#BookTour “Souls: A Short Story Collection” by Terri Bruce

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Speculative Fiction

(Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror mix)

Date Published: August 4, 2020

Publisher: Mictlan Press

 

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There’s magic and mystery around every corner, if you know where to look…

This collection of eleven short stories from fantasy and science fiction
author Terri Bruce explores the hidden corners of our world. Blending
fantasy, horror, magical realism, and folklore, these tales will delight,
mystify, and unsettle. Unicorns roam the New Hampshire countryside disguised
as a biker gang. Portals to other worlds hide on commuter train platforms.
And be careful of what really lurks at the bottom of those quaint wishing
wells that dot the countryside. Strip away the veneer of everyday life and
dare to see what lies just below the surface.

Purchase Links

e-Book Universal

Print Book

Available from all major book retailers, including all international Amazon
stores.

Indiebound

Book Depository

Amazon (U.S.)

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About the Author

TERRI BRUCE is the author of the paranormal / contemporary fantasy Afterlife series, and her short stories have appeared in a variety of anthologies and magazines. She produces hard-to-classify fantasy and science fiction stories that explore the supernatural side of everyday things from beautiful Downeast Maine where she lives with her husband and various cats.

 

 

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#BookTour “Unveiled” by LaRhonda Crosby-Johnson

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UNVEILED

BY LA RHONDA CROSBY-JOHNSON

Truth and love can change everything.

New Orleans attorney, L. Morgan Franklin, finds her well-ordered life turned upside down when her younger half-brother, Winston, dies in their small hometown of L’Ouverture, Louisiana. When it becomes evident that Winston’s death may actually be a murder, Morgan begins a search for answers that uncovers long-held family secrets and new discoveries about the people she loves the most. The mysteries of family, life and love all converge in this story of one woman’s refusal to accept things as they appear.

AVAILABLE ON

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EXCERPT

Grief and the sickeningly sweet smell of too many flowers hung heavy in the warm air of the late August afternoon. Morgan felt the weight of tears shed and hearts breaking. She rubbed her hands down her black silk suit when she walked slowly toward the simple wooden coffin that held the body of her beloved baby brother, Winston. “Half-brother.” She could almost imagine her mother, Marie, standing in front of her and uttering the world “half” as if it were some sort of disease. Morgan breathed deeply and pushed Marie’s words from her mind as she exhaled. They had no place here.

Winston’s mask-like, powered face somehow belied the words “heart attack” that still echoed in her head. Morgan stepped away from the coffin and quickly brushed away her tears. She fled the church and barely heard the words of comfort tossed her way. Outside there would be air she could breathe without inhaling the pain of mourners.

Morgan moved quickly once outside. Her legs felt somehow lighter than they had only moments before. She breathed deeply for the first time since she had received the news of Winston’s death a week ago and headed for the sanctuary of her car. The tinkling melody of the car alarm signaled her safe haven. She slid onto the butter-soft, caramel-colored leather seat and found comfort in its warmth. She cranked up the car, pushed the button to lower the windows and turned on the CD player. The soulful sound of Jill Scott’s voice surrounded her as she watched the family file out of the church and head toward limousines with the words Garrett Bros. painted in gold across the rear doors and windows. Of course, it would be Garrett Bros. They were still the only mortuary in town that “knew how to do colored.” Morgan had heard her maternal grandmother, Essie Baptiste, say that many times while she was growing up. Mama Essie, as everyone lovingly called her, had made everyone in the family vow to take her body to Garrett Bros. when her time came. Although it had been three years since Mama Essie passed, Morgan still felt her presence in this place. This thought alone eased the tension in her neck and removed the large knot that had taken up residence in the pit of her stomach.

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ABOUT LA RHONDA CROSBY-JOHNSONLaRhonda Crosby-Johnson

La Rhonda Crosby-Johnson is a proud native of Oakland, CA. She is a contributor to the award-winning Life’s Spices From Seasoned Sistahs anthology series, Go Tell Michelle: African American Women Write To The New First Lady, All The Women In My Family Sing and is the author of an ebook serial novel Jubilee’s Journey. Unveiled, released in July 2019 and described as a “page turner” is her first full-length novel. La Rhonda is currently working on her next book.

CONNECT WITH LA RHONDA CROSBY-JOHNSON

AUTHOR SITE | FACEBOOKTWITTER | GOODREADS | AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE

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#Excerpt “Power of One” by Devpal Gupta

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Motivation Book/Self Help

Date Published: July 1st 2020

 

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 Author Devpal Gupta believes in living life according to those core values to which we we all have access: respect, positivity, and passion. In his debut inspirational book, Power of One, Devpal extracts lessons from his life’s journey which began in Tanzania and London and transplanted him to a successful life as an Arizona-based commercial real estate executive and applies them to real-life principles. With no holds barred, Devpal tells it like it is — he offers no excuse and takes no excuses when it comes to living a purposeful life. With eight hard-hitting, short-and-sweet chapters like “Get Over It” and “Why is the Brown Guy Better Than Us”, Devpal straight shoots advice on how to remain genuine, honest and real.

Devpal also introduces his own theory, the Power of One. He imparts upon readers that in order to be truly prosperous, the only one you can rely on, is yourself.

The Power of One is a fantastically quick read and a dynamic demonstration of what it takes to be resourceful and resilient in a world that rewards people for gratuitous likes rather than the efforts and principles behind hard work.

Purchase Link

Amazon 

Read FREE With Kindle Unlimited

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EXCERPT

Chapter 5:

  • When 9/11 happened, Sikhs were one of the most targeted communities because we wear turbans and we don’t shave our beards. People thought we were responsible for the terrorist attacks. Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh and a local gas station owner in Phoenix, was shot and killed on September 15, 2001, because someone believed he was Muslim due to his turban and beard. No one should be killed for how they worship or don’t. Balbir’s gas station is fifteen minutes from where I live now with my family. Numerous incidents such as these happened to Sikhs across the United States because people could not differentiate between turbans.
  • When I went on interviews after graduating from Arizona State University in 2005, there were companies who loved my personality and my resume but couldn’t accept the turban. I’d walk into an interview and I’d see smiles disappear as they stared at what represented my faith, my culture and me. I have since cut my hair and stopped wearing the dastār. I often regret doing so.  That was my identity; it fit me perfectly. It was a part of me, just like a leg or hand, but I let others tell me it didn’t fit in their world. I allowed strangers to dictate how I should appear in their life. I let their relevancy make mine irrelevant.
  • Why do we let others tell us what’s right or wrong? We’re already questioning ourselves; we don’t need their help to do it. We let irrelevant people into our lives to preach and tell us what makes us relevant, and yet these people hold zero significance to our personal wellbeing and growth. Shockingly, we let them tell us what makes us relevant in this world. We need to protect that right and use it for ourselves.
  • Until you respect yourself, until you place a value on yourself that is intrinsically high because it’s what you believe in, no one else is going to place the same value on you. If you think you are only worth ten dollars an hour, how and why would you expect anyone to pay you twenty? How can you expect people to think you are relevant if you are content with being normal? How can you remain authentic to yourself if you don’t respect yourself?

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 About the Author

Devpal Gupta is an Executive Director at one of the top commercial real estate firms in the greater Phoenix area. Specializing exclusively in Tenant Representation, he is responsible for servicing local clients and national
accounts. Dev started in the industry in 1997 and has always worked exclusively as a Tenant advocate. Since that time, he has completed over 200 transactions ranging in size and scope from 5,000 square feet to 500,000
square feet and involving services from conventional lease analysis, strategic planning, unique build-to-suit projects, building acquisitions and dispositions. Dev’s specialties include office and industrial leasing, relocations, renewals and acquisitions.

Dev possesses extensive experience with managing and implementing
transactions for diverse national portfolios, or large one-off deals.
In addition he has numerous companies with large sale-leaseback
transactions. His particular knowledge of real estate financial issues
enables him to proactively manage all types of transactions, minimizing
risk, increasing flexibility, and reducing overall occupancy costs. Dev won
Costar’s Power Broker of the year award in 2011, 2014, 2016 and 2018.

His dedication to his career and his craft carries over into how he lives
his life: with passion, honesty and attention to detail. Dev works hard,
plays hard and finds time to motivate people to living a meaningful life by
reminding them to return to their core values. The Power of One is his first
book.

Dev lives in Arizona with his wife and life partner, Suprit and their two
lovely children. He has recently persuaded his parents to move from Tanzania
and into his home; Dev considers this some of his best work yet.

 

Contact Links

Website

Facebook

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Pinterest

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Youtube

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#BookTour “Impromptu Seduction” by Stephanie Nicole Norris

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IMPROMPTU SEDUCTION

BY STEPHANIE NICOLE NORRIS

Raised as a debutante, ladylike, and reserved, London Jones has stepped into unknown territory. From the moment her life collided with a man who should’ve been off-limits, a bachelor with a hot reputation—staying out of his way was the sensible thing to do. However, she finds herself caught in a tangled web of passionate fervor whenever he comes near. So much so that her ability to place a barrier between them becomes a futile battle. The heart wants what it wants, and London’s heart yearns for him.

Borboleta…

She was the impetus of his desire. The only one who captured his eye for more than a moment and beckoned his soul to blend in beautiful bliss with hers. For software engineer Kyle Valentine, his attempt to hold back the hedonism that struck whenever they were together threatened to be his undoing. His heart yearned to connect with London’s soul, and soon he finds himself questioning if he’s worthy of her love. But now that he’s gotten next to London, determination becomes the motto for his pursuit and his ultimate will to hold on to her, forever.

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EXCERPT

Valentine Isle

Brazil

“About what I said before.”

Claudia shook her head. “Don’t even apologize. I mean, you did come all the way to Brazil because of an invitation. So why wouldn’t you want to spend a night with him?”

London sighed. “So, I’m not crazy then?”

“I’ll tell you what you are. Human. And, if the Valentines are the type of men I’ve seen from the outside in, you should be okay with him.”

“Should be?”

“I can’t be sure, but I’m hopeful.”

“Okay. Really, I only want one night with him.”

Claudia dropped her chin. “I can’t believe you just let that bald-faced lie slip out of your mouth.”

London gawked. “What?”

Claudia left her side and returned with two champagne-filled flutes.

“We’ve already established that you like him because of the mileage between here and home, right?”

London smirked.

“So, there’s no need for you to turn around and say you only want one night with him.”

“Okay, but he may not be the several-nights type of guy.”

“You’re right. But say, for a second, birds of a feather really do flock together, then he is a several-nights type of guy, sis.”

“I don’t need this kind of inspiration.”

Claudia laughed and sipped, her eyes scanning the room to see Kyle’s dark attention pointing their way.

“Girl, that man wants you like, like…” Claudia thought of her husband, Jaden, and her body responded with flurrying tingles. “Nah, he couldn’t want you like that.” She chuckled.

London’s eyes squinted. “Anything is possible,” she whispered as if knowing what Claudia alluded to.

“You’re right. So, follow your instincts, girl.”

“You never answered my question.”

“What?”

“Would you call me a slut if I said I want to fuck him tonight?”

“I—”

London held her smirk as she stared Claudia down.

“No. This is your ballgame. Play it how you wish.”

London’s smile filled her face. “Honestly, him being the man of my dreams is a wish too cliché to believe in.” London’s mouth dropped, and her lips puckered. “I’m sorry if that let you down.”

“Girl. You’re right to have reservations.”

“I do…want to get to know his heart a bit more. But tonight, I just want to…”

“I know,” Claudia said. “Fuck.”

London laughed, and so did Claudia, sipping their champagne and sighing simultaneously.

“Do you think he’ll think I’m fast?”

“That’s always a possibility. But somehow, I doubt it.”

“You’re full of yes-and-no tonight.”

They laughed again, and Claudia emptied her glass.

“Honey, I’m going to call it a night. It was fun, and we have a flight out tomorrow morning. Should I look for you to be in the limo on time?”

“No.” She said it with such conviction.

A smile lingered around Claudia’s lips.

“Okay. I’ll see you in a few days?”

“Yes.” They pulled one another in for a hug. “Thank you for coming all this way with me.”

“Oh, what? A short vacation across the globe, please. I’d do it if it weren’t you.”

They fell into laughter.

“I’m kidding.”

“You better be!”

They laughed.

“Do you need me to walk you to your room? It’s the least I could do, right?”

“Girl, no. Jaden has a GPS on this ass; he’ll know where I’m at, at all times.”

Laughter rocked London’s soul, and she waved at Claudia and watched her sashay away.

Filled with amusement, London strolled to the drink table, retrieving another flute. When her eyes landed on Kyle, it was at the same moment that his gaze left his current conversation and traveled to her.

His wink settled in her soul, and biting her lip, she turned and left the room treading back to the beach beyond the ceremony.

Warm grains of sand sank between her toes as she strolled, face to the wind that blew her straight black mane from her shoulders. Pausing, London considered the moon, bright and full behind the dark firmament.

A peaceful ambiance fell over her, and as she took it all in, eyes closed, there was nowhere else she wanted to be.

“You should try falling asleep under the sky. The calm is like no other.”

London bit down on her lip, a heat moving through her system like ignition.

“I was just wondering about that,” she said, twirling on her bare sandy feet to face him.

“And here I thought you were going to say, I know.”

Her smile deepened, but she kept her lips closed.

“Hmmm. What makes you think I would know?”

He took a step forward, close enough that their shadows merged.

“Because you seem like the type of woman to travel the globe, experiencing everything new that is good.”

“Is that right?”

His smile energized her heart. “It is.”

“Well, you would be surprised to know that Brazil is my first overseas adventure.”

His dark gaze widened, then squinted. “What a surprise. I’ve popped your international cherry,” he teased.

Laughter sprinted from her lips, but it wasn’t just because of his joke, but more so because she was interested in him popping her official cherry.

A flowing river of warmth sailed down Kyle’s body. He’d never kindled so much from a woman’s mere laugh, and her enjoyment lit up her face in the moonlight, turning her into a midnight goddess.

Accessing her from head to toe while she reined in her merriment, Kyle bit his bottom lip, taking careful consideration of the curves in her hips and design of her pretty crafted feet.

Seeing the dark red polish peek from her sandy toenails filled him with hunger. He was a foot man, after all. When he realized he had this fetish, Kyle thought it was a bit unusual. Why would feet, of all things, turn him on with such magnification? But it soon became a beautiful revelation of art he considered given to him by the Creator. The delicacy, intricacy, and originality of a woman’s foot were art defined.

He decided God was showing off by presenting to Kyle what a master Creator He was.

Down, boy, he inwardly warned as his libido began to rise.

“That was pretty funny, Mr. Valentine.”

Kyle’s lips spread into a daring smile. “Mr. Valentine is my father.” He winked, teasing her.

“What shall I call you then, sir?”

He took in an elongated breath. “Be warned, while sir is fine with me, it may get you in trouble, borboleta.”

“I see.” London nodded. “What if I want to get in trouble?” She traced the rim of her top lip with her tongue as her eyes settled on his mouth.

Kyle tilted his head, a smirk lifting the corner of his lip.

“I would say you’re a very dangerous woman.”

She laughed. “Not usually, but tonight, I am feeling oddly precarious.”

