Stabbing in the Senate, by Colleen J. Shogan: A Staffer Turns Sleuth to Clear her Name

stabbing_senateKit’s boss is dead. She’s the prime suspect, and just about the only one without a motive.

On November 15, 2015, Camel Press will release Stabbing in the Senate ($13.95, 236 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-331-0), by Colleen J. Shogan, the first book in the Washington Whodunit cozy mystery series, set in Washington, D.C., and featuring amateur sleuth Kit Marshall.

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Follow the Great Escapes Blog Tour–Jan. 4-17, 2016

“[Stabbing in the Senate] features loads of inside scoop about the workings of Senate offices—complete with all the gossiping, back-stabbing, and procedural maneuvering—plus an appealing young sleuth, sprightly pacing, and an edge-of-your-seat showdown on the Hart-Dirksen underground train. Apart from joining Kit on one of her Hill happy hours, how much more fun could you want?”  Read more….

Literary Hill, a Compendium of Readers, Writers, Books & Events

“I have to say it is one of the best whodunit I have read this year. Colleen writes with clarity, wit and she knows her subject matter. She has done her research, turned her talent into one of the best new books to be on the 2016 market. STABBING in the SENATE, is a look at Washington D.C. that is sure to be a memorable, page-turning, bestseller. I give this one ten stars.”  Read more….

—Pamela James

“An excellent whodunit…. I was really impressed with this very smart story. The author is a former Senate staffer so she is writing what she knows, less the murder, I hope.”  Read more….

—Escape with Dolly Cas into a Good Book

“Full of political intrigue, high stakes decision makers, twists and turns and red herrings, Stabbing in the Senate is a wonderful new cozy. The characters are entertaining and the writing is spot on for a great whodunit. I am not really a fan of politics or D.C. in particular, but the way Colleen J. Shogan presented this story drew me in and kept me excited about it. I am sure fans of politics will love this new cozy series, but those like me that don’t will not be put off. The author somehow writes about the political word in a fresh and exciting style. Anyone that enjoys a well written classic whodunit will love this book. It bodes well for a continuation of this series and I for one hope it does continue.”  Read more….

—Caro, Open Book Society

“There are a lot of twists and turns in this book. You never know who to trust at any given time. Will Kit and her friends find the killer or killers before they strike again? What does a company called Carter Power play in his murder? Could all of this be about the oldest motive in the book, Money? Or is it something else know one will see coming? I hope there will be many more books in this series. I am not a person who enjoys political novels but this was a pleasant surprise. The mystery, adventure, suspense, and intrigue are not to be missed.”  Read more….

—Penny M., Cozy Mystery Book Reviews

“Book 1 in the Washington Whodunnit series, Stabbing in the Senate is a fast-paced blend of murder mystery and political intrigue. D.C. staffer Kit Marshall’s life is turned upside-down when she finds her employer, Senator Langsford, impaled in his office. Kit is deemed the prime suspect (in part because she foolishly pulled the weapon out of his chest and got her fingerprints on it). The well-to-do family of Kit’s boyfriend is horrified by her notoriety, but even more disturbing is the possibility of why Senator Langsford was killed—he just recently had begun to vote his conscience, an act of rebellion that outraged the hardliners of his party. Kit and her strong-willed friend Meg search for the real killer, but the real killer just might be hunting them as well! Stabbing in the Senate is a page-turner that will keep the reader’s rapt attention to the very end.”

—Wisconsin Bookwatch, Midwest Book Review

“Amid perpetual rounds of gossip, back-scratching, blame games and cocktails, Colleen Shogan offers an inside look into DC politics. A Senator is murdered, and members of his staff are simultaneously suspicious, calculating and polite as they scramble for new jobs. Staff must also decide whether to collude on a revisionist history for the maverick’s opinions. Everyone is power hungry, but protocol demands that ambitions be kept hidden. Protagonist Kit Marshall is a breath of fresh air in a city of opportunists, and Stabbing in the Senate is a smart, snappy whodunit that kept me guessing until the end.”

—Susan Froetschel, award-winning author of Allure of Deceit

“An interesting snapshot into the world of Senate staffers from a Capitol Hill insider. Political intrigue, mystery, and a rescue beagle named Clarence. What more could you ask for?”

—Tracy Weber Award-winning author of the Downward Dog Mystery Series

“In this smart, fast-paced mystery, Colleen Shogan gives a fascinating look at Washington, D.C., politics through a Senate staffer’s eyes. She kept me turning pages until the surprising reveal at the very end.”

—Mary Marks, author of the Martha Rose quilting mysteries

“A taut mystery, set in the halls of the Senate, a backdrop Shogan knows well. It kept me guessing until the end!”

—Carlene O’Neil, author of Cypress Cove Mystery series

“Shogan captures the hilarity and pitfalls of life as a Capitol Hill staffer—all the while keeping the reader guessing in this whodunit. Stabbing in the Senate is filled with memorable characters and finds you rooting for Kit Marshall, an honest, smart and funny young woman, navigating a complicated city fueled by politics.”

—Purva Rawal, health care consultant and former Senate staffer

“A perfect whodunit from a Capitol Hill insider. Kit Marshall is a feisty protagonist I’m hoping to hear more from in the future.”

—Cathi Stoler, author of The Hard Way

Life is good for Kit Marshall. She’s a staffer in D.C. for a popular senator, and she lives with an adoring beagle and a brainy boyfriend with a trust fund. Then, one morning, Kit arrives at the office early and finds her boss, Senator Langsford, impaled by a stainless steel replica of an Army attack helicopter. Panicked, she pulls the weapon out of his chest and instantly becomes the prime suspect in his murder.

Circumstances back Kit’s claim of innocence, but her photograph has gone viral, and the heat won’t be off until the killer is found. Well-loved though the senator was, suspects abound. Langsford had begun to vote with his conscience, which meant he was often at odds with his party. Not only had the senator decided to quash the ambitions of a major military contractor, but his likely successor is a congressman he trounced in the last election. Then there’s the suspiciously dry-eyed Widow Langsford.

Kit’s tabloid infamy horrifies her boyfriend’s upper-crust family, and it could destroy her career. However, she and her free-spirited friend Meg have a more pressing reason to play sleuth. The police are clueless in more ways than one, and Kit worries that the next task on the killer’s agenda will be to end her life.

Says Shogan, “One morning before work, I took a walk in my Washington, D.C. suburban neighborhood and came up with the plot for Stabbing in the Senate. It’s a classic whodunit set in the halls of Congress with colorful politicos as the main characters, sleuths and suspects alike. I plan to keep the tradition of Margaret Truman alive by telling entertaining stories of intrigue and mystery situated in our nation’s capital.”

Colleen J. Shogan is the deputy director of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) at the Library of Congress. She is a former Senate staffer who started reading mysteries at the age of six. A political scientist by training, Colleen has taught American government at George Mason University, Georgetown, and Penn. Stabbing in the Senate is her first novel.

Colleen is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She received her BA from Boston College and her doctorate from Yale. A member of Sisters in Crime, she lives in Arlington, Virginia, with her husband Rob Raffety and their rescue mutt, Conan. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

I had followed the police officer out of the bathroom and was headed toward the office when a swarm descended on me. Flashes of light blazed across the dimly lit hallway, and someone shoved a microphone close to my mouth. Frowning, I blinked to avoid the bright flickers. When my eyes adjusted, I found myself in the middle of an old-fashioned Washington, D.C., press assault. Questions flew in staccato rapid fire:

“What’s your name?”

“Why did you murder Senator Langsford?”

“Are you having an affair with the senator?”

“How many years have you worked for him?”

“What weapon did you use?”

How did the press learn so quickly a salacious story was brewing? I might have been delusional, because I thought I caught a glimpse of Matt Drudge in the crowd that assaulted me.

My police escort whisked me away quickly, but not before the damage had been done. Maybe if I could clear up what happened with the police, no one would run with the story. That hope was delusional, too.

Back in the safety of the office, Vivian, the senator’s wife—now his widow—had arrived. Her gray hair was perfectly styled and she was dressed in an impeccably tailored suit, matching handbag in tow. Vivian was a hard woman to understand. Always polite with the senator’s staff, she had given us no obvious reason to dislike her, but we still did. She wasn’t overtly interested in legislation or policy, but was invested, literally and figuratively, in her husband’s political career. For more than twenty years she had been the wife of a senator. Independently wealthy, she had funded Langsford’s initial run for elected office and had kept the money flowing ever since.

The rumor around the office was she wanted Langsford to finish his current term in office, retire, and then accept a lucrative job with a lobbying firm on K Street. Vivian had played her part well during the many years of public service. Now, she wanted a big payout.

Langsford had given no indication he was willing to grant Vivian her wish. All senators possessed a healthy ego, and Langsford was no exception. The prospect of growing the family fortune did not motivate him. In fact, he relished his new role as a political maverick. He also liked the attention it attracted. Sources within the office reported that if he thought he could win reelection, then he would run for office again, whether Vivian liked it or not.

I took a long look at Vivian. Never rumpled, she always looked as if she’d just stepped off the cover of Vogue. Now was no exception. It took a moment to register what was bothering me. Her face showed expected signs of strain; her brow was appropriately furrowed. Sniffling, she used a monogrammed “V” handkerchief to dab at her eyes and nose.

The Wiccan Witch of the Midwest, by Scott A. Lerner: A Small-Town Lawyer Faces a Coven Court

wiccan-188x300A sexy witch faces a fiery death on All Hallow’s Eve, and Sam has only two days to scare up a defense.

