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.

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

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

“Anyone—”

“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.”

Three Short Stories by Lesley A. Diehl featuring the Intrepid Eve Appel

Eve Appel, the amateur sleuth whose adventures solving mysteries in rural Florida have been told in two full-length novels, A Secondhand Murder and Dead in the Water, is featured in three short stories available as Kindle Singles only ($.99/each). The third novel-length cozy mystery in the series, A Sporting Murder, will be released on July 15, 2015. “The Little Redheaded Girl is my Friend” introduces Eve and Madeline as children, teenagers, and finally young adults. “Thieves and Gators Run at the Mention of her Name” tells the story of Eve’s arrival in Sabal Bay, and “Gator Aid” finds Eve and Madeline at a writers’ conference. In each story, the two women stumble onto a mystery.

A version of “Gator Aid” won the 2009 Sleuthfest Short Story Contest, sponsored by Mystery Writers of America, Florida Chapter.

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Lesley has published five other full-length mysteries: A Deadly Draught, Poisoned Pairings, Dumpster Dying, Angel Sleuth, and Grilled, Chilled, and Killed.

“The Little Redheaded Girl is my Friend”:

3shorts_1Eve Appel was an original long before she bought her clothing consignment store in rural Florida. After her parents are killed in a boating accident, she goes to live with her grandmother, “Grandy,” in Connecticut. Already a trendsetter, Eve is also taller and braver than most of her grade school classmates. It isn’t long before she meets the girl who will become her best friend—Madeleine. Petite and redheaded, Madeleine is clumsy but no pushover. Together they foil bullying students, bigoted teachers, and when they reach high school, the class lech.

While still in college, Madeleine and Eve seize the chance to tackle their first mystery. Their neighborhood drugstore is the target of a shoplifter, and naturally the local young people are suspect. That means they and their friends can’t shop there anymore without security dogging their every step. After solving the case and settling an old score at the same time, Madeleine and Eve are left with a serious taste for sleuthing.

“Thieves and Gators Run at the Mention of her Name”:

3shorts_2Fed up with her cheating husband, Eve Appel decides to leave her home in Connecticut and join her friend Madeleine in Sabal Bay, Florida, as a partner in a consignment shop. But Eve is not prepared for rural Florida, with gators constantly underfoot, scrubby palm trees, and swamp and prairie as far as the eye can see. No sooner have they unlocked their new storefront when someone tries to break in. What is the thief after, they wonder, when all that’s in the store are naked mannequins and dress racks? As usual, Eve is ready to tackle the mystery head-on, with Madeleine dragged reluctantly behind.

“Gator Aid”

3shorts_3Eve Appel and her best friend Madeleine run a consignment shop together in rural Florida. Madeleine is also an author, and now she wants to switch from writing children’s books to mystery novels. So she drags Eve to a writers’ conference, hoping her friend will bolster her confidence during her big pitch to an agent. It soon looks as if Eve isn’t going to make that appointment. A case of mistaken identity results in her agreeing to pose as the person she has been mistaken for. It doesn’t hurt that the special agent assigned to the case is a hunk. When his plan to keep her from harm goes awry, Eve finds herself in the trunk of a car, en route to the swamps, where the hungry alligators await their dinner.

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 from “Gator Aid”:

Hair still wet and wearing the over-sized terrycloth robe, Madeleine stood behind me as I pounded on the door of 748.

“Who is it?” asked a male voice.

“Uh, I’m one of the conference volunteers with a revised schedule of events for tomorrow.”

After a long silence, the voice said, “Slip it under the door.”

Ah well. I shrugged. We’d done what we could do, so I slid it under the door. Now we’d just have to stake out 748. Before I could let Madeleine know my plan, the door flew open and a tall man dressed in dark slacks and white shirt grabbed both of us and pulled us into the room.

“Who are you? Drago send you with this? Kind of short notice, don’t you think?” He held up the note.

I looked up into his eyes, dark as root beer jelly beans, and admired the angular planes of his face. A shock of brown hair flopped across his forehead. Only the shoulder holster he wore took away from his look of handsome innocence. He steered us over to the bed and shoved us onto it. “Now talk to me.”

So I did. I told him about the misdelivered note, my voice shaky, my hands tingling with fear and curiosity.

“I don’t believe you,” he said.

I told the story again. On the third telling, the phone rang.

“Damn. Answer that,” he said.

“What?”

“I need to have a woman answer the phone.”

“What do I say?”

“Just listen, that’s all.”

He handed the phone to me.

“Hello.”

“I know you got my note. I saw the desk clerk hand it to you. There’s been a change of plans,” said a deep voice on the other end. “I’ll meet you tomorrow night, Friday, near the ballroom. About nine.”

He hung up. I handed the phone back to Mr. Armed and Hunky. “I believe that may have been your Drago person,” I said.

“Sharp. Remembering the name.” He eyes traveled over me from the top of my spiky blonde hair down to my spiky black heels. When he finished, I got the impression I’d passed some kind of test, but he said, “Repeat your story again.”

I stood and jerked Madeleine off the bed. “Look, I was trying to help out someone in trouble. My mistake. You’re more equipped to handle this than we are. Goodbye.” I expected him to grab us and throw us back onto the bed. Under other circumstances, I might have welcomed a toss on the mattress with a guy as yummy as he was, but I’m not crazy about the combination of guns and strange men in hotel rooms. Besides, I was still sweaty from seven floors of stair climbing, which is way harder than the Stairmaster.

Split to Splinters, by Max Everhart: A Hall of Famer Accuses his Own Family of Theft

split_to_splintersSplit to Splinters ($14.95, 264 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-205-4), by Max Everhart, is the second book in a mystery/suspense series featuring Eli Sharpe, a former baseball player turned detective. A retired baseball star believes one of his four daughters is stealing his career memorabilia and gives Eli free rein to rattle the family skeletons.

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“A fast-paced whodunit of family intrigue centering on a legendary baseball pitcher whose priceless 300th-win baseball has been stolen. Max Everhart’s PI, Eli Sharpe, was himself a former ballplayer, but a mediocre one. Yet his grasp of human nature is of all-star quality. Sharpe is a clever and appealing character, and the story’s suspects are vivid and distinctive. Everhart’s second Eli Sharpe mystery is a solid hit, and I look forward to his next case.”

—Steve Steinberg, coauthor (with Lyle Spatz) of the award-winning 1921: The Yankees, the Giants, and the Battle for Baseball Supremacy in New York, and the spring 2015 book, The Colonel and Hug: The Partnership that Transformed the New York Yankees

Jim Honeycutt, a vigorous Hall of Famer who still hurls 90 MPH fast balls in his 50s, is missing his three-hundredth career win baseball, and an anonymous note points to his daughters. Cherchez la femme, or so they say. In this case, there isn’t just one female involved, but six, and they are all suspects. Four lovely daughters, their seductive mother, and their mother’s best friend.

Eli Sharpe, an ex pro-baseball player based in Asheville, North Carolina, who investigates cases related to his former profession, sets out to delve into the complicated family dynamics of the Honeycutt clan. Other than the daughters, there are the various men who trail after them as well as the washed-out writer who lives in the Hall of Famer’s basement, supposedly writing his biography.

The culprit has to be someone in Jim’s circle. So how difficult can it be to expose them? Even Eli, with his already close acquaintance with human treachery, isn’t prepared for what he will find.

Split to Splinters is the second book in the Eli Sharpe Mystery series, which began with Go Go Gato.

Says Everhart, “Like most of my stories, Split to Splinters started with an image: Eli Sharpe in the batter’s box, ducking to avoid getting hit by a high fastball. From there, I had to figure out who was throwing the ball, and for that, I turned to Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan. One of my heroes growing up, Ryan served as the basis for the Jim Honeycutt character. I thought it would be interesting to surround this rugged, virile character with formidable women, so I gave him four daughters, a wife, and possibly, a mistress. Still needing a mystery, I was inspired by a much better writer than myself: William Shakespeare and his tragic family man, King Lear.”

Max Everhart has a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Alabama, Birmingham. His short stories have been published in CutBank, Elysian Fields Quarterly, Slow Trains Journal, and juked. His short story, “The Man Who Wore No Pants,” was selected by Michael Knight for Best of the Net 2010 and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Dzanc Books’ Best of the Web Anthology. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Eli followed the driveway around back and stopped short when he spotted a woman in a white bikini sunbathing by the pool. She was wearing black sunglasses and a white floppy hat that would be perfect for the Kentucky Derby. Joining her poolside, Eli squinted up at the overcast sky.

