#BookReview “Derailed” by Mary Keliikoa

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on Tour September 1-30, 2020

4/5 Stars

After losing her mother at a young age, only child, Kelly Pruett, grew up with her father, Roger, and his private investigation agency. Though he always promised to train her, Kelly did little more than run the office and serve subpoenas. Years later, still working with her father and devastated by her husband’s affair, a newly divorced Kelly returns to her childhood home. Her dreams of training with her dad are dashed when he dies suddenly. Kelly struggles to take care of her home and the eight-year-old deaf daughter she has partial custody of.

Kelly gets her first real investigating job when Georgette Hanson shows up at her office. Unsatisfied with the police findings of accidental death, Georgette is convinced her daughter, Brooke, did not stumble onto train tracks while drunk and get hit by a commuter train. She knows Brooke was murdered and believes the one lone witness was involved.

Hesitant to take a case already closed by police, Kelly does because in the letter her father left her, he asked if “Georgette Hanson” were to ever come to Kelly for help, she would do so without question.

Channeling the father she adored, Kelly moves through the investigation that could borrow its name from the old Franken book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. No one is upfront and honest with her. Even the most sincere hold back and/or distort the truth. Kelly believes Brooke was murdered and she knows who did it, but new folks with motives keep popping up.

It doesn’t help that she gets distracted by Jeff, the overprotective ex who wants to reconcile, his mother, Arlene, who thinks Kelly’s work is too dangerous, and Kyle, her contact in the police department, a sexy young cop she’s daydreaming about more and more. The attempts on her life also don’t make her job easier… and they don’t stop her.

Kelly Pruett is a good character, determined to live life on her own terms. While I respected her, I didn’t care for her much in the beginning because I wasn’t convinced she knew what her terms were. The only genuine feeling I got from her was her devotion to her daughter. Everything else felt forced, especially her intention to keep the investigation agency going. She idolized Roger Pruett and seemed to want to keep the business going as a tribute to him rather than a profession she wanted. The Brooke Hanson case will help her find her way, as well as bring revelations about her father that dim the glowing image she’s held of him.

Derailed is a well-written mystery with sleight-of-hand plot twists that lead to a killer who committed the perfect crime(s)… until Kelly Pruett got involved.

Enjoy!


Synopsis:

Derailed by Mary Keliikoa

When a single mom of a deaf daughter inherits her father’s PI business and aims to prove that a young woman’s death by train wasn’t an accident, she finds herself on a crash course with her complicated family and a killer determined to keep the truth hidden.


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This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Mary Keliikoa. There will be 2 winners of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card each. The giveaway begins on September 1, 2020 and runs through October 2, 2020. Void where prohibited.

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#AudioTour “The Girl in Cabin 13: The Emma Griffin FBI Mysteries Book 1” by A.J. Rivers

Author: A.J. Rivers

Narrator: Claire Duncan

Length: 7 hours and 32 minutes

Series: Emma Griffin FBI, Book 1

Publisher: Altered Path

Released: Aug. 15, 2020

Genre: Thriller

Knock…knock…When Emma finds a dead body on her porch with her name written on the dead man’s hand, she uncovers a sinister clue to the mystery that has haunted her since childhood.FBI Agent Emma Griffin is sent undercover to the small sleepy town of Feathered Nest to uncover the truth behind the strings of disappearances that has left the town terrified.To Emma, there is nothing that can lay buried forever. Even though her own childhood has been plagued by deaths and disappearances. Her mother’s death, her father’s disappearance, and her boyfriend’s disappearance. The only cases that she hasn’t solved. Her obsession with finding out the truth behind her past was what led her to join the FBI.Now, she must face what may be her biggest case. In cabin 13, there lies an uneasy feeling. The feeling of her movements being watched. When a knock on her door revealed a body on her porch and her name written on a piece of paper in the dead man’s hand. Suddenly, her worlds collide.With the past still haunting her, Emma must fight past her own demons to stop the body count from rising.The woods have secrets. And this idyllic town has dark and murderous ones. Either, she reveals them or risk them claiming her, too.In Feathered Nest, nothing is what it seems. The girl in cabin 13 is about to find out that the dead may have secrets of their own.

A.J. Rivers loves all things mystery and thriller. Growing up in a sleepy small town, A.J. spent her days enthralled in crime solving novels and movies. She started creating stories at a young age to escape and create adventures for herself. As a child she dreamed of solving crimes and becoming a crime fighter. She dreamed of being as great as her favorite crime solving character Sherlock Holmes. While in college she realized that leading a crime fighting life might be more gruesome than she could stomach. She decided that the best course of action would be to fuse her love of writing with her love of thrilling mysteries together. She finds inspiration from researching true crimes and is passionate about writing suspenseful novels with crazy twists. Twists that you’ll never see coming. The inspiration for her first novel came when she read a news article about a missing young woman in a small town that was never found. Her question on who, what, and why brought her to her journal to discovering the dark twisted story behind the disappearance and to seek justice for the victim through her writing. Her thriller novels have elements of mystery, suspense, and romance. When she’s not absorbed in a novel or working on her next thriller mystery, her favorite past time is spent with her husky. She finds great inspiration while going on hikes with her dog.

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Narrator Bio

Claire Duncan is a multi-award winning actress living in NYC. She has performed Off-Broadway, regionally, and in national tours, and appeared in the Drama Desk nominated revival of The Threepenny Opera. She has played the lead in a dozen films, and received a Best Actress Award for her work as Rosetta in the dark comedy Rosetta’s Blues, which debuted at Cannes. As a singer, she had the honor of performing at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, and toured the country as a travel host with Visit The USA. Claire’s broad career has shaped her into an exceptional and flexible voice artist. You can hear her on Nickelodeon and Comedy Central, in hundreds of national commercials, and in over thirty audiobooks. “Claire Duncan was a dynamo” – New York Stage Review “Simply side-splitting… a terrific comedic actress” – Show Business Weekly Proud member of SAG-AFTRA and AEA.

