Evening Stars (Blackberry Island #3) by Susan Mallery
ISBN: 9780778316130 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781488710117 (ebook)
ASIN: B00FNJVSX6 (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
Publication date: February 25, 2014
Small-town nurse Nina Wentworth has made a career out of being a caretaker. More “Mom” than their mother ever was, she sacrificed medical school—and her first love—so her sister could break free. Which is why she isn’t exactly thrilled to see Averil back on Blackberry Island, especially when Nina’s life has suddenly become…complicated.
Nina unexpectedly finds herself juggling two men—her high school sweetheart and a younger maverick pilot who also wants to claim her heart. But as fun as all this romance is, Nina has real life to deal with. Averil doesn’t seem to want the great guy she’s married to, and doesn’t seem to be making headway writing her first book; their mom is living life just as recklessly as she always has; and Nina’s starting to realize that the control she once had is slipping out of her fingers. Her hopes of getting off the island seem to be stretching further away…until her mother makes a discovery that could change everything forever.
But before Nina and Averil can reach for the stars, they have to decide what they want. Will Averil stay? Will Nina leave? And what about the men who claim to love them? Does love heal, or will finding their happy ending mean giving up all they’ve ever wanted?
Read an excerpt:
In a battle between Betty Boop and multicolored hearts, Nina Wentworth decided it was going to be a Betty Boop kind of day. She pulled the short-sleeved scrub shirt over her head and was already moving toward the bathroom before the fabric settled over her hips.
“Don’t be snug, don’t be snug,” she chanted as she came to a stop in front of the mirror and reached for her brush.
The shirt settled as it should, with a couple of inches to spare. Nina breathed a sigh of relief. Last night’s incident with three brownies and a rather large glass of red wine hadn’t made a lasting impression on her hips. She was grateful, and she would repent later on an elliptical. Or at least vow to eat her brownies one at a time.
Ten seconds of brushing, one minute of braiding and her blond hair was neat and tidy. She dashed out into the hall, toward the kitchen where she grabbed her car keys and nearly made it to the back door. Just as she was reaching for the knob, the house phone rang.
Nina glanced from the clock to the phone. Everyone in her world—friends, family, work—had her cell. Very few calls came on the antiquated landline, and none of them were good news. Nina retraced her steps and braced herself for disaster.
“Hey, Nina. It’s Jerry down at Too Good To Be True. I just opened, and there’s a lady here trying to sell a box of crap, ah, stuff. I think it’s from the store.”
Nina closed her eyes as she held in a groan. “Let me guess. Early twenties, red hair with purple streaks and a tattoo of a weird bird on her neck?”
“That’s her. She’s glaring at me something fierce. You think she’s armed?”
“I hope not.”
“Me, too.” Jerry didn’t sound especially concerned. “What’s her name?”
If Nina had more time, she would have collapsed right there on the floor. But she had a real job to get to. A job unrelated to the disaster that was the family’s antique store.
“You let your mom hire her, huh?” Jerry asked.
“You know better.”
“That I do. I’ll call the police and ask them to pick up Tanya. Can you keep her there until they get there?”
“Sure thing, kid.”
“Great. And I’ll be by after work to pick up the stuff.”
“I’ll hold it for you,” Jerry promised.
Nina hung up and hurried to her car. After her cell connected to the Bluetooth, she called the local sheriff’s department and explained what happened.
“Again?” Deputy Sam Payton asked, his voice thick with amusement.
“Did you let your mom hire this employee?”
Nina carefully backed out of the driveway. Jerry’s humor she could handle. He’d lived here all his life—he was allowed to tease her. But Sam was relatively new. He hadn’t earned mocking rights.
“Hey, tax-paying citizen here, reporting a crime,” she said.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m writing it down. What’d she take?”
“I didn’t ask. She’s at the pawn shop. Too Good To Be True.”
“I know it,” Deputy Sam told her. “I’ll head out and see what’s what.”
She hung up before he could offer advice on hiring policies and turned up the hill. The morning was clear—odd for early spring in the Pacific Northwest. Normally the good weather didn’t kick in until closer to summer. To the west, blue water sparkled. To the east was western Washington.
As she climbed higher and higher, the view got better, but when she parked across from the three Queen Anne houses at the very top of the hill, pausing to enjoy the spectacular combination of sky and ocean was the last thing on her mind.
She hurried up the steps to the front porch that was both her boss’s home and her office. Dr. Andi, as she was known, was a popular pediatrician on the island. Make that the only pediatrician. She’d moved here a year ago, opened her practice in September and had been thriving ever since. She was also a newlywed and, as of two months ago, pregnant.
Nina unlocked the front door and stepped inside. She flipped on lights as she went, confirmed the temperature on the thermostat and then started the three computers in the front office.
After storing her purse in her locker, she logged in to the scheduling program and saw that the first appointment of the day had canceled. Andi would appreciate the extra time to get herself moving. She was still battling morning sickness.
Nina did a quick check of her email, forwarded several items to the bookkeeper/office manager, then walked to the break room for coffee. Less than five minutes after she’d arrived, she was climbing the stairs to her boss’s private quarters.
Nina knocked once before entering. She found Andi, a tall, pretty brunette with curly hair, sitting at the table in the kitchen. Her arms cradled her head.
“Still bad?” Nina asked, walking to the cupboard.
“Hi and yes. It’s not that I throw up, it’s that I feel like I’m going to every single second.” She raised her head and drew in a breath. “Are you drinking coffee?”
“I miss coffee. I’m a wreck. I need to talk to my parents about my ancestors. Obviously I don’t come from hardy stock.”
Nina took down a mug, filled it with water and put it in the microwave. Then she collected a tea bag from the pantry.
“Not ginger tea,” Andi said with a moan. “Please. I hate it.”
“But it helps.”
“I’d rather feel sick.”
Nina raised her eyebrows.
Andi slumped in her seat. “I’m such a failure. Look at me. I’m carrying around a child the size of a lima bean and I’m throwing a hissy fit. It’s embarrassing.”
“And yet the need to act mature doesn’t seem to be kicking in.”
Andi smiled. “Funny how that works.”
The microwaved dinged. Nina dropped the tea bag into the steaming water and crossed to the table.
The eat-in kitchen was open, with painted cabinets and lots of granite. The big window by the table took advantage of the east-facing views in the old house. The mainland shimmered only a few miles away.
Andi had bought the house—one of three up on the hill—when she’d moved to Blackberry Island. Undeterred by the broken windows and outdated plumbing, she’d had the house restored from the framework out. During the process, she’d fallen in love with her contractor. Which had led to her current tummy problems.
“Your first appointment canceled,” Nina told her.
“Thank God.” Andi sniffed the tea, then wrinkled her nose and took a sip. “It’s the ginger. If I could have tea without ginger I think I could get it down.”
“The thing is, the ginger is the part that settles your stomach.”