“A bit chilly for tanning.” No response. Eli flashed his private investigator’s license. “My name is Eli Sharpe. Jim Honeycutt hired me to find something of his.”

“Oh?”

“Someone stole an important baseball from his office.”

“Does it have sentimental value?”

“It’s worth a lot of money.”

The sunbather put her book down. Ten Little Indians by Agatha Christie. She removed her sunglasses and hat, shook out her honey-colored hair.

“Mrs. Honeycutt?”

“I told you to call me Tess. Now be a dear and do my back.” She pointed to a bottle of suntan lotion that had a picture of a voluptuous, dark-skinned woman in a teal bikini on the front.

“No, thanks,” said Eli.

“You’re not afraid of an old biddy like me.”

“Afraid isn’t the word I’d use.”

She slapped him playfully on his leg, her smile wide enough to see every tooth. “Forgive me. I was having fun at your expense. You’ve come to see if I know anything about my husband’s precious ball.”

“I’ve come to see if you stole it.”

“You’re being rude. In my house.”

“Technically, we’re not in your house.”

“Are you mocking me?”

“Perhaps we should start over.” Eli rose, bowed like a well-trained servant. “If you would permit, madam, I’d very much appreciate the opportunity to question you regarding your esteemed husband’s stolen merchandise.”

She snorted, quickly covered her mouth with a bejeweled hand. “Good God, that is the worst British accent I’ve ever heard. But you’re adorable. Apology accepted.”

Eli didn’t bother to say he hadn’t apologized and didn’t intend to. He got out his fountain pen and notebook.

“Where were you when the ball went missing?”

“Saturday I had a dinner date with Linda Rogers.”

“The redhead? Drives an Audi?”

“She’s my best friend. We met at Mars Hill College, but I refuse to say how long ago that was.”

“You don’t look a day over thirty,” said Eli in his awful British accent.

She laughed, lilting and feminine. “We’re wannabe scribes, Linda and I. Or is it Linda and me? Anyway, we read and critique each other’s writing. It’s a rewarding hobby. You should try it. You have a certain way with words.”

Side Trip to Kathmandu, by Marie Moore: Unmasking a Well-Heeled Murderer

kathmanduSide Trip to Kathmandu ($12.95, 186 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-297-9), is the third installment in a cozy mystery series by Marie Moore featuring Sidney Marsh, a New York-based travel agent. In this adventure Sidney and Jay are recruited by their glamorous friend and sometime client Brooke for a luxury tour of India and Nepal in an effort to discover which of their fellow travelers is a murderer.

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“Author Marie Moore is a retired tour agent and guide. Her Sidney Marsh murder mysteries are (in Agatha Christie fashion) enchanting tales with strange clues that leave readers in the dark until the end. Side Trip to Kathmandu is a fast moving tale with intriguing characters and unexpected plot twists.”  Read more….

—Don Messerschmidt, Portland Book Review

“The descriptions of India and Nepal are fantastic, and the reader quickly becomes another member of a fantastic tour. The sights, sounds, smells, and even tastes of these countries is conveyed in a vivid and exciting way. And the characters on the tour are certainly very different and each seems to have secrets they don’t want to reveal…. Readers who enjoy a cozy mystery, especially one that takes them to new locations, are sure to find Side Trip to Kathmandu to be a delightful experience.”  Read more…

—Cyclamen, Long and Short Reviews

“Side Trip to Kathmandu is the third book in the Sidney Marsh Murder Mystery series by Marie Moore, who has now clearly established herself as a master of the mystery/suspense genre. Simply stated, Marie Moore is an exceptionally gifted author who never fails to satisfy her readers and leave them eagerly looking toward her next novel.”

—Midwest Book Review Bookwatch

“Marie Moore’s vivid story combines the thrills of vicarious travel with a baffling mystery. It’s the next best thing to seeing India in person. If you’ve traveled there, you will love this book even more.”

—Annamaria Alfieri, author of Strange Gods, Blood Tango and City of Silver, and writing as Patricia King, Never Work for a Jerk, featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show

“This action-packed adventure was worth the wait as Sidney and Jay travel to India…. Suspects were few, but the suspense was aplenty. The mystery kept me involved as it unfolded and I enjoyed the many curving paths it took to narrow the apprehension to the killer…. A great read, a great adventure, great dialogue, and the great team of Sidney and Jay.”

—Dru’s Book Musings

Sidney Marsh’s job as a New York travel agent is on the line. On her last two tours, she and her colleague Jay ended up smack in the middle of murder and mayhem. Their sleuthing sideline did not endear them to their employer, Itchy Feet Travel, so naturally they are relieved when their wealthy friend Brooke requests their presence on a no expense spared tour of India and Nepal. Another agency has made the arrangements, so all they need do is sit back and enjoy the ride.

Well, not quite all. Brooke has enlisted them to keep a sharp eye on their fellow travelers, all “friends” who have grown rich from the demise of others. After surviving an attempt on her life, Brooke is certain the culprit must be one of the five: a handsome Scotsman, a Bollywood actress, an investment banker, a Parisian filmmaker, or a twice widowed blonde.

Many of the tour accommodations prove to be as dodgy as the reputations of the travelers themselves. After one of the members of the moving house party dies of an apparent heart attack, everyone’s nerves are on edge. Sidney can hardly be blamed for assuming a deadly game is afoot … or for falling for Adam, the doting Scotsman. Now, if only she can unmask the killer before the killer beats her to the punch.

Says Moore, “India and Nepal are two of the most fascinating countries on earth, so that is where I chose to send Sidney and Jay in Side Trip to Kathmandu. It is quite true that a visit of any length to India will change your life. India is so ancient, so complex, so colorful that one cannot help but be affected by her forever. Then there is Nepal, that mystical former kingdom tucked into the highest mountains in the world, closed to modern civilization for so many years and populated by fierce, hard-working and beautiful people. I thought when I visited these marvelous countries that someday I would surely return. And so I have, through Sidney’s eyes.”

Marie Moore is a native Mississippian. She graduated from Ole Miss, married a lawyer in her hometown, taught junior high science, raised a family, and worked for a small weekly newspaper—first as a writer and later as Managing Editor. She wrote hard news, features and a weekly column, and won a couple of MS Press Association awards for her stories. In 1985, Marie left the newspaper to open a retail travel agency, which she managed for the next fifteen years. The Sidney Marsh mysteries are inspired by those experiences. Marie is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. She and her husband live in Memphis, TN, and Holly Springs, MS. For find more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

“Worth the trip, isn’t it?”

I looked up from my trance to find Adam MacLeod’s green eyes smiling down at me. The others apparently had gone on ahead. I could see the group following Rahim, snapping pictures, strolling alongside the marble reflecting pool toward the great dome.

“It’s amazing,” I babbled. “One of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. The guidebook says it took twenty-two years and over twenty thousand workers to build it. Can you imagine? Isn’t it wonderful? I can’t believe I’m actually here to see it. But I was in such a daze, staring at it, that I’m about to be left behind. Now I’ll have to hurry and catch up or I’ll lose the group in all this crowd.”

With a wry laugh at my idiotic yammering, he took my arm to prevent me from bolting down the path. I didn’t know why this attractive man made me so nervous. I just knew that he did.

“Slow down, lass, there’s no hurry. I told them I’d come back for you. Take your time. There’s no rush. I’ll see that you’re reunited with the group. Easy now, easy.”

Hearing his words, I did slow down, taking a deep breath and resolving not to act like a fool. I looked up at him as we walked together but he was not watching me. He seemed lost in his own thoughts. His handsome face looked sad, and in the sunlight, for the first time, I noticed glints of silver in his dark hair.

“It’s beautiful, yes, but so sad,” he said in his deep burr, staring at the dazzling marble as we neared the great dome. “She died bearing his child, you know. He never recovered from it. Losing the love of your life in such a way, so suddenly … tears your heart in two.”