Pulling her hands behind her back, London unzipped her dress and peeled the fabric over her skin, revealing bare shoulders and dark honey brown flesh. Before he could stop her, not that he rushed to try, London removed the garment, allowing it to fall to her ankles.

A strapless bikini top and thin bikini bottoms were plastered against her skin. The nude color teased Kyle’s senses, and his nostrils flared, his gaze piercingly thorough as he scanned her body.

He’d been right. She was the butterfly he’d imagined she would be once she shed from her cocoon.

“Careful. While I commend myself for having self-restraint in most areas of my life, this, with you, is not one of them.”

His jaw locked, and London backpedaled, sultry eyes drawing his footsteps forward as she moved.

“There’s no restraint needed tonight, sir. I think we could both stand to get a little…wet.”

A splash of water from the rushing shoreline pushed against their legs. Splitting the button-down shirt he wore with a single heavy-handed jerk, Kyle tossed the garment aside and, just as quickly, removed the pants that were now wet up to his calves.

Desire spilled from their eyes as they held on to each other’s gaze in the torch of moonlight. As another wave coasted forward, they were drenched—Kyle up to his waist, London up to her belly.

Reaching for her, Kyle drew London into his arms, her wet body sliding up the hardness of his regime. Her arms slipped around his neck as their lips crashed together, pulses knocking along with their hearts, his dick, her plum.

“Mmmmm,” she moaned.

Kyle had been more than a drug for London. The type of intoxication she felt under his spell was DUI-certifiable. Still, she thirsted for him to the point of not giving a damn about anything in that moment. Her hips ground, rotating against his hardness, and she shook with desire so splintering, her lungs aspirated from the deep breaths of shared oxygen she took in from his mouth.

“Sir…” she purred, eyes locked on his spearing gaze, “take me as I am.”

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ABOUT STEPHANIE NICOLE NORRIS

Stephanie Nicole Norris is an author from Chattanooga, Tennessee, with a humble beginning. After becoming a young adult, her love for romance sparked, leaving her captivated by heroes and heroines alike. With a big imagination and a creative heart, Stephanie penned her first novel in 2012. She went on to write grin-inducing romance and has been nominated multiple times, receiving three literary awards for Best Series, Best Book Cover, and Author of the Year. As a prolific writer, Stephanie’s catalog continues to grow. Her books can be found on Amazon as well as http://www.stephanienicolenorris.com.

#BookTour “Dear Durwood (Third Chance Enterprises Book 2)” by Jeff Bond

Dear Durwood by Jeff Bond Banneron Tour August 1 – September 30, 2020

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Dear Durwood by Jeff Bond

Book two in the epic Third Chance Enterprises series, Dear Durwood is a standalone mystery pitting uncompromising principle against big city greed.

Durwood Oak Jones is a man of few indulgences. One he does allow is a standing ad in Soldier of Fortune magazine soliciting “injustices in need of attention.”

This month’s bundle of letters includes one from Carol Bridges, mayor of the dusty, blue-collar town of Chickasaw, Texas. For nearly a century, Chickasaw has relied on the jobs and goodwill of Hogan Consolidated, a family-run manufacturer of industrial parts. Now East Coast lawyers and investment bankers have taken aim at the company. The citizens of Chickasaw fear it may be acquired or bankrupted, leading to massive layoffs — effectively destroying the town.

Durwood and his trusty bluetick coonhound, Sue-Ann, fly to Texas to see what can be done. They find a young CEO born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Factory workers with hammers. A good woman, Carol Bridges, who knows her town is being cheated but can’t get to the bottom of how. And lawyers.

Dirty, good-for-nothing lawyers.

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Book Details:

Genre: Action-Adventure / Western Romance

Published by: Jeff Bond Books

Publication Date: June 15, 2020

Number of Pages: 215

ISBN: 1732255296 (ISBN13: 9781732255296)

Series: Third Chance Enterprises

Purchase Links: Amazon | Third Chance Stories | Goodreads

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Read an excerpt:

Dear Mr. Oak Jones: I am Carol Bridges, mayor of Chickasaw, Texas. We are located in the western part of the state, Big Bend Country if you know it. I thank you in advance for considering my injustice. Chickasaw is the home of Hogan Consolidated, a family-run manufacturer of industrial parts. Hogan employs 70 percent of able-bodied adults in Chickasaw, and its philanthropy has sustained the town for ninety years. It’s due to the Hogan family we have an arts center and turf field for youth football. Recently, East Coast lawyers and investment bankers have taken aim at the company. Multi-million dollar claims have been filed, accusing Hogan of putting out defective parts. It’s rumored the company will be acquired or liquidated outright. Massive layoffs are feared. My constituents work hard, Mr. Jones. They have mortgages and children to feed. I have tried to find answers about the Hogan family’s intentions, to see whether I or the town can do anything to influence the course of events. Jay Hogan, the current CEO, does not return my phone calls—and is seen dining at sushi restaurants in El Paso (85 miles away) more often than in Chickasaw. I have gotten the runaround from our state and federal representatives. I believe it’s their fundraising season. As mayor, I have a duty to explore every possible solution to the challenges we face. I do not read Soldier of Fortune regularly, but my deputy police chief showed me your ad soliciting “injustices in need of attention.” I feel certain injustice is being done to Chickasaw, though I can’t as yet name its perpetrator and exact nature. Alonso (our deputy chief) knows you by reputation, and assures me these details won’t trouble you. Thank you sincerely for your time, Carol Bridges Mayor of Chickasaw, TX Chapter One Durwood got to the Chickasaw letter halfway through the sorghum field. He was flipping through the stack from the mailbox, passing between sweet-smelling stalks. Leaves brushed his bluejeans. Dust coated his boots. He scanned for clumps of johnsongrass as he read, picking what he saw. The first five letters he’d tucked into his back pocket. The Chickasaw letter he considered longer. Steel-colored eyes scanned left to right. He forgot about the johnsongrass. An ugliness started in his gut. Lawyers. He put the letter in his front pocket, then read the rest. The magazine forwarded him a bundle every month. In September, he’d only gotten three. At Christmas time, it seemed like he got thirty or forty. Folks felt gypped around the holidays. Today, he read about two brothers who didn’t steal a car. About a principal who got fired for being too aggressive fighting drugs in his school. About a bum call in the Oregon state Little League championship twenty years ago. About a furnace warranty that wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on. Durwood chuckled at the Oregon letter. This one had been writing in for years. Maybe he figured Durwood didn’t read them, figured some screener only put a couple through each go-round and one of these days they’d sneak his through. But Durwood did read them. Every last one. He put the letter about the principal in his front pocket with the Chickasaw letter. Off his right side, Sue-Ann whimpered. Durwood turned to find the bluetick coonhound pointing the south fenceline. “I see,” Durwood said, of the white-tail doe nosing around the spruces. “Left my gun back at the house, though.” Sue-Ann kept her point. Her bad hip quivered from the effort. Old as she was, she still got fired up about game. Durwood released her with a gesture. “What do you say to some bluegill tonight instead? See what Crole’s up to.” Durwood called Crole from the house. Crole, his fishing buddy who lived on the adjacent sixty acres, said he was good for a dozen casts. They agreed to meet at the river dividing their properties. Durwood had a shorter walk and used the extra time to clean his M9 semiautomatic. Leaving, he noticed the red maple that shaded the house was leafing out slow. He examined the trunk and found a pattern of fine holes encircling the bark. That yellow-bellied sapsucker. Durwood wondered if the holes were related to the tree’s poor vigor. Out by the river, Crole limped up with his jug of moonshine, vile stuff he made from Jolly Ranchers. They fished. Sue-Ann laid in the mud, snoring, her stiff coat bristling against Durwood’s boot. The afternoon stretched out, a dozen casts becoming two dozen. Then three. In the distance, the hazy West Virginia sky rolled through the Smokies. Mosquitoes weren’t too bad, just a nip here and there at the collar. Durwood thought about Chickasaw, Texas. He thought about East Coast lawyers. About the hardworking men and women who’d elected Carol Bridges to be mayor and stick up for them. He thought about that CEO picking up raw fish with chopsticks in El Paso. He thought, too, about the principal who’d been fired for doing right. Crole said, “Got some letters today?” Durwood said he had. Crole grinned, showing his top teeth—just two, both nearly black. “Still running that ad in Soldier of Fortune?” Durwood lowered the brim of his hat against the sun. “Don’t cost much.” “They give a military discount?” Durwood raised a shoulder. He’d been discharged from the Marines a decade ago. He didn’t accept handouts for his service. Crole nodded to the bulge in his pocket—the letters. “Anything interesting?” “Sure,” Durwood said. “Plenty.” They fished into twilight. Durwood caught just five bluegill. Crole, twenty years his senior and luckier with fish, reeled in a dozen, plus a decent-size channel cat despite using the wrong bait. The men strung their catches on a chain. The chain rippled in the cool, clear water. The Chickasaw job appealed to Durwood. The opportunity to fight crooked lawyers, do something about these Wall Street outfits that made their buck slicing up American companies, putting craftsmen out of work until every last doodad was made in some knockoff plant in China. Still, Durwood had trouble imagining the case. What would he do, flip through documents? Sit across a folding table from men in suits and ask questions? Then he thought about the principal. About those gangs the letter had mentioned, how you could look out the windows of the dang school and see drug dealers on street corners. Intimidators. Armed thugs. Durwood had an easy time imagining that case. The sky had just gotten its first purple tinge when Durwood lost his bait a third time running. “These fish.” He held his empty hook out of the water, shaking his head. Crole said, “There’s catfish down there older than you.” “Smarter, too,” Durwood said. Still, the five bluegill would be enough for him and Sue-Ann. Durwood unclipped the fishes’ cheeks from the chain and dropped them in a bucket. Back at the house, Durwood spotted the yellow-bellied sapsucker climbing the red maple. Not only was he pecking the tree, the ornery creature kept pulling twigs from the gray squirrels’ nest, the one they’d built with care and sheltered in the last four winters. “Git down!” Durwood called. The sapsucker zipped away to other antics. Inside, Durwood scaled and beheaded the bluegill. Then he fried them in grease and cornmeal. Sue-Ann ate only half a fish. Durwood moved the crispy tail under her nose. “Another bite?” The dog sneezed, rattly in her chest. Durwood rinsed his dishes and switched on a desktop computer. He looked up Chickasaw. There was plenty of information online. Population, land area. Nearly every mention of the town made reference to Hogan Consolidated. It looked like Hogan Consolidated was Chickasaw, Texas, and vice versa. On the official municipal website, he found a picture of Carol Bridges. She wore a hardhat, smiling among construction workers. Handsome woman. Warm, lively eyes. Next, Durwood looked up the fired principal. The man lived and worked in upstate New York. For a few weeks, his case had been all over the local news there. A city councilman believed he’d been railroaded. Nineteen years he’d served the school district without prior incident. The only blemish Durwood found was a college DUI. Durwood hadn’t started with computers until his thirties. His calloused fingers regularly struck the keys wrong, but he managed. This one he’d gotten from the Walmart in Barboursville, forty-nine bucks on Black Friday. It had its uses. A tool like any other. “Well?” he said aloud, even though Sue was out on the porch. “Looks like a tossup.” Durwood changed computer windows to look again at Carol Bridges. Then changed back to the principal. At the bottom of the news story about the principal, he noticed a bubble with “47 comments” inside. He knew people who spouted off online were unreliable and often foolish. He clicked anyway. “Good riddance, got what he deserved!” “TOTAL RACIST WINDBAG, glad they fired him.” Durwood read all forty-seven comments. Some defended the man, but most were negative. It was impossible to know how much was legitimate. Durwood left judging to Him, and Him alone. But Durwood did know that the petitioner, the one who’d written the letter to Soldier of Fortune, was the principal himself. Not some third party. Not an objective observer. What had seemed like a case of obvious bureaucratic overreach suddenly looked less obvious. Now Sue-Ann loped in from the porch. Appalachian air followed her inside, nice as perfume. Sue settled at Durwood’s feet, wheezing, rheumy eyes aimed up at her master. He said, “What do you say, girl. Up for seeing the Lone Star State?” The dog sat up straight, responding to the action in his voice. The effort made her mew. That hip. Durwood laid his thumb down the ridge of the dog’s skull. He felt pained himself, thinking of documents, folding tables, and men in suits. Chapter Two It was a healthy drive, nearly two thousand miles, to see this Carol Bridges. Doubts remained in Durwood’s mind. Petitioners he met through the Soldier of Fortune ad fell through sometimes. It would turn out their letter was misleading or flat false. Other times the injustice had taken care of itself by the time Durwood arrived. Once he’d driven clear to Nebraska to help a man whose pride and joy, a 1917 Ford Bucket T he’d restored from salvage by hand, had been denied roadworthiness by some city councilman with a grudge. When Durwood knocked on his door and asked about the hot rod, the man said, “The Ford? Guy made me an offer, I sold her a few weeks back.” Durwood decided it was worth the trip to hear Carol Bridges out. If he didn’t like what she said, he’d tip his hat, get back in the Vanagon, and drive home. Crole observed, “You could call.” Durwood was humping supplies into the van. “Folks can say anything on the phone.” The older man looked to the horizon, where the sun would rise soon. His pajamas dragged the dirt, and he held his jug by two fingers. “They can say anything to your face, too.” Durwood whistled to Sue-Ann. “It’s different,” he said as the dog climbed in. “Lay off that shine, hm?” Crole looked down at his jug as though surprised by its presence. He answered, “Don’t kill anyone you don’t have to.” With a wave, Durwood took out. The van wheezed over mountain switchbacks and chugged steadily along interstates. By afternoon, Sue was wincing on the bare metal floor. Durwood bought her a mat next time he stopped for gas. They reached Chickasaw the following morning. Crossing the city limit, they saw fields of wheat and corn, and grain elevators, and dry dusty homesteads. Factories burped smoke farther on. Billboards shilled for some dentist, somebody else who wanted to be sheriff. Downtown Chickasaw was a grid, eight blocks square. Durwood saw the turf field mentioned in the letter and smiled. A boarded-up building with a sign reading, Lyles Community Outreach Center. A fancy hotel that looked out of place. Next door to City Hall, Durwood’s destination, was a coffee shop called Peaceful Beans. The logo showed the name written along the stems of the peace sign. The light bulbs inside had those squiggly vintage filaments. Durwood knew that these towns, rural or not, had all types. You got your vegan yoga instructors living next to redneck truckers—sometimes married to each other. City Hall itself was a stone structure, two stories high. A sign indicated the municipal jail was located in the basement. Durwood parked. His bones creaked as he stepped from the van and stretched. The woman working reception cooed at Sue, who’d rolled over on her back. The big ham. Durwood stated their business, declared his M9, and passed through a metal detector before being shown to the mayor’s office. Carol Bridges stood from her desk with a humble smile. “Mr. Oak Jones, thank you for traveling all this way for our town.” “You’re welcome,” he said. “Call me Durwood, please.” She said she would and handed him a business card with her personal number circled. Durwood placed the card in his bluejeans pocket. The mayor gestured to an armchair whose upholstery had worn thin. Durwood, removing his hat, sat. “My dog goes where I go, generally,” he explained. “She can sit outside if need be.” “Don’t be silly.” The mayor reached into a drawer of her desk for a biscuit. “If I’d known, I’d have brought in my German Shepherd.” She didn’t just toss the biscuit at Sue, as some will. Carol Bridges commanded the dog to sit first. Sue sat. The mayor squatted and offered the treat, palm up, her knees pinching below a dark skirt. Sue wolfed it down. Durwood said, “We saw the factories on the way in. How many employees?” “Forty-four hundred on the floors themselves,” she said. “Plus another eight thousand in support roles.” “And it’s all going away? Vamoose?” Carol Bridges crossed one leg over the other. “That’s how the winds are blowing.” She expanded upon what the letter had said. For the better part of a century, Hogan Consolidated had produced parts for various household products. Brackets. Pot handles. Stepladder hinges. Nothing sexy, Carol Bridges said, but quality components that filled a need higher up the supply chain. Five or six years back, Wall Street began taking an interest in the company. They believed Hogan was underleveraged and growing too slowly. Durwood stopped her. “What does underleveraged mean?” “As I understand”—the mayor fluffed her dark red hair dubiously—“it means you aren’t taking enough risks. Your balance sheet is too conservative.” “Too conservative?” “Right. You’re not expanding into new markets. You’re not inventing new products.” Durwood rolled her words around his head. “Suppose you’re good at what you do, and that’s it.” Carol Bridges looked out her window toward a pair of smokestacks. “Not good enough for Wall Street.” Thoughts of finance or economics usually gave Durwood a headache, but he made himself consider the particulars of the case now. “But Hogan’s a family-owned company,” he said. “Can’t they tell Wall Street to go to hell? Pardon my French.” “They were family-owned up until 1972, when they sold out.” Durwood sat up in his chair, recalling her letter. She seemed to read his thoughts. “They’re a family-run company. The CEO’s always been a Hogan, but the equity is publicly traded.” “Hm.” Durwood’s head wasn’t aching, but it didn’t feel quite right either. “I read your letter different.” “I apologize, I didn’t mean to be unclear.” The mayor took a step out from behind her desk. “I hope you don’t feel I brought you here on false pretenses.” They looked at each other. The woman’s face tipped sympathetically and flushed, her eyes wide with concern. On the wall behind her hung the Iraq Campaign Medal and the striped ribbon indicating combat action. “It’s fine,” Durwood said. “And they’re facing lawsuits, you said?” “Correct,” the mayor said. “A class-action suit has been filed by customers claiming injury as a result of faulty Hogan parts.” “What happened?” “A woman in New Jersey’s toaster exploded. They’ve got two people in California saying a bad Hogan hinge caused them to fall. One broke her wrist.” “Her wrist.” Carol Bridges nodded. “Falling off a stepladder?” She nodded again. “What’re the Hogans doing?” Durwood asked. “They have a strategy to stomp out this nonsense?” “No idea. I hear, just scuttlebutt from the cafe, that the company’s going bankrupt.” The mayor flung out an arm. “Somebody else says they’re selling out to a private equity firm—one of these outfits that buys distressed companies for peanuts and parts ’em out, auctions off the assets and fires all the workers.” Durwood leaned over the thighs of his bluejeans. “You mentioned the CEO in your letter. Eats sushi.” The woman smiled. “Jay Hogan, yes. He’s only twenty-eight, and I don’t think he likes living in Chickasaw much. He went to college at Dartmouth.” “Whereabouts is that?” “Dartmouth?” Durwood nodded. He’d once met an arms supplier in Dortmund, Germany, the time he and Quaid Rafferty had stopped a band of disgruntled sausage vendors from bombing ten soccer stadiums simultaneously. He’d never heard of Dartmouth. Carol Bridges said, “New Hampshire.” “If he doesn’t like the place,” Durwood said, “why didn’t he stay east? Work a city job?” She crossed her legs again. “I doubt he could get one. Around here, he was a screw-up. They got him for drunk driving regularly. I was with the prosecutor’s office back then. The police winched him out of the same gully four different times in his dad’s Hummer.” “Why’d they pick him for CEO?” “He’s an only child. When the father had his stroke, Jay was next in line. Only pitcher left in the bullpen.” Durwood drew in a long breath. “Now the fate of the whole town rests on his shoulders. Fella couldn’t keep a five-thousand-pound vehicle on the road.” Carol Bridges nodded. Durwood felt comfortable talking to this woman. As comfortable as he’d felt with a woman since Maybelle, his wife and soulmate, had passed in Tikrit. Carol Bridges didn’t embellish. She didn’t say one thing but mean another—leaving aside the misunderstanding over “family-run,” which might well have been Durwood’s fault. Still, comfort didn’t make a case. “I sympathize, Miss Bridges,” Durwood said. “I do. But I’m a simple man. The sort of business I’m trained for is combat. Apprehending suspects. Pursuing retribution that can’t be pursued within the confines of the law. This situation calls for expertise I don’t have.” He’d delivered bad news, but Carol Bridges didn’t seem upset. She was smiling again. “I have to disagree,” she said. “You need somebody knows their way around corporate law. Knows how to—” “You’re not a simple man. There’s a lot up there”—her warm eyes rose to his head—“that doesn’t translate into words.” Durwood held her gaze a moment. Then he looked down to Sue-Ann. The dog was sleeping. He said, “America is changing. For better or worse. A town like Chickasaw doesn’t get the better end of it, I understand. There’s injustice in that. But it’s not the sort I can stop.” “Of course. I wouldn’t dream of suggesting you can deliver us back to the 1970s.” Carol Bridges laced her fingers over her dark red hair. A funny thing was happening with her mouth. Was she chewing gum? No, that wasn’t it. Using her tongue to work a piece of food out from between her teeth? Durwood didn’t think so either. She was smirking. “All I’m asking,” she said, “on behalf of my town, is this: talk to Jay Hogan. Get a straight answer out of him. I can’t, I’ve tried. The rest of the Hogans live in Vail or Tuscany. We need somebody who can cut through the bull and find out the truth.” Durwood repeated, “The truth.” “Yes. If the jobs are going away, if I need to retrain my citizenry to…” She searched around her desktop for some example—pencils, folders, a stapler. “Heck, answer customer-service calls? I will. But we want to know.” Sue-Ann snored and resettled against Durwood’s boot. He said, “Talk to Jay Hogan.” The mayor clasped her hands hopefully over her chest. “That’s all I’m asking. Find out where we stand.” Durwood thought about the crop fields he’d seen riding into town. The dusty homesteads. The billboards—the dentist, man who wanted to be sheriff. He thought of the factories still putting out smoke. For now. The stakes were lower than what he fought for alongside Quaid and Molly McGill with Third Chance Enterprises. The planet itself was not imperiled. He wasn’t likely to face exotic technologies or need to jump from moving aircraft. So it went with these injustice cases—with injustice in general. Ordinary folks suffering ordinary hardship. “We did drive a couple thousand miles,” he said. “I suppose it makes sense to stay and have a word with Mr. Hogan.” Carol Bridges rushed forward and pressed his calloused hands in her smooth ones. She gave him the address of Hogan Consolidated from memory. Chapter Three Hogan’s main factory and corporate headquarters were in the same building. Durwood parked in a Visitors spot, and he and Sue walked up to the fifth floor where the executive offices were—over the factory. Stairs were murder on the dog’s hip, but she persevered. Durwood stopped every few steps for her. Through the stairwell’s glass wall, he watched the assembly line. Men and women in hardhats leaned into machine handles. A foreman frowned at a clipboard. Belts and treads and rotors turned. Even behind glass, Durwood could smell grease. Nothing amiss here. On the fifth floor, Durwood consulted a directory to find Jay Hogan’s office. His secretary wore nicer clothes than Carol Bridges. Looking at her neat painted fingernails, Durwood doubted she kept dog biscuits in her desk. “You—you honestly thought bringing a dog to see the chief executive of Hogan Consolidated was acceptable?” the woman said, looking at Sue’s spots like they were open sores. “OSHA would have a field day if they showed up now.” Sue-Ann laid her chin on her paws. Durwood said, “She can stay here while I see Mr. Hogan.” The woman’s nameplate read Priscilla Baird. Durwood suspected she’d be taller than him if she stood. Her lips were tight, trembling like she was about to eject Durwood and Sue—or flee herself. “I don’t know that you will see Mr. Hogan today,” she said. “You’re not on his schedule. Jones, did you say?” She checked her screen. “Won’t find me in your computer,” Durwood said. “Is he here?” Priscilla Baird glanced at her boss’s door, which was closed. “He is…on site. But I’m not at liberty to say when he’d be available to speak with arbitrary members of the public.” “I’m not arbitrary. I’m here on authority of the mayor.” “The mayor?” “Of Chickasaw, yes ma’am. Carol Bridges.” Priscilla Baird rolled her eyes at this. Durwood thought he heard, “Getting desperate” under the woman’s breath. Durwood waited. After thirty minutes, he tired of Priscilla Baird’s dirty looks and took Sue-Ann out to the van. She didn’t like dogs, fine. He wouldn’t be difficult just for the sake of it. He returned to wait more. The lobby had an exposed beam running down its center—pimpled, showy. Folks built like that nowadays. Slate walls displayed oil paintings of the company’s executives. Sitting out on tables were US Weekly and Field and Stream. Durwood read neither. He spent the time thinking what questions to ask Jay Hogan. All told, he waited an hour and a half. Others entered and were admitted to see Hogan. Men wearing pinstripes. A made-up woman in her late forties with a couple minions hustling after her. Some kid in a ballcap and shorts carrying two plastic bags. The kid left Hogan’s office without his bags. Durwood caught him at the door. “Pardon, youngster. What did you drop off?” The kid ducked so Durwood could read his hat. Crepes-a-Go-Go. An involuntary growl escaped Durwood’s mouth. He crossed to Jay Hogan’s door. “Excuse me,” Priscilla Baird said. “Mr. Hogan’s schedule today is terribly tight, you’ll need to be patient if—” “It just opened up,” Durwood said. He jerked the knob and blew inside. Jay Hogan was stuffing a crepe into his face with a plastic fork. Ham and some cheese that stank. The corner of his mouth had a red smear, either ketchup or raspberry jam. Probably jam. “The hell is this?” Hogan said. “You—what…Priscilla…” He placed a hand over his scrawny chest and finished swallowing. “Who is this person?” Priscilla Baird rushed to the door. “I never admitted him, he went himself. He forced his way in!” Durwood stood in the center of the office. He said to Hogan, “Let’s talk, the two of us.” The young CEO considered the proposal. He was holding his crepe one-handed and didn’t seem to know where to set it down. He looked at his secretary. He looked at Durwood. His hair was slicked back with Pennzoil, skin alabaster white—a shade you’d have to stay inside to keep in southwest Texas. Durwood extended his hand. “I can hold your pancake.” Jay Hogan stiffened at the remark. “Who are you?” “Name’s Durwood Oak Jones.” Hogan tried saying it himself. “Duuurwood, is it?” “Correct.” Durwood assumed Jay Hogan, like the mayor, wasn’t a Soldier of Fortune subscriber. “I’m a concerned party.” “What does that mean?” Hogan said. “Concerned about what?” “About this town. About the financial standing of your company.” As Priscilla Baird excused herself, Durwood explained his contact to date with Carol Bridges and the capacity in which he’d come: to investigate and combat injustice. There was no reason he and Jay Hogan shouldn’t be on the same side. If the lawyers were fleecing Hogan Consolidated or Wall Street sharks were sabotaging it, Durwood’s help should be appreciated. But Jay Hogan wasn’t rolling out the welcome wagon. “Injustice?” he sneered. “The company’s in a crap situation, a real hole. Not my fault. I didn’t build those hinges. I didn’t, you know, invent P/E ratios or whatever other metrics we aren’t hitting.” Durwood glared across the desk. Every not and didn’t stuck in his craw. He said, “What do you do, then?” “I chart the course,” Hogan said. “I set the top-line strategy.” “Top-line?” “Yes. Top-line.” Durwood resettled his hat on his head. “Thought the bottom line was the important one.” Jay Hogan made a sound between flatulence and a pig’s snort. “Look—we’ve held the line on wages, kept the unions out. Done everything in our power to stay competitive.” Durwood asked what his strategy was on those lawsuits. “Chester handles legal matters,” Hogan said. “Who’s that?” “Chester is the COO.” Durwood raised a finger, counting out letters. “Now what’s the difference between CEO and COO?” Jay Hogan made impatient motions with his hands. “The COO is the operating officer. He’s more involved in day-to-day business.” “Who deals with Wall Street? The money men?” “Chester.” “Who handles communication? Getting word out to the citizens of Chickasaw about what’s going on?” Hogan picked up his crepe again. “Chester.” He said the name—which was prissy to begin with—in a nasal, superior tone. Durwood’s fist balled at his side. “Fella must be sharp, you trust him with all that.” “Chester’s extremely smart,” Hogan said. “I’ve known him forever—our families go back generations. We attended all the same boarding schools.” “Boyhood chums?” Hogan frowned at the question. “Something like that.” “He’s about your age, then?” Hogan nodded. “Couple twenty-eight-year-olds running a company that dictates the fate of a whole town.” Durwood folded his arms. “Sound fair to you?” The CEO’s pale cheeks colored. “They’re lucky to have us. Two Ivy League graduates blessed with business instincts. Chester Lyles was president of our fraternity, graduated magna cum laude. We could be founding startups in Seattle or San Francisco where you don’t have to drive a hundred miles for decent food.” That name rung a bell somewhere for Durwood. Lyles. Recalling what Carol Bridges had said about the gully, he said, “You graduate magna cum laude?” “I don’t need to defend my qualifications to you or anyone.” Durwood nodded. “Must’ve just missed.” Jay Hogan stood up a snit. He looked at his crepe again in its tissue-paper sleeve and couldn’t resist. He took a quick bite and thrust a finger at the door, mouth full. “I’m done answering your questions,” he said. “As CEO, I’m accountable to a shareholder-elected board of directors, which includes presidents of other corporations, a former Treasury Secretary of the United States, and several other prominent executives. They’re satisfied with my performance.” “How many of them live in Chickasaw?” Hogan barked a laugh. “They understand the financial headwinds I’m up against.” “How about those bad hinges? From what I hear, Hogan used to make quality parts.” “Another Chester question. I don’t deal with quality control.” That’s for sure. Durwood saw he would get nowhere with Jay Hogan. This Chester was who he needed to find. Asking this one how the town of Chickasaw was going to shake out was like inspecting your John Deere’s hood ornament to judge if you needed a new tractor. Hogan was still pointing at the door. Finally, Durwood obliged him. On the way out, he said, “You got families counting on this company. Families with children, mortgages, sick grandmas. They’re counting on you. Hogans before you did their part. Now be a man, do yours. Rise to your duty.” Hogan didn’t answer. He had more crepe in his mouth. Walking down to the parking lot, Durwood passed the factory again. It was dark—the shift had ended while he’d been waiting for Hogan. His boots clacked around the stairwell in solitude. He considered what ailed Hogan Consolidated and whether he could fix it. He wasn’t optimistic. Oh, he could poke around and get the scoop on Chester Lyles. He could do his best working around the lies and evasions he’d surely encounter. Maybe he would find Chester’s or Jay Hogan’s hand in the cookie jar. The likeliest culprit, though, was plain old incompetence. Jay Hogan belonged in an insurance office someplace—preferably far from the scissors. Instead, he sat in a corner office of a multi-million dollar company. Did that rise to the level of injustice? Maybe. Maybe, with so many lives and livelihoods at stake. Durwood didn’t like cases he had to talk himself into. He was just imagining how he’d break the news to Carol Bridges if nothing much came of Chester when four men burst from the shadows and tackled him. *** Excerpt from Dear Durwood by Jeff Bond. Copyright 2020 by Jeff Bond. Reproduced with permission from Jeff Bond. All rights reserved.  