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The Wiccan Witch of the Midwest ($13.95, 230 pp., ISBN: 978-1-60381-291-7) is the fourth work of Urban Fantasy in Scott A. Lerner’s Samuel Roberts Thriller series, which began with Cocaine Zombies and continued with Ruler of Demons and The Fraternity of the Soul Eater. In this adventure, Sam and Bob scramble to acquaint themselves with the laws and customs of a Wiccan community and expose the evil sorcerer who has been sacrificing children for the sake of power.

“If you enjoy mystery, humor, romance, and danger, you will find this book perfect for your library. Paranormal and magic thread throughout the telling and you will fall in love with the characters one more time. This would be a great book for the upcoming holidays. It is fun and enjoyable, one you will want to pass on to your friends.”  Read more….

—Leslie Wright for Blogcritics

“I am impressed with how Scott was able to tell such a great story in such a short amount of time. The book isn’t long so this would be ideal for people who want a great read that doesn’t require the time commitment that a longer book would. For me I’m cool with every day being Halloween but I think this would be a great book to add to the list if you’re a seasonal type of reader. This would make my list of books to read during Halloween. It had quite an interesting twist. I was hooked from the very first page. I will definitely be picking up more books in this series. It can be read as a standalone.”  Read more….

—Fic Gal

5 Stars: “I have not read any other books in the Samuel Roberts series, but after reading The Wiccan Witch of the Midwest, I have already added the other three books to my wish list on Amazon. This is a smaller book—think cozy mysteries—but there is a great, entertaining story. I would definitely recommend it for those that like their mysteries with a little paranormal twist.”  Read more….

—J. Bronder Book Reviews

Scott’s first novel, Cocaine Zombies, won a Bronze medal in the 2012 IPPY Awards, mystery category.

Samuel Roberts, a lawyer in Champaign, Illinois, has just moved to a new home to escape the memories of his old place—the stray body parts left by evil entities as well as traces of his relationship with Susan, who left him because he couldn’t stop risking both their lives trying to save the world. That leaves Sam free to fall in love again.

Sam falls hard, suspiciously hard, for Bridget Gillis, a beautiful fortune teller who also happens to be a witch and a member of a coven. The village that encompasses the coven was founded by Bridget’s great-great aunt, also named Bridget and a dead ringer for her descendant. The new relationship quickly gets complicated. It is two days before Halloween, and Bridget is about to be tried by her fellow witches for the crime of practicing dark magic involving the blood of children. The punishment is to be burned at the stake. Bridget needs an advocate, and Sam is the perfect man for the job.

Sam brings in Bob, who is suspicious of his best buddy’s sudden passion. The two of them have until the Witching Hour on Halloween to clear Bridget’s name and find out who is killing the local children. As they comb the area for clues, quiz the locals, and take a crash course in witchcraft and Wiccan customs, Sam and Bob can’t shake the question: is Bridget a good witch or a bad witch?

Says the author, “I love the fall, when nights grow longer and frost paints the pumpkins. I wanted this book to capture my love of the season but also to acknowledge the darker side of Halloween. Witchcraft and Wicca seem to focus on nature, and nature tends to be unpredictable. Like nature, I tried to include some unpredictable twists and turns. The idea of a community of witches living in Central Illinois, Amish country shows that dark magic can hide anywhere. I hope my readers find this book to be dark and spooky fun.”

Author and attorney Scott A. Lerner resides in Champaign, Illinois. He obtained his undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and went on to obtain his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign. He is currently a sole practitioner in Champaign, Illinois. The majority of his law practice focuses on the fields of Criminal law and Family Law. Mr. Lerner lives with his wife, their two children, and their cats Fern and Quinn. Lerner collects unusual antiques and enjoys gardening, traveling, reading fiction and going to the movies. Click here to find Scott online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Her touch sent ripples of warmth through my body, and her scent grew stronger as we walked together. I took a deep whiff of sandalwood, anise, and cloves. I could actually feel the warmth emanating from her body.

We walked up the back stairs to the second level of the home. From there we walked down a hallway to the end, where a door opened up to reveal a smaller, narrower staircase. This led to a library. Oak bookshelves lined the walls, with an oil painting separating each shelf. The room smelled of old leather.

There was an antique tiger oak library table and four maroon leather club chairs around it. A wooden podium against one wall looked like it had come from a church. In addition there was a ladder on wheels that moved along a track. The ladder was necessary because books were shelved all the way to the top of the twelve-foot ceiling.

“Mr. Levi once offered me over a hundred thousand dollars for these books. Many have been in my family since the seventeenth century. They are beyond priceless. The collection includes the grimoire of my great-great aunt. Their pages reveal some of the greatest mysteries of magic. Mostly good magic.”

The paintings on the wall were all of stoic looking women in conservative attire. Although the pictures were well rendered, the models appeared lifeless. Only one image broke the mold. It was a picture of my hostess lying naked on her back, surrounded by lit candles. She was in the middle of a pentacle painted in red. The painting was erotic and out of place in this room. It reminded me of a heavy metal album cover. She wore the same silver necklace she was wearing this evening.

“I must say the painting of you is a lot different than the others,” I said. “I would have liked to see you model for it.” I blushed. I had spoken my thoughts aloud. She hadn’t invited me here to seduce me.

“That is not me,” she said. “Look at the date.”

I took a closer look at the canvas. The piece was signed by John William Waterhouse. The date was clearer than the signature: 1874. It was not possible, of course.

“That is my great-great aunt, Bridget Bishop. We do look alike.”

“The necklace is the same,” I said.

“It was hers.”

“Your aunt was lovely.”

Then Bridget did something totally unexpected. She kissed me gently on the lips. Passion rushed through me and I kissed her back. I was almost feverish with desire, and it scared me. It had been a long time since I had been with a woman romantically. Susan and I had broken up over a year ago. Yet what I felt now was more than desperation; it was a longing so intense that it completely overwhelmed me.

Eyewitness, by Carolann Camillo and Phyllis Humphrey: a Soap Star Struggles to Survive Both On and Off the Screen

eyewitnessWhat she saw at the murder scene might solve the case… if she can stay alive long enough to remember it.

Eyewitness ($14.95, 258 pp., ISBN: 978-1-60381-355-6) is a woman-in-jeopardy mystery by Carolann Camillo and Phyllis Humphrey. A daytime TV star finds her life in danger after the photographer is killed during a photo shoot she cannot recall.

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“After Toni Abbott, a TV soap actress, witnesses a murder, she falls and suffers temporary amnesia. But, finding a second dead body, she realizes she must unravel the mystery to save her own life. This glimpse into TV-land is an exciting read filled with intrigue and surprises.”

—Fern Field, Co-Executive Producer of three-time Emmy winner, Monk

The big break Toni Abbott longed for has finally arrived. She has been cast as the soap opera villainess everyone loves to hate, and because of her, ratings are soaring. Then her lucky streak runs out. During a late-night photo session, Craig, the photographer, is shot to death. In the confusion Toni hits her head and is knocked unconscious, and when she awakes, she can’t recall what happened. If she could regain her memory, could she identify the killer? Apparently the killer thinks so, because soon after the incident, Toni hears someone breaking in to her apartment and barely escapes. Too bad the police believe she is somehow responsible for Craig’s murder. It doesn’t help that her character on the show is so convincingly nasty and conniving.

Was the target really Craig, or did the killer aim for Toni and miss? Craig was an unscrupulous womanizer. Any number of people might have wanted him dead, including a career criminal he helped convict, his business partner, his wife, and his mistress. Despite her winning personality, Toni has her share of enemies, among them an older actress jealous of her success and the show’s director, whose animosity baffles her.

With the help of Michael Benedict, a handsome young criminal lawyer, Toni sets out to awaken her dormant memory and unmask the killer. Meanwhile the character she plays, Alexandra, is in a coma, fighting for her life. The writers will decide Alexandra’s fate, but Toni must save herself.

Says Carolann Camillo: “An acquaintance of mine once overheard a conversation between two men in a restaurant. The content was so sinister he notified the police. Then, with his life now in jeopardy, he was forced into hiding for several years. He chose to ‘do the right thing,’ but others do not, which is the reason for anonymous tip lines. The deadly consequences of being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time–like Toni Abbott–seemed ideal for a woman-in-jeopardy plot whereby a young actress must either fight for her life or surrender it.”

Carolann Camillo is an award winning romance and short story writer. A former New Yorker, she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her college professor husband and cat, Peaches. Her romantic suspense novel Forever Mine was published in September 2014. Click here to find her online.

Phyllis Humphrey has sold 14 romance novels and several short stories. In 2002 she won the San Diego Book Award and was a finalist in St. Martin’s Press Malice Domestic Mystery Contest. Phyllis is a mother of four and lives with her husband in Southern California. Click here to find her online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

She came out of the entryway and hurried into the kitchen. With Oscar at her heels, clamoring for attention, she put away the groceries. Ever since the summer hiatus ended, Beekman Place occupied most of her time. Her days were filled with traveling back and forth to the television studio, learning lines, and waiting endlessly for scenes, and she had little inclination to cook meals from scratch. They usually came prepared by someone else. All she had to do was pluck them out of the freezer compartment at Gristedes or pull them off a shelf.

A pair of empty bowls sat on the floor. “You must be hungry.” She stroked Oscar’s sleek fur. “Thirsty, too. What do you do with all the food and water I leave for you?”

The cat turned his purr up to high speed. While she emptied a can of his favorite cat food into his bowl, he rubbed his head against her hand.

“Don’t gobble. It’s bad for your digestion.” As he began to eat with relish, she watched him, enjoying the normal routine. At least that one small part of her life hadn’t changed. Slowly she began to unwind.

Leaving Oscar to his supper, she went into the bedroom and pulled a floral-patterned cotton shift from the closet. She carried it and a change of underwear down the hallway to the bathroom. After removing her clothes, she turned on the shower and stepped under the spray. Warm water washed through her hair and cascaded down her face. Cleansing, soothing. She wouldn’t think. She’d let the nightmare fade: Craig, the show, the imminent demise of Alexandra Bradshaw that could send her back to making endless rounds of auditions.

