alex Kenna.
Copyright © 2022 by Alex Kenna.
Reproduced with permission from Alex Kenna.
All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Alex Kenna

Alex Kenna is a lawyer, writer, and amateur painter based in Los Angeles. Before law school, Alex studied painting and art history. She also worked as a freelance culture writer and sold art in a gallery. Originally from Washington DC, Alex lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son, and a giant schnauzer, Zelda. When she’s not writing Alex can be found exploring Southern California, toddler-wrangling, and playing string instruments badly.

Catch Up With Our Author:
AlexKenna.com
Goodreads
Twitter – @AlexKenna9
Facebook

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Book Showcase: MISFIRE by Tammy Euliano

Misfire, Book 2 in the Kate Downey Medical Mystery Series, by Tammy Euliano
ISBN: 9781608095223 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781608095230 (ebook)
ASIN: B09X5ZPQCL (Kindle edition)
Page Count: 368
Release Date: January 23, 2023
Publisher: Oceanview Publishing
Genre: Fiction | Medical Mystery | Thriller

MISFIRE by Tammy Euliano cover featuring a bluish-gray x-ray of a human chest with a defibrillator highlighted

A device that can save a life is also one that can end it

Kadence, a new type of implanted defibrillator, misfires in a patient visiting University Hospital for a routine medical procedure—causing the heart rhythm problem it’s meant to correct. Dr. Kate Downey, an experienced anesthesiologist, resuscitates the patient, but she grows concerned for a loved one who recently received the same device—her beloved Great-Aunt Irm.

When a second device misfires, Kate turns to Nikki Yarborough, her friend and Aunt Irm’s cardiologist. Though Nikki helps protect Kate’s aunt, she is prevented from alerting other patients by the corporate greed of her department chairman. As the inventor of the device and part owner of MDI, the company he formed to commercialize it, he claims that the device misfires are due to a soon-to-be-corrected software bug. Kate learns his claim is false.

The misfires continue as Christian O’Donnell, a friend and lawyer, comes to town to facilitate the sale of MDI. Kate and Nikki are drawn into a race to find the source of the malfunctions, but threats to Nikki and a mysterious murder complicate their progress. Are the seemingly random shocks misfires, or are they attacks?

A jaw-dropping twist causes her to rethink everything she once thought she knew, but Kate will stop at nothing to protect her aunt and the other patients whose life-saving devices could turn on them at any moment.

Perfect for fans of Robin Cook and Tess Gerritsen

While the novels in the Kate Downey Medical Mystery Series stand on their own and can be read in any order, the publication sequence is:

Fatal Intent
Misfire

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Praise for Misfire:

“From surgery to suspense, Tammy Euliano knows the worlds she writes of. Misfire is a first-rate medical thriller—the kind that leaves you thinking that was too close!” —Michael Connelly, New York Times best-selling author

“A medical thriller meets domestic suspense meets serial killer terror all rolled into one page-turning extravaganza. You will read Misfire for the plot, but absolutely stay for the characters. I miss them already.” —Lisa Gardner, #1 New York Times best-selling author

“Medical suspense as sharp as it gets. Euliano is off to a good, no, a brilliant start.” —Kathy Reichs, New York Times best-selling author

Read an Excerpt:

“You aren’t gonna let me die this time, are ya, Doc?”

Oh boy.

So started my Wednesday, with about the worst line any anesthesiologist can hear from a patient in preoperative holding.

“This time?” the nurse said.

“Last time my heart decided to dance a little jig instead of pumpin’ my blood.”

Sitting close beside Mr. Abrams, his wife squeezed her eyes closed. “Abe, tell Dr. Downey the whole story.”

“I read about it in your chart last night,” I said. “Last time they tried to fix your hernia, your heart needed a jump start.” To the nurse I added, “V fib,” a chaotic heart rhythm that usually requires electrical shock to convert back to a normal rhythm. “It happened when they were putting you to sleep and they canceled the case.” Instead of a hernia operation, Mr. Abrams ended up with a very different procedure that day—placement of an automated internal cardioverter defibrillator, or AICD. A device implanted in his chest to detect and treat the problem should it recur.

“Your AICD hasn’t fired, right?” The device had been checked by cardiology the day before.

“Right. Rosie watches it like a hawk huntin’ a rodent.” He nodded to his wife, who slipped her phone under the book in her lap.

“I completely understand,” I said to her, nodding at the hidden phone. “My aunt has the same AICD, and I can’t stop checking the app either.” Maybe a downside of the novel AICD, the Kadence communicated through the patient’s phone to the cloud, where I could view status reports on my beloved Aunt Irm’s heart. “I don’t expect any problems this time, but we’re ready if your heart decides on another jig.”

“Dr. Downey, I need to ask a favor.” Mrs. Abrams didn’t look at me, or at anyone. She gripped her paperback as if it would fly open.

“Call me Kate.”

“Come on, Rosie, let the doc do her job,” Mr. Abrams said.

She ignored him. “Dr. Yarborough is his cardiologist. She said if he could keep his phone during the operation, she would be able to watch his AICD.”

I generally like to honor requests. This one required a caveat. “I’ll make a deal with you. We’ll keep the phone close for Dr. Yarborough as long as you promise not to watch the app.”

Her sparse gray eyebrows drew together.

