Chapter reveal: Naked Alliances, by S.K. Nicholls



Genre: Mystery

Author: S.K. Nicholls


Publisher: Brave Blue Heron Books

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book: In Naked Alliances, novelist S.K. Nicholls takes readers on a witty, wild, wickedly fun romp that exposes a side of Orlando tourists rarely see. The debut release in The Naked Eye Private Investigator Series, Naked Alliances introduces lone wolf P.I. Richard Noggin.

 When a young immigrant woman and an exotic dancer are forced to flee men with guns and have no place to hide, Richard Noggin, P.I., can’t turn his back—even if helping out makes him a target. Richard plans to impress an aspiring politician by taking on a big white-collar case that could take him from the streets to an air-conditioned office. Instead, he’s handed a cold case and quickly finds himself sucked into a shadowy world of sex, secrets and…murder. Marked for a bullet and stretched thin by his investigations, Richard reluctantly teams up with the unlikely, brassy custodian of the young woman on the run. With bodies piling up, Richard and his companion are forced to go undercover in a most unlikely locale: the Leisure Lagoon, a nudist resort.  Going undercover in this instance will mean going uncovered…but lives are at stake—and this Naked Eye will have to juggle to keep his balls in the air and connect the dots before anyone else is murdered. As his pulse-quickening quest for answers leads from the dark corners of Orlando’s Little Saigon to the sunny exposure of the Leisure Lagoon, Richard will be put to the test. Just how much will this Naked Eye have to bear…or bare? The heat is on in this quirky Sunshine State crime thriller.


About the Author: S.K. Nicholls’ family owns and operates one of the oldest and largest nudist resorts in the nation located in Central Florida, Cypress Cove. Her experience gives her a deep understanding of the lifestyle choice and how it is extremely different from the sex industry, yet harbors clandestine elements of intrigue and fascination. Social issues are at the forefront of her writing. A former sexual assault nurse examiner, she has a special interest in the subject matter of sex-trafficking. A native of Georgia, she lives in Orlando, Florida with her husband, Greg.




There was only one thing worse for business than not solving cases and that was keeping a new client waiting. Already running late for a meeting, Richard Noggin drove north on Orange Avenue through moderate nighttime traffic in his silver, two-seater Mercedes convertible, the top down and the air-conditioner blowing high cool. As he approached Michigan Avenue, coming into downtown Orlando, two figures darted onto the road from his left.

Swerving and slamming on the brakes, tires squealed as he screeched to a halt. They stood in the light of the headlamps, transfixed, a tall woman and a young girl. An eighteen-wheeler thundered by, its horn blasting him senseless. The woman whacked the car’s hood with a pair of stilettos and jumped, grabbing the girl close.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Richard yelled as cars whizzed past. The woman marched the girl by the shoulders around to the passenger’s side. “Hurry. Let us in!” Releasing the girl, she tried the locked door, then grabbed the window ledge with both hands, shoes dangling.

He eased off the brakes, starting to roll, and looked across the car. Standing in the street in her sequined white halter and miniskirt, the woman looked terrified, panting and wiping her windswept, auburn locks back from her face. The almond-eyed girl even more so, with facial bruises and a busted lip. He took his foot off the gas. Dammit, he couldn’t drive off and leave them there in the middle of the road. Before he could let them in, the woman tossed the high heels and her oversized shoulder bag inside, threw her long, lean leg over the door, and plopped herself into the passenger’s seat. She yanked the young girl over onto her lap.

“Drive,” she screamed. “Drive!”

Richard raced to the intersection.

“Turn left here!” she ordered.

“Isn’t this the direction you came from?”

“Just do it!”

He had a green light and took a hard, fast left in front of oncoming traffic, heading for Orange Blossom Trail, a highway known locally as O.B.T. Then it hit him – these two had come off the hooker trail in the red-light district. This was asking for trouble, but his investigative curiosity took over. “Why are you running?”

“Because standing on the curb waiting on a bus wasn’t an option.” A black car raced past in the opposite direction. She crouched down in her seat, forcing the girl forward. “I don’t think they saw us.”

“How could they have missed you? She’s sitting with her face pressed against the windshield.”

“You’re exaggerating.” The woman sat upright, shifted the girl in her lap to one side, and stroked the dash of the car. “Damn, your payments on this pretty girl must be more than Donald Trump’s monthly tab for hair spray.”

“She’s paid for.” He rolled his eyes and shot her a quick look. “Who are you hiding from?”

“Men with guns. Damn, I hate guns.”

“What men?”

“All I know is I was coming out of the Brown Pelican Lounge on south O.B.T. when this girl came charging across the parking lot next door in front of the Shady Breeze Motel, screaming, ‘Help, men with guns!’ I looked at her and her bloodied lip, and hearing ‘Guns!’ figured we ought to run. I snatched off my shoes and did just that.”

“Why didn’t you take her inside and call the police?”

“Let’s just say there were a few gentlemen inside whose company I didn’t care to keep.”

“So, you ran with her?”

“You catch on real quick. Two guys chased us on foot and two ran for their car.”

“Now what am I supposed to do?”

“Turn right at the light and take me home.”

“You live on the Trail?” he asked, only half-joking. He slowed for traffic at the intersection. Her scent caught him. The voice was mellow and raspy, like a smoker, but her fragrance was cinnamon and oranges, her skin, the color of fine café latte. Arms wrapped around the young girl made her cleavage deepen. She turned to him with emerald eyes sparkling.

“I’m staying at the Parliament House.”

“The gay club?”

“Resort. The Parliament House Resort. I’m a showgirl. Name’s Brandi, formerly Brandon.”

Richard did a double take, swallowed hard, and took a right turn, proceeding north. “Where were you taking her?”

“The twenty-four hour pharmacy on Michigan, to get something for her lip, and let them figure out what to do with her. I dunno. What would you do?”

“I’d probably call the police.” He sped up and passed a few cars ahead.

“I’m sure those guys with the guns would’ve waited for us to do that.” Her sarcasm as strong as her perfume. “I used to be a cop and I know they’re not gonna do a damn thing for her. As far as they’re concerned, she’s just another poor girl walkin’ the streets.”

“Somehow, you don’t strike me as a cop.”

“It was a brief stint.”

He ran through the caution light at Kaley Avenue. “Call the police and have them meet us at the Parliament House. I have an important dinner appointment in Winter Park and I’m already late.”

“And I have a show to do tonight,” Brandi fired back.

“Well, I can’t keep her.” He glanced at the silent girl. “What’s your name?”

“Cara Kieu.”

“Where do you live?”

“I not know much English. Cara Kieu scared.”

Richard gave Brandi a hard look. “Listen, I can’t manage her. You’re going to have to figure this out.” He reached into the pocket of his sport coat. “Here’s my card. Call me later if you can’t deal with her, and I’ll see what I can do.”

She took the card. “Richard Noggin, P.I. Just my luck, I get picked up by Dick Head, P.I.” She tucked the card into her purse at her feet.

“Yeah, I get that a lot.”

He felt her soft touch on his shoulder and cringed, her hand caressing as it moved up his neck. What the hell was he getting himself into?

She nudged him and smiled. “Has anyone ever told you that you have the most striking crystal-blue eyes? They’re really set off by your thick, dark hair.”

“Yeah, I get that a lot, too.”

“I notice things about men.”

“I’m sure you do.” He leaned away, hoping she’d get the message that he wasn’t interested.

They crossed the intersection at West Church Street. A black Nissan pulled out behind them. Brandi jerked back her hand and ducked, pulling Cara down with her. “Holy shit, it’s them!”

“Hold on.”

He took a fast right onto West Central and another onto Parramore. The Nissan followed. He sped through the stop sign at Jackson and turned left into oncoming traffic on South Street, a busy, three-lane, one-way road. Cara screamed and clung to Brandi.

“You’re going to get us killed!”

“Wasn’t that your problem in the first place?” In his rearview, he noted the Nissan cross South Street behind them.

Horns blared as cars roared by left and right. He saw a black Nissan speeding along on the next street over. Dodging angry traffic, he careened past the Amway Center, turning onto yet another one-way at Hughy. With no sign of their pursuers behind them, he plowed through.

Cara Kieu screamed again as he swerved to avoid a head-on collision with a city bus. After a couple of blocks and a quick left, he drove around the State Marshall’s Building, then made several fast turns through the downtown neighborhood streets.

With tousled passengers shrieking, he’d made a complete, albeit dangerous, wide circle. Relieved when they reached Orange Blossom Trail in front of the Parliament House, he parked on the corner. “Get out.”

Brandi looked at him in disgust. “You can’t just leave us here.”

“You need to get out and run. I don’t know how long we’ve got before these guys are back on our tail.”

“Okay, we’re outta here.” She opened the door, pushed Cara from her lap, grabbed her shoes and bag, then jumped from the vehicle and slammed the door. “Thanks for the ride, dude.”

Richard watched as they crossed the busy highway. RuPaul’s Raja: Heaven Scent gleamed on the billboard. Beneath all the neon multicolor, Brandi dazzled, looking like she was right where she belonged.

He sped away north up the Trail, and east onto Colonial through Little Saigon, then headed north on Mills Ave, with no sign of the black Nissan all the way to Winter Park.



Categories: Mystery, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Chapter reveal: Bullet in the Chamber, by John DeDakis

Cover art Bullet.jpgTitle:  BULLET IN THE CHAMBER

Genre:  Mystery

Author: John DeDakis


Publisher: Strategic Media

Find out more on Amazon

Gutsy White House Correspondent Lark Chadwick is front-row center when the executive mansion is suddenly attacked.  The president is missing, the first lady’s life is at risk, and Lark is forced to hit the ground running in her new job as White House correspondent for the Associated Press. Her career may be in high gear, but when the man she loves disappears, Lark’s personal life starts to fall apart.  Swiftly swept up in a perilous web of deceit, murder, and intrigue, Lark relentlessly seeks answers.  But her dogged quest for the truth puts her on a dangerous and deadly path. Just how far is Lark willing to go to get the whole story?  And how far is too far?

About the Author:

Award-winning journalist John DeDakis is a former CNN Senior Copy Editor for the Emmy and Peabody-Award winning news program “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.” DeDakis, whose journalism career spans nearly four and a half decades, is a former White House correspondent and interviewed such luminaries as Alfred Hitchcock, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. DeDakis is a writing coach and taught journalism at The University of Maryland -College Park. DeDakis lives in the Washington, D.C. area.

Connect with the author on the web:




John DeDakis



         Have you ever tried to fake confidence?  That’s what I was doing as I stood in Lafayette Square looking at the White House.  It was my first day on the job as the newest White House Correspondent for The Associated Press, the nation’s leading wire service.

Up close, the White House seemed smaller than I expected, but no less magnificent.  Perhaps it’s a subtle magnificence. Elegant.


I was about to go inside for the first time.  And I felt like I didn’t belong.  Felt like I was an imposter.  Just three years earlier I was a college dropout trying to find out what caused the car accident that orphaned me as an infant.  I could’ve cared less about politics.  But that was then.

You have to be smart to cover the president, but smart is not the way I felt on this Monday morning — Valentine’s Day.  Nor did I feel particularly loved.  The guy I’d been “dating” hadn’t answered my last text in more than forty-eight hours – the entire freaking weekend.

The eleven o’clock briefing was going to start in twenty minutes, and I was running late. I revved up Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” in my head to give myself the psychological boost I needed to cross the Pennsylvania Avenue pedestrian mall and approach the Northwest gate.

By the time I got to the formidable black-barred fence blocking the way to the guard shack, my knees were weak and wobbly and I was shivering in my down jacket. It was a cold-crisp day. I wore tights, but they weren’t doing any good.

R-e-s-p-e-c-t . . . .

“Where’s your ID?” commanded a metallic voice coming from a speaker. Sunlight reflected off the bullet-proof glass so I couldn’t see inside.

“Oh. Sorry.” I fumbled in my messenger bag.  “Here it is,” I called through the bars as I held up my newly-issued, laminated, press pass — white block lettering against a bright red backdrop:


Lark E.



I heard a click come from the doorknob, so I stuffed my pass back in my bag, opened the spear-topped gateway and strode more confidently than I felt to the guard shack.

“ID!” The Voice barked.

“I just showed it to you.”

“I need to see it up close.”

I sighed, pulled it out again, untangled the lanyard and pressed it against the window, my reflection an angry scowl masking the terror I still felt.

The door next to the window buzzed and The Voice said, “Enter!”

Inside, the guard shack was claustrophobic, but at least it was toasty warm.  The Voice sat behind a counter that separated us.  He was mid-thirties — young, cute, and wore a crisp white shirt and narrow black tie.  His badge announced he was a member of the Secret Service Uniformed Division. Two other uniformed Secret Service guards stood off to the side.

A radio newscast was on in the background. “More tough talk from China this morning,” the announcer read.

“Put your bag up here on the counter,” The Voice said.

I did. And so began several minutes of being searched, wanded, magnetometered, and scrutinized that made going through airport security feel like a breeze. Finally, The Voice handed me off to a tall African-American man in his fifties with salt and pepper hair.

“Good morning, ma’am.” His comforting brown eyes were alive with interest and caring.

“Hi,” I said brightly, grateful for his friendliness.

The nametag on his tunic read Crandall. “You’re new here,” he said gently.

“Uh huh. First day. ” I bit my lower lip. “Is it that obvious?”

He simply smiled.  At me.

“Do you know how I can get to the press room?” I asked as I squeezed through a turnstile, clearing the final hurdle.

“Sure,” he said, putting on his uniform cap. He opened the back door and let in a fourth guard who’d just arrived from the White House. “Now that my relief is here, I can show you. I’m heading that way.”


Officer Crandall spoke to The Voice.  “I’ll be on break inside, Jim.”

“Okay, Ernie. Thanks for your help.”

Ernie Crandall touched me lightly on the elbow as we stepped out the back door of the guard shack and onto the White House driveway.

I was inside the black bars of the perimeter fence.

I stopped to look at the iconic alabaster building.  It looked bigger from here.

“First time, huh?” he asked.

I nodded, my mouth slightly agape. I felt like a rube from Wisconsin. Oh, wait. I am!

“It never fails to impress me, either,” he said.

“How long have you been here, Officer Crandall?”

“Ernie. The name’s Ernie.” He tipped his hat.  “Twenty years. Been here twenty years. Retiring soon.”

“How soon?”

“Friday,” he beamed.

“Wow.  And then what?”

“Fishin’. A whole lotta fishin’.” He chuckled.

I smiled.  “I’m sorry you’ll be leaving.  I miss you already.  Thanks for being so nice to me.”

He smiled. “You’ll like it here.  Lots of history in the making.  And you’ll have a front-row seat.  Press, right?”

I nodded.  “A.P.”

The driveway where we stood bifurcated.  The left fork curved up toward the imposing north portico of the White House. The president’s front door.  Another asphalt driveway headed straight toward the one-story West Wing and a low-slung doorway beneath a porch held up by several white columns.

“Press room’s this way.” Ernie Crandall guided me along the driveway toward the West Wing.  We walked slowly, like old friends.

“Who was president when you started here?” I asked.


“Was he as much of a player as they say?” I asked.

“My lips are sealed,” Ernie smiled, pretending to zip them.

“What were you doing before here?”

“D.C. Metro Police,” he said.  “A cop on the beat.”

“Family?” I asked.

He nodded, but a shadow crossed his face.  “A son in Michigan.  A daughter in California.” He paused and swallowed.  “Wife passed a year ago. Year ago today, as a matter of fact.”

“Oh no!  Valentine’s Day.  That’s so sad.”  I touched the sleeve of his coat.  “I’m sorry,” I said.

I’m only twenty-eight, but I know pain and loss far better than most people my age: I found the body of the aunt who raised me after my parents were killed; my boyfriend, Jason, was murdered just as our relationship was about to take off; and I was sexually assaulted by an English professor I idolized. And all of this happened just within the past few years.

Ernie smiled faintly.  “Life goes on,” he said. “Life goes on.”