I didn’t comment, watching him carefully as we walked. I was thinking of the sudden death of his own wife, and I knew that he must be thinking of her as well. The lines in his tanned face deepened as he clenched his jaw. Had he loved her as this ancient king had loved his queen? Did he love her still? Brooke had said she’d heard mention of other women in Adam’s life since the wife’s accident, but none appeared to be lasting or serious.

Then his dark mood seemed to pass. He pointed to a grassy lawn on our left where a white ox pulled a mowing machine, guided by a turbaned workman.

“I’ll wager you’ll not have mowers like that in New York,” he laughed.

I smiled, standing beside him as we watched the odd, old-fashioned contraption clip the bright green grass.

“Nothing here is like New York,” I said.

Due for Discard, by Sharon St. George: A Corpse Found in a Dumpster Throws a Small Town into Turmoil

due_for_discardDue for Discard ($15.95, 340 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-223-8), is the first book in a mystery series by debut author Sharon St. George, set in Northern California and featuring Aimee Machado, a forensic librarian. On her first day on the job, Aimee discovers that her own brother is the prime suspect in the murder of her supervisor’s wife.

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Click here to follow the Tribute Books blog tour in March.

“The multidimensional Aimee is a delightful character, full of spunk and grit. Romance readers will appreciate the entanglements and situations in which Aimee finds herself as several men pursue her romantically. The author keeps the reader guessing until the end about who really holds Aimee’s heart. Due for Discard, which is the first in a series, is breezy and light, with some humor thrown in, despite the murder that frames the story.”

—Hilary Daninhirsch, ForeWord Magazine

Due For Discard has everything you’re looking for in an entertaining novel—a twisty mystery, a fast-paced plot, lots of laughs, and a spunky heroine in Aimee Machado. Plus, llamas!”

—Steve Brewer, author of A Box Of Pandoras

“Sharon St. George’s debut mystery is a delight with an appealing heroine, an intriguing setting, and fast-paced action. Readers will eagerly await the second Aimee Machado mystery.”

—Carolyn Hart, author of the Death on Demand and Bailey Ruth series.

Due for Discard is a sparkling debut featuring a charming sleuth with common sense and a most unusual herd of sidekicks. Highly recommended.”

—Terry Shames, author of the Samuel Craddock Mysteries

“Aimee Machado is a likable, intelligent, sensible young woman—and I love the llamas!”

—Carola Dunn, author of the Daisy Dalrymple and Cornish mysteries

“Sharon St. George offers up several quirky elements that really set her mystery novel apart. For starters, her heroine, Aimee Machado, lives next to a field full of llamas. So even though she takes on the dangerous work of investigating a murder in her spare time, she has no need for an alarm system. Why? Because llamas let out a ferocious bleat whenever they sense a predator nearby. Another factor is the zany pack of suspects that fall under Aimee’s radar…. Aimee’s a tough cookie with a heart of gold, and she won’t give up no matter who tries to stop her. She’s loyal, passionate and unwavering in her support of her brother.”  Read more ….

—The Plot Thickens Book Blog

“I love when a book’s setting feels as alive as a supporting character. The foothills of the Cascade Mountains are where this story takes place, and the rusticity of the locale is what charmed me from the get go. Aimee Machado lives in the converted bunkhouse above her grandparents’ barn. Their ranch is populated with a pasture full of fuzzy llamas and wooly sheep. There’s even a pet snake in a tank, a wise-cracking bird, and a temperamental cat…. St. George threads the needle admirably, connecting all the dots. Mystery fans will undoubtedly want to return to Highland Ranch in Coyote Creek for Aimee Machado’s next case.”  Read more ….

—City Girl Who Loves to Read

“I have to say that I absolutely LOVED this book…. There are a lot of characters in this book, but I had no problem sorting them out in my head. I think with the descriptions you are given it made things easier to picture and therefore easier to follow.  I didn’t want to put the book down – even though I had to! (You know, eating and sleeping)  I am quite pleased that this is the first in a series and am looking forward to reading more!”  Read more….

—Concert Katie

“Unique is the best word to describe Sharon St. George’s crime-solving novel. I know I got a kick out of the fact that Aimee was staying at her grandparents’ llama farm, tending to the furry creatures while they were away. You don’t come across a character like that too often, and it made me smile in the midst of all the tension and mounting suspense. If you like mysteries, you will enjoy the twists and turns in this one. I know you’ll come to adore the character of Aimee Machado as much as I did. I’m thrilled that she’s going to star in her own continuing series.”  Read more….

—Tribute Books Mama

“This mystery has suspense, but it also has surprisingly, humor.… Aimee and her friends and relatives are all likeable. I imagine you’ll find Aimee’s sequel mysteries quite entertaining, as well. This particular novel, Due for Discard, is a good read. It has action for thrill seekers, humor for relief, romance for interest, and the plot itself, for mystery buffs. What else do you want?”  Read more….

—The One True Faith Blog

“The characters are an amazing array of people and have such a great culture of distrust and concerns. Aimee is like a breath of fresh air that creates a bubble of humor but also opens a few hearts and minds to the differences in each other. As she penetrates the secrets of those involved you can see how her mind works and it endears you to her, creating a buy in on the possibilities of her being able to both find the answers and solve the crime while staying out of jeopardy herself. Both her brother and Nick round out the group and you find yourself rooting for them both, her brother Harry to be exonerated, and for Nick to win her back. The interplay between the three is fascinating to behold. If you enjoy romance and mystery and are looking for a new sleuth to hold your interest you will enjoy this book and the new Aimee Machado Mysteries to follow. Your mystery library will be the perfect setup for this new series.”  Read more….

—Tic-Toc Book Reviews

“Aimee Machado is real. She has a lot of faults. She’s not perfect. And that’s what makes her interesting.”  Read more….

—The Character Connection

“The final capture is dramatic, with good tension and excitement. I also loved all the animals, especially the llamas, the cat, Fanny, and the cockatiel, Bosco. I never realized that llamas were such good watch animals. Fans of the cozy mystery will enjoy watching Aimee as she hunts for clues and suspects, putting herself in danger, as she works to uncover the truth.”  Read more ….

—Cyclamen, Long and Short Reviews

“A wonderful start to this series, Due For Discard will certainly pique your interest. The reader is drawn into Aimee Machado’s chaotic life as she tries to juggle her new job, her family life, and her love life all in one. Sharon has beautifully crafted a believable world. The characters and their interactions flow quite nicely, and the action never stops.”  Read more ….

—Lissette E. Manning, Siimplistik.com

“I enjoyed the characters. They were fun and easy to get to know and care about. It took me a while to warm up to Nick but I liked him best of all…. I love a mystery where I suspect EVERYONE. With the exception of Nick, Harry, Amah and Jack (Aimee of course) anyone could have been the murder. After all, Bonnie Beardsley left a long trail of broken homes and hearts.” Read more ….

—Of Thoughts and Words Blog

“If you are a fan of cozy mysteries, Due for Discard is worth the read. It’s a pleasant whodunit to add to your bookshelf.”  Read more….

–Romancing the Book

“Four stars. very well written… the characters will surprise.”  Read more….

—Lynn’s Corner

Due for Discard pulled me in from page one and refused to let go. The content is so exciting and perfectly paced that you can’t help but read ‘just one more page.’ The mystery surrounding the crime is well hidden and incrementally revealed at the appropriate times…. The dialogue between all of the characters is smooth and understandable. And who can forget the llamas! I love their random cameos. I can’t wait to see where Sharon St. George takes Aimee next.”  Read more….

—Sapphyria’s Book Reviews

Aimee Machado is thrilled to be starting her first job as a forensic librarian at the medical center in the town of Timbergate, north of Sacramento, California. Her ebullient mood is somewhat dampened by her recent breakup with her former live-in boyfriend, Nick Alexander. And then there’s a little matter of murder: on Aimee’s first day on the job, a body is found in a nearby Dumpster and soon identified as her supervisor’s wife, Bonnie Beardsley.

Aimee’s heartbreaker of a brother and best friend, Harry, just happens to be one of the last people to see Bonnie alive, but he is hardly the only suspect. Bonnie was notorious for her wild partying and man-stealing ways, and she has left a trail of broken hearts and bitterness. Aimee is determined to get her brother off the suspect list.

