06 October, 2022

October 06, 2022 0

Read an #Excerpt from Fallout by Carrie Stuart Parks - #Suspense @partnersincr1me

 

Fallout

by Carrie Stuart Parks

September 12 - October 7, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

Fallout by Carrie Stuart Parks

Her carefully crafted life is about to be demolished.

After a difficult childhood, Samantha Williams craves simplicity: jigsaw puzzles, lectures at the library, and the students she adores in her role as an elementary art teacher in the dusty farming community of LaCrosse, Washington.

But when an SUV crashes into the school where she teaches, her entire world is upended. She manages to keep all of the children safe, but her car isn’t so lucky. Oddly, her purse—containing her driver’s license, credit cards, and other identification—is missing from the wreckage.

After authorities discover that the driver in the school accident was shot seconds before the crash, Samantha quickly becomes entangled in increasingly strange events that have her looking over her shoulder.

Samantha has long tried to forget the tragedy of her past, but the twisting maze she discovers between the murdered driver, a deadly secret government project, and an abandoned town can't be ignored. Those involved are determined to keep these secrets buried, and they’ll use any means necessary to stop Samantha’s search for truth.

Praise for Fallout:

"An intriguing story based on events around a part of Washington. Tight timeline with tons of action. Twists and turns that will keep readers engaged and guessing. I enjoyed this book and recommend it to those who want a whisper of romance included with the mystery."

Book Details:

Genre: Suspense
Published by: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: September 13th 2022
Number of Pages: 336
ISBN: 0785239855 (ISBN13: 9780785239857)
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | ChristianBook | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Prologue

Hanford, Washington
November 23, 1988

The November wind blew across the almost-barren plain, attempting to leach any warmth from the man’s black wool coat. He pulled the woolen balaclava higher on his nose and wished he’d worn goggles. The wind raised icy tears that blurred his vision.

Snow clung to the scant protection offered by basalt outcroppings and meager shrubs.

The moon provided weedy light, enough to avoid the sagebrush and tumbleweeds, but not enough to reveal the ground squirrels’ burrows. He’d fallen twice.

He paused for a moment to check his compass. He figured he’d covered about six of the eight miles. There was little chance he’d be detected. He’d approached the area by boat on the Columbia River, which flowed down the eastern side of the remote facility in South Central Washington State. Though the site was massive—570 square miles—the roads were heavily patrolled. After all, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation was the largest producer of postwar nuclear weapons.

Hanford’s creation of the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, had provided the turning point in World War II. Afterward, the plant morphed into a Cold War arsenal against the Soviet Union until the last nuclear reactor finally shut down just a year ago.

He’d chosen the date carefully—Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. All the staff and workers would have left early in preparation for the holidays. Only a minimal number of employees would be working, and they’d not be inclined to venture into the frigid night.

Though he’d been on the Hanford Site since he’d left the river, his goal was the Hanford Tank Farms. The tanks held 53 million gallons of the highest-level radioactive waste found in the United States. He would be targeting the SY Tank Farm, three double-shelled waste storage units built between 1974 and 1976, located at the 200 West site. The tanks at this location were each capable of holding 1.16 million gallons of nuclear waste.

He shifted the backpack slightly. The bomb, made with C-4, was safe enough from his jostling cross-country run. It took a detonator to set off the explosion, which he’d rig once the materials were in place.

The tanks themselves were built of one-foot-thick reinforced steel and concrete and had been buried under eight feet of dirt, but the hydrogen from the slurry had built up in these particular tanks to dangerous levels. He didn’t need to reach the tanks themselves, only disable the exhaust vent and the temperature thermocouple assembly. He knew no maintenance work was going on around the tanks that might create a spark or heat, so chance of discovery was extremely slim.

He paused for a moment to catch his breath. He’d paddled down the treacherous icy river, then jogged for miles, but his fury fueled his drive. In February of 1986, the Department of Energy had released nineteen thousand pages of documents describing the declassified history of the Hanford operations. Hints of a darker truth were written between the lines, and more evidence came out in the batch of documents released the following year. Everyone else would have missed it, but he’d been able to piece the sequence of events together.

They’d grown rich while he’d been discarded like so much trash.

Now was his time to get even.

He’d use the threat of the bomb to force the acknowledgment of their role and his own innocence. Anything less than the possibility of a Chernobyl-size disaster would lead to a governmental cover up.

A massive press conference. Facts and figures. Undeniable evidence.

In the meantime, he’d personally take care of those directly responsible.

He increased his pace. Soon now.

He knew this part of the facility well.

He found the location he’d identified before, knelt beside the various ports, detectors, and vents, and swiftly assembled the parts according to the bomb-maker’s directions. All that was left was the trigger mechanism. He’d placed it in a secure box inside his backpack.

The box was gone.

He ran his hands over the backpack again. Then again. Then a third time. It was gone. Did I forget to pack it? No. It was here in this backpack when he’d left home.

He broke out in a clammy sweat and rocked back on his heels. How could this have happened? Where had it dropped out? Could it be back in the boat? Somewhere on the ground between here and the river’s edge? Separated from him when he fell?

Calm down. He had a backup. Even if he didn’t find the trigger, all it would take is a reasonable-sized explosion on the surface to start the process.

If it took the rest of his miserable life, he’d carry out his plan. They wouldn’t get away with it. Not this time.

One

September 2015

Bam! Bam! An engine roared, growing louder, closer.

I glanced up from the shading technique I was demonstrating for my elementary-school art class.

A black Suburban was barreling across the parking lot directly at my classroom.

“Run!” I screamed.

The children didn’t hesitate, bolting for the door. I shoved the last boy outside toward the gym just as the Suburban smashed into the side of the building and plowed into the room. The portable classroom moved with a screech. Desks, chairs, books, glass, and chunks of the wall and ceiling exploded in a cacophony of sound and movement. Metal fragments, shattered glass, and hunks of wood pelted me. I found myself outside next to the gym doors, not knowing how I got there. I curled up and covered my head, praying nothing would crash down on me.

Hissssssssss. The stench of an overheated engine and hot rubber made me gag.

The crushed front of the Suburban had shoved the classroom into a covered storage shed before punching through the opposite wall. Fluids hissed and dripped from under the smashed hood, right beside me. The shed had collapsed onto the SUV.

I was shaking so hard I didn’t think I could get my legs to work. The children.

Don’t worry about the children. Someone will help them. Someone will help me. I just needed to stay put. I’m safe here.

But they wouldn’t respond to someone calling to them. I taught them to be cautious.

If I move, the roof will come down on me. I’ll be crushed. Stay put and be safe. Someone will come for me.

But my students are frightened. I need to help them. Heavenly Father, help me.

I placed my hands on the ground. White powder drifted down on my head. Carefully I crawled away from the SUV.

The beam shifted, sliding sideways.

My crawl became a scramble.

The beam shrieked as it slid across the metal desk holding it up.

I plunged, then rolled away.

The roof of the shed slammed against the ground, sending up more dust and powder.

Leaning against the school, I waited until I could catch my breath. The glass in the door to the gym beside me had shattered. I couldn’t see anything of the driver. I slipped through the frame, wincing at the stabs of pain from the hurtled projectiles.

Ahead of me was a second door leading to the front of the school. A quick glance into the gym showed it empty. I was pretty sure the children had raced through both sets of doors, scattered, and found safety. I’d trained my class of first-through-third graders on what to do in case of an emergency or active shooter. The school board had rolled their eyes at me, assuring me that this was covered in the student handbook and that school shootings wouldn’t happen in a sleepy farming community like LaCrosse, Washington, population 330.

I’d finally convinced them. They allowed the drills and the self-defense class I offered on Tuesday evenings.

Fortunately, my art class was an after-school event, and the rest of the school was essentially empty. We met in a portable building because some of the classrooms were under repair for water damage.

I staggered outside. Mr. Parsons, the school maintenance man, rushed over to me.

“Samantha? Sam? Miss Williams? Are you all right? You’re bleeding. What happened?”

“Help me find the children first.”

“They’re fine. They ran as you taught them.” We looked around the manicured lawns in front of the school buildings.

“Olly olly oxen free!” I called out, voice shaking. I cleared my throat and tried again. “Olly olly oxen free!”

Slowly my class emerged from their hiding places. I counted them as they appeared. Please, Lord . . . Five, six, seven, eight . . . nine. All present and accounted for. My stomach tightened on what could have happened, would have happened, if even one of them had paused to ask, Why run?

“Aren’t you supposed to just say ‘all clear’?” Mr. Parsons asked.

“I know the handbook says that, but anyone could access the emergency plans and use them against the children.”

Several of the children had tear streaks running down their faces, but as soon as they caught sight of me, they started to giggle.

“Miss Williams, you’re all white!”

“You have stuff all over you!”

“You should see yourself!”

I looked down. I was indeed covered in a white powder, probably from the recently installed smashed Sheetrock and insulation. “Oh my. It looks like I’ve turned into the magical snowman.”

“Nooo!” The giggles grew louder. “It’s not winter!”

I bent forward to be on eye level with most of them. “Maybe I’ve become Belle, the white Great Pyrenees from Belle and Sebastien?

“That’s a dog.” The giggles became high-pitched laughter.

I grinned at them. “How about Casper, the friendly ghost?”

