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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“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

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.”

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

“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.

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**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.

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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.

Designing Hearts, by Robin Strachan: An Interior Designer Turns her Husband’s Betrayal into a Fresh Start

Designing_HeartsHis affair broke her heart and divided their family. But when you believe in feng shui, everything is by design.

Designing Hearts ($15.95, 332 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-260-3) is a contemporary romance by Robin Strachan. A successful professional woman is thrown off balance by her celebrity husband’s very public affair, but she finds her footing, thanks to her faith in feng shui.

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Four Stars: “Strachan’s novel is raw and real, and it has the undeniable potential to tug on readers’ heartstrings. This novel would make a great book club choice because the topics tackled are emotional and need to be discussed out loud with a friend. For some, this story about betrayal and new beginnings may hit home fairly hard, but for others they may turn a blind eye to it due to uncomfortable situations dealing with distrust and marital troubles. Nonetheless, it’s beautifully written and worth holding on till the end.”

—Jaime A. Geraldi, RT Magazine

“This glitzy yet surprisingly down-to-earth novel about a high-profile marriage on the rocks explores all the typical cliffs and crevices then plunges into the blue waters of a new relationship.”

—ForeWord Magazine

“This novel is a great representation that change can be sudden and unexpected. However, with the ability to stay true to yourself, anything can be overcome.”

—Katie Lipko, Johnstown Magazine, August 2015

“This book is a must for Nora Roberts fans looking for a stylish midlife romance. Run—don’t walk—to the book store or online site to purchase this hopeful, gorgeously written novel. You’ll be reminded that life’s difficult journeys and unexpected turns can yield extraordinary abundance and unforeseen happiness.” — Richard J. Levy, author of Thoughts Make You Wealthy

“A very entertaining and upbeat story about surviving divorce, helping others through the use of feng shui and finding true love. Jill is good company, and we’re rooting for her to get her second chance at love, especially when that chance seems to be someone as dishy as Denny. I found Jill’s relationship with the students in her class and her guidance on the road to health, wealth, and happiness to be particularly charming.” —Lyn Farquhar, co-author of the Mae December mystery series as Lia Farrell

Jill Hennessy is the envy of women everywhere. She has a flourishing interior design business, a handsome celebrity talk show host husband, and two successful adult sons. Then, suddenly, the entire world knows her “perfect” marriage is a lie. Jill learns the truth via a televised news flash exposing David’s affair with his young assistant. Her illusion of being in control of her life is shattered, and she can finally see the cracks in her husband’s shiny persona: his increasing distance from their family life, his self-absorption, his flagrant disapproval of their gay son.

As Jill struggles to come to terms with her new reality, David pours on the charm that drew her in to begin with. Can she forgive him and rededicate herself to his happiness and their family life, even if that means losing Denny, a respected artist who has the potential to be her true soul mate?

Jill is an expert in feng shui, a system of organization and color in the home meant to optimize life’s possibilities. She has a rare talent for putting her clients on the road to health, wealth, and happiness. Can she work these same miracles for herself?

Says Strachan, “About twelve years ago I was in the process of selling a home in the Kansas City area during a down real estate market. It wasn’t selling, and I was frustrated. I had a feng shui consultation, and the house sold within two weeks. I had been interested in feng shui for many years, so the idea wasn’t foreign that thoughts and intentions coupled with positive emotion and optimism can bring fast results. I use this concept in everyday life. The individual characters in this novel are fictional, but I believe their desires and needs are universal.”

Robin Strachan’s poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have been published in local, regional, and national publications for over thirty years. Born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, she began her writing career as a reporter doing features. Designing Hearts is her second novel. Her first, Manifesting Dreams, was released in November 2011. A third is in progress. Since 1981, Ms. Strachan has served in executive and development roles in higher education, health care, and medical research. She holds a bachelor of arts degree with dual majors in English and philosophy. She is also a published poet and a professional artist. She makes her home in the Chicago area. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

“I must be crazy starting this project today,” she muttered, “but at least the cushions will dry fast in this heat.”

