Book Showcase: PUG ACTUALLY by Matt Dunn

Red rectangular background with three white hearts of varying sizes in the middle, JUNE in a small green rectangle beside the cover of PUG ACTUALLY by Matt Dunn (pug wearing heart-shaped sunglasses and red necklace is seated on grass in front of the feet of a female and male).

PUG ACTUALLY - MDunnPug Actually by Matt Dunn
ISBN: 9780778311232 (paperback)
ISBN: 9780369703392 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488211621 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08PDTLYWC (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08FYN55YJ (Kindle edition)
Publisher: MIRA Books
Release Date: June 29, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Romance | Romantic-Comedy

PUG ACTUALLY Library Journal Starred Review
 Not all heroes wear capes. Some of them wear collars.

A Dog’s Purpose meets The Happy Ever After Playlist in this charming, pitch-perfect take on relationships as seen through the eyes of a wise pug named Doug, who is determined to play cupid to fix his owner’s love life with his own four paws.

Doug wants his rescuer, Julie, to be happy. He is loyal and loves her unconditionally—two things that can’t be said about Julie’s married boss and lover, Luke. Yet Julie is reluctant to break up, afraid to end up like her eccentric cat-owning neighbor. It’s a prospect that horrifies Doug, too.

Newly divorced Tom, on the other hand, is perfect for Julie. Everyone can see it—except for Julie and Tom. Doug is confident that with his help they will get over their initial animosity toward each other.

As Doug humorously navigates the quirks of human relationships, he knows he can’t give up on Julie—after all, being a “rescue” works both ways.

 

Read an excerpt:

According to Luke, he’s “about to leave the office.”

Despite what he just said to whoever is on the receiving end of the furtive cell phone call he’s making, Luke’s actually sitting in his car right outside the house I share with my best friend Julie. Which proves he’s lying. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Julie hasn’t heard his latest lie, of course. Her hearing isn’t as good as mine. She has heard the car pull up, waved to him, acknowledged his “on the phone” mime through the window, and left her front door ajar so she can return to the particularly gripping part of EastEnders we’ve been watching, where a mean-looking bald gentleman has just instructed the pasty-looking character he’s been threatening to beat up that he “ain’t worth it.” An appraisal that—if it referred to Luke—Julie and I would have wildly differing opinions about.

I take the opportunity to sneak out through the open door, trot along the path, and sit just the other side of the garden gate, where I can eavesdrop on what’s sure to be the latest twist in a saga way more complicated than the television shenanigans in Albert Square.

“Sure,” Luke says, after a moment, “Chinese or pizza?” which makes my mouth water, especially when he adds, “Chinese and pizza it is.” Then I’m brought sharply back to reality, because at his, “Love you, too, sweetie,” I realize he’s talking to his wife, and remember that not only is he a liar, but he’s a philanderer as well.

Luke finishes the call and checks his hair in that reflective device stuck to the car windscreen that Julie only ever uses to help her apply her makeup when she’s driving, smells his breath in his cupped hand and peers up and down the street as if looking for someone. Then he climbs out of his car, walks a pace or two away from the curb, and swivels around quickly to click the vehicle shut with the remote, as if he’s firing a gun in the opening credits of a James Bond film.

With a frown, he walks back up to the driver’s door and wipes a barely-visible smudge from the paintwork, then he takes a step backward and admires the vehicle—one of those sporty-looking coupes that, mechanically, is the same as the “family” model. Style over substance, as Julie’s dad would no doubt point out. Therefore pretty much the kind of car you’d expect Luke to drive.

With a last check of his cell phone, he switches it off, slips it into his pocket, and strides confidently toward Julie’s gate, hesitating when he spots me waiting for him in the garden.

“Doug,” he says.

It’s an observation rather than a greeting, so I give him a look, reluctantly step to one side so he can get past, then tail him back toward the house, nipping in through the front door before him, just in case he tries to shut me outside.

“Sweetie?” he shouts, as he regards me warily, and it occurs to me I rarely hear him call her “Julie”—a sensible tactic if you’re seeing multiple women, I imagine.

“In here,” replies Julie, from the living room, and Luke strides along the hall, peering around the house like a potential burglar, though if I know him, there’s only one thing he’s interested in getting his hands on.

I follow him into where Julie’s sitting expectantly on the sofa, taking up a defensive position at her feet as she switches off the TV. This is worrying: EastEnders isn’t over yet, and under normal circumstances, even if the house were falling down, she’d probably try and hang around, dodging falling masonry, until the end credits were rolling. Then again, as Luke’s all-too-regular off-hours presence here often reminds me, he and Julie aren’t exactly “normal” circumstances.

“This is a pleasant surprise!”

“Couldn’t stay away.” Luke collapse-sits onto the sofa next to her, then hoists his feet up onto the coffee table as if he owns the place. “You know me.”

I exhale loudly as I take up a guard position beneath his legs: If she really knew Luke, I doubt she’d let him in the house, let alone on the sofa. It took me long enough before I was allowed to sit there.

“Can I get you anything?”

“Just this,” says Luke, leaning across to plant a wet one (as Julie’s dad describes the way I do it whenever anyone raises me to face level) on Julie’s lips, and I have to look away. I don’t know why, but I find this “kissing” thing Luke and Julie insist on doing unsettling—possibly because of the weird hum of pleasure he makes every time. “I was just passing. Realized how much I missed you.”

“Passing?” says Julie, dejectedly, then she does a double take, and a look flashes across Luke’s face, and Julie’s expression mirrors it. Then I realize why he’s come round, and it shocks me so much it’s all I can do not to let out a disgusted bark. From what I can work out given his earlier phone call, he’s going to have a “quickie” with Julie, then calmly pick up takeout and bring it home to his wife.

“Yeah.” Luke licks his lips, an action which makes me shudder. “I’m not interrupting any plans, am I?” he asks, though I’m pretty sure he already knows the answer to that question. Julie rarely has any plans. Mainly because—given Luke’s situation—she can’t make any.

“No, just…” Julie nods at the TV. “Priya’s going to be here in a bit. Game of Thrones is on.”

“Oh yes. The Dragon Lady.” He rolls his eyes, and I’m not sure whether he’s referring to a character from the program or Priya. Luke’s not her biggest fan. And the feeling is definitely mutual.

“I can call her,” says Julie, already reaching for her phone. “Tell her to come later. We can watch it on DVR.”

“Don’t worry. I can’t stay.”

“Oh.” The disappointment in Julie’s voice is so obvious, Luke can’t help but give a little victory smile.

“For long,” he adds, looking pointedly at his watch.

“Oh,” says Julie, again, followed by another, but this time, an I-get-it one, which makes me suspect she’s “up for it,” as I’m sure Luke would probably describe her. It’s at that moment I decide I can’t just stand idly by and let him get away with this. So as Julie shimmies across the sofa to straddle him, and Luke reaches up and starts unbuttoning her blouse, I squeeze myself out from underneath his still-outstretched legs, leap up onto the sofa, and force my way between the two of them.

“Doug!” Julie gives me a stern look. “Down!”

I’m wishing I could say the same thing to Luke, but before I can decide what my next move’s going to be, he picks me up—rather ungently, it has to be said—and sets me back on the floor.

“Yes Doug, down!” Luke sniffs his fingers, makes a face, then surreptitiously wipes his hands on a cushion, which irks me even more, particularly since I’ve already had my bath this month. “Now, where were we?” he says, reaching for Julie’s buttons a second time.

As he busies himself with the contents of her blouse, he simultaneously blocks my route back up onto the sofa with his legs, and I fear I might be stymied, until I remember a tactic that Eddie, the Jack Russell star of the reruns of Frasier Julie and I love watching, often uses. I dart under the coffee table, leap up onto the armchair opposite the sofa, position myself in Luke’s direct eye line, and fix him with my most disapproving stare. After a moment my strategy works, because he opens his eyes midkiss (which is even creepier than the noises he makes), catches sight of me over Julie’s shoulder, and breaks away from her.

“Something the matter?” asks Julie.

Luke glares back at me. “It’s Doug.”

“What about him?”

“He’s staring at me.”

“What?” Julie turns to look at me, so I hurriedly put on my best, most irresistible pug eyes, wrinkle my forehead to the maximum, then angle my head for good measure.

“He’s not staring. He’s a pug. That’s just how it appears.”

“It’s disconcerting.”

“Well, just shut your eyes.”

Julie leans down to kiss him again, and Luke does as instructed. But sure enough, a few seconds later, he half opens one of them, to find I’ve resumed my visual assault.

“He’s doing it again.”

Luke…”

Luke wriggles out from underneath her, sits upright, and places a cushion in his lap. “I’m sorry. I just can’t. Not with him…”

Julie sighs, then she gets up from the sofa, picks me up and carries me through to the kitchen.

“Sorry, Doug,” she says, depositing me on the floor by my bowl, before tipping some food into it, hurrying back into the living room, and shutting the door behind her.

“Now, where were we?” I hear her say, perhaps a little impatiently, then everything goes quiet, so I pad over toward the door. It’s one of those opaque-paneled ones, so all I can see is the outline of the two of them cavorting.

I sit down and fix my gaze on my best guess of where Luke’s face is, and stare as hard as I can at him through the frosted glass. And it seems to work, as it’s only around thirty seconds before Julie says, “What now?”

“He’s still doing it.”

“Pardon?”

“Doug. Staring at me. Through the kitchen door.”

“What, with his X-ray vision?”

“You know what I mean.”

Julie sighs in a way that demonstrates that it’s evident she doesn’t. “What do you want me to do. Put him outside?”

“Would you?”

I whimper at the prospect so plaintively that it’s only a matter of seconds before Julie opens the kitchen door, picks me up, and carries me over to the armchair. Though my victory is fleeting, as she heads straight back to the sofa, and resumes her straddling of a somewhat disgruntled-looking Luke.

“Tell you what.” Julie walks her fingertips suggestively along the arm of the sofa. “Why don’t we take this into the bedroom?”

Luke frowns, perhaps wondering whether Julie’s suggesting some light furniture removal, then the penny evidently drops. “Good idea,” he says.

“Right. I’ll just nip into the bathroom, and you…” Julie nods in the general direction of the bedroom.

I sit there innocently as she jumps up from the sofa and heads off along the hall. But the moment she shuts the bathroom door behind her, I leap down from the chair, sprint out of the living room, and—almost losing it on the sharp corner thanks to the combination of my short legs and Julie’s polished wooden laminate flooring—get to the bedroom ahead of him. And I’m already sitting defiantly on Julie’s bed by the time Luke appears in the doorway.

“For fu…!”

He narrows his eyes at me, then glances at his watch again, perhaps working out just how late he can get away with arriving home by blaming it on the length of the wait for the takeout. Then—and admittedly it’s the one flaw in my plan—he raises both eyebrows in a gotcha way, and shuts the bedroom door, trapping me inside.

Hurriedly, I jump back down from the bed, run to the door, and place an ear against it. From what I can work out, Julie’s finished in the bathroom, and I hear Luke tell her that, actually, the sofa’s just fine with him. There’s a giggle (Julie), then the sound of a belt being undone, then silence, followed by some sounds that I’d rather not report. Aware that I’ve run out of options—and I’m not proud of myself—I begin to whine. And whine. Then I start to bark insistently, upping the volume every third-or-so bark, until finally there’s a frustrated-sounding “For crying out loud!” from Luke, quickly followed by footsteps, and a slightly-flushed-looking Julie opening the door.

“What’s the matter, Doug?” she says, as she picks me up and carries me back into the living room. “How did you get yourself shut in there?”

I glance pointedly over to where Luke is sitting on the sofa, adjusting his clothes while giving me what I believe is known as “the evil eye,” but Julie misses the inference.

Luke sighs resignedly, in the manner of someone who’s realized he’s not going to get what he wants. “Right. Well…” He glances at his watch a third time, then hauls himself reluctantly up from the sofa. “I ought to…”

“Don’t go.” Julie sets me gently back down on the floor, then takes a pace toward him. “We haven’t even…”

“Yes. Well. Whose fault is that?” huffs Luke.

