Monday, November 22, 2021

Showcase: Dream Stalker by Nancy Gardner

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Dream Stalker

by Nancy Gardner

November 1-30, 2021 Virtual Book Tour


Synopsis:

Dream Stalker by Nancy Gardner

Lily Scott had vowed never to dream-walk-again....

Lily is a contemporary Salem witch who descends from a long line of witches born with the power to walk into other people's dreams to fight crime. But her disastrous first dream-walk almost killed her, and she vowed never to repeat the painful experience.

Now her daughter is falsely accused of murder, and the only way to clear her would be for Lily to enter the dreaming mind of the real killer, risking confrontation with the deadly Dream Stalker.

Can Lily summon the courage?




 

Book Details:

Genre: Paranormal Mystery
Published by: Bowker
Publication Date: June 1st 2021
Number of Pages: 257
ISBN: 1733919945 (ISBN13: 9781733919944)
Series: Dream Stalker, #1

Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1

Salem, Massachusetts—October 1, 2013

I stumbled through the early morning fog blanketing Salem’s Gallows Hill, hurrying to the oak tree that my maternal grandmother, Sadie MacAskill, loved. When I was a child, she’d taught me that witches like ourselves derive energy from working with green, growing plants and trees. I could still feel our arms stretched around the oak’s trunk, listening for the pulsing power within it.

“Feel Mother Earth’s wisdom rising,” she’d said.

I’d never needed wisdom more. The plan I’d cooked up with an old friend had gone terribly wrong. Kitty was supposed to bring my estranged daughter, Sarah, to dinner. Sarah’s favorite dinner, creamy chicken pesto and pasta, was baking in the oven when I got the call.

“Kitty hasn’t come home, and I’m not ready to see you without her. I may never be ready,” Sarah said, her voice cold and unforgiving. She hung up before I could reply.

When I called her back, she refused to answer. If my husband, Sam, had still been alive, he’d have known what to do. But he’d died two years ago.

It was long after midnight when I threw the cold casserole down the disposal and crawled into bed. When sleep proved impossible, I paced the empty rooms of our Chestnut Street home until dawn, then grabbed the nearly empty bottle of homemade dandelion brandy as an offering to Nana’s spirit and rode my Vespa to the park atop Gallows Hill.

Exhausted and headachy, I forgot to watch my step and tripped over a rock. I managed not to fall, but the bottle flew out of my hand. I watched it shatter, watched the last golden dregs seep into the grass. I felt like I was watching my relationship with my daughter ebb with it.

As I dropped shards of glass into the nearby trash can, the wind seemed to whisper that I didn’t deserve to find the wisdom I needed. I’d failed Nana, and I’d failed my daughter.

“Enough self-pity.” I pulled my leather jacket tighter and scurried past the crumbling pavilion and rusting flagpole to the ancient oak. Once again, I pressed my cheek to the rough bark, closed my eyes, and waited. The bark pulsed. A crow landed in the branches above me, cawing and shaking loose a shower of dead leaves. I opened my eyes, and for a moment, Nana’s face wavered before me. Then she was gone, leaving me with my questions unanswered.

My cell vibrated. Who would call me this early? Sarah? Kitty with an explanation? I checked the screen. Neither. Honey Campbell, my landlord and a good friend. She owned the building on Pickering Wharf where we both ran our businesses. Her barbershop took up the first floor. My herbal studio, Healing Thyme, sat above it.

“Hi, Honey. What’s up.”

“Thought you’d want to know your friend, Kitty, came looking for you,” Honey said in her soft Scottish brogue. “And bye-the-bye, she looked like shite. She stumbled off toward Moe’s. You might yet find her there.”

Two months earlier, Kitty had stopped me on the street. I’d taken her for a panhandler and almost turned her away. Then she said, “Lily, don’t you remember me? My parents took us to New York to see West Side Story. We had the best time.”

We’d shared a cup of coffee and Kitty shared her story. She’d been a high school biology teacher until she’d been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. The disease had taken everything from her: her teaching career, her home, her reason for living. She’d ended up lost on the streets.

Things had taken a turn for the better for Kitty when she found a permanent bed at St. Bridget’s Homeless Shelter and, because of the doctor who volunteered his services there, Kitty’s memory was making a remarkable improvement.

“Thanks, Honey. I’m on my way.” I dashed back to the Vespa, strapped on my helmet, and started the engine. Usually, the thrum of the engine beneath me and the slapping rhythm of my braid tapping against my back soothed me. Not this morning. I pressed the throttle and hurried to Pickering Wharf, determined to find out what had gone wrong last night.

***

Excerpt from Dream Stalker by Nancy Gardner. Copyright 2021 by Nancy Gardner. Reproduced with permission from Nancy Gardner. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Nancy Gardner

Nancy Gardner writes cozy mysteries with a paranormal twist. The first novel in her new series, Dream Stalker, tells the story of Lily Scott, a contemporary Salem witch who walks into people’s dreams to fight crime. One reviewer called it a gripping tale of witchcraft, family loyalties, and the cost of seeking justice. Her most recent short story, "Death's Door," was selected to be included in the 2021 anthology, Malice Domestic 16: Mystery Most Diabolical. She lives near Boston with her writer husband, David.




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Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Showcase: New York: Give Me Your Best or Your Worst

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New York: Give Me Your Best or Your Worst

Presented by: Elizabeth Crowens

October 25 - November 19, 2021 Virtual Book Tour


Synopsis:

New York: Give Me Your Best or Your Worst

An Anthology and Celebration of the Big Apple

I'm an unabashed, unapologetic lover of New York City, my hometown, and New York: Give Me Your Best or Your Worst is right up my dark, deserted alley. New York's at its best when you sneak up on it, glance at its sideways, or let it glance sideways at you. The pros and photos in this collection all show New York's best, even when they purport to be showing its worst; in NYC, that's how we roll. A fine addition to your New York bookshelf, a collection to savor.
~ SJ Rozan, best-selling author of The Art of Violence

Book Details:

Genre: Coffee Table book of Photography with Short Stories
Published by: Atomic Alchemist Productions, LLC
Publication Date: Oct 25, 2021
Number of Pages: 150
ISBN: 1950384136, 9781950384136

 

Read the Intro:

It is daunting to be asked to say something about New York City that hasn’t already been said with more eloquence than I could muster. As with many of the writing gigs I’ve accepted without carefully considering the consequences, I suppose I would have been better off letting someone else tilt at this windmill. With all due respect to Don Quixote, here goes.

My initial inclination was to do something about how New York City, because of its geography, is fated to be a place of stark contradictions: of churning and yearning, of inclusion and exclusion, of acceptance and denial. Unlike other cities, New York cannot expand outwards, only upwards. While that sounds great and may make for glorious postcards of a majestic, everchanging skyline to send to the folks back home, it leaves out New York City’s most valuable commodity—its people.

I could have written about the unknown or unseen New York, the scores of little islands—some populated, some not—in Jamaica Bay, in the harbor, in the East River, in the Hudson. Places like Ruffle Bar. Ruffle Bar? Google it. Places once home to psychiatric and typhoid quarantine hospitals. Buildings abandoned or demolished. Islands whose only residents are the dead buried there and forgotten. Interesting, certainly, but again it would have left out the thing that makes New York City what it is.

As a crime fiction author who sets much of his work in New York—largely in Brooklyn and Manhattan—I have done countless panels and interviews about the city. My friend and award-winning colleague, Peter Spiegelman, says that setting is the soil in which you grow your characters. He is so right. Ask any author worth his, her, or their salt, and they will tell you that a book that can be set anywhere isn’t much of a book at all. A book must be of its place. So too must a person.

New York City isn’t one place. It is a thousand places, ten thousand places. And because it is all those places, its people are different neighborhood to neighborhood, sometimes street to street. Certainly, house to house, apartment to apartment. Do we shape the place or does the place shape us? Instead of doing an overview, a sort of general discussion of this question, I think it better to talk about one place—Coney Island—and how it shaped one person—me.

