26 February, 2021

February 26, 2021 0

Meet Josh Reynolds & Melynas from Cowboy Desire by Alice Renaud - @alicerauthor #Romance #Anthology #SciFi

 


Cowboy Desire is an eclectic assortment of short stories. Including contemporary, historical, fantasy, and even outer space romance, Cowboy Desire offers fourteen stunning short stories.

These fourteen authors provide a range of sweet to sexy stories all with a cowboy theme. They feature strong men and women battling the weather and dangerous terrain, here on earth and in outer space.

The collection is as diverse as the authors who wrote them. Here’s a chance to discover new talented authors and the characters they create. Within these pages, there are blends of tender, often moving, thought-provoking and downright sexy stories.

Blurb for Space Cowboy Blues:

Josh is a space cowboy. His job? Taming alien species. But on the blue planet Albastra, the beautiful Melynas is more than a match for him. He'd love to get close to her... but everything on Albastra is lethal. Including her...


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Join in for a chat with the hero, Josh Reynolds, space cowboy, and the heroine, Melynas, an alien from the blue planet Albastra.

 

If you had a free day with no responsibilities and your only mission was to enjoy yourself, what would you do?

Josh: I would saddle my horse and ride towards the sunset… I love exploring new landscapes. The prairie on Planet 2215, Albastra, reminds me of the ranch back home. Apart from the blue color of the grass.
Melynas: I’d go for a walk in the old city, where my ancestors used to live. It’s uninhabited now, but still beautiful. I love to explore its streets and discover new buildings. They still glow at night, like towers of luminous glass.

If you could spend the day with someone you admire (living or dead or imaginary), who would you pick?

Josh: Neil Eriksson, the first human to circumnavigate the Milky Way. Like him I’d love to leave my mark on the world, do something that no one has done before.
Melynas: One of the kings of old who used to rule this land. I’d ask them how the city works, what makes the buildings glow. So we could maintain the city as it should be, and one day perhaps move back into it.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? And, what is your current state of mind?

Josh: I thought perfect happiness was to be free, to roam from planet to planet. I’m a space cowboy. On each planet, I examine the animals that might be used like cattle or horses, take pictures and samples for the science boffins back on Earth, pocket my fee… then I’m off. To the next job… the next planet… But now, on Albastra, I’m beginning to think that maybe happiness is to find a place that I can call home. With a woman at my side, that I can call wife.
Melynas: To live a good life, in my community, with a man at my side, that would be perfect happiness for me. But all the boys and young men leave the planet, because there are no jobs for them here. I wish I could find a way to restore my people’s prosperity, so the men would not have to leave. And I could find a partner, love and be loved…

What do you consider to be the most overrated virtue and why?

Josh: Confidence. On Albastra too many settlers from Earth are over-confident, arrogant even. They don’t treat the locals as equals, and don’t make any effort to learn about their new world or adapt to it. They just expect it to adapt to them.
Melynas: Independence. I have to be independent – I have little choice as I am on my own and have to support myself by working for the settlers from Earth. But we are nothing on our own. My ancestors built a wonderful civilisation, because they worked together. I would like to be part of a community again. A family.

Tell us 3 things about yourself that the readers do not know about.

Josh: I grew up on a ranch. I learned to ride before I could walk. I think I can form a bond very quickly with any animal… I charm the hunoowins, the blue unicorns of Albastra, with some dried apples. I’m very polite, even to robots. Well, some of them are smarter than me!
Melynas: I have blue skin and green hair. I work as a guide for the human settlers from Earth, one of my jobs is to welcome new arrivals and show them around the Dome, the protected area where Earth people live. Albastra, my planet, is riddled with micro organisms that are deadly to humans, but the Dome is a sterile place. Inside the Dome humans can move freely, but when I go in, I have to be thoroughly disinfected and wear protective gear, otherwise I might infect a human. I’m afraid of some of the settlers. When they look at me with their hard and greedy eyes, I’m glad that they can’t touch me. But Josh is different.



About the Author:

Alice lives in London, UK, with her husband and son. By day she's a compliance manager for a pharmaceutical company. By night she writes fantasy romance about shape shifting mermen, water monsters and time-travelling witches. Her first book, “A Merman’s Choice,” was published in January 2019 by Black Velvet Seductions. It is the first book in a fantasy romance trilogy inspired by the landscapes and legends of Brittany and Wales. The second and third books, “Music for a Merman,” and “Mermaids Marry in Green,” are out now. Alice has also contributed short stories for the BVS anthologies “Mystic Desire” and “Desire Me Again,” both available now. Alice loves reading and writing stories, and sharing them with anyone who’s interested!

Alice on the Web:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * LinkedIn * Goodreads * Bookbub * Amazon





23 February, 2021

February 23, 2021 0

Read an #Excerpt from Skeletons by Natalie Rodriguez - @XpressoTours @ebookya #Thriller #YoungAdult

 

Skeletons
Natalie Rodriguez

Publication date: February 26th 2021
Genres: Contemporary, Thriller, Young Adult

When was the last time you confronted the skeletons in your closest?

Immediately following book one, “Elephant,” Matthew “Matty” Smith awakens from his coma and discovers that his worst nightmare is all true: his grandmother, Jamie, and Derek have gone missing and his mother murdered his father and grandfather years ago.

With the hospital placing him on lockdown, including no visitation rights by his loved ones such as his best friend, Lisa, Matty finds himself deteriorating into a state of the abyss, consumed with the secrets of his family. Convinced that it was the ‘stranger’ who kidnapped his grandmother and friends, no one believes him. The hospital only believes that Matty is slipping into a toxic mental state, repeating the cycle of his family.

Until one day, Lisa helps Matty escape the hospital.

On the run from Dr. Brown, Officer Barry, and the town of La Crosse, Wisconsin, Matty and Lisa set off to find their friends and Lucia and for answers on who the ‘stranger’ is. Once they unmask who the ‘stranger’ is, Matty continues to unravel the deepest secrets of what was supposed to be forever hidden in the Smith family as well as the town.

This story is for those who feel their voice is unheard and for children, teenagers, and adults who never had the chance to heal from their pain.

Goodreads / Amazon

EXCERPT:

DELICATELY, MATT’S EYES OPENED to a world of white haze. All the objects were silhouettes. That was until, Dr. Brown poked through the gust of blurriness.

“Thank God! You’re up,” he wheezed.

Matt peered around. The sunlight poured into Room 402, inch by inch. He was in the room as usual. The streaks of sunlight hit the edge of the hospital bed before it dazzled on his skin. His skin was cold and so…fair. Slimmer, shades of purple and pink concaved his cheekbones—a shade of baby blue muddled his skin.

“Ah,” Matt groaned, once Dr. Brown flashed a miniature flashlight back and forth at his eyes.

At least the reaction was a good sign—the teenage patient could see.

Then, a nurse closed the curtains. It was back to the darkened and sinister atmosphere that gobbled up Matt.

“I don’t feel too well,” he said, barely audible, as the middle of his bottom lips splintered with red.

Another nurse dabbed a tissue against his mouth. He took control of it, as though he was refusing another medical employee’s touch.

“It’s because you’ve been in a coma for four weeks,” Dr. Brown chimed in with his patient.

“I…What?”

Matt scanned the room until his vision settled upon what should have been Captain Obvious to him. His wrists, ankles, and chest were no longer strapped to the bed. Instead, all three areas of his body were wrapped-up. The white puffy bandages resembled the texture of clouds on a springtime afternoon.

While Matt’s eyes grew lukewarm, he hoisted his noodle size wrists closer to his eyes. “Wha—Wha—What happened?” he asked.

“You had an anxiety attack and went into shock…” It seemed that Dr. Brown dreaded the moment, even though he had scripted out his dialogue for when Matt reawakened, like any good doctor would do.

“Sorry, it’s just…I’m not sure…Matt, I’m not sure just how much you remember at all.”

The outside world. It was breathtaking, as the cotton ball clouds sailed across the sky like ships out to sea.

“What’s the date?” Matt asked moments later.

It appeared that the truth cuffed at Dr. Brown’s heart. “August 5th,” he said.

Matt winced at the impossible and yet, the possible. He broke down into tears and sheltered his face. Just then, his palms met a rigid paper that was on the bottom of his lip. It made sense now—he was out of it, unaware of what was a possibility…and the impossible…

He cried even more.

“Your lip bled on and off. The white bandage cloth was too big.” Slowly, but surely, Dr. Brown reached out for his patient. He slid his fingers atop Matt’s hand and gave it a pat. “Thankfully Lisa brought in a Spiderman bandage. She said you’re a fan of the franchise. I heard there’s going to be another installment…”

Dr. Brown gave a nervous chuckle. Cat scrabbled onto Matt’s tongue, left speechless and almost…numb.

“You know,” Dr. Brown started again, “she comes to visit you almost every day. Usually around lunchtime. She’ll be real happy that you’re awake.”

He did not reply.

“Look, Matt, I know you’re exhausted”—Dr. Brown selected his words cautiously—“I get that. You’ll need more rest. I just hope you can talk to us. Whenever you’re ready.”

The pain took over Matt, as his leg gave a spasm. “I don’t understand how time flies by so…fast…”

Silence.

