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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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.

“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

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.”

“Why?”

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?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

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 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.

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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

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.

** Click Each Cover Image to order **

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.

** Click the cover image to order online **

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

“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

“Eli is a great character and Everhart has filled the book with interesting people. I like spending time with Eli. I was glad his personal issues played a lesser role in this book. It helps that baseball is a game I love and each mystery has a baseball theme…. You need not know baseball to enjoy the book but there are nuances for those who know the game. A good series is underway.”  Read more ….

—Bill Selnes, Mystery and More

“Everhart knows his baseball and he knows his mysteries and he knows the mind of the sleuth. Split to Splinters is first rate fiction. This is a fun book for PI fans who have been waiting for the good stuff.”  Read more….
—Jack Remick, co-author The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery

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.

** Click the cover image to order online **

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

“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.

** Click the cover image to order online **

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

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.”  Read more….

—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**

5 Stars: “This is the kind of historical romance novel I cut my teeth on, so to speak. Epic love stories that enraged the reader at times by bringing a couple together, having them fall in love, separate them by circumstances, bring them back together again, but just as they become so close to finally realizing their passion, they are ripped apart once more. I love that stuff!! I also love mystery and intrigue and this book is chock of that as well, and to put the cherry on the cake the descriptive details of the Scottish Highlands creates an atmosphere second to none for romance…. While many historical romance novels written in the eighties and nineties often rub the modern reader the wrong way and are absolutely politically incorrect by today’s standards, this book, didn’t have a dated feel to it at all and I felt the author created a strong female lead who moved within the strictures of the time period with boldness and courage, and was a character to be proud of.”  Read more….

—Julie, Historical Romance Books Blog

“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.