“During surgery, there’s electrical noise that can confuse the AICD. I don’t know what it might report and I don’t want you frightened.” Sometimes we turn off AICDs during surgery, but this operation was far enough away from the device implanted near his left shoulder that the noise shouldn’t cause a problem. What she might see on the app, though, I couldn’t predict.

She nodded uncertainly.

Eric, the anesthesia resident assigned to work with me on the case, arrived with a small syringe of a sedative. “What do you think about some happy juice?”

“I think my wife needs it more than me,” Mr. Abrams said.

Her lipstick appeared to redden as her face paled.

“Unfortunately, it goes in the IV,” Eric said with a kind smile for her. “We’ll take good care of him.”

“You’ll watch his blood sugar,” she said.

“Yes, ma’am.” Eric unlocked the bed.

“And be careful with his AICD.”

“We will.” He unhooked the IV bag from the ceiling-mounted pole and attached it to one on the stretcher.

Tears dampened her eyes as Mrs. Abrams stood and leaned down to kiss her husband’s cheek.

“I’m gonna be fine, Rosie. Don’t you worry. I’ll be huntin’ by the weekend, and we can try out that new squirrel recipe before our anniversary.”

“We are not serving squirrel stew for our fiftieth anniversary,” she said.

Eric and I exchanged a smile.

“Oh now, you wait and see.” Mr. Abrams patted his wife’s hand.

“What’s squirrel taste like?” Eric pushed the bed from the wall.

“Tastes like chicken.” Mr. Abrams laughed loudly. “No, just kiddin’ with ya . . .” As they turned the corner, the voices faded. I stayed behind to reassure Mrs. Abrams.

“I can’t lose him.” Eyes squeezed shut, a sob escaped.

I wrapped an arm around her ample shoulders and waited. I knew that feeling; had lived that feeling; had lost.

“I’m sorry.” She dabbed her eyes with a tissue.

“No need to apologize. Last time scared you. Tell you what, once he’s asleep, I’ll give you a call and let you know it went fine.”

That calmed her. We walked together to the main doors, where I directed her to the waiting room. I turned the opposite direction to not let her husband of fifty years die during a hernia operation. No pressure there.

In the OR, we helped Mr. Abrams move to the operating table. After applying monitors and going through our safety checks, Eric held the clear plastic mask over his face and said, “Pick out a good dream.”

“Oh, I got one.” He winked at me. “I’ll try to behave this time, Doc.”

“I’d appreciate that.” I maintained eye contact and held his hand as I injected the drugs to put him off to sleep. Despite having induced anesthesia thousands of times, I always experience a tense few moments between the time the patient stops breathing and when the breathing tube is confirmed in the windpipe. During those couple of minutes, if we couldn’t breathe for him, there’s a real, if remote, chance the patient could die. Not a failure to save, but, in essence, a kill. Anesthesia is unique in that. We take people who are breathing fine, mess it up, then fix it, so the surgeon can correct the real problem.

When Mr. Abrams’ induction proceeded without incident, I felt an extra sense of relief and was happy to share that with his wife. The operation, too, went well, and an hour later, he awoke from anesthesia, gave a sleepy smile, and said, “How’d it go, Doc?”

“Fine. No more hernia. Are you in any pain?”

He shook his head. “Nope, you done good.”

As Eric gave his transfer-of-care report to the recovery nurse, I helped re-connect the monitors. Mr. Abrams looked great. Whether he’d be hunting squirrel in a few days, I couldn’t say. I headed toward the pre-op area to see our next patient.

“Dr. Downey!”

I spun back to see Mr. Abrams’ head loll to the side, his eyes closed, his hands on his chest. In two steps I was back at his side. “Mr. Abrams?” I placed two fingers to his neck where his pulse should be while the ECG monitor above showed ventricular fibrillation—a randomly bumpy line—and his pulse oximeter, the sticker on his finger that recorded pulse and oxygen, became a flat line. Cardiac arrest.

What the hell?

I forced the image of his wife saying, “I can’t lose him,” from my mind as I lowered the head of the bed and started chest compressions. “Eric, manage the airway.”

He placed a mask over Mr. Abrams’ nose and mouth and started squeezing the breathing bag. “Why isn’t his AICD firing?”

Good question.

The overhead monitor flashed and shrieked an alarm.

The fire-engine red crash cart arrived and a nurse snapped off its plastic lock. As she tore open the foil pack of defibrillation pads from the top of the crash cart, the charge nurse assembled medications. A smoothly running team, each member with his or her own tasks.

The overhead alert began, “Anesthesia and Charge Nurse stat to the PACU.” I tuned it out as a crowd in scrubs assembled around us. The anesthesiologist in charge of the recovery room said, “How can I help?”

“Call Nikki Yarborough in cardiology.” As I continued chest compressions, the nurse reached around my arms to place the large defibrillator pads on Mr. Abrams’ chest. I noticed the small scar where his AICD was implanted and silently ordered the damn thing to fire. The charging defibrillator whined with an increasing and eventually teeth-itching pitch.

Seconds before I yelled, “Clear!” the ECG monitor traced a “square wave”—three sides of a bottomless square, up-across-down. I held my breath, though it was only seconds. Normal sinus rhythm followed. His AICD had finally fired, kick-starting his heart back to normal electrical activity.

