#GuestPost “The Deadening” by Kerry Peresta

The Deadening by Kelly Peresta Banner

April 1-30, 2021 Tour

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The struggle to be an independent woman, to cut ties with dependence on that perfect partner to make us complete, whole; happy…is an ongoing battle.

Often it takes a disaster or two to help us open our blind eyes, our deaf ears. We learn, either willingly or unwillingly (through traumatic consequences), that we have to be a 100% whole woman before we can attract a 100% whole mate. This 50/50 stuff, just doesn’t work. All we have in this scenario are two broken people trying to mend each other, and that doesn’t benefit anyone.

Such is the case with my protagonist, Olivia Callahan. She is broken, but doesn’t know it. And this is a big problem. She is a sitting duck—vulnerable, naïve, clueless.

It takes twenty years, two beautiful daughters, and a divorce before she realizes something is dangerously wrong. In her haste to depart her parents’ home at the tender age of 18 she had leapt into her husband Monty’s arms, unaware that she was trading one fire for another. Monty felt comfortable. Familiar. They rock along for twenty years, and all is well as long as she lets Monty take the lead.

In everything.

Bad move.

When he leaves for a younger, perkier version, Olivia is shell-shocked. Devastated. What happened? She’d given him everything she had to give. Had she needed to try harder? Be more available? Claw into his mind to find out what she’d done wrong?

In a desperate attempt to pursue normalcy, even though her life would never be ‘normal’ again; after the divorce she takes her daughters to the beach, the family’s yearly vacation spot. In retrospect, she realizes this was not the best decision, since she sees the ghost of their marriage around every palm tree, in every beach chair. She is desperate to move on, to stop dwelling on what was and embrace the possibilities ahead. But she is still broken.

And so the cycle continues. One poor—but well-intentioned—decision after the other. One of which lands her in the bushes, bleeding and unconscious; the victim of an apparent assault. Fortunately, she is in the bushes outside an ER, and is carted in after someone finds her.

The ER team finds a massive brain injury, and struggles to save her. She lapses into a coma, and all the medical team can do is wait. She has no ID, and is admitted as a Jane Doe.

Olivia is based on an expanded and darker version of myself, decades ago, before I found strength and support in a recovery group. The information was life-changing, and boy, did my life ever change!

It got worse immediately.

They don’t tell you that this happens. I guess they like to keep it a secret, or the recoveree will run screaming from the meeting. I’m joking, but many times life does get worse when we begin facing facets of ourselves that are unpleasant and non-productive, but the resultant healing is phenomenal. Worth every cringy, hard-fought moment. These moments are temporary and healing.

Oliva is in for a tough battle. It’s one I believe most women experience in one way or another, and its severity depends on what the woman is willing to endure. Whether she will move forward, or stay stuck because it has become familiar. In Book One, Olivia stumbles through trying to find her way back to her life, but since the coma has stolen her memory, she is exhausted trying to reclaim the memories from her marriage, and memories of her children’s most precious years. And angry. She finds the anger energizing, and it propels her to carve out a better future than what family and friends share about her past. Pre-coma. Unfortunately, in order to be completely free of the past, she must revisit it.

What she discovers makes her more determined than ever to run from it as fast as she can.

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Synopsis:

The Deadening by Kerry Peresta

OLIVIA CALLAHAN’S quiet, orderly life is shattered when she regains consciousness in a hospital and discovers she is paralyzed and cannot remember a thing. The fragmented voices she hears around her help her piece together that an apparent assault landed her in the hospital, but nobody knows who attacked her, or why.

Now, in spite of a brain injury that has rewired her personality, Olivia is on a mission to reclaim her life. As clarity surfaces, and she starts to understand who she was, she is shocked.

Could she really have been that person?

And if so, does she want her old life back?

Praise:

“A gripping read populated by likable characters. Peresta draws us into a colorful detailed world and makes us care what happens to the people living in it. We root for Olivia as she struggles to regain her memory, her bearings, and the identity she lost long before her injury. Excellent!”
– Susan Crawford, Internationally bestselling author of The Pocket Wife and The Other Widow.

The Deadening is a captivating psychological suspense novel that will have you holding your breath with each turn of the page. Peresta has created a world chock-full of characters who are dynamic and unforgettable, for better or worse. Hold onto your seat.”
– Clay Stafford, bestselling author and founder of Killer Nashville Writers’ Conference

Book Details:

Genre: Psychological Suspense

Published by: Level Best Books

Publication Date: February 21, 2021

Number of Pages: 353

ISBN: 1953789358 (ISBN13:9781953789358) (ASIN:B08SVKLMZ8)

Series: Olivia Callahan Suspense, 1

Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | 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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Giveaway!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Kerry Peresta. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card.
The giveaway begins on April 1, 2021 and runs through May 2, 2021. Void where prohibited.

 

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Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

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#BookTour “The Deadening” by Kerry Peresta

The Deadening by Kelly Peresta Banner

April 1-30, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

The Deadening by Kerry Peresta

OLIVIA CALLAHAN’S quiet, orderly life is shattered when she regains consciousness in a hospital and discovers she is paralyzed and cannot remember a thing. The fragmented voices she hears around her help her piece together that an apparent assault landed her in the hospital, but nobody knows who attacked her, or why.

Now, in spite of a brain injury that has rewired her personality, Olivia is on a mission to reclaim her life. As clarity surfaces, and she starts to understand who she was, she is shocked.

Could she really have been that person?

And if so, does she want her old life back?

Praise:

“A gripping read populated by likable characters. Peresta draws us into a colorful detailed world and makes us care what happens to the people living in it. We root for Olivia as she struggles to regain her memory, her bearings, and the identity she lost long before her injury. Excellent!”
– Susan Crawford, Internationally bestselling author of The Pocket Wife and The Other Widow.

The Deadening is a captivating psychological suspense novel that will have you holding your breath with each turn of the page. Peresta has created a world chock-full of characters who are dynamic and unforgettable, for better or worse. Hold onto your seat.”
– Clay Stafford, bestselling author and founder of Killer Nashville Writers’ Conference

Book Details:

Genre: Psychological Suspense
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: February 21, 2021
Number of Pages: 353
ISBN: 1953789358 (ISBN13:9781953789358) (ASIN:B08SVKLMZ8)
Series: Olivia Callahan Suspense, 1
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt from The Deadening:

Prologue

The stiff bristles of the brush grew coppery as he scrubbed back and forth, back and forth. Wrinkling his nose at the smell, he groped for the mask he’d bought, looped it over his head, and snugged it into place.

He dipped the brush in the red-tinged solution in a blue, plastic bowl beside him on the floor, and continued scrubbing. Fifteen minutes later, he emptied the bowl down the toilet and shoved everything he’d used into a trash bag. He fought to staunch the bile creeping up his windpipe, but his throat constricted and he gagged. After retching into the sink, he turned on the faucet and splashed water on his face. Paused to take deep breaths. He could do this. He had to do this. He gripped the edge of the counter and stared out the bathroom window.

She’d not told anyone. Thank God for that. No one could know. No one would ever know. He’d make sure.

He walked to his garage, opened his car trunk, tossed in the latest trash bag. His hands felt icy. He rubbed them together, wiggled his fingers, and slammed the trunk shut.

Admittedly, her terror had excited him. Confusion. Dawning realization in her expression. His lips curved upward into a smile, then disintegrated. Reliving it didn’t change anything. He needed to move forward.

He returned and studied the carpet. In spite of his efforts, the stain still needed work. He cursed, dropped to his knees, and pounded the dampness with a fist.

Through a veil of fatigue, he watched in horror as the kidney-shaped stain stood and pointed an accusatory finger at him. He blinked, hard. Was he hallucinating? How long had he been without sleep? He crabbed backwards, leaned against the wall, pulled his knees to his chest and squeezed his eyes shut. When he opened them some moments later, the blood-apparition had disappeared.

He groaned.

He stared at the ceiling until his brain spit out a solution.

The problem lay in the other room. That’s how he looked at her now.

A problem to solve.

He rose from the floor and walked out.

His eyes slid from her pale face, down her form, to her feet. He no longer thought of her as warm, soft, desirable. She had been so scared…eyes wide and unblinking as she fell. He shook his head and pushed the image away.

Nesting her in towels so her blood wouldn’t pool on the couch, her bronze-sandaled feet with their shiny, pink toenails hung over the edge. He looked away. “Get a grip, man. Just do it.”

The towels fell away when he picked her up. He wound them back around her, careful to tuck in the edges. His heartbeat slammed his ribs.

She was fragile, a little bit of a thing, like a bird. He drew his index finger across her lips. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “If you had just…if you had only…” His voice trailed away. Jaw clenched, he carried her to his car.

Chapter One

Nathan ambled along sidewalks that wound through the manicured hospital grounds, fishing in his pocket for a lighter. He lit the cigarette dangling from his lips and inhaled deeply, his smile saturated with nicotine’s unholy bliss.

“Thank God,” he mumbled around the cigarette, and withdrew it from his lips, stretching. He glanced over his shoulder at the brightly lit ER entrance to Mercy Hospital, rubbing his neck. He rolled his shoulders, inhaled several deep drags from the cigarette, dropped it, and ground it beneath his shoe. “These night shifts are killing me.” He groaned and gazed at the sky. Clouds hid a full moon. He’d been grateful to get the med tech job, but after two months of bodily fluid testing and storage, he was bored. He needed a challenge.

Nathan followed his typical route through the hedged lawn, almost on auto-pilot, so when he stumbled and sprawled onto the grass face-first, he was stunned. What had tripped him? Cursing softly, he explored his cheeks, nose, forehead. No damage done that he could tell. “Klutz,” he berated himself, pushing up to hands and knees.

Something soft and warm lay beneath his palms. His breathing sped up. He looked down, but it was too dark to see. Trembling, his fingers inched their way to lips, nose, eyes, stiff knots of hair. His mouth dropped in horror. The clouds obligingly slid off the moon and revealed a woman’s body, her hair blood-matted, her face ghostly white. The grass around her head was rusty with blood. He edged his head toward her lips to check her breathing. Shallow, but at least she was alive.

He scrambled to his feet, fighting nausea and staring at his palms, sticky with the woman’s blood. Shrieking for help, he raced into the hospital and skidded to a stop in front of the desk. The ER nurses behind the reception desk squinted at him like he was deranged.

“Possible head injury!” He flailed an arm at the entrance. “Someone, anyone, come quick!”

A male nurse and two aides followed him outside, shoes pounding the sidewalk at full gallop. The tech stopped, turned, and signaled them to tread carefully as they parted ways with the sidewalk and navigated the shrubbery in the dark. Single file, panting, they tiptoed through the shadows until the tech raised a palm for them to stop.

“Here,” he hissed at the nurse, and held a point like a bird dog.

The nurse dropped to the ground and clicked a flashlight on. “Ohmigosh,” he whispered. He lifted the woman’s thin, pale wrist and glanced at his watch. Satisfied that she had a pulse, he slapped the flashlight into Nathan’s bloodied palm. “Stay with her!” He rushed inside.

Within minutes, looky-loos poured from the ER and clustered around the limp form.

“Move back!” Nathan stretched out his arms like a cop directing traffic. “She’s barely breathing!” His glanced nervously at the ER entrance.

The crowd didn’t yield an inch. The ER doors whooshed open. A stretcher clattered down the sidewalk and onto the dew-damp grass. Chills shivered up the tech’s spine as the ashen pallor of death climbed from the woman’s neck to her face. He dropped to the ground and picked up her hand. The paramedic team drew closer, their flashlights piercing the darkness with slivers of light. The crowd eased apart to let them through.

Nathan bent closer to the woman, and whispered, “Hang in there. Help is on the way.”

The stretcher slid to a stop beside him. The paramedics dropped to their knees, stabilized the woman’s head with a brace, staunched the bleeding, and wrapped the wound. They eased her onto the stretcher and rumbled away. The aides shared nervous smiles of relief. They looked at Nathan, then followed the paramedic team back inside.

Nathan, his heartbeat finally slowing, called, “Thanks for the assist, guys!” as they walked away.

The crowd dispersed with curious glances at Nathan, who watched until the group disappeared behind the ER’s double glass doors. He heaved a sigh of relief and swiped perspiration off his forehead. He patted his scrubs pocket for a cigarette, reconsidered, and trotted toward the ER entrance.

After the automatic doors parted, he jogged past two closed-door exam rooms and paused at a third, wide open. He looked inside.

The paramedics shared their observations with the ER doctor on call as he deftly explored the woman’s wounds. When he finished, he nodded, barked instructions, and pointed at the bed. In seconds, the woman’s transfer from stretcher to bed was complete. One of the nurses whisked a blood pressure cuff around her arm. Another hooked an IV bag to a chrome stand, pierced the skin on the back of the woman’s hand, slid in a needle, and taped it down.

The tech stepped back from the door to allow the paramedics to exit. Holding his breath, he stole into the room and crept past a floor-to-ceiling supply cabinet. He planted both palms onto the smooth, white walls behind him and inched sideways, melting into the corner next to a shelf holding tongue depressors, a box of plastic gloves, and a sanitizer dispenser.

“Pulse one-fifteen.” The nurse studied the blood pressure cuff. “Blood pressure eight-five over fifty.”

“Need a trach,” the doctor barked. “She’s bleeding out. Get some O neg in here.”