He’s meant that it’s mine, but judging by the look on her face, Julie appears to have taken his last comment personally. “Sorry. No. You’re right,” she says, sulkily. “You get off home to your wife like a good boy!”

As Luke swallows loudly, I snort as incredulously as I can. There’s only one good boy here, and (spoiler alert) it’s me.

“Sweetie, don’t be like…”

Julie shrugs off his attempt at a hug, and I brace myself for the inevitable. They’ve had this conversation—or rather, argument—several times before, and each time Luke tells Julie he just can’t leave his wife yet, I sense a little something die inside her.

True to form, she’s got tears in her eyes, and though I’d like to rush over and comfort her, I stop myself. She needs to feel bad about Luke, and sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.

“Don’t ‘sweetie’ me!” she snaps. “You promised!”

“And I will.” Luke perches on the arm of the sofa. “I told you, now’s not the right time. I just need to get all my ducks in a row, and…” He fires off finger pistols in rapid succession, and I can’t help but snort again. “But I understand,” he continues. “If you can’t wait, then perhaps we ought to…”

“No, I didn’t mean…” Hurriedly, Julie takes his hand, as if she’s the one who should be apologizing. “I get that this is hard for you. Really, I do. But you can’t blame me for wanting us to be together?”

She smiles down at him, a pleading expression on her face, and Luke kisses the back of her hand, as if bestowing some kind of papal blessing. Then he stands up and sighs dramatically as he takes her in his arms. “It’s what I want too,” he says. “But try and look at things from my point of view. I just want to do right by everyone, you know? You, me, and Sarah…”

At the sound of Luke’s wife’s name, Julie winces, then she nods, though if you ask me, the only person Luke has ever intended to do right by is himself.

“Okay,” she says, reluctantly. “So I’ll see you on Monday?”

Luke looks shocked for a moment, as if there’s some important date he’s forgotten, then he lets out a short laugh. “You mean at work?”

Julie nods again, and Luke grins like someone who knows he’s still in the driving seat—and not just of the showy coupe parked outside. “Right,” he says, patting his pockets to locate his car keys, his mind probably already on which pizza topping he’s going to choose. “Well, say hi to Priya for me.”

“Sure,” says Julie, though all three of us know she won’t, unless she wants a lecture.

“I’ll see myself out,” Luke says, and even though that’s probably directed at me, I still make sure to escort him off the premises. I wouldn’t want him to take anything. Especially advantage of Julie.

Though my fear is, that’s exactly what he’s doing.

Excerpt from Pug Actually by Matt Dunn. Copyright © 2021 by Matt Dunn. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.

Meet The Author

Author - Matt Dunn

Matt Dunn’s romantic comedy novels include The Ex-Boyfriend’s Handbook (shortlisted for the Romantic Novel of the Year Award and the Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance), A Day at the Office (an Amazon #1 bestseller across several categories), Thirteen Dates (shortlisted for the Romantic Comedy of the Year Award), and Kindle #1 Bestseller At The Wedding. He’s also written about life and love for The Times, Guardian, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Company, Elle, and The Sun.

Connect with the Author:

Goodreads | Instagram | Twitter | Author Website

 

 

This excerpt brought to you by MIRA Books

Book Showcase: PRIMORDIAL by David L. Sobel

PRIMORDIAL Virtual Book Tour Banner, Red background with white torn paper listing all of the virtual book tour stops between June 14 through June 18; book cover, white background, with blood droplets beside the tips of opened surgical forceps, PRIMORDIAL is in large red letters across the forceps, David L. Sobel, MD, JD is also in red below the forceps.

Primordial by David Sobel
ISBN: 9781736303504 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781736303511 (ebook)
ASIN: B08Q7Z9MZF (Kindle edition)
Release Date: December 7, 2020
Genre: Fiction | Thriller | Medical Thriller

Primordial by David Sobel, is a Crichton-like thriller that centers on the plights of two scientists separated by decades and borders but united in their obsessive quest for the physical location of the soul. Jonas, a hospital attorney, begins to suspect that someone is targeting patients in his NYC hospital. With the help of two residents, his search for answers will bring him face to face with a killer.

Thought-provoking, both scientifically and ethically, Primordial is a story that spans decades of medical and legal mystery, history and suspense. It will transport readers to a Nazi medical laboratory in World War II, then back to present day New York City where an unlikely trio, Jonas the experienced hospital lawyer, “Early” the quirky urology resident, and Rachel, the wickedly smart neurosurgery resident, struggle to piece together a series of unexplained killings. Debut author Dr. Sobel weaves his medical expertise and extensive historical research in a twisted tangle of secrets that will keep readers on the edge of their seats.

Read an excerpt:

Rudolph “Rudy” Walla was sweating.

He stood, perfectly still, within the one-meter square sentry post that was positioned just inside the back gate of the Seelentor concentration camp. The post was a tiny glass and wood structure with a small external cut-out that housed a potbelly stove. The stove, on this bitter February night, poured molten heat into the structure. Rudy’s breath, exhaled in the long drawl of the bored and tired, condensed on the front pane of glass, obscuring his view. He was just able to discern the shadowy outline of the SS-Schutze—the private—who had occupied the post before Rudy came looking for a reprieve from the cold. He smiled at the thought of a sentry post with a frosted view and of the private, hunched and angry, pacing in the cold. Not much to see anyway, he thought to himself, returning to his slow, metered breathing. Rudy was in a corner of Poland—forgotten, miserable, stoic, and sweating. God, was he sweating.

Rudy’s wool uniform, the severe black of the SS, was plastered to his body. Each movement was a sticky uncomfortableness. The commander of the camp had called the sentry post the Aufrechten Sarg—the “upright coffin.” And, as horrible as the coffin was, it beat the blistering cold that was just on the other side of the glass. It was early morning. Dawn was approaching and the sun was just tickling the sky, turning the black into a bruised dark blue. The earth felt as if every ounce of heat had been stolen away. A brittle and broken, icicle-white wasteland. His sanctuary was a stifling coffin. Rudy thought of Ishmael and the white whale. And, not uncommon on a lonely, sleepless night, he thought of the hand of fate that had steered him all the way from his childhood in Berlin to this tiny box in this foreign land.

Excerpt from Primordial by David Sobel. Copyright © by David Sobel. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.

Meet The Author

Author - David Sobel MD JD

David Sobel, M.D./J.D. is a board-certified practicing urologist who specializes in sexual medicine and is a faculty member at the University of Colorado. He has over 21 years of experience and graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine. Prior to becoming a physician, he was a corporate lawyer with Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in NYC. Dr. Sobel is also a founder of Emmi Solutions, a company that creates education modules that assist patients with their medical care. He lives in Denver with his wife and two children.

Connect with the Author:

Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Twitter

 

This excerpt and virtual book tour brought to you by PR By The Book

Book Showcase: DEAD TREE TALES by Rush Leaming

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

Dead Tree Tales

by Rush Leaming

June 7 – July 2, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

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

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

Book Details:

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

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

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

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

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

Someone had killed it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Daniel Lee.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes.”

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

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

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

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

Charlie leaned in a little closer. “Yes.”

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

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

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

“And that is?” Charlie said.

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

“Injecting the tree?” Elena said.

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

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

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

“But why?” Charlie asked.

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

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

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

“But it’s a tree!” Charlie said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel looked at Elena for an explanation.

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

“Well, you better hurry,” Daniel said.

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

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

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

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

“Sure.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, but . . .”

“But what?”

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

“Back acting up?” Charlie asked.

“A bit,” she said.

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

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

“Sure,” Charlie said.

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

“What is it?” Elena asked.

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

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

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

“Yesterday morning,” Daniel said.

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

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

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

Charlie put the finger in a plastic bag.

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

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

***

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

Author Bio:

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

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

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

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Book Showcase: TALK BOOKISH TO ME by Kate Bromley

Harlequin Trade Publishing Summer 2021 Blog Tour Banner; Beach Reads, background features a slice of watermelon, a candy sucker, pair of sunglasses, and a flower; foreground contains four beach read covers: THE SUMMER SEEKERS, THE CLOVER GIRLS, TALK BOOKISH TO ME, and LADY SUNSHINE.

Talk Bookish To Me by Kate Bromley
ISBN: 9781525806438 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9780369701169 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488211300 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08PDTV12Z (Audible)
ASIN: B08FTF3D2M (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Graydon House Books
Release Date: May 25, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Contemporary Romance | Romantic Comedy

 Inspiration can come from the most unlikely—and inconvenient—sources.

Kara Sullivan’s life is full of love—albeit fictional. As a bestselling romance novelist and influential bookstagrammer, she’s fine with getting her happily-ever-after fix between the covers of a book.

But right now? Not only is Kara’s best friend getting married next week—which means big wedding stress—but the deadline for her next novel is looming, and she hasn’t written a single word. The last thing she needs is for her infuriating first love, Ryan Thompson, to suddenly appear in the wedding party. But Ryan’s unexpected arrival sparks a creative awakening in Kara that inspires the steamy historical romance she desperately needs to deliver.

With her wedding duties intensifying, her deadline getting closer by the second and her bills not paying themselves, Kara knows there’s only one way for her to finish her book and to give her characters the ever-after they deserve. But can she embrace the unlikely, ruggedly handsome muse—who pushes every one of her buttons—to save the wedding, her career and, just maybe, write her own happy ending?

 

“A fun and sexy romp, with chemistry that gave me all the feels!” —Jennifer Probst, New York Times bestselling author of Our Italian Summer

“Add this book to your TBR list immediately!” —Sarah Smith, author of Faker

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: Indiebound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Audible | AudiobooksNow | Barnes and Noble | BookDepository.com | Books-A-Million | BookShop.org | eBooks.com | Harlequin | !ndigo.ca | Kobo Audiobook | Kobo eBook | Powell’s

 

Read An Excerpt:

 

One

“Wait, was I supposed to bring a gift?”

I turn my gaze from the floor to the well-dressed man standing beside me. There are only two of us in the elevator, so he must be talking to me.

“I think it’s a matter of personal preference,” I answer. “I’m the maid of honor so I had to be excessive.”

His eyebrows bob up as I adjust my grip on the Great-Dane-sized gift basket I’m carrying. The cellophane wrapping paper crinkles each time I move, echoing through the confined space just loudly enough to keep things weird. Because if everyone isn’t uncomfortable for the entire ride, are you even really in an elevator?

I’m low-key ecstatic when the doors glide open ten seconds later. With my basket now on the cusp of breaking both my arms and my spirit, I beeline it out of there and stride into the rooftop lounge where my best friend is hosting her pre-wedding party, drinking in the scent of heat and champagne as I maneuver through the sea of guests.

Like most maids-of-honor, I flung myself down the Etsy rabbit hole headfirst and ordered an obscene amount of decorations for tonight’s event. Burlap “Mr. & Mrs.” banners dangle from floating shelves behind the bar as twinkle lights weave around the balcony railings like ivy. Lace-trimmed mason jars filled with pink roses sit on every candlelit cocktail table. Cristina and I worked with the tenacity of two matrimonial Spartans to get everything ready this morning, and it’s clear that our blood, sweat and tears were very much worth it.

It’s then that I spot Cristina mingling near the end of the bar. Beautiful, petite and come-hither curvy, I’d hate her if she weren’t one of my favorite people ever. Her caramel hair spills down her back and her white high-low dress sets her apart from the crowd in just the right way—she’s a princess in the forest and we’re her adoring woodland animals. I’m her feisty chipmunk sidekick to my core.

I place my gift on a nearby receiving table and give a little wave when I catch her eye. She’s waiting for me with a huge grin when I arrive at her side.

“Hey, lady!” she says, pulling me in for a hug. “Look at you, rolling in here looking all gorgeous.”

We step apart and I stand up a bit taller. “Why, thank you. I feel pretty good.”

