Book Showcase: NUMBER ONE FAN by Meg Elison

NUMBER ONE FAN by Meg Elison book coverNumber One Fan by Meg Elison
ISBN: 9780778386155 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9780369718501 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488214615 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B09M985ND7 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B09GB91DJ1 (Kindle edition)
Release Date: August 30, 2022
Publisher: MIRA Books
Genre: Fiction | Horror | Thriller | Psychological Fiction

“A tense ride from the start…terrific.” —Richard Kadrey, New York Times bestselling author of Sandman Slim

She created a beautiful world. Now he wants it all.

On her way to a speaking engagement, bestselling novelist Eli Grey gets into a cab and accepts a drink from the driver, trusting that everything is fine. She wakes up chained in the stranger’s basement. With no close family or friends expecting her to check in, Eli knows she needs to save herself. She soon realizes that her abduction wasn’t random, and though she thinks she might recognize her captor, she can’t figure out what he wants. Her only clues are that he’s very familiar with her books and deeply invested in the fantastical world she creates. What follows is a test of wills as Eli pits herself against a man who believes she owes him everything—and is determined to take it from her.

Terrifying and timely, set against the backdrop of convention culture and the MeToo reckoning, Number One Fan unflinchingly examines the tension between creator and work, fandom and source material, and the rage of fans who feel they own fiction.

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Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER 1

The car rolled into view, the lit decals on the dashboard letting Eli know that her driver was typical: working for all the rideshare services at once.

Gotta hustle, she thought as she quickened her pace away from the airfield. She hoped he hadn’t been waiting long.

“Elizabeth?” He seemed bored, not even bothering to turn around.

“That’s right. I go by Eli, though.”

“Sure,” he said, tapping his phone.

She settled in, her satchel beside her. “Thank you.”

The car was air conditioned against the cushion of heat that pressed against its tinted windows, and as they headed toward the freeway, she finally began to relax. She was grateful the driver didn’t seem to want to talk. She was tired of talking from the event, and her throat was dry and sore.

“There is a cold drink there in the cup holder. Down in the door.” His voice was low, a raspy baritone.

“Oh, cool, thanks.” Eli reached down and felt the blessed condensation on a plastic bottle. She pulled up a blue Gatorade and wrenched it open, suddenly very thirsty. She drank half of it in huge gulps, disliking the weird, salty taste of the electrolyte mixture but unable to stop herself. It felt good, after hours of talking and the dry air of the flight. She breathed deep and drank again, coming close to finishing it off.

Must be the heat, she thought. That and the two miniature bottles of Jack Daniel’s she’d had to calm her nerves on the plane.

Her phone vibrated in her pocket in an unfamiliar cadence and she slid it out to check.

Her notification from the rideshare app blared BRENDA HAS CANCELED THE RIDE FOR REASON: NO-SHOW. YOU HAVE BEEN CHARGED A CANCELLATION FEE OF $5.

Eli frowned at her phone. Had she summoned two cars by accident?

She unlocked it with her facial scan and checked. The app showed only one ride: a black Prius driven by Brenda, which had arrived five minutes ago and canceled four minutes after that.

It wasn’t a busy day at the airfield. It certainly wasn’t curbside pickup at SFO, but it was still possible that she had gotten in the wrong car.

But he had known her name.

She leaned forward to get the driver’s attention. “Hey, just clarifying—you’ve got my info, right? I just got a cancellation from another driver, and I’m worried that I got someone else’s ride.”

The driver tapped his phone and his eyes darted between it, the rearview mirror, and the road. “Elizabeth Grey. Headed to the Sheraton, right?”

The phone displayed a highlighted blue route along the freeway. It was a map program, rather than the rideshare’s software, but Eli had seen drivers toggle between those before. She glanced up at the rearview mirror, but his eyes were on the road and he had put on a pair of dark glasses.

“Right,” she said. “Huh. Wonder what happened.”

Eli settled back into her seat. She stared out the window and thought of home, of the deep grey fog rolling down over the hillsides and the wind coming in, salty from the Bay. She was homesick. Even in the same state, the air felt wrong on her skin. Los Angeles had been an endless parade of palm trees against a blameless sky, and the tacos were so good she could barely stop shoveling them in, but the traffic had left her feeling exhausted upon every arrival.

And then there was the way that people looked you over in Los Angeles, deciding whether you were famous or fuckable or useful in some other way before sliding on to the next thing. Her audiences had been lively and engaging but draining, and after each of her events, she’d wanted nothing but some dinner, a hot bath and sleep. Maybe a couple fingers of bourbon over ice.

Traveling always left her wrung-out and unmoored. It didn’t help that the sun was so all-encompassing outside the car it could have been anywhere, any time of day, the hot, white light blinding. She couldn’t look at a surface other than the black asphalt without squinting. Living in San Francisco gave her what she had thought was a passing acquaintance with the sun, but the glare as the 10 freeway led out of Los Angeles county and into the high desert landscape was just too much.

How are people here not dog-tired all the time? Doesn’t the heat suck all the life out of them? How do they ever leave the house? Christ, it’s March. Imagine later in the year. I gotta get some sunglasses.

She set the phone beside her on the seat to avoid pawing it in and out of her jeans. She belatedly buckled her seatbelt as they picked up speed. Out the window, the freeway was sliding past, one unfamiliar mile blending into the next.

The driver turned his radio on. It annoyed her at first that he had not asked, but then she reminded herself that he probably spent the whole day in his car. She wasn’t talking; he was probably both lonely and bored. Let him have his Oingo Boingo.

He changed lanes to get into the faster flow of traffic and the motion of it made her feel a trifle ill. This heat had produced all kinds of new feelings. She ignored it, drinking the last swallow of the Gatorade.

She looked around for a polite place to deposit the bottle. The motion of her head made her dizziness worse and she tried to blink it away. “Do you have a spot for trash?” she asked him. As the words slid out of her mouth, she realized she was slurring like she was very, very drunk. She was horrified to realize she was drooling, too.

Eli tried to get a hold of herself. She pushed with her palms and worked to sit up straight but found that she could not. Her head felt far too heavy for the wet noodle of her neck to have ever supported. Her abs were slack and her spine was a worm. She sagged against the seat; the seatbelt the only thing keeping her from sliding to the floor.

“Whass going on?” The words seemed to take a long time to reach her ears.

Oh shit, I’m having a stroke. An old classmate of Eli’s had had a freak stroke event a week shy of her thirtieth birthday. Frantically, she tried to recall the diagnostic that the woman had posted on Facebook right after. She couldn’t speak clearly. She couldn’t lift her arms at all. Her hand flopped uselessly in the direction of her phone.

“Ooogoada tachme to ahspital,” she slurred at him in molasses-thick nightmare slowness. “Shumding wruuuuunnnnng.”

“Relax,” he said clearly, his voice less deep than before. “You are fine.”

With her last spasm of strength, Eli pulled at the door handle, intending to tumble out of the car. The child safety lock held her in place.

I’m not fine, she thought with her last clear and lucid moment. As her eyes fell closed like heavy curtains, she finally registered that they were going the wrong way. The steely spike of panic that stabbed at her heart was almost enough to counteract the soporific effect of whatever was wrong with her, but not quite. Fighting, terrified, she slipped out of consciousness.

Excerpt from Number One Fan by Meg Elison.
Copyright © 2022 by Meg Elison.
Published by arrangement with MIRA Books
All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

Author Meg Elison - photo by Devin Cooper
Meg Elison photo by Devin Cooper

Meg Elison is a California Bay Area author and essayist. She writes science fiction and horror, as well as feminist essays and cultural criticism. She has been published in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Fangoria, Fantasy and Science Fiction, Catapult, and many other places.

She is a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) and the National Writers Union (@paythewriter).

Her debut novel, The Book of the Unnamed Midwife won the 2014 Philip K. Dick Award. Her novelette “The Pill” won the 2021 Locus Award. She is a Hugo, Nebula, and Sturgeon Awards finalist. She has been an Otherwise Award honoree twice. Her YA debut, Find Layla, was published in fall 2020 by Skyscape. It was named one of Vanity Fair’s Best 15 Books of 2020.

Elison is a high school dropout and a graduate of UC Berkeley.

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

This excerpt is brought to you courtesy of MIRA Books

Book Showcase: THE WITCHES OF MOONSHYNE MANOR by Bianca Marais

THE WITCHES OF MOONSHYNE MANOR by Bianca Marais cover, blue background with title in yellow print above yellow cauldronThe Witches of Moonshyne Manor by Bianca Marais
ISBN: 9780778386995 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9780369722454 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488215506 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B09VYH1XRQ (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B09SD4NCGB (Kindle edition)
Release Date: August 23, 2022
Publisher: MIRA Books
Genre: Fiction | Magical Realism | Feminism

A coven of modern-day witches. A magical heist-gone-wrong. A looming threat.

Five octogenarian witches gather as an angry mob threatens to demolish Moonshyne Manor. All eyes turn to the witch in charge, Queenie, who confesses they’ve fallen far behind on their mortgage payments. Still, there’s hope, since the imminent return of Ruby—one of the sisterhood who’s been gone for thirty-three years—will surely be their salvation.