I grew up in the shadow of Coney Island Hospital, about a mile or so away from the amusement park. I was right on the border of Brighton Beach, Gravesend, Sheepshead Bay, and Coney Island. I could explain how each of these neighborhoods differ, how, for instance, Sheepshead Bay is, for all intents and purposes, a fishing village. But no, not here, not now. At one point in my life or other, I have claimed to be from all these places. Yet it is Coney Island that resonates.

When I was four, my dad—a bitter, blustery, and angry man—was diagnosed with an aggressive bone sarcoma which he battled to a standstill for thirty plus more years. After his initial round of surgery and treatment, he was instructed to not do any activities that might jar or adversely affect his leg. Yet on summer Sundays, he would tell my mom that he was taking me for a car ride. We took car rides, alright, straight into Coney Island.

He would put me on the kiddy rides, take me to Nathan’s Famous, buy me pistachio soft serve. Then, in one of the few acts of true defiance I ever saw from him, he would get on the carousel and grab for the brass rings. On one of these Sundays, he pointed to the Parachute Jump. The “Jump” rose into the air two hundred and sixty feet. All orange steel, it looked like a cross between the Eiffel Tower and the skeleton of a giant umbrella.

“When that ride opened up,” he said, “my best pal Charlie and me got on it. The parachute dropped a few feet and then … nothing. We were stuck up there for forty-five minutes just hanging in the air. It was great.”

Of course, by then, the Parachute Jump, once part of Steeplechase Park, had been closed for years, its parachutes and rigging long gone. That day, those days, have stayed with me ever since. And when, as a teenager, I would go back to Coney Island with my friends, get high and ride the Cyclone, I would always look up at the Parachute Jump. It came to symbolize my dad to me. Mighty, impressive, but abandoned, and powerless. I loved my dad because I could see past his bluster. He let me see past it. All because of those few Sundays in Coney Island.

As if by osmosis, Coney Island began imposing itself in my work. My series character, Moe Prager, worked in the Six-O precinct in Coney Island. Scene after scene in the nine Moe books take place there. Even twenty-plus books later, in my new series, I cannot escape the gravity of Coney Island. It calls to me in a way I cannot explain other than to say it is romance in the way the Romantic poets understood it.

In my Edgar Award–nominated short story “The Terminal,” I wrote this:

“…He liked how Coney Island displayed its decay as a badge of honor. It didn’t try to hide the scars where pieces of its once-glorious self had been cut off. Stillwell Avenue west was like a showroom of abandonment, the empty buildings wearing their disuse like bankrupted nobility in frayed and fancy suits. He had come to the edge of the sea with the other last dinosaurs: the looming and impotent Parachute Jump, the Wonder Wheel, Nathan’s, the Cyclone.”

I could never have written those words in that way had I grown up in Washington Heights or Rego Park. New York City poets and writers are shaped by their families, yes, but shaped as much by where as by who. That is the magic of New York. This book will shine a light on the rest of that magic. By the way, my children and I have slightly different tattoos of the Parachute Jump: My son and I on our forearms; my daughter on her triceps. In those tats my dad and the Coney Island that was will live on.

***

Introduction from New York: Give Me Your Best or Your Worst by Reed Farrel Coleman. Copyright 2021 by Elizabeth Crowens. Reproduced with permission from Elizabeth Crowens. All rights reserved.

 

 

About New York: Give Me Your Best or Your Worst:

Elizabeth Crowens with Author photo with Reed Farrel Coleman

Writer and photographer, Elizabeth Crowens is one of 500 New York City-based artists to receive funding through the City Artist Corps Grants program, presented by The New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA), with support from the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME) as well as Queens Theatre.

She was recognized for New York: Give Me Your Best or Your Worst, her photo-illustrated anthology, which brought her published book along with ten other authors to Mysterious Bookshop in Lower Manhattan at 58 Warren Street on Monday, October 25, 2021 at 6:30 p.m. for an in-store event and author signing along with a simultaneous Facebook Live presentation and recording for Jim Freund’s WBAI program Hour of the Wolf.

Author contributors include:

  • Reed Farrel Coleman, New York Times bestselling author of over 31 award-winning mystery and thriller novels, including the Jesse Stone series for the estate of Robert B. Parker. Called a hard-boiled poet by NPR’s Maureen Corrigan.
  • Charles Salzberg, former magazine journalist, crime novelist of the Shamus Award-nominated Henry Swann series, founding member of the New York Writers Workshop.
  • Tom Straw, Emmy and WGA-nominated writer-producer, credits include Nurse Jackie, Night Court, Grace Under Fire, Whoopie, and the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Crime novelist under the pen name of Richard Castle.
  • Randee Dawn, Entertainment journalist for Today.com, Variety, and the Los Angeles Times. Co-editor of Across the Universe: Tales of Alternative Beatles and The Law & Order: SUV Companion, and speculative fiction writer of the upcoming Tune in Tomorrow.
  • Barbara Krasnoff, Reviews Editor at The Verge, over 45 published short stories, Nebula Award finalist, author of the “mosaic” novel The History of Soul 2065.
  • Steven Van Patten, TV stage manager by day, horror writer by night. Co-host of the Beef, Wine and Shenanigans podcast, winner of several African American Literary Awards.
  • Triss Stein writes mysteries that all take place in Brooklyn.
  • Marco Conelli, former NYPD detective, consultant to Mary Higgins Clark, and Silver Falchion award-winner for young adult mysteries and the police procedural Cry For Help, taking place in The Bronx.
  • R.J. Koreto, historical mystery writer focusing on New York during the Gilded Age.
  • Richie Narvaez, award-winning mystery author of Hipster Death Rattle, Holly Hernandez and the Death of Disco, and Noiryorican.
  • Elizabeth Crowens, over 25 years in the entertainment industry, member of the International Cinematographers Guild as a Still Photographer (Imdb.com credited: Sheri Lane), award-winning writer of novels in the Hollywood mystery and alternate history genres. Recipient of the Leo B. Burstein Scholarship by the NY Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Editor and photographer for New York: Give Me Your Best or Your Worst based on her Facebook Caption Contests. elizabethcrowens.com, @Ecrowens on Twitter, and Elizabeth Crowens on Facebook!

 

 

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Monday, November 15, 2021

Showcase: The Last Speaker of Skalwegian by David Gardner

The Last Speaker of Skalwegian by David Gardner Banner

The Last Speaker of Skalwegian

by David Gardner

November 1-30, 2021 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

The Last Speaker of Skalwegian by David Gardner

Professor Lenny Thorson lives in a defunct revolving restaurant, obsesses over word derivations, and teaches linguistics at a fourth-rate college with a gerbil for a mascot. Lenny's thirty-four years have not been easy—he grew up in a junkyard with his widowed father and lives under a cloud of guilt for having killed another boxer as a teenager.

Desperate to save his teaching career, Lenny seizes the opportunity to document the Skalwegian language with its last living speaker, Charlie Fox. Life appears to have finally taken a turn for the better...

Unfortunately for Lenny, it hasn't. He soon finds himself at war with Charlie, his dean, a ruthless mobster, and his own conscience.

A genial protagonist will keep readers enticed throughout this amusing romp.
~ Kirkus Reviews

 

Book Details:

Genre: Humorous Thriller, Academic Setting
Published by: Encircle Publications, LLC
Publication Date: September 8th 2021
Number of Pages: 308
ISBN: 164599239X (ISBN13: 9781645992394)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

Book Trailer:

 

Read an excerpt:

“Why document the Skalwegian language?” Charlie Fox asked. “The answer to your question should be obvious: I want to save the language of my Scandinavian ancestors and preserve their culture for future generations. I’m no longer young, and if I don’t act soon, Skalwegian will disappear forever. And give Professor Lenny Thorson a lot of the credit. He’s a linguist—I sure couldn’t do the job without him.”