“Your heart was beating in a peculiar pattern,” Dr. Brown said. “At first, it was pumping at a rapid rate. And then, it was beating…slowly. And then, it went quickly again.”

Off the doc’s studying look, Matt asked, “What?”

“I just can’t get that image out of my head. After Lisa was removed from the room, we discharged the bed straps from your body when you began to lose…You lost a lot of blood.”

Matt’s eyes descended to his wrists; his mind illustrated all the possibilities and what the memory for both Dr. Brown and his colleagues must have appeared like: nurses and doctors rotated and took his pulse, as well as patched up the holes where the blood oozed out.

For some reason, Matt saw it. He imagined that his own blood was a zombie-gut neon green, just like the classic horror films.

But it frightened him, and he shut his eyes to erase the horrific illustration. The image stayed with him anyhow.

“Matt?” Dr. Brown’s voice echoed through Matt’s state of horror.

“Where was I bleeding?” It was mostly rhetorical, as Matt tried to digest the imminent response. “Where was the blood coming from?”

When Matt’s eyes peeled open, they were red with angst. Dr. Brown pointed to the upper half of his patient’s chest.

“The scars,” Dr. Brown answered. “Lisa—she swore you were dead when she saw us trying to stop the blood.” He sniffled and coughed, as though the rest of the alphabet clogged up his throat. “We all saw the scars when the blood eventually…came to a stop.”

Matt glanced away. For a moment, he almost fooled himself while the tears streamed down his face.

Dr. Brown was tentative until, “A worldwide search was put out two weeks ago. Matt…” Compressing his fist with his mouth, he prevented a scream. “Matt…”

Cat got his tongue.

Matt noticed and watched as anxiety and pain consumed his doctor’s shaken body. Before the Spiderman bandage detached from Matt’s cherry rose lips, Dr. Brown ascended to his feet.

“Excuse me,” was all he said before he scampered out of Room 402.

“Dr. Brown?” Matt listened to his doctor’s fancy schmancy shoes swerve across the tile. The fretful voices of nurses and doctors echoed throughout the hallway as they called out for their boss’s attention.

“Doctor…” Even Matt’s voice was lost. “Brown?”

Wherever his doctor fled, Matt saw no other reason but to wait…and wait for him. He sniffled, and with a revelation, he gasped. He remembered…and his eyes returned to the cheese holes in the ceiling. ‘They’re missing…They believe you. You are not or will ever be alone again.’

Author Bio:

Natalie Rodriguez is an award-winning writer, director, and mental health and anti-violence/trauma advocate based in Los Angeles, CA. In 2014, she graduated from California State University, Fullerton with a Bachelor of Arts in Radio-Television-Film. Her first experience in entertainment was an internship at the Conan O'Brien show and Peter Guber's Mandalay Pictures, where she worked at the offices of producers, Matthew Rhodes ("Cherry," "Men in Black: International") and Academy Award-winner, Cathy Schulman ("Sharp Objects," "Crash").

Natalie was also a panelist at events, including Google, Hispanicize, and YouTube, where she has shared her story as a writer, filmmaker, and a female working in the entertainment industry. Some of her previous writing work can be found in publications such as the HuffPost Blog, Thrive Global, Anxiety Resource Center, Opposing Views, NowThis News, Zooey Deschanel's Hello Giggles, The Mighty, and more.

In 2017, she founded her production company, Extraordinary Pictures, focusing on both films, television, digital series, and social issue projects. The company has a list of projects in its roaster, including development on a TV sitcom, "The D," which placed in top-ten for best comedy screenplays at Stage 32. At the moment, Natalie's second directorial feature film, "Howard Original," is in post-production and set for an August 2020 release date on YouTube Premium. The film is based on the award-winning short film about a washed-up screenwriter named Howard, who encounters more than just selling a story, a studio rejection, and writer's block when his pet cat comes to life.

Natalie's directorial feature film, "The Extraordinary Ordinary," which she also wrote, produced, and was the executive producer on, is making its round through the festival circuit. The film deals with young adults, mental health awareness, and the aftermath of trauma. The film won 'Best Film About Women's Empowerment' at the Glendale International Film Festival and scored nominations in Best Director, Best Female Director, and Best Picture. The film also had a sold-out world premiere screening at the Los Angeles Diversity Film Festival (LADFF), winning 'Best Performance' by the leading actress, Maddison Bullock. Further details on the project can be found @theextraordfilm, including recent film festival awards and nominations.

Her other screenplays and films have also been featured and placed in the final rounds at HollyShorts Film Festival, NALIP: Latino Lens Film Festival, ShortsTV, Stage 32: Comedy Screenplay, Beverly Hills Film Festival, Culver City Film Festival, Indie Night Film Festival, Hollywood Screenplay Contest, Table Read My Screenplay - Austin Film Festival, and others.

Natalie was most recently an ambassador for Jen Zeano Designs (JZD), a clothing company in association with USA Networks. While she continues to build her creative background, Natalie is always open to collaborating with other artists and advocates. Currently, she awaits the publication of her first young adult novel this April 2020, "Elephant," a story about four childhood best friends who uncover a family secret. The book was also a finalist at Clare Books' the Binge-Watching Cure II contest for 'Best Novel.'.

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22 February, 2021

February 22, 2021 0

Read an #Excerpt from The Turncoat's Widow by Mally Becker - @mally_becker @partnersincr1me #HistoricalSuspense #Mystery

 

The Turncoat's Widow by Mally Becker Banner

The Turncoat's Widow

by Mally Becker

February 22 - March 19, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

The Turncoat's Widow by Mally Becker

Recently widowed, Rebecca Parcell is too busy struggling to maintain her farm in Morristown to care who wins the War for Independence. But rumors are spreading in 1780 that she’s a Loyalist sympathizer who betrayed her husband to the British—quite a tidy way to end her disastrous marriage, the village gossips whisper.

Everyone knows that her husband was a Patriot, a hero who died aboard a British prison ship moored in New York Harbor. But “everyone” is wrong. Parcell was a British spy, and General Washington – who spent two winters in Morristown – can prove it. He swears he’ll safeguard Becca’s farm if she unravels her husband’s secrets. With a mob ready to exile her or worse in the winter of 1780, it’s an offer she can’t refuse.

Escaped British prisoner of war Daniel Alloway was the last person to see Becca’s husband alive, and Washington throws this unlikely couple together on an espionage mission to British-occupied New York City. Moving from glittering balls to an underworld of brothels and prisons, Becca and Daniel uncover a plot that threatens the new country’s future. But will they move quickly enough to warn General Washington? And can Becca, who’s lost almost everyone she loves, fight her growing attraction to Daniel, a man who always moves on?

Praise for The Turncoat’s Widow

The Turncoat’s Widow has it all. A sizzling romance, meticulous research, and an exhilarating adventure. Becca Parcell is too independent for both 18th-century Morristown and her feckless English husband. Her individual plight when she is pressed into service as an unwilling spy after her husband’s death reflects the larger situation of colonists during the American Revolution, whose lives were upended by a political fight they cared nothing about. Becker balances the ruthlessness of George Washington and the underhanded charm of Alexander Hamilton with the excesses of the British, as part of a detailed picture of how the colonies were governed during a war that was far from a simple fight between two opposing nations. But historical exactitude is balanced by dashing romance between Becca and Daniel Alloway, the escaped prisoner charged with protecting her, and plot full of bold escapes and twists. A great series debut. I can’t wait for the next installment.
- Erica Obey, author, Dazzle Paint (coming 02/2021), The Curse of the Braddock Brides, and The Horseman’s Word.

An exciting Revolutionary-era thriller with a twisty mystery, great characters, and historical accuracy to boot.
- Eleanor Kuhns,author of the Will Rees mysteries

The Turncoat’s Widow reminds readers that treachery from within and without to our republic were real, and those early days for American independence from the British were fragile, the patriot cause, unpopular. This is a rousing debut novel with insights into the hardships of colonial life, the precarious place of women in society, while giving fans of historical fiction a tale with suspense, surprises, and anoutspoken and admirable heroine in Becca Parcell. Mally Becker is an author to watch.
- Gabriel Valjan, Agatha and Anthony-nominated author of The Naming Game

Book Details:

Genre: Historical Suspense / Mystery
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: February 16, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-953789-27-3
Purchase Links: Amazon || Goodreads

Read an Excerpt:

Chapter One

Morristown – January 1780

There was a nervous rustling in the white-washed meeting house, a disturbance of air like the sound of sparrows taking wing.

Becca Parcell peered over the balcony’s rough, wood railing, blinking away the fog of half-sleep. She had been dreaming of the figures in her account book and wondering whether there would be enough money for seed this spring.

“I didn’t hear what ….” she whispered to Philip’s mother.

Lady Augusta Georgiana Stokes Parcell, known simply as Lady Augusta, covered Becca’s hand with her own. “Philip. They’re speaking of Philip.”

Becca couldn’t tell whether it was her hand or Augusta’s that trembled.

“The Bible says, if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee, does it not?” The preacher’s voice was soft, yet it carried to every corner of the congregation. “They’re here. Amongst us. Neighbors who toast the King behind closed doors. Neighbors with no love of liberty.”