But the mob is only the start of their troubles. One man is hellbent on avenging his family for the theft of a legacy he claims was rightfully his. In an act of desperation, Queenie makes a bargain with an evil far more powerful than anything they’ve ever faced. Then things take a turn for the worse when Ruby’s homecoming reveals a seemingly insurmountable obstacle instead of the solution to all their problems.

The witches are determined to save their home and themselves, but their aging powers are no match for increasingly malicious threats. Thankfully, they get a bit of help from Persephone, a feisty TikToker eager to smash the patriarchy. As the deadline to save the manor approaches, fractures among the sisterhood are revealed, and long-held secrets are exposed, culminating in a fiery confrontation with their enemies.

Funny, tender and uplifting, the novel explores the formidable power that can be discovered in aging, found family and unlikely friendships. Marais’ clever prose offers as much laughter as insight, delving deeply into feminism, identity and power dynamics while stirring up intrigue and drama through secrets, lies and sex. Heartbreaking and heart-mending, it will make you grateful for the amazing women in your life.

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

Read an excerpt:

1

Saturday, October 23rd
Morning

Half an hour before the alarm will be sounded for the first time in decades—drawing four frantic old women and a geriatric crow from all corners of the sprawling manor—Ursula is awoken by insistent knocking, like giant knuckles rapping against glass. It’s an ominous sign, to be sure. The first of many.

Trying to rid herself of the sticky cobwebs of sleep, Ursula throws back the covers, groaning as her joints loudly voice their displeasure. She’s slept in the buff, as is her usual habit, and as she pads across the room, she’s more naked than the day she was born (being, as she is, one of those rare babies who came into the world fully encased in a caul).

Upon reaching the window, the cause of the ruckus is immediately obvious to Ursula; one of the Angel Oak’s sturdy branches is thumping against her third-floor window. Strong winds whip through the tree, making it shimmy and shake, giving the impression that it’s espousing the old adage to dance like no one’s watching, a quality that rather has to be admired in a tree. Either that, or it’s trembling uncontrollably with fear.

The forest, encroaching at the garden’s boundary, looks disquieted. It hangs its head low, bowing to a master who’s ordered it to bend the knee. As the charcoal sky churns, not a bird to be seen, the trees in the wood whisper incessantly. Whether they’re secrets or warnings, Ursula can’t tell, which only unsettles her further.

That infernal billboard that the city recently erected across from the manor property—with its aggressive gigantic lettering shouting, ‘Critchley Hackle Mega Complex Coming Soon!’—snaps in the wind, issuing small cracks of thunder. A storm is on its way, that much is clear. You don’t need to have Ivy’s particular powers to know as much.

Turning her back on the ominous view, Ursula heads for the calendar to mark off another mostly sleepless night. It seems impossible that after so many of them—night upon night, strung up after each other seemingly endlessly—only two remain until Ruby’s return, upon which Ursula will discover her fate.

Either Ruby knows or she doesn’t.

And if she does know, there’s the chance that she’ll want nothing more to do with Ursula. The thought makes her breath hitch, the accompanying stab of pain almost too much to bear. The best she can hope for under the circumstances is that Ruby will forgive her, releasing Ursula from the invisible prison her guilt has sentenced her to.

Too preoccupied with thoughts of Ruby to remember to don her robe, Ursula takes a seat at her mahogany escritoire. She lights a cone of mugwort and sweet laurel incense, watching as the tendril of smoke unfurls, inscribing itself upon the air. Inhaling the sweet scent, she picks up a purple silk pouch and unties it, spilling the contents onto her palm.

The tarot cards are all frayed around the edges, worn down from countless hours spent jostling through Ursula’s hands. Despite their shabbiness, they crackle with electricity, sparks flying as she shuffles them. After cutting the deck in three, Ursula begins laying the cards down, one after the other, on top of the heptagram she carved into the writing desk’s surface almost eighty years ago.

The first card, placed in the center, is The Tower. Unfortunate souls tumble from the top of a fortress that’s been struck by lightning, flames engulfing it. Ursula experiences a jolt of alarm at the sight of it for The Tower has to signify the manor; and anything threatening their home, threatens them all.

The second card, placed above the first at the one o’clock position, can only represent Tabitha. It’s the Ten of Swords, depicting a person lying face down with ten swords buried in their back. The last time Ursula saw the card, she’d made a mental note to make an appointment with her acupuncturist, but now, following so soon after The Tower, it makes her shift nervously.

The third, fourth and fifth cards, placed at the three o’clock, four-thirty and six o’clock positions, depict a person (who must be Queenie) struggling under too heavy a load; a heart pierced by swords (signifying Ursula); and a horned beast towering above a man and woman who are shackled together (obviously Jezebel). Ursula whimpers to see so many dreaded cards clustered together.

Moving faster now, she lays out the sixth, seventh and eighth cards at the seven-thirty, nine and eleven o’clock positions. Ursula gasps as she studies the man crying in his bed, nine swords hovering above him (which can only denote Ursula’s guilt as it pertains to Ruby); the armored skeleton on horseback (representing the town of Critchley Hackle); and the two bedraggled souls trudging barefoot through the snow (definitely Ivy). Taking in all eight sinister cards makes Ursula tremble much like the Angel Oak.

Based on the spread, Ursula absolutely should sound the alarm immediately, but she’s made mistakes in the past—lapses in judgment that resulted in terrible consequences—and so she wants to be a hundred percent certain first.

She shuffles the cards again, laying them down more deliberately this time, only to see the exact same shocking formation, the impending threat even more vivid than before. It couldn’t be any clearer if the Goddess herself had sent a homing pigeon with a memo bearing the message: Calamity is on its way! It’s knocking at the window, just waiting to be let in!

And yet, Ursula still doesn’t sound the alarm, because that’s what doubt does; it slips through the chinks in our defenses, eroding all sense of self until the only voice that should matter becomes the one that we don’t recognize anymore, the one we trust the least.

As a result of this estrangement from herself, Ursula has developed something of a compulsion, needing to triple check the signs before she calls attention to them, and so she stands and grabs her wand. She makes her way down the hallway past Ruby’s and Jezebel’s bedrooms at a bit of a clip before descending the west wing stairs.

It’s just before she reaches Ivy’s glass conservatory that Ursula breaks out into a panicked run.

Excerpt from The Witches of Moonshyne Manor by Bianca Marais.
Copyright © 2022 by Bianca Marais.
Published by arrangement with MIRA Books
All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

Bianca Marais author photo by Brendan Fisher
Bianca Marais – credit Brendan Fisher

Bianca Marais cohosts the popular podcast The Sh*t No One Tells You About Writing, aimed at emerging writers. She was named the winner of the Excellence in Teaching Award for Creative Writing at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies in 2021. She is the author of two novels, Hum If You Don’t Know the Words and If You Want to Make God Laugh, as well as the Audible Original The Prynne Viper. She lives in Toronto with her husband and fur babies.

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

This excerpt is brought to you by MIRA Books

 

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

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

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

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

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

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Read an Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I support that decision.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mmm-hmm. Love you, Baby Girl.”

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

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

Meet The Author

Taj McCoy photo by Alaysia Jordan

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

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

Book Showcase: THE NIGHT SHE WENT MISSING by Kristen Bird

THE NIGHT SHE WENT MISSING by Kristen BirdThe Night She Went Missing by Kristen Bird
ISBN: 9780778332107 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9780369703408 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488211652 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B099GX54HH (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08FYNG31Q (Kindle edition)
Publisher: MIRA Books
Release Date: February 8, 2022
Genre: Fiction | Suspense | Psychological Thriller

 

“A great new voice in suspense…Perfect for fans of Big Little Lies who thrive on stories of deceit in the suburban world.” —J. T. Ellison, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Her Dark Lies

“Pitch perfect suspense…The best debut Iive read this year.” —Allison Brennan, New York Times bestselling author

An intriguing and twisty domestic suspense about loyalty and deceit in a tight-knit Texas community where parents are known to behave badly and people are not always who they appear to be.

Emily, a popular but bookish prep school senior, goes missing after a night out with friends. She was last seen leaving a party with Alex, a football player with a dubious reputation. But no one is talking.

Now three mothers, Catherine, Leslie and Morgan, friends turned frenemies, have their lives turned upside down as they are forced to look to their own children—and each other’s—for answers to questions they don’t want to ask.

Each mother is sure she knows who is responsible, but they all have their own secrets to keep and reputations to protect. And the lies they tell themselves and each other may just have the potential to be lethal in this riveting debut.

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: IndieBound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Audible | Audiobooks.com | Barnes and Noble | BookDepository.com | Books-A-Million | Bookshop.org | Downpour Audiobook | eBooks.com | !ndigo | Kobo Audiobook | Kobo eBook | Murder By the Book, Houston TX | Powell’s

Read an Excerpt:

EMILY

They find me faceup in the murky water of the harbor on the day of my funeral. Or memorial service. Whatever. It’s not like there’s much difference. Dead is dead.

Except I’m not. I. Am. Not. Dead. I would pinch myself if I could move.

“Can you hear me? Hey, what’s your name? Can you open your eyes?”

My eyes are as dense and heavy as basalt. Basalt: rich in iron and magnesium, Mr. Schwartz penned on the board during our volcanic rock unit in eighth grade. I fight to come out of the emptiness that has held me for the past…the past what? Hours? Days? Weeks?