The Last Speaker of Skalwegian, Newsweek

Chapter 1

Weegan

A word in the Skalwegian language loosely translated as butthead (impolite usage)

Lenny Thorson watched the red pickup roar into the parking lot, a statue propped up in back. It was the Ghurkin College mascot, an eight-foot-tall gerbil.

Charlie nudged Lenny. “You sure you want tenure at a college with a rat for a mascot?”

“It’s a gerbil. And yes, I do. Jobs are scarce.”

Gerry Gerbil stood on his hind legs and stared into the distance, a football clutched in his right front paw, his rat-like tail draped over his left. He looked hot and humiliated.

Lenny too felt hot and humiliated, and he guessed that Gerry hated parades as much as he did. Lenny tugged his sweaty shirt away from his chest. It was a sunny September afternoon, with heat waves shimmering off the blacktop in front of the building where he lived. He badly wanted the day to be over.

The pickup swung around with a screech of tires and backed up to Lenny’s beat-up Chevy. Two college students in matching black muscle shirts stepped out. Brothers, Lenny guessed. They were a wide-shouldered pair with mussy brown hair and long ears.

Lenny reached out his hand. “I’m Lenny Thorson and this is Charlie Fox.”

“Yeah, I know,” the taller one said, glanced at Lenny’s outstretched hand, then climbed onto the back of the pickup and untied the statue.

Lenny and Charlie dragged the wood-and-papier-mâché gerbil from the bed of the pickup, boosted it atop Lenny’s car and stood it upright.

One brother thumbed his phone while the other fed ropes through the open doors and around the mascot’s ankles.

The boy was careless as well as rude, Lenny told himself, and he was tempted to order him to untie the ropes and start over, but Lenny hated confrontation. Once he was around the corner and out of sight, he would stop and retie the knots. He didn’t want anything bad to happen to Gerry Gerbil.

On second thought, did he really give a damn?

Charlie threw his right leg over his motorcycle, gripped the handlebars and bounced once in the saddle. He wore jeans and a T-shirt that read ‘So Are You!’ He nodded toward Gerry. “He looks like a weegan, and so will you when you parade him through the center of town.”

Lenny hadn’t yet learned that word in Skalwegian. “Weegan?”

“‘Butthead.’”

Lenny nodded. He was a weegan.

Charlie looked particularly worn and shrunken today, Lenny thought, especially astraddle his beefy black Harley. His hair was gray, his skin leathery, his chin neatly dimpled from Iraqi shrapnel. He was fifty-one—seventeen years older than Lenny—and eight inches shorter.

At six feet four, Lenny was always embarrassed by his size. He wished he could go through life unnoticed. He wondered if Gerry Gerbil ever felt the same.

The shorter brother slapped the mascot’s foot. “Have fun at the parade, professor.”

Both brothers laughed.

Lenny didn’t expect to have fun. His gut told him that the day would go badly.

* * *

Bob One wasn’t happy about whacking a professor. He specialized in crooked bookies, wise guys who’d flipped, and casino managers caught skimming. But never a civilian. Bob One believed in upholding the ethics of his profession.

He parted the tall tan grass at the side of the road, pinched a mosquito off the tip of his nose and peered westward. No cars yet, but the guy who’d hired him had said his target always took this route on his way into town and would have to slow to a crawl here at the switchback. Bob One figured he’d have plenty of time to pop up, rush forward, blast the guy at close range, then get the hell back to Chicago where he belonged.

* * *

Lenny eyed the brothers, now slouched against his car’s front fender, both lost in their phones. He couldn’t remember ever seeing them on the Ghurkin College campus, the fourth-rate institution an hour west of Boston where he taught French and linguistics. “I didn’t catch your names.”

The taller one glanced up. “You don’t know who we are?”

Lenny shook his head.

The boys exchanged puzzled looks. The taller one said, “I’m Tom Sprocket, and that’s my brother Titus.”

The names sounded familiar, but Lenny didn’t know where he’d heard them. He could memorize entire pages of the dictionary in one sitting, but he was terrible with names.

Tom pocketed his phone and looked Lenny up and down. “Did you play football in college?”

“No,” Lenny said.

Tom snickered. “Afraid of getting hurt?”

“I was afraid of hurting someone else.”

Tom snorted. “Man, that’s all the fun.”

No, it’s wasn’t, Lenny told himself. Hurting someone wasn’t fun at all. Twenty-one years ago, while fighting underage with a fake name, he’d killed an opponent in the boxing ring. Guilt still clung to Lenny, ate into his soul.

Tom gestured with a thick thumb over his shoulder toward the office building behind the parking lot. “You live on top of that thing?”

Lenny nodded.

“You’re weird, man.”

Lenny stiffened. He did feel weird for living in an abandoned rotating restaurant atop a ten-story insurance building, but didn’t particularly enjoy being told so.

But in spite of Tom’s rudeness, Lenny wouldn’t let himself get angry with the boy or even with Dean Sheepslappe who, for some reason, insisted he participate in the Gerry Gerbil Alumni Day Parade, even threatening to block his tenure if he refused. Lenny had grown up angry, had fought with rage in the ring, but after that last fight, he’d promised himself he would never again lose his temper. Some people found this strange, Lenny knew, some sweet. Others used his good nature as a way to take advantage of him. Lenny knew that too.

Titus Sprocket smirked and said, “I heard the place starts up running sometimes all on its own.”

The Moon View Revolving Restaurant had failed financially in just six months, when its motor took to speeding up at random moments, knocking staff off their feet and sending diners sliding sideways off their booths and onto the floor. Lenny moved in shortly afterwards. He was paying minimal rent in the abandoned restaurant in return for serving as its live-in caretaker. He found it oddly comforting to be the world’s only linguist who inhabited a rotating restaurant. “Sometimes it makes a couple of turns in the middle of the night,” Lenny said, “then shuts down. It’s no problem.”

It was in fact a problem. When the deranged motors and gears got it into their head to noctambulate, they did so with a terrific bellow and jolt that made Lenny sit up wide awake, and which frightened Elspeth so badly that she’d stopped staying overnight.

But Lenny wasn’t bothered by the smirking Sprockets. In fact, he felt sorry for the boys, regarding them as underprivileged lads from some sunbaked state where children ran barefoot across red clay all summer and ate corn pone for breakfast.

Lenny wondered what corn pone tasted like and—more importantly—what was the origin of the word pone? A Native American term? Spanish? Skalwegian even?

He turned to Charlie, astride his motorcycle and fiddling with one of its dials. “Is pone a word in Skalwegian?”

“It sure is,” Charlie said without looking up. “It means ‘He who makes a big weegan of himself by driving an eight-foot rat through the center of town.’”

“You’re no help.”

“I’ve heard that before.”

Lenny drifted off to ruminate on pone. The campus newspaper had labeled him the most distracted member of the faculty—misplacing his briefcase, forgetting to show up for class, walking into trees. But he’d also been one of the most popular until he’d flunked a pair of star football players. The school newspaper excoriated him, and fans called him a traitor. A few students considered him a hero, however. Lenny wanted to be neither.

Charlie tightened his helmet and slipped the key into the ignition. “I got to get back to the farm because Sally must have lunch ready by now. Besides, I don’t want to stick around and watch my good buddy make a big weegan of himself.”

“Can you come over tomorrow? We got only halfway through the G verbs this morning.”

“Tomorrow I got to work on the barn roof. Maybe the day after. Or the day after that.”

Charlie started the engine, leaned into the handlebars and roared away in a blast of blue smoke.

Lenny watched him go. There were times when Lenny felt like quitting the project. Charlie used him as resource—“What’s a gerund? Where do hyphens go? What in hell is a predicate complement?”—but had given him no real role in documenting the language itself. Although this was frustrating and puzzling, it was never quite enough to force Lenny to drop out. He took great pride in helping save a language, not to mention that it was a hot topic in linguistic circles and would go a long way toward saving his teaching job.

Tom and Titus simultaneously tucked their muscle shirts into their waistbands. Titus said, “We was football players.”

