Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Blog Tour: No More Secrets by Cate Beauman

Cate Beauman’s No More Secrets Release Celebration!

Fresh starts and second chances…

It’s hard to believe that The Carter Island Trilogy is coming to an end with the addition of No More Secrets. Originally, I intended to write Secrets Hidden in the Glass, book one in the series, as a standalone title. As I told the story of Sheriff Nathan Carter and famous stained glass artist Callie Davis, I fell in love with Carter Island and the many secondary characters, particularly Nate’s sisters, Molly and Gwen. They’re so sassy and irresistible. I knew I had to tell their stories, too.

By trade, I’m a romantic suspense author. There are definitely a few mystery/suspense elements in Secrets Hidden in the Glass, but Molly and Gwen’s stories take us into the contemporary romance genre. Nate and Callie’s adventure evolved into the Carter siblings’ journeys as they move through one year. From autumn to summer, so much changes for Nate, Molly, and Gwen, especially when it comes to matters of the heart.

In No More Secrets single mother Gwenyth Carter finds herself betrayed, divorced, and nearly broke. She’s determined to pick up the pieces of her life on her own, but sexy Aussie billionaire businessman Cade Paxton keeps getting in her way.

Gwen and Cade were so much fun to write. I hope you’ll enjoy their story.

Cate Beauman Signature

 

No More Secrets Cate Beauman

NO MORE SECRETS

The Carter Island Trilogy, Book 3

  

Three Siblings. One Year. Everything Changes.

Aussie billionaire businessman and pilot Cade Paxton has struggled to put his life back together after suffering a tragic loss. With his purchase of Carter Island Air and recent move to the small Massachusetts island, he sees his chance for a fresh start. Cade’s sole focus is on growing his investment and avoiding romantic entanglements at all costs. But then he hires Rebecca Carter Interiors’ new assistant designer to help him update the aging airport. Cade quickly finds himself fascinated by the sassy beauty who often speaks her mind, talking to him in a way most people wouldn’t dare.

Single mother Gwenyth Carter has recently been through hell. She’s starting over after several months of nasty surprises. Newly divorced and nearly broke, she’s rebuilding her life one step at a time. Gwen’s certain she has everything she needs: her sweet baby girl, a supportive family, and her dream career. She’s endlessly grateful when the lucrative airport project falls into her lap. But Gwen soon realizes that her new job comes with unforeseen complications, mainly the amount of time she’s forced to spend with her gorgeous client and his sexy accent.

Their mutual attraction is undeniable, yet Gwen tries her best to keep a professional distance, even when she recognizes how wonderful Cade is with her daughter. But it isn’t long before Gwen is dealt another unexpected blow that she struggles to handle on her own. Gwen will have no choice but to turn to the one man she’s determined not to want or risk losing what she loves most.

 

BUY LINKS:

Amazon US:  http://tiny.cc/NMS_AmazonUS

Amazon UK:  http://tiny.cc/NMS_AmazonUK

Amazon AU:  http://tiny.cc/NMS_AmazonAU

Amazon CA:  http://tiny.cc/NMS_AmazonCA

Apple Books:  http://tiny.cc/NMS_iBooks

Kobo:  http://tiny.cc/NMS_Kobo

Nook:  http://tiny.cc/NMS_Nook

Google Play:  http://tiny.cc/NMS_GooglePlay

  

EXCERPT:

“Hopefully, we can do this again.”

Her gaze locked on his as she settled her laptop bag on her shoulder. “You want to have dinner again?”

He shrugged. “Sure. Why not?”

“My evenings typically belong to my daughter. It’s important that I keep her in her routine.”

He shoved his hands in his pockets, still looking at her. “Your frown is back.”

She immediately smoothed her features, trying to decide how she wanted to navigate these dicey waters. Cade was nice enough, but dinners would not be happening on a regular basis, especially when it was impossible to deny that Molly was right—he was incredibly hot and charming. “This was a dinner meeting.”

“One hundred percent. Let me be clear that I’m not hitting on you, Gwen. We’ll be working together for the foreseeable future, and we’re neighbors here on this tiny island. Plus, I consider your family members new friends, which means there’s a fairly good chance we might become friends, too.”

“Men and women can’t be friends,” she heard herself say, regretting it instantly. Why hadn’t she simply agreed to the idea and been on her way?

He rocked back on his heels, his bold green eyes dancing with amusement. “And why’s that?”

She jerked her shoulders, not exactly sure of the reasoning behind the whole thing, but as she stared at the way the lighting played with the angles of his spectacular face, she knew for a fact that it would be wise to spend as little time with Cade Paxton as possible. “Because it’s just a thing.”

“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard.”

She narrowed her eyes, her embarrassment growing by the second. “I don’t think it is.”

“I imagine men and women can be friends if that’s all either party is looking for. And that’s all I’m looking for, Gwen.”

She hardly knew him, yet she believed him. But still. She raised her chin. “I’m most comfortable with colleagues for now—keeping things professional. We’ll see about the rest.”

He grinned. “Fair enough.”

She adjusted her laptop case strap, trying not to fiddle. “Thank you again for a delicious meal.”

“You’re welcome.” He moved to open the door for her, stepping out after she did. “Let’s get you back.”

She stopped abruptly. “What are you doing?”

“Walking you home.”

Hadn’t they just discussed keeping things professional? People out on dates did the whole walk-your-partner-home thing. And she and Cade weren’t partners. “I appreciate it, but you don’t have to do that.”

“It’s dark, and there are still people about on the beach. Nate mentioned an assault when I saw him the other day.”

She stood her ground. “That may be, but I can take care of myself. I’ve been walking home from the Sandersons’ without any trouble for most of my life.”

“I’ll walk you home, Gwen.”

“Thank you, but I’m all set. Good night, Cade.” And with that, she walked off, then stopped halfway up the driveway, turning. “I hope you’ll eat the cheesecake.”

“I’m planning on it as soon as I go inside.”

“Good.” She grinned, then turned again, heading home, well aware that he was still watching her in the security lights scattered around the massive property. But as she’d said, she took care of herself.

 

ABOUT CATE BEAUMAN

Cate Beauman is the multi-award-winning, international bestselling author of The Bodyguards of L.A. County series and the Carter Island Novels. She is known for her full-length, action-packed romantic suspense and contemporary stories.

Cate's novels have been named Readers' Favorite Five Star books and have won the Booksellers' Best Award, Maggie Award for Excellence, the Holt Medallion Award, two-time Aspen Gold Medal, two-time Readers' Favorite International Gold Medal, three-time Readers' Favorite International Silver Medal, and the Readers' Crown Award.

Cate makes her home in New Hampshire with her family and their St. Bernards, Bear and Jack.

 

Website:  https://catebeauman.com/

Newsletter:  http://www.catebeauman.com/getmyfreebooks

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/CateBeaumanAuthor/

Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/realcatebeauman/

Amazon Author Page:  https://www.amazon.com/Cate-Beauman/e/B00A05KHVM

BookBub:  https://www.bookbub.com/authors/cate-beauman

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6543858.Cate_Beauman

 

 

Friday, June 18, 2021

Showcase: Something Fishy by Lois Schmitt

Something Fishy

by Lois Schmitt

June 1-30, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

Something Fishy by Lois Schmitt

When attorney Samuel Wong goes missing. wildlife magazine reporter Kristy Farrell believes the disappearance is tied into her latest story concerning twenty acres of prime beachfront property that the Clam Shell Cove Aquarium hopes to purchase. Sam works for multi-millionaire land developer Lucien Moray who wants to buy the property for an upscale condominium. The waterfront community is divided on this issue like the Hatfields and McCoys with environmentalists siding with the aquarium and local business owners lining up behind Moray.

Meanwhile, a body is found in the bay. Kristy, aided by her veterinarian daughter, investigates and discovers deep secrets among the aquarium staff--secrets that point to one of them as a killer. Soon the aquarium is plagued with accidents, Kristy has a near death encounter with a nine foot bull shark, and a second murder occurs.

But ferreting out the murderer and discovering the story behind Sam's disappearance aren't Kristy's only challenges. When her widowed septuagenarian mother announces her engagement, Kristy suspects her mom's soon to be husband is not all he appears to be. As Kristy tries to find the truth before her mother ties the knot, she also races the clock to find the aquarium killer before this killer strikes again.

Book Details:

Genre: Cozy Mystery
Published by: Encircle Publications
Publication Date: July 15th 2019
Number of Pages: 244
ISBN: 1948338793 (ISBN13: 9781948338790)
Series: A Kristy Farrell Mystery #2 || Each is a Stand-Alone Novel

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

“Something bad happened to Sam. I know it.”

Katie Chandler’s sea green eyes filled with tears. A sea lion trainer at the Clam Shell Cove Aquarium, Katie had been my daughter’s college roommate.

“Maybe Sam worked late and forgot to call,” I said.

Katie shook her head, her chestnut hair flying in the bay breeze. “No. He hasn’t answered my texts or phone calls. I stopped by his house twice too. No one’s home.”

Silence. I tried thinking of something helpful, or at least hopeful, to say.

“I called the police, Mrs. Farrell. The officer said being stood up for a dinner date isn’t enough for a missing persons case—that maybe it was Sam’s way of breaking up.”

I shifted my gaze to the whitecaps on the bay while Katie’s statement sank into my brain. Perhaps the officer was right. I knew from my daughter Abby that the relationship between Katie Chandler and Samuel Wong had hit a rough patch.

The conflict: Katie, who served as executor of her late grandmother’s charitable trust, was donating six million dollars of this money to the aquarium’s expansion project, which included the acquisition of twenty acres of adjacent land. Sam worked as executive assistant to multi-millionaire developer Lucien Moray who wanted to buy the bay front property for luxury condominiums. What started off as friendly bantering between Katie and Sam had escalated into explosive arguments that had become increasingly personal.