I attempt to whisper my name even though my eyelids remain anchored. Emily. That’s right. Emily. I can’t remember the last time I voiced those three syllables.

“Pull her up.”

Hands yank at me, jerking me from the arms of the water. Two hands wander up my body—over my feet, my legs, the arch of my hips, my arms, onto my neck, stopping at my forehead. This touch is not like the familiar plying of the boy I love, so fiery that it almost stings. This touch is necessary, cold, perfunctory. Perfunctory, Mrs. Abbot, my sophomore English teacher had pronounced for us students as we learned the word for the first time. P-E-R-F-U—

The voice cuts in. “Tell them we have a girl, a teenager. No broken bones as far as I can tell but looks like she’s been out here for hours. Unconscious, but breathing on her own.” His voice muffles as he turns his head. “I think she might be Emily.”

Suddenly, a brilliant choir of tenors and baritones and basses burst forth. “The Emily?”

Emily. Yes, that’s me. What a comforting thing to hear one’s name spoken by those who can point the way home. I breathe in gratitude and descend into the lightness of sleep before a hand touches my cheek again.

“You awake, Emily?”

The swooshing of the waves calls to me, a reminder that the song of the deep is steady despite all the new sounds: The bustle of work boots, the hum of the boat waiting to churn to life and set out across the open sea.

“Your mama’s been looking for you, Ms. Emily. You gave us all a fright. You hear me?” The man seems to sense that I can hear his words while my body remains frozen despite the warmth of the water and the sun overhead. “You’re gonna be okay, sweetheart. Yes, ma’am, you’re gonna make it just fine. Got a daughter about your age, and I woulda been worried sick if my girl had gone missing for weeks on end. Your mama sure is gonna be happy.”

A nasally voice now. “Where you think she’s been all this time? Turned into a mermaid?” The boy chuckles.

“Hush, Beau.”

The man’s hand touches my forehead, his fingers sandpapery with callouses. “Now, sweetheart, if you can open your eyes for a sec, I can introduce you properly to the crew. We’re getting you help as fast as we can, but you can go ahead and open them eyes before all the medics arrive. They’d be good and relieved to see you looking around.”

I try. Oh, how I want to flicker them open, but my head aches and oblivion pulls harder. The siren call of the void is too tempting to resist.

Excerpt from The Night She Went Missing by Kristen Bird.
Copyright © 2022 by Kristen Bird.
Published by MIRA Books. All rights reserved.
Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

Meet The Author

Author Kristen Bird by Bess Garison

Kristen Bird lives outside of Houston, Texas with her husband and three daughters. She earned her bachelor’s degree in music and mass media before completing a master’s in literature. She teaches high school English and writes with a cup of coffee in hand. In her free time, she likes to visit parks with her three daughters, watch quirky films with her husband and attempt to keep pace with her rescue lab-mixes. The Night She Went Missing is her debut novel.

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

Book Showcase: THE SORORITY MURDER by Allison Brennan

THE SORORITY MURDER by Allison BrennanThe Sorority Murder by Allison Brennan
ISBN: 9780778311683 (paperback)
ISBN: 9780778312185 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780369706515 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488212574 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B094PJMBQ3 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08R8ZSV4D (Kindle edition)
Publisher: MIRA Books
Release Date: December 28, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Suspense | Thriller | Crime Thriller

New York Times bestselling author Allison Brennan’s suspenseful new mass market original about a college senior’s podcast that delves into an unsolved campus murder of a sorority girl three years earlier, as individual callers explode every fact previously thought to be true.

Lucas Vega is obsessed with the death of Candace Swain, who left a sorority party one night and never came back. Her body was found two weeks later, and the case has grown cold. Three years later while interning at the Medical Examiner’s, Lucas discovers new information, but the police are not interested.

Lucas knows he has several credible pieces of the puzzle, he just isn’t sure how they fit together. So he creates a podcast to revisit Candace’s last hours. He asks listeners to crowdsource what they remember and invites guest lecturer, former US Marshal Regan Merritt, to come on and share her expertise.

New tips come in that convince Lucas and Regan they are onto something. Then shockingly one of the podcast callers turns up dead. Another hints at Candace’s secret life…a much darker picture than Lucas imagined—and one that implicates other sorority sisters. Regan uses her own resources to bolster their theory and learns that Lucas is hiding his own dark secret. The pressure is to solve the murder, but first Lucas must come clean about his real motives in pursuing this podcast – before the killer silences him forever.

 

Read an Excerpt:

One
Three Years Ago
Friday, April 10

Candace Swain forced a smile as she walked out of her dorm room.

Smiling was the last thing she wanted to do, but Candace had an image to uphold.

She was going to be late for the Sigma Rho Spring Fling—the last big party before the end-of-year crunch. Studying for finals, capstones and senior projects, stress and more stress, and—for some of them—graduation.

The mild April weather was perfect for an outdoor gathering. Candace had led the sorority’s social-events committee with setup, and they’d included heat lamps along the perimeter. The Mountain View dorm—which housed all campus sororities, each with their own wing—was on the northeast corner of campus, adjacent to the football field. The Spring Fling was held on the large lawn that framed the north entrance, where they had the most room. It was open to all students for a five-dollar admission, and was one of the biggest moneymakers for the sorority, more than charities. Candace had fought for—and won—giving the profits to a rescue mission that helped people get back on their feet. She volunteered weekly for Sunrise Center, and it had changed how she viewed herself and her future. She now planned to be a nurse in the inner city, working for a clinic or public hospital, where people deserved quality health care, even if they were struggling. She even considered specializing in drug and alcohol issues, which were unfortunately prevalent among the homeless community.

She used to think of her volunteerism as penance for her failings. She wasn’t religious but had had enough preaching from her devout grandmother to have absorbed things like guilt, penance, sacrifice. Now, she looked forward to Tuesdays when she gave six hours of her time to those who were far worse off than she. It reminded her to be grateful for what she had, that things could be worse.

Candace exited through the north doors and stood at the top of the short flight of stairs that led to the main lawn. Though still early in the evening, the party was already hopping. Music played from all corners of the yard, the din of voices and laughter mingling with a popular song. In the dusk, the towering mountains to the north were etched in fading light. She breathed deeply. She loved everything about Flagstaff. The green mountains filled with pine and juniper. The crisp, fresh air. The sense of community and belonging felt so natural here, something she’d never had growing up in Colorado Springs. With graduation on the horizon, she had been feeling a sense of loss, knowing she was going to miss this special place.

She wasn’t close to her parents, who divorced right before she started high school and still fought as much as they did when they were married. She desperately missed her younger sister, Chrissy, a freshman at the University of South Carolina. She’d wanted Chrissy to come here for college, but Chrissy was a champion swimmer and had received a full scholarship to study practically a world away. Candace had no plans to return to Colorado Springs, but she didn’t know if she wanted to follow her sister to the East Coast or head down to Phoenix where they had some of the best job opportunities for what she wanted to do.

Vicky Ryan, a first year student who had aspirations of leadership, ran up to her.

“That weirdo is back,” Vicky said quietly. “Near the west steps. Just loitering there, freaking people out. Should I call campus police?”

Candace frowned. The man Vicky was referring to was Joseph, and he wasn’t really a weirdo. He was an alcoholic, and mostly homeless, who sometimes wandered onto campus and wouldn’t accept the help he had been repeatedly offered. He wasn’t violent, just confused, and sometimes got lost in his own head, largely from how alcohol had messed with his mind and body. But his problems understandably made her sorority sisters uncomfortable. He’d twice been caught urinating against the wall outside their dorm; both times, he’d been cited by campus police. He wasn’t supposed to be on campus at all anymore, and Candace knew they’d arrest him if he was caught.

“I’ll take care of it,” Candace said and made her way around the edge of the party.

She found Joseph on the narrow grassy knoll that separated the football field from the dorms. A small group of students approached her, but one in their group turned toward the grass, likely to confront Joseph.

Candace walked faster, caught up with the student, and smiled brightly. “I got this.”

“It’s okay,” he said. “I’ll handle him.”

“I said I will take care of this. I know him. But thank you anyway.”

Mr. Macho didn’t want to walk away, yet Candace stood firm. She didn’t want anyone to harass Joseph, and she knew he would listen to her. While he wasn’t violent, he could be belligerent, and being confronted by a jerk wanting to impress his girlfriend was a surefire way to trigger Joseph and have him dig in his heels. It would only lead to an arrest, and that wasn’t going to help him in the long run.

The group walked off, grumbling; Candace ignored them. She approached Joseph cautiously, so as not to startle him. “Joseph, it’s Candace,” she said. “Remember me? From Sunrise Center?”

He turned slowly at the sound of her voice. A tall man, nearly six foot four, he could intimidate people. But he was also skinny and hunched over from years of walking the streets and looking down, rummaging through garbage, with his hangdog face, ragged salt-and-pepper beard, and watery blue eyes. He was the kind of guy her grandmother would have called a bum—dressed in multiple layers of dirty, mismatched clothes, and smelling of dirt and stale beer. He looked about sixty, but she knew that he was only in his early forties. She’d heard he’d been living along Route 66 for the better part of ten years. The people who ran Sunrise Center didn’t know much about his personal life, only that when he was sober (which was rare), he would talk about home being east, at the “end of the line.” But no one knew if that meant Chicago or any of the stops in between.

