#Excerpt “Orange Blossoms, Love Blossoms” by Dalia Dupris

 


Book 1 of California Hearts

Contemporary Romance

Date Published: October  19, 2020

Publisher: The Wild Rose

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Strong-willed Elaine Hart is determined to save Hartland Orchards, her family’s’ California orange groves from being taken over by the bank. After the recent ending of a turbulent relationship, she vows to keep her professional and personal life separate, even though she’s attracted to David Cole, the one man who holds her family’s fate in the palm of his hands.

Serious-minded banker, David Cole, recovering from recent love and work fiascos has one goal and that’s ensuring that the delinquent Hartland Ranch account is brought up to date and not becoming personally involved with the unpredictable and beautiful Elaine Cole.

When a series of circumstances brings Elaine and David together, they must decide if they will continue to suppress their emotions or succumb to passion and take a chance on a forever love.


 EXCERPT

“Great.” Smiling, he squeezes my hand. “That’s taken care of then.”

“If I have to wait until Monday for him to repair the car, I’ll need to find a hotel.”

“There’s one inn and one bed and breakfast in town and they’re both completely booked months in advance.” His eyes twinkle and he laughs the deep, echoing laugh that I’m starting to get use to. “I’m not making this up. You can call and check for yourself, if you don’t believe me. Strawberry Festival is a big deal and people travel from out of town to come and enjoy the festivities. You’ll have to spend the night with me.”

The last thing I need right now is to spend the night with David. With the undeniable attraction between the two of us, I know exactly what will happen. My vow to not mix work and my social life has completely gone haywire, because here I am sitting in the cozy intimacy of his car. Betsy is on the way to the mechanic’s garage and I’m stuck in a remote little town that I never knew existed until a week ago. On top of that I’m with the most magnetic man I’ve ever met, who manages to make me feel emotions that are simultaneously new, exciting and frightening.

“I’m okay with that.” He’s the kind of man that I can trust. It’s me I’m more worried about. If we are going to be in close proximity, I’m not certain that I can keep my hands to myself. “Do you have a two-bedroom apartment in Littleton?’ I try to sound nonchalant.

“No, I don’t.” He has a twinkle in his eyes. “I have a one bedroom.”

“Oh,” I sigh, resigned to the fact that this is going to be a super challenging weekend. “We’ll have to make the best of it then, won’t we?”

He throws his head back and lets out a deep, robust laugh.

“What’s so funny?” Here I am getting all sweaty, nervous and yes, even a little aroused, thinking about the possibility of sharing a bed with him and he’s laughing like its a joke.

“Okay.” He gains control of himself—finally, casting a more serious expression in my direction. “You should have seen the look on your face. As if it would be torture to have to share a bed with me.”

“That’s what’s so funny?” I glare at his remarkably even features. If only he knew that I was wondering what kind of underwear he wore, boxers, briefs or God forbid, that the man slept in the nude. “Better that you don’t try to read my mind. Although, I’m glad to see that you have a good sense of humor.”

“Of course I do.” He gives me an odd look, and his words are slightly defensive. “Who doesn’t have a sense of humor?”

“Can we stick to the subject?” I tap my fingers on my leg and l glance at him inquisitively. “So…we’ll be sharing a room, is basically what you’re saying?”


About the Author

I’ve always enjoyed reading and writing and grew up surrounded by a wide variety of books, from westerns to romance novels. I love stories—watching them, listening to them, reading them, and writing them. My contemporary novels include complex and diverse characters that grapple with family legacy, love, loss, and laughter as they face the challenges of life. When I’m not working on my next manuscript, you can find me bike riding along the beach with my husband or exploring the mysteries of the universe with my daughter.

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#Excerpt “The Boy and the Lake” by Adam Pelzman


Family Saga Fiction. Literary Fiction

Date Published: October 7th, 2020

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Haunted by his discovery of a beloved neighbor’s body floating lifeless in the lake where he’s fishing, 16-year-old Benjamin Baum is convinced she was murdered despite her death being deemed an accident.  While those around him tire of his fixation on finding a supposed killer, Ben’s alienation leads to drinking and the reader begins to wonder if he’s a reliable narrator. The plot takes a shocking twist, revealing the terrifying reality that things are not what they seem—that, beneath a façade of prosperity and contentment, darkness lurks. 


CHAPTER ONE

June 1967

I can recall with near perfect clarity the moment I saw Helen Lowenthal’s bloated body slide up through a carpet of emerald water lilies and bob on the water’s surface like a ghostly musk turtle. In the seconds before her lifeless ascent, a constellation of fireflies—tiny flickering furnaces—danced and glowed in the early summer dusk; a white egret, all legs and neck, landed atop Split Rock and stood regal guard over the lake; a long-eared bat carved wicked arcs through the sky before devouring a plump imperial moth.

From the direction of Second Beach, Nathan Gold’s pontoon boat—the Ark—puttered along the shoreline with four prosperous couples reveling in their evening cocktails. A symphony of big bands, laughter, and giddy howls poured off the boat and tumbled across the lake’s still water. Nathan and his wife, Bea—a gregarious, stocky woman—called out to me as they passed, and I waved back with delight, wondering how two people could be so festive, so happy, so often.

Bonnie Schwartz, my mother’s friend, was also on the boat. She was considered by many to be the prettiest woman on the lake, as was her mother before her. I waved to her with the hope of some reciprocity—maybe a nod or a simple smile in my direction—but this auburn beauty, distracted by her empty martini glass, did not notice me—an omission that punished my fragile sixteen-year-old heart.

I sat on the edge of the dock, my feet immersed in the water of our beloved New Jersey lake. As the Ark turned north toward the clubhouse, the boat’s wake caused the pungent, algal water to lap against my calves. I held a wooden fishing pole that Papa, my grandfather, had given me when I was six. The hook baited with a throbbing night crawler, I watched as the red-and-white bobber teased me with a quick downward thrust, only to rise to the surface and drift with rippled ease. Clever fish, I thought.

A few seconds before the swollen body emerged, I turned back to look at my grandparents’ summerhouse. I could see Nana flitting about the screened-in porch, setting the table for yet another dinner party, while Papa probed the lawn for moles, angling empty glass bottles into their holes with the open ends facing downward. “Makes a howling noise, Ben,” he once told me as he guided a beer bottle into the earth. “Drives them crazy, like psychological warfare.”

What I noticed first in the water before me was not a body, but a flutter in the lilies that I mistook for a jumping frog. It was only when the attenuated rays of the descending summer sun flashed off Helen’s gold and diamond watch that I realized something terrible had occurred. I gasped and leapt to my feet. “God,” I mumbled and raised my right foot as if to take a step forward, toward the body. “Papa!” I yelled, dropping the rod to the dock. “Papa, come down!”

Despite his old age, my grandfather was a lithe and energetic man who, after numerous injuries and surgeries, had somehow managed to retain much of the athleticism of his youth. He was alarmed by the distress in my voice, for he threw a bottle to the ground and dashed down the slate path to the water’s edge. I glanced up to my grandmother, who stood frozen on the porch, right hand on chest, her mouth open.

“There!” I shouted to Papa and pointed to the blue-white body of his next-door neighbor. Helen Lowenthal, whose rare kindness had evoked in me the greatest loyalty, was dressed in a pink tennis skirt and matching top. Barefoot, she floated on her back, her face dappled with lake slime, her dyed blonde hair draped over a mat of lilies, her pale arms elevated above her head as if she were a surrendering soldier. I took another step closer, toward the water. I found myself drawn to her body, to its deadness, to its serene, haunted passage, as one is drawn to the very things—once beautiful, now rotten—that intrigue us, that repulse us with their incomprehensible transformation.

Papa reached the dock and grabbed my arm. He stared at the body in silence, then, as if looking for a clue, scanned the shoreline and the lake’s expanse. A hundred feet from the dock, in a pool of quiet water, an elderly couple fished from an anchored motorboat; the Ark continued its journey toward the clubhouse, a familiar Ella Fitzgerald melody drifting off the stern; a small sailboat floated in the windless dusk; and the white egret elevated from Split Rock, relinquishing its perch in search of food. “Go inside and call the police,” Papa cried. “It’s Helen, you know.” He wiped the sweat from his face then, panting, bent over at the waist. “Helen … Lowenthal,” he said through heavy breaths, before stepping down, fully-clothed, into the shallow water.

I watched as he struggled to traverse the muddy lake floor, the water rising from his knees, to his waist, to his chest. When he reached Helen, he touched a small bruise on her forehead. He then grasped her left hand and guided her—belly-up—toward the shore, her body slicing through the water with ease and purpose. As I watched this scene unfold, I was immobilized by my first close contact with death. I stared at her corpse with a vast fear, with a revulsion that shamed me, and, I would later acknowledge, with something approximating wonderment.

With great care, Papa placed his palm on the side of Helen’s head—a tender movement that protected her from hitting a protruding rock. Now just feet from the shore, the water knee-deep, he turned to me. “Go, Ben,” he demanded. “Go now!”