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Author Bio:

Jeff Bond Jeff Bond is an American author of popular fiction. His books have been featured in The New York Review of Books, and his 2020 release, The Pinebox Vendetta, received the gold medal (top prize) in the 2020 Independent Publisher Book Awards. A Kansas native and Yale graduate, he now lives in Michigan with his wife and two daughters.

Catch Up With Jeff Bond On: JeffBondBooks.com BookBub Goodreads Instagram Twitter Facebook!

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#GuestPost “Relative Silence” by Carrie Stuart Parks

on Tour July 13 – August 14, 2020

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So glad to welcome Carrie Stuart Parks to Nesie’s Place for an awesome guest post today. I don’t usually share my coffee–don’t judge me–but I’m making an exception because Relative Silence was such an awesome read!

(My review of Relative Silence is coming up shortly – watch this spot!)

Killer Family Secrets

Carrie Stuart Parks

Hi Felicia! I’m delighted to have wandered over to your neck of the woods to share a cup of your robust coffee . . . (um, do you have any creamer?) and exchange bad puns with you.

I read on your web page that you’re one of nine children. Oh my! I have one first cousin. One. Quite a difference when we have family reunions. We have to invite second cousins and first cousins once removed (or whatever you call more distant family) to have a respectable showing.

Speaking of family, my newest book, Relative Silence, explores some of the family dynamics of a wealthy, politically connected family in South Carolina. It was “inspired” by (though that’s not really the right word,) by Joseph and Rose Kennedy’s family. In 1941, Joseph Kennedy had their oldest daughter, Rosemary, lobotomized to keep her from embarrassing the family. The twenty-three year old woman was left permanently incapacitated and spent the rest of her life in an institution. In some countries/cultures, so-called honor killings—where a family member murders a woman or girl because she has brought perceived dishonor to the family—are fairly common. In my own family, I was told, my great-grandmother had the doctor sterilize my grandmother without her permission when she was in the hospital giving birth to my dad. Great-grandma, so it seemed, didn’t like grandpa’s side of the family. All this made me aware of how far people will go to protect the family name.

Like all my books, forensic art is woven into the fabric of the story. As a forensic artist myself, I know all the different aspects of the field and love sharing my world. This novel had a composite sketch and a child age progression. It also touched on the historic reconstructions of the faces of the crew of the H. L. Hunley, a Civil War submarine that sank in Charleston Harbor in 1864 and was discovered in 1965.

Of course there’s a dog in it—there’s always at least one dog in every story. Nana, a brown Newfoundland, romps and slobbers through the pages of Relative Silence. I love Newfies because they so much like my own Great Pyrenees.

If murder mysteries, forensics, a hint of history, a smattering of romance, a lovable dog, and family secrets are your cup of tea . . . um . . .  make that coffee, I hope you’ll give Relative Silence a read.

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Synopsis:

Relative Silence by Carrie Stuart Parks A powerful family with lots of secrets. A forensic artist with his own tragedies. And a hurricane drawing bearing down on their private island. Fifteen years ago Piper Boone’s only child died in a boating accident, and Piper’s almost perfect life came to an end too. After living through a divorce and losing her job, she retreats to Curlew Island and her childhood home—a secluded mansion for the politically powerful Boone family, who are practically American royalty. But Piper’s desire to become a recluse is shattered when a mass shooter opens fire and kills three women at a café where Piper is having lunch. The crisis puts her family in the spotlight by dredging up rumors of the so-called Curlew Island Curse, which whispers say has taken the lives of several members of the Boone family, including Piper’s father and sister. Forensic artist Tucker Landry also survives the shooting and is tasked with the job of sketching a portrait of the shooter with Piper. They forge a bond over their shared love of movies and tragic pasts. But when police discover a connection between the shooting and two more murders on Curlew Island, they face a more terrible lineup of suspects than they could have imagined: Piper’s family. Unraveling the family’s true history will be the key to Piper’s survival—or her certain death.

Book Details:

Genre: Suspense

Published by: Thomas Nelson

Publication Date: July 14th 2020

Number of Pages: 336

ISBN: 0785226184 (ISBN13: 9780785226185)

Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

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Read an excerpt:

 