Philip was a Patriot. He had died a hero. Everyone knew. Minister Townsend couldn’t be talking about him.

The minister raised his eyes to hers. With his long thin arms and legs and round belly, he reminded her of a spider. She twisted her lips into the semblance of a smile as if to say “you don’t scare me.” But he did.

“Which of your neighbors celebrates each time a Patriot dies?” Townsend’s voice rose like smoke to the rafters, took on strength and caught fire. “Their presence here is an abomination.” He rapped the podium with a flat palm, the sound bruising in the quiet church. “Then cast them out. Now.”

Men pounded the floor with their feet.

Becca flinched. It wouldn’t take much to tip the congregation into violence. Everyone had lost someone or something to this endless war. It had been going on for almost five years.

Townsend’s thin arm rose, pointing to her.

Becca’s breath caught.

“And what of widows like Mrs. Parcell? Left alone, no longer guided by the wise direction of their husbands.”

Guided? Becca pulled her hand from Augusta’s. She rubbed her thumb along the palm of her hand, feeling the rough calluses stamped there. She had learned the rhythm of the scythe at the end of the summer, how to twist and swing low until her hands were so stiff that she’d struggle to free them from the handle. She’d fallen into a dreamless sleep each night during the harvest too exhausted even to dream of Philip. She, Augusta and their servant Annie were doing just fine.

“He hardly slept at home, as I hear it,” a woman behind her sniffed to a neighbor.

Becca’s spine straightened.

“No wonder there were no babes,” the second woman murmured.

Becca twisted and nodded a smile to Mrs. Huber and Mrs. Harrington. Their mouths pursed into surprised tight circles. She’d heard them murmur, their mouths hidden by fluttering fans: About her lack of social graces; her friendship with servants; her awkward silence in company. “What else could you expect from her?” they would say, snapping shut their fans.

Relief washed through Becca, nonetheless. This was merely the old gossip, not the new rumors.

“Some of you thought Mr. Parcell was just another smuggler.” The pastor’s voice boomed.

A few in the congregation chuckled. It was illegal to sell food to the British in New York – the “London Trade” some called it — but most turned a blind eye. Even Patriots need hard currency to live, Becca recalled Philip saying.

“He only married her for the dowry,” Mrs. Huber hissed.

Becca’s hand curved into a fist.

Augusta cleared her throat, and Becca forced herself to relax.

“Perhaps some of you thought Mr. Parcell was still a Tory,” the minister said.

The chuckling died.

“He came to his senses, though. He was, after all, one of us,” Minister Townsend continued.

One of us. Invitations from the finer families had trickled away after Philip’s death.

“We all know his story,” Townsend continued. “He smuggled whiskey into New York City. And what a perfect disguise his aristocratic roots provided.” The minister lifted his nose in the air as if mimicking a dandy.
“The British thought he was one of them, at least until the end.” The minister’s voice swooped as if telling a story around a campfire. “He brought home information about the British troops in the City.”

Becca shifted on the bench. She hadn’t known about her husband’s bravery until after his death. It had baffled her. Philip never spoke of politics.

Townsend lifted one finger to his chin as if he had a new thought. “But who told the British where Mr. Parcell would be on the day he was captured? Who told the Redcoats that Mr. Parcell was a spy for independence?”

Becca forgot to breathe. He wouldn’t dare.

“It must have been someone who knew him well.” The minister’s gaze moved slowly through the congregation and came to rest on Becca. His eyes were the color of creosote, dark and burning. “Very, very well.”
Mrs. Coddington, who sat to Becca’s left, pulled the hem of her black silk gown close to avoid contact. Men in the front pews swiveled and stared.

“I would never. I didn’t.” Becca’s corset gouged her ribcage.

“Speak up, Mrs. Parcell. We can’t hear you,” the minister said in a singsong voice.

Townsend might as well strip her naked before the entire town. Respectable women didn’t speak in public. He means to humiliate me.

“Stand up, Mrs. Parcell.” His voice boomed. “We all want to hear.”

She didn’t remember standing. But there she was, the fingers of her right hand curled as it held the hunting bow she’d used since she was a child. Becca turned back to the minister. “Hogwash.” If they didn’t think she was a lady, she need not act like one. “Your independence is a wickedly unfair thing if it lets you accuse me without proof.”

Gasps cascaded throughout the darkening church.

From the balcony, where slaves and servants sat, she heard two coughs, explosive as gun fire. She twisted. Carl scowled down at her in warning. His white halo of hair, fine as duckling feathers, seemed to stand on end. He had worked for her father and helped to raise her. He had taught her numbers and mathematics. She couldn’t remember life without him.

“Accuse? Accuse you of what, Mrs. Parcell?” The minister opened his arms to the congregation. “What have we accused you of?”

Becca didn’t feel the chill now. “Of killing my husband. If this is what your new nation stands for – neighbors accusing neighbors, dividing us with lies – I'll have none of it. “Five years into this endless war, is anyone better off for Congress’ Declaration of Independence? Independence won’t pay for food. It won’t bring my husband home.”

It was as if she’d burst into flames. “What has the war brought any of us? Heartache, is all. Curse your independence. Curse you for ….”

Augusta yanked on Becca’s gown with such force that she teetered, then rocked back onto the bench.

The church erupted in shouts, a crashing wave of sound meant to crush her.

Becca’s breath came in short puffs. What had she done?

“Now that’s just grief speaking, gentlemen. Mrs. Parcell is still mourning her husband. No need to get worked up.” The voice rose from the front row. She recognized Thomas Lockwood’s slow, confident drawl.
She craned her neck to watch Thomas, with his wheat-colored hair and wide shoulders. His broad stance reminded her of a captain at the wheel. He was a gentleman, a friend of General Washington. They’ll listen to him, she thought.

“Our minister doesn’t mean to accuse Mrs. Parcell of anything, now do you, sir?”

The two men stared at each other. A minister depended on the good will of gentlemen like Thomas Lockwood.
The pastor blinked first. He shook his head.

Becca’s breathing slowed.

“There now. As I said.” Lockwood’s voice calmed the room.

Then Mr. Baldwin stood slowly. Wrinkles crisscrossed his cheeks. He’d sent his three boys to fight with the Continental Army in ’75. Only one body came home to be buried. The other two were never found. He pointed at Becca with fingers twisted by arthritis. “Mrs. Parcell didn’t help when the women raised money for the soldiers last month.”

A woman at the end of Becca’s pew sobbed quietly. It was Mrs. Baldwin.

“You didn’t invite me.” Becca searched the closed faces for proof that someone believed her.

“Is she on our side or theirs?” another woman called.

The congregation quieted again. But it was the charged silence between two claps of thunder, and the Assembly waited for a fresh explosion in the dim light of the tired winter afternoon.

With that, Augusta’s imperious voice sliced through the silence: “Someone help my daughter-in-law. She’s not well. I believe she’s about to faint.”

Becca might be rash, but she wasn’t stupid, and she knew a command when she heard one. She shut her eyes and fell gracelessly into the aisle. Her head and shoulder thumped against the rough pine floorboards.

Mrs. Coddington gasped. So did Becca, from the sharp pain in her cheek and shoulder.

Women in the surrounding rows scooted back in surprise, their boots shuffling with a shh-shh sound.

“Lady Augusta,” Mrs. Coddington huffed.

Independence be damned. All of Morristown seemed to enjoy using Augusta’s family title, her former title, as often as possible.

“Lady Augusta,” she repeated. “I’ve had my suspicions about that girl since the day she married your son. I don’t know why you haven’t sent her back to her people.”

“She has no ‘people,’ Mrs. Coddington. She has me,” Augusta’s voice was as frosty as the air in the church. “And if I had doubts about Rebecca, do you think I’d live with her?”

Becca imagined Augusta’s raised eyebrows, her delicate lifted chin. She couldn’t have borne it if her mother-in-law believed the minister’s lies.

Augusta’s featherlight touch stroked her forehead. “Well done,” she murmured. “Now rise slowly. And don’t lean on me. I might just topple over.”

“We are eager to hear the rest of the service on this Sabbath day, Minister Townsend. Do continue,” Thomas Lockwood called.

Becca stood, her petite mother-in-law’s arm around her waist. The parishioners at the edges of the aisles averted their eyes as the two women passed.

As they stepped into the stark, brittle daylight, one last question shred the silence they left behind: “Do you think she turned her husband over to the British?”

Someone else answered. “It must be true. Everyone says so.

***

Excerpt from The Turncoat's Widow by Mally Becker. Copyright 2021 by Mally Becker. Reproduced with permission from Mally Becker. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Mally Becker

Mally Becker is a writer whose historical suspense novel, The Turncoat’s Widow, will be published in February 2021 by Level Best Books. She was born in Brooklyn and began her professional career in New York City as a publicist and freelance magazine writer, then moved on, becoming an attorney and, later, an advocate for children in foster care.

As a volunteer, she used her legal background to create a digest of letters from US Supreme Court Justices owned by the Morristown National Park. That’s where she found a copy of an indictment for the Revolutionary War crime of traveling from New Jersey to New York City “without permission or passport.” It led her to the idea for her story.