But Katie and Sam weren’t the only ones embroiled in this controversy. The community at large had become like the Hatfields and McCoys. Environmentalists wanted the property to go to the aquarium where it would be used for breeding grounds for endangered species, an aquatic animal rehabilitation center, and a research camp for marine scientists. Local business owners sided with Moray, hoping high end condo owners would bolster the area’s economy. I was writing an article on this for Animal Advocate Magazine. That’s why I was at the aquarium today.

Katie continued, “No matter what happened between us, Sam would never stand me up. He’s my fiancé not someone I picked up a few hours ago at a bar. Besides, Sam came around to my point of view. He had it with Lucien Moray. He hadn’t told anyone but me yet, but he was quitting his job at the end of the year.”

“I’ve an interview later this morning with Moray,” I said. “I’ll check around and see what I can find out. Someone in Moray’s office may know Sam’s whereabouts.”

“What if no one does?”

“Let’s take it one step at a time.” I glanced at my watch, then pushed myself off the rock where I’d been sitting, a task that would have been easier if I were ten years younger and twenty pounds lighter. “Speaking of interviews, my appointment with your aquarium director is in five minutes, so I better head inside. I’ll call you tonight.”

Katie sighed. “Thanks. I should get back to my sea lions too. We’ve a show at eleven.” She rose and stretched her small wiry body. “After the show, I’ll stop at Sam’s house again.”

Katie, shoulders slumped, wandered off in the direction of the outdoor sea lion amphitheater. I stood for a moment, inhaling the salt air while watching a seagull dive into the bay and zoom back to the sky with a fish in its mouth. As the autumn wind sent a sudden chill down my spine, I wrapped my arms around my body, thinking back to when Katie and my Abby attended college. Abby often acted impulsively, out of emotion, but Katie had always been levelheaded, never someone to jump to conclusions. What if Sam is really in trouble? The thought nagged at me as I trekked up the sandy beach and stepped into the building that housed the indoor exhibits.

I made my way down a long corridor, surrounded by floor to ceiling glass tanks housing ocean life from around the world. I paused at the shark tank and marveled at the grace and beauty of these fearsome predators gliding silently through the water, causing hardly a ripple. I would be back here soon. In addition to my article on the land expansion, I was writing a story on ocean predators.

I veered down the administration wing. When I came to a door marked DIRECTOR, I glanced again at my watch. Ten-thirty. Right on time. I knocked.

“Enter,” a booming voice responded. I pulled open the door and stepped inside.

Standing in front of me was a man who appeared to be in his mid-fifties. Noting his polished wingtips, sharply creased trousers, navy blazer, crisp white shirt, and perfectly knotted tie, I wished I’d dusted the sand off my shoes.

We stood face to face. Actually, it was more like face to chest. I was only five feet tall and this man towered over me by at least a foot and a half.

“Commander Conrad West,” he said, extending his arm. His handshake was firm and strong. “You must be Kristy Farrell, the reporter from Animal Advocate Magazine.”

Conrad West stood ramrod straight, probably a throw-back from his military training. A former naval commander—the youngest African American to be appointed a commander in the navy’s history—he had started his career as a medical corpsman. He had been director of the Clam Shell Cove Aquarium since his retirement from the navy last year.

He walked behind his desk and positioned himself in a large swivel chair.

“You may sit,” he said, pointing to a straight back chair facing him.

I slid into the chair, suppressing the urge to playfully salute.

He went straight to the point. “I understand you’re writing about the land acquisition. Have you seen our expansion plans?”

“Yes, and they are impressive. But how will the aquarium come up with the money to buy this land?” I asked, fumbling through my bag for my pad and pen. “You’re competing with the bottomless pockets of Lucien Moray.”

Commander West leaned forward, his hands clasped in front, as if praying that what he was about to say would come true. “The current property owner, Stuart Holland, is a business man who’s not about to forgo a profit. But he’s also an active conservationist and a lifelong resident of this area who would like to see the land used in an environmentally friendly manner. He’s kept it vacant until recent financial loses forced him to put it up for sale.”

The Commander leaned back. “There’ll be no bidding war. He set a price—ten million dollars. The land is worth more, but Stuart wants it to go to us, so he set a price he feels we can reach. If we can raise the money by next summer, the land is ours.”

“Ten million is a high goal.”

He nodded. “More than half of the funding will come from a trust set up by Alicia Wilcox Chandler. We also have one million in reserve that we accumulated during the past few years. Of course, we’re still three million short, but our new development officer is planning an aggressive fundraising campaign with—”

A loud knock on the door interrupted the conversation.

Commander West scowled. “Enter.”

A plump woman with a bad case of acne barged into the room. She wore jeans and a light blue shirt with an aquarium patch on the upper left pocket identifying her as Madge.

“Commander,” she said, slightly out of breath. “We have a problem. The sea lion show is in ten minutes, and Katie just ran out.”

“What do you mean she ran out?”

The woman shrugged. “She took a call on her cell phone, then flew out of the amphitheater.

“Didn’t she say anything?” The scowl hadn’t left his face.

The woman paused, furrowing her eyebrows as if deep in thought. “Oh, yeah. But I don’t know if it had to do with why she left.”

“What did she say?” He appeared to be talking through gritted teeth.

“She said two fishermen found a body floating in the inlet.”

***

Excerpt from Something Fishy by Lois Schmitt. Copyright 2021 by Lois Schmitt. Reproduced with permission from Lois Schmitt. All rights reserved.

  

Author Bio:

Lois Schmitt

A mystery fan since she read her first Nancy Drew, Lois Schmitt combined a love of mysteries with a love of animals in her series featuring wildlife reporter Kristy Farrell. She is a member of several wildlife and humane organizations as well as Mystery Writers of America. Lois worked for many years as a freelance writer and is the author of Smart Spending, a consumer education book for young people. She previously worked as media spokesperson for a local consumer affairs agency and currently teaches at Nassau Community College on Long Island. Lois lives in Massapequa with her family which includes a 120 pound Bernese Mountain Dog. This dog bears a striking resemblance to Archie, a dog of many breeds who looks like a small bear, featured in her Kristy Farrell Mystery Series. Lois was 2nd runner up for the Killer Nashville Claymore Award for Something Fishy.


Catch Up With Our Author:

 

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Friday, June 11, 2021

Showcase: The Redemption by C.L. Tolbert

The Redemption by C.L. Tolbert Tour Banner

The Redemption

by C.L. Tolbert

June 1-30, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

by C.L. Tolbert

Emma Thornton is back in The Redemption, C.L. Tolbert’s second novel in the Thornton Mystery Series.

When two men are murdered one muggy September night in a New Orleans housing project, an eye witness identifies only one suspect - Louis Bishop- a homeless sixteen-year old. Louis is arrested the next day and thrown into Orleans Parish Prison. Emma Thornton, a law professor and director of the Homeless Law Clinic at St. Stanislaus Law School in the city agrees to represent him.

When they take on the case, Emma and her students discover a tangle of corruption, intrigue, and more violence than they would have thought possible, even in New Orleans. They uncover secrets about the night of the murders, and illegal dealings in the city, and within Louis’s family. As the case progresses, Emma and her family are thrown into a series of life-threating situations. But in the end, Emma gains Louis’s trust, which allows him to reveal his last, and most vital secret.

Book Praise:

“With The Redemption, Cynthia Tolbert delivers another beautifully written and compelling read in her Thornton Mystery series, as law professor Emma Thornton’s fight to save a teen wrongly accused of murder endangers her own life in this gripping tale of corruption and crime in the 1990s Big Easy.”
Ellen Byron, Agatha Award Winning Author of the Cajun Country Mysteries

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: February 9th 2021
Number of Pages: 286
ISBN: 978-1-947915-43-5
Series:Thornton Mysteries, Book 2 || Each is a Stand Alone Mystery
Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads

 

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

September 9, 1994


8:05 p.m.

Just before dark on the night of his death, Brother Reginald Antoine stepped out of the cottage where he lived. He slammed the door shut to prevent the soggy heat of the late summer evening from invading the front room. Except for occasional river breezes, the New Orleans climate was swamp-like until late October. His exits had become swift and cat-like to avoid escalating power bills and a strain on the house’s only window-unit air conditioner.

He stood on the front porch for a moment, staring at the entrance to the Redemption housing project. All was quiet. No one was in sight.

He was looking forward to the evening. He’d promised to help Alicia Bishop complete forms for a scholarship to Our Lady of Fatima, the top girls’ school in the city. He found himself singing under his breath as he locked the front door.

Most of the kids Brother Antoine worked with never finished school, and he was painfully aware that he’d failed far more than he’d helped. But Alicia’s story would be different. Her graduation would be her family’s first. Clear-headed and determined, much like her Aunt Juanita, the woman who had raised her, she was destined to earn far more than a high school diploma. He believed she was destined for great things.

Brother Antoine surveyed the street familiar to him from childhood. Alicia and her Aunt Juanita lived in an apartment was only a few blocks over, but well within the Redemption housing project. Driving such a short distance would be silly, plus he felt like a little exercise. It was a good evening for a walk, even though no one felt completely safe walking around any neighborhood in the city at night. At least one person had been killed in New Orleans every day that year, so far. Sometimes more. Too many drugs were on the streets. But he didn’t worry about any of that.

He tucked the bundle of papers he’d pulled for the meeting under his arm and headed out. When he was a kid he’d found the Redemption overwhelming - so vast it couldn’t be taken in, visually, from his porch or from any single location. A crowded jumble of russet brick, broken down porches, and peeling army-drab paint, it stretched across the lower garden district from Magazine Street to the Mississippi River. When he was about six he tried to count the buildings, but gave up when he got lost. Everything looked the same to him back then. When he returned to live at the mission house he realized he’d been wrong. Each place was unique. Every apartment, every stoop, every front door was distinct, because everything inside was different. Every place had its own family, its own problems, its own joys. Every place had its own family, its own problems, and joys. He didn’t realize how much he’d missed it until his return.