Unable to divert my eyes from the scene before me, I moved slowly up the dock. I watched as Papa stepped up onto the shore, his legs heavy from the weight of his sodden pants. I watched as he lifted Helen, as he groaned in exertion, and then gently laid her down on the spongy moss. I took one last look at the woman. She wore the fancy watch her husband had given her for their twentieth anniversary, and on her left hand was an engagement ring, the one with a diamond so large that some of the women from the bridge club had started a rumor that the stone was fake. I glanced at her toenails, painted cherry red, and at her slime-lacquered face.

“Go!” Papa screamed, now with fury in his eyes. And then I ran to the house and into my grandmother’s fleshy, perfumed embrace. I ran to a safe place.


About the Author

Adam Pelzman was born in Seattle, raised in northern New Jersey, and has spent most of his life in New York City. He studied Russian literature at the University of Pennsylvania and went to law school at UCLA. His first novel, Troika, was published by Penguin (Amy Einhorn Books). He is also the author of The Papaya King, which Kirkus Reviews described as “entrancing,” “deeply memorable” and “devilishly smart social commentary.” The Boy and the Lake, set in New Jersey during the late 1960s, is his third novel.

 

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#BookTour “Blood Money” by Chris Riedel

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True Crime/Thriller

Date to be Published: 10/13/20

Publisher: Acorn Publishing

 

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BLOOD MONEY is the true legal thriller of a terrifying David vs. Goliath
fight against massive healthcare fraud by a brave Whistleblower.  It
includes attempted murder, extortion, money-laundering, fraudsters hiding
money in the Cayman Islands, gold buried in a storage container in a
CEO’s backyard, an Assistant Attorney General sabotaging her
state’s case, and a corrupt Governor torpedoing litigation by his own
Attorney General.  From Silicon Valley to the Sunshine State, in a
showdown that reads like a Hollywood movie, Chris Riedel survives to share
it all. His actions have resulted in more than $550 million in settlements
and a court verdict… and counting.

~~~

EXCERPT

Blood Money is the story of how a Silicon Valley CEO became a fraud fighter. It is an insider’s look at the David vs. Goliath struggle between a whistleblower seeking to save his company and stop taxpayers from being ripped-off, and healthcare companies engaged in massive fraud.  Along the way, it exposes what it is like to work with government prosecutors.

I lived the Silicon Valley dream, founding my first company at twenty-four, and then starting two others while I was still a young man. The first two companies revolutionized how bacterial infections were diagnosed and treated—saving hundreds of thousands of lives around the world.

My third company, Meris Laboratories, jumped to another level entirely. Between 1988-90, it experienced the fastest growth among 2,000 labs in the industry, and delivered the highest pre-tax profit margins. In 1991, we achieved the ultimate Silicon Valley aspiration by leading the company through an initial public offering (IPO). A secondary offering (SPO) followed six months later. A month after the SPO, Business Week selected Meris as the fortieth best small business in America — out of over 20 million registered small companies. We were deeply honored.

We decided to celebrate our success in the best possible way: a few months after the SPO, I retired after twenty-two years in healthcare. I was forty-five years old. For someone who grew up in a lower middle-class family, you can only imagine how proud I felt.

During the 1990s, two labs (dubbed the “Blood Brothers” by Wall Street analysts) grew to dominate the industry: Quest Diagnostics and Laboratory Corporation of America (LabCorp).  When my wife, Marcia, and I came back into the industry 11 years after we retired, the California laboratory industry had changed. Instead of walking into a level playing field for all labs, what we found was a rigged deck, a broad pattern of corruption, kickbacks, price gouging, and naked profiteering. This made it impossible for honest competitors, like our Hunter Labs, to survive.

Even worse, I discovered that hundreds of millions of dollars were being stolen from California’s Medicaid system.
This corruption was anything but a victimless crime. Beyond California’s taxpayers, many others were getting harmed, namely California’s oldest, sickest, and poorest. What I found was that the Blood Brother-dominated laboratory testing market in California had devolved largely into profiteering by the greedy at the expense of the needy.

These frauds were not accidents. They were core business plans, designed and sanctioned at the top. I learned of this as the “big wink” that goes on every day in American healthcare. If you want to be a big or mid-sized player in the healthcare arena, you quickly find out that you must make a choice: join the fraud team or go home. One of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, Merck, was described by an Assistant U.S. Attorney at a Taxpayers Against Fraud conference as: “Organized crime masquerading as a drug company.”

I never imagined I would become a fraud fighter. My closest friends, also successful businessmen, despised anyone who sued corporations—particularly whistleblowers. This held throughout corporate America, which views whistleblowers as pariahs instead of people who stand for integrity and fair business and employment practices. Was I about to become something they despised?

~~~

About the Author

CHRIS RIEDEL is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who has founded five healthcare companies and served as the Chairman and CEO of all.  Chris achieved the Silicon Valley dream when he took his third company public in 1991.  A few months later, it was ranked by Business Week as the 40th best small company in America.  Soon after founding a fourth company, his battle against healthcare fraud began.  In 2011, he received the Taxpayers Against Fraud Whistleblower of the Year award.

 

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#BookTour “East Beach (Red Farlow Mysteries, Book 3)” by W.F. Ranew


Red Farlow Mysteries, Book 3

Mystery/Thriller

 Date Published: September 30, 2020

Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing

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 FBI Agent Joseph Trammell retires to a beachfront home on a Georgia island.

Six months later, PI Red Farlow finds him dying in a pool of blood. Someone shot him four times. Five shell casings litter the floor. Drops of blood lead out of the house and onto East Beach on St. Simons Island. Red sets out to find out who killed Joe Trammell and why.

Did the local drug and arms smuggler hire a hit? And who caught the fifth bullet?

Farlow wades into the murky water of intrigue, conflicting love affairs, and danger as he tracks down the killer. It’s not exactly a relaxing day at the beach.


EXCERPT

East Beach, Red Farlow Mysteries, Book Three

Red Farlow resisted following his wife, Leigh, to bed. He’d slept fitfully of late. Instead, he walked to his front porch overlooking the beach and St. Simons Sound.

He sat and listened to the water and waves, cloaked in a fog teased by a gentle winter breeze.

The mist had drifted in earlier that evening and thickened into a likeness comparable to Brunswick stew. The cloud blanketed Red’s neighborhood.

His nostrils flared. A southwesterly wind ushered in the rotten egg stink from the paper mills on the mainland.

A freighter hauling across St. Simons Sound to Brunswick’s port sounded its foghorn. Red watched as the ghostly hulk cruised past. Gulls danced in the breeze over the beach’s surf line. All was right with the world. Or was it?

Red looked down at his cell phone. How did I miss a call? He noticed the time— half past midnight.

He listened to the voice message.

“Red, ah…Tram. Now!”

The short, clipped message alarmed. Red’s friend was a talker by nature. He recalled Joseph Trammell’s older brother relating how he burst forth from their mother’s womb, chatting up a storm. Tram didn’t deny that. He just grinned upon hearing the story.

At times as a federal agent, Tram faced predicaments that would dent anyone’s proclivity toward conversation.

Red considered what the trouble might be as he went in to tell Leigh he was going out. He put on a windbreaker, walked through the mist to his truck, and drove up the road to Tram’s house.

He parked on the street and walked to the front door, which stood half-open. A lone lamp glowed in the living room and an upstairs hall light sprayed the stairwell with its softness. He stepped into the house, down the hall by the stairs, and to the brightest lit room—the kitchen.

“Tram!”

Joseph Trammell sprawled, barely alive, in a pool of his blood on the floor. Red kneeled over and cupped the back of his friend’s head and shoulders.

Tram’s eyes fought hard to open.

“Red,” he managed to utter.

“Yeah, man. It’s me,” Red said. “Tram, help will be on the way soon.”
Red dialed for an ambulance.

The former FBI agent fought for breath. He managed to say, “Key West.” Tram tried to heave more air, but the rattle denied it. His eyelids opened and shut several times.

It was the last time Red saw his old boss and friend he called Tram. Someone put four bullets in him. Looking at Tram on the floor, the private investigator feared the EMTs could do little to save him.

Joseph Trammell exhaled a final faint whoosh of breath, and his head slumped to one side. He died.

That was too bad. Red loved the guy. Damned.

***

Tram retired from the FBI late the previous summer and moved into a house on St. Simons Island’s East Beach.

Red and his wife Leigh had passed the house on the road a dozen times. They walked by it on the beachfront that many or more. The night Red got the call, he finally went inside the cottage.

It’s not that they weren’t welcome. Tram had invited them to visit his house twice. Both times they had conflicts and couldn’t make it, so Red was long overdue in dropping by to see him and his pride in homeownership. He and Leigh did manage to meet Tram once for dinner at a restaurant on the island.

The sad part about not having visited Tram’s new house was Red had a home a mile away in St. Simons Island’s Village on the Georgia coast.

Busy lives got in the way. Leigh had her psychotherapy practice on Chippewa Square in Savannah. They went to Europe for three weeks that autumn. On and on the reasons mounted. But Red knew he should have visited Tram as soon as he moved in on that hot day in August. He didn’t.

***

Red looked around the kitchen and concentrated on everything in a quick view.