As we walked up the driveway, we passed to the left of a long row of about a dozen television cameras, each beneath its own awning-covered workspace crammed with power cables, equipment boxes, and light-stands. I found out later the camera positions – affectionately nicknamed “Pebble Beach” – are where network reporters do their standups and live shots with the White House in the background.

“This is my stop,” Ernie said.  We had come to where the asphalt driveway went around a grassy circle and passed beneath the porch in front of the entrance to the West Wing where a Marine in dress blues stood at attention.

Ernie pointed toward the White House.   “The press room’s that way down this sidewalk.  See the double doors right there?”

I looked. He was pointing at a spot halfway down the sidewalk on the right, an entrance to the West Wing that was far less imposing than the one where we stood – no elegant portico, and no handsome young Marine guard.

“I see it,” I said.  “Thank you, Officer . . . um . . . Ernie,” I said.  “Glad we met.” I held out my hand.

He shook it and bowed slightly. “I am, too.  Maybe our paths will cross a few more times before I move on.”

As I watched him turn toward the West Wing entrance, my phone went off.  I fished it from my messenger bag.

“This is Lark,” I said.

“It’s Grigsby.”

Rochelle Grigsby is my nemesis.  She’s about forty, single, and good looking – way better looking than me. She’s also the deputy bureau chief at the A.P. – my immediate supervisor.

“What’s up?” I tried to sound cheerful but, based on my experience of the past seven months as one of her general assignment reporters, I’d come to accept that she saw her job as trying to trip me up at every turn.

“Heads up, Lark.” I could hear Grigsby’s gum snap. “Ridgeway’s out today.  You’re in the front row.”

Stallings Ridgeway is the long-time and legendary White House Correspondent for A.P.  He’s been there at least thirty years.  Maybe more.

Grigsby plowed on. “I know it’s your first day on the beat, but if you’re the golden girl all the higher-ups think you are, then you’ll be fine.  Me?  I have my doubts.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” I replied.

Grigsby merely grunted and hung up.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Sing it, Aretha! A little louder, please, babe.

I turned toward the briefing room. Doug Mitchell stood at the double doors, Nikon at the ready, and flashed me his trademark neon smile that contrasted sharply with his ruddy complexion, dark eyes, thick black hair, and stubble beard. He’s six-two and was looking fine in a navy pea coat, jeans and work boots.

I hadn’t seen him in a week and my heart did an involuntary flip-flop.

Doug is ten years older than I am.  We’d worked together at the Sun-Gazette in Columbia, Georgia, where he was a staff photographer.  We had a thing for each other then, but it never got off the ground because the police were, shall we say, “very interested” in him for awhile, so I backed off.  But, when the police lost interest, mine picked up. And so did Doug’s interest in me.

We both got jobs at A.P. when the Sun-Gazette folded, but right away he was on the road covering Will Gannon’s successful presidential campaign, so we only saw each other off and on.  Mostly off.

Now, after not hearing from him all weekend (okay, forty-eight hours, sixteen minutes, and thirty seconds, give or take — but who’s counting?), there he was thirty yards ahead of me, hatless in the cold, his dark, wavy hair parted down middle and curling slightly over his ears and collar.

Doug raised the camera to his face and began shooting pictures of me.  He wore fingerless gloves and I could hear the rapid-fire chick-koo, chick-koo of the shutter as he squeezed off shot after shot.

My cell phone bleeped again.  The display read Lionel Stone. Lionel is my friend, mentor, and the guy who got me started in journalism.  He earned his Pulitzer decades ago while covering the White House for The New York Times. Since his “retirement,” he’s been the publisher of his hometown newspaper, The Pine Bluff Standard in Pine Bluff, Wisconsin, and he teaches journalism as an adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Normally, I’d be glad to take Lionel’s call, but lately he’d been blowing up my phone with all kinds of mansplain texts and links to various online articles.  It all started when I told him I’d gotten the White House gig.

Now Lionel’s living vicariously through me.  And it’s getting old. But I haven’t had the heart to tell him. Yet.

“Hey there,” I said into the phone. “I’ve only got a second.  I’ve just been told I’m in Ridgeway’s front row seat for the daily briefing.”

“Outstanding!” Lionel roared.  “Front row seat on your first day.  That’s awesome, kid.”

I winced.  I hate it when he calls me kid.  I’d told him that when we first met.  It was when I learned from aPine Bluff Standard newspaper clipping about the car accident I survived as an infant.  The crash killed my parents.  I convinced Lionel to let me look into the accident.  What I came up with almost got Lionel and me killed, but instead landed me my first job in journalism with Lionel as my boss.

Gradually, I’d let “kid” creep back into his lexicon.  But now it was grating.

“Yeah,” I said.  “We’ll see just how awesome it really is.  Rochelle Grigsby made it real clear she doesn’t think I’m up to the job.” I sighed. “Maybe she’s right.”

“It’s a tough job.  No doubt about it,” he said, “but you’re tough, too, kid.”

I sighed again, unconvinced. “At least they let me through the Northwest gate.”

“Put me on FaceTime,” Lionel ordered. “Lemme relive the experience of the ole place.”

I took the phone away from my ear and pushed the FaceTime button.  My wide, terrified eyes stared back at me.

Lionel noticed immediately. “I see that deer in the headlights look.  Stop it, Lark.  You’re gonna be fine.”

“So you say.  I almost turned around and went back home to throw up, but one of the uniformed Secret Service agents was nice to me, so I think I’ll keep going.”

Lionel’s face came on the screen.  He wore a white shirt, tie loosened — and, to my surprise, he had a white beard.

“Whoa. Lionel!  When’d you grow the beard?”

He stroked it and preened.  “You like?”

“Very distinguished.  What does Muriel think?”

He frowned.  “She thinks I should shave it.  Says it makes me look old.”

“Lionel.  I hate to tell you this: You are old.”

“Nonsense.  Seventy-five is the new thirty-five.”

“Yeah.  Right.”

“Geez, I wish I was thirty-five again,” he said wistfully, then cleared his throat. “Age is all in your head.  It’s just a number. Did I ever tell you about the time–”

I cut him off.  “Yeah.  Probably.  Look, Lionel, the briefing’s gonna start any minute and I’m late, so let’s get on with this little tour.”

I turned the camera around so Lionel could see, but Doug filled the screen. He was now about ten feet from me, camera at his face, clicking off more shots and adding his own narration.

“Here’s the famous Lark Chadwick about to enter the White House briefing room for the first time.  She’s taken her iPhone from her ear and is pointing it in my general direction.”

I was annoyed.  He gives me nothing but radio silence all weekend then has the nerve to turn up, all jovial, acting as if everything’s wonderful, and then he makes a point of trying to embarrass me. But I couldn’t afford to make a scene.  Not here.  Not now.

I put on my best tight smile and gave his lens a laser stare. “Good morning to you, too, Mister Mitchell.” I hoped he felt the chill from the ice in my voice.  “What you’re looking at, Lionel, is my so-called friend and colleague Doug Mitchell.  Doug is in the process of being exceptionally obnoxious.”

I brushed past him, pulled open the door and stepped into the briefing room.  Doug followed.

“Here it is, Lionel.”  I held the phone in front of me and panned the scene, left to right.  In front of me, a sea of about fifty blue leather folding seats faced to the right. To my left, at the back of the room, TV cameras sat atop tripods and pointed toward the podium at the front of the room.

As I panned right, I noticed that many of the seats were empty, but some reporters were strolling from the back of the room to take their places for the briefing.  The room was much smaller than I expected – barely the size of a swimming pool.  Actually, according to one of the links Lionel sent me, I learned that the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room is built right above the old White House swimming pool where President Kennedy used to cavort with “Fiddle” and “Faddle,” two of his many mistresses.

“Wow.  The place looks great since the facelift,” Lionel exclaimed.

I made a right turn and walked slowly down the side aisle that went along the windows. When I came to the front row I stopped and turned around.  Doug nearly bumped into me.

“Chadwick has stopped now,” Doug narrated.  “It looks as though she’s about to use her phone to get a wide shot of the entire briefing room.”

I pointed the camera toward the back of the room.

“Yes,” Doug proclaimed. “That’s exactly what she’s doing, folks.”  He continued to take more pictures. I continued trying to ignore him.

“Show me the plaque on Helen Thomas’s chair,” Lionel said.

“Which chair’s that?”

“Front row center,” Lionel said.  “I miss that old broad.”

I found the seat and put my phone close enough to the plaque so Lionel could read her name on it.

“She sat there for nearly sixty years.  Covered ten presidents.  She’s a legend, Lark.  I wish you could have known her.  She would’ve loved you.”

“Thanks, Lionel.”

Just then a voice came out of a speaker in the ceiling above me.  “Attention, everyone.  The briefing will start in exactly two minutes.  President Gannon and National Security Adviser Nathan Mann will be conducting the briefing. This is your two-minute warning.  The President will be in the briefing room in two minutes.”

“Holy crap.  Did you hear that, Lionel?”

“Yup.  Better take your seat.”

“Which one is it?”

“Front row center.”

“Helen Thomas’s old seat?”

“The very same.”

I gulped.

The sudden announcement that President Gannon would be giving the briefing caused a stampede as dozens of people came running – thundering – into the room, the sound echoing on the hollow floor above the old swimming pool.

Everyone was piling into the room through a narrow hallway in the back. I pointed my iPhone toward the commotion so that Lionel could see.

In the row just behind me the correspondents for Fox and CNN were hastily getting wired up to do their live reports. Each of them faced the cameras at the back of the room. The guy from CNN awkwardly slung himself into his suitcoat while inserting an earbud into his ear.  The perfectly coifed blonde reporter for Fox stood stoically, hand to her ear, waiting for her cue.

The room buzzed with expectation.

“Better sit down, kid,” Lionel urged.

I sat, my pulse quickening. The lectern towered in front of me.

Suddenly, an older, bald man wearing black-rimmed glasses and carrying a long, narrow reporter’s notebook darted toward me from my left.  “You!” He yelled at me and jabbed his thick forefinger dangerously close to my nostrils.  “You’re in my chair.”

From the phone in my hand Lionel said, “Stallings?  Stallings Ridgeway?  Is that you, you old fart?  It’s Lionel Stone.  How are ya, man?” Lionel’s voice was giddy with nostalgia.

For a moment, Ridgeway’s face lost its intensity as his eyes searched in confusion for who’d called his name, but then he focused on the phone in my hand.

“Lionel,” Ridgeway said gruffly, “whoever this is you’re talking to is sitting in my seat.”

“Oh, c’mon, Stallings.  Let the kid have your chair just this once.”

Embarrassed, I stood.  “I’m sorry, Mister Ridgeway. Rochelle Grigsby told me you were off.”

Suddenly, I became aware of a deathly silence. I looked around. The room was full to overflowing, everyone was standing, and all eyes were on me.

I turned around.  Stallings Ridgeway, hands on his hips, glowered at me.  Standing at the podium, an amused look on his face, stood the imposing presence of Will Gannon, the forty-ninth President of the United States.

“Oh, my God,” I blurted.

The entire press corps erupted in laughter.

The president spoke.  “That’s okay, Miss Chadwick.  I’ll wait until you and Mister Ridgeway get things straightened out.”

“I’m so sorry, Mister President.” I slid away from the front row seat and Ridgeway eased into it.  “I’ll call you back,” I rasped into the phone and scurried to the side aisle and toward the back of the room.

I kept my head down, but could hear some clapping and sniggering as the reporters took their seats.

I’d only gotten past the second row when I heard the president say, “I suppose this is as good a time as any to introduce you to Lark Chadwick.  Today marks her first day as a White House Correspondent for the Associated Press.  I met Lark when I was Governor of Georgia campaigning for this job.  Lark is an impressive young woman who wasn’t afraid to ask me some tough questions.  So, welcome, Lark.”

By this time I was in the back of the room, as far from the president and the blinding spotlight as I could possibly get. Fortunately, it was next to Doug. He gently touched my shoulder to comfort me.

“Thank you, Mister President,” I hollered.

There was a bit more chuckling and then the room became silent again as reporters turned their attention to President Gannon.  He’d only been in office a few weeks, but I noticed that the pronounced southern drawl he’d had as a candidate was already beginning to fade.

Behind and to the president’s right stood a nervous, diffident man wearing a dark suit — Nathan Mann, the president’s newly-appointed National Security Adviser.

The president cleared his throat, eyed the TV cameras just behind me, and began to speak.  “During my campaign, I was asked many questions about what my policy as president would be on the commercialization of drones.  As you know, my consistent answer has been that I want to study the issue before coming up with a plan. I’m announcing today my administration’s position on the subject, and I’m announcing our legislative plan to put it into place.  I’ll give you the broad outline of the legislation, then Nathan will stay behind to take your questions.

“First and foremost, as your President, it’s my responsibility to–”

Just then the door to the president’s right rear burst open and a torrent of Secret Service agents swarmed into the room. Ernie Crandall was one of them.

“EVERYONE OUT. NOW!” shouted one of them.  “OUT.  NOW.  SIDE DOORS. MOVE! MOVE! MOVE!”


Two agents grabbed the president and hustled him out of the room.

Categories: Suspense, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Chapter reveal: Climatized, by Sally Fernandez

climatizedbookimageTitle: CLIMATIZED

Genre: Thriller

Author: Sally Fernandez


Publisher: Dunham Books

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book:

She’s been an analyst, a spy, an investigator, and the deputy director of the States Intelligence Agency. After resigning her post at the SIA, Max Ford formally declares her independence when she bursts onto the Washington DC scene as a private investigator. While her new incarnation as PI indulges her penchant for sleuthing, her style remains unchanged. Seems Max is still brash, tenacious, tough—and unwilling to bow down to anyone, including elite and powerful politicians. Right out of the starting gate, Max finds herself embroiled in an unseemly web of mystery, murder andintrigue. When Senator Sherman Spark, a prominent Republican from Florida, is found dead in Lincoln Park, the police quickly rule the death a suicide. But Isabelle Spark, the late Senator’s wife, isn’t buying it and hires Max to prove there is something more sinister at work. Max quickly finds suspicious circumstances surrounding the Senator: two world-renowned scientists died days before they were scheduled to testify before the late Senator’s investigative committee on climate change initiatives. But when she realizes the connection to global warming, big money, deceit, and treachery, Max’s investigation accelerates in a most dangerous way.  No sooner than Max starts to unravel the mystery, a third scientist dies under questionable circumstances. Then a fourth scientist goes missing—and this missing scientist could be the key to unearthing the motives behind the deaths. Against the backdrop of a ticking clock, Max and her partner, Jackson Monroe, launch a pulse-quickening quest to find the missing scientist, and find the truth. This twisty, circuitous path leads them to the powerful organization behind the killings.  But Max Ford might find herself on the wrong side of a lot of powerful people, because what she discovers could have devastating, worldwide implications. And when that evidence is presented to the president, he will be forced to make a crucial decision:  cover up a diabolical plot, or bring down a multi-trillion-dollar worldwide economy…

Suspenseful, spellbinding and sensational, Climatized delivers red-hot action, a sizzling storyline, and a scorcher of a plot.   Briskly paced, steeped in facts, and resplendent with political intrigue,Climatized is an extraordinary—and extraordinarily provocative—thriller.  Sally Fernandez turns upthe heat in Climatized, a tale that will leave readers breathless.

About the Author:

Sally Fernandez is a world traveler and political junkie with a vivid imagination. She and her husband divide their time between their homes in Florida and in Florence, Italy.


Chapter 1


Claus was pleased to see Ernst standing outside the hotel at

eight a.m. sharp. Now they could beat the weekend traffic

and arrive in Saint Léger within the hour. It was an easy drive

from Claus’ home in Avignon, but the weather forecast for the

weekend called for conditions that were unseasonably sunny

with cloudless skies, abnormal conditions for an April day

without rain. He suspected the roads would be cluttered with

families opting to enjoy the various outdoor activities available in

the mountainous region. Most important, the weather was ideal

for rock climbing, one of Claus’ obsessions. He often remarked

that the desire to climb coursed through his veins since receiving

his first Whiz Kid harness and carabiners at the age of five.

What choice did he have? Both his grandfather and father were

avid climbers. Oh yes, with the warm sun and the crisp air, it

promised to be a strenuous but invigorating climb, exactly what

Claus preferred.