“Life is perverse like that.” Andi took another sip, then smiled. “I like the shirt.”
Nina glanced down at the pattern. “Betty and I go way back.”
One of the advantages of working for a pediatrician was that cheerful attire was encouraged. She had a collection of brightly colored fun shirts in her closet. It wasn’t high fashion, but it helped the kids smile and that was what mattered.
“I need to get back downstairs,” she said. “Your first appointment is now at eight-thirty.”
Nina rose and started toward the stairs.
“Are you busy after work?” Andi asked.
Nina thought about the fact that she was going to have to go by the pawn shop and pick up what Tanya had tried to sell, then spend several hours at Blackberry Preserves, her family’s antique store, figuring out what had been stolen, then tell her mother what had happened and possibly lecture her on the importance of actually following up on a potential employee’s references. Only she’d been lecturing her mother for as long as she could remember, and the lessons never seemed to stick. No matter how many times Bonnie promised to do better, she never did. Which left Nina picking up the pieces.
“I kind of am. Why?”
“I haven’t been to Pilates in a week,” Andi said. “It’s important I keep exercising. Would you go with me? It’s more fun when you’re along.”
“I can’t tonight, but Monday’s good.”
Andi smiled. “Thanks, Nina. You’re the best.”
“Give me a plaque and I’ll believe it.”
“I’ll order one today.”
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Scarlet Revenge – PROMO Blitz
By Ann McGinnis
Date Published: January 21, 2014
The FBI doesn’t know what to do with Analyst Caycee Scarlet. She’s brash, brilliant & brutally relentless when tracking a serial killer. But she also has a temper, problems with authority figures and recognizing the chain of command.
Things go sideways for Caycee when she uncovers a lead that saves the Omega Killer’s latest victim. Rather than working the system and making nice with her pompous boss, sparks fly and she gets into an altercation with the lead Special Agent on the case, resulting in a transfer to another assignment.
Caycee finds herself transferred to an FBI interrogation facility where she assesses the most dangerous of criminals in custody. She struggles to get over the loss of her dream job, but her new boss, handsome Special Agent Gil Graham, may soften the blow. Sparks, of a different variety, fly between the Special Agent and his new Analyst, as they work together to crack the most difficult cases.
Just when Caycee’s wounds are healing from her expulsion on the Omega Killer team, she is dragged back into the thick of it. Caycee and her new team are front and center, focused on an interview of a bombing suspect, when Omega comes looking for revenge. His attack wounds her team, leaving Caycee with only one option for help—the devastatingly handsome bombing suspect. It will take all of Caycee’s wits, and a kiss for luck, to stop Omega and save her co-worker.
Our steps echoed down the stark hallway. Clean. Institutional. And utterly amazing. Caycee Scarlet was finally walking along the hallowed hallways of the FBI. It was a good day for me.
“Say nothing, Scarlet,” Special Agent in Charge Tony Wilkes ordered. He threw me a look over his shoulder. “Even if someone asks you a question, keep your mouth shut.” He laughed to himself. “No one will ask you a question.”
Wilkes had already made it clear that I was the newest member of the Omega Killer Task Force. As such, I should listen more than talk, act fast when given orders, and let the seasoned team members guide my every move. It seemed like the equivalent of an FBI-whipping boy. Or girl, in my case. I didn’t care. Everyone started at the bottom. I was ready to put in the time needed to earn their respect.
At least, I looked good in a form-fitting black suit. It was more than I could afford, but I figured I would live in the outfit. Besides, it sent a message. I valued my appearance, even if I had to dress like a man, I’d still look like a woman.
I’d had the suit cut to fit my curves, which were on the athletic side. My auburn hair pulled into a no-nonsense ponytail. It hung past my shoulders, showing off my best feature – my eyes. As a window into my soul, they were unflinching. I did admire my own intelligence, probably a character flaw, but hopefully that wouldn’t show in my eyes. The traits I wanted to show: no nonsense, quick witted, relentless.
“You get the crap jobs,” Wilkes said, acting as if his honesty was attractive. A few hours in the gym and hair implants, maybe. Not that I didn’t find bald men attractive, just not this one. “I can’t lie,” he continued, “we’ll be throwing you every crap job that this case delivers, but you’re on a big case. That don’t happen to many newbies.”
I wasn’t that new, but I guessed he didn’t count the eight months of testing and background checks. I did. Or my training at Quantico. It all counted to me.
The agency gave us two years to prove ourselves. After that, candidates either earned their spot or were let go. I couldn’t imagine putting in all that time and failing.
I had a feeling success would require long hours and serious ass-kissing. I just needed to find someone with a cute ass. It sure wasn’t Wilkes.
We passed three large rooms filled with personnel. One looked to be the size of a football field filled with cubicles. “You’ll be in here,” Wilkes waved, “but first I want you to see the Dugout.”
He led me to a large conference room, its walls filled with crime photos, running news feeds and a huge whiteboard for pertinent case data. “The Omega Killer is priority number one,” Wilkes said, opening the conference room door for me. “This is where the main players are at bat.”
I slowed at the door, sensing a real sports theme to the way he liked to operate. Perhaps one day, I’d be his most valuable player. It looked competitive, though. Wilkes’s team already consisted of veteran agents and analysts. They seemed a cohesive group, working in unison to stop a psychotic killer.
Wilkes quickly ran through Omega’s deadly stats, but he didn’t need to bother. I knew the case inside and out. Killers were my hobby.
I made the mistake of saying that to a date once. I never saw a man escape faster, admonishing me by exclaiming: “You’re sick, truly sick.” Hopefully, my academic interest in killers wouldn’t repel men in the FBI.
Not that I was here to find a man, but I was twenty-eight and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t shake the feeling that somewhere in this organization was my perfect match. After all, I needed a man who liked to catch killers.
“Are you listening to me?” Wilkes sounded irritated.
“Yes, sir,” I answered. “The Omega Killer marks his victims’ forehead with the sign of the Omega. All indications are that it signals the moment he’s ready to make the fatal cut, into his victim’s left breast. Such a wound, based on other serial killers, suggests Omega has mommy issues, but I personally believe that it signals a desire to find love.”
Wilkes made a face at me. Clearly he did not care for my analysis. “That’s not what I was talking about. Geez, he wants to find love? Table that thought, quickly, and get back in the game.”
He raised his arms, showing off the Dugout. “Welcome to the nerve center of our investigation. We call this the show,” he said, then clapped his hands together to get the room’s attention. “Everyone, this is Intelligence Analyst Caycee Scarlet.”
The agents, analysts and techs turned from their work. Some at laptops along one side of a long mahogany conference table and others working on reports across from them. Several agents were standing, talking in a small group. They barely looked over at me, too busy for someone below them on the FBI food chain. The analysts nodded an acknowledgement. Matter-of-fact. No smiles. No words of welcome.