A large pool of blood under his friend. Five shots fired, as indicated by the collection of brass casings on the floor five feet from Tram’s body. He’d taken four bullets. Someone else got the fifth. A trail of blood drops speckled the floor.

Red saw no gun but noted a butcher knife on the kitchen counter near the sink.

He remained still, not wanting to disturb the evidence there—someone who was bleeding escaped out the back. Anyone could see that much. Small puddles of blood found three to four feet apart led from the kitchen to the porch, out the screen door, and onto the sand of East Beach.

Red took out his cell phone and shot a dozen photos of the scene. When a siren sounded a few blocks away, he gingerly stepped out of the kitchen and left through the front door. While waiting on the small patch of grass, he watched as a lone woman approached the house from down the street. A couple walked up the road that dead-ended into Tram’s property.

Minutes later, an ambulance pulled onto the short pebble driveway, followed by a county police car. Two EMTs ran to the house. Red directed them and the cops to the kitchen.

The hubbub began.

Other neighbors appeared. Two more cops arrived and started asking questions of everyone there. An officer talked to one woman—the early arrival—who said she lived several cottages down. Red wondered what the cops would learn from her and the others.

In the middle of the night, gunshots tended to raise alarms, particularly in high- end neighborhoods with million-dollar beachfront houses. Of course, many were vacation homes and unoccupied much of the time. Still, there were plenty of full- timers on the stretch of East Beach.

Red walked back into the house. As the ambulance guy and woman examined Tram’s body, two sheriff’s officers came in and started asking questions. Soon, a county homicide detective appeared in a sedan. Red spoke to him, explaining that after Tram’s voice message, he came over and found his friend dying on the kitchen floor.

Red saw no need to tell them what Tram uttered in his last moments. No one asked.


About the Author

W.F. Ranew is a former newspaper reporter, editor, and communication executive. He started his journalism career covering sports, police, and city council meetings at his hometown newspaper, The Quitman Free Press. He also worked as a reporter and editor for several regional dailies: The Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle, The Florida Times-Union, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Ranew has written two previous novels: Schoolhouse Man and Candyman’s Sorrow. He lives with his wife in Atlanta and St. Simons Island, Ga.

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#BookTour “Enchanted: Volumes 1 & 2” Love Africa Press Collections

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ENCHANTED VOLUMES 1 & 2

A LOVE AFRICA PRESS COLLECTION

Be enchanted. These handpicked tales of African deities and daemons, shamans and shape-shifters will keep you spellbound page after page.

cover 1

FEATURED STORIES

BOND CALL

by Emem Bassey

Sese vehemently rejects the mating heat to a non-warrior like Urua. 

Suddenly, imbued with powers of a diviner, he stands as the only hope and defender of Abedeng people. Will Urua relinquish his hurt to save his mate? Will he submit to the bond call and take her back despite her betrayal?

NIGHT MOVES

by Lauri Kubuitsile

Things are happening in Lesedi’s life, unexplained things. Did her bi-friend Mmapula sneak into the hotel room and finally succeed in her long-threatened plan to make love to Lesedi? Or was it all a dream, a beautiful, sexy dream?  When it happens again, though, Lesedi is sure she’s being visited by a supernatural being that has some insane skills in lovemaking. But is there something sinister going on? 

RETURN TO LAGOS

by Michele Sims

From the looks of her, Winnie seems to have it all: fame, wealth, beauty, friends and a dashing and successful fiancé. It’s what is lying beneath the surface that drives Winnie’s life and career: the devastating loss of her family, the increasing demands of her career and the fact that she has to reveal all of this to her future husband, who also harbors a secret of his own. 

SHE CALLED HIM GOD

by Obinna Obioma

Snatched of a father’s love at such a tender stage in life, Asari feels the betrayal of the gods. He leads a loveless, rigid and faithless life; until he unwittingly walks into the Sacred Circle of the same gods he holds in disdain and incurs their wrath.

Assuming the mortal form, Altheme sets out to make Asari fall in love. But the terrestrial realm is riddled with unforeseen challenges. Can love truly conquer all?

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FOR A LIMITED TIME: Get a FREE book when you buy a copy of Enchanted: Volume One (Free ebook, Enemy Call, by Emem Bassey) Email info@loveafricapress.com with copy of receipt.

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cover 2

FEATURED STORIES

DAEMON TRAPPED

by Bambo Deen

When long-suffering daemon Leonidas is trapped in Besidas’ hotel, she is drawn into a world of curious and strange creatures. Stranded after a cruel attempt on his life, Leon has spent decades trying and failing to return home. Besi evokes emotions within him that he did not think were possible for his kind and for the first time he’s enjoying Earth. But can Leon protect Besi when a dangerous entity from Leon’s past comes for revenge?

FINDING LOVE IN BETRAYAL

by Fiske Nyirongo

A love story full of hope and seeing beyond differences. 

Mbawemi is an heir to the throne in a kingdom of witches, wolves and hybrids. Hybrids are considered the lowest form of creature in the kingdom. In enters Sangwani, a hybrid king who is anything but what Sangwani thinks of hybrids. Can their love build bridges? 

DREAM SEDUCTOR

by Karo Oforofuo

Ajiri runs away from the river kingdom to avoid an arranged marriage and settles in the human world. But her relationship and sex life is lacking until she finds herself torn between two men. Will she give in to the suggestive stares from the handsome human, or cling to the blue man who haunts her dreams and unleashes erotic desires that make her yearn for more?

HAUNTED

by Kiru Taye

In life, he loved her. In death, he craved her.

Somma is heartbroken when husband David is killed in a tragic accident. After a year she is struggling to move on, especially since she swears he haunts her dreams and does sexy stuff to her every night. When friends convince her to perform an exorcism, things take a turn she doesn’t expect. 

AVAILABLE TO BUY NOW

FOR A LIMITED TIME: Get a FREE book when you buy a copy of Enchanted: Volume Two (Free ebook Homecoming by Kiru Taye) Email info@loveafricapress.com with copy of receipt.

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EXCERPT

CHAPTER ONE

BOND CALL

by EMEM BASSEY

“You’ve been following me all day, Urua.”

The tall, lanky man had grinned at her. “This isn’t strange, my friend. I’ve been following you since we were children, you just haven’t noticed.”

Sese had bristled, hating the burning urge in the pit of her stomach to hold him and smooth away his worries. “The sun has long since set, please go!”

Guilt had chewed her intestines when she’d seen the forlorn expression on his face. The urge to care had raged like a furnace within her, but she’d bitten her tongue, drawing blood in the process, to control it. He’d sighed heavily and turned onto the path leading to his home.

She sighed as she lay on her pallet, staring at the raffia roof of her hut. She should’ve been sleeping, but worry tarried in her heart. Urua had become insistent in the past seven days, the exact time the dreams had begun.

She wondered if he had dreams too, then shook her head. If Urua had the dreams she was having, he’d be more bothersome. It was as though a rope joined them now; she would leave home without informing her father of her whereabouts, yet, Urua would find her wherever she thought to hide.

Sese was afraid of what was happening. She didn’t want it—at least, not with him; what would Abedeng people say?

For many nights, she’d lain like this, afraid of sleep because he’d be waiting in her dreams to embrace her. She was weak in dream land, and the more she gave in to him there, the stronger the bond pulling them together became. She wasn’t sure Urua knew what he was doing, and she hoped it remained that way until the diviner hitched her with a worthy warrior in a fortnight.

In that time, she would avoid him as much as she could.

***

“Urua, you’re trying my patience.”

He reared back at her comment as though entirely shocked by it, even though she said the exact same thing every day, with the exact same expression—or lack of expression in her case.

“You called my name!” he enthused in suppressed excitement.

This caused her to groan in exasperation and resume her clipped pace on the narrow beaten path leading to the deserted area where the diviner dwelled in his tiny hut.

He rushed after her.

“I think me trying your patience is a good thing,” he expressed conversationally.

“How is that?” Sese asked before she could tighten her mouth and remain unresponsive as usual.

Urua grinned at her angry look because he knew she hated responding to him, especially after having ignored him for a better part of their lives.

“Well, you should be nicer to me. The gods might just hitch us tonight,” he proclaimed.

Sese stumbled, missing a step despite the dark path being slightly lit by a lone torch one of the maidens must have considerately left, tied to a low branch. She could walk these paths without light, so it wasn’t that she hit her feet. No, Urua’s words had shocked her down to her core.

They had caused a visceral reaction which she was taking as panic, and it had weakened her knees for a moment, causing her to stumble.

“See well, my heart!” he exclaimed, reaching out to steady her.

That same primeval reaction, this time shooting through her body as though she had been lanced by lightning, unearthed strange warmth from the pit of her stomach.

No, it couldn’t be.

She’d been fighting this for days. Did it mean the ntung leaf—rumoured to break unwanted bonds—she’d squeezed into her eyes and nose hadn’t worked after the fiery hurt she’d endured?

No, it had to be the boiled palm juice she’d imbibed at her grandfather’s hut. It wasn’t Urua’s words, either—everybody was used to him saying outrageous things like that to her, and they were used to her always ignoring him.