A blur of motion, two nurses and the ER doctor huddled around the woman’s body. When they stepped back, a laryngoscope, an endotracheal tube, and four sticky electric nodes leading to a cardiac monitor had been secured.

The medical team stilled, their eyes riveted to the monitors. The nurses wore sage green scrubs. Both had pink stethoscopes around their necks. The ER doctor had on a crisp, white jacket with his name scripted in black on the pocket. Nathan fidgeted and stuck his head out from the corner a little to focus on the screens.

The readings sputtered, stalled, plummeted.

“Code Blue!” The doctor spun around. A nurse jumped to the wall and slapped a flat, white square on the wall.

“Code Blue!” echoed through the ER’s intercom system. Frantic footsteps in the hall. Shouted instructions. Clanging metal. Squealing wheels. Nathan squeezed farther into the corner as the cart bearing life-saving electronic shock equipment exploded through the door.

“Brain must be swelling,” the doctor mumbled. He grabbed two paddles and swiped them together. “Clear!”

The woman’s body jolted. The doctor’s head jerked to the cardiac monitor. Flat.

“Clear!” He placed the paddles on the woman’s chest.

Her frail torso arced. The machine blipped an erratic cadence, then droned a steady hum.

The doctor cursed. “Clear!”

Another jolt. The monitor surged, sagged, then settled into a reassuring metronome blip. Tense faces relaxed. Applause spattered around the room.

The doctor blew out a long breath. “Okay, people, good job.” He smiled.

Within minutes, more lines snaked from the woman’s form. An orogastric tube drooped from the corner of her mouth, behind the intubation tube. A lead to measure brain waves clung to her forehead. The doctor studied each monitor in turn. Nathan let out the breath he’d been holding, slid down the wall into a crouch, and balanced on the balls of his feet.

“Any additional instructions, Doctor Bradford?” Brows raised, the nurse waited.

He rubbed his head thoughtfully. “Think she’s stable for now. CAT scan already ordered?”

She nodded. “Of course.”

“Tell them to expedite.” He cocked his head at the woman. “May be a long night. Watch her closely.” The doctor strode to the door, paused, and turned. He glanced at the tech huddled in the corner. “Good job, son.”

Nathan grinned and rose from his crouch, his chest puffed out a little. He’d never saved a life before. After a sympathetic glance at Mercy Hospital’s latest Jane Doe, he returned to the lab.

***

Excerpt from The Deadening by Kerry Peresta. Copyright 2021 by Kerry Peresta. Reproduced with permission from Kerry Peresta. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Kerry L Peresta

Kerry’s publishing credits include a popular newspaper column, “The Lighter Side,” 2009-2011; and magazine articles in Local Life Magazine, The Bluffton Breeze, Lady Lowcountry, and Island Events Magazine. She is the author of two novels, The Hunting, women’s fiction, released by Pen-L Publishing in 2013, and The Deadening, released in February, 2021 by Level Best Books, the first in the Olivia Callahan Suspense series, She spent twenty-five years in advertising as an account manager, creative director, and copywriter. She is past chapter president of the Maryland Writers’ Association and a current member and presenter of Hilton Head Island Writers’ Network, and the Sisters in Crime organization. Recently, she worked as editor and contributor for Island Communications, a local publishing house. Kerry and her husband moved to Hilton Head six years ago. She is the mother of four adult children, and has a bunch of wonderful grandkids who keep life interesting and remind her what life is all about.

Catch Up With Kerry L Peresta:
KerryPeresta.net
Goodreads
Instagram – @kerryperesta
Twitter – @kerryperesta
Facebook – @klperesta

 

 

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 Kerry Peresta. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card.
The giveaway begins on April 1, 2021 and runs through May 2, 2021. Void where prohibited.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


 

 

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

 

#BookTour “Unleashed By The Moon (A Royal Shifters Novel)” by L.P. Dover

 
Title: Unleashed by the Moon
Series: A Royal Shifters Novel
Author: L.P. Dover
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Release Date: March 30, 2021
 
 
 
 
 
Pulse-pounding action meets smoldering romance in Unleashed by the Moon, the latest masterpiece by New York Times and USA Today best-selling author L.P. Dover that is sure to leave you howling for more!
 
Desired by many.
Longing for one.
 
As the last royal arctic female, shifters across the country are sniffing for the chance to be the lucky male mated to Faith. A bond with her would elevate her chosen to the Royal pack, allowing them to tap into unimaginable power.
 
But Faith’s heart has already been claimed.
 
Hidden among the Great Plains pack, she finds the missing piece of her soul in Tate. But this love comes with a fatal risk. If their feelings are discovered, a price will be put on Tate’s head. At the next full moon, their bond can be fulfilled. Until then, they wait…
 
Little do they know, Killian Vilkas is preparing to manipulate matters to further his own twisted agenda. Orchestrating a vicious tournament, he pits shifters against one another in battles to try their luck at winning Faith’s hand.
 
Loyalties will be tested. Bonds broken by crushing betrayal. When the face of the silvery moon rises, will love stand victorious? Or fall beneath the snapping jaws of merciless ambition?
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
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.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
HOSTED BY:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

#BookTour “Consequences of Passion (Locketts of Tuxedo Park, Book 1)” by Yahrah St. John

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cover

CONSEQUENCES OF PASSION

by Yahrah St. John

She promised herself just one night of passion with her best friend’s brother, but what happens next? Find out in this explosive launch to the Locketts of Tuxedo Park series from Yahrah St. John!

When a winning bachelor bid leads to unexpected consequences…

Psychologist Shantel Wilson surprises herself by attending a bachelor auction as a favor to her friend—and bidding on his older brother! The outcome of her steamy night with Roman Lockett, heir apparent to an Atlanta football dynasty? She’s expecting. Now Roman wants to claim her—and his child—yet Shantel needs more than a marriage of convenience from this man who put passion in her playbook…

From Harlequin Desire: Luxury, scandal, desire—welcome to the lives of the American elite.

Love triumphs in this uplifting romance, part of the new Locketts of Tuxedo Park series.

AVAILABLE ON

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE | APPLE | KOBO | GOOGLE | HARLEQUIN

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Book Trailer

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Enter to Win

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One of three signed copies of Consequences of Passion!

Click Here

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EXCERPT

Roman Lockett was bored already.

Why had he let his sister, Giana, convince him to attend this bachelor auction benefitting a cure for multiple sclerosis on a Saturday night? Because as the baby girl of the family, anytime she looked at him with those big brown eyes of hers, he was helpless to resist.

Roman’s mind, however, was still on the tense meeting he’d had yesterday. As chief operating officer and director of player personnel of the Atlanta Cougars football franchise, it was Roman’s job to handle all major player contract concerns. And securing DeMarius Johnson, the team’s star quarterback, was high on not only his list but his father, Josiah Lockett’s, the Atlanta Cougars owner and general manager.

Because of his impending fee agency, negotiations with DeMarius had dragged on for months. His father thought Roman incapable of finishing the deal, but Roman had come to the table prepared for battle. They’d had to void the final two years of DeMarius’s contract, allowing the Cougars to resign him while maintaining the league’s salary cap. It had been risky because it was already late January. However, Roman had known allowing him to become a free agent would be problematic and so he’d adapted the contract based on market factors.

Roman hoped his father would be proud of the win under his belt. He had been on a success streak in recent years with the talent he’d brought to the Cougars team. As a result, they were ranked fifth in the league and Roman had played a big role in that. Yet despite all his successes, his father never gave him his due. Because Roman was the oldest, Josiah Lockett was harder on him than on his younger siblings, Julian, Giana and Xavier.

He stood on the outer fringes of the vast oval-shaped ballroom with crystal chandeliers and white drapery and surveyed the elegantly dressed men and women. He caught a glimpse of Giana making the rounds to get everyone psyched up for the evening. She wore a one-shouldered canary yellow gown with a stunning diamond necklace. Her jet-black hair had been artfully cut shoulder-length with bangs. It was a different look for her, but she wore it well. Meanwhile, most of the men were shamelessly flirting in the hopes women would bid outrageously on them. Roman, however, didn’t need to work the room.

He was Roman Lockett and every woman in Atlanta knew he was heir apparent to the Atlanta Cougars franchise. And if they seemed not to, they were faking it. His parents had been a major presence in the community for three decades. He’d already been approached by several beautiful women who’d made blatant attempts at seduction, and when that didn’t work, they’d resorted to pouting or affected hurt, all in an effort to gain his attention. But tonight, none of them held any appeal.

Roman had no idea how he was going to make it through the rest of the night. Let alone a date with one of these insipid women. Until he saw her.

A caramel-skinned beauty in a blush-colored gown with spaghetti straps. It wasn’t as elaborate as some of the confections he’d seen other women in tonight, showing off their God-given assets. Instead, it might be considered modest. Then she spun away and Roman saw the dress plunged to a curvy bottom, leaving her back bare save for a skinny piece of fabric holding the straps together.

For the first time tonight, Roman was intrigued. She looked oddly familiar, but he couldn’t place her. Who is she? He had to know. He began wandering across the ballroom toward her, but was stopped by another bevy of beauties. When he finally managed to extricate himself from their clutches, Roman couldn’t find her.

His nose flared. She might be the woman he wouldn’t mind spending time with at the end of the evening. He prayed she would come back because only she could transform this night from being an abysmal failure.

Shantel Wilson was impressed with the image she presented. With her job as a psychiatrist she didn’t often get a chance to dress up for a fancy night out on the town. Her best friend, Julian Lockett, had begged her to come and bid on him at the bachelor auction so he didn’t take home some unsuspecting female.

“C’mon,” Julian had cajoled. “I need your help. After that unflattering article about my dating life, my mother is furious with me. She warned me she wouldn’t tolerate any more shenanigans and I agreed to keep a low pro- file. If you attend, she’ll know I’m keeping my promise.”

“I don’t have anything to wear to something that fancy.” Shantel had used any excuse she could to get out of the event. Her wardrobe was comprised of slacks, silk blouses and the occasional skirt.

“Don’t worry about that. I know some fancy boutiques in Buckhead.”

Shantel had rolled her eyes. “I’m not one of your girls, Julian. I can buy my own clothes.”

“I know that, but trust me, it will help make you feel more comfortable hob knobbing with the upper crust if you’re in a killer dress.”

Famous last words, Shantel thought.

And so she’d gone to the high-end boutique Julian suggested and hadn’t been disappointed. The sales women had been eager to help, especially when she mentioned she was attending the Lockett charity gala. They’d shown her dresses in all shapes and price tags in the hopes she’d choose the most exorbitant one. Instead, she’d opted for a simple blush dress in silk chiffon, which she could afford with her salary from the practice.

Shantel liked the way it hugged her slender curves, and with the built-in bra, she’d been able to forgo a bra thanks to her barely B-cup-size breasts. The sales clerk insisted she needed lingerie, four-inch stilettos to boost her five-four height and a clutch to finish her look. In the end, Shantel purchased the entire ensemble. Tonight she felt like Cinderella, except she wouldn’t be losing her slipper. The shoes alone cost eight hundred dollars.

She was perusing the room when her eyes caught sight of Roman Lockett. The eldest brother of the Lockett clan was tall with a commanding presence. He wore what was no doubt a custom-fit tuxedo like a suit of armor. A veneer of power clung to his athletic frame. To Shantel he was like no other man she’d ever encountered, but Roman never paid any attention to her on the few occasions she’d been in his presence.

Tonight he was clearly bored with his surroundings if the jaded expression on his face was anything to go by. Had he been coerced into attending tonight’s event? And where was Julian, anyway? He’d begged her to come tonight and bid on him, but he was nowhere to be found.

Her idea of a fun Saturday night was a hot bath, a glass of wine and streaming a Netflix movie, but when Julian had pleaded with her, she’d been powerless to resist. Ever since they met at a college party ten years ago, their friendship had been grounded in love and affection. Julian had been attending Morehouse while she’d been at Spelman. Their friendship endured her mother’s suicide and Julian’s many love affairs, but that didn’t mean he didn’t vex her.

Shantel stepped out of the ballroom, pulled her phone from her clutch and texted Julian.

Where are you?

She waited and saw three dots on her iPhone indicating he was typing a message, but then the text bubble went away. She was certain Julian had read her message, so why wasn’t he responding? There was no way she would have come tonight if it wasn’t for him. Large social gatherings weren’t really her thing. She thrived in one-on-one interactions. She supposed it was why she was so good at her job.

Having been raised on the farm and being a nerd, she’d always been socially awkward. College had been eye-opening for a simple country girl like Shantel. She’d been raised in a town where everyone knew each other, but in college she hadn’t understood the rules or the games people played. Sometimes Shantel wondered if she’d made the right choice and whether she’d ever find a man who truly got her.