It’s also very possible that Cristina is just so used to me dazzling the world with yoga pants and sweaters every day that my transformation seems more dramatic than it is.

“Were you able to get any writing done this afternoon?” she asks, handing me a glass of champagne from off the mahogany bar top.

I get a twisting knot in my gut at the mention of my writing, or lack thereof. Having been dying a slow literary death for almost a year, I’m never without some stomach-turning sensation for long. The final deadline for my next romance novel is officially a month away and if I don’t deliver a bestseller by then—

“Okay, you’re making your freak-out face,” Cristina interjects. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have brought it up.”

I inhale a shallow breath and force a smile. “It’s fine. I’m good.”

“Let’s switch gears—are you sure it’s not weird that I’m having a pre-wedding party? Was booking the salsa band too much since I’m having one at the wedding, too?”

Beyond grateful for the booming trumpet and bongos that are drowning out my own thoughts, I turn to the corner and find the ten-piece group playing with addictive abandon. Cristina’s relatives, who are essentially non-trained professional salsa dancers, dominate the dance floor, and rightfully so. Cristina’s brother, Edgar, once tried to teach me the basics but I’m fairly confident I looked like a plank of wood that was given the gift of limbs. Cristina recommended dance lessons. Edgar suggested a bottle of aguardiente and prayer.

“The band is amazing,” I say as I swing back around, “and of course people have pre-wedding parties.” I’ve actually never heard of a pre-wedding party. An engagement party, yes. A bachelorette party, absolutely. But what’s going down tonight is basically a casual reception days before the mega-reception.

“Jason and I just have so many people coming in from out of town, plus we wanted the bridal party to get acquainted. We figured a little get-together would be fun.”

“I’m all for it. Who doesn’t want to pre-game for a wedding a week in advance?”

“I know I do,” Cristina says, lifting her own champagne and taking a sip. “Everyone is here except Jason and some groomsmen. Can you believe that creep is late to his own party?”

“Should you really be calling your fiancé a creep?”

“He’s my creep so it’s okay.”

“Valid point.”

“Picture please! Will you girls get together?”

I look to my right and find a teenage boy with wildly curly hair pointing a camera at us. He’s dressed in all black and looks so eager to take our photo that I can’t help but to find him endearing.

“Absolutely! Big smile, Kara.” Cristina throws her arm around my waist and after we withstand an intense flash, the young man is gone before my eyes can readjust. “That was Jason’s cousin, Rob. He wants to be a photographer, so I hired him for the night.”

“That was thoughtful of you,” I say, still recovering from my momentary blindness. “By the way, where is Jason?”

“He’s still at home. Two of his groomsmen are driving up and he wanted to wait for them since, apparently, grown men can’t find their way to a party by themselves.”

“Driving in Manhattan is intimidating. He probably didn’t want them to get lost.”

“Right, because neither of them has GPS? Jason should be here.”

I’m honestly shocked that Jason isn’t here. I love Cristina and Jason both to death but they’re one of those couples that rarely go out socially without each other. Even when I invite Cristina over to my apartment for a wine night, she asks to bring Jason. I’ve always thought it was a bit much, but I guess it works for them.

“Okay, forget everyone else, let’s toast.” I clear my throat and hold up my champagne. “When we were both waitressing at McMahon’s Pub in grad school, I had no idea it would lead to nine amazing years of friendship. Now I’d be lost without you. Here’s to you having a magical night. I’m so glad I’m here to celebrate with you.”

We smile and tap our glasses together, the ding of the crystal echoing my words.

I take a sip and the bubbly drink slips easily down my throat. Still savoring the sweetness, I ask, “So, who are these mystery groomsmen Jason’s waiting for?”

“One is named Beau and I can’t remember the other one. They’re two guys he grew up with when his family lived in North Carolina.”

“North Carolina? I thought Jason was from Texas?”

“He spent most of his life in Texas, but he lived in North Carolina until he was ten. He somehow kept in contact with these two through the years.”

“That’s nice, him staying friends with them for so long.”

“Yeah, it’s adorable, but they still should have gotten their asses here on their own.” Cristina is poised to elaborate when her gaze locks on something across the room. She tries and fails to look annoyed instead of excited.

“I’m guessing the groom has arrived,” I say, glancing over my shoulder. My suspicions are confirmed as I see Jason making his way toward us, smiling at Cristina like a fifth grader saying “cheese” on picture day. He’s tilting his head and everything.

“There she is! There’s my incredibly forgiving future wife.” Jason leans down and kisses Cristina before she can verbally obliterate him. He gives me a quick kiss on the cheek next and then shifts back to his fiancée’s side, sneaking an arm around her waist and pulling her to his hip.

“So, I’m going to go ahead and disregard all the semi-violent text messages you’ve sent me over the past hour. Bearing that in mind, how’s everything going?”

Cristina looks up at him, feigning disinterest. “It’s going great. Since you weren’t here, I talked to several nice men. Turns out, pre-wedding parties are a great place to meet guys.”

“I’m so happy for you.”

“I appreciate that. Four contenders, specifically, really piqued my interest.”

“Are they taller than me?” Jason asks. “Do they make a lot of money?”

“Obviously. They’re way taller and all of them are independently wealthy.”

“Nice. Kara, did you meet these freakishly tall and rich men?”

“I did and spoiler alert, I’m engaged now, too! Double wedding here we come!”

Jason smiles and pulls Cristina in even closer, his gaze holding hers. “I guess this is where being late gets you. I’m sorry I wasn’t here. Do you forgive me?”

“Don’t I always?”

He leans down and gives her another picture-perfect kiss.

It’s official. I’m dying alone. Just putting that out there.

“Now, where are these friends of yours? Oh! Let’s set one of them up with Kara!” Cristina looks at me with a dangerous matchmaker gleam in her eyes.

“Actually, I already mentioned Kara, and one of my buddies said he went to college with her.”

Went to college with me?

Jason looks towards the entrance and waves. “Hey, Ryan! Come over here!”

And then I go catatonic. I can’t move. I stand stock still, looking at Cristina like she sprouted a third arm out of her forehead and it’s giving me the middle finger.

Someone walks past me and a soft breeze ghosts across my overheating skin. I stare in a state of utter disbelief as Ryan Thompson steps into view beside Jason.

“It’s been a while, Sullivan,” he says, his voice as steady and tempting as ever.

My champagne glass falls from my fingers and shatters against the floor.

“Kara?” Cristina’s voice rings with concern as she nudges us away from the broken glass that’s now littered around our feet. She grasps my elbow, but I don’t feel it. She could backhand me across the face with a polo mallet and I wouldn’t feel it. My mind is spiraling, plummeting inwards as I come to grips with the realization that Ryan is standing two feet away from me.

Dressed in a navy suit, a crisp white button-down and brown dress shoes, he’s come a long way from the sweatshirts and jeans that were his unofficial uniform in college. His dirty-blond hair is on the shorter side, but a few wayward strands still fall across his forehead. Ten years ago, I would have reached up and brushed them aside without a thought. Now, my hand curls into a tight, unforgiving fist at my side.

If we were another former couple, seeing each other for the first time in a decade might be a dreamy, serendipitous meet-cute—a Nancy Meyers movie in pre-production. We’d have a few drinks and spend hours reminiscing about old times before picking up right where we left off. It would be comfortable and familiar as anything, like a sip of hot chocolate at Christmas with Nat King Cole crooning on vinyl in the background.

But we are not that kind of former couple, and I’m convinced that if Nat King Cole were here and knew my side of the story, he would grab Ryan by the scruff of his shirt and hold him steady as I roundhouse-kicked him in the throat.

It’s a tough pill to swallow but Ryan looks good. Like, really good. His face is harder than it was when he was twenty-one and the stubble on his chin tells me he hasn’t shaved in a few days, making him seem like he just rolled out of bed. And not rolled out of bed in a dirty way, but in a “I just rolled out of bed and yet I still look ruggedly handsome and you fully want to make out with me” kind of way.

The bastard.

“Ryan,” Cristina says, always the first to jump in, “Jason mentioned that you and Kara went to college together.”

“We did.” His eyes don’t move from mine for even a second. “It’s got to be what, ten years now?”

“Yeah, it’s been a long, long time,” I say quickly, turning to face Cristina. “I think I may have mentioned him before. Remember my friend from North Carolina?”

If someone were to look up “my friend from North Carolina” in the Dictionary of Kara, they would find the following:

My friend from North Carolina (noun): 1. Ryan Thompson. 2. My college boyfriend. 3. My first real boyfriend ever. 4. My first love. 5. Taker of my virginity. 6. Guy who massacred my heart with a rusty sledgehammer and fed the remains to rabid, ravenous dogs.

Cristina is well versed in the dictionary of Kara and recognition washes over her. “No way,” she says, her voice dropping.

“Yes way,” I answer happily, overcompensating.

Now’s it’s Cristina’s turn to panic. “Wow. Okay, wow, what a small world, huh?” She grabs Jason’s hand in an iron grip, making him wince as she blasts an over-the-top smile. “Well, we should give you guys a chance to catch up. My abuelita just got here so Jason and I are going to say hello.”

“Your abuelita died two years ago,” I hiss.

“I know, it’s a miracle. See you two later!” She drags her soon-to-be husband away before he can get a word out.

I watch them go, sailing away like the last lifeboat as I stand on deck with the string quartet, the cheerful Bach melody only further confirming that this ship is going down.

Excerpt from Talk Bookish To Me by Kate Bromley.

Copyright © 2021 by Kate Bromley. Published by Graydon House Books

All Rights Reserved. Used With Permission.

 

Meet The Author

Author - Kate Bromley photo credit Samantha Rayward City HeadshotsKATE BROMLEY lives in New York City with her husband, son, and her somewhat excessive collection of romance novels (It’s not hoarding if it’s books, right?). She was a preschool teacher for seven years and is now focusing full-time on combining her two great passions – writing swoon-worthy love stories and making people laugh. Talk Bookish to Me is her first novel.

Connect with the Author:

Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Twitter | Website

This excerpt brought to you courtesy of Graydon House Books

Book Showcase: AFTERMATH by Terri Blackstock

Aftermath

May 10 – June 4, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

AFTERMATH - TBlackstock

This gripping new thriller from New York Times bestselling author Terri Blackstock will leave you on the edge of your seat.

A devastating explosion.

Three best friends are at the venue just to hear their favorite band . . . but only one of them makes it out alive.

A trunk full of planted evidence.

When police stop Dustin with a warrant to search his trunk, he knows it’s just a mistake. He’s former military and owns a security firm. But he’s horrified when they find explosives, and he can’t fathom how they got there.

An attorney who will risk it all for a friend.

Criminal attorney Jamie Powell was Dustin’s best friend growing up. They haven’t spoken since he left for basic training, but she’s the first one he thinks of when he’s arrested. Jamie knows she’s putting her career on the line by defending an accused terrorist, but she’d never abandon him. Someone is framing Dustin to take the fall for shocking acts of violence . . . but why?

Praise for Aftermath:

“In Aftermath, Terri Blackstock plumbs the depth of human emotion in the face of devastating tragedy, grief, and loss. Yet, she still manages to give readers her trademark suspenseful story, sweet romance, and hope for the future. From gut wrenching scenes in a cancer patient’s hospital room to seeing the world through the eyes of a young woman with a debilitating mental health disorder, Blackstock pulls no punches about human frailties. Does the end justify the means? Romantic suspense lovers won’t want to miss Aftermath.”
—Kelly Irvin, bestselling author

“Justice may be blind but that doesn’t keep it from facing mortal danger. In Aftermath, expert storyteller Terri Blackstock ratchets up the suspense in a novel that delivers on every level. Conflicts rage and loyalties are tested to the ultimate limit. Set aside plenty of time when you pick up this book—you’ll not to want to take a break.”
—Robert Whitlow, bestselling author

Book Details:

Genre: Suspense
Published by: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: May 11th 2021
Number of Pages: 320
ISBN: 0310348587 (ISBN13: 9780310348580)
Series: Aftermath is a stand-alone novel
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Christianbook | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Aftermath

Chapter One

Taylor Reid’s phone flashed as she snapped the selfie with her two friends, their heads touching and their backs to the stage. The shot from the third row, with the lead singer in the background and the three of them in the foreground, was perfect. No one would believe their seats were so close.