Candace wanted to know more about his story, how he came to be in these circumstances, why he wouldn’t—or couldn’t—accept help. Many of the homeless who came to Sunrise for shelter or food would talk to her freely. But not Joseph. When she’d pried once, he disappeared for a while, so she stopped asking. She would rather him be safe than riding the rails, which was dangerous.

“Candace,” he said slowly after several moments.

“You can’t be here, Joseph. The campus police told you that. Don’t you remember?”

He didn’t say anything or acknowledge that he understood what she said.

“Would you like me to take you over to Sunrise Center? You can get a hot meal there, maybe a cot for the night.”

Again, silence. He turned away from her but didn’t leave.

She really didn’t want to call campus police, but if she didn’t do something, someone else would.

“Is there a reason you are here?” she asked.

“Leave me alone,” he said.

“I will, but you have to leave. Otherwise someone is going to call the police.” If they haven’t already.

He abruptly turned toward her, staggered on the slope of the lawn. His sudden movement startled her; she stepped back.

“No cops!” he shouted.

“You have to leave, Joseph,” she said, emphatic. Her heart pounded in her chest, not so much from fear but uncertainty. “Please go.”

Again, he turned abruptly, this time staggering down the short slope toward the stadium fence. She held her breath, watching him. He almost ran into the fence, put his arms out to stop himself, then just stood there. A minute later, he shuffled along the field perimeter, shoulders hunched, without looking back.

She breathed easier, relieved that he was heading off campus. She would talk to the director of Sunrise on Tuesday, when she went in to volunteer. Joseph couldn’t keep coming here, but she didn’t really want to call the authorities on him. He needed help, not more trouble, and definitely not incarceration.

Candace was about to return to the party when she heard someone call her name. She turned and saw one of her former tutoring students, Lucas Vega, running toward her. She didn’t want to talk to Lucas tonight. How many times did she have to tell him to leave her alone?

She stopped anyway and waited.

“Candace,” he said, catching his breath. “Thanks.”

“What do you want?” she snapped, crossing her arms over her chest.

“I’m sorry.”

“Sorry,” she said bluntly.

“I didn’t mean to upset you the other day. I am sorry about that.”

She blinked. He sounded so sincere. And truth be told, something he’d said to her a few days earlier made her think long and hard about herself, her life, and the time she’d spent as a student at Northern Arizona University.

A lie for a good reason is still a lie.

Lucas and his wide-eyed, good-natured innocence, his innocuous questions had her feeling guilty for no reason. He had picked up on that. And pushed.

No reason? Ha. Plenty of reasons. All these doubts and worries she’d been having this semester, the sleepless nights, all came from something she’d done as a freshman that she now had good reason to regret. But what could she do about it? What would come of the truth now?

Maybe there was no good reason to lie.

“All right,” she said. “Thank you.” It was easier to forgive Lucas than to hold on to this anger. None of what happened was Lucas’s fault.

“So will you tutor me again, for finals?”

“No. Afraid not.” She could forgive him for prying, but she really needed first to forgive herself. And she didn’t know if she could do that with Lucas around, reminding her of her failures and mistakes. He didn’t even know what she’d done, but seeing him now was like reliving the past, and her chest tightened. “I’m sorry, but I have too much studying of my own, too many tests. And I’m not working at the writing lab anymore.”

Because of you.

Was that even fair? Was it because of Lucas…or because of her own guilt?

He was disappointed, but that wasn’t her problem.

“Okay, I understand,” he said.

“Besides, you’re smart. You’ll be fine.”

He shrugged. “Thanks.”

“Uh, you want to come to the party?” She gestured over her shoulder. They could hear the music from where they stood. “I’ll get you a pass. Won’t even cost you the five bucks.”

He shook his head. “I’m fine. I’m not really one for parties. But thanks anyway.”

He turned to leave.

“Lucas,” she said. He looked at her over his shoulder. “I’m really sorry.”

Then she left him there, waiting for something she couldn’t give him.

It took Candace several minutes before she could work up the courage to return to the party. An idea she’d been thinking about for the last few months was now fully developed, as if something inside clicked after her brief conversation with Lucas. Everything shifted into place, and she knew what she needed to do; it was the only thing she could do.

No one was going to like her decision.

When she realized she no longer cared what anyone thought, a burden lifted from her heart. She was certain then that she was doing the right thing.

Everyone at the party was asking for Candace, and Vicky had become worried when her friend and mentor hadn’t returned after thirty minutes. She sought out Taylor James, the Sigma Rho president, and told her about the homeless guy. “I don’t know where Candace is,” she said. “I should have just called campus police.”

“Candace says he’s harmless,” Taylor said, frowning. “Sometimes she’s so naive. I’ll go look for her.”

“Thanks. The party is great by the way. Everyone seems to be having fun. How does it compare to previous years?” This was the first party Vicky had helped put together for the sorority, so she was eager to know how well she’d done.

“As good or better,” Taylor said with a wide smile.

Vicky tried not to gloat as she practically floated over to her friends chatting near one of the heat lamps. It wasn’t cold, but the warmth of the heat lamp and the glow from the string lights added terrific ambience to the place.

“Oh my God, Vicky, this is a blast,” her roommate, Nicole Bergamo, said. Nicole was a half-Black, half-Italian math major who could have easily been a model she was so tall and stunning. “Everyone is talking about how great it is.”

Vicky smiled, talked for a bit, then moved around, being social, doing all the things that she’d seen Sigma Rho board members do. Hundreds of people were dancing, talking, mingling, eating, drinking, playing games. Mostly, they were having fun, which was the whole purpose. When the new Sigma Rho advisor, Rachel Wagner, told her it was the best Sigma Rho party she’d been to ever, Vicky thought she’d never come down from cloud nine.

“I agree,” said the gorgeous woman who was with Rachel. “I’m Kimberly Foster, by the way,” she introduced herself. “I’m a sorority alum, and I’m so happy I came up this weekend. You’ve done a fantastic job. Rachel said you’re part of the social-events committee. Isn’t Candace leading the committee? I haven’t seen her yet.”

“Yes, she’s around,” Vicky said. “This is all her vision. We just implemented it.”

“I love Candace. Oh! I see her over there.”

Vicky looked to where Kimberly was gesturing. Candace was talking in a small group.

“I’m going to catch up with her,” Kimberly said. “Nice to meet you, Vicky.”

The two women walked away, and Vicky continued her rounds. She was having a blast as her worries that the party might flop were replaced with pride and satisfaction over its success.

Hours later it was midnight, and per city ordinance—because their dorm bordered a public street—they had to cut off the music. That put a damper on things, but it was fine with Vicky—she was exhausted after working all day prepping and all night making sure everything was running smoothly. She was a little miffed that Candace was hardly there: Vicky had only caught a glimpse of her twice. But whatever, she’d seemed preoccupied, and that would have been a party downer.

Vicky ran into the dorm to get extra trash bags—they had to clean up tonight so wild animals wouldn’t get into the garbage and create a bigger mess in the morning. She came back out and heard voices arguing near where the DJ had been set up. He’d already packed up and left. She couldn’t hear exactly what was being said. It seemed like a quiet, intense exchange between Taylor and Candace though Rachel and her guest Kimberly were there, too. Everyone, especially Taylor, seemed angry.

About sixty people were still milling around, mostly Sigma Rho sisters helping with the cleanup. Nicole came up to Vicky and said, “What are Candace and Taylor fighting about?”

“I don’t know. It’s probably nothing.”

“It’s not nothing,” Nicole said. “I heard Taylor call Candace a selfish bitch.”

“Ouch. Well, Rachel is there. She’ll mediate.”

But Rachel looked angry as well; it seemed that Candace was on one side, and the other three women were yelling at her.

“You’re wrong!” Candace screamed, and Vicky jumped. She glanced at Nicole, who looked perplexed as well. Vicky handed her a garbage bag, and they both started picking up trash. She didn’t want anyone to think she was eavesdropping.

But she was. As she inched closer to the group, she heard Kimberly say, “Let’s talk about this tomorrow, okay? When everyone has had a good night’s sleep and we can all think more clearly.”

“I am thinking clearly,” Candace said. “I’m done. Just…done.”

She left, walked right past Vicky without even seeing her. There were tears in Candace’s eyes, and Vicky didn’t know if she was angry or upset, but probably both. Vicky thought about going after her to make sure she was okay, then felt a hand on her shoulder.

She jumped, then laughed nervously when she saw Rachel. Taylor and Kim had walked away in the other direction.

“Sorry. You startled me.”

“I’m sorry you had to witness that,” Rachel said.

“I didn’t, really. Just saw that Taylor and Candace were arguing about something. I didn’t want to intrude.”

“It’s going to be fine. Just a little disagreement that Candace took personally.”

“About the party?” Vicky asked, her insecurities rising that she’d messed up something.

“Oh, no, the party was perfect. Don’t worry about that.”

Relieved, she said, “Maybe I should go talk to Candace.”

“No, let her be. I’ve known her since she was a freshman and took my Intro to Bio class. She has a big heart, and sometimes you can’t help everyone.”

Now Vicky understood, or thought she did. Taylor had been the most vocal about the creepy homeless guy hanging around the dorms, and she’d been the one who’d called campus police last time, after Candace said not to.

“Let me help,” Rachel said and took a garbage bag from Vicky’s stash.