I stopped chest compressions and placed my fingers on his neck. Strong pulse. “Mr. Abrams?” I grasped his hand and leaned forward. His head turned toward me. “How do you feel?”

He rubbed his sternum with his other hand. “Chest hurts.”

“Like a heart attack, or like someone pounded on it?”

“Pounded.” He opened one eye.

“Sorry about that.”

“No. Thank you.” The corners of his mouth turned up weakly. “You did good.”

“I’ll have cardiology come check out your AICD and figure out why it took so long to fire.”

He nodded. “Can you tell my wife I’m okay?” It struck me his first thought was for his wife, and that I’d told her everything would be fine. Crap. It also struck me she might have peeked at his app.

The recovery room attending waited for me as I stepped away. “Dr. Yarborough’s in a procedure but will come by as soon as she’s done.”

I thanked him and hurried to the waiting room to check on Mrs. Abrams.

She must have followed directions, because I found her in the back corner of the crowded space, the book unopened in her lap. At my approach, she looked up.

“He’s fine.” Always the best lead, but she didn’t smile. I sat beside her and lowered my voice in an attempt at privacy. “After the surgery, he had a rhythm problem like before.”

She gasped and I placed a hand on her arm.

“We did CPR until his Kadence fired and everything is fine now. He’s awake and he asked me to tell you that.”

Tears filled her eyes.

Though I wasn’t supposed to invite her to the recovery room until the nurse was ready, Mrs. Abrams needed to see for herself. I knew what that felt like. “Would you like to see him?”

She nodded and walked with me in silence.

The very understanding nurse lowered one of the stretcher’s side rails, and Mr. Abrams extended an arm to embrace his wife. “Now, Rosie, I told you I’d be fine.” He looked past her shoulder and winked at me, but his eyes shone as well. Such a beautiful couple. I returned to work before we were all bleary eyed.

Excerpt from Misfire by Tammy Euliano.
Copyright © 2023 by Tammy Euliano.
Published with permission. All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

Tammy Euliano author photo showing a smiling white female with brown, shoulder-length hair, wearing a blue-print top and a necklace with a blue stone

Tammy Euliano writes medical thrillers. She’s inspired by her day job as a physician, researcher, and medical educator. She is a tenured professor at the University of Florida, where she’s been honored with numerous teaching awards, nearly 100,000 views of her YouTube teaching videos, and was featured in a calendar of women inventors (copies available wherever you buy your out-of-date calendars).

When she’s not writing or at the hospital, she enjoys traveling with her family, playing sports, cheering on the Gators, and entertaining her two wonderful dogs.

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

Giveaway

This is a giveaway for one (1) print copy of Misfire by Tammy Euliano and a bookmark. This giveaway is limited to residents of the United States only. All entries by non-US residents will be voided. To enter use the Rafflecopter link.

This giveaway begins at 12:01 AM ET on 01/10/2023 and ends at 11:59 PM ET on 01/16/2023. The winner will be announced by 10:00 AM ET on 01/17/2023. Void where prohibited.

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Guest Post: Colleen Coble – DARK OF NIGHT

Dark of Night

by Colleen Coble

January 9-February 3, 2023 Virtual Book Tour

Good day, my bookish peeps. I was recently asked by a family member what I planned to do for the New Year’s weekend and I responded that I’d be curled up in my reading chair with a pot of tea and a few good books. I ended 2022 and began 2023 by reading romance. Some were romantic suspense reads, a few were paranormal romance and historical romance, and the others were romantic comedies. What can I say, the past few years I’ve been reading a lot more romance than normal. Romance has become my go-to genre whenever I’m in a reading slump, feeling a bit down, or having a sick day. I’m incredibly thankful to the authors that create these wonderful romantic stories. One such author is Colleen Coble, with her soon-to-be-released, Dark of Night, book two in the “Annie Pederson” romantic suspense series. Thank you, Ms. Coble, for coming back to visit with us. I can’t wait to learn your thoughts on romance, the blog is all yours.

The Power of Romance
by Colleen Coble

I’ve always been a romantic at heart. Back in my teen years, I swooned over Barnabas in Dark Shadows (I know that’s weird, and also dates me, but what can I say? ) I married at nineteen and have been married to the same wonderful guy for 51 years. Being a romantic has been instrumental in that long happy marriage!

I have always taken romance a bit for granted since my husband is also a romantic, but I recently had a wake-up call when I received an email from a reader. They’d just read one of my books. All four books in my Lonestar series have the same marriage of convenience underpinning, and the reader realized that love is a choice. She let me know she was choosing to love her husband all over again and was going to try again in her marriage. Whoohoo! I love being able to be part of making people think about life and relationships.

Many people think of love as a feeling—and it is of course—but it’s much more than that. We don’t always feel like being loving. The house is a mess, the kids are snarking at each other, and you feel like giving as good as you’re getting from everyone else. But it’s those times when we need to stop and realize that we can choose to love even when we don’t feel like it. That decision can carry us through the bad times that always come. Romance novels aren’t frivolous. There is nothing more important than choosing to love someone and being an agent of change in the world that way. Thinking of someone else’s happiness first could bring deep and lasting changes to our lives—and to the world.