I gave a half-hearted nod to the room, hoping I’d make a better impression later. Probably much later, if I was reading the total lack of interest correctly. It must be the pressure of catching Omega. Tension hung in the room. With twelve victims to date, catching the killer had them all wound up.
Wilkes pointed to a side table stacked with boxes. The top one filled with old cell phones, victim personal effects and police reports. “We need them properly catalogued. You know, a searchable database. I’m told you were the most anal student in your class. Go at it.”
His voice trailed off, but I didn’t know if he’d stopped talking or I’d stopped listening. Maybe a little of both, because I read the whiteboard. One of the hand-scribbled numbers was written incorrectly.
Without thinking, I went over to the board and used the heel of my right hand to wipe off an area code. Everyone in the room stopped working and screamed at me.
“What have you done?” Wilkes shouted louder than anyone else.
I came out of my trance and blinked at him. Whatever I said next could make or break me, so I said nothing.
“Every piece of information is vital to solving the case,” he scolded. He turned to the room. “Can we fix it? What was that number?”
I quickly picked up a dry erase marker and wrote the numbers back on the board. It was only three digits.
Screams went up all around me again.
“What?” I asked. “That’s the number I erased. But it’s wrong. It’s a phone number, right? Someone transposed the area code. 3-7-1 is not an area code, but 7-3-1 is New Jersey.”
No one screamed at me that time, but their looks were deadly.
“Is that right?” Wilkes asked the room. His eyes darted from the whiteboard to the closest agent. He wanted confirmation before his head exploded.
“Shit,” the agent said.
Wilkes grabbed his head.
The agent couldn’t look at me. “She’s right, sir.”
“Okay, we’re okay, fix it and double-check everything that goes on the board, people,” Wilkes barked.
The agent took the dry erase marker from me and fixed the numbers. Wilkes waved two fingers at a petite woman with raven hair twisted into a bun. “Take care of this.” He pointed at me.
FBI Analyst Nina Dunbar instantly responded. She rolled her eyes and grabbed a stack of boxes, indicating with her elbow that I was to take the rest. “Follow me,” she sighed. “Consider this your first and last favor.”
I shot a glance at Wilkes, but he already had his nose in a file folder, barking orders to the closest agent. He had no time for me. No one did. I exited the conference room, utterly deflated by my welcome to the FBI.
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House of Glass by Sophie Littlefield
ISBN: 9780778314783 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781460327067 (ebook)
ASIN: B00FNJVSYU (Kindle edition)
Publication date: February 25, 2014
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
Jen Glass has worked hard to achieve the ideal life: a successful career, a beautiful home in an affluent suburb of Minneapolis, a seemingly perfect family. But inside the Glass house, everything is spinning out of Jen’s control. Her marriage to her husband, Ted, is on the brink of collapse; her fifteen-year-old daughter grows more distant each day; and her five-year-old son barely speaks a word. Jen is on the verge of breaking, but nothing could have prepared her for what is to come…
On an evening that was supposed to be like any other, two men force their way into the Glasses’ home, but what begins as a common robbery takes an even more terrifying turn. Held hostage in the basement for more than forty-eight hours, Jen and Ted must put aside their differences if they have any hope of survival. They will stop at nothing to keep their family safe — even if it means risking their own lives.
A taut and emotional tale of a family brought together by extraordinary forces, House of Glass is a harrowing exploration of both the lengths a mother will go to protect her children, and the power of tragedy to teach us what truly matters.
Read an Excerpt:
“Oh, God,” Livvy said, a split second after they heard the lock at the top of the stairs. She was standing apart from her parents, her arms hugging her body. Tears threatened to spill from her eyes. “It smells so bad down here!”
Ted reached for Livvy, and she fell against him. He wrapped his arms around her and hugged her close, and she sobbed against his chest. Jen picked Teddy up and rocked him gently, whispering that he shouldn’t worry about Livvy, that his sister would be just fine.
After a few moments, Livvy’s sobs subsided and she pulled away from Ted. She went to stand near the shelf where all her trophies were lined up — Mini Marlins swim, eight years of soccer, a few for softball, one from the American Legion speech contest back in middle school. Jen could see her shoulders trembling.
“Honey, it’s going to be okay,” Jen said, handing Teddy to her husband approaching Livvy cautiously. She had to keep her calm, had to make her believe she and Ted had things under control. “Once they get what they want, they’ll go.”
“But what do they even want?”
Jen put her hand on Livvy’s shoulder and gently turned her so she could look into her eyes. “Anything they can sell, I would guess. There’s the silver, my jewelry, the computers–any number of things. They’ll take it and they’ll go.”
She could see Livvy trying, wanting to believe her. She tried to make herself believe it, so her face would convince Livvy.
“I need to talk to Daddy,” she said, as calmly as she could. “Can you play with Teddy and keep him busy for a few minutes?”
Livvy nodded. She looked a little better, some of the panic gone from her eyes.
“His old toys are in here,” Jen said, getting a cardboard box down off the shelf. “I haven’t had a chance to get them over to St. Vincent De Paul’s yet. Go ahead and get them out. Whatever he wants.”
Livvy talked softly to her brother, kneeling down on the cold concrete floor next to him and peeling the tape off the box. Jenn and Ted went to the box. Jen and Ted went to the far side of the basement where the old living room furniture was stored, the pieces that Ted kept meaning to put on Craigslist. Ted lifted the old lamp shades off the couch and brushed off the cushions. When they sat down, he took her hands in his.
1590: An entire colony of British settlers vanishes from their settlement on Roanoke Island, seemingly into thin air.
1872: The freighter Marie Celeste is found drifting at sea off Gibraltar, its entire crew and passengers gone missing without a trace.
But what if there’s a connection between two of the greatest historical mysteries ever? And what if the roots of that connection lie in a crazed plot to destroy the United States as we know it today?
Those are the questions confronting Blaine McCracken as he takes up the trail of small time preacher Jeremiah Rule whose hateful rhetoric has done big time damage by inflaming an entire people half a world away, resulting in a series of devastating terrorist attacks stateside. Rule, though, isn’t acting alone. A shadowy cabal is pulling his strings, unaware they are creating a monster soon to spin free of their control.
McCracken has just returned from pulling off the impossible in Iran, ridding the world of one terrible threat only to return home to face another. Isolated in a way he’s never been before and now hunted himself, he’ll have to rely on skills and allies both old and new to get to the heart of a plan aimed at unleashing no less than the Tenth Circle of Hell. This as he contends with a failed congressman intent on changing the country to fit his own vision and an Iranian assassin bent on revenge.
Blaine’s desperate path across country and continent takes him into the past where the answers he needs lie among the missing Roanoke colonists and the contents of the Marie Celeste’s cargo holds. Those secrets alone hold the means to stop the Tenth Circle from closing. And as the bodies tumble in his wake, as the clock ticks down to an unthinkable maelstrom, McCracken and Johnny Wareagle fight to save the United States from a war the country didn’t even know it was fighting, but might well lose.