Twenty minutes passed before she took a break. Sliding open the glass patio doors, she stepped inside the air-conditioned kitchen and basked in the coolness that enveloped her. She poured another glass of iced tea and gratefully sank into a kitchen chair. Soon she would need to take a shower and get ready for class. Feeling a bit more refreshed, she pulled on the blue rubber gloves and was about to go outside again when the doorbell rang. Must be a neighbor, she thought as she went to investigate. But when she opened the front door, she saw a man wearing a striped blue-and-white golf shirt and pressed khakis.

“I hope I have the right place. Are ye Jill Hennessy?” the man asked with a noticeable Scottish lilt to his voice. He was very good-looking in a wholesome boy-next-door kind of way, dark hair highlighted by strands of silver, and a smile that, no doubt, melted female hearts. Even hers wasn’t immune today.

“I am.” Her voice sounded weak, even to her own ears. Yanking off the hideous blue rubber gloves, she wished desperately that she were dressed in something a little less Daisy Duke. She crossed her arms across her breasts and noticed the bra slung over the table in the foyer. She grabbed it and threw it into the hall closet, her face flaming.

The man was clearly amused, but too well-mannered to react. “I’m Denny MacBride,” he said with a slight roll of the ‘r’ in his name. “I’m your new painter. Monica said you have the drawings and design plans for the Colver house, and that I should pick them up on my way over there. She said she’d let you know I was on my way.”

Jill glanced at her cellphone and noticed there were two text messages. Monica had texted to warn her of Denny’s arrival while she was out scrubbing the patio furniture. “Oh, gosh, I’m sorry!” She was mortified at her appearance. “Monica did try to let me know. It’s so nice to meet you,” she said, forgetting her discomfort for a moment as she pumped his hand. “I took a look at your résumé and some photos from your portfolio. I’m very impressed with your work.” She glanced down at her outfit. “Sorry for my appearance. I …I’ve been cleaning patio furniture. I look awful.”

“I think you look just fine, Jill.” His engaging grin told her he was entirely serious. “Sorry to show up without prior warning. If those drawings are available, I’ll not trouble you any longer.”

“Please come in. It’s too hot to stand outside, and it’ll take me a few minutes to find those drawings and plans.” She began darting around looking for her briefcase, which inexplicably had disappeared from its usual place beside the back door. She left Denny in the living room as she searched through all the downstairs rooms.

“Oh, no,” she said, catching sight of her bedraggled appearance in the downstairs bathroom mirror, hair sticking up in weird cowlicks from the humidity. Why, oh why, did she have to meet this handsome Scotsman for the first time looking like a molting chicken? After several minutes, she located her briefcase on a kitchen chair, removed the designs, and returned to Denny, who was studying a painting on a wall above the Queen Anne chair.

“It’s a nice paintin’,” he said, rubbing his chin with his fingers. “I don’t recognize this artist’s name, but I like the simplicity of the subject. The green of those three pears, with one rolled on its side beside that blue-and-white china tea cup …. The composition is fine.”

Jill handed him the design drawings rolled up inside a cardboard tube. “I’m not normally into still life paintings, but this one had so much life in it, I couldn’t resist. Do you like art?”

“I do.” His expression didn’t change.

“Denny MacBride,” Jill said slowly as it dawned on her why his name seemed so familiar. “You’re an artist! I’ve seen your paintings; they’re wonderful. In fact, I recently recommended two of them for a client’s home.” She was struck speechless for a moment.

“Thanks.” He looked embarrassed. “I’ve been fortunate that my work has been well received.” He smiled and cleared his throat. “Before I go, I wanted to mention that I agree wholeheartedly with the color palette ye’ve selected for the Colvers’ house. But I’m concerned that the color in the library is a wee bit on the light side. I’d like ye to consider going two shades darker to this more velvet shade, and really make the color pop with those golden oak floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Here, look at this shade and see what ye think.”

He handed her a sample palette featuring a range of rich, nature-inspired greens. In all of her years of professional experience as a designer, Jill had never had a contract painter second-guess her color choices. In this case, she thought he was right.