Up ahead was the sign for Saint Léger du Ventoux.

They were about to pass through the quaint village in the

Toulourenc Valley at the base of the Mont Ventoux. The

immense mountain, towering six thousand feet into the air,

was well known for casting a permanent shadow on the tiny

hamlet. In another half-mile east and a quarter-mile north

they would reach their destination. Finally, Claus steered

into the sparsely filled parking lot, pleased to see only a few

visitors had arrived.

“How magnificent,” Ernst said, as he viewed the majestic

Saint Léger hovering above.

“She’s got some of the finest crags and some the hardest

routes,” Claus said. Eager to get going, he hopped out of the car

and headed for the trunk. “Help me with the gear?”

As Ernst followed behind he spotted myriad overhangs off in

the distance. “It looks challenging.”

“The route we’re going to take is a single pitch and only

a hundred and thirty feet high up the cliff. But don’t let her fool

you; she’s a tough old crag.”

“So what do we need—just ropes and belay devices?”

“That will do it.” Claus looked at Ernst’s feet and noticed

that they were two shoe sizes larger than his. “Good thing you

brought your own climbing shoes,” he joked.

“I never leave home without them. But thanks for letting me

borrow your other gear.”

“No problem. Let’s get going. It’s a twenty-minute walk from

here to the base.”

As they walked along the narrow path lined with Austrian pines,

Claus explained that the route was one of the most difficult, as well

as one of the least ventured. “There are permanent bolts strategically

placed up the rock face. They’re positioned anywhere from fifteen

to thirty feet apart, so we’ll be able to descend without rappelling.”

They both understood that with or without the bolts that

provided protection, the descent was the most dangerous part of

rock climbing—the part they both enjoyed.

“Hey, Ernst, you never told me what you do for a living or

why you were even at the conference?” Claus was a little curious,

but he was primarily killing time.


“I guess our climbing tales did dominate our discussions. No

big secret. I’m a freelance consultant for biotech companies.”

“So why the interest in a climate-change seminar?”

“I was bored.” Ernst grinned. “You gonna let me start the


“I know the route. You don’t, so I’ll take the first pitch.”

Ernst didn’t push. He knew there would be plenty of

opportunities to switch roles back and forth between the lead

climber and the belayer.

“Here we are!” Claus announced as they came around the last

bend. Standing before them was a massive rock towering up in

the air.

Ernst inspected the crag. He noted that the first bolt was

secured approximately twenty feet up the rock face.

Claus noted his expression. “I assume you approve?”


Claus expertly tied off one end of the rope to his carabiner

with a figure-eight knot and then attached the carabiner to his

harness. “I mentioned that this is one of my preferred routes.

It’s a rugged day’s climb that calls for endurance and physical

strength, but it’s not Dangerville.”

“I’m ready to rock and roll!” Ernst said. His eagerness was


Claus also deemed it time to get the show on the road or,

rather, up the rock. After double-checking his equipment, he

took the lead and began the ascent. Taking special care, he

inched his way up the rock face as Ernst ran the rope through

the belay device and then clipped the device to his harness.

It provided the necessary protection in case the leader was to

slip and fall before attaching himself to a pre-placed bolt with

a carabiner. The belay device created friction, placing bends in

the rope allowing the belayer to tighten and secure the rope

quickly, preventing the leader from falling beyond the last piece

of protection.

Having maneuvered the rock face without incident and

satisfied with the pace, Claus attached himself to the next bolt.

Then, he took over the belay device and functioned as the belayer.

He watched attentively as Ernst climbed to join him. At that

point they had been ascending for well over an hour, covering

half the distance, with Claus always in the lead.

“Now can I take the lead?” Ernst asked, satisfied he had

proven his athletic prowess.

Claus gave the go-ahead.

Ernst moved upward toward the next bolt as Claus adjusted

the belay. Thus far, the ascent had moved along with a rhythmic

cadence. Then after passing a few more bolts, Claus was once

again in the lead.

“I’m ready!” he shouted down to Ernst but there was no

response. “C’mon, let’s move it!”

“Give me a sec! I’m adjusting my gear!” Ernst shouted back.

Moments later, he resumed the climb.

Finally, they had reached the top of the cliff. They each

detached the rope, removing the tether from their harnesses,

and then stood back to admire the three-hundred-and-sixtydegree


“Breathtaking!” Ernst remarked. “Well worth the climb.”

“Ready for lunch? I’m starved.” From Ernst’s expression, Claus

needed no verbal response. Immediately he opened his backpack

and pulled out an assortment of sausages and cheeses, along with

a crusty baguette.

Ernst grabbed two energy drinks and two protein bars from

his backpack.

They noshed leisurely on their snacks and carried on with

simple conversation while enjoying the refreshing cool air. But

as the hour passed by they agreed to pack up and get off the

mountain before losing the benefit of daylight. Within the next

two hours, the sun’s glow would cast itself on the back side of

the mountain, leaving them hanging off a dimly lit crag. After

a few more moments to stretch their legs, they gathered their

belongings and organized for the descent. As agreed, they would

not rappel, but would climb down together, sharing the roles of

leader and belayer as they had before.

Ernst walked over to the permanent bolt fastened to the rock

face at the edge of the cliff and clipped on a carabiner. He ensured

the knotting on the rope was secure. Simultaneously, Claus tied

the other end of the rope to his harness and descended to the

first bolt twenty feet below. Ernst released the rope at a slow,

even pace through the belay, using the device as a descender this

time. As Claus increased his distance, Ernst kept the rope taut.

“Watch your footing down here!” Claus shouted, paying particular

attention to the patch of scree they encountered on the way up. He

continued to edge his way along the rock face using great caution,

until he arrived at the next bolt. “I’m clipped on!” He attached his

carabiner and waited for Ernst to climb down and take the lead.

“Whoa!” Ernst landed his left foot smack in the center of the

scree, but soon regained his balance as the loose gravel scarcely

missed Claus’ head.

Either Ernst did not hear him or he was not paying attention,

but for whatever reason it gave Claus pause. “Let’s take it slow! We

have plenty of time. Remember—you don’t know this crag—I do!”

“Got it!” After a few deep breaths, Ernst continued.

They regained their cadence, taking special care as they

maneuvered past each other and descended the mountain.

All of a sudden, Claus heard a foreboding snap. “ERNST!” he

screamed as he slid down the rock face, scraping his head along

the way.

With no time to spare, Ernst tied off his rope to stop Claus’

acceleration. Had he not, they both would have plunged over

seventy-five feet to the ground.

Dangling helplessly on the rope thirty feet below, Claus took

a lungful and then exhaled. His ears rang with the sound of

his body scraping against the rocks. It reminded him of a train

coming to a screeching halt on unoiled tracks. A horrible sound,

he thought as he shuddered.

“Find a foothold—and don’t move!” Seconds later Ernst had

him tied off, and the rope was secure. “I need to rappel down

and take your weight.”

For Claus, it seemed like hours, but it only took minutes for

Ernst to reach him.

“What the hell happened?”

Claus tried to regain his breath, but all he managed to utter

was, “The bolt let go.”

“How could the bolt simply pull out of the rock?”

“I don’t know!”

“It was fine on the way up. We both clipped on to it!”

“Let’s just get off this mountain.” Claus was clearly ill at ease.

Given the circumstance, Ernst took charge. “Take a deep

breath; we’ve got only about thirty feet more to go.”

Back on solid ground, Ernst inspected Claus’ head. Fortunately,

he had only a few superficial scrapes on his forehead, not worth

a bandage. Then, after a bit of haggling, Claus insisted he was

perfectly capable of driving Ernst back to his hotel. They wasted no

time in gathering their gear and headed for the car. Once underway,

Claus gradually returned to his former self, and their conversation

took on a lighter tone. They chatted about their good fortune until

Ernst proceeded to recount horror stories from his earlier climbs.

All Claus heard was his grandfather’s voice echoing in his

ear. “You’ll never be able to read the mind of Mother Nature,

so you’d better be able to read the minds of those helping you

to challenge her.” They were words he did not heed on that day.

Claus was rarely rattled, but he had never climbed with a stranger

before, only with close friends. But he had to admit that it was

Ernst’s quick action that saved them both.

Ernst was still rattling on about a fall he took until Claus

interrupted. “I’d prefer you to keep those stories to yourself, at

least until after our climb tomorrow.”

“Point taken. So we’re still on?”

Claus nodded, but continued to keep his eyes on the road.

The rest of the drive was relatively silent as they sped along the

winding alpine highway. Finally, Claus spotted a neon sign on top

of a building that flashed the name “Novotel,” and he breathed

a sigh of relief.

Antoinette checked her watch and then checked the wall

clock; they both read 9:38 p.m. “Il a promis.” She soon decided

moaning was useless and thought the Beaujolais wine might

produce a better effect. After pouring herself a glass, she

sauntered into the living room and waited for her husband.

Unfortunately, her favorite Gamay grape from Burgundy was

not doing its magic. She prayed that her worrying would prove


Antoinette recognized that Claus was an excellent climber.

He had tackled the Matterhorn frequently with his hiking

buddies. But the day hikes by himself or with only one other

person concerned her, especially if she was not acquainted

with that person. All she knew was that Claus had befriended

another attendee during a weeklong conference. His name

was Ernst from Lucerne, who was also an avid climber. They

had made plans to climb Saint Léger on Saturday. She had

approved on one condition—they would be off the mountain

by sunset. That was two hours ago. Once again she checked her

watch with growing concern. The time was 10:15. Suddenly,

she heard a car pull into the driveway and she let out a huge

sigh of relief.

Je sais que je suis en retard!” Claus called out from the kitchen,

apologizing for being late. When he walked into the living room,

he found his wife standing in the center of the room with her

arms folded across her chest. Not a good sign, he thought, and he

moved in to embrace her with a hug, whispering “Je t’aime” in an

effort to stifle any anger.

Antoinette surrendered to his ploy, but when she pulled away,

she saw the bruise on his forehead.

Claus assured his lovely wife that it was nothing and then

rotated his cupped hand as though he were holding an empty

wine glass.

Tu veux un verre de vin?” she asked without a trace of anger,

thankful that he had arrived home safely.

Absolument!” he replied, amazed by her easy acquiescence

and more than ready for the glass of wine she was in the midst

of pouring. Then, he prepared for the inevitable question.

As expected, the moment they sat down next to each other

on the sofa, Antoinette asked, “So how was the climb?”

Claus filled her in on the day’s events, careful to leave out

a few details. It all ended well; what’s the point? he mused. Then,

switching the topic slightly, he began to wax on about how Ernst

was such a great climber, hoping to butter her up for his next

request. “Ernst leaves on Monday and asked if I’d climb the Lou

Passo with him tomorrow. I agreed.”

Antoinette knew that Lou Passo was located in the same

region they had just climbed, but it was a rarely visited crag and

considerably easier than Saint Léger. “Clau—”

Arrêtez,” he said as he held up his hand, stopping her

response. “Je l’ai déjà dit oui.”

So, you’ve already said yes. Then what’s left for me to

say?” she asked with mild annoyance, annoyance that was

rooted in her doubts about Ernst. He was not one of Claus’

close friends.


Categories: Suspense, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Poetry Excerpt Reveal: ‘Night Ringing’ by Laura Foley


“I revel in the genius of simplicity” Laura Foley writes as she gives us in plain-spoken but deeply lyrical moments, poems that explore a life filled with twists and turns and with many transformations. Through it all is a search for a fulfilling personal and sexual identity, a way to be most fully alive in the world. From multicultural love affairs through marriage with a much older man, through raising a family, through grief, to lesbian love affairs, “Night Ringing” is the portrait of a woman willing to take risks to find her own best way. And she does this with grace and wisdom. As she says: “All my life I’ve been swimming, not drowning.”

-Patricia Fargnoli, author of “Winter, Duties of the Spirit, ” and “Then, Something

“I love the words and white space of poetry. I love stories even more. In this collection, Laura Foley evokes stories of crystallized moments, of quiet and overpowering emotion, of bathtubs and lemon chicken. The author grows up on the pages, comes of age, and reconciles past with present. Almost. Try to put the book down between poems to savor each experience. Try, but it won’t be easy. -Joni B. Cole, author of “Toxic Feedback, Helping Writers Survive and Thrive”

Plain-spoken and spare, Laura Foley’s poems in “Night Ringing” trace a life story through a series of brief scenes: separate, intense moments of perception, in which the speaker’s focus is arrested, when a moment opens to reveal a glimpse of the larger whole. Memories of a powerful, enigmatic father, a loving but elusive mother, a much older husband, thread Foley’s stories of childhood, marriage and motherhood, finally yielding to the pressure of her attention, as she constructs a series of escapes from family expectations, and moves toward a new life. In these lucid, intense poems, Foley’s quiet gaze, her concentration, and emotional accuracy of detail, render this collection real as rain. -Cynthia Huntington, author of “Heavenly Bodies”

Foley’s voice rings with quiet authority undercut by calamity, examining a life so extraordinary, she seems to have lived several people’s lives, setting a high bar for poetic craft she meets, in great mystery perfectly expressed in the tiny, quotidian, “spent matches pressed on wet pavement,” to soulful beauty, “as wind lifts/every shining wave”; in wisdom rooted in humor, from the deliciously funny “Flunking Jung,” to self-deprecating wit, misreading “poetic” as “pathetic,” reminding us wisdom is love, grown from self-compassion. -April Ossmann, author of “Anxious Music”

Buy Links:      Amazon  / Norwich Bookstore / B&N


Ode to My Feet


For years I’ve thought them queer,
hiding them
in steamy boots and sneakers,
but recently, I’ve begun to like
their well-worked lines, blue
veins, tapered,  skinny elegance.
Funny looking, yes, oddly
protuberant, awkwardly angled,
unlike anyone else’s,
models for a medieval statue’s,
ancient granite feet
on a church facade,
thoroughly unmodern.
Yet, how well they climb steep cliffs,
work my slinky kayak’s rudder,
how they tingle, tapping to music
across a wooden floor,
dangling below me
when I sit on high seats,
and turning pink as we wade
the cool mountain pond,
warming, as they carry me
faithfully home to rest.


Author Info

Laura Foley is the author of five poetry collections. The Glass Tree won the Foreword Book of the Year Award, Silver, and was a Finalist for the New Hampshire Writer’s Project, Outstanding Book of Poetry. Joy Street won the Bi-Writer’s Award. Her poems have appeared in journals and magazines including Valparaiso Poetry Review, Inquiring Mind, Pulse Magazine, Poetry Nook, Lavender Review, The Mom Egg Review and in the British Aesthetica Magazine. She won Harpur Palate’s Milton Kessler Memorial Poetry Award and the Grand Prize for the Atlanta Review’s International Poetry Contest.

Author Links:  Website | Goodreads 



Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Corporate Citizen, by Gabriel Valjan

5-ccTitle: Corporate Citizen: Roma Series Book Five

Genre: Mystery-Suspense/Thriller

Author: Gabriel Valjan


Publisher: Winter Goose Publishing

Purchase link:

About the Book:

A call for help from an old friend lands Bianca and the crew back in Boston. On a timeout with Dante, due to revelations in the aftermath of the showdown in Naples, Bianca is drawn to a mysterious new ally who understands the traumas of her past, and has some very real trauma of his own. Murder, designer drugs, and a hacker named Magician challenge our team, and Bianca learns that leaving Rendition behind might be much harder than she thinks. 


Excerpt from Corporate Citizen (Roma Series Book 5)

    “Is this Mr. DiBello?” said a woman’s voice through the long-distance connection.

“This is he,” Gennaro answered.

Bianca raised her eyes at hearing him speaking in English. She had just come into the room with their afternoon drinks. She was even more concerned that the call had come to Gennaro’s cell phone and not the house phone. They were apartment sitting for their friend Claudio Ferrero, La Stampa’s top investigative journalist, who was on assignment. This call also threatened their afternoon ritual of talks out on the balcony where they enjoyed the sights below of San Salvario, the neighborhood near Turin’s city center. Gennaro was motioning for her to come over and eavesdrop.