She turned off the water and stepped out of the shower.


Where was that cat? Every night, after consuming his dinner, he took up a position on the blue throw rug outside the stall door of the shower. A long-standing ritual, never deviated from.

“Oscar, I’m getting lonely,” she said in a singsong voice.

After toweling dry, she slipped on her clothes and entered the hallway. The pale, filtered light no longer streamed onto the living room carpet. How odd. It lay dark and shadowed, as if night had fallen. When had she closed the shutters?

Then she heard the cat, purring steadily. He was somewhere in the living room, going through his song and dance for attention.

“I’m over here, Oscar, you fickle puss.” He was always under foot, unless someone else ….

She froze. The thought turned her as cold and still as an ice sculpture. Pleading silently for the cat to come to her, she waited for what seemed like two lifetimes, but Oscar, purring contentedly, had transferred his affection elsewhere.

Her heart slammed against her ribs, and her pulse thundered in her ears. She clamped a hand to her mouth to hold back the scream that built in her throat. Of all the horrors she might have imagined, this was the worst. Someone else was in her apartment.

Checked Out, by Sharon St. George: A Horse is Wrongly Accused of Murder

checked_outCamel Press will release Checked Out ($15.95, 328 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-225-2), the second book in a mystery series featuring forensic librarian Aimee Machado and set in Northern California. When a rodeo cowboy is killed, Aimee becomes enmeshed in his complicated family dynamics.

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“The story is interesting, unique, and fun, and the puzzle is challenging to solve ahead of the heroine.”  Read more….

—Carolyn Haley for the New York Journal of Books

“Sharon St. George has created an absorbing mystery of family betrayal, medical intrigue, and three tightly interwoven mysteries. Whether she’s searching through morgues, dodging bullets, or hiking the Cascade Mountains with llamas, amateur sleuth Aimee Machado is a realistic character with surprising strength, relatable flaws, and a lot of heart. Checked Out is a sure winner!”

—Tracy Weber, Agatha Award nominated author of the Downward Dog Mysteries

“St. George’s latest ‘Aimee Machado’ book is filled with twists and cleverly plotted. Her obvious knowledge of the medical world and human relations provides a satisfying page turner.”

—Sasscer Hill, Agatha and Macavity Award nominated author

“An exceptionally engaging mystery thriller from beginning to end…. A deftly crafted novel that well prove to be an enduringly popular addition to community library Mystery/Suspense collections.”  Read more….

—Mary Cowper for Midwest Book Review

When rodeo cowboy Cody O’Brien is found dead in his horse trailer, it appears that his horse, Game Boy, is the culprit. Aimee Machado, health sciences librarian at Timbergate Medical Center, has no reason to doubt the preliminary finding—not at first. Cody had been in the hospital awaiting an operation the night he died, but he checked himself out. Had he reason to believe his surgeon, Dr. Phyllis Poole, was incompetent? Or is his death related to his complex relationship with his family? It turns out his father is dying, and four people other than Cody stood to inherit: his young trophy wife Echo, his son James, his daughter Keely, and her fiancé Tucker. How does Dr. Poole fit into all this? Her surgical outcomes have not been the best. Not to mention that Laurie Popejoy, TMC nurse and Poole’s rival in the hospital’s blues combo, disappeared the night of Cody’s death.

Aimee is highly motivated to investigate. She once had a crush on Cody’s brother James, who has now set his sights on her. The missing nurse, Laurie, left Aimee a desperate phone message the night she disappeared. Moreover, Aimee’s friend and co-worker Cleo has elicited her help to discredit Dr. Poole.

Aimee is already confused romantically. Although it pains her, she is trying to keep Nick, the pilot she loves but does not trust, at arm’s length. But his help proves too invaluable to refuse. Can Aimee ferret out the truth without losing her job and her life?

Says St. George, “When I was a child growing up in a ranching community, there were times when the only mode of transport to the county library was a three-mile ride while fixed firmly behind my mother’s back on her bay mare. So it will come as no surprise that the books I chose to read always featured horses. By the time I was given my own mare at age twelve, I was a die-hard fan of rodeos and cutting horse competitions. As an adult, I worked in several medical offices and eventually spent a number of years as coordinator of the medical staff organization of an acute care hospital, where I also served as the health sciences librarian. Eventually, my love of reading led me to write mystery novels. For the plot of Checked Out, I was able to combine four of my favorite subjects: cutting horses, rodeos, hospitals, and forensics. As with Due for Discard, there is also a sprinkling of romance.”

Sharon St. George’s writing credits include three plays, several years writing advertising copy, a book on NASA’s space food project, and feature stories too numerous to count. She holds dual degrees in English and Theatre Arts, and occasionally acts in, or directs, one of her local community theater productions. Sharon is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, and she serves as program director for Writers Forum, a nonprofit organization for writers in Northern California. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

“Hello, Aimee, remember me?” A deep voice, vaguely familiar, pulled my attention from the computer screen. A man who looked about forty walked in. He was dressed in faded jeans, scuffed cowboy boots, and a gray plaid Pendleton shirt. As he walked toward my desk, his broad smile told me he expected a warm welcome. His wavy hair was reddish-brown and his face was familiar, but the name wouldn’t come.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “You have the advantage.”

“Come on, Aimless, you’re breaking my heart.”

No one called me Aimless except Harry. How did this guy know that nickname? Then it struck me. James O’Brien. Cody and Keely’s older brother. He used to drive Keely to and from the dance studio where we took lessons when we were eight years old. He was eighteen then, and my infatuation with him was sweet misery. It didn’t help that he flirted with me shamelessly, telling me that when I was all grown up he was going to marry me. I stopped believing him when he moved to New York right after my thirteenth birthday. I cried every night for a week. Seeing him now, I felt a flush of pleasure warm my cheeks.

“James, I heard you were back. I’m so sorry about your brother.”

“Thank you. It was a shock for all of us.” He opened his arms. “Hey, don’t I rate a hug?”

“Of course.” I walked around my desk and tried for something tepid and platonic.

“You call that a hug?” He wrapped me in his arms with the warmth of a long lost lover, rocking my body back and forth. Then he kissed the top of my head. I felt myself melting, and when he released me, I stepped backward, unsteady on my feet. The man smelled like dessert. Lemon meringue pie.

“How long will you be in town?”

“As long as it takes,” he said. “This hit Dad pretty hard, and Echo’s no help. She’s acting like Cody’s death is no big deal, since he and Dad were estranged for the past few years. Keely’s no better.”

“Your father really needs you right now, doesn’t he?”

“It seems that way.” He cocked his head to one side. “Look at you. All grown up.”

Regency Christmas Gifts, by Carla Kelly: Three All-New Stories for the Holidays

Regency-Christmas-GiftsRegency Christmas Gifts: Three Stories ($14.95, 210 pp., ISBN: 978-1-60381-994-7) is an all-new collection of two novella-length regency romances and one short story by “the Grandmistress of the [Regency] genre” (The Romance Reader), Carla Kelly.

In the first of these stories set in early 19th-century England, The Lasting Gift, an impoverished war widow returns a misdelivered parcel and attracts the interest of a well-to-do retired sailing master and his sister. In Faithfully Yours, a self-made man returns to Scotland to marry the woman he has corresponded with ever since he left as a boy, little knowing the letters were written by another. In Lucy’s Bang-Up Christmas, a man visits the estate of his relatives to comfort his lovely second cousin, who is unhappy that Christmas has been usurped by her sister’s nuptials.

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Carla Kelly is the recipient of two RITA Awards from Romance Writers of America for Best Regency of the Year; two Spur Awards from Western Writers of America, three Whitney Awards, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Romantic Times. Kelly’s Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand reprint was selected by Publishers Weekly as one of the top 5 romances in 2012.

Last year at this time, Camel Press reprinted two of Carla’s Christmas novellas in the collection, Season’s Regency Greetings.

Other Camel Press reprints of Carla Kelly regencies include Miss Whittier Makes a List, Miss Chartley’s Guided Tour, Miss Billings Treads the Boards, Miss Milton Speaks Her Mind, Mrs. McVinnie’s London Season, and With This Ring. Camel has also published Books 1, 2, and 3 of Carla’s all-new Spanish Brand series, The Double Cross, Marco and the Devil’s Bargain, and Paloma and the Horse Traders. These stories feature life, love, and danger on America’s southwest border in the 1780s. Book 4 will appear in the fall of 2016.

According to Romantic Times, “Carla Kelly’s Regency Romances are always superb and a timeless delight.” Library Journal wrote, “one of the most respected Regency writers.”

Read three reviews, one of each story, on Kathy’s Review Corner:

The Lasting Gift: “There was a gradual growth in feelings for Thomas and Mary Ann that was simply perfect.”  Read more…

Faithfully Yours: “A sweet, short regency romance. I always enjoy a romance where the hero has fallen hard for his heroine, and John has definitely fallen for the author of these letters.”  Read more….

Lucy’s Bang-Up Christmas: “A poignant romance between a young woman mourning her mother and feeling somewhat adrift, and a man who helps guide her in recognizing that the special traits that were in her mother are also in her.”  Read more….

The Lasting Gift: Christmas approaches, and Mary Ann Poole has little to anticipate. Her daughter Beth was born just after the death in battle of her father seven years earlier, and never knew Lt. Poole. Mary Ann has just lost her job. As a future in the poorhouse looms, she receives a package that was misdirected from the post office. Unable to afford return postage, the Pooles pay a visit to the sender, Thomas Jenkins, a retired sailing master in nearby Plymouth who is bored by life ashore. Thomas takes an immediate interest in the pretty widow and her bright daughter. He decides Mrs. Poole’s welfare is just the right charitable Christmas project to banish boredom while he searches for a way to return to sea. Soon he has a new dilemma: now that he has met Mary Ann Poole, does he really want to go sailing again?