He passed the community garden planted around the corner from the mission house with its patches of brave sprouts pushing out of the ground. He was proud of that little spot, and equally excited for the people who were involved, especially those few who returned week after week to dig, and prod, and encourage the seedlings to grow. Some of the plants even promised to bear fruit, which was reason enough to celebrate.

As he walked he could smell urine from the street gutters where drunken men or stoned boys had relieved themselves. A recent rain only added a steamy intensity to the mix, creating a cauldron of odors which would vanish only when the next day’s sunlight parched the streets.

The Redemption was teeming with human spirit, poverty, and crime. It was home to many, but with rare exception, no one chose to live there. And everyone who did, even the very young, understood how fragile life could be.

He walked up the steps to Juanita Bishop’s apartment and rapped on the front door.

***

9:00 p.m.

Sam Maureau pulled his car into the Redemption and parked at a curb at the end of Felicity Street. He was alone. Jackson, his partner, couldn’t come. But Sam wasn’t worried. He checked his watch. He was right on time. Things were under control.

He turned off his lights and, except for the murky glow of the half-obscured moon, was surrounded by a blanket of darkness. It took several seconds for his eyes to adjust, but even after he waited, he still strained to see. Most of the streetlights on that block had been shot out, and several apartment windows had been boarded over. He peered in between the last two buildings on the corner for any sign of movement.

Sam kicked aside a beer can as he stepped out of his car. He didn’t expect any trouble that night. Marcus, a dealer who ran the Gangsta B’s, the largest gang in the city, had asked for a meeting to discuss ‘some business’, but they’d never had problems before. Their businesses had always co-existed, side-by-side. Sam had begun selling crack in small quantities ten years earlier, when he was twenty-five, and had remained one of the smaller distributers in the city. He figured that Marcus, who was younger by at least ten years, either wanted to bring him and his territory into the Gangsta B’s, or he wanted to buy him out. He didn’t see the need to change anything right now, unless the price was right. He was making pretty good money. His clients were happy with him. But he didn’t mind talking with Marcus.

Sam patted his jacket pocket. The gun was still there. It never hurt to be careful. He locked his car, checking to make certain nothing was in the back seat. Marcus had asked him to meet around the corner.

Sam made his way across the grassy common area, dodging the few mud puddles he could see reflected in the wan moonlight, to an old iron bench across from Marcus’s grandmother’s apartment where they had met once before. He sat down to wait. The bench hadn’t quite cooled from the daytime heat. The faint breeze from the river ruffled what scant remnants remained of his once luxurious surfer-boy hair and sent greasy paper bags, discarded whiskey bottles, and random debris scurrying across the sidewalk. He absent-mindedly patted his bald spot to make certain it was covered.

He couldn’t see them, but their chatter floated over to his bench. Even though the words were indecipherable, Sam heard three distinct voices. Then he heard Marcus speak.

“Go get Louis.”

Out of habit, Sam felt his jacket pocket again, reassuring himself that his piece was still there. Marcus and one other young man came into view. Sam nodded as they approached.

Marcus was a commanding presence. Tall, and athletic, intricate tattoos of black ink woe across his dark skin, tracing his biceps, and emphasizing his ropy, muscular arms and powerful shoulders. His long hair, pulled back into a pony-tail, flowed down his back. No one questioned his authority.

“We’re gonna wait a minute for Louis,” Marcus pulled out a cigarette from his back pocket and lit it, blowing billowy clouds into the night air.

“Yeah, sure. But what’s this all about?” Marcus ignored Sam’s question and pulled hungrily on his cigarette, blowing smoke rings, refusing to make eye contact with Sam.

Several minutes later a tall young man and a boy who couldn’t have been over sixteen joined them.

“You and your people gotta go. You’re right in the middle of my territory. I’m claiming it, and I’m taking it – now. Ain’t nothing you can do about it.” Marcus threw down his cigarette and stomped it into the grass.

Sam stood up to face Marcus. “Fuck you, Marcus. You don’t need my three blocks. I’ve had it for years, and its outside your territory anyway. You can’t just take it.” Sam clenched the fist of his left hand and shoved his right hand in his jacket pocket where the gun was hidden.

“That’s where you’re wrong, mother fucker.” Marcus grabbed another cigarette and rammed it three times against the pack. “I got business coming to me from uptown all the time now. It’s time for you to give it up.” Marcus nodded to the three boys, who formed a circle around Sam and Marcus.

“No way, bro’!” Sam’s hand instinctively tightened around the gun.

Surrounded by the group of young men, Sam saw an opening, turned, and simultaneously pulled the gun from his jacket. As he stepped toward his escape, he saw something moving along the sidewalk next to the street. It appeared to be a man dressed in dark clothes, but it was impossible to be certain. Sam heard one shot, and felt it whizz by him. The distant figure dropped. Sam twisted around, and aimed his weapon toward the sound of the gun fire. Then he heard another shot.

Feeling something hot in his chest, he crumbled to the ground. The last thing he saw was the young kid, the one they called Louis, running toward the river.

***

Brother Antoine said good night to Alicia on the front porch of her aunt’s apartment and started his walk back home. He was feeling good, lighthearted. He and Alicia had completed her application and she had nearly finished her essay. He was certain she was a shoo-in for the scholarship. He’d only traveled a few feet down the sidewalk when he saw a group of men and a few boys gathered together in the grassy area next to one of the buildings. The cloud-covered moon offered enough reflection to allow him to make out the scant silhouette of the tallest member of the group. There was no doubt. His swagger and perpetual cigarette were unmistakable. Marcus Bishop. They had to be up to no good.

Brother Antoine followed the curve of the sidewalk, which brought him a little closer to the group. He noticed there was movement, perhaps a scuffle. He heard a shot, then felt a searing pain in his chest. He placed his hand on his shirt where he felt dampness, and, struggling to breathe, fell to the ground. He grabbed the scapular around his neck, praying, as he lay there, someone would come administer the last rites.

***

Excerpt from The Redemption by Cynthia Tolbert. Copyright 2021 by Cynthia Tolbert. Reproduced with permission from Cynthia Tolbert. All rights reserved.

  

Author Bio:

Cynthia Tolbert

In 2010, Cynthia Tolbert won the Georgia Bar Journal’s fiction contest for the short story version of OUT FROM SILENCE. Cynthia developed that story into the first full-length novel of the Thornton Mystery Series by the same name, which was published by Level Best Books in December of 2019. Her second book in this same series, entitled THE REDEMPTION, was released in February of 2021.

Cynthia has a Master’s in Special Education and taught children with learning disabilities for ten years before moving on to law school. She spent most of her legal career working as defense counsel to large corporations and traveled throughout the country as regional and national counsel. She also had the unique opportunity of teaching third-year law students in a clinical program at a law school in New Orleans where she ran the Homeless Law Clinic and learned, first hand, about poverty in that city. She retired after more than thirty years of practicing law. The experiences and impressions she has collected from the past forty years contribute to the stories she writes today. Cynthia has four children, and three grandchildren, and lives in Atlanta with her husband and schnauzer.

Catch Up With Cynthia:

 

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

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Friday, June 4, 2021

Showcase: Midnight's Star (Shades of Night #1) by Shilpa Suraj


Meet Dev Arya & Avni Desai


Visually impaired author and current flavour of the Indian literary scene, Dev Arya, has not just triumphed against the odds in his life, he's annihilated them. He's got fame, fortune and floozies in abundance. And yet, he's lonely.
Cafe owner and only child to her differently abled father, Avni Desai is broke, heartbroken and a true survivor. But no matter how hard she hustles, she's still struggling to stay afloat.
And then, one day, Dev walks into her cafe... and everything changes for both of them. From excellent tiramisu to earshattering singing, from dramatic friends to accident prone sexcapades, they embark on the ride of a lifetime.
Will it all be worth it though? Will two broken souls find a way to heal each other? Or do the fractures go so deep that there is no way for either of them to find the love they so deeply crave and yet can't seem to have?





Read an Excerpt from Midnight's Star


The bell tinkled again and a pretty young girl in a peach salwar kameez walked in. She went straight to the hottie by the window.

“Dev?” she asked.

“Nisha, I presume?” He smiled up at her.

My breath caught. My God, the man was lethal. Peach salwar looked similarly dazzled. She fumbled for the chair in front of her and sat down like her legs had given out. I didn’t blame her. That smile must have leveled everyone in the vicinity.

Checking that Diana and Sehar had things under control with the drink on the floor fiasco, I walked up to the hottie’s table and held out a menu to the girl.

“Would you both care to order?”

She took the menu and held it out to him. “Would you like to choose first?”

Hottie just looked back at her, his hands folded in front of him. “I’m afraid you’ll have to read it out to me. Unless,” he tilted his perfect profile in my direction. “You have a Braille menu?”

“I’m sorry.” I flushed. “We don’t but I can read the menu out to you if you require?”

“A Braille menu?” Peach Salwar frowned. “Why do we need that?”

My pen froze over my order pad. I darted a cautious look between the two. Hotties lips tightened.

“Your family didn’t tell you?” he asked.

“Tell me what?”

Okay. Peach Salwar was a little dumb. I started to slowly back away.

Hottie pulled his dark glasses off and looked at her. “That I’m blind.”

He had ink dark eyes framed by the most gorgeous thicket of eyelashes. This man’s looks would have made angels weep in heaven.

