Mrs. McVinnie’s London Season, by Carla Kelly: An Outspoken Scotswoman Makes a Splash in Society

mcvinnieMrs. McVinnie’s London Season ($15.95, 344 pp., ISBN: 978-1-60381-955-8), a regency romance by Carla Kelly, was first published in 1990. It features a pretty young widow whose no-nonsense attitude enchants London Society and helps to put a chaotic household of unhappy children to rights. Along the way, she discovers it is possible to love more than once.

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Carla Kelly is the recipient of two RITA Awards from Romance Writers of America for Best Regency of the Year; two Spur Awards from Western Writers of America; two Whitney Awards, 2011 and 2012; and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Romantic Times. Kelly’s Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand reprint was selected by Publishers Weekly as one of the top 5 romances in 2012.

“An enjoyable Regency romance bringing to life the dandified world of Almacks and Beau Brummel.”  Read more ….

–The Historical Novel Society

In the near future, Camel Press will also reprint Carla’s With This Ring. Miss Whittier Makes a List, Miss Chartley’s Guided Tour, Miss Billings Treads the Boards, and Miss Milton Speaks Her Mind are already available. Camel released Book 1 of Carla’s all-new Spanish Brand series, The Double Cross, in August of 2013 and will release Book 2, Marco and the Devil’s Bargain, in September of 2014. These stories feature life, love, and danger on America’s southwest border in the 1780s.

Carla Kelly is particularly celebrated for her regency romances. The Romance Reader has called her “the Grandmistress of the [Regency] genre.” According to Romantic Times, “Carla Kelly’s Regency Romances are always superb and a timeless delight.” Library Journal wrote, “one of the most respected Regency writers.”

Widowed at 24 by war, Jeannie McVinnie wishes to free her father-in-law to join his old regiment for a Highlands fishing trip. She practices a small deception by accepting an invitation issued to another Jeannie McVinnie: a plea for help from Captain William Summers to his former nursemaid to oversee the London Season of his spoiled ward. Their chaotic household also includes the captain’s snobbish sister, a boy eager for adventure, and a desolate child.

The task is daunting, but Mrs. McVinnie finds herself aided by her Scottish brogue, country-bred beauty, plain-speaking, and Beau Brummell himself, that supremely influential dandy of all dandies. Tempting as the Beau might be, Jeannie is drawn to gruff, quixotic Captain Summers. But what kind of future can a man so shackled to life at sea offer a woman who yearns for her own Scottish hearth? And how can she explain the secret she is hiding from those dear to her?

Says Kelly, “I’m a fan of the Regency, and the quixotic Beau Brummell has always interested me. I’m also a student of the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. Combining the ultimate dandy with a seafaring man—a hard man in a hard service—seemed like an interesting writing challenge. So it proved.”

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

Keep Reading for an excerpt:

A small group of men stood at the assembly-room entrance, laughing and talking with one another and scanning the ballroom. One raised a quizzing glass to his eye; another languidly consulted a pocket watch tethered to an enormous gold chain. A third man tugged at his flamboyant waistcoat, a coat of many colors that should have cast Joseph himself into the shadow.

She gulped. It was Sir Peter Winthrop, minus his blue paint.

The fourth man wore no lace or waistcoat of biblical splendor. He was dressed soberly in black, broken only by the almost startling white of his shirtfront and the single gold watch chain that stretched across his chest. He was a crow among peacocks, and she could not tear her eyes from him. He was understated, underdressed, and elegant, from his brilliantly polished shoes to his carefully arranged hair. He was the man she had raked down so thoroughly in the menagerie only that afternoon.

The man was the picture of perfection. Jeannie looked about her in amazement. Everyone was watching him, even the couples who had already begun the waltz. If the musicians scraped and twiddled at their instruments, she did not hear it. Jeannie McVinnie watched the elegant man in silence and she began to be afraid.

Without even seeming to turn his head, the man looked about the room and raised his hand to one of the group surrounding Larinda. He started in that direction and then stopped and looked at Jeannie, bowing and smiling.

Without taking her eyes from him, Jeannie tugged at Captain Summers’ sleeve. “Captain, who is that man over there, the one, oh, you know, that one?”

Amused, Summers looked where she nodded. “I cannot say for sure, considering that I have been at sea for too long, but bless me, Jeannie McVinnie, you must mean the Beau. No one else is as beautiful. Not even me.”

Jeannie managed a slight smile at his joke. The blood drained from her face as she noticed that the man in the doorway was watching her. “Who … who?”

“Beau Brummell, you owl,” said the captain. “Yes, I am sure that is who you mean.” He gently lifted Jeannie’s hand from his arm, where she was digging into the gold swirls on his sleeve. “People say he is the most elegant thing in London, and a great friend of the Prince Regent.” The captain motioned to his sister, who stood with her friends nearby, also mesmerized by the man in the doorway. “Agatha, come sit you down with us and tell us—is that Beau Brummell?”

Lady Smeath accepted the proffered seat. “Dear me, yes, William,” she said, her voice so full of reverence that Jeannie could only stare. She tapped Jeannie playfully with the fan. “And let me warn you, Mrs. McVinnie. That man has the power to ruin a woman’s chances at a come-out with only a word or a glance.”