Faithfully Yours: John McPherson left Dumfries, Scotland, as an impoverished, neglected boy, determined to make his fortune in North America. Make it he did, thanks to his facility with languages and business savvy. Now he is home after ten years for a visit. He hopes to marry Margaret Patterson, the lovely correspondent he left behind, and who has exchanged letters with him ever since. But Margaret, daughter of a prosperous merchant, is engaged to another. His faithful correspondent has really been Sally Wilson, pretending to be Margaret, who is not quite the person John thought she was. Just the daughter of a minister, Sally never judged John for his poverty and even saw him off on his adventures. But how could he possibly know that?

Lucy’s Bang-Up Christmas: Lucinda Danforth is downhearted this Christmas, her first since the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Her sister is getting married on Christmas Eve, and Papa Danforth has been trying to keep events on an even keel ever since the death of his dear wife. Overwhelmed by wedding preparations, he tells Lucy to forget about Christmas traditions this year. But Lucy wants Christmas, too. Enter Lucy’s second cousin Miles Bledsoe, Oxford scholar, who wangles an invitation to the Danforth’s home. He’s happy to help out, and even happier to see Lucy Danforth. Thoughts of Lucy have been distracting him from his studies of late. He might be in love, and he wants to test his theory. Along the way, Lucy and Miles seek to honor the memory of Lucy’s departed mother by helping others, in this case, a war widow and her children.

Says Kelly, “I like happy endings, and I’m also interested in the Napoleonic Wars. Two stories reflect that interest from the point of view of those who lost so much—widows and children—and those who fought. The third story is just for fun.”

A well-known veteran of the romance writing field, Carla Kelly is the author of thirty-four novels and four non-fiction works, as well as numerous short stories and articles for various publications. Carla’s interest in historical fiction is a byproduct of her lifelong study of history. She has a BA in Latin American History from Brigham Young University and an MA in Indian Wars History from University of Louisiana-Monroe. Click here to find Carla online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

“There is a quite pretty lady and her daughter in the sitting room wishing to speak to you,” she said. “Is that interesting enough?”

“Anyone you know?” he asked, getting up. He put his hands up to straighten his neckcloth, them remembered not bothering to put one on this morning. I am going to rack and ruin, he thought. “I don’t look like much of a gentleman,” he said.

“You never were one, except by virtue of the Navy Board,” she replied cheerfully. “Who needs a gentleman anyway? Don’t let it go to your head, but I always thought you handsome enough for general purposes.”

“You flatter me, Sis,” he told her. “I think.”

“Only a little,” she teased back. “And now I believe I will see if Mrs. Williams has some tea and biscuits.”

“That kind of a visit?” he asked, as he started down the hall with her.

Outside the sitting room door, she said, “They look genteel, if a little shabby.” She gave him a push. “Go find out.”

His sister was quite right on both counts. A lovely lady rose gracefully to her feet when he opened the sitting room door. What hair he could see under her dark bonnet looked blond. He thought her eyes were brown. She wore a cloak as serviceable-looking as her hat. He smiled inwardly to see mismatched gloves, which made him feel slightly less self conscious about his neckcloth that was missing in action.

“I am Mrs. Poole,” she said, and dipped a curtsy. “This is my daughter Elizabeth.”

“Beth, sir,” said the child, and followed her pronouncement with a curtsy of her own. “I like your house.”

Who could resist that? He smiled back, noting that she had a tooth missing. “I’m still getting used to living on land,” a glance at her mother, “Beth.” Then, remembering his manners, he added, “Let me take your cloaks. “We do have a maid around here somewhere, except that she has scarpered off.”

Beth grinned at that, which told Thomas that she was a girl who herself liked to scarper on occasion.

Mrs. Poole was going to give him a hard time. “That isn’t really necessary,” she told him, and held out a package. “We won’t occupy much of your time. It’s this package.”

He took it from her and recognized the ivory hairbrush and comb set. Mrs. Poole came a little closer and he took an appreciative sniff of a familiar fragrance. Was it vanilla?

“I am Mrs. Poole, but not this one,” she said, pointing to the address. “We live at Carmoody Street and not Dinwoody. I think the posting house clerks are overly busy this time of year.”

By gadfreys, she had a pleasant voice. The almost-burr to her Rs placed her almost in Scotland but not quite.

“I shouldn’t have opened it,” Beth said, coming closer. “Mama wasn’t yet home from work and I hadn’t ever opened a package before.” She hung her head. “I couldn’t resist.”


Paloma and the Horse Traders, Book 3 of The Spanish Brand, an Historical Romance Series by Award-Winning Author Carla Kelly

PalomaPaloma and the Horse Traders ($14.95, 256 pp., ISBN: 978-1-60381-990-9), is book 3 of Carla Kelly’s historical romance series, The Spanish Brand. As with books 1 and 2, The Double Cross and Marco and the Devil’s Bargain, this novel takes place at the end of the 18th century during the decline of the Spanish Empire in the New World. A brand inspector and his wife face a new threat to their ranch when a renegade Comanche begins to wreak havoc in the vicinity, putting a tentative truce in jeopardy. On their way to a final showdown, they gather together a ragtag army that includes some unlikely allies and a ghost from Paloma’s past.

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4 1/2 stars, Top Pick: “Kelly knows historical romance, and she also knows how to reel readers in from the get-go. This book will take one’s breath away with the deep, emotional romance and highly likable characters. The story is adventurous and totally out of the ordinary, which makes it a splendid read and a completely satisfying experience.”

—RT Reviews (November, 2015)

“I am totally captivated by this series. Marco and Paloma have formed such a strong love, that it’s breathtaking. The descriptions of the characters and places are vivid. The plot is riveting and the action is exciting. I am totally invested in this couple, and I’m thrilled to hear that there is at least one more book coming in the series. I would recommend reading the first two books of this series to get the maximum enjoyment. Paloma and the Horse Traders is pure artistry and a sheer delight. I give it my highest recommendation.”  Read more….

–Lady Blue, Romantic Historical Reviews

Paloma and the Horse Traders is an Editors’ Choice title in November’s Historical Novels Review:

“Set in the 18th century in what is today New Mexico, the novel is much more than a romance. It is, in fact, a rousing and exciting Western that will appeal to all readers…. Kelly knows her subject matter; her historical research is impeccable. But her research never gets in the way of her spinning a good yarn. This is a great read, and it is highly recommended.”  Read more….

–The Historical Novel Society

“A friend encouraged me to read this series of books, and, at first, I was reluctant to do so. I have read and loved Carla Kelly’s regency romances and historical romances, but New Mexico in the 1700’s? Hostile Comanches? Uncivilized living? Not for me, I thought. Boy, was I wrong! This is truly some of the best historical fiction I have read…. The Spanish Brand Series weaves a lot of historical information into Marco’s and Paloma’s love story. Carla Kelly doesn’t shy away from the harsher aspects of life, yet these stories are fast paced and exciting and beautiful. There is subtle humor as well, the kind I enjoy, humor that doesn’t hit you over the head, but nibbles at you, causing you to smile. Every book here is a winner, and a keeper. All receive my highest recommendation.”  Read more….

—Roses are Blue, Romantic Fiction Reviews and Discussions

“Carla Kelly proves a later book in a series can outshine its predecessors with Paloma and the Horse Traders. Bringing back the authenticity of the old Spanish West and the hacienda of Marco and Paloma while introducing additional enemies and newfound friends, Kelly turns Paloma and the Horse Traders into a must-read…. Marco and Paloma open their hearts and their home to a cast of characters that bring smiles, tears and life-changing surprises and revelations in this series set at the end of the 18th century.”  Read more….

—Tara Creel, Deseret News

Kelly is the recipient of two RITA Awards from Romance Writers of America for Best Regency of the Year; two Spur Awards from Western Writers of America; a Whitney Award for Best Romance Fiction, 2011; another Whitney for Best Historical Fiction, 2012; and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Romantic Times.

The first two books in this series were enthusiastically received by the critics.

Of Marco and the Devil’s Bargain, Publishers Weekly said, “Though la viruela is, in some ways, the story’s main character, the love between Marco and Paloma, equal parts strong attachment and mutual high regard, takes emotional center stage, a satisfying oasis of beauty in the midst of stark harshness.”

All About Romance gave it a Grade A: “Although I didn’t read The Double Cross first, as I should have, I still managed to fall head over heels for Marco and Paloma. To me, that is a good testament to Ms. Kelly’s amazing writing. I can’t wait to get my hands on another one of her books.”

“Life at this time was hard and unpredictable, and this beautiful love story interwoven with history makes for an outstanding read.” wrote Lady Blue in Romantic Historical Reviews of The Double Cross, making it a 5 Star Top Pick.

ForeWord Magazine wrote, “[In The Double Cross], Kelly skillfully invites readers to share in this romantic adventure that is played out amidst scenes depicting the harsh landscapes and living conditions on the frontier—all punctuated with an assortment of unsavory characters pitted against the heroic.”

As the eighteenth century draws to a close, the Kwahadi Comanches seem to be making their peace with the settlers of the Spanish Colony of New Mexico. No one is as relieved as Marco Mondragón and his adored wife Paloma Vega, whose ranch, the Double Cross, sits on the edge of Comanchería. Their tranquility is short-lived, however, for other Comanches are terrorizing the plains, led by the ruthless renegade, Great Owl.