​A winner of the Leon B. Burstein/MWA-NY Scholarship for Mystery Writing, Mally lives with her husband in the wilds of New Jersey where they hike, kayak, look forward to visits from their son, and poke around the region’s historical sites.

Catch Up With Mally Becker On:
www.MallyBecker.com
Goodreads
Instagram - @mallybeckerwrites
Twitter - @mally_becker
Facebook - Mally Baumel Becker

 

 

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Enter To Win!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Mally Becker. There will be Five (5) winners for this tour. One winner will receive a $20. Amazon.com Gift Card, Two (2) winners will each win a physical copy of The Turncoat's Widow by Mally Becker (U.S. addresses only), and Two (2) winners will each win an eBook copy of The Turncoat's Widow by Mally Becker. The giveaway begins on February 22, 2021 and runs through March 21, 2021.
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21 February, 2021

February 21, 2021 0

#BookSpotlight :: Gulf of Deception by Kelly Ann Hopkins - @XpressoTours @khopkinswrites #Mystery #YoungAdult

 

Gulf of Deception
Kelly Ann Hopkins

(Gulf Shores Mysteries, #1)
Publication Date: March 8th 2021
Genres: Mystery, Young Adult

Fort Myers Beach has it all: sun, sand, music…and murder.

On the cusp of her high school graduation, Lily Harmony needs to figure out how to break it to her lawyer parents that she doesn’t want to follow in the family footsteps and go to law school—especially with her band in high demand on the Fort Myers beach scene. But when her father is killed inside his office and their mother accused of his murder, Lily and her estranged sister Annabelle know the police have the wrong person.

Clues are hard to come by until a mysterious man hands Lily a flash drive and warns her the information contained on it might get her killed. As Lily works to unravel what the files and pictures mean, a stunning discovery reveals the murderer might be closer than she thought.

With the help of her gamer BFF and a drone named Felix, Lily and her sister scour the Everglades for connections to her father’s killer. But what they find hidden in the canopy of cypress tress is more dangerous than they ever imagined—a long-lost secret worth millions.

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Author Bio:

Kelly Ann Hopkins is the author of Misled (coming 2021) and Buried Beneath (coming 2022). She spends her days as a high school librarian and creative writing teacher, where she challenges her students to read with abandon. When she’s not creating perilous adventures for her characters, she is dreaming of her next trip to the Florida Gulf Coast. Kelly lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, two children, and too many books.

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20 February, 2021

February 20, 2021 0

#CoverReveal :: The Maharaja's Fake Fiancée by Alisha Kay - #Romance @BookReviewTours

 


What happens when a free-spirited actress and an uptight Maharaja fake an engagement?



Depending on whom you ask, you either get a match made-in-heaven or a royal disaster.
When Diya Sharma's meddlesome mother tries to throw her into the arms of a mom-approved suitor, Diya runs the other way. Right into the arms of the most scandal-averse Maharaja on earth.
His Highness Veerendra Singh can recognise a pain-in-the-ass when he sees it. Especially when it falls into his arms.
Even if said pain-in-the-ass has legs that go on for ever and lush lips that just beg to be kissed, Veer doesn’t need another scandalous actress destroying his family’s happiness. So all he wants to do is run in the opposite direction.
But, when a marriage-minded princess sets her sights on him, Veer runs back into Diya’s arms to propose a fake engagement.
When the lines between real and fake start to blur, Diya and Veer need to decide what is important? Long held prejudices or the yearnings of their heart?




Alisha Kay is a Delhi based writer, who writes romances set in India.

She doesn’t hold with the concept of damsel-in-distress, which is why her heroines are spunky women with a sharp tongue and the ability to rescue themselves. Her heroes are hot men who are woke enough to find that independence irresistible. 

A Maharaja of Her Own is Alisha’s first book.


18 February, 2021

February 18, 2021 0

Read an #Excerpt from A Shot at Normal by Marisa Reichardt - @XpressoTours @youngadultish #Contemporary #YoungAdult


A Shot at Normal
Marisa Reichardt
Published by: Farrar Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Publication date: February 16th 2021
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult

Marisa Reichardt’s A Shot at Normal is a powerful and timely novel about justice, agency, family, and taking your shot, even when it seems impossible.

Dr. Villapando told me to get a good attorney. He wasn’t serious. But I am. I’m going to sue my parents.

Juniper Jade’s parents are hippies. They didn’t attend the first Woodstock, but they were there for the second one. The Jade family lives an all-organic homeschool lifestyle that means no plastics, no cell phones, and no vaccines. It isn’t exactly normal, but it’s the only thing Juniper has ever known. She doesn’t agree with her parents on everything, but she knows that to be in this family, you’ve got to stick to the rules. That is, until the unthinkable happens.

Juniper contracts the measles and unknowingly passes the disease along, with tragic consequences. She is shell-shocked. Juniper knows she is responsible and feels simultaneously helpless and furious at her parents, and herself.

Now, with the help of Nico, the boy who works at the library and loves movies and may just be more than a friend, Juniper comes to a decision: she is going to get vaccinated. Her parents refuse so Juniper arms herself with a lawyer and prepares for battle. But is waging war for her autonomy worth losing her family? How much is Juniper willing to risk for a shot at normal?

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EXCERPT:

Now that the new school year has started and my parents have reached out to other local homeschoolers to plan field trips, I’m hoping I’ll make some new friends.

Until then, I’ll remain on the outside looking in.

Like this morning, in my room, where I spent from seven forty-fi ve to eight a.m. watching through the window as bright yellow buses pulled up to the curb in front of Playa Bonita High School. The bus doors opened and students spilled onto the sidewalk. Others rode up on bikes and skateboards. The older ones, the juniors and seniors, arrived in cars crammed with passengers, two in the front seat and three in the back. Everyone wore shorts or sundresses, because it’s still the last week of August and the heat of summer hasn’t let go of this town yet.

I could feel that heat in my armpits and the sweat marks collecting along the edges of my tank top when I woke up. I slathered on deodorant from the half- empty mason jar on my dresser like I do every morning. It’s sticky and lumpy and leaves behind a white, oily residue that stains my shirts. I’ve asked my mom for real deodorant. Or at least something from the natural health section at Whole Foods.

“Tapioca starch and coconut oil take care of things fine,” she says. I’m sure that’s not true, because if I notice the stink of my mom’s BO, then surely I have it, too.

The girls at PBHS probably smell like strawberries and freedom. I bet they spent all morning soaking themselves in those scented body washes from that store at the mall that always smells like a fruit stand. I also bet my mom can recite the exact paraben levels in each bottle. Because that store, like the mall itself, is not a place my parents would ever let me spend money.

That’s why those girls across the street are there and I’m here. The chemicals and the toxins and the mercury levels and the melting ozone layer made my parents take a big step back from the real world. Everything from our deodorant to our food to our cleaning products to our furniture is organic. Important things, I know. But there’s such a thing as too much. My parents are rabid in their beliefs.

“Organic isn’t what’s new. It’s what’s old,” my mom says proudly. “We’re original.”

She operates in a rose- colored version of history, which is also why my sister, my brother, and I don’t get vaccinated. This makes us ineligible to enroll in schools in California. Not that I haven’t tried. When we moved, I thought maybe this was finally it. The public high school was right across the street. I’d practically still be at home. I begged to go. But couple the strict California vaccination requirements with the fact that my parents think homeschooling creates lifelong learners as opposed to kids who simply regurgitate multiple- choice information for state tests, and it was easy for them to say no. “We decide what goes into our children’s bodies and minds,” they said. So here I sit at the kitchen table, digging into my putrid pancakes, trying to figure out if selling baled herbs and essential oils this summer made me a better person.

My guess is no.

Author Bio:

Marisa Reichardt is the critically acclaimed author of the YA novels UNDERWATER, AFTERSHOCKS (2020), and A SHOT AT NORMAL (2021). She has a Master of Professional Writing degree from the University of Southern California and dual degrees in English & American Literature and Creative Writing from UC San Diego. Before becoming a published author, Marisa worked in academic publications, tutored high school students in writing, and shucked oysters. These days, you can probably find her huddled over her laptop in a coffeehouse or swimming in the ocean.

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16 February, 2021

February 16, 2021 0

#BookReview :: Death in Tranquility (The Bartender's Guide to Murder #1) by Sharon Linnea - @partnersincr1me @SharonLinnea #CozyMystery #WomenSleuths

 


What was supposed to be a quick stop before catching a train, turns out to be a place that offers Avalon Nash a job and a place to stay. Okay, filling in the shoes of a murder victim may not be the ideal job, specially since the position seems to be cursed, but Avalon has no one to answer to and she is not the one to back down from a challenge unless it is from her past.

Avalon Nash decided to stop for a drink at a local tavern at small town called Tranquility before catching her connecting train. But while there she discovers the body of the bartender. As such, she is asked to hang around for a while by the local authorities and the owner of the tavern offers her the newly opened spot of a bartender. Avalon has always been serious about her skills and interest in bartending, and as such she is good at her job. She collects stories from her customers and as she discovers more about the town and its people, she puts herself in a dangerous position. Will she be able to bring the murderer to justice or will she end up as yet another murdered bartender in the history of Tranquility.