In their little settlement south of the great Niger river, females had always been more plentiful than males, and so, it was required that every twelve moons, the diviner would seek the face of the gods and hitch a woman to a man with the hope that they might mate and birth, at least, one male.

During her father’s birthing period, a lot of males had been born, but their numbers still couldn’t compare with that of the females. So, some of the females of her age would be hitched tonight to males that already had one or two women who had birthed males and were presently suckling them at their breasts.

It was believed that a male able to mate with two females, causing them to birth males, deserved a third female to carry his strong seed, though this practice only began because there were just not enough males in Abedeng.

The females were tender and nurturers while the males became warriors. But the strangest thing had happened—Urua had been birthed a male but had the lack of strength of a female, while Sese had been birthed a female but was as strong as the fiercest Abedeng warrior; a sacrilege.

The villagers began shrugging their shoulders at them as many twelve moons added to their age. Urua was older than her with three twelve moons, but he acted like a child, which was how females behaved, while she acted like a male.

Her mother had died on her eighth twelve moons while trying to birth another child. So, her father had been confused as to how to care for a female child with male abilities. The other children had refused to play with her—they had accepted Urua but rejected her. They told their mothers she didn’t know how to play, since her touch was too strong; they said she would never birth a child.

The diviner had called a gathering and explained to the village that her strength wasn’t strange since the gods had prophesied about females with male strengths in the past. He’d also explained that every male must not be warriors and that Urua had the divining gift, the reason why he didn’t have the male strength.

Males in Abedeng were known to be extremely tall with big, burly bodies bulging with strength. Urua was tall, but his body never developed with strength no matter how many times he joined in the ceremony of lifting stones which the males did every morning to increase their bulk.

Her father had allowed her to join him in the ceremony every morning when she had reached her ninth twelve moons and had taught her how to fight like a warrior; it was the only thing he knew to teach her, since the other females wouldn’t come near her strangeness enough to teach her female ways.

So, she had grown up a warrior. Her father had stopped her from the ceremony of lifting stones before she reached her twelfth twelve moons as her body had begun looking more like a male with rippling strength. He had worried that if she continued, no male would want to mate with her. But he had continued teaching her the warrior fights.

Sese had been avoided like a leper by males and females, well, except for her father and of course, the person she most wanted to avoid, Urua. In her fifteenth twelve moons, she had bested the third warrior in an unplanned fight. The third warrior had been disgracing Urua in front of their age group, abusing him for lacking strength like a female; his words and tone had angered her.

She had challenged him, and he had accepted. It had taken only three fight claps from the gathering to throw him on his back. She had learned well from her father who was the second warrior in his own age group.

The third warrior’s father had been incensed and had demanded that Sese be punished for disgracing a warrior three twelve moons older than her. Culture demanded that she forfeit any fights with her elders. But she couldn’t have—she had been filled with so much fury when she had seen the redness in Urua’s eyes, redness caused by the third warrior putting sand there.

She had been punished with seven days of pulling weed around the third warrior’s hut. It was a painful process to pull weed, since these had sharp edges that pierced the skin. She had not been allowed to use a tool, so she had pulled with her bare hands, bleeding the whole seven days.

The third warrior had hung around for three days, waiting for the humiliation of Sese sobbing for forgiveness, but that had never happened. On the fifth day, he had gone to his warrior group, a group Urua wasn’t a part of because of his weakness, and told them she was a witch, an abomination that the gods would never allow to birth a child.

People had started avoiding her more, but Urua had stuck to her like the gum from the mango tree. Despite her several rejections of him, he remained by her side every time he could. And then, every time he wasn’t supposed to.

He had taken to joining her father when he practiced the ceremony of lifting stones at the crack of dawn. It had taken her ten days to realize that in doing that, he bore the humiliation of not being able to lift the bigger stones; he bore her father’s mockery of his weakness just because he wanted to watch her learn the warrior fights from her father.

It annoyed her to no end that he wouldn’t just leave her alone. She was fine with the rejection of the village, though she worried she might never mate with a male since all the warriors, even of her age group, refused to mate with her. No one wanted a witch; no one cared for an abomination—everyone mated to birth children, and there was a possibility she might not be able to.

She should have been mated two twelve moons ago, but no warrior wanted her. Even the old warriors of her father’s age group shook their heads when she was pointed at in the mating line. And then the dreams had begun, and Urua had become even more clinging.

But tonight, the diviner had called a special gathering to hitch the next age group. Sese was going with the hope that a younger warrior might choose her, or the gods might force her on an unsuspecting one. She really needed to mate. She needed to feel like a woman, and only a warrior would make her feel that way by mating.

She was afraid she might not birth a child, but she wanted to experience the heat of mating that her mother had always spoken to her about before her death. She wanted to feel that heat with a warrior, not Urua.

“The gods wouldn’t be so cruel,” she spoke after snatching her arm away from his helping hands. Sese looked into the darkness as though she were facing the immortal ancestors believed to dwell beyond the brightness of burning torches. “The gods wouldn’t be so cruel to hitch me with you.”

Urua grabbed his chest as though he had just been lanced by a spear. For a moment, she thought he had been attacked from behind by an enemy, but then, he looked up with his smile, the one that created two deep indents in his cheeks; the one that made him almost as beautiful as the fairest maiden in Abedeng.

“You pierce my heart, sweet Sese,” he murmured.

When had his voice deepened to that gruffness that seemed to vibrate in her chest when he spoke? Even her father, second warrior of his age group and revered chieftain, didn’t have such deepness in his tone.

Sese took a step back. She wasn’t afraid of Urua—she could beat him in an unplanned fight, but she worried about the things she was noticing in him. Like the broadness of his chest, though it wasn’t as broad as the usual Abedeng warrior, but strangely, she liked it.

She took another step back; she shouldn’t like it. Urua was an apprentice to the diviner. He would never be hitched, since the present diviner wasn’t.

This shouldn’t be happening, she thought in panic. She’d taken the rumoured antidote; she couldn’t be experiencing the heat of mating her mother had explained towards Urua.

No, she silently screamed. It was a mistake. Mother had said that the mating heat was rare, and it only happened between two special people after so many uncountable twelve moons. The mating heat entailed a man and woman feeling undeniably drawn to each other without the selection of the diviner. Mother had explained it as sometimes being shameful, as the mates couldn’t stay away from each other.

She hadn’t felt the heat for any other warriors, no matter how many times her father had asked her; no matter how many times she’d tried by surreptitiously brushing her body against males when at gatherings—an act her mother had said triggered the heat. She had never felt it, though it didn’t mean she wanted to feel it with Urua.

But a touch from him, just one helping hand, and heat had unfurled in her stomach like a coiled snake angrily rousing from slumber. That’s what she’d been avoiding the past fortnight, and it was happening now, just when she was close to, hopefully, being hitched by the diviner?

Sese shook her head, refusing the possibility. She straightened her height; a foot shorter than Urua, she noticed. Her heart instantly jumped in elation, but she stomped it down and widened the distance between them.

“You look strange, my heart. What is it?” he asked with concern.

Why wouldn’t he stop calling her his heart? The look on his beautiful face surged the heaviest warmth from her stomach, pushing at the walls of her chest to burst free.

She tightened her hand on her staff and silently fought to hold up the walls of her chest. Sese realized that distancing herself from him reduced the force of the heat. She took three more steps from him, not minding that Urua looked at her strangely.

Silently, she prayed he not feel the heat or the connection. The farther she was from him, the better chance of ending this night wrapped around a worthy warrior who would surely give her a male child.

“Sese?”

Even his voice was alluring. She could feel the warmth pooling and tingling in between her thighs. Oh, gods, it was exactly as her mother had said it would be. She had said she would know instantly who her fated mate was, but she didn’t want to know it was Urua. She would never be normal if she mated with Urua. The village would avoid them and any children they birthed … if they birthed children.

They were the only abominations in Abedeng, and she knew they would only birth strange children if they mated. If she accepted the bond call, she would be stuck with Urua all her life, dependent on him, unable to be without him.

And if a mate died, Mother had explained that the unbearable pain usually made the living mate take his or her life. Sese didn’t appreciate the unbreakable link that came with being fated mates tied by an unseen bond. She rather preferred being physically paired with a warrior she wouldn’t be dependent on; with a warrior stronger and more ripped than her who would make her feel feminine, a warrior for whom she wouldn’t have the urge to kill herself if he died.

All that was lost as thoughts of mating with Urua became insistent, making her thighs tighten to stop the recent incessant tingling.

“By the gods, you’re sweating,” Urua noticed, his voice filled with confused concern as he hurried towards her, intending to grant help, which would mean touching her.

Sese shook her head and bolted down the path as though chased by the eleventh enemy of the gods.


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#BookTour “The Last Rose of Summer” by Mary Austin


Date Published: June 25, 2020

Publisher: Archway Publishing

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While working independently as a pre-med student at Cleary University, the soon-to-be physician, Mary Austin, discovers a remarkable, non-toxic drug that could offer tremendous hope to cancer patients. Her work is headed for publication in a top medical journal until a drug company begins negotiations with her bosses from which she is mysteriously excluded.