Prologue

Curlew Island, South Carolina Fifteen years ago The piercing scream ripped up my spine. I dropped the spatula and spun. My almost-three-year-old daughter, Dove, stood at the door to the kitchen and held out her favorite toy, a tattered stuffed bunny she’d named Piggy. Piggy’s ear was hanging by a thread with stuffing protruding from the opening. “Mommy,” she sobbed. “P-P-Piggy’s hurt.” I turned off the blender. I’d told Mildred, the housekeeper, I was going to make dessert and was elbow-deep in half-whipped meringue for the banana pudding now cooling next to me. “Come here, Dove, and let Mommy see.” Still crying, Dove launched herself at me. I lifted her and checked my watch. No one was at the family’s Curlew Island home at the moment except my husband, Ashlee. He’d said he would look after Dove while I did some cooking. Yet here she was with a damaged toy and in need of comfort, while he, as usual, was absent. “Sweetheart, Mommy will have to fix Piggy in a little bit. Where’s Daddy?” She shook her head. Her sobbing settled into hiccups and loud sniffles. Shifting her to my hip, I caught sight of movement in the foyer. “Ashlee?” The front door clicked shut. Still holding Dove, I charged through the house and opened the front door. Ashlee was just climbing into a golf cart, the only transportation on the island. “Just where did you think you were going? You’re supposed to be watching Dove.” “Don’t give me a hard time, Piper.” His face was pale with beads of sweat on his forehead. “I have an errand to run on the mainland. Mildred can watch Dove.” “Mildred’s getting groceries and I’m cooking. Take Dove with you. You don’t spend nearly enough time with your only child.” “Look, Piper, this is important and I don’t—” “So’s your daughter. Or maybe we should all go to the mainland together if something is that important. Better yet, you finish dessert and I’ll get to play with Dove.” I was heartily tired of Ashlee’s constant racing off to “something important.” His work as head of marketing at the family business, Boone Industries, was stressful and kept him busy, but this was getting ridiculous. He took out a handkerchief and swabbed his sweaty brow. “N-no. I’ll take her.” Dove had relaxed against my shoulder. “She’s overdue for her nap, and the boat always puts her fast asleep. Just be sure to put her life jacket on. There are snacks on the boat if she gets hungry.” Ashlee opened his mouth, then shut it. A vein pounded in his forehead. “Dove, sweetie,” I said. “Go for a boat ride with your daddy. I’ll take care of Piggy, okay?” She nodded under my chin and allowed me to hand her over to Ashlee. “Will you be long?” “As long as I need to be.” Without another word he got into the cart and drove toward the dock. The late October day was pleasantly warm, and although Dove wore a white T-shirt and short skirt, she could always crawl under a blanket in the saloon if the boat ride was too cool. I took poor Piggy back into the kitchen and placed her on the end of the counter, hoping the meringue was salvageable. I topped the banana pudding, stuck the dessert into the oven, set the timer, and moved to Dove’s room to change the sheets. Finishing just as the pudding was ready, I placed it on the counter to cool. After washing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen, I still had laundry to do. How could I be washing more clothes than we’d packed? Once a year the entire family would gather on the private island for a stockholders’ meeting and retreat, joining the year-round staff. I’d like to say that seeing my family together in this beautiful paradise was a special treat. Unfortunately, I was closer to the housekeeper than to my own mother. At least the beach was sandy, the ocean refreshing, and the house spectacular and spacious. Dove, of course, was perfect. And Ashlee? Back to the laundry. After shifting a load from the washer to the dryer, I made my way past the workout and sewing room toward the kitchen. Could a rabbit ear be repaired on a sewing machine? Ha! I didn’t even know how to thread a bobbin. I found Mildred in the kitchen, checking a store receipt. “I didn’t know you’d returned. Do you need help with the groceries?” “Already done.” “Then I timed my offer perfectly. Do you know how to thread a bobbin?” “Have you been out in the sun too long?” “It’s a rabbit-ear question.” “Next time wear a hat.” I grinned at the older woman. “To thread a bobbin?” “You are the oddest child,” she muttered, then nodded at my banana pudding. “But you do make the most beautiful desserts.” We busied ourselves preparing dinner. The stockholders’ meeting was tomorrow, and the remaining members of the family would arrive tonight. “Strange,” Mildred said after the pot roast had been placed in the oven. “What?” “I’d have thought everyone would be here by now.” I glanced at my watch. Ashlee and Dove had been gone for five hours. Dove would be starving. “I’m sure—” The phone rang. “That’s probably them now.” I picked up the receiver. “Boone residence.” “Piper!” It was my older brother, Tern. “Oh, Piper, I’m . . . I’m at the hospital. It’s Ashlee.” I squeezed the receiver tighter. “What’s going on? Is Dove okay?” Tern groaned. I reached for Mildred. She took my hand, then put her arm around me to keep my knees from buckling. “Tern? Tern!” Tern didn’t answer. A male voice took over. “Mrs. Piper Yates? This is Officer Stan Gragg of the Marion Inlet Police. There’s been an incident involving your husband. He was attacked on the dock and your family’s yacht was stolen. He’ll be fine, but we’re having the doctor check him out—” “What about my daughter, Dove?” I tried to keep my voice under control, but the words came out shrill. “We believe she was still on the boat. I’m afraid she’s missing.” Chapter 1 Marion Inlet, South Carolina Present Day I couldn’t breathe. A man’s weight across my body crushed me to the sidewalk. The grit of the cement and shattered glass dug into my cheek. My ears rang with the craack, craack of gunfire and the screams of the wounded. A thousand bees stung my ankle. I kept my eyes tightly shut. If I opened them, I knew I’d see the sightless gaze of my friend Ami, stretched out beside me. Even with my eyes closed, I could still see Ami’s face. I should be the one lying dead. I tried to cover my ears. “Don’t move.” The man’s voice whispered in my ear, his breath stirring my hair. I froze. A final craack! The man jerked. The shooting stopped. Like the eye of a hurricane, silence. Then the screaming resumed. In the distance, a siren, then a second. The man didn’t move. My shoulder felt warm. Something wet slithered around my neck. In spite of the man’s warning, I inched my hand upward and touched my shoulder. I opened my eyes and looked at my fingers. Blood. Adrenaline shot through my body. I was boxed in, closed off. My claustrophobia took over, shoving aside my fear of the gunman. I shoved upward, shifting the man sideways. He groaned. Sliding from underneath him, I had a chance to see who’d knocked me from my chair and covered me with his body when the gunman opened fire. He was about my age—midthirties—dressed in a light-tan cotton sports jacket and bloody jeans. His gray-white skin contrasted sharply with his shaggy black hair. He opened his eyes briefly, revealing ultramarine-blue irises, before closing them again. Blood streamed from a gash on his forehead. More blood pooled around his right leg. I was breathing with fast, hiccupping breaths. I wanted to put my hands over my ears to block the screaming, but they were covered in blood. Maybe this is a movie. Patriot Games. Harrison Ford . . . No. Movies don’t smell. What year was Patriot Games made? I couldn’t remember. The distant sirens grew overwhelming, then stopped. Police officers, guns drawn, swarmed the overturned chairs and tables of the outdoor café. Swiftly they checked the motionless dead, the sobbing survivors, the wailing injured. “Help! Here! Over here!” I waved my arm to get someone’s attention. Sliding closer, I lifted my protector’s head onto my lap, smearing his cheeks with blood. Wait. Was his head supposed to be below his heart? “Please help me!” A female officer raced over. “He’s shot.” I cradled his head in my lap. “Hurry. Please hurry and get help.” The officer spoke into the mic on her shoulder. “Dispatch? Where are those ambulances?” The reply was a jumble of words and static. “Okay, ma’am,” the officer said to me. “Stay calm. The ambulances are on their way. I need you to put your hand on your husband’s leg and apply pressure to slow the bleeding—” Her mic squawked again. “Ten-four,” she said. “I’ll be right back.” “He’s not my—” The officer raced off before I could finish. “Husband,” I whispered. I pressed a trembling hand on the man’s injury. Please, God, don’t let him die like this. He moaned but didn’t open his eyes. Another officer, this time male, came over. “Are you injured? You’re covered in blood.” “It’s his. At least I think it’s his.” Was I hurt? I didn’t like this movie. It was filmed all shiny. Everyone moved in slow motion. “Did you see the gunman?” “Briefly.” He nodded, then waved his hand to get someone’s attention. An EMT appeared and crouched beside me. “Are you okay?” His voice was distant and slow. “Laady, aarre yoouu ooookaaaaaayy?” “Y-yes, I think so. He’s . . .” My vision narrowed. Blackness lapped around my brain. “Lunch . . . we were having lun—” The blackness took over. *** I opened my eyes. Above me was a green canvas umbrella. Did I have an umbrella in my bedroom? I didn’t think so. What a strange dream. My bed was hard. And gritty. And smelled of fried fish mixed with . . . the pungent stench of body fluids. Turning my head, I blinked to make sense of what I was seeing. Overturned tables, chairs, a purse. Golden brown with the letter C forming a pattern. Coach purse. My purse. Spattered by a shattered bowl of creamy shrimp and grits. Not my bed. Not a dream. Not a movie. Sound finally registered. Talking, more sirens. Yelled directions. I slowly pushed up to a sitting position. Uniformed officers were corralling witnesses, and EMTs were treating the wounded. Next to me was a pool of blood. The man—Harrison Ford? No, he was an actor. The man who’d saved me was gone. When I looked the other way, Ami came into focus. Her eyes were open, looking beyond me. Beyond this life. A pool of her blood had reached the puddle from the man’s injury. All my senses had returned, but I still felt . . . detached. Should I make a list? Write down what happened and make everything neat and tidy? I’d been having lunch. At a café. A gunman opened fire. That’s right. And my friend . . . I reached over and took Ami’s hand. The warmth had already left it. She wore coral nail polish and an engagement ring. Did we talk about her engagement? A giant lump in my throat made it difficult to swallow. She’s so still. Just a few minutes ago she was animatedly talking to me, like Téa Leoni in Spanglish. 2004. See, I remembered the year that movie was made. Why couldn’t I remember Patriot Games? Why was I obsessing over movies now? And lists? Movies and lists are safe. My eyes burned, but no tears appeared. I hadn’t cried in more than fifteen years. “I’m so very sorry, m’friend. I . . .” I shook my head and placed Ami’s hand gently on the sidewalk. The shooting. The blood. My dead friend. It was all real. Looking away from her, I spotted the man being placed into an ambulance. He saved my life and I didn’t even know his name. I started to get to my feet. An EMT raced over and gently placed her hand on my shoulder, easing me back down. “Easy there. It won’t be much longer. We’re just getting the badly wounded off first—” “I’m fine,” I lied. “Harrison Ford—” “What?” You’re not in a movie. I pointed. “Um, that man, the one being put into the ambulance—who is he?” The woman looked in the direction I was pointing. “I don’t know.” She called to the EMTs loading the man. “Hey, guys, what hospital are you going to?” “Mercy.” The EMT glanced at me. “Got that?” “Thanks. Look, I’m not shot. I need to thank that man and make sure he’s going to be okay, then tell my family I’m not hurt.” I tried to stand again. “I promised I’d—” “Sorry, honey.” This time the EMT pushed me down. “But you’re not going anywhere right now. You passed out. We don’t know if you sustained a head injury. You have a lot of blood on you, and your ankle is cut. And that officer”—she jerked her head—“said you’re a potential eyewitness. He said you can’t leave.” “Please. I’m not injured—” “We’ll decide that.” The EMT signaled the officer. “She’s awake. We’ll be moving her soon.” The officer came over and squatted beside me. He looked to be in his early forties, lean and athletic. His name tag identified him as S. Gragg. “Miss Piper Boone? I’m Lieutenant Stan Gragg. I understand you may have seen the shooter.” His voice was soft and soothing. “You know my name.” “Yes, ma’am. Marion Inlet is a small town. Hard not to. And”—he looked away—“I was on the department here . . . before.” “Oh. I’m sorry. I didn’t recognize you.” “Long time ago.” “Yes. Mr. . . . Lieutenant Gragg, I have to cover her face. It’s not right, her just lying there.” I started to take off my jacket. The officer stopped me. “Now, Miss Boone, I know it doesn’t seem respectful to your friend, but this is a crime scene and we have to secure and preserve it until the crime-scene folks can process it.” He glanced over my shoulder. “Looks like your ride is here.” “Really, you’re making a big fuss. All those other people—” “Just being cautious.” He stood and stepped away. An EMT took his place. I grabbed my heavy, oversized purse and clutched it while they arranged for my transport to the hospital. The nearest medical center was normally a twenty-minute drive, but the ambulance cut the time in half. I was raced into a small room, placed on the examination table, questioned about my injuries, and prodded. They cleaned and bandaged my ankle. The last of the feeling of detachment left with the scrubbing of my ankle cut. That hurt. During one of the lulls when the doctor or nurse wasn’t tending to me, I pulled a notebook and pen from my purse and started a list. Look up the year Patriot Games was made. I stared at that a moment. That didn’t matter. It was a movie, and it had a bombing, not a café shooting. I drew a line through it. Call family and tell them I’m okay. Contact Ami’s parents and offer condolences. Take food to the house. Order flowers. Offer to help with funeral arrangements. Retrieve car. Lieutenant Gragg entered. “How are you doing?” “A few bumps—nothing really.” I looked down at my list. “Are you writing down what happened for me? Your statement?” “Oh. No. Making notes on what I need to do. You know. With Ami and all.” Heat rushed to my face. “Writing things down keeps me . . . sane.” “And Ami is . . . ?” “Oh, sorry, Ami Churchill. The woman I was having lunch with.” “I see. Maybe before you forget anything you could tell me what happened.” I nodded. “Okay.” The blood had dried on my jeans, blouse, and jacket. I breathed through my mouth to not take in the metallic odor. I just want to get out of these clothes. I bit my lip at the uncharitable thought. The blood was from the man who saved my life. Lieutenant Gragg took out a small notepad and pen, checked the time, jotted something down, then looked at me. “So let’s start at the beginning. Your full name is Piper Boone?” “Sandpiper Boone.” He raised his eyebrows. “Mother is an ornithologist, a bird-watcher. She named her children after birds.” “So that’s why your brother, the senator, is Tern?” “Yes. My sisters are Sparrow and Raven. I’m just happy Mother didn’t name me Albatross or Plover.” I smiled, then immediately looked down and tightened my lips. How could I make a joke when all those people were shot and Ami was still dead on the street? The police officer was taking the time to interview me when he had so much else to do, and all I could do was try to be funny. Unsuccessfully. He quietly handed me a tissue. “Take your time.” I took the tissue and crumpled it in my hand. “I’d agreed to meet Ami for lunch. I hadn’t seen her in years—since high school. Out of the blue, she called me up and asked to have lunch . . . I’m sorry, I’m not very organized in my thoughts right now.” The detached feeling was returning. “And you were eating lunch?” “Lunch. Yes. I mean no. We were finished. We were just talking and having a last glass of iced tea.” “You were sitting facing the street?” he asked. “No. I had my back to the street. Ami was facing me.” Lieutenant Gragg paused and looked up from his writing. “You indicated you saw the shooter. If your back was to the street, how did you see him?” “I . . . um . . . looked around when I smelled something . . . a homeless man. I caught a glimpse of the shooter then, but he wasn’t doing anything at that time. Later I could see his reflection in the window of the café. He’d moved behind me across the street and was watching the café. Something about him was . . . disturbing. I was about to mention him to Ami when he raised a rifle.” I started to tremble but dug my fingernails into my palms until it hurt. “Before I could say or do anything, the man at the next table grabbed me, threw me to the ground, and covered me with his body. Ami”—I took a deep breath—“Ami must have been one of the first people shot. She fell next to us as soon as the shooting started.” “What happened next? What did the man do?” “He saved my life.” “Yes, but physically, what was going on around you?” “I don’t know. I closed my eyes. I heard pop, pop, pop, screaming, the scraping of metal chairs and tables on the pavement, crashing dishes.” I took a shaky breath. “Would you know the shooter again if you saw him?” “I believe so, yes, if that would help you.” A nurse entered. “Almost done? We need the room.” “Almost.” The lieutenant gave her a quick smile. She gave a curt nod and left. “You said Ami was facing the street. Did she notice the man as well?” “No. She was trying on my straw hat and was asking me if it looked good on her.” “Piper! Thank the Lord you’re not hurt!” My brother, Tern, pushed into the room, followed by my mother, Caroline. Mother stopped as soon as she spotted me. “Oh, Piper! You’re covered in blood! How badly are you hurt?” “Okay, folks.” Lieutenant Gragg put his arm out to stop Tern. “We’re almost done here. She’s going to be fine. I need you to wait outside—” “Do you know who you’re talking to?” Tern’s face was white. “That’s my little sister.” “Yes, Senator Boone.” Lieutenant Gragg gently took Tern’s arm and turned him toward the door. “We’re taking good care of her.” “Not as good as her family. We’re here to take her home and get the best possible care for her.” “You will be able to, but we need to arrange for a forensic artist to meet with her as soon as possible—” “Please, everyone, I’m fine. I have a slight graze on my ankle. That’s all.” I gripped the table. It’s Ami who needs family right now. And those other poor people. I looked down and allowed my hair to partially cover my face until I could get some modicum of control over my expression. “Could I call you about the artist?” “Absolutely, Miss Boone.” A strong arm wrapped around me and pulled me to my feet. I recognized the cherry-vanilla aroma of Tern’s pipe tobacco. “Come on, little sis,” he whispered. “Everything else can wait. You need to get home.” “Tern!” my mother said. “She can’t go out in public looking like that.” “She’ll have to.” Tern propelled me from the room, down the hall, through a set of doors, and into a chaotic nightmare. Chapter 2 “Senator Boone!” Click, click, click. “Senator, look this way!” Click, click. The press was everywhere, yelling to get my brother’s attention, jamming microphones in my face, snapping digitals. “What do you have to say about today’s shooting?” I kept my head down and wished I still had my hat to help conceal my face. Around me were milling legs and shoes—oxfords, pumps, cross-trainers, and one pair of Chloé Rylee cutout open-toed boots. Beyond cute. I glanced up at the boot wearer. A porcelain-complexioned redhead swiftly took my photo. Rats. “Now that your own sister was shot, does this change your stance on gun control?” “My sister wasn’t shot—” “She’s covered in blood!” “Now then, ladies and gentlemen.” Tern gave my arm a squeeze. “Please stand back and let my little sister and mother through, then I’ll give you a statement.” The legs moved away. The press, particularly the female members, would be ecstatic for the chance to interview my strikingly handsome brother. And Tern knew how to use his good looks and charisma to charm even the most acerbic critic. Tern ushered Mother and me into the back seat of the family’s silver Lexus LX, placed my purse on the floor, then bent down to talk to us. “I’m having Joel drive you home. I’ll put in an appearance at the children’s hospital fund raiser, then leave as soon as I can.” He shut the door. Joel Christianson was the driver, handyman, and all-purpose help at the family estate on Curlew Island. He gave Tern a sketchy salute, put the car in gear, and slowly pulled out of the hospital parking lot. We drove up Highway 17 in silence. I rested my head against the car window. The blood, his blood, had stiffened on my jacket and blouse. Why did he risk his life saving me? I’m not worth the effort. I pulled out the list I’d started and added: Find out man’s name. Figure out how to thank him. Joel took the exit to the picturesque hamlet of Marion Inlet. When my grandparents moved here, the town was little more than a fishing village. A row of white storefronts and historic homes faced the main street, and a fishing fleet anchored in the small harbor. In 1989, Hurricane Hugo made landfall just south of Marion Inlet, uprooting ancient trees and tossing the shrimping boats around the town as if they were children’s toys. The locals rebuilt and now the town was booming again. Curlew Island, located less than a mile from the mainland, was almost entirely owned by the Boone family. It provided a seasonal home for vacations, retreats, and the annual family stockholders’ meeting in October. Normally the only permanent inhabitants were Joel and his wife, Mildred, the housekeeper. For the past year, I’d called the island home. I’d often said I was dying to leave. Today I’d almost gotten my wish. I shook my head at the grim thought. “What is it, Piper?” my mother asked. “I suspect it’s what’s called gallows humor.” “You always did have a strange sense of humor.” Mother patted me on the leg. This from a woman who named me after a bird known for eating critters it plucked from the mud. “Mmmm.” Mother brushed a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “Once we get to the house, you can take a shower and get cleaned up. I’m sure you’ll want to get out of those bloody clothes.” She gave a tiny shudder. “I’ll get Mildred to make you a pot of chamomile tea. She can add a spoonful of raw honey. Very calming. I’ll look up some organic pain medication so you can throw away those pills the doctor gave you.” She tapped her finger on her lips. “No. Don’t throw them away. That’s not safe. I’ll research how to dispose of them.” She gave me a slight smile. I stared out the window, ignoring the twinges of pain from my scrapes and rapidly forming bruises, and tried not to think about Ami lying next to me at the outdoor café. Nineteen ninety-two. That was the year Patriot Games was released. The SUV pulled in front of a small elevated house. The entire ground floor was open and served as a garage. The house was the original family home but had served as overflow guest quarters since my parents constructed the far larger house on Curlew Island. A day cruiser was tied up to the private dock waiting to transport the family to the island. Smaller boats, also owned by the family, were tied along one side. I tapped the driver on the shoulder. “Joel, can you see that Mother gets to Curlew safely? I need to take the car.” “Where are you going?” Mother asked. “Ami”—I gulped some air—“was one of the victims murdered today. I need to talk to her parents—” “The police will take care of that.” “Shouldn’t they hear about it from me? I was the reason she was at the restaurant.” I held up the list. “If not for me, she’d be alive. Now I need to make things right.” Mother patted my hand. “Really, Piper, you don’t know these people. You don’t know what they want or need right now. You need to let the family grieve in peace.” “But I could tell them what happened—” “What happened was that you were both in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now, I’m going out for my afternoon meditating session. I think you should join me. Let nature help you heal.” Joel opened the door beside Mother and helped her out. I remained in the SUV. “Come along, Piper.” Mother headed for the boat. “I need to get my car. It’s still parked near the restaurant. I’ll have Joel drive me over.” Mother stopped, turned, and looked at me. Her gaze flickered over to Joel. The message was clear. Don’t make a scene in front of the help. I sighed and looked down. A weight settled across my shoulders. “Give me your keys,” Joel whispered. “I’ll retrieve the car in a bit.” Opening my purse, I handed him my key chain, then slipped from the SUV and slowly followed Mother. I wish it had been me killed today. *** Tucker Landry opened his eyes. A nurse sitting behind a counter directly in front of him stood and walked over. “How are you doing?” “Where am I?” “Mercy Hospital. You got out of surgery and you’re in recovery. Do you have any pain?” “No. What happened?” “Do you remember getting shot?” Tucker closed his eyes. Flashes of memory slid across his mind. Lunch at an outdoor café. A beautiful woman at the next table. The thunderous staccato of gunfire. “Yes.” “The doctor will be by to talk to you soon.” “When can I get out of here?” She patted his hand. “Don’t be in such a rush. You lost a lot of blood.” A woman in green scrubs with her hair tucked into a surgical cap appeared next to him. “Welcome to the land of the living, Mr. Landry. I’m Dr. Rice. You are one lucky man.” “I don’t feel lucky.” “You are. The bullet that just grazed your head and struck you in the leg was a .223. Nasty business. A different angle and you’d be dead.” She tilted his head slightly upward and checked his forehead. “This will heal fine with just these butterfly bandages. They come off on their own in about ten days. Your leg injury will take longer. No broken bones, but I want you to keep weight off it so it has time to heal. You’ll be on crutches, which you’ll need to use even if you feel better.” She folded her arms. “I’d usually comment about the scar you’ll end up with, but I noticed you have quite a few all over your body.” He could hear the question in her comment. “I do, yes.” She waited another moment as if hoping he’d elaborate, then continued. “Now you need to rest and heal. I’ll be back when you’re settled in your room.” She walked away before Tucker could ask her any questions. Settled in my room? How long was he supposed to be in here? He had work to do. *** I sat in the boat’s aft holding my long hair to keep it from whipping across my face and watched the small town of Marion Inlet recede. I’d looked forward to having lunch with Ami. Now I was thinking about funeral plans and memorial wreaths. And blood. Think about something else. I could join Mother in meditation, but while she sat on a comfortable mat, I had to sit on the ground. All I ever got out of it was leg cramps, bug bites, and dirty pants. Maybe I could do a movie marathon. Lock myself in my room and not come out for a week. Would a week be enough to erase everything? What about the man who saved my life? Would he be around in a week? After Silva, the boat captain, tied up on the island dock, I headed straight to the house and my room, not willing to wait for one of the golf carts used as transportation. The two-story, elevated, low-country home had been designed to preserve the existing natural environment. A series of dunes separated the front of the house from the sandy beach. Except for a small partially enclosed foyer leading to the living quarters on the second floor, the space beneath the house was surrounded by lattice. Unlike the rest of the house, my bedroom didn’t have an indifferent, model-home look. Stacks of books covered most of the surfaces, and the built-in shelves sagged under the weight of more books and journals. I’d taken down the bird prints found on all the other bedroom walls and replaced them with a framed photograph of my father from a magazine piece about his art. Two movie posters flanked it. Next to a flat-screen television was a media storage unit holding my collection of classic movies. A half-packed suitcase sat open on a cedar chest, where it had rested for the last six months. I dropped my oversized purse onto a nautical-themed chair and dashed into the bathroom. I stared at my face in the mirror. Does it show? Everything else did. Every passing thought was clearly written on my features and reflected in my complexion. Does the presence of death etch into the face? A tightness around the mouth? Eyes narrowed, or worse, turning cold? After peeling off my bloody clothes, I stuffed them into a plastic garbage bag, then jammed the bag into the trash container. I’d never wear that outfit again. I didn’t even want to see it in my closet. My thick watch band on my left arm was clean, but the wide leather bracelet I wore on my right arm was crusted in blood. Sliding it off, I tried not to stare at the parallel raised white scars across my wrist. In the shower, I scrubbed my skin until it turned red. I washed my hair twice. The pink-tinged water eventually drained clear. My conservation-conscious mother would say I was using too much water, but today I didn’t care. Maybe today is my wake-up call. Once the stockholders’ meeting was over, in three days, I’d leave for good. Nothing held me to Curlew Island. Well, okay, free room and board. And a small rock cairn at the north end of the island. I just needed to pack the last of my things in the suitcase and arrange for my books, journals, and movie collection to be shipped to . . . Where? I stopped scouring my hands and leaned against the cool marble tiles. Maybe back to Atlanta? I could see if any jobs had opened up. Oh yeah. Who’d want to hire a washed-up, has-been editor from a now-defunct publishing house? Yet another failure in my mess of a life. Maybe I should look at someplace new, where no one knew me. It’s this stupid indecision that keeps my suitcase half packed. Leaving here was not a destination, only a decision. When I stepped from the shower wrapped in towels, Mildred was waiting for me. The older woman was slightly plump but solid, plain-faced but with a radiant smile that transformed it. She wore her long gray hair in a tight bun, and oversized tortoiseshell glasses mostly hid her hazel eyes. A floral print apron covered her blue-checked cotton housedress. “Child, I just thank the stars you weren’t killed today.” “Thank you, Mildred—” The words caught in my throat. “Let me look at you.” She lifted my chin and inspected my face. “It was bad, wasn’t it?” I didn’t have to answer. I could keep nothing from Mildred. My face would show it all, and she knew how to read it. She patted my cheek and let go. “Be strong.” “How did you hear about it?” I finally asked. “Is it on the news?” “Probably, but I wasn’t watching the news. Tern called after putting you and your mother in the car. He said you’d had a close call. Your mother sent some tea.” She glanced toward the Wedgwood tea set resting on a tray on the dresser. “That’s so thoughtful of both of you. Thank you.” I made a point of pouring a cup and taking a sip. I didn’t care much for tea but didn’t want to appear ungrateful. “I wouldn’t be here now if not for the man who saved my life.” Mildred raised her eyebrows. That’s one of the things I love about this woman—her quiet strength and serenity. And her intelligence. I gave Mildred a quick hug. “I think I’ll take a walk along the beach.” Her gaze darted to my wrist. “I’m okay. I . . . I need to be alone.” “You sound like Marlene Dietrich.” “Greta Garbo,” I said automatically. “Grand Hotel, 1932.” “The same year Jesse Owens won four gold medals in the Berlin Olympics?” “That was 1936 . . . Wait a minute! You knew that answer.” “Just testing you.” “Well then, ‘You want to know something, Leslie? If I live to be ninety, I will never figure you out.’ Giant, 1956. I just have to substitute ‘Mildred’ for ‘Leslie.’” “Same year your mother was born. Good year all around.” Mildred patted my cheek. “You’ll be fine.” She hesitated a moment. “Ashlee’s here.” Ashlee. My ex-husband of fourteen years. When we divorced, he’d stayed on at Boone Industries as head of sales. The only non–family member to have a financial interest in the company, he held on to the stocks he’d received when we married and once a year was present at the shareholders’ meeting. Although our divorce was amiable, or at least as civil as such things can be, I did my best to avoid him. “Duly noted.” “I’ve put him in his usual room at the far end of the house.” “Perfect.” Ashlee’s usual room was my sister Raven’s old bedroom. As she hadn’t shown up for any meetings in years, Ashlee took over the space. “He did mention he had something to tell you.” Mildred pursed her lips. My stomach churned. Somehow I knew it wouldn’t be good. “I see.” “And you got a call from Four Paws Rescue.” “Let me guess. A blind hamster? An elderly goat?” “A goose.” Her lips puckered in disapproval. “A goose? Who keeps a goose for a pet? Don’t answer that. What’s wrong with the goose?” “It needs medical attention. The owners kept it in a dog crate in the house. Walked it daily. Then they lost the lease on their home and had to surrender their pet.” Four Paws Rescue was another reason the free rent came in handy. My income from the family business always seemed to be needed elsewhere. “How much?” “They think two hundred would cover the vet and first month’s care.” I nodded. “Make me—” “A note to send a check. Already done. Now, what else can I do to help you?” Find me a job that pays well enough to live on and support all my two- and four-legged projects? “Nothing. No . . . wait. Could you call Mercy Hospital and see if they’ll release the name of the man who saved my life? Black hair. Blue eyes. About my age or a bit older.” “I can try. You know how such things can be.” “Thank you, Mildred. If that doesn’t work, I’ll ask Lieutenant Gragg to find out.” Mildred turned to leave, then turned back. “Gragg? Why does that name sound familiar?” “He said he was on the department . . . before.” “I see. Oh, before I forget. You also got a call from Joyce.” Joyce Mueller was our sole neighbor on the island. She kept a seasonal home on the northern end. “I posted it on the bulletin board in the kitchen, then figured you probably wouldn’t check for messages.” “Did she call because she heard—” “No. She called last night. She wanted to talk to you.” “Did she say what about?” “No. But there was something in her voice . . .” I raised my eyebrows. “Like . . . ?” “If I didn’t know better, I’d say she sounded scared.” *** The adventure continues in Relative Silence by Carrie Stuart Parks. *** Excerpt from Relative Silence by Carrie Stuart Parks. Copyright 2020 by Carrie Stuart Parks. Reproduced with permission from Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved.