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Q&A with Author A.J. Rivers
  • Were there any real life inspirations behind your writing?
    • Yes. I’ve been fascinated by true crime, particularly serial killers and complex murder mysteries, since I was really young. I read The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers at eight years old and was hooked ever since. Being familiar with both famous and lesser known but really interesting murders and conspiracies is a major inspiration for me. The details are always different, and I put my own spin and twists and turns into it, but I love to weave in homages to actual crimes and events. My books have included inspirations from well-known killers such as Dahmer and Bundy, but also more obscure crimes and those with no resolution, such as Elisa Lam.
  • How do you manage to avoid burn-out? What do you do to maintain your enthusiasm for writing?
    • Writing is my dream, and I always remind myself of that. There are definitely stressful moments, but when I find myself having a hard time, I think about how fortunate I am to have achieved “what I wanted to be when I grew up”, and how many amazing opportunities it gives me. The most important thing is just loving what I do. I get to tell myself stories all day, and that’s pretty awesome. I maintain my enthusiasm by thinking of myself as my first reader. When I’m writing, it’s like I’m telling myself the story, and I want to know what’s coming next. Even though I have thorough outlines and plans, there’s always something to discover when the moment comes to type it, whether it’s a line of dialogue or a little twist reveal.
  • Are you an audiobook listener? What about the audiobook format appeals to you?
    • I am an occasional audiobook listener. I love the actual act of reading, so I tend to lean toward reading the books myself, but audiobooks are great for road trips or when I’m cleaning the house. I like the performance value of it. I’m particularly fond of fun mysteries and comedies because I enjoy listening to the narrator give their spin to pacing and dialogue in those genres.
    • There’s also something really nice about the sections of an audiobook being paced so they are roughly the same length. It helps to create little digestible chunks so I can listen to a certain amount during an activity and use it to time myself.
  • If this title were being made into a TV series or movie, who would you cast to play the primary roles?
    • This is so much fun to think about. When I’m writing, I like to imagine how the scenes would play out if they were being done for TV or a movie, so this is something I’ve thought about before. I would cast Ronda Rousey as Emma. She has the intensity, strength, and fearlessness, but is also endearing, funny, and attractive. For Sam, I would choose Armie Hammer. He is tall and handsome, with a strength and steadiness about him that would make him a good sheriff, but also has a lovable boyish quality. I would choose Jensen Ackles as Dean for the dark, chiseled quality he has that makes him believable as someone who is scarred and hardened by his past, but also has the ability to be goofy and fun when he’s relaxed.
  • What do you say to those who view listening to audiobooks as “cheating” or as inferior to “real reading”?
    • I think that’s crazy! No one says it’s cheating if you watch TV when you could read the screenplay, or if you listen to music rather than play it yourself. It’s a different way of enjoying the same thing. The point of getting lost in a book is the story. Whether you’re curled up with a beaten up old paperback version or listening to a narrator while driving down the road or doing dishes, you’re still getting the story. I like to think of audiobooks as being a cousin to the great radio dramas of past generations. You can relax and let the performance give you a new perspective and appreciation of the story.
  • How did you celebrate after finishing this novel?
    • I am a major coffee lover, so I really enjoy celebrating wrapping up a book by getting out of my writing room and relaxing with a good cup of flavored coffee. I drink my coffee black all the time, and I’m usually drinking very dark, robust blends. My favorite is actually called Death Wish. So when it’s time to relax and “indulge” a little, it’s with a cup of still black, but flavored coffee. My current choice is S’mores, but we’re getting close to pumpkin season. Since the end of books is always the most intense when it comes to writing, I also love to let off steam when I’m done by bringing my dog Daisy out for a long walk and enjoying the fresh air.
  • In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of writing a stand-alone novel vs. writing a series?
    • There is definitely a time and place for both. A stand-alone novel is a great opportunity to tell one focused, explosive story that doesn’t have to rely on any previous world-building or leave room for other books. It’s a shooting star situation. One bright moment that is contained within itself. Stand-alone is also great for much longer works. A series is all about creating a world for readers to live in. They get to know the characters like friends and family, and go on these adventures with them. It’s a blast to be able to revisit the same places, get to know the people, businesses, and little quirks, and keep up with them as time passes. It makes you want to keep coming back, so you keep reading the books. A series lets you explore big story arcs and delve deeper into the characters. But it also requires organization and attention to detail. You have to be able to come up with layered people and realistic places that readers will care about, as well as complex stories that can unfold a little at a time.
  • What’s your favorite:
    • Food
    • I don’t have one set favorite, but I love Indian food. Chana masala is my go-to. I am always in the mood for raw vegetables or fruit salad.
    • Song
    • Thriller, by Michael Jackson.
    • Book
    • Dream Boy, by Jim Grimsley
    • Television show
    • Murder investigation shows, Matlock, Murder, She Wrote, Golden Girls, and in the spirit of full disclosure, my guilty pleasure shows include Catfish and anything having to do with Halloween through holiday cooking or baking
    • Movie
    • The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, Dirty Dancing, Ghostbusters, Nightmare Before Christmas
    • Band
    • Beatles. Michael Jackson is my favorite musician, I love girl groups from the 50s and 60s, disco, and 80s music
    • Sports team
    • Chicago Cubs
    • City
    • Richmond, Virginia
  • Are any of those things referenced in appearance in your work?
    • All the time. Because I have some pretty obscure tastes in some ways, I sometimes find myself having my characters reference things or make jokes and cultural references I then wonder if the readers will even get, so I have to go back and replace them with something easier to recognize. Especially when it comes to music and movies. I’m not a huge movie person and the ones I particularly love are pretty old school, so when I whip out references to Luther Heggs, I have to remind myself that probably isn’t going to ring a ton of bells.
  • What bits of advice would you give to aspiring authors?
    • I’ll repeat the same thing that’s been said over and over, but that is so true. Write. Write. Write. Write all the time. Don’t just rely on your computer. Bring a notebook and pen around with you and write things down. You never know when you’re going to hear a phrase that inspires you, or get an idea, or even just hear a name that you like. Write it down. I also highly recommend talking through dialogue out loud. It can feel awkward at first, but the natural, believable conversations and thoughts are key to really enjoyable books. They make the characters more relatable and the action smoother. The best way to make that happen is to carry on the conversation. If you have a voice-to-text program on your computer, put it on and just talk through the conversation like you are the characters. Don’t worry about the spelling, punctuation, or accuracy at this point. Just talk it through as naturally as you can and let it come out. You can then take what you said and write it out in your draft with proper tags and action.
    • I’d also tell aspiring authors to take their writing seriously. There can be a lot of pressure to only seeing writing as art and something that can only be done in the right mood or situation. There is definitely art to good writing and crafting a book, and it’s always easier when the mood and inspiration are right, but if you are going to consistently create strong, enjoyable books, you have to see it as work. You have to work hard, get the words out even when they aren’t flowing smoothly, and be willing to edit mercilessly. The best advice I ever got was from my college professor who told me to kill my darlings. You have to be willing to not see every word you write as precious, but also fight for your voice and your vision when it’s important.
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#BookTour “Angel Flight: A Novel” by R.D. Kardon

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STANDALONE NOVEL AND Book #2 of THE FLYGIRL TRILOGY

Suspense Action Fiction/Women’s Action & Adventure/Women’s Fiction

Date Published: September 8, 2020

Publisher: Acorn Publishing LLC

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Two women. The men they love. One desperate plan.

Pilot Tris Miles is finally getting the recognition she deserves. She is a trusted captain and confidante to her boss at Westin Charter Company, and mentor to her young, ambitious co-pilot Bruce. Tris is offered a coveted promotion and the opportunity of a lifetime—to fly a prestigious “angel flight,” transporting a critically ill woman from a remote town in northern Canada to the US for medical treatment.

But Tris needs more than professional success. Still alone almost three years after her lover Bron’s death, Tris meets Mike, a local pilot with a secret past he refuses to discuss. Their budding relationship stumbles when Mike gets hired by Westin Charter to compete for the promotion Tris was promised.

As Tris & Mike’s professional battle intensifies, their personal relationship deepens.  Life is getting a whole lot more complicated for Tris, and it’s about to get worse as the angel flight embarks. No one could imagine what awaits them in Canada, and how each will have to fight for their lives on this mission of mercy.

 

Love. Loyalty. Obsession. What propels YOU?

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About the Author

Award-winning author Robin “R.D.” Kardon had a twelve-year flying career as a corporate and airline pilot. She holds an Airline Transport Pilot certificate and three Captain qualifications. Her travels took her all over the world in every type of airplane from small single-engine Cessnas to the Boeing 737. Robin earned her B.A. in Journalism and Sociology from NYU and J.D. from American University, Washington College of Law. A native New Yorker, Robin now lives in San Diego, California with her beloved rescue pets.

Her first novel, Flygirl, a work of fiction inspired by her own aviation experience, is Book #1 of The Flygirl Trilogy. It is a #1 Amazon Best Seller.

Angel Flight,  Book #2 of The Flygirl Trilogy, examines the personal and professional pressures faced by Captain Tris Miles as she plans and executes a critical “angel flight,” designed to carry a critically ill woman from a remote area in Canada to the US for medical treatment while struggling with a new relationship.

To learn more about Robin, visit her website at http://www.rdkardonauthor.comRead about Robin’s writing process and early influences on BooksByWomen.org.

For podcast appearances, visit http://www.TrailBlazersImpact.com and hear Robin’s interview on the Nan McKay Show and The Dear Discreet Guide podcast.

 

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RABT Book Tours & PR

#BookBlitz “Designs on Forever” by Susan Carlisle

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Modern Masters of Their Castle Book 2

Contemporary Romance

Published: September 2020

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As a model, Mallory Andrews’ good looks had worked for her for years, but now she’s determined to prove she’s a talented historical interior designer. To do that she must remain unwavering in her focus regarding her current project, the restoration of a historical English manor house turned hotel. The problem is, she keeps getting sidetracked by the handsome and charming grandson of the owner.

Renowned hotel magnate and business consultant, Evan Townsend is retained by the board of his estranged grandmother’s company to make recommendations regarding the failing hotel that could put his grandmother into bankruptcy. His first chore is to terminate the work Mallory is doing. She launches a campaign to prove the changes she has made and others she has planned will benefit his grandmother’s financial bottom line. Evan’s mounting attraction to the beautiful and clever Mallory has him reconsidering his stance on her present work, yet he remains resistant to her requests not to sell the hotel so her work can continue. If only he could be as unaffected by her kisses.

Both fear the other is using the sexual magnetism between them to get what they want. Can Mallory and Evan design a way to break through the walls of half-truths and what-ifs to build a lifetime of love?


 

Other Books in the Modern Masters of Their Castles Contemporary Romance Series:

Cornerstone of Love

Modern Masters of Their Castles, Book 1

Release Date: March 17, 2020

Ian Chalmers’s dream life didn’t include becoming the Earl of Hartley or the CEO of Hartley International Shipping, but he obediently accepted the responsibilities when his father and older brother are killed. Duty to the Hartley title and business reputation becomes his all-consuming focus. Ian’s world revolves around unending work and doing what’s expected of him. Then a nerve-wracking, albeit completely fascinating, free-spirited female enters his structured life and turns it upside down.