She was so deep in thought, Shantel didn’t realize she had company until she looked upward and found Roman’s ebony eyes trained on her.

~~~

ABOUT YAHRAH ST. JOHN

Yahrah St. JohnYahrah St. John became a writer at the age of twelve when she wrote her first novella after secretly reading a Harlequin romance. Throughout her teens, she penned a total of twenty novellas. Her love of the craft continued into adulthood. She’s the proud author of thirty-nine books with Arabesque, Kimani Romance and Harlequin Desire as well as her own indie works.

When she’s not at home crafting one of her spicy romances with compelling heroes and feisty heroines with a dash of family drama, she is gourmet cooking or traveling the globe seeking out her next adventure. For more info: www.yahrahstjohn.com or find her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Bookbub or Goodreads.

CONNECT WITH Yahrah St. JOHN

AUTHOR SITE | FACEBOOKTWITTER | INSTAGRAMNEWSLETTER | PINTEREST | YOUTUBE | BOOKBUB | AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE

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#BookTour “Hit Or Miss” by Jeff Markowitz

Hit Or Miss by Jeff Markowitz BannerApril 1-30, 2021 Tour

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Synopsis:

Hit Or Miss by Jeff Markowitz

When you’re twenty-one years old, it can be hard, under the best of circumstances, to balance the expectations of your father and the desires of your girlfriend. For Ben Miller and his girlfriend Emily Bayard, circumstances are far from perfect.

Emily’s mother has been murdered. Ben’s father, a detective in Dutch Neck, catches the case. It’s not long before evidence suggests that Emily’s father may be responsible for the death of his wife.

Set against the backdrop of the cultural and political unrest associated with the war in Viet Nam, Emily and Ben find themselves attracted by the politics and lifestyle of the counter-culture.

As Detective Miller conducts the homicide investigation and Dr. Bayard attempts to keep an affair with his secretary secret, everyone else in the town of Dutch Neck that summer of 1970 has the same question.

Who is responsible for the death of Rosalie Bayard?

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery

Published by: WiDo Publishing

Publication Date: December 29, 2020

Number of Pages: 278

ISBN: 9781947966482

Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

~~~

Read an excerpt:

Thousands of young people were on the mall, and more were streaming in by the minute. Willow, and her hippie friends staked out a spot near the Lincoln Memorial. Emily wandered the length of the National Mall, from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capital Building and back again, determined to take it all in. There was a buzz in the morning air. The President appeared unannounced on the Ellipse at dawn and chatted with a small group of demonstrators. He wished them an enjoyable stay in the nation’s capital. Everyone Emily met on the Mall claimed to have seen him. The day was hot; the Mall was dry and dusty. There were crowds of people everywhere, an uneasy mixture of antiwar protestors, soldiers and police units, newsmen and onlookers. Protestors flashed peace signs and sang the fish cheer. Young Republicans responded with middle-finger salutes.

Emily didn’t know most of the speakers at the demonstration, but she like the message. End the Cambodian incursion. End the war in Vietnam. She located a pay phone and used her spare change to call Ben.

“It’s amazing. You should be here.” She had to yell to be heard. Demonstrators continued to pour into the Mall. “Is anything happening in Dutch Neck?”

“You need to come home.”

“Don’t be like that.”

“That’s not what I mean. It’s your mother.”

“What about my mother?”

Ben didn’t answer right away. The phone line crackled with static.

A scuffle broke out on the Mall. Police moved in quickly, weapons at the ready, cutting the small group of protestors off from the larger crowd. The confrontation pulled Emily’s attention away from the phone call.

“Your mother is dead.”

Later, the news would report that there were more than one hundred thousand demonstrators on the national mall, but at that moment, amidst the pushing and shoving, Emily felt like she was alone in the world. Without more change to feed the phone, the line went dead. She dropped the pay phone and turned, nearly bumping into a cop.

“Stay back,” he ordered, his hand on his weapon.

“She’s dead,” she replied and kept walking.

He pointed the gun at Emily’s head. “Who’s dead?”

She could feel anger in the policeman, but also restraint. Days removed from Kent State, it was as if no one wanted to provoke the next shooting. The policeman holstered his weapon. Shouts of “pig” were replaced by prayers for peace. Emily breathed a sigh of relief and answered the officer’s question.

“My mother.”

“Do you have a way to get home?”

Emily told the officer about Miss Cooper and the apartment on C Street. He offered to give her a ride. If anyone saw her in the patrol car, she would tell them that she had been arrested.

No one answered when she knocked on the apartment door. The apartment manager was polite, but firm. She would have to leave.

“Do you need money for a bus ticket?” The officer reached for his wallet. “I’ll drop you off at the bus station.”

When Emily left Dutch Neck, her mother had been alive. If she got on a bus, she would be admitting that her mother was dead. She wasn’t prepared to deal with that. Not yet. So she decided to spend another night in DC. As long as she remained in DC, she told herself, she could pretend that nothing was wrong at home. And maybe, just maybe, she could help end the war.

With no place else to go, she retraced her steps.

The crowd at the National Mall was smaller. There was a chill in the air, the midday heat a distant memory. It was a tough night, out on the mall, trying not to think about her mother. Instead she thought about the American boys who were spending the night in rice paddies on the other side of the world, probably trying not to think about their mothers too, and she knew that this was a small price to pay to end the war. At four in the morning, an older man approached. He was dressed like an off-duty policeman heading out to play a round of golf.

“Are you here to end the war, miss?”

“Yes, I guess I am,” She took a closer look at the middle-aged man and jumped to her feet, “Mr. President?”

President Nixon chuckled quietly.

“But, what…”

“I couldn’t sleep. I thought some fresh air would do me good.”

“But…”

“You know, sometimes I think you young people actually believe that I like being at war.”

Emily didn’t know how to answer the Commander in Chief. “Begging your pardon sir, but it does sometimes seem that way.”

“Let me tell you something miss… by the way, we haven’t been properly introduced. My name is Richard Nixon and yours is?”

“Emily Bayard.” She started to raise her fist in protest, like Bug, during the demonstration, but couldn’t extend her arm, not while she was standing face-to-face with the President. She looked around, grateful that Willow and her friends weren’t there to see her pitiful attempt at protest.

“Well, Emily, let me tell you something. I think I hate this war more than you do. But sometimes war is the necessary thing to do.”

“But you could end the war, sir. You could end the war today.”

“General Westmoreland tells me we need two more years to achieve our goals. You wouldn’t want us to leave now, without achieving our goals. Give me two more years Emily, and I’ll end the war. You have my word on it.”

“I don’t think I can do that, sir.”

President Nixon shook his head in sadness. “You young people can be so impatient.”

“In a few weeks, I’ll be graduating from college.”

“Congratulations. And then?”

“I don’t know. But I have classmates… friends… They’ve been called up. In two years’ time, they could be dead.”

President Nixon didn’t have an answer at the ready. “I’d best be on my way.” The sun was beginning to peek over the horizon. “Before my Secret Service detail realizes I’ve slipped out.”

President Nixon turned to leave. He took a few steps and then turned back to face Emily. “I’ve just had an idea. Are you hungry? Would you like to have breakfast with me?”

“You mean, like, in the White House?”

The President grinned. “I have the best chef. What would you like? You can have anything, anything at all. After all, I am the President.”

“This isn’t some sort of photo op, is it? You know what I mean, antiwar activist sees the error of her ways after breaking bread with the President.

“I see what you mean. It would sure look good in the papers. Lord knows I could use a good story in the papers.” The President chuckled. “No. No photos. No press release. You have my word.”

And so it came to pass, on Sunday morning, before taking a bus back to Long Island to bury her mother, Emily had breakfast with the President. Mr. Nixon had poached eggs and corned beef hash with a cup of coffee, black. Emily had blueberry blintzes and a cup of chamomile tea. And all the while, they argued about the war.

“Would you like seconds?”

But she had put it off long enough. “I’m needed at home.”