I wanted to weep. I wasn’t entirely sure why but the tears were filling quite rapidly in my own normal, average looking eyes.

“Blind?” Peach Salwar breathed. “You’re blind.”

If his lips tightened anymore, they would disappear from view completely. All around us, the café was silent. It seemed even the air held its breath.

He slipped the dark glasses on and held up his very snazzy looking cane. “Even if your family didn’t tell you, surely you didn’t miss my accessories?” The bitter note had something twinging in my heart.

“I can’t,” she quavered. “I can’t do this.”

What was this exactly?

“I can’t marry a handicapped person.”

Oh. It was that.

The man didn’t move. All around us, people stared, nobody dared make a noise.

Finally, he nodded. “I understand.”

Wordlessly, Peach Salwar stood up, shoved her chair aside and ran from the café like he was going to keep her there by force.

“Wow,” Diana breathed from behind me. “That was crazier than one of my scripts.”

It had been a really long day. My feet hurt. My head hurt. My heart hurt.

And yet…

I walked up to where he sat all alone staring at the table in front of him. He either heard my footsteps or sensed my presence because without looking up, he said, “I don’t think I’ll be ordering anything. I’m sorry.”

“My tiramisu is exceptional.” I righted the chair Peach Salwar had toppled in her hurry to leave and sat down in it. “Would you like to share one with me? On the house?”

“Feeling sorry for me, are you?” His smile was bitter and seemed to echo the pain in my heart.

“You and me both,” I said, frankly. “I’ve had a bad day too.”

“I doubt whatever happened to you is half as humiliating as this just was.”

“My boyfriend of five years and partner in this café just got engaged to someone else. I found out on Instagram.”

His head whipped up. I knew he couldn’t see and yet, that gaze seemed to look right through me.

“Okay. You win. But I want my own tiramisu. I don’t like to share.”

About the Author:




Shilpa Suraj wears many hats - corporate drone, homemaker, mother to a fabulous toddler and author.

An avid reader with an overactive imagination, Shilpa has weaved stories in her head since she was a child. Her previous stints at Google, in an ad agency and as an entrepreneur provide colour to her present day stories, both fiction and non-fiction.






Contact the Author:




 

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Showcase: Aftermath by Terri Blackstock

Aftermath

May 10 - June 4, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

Aftermath by Terri Blackstock

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

A devastating explosion.

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

A trunk full of planted evidence.

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

An attorney who will risk it all for a friend.

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

Praise for Aftermath:

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

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

Book Details:

Genre: Suspense
Published by: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: May 11th 2021
Number of Pages: 320
ISBN: 0310348587 (ISBN13: 9780310348580)
Series: Aftermath is a stand-alone novel

 

Read an excerpt:

Aftermath

Chapter One

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

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

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

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

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

“Me either!” Taylor yelled over the music.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What just happened?

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

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

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

Call the police!

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

“911, what is your—”

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

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

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

“Ma’am, did you see what exploded?”

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

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

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

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

I’m at the car. Where are you?

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

Got out. At car waiting. Where are you?

Nothing.

She dictated a group text to both of them.

Are you all right?

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

***

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

 

Author Bio:

Terri Blackstock

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

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

 

 

Tour Participants:

Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!

 

Giveaway:

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

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Monday, May 31, 2021

Showcase: Status-6 by W. Craig Reed

Status-6 by W. Craig Reed Banner

STATUS-6

by W. Craig Reed

May 1 - 31, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

Status-6 by W. Craig Reed

Deep beneath the Arctic Ocean, a covert team of Chinese operatives uses stolen U.S. technology to capture Russia’s newest attack submarine. Loaded with 100-megaton nuclear torpedoes, the sub is headed west. The Americans want to sink her, the Russians want her back, and the Chinese claim they’re not responsible.

NCIS agent Jon Shay is a former SEAL Team Two operator. Still shattered by the murder of his wife a year earlier, he places the barrel of a revolver against his temple, spins the cylinder, and squeezes the trigger. He hears only a click—and the chime of his phone. Activated for a mission in the Arctic, Jon pairs with British scientist Kate Barrett to battle a ticking clock, trained operatives, and top government officials. Together, they must find and stop the world’s most lethal submarine. The stakes are raised when they learn that the Russian sub is controlled by an infected AI system bent on completing its mission to create a nuclear winter.

Praise for Status-6:

"W. Craig Reed's Status-6 is my vote for Thriller of the Year. The protagonist is Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan meets Lee Child's Jack Reacher." -- Grant Blackwood, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Tom Clancy's "Under Fire"

"W. Craig Reed's latest novel, Status-6, is the best book I've read this year—a ripped-from-the-headlines military technothriller that literally left me awake at night, fearful of where we're headed as a nation and a species. What's next after the nightmare coronavirus pandemic? Don't miss this first book in the NCIS Special Ops series that promises to shatter the thriller genre." -- James Rollins, #1 New York Times bestselling author of "The Demon Crown (Sigma Force)"

"W. Craig Reed's Status-6 grabs you from page one and doesn't let you go. The global security crisis revealed in this book is all-too-real and could well be tomorrow's headlines. The characters are well-nuanced and provide a powerful urge to root for or against them. Don't read this thriller before going to bed—you'll be awake all night!" -- George Gladorisi, New York Times bestselling author of the Tom Clancy Op Center series

Status-6 Book Details:

Genre: Military Thriller
Published by: Post Hill Press
Publication Date: April 13th 2021
Number of Pages: 256
ISBN: 1682619354 (ISBN13: 9781682619353)
Series: Status-6 is the first book in the NCIS Special Ops Thriller series.
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

Read an excerpt from Status-6:

With his legs sore and lungs burning from the cold, Jon arched his back and stretched when the group finally stopped marching thirty minutes later. To his right, about a quarter-mile distant, the bright blue stripes covering the mess tent signaled the location of the ICEX camp. Two holes, three feet in diameter, had been carved into the ice a few feet from where the group now stood. Jon surmised they were the spent practice torpedo holes drilled by Navy Divers. Liang and company must have parked the ASDS nearby and used the holes as infiltration points. Also, Liang must have had some inside help to deactivate the intruder detection system surrounding the holes. But who? Rinaldo? When would she have had access to that system? More unanswered questions.

Rinaldo approached and said, “Since you’re the former Navy SEAL, why don’t you help our female guest suit up?”

Jon crossed his arms. “This has gone far enough. Time for some answers, Rinaldo.”

Rinaldo pointed her M-16 at Kate’s head. “How’s this for an answer—she suits up or dies.”

Jon uncrossed his arms and fought to quell the ire-stoked coals in his chest. He turned toward Kate. “Are you a certified diver?”

Kate’s nose and cheeks were red. She shivered. “I hate water.”

“Drinking or swimming?” Jon said, hoping to diffuse Kate’s angst.

It didn’t work. Kate looked like a small child being forced to brave a dark alley. “I can’t do this.”

While donning a dry suit, Rinaldo cocked an ear. “What’s the problem?”

Kate stared at the hole in the ice. Frigid blue water lapped against the sides. She backed up and turned away.

“I think she has a water phobia,” Jon said.

“Get her over it,” Rinaldo said.

Jon bristled. The muscles in his face tightened. He grabbed Kate’s suit and brought it to her. Facing her back, he said, “Turn around.” Shaking, Kate remained facing away.

“Please, turn around.”

Kate turned.

“Good,” Jon said. “Now look at me.”

Kate’s eyes met his. Though full of fear, they were riveting, like a blue morning sky touching the edges of a Nebraska corn field. Jon felt his heart flutter. He tried to hold on to the feeling, but it refused to linger. A year had come and gone since he’d lost his wife, but the pain in his chest still held the high ground.

“I’m not setting a foot in that water,” Kate stammered. Her eyes burned with defiance.

“What about a toe?”

Kate crossed her arms and said nothing.

“Just put on the suit to keep the witch happy while I think of something,” Jon said.

“Something?”

“Yeah, something.”

“Like what, mate?”

Rinaldo called over from the other side of the ice hole. “Five minutes, Shay.”

Jon held up the suit. “Just put it on, please. I promise I’ll think of something.”

Kate rolled her eyes and held out her arms. “Fine, but you’d better not be lying to me.”

“Who’s your colleague?” Jon asked as he moved in close to help Kate don the dry suit.

“Bobby Ruppert. He’s a bit rough around the edges and goes into panic mode in stressful situations, but he’s a brilliant engineer.”

While Jon zipped up Kate’s dry suit, the scent of her perfume conjured a memory. He shivered.

“Now what?” Kate said. Her bottom lip quivered. Annelia had also done that when she was frightened.

Jon pulled on his suit. He stepped toward Kate and said, “Let’s just put on our SCUBA gear and then I’ll make my move.”

“Your move?” Kate shot back.

Jon said nothing as he helped Kate into a BC vest, saddled up her tank, and held a Kirby Morgan diving mask in her direction. “Put this on.”

Kate’s tone turned urgent as she grabbed the mask. “You said you’d think of something.”

“Just follow my lead.” Jon pulled on his tank and ran through a system check. The action felt like a visit from an old friend and reminded him of dozens of missions survived.

Kate shook her head in defiance as she sucked in a breath. The hiss of compressed air echoed off nearby shards of ice pushed skyward by Mother Nature.

One by one, Liang’s men entered the water. Jon watched Kate recoil with each splash.

Rinaldo approached. “Ready?”

Kate’s eyes widened. She held her palms up as if to say, “Something?”

Now fully suited, Jon led Kate toward the water. He had to drag her the last few feet. He turned toward her, lifted up his mask, and said, “I’ll hold your hand all the way. This will all be over in five minutes.”

Her eyes still wide, Kate tried to step backward but Jon held onto to her hands and gently kept her in place.