Avalon Nash is an intriguing character. The author has developed the protagonist's character shrouded in a cloud of mystery. We do not find out much about her life - and the bits that we do discover only adds to the intrigue that Avalon Nash is. She certainly has a checkered past but how bad is it is something that we can only guess at the moment. She is good at her job and quick on her feet. She is one of those people who can make people feel at ease. The qualities that make Avalon good at her job, are also the qualities that help her survive and take on a murderer. The story also offers a wide range of characters from the general townsfolk, people from Hollywood and out of town visitors. Each character have their own personality and role to play in the story. There are a couple of characters that I think will be recurring characters in the series from the way they are set up and developed in this book.

I did like the plot and the pace of the story. The murder happens right at the beginning and the pace never falters. There is always something new unfolding or some important information provided to keep the readers engaged. There were only a couple of twists in the story but cleverly placed.

Avalon is the main hook in this book and for the series - because I am sure I want to read the next book in the series just for her.



Review Copy received from Partners in Crime Tours


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15 February, 2021

February 15, 2021 1

#GuestPost :: Why I like my heroes to be decent men by @JudeKnightBooks #RegencyRomance #HistoricalRomance

 

Ruth Winderfield is miserable in London's ballrooms, where the wealth of her family and the question over her birth make her a target for the unscrupulous and a pariah to the high-sticklers. Trained as a healer, she is happiest in a sickroom. When she's caught up in a smallpox epidemic and finds herself quarantined at the remote manor of a reclusive lord, the last thing she expects is to find her heart's desire. A pity he does not feel the same.

Valentine, Earl of Ashbury, hasn't seen his daughter—if she is his daughter—in three years. She and her cousin, his niece, remind him of his faithless wife and treacherous brother, whose deaths three years ago will never set him free. Val spends his days trying to restore the estate, or at least prevent further crumbling. When an impertinent bossy female turns up with several sick children, including the girls he is responsible for, he reluctantly gives them shelter. Even more reluctantly, he helps with the nursing. The sooner they leave again the better, even if Ruth has wormed her way into his heart.



Why I like my heroes to be decent men


I’m thinking about heroes at the moment. I’m currently writing two novels at the same time. My heroines are twin sisters, and one novel’s timeframe is the first half of the other.

I’m also preparing another novel for publication in March, and marketing a multi author box set that comes out in April. 

All four heroes are different: a doctor, a vicar, a reclusive earl, a charming marquis. But they have one thing in common. They are all decent men (though, to be fair, the last one has been a scoundrel in the past.)

I’m none too fond of scoundrels. I think most of you will agree with me. Even the rogues that feature in so many historical novels turn out to be decent men when you scratch the surface.

Here’s the thing. I am the daughter of a scoundrel and the wife of a decent man. For the first twenty years of my life, I watched a marriage I wanted no part of, and for the next nearly fifty, I’ve enjoyed a marriage with a thoroughly decent man.

Let’s define our terms

A decent man may have his problems. But he won’t deliberately pursue his own needs and desires careless of the consequences. He will make sacrifices without expecting a reward, because the happiness of someone else is important to him.

To a scoundrel, on the other hand, other people are not fully real. They exist as background, tools, playthings, or obstacles, but not as people. Even when he loves, a scoundrel loves himself first. If he makes sacrifices, it is in full expectation that he is surrendering one thing to win another.

In fiction, as in real life, people sit somewhere on the continuum, from thoroughly decent to entirely scoundrelly. Scoundrelous? Scoundrelish? 

It’s all about the journey

I’m looking for two things in a story I read, and both are to do with what changes for the main protagonists between the front page and the last.

The first is the external journey. Each main character has an external challenge to face and overcome. This is the plot, and it needs to keep my interest or I won’t finish the book.

The second is the internal journey. I am looking for my main characters to grow, mature and learn from their experiences, and above all from their interactions with the other characters. It’s one of the reasons I read and write romance. People in love are willing to put aside their fears and their habits for the sake of the other, so romances are a prime opportunity for internal journeys.

A well written internal journey shows in what a person says and does, and requires a deep understanding of human nature and of the characters who need to respond to outside pressures and personal yearnings according to their personalities and experiences. What might drive one man out into brothels and bars might set another into a hermitage and a third onto a battlefield. And what will bring each of them out of their despair will likewise be different.

I want to see the hero grow

A decent man needs to change to make the story interesting. He might be nursing a broken heart, obsessed with a goal to the exclusion of all else, fighting personal demons, even convinced the world revolves around him. If he is able to get out of his personal gloom or the beam of his own sunshine to care about the needs of someone else, he is fundamentally decent.

A true scoundrel is not ever to be trusted. When he makes choices, he will always have himself and what he wants as his deciding factor. 

But I have to believe in the change

Continuum again. I can think of many books in which the scoundrel has a core of decency that the heroine is able to reach. But the ones that convince me show evidence of that core. The scoundrel saves an inconsequential child from a bully. Or is kind to an elderly widow. Or sends the heroine away because he is afraid of hurting her. In Elizabeth Hoyt’s Scandalous Desires, the river pirate king has been building a second secret life where he doesn’t have to be a scoundrel, and Darcy Burke uses the same device in Scoundrel Ever After.

By contrast, I’ve read a few stories in which the scoundrel hero is bad (or perhaps broken) to the core, but makes an exception for the heroine, and I don’t believe them. Not for one minute. Anna Campbell’s Duke of Kylemore walked very close to the line, but in the end, Campbell convinced me that he has really made the transition from scoundrel to decent man. Lucinda Brant’s Duke of Roxton claims to care for no-one but himself, until he meets his Antonia. But the reader knows he is kind to his friend and his sister. Others remain scoundrels, and thorough scoundrels can’t love anyone but themselves, whatever their current emotional state.

If the hero decides what is best for the heroine based on what he believes to be best for him, the hero is a scoundrel. If the hero’s new respect for and decency towards the heroine doesn’t affect how he feels about anyone else, then the hero is a scoundrel. The change will reverse as soon as their relationship hits a dry patch (and all relationships hit dry patches). Either way, book, meet wall.

Non-fiction should be factual; fiction should be truthful

It matters because fiction matters. Yes, the stories we tell are fiction and fantasy. But they also reflect and in some ways shape people’s expectations. I write fiction, not fact. But fiction should, whatever else it does, tell the truth about people. I write romance, which means I have a responsibility to be honest about the places where love can thrive. And love with a scoundrel is not a place where love can thrive.

Rakes rarely reform. Bad boys remain both boys and bad. Love can go tragically wrong and end in abuse, even death. Or it can wound rather than kill, leaving its victims with broken hearts, low self-esteem, unwanted pregnancy and disease. Women are better off alone than stuck with a scoundrel. This is truth, and telling the truth is my job.

And that’s why my heroes are decent men.


The Children of the Mountain King

In 1812, high Society is rocked by the return of the Earl of Sutton, heir to the dying Duke of Winshire. James Winderfield, Earl of Sutton, Winshire’s third and only surviving son, has long been thought dead, but his reappearance is not nearly such a shock as those he brings with him, the children of his deceased Persian-born wife and fierce armed retainers.

This series begins with a prequel novella (Paradise Regained) telling the love story of James senior and Mahzad, then leaps two decades to a series of six novels as the Winderfield offspring and their cousins search for acceptance and love.

I’ve published the first novel, To Wed a Proper Lady. The second, To Mend the Broken Hearted, comes out on 23 March. The novella Melting Matilda (last year’s Bluestocking Belles’ story published in Fire and Frost) is also set in the world of The Children of the Mountain King, and happens after novel 2. I’m publishing that as a stand-alone in May. Then, in June and July, all going well, expect To Claim the Long-Lost Lover and To Tame the Wild Rake. 

See the book page on my website for more about these books and others. 

Meet Jude Knight




Jude always wanted to be a novelist. She started in her teens, but life kept getting in the way. Years passed, and with them dozens of unfinished manuscripts. The fear grew. What if she tried, failed, and lost the dream forever? The past 5 years have brought 8 novels, 13 novellas, 3 awards and several more nominations, and hundreds of positive reviews. The dream is alive.




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07 February, 2021

February 07, 2021 0

#BookSpotlight :: Broken Wing Kathleen Mare’e - #NewAdult #Contemporary @XpressoTours

Broken Wing
Kathleen Mare’e
(Arthur Academy, #1)
Publication date: April 26th 2021
Genres: Contemporary, New Adult

Hendrix:
It’s funny the things you notice as a child.
Like the way people uneasily glance away from me whenever I catch their eye. Or the way a stranger seems to smile happily at other children, but when I say hello, their smile looks more uneasy than warm…
But as I approach the steel gates to the elite Arthur Academy, I can’t help but take a long-awaited breath towards my freedom. Finally, I have the chance to build the life I want. A future. Something that gives me more to live for than the daily beatings my childhood only ever knew. The girl I used to be doesn’t exist here. But even as the confidence grows about a life I now have control over, I can’t help but feel there could be something else waiting for me here. Something I’ve never faced before.And it isn’t something I could prepare for.
And preparation is what got me out. It got me here.I can’t afford to lose this opportunity, because if I lose this hand, it’s more than just a loss.
It’s like not being able to breathe. Not being able to fly.