“Oh?” Lenny said. He paid no attention to team sports but closely attended to subject/verb conflicts.

“Yeah, that’s right,” Titus said. “But we got cheated and ain’t never going to get our whack at the NFL.”

Distracted, Lenny tugged on Gerry’s ropes. Yes, they’d definitely need retying. It pleased him to hear someone say ain’t so naturally and not merely to make an ironic point. He said over his shoulder, “NFL—that would be the National Federation of… uh…?”

“Holy shit on a shingle!” Titus said. “I’m talking about the National Football League—big money, fame and all the poontang a guy could ever want.”

Lenny had read somewhere that poontang descended from New Orleans Creole, from putain, the French word for prostitute, but he wasn’t absolutely sure. He would look into this later, along with pone. He turned to the brothers. “Something went wrong?”

The Sprockets looked at each other in wonder. “Yeah, you could say that,” Titus said. “We got screwed.”

“Yeah, screwed,” Tom repeated.

Lenny said, “That’s a shame.”

“Yeah, well, we’re gonna get payback,” Titus said and patted Gerry’s foot.

Lenny climbed into his car and eased out of the parking lot. Ropes squeaked against the door frames, the statue’s base creaked on the Chevy’s roof, and Lenny was sure he heard Gerry groan in anticipation of the dreadful day ahead.

In his rearview mirror, Lenny watched the diminishing Sprocket brothers waving and laughing. What an odd pair, he thought.

Lenny decided to take his usual route through the arboretum on his way downtown. The beauty and isolation of the place soothed him. He hoped it would today.

* * *

Bob One spotted a car approaching and got to his feet. It was an old black Chevy with a maroon right front fender. Don’t all professors drive Priuses?

But it had to be the guy on account of the statue on top like he’d been told to look for. What was that thing? A squirrel? A rat? Look at how the damn thing wobbles! About ready to tip over.

Bob One slipped closer to the road, crouched behind a bush, pulled his pistol from his belt and slapped a mosquito off his forehead. He examined the bloody splotch on his palm. Shit, stick around much longer, and the damn insects would suck him dead.

* * *

Lenny was scared.

In two days, he had to go on live television with Charlie and discuss their Skalwegian project—not easy for someone wanting to go through life invisible. Would he make a fool of himself? Say dumb things he’d later regret?

Probably.

Lenny’s thoughts turned back to the Sprocket brothers. Strange last name. Scholars could trace sprocket back as far as the mid-sixteenth century as a carpenter’s term but hadn’t yet located an ancestor.

Tom and Titus Sprocket!

Of course!

He’d flunked them in first-year French because they never showed up for class, which cost them their eligibility to play football. The dean had been furious with him but not with the errant guard and tackle. Jocks normally took Spanish with Juan Jorgenson—the other candidate for the language department’s one tenured slot. Juan automatically gave A’s to athletes just for registering.

Lenny reached over and cranked up the radio for the boisterous ending of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, then glanced up to see he was driving much too fast into Jackknife Corner.

Panicked, he jammed on the brakes and twisted the steering wheel hard left.

He felt the car tilt to the right and heard a loud Thunk! just as Beethoven’s Fifth swelled to a crescendo. Puzzled, Lenny drove on, with the Chevy pulling to the right. Probably something to do with tire pressure, Lenny guessed. He’d have that checked later.

* * *

Bob One lay on the side of road. Blood flowed out his left ear and down his cheek. His head buzzed, and his eyes slipped in and out of focus. He pulled himself to his feet, wobbled, then toppled into the ditch. He crawled into the marsh, still gripping his unfired handgun. Puddles soaked his knees and elbows. A possum trotted past. An airplane roared low overhead. Or was that inside his skull?

Bob One’s left temple hurt like a son of a bitch. That damn rat had toppled over and whacked him on the side of the head. Or was it a guinea pig?

Bob One curled up beside a bog. Half-conscious, he watched a fat snapping turtle waddle toward him, stop two feet from his nose, look him up and down, then open its jaw. Shit, Bob One said to himself, the thing’s got a mouth the size of a catcher’s mitt. Bob One didn’t like animals or much of anything else in nature. He tried to crawl away, but things started going dark—warm and dark—not such a bad feeling, actually.

Bob One awoke to see the turtle biting his right forefinger off at the second joint. Bob One felt no pain and noticed that one of his shoes was missing. As Bob One slipped comfortably into his final darkness, he wondered if a missing trigger finger would hinder him professionally.

* * *

Lenny reached the parade route late and swung in behind the school bandsmen in their sky-blue uniforms with “Skammer’s Fine Meats” embroidered in bright yellow across the back.

Spectators to Lenny’s right shouted and pointed. Some ducked, some knelt, some even dropped to their stomachs. Lenny shook his head in disbelief. Had students and townspeople taken to prostrating themselves before the college mascot? Did he really want tenure at a batty place like this?

At the end of the block, a policeman holding a Dunkin’ Donuts cup stepped into the street, raised his palm, and forced Lenny to brake.

As Lenny stepped from his car, he realized that he’d forgotten to retie the ropes.

Gerry Gerbil lay sideways across the car’s roof, projecting five feet to the right, the ankles tied precariously in place. Someone took a photo. Someone fingered the slack ropes and spoke of slip knots. Lenny touched a patch of something red and damp on the mascot’s forehead. Lenny rubbed thumb against forefinger. The stuff looked like blood.

Since when did gerbil statues bleed?

***

Excerpt from The Last Speaker of Skalwegian by David Gardner. Copyright 2021 by David Gardner. Reproduced with permission from David Gardner. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

David Gardner

David Gardner grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm, served in Army Special Forces and earned a Ph.D. in French from the University of Wisconsin. He has taught college and worked as a reporter and in the computer industry. He coauthored three programming books for Prentice Hall, wrote dozens of travel articles as well as too many mind-numbing computer manuals before happily turning to fiction: "The Journalist: A Paranormal Thriller" and "The Last Speaker of Skalwegian" (both with Encircle Publications, LLC). He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, Nancy, also a writer. He hikes, bikes, messes with astrophotography and plays the keyboard with no discernible talent whatsoever.


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Monday, November 8, 2021

Showcase: Cliff Diver by Carmen Amato

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Cliff Diver

by Carmen Amato

November 1-30, 2021 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

Cliff Diver by Carmen Amato

Acapulco’s first female police detective dives into an ocean of secrets, lies, and murder when she investigates her own lieutenant’s death.

In this explosive start to the award-winning Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco, Emilia beat the odds to become the resort city's first female police detective. But she's living in a pressure cooker. Other detectives are scheming to push her out and the police department is riddled with corruption and drug cartel influence.

When the lieutenant is murdered, Emilia is assigned to lead the investigation. Soon the man’s sordid sex life, money laundering, and involvement in a kidnapping double-cross combine to create an ugly mess no one wants exposed. The high profile murder case could wreck Emilia’s career. When another detective--Emilia's worst enemy in the squadroom--emerges as the prime suspect, keeping her job might be the least of her worries.

Readers who love international mystery series crime fighters including Armand Gamache, Harry Hole, Guido Brunetti, and the Department Q series will also love Detective Emilia Cruz’s complex plots, pulse-pounding suspense, and exotic location. Perfect for lovers of detective fiction by Ian Rankin, Jo Nesbo, and Peter May, as well as Don Winslow’s Mexican cartel and border thrillers.

“Consistently exciting”
-- Kirkus Reviews

"A wonderful crime mystery"
-- MysterySequels.com

Poison Cup award, Outstanding Series 2019 and 2020
-- CrimeMasters of America

 

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery, Police Procedural
Published by: Laurel & Croton
Publication Date: September 2021 (first published January 27, 2013)
Number of Pages: 302
ISBN: 1482308045 (ISBN13: 9781482308044)
Series: Emilia Cruz Mysteries #1
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

Read an excerpt:

The two newcomers surveyed the squadroom. One of them looked vaguely familiar, as if he’d been in the newspaper lately. He was in his late thirties, with longish dark hair slicked back from a high forehead and the sort of angular cheekbones that spoke of a strong indio heritage. He wore a black leather blazer over a black tee shirt and cuffed pants. There was a slight bulge under the left arm.