Aimee’s snooping quickly makes her a target. Isolated on her grandparents’ llama farm where she fled post-breakup, she realizes exactly how vulnerable she is. Three men have pledged to protect her: her brother Harry, her ex, Nick, and the dashing hospital administrator with a reputation for womanizing, Jared Quinn. But they can’t be on the alert every minute, not when Aimee is so bent on cracking the case with or without their help.

Says St. George, “While coordinating a medical staff organization and managing the health sciences library of an acute care hospital, I was well aware of the intrigues that go on behind the scenes. I am also a llama packer. So, in my mind, a forensic librarian in a hospital seemed like the perfect amateur sleuth and a rural llama ranch, the perfect setting. Writing this series has given me an excuse to learn more about our legal system and law enforcement, the art of jujitsu, career pilots flying corporate aircraft, journalists on foreign assignments, and managed hunting as a conservation tool.”

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:

I had been up Sunday morning just long enough to make coffee and fetch the paper when my phone rang. For the first time in days, the Beardsley case was not on the front page. A brief story in the local section recapped earlier accounts and quoted the chief of police saying that all leads were being pursued. The phone rang again, and Bosco, the unhinged cockatiel, responded with an ear-splitting squawk. I guessed the caller would be Amah, checking in from Idaho.

I picked up the phone, trying to shush the crazy bird while I faked a cheerful tone.

Just as I said “Hello,” Bosco uttered one of his favorite quotes. “Go ahead, make my day.” As usual, he nailed his Dirty Harry impersonation.

The caller wasn’t Amah.

“Hey, lady. Was that Bosco, or are you dating Clint Eastwood these days?”

“Nick?” Disoriented, I lost my breath for a moment. Then anger came to my rescue. “What do you want?”

“It’s been eight weeks since Paris. I understand why you were upset, but I think you owe me a chance to explain. I thought we might get together and talk things out.”

Tears threatened, but I was determined that he wouldn’t hear the pain in my voice. I swallowed, took a beat. “What’s the point? Aren’t you and Rella back together?”

“Look, this is too complicated for the phone. Can I see you?”

“I don’t think so, Nick. It’s best if we both move on.”

I hoped that would be true one day. With Harry in jeopardy and a new job to protect, I didn’t have the emotional energy to deal with Nick. I couldn’t afford the distraction until the Beardsley case was solved and Harry was in the clear.

“I’m not giving up on us, Aimee. We had something worth fighting for.”

“I used to think so.” I used to think Nick was the love of my life, but not anymore.

“Then think again. You know where to find me.”

Bosco squawked again and boomed out his other favorite epithet in a gravelly voice no one in the family recognized, “Hit the floor, asshole!

I heard Nick’s soft laughter in my ear as I hung up.

Gosford’s Daughter, by Bestselling Author Mary Daheim: Passion and Intrigue in the Scottish Highlands

gosfords_daughterGosford’s Daughter ($16.95, 362 pages., ISBN: 978-1-60381-963-3), is a reprint of an early historical romance by bestselling author Mary Daheim. The novel was originally published in 1988 under the title, Passion’s Triumph, and continues the story that began with The Royal Mile, originally Love’s Pirate.

“Mary Daheim’s novels are a rare treat for the lovers of deeply detailed, highly historical love stories that bring history to vibrant life.”

Romantic Times

**Click the cover image to order online **

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

“Daheim’s prose is engaging, and her novel has all the best ingredients of a well-researched historical romance, including some steamy love scenes. It wasn’t difficult to immerse myself in this fast-paced story. Lovely imagery of Scotland is expertly rendered, along with solidly believable characters (including many familiar real-life figures). Sorcha’s narrative is carefully interwoven with factual historic detail. The elusive Gavin did, at times, have a magician’s knack for appearing just when needed, and was a bit long-suffering for my tastes, but that never spoiled my enjoyment of this very satisfying historical romance.”  Read more….

—Historical Novel Society

“Sorcha’s character was likable, and as a reader I definitely was rooting for her happiness the entire time, which is important to me. I also was a huge fan of this book, because it takes place during a time that I find completely fascinating. The time period when the Tudors and Queen Mary were alive is so interesting to me, and I read every book I can get my hands on about their lives. Overall I thought this was a great book, and I enjoyed reading it from start to finish.”  Read more ….

—Cocktails and Books.com

It’s 1585 at Gosford’s End in the Scottish Highlands where seventeen-year-old Sorcha Fraser is impatient to sample life outside of her close-knit family circle. Graced with the beauty and spirit of her parents, Iain and Dallas, she doesn’t have long to wait. While out riding, Sorcha meets a strangely compelling young man in priestly robes. She can’t foresee that Gavin Napier’s destiny will become forever intrinsically linked with her own fate. As Catholics, they are an endangered species in Protestant Scotland. Even King James has renounced the religion of his mother, Mary Stuart. The lives of all who remain faithful to “popish” ways are in grave danger.

Yet every time fate throws Sorcha and Gavin together, they’re cruelly torn apart. At court, she becomes a favorite of King James, who sends her to comfort his imprisoned mother in England. After Mary’s execution, Sorcha returns to Scotland where she finds the capricious monarch entangled in a nest of vipers. The most vicious of all is a dazzling courtesan who wields her beauty to set the clans against each other. But ultimately not even those otherworldly powers can prevail against the will—and the love—of Gavin Napier and Gosford’s daughter.

Says the author, “Why does any author write a sequel to a story that appears to have already been told? The characters, that’s why. At least in my case. Over the course of what was originally 850 manuscript pages and I don’t know how many years to create them, I became so immersed in Dallas’s and Iain’s Frasers that I couldn’t get them out of my mind. Frankly, I was curious to see what happened to them—and to their family—in later years. Quite a lot, it seemed. The Frasers lived in perilous times, especially for the Catholic minority.”

Mary Richardson Daheim, a Seattle native, began her publishing career with the first of seven historical romances before switching to mysteries in 1991. Since then she has published at least 55 books. Click here to find her on the Web.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Guiding Thisbe among the pine trees, Sorcha paused to gaze at the wooded isles that stood like primeval ships in the broad, brown Ness. It was a view she had loved since childhood, with the rippling waters, the heavy scent of pine, the backdrop of blue hills marching like a giant staircase to the distant mountaintops, where the snow never quite disappeared, even under the hottest summer sun.

A sudden movement nearby made Thisbe tense. Sorcha turned in the saddle to see a six-point stag standing aloof in motionless splendor. She knew the stag well. Two years earlier, her father and Magnus had determined to see which of them would bag the magnificent animal. But he had evaded them both, in a taunting, cunning match of human and animal wit. In deference to his victory, the Fraser menfolk had vowed never to kill the stag they had come to call the Master of Ness. Strangely enough, the animal had seemed to sense their concession and had boldly appeared before them at least a half dozen times the previous autumn. Sorcha lifted her head to touch her cap in salute as Thisbe’s ears twitched in apparent awe.

“Stay still,” Sorcha whispered, patting her mare’s neck. “He’ll go. It’s his way of telling us he’s guarding the Ness.”

The stag turned slightly, antlers tipped back like a primitive diadem. Sorcha was still smiling with admiration when the arrow soared through the pine trees and found its mark.

It seemed as if at least a full minute passed before the stag’s long legs buckled and he crashed onto the peaty ground. Horrified, Sorcha screamed and Thisbe reared up. Instinct alone saved her from being thrown as she clung to the mare’s neck and uttered a sharp command.

Sorcha leapt from the saddle, running to the stag, which was already in the last stage of its death throes. It was useless to remove the arrow; it had gone straight to the heart. Sorcha was too angry to cry, too outraged to be surprised by the tall, imposing figure that emerged from the pine trees carrying a huge bow in one hand and a dirk in the other.

“You killed him!” she cried. “You killed the Master of Ness!”

The man looked more bemused than concerned. “Strange, it looks like a stag to me.” He bent down to make sure the animal was dead, then sheathed his dirk. “Was he your pet?” The dark eyes were the color of the river itself, unrevealing and every bit as deep, set in a long face that struck Sorcha as wolflike.

His skin was dark, too, and the wavy hair was brown as a bog. The short-cropped beard and mustache made him seem older than he probably was. Not yet thirty, Sorcha gauged, and realized she was staring.

“Aye, he was, in his way. A family pet.” She gripped one of the antlers and glared defiantly at the man. “Why did you do that? There are so many other deer nearby.”