Romance always has an edge of optimism to it because we know there’s going to be a happily ever after. Life isn’t always that way, but I like looking at the world through a romantic prism because it helps me see the good even when bad things happen. I know things will eventually turn out fine even if that happy-ever-after finale has to wait until heaven to materialize.

Synopsis:

Dark of Night by Colleen Coble cover

The law is about justice—not grace. But perhaps ranger Annie Pederson can find a way to have both.

As if the last few months haven’t been hard enough—complete with threats on her life and the return of her first love, Jon—Annie has to figure out whether or not to believe a woman who claims to be her sister, Sarah, who was abducted twenty-four years ago at age five. Annie’s eight-year-old daughter, Kylie, has plenty of questions about what’s going on in her mother’s life—but there are some stones Annie doesn’t want uncovered.

As Annie grapples with how to heal the gulf between her and her would-be sister and make room in her daughter’s life for Jon, she’s professionally distracted by the case of yet another missing hiker in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. A woman named Michelle Fraser has now been abducted, and though the woman’s estranged husband is at the top of their suspect list, Annie and her colleagues will need to dig deeper and determine whether these recent mysteries are truly as unrelated as they seem.

In this second novel of bestselling author Colleen Coble’s latest romantic-suspense series, Annie and Jon must fight for the future—and the family—that could once more be theirs.

Book Details:

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Published by: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: January 2023
Number of Pages: 352
ISBN10: 0785253742 (Paperback)
ISBN13: 9780785253747 (Paperback)
ISBN: 9780785253754 (eBook)
ASIN: B0B1WKV7M4 (Kindle edition)
ASIN: B0B61MK9BK (Audible audiobook)
ISBN: 9780785253761 (Digital audiobook)
Series: Annie Pederson #2
Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: IndieBound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Audible Audiobook | Audiobooks.com | Barnes and Noble | B&N NOOK Book | B&N Audiobook | BookDepository.com | Bookshop.org | ChristianBook | Downpour Audiobook | eBooks.com | Kobo Audiobook | Kobo eBook | Goodreads

Author Bio:

Colleen Coble

Colleen Coble is a USA TODAY bestselling author best known for her coastal romantic suspense novels, including The Inn at Ocean’s Edge, Twilight at Blueberry Barrens, and the Lavender Tides, Sunset Cove, Hope Beach, and Rock Harbor series.

Connect with Colleen online at:
colleencoble.com
Goodreads
BookBub: @colleencoble
Instagram: @colleencoble
Twitter: @colleencoble
Facebook: colleencoblebooks

Tour Participants:

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GIVEAWAY:

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Book Showcase: TOKEN by Beverley Kendall

Illustrated cover for TOKEN by Beverley Kendall showing a close-up headshot of a young Black woman, with curly shoulder-length dark brown hair, wearing purple drop earrings, a yellow-beaded necklace, and a yellow topToken by Beverley Kendall
ISBN: 9781525899973 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9780369720528 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488218248 (digital audiobook)
ISBN: 9798212222815 (MP3 audiobook CD)
ASIN: B0B8QM22WT (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B0B1JM2HDF (Kindle edition)
Page Count: 352
Release Date: January 3, 2023
Publisher: Graydon House/HarperCollins
Genre: Fiction | Multicultural & Interracial Romance | Romance

She’s brilliant, beautiful…and tired of being the only Black woman in the room.

Two years ago, Kennedy Mitchell was plucked from the reception desk and placed in the corporate boardroom in the name of diversity. Rather than play along, she and her best friend founded Token, a boutique PR agency that helps “diversity-challenged” companies and celebrities. With corporate America diversifying workplaces and famous people getting into reputation-damaging controversies, Token is in high demand.

Kennedy quickly discovers there’s a lot of on-the-job learning and some messes are not so easily fixed. When Kennedy’s ex shows up needing help repairing his company’s reputation, things get even more complicated. She knows his character is being wrongly maligned, but she’s reluctant to get involved—professionally and emotionally. But soon, she finds herself drawn into a PR scandal of her own.

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: Indiebound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Audible Audiobook | Apple Books | Audiobooks.com | Barnes and Noble | B&N NOOK Book | B&N Audiobook | BookDepository.com \ Books-A-Million | Bookshop.org | Downpour Audiobook | eBooks.com | Google Play Audiobook | Kobo Audiobook | Kobo eBook | Target

Praise for Token:

“A smart, sexy rom-com that had me chuckling from the first page. I loved it.”—BRENDA JACKSON, New York Times bestselling author

 

Token is a rom-com perfect for our times. I can’t wait to see it on the big screen!”—KAIA ALDERSON, author of Sisters in Arms

Read an Excerpt:

Looking for a job sucked.

Getting laid off sucked even more.

Three weeks ago, Kennedy Mitchell found herself in both unenviable positions.

While searching for a new job in her field of expertise—marketing and five solid years of it—she’d accepted a four-week receptionist position to tide her over. Hey, student loans didn’t pay off themselves and they couldn’t care less about your employment status. But, as grateful as she was to have money coming in, she hated the part of the job that had her slapping herself awake every five minutes.

That also sucked.

