Excerpt: THE WAGES OF SIN by Nancy Allen

The Wages of Sin: An Ozarks Mystery by Nancy Allen 
ISBN: 9780062438768 (paperback – available June 14, 2016)
ISBN: 9780062438751 (ebook)
ASIN: B0166JUGPM (Kindle edition)
Publication date: April 12, 2016 
Publisher: Witness Impulse

In rural McCown County, Missouri, a young pregnant woman is found beaten to death in a trailer park. The only witness to the murder is Ivy, her six-year-old daughter, who points to her mom’s boyfriend—father of the unborn child. County prosecutor Madeleine Thompson promises the community justice, and in the Ozarks, that can only mean one thing: a death sentence.

When Madeleine’s first choice for co-counsel declines to try a death penalty case, she is forced to turn to assistant prosecutor Elsie Arnold. Elsie is reluctant to join forces with her frosty boss, but the road to conviction seems smooth—until unexpected facts about the victim arise, and the testimony of the lone eyewitness Ivy becomes increasingly crucial. Against Elsie’s advice, Madeleine brings in the state attorney general’s office to assist them, while cutthroat trial attorney Claire O’Hara joins the defense.

Elsie will not let the power of prosecution—of seeking justice—be wrested from her without a fight. She wants to win the case, and to avenge the death of the mother and her unborn child. But as the trial nears, Elsie begins to harbor doubts about the death penalty itself. Meanwhile, the child Ivy is in greater danger than anyone knows… 

Read an excerpt:

Oh my God. Let this be over, Elsie thought, doodling on the page of a legal pad. Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Elsie Arnold had been tied up in Judge Carter’s court for nearly two hours that morning, representing the State of Missouri in a preliminary hearing. The criminal defendant was charged with robbery in the first degree. Only Judge Carter, Elsie thought, would be coldhearted enough to subject her to a robbery prelim on the Tuesday after Labor Day weekend.

Public Defender Josh Nixon was grilling the bank president, Donna Hudson, in cross-examination.

“So you were present at the time of the alleged robbery?”

“Yes—I said so. In my office.”

“But isn’t it true that, if you were shut up in your office, you did not have occasion to hear whether the defendant threatened any harm?”

“The buzzer sounded. I heard it.” The woman sat stiff, with righteous indignation in every wrinkle of her face.

“The alarm, right? But you didn’t hear any statements made by the defendant, did you? Because you remained safely in the back of the bank.”

“I saw the bomb.”

A comical grin grew on the defense attorney’s face; Elsie closed her eyes so she wouldn’t have to see it.

“The bomb?” he repeated.

“The box. The box with the tape.”

The criminal complaint filed by the prosecution did not allege that the defendant had threatened the bank employee with a bomb. The criminal charge stated that the defendant threatened the use of what appeared to be a bomb.

“Describe this box, please.”

“It was a box, about this size,” she said, making a rectangle shape with her hands. “And it was covered with duct tape.”

“Did the defendant detonate this deadly bomb? This dangerous instrument you described?”

The banker eyed the defense attorney with resentment. “You know what happened.”

“Tell me. For the record.”

“The bank teller gave him the money. Everything in her drawer. He ran out, left that box on the counter.”

“Then what happened?”

“The bomb squad came and took over.”

“What did they do? If you know.”

“They exploded it.” The lines deepened around the woman’s mouth. “They blew it up. And the mess went everywhere.”

“Mess? What kind of mess?”

Elsie wanted to cover her ears to block out the answer that was coming.

“The chocolate, the cherries.”

Josh Nixon leaned on the empty jury box, nodding sagely. “So the bomb was not a bomb at all? It was—what did you say?”

“A box of candy. Chocolate-covered cherries. Wrapped in duct tape.”

“And for the record, Ms. Hudson: was the money recovered? The money from the bank teller’s drawer?”

“Yes, it was. But—”

Before she could complete her sentence, the defense attorney turned his back to her, cutting the witness off. “No further questions,” he said, and walked back to the counsel table. Nixon slid into his seat, stretching his long legs out in front of him and tucking his longish sun-streaked hair behind his ear. He hadn’t bothered to don a tie.

Judge Carter, a slim man in his forties with prematurely silver hair, peered at Elsie over his glasses. “Redirect?”

Elsie stood at the counsel table, looking at the bank president with an encouraging face. “But did it appear to be a bomb? When the defendant threatened the teller with it?”

“Objection,” Nixon said, sitting up straight. “The witness wasn’t present, has no way of knowing other than hearsay!”

Elsie barked back. “You’re the one who opened the door on this line of questioning. In your cross-examination.”

The bank president rose from her chair, the picture of aggrieved fury. “What I want to know,” she said, “is who is going to pay? For that mess? The cleaning of the bank lobby?”

Judge Carter slammed the gavel. The bank president jumped, startled, and hopped back onto her seat on the witness stand.

“Ms. Arnold—further questions?”


“Any further witnesses on behalf of the defense?”

“No,” said Nixon.

The judge turned to his clerk. “The court finds probable cause. Defendant is bound over to Circuit Court on the charge of robbery in the first degree. Arraignment to be held Friday at 9:00 A.M.”

When the judge left the bench, Josh Nixon turned to whisper with his client, a long-haired young man with a bushy mustache. The president of Bank of the Hilltop, Donna Hudson, stormed off the witness stand and bore down on Elsie.

“How could I be treated this way in a court of law?”

“No one meant to mistreat you,” Elsie said in a soothing voice. “It was just cross-examination—the defense attorney gets to ask questions. I explained that to you before.”

“But I am the victim. My family owns the bank.”

“That’s right, Donna. But the defense has the right to confront the witnesses against him.”

“Who gave that criminal the right to confront me? I am a taxpaying citizen.”

Elsie backed up a step, angling to make a getaway. “The US Constitution. Sixth Amendment.”

The banker’s eyes narrowed; Elsie sensed that the woman didn’t appreciate the finer points of the Bill of Rights.

“When will the court make him pay for the cleanup? The cleanup of the bank lobby?”

Edging closer to the door, Elsie shook her head. “Hard to say. You think this guy has any money?”

Mrs. Hudson’s unhappy expression showed that the conversation wasn’t over. But as she was about to speak again, Elsie’s friend and coworker, Breeon Johnson, hurried into the courtroom and grabbed Elsie’s arm.

“Downstairs,” Breeon said.

“Now? Right now?” Elsie asked.

“Just one darned minute,” Donna Hudson said. She opened a Louis Vuitton handbag and pulled out a Kleenex, rubbing furiously at her nose. Elsie eyed the bag with curiosity. It was probably the real article. Though as an employee of a rural county in the Ozarks, Elsie didn’t have sufficient acquaintance with designer goods to distinguish the genuine product from a knockoff.

Elsie gave Breeon an inquiring look. “Can you wait a sec?”

Breeon tugged at her arm. “Can’t wait. It’s an emergency.”

Elsie could see from Breeon’s face that she was deadly serious. “Okay,” she said. Looking back at the banker, Elsie spoke hastily. “The system is working, Mrs. Hudson. Your bank robber has been bound over; he’ll be arraigned in Circuit Court, and his case will be set for jury trial. I appreciate your cooperation, and your testimony. But I have to get downstairs.” She looked over to the door; Breeon had just vanished through it. “Something major is going on.”

“But will he pay?”

The woman’s voice rang in Elsie’s ears, and she was tired of hearing it. Turning away, she said, “Yeah. Yes, Mrs. Hudson. He’ll pay.”