***

Excerpt from Hit Or Miss by Jeff Markowitz. Copyright 2020 by Jeff Markowitz. Reproduced with permission from Jeff Markowitz. All rights reserved.

~~~

Author Bio:

Jeff Markowitz

Jeff Markowitz is the author of 5 mysteries, including the award-winning dark comedy, Death and White Diamonds. His new book, Hit Or Miss, was released in December 2020. Part detective story, part historical fiction, part coming of age story, Hit Or Miss is an Amazon Hot New Release in political fiction. Jeff spent more than 40 years creating community-based programs and services for children with autism, before retiring in 2018 to devote more time to writing. Jeff is Past President of the NY chapter of Mystery Writers of America.

Catch Up With Jeff Markowitz:
www.JeffMarkowitz.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @JeffMarkowitz
Twitter – @JeffMarkowitz1
Facebook

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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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This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Jeff Markowitz. There will be two (2) winners each receiving one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. The giveaway begins on April 1, 2021 and runs through May 2, 2021. Void where prohibited.

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#BookTour “Careless Whispers (A Jackson Falls Novel)” by Synithia Williams

Careless Whispers
A Jackson Falls Novel #3
by Synithia Williams
Genre: Contemporary Romance
She’s falling in love with the one man she can’t trust…
Elaina Robidoux knows how people view her: coldhearted, ambitious, ruthless. But it doesn’t matter. Running the family business is all she’s ever wanted and she’s so close she can almost taste it…until her father fires her and hires her nemesis—arrogant, unflappable Alex Tyson. Elaina may be hurt but she refuses to be defeated, so she throws herself into creating a business of her own. But she never dreamed that to close her first deal, she’d need Alex’s help…
Alex understands the power of a family legacy better than most and the last thing he wanted was to take that from Elaina. Her beauty and fierce strength are undeniable, but there’s a softer side that no one but him seems to see. She’s been taught that emotions are a liability, yet one impulsive kiss starts a chain reaction that neither of them wants to stop. But can love ignite—and survive—when secrets and loyalties collide?
[An] exceptional tale of forbidden love.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review, on Forbidden Promises
Praise for Synithia Williams’s Jackson Falls series
Williams (His Pick for Passion) makes waves with this exceptional tale of forbidden love.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review, on Forbidden Promises
A romance for readers looking for equal parts passion and family drama.” —Kirkus Reviews on Forbidden Promises
Politics, passion, and family drama combine to make a deliciously soapy second-chance, brother’s-best-friend romance. Readers of Alisha Rai’s Forbidden Hearts series or Reese Ryan’s Engaging the Enemy will be tantalized and surprised by the many twists and turns.” —Library Journal on Forbidden Promises
Synithia Williams has loved romance novels since reading her first one at the age of 13. It was only natural that she would begin penning her own romances soon after. It wasn’t until 2010 that she began to actively pursue her publishing dreams. Her first novel, You Can’t Plan Love, was released in August 2012.
When she isn’t writing, this Green Queen, as dubbed by the State Newspaper, works to improve air and water quality, while balancing the needs of her husband and two sons. You can learn more about Synithia by visiting her website, http://www.synithiawilliams.com, where she blogs about writing, life and relationships.
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#BookTour “Hide In Place” by Emilya Naymark

Hide In Place BannerMarch 1-31, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

Hide In Place by Emilya Naymark

She left the NYPD in the firestorm of a high-profile case gone horribly wrong. Three years later, the ghosts of her past roar back to terrifying life.

When NYPD undercover cop Laney Bird’s cover is blown in a racketeering case against the Russian mob, she flees the city with her troubled son, Alfie. Now, three years later, she’s found the perfect haven in Sylvan, a charming town in upstate New York. But then the unthinkable happens: her boy vanishes.

Local law enforcement dismisses the thirteen-year-old as a runaway, but Laney knows better. Alfie would never abandon his special routines and the sanctuary of their home. Could he have been kidnapped–or worse? As a February snowstorm rips through the region, Laney is forced to launch her own investigation, using every trick she learned in her years undercover.

As she digs deeper into the disappearance, Laney learns that Alfie and a friend had been meeting with an older man who himself vanished, but not before leaving a corpse in his garage. With dawning horror, Laney discovers that the man was a confidential informant from a high-profile case she had handled in the past. Although he had never known her real identity, he knows it now. Which means several other enemies do, too. Time is running out, and as Laney’s search for her son grows more desperate, everything depends on how good a detective she really is–badge or no.

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: February 9, 2020
Number of Pages: 278
ISBN: 1643856375 (ISBN13: 9781643856377)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1

Laney Bird’s son vanished the night she drove a busload of high school seniors to see Wicked on Broadway. He left home before she did, loping down their driveway toward marching band practice, his saxophone case swinging in his hand.

“Stew in the Crock-Pot!” she yelled at his retreating back. “I’ll be home by eleven!”

He waved without turning around, a shimmy of raised fingers in the raw February wind.

The bus smelled like bologna sandwiches, fruity body sprays, and old soda and sounded like a monkey house. But she was used to it. And she needed the extra money.

Once the students erupted into the glittery Manhattan night, she parked and texted him but heard nothing back. This concerned her, though not overwhelmingly so. She figured he’d stayed late for practice or left his phone in his backpack on vibrate. She tried to nap. Listened to the radio. Played a game on her phone.

As icy rain turned to snow, the students clambered back on the bus, collapsing against green seats and smudged windows, and she carted them homeward through tortuous, storm-soured traffic toward upstate New York and their waiting families.

She wasn’t home by eleven.

Laney walked into her empty, dark house a few minutes past midnight and dumped her keys onto the key dish by the front door. Alfie’s saxophone did not trip her as it usually did, but she barely noticed, the long day hitting her hard.

After wriggling out of her bra (through her sleeves, blessed relief) and toeing off her shoes, she tipped the lid from the Crock-Pot and paused, unease needling her.

The beef and potatoes had gone cold, congealed. Untouched. She dropped her bra to a chair and walked over to Alfie’s room. His door was open and, when she flipped the light switch, his bed neat, empty.

With shaking fingers, she called his phone, then again, and again. Again. The line rang through to voicemail every time. The GPS Phone Tracker showed him a block from school at five pm, then nothing. He had either disabled the app or powered off his phone, both of which she had forbidden him to ever do.
Between the frantic phone calls, she glanced in every room and closet, climbed into the drafty attic, then into the dank basement, calling his name as if he were a toddler playing hide-and-seek and not a mercurial thirteen-year-old.

He was still not home by one am, when Laney rang and woke the few parents whose sons bothered with Alfie. They answered their phones with voices groggy or scared, turning quickly to irritation. He wasn’t with any of them. But she’d known that before she called and made the calls anyway out of some dim, crazed hope. He never visited other kids, never texted, wasn’t, as far as she knew, active on any social media.

At one thirty am she screeched into the Sylvan PD’s parking lot, knocking over a garbage can as she slammed on the brakes. Sylvan, a sedate hamlet in Rockland County, population less than nine thousand, slumbered under a cloud-swept sky, and the station house in the middle of the night on a Tuesday was quiet.

Laney burst into the building, then hesitated as the doors clanged shut behind her. Ed Boswell was the desk officer on duty, and if he was not exactly the last person she wanted to see, he was right up there in the top five candidates.

“Laney,” said Ed, turning his eyes from the screen, where, no doubt, he’d been watching the latest episode of CSI. He’d told Laney once it was his favorite show, and the midnight shift in Sylvan was so slow he usually spent at least half of it bingeing on some TV series or other.

It’s not that she thought he was a bad police officer. He was all right, calm and steady, with a slow way of looking at every problem even when the problem required immediate, ten-alarm action. Laney had been a cop herself before her personal life imploded. In her deplorably short career with the NYPD, Laney had risen to detective and worked three years as an undercover, first in the Bronx, then in Brighton Beach.

As Ed Boswell clicked something on his computer, tsked in irritation, clicked again, then looked at her, she wished, not for the first time, she could call her ex-partner. But he didn’t work in Sylvan. Ed did. Ed, who knew nothing of her past, nothing of the shield she’d earned by doing countless buy-and-busts, of her skills, her extensive knowledge of police procedures. Ed, who saw only what everyone else in Sylvan saw when they looked at her—a bus-driving single mom of an odd boy—and treated her problems with her child accordingly.

“It’s Alfie,” she said, her voice coming shrill and taut from her throat, hurting her. “He’s not home. Hasn’t come home.”

“Again?” asked Ed.

His eyes settled on her (with pity? condescension?), and she realized she’d run out of the house in her slippers, her coat still hanging on its hook in the hall and her bra on a kitchen chair.

Ed glanced at the window, where a wet sleet had started to slap against the glass. The storm had traveled north and was just beginning to hit their town.

“Did you check the high school?” he asked, just as Laney knew he would, because he’d been on desk duty the last time Alfie decided to disappear.

“The school is locked,” Laney said, thinking this should have been obvious, schools were like fortresses nowadays, hermetically sealed after hours. But she was not the cop, she reminded herself. Not anymore.

She said, “He’s not answering phone calls or texts. He’s disabled the phone tracker. I called three families who have sons he’s friends with”—to describe them as friends was a stretch, and she knew Ed knew this and her face colored—“and he’s with none of them. I left a message for his band teacher. Alfie was scheduled for band practice this afternoon. Prior to that he came home from school as usual at two fifteen, had a snack”—she paused, swallowed; that was the last time she’d spoken with him—“a PBJ sandwich, did his homework, then left for practice at four fifty. He was supposed to be home before seven.”

She closed her eyes, running through anything else she might have done, anything else she should say, but all she could envision was Alfie’s back in his maroon parka as he strode down the slippery driveway, saxophone case in hand, blond hair escaping from under his black knit cap. She hadn’t even hugged him, just waved as he stepped past her for the three-block walk to the high school.

Ed sighed and typed something. “I’m sure he’s fine, Laney. He’s done this before. We’ll have a patrol car out to the school.”

But it wasn’t the same, Laney wanted to scream. That last time, a month ago, she and Alfie had had an argument—a real, honest-to-God shouting and crying fest. She had (had she really?) slapped him and ransacked his room for the drugs she was sure he’d hidden there. His blown-out pupils, his clammy skin, his overly cautious movements, as if he didn’t trust his own limbs, terrified her, reminded her of the lost souls she’d had to lock up in the past. He cried, bawled, his face red and swollen, a child, even though he was thirteen and would be fourteen soon, in two more months. He denied everything, and by morning she had to admit she might have overreacted—the years buying drugs on the street as an undercover had skewed her vision, darkened her interpretations of the most normal behaviors. He might have simply been fighting off a cold. Mightn’t he?

By morning it was too late to make amends. Alfie had left and didn’t come home until the next day.

Afterward, after the missing-child reports had been filed and alerts issued to local police, after hours of searching, Alfie simply walked up the driveway and into their living room. He’d spent the night in the school theater’s backstage, among the dress forms and discarded curtains. In the morning he’d washed in the gym locker room, ate in the cafeteria, and walked to the frozen lake a mile away, where he spent a few hours sliding along the thick ice until he grew cold and hungry, at which point he came home.

Laney wanted to ground him, punish him, take away screen privileges for running away, because didn’t he know what he meant to her, didn’t he know he was all the family she had in the world? But the sight of him, tall, pale, thin, worried about her reaction, destroyed any disciplinarian instincts, and she clung to him wordlessly. She then cooked them a big pasta dinner.

And after she put away the dishes and Tupperwared the leftovers, she installed the GPS Phone Tracker on his phone.

“Look,” Ed said, “I’m sending the patrol car out now. We’ll start at the school. How about you go home and get warm. We’ll call you as soon as we find him. What’s the band teacher’s name? Is that Mr. Andersen?”

So placid. So sure. Laney ground the heels of her hands into her eyes. It’s possible she was overreacting again. But what did Ed know of her and Alfie? Certainly she hadn’t told him—or anybody—the reason Alfie skedaddled the last time, of that god-awful argument. Most depressingly, nobody who knew her had asked why he might have disappeared then, not even Ed Boswell, who had taken the report and should have.

Alfie was strange, a loner, prone to both inappropriate outbursts and intense shyness, and never mind his near expulsion following the fall talent show. Consequently, any strange behavior from him was not surprising. Certainly not to Ed, whose son was also a Boy Scout in Alfie’s troop. That’s how Laney and Ed knew each other, through their children, even though Ed’s son ignored Alfie at best and sometimes, when he thought no parents were in hearing distance, ridiculed him with the sharp, callous cleverness of the smart and popular.

“So,” she said, trying to keep her voice neutral, “should I tell you what he was wearing?”

“Oh.” Ed peered at the paperwork in front of him. “Yes, let’s do that. What was he wearing?”

She pictured Alfie, her stomach clenching with fear. Where was he? Things had improved lately. A lot.

He’d been sweet, even-tempered, talkative with her, had even been mentioning a friend.

“Blue-and-gray-striped sweater, horizontal stripes. Dark-blue jeans”—skinny cut, Christmas present and already floods on him two months later—“white socks, black sneakers, maroon parka, black watch cap.

He had his sax with him when he left.”

Ed sat back and sighed. “Got it. He’s fine, Laney, really. It’s Sylvan, not the inner city. Go home. I’ll call you as soon as we find him.”

She nodded, her eyes welling, then gestured to the hallway. “Gonna use the ladies’,” she said, already walking toward the bathroom.

It wasn’t so much that she minded crying in front of people—she really didn’t. Feelings were feelings and everyone had them. But being inside the station brought back her old ways. Cops didn’t blubber, and if you were a female cop, you better keep yourself zipped shut or you’d never hear the end of it. She splashed cold water on her face and dried off with a paper towel, kneading it into a tight, brown ball before shoving it into the metal bin.