Paxton:
I grip the leather ball in my hand, feeling the weight of the year pressing down on me. If it was just football, I could deal, but with my last name – it’s everything else that suffocates me. The Arthur Elite is what they call us, and we each have our roles to play. But my fathers given me the next two years to do what the hell I want without his interference, before he’ll own me and I’ll become nothing but his pawn.
After that, when college is done, I dread the life I’ll have to lead. The role I’ll be forced to play.
It should be simple. Just stroll through the steel gates and be the crown they all see; but I can’t help but feel there is something lurking beneath the surface. There is something different about this year that I sense inside my dark soul.
And it isn’t something I am prepared for; even when staying ahead is the one thing that ensures my next breath.

Because when I lose a hand, it’s more than just a loss.
It’s like losing a limb. A bird breaking its’ wing.

And without that – I can’t fly toward freedom.
And my freedom right now, is all I have to hold onto.

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February 07, 2021 1

Read an #Excerpt from Death In Tranquility by Sharon Linnéa - @partnersincr1me @SharonLinnea #Mystery

 

Death In Tranquility by Sharon Linnéa Banner

Death In Tranquility

by Sharon Linnéa

February 1-28, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

Death In Tranquility by Sharon Linnea

No one talks to the cops. Everyone talks to the bartender. And Avalon Nash is one hell of a bartender.

Avalon is on the run from her life in Los Angeles. Having a drink while waiting to change trains in the former Olympic town of Tranquility, New York, she discovers the freshly murdered bartender at MacTavish’s. A bartender herself, she’s offered the position with the warning he wasn’t the first MacTavish’s bartender to meet a violent end.

Avalon’s superpower is collecting people’s stories, and she’s soon embroiled in the lives of artists, politicians, ghost hunters and descendants of Old Hollywood.

Can Avalon outrun the ghosts of her past, catch the ghosts of Tranquility’s past and outsmart a murderer?

The first book in the Bartender’s Guide to Murder series offers chills, laughs, and 30 of the best drink recipes ever imbibed.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Arundel Publishing
Publication Date: September 29th 2020
Number of Pages: 323
ISBN: 9781933608 (ISBN13: 9781933608150)
Series: Bartender’s Guide to Murder, 1 (Click here to check out other books in the series!)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Bookstore Plus | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1

Death in the Afternoon

“Whenever you see the bartender, I’d like another drink,” I said, lifting my empty martini glass and tipping it to Marta, the waitress with teal hair.

"Everyone wants another drink,” she said, “but Joseph’s missing. I can’t find him. Anywhere.”

“How long has he been gone?” I asked.

“About ten minutes. It’s not like him. Joseph would never just go off without telling me.”

That’s when I should have done it. I should have put down forty bucks to cover my drink and my meal and left that magical, moody, dark-wood paneled Scottish bar and sauntered back across the street to the train station to continue on my way.

If I had, everything would be different.

Instead I nodded, grateful for a reason to stand up. A glance at my watch told me over half an hour remained until my connecting train chugged in across the street. I could do Marta a solid by finding the bartender and telling him drink orders were stacking up.

Travelling from Los Angeles to New York City by rail, I had taken the northern route, which required me to change trains in the storied village of Tranquility, New York. Once detrained, the posted schedule had informed me should I decide to bolt and head north for Montreal, I could leave within the hour. The train heading south for New York City, however, would not be along until 4 p.m.

Sometimes in life you think it’s about where you’re going, but it turns out to be about where you change trains.

It was an April afternoon; the colors on the trees and bushes were still painting from the watery palate of spring. Here and there, forsythia unfurled in insistent bursts of golden glory.

I needed a drink.

Tranquility has been famous for a long time. Best known for hosting the Winter Olympics back in 19-whatever, it was an eclectic blend of small village, arts community, ski mecca, gigantic hotels and Olympic facilities. Certainly there was somewhere a person could get lunch.

Perched on a hill across the street from the station sat a shiny, modern hotel of the upscale chain variety. Just down the road, father south, was a large, meandering, one-of-a-kind establishment called MacTavish’s Seaside Cottage. It looked nothing like a cottage, and, as we were inland, there were no seas. I doubted the existence of a MacTavish.

I headed over at once.

The place evoked a lost inn in Brigadoon. A square main building of a single story sent wings jutting off at various angles into the rolling hills beyond. Floor-to-ceiling windows made the lobby bright and airy. A full suit of armor stood guard over the check-in counter, while a sculpture of two downhill skiers whooshed under a skylight in the middle of the room.

Behind the statue was the Breezy, a sleek restaurant overlooking Lake Serenity (Lake Tranquility was in the next town over, go figure). The restaurant’s outdoor deck was packed with tourists on this balmy day, eating and holding tight to their napkins, lest they be lost to the murky depths.

Off to the right—huddled in the vast common area’s only dark corner—was a small door with a carved, hand-painted wooden sign which featured a large seagoing vessel plowing through tumultuous waves. That Ship Has Sailed, it read. A tavern name if I ever heard one.

Beyond the heavy door, down a short dark-wood hallway, in a tall room lined with chestnut paneling, I paused to let my eyes adjust to the change in light, atmosphere, and, possibly, century.

The bar was at a right angle as you entered, running the length of the wall. It was hand-carved and matched the back bar, which held 200 bottles, easily.

A bartender’s dream, or her undoing.

Two of the booths against the far wall were occupied, as were two of the center tables.

I sat at the bar.

Only one other person claimed a seat there during this low time between meal services. He was a tall gentleman with a square face, weathered skin, and dark hair pulled back into a ponytail. I felt his cold stare as I perused the menu trying to keep to myself. I finally gave up and stared back.

“Flying Crow,” he said. “Mohawk Clan.”

“Avalon,” I said. “Train changer.”

I went back to my menu, surprised to find oysters were a featured dish.

“Avalon?” he finally said. “That’s—”

“An odd name,” I answered. “I know. Flying Crow? You’re in a Scottish pub.”

“Ask him what Oswego means.” This was from the bartender, a lanky man with salt-and-pepper hair. “Oh, but place your order first.”

“Are the oysters good?” I asked.

“Oddly, yes. One of the best things on the menu. Us being seaside, and all.”

“All right, then. Oysters it is. And a really dry vodka martini, olives.”

“Pimento, jalapeño, or bleu cheese?”

“Ooh, bleu cheese, please.” I turned to Flying Crow. “So what does Oswego mean?”

“It means, ‘Nothing Here, Give It to the Crazy White Folks.’ Owego, on the other hand means, ‘Nothing Here Either.’”

“How about Otego? And Otsego and Otisco?”

His eyebrow raised. He was impressed by my knowledge of obscure town names in New York State. “They all mean, ‘We’re Just Messing with You Now.’”

“Hey,” I said, raising my newly delivered martini. “Thanks for coming clean.”

He raised his own glass of firewater in return.

“Coming clean?” asked the bartender, and he chuckled, then dropped his voice. “If he’s coming clean, his name is Lesley.”

“And you are?” I asked. He wasn’t wearing a name tag.

“Joseph.”

“Skål,” I said, raising my glass. “Glad I found That Ship Has Sailed.”

“That’s too much of a mouthful,” he said, flipping over the menu. “Everyone calls it the Battened Hatch.”

“But the Battened Hatch isn’t shorter. Still four syllables.”

“Troublemaker,” muttered Lesley good-naturedly. “I warned you.”

“Fewer words,” said Joseph with a smile that included crinkles by his eyes. “Fewer capital letters over which to trip.”

As he spoke, the leaded door banged open and two men in chinos and shirtsleeves arrived, talking loudly to each other. The door swung again, just behind them, admitting a stream of ten more folks—both women and men, all clad in business casual. Some were more casual than others. One man with silvering hair actually wore a suit and tie; another, a white artist’s shirt, his blonde hair shoulder-length. The women’s garments, too, ran the gamut from tailored to flowing. One, of medium height, even wore a white blouse, navy blue skirt and jacket, finished with hose and pumps. And a priest’s collar.

“Conventioneers?” I asked Joseph. Even as I asked, I knew it didn’t make sense. No specific corporate culture was in evidence.

He laughed. “Nah. Conference people eat at the Blowy. Er, Breezy. Tranquility’s Chamber of Commerce meeting just let out.” His grey eyes danced. “They can never agree on anything, but their entertainment quotient is fairly high. And they drive each other to drink.”

Flying Crow Lesley shook his head.

Most of the new arrivals found tables in the center of the room. Seven of them scooted smaller tables together, others continued their conversations or arguments in pairs.

“Marta!” Joseph called, leaning through a door in the back wall beside the bar.

The curvy girl with the teal hair, nose and eyebrow rings and mega eye shadow clumped through. Her eyes widened when she saw the influx of patrons.

Joseph slid the grilled oysters with fennel butter in front of me. “Want anything else before the rush?” He indicated the well-stocked back bar.

“I’d better hold off. Just in case there’s a disaster and I end up having to drive the train.”

He nodded knowingly. “Good luck with that.”

I took out my phone, then re-pocketed it. I wanted a few more uncomplicated hours before re-entering the real world. Turning to my right, I found that Flying Crow had vanished. In his stead, several barstools down, sat a Scotsman in full regalia: kilt, Bonnie Prince Charlie jacket and a fly plaid. It was predominantly red with blue stripes.