The kids were now laughing so hard they couldn’t answer for a moment. Finally Bethany gasped out, “You’re not dead.”

Thank You, Lord. I straightened. “Well then, if I’m not a snowman, dog, or ghost, I must be Miss Williams, and you know what that means.” As they eagerly lined up, I said, “‘I am not afraid of storms . . .’”

“‘For I am learning how to sail my ship,’” the children finished.

Leave it to children’s books. As they approached me, each one gave me a sign as to what type of interaction they wanted. Hands out to the side, a hug. Hand held up in the air, a high five. Closed hand, a fist bump. Right hand sideways, a handshake.

They all wanted hugs.

So did I.

Bethany was the last in line. I tried not to hug her the longest. Teachers aren’t supposed to have favorites.

The school buildings rested on a hill facing the town park. The wail of sirens and stream of cars and trucks announced the arrival of help and parents. I moved my small huddle of children around to the front toward the parking lot so their folks could find them. The parents, once reunited with their son or daughter, peppered me with questions.

“What happened?”

“Was anyone hurt?”

“Was that a drunk driver?”

“Are you okay?”

As I stumbled through various versions of “I don’t know,” a deputy from the Whitman County Sheriff’s Department strolled over. He had to be at least six foot three inches tall, with silver hair, thick black eyebrows, and dark brown eyes that looked like they’d ferret out the facts of any case. He smelled of cigarettes. His name tag said R. Adams. “Ma’am. Looks like you were in the building when the accident happened.”

“Yes. Is the driver—”

“Come with me.” He had a slight New York accent. We walked to the gym, then around to the back side where the accident happened. I had to trot to keep up with him.

“Do you know if the driver is okay?”

His long stride covered a lot of ground. “We don’t know yet.”

The raised gravel parking area near the gym was filling with the LaCrosse ambulance, volunteer fire department, and sheriff’s department vehicles. People were rushing around like ants in a disturbed mound. The Suburban was completely buried under the collapsed roof, and a large group of men and women were working to clear the debris.

Deputy Adams led me to the ambulance where an EMT waited. “Are you hurt?”

“I don’t think—”

“You have a cut on your head.” The EMT had me sit while he checked me over.

Deputy Adams kept an eye on the rescue efforts as he pulled out a small notebook. “You got all the children out safely?”

I winced as the EMT removed a sliver of glass from my hairline. “By the grace of God, yes. They’re all on their way home.”

He nodded and gave me a slight smile, softening his face. “Absolutely. How many people were in the SUV?”

“I don’t know.” I told him about what sounded like gunfire and the sound of an engine and getting the children clear of the room. I left out my cowering in the debris.

“Gunfire? Are you sure?”

“It could have been backfire.”

He looked around, then motioned for an officer to come over. They spoke for a few moments before the man left.

I glanced over at the gathered first responders, parents, and neighbors. What if—

“When did you first see the SUV?” Deputy Adams asked.

I pointed. “He, or whoever was driving, must have come up either First or Hill Avenue, crossed this lot, then shot straight into the building.”

A farmer drove up on a John Deere tractor and began lifting larger chunks of rubble with the bucket.

After the deputy took my name, address, and phone number, he handed me a business card. “I’ll be contacting you soon for your statement. You might want to head home as soon as possible. We want to clear the area.” He strolled away.

More people had arrived and pitched in to free the SUV and its occupants. A truck with a Miller Construction sign on the side parked next to us. Men in hard hats, work boots, and lime-green safety vests got out and set to work.

A pregnant woman in her thirties with long, dark hair pulled into a french braid drifted over and hovered nearby. When the EMT finished putting a bandage on my head and moved away, she approached me. “Hi. I’m Mary Thompson. I overheard you talking to that deputy. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”

“I guess. You’re a reporter?”

“No. Copywriter for a medical company in Spokane.” She rolled her eyes. “Boooooring. You’re Samantha Williams?”

I nodded.

“Well, Samantha—”

“Call me Sam.”

She grinned. “Sam then. You saved all those children. You’re so brave. I would have been scared out of my mind.”

Warmth burned up my neck and across my cheeks. “I . . . ah . . . so . . . um . . . what brought you to LaCrosse from Spokane?” I stood. “That’s 86.9 miles from here.”

“I was already here.”

An officer started herding the onlookers away from the crash. “Move on, folks. Nothing for you to do here.”

“Come on,” Mary grabbed my elbow and pulled me into the shade under a tree.

My brain was buzzing from the adrenaline and all the activity. “I’m sorry. I’m a little—”

“I bet you are. I guess I should start at the beginning. I’m following the story about the body they found last week. And the one they just found.” She waved her hand at the construction workers.

“Bodies?” I knew I was out of touch with the news. I didn’t own a television, computer, or phone. “What bodies? Wait . . . I’m not sure I want to know.” My legs started to buckle.

“Let me help you.” Mary grabbed my arm and helped me sit on a patch of grass. She sat next to me. “Can I get you something or—”

“No, I’ll be fine. Just a little woozy.”

“Take your time.”

Most of the onlookers had now moved around to the front of the school. With nothing to see, they started wandering back to their homes or cars.

She cleared her throat. “So do you want to talk about what just happened or—”

“No. You go ahead. You said there was a body . . . or was it two? Here at the school?”

“No, of course not. I followed someone to here and . . .” She paused at my expression. “I’m not weird or a stalker.” She twisted her lips. “As you can see, I’m pregnant. The baby’s father, my husband, Mike, disappeared two months ago. I reported it to the police but they’re not doing anything. I mean, he could be dead!”

I blinked at her. “Why would you think that?”

“Mike had—I guess you’d call it a wild streak. He had . . . questionable friends. Some issues with drugs in the past, stuff like that.” She absently rubbed her stomach. “I thought the baby would . . . redirect him.” She looked at me. “He’s a good man, just impulsive. And he’d never leave me. Not now. Not without telling me . . . something.”

I took a deep breath. The shaking threatened to start again. “So you thought one of the bodies—”

“Could be Mike.” She swiped a hand across her eyes. “That deputy.” She pointed to Deputy Adams. “I was told he was the investigator on the case. I’ve been following him around trying to get him to talk to me, but he says it’s an active case and won’t talk about it. I followed him here to the school earlier—he has kids here that he was picking up—and was giving it one last go around.”

“Did you find out anything?”

“No. Not yet.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a leather-bound notebook. “I keep track of everything.” She flipped it open and fanned the pages, displaying a mass of tightly written notes. “I won’t give up until I know for sure.”

***

Excerpt from Fallout by Carrie Stuart Parks. Copyright 2022 by Carrie Stuart Parks. Reproduced with permission from Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Carrie Stuart Parks

Carrie Stuart Parks is a Christy, multiple Carol, and Inspy Award–winning author. She was a 2019 finalist in the Daphne du Maurier Award for excellence in mainstream mystery/suspense and has won numerous awards for her fine art as well. An internationally known forensic artist, she travels with her husband, Rick, across the US and Canada teaching courses in forensic art to law-enforcement professionals. The author/illustrator of numerous books on drawing and painting, Carrie continues to create dramatic watercolors from her studio in the mountains of Idaho.

Catch Up With Carrie Stuart Parks:
www.CarrieStuartParks.com
Goodreads
BookBub - @CarrieStuartParks
Instagram - @carriestuarparks
Facebook - @CarrieStuartParksAuthor

 

 

Tour Participants:

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

 

 

GIVEAWAY:

This is a giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Tours for Carrie Stuart Parks and Thomas Nelson. See the widget for entry terms and conditions. Void where prohibited.

 

 

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Tours

 

01 October, 2022

October 01, 2022 0

Read an Excerpt from Green House Haunting: An Andy Watts Ghost Column by Olivia York - #Mystery #NewAdult #Supernatural @XpressoTours

 

Green House Haunting: An Andy Watts Ghost Column
Olivia York
Publication date: September 29th 2022
Genres: Mystery, New Adult, Supernatural, Suspense

A terrible tragedy dead and buried. Can a young woman dig up the haunted truth without falling into madness?

Andy Watts needs a break. So when the struggling journalist is asked to revisit a fifty-year-old mystery, she jumps at the chance to move into an abandoned house and honor her long-gone mom by becoming a respected reporter. But she’s shocked when she discovers not only did a polio-stricken boy disappear from within its rooms, but his mother took a fatal tumble down the stairs.

Stonewalled by the locals and unnerved by unexplained events in the eerie home, Andy fears the town would rather bury evidence than admit one of their own could commit murder. And with the ghostly image of a youngster in leg braces persisting, she’s terrified by hints that the awful answer is calling from beyond the grave.

Can Andy deliver justice for the voiceless before she becomes the next victim?

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Kobo

EXCERPT:

Green house stood solemnly in a noiseless field of overgrown vegetation. The dim rays of daylight disappeared in the distance beyond, darkening the front while sharpening the jagged exterior outline with a looming violet glow. It rose above the ground, perhaps two floors high, but a lack of windows at the top told Andy it may not have an attic to speak of.

The house drew her closer. The windows appeared somewhat new, the lining freshly painted white. It contrasted the worn, splintered wood on the verge of collapsing from the weight of a perched bird. At the base of the sagging stoop was the frame of a crumbling, rusted bicycle, rendered useless by the rain and condensation.