They turned around to face the band, dancing to the beat of the song they’d been listening to in the car on the way to Trudeau Hall.

Taylor quickly posted the pic, typing, “Ed Loran targets nonpoliticals for his rally with band Blue Fire. Worked on us!”

She put her phone on videotape and zoomed onto the stage.

“I don’t want it to end!” Desiree said in her ear.

“Me either!” Taylor yelled over the music.

“Maybe they’ll play again after his speech,” Mara shouted.

The song came to an end, and the crowd went crazy, begging for one more song before the band left the stage.

But an amplified voice filled the auditorium, cutting off the adulation. “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the next president of the United States, Ed Loran!”

The crowd sounded less enthusiastic as the band left the stage and Ed Loran, the Libertarian celebrity magnet, made his entrance. Taylor kept cheering and clapping, letting her enthusiasm for the band segue to him.

It happened just as the candidate took the stage. The deafening sound, like some confusing combination of gunshot and lightning bolt, a blast that blacked out the lights and knocked her to the ground. Smoke mushroomed. Screams crescendoed—shrieks of terror, wailing pain, shocking anguish . . . then sudden, gentle silence, as if she were underwater. A loud ringing in her ears filled the void.

She peered under the seats, choking for breath as dimmer lights flickered through the smoke. Even from here, she could see the fallout of whatever had happened. Blood pooling on the ground, people hunkering down as she was, feet running . . . What was happening? An explosion? A crash? She looked around and couldn’t see her friends.

She clawed her way up and looked over the seat. Smoke and fire billowed from the stage into the crowd, and heat wafted over her like some living force invading the room. Muffled, muted sounds competed with the ringing.

Get out! Now! She dropped back down and crawled under two rows of seats until she came to someone limp on the floor. She felt herself scream but couldn’t hear her own voice. Scrambling to her feet, she went to her left to get to the aisle, but her foot slipped on something wet. She grabbed the seat next to her to steady herself, then launched into the frantic crowd in the aisle. The room seemed to spin, people whizzing by, people under her, people above her, people broken and ripped and still . . . She stepped and fell, crawled and ran, tripped and kicked her way to the bottlenecked doorway, then fought her way through it.

The ringing in her ears faded as she tumbled downstairs, almost falling into the lobby below. The sound of crying, coughing, wretching, and the roaring sound of pounding feet turned up as if some divine finger had fiddled with the volume.

She set her sights on the glass doors to the outside and pushed forward, moving through people and past the security stations they’d stopped at on the way in. She made it to the door and burst out into the sunlight.

Fresh, cool air hit her like freedom, but at first her lungs rejected it like some poison meant to stop her. At the bottom of the steps, on the sidewalk, she bent over and coughed until she could breathe.

After a moment, the crowd pushed her along toward the parking garage until she remembered that her car wasn’t there. She had parked on the street, blocks away. She forced her way out of the flow of people and ran a block south. Where was it?

She turned the corner. Her car was here, on this block. Near the Atlanta Trust Bank. Wasn’t it? Or was it the next block?

Sweat slicked her skin until she found her silver Accord. There!

She ran to it and pulled her keys out of her pocket, wishing she hadn’t lost the key fob. Her hands trembled as she stuck the key into the passenger side lock and got the door open. She slipped inside on the driver’s side, locked it behind her. Instinctively, she slid down, her head hidden as if someone were coming after her.

What just happened?

One minute they’d been taking selfies and videotaping the band, and the next they were on the floor . . .

Where were Mara and Desiree? She hadn’t even looked for them! Should she go back for them?

No, that would be insane. She could smell the smoke and fire from here. They would know to come to the car when they got out.

Call the police!

She tried to steady her hands as she swiped her phone on.

“911, what is your—”

“An explosion!” she cut in, her voice hoarse. “At the Ed Loran rally at Trudeau Hall!”

“Where are you now?” the woman asked in a voice that was robotically calm.

“I got out. There’s fire . . . People are still in there. Please send ambulances!”

“Ma’am, did you see what exploded?”

“No . . . the stage area, I think. I don’t know where my friends are. Please . . . hurry!”

“We’ve already dispatched the fire department and police, ma’am.”

She heard sirens from a few blocks away and cut off the call. She raised up, looking over the dashboard for the flashing lights. She couldn’t see any, but the sirens grew louder.

She knelt on the floorboard, her knees on her floormat and her elbows on her seat, and texted Desiree.

I’m at the car. Where are you?

No answer. She switched to a recent thread with Mara and texted again.

Got out. At car waiting. Where are you?

Nothing.

She dictated a group text to both of them.

Are you all right?

They were probably running or deaf, fighting their way out like she had. She tried calling them, but Mara’s phone rang to voicemail. When Desiree’s phone did the same, she yelled, “Call me! I’m waiting at the car and I’m scared. Where are you?” She was sobbing when she ended the call.

***

Excerpt from Aftermath by Terri Blackstock. Copyright 2021 by Terri Blackstock. Reproduced with permission from Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Author - Terri Blackstock

Terri Blackstock has sold over seven million books worldwide and is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. She has had over twenty-five years of success as a novelist. She’s the author of If I Run, If I’m Found, and If I Live, as well as such series as Cape Refuge, Newpointe 911, Moonlighters, and the Restoration series.

Visit her at:
www.TerriBlackstock.com
Goodreads
BookBub
Instagram – #terriblackstock
Twitter – #terriblackstock
Facebook – @tblackstock

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Giveaway:

This is a Rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Terri Blackstock & Thomas Nelson. There will be ONE (1) winner of one (1) physical copy of Aftermath (US Addresses only). The giveaway begins on May 10, 2021 and ends on June 5, 2021. Void where prohibited.

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Book Showcase: CATCH 42 by Felix Holzapfel

CATCH 42 Virtual Book Tour banner; May 17 through May 21; PR by the Book Virtual Book Tour

CATCH 42 - FHolzapfel

Catch-42 by Felix Holzapfel
ISBN: 9781736164112 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781736164105 (ebook)
ASIN: B08PD9KRBC (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Quovabiz Inc.
Release Date: May 13, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Tech Thriller

 A glimpse of a future that may be right around the corner.

Tech thriller Catch-42 offers a mind-blowing tour of potential uses for AI, biotech, quantum computing, and robotics, all within a suspense-filled story packed with unexpected twists.

Dan is an ordinary guy, scrambling to make a living, who has the most extraordinary dream. A mysterious voice from the future asks for his help. He finds himself transported to a technological wonderland where everyone’s dreams can come true. Could this be nirvana, a peaceful and clear state of mind, or is this life destroying the one thing that makes us human? Whose vision of the future should Dan believe: that of the New World Order of WeYou, or the revolution of an underground movement called Teccupy?

Before Dan can make his choice, he must learn how we got from here to there. We are with Dan at every moment as he is forced to choose sides and think the unthinkable, make the impossible possible, and turn a hopeless situation into a solvable problem in his search for the ultimate catch-42.

Brimming with current scientific findings, Catch-42 is a novel like no other that raises fundamental and philosophical questions whose answers depend on us all.

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

 

 Read An Excerpt:

 

1) Daydream

The first contact

Damn! This dull light throbbing in my head is going to drive me insane—as if how completely drained I feel after my eight-hour shift at the construction site isn’t enough. I know, I know, I’m lucky and shouldn’t complain with jobs being so scarce. Still, I’m only thirty-five. Instead of a machine running at full speed, my body feels like its engine is about to explode. I have five minutes in this parking lot before I have to head to my second job. How can I extricate myself from this dark despair that threatens to smother my last spark of—

A deep voice sounds in my mind.

“Hi, Dan. A lot has changed recently, hasn’t it? And not for the better, right? You think your life sucks? Frankly, this is nothing compared to the future challenges in the world from which I’m speaking to you—the world of WeYou. Despite an explosion of innovation and some unbelievable breakthroughs, we’re stuck—trapped in a dead end. We believe we’ve found everything we need to achieve humanity’s ultimate target: immortality. Yet something mysterious we can’t explain and don’t understand prevents us from using that knowledge. We feel like the final breakthrough for humanity is hidden behind a door that we can’t open no matter how hard we try—and the longer we take to open that door, the more people become victims of a strange phenomenon that destroys their brains. We urgently need to open this door and reveal the secrets behind it to rescue humanity and move to the next level, or we will soon become extinct. We believe we lost the key to this door somewhere between your time and ours, and we need your help to find it.”

What a weird daydream! I want to open my eyes, but for some reason I can’t. The mysterious voice continues:

“Look. You have a major problem with reuniting your family. Well, we have a major problem, too—tick-tock, tick-tock—and you may be the only one who can solve it. Here’s the deal: help us find the, and we’ll see that you get your family back, save your family business, and we’ll throw in a bonus. You scratch our back, and we’ll scratch yours. That simple. What do you say?”

My brain feels like it’s functioning at snail pace. How the heck can I be any help to anyone in this condition?

“Don’t worry. You may have heard that humans use only ten percent of their brain’s capacity. That’s a myth. The majority of your brain is active—even when you rest, sleep, or perform simple actions. But only a minority of your brain is more active, while the majority is less active. If you come to our world, you’ll be able to use all your brain capacity at full speed at the same time, one hundred percent—or more. No more snail pace but thinking with the speed of light, baby. Your world won’t even notice you’re gone! You can continue living in your own world using the more active part of your brain; we just need to transfer parts of your less-active brain capacity to our world. Using your brainpower for only a couple of hours should do the job. What we actually need isn’t your brain capacity so much as your way of thinking. Your brain’s navigation system works differently from the way ours works today. We believe this minor difference in brain function is critical to our finding the lost key and discovering the secrets for which we’re searching. If you help us to solve this ultimate challenge, we’ll be able to help you, too.”

“Once we find the lost key, you can return to your world with the ability to use the full capacity of your brain. Think about what you would be able to achieve! You could invent almost anything you can imagine and pave the way to immortality in your world, too. In addition, you could solve all your problems: fix your relationship with your wife, see your kids again, save your family business, get rich, help others. You could do whatever you want. How does that sound?”

Crazy—that’s how it sounds! I’m no Newton, Einstein, or Hawking. I’m an ordinary guy whose life has become a nightmare. How am I supposed to discover the ultimate secret of humanity? It doesn’t make any sense.

“Did you know, Dan, that Albert Einstein was an ordinary civil servant at a patent office in Switzerland before he became one of the most famous scientists ever? He seemed to be nobody special, but extraordinary skills are hidden in all of us. You need to find them and push the right buttons to activate them. In the world of WeYou, you’ll be able to do exactly that. You can be and do whatever you want without limitations. We scanned all humans in your time. Based on the structure of your brain and your way of thinking, and because of your current circumstances and the prospect of improving them, our analysis predicts that you are the most likely candidate to help us accomplish our mission. Think about it . . . Will you help us?”

What do I have to lose? Right now, nothing. But only if I can wake up. Then they can do whatever they want with the capacities of my brain, especially if nobody will notice anyway. All I wanted was a little break. Now I really must get going to my next job.

Just as I’m about to open my eyes, a massive flash hits me, sharpening all my senses. Another voice—a soft voice—whispers from somewhere far down in my subconscious:

“Don’t trust them; they’re evil! WeYou is based on a huge lie! Be careful. Things are not what they seem. After you enter the world of WeYou and the time is right to introduce you to the Teccupy rebellion, we’ll be in touch. Together we’ll rouse humanity and end the WeYou nightmare. Together we’ll bring real enlightenment and freedom to everyone.”