Amid egregious sexual harassment, Mary’s materials are blatantly sabotaged. As death threats follow and her work becomes impossible, she is accepted at Whitehead College of Medicine despite evidence that her bosses tampered with her application process. After becoming a pediatrics resident, she shares her story with her beloved mentor, Dr. Daniel Taylor, who allows her to temporarily leave her residency training to reproduce the work. Her joy turns to sorrow and then determination when she learns that Dr. Taylor is battling terminal pancreatic cancer. Even as a chain of events prompts the sabotage of Mary’s drug stock and leaves her seemingly without any choice but to permanently leave academic medicine, the story of her drug is not over yet.

In this novel inspired by a true story, after a young cancer researcher discovers a breakthrough drug that could change chemotherapy, the drug industry suppresses the breakthrough and transforms her life and career forever.

 


Excerpt

Camera Aversion, Redux

It certainly came as news that I would, very much against my will, feature in that film [featuring Dr. Taylor] as I presented my patients that morning—and after a sleepless night and with no makeup on, because Murphy’s Law is never not in effect.

I ran around telling the other residents that we were apparently going to be filmed during rounds, and that we had to hurry it up.

“Oh, crap!” said one of the other female residents. “I have to put makeup on!”

“Well, how do you think I feel?” I asked her, laughing ruefully. Besides looking awful, I had twelve complex cases to present on zero hours of sleep. That my hair resembled a haystack in form as well as color that particular morning was the least of my concerns.

I wound up giving one of the best performances I’d ever given in rounds, presenting every single case without missing a beat. I made all the appropriate teaching points for the students and fielded every question they asked without dropping even one. I don’t even know how the hell I got through it all except that it was for him.

Well, that and I drank a shedload of caffeine. But that only served to kickstart my faltering brain; my heart was already in it all the way for him.


About the Author

Mary Austin is the pseudonym for a physician who, in order to publicize a suppressed discovery in cancer research, had to sacrifice first her academic career, then a career as a board-certified pediatrician, and then her personal safety. She would do it again.


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RABT Book Tours & PR

#BookReview “Little Falls” by Elizabeth Lewes

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Finding a tortured dead body hanging in a barn rattles county assessor Camille Waresch, but it doesn’t shock her. Struggling with PTSD, she thinks back to the other body she found. Her soldier. Her responsibility.

When she’s tapped by the medical examiner to help with the initial crime scene examination, Camille realizes though separated by years and thousands of miles, there are too many similarities in both deaths.

Though she’s warned several times, Camille continues with her own investigation. In her mind, she believes finding out what happened to the second victim will bring the justice the first victim never received, and bring her peace of mind. Her search for answers takes on new meaning when Camille learns her rebellious fifteen-year-old daughter, Sophie, knew the young man and is still involved with the acquaintances he left behind.

Told entirely from Camille’s point of view, Little Falls is an emotional read. Her mental anguish leaps off the page not just because of her military service, but guilt over the soldier she feels she didn’t do enough for; anger and frustration at the way the military treated her for wanting to do the right thing; and her own self-loathing for what she considers her personal failures, like motherhood.

Many around her think Camille is crazy… and sometimes even she believes she’s losing it. Her PTSD is extreme, but she’s not crazy. She could benefit from some long-term counseling, but she’s not crazy. And she’d probably refuse the counseling, anyway.

When Sophie goes missing, Camille isn’t just a mother looking for her child, but a soldier on a mission, and it is something to behold! The ending is good, with resolutions, but I feel bad for this fictional character who to me represents the veterans who never get the help they need.

A solid read with good writing and strong characters, Little Falls will appeal to readers of multiple genres, especially mystery and suspense.

Enjoy!

~~~

Synopsis

She tried to forget the horrors of war–but her quiet hometown conceals a litany of new evils.

Sergeant Camille Waresch did everything she could to forget Iraq. She went home to Eastern Washington and got a quiet job. She connected with her daughter, Sophie, whom she had left as a baby. She got sober. But the ghosts of her past were never far behind.

While conducting a routine property tax inspection on an isolated ranch, Camille discovers a teenager’s tortured corpse hanging in a dilapidated outbuilding. In a flash, her combat-related PTSD resurges–and in her dreams, the hanging boy merges with a young soldier whose eerily similar death still haunts her. The case hits home when Sophie reveals that the victim was her ex-boyfriend–and as Camille investigates, she uncovers a tangled trail that leads to his jealous younger brother and her own daughter, wild, defiant, and ensnared.

The closer Camille gets to the truth, the closer she is driven to the edge. Her home is broken into. Her truck is blown up. Evidence and witnesses she remembers clearly are erased. And when Sophie disappears, Camille’s hunt for justice becomes a hunt for her child. At a remote compound where the terrifying truth is finally revealed, Camille has one last chance to save her daughter–and redeem her own shattered soul.

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

~~~

Tour Participants:

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

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Enter To Win!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Elizabeth Lewes. There will be five (5) winners. Three (3) winners will each receive one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. Two (2) winners will each receive LITTLE FALLS by Elizabeth Lewes (eBook). The giveaway begins on September 1, 2020 and runs through November 2, 2020. Void where prohibited.

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Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

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#BookTour “Little Falls” by Elizabeth Lewes

Little Falls by Elizabeth Lewes Banner

on Tour September 1 – October 31, 2020

 
 
Synopsis:

Little Falls by Elizabeth Lewes

She tried to forget the horrors of war–but her quiet hometown conceals a litany of new evils.

Sergeant Camille Waresch did everything she could to forget Iraq. She went home to Eastern Washington and got a quiet job. She connected with her daughter, Sophie, whom she had left as a baby. She got sober. But the ghosts of her past were never far behind.

While conducting a routine property tax inspection on an isolated ranch, Camille discovers a teenager’s tortured corpse hanging in a dilapidated outbuilding. In a flash, her combat-related PTSD resurges–and in her dreams, the hanging boy merges with a young soldier whose eerily similar death still haunts her. The case hits home when Sophie reveals that the victim was her ex-boyfriend–and as Camille investigates, she uncovers a tangled trail that leads to his jealous younger brother and her own daughter, wild, defiant, and ensnared.

The closer Camille gets to the truth, the closer she is driven to the edge. Her home is broken into. Her truck is blown up. Evidence and witnesses she remembers clearly are erased. And when Sophie disappears, Camille’s hunt for justice becomes a hunt for her child. At a remote compound where the terrifying truth is finally revealed, Camille has one last chance to save her daughter–and redeem her own shattered soul.

Praise for Little Falls:

“The tight, well-constructed plot complements the searing portrait of Camille as she deals with the guilt she feels over her daughter and her general rage at the world.”
Publisher’s Weekly, Starred Review

Little Falls snaps with suspense from beginning to end. With skilled execution of setting and plot, Elizabeth Lewes shuttles the reader between continents on a thrilling journey that reveals haunting secrets. I couldn’t put this book down!”
—Margaret Mizushima, author of the award-winning Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries, including Hanging Falls

“A dark, dangerous read populated by distinct, well-drawn characters. The tormented heroine is a woman on the edge and fascinating in her unpredictability. You’re rooting for her, afraid for her, but never fully confident that she won’t succumb to her multiple demons. There is a desperate sense of urgency right up until the very end.”
—P. J. Tracy, New York Times bestselling author of the Monkeewrench series

Genre: Mystery, Rural Noir

Published by: Crooked Lane Books

Publication Date: August 11th 2020

Number of Pages: 311

ISBN: 1643855069 (ISBN13: 9781643855066)

Purchase Links: Amazon | Audible | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

Read an excerpt:

I remember fragments: the color of the desert burning, the smell of the blood drying in the sun, the sound of the glass shattering under fire. Never what happened after. Rarely what happened before.

But sometimes … sometimes, I remember everything. Time slows, crystallizes. I see everything, I smell everything, I hear everything. I feel everything.

Then something… snaps. Fragments.

It just happened. Here. In the barn. Flakes of snow are melting on my jacket; they’re damp on my numb fingers. It happened when he looked up, when he turned toward me, when I saw her blood matted in his long hair, his hand on her face.

Then I fired

This is what happened before.

1

Dust: long, fat streamers of it rose from the wheels of my truck as I drove up into the hills of Jeremy Leamon’s ranch. It was dry that Friday, dry as early August in Okanogan County usually is, but Leamon’s black steers were still bent low in the parched pastures, scrounging for tufts of yellow grass under the orange morning sun. The windows in the truck were down, and I was tapping my fingernails on the window frame, but not to the beat of the honky-tonk on the radio.

An outcrop shot up out of the pasture and became a ridge. I steered the truck around it, bounced over the stones that had crumbled off, and powered through a mess of tree roots and washouts that made the steering column jerk and the axles whine. Not long after the truck stopped buck ing, an outbuilding peeked out of the stand of ponderosa pines that washed down the hillside. Its corrugated steel paneling and wooden barn door had seen better days. Hell, better decades. But the thick padlock on the door was shiny and new.

Suspicious? Yeah.