The man stood up and sighed. He was very tall and broad shouldered under the long black cape that covered him from neck to ankle. The beard, the cape, the guarded features, momentarily deflected Sorcha’s attention from the slain stag. There was something clandestine about the man, as if his all-enveloping attire shielded him from much more than the weather. But his words were frank enough, if tinged with irony: “I didn’t know I had to request an introduction to a stag before I shot him. Most do not have names. Or families.”

“Well, this one did. We all were particularly fond of him.” Sorcha brushed at her damp cheeks, lest he mistake raindrops for tears. She suddenly felt very young and vaguely foolish. “Do you have a name?”

The smile he gave her was surprisingly candid. “I do. It’s Napier. Gavin Napier. And you?”

“I’m Sorcha Fraser of Gosford’s End.” She paused, waiting for the usual acknowledgment of her family’s prestige. But Napier said nothing; he just continued to gaze at her from those deep, dark brown eyes. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other, wondering if Gavin Napier lived close by. But most of their clan came from much farther south, near Loch Lomond.

Before any coherent words could take form, Napier whistled. Within seconds, a handsome gray stallion trotted through the trees to stand by his master. “At least my horse is obedient,” Napier said with a trace of impatience. “Now where are the others?”

“You are with a hunting party?” Sorcha inquired as the rain began to pelt down in stinging drops.

“Of sorts.” He turned away, and she noticed that his profile was strongly etched, from the high forehead to the long nose, which had apparently been broken more than once, to the wide mouth with its slightly elongated lower lip. It was not a handsome face, Sorcha decided; it was too rough-hewn, too uneven. And definitely wolflike. But for some reason, she could not take her eyes from him.

“Damn.” He uttered the word with resignation. “They must have gone farther upriver, to the loch.” He unsheathed his dirk again and looked at Sorcha. “I don’t suppose you’d care to watch me gut your friend?”

“Oh!” Sorcha clapped her hands to her cheeks. “No! No, not this one!” The mere idea shocked her. Yet she wanted Gavin Napier to know that she had not only watched but gutted many a stag in her time. It seemed vitally important that he should not mistake her for a fatuous, squeamish child.

“Then turn the other way or head on home.” He had knelt down once more and was rolling the stag over onto its back. Napier moved with practiced assurance, reminding Sorcha of the poachers her father often winked at when he caught them on Fraser property. Napier obviously was no local poacher, but there was the aura of the hunter about him.

The rain was beginning to pierce the thick fabric of her woolen skirt. Sorcha was suddenly tempted to take Thisbe and flee to the manor house. But sheer willpower and a determination to prove herself forced a different decision.

“Oh, God’s teeth, if you need help, I’ll assist you. The poor creature can’t be any more dead than he is already.”

Napier glanced over his shoulder, a glimmer of surprise in his dark eyes. “Well. There’s a good lass. You hold the forelegs and I’ll do the cutting.”

Steeling herself to watch Napier’s every movement, Sorcha pried the legs as far apart as she could. The dirk plunged, and a torrent of blood spurted out over the animal’s tawny belly. Sorcha choked and was afraid she was going to be ill. To distract herself, she tried to think of Niall and how she’d responded to his kisses and the touch of his hands on her breasts. Somehow, those images were almost as jarring as the carnage taking place just under her nose.

Napier worked swiftly. Not more than five minutes had elapsed before the heart, organs, and entrails lay on the peaty, rain-soaked ground. The downpour was washing the blood away, allowing it to merge back into the earth, as nature claimed nature.

Napier stood up and caught Sorcha off guard with a wide, appealing grin. “Well done, lass. I have a rope; I’ll tie him to my horse.”

She was about to ask where he was taking the stag when three riders appeared downriver. As Napier called out to them, Sorcha could see that they were all dressed alike. As they drew closer, she realized why: They were monks, wearing their white robes under riding capes, with hoods covering their tonsures to protect them from the rain. She recognized one of them, an elderly brother named Joseph from Beauly Priory.

“The Lord be with you,” Brother Joseph said in greeting. Sorcha curtsied and replied in kind. “Ah, we’ll feast well this night,” he exclaimed, his faded blue eyes fixed on the stag.

“Aye,” said Napier, unwinding the rope from his horse’s saddle. “Though I feared Mistress Fraser here might do me a mischief when she discovered I’d slain her pet.”

“Pet?” Brother Joseph’s mouth was droll. “Ah, I believe I’ve heard of that one. The Master of Ness, is it not?”

Sorcha nodded. “It is. Was. But I would not begrudge it to you and the other holy monks. Consider it a reparation for sin.”

“Sin?” Brother Joseph’s scanty white eyebrows lifted. “You would have had to break most of the commandments to need such a handsome penance, my child. But we thank you all the same.” He turned in the saddle with some difficulty. “Do you know Brothers Michale and Dugald?”

She did not and went through an introduction to the two younger monks while Napier secured the stag and mounted his gray stallion. The rain was already letting up, driven southward by a brisk wind that moaned through the pine trees and ruffled the river’s steady passage.

From his place in the saddle, Gavin Napier seemed to tower over Sorcha and dwarf even the stiffened corpse of the great stag. She caught herself staring again and started to turn away. But Napier had a parting word: “If ever you find a man you care for as much as you did this handsome stag, he will be a fortunate lad.”

His voice was light, but Sorcha detected an undercurrent of irony. Had the monks not been with them, she would have given Napier a sharp retort. Instead, she found herself uncharacteristically silent.

The brief, awkward moment was broken by Brother Joseph. “It is well to love animals, my child. But it is more pleasing to God to love people. I trust you will take Father Napier’s words to heart.”

Sorcha’s jaw dropped. Now she could not possibly keep from staring at Gavin Napier. Sure enough, sitting astride his horse with the long black cloak blowing in the wind, she could see that he wore the garb of a priest. He was looking just beyond her, toward the drooping bracken near the water’s edge. Despite his lack of expression, was he inwardly laughing at her? Sorcha wasn’t sure, nor did she remember if she bade them farewell. The only image that lingered was Gavin Napier, guiding his gray stallion back into the pine forest with the Master of Ness dragging behind over the rich, rain-soaked ground.

Johnnie Come Lately, by Kathleen M. Rodgers: Love, Loss, and Second Chances

johnnieJohnnie Come Lately ($14.95, 292 pp., ISBN: 978-1-60381-215-3), is a work of Women’s Contemporary fiction by Kathleen M. Rodgers. Despite an outwardly happy existence as a wife and mother, Johnnie Kitchen yearns for a way to fulfill her dreams and end her nightmares.

Follow the Johnnie Come Lately blog tour in July, 2015.

Rodgers is the winner of the 2009 MWSA Silver Medal Award for Fiction and the 2010 William E. Mayer Literary Award. Her first novel, The Final Salute, was featured in USA Today, The Associated Press, and Military Times. It reached #1 on Amazon’s Top-Rated War Fiction list and was a Book of the Month selection for the Army Wife Network.

** Click the cover image to order online **

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

“Johnnie Come Lately takes the reader on a passionate rollercoaster of redemption through brute honesty. The telling is full of raw emotion which touches the reader through myriad sensations. I found myself crying, amused, animated, and angered… and full of anticipation. I look forward to reading Kathleen M. Rodger’s next book.”  Read more….

—Sandra Linhart, Military Writers Society of America (MWSA) Dispatches.com

“Kathleen M Rodgers book is truly an inspiration to anyone who has gone through an eating disorder …. Johnnie Come Lately is a great book. It’s a little hard to read this and not feel for the characters.”  Read more….

—Sharon Salituro, Fresh Fiction

“An unforgettable book…. Rodgers unrolls this story in style, perfectly segueing one thread to the next in a fashion that keeps you turning the pages until a very satisfying end that ties it all back together and answers the questions that teased you throughout the book. Want great storytelling? Read this book.”  Read more….

–The blog of Keith Jones, author of The Boys of Diamond Hill and In Due Time

“A rich new voice has exploded in the South. Kathleen M. Rodgers creates beautifully flawed characters that remain with the reader for long after the novel is finished.”

—Ann Hite, 2012 Georgia Author of the Year for Ghost on Black Mountain

“By the end of the novel, Johnnie Kitchen had become my friend, one that I am sad to be without now that Johnnie Come Lately is off my nightstand and back on my shelf, every word devoured.”  Read more ….