I start, fully awake, as if nothing has happened. All that remains is a strange feeling somewhere deep inside, but I don’t have time to think about any of this. I need to hurry up.

Excerpt from Catch-42 by Felix Holzapfel.

Copyright © 2021 by Felix Holzapfel. Published by Quovabiz Inc.

All Rights Reserved. Used With Permission.

 

Meet The Author

Steven Zeh Photography // http://www.stevenzeh.de

Thinkers360 recognized Felix Holzapfel as a Top10 Global Thought Leader in Digital Transformation. During the last two decades, Holzapfel has been privileged to support many global players on their way to the digital age. While he has published several books about technology, trends, and the shift in our media landscape, Catch-42 is his first novel and a book he has wanted to write for a long time. Having sold his digital marketing agency to one of the world’s leading IT services providers, he now has time for this passion project.

Connect with the Author:

Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn | Twitter | Website | Author Website

This excerpt and tour brought to you via PR By The Book

Book Showcase: LOCAL WOMAN MISSING by Mary Kubica

LOCAL WOMAN MISSING - MKubicaLocal Woman Missing by Mary Kubica
ISBN: 9780778389446 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781488073960 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488211690 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08PDWGPSB (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08DKZX3FX (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Park Row Books
Release Date: May 18, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Suspense | Crime Thrillers | Psychological Thriller

 
 People don’t just disappear without a trace…

Shelby Tebow is the first to go missing. Not long after, Meredith Dickey and her six-year-old daughter, Delilah, vanish just blocks away from where Shelby was last seen, striking fear into their once-peaceful community. Are these incidents connected? After an elusive search that yields more questions than answers, the case eventually goes cold.

Now, eleven years later, Delilah shockingly returns. Everyone wants to know what happened to her, but no one is prepared for what they’ll find…

In this smart and chilling thriller, master of suspense and New York Times bestselling author Mary Kubica takes domestic secrets to a whole new level, showing that some people will stop at nothing to keep the truth buried.

 
Purchase Links #CommissionEarned:   Indiebound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Audible | AudiobooksNow.com | Barnes and Noble | BookDepository.com | Books-A-Million | Downpour Audiobook | eBooks.com | GooglePlay | !ndigo | Kobo Audiobook | Kobo eBook | Libro.fm | Target | Walmart

Read An Excerpt:

MEREDITH

11 YEARS BEFORE

March

The text comes from a number I don’t know. It’s a 630 area code. Local. I’m in the bathroom with Leo as he soaks in the tub. He has his bath toys lined up on the edge of it and they’re taking turns swan diving into the now-lukewarm water. It used to be hot, too hot for Leo to get into. But he’s been in there for thirty minutes now playing with his octopus, his whale, his fish. He’s having a ball.

Meanwhile I’ve lost track of time. I have a client in the early stages of labor. We’re texting. Her husband wants to take her to the hospital. She thinks it’s too soon. Her contractions are six and a half minutes apart. She’s absolutely correct. It’s too soon. The hospital would just send her home, which is frustrating, not to mention a huge inconvenience for women in labor. And anyway, why labor at the hospital when you can labor in the comfort of your own home? First-time fathers always get skittish. It does their wives no good. By the time I get to them, more times than not, the woman in labor is the more calm of the two. I have to focus my attention on pacifying a nervous husband. It’s not what they’re paying me for.

I tell Leo one more minute until I shampoo his hair, and then fire off a quick text, suggesting my client have a snack to keep her energy up, herself nourished. I recommend a nap, if her body will let her. The night ahead will be long for all of us. Childbirth, especially when it comes to first-time moms, is a marathon, not a sprint.

Josh is home. He’s in the kitchen cleaning up from dinner while Delilah plays. Delilah’s due up next in the tub. By the time I leave, the bedtime ritual will be done or nearly done. I feel good about that, hating the times I leave Josh alone with so much to do.

I draw up my text and then hit Send. The reply is immediate, that all too familiar ping that comes to me at all hours of the day or night.

I glance down at the phone in my hand, expecting it’s my client with some conditioned reply. Thx.

Instead: I know what you did. I hope you die.

Beside the text is a picture of a grayish skull with large, black eye sockets and teeth. The symbol of death.

My muscles tense. My heart quickens. I feel thrown off. The small bathroom feels suddenly, overwhelmingly, oppressive. It’s steamy, moist, hot. I drop down to the toilet and have a seat on the lid. My pulse is loud, audible in my own ears. I stare at the words before me, wondering if I’ve misread. Certainly I’ve misread. Leo is asking, “Is it a minute, Mommy?” I hear his little voice, muff led by the ringing in my ears. But I’m so thrown by the cutthroat text that I can’t speak.

I glance at the phone again. I haven’t misread.

The text is not from my client in labor. It’s not from any client of mine whose name and number is stored in my phone. As far as I can tell, it’s not from anyone I know.

A wrong number, then, I think. Someone sent this to me by accident. It has to be. My first thought is to delete it, to pretend this never happened. To make it disappear. Out of sight, out of mind.

But then I think of whoever sent it just sending it again or sending something worse. I can’t imagine anything worse.

I decide to reply. I’m careful to keep it to the point, to not sound too judgy or fault-finding because maybe the intended recipient really did do something awful—stole money from a children’s cancer charity—and the text isn’t as egregious as it looks at first glance.

I text: You have the wrong number.

The response is quick.

I hope you rot in hell, Meredith.

The phone slips from my hand. I yelp. The phone lands on the navy blue bath mat, which absorbs the sound of its fall.

Meredith.

Whoever is sending these texts knows my name. The texts are meant for me.

A second later Josh knocks on the bathroom door. I spring from the toilet seat, and stretch down for the phone. The phone has fallen facedown. I turn it over. The text is still there on the screen, staring back at me.

Josh doesn’t wait to be let in. He opens the door and steps right inside. I slide the phone into the back pocket of my jeans before Josh has a chance to see.

“Hey,” he says, “how about you save some water for the fish.”

Leo complains to Josh that he is cold. “Well, let’s get you out of the bath,” Josh says, stretching down to help him out of the water.

“I need to wash him still,” I admit. Before me, Leo’s teeth chatter. There are goose bumps on his arm that I hadn’t noticed before. He is cold, and I feel suddenly guilty, though it’s mired in confusion and fear. I hadn’t been paying any attention to Leo. There is bathwater spilled all over the floor, but his hair is still bone-dry.

“You haven’t washed him?” Josh asks, and I know what he’s thinking: that in the time it took him to clear the kitchen table, wash pots and pans and wipe down the sinks, I did nothing. He isn’t angry or accusatory about it. Josh isn’t the type to get angry.

“I have a client in labor,” I say by means of explanation. “She keeps texting,” I say, telling Josh that I was just about to wash Leo. I drop to my knees beside the tub. I reach for the shampoo. In the back pocket of my jeans, the phone again pings. This time, I ignore it. I don’t want Josh to know what’s happening, not until I get a handle on it for myself.

Josh asks, “Aren’t you going to get that?” I say that it can wait. I focus on Leo, on scrubbing the shampoo onto his hair, but I’m anxious. I move too fast so that the shampoo suds get in his eye. I see it happening, but all I can think to do is wipe it from his forehead with my own soapy hands. It doesn’t help. It makes it worse.

Leo complains. Leo isn’t much of a complainer. He’s an easygoing kid. “Ow,” is all that he says, his tiny wet hands going to his eyes, though shampoo in the eye burns like hell.

“Does that sting, baby?” I ask, feeling contrite. But I’m bursting with nervous energy. There’s only one thought racing through my mind. I hope you rot in hell, Meredith.

Who would have sent that, and why? Whoever it is knows me. They know my name. They’re mad at me for something I’ve done. Mad enough to wish me dead. I don’t know anyone like that. I can’t think of anything I’ve done to upset someone enough that they’d want me dead.

I grab the wet washcloth draped over the edge of the tub. I try handing it to Leo, so that he can press it to his own eyes. But my hands shake as I do. I wind up dropping the washcloth into the bath. The tepid water rises up and splashes him in the eyes. This time he cries.

“Oh, buddy,” I say, “I’m so sorry, it slipped.”

But as I try again to grab it from the water and hand it to him, I drop the washcloth for a second time. I leave it where it is, letting Leo fish it out of the water and wipe his eyes for himself. Meanwhile Josh stands two feet behind, watching.

My phone pings again. Josh says, “Someone is really dying to talk to you.”

Dying. It’s all that I hear.

My back is to Josh, thank God. He can’t see the look on my face when he says it.

“What’s that?” I ask.

“Your client,” Josh says. I turn to him. He motions to my phone jutting out of my back pocket. “She really needs you. You should take it, Mer,” he says softly, accommodatingly, and only then do I think about my client in labor and feel guilty. What if it is her? What if her contractions are coming more quickly now and she does need me?

Josh says, “I can finish up with Leo while you get ready to go,” and I acquiesce, because I need to get out of here. I need to know if the texts coming to my phone are from my client or if they’re coming from someone else.

I rise up from the floor. I scoot past Josh in the door, brushing against him. His hand closes around my upper arm as I do, and he draws me in for a hug. “Everything okay?” he asks, and I say yes, fine, sounding too chipper even to my own ears. Everything is not okay.

“I’m just thinking about my client,” I say. “She’s had a stillbirth before, at thirty-two weeks. She never thought she’d get this far. Can you imagine that? Losing a baby at thirty-two weeks?”

Josh says no. His eyes move to Leo and he looks saddened by it. I feel guilty for the lie. It’s not this client but another who lost a baby at thirty-two weeks. When she told me about it, I was completely torn up. It took everything in me not to cry as she described for me the moment the doctor told her her baby didn’t have a heartbeat. Labor was later induced, and she had to push her dead baby out with only her mother by her side. Her husband was deployed at the time. After, she was snowed under by guilt. Was it her fault the baby died? A thousand times I held her hand and told her no. I’m not sure she ever believed me.

My lie has the desired effect. Josh stands down, and asks if I need help with anything before I leave. I say no, that I’m just going to change my clothes and go.

I step out of the bathroom. In the bedroom, I close the door. I grab my scrub bottoms and a long-sleeved T-shirt from my drawer. I lay them on the bed, but before I get dressed, I pull my phone out of my pocket. I take a deep breath and hold it in, summoning the courage to look. I wonder what waits there. More nasty threats? My heart hammers inside me. My knees shake.

I take a look. There are two messages waiting for me.

The first: Water broke. Contractions 5 min apart.

And then: Heading to hospital.—M.

I release my pent-up breath. The texts are from my client’s husband, sent from her phone. My legs nearly give in relief, and I drop down to the edge of the bed, forcing myself to breathe. I inhale long and deep. I hold it in until my lungs become uncomfortable. When I breathe out, I try and force away the tension.

But I can’t sit long because my client is advancing quickly. I need to go.

Excerpt from Local Woman Missing by Mary Kyrychenko.

Copyright © 2021 by Mary Kyrychenko. Published by Park Row Books.

All Rights Reserved. Used With Permission.

 

Meet The Author

Author - Mary Kubica photo credit Sarah Jastre

Mary Kubica is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of six novels, including The Good Girl, Pretty Baby, Don’t You Cry, Every Last Lie, When The Lights Go Out, and The Other Mrs. A former high school history teacher, Mary holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in History and American Literature. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two children. Her last novel The Other Mrs. was an instant New York Times bestseller; is coming soon to Netflix; was a LibraryReads pick for February 2020; praised by the New York Times; and highly recommended by Entertainment Weekly, People, The Week, Marie Claire, Bustle, HelloGiggles, Goodreads, PopSugar, BookRiot, HuffingtonPost, First for Women, Woman’s World, and more. Mary’s novels have been translated into over thirty languages and have sold over two million copies worldwide. She’s been described as “a helluva storyteller,” (Kirkus Reviews) and “a writer of vice-like control,” (Chicago Tribune), and her novels have been praised as “hypnotic” (People) and “thrilling and illuminating” (Los Angeles Times). Local Woman Missing is her seventh novel.