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Author Bio:

Carrie Stuart Parks Carrie Stuart Parks is Christy, Carol, and Inspy award-winning author, an award-winning fine artist, and internationally known forensic artist. Along with her husband, Rick, she travels across the US and Canada teaching courses in forensic art to law enforcement as well as civilian participants. She has won numerous awards for career excellence. Carrie is a popular platform speaker, presenting a variety of topics from crime to creativity.

Catch Up With Carrie Stuart Parks: CarrieStuartParks.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Instagram, & Facebook!

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Tour Participants:

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This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Carrie Stuart Parks. There will be 1 winner of one (1) RELATIVE SILENCE by Carrie Stuart Parks (print). The giveaway begins on July 13, 2020 and runs through August 16, 2020. Open to U.S. addresses only. Void where prohibited.

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#GuestPost “Anarchy of the Mice” by Jeff Bond

Anarchy Of The Mice by Jeff Bond Banneron Tour July 1 – August 31, 2020

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Making an Audiobook

by Jeff Bond

Audiobooks are fantastic. They’re the fastest growing segment of the publishing industry, and they’re an absolute lifesaver for someone like me, who—between parenting and cooking and an aggressive writing schedule—doesn’t have time to read with his eyes. What I do have is a nice juicy forty-five minutes early each morning when I’m walking the dog, and audiobooks allow me to spend that time in Diane Gabaldon’s eighteenth-century Scotland, John Updike’s suburbia, or Tana French’s Dublin.

When I released my first book two years ago, I knew I wanted to produce an audiobook version. I had no clue how to go about it, but naturally everyone’s favorite ten-ton gorilla was there to help: Amazon. Amazon has an entire audiobook ecosystem—creation, distribution, marketing, etc.—called ACX, Audiobook Creation Exchange. The system works quite well despite some quirks, like a messaging system the narrators all say stinks and a rigid workflow sequence that blows up if you accidentally push a project to its next phase before it’s ready. Using ACX, you can create an audiobook without having a Rolodex of professional narrators or cold calling Scott Brick. (If you don’t know the name, you must not be an audiobook person.)

You begin the process by uploading a sample of your book and instructions for potential narrators. Male or female, smooth or forceful, accented or not—those types of things. Then ACX opens up an audition, and narrated audio clips of your sample start rolling in. I received dozens my first day and even more the second. Each one is thrilling, the chance at finding that perfect voice for your story. Most will have some disqualifying mark against them. A weird cadence, or wrong mood, or a voice that just doesn’t fit your concept of the protagonist. Some you’ll nod along to and think, “Yeah, that could be my book.” But these don’t last long because soon enough you’ll run into that reader who just nails it—in whose voice every line sounds like notes from a symphony. And you’ve got your narrator.

Okay, not really; that was the streamlined, romanticized version. Auditions are exhausting. Beyond the sheer number of clips you need to consider and polite emails you’ll need to write, there’s the mental toll of saying no to all these supremely talented people. Authors are fairly conditioned to the shoe being on the other foot. We’re the ones giving out samples, scrapping for a chance to show our stuff, hoping to be picked over all the other creators in the marketplace. I listened to voice authors who’d been public radio anchors, classically trained singers, who had IMDB bios five pages long. I struck up email conversations with a few, and heard that most ACX jobs are industrial voiceovers from overseas—dry commercial work. The narrators generally don’t even get a note acknowledging their audition clips, which surely take hours to produce. So many of them would’ve given me an excellent audiobook, but I could only say yes to two.

Two?

Among the decisions I had to make was whether to have a single narrator voice all chapters or have separate male and female voices. Because The Winner Maker, my first book, had two roughly equal protagonists, one male and one female, I decided to use separate. Beyond that, there was the decision to do the narration “duet style,” where the two actors can trade off within the same chapter, or stick to one voice per chapter. I chose the latter, which simplified things.

From there, my narrators took the manuscript and did their thing—reading ten hours of my debut novel. I then had to listen to every last second of it and jot edits along the way. This was fine-grained, tedious work, made more complicated by the fact that I did it using those aforementioned forty-five dog-walking minutes each morning. Imagine tapping out a note on your phone about stressing the second syllable of “Rivard” rather than the first while 120 pounds of shaggy Newfoundland dog lurches after a squirrel, and you’ll know my struggle. Hopefully my neighbors got a laugh or two out of it.

My narrators, Natalie Duke and Brandon Paul Eells, are extraordinarily professional and did a great job. I found only minor fixes, one or two per chapter. Some were personal preference, how to pronounce a particular name or street. Other times I started to correct a pronunciation only to Google it and find I’d been saying the word wrong in my head all along—my narrator had actually gotten it right.

For all this, it was truly wonderful hearing my story come to life as an audiobook. I recorded one for Blackquest 40 and The Pinebox Vendetta as well, and my two releases in June—Anarchy of the Mice and Dear Durwood—will also be audiobooks. Audible has a long quality-check process; I expect them to pop up in late July or early August. If you’re looking for an introduction to my stories, I’d highly recommend trying an audiobook. They were hard work, but the end result was a lot of fun.

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Synopsis:

Anarchy of the Mice by Jeff Bond From Jeff Bond, author of Blackquest 40 and The Pinebox Vendetta, comes Anarchy of the Mice, book one in an epic new series starring Quaid Rafferty, Durwood Oak Jones, and Molly McGill: the trio of freelance operatives known collectively as Third Chance Enterprises. How far could society fall without data? Account balances, property lines, government ID records — if it all vanished, if everyone’s scorecard reset to zero, how might the world look? The Blind Mice are going to show us. Molly McGill is fighting it. Her teenage son has come downstairs in a T-shirt from these “hacktivists” dominating the news. Her daughter’s bus is canceled — too many stoplights out — and school is in the opposite direction of the temp job she’s supposed to be starting this morning. She is twice-divorced; her P.I. business, McGill Investigators, is on the rocks; what kind of life is this for a woman a mere twelve credit-hours shy of her PhD? Then the doorbell rings. It’s Quaid Rafferty, the charming — but disgraced — former governor of Massachusetts, and his plainspoken partner, Durwood Oak Jones. The guys have an assignment for Molly. It sounds risky, but the pay sure beats switchboard work. They need her to infiltrate the Blind Mice. Danger, romance, intrigue, action for miles — whatever you read, Anarchy of the Mice is coming for you.

Book Details:

Genre: Action-Adventure

Published by: Jeff Bond books

Publication Date: June 15, 2020

Number of Pages: 445

ISBN: 173225527X (978-1732255272)