“What can I do for you?” he asked the caller.

“Not for me, Mr. DiBello. I’m calling on behalf of your friend, Diego Clemente. He asked me to dial your number for him. It’s not easy dialing Italy from a hospital phone.”

“Hospital?” Gennaro said, alarmed. His eyes flashed his concern to Bianca.

“I’m a nurse at MGH and he’s my patient. MGH is Mass General–”

“Hospital in Boston,” Gennaro stammered. “I know that. Scusi – I mean I’m sorry for interrupting you, but is Diego alright?”

“He took a fall at home and broke his hip,” the woman seemed to sigh, “slip rugs are dangerous, you know. He can tell you the rest himself. There isn’t much time.”

“Wait, please. Much time?” Gennaro asked, confused. “I don’t understand.”

“He’s due for surgery and I’ve started his IV. I’d say that you have about ten minutes before happy hour.”

Gennaro said, not understanding to Bianca. “IV…and ‘happy hour.’”

Bianca bared her forearm and explained in Italian: “Medication; probably anesthesia.”

The voice on the phone said, “I’ll hand over the phone to him so you two can talk.”

“Thank you, Nurse.”

“You’re welcome.” Gennaro heard the phone shuffle and heavy breathing. The connection improved. Gennaro and Bianca heard the pull of the curtain. “Diego?”

Another moment passed, and more ruffling sounds. Gennaro and Bianca huddled closer around the phone as Clemente spoke, “Slip rug, col cazzo.” Clemente had learned some Italian, but only the choice words. “That’s some hell of a story, from Mason Street to MGH and now a hip-replacement. Jesus, I can feel the drug working its way up my arm already.”

“You’re making no sense, Diego.”

“Gennaro, please listen to me, since I don’t know how fast Nurse Ratched’s cocktail will work.”

“Less than ten minutes. I’m listening.”

“Thanks. My head feels light. Damn.”

“Wait — where’s your wife? You shouldn’t be alone in a hospital.”

“My wife passed away. Look, Virgil showed me the apartment, the dead girl, and it’s a real mess, a real setup, and my life is going to hell. To hell, you understand, Gennaro, in a boat, hole in the bottom, and toothpicks for oars.” The voice was Diego irritated, in hyper mode.

“Slow down, Diego. I’m sorry about your wife. Why didn’t you tell me?”

A deep, relaxed sigh. “I didn’t want to trouble you. What could you’ve done? Send me a Mass card? You’ve been through it yourself.”

Gennaro’e eyes turned downward. He remembered Lucia. “But still, Diego. I’m your friend. Friends do something, and I don’t mean send you the latest self-help manual on grief.”

Bianca swatted his arm, “No time for sarcasm,” she said.

“I couldn’t help myself, he told her in Italian.

“Hello? Help me then.” Diego

“First, I need to understand what you’re telling me,” Gennaro said. “Who is Virgil?”

“I wish I knew, Gennaro. I wish I knew. I think Virgil is one of Farese’s people.”

“Farese?” The name, as it came out of Gennaro’s mouth, made Bianca’s eyes widen.

U.S. Attorney Michael Farese was a chameleon of a character, changing colors when he worked for the Department of Justice, when he handled diplomatic requests for the State Department, and when he worked for the CIA, as they thought he might have been after their last run-in with him during their investigation of the Camorra in Naples.

“Diego? Concentrate. Why do you think Farese?”

“That doesn’t matter. She’s dead and he’s dead.”

“Who? Who is she? Who is he?” Gennaro asked. His voice almost cracked.

“Norma Jean. She had such nice lingerie, too, and that son of a bitch was in such a nice bed.” Clemente’s voice was almost singing as he was speaking. The wonders of pharmacology.

Gennaro rubbed his eyebrows. He was frustrated. “Diego, stay with me. Who is Norma Jean? Who was in the bed?”

“Marilyn Monroe was a sad girl.” Diego giggled.

“He’s giggling,” Gennaro said to Bianca.

“Oh, it’s a party line!” Diego almost shouted. “Who else is there?”

“Bianca,” Gennaro announced. “She is staying with me.”

“You naughty boy,” Diego said. “Put her on, please.”

“Here,” Gennaro handed his cell phone to Bianca. “Talk to him. I think the medication has gotten into his brain.”

Bianca seized the phone. “Clemente, this is Bianca,” she said, hoping that using the man’s last name would snap some momentary sense into the man’s head. “Forget about Marilyn Monroe. Who is dead?”

“Marilyn, of course. Somebody murdered her,” Diego answered.

“That’s right, but who is in the bed?”

“James Guild, former special agent, FBI, scourge of my loins.”

Bianca put her hand over the receiver and repeated, “Guild is dead.”

Porca puttana.” Gennaro stepped in closer to the receiver. “What happened, Diego?”

“Hell if I know. Virgil gave me the tour of hell. I got nice slippers, though. He had a needle in his arm.”

“Virgil had a needle in his arm?” Bianca asked.

Clemente became belligerent. “I just told you Guild had a needle in his arm. He was in that expensive bed. I saw it. No gun, too. Norma was out in the living room. He was in her bedroom. Nice bed, and what a nice view, and did I tell you what a beautiful kitchen she had?”

Gennaro asked, “I couldn’t hear that last part. What did he say?”

“Nice kitchen,” she said in English “He’s getting delirious.”

“I’m not delirious,” Clemente yelled. “I’m serious! Oh, that rhymes.”

“Please focus, Clemente,” Bianca said.

“I saw it. I saw the computer. My life, your life…it all goes to shit.”

Bianca, trying a soothing voice, said, “You saw a computer. What did you see, Clemente?”

“Black, black background,” Diego’s voice was now sputtering.

In a coaxing tone and hoping for more details, Bianca asked, “What else did you see?”

“Big, big.” More sputtering. Bianca closed her eyes.

“Big red R!” Diego said triumphantly.

Bianca and Gennaro understood what they had heard: black background and red R.

She said softly, “Fuck me.”

“Lingerie?” Clemente asked. Bianca handed the phone back to Gennaro. She put her hands to her temples, rubbed them. She thought of Boston, the Sargent case, Nasonia Pharmaceutical, and the body count.

“Diego, this is Gennaro again. We’re coming to Boston.”

“That would be nice. Somebody should feed the floor people. I feel sleepy now,” Clemente said, mewing. Gennaro stared at his phone before he put it to his ear again.

“Get some sleep, Diego. We’ll be there as soon as we can.” Gennaro heard more purring and then the cacophonous drop of the receiver on the floor on the other end. He ended the call on his cell phone.

“Did he say anything else?” Bianca asked.

“He said someone should feed floor people. I think he has cats.”

“How do you know he has cats?” she asked.

“Blame it on hanging around Silvio.” Bianca didn’t question the logic. Silvio was a translator, Farese’s interpreter, their friend, member of the team, and lately, animal whisperer.

“We should go to Boston,” Gennaro said.

“He saw the red R.”

“I know. You should call Dante.”

“Do I really have to?” she asked.

“Yes, and you have to tell him.”

“Which part? Clemente and Guild, or that Clemente saw the red R.”

“Doesn’t matter. Tell him everything,” Gennaro said. “It adds up to the same.”

Red R meant Rendition.


Excerpt published with permission from Winter Goose Publishing


Categories: Suspense, Thriller, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Gail Force, by Robert Lane

Gail Force Cover Art.jpgThe Gail Force

by Robert Lane

Mason Alley Publishing – Release date: September 20 2106

Available in trade paper (ISBN: 978-0692670446, $14.95) and eBook ($4.99) editions

 “a consistently entertaining crime thriller…The plot crackles with energy and suspense. The writing is crisp…clever.” –Kirkus

“Charm and humor permeate the pages of the surprising thriller. There’s little chance that anyone will turn the last page before developing a craving for the next installment.” –ForeWord Reviews

Award-winning novelist Robert Lane, who has drawn comparisons to John D. MacDonald, has created one of the most compelling characters in mystery today.  PI Jake Travis is tough, smart, wise and wisecracking. He’s hailed as “a winning hero”—and this time, Jake has an elaborate knot to untangle.

While trying to expose a corrupt Miami art dealer, Jake goes undercover for the FBI. The gallery’s owner, Phillip Agatha, is more enchanted with murder than he is with art. Aboard Agatha’s luxury yacht, the Gail Force, Jake is taken with Agatha’s hospitality—and with his alluring assistant, Christina, a woman who harbors her own secrets. Unknowingly, Jake plays into Agatha’s hands and initiates actions that could cause an innocent girl to die.

As Jake struggles to save the girl, unearth a rogue FBI agent, and bring Agatha to justice, his greatest challenge is to stay loyal to his girlfriend Kathleen—and to withstand the Gail Force.  As Jake himself observes, “After all, everything’s a game. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes you don’t know what game you’re playing.”  This game is on…

The Gail Force is crime fiction writing at its finest.  With a storyline that races from the opening page, characters that stay with readers long after the final page is turned, and the wit, wisdom, lust for life, and cynicism of Jake Travis, The Gail Force will leave readers breathless.


The Gail Force 


The Fat Man 

Karl Anderson knew he’d made a mistake when he got a sex change and neglected to inform his wife.

“What the—”

“It’s me, babe.”

“What the—”

“Hey, you know we talked about it and—”

“Karl, you dumbass. What—”

“It’s Colette.”


“Colette. You know, French. Thought we’d make a cute couple. Whatdaya think?”

“Oh, babe.” Riley Anderson put down her grocery bag of fresh produce, fish wrapped in white paper—she suspected the paper was not as fresh as the fish it wrapped—and a loaf of French bread. She strode over to her husband and combed her hand through his hair, tenderly tucking a few renegade strands behind his left ear. “You’re a blonde, babe. We talked about it? Remember? You’d look so much better as a brunette. Besides, a French blonde—they even make them?”

“Don’t know why not.”

“Name one.”

“One what?”

“French blonde. Come on, Karl. They don’t exist. It’s like a happy Eskimo or—”

“Catherine Deneuve.”

“Cather—OK, so you got one, but dead or alive, right? And look at your shoes. You got to start thinking differently.”

“I’ll be fine. Pretty sure she’s still alive. Born in forty-three.”

“You didn’t, you know,” Riley said with a coy smile, “touch the private equipment, right?”

They stood in a seaside bungalow, the late afternoon sun filtering through the slats of the venetian blinds, casting shadowed lines on the wall. A spiritual sea breeze swept through two sets of open patio doors, ushering in air that hung heavy with the gummy fragrance of saltwater. The front doors faced the Caribbean, and the side doors the courtyard and pool, one floor beneath them. “Some island south of Florida,” the government man in the buttoned dark suit had retorted in response to Riley’s earnest question as to where they were. That was three nights ago when they’d been dropped off at 2:00 a.m. in the middle of a weed-infested runway.

“No shit, Corky. Which one?” Riley had demanded.


“Gotcha. Hey, thanks for the heads up. Now give me my phone.”

“We’ve been over this. They can trace you. No phone.”

“How long am I gonna be here?”

“Until you leave.”

“Yeah? Well, let me tell you, if you come knockin’ and I don’t answer, it means I’m finally showing signs of intelligence. Got it, Corky?”

“Don’t call me Corky.”

“Corky, Corky—”

Karl had stepped in before Riley got wound up. He was always calming her emotions and outbursts, like throwing a blanket on a fire. He believed his wife’s bravado stemmed from her diminutive stature, but he wasn’t the type of man who gave thought to such trivial things. He simply loved her every way times ten.

“You know I didn’t,” Karl replied to his wife’s question and gave her their last kiss. “It’s just another precaution. We might even have fun with it.” Their first kiss had been outside the prefabricated junior high classroom in Marion, Indiana, when they were fourteen years old. It’d been building for three days until finally, on the fourth day, Karl nearly knocked her head into the side of the building before attacking her lips with his own.

He folded her, all five feet and one inch, into his chest. She jerked back. “Boobs?”

“Little fakies. I’m thinking this might be a pristine opportunity for you to see if you swing both ways, you know, snuggle up to Daddy Big Tits, might find it rocks your boat. Make a real sorority girl out of you.”

Riley smiled, glanced up at her husband, and said, “I don’t think so, baby. You’ve been rocking my boat ever since the day you grabbed my shoulders, banged my head, stuck your lips on mine, and then dashed off like the Easter bunny being chased by a pack of starving coyotes.”

While not poetic, and certainly not the finely crafted lyrical notes she would, if presented the opportunity, have chosen, nonetheless, it was a fine thing for Riley Anderson to say to her husband, as they were the last words he would hear her say. The last words she ever heard him say were coming around the corner like a downhill runaway truck.

Karl Anderson, who towered over his wife, gathered her back in his arms. He faced the open patio door. Riley, before looking up to his face, eyed the grocery bag on the kitchen counter. She wondered how she should prepare the fish but knew that Karl would likely step in and cook dinner. Maybe she’d slice up the French loaf, make garlic bread and croutons. Karl Anderson loved crispy croutons. Later, she would wonder if she hadn’t glanced at the damn groceries if she would have seen the panic—the sadness—in her husband’s eyes a split second sooner, and if that split second, of all the seconds the screwed-up world had ever known, would have made a difference in their lives.

When she did glance up, Karl Anderson was not looking at the object of his heart, but at the open patio door where a rotund, unwelcome guest stood blocking the salt air, the sun, the view, their future.

Karl, like a Polish weight lifter, jerked his wife over his head, took a giant leap toward the side patio that fronted the pool below, and heaved her over the patio rail and, with luck, into the pool’s deep end.

“Run, baby, run,” he screamed, praying that for once in her life, the little fireball would do the sensible thing and listen to him. That was assuming he didn’t miss and Riley went kerplat on the concrete pool decking. Karl spun and dove for the shelter of a desk. Like a runner on third knowing he was cooked, he closed his eyes, thinking it would be less painful when the bullet found him.

It wasn’t.

“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” the Fat Man said on entering the villa. He glanced behind him. “Find her. Go.” Two men were with him. The one who had shot Karl sprinted down the concrete stairs.

Mr. Anderson.” The Fat Man took several steps into the room. “Might I be mistaken or have you sprouted a pair of shapely—although the right one seems to be slightly off-kilter—breasts since our last meeting?”

“Eat me.”

“Yes, yes, yes. If only you knew. Why not now, Johnnie, while he’s still breathing?”

Johnnie Darling, who resembled the product of an incestuous relationship, slithered around his boss and snapped away with a Nikon D810.

“Fat little twerp,” Karl Anderson blurted out. His left hand grasped his Tommy Bahama shirt that Riley had sprung on him yesterday as a present. He tried to stem the bleeding that was turning the gold silk shirt into a rust-colored premonition of death.

“Why the animosity?” The Fat Man tapped his cane on the floor. “Is that what the end brings you, tied up in a bow? It is different with all of us. You should understand. Our minds are so similar in some departments, but apparently—and this, most unfortunately does not bode well for you—sadly different in others. But what a marvelous picture you make, especially now that you’ve made yourself such a conflicted creation. You know how I feel about art. It stimulates our senses. That which we are rarely exposed to, that which we dream about and participate in only through the voyeurism of our dreams, stimulates us the most. So considerate of you and, I might add, so utterly unselfish, to be our objet d’art.”

“Go fuck yourself.”

“Hmm…yes. Imagine the disastrous effect on the survival of the species if one could indeed finagle such an act.”

            Click. Click. Click.

The Fat Man prodded Karl Anderson’s shirt with his cane. He nudged the blond wig off to the side, taking care to keep a piece of it on Karl’s head.

            Click. Click. Click.

“This is exquisite. Exquisite indeed. Death comes to what? A man? A woman? We don’t know, Johnnie, what Mr. Anderson is trying to be. Perhaps one of your own. Death does not care, does it Mr. Anderson?”

            Click. Click. Click.

The Fat Man stepped around Karl and toddled into the kitchen, his back to Karl. “I thought we were getting along splendidly. The beauty of numbers—their simplicity and brutal honesty. It’s disappointing when those we trusted, our confidants, turn and drive a spike into our hearts. So sad. All of this, brought about by you.”

Karl groaned.