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

  

This excerpt brought to you courtesy of Park Row Books

Book Showcase: BEYOND THE HEADLINES by R.G. Belsky

BEYOND THE HEADLINES by R.G. Belsky blog tour banner, book cover features a blue-washed woman holding a microphone with the title BEYOND THE HEADLINES over her face and body; "She was a mega-celebrity--he was a billionaire--now he's dead--she's in jail"; Quote: "Excellent plot with fascinating characters...Clare Carlson had me hooked from the first book I read in the series." Manhattan Book Review, Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

Beyond The Headlines

by R.G. Belsky

May 1-31, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

BEYOND THE HEADLINES - RGBelsky

She was a mega-celebrity—he was a billionaire businessman—now he’s dead—she’s in jail

Laurie Bateman was living the American dream. Since her arrival as an infant in the U.S. after the fall of Saigon, the pretty Vietnamese girl had gone on to become a supermodel, a successful actress, and, finally, the wife of one of the country’s top corporate dealmakers. That dream has now turned into a nightmare when she is arrested for the murder of her wealthy husband.

New York City TV journalist Clare Carlson does an emotional jailhouse interview in which Bateman proclaims her innocence—and becomes a cause celebre for women’s rights groups around the country.

At first sympathetic, then increasingly suspicious of Laurie Bateman and her story, Clare delves into a baffling mystery which has roots extending back nearly fifty years to the height of the Vietnam War.

Soon, there are more murders, more victims, and more questions as Clare struggles against dire evil forces to break the biggest story of her life.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
Published by: Oceanview Publishing
Publication Date: May 4th 2021
Number of Pages: 336
ISBN: 160809409X (ISBN13: 9781608094097)
Series: The Clare Carlson Mystery Series, 4 (This can be read as a stand alone mystery.)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

“Do you know who Laurie Bateman is?” my friend Janet Wood asked me.

“I do,” I said. “I also know who Lady Gaga is. And Angelina Jolie. And Ivanka Trump. I’m in the media, remember? That’s what we do in the media, we cover famous people. It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it.”

“Laurie Bateman hired me.”

“As an attorney?”

“Yes, as an attorney. That’s what I do, Clare.”

We were sitting in my office at Channel 10 News, the TV station in New York City where I work as news director. I should have known something was going on as soon as Janet showed up there. We usually met at Janet’s law office which is big, with panoramic views of midtown Manhattan, and a lot nicer than mine.

Janet never comes to see me at Channel 10 unless she has a reason.

I figured I was about to find out that reason.

It was early December and outside it was snowing, the first real storm of the winter. The snow started falling during the night, and by now it was covering the city with a powdery white blanket. Pretty soon the car exhausts and trucks would turn it into brown slush, but for now it was gorgeous. From the window next to my desk, the city had an eerie, almost unreal quality. Like something from a Norman Rockwell painting.

My outfit for the day was perfect for the snowy weather, too. I’d walked in wearing a turtleneck sweater, heavy corduroy slacks, a blue down jacket with a parka hood and white earmuffs, scarf and mittens. The ski bunny look. I felt like I should have a cup of hot chocolate in my hand.

“Why does Laurie Bateman need you as an attorney?” I asked Janet.

She hesitated for what seemed to be an inordinately long amount of time before answering.

“Are we talking off the record here?”

“Whatever you want, Janet.”

“I need your word on that.”

“C’mon, it’s me. Clare Carlson, your best friend in the world.”

She nodded.

“Laurie Bateman wants me to represent her in divorce proceedings.”

“Wow!”

“I thought you’d like that.”

“Is it too late to take back my ‘best friend in the world/ off-the-record’ promise?”

Janet smiled. Sort of.

“How much do you know about Laurie Bateman?” she asked me now.

I knew as much as the rest of the world, I suppose. Laurie Bateman seemed to have the American Dream going for her. Since coming to the U.S. as a baby with her family after the fall of Saigon in 1975, the pretty Vietnamese girl had grown up to become a top model, then a successful actress, and finally, the wife of one of the country’s top corporate deal makers. She had a fancy Manhattan townhouse, a limousine at her beck and call and her face had graced the covers of magazines like Vogue and People.

Her husband was Charles Hollister, who had become incredibly wealthy back in the ’70s as one of the pioneers of the burgeoning computer age. He was a kind of Steve Jobs of those early days, and he later expanded into all sorts of other industries—from media to pharmaceuticals to oil drilling and a lot more. He was listed as one of the ten wealthiest businessmen in America.

When Hollister married Laurie Bateman a few years ago, there were a lot of jokes about the big difference in age between the two—she was so much younger and so beautiful. Like the jokes people made about Rupert Murdoch with Wendy Deng and then Jerry Hall, his last two wives. People always assume that a younger and pretty woman like that is marrying for the money. But Laurie Bateman and Charles Hollister insisted they were in love, and they had consistently projected the public persona of a happily married couple in the media since their wedding.

Except it now appeared they weren’t so happily married.

“Is she trying to divorce him to get her hands on his money?” I asked.

“Actually, he’s trying to divorce her and stop her from getting her hands on any of his money.”

“So the bottom line here is this divorce is about money.”

“Always is.”

“Isn’t there a pre-nuptial agreement that would settle all this?”

“Yes and no.”

“Spoken like a true lawyer.”

“Yes, there is a pre-nup. But we don’t think it applies here. That’s because other factors in the marriage took place which could invalidate the terms of the pre-nup they agreed to and signed.”

“Okay.”

I waited.

“Such as?” I asked finally.

“For one thing, Charles Hollister has a mistress. A younger woman he’s been seeing.”

“Younger than Laurie Bateman?”

“Much younger. In her twenties.”

“Jeez! Hollister’s such an old man I have trouble imagining him being able to have sex with his wife, much less getting it up for a second woman on the side.”

“Her discovery that he was cheating on her, along with a lot of other reasons, have turned Laurie Bateman’s life into a nightmare—a living hell—behind the walls of the beautiful homes they live in. She’s kept quiet about it so far, protecting the happy couple image they’ve put on for the media. But now she wants to let the world know the truth. That’s where you come in, Clare.”

Aha, I thought to myself.

Now we’re getting down to it.

I was about to find out the real reason Janet was here.

“Laurie Bateman wants to go public with all this,” Janet said. “She wants to tell her story in the media. The true story of her marriage to Charles Hollister. We know Hollister is going to use his clout to try and smear her and make her look bad, so that’s why we want to get her version out quickly. What I’m talking about here is an exclusive interview with Laurie Bateman about all of this. Her talking about the divorce, the cheating—everything. And she wants you to do the interview with her.”

“Why me?”

“What do you mean?”

“Why not Gayle King? Or Savannah Guthrie? Or Barbara Walters or Katie Couric or Diane Sawyer or another big media name? I’m just the news director of a local TV station here.”

“She wants you, Clare. In fact, I think that’s the reason she hired me for her lawyer. She found out you and I were friends—and she’s hoping I can deliver you to her to do this interview on air with her.”

“I still don’t know why she wouldn’t want to go with someone really famous . . .”

“You’re famous too, Clare. You know that as well as I do. And that’s why she wants you. You’re as famous as any woman on the air right now.”

Janet was right about that.

I was famous.

It could have gone either way—I could have wound up being either famous or infamous because of what I did—but in the end I’d wound up as a media superstar all over again.

Just like I’d been when I won a Pulitzer Prize nearly twenty years ago for telling the story of legendary missing child Lucy Devlin—even though I didn’t tell the whole story then.

“Laurie Bateman’s life with Charles Hollister is a big lie,” Janet said to me. “Now she wants to tell the truth on air about all those lies she’s been hiding behind. Like you did when you finally told the truth on air about you and Lucy Devlin. That’s why she wants you to be the one who interviews her.”

I still wasn’t sure how I felt about all this new found fame I’d gotten from my Lucy Devlin story, but there was no question that if it got me this Laurie Bateman story . . . well, that would be a huge exclusive for me and the station.

“When can I meet her?” I asked Janet.

***

Excerpt from Beyond The Headlines by R.G. Belsky. Copyright 2021 by R.G. Belsky. Reproduced with permission from R.G. Belsky. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Author - RG Belsky

R. G. Belsky is an author of crime fiction and a journalist in New York City.

His new mystery, BEYOND THE HEADLINES, will be published in May 2021. It is the fourth in a series featuring Clare Carlson, the news director for a New York City TV station – and follows THE LAST SCOOP, published in 2020. The first Clare Carlson book, YESTERDAY’S NEWS, won the David Award at Deadly Ink for Best Mystery of 2018. The second Clare Carlson book, BELOW THE FOLD, was named Best Mystery 0f 2019 in the Foreword INDIES Awards.

He also is the author of two thrillers written under the pen name of Dana Perry – THE SILENT VICTIM (2019), THE GOLDEN GIRL (June, 2020) and HER OCEAN GRAVE (June 2021 – Bookouture).

Belsky previously wrote the Gil Malloy series – THE KENNEDY CONNECTION, SHOOTING FOR THE STARS and BLONDE ICE – about a newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News.
Belsky himself is a former managing editor at the Daily News and writes about the media from an extensive background in newspapers, magazines and TV/digital news. He has also been a top editor at the New York Post, Star magazine and NBC News.

His previous suspense/thriller novels include LOVERBOY and PLAYING DEAD. Belsky lives in New York City.

Catch Up With R.G. Belsky:
www.RGBelsky.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @dickb79983
Instagram – @dickbelsky
Twitter – @DickBel
Facebook – @RGBelsky

Tour Participants:

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Giveaway:

This is a Rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for R.G. Belsky. There will be two (2) winners who will each receive one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. The giveaway begins on May 1, 2021 and ends on June 1, 2021. Void where prohibited.

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Book Showcase: CONDITION BLACK by Stu Jones & Gareth Worthington

Blog Tour Banner, featuring book cover for CONDITION BLACK by Stu Jones and Gareth Worthington, highlighted brain on green background, Quote: "Like DARK MATTER by Blake Crouch, this book is revolutionary. Incredible." Jonas Saul, author of the best selling Sarah Roberts series. Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

Condition Black

by Stu Jones & Gareth Worthington

April 26 – May 21, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

 
CONDITION BLACK - SJones & GWorthington

EVAN WEYLAND, a brilliant research scientist tasked with developing new technologies to fight cancer, sees the world differently through the lens of Autism Spectrum Disorder. His guiding light is his wife, Marie—a globally recognized war correspondent. When she returns home from Syria deathly ill with an unknown disease, Evan believes his research may be the key to unlocking the cure. However, when his superiors refuse his request for help, Evan’s single-minded love for Marie drives him to take matters into his own hands—a decision with far greater consequences than he could possibly fathom.

BILLY VICK, a Captain in the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, is a combat veteran unable to leave the horrors of war behind. Only the love of his family and a sense of absolute justice keeps him grounded. When Billy’s unit becomes aware of a US-sanctioned airstrike on a civilian settlement in Syria and an eye-witness reporter comatose with an unknown illness, he fears the worst. An unethical military project thought mothballed has resurfaced, and a civilian, Evan Weyland, may be about to inadvertently unleash it upon the world. It’s a mistake that could cost the lives of millions.

Pitted against each other in a game of chess-like deception and intrigue, with time running out, both men must come to terms with the magnitude of what’s at stake—and what each is willing to sacrifice to win.

Praise for Condition Black:

“This solid sci-fi thriller [is] a well-balanced thrill ride. Well-shaded characters keep the pages turning. Fans of high-tech medical and military thrillers should check this out.” ~ Publishers Weekly.

Like Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, this book is revolutionary. Incredible.” ~ Jonas Saul, author of the best-selling Sarah Roberts series.

Condition Black provides such an exceptional read. It’s highly recommended for fans of technothrillers who want a firm marriage between psychological depth and unpredictable action, all grounded by ethical concerns that challenge each character to reach beyond his skill set and comfort zone.” ~ Diane Donovan, Midwest Book Review.