Rachel chatted with Vicky, who felt lucky to be able to spend so much one-on-one time with her sorority advisor. Rachel was so smart, an associate professor at just thirty-two, an alum of the University of Arizona Sigma Rho chapter. Plus she had such interesting stories to share. By the time they were done with the cleanup—it didn’t take long with so many people working together—Vicky had forgotten all about the argument between Candace and Taylor.

It was the last time anyone saw Candace alive.

Excerpt from The Sorority Murder by Allison Brennan.
Copyright © 2021 by Allison Brennan.
Published by MIRA Books
Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.

 

Meet The Author

Allison Brennan photo by Brittan Dodd

Allison Brennan is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over thirty novels. She has been nominated for Best Paperback Original Thriller by International Thriller Writers and the Daphne du Maurier Award. A former consultant in the California State Legislature, Allison lives in Arizona with her husband, five kids and assorted pets. The Sorority Murder is the first of a new mass market series.

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

 

Book Showcase: THE GOOD SON by Jacquelyn Mitchard

THE GOOD SON by Jacquelyn MitchardThe Good Son by Jacquelyn Mitchard
ISBN: 9780778311799 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780369717559 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488212536 (digital audiobook)
ISBN: 9781665104524(audiobook on CD)
ASIN: B094PSTKB7 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08QZMDJSD (Kindle edition)
Publisher: MIRA Books
Release Date: January 18, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Women’s Fiction | Coming-of-Age | Family Life

“Rich and complex, The Good Son is a compelling novel about the aftermath of a crime in a small, close-knit community.”—Kristin Hannah, New York Times bestselling author

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Jacquelyn Mitchard comes the gripping, emotionally charged novel of a mother who must help her son after he is convicted of a devastating crime.

What do you do when the person you love best becomes unrecognizable to you? For Thea Demetriou, the answer is both simple and agonizing: you keep loving him somehow.

Stefan was just seventeen when he went to prison for the drug-fueled murder of his girlfriend, Belinda. Three years later, he’s released to a world that refuses to let him move on. Belinda’s mother, once Thea’s good friend, galvanizes the community to rally against him to protest in her daughter’s memory. The media paints Stefan as a symbol of white privilege and indifferent justice. Neighbors, employers, even some members of Thea’s own family turn away.

Meanwhile Thea struggles to understand her son. At times, he is still the sweet boy he has always been; at others, he is a young man tormented by guilt and almost broken by his time in prison. But as his efforts to make amends meet escalating resistance and threats, Thea suspects more forces are at play than just community outrage. And if there is so much she never knew about her own son, what other secrets has she yet to uncover—especially about the night Belinda died?

 

Read an Excerpt:

1

 

I was picking my son up at the prison gates when I spotted the mother of the girl he had murdered.

Two independent clauses, ten words each, joined by an adverb, made up entirely of words that would once have been unimaginable to think, much less say.

She pulled in—not next to me, but four spaces over—in the half circle of fifteen-minute spots directly in front of the main building. It was not where Stefan would walk out. That would be over at the gatehouse. She got out of her car, and for a moment I thought she would come toward me. I wanted to talk to her, to offer something, to reach out and hold her, for we had not even been able to attend Belinda’s funeral. But what would I say? What would she? This was an unwonted crease in an already unaccustomed day. I slid deep into my down coat, and wished I could lock the car doors, although I feared that the sound would crack the predawn darkness like a rifle shot. All that Jill McCormack did, however, was shove her hands into the pockets of her jacket and lean against the back bumper of her car. She wore the heavy maroon leather varsity jacket that her daughter Belinda, captain of the high school cheer team in senior year, had given to her, to Stefan, and to me, with our names embroidered in gold on the back, just like hers.

I hadn’t seen Jill McCormack up close for years, though she lived literally around the corner. Once, I used to stop there to sit on her porch, but now I avoided even driving past the place.

Jill seemed smaller, diminished, the tumult of ash-blond hair I remembered cropped short and seemingly mostly white, though I knew she was young when Belinda was born, and now couldn’t be much past forty. Yet, even just to stand in the watery, slow-rising light in front of a prison, she was tossed together fashionably, in gold-colored jeans and boots, with a black turtleneck, a look I would have had to plan for days. She looked right at my car, but gave no sign that she recognized it, though she’d been in it dozens of times years ago. Once she had even changed her clothes in my car. I remember how I stood outside it holding a blanket up over the windows as she peeled off a soaking-wet, floor-length, jonquil-yellow crystal-beaded evening gown that must, at that point, have weighed about thirty pounds, then slipped into a clean football warm-up kit. After she changed, we linked arms with my husband and we all went to a ball.

But I would not think of that now.

I had spent years assiduously not thinking of any of that.

A friendship, like a crime, is not one thing, or even two people. It’s two people and their shared environs and their histories, their common memories, their words, their weaknesses and fears, their virtues and vanities, and sometimes their shame.

Jill was not my closest friend. Some craven times, I blessed myself with that—at least I was spared that. There had always been Julie, since fifth grade my heart, my sharer. But Jill was my good friend. We had been soccer moms together, and walking buddies, although Jill’s swift, balanced walk was my jog. I once kept Belinda at my house while Jill went to the bedside of her beloved father who’d suffered a stroke, just as she kept Stefan at her house with Belinda when they were seven and both had chicken pox, which somehow neither I nor my husband, Jep, ever caught. And on the hot night of that fundraising ball for the zoo, so long ago, she had saved Stefan’s life.

Since Jill was a widow when we first met, recently arrived in the Midwest from her native North Carolina, I was always talking her into coming to events with Jep and me, introducing her to single guys who immediately turned out to be hopeless. That hot evening, along with the babysitter, the two kids raced toward the new pool, wildly decorated with flashing green lights, vines and temporary waterfalls for a “night jungle swim.” Suddenly, the sitter screamed. When Jill was growing up, she had been state champion in the 200-meter backstroke before her devout parents implored her to switch to the more modest sport of golf, and Belinda, at five, was already a proficient swimmer. My Stefan, on the other hand, sank to the bottom like a rock and never came up. Jill didn’t stop to ask questions. Kicking off her gold sandals, in she went, an elegant flat race dive that barely creased the surface; seconds later she hauled up a gasping Stefan. Stefan owed his life to her as surely as Belinda owed her death to Stefan.

In seconds, life reverses.

Jill and I once talked every week. It even seemed we once might have been machatunim, as they say in Yiddish, parents joined by the marriage of their son and daughter. Now, the circumstances under which we might ever exchange a single word seemed as distant as the bony hood of moon above us in the melting darkness.

What did she want here now? Would she leave once Stefan came through the gates? In fact, she left before that. She got back into her car, and, looking straight ahead, drove off.

I watched until her car was out of sight.

Just after dawn, a guard walked Stefan to the edge of the enclosure. I looked up at the razor wire. Then, opening the window slightly, I heard the guard say, “Do good, kid. I hope I never see you again.” Stefan stepped out, and then put his palm up to a sky that had just begun to spit snow. He was twenty, and he had served two years, nine months and three days of a five-year sentence, one year of which the judge had suspended, noting Stefan’s unblemished record. Still, it seemed like a week; it seemed like my entire life; it seemed like a length of time too paltry for the monstrous thing he had done. I could not help but reckon it this way: For each of the sixty or seventy years Belinda would have had left to live, Stefan spent only a week behind bars, not even a season. No matter how much he despaired, he could always see the end. Was I grateful? Was I ashamed? I was both. Yet relief rippled through me like the sweet breeze that stirs the curtains on a summer night.

I got out and walked over to my son. I reached up and put my hand on his head. I said, “My kid.”

Stefan placed his huge warm palm on the top of my head. “My mom,” he said. It was an old ritual, a thing I would not have dared to do in the prison visiting room. My eyes stung with curated tears. Then I glanced around me, furtively. Was I still permitted such tender old deeds? This new universe was not showing its hand. “I can stand here as long as I want,” he said, shivering in wonderment. Then he said, “Where’s Dad?”

“He told you about it. He had to see that kid in Louisville one more time,” I told him reluctantly. “The running back with the very protective grandmother. He couldn’t get out of it. But he cut it short and he’ll be home when we get back, if he beats the weather out of Kentucky this morning, that is.” Jep was in only his second season as football coach at the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater, a Division II team with significant chops and national esteem. We didn’t really think he would get the job, given our troubles, but the athletic director had watched Jep’s career and believed deeply in his integrity. Now he was never at rest: His postseason recruiting trips webbed the country. Yet it was also true that while Stefan’s father longed equally for his son to be free, if Jep had been able to summon the words to tell the people who mattered that he wanted to skip this trip altogether, he would have. But he couldn’t quite bring himself to say it’s a big day, our son’s getting out of prison.