The Fat Man picked up the bag of groceries. He positioned a chair before Karl, sat, and bent over, his face close to Karl’s.

“Look at me,” the Fat Man said.

Karl did not. Karl Anderson decided to go deep inside himself, to choose his place of death, to envision the dimpled face of his sweet Riley as the last thing he would see. Did I throw her too far? I was afraid of coming up short. A short putt never goes in—oh God, please, I hope she hit the water.

The Fat Man poked Karl’s chin with his cane. “I said look at me.”

Karl did not.

“Very well then.” He leaned back and propped his cane against the side of the chair.

            Click. Click. Click.

The Fat Man gave a dismissive gesture with his hand, his fingers trilling the air. “Be done, Johnnie, until the closing shot. Why, Mr. Anderson? Why couldn’t you let me go? I told you that if you kept our secret, you would live. If not, you would create this egregious situation. What part of that simple statement did you not comprehend?”

Karl curled into a fetal position and coughed up blood.

“Now you understand, don’t you?” The Fat Man continued, undaunted by Karl’s lack of conversational participation. “And your little Riley? My! What a throw that was. My guess is that she’s bleeding out on the pink pool paver bricks. Pink. Pool. Paver. Bricks. What do you think, Karl? Or is it Pink. Paver. Pool. Bricks? Do you recall our number games? Of course you do. I got it right the first time, didn’t I? Words with the fewest letters lead the way. We resort to the alphabet for a tiebreaker. ‘Pink’ before ‘pool’ as ‘I’ comes before ‘O.’ Remember? We constructed whole sentences in such a manner, although paragraphs were beyond the scope of even our advanced minds. I will miss your stimulating company. I digress—Riley.

“Perhaps that wasn’t her fate; there’s always the cabana, a somewhat softer ending. You know which one I’m talking about, don’t you, Karl? Yes, that’s right. The one where the lady in the black bathing suit was spreading oil on her breasts yesterday as if she were making love to them. Remember now? Judging by the trajectory, I think that is where your little trinket might have landed. Johnnie, would you be so kind as to glance out the door. Take a few shots of Mrs. Anderson. Show them to Mr. Anderson in your viewfinder.”

Johnnie Darling went to the side patio door and peered down. He shook his raisin head at the Fat Man.

“Not there? Really—quite an amazing throw then. I’m sure Eddie will rope her in. Pity for her that she didn’t hit the bricks. Didn’t think of that, did you Karl? Really, have you nothing to add?”

Karl tightened his position, his arms and legs drawing into his center, as if in death, life compresses into you, growing small, dense, and close. Then, like a flickering flame reacting to a kindly puff, it was no more.

The Fat Man picked up the grocery bag. “I greatly admire your courage to control your last moments. Superb, actually. One never knows until the bitter end what kind of strength lies dormant in a man. With you, it is bottled animosity and structured silence. Think of the picture in his mind right now, Johnnie. The greatest art is that which we never see. Pity. Karl, are you tuned in?”

He reached into the bag and rummaged through the items. “I shall dine on your wife’s shopping tonight. Let’s see, Johnnie, French loaf, fresh produce, kiwi—excellent—such an integral component for a Caribbean salad.” He unwrapped the fish. “Yellowtail snapper. Enough for two, which means just enough for me.” He discarded the fish and stood, as if he’d instantly lost interest in it all. “I fear we’ve overstayed our visit, and we do want to be going before the police arrive; although I told them to give me an hour. One shot, Johnnie. With both instruments. Don’t cheat and rely on the camera.”

The Fat Man turned to leave.

“Shwell ill you.”

He turned and was surprised to see Karl Anderson’s eyes nailing his own. “Pardon me.”

“Riley,” Karl said with the greatest of effort, for he recognized his last breath. With that breath, he said, “She’ll kill you.”

“I think not. Johnnie.”

Johnnie circled the corpse twice and settled on a position. He took his time with the Nikon. Johnnie Darling always took his time with the last shot.




Categories: Thriller, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Chapter reveal: ‘Joe Peas’ by Samuel Newsome

joe-peas-jpegTitle:  JOE PEAS

Genre:  Fiction/Inspirational

Author: Samuel Newsome


Publisher: Lulu

Purchase here.

An extraordinary tale about life, love, faith and friendship, Joe Peasillustrates how the most important life lessons sometimes come from the places we least expect.

About Joe Peas:  Who is Joe Peas?  Is he a simple Italian immigrant house painter, or is he a complicated man with much to hide, even from himself?   When the aging painter develops health problems, his life intersects with that of family physician James King. Dr. King is drawn to the curious Italian, whose life is a stark contrast to his own orderly life.  The free-spirited painter and doctor forge a unique friendship—a friendship that only grows when Joe breaks a hip, and becomes a patient in a long-term care facility where he does rehabilitation under Dr. King’s care.  As Joe interacts with other residents at the facility, he learns of their struggles, their triumphs, and witnesses their close relationships with their families.  The spirited little Italian enriches the lives of the other patients—and encounters with the residents change Joe in ways he never expected.   Through these interactions, Joe realizes just how much he missed in his own life.  While Joe struggles to come to term with his past, Dr. King faces his own struggles living in a community that values conformity over individual expression.  Eager to help his friend, Joe hatches a plan.  But that plan—as colorful and vibrant as Joe himself—sets in motion a chain of events that sheds light on the secrets of the enigmatic painter. Things are not always what they seem on the surface. Could there be more—much more—to Joe Peas than meets the eye?  And will the truth about the mysterious painter finally be unveiled?

An extraordinary story that will stay with readers long after the final page is turned, Joe Peas is irresistible. Tender and touching, thoughtful and thought provoking, Joe Peas is filled with unforgettable characters that come to life within the novel’s pages.  Informed by Sam Newsome’s experiences as a physician and educator, Joe Peas is a powerful story about true healing.


Joe Peas


Sam Newsome

Copyright 2015


February 16, 1944

The Battle of Monte Cassino, sometimes referred to as the Battle for Rome, was as intense as any combat in the Second World War. Axis troops guarded the mountains and controlled the Rapido, Liri, and Garigliano River valleys. They controlled the old Appian Way access to Rome. While the German forces did not occupy the Abbey of Monte Cassino, they did control the surrounding hillside. Allied forces were uncertain of the strength of the Axis defenders and whether the abbey was under Axis control or not.

On February 15 alone, a massive barrage of 1,400 tons of bombs was loosed upon the abbey and its environs.

American soldiers of the Fifth Army witnessed the Allied bombardment as they steeled themselves for yet another assault on the enemy stronghold. The smoke and mist rolled down into the valley from the hills.

Most of these weary, battle-hardened soldiers were veterans of the North African campaign. They had not seen their wives and families for months, if not years. They knew that nothing or no one could survive such a barrage.

On February 16, as the smoke began to dissipate and the irritation of the GIs’ eyes cleared, a patrol noticed a new and unexplained feature on the landscape of no-man’s-land. A closer investigation revealed what appeared to be only a smoldering pile of cloth, perhaps a sack. On closer inspection they discovered the cloth to be the burned and tattered shirt and trousers of a small child. And they were surprised to find that the waif inside the clothes was still alive. The child was no more than smoke-stained skin and bones. His hair was filthy and scorched.

The soldiers snatched up the child and got him out of harm’s way. Over the next few days, he gained strength but appeared to be mute. The medics couldn’t tell if this was shell shock or a more serious medical condition. The homesick GIs refused to hand the boy over to the authorities. As he gained his strength, he was more or less adopted by the mess hall personnel.

Eventually the boy learned a few words. His main word was “Joe.” He probably had heard the term “GI Joe” so often that, when asked his name for the hundredth time, he said, “Joe,” and the moniker stuck.

The time came for the Fifth Army to move on. Joe had become a fixture at the mess hall and had won the hearts of the GIs, but they couldn’t take him with them to the next deployment. He was classified as a displaced person. When the aid worker asked for his name, he said, “Joe.” As for his last name, he had no idea. After an uncomfortable period of silence, he saw the cook opening a can of black-eyed peas. Joe had become fond of them as a staple of his new diet, so he said, “Peas.”

The aid worker asked, “Your last name is ‘Peas’?”


And so it was. At least that was one version of the story.


Chapter 1

“You guys don’t know how to paint a house. You got to scrub, and I mean really clean the shit off! You don’t do that, you just wastin’ you time! Then you scrape that sucker plenty good! You don’t scrape and you just wastin’ you’ time! And then you prima it.” He used the word prima, instead of prime. “Then the paint. You got to use that good paint and none of that shit you get at any hardware store. You gotta know you’ paint, man.”

All this was overheard above the usual cacophony of the Waffle House. The customers in the surrounding booths, the chatter of the counter traffic, and a jukebox with the usual repertoire of country offerings provided a constant din that completed the diner experience. The high-speed, enigmatic counter orders shouted by the waitresses, and the clatter and motion of Freddy, the short-order cook, completed the symphony of a morning at the King’s Mill Waffle House.

The atmosphere was not one suitable for meditation, but it was great for a quick breakfast with a genial ambience. And with the bonus of a little time to read the daily paper, it was hard to beat. There was also something to be said for the old-fashioned diner experience that allowed the patron to see the food prepared.

Dr. James King and his wife, Betty, frequently slipped in for a Sunday breakfast before hospital rounds. This morning the paper took second place to the bantam man monopolizing the counter conversation. He had a dark, olive complexion; a pate of slick black hair; and a pencil-thin mustache. He appeared to be of an advanced age, but his animated speech and gestures suggested he was very active. Doc and Betty had lived in town all their lives, but they didn’t know him, and yet the small man was literally holding court with a cadre of local laborers as though he was a well-known local craftsman. Doc knew that a couple of these men had been lifelong painters, but they and the younger men listened when the speaker harangued them as though he was the resident house-painting expert.

“Lemme tell you ’bout paint. You paint a house like you court a beautiful woman. You don’t think Joe knows women? Lemme tell you guys. All the world’s best lovers, they’re Italian. All the best painters, Italian. You think that may be an accident?” The little fellow gestured widely with both hands, ending up with his thumbs inside his suspenders.

“You see a beautiful woman, you size her up. You got to find her blemishes. She may bebellissima outside, but she will have secrets. She got a jealous lover, or even a husband, you gotta know.”

He looked over at Betty, and she could have sworn that he winked at her. “That house you paint. It’s a got problems, you gotta know ’bout it. It got dry rot or hidden wasp nest, it can hurt a fella.

“That woman, you got to court her; you offer her flowers and candy. Flatter her and tell her she’s a so special to you! Give her all the attention she needs. She’ll say she doesn’t want it, but never you mind. She’ll eat it up. Make her believe she’s a you’ only one.

“That house, you got to court it too. Clean it like it’s a you’ best friend. Give it attention; take care of its special needs. It’ll pay off, guaranteed!

“That woman, now you better close in on the next step. You got to get physical contact. Now you guys know physical contact.” He looked around, giving his audience a knowing look. “A li’l touch and a li’l kiss and you on you’ way. Now you get to know her. She let her veil drop. You learn what she want or not want.”

Again, Betty sensed the Italian’s eyes on her. She could not help but wonder if it was more of a leer than an innocent glance. He was, after all, an Italian!

“That house, you ready for the next step. You get more physical with that house. You place the best prima you got. A simple kiss, a preparation for the real amore.” As the little Italian said this, he seemed to blur the comparison of house painting and a romantic liaison.

“Gents, it’s a now time to consummate the affair. Be gentle, be thorough.” He looked around to see if the entire diner, even Betty, was listening. They were. Then he continued.

“Take you’ time. You be simpatico with her and she be kind to you. Remember, you ’mericans, you always hurry. You take you’ time here. Smitty, none a’ dis wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am! Make you’ time with you’ lady count!

“That house, now it’s time to complete the act. Use you’ best paint. You no grab the brush like a bat. You hold it gently; caress it like a fine lady’s hand. You do slow, so slow, even passes, gentle strokes, feel the moist paint being stroked into the rough wooden surface. Soon the surface becomes moist, pliable—sexy. The strokes, they become more rhythmic, hypnotic—even erotic. You take you’ time, jus’ like with that bellissima woman. You do a slapdash job, you paint no good.”

As the fellow warmed to the sensual aspects of house painting, he actually lost part of his broken English.

“After that, you stay. You call that what? Afterglow! You stay. You be kind. You stay. You no run off and you see what it’s like to have real, real…”


The little Italian and everyone in the diner turned to see who had said that. Dr. King and Betty looked around too, till they realized that the now red-faced Betty had volunteered the statement.

Joe continued, “Buono, intimacy. That lady deserves you’ best. That house deserves you’ best. You got it painted, then you look at the family. You see the look and feel of the family who live in the house. That’s a so good!”

One of the painters, Smitty, looked up from his third cup of coffee. “I need a cigarette.”

Abner, Smitty’s partner, decided he’d better call his wife and see if she was ready for their regular “date night.”

Dr. King and Betty had lingered longer than usual over their coffee as the little Italian and his band of painters entertained them. As Doc and his wife left the restaurant, they heard Joe ask his audience, “Who is that guy?”

“Why, he’s my doc,” said Smitty. “Fixed me up real good when I hurt my back last year.”

Categories: Fiction, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Chapter reveal: Death Steals A Holy Book, by Rosemary and Larry Mild

cover-artTitle: Death Steals A Holy Book

Authors: Rosemary and Larry Mild

Release: September 2016

Publisher: Magic Island Literary Works

Available at Amazon

Husband-and-wife mystery novelists Rosemary and Larry Mild have created a tightly woven, cleverly plotted and supremely suspenseful tale in Death Steals A Holy Book.  Resplendent with action, intrigue, wit, and a to-die-for cast of characters, Death Steals A Holy Book is bound to delight.

Reluctant sleuths Dan and Rivka Sherman yearn for a tranquil life as the owners of The Olde Victorian Bookstore in Annapolis, Maryland. But when the Shermans acquire a rare volume, they find themselves embroiled in a firestorm of deceit, thievery, and violence.

Israel Finestein, renowned restorer of old books in Baltimore, has just finished his work on the Menorat ha-maor, “The Candlestick of Light.”His life is brutally snuffed out and the book disappears. What makes this rare text so valuable that someone is compelled to kill for it? Two Baltimore detectives find a puzzling number of suspects. Is it the controversial woman whom Israel plans to marry? The rare book agent who overextended himself in the stock market? Israel’s busybody cousins who resent his changed lifestyle? Or the wayward lad who thinks a gun is the way to big bucks?

This case could be one for the books…

Chapter 1

Loss of Innocence

Monday, January 8, 2007 

A wooden sign over the door read “Fine Old Books Restored.” The tiny shop at 59 Beuller Street reeked of fermenting leather, neatsfoot oil, and musk—exuding from rare tomes and the noble attempt to resurrect them. Could such an unusual stench follow the dreadful journey of two rare manuscripts?

The shop’s small front room served to greet customers. Beyond it lay the inner sanctum, the artisan’s hallowed workroom. A man in a yarmulke, a black knit skullcap, sat hunched over his large work table, deep into the project before him: a rare ancient manuscript he had just restored. No longer any sign of mildew—the pages more pliable—their stains now barely perceptible—the cover and binding newly supple. With a tweezer-like tool, this fifty-two-year-old artisan carefully tugged at a frayed re-weave of the original stitching. His cotton-gloved hands and sinewy forearms moved with a deftness and assurance that only an experienced and loving craftsman might display. No ordinary shopkeeper or tradesman here. Nothing was bought or sold here. He simply provided a valuable, singular service.

A broad blue mask with thick binocular lenses hid the upper half of his angular face, while its strap disappeared behind his head into ridges of bristled, gray-black hair. The skullcap personified his belief in the ever-presence of God above him. Beneath a generous coffee-stained mustache, his thin lips exposed a hint of protruding pink tongue, a boyish gesture suggesting the deep intensity required by the task at hand. There, almost finished, he thought.

The tiny bell above the street door jingled, startling him. He’d flipped the OPEN sign to CLOSED several hours earlier at 5:30. He wasnt expecting any customers this late. Ah, it’s probably my lovely Peggy schlepping my supper. He had left the shop’s door unlocked for her. She’s such a good woman, a friend like I’ve never had before. A little meshugge with all that Goth makeup and jewelry, but I’m in love with her anyway—God forgive me.