Emilia stopped typing. The man exuded power.

The other man was bigger and blockier, with a square chin and a nose that had been broken too many times. He was also well dressed in expensive casual clothing.

“I’m looking for a Detective Cruz,” the black-clad man announced.

Emilia felt all eyes shift to her. But before she could say anything Silvio crossed the room. “Detective Franco Silvio,” he said to the man in black.

“I know who you are,” the man replied. “I’m here to talk to Cruz.”

Emilia slowly stood up.

“In the office.” The man jerked his chin at Emilia and then he and his cohort pushed past Silvio and headed into el teniente’s office.

Silvio swung over to Emilia. “What the fuck’s this?” he hissed.

“I don’t know,” she flashed back. Rico came to stand next to her and Silvio gave him a what-the-fuck-do-you-think-you’re-doing look but Rico stood his ground.

The three of them went into the office. The man in black sat in el teniente’s chair and jiggled the locked desk drawers. “Shut the door,” he said without looking up.

Silvio complied and the man came out from behind the desk.

“Do you know who I am?” he asked Emilia.

Emilia gave her head a tight shake. With five people in the room it felt crowded and Emilia felt that cold spurt of wariness she always did when she was the only woman in a crowd of unfriendly men. “I’m sorry, señor.”

“I’m Victor Obregon Sosa, the head of the police union for the state of Guerrero,” he announced. “This is my deputy, Miguel Villahermosa.” The other man didn’t acknowledge the introduction but it was clear Obregon had not expected him to do so. “We’re here to make sure that the investigation into Fausto Inocente’s death is handled properly.”

Rico bristled, as if he was offended that the union would butt in. Emilia waited for him to say something stupid but Silvio shot him a murderous glare and Rico kept his mouth shut.

“We’re barely two hours into the investigation,” Silvio said, obviously making an effort to keep his temper. It had been less than 40 minutes since the call to the chief of police. “It came in as a routine dispatch call. Cruz and Portillo were given the assignment, made the discovery, locked down the scene, and notified the next of kin.”

“So let’s hear it,” Obregon said and flapped a hand.

Silvio nodded at Rico.

“We got a report of a drifting boat,” Rico began. “It was off the beach at the Palacio Réal hotel--.”

“No,” Obregon interrupted. He folded his arms. “Cruz.”

Emilia stole a look at Rico. His face was like thunder. She swallowed hard. “As my partner said, the call was to investigate a drifting boat off the beach at the Palacio Réal. The hotel chef and manager saw it from the beach early this morning, thought there were bloodstains on the side. We met Water Patrol at the hotel and they towed in the boat.” She took another breath and tried to sound as professional as possible. “Lt. Inocente was in the bottom of the boat, with his head encased in a plastic bag. It was pulled tight and knotted around his neck. When the crime scene technician opened the bag it appeared that the back of his head was caved in. We’ll know more when the coroner examines the body.”

Obregon nodded. “Any other injuries?” he asked her.

She shook her head. “No bullet holes in the hull of the boat, no evidence of a struggle. Blood on the deck under the body, likely from the head wound. Blood had also soaked through his shirt and there was some on the upper edge of the boat hull. Technicians took samples but they’ll probably all come back as his.”

“Anything else?”

“The boat is his. His wife gave us the registration papers.” Emilia paused, discomfited by Obregon’s stare. The tension in the room was palpable. She glanced at Rico and plowed on. “They live in the same area as the hotel. The wife wasn’t much help regarding his whereabouts last night. The last person who could pinpoint his whereabouts last night was their maid. Said he got a phone call late in the evening and went out. Took the boat keys but nothing else.”

“Wife didn’t see him?”

“She had gone out to a charity event,” Emilia said. “Of course, we’ll be checking to verify her story.”

Obregon tipped the chair back. A thin silver chain showed inside the loose neck of the tee. His skin was smooth and his jaw was tightly defined. He looked like someone who worked out a lot. And liked showing off the results.

“So, Cruz, tell me how you’re going to proceed,” he said, as if Rico and Silvio weren’t even in the crowded office.

“We’ll set up a hotline and get detectives out talking to everyone at his apartment building and the hotel to see if we can piece together his last hour. He was apparently close to his brother. We’ll talk to him as well. Look at his phone records to see if we can find out who the late night caller was. Coroner’s report. Forensics on his laptop. See if we get any prints off the boat.”

Obregon nodded and straightened the chair. Even that simple movement belied grace and power and focused intent. “This is how the investigation is going to go.” He pointed at Emilia. “You’re appointed acting lieutenant. Do whatever you want with these clowns”--he snapped his fingers at Silvio and Rico--“and the other cases you’ve got but I want you to personally head the Inocente investigation.”

Both Silvio and Rico froze as if they couldn’t believe what they’d just heard.

“Chief Salazar has already been notified. You’ll report directly to my office every few days until this thing is over.” Obregon indicated Villahermosa who’d remained by the door during the entire conversation, like a large, menacing statue. Obregon’s deputy was even bigger than Silvio, with legs the size of tree trunks. Another former boxer, no doubt. “Villahermosa will be on call to assist as well.”

The tension in the room was now tinged with menace. Emilia struggled to keep breathing normally.

“Cruz is a junior detective.” Silvio’s voice was tight. “She doesn’t have the experience or the seniority to be acting lieutenant.”

“Cruz has my full support,” Obregon said.

“With respect,” Silvio said. “We understand that. But she’s not the senior detective here.”

“Nobody’s asking for your fucking opinion,” Obregon blazed. His eyes drilled into Silvio. “Cruz is in charge as of now. Thanks for coming.”

Villahermosa pulled open the door and jerked his chin at Silvio and Rico. They both walked out.

Emilia stood rooted to the spot as her mind jumped around. Why had he chosen her? Did the union have the authority to put her in this position?

Obregon motioned to Villahermosa and the man left the office, too. And then it was just Obregon and Emilia. He walked round the desk again and rifled through a few of the papers on the desktop.

“The mayor has a press conference tomorrow and she’ll want to say something about the Inocente investigation,” Obregon said as he looked through the papers. “Be nice if you could have this all wrapped up by then.”

Emilia felt as if she’d been gutted. She forced a single word out around the tightness in her throat and the dryness in her mouth. “Sure.”

She must have sounded sassier than she felt because he looked up and laughed. “At any rate, we’ll meet beforehand to review what you’re going to tell her. Let’s say tomorrow 4:00 pm.”

He glanced at his watch, an expensive-looking silver job with three knobs on the side. “That gives you more than 24 hours to come up with something significant.”

Emilia licked her lips. “I won’t even have the phone records by then.”

“You’ll have something for the press conference,” Obregon said nastily. “Some nice sound bite about the diligence of the Acapulco police and how they’re sad but determined.”

“You want me to say this to the mayor?”

“Inocente was as dirty as they come.” Obregon turned his attention back to the overflowing inbox. “You’re going to turn up a lot of bad things. When you do, you tell me or Villahermosa. Not the other detectives and not the chief of police. You don’t arrest anybody, you don’t get yourself shot, you don’t do anything. I’ll take care of that part.”

Emilia’s heart hammered like a warning bell in her chest. “I think Silvio should be in charge of this investigation. He’s the senior detective.”

“If you find that the wife popped him,” Obregon went on. “And you know it beyond a shadow of a doubt, go ahead and arrest her. Otherwise come to me first. Nobody else.”

“Did you hear what I said?” Emilia said.

“I’m trying to clean up the police in this state,” Obregon said as he plucked a folder out of the box. As he flipped it open his hands knotted with veins, as if he had a lot of practice clenching and unclenching his fists. “I’m sick of the corruption and men like Inocente making deals with the cartels. People like him protect their empires, feed it with drugs and private armies. When you find out who killed Inocente we can probably roll up whatever cartel he was in bed with.”