A little of Ed’s sureness had penetrated her swooping panic, and she felt a touch easier now. He was right about one thing— Sylvan was not the inner city. The nearly nonexistent crime rate and country setting were why she had moved here in the first place. Alfie was being his difficult self. That was all.

She walked out of the bathroom tired but composed, willing to let the situation take its course, if only until morning.

On her way out, she passed an office and would have kept walking except she heard Alfie’s name. She stopped just behind the doorway, keeping out of sight.

“That kid’s got problems,” said a man’s voice. “Listen, I had to come out five times last fall to the high school because of him. Five times! What’s he even doing in a normal school? Shouldn’t he be up in Pinelane?”

“Apparently not,” another man answered. “I know what you mean, though.” He sighed. “That boy is overtime waiting to happen. And it doesn’t make me happy to say it.”

“What? You not happy about overtime?” the first man said.

“You know what I mean. What if your kid was like that?”

“Nope, not me. That’s why I ain’t having kids. I got snipped.”

Laney looked up to see Ed coming toward her, his lips a line across his face. Without saying anything to her, he marched into the office and said, “I’m happy to hear you won’t be reproducing, Raguzzi. Now get the hell to work and shut the fuck up.”

She turned and ran out into the spewing snow, her slippers instantly soaked and her face burning with shame and guilt and worry.

***

Excerpt from Hide in Place by Emilya Naymark. Copyright 2021 by Emilya Naymark. Reproduced with permission from Emilya Naymark. All rights reserved.

 

Author Bio:

Emilya Naymark

Emilya Naymark’s short stories appear in Secrets in the Water, After Midnight: Tales from the Graveyard Shift, River River Journal, Snowbound: Best New England Crime Stories 2017, 1+30: THE BEST OF MY STORY, and in the upcoming Harper Collins anthology A Stranger Comes to Town.

She has a degree in fine art, and her artworks have been published in numerous magazines and books, earning her a reputation as a creator of dark, psychological pieces.

When not writing, Emilya works as a visual artist and reads massive quantities of thrillers and crime fiction. She lives in the Hudson Valley with her family.

Catch Up With Emilya Naymark:
www.EmilyaNaymark.com/author/
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 Emilya Naymark. There will be THREE winners. ONE winner will receive (1) physical copy of Hide In Place by Emilya Naymark (U.S. addresses only). The giveaway begins on March 1, 2021 and runs through April 2, 2021. Void where prohibited

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#BookTour “Renovation of Love (Love on Madison Island, Book 1)” by Meka James

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cover

RENOVATION OF LOVE

by Meka James

Renovating the physical is easy, but fixing love requires a different set of tools…

Her return could be a second chance to repair a first love.

Forty-three and jobless, Cynthia Marshall finds herself in the last place she’d expected, back home on Madison Island, GA. Her small hometown holds the ghosts of choices past. From the large Victorian she inherited from her beloved aunt, to unresolved family issues, and the boy turned man she left behind over two decades ago.

Starting a new career is hard enough but having to do so side by side with a person whose heart she broke is something she never accounted for.

Marcel Lewis is the owner of the only construction company on the island and is the key to making Cynthia’s new dream a reality. He never quite got over the abrupt departure of the first woman he ever loved. Her return means he can finally get answers to the whys and what-ifs that have plagued him.

Years have passed, feelings have remained, but some wounds have yet to heal. The more time they spend together, the walls of the old house aren’t the only ones tumbling down. But they can’t construct a future without answering for decisions of the past.

AVAILABLE ON

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ABOUT MEKA JAMES

Meka logoMeka James is a writer of adult contemporary and erotic romance. A born and raised Georgia Peach, she still resides in the southern state with her hubby of 16 years and counting. Mom to four kids of the two legged variety, she also has four fur-babies of the canine variety. Leo the turtle and Spade the snake rounds out her wacky household. When not writing or reading, Meka can be found playing The Sims 3, sometimes Sims 4, and making up fun stories to go with the pixelated people whose world she controls.

CONNECT WITH Meka James

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#BookTour “Death In The Great Dismal” by Eleanor Kuhns

Death In The Great Dismal by Eleanor Kuhns

March 22 – April 16, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

Death In The Great Dismal by Eleanor Kuhns

Finding themselves in a slave community hidden within the Great Dismal Swamp, Will Rees and his wife Lydia get caught up in a dangerous murder case where no one trusts them.

September 1800, Maine. Will Rees is beseeched by Tobias, an old friend abducted by slave catchers years before, to travel south to Virginia to help transport his pregnant wife, Ruth, back north. Though he’s reluctant, Will’s wife Lydia convinces him to go . . . on the condition she accompanies them.

Upon arriving in a small community of absconded slaves hiding within the Great Dismal Swamp, Will and Lydia are met with distrust. Tensions are high and a fight breaks out between Tobias and Scipio, a philanderer with a bounty on his head known for conning men out of money. The following day Scipio is found dead – shot in the back.

Stuck within the hostile Great Dismal and with slave catchers on the prowl, Will and Lydia find themselves caught up in their most dangerous case yet.

Kuhns’ vivid portrayal of the community that developed inside the swamp captures a group of naturally cunning and vigilant people who provided a family for one another when most had none. . . the story shines for its historical backbone and atmospheric details.

~ Booklist

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Published by: Severn House Publishers
Publication Date: January 5th 2021
Number of Pages: 224
ISBN: 0727890239 (ISBN13: 9780727890238)
Series: Will Rees Mysteries #8
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Prologue

‘You want me to do what?’ Rees asked, staring at the man next to him. He had not recognized Tobias at first. When taken by the slave catchers, Tobias had been a young man. He was still a young man in Rees’s opinion, but he no longer looked like it. Now gray threaded his hair, grooves scored his forehead and his eyes were haunted. He looked as though he’d experienced the worst of what man had to offer. Rees felt a burst of sympathy.

‘I want you to accompany me to Virginia,’ Tobias repeated. ‘To the great swamp.’ When Rees sat back in the creaky porch chair without answering, Tobias rushed on, ‘Please. Ruth is pregnant and wouldn’t come north with me. She was afraid. And it was difficult, so difficult, even with the help of the Quakers. I don’t dare go south to fetch her without help.’

‘But you made it back home,’ Rees objected. ‘Won’t the Quakers help you again? I don’t understand why you need me.’

‘I don’t think they run the railroad south,’ Tobias said with a faint smile. ‘Besides . . .‘ His eyes drifted away from Rees to the yard and the barn behind it. It was late September and the hills behind the farm were a mosaic of gold, orange and red interspersed with the dark rich green of the firs.

‘Besides?’ Rees repeated. Tobias was keeping something back; Rees knew it.

‘Besides it is even more dangerous now.’ Tobias’s gaze returned to Rees. ‘A man named Gabriel Prosser led a slave revolt. Planned it anyway. Right around Richmond. Everybody real tense. I need a white man beside me. Ruth trusts you. You’re the only one I know who will travel.’ He swallowed, his expression beseeching.

Rees still said nothing. Several years previously, Tobias and Ruth, both free blacks, had been snatched off the streets of Dugard, Maine and taken south.

‘How did you find me?’ he asked instead of acknowledging Tobias’s question. He was tempted, no denying that. Most of the harvest was in and he’d finished his final weaving commission. After a summer spent working on the farm, he felt restless and was ready to do something different.

‘I went to Dugard first. It was your son that told me where you were. He said you gave him your farm.’

‘Yes. We moved to this farm.’

‘Will you help me?’ Tobias asked, leaning forward. Rees looked at the eagerness on the dark face peering into his. Rees hesitated. He should say no, he knew he should.

‘Maybe,’ he said instead. What would Lydia say? His journey would leave her alone on the farm with the children for several weeks; he couldn’t see her agreeing to that.

‘I think we should go,’ Lydia said, stepping through the front door.

‘Really?’ he asked in surprise.

She nodded. ‘I know the signs; you’re getting restless.’ She paused but Rees did not speak. Since the circus had come to town in the spring and he’d been attracted to the beautiful rope dancer, the relationship between him and his wife had been strained. She was edgy with him. Sometimes he caught her staring at him and lately she’d become prone to crying fits, for no reason he could see. ‘But, if you go,’ she continued, ‘I want to accompany you.’

‘What?’ Rees jumped to his feet and the chair crashed to the floor behind him.

‘I’d like you to join us,’ Tobias said eagerly, turning to face her. ‘Ruth will join us readily if there’s another woman.’ Then, catching sight of Rees’s expression, he added, ‘If possible.’

‘It’s too dangerous,’ Rees said.

‘Predictable,’ Lydia muttered.

‘It’ll be easier to travel through the South if everyone thinks you are just a man and wife with your slaves.’ Tobias’s mouth twisted into a grimace. Rees leaned forward to clap the other man’s shoulder in commiseration but before he touched him Tobias flinched away. The involuntary cringe made Rees himself jerk back. What had happened to Tobias in Virginia?

‘It would be a long trip for my horse,’ Rees said. ‘Especially pulling my wagon.’

‘We could take the cart,’ Lydia suggested.

‘You couldn’t get them through the swamp anyway.’ Tobias said. ‘Unless,’ he paused a moment, thinking.

‘You could leave them at a livery in Norfolk.’

‘Hmm,’ Rees grunted. He didn’t like the thought of leaving his horse and wagon anywhere. ‘We’re finishing up the harvest. Even if I wanted to help you, this isn’t a good time.’ He made that one final objection.

Tobias turned to look at the fields. The corn and wheat were cut to stubble, but pumpkins spotted the fields with orange and buckwheat, the second planting, waved in the breeze. ‘You wouldn’t be gone long,’ he pleaded, his eyes reddening as though he might weep. ‘Plenty of time to finish this.’ He waved his hand at the fields.

Rees, who could not abide tears, especially in another man, held up his hand. ‘All right, I’ll think about it.’ Of course he couldn’t go. It was a long distance and even if they hurried, they might not return until mid-October or later. By then Maine could see snow.

‘Please,’ Tobias repeated, sensing Rees’s longing and pressing his advantage. ‘Most of your crops are in and you got help bringing in the last of them.’

Since that was true, Rees did not argue. The Shakers had made good on their promise to assist him and some Brothers were even now in the fields. Besides the Shakers, Rees had hired a few of the landless men who wandered the roads looking for work. ‘If I were to accompany you,’ he said, ‘and that’s a big if, Lydia Rees must remain here.’

‘If you go, I go,’ she said. Rees shook his head, but she ignored him. Turning to Tobias, she said with a smile, ‘I know Ruth well. Let my husband and I confer. Come back tomorrow for our answer.’

His face lighting up with hope, Tobias rose to his feet. ‘Tomorrow then.’

As Tobias jumped off the wooden deck and began crossing the yard, Rees said to Lydia, ‘You know this isn’t possible.’

‘If you leave without me, I will follow. You know I will,’ she said.

Rees frowned at her. Always watching him, that was his wife. He felt a combination of shame and irritation that she still did not trust him. ‘Lydia,’ he began. But she interrupted him.

‘We need to talk about last spring and what happened,’ she said. ‘Here, at the farm, we are too busy and always distracted.’

‘It will be a long and grueling journey,’ Rees warned, hoping to discourage her.

‘You know some of the Shakers are traveling south to check on their Georgia and Florida communities,’ Lydia said. ‘We can follow them in the cart. And Annie and Jerusha can watch the children.’

Chapter I

Rees felt a trickle of sweat roll down his back. Although it was late September, the heat and humidity here in Virginia slammed down like a hammer. He wasn’t used to this heat, especially at this time of the year. In Maine the weather was already cooling, and the air was as crisp and tart as a fresh apple. Here every breath was thick with the cloying scents of a hundred different plants.

Rees looked back over his shoulder at Lydia. They’d been walking over three hours, but she seemed to be bearing up well. As Tobias had suggested, they’d left horse and cart in Norfolk. The Shakers had brought them the rest of the way, dropping them off within walking distance to the swamp. As soon as they had left the road where they’d said goodbye to the Shakers, Lydia had taken shelter behind a bush and changed into her boy’s clothing. Once belonging to Rees’s eldest son, the shirt, vest and breeches were worn, almost tattered, but thoroughly disguising. She’d put her auburn hair up under a hat as Rees stowed her dress in the satchel he carried over his shoulder. Rees also had changed – from his better breeches, shirt and jacket to old and worn breeches and shirt.

Now Tobias waited for them several paces ahead. Rees hoped the other man knew where he was going. As far as Rees could tell, there was no discernible path through the tall pines and the thick undergrowth below. Although they’d passed fields of tobacco and cotton, Tobias had been careful to stay within the bands of trees.

‘We’re going to cross a road,’ Tobias said now. ‘Be real careful there.’

Rees did not think the drops of perspiration on Tobias’s brow came from the heat; he was nervous. No, he was scared. Rees began looking around, waiting for some large animal to jump out at them. But except for birdsong and the faint whisper of the wind through the trees, within the patch of woods it was silent.

Tobias paused at the edge of the dirt road and peered through the thorny greenbriar vines. Seeing nothing, he cautiously circled the brambles. Pausing within the undergrown, he looked up and down the road once again. Seeing nothing, he burst out of the shelter and started across the road. But a white dust cloud at the top of the hill heralded the arrival of something – or someone. Two riders came over the hill. When they saw Tobias they increased their speed, galloping straight at him. He tried to reach the other side of the road, running for all he was worth, but the horses easily caught up. The riders reached him as he plunged into the underbrush on the other side.

‘Stop runnin’, boy.’

‘Massa,’ Tobias shouted.

Taking the musket off his back and pulling his powder horn and shot bag from his satchel, Rees turned to Lydia. ‘Stay here,’ he said before leaving the shelter of the trees in his turn and racing across the road.

As the white riders dismounted and went after Tobias, Rees followed the sound of voices into the underbrush.

The two white riders had Tobias in their grasp. “What’re you doin’ out here alone,’ the tallest of the men asked in his slow drawl. He wore a buttercup yellow coat despite the heat and a white waistcoat. Tall black boots, now dusty from the road, went almost to the knees of his newly fashionable trousers.

‘Nuthin’.’ Tobias sounded different, his speech losing the crisp Maine consonants. His posture had gone from upright to a kind of servile crouch. The young, shorter man, dressed more casually but wearing a top hat, shook Tobias threateningly.

‘Where’d you get those boots?’

‘Hey,’ Rees said loudly.

‘Go about your business,’ the tall rider told Rees.

‘He’s mine,’ Rees said, trying to mimic the other man’s leisurely dialect.

Both men examined Rees, their gazes fixing on his musket. ‘Out huntin’?’ The speaker turned to look at Tobias. ‘He looks like a strong young buck. I’ll give you $50 dollars for him.’