“Just follow me,” Jon said. “I’ve done this hundreds of times.”

Kate shook her head as she dug her heels into the ice.

Rinaldo slapped Jon’s back. The gesture did not feel friendly.

Jon slowly guided Kate toward the hole’s edge. She fought to pull away. He held on tight and looked into her eyes, assuring her in silence that she could do this. Tears streamed down Kate’s face and dripped onto the mask’s rubber lining. Her breathing was erratic. Jon’s heart ached with compassion and guilt. He felt like a jailor forcing an innocent victim into a torture chamber. The bitter taste of choler filled his mouth as he stole a glance at Rinaldo. The beast in his gut grumbled and demanded to be set loose. Jon closed his eyes and slowly breathed in and out to quell the angst.

He opened his eyes, lifted his mask again, and focused on Kate. Softening his voice, he said, “Close your eyes.”

Kate stared at him through her mask. Jon could tell she wanted to trust him, but fear remained her master. He had seen this kind of panic before on the faces of green wannabe SEALs learning how to dive the Navy way. None of them had ever made it through training. For sure, none of them would have survived a dive in Arctic waters.

“Close your eyes and trust me,” Jon said. “Don’t open them until we’re out of the water.”

Trembling, Kate closed her eyes. Jon pulled on her fins and helped her into a seated position with her legs dangling into the water. He did all this with slow movements so as not to make a splash. Rinaldo stood by and watched with impatient indifference. Jon slipped into the hole…

***

Excerpt from Status-6 by W. Craig Reed. Copyright 2021 by W. Craig Reed. Reproduced with permission from W. Craig Reed. All rights reserved.

  

Author Bio:

W. Craig Reed

William Craig Reed is the New York Times bestselling author of thrillers and non-fiction military and business books including Spies of the Deep: The Untold Story of the Most Terrifying Incident in Submarine Naval History and How Putin Used The Tragedy To Ignite a New Cold War and the critically acclaimed Red November (HarperCollins). Also, The Seven Secrets of Neuron-Leadership (Wiley), an award-winning business book, and Tarzan, My Father (ECW) co-written with the late Johnny Weissmuller, Jr.

Reed served as a U.S. Navy submariner and diver during the Cold War and earned commendations for completing secret missions, some in concert with SEAL Team One. Reed’s military experience and inside contacts help infuse his writing with intrigue and realism, and inspired his next non-fiction book, Also, this novel: STATUS-6 about a former SEAL Team Two operator turned NCIS agent that teams with a British female scientist to stop a Russian submarine controlled by an infected artificial intelligence.

Reed holds an MBA in Marketing and was a former vice president and board director for the Silicon Valley American Marketing Association. Reed is the co-founder of Us4Warriors, an award-winning Veterans Non-Profit and serves on the Board of Aretanium, a wellness firm that leverages the neuroscience he wrote about in his leadership book to provide personalized wellness and professional development programs to accelerate brains, careers, and relationships.

Catch Up With W. Craig Reed:

 

Tour Participants:

Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!

 

Enter the Giveaway:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for William Craig Reed. There will be ONE (1) winner who will receive TWO (2) physical William Craig Reed books (including The 7 Secrets of Neuron Leadership AND Spies of the Deep). The giveaway begins May 1, 2021 and ends on June 1, 2021. This giveaway is available only for shipping addresses located in the US, UK, and Canada. Void where prohibited.

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Saturday, May 29, 2021

Showcase: Call Me Elizabeth Lark by Melissa Colasanti

Call Me Elizabeth Lark

by Melissa Colasanti

May 1-31, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

Call Me Elizabeth Lark by Melissa Colasanti

Your daughter went missing twenty years ago. Now, she's finally back. You thought she had returned a few times in the past, and your husband tells you she's not the one, but you feel it in your bones.

Now, what will you do to keep her home?

Twenty years ago, Myra Barkley's daughter disappeared from the rocky beach across from the family inn, off the Oregon coast. Ever since, Myra has waited at the front desk for her child to come home. One rainy afternoon, the miracle happens--her missing daughter, now twenty-eight years old with a child of her own, walks in the door.

Elizabeth Lark is on the run with her son. She's just killed her abusive husband and needs a place to hide. Against her better judgment, she heads to her hometown and stops at the Barkley Inn. When the innkeeper insists that Elizabeth is her long lost daughter, the opportunity for a new life, and more importantly, the safety of her child, is too much for Elizabeth to pass up. But she knows that she isn't the Barkleys's daughter, and the more deeply intertwined she becomes with the family, the harder it becomes to confess the truth.

Except the Barkley girl didn't just disappear on her own. As the news spreads across the small town that the Barkley girl has returned, Elizabeth suddenly comes into the limelight in a dangerous way, and the culprit behind the disappearance those twenty years ago is back to finish the job.

Book Details:

Genre: Domestic Suspense
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: March 9th 2021
Number of Pages:
ISBN: 1643856820 (ISBN13: 9781643856827)
Series: Call Me Elizabeth Lark is not a part of a series.
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

MYRA

Herb says Myra has drowned herself with Charlotte, where the beach is rocky and the tide tinged gray-yellow, its crest effervescent. At the inn, wind batters the wooden shingles like the ocean thrumming the shore at high tide. The squall sends sand whipping through the air. The pier empties of people, except for the lone fishermen who wear rubber boots and heavy yellow raincoats, casting their lines in turbid water. Myra and Herb are ensconced in the inn, wrapped in sweaters and crocheted afghan blankets. Occasional guests trickle in, but not often. People visit the Oregon coast during summer.

Myra doesn’t take vacations during the off season, no matter how many empty winters pass. Charlotte knows her mother is waiting. She lived for the scent of the ocean, for the lacquer of salt on her skin. The crabs hidden under mounds of sand and the starfish in the tide pools enchanted Myra’s youngest child. Myra supposes this is why Charlotte was so attracted to the mystery of the deep, dark sea. The waves sweep away an entire pool of living things, but with the next tide, they begin again.

And so Myra is not particularly surprised when her dead daughter walks in the door.

***

Myra studies the sawdust-covered floor of the musty inn, thinking they should sweep it and install shiny new wood. She spends her free time leafing through the glossy pages of decorating magazines, considering all the possibilities for the place. It should be more modern, like the bigger hotels in Rocky Shores. There are bed and breakfasts with assorted coffees and fresh baked goods; there are vacation rental homes and cabins, some of which come equipped with pools and fitness centers. And the Barkley Inn is an entire mile from the open shore.

When Myra’s parents were alive, people shuffled in wearing flip-flops and shorts in the summer, eager for slabs of marbled steak served for cheap on Fridays. Peanut shells and loose sand scattered the floor. Back then, poets read their work on Saturday afternoons. Musicians strummed their guitars and sang with their husky, melodic voices on Saturday nights. Candle-filled Mason jars adorned the tables. Ripples of lavender incense hung sweet and thick in the air.

They have personal touches that have gone back decades—luxurious bath towels, chocolates on the pillows, chilled champagne in the honeymoon suite. But the curtains are a drab shade of olive-green, and antique topaz candelabras cast dim light over the lobby. In the sixties, they were eclectic; now they’re just creepy. Perhaps Myra could get one of those latte machines people like nowadays.

On this particular afternoon, Herb hovers behind her as she considers the flooring. She pretends not to notice his wry smile, how he watches her. Age spots dot his thin skin; his eyes are set beneath deep wrinkles, but they glow with a tenderness that has never changed. He will always be her Herb.

“Whatcha up to, honey?”

“Do you think we should get rid of the sawdust? I’m thinking deep mahogany floors.”

He says with a playful smile, “Does it really matter what I want?”

Myra rolls her eyes. “I’m just thinking of ideas to spruce the place up—”

A vehicle brakes hard, its screech penetrating the thick storm windows.

Herb cringes. “Good lord. Someone needs a brake job.”

Myra peers around the curtains. Headlights dip and rise over bumps in the gravel. Rain has streaked the windows, leaving tracks through the winter grime.

“A guest?” she says, thinking: no one has stopped by in weeks. Who wants to go to the bayside town and get drenched? Perhaps someone is traveling through. Maybe they need directions.

A rusty pickup truck with Washington state plates jerks into a spot.

“Great,” mutters Herb. “Here comes trouble.”

A stranger with inky hair climbs out of the car. It falls in thick, unkempt chunks around her face. “This one’s gonna have a fake ID,” she tells Herb. “A really fake one.” Myra isn’t one to turn away a guest. Everyone has a story—and if they’ve got information about Charlotte, they might not be exactly on the right side of the law. They don’t give every guest a room. But they’ve got a reputation for turning a blind eye to a fake ID, for accepting cash without a credit card as collateral. The dyed hair, the ancient truck. This is a woman running from a man. Myra has seen it before. She could never turn a woman out on the street because she doesn’t have a credit card, or she’s changed her name. Besides, it’s a bed and breakfast—rich folks with good credit tend to stay at five-star resorts. They can’t be overly picky.

Herb says, “Shoulda dumped that vehicle a thousand miles ago.”

“Maybe she couldn’t,” Myra says, watching.

The stranger ushers a little boy out of the backseat. She begins to trudge toward them, a duffel bag tossed over her shoulder, clutching the child’s hand. The woman stops sharply and turns back to the vehicle. She swipes the underside of the wheel with her palm.

Herb fixes his gaze on Myra. “Don’t go soft on me, honey. That girl’s running from something, and it’s probably trouble.”

“Can’t be too experienced.” She nods to the truck. The girl won’t find a tracking device stuck in a wheel well. It’s on the damn GPS.

Herb shakes his head, placing his thick knuckled hand on hers. She shoves it away, breath caught in her throat. Hanging his head, he shuffles toward the office. Myra knows what he is thinking. She could climb inside Herb’s chest and feel the rhythm of his heart. As much as anyone can know another person, Myra knows Herb.