At the annual fair in Taos, Marco and his Comanche friend Toshua arrange to buy a team of bays from horse traders who sometimes wink at the law. Marco can’t complete the purchase because he spends all his money to buy a slave from Great Owl, thus saving her life. Graciela accompanies them back to the Double Cross, along with Diego Diaz, one of those traders Marco still owes for the team.

Great Owl’s threat to tentative peace between the Kwahadi and the Spanish must be squelched. Marco and Toshua bolster their small army of two with an unexpected ally in Joaquim Gasca, a disgraced former lieutenant with the Royal Engineers. They are joined by Diego Diaz, who turns out to be a key figure from Paloma’s past. Adding two shady horse traders and the secretive Graciela, Marco leads his small but determined army north to land contested by both Utes and Comanches. Though woefully outnumbered, they must defeat Great Owl or die trying.

“Writing this series is fun for me,” Kelly says. “I’ve enjoyed watching Paloma and Marco interact with their children, and showing the little details of domestic life in eighteenth-century New Mexico. It’s not an era well represented in fiction, which seems a pity. I’m doing what I can to change that.”

A well-known veteran of romance writing, Carla Kelly is the author of thirty-five novels, numerous short stories, and four non-fiction works. Carla enjoys writing historical fiction, which she sees as a byproduct of her study of history. In addition to her works centered on the American West, she has written many books featuring the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. Click here to find Carla online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

“What do you see?” Paloma asked, after a pause that seemed to stretch for hours.

“Many horses and a few riders. Maybe they are going to the trade fair in Taos,” Eckapeta replied, making no effort to speak quietly. “Still, we will stay here until ….”

She stopped. After another long pause, Eckapeta spoke again, quieter this time. “But they are being followed by Nurmurnah, The People. Don’t move or make a sound. These are not Kwihnai’s people and I fear them.”

Paloma did as she said, bowing her head over her darlings, keeping them silent. She wished that Marco was there to wrap his comforting bulk around the three of them. Calmly, she tucked the foolish wish away and prepared to fight to the death for her children.

Eckapeta was too silent. “Tell me what you see,” Paloma pleaded.

She could have screamed with the silence, but she only clenched her jaw tighter. Claudio began to whimper, so she opened her bodice and nursed him; weaning could wait. He suckled and was comforted, while Soledad burrowed closer.

Paloma closed her eyes, remembering blessed moments of nearly four years, moments that would never have been hers, if Marco Mondragón had not ridden to Santa Fe to take his yearly records to the governor, and gone in search of a little dog to keep his feet warm at night. If this was all the joy she would know, it was better than none at all. She thanked El Padre Celestial for his kindness to her and put her terror away, too.

To her relief, Eckapeta nimbly retraced her way down the swaying cottonwood and joined her. She put her hand gently on Paloma’s neck and gave her a little shake. “Be calm, dear one!” she murmured. “The smaller dust cloud has met up with the horse herd. I think they are fighting. They are closer to Santa Maria than to us, so let us ride for the Double Cross.”

Silent, Paloma picked up Claudio and ran with him to her horse, Eckapeta close behind with Soledad in her arms. The Comanche woman helped Paloma put the cradleboard on her back again, stuffed in Claudio, then heaved them onto Paloma’s horse with no fanfare. Eckapeta handed up Soledad next and Paloma seated the little one firmly in front of her.

“Ride and don’t look anywhere but ahead of you,” Eckapeta ordered. “I will follow behind you and stop anyone who might see us.” She took out the knife she wore in her belt at the small of her back. “Go!”

Paloma jammed her heels into her normally sedate mare, which started in surprise at such unexpected treatment from her mistress. She was not a speedy horse, but maybe she sensed trouble. Perhaps she smelled strange horses. Whatever the reason, the mare shot away from the bosque and thundered toward the place where the road forked toward the Double Cross.

“Fun, Mama!” Soledad said as she leaned back against Paloma, enjoying the wind in her baby-fine hair.

“Yes, fun,” Paloma said as she crouched lower in the saddle, wishing she could turn herself into a Comanche rider. Her skirts billowed well above her thighs. She knew Marco would tease her if he were here, but he was not, so she struggled to keep her tears inside.

Drop Dead Punk, by Rich Zahradnik: A City on the Skids and its Corrupt Defenders

drop_dead_punkDrop Dead Punk ($14.95, 254 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-209-2), by Rich Zahradnik is book two of a mystery/suspense series featuring newsman Coleridge Taylor and set on the mean streets of Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs in 1975. As New York City teeters on the edge of financial ruin, Taylor falls for a policewoman who is a key player in a crime story he is investigating.

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The first book in the series, Last Words, was a finalist in ForeWord Magazine’s 2014 Book of the Year Contest, a Bronze IPPY Award winner, and a finalist in the Next Generation Indie Awards (all in the mystery category).

4 Stars: “Drop Dead Punk provides hours of engrossing entertainment. The protagonist’s choices, both good and bad, illustrate the depth and complexity of this utterly relatable character. As the action develops and intensifies, the pace moves from moderate to fast. The 1970s New York City backdrop seems well researched. Book two of the Coleridge Taylor series is a thoroughly satisfying read that will keep readers guessing until the end.”

—RT Reviews

“The New York City financial crisis of 1975 provides the dramatic backdrop for Zahradnik’s frenetic sequel to 2014’s Last Words. When police officer Robert Dodd starts to chase a mugger in Greenwich Village, Dodd’s partner, Samantha Callahan, is unable to keep up. By the time Callahan catches up, Dodd and the mugger, who turns out to be punk rocker Johnny Mort, are both lying dead in the street after an apparent exchange of gunfire. Coleridge Taylor, an investigative reporter for the New York Messenger-Telegram, begins probing the oddities of the crime. When the newspaper folds and leaves Taylor without a job, he stays on the case. As he learns more about Mort, Dodd, and Callahan, he becomes convinced the shooting was a setup, but it’s unclear who may have been the target. Taylor, who lives for the big story, makes an appealingly single-minded hero.”

—Publishers Weekly

5 Stars: “As you follow the story and uncover the clues, finally reaching the end, you come up for air. It was the writing, how the author kept me curious and anxious for the characters, especially Taylor, and excited to get answers to my questions, plus how easily and quickly the story flowed, that got this a high recommendation from me. 5 Stars.”  Read more….

—Laura’s Ramblings and Reviews

5 Stars: “Author Rich Zahradnik has done an amazing job at creating characters that the reader will truly care about, and if that’s not a sign of a great writer, I don’t know what is. Any reader who enjoys mysteries, an exciting read, a little bit of romance, or simply a great read will love Drop Dead Punk. I highly recommend this novel, and am excited to read more from Rich Zahradnik as soon as possible.”  Read more…

—Tracy A. Fischer for Reader’s Favorite Reviews

“A well-written, fast-paced suspense thriller.”  Read more….

—Mallory Heart Reviews

Drop Dead Punk is a highly intriguing mystery. A cop and a street kid are dead but they did not kill each other. Possibly another cop is involved but Taylor doesn’t think so. Now the investigation is on. I think Coleridge Taylor not only has a highly interesting job, newspaper reporter, but is one of the most interesting characters to come along in quite a while. Mr. Zahradnik has written a story that will keep you going in circles as Taylor tries to sort through all the clues. Drop Dead Punk is quite an engrossing book. Don’t start this book late at night as it will cost you sleep as you try to finish it before you go to bed.”  Read more ….

—Vic’s Media Room

5 Stars: “I didn’t realize this was the second book in a series, it functions as a standalone novel very well. I was really rooting for Taylor the whole time, he is a very likable character. so is Samantha. The mystery wraps up well but is rather bittersweet. This is one book you won’t want to miss if you are a mystery fan, Rich Zahradnik is an excellent story teller, and I look forward to more from him in the future.”  Read more ….

—Tea and a Book

Drop Dead Punk is the second book in the Coleridge Taylor Mystery series and you definitely do not have to read the first to get sucked into this story. One recent rainy afternoon, I started reading and planned to just read a few chapters to get started. I wound up skipping dinner so I could finish the story as I needed to find out ‘who dunnit.’ There were plenty of twists and turns and unexpected connections (pay attention!) that are the cornerstones of a good crime mystery. The author’s description of the gritty world that was New York in the 70s, as well as his research into the near bankruptcy of New York in 1975 was spot on and really added to the character of the story. Callahan’s struggle with being one of the first woman cops in New York comes up repeatedly and gives the reader great insight into what must have been a very difficult time for women on the force. Add in the author’s real-life experiences as a reporter for over 30 years that seep through the pages, and you have a definite winner. I thoroughly enjoyed Drop Dead Punk and look forward to the next book in this new series.”  Read more….

—Ellen Feld, Feathered Quill Book Reviews

Coleridge Taylor is searching for his next scoop on the police beat. The Messenger-Telegram reporter has a lot to choose from on the crime-ridden streets of New York City in 1975. One story outside his beat is grabbing all the front page glory: New York teeters on the brink of bankruptcy, and President Ford just told the city, as the Daily News so aptly puts it, “Drop Dead.” Taylor’s situation is nearly as desperate. His home is a borrowed dry-docked houseboat, his newspaper may also be on the way out, and his drunk father keeps getting arrested.

A source sends Taylor down to Alphabet City, hang-out of the punks who gravitate to the rock club CBGB. There he finds the bloody fallout from a mugging. Two dead bodies: a punk named Johnny Mort and a cop named Robert Dodd. Each looks too messed up to have killed the other. Taylor starts asking around. The punk was a good kid, the peace-loving guardian angel of the neighborhood’s stray dogs. What led him to mug a woman at gunpoint? And why is Officer Samantha Callahan being accused of leaving her partner to die, even though she insists the police radio misled her? It’s hard enough being a female in the NYPD only five years after women were assigned to patrol. Now the department wants to throw her to the wolves. That’s not going to happen, not if Taylor can help it. As he falls for Samantha—a beautiful, dedicated second-generation cop—he realizes he’s too close to his story. Officer Callahan is a target, and Taylor’s standing between her and some mighty big guns.