It would be one thing if the place were a bevy of human activity (she generally liked people and they tended to like her back). Nope, that wasn’t even close to what she was dealing with. Per the visitor log, a grand total of six had passed through the first-floor lobby of ECO Apparel in the two weeks she’d been there. Three on one day alone. And during the hours when the employees were upstairs ensconced at their desks, the place resembled a ghost town. Seriously, she wouldn’t be surprised to see tumbleweed roll past the reception desk one fine windy day. Although, for a ghost town, the lobby was sleekly modern, all sharp angles, and glass and chrome.

Glancing down at her cell phone, Kennedy released a long-suffering sigh. How was it possible that only three minutes and not an hour had passed since her last five-minute check-in? This was usually when she prayed for one of two things: the power to control time, or another job.

Since the chances of either happening within the next seventy-two hours were zero to none, she grudgingly resigned herself to her fate and tapped the keyboard, bringing the sleeping monitor back to life, and the email from an interested recruiter back into view. Seven hours to go, and the jury was still out on whether she would make it until noon—much less to the end of the day. The ding of the elevator broke the lonely silence and was soon followed by the click of heels on the faux marble floors. Twisting in her seat, Kennedy spotted Nadine from Administrative Services striding purposely toward her, folder and purse in hand. She hastily closed out of her email and treated the brunette to a bright smile.

“Hey, Nadine, is it break time already?” The pretty admin assistant usually came to relieve her for a midmorning break at ten. Currently, it was an hour shy of that, and taking a break right now would upset the monotony of her day. How would she cope with the upheaval?

“Mr. Mullins wants to see you in his office, and I’ll be filling in for you for the rest of the day,” her coworker announced abruptly.

Kennedy stiffened and her eyebrows rose at the hint of annoyance and resentment threading Nadine’s tone.

Well, good morning to you too.

What the hell happened to the pleasant, chatty girl of not even twenty-four hours ago? And why on earth did the director of Human Resources want to see her in his office? Especially as she, like Nadine, reported to the manager of Administrative Services.

Then Nadine’s folder landed with a splat on the desk near the monitor. Kennedy’s gaze flew to hers and she found herself on the receiving end of a very pointed come on—get a move on, girlie. There’s only one chair and you’re sitting in it look.

That was enough to galvanize Kennedy into action even as her jaw ticked and she prayed for calm. She hurriedly collected her purse from the bottom drawer before surrendering her seat to her visibly impatient coworker.

As if it’s my fault she’s getting stuck down here answering the phone.

Despite Kennedy’s own growing annoyance, she paused and turned before leaving, her shoulders squared, and chin lifted. “Any idea why Mr. Mullins wants to see me?” Her voice was stiff but scrupulously polite.

Since her interaction with him was limited to a brief walk-by wave on her first day during a tour of the offices, she was at a loss. Nadine gave a bored shrug. “I hear no evil and speak no evil. They tell me nothing. I just go where I’m told to go, and do the work they pay me to do, if you know what I mean.”

Kennedy’s heart instantly softened, and she excused Nadine’s uncustomary churlishness for what appeared to be the frustration that came with being the Jane-of-all-menial-work of the company.

“Believe me, I know exactly what you mean.” They shared a commiserative what we women have to put up with look before Kennedy took the elevator up to the eighth floor.

Honestly, the drawbacks of possessing a vagina were sometimes too much. Giving birth was only one of them. Or so she’d been told. Her turn in the stirrups hadn’t come yet, but she assumed one day it would, and it wouldn’t be pretty.

The company directory alone pointed to an obvious gender bias. Not one woman held an executive, director, or senior-level management position.

Not. One.

And it had been eight years since the previously all-male clothier had ventured into female clothing. One would think that one woman would have made it to the ranks of at least a senior manager position by now. What were they waiting for, a march on Washington?

But wait. If she didn’t think it could get worse, it did. Kennedy had yet to see one Black face of any hue in the parade of employees who walked by her every day—that was, unless she looked in a mirror, and her hue skewed to the lighter shade of that spectrum. She wouldn’t be surprised if that was one of the reasons she’d been picked to grace the reception desk. In the twenty-first century, one would think that impossible. Especially in the city that didn’t sleep, and could be touted as America’s United Nations, every race, ethnicity, language, and sexual orientation duly represented on the postage-stamp island.

Be that as it may, Kennedy knew better than most that the city tended more toward separate individual dishes—separate being the operative word—rather than one big old melting pot. Once off the elevator, she detoured to the bathroom, where she freshened her lipstick, powdered the shine off her forehead, and gave her long, thick brown curls a few twists.

With her hair and face in order, she ran a critical eye over her outfit, a purchase of pure indulgence. Although had she even the vaguest idea that she’d be unemployed a week after she bought it, she most assuredly would not have indulged.

But the cream pencil skirt and the baby blue fitted shirt ensemble had called out to her. Buy me. I come in your size. Your body will thank you in the end. And Kennedy, self-proclaimed clotheshorse that she was, hadn’t been able to resist the Siren’s call.

Okay, so maybe due to financial constraints she was more a clothes pony.

After ensuring no visible panty lines ruined the overall effect of polished professionalism and stylishness, she proceeded to Mr. Mullins’s office.<

She found him at his desk, the door to his office wide-open. Upon seeing her, a smile broke out across his face. “Ah, Miss Mitchell, come in.”