“The old-fashioned way, I expect. With his liberty.”

The banker protested, her voice shrill, but Elsie departed at a fast pace, and scrambled down the worn marble staircase of the McCown County Courthouse, catching up to Breeon at the back entrance to the Prosecutor’s Office.

“What?” Elsie demanded, as Breeon punched the security buttons to access the private entrance. “What is it?”

Breeon shook her head in disgust. “Another murder. They found the body in a trailer home, right outside the city limits. Can you believe it?”

“Again?” Murder cases were rare in rural McCown County, a small community nestled deep in the Ozark hills of southwest Missouri. Elsie had handled a murder case over the summer, prosecuting a juvenile for the death of a bus driver. A second homicide, occurring within such a short period of time, would shake the entire community.

“Yeah, another woman,” Breeon said, pushing the door open. “But a young one this time.”

“Aw, shit,” Elsie said.

Breeon gave her a look, righteous anger evident in her face. “She was eight months pregnant.”

The news stopped Elsie in her tracks. “A double murder,” she whispered.

© Nancy Allen

Author Bio:

Nancy Allen

Nancy Allen practiced law for 15 years as Assistant Missouri Attorney General and Assistant Prosecutor in her native Ozarks. She has tried over 30 jury trials, including murder and sexual offenses, and is now a law instructor at Missouri State University. Her first novel, The Code of the Hills, was published by HarperCollins in 2014. The Wages of Sin is the third book in her Ozarks mystery series.

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 The Wages of Sin: An Ozarks Mystery
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The Wages of Sin

Book Showcase: NOTORIOUS by Carey Baldwin


by Carey Baldwin

on Tour April 5 – May 13, 2016

Notorious by Carey BaldwinThe woman everyone loves to hate is dead.

Dallas socialite Cynthia Langhorne is infamous for her beauty, her philanthropy, and her home wrecking—until she’s found shot through the heart and posed nude at a fundraising ball. The case is high profile, and there’s a bigger problem: Cindy is the wife of a decorated FBI special agent—the prime suspect in her murder.

When the Bureau sends FBI profiler Atticus Spenser and forensic psychiatrist Dr. Caitlin Cassidy to Texas on behalf of Dutch Langhorne, the special agent-turned-suspect, they’re suspicious of the very man whose interests they’re supposed to protect. But with a psycho hitman on their heels and a trail of evidence leading up the food chain, it quickly becomes clear this is no ordinary case. The truth points to someone—or something—larger than Spenser and Cassidy ever thought possible. Solving this case is no longer a matter of clearing Dutch’s name—it’s a matter of national security.

Book Details:

Genre:  Psychological Thriller
Published by:   Witness Impulse
Publication Date:   Feb 2, 2016
Number of Pages:  336
ISBN:   006238709X (ISBN13: 9780062387097)
Series: Cassidy & Spenser #3
Purchase Links: Amazon  Barnes & Noble  Goodreads

Want to know more about Notorious? Read this excerpt:


Sunday, October 13

10:00 P.M.

Dallas, Texas

When heading for a secret rendezvous with her lover, it simply wouldn’t do to appear to be sneaking off. So it was with a proud, unflinching spine, that Cynthia Beasley Langhorne ascended the grand staircase at the Worthington Mansion—one of Dallas’s most celebrated historic landmarks.

Golden light from opulent chandeliers flooded the plush, red carpet runner on the steps, giving her the eerie feeling she was wading into a river of blood. To keep from tripping, she lifted her Stella McCartney gown above her ankles. Its blue silk-chiffon swooshed, whispering secrets against her skin and tickling her bare legs. The mingled scents of money, power, and perfume floated up from the ballroom, along with the strains of Mozart and crashing cymbals. To those looking on with interest, and there were plenty of gawking eyes fixed on her, she supposed she appeared to be gliding with ease. But in truth, the crushing weight of her charmed life made each demure step as tortuous as a death march.

Bracing herself with a deep breath, she cast a glance over her shoulder at her handsome, unreachable husband, who was posted in the middle of the marble foyer below. She kept her head turned long enough to catch Dutch’s eye, allowing a few paparazzi to capture her impenetrable smile. Mona Lisa had nothing on her. No one would ever guess her thoughts or her true purpose—at least so far, no one ever had. And that was her curse in life. Blessed with wealth and notoriety, her heart would remain forever unseen, her diary her only confidante.

In spite of her determination, her steps slowed involuntarily, giving Dutch every chance to stop her. If he had so much as raised an eyebrow at her, she might’ve turned back and run straight for his arms. But, of course, he didn’t, and his indifference bolstered her faltering courage. She tossed her head, knowing the effect of her silky, auburn hair swinging across her bare shoulders would be dazzling. The music lulled, as if paying its respects like a gentleman rising to his feet when a lady exits the room. A flurry of flashing lights was accompanied by the electric sound of cameras clicking.

When her husband had asked her where she was going, she’d answered truthfully, “I’m meeting Matthew Cambridge, darling. I promise I won’t be long.”

Dutch’s eyes had glinted dangerously—but only for a moment. Then he sent her an insouciant smile. “Tell Matt that I’m the one who brought you to this god-awful-boring fund-raiser, and I’d like to dance with my wife at some point, let’s say before midnight.”

“Before midnight it is,” she’d promised.

Then he’d taken her hand, and she’d willed him not to let it go—not to let her go. But let her go he did.

Now a resigned sigh escaped her lips because it was too late for regrets. Her husband was married to his work. His passion was reserved for the FBI, and there was nothing to be done about that. Though she would give her own life to protect the damnable fool, the separate paths she and Dutch had chosen were paved with the cold stone of one irrefutable truth.

He doesn’t love me.

As her brown eyes locked with his frosty blue ones, she raised her chin and blinked away the moisture that blurred her vision. When her chest tightened, she commanded her body to relax, then raised her hand to her lips and blew him a kiss. She turned her back fully, then continued her march—not because she didn’t love her husband but because she did.

And because if she didn’t go through with this, the only thing that mattered would be destroyed.

Up the stairs, down the hall, and behind a closed bedroom door, she shed her clothing. She folded her silks, laying them neatly on a side chair, then hung her delicate gown in the closet. A chill seeped down to her bones, and a shiver swept over her. Without her garments, she felt as vulnerable as a soldier going into battle without armor.

But she had no choice.

The cost of defeat would be unbearably high.

Naked now, she arranged herself seductively on the bed, pressing her hand on her stomach to suppress the wave of anticipatory nausea. Pretending she was somewhere else, she closed her eyes. A creak of floorboards signaled her paramour’s approach. The door whooshed open. She steeled her resolve and forced her eyelids up.

But what she saw, there, in the doorway, turned her blood to ice and froze a scream, forever, in her throat.

© 2016  Witness Impulse & Carey Baldwin

Author Bio:

GREAT NEWS! Judgment, the first book in my Cassidy & Spenser Thriller series, has been named one of the “BEST BOOKS of 2014” by SUSPENSE MAGAZINE. 

Both Judgment & Confession are BOOKSELLERS BEST AWARD Finalists 


Carey Baldwin is a mild-mannered doctor by day and an award-winning author of edgy suspense by night. She holds two doctoral degrees, one in medicine and one in psychology. She loves reading and writing stories that keep you off balance and on the edge of your seat. Carey lives in the southwestern United States with her amazing family. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking and chasing wildflowers.