Andy climbed the front steps. Two, three, four steps upward, each one creaking an undecipherable note of an ominous melody. An unraveling front door mat read “Home” in tattered, fading letters.

This isn’t so bad.

Andy winced, unable to swallow her own lie. Quickly, she found the key in the envelope before she could change her mind and turn back. The shiny silver looked brand new compared to the decrepit bronze lock on the door. Studying the door closer, she spotted the new keyhole. A stern-looking deadbolt glinting a couple of inches above what must have been the original lock.

She pushed the door open, and the weight dragged it all the way open to gently bounce off the interior wall. Andy peered inside, but her feet stayed glued to the mat outside the door. The interior contents were fuzzy in the fading light, yet she could spot the three glinting hooks on the wall for sweaters and hats. A little deeper inside was one wing of the house, and to the right was another. In the center was a semi-carpeted staircase leading upstairs, where what followed remained unseen around the corner.

There was nothing particularly extraordinary about the home. She was no expert on houses made in the ’30s and ’40s, but it looked about how she’d expect. The ceilings were low, and the wooden floor was dull. However, Andy couldn’t help but feel something was different. That there was something in plain sight she couldn’t see. She stood motionless at the door, searching for what she thought was missing. The house stood, too, waiting patiently.


Author Bio:

Olivia York writes supernatural suspense novels with family drama woven throughout (and hints of mystery). After a stint working for a local news station as reporter/anchor in the Midwest, she decided to make the switch to her imaginative side and write.

She is a lover of cats, road trips, and visiting old fashioned candy shops along the coast. Olivia lives with her husband and two cats, who are kind enough to humor her love of paranormal TV shows and never-ending collection of horror films.

Sign up for Olivia York’s Newsletter to find out about new releases, updates, cover reveals, and more!

Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Instagram


GIVEAWAY!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Hosted by:
XBTBanner1

 

30 September, 2022

September 30, 2022 0

Read an #Excerpt from The Counterfeit Wife by Mally Becker - #Historical #Mystery @mally_becker @partnersincr1me


The Counterfeit Wife by Mally Becker Banner

The Counterfeit Wife

by Mally Becker

September 19 - October 14, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

The Counterfeit Wife by Mally Becker

Philadelphia, June 1780. George Washington’s two least likely spies return, masquerading as husband and wife as they search for traitors in Philadelphia.

Months have passed since young widow Becca Parcell and former printer Daniel Alloway foiled a plot that threatened the new nation. But independence is still a distant dream, and General Washington can’t afford more unrest, not with food prices rising daily and the value of money falling just as fast.

At the General’s request, Becca and Daniel travel to Philadelphia to track down traitors who are flooding the city with counterfeit money. Searching for clues, Becca befriends the wealthiest women in town, the members of the Ladies Association of Philadelphia, while Daniel seeks information from the city’s printers.

But their straightforward mission quickly grows personal and deadly as a half-remembered woman from Becca’s childhood is arrested for murdering one of the suspected counterfeiters.

With time running out – and their faux marriage breaking apart – Becca and Daniel find themselves searching for a hate-driven villain who’s ready to kill again.

Praise for The Counterfeit Wife:

"The Counterfeit Wife by Mally Becker has it all — adventure, romance and deceit … [w]ith smooth-as-ice prose and pitch-perfect dialogue."

Tina deBellegarde, Agatha- and Derringer-nominated author of the Batavia-on-Hudson Mystery Series

"The Counterfeit Wife is a not-to-be-missed adventure that gives new meaning to rebel and loyalist, spy and spouse."

Lori Robbins, award-winning author of the On Pointe and Masterclass Mystery series

"As the young country struggles for independence, so does Becca, and she will have you turning pages well into the night … I highly recommended The Counterfeit Wife and I’m already anxious for the third of the series."

Eileen Harrison Sanchez, award-winning author of Freedom Lessons—A Novel

Book Details:

Genre: Historical Mystery
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: September 2022
Number of Pages: 300
ISBN: 9781685121587
Series: A Revolutionary War Mystery
Book Links: Amazon

Read an excerpt:

Heat rose from Rebecca Parcell’s chest, climbed her neck, and stamped a flush on her cheeks. She knew what would happen next. It was time for the toasts.

“Steady now,” Daniel Alloway whispered. They stood alone in a corner of the crowded ballroom. His good hand brushed hers for reassurance. His other hand hung at his side, deadened by the injury he’d incurred escaping from a British prison ship a year ago.

Becca scanned the room to assure herself that no one watched them. Even his light touch was frowned upon by polite society, but it brought her warmth and comfort.

Their host rapped an ornate silver fork against his crystal goblet again and waited for the magpie chatter of gossip to quiet. He stood by the large fireplace, his feet planted wide as if he were standing on the deck of one of his ships. Mr. Thaddeus Barnes was the wealthiest merchant in Philadelphia, which meant, she knew, that he was one of the richest men in all of North America.

Becca had rarely seen luxury like this, not even last winter in New York City. The ceiling dripped curved garlands of flowers carved of plaster. Blue and white vases from China rested on the carved marble mantel. Cherry wood tables hailed from France, and the glass chandelier from Venice.

“I’d be much more comfortable with a bow in my hand,” Becca murmured. “Or a knife. A knife would do.”

“You’d rather hunt in Morristown than here?” Daniel smiled, his green eyes filled with amusement. The gaunt, haunted look he wore when she met him last winter was gone. But his features still seemed to be carved from stone, all hard angles and shadows. Except when he smiled at her like this.

Despite being tall, Becca had to tilt her chin up to see eye-to-eye with Daniel. “Hunting here will do.” she said, sounding more prim than she intended, and Daniel laughed. “Even this type of hunting.”

They were in Philadelphia, searching for the counterfeiters flooding the colony with fake money. They were the obvious, though unconventional, pair for the job, General Washington had said when he assigned them. Daniel because he was a former printer with the skills to evaluate ink and paper and Becca for her talent with numbers, accounts, and codes, which had already served the general well.

The clink-clink of metal on glass rang through the air again, and Mr. Barnes’s guests finally quieted. “A toast,” he called, beginning the first of the three he would raise to Becca and Daniel. It was the same at each of the parties held in their honor these past few weeks. Always three. Becca dreaded the third. “To independence.”

Becca lifted her goblet and sipped to a chorus of “huzzahs.” One, she counted to herself, because counting was soothing but not soothing enough for what was to come.

When the cheers faded, Mr. Barnes raised his glass again. The wine-filled cup glimmered red beneath the crystal candelabras. “To General Washington.”

“Huzzah!” The ballroom cheered again. Two, Becca counted.

She should be grateful to Mr. Barnes, not gritting her teeth over his toasts. He had opened his home to them at the Washingtons’s request, and he was introducing them to the finest families in Philadelphia, who were happy to welcome two friends of General and Lady Washington.

At least that much was true. Since last February, she and Daniel had become regular visitors to the Washingtons’ residence in Morristown after uncovering a plot that threatened the new nation.

Another round of cheers. Some guests made the mistake of lowering their glasses.

“And…” Mr. Barnes crowed.

A man with ginger-colored hair lounging by the doorway sighed loudly, catching her eye.

Becca couldn’t have agreed more.

The stranger gave her a slow, lazy smile. His expression was almost intimate, as if he were trying to draw her in. She turned away quickly.

“Finally…” Mr. Barnes added.

Becca took a deep breath, inhaling the warm scent of beeswax candles.

“…let us wish the newlyweds a joyous and productive marriage.” Mr. Barnes, a long-time widower, winked at Daniel. “May your hearts ever be at each other’s service.”

The cream of Philadelphia society turned in unison to Becca and Daniel.

She dropped her gaze to avoid the stares.

“A delicate flower, you are,” Daniel whispered without moving his lips.

She banged his ribs with her elbow and heard a satisfying oomph.

Anyone watching her redden and look away at the mention of their marriage might indeed take it that she was a shy, delicate flower. This was false.

She was not shy.

She was not delicate.

And, more to the point, she and Daniel were not married.

Mr. Barnes nodded to a double-chinned musician in the corner dressed in maroon breeches and a matching silk coat. At the signal, he tucked his violin into his neck, lifted a bow, and attacked his instrument. Two men laughed at something a third said. A few women formed a group and chatted, and the high-ceilinged room filled again with noise.

Barnes knew the reason they were in Philadelphia. General Washington had trusted him with that information. But their host believed that Becca and Daniel were wed. This way, Mr. Barnes could rightfully claim to be as outraged as everyone else if their deceit came to light.

Memory pulled Becca back to a dinner with the Washingtons in Morristown. “Perhaps this is unwise.” The general voiced a rare doubt after they agreed to come to Philadelphia. “You are unmarried and unchaperoned. It is scandalous. Society will close ranks against you. You’ll learn nothing.”

Lady Washington had taken a small sip of sherry. Her blue eyes lit with humor. “Then they must appear to be married while maintaining all the proprieties.”

The general made a choking sound that Becca and Daniel decided later was laughter. And so they’d agreed to play the part of a newly married couple, with Daniel looking for a new business opportunity in Philadelphia. It was a brazen plan but might just succeed.

Becca startled. The ginger-haired gentleman suddenly stood before her.