 

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller / Medical Thriller
Published by: Dropship Publishing
Publication Date: 27 April 2021
Number of Pages: 334
ISBN: 9781954386006
Series: Condition Black is a stand alone thriller.
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Through the lens of her SLR, Marie Wayland couldn’t pry her gaze from the morbid scene as it unfolded some two hundred feet away. Another twist of the objective and the image in her ultralight mirrorless camera became crystal clear, even in the fading evening light of the Syrian sun: a man, his hands bound secure with coarse rope, sucking with erratic breaths at the cloth bag over his head. The fabric molded to the shape of his quivering lips and stuck there for an instant before being blown out again. He cried out as two masked assailants forced him to his knees. A whimper emerged from beneath his hood, followed by a muffled plea for mercy. Unwavering, the men stood in a line behind the captive, their AK-47 rifles pointed to the sky. Above them all, a black flag, inset with white Arabic script, fluttered like a pirate banner in the desert wind.

A young man carrying a beat-up camcorder scurried onto the scene and set up his tripod. He fiddled with his equipment, then gave a thumbs up. One of the soldiers stepped forward and pulled a curved blade from his belt. He called out and pointed to the camera, stabbing the air with the long knife. For a moment, he seemed to look right at Marie. Her heart faltered and the hot prickle of perspiration dampened her forehead.

Marie lowered her camera and eased further into a small depression in the side of the hill, perfect for both observation and concealment. “Don’t be tree cancer,” she whispered to herself. A strange phrase, but one that had proved invaluable during her long and storied career as a war correspondent. A Marine Corps scout sniper had offered her this golden nugget of advice during a stint in Afghanistan. Master of short-range reconnaissance, he’d spotted her crouched in a ball, peering out from behind a twisted stone pine tree. After approaching undetected, he’d whispered in her ear: Don’t be tree cancer. Marie had nearly jumped out of her skin. She later discovered the phrase referred to an observer drawing attention to themselves by standing out from the world around them.

The voice of the knife-wielding man rose in pitch. Marie shuffled for a better view and raised her camera once again.

The knifeman jerked the hood from the captive’s head.

A chill crawled down Marie’s spine.

Glen Bertrum, the American relief worker kidnapped three months ago from the outskirts of Aleppo, shifted on his knees. With a brutal shove from his captors, the terrified relief worker flopped to his side, squirming. The knifeman descended on Glen, then sawed at his relief worker’s neck with the blade. Blood sprayed against the sand. Glen screamed for what seemed an eternity, the sound morphing into a horrible sucking wheeze.

His gore-drenched knife dripping, the murderer yanked Glen’s head free and held it aloft.

The men shouted in victory, thrusting their weapons into the air.

“Shit,” Marie said, lowering the camera.

The cruelty and barbarism of humankind knew no end, and these zealots had a way of making it even uglier, spreading their jihad across the globe like a pestilence. Without raising the SLR again, she watched the terrorists conclude the recording and march away, leaving Glen’s decapitated body to rot.

Marie’s stomach knotted, and she tried to swallow away the tingle of nausea in her throat. This isn’t why you’re here, she thought. A beheaded aid worker wasn’t news, even if she had met the man before. Such things hadn’t been news for a long time. The war had escalated, far beyond Syria and the Middle East, beyond single hostages and beheadings. Terrorist cells were now a pandemic, spread across the globe, and embedded in every country. There was no central faction anymore. No IS or al-Qaeda, or Allah’s Blade. The war against the west was now an idea, a disease infesting the world. Anyone, anywhere could be an enemy—the core vision metastasizing, traveling to every corner of the Earth and there propagating.

Major cities now operated under war-time policy; curfews and rationing to prevent too many people congregating in any one place, such as a supermarket or a major sporting event. Aerial surveillance and street-level military patrols did their best to keep people safe, but a cage was a cage. In some ways, Marie felt free out in the world, even if it was in the enemy’s backyard. Yet while hate for terrorists was justified, as in all wars the enemy wasn’t the only one capable of terrible things. So too were the allied forces—the people who stood against terror and extremism—and that was why she was in Syria.

The little jaunt Marie had undertaken was unofficial. Her boss would kill her if he knew she’d conducted this op. After flying into Istanbul and crossing the border south of Daruca, she’d spent the better part of the past three days moving from checkpoint to checkpoint, working her way along Highway 7 through northeastern Syria. With dark features and perfect Arabic, Marie hid with ease among the local population.

Marie pulled a tablet from her backpack and keyed up the map she’d gotten from her contact. The coordinates were correct. A tiny civilian village in Northeastern Syria. This ramshackle settlement was little more than a speck on the map, and from what she was told by her contact, this place was of zero military significance. No base, no known weapons caches, no landing strips. The small cell of terrorists she’d just found was likely that: a small cell. Little more than a coincidence, and by no means justification for this village to be firebombed back to the stone age.

Unless they’d found something of significance.

***

Excerpt from Condition Black by Gareth Worthington and Stu Jones. Copyright 2021 by Gareth Worthington and Stu Jones. Reproduced with permission from Gareth Worthington and Stu Jones. All rights reserved.

Author Bios:

Gareth Worthington

Author - Gareth Worthington

Gareth Worthington holds a degree in marine biology, a PhD in Endocrinology, an executive MBA, is Board Certified in Medical Affairs, and currently works for the Pharmaceutical industry educating the World’s doctors on new cancer therapies.

Gareth Worthington is an authority in ancient history, has hand-tagged sharks in California, and trained in various martial arts, including Jeet Kune Do and Muay Thai at the EVOLVE MMA gym in Singapore and 2FIGHT Switzerland.

He is an award-winning author and member of the International Thriller Writers Association, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and the British Science Fiction Association.

Born in England, Gareth has lived around the world from Asia, to Europe to the USA. Wherever he goes, he endeavors to continue his philanthropic work with various charities.

Gareth is represented by Renee Fountain and Italia Gandolfo at Gandolfo Helin Fountain Literary, New York.

Catch Up With Gareth Worthington:
GarethWorthington.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @GarethWorthington
Instagram – @garethworthington
Twitter – @DrGWorthington
Facebook – @garethworthingtonauthor

 

Stu Jones

Author - Stu Jones

Stu Jones. SWAT Sniper. Adventurer. Award-Winning Author of Epic Genre-Bending Fiction.

A veteran law enforcement officer, Stu has served as a beat cop, narcotics, criminal investigations, as an instructor of firearms and police defensive tactics and as a team leader of a multi-jurisdictional SWAT team. He is trained and qualified as a law enforcement SWAT sniper, as well as in hostage rescue and high-risk entry tactics. Recently, Stu served for three years with a U.S. Marshal’s Regional Fugitive Task Force – hunting the worst of the worst.

He is the author of multiple sci-fi/action/thriller novels, including the multi-award-winning It Takes Death To Reach A Star duology, written with co-author Gareth Worthington (Children of the Fifth Sun).

Known for his character-driven stories and blistering action sequences, Stu strives to create thought-provoking reading experiences that challenge the status quo. When he’s not chasing bad guys or writing epic stories, he can be found planning his next adventure to some remote or exotic place.

Stu is represented by Italia Gandolfo of Gandolfo-Helin-Fountain literary

Catch Up With Stu Jones:
Goodreads
BookBub – @stujonesfiction
Instagram – @stujonesfiction
Facebook – @stujonesfiction

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Book Showcase: THE WOMAN WITH THE BLUE STAR by Pam Jenoff

Blog Tour Banner: THE WOMAN WITH THE BLUE STAR, book cover features wet cobblestone street, a pair of red t-strap ladies shoes, and a white armband with a blue Star of David embroidery; Quote: "Filled with twists, turns, and displays of bravery and love that you will never forget!" Lisa Scottoline, #1 New York Times bestselling author of ETERNAL

THE WOMAN WITH THE BLUE STAR - PJenoff

The Woman With the Blue Star by Pam Jenoff
ISBN: 9780778389385 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9780778311546 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781488073915 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488211706 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B08PDTQ5TB (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08DL12NM8 (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Park Row Books
Release Date: May 4, 2021

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Lost Girls of Paris comes a riveting tale of courage and unlikely friendship during World War II.

1942. Sadie Gault is eighteen and living with her parents in the Kraków Ghetto during World War II. When the Nazis liquidate the ghetto, Sadie and her pregnant mother are forced to seek refuge in the perilous tunnels beneath the city. One day Sadie looks up through a grate and sees a girl about her own age buying flowers.

Ella Stepanek is an affluent Polish girl living a life of relative ease with her stepmother, who has developed close alliances with the occupying Germans. While on an errand in the market, she catches a glimpse of something moving beneath a grate in the street. Upon closer inspection, she realizes it’s a girl hiding.

Ella begins to aid Sadie and the two become close, but as the dangers of the war worsen, their lives are set on a collision course that will test them in the face of overwhelming odds. Inspired by incredible true stories, The Woman with the Blue Star is an unforgettable testament to the power of friendship and the extraordinary strength of the human will to survive.

 

 

Read An Excerpt:

Sadie

Kraków, Poland

March 1942

Everything changed the day they came for the children.

I was supposed to have been in the attic crawl space of the three-story building we shared with a dozen other families in the ghetto. Mama helped me hide there each morning before she set out to join the factory work detail, leaving me with a fresh bucket as a toilet and a stern admonishment not to leave. But I grew cold and restless alone in the tiny, frigid space where I couldn’t run or move or even stand straight. The minutes stretched silently, broken only by a scratching—unseen children, years younger than me, stowed on the other side of the wall. They were kept separate from one another without space to run and play. They sent each other messages by tapping and scratching, though, like a kind of improvised Morse code. Sometimes, in my boredom, I joined in, too.

“Freedom is where you find it,” my father often said when I complained. Papa had a way of seeing the world exactly as he wanted. “The greatest prison is in our mind.” It was easy for him to say. Though he manual ghetto labor was a far cry from his professional work as an accountant before the war, at least he was out and about each day, seeing other people. Not cooped up like me. I had scarcely left our apartment building since we were forced to move six months earlier from our apartment in the Jewish Quarter near the city center to the Podgórze neighborhood where the ghetto had been established on the southern bank of the river. I wanted a normal life, my life, free to run beyond the walls of the ghetto to all of the places I had once known and taken for granted. I imagined taking the tram to the shops on the Rynek or to the kino to see a film, exploring the ancient grassy mounds on the outskirts of the city. I wished that at least my best friend, Stefania, was one of the others hidden nearby. Instead, she lived in a separate apartment on the other side of the ghetto designated for the families of the Jewish police.

It wasn’t boredom or loneliness that had driven me from my hiding place this time, though, but hunger. I had always had a big appetite and this morning’s breakfast ration had been a half slice of bread, even less than usual. Mama had offered me her portion, but I knew she needed her strength for the long day ahead on the labor detail.

As the morning wore on in my hiding place, my empty belly had begun to ache. Visions pushed into my mind uninvited of the foods we ate before the war: rich mushroom soup and savory borscht, and pierogi, the plump, rich dumplings my grandmother used to make. By midmorning, I felt so weak from hunger that I had ventured out of my hiding place and down to the shared kitchen on the ground floor, which was really nothing more than a lone working stove burner and a sink that dripped tepid brown water. I didn’t go to take food—even if there had been any, I would never steal. Rather, I wanted to see if there were any crumbs left in the cupboard and to fill my stomach with a glass of water.

I stayed in the kitchen longer than I should, reading the dog-eared copy of the book I’d brought with me. The thing I detested most about my hiding place in the attic was the fact that it was too dark for reading. I had always loved to read and Papa had carried as many books as he could from our apartment to the ghetto, over the protests of my mother, who said we needed the space in our bags for clothes and food. It was my father who had nurtured my love of learning and encouraged my dream of studying medicine at Jagiellonian University before the German laws made that impossible, first by banning Jews and later by closing the university altogether. Even in the ghetto at the end of his long, hard days of labor, Papa loved to teach and discuss ideas with me. He had somehow found me a new book a few days earlier, too, The Count of Monte Cristo. But the hiding place in the attic was too dark for me to read and there was scarcely any time in the evening before curfew and lights-out. Just a bit longer, I told myself, turning the page in the kitchen. A few minutes wouldn’t matter at all.