He heard footsteps in the dark front room, and wondered why she wasn’t calling to him.   Pushing his chair back, he stood up, eager to receive her. But actually seeing who had entered was impossible with the magnifying aid in place. As he slipped the mask up his forehead, a gold-monogrammed briefcase caught his attention. It dropped to the floor near the table. Without warning, the business end of a Saturday Night Special loomed into his view from out of the darkness. Before he knew who or why, Israel Finestein heard a shot and looked down to see blood pouring out of his own chest. He never heard the second shot, nor the abandoned .38 caliber revolver falling with a thud on the vinyl floor. Israel slumped first into an awkward heap. Then gravity slowly leveled him out flat.

The killer picked up the tan leather briefcase, set it upright on a corner of the table, and undid the buckles on the two straps. Black-gloved hands removed a chamois cloth and spread it out on the table. The dark-clad figure gently closed the rare old text and laid it in the middle of the cloth, wrapping it securely before tucking it into the briefcase. After buckling the straps, the killer turned off the lone lamp and exited quickly to the faint sound of the doorbell jingle.

* * * *

Peggy Fraume was on a happy mission: to bring her lover his supper. In her left arm she cradled a tuna-noodle casserole inside an insulated bag. Under the streetlights, she began walking to his shop only a few blocks away. Izzy had entrusted her with the keys to his apartment. It was his supper she carried—in his yellow crockery bowl, prepared by him in his kosher kitchen, and merely reheated by Peggy in his oven.

Peggy worried about him. He often skipped meals or ate them unheated, so a few times each week she took his own hot food to him at his shop, enough for a couple of days, knowing that he sometimes slept in that old schleppy recliner in a corner of his workroom. This woman with short, punk, black hair and wild gypsy eyes felt far more than compassion for her friend. Peggy and Izzy lived in adjacent apartments on the eighth floor of a quiet Baltimore City neighborhood. They had immediately connected when they discovered they both played chess. After several months of casual dating and hours-long chess games, fondness had bloomed into passion to the point where they were planning a most unlikely marriage. They had even sent out save-the-date notices without considering all the contrasting consequences. They were blindly in love.

As Peggy approached the first-floor shop, she hesitated. Why is it so dark inside? Could he have left early without letting me know? She looked at the illuminated dials of her watch: eleven minutes past eight. The hairs at the nape of her neck bristled. She tried the door. Surprisingly, it wasn’t locked. She stepped inside and flipped on the front room light switch next to the door. Without looking about, she lifted the yellow crockery bowl out of its insulated bag and set it, along with her purse, atop the nearest display case. Only then did she venture into the darkness of the workroom.

Peggy moved cautiously. This is so strange. Where’s Izzy? Is he okay? She fumbled for the overhead light switch on the wall to her right, and while she adjusted to it, she heard a muffled moan. It came from behind the massive work table. She followed the source of the faint uttering. Izzy was sprawled out on his stomach, with the left side of his head on the floor and his face turned toward her. She knelt beside him. He wasn’t moving, but his mouth whispered what sounded like the Sh’ma, the prayer at the heart of Judaism, a pronouncement of the Oneness and Greatness of God. Then he mumbled something she couldn’t quite discern. The letters M-P-S or N-T-S maybe. Peggy knelt closer. Did he say “briefcase”? Then she thought he was asking for the police. As soon as the pitiful mumblings ended, her Izzy died.

As the pool of blood rapidly expanded, Peggy, still on her knees, backed away until she encountered something hard under her left shin. Reaching down, she grabbed the uncomfortable object—and screamed. She had retrieved the murder weapon. Realizing she’d left her fingerprints all over the grip, she gathered up the hem of her long skirt with the intention of wiping away those prints.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” said a booming voice behind her. “Just lay the damn gun on the floor and get up. Slowly now, woman! Keep your hands where I can see them. It’s murder all right, and I’ve caught you red-handed.” A stocky, red-faced, uniformed police officer stood over Peggy with his service weapon pointed directly at her.

“But…But I found him this way!” Peggy screeched. “Izzy was already dying.”

“His name was Izzy?”

“Israel. Israel Finestein, but I called him Izzy. Officer, I didn’t do anything. I didn’t kill him. He was my fiancé! I loved him. Why would I kill him?”

“Put both your hands on the arms of that recliner,” the officer commanded. “You have the right to remain silent…,” he recited while frisking her one-handed, clumsily, near her breasts and down her hips and legs. Satisfied with the search, finding no additional weapons, and having finished with her Miranda rights, he seized and cuffed each of her wrists behind her back and pushed her into the front room. The officer followed so closely she could smell his cheap aftershave.

Nodding toward the yellow crock on the display case, she decried her innocence once more. “I was just bringing my fiancé his supper. See there on the counter? It’s a tuna-noodle casserole. I just heated it up for him. Doesn’t that make sense to you?”

But Officer James Francis O’Mera wasn’t listening. He was busy reporting a crime, speaking into his shoulder microphone. “Yes, sir! A woman yelled out a second-floor window at me. Said she heard shots in the shop downstairs, and I responded….No, sir! I didn’t get any names yet. Found a woman perp hovering over the male victim with a recently fired gun in her hand. Yeah, she’s in custody. Got ’er cuffed. Sure I read ’er her rights….No, I didn’t touch anything….Okay. I’ll wait for the detectives and transportation.”

Letting go of the transmitting button, Officer O’Mera turned to his prisoner. “What’s your name, lady?”

“Fraume, F-R-A-U-M-E, Margaret Fraume. But I tell you I’m innocent. You’re letting the real killer get away.”

“Sure, sure, I got it all wrong. That’s what they all say. I got you dead to rights, ma’am. You got any ID, Fraume?”

“My purse,” she said, tilting her head toward the counter and indicating the black cloth shoulder bag sitting there. She watched him upend the purse contents onto the countertop: lipstick, compact, cell phone, keys, handkerchief, a Kleenex mini-pack, and a vinyl wallet. He flipped open the snap and spread the wallet until he saw her driver’s license in its compartment window.

“Ah, Margaret Fraume it is. Age forty-eight. You don’t look it, lady.”

“Thanks, but I—”

“So who’s the poor slob on the floor in the other room?” Officer O’Mera began to write in a small notebook he’d taken from his breast pocket.

“His real name is Israel Finestein, but everybody calls him Izzy. And don’t you dare call him a poor slob. I love him. He’s a wonderful, hard-working mensch, and the proprietor of this shop.”

“Does he own the joint?”

“He rents from some lady upstairs. I don’t know her name.” Peggy shuddered. She suddenly realized she was talking about her beloved as if he were still alive.

Vehicles screeched to a halt out front and car doors slammed shut. “Homicide!” the first man through the door said. “Officer, I’m Detective Sergeant Shap and this here is Detective Sullivan. He’s assisting me in this investigation. Anything appear to be missing from the shop? Cash or something else valuable?”

“Nothing obvious, sir. I haven’t had much of a chance to look around yet.”

“Good thing,” said Shap. “Wouldn’t want you lousing up my crime scene now, would I?”

“Yes, sir. I mean no, sir. Didn’t touch a thing.”

The two detectives perused the crime scene room for about fifteen minutes before calling in the lab people. Then Shap called Peggy into the workroom and sat her down in the recliner. He stood before her in a leather jacket and black pants, almost six feet tall, with a clean-shaven, handsome face and wavy walnut-brown hair brushed back with no part.

“Ma’am, I’m Detective Sergeant Shap. Did you know Mr. Finestein well?”

“Very well. We are—I mean, we were—neighbors and best friends. More than that. He was my fiancé, for heaven’s sake.” A sob caught in her throat. “The only reason I’m here is that I brought Izzy his supper, in that yellow crock in the front room on the counter. I didn’t kill him. I couldn’t do anything to harm that lovable man. Did you know we were engaged?”

“No, I didn’t know?” he responded sarcastically. “How could I?” Shap circled behind her, and examined her cuffed hands. He saw two rings on her right hand, one a carved silver rose, the other a black onyx stone. “So where’s the diamond ring if you’re engaged?”

“We hadn’t gotten around to that yet.”

“I see,” said Shap. “And if you were engaged, why would Officer O’Mera believe you murdered your lover? Was it a lover’s quarrel?”

“No, no, no!” Peggy, near tears now, said, “I’ll explain everything, but can’t you take off these horrible cuffs? They’re cutting into my wrists and my shoulders are getting sore.”

“No way.”

It occurred to her that the detective was enjoying her misery. She had no choice but to relate her whole story, beginning with finding the shop dark and ending with the attempt to wipe her fingerprints from the murder weapon. At several junctures she proclaimed her innocence. She was so despairing, so distraught that Izzy’s final utterings had completely slipped her mind. She offered them now.

Shap said, “You say you found the room dark. Why would Finestein be working late in the dark?”

“That’s just it,” she replied. “He wouldn’t be in the dark. He’d be working late to finish the rare holy book for Rivka and Dan Sherman. They’re supposed to pick it up the day after tomorrow. The book is gone! It should have been on the work table with the light over it. That’s why I became so concerned.”

“Who are these people, the Shermans?”

“They own The Olde Victorian Bookstore in Annapolis and they’re good friends of mine as well.”
“So where’s this so-called holy book now?” asked Shap.

“I just told you—it should have been on the work table. Otherwise, it would be stored in the locked cabinet for safekeeping.”
“In there?” he pointed. The steel cabinet’s door was slightly ajar, indicating that it had been left unlocked. Shap swung both doors open wide and saw two books and a rolled papyrus parchment. “One of these?” He gestured with his open hand.

“No!” Peggy said. “The Shermans’ rare book was at least twice the size of either one of those. And much older.”

“Just how holy was this book?” Shap pressed on. “It’s obviously not the Bible or the Torah or Haftarah.”

Peggy eyed him with curiosity. “How would you know? Are you Jewish?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Shap was once Shapiro. My father’s idea entirely.”

She’d never met a Jewish cop before. “Well, Detective, it’s the Sefer Menorat ha-maor.”

“Never heard of it.”

Sefer means book. Menorat ha-maor means The Candlestick of Light. The way Izzy explained it to me, it’s a precious book of religious truths and ethics. This copy is in Yiddish and there are other translations, too. It was the most popular book in Jewish households in the Middle Ages. How the righteous should live their lives.” She steadied her voice, praying that she was appealing to his more rational side. “So you see, robbery is the real motive here, and I don’t have the book. Ergo I am innocent.”

“Not so fast, lady. You could have had an accomplice. Mrs. Fraume, I—”

“It’s Ms. now since my divorce and I don’t have any accomplice.”

“Ms. Fraume, while your version of what transpired here may well be plausible, there are circumstantial facts sufficient to cast doubt on your explanation. Enough for you to remain in custody, at least for the time being. The question of your guilt or innocence may well rest with the courts. You may be able to get bail fixed at your arraignment.”

In the front room, Officer O’Mera shifted from foot to foot. He was alone and had nothing to do. He’d worked with Detective Shap before, arrogant SOB, and right now O’Mera’s stomach grumbled, reminding him that he hadn’t eaten anything since two doughnuts on his morning coffee break. He lifted the lid of the yellow crock, plus a corner of the Saran wrap, and sniffed. Mmm! Smells good and it’s still warm. It’ll go to waste if it just sits there. Besides, it can’t be evidence. Who’s gonna miss a coupla mouthfuls anyway? He took another sniff and checked to be sure nobody could see him. Using three fingers, he scooped up a small bundle of tuna and noodles covered with cream of mushroom soup, and popped it into his wide-open mouth. Delicious. He faced the door so no one would see him chew and swallow. With nobody watching, he repeated the procedure until only a quarter of the casserole remained.

Just as Peggy and the two detectives emerged from the workroom, the crime scene investigators arrived in a long white van. At the door, gloves and cloth footies were distributed to the team. Soon both rooms were taped off, leaving only a narrow passage from the entrance to the workroom. They even covered that with heavy brown paper. A crime-scene announcement prohibiting entry to unauthorized persons was posted on the window next to the shop’s front door.

No one noticed Shap lifting the cover off the yellow crock. He peeked under the Saran wrap, smiled, and nodded. Just as I thought. “Let’s get out of their way so they can dig up some more juicy evidence,” he said to Sullivan. His sidekick shrugged. Blue-eyed, with a crew cut, he tended to be an obliging sort.

“What about my purse?” Peggy blurted out as Shap guided her toward the black unmarked cruiser.

“Your purse is now inventoried evidence. It will be returned to you as soon as the lab people have cleared it.”

“But it’s my whole identity,” she protested.

“Sorry, miss,” replied Shap, his voice hard and not at all sorry. He pushed down on her head as she reluctantly entered the rear seat of the unmarked police car.


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Chapter reveal: The Moreva of Astoreth, by Roxanne Bland


In the world-building tradition of Andre Norton, Anne McCaffrey and Ursula K. LeGuin, The Moreva of Astoreth is a blend of science fiction, romance, and adventure in a unique, richly imagined imperialistic society in which gods and science are indelibly intertwined. It is the story of the priestess, scientist, and healer Moreva Tehi, the spoiled, headstrong granddaughter of a powerful deity who is banished for a year to a volatile far corner of the planet for neglecting to perform her sacred duty, only to venture into dangerous realms of banned experimentation, spiritual rebirth, and fervent, forbidden love.


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Chapter One

“I could have you executed for this, Moreva Tehi,” Astoreth said. My Devi grandmother, the Goddess of Love, scowled at me from Her golden throne in the massive Great Hall of Her equally massive Temple.

Sitting on my heels, I bowed my head and stared at the black and gold polished floor, trying to ignore the trickle of sweat snaking its way down my spine. “Yes, Most Holy One.”

“You blaspheme by not celebrating Ohra, My holiest of rites. And this one was important—the worthiest of the hakoi, handpicked by Me, celebrated with us. ”

“I can only offer my most abject apologies, Most Holy One.”

“Your apologies are not accepted.”

“Yes, Most Holy One.”

“Where were you?”

“I was in the laboratory, working on a cure for red fever. Many hakoi died last winter—”

“I know that,” my grandmother snapped. “But why did you miss Ohra? Did you not hear the bells?”

“Yes, Most Holy One. I heard them. I was about to lay aside my work when I noticed an anomaly in one of my pareon solutions. It was odd, so I decided to investigate. What I found…I just lost track of time.”

“You lost track of time?” Astoreth repeated, sounding incredulous. “Do you expect Me to believe that?”

“Yes, Most Holy One. It is the truth.”

A moment later, my head and hearts started to throb. I knew why. My grandmother was probing me for signs I had lied. But She wouldn’t find any. There was no point in lying to Astoreth, and it was dangerous, too. Swaying under the onslaught from Her power, I endured the pain without making a sound. After what seemed like forever the throbbing subsided, leaving me feeling sick and dizzy.

“Very well,” She said. “I accept what you say is true, but I still do not accept your apology.”

“Yes, Most Holy One.” I tried not to pant.

A minute passed in uncomfortable silence. Uncomfortable for me, anyway. Another minute passed. And another. Just when I thought maybe She was finished with me, Astoreth spoke. “What do you have against the hakoi, Moreva?”

The change of subject confused me. “What do you mean, Most Holy One?”

“I’ve watched you, Moreva. You give them no respect. You heal them because you must, but you treat them little better than animals. Why is that?”

The trickle of sweat reached the small of my back and pooled there. “But my work—”

“Your work is a game between you and the red fever. It has nothing to do with My hakoi.”

I didn’t answer right away. In truth, I despised Her hakoi. They were docile enough—the Devi’s breeding program saw to that—but most were slow-witted, not unlike the pirsu the Temple raised for meat and hide. They stank of makira, the pungent cabbage that was their dietary staple. From what I’d seen traveling through Kherah to Astoreth’s and other Gods’ Temples, all the hakoi were stupid and smelly, and I wanted nothing to do with them.