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Book Promo and Giveaway: EXIT ROW by Judi Culbertson

Exit Row by Judi Culbertson
ISBN: 9780062365163 (ebook)
ASIN: B00OG9067S (Kindle version)
Publication Date: March 22, 2016
Publisher: Witness Impulse (a HarperCollins imprint)

Judi Culbertson returns with a page-turning mystery that answers every frequent flyer’s fear: What happens if I never make it home?

Journalist Fiona Reina had every intention of picking up her boyfriend, Lee, from the airport and heading out for a nice dinner together. But when Lee isn’t on the plane, Fiona begins to get nervous. It seems Lee isn’t the only passenger who never arrived. Three other people are also missing. Worse, it seems they were never on the flight.

With no help from the airline, it’s up to Fiona and the friends and family of the missing passengers to discover what happened—and, more importantly, to find Lee. But when Fiona receives a mysterious note—It happened in between Denver and Taos—the patchwork team is thrust into a dangerous race against time…a race that could cost them more than who they’ve already lost.

Meet the author:

Judi Culbertson draws on her experience as a used-and-rare book dealer, social worker, and world traveler to create her bibliophile mysteries. She has co-authored five illustrated guides with her husband, Tom Randall, of such cities as Paris, London, and New York. She is also the author of the acclaimed nonfiction titles Scaling Down and The Clutter Cure

To learn more about Ms. Culbertson, please click here for the author’s biography.

Connect with the author:  Website

Enter to win a digital copy of Exit Row by Judi Culbertson. This giveaway is brought to you courtesy of the publisher, Witness Impulse (a HarperCollins imprint). Thank you HarperCollins for your generosity. This giveaway is open to residents of the US only. 

Giveaway ends 11:59 PM ET on Saturday, April 2, 2016, and the winner will be announced on Sunday, April 3, 2016. All entries must use the Rafflecopter form found below.

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 Exit Row

Exit Row
Exit Row
Exit Row

2015 Book #249: THE WARNING by Sophie Hannah

The Warning by Sophie Hannah
ISBN: 9780062428851 (paperback)
ISBN: 9780062428844 (ebook)
ASIN: B00VES8D5G (Kindle edition)
Publication date: June 30, 2015 (digital) / August 4, 2015 (pbk)
Publisher: Witness Impulse

Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

When a kindly stranger does Chloe a good deed, she decides she must repay him. But in tracing him, she meets a sympathetic woman named Nadine, who warns Chloe to stay away from the man at all costs. “Give him nothing, tell him nothing, don’t trust him,” she says. “Avoid him like the plague.”

Chloe knows the sensible thing to do: walk away. But her curiosity gets the best of her. What is the truth about the good Samaritan? How dangerous could he be? And can Chloe find the answers without putting herself and her daughter in harm’s way?

A twisting, razor-sharp suspense story that will keep you guessing to the very end, The Warning features an appearance from Simon Waterhouse, next seen in the full-length thriller Woman with a Secret—already hailed as “mesmerizing” (Lisa Gardner) and “unputdownable” (Liane Moriarty). 

Chloe is a single mom. On the day of her daughter’s audition for a musical, she’s unknowingly left the sheet music in her car, in a garage that’s too far away to retrieve in time for the audition. Tom (aka chivalrous knight to the rescue) comes to her rescue on his speedy steed (aka his bicycle) and retrieves the sheet music just in the nick of time. When Chloe tracks Tom down and provides him with a “thank you” gift, she receives a strange warning from one of Tom’s coworkers. Chloe doesn’t pay heed to the warning so her best friend pulls in a police officer to launch a friendly investigation into Tom. Should Chloe listen to these warnings or follow her heart?

The Warning is a very quick read at under 100 pages. Ms. Hannah has provided the reader with a thriller that pulls the reader in from page one. I found most of the action in The Warning to be plausible and realistic, except for the notion of “love at first sight.” (Is it possible to be attracted to someone at first sight? Yes! Is it possible to fall in love with someone that you know absolutely nothing about? I don’t think so.) Personal prejudices aside, if you’re looking for a quick and thrilling read with romantic overtones, then grab a copy of The Warning.

Disclaimer: I received a print copy of this book for review purposes from the publisher via Edelweiss. I was not paid, required, or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


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Book 194: THE CUTTING Review

The Cutting by James Hayman
ISBN: 9780062362988 (ebook)
ASIN: B00J7Q623C  (Kindle edition)
Publication date: June 3, 2014
Publisher: Witness Impulse

Someone is stealing the hearts of beautiful women…

Detective Mike McCabe moved from a top homicide job with the NYPD to Portland, Maine to leave his failed marriage and suspicions of wrongdoing behind, and to find a more peaceful life for himself and his 13 year old daughter. 

But the small New England city is not nearly as safe as he thought. 

On a warm September night, a missing high-school athlete is found dead in a scrap metal yard, her heart removed from her body with surgical precision. As outrage over the killing spreads, a young business woman disappears while out on a morning jog. 

McCabe is certain both crimes are the work of one man—a murderer skilled in cardiac surgery who is using his scalpel to target young women. With the clock ticking, McCabe and his partner Maggie Savage find themselves in a desperate race against time to find and rescue the missing woman before she becomes the next victim of the sadistic killer’s blade.

A missing person’s case is enough to put any community on edge. A missing person’s case that ends with the discovery of the mutilated body is unimaginable. Detective Mike McCabe has relocated from New York to Portland, Maine with the hopes that this smaller town will be the idyllic setting to raise his thirteen-year-old daughter Casey. McCabe and his daughter have settled into Portland quite nicely. McCabe has a love interest, enjoys his new job, and his daughter has gotten used to being without her mother. Unfortunately McCabe hopes for quiet town are dashed when the mutilated body of a missing high-school female is found. If that wasn’t bad enough, he and his partner Maggie Savage and literally racing against the clock to find another missing women before it’s too late. 

The Cutting is the first book in the McCabe and Savage series. I’ve read and previously reviewed Mr. Hayman’s novel Darkness First, also a McCabe and Savage novel, so I was delighted at the opportunity to read the first in this series. I found The Cutting to be a fast-paced read and enjoyed learning more about McCabe and Savage. Mr. Hayman did a remarkable job portraying the horror and terror that grips a city when there’s the possibility of a serial killer on the loose. The Cutting provides just the right amount of mystery and suspense, along with the introduction of the personal drama in McCabe’s life. McCabe is in a serious relationship with a local artist – Kyra Erikson, has had sole custody of his teenage daughter for more than three years, and now his ex-wife has decided she wants to become reacquainted with their daughter. It is precisely this combination of drama, mystery, and suspense that makes The Cutting such a wonderful book. The characters are all realistically flawed and the action is quite believable. If you’ve read Darkness First and haven’t read The Cutting you’ll definitely want to read it. If you haven’t read either book and enjoy great mystery-suspense-thrillers then add both books to your TBR list. I’m eagerly looking forward to reading more McCabe and Savage stories in the future.

Read the first chapter of The Cutting here

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher via Edelweiss. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Guest Post: Judi Culbertson, author of A PHOTOGRAPHIC DEATH

The Book Diva’s Reads is pleased to host a visit by Judi Culbertson, author of the Delhi Laine novels, including the latest release, A Photographic Death. Ms. Culbertson discusses being successful at writing.