Says Zahradnik, “When I wrote the first Coleridge Taylor novel, I touched on the pending New York City financial crisis. I wanted to set the next book during the critical weeks when the city almost collapsed—a period kicked off with the now famous Daily News headline ‘Ford to City: Drop Dead.’ Taylor being Taylor, he remains obsessively focused on his next crime story, a double murder with one of the victims a cop. He thinks the city will survive no matter what. Eventually he realizes the financial disaster could impact him in a big and personal way. It may even be wound up in the crime he’s trying to solve. Sometimes not even journalists are aware of the historical importance of certain current events as they unfold. The release of Drop Dead Punk coincides with the 40th anniversary of the financial crisis—a good time to remind the public how close NYC came to disaster and how badly it had deteriorated at that time.”

Rich Zahradnik has been a journalist for 30-plus years, working as a reporter and editor in all major news media, including online, newspaper, broadcast, magazine, and wire services. He lives with his wife, Sheri, and son, Patrick, in Pelham, New York, where he teaches elementary school kids how to publish online and print newspapers. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

A tall, wiry guy with medium-length brown and gray hair sauntered over from his place at the other end of the bar. The guy might be plainclothes, but didn’t have to be. Some patrol cops looked pretty shaggy now. Gone were the days of neat and tidy. The man turned one of the chairs around and straddled it. “What’s up, Callahan?”

“Oh you know, the usual, Schmidt. Drinking to a fallen comrade. With no one else. Will you join me?”

“You already seem to have company.” Schmidt continued to stare with hungry gray eyes at Samantha. “We need to keep things in the family. Who’s your friend?”

As if on cue, the conversation in the bar slowly died to almost nothing. The off-duty men in Little Cindy’s watched Samantha’s table. Sinatra continued singing “Summer Wind.”

“He’s not a friend. He’s a newspaper reporter.”

Samantha’s eyes took on a dangerous glint that made Taylor want to be a lot more sober. He didn’t know enough yet to read what was going on.

“We’re worried about you. Things I’m hearing about what happened with Dodd—those things are a serious concern. Now this. Airing your dirty laundry with a fucking reporter.”

Our dirty laundry.”

Need to cool this down.

Taylor lifted the bottle of beer. “Just having a drink with Samantha here. That’s it. I know a lot of people on the force. Check me out.”

“I don’t give a shit who you know. I don’t know you. Nobody on this patch knows you. Nobody on this patch talks to any reporters.”

Taylor watched his hopes for the night go out the window. He’d needed to learn as much as he could from Samantha, even if he had to wait until later to get it all on the record. Tonight was supposed to be about figuring out what direction to go with the story. Have drinks with a source and get a handle on where to go next. That was how reporting worked. ’Course it didn’t usually involve multiple shots of whiskey. Or violence. How was he going to learn anything more? He needed a plan B.

“The only story I’m interested in is Officer Dodd. He’s a hero and I want to write a profile of a hero. Give me something for that.”

“Bullshit. We’re not heroes in your paper. Not any paper. You’re here looking for dirt. You’re going to leave here bloody.”

“Stop being such asshole.” Samantha stood, sliding her chair back with her calves. The wiry cords on Schmidt’s arms tightened. She went to the bar and brought back another round of shots and set all three down.

“I’m not drinking with the bitch who got Dodd killed.”

“I didn’t get him killed. But something’s going on. Any idea what?”

“Be careful, little girlie. Dodd’s gone and he’s about the only one round here who tolerated a meter maid.”

There would be no toast. Samantha’s whiskey went right in Schmidt’s face. He slid off his chair and slammed her into the wall with one hand on her throat.

Lover’s Oak, by Corinne Scott: the Return of a Southern Belle Fallen on Hard Times

loversoakShe’d lost everything, and the plan for survival didn’t include love.

Lover’s Oak ($15.95, 314 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-280-1) is a contemporary romance with strong elements of suspense by debut author Corinne Scott. A Southern belle dogged by misfortune returns home, hoping to reclaim her legacy and start a new life.

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“Romantic suspense at its best. I loved the characters, how real and well-rounded they are, and the multiple twists and turns the author takes them through until the dynamic and dramatic ending. Lover’s Oak is filled with family drama, secrets, and some sinister action. A good book for a summer read!”  Read more….

—The Bibliophilic Book Blog

“Entertaining characters … intriguing storyline … exciting writing … a book worth reading slowly, so as to savor every word!” —Genevieve Scholl, author of Until Death Do I Part

Lover’s Oak kept me on the edge of my seat. Filled with great characters and plenty of twists and turns, this romantic suspense will keep you guessing until the end!!” —Victoria Stolte, author of Far From Home

“The secrets of Lilly’s past—especially concerning the now sheriff of Wildfire, Jackson Trainer—are coming back to haunt her in this romantic novel that also has murder, mystery, and a few surprises that make it an amazing read!” —P.S. Winn, author

Lover’s Oak is a fast, well-paced read, with many layers, just the right amount of sexy, without ever being trashy …. There’s a second, unexpected story line involving two characters that I found really sweet, and overall enough twists, family secrets and sparks between Lilly and Jackson to keep the reader hooked…. Overall highly recommended!” —Camilla Monk, author of the Spotless series

It’s been twelve years since ‘Thrilly Lilly’ left the sleepy town of Wildfire, Georgia. Rich and popular but also reckless and spoiled, Lilly never heard the word ‘no.’ So what made her flee rural Georgia for Boston society at the age of 18 to marry a much older man she hardly knew?

Now a widow, Lilly is back, a bit thinner but just as beautiful and elegant. She is intent on running Lover’s Oak, her family’s cotton plantation, even though her daddy cut her out of his will and named her 11-year-old half-sister Daisy as his heir.

Why did Lilly never come home to visit, even to attend her daddy’s funeral? What does a wealthy widow want with a cotton plantation? One man in particular wants answers: the town’s heart-throb Northerner sheriff, Jackson Trainer. Lilly fled Wildfire the day they had planned to elope. Jackson must hide his love and resentment as he tries to protect Lilly from mysterious forces threatening her life and the lives of those around her.

Meanwhile a killer lies in wait, determined to rid Wildfire of Lilly once and for all.

Says Corinne, “I’ve always been drawn to romance and especially romance set in the south, with stories where more than just relationships are at stake. On a trip to New Orleans one summer in college I went to Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana, and became inspired to write this book. I could see Lilly standing at a lover’s oak tree and an idea was born. I wrote for two years off and on and finally finished this novel my senior year of college. It would be eight years before I finally had the courage to submit it anywhere.”

Corinne Scott was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. Her parents were teachers, so of course she grew up to be a teacher as well, proving that the apple does not fall too far from the tree. Corinne has a bachelor’s degree from Texas State University and a master’s from the University of North Texas. She is passionate about books, which led her to her current occupation as a librarian and now author. Lover’s Oak is her first novel. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

A sudden change in the air drew her back to the present. The hairs on the back of her neck prickled.


Lilly turned from the tree. Jackson stood five feet away, but the Grand Canyon might as well have stood between them. She could feel the waves of resentment coming off him. Jackson Trainer had a natural aura of authority and power. It had always been there simmering beneath his rough exterior. Even though the entire time she had known him he had been on the right side of the law, he always looked like the bad boys Lilly had once been attracted to.

Jackson Trainer was wearing the same ‘go to hell’ look as he had during their first encounter. He’d never put up with her moods or fallen for her feminine wiles. He had that big city charisma and attitude. He came from a world that Lilly could not comprehend—not then, anyway. When they first met, she had never left the state of Georgia.

She felt the usual symptoms Jackson brought on—the feeling of being hot and cold all over, the butterflies in her stomach, the hot cheeks. It was all coming back in full force. Would she ever be able to remain ice cold around the one person she most needed to resist? Lilly’s chin shot up and she straightened her spine, ready for his attack.

A slow, insolent smile spread across Jackson’s wide mouth. “Well, Princess, you’re about twelve years too late.”

The insolent sound of his voice and the cockiness of his stance brought Lilly back to the present and immediately put her on the defensive. It was just like the first time he had confronted her.

Jackson was dressed in his sheriff’s attire and behind him was his trademark Harley. A quick glimpse told Lilly it was the same one he’d had all these years. She looked back at him. He still had that insolent smile flitting around his mouth.

How did I ever think that arrogant look was sexy? Lilly thought.

She allowed herself only a quick scan of his features, even though she wished she could have taken longer. Jackson, much to her annoyance, looked even better than she remembered.

The bad boy good looks had matured. Now he was a devastatingly handsome man.

The dark, slightly curly hair that grew a bit too long for Southerners’ tastes dipped just over one eye. The piercing gray eyes never missed anything. She’d never been able to lie or cover herself with Jackson around. He saw her as no one else did, despite her antics, scheming, and attention grabs. He’d always seen down to her soul. Well, not this time. His eyes would see only what she wanted them to see. It did not matter that he was long, lean, and irresistibly sexy. She had run across many of his kind over the years and managed a ‘no thanks’ without giving a second look. Jackson Trainer would be no different.

“Well, well, if it isn’t the prodigal daughter. Home at last. How’s the wealthy life been treating you, Lilly Mae?” Resting against his bike and crossing his ankles, he gave the appearance of nonchalance, but Lilly could detect the tension humming through his body.

“It’s Lillian. And great. Life’s been great.” She realized she was clutching her purse in a nervous gesture. She immediately loosened her grip.

“Yeah, I can see that.” He paused as his gaze took in every inch of her appearance. “Lillian.”