“Why me?” Emilia asked. She was talking to his bent head as if he couldn’t be bothered to look her in the eye. The warning bell was deafening and Emilia knew she had to get herself out of this situation. Silvio should have this job. Or Loyola. They’d know how to deal with Obregon as well as how to conduct a major murder investigation. “You heard what Silvio said. Almost all the detectives out there are senior to me. There will be a lot of resistance. From all the other detectives. Enough to keep the investigation from going forward.”

“You’ll handle it.” Obregon read something else out of the inbox.

“You don’t understand.” Emilia slammed her hand down on the desktop to get his attention.

“Good,” he said, finally looking up from whatever he’d been reading. “You’ve got a fire in the belly. You get those detectives talking to everybody in that fucking hotel. Everybody who lived near him. Whoever even heard of Fausto Inocente. And if the boys don’t do what you say, shoot one of them. The rest will fall in line.”

He was serious.

“I don’t know who you think I am, señor,” Emilia gulped. “But I’ve only been a detective for two years. Mostly I’ve handled the crap cases. You need a seasoned investigator on this one. Get one of the other detectives to be acting lieutenant.”

“You’ve made quite a mark in two years, whether you know it or not,” Obregon said. “Recovering the Morelos de Gama child was a big deal.”

“The media made it out to be more than it was,” Emilia parried. “The case was handled in Ixtapa, not here.”

“We’ve been watching you.” He tossed the file onto the desk and regarded her. “Our girl detective. You’re a hungry one. You want to get someplace.”

“I’m sorry,” Emilia said. “Not this.”

“You’re the only woman here.” Obregon’s glance was searing.

“This is because I’m a woman?”

“Yes. Everybody knows women are less corrupt.” Obregon came around the side of the desk and Emilia resisted the urge to shrink away from him. “You do this or you won’t even be able to be hired on as the lowliest transito cop in any police force in this state.”

He leaned down and put his face close to hers. “You know he was corrupt. Up to his neck in shit. Well, I’m the person putting an end to it in the state of Guerrero, and you don’t get to choose sides.”

Emilia didn’t move. It was hard to breathe. He smelled like leather and cigarettes and an unexpected whiff of spicy cologne.

“I’ll be calling you on this office phone so you’d better move in today.” Obregon stepped back and ran an appraising eye down Emilia’s body. “And look good tomorrow. You want the mayor to take you seriously.”

“I’m junior around here,” Emilia said stubbornly. “You want a fast result, you get Silvio.”

“Maybe I wasn’t clear enough for you, Cruz.” Obregon’s voice was flat. “If the union puts you and your mother out on the street you won’t work as a whore in this town much less as a transito. So you show up and be nice to the mayor and tell her something clever for her little television press conference. How you’re working night and day to solve this terrible crime and keep Acapulco safe for the tourists.”

They stared at each other for a long moment.

You and your mother struck home for Emilia, as no doubt it was intended to.

“I want doors on the stalls in the detectives’ bathroom,” Emilia heard herself say. “And a copier that works. And paper for it. And ink.”

The corner of Obregon’s mouth twitched. “Anything else?”

“I’ll let you know,” she said tightly.

Obregon handed Emilia a card. There were two cell phone numbers printed on it. “You only use these numbers to get in touch with me,” he said.

Before she could respond he pulled open the door and shouted “Attention.”

Emilia followed Obregon as far as the doorway. The detectives were all there, as was Villahermosa. Obregon strode to the center of the squadroom, commanding everyone’s attention.

“Most of you know me. I am Victor Obregon Sosa, the head of the police union for the state of Guerrero.” He revolved slowly and most of the detectives stood a little straighter as his eye rested on them for a moment, creating the same malice-tinged tension he’d first brought into the squadroom. “As you know, Lt. Inocente was found dead this morning. His death will be investigated as a homicide by this unit until his murderer is found and dealt with.”

There was a low sound of shuffling feet. Somebody coughed.

Obregon jerked his chin in the direction of Lt. Inocente’s office where Emilia leaned awkwardly against the doorjamb. “Detective Emilia Cruz will be acting lieutenant for the duration and in charge of the investigation into Lt. Inocente’s death.”

Eyes swiveled to Emilia. Rico was openly shocked as he sat on the end of his desk. Silvio’s face was like granite. He was the only one who kept his gaze on Obregon.

Emilia didn’t acknowledge the stares. She kept her eyes on the ancient copier.

Several of the detectives shifted uncomfortably in the silence. “One of our own has died,” Obregon said. “And we will conduct a thorough investigation, find whoever did this, and punish them according to the full measure of Mexican law.”

He nodded at Emilia. “See you tomorrow, Cruz. Four o’clock.” His eyes revealed nothing. “Good luck.”

Obregon and Villahermosa walked out. As soon as the door shut behind them the squadroom erupted into a bedlam of shouting.

***

Excerpt from Cliff Diver by Carmen Amato. Copyright 2021 by Carmen Amato. Reproduced with permission from Carmen Amato. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Carmen Amato

Carmen Amato turns lessons from a 30-year career with the Central Intelligence Agency into crime fiction loaded with intrigue and deception."

Her award-winning Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series pits the first female police detective in Acapulco against Mexico's drug cartels, government corruption, and social inequality.

Described as "A thrilling series" by National Public Radio, the Detective Emilia Cruz series was awarded the Poison Cup for Outstanding Series from CrimeMasters of America in both 2019 and 2020 and has been optioned for television.

Originally from upstate New York, Carmen was educated there as well as in Virginia and Paris, France, while experiences in Mexico and Central America ignited her writing career.

Her family tree includes a mayor, a Mensa genius, and the first homicide in the state of Connecticut with an automatic weapon. The perpetrator, her great-grandfather, eluded a state-wide manhunt after killing two people--one of whom was his wife. He was never brought to justice. Carmen is a recipient of both the National Intelligence Award and the Career Intelligence Medal.

Grab a free copy of the Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library at CarmenAmato.net.

You'll see why Amazon Hall of Fame reviewer Grady Harp wrote: "For pure entertainment and a gripping story likely resulting in nail biting, read Carmen Amato's addictive prose. She knows this territory like a jaguar!"


Catch Up With Carmen:

 

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This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Carmen Amato. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Gift box of 5 best-selling mystery/thriller books by various authors hand-selected by Carmen Amato, plus a signed copy of the latest book in the Detective Emilia Cruz series AND a $20 Amazon.com gift card (U.S. ONLY). The giveaway runs November 1 through December 3, 2021. Void where prohibited.

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Thursday, November 4, 2021

Release Day Blitz: Dawn's Desire by Shilpa Suraj

 



One night of passion, a stolen moment of joy and six years of pain...



Rishi Khatri cannot forget the beautiful woman who swept into his life for one incredible night and then disappeared...with the contents of his wallet and large chunks of his heart.
Until the day, he meets Sehar again and he realises that he cannot forgive her. For, Rishi has made a cardinal mistake. He's fallen in love with his one night stand.
Sehar Mirza's one night of rebellion destroyed any chance of a normal future. But her heart cannot regret her choice. For in that one night, she laughed, she loved and she lost. She lived an entire lifetime.
When their paths cross again, Sehar and Rishi find their feelings for each other haven't dimmed. All they want in life is another chance, a second chance.

But Sehar has a secret. One that will destroy their tentative happiness.

Can they learn to look beyond their past mistakes and hope for a shared future? Can Rishi forgive a betrayal so large that it leaves his already battered heart in pieces at Sehar's feet?

Can love win? Or will loss claim their destiny for its own again?

Book Links:


Read an Excerpt from Dawn's Desire


“Partay!” Di yelled into my ear as I left my sad little family reunion and started towards home. My cab driver seemed to think he was racing in the Formula One so we would probably reach really soon. 

“No,” I told her. “Not tonight.” 