On Being Precocious (Not)

There’s always a lot of media attention when someone in their early twenties lands a book contract for, say, $500,000 for a first novel. Extensive publicity is planned along with the promise that it is “soon to be a major motion picture.” 

I too had hopes that fate would pick me out of the line-up the same way.

My first writing success came when I was in sixth grade and we were assigned to write a story celebrating Easter. Mine involved a boy named Tony who lived in a garbage can and was rescued Easter morning by the ASPCA. The class voted for their favorites and it came down to my story and one written by a girl named Stella.

Mrs. Callaghan, our teacher, was alarmed. “But Stella’s story is so sweet,” she protested when she saw where the election was heading. “All about bunnies gamboling in the woods hiding Easter eggs!”

It was no use. The class wanted mine.

I’d like to say that I went on wowing my audience. But by high school my stories were worse than smirking rabbits in the forest. Cardboard characters, silly plots, descriptions loaded with cliches. I read the stories in Seventeen religiously, but something crucial did not rub off.

In college I majored in Creative Writing and wrote silly college-level stories instead. For a while I joined a poetry group. Of the eight of us, Wes Craven, the future creator of Nightmare on Elm Street, wrote dark, vividly crafted poems. Carolyn read aloud stark and beautiful laments for a boyfriend who had been killed. The poem of mine that I remember best began, “It is raining on the ruins of Pompeii.” It ended with an allusion to “The rains that soak the ruins of my heart.”

Poetry was not my forte.

I passed the age when I could be considered precocious without stunning the world. Ironically my first book, published in my mid-twenties, was not fiction at all, but a satire meant to be funny, Games Christians Play. It did well, with an advance sale of over 50,000 copies and stayed in print for ten years.

That should have told me something, but it didn’t. I kept trying to write fiction. Like a possum spying dinner on the other side of the road and setting out to reach it, I painstakingly crawled toward what I had always wanted. By the time I published my first novel in 1996, I had already had authored a handful of non-fiction books and had had a career in social work. 

It wasn’t until I published my first mystery in the Delhi Laine series, A Novel Death, in 2011 that I finally got it right. Since then I’ve written two more novels in the Secondhand Prose series and am at work on the next. Along the way, I discovered something important:

At the end of the day it doesn’t matter if you’re 20 or 50 or even 70 when you publish your first novel. Once it’s out there and has found people who love it, nobody cares how old you are.

About the author:

Judi Culbertson draws on her experience as a used-and-rare book dealer, social worker, and world traveler to create her bibliophile mysteries. She has co-authored five illustrated guides with her husband, Tom Randall, of such cities as Paris, London, and New York. She is also the author of the acclaimed nonfiction titles Scaling Down and The Clutter Cure. She lives in Port Jefferson, New York, with her family.

Connect with the author:     Website 

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Guest Post: Nancy Allen, author of THE CODE OF THE HILLS

How do you come up with a likeable heroine? Nancy Allen, author of The Code of the Hills: An Ozarks Mystery, stops by to answer this question. The Book Diva’s Reads is pleased to present to you Nancy Allen:

Fictional Heroines: A Recipe
By Nancy Allen

What makes heroines tick? Why do readers fall head over heels to embrace one female protagonist, while another leaves them cold?

I think it’s the right combination of ingredients: V/V, U/R. The heroine must possess the essential elements of Virtue and Vulnerability, and be simultaneously Unique and Relatable.

Think of the women we love in fiction: Skeeter in The Help, Clare Fergusson in Julia Spencer-Fleming’s series, Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum. They have the V/V factor. All heroines must exhibit strength, whether they are battling racism, or fighting crime, or solving mysteries. It requires a healthy dose of virtue to get the job done.

But a heroine who is all goodness and light is a bore. I didn’t read each and every volume of Spencer-Fleming’s series because I wanted to hear heroine Clare Fergusson, an Episcopal priest, preach on Sunday. No, indeed; I wanted to see Clare struggle with her unbridled lust for a hunky married cop. The vulnerability factor, the contest of strength and weakness, converted her woman-of-the-cloth heroine from a potential yawn to a persona who kept me riveted to the page.

Similarly, Skeeter’s fight against the racist practices of the 1960’s Deep South was heightened by her angst, fear, and uncertainty as she met in secret with the maids whose stories fueled an expose. And Stephanie Plum’s employment background in lingerie does not equip her for the job of crimefighter; but the fact that she stumbles makes us root for her.

Also, the heroine has to be unique in some way. We don’t want to see the same woman over and over again in fiction. Stock female characters bore us; in the mystery and suspense genre, we’ve all seen the hard-boiled female detective, the brilliant-but-introverted medical examiner; the tough-as-nails female lawyer. If the character isn’t invested with traits that set her apart, we toss the book before we reach page 50. A heroine needs a streak of something unexpected, either in her background, like Clarice Starling of The Silence of the Lambs, or her history (addiction issues, personal disasters), or her personality.

But while we want something unique, the heroine must remain relatable. A heroine who is too beautiful, too brilliant, too infallible makes us suspicious. Why should we care about her? We don’t like those women in real life—the acquaintance who never has a hair out of place or a run in her hose. Why would we like her in a book? Who wants to read about that?

So we love Skeeter’s frizzy hair in The Help; Stephanie Plum’s family dinners with kinfolks who deliver a put-down with a hug. We want to see a heroine eat a doughnut, sleep through the alarm, walk into a kitchen full of dirty dishes. Leave the infallible heroines to the dystopian fantasies, targeting the the high school set (no doughnuts or dirty dishes in Chasing Fire). Real women need protagonists who contend with life’s realities.

When crafting the heroine of my novel, The Code of the Hills: An Ozarks Mystery, I tried to follow my own advice. Elsie Arnold, the assistant prosecutor in my legal thriller, embodies the V/V contrast. She’s smart, dedicated, hard-working—important virtues in the legal field. But Elsie has feet of clay. Her personal life is messy. She puts up with a bad boyfriend because he’s easy on the eyes; to relax, she heads to the local bar (not the gym); she makes mistakes in her case that threaten the outcome. Elsie is a good/bad girl.

And it’s important to remember the U/R quotient as well. Elsie is a hillbilly, born and raised in the Missouri Ozarks, with the quirks inherent in natives of that area; that’s something you don’t see in fiction every day. She’s also a feminist fighting for women in the good ole boy community.

But she is truly relatable. Elsie buys McDonalds burgers at the drive-through and eats in the car. She watches reality TV and buys her shoes at Shoe Carnival. She turns to her mother for comfort and counsel, then rejects her advice—just like we all do.

Whether I invested Elsie with the right measures of V & V, U & R? Only time will tell. The Code of the Hills will be released by HarperCollins on April 15, and Elsie will be put to the test. I hope she lights up the page!

About the author:

Nancy Allen is a member of the law faculty in the College of Business at Missouri State University. She practiced law for 15 years, serving as Assistant Missouri Attorney General and as Assistant Prosecutor in her native Ozarks. When Nancy began her term as prosecutor, she was only the second woman in Southwest Missouri to serve in that capacity. During her years in prosecution, she tried over 30 jury trials, including murder and sexual offenses, and she served on the Rape Crisis Board and the child protection team of the Child Advocacy Council. The Code of the Hills is her first novel.