She recalled that smirk. Only this time there was an edge to his voice and a meanness that was new. Indignation almost took over. Lilly had to work extra hard to keep the fire from her eyes.

A Sporting Murder, by Lesley A. Diehl: Sharks in the Water and on Land

sporting_murderA hunter is killed, and Eve and her gang are in hot pursuit. But who’s gunning for whom?

A Sporting Murder ($13.95, 250 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-939-8) is the third Eve Appel Mystery by Lesley A. Diehl. Eve and Madeleine struggle to keep their consignment business in rural Florida afloat as their friend is framed for murder and they are targeted by a homicidal arsonist.

**Click the cover image to order online**

**Or buy it in Kindle, Nook, or other eBook formats on Smashwords**

The cozy mystery series began with A Secondhand Murder and continued with Dead in the Water. Three short stories, available as Kindle Singles only, also feature amateur sleuth, Eve Appel. They are The Little Redheaded Girl is my Friend, Thieves and Gators Run at the Mention of her Name, and Gator Aid. These are normally $.99 but will be free for the first five days following the release of A Sporting Murder. Lesley has five other published mysteries: A Deadly Draught, Poisoned Pairings, Dumpster Dying, Angel Sleuth, and Grilled, Chilled, and Killed.

Follow the Tribute Books blog tour by clicking here. The tour begins July 6, 2015.

5star-shiny-webA Sporting Murder by author Leslie A. Diehl is a fantastic foray into the genre of cozy mysteries, and I simply loved it! In this engaging and extremely entertaining novel, we are introduced to Eve Appel, a delightful and spunky protagonist …. Author Leslie A. Diehl deftly shows her skill in writing books that any reader would love in this fine example of a cozy mystery. I was hooked from the very first page, and could not stop reading until I reached the end. A Sporting Murder is fun, funny, fast-paced and exciting, with several twists and turns that I didn’t see coming. This was the first book I have read in the Eve Appel Mystery series, and I had no trouble at all following the storyline, but I am looking forward to going back and reading the other installments as I absolutely loved this book. Any reader who enjoys mysteries, suspense, action, or just a great read would love this book, and I highly recommend it.”  Read more….

—Tracy A. Fischer for Readers’ Favorite

“Settle in for a nerve-wracking mystery set in the rural Florida. Lesley A. Diehl’s A Sporting Murder may include women from West Palm Beach, but the characters and murderous activities are right out of old Florida…. character-driven and action-packed.”  Read more….

—Lesa’s Book Critiques

“An entertaining mix of characters, an engaging setting, and two unsolved murders that baffle the reader until their resolution at the end of the novel. Her intrepid amateur sleuth Eve Appel is reminiscent of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, with her lively sense of humor, her unresolved love life, and her uncanny ability to get into—and out of—trouble.”  Read more….

—Michael J. McCann, The Overnight Bestseller

“What a fun summer read!…. It’s a type of mystery that’s not too complex but it keeps you wanting to turn the page and read on. Eve and Madeleine are the main characters and their boyfriends move in and out of the picture without much romantic involvement. The secondary characters—the mobster backer, the card shark grandma, the bumbling ex-husband—are the ones who provide the boost to propel the story along with wit and flare.”  Read more….

—Tribute Books Mama

“Diehl gives us characters with strength and humor. Eve is a great mix of intelligence, charm and minx, and exhibits the tendency to butt in where it may not be comfortable. She also has a few friends in low places that are there for her regardless of what she needs…. If you enjoy mystery, romance and a little bit of crazy you will enjoy A Sporting Murder.”  Read more….

—Leslie Wright, Blog Critics

It’s smooth sailing for Eve Appel and her friend Madeleine, owners of Second to None Consignment Shop in rural Florida’s Sabal Bay, land of swamps, cowboys, and lots and lots of ’gators. Eve and her detective boyfriend Alex have joined Madeleine and her new beau David Wilson for a pleasure cruise on his boat. But cloudy, dangerous waters lie ahead. A near fatal encounter with Blake Reed, David’s supremely nasty neighbor, is soon followed by a shooting death on the dividing line between David and Blake’s land. Both men run sport-hunting reserves, but Blake imports “exotics” from Africa and promotes gator killing, while David stays within the law, pointing clients toward the abundant quail and turkey as well as the wild pigs that ravage the landscape. Nevertheless, when a mutual client is killed, it is David who is arrested and charged with murder.

Blake’s nastiness is only exceeded by that of his wife, Elvira, who forces Eve and Madeleine out of their shop, intending to replace it with a consignment shop of her own. It seems that bad luck looms over them all, even Eve’s brawny and hard-to-resist Miccosukee Indian friend Sammy, whose nephew has disappeared. As the case against David grows stronger and his friends’ misfortunes multiply, Eve and her strange and diverse group of friends, including her ex, a mobster, her grandma, and Sammy’s extended family, band together to take on the bad guys. But the waters are getting muddier and more troubled, and Eve and Madeleine may end up inundated in every sense of the word.

Says Diehl, “Eve and her pals are at it again, this time involved in a favorite pastime of rural Floridians—hunting. So how could I not plunge Eve into the midst of a game reserve where the quarry is not quite legal and sometimes horribly ‘exotic’? I hope fans of Eve and Madeleine will cheer the snoopy duo on to success as they again tackle the bad guys … and gals.”

Lesley A. Diehl retired from her life as a professor of psychology and reclaimed her country roots by moving to a small cottage in the Butternut River Valley in upstate New York. In the winter she migrates to old Florida—cowboys, scrub palmetto, and open fields of grazing cattle, a place where spurs still jingle in the post office. Back north, she devotes her afternoons to writing and, when the sun sets, relaxing on the bank of her trout stream, sipping tea or a local microbrew. Click here to find Lesley online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

When I arrived at Sammy’s airboat business, I saw the boat was gone. The parking area was filled with cars and women stood in line in front of the tiki hut. Grandfather Egret was behind the counter, holding court with stories from the past that the women seemed to find entertaining.

I waved at him as I got out of the car. He returned the wave but continued on with his story. I walked close enough to hear. Ah, he was telling about the time he captured a couple of kidnappers. I smiled. I’d been in on that caper. The version he was telling his audience was a bit exaggerated.

“There she is,” he said, pointing to me, “the woman who helped me take down those bad guys.”

In the distance I heard the airboat. As Sammy turned the boat toward the landing I could see it was full. Something was going on. Business was booming.

The women waiting to take the tour turned their attention to the boat’s arrival. I overheard one of them say to another, “Wow, he’s even more handsome than we heard. Look at those muscles.”

Grandfather Egret came out from behind the counter.

“What’s going on here? I couldn’t get through to Sammy’s cell, and it looks as if you’re chock-a-block full with customers,” I said.

“It’s your doing. You sent us that group of women from the coast yesterday, and word has spread through West Palm, it seems. We’re all the rage with your wealthy lady friends.” Grandfather’s impish smile said he liked being surrounded by all these women as much as he liked taking their money for tickets.

Grandfather addressed the waiting customers. “If you’ll just step to one side and let them off the boat, you can find your seats, and we’ll be off again.” He directed them down the path toward the landing, where Sammy was refueling the boat. Sammy looked up and saw me and waved. He set the gas cans down and started up the path. When he got to where I stood, he put his arms around me and hugged me close. The women watching swooned in envy, and I almost lost my footing as he lifted me off the ground and spun me around. Wow.

“I haven’t seen you much lately.” He set me back on my feet and held me at arm’s length. “You look good.”

“Is he your boyfriend?” asked one of the women.

Before I could answer, Sammy nodded.

“Sammy,” I said so only he could hear. “What are you saying?”

“You could be my girlfriend, you know.” He gave me a roguish grin.

“Alex might protest.”

“Yeah, but he’s not my worry. You are.”

Sammy was in a mood I’d never seen before—flirtatious, something I didn’t know he did.

“What’s got into you?” I asked.

“Oh, I don’t know.” He looked around him, at the sky and then the river beyond the landing. “It’s a beautiful day, and I’ve got more customers than I can handle.”

“Oh, I get it. All this money is making you horny.”

The words had leaped out of my mouth. It was the kind of sassy, sexual teasing I might say to some of my cowboy friends from the Burnt Biscuit, but I’d always been careful around Sammy. We’d spent a night alone in the swamps, and had never talked about the feelings that had developed out there. It seemed to make us both self-conscious. Besides, Alex and I were a couple.

“Sorry, Sammy. I didn’t mean that.”

He gave me one of his soul-searching looks. “Didn’t you? Too bad for me.”

Both of us stared at the ground; then the uncomfortable moment passed. Sammy broke the spell.

“Well, you did us right, woman. Sending all these folks our way. I may be able to buy a new shirt for the first time in five years.”

“Keep that one. It looks great.” I liked Sammy’s understated handsome looks and rugged style—the faded pink and turquoise Miccosukee-pattern long-sleeved shirt, which pulled tightly across his broad chest, and the jeans bleached almost white from too many washings. The clothes did not make the man. Not in this case, anyway. This man—tall, dark-skinned, with long black hair—made the clothes. On anyone else they would just look worn. On him, they looked like a very attractive second skin.

“So if there’s anything I can do to repay you, let me know,” he said.

Boy, was this easy. “As a matter of fact, there is. Can you help Madeleine and me move out of our shop?” I explained to him about the loss of our lease, David’s arrest, and Alex’s job in Miami.

“So I’m what, third best in your choice of movers?” His black eyes twinkled with good humor.

“Yeah, something like that.” Good. Sammy and I were once more on familiar, friends-only footing. I was relieved and he seemed to be at ease as well, the earlier discomfort gone.

“And before you get a big head, I wondered if you could bring along some of your good-looking cousins to help out. We can’t afford to pay them, but we could provide pizza and beer afterward.”