“Yes tonight. Come on, Termi. Don’t be a bore,” she wheedled. “We can’t party without you.” 

“Yes, you can. I’m going home to my book.” 

Someone hissed at her in the background and then there was a loud clatter that sounded like the phone falling. I was about to hang up when Manav came on the line. 

“Dude, you have to come,” he hissed. “The girls are really drunk and Dev and I need help.” 

I groaned and scrubbed my face with both my hands. I knew what my answer would be even before I sighed and said, “It should take me half an hour to reach.” 

I gave the driver the new destination and sat back, my mind still on my father and his requirements. Join the family firm, marry the perfect girl, produce two perfect children, win a lot of cases, get some high profile criminals acquitted, die with dignity. 

I could feel the noose of his expectations tightening around my neck even after a brief dinner with him. What had my mother lived with every day of her marital life? 

The cab pulled up outside the nightclub Manav had mentioned. I paid up and got out taking another deep breath. From the frying pan into the fire. 

I shook hands with the bouncer who recognized me and made my way into the crowded venue. It took less than a second to find them. 

Avni appeared to be pole dancing with Dev in the middle of the dance floor and by that I meant, Dev was the pole. A very embarrassed pole.

Diana and Manav were doing some version of Patrick Swayze’s Dirty Dancing moves except with a lot more enthusiasm and a lot less finesse. Manav seemed to be spending more time stopping her from falling and less time dancing. 

And Sehar…Sehar was on the bar. ON the bar. Her hands in her hair, her eyes closed, she was swaying to a beat only she heard in a burgundy jumpsuit that clung to the mouthwateringly svelte shape of her body. Even from this distance, I could see the crowd of hungry men eyeing her and slowly closing in. 

I made it to the bar in record time. For once, I was grateful for my size. By the time I glared at the men with bloodlust in my eyes, they accepted defeat and shuffled away. 

Her eyes were still closed and she still hadn’t noticed I’d arrived. 

“Sehar, get down.” I wrapped a hand around her ankle and gave it a gentle tug.

Every muscle in her body stilled. She stopped the gentle swaying she was doing but stayed exactly where she was. Hands in her hair, eyes shut, a slightly heightened flush to her cheeks. She made my traitorous heart ache. Did the bloody idiot want to be trampled to dust for the second time?

“Get down,” I said again, my voice dropping to a whisper but she heard me. 

She opened her eyes and looked at me and it was six years ago, all over again. She was still the most beautiful woman in the place. She still made my blood hum and my heart thump. She had the power to bring me to my knees. 

And she knew it. 

She dropped to her knees on the bar counter and looked at me. I knew she was drunk and yet, in that moment, she looked at me with perfect clarity. 

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. 

And before I could even process the apology, she was kissing me. The world dropped away as her lips met mine for the first time in forever. 

It was like the years between had never happened. Her tongue slipped into my mouth as she cradled my head and brought me closer. She licked and nibbled and nuzzled. And God help me, I let her. 

Even as the voice inside my head screamed at me to be better, to be smarter, to be wiser. I let her. 

Because, Sehar was my weakness. The chink in my armour. The mistake I could never regret. The ‘what if’ I couldn’t forget. The girl who’d stolen my heart and never given it back.



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:
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Monday, November 1, 2021

Showcase: Mercy Creek by M.E. Browning

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Mercy Creek

by M.E. Browning

October 11 - November 5, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

Mercy Creek by M.E. Browning

In an idyllic Colorado town, a young girl goes missing—and the trail leads into the heart and mind of a remorseless killer.

The late summer heat in Echo Valley, Colorado turns lush greenery into a tinder dry landscape. When a young girl mysteriously disappears, long buried grudges rekindle. Of the two Flores girls, Marisa was the one people pegged for trouble. Her younger sister, Lena, was the quiet daughter, dutiful and diligent—right until the moment she vanished.

Detective Jo Wyatt is convinced the eleven-year-old girl didn’t run away and that a more sinister reason lurks behind her disappearance. For Jo, the case is personal, reaching far back into her past. But as she mines Lena’s fractured family life, she unearths a cache of secrets and half-lies that paints a darker picture.

As the evidence mounts, so do the suspects, and when a witness steps forward with a shocking new revelation, Jo is forced to confront her doubts, and her worst fears. Now, it’s just a matter of time before the truth is revealed—or the killer makes another deadly move.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: October 12th 2021
Number of Pages: 288
ISBN: 1643857622 (ISBN13: 9781643857626)
Series: A Jo Wyatt Mystery, Book 2 || Each mystery in the A Jo Wyatt Mystery series is a stand alone novel.

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

Everyone had a story from that night. Some saw a man, others saw a girl, still others saw nothing at all but didn’t want to squander the opportunity to be part of something larger than themselves. To varying degrees, they were all wrong. Only two people knew the full truth.

That Saturday, visitors to the county fair clustered in the dappled shade cast by carnival rides and rested on hay bales scattered like afterthoughts between games of chance and food booths, the soles of their shoes sticky with ice cream drips and spilled sodas.

Detective Jo Wyatt stepped into the shadow of the Hall of Mirrors to watch the crowd. She grabbed the collar of her uniform and pumped it a few times in a futile attempt to push cooler air between her ballistic vest and sweat-sodden T-shirt.

The Echo Valley Fair marked the end of summer, but even now, as the relentless Colorado sun dipped, heat rose in waves around bare ankles and stroller wheels as families retreated toward the parking lots. An older crowd began to creep in, prowling the midway. The beer garden overflowed.

Within minutes the sun dropped behind the valley walls and the fairground lights flickered to life, their wan orange glow a beacon to moths confused by the strobing brightness of rides and games. Calliope music and the midway’s technopop collided in a crazed mishmash of notes so loud they echoed in Jo’s chest. She raised the volume of her radio.

The day shift officers had clocked out having handled nothing more pressing than a man locked out of his car and an allegation of unfair judging flung by the second-place winner of the bake-off.

Jo gauged the teeming crowd of unfamiliar faces. Tonight would be different.

#

Carnival music was creepy, Lena decided. Each ride had its own weird tune and it all seemed to crash against her with equal force, following her no matter where she went.

The guys in the booths were louder than they had been earlier, more aggressive, calling out, trying to get her to part with her tickets. Some of the guys roamed, jumping out at people, flicking cards and making jokes she didn’t understand while smiling at her older sister.

Marisa tossed her hair. Smiled back. Sometimes they let her play for free.

“Let’s go back to the livestock pavilion,” Lena said.

“Quit being such a baby.” Marisa glanced over her shoulder at the guy running the shooting gallery booth and tossed her hair. Again.

Lena rolled her eyes and wondered how long it would be before her sister ditched her.

“Hold up a sec.” Marisa tugged at the hem of her skintight skirt and flopped down on a hay bale.

She’d been wearing pants when they’d left the house. The big purse she always carried probably hid an entire wardrobe Momma knew nothing about. Lena wondered if the missing key to grandma’s car was tucked in there too.

Marisa unzipped one of her boots and pulled up her thin sock.

Lena pointed. “What happened to the bottom of your boot?”

Her sister ran her finger along the arch. “I painted it red.”

“Why?”

“It makes them more valuable.”

“Since when does coloring the bottom of your shoes make them more valuable?”

Marisa’s eyes lit up in a way that happened whenever she spoke about clothes or how she was going to hit it big in Hollywood someday. “In Paris there’s this guy who designs shoes and all of them have red soles. He’s the only one allowed to do that. It’s his thing.”

“But he didn’t make those boots.”

“All the famous women wear his shoes.” She waved to someone in the crowd.

“You’re not famous and you bought them at Payless.”

“What do you know about fashion?”

“I know enough not to paint the bottom of my boots to make them look like someone else made them.”

Marisa shoved her foot into her boot and yanked the zipper closed. “You bought your boots from the co-op.” She handed Lena her cell phone.

“You should have bought yours there, too.” Lena dutifully pointed the lens at her sister.