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A powerful debut thriller set in the Ozark hills, about a young female prosecutor trying to do right by her vulnerable clients-but by breaking their silence, she herself may fall victim to The Code of the Hills. Elsie Arnold may not always have it all together, but a raucous night at the bar now and then is just how she blows off steam after a long week of hard-fought trials. When she is chosen to assist on a high-profile incest case, Elsie is excited to step up after four years of hard work as an attorney for the prosecutor’s office, and ready to realize her ambition of becoming the Ozarks’ avenging angel. There might even be media attention.

But as soon as Elsie she begins to sink her teeth into the State of Missouri vs. Kris Taney, things start to go wrong -which is when her boss dumps the entire case on her. The star witness and victim’s brother, who has accused Taney of sexually abusing his three daughters, has gone missing. The three girls, ages six, 12, and 15, may not be fit to testify, their mother won’t talk, and the evidence is spotty. To make matters worse, it seems that some people in town don’t want Elsie to lock Taney up – judging by the death threats and chicken parts left for her to find.

Elsie is determined to break the code of silence and find out what really happened, refusing to let a sex offender walk, but the odds – and maybe the community – are against her. Even as Elsie fights the good fight for her clients, she isn’t so different from them: her personal life is taking a one-two punch as her cop boyfriend becomes more and more controlling. And amidst all of the conflict, the safety of the three young Taney girls hangs in the balance.

Enter to win 1 of 10 individual promo codes to download a copy of The Code of the Hills ebook. To enter use the Rafflecopter form below. All winners must have access to Bluefire Reader AND have an Adobe account in order to download the book. 

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This author visit organized by Partners In Crime Tours.

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Guest Post: Carey Baldwin, Author of CONFESSION

Today the Book Diva’s Reads is pleased to host a visit by Carey Baldwin, author of the new psychological thriller Confession. Ms. Baldwin will be discussing various influences on her writing. I hope you’ll enjoy her discussion and you definitely need to buy and read her book Confession!

Writing Influences
By Carey Baldwin

First, thank you so much to The Book Diva’s Reads for inviting me today. I’m delighted to be here and to share with you which authors have most influenced my writing. This seemed a tough question until I realized that my influences have changed over time. So if I may, I’ll divide them into groups. 

My earliest influences were perhaps the most important. It was when, as a child, I huddled under the covers reading the likes of Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge, Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott that I learned the meaning of an unputdownable book. Even though it meant reading by the dim orange light on my electric blanket control, even though it meant being dog tired at school the next day, even though it meant risking a spanking and heaven forbid “ruining my young eyes”, I simply couldn’t stop reading these stories. This is where my love affair with storytelling began. 

As time marched on, I found myself giving up books of my own choosing (or my mother’s ) for those needed to complete my school work. Luckily for me I found wonderful authors in my “required” reading. Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte were among my favorites. And it was through my high-school literature class that I discovered my favorite book of all time: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Even today, I can’t seem to keep the influence of that work out of my own stories. Somehow, references to it have appeared in each of my full-length novels. I don’t do it on purpose. It just happens. 

In college, I had the time and freedom to choose my own reading, and that’s when I began to read a lot of commercial fiction. I loved (and still do love) a heart-thumping romance or a shiver-inducing thriller. My favorite authors today are too numerous to name, but I’ll hit a few highlights with Steven King, Cindy Gerard, Harlan Coben, Allison Brennan, Karen Rose, Lisa Gardner…you get the idea.

But the most important influences of all have been a core group of writer friends who critique with me and support me. You’ll find their names listed in the acknowledgements of my books. Each one of them inspires me every day to write my best possible book, and reminds me to never give up on my dreams. 

Thanks again, for having me! And thanks for reading!

About the author:

Carey Baldwin is a mild-mannered doctor by day and an award-winning author of edgy suspense by night. She holds two doctoral degrees, one in medicine and one in psychology. She loves reading and writing stories that keep you off balance and on the edge of your seat. Carey lives in the southwestern United States with her amazing family. In her spare time she enjoys hiking and chasing wildflowers. 

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by Carey Baldwin

BOOK BLAST on March 11th

on Tour April 2014

Book Details:
Genre: Psychological Thrillers, Suspense

Published by: Witness Impulse 

Publication Date: March 11, 2014 

Number of Pages: 384 

ISBN: 9780062314109 / 0062314106 

Purchase Links:

For fans of Allison Brennan and Karen Rose comes Carey Baldwin, a daring new name in suspense, with the story of a serial killer out for blood—and the only woman who can stop his reign of terror.

They say the Santa Fe Saint comes to save your soul—by taking your life.
Newly minted psychiatrist Faith Clancy gets the shock of her life when her first patient confesses to the grisly Saint murders. By law she’s compelled to notify the authorities, but is her patient really The Saint? Or will she contribute to more death by turning the wrong man over to the police?

Faith is going to need all her wits and the help of a powerful adversary, Luke Jericho, if she’s to unravel the truth. But she doesn’t realize she’s about to become an unwitting pawn in a serial killer’s diabolical game: For once he’s finished with Faith, she’ll become his next victim.

Read an excerpt:


Saint Catherine’s School for Boys

Near Santa Fe, New Mexico 

Ten years ago—Friday, August 15, 11:00 P.M. 

I’M NOT afraid of going to hell. Not one damn bit. 

We’re deep in the woods, miles from the boys’ dormitory, and my thighs are burning because I walked all this way with Sister Bernadette on my back. Now I’ve got her laid out on the soggy ground underneath a hulking ponderosa pine. A bright rim of moonlight encircles her face. Black robes flow around her, engulfing her small body and blending with the night. Her face, floating on top of all that darkness, reminds me of a ghost-head in a haunted house—but she’s not dead. 

Not yet. 

My cheek stings where Sister scratched me. I wipe the spot with my sleeve and sniff the air soaked with rotting moss, sickly-sweet pine sap and fresh piss. I pissed myself when I clubbed her on the head with that croquet mallet. Ironic, since my pissing problem is why I picked Sister Bernadette in the first place. She ought to have left that alone. 

I hear a gurgling noise. 


Sister Bernadette is starting to come around. 

This is what I’ve been waiting for. 

With her rosary wound tightly around my forearm, the grooves of the carved sandalwood beads cutting deep into the flesh of my wrist, I squat down on rubber legs, shove my hands under her armpits and drag her into a sitting position against the fat tree trunk. Her head slumps forward, but I yank her by the hair until her face tilts up, and her cloudy eyes open to meet mine. Her lips are moving. Syllables form within the bubbles coming out of her mouth. I press my stinging cheek against her cold, sticky one. 

Like a lover, she whispers in my ear, “God is merciful.” 

The nuns have got one fucked-up idea of mercy. 

“Repent.” She’s gasping. “Heaven…” 

“I’m too far gone for heaven.”

The God I know is just and fierce and is never going to let a creep like me through the pearly gates because I say a few Hail Marys. “God metes out justice, and that’s how I know I will not be going to heaven.” 

To prove my point, I draw back, pull out my pocketknife, and press the silver blade against her throat. Tonight, I am more than a shadow. A shadow can’t feel the weight of the knife in his palm. A shadow can’t shiver in anticipation. A shadow is not to be feared, but I am not a shadow. Not in this moment. 

She moves her lips some more, but this time, no sound comes out. I can see in her eyes what she wants to say to me.
Don’t do it. You’ll go to hell. 

I twist the knife so that the tip bites into the sweet hollow of her throat. “I’m not afraid of going to hell.” 

It’s the idea of purgatory that makes my teeth hurt and my stomach cramp and my shit go to water. I mean what if my heart isn’t black enough to guarantee me a passage straight to hell? What if God slams down his gavel and says,
Son, you’re a sinner, but I have to take your family situation into account. That’s a mitigating circumstance.