Series: Third Chance Enterprises, #1

Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads

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Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE The first I ever heard of the Blind Mice was from my fourteen-year-old son, Zach. I was scrambling to get him and his sister ready for school, stepping over dolls and skater magazines, thinking ahead to the temp job I was starting in about an hour, when Zach came slumping downstairs in a suspiciously plain T-shirt. “Turn around,” I said. “Let’s see the back.” He scowled but did comply. The clothing check was mandatory after that vomiting-skull sweatshirt he’d slipped out the door in last month. Okay. No drugs, profanity, or bodily fluids being expelled. But there was something. An abstract computer-ish symbol. A mouse? Possibly the nose, eyes, and whiskers of a mouse? Printed underneath was, Nibble, nibble. Until the whole sick scam rots through. I checked the clock: 7:38. Seven minutes before we absolutely had to be out the door, and I still hadn’t cleaned up the grape juice spill, dealt with my Frizz City hair, or checked the furnace. For twenty minutes, I’d been hearing ker-klacks, which my heart said was construction outside but my head worried could be the failing heater. How bad did I want to let Zach’s shirt slide? Bad. “Is that supposed to be a mouse?” I said. “Like an angry mouse?” “The Blind Mice,” my son replied. “Maybe you’ve heard, they’re overthrowing the corporatocracy?” His eyes bulged teen sarcasm underneath those bangs he refuses to get cut. “Wait,” I said, “that group that’s attacking big companies’ websites and factories?” “Government too.” He drew his face back ominously. “Anyone who’s part of the scam.” “And you’re wearing their shirt?” He shrugged. I would’ve dearly loved to engage Zach in a serious discussion of socioeconomic justice—I did my master’s thesis on the psychology of labor devaluation in communities—except we needed to go. In five minutes. “What if Principal Broadhead sees that?” I said. “Go change.” “No.” “Zach McGill, that shirt promotes domestic terrorism. You’ll get kicked out of school.” “Like half my friends wear it, Mom.” He thrust his hands into his pockets. Ugh. I had stepped in parenting quicksand. I’d issued a rash order and Zach had refused, and now I could either make him change, starting a blow-out fight and virtually guaranteeing I’d be late my first day on the job at First Mutual, or back down and erode my authority. “Wear a jacket,” I said—a poor attempt to limit the erosion, but the best I could do. “And don’t let your great-grandmother see that shirt.” Speaking of, I could hear Granny’s slippers padding around upstairs. She was into her morning routine, and would shortly—at the denture-rinsing phase—be shouting down that her sink was draining slow again; why hadn’t the damn plumber come yet? Because I hadn’t paid one. McGill Investigators, the PI business of which I was the founder and sole employee (yes, I realized the plural name was misleading), had just gone belly-up. Hence the temp job. Karen, my six-year-old, was seated cheerily beside her doll in front of orange juice and an Eggo Waffle. “Mommy!” she announced. “I get to ride to school with you today!” The doll’s lips looked sticky—OJ?—and the cat was eyeing Karen’s waffle across the table. “Honey, weren’t you going to ride the bus today?” I asked, shooing the cat, wiping the doll with a dishrag. Karen shook her head. “Bus isn’t running. I get to ride in the Prius, in Mommy’s Prius!” I felt simultaneous joy that Karen loved our new car—well, new to us: 120K miles as a rental, but it was a hybrid—and despair because I really couldn’t take her. School was in the complete opposite direction of New Jersey Transit. Even if I took the turnpike, which I loathed, I would miss my train. Fighting to address Karen calmly in a time crunch, I said, “Are you sure the bus isn’t running?” She nodded. I asked how she knew. “Bus driver said, ‘If the stoplights are blinking again in the morning, I ain’t taking you.’” She walked to the window and pointed. “See?” I joined her at the window, ignoring the driver’s grammatical example for the moment. Up and down my street, traffic lights flashed yellow. “Blind Mice, playa!” Zach puffed his chest. “Nibble, nibble. The lights had gone out every morning this week at rush hour. On Monday, the news had reported a bald eagle flew into a substation. On Tuesday, they’d said the outages were lingering for unknown reasons. I hadn’t seen the news yesterday. Did Zach know the Blind Mice were involved? Or was he just being obnoxious? “Great,” I muttered. “Bus won’t run because stoplights are out, but I’m free to risk our lives driving to school.” Karen gazed up at me, her eyes green like mine and trembling. A mirror of my stress. Pull it together, Molly. “Don’t worry,” I corrected myself. “I’ll take you. I will. Let me just figure a few things out.” Trying not to visualize myself walking into First Mutual forty-five minutes late, I took a breath. I patted through my purse for keys, sifting through rumpled Kleenex and receipts and granola-bar halves. Granny had made her way downstairs and was reading aloud from a bill-collection notice. Zach was texting, undoubtedly to friends about his lame mom. I felt air on my toes and looked down: a hole in my hose. Fantastic. I’d picked out my cutest work sandals, but somehow I doubted the look would hold up with toes poking out like mini-wieners. I wished I could shut my eyes, whisper some spell, and wake up in a different universe. Then the doorbell rang. CHAPTER TWO Quaid Rafferty waited on the McGills’ front porch with a winning smile. It had been ten months since he’d seen Molly, and he was eager to reconnect. Inside, there sounded a crash (pulled-over coatrack?), a smack (skateboard hitting wall?), and muffled cross-voices. Quaid fixed the lay of his sport coat lapels and kept waiting. His partner, Durwood Oak Jones, stood two paces back with his dog. Durwood wasn’t saying anything, but Quaid could feel the West Virginian’s disapproval—it pulsed from his blue jeans and cowboy hat. Quaid twisted from the door. “School morning, right? I’m sure she’ll be out shortly.” Durwood remained silent. He was on record saying they’d be better off with a more accomplished operative like Kitty Ravensdale or Sigrada the Serpent, but Quaid believed in Molly. He’d argued that McGill, a relative amateur, was just what they needed: a fresh-faced idealist. Now he focused on the door—and was pleased to hear the dead bolt turn within. He was less pleased when he saw the face that appeared in the door glass. The grandmother. “Why, color me damned!” began the septuagenarian, yanking open the screen door. “The louse returns. Whorehouses all kick you out?” Quaid strained to keep smiling. “How are you this fine morning, Eunice?” Her face stormed over. “What’re you here for?” “We’re hoping for a word with Molly if she’s around.” He opened his shoulders to give her a full view of his party, which included Durwood and Sue-Ann, his aged bluetick coonhound. They made for an admittedly odd sight. Quaid and Durwood shared the same vital stats, six one and 180-something pounds, but God himself couldn’t have created two more different molds. Quaid in a sport coat with suntanned wrists and mussed-just-so blond hair. Durwood removing his hat and casting steel-colored eyes humbly about, jeans pulled down over his boots’ piping. And Sue with her mottled coat, rasping like any breath could be her last. Eunice stabbed a finger toward Durwood. “He can come in—him I respect. But you need to turn right around. My granddaughter wants nothing to do with cads like you.” Behind her, a voice called, “Granny, I can handle this. Eunice ignored this. “You’re a no-good man. I know it, my granddaughter knows it.” Veins showed through the chicken-y skin of her neck. “Go on, hop a flight back to Vegas and all your whores!” Before Quaid could counter these aspersions, Molly appeared. His heart chirped in his chest. Molly was a little discombobulated, bending to put on a sandal, a kid’s jacket tucked under one elbow—but those dimples, that curvy body…even in the worst domestic throes, she could’ve charmed slime off a senator. He said, “Can’t you beat a seventy-four-year-old woman to the door?” Molly slipped on the second sandal. “Can we please just not? It’s been a crazy morning.” “I know the type.” Quaid smacked his hands together. “So hey, we have a job for you.” “You’re a little late—McGill Investigators went out of business. I have a real job starting in less than an hour.” “What kind?” “Reception,” she said. “Three months with First Mutual.” “Temp work?” Quaid asked. “I was supposed to start with the board of psychological examiners, but the position fell through.” “How come?” “Funding ran out. The governor disbanded the board.” “So First Mutual…?” Molly’s eyes, big and leprechaun green, fell. “It’s temp work, yeah.” “You’re criminally overqualified for that, McGill,” Quaid said. “Hear us out. Please.” She snapped her arms over her chest but didn’t stop Quaid as he breezed into the living room followed by Durwood and Sue-Ann, who wore no leash but kept a perfect twenty-inch heel by her master. Two kids poked their heads around the kitchen doorframe. Quaid waggled his fingers playfully at the girl. Molly said, “Zach, Karen—please wait upstairs. I’m speaking with these men.” The boy argued he should be able to stay; upstairs sucked; wasn’t she the one who said they had to leave, like, immedia— “This is not a negotiation,” Molly said in a new tone. They went upstairs. She sighed. “Now they’ll be late for school. I’m officially the worst mother ever.” Quaid glanced around the living room. The floor was clutter free, but toys jammed the shelves of the coffee table. Stray fibers stuck up from the carpet, which had faded beige from its original yellow or ivory. “No, you’re an excellent mother,” Quaid said. “You do what you believe is best for your children, which is why you’re going to accept our proposition.” The most effective means of winning a person over, Quaid had learned as governor of Massachusetts and in prior political capacities, was to identify their objective and articulate how your proposal brought it closer. Part two was always trickier. He continued, “American Dynamics is the client, and they have deep pockets. If you help us pull this off, all your money troubles go poof.” A glint pierced Molly’s skepticism. “Okay. I’m listening.” “You’ve heard of the Blind Mice, these anarchist hackers?” “I—well, yes, a little. Zach has their T-shirt.” Quaid, having met the boy on a few occasions, wasn’t shocked by the information. “Here’s the deal. We need someone to infiltrate them.” Molly blinked twice. Durwood spoke up, “You’d be great, Moll. You’re young. Personable. People trust you.” Molly’s eyes were grapefruits. “What did you call them, ‘anarchist hackers’? How would I infiltrate them? I just started paying bills online.” “No tech knowledge required,” Quaid said. “We have a plan.” He gave her the nickel summary. The Blind Mice had singled out twelve corporate targets, “the Despicable Dozen,” and American Dynamics topped the list. In recent months, AmDye had seen its websites crashed, its factories slowed by computer glitches, internal documents leaked, the CEO’s home egged repeatedly. Government agencies from the FBI to NYPD were pursuing the Mice, but the company was troubled by the lack of progress and so had hired Third Chance Enterprises to take them down. “Now if I accept,” Molly said, narrowing her eyes, “does that mean I’m officially part of Third Chance Enterprises?” Quaid exhaled at length. Durwood shook his head with an irked air—he hated the name, and considered Quaid’s branding efforts foolish. “Oh, Durwood and I have been at this freelance operative thing awhile.” Quaid smoothed his sport coat lapels. “Most cases we can handle between the two of us.” “But not this one.” “Right. Durwood’s a whiz with prosthetics, but even he can’t bring this”—Quaid indicated his own ruggedly handsome but undeniably middle-aged face—“back to twenty-five.” Molly’s eyes turned inward. Quaid’s instincts told him she was thinking of her children. She said, “Sounds dangerous.” “Nah.” He spread his arms, wide and forthright. “You’re working with the best here: the top small-force, private-arms outfit in the Western world. Very minimal danger.” Like the politician he’d once been, Quaid delivered this line of questionable veracity with full sincerity. Then he turned to his partner. “Right, Wood? She won’t have a thing to worry about. We’d limit her involvement to safe situations.” Durwood thinned his lips. “Do the best we could.” This response, typical of the soldier he’d once been, was unhelpful. Molly said, “Who takes care of my kids if something happens, if the Blind Mice sniff me out? Would I have to commit actual crimes?” “Unlikely.” Unlikely? I’ll tell you what’s unlikely, getting hired someplace, anyplace, with a felony conviction on your application…” As she thundered away, Quaid wondered if Durwood might not have been right in preferring a pro. The few times they’d used Molly McGill before had been secondary: posing as a gate agent during the foiled Delta hijacking, later as an archivist for the American embassy in Rome. They’d only pulled her into Rome because of her language skills—she spoke six fluently. “…also, I have to say,” she continued, and from the edge in her voice, Quaid knew just where they were headed, “I find it curious that I don’t hear from you for ten months, and then you need my help, and all of a sudden, I matter. All of a sudden, you’re on my doorstep.” “I apologize,” Quaid said. “The Dubai job ran long, then that Guadeloupean resort got hit by a second hurricane. We got busy. I should’ve called.” Molly’s face cooled a shade, and Quaid saw that he hadn’t lost her. Yet. Before either could say more, a heavy ker-klack sounded outside. “What’s the racket?” Quaid asked. He peeked out the window at his and Durwood’s Vanagon, which looked no more beat-up than usual. “It’s been going on all morning,” Molly said. “I figured it was construction.” Quaid said, “Construction in this economy?” He looked to Durwood. “I’ll check ’er out.” The ex-soldier turned for the door. Sue-Ann, heaving herself laboriously off the carpet, scuffled after. Alone now with Molly, Quaid walked several paces in. He doubled his sport coat over his forearm and passed a hand through his hair, using a foyer mirror to confirm the curlicues that graced his temples on his best days. This was where it had to happen. Quaid’s behavior toward Molly had been less than gallant, and that was an issue. Still, there were sound arguments at his disposal. He could play the money angle. He could talk about making the world safer for Molly’s children. He could point out that she was meant for greater things, appealing to her sense of adventure, framing the job as an escape from the hamster wheel and entrée to a bright world of heroes and villains. He believed in the job. Now he just needed her to believe too. CHAPTER THREE Durwood walked north. Sue-Ann gimped along after, favoring her bum hip. Paws echoed bootheels like sparrows answering blackbirds. They found their noise at the sixth house on the left. A crew of three men was working outside a small home. Two-story like Molly’s. The owner had tacked an addition onto one side, prefab sunroom. The men were working where the sunroom met the main structure. Dislodging nails, jackhammering between fiberglass and brick. Tossing panels onto a stack. “Pardon,” Durwood called. “Who you boys working for?” One man pointed to his earmuffs. The others paid Durwood no mind whatsoever. Heavyset men. Big stomachs and muscles. Durwood walked closer. “Those corner boards’re getting beat up. Y’all got a permit I could see?” The three continued to ignore him. The addition was poorly done to begin with, the cornice already sagging. Shoddy craftsmanship. That didn’t mean the owners deserved to have it stolen for scrap. The jackhammer was plugged into an outside GFI. Durwood caught its cord with his bootheel. “The hell?” said the operator as his juice cut. Durwood said, “You’re thieves. You’re stealing fiberglass.” The men denied nothing. One said, “Call the cops. See if they come.” Sue-Ann bared her gums. Durwood said, “I don’t believe we need to involve law enforcement,” and turned back south for the Vanagon. Crime like this—callous, brash—was a sign of the times.  People were sore about this “new economy,” how well the rich were making out. Groups like the Blind Mice thought it gave them a right to practice lawlessness.   Lawlessness, Durwood knew, was like a plague. Left unchecked, it spread. Even now, besides this sunroom dismantling, Durwood saw a half dozen offenses in plain sight. Low-stakes gambling on a porch. Coaxials looped across half the neighborhood roofs: cable splicing. A Rottweiler roaming off leash. Each stuck in Durwood’s craw. He walked a half block to the Vanagon. He hunted around inside, boots clattering the bare metal floor. Pushed aside Stinger missiles in titanium casings. Squinted past crates of frag grenades in the bulkhead he’d jiggered himself from ponderosa pine. Here she was—a pressurized tin of black ops epoxy. Set quick enough to repel a flash air strike, strong enough to hold a bridge. Durwood had purchased it for the Dubai job. According to his supplier, Yakov, the stuff smelled like cinnamon when it dried. Something to do with chemistry. Durwood removed the tin from its box and brushed off the pink Styrofoam packing Yakov favored. Then allowed Sue a moment to ease herself down to the curb before they started back north. Passing Molly’s house, Durwood glimpsed her through the living room window. She was listening to Quaid, fingers pressed to her forehead. Quaid was lying. Which was nothing new, Quaid stretching the truth to a woman. But these lies involved Molly’s safety. Fact was, they knew very little of the Blind Mice. Their capabilities, their willingness to harm innocents. The leader, Josiah, was a reckless troublemaker. He spewed his nonsense on Twitter, announcing targets ahead of time, talking about his own penis. The heavyset men were back at it. One on the roof. The other two around back of the sunroom, digging up the slab. Durwood set down the epoxy. The men glanced over but kept jackhammering. They would not be the first, nor last, to underestimate this son of an Appalachian coal miner. The air compressor was set up on the lawn. Durwood found the main pressure valve and cranked its throat full open. The man on the roof had his ratchet come roaring out of his hands. He slid down the grade, nose rubbing vinyl shingles, and landed in petunias. Back on his feet, the man swore. “Mind your language,” Durwood said. “There’s families in the neighborhood.” The other two hustled over, shovels at their shoulders. The widest of the three circled to Durwood’s backside. Sue-Ann coiled her old bones to strike. Ugliness roiled Durwood’s gut. Big Man punched first. Durwood caught his fist, torqued his arm behind his back. The next man swung his shovel. Durwood charged underneath and speared his chest. The man wheezed sharply, his lung likely punctured. The third man got hold of Durwood’s bootheel, smashed his elbow into the hollow of Durwood’s knee. Durwood scissored the opposite leg across the man’s throat. He gritted his teeth and clenched. He felt the man’s Adam’s apple wriggling between his legs. A black core in Durwood yearned to squeeze. He resisted. The hostiles came again, and Durwood whipped them again. Automatically, in a series of beats as natural to him as chirping to a katydid. The men’s faces changed from angry to scared to incredulous. Finally, they stayed down. “Now y’all are helping fix that sunroom.” Durwood nodded to the epoxy tin. “Mix six to one, then paste ’er on quick.” Luckily, he’d caught the thieves early, and the repair was uncomplicated. Clamp, glue, drill. The epoxy should increase the R-value on the sunroom ten, fifteen, units. Good for a few bucks off the gas bill in winter, anyhow. Durwood did much of the work himself. He enjoyed the panels’ weight, the strength of a well-formed joint. His muscles felt free and easy as if he were home ridding the sorghum fields of johnsongrass. Done, he let the thieves go. He turned back south toward Molly’s house. Sue-Ann scrabbled alongside. “Well, ole girl?” he said. “Let’s see how Quaid made out.” CHAPTER FOUR I stood on my front porch watching the Vanagon rumble down Sycamore. My toes tingled, my heart was tossing itself against the walls of my chest, and I was pretty sure my nose had gone berserk. How else could I be smelling cinnamon? Quaid Rafferty’s last words played over and over in my head: We need you. For twenty minutes, after Durwood had taken his dog to investigate ker-klacks, Quaid had given me the hard sell. The money would be big-time. I had the perfect skills for the assignment: guts, grace under fire, that youthful je ne sais quoi. Wasn’t I always saying I ought to be putting my psychology skills to better use? Well, here it was: understanding these young people’s outrage would be a major component of the job. Some people will anticipate your words and mumble along. Quaid did something similar but with feelings, cringing at my credit issues, brightening with whole-face joy at Karen’s reading progress—which I was afraid would suffer if I got busy and didn’t keep up her nightly practice. He was pitching me, yes. But he genuinely cared what was happening in my life. I didn’t know how to think about Quaid, how to even fix him in my brain. He and Durwood were so far outside any normal frame of reference. Were they even real? Did I imagine them? Their biographies were epic. Quaid the twice-elected (once-impeached) governor of Massachusetts who now battled villains across the globe and lived at Caesars Palace. Durwood a legend of the Marine Corps, discharged after defying his commanding officer and wiping out an entire Qaeda cell to avenge the death of his wife. I’d met them during my own unreal adventure—the end of my second marriage, which had unraveled in tragedy in the backwoods of West Virginia. They’d recruited me for three missions since. Each was like a huge, brilliant dream—the kind that’s so vital and packed with life that you hang on after you wake up, clutching backward into sleep to stay inside. Granny said, “That man’s trouble. If you have any sense in that stubborn head of yours, you’ll steer clear.” I stepped back into the living room, the Vanagon long gone, and allowed my eyes to close. Granny didn’t know the half of it. She had huffed off to watch her judge shows on TV before the guys had even mentioned the Blind Mice. No, she meant a more conventional trouble. “I’ve learned,” I said. “If I take this job, it won’t be for romance. I’d be doing it for me. For the family.” As if cued by the word “family,” a peal of laughter sounded upstairs. Children! My eyes zoomed to the clock. It was 8:20. Zach would be lucky to make first hour, let alone homeroom. In a single swipe, I scooped up the Prius keys and both jackets. My purse whorled off my shoulder like some supermom prop. “Leaving now!” I called up the stairwell. “Here we go, kids—laces tied, backpacks zipped.” Zach trudged down, leaning his weight into the rail. Karen followed with sunny-careful steps. I sped through the last items on my list—tossed a towel over the grape juice, sloshed water onto the roast, considered my appearance in the microwave door, and just frowned, beyond caring. Halfway across the porch, Granny’s fingers closed around my wrist. “Promise me,” she said, “that you will not associate with Quaid Rafferty. Promise me you won’t have one single thing to do with that lowlife.” I looked past her to the kitchen, where the cat was kinking herself to retch Eggo Waffle onto the linoleum. “I’m sorry, Granny.” I patted her hand, freeing myself. “It’s something I have to do.” *** Excerpt from Anarchy of the Mice by Jeff Bond. Copyright 2020 by Jeff Bond. Reproduced with permission from Jeff Bond. All rights reserved.