“You know you’re not supposed to give firewater to Indians,” he said. Yep, Sammy was in a good mood.

“When are you free?” If all this activity continued, Sammy might not be able to help us for a while.

“It will have to be tomorrow evening. I can’t do it during the day, as you can see, and I’ve got tribal meetings the rest of the week. You say you have to be out by Saturday?”

I nodded.

“Where are you moving to?” he asked.

I had no idea.

The Fraternity of the Soul Eater, by Scott A. Lerner: The Gods of Ancient Egypt Rise Again, and They Are Hungry

fraternityWhen you rush this fraternity, hell week has a whole new meaning.

The Fraternity of the Soul Eater ($13.95, 218 pp., ISBN: 978-1-60381-289-4) is the third work of Urban Fantasy in Scott A. Lerner’s Samuel Roberts Thriller series, which began with Cocaine Zombies and continued with Ruler of Demons. In this adventure, Sam and Bob confront an evil secret society bent on bringing the Egyptian gods to life in order to clinch their own power on Earth.

** Click the cover image to order online. **

** Or buy it in Kindle, Nook, or other eBook formats on Smashwords **

Click here to follow Tribute Books’ Blog tour, from Aug. 10-20.

“An exceptionally entertaining read, The Fraternity of the Soul Eater is the third book in the author Scott Lerner’s Samuel Roberts Thriller series, which began with Cocaine Zombies and continued with Ruler of Demons. A master of the genre, Scott Lerner’s latest novel continues to document his originality and skill as a storyteller. The Fraternity of The Soul Eater is highly recommended for both personal reading lists and community library collections.”  Read more….

—John Burroughs for the Midwest Book Review

“Not only is this an interesting plot full of twists and turns, but Lerner’s characters, Sam and Bob, are witty and endearing. The book is not just plot-heavy, as many genre books can be. This supernatural thriller is full of characterization, which is perfect for fans of the series who already love Sam Roberts and also for new readers who will like him immediately and want to go back and read the first two installments. The book is set in Champaign-Urbana, and there are many local references, especially to University of Illinois buildings, street names, restaurants and publications, such as The Daily Illini. Reading a book set in a familiar place is often an extra bonus to an already great story.”  Read more….

—Margo L. Dill, The News-Gazette

“A quick and very amusing read. Even when they are getting whooped on Sam and his friend Bob, have a weird sense of humor, that just won’t let them stop making smart remarks…. This book isn’t just funny, it has some mystery, and a bit of horror, and even some adventure. It is a standalone book, but you will probably want to read the other books in the series too, if you haven’t already. I liked the last book, and this one was just as good. Maybe even better.”  Read more….

—Simple Wyrdings

“Lerner gives us characters that are full of fun, bluster and charm, yet have that energy that you feel is trustworthy. His dynamics between his characters and protagonists are both strange and unlikely, but at the same time intriguing and interesting. You find yourself immersed in a story that takes you to the edge of darkness, twisting and realigning your own take on life…. If you enjoy mystery, danger and the macabre, riddled with humor and friendship you will find this a must have for your library. You can read it time and again and still find passages you may have missed which make this a fun and unique find.”  Read more….

—Tic Toc Reviews

“Another fun round with Sam and Bob…. Bob always has a way of making light of whatever happens. Whether he shoots a cobra or sees a desiccated corpse, he finds humor in it. I like Bob. He reminds me of Shaggy from Scooby-Doo, right down to the van with purple shag carpet and the hash brownies.”  Read more….

—Romancing the Book

Five Stars: “I liked how convincingly the author works ancient Egyptian custom into a modern-day setting; the fraternity and its practices become a chilling, unsettling villain at the center of the mystery, and it creates a unique and creative plot. Sam himself is a likeable character—he’s smart, and his close relationships with Bob and Susan help bring him alive on the page; but as a reader you also feel how conflicted he is about the things he’s recently learned walk in the world. I also liked Lark, and her sassy, brave willingness to sacrifice herself if that’s what is needed to bring justice to her sister.” Read more….

—E. Lucas, top-rated Amazon Reviewer

“The pace of the story is fast, so you’re turning pages as fast as your eyes will allow. My favorite character is Sam’s friend Bob. Everyone has or needs a Bob in their life. He’s there for his friend. He’s handy with a computer and good to bounce ideas off. I don’t want to give any spoilers but the story is a thriller mystery. It’s fun, interesting, and good.”  Read more….

—The One True Faith

“A suspenseful thriller that grabs you right from the start, it takes you into an ancient world of long held secrets and grotesque murders. A true page turner.”  Read more….

—Tribute Books Mama

Scott’s first novel, Cocaine Zombies, won a Bronze medal in the 2012 IPPY Awards, mystery category.

It’s been a while since Samuel Roberts was called upon to save mankind, and he’s getting restless. His girlfriend Susan thinks he’s a danger junkie, and he’s worried he has a hero complex. He’s back to his usual small-town lawyerly duties in Champaign-Urbana, handling divorces and helping people beat DUI raps. But then a young fraternity pledge calls. During an initiation ceremony he witnessed the live sacrifice of a young woman, but he had so much alcohol in his system that no one believes him. Except Sam. Lately Egyptian lore has been creeping into his life, his dreams, and his movie preferences, and he’s pretty sure he knows why. Evil is knocking on his door again.

Is the call welcome? Why can’t Sam be satisfied with his comfortable legal practice and gorgeous redheaded girlfriend? Maybe it’s because he knows that, as inadequate as he may feel to the task, he and his friend Bob may be humanity’s only hope against ancient supernatural forces combined with modern genetic engineering. Come hell or high water. Or in this case, the underworld or subterranean pyramids.

Says the author, “Modern fraternities grew out of secret societies. Although I have never belonged to a fraternity, I felt that the mysteries, traditions, and secrets associated with that system offered an ideal premise for this book. Freshmen at any major university may also find that it helps them get acclimated. Particularly if human sacrifice is going on.”

Author and attorney Scott A. Lerner resides in Champaign, Illinois. He obtained his undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and went on to obtain his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign. He is currently a sole practitioner in Champaign, Illinois. The majority of his law practice focuses on the fields of Criminal law and Family Law. Mr. Lerner lives with his wife, their two children, and their cat Fern. Lerner collects unusual antiques and enjoys gardening, traveling, reading fiction and going to the movies. Click here to find Scott online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

She was wearing tight black jeans and a low-cut cropped T-shirt that exposed ample cleavage. A golden ankh dangled between her breasts. On one forearm was a tattoo of a bird I assumed to be a lark, and on the other, a tattoo of a hawk. Her bright blue eyes matched her hair. She was striking looking but by no means beautiful. A slight muffin top was made more visible by her short shirt, and she had apparently broken her nose at least once in her life. She smelled like sandalwood and cinnamon.

I would never cheat on Susan, but I had to admit there was something sexy about Lark. I tried to put my prurient thoughts away and deal with the issue at hand. Also, the ankh made me wonder if she was playing for the other side. I was not a big fan of birds, which for me had always been a harbinger of bad luck.

“So what is it that you couldn’t tell me at the courthouse?”

“I’m a graduate student at the University of Illinois and heard from a friend about Chris’s case. I went to the preliminary hearing to get more information.”

“That’s fine—it’s an open courtroom—but I can’t tell you the specifics of his case.”

“I am here to help you, not the other way around.”

“Cool!” I leaned back in my chair, trying to look casual. “Tell me what you know.”

“My sister was at a party at that fraternity three years ago. She has not been seen since. I believe she was killed there. I can’t prove it, but I have been trying to ever since.”

“Did you call the police?”

“No, I called Pizza Hut.” She sighed. “I’m … sorry. This whole thing …. it’s hard to talk about. Yes, I called the police and the FBI. I even hired a private investigator.”

“No luck?”

“None. In fact, they all told me to let it go.”

“I take it from the fact you are here that you didn’t ‘let it go.’ ”

“You take it right. I was attending the University of Iowa. I was close to getting an MFA in fine arts but I transferred to the University of Illinois a year and a half ago. I’ve been investigating the fraternity ever since.” As she spoke Lark moved her arms about in quick gestures, reminding me of the bird she was named for.

“What have you learned?”

“For starters, I believe your client.”


She hesitated, as if pained by what she was going to relate. “Last year I dated a guy named George Hammond. He was a rich kid, kind of a geek, but he was okay. I essentially stalked him until he agreed to go out with me. At first I was only interested because he was pledging the fraternity. I know I was using him, but he was using me too. When he got accepted into the fraternity he told me a few of their secrets.”

“Any chance I could chat with George directly?”

She shook her head, a little violently. “Not unless we hold a séance. I’m sorry. I appreciate you speaking with me, and I don’t mean to be sarcastic. George died in a car accident. Actually, he was murdered, but I can’t prove it.”

“What did he tell you?”

“Every fall the fraternity sacrifices a girl. Their choice is based on her not having much in the way of family or money. They want someone who won’t be missed. The organs are removed as though she is to be mummified. Since there’s no pyramid to bury them in, the bodies are not wrapped or mummified or even kept.”

It was difficult to absorb what she was telling me. “That is nightmarish. What the hell do they do with the bodies?”

She jerked her shoulders up and down in a shaky shrug. “Who knows?”

Why would they do such a thing?”

She looked mournful now. “George didn’t know. It may have been to test the pledges’ loyalty to the fraternity. He said they would commit the murder at a hidden temple and that the members would have to chant ancient prayers as part of some strange ritual. The leaders of the fraternity told him that the girls’ souls were being fed to the ‘Soul Eater,’ but George didn’t think they were serious.”

“Do you believe what George told you?”



She looked me hard in the eye. “My sister is missing.