A single drop of blood drips off my blade like a tear.

“What if God sends me to purgatory?” My words taste like puke on my tongue. “I’d rather dangle over a fiery pit for eternity than spend a single day of the afterlife in a place like this one.”

I watch a spider crawl across her face. 

My thoughts crawl around my brain like that spider. 

You could make a pretty good case, I think, that St. Catherine’s School for Boys is earth’s version of purgatory. I mean, it’s a place where you don’t exist. A place where no one curses you, but no one loves you either. Sure, back home, your father hits you and calls you a bastard, but you are a bastard, so its okay he calls you one. Behind me, I hear the sound of rustling leaves and cast a glance over my shoulder. 

Do it! You want to get into hell, don’t you?

I turn back to sister and flick the spider off her cheek. 

The spider disappears, but I’m still here. 

At St. Catherine’s no one notices you enough to knock you around. Every day is the same as the one that came before it, and the one that’s coming after. At St. Catherine’s you wait and wait for your turn to leave, only guess what, you dumb-ass bastard, your turn is never going to come, because you, my friend, are in purgatory, and you can’t get out until you repent. 

Sister Bernadette lets out another gurgle. 

I spit right in her face. 

I won’t repent, and I can’t bear to spend eternity in purgatory, which is I why I came up with a plan. A plan that’ll rocket me straight past purgatory, directly to hell. 

Sister Bernadette is the first page of my blueprint. I have the book to guide me the rest of the way. For her sake, not mine, I make the sign of the cross. 

She’s not moving, but her eyes are open, and I hear her breathing. I want her to know she is going to die. “You are going to help me get into hell. In return, I will help you get into heaven.”

I shake my arm and loosen the rosary. The strand slithers down my wrist. One bead after another drops into my open palm, electrifying my skin at the point of contact. My blood zings through me, like a high-voltage current. I am not a shadow. 

A branch snaps, making my hands shake with the need to hurry. 

What are you waiting for my friend?

Is Sister Bernadette afraid? 

She has to be. Hungry for her fear, I squeeze my thighs together, and then I push my face close and look deep in her eyes. 

“The blood of the lamb will wash away your sins.” She gasps, and her eyes roll back. “Repent.” 

My heart slams shut. 

I begin the prayers. 

Chapter One 

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Present Day—Saturday, July 20, 1:00 P.M. 

Man, she’s something.

Luke Jericho halted mid-stride, and the sophisticated chatter around him dimmed to an indistinct buzz. Customers jamming the art gallery had turned the air hot, and the aromas of perfume and perspiration clashed. His gaze sketched the cut muscles of the woman’s shoulders before swerving to the tantalizing V of her low-back dress. There, slick fabric met soft skin just in time to hide the thong she must be wearing. His fingers found the cold silk knot of his tie and worked it loose. He let his glance dot down the line of her spine, then swoop over the arc of her ass. It was the shimmer of Mediterranean-blue satin, illuminated beneath art lights, that had first drawn his eye, her seductive shape that had pulled him up short, but it was her stance—her pose—that had his blood expanding like hot mercury under glass. 

Head tilted, front foot cocked back on its stiletto, the woman studied one of Luke’s favorite pieces—his brother Dante’s mixed-media. A piece Luke had hand-selected and quietly inserted into this show of local artists in the hopes a positive response might bolster his brother’s beleaguered self-esteem. 

The woman couldn’t take her eyes off the piece, and he couldn’t take his eyes off the woman. Her right arm floated, as if she were battling the urge to reach out and touch the multi-textured painting. Though her back was to him, he could picture her face, pensive, enraptured. Her lips would be parted and sensual. He savored the swell of her bottom beneath the blue dress. Given the way the fabric clung to her curves, he’d obviously guessed right about the thong. She smoothed the satin with her hand, and he rubbed the back of his neck with his palm. Ha. Any minute now she’d turn and ruin his fantasy with what was sure to turn out to be the most ordinary mug in the room. 

And then she did turn, and damned if her mug wasn’t ordinary at all, but she didn’t appear enraptured. Inquisitive eyes, with a distinct undercurrent of melancholy, searched the room and found him. Then, delicate brows raised high, her mouth firmed into a hard line—even thinned, her blood-red lips were temptation itself—she jerked to a rigid posture and marched, yeah, marched, straight at him. 

Hot ass. Great mouth. Damn lot of nerve. 

“I could feel your stare,” she said. 

“Kind of full of yourself, honey.” 

A flush of scarlet flared across her chest, leading his attention to her lovely, natural breasts, mostly, but not entirely, concealed by a classic neckline. With effort, he raised his eyes to meet hers. Green. Skin, porcelain. Hair, fiery—like her cheeks—and flowing. She looked like a mermaid. Not the soft kind, the kind with teeth. 

“I don’t like to be ogled.” Apparently she intended to stand her ground. 

He decided to stand his as well. That low-back number she had on might be considered relatively tame in a room with more breasts on display than a Picasso exhibit, but there was something about the way she wore it. “Then you shouldn’t have worn that dress, darlin’.”

Her brow arched higher in challenge. “Which is it? Honey or darlin’?” 

“Let’s go with honey. You look sweet.” Not at the moment she didn’t, but he’d sure like to try and draw the sugar out of her. This woman was easily as interesting and no less beautiful than his best gallery piece, and she didn’t seem to be reacting to him per the usual script. He noticed his hand floating up, reaching out, just as her hand had reached for the painting. Like his mesmerizing customer, he knew better than to touch the display, but it was hard to resist the urge. 

Her body drew back, and her shoulders hunched. “You’re aware there’s a serial killer on the loose?”

Luke, you incredible ass.

No wonder she didn’t appreciate his lingering looks. Every woman he knew was on full alert. The Jericho charm might or might not be able to get him out of this one, but he figured she was worth a shot. “Here, in this gallery? In broad daylight?” He searched the room with his gaze and made his tone light. “Or are you saying you don’t like being sized up for the kill?” He patted his suit pockets, made a big show of it and then stroked his chin thoughtfully. “I seem to have misplaced my rosary somewhere, I don’t suppose you’ve seen it?”

Her shoulders eased back to a natural position. 

“Seriously, do I look like someone who’d be called The Saint?” 

If the glove doesn’t fit…

Her lips threatened to curve up at the corners. “No. I don’t suppose you do.” Another beat, and then her smile bloomed in earnest. “Looking a little is one thing, maybe it’s even flattering…but you seem to have exceeded your credit line.” 

He turned his palms up. “Then I’d like to apply for an increase.” 

At that, her pretty head tipped back, and she laughed, a big genuine laugh. It was the kind of laugh that was a touch too hearty for a polished society girl, which perhaps she wasn’t after all. It was also the kind of laugh he’d like to hear again. Of its own accord, his hand found his heart. “Listen, I’m honest-to-God sorry if I spooked you. That wasn’t my intention.”

Her expression was all softness now. 

“Do you like the painting?” he asked, realizing that he cared more than he should about the answer. 

“It’s quite…dark.” Her bottom lip shivered with the last word, and he could sense she found Dante’s painting disturbing. 

Always on the defensive where his brother was concerned, his back stiffened. He tugged at his already loosened tie. “Artists are like that. I don’t judge them.” 