“Take a couple this time.” Marisa leaned back on her hands and arched her back, her hair nearly brushing the hay bale, and the expression on her face pouty like the girls in the magazines she was always looking at.

Lena snapped several photos and held out the phone. “All those high heels are good for is punching holes in the ground.”

“Oh, Lena.” Marisa’s voice dropped as if she was sharing a secret. “If you ever looked up from your animals long enough, you’d see there’s so much more to the world.” Her thumbs rapidly tapped the tiny keyboard of her phone.

In the center of the midway, a carnival guy held a long-handled mallet and called out to people as they passed by. He was older—somewhere in his twenties—and wore a tank top. Green and blue tattoos covered his arms and his biceps bulged as he pointed the oversized hammer at the tower behind him. It looked like a giant thermometer with numbers running along one edge, and High Striker spelled out on the other.

“Come on, men. There’s no easier way to impress the ladies.” He grabbed the mallet and tapped the plate. “You just have to find the proper motivation if you want to get it up…” He pointed with his chin to the top of the game and paused dramatically. “There.” He craned his neck and leered at Marisa. Lena wondered if he was looking up her sister’s skirt. “What happens later is up to you.”

Never breaking eye contact, he took a mighty swing. The puck raced up the tower, setting off a rainbow of lights and whistles before it smashed into the bell at the top. He winked in their direction. “Score.”

Twenty minutes later, Marisa was gone.

#

Lena gave up looking for her sister and returned to the livestock pavilion. Marisa could keep her music and crowds and stupid friends.

Only a few people still wandered around the dimly lit livestock pavilion. The fireworks would start soon and most people headed for the excitement outside, a world away from the comforting sound of animals snuffling and pawing at their bedding.

Marisa was probably hanging out near the river with her friends, drinking beer. Maybe smoking a cigarette or even a joint. Doing things she didn’t think her baby sister knew about.

Lena walked through an aisle stacked with poultry and rabbit cages. The pens holding goats, swine, and sheep took up the middle. At the back of the pavilion stretched a long row of three-sided cattle stalls. The smells of straw, grain, and animals replaced the gross smell of deep-fried candy bars and churros that had clogged her throat on the midway.

Near the end of the row, Lena stopped.

“Hey there, Bluebell.” Technically, he was number twenty-four, like his ear tag said. Her father didn’t believe in naming livestock, but to her, he’d always be Bluebell—even after she sold him at the auction to be slaughtered. Just because that was his fate didn’t mean he shouldn’t have a name to be remembered by. She remembered them all.

She patted his hip and slid her hand along his spine so he wouldn’t shy as she moved into the stall. She double-checked the halter, pausing to scratch his forehead. A piece of straw swirled in his water bucket and she fished it out. The cold water cooled her hot skin.

“You did good today. Sorry I won’t be spending the night with you, but Papa got called out to Dawson’s ranch to stitch up some mare.”

He swished his tail and it struck the rail with a metallic ring.

“Don’t get yourself all riled. I’ll be back tomorrow before you know it.”

If she hadn’t been showing Bluebell this afternoon, she’d have gone with her father. Her sutures had really improved this summer and were almost as neat as his. No one would guess they’d been made by an eleven-year-old. If nothing else, she could have helped keep the horse calm.

Instead, she’d go home with Marisa and spend the night at Momma’s. She wondered if Marisa would show up before the 4-H leader called lights out in the pavilion or if Lena would have to walk to her mom’s house by herself in the dark.

She reached down and jiggled the feed pan to smooth out the grain that Bluebell had pushed to the edges.

“That’s some cow.”

The male voice startled them both and Bluebell stomped his rear hoof. Lena peered over the Hereford’s withers. At first all she saw were the tattoos. An ugly monster head with a gaping mouth and snake tongue seem to snap at her. It was the carny from the High Striker standing at the edge of the stall.

“It’s a steer,” she stuttered. “And my sister isn’t here.”

“Not your sister I wanted to talk to.” He swayed a bit as he moved into the stall, like when her mother drank too much wine and tried to hide it.

Lena ducked under Bluebell’s throat and came up on the other side. She looked around the pavilion, now empty of people.

“Suspect they’re all out waiting on the fireworks,” he said.

The first boom echoed through the space. Several sheep bleated their disapproval and Bluebell jerked against his halter.

“Shhhh, now.” Lena reached her hand down and scratched his chest. “All that racket’s just some stupid fireworks.”

“Nothing to worry about,” the man added. He had the same look in his eyes that Papa’s border collie got right before he cut off the escape route of a runaway cow.

A bigger boom thundered through the pavilion. Halter clips clanged against the rails as uneasy cattle shuffled in their stalls. Her own legs shook as she sidled toward Bluebell’s rear.

He matched her steps. “What’s a little thing like you doing in here all by yourself?”

“My father will be back any minute.” Her voice shook.

He smiled, baring his teeth. “I’ll be sure to introduce myself when he arrives.”

A series of explosions, sharp as gunfire, erupted outside. Somewhere a cow lowed. Several more joined in, their voices pitiful with fear.

“You’re upsetting my steer. You need to leave.”

“Oh, your cow’s just fine. I think it’s you that’s scared.”

He spoke with the same low voice that Lena used with injured animals. The one she used right before she did something she knew would hurt but had to be done.

“You’re a pretty little thing,” he crooned. “Nice and quiet.”

Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. She stood frozen. A warm trickle started down her leg, and the wet spot expanded on her jeans.

He edged closer. “I like them quiet.”

#

Jo ran.

The suspect veered off the sidewalk and slid down the hillside toward the creek.

She plunged off the side of the embankment, sliding through dirt and duff, closing the distance. She keyed her shoulder mic. “Entering the creek, heading west toward the Animas. I need someone on the River Trail.”

Narrow-leaf cottonwood and willows shimmered silver in the moonlight and wove a thicket of branches along the water, herding the suspect toward the cobbled stream bed.

Jo splashed into the ankle-deep water. Close enough now to almost touch.

Her lungs burned. With a final burst of speed, she lunged. Shoved his shoulder while he was mid-stride.

The man sprawled into the creek. Rolled onto his feet with a bellow. A knife in his hand.

Without thinking, she’d drawn her gun. “Drop it!”

Flashlight beams sliced the foliage. Snapping branches and crashing footsteps marked the other officers’ progress as they neared. Estes shouted Jo’s name. Her eyes never left the man standing just feet away.

“Over here!” She focused on the man’s shoulder, watching for the twitch that would telegraph his intentions. “You need to drop the knife. Now.” Her voice rose above the burble of the stream. “Or things are going to get a whole lot worse for you tonight.”

She shifted her weight to her front leg and carefully shuffled her rear foot until she found firmer footing and settled into a more stable shooting stance. “Drop the knife.” She aimed center mass. Drew a deep breath, willed her heart to slow.

The knife splashed into the creek near the bank.

“On your right.” Estes broke through the brush beside her.

“Get down on your knees,” Jo ordered. “Hands behind your head.”

“It’s my friend’s truck,” the man said.

Jo holstered her gun and moved forward while Estes covered her. She gripped his fingers and bowed the suspect backward, keeping him off balance while she searched him for weapons, then cuffed him.

“Not according to the owner.” She double-locked the cuffs while Estes radioed dispatch they had one in custody.

An explosion above the treetops made Jo flinch. Fireworks slashed the darkness and burst into balls of purple and green and dazzling white that sparkled briefly, then disappeared.

***

Excerpt from Mercy Creek by M.E. Browning. Copyright 2021 by M.E. Browning. Reproduced with permission from M.E. Browning. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

M.E. Browning

M.E. Browning writes the Colorado Book Award-winning Jo Wyatt Mysteries and the Agatha-nominated and award-winning Mer Cavallo Mysteries (as Micki Browning). Micki also writes short stories and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in dive magazines, anthologies, mystery magazines, and textbooks. An FBI National Academy graduate, Micki worked in municipal law enforcement for more than two decades and retired as a captain before turning to a life of crime… fiction.



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