He extended a silk-clad leg and bowed, then rose, displaying the same secret smile that made her uncomfortable minutes ago. His nose was straight, his eyelashes pale against close-set blue eyes. Perhaps his chin was a bit heavy, his mouth a bit small. His features were not memorable, but something about him commanded attention.

It wasn’t just his shock of red hair combed back neatly and tied low along the back of his neck, nor the well-made clothes of ivory silk and gold embroidery. Everyone in the room bore similar signs of wealth. It was the confidence with which he moved, the sense that his regard flattered anyone upon whom it was bestowed.

“You’ve kept her from me, Alloway. I thought I knew all the beautiful women in Philadelphia.” His eyes locked on Becca’s.

She stiffened. It took discipline not to raise her hand and double check that the lace covering the top of her breasts was in place. He made her feel naked.

Daniel stiffened, too. “Mrs. Alloway, may I introduce Mr. Edmund Taylor, another merchant here in Philadelphia.”

Taylor’s light eyebrows shot up in mock distress. “Just another merchant? One of the most successful in the colonies, despite the war.” His gaze dropped to Daniel’s injured hand.

“And is your wife here, too?” Daniel bit down on the words, “your wife.”

Irritation crossed Taylor’s face so quickly Becca thought she imagined it. “My dear,” he called loudly.

A woman standing near the fireplace tensed, then moved toward them with the elegance of a swan. Her hair was honey blond, her skin unblemished, and her eyes a liquid blue. She stopped before them, wearing a tentative smile.

“I’m honored to present my wife, Charlotte Taylor.” He completed the introductions.

“It is a pleasure. I hope you enjoy our city.” Her voice was breathy and slow. There was a stillness about her, as if she had her own secrets to guard.

“I am enjoying it.” From downstairs, Becca heard the butler’s placating voice, then a woman’s shrill, demanding response.

Moments later, Mr. Barnes’s butler, Eli, slipped into the room.

Heads turned to the butler with a mixture of curiosity and mild surprise.

He whispered to Mr. Barnes, who nodded.

Then Eli strode toward them. He cupped his hand over his mouth and leaned toward Mr. Taylor.

“Begging your pardon, sir. There’s a woman at the front door. She says she’s yours, and that she must see you now.”

Becca couldn’t help but overhear. She says she’s yours. The woman at the door must be enslaved. Neither her dead husband nor father had owned slaves. But even she knew that enslaved people did not enter by the front door.

Color leeched from Taylor’s face.

“I will see her.” Mrs. Taylor swept from the room without waiting for her husband’s response.

“How do you find Philadelphia, Mrs. Alloway? Your husband says that this is your first visit,” another guest, who had turned to them at the servant’s approach, asked to mask the embarrassment of the moment.

When Becca didn’t answer, Daniel elbowed her gently. “Yes, Mrs. Alloway. How do you find Philadelphia?”

She really must do a better job responding to her married name. “People have been kind here. I hardly expected it.”

Mr. Barnes joined them, interrupting, “How goes your business, Taylor?”

“We don’t want to bore the ladies.” Taylor glanced at Becca.

“Please, don’t stop on my account. I comprehend so little, but hearing you speak of business never bores me.” Becca would have fluttered her eyelashes if she were the sort of woman who could manage it without appearing to have caught a speck of dirt in her eye.

She pasted a pleasant far-away expression on her face. Men spoke of business and politics as if she couldn’t understand a word, as if she didn’t listen and pass anything of interest back to General Washington. She took a small sip of the straw-colored dry sherry.

“Are you paying your investors in silver or paper these days?” Barnes asked.

Becca admired his playacting. Daniel and their host had rehearsed their lines. They asked the same questions at each party.

Taylor glared. “Sterling, of course. What are you accusing me of?”

Becca slowly lowered her glass. Taylor was the first to interpret the query as an accusation. An accusation of what? Having less silver than a man of his stature should? Or of passing along fake dollar notes?

Barnes nodded to Taylor. “No offense intended. I started seeing badly printed dollar notes again this spring. Merely asking whether you’re being cautious about paper dollars these days, given the situation.”

Taylor nodded curtly.

By now, five men had formed a tight ring as if warming themselves round a campfire. Becca stood just outside their circle.

Another of the merchants stepped up. “I thought I was the only one who noticed the forgeries.”

Daniel feigned surprise. “Has that been a problem here?”

“The British—damn them. They’re printing false money and spreading it as fast as they can,” one of the men said.

“There are worse problems, surely,” Daniel said.

“Ah, a young man who believes war is only about battles,” another guest drawled with feigned pity.

The others chuckled.

“If not winning battles, then what?” Daniel smiled, but the skin around his eyes tightened. He’s offended by the condescending tone, Becca thought.

“The counterfeits will set this country ablaze.” Barnes sputtered. “There have been food riots already. The poor are starving, and they can’t afford bread. How soon until people seek another king, another tyrant who swears that only he can save them?”

“When no one can tell whether money is real, the price of bread goes up, and everyone—everyone—turns against the government,” another man added. He looked to the group for support.

Becca studied them, shaken. She had thought of this trip as a lark, a way to spend more time with Daniel while unraveling a simple puzzle for General Washington.

Daniel bowed to Mr. Barnes. “It does sound terrible. My apologies.” He turned to Taylor. “And what do you think of all this, sir?”

Taylor shrugged. “Mr. Barnes is right. The economy is undone. I’d look to the traitors’ wives first. I wouldn’t put counterfeiting past them.”

“Who are the traitors’ wives?” Becca asked, catching Taylor’s attempt at redirection.

The men turned to her in surprise.

Oh bullocks. “Traitors? I don’t see any traitors at this party. Mr. Barnes wouldn’t allow it.” There. That sounded more like the simple, oblivious young woman they expected her to be.

Taylor and the others chuckled indulgently. “Nothing for you to worry about, Mrs. Alloway. Our apologies.”

“Do you know something specifically about these women, or are you trading in rumors?” Daniel’s voice was soft, but the challenge was clear. Neither he nor Becca cared for baseless rumors, not after gossip had almost ruined her life last winter.

“My husband’s passions sometimes lead him astray.” Charlotte Taylor had returned. “There are times that he causes harm when it is least intended.”

The husband and wife stared at each other from across the small circle of guests. He looked away first.

***

Excerpt from The Counterfeit Wife by Mally Becker. Copyright 2022 by Mally Becker. Reproduced with permission from Mally Becker. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Mally Becker

Mally Becker combines her love of history and crime fiction in mysteries that feature strong, independent heroines. She is the Agatha Award-nominated author of The Turncoat’s Widow, which Kirkus Reviews called, "A compelling tale... with charming main characters.” Her first novel was also named a Silver Falchion finalist and a CIBA “Mystery & Mayhem” finalist.

A member of the board of MWA-NY, Mally was an attorney until becoming a full-time writer and an instructor at The Writers Circle Workshops. She is also a member of Sisters in Crime and the Historical Novel Society. Mally and her husband live in New Jersey, where they raised their wonderful son and spend as much time as they can hiking and kayaking.

Catch Up With Mally Becker:
www.MallyBecker.com
Goodreads
BookBub - @mallybecker
Instagram - @mallybeckerwrites
Twitter - @mally_becker
Facebook - @mallybeckerauthor

 

 

Tour Participants:

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

 

 

 

ENTER TO WIN:

This is a giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Tours for Mally Becker. See the widget for entry terms and conditions. Void where prohibited.

 

 

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Tours

 

29 September, 2022

September 29, 2022 0

Read an #Excerpt from The 13th Hour: Chaos by Richard Doetsch - #Mystery #Thriller @richarddoetsch @partnersincr1me

 

The 13th Hour: Chaos by Richard Doetsch Banner

The 13th Hour: Chaos

by Richard Doetsch

September 5 - 30, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

The 13th Hour: Chaos by Richard Doetsch

A Mesmerizing Thriller Told in Reverse

On a warm Fourth of July in the quiet town of Byram Hills, Nick Quinn watches as his wife and daughter die in an unprecedented terrorist attack. Amid the disaster, Nick is approached by a dying friend who hands Nick an antique pocket watch.

Emotionally shattered and desperate, Nick takes the watch and is shocked to find himself propelled back in time to where he was an hour ago, before the attack on his town. Quickly stopping the course of events, his relief is shattered as life spirals in an even more tragic direction.

At the top of each hour, the watch sends Nick back two hours to live one hour again, a backwards march to relive each hour of his day. A twelve-hour journey providing precious but limited time to protect Julia and Katy and uncover the source of the ever growing threat.

But each time Nick thinks he’s solved the crime and secured the future, he uncovers new levels of deception, agony, and betrayal, ultimately revealing a far more sinister plot with unexpected players and grim, global consequences.

If Nick hasn’t set things right by the 13th hour, not only will his wife and daughter be lost forever to the chaos, but an even greater catastrophe will be unleashed upon the world.

Praise for The 13th Hour: Chaos:

"The story truly excels with its engaging, nonstop pursuit of the truth… Genuinely intriguing whodunit... A fun and compelling time-travel thriller… The taut, well-conceived plot unravels and reforms with twisty surprises and elements of politics, revenge, and Machiavellian villainy."

Kirkus Reviews

"Doetsch delivers another compelling and complex thriller. The twists and turns are non-stop"

Library Journal (Starred Review)

"Ingenious. A jigsaw puzzle in book form. A love story, a political potboiler, and a thriller that upends expectations with every turn of the page. It carried me from heartbreaking opening to the razor edge of its ending in one sitting. My foot is already tapping as I wait impatiently for a third installment!"