The country is not that peaceful, you know. Drugs—we got plenty. Prostitution, too. And guns. Jesus Christ, do we have guns. In the years I had been inspecting properties for the County Assessor’s Office, I had seen more than my fair share out on the back roads, in the hidden valleys, and in forgotten forest clearings just like the one I found that day on the edge of Jeremy Leamon’s property. That’s why I carried my official ID in my pocket and my unofficial Glock in my right hand. Why I let the truck roll through the potholes until I turned a bend, then switched off the ignition and listened long and hard before I got out to take a look.

I remember that when my boots hit the ground, puffs of yellow dirt rose around my ankles, drifted on air heavy with the smell of sunburned pine needles: dry, hot, resinous. The smell of summer. The smell of fire.

I padded through the trees. A hundred yards in, I saw the back end of the building above me on the hill. I came up on the south side and approached the tree line, then doubled back to the north side. No sounds from the building, not even the whisper of a ventilation fan. So why lock it up, all the way out here in the hills?

My finger slipped closer to the Glock’s trigger.

Slowly, cautiously, I approached the building. There was only the one door and no windows. No way to see what the padlock was protecting. But as I rounded a corner, a gust of wind blew through the trees, and a steel panel on the side of the building swayed with it. I held my breath, waited for some sound, some shout, from inside the building. When it didn’t come, I caught the edge of the panel with the toe of my boot. It swung out easily, and daylight shot through holes where nails had once secured it to the building’s wooden skeleton.

Inside was a stall for an animal, a horse maybe. Beyond it, open space, sunlight pouring through a hole in the roof onto messy stacks of last year’s hay. The air glittered with dust and stank of decay, the funk of rot. But there was something else there too, something sweet and high and spoiled. And buzzing, buzzing that filled my ears, that vibrated my brain …

I ducked under the steel panel and clambered in, breathing shallowly. Holding my weapon at the ready, I rounded the corner of the stall, and then I saw him.

Hanging

Hanging from a loop of braided wire stretched over a wooden beam. His fingers were at his neck, but not to scratch it or run over his scant, patchy beard. They were stuck. Stuck in the noose. Stuck when he’d clawed at it, tried to pry it away, tried to make room to breathe.

I’m sure he tried.

Because he hadn’t jumped: there was no chair, no ladder. Nothing kicked away, nothing standing.

Nothing but the kid and the flies.

* * *

I don’t remember much of what happened next, but I know I went back to the truck, and I must have made a call. Because I know I watched the helicopter erupt over the rock and sweep down the hillside and land in the track I had driven down. And I can still feel the dirt from the downwash blasting my face and the icy cold steel of the stairs when I pulled them out just after the bird settled on the ground. And I remember not understanding why everyone was acting so strange, why the doctor set down her things in slow motion, and the pilot just switched off the bird and strolled to the trees to light up a smoke and why both of them were so casual, like they were going to the park. But then I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I turned around. And everything snapped into focus.

Sergeant Darren Moses. My God, you should have seen him that day, in his mirrored sunglasses and chocolate-brown uniform, his black buzz cut and those high Indian cheekbones. He was always good looking-even when we were kids—but I guess I hadn’t seen him for a while.

He asked me how I was, reached out and touched my shoulder again, looked concerned. I had on this green tank top, and the rough pads of his fingers were cool against my skin. He was standing close, almost intimately, his aftershave musky and faint. But I stood there and watched my reflection in his sunglasses and was an asshole.

“I’m glad to see the Sheriff’s Office hasn’t cleaned out the stables yet.”

Darren laughed, smiled broadly, his teeth flashing white in the sun. “You know I’m the kind of shit that sticks to the floor.”

He moved his hand away. My shoulder was suddenly cold. I smiled, tried to laugh, then grabbed another bag instead.

Darren held out his hand to take it. “You don’t have to haul our gear, Camille.”

I shrugged. “May as well. I’m here.” “Really.” “It’s not a big deal.” Darren’s smile disappeared.

“I’m sorry. I need you to stay here.”

My fingers tightened on the handle of the black Sheriff’s Office duffel. “What are you talking about?”

“I can’t let you into the crime scene.”

I shook my head. “I’ve already seen it. My fibers or whatever you’re worried about are already in there.”

“It’s procedure,” Darren said, his shoulders lifting slightly. “No exceptions, not even for old friends.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“And you’ve had a shock. Listen-Lucky’s on his way up here. He took a truck so he could stop and talk to Leamon. He can take you back into town, and I’ll drive your truck down after we’re done.”

I frowned. “What? No.”

“Camille. If you’re right and he’s…” “Hey, Moses!” someone shouted.

I spun toward the building and saw a second officer standing by the peeled-back panel of corrugated steel: Deputy Jesus Moreno. His voice tight and flat and deathly calm, he said: “You need to see this.”

Darren took the duffle from my hand and jogged over to the building. I followed. I’m not good at following orders. Never have been.

Inside the building, the two men stood side by side, their chins lifted, their eyes fixed on the corpse. Moreno was frowning, his arms crossed over his chest. He looked like a man at a museum: interested, but removed, dis tant. Darren looked like a man taking it personally. His jaw was clenched, his neck rigid, his thumb twitching on the safety catch of his holster.

In the corner, the medical examiner—a small woman with graying curls—busily set out her equipment on a bale of hay she’d draped with a white sheet. When she turned, she was zipping a white jumpsuit closed over a blue buttondown shirt.

“It’s just decomposition, gentlemen,” the examiner said. “Part of the natural process.”

“How long would you say?” Darren asked, still studying the corpse. “Three or four days,” I said without thinking.

Darren shot me a look and started to say something, probably to tell me I was violating his procedure, to threaten me with arrest if I didn’t get out of his crime scene. But the examiner was faster.

“Yes.” She adjusted her glasses, squinted at the body, then said slowly, like she was really thinking about it: “It’s been hot-hot enough for that much bloating-and the maggots are pretty far along. So, yes, that’s a fair assessment.”

Darren glanced from me to the examiner and back again, then opened his mouth.

“Aren’t you going to introduce me, Sergeant?” the examiner said.

For a moment, Darren was caught between irritation and manners. He was staring at me like I had strung up the kid myself, his eyes dark and intense, a vein in his neck jumping. The examiner was staring at him like he was a naughty schoolboy.

“Doctor Marguerite Fleischman, Camille Waresch,” Darren said. “Camille found the body this morning, Doc. She works for the County Assessor’s Office.”

“And?” the doctor said, looking over her wire rims at Darren.

“And she’s leaving,” he said, taking a step forward, one hand reaching toward my arm.

The examiner raised her hand to him. “Not until she answers my ques tions,” she said, then turned to me. “How is it you know the body’s been there for three or four days?”

I shrugged. “Just a guess.”

“Camille was a medic, Doc,” Darren said through gritted teeth. “She was in Iraq.”

I clenched my jaw, looked away. “And Afghanistan.” “I see.”

Doctor Fleischman pulled on a pair of latex gloves, snapping them against her wrists. Then she squatted and rifled through one of her bags. When she stood, she was holding a notebook and pen out to me.

“My recorder is broken. You remember how to take notes?”

We had been at it for a couple of hours when a truck pulled up outside. The engine died and one door, then another, slammed. I stood up quickly and backed toward the wall, skittish, my eyes on the big door by the road.

“I’m telling you,” a male voice said outside, his voice escalating from exasperation to anger.

“That ain’t my building. I don’t know what your problem is, but it ain’t mine.”

Leamon, Jeremy Leamon. My dad had known him. I had knocked on his front door and chatted with him about the weather that morning when I arrived at the property for the inspection.

“All right,” another man said in this sort of soothing, persuasive voice, the kind of voice you want in commercials for condoms or caramels. Lucky Phillips, it had to be. He was Darren’s partner back then. And he was an outsider, one of the few people who’d moved into the Okanogan instead of out.

“I believe you, Jeremy,” Lucky said. “But you know I’m a curious kind of guy—I just want to see if any of these keys work.”

“It ain’t mine,” Leamon growled, but there was panic in his voice.

Someone thumped the door and fiddled with the padlock, its steel loop rattling against the cleats on the door. The door jerked open, sliding to the side on the top rail. Lucky stepped into the doorway, all tall and broad in his brown uniform and flaming orange hair. And beside him, his arm clamped in one of Lucky’s big hands, was Jeremy Leamon, a man with too much denim wrinkled around his body and a halo of gray stubble on top of his head.

“What’s that then, Jeremy?” Lucky asked, still cool, still smooth.

Leamon ducked out of Lucky’s grip, his gnarled, liver-spotted hands clenched in enormous fists. But Lucky was younger and faster. He stepped forward, taking the older man’s arm and spinning him, forcing him to look into the building, to look at the body still hanging from the beam, still crawling with flies, dripping slowly onto the packed earth floor.

Leamon staggered back. “What is that?”

“What do you mean?” Lucky said in mock surprise. “You aren’t going to introduce us to your new neighbor?”

“Neighbor?” Leamon’s face went white as butcher paper, his knees wavered and shook. He shoved Lucky to one side and, bent double, ran outside, his hand clamped to his mouth as he began to retch.