Two Dogs Lie Sleeping, by Lia Farrell: A Dead Visitor Stirs up the Past

2_dogsTwo Dogs Lie Sleeping ($14.95, 282 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-969-5) is the second cozy mystery by Lia Farrell in a series featuring Mae December, the successful owner of a dog boarding business in Rosedale, Tennessee. When a well-loved former resident who spent fifteen years in hiding turns up dead, a small town police force looks back in time for answers.

4.5 Stars: “The story is told from several points of view—Mae’s, July’s, Ben’s, and others—and each point of view adds greatly to the story. Not only do the different viewpoints bring more information to light, but more characters are developed and the reader is drawn into the lives of a number of them. And through it all, there are a number of dogs who add even more charm to a delightful cozy mystery. This is the second in the Mae December Mystery series and I have read the first as well. The books stand alone just fine, but my choice would be to read them in order so that the growth in some of the personal relationships can be fully savored. Mystery readers can’t go wrong if they take a trip to Rosedale, TN, to meet Mae December and the entire cast of Two Dogs Lie Sleeping.”  Read more….

—Cyclamen, Long and Short Reviews

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“I have read both books and really enjoy Lia Farrell’s cozy mysteries. This is the kind of book, where from start to finish it is hard to try and figure out who committed the murder. Ms. Farrell brings back most of the characters from the first book. This is one item I really like about an author. Even if you haven’t read the first book in this series, some give you the back ground on the characters so that you are not confused as to who is who.” Read more….

—Sharon Salituro, Fresh Fiction

“A mix of drama with some comedic moments (well, there are dogs; and a four-year-old), TWO DOGS LIE SLEEPING is an enjoyable read.  You really want to know how Mae and Ben get along; if Dory will move up in the police and if Mae’s sister will – at last – get over Tom Ferris and make peace with her husband.”

—I Love a Mystery Reviews

“The dog days of summer have never been quite like this. From its opening with a single gunshot on a sultry August evening to its satisfying conclusion, Lia Farrell’s tale of greed and murder explores a compelling range of human (and the odd canine) relationships with an intriguing cast of characters and an imaginative plot. Fast paced, multilayered, and thoroughly enjoyable.”

—Kathleen Hills, author of The Kingdom Where Nobody Dies

Book three in the series, Three Dog Day, will be released in December, 2014.

“Mae’s second adventure is even better than the first …. The mystery was quite suspenseful, while still fitting accurately within the cozy genre. If you’re looking for a compelling mystery, then this series is for you. I was kept guessing right till the end trying to figure it out before Mae and Sheriff Ben did. Lia Farrell writes very character-driven mysteries. All my favourite characters from One Dog Too Many are back and there is a new canine to love. ‘Tater’ is Mae’s new corgi puppy and she’s just adorable! Animal lovers everywhere will fall in love with Tater. Two Dogs Lie Sleeping was another fantastic whodunnit from Lia Farrell. This series is now one of my firm favourites and I’m really excited to see where she takes the series next.” Read more ….

—Cozy Mystery Book Reviews

It’s early August in Rosedale, Tennessee, and July December Powell is alone at the historic Booth Mansion, putting the finishing touches on the Showhouse room she designed for tomorrow’s grand opening. A loud noise draws her to the nursery, where a man lies dying. Not just any man, but Tom Ferris, the love of her life, who she hasn’t seen since he disappeared with no explanation some fifteen years earlier.

Who shot Tom in the back? What drove him away in the first place and made him stay away, even after his parents were killed in a car accident? What was he trying to tell July with his last breath?

The gossip mill is in high gear in the small town of Rosedale, and July is the sister of Mae, a dog breeder and kennel owner who happens to be dating the sheriff, Ben Bradley. Ben’s close relationship with the December family has thrown a wrench in his investigation, forcing him to rely on Detective Wayne Nichols, his deputies, and his office manager Dory to do most of the legwork. Meanwhile July’s marriage is imploding, and Mae already has too much to deal with—including a new corgi puppy and Ben’s four-year-old son. Mae is torn between loyalty to her boyfriend and her sister as she does her darndest to get the bottom of a case that just seems to involve more and more of their friends and neighbors.

Says Lisa, “We were inspired to write our second mystery by thinking about the expression ‘Let sleeping dogs lie,’ and just how dangerous old secrets can be.”

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

Keep reading for an excerpt:

She pushed Matthew’s car seat out of the way. Carrying the dog beds under one arm and the Tater wriggling in the other, Mae walked into the kitchen. Popping the Tater into her crate, she asked her sister, “Should I put these two in the laundry room with the other dogs?”

“Yes, please.” July was avoiding her eyes. “I was hoping you could keep them for me for a week or so.”

Or so? Could this day get any better?

July followed her into the laundry room with Soot and Ricky. The puppies jumped happily on Tallulah, their mother, who was napping in her bed beside the utility sink. Tallulah growled. Mae set the dog beds down on the other side of the room.