Allison Moore is the American constructional engineer hired to direct the repairs on Hartley castle. Despite their instant attraction, Allison doesn’t appreciate Ian’s high-handed control of everything in his sphere of influence. Still she’s determined to placate the vexing ‘master of the castle’ in order to get the job done, bringing her another step closer to achieving her life’s goal of having a home of her own. Her strategy is complicated then frustrated when Ian’s kisses prove so delicious her treacherous heart undermines her immunity to his charm.

With the project almost complete and their sizzling interlude ending, Ian and Allison must decide what they want most in life. Is it possible they’ve each been laboring towards the wrong goals? Could what they have with each other be the cornerstone of true love?

 

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About the Author

 Susan Carlisle’s love affair with books began when she made a bad grade in math in the sixth grade. Not allowed to watch TV until she brought the grade up, Susan filled her time with books. She turned her love of reading into a love of writing romance. Susan has currently authored more than thirty books for the HarperCollins Harlequin medical imprint. Her Modern Masters of Their Castles trilogy is under her own imprint. Her heroes are strong, vibrant man and the women that challenge them.

In her past life Susan has been a full time mother to four children, a high school substitute teacher and now when she isn’t writing she is busy being a fun grandmother. She lives near Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband of over thirty-five years. Susan loves castles, traveling, sewing and reads voraciously. Visit her at http://www.SusanCarlisle.com

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RABT Book Tours & PR

#BookTour “Derailed” by Mary Keliikoa

Derailed by Mary Keliikoa Banner

on Tour September 1-30, 2020

Synopsis:

Derailed by Mary Keliikoa

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Camel Press
Publication Date: May 12th 2020
Number of Pages: 232
ISBN: 1603817069 (ISBN13: 9781603817066)
Series: PI Kelly Pruett #1
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop | Goodreads


Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER 1

Portland, Oregon has as many parts as the human anatomy. Like the body, some are more attractive than others. My father’s P.I. business that I’d inherited was in what many considered the armpit, the northeast, where pickpockets and drug dealers dotted the narrow streets and spray paint tags of bubble-lettered gang signatures striped the concrete. In other words, home. I’m Kelly Pruett and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

I’d just finished invoicing a client for a skip trace and flicked off the light in the front office my dad and I used to share when a series of taps came from the locked front door. It was three o’clock on a gloomy Friday afternoon. A panhandler looking for a handout or a bathroom was my best guess. Sitting at the desk, I couldn’t tell.

Floyd, my basset hound and the only real man in my life, lifted his droopy eyes to meet mine before flopping his head back down on his bed. No help there.

Another rap, louder this time.

Someone wanted my attention. I retrieved the canister of pepper spray from my purse and opened the door to a woman, her umbrella sheltering her from the late October drizzle. Her angle made it hard to see her face, only the soft curls in her hair and the briefcase hanging from her hand. I slipped the pepper spray into the pocket of my Nike warmup jacket.

“Is Roger Pruett in?” she asked, water droplets splatting the ground.

She hadn’t heard the news and I hadn’t brought myself to update R&K Investigation’s website. I swallowed the lump before it could form and clutch my throat. “No, sorry,” I said. “My dad died earlier this year. I’m his daughter, Kelly.”

“I’m so sorry.” She peered from under the umbrella, her expression pinched. She searched my face for a different answer.

I’d give anything to have one. “What do you need?”

“To hire a P.I. to investigate my daughter’s death. Can you help me?” Her voice cracked.

My stomach fluttered. Process serving, court document searches, and the occasional tedious stakeout had made up the bulk of my fifteen hundred hours of P.I. experience requirement. Not that I wasn’t capable of more. Dad had enjoyed handling cases himself with the plan to train me later. In the year since his death, no one had come knocking, and going through the motions of what I knew how to do well had been hard enough. Now this lady was here for my father’s help. I couldn’t turn her away. I raked my fingers through the top of my shoulder length hair and opened the door. “Come in.”

“Bless you.” She slid her umbrella closed and brushed past me.

After securing the lock, I led her through the small reception area and into my office. A bathroom and another office that substituted for a storage closet were down the long hallway heading to the rear exit. Floyd decided to take interest and lumbered over. With his butt in the air, he stretched at her feet before nearly snuffling my soon-to-be client’s shoe up his nose. She nodded at him before vicious Floyd found his way back to his corner, tail swaying behind him. Guess he approved.

The woman looked in her mid-sixties. She had coiffed hair the color of burnt almonds, high cheekbones, and a prominent nose. She reminded me of my middle school librarian who could get you to shut up with one glance. “Would you like coffee, Ms…?”

“No thank you. It’s Hanson.” She settled in the red vinyl chair across from my dad’s beaten and scarred desk. “Georgette Hanson.”

My skin tingled when she said her name.

“My condolences on your father,” she said.

“Thank you.” Her words were simple, and expected, but her eyes held pain. Having lost her daughter, she clearly could relate.

“How did it happen?” she asked.

I swallowed again. With as many people as I’d had to tell, it should be getting easier. It wasn’t. “Stroke. Were you a former client of my father’s?”

She waved her hand. “Something like that.” She lifted the briefcase to her lap and popped the latch. Her eyes softened. “He was a fine man. You look just like him.”

My confident, broad-shouldered, Welshman father had been quite fit and handsome in his youth. Most of my adult life he’d carried an extra fifty pounds, but that never undermined his strong chin, wise blue eyes, and thick chestnut hair. I’d been blessed with my Dad’s eyes and hair and had my mom’s round chin. But since I’d ballooned a couple of sizes while pregnant with Mitz, I knew which version she thought I resembled. “What were you hoping he could do for you with regards to your daughter?”

“Find out why she’s dead.” Georgette shoved a paper dated a few weeks ago onto the desk and snapped the case lid closed.

A picture of a young woman with a warm smile, a button nose, and long wavy brunette hair sat below the fold on the front page under the headline: WOMAN STRUCK BY MAX TRAIN DIES.

I winced at the thought of her violent end. “I’m sorry. Such a pretty girl.”

“She was perfect.” Georgette pulled off her gloves, her eyes brimming. “The train destroyed that. Do you know what a train does to a hundred-pound woman?” Her voice trembled.

To avoid envisioning the impact, I replaced it with the smiling face of Mitz, my eight-year-old daughter. Which made it worse. If anything ever happened to her… How Georgette wasn’t a puddle on the Formica eluded me. I took a minute to read the story. According to the article, Brooke Hanson fell from the sidewalk into the path of an oncoming MAX train downtown at Ninth and Morrison Street. The police reported alcohol was a contributing factor. “They detained the sole witness who found her, Jay Nightingale. Why?” I set the paper down.

Georgette brushed her hair away from her forehead flashing nails chewed to the quick. “At first, the police thought he had something to do with her fall. He told them he’d seen my Brooke stumble down the sidewalk and teeter on the edge of the curb. Supposedly, he called out the train was coming and she didn’t hear him. He made no effort to get her away from those tracks. When the autopsy showed she’d been drinking, they wrote her death off as an accident, released Mr. Nightingale, and closed the case.”

Their decision couldn’t have been that cut and dry. “How much had she been drinking?”

“You sound like the police.” Georgette lifted her chin and met my gaze. There are many stages to grief. One of them anger, another denial. Georgette straddled both, something I knew plenty about. “Not sure…exactly. You’ll have to check the report.”

I scanned her face for the truth. “You don’t know or you’re afraid to tell me?”

She massaged the palm of her hand with her thumb. “The bartender at the Limbo said she’d had a few before he’d cut her off and asked her to leave. None of that matters because Nightingale’s lying. He had something to do with her fall. He may have even pushed her. At the very least, he knows more than he’s telling.”

My eyebrows raised. The police weren’t perfect, but they had solid procedures in death investigations. They would have explored that angle. “What are you basing that on?”

“My gut.”

A mother’s intuition while undeniable, alone didn’t prove foul play. “Did the MAX operator see Mr. Nightingale next to her at any point?”

“He didn’t even see her because the area wasn’t well lit.”

“Do you have his name?”

“Chris Foley.”

I jotted the information down. “What do the train’s cameras show?”

“There weren’t any. And no passenger statements because the train was done for the night. But Brooke shouldn’t have even been in the vicinity of that train.”

“Where is the Limbo located?”

“Ten blocks from where she was hit.”

A half mile, give or take. “Could she have been heading to catch the MAX to go home?”