Kennedy met him halfway, where they shook hands, and she offered a pleasant greeting. He then gestured toward the table and chairs at the other end of the room. “Please sit down. Make yourself comfortable.”

Average in height and build, hair graying and thinning at the crown, the man himself was as nondescript as middle-aged white men came. If his smile—wide and genuine—was any indication, she could relax, which she did one vertebra at a time. It didn’t look as if she was about to be let go early. Typically, people didn’t smile like that when they were about to deliver bad news. Unless, of course, they were psychopaths. No, they tended to furrow their brow, feigning concern and sympathy.

Kennedy took a seat where instructed as Mr. Mullins swiped a sheaf of papers off his desk before joining her. She looked around for somewhere to put her purse that was not on the table or the floor and found nothing suitable. In the end, she simply plopped it on her lap.

Sliding on a pair of reading glasses, Mr. Mullins glanced down at the papers in front of him before directing his attention back to her. “So how are you settling in? Everyone treating you all right? No one bothering you, I hope.”

Yeah, nope! Absolutely not. No way was she falling into that trap. This was the kind of throwaway question people asked when they didn’t want or expect an honest answer.

“No, everyone has been great.” She certainly wasn’t going to tell him that two of the managers had asked for her number and the head of IT asked her out for dinner. As someone personally opposed to mixing business with pleasure, and that included dating coworkers—been there, regretted that—invitations like that were shot down faster than a clay pigeon at a skeet shooting competition.

“Good, good, good. Now, I’ve just been looking over your résumé—” he paused, glanced at it and then back at her over the rim of his glasses “—and by the looks of things—your previous experience and education—it’s apparent that you’re overqualified for the receptionist position. Any receptionist position, for that matter.”

For the measly sum of two hundred and fifty grand—the majority of which had been covered by scholarships or else she wouldn’t have been able to afford a school like Columbia—for both her undergraduate and graduate degrees, she sure hoped she was overqualified for the task of greeting visitors and forwarding calls.

“Yes, but this wasn’t supposed to be permanent. The agency said it was a four-week assignment.”

Mr. Mullins nodded. “That’s right. I’ve been told Nancy should be back in a few weeks.” He lowered her résumé, but still held it loosely between his fingers. “Does that mean you aren’t interested in a permanent, full-time position? I might have thought you’d prefer something in Marketing.”

Kennedy watched as he turned the situation over in his mind. He seemed determined to solve the mystery of the overqualified temporary receptionist. But this wasn’t Agatha Christie-level stuff. No amateur sleuthing required.

“I was laid off and this just sort of fell into my lap. The right job at the moment,” she stated simply.

There were layoffs and then there were layoffs. Hers had been the latter, as she’d been assured she’d keep her job after the merger. The following week, she’d walked into the offices of Kenners in the morning and was carting a box with every personal item she’d accumulated over the course of five years—including a dazzling pink slip—out the front door by the time the clock struck noon.

Just like that, five years of job—no, financial security—ripped out from under her. And to add insult to injury, two weeks of severance was all she had to show for years spent busting her ass putting in fifty- and sixty-hour weeks.

God, how she hated them, pink slips, which shouldn’t be pink at all. They should be black like the hearts of the people who played favorites with other people’s livelihoods.

“Completely understandable,” he replied, nodding. “Now, getting to the reason I wanted to speak with you. I assume you’ve heard of Sahara, right? She’s a singer. Won several Grammys. I believe she’s recently gotten into acting. Really a lovely young woman.”

Have I ever heard of her?

Almost everyone on planet Earth had heard of Sahara, and she wasn’t just some wannabe actress. Her first role garnered her an Oscar nod. Not too shabby for a small-town girl from New Jersey, who bore such a striking resemblance to Aaliyah, some people in the music industry called her Baby Girl. Rumor had it she hated the name with the fires of a thousand suns. If true, Kennedy didn’t blame her.

She’s a woman. Call her by her stage name, dammit!

Ironically, her real name was Whitney Richardson, a name she decided not to use professionally, fearing it would invite certain comparisons. One Black superstar singer named Whitney was enough.

“That’s a pretty sound assumption.” Especially since her songs were on heavy rotation on every major radio station in almost every major city in the country. “She’s very popular.”

Popular was an understatement. Sahara was huge. As big as Beyoncé but with first-rate acting chops. And her social media game was, bar none, the best Kennedy had ever seen. Her fans called themselves the Desert Stormers and congregated at OASIS, an online community, to discuss everything Sahara. And God forbid anyone say one bad word about their Desert Queen, they went after them guns blazing.

“I had a feeling you would,” he said with a smugness Kennedy found hard to fathom. It wasn’t as if he’d discovered Jimmy Hoffa’s remains or the identity of Jack the Ripper. “Well, this afternoon we are going to have the pleasure of her company. She and her representatives will be meeting with our executive team.”

“That’s…wonderful.” She didn’t know what he expected her to say. Was he looking for tips on how to interact with young Black women and assumed she was an expert on the subject? Should she tell him she hadn’t yet read this month’s issue of The Secret Guide to the Black Female Mind?

His expression became earnest as he leaned forward, bringing his face closer to hers. “The CEO of the company would like you to attend.”

Her jaw dropped. A sound escaped from her suddenly dry throat.

Okay, that she hadn’t seen coming.