James Rollins, #1 NY Times bestselling author

"The 13th Hour: Chaos boasts a blistering original structure that propels the story along at a relentless pace... A thinking man’s thriller... With Doetsch driving, it’s a wild ride indeed..."

The Providence Sunday Journal

"I haven’t read a race against time this intense… The 13th Hour: Chaos is a time-bending adventure of epic proportions and scary consequences."

Best Thriller Books

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery Thriller
Published by: Permuted Press
Publication Date: May 3rd 2022
Number of Pages: 384
ISBN: 1637583060 (ISBN13: 9781637583067)
Series:A Nick Quinn Thriller; The 13th Hour Series
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple Books | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1

CHAPTER 12: 5:00 PM

The enormous wall climbed to heaven and stretched a quarter-mile wide, like a barrier constructed to keep out the barbarian hordes. Made of five-ton granite-and-concrete blocks, the dam loomed over the green valley, its growing shadow marking time like an oversized sundial.

Nick stood on a balcony, staring up at the 410-foot-tall marvel of engineering, constructed in 1917 to hold back the billions of gallons of the Killian Reservoir.

The blue sky and crisp, clean air of the summer day helped clear his mind and calm his nerves. He had slipped through a lower-level door onto the teak porch, hoping Julia wouldn’t mind his momentary disappearance from helping prepare for the reception.

The building that loomed behind Nick was as magnificent as the dam and far more beautiful. The large castle looked like something plucked from the Middle Ages, though it had never housed a king, queen, or any other royalty. Built on a whim by the eccentric industrialist James Francis Dorchester, it had been donated to the town of Byram Hills when Dorchester left for Hawaii shortly after meeting the fourth future-former Mrs. Dorchester.

Constructed of granite, the English-style castle was adorned with corner towers, high keeps, parapets, decorative merlons, and scattered turrets, with half the structure carved into the steep, rocky hillside. While the walls and battlements were stone, the architects had softened its medieval appearance with several levels of ornamented teak porches that wrapped three sides, overlooking the carved marble statuary and ornate garden of perennials below. The interior gained warmth and character from cherry-paneled walls, thick Turkish rugs, and enormous windows that provided panoramic views of both the valley below and the adjacent dam.

The warlike fortification, created out of nostalgia rather than for defense, had served as the designated fallout shelter for the local officials and their families during the 1950s and ’60s. Its thick granite blocks, fused with a cement-like mortar, would not only withstand a 1960s-era Soviet bomb but also outlast the pyramids of Giza.

Nick smiled as he looked at the thousand-strong crowd gathering in the enormous, grassy park 150 feet below and wished he were down there instead of up here, dreading the next hour of his life.

* * * * * * * * * * *

“Wake up,” Julia gently stroked Nick’s whiskered cheek as she kissed him awake. “Wake up, my hero. Busy evening ahead.”

Nick stirred, his mind rising to the surface as he sat up straight in his office chair, twisting his kinked neck, which had stiffened during his too-short nap. His eyes locked with Julia’s, the spouses each saying so much more than they could have with words. He smiled as the fog cleared and he took in his wife. Her blonde hair framed the face he had known since they were teenagers, her full lips smiling, her impish glee at waking him etched in her warm, blue eyes. He loved when she kissed him awake; there was no better way to be pulled from a dream.

He had slept for all of a half-hour, having worked all day crunching numbers on a prospective real-estate transaction and finishing his first book here in his dark-wood library office. This was after a minor incident with Marcus early this morning which had upended his normal daybreak routine.

He had picked up his best friend at 7:25 a.m., kites and boards loaded in the rear of the Jeep Wrangler, the jet ski hitched to the back in hopes of a couple of hours of kitesurfing before work. But that all went to hell when Murphy’s Law stepped in on the back of fate, ending his chance of getting anywhere near the water that morning.

“How’s it feel to be a hero?” Julia asked playfully.

“Not a hero,” Nick groaned, clearing his sleepy voice.

“They’re saying you and Marcus didn’t want your names mentioned.”

“It’s not like we did it for recognition.”

“Surely, you can at least share the details with your wife.”

“Well, the flames—”

“Tell me later. It’s already after three. We’ve got to be at the castle by four.” Julia leaned in and kissed him again. “We both know you’re incapable of telling a short story.”

“Four? Guests aren’t supposed to arrive until 5:15.”

“We’re the hosts, remember? It’s better to be early and prepared than—”

“Late and screwed.” Nick finished her sentence for the thousandth time as an incessant ticking tickled his ears. “Where are you going?”

“I have to run some errands.” Julia blew him a kiss and left his office before shouting back at him, “Do me a favor and take out the garbage.”

“Of course,” Nick called back.

“I’ll be back at 3:45. Be ready. Don’t make us late.”

The ticking seemed to grow and echo as Julia exited through the foyer.

“I’m going to smash this thing,” Julia shouted as she walked out the front door.

Nick already regretted having bought the mahogany, man-o-war-themed grandfather clock two days ago. It had been a foolish purchase. Like fireworks to a soldier suffering PTSD, the clock’s ticking reminded Nick of what he had tried so hard to forget. To make matters worse, the beautiful antique wasn’t only rattling his brain; it was also rattling his marriage.

Every hour, starting with a heavy mechanical click, the giant clock would ring out a brief, seafaring tune on its internal brass bells before intoning the hour with a rhythmic chime.

The chiming had lasted all of one night. Julia said it was worse than torture: not only the annoying clicks, but also the loud peal of the bell, which risked waking Katy every hour, on the hour. It took Nick forty-five minutes to figure out how to disable the bells, but the ticking of the brass pendulum continued. He had already listed the clock for sale online and promised Julia he’d move it out to the garage by nightfall.

*****

It was 3:41 when Nick heard Julia’s car roll into the driveway. He jumped up from his desk, raced upstairs, hit the bathroom, shaved, made himself presentable, and headed for his closet. Though he knew it would make her mad, he slipped on a pair of Levi’s, a polo shirt, and his twenty-two-year-old cowboy boots. He also grabbed a pair of charcoal-gray Armani pants, a button-down shirt, a tie, and a sport coat; slipped them all on a hanger; grabbed a pair of dress shoes; and prepared to face Julia’s wrath.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” she said as Nick hung the hanger in the back of her blue Audi, then climbed into the driver’s seat. She eyed him up and down. “You had to wear the jeans? You’re not going to have time to change.”

Nick would have plenty of time to change, more than an hour, though he had no intention of arguing with her.

“Hi, Daddy,” Katy said from her car seat in the back.

“Hey, honey.” Nick turned and smiled at his daughter. “Don’t you look like a princess.”

And she did. With white-blonde hair, giant blue eyes that matched her party dress, and a broad, giggly smile, she could warm the heart of winter.

“Say hi to Abigail.” Katy held out a stuffed giraffe.

“Hello, Abigail.”

“She keeps the bad people out of my dreams.”

“Well, that’s a good giraffe,” Nick told the toy as he kissed its head. “Thank you for protecting my little girl’s dreams.” He handed it back. “Hi, Bonnie,” he said to the teenager sitting next to Katy as he started the car and pulled out of their driveway.

“Hi, Mr. Quinn.” Bonnie Powers twirled her long brown hair around her index finger the way fifteen-year-olds do when they’re shy and can’t figure out what to do with their hands. Still, the teenage babysitter would keep three-year-old Katy entertained and occupied during the reception.

“Thanks for coming,” he told Bonnie.

“Mommy said you’re her hero,” Katy whispered, struggling with the word hero.

“Well,” Nick laughed, “I guess I am.” He didn’t turn to look at Julia, who clearly wasn’t sharing his mirth.

“Did you remember to take out the garbage?” she asked without looking at him.

Nick knew that she knew he hadn’t. Her question wasn’t so much about the garbage as it was to point out that he’d forgotten to do what he’d promised. Again.

Three years earlier, Julia had asked Nick to take out the garbage, as per their custom, and then she’d taken it out five minutes later when he hadn’t—also per their custom. It was out in the driveway, on her way back from emptying the garbage, that Julia’s water had broken.

Nick had rushed her to Greenwich Hospital, but what they thought would be an easy labor process turned into a thirty-six-hour ordeal: slow to dilate, slow to efface. They grew frustrated, but it was when Julia finally began to push that Nick became scared. Without a drop of medication, without ever considering an epidural, Julia pushed as hard as she could to get that baby out, her face beet-red, her temples throbbing, her eyes swelling unnaturally.

As Katy finally emerged, healthy and screaming, Nick turned to his wife, beaming with pride, only to find her unconscious.

“Julia?” he’d said softly, knowing how exhausted she must be. “I’m so proud of you.”

But Julia hadn’t responded.

“Julia?” Nick rubbed her forehead. “Julia?”

And everything had slipped to hell.

Dr. Culverhart and the nurses rushed Nick out of the room as an oxygen mask was dropped over Julia’s face. Nick could see through the circular door window as they desperately worked on her: mouth to mouth, pumping her chest, jabbing a needle in her arm. Dr. Culverhart’s voice turned grave as he ordered the nurses about.

Nick thought he was going to lose her, certain she would die without ever getting to hold their daughter.