As the sound of his footsteps recedes, she looks back to the window. The girl is too far away for Myra to make out her features. She slips into her vinyl chair and waits for their nebulous figures to sharpen. Leaning on her elbows, Myra breathes slowly, listening to the rain drum on the roof, run down the metal storm drain, and trickle onto the ground. The damp inn is cozy compared to the biting Pacific Northwest rain.

The bells on the door jingle as the woman pushes it open, water dripping from her clothing. The noxious scent of her fresh dye job wafts inside. She leans over the boy and whispers in his ear. He shoves his thumb in his mouth and looks back at his mother questioningly, and she nudges him toward the front desk. “It’s okay,” she says. “Let’s go up to the nice lady.”

The woman’s voice is eerily familiar. Myra can’t quite place it. Has she come through town before?

Myra glances at the stranger’s face as inconspicuously as possible, but she notices how this woman moves, the tilt of her chin, the cadence of her voice as she speaks to the boy—it is so familiar that a guttural pain shoots through her bones, her gut, every last piece of her. The hair may be black, but the eyes are the same. Her breath quickens; the room spins. She leans against the counter, reeling. “My god.” The words swirl off her tongue before she can catch them.

“Yes?” says the woman, who is not exactly a stranger, yet somehow strange. She backs toward the door. “I’m sorry. I guess you’re full—”

“No,” says Myra. “You look like a girl I once knew, that’s all.”

“We need a room. But if you’re full, we can keep driving.” She pulls the boy closer.

Myra realizes how bizarre she must sound. She ducks beneath the counter. The woman looks just like Charlotte. Those eyes.

Is she Charlotte?

No. Not again.

Herb is already convinced she’s insane. He’s probably right in his assessment.

She emerges from beneath the desk and tosses a hand towel to the woman. “You’re soaked to the bone. So is your son.”

“I’m sorry if I sounded stressed. I’m traveling alone with Theo.” The stranger’s voice wavers. Rain beads on the boy’s apple-shaped cheeks like teardrops. His threadbare pants graze his ankles.

“What’s your name?”

The woman hesitates, dropping her driver’s license on the counter. “Elizabeth Lark.”

“That’s a beautiful name,” she murmurs. Myra likes it when people choose lovely, poetic false identities for themselves. The lark is such a lyrical bird. Sometimes people come in with names like Moonstone or Pippin. Too much, she thinks. Unique is not what you’re going for when you are on the run.

Myra studies the driver’s license as she boots up the computer. It’s well done as far as fake IDs go. The little wheel on the computer whirls to the beat of her heart. “I’m sorry. It’s thinking.”

Elizabeth pulls her wet jacket around her thin frame, shivering. Her skin is a milky-gray color, and her lips, pale blue.

“You are about the same age as our daughter.” Her voice grows husky. She clears her throat and types the information into the computer. “We lost her years ago.”

Elizabeth avoids Myra’s eyes. The girl already knows. Maybe she has come to see about Charlotte’s ghost. Myra’s chest is raw and tender. A snake coils in her stomach, lithe and threatening to escape.

“Anyway, it’s done thinking.”

Elizabeth purses her lips and reaches for her driver’s license, knocking over Myra’s glass of water. The contents of her purse tumble behind the desk.

“Dammit, I’m sorry.” Elizabeth rushes toward the counter, stuffing papers and cards and cash back into the tattered bag.

That’s when Myra sees it.

A strand of silver is coiled against the green carpet. It could have been any silver necklace, really. But Myra would recognize the cracked edges of the half heart anywhere. Best Friends Forever. It was a gift from Charlotte to her sister, Gwen, the year before she disappeared. Myra picks up the necklace, locking eyes with the stranger, who holds the boy’s hand so hard her bony knuckles turn white. Myra turns it over and traces the initials with her finger.

CB. Charlotte Barkley.

“Where did you get this?” She steadies her voice.

The woman pulls herself to her feet, eyes wide. She takes a deep breath and exhales slowly. “It’s mine.”

Myra’s heart flutters. The snake is ready to pounce. Elizabeth Lark is not leaving, not until she explains the necklace. “Yours?”

“From long ago, yes.”

The world slows. Myra catches Elizabeth’s eyes. They are sapphire-blue, and the closer she looks, she more she is certain. They are Charlotte’s. Her little girl face has gone, and it is replaced by sharp cheekbones and an angular jaw. Elizabeth looks similar to Myra’s oldest daughter, Gwen. Her limbs go numb. The necklace slips from Myra’s fingers, landing in a soft pile on the floor.

“My daughter.” The word sticks to her tongue. “Charlotte.” Charlotte does not move. She is stuck in a different time. At this moment, Herb pads back into the lobby.

“What’s going on out here? Are you checking in?” He lifts his chin toward Charlotte.

“I don’t have any idea what she’s talking about.” The stranger’s face flushes.

Myra closes her eyes. Toddler Charlotte lays on her chest, knees curled up like a prawn, the light sweat from her cheek dewy and warm. Charlotte’s squeals as she races her wooden fire truck along the windowsills. Both of her girls would trample in and out, dripping sand and water all over the floor, covered in sticky treats from the ice-cream truck.

“Don’t track that water in the house, girls. Stop bringing that sticky stuff inside. Wash your hands!” She hears her own words and wishes she could swallow them. Take them back.

Twenty summers missed. Twenty summers of eclipsed sunshine, of icy heat. These guests wander in with nothing but their fake identities to cover secrets they cannot face, to investigate rumors of a haunted inn. Twenty years of drifters washed up from the frothy shores, looking for a room, dirty and chafed by the combination of sand and rain and heartbreak.

“My god, I have loved you. I have been here, waiting. I never stopped waiting.”

Charlotte grips Theo’s hand.

Herb takes Myra’s shoulders, meets her eyes. He whispers, “This is not Charlotte.”

Of course he says this. This has happened before. But this time it’s true.

“Look at her, Herb. She looks just like Gwen.”

Charlotte stares at them. “I have no idea what to say.”

Herb releases her shoulders. He knows when to recede. Myra and Herb dance like this, intricate and poised. They know when to dip forward, when to swing sideways. He knows where he can touch her and what is too tender. And they move gently because their breakable parts have shifted throughout the years, like plates of the earth, scraping against one another deep beneath the surface.

She presses the necklace in Herb’s palm. “Look at the initials, honey.”

Herb clenches his jaw. His eyes glisten. The jowls on his neck shiver. “Where did you get this?” His voice thickens with emotion.

The wind howls and bristles the door; the tick of the clock over the fireplace throbs in her mind. Warmth spreads through Myra’s chest. It relaxes in her stomach, heavy but silent.

“Charlotte’s home. This time she really is.”

Myra has a million questions. What has happened to her daughter? Who has had her all these years? And how did she find her way home?

Charlotte was only eight. Just a baby, really. And now, she stands before her mother, tears catching in her sunken cheeks.

Sweat beads on Myra’s forehead. Tentacles grip her neck. She is drowning, deep in the ocean, where they said Charlotte died. Except Charlotte is here, right in front of them.

Herb steps closer to their daughter, scanning her from head to toe. He turns back to Myra, breathless.

Charlotte is alive. Wondrously, exquisitely alive.

CHAPTER TWO

ELIZABETH

Washington State—One Week Ago

The necklace slips through Elizabeth’s fingers and lands in her palm. She inspects the cracked edges of the half heart and turns it over, focusing on the initials carved into the metal. She drops it into her purse.

The cabin reeks of dank mold. Elizabeth peeks out the window, hoping no one will see her, though there is no logical reason for her fear. The cabin is situated in a thicket of deep wood, where lime-green lichen weeps from the trees like gnome hats. Tufts of moss unfurl through the walls where the wood has rotted, while the foundation crumbles precariously beneath their feet. It is as tiny as a dollhouse dropped amid the lush, expansive forest, surrounded by frozen creeks and giant boulders. The moonlight seeps through a lattice of soft fir branches, and the cabin casts a shadow onto the snow. It is swallowed by the forest ahead. On each side of the shadow, crystals of snow glitter like a smattering of diamonds.

No one could find this cabin. No one away from the forest knows they are alive.

“Elizabeth?” Her husband’s gravelly voice startles her.

She turns back to her son, who snuggles with his blue blanket and stuffed giraffe on the couch, fast asleep. Elizabeth smiles at Theo and clicks off the television. She slides to the boy’s level and perches on the balls of her feet, tucking the blanket under his chin. The cold mountain air seeps into the poorly insulated cabin. His hair tumbles over his eyes, but she won’t cut it. A memory of Peter shaving her son’s luscious ringlets churns inside her. Elizabeth pushes her fist into her stomach and twirls Theo’s stray hair.

“Are you coming, or what?” Peter yells.

She steels herself for the next few moments.

“Coming.” She speaks just loud enough for him to hear her. This is the last time her voice will be low. She squeezes her hands into tight fists.

“Honey, my back is aching. Can you bring me a drink and my pills?”

This is the moment she has waited for. The man doesn’t pay the heating bill while he’s out of town. And now he wants to be taken care of.

Elizabeth can arrange this.

She swings open the hollow-core door softly, taking care not to let it bang against the wall. He lays in bed, quiet and vulnerable, covered with the only heavy comforter in the house. The curtains are drawn tight. “I’ll have your drink and pills in a second. You want food?”

“No. Just the pills. Please, honey.”

She hates the word, so thick and sweet off his tongue. She shudders, remembering the tang of his hot breath against her neck.

“I’m sorry about yesterday.” He groans in pain. “I can’t believe how slippery that ice is. It’s like someone dumped water all over the porch.”