She reflexively convinced herself he couldn’t have meant what she thought he did, since she was certain she’d heard him correctly.

“Do you mean attend the meeting? With Sahara?” She needed to make sure they were reading from the same hymnal.

His mouth twitched. “Yes.”

Her fingers curled around her purse strap. “Why would Mr. Edwards want me there?” She was a temp. How did the CEO of the company know who she was? Or that she even existed? She only knew his name because it was at the top of the company directory. She couldn’t say for sure she’d actually seen him in the flesh, and if she had, he certainly hadn’t introduced himself.

“Well, you see, Kennedy, I believe the collective thought was that you represent exactly the type of young woman Sahara will be targeting with her clothing line, and having you in the meeting would make her…more comfortable. Put her at ease.”

Ah, yes. She got it, all right. As clear as glass.

“I’m afraid I’m not sure what you mean. What type of woman is that?” she asked, all wide-eyed and guileless.

Surely, he meant intelligent, professional, ambitious, and highly educated?

Yeah, right.

The crests of his cheeks reddened, but he was stalwart in his determination to hold her gaze. “Well, you’re a beautiful young woman with an obvious eye for fashion, and her line hopes to encompass all aspects of work, life, and play.”

Nice save, bub. But not good enough.

“And the fact that I’m Black didn’t have anything to do with the decision? Not even a little?” she coaxed, doubting anyone had ever taken him to task on the subject of race this directly, if at all.

His Adam’s apple bobbed. “Well, yes, there is that too.” No, there was no too—that was the whole of it.

Suddenly, his expression turned apprehensive. “I hope that didn’t offend you. With this whole #MeToo movement, I’m not sure if I just crossed the line. Am I still allowed to compliment you on your looks?”

Oh dear lord, shoot me now.

Did this man not interact with any women in a professional capacity? A sensitivity class or four wouldn’t go awry at this company.

“No, I’m not offended.” At work, she generally took such compliments in stride. As long as they weren’t accompanied by a suggestive leer and a hotel room key card pressed into her palm during a handshake. True story. That had actually happened.

“Things have changed so much lately, sometimes it’s best to ask, or the next thing you know… Well, who knows what will happen,” he finished, flashing her an awkward smile.

“Anyway,” Kennedy said, eager to get back to the subject at hand, “about the meeting. As much as it would be a thrill to meet her, I’m not sure I’d be comfortable with that. I don’t know very much about the inner workings of the company. I’m probably not the right person—”

But Mr. Mullins was having none of that, bulldozing her objections with, “For your additional responsibilities, you’ll receive five thousand dollars.”

Kennedy had to steel herself from physically reacting. On the inside, however, it was nothing but fits of jubilation. Cartwheels and back handsprings that would make the women’s Olympic gymnastics team proud.

Five thousand dollars! Found money, all of it. And to think of how happy she’d been last month when she found a twenty between the cushions of her sofa and last year when she’d discovered a ten spot in the pocket of an old pair of jeans.

Careful to calibrate her response, she began slowly, “That is—”

“No, no, my mistake,” Mr. Mullins interjected again, his eyes darting from her face to the paper in front of him, which he proceeded to tap repeatedly with his finger. “I meant seventy-five hundred. An additional seventy-five hundred.”

Kennedy sat there utterly gobsmacked. “Mr. Mullins—” “Ten thousand.”

Another minute and Kennedy was certain the strain in his voice would give way to full-blown panic.

Ten thousand dollars for one meeting? Oh my god, that’s wild.

But the best kind.

With dollar signs flashing like a bright neon sign in her mind, she smiled. “What time should I be there?”

Excerpt from Token by Beverley Kendall.
Copyright © 2023 by Beverly Kendall.
Published with permission from Graydon House/HarperCollins
All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

Beverley Kendall author photo: headshot photograph of a Black female with straightened shoulder-length dark brown hair, wearing a pink button-down blouse.
Author Beverley Kendall

BEVERLEY KENDALL published her first novel in 2010, a historical romance with Kensington. She has since published over ten contemporary and historical romances. She also manages the romance review blog, Smitten by Books (smittenbybooks.com). Bev now writes full-time while raising her son as a single mother. Both dual citizens of the U.S. and Canada, they currently call Atlanta home.

Connect with the author via: Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Website
This book showcase and excerpt brought to you by Graydon House/HarperCollins

 

Guest Post: Heather Day Gilbert – ROAST DATE

Good day, book people. For those of you in the US experiencing the recent Arctic blast and Snowmaggedon, I hope you’re all staying safe, dry, and warm. In my little corner of West Virginia, we’re not expected to get much snow (please don’t let us get snow), but we are expecting frigid temperatures and a possible ice storm. (Something tells me this could be a good day to curl up in my reading chair, fix a pot of oolong tea, and grab a book or two and read the day away.) I’m incredibly pleased and honored to welcome Heather Day Gilbert, a fellow West Virginian and author of the Barks & Beans Cafe series including the latest release, Roast Date. Ms. Gilbert will be discussing her fictional cafe with us. So grab your favorite beverage, sit back, and let’s learn more about the Barks & Beans Cafe. Thank you, Ms. Gilbert, for taking the time to join us today. I’ll now turn the blog over to you.