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Author Bio:

Jeff Bond Jeff Bond is an American author of popular fiction. His books have been featured in The New York Review of Books, and his 2020 release, The Pinebox Vendetta, received the gold medal (top prize) in the 2020 Independent Publisher Book Awards. A Kansas native and Yale graduate, he now lives in Michigan with his wife and two daughters.

Catch Up With Jeff Bond On: JeffBondBooks.com BookBub Goodreads Instagram Twitter Facebook!

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#BookTour “Zone of Action” by Cathy Skendrovich

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Romantic Suspense

Date Published: 7/27/2020

Publisher: Entangled Publishing

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 Former terror cell expert Audrey Jenkins has seen enough death and destruction to last a lifetime. When she uncovers her ex, Brett, a
higher-ranking officer in her unit, selling military secrets, she turns him in and returns to the simpler life she has embraced since leaving the army.
CID Special Agent Cam Harris is a career military man with a strong sense of duty. When a military prisoner who once saved his life in Afghanistan escapes while in his custody, he requests the assignment to track him down.
Cam’s manhunt leads him to Audrey’s door. His prisoner—her
ex—will resurface here, he’s sure of it. The feisty woman wants
nothing to do with hunting down her ex, but when a terror cell she’s
all-too-familiar with launches a deadly attack on army intelligence soldiers
and officers, she knows it’s Brett. Helping Cam is the right thing to
do. But the attraction burning between them may be the mistake that gets her
and Cam killed…

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EXCERPT

Her tears had stopped. She should release him. But a new storm threatened. She hadn’t been with a man since Brett, hadn’t trusted her choices in companions.

Brett’s defection, and subsequent courtroom nastiness, had cautioned her into remaining celibate. He’d been so far from what she’d imagined, she’d decided to swear off men. That had been easy until Cameron appeared on her horizon.

His hot body in a uniform plus overall good looks had snared her attention at the court martial, as well as Elena’s. They’d salivated over him at the time, and then moved on. They’d returned to work, and she’d begun to pick up the pieces after Brett. She didn’t need a man to be fulfilled. Or so she thought. By the way she was reacting to Cam now, she realized her attraction from back then had only lain dormant. His kindness, gentleness, and quiet strength had awakened her desires. God, she felt protected in his embrace. Protected and aroused.

The arousal part scared her. Here she was, finding another soldier wildly attractive. If she was smart, she’d push him away, thank him for his kindness, and call it a night. He wouldn’t insist. He’d already proven he was a gentleman. He was nothing like Brett.

Since she’d met him a few days ago, he’d been only professional and understanding, quietly strong and reliable through the home invasion, the fire, and now their flight into the wilderness. He’d never come on to her, had simply offered opinions while listening to her explanations. She had no idea whether he looked at her that way or not. He’d make a significant poker player, with no hint of what he was thinking visible to another person. Perhaps that was why she was getting more turned on as the seconds ticked by. She’d love to see him lose control.

Brett never had. He’d always been in full control in the bedroom, as well as in the war room. His orgasms had been quiet, disciplined releases, and she’d stifled her screams to match his restraint. She had no idea whether Cam would be the same. Maybe she was destined to only be attracted to cold fish.

She pressed closer to him and felt his arousal between them. So, not a cold fish. She raised her head and opened her eyes. His dark brown ones stared back at her, a glint of confused desire in their depths.

“What the hell are you doing, Audrey?” His voice was hoarse, questioning. He stepped back, arms dropping to his sides. And ran a hand over his face. She took a step forward. Their chests touched. His gaze never left hers. “What are you doing?”

Her heart skipped a beat. It had been a long, long time since she’d acted on a sexual attraction. Part of her wanted to turn tail and run to her room. It wasn’t too late. She could still keep face. A larger part of her wanted to remove Brett’s final hold on her. She didn’t want her last lover to be a traitor. She met his look head on.

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About the Author

Cathy Skendrovich has always loved a good story, and spent her formative
years scribbling what is now called Fan Fiction. The current heartthrob of
the time featured heavily in all her stories. Unfortunately, once she went
to college, her writing took the form of term papers, written on typewriters
instead of computer keyboards.

Upon graduation, Cathy took a job as an English teacher in a middle school.
Along the way, she married her husband of thirty-six years, and had two
sons. Now an empty nester, she and her husband have embarked on their own
adventure, moving to Idaho to live overlooking a pond.

Romantic suspense has always been her favorite genre to read and write,
though she has dabbled in historical romance. Creating an unpredictable
storyline is her goal, and she hopes she has done so in her current and
previous books. Prisoner of Love is her first published novel, followed
closely by The Pirate’s Bride, The Pirate Bride’s Holiday Masquerade,
and Undercover with the Nanny. Zone of Action is her fifth book, and her
first military suspense. For research, she asks her son in Army Intelligence
for up to the minute information. Lately, he’s stopped taking her
calls.

 

Contact Links

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#BookTour “The Vessels” by Anna M. Elias

The Vessels by Anna M. Elias Banner

on Tour July 1 – August 31, 2020

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Synopsis:

 

What if you could help those who’ve passed on get a second chance—but at the risk of your own life?

Four broken strangers volunteer to become the first humans in North America to join the international VESSELS program. Their bodies will host the Spirits who seek to right past wrongs and earn a chance at Elysium. Disguised inside a homeless shelter in Reno, the program is facilitated by a retired Army officer, a former ER Doctor, and a tech-savvy teen who tracks the Spirits merged with their Vessels through an ancient ritual on the Anaho Indian Reservation. The Vessels only have seven days to succeed—and to survive. But when the vengeful spirit of a serial killer enters one of them, they learn not all Spirits are here for redemption.

Book Details:

Genre: Supernatural Thriller

Published by: Vesuvian Books

Publication Date: July 14, 2020

Number of Pages: 326

ISBN: 1944109080 (ISBN13: 9781944109080)

Purchase Links: Amazon Goodreads

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Read an excerpt:

Though the wide mirror made the tiny room feel big, it had the opposite effect on Tal. She splashed water on her face. Her reflection seemed to shrink in the big glass, making her feel like a single speck of humanity on a vast planet in an endless universe. A lone Vessel housing the infinity of Spirit. She splashed more water and blinked. A more present and focused woman blinked back—one who wasn’t much different than the woman who had been uprooted from her old life in Pittsburgh. But she had accepted an insane job as a ghost host and had been branded with her very first tattoo. Her badge and gun were gone, and the concept of “protect and serve” now meant something else entirely. Tal grabbed one of the soft white towels and dried her face. The cloth smelled fresh and clean, like air-dried linen—it was homey, comforting She caught her own gaze in the mirror one more time. That frightened, hopeless woman from the pawnshop window two weeks ago was gone. A more confident person replaced her—equally uncertain but willing and ready to face a new and unpredictable future. Perhaps her change was more like the grown-up happy child after all, and less like the dried up pool full of leaves and dirt. A sudden pain stabbed her left ankle, and the skin around her new tattoo seemed to—move. Tal sat on the bed, yanked up her pant leg and crossed her left foot over her right knee. While most of the iridescent vines shimmered normally, a small cluster at the center of her inside leg were twisting together into a small circular mark at her ankle. They pulled in the hidden SObY letters, elongating and absorbing them to form a kind of Celtic or Romanesque knot made of iridescent vines. Her flesh burned slightly as the center of the twisting knot opened and a tiny image took shape. The figure was more primitive and cryptic, like a totem carving or cave painting, but it definitely had wings. One last vine connected and the twisting stopped. So did the pain. Tal inhaled sharply. She held her breath, steeled her nerve, and touched the mark. Though the texture looked different, and though the mark was round against the straight, interconnected tendrils of the tattoo that circled her leg, the skin felt the same on both. Tal exhaled and closed her eyes, unable to discern where one ended and the other began. When she opened her eyes again, she caught the symbol’s shrouded image for a fleeting moment before it finished. What she’d thought was a primitive knot or ancient medallion of vines turned out to be—a nest. At its center, the angel figure had become an enigmatic, nearly invisible dove clutching a vine in its beak like an olive branch. The mark twisted closed, hiding the nest and bird inside. Goosebumps tore up and down Tal’s skin. She shifted to the nearby desk and fired up her computer. Her trembling fingers flew over the keyboard as she researched images of doves, dove symbolism, the “Serve Others” expression, and any other ideas the tattoo inspired. Her search turned up a host of disparate sites—from the dove above Jesus at his baptism, to white birds being released at weddings and funerals, to recipes on preparing tasty squab. Nothing reflected this tattoo or its particular elements. “This is crazy,” she mumbled, working her shoulders to unstick the tension. “That many Vessels in the world, spanning decades, and not a single image or hit?” *** Excerpt from The Vessels by Anna M. Elias. Copyright 2020 by Anna M. Elias. Reproduced with permission from Vesuvian Books. All rights reserved.

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Author Bio:

Anna M. Elias Anna Elias is a screenwriter who began her career as Don Johnson’s assistant on Miami Vice. She’s worked on feature films such as Nell, The Rainmaker, The Client, 12 Monkeys, A Time to Kill, and Practical Magic. She has written and co-written spec films, TV scripts, and award-winning shorts. Anna’s passion for justice translates to her work. This was especially true on the set of John Grisham’s A Time to Kill. Canton, Mississippi had just suffered great racial hardship and division in a Mayoral race. With Anna’s encouragement, the movie crew made extra efforts to befriend, buy from, and work with the townspeople, and it served to break down walls of inequality and injustice that had divided the town for decades. The impact was so positive that Dan Rather traveled there to tape a 2-part special for 48 Hours.

Catch Up With Anna M. Elias On: AnnaMElias.com, Instagram, Twitter, & 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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Enter To Win!!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Anna M. Elias and Vesuvian Books. There will be 2 winners. One winner will receive an Amazon.com Gift Card and One winner will win THE VESSELS by Anna M. Elias (print). The giveaway begins on July 1, 2020 and runs through September 2, 2020. Open to U.S. addresses only. Void where prohibited.

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#Excerpt “Undying Witch” by B. Austin

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(A Dysfunctional Family of Witches Prequel)

 Dark Fantasy

 Date Published: October 1, 2019

Publisher: Spellbound Books

 

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The illegitimate granddaughter of Catherine the Great finds a shapeshifting stone and discovers the magic to be young and live forever. Years later, Dima’s teenage daughter resents a mother who is 112 years old but shifts into a woman young enough to be her sister.  Medea loathes a mother who loves her 17 cats more than she does her daughter. Medea despises a mother who claims all witchcraft as her magic and treats her daughter like a slave. In secret, Medea develops her own sorcery.

Purchase Link

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UNDYING WITCH

A Dysfunctional Family of Witches

Prequel

By B. Austin

Excerpt

Magical powers sometimes came during times of panic to those who have always had the magic in their physical chemistry.

With the power of her mind, Medea slammed the back-kitchen door in Nick-Nick’s face.

Her mother’s lover spun to the other exit.

She slammed the door leading from the kitchen to the living room.

With one nod of her head, she sealed the kitchen windows.

She locked Nick-Nick into the kitchen with magic. He could not even break a window with a hammer.

It was dark by now and Nick-Nick had no neighbors behind him, just some scary-looking woods.

With one piercing look, Medea lit up all four burners of the stove.

She shook her head and the flames roared from the stove to the ceiling.

Nick-Nick pounded on a kitchen window, screaming at Medea, “Witch, let me out!”

He would have murdered me, Medea thought as she watched the kitchen burn.

She never even flinched as the flames spread to Nick-Nick and he seemed to melt like wax. She could smell the stink of burning flesh.

When Nick-Nick crumpled from her view of the window to the kitchen floor, Medea blinked her eyes, putting out the flames.

Medea then dragged out the scorched body. Thank goodness his neighbors really did mind their own business. She planned to bury Nick-Nick but then she heard the fire trucks roaring up the street.

Medea let go of Nick-Nick’s burned hands and ran to the car in the driveway.

Oh Christ! I murdered a capo of the Mafia!

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About the Author

B. Austin grew up in the Land of Enchantment, New Mexico. She was told true tales of witches by her superstitious family. Before writing full time, she toiled in tech as a software engineer. She currently lives in Florida. She, also, writes under the name of Belinda Austin.

 

 

 

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