Her lips curl into a smile. She pours three fingers of Jack Daniels into a tumbler—funny they can afford this, and his Vicodin, when she and Theo haven’t been to the doctor, not ever. They haven’t left this cabin in years, except to exchange pleasantries with the homesteaders who have cleared trees and built little farms that sprawl down the mountain. They have their own peculiarities, she thinks, because they aren’t alarmed that Elizabeth lives in this falling down shack with a five-year-old.

Still, Peter says to be friendly.

“But don’t get too close. I’m watching you.”

The threat hides beneath his words, like a rat scratching in a dark cabinet.

She drops a pill into the amber liquor, watching it billow into a thick, hazy cloud. And another. It is hypnotic. Venom fills her blood, lurid and dangerous. She swirls it with a teaspoon, and it clinks against the glass like the tick of a clock. She is numb, devoid of emotion, but she depends on this emptiness to survive. Pure instinct drives her down the crumbling hall. Holding her posture straight, she enters the bedroom.

“Here you go, babe.” Elizabeth helps him to a seated position. His warm body is sticky with sweat.

“Ahh, thank you. You are a goddess,” he says with a light smile.

Don’t believe him, don’t believe him. He will turn this on you and eventually kill you with his lies.

The whisky sloshes in the glass as she hands it to him. “Drink up.” She feigns cheer, but her voice shakes.

“Please don’t be afraid of me. I’m your husband. I’m sorry.” His eyes are pleading. And pathetic. “Is your arm okay?” Her flesh is mottled with purple finger marks.

She nods with a smile.

“I just don’t want to lose you.”

She and Theo have been trying to escape. And Peter’s relentless surveillance prevented them from contacting the nearby homesteaders without his looming presence. However, on one of his work trips, she and Theo walked a mile or so from the log cabin, until they came upon a farm. She got more than fresh eggs and a free-range chicken at the Hart’s place.

Mrs. Hart let her use the internet.

Theo played with the Hart woman’s children as she typed “domestic violence help” in the search engine. Alice Johnson’s name popped up first. She’d apparently been helping abuse victims for decades. Elizabeth sent her an e-mail, wrote down her phone number. But before Alice could respond, Peter rang the doorbell. She heard his voice booming from the front room and slammed the laptop shut. Trembling, she ushered Theo toward the foyer. He put his arm around her, patted Theo’s head, and said a sickeningly sweet goodbye to Mrs. Hart. “I was in the area,” he said. “I thought you’d appreciate a ride home.”

Once they got outside, he transformed back to the Peter she knew. With a sneer, he’d grabbed her by her thin shirt, digging his knuckles into her clavicle. He said, in cool, measured tone, “Mrs. Hart seems nice.”

It took month for Elizabeth to get another cell phone and make the call. And for weeks after that, they meticulously plotted their escape.

Peter cuts the water supply when he will be gone for more than forty-eight hours. She and Alice planned to wait for the faucet to shudder and spout, till only copper silt would vomit into the stained sink. But he’s become even less predictable. His back injury is an opportunity, perhaps the only one. They can’t wait for an out-of-town trip. One might never happen. She cannot predict what electrical line will short circuit within her husband next. There is nothing she can do right when it comes

to Peter, because what is right one moment is wrong the next. Every breath she takes is so cold it’s hot.

They have one shot.

I’m not the one who should be afraid. Not anymore, darling.

He slings back the drink with another pill. “Damn, that’s some strong shit.”

“You’ll feel better soon. Get some sleep.”

Peter leans back on the pillow, his eyes fluttering shut. How lovely it must be to be safe.

Safety is merely an illusion, a trick of the mind. It is never guaranteed.

She rushes back to her son and shoves the last six years of her life into a single duffel bag. Before waking Theo, she creeps back to the bedroom to make sure Peter is knocked out. He’s asleep, for sure. But his face is pasty. His olive complexion has turned yellowish, especially around his eyes. His lips are a bluish-gray color. Did she give him too much?

She tiptoes quietly toward him, afraid he’ll sit up in bed and pounce on her. He looks really bad. Elizabeth needed to immobilize him for an hour or two, not kill the man. Peter’s chest rises, ever so slightly. His neck rolls to the side with a labored breath.

Holy shit. Elizabeth runs to the living room, tears springing to her eyes. She shakes Theo awake.

He looks at her, drowsy and confused.

“We’re taking our adventure today, remember? I packed our things. Daddy isn’t coming.”

“Are you sure?” He chews his fingernail.

She pats his head and smiles. “He’s not coming.”

Theo glances toward the bedroom door.

“Don’t worry.” Elizabeth takes his cheeks in her palms. “He’s sleeping. We are going on an adventure together, just you and me.” She forces herself to smile, heart beating wildly in her chest. “Okay?”

A dubious look crawls across Theo’s face.

“He’s sleeping. I promise. But we must go now.”

“What if he wakes up?” Theo whispers.

“He won’t,” she replies.

“What if he finds us?”

“He won’t. Not this time. Let’s go.”

“Did you pack my card games, my checkers?”

“Yes. I wouldn’t forget those. Come on, now.”

“Are you sure he won’t wake up?”

“Pretty sure.” She taps his shoulder. “Enough questions.” Peter might never wake up again. She shoves her hand under the couch cushions, looking for his phone, but he keeps it hidden from her. Maybe she should go back in the bedroom and make sure he’s okay. She isn’t a murderer. Lord, what has she done?

Maybe Theo won’t remember this moment. He is five years old. Maybe he won’t remember Peter at all. Peter will wake up, confused as hell, once they are gone, she hopes. He can’t possibly be dead. She covers her face with her hands, trying not to cry. Theo has watched Peter hit her, has watched television shows where people aren’t typically living in a cabin without heat, and with little food. He’s five, and his understanding of the world is expanding, ballooning within their captivity. It’s getting harder to hide the truth from him. He asks questions; he’s curious about life outside the forest. And she finds herself snapping at him because she can’t give him what he needs.

They need to get down this mountain.

Although, deep within the folds of her brain, she realizes that Peter will never let them go. As long as he lives, she is beholden to him. Even once they escape, change their identities, and move far, far away, Peter will be somewhere.

Safety is merely an illusion, a trick of the mind. He will hunt them till his last breath. Maybe it’s best he take his last breath now. But still . . . She takes a tentative step toward the bedroom. Oh, shit. Should she check on him again? He could be dying. Should she call someone? They’d help her; they would save Peter.

No, she decides, it is not safe for her child here. There was no other choice but to incapacitate him. Right?

Fuck. They head for the door.

Elizabeth ushers Theo to the truck, dragging the duffel bag behind her. “Hurry,” she urges. “But don’t slip.” The frigid air whips against her skin. Gripping his hand tightly, she instructs Theo to dig the heels of his boots into the ice as he walks. The ground is slick; jagged rocks shine in the moonlight. She clicks the seatbelt over her son’s waist, hands trembling, and tosses the bag in the back. Her own seat is awkward.

It has been years since she has driven a vehicle.

She turns the key in the ignition, hits the gas. They slide on the ice, over thick tree roots, into swathes of evergreen trees. The metal truck scrapes against branches, and she hits every gear wrong. But she gathers her bearings. They travel down the mountain, past the Harts’, past more pockets of homesteaders with chickens and goats, and away from their captor—her husband, his father. She squirts the windshield with fluid and wipes away a layer of dried mud.

Elizabeth inhales deeply when they hit the main mountain road.

When Peter wakes, they will be long gone. She conjures images of all the possible states Alice might take her to. Someplace sunny, like California. Or a tiny Midwestern town with a big yard for Theo.

What if Peter doesn’t wake up? She remembers the odd angle of his neck, his shallow breaths. Is she running from Peter—or the police? Could she be charged with murder?

The thought speeds her own heartbeat up. Blood rushes through her capillaries like a broken dam.

Her son looks out the window, enthralled with the road ahead of them. The sunrise spreads over the mountain, clear and wide. Theo points out the window. “Beautiful,” he says.

“Beautiful,” she agrees.

“Where are we going?”

“We’re stopping at a friend’s house.” She has no cell phone, no GPS to direct her. Only this rusted old truck. She will ditch it when they arrive at Alice’s, get on a bus. Elizabeth laughs, deep and throaty. They turn off the main road, crunching through gravel, and up a windy hill to a little blue house.

Her chest bursts with excitement. “C’mon Theo. Let’s go meet Alice.”

She drags him a little too quickly, and the boy’s feet slip on the ice. “Whoops.” He giggles as she catches him by the back of his threadbare coat.

Alice is a stout woman, with copper-colored skin and gray-streaked hair. Her smile is empathetic and kind. Several women linger around the breakfast table, holding mugs of steaming hot coffee, the rich scent wafting through the air. A couple of children play in the living room. The space is tight, but it exudes warmth and compassion. A pang of sadness hits her in the chest. She and Theo cannot stay here. It is too dangerous. He could find her among these women. The house is too close to the cabin. Does Peter have friends? He must. What if someone she doesn’t recognize tries to find them? He could trail them, set a trap. Theo and Elizabeth must disappear.

And if she’s killed him—oh god, she hopes she hasn’t killed him—that’s murder, right? She didn’t technically need that dosage to knock him into oblivion. Her brain spins.

“All right girl, come in the back.” Alice turns to Theo. “Why don’t you play Legos with the other kids?”

He crouches around the box of red and blue and green blocks. A blonde-haired girl helps him stack them into a little building. She takes a deep breath, hope blossoming through her body.

Elizabeth follows Alice down a dark, narrow hallway and into a tiny room with a neatly made twin-sized bed. She rests on the soft blue bedspread as Alice rifles through the closet.

“All right. Here’s the plan. You’re gonna leave the truck and take one of mine.”