Published by: Open Road Integrated Media
Publication Date: December 24, 2013
Number of Pages: 420
Read an excerpt:
The Negev Desert, Israel; the present
“We have incoming, General! Anti-missile batteries are responding!”
General Yitzak Berman focused his gaze on the desperate scenario unfolding in amazingly realistic animation on the huge screen before him. Eight missiles fired from Iran sped toward all major population centers of Israel in a perfect geometric pattern, about to give the nation’s Arrow anti-missile system its greatest test yet.
“Sir,” reported the head of the analysts squeezed into the underground bunker from which Israel maintained command and control, “initial specs indicate the size, weight and sourcing of the missiles . . .”
“Proceed,” the general said when the analyst stopped to swallow hard.
“They’re nuclear, sir, in the fifty kiloton range.”
Another young man picked up from there. “Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, the Mediterranean coast, the Sinai, our primary airfields . . .” He looked back toward Sherman. “And here, sir.”
“Anti-missile batteries are launching!” a new voice blared through the strangely dim lighting that seemed to flutter as the missiles drew closer.
And Sherman watched the animated simulation of dozens and dozens of Israeli Arrow rockets, along with larger American Patriots, shooting upward in line with the incoming missiles. Four hits were scored in the maelstrom of animated smoke bursts, more rockets launched to chase down the remaining four nukes that had survived the first salvo.
“We have two more confirmed downed!” yet another young voice rang out.
But the bunker fell silent as the sophisticated animation continued to follow two surviving Iranian missiles as they streaked toward Tel Aviv and Haifa.
“Schmai Israel, hallileh hoseh,” one of the young voices began, reciting the prayer softly as the missiles’ arc turned downward, on a direct course to their targets with nothing left to stop their flight.
“Order our fighters holding at their failsafe positions to launch their attacks,” instructed Berman. “Destroy Iran.”
He’d barely finished when two flashes burst out from the animated screen, bright enough to force several squeezed into the bunker to shield their eyes. As those flashes faded amid the stunned silence and odor of stale perspiration hanging in the air, the bunker’s regular lighting snapped back on.
“This concludes the simulation,” a mechanical voice droned. “Repeat, this concludes the simulation.”
With that, a bevy of Israeli officials, both civilian and military, emerged from the rear-most corner of the bunker, all wearing dour expressions.
Israel’s female defense minister stepped forward ahead of the others. “Your point is made, General,” she said to Berman. “Not that we needed any further convincing.”
“I’m glad we all agree that the Iranian nuclear threat can no longer be tolerated,” Berman, the highest-ranking member of the Israeli military left alive who’d fought in the Six-Day War, told them. “We’ve been over all this before. The difference is we’re now certain our defenses cannot withstand an Iranian attack, leaving us with casualty estimates of up to a million dead and two million wounded, many of them gravely. Fifty simulations, all with results similar to the ones you have just witnessed.” He hesitated, eyes hardened through two generations of war boring into the defense minister’s. “I want your formal authorization.”
“To destroy the Iranian nuclear complex at Natanz.”
Israel’s defense minister started to smile, then simply shook her head. “We’ve been over this before, a hundred times. Our army can’t do it, our air force can’t do it, our commandos can’t do it, and the Americans are saying the very same thing from their end. You want my authorization to do the impossible? You’ve got it. Just don’t expect any backup, extraction, or political cover.”
Yitzak Berman returned his gaze to the wall-sized screen where animated versions of Tel Aviv and Haifa had turned dark. “The man I have in mind won’t need of any of that.”
“Did you say man?”
“We are descending through a million tons of solid rock,” the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Minister of Energy, Ali Akbar Hosseini, told the filmmaker squeezed in the elevator by both his equipment and the trio of Revolutionary Guardsmen. “A technological achievement in its own right. You understand the great task you’ve been entrusted to perform.”
“Just as you must understand I’m the best at my job, just like your scientists are at theirs,” said the bearded, award winning filmmaker Hosseini knew as Najjar. Najjar’s appearance was exactly as depicted in photographs, save for the scar through his left eyebrow the minister did not recall. He was dressed casually in dark cargo pants and long-sleeve cotton shirt rolled up at the sleeves, bulky clothing that hid what was clearly a V-shaped, well-muscled frame beneath. “I was told I’d be given total access to the facility.”
“And you will, at least those parts deemed appropriate by me.”
“That wasn’t part of the deal. It never is with my work.”
“This is a different kind of opportunity.”
The elevator started to slow.
“Then you should have gotten a filmmaker more adept at wedding videos,” Najjar snapped. “Perhaps we’ve both made a mistake.”
“You are about to see what few men ever have,” Hosseini continued, wearing a fashionable suit instead of a military uniform. “And it will be your blessed privilege to chronicle it for the world to see when the time is right. You call that a mistake?”
“You chose me because I’m the best. I ask only that you treat me that way.”
“I could have retained a simple videographer for this assignment,” Hosseini said, his shoulders stiffening. “I chose you because I wanted something that would stand the test of history. This will be my legacy, my contribution to our glorious Republic, and I want it to be celebrated, not just appreciated, a century from now. I want anyone who watches to see not just a place, but a point in history that changed the world forever. An awesome responsibility I’m entrusting you with.”
“I look forward to exceeding your expectations.”
Hosseini’s eyes fell on the bulky equipment lying at the filmmaker’s feet; a camera, portable lights, and a quartet of shoebox-sized rechargeable batteries to supply power. “Others I’ve worked with have turned to much smaller cameras for video, even ones that look like they only take pictures.”
“And how did their work turn out?” asked the filmmaker, his tone still biting.
“Acceptable, but not impressive. This assignment clearly required something more, a case I had to make to the Council’s finance board to justify your fee.”
“If you aren’t satisfied with what I produce for you, you owe nothing. I’ll return my fee to the Council personally.”
“Both of us know that will not be necessary. Both of us know you will produce something that will stand the test of time through the ages and serve both of us well,” Hosseini said to the man he’d personally selected for the job.
“I value your regard and the confidence you have in me,” Najjar said more humbly in Farsi.
Then he slung the camera over his shoulder and scooped up the batteries and portable lights in his grasp, beckoning the minister to exit ahead of him.
“After you,” said Blaine McCracken.
Washington, DC; two months earlier
“You’re kidding, right?” Blaine McCracken said after the Israeli he knew only as “David” finished.
“You come highly recommended, Mr. McCracken. Back home you’re considered a legend.”
“Another word for dinosaur.”
“But far from extinct. And my American friends tell me you’re the only one they believe can get this done.”
“Meaning I’d have to succeed where two governments have failed.”
David shrugged, the gesture further exaggerating the size of his neck that seemed a stubby extension of his shoulders and trapezious muscles. He wasn’t a tall man but unnaturally broad through the upper body. McCracken couldn’t make out his eyes well in the darkness, but imagined them to be furtive and noncommittal.