I had just finished licking the dirty bread knife when I heard heavy tires screeching, followed by barking voices. I froze, nearly dropping my book. The SS and Gestapo were outside, flanked by the vile Jüdischer Ordnungsdienst, Jewish Ghetto Police, who did their bidding. It was an aktion, the sudden unannounced arrest of large groups of Jews to be taken from the ghetto to camps. The very reason I was meant to be hiding in the first place. I raced from the kitchen, across the hall and up the stairs. From below came a great crash as the front door to the apartment building splintered and the police burst through. There was no way I could make it back to the attic in time.

Instead, I raced to our third-floor apartment. My heart pounded as I looked around desperately, wishing for an armoire or other cabinet suitable for hiding in the tiny room, which was nearly bare except for a dresser and bed. There were other places, I knew, like the fake plaster wall one of the other families had constructed in the adjacent building not a week earlier. That was too far away now, impossible to reach. My eyes focused on the large steamer trunk stowed at the foot of my parents’ bed. Mama had shown me how to hide there once shortly after we first moved to the ghetto. We practiced it like a game, Mama opening the trunk so that I could climb in before she closed the lid.

The trunk was a terrible hiding place, exposed and in the middle of the room. But there was simply nowhere else. I had to try. I raced over to the bed and climbed into the trunk, then closed the lid with effort. I thanked heavens that I was tiny like Mama. I had always hated being so petite, which made me look a solid two years younger than I actually was. Now it seemed a blessing, as did the sad fact that the months of meager ghetto rations had made me thinner. I still fit in the trunk.

When we had rehearsed, we had envisioned Mama putting a blanket or some clothes over the top of the trunk. Of course, I couldn’t do that myself. So the trunk sat unmasked for anyone who walked into the room to see and open. I curled into a tiny ball and wrapped my arms around myself, feeling the white armband with the blue star on my sleeve that all Jews were required to wear.

There came a great crashing from the next building, the sound of plaster being hewn by a hammer or ax. The police had found the hiding place behind the wall, given away by the too-fresh paint. An unfamiliar cry rang out as a child was found and dragged from his hiding place. If I had gone there, I would have been caught as well.

Someone neared the door to the apartment and flung it open. My heart seized. I could hear breathing, feel eyes searching the room. I’m sorry, Mama, I thought, feeling her reproach for having left the attic. I braced myself for discovery. Would they go easier on me if I came out and gave myself up? The footsteps grew fainter as the German continued down the hall, stopping before each door, searching.

The war had come to Kraków one warm fall day two and a half years earlier when the air-raid sirens rang out for the first time and sent the playing children scurrying from the street. Life got hard before it got bad. Food disappeared and we waited in long lines for the most basic supplies. Once there was no bread for a whole week.

Then about a year ago, upon orders from the General Government, Jews teemed into Kraków by the thousands from the small towns and villages, dazed and carrying their belongings on their backs. At first I wondered how they would all find places to stay in Kazimierz, the already cramped Jewish Quarter of the city. But the new arrivals were forced to live by decree in a crowded section of the industrial Podgórze district on the far side of the river that had been cordoned off with a high wall. Mama worked with the Gmina, the local Jewish community organization, to help them resettle, and we often had friends of friends over for a meal when they first arrived, before they went to the ghetto for good. They told stories from their hometowns too awful to believe and Mama shooed me from the room so I would not hear.

Several months after the ghetto was created, we were ordered to move there as well. When Papa told me, I couldn’t believe it. We were not refugees, but residents of Kraków; we had lived in our apartment on Meiselsa Street my entire life. It was the perfect location: on the edge of the Jewish Quarter but easy walking distance to the sights and sounds of the city center and close enough to Papa’s office on Stradomska Street that he could come home for lunch. Our apartment was above an adjacent café where a pianist played every evening. Sometimes the music spilled over and Papa would whirl Mama around the kitchen to the faint strains. But according to the orders, Jews were Jews. One day. One suitcase each. And the world I had known my entire life disappeared forever.

I peered out of the thin slit opening of the trunk, trying to see across the tiny room I shared with my parents. We were lucky, I knew, to have a whole room to ourselves, a privilege we had been given because my father was a labor foreman. Others were forced to share an apartment, often two or three families together. Still, the space felt cramped compared to our real home. We were ever on top of one another, the sights and sounds and smells of daily living magnified.

“Kinder, raus!” the police called over and over again now as they patrolled the halls. Children, out. It was not the first time the Germans had come for children during the day, knowing that their parents would be at work.

But I was no longer a child. I was eighteen and might have joined the work details like others my age and some several years younger. I could see them lining up for roll call each morning before trudging to one of the factories. And I wanted to work, even though I could tell from the slow, painful way my father now walked, stooped like an old man, and how Mama’s hands were split and bleeding that it was hard and awful. Work meant a chance to get out and see and talk to people. My hiding was a subject of much debate between my parents. Papa thought I should work. Labor cards were highly prized in the ghetto. Workers were valued and less likely to be deported to one of the camps. But Mama, who seldom fought my father on anything, had forbidden it. “She doesn’t look her age. The work is too hard. She is safest out of sight.” I wondered as I hid now, about to be discovered at any second, if she would still think she was right.

The building finally went silent, the last of the awful footsteps receding. Still I didn’t move. That was one of the ways they trapped people who were hiding, by pretending to go away and lying in wait when they came out. I remained motionless, not daring to leave my hiding place. My limbs ached, then went numb. I had no idea how much time had passed. Through the slit, I could see that the room had grown dimmer, as if the sun had lowered a bit.

Sometime later, there were footsteps again, this time a shuffling sound as the laborers trudged back silent and exhausted from their day. I tried to uncurl myself from the trunk. But my muscles were stiff and sore and my movements slow. Before I could get out, the door to our apartment flung open and someone ran into the room with steps light and fluttering. “Sadie!” It was Mama, sounding hysterical.

“Jestem tutaj,” I called. I am here. Now that she was home, she could help me untangle myself and get out. But my voice was muffled by the trunk. When I tried to undo the latch, it stuck.

Mama raced from the room back into the corridor. I could hear her open the door to the attic, then run up the stairs, still searching for me. “Sadie!” she called. Then, “My child, my child,” over and over again as she searched but did not find me, her voice rising to a shriek. She thought I was gone.

“Mama!” I yelled. She was too far away to hear me, though, and her own cries were too loud. Desperately, I struggled once more to free myself from the trunk without success. Mama raced back into the room, still wailing. I heard the scraping sound of a window opening and felt a whoosh of cold air. At last I threw myself against the lid of the trunk, slamming my shoulder so hard it throbbed. The latch sprang open.

I broke free and stood up quickly. “Mama?” She was standing in the oddest position, with one foot on the window ledge, her willowy frame silhouetted against the frigid twilight sky. “What are you doing?” For a second, I thought she was looking for me outside. But her face was twisted with grief and pain. I knew then why Mama was on the window ledge. She assumed I had been taken along with the other children. And she didn’t want to live. If I hadn’t freed myself from the trunk in time, Mama would have jumped. I was her only child, her whole world. She was prepared to kill herself before she would go on without me.

A chill ran through me as I sprinted toward her. “I’m here, I’m here.” She wobbled unsteadily on the window ledge and I grabbed her arm to stop her from falling. Remorse ripped through me. I always wanted to please her, to bring that hard-won smile to her beautiful face. Now I had caused her so much pain she’d almost done the unthinkable.

“I was so worried,” she said after I’d helped her down and closed the window. As if that explained everything. “You weren’t in the attic.”

“But, Mama, I hid where you told me to.” I gestured to the trunk. “The other place, remember? Why didn’t you look for me there?”

Mama looked puzzled. “I didn’t think you would fit anymore.” There was a pause and then we both began laughing, the sound scratchy and out of place in the pitiful room. For a few seconds, it was like we were back in our old apartment on Meiselsa Street and none of this had happened at all. If we could still laugh, surely things would be all right. I clung to this last improbable thought like a life preserver at sea.

But a cry echoed through the building, then another, silencing our laughter. It was the mothers of the other children who had been taken by the police. There came a thud outside. I started for the window, but my mother blocked me. “Look away,” she ordered. It was too late. I glimpsed Helga Kolberg, who lived down the hall, lying motionless in the coal-tinged snow on the pavement below, her limbs cast at odd angles and skirt splayed around her like a fan. She had realized her children were gone and, like Mama, she didn’t want to live without them. I wondered whether jumping was a shared instinct, or if they had discussed it, a kind of suicide pact in case their worst nightmares came true.

My father raced into the room then. Neither Mama nor I said a word, but I could tell from his unusually grim expression that he already knew about the aktion and what had happened to the other families. He simply walked over and wrapped his enormous arms around both of us, hugging us tighter than usual.

As we sat, silent and still, I looked up at my parents. Mama was a striking beauty—thin and graceful, with white-blond hair the color of a Nordic princess’. She looked nothing like the other Jewish women and I had heard whispers more than once that she didn’t come from here. She might have walked away from the ghetto and lived as a non-Jew if it wasn’t for us. But I was built like Papa, with the dark, curly hair and olive skin that made the fact that we were Jews undeniable. My father looked like the laborer the Germans had made him in the ghetto, broad-shouldered and ready to lift great pipes or slabs of concrete. In fact, he was an accountant—or had been until it became illegal for his firm to employ him anymore. I always wanted to please Mama, but it was Papa who was my ally, keeper of secrets and weaver of dreams, who stayed up too late whispering secrets in the dark and had roamed the city with me, hunting for treasure. I moved closer now, trying to lose myself in the safety of his embrace.

Still, Papa’s arms could offer little shelter from the fact that everything was changing. The ghetto, despite its awful conditions, had once seemed relatively safe. We were living among Jews and the Germans had even appointed a Jewish council, the Judenrat, to run our daily affairs. Perhaps if we laid low and did as we were told, Papa said more than once, the Germans would leave us alone inside these walls until the war was over. That had been the hope. But after today, I wasn’t so sure. I looked around the apartment, seized with equal parts disgust and fear. In the beginning, I had not wanted to be here; now I was terrified we would be forced to leave.

“We have to do something,” Mama burst out, her voice a pitch higher than usual as it echoed my unspoken thoughts.

“I’ll take her tomorrow and register her for a work permit,” Papa said. This time Mama did not argue. Before the war, being a child had been a good thing. But now being useful and able to work was the only thing that might save us.

Mama was talking about more than a work visa, though. “They are going to come again and next time we won’t be so lucky.” She did not bother to hold back her words for my benefit now. I nodded in silent agreement. Things were changing, a voice inside me said. We could not stay here forever.

“It will be okay, kochana,” Papa soothed. How could he possibly say that? But Mama laid her head on his shoulder, seeming to trust him as she always had. I wanted to believe it, too. “I will think of something. At least,” Papa added as we huddled close, “we are all still together.” The words echoed through the room, equal parts promise and prayer.

Excerpt from The Woman With the Blue Star by Pam Jenoff.

Copyright © 2021 by Pam Jenoff. Published by MIRA Books. All Rights Reserved.

 

Meet The Author

Author - Pam Jenoff photo credit Mindy Schwartz Sorasky

Pam Jenoff is the author of several books of historical fiction, including the NYT bestseller The Orphan’s Tale. She holds a degree in international affairs from George Washington University and a degree in history from Cambridge, and she received her JD from UPenn. Her novels are inspired by her experiences working at the Pentagon and as a diplomat for the State Department handling Holocaust issues in Poland. She lives with her husband and 3 children near Philadelphia, where she teaches law.

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This excerpt brought to you courtesy of Park Row Books