Wow. Mohawk clan members, Scotsmen, and women priests in pantyhose. This was quite a town.

Joseph was looking at an order screen, and five drinks in different glasses were already lined up ready for Marta to deliver.

My phone buzzed. I checked caller i.d. Fought with myself. Answered.

Was grabbed by tentacles of the past.

When I looked up, filled with emotions I didn’t care to have, I decided I did need another drink; forget driving the train.

The line of waiting drink glasses was gone, as were Marta and Joseph.

I checked the time. I’d been in Underland for fifteen minutes, twenty at the most. It was just past three. I had maybe forty-five minutes before I should move on.

That was when Marta swung through the kitchen door, her head down to stave off the multiple calls from the center tables. She stood in front of me, punching information into the point of sale station, employing the NECTM—No Eye Contact Tactical Maneuver.

That’s when she told me Joseph was missing.

“Could he be in the restroom?”

“I asked Arthur when he came out, but he said there was nobody else.”

I nodded at Marta and started by going out through the front hall, to see if perhaps he’d met someone in the lobby. As I did a lap, I overheard a man at check-in ask, “Is it true the inn is haunted?”

“Do you want it to be?” asked the clerk, nonplussed.

But no sign of the bartender.

I swung back through into the woodsy-smelling darkness of the Battened Hatch, shook my head at the troubled waitress, then walked to the circular window in the door. The industrial kitchen was white and well-lit, and as large as it was, I could see straight through the shared kitchen to the Breezy. No sign of Joseph. I turned my attention back to the bar.

Beyond the bar, there was a hallway to the restrooms, and another wooden door that led outside. I looked back at Marta and nodded to the door.

“It doesn’t go anywhere,” she said. “It’s only a little smoker’s deck.”

I wondered if Joseph smoked, tobacco or otherwise. Certainly the arrival of most of a Chamber of Commerce would suggest it to me. I pushed on the wooden door. It seemed locked. I gave it one more try, and, though it didn’t open, it did budge a little bit.

This time I went at it with my full shoulder. There was a thud, and it wedged open enough that I could slip through.

It could hardly be called a deck. You couldn’t put a table—or even a lounge chair—out there.

Especially with the body taking up so much of the space.

It was Joseph. I knelt quickly and felt for a pulse at his neck, but it was clear he was inanimate. He was sitting up, although my pushing the door open had made him lean at an angle. I couldn’t tell if the look on his face was one of pain or surprise. There was some vomit beside him on the deck, and a rivulet down his chin. I felt embarrassed to be seeing him this way.

Crap. He was always nice to me. Well, during the half an hour I’d known him, he had been nice to me.

What was it with me discovering corpses? It was certainly a habit of which I had to break myself.

Meanwhile, what to do? Should I call in the priest? But she was within a group, and it would certainly start a panic. Call 911?

Yes, that would be good. That way they could decide to call the hospital or the police or both.

My phone was back in my purse.

And, you know what? I didn’t want the call to come from me. I was just passing through.

I pulled the door back open and walked to Marta behind the bar. “Call 911,” I said softly. “I found Joseph.”

It took the ambulance and the police five minutes to arrive. The paramedics went through first, then brought a gurney around outside so as to not freak out everyone in the hotel. They loaded Joseph on and sped off, in case there was anything to be done.

I knew there wasn’t.

The police, on the other hand, worked at securing the place which might become a crime scene. They blocked all the doorways and announced no one could leave.

I was still behind the bar with Marta. She was shaking.

“Give me another Scotch,” said the Scotsman seated there.

I looked at the bottles and was pleasantly surprised by the selection. “I think this calls for Black Maple Hill,” I said, only mildly surprised at my reflexive tendency to upsell. The Hill was a rich pour but not the absolute priciest.

He nodded. I poured.

I’m not sure if it was Marta’s tears, or the fact we weren’t allowed to leave, but local bigwigs had realized something was amiss.

“Excuse me,” the man in the suit came to the bar. “Someone said Joseph is dead.”

“Yes,” I said. “He does seem to be.”

Marta swung out of the kitchen, her eyeliner half down her face. “Art, these are your oysters,” she said to the man. He took them.

“So,” he continued, and I wondered what meaningful words he’d have to utter. “You’re pouring drinks?”

It took only a moment to realize that, were I the owner of this establishment, I’d find this a great opportunity.

“Seems so,” I said.

“What goes with oysters?” he asked.

That was a no-brainer. I’d spied the green bottle of absinthe while having my own meal. I poured about three tablespoons into the glass. I then opened a bottle of Prosecco, poured it, and waited for the milky cloud to form.

He took a sip, looked at me, and raised the glass. “If I want another of these, what do I ask for?”

As he asked, I realized I’d dispensed one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite libations. “Death in the Afternoon,” I replied.

He nodded and went back to his table.

It was then I realized I wasn’t going to make my train.

* *

Ernest Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon

Ingredients

• 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) absinthe
• ½ to ¾ cup (4 to 6 ounces) cold Champagne or sparkling wine

Method

Hemmingway’s advice, circa 1935: "Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly."

Chapter 2

No Known Address

Since I found the body, I got to talk to the lead investigator.

He was in his mid-thirties, just under six feet, walnut skin, black hair cut short. He would have benefitted from a beard. He looked ripped; the king of ripped you got from taking out your frustrations in the gym. His demeanor was no-nonsense.

“Investigator Spaulding,” he said, and he pulled out a notebook. “State Police.”

“State Police? Isn’t that the same as State Troopers? Don’t you manage highways?”

He stopped writing in his small, leather-covered notebook and looked up.

“Common misconception. The local P.D. is small—only 9 on staff. When something big happens, they ask for assistance.”

“They ask?”

“It’s a dance.”

I wasn’t a suspect (yet), so he didn’t need to write down my stats, but I could read upside down as he made notes. He asked my name, and began guessing at the rest. Nash, Avalon. Female. Caucasian. Blonde hair. 5’7 was his guess at my height. The next thing he wrote down could go seriously south, so I said, “healthy weight.”

He looked up.

“5’7” and at a healthy weight,” I supplied. “If I’m charged with something, we’ll get more specific.”

“Age?”

Did he really need to know all of this? “Twenties,” I said, waiting to see if he’d have the gall to object. He didn’t.

“Best way to reach you?”

I gave him my cell number.

“Permanent address?”

“I don’t have one.”

He looked up.

“I’m in the process of moving from California to New York. I’m only in town to change trains. I don’t have a New York address yet.”

“A relative’s address?”

I held up my phone. “This is your golden ticket,” I said. “If you want to reach me, this is it.”

I saw him write ‘no known address.’ Yep, that pretty much summed it up. I glanced at my watch. Seven minutes until my train pulled into—and, soon after, departed from—the station.

“Um, Detective,” I started.

“Investigator Spaulding,” he corrected.

“Investigator Spaulding, my train is about to arrive. I don’t know anything except what I’ve told you. I came in for a drink and helped Marta find the bartender, whom I hope died of a massive heart attack—well, of natural causes. You know what I mean.”

At that point, his phone buzzed and he gave me a just-a-minute finger. He answered, listened for a while, and started to write. Then he hung up, flipped his notebook shut and said, “I can’t let you leave. He was murdered.”

“Great,” I said, the tone somewhere between rueful and intrigued, as I headed back toward Marta, then I turned back toward Investigator Spaulding. “Can I continue to pour drinks?”

He considered less than a moment. “By all means, serve truth serum to anyone who will imbibe.”

Then he turned and walked toward the other officers.

I went to stand with Marta behind the bar. In my imagination, I heard the train chug in across the street.

Investigator Spaulding cleared his throat, and the room went silent. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said. “This is now a homicide investigation.” He had to pause as everyone shuffled or gasped, or cried out. “Please do not leave until we have taken your statement.”

A woman in her fifties came and sat down in front of me at the bar. Her hair was in a no-fuss bob, she wore a free-flowing skirt with a linen jacket, both of which were in style twenty years ago, but they worked on her. “Got anything stronger than those Death things?” she asked. “I’m not big on Champagne.”

“Sure.” I said. I sized her up. “Layers in a martini glass work for you?”

“Honey, it’s the strength, not the glass.” She looked shaken and sad. I went for the rums and found Malibu Black, the stronger brother of the original. What a bartender Joseph must have been! I decided to try something new. Malibu Black, mango pineapple vodka, and pineapple juice. I mixed it over ice, shook, and poured. I sank some Chambord and topped it with Jägermeister Spice.

“See if this does it,” I said.

Her hand shook slightly as she held up the glass, appreciated the layers, and then took a sip. The jury was out. She took another. She nodded and smiled.

It occurred to me that everyone in the room knew Joseph. They’d lost one of their own.

Another woman in skinny white pants and a white shell with a fancy pink sports jacket came and sat next to her. They were about the same age, if I had to guess, but the new woman was thin as a rail, muscular, and with her blonde hair in a ponytail. I was guessing she colored her hair not from a darker shade, but to cover the white. The two women embraced. “Suzanne,” said the new arrival.