They’d met at the Observation Deck of the Washington Monument. Closed to the public for repairs indefinitely, but still accessible by workmen, though not at night, always McCracken’s favorite time to view Washington. He liked imagining what was going on in offices where lights still burned, plans were being hatched and fates determined. There was so much about the city he hated but plenty from which he couldn’t detach himself. In the vast majority of those offices, officials were trying to do good; at least, they believed they were.
McCracken found himself wondering which of those offices David had come here from; it would be State or Defense in the old days, across the river in Langley just as often. These days it was Homeland Security, the catch-all and watch word that got people nodding in silence, Homeland’s offices spread out all over the city proper and thus responsible for an untold number of the lights that still burned.
A few work lamps provided the only illumination inside the gutted Observation Deck, riddled with a musty basement-like smell of old, stale concrete and wood rot mixed with fresh lumber and sawdust which covered the exposed floor like a floating rug. David had sneezed a few times upon first entering, passing it off as allergies.
“It’s not that we’ve failed,” David told him, “it’s that all the plans we’ve considered have been rejected out of hand. We’ve come to you for something non-traditional that no one expects.”
“You’ve got a lot of faith in me.”
“If anyone can do it, it’s you. Otherwise, we will have no choice but to try something that is doomed to fail and perhaps even make things worse. But our hands are tied. With Iran so close to getting their bomb, the choice is gone.”
“Your name’s not really David, is it?” McCracken asked the Israeli.
“Why would you think that?”
“Because the last few times I’ve worked with your country, my contacts were named David too. A reference to David and Goliath maybe?”
A flicker of a smile crossed the Israeli’s lips. “I’m told you had a plan.”
“No, what I’ve got is an idea. It’s risky, dangerous, and I haven’t even broached it to the powers at be here.”
“Because you don’t think they’d be interested?”
“Because they haven’t asked.” McCracken looked out through the window at the twinkling office lights again, already fewer of them than just a few minutes before, imagining the kind of things being discussed after office hours had concluded. “The only time my phone rings these days is when the SEALS or Delta have already passed on the mission, with good reason this time.”
“We’re asking,” said David. “You, not them. And we’ll provide you with the right resources, any resources you require.”
McCracken gave David a longer look, the younger man’s thick nest of curly hair making him seem vulnerable and innocent at the same time when neither was true. “Tell me you’re ready to fight fire with fire. Tell me that’s what you meant about making the right resources available.”
David seemed to grasp his meaning immediately. “And if we are?”
Natanz, Iran; the present
McCracken lugged the equipment from the elevator, careful to show strain and exertion on his features to avoid raising any suspicions in Hosseini. The hall before them was brightly lit, as clean and sterile as a hospital’s. The air smelled of nothing; not antiseptic, not solvent, not fresh tile. Nothing. The lighting looked unbalanced, harsh in some places and dull in others.
The new Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s successor, had made no secret of his desire to chronicle Iran’s greatest technological achievement ever. When the time was right, he wanted the world to see the true scope of his country’s accomplishment, so long hidden behind innuendo and subterfuge. Like the mullahs themselves, he was at heart a braggart obsessed with cementing his own legacy in a way history could not deny.
Najjar, the award winning Iranian filmmaker chosen for that task, was virtually the same height and weight as McCracken and the two men bore more than a passing resemblance to each other right up to the scruffiness of their tightly trimmed beards. Of course, the plan was not without its flaws. Most notably, McCracken had no idea when Najjar would be summoned to capture the Natanz facility in all its glory. Based on the current timetable for the Iranians’ ability to generate enough fissionable material from the refuse of their vast centrifuges, though, he guessed no more than six months.
It turned out to be only two.
The filmmaker Najjar was already under twenty-four-hour surveillance by Israeli Mossad agents long entrenched within Iranian society. Barely an hour after the filmmaker was contacted by Minister Hosseini’s office on extremely short notice, McCracken boarded a private jet with a make-up specialist on board to finish the job of matching his appearance as closely as possible to Najjar’s. The result, after a laborious process that took much of the flight, exceeded even his expectations. The lone oversight had been not to disguise the scar through McCracken’s left eyebrow from a wayward bullet decades before. Although Minister Hosseini had clearly noticed it, he seemed unbothered by its presence.
While Najjar waited in his apartment for his government car to arrive, a fresh Mossad team just in country entered his apartment by using a key fit to the specifications of his lock based on the serial number. The filmmaker, who was still packing, was unconscious in seconds with McCracken ready in his stead, equipment in hand, as soon as the car arrived for the first leg of his journey.
Once out of the elevator, he knew he was about to encounter plenty not mentioned in David’s reports on the structure and its schematics. Israel’s intelligence on the Natanz facility was an amalgamation of satellite reconnaissance, prisoner and defector interrogations, and four separate brilliantly crafted infiltrations. Each of these had revealed the particulars of at least a section of the facility, but even taken in sum they didn’t offer a thorough rendering of all of it.
The assembled intelligence did reveal a sprawling single-level underground facility. The original plans had called for multiple levels but this had proven too onerous from both a construction and security standpoint. Natanz had been chosen for the site of the plant specifically because of the heavy layers of limestone and shale beneath which it would be contained, along with an under layer of nearly impenetrable volcanic rock formed in prehistoric times. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the nuclear generating plant that sat at ground level was not positioned directly over the underground facility at all; rather, it served as effective camouflage for the vast tunneling efforts that had forged Natanz from the side instead of from above. The facility was laid out roughly in a square, the size of six football fields laid next to each other, and featured the sophisticated technology required to enrich uranium along with the centrifuges responsible for generating it, a process that undoubtedly included the massive pumps and water systems required for cooling.
But the very features that made Natanz impenetrable to an attack from above made it vulnerable to what McCracken was planning from within.
David versus Goliath indeed.
“One more thing before we get started,” Hosseini said, opening a door McCracken hadn’t noticed before. “If you’d join me inside here. . .”
* * *
It was a locker room, more or less, each open cubicle featuring an orange radiation suit and wrist monitor hanging from a hook inside.
“Standard procedure,” the minister explained. “The lightest weight suit manufactured anywhere. You slip it on right over your clothes,” he continued, starting to do just that himself.
McCracken followed in step. Modern, sophisticated nuclear plants like this were hardly prone to leaks, so the donning of such protective material could only mean Hosseini meant what he said about assembling a complete picture of one of the world’s most secret facilities. And something else was obvious as well: That after hearing and seeing so much, there was no way McCracken was getting out of here alive.
THE DESCENT INTO HELL IS NOT ALWAYS VERTICAL…
Sam Hudson, a reputable San Diego attorney, learns this when the authorities wrongfully convict him of the brutal rape and murder of his wife and daughter, and sends him to death row. There he awaits execution by lethal injection.