But finally, she’d opened her eyes with a gasp, looking around, confused at the commotion. Through the window, he saw her mouth form the word, “Nick?”

He burst through the door and raced to her side, bending to take her in his arms, holding her as tightly as he dared.

“I thought I lost you,” he said through his tears.

In his ear, Julia had whispered, “I’ll never leave you, silly.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Standing on the balcony of Byram Castle, Nick stared down into the valley at nearly a thousand people playing baseball, picnicking, and getting early seats on the enormous grassy mall for the best fireworks show in Westchester County. Festivities, from parades to awards ceremonies to school-band performances, had filled the afternoon and would continue into the night, all in celebration of the Fourth of July.

Nick looked at his iPhone to check the time: 5:05. Like so many, he had disposed of his wristwatch in favor of the multi-function device that was the modern-day equivalent of his Swiss Army knife. He had wandered about the castle for almost an hour after arriving, thinking it best to stay out of Julia’s way and busying himself with phone calls, emails, and the internet.

The upper reaches of the fortress held modernized conference rooms and offices, while the bowels of the stone castle seemed to exist a century or two in the past, mimicking a European stronghold in every sense. Nick had never been in a dungeon but was pretty sure the castle’s subbasement came close. It felt like the center of the earth there, the depths of a man-made cave cold and damp, the echo of life above blotted out.

He explored the lower recesses like a curious child, finding a host of rooms straight out of the past, each concealed behind doors of four-inch-wide planks strapped with thick iron bands, their heavy clasps rusted with age, all unlocked, empty and forgotten.

Tired of the dank and dark and the lack of cell reception, he moved back to the balcony and spent the last hour dialing, negotiating, and checking the live feed of the Yankees game.

As he watched the crowds below, Nick couldn’t help but feel a bit of envy. He was stuck up here about to endure something only a notch or two more pleasant than a root canal.

He wasn’t one for glad-handing and false smiles; he had a revulsion for politics and its facades and detested writing checks to the political elite—all of which he had done over the years in deference to Julia’s work world. Today, his wife’s law firm, Aitkens, Isles, and Lerner, was sponsoring the meet-and-greet with Byron Chase, the senior U.S. senator from New York, who was not only the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, but he also sat on Appropriations, the committee that held the all-important purse strings of federal funding: one of the sources of the lifeblood that made the consulting arm of Julia’s firm viable.

Unlike most politicians, Byron Chase was a “friend.” Hailing from Byram Hills, he embodied the hometown-boy-made-good, a politician who many believed actually possessed integrity and honesty. He had taught at Byram Hills High School twenty years earlier and served as Nick and Julia’s swim coach. Despite not knowing any stroke beyond basic freestyle, Coach Chase had spent half his time yelling at Nick about how to swim better when Nick already held every school record, was all-county, and had been the team captain two years running. Chase had spent the other half of his time telling Julia she could do so much better than staying with young Mr. Quinn.

Chase had left teaching after getting his law degree at night and quickly found himself at Aitkens, Isles, and Lerner before becoming a state representative. Soon after, he became a U.S. congressman. And then he set his sights even higher.

He had been elected to the U.S. Senate on a platform of integrity and change with a large dose of voter sympathy over the loss of his son in the Akbiquestan War. Sadly, not much had changed since his election to the Senate: only the same politically-correct stances, abstained votes on controversial bills, and the hollow rhetoric of his predecessor.

At $1,000 per handshake and $2,500 per photo-op, Nick figured his former swim coach would be leaving the meet-and-greet with a take of more than $400,000, two tea sandwiches, and four martinis.

Nick wasn’t sure if he still held a real grudge against Chase for trying to push Julia away from him when they were teenagers, or if he was being stubbornly childish due to his dislike of politics.

Nick turned and saw a Secret Service agent sweeping the castle grounds. News vans from the local stations parked in front with their reporters, hoping they could wangle a sound bite or interview with the man who many said was the apparent heir to the throne of the presidency.

Well, Nick hadn’t voted for Chase before and wasn’t about to change that now.

Another glance at his iPhone told him that he’d lost all track of time, forgetting to change out of his jeans and into his jacket and tie. He left the balcony, rounded the corner into the reception room, and ran headlong into Julia. It took a moment for her to digest the moment before she gave Nick the look—her expression telling him, I can’t believe you…not again. Julia being Julia, however, she never verbalized it, not once in their nearly nineteen years together, although it was a phrase she could have easily uttered multiple times per week.

Nick stared back at her for a moment, not minding her anger. She wore an off-white linen dress, her hair brushed out, and looked like a model who had stepped off the catwalk. Her appearance was elegant and refined, projecting her professionalism while sprinkling it with a touch of glamor. She wore the simple gold necklace with a diamond at its center and the matching earrings that he had given her last Christmas; on her wrist was her mother’s gold Rolex. Though never in need of makeup, she wore a touch of lipstick and eyeliner, which accentuated her beauty.

At thirty-six years of age, Julia looked ten years younger. Her skin flawless, her eyes filled with life and projecting her unending energy. It always amazed Nick that she could work out, grocery shop, get her nails done, and feed Katy, all before he even brushed his teeth in the morning. She would race into the bedroom in tight-fitting shorts and a t-shirt, her blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail, head straight for her bathroom and closet, and—within minutes—emerge sophisticated, alluring, and ready to take down the business world.

“What’s going on?” he asked innocently.

“Seriously? Beyond the fact that people are due to arrive in ten minutes and you’re not dressed? Or the fact you disappeared for the last hour? All eyes are on us today—the senator, his speech, this party, the news media—all on top of a crazy day of unfinished work and missed meetings.”

She moved back into the reception room, rearranging flowers, moving chairs inches to the left or right, and ensuring that every wine bottle’s label on the bar faced out.

“It’s Coach Chase,” Nick said.

“That’s right. Senator Chase. Senator Byron Chase.”

“Byron? He’s no Byron. His name’s Carl. Carl Byron Chase. Since when did he drop Carl from his name?”

“That was twenty years ago, Nick.”

“Yeah, well, he’s the same man, he just wears a fancy suit and sits in a bigger office that doesn’t smell like sweat and Bengay.”

“He’s still a senator.”

“He’s still an ass.” Nick regretted his words before they hit Julia’s ears.

“Can you just let it go?” She turned and moved closer to Nick. “For me? This all reflects on me today. Do you understand that?”

He nodded. “Sorry. I’ll shut my mouth.”

Julia turned to adjust the podium, opening the curtains two inches more.

“It’s an awful lot of security and hoopla for a senator,” Nick said softly.

“Nick…”

“I’m just saying….”

“There’re some crazy people out there, even some death threats, and Chase may announce he’s throwing his hat in the presidential-election ring.”

“Ha,” Nick said with a laugh. “That explains the reporters. With his approach to—” At Julia’s glare, he shut his mouth again. “Sorry. What can I do to help?”

“Just…” Julia bit her lip. “Go get changed, hurry back to greet people when they arrive, and use that faux happy-to-see-you smile you’ve got in your back pocket to pretend you’re enjoying yourself.”

*****

Nick walked through the entrance lobby and down a long, sconce-lined hall to the bathrooms, only to find a Secret Service agent there. He headed back to the conference room, finding another agent on his phone, and opted instead to head back down into “the dungeon.”

He found the kitchen, where caterers were busy filling trays with cheese puffs, stuffed mushrooms, and shrimp skewers. Nick smiled a guilty smile at a young hostess as he grabbed a handful of mini-hotdogs and continued down into the dark recesses of the basement.

Once again, he found rooms within rooms, a forever maze that wound about the castle’s foundation and deep into the cliffside. Finally, Nick stopped in an especially bare stone chamber. He figured here was as good a place as any to change. He quickly slipped into his dark slacks and Armani jacket, stuffed his other clothes in his bag, and found a door out onto a lower balcony.

“When you escape hell, you’re supposed to bring your friends with you.”

Nick turned as an oversized hand fell upon his shoulder.

“Right, Katy?” the voice continued.

“Daddy!”

Katy rode upon the shoulders of an enormous bear of man.

“Hey, kiddo,” Nick said. “Did Uncle Marcus bring you down here or did you bring him?”

Marcus reached up and lowered Katy to the balcony, her tiny hand holding tight to his finger. “Fourth of July, cocktail hour…where else would I rather be than hearing a politician roar about his conquest of the jungles of DC?”

“You know that the only one more upset about this than you is me, right?” Nick said, then added, “Thanks for coming.”

Marcus Bennett stood 6'1" with 230 pounds of muscle, his bald, gleaming head shining in the late-day sun. Marcus was Nick’s best friend, next-door neighbor, and partner in all things: hockey, kitesurfing, poker, and other brands of minor mischief.

“You’d think we’d get a pass after all we did this morning,” said Marcus, as Katy pulled him toward the railing that looked over the valley.

As Katy’s godfather, Marcus had gone from being a rough-and-tumble, ex-military businessman who couldn’t keep his fists in his pockets, to a childlike uncle who didn’t hesitate to roll on the floor and play with dolls. Katy was the David to his Goliath, slaying him with a smile, bending him to her will like no business adversary or bar-fight opponent ever could.