‘Not for sale,’ Rees said curtly. He thought for a moment that these men would not listen to him but after a brief pause the two men brushed past him and returned to the road. Rees followed them, making sure their horses galloped away. Then he pushed his way back to Tobias.

‘You all right?’ he asked. Tobias nodded although he had collapsed to the ground. Perspiration glistened on his skin and big damp moons darkened his shirt under his armpits.

‘You took a big risk,’ he told Rees in a shaky voice. ‘Just because you’re white doesn’t mean you’re safe.

They could have figured you for an abolitionist and whipped you just as hard as they would me.’

‘I’m going to get Lydia,’ Rees said. He was trembling so hard he wasn’t sure he could hold his musket. Instead of sprinting across this dusty lane, he walked on legs that shook uncontrollably. Lydia came out to meet him, taking his arm.

‘Esther was right,’ Lydia said. Rees nodded.

Sister Esther, an escaped slave who’d made her way north to the Shakers, had scolded them when they left. ‘You’ve no business going south,’ she’d said. ‘You’re totally unprepared. I hope and pray you don’t get Lydia killed on this mad adventure.’

‘We’re committed now,’ Rees said.

Tobias had recovered enough to stand up. ‘It’s not far now,’ he said when Rees and Lydia reached him.

‘What happened?’ Lydia asked.

Tobias and Rees traded glances and wordlessly agreed to say nothing. ‘We don’t have time now,’ Rees said. ‘I’ll tell you later.’ He was still shaky and Tobias was clenching and unclenching his hands, whether from fright or anger Rees couldn’t tell.

Tobias started off, setting such a punishing pace neither Rees nor Lydia could keep up. He began to worry that they would lose their guide; the thickness of the trees, the brambles and other plants meant that Tobias disappeared within a few yards.

The third time that Tobias waited for them he said tersely, ‘We need to get out of sight while its daylight. Hurry.’

‘We’re going as fast as we can,’ Rees said, turning to look at his wife. Both of them were panting and her cheeks were scarlet. ‘We’ve been walking for hours.’ And he was hungry. None of them had eaten since breakfast that morning and it was now several hours past noon. Tobias grunted.

‘We’re not that far from the lane,’ he said, turning and disappearing once again in the greenery.

It wasn’t just that he was fast. He snaked his way through the underbrush without making a sound or breaking any branches. Rees, taller and probably two stone heavier, couldn’t do that. Even his steps were noisy, crunching over the leaf litter on the ground with crackling thumps.

Tobias led them toward a large downed tree. Rees couldn’t understand why – until the other man lifted a board artfully covered with branches and leaves, revealing a hole underneath. ‘This way,’ he said, squirming through the opening. Rees struggled to press his huskier body through, discovering that the small cavity opened up to a much larger hollow. A rough ceiling had been formed above their heads and tree roots poked through the dirt that made up the walls. Stone steps led down into the gloom. Ducking his head against the low ceiling, Tobias descended into the darkness underneath.

Lydia followed him and then Rees, bending almost double.

A cave had been dug deep into the soil. It smelled powerfully of damp and dirt. Dimly lit by several oil lamps, the den was occupied by several people in ragged clothing. A family, Rees thought, since he saw several children. They fled to the comfort of their mother’s skirts when they saw the big white man enter their home. But, to his surprise, they didn’t cry.

The men all rose from their stools, their shoulders tensed. Although weaponless and barefoot, they were ready to fight to protect their friends and families. Rees’s heart began to race and he stood straighter, fists clenched. He was taller and heavier than anyone else here, but he knew he could not battle four or five men at once. There was no room for fighting in this den either.

‘He’s helping me get Ruthie,’ Tobias said as he collapsed to the ground. Both Rees and Lydia looked at him and she went to his side.

‘Are you all right?’ she asked. He nodded, blowing out little puffs of breath. ‘You must love Ruthie very much.’

‘I do,’ he whispered, turning his head aside.

There’s more to this story, Rees thought.

‘What happened?’ One of the men asked Tobias although his eyes never left Rees.

‘Two-.‘ Tobias cut his eyes to Rees. ‘Two white men tried to take me. ‘Lucky for me, my friend Rees here jumped in.’

Some of the tension left the room. Rees relaxed a little. He had never thought of his white skin before. But now, in a room full of black people, with he and Lydia the only whites, he experienced a sharp realization of how it felt to be an object of suspicion and fear because of that skin. He didn’t like it and turned a glance of surprised sympathy upon Tobias.

‘We be eating soon.’ One of the women stepped into the center of the cave. ‘Join us.’

Rees opened his mouth to accept. He was very hungry after his day hiking through the woods. But Lydia spoke first. ‘Are you sure you have enough?’

The woman, who carried herself with an air of authority, looked at Lydia – and her boy’s clothing – with interest. ‘Yes, chile. We do. Swamp food.’ She paused and when she spoke again it was to Tobias. ‘You plannin’ to leave at nightfall?’

‘Yes. We’re heading for the Great Dismal.’

‘Mos’ people head the other way out of that swamp,’ she said with a chuckle.

‘Ruthie’s there,’ Tobias said.

‘Oh honey,’ said the woman, ‘she could’ve been recaptured by now.’ The words ‘or worse’ hung unsaid in the air.

‘I have to try,’ Tobias said stubbornly. The woman offered him a pitying smile but said nothing further.

When night fell, people began to move outside. The women pulled away the branches and other debris disguising the fire pit and set up a cooking fire. The scanty smoke drifted lightly across the ground as they made a corn porridge and roasted game meat over the fire.

‘It’s turtle,’ Tobias told Rees in a low voice.

The steady whine of mosquitoes and the sound of slapping punctuated the quiet conversations. Frogs croaked nearby, filling the air with sound. Lydia reached into the satchel for a small stone crock. ‘What’s that?’ Rees asked.

‘Esther gave it to me. Something to keep the mosquitos away.’ She tugged at the lid but it was so tightly closed she couldn’t budge it. Rees took the crock and with some effort twisted the lid off. A fresh minty scent flooded Rees’s senses. When he inhaled deeply, he caught other fragrances: lemon and something else that was sharp and astringent, and underneath it all the sweetness of honey.

‘What is it?’

‘Herbs. Pennyroyal I think. Lemon. Maybe sage. All pounded into a salve with beeswax and oil.’ Lydia spread some on her face.’ She promised me it would keep away the mosquitoes.’

Rees hesitated. The paste smelled feminine. But he could already feel stings on his hands and neck. After a few seconds, he took the pot from her and liberally smeared the mixture on his skin.

‘Eat up,’ Tobias said, handing first Rees and then Lydia wooden bowls filled with the yellow mash. ‘No hot food tomorrow, or any food most likely.’

Lydia looked at the bowl. ‘Spoons?’ Tobias, smiling, shook his head. So Lydia and Rees imitated the others and dipped their fingers into the hot cereal. Rees decided he had to eat it quickly. Not only was it still quite warm but it was not tasty. He did not think it even included salt.

As soon as they finished eating, the men began to drift away, vanishing into the forest. The family went next, a young man guiding them.

‘Headin’ north,’ Tobias said when Rees wondered aloud where everyone was going. ‘Everyone but Auntie Mama. She lives here. Keeps this space for travelers.’ He put down his wooden bowl. ‘And we got to get going too. We still got a long way.’

Chapter 2

Morning found them at the edge of the Great Dismal Swamp. Rees, who had spent a restless night slapping at mosquitoes – despite the salve that was meant to keep the insects at bay, awoke groggy and irritable. Although Tobias had not pushed them as hard during the night, he had still set a rapid pace. All of them were hungry but far worse than the hunger was the physical discomfort. The insect bites maddened them with their itching and the scratches from the branches and brambles they had pushed through in the dark stung and bled.

As the first light of dawn poked its fingers into the swamp, Rees looked around. They had bedded down in a stand of loblolly and long leaf pine trees. Pine needles carpeted the ground. Not far away, at the end of the piney growth, was an alien landscape. Trees reached to the sky. Rees recognized oak, maple and hickory but what were those trees with the skinny narrow leaves. Underbrush; thick thorny greenbriar vines and a variety of bushes, made a solid green wall underneath. Tobias found an opening in the thicket and gestured to Rees and Lydia.

‘Walk exactly where I walk,’ he said. ‘Mostly we’ll be on dry ground. Mostly. Not always. And watch for snakes. Lots of copperheads and cottonmouths here.’

They stepped inside. Although he expected the swamp to be silent, the air reverberated with the sound of insects; a high- pitched rattling whine. He looked up but could not see the source of the drone. Thick greenery and tall trees occluded the sky. Despite the bright sun and the blue sky above, the light within the swamp was dim. Glittering black water snaked across the ground in every direction. Vast trees with swollen roots like the thighs of some enormous giant sprang from the wet. Now Rees knew why Tobias had advised not taking his horse and wagon; there would be no way to get them through the tangled underbrush and mud.

He wished he had worn stout boots instead of shoes.

‘Is it safe to travel in daylight?’ Lydia asked Tobias, looking around her in concern.’ ‘Safe from slave takers, I mean.’ Like Rees, the blotchy marks of many mosquito bites marred the skin of her face and neck. She’d rolled her long sleeves down to cover her arms and hands and pulled her stockings up to her breeches.

‘Usually.’ Tobias bit his lip. ‘They come here sometimes with their dogs hunting the escaped slaves. We’ll have to be careful. And real quiet. But the swamp is too dangerous after dark. Besides snakes, bobcats and bears hunt here. Alligators too, so I’ve heard.’ As Rees gulped, Tobias nodded. ‘If we’re lucky and don’t meet any of them, we’d be as likely to fall in the water and drown as anything.’

Rees looked around once again, understanding why people called this dark place dismal, and shivered despite the steamy warmth. He wished his desire to help Tobias hadn’t overridden his sense. Most of all he wished they hadn’t come. Lydia slipped her hand into his and he squeezed it comfortingly even though he was scared too.

Tobias handed around the stale bricks of day -old cornbread. Rees took a bite of the hard dry bread. ‘Water?’ he asked.

The other man gestured to the black water. ‘It’s drinkable,’ he said. ‘Don’t worry; it doesn’t taste bad.’ Rees stared at the black pools surrounding him. A faint green scum drifted across the surface and ripples betrayed something moving underneath. He did not think it was fish. He shook his head. ‘Let’s go,’ Tobias said as he turned and started forward. A plop as some animal jumped into the water sounded nearby. Lydia jumped. Rees exchanged a glance with her, and they ran to catch up to Tobias.

The ground below their feet was black and moist and it shuddered a little with each step. It was disconcerting and more than once Rees found himself jerking to one side or the other to keep his balance.

They walked deeper into the Great Dismal until it seemed that this was all the world, and nothing else existed outside its borders. The dense vegetation, the water and the thick peaty earth muffled the sound of their footsteps. Still the insects loud buzz whined overhead.

Rees had put Lydia in the middle; between him and Tobias, and he looked around frequently – just in case a slave taker was behind him. After a few hours of walking he saw she was beginning to flag. ‘We need to rest,’ he said, and then repeated it more loudly. Tobias slowed and then stopped and turned.

‘All right,’ he said. He took a small bag from under his shirt and handed around the remaining chunks of stale corn pone. ‘That’s the last of it,’ he said.

It was, Rees thought, even harder and less edible than it had been before. Lydia sat down on the ground to eat hers. Rees looked around for a tree stump or something and spotted a dead fall a little way away. He had to tiptoe through a pool of black water to get to it. Just before he reached it, his left leg sank into the ground up to his ankle, then to his calf. ‘Help,’ he cried. He could feel his leg sinking even further.

‘I told you not to go off the path,’ Tobias said, hurrying to Rees’s side. Bending over, he grasped Rees’s knee and tugged. With a horrible sucking sound, as though the maw of an animal was only reluctantly surrendering its prey, Rees’s leg came out. Tobias pulled him back to the drier ground.

Thin brown mud coated Rees’s leg from knee to foot. Trembling, he just sat where Tobias had left him, despite the uncomfortable sensation of damp soaking through the seat of his breeches.

But Tobias couldn’t settle. He paced restlessly around and around. “Not far now,’ he said, cracking his knuckles.

‘Why is he so nervous?’ Rees wondered. The swamp? Slave takers? ‘How much longer do you think?’ he asked aloud, glancing around uneasily.

‘I hope to reach the village by nightfall,’ Tobias replied. Rees and Lydia exchanged a glance. They were already tired. When they started walking once again Rees took Lydia’s arm.

Although trees covered the sky and the sun was only occasionally visible, the temperature rose steadily. It was so hot and humid the air felt solid. Both Rees and Lydia began gasping for breath.

‘I’ve never perspired so much in my life,’ Rees muttered.

‘You ever come south before?’ Tobias asked. Rees shook his head.

‘No point. I weave for the farm wives who’ve been spinning all winter. Here, in the South, there are already weavers.’

‘The slaves,’ Tobias said, his tone flattening. ‘Every plantation has at least one weaver. And the owners rent out their slaves to the little farmers so even they don’t need a traveling weaver.’

‘It’s not right to own another person,’ Lydia said. A former Shaker, she was a firm abolitionist. Tobias glanced at her.

‘Better not say that to a white person down here,’ he said. ‘You’ll get whipped or worse.’

Lydia nodded, her lips tightening. Rees heard her mutter, ‘It’s not right.’ Tobias was too far ahead to hear her.

It was late in the afternoon when they reached an even more low -lying area filled with water. Cattails grew thickly around it. ‘Rest,’ Tobias said. He picked one and stripped off the outer covering. He handed pieces to both Rees and Lydia and when they stared at it in bewilderment, he bit off a chunk, chewed and swallowed.

‘It’s edible,’ he said.

Rees took a cautious bite. It tasted bland but was not unpleasant.

‘We’ll make one last push,’ Tobias said, gesturing at the black liquid stretching away from them. Rees peered at it. He couldn’t see through the black tint and that made him nervous. How deep was it? Trees with the swollen bulges grew out of the water, their leaves fluttering against the sky.

‘What is that tree?’ Lydia asked.

‘Cypress,’ Tobias answered.

‘Why is the water so dark?’ Rees put his hand in it and stirred, watching the dark tint fade as the water came up in his palm.

‘Don’t.’ Tobias reached out as if to grab Rees’s arm but hesitated. ‘Let me check for gators first.’ Rees snatched his hand out so fast drops flew everywhere. Tobias picked up a long branch and stretched it into the water. He thrashed it around until the water foamed up. When he pulled the stick from the pond, he stared at the water carefully. ‘All right,’ he said. ‘We go through it.’

‘There’s no other way?’ Lydia asked, her voice rising to a shaky falsetto. Tobias shook his head. ‘How deep is it?’

‘Mmm. Up to your knees maybe.’ He turned and added, staring at both Rees and Lydia intently, ‘Follow me exactly. Understood?’

Rees gulped. When he spoke he tried to sound just as usual. ‘Yes.’ He looked at Lydia and tried to sound reassuring. ‘I’ll walk right behind you.’ He realized he’d failed to appear unafraid when both Lydia and Tobias gazed at him in concern.

‘You’ll be fine,’ Tobias said. ‘Just follow me exactly.’