—Jodie Cain Smith, The Military Spouse Book Review

Click here to read an article on Johnnie in Stars and Stripes.

“With the grace of a consummate storyteller, [Rodgers] saves the hardest truths for last…. [She] has made a place for Johnnie in the hearts of her readers.”  Read more ….

—Melissa Embry’s Blog

“Kathleen Rodgers had me from the moment I read the first sentence. Johnnie leaps off the page as a woman who is real, tangible, and someone women in all walks of life can certainly relate to. As each nuance of her character was revealed, I found myself cheering, crying, and, at times, laughing. Rodgers has written a book that will long stand for what it truly means to go after your dreams.”

—Melissa Seligman, author of The Day After He Left for Iraq and co-founder, herwarhervoice.com

“The Kitchen family could be any wholesome All-American family, and like any family, they have secrets. In Johnnie Come Lately, Kathleen Rodgers brings to life an extended family that could be yours or mine. Their secrets will draw you into this book, and Rodgers’ characters—from Johnnie Kitchen to her lovable chocolate lab, Brother Dog—will jump off the page, grab your heart, and not let it go until the very end.”

—Terri Barnes, author of Spouse Calls: Messages From a Military Life and columnist for Stars and Stripes

“A beautifully crafted story about family secrets and second chances, Johnnie Come Lately is a guaranteed book club favorite. Former bulimic Johnnie Kitchen battles insecurity and doubt but never lets failure win. I loved her imperfections; I marveled at her strength. Reminding us of the true nature of courage, Johnnie is one of the best heroines I’ve met in years.”

—Barbara Claypole White, award-winning author of The Unfinished Garden and The In-Between Hour

Johnnie Come Lately is why humans have gathered for eons around the fires to listen to the Storyteller. Kathleen M. Rodgers masterfully unfolds the faded, damaged petals of her flawed characters to reveal their glorious essence in this gripping story about the soul’s risk and its inevitable redemption.”

—Parris Afton Bonds, New York Times bestselling author of Deep Purple and cofounder of Romance Writers of America and Southwest Writers Workshop

Johnnie Come Lately evokes the pathos of family life—secrets, betrayals, misunderstandings, heartbreak, and just enough love and forgiveness to make it all worth it. Kathleen M. Rodgers treats her haunted characters with keen insight and empathy, offering them the second, third, fourth chances that all of us flawed human beings need.”

—Siobhan Fallon, author of You Know When the Men Are Gone

“The remnants of Johnnie Kitchen’s childhood traumas threaten the life she needs and wants now—a deep and enduring love, children, and an orderly family life. Award-winning author Kathleen Rodgers has written a brave and uplifting novel that will move anyone who has faced a long, lonely road back from disaster and despair.”

—Joyce Faulkner, past president of Military Writers Society of America and award-winning author of Windshift and In the Shadow of Suribachi

Johnnie Come Lately is a thoroughly compelling story of a family in crisis. Rodgers has combined humor, tragedy, and ultimately love in an uplifting story of the human spirit. There were times that I laughed and cried and shouted for joy, and I am not ashamed to say it.”

—Dwight Jon Zimmerman, New York Times #1 bestselling and award-winning author, Lincoln’s Last Days, radio show host, producer, and president of the Military Writers Society of America

“Kathleen M. Rodgers captures several life-changing events in Johnnie Come Lately with empathy, seriousness, and humor. Her characters are well-defined; her plot is very credible and her use of schemes to further her story all combine to make this a completely entertaining read.” Read more ….

—Katherine Boyer, Katherine’s Bookshelf, Midwest Book Review

“With Johnnie Come Lately, Kathleen Rodgers has crafted a story that hits every emotion and is, in many ways, cathartic. This deeply felt family drama resonates on multiple levels, ultimately leaving you inspired.”

—Angela Ebron, former magazine editor and the author of Blessed Health: The African-American Woman’s Guide to Physical and Spiritual Health

Would life have been different for Johnnie if she’d been named after a woman rather than her dead uncle? Or if her mama hadn’t been quite so beautiful or flighty? The grandparents who raised her were loving, but they didn’t understand the turmoil roiling within her. And they had so many, many secrets. Why did her mama leave? Would she ever return? How did her Uncle Johnny really die? Who was her father?

Now Johnnie Kitchen is a 43-year-old woman with three beautiful children, two of them grown. She has a handsome, hardworking husband who adores her, and they live in the historic North Texas town of Portion in a charming bungalow. But she never finished college and her only creative outlet is a journal of letters addressed to both the living and the dead. Although she has conquered the bulimia that almost killed her, Johnnie can never let down her guard, lest the old demons return. Or perhaps they never went away to begin with. For Johnnie has secrets of her own, and her worst fear is that the life she’s always wanted—the one where she gets to pursue her own dreams—will never begin.

Not until her ghosts reveal themselves.

Says the author, “I know so many women who reach a point in their lives when they realize they’ve been living for others and not themselves. They have unfulfilled dreams and unfinished business, and it will eat at their souls unless they do something about it. I hope readers will connect with Johnnie Kitchen, with all her flaws and passion for life. She is wounded, but she has never stopped fighting. By confronting her demons, she finds a way to really live for the first time.”

Kathleen M. Rodgers’ stories and essays have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. Johnnie Come Lately is her second novel. She lives in a suburb of North Texas with her husband, a retired fighter pilot/commercial airline pilot, and their dog, Denton. For more information, click here.

Keep Reading for an excerpt:

The Lincoln Continental with a buttercream paint job sailed up to the curb at promptly seven p.m. Granny Opal blasted her horn and Johnnie sprang down the front steps to greet her.

“You look a little thin,” Granny called out. She was wearing that loopy grin that seemed to grow more lopsided every year. She wore purple gauchos, a short denim jacket—to conceal her expanding waistline—and her trademark red cowboy boots. Big silver hoops looped through sagging earlobes dangled below her cropped hair.

Out of respect for her grandmother, Johnnie tried to appear cheerful, although a cloud of lead had fallen from the sky over 420 Merriweather. “Granny, I’ve been the same weight for years. Here, let me give you a hand with that.”

Granny Opal placed a three-layer coconut cake into Johnnie’s outstretched hands. “I may be retired from the business, but I can still bake a mean cake.”

Johnnie smiled, taking care not to drop it. “I’m sure it will be delicious.”

Early in her recovery, when she avoided sweets for fear they would trigger a binge, she refrained from saying anything derogatory every time her grandmother appeared armed with a dessert. Then one year, the year Johnnie was pregnant with Cade, she thought Granny Opal finally understood. After a meal of baked chicken and tossed salad, Johnnie’s grandmother sailed into the dining room with a large head of cabbage on a crystal cake pedestal. Planted in the middle of the cabbage was a fat pink dinner candle. After everyone stopped laughing long enough to sing “Happy Birthday,” Johnnie blew it out. When Johnnie quietly sighed with relief and started to open her presents, Granny Opal appeared in the doorway with a Texas sheet cake, much to the delight of a young D.J. and Dale.

Later that night, when they were getting ready for bed, Johnnie grumbled to Dale that Granny Opal was trying to sabotage her progress. Dale, to his credit, simply remarked, “Maybe she just likes baking cakes.”

Granny Opal linked one arm through Johnnie’s and together they mounted the steps onto the large porch. “Everything looks lovely,” her grandmother commented as they entered the house.

Cade and Callie Ann were out back, playing fetch with Brother Dog. As Johnnie went to place the cake on the long farmhouse table that served as a room divider between the kitchen and the family room, she saw Granny Opal poke her head out the back door.

“Cade, when’s your next baseball game? I’ll come if it’s not too hot.”

Johnnie looked up, wondering how Cade would respond, but her grandmother had already stepped outside onto the deck and shut the door. A few minutes later, while Johnnie set out dessert plates and forks, the back door opened, and Granny Opal filed in, followed by Brother Dog. He trotted straight to the laundry room, where Johnnie could hear him lapping from his water bowl.

Granny Opal went to the sink and helped herself to a glass of tap water. “Cade told me what happened.” She turned to look at Johnnie, who froze, afraid to look into her grandmother’s dancing eyes. How much had Cade told her? A knot in her stomach, Johnnie watched herself pull out a chair and sit down across from her grandmother. The heady scent of birthday cake and vanilla candles filled the room. She felt a headache coming on.