“Gillian,” said no-fuss-bob Suzanne. Then, “Can’t believe it.”

“I can’t, either,” replied hard-bodied Gillian. She had the remains of an Eastern European accent. They sat a respectful moment. “What are you drinking?”

Suzanne looked at me. “No Known Address,” I said.

“Okay,” Gillian said. “I’ll have one.” She then turned and I was dismissed to my task.

“I can’t believe it. One of the only straight, available guys between forty and crotchety, and he’s gone!” said Suzanne.

“There’s Mike,” Gillian said, tilting her head toward the state police investigator. “And I’m not sure Joseph was available.”

“First, really? Maybe if he worked out. Second, you or I crook our little fingers and get a guy away from Sophie.” They both looked back, shooting daggers toward one of the three women in the center wall booth. I knew which must be Sophie, as one of them was crying copiously while the other two petted her solicitously.

“And do we have a suspect?” asked pink jacket Gillian.

This time, they looked at a younger woman who sat at a table with two newly arrived Chamber men. She was gorgeous—skin the color of chai latte and hair as dark as a sky at new moon. She was staring off into space.

I almost said, “You know I can hear you.” But maids, taxi drivers, and bartenders… well, we’re invisible, which is partly how we get the good gossip.

They stopped talking abruptly as two men approached. “Can we get some food?” asked the first. He was in a polo and navy blue slacks.

I heard snuffling and saw that Marta was in the shadows, leaning back against the wall. “Hey,” I said, “would you ask the chef if we can continue to order food?”

She nodded and swung through the kitchen door.

Arthur, the man in the suit who had ordered earlier, accompanied the newcomer in the polo. Arthur addressed his companion in an audible hiss. “I’m telling you… we can’t let word of this get out. Tranquility has to be considered a safe haven. For everyone. For…the festival folks. It’s part of what lures them here. Change of pace.”

“How do we not let the word get out? It’s a matter of record! And everyone in town knows about it—or will, within minutes.”

From the furious pace of thumbs texting throughout the room, it was clear he was correct.

“I mean, don’t print this as front-page news.”

“It is front page news, Art. And, the film festival folks are already committed. They’ve submitted their films. They’ll come.”

Marta returned with a positive nod. I slapped down two menus. “Marta will be out to take your order,” I said. As they turned, I added. “And if it’s a film festival, you don’t need to worry. Film people eat news like this for breakfast.”

Arthur looked at me in surprise, but gave a raised-eyebrows look that inferred I could have a point.

They left with the menus and I turned back to Marta, trying to help get her mind on something other than her boss’s death. “Can you help me add these drinks to people’s tabs?” I nodded toward the POS.

For the record, I hate point of sale machines. Each one hates humans in its own unique way. I pointed at people and she pulled up their tabs and showed me how to input the drinks I’d served.

I only had the Scotsman’s tab left undone when the man in the artist’s shirt stopped right before me. He was likely late 40s and had a face that was long but not unattractive. His shoulders were unusually broad, and he exuded self-confidence and a self-trained impishness. His shirt had one too many buttons left undone.

“Okay,” he said, “I wasn’t going to drink, but Joe…”

“You weren’t going to drink because it’s late afternoon, or because you’ve been sober for seven months?” I had no interest in tipping someone off the wagon.

He laughed. “I haven’t been drinking because this isn’t my favorite crowd,” he said. “And I don’t usually drink. But murder seems an excuse, if there ever was one.” He extended his hand. “Michael Michel,” he said, and smiled, waggling his eyebrows as if this should mean something to me.

I took his hand and shook. It was apparent I didn’t recognize him.

“The Painter Who Brings You Home,” he said, and the trademark practically bled from the words.

“Right,” I said, trying to sound impressed. “Nice to meet you. I’m Avalon. What’ll ya have?”

“Vodka tonic lime.”

“Care which vodka?”

He shook his head while saying, “Whatever you’ve got. Grey Goose.”

Ah, a fellow who pretended not to drink, who knew exactly what he wanted.

I poured and went for the garnish tray. The limes were gone. I looked at the back bar and found lemons and oranges. No limes, though clearly there had been some. I walked along the front bar and found, below patron eye level, a small cutting board with a lime on it. The lime was half-cut, some of them in rounds, a few in quarters. Some juice was dripping down onto the floor.

I reached for a wedge, and then I stopped short.

Joseph never would have left this on purpose. It was obviously what he’d been doing when he was interrupted by death—or someone who led him to his death. Or by symptoms that eventually spelled death.

I leaned down and sniffed.

It was lime-y. But there was something else, also.

I backed away. I walked over to Marta and said, quietly, “Don’t let anyone near that end of the bar.”

Then I walked over to Investigator Spaulding, where he sat at a booth interviewing someone. “Investigator?” I said. “Sorry to interrupt, but this is important.”

He looked at me, squinting, then seemed surprised, since I’d made such a point of being Ms. Just-Passing-Through.

He stood up and stepped away from the booth.

“I believe I’ve found the murder weapon,” I said.

As we walked together, I realized that the door to the smoker’s porch sat open. It was crawling with half a dozen or so more crime scene people.

Together we walked to the limes. I said, “Don’t touch them. If this is what Joseph was doing when he died, if they are poisoned, my guess is that the poison can be absorbed through the skin.”

Investigator Spaulding looked at me like, Of course I knew that, but he stepped back. As another officer and two crime scene investigators came over, I backed away, removing myself as far as possible from the action.

I returned to the Artist Shirt. “I think today we’re going with a lemon and a cherry,” I said. I smelled them before putting them in the drink.

It struck me then that perhaps Joseph hadn’t been the intended target. Maybe there was someone who consistently ordered a drink garnished with lime, and the murderer had injected the poison into the lime, not realizing it could be absorbed as well as ingested.

Like, for instance, the man before me, Mr. Vodka Tonic Lime.

Still, this was a pretty non-specific way of poison delivery. The limes could have been served to half a dozen people before anyone realized they were toxic. Who would do something like that?

The police were letting people go once they had been interviewed. I asked Investigator Spaulding if I could go. He nodded, adding, “Please stay in town until tomorrow morning, in case we have any further questions.”

As if I had a choice. All the trains had gone, except the 11 p.m. to Montreal.

The bar had been sealed off with crime-scene tape, a welcome relief as I didn’t relish closing a dead man’s station on the night of his murder. Why would I even think that? I didn’t work here. But my need to leave a bar in pristine condition ran down to bone and marrow.

As I headed for my bag, which I’d left on my original stool, I saw I wouldn’t even be allowed to access the POS machine.

The only patron whose drink I hadn’t input was the man in the kilt. I looked around the emptying room to find he’d moved to a pub table over to the side. “Sorry, sir,” I said. “I wasn’t able to enter your drinks into the machine. I guess you’re on the honor system to pay up another day.”

He gave a small smile. “Lass,” he said, “I’m Glenn MacTavish. Owner of this place. Seems I’m out a bartender and will be needing another. You have any interest?” he asked.

I stopped and stared. “There’s really a MacTavish?” I asked.

“Aye, and you’re looking at him.”

“But… you don’t know anything about me.”

“You keep a clear head and you know what you’re doin’. That’s all I really need to know. Besides, you don’t know anything about me, either.”

“I, well—thank you for the offer. It’s a beautiful bar. Can I think on it overnight? I’ve been told not to leave town.”

“Aye,” he said. “You can tell me in the mornin’ if you might be stayin.’ And while you’re decidin’, I could pay you for your services tonight with a room here at the hotel.”

That seemed fair. The Hotel Tonight app was offering me a room at a local chain. Staying at MacTavish’s Seaside Cottage for free seemed infinitely more attractive. “All right,” I said. “I should probably let you know they’re expecting me in New York City.”

“All right,” he said. “I should probably let you know Joseph isn’t the first bartender to work here who’s been murdered.”

* *

No Known Address

Ingredients

• ½ oz. Malibu black
• 2 dashes Chambord
• ½ oz. mango pineapple vodka
• 2 dashes Jägermeister Spice
• 1 oz. pineapple juice

Method

Shake pineapple vodka, Malibu Black and pineapple juice over ice and strain evenly into martini glasses.

Sink a dash of Chambord into each flute by running it down the side of the glass.

Layer a dash of Jägermeister Spice in each glass.

***

Excerpt from Death in Tranquility by Sharon Linnéa. Copyright 2020 by Sharon Linnéa. Reproduced with permission from Sharon Linnéa. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Sharon Linnea

Sharon Linnéa wrote the bestselling Eden Series (Chasing Eden, Beyond Eden, Treasure of Eden and Plagues of Eden) with B.K. Sherer, as well as the standalone These Violent Delights, a movie murder series. She enjoyed working with Axel Avian on Colt Shore: Domino 29, a middle-grade spy thriller. She is also the author of Princess Ka’iulani: Hope of a Nation, Heart of a People about the last crown princess of Hawaii which won the prestigious Carter Woodson Award, and Raoul Wallenberg: the Man Who Stopped Death. She was a staff writer for five national magazines, a book editor at three publishers, and a celebrity ghost. She lives outside New York City with her family. In Orange County, she teaches The Book Inside You workshops with Thomas Mattingly.

Catch Up With Sharon On:
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