Now, it seemed important to hurry Stefan to the car, to get out of there before this new universe recanted. We had a long drive back from Black Creek, where the ironically named Belle Colline Correctional Facility squatted not far from the campus of the University of Wisconsin–Black Creek. Stefan’s terrible journey had taken him from college to prison, a distance of just two miles as the crow flies. I felt like the guard: I never wanted to see the place again. I had no time to think about Jill or anything else except the weather. We’d hoped that the early-daylight release would keep protestors away from the prison gates, and that seemed to have worked: Prisoners usually didn’t walk out until just before midday. There was not a single reporter here, which surprised me as Jill was tireless in keeping her daughter Belinda’s death a national story, a symbol for young women in abusive relationships. Many of the half dozen or so stalwarts who still picketed in front of our house nearly every day were local college and high-school girls, passionate about Jill’s work. As Stefan’s release grew near, their numbers rose, even as the outdoor temperatures fell. A few news organizations put in appearances again lately as well. I knew they would be on alert today and was hoping we could beat some of the attention by getting back home early. In the meantime, a snowstorm was in the forecast: I never minded driving in snow, but the air smelled of water running over iron ore—a smell that always portended worse weather.

Excerpt from The Good Son by Jacquelyn Mitchard.
Copyright © 2022 by Jacquelyn Mitchard.
Published by arrangements with Harlequin Books S.A.
Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.

 

Meet The Author

Jacquelyn Mitchard Author Photo#1 New York Times bestselling author Jacquelyn Mitchard has written nine previous novels for adults; six young adult novels; four children’s books; a memoir, Mother Less Child; and a collection of essays, The Rest of Us: Dispatches from the Mother Ship. Her first novel, The Deep End of the Ocean, was the inaugural selection of the Oprah Winfrey Book Club, and later adapted for a feature film. Mitchard is a frequent lecturer and a professor of fiction and creative nonfiction at Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier. She lives on Cape Cod with her husband and their nine children.

Connect with the Author:

Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Twitter | Author Website

This excerpt and tour brought to you by MIRA Books

 

Book Showcase: FOREVER HOME by Elysia Whisler

Forever Home, Dogwood County #2, by Elysia Whisler
ISBN: 9780778311607 (trade paperback)
ISBN: 9780369706119 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488212642 (digital audiobook)
ISBN: 9781665105125 (audiobook on CD)
ASIN: B08Y66F6F1 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08R919BQD (Kindle edition)
Publisher: MIRA Books
Release Date: November 30, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Women’s Fiction | Military Romance | Family Life

 If home is where the heart is, Dogwood County may have just what Delaney Monroe needs

Newly retired from the Marine Corps, Delaney is looking for somewhere to start over. It’s not going to be easy, but when she finds the perfect place to open her dream motorcycle shop, she goes for it. What she doesn’t expect is an abandoned pit bull to come with the building. The shy pup is slow to trust, but Delaney is determined to win it over.

Detective Sean Callahan is smitten from the moment he sees Delaney, but her cool demeanor throws him off his game. When her late father’s vintage motorcycle is stolen from Delaney’s shop, Sean gets to turn up in his element: chasing the bad guy and showing his best self to a woman who’s gotten under his skin in a bad way.

Delaney isn’t used to lasting relationships, but letting love in—both human and canine—helps her see that she may have found a place she belongs, forever.

Read an Excerpt:

ONE

Three Rebels Street.

Delaney should’ve known that this was where she’d end up. This was the kind of street a woman went down when all the big changes in her life were happening at once. You simply couldn’t hit a retirement ceremony, the road and a funeral all in one week and not end up on Three Rebels Street.

Small is not the right word. I prefer quaint.” The real estate agent, Ronnie, gazed around the studio apartment situated on Three Rebels Street, and nodded her head in approval. “You said it was just for you, right? Which means it’s the perfect size.”

Stop trying to sell me on the apartment. Ronnie had described it as an “alcove studio”—not just a studio—because even though the living room and kitchen were all in one large space, the bedroom was situated in a little nook, with its own door. Delaney didn’t care. The living quarters didn’t really matter. Right now the place was dumpy. Dust everywhere, the ceiling fan hanging crooked with exposed wires, and debris in the corners, like the previous tenants hadn’t taken care of the place and then left in a hurry.

“We didn’t have a chance to get this cleaned before your showing,” Ronnie said, following Delaney’s gaze. “Remember, I suggested waiting until Friday.”

But Delaney hadn’t been able to wait.

Ronnie lowered her voice to a near whisper. “They were evicted. But this place cleans up nice, I promise.”

“Can we go back down to the shop?” Delaney ran her hands through her hair, rubbing the weariness from her scalp. Ronnie had whisked them through the front bay door and up the stairs, like the apartment was the prize inside the cereal box. And Delaney supposed it was—small, an add-on, not really the point. For Delaney, the shop downstairs was the entire point.

“Of course.” Ronnie’s voice was bright, forced, like she didn’t give two shits. This was probably her last showing of the day and she wanted to get home, into a hot bath with a glass of red as soon as possible. She clacked down the stairs in her high heels.

Delaney followed, the earthy clunk of her motorcycle boots the bass drum in the cacophony of their feet.

“The shop.” Ronnie swept out her arm. “Look how much space.” There was no enthusiasm in her voice. Ronnie, who probably did mostly living spaces, had no idea how to sell the garage.

Didn’t matter. Delaney sized up the shop herself: concrete floor, perfect for working on bikes. It was kind of dinged up, but that was okay, she was already envisioning painting it beige with nonslip floor paint. Modern fluorescent lighting. Large bay door, wide-open to the cool air, excellent for ventilation. A countertop with a register. Empty shelves on one side for parts and motor clothes. Showroom space for custom bikes, and enough room for at least two workspaces out front. The rest, Delaney would provide. Hydraulic lifts. Workbench. Parts tank. Tools. Parts. Bikes.

She wanted to pinch herself, but chose a poker face. Ronnie stood in the center of the floor, like she was trying to avoid touching anything, to avoid getting any grease or oil on her smart red suit. The shop was in better condition than the apartment, but it still looked like the last occupants had left quickly—or, if they’d truly been evicted, perhaps reluctantly was a better word. Nothing important remained, but the place hadn’t been swept or washed or readied for sale in any manner.

“I’ll consider this.” Delaney rubbed her chin as she strode through the shop. “It’s a little small.” It was actually larger than she’d expected. “Light’s good, but might get a little cold in the winter.” It was winter now, technically. Mid-March. Delaney loved this time of year, when winter and spring intersected, like lovers making up after a nasty fight, the weather edgy and unpredictable.

“There’s a lot of interest in this space.” Ronnie clutched her clipboard to her chest as she looked around. She could be looking at the inside of a spaceship and hold that same expression.

Motorcycle shops were going out of business, all over the place, including the one that had recently vacated. After suddenly finding herself on Three Rebels Street last week, in front of a shop-apartment combo for sale, Delaney had done her research. The previous tenants, who she now knew had been evicted, were brothers who ran a shop by day and lived upstairs by night. They sold mostly new bikes and motorcycle gear. Repairs and maintenance were basic. Their website was still up, despite the fact that Dude’s Bikes had closed. Dude’s appeared to focus mostly on male riders, leaving Delaney to wonder if Dude’s was just about dudes or if one of the owners was, indeed, named Dude.

“What’s the story on this place?”

Ronnie glanced at her clipboard. “The owner wants to sell. After the last renters’ lease ran out, they were given the option of buying or moving. I don’t think their shop was doing well, because they couldn’t afford to buy. They weren’t even paying their rent. And they weren’t quick about moving. The rest, as they say, is history.”

If the last motorcycle shop had failed, buying would be a gamble. But any business venture was a gamble.

Life was a gamble.

“There are a couple of people looking, after you.” Ronnie continued, “About five.”

Delaney could respect white lies in the sales biz but seriously? Five? Five or so people were waiting to check out the bike shop with an overhead apartment suitable for one small, low-maintenance tenant? She had no idea how two brothers had managed up there.

She strolled through the space, wanting a good feel. She needed to touch things, inhale the shop, draw its molecules into her lungs and taste its history before she could decide on the symbiosis of her dream space. Triple M Classics—short for Martin Monroe’s Motorcycles, named after her father—would own her as much as she would it, so this relationship was going to be deep and mutual. Through the front window, she could see the parkway that ran the length of the county. At just past eighteen-hundred hours, rush hour was a jam of red taillights in the waning daylight. No amount of time would erase Delaney’s memory of her last tour here, when she had to commute to work every day. Pure hell. It would be nice to go right upstairs to her cozy little apartment after closing, rather than having to sit in that mess.

Across the street was a row of shops, including a grocery story and an Italian restaurant. Food. Check.

On the south side, the shop butted up to the woods, which had a downward slope of grass and weeds that led to the trees. Privacy. Double check. Plus, Delaney figured if there was a tornado, that slope could count as a ditch, and would probably be the safest place to run. She laughed at herself. This wasn’t Omaha. Virginia tornado season consisted of a few warnings that rarely panned out.

Delaney withdrew the listing, printed from the internet, from her back pocket, crammed together with a grocery receipt for extra firm tofu, Tater Tots and Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia. “This is the price, right?” She handed over the paper. Money would be tight, but Delaney should be able to manage for a little while until things got going.

That is, if she was going to do this.

Was she really going to do this?

All her adult life Delaney had moved around, from station to station. Forts, camps, bases. Not shops. Not homes. She’d never put down roots. Never had anything permanent other than her childhood home with Dad. Never owned a thing she couldn’t cram into a duffel bag.

Ronnie looked at the paper. “No.” She sniffed. “There’s a newer listing.” She flipped through her clipboard, laid it on the counter and pointed. “Here we go.”

Delaney looked at the asking price, choked a little bit, almost thanked Ronnie for her time and left. That would be the smart thing to do. Sometimes childhood dreams just needed to stay dreams.