“I think it’s a wonderful suggestion. We’ll need to clear the color change with the homeowners, but I’m sure they’ll like it as much as I do. Why don’t we meet at the house a few minutes early, before you start painting?”

“That’d be ideal. I’ll brush a little color on the wall, and you can make sure it’s okay.” His eyes met hers and lingered for a few seconds, causing Jill to blush. “I plan to be there by eight thirty tomorrow.”

“I’ll see you then.”

After Denny left, Jill slapped herself lightly on both cheeks. She was shocked to find herself thinking of Denny, his twinkling eyes and handsome smile. She cringed, remembering how she looked when he met her.

“Nice going, Jill,” she mumbled, wishing she could rewind the entire day and start over. She would make sure the woman he saw the next morning looked her professional best.

Stealing the Golden Dream, by Sally J. Smith and Jean Steffens: A Pair of PIs Risk Everything to Recover a Coin Collection

stealing_dreamStealing the Golden Dream ($13.95, 240 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-983-1), by Sally J. Smith and Jean Steffens, is Book 2 of a romantic suspense series set in Scottsdale, Arizona. When a priceless coin collection is stolen, society girl Jordan must wrestle with her conscience; it seems that playing dirty is the only way to recover the coins entrusted to her security agency and save the life of her partner Eddie.

** Click the Cover Image to Order Online **

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

Stealing the Golden Dream is a worthy follow-up to Stealing the Moon and Stars. A great series and smart plot told at breakneck pace with a fair share of red herrings thrown in to keep the brain busy. Eddie and Jordan are great characters, sexy, tough, intelligent, and witty. The saying that opposites attract is a perfect description of their relationship. They are supported by a terrific cast of villains and heroes, and the great landscape of Arizona thrown in for good measure adds extra weight to the enjoyment and thrill. Stealing the Golden Dream is the perfect companion for the beach, planes, trains and everything else in between.”  Read more….

—Sam Millar, The New York Journal of Books

“STEALING THE GOLDEN DREAM is a good solid mystery with well-developed characters and some unexpected twists along the way. I loved the characters, the setting, and the complexity of the mystery. STEALING THE GOLDEN DREAM solidified my following Jordan, Eddie, and the rest of Shea Investigations through their future exploits.”  Read more….

—The Bibliophilic Book Blog

“Jordan Welsh and Eddie Marino are an engaging duo, reminiscent of Castle and Beckett. Their chemistry makes this a must-read series. Smith and Steffens pen a heck of an action-packed, twisty-turny tale—they had me from page one!”

—Jenn McKinlay, New York Times best-selling author

“Smart and sassy. Classy with a twist of wry humor and just enough sentiment and romance to reel you in and keep you hanging until the end.”

—Kathleen M. Rodgers, author of Johnnie Come Lately and The Final Salute

“The Smith and Steffens dynamic duo have created another enjoyable read. Blending their contemporary noir heroes with their quirky and relatable friends and relatives, followed by a generous sprinkling of really scary bad guys, this tight story tingles with suspense, grit, and perpetual motion.”

—Cathy Ann Rogers, author of Here Lies Buried and Deliberate Fools.

Scottsdale PIs Jordan Welsh and Eddie Marino of Shea Investigations are hired by the Arizona Heritage Museum to guard the multimillion-dollar Dahlonega Golden Dream Coin Collection. When the collection is stolen out from under them and a loved and trusted colleague is murdered, it’s a strike at the very heart of the agency. Eddie has been set up to take the fall for both crimes, so their first order of business is to clear his name. Not only is Eddie’s freedom at stake, but their business is on the line. In fact their very lives, as well as those of their loved ones, are in deadly peril.

It soon becomes clear that Eddie has been targeted because of his former association with the mob. How far over to the dark side is Jordan Welsh, society girl, willing to go to save her lover Eddie from the echoes of his criminal past?