Granny Opal removed one of her earrings and rubbed her earlobe. “Kids are going to drink, my dear. It’s a fact of life. I told Cade I don’t want to hear about him drinkin’ and drivin’.” She took a sip of water and set her glass in the sink. With her back to Johnnie, she added, “I know about the six games. He’ll survive. In the meantime, I’ve got an acre of trees that need trimmin’ and he’s offered to do it. For free.”

Omaha Stakes, by Mark Everett Stone, Book 5 in the From the Files of the BSI Series

omahaTo defeat his new fanged nemesis and save the world, super-agent Kal Hakala must put his neck on the line once and for all.

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Omaha Stakes ($15.95, 328 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-931-2), is Book 5 of Mark Everett Stone’s popular urban fantasy series featuring a super-agent employed by the Bureau of Supernatural Investigation. Next up: The Spirit in St. Louis and two sequels to The Judas Line.

“This action-packed urban fantasy follows the brooding Kal Hakala, human head of the Bureau of Supernatural Investigation in an alternate contemporary America, to what promises to be the first of many confrontations…. [Stone] writes in a brisk, conversational style …. The setting fuses magic and technology in appealing ways that will hopefully be developed in future installments…. Kal’s frolic through a nifty supernatural world is enjoyable.” —Publishers Weekly

(The Judas Line): “Delightful…. Even the obligatory near-apocalyptic ending is coherent, surprising, and exciting.” —Publishers Weekly Starred Review

(Chicago, The Windigo City): “Stone has written a novel difficult to put down. Endless tension along with well-implemented action make the reading experience a necessity, not an option.” —ForeWord Magazine

(Things to Do in Denver When You’re Un-Dead): “I have really enjoyed reading this book…. The story could just be one of guns, blood and guts and magic, but… Mark Everett Stone has made these characters seem real.” —Michele Herbert, Fantasy Book Review

Books in Motion has issued audiobooks of Mark’s first four BSI novels, Things to Do in Denver When You’re Un-Dead, What Happens in Vegas, Dies in Vegas, I Left My Haunt in San Francisco, and Chicago, The Windigo City. They plan to tape the entire series.

Mark’s first novel, Things to Do in Denver When You’re Un-Dead, won the second place Forward Literature Award for Humor and was one of seven titles nominated for ForeWord Magazine’s debut fiction award, ForeWord Firsts. The Judas Line was a finalist for ForeWord’s Book of the Year Award and earned a starred review in Publishers Weekly.

Agent Kal Hakala, who has been running the Bureau of Supernatural Investigation as its temporary director, has his hands full. First there was the windigo crisis that threatened humanity with extinction. Now he has received an anonymous challenge from a creature calling himself Maydock: “Come to Omaha within the next five days, or every day thereafter I shall kill ten humans in many inventive and disturbing ways.”

Maydock has infiltrated BSI Security and can monitor Kal’s every move, so until Ghost can repair the breach, Kal has no choice but to travel to the Heartland with no team backup and only those items he can carry. While Kal dances to Maydock’s tune, Canton and his team covertly follow as close as they dare, realizing that if they are caught, they will trigger Maydock’s epic murder spree.

Even as Kal is put through his paces, he uncovers corruption so insidious it tears at his fragile sanity. With the odds stacked so heavily against him, how can Kal possibly vanquish the most powerful being he has ever encountered?

Says Stone, “For the fifth book I wanted to explore Kal’s evolution now that his sister is no longer there to keep his fragile sanity intact and he no longer has the crutch of his rage to sustain him. How we deal with adversity tells us a lot about our character, and it is incumbent upon me as an author to keep developing my protagonist in a way that is both logical and exciting. Also, I wanted to continue to give larger roles to some of my other recurring characters, such as Canton, because I find them as interesting as Kal, sometimes even more so.”

Born in Helsinki, Finland, Mark Everett Stone arrived in the U.S. at a young age and promptly dove into the world of the fantastic. Starting at age seven with the Iliad and the Odyssey, he went on to consume every scrap of Norse Mythology he could get his grubby little paws on. At age thirteen he graduated to Tolkien and Heinlein, building up a book collection that soon rivaled the local public library’s. In college Mark majored in Journalism and minored in English. Mark lives in Denver with his wife, Brandie, and their two sons, Aeden and Gabriel. Click here to find Mark on the Web.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Red clouded my vision as anger replaced the icy worm of fear. “What are you?” I snarled, my Interdiction twinging a bit in the presence of Straights. I was moving into dangerous territory here. “Did I kill one of your … friends?”

Maydock’s dry laughter was really starting to chap my ass, but he kept up his chuckling for a few seconds. “Kal, I am something new under the sun, the first of my kind. An incipient species ready to stride the world like colossi.”

With no further comment, I smashed my smartphone against the corner of the chest of drawers, sending shattered plastic and delicate components flying. Lowenstein’s head fell to the floor with a dull thud and rolled to a stop next to Nihsen’s size nines. I put the cheap phone to my ear.

“Good, Kal,” Maydock purred. “Now … three eight three one.”

“What?”

“Three eight three one. That’s the code that will disarm the bomb attached to young Nelson.”

My skin began to crawl. I knew what would come next, but remained silent.

“He is three blocks away. Two blocks directly south, one directly east. A warehouse under renovation and is currently unoccupied by human prey. He is on the roof. You have ten minutes. Come alone or he dies. Oh, and destroy the phone.” Click.

I didn’t think twice. The cheap cell joined the detritus of the smartphone as shards of plastic and paper circuitry rained down upon the carpet.

“What are you doing?” shouted Nihsen, grabbing my arm.

“I have to go.”

He wouldn’t let go. Damn, but he packed some muscle beneath that tubby exterior.

His eyes blazed with mistrust. “What did he tell you?”

“Check the Picasso,” I said, pointing to the crudely rendered, spear-wielding Spaniard. “Camera is in there somewhere.” While everyone looked toward the print I hightailed it out of there, taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

My sneakers hit concrete at a run and the too-humid air walloped my face like a wet slap. The car was close, but so was the warehouse. I briefly considered raiding the Hyundai’s trunk but realized that time was short and I had plenty of lethality hidden about my body. At least, I hoped so.

Three blocks passed in a blur; the only sound I was aware of was the flapping of my trench coat. I spied my destination. It was the only building large enough to be called a warehouse—a three-story brick monstrosity surrounded by shorter structures, equally old and worn. An ancient, weathered Gulliver surrounded by storefront Lilliputians.

Most of the small windows decorating the warehouse were either boarded up or broken. As I approached, I became aware of an aura of decrepitude and abandonment that practically shone from its crumbling russet façade. If it was being renovated, it must’ve been from the inside out.

I knew it was a trap. Had to be. Maydock was toying with me, putting me through my paces for his cruel amusement. It would be up to me to spoil his fun.

With This Ring, by Carla Kelly: A Beleagered Gentlewoman Agrees to a Marriage of Convenience

with_this_ringWith This Ring ($15.95, 306 pp., ISBN: 978-1-60381-951-0), a regency romance by Carla Kelly,  features a gentlewoman who escapes society’s censure after an embarrassing display of plain-speaking by marrying a man she barely knows–a wounded earl who must present his family with a wife in order to secure his inheritance.

“The story never drags and is never rushed, and I, who normally do not like regencies that much, was utterly enchanted with it,” wrote Ellen Micheletti in All About Romance when With This Ring was first published in 1997. She gave the book an “A” rating.

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“Time has not dulled the appeal of this charming Regency romance. The pacing moves along, the plot has many unexpected twists and turns, and Lydia’s transformation along the journey is a pleasure to behold…. Recommended.” Read more….

—Historical Novel Society

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; two Whitney Awards, 2011 and 2012; 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.

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, and Mrs. McVinnie’s London Season. Reprints of two Christmas novellas were released in November under the title Season’s Regency Greetings. Camel has also published Books 1 and 2 of Carla’s all-new Spanish Brand series, The Double Cross and Marco and the Devil’s Bargain. These stories feature life, love, and danger on America’s southwest border in the 1780s. Book 3 will appear in the fall of 2015.