She strode around once more, mentally saying goodbye to everything that she’d never even made hers. Even though all of this had been a panster move, it felt like all the blood in her veins had been replaced with disappointment. She stopped by the far wall, where a ratty piece of paper hung by a sliver of tape. Delaney smoothed out the curled edges and read the flyer.

Fiftieth Annual Classic Motorcycle Show.

Dogwood County Fairgrounds.

The event was in July. There was a contest, including prizes. The grand prize for the winning classic cycle was five grand plus a feature article in Ride magazine.

The disappointment started to drain away. Five grand wouldn’t pay all the bills, but exposure in a major motorcycle magazine would be a boon for business. Plus, there was something about that poster, just hanging there like that.

It seemed like a sign.

Excerpt from Forever Home by Elysia Whisler.
Copyright © 2021 by Elysia Whisler.
Published by arrangements with Harlequin Books S.A.
Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.

 

Meet The Author

Author – Elysia Whisler

 

Elysia Whisler was raised in Texas, Italy, Alaska, Mississippi, Nebraska, Hawaii, and Virginia, in true military fashion. If she’s not writing she’s probably working out, coaching, or massaging at her CrossFit gym. She lives in Virginia with her family, including her large brood of cat and dog rescues, who vastly outnumber the humans.

 

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

 

Book Showcase: FAN CLUB by Erin Mayer

FAN CLUB by Erin MayerFan Club by Erin Mayer
ISBN: 9780778311591 (paperback)
ISBN: 9780369706102 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488212543 (digital audiobook)
ISBN: 9781665104791 (audiobook on CD)
ASIN: B094Q6D9C8 (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08QSDDSJQ (Kindle edition)
Publisher: MIRA Books
Release Date: October 26, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Thriller | Psychological Suspense

In this raucous psychological thriller, a millennial office worker finds relief from her crippling ennui in the embrace of a cliquey fan club, until she discovers the group of women is bound together by something darker than devotion.

Day after day our narrator, a gloomy millennial, searches for meaning beyond her vacuous job at a women’s lifestyle website—entering text into a computer system while she watches their beauty editor unwrap box after box of perfectly packaged bits of happiness. Then, one night at a dive bar, she hears a message in the newest single by child-actor-turned-international-pop-star Adriana Argento, and she is struck. Soon she loses herself to the online fandom, a community whose members feverishly track Adriana’s every move.

When a colleague notices the extent of her obsession, she’s invited to join an enigmatic group of adult Adriana superfans who call themselves the Ivies and worship her music in witchy, candlelit listening parties. As the narrator becomes more entrenched in the group, she gets closer to uncovering the sinister secrets that bind them together—while simultaneously losing her grip on reality.

With caustic wit and hypnotic writing, this unsparingly critical thrill ride through millennial life examines all that is wrong in our celebrity-obsessed internet age, and how easy it is to lose yourself in it.

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

I’m outside for a cumulative ten minutes each day before work. Five to walk from my apartment building to the subway, another five to go from the subway to the anemic obelisk that houses my office. I try to breathe as deeply as I can in those minutes, because I never know how long it will be until I take fresh air into my lungs again. Not that the city air is all that fresh, tinged with the sharp stench of old garbage, pollution’s metallic swirl. But it beats the stale oxygen of the office, already filtered through distant respiratory systems. Sometimes, during slow moments at my desk, I inhale and try to imagine those other nostrils and lungs that have already processed this same air. I’m not sure how it works in reality, any knowledge I once had of the intricacies of breathing having been long ago discarded by more useful information, but the image comforts me. Usually, I picture a middle-aged man with greying temples, a fringe of visible nose hair, and a coffee stain on the collar of his baby blue button-down. He looks nothing and everything like my father. An every-father, if you will.

My office is populated by dyed-blonde or pierced brunette women in their mid-to-late twenties and early thirties. The occasional man, just a touch older than most of the women, but still young enough to give off the faint impression that he DJs at Meatpacking nightclubs for extra cash on the weekends.

We are the new corporate Americans, the offspring of the grey-templed men. We wear tastefully ripped jeans and cozy sweaters to the office instead of blazers and trousers. Display a tattoo here and there—our supervisors don’t mind; in fact, they have the most ink. We eat yogurt for breakfast, work through lunch, leave the office at six if we’re lucky, arriving home with just enough time to order dinner from an app and watch two or three hours of Netflix before collapsing into bed from exhaustion we haven’t earned. Exhaustion that lives in the brain, not the body, and cannot be relieved by a mere eight hours of sleep.

Nobody understands exactly what it is we do here, and neither do we. I push through revolving glass door, run my wallet over the card reader, which beeps as my ID scans through the stiff leather, and half-wave in the direction of the uniformed security guard behind the desk, whose face my eyes never quite reach so I can’t tell you what he looks like. He’s just one of the many set-pieces staging the scene of my days.

The elevator ride to the eleventh floor is long enough to skim one-third of a longform article on my phone. I barely register what it’s about, something loosely political, or who is standing next to me in the cramped elevator.

When the doors slide open on eleven, we both get off.

In the dim eleventh-floor lobby, a humming neon light shaping the company logo assaults my sleep-swollen eyes like the prick of a dozen tiny needles. Today, a small section has burned out, creating a skip in the letter w. Below the logo is a tufted cerulean velvet couch where guests wait to be welcomed. To the left there’s a mirrored wall reflecting the vestibule; people sometimes pause there to take photos on the way to and from the office, usually on the Friday afternoon before a long weekend. I see the photos later while scrolling through my various feeds at home in bed. They hit me one after another like shots of tequila: See ya Tuesday! *margarita emoji* Peace out for the long weekend! *palm tree emoji* Byeeeeee! *peace sign emoji.*

She steps in front of me, my elevator companion. Black Rag & Bone ankle boots gleaming, blade-tipped pixie cut grazing her ears. Her neck piercing taunts me, those winking silver balls on either side of her spine. She’s Lexi O’ Connell, the website’s senior editor. She walks ahead with her head angled down, thumb working her phone’s keyboard, and doesn’t look up as she shoves the interior door open, palm to the glass.

I trip over the back of one clunky winter boot with the other as I speed up, considering whether to call out for her attention. It’s what a good web producer, one who is eager to move on from the endless drudgery of copy-pasting and resizing and into the slightly more thrilling drudgery of writing and rewriting, would do.

By the time I regain my footing, I come face-to-face with the smear of her handprint as the door glides shut in front of me.

Monday.

I work at a website.

It’s like most other websites; we publish content, mostly articles: news stories, essays, interviews, glossed over with the polished opalescent sheen of commercialized feminism. The occasional quiz, video, or photoshoot rounds out our offerings. This is how websites work in the age of ad revenue: Each provides a slightly varied selection of mindless entertainment, news updates, and watered-down hot takes about everything from climate change to plus size fashion, hawking their wares on the digital marketplace, leaving The Reader to wander drunkenly through the bazaar, wielding her cursor like an Amex. You can find everything you’d want to read in one place online, dozens of times over. The algorithms have erased choice. Search engines and social media platforms, they know what you want before you do.

As a web producer, my job is to input article text into the website’s proprietary content management system, or CMS. I’m a digitized high school janitor; I clean up the small messes, the litter that misses the rim of the garbage can. I make sure the links are working and the images are high resolution. When anything bigger comes up, it goes to an editor or IT. I’m an expert in nothing, a master of the minuscule fixes.

There are five of us who produce for the entire website, each handling about 20 articles a day. We sit at a long grey table on display at the very center of the open office, surrounded on all sides by editors and writers.

The web producers’ bullpen, Lexi calls it.

The light fixture above the table buzzes loudly like a nest of bees is trapped inside the fluorescent tubing. I drop my bag on the floor and take a seat, shedding my coat like a layer of skin. My chair faces the beauty editor’s desk, the cruelest seat in the house. All day long, I watch Charlotte Miller receive package after package stuffed with pastel tissue paper. Inside those packages: lipstick, foundation, perfume, happiness. A thousand simulacrums of Christmas morning spread across the two-hundred and sixty-one workdays of the year. She has piled the trappings of Brooklyn hipsterdom on top of her blonde, big-toothed, prettiness. Wire-frame glasses, a tattoo of a constellation on her inner left forearm, a rose gold nose ring. She seems Texan, but she’s actually from some wholesome upper Midwestern state, I can never remember which one. Right now, she applies red lipstick from a warm golden tube in the flat gleam of the golden mirror next to her monitor. Everything about her is color-coordinated.

I open my laptop. The screen blinks twice and prompts me for my password. I type it in, and the CMS appears, open to where I left it when I signed off the previous evening. Our CMS is called LIZZIE. There’s a rumor that it was named after Lizzie Borden, christened during the pre-launch party when the tech team pounded too many shots after they finished coding. As in, “Lizzie Borden took an ax and gave her mother forty whacks.” Lizzie Borden rebranded in the 21st century as a symbol of righteous feminine anger. LIZZIE, my best friend, my closest confidant. She’s an equally comforting and infuriating presence, constant in her bland attention. She gazes at me, always emotionless, saying nothing as she watches me teeter on the edge, fighting tears or trying not to doze at my desk or simply staring, in search of answers she cannot provide.