Says co-author Sally J. Smith, “For book two of our series, we began with a collection of rare antique gold coins minted at the Dahlonega Mint in Georgia—beautiful, rough-hewn, artistic coins. What if that collection were stolen from a museum and what would prompt someone to do that? Plain old greed was the obvious answer, but we were after a less obvious motive. And we found it.”

Sally J. Smith and Jean Steffens are partners in crime—crime writing, that is. They live in Scottsdale, Arizona, an awesome place for eight months out of the year, an inferno the other four. They write bloody murder, flirty romance, and wicked humor all in one package. When they aren’t putting their heads together over a manuscript, they haunt movie theaters, malls, and great restaurants. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

The image of Eddie with Sofia Vercelli was imprinted on her brain. But she had it in mind to put it aside until Eddie was in better shape. Piling more stress on top of all he was already dealing with would not only be cruel and insensitive, it would also be stupid. He was much better at a good rousing argument than she. Better to wait until things had settled down to bring up the subject—but it was definitely a matter she intended to learn more about.

Jordan made her way through the house, opened the patio door, and followed Sadie outside. She stood by the pool staring at the half-moon mirrored in the inky water. Jordan shivered in the cool breeze that rippled the reflection. March days in Scottsdale were perfect—warm, in the upper seventies, low eighties. But the evenings cooled down to the low fifties. The desert air was clean, seasoned with the faint scent of mesquite, creosote, and the chlorine in the pool.

She rubbed her bare arms. Eddie moved up behind her, slipped off his jacket and draped it around her shoulders.

He put his arms around her. “You know I wasn’t with her that night.”

“Why would she say it if it wasn’t true?”

“I’m pretty sure she figures if she does this I might take her back.”

Jordan looked up, trying to see his face, but it was cloaked in darkness.

“It’s never going to happen. I told her I’m with you now. While I don’t want anything to do with her, if her story gets me off the hook, I’ll run with it. I can’t revenge Muggs if I’m sitting in a jail cell.”

“You think I don’t know that?” Jordan said. “She’s willing to lie for you? To the cops? She must want you back real bad.”

Eddie moved his hands to her shoulders and turned her around. “It’s all one-sided. Don’t pretend you don’t know that.” He pulled her close and kissed her hard, long, and smoking hot as Louisiana pepper sauce. It burned all the way to her toes.

Eddie, the man she was born to love. She threw herself into the kiss, and before she really knew what was happening, they’d made their way into the house and were pulling at each other’s clothes.

He took hold of one of her legs behind the knee and lifted it. She wrapped it around him as he reached under the dress and caught the edge of her panties with the curl of a finger.

The Return of the Fallen Angels Book Club, by R. Franklin James: Old Friends Reunite to Solve a Murder

return_angelsThe Return of the Fallen Angels Book Club ($14.95, 280 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-921-3), is the third book in R. Franklin James’ Hollis Morgan Mystery series. In this episode, a young attorney and her book club of white-collar ex-cons band together to solve the murder of their former parole officer.

**Click the cover image to buy the 5×8 trade paperback online**

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

The series began with The Fallen Angels Book Club and continued with Sticks & Stones.

“A wonderful thriller, loaded with twists and turns and red herrings that will leave you guessing all the while you are flipping pages to find out what happens next.”  Read more….

–Vic’s Media Room

“I found this third book just a bit darker than the previous two, which suited me well (I like dark and gritty novels that keep me at the edge of my seat while reading). The two storylines are well fleshed out and Hollis is a character that you can’t but feel close to. The Return Of The Fallen Angels Book Club is well crafted, the writing is top-notch and you can see just far the author has come from her first book. The confidence in writing shows every step of the way.” Read more…


Hollis Morgan is a survivor. She married young to flee an unloving family and ended up in prison, paying the price for her charming husband’s embezzlement. After finally obtaining a California judicial pardon, Hollis has climbed the ladder from paralegal to probate attorney at a respected law firm in the Bay Area. Unfortunately her first two cases are trials by fire. One involves a vicious family dispute over a disinheritance of family members who seem ready to stop at nothing to get their share. The other is the murder of her former parole officer, Jeffrey Wallace, whose will and family trust she is retained to file with the court. Too many people have motives and family mourners are few, so she resists processing the estate.