‘I’ll carry the satchel above the water,’ Rees promised Lydia.

She managed a brief nod but said,’ That’s not what I am worried about.’

Tobias stepped into the water and began walking forward. Rees put his hand on Lydia’s shoulder and squeezed. Lydia swallowed and tentatively put her foot into the pond. Rees followed closely, putting his left hand under Lydia’s armpit to keep her stable. With his right hand, he lifted the satchel to his chest to keep it and its contents dry.

Despite the warmth of the water, it hit with a shock. Clouds of silt spiraled upward and drifted through the black water in a brownish film. The footing was fluid and unstable and so slippery every step had to be taken with care. Rees stumbled, losing his grip on Lydia as he fought for his balance. She stopped and he could hear her sharp exhalation. Regaining his equilibrium, he stepped forward and grasped her shoulder once again.

Tobias was moving quickly. His eagerness to reach the opposite bank – and obvious nervousness about remaining in this water any longer than he had to -filled Rees with dread. He began pushing Lydia forward.

They were halfway across when something slid around Rees’s lower legs. Uttering a scream, he jumped, lost his balance and fell backward. ‘What?’ Lydia cried, turning. ‘What?’

‘I don’t know. Something touched me.’ Rees gasped in a big breath, tasting mud and dirty water.

‘Hurry,’ Tobias shouted from the bank. ‘Hurry.’ He pointed at a brown snake lying coiled upon the water.

Lydia began plowing ahead, using her hands at her sides like scoops to help. Shuddering, Rees hurried after her. Why had he agreed to do this? And with his wife. Guilt stabbed him, sharp as a knife.

Although the journey felt as though it had lasted an hour, it was probably no more than a few minutes. Rees felt as though he’d be trapped in this filthy water forever when, finally, the ground beneath their feet began to rise. The water dropped to Lydia’s knees, to her ankles and finally all three of them stood on the dry ground under a stand of loblolly pines. Rees took off his shoes and shook them. The leather, like his clothing, was soaked through. His linen shirt, his breeches and his vest were stained brown everywhere the water had touched.

He glanced at Lydia, sitting beside him on the muddy ground. Dirt streaked one sunburned cheek. ‘Sorry,’ he whispered.

‘I wanted to come,’ she said, without looking at him. ‘You tried to warn me.’

‘I didn’t know it would be like this.’

When he’d told her it would be dangerous, he’d thought of bad food, bad roads, bad weather. Not the casual threat directed at Tobias that, at best, could have cost him his freedom. Or this alien landscape with its treacherous ground and swarms of insects and the snakes and alligators hiding in its black waters.

Would she have argued so hard to come if she had known what they would experience on this journey? More to the point, would she have wanted to accompany him if she had trusted him? Nothing had happened with the rope dancer, that was the truth. But Rees had desired her, and she had responded with warmth. They’d enjoyed a friendship that might have become something more. Now he was many months removed from that time he could admit Lydia had been right to worry. He did not want to believe he would have left his wife and family behind but had to admit he had been so enthralled it was possible.

His behavior had left Lydia was so frightened for the future of her marriage she’d felt she had to watch over him. To do that she had to leave her children behind. She would never have been willing to abandon them otherwise.

He looked at the snake still floating on the water and shuddered. What would happen to their children if he and his wife died here? They would be orphaned because of his selfishness.

Lydia suddenly leaned over and touched his hand. ‘Don’t feel so guilty,’ she whispered. ‘I insisted on coming. You could not have prevented me.’

But it was his fault she’d insisted.

‘Only a few hours of daylight left,’ Tobias said, breaking into Rees’s thoughts. ‘We’d better hurry.’

Rees glanced at the sky. From what he could see, it was still a clear intense blue. “We’ve got a few hours still,’ he said.

‘It gets dark early under the trees,’ Tobias said. ‘Besides, most of the animals come out as soon as it starts getting dark. Especially snakes.’ He pointed to a ripple in the water. Rees peered at the v- shaped ripple. ‘Cottonmouth,’ Tobias said. ‘They swim under the water.’

‘Snakes,’ Lydia said weakly. ‘Are they poisonous?’

‘ Cottonmouth sure are.’

Rees thought of the thing slithering past his legs in the water and gulped.

‘It might not have been a snake. That touched you, I mean,’ Tobias said, correctly interpreting Rees’s reaction. ’There are other creatures here.’ Rees did not think he wanted to know what they were. When Tobias turned and started up the slight slope Rees helped Lydia to her feet and they scrambled after him as fast as they could.

Chapter 3

The ground continued to dry out as they passed through the pines. Although the soil remained damp it no longer bounced underfoot. But, as Tobias had warned, the light began fading beneath the trees. ‘Not far now,’ he said, puffing a little as he trotted up the slope. Neither Rees nor Lydia replied. The effort to keep up with Tobias left them breathless. Tobias was not moving in a straight line but sliding through the thick vegetation in a serpentine path. Rees, terrified that he would lose sight of the other man, kept pushing Lydia ahead of him.

Tobias’ path straightened out; Rees saw his pale blue shirt at the end of a long fairly straight tunnel, roofed by interlaced branches. The dim light shone upon them with a greenish cast and their feet crunched over the dead leaves on the forest floor. The loud crackling was shocking after the quiet steps on the peaty ground. When they reached Tobias on the other side he said, ‘Now we wait.’

‘Wait for what?’ Rees asked as Lydia pulled the pot of salve from Rees’s satchel. She smeared more of the insect repellent on her face and neck and handed it to Rees. Although he thought he smelled the faint fragrance of burning wood that odor was overpowered by the penetrating minty scent of the salve.

‘I hope we don’t use it all before we leave, and have to travel back through this swamp,’ Lydia murmured.

‘Here they come,’ Tobias said.

‘Who. . .?’ Rees began as three men materialized out of the trees.

Of differing shades, from very dark to white, the men were clad in rags and barefoot. One had almost no shirt at all. And all three were armed. One carried a scythe with a long handle but the other two brandished guns. One was such an old musket Rees doubted it would fire – although he didn’t plan to test his guess. They stared menacingly at Rees and Lydia.

‘What’d you done?’ The darkest of the men shouted at Tobias. His white teeth shone against his dark skin. His top two front teeth were separated by a large gap.

‘I come for Ruthie, Scipio,’ Tobias replied. rolling his shoulders forward. ‘He’s helping me.’ He gestured at Rees. Although the other two men stared at the white intruder, Scipio never removed his gaze from Tobias.

‘Ruth don’t want to go with you,’ he said, laughing mockingly. ‘There’re other men . . .’ Tobias lunged forward, fists up. As Rees grabbed him, the man with the lightest skin clutched Scipio’s arm. He was a handsome fellow with large hazel eyes, light brown hair and fair skin lightly tanned. Rees would have thought him white but for his hair, as curly as a sheep’s.

‘All right, Neptune,’ Scipio said, stepping back. ‘All right.’ Tobias strained forward as though he would follow.

‘Don’t,’ Rees said in a low voice. Tobias breathed hard for a few seconds before he visibly forced himself to relax. Rees cautiously took away his hand.

‘I want to talk to Jackman,’ he said.

‘You risked all of us,’ said the third of the men.’ No white man knows this.’ He gestured behind him. ‘Until now.’ This man was older than the other two and he held his scythe with easy comfort.

‘Let me talk to Jackman,’ Tobias repeated. None of the black men moved. ‘You know me, Neptune, Toney,’ Tobias added pleadingly.

The three guards exchanged a silent message. ‘Take ‘em to Jackman,’ Scipio said. ‘But first –.‘ He gestured to Rees and the gun he carried.

Neptune moved forward and relieved Rees of his musket. He did not resist. He did not think these men were killers, but he didn’t know. Besides, they were protecting their home and families and he could see the fear in their eyes and in the stiffness of their bodies. Maybe not as frightened as he and Lydia were – he could feel her trembling next to his arm – but anxious about what danger they might bring to their home. Sometimes, fear could cause a man to lash out without thinking and be sorry afterwards so Rees did not want to give them any reason to strike.

Besides, he reassured himself, with Tobias as their guide they most certainly would not be harmed.

Lydia reached over and clutched his arm. When he glanced down at her, she looked up with a face as white as milk under the mud and insect bites. Her eyes were huge. But she managed a shaky smile. Together they followed Tobias and the other men through the thick underbrush deeper into the swamp.
#
They reached the village as night was falling. The concluding leg had taken significant time although Rees suspected they hadn’t traveled a great distance. The ground had continued to dry, pine trees became more plentiful. They walked until confronted by a thick wall of thorny greenbriar vines. Everyone stopped for a moment of rest.

‘Just got to get through the canebreak,’ muttered Toney.

‘Follow me,’ Tobias said, turning to Rees. ‘There’s a path.’

There may be, Rees thought, glancing at the expressions on the men. But it would not be an easy one. All of them were steeling themselves for this, the final and ultimate challenge. Huffing out a breath, Toney took the lead through the narrow and spiraling path through the brambles. Even following Tobias as closely as they dared did not spare either Rees nor Lydia from numerous cuts and scratches.

The ground sloped up slightly. They slid through the protective barrier and climbed the short slope, stepping in the circle of buildings that were barely visible in the gloom. A fire burned in the center, the orange flames reflecting from the face of a woman who stood over the fire. Smoke eddied out from the burning logs and Rees could already feel the difference in the number of mosquitoes around him. Lydia dropped heavily upon the ground and put her face into her hands.

Scipio and Neptune grabbed Tobias and urged him toward the fire. ‘You want to see Jackman? Come along.’

Rees, his legs almost too shaky to hold him, collapsed next to Lydia. She leaned against him and closed her eyes in exhaustion. Rees felt like doing the same; he was so tired he no longer felt afraid. But he knew if he relaxed, he too would fall asleep and he did not want to do that until he knew they were safe. Instead, he looked at the young man guarding them.

‘What’s your name?’ Rees asked, his voice rusty with disuse.

‘Cinte,’ he replied, sounding startled. He was very fair and his hair glittered with flashes of gold when he turned his head. Rees guessed he was probably little more than twenty. ‘Here they come.’

A group of people were slowly approaching. Backlit by the fire, they were only silhouettes. Rees stood up and pulled Lydia to her feet. If he were going to be executed, he wanted to be upright.

His leg muscles had stiffened while he sat and he felt the pain of the long walk through the swamp. Just standing made his muscles quiver. At least that was the explanation he gave himself for the trembling that made him almost too weak to stand.

The group of people halted in front of him. Rees had the sense they were inspecting him. Since he faced the fire, he was visible in the flickering firelight but he could see nothing of their faces and could not guess what they thought.

One of the figures, a woman in a head scarf, detached itself from the group and approached Lydia. She opened her eyes and for a moment the two women stared at each other.

“What’s your name?’ One of the men spoke to Rees.

He started and brought his attention back to the band of men. The speaker stood a little forward of the others and Rees could see the gray threading his hair. ‘Are you Jackman?’

‘Yes. Who are you?’

‘My name is Will Rees.’

‘Why’re you here?’

‘Tobias is a friend of mine. I’ve known Ruth since we were kids. I came to help them go north, to the District of Maine.’ As he spoke, Rees felt some of the tension ease.

‘These people know where we are,’ Scipio put in. ‘They’re a danger to us and our kin.’

Jackman turned and made a sound. Scipio slapped his hand on his thigh but did not continue the argument.

Jackman turned to the woman. ‘Feed ‘em, please Aunt Suke, while I think.’

Rees extended a hand to Lydia and together they followed Jackman to the fire. Scipio and Neptune followed, so closely Rees twitched with nerves. He knew Scipio saw him as a danger and feared he would lash out at the slightest provocation.

The fire and a few dish lamps bathed the camp’s center in a dim rusty light. Jackman gestured to a log. Rees and Lydia took their seats.

The woman turned and handed them both bowls of soup, redolent with strange spices. With no spoons on offer, Rees tipped the bowl so that the savory soup could run into his mouth. After a few seconds, Lydia did the same.

‘Thank you, Madame,’ Rees said. ‘It’s good.’ Instead of being energized by the food, he felt even more tired.

‘You can call me Aunt Suke, child,’ she said.

‘You not be thinkin’ of believin’ him,’ Scipio cried. In the fire light Rees could see details about Scipio and the other men that had not been visible earlier. Scipio was missing an ear. Just a few ragged stubs remained. And when he turned to demand an answer from Jackman the firelight picked out the ridges on his back through his ripped shirt.

‘Tobias swears for him,’ Jackman said softly.

‘Tobias!’ Scipio started to say something else, but Jackman shook his head at him. Appearing out of the darkness, Tobias walked with Ruth.

Rees rose clumsily to his feet.

Ruth was clearly pregnant, at least five or six months, Rees guessed. He could clearly see her trim brown ankles under the ragged hem of her dress. But a new ribbon -blue Rees thought although it was hard to see the color – had been sewn around the frayed neckline. She still cared about her appearance. She smiled at Tobias but the space between her brows was pleated with worry. When she saw Rees looking at her, she put her hand on her belly and bowed her head, reluctant it seemed to meet his gaze. She seemed embarrassed. He suddenly wondered if she really wanted to go north with Tobias or not.

‘Ruth?’ he said.

When she met his gaze, her eyes were full of tears. ‘Oh, Mr Rees. He involved you in our business?’ She threw Tobias an angry glance. He lowered his eyes to the ground.

‘Oh damn,’ Rees muttered. Had they made the difficult and dangerous journey for nothing?

‘Come here, you sweet thing,’ Scipio said, opening his arms.

‘You leave her alone,’ Tobias said, stepping in front of Ruth.

‘But Ruthie wants to stay here, with me, don’t ya, Ruthie?’ As Scipio stood up, Ruthie smiled at him. But, before she had an opportunity to speak, Tobias surged up with a roar and flung himself at the other man. As Jackman shouted at them to stop, punches smacked into flesh with a meaty sound. Scipio was taller and heavier but jealousy and anger energized Tobias. Staggering back, his nose streaming blood from a blow that had landed squarely on his face, he picked up a stick and lashed at Scipio with it, striking his arm and cutting it. Glistening in the flickering light, the blood began running down Scipio’s arm. Ducking and weaving, he danced forward and wrenched the stick from Tobias’s hand. Laughing, Scipio tossed it aside.

Tobias hurled himself forward once again and they went down to the dirt. They rolled over and over, punching, kicking and biting. The firelight shone on the arms and backs of the fighters, reflecting in flashes of copper. Scipio shoved Tobias aside, but he came back, pounding at the other man. Scipio shifted away, rolling into the fire. The kettle rocked on its stand as sparks flew into the air. Scipio yelled loudly; his shoulder had gone into the burning embers, and with a heave he pushed Tobias to the side. But the smaller man would not surrender and, throwing himself to his knees, began pounding at Scipio. slapping, punching, kicking and biting.