My eyes droop in their sockets as I scan the articles that were submitted before I arrived this morning. The whites threaten to turn liquid and splash onto my keyboard, pool between the keys and jiggle like eggs minus the yolks. Thinking of this causes a tiny laugh to slip out from between my clenched lips. Charlotte slides the cap onto her lipstick, glares at me over the lip of the mirror.

“Morning.”

That’s Tom, the only male web producer, who sits across and slightly left of me, keeping my view of Charlotte’s towering wonderland of boxes and bags clear. He’s four years older than me, twenty-eight, but the plush chipmunk curve of his cheeks makes him appear much younger, like he’s about to graduate high school. He’s cute, though, in the way of a movie star who always gets cast as the geek in teen comedies. Definitely hot but dress him down in an argyle sweater and glasses and he could be a Hollywood nerd. I’ve always wanted to ask him why he works here, doing this. There isn’t really a web producer archetype. We’re all different, a true island of misfit toys.

But if there is a type, Tom doesn’t fit it. He seems smart and driven. He’s consistently the only person who attends company book club meetings having read that month’s selection from cover to cover. I’ve never asked him why he works here because we don’t talk much. No one in our office talks much. Not out loud, anyway. We communicate through a private Morse code, fingers dancing on keys, expressions scanned and evaluated from a distance.

Sometimes I think about flirting with Tom, for something to do, but he wears a wedding ring. Not that I care about his wife; it’s more the fear of rebuff and rejection, of hearing the low-voiced Sorry, I’m married, that stops me. He usually sails in a few minutes after I do, smelling like his bodega coffee and the egg sandwich he carefully unwraps and eats at his desk. He nods in my direction. Morning is the only word we’ve exchanged the entire time I’ve worked here, which is coming up on a year in January. It’s not even a greeting, merely a statement of fact. It is morning and we’re both here. Again.

Three hundred and sixty-five days lost to the hum and twitch and click. I can’t seem to remember how I got here. It all feels like a dream. The mundane kind, full of banal details, but something slightly off about it all. I don’t remember applying for the job, or interviewing. One day, an offer letter appeared in my inbox and I signed.

And here I am. Day after day, I wait for someone to need me. I open articles. I tweak the formatting, check the links, correct the occasional typo that catches my eye. It isn’t really my job to copy edit, or even to read closely, but sometimes I notice things, grammatical errors or awkward phrasing, and I then can’t not notice them; I have to put them right or else they nag like a papercut on the soft webbing connecting two fingers. The brain wants to be useful. It craves activity, even after almost three hundred and sixty-five days of operating at its lowest frequency.

I open emails. I download attachments. I insert numbers into spreadsheets. I email those spreadsheets to Lexi and my direct boss, Ashley, who manages the homepage.

None of it ever seems to add up to anything.

Excerpt from Fan Club by Erin Mayer. Copyright © 2021 by Erin Mayer. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.

Meet The Author

Erin Mayer

Erin Mayer is a freelance writer and editor based in Maine. Her work has appeared in Business Insider, Man Repeller, Literary Hub, and others. She was previously an associate fashion and beauty editor at Bustle.com.

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

This excerpt brought to you by MIRA Books

Book Showcase: AN IMPOSSIBLE PROMISE by Jude Deveraux and Tara Sheets

Harlequin Trade Publishing Fall 2021 Women's Fiction Blog Tours Banner, HTP Books, Stories Worth Reading, featuring book covers for AN IMPOSSIBLE PROMISE by Jude Deveraux and Tara Sheets and more

An Impossible Promise, Providence Falls Book 2, by Jude Deveraux with Tara Sheets
ISBN: 9780778312123 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9780778332084 (paperback)
ISBN: 9780369703071 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781488212482 (digital audiobook)
ISBN: 9781665104043 (audiobook on CD)
ASIN: B08QZ29VZ5 (Kindle edition)
ASIN: B08YP7WPVM (Audible audiobook)
Release Date: September 21, 2021
Publisher: MIRA Books
Genre: Fiction | Romance | Time Travel Romance | Women’s Fiction

 
9780778312123_LHC_prd

They can’t be together, but they can’t stay apart…

Liam O’Connor has one purpose in this life—to push the woman he loves into the arms of another man. The Irish rogue unknowingly changed the course of destiny when he fell in love with Cora McLeod over a century ago. Their passion was intense, brief and tragic. And the angels have been trying to restore the balance of fate ever since.

Now police officers in Providence Falls, North Carolina, Liam and Cora are partners on a murder investigation. The intensity of the case has drawn them closer together—exactly what Liam is supposed to avoid. The angels have made it clear Cora must be with Finley Walsh. But headstrong Cora makes her own decisions and she’s starting to have feelings for Liam—the only thing he’s ever really wanted.

Liam knows this is the last chance to save his soul. But does he love Cora enough to let her go?

 

Read an excerpt:

 

PROLOGUE

THE CELESTIAL CHAMBER OF JUDGMENT WAS not cozy by any stretch of the imagination. Most of the time it appeared to be nothing more than white roiling walls of mist, which the angel Agon found downright dreary. But his associate Samael deemed it necessary, believing that human souls facing judgment were better off with no distractions. This was probably why Samael’s face was now scrunched in open disapproval—an expression Agon had grown used to over the centuries.

“What,” Samael demanded, pointing an elegant finger at the object against the chamber wall, “is that?” With his blond ringlets and cherub cheeks, he looked like a Renaissance painting of a frazzled choir boy.

It made Agon want to smile, but he refrained. For an angel as old as himself, he’d learned a thing or two. Instead, he drew up to his full height, impressive even by angelic standards, and stretched his snowy wings wide. “It’s called a recliner,” he said cheerfully. “For sitting and resting. Very comforting to humans, from what I gather.”

Samael looked incredulous. “I’ve told you before, this is no place of solace. Human souls are summoned here to face judgment, and not all of them are headed to a comfortable destination.”

“True.” Agon sat on the edge of the overstuffed chair, swiveling left, then right. “But I see no harm in offering them a place to rest while we review their lives. If nothing else, it will provide an alternative to their usual pacing and wringing of hands and stumbling about in distress. It is pitiable when they do that, you must admit.”

Samael sighed, shook his head and turned toward the wall of mist. A good sign, Agon decided. For now, it seemed the new chair could stay. Perhaps later he could bring in a few other earthly things to liven up the place, but what was that human expression? Ah, yes. Baby steps.

“We haven’t time for your antics,” Samael muttered, waving a hand at the wall of mist. “Our wayward rogue is about to learn a valuable lesson.”

The mist cleared, revealing a city street at night. A swarthy stranger in a black leather jacket and designer jeans pulled his motorcycle to a stop outside a sports bar.

Agon rose from the chair and went to stand beside Samael as they watched the scene unfold. “You’re sure this man is just like Liam O’Connor?”

“He has all the same traits as the rogue,” Samael said. “The arrogance, the selfish motives, the questionable morals. He wasn’t originally scheduled to cross paths with Liam, but it was easy enough to arrange.”

Agon tilted his dark head, studying the man who was now sauntering toward the entrance of the bar. A neon sign that read ROOKIES blinked above the door. “And you’re certain introducing this man to Liam will serve a useful purpose?”

Samael crossed his arms. “It will be good for Liam to see his own personality traits reflected in someone else. Perhaps then, through serious introspection, the rogue will realize his many faults and be at peace with the task we’ve given him.”

“Perhaps,” Agon said, though he wasn’t so sure. Liam O’Connor and peace did not seem to mix. The man was hell-bent on winning Cora McLeod for himself, no matter how much he assured the angels he was trying to help Cora achieve her true destiny by marrying Finley Walsh. Agon knew what desperation looked like in a man’s eyes, and paired with determination, it could be a dangerous combination. Liam had both in abundance. “I hope it works. He only has two months left to achieve his task.”

Samael let out a huff. “It has to work. We can’t interfere with his free will, and this is the last thing I could think of to help steer him in the right direction. We’ve already agreed to some of the ‘boosts’ he’s asked for. Rudimentary computer knowledge. Fair warning when we plan to visit. We’ve even made it so he’d no longer feel pain whenever he and Cora touch.” He gave Agon a stern look. “That last one was only because you advocated so strongly on his behalf.”

“I think we can trust him to make the right decisions,” Agon said. “I know he seems like a lost cause, but let us have faith that he will prevail.”

“Mmm, faith,” Samael said as they watched the tall man disappear into the bar. “In a rogue. What could possibly go wrong?”

 

Excerpt from An Impossible Promise by Jude Deveraux and Tara Sheets.
Copyright © 2021 by Deveraux Inc. Published by MIRA Books. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.

Meet the Authors

Portrait of Jude Deveraux, 2018

Jude Deveraux is the author of forty-three New York Times bestsellers, including For All Time, Moonlight in the Morning, and A Knight in Shining Armor. She was honored with a Romantic Times Pioneer Award in 2013 for her distinguished career. To date, there are more than sixty million copies of her books in print worldwide. Jude lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

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

 

Author - Tara Sheets

Tara Sheets is an award-winning author of contemporary romance and women’s fiction. Her work has earned first place recognition in literary contests nationwide, and her debut novel, Don’t Call Me Cupcake, won the 2016 Golden Heart® award sponsored by Romance Writers of America. Tara lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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

This excerpt and virtual book tour brought to you by MIRA Books

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