“Brooke detested mass transit. The people who ride during the day scared her. She wouldn’t go there at night. Besides, she lived south of town. The train wouldn’t have taken her there.” She sighed. “I’m telling you, she wouldn’t be that far from the bar unless someone…” She closed her eyes.

Georgette talked in circles attempting to make sense of it all, but I had first-hand knowledge of drunk people doing things out of character. Given what she’d described, I could understand why the police had closed the matter. Even so, her devastation gripped my heart. And something had brought her out on this rainy Friday. “What are you holding back, Ms. Hanson? Why do you feel so strongly Mr. Nightingale was involved that you’d come to my dad for help?”

She stared at her hands as if they held the answers. “Brooke had changed in the last year. Become more distant. Not visiting. Missing our weekly calls.” The corner of her mouth turned upward in a sad smile. “We used to go for pie once a month. She loved pie. Apple pie. Cherry pie.” Her smile melted. “One day she was too busy and couldn’t get away. When she did, she didn’t look well. Stressed.”

“Did she say what was bothering her?”

“No. She shut me out, which she’d never done before. Now to have been killed by a train downtown when that Nightingale fellow was close enough to stop it from happening? He’s involved. I can feel it.” She straightened. “Until I know what happened that night, I won’t rest.” Georgette reached into her purse and produced an envelope grasped in her right hand. “Here’s three thousand for you to find the truth. Please say you’ll help me.”

Despite steady work from a few law firms around town, and an adequate divorce settlement, being a single mom often meant more month than money. Georgette was offering twice what I made in a good month of process serving and that would go a long way in taking care of my little girl. Not needing to ever rely on my ex would have been incentive alone, but there was more to it than that.

I’d recognized Georgette’s name the moment she’d said it. At the reading of my dad’s will, his lawyer had handed me a handwritten letter. It was a request from my dad that if a Georgette Hanson ever came to his door asking for help, I should assist and not ask questions why. It had meant nothing at the time. I’d figured it was due to his unending dedication to his clients.

Because Georgette had a connection to my dad in some capacity, that sealed my decision to at least try and help her. While I’d been directed not to ask questions, even he would have needed the obvious one answered before he took her money.

“You said she’d changed. Is there any chance she might have…I mean, was she depressed? Could she have stepped…”

Georgette cut me off. “Stop.” Her eyes grew wide with denial and the damn broke. Tears poured over her cheeks; her shoulders shook, buckling from the weight of her anguish. The anger and determination she’d used as a mask crumbled, and each passing second exposed another layer of her gut-wrenching grief.

I shifted at witnessing her raw emotion, bracing myself against my own around my father, and my thoughts on Mitz. Tears stung my eyes, unsure how to comfort my client when I struggled to do that for myself.

She muffled a wail with the back of her hand and finally drew in deep breaths until the sobs subsided.

I grabbed a box of Kleenex behind me. She already had a handful of tissue ready from her purse. I’d back off the notion of suicide—for the moment. The woman didn’t need any more distress than she’d already endured.

She sniffed hard a couple of times and sopped up her face with the tissue. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.” I swiped under my eyes with my fingers, gaining control over my thoughts. “I’m not sure I’ll uncover anything new, but I will look for you.”

“Thank you.” She composed herself and stuffed the tissue back in her purse for the next inevitable breakdown.

I handed Georgette one of my dad’s old contracts, explaining my hourly rate, and a couple of authorization forms that might come in handy if requesting any case files was necessary.

She signed her name without bothering to read the fine print. She stood, the vinyl chair screeching against the hardwood floor startling Floyd. Her expression softened. “How old are you?”

“Thirty-two.”

“Brooke was a couple of years older, but pretty, like you and with the same flowing brown hair and kind eyes.” She sniffed. “I came to Roger because he could get to the heart of things. If you’re like him, you’ll find out what happened to my baby.”

I’d never be as good as my dad, but I did possess his mule-like stubbornness to get to the bottom of things. My ex could attest to that. “I’ll do what I can.”

She nodded. “Brooke was a good girl. She loved animals, ran every morning, and worked for the law firm Anderson, Hiefield & Price. She was the head accountant there.” Her face beamed with pride before her chin trembled again, but she held it together.

“It might help if I get a better sense of who she was.” I slid the legal pad to her. “If I could get her address, I’d like to start there.”

Georgette jotted the information down and pushed it back to me. She dug into her purse and produced the key. “I haven’t brought myself to go there yet.”

I gave her a sympathetic smile. “Are there family or friends I should start with?”

“Besides my husband, Chester, there’s just her sister, Hannah, who lives in Seattle. They weren’t close.” Georgette cleared her throat. “She never spoke to me about friends or boyfriends. Honestly, with her work schedule, she didn’t have time for any.”

With my own social life lacking, I related. “Do you have her cell? I’d like to check who she had on speed dial.”

She shook her head. “It wasn’t among her belongings.”

What thirty-something didn’t have their phone glued to them? Unless the impact of the train threw it. Another image I pushed away. I rounded my desk and walked her out of my office.

“Please keep in touch on how the investigation is going,” she said.

I assured her I would. She squeezed my arm to thank me as she left. With a twist of the deadbolt, I rested my shoulder against the door and closed my eyes. Mitz would get hugged a little closer tonight.

At my desk, Floyd trotted over and sat at my feet. He rested his chin on my lap while I added a few more notes. His sixth sense of when I needed him never faltered. I tucked the notes, along with a couple of divorce petitions into my bag to serve in between outings with Mitz.

It was early enough to get to Brooke’s place, about twenty minutes away, and to the grocery store so Mitz and I weren’t eating PB&Js for dinner. The faster I got started and found answers, the sooner Georgette could begin healing. If I was lucky, Brooke’s phone would be sitting on her nightstand waiting to be found.

Before getting up, I pulled the letter from my dad out of the top drawer and unfolded the paper. I traced the ruts in the desk we shared with my finger as I read his words. Georgette’s name was there in black and white. I had wanted to ask her more about how she knew my dad, but he’d been explicit in his request. He was a good man, albeit a tough man that I didn’t question. Nor had I ever felt the need to. It hadn’t been easy for him after my mom died, and we became the Two Musketeers. We may have run out of time for him to teach me everything he knew about being a P.I., but I’d learn as I went. I had no other choice. Helping Georgette was the last thing I could do for him. And I would.

“Ready to boogie, Floyd?” I flicked off the lights and Floyd padded behind me down the narrow hall to the backdoor.

We jogged to my yellow 1980 Triumph Spitfire, a gift from my dad when I graduated. “You know the routine, buddy.” Floyd stretched himself halfway into the car, and with a grunt, I lifted in his other half. He tripped over the manual gearshift and settled into the passenger seat as I slunk behind the wheel. The engine started right up, for a change.

Brooke was a couple of years older than me—far too young to die. Was Nightingale involved in her death? Did he know more than he was telling? Or was he just a helpless bystander who could only watch Brooke fall because she was drunk off her ass? I had a feeling I’d be returning the bulk of Georgette’s money after putting in some legwork. With a case the Portland police had already closed and an eyewitness who’d already been cleared, what other possibility was there?

***

Excerpt from Derailed by Mary Keliikoa. Copyright 2020 by Mary Keliikoa. Reproduced with permission from Mary Keliikoa. All rights reserved.


Author Bio:

Mary Keliikoa

Mary Keliikoa spent the first 18 years of her adult life working around lawyers. Combining her love of all things legal and books, she creates a twisting mystery where justice prevails. She has had a short story published in Woman’s World and is the author of the PI Kelly Pruett Mystery Series.

At home in Washington, she enjoys spending time with her family and her writing companions/fur-kids. When not at home, you can find Mary on a beach on the Big Island where she and her husband recharge. But even under the palm trees and blazing sun she’s plotting her next murder—novel that is.

Catch Up With Mary Keliikoa:
MaryKeliikoa.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook!


Tour Participants:

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

GIVEAWAY:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Mary Keliikoa. There will be 2 winners of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card each. The giveaway begins on September 1, 2020 and runs through October 2, 2020. Void where prohibited.

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#GuestPost “Eternal Forever” by Syl Waters

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Oh, I do love to write beside the seaside!

by Syl Waters

Out of my window I can see a fat seagull. I don’t know if it’s a he or a she (how do you tell – note for self to check on google). Note to reader, having consulted the expertise of the web I have learned it’s very difficult to tell the difference between a male and female seagull. For your reference, the male may have a bit brighter and more colourful plumage, but the difference is so subtle, so I’ve read, only experienced bird watchers can tell the difference.

I am not an experienced bird watcher.

And so I’m wondering if this seagull is fat or pregnant.