Jackman limped forward and tried to catch hold of Scipio. Cinte jumped in to help. Rees moved forward to pin Tobias’ arms to his sides and drag him away. For his pains, he suffered a clout to his cheekbone from one of Scipio’s blows. When Neptune joined the fray, helping Jackman and Cinte drag Scipio away, the fight was over. Tobias shrugged out of Rees’ grasp and stood to one side, wiping his bloody nose on his sleeve. Scipio too bore battle scars. Besides the arm that had been scraped and burnt, his good ear now streamed with blood. Tobias had bitten it. Although he had not succeeded in tearing it away, blood ran down Scipio’s cheek and neck and onto his shoulder.

Tobias went to stand by Ruth. She stared at him in embarrassed horror and shifted away.

‘Clean up while I ponder what to do,’ Jackman ordered the two combatants, his voice vibrating with anger.

‘Come here,’ Aunt Suke said. Exasperated, she pointed at a space next to her. ‘You boys don’t have good sense.’

As Tobias sat down on the ground in front of Aunt Suke, Lydia said, ‘Sit by me, Ruth,’ and patted the log next to her.

Scipio said incredulously, ‘‘That boy a woman?’

‘That’s how we know they safe,’ Aunt Suke said, turning a mocking smile upon him. ‘No slave catcher bring his wife.’

As Rees went to sit beside his wife, Aunt Suke put out a hand to stop him.

‘Wait,’ she said. ‘I need your help.’ Such was the strength of her personality that Rees did stop and wait for further instructions.

She looked at Tobias first. The blood had already stopped gushing from his nose but it was swollen and his eye was almost completely shut. Taking his face in her hands, she turned it this way and that to catch the best light. Then she raised his shirt and examined the cuts and bruises marring his torso. ‘You’ll live,’ she said at last. ‘I’ll make a poultice for you.’

Shooing him away, she gestured at Scipio. Although he stood almost six feet and outweighed the woman by at least one hundred pounds, he obeyed her, coming to sit at her feet like a naughty child. She looked first at his ear. “If Tobias bit harder,’ she said, ‘you’d a lost this one too.’

‘You’d match,’ Cinte said, laughing. ‘Two torn ears.’ Scipio joined in, his robust guffaws rolling through camp. Rees, who couldn’t help but smile, wondered at the bond he sensed between these two men.

‘Did you lose the other one in a fight also?’ Rees asked Scipio. He shook his head.

‘No.’

‘Here, hold his arm.’ Aunt Suke told Rees. When she disappeared into a hut, Scipio continued.

‘One of the times I ran away,’ he said, ‘an’ they caught me, they nailed my ear to a post.’ Rees gasped. ‘They do that,’ Scipio continued, ‘to keep the runaways home. But I pulled free. Nothin’ can hold me,’ he added with quiet pride.

Rees could find no words. One heard about the evils of slavery, especially in Maine, a state full of abolitionists. But he’d never really thought about the reality of it. Now, although the reactions of those around him told him Scipio’s story was true, Rees struggled to accept it.

Aunt Suke came out of the hut with a small brown bottle and what looked like mashed leaves in a cup. ‘Hold ‘im tight now,’ she said to Rees. ‘To the light.’ She handed the bottle to Scipio. ‘Take a drink of the laudanum. This’ll sting.’ He took a healthy swig and she removed the bottle from his hands. Then she began dabbing the leaf mixture on the scorched and bloody wound on Scipio’s arm. He groaned and tried to twist away. ’Some turpentine to clean it. And now . . .’ Singing a wordless melody, she smeared a thick paste that smelled strongly of lard over the burn. ‘That’ll feel better and help it heal. You be fine.’

Scipio jumped up with alacrity but he didn’t voice a complaint.

‘I’ve decided,’ Jackman said. ‘You, Scipio, go back to your job at the Canal.’

‘The Canal?’ Rees repeated, whispering to Aunt Suke. He was beginning to feel he had truly left his own world, the one he understood, behind. This was an unknown land.

‘White men be digging a canal. Only the biggest and strongest survive that work.’

‘I make the shingles,’ Scipio said. ‘Fastest shingle maker they got.’

‘Stay there until they finish for the winter,’ Jackman continued. ‘By then we’ll know what Ruth want to do.’

‘Aw,’ Scipio said. ‘That’s two months from now.’ But he didn’t argue. Jackman was older than the others, probably Rees’s age and carried himself with the authority of the head man.

‘First you had to mess with Sandy and now Ruth, another man’s woman. We can’t have it.’ Jackman shook his head. ‘We can’t be fightin’ among ourselves.’

‘Too bad if other men can’t keep their women,’ said Scipio, looking across the fire at Tobias. ‘You like that ribbon I bought you, Ruth?’ Tobias took a step forward to the sound of Scipio’s roaring laughter. Ruth caught Tobias’s sleeve and held on.

‘You know better,’ she said in a low voice.

‘Who’s Sandy?’ Rees asked Aunt Suke.

‘My niece. She run off from the Sechrist plantation all the time so you’ll probably meet her.’ Suke shook her head. ‘Scipio does love his women. But Sandy? No, he’s not interested. She too young. He just messin’ with Cinte.’

Rees glanced at the fair-skinned man. He was laughing too and as Rees watched he slapped Scipio on the uninjured shoulder. So why did Scipio want to mess with him? And why didn’t Cinte seem to mind?

‘I want you gone by sun-up, hmmm,’ Jackman continued.

‘All right.’ Still chuckling, Scipio looked at the other men. ‘How about a game tonight?’ He took some bone dice from his pocket and rolled then in his large palm.

‘I’ll go too,’ Cinte said, rising to his feet. ‘Keep my brother company.’

That answered one of Rees’s questions.

‘How about it, Neptune?’

‘No.’

‘You’ll double that runnin’ away money,’ Scipio coaxed. ‘And you, Peros?’

‘I’m in.’

‘Cinte? You got more money than any of us,’ Scipio said. His brother shook his head and turned away.

‘C’mon Neptune. Don’t be no fun with only two.’ As Scipio did his best to persuade Neptune to join the game, Rees turned to Cinte.

‘Do you work in the Canal too?’ he asked, eyeing the other man’s slender build and fair skin.

‘No. I make banjoes. And I got one to deliver to one of the other shingle makers at the Ditch.’ With that cryptic statement, Cinte ran down the slope to a distant hut.

‘What’s a banjo?’ Rees asked himself.

This was truly a foreign place.

***

Excerpt from Death In The Great Dismal by Eleanor Kuhns. Copyright 2021 by Eleanor Kuhns. Reproduced with permission from Eleanor Kuhns. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Eleanor Kuhns

Eleanor is the 2011 winner of the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime novel winner. After working as a librarian, she transitioned to a full time writer. This is number eight in the Will Rees Mystery series.

 

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#Excerpt “Always Yours, Bee” by Mia Hayes

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Memoir

Date Published: 3/2/21

Publisher: FinnStar Publishing

“There’s a guy. He was hit by a truck.”

On a rainy November day, Mia Hayes’ husband left for work on his Vespa. Normally, she would have driven him, but Mia was waiting on a phone call with an editor and didn’t have time.

She never saw that caring, loving version of her husband again.

The fallout from his accident–Mia’s guilt and her husband’s PTSD, memory loss, and depression–consumed their lives over the next five years as her laid-back husband changed into an angry man with few memories of their past. Desperate to hold her fragile family together, Mia ignored her own unraveling and plunged into bipolar depression.

As she searched for answers to unanswerable questions, Mia moved her family from San Francisco to Paris, France before landing in a leafy Washington, D.C. suburb where she tried to find a fresh start only to become embroiled in a scandal of her own making.

Through ups and downs, mental illness and bad decisions, Mia struggled with what it means to be a good wife and mother, whether saving her marriage was worth the pain, and understanding that healing is a personal journey.

Always Yours, Bee is a heartbreaking yet triumphant and brave look at a woman, a marriage, and a family falling apart and coming out stronger. Told with clarity and introspection, it captures the terror of losing the person closest to you—yourself.

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EXCERPT

Prologue

November 2004

Lemonade light filtered through the fog, casting a warm, golden tone across us as we watched Ryan run down the empty beach, a kite string clenched in his tiny fist.

November usually brought rain to San Francisco, but this particular day was clear, and we wanted to take advantage of the sun—even if it was chilly and damp out. Surfers bobbed off the coast, waiting for their ride, and gulls skittered along the shoreline. Later, after we ate our picnic lunch, we planned on exploring the tide pools.

James snapped a picture of Leo and me snuggled into a fleecy blanket. I waved him over to us, and he settled into the sand, his jean-clad leg touching mine. He tossed his arm over my shoulder and hugged me close.

“This is nice,” he said. Ryan had stopped running to inspect something on the beach, and Leo crawled off my lap into the sand. “But this is more fun.” James turned and tried to tickle me through my layers of bulky clothes.

We laughed and smiled and were so very happy.

That’s how I want to remember us.

Golden.

 

The Accident – Chapter 1

 

November 23rd, 2010

Why wasn’t my phone ringing? She said seven thirty.

Relentless late-November rain battered the trio of windows behind me. It was nearly eight in the morning, two days before Thanksgiving, and I sat in the tiny family room of my San Francisco flat trying not to envision every reason why my phone was silent. Had she realized I was a hack and changed her mind?

Relax, no one is ever on time.

I opened the well-worn notebook in my lap and studied the questions my husband, James, and I had excitedly crafted the night before. Earlier that year, I had signed with a New York literary agent, and now an editor wanted to talk to me.

My writing had been squeezed in during sports practices and after the boys went to bed. James traveled frequently for work, and I often stayed up well past midnight to write despite long days of work, volunteering, and mothering.

I hadn’t mentioned my new passion to James until I received three offers of representation the day I submitted the manuscript to agents. He had been baffled that I had had time to write a full-length novel but not surprised that I had actually written a novel. As he put it, it was a very me thing to do.

I stared at my blank phone screen. Why hadn’t she called?

In an explosive burst of boy-noise, Ryan, my nine-year-old son, sprinted into the room and flopped on the end of the couch. His Catholic school uniform shirt was untucked, and his two blond cowlicks stuck straight up. I glanced at his feet. No socks or shoes.

“Can Grandma get me a bagel?” He gave me a hopeful, missing-tooth smile.

I set my notebook aside. “Did you ask Grandma?”

“She said if it was okay with you. I’ll even ask her to get one for Tate and Leo, too.”

I chuckled. “Do you really think Grandma would walk you all to school, get only you Boudin’s, and leave your brothers hungry?”

Ryan shrugged.

“Go finish getting ready, and if you have time, Grandma can get all of you bagels.”

Ryan leaped off the sofa and raced past James standing in the doorway of our family room.

“Hey! No hugs?” James called after Ryan.

“Sorry!” Ryan threw his arms around James’s torso. “Love you!”

James rubbed the back of Ryan’s head. “I love you, too.”

Ryan broke free and his footsteps thundered down the stairs. “We can get bagels!”

Our front door slammed, followed by my in-laws’ door closing. They lived in the flat below and often helped care for the boys. My mother-in-law, Molly, worked at their Catholic school—the same one both she and James had attended.

I was immensely proud that my boys were the fifth generation of James’s family to live in our three-story house, and I planned on never leaving. James had grown up there and so had Molly, and now it was the boys’ turn. Molly and Joe, my father-in-law, lived in the second-level flat, and my family lived in the third level. The garage and a small in-law unit occupied the ground floor.

James’s family roots ran deep in San Francisco, a park was even named after them, and I wore it as part of my identity. We were the Doyles from 11th Avenue (even though we were now the Suttons), and that meant something in our small community.

Molly and Joe were good sports about allowing me to put my own stamp on the house, going along with whatever my current obsession was. When I said I wanted to be a modern homesteader and turn our deep backyard into an organic city farm with fruit trees, bees, and chickens, they didn’t blink, and they let James buy me a chicken coop for our anniversary.

No matter what my current obsession was—like starting an online shopping site, becoming a personal shopper, or taking on the task of revamping our school and church’s annual festival—James supported me. I was a whirlwind, and he was the calm hand that steadied the ship.

“I’ll call when I get to work. I want to know how everything goes.” James’s Chelsea boots clomped against the hardwood floor as he walked toward me. He wore dark jeans and a black leather bike jacket that showed off his trim figure, and the olive-green messenger bag I had given him for Christmas bounced off his hip. He hadn’t bothered to do his messy, brown hair because he’d fix it at work after he took off his motorcycle helmet. I teased him that he carried more beauty products in his bag than I did, but really, I gave him a hard time because he was more pulled together than me.

Unlike James, my days consisted of mom things like going to the park and dust-bustering Cheerios off the floor. I did, however, shower, dress, and do my makeup every day after running a 5K at 5 a.m. The other moms marveled that I always managed to look presentable with three kids under the age of ten. I’d laugh and say it was my secret weapon, Molly, but the truth was the thought of anyone seeing me less than perfect bothered me.

“Are you sure you don’t want a ride? It’s pouring.” A mist of grayness swirled outside. Driving James meant I would have to take the call in the car, but I needed to offer. After all, he would have insisted on driving me.

“I’ll be fine.” James flashed a reassuring smile. “I don’t mind getting a little wet, and you need to focus.” Every day, James rode his cherry-red Vespa downtown. Taking Muni was an exhausting, smelly experience that took three times as long, and parking a scooter was cheaper than parking a car. It had been a great solution.

The rain had eased into a gentle sprinkle. Really, it was no more than the heavy fog that normally hung over the Richmond District. “We should get you a rain shield.”

“Probably.” James checked his phone’s weather app. “If I go now, I should be okay.”

“Are you positive you don’t want a ride?” I nervously tapped my notebook. Everything I had worked for was coming to fruition, and I didn’t want to mess it up.

“Positive.” James placed three kisses on my forehead–one for each of the boys. “You’re going to do great, Bee. Just be you. Everyone loves you.”

“But do they love my book?”

“The editor wouldn’t call you if she didn’t.” James playfully pat my cheek, cupping my face on the last tap. He lifted my chin and stared into my eyes. A sense of calm ran through me. “It’s going to be great, just like everything else you do.”

I loved making James proud. He worked hard for us, and even though he constantly told me my job of being a mother and wife was more important than his, I felt I should do more, contribute more, be more.

My phone rang, and I startled. James mouthed, “I love you.”

Unlike every other day, I didn’t sing out my normal, “Be good. Be careful. Don’t do bad things. I love you,” as he disappeared down the hallway. My phone was already to my ear.

The house shuttered when James slammed the front door.

I never saw that version of my husband again.

~~~

About the Author


Mia is a notorious eavesdropper who lives in Northern Virginia, outside Washington DC, with her husband, sons, two cats, and Harlow the Cavapoo.

She drinks too much green tea, loves traveling, and has mastered the art of procrastination cleaning.

Contact Links

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Instagram: @miahayesauthor

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