Carla Kelly is particularly celebrated for her regency romances. The Romance Reader has called her “the Grandmistress of the [Regency] genre.” 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 year is 1814, and Lydia Perkins is in London for the Season. Sadly, the Perkins don’t care if Lydia makes a suitable match. All her mother’s hopes lie in the beautiful but vapid Kitty, and Lydia is expected to answer her every whim. In an effort to mix with the ton, the sisters find themselves at St. Barnabas Church, gawking at the soldiers wounded at the Battle of Toulouse, the final battle that sent Napoleon into exile at Elba. Kitty faints prettily and is revived by a pair of admiring dandies, but Lydia is drawn to the suffering of the men.

Among them is Major Sam Reed, grievously wounded himself, but in fact an earl: Lord Laren of Laren Hall, Northumberland. Major Reed could be recovering in comfort, but instead he chooses to stand by his men. Despite her parents’ objections, Lydia returns to nurse the soldiers. As she learns the joy of being useful, she and Major Reed become friends. Finally he makes a curious proposal: Would she marry him, be his wife in name only, and travel with him to Northumberland? During the war, he invented a wife to appease his rich aunt. If he doesn’t produce “Delightful Saunders” in the flesh, he stands to lose his fortune.

Can Lydia leave her indifferent family and embark on her first real adventure? She discovers that not every adventure is a pleasant one, as she falls in love with a man who might see her as merely a means to an end.

Says Kelly, “Confession: I never write Regencies for the lords and ladies, but for the Napoleonic Wars. Lasting a generation, this world war changed the face of Europe forever. And if I can describe how an otherwise brave man coped, gussy it up with a romance, maybe my readers will never suspect my guilty secret.”

A well-known veteran of the romance writing field, Carla Kelly is the author of thirty-one 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:

She was about to leave. Her courage was draining away as fast as the blood from that poor unfortunate soldier eight rows over. She decided to try one more time. “Major, I ….”

“I heard you. It just takes me a moment to turn around. Don’t leave, please.”

She came closer. Taking great care of himself, the officer shifted his whole body on the cot, rather than just his head. “Well, miss?” he asked, his words clipped, his lips tight.

She thought for a moment that she had angered him, and then she realized that he was in pain. It showed in the tightness around his mouth and the way he squinted at her, even though the room was fairly well lit. Oh, dear, she thought as she slowly untied her bonnet and set it aside. I do not know which of you is worse off.

She took a deep breath, which was a mistake in that foul room, and gestured toward the surgeon. “He said I was to relieve you here, so you could go lie down.”

The officer said nothing, but she knew he was regarding her intently, measuring her. Oh, this is nothing new, she thought, with a sudden burst of confidence. People have been measuring me all my life. “The surgeon said that I could probably hold his hand as well as you can. Sir. Or Lord Laren, or whatever you choose. You are supposed to lie down now.”

Again a long pause. “Make me,” he said at last.

Lydia sighed. “You are going to be difficult,” she observed, more to herself than to him.

“I usually am. Make me.”

If I even stop to think about this, I will never act, she thought. So I will not think about it. “Very well, sir. Since you are so stubborn,” she said as she sat on his lap, took the soldier’s hand from his, and held it in her own.

She did not know what to expect, but she did not anticipate the laughter that rose up from the nearby cots. “Got you, Major!” one of the men said. “She’s out-thought you, sir!” said another with an arm missing, who sat up to watch.

“Oh, very well,” the major said, and he did not try to hide the amusement in his voice. “Lads, such an opportunity, but I will remember that I am an officer and a gentleman.” The men laughed again as the major patted her hip. When she rose up in indignation, he moved out from under her. “Very well, madam, since you are so persistent.” She blushed as he sniffed her hair close to her ear, his breath warm on her cheek. “And, by God, you smell better than my stinking soldiers. Sit, madam, by all means. Hold his hand tight. And then when he’s dead, you can hold mine.”

Three Dog Day, by Lia Farrell: a Body Washes Up Near a Puppy Mill

3dogThree Dog Day ($14.95, 286 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-971-8), is the third cozy mystery by Lia Farrell in a series featuring Mae December, the successful owner of a dog boarding business in Rosedale, Tennessee. After Mae discovers a dead “John Doe” on a riverbank near an abandoned puppy mill, the subsequent search for answers is far trickier than anyone anticipated.

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The first two books in the Mae December Mystery series are One Dog Too Many and Two Dogs Lie Sleeping. The series will continue with a new title in 2015.

4 Stars: “Three Dog Day is a wonderful cozy mystery, and a great addition to a lovely series. It is sure to offer a lot of entertainment for mystery fans.”  Read more….

–Cyclamen, Long and Short Reviews

It’s bitter cold in Rosedale, Tennessee, the most frigid January in decades. The kind of chill they used to describe as requiring sleeping with three dogs just to make it through the night. Mae December has found yet another body, this one on the banks of the Little Harpeth River. It’s another murder for her boyfriend, Sheriff Ben Bradley, to investigate. Only Mae’s broken her wrist, which makes helping out with the case difficult. That’s okay, because the murdered man was found near a puppy mill, and all evidence points to the owner as the killer. Surely the case will be a slam dunk.

Mae’s injury also hampers her ability to run her dog boarding business and care for the three pit bull puppies she’s fostering, so she hires Ray Fenton, the kid who blew the whistle on the now-shuttered puppy mill. Meanwhile, Sheriff Bradley’s office manager, Dory Clarkson, struggles to pass the physical tests that will allow her to fulfill her dream of becoming a deputy, Mae and her friend Tammy are busy planning Tammy’s Valentine’s Day wedding to the brother of Mae’s deceased fiancé, and Detective Wayne Nichols must revisit his painful past as he fights to free his foster mother from prison.

Rosedale is the last place you’d expect to harbor a killer. Now the sheriff’s department must solve its third murder in a year.

Lia Farrell is actually two people. Mother and daughter writing team Lyn Farquhar and Lisa Fitzsimmons live in Michigan and Tennessee respectively. Both are life-long readers who are also dog lovers. Lyn owns two Welsh corgis and Lisa has one pug and a Siberian husky. Lisa works as a Muralist and Interior Designer and her mother, Lyn, is a Professor of Medical Education. Click here to find them online.

Says Lyn, “We were inspired to write Three Dog Day to honor the frustrating, often thankless, work of the police in identifying the unidentified—John and Jane Does who call out for justice from beyond the realm of the living. That so many are ultimately identified and their killers brought to justice is a testament to the ‘thin blue line’ of police officers who stand between ordinary citizens and the worst of criminals.”

Keep reading for an excerpt:

She found the nature preserve parking area with no problem. The gravel lot was deserted. Good thing I’ve got a big dog with me. Lulu wouldn’t harm anyone, but she had a look of deceptive ferocity, due to her large size and wild markings. She clipped the heavy duty leash onto Lulu’s collar and found the marker for the blue trail, which Kim had said was her favorite. The big dog surged ahead, sniffing and pausing to pee every few yards. They stayed on the path, following the blue arrows every time there was a fork in the trail, and ended up down near the bank of the Little Harpeth River. The sun was beginning to warm the air, and Mae took off her gloves and paused to put them in her pocket with the cellphone. Lulu tugged hard on the leash suddenly and seemed to be headed right to the edge of the dark, fast-moving water.

Mae pulled back on the leash, shouting “Lulu, no!” but she was no match for the strength and determination of the eighty pound dog. Mae stumbled and grabbed a tree to steady herself. The leash slipped out of her grip and Lulu jumped down onto a rock ledge, sniffing at something at the very edge of the water. The hound sat down, threw her head back and howled. Mae got a clear view of what Lulu had been sniffing, let out a scream and jumped down to grab Lulu’s leash.

A man lay face down, with one arm trailing in the water. His flannel shirt and brown corduroy pants were wet and covered with debris from the river. His face was turned away, but the skin on his neck and the hand on the side nearest her was a horrible shade of pale blue and dotted with mud. Mae pulled Lulu back and knotted the leash over a branch, then went back to kneel on the rocky ledge by the water. She tentatively touched the man’s hand. It was cold and stiff, like a partially defrosted steak. Mae gagged, tasting coffee and the protein bar she’d had earlier.

Standing back up, she swallowed convulsively and shook her head. Mae took several deep breaths. There was nothing she could do for this poor man. No ambulance could save him. I don’t need to call 911, I need Ben. She went over to Lulu, who had stopped howling and was emitting a low, steady moan.