The internet hole looked longer this time and so I have resisted. I can tell you though that a seagull usually lays its eggs at the beginning of May and has a clutch of three. The number three may have special significance in seagull circles, as it’s also after three weeks the eggs begin to hatch.

And so my mind wanders to what a baby seagull looks like and if I’ve even seen one?

Cue google images.

You may or may not be interested to learn baby seagulls (from my expert scanning of images online), appear to be dappled grey. I find myself pondering how such greyness can turn into such strong swipes of black and white in later years. I mean, when you look at a seagull it’s colours are very striking, not striking in a zebra sort of way, but still the body is always white and the wings are always black.

Isn’t it amazing how nature knows where to put the colours?

The baby seagull (also known as fluffy chicks – I’m not sure that’s right…), also is missing the red slash on its yellow beak that adults acquire later in life.

I’ve always thought the red was from the blood of a seagull’s victims.

That could be unfair. I don’t know how dangerous seagulls are, but I bet they aren’t as bad as swans.

Swans scare me.

You can ask my other half, we were out on a hot day having a romantic walk by the canal and I wouldn’t walk past a swan which was sat hissing. He took the mick, royally.

Me? I walked off in the other direction. Romance or saving my life? I’ll save my life every time.

And while writing this, I’m now starting to wonder if my fear of swans is undeserved and I’m ruining my chance of romance. And so I’ve searched the net for ‘are swans dangerous’. There’s a report from the BBC in 2012 called ‘Who, What, Why: How dangerous are swans?’ In it they detail a couple of swan attacks where the birds capsized kayaks and attacked rowers.

I am alarmed.

I would read more, but I don’t know if any of this is helpful for me overcoming my existing fear of swans.

I close the tabs and look back out of the window at the fat seagull. I wonder if soon she’ll give birth to some fluffy chicks? Whether true or not, that’s what I’m always going to call baby seagulls from now on. J

Syl Waters is the author of Who Killed Patrick? and Eternal Forever.


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Fame, glory and… foul play!

Jessie was a shop worker dreaming of the big time, then YouTube found her. But staying in the limelight requires meticulous management: pop stars are made not born.

With awards night approaching, the pressure’s on for Tito, Jessie’s manager, to whip her into shape. Getting so close wasn’t in the contract, but then neither was him being murdered in Spain.

Alone and scared of the negative publicity, Jessie turns to Mack, her account manager at Eternal Forever, the UK’s first digital legacy management agency. But Mack’s got his own issues: the company’s fast running out of cash, his key developer’s on the turn and a blogger’s suicide looks suspicious.

With the assistance of J-Pop, Mack’s assistant and wannabe reality TV star, Jessie turns sleuth. But in a world where everybody’s watching, it’s hard to escape. Reputation is everything and some people will do anything to protect it.

Purchase Links

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Author Bio

Most people know crazy cat ladies are a ‘thing’, but I’m a proud crazy guinea pig lady! I love fun in the sun and plenty of cocktails. My happy place is flip flops. I write stories to keep me company – my characters ensure I’m never lonely and always smiling (when I’m not tearing my hair out!)

Social Media Links

Website     |     Twitter     |     Instagram     |     Facebook


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#BookReview “Life for Life” by JK Franko

on Tour August 1 – September 30, 2020

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5/5 Stars!

I was ready for confessions, courtroom drama, and clean-up in book three of the Talion series.

Silly me!

JK Franko adds new characters, more murders, and a sneaky plot twist that made me sit up and grin! I re-read the scene three times, shaking my head. I was prepared for something, but nothing even close to what actually happened! Well-played, Mr. Franko! Kudos!

As the police work to build a case against Roy Cruise, karma hangs around the story’s periphery, ready to jump in with a gotcha… and boy, howdy!

The story’s narrator, the therapist who treats Roy and Susie, is more present in book three, and just as messed up as everyone else. There are no good people in this story. Some are simply more desperate than others. It makes me wonder if a young girl had lived instead of died at summer camp thirty-plus years ago, how different these lives would be. Or would they?

In Additional Content after the story, the author says he’s working on BOOK FOUR, so even though loose ends are tied and there is some form of closure, the Talion series is far from over.

Franko does a superb job with character development and powerful personalities leap from the pages. (That trial judge! Whew!)

For me, Life for Life is the best of the series so far because the consequences of prior actions hit hardest with a ripple effect. I recommend this read but strongly suggest reading the books in series order or the relevance of a guy named Slipknot, an empty syringe, and a penis nailed to a front door will be lost on you!