“Of course. I-I wasn’t judging the artist. I was merely making an observation about the painting. It’s expressive, beautiful.”

Relaxing his stance, he pushed a hand through his hair. 

She pushed a hand through her hair, and then her glance found her fancy-toed shoes. “Maybe I overreacted, maybe you weren’t even staring.” 

Giving in to the urge to touch, he reached out and tilted her chin up until their eyes met. “I’m Luke Jericho, and you had it right the first time. I was staring. I was staring at—” He barely had time to register a startled flash of her green eyes before she turned on her heel and disappeared into the throng of gallery patrons. 

He shrugged and said to the space where her scent still sweetened the air, “I was staring at your fascination. Your fascination fascinates me.”

Saturday, July 20, 1:30 P.M.

Faith Clancy strode across her nearly naked office and tossed her favorite firelight macaroon clutch onto her desk. After rushing out of the gallery, she’d come to her office to regroup, mainly because it was nearby. 

She could hear Ma’s voice now, see her wagging finger.
“Luke Jericho? Sure’an you’ve gone and put your wee Irish foot in the stewpot now, Faith.” 

Well, it was only a tiny misstep—what harm could possibly come of it? She braced her palms against the windowsill. Teeth clenched, she heaved with all her might until wood screeched against wood and the window lurched open. 

A full inch. 


Summers in Santa Fe were supposed to be temperate, and she hadn’t invested in an air conditioner for her new office. She sucked in a deep breath, but the currentless summer air brought little relief from the heat. Lifting her hair off the back of her damp neck with one hand, she reached over and dialed on the big standing fan next to the desk with the other. The dinosaur whirred to life without a hiccup. 

That made one thing gone right today. 

The relaxing Saturday afternoon she’d been looking forward to all week had been derailed, thanks to Luke Jericho. Okay, that wasn’t even half fair. In reality, the wheels of her day had never touched down on the track to begin with. She’d awakened this morning with a knot in her stomach and an ache in her heart—missing Danny and Katie. 

Walk it off, she’d thought. Dress up. Take in the sights. Act like you’re part of the Santa Fe scene and soon enough you will be. Determined to forget the homesick rumbling in her chest, Faith had plucked a confidence boosting little number from her closet, slipped on a pair of heels and headed out to mingle with polite society. Even if she didn’t feel like she fit in, at least she would look the part. But the first gallery she’d entered, she’d dunked her foot in the stewpot—crossing swords with, and then, even worse, flirting with the brother of a patient. 

Rather bad luck considering she had just one patient. 

Her toe started to tap. 

Her gaze swept the office and landed on the only adornment of the freshly-painted walls—her diplomas and certificates, arranged in an impressive display with her psychiatric board certification center stage. A Yale-educated doctor. Ma and Da would’ve been proud, even if they might’ve clucked their tongues at the psychiatrist part. She blinked until her vision cleared. It wasn’t only Danny and Katie she was missing today. 

She kicked off her blasted shoes and shook off her homesick blues…only to find her mind returning to the gallery and her encounter with a man who was strictly off limits. 

There was no point chastising herself for walking into the art gallery in the first place, or for refusing to pretend she didn’t notice the man who was eyeing her like she was high tea in a whorehouse, and he a starving sailor. 

Care for a macaroon, sir?

Had she realized her admirer was Luke Jericho, she would’ve walked away without confronting him, but how was she to know him by sight? It wasn’t as if she spent her spare time flipping through photos of town royalty in the society pages. 

She’d recognized his name instantly, however, and not only because she was treating his half-brother, Dante. The Jericho family had a sprawling ranch outside town and an interest in a number of local businesses. But most of their wealth, she’d heard, came from oil. The Jerichos, at least the legitimate ones, had money. Barrels and barrels of it. 

Luke’s name was on the lips of every unattached female in town—from the clerk at the local Shop and Save to the debutante
 docent at the Georgia O’Keeffe museum: 



Criminally rich. 

Luke Jericho, they whispered. 

When she’d turned to find him watching her, his heated gaze had caused her very bones to sizzle. Luke had stood formidably tall, dressed in an Armani suit that couldn’t hide his rancher’s physique. The gallery lights seemed to spin his straw-colored hair into gold and ignite blue fire in his eyes. She could still feel his gaze raking over her in that casual way, as if he didn’t wish to conceal his appetites. It was easy to see how some women might become undone in his presence. She eased closer to the fan. 

“Dr. Clancy.”

That low male voice gave her a fizzy, sick feeling in the pit of her stomach, like she’d just downed an Alka-Seltzer on top of the flu. When you’re all alone in a room, and someone else speaks, it’s just plain creepy. 

It only took a millisecond to recognize the voice, but at a time when someone dubbed
The Santa Fe Saint was on a killing spree, that was one millisecond too long. Icy tendrils of fear wrapped themselves around her chest, squeezing until it hurt her heart to go on beating. The cold certainty that things were not as they should be made the backs of her knees quiver. Then recognition kicked in, and her breath released in a whoosh. 

It’s only Dante.

She pasted on a neutral expression and turned to face him. How’d he gotten in? The entrance was locked; she was certain of it. 

“Did I frighten you?”

She inclined her head toward the front door to her office, which was indeed locked, and said, “Next time, Dante, I’d prefer you use the main entrance…and knock.” 

“I came in the back.”

That much was obvious now that she’d regained her wits. “That’s my private entrance. It’s not intended for use by patients.” Stupid of her to leave it unlocked, but it was midday and she hadn’t expected an ambush. 

To buy another moment to compose herself, she went to her bookcase and inspected its contents. Toward the middle, Freud’s “Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis” leaned haphazardly in the direction of its opponent, Skinner’s “Behavior Therapy.” A paperback version of “A Systems Approach to Family Therapy” had fallen flat, not quite bridging the gap between the warring classics. 

Dante crossed the distance between them, finishing directly in front of her, invading her personal space. “Quite right. I didn’t mean to startle you.”

She caught a blast of breath, pungent and wrong—a Listerine candle floating in a jar of whiskey. In self-defense, she took a step back before looking up at her patient’s face. Dante possessed his brother’s intimidating height, but unlike Luke, his hair was jet black, and his coal-colored eyes were so dark it was hard to distinguish the pupil from the iris. Despite Dante’s dark complexion and the roughness of his features—he had a previously broken nose and a shiny pink scar that gashed across his cheekbone into his upper lip—there was a distinct family resemblance between the Jericho brothers. Luke was the fair-haired son to Dante’s black sheep, and even their respective phenotypes fit the cliche. 

Dante took a step forward. 

She took another deep step back, bumping her rear-end against wood. With one hand she reached behind her and felt for the smooth rim of her desktop. With the other hand, she put up a stop sign. “Stay right where you are.” 

He halted, and she edged her way behind her desk, using it as a barrier between herself and Dante. Maybe she should advise him to enroll in a social skills class since he didn’t seem to realize how uncomfortable he was making her. Though she knew full well Dante wasn’t on her schedule today—no one was on her schedule today—she powered on her computer. “Hang on a second while I check my calendar.” 

“All right.” At least he had the courtesy to play along. 

When he rested his hand on her desk, she noticed he was carrying a folded newspaper. She’d already seen today’s headline, and it had given her the shivers. “Any minute now.” She signaled to Dante with an upheld index finger. 

He nodded, and, in what seemed an eternity of time, her computer finished booting. She navigated from the welcome screen to her schedule, and then in a firm, matter-of-fact voice, she told him, “I’m afraid you’ve made a mistake. Your appointment isn’t until Monday at four pm.”