* * *

Later, much later, I could still smell the decay, hear the smack of flies against the inside of the plastic body bag after Moreno finally cut the kid down and zipped him up. I was fine when they loaded him into the helicopter, fine when Darren asked me how I was for the second time that day. He said he knew I’d seen things before, but did I want someone to drive me to my place? I shook my head again, told him no. Then he climbed into the helicopter and I stowed the stairs, and I was fine until the bird disappeared over the rock, until even the sound of its rotors faded away, and I was alone again, alone in the narrow track, dust clinging to my jeans and caked in my hair.

That’s when the shaking started.

I fell to my knees and tried to not let it happen, but sometimes it just does. Sometimes the movie inside my head just won’t stop, and I see the sniper bullet blow off half that staff sergeant’s skull, see that corporal go limp on the table in the field hospital when everything went wrong, see that lieutenant’s eyes gazing blindly into the deep, blue desert sky while his blood sank into the sand. And then the mortar rounds, the streaks of fire in the night sky, the staccato burst of AK-47s in the bone-dry morning, the sudden sick rocking of an IED going off under the tires of the forward Humvee.

After some time—God knows how long—I stood up and half-stumbled, half-ran to my truck and threw myself into the cab, then tore down the mountain faster than I should have. The assessment didn’t matter; the rocks slamming against the chassis didn’t matter; the cattle scattering wildly at the reckless rumble of the truck didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was getting out.

I still don’t know how I got back that day. I just remember looking out the window of my one-bedroom apartment, my hair wet, my skin raw from the shower, watching people drive into the gravel lot below, go into the mart—my mart; felt strange to remember that, to remember that my father had bought it for me when I came home from the desert for the last time, that it was supposed to be my unwanted salvation-then leave again, a half rack of beer or a gallon of milk in hand. Across the street, my neighbor’s trees, their leaves still green, waved in the heat rising off the pavement of the two-lane road that went through my two-street town. Behind them, behind the trees, the hill rose yellow and pale, dried-out green, the dirt streaked with orange. Like it was rusting.

Numb. I was numb. That’s how it is at first. First bomb. First kill. You’re scared out of your mind, scared straight. Get shit done, accomplish the mission. And then—it gets quiet. You’re out, you’re back at base. You’re safe. And then numb. It’s like floating, and nothing can touch you, nothing can make you feel. You’re floating through the day, through the tour, through life. Then someone shoots down your balloon and it’s all pain.

Most days, I miss the desert. But what I really miss is that numb.

* * *

 

As the shadows were lengthening, a key turned in the front door.

I was sitting at the scuffed kitchen table, staring at the property report for Jeremy Leamon’s ranch in the black binder I’d had with me on-site that morning. My hair was dry and sticking to the sweat on my neck, so it must have been awhile since I had gotten back. I leapt to my feet-bare feet grabbed the Glock, cocked it, and held it down, but ready, my index finger hovering next to the trigger. God, I must have looked insane when the door opened and my teenage daughter walked in.

“Uh, hi,” Sophie said and dropped her backpack on the floor. “Hi,” I said without breathing.

“What’s with you?”

Sophie sauntered into the kitchen. Hastily, I slid the Glock under the county map draped over the table.

“Nothing.”

Across the narrow room, Sophie raised her eyebrows. I looked away, my jaw clenched. Be calm. Be normal.

“How was work?” I said, trying and failing. “Okay.”

Sophie opened the fridge, rummaged, smacked things around until she found the last can of soda.

“Crystal was okay?”

“Yeah, Crystal was okay.” Sophie stood up, closed the fridge, and popped open her drink.

“Roseann dropped you off?” She paused. “I asked if Roseann dropped you off.” “No,” she snapped, her back still toward me. I ground my teeth.

“She had to go to Coulee City for something,” Sophie said before I could open my mouth. “She said she wouldn’t be back until late.”

“Why didn’t you call me?”

“I got home.” Sophie hesitated, her back stiffened. “I mean, I got back okay, didn’t I?”

And that was it, really. Home. Her home was my home: the white farmhouse I had grown up in, the same place she had grown up after I left her to join the Army and then after I came back, when it was too much for me to take care of myself and take care of her too. And it had stayed that way, me in the apartment over the mart, her and my father in the old farmhouse thirty miles away. Until he died that May. After that, home was … well, not my apartment.

“Who brought you?” I asked as evenly as I could. “Who brought you back?”

“A friend.”

Sophie turned quickly and stalked past me until, like a toy tied to her with string, I sprang up and reached out to grab her. But then she stopped and the string broke. My hand snapped back.

“Who?” I insisted, my voice cracking with the strain of holding back the fury, the anxiety and fear.

“Just a friend.”

“A name. Give me a name.”

Sophie glared at me, then bent to pick up her backpack. I rushed forward and put myself in her path. Her brown eyes—flecked with gold like mine-flashed dangerously, just like her father’s had when he’d been pushed too far. Just like mine must have too.

“Jason,” Sophie said through clenched teeth. “Jason Sprague.” I stared her down. “Never heard of him.”

“You wouldn’t have,” she sneered. But then she dropped her eyes, dropped her head, and a lock of dark hair fell over her forehead.

“Granddad thought he was okay.”

She said it so quietly, almost reverently, her eyes so downcast that her long lashes fanned over her cheeks. Even I felt tears welling. But my father thought everyone was okay; he was everyone’s hero. And here’s the thing, here’s what I had learned about being a mother during those few months that Sophie and I had been the only ones left: your kid is the predator and you are the prey. They smell blood. They smell fear. And then—just then Sophie was playing with her food.

“Fine,” I said, biting off the word. “I’ll meet him next time.”

I let her push past me. She slammed the bedroom door behind her; I stomped to the kitchen, poured a glass of water, and took it to the table.

Hours later, I was still there, trying to write my report about Leamon’s ranch on my laptop when Sophie burst out of the bedroom. Her eyes were wild, and her long black hair flew behind her as she darted to the front door.

“Where are you going?” I demanded, rising from the table.

Sophie was pulling on her shoes, didn’t even glance up when she said, “To Tracy’s.”

“Why?”

“I just am,” she said dismissively, snarling in that way that burned through all my nerves.

“No.” Pulling the laces tight, her face away from me, she muttered, “Fuck

you.”

In the blink of an eye, I was standing over her, the muscles in my arms screaming against the force it took to hold back my fists. “Stop.”

Her head jerked up: trails of tears streaked down her face, smeared mascara haloed her eyes.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” she shouted.

The heat of her anguish drove me back to the kitchen counter. Fury I could deal with, but anything else, anything more … My chest tightened, my vision narrowed, darkened. Pinholed. I closed my eyes, shook my head, pushed down all the thoughts, the impulses, and the screams.

And when I opened my eyes, there was just Sophie. On the ground. Crying and tying her shoes like a child. My child. I dropped to my knees.

“What’s going on, Sophie?” I said quietly, tentatively. “Why are you, why do you need to go to Tracy’s right now? It’s late.”

“Because,” she wailed, then breathed deeply, the air shuddering in her chest. “Because Patrick is dead.”

I shook my head. “Patrick?”

“Yeah, Patrick.”

“Okay.” I nodded. “Who is Patrick?”

“A friend,” Sophie said impatiently. She scrambled to her feet, grabbed her bag.

“A friend.”

Sophie wove to push past me; I wove too, pushing back.

“Like Jason?” I said too sharply.

Sophie’s eyes flashed through her tears. “No. He’s my-he’s just a really good friend. From school.”

“From school,” I repeated, trying to keep myself in check.

Sophie rolled her eyes. “I mean, he just graduated in May.”

What?

“Patrick?” I whispered, looking past Sophie, looking over her shoulder into the distance where I could still see a male, his bloated body black and purple with pooled blood, patches of peach fuzz on his face, hanging at the end of a length of braided wire.

“Yeah, Patrick!” Sophie hitched up her backpack. Fresh tears were puddling in her eyes, her shoulders were tense. “He hasn’t been around for a couple of weeks and now—” Her shoulders rose, her voice shuddered. “And now someone found him up in the hills and he’s … he’s dead.”

My heartbeat quickened. “What do you mean in the hills? Where?” “I don’t know! Why would I know? Tracy just called me, okay?”

But I couldn’t believe the kid that morning had been Sophie’s friend, that the casualty was that close. I couldn’t believe the medical examiner would have released an identification that early, that she could even know yet who the dead boy was. And why would some kid—why would Sophie’s friend-know about it anyway?

Then everything sort of slowed down, came into focus: the tears on Sophie’s cheeks crept down to her jaw, the smell of her shampoo-green apple-filled my nostrils; the dim light from the lamp by the sofa was suddenly blinding.

“Who found him?” I asked, my voice sounding tinny and distant in my ears.

“I don’t know!” Sophie was shrieking now, her voice echoing in my brain, overloading every circuit. “How would I know?”

“How old was he?” I said urgently. “How old was Patrick?”

“It doesn’t matter; he’s dead!” She tore my fingers from her arms, even though I didn’t remember—don’t remember-grabbing her.

“Tell me.”