I did not want my grandmother to know what was in my hearts, so I chose my words carefully. “Most Holy One, I treat Your hakoi the way I do because it is the hierarchy of life as the Devi created it. You taught us the Great Pantheon of twelve Devi is Supreme. The lesser Devi are beneath You, the morevs are beneath the lesser gods, and Your hakoi are beneath the morevs. Beneath the hakoi are the plants and animals of Peris. But sometimes Your hakoi forget their place and must be reminded.” I held my breath, praying she wouldn’t probe me again.

Astoreth didn’t answer at first. “A pretty explanation, Moreva. But My hakoi know their place. It is you who do not know yours. You may be more Devi than morev but you are still morev, born of hakoi blood. You are not too good to minister to the hakoi’s needs, and you are certainly not too good to celebrate Ohra with them.”

I swallowed. “Yes, Most Holy One.”

“Look at me, Moreva.”

I raised my head. My grandmother’s expression was fierce.

“And that is why you let the time get away from you, as you say. You, Moreva Tehi, an acolyte of Love, are a bigot. That is why you did not want to share your body with My hakoi.” She leaned forward. “I have overlooked many of your transgressions while in My service, but I cannot overlook your bigotry or your missing Ohra. I will not execute you because you are too dear to My heart. The stewardship for Astoreth-

69 in the Syren Perritory ends this marun on eighth day. You will take the next rotation.”

My hearts froze. This was my punishment? Getting exiled to Syren? From what I’d heard from morevs serving in Astoreth’s other Temples, the Syren Perritory in Peris’s far northern hemisphere was the worst place in the world to steward a landing beacon. Cold and dark, with dense woods full of wild animals, the Syren was no place for me. My place was Kherah, a sunny desert south of the planet’s equator, where the fauna were kept in special habitats for learning and entertainment. As for the Syrenese, they were the product of one of the Devi’s earliest and failed experimental breeding programs, and were as untamed as the perritory in which they lived.

But I knew better than to protest. Astoreth’s word was law, and it had just come down on my head. “Yes, Most Holy One,” I said, my voice meek.

“Mehmed will come to your rooms after lunch tomorrow so you can be fitted for your uniform.”

“My uniform, Most Holy One? I will not be taking my clothes?”

“No. As overseer of the landing beacon, you are the liaison between the Mjor village as well as the commander of the garrison. Your subordinate, Kepten Yose, will report to you once a marun, and you are to relay the garrison’s needs to Laerd Teger, the Mjoran village chief.”

“Yes, Most Holy One.”

“I will make allowance for your healer’s kit and a portable laboratory, but you are not to take your work on red fever. I am sure you have other projects you can work on while you are there.”


“No, Moreva. It is too dangerous.”

“I can take precautions—”

“No. That is My final word.” Astoreth leaned back in Her chair. Her eyes narrowed. “One more thing. You will be the only morev in Mjor, but that will not prevent you from observing Ohra. And you will do so with the garrison stationed there. Go now.”

I stood on shaky legs, bowed, and backed out of the Great Hall. Once in the corridor, I turned and fled to my quarters. I threw myself on the bed and sobbed. It was bad enough to be exiled to the Syren Perritory, but Ohra with the garrison? Only the hakoi served in Astoreth’s military. I felt dirty already. And not allowing me to work on my red fever project was punishment in itself.

A few minutes later I felt a hand on my shoulder. “Tehi, what’s wrong?” a worried voice said. It was Moreva Jaleta, one of my friendlier morev sisters.

“I-I’m being sent to the Syren Perritory to steward Astoreth-69,” I wailed.

Jaleta sat on the bed. “But why?”

I sat up. “I missed the last Ohra and n-now Astoreth is punishing me.”

Jaleta gave me an unsympathetic look. “You’re lucky she didn’t have your head. Be thankful you’re Her favorite.”

I sniffed but said nothing.

Jaleta patted me on the shoulder. “It won’t be so bad, Tehi. The year will be over before you know it. Come on, it’s time to eat.”

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Excerpt Reveal: THE STRANGER, by Anna del Mar

the2bstranger2bfinal2bcoverTitle: The Stranger

Genre: Romantic suspense

Author: Anna del Mar


Publisher: Carina Press

Purchase on Amazon

When her sister runs away with a guy she met on the internet, a warmth-loving Miami architect chases her reckless sibling to Alaska and finds her life in danger from more than the elements. Only a stranger, a wounded warrior who is also Alaskan tycoon with a quarreling family as complicated as her own and no time for a lady in distress—let alone one who has a secret bound to get her into big trouble—can save her from disaster. Together, two strangers from different worlds and opposite spectrums of the thermometer must unravel the intrigues that threaten their lives to chase after a new dream, in majestic Alaska.

Amazon    Carina Press    BN    Kobo     Google Play

Short Excerpt/First Kiss:

“I think we’d be better off accepting what’s happening here.”

“And that is…?”

“That I want to kiss you.” I hit the point of no return. “And that you want me to kiss you.”

Her voice was a hoarse whisper. “It’s not true.”

“It’s true and you know it.” I ran my thumb over the soft expanse of her cheek. “So I propose that I kiss you now and get it out of the way. One kiss. Then we go to sleep and I mean just that, sleep, together, on my bed.” I held my breath. “What do you think? Is it too much to ask?”

She opened her mouth and closed it. A storm brewed in her eyes. She wasn’t sure. I knew it was a long shot, but I wasn’t one to hold back for fear of failure. Her nostrils widened, taking in my scent as if sniffing for danger. The seconds ticked by, minutes, hours, centuries. And then…surprise. She nodded ever so slightly.

I didn’t wait for her to change her mind. I kissed her, a connection that my body celebrated with fireworks. I put my arms around her waist and tasted her lips, her tongue, her breath. Glory. My body resonated with the memories of our night together.

I kissed her, as I’d wanted to do for two days, and the kiss confirmed that the connection that tugged on my senses was real. I held her face between my hands and kissed her some more until we were both out of breath and I hovered at the edge of no return. I made a huge effort to climb out of a very steep drop before I screwed everything up.

“Christ,” I rasped when I finally managed to tear my lips from hers.

Her breath came in short gasps, her eyes sparkled and her face flushed as if she had overexerted herself.

“Hell, I could kiss you all night.” I tucked a strand of hair behind her ear before letting go. “But this little taste of you is going to last me ’til morning.” Body screaming in protest, I took a step back. “Now go in there, get in bed, and don’t be scared. Okay? I’ll be along shortly.”

Her lips wavered, then a new smile birthed in her eyes and spread to her face, a mischievous grin that turned those luscious lips up at the corners and warned of all kinds of trouble.

She leaned into my space and, approaching me slowly, delivered her own kiss to my lips. The kiss was like an arctic wallop, but scalding; like a blow to the senses, but soft. Her tongue swiped a little taste of me. I gasped when she cut me off without warning, leaving me reeling, rock hard and without a trace of oxygen flowing to my lungs.

“Erickson?” she said before she sauntered off. “I don’t think you understand.”

“Understand what?”

She halted at the threshold and looked over her shoulder. “I’m not scared of you anymore,” she said. “I’m scared of me when I’m with you.”


Long Excerpt: Complete Chapter One


Trouble welcomed me to Alaska. It ambushed me in the guise of an invisible patch of black ice that launched my car spinning into a triple Lutz. I pumped my brakes. Nothing. My rental careened over the ditch and bounced down the steep ravine. The rocks pummeling the undercarriage rattled my brain. I was distantly aware that the shriek piercing my eardrums came from my throat. My headlights illuminated the spruce that materialized before me, down to the huge, corrugated trunk that collided with the hood, bringing my involuntary detour to a jarring stop.

Silence. Only the sound of my ragged breath and my pulse, pounding in my temples, interrupted the atmospheric quiet. I pried my fingers from the wheel and stared at my shaking hands. They flickered in and out of focus until I managed to even out my breaths.

The good news? I was alive and, although the wreck had probably relocated some of my internal organs, nothing seemed broken. The bad news? The air bag hadn’t gone off and pain throbbed in my thigh and somewhere behind my ear. Crap. I’d come to Alaska to find my wayward sister, but my search had hit a major snag. Time to figure out how bad of a snag it was.

My hand was still quaking as I reached into my purse and found my cell. Zero bars. I groaned. What was the point of technology if it never worked when you needed it most? I snatched my purse and pulled on the door handle. The door refused to open. I scooted across to the other seat and opened the passenger side door, grateful to crawl out in one piece.

The cold hit me like a slap to the face. My nostrils flared and my lungs ached with the arctic wallop. To a tropical gal like me, the air smelled as though someone had stuffed a live Christmas tree in the freezer. Delicate snowflakes floated in the air like tiny speckles of silver. This was the first time I’d seen snow in real life. It was pretty, kind of magical really, but the cold crawled under my skin, stiffened my muscles and clung to my bones. I pulled my hood over my head. Had it been this cold when my plane landed in Anchorage?

My wrecked rental was wedged between the slope and the spruce like a deflated accordion. I had no prayer of backing it up the hill. I tackled the ravine, scrambling on all fours, and followed the wheel ruts up the slippery incline. It wasn’t easy. I wore a narrow pencil skirt under my Burberry trench coat, and a pair of four-inch heels I now wished I’d never bought.

It served me right for allowing my stepmother to choose my outfit for the Darius project presentation. Louise was a sucker for shoes—the taller, the better. Note to self: never again relinquish your feet to someone else’s sense of fashion when it’s you—and you alone—who has to suffer the resulting torture.

I’m not sure how long it took me to climb back to the road, but by the time I reached the top, my toes had gone numb, my hands ached and my fingertips had turned white. The road I’d been driving on looked totally benign, not like the camouflaged skating rink that had hurled my vehicle into the ravine.

I clapped my hands together to warm them up. The sound echoed for miles around me. Stuck in the Alaskan wilderness. Unreal. It was an unlikely predicament for a gal who’d much rather be at the beach. Shark attack? Sure, it wouldn’t surprise me if that ended up being part of my obituary. But frozen alive? Only if it involved a freak accident in Publix’s frozen food section.

“Summer Silva, get your act together,” I said out loud to break the eerie silence. My father hadn’t clung to a capsized raft for three days in the Florida Straits in order for me to die on my first day in Alaska.

I straightened my coat, shoved my hands into my pockets, and began to walk. A layer of slush-covered ice crackled beneath my heels. Crap. My feet slid every which way and my legs wobbled. Steady, Silva. I could handle the unwieldy shoes…on firm, unfrozen ground. The only ice I’d ever dealt with came out in little cubes from the automated dispenser in the freezer door.

Five minutes later, the cold skewered me and not a single car had made an appearance. I leaned into the bitter wind. I wasn’t made of sugar and spice. I was tough, and I meant to get out of this one, but I was majorly pissed. I was so going to give Tammy a piece of my mind when I found her.

I envisioned my sister lying on a white pelt in front of a roaring fireplace. I mouthed off into the deepening darkness. I was the levelheaded one. I was the one who always followed the rules, cleaned up the messes, did the responsible thing. And yet, right now, I was the one freezing my ass off on a desolate Alaskan road.

The headlights caught me by surprise. They sprang out from behind the curve and pierced the dusk. I waved my hands to flag down the speeding vehicle. As it got closer, I made out a Ford F-450 Super Duty, black as night, the type that would’ve made my truck-obsessed sister drool with envy. The truck drove right by me before the taillights lit up and it skidded to a stop, then accelerated in reverse.

The window whirred down to reveal the warmth and comfort of the softly illuminated cab. The leather-scented, heated air wafted from the window and teased my frozen senses. A man sat at the wheel, enveloped in a black thermal jacket that I would’ve gladly traded a thousand bucks for, on the spot. His face might have been handsome, if it hadn’t been distorted by the scowl that wilted my poor attempt at a smile.

He more or less growled. “Who the hell put you up to this?”

“Excuse me?” I clutched my hood against a sudden burst of wind.

“You better come clean right now,” he bit out in a tone that matched the frosty temperature. “A name. I want to know who the hell hired you and what you were expected to do.”

“Hired me?”

“Don’t play dumb with me.” He eyed me like a wolf eyed a meal. “Who was it? Was it someone related to me? I swear, if you don’t tell me this goddamn minute, you’re going to be sorry.”

I stared at the man in the cab, unable to comprehend his rage. What on earth was he talking about? The fury blazing in his striking amber eyes frightened me. As it was, I was so cold I couldn’t think, let alone make sense of what he was saying. I rubbed the sore spot behind my ear. Maybe I’d hit my head harder than I thought. Maybe this was a dream or a nightmare. Oh, God. My stomach clenched. I really hoped I was awake. I shoved my hand up my sleeve and pinched my arm. It hurt. In fact, a lot of me was either throbbing or aching. A good sign, yes?

“Well?” he said. “Are you going to speak up or are you dumb, deaf, and mute?”

“Um, no.” I rubbed my arms. “I usually have a lot to say. It’s just that…well…I’m cold and you—I’m really sorry to have to tell you—but you sound like a crazy person.”

He launched another blistering glower in my direction. “For the last time,” he said, his tone intractable, “who the hell put you up to this?”

“Nobody,” I said. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. My car skidded off the road and I’ve got no cell reception.”

“Your car?” He looked up and down the road. “I don’t see a car. Where is it?”

“Back there somewhere.” I’m not sure whether my treacherous heels slid on the ice or if fatigue did me in, but my feet went out from under me and, though I clung to the window, I landed on my knees. “Ow,” I might have said aloud.

“What the hell?”

I let go of the window and my dignity at the same time. I surrendered to the elements and settled precariously on the frosty ground. The cold iced my shins, traveled up to my core, and chilled my spine. I was about to pass out from exhaustion. I’d been up for over seventy-two hours. On top of that, I was suffering from a bad case of jet lag. If all of that wasn’t enough, the wreck had jarred my senses. I wasn’t in good shape and I knew it.

But I couldn’t allow myself to go unconscious. No, sir, no way in hell. I knew the risks of passing out in front of a stranger too well. I just needed a moment to gather my strength, defrost myself and get my act together. I leaned my forehead on the door and, basking in the warmth radiating from the undercarriage, forced myself to stay alert. Surely, I could get some help, the crazy man would go on his merry way, and I could move on to finish what I’d come to do.

The engine quit. The truck quaked with the slam of a door. Angry steps crunched on the road. A pair of hiking boots parked by my side. I looked up and cringed. The man’s scowl pummeled me. From my perspective on the ground, he soared above me, tall and imposing, a giant really. His knees cracked when he crouched next to me.

“Did Alex hire you?” he said. “Alex Erickson?”


“Are you telling me you don’t know who Alex Erickson is?”

“I don’t.”

His breath came out in angry puffs that condensed in the air. “Do you know who I am?”

“No clue,” I said. “Am I supposed to know?”

“You tell me.” He looked like he was about to spit fire. “If no one put you up to this, then what the hell are you doing out here in the middle of nowhere?”

“Not taking a walk in the park, that’s for sure.”

My throat made this weird noise, a cross between a sob and a giggle, a sound that combined confusion with hilarity, fear with absurdity. But I wasn’t going to cry. No freaking way. I wasn’t going to panic either. The part of me that felt utterly ridiculous kneeling on the frozen pavement in the middle of nowhere won out. I pressed my hand over my mouth, but the quiet giggles leaked out anyway.

The man rubbed the back of his neck and frowned, a dip of full eyebrows that screamed vexation. “Do you think this is funny?”

“Funny?” I couldn’t stop giggling. “No, not funny, more like hilarious.”

“Jesus Christ.” He raked his fingers through his longish hair, leaving a bunch of straight, flaxen strands in disarray. He didn’t know what to make of me, but he sure knew how to scowl.

The shivering, combined with his radioactive glower, stifled my giggle attack. I forced myself to pay attention. Determination whetted the man’s features and set the line of his jaw into a straight angle. A shade of stubble covered the lower half of his face, imbuing him with a golden glow that echoed the gleam in his eye, but there was nothing soft in his stare, not a hint of humor or friendliness.

At least he looked clean and groomed, unlike the rugged, hygiene-challenged bunch I’d met in the back-to-back episodes of Alaska’s Bush Men I’d binge-watched on the plane. Alaska had never been on my long list of places I wanted to visit, and after watching the show, I’d questioned my sister’s sanity along with that of people who lived away from even the most basic human comforts. Now I wondered about this surly stranger too, the first off-the-grid Alaskan I’d met.