Without Jeffrey, Hollis’ successful reentry into society would never have been possible. It was he who introduced her to the Fallen Angels—his other white-collar ex-parolees seeking a second chance. The book club they formed was a comfort and a distraction, until two murders forced them back under the scrutiny of the law. The group disbanded during the ensuing investigation. Now, realizing their debt to Jeffrey, they come together once more, determined to uncover the truth.

Although Hollis has met a great guy—a police detective who knows about her past yet accepts her unconditionally—she is afraid to trust again. Naturally he doesn’t want to see her put her life in danger for the sake of a case, but he also knows she won’t stop until Jeffrey’s murderer is discovered. As both cases heat up, Hollis finds that probate law can bring out the worst in people and sometimes expose a killer.

Says James, “This was my chance to see old friends from the first book gather together again to solve a murder. They’re all a little wiser and perhaps more suspicious. This time it’s not self-protection that has them motivated, but the loss of a dear friend who has been brutally killed.”

R. Franklin James grew up in the San Francisco East Bay Area and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. She and her husband currently live in Northern California. Click here to find R. Franklin on the Web.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

The wind carried chilling fog across the Bay, making insidious snake-like pathways between the gravestones. Mourners wrapped in overcoats and scarves lined up on either side of the mound of dirt. Some dabbed at their eyes with tissues, others looked as if they wished they could be anywhere else but there. Everyone looked somber.

Hollis and Rena stood closest to the casket at the far end of the gatherers. Richard, Miller, and Gene stood behind them.

“Is there anyone who would like to speak before we proceed?” The minister kept shifting from foot to foot. It looked as if it was all he could do to keep his teeth from chattering. His cassock waved gently with the wind.

Hollis looked around. There were about thirty of them gathered. Women outnumbered men, but not by much. She looked over at the family. Jeffrey Wallace’s wife, brother, and son stood apart from the others at the head of the gravesite. Their faces were stoic, unexpressive, as if they were still in shock.

“Very well then we—”

“Wait, I want to say something.” A large burly black man wearing a beige trench coat over a suit without a tie came forward. He looked to be in his forties, with a shaved head and heavy mustache. He wore thick glasses and carried what appeared to be the Bible.

“Yes, please, go ahead.” The Minister backed away to let him come forward.

“Er … my name is Warren, and Jeffrey was my parole officer for five years. I hate to say it, I gave him a real hard time at first, but he stayed with me. He didn’t let me get away with anything, but he didn’t let me dangle either. We weren’t close friends, but I respected the dude. He was okay.”

Warren stepped back and the crowd closed the aisle behind him


“I’d like to speak.”

This time a young woman came forward, shouldering her way briskly through the group, saying “excuse me” repeatedly as she made her way to the front. Hollis had noticed her at the beginning of the service. She was extremely tall with pale blue eyes and thin blond hair that she wore in a bright red clip on top of her head. Despite the cold, she only wore a brown sweater and a thin beige sheath. Her nose had turned bright red. She wasn’t pretty in the classic sense, but attractive in a quirky way.

“Jeffrey Wallace was a good man. He wasn’t perfect. He sent me back to prison even after I told him I couldn’t pass the surprise urine test because I’d made one little slip the night before. But I didn’t blame him; he had to do his job. The thing is, he didn’t give up on me either. When I got out again he found me work, and now I really am clean. That’s it. Goodbye, Jeffrey.” She took a tissue out of her sleeve and dabbed at her nose.

The minister, not wanting to preempt any further speakers, stood quietly. Hollis could sense more than see Richard shifting restlessly behind her. Rena had also started to rummage about in her purse for tissues.

When no one else came forward, the minster checked his watch and looked to the widow for a sign. She gave a curt nod.

“We should all bow our heads,” he intoned.

A few minutes later the service was over, and a winding group of mourners passed by the casket. They trudged steadily to the family’s receiving line formed at the end of the path to introduce themselves and give condolences.