If he survives that long.
In prison, Sam fights for his life while his attorney works frantically on his appeal. It is then that he embraces the faith of his departed wife and begins to manifest supernatural abilities. Abilities which help him save lives- his own, those of his unlikely allies-and uncover the true killer’s identity, unlocking the door to his exoneration.
Now a free man, Sam’s newfound faith confronts him with the most insurmountable challenge yet. A challenge beyond vengeance, beyond rage, beyond anything Sam believes himself capable of: to forgive the very man who murdered his family, according to his faith. But this endeavor reveals darker secrets than either Sam or the killer could ever have imagined. Secrets that hurtle them into a fateful collision course.
Beyond Justice, a tale of loss, redemption, and the power of faith.
“…A riveting legal thriller…breaking new ground with a vengeance… demonically entertaining and surprisingly inspiring.”
The descent into Hell is not always vertical.
Bishop Frank Morgan
THE QUESTION MOST PEOPLE ASK when they first meet me is: How does an attorney from a reputable law firm in La Jolla end up on death row? When they hear my story, it becomes clear that the greater question is not how, but why.
I have found it difficult at times to forgive myself for what happened. But a significant part of the answer involves forgiveness, something I never truly understood until I could see in hindsight.
Orpheus went through hell and back to rescue his wife Euridice from death in the underworld. Through his music, he moved the hearts of Hades and Persephone and they agreed to allow Euridice to return with him to Earth on one condition: He must walk before her and not look back until they reached the upper world. On seeing the Sun, Orpheus turned to share his delight with Euridice, and she disappeared. He had broken his promise and she was gone forever. This failure and guilt was a hell far worse than the original.
My own personal hell began one night almost four years ago. Like images carved into flesh, the memories of that night would forever be etched into my mind. The work day had been tense enough, my position at the firm was in jeopardy because of the inexplicable appearance of lewd internet images in my folder on the main file server.
Later that night, as I scrambled to get out the door on time for a critical meeting with a high profile client, my son Aaron began throwing a screaming fit. Hell hath no fury like a boy who has lost his Thomas Train toy. In my own frenzied state, I lost my temper with him. Amazing how much guilt a four-year-old can pile on you with puppy-dog eyes while clinging to his mother’s legs. His sister Bethie, in all her seventh grade sagacity, proclaimed that I had issues, then marched up to her room, slammed the door and took out her frustration with me by tearing though a Paganini Caprice on her violin. All this apocalypse just minutes before leaving for my meeting, which was to be held over a posh dinner at George’s At The Cove, which I would consequently have no stomach for.
I couldn’t wait to get home. The clock’s amber LED read 11:28 when I pulled my Lexus into the cul-de-sac. Pale beams from a pregnant moon cut through the palm trees that lined our street. The October breeze rushed into the open window and through my hair, a cool comfort after a miserable evening.
If I was lucky, Jenn would be up and at the computer, working on her latest novel. She’d shooed me out the door lest I ran late for the meeting, before I could make any more of a domestic mess for her to clean up.
The garage door came down. I walked over to the security system control box and found it unarmed. On more than one occasion, I had asked Jenn to arm it whenever I was out. She agreed, but complained that the instructions were too complicated. It came with a pretty lame manual, I had to admit.
The system beeped as I entered the house, greeted by the sweet scent of Lilac, her favorite candles for those special occasions. So much more than I deserved, but that was my Jenn. Never judging, never condemning, she understood how much stress I’d been under and always prescribed the best remedy for such situations.
From the foot of the stairs I saw dimmed light leaking out of the bedroom. It wasn’t even date night, but I had a pretty good idea what she was thinking. So before going up, I stopped by the kitchen, filled a pair of glasses with Merlot and set out a little box of chocolates on a breakfast tray, my secret weapon.
As I climbed the stairs I smiled. The closer I got, the more I could smell the fragrant candles. From the crack in the door classical music flowed out: Pie Jesu from Faure’s Requiem. Must’ve been writing a love scene. She always used my classical CDs to set her in the right mood.
A beam of amber light reached through the crack in the doorway into the hallway. The alarm system beeped. She must have shut a window. It had just started to rain and Jenn hated when the curtains got wet.
Kathleen Battle’s angelic voice soared.
Pie Jesu Domine,
Dona eis requiem,
Jenn didn’t know a word of Latin. She just liked the pretty tunes.
I nudged the door open with my foot.
“Honey?” Caught a glimpse of a silky leg on the bed. Oh, yes. I pushed the door open.
Shock ignited every nerve ending in my body like napalm. The tray fell from my hands. Crashed to the ground. Glasses shattered and the red wine bled darkly onto the carpet.
Jenn lay partially naked, face-down, the sheets around her soaked crimson. Stab wounds scored her entire body. Blood. Blood everywhere!
I ran to her, turned her over.
She gasped, trying to speak. Coughed. Red spittle dripped from the corner of her mouth. “The kids…”
I took her into my arms. But her eyes begged me to go check on them.
“You hang on, honey. With all you’ve got, hang on!” I reached for my cell phone but it fell out of my belt clip and bounced under the bed.
On my knees now, I groped wildly until I found the cell phone. Dialed 9-1-1. Barely remembered what I said, but they were sending someone right away.
Jenn groaned. Her breaths grew shorter and shorter.
Her eyes rolled back.
“I’m going. Hang on, baby. Please! You gotta hang on!” I started for the door. Felt her hand squeeze mine twice: Love-you.
Tears streamed down my face. As I began to pull away, she gripped my hand urgently. For that split second, I knew. This was the end. I stumbled back to her. Gathered her ragdoll body in to my arms.
“Jenn, oh God, Jenn. Please don’t!”
“Whatever it takes,” she said. Again, she squeezed my hand twice. “Mercy, not…sacrifice.” One last gasp. She sighed and then fell limp in my arms, her eyes still open.
Holding her tight to my chest, I let out an anguished cry.
All time stopped. Who would do this? Why? Her blood stained my shirt. Her dying words resonated in my mind. Then I remembered. The kids. I bolted up and ran straight to Bethie’s room.
Bethie’s door was ajar. If my horror hadn’t been complete, it was now. I found her exactly like Jenn, face down, blood and gashes covering her body.
Though I tried to cry out, nothing escaped the vice-grip on my throat. When I turned her over, I felt her arm. Still warm, but only slightly. Her eyes were shut, her face wet with blood.
“Bethie! Oh, sweetie, no!” I whispered, as I wrapped the blanket around her.
I kissed her head. Held her hand. Rocked her back and forth. “Come on, baby girl. Help’s on its way, you hold on,” I said, voice and hands trembling. She lay there unconscious but breathing.
Gently, I lay Bethie back down then got up and flew across the hall. To Aaron’s door. His night light was still on and I saw his outline in the bed.
Oh God, please.
I flipped the switch.