“Is your cell working?” I said. “Could you please call the police?”

“There’s no reception on this stretch of road.” The copper-hued eyes probed my face. “If you really need help, I’m all you’ve got.”

Great. Just great. The world whirled around me. I steadied myself against the truck. Three days ago, I’d been in the middle of the most important presentation of my professional life when Louise had called to tell me about my stepsister, Tammy. I’d already been short of sleep and high on stress, but since then, I’d been on the go, trying to get to Alaska.

The earth beneath my knees shifted again. I tightened my grip on the truck and took a deep breath. I wasn’t one to fall apart so easily. To bad weather , a brave face , my father used to say, quoting an old Spanish proverb. I might be out of my comfort zone, but I hadn’t given up on my pride just yet. I straightened my coat and, balancing carefully on one knee, planted one foot first, then the other. I rose slowly from the iffy crouch.

“Oops!” My heels skidded in opposite directions. I fell, bounced on my butt, and ended up sprawled on the ground all over again, rear smarting from the impact. I cursed under my breath.

“Dammit.” The man hooked his hands under my arms, lifted me up, and set me upright. “There. Do you think you can stand on your own?”

“Maybe,” I mumbled, rubbing my ass. My legs buckled, but I steadied myself on the truck and willed my feet to stick to the ground.

“You’re shivering.” He opened the car door. “Get in.”

“No, thank you.” Even if I was freezing, there were rules about cars and strangers. “Can you please call for Roadside Assistance?”

The man actually scoffed. “No reception, remember?” He eyed me impatiently. “Lady, you do know that there’s a storm barreling down on south central Alaska, right?”

“The clerk at the airport did mention that.”

“But did he mention that anytime now, a Bering Sea superstorm is expected to bring blizzard conditions with winds in excess of sixty miles an hour?”

“Yeah, no.” I swallowed a dry gulp. “He didn’t put it quite as bad as that.”

“It’s going to get a hell of a lot colder,” the man said. “Emergency services went on lockdown about fifteen minutes ago.”

Fabulous, just fabulous.

“What I’m trying to tell you,” he explained in a strained tone obviously intended for the dimwits among us, “is that—assuming you’re not a trap—I’m your only option at the moment. So get in the damn truck, before you freeze your ass off.”

Dressed in his black jacket and blue jeans, glinting with all that gold in his eyes and hair, he looked perfectly normal. Minus the scowl, he might have even been good looking. But his bad temper and my flash-frozen brain made for a bad combination. Plus, there was a good chance he was more than paranoid and grouchy. Maybe he was off the grid in more ways than one.

“Look,” he said. “I’ve had a long day and I’m in a shitty mood.”

I rolled my eyes. “No kidding.”

“I wasn’t expecting this. You. Whatever.”

I perched my fist on my hip. “Do you think I was expecting you?”

“Just get in, okay?” He gestured to the cab. “I want to get indoors before the storm hits.”

“Oh, I don’t know.” I considered both, the brawny guy and his burly truck. “Where I come from, hitchhiking is dangerous.”

“Too bad,” he said. “In Alaska hitchhiking is a common form of transportation.”

“As far as I know, you could be a serial killer.”

“So could you.” He held the door open for me. “And my risk is higher than yours since, according to the Discovery Channel, female serial killers have been proven to be more dangerous than male serial killers.”

I’d either met my match or found the only other person in the world who watched as much Discovery Channel as I did.

“Get the hell in,” he said impatiently. “We’re running out of time.”

The weather was getting colder. The wind had picked up and the snow fell in bigger, wetter chunks. I was shivering violently, but still, I hesitated.

“Can you please take me to the nearest gas station or hotel?” I said, trying to keep my voice from quavering.

“The nearest gas station is sixty-five miles that way.” He stuck out his thumb and pointed behind him. “The nearest motel is seventy-eight miles in the opposite direction. There’s no time to get there. My cabin is close by and I have the full intention of being there by the time the storm hits in…” he paused to look at his watch, “…anytime now.”

The mention of the word “cabin” did nothing to appease my fears. I’d seen plenty of “cabins” in my reality show marathon. I didn’t want to spend a moment—let alone hours—chewing on squirrel parts in a rustic shelter without heat, electricity, or plumbing, especially in the company of a pissed-off guy whose actions so far put the strange in stranger.

“What is it going to be?” he said. “I’m willing to play the female killer odds if you decide you don’t want to turn into an icicle. It’s your choice, but I’m hauling ass right now.”

What’s the use of choices when one has none?

I said a little prayer, shuffled on the ice and, balancing carefully on my unwieldy heels, climbed into the front seat. He helped me up, shut the door, and walked around the truck. My head began to hurt, pangs of pain stabbing behind my eyes. Not good.

The man climbed in next to me in the cab. “Strap in.”

He switched on the ignition, pressed on the pedal and accelerated down the icy track as if truck skating was an X Games signature event and he was going for the gold. My knuckles tightened around the door handle. I bit down on my lips, but the backseat driver in me was out of control. Whether he was a serial killer or not was irrelevant. We were both going to die today.

He glanced in my direction. “You got a name?”

“Yes.” I pressed my frozen fingertips against the heating vent, reveling in the blessed heat.

“Well?” he said in that demanding tone of his.

I stared at him, mystified by his persistent state of grouchiness. “Well what?”

“Are you going to tell me what your name is or what?”

“Oh.” I was close to frozen stupid. “My name is Summer, Summer Silva.”

“Summer in Alaska?” He stared at me for an instant, then burst out into quiet laughter. “You’re a little late. Summer arrived in Alaska just in time to meet winter.”

Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I hadn’t slept in a while, but yeah, no. He wasn’t going to laugh at my expense. I narrowed my eyes on him.

“That’s quite the glare.” He suppressed another round of laughter. “I didn’t mean to be rude.”

“Well, you are rude, a lot rude in fact, accusing me of God knows what and acting like a total jerk.”

“Sorry,” he said. “It’s just that… Summer in Alaska.” His lips twitched. “You’ve got to admit. It’s pretty damn good.”

“Are you drunk?” I said. “Because if you are, maybe I should be doing the driving. I imagine they’ve got laws in Alaska, including some about drinking and driving?”

“You’re turning out to be a piece of work,” he said, smirking. “Bossy too, for someone riding in my goddamn truck. Here I am, doing you a favor, not letting you freeze off your pretty little stuck-up ass and yet you’re being a smartass and giving me attitude.”

“Are you for real?” He had a lot of nerve calling me a smartass. “You’re not exactly attitude free yourself.”

“And yes,” he added, ignoring my comment, “we do have some laws here in Alaska, although not nearly as many as they’ve got in the lower forty-eight. As to your question, nope, I’m not drunk, haven’t had a drop all day. Should’ve, but didn’t.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I mean that if there was ever a good day for drinking, today was it.” He stomped on the clutch and shifted gears. “But no, unfortunately, I’m not drunk. That and the shitty day probably explain why you’re getting a double dose of sarcasm.”

“Sorry about your shitty day,” I said. “But you need to mellow out. Do you always go around trying to bully people into doing whatever you want?”

“Pretty much.” He flashed what could’ve been a semi-contrite glance in my direction. “Look, I apologize for my lack of manners.” He offered his hand. “My name is Seth, Seth Erickson.”

I shook his hand, mostly because, sarcasm aside, he was making an effort to be civil. Plus, he was a fellow Discovery Channel watcher. His hold was firm, hot, and supremely comforting to my fingers. My entire body wanted to shrink into his grip if only to bask in his radiant heat. My fingertips tripped against the unusual texture at the bottom of his hand. I spotted a patch of mangled skin scarring his palm, crawling up his wrist and disappearing into his sleeve. He caught me looking and covered most of the scar with a self-conscious tug of his sleeve.

“You’ve got some icy fingers there.” He tapped on the console’s screen and punched up the temperature of my heated seat. “Tuck them under your thigh. Trust me. It’s the quickest way to warm up those puppies.”

He was right. Trapped between the heat of my body and the seat, my fingers began to thaw.

“Where the hell are you from?” he asked. “Miami.”

“Ah.” He smirked. “That explains it.”

“Explains what?”

“Your inability to cope with ice. And the outfit.”

I looked down at myself. “What’s wrong with my outfit?”

“No gloves, hat, boots, or a proper coat,” he said. “When I first saw you I thought you were either crazy or—well—you know.”

“No, I don’t know.”

“I thought maybe you were a plant, someone looking for attention, or more specifically, my attention.”

I stared at him for a full thirty seconds, unable to figure out what he meant. “What are you talking about?”

“Nobody in their right mind out here wears skirts and high heels on the roads, except the occasional call girl, playing a pre-ordered role or meeting a very specific customer…”

“Oh no you didn’t.” What was wrong with this man? “You thought I was a whore?”

“I couldn’t see beneath the coat…”

“Are you like…freaking insane?”

He cleared his throat. “It was probably the heels that gave me the wrong impression…”

“You’re out of your mind, you know that?” I snapped. “First you think your family is out to get you. Then you think I’m…what? A prostitute? Which implies that you think someone in your family was going to set you up with a…Jesus!” I rubbed my temples, wishing that I’d never come to Alaska and also that I’d ditched those damn shoes. “I really want to go home.”

“Don’t get upset.” His eyes betrayed a hint of concern. “I would’ve bought the look if I’d seen you down in, say, Ketchikan getting down from one of them fancy cruises. For future reference, Alaska 101: dress warm, keep dry, stay warm. That coat might look fine for a fall afternoon on Fifth Avenue, but in Alaska? It’ll kill you faster than a dip in the Bering Sea.”

Great. Advice from Mr. Sunshine himself. His condescending tone annoyed the hell out of me. “Okay, fine, maybe I’m not properly dressed for the weather, but that’s only because I had no time to plan for this trip. I’m not as stupid as you’re making me out to be.”

“No offense,” he said, “but all the tourists are gone. What the hell is someone like you doing all the way out here at the end of September?”

“It’s kind of a long story.”

“I don’t know why,” he muttered, “but I’m itching to hear it.”

“If you must know,” I said, “my sister ran away with a guy she met on the internet. He’s from Alaska and I came to find her.”

He flashed me a skeptical look. “Is your sister stupid?”

“No,” I said, but at times like these, I wondered. “Tammy is just…impulsive.”

“Has she done stuff like this before?”

“Well, yeah, but it’s not really her fault.”

“What do you mean it’s not her fault?”

“She struggles with bipolar disorder.”

“Hey, lady, Summer—right?” he said. “There’s no excuse for stupidity. I’ve met people with all kinds of injuries and disorders who know better than to run away with a stranger they met on the internet.”

“I know, but Tammy is…”

My cell rang to the tune of chirping birds. Reception. I had reception! I groped through my purse until I found the phone.

“You might get a minute or two if you’re lucky,” Seth cautioned. “After that, nothing for a while.”

My tepid fingers fumbled over the keypad, accidentally hitting the speaker in the process. “Hello?”

“Did you find Tammy?” Louise’s voice blared in her best Brooklyn accent, shrill, loud, and capable of busting an eardrum or two. “Where is she? Is she okay?”

“Calm down.” I tried to turn off the speaker but my stiff fingers succeeded only at increasing the volume. “I’m on my way to find her now. There might be an itsy-bitsy delay. The weather is not cooperating, but don’t worry, I’ll find her.”

“Are you locked in a fancy hotel room?” Louise demanded. “You won’t find Tammy from behind a bolted door.”

“Of course not.” Louise could be such a witch when she was anxious. “I promised you I’d find Tammy and I will.”

“I sure hope you’re not enjoying room service while your sister is gone and I’m here, suffering, imagining all the terrible things she could be going through…”

“Please, don’t be a drama queen,” I said. “We don’t have any evidence to suggest that Tammy is in immediate danger.”

“Find your sister!” Louise’s voice flickered in and out of range. “Find her! I don’t care what you have to do, just do it…”

The phone lost all its bars again and the call dropped. The narrow reception zone had ended. Part of me was grateful for the reprieve. The other part knew I was cut off again. The headache throbbing behind my eye intensified. The sights blurred before me.

“Hey,” Seth said. “You okay?”

“Fine.” I dropped my cell in my purse and straightened my back, fighting the exhaustion.

“Who was that very loud woman?”

“My stepmother.”

“Is she right in the head?”

“She’s just worried about Tammy.”

“Something’s not adding up here.” He rubbed his wide back against the seat like a great big bison scratching against a tree. “Your sister’s an idiot. Your stepmother demands that you drop everything and go chase her. Your family? Sounds like a major clusterfuck.”

“Look who’s talking.” I sniffed. “My family may be a little different, but we love each other. We don’t hire people to try to set each other up. Sure, we can be loud and a tad dramatic on occasion, but honestly? Your family sounds a million times more screwed up than mine.”

His mouth twisted into the sarcastic smirk he favored. “You might have a point there.”

“Yeah, you bet I do.” I leaned back on the headrest. After a two-day journey, a three-hour drive, and a car wreck, I felt as if someone had taken a bat to me.

“You’re looking very sleepy there,” he said. “Talk to me. Are you all right?”

“I’ll live,” I mumbled, rubbing the knot behind my ear.

“Are you hurt?” He turned on the cabin lights and leaned over to inspect my head as he continued to drive. “Is that a bruise behind your ear? Hell, I didn’t notice before.” The truck swerved in the road. “Did you hit your head when your car went off the road? Are you sure you’re all right?”

“Just concentrate on driving straight, please.” I inched away from his touch and switched the cabin lights off. “I’m a little tired, that’s all. I haven’t slept for a few days.”

“A few days? That’s not good.” He groped behind the seat, opened the top of a small cooler and, after grabbing a bottle, handed it over to me. “Here you go.”

“No, thanks.” I wasn’t about add alcohol to my troubles.

“It’s not for drinking.” He pressed the cold bottle to the side of my head. “It’s to keep the swelling down.”

“Oh.” I took the bottle from him and held it against the lump.

“Hang on tight,” he said. “That’s a real nice handcrafted lager. I wouldn’t want it to go to waste.”

“Got it,” I said. “Hanging on to the brew over here.”

He smiled, a genuine, eye-lightening grin that eased the angles on his face and radiated charm and warmth. Could a guy who smiled like that really be a jerk or a serial killer?

The world around us turned into a white maelstrom. The wind wrestled with the truck. The road became invisible under a new layer of snow. Seth geared down and kept his eyes on the road as we negotiated some hairy turns and the road’s deteriorating conditions. In all my twenty-nine years of life, I’d never seen weather like this.

“We’re not beating the storm, are we?”

“This is just the beginning.” He tilted his head and surveyed the sky. “It’s going to get bad soon, thirteen hours of very nasty wind, snow, and ice.”

My timing sucked. “And I thought this was bad.”

“This is nothing.” He slowed down to maneuver over a bridge. “I don’t suppose you get blizzards in Miami. But don’t worry, we’re almost there.”

“Goody,” I mumbled.

I knew my chances of getting to a hotel tonight were nil, but I needed to keep it together, at least until we got to the cabin. With a little luck, it might be a two-room cabin, with a door and a lock between me and the rest of the place. A door chain would be nice, but I could always improvise.

I eyed the man riding next to me. Maybe under all that hubris, he’d turn out to be a decent human being. After all, he had stopped to help me. I toyed with the idea of giving him a quick rundown of my condition, but my hackles went up. No way. He was a stranger and a guy and maybe even a little off, with all that paranoia. I knew from experience what would happen if I warned him. No need to add premeditation to humiliation.

All of a sudden, my vision narrowed. My thoughts slowed down to a crawl. My body slacked and my eyelids slammed over my eyes like hurricane shutters. I ran out of time and energy at the same moment. Oh, crap. I knew exactly what was happening to me.

“Hey, Summer.” Seth’s voice came from far away. “We’re almost there.” He shook me softly. “Wake up. Stick with me, girl.”

I had no time to explain. “Make sure you lock the door,” I mumbled, before I conked out.





Categories: Romantic Suspense, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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