Hollis tried to think of some inconspicuous way of getting out of the line without having to interact socially with a family she knew she would never see again. But she was gently herded forward by the people around her. She wondered if her expression looked as grim as those of the other Fallen Angels.

A few steps behind Gene, she approached the mourning family. She couldn’t resist peering at the woman Jeffrey had married. According to the obituary, Jeffrey had been married to Frances for eight years. Even more of a surprise was that this was his second marriage. His first ended when his wife died in childbirth. Their son, Brian, had survived. She did a quick calculation; Brian must be in his mid-twenties.

The line moved at a steady pace, putting her one person away from an older man standing next to Frances. It was a safe guess that he was Jeffrey’s brother. People were murmuring their sympathies, and the family of three stood with their backs together as if poised to ward off the furies.

Hollis was now next in line. The man was short like Jeffrey, but the resemblance ended there. Jeffrey always reminded her of a friendly puffin. His brother looked like a hawk.

“I’m Jeffrey’s brother, Calvin, thank you for coming.” He reached out his hand for a gentle shake.

“I’m Hollis Morgan, I’m a former … client. I’m sorry for your loss.”

At the sound of a raised voice, Hollis looked ahead to see a young man grabbing Gene’s arm.

“You’re Gene Donovan? I need to speak with you.” Brian, Jeffrey’s son, put an arm around Gene’s shoulder and pulled him aside.

Brian was his father’s double—short, with brown hair and a solemn face. Hollis stopped behind Gene, who turned and gave her a questioning look.

“Ah, ah sure … wh-when?” Gene stuttered uncharacteristically. Usually full of confidence, he must have been caught off guard.

Hollis left Calvin and stood in front of Frances. She could see that Brian Wallace had not loosened his grip on Gene’s shoulder. But it was clear from her clenched jaw that Frances’ plan was to ignore the interchange.

“I’m Frances, Jeffrey’s wife, thank you for coming.” Either she had repeated the phrase one too many times, or she was simply bored. She sounded like a robot.

Hollis sympathized and wasn’t thrown off by her tone. “I’m Hollis Morgan. I was a client of your husband’s. He was a very good—”

“You’re Hollis? I was hoping you’d come,” Brian said. Letting go of Gene’s shoulder, he reached across his stepmother with his hand outstretched for Hollis to shake. “Are all of you in the book club?” He pointed to the five of them now bunched together and halting the receiving line.

Gene was going through his jacket pockets, searching for a card.

Hollis looked past Frances to Rena, who was stopped in front of Calvin. Frances, who could no longer ignore her stepson’s conversation, was looking more irritated by the second.

“Yes, but maybe we should talk after you’ve met the rest of the visitors?” Hollis said in a low voice. “We’re holding up the line.”

“Brian, please.” Frances’s raised voice was strained.

“Sorry.” He spoke urgently to Hollis and Gene. “Call me and let’s talk. My father told me about you and I think I could use your help.” He gave his number.

Gene pulled a business card from his pocket and scribbled a number on the back. He handed it to Brian. “What kind of help do—”

“Yes, of course we’ll call and set something up,” Hollis interjected, not wanting to be any more obvious than they already were.

Gene let her lead him away from the line, and they headed down the grassy pathway, back to their cars.

Gene got behind the wheel. Hollis sat in the back.

“What was that about?” she asked.

“You tell me. I guess there’s a dysfunctional family out there for everyone.” Gene shook his head.

Rena slid quickly into the car, followed just as hurriedly by Richard and Miller.

“Now that was strange,” Richard said, taking a knit cap out of his jacket pocket and pulling it down to cover his bald head.

“No, that was bizarre,” Rena said, briskly rubbing her arms against the cold. “What could he want with us?”

“I don’t know, and I get the feeling Frances may not know what he has in mind either,” Hollis said, watching the mourners return to their cars.

When Brian reached his car, he looked back at them. Frances must have pulled on his arm, for he immediately climbed into the limo waiting to take them away.

Gene followed her gaze. “Yeah, I think you’re right.”