Nick marveled at the constant changes in Katy: her weekly growth, the teeth that seemed to suddenly fill her mouth, her ever-expanding vocabulary. She had a tender innocence to her voice, a Cindy Lou Who quality magnified by the words of toddlerhood: finnder for finger, vallilla for vanilla, peas for please. He loved her mispronounced vocabulary and never corrected her, hoping she’d hold onto her innocence forever. He had never imagined the emotional depths of fatherhood—the joy, the worry, and how his heart burst with warmth every time he heard her voice.

When he’d first learned Julia was pregnant, he was secretly fearful. How would their lives change? What would come of their mornings lying in each other’s arms, their lazy Sundays of breakfast and newspapers in bed? Would it all be lost and forgotten?

But as with most parents, what they gave up was replaced with something far more precious. Nick could no longer imagine life without Katy, without her laughter or tears as she explored and came to know her world; the swooshing sound of her legs against her diapers as she raced down the hallways of their home; the uncontrollable giggles and laughter when Theo, their six-month-old Bernese Mountain Dog puppy, licked her ears; or their simple game of peek-a-boo.

While raising Katy, Nick had rediscovered the wonders of childhood: the magic of Christmas, the spooky fun of trick-or-treat, manic Easter egg hunts, and blowing out birthday candles. Life’s priorities had come into sharp focus, and his had taken on a new sense of purpose and fulfillment.

Like most couples with a new child, Nick and Julia had experienced a paradigm shift with their friends, many falling away, those without children still spending Friday and Saturday nights out for dinner, movies, and dancing. Only their closest friends modified their lives to spend time with the happy trio, content to come over for take-out and share in Nick and Julia’s parental joy.

“Where’s Dreyfus?” Marcus asked Nick. “How did he get out of this?”

“I have no idea,” Nick said. “But I’m sure he’ll make it. He’s never late for anything.”

And he wasn’t. Punctual was an understatement. You could set your watch by Paul Dreyfus’s adherence to schedule. A security expert for Fortune 500 companies, as well as Shamus Hennicot and his wealthy associates, Paul Dreyfus was eminently successful, highly responsible, and always timely. He was also the third Stooge in Marcus and Nick’s sandbox. He kept their reindeer games this side of legal, ensured their wounds were properly dressed, and served as a stand-in godfather to Katy whenever Marcus regressed into childhood.

“By the way,” Marcus said, “Julia’s looking for you.”

“Mommy’s looking for you,” Katy echoed. “I tink she’s mad.”

“Why do you think that, honey?”

“Cause she said, ‘Go find Fadder,’ instead of Daddy.” Katy giggled.

Nick looked to Marcus. “And you volunteered to leave the fun and find me?”

Marcus smiled and shrugged. “That’s what friends do.”

*****

Nick and Julia stood at the large wooden entrance doors to Byram Castle, shaking hands, nodding, and endlessly engaging in questions of children, health, and the weather, while also wishing everyone a happy Fourth of July.

Among the guests was Marcus and his latest wife Anissa; Martin Rinab, another of Nick’s kitesurfing buddies, and his wife Yolanda; their forever friends Kirstin and Rocco; John Bae, the rhythm guitarist from Nick’s band; Michael Ponce, his skydiving compadre; the Clows, who actually enjoyed the politics of it all; the Mortimers, who would do anything for Julia; Donna Schreyer, Julia’s close friend from the hospital; Sara Bitton, Katy’s daycare teacher; and the Fitzgibbonses, the starstruck sort of people who jumped at a chance to meet their senator.

The castle now contained practically everyone on Nick and Julia Quinn’s Christmas-party invitation list: at least forty couples, supplemented by partners from Julia’s law firm, town officials, and political groupies. The only people not in attendance were the smart ones: the thousand-plus who filled the grassy mall and sports fields below the dam, enjoying their Fourth of July in the traditional way, with picnics and games while awaiting the evening’s fireworks show.

Hors d’oeuvres and drinks were passed by college-aged interns of the senator as people broke into cliques of conversational comfort. Nick hated to admit it, but he was enjoying himself. As he looked around, he realized that these were the people he actually liked to be with—the people he cared about, who made him laugh, think, and smile.

“Where’s Shamus?” Nick asked Julia in a quiet moment.

“I couldn’t reach him all day.”

“That’s not like him.”

“Well, he is ninety-three,” she said.

“And he would never miss one of your parties, even if he had one foot in the grave.”

“That’s not right,” she scolded.

Hailing from ancient English heritage, Shamus was the wealthiest ninety-three-year-old in the world—not that it mattered to Nick and Julia. To them, he was more than a friend or client. He was like a father or grandfather: stern but loving, filled with wisdom but never pushy with it. Shamus and his wife Katherine had no children and no other family, so they looked to each other to fill that void and chose their “family” with care.

“I didn’t mean it that way.” Nick rubbed her arm.

“I meant to go by his house, but work had me so tied up.”

“We’ll swing by his house on the way home. I’m sure he’s fine.”

At 5:37, twenty-two minutes late, the large entrance doors opened and the two Secret Service agents walked in, followed immediately by a tall Byron Chase, who smiled as he headed directly to Julia.

“I can’t thank you enough for arranging all of this,” Senator Chase said, looking properly regal in his dark-blue power suit and red, striped tie.

“It’s our pleasure, Senator.” Julia gave him a small hug.

“Julia,” he chided her gently. “Formalities were for high school. Call me Byron.” He turned to Nick and thrust out his hand.

“Coach Carl,” Nick said, immediately feeling Julia’s eye bore into him. He took the senator’s hand and smiled the smile that Julia had asked him to pull from his back pocket.

“Julia said you just wrapped up two large real-estate acquisitions and finished your first book.”

“She’s always bragging about me.”

“Good for you,” Chase said. “You were the only high-school couple that I knew would get married and stay that way.”

“Thank you.” Nick held his false smile. “I’m hoping she keeps me for a few more years.”

“If you’ll excuse me,” Chase said, “I just need to review my notes with one of my aides.” Chase’s focus had shifted even before he finished his sentence; now he moved with a young assistant to a far corner.

“Coach Carl?” Julia glared at Nick. “Really?”

Nick gave his wife the same smile that she’d requested as she turned away and marched into the reception room.

“This was supposed to be my moment,” Senator Chase said through gritted teeth. “He was supposed to be here to introduce me.”

“Things happen,” the young aide said. “I’ll introduce you.”

“No offense, but you lack even the appearance of someone important. After all this effort I’ve gone through to help him, he screws me yet again? I want to know the real reason why he blew me off.”

“I don’t know if I can—”

“Just do it, or find a replacement who can.”

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Julia said from the podium, the crowd reacting by dropping their conversations to a murmur. “Please welcome Senator Byron Chase.”

Chase climbed the eighteen-inch platform and stood at the podium, nodding to the applauding crowd, pointing at strangers as if they were friends. He was an imposing man, fit, with dark, grey-flecked hair, a disarming smile, and steely blue eyes.

He rested his hands upon the sides of the red, white, and blue podium and cleared his throat.

“Before we get it started,” he said, raising his hands to quiet the room, “it’s my great honor to announce something that has not even hit the press yet. President Matthew McManus, two hours ago, after a series of top-secret negotiations, signed not only a cease-fire but a far-reaching peace accord with Akbiquestan and Russia, resolving longstanding economic issues. As the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I am proud to have been involved with this process and I applaud our Commander in Chief on a difficult job well done. The war in Akbiquestan is over.”

The room erupted in genuine applause. The four-year war had dominated the press, water-cooler talk, and prayers of most Americans, who feared an escalation into World War III.

“Which is a perfect segue into why I am here today,” Chase continued. “Peace through strength. Prosperity through charity. It’s time to step back from war and focus on peace and prosperity for all Americans, while never letting our guard down against terrorism again.”

Nick pulled out and glanced at his phone: 5:53. The two-minute political oration already felt like an hour. Julia turned toward him with a painted-on smile and gave him the look. He quickly tucked his phone away.

Katy charged through the room, her blonde hair floating behind her, and latched onto Nick’s leg, pulling him toward the door as if he were being saved from hell by an angel.

Nick picked her up and carried her to the lobby, out through the enormous heavy glass doors, closing them carefully behind them, cutting off the droning speech in favor of far more important words.

“I want to go outside and play,” Katy said.

“Honey,” Julia said, following them into the lobby with Bonnie the babysitter at her side. She took Katy out of Nick’s arms. “I need you to stay with Bonnie for fifteen minutes.”

“Why don’t I take her outside?” Nick offered.

“We need to be in there,” Julia said with a forced smile. “We’re the hosts.”

“But Katy wants to play.”

A side door opened, and a man stumbled through, looking barely coherent, and fell into Nick’s arms. His clothes were wet, his salt-and-pepper hair damp. Shocked, Nick realized he knew the man and knew him well. It was his close friend Paul Dreyfus, who had been at the top of the guest list and uncharacteristically late.

Nick supported his friend’s sagging weight and led him to a large couch on the far side of the lobby, where Dreyfus collapsed heavily.

“Are you okay?” Nick asked Paul. “What the hell happened?”

“Listen to me,” Dreyfus whispered.

As Nick let go of his friend, he saw blood covering his hands. Quickly, Nick ripped open Dreyfus’s shirt, revealing what looked like a bullet wound to the chest.

“Oh my God,” Nick breathed. “Julia?”