As he took another step closer, a muscle twitched in his jaw. He didn’t seem to care when his appointment was. Gesturing toward the leather armchair on the patient side of her desk, she fended him off. “Have a seat right there.” If she could get him to sit down, maybe she could gain control of the situation; she really ought to hear him out long enough to make sure this wasn’t some sort of emergency. 

Dante didn’t sit. Instead, from across the desk, his body inclined forward. Her throat went dry, and her speeding pulse signaled a warning. If this were an emergency, he most likely would have tried to contact her through her answering service, besides which, he’d had plenty of time already to mention anything urgent. He must’ve known he didn’t have an appointment today, so what the hell was he doing here on a Saturday? 

Dante had no reason at all to expect her to be here. In fact, the more she thought about it, the less sense his presence made. Pulling her shoulders back, she said, “I am sorry, but you need to leave. You’ll have to come back on Monday at four.” 

The scar tissue above his mouth tugged his features into a menacing snarl. “I saw you talking to my brother.”

He’d followed her from the art gallery. 

Even though Dante’s primary diagnosis was schizotypal personality disorder, there was a paranoid component present, exacerbated by a sense of guilt and a need to compensate for feelings of inferiority. His slip and slide grip on reality occasionally propelled him into a near delusional state. She could see him careening into a dark well of anxiety now, and she realized she needed to reassure him she wasn’t colluding with his half-brother against him. “I wasn’t talking to your brother about you. In fact, I didn’t have any idea I had wandered into your brother’s art gallery until he…introduced himself.”

“I don’t believe you.”

As fast as her heart was galloping, she managed a controlled reply. “That hardly bodes well for our relationship as doctor and patient, does it? But the truth is, we were discussing a painting.”

“Discussing my painting, discussing me, same difference.” 

His painting? 

That bit of information did nothing to diminish her growing sense of apprehension. That painting had had a darkness in it like nothing she’d ever seen before. A darkness that had captivated her attention, daring her to unravel its mysterious secrets. 

Then Dante dropped into the kind of predatory crouch that would’ve made a kitten roll over and play dead. 

But she wasn’t a kitten. 

Defiantly, she exhaled slow and easy. If she didn’t know better, she’d think Dante was intentionally trying to frighten her. “I’m happy to see you during your regular hour, and we can schedule more frequent sessions if need be, but for now, I’m afraid it’s time for you to go.”

He returned to a stand. “You’re here all alone today.” 

A shudder swept across her shoulders. He was right. No one else was in the building. She shared a secretary with an aesthetician down the hall, and today Stacy hadn’t been at her post. The aesthetician usually worked Saturday mornings, but she must’ve finished for the day and gone home. Home was where Faith wanted to go right now. She wished she’d kept her clutch in hand.
Her phone was in that clutch. “We’ll work on that trust issue on Monday.”

With Dante’s gaze tracking hers, her eyes fell on her lovely macaroon bag, lying on the desktop near his fingertips. He lifted the clutch as if to offer it to her, but then drew his hand back and stroked the satin shell against his face. 

The room suddenly seemed too small. “I don’t mean to be unkind. We’ve been working hard these past few weeks and making good progress up to this point, and I’d hate to have to refer you to another psychiatrist, but I will if I have to.” She paused for breath. 

“You’re barefoot.” Slowly, he licked his lower lip. 

Feeling as vulnerable as if she were standing before him bare-naked instead of bare-footed, she slipped back into her shoes. Jerking a glance around the room, she cursed herself for furnishing the place so sparsely, as if she didn’t plan on staying in Santa Fe long. It wasn’t like she had anywhere else to call home anymore, and now here she stood without so much as a paperweight to conk someone on the head with if…The window was open, at least she could scream for help if necessary. “We’re done here.” 

“I’m not leaving, Dr. Clancy.” He opened her purse, removed her cell and slid it into his pants pocket, then dropped her purse on the floor. 

Her stomach got fizzy again, and she gripped the edge of her desk. Screaming didn’t seem like the most effective plan. It might destabilize him and cause him to do something they’d both regret. For now at least, a better plan was to stay calm and listen. If she could figure out what was going on inside his head, maybe she could stay a step ahead of him and diffuse the situation before it erupted into a full-scale nightmare. “Give me back my phone, and then we can talk.”

Here came that involuntary snarl of his. “No phone. And I’m not leaving until I’ve done what I came here to do.” Carefully unfolding the newspaper he’d brought with him, he showed her the headline: 

Santa Fe Saint Claims Fourth Victim.

Author Bio: 

Carey Baldwin is a mild-mannered doctor by day and an award-winning author of edgy suspense by night. She holds two doctoral degrees, one in medicine and one in psychology. She loves reading and writing stories that keep you off balance and on the edge of your seat. Carey lives in the southwestern United States with her amazing family. In her spare time she enjoys hiking and chasing wildflowers.

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Book 332: DARKNESS FIRST Review

Darkness First (A McCabe and Savage Thriller) by James Hayman
ISBN:  9780062301697 (ebook)
ASIN:  B00CGZXQDU (Kindle edition)
Publication date: October 1, 2013 
Publisher: Witness Impulse

The mutilated body of a young woman. The town doctor lying comatose in the road. A hundred and fifty tablets of Canadian OxyContin. This is the havoc that a merciless killer has wreaked on a sleepy Maine seaport.

As detectives Maggie Savage and Michael McCabe investigate, they realize the man they are after does not exist. Nobody knows his real name. Nobody has seen his face. But everybody fears his blade.

The only one who may know the murderer’s true identity is an eleven-year-old girl—who has vanished into thin air.

Taut, twisting, and starring two unforgettable heroes, Darkness First will thrill fans of John Sandford and C. J. Box.

Darkness First begins with a rather audacious theft of 40,000 Canadian branded OxyContin pills from a Canadian warehouse, an approximate street value of five million dollars. The two young thieves kill the security guard during the theft only to be killed in return by the theft’s mastermind. This is followed by a young woman visiting a rural physician in Maine only to abruptly leave when questioned by the physician and wind up being killed in a gruesome manner and the attempted murder of the physician that witnessed the murder. Unfortunately for the killer the physician is the best friend of Portland police detective Maggie Savage. She quickly leaves Portland to return to her hometown and join the investigation. As Maggie launches her portion of the investigation, the killer seems to be two steps behind killing off all loose-ends or witnesses to his identity until the only remaining witness is the eleven-year-old sister of the first murdered young woman. Maggie realizes that she can’t do her investigation alone and when her brother is implicated in the murders, she calls on her Portland PD partner Michael McCabe to help.

Darkness First is a fast-paced suspense thriller where the good guys have to try and keep a step or two ahead of the bad guy. Unfortunately the bad guy seems to know everything the good guys are doing. All of the key evidence seems to point to Maggie’s brother, Harlan, and even Maggie’s father seems to believe the worst. Maggie steps out on an extremely small limb in order to vouch for her brother and continue her investigation. Things heat up quickly, not only on the investigation, but between Maggie and McCabe. There are quite a number of twists and turns to the story that only add to the overall suspense. I rather enjoyed Darkness First and the Savage and McCabe duo. If you’re looking for a suspense-thriller that’s well-written, incorporates family drama with a bit of romance, and is a quick, entertaining read then grab Darkness First.

Disclaimer: I received a digital copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher via Edelweiss. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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