I dashed over to the lamp on his nightstand, nearly slipping on one of his Thomas Train toys on the carpet. Broken glass crackled under my shoes.
I switched on the lamp on his nightstand. When I looked down to his bed, my legs nearly gave out. Aaron was still under his covers, but blood drenched his pillow. His aluminum baseball bat lay on the floor, dented and bloodied.
Dropping to my knees, I called his name. Over and over, I called, but he didn’t stir. This can’t be happening. It’s got to be a nightmare. I put my face down into Aaron’s blue Thomas Train blanket and gently rested my ear on his chest.
I felt movement under the blanket. Breathing. But slowly, irregular and shallow.
Don’t move his body. Dammit, where are the paramedics?
I heard something from Bethie;s room and dashed out the door. Stopping in the middle of the hallway, I clutched the handrail over the stairs. Thought I heard Aaron crying now. Or maybe it was the wind.
My eyes darted from one side of the hallway to the other. Which room?
Faure’s Requiem continued to play, now the In Paradisum movement.
Aeternam habeas requiem.
Something out in front of the house caught my attention. The police, the paramedics! Propelled by adrenaline, I crashed through the front door and ran out into the middle my lawn which was slick with rain. I slipped and fell on my side.
Nobody. Where were they!
Like a madman, I began screaming at the top of my lungs. My words echoed emptily into the night.
“Help! Somebody, please!”
A dog started barking.
“Please, ANYBODY! HELP!”
Lights flickered on in the surrounding houses.
Eyes peeked through miniblinds.
No one came out.
I don’t know if I was intelligible at this point. I was just screaming, collapsed onto the ground, on my hands and knees getting drenched in the oily rain.
Just as the crimson beacons of an ambulance flashed around the corner, I buried my face into the grass. All sound, light, and consciousness imploded into my mind as if it were a black hole.
WINNER OF the INTERNATIONAL BOOK AWARDS (Beyond Justice), #1 bestselling author Joshua Graham’s award-winning novel DARKROOM hit 3 bestseller lists on Amazon the night of its release.
CBS NEWS described DARKROOM as a book with “action, political intrigue and well-rounded characters…a novel that thriller fans will devour.”
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY described BEYOND JUSTICE as: “A riveting legal thriller…breaking new ground with a vengeance…demonically entertaining and surprisingly inspiring.”
Suspense Magazine listed BEYOND JUSTICE in its BEST OF 2010, alongside titles by Scott Turrow, Ted Dekker, Steven James and Brad Thor.
His short story THE DOOR’S OPEN won the HarperCollins Authonomy Competition (Christmas 2010.)
Many of Graham’s readers blame him for sleepless nights, arriving to work late, neglected dishes and family members, and not allowing them to put the book down.
Josh grew up in Brooklyn, NY where he lived for the better part of 30 years. He holds a Bachelor and Master’s Degree and went on to earn his doctorate from Johns Hopkins University. During his time in Maryland, he taught as a professor at Shepherd College (WV), Western Maryland College, and Columbia Union College (MD).
Today he lives with his beautiful wife and children on the West Coast. Several of Graham’s short fiction works have been published under various pen names by Pocket Books and Dawn Treader Press. Writing under the pen name Ian Alexander, Graham debuted with his first Epic Fantasy novel ONCE WE WERE KINGS, an Amazon #1 Bestseller in multiple categories and Award-Winning Finalist in the SciFi/Fantasy category of The USA “Best Books 2011 Awards, as well as an Award-Winning Finalist in the Young Adult Fiction category of The USA “Best Books 2011 Awards, and an Award Winner in the 2011 Forward National Literature Awards in the Teen/Young Adult category. ONCE WE WERE KINGS is available in ebook and hardcover editions.
For Film Rights Josh is represented by UNITED TALENT AGENCY.
Catch Up With the Author:
on Tour February 1 – March 31, 2014
Genre: Mystery & Detective; Women Sleuths
Published by: Witness Impulse
Publication Date: 1/28/2014
Number of Pages: 384
Series: DI Geraldine Steel #3, Stand Alone
When headmistress Abigail Kirby’s corpse is discovered in the woods, police are shocked to learn that her tongue was cut out while she lay dying. Then, shortly after a witness comes forward, he is blinded and murdered. With mangled dead bodies appearing at an alarmingly increasing rate, Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel is in a race against time to find the killer before he claims his next victim…
Read an excerpt:
Abigail Kirby lay on the table like a waxwork model, her face cleaned-up to reveal her square chin. Geraldine approached and forced herself to look at the victim’s open mouth: between even teeth the stump of her tongue looked surprisingly neat. Abigail Kirby stared back as though in silent protest at this scrutiny.
The pathologist looked up and Geraldine recognized the tall dark-haired medical examiner who had examined the body in the wood. ‘Hello again Inspector. You’ll forgive me if I don’t shake hands.’
Geraldine glanced down at his bloody gloves.
Catch Up With the Author:
a Rafflecopter giveaway
on Tour Jan 27 – Feb 28, 2014
John Burley’s The Absence of Mercy is a harrowing tale of suspense involving a brutal murder and dark secrets that lie beneath the surface of a placid, tight-knit Midwestern town.
When a brutally murdered teenager is discovered in the woods surrounding a small Ohio town, Dr. Ben Stevenson—the town’s medical examiner—must decide if he’s willing to put his family’s life in danger to uncover the truth. Finding himself pulled deeper into an investigation with devastating consequences, he discovers shocking information that will shatter his quiet community, and force him to confront a haunting truth.
With its eerie portrait of suburban life and nerve-fraying plot twists, The Absence of Mercy is domestic drama at its best for fans of Harlan Coben, Laura Lippman, Jennifer McMahon, and Lisa Gardner.
Read an excerpt:
This is not the beginning.
Up ahead, a young man sporting jeans and a black Tshirt walks casually down the concrete sidewalk. He hums softly to himself as he ambles along, Nikebound feet slapping rhythmically on the serpentine path he weaves through the late afternoon foot traffic. He is perhaps fifteen—not truly a young man yet, but certainly well on his way—and he walks with the energy and indifference of one who possesses the luxury of youth but not yet the experience to appreciate its value, or its evanescence.
The predator watches the young man turn a corner, disappearing temporarily from view behind the brick exterior of an adjacent building. Still, he maintains a respectable distance, for although he has an instinct for how to proceed, he now relinquishes control to something else entirely. For as long as he can remember he has sensed its presence, lurking behind the translucent curtain of the insignificant daily activities of his life. The thing waits for him to join it, to embrace it—observes him with its dark and faithful eyes. But there are times—times like this—when it waits no longer, when the curtain is drawn aside and it emerges, demanding to be dealt with.
The young man in the black Tshirt reaches the end of the street and proceeds across a small clearing. On the other side of the clearing is a modest thatch of woods through which a dirt trail, overgrown with the foliage of an early spring, meanders for about two hundred yards until it reaches the neighborhood just beyond.