Enjoy!

~~~

Synopsis:

What would YOU do if someone threatened your family?

Roy Cruise and his pregnant wife Susie barely survived an assassination attempt in their own home. The police now have them under surveillance. Meanwhile, Kristy Wise is a loose cannon—she knows too much and is trying to “set things right.”

What goes around comes around. And in this case, Roy and Susie may have pushed things too far. There are too many dead bodies. Too many foes plotting against them.

Roy and Susie must outwit the police and neutralize their enemies once and for all. If not, their days of retribution may end behind bars… or six feet under.

Life for Life is Book Three of the Talion crime thriller series which begins with the Eye for Eye Trilogy.

Eye for Eye

Tooth for Tooth

Life for Life

If you like smart, fast-paced thrillers with unexpected twists, then you’ll love J.K. Franko.

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Book Details:

Genre: Thriller, Suspense, Crime, Legal

Published by: Talion Publishing

Publication Date: July 31st, 2020

Number of Pages: 396

ISBN:978-1-9993188-2-6

Series: Talion Series, #3

Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads

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Tour Participants:

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

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Enter To Win!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for JK Franko. There will be Six (6) winners for this tour. Two (2) winners will each receive a $10. Amazon GC. Two (2) winners will each receive LIFE FOR LIFE by JK Franko (Print ~ US and Canada Only) and Two (2) winners will each receive LIFE FOR LIFE by JK Franko (eBook). The giveaway begins on August 1, 2020 and runs through October 2, 2020. Void where prohibited.

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#CoverReveal “A Date for the Fair” by Heidi McLaughlin & LP Dover

Title: A Date To Play Fore Author: Heidi McLaughlin & LP Dover Genre: Contemporary Romance Release Date: August 11, 2020 Cover Designer: MadHat Studios Hosted by: Buoni Amici Press, LLC.

New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors Heidi McLaughlin and L.P. Dover come together for a sexy new series that delivers romance for every season!

Covered in sweat with a sticky face… the signs of a great county fair.

Years ago, Laura dropped out of college for love. Unfortunately, the perfect life she built with her husband imploded when he decided to plunge into another woman’s dunk tank. Now, eager to rebuilt her shattered life, she’s returned to her dream of becoming an Interior Designer.

As if her life isn’t already a Ferris wheel of emotions, who walks in to teach her first class but Jude, her high school sweetheart. One glance, and the desire between them sizzles hotter than a freshly fried funnel cake.

Reconnecting at a town fair, their night starts with a watermelon eating contest and ends with them sharing more than a corndog. Laura is blissfully embracing a dizzying Tilt-a-Whirl of romance with Jude, when her ex saunters back into her life in search of a second chance. Will she go back to the comfortable life she once treasured? Or aim for the big prize and a shot at true happiness?

Dive in face first and don’t stop until they scream your name, it’s time for The Watermelon Festival!

Pre Order Your Copy Today!!

Kindle Unlimited

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Tweet: #CoverReveal A Date for the Fair By @HeidiJoVT & @LPDover #PreOrder https://ctt.ec/DVax1+ Buy all of the available Books in the series https://ctt.ec/1C6db+ #KindleUnlimited #ContemporaryRomance #BAPpr #ReadingList2020

About Heidi:

Heidi McLaughlin is a New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author of The Beaumont Series, The Boys of Summer, and The Archers. Originally, from the Pacific Northwest, she now lives in picturesque Vermont, with her husband and two daughters. Also renting space in their home is an over-hyper Beagle/Jack Russell, Buttercup and a Highland West/Mini Schnauzer, JiLL and her brother, Racicot. When she’s isn’t writing one of the many stories planned for release, you’ll find her sitting court-side during either daughter’s basketball games. Heidi’s first novel, Forever My Girl, has been adapted into a motion picture with LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions, starring Alex Roe and Jessica Roth, in theaters January 19, 2018.

To stay connected with Heidi visit www.facebook.com/authorheidimclaughlin or heidimclaughlin.com

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GETHEIDISBOOKS to (833) 926-1009

About L.P. Dover:

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author L. P. Dover is a southern belle living in North Carolina with her husband and two beautiful girls. Everything’s sweeter in the South has always been her mantra and she lives by it, whether it’s with her writing or in her everyday life. Maybe that’s why she’s seriously addicted to chocolate.

Dover has written countless novels in several different genres, including a children’s book with her daughter. Her favorite to write is romantic suspense, but she’s also found a passion in romantic comedy. She loves to make people laugh which is why you’ll never see her without a smile on her face.

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Available to Buy Now & in Kindle Unlimited

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#ReleaseBlitz “Sins Duet” by Abbi Cook

The Sins Duet by Abbi Cook

Releases 24th September

Genre: Dark romance/romantic suspense

AVAILABLE NOW!

Buy Today: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08FRMLQBG

Add to your TBR: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/54913469-the-sins-duet

#TheSinsDuet #AbbiCook #BareNakedWords #DarkRomance #RomanticSuspense

“The Sins Duet is 2 books Covet and Corrupt. This story in its entirety is so different to anything I have read for a while, and I loved it” Goodreads Reviewer

“Outstanding build up to a tear your soul apart read!” Goodreads Reviewer

Blurb

A dangerous man obsessed…

I want to possess Natalie from the moment I lay eyes on her. Trusting and sweet, she has no idea what I can do to her.

What I will do to her.

An innocent woman caught in a web of lies…

He’s beautiful and vicious like nothing I’ve ever seen. Alexei terrifies me and takes my breath away.

Yet I’m drawn to him like a moth to a flame, even as I sense the danger in him.

Nothing is what it seems…

A hit man who never fails at his job. A woman afraid she’s losing her mind. The secret that shocks even a cold-blooded killer.

How perfect a life can look from the outside, and then with just one crack in the façade, everything changes.

Abbi’s social media links are:

https://www.facebook.com/abbicookauthor

http://abbicook.com

https://www.instagram.com/abbicookauthor

#BookTour “A Circle of Dead Girls” by Eleanor Kuhns

A Circle Of Dead Girls by Eleanor Kuhns Banner

on Tour September 1-30, 2020

Synopsis:

A Circle Of Dead Girls by Eleanor Kuhns

In the spring of 1800, a traveling circus arrives in town. Rees is about to attend, but sees his nemesis, Magistrate Hanson in the crowd, and leaves. On the way home he meets a party of Shaker brothers searching for a missing girl. They quickly come across her lifeless body thrown into a farmer’s field.

Rees begins investigating and quickly becomes entranced by the exotic circus performers, especially the beautiful young tightrope walker.

Other murders follow. Who is the killer? One of the circus performers? One of the townspeople? Or One of the Shakers?

Book Details:

Genre: Historical Murder Mystery

Published by: Severn House

Publication Date: March 3rd 2020

Number of Pages: 224

ISBN: 0727890085 (ISBN13: 9780727890085)

Series: Will Rees Mysteries #8 (Each book “Stands Alone”)

Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1

As if God Himself had taken a hand, winter abruptly changed to spring. The six inches of snow that had fallen just last week – the third week of April – was melting in the suddenly balmy air. Instead of hard packed snow, the roads were surfaced in slush and mud. Only on the north sides of the slopes and under the trees did snow remain and even there green spears poked through the white.

Rees had already planted peas and in a few weeks he would begin plowing the rocky fields. He sighed. Although glad to see the spring, he did not like to think about the coming backbreaking toil. He would turn forty this year and his dislike of farm work had, if anything, intensified. His father had died at the age of forty-six, while Rees was away serving with General Washington in the War for Independence, and sometimes he wondered if six years was all he had left. Six years with his arms up to their elbows in mud and manure. Just the thought of it pressed down like a heavy weight. He didn’t think he could bear it.

At least, with the coming warmer weather, he could look forward to a few weeks of freedom as he traveled these roads weaving for the farm wives. Besides the cash he would earn, he looked forward to what he imagined as sunlit days of freedom from the farm.

With a shake of his head, he pushed the gloomy thoughts from his mind. Now he was on his way into town. For the past several days men had been shouting up and down the lanes and byways: Asher’s Circus was coming to town. Rees had brought his children to the Surry road yesterday to watch the circus arrive. First came a man in a scarlet coat and top hat riding a bay. Bells jingled on his harness and feathers danced upon his head. Two carriages followed, the beautiful women seated inside leaning through the curtained windows to wave and blow kisses. At least five wagons followed, wagons that were unlike any that Rees had ever seen. These vehicles looked like the carriages but were bigger and taller and the curtains at their small windows were shut. On every wagon door a bright gold rearing horse glittered in the sunlight. Finally, clowns with colored patches painted over their eyes and vivid clothing walked alongside. One was a dwarf with a pig and a dog and the other a giant of a man. While the little man turned cartwheels, the big fellow walked straight ahead barely acknowledging the crowds lining the street.

Rees’s children were beyond excited, jumping and shouting beside the road. Even Rees, a cosmopolitan traveler who’d visited several large cities, had been enchanted. After a long winter kept mostly inside and occupied solely with mending tack and other chores he was ready for some entertainment.

Now he was on his way into town to see a performance. A sudden wash of muddy water splattered, not only the wagon, but him as well. He swore at the young sprig galloping by, so intent on reaching Durham that he paid no attention to those he passed. But Rees was not really angry. A circus was a grand event and he guessed he could extend a little charity to the eager farmer’s boy. Rees knew Lydia would have liked to join him, and probably the children as well, but no lady would be seen at such rude entertainment, so she must rely on his descriptions.

The streets of Durham were thronged with traffic. Wagons jostled for space next to horses and mules. Pedestrians were forced to cling to the side of the buildings lest they be trampled underfoot. Rees shook his head in amazement; he had never seen the streets so crowded.