Julia was immediately at his side.

“Bonnie,” Julia turned to the babysitter, “could you take Katy to the bathroom in the back?”

Bonnie averted her eyes as she pulled Katy down through the back hall.

“What happened?” Nick asked his friend again.

Dreyfus pulled the strap of a dark leather satchel from about his neck and shoulder and looped it over Nick’s. “Listen to me, Nick. Listen very carefully….” Dreyfus paused to breathe, struggling to get the words out. “Don’t let that bag out of your sight…. He’s coming for you. He’s…coming for Julia.”

“Who? What are you talking about?”

Dreyfus reached into the bag and withdrew a single picture that made Nick’s blood run cold. It was an image of a man floating against the rocky shoreline of a lake, water lapping at his body, his face having lost all color, the skin white and curdled like rotted cheese, lips blue, cracked, and wet. There was no question that the man had died a painful death. In fact, he had almost surely drowned, his wet body and vacant stare leaving little doubt about the means of his demise.

Nick tried to catch his panicked breath. He knew the man, knew him well, better than anyone: he was looking into his own lifeless eyes.

“You all die….” Dreyfus whispered.

Julia turned to Nick, her skin flushing red as confusion filled her eyes. “Nick?” Her voice trembled.

Nick stared at Dreyfus, the impossibility of his words echoing in his head.

“You, Julia….” Dreyfus struggled to draw another breath. “Katy. Everyone.”

Nick turned and looked through the glass doors at the gathered crowd, which listened in rapt attention to the senator’s speech. Everyone Nick cared about was here, most listening to political rhetoric they couldn’t care less about. They were all attending as a favor to Nick and Julia.

“When?” Nick whispered to his dying friend.

Dreyfus seized Nick’s hand, locking eyes with him. “It’s all in the bag.”

“What’s in the bag?”

“You have to find me….” Dreyfus’s words sounded like a plea.

“I don’t understand...find you where?”

“I’m so sorry—”

A sudden roar exploded from the room, cheers and applause, as if the senator had concluded the speech of his life. The rising voices of the now-standing audience only amplified Nick’s dread.

And then a rumble shook the world, deep and foreboding.

Another rumble, an explosion, like a bomb, and then another and another and another….

The crowd fell silent, eyes darting about in confusion. New York was not the land of earthquakes, but the shaking earth said otherwise. Deep heavy rumblings seemed to roll the flagstone floor.

“Nick?” Julia looked around the lobby in fear as a hum began to grow. “What the hell is that?”

As the rumble grew in intensity, a collective panic took over the reception room, chaos filling the air as everyone tried to flee from the unknown with incoherent screams of fear, cramming through the doors to escape whatever danger was approaching.

The deep roar grew deafening, drowning out the screams, shaking the castle’s foundations. And then, as if hell had been unleashed, the reception room’s outer windows shattered; incomprehensibly, a wall of water drove through the space, rising toward the ceiling in seconds. Like a tidal wave, the barrage of water tore the room apart. Tables, chairs, fixtures, and carpets spun into a churning maelstrom. Men and woman were scooped up, helplessly tossed about, bodies hurled and twisted into dark whirlpools.

The light of day dimmed as the wall sconces winked out. Emergency lights reacted to the loss of power, their bright halogen rays flicking on, impervious to the water’s assault within their clear plastic housings, their beams like shafts of lightning, piercing the murky, rising, roiling waters.

An enormous howl of wind groaned as air was driven from the building, its gusts sweeping the water’s surface into blinding mist. Husbands and wives, friends and neighbors were quickly swept away, their screams doused as they were pulled under and sucked out through the narrow window openings like water through a drain.

From behind the thick glass doors, Nick and Julia watched in horror as their friends drowned, their twisted bodies becoming human flotsam and jetsam before being sucked out through the shattered picture windows on a violent tide into oblivion.

The lobby had already become a deep pool, the waters rising to Nick and Julia’s shoulders. Then, as if a tornado had struck, the glass doors were torn from their moorings and thrown into the tidal flow. A rush of water quickly rose toward the ceiling, sweeping Dreyfus’s body away.

Water filled the vestibule, its polished granite walls momentarily looking like an Italian pool. The couch where Dreyfus had lain, the tables and chairs splintered in the onslaught, all flushed through the main doors, carried on a raging current.

“Katy!” Julia screamed.

In the rising water, Nick swam for the bathroom where Katy and Bonnie had gone, the leather satchel looped about his body complicating the impossible task. The bathroom was at the far end of the vestibule, sequestered in a corner where the water’s attack had been delayed by the turns of the hallway. But the small, high windows now exploded, water pouring through as if from the spigots of heaven.

Julia swam hard in the same direction, battling the raging waters that rose higher and higher. She fought with all her might, kicking and pulling against the current, but the suction created by the millions of gallons of flowing water took hold of her. Despite all her years of swimming, in spite of her natural strength, she was losing, drawn inch by inch toward the door where death awaited.

Nick caught hold of her hand, his other arm wrapped tightly around a chandelier overhead. They were pulled and tossed by the water as it rose, pushing them up against the ceiling. Holding on with all his strength, Nick pulled her to him, but the suction made her feel like a two-ton weight, straining his arms, his grip.

“Hold on!” Nick yelled as their heads banged the ceiling, the water continuing to rise around them.

“We have to get Katy!” Julia struggled to hold on as Nick fought with every fiber of his being to not let her slip away.

“Mommy!” Katy’s cry pierced the cacophony of churning waters.

“Katy!” Julia screamed back. “Mommy’s coming!”

As the water pulled at them, Nick and Julia’s eyes locked in an unspoken understanding of what was happening. In order to get to Katy, to have any hope of saving her....

“Let me go,” Julia pleaded. “Save Katy, please. Please save Katy.”

Nick looked deep into his wife’s eyes; he couldn’t bear to do what she was asking. She was everything to him, his life, his heart. She was his soul.

“No,” Nick said. “Hold on.”

“It’s okay,” she said, holding his gaze. “Let me go.”

With her free hand, she grasped Nick’s fingers and gently pried them loose.

And with their eyes still locked, she released Nick’s hand. Her body, caught in the suction, instantly disappeared.

Despite the agony in his heart, Nick turned his body toward the bathroom. He reached and caught hold of one of the brass wall sconces mounted on the granite wall as the water continued its rise, only an inch of breathable air remaining.

Nick plunged under, into the current. The brass sconces lined the wall leading to the bathroom like a horizontal ladder. Hand over hand he pulled himself along, fighting with all his might, his arms burning with the impossible effort.

He briefly surfaced. “Katy!” he screamed in the narrow airway as he gulped sweet oxygen. “I’m coming!”

But the force of the current, the draw of the millions of gallons of water flowing through the building, had grown tenfold. Sapped of strength, Nick dug deep within himself...he couldn’t let her die, he wouldn’t fail her.

“Peas, Daddy!” Katy cried from up ahead. “Peas.…”

As the rising water squeezed away the last bit of air, Nick took a deep breath and dived under again.

He spotted the door, its giant brass handle gleaming with the refracted beams of the emergency lights. The thick mahogany portal opened outward, seated against a heavy metal frame, its design still withstanding the building pressure of the rising waters. But Nick knew it wouldn’t hold for long, the waters were surely pouring under the door, through any and every crack as it sought the path of least resistance.

“Daddy!”

Even under the churning water, Nick could hear Katy’s cry.

The violence of the current grew unbeatable. The weight of the satchel around his neck, like a bag of lead; his lungs burning, fighting the rush of water that pulled at him like a colossal magnet.

Nick reached for the handle of the door, his fingertips swiping the brass; straining for purchase, he planted his legs against the wall and used his last bit of strength to grasp the door.

The fire in his lungs pushed him to the brink, twinkling spots dancing before his eyes as his brain thirsted for oxygen.

And the suction caught hold of him, yanking him away, pulling him backwards toward the shattered windows.

With utter despair, his heart broken, having failed his wife and daughter, Nick knew he would join them in death.

Unable to resist, he gasped, and the water invaded his lungs….

And his world fell to darkness.

***

Excerpt from The 13th Hour: Chaos by Richard Doetsch. Copyright 2022 by Richard Doetsch. Reproduced with permission from Richard Doetsch. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Richard Doetsch

Richard Doetsch is the author of six international bestsellers published in twenty-eight countries, with several acquired for film and television. He is an adrenaline junkie with a passion for kitesurfing, skydiving, SCUBA diving, triathlons, and defying gravity in Zero G aircraft. He has served as CEO, president, and director in the real-estate industry, managing, creating, and preserving more than 50,000 units of affordable housing with an emphasis on social and community programs.

He is married to his childhood sweetheart, Virginia, who is the impetus and inspiration behind everything he writes.

Catch Up With Richard:
RichardDoetsch.com
Goodreads
BookBub
Instagram - @richarddoetsch
Twitter - @richarddoetsch
Facebook - @richarddoetsch

 

 

Tour Participants:

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

 

 

ENTER TO WIN:

This is a giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Tours for Richard Doetsch. See the widget for entry terms and conditions. Void where prohibited.

 

 

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Tours

 

* indicates required
Email Format

Please select all the ways you would like to hear from Bookish Indulgences with b00k r3vi3ws:

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. For information about our privacy practices, please visit our website.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp's privacy practices here.