Elizabeth opens her mouth to protest. Alice holds a hand up. “Look, girl. You can’t take off in the man’s truck. They’ll find you. And even if you tell the cops what’s happened, Peter will kill you and Theo before they can prosecute him. I’ve seen it before.”

Elizabeth decides not to mention that Peter’s body might be turning cold as they speak. “But what about you? He’ll find the truck—”

Someone will find the truck anyway.

“I’m gonna get in the truck and ditch it twenty miles from here. But don’t you worry about that. You take my vehicle.” She tosses a key ring onto the bed.

“Alice, I can’t take a car from you.” She sighs, rubbing her aching forehead.

“You can pay me back someday. Till then, your life is at stake. Don’t think about the cheap-ass car I’m about to give you. It’s not registered in my name or anything.” She rolls her eyes. “Still, you need to ditch it once you cross into Oregon. You’ll be conspicuous with out-of-state plates.”

“Whose car is it, then?”

“Never mind that. Doesn’t matter. All that matters is that the cops can’t trace it to you or me. Just don’t get pulled over.”

Elizabeth is bone-tired. “All I care about is getting away from here.”

Alice plops on the bed beside Elizabeth. Her eyes are dark brown, and her lipstick reminds Elizabeth of a ripe plum. Alice takes her hands and squeezes them tightly. Teardrops drip down Elizabeth’s nose.

“It’s going to be okay,” she says.

“Promise?” says Elizabeth, feeling very young.

Alice smiles warmly. “I can’t promise anything. But you’re gonna do your best. I have a good feeling about you.”

She clears her throat. Back to business. Alice shuffles through a box of cards, takes a few, and tosses them on the bed. “I made these with the pictures you sent me from the Hart woman’s computer. You did what I told you about, wiping your search history, right? And you cleared the photos from the webcam?” “Yes. But you said a computer can never be fully wiped. That all the information is stored on the hard drive.” What if the police discover she contacted Alice on the internet? Her hands begin to shake. If he’s looking for her, the first place he’ll go is the Hart place.

“Oh sweetheart. All we want is to keep the Hart woman from snooping around. Do you really think Peter is going to report you missing? Let the cops search that dump he’s been keeping you in?”

Elizabeth nods. The log cabin is essentially a prison.

It is a prison.

“Where do you think you’ll go, Liza? As far as anyone is concerned, you don’t exist,” Peter had said, with a nonchalant shrug.

Elizabeth’s conviction grows. She will leave; she will take her boy far away, where he will never find them.

Unless she’s killed him. Then the police will search everywhere, including the Hart’s computer. Dammit! Why did she give him all those pills?

“All right. We’ve got three IDs here. One Oregon State driver’s license. One Social Security card, which is essentially worthless for applying for credit or a job. It’s just for show if someone doesn’t buy the driver’s license. Same with the passports,” she says, laughing. “That ain’t gonna get you out of the country if you plan to return. And I hear Tijuana isn’t a fun place to live.”

Elizabeth shoves the cards in her purse, beside the necklace.

“You’ve gotta be careful with fake IDs. Lots of people think giving a person a new first name is safest. To my mind, it’s risky. You’ve been called Elizabeth your entire life. You could not respond to a strange first name. Hell, I’ve heard of a woman who started to sign the wrong name on a job application. How do you turn back from that? ‘Sorry, it seems I’ve signed the wrong name?’ Nah.”

“Technically, I’ve been called Liza. A nickname my mom gave me because she loved Liza Minnelli . . . but I get a new last name?”

“Yup. You are no longer Elizabeth Briggs. Now, you are Elizabeth Lark.”

“I love it,” she says, smiling.

“Don’t get too attached. My work isn’t that authentic. We may have to change it again, if he comes after you, or someone else finds out.” Alice purses her lips, thinking. “For now, aim for jobs at small companies. Family owned. It’s not so much the name, as the Social Security number, which is completely fabricated. Make sure you avoid companies that are gonna do a damn background check.” She shakes her head. “That, we do not need.”

Elizabeth considers this. “Isn’t it strange that this pile of false IDs is no more fake than I am?”

Alice ignores the existential musing. “Next is the hair.” Alice reaches into a chest of drawers filled with boxes of hair dye, combs, and scissors. She points to the adjacent bathroom. “Welcome to my spa.”

Elizabeth settles into the chair, inspecting her gaunt face in the mirror. Alice works methodically, chopping her long, sand-colored hair to her shoulders. Elizabeth watches it land in chunks on the ceramic tile.

“I’m not trained in this,” she says. “But I have a lot of practice. My handiwork will have to do.” Alice puts her hands on her hips, squinting a little. “I think we need to go darker.”

They turn the chair and Elizabeth leans her head back, letting her hair tumble into the sink. Her neck digs into the cold ceramic. Alice pours a pitcher of warm water over her hair, greasy from lack of a decent shampoo. She massages Elizabeth’s temples and scalp with a dollop of Suave.

“You normally wait to wash the hair after applying the dye, but you really needed the wash first.” Alice squeezes out the excess water with a towel.

Alice rubs the dye through her hair. The smell of ammonia settles heavily in the stuffy bathroom, stinging Elizabeth’s nose. She is woozy from the cocktail of chemicals. Alice peels her rubber gloves off and cracks the window. A shiver runs down her neck. It’s funny to think how a whole new life begins with her hair.

“So, how did you end up there?” She tucks cotton around Elizabeth’s scalp and behind her ears, then covers her head with a plastic cap.

“Stupidity. Pure stupidity.”

Alice perches on the fluffy pink toilet seat. “Tell me about it. Out of all the stories I’ve heard—”

Elizabeth shakes her head. Alice cannot know. No one can.

Thirty minutes later, her hair is the color of a moonless night. Alice packs her bag with burner phones and rushes them out the door.

“Be careful now.” She takes Elizabeth’s cheeks into her palms, looking at her with intense, shiny eyes. “You get across the border, into Oregon, and stop for the night. Go someplace that takes cash. Then call me. I’ll arrange a bus ticket in my name to your next destination. Keep your head down. Try to be unmemorable.”

Elizabeth takes a shaky breath and waves before they pile into the truck. They drive down the forested road in silence, leaving Washington for good.

“Where are we going, Mommy?”

Elizabeth cracks the window and lets some of the noxious smell from her damp hair out of the truck. She takes a deep breath.

“I’m not sure, baby.”

But the road takes her toward the seashore, almost against her will, and definitely against her better judgment.

She is going home.

CHAPTER THREE

ELIZABETH

Charlotte Barkley is a legend throughout the country, but for the residents of the small town on the Oregon Coast, she is everyone’s daughter. The Barkley Inn is nestled across the highway from a tiny, hidden pier outside of Tillamook County. The marina is weathered gray, with a few boats that seem perpetually docked there. There is a surf shop with an ocean mural painted on its door, an old-fashioned candy store needing a coat of paint, and a fish-and-chips restaurant. Rocky Shores is so sleepy it is swallowed by the lush, endless forest.

Rocky Shores was never a well-known town, not until Charlotte’s disappearance. Now, the tourists stop by the bayside for a piece of a secret. Elizabeth wonders what the Barkleys think about this—how they feel about the influx of business their private tragedy has brought. Some of the kids at school whispered that the Barkleys knew what happened to the little girl. Others said that Myra Barkley’s obsession bordered on insane, that she would wait at that inn for Charlotte till the end of time.

She kisses Theo on the forehead and tucks a blanket around him. It is the thickest blanket he’s ever had. His lips turn up in his sleep, and she wonders what he dreams of.

Myra Barkley doesn’t strike Elizabeth as all that odd. She would wait for Theo too.

Elizabeth redirects her thoughts to the plan she must adhere to if they want to escape. She unzips her duffel bag and rifles through it, retrieving the three burner phones Alice purchased from different Walmarts, and the stack of different identification cards.

Don’t fuck this up, she thinks.

She holds the phone in her palm. Should she call Alice yet?

No, not until she is sure they are safe. She knows one thing— they can’t stay here.

Elizabeth runs her fingers along the silver necklace and squeezes her eyes shut. How will she get out of this one?

Her breath quickens. Elizabeth poisoned the man. She could be guilty of murder. Or maybe it would be considered self-defense. Elizabeth is no lawyer. She’s got no experience with cops, and there’s no one she can think of to ask without sounding suspicious as hell.

Elizabeth cannot spend one more day incarcerated.

As soon as Myra and Herb retreat to the house, she will gather Theo and sneak out to the truck. Her eyelids are heavy; sleep threatens to overtake her. Even her muscles have gone soft from the hot bath Myra had drawn for her that afternoon. She decides to lie down, just for a few minutes. It is better to wait till deep in the night. She cannot head to the police with Herb and Myra in the morning. Run. That’s what she is supposed to do. What she was told to do. Everyone from Rocky Shores is haunted by Charlotte Barkley. The old case will resurface. When the truth comes out, Elizabeth and her son will be filleted by the media. Imposter takes advantage of grieving mother. Her chest aches as she lies beside Theo.

Elizabeth Lark is no one’s daughter.

***

Excerpt from Call Me Elizabeth Lark by Melissa Colasanti. Copyright 2021 by Melissa Colasanti. Reproduced with permission from Melissa Colasanti. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Melissa Colasanti

Melissa Colasanti is a mother and an author. She has a BFA in fiction from Boise State University. Her writing has appeared in Lithub, Memoir Magazine, The Coffin Bell Journal and others. She is the Stephen R. Kustra scholar in creative writing for 2019, and was awarded the Glenn Balch Award for fiction in 2020.



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Giveaway:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Melissa Colasanti. There will be one (1) winner of one (1) signed Copy of Call Me Elizabeth Lark + Swag (US Addresses ONLY). The giveaway begins on May 1, 2021 and runs through June 1, 2021. Void where prohibited.

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