And Rouge’s inn! The yard swarmed with horses and shouting men. Rees’s hope – that he could leave his horse and wagon there – died. When he turned down an alley that went to the jail, he found this narrow lane almost as impassible. But he could already see a tall structure in the field that the Durham farmers usually used for Saturday market. It was so early in the season that market was just beginning. Later in the spring the grounds would be in use every Saturday.

Finally, Rees parked his wagon and horse at the jail. He watered Hannibal from a nearby trough and joined the mob streaming toward the large field. Affluent townsmen rubbed shoulders with sunburned farmers in straw hats and dirty clogs. At first, except for the arena built in the center, the fairgrounds looked exactly as normal: an occasional ramshackle hut interspersed with large areas of open ground. The farmers usually set up their wares in one of those small squares; this was how Lydia sold her butter and cheese. Rees lifted his eyes to the tall wooden structure, dazzling with colorful flags flying around the roof, that dominated the field. At first, he did not notice how peculiar the building looked. But as he approached the flimsy construction, the lack of any windows, and the slapdash roof became apparent. An arc of roofed wooden vehicles – the circus wagons – curved around the back.

At several yards distant he could see gaps between the splintered boards that made up the walls. Posters, all designed with a crude woodcut of a horse, papered over the widest of cracks. Rees directed his steps to a bill posted on the wall and paused in front of it. “Asher’s Circus”, he read. “Mr. Joseph Asher, trained by Mr. Phillip Astley and Mr. John B. Ricketts, and just arrived from tours of London, Philadelphia, Boston, and Albany, is pleased to present daring feats of horsemanship, the world -famous rope dancer Bambola, clowns after the Italian fashion and many more acts to amaze and delight.”

Rees grunted, his eyes moving to the bottom. Names and dates scribbled in by different hands, and then crossed off, filled all the white space with the last being Durham, show time five o’clock. Since he didn’t recognize most of the names, he suspected they were for very small villages, not the cities mentioned above. Mr. Asher clearly had grandiose aspirations.

Rees walked around to the front. An opening was screened by a shabby blue curtain, dyed in streaks and with the same look as the boards- used over and over for a long time. Now more curious than ever, he bent down and peered through the gap at the bottom. He could hear the sound of hooves and as he peeked under the curtain he saw the skinny brown legs of a galloping horse thud past.

‘I really must begin my journey.’ Piggy Hanson’s whiny drawl sent Rees’s head whipping around. What the Hell was Piggy doing here? Rees had not seen Hanson, or anyone else from his hometown of Dugard, Maine, for almost two years, not since the magistrate had written an arrest warrants for Lydia – witchcraft – and for Rees – murder. His family had had to flee for their lives. He did not think he would ever forgive the people involved, especially the magistrate who had enabled the persecution. Rage swept over Rees and he turned to look around for the other man.

He saw his nemesis – they’d been enemies since boyhood – standing in a cluster of gentlemen, their cigar smoke forming a cloud around them. With every intention of punching the other man, Rees took a few steps in his direction, but then his anger succumbed to his more rational mind. He did not want Piggy Hanson to know he lived here now and anyway there were far too many men for him to take on by himself.

‘I must leave for the next town on my circuit, you know,’ Hanson continued. A magistrate for a large district, he regularly traveled from town to town ruling on judicial issues. He knew Rees was innocent of murder, Rees was certain of it, but he suspected he would still be treated as though he was guilty. And he doubted he could behave with any civility at all, not with this man. He cast around for a hiding place and, quicker than thought, he dashed behind the blue curtain.

He swiftly moved away from the portal, pressing himself against the wooden wall so that no one who came through the curtain could immediately see him. Then he inhaled a deep breath and looked around.

Stones carried in from the field outside marked off a roughly circular ring. The galloping horse thundered past, a woman in a short red frock standing on the saddle. At first scandalized to see the woman’s legs knee to ankle, Rees’s shock quickly turned to admiration. She stood on the saddle in comfort, her red dress and white petticoats fluttering in the breeze. Puffs of dust from the horse’s hooves sifted into the air.

‘Pip,’ said a voice from above. Rees looked up. A rope had been stretched tautly across the width of the enclosure and a woman in a white dress and stockings stood upon it. She wore white gloves but no hat and her wavy dark hair curled around her face. Rees stared in amazement as her white feet slid across the line. She was totally focused upon her task and did not give any indication she saw him. ‘Pip,’ she said again, and went into a flood of French mixed with some other language. Rees understood enough to know she was complaining about the rope.

This, he thought, must be Bambola, the ropewalker, crossing the sky above his head. She was one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen. As her white dress fluttered around her, all he could think of was angels.

‘Bon.’ A man Rees had not noticed detached himself from the wall and moved forward. He was easily as tall as Rees, if not taller, and lanky. His hair was a peculiar reddish black color. In French he assured the rope dancer that he would fix the rope in a minute.

Holding up his hand, he moved toward the ring. The equestrienne dropped down to the saddle, first riding astride and then moving one leg across so she rode sidesaddle. She pulled the horse to a stop and jumped down with none of the hesitation of a lady. She conferred with Pip for a few moments in tones too low for Rees to hear and then she went out the opening at the back. The man leaped easily into the saddle and urged the horse again into a gallop. He stood in the saddle, balancing even more easily than his female partner, and then, in one fluid motion, dropped to the saddle to stand on his hands. His lean body formed a long streak toward the sky. Rees gasped in amazement. Then the performer began jumping from one face of the saddle to the other, riding diagonally on each side with his feet pointing at the horse’s hindquarters. He was even more skilled than the woman and Rees was so enthralled he forgot why he was there and lost all track of time.

Finally, Pip moved his long body into the saddle and slowed the horse to a walk. He dismounted and, taking hold of the bridle, began to walk the animal around the ring. ‘You,’ he shouted at Rees in a heavy French accent, ‘get out. You must pay.’

Rees half-nodded, listening to the chatter floating over the wall; he could still hear Piggy talking outside, his high-pitched voice carrying over the lower tones of the other men. ‘I didn’t sneak in to see the show,’ Rees told the circus performer in a near-whisper. ‘There’s someone outside I don’t want to meet.’ With a grin – he could also hear Piggy – the other man turned and pointed to the curtain at the back. Rees struck across the ring for the screen. Disappointment – for now he would not be able to stay and enjoy the show – fell heavy upon his shoulders. Another crime to put at Piggy’s door.

Before he dropped the cloth over the opening Rees turned to look back over his shoulder. Now the tall man was scrambling up the pole to the small landing above. Rees wondered if the talented rider was a rope dancer as well as an equestrian but he did not go all the way up. Instead, as the girl withdrew to the landing on the other side, Pip began working with fittings. The rope vibrated.

Rees dropped the curtain and looked around. He found himself in the cluster of the circus carriages, horses, and hurrying people. A dwarf wearing a clown’s short ruffled red pants and with red triangles drawn in around his eyes hurried past, quickly followed by a slender fellow with oiled black hair and an aggressive black mustache streaked with gray. The performance would begin soon. No one took the slightest notice of Rees as he threaded his way through the circus performers.

Close to, the wagons looked beat up, scarred with use. Most of the gold horses on the wagon doors were simply paint and the few that were carved wood or sculpted metal were losing their gilding. Rees distinctly saw the tell- tale red of rust fringing the head of one rearing stallion.

He broke into a run. He would never have expected to meet the Magistrate here in this tiny Maine town. And he prayed Hanson would leave soon. Rees would not dare to return until he could be sure that Piggy Hanson was gone.

Leaving Durham proved just as challenging as entering town in the first place. The streets seemed even more congested now than they had been earlier. Abandoning the main road once again, Rees turned down a side street on the southern side of town. There was a narrow lane, little more than a footpath, that went east, from Durham to the Surry Road. He could follow Surry Road north past the Shaker community and then to his own farm. If he could just reach the lane. The side street was packed with wagons coming from the farms on the southern side of town. It took Rees much longer than it should have to drive the few blocks before he was finally able to turn.

But from what he could see of this winding track, there was little traffic here. Because of the narrow and twisty nature of this lane most of the traffic was on foot. Only a few vehicles were heading into town. Congratulating himself on his foresight, Rees settled himself more comfortably on the hard wooden seat. If one were not in a hurry, this was a pleasant ride through the stands of budding trees and lichen spotted boulders. He glanced at the sky; he’d reach home before it was entirely dark. And, although he had not been able to attend the circus, at least he’d seen enough to make a good story to tell Lydia and the children.

The wagon trundled around the last steep sharp curve. From here the road straightened out, cutting through farmland until it reached Surry Road.

And ahead was a group of Shaker Brothers, walking towards him. Rees was surprised to see them. A devout group that rarely left their well-ordered community, they surely could not be walking into Durham for the circus. He slowed to a stop and jumped to the ground.

Chapter 2

The group of men resolved into individual faces. One man, Brother Daniel, Rees knew well. Daniel had been the caretaker of the boys when Rees and his family had sought refuge here two years ago. Promoted to Elder since then, Daniel was beginning to look much older than his almost thirty years. He’d lost the roundness to his cheeks, his face now appearing almost gaunt, and the gray appearing in his hair made him look as though he were fading like a piece of old cloth. Rees, who’d recently discovered white hairs on his chin and chest, felt a spasm of sympathy.

Now worried lines furrowed Daniel’s forehead. ‘Rees,’ he said. ‘If I may request your assistance?’

‘Of course,’ he said immediately. ‘What do you need?’ Not only was his wife a former Shaker but the members of Zion had helped him more times than he could count.

‘When you came through town did you see a Shaker lass?’ Daniel’s normally quiet voice trembled with fear and desperation. Rees shook his head. He had seen few women or children and none clothed in the sober Shaker garb.