“Nineteen, okay?” Released, Sophie lunged for the door. “He just turned nineteen!”

Nineteen.

I had written nineteen on Doctor Fleischman’s yellow notepad that morning.

“Victim is a Caucasian male, approximately nineteen to twenty-two years of age,” she had said from her perch on the ladder. “Death likely caused by asphyxiation, likely involuntary hanging, but”-she had leaned closer, peering through a magnifying glass at the discolored skin on the

kid’s chest— “what appear to be electrical burns were inflicted to the torso prior to death. Two, maybe three days prior.”

She had pulled back then and shifted her attention downward. “Other indications of torture include nails missing from digits two through four of the right hand, pre-mortem bruising and lacerations on the left side of the face, including the eye …”

Downstairs, the heavy steel door slammed.

* * *

I waited for Sophie to come back, waited while I was stretched out, rigid, on the couch, with my jeans on and my boots lined up on the floor by my feet. All the lights in the apartment were off, so I studied the ridges and valleys on the ceiling by the yellow light of the sodium streetlamp.

Around two, I heard footsteps on the gravel in the parking lot, and then the door downstairs opened. She crept up quietly; I smiled because it sounded like she’d even taken off her shoes. When her key turned in the lock of the apartment door, I threw my arm over my eyes and pretended to sleep.

Later, I crept to her door and opened it silently. Inside, the bedroom that had always been bare when it was mine was now anything but. Clothes were scattered everywhere, books were stacked in uneven piles. Sophie’s pink backpack had been slung onto the chipped wooden desk. In the middle of it all was the girly white bed my parents had bought her for Christmas one year when I couldn’t-or wouldn’t-come home. She lay on the covers, curled in the fetal position, her hair tied up in a messy bun, her hands balled up under her chin.

I walked into the room, fighting the urge to pick up the mess, and watched her in the light that seeped through the thin, frilly white curtains that had once hung at the window of the bedroom we had both spent our childhoods in. At just barely fifteen, she still looked like the child I had watched growing up during visits two or three times a week for years. Her cheeks were thinning but were still rounded; the skin on her arms peeking out from under her T-shirt was still silky and down covered. Regret surged through my body as though it were a physical force—a shock wave. I closed my eyes to keep it in.

When I opened them again, the first thing I saw were the freckles sprinkled over her nose and cheeks. She looked like her Colville father, like Oren, with her dark hair and pale brown skin and almond eyes. Only her freckles were me.

Her phone, clutched in her hand, buzzed. She stirred but didn’t wake. I glanced at the screen, then did a double take. The phone background was of her and a boy. He was a little older than her, but sort of wholesome looking—if you looked past their glassy eyes and flyaway hair and flushed cheeks. I thought I recognized the boy, imagined there was some resemblance there to the kid who had been hanging in Jeremy Leamon’s barn. But then the screen went dark, and I glanced back at my daughter, her rounded cheeks not so childlike, her arms more sinew than down. And I looked past the freckles and saw a lot more of me.

***

Excerpt from Little Falls by Elizabeth Lewes. Copyright 2020 by Elizabeth Lewes. Reproduced with permission from Elizabeth Lewes. All rights reserved.

 

Author Bio:

Elizabeth Lewes

Elizabeth Lewes is a veteran of the United States Navy who served during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. An analyst and linguist by training, she now practices law in Seattle. Little Falls is her debut novel.

Catch Up With Elizabeth Lewes:
ElizabethLewes.com! , Goodreads, BookBub, Instagram, & Twitter!

 

Tour Participants:

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Enter To Win!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Elizabeth Lewes. There will be five (5) winners. Three (3) winners will each receive one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. Two (2) winners will each receive LITTLE FALLS by Elizabeth Lewes (eBook). The giveaway begins on September 1, 2020 and runs through November 2, 2020. Void where prohibited.

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#BookTour “The Best Doctor in Town” by Amelia Townsend

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A Tall Tales from the Hills Novel: Book 1

Mystery

Date Published: November 7, 2019

Publisher: Jan-Carol Publishing, Inc.

 

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Set in Southwest Virginia and inspired by actual events and the story of
the small town’s most revered doctor, who may just be a serial killer. A
local police officer with a tarnished reputation, a reporter who manipulated
facts, and the doctor’s chief intern, who may be a thief, have pieces of the
puzzle. Yet no one in authority believes the great doctor could be
responsible. All the while, patients are dying.

Purchase Links

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

 

~~~

About the Author

Shadowed and protected by the mountains of her native southwest Virginia, Amelia Townsend has lived hither, thither, and yon – mostly between Virginia and North Carolina. She has worked as a newspaper and TV reporter, freelance producer and director, writer, and now PR hack.  She is a proud graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

She has no claim to fame. Further, she is most often bewildered when people say they are impressed by her work. Her first novel, Keepsakes for the
Heart, was nominated by the N.C. Historical Association for the prestigious Ragan Old North State Award for non-fiction.

Her favorite avocation is listening to and writing down other people’s stories, for truth surely is stranger and more beautiful than fiction. This is where Townsend has found fodder for the stories of the hills that she wrote with her late writing buddy. Several have come to life in the form of a novel and a couple of plays in production. The names have
been changed to protect the guilty.

Townsend’s most impressive accomplishments are her children – a son and daughter – who managed to turn in to fine young adults, despite her attempts to raise them.

Contact Links

Website

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Twitter: @townsendart

Goodreads

Instagram: @ameliatownsendauthor

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~~~

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#BookTour “Two Reasons to Run” by Colleen Coble

on Tour September 21 – October 23, 2020

Synopsis:

Two Reasons to Run by Colleen Coble

Gripping romantic suspense from USA TODAY bestselling author Colleen Coble.

A lie changed her world.

A crisis looms.

A killer targets her son.

Read an excerpt:

Was anyone watching?

Keith McDonald sat at the computer and glanced around the oil platform’s rec room, but the dozen or so workers were engrossed in watching the final game of a Ping-Pong match. He hesitated,
then hovered his cursor over the Send button. Clenching his teeth, he sent the emails. Maybe it was nothing, but if anyone could decipher the recording, it was Reid Dixon.

The back of his neck prickled, and Keith looked around again. The room felt stifling even with the AC cooling it from the May heat. He jumped up and headed for the door. He exited and darted into the shadows as two men strolled past. One was his suspect.

Keith stood on a grating suspended three thousand feet over the water and strained to hear past the noise of machinery. The scent of the sea enveloped him, and the stars glimmered on the water surrounding the oil platform that had been his home for two years now.

“Scheduled for late May—”

A clanging bell drowned out the rest of the man’s words.

“Devastation—”

The other fragment of conversation pumped up Keith’s heart rate. Were they talking about the sabotage he feared, or was he reading more into the words than were there? He couldn’t believe someone could be callous enough to sabotage the oil platform and destroy the coast on purpose. He’d seen firsthand the devastating effects from the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. And what about the people living on the platform? Deepwater Horizon had killed eleven people and injured another seventeen.

He had to sound a warning and stop this, but he had no real evidence. If Reid Dixon blew him off, who would even listen? Maybe Homeland Security would pay attention, but who did he even call there? He could tell them about the pictures threatening Bonnie, but what did that prove? They might just say she had a stalker and he was chasing shadows.

He couldn’t say they were wrong.

He sidled along the railing, and the breeze lifted his hair. A boat bobbed in the waves far below, and in the moonlight, he spotted a diver aboard. Must be night diving the artificial reef created by the concrete supports below the platform. He’d done a bit of it himself over the years.

For an instant he wished he were gliding carefree through the waves without this crushing weight of conscience on his shoulders. When he was sixteen, life was so simple. School, girls, football, and good times. He’d gone to work at the platform when he was nineteen, after he’d decided college wasn’t for him.

It had been a safe place, a good place to work with fun companions and interesting work.

Until a few weeks ago when everything turned sinister and strange. He’d wanted to uncover more before he reported it, but every second he delayed could mean a stronger chance of an attack.

If an attack was coming. He still wasn’t sure, and he wanted a name or to identify the organization behind the threat. If there was a threat. Waffling back and forth had held him in place. Was this real, or was he reading something dangerous into something innocent?

Though he didn’t think he was overreacting.

He turned to head to his quarters. A bulky figure rushed him from the shadows and plowed into his chest, driving him back against the railing. The man grabbed Keith’s legs and tried to tip him over the edge.

***

Excerpt from Two Reasons to Run by Colleen Coble. Copyright 2020 by Colleen Coble. Reproduced with permission from Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Colleen Coble

Colleen Coble is a USA TODAY bestselling author and RITA finalist best known for her coastal romantic suspense novels, including The Inn at Ocean’s Edge, Twilight at Blueberry Barrens, and the Lavender Tides, Sunset Cove, Hope Beach, and Rock Harbor series.

Catch Up With Colleen Coble:
ColleenCoble.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

 

Tour Participants:

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Giveway!!

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Colleen Coble. There will be 3 winners, each winning ONE LITTLE LIE by Colleen Coble (Print). The giveaway begins on September 21, 2020 and runs through October 25, 2020. Open to U.S. addresses only. Void where prohibited.

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