The predator picks up his pace, closing the distance between them. He can feel the staccato of his heart kick into third gear, where power wrestles fleetingly with speed. The thing that lives behind the curtain is with him now—has become him. Its breath, wet and heavy and gritty with dirt, slides in and out of his lungs, mixing with his own quick respirations. The incessant march of its pulse thrums along eagerly behind his temples, blanching his vision slightly with each beat. Ahead of him is the boy, his slender frame swinging slightly as he walks, almost dancing, as if his long muscles dangled delicately from a metal hanger. For a moment, watching from behind as he completes the remaining steps between them, the predator is struck by the sheer beauty of that movement, and an unconscious smile falls across his face.
The sound of his footsteps causes the boy to turn, to face him now, arms hanging limply at his sides. As he does, the predator’s left hand swings quickly upward from where it had remained hidden behind his leg a moment before. His hand is curled tightly around an object, its handle connected to a thin metal shaft, long and narrow and tapered at the end to a fine point. It reaches the pinnacle of its arcing swing and enters the boy’s neck, dead center, just below the jaw. A slight jolt reverberates through the predator’s arm as the tip of the rod strikes the underside of the boy’s skull. He can feel the warmth of the boy’s skin pressing up against the flesh of his own hand as the instrument comes to rest. The boy opens his mouth to scream, but the sound is choked off by the blood filling the back of his throat. The predator pulls his arm down and away, feeling the ease with which the instrument exits the neck.
He pauses a moment, watching the boy struggle, studying the shocked confusion in his eyes. The mouth in front of him opens and closes silently. The head shakes slowly back and forth in negation. He leans in closer now, holding the boy’s gaze. The hand gripping the instrument draws back slightly in preparation for the next blow; then he pistons it upward, the long metal tip punching its way through the boy’s diaphragm and into his chest. He watches the body go rigid, watches the lips form the circle of a silent scream, the eyes wide and distant.
The boy crumples to the ground, and the predator goes with him, cradling a shoulder with his right hand, his eyes fixed on that bewildered, pallid face. He can see that the boy’s consciousness is waning now, can feel the muscles going limp in his grasp. Still, he tries to connect with those eyes, wonders what they are seeing in these final moments. He imagines what it might feel like for the world to slide away at the end, to feel the stage go dark and to step blindly into that void between this world and the next, naked and alone, waiting for what comes after . . . if anything at all.
The cool earth shifts slightly beneath his fingers, and in the space of a second the boy is gone, leaving behind his useless, broken frame. “No,” the predator whispers to himself, for the moment has passed too quickly. He shakes the body, looking for signs of life. But there is nothing. He is alone now in the woods. The realization sends him into a rage. The instrument in his hand rises and falls again and again, wanting to punish, to admonish, to hurt. When the instrument no longer satisfies him, he casts it aside, using his hands, nails, and teeth to widen the wounds. The body yields impassively to the assault, the macerated flesh falling away without conviction, the pooling blood already a lifeless thing. Eventually, the ferocity of the attack begins to taper. He rests on his hands and knees, drawing in quick, ragged breaths.
Next time, I will do better, he promises the thing that lives behind the curtain. But when he turns to look the thing is gone, the curtain drawn closed once again.
Just Add Spice
by Carol Wyer
on Tour November 2013
Escape from reality comes in patent-leather Prada knee boots
Dawn Ellis needs to escape from her painfully dull existence. Her unemployed husband spends all day complaining about life, moping around, or fixing lawnmowers on her kitchen table. The local writing class proves to be an adequate distraction with its eccentric collection of wannabe authors and, of course, the enigmatic Jason, who soon shows a romantic interest in her.
Dawn pours her inner frustrations into her first novel about the extraordinary exploits of Cinnamon Knight, an avenging angel — a woman who doesn’t believe in following the rules. Cinnamon is ruthless and wanton, inflicting suffering on any man who warrants it. Little does Dawn realise that soon the line between reality and fiction will blur. Her own life will be transformed, and those close to her will pay the price.
Read an excerpt:
Cinnamon Knight ground the stub of her Benson and Hedges’ cigarette into the pavement with the heel of her Prada leather motorcycle boot, where it now joined a small pile of tab ends. Strategically placed in a shop doorway, she watched the top left window of a block of flats opposite. She had been there almost two hours. Rain beat steadily on the pavement, drumming against the gutter with constant thuds, but this did not deter her. Her patience was rewarded as the light blazing from the window was finally extinguished. She sauntered across the road to the BMW parked in front of the block of flats along the kerbside, sandwiched between a Peugeot 205 and a C Class Mercedes.
Dressed completely in black, face partially obscured by her North Face hooded jacket; she was almost invisible next to the dark car. It took only a minute to fiddle with the lock, open the door, and slide into the car. She lowered herself down in the driver’s seat, casting a cursory glance out of the window. The streets were empty. The weather was on her side and no one was braving the downpour, not even the old man at the end of the road who rarely missed taking his dog out for an evening stroll.
She leant forward and pulled off the cover below the steering wheel with one deft movement. Extracting the screwdriver from a neat case, she stabbed it into the ignition lock. A quick fiddle, one sharp twist, and the car burst into life; the persistent thudding of the rain against the pavement hid the initial coughing of the engine. She pulled away from the kerb swiftly and headed up the road at speed.
Pushing the hood away from her head, she checked her face in the rear-view mirror. That’ll teach him to mess about with women, she thought. No one, but no one, messes about with Cinnamon—the rat!
Tour Host Participants:
When Clare Ballard sports a new bruise on her right cheek the day after a contentious town meeting, the ladies of the Thursday Morning Breakfast Club suspect her husband Roger of abusing her. That same day Hester Franklin, another breakfast club lady, is called to rescue her grandson Patrick after he is arrested for transporting drugs. Proclaiming his innocence, Patrick threatens that those who set him up will pay. Roger Ballard is high on his list. But it’s when Lillie Mae Harris, the club’s leader, discovers the body of the local drug dealer on the nearby hiking trail, that the community is upended. Roger Ballard, the primary suspect, goes missing, and when his body turns up in his own back yard, Clare Ballard confesses to his murder. No one believes she did it, but Clare insists she’s guilty and mysteriously refuses to talk to her lawyer, the police, or her family and friends. The Thursday Morning Breakfast Club ladies believe she’s protecting someone, and they vow to find out who it is. Charlie Warren, the town’s homegrown policeman, using unconventional means, collaborates with the breakfast club ladies to draw out the real criminal. But danger lurks. Alice Portman, the matriarch of the breakfast club, is struck down in her own yard and is sent to the hospital. Then others in the small community start to disappear-one after the other. As the ladies get closer to the truth, they get closer to the danger. With no time to cry over spilled coffee, they form a plan to capture the true culprits before someone else is murdered.