‘What happened? Did she run off to see the circus?’

‘Yes,’ Daniel said with a nod. ‘With one of the boys.’

‘Shem,’ said Brother Aaron. Rees knew the cantankerous old man well. and was surprised to see him here, searching for the girl. Although a Shaker, Aaron was not always kind or compassionate. ‘I fear he was easily led by that girl,’ he added, confirming Rees’s judgement.

‘Apparently they took off right after our noon dinner,’ Daniel continued, ignoring the other man. ‘We wouldn’t know that much but for the fact Shem was almost late for supper.’

‘Well, have you asked him where she is?’

‘Shem had nothing to do with it,’ Aaron said sharply at the same instant Daniel spoke.

‘Of course we did. We aren’t fools.’

Rees held up his hands in contrition. The Shakers were usually the most even-tempered of people. He knew Daniel’s testiness was a measure of his worry. ‘What did he say?’

‘That they were separated.’

‘Shem wanted to see the circus horses,’ Aaron said.

‘Leah wanted to come home,’ Daniel explained, throwing an irritated glance at his fellow Shaker. ‘Well, they wouldn’t allow a woman to enter such a rude entertainment, would they? She was probably bored-.’

‘He is horse mad,’ Aaron interjected.

‘Please Aaron,’ Daniel said in a sharp voice, staring at his fellow in exasperation. Aaron

acknowledged the rebuke with a nod and Daniel continued. ‘How could Leah have been so lost to all propriety as to imagine she would be allowed entry, I don’t know.’ For a moment his frustration with the girl overshadowed his fear. ‘What was she thinking? I’m not surprised that rapscallion Shem would behave so carelessly but Leah is soon to sign the Covenant and join us as a fully adult member. The amusements of the World should hold no attraction for her.’

Rees shook his head in disagreement. He didn’t blame the girl. He thought that this was exactly the time when she would want to see something outside the kitchen. After all, he was a man, well used to traveling, and seeing the circus had made him long to pack his loom in his wagon and go.

‘Like all women, she is flighty,’ Aaron said, frowning in condemnation. ‘Attracted to sins of -.’

‘Did you search Zion?’ Rees interrupted.

‘No,’ Daniel said. ‘When we couldn’t find the children, we suspected they’d left . . .’ His voice trailed away and he looked from side to side as though expecting the girl to spring up beside him.

‘Perhaps she just wanted to go home to her family,’ Rees suggested.

‘She has no family,’ Daniel said curtly. ‘Neither of those children do. Shem is an orphan and Leah has lived with us since she was a baby. Her mother brought her to us and died soon after. Leah knows no other family but us. She would not leave our community.’

All the more reason for her to want to experience something of the world, Rees thought but he kept his opinion to himself. ‘I drove to town on the main road,’ he said aloud. ‘I did not see any children at all.’

‘When was that?”

“About four,’ Rees replied.

Daniel nodded and rubbed a shaking hand over his jaw. ‘You were on the road too late, I think. The children left the village right after noon dinner.’

‘That means they would have been on the main road between one and two,’ Rees said. ‘Depending on their speed.’ And if Leah had parted from Shem and started home by two-thirty or three, walking either road, she would have reached Zion by four. Four-thirty at the latest. Anxiety for the girl tingled through him. He thought of his own children and the kidnapping of his daughter last winter with a shudder of remembered terror. ‘I’ll help you search,’ he said. ‘The more of us the better.’ He already feared this search would not have a good outcome.

Daniel turned to two of the younger Brothers. ‘Search along the road,’ he said. ‘And

hurry. We have less than an hour of daylight left.’ They started down the lane, moving toward town at a run.

Rees looked up at the sky. The fiery ball was almost at the horizon, and long low rays streamed across the earth in ribbons of gold. In thirty – maybe forty minutes the sun would drop below the western hill and the pink and purple streamers across the sky would fade into black. ‘I’ll park the wagon,’ he said, jumping into the seat.

He pulled it to the ditch on the left side and jumped down, looking around him as he did so. Farmer Reynard had planted the sloping fields on Rees’s right; buckwheat probably given the sloping and rocky nature of the ground. But on the left the buckwheat straw from last year stood almost four feet high, waiting to be cut down and then turned over into the soil. Rees inspected that field thoughtfully. Tall thick stems such as that could hide a girl who did not want to be found. ‘We should check the fields,’ he said as he rejoined the Shakers. ‘And the pastures.’ When Daniel looked at him in surprise, he added, ‘She might have started back to Zion and when she saw us coming gone to ground. She might not want to be dragged back to Zion in disgrace.’ Daniel nodded, pleased by the suggestion and quickly asked the other Brothers to spread out across the fields. Rees and Daniel started walking down the lane.

But before they had gone very far, one of the other Shakers called out.

‘Hey, over here.’ A young fellow whose yellow hair stuck out around his straw hat like straw itself, began retching. ‘Oh, dear God.’

Daniel did not pause to remonstrate with the boy for his language but vaulted the fence into the field and ran. Rees struggled to keep up. Was it Leah? Was she hurt? His stomach clenched; he was so afraid the situation was far worse than that.

They arrived at the body lying sprawled in its buckwheat nest at the same time. She lay partly on her right side, partly on her back, her left arm crooked at her waist at an odd angle. Her plain gray skirt was rucked up to her thighs and blood spattered the white flesh. Daniel turned around, his face white, and shouted at the Brothers approaching him, ‘Stay back. Stay back. Don’t come any closer.’

‘Oh no,’ Rees said, dropping to one knee. ‘Oh no.’ Although he’d been told Leah was fourteen, she looked much younger. Under the severe Shaker cap, her skin had the translucent quality of the child. Her eyes were open, the cloudy irises staring at the darkening sky. Rees bent over her. Although it was hard to tell in the fading light he thought he saw marks around her throat. ‘She may have been strangled,’ he said, his eyes rising to the worm fence that separated this field from the road that led into Durham. Leah’s body had been dropped only a few yards from the fence but in the high straw it would have been almost invisible, even in daylight. Rees began walking slowly toward the main road, his eyes fixed upon the ground. There did not seem to be any path from the fence to the body; none of the buckwheat stalks were bent or broken in any way. He did not see any footprints in the soft April soil either. But in the setting sun detail was difficult to see and he made a mental note to examine this section of the field more closely tomorrow.

‘The farmer, did he do this terrible thing?’ Daniel cried, glancing from side to side.

‘Perhaps, but I doubt it,’ Rees said. He touched the girl’s upraised arm to see if he could move it. As he suspected, the body was growing stiff. ‘He would be a fool to leave her in his own field.’

‘It was not Shem,’ Aaron said loudly. Rees glanced up at the man. Why was Aaron so protective of that boy?

‘She’s been dead for about some hours,’ Rees said, returning to his examination. Then he thought about the warmth of the day. Leah would have been lying here, in the sun. ‘Maybe since mid-afternoon.’ And that time would be consistent with the time she’d left town.

‘How do you know?’ Daniel stared at Rees in shock, mixed with dawning suspicion.

‘You told me she was seen at noon dinner,’ Rees replied, ‘so we know she was alive then.’ He rose to his feet and looked at Daniel ‘It must be almost six o’clock now.’

‘Probably after,’ Daniel said, looking around at the fading light.

‘A body begins to stiffen a few hours after death and then, maybe half a day later, the rigidity passes off. I saw this frequently during the War for Independence but any good butcher will tell you the same.’ Rees kept his eyes upon the other man who finally nodded with some reluctance. ‘I would guess that Leah was accosted by someone on her way home.’ He paused. The poor child had probably been lying here when he rode past, thinking of the circus. He closed his eyes as a spasm of shame went through him.

‘She knew she was not to leave Zion,’ Daniel said with a hint of wrath in his voice.

Rees sighed. This was not the first time he had seen the victim blamed. And perhaps, for a celibate such as Daniel, anger was an easier emotion right now than horror and disgust and grief as well. ‘Perhaps she behaved foolishly, but she did not deserve this end to her life.’

‘We will take her home -,’ Daniel began. But Rees interrupted.

‘We must send someone for the constable.’

‘No. No. She is one of ours.’

‘This is murder,’ Rees said, staring fixedly at Daniel. Although shocked and horrified, he had witnessed too many violent deaths to be paralyzed by such evil any longer. His calm voice and stern regard had the desired effect. Daniel sucked in a deep breath. After he had mastered himself, he left Rees’s side and joined the group of Shakers.

‘Run back to the village and get a horse,’ he told one of the youngest Brothers. ‘Ride into Durham and fetch Constable Rouge.’ His voice trembled on the final word. Rees looked at Daniel. He was swaying on his feet, his eyes were glassy and his skin pale and slick with perspiration. He looked as though he might faint. Rees drew him away from Leah’s body and pressed him down into a sitting position. Daniel was little more than a boy himself and had lived in the serene Shaker community most of his life. It was no surprise he was ill-equipped to handle such a terrible occurrence. ‘Put your head between your knees,’ Rees said. ‘I’m going to walk to the farmhouse and talk to the farmer. Maybe he saw something.’

‘I’ll go with you.’ Daniel stood up; so unsteady Rees grabbed him to keep him from falling.

‘No,’ he said with a shake of his head.

‘I need to go with you,’ the Brother said fiercely. ‘I need to do something. That poor child!’ Rees stared at the other man. Although Daniel’s face was still white, and he was trembling he had set his mouth in a determined line. ‘I must do this, Rees.’

‘Very well.’ Rees glanced over his shoulder at the body. From here, it appeared to be a bundle of rags dropped among the stalks. ‘Poor chick won’t be going anywhere.’

Daniel looked at Brother Aaron. ‘You were once a soldier,’ he said. ‘You’ve seen violence and death. Please stay with our Sister.’ Aaron nodded and, withdrawing a few steps, sat down in the row between the stalks. In the encroaching shadows he instantly faded from view. Only his pale straw hat remained, shining in the last of the light like a beacon.

Rees and Daniel set off across the fields for the distant farmhouse.

***

Excerpt from A Circle Of Dead Girls by Eleanor Kuhns. Copyright 2020 by Eleanor Kuhns. Reproduced with permission from Eleanor Kuhns. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Eleanor Kuhns

Eleanor Kuhns is the 2011 winner of the Minotaur First Crime novel competition for A Simple Murder. She lives in upstate New York. A Circle of Death Girls is Will Rees Mystery # 8.

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