Guest Post graphic featuring a stack of books above the words GUEST POST in a scripted font

Thanks for letting me visit your blog today! Since my Barks & Beans Cafe series features a cafe where folks can enjoy gourmet sandwiches and drinks while petting shelter dogs, I thought I’d give you the top five foods/drinks you’ll find in Roast Date, a Christmas-set mystery! Trust me, I have so much fun finding special tastes of the season. If you want to see more ideas, you can find all my Barks & Beans cafe Pinterest boards here.

Top Five Specialty Foods/Drinks you’ll find in Roast Date:

1. A cafe isn’t complete without its own special house blend coffee, and at the Barks & Beans Cafe, it comes from Costa Rica. It’s a fresh, cozy blend with citrus and brown sugar notes, and you’ll find amateur sleuth Macy Hatfield is selling some at the Christmas book club party in Roast Date!

2. Cafe baker and barista Charity keeps busy concocting new foods for Barks & Beans Cafe customers. Her latest hit are chocolate peppermint patty cookies, which go in gift baskets for the book club!

3. A vegetarian cafe visitor will try Charity’s delicious eggplant pesto sandwich before she leaves.

4. Homemade sweet & spicy meatballs. Macy’s neighbor Vera serves these at her ill-fated book club Christmas party.

5. Cinnamon eggnog and gingerbread cookies—Vera’s made these for the party, but her eggnog is about to get a very bad rap. You’ll have to read Roast Date to find out what happens!

Thanks so much for having me today, and happy holidays to all! ♦

Roast Date (Barks & Beans Cafe Cozy Mystery)
by Heather Day Gilbert

About Roast Date


Roast Date (Barks & Beans Cafe Cozy Mystery)

BOOK SEVEN in the bestselling BARKS & BEANS CAFE cozy mystery series!!

Welcome to the Barks & Beans Cafe, a quaint place where folks pet shelter dogs while enjoying a cup of java…and where murder sometimes pays a visit.

After much cajoling, Macy gives in to her neighbor, Vera, and agrees to come to her book club’s Christmas party so she can share about the cafe. While public speaking isn’t Macy’s thing, she wants to brighten Vera’s lonely holiday season…and she can sell a little house blend on the side.

When a lively book discussion spirals into a public roast of the mayor—who happens to be sitting in their midst—things get uncomfortable. Soon afterward, the mayor shows up dead in Vera’s bathroom, and no amount of gingerbread cookies or eggnog can restore Vera to the club’s good graces. ‘Tis the season for Macy to find the murderer, or else Vera might be taking a long winter’s nap in a jail cell.

Join siblings Macy and Bo Hatfield as they sniff out crimes in their hometown…with plenty of dogs along for the ride! The Barks & Beans Cafe cozy mystery series features a small town, an amateur sleuth, and no swearing or graphic scenes.

The Barks & Beans Cafe cozy mystery series in order:
Book 1: No Filter
Book 2: Iced Over
Book 3: Fair Trade
Book 4: Spilled Milk
Book 5: Trouble Brewing
Book 6: Cold Drip
Book 7: Roast Date

Cozy Mystery
7th in Series
Setting – West Virginia
WoodHaven Press (December 20, 2022)
Number of Pages ~250
ASIN ‏ : ‎ B09Z8NYHX9 (Kindle edition)
ISBN : 9781735565194 (Paperback)

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: Amazon | Amazon Kindle

About Heather Day Gilbert

Award-winning novelist Heather Day Gilbert enjoys writing mysteries and Viking historicals. She brings authentic family relationships to the page, and she particularly delights in heroines who take a stand to protect those they love. Avid readers say Heather’s realistic characters—no matter what century—feel like best friends. When she’s not plotting stories, this native West Virginian can often be found hanging out with her husband and four children, playing video games, or reading Agatha Christie novels.

Author Links
Webpage: https://heatherdaygilbert.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/heatherdaygilbert/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/heatherdgilbert
Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/heather-day-gilbert
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7232683.Heather_Day_Gilbert

TOUR PARTICIPANTS

December 19 – Celticlady’s Reviews – SPOTLIGHT
December 19 – Ruff Drafts – SPOTLIGHT
December 19 – Reading Is My SuperPower – REVIEW
December 20 – Literary Gold – AUTHOR INTERVIEW
December 20 – FUONLYKNEW – SPOTLIGHT
December 20 – Mystery Thrillers and Romantic Suspense Reviews – SPOTLIGHT
December 20 – #BRVL Book Review Virginia Lee Blog – SPOTLIGHT
December 21 – Christy’s Cozy Corners – REVIEW
December 21 – Escape With Dollycas Into A Good Book – REVIEW, AUTHOR INTERVIEW
December 21 – Lady Hawkeye – AUTHOR GUEST POST
December 21 – Sapphyria’s Book Reviews – SPOTLIGHT
December 22 – Socrates Book Reviews – SPOTLIGHT
December 22 – Books a Plenty Book Reviews – REVIEW
December 22 – Maureen’s Musings – SPOTLIGHT
December 22 – The Mystery Section – SPOTLIGHT
December 23 – Cozy Up With Kathy – REVIEW
December 23 – The Book Diva’s Reads – AUTHOR GUEST POST
December 23 – I’m Into Books – SPOTLIGHT
December 23 – MJB Reviewers – SPOTLIGHT

Giveaway

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