“Listen, July, this might not be the best time. Matthew and Katie are upstairs right now and I’m expecting Ben any minute. I’ve got the Tater to potty train and Matthew’s here all weekend.”

“I’m sorry, Mae,” July said. Her face was tight. “I’m going to the lake house. I need a break from Fred.” She was frowning. “If you can’t keep them, I understand. I just don’t have a fenced area for them at the lake. The man who was going to build it can’t get to it until September. He’s all covered up with work this summer.” July leaned against the wall and began to cry.

“Its fine, July, don’t worry. I can keep them.” Mae looked at her sister with alarm. July hadn’t cried in front of her in years. Now, for the second time in three days, her normally self-contained big sister was dissolving in tears. July put the bag of kibble on top of Mae’s dryer, unhooked the leashes from her exuberant young porgis and turned to leave the room.

Ben appeared in the doorway with a quizzical look on his face. “Hey, July. Thought we said ‘no backsies’ when you took these two in the spring.”

“Funny,” July said. She did not sound amused. Two spots of color appeared on her cheeks. “You know what, Ben? I sure would have appreciated a heads-up on the fact that you were sending your people to trash my house today.”

Mae stepped forward, hands on hips. She glared at her boyfriend, who was staring at her sister. “Hello, Ben. Your son and his mother are upstairs. And I would have appreciated some notice about you having July’s house torn up, too.”

Ben looked at Mae. His face began to flush. “You can’t be serious—either of you. This is a murder investigation. I don’t let suspects know that we’re going to be showing up with a warrant. That gives them time to hide evidence! I’m not going to compromise an investigation that I’m already getting grief about for my involvement with your family.”

Her sister stepped around Ben as if he wasn’t even there and walked out. In the silence, Mae heard the slam of the door.

 

Stealing the Moon & Stars: The Heat Is On for a Team of Scottsdale PIs

Stealing_moon2Stealing the Moon & Stars ($13.95, 242 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-983-1), by Sally J. Smith and Jean Steffens, is Book One of a new romantic suspense series set in Scottsdale, AZ. A well-heeled beauty and a graduate from the school of hard knocks struggle to resist their chemistry as they try to solve an apparent case of embezzlement.

Click here to follow the Tribute Books blog tour from May 1-30.

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“Smith and Steffens is the team to watch or better yet, the team to read. Stealing the Moon & Stars is a smooth and clever story. But don’t get too comfortable because it is also a well-crafted, suspenseful ride with unexpected twists and riveting characters. By the way, hands off. I have dibs on Eddie.”

—Maria Grazia Swan, bestselling author of Mina’s Adventures and the Lella York Series.

“A sassy maverick heiress and a sexy good guy making amends for his bad guy past form a dynamite PI team in this promising debut from Sally J. Smith and Jean Steffens. A fun, romantic read, Stealing the Moon & Stars will keep you engaged all the way through its action-packed climax, and make you wish for the next book in the series. A winner!”

—Kris Neri, author of Revenge on Route 66 and Magical Alienation

“With an action-packed, tightly crafted puzzler of a plot, Stealing the Moon & Stars is an impossible book to put down. Smith and Steffens have created delightful characters in Jordan Welsh and Eddie Marino that keep the reader laughing as well as shouting out warnings. Jordan and Eddie are the best mystery solving duo since Nick and Nora. Is there a fire alarm ringing? Because their relationship is smokin’ hot!”

—Jenn McKinlay, New York Times bestselling author of the Cupcake Bakery Mysteries and the Library Lover’s Mysteries

“The action and sexual tension are as hot as an Arizona summer. The Shea Investigations team put their lives, and their hearts, on the line in this action-packed crime novel.”  Read more ….

—Lesa Holstine, Lesa’s Book Critiques

“Take a private investigator who is one smart, independent lady, add a sexy business partner with a mysterious and none-too-savory past, throw in a dash of embezzlement, a dollop of betrayal, and a pinch of organized crime, and it all equals a suspenseful and witty tale that will keep you reading way past your bedtime.”

—Donis Casey, author of the Alafair Tucker Mysteries

“The romantic/sexual tension between Jordan and Eddie is palpable, but it doesn’t detract from the story at all. STEALING THE MOON & STARS is an excellent start to a brand new series with a straightforward mystery and compelling characters.” Read more ….

—The Bibliophilic Book Blog

“Enjoyed it so much it was hard to put down. Got caught up in the investigations and the love affair …. Quite a few surprises that take everyone for a turn. Throw in a mix of family members and you got a good read. Light romance and sex but enough to help move the story along and it’s the forbidden love that will make this series continue as they work together on more cases.”  Read more ….

—Julie Barrett’s Blog

“This is a great, lighthearted read. I highly recommend it for those readers who like PI, mystery and light romance!”  Read more ….

—Hily’s Beehive

“If you enjoy a fast paced romance, this will fill the bill. Add suspense and spice and you have a romantic suspense with a bit of a twist. If you are in the market for a great beach or escape reading experience then this is the work for you. It seems that we may have a new dynamic duo in private investigations.”  Read more ….

—Leslie Ann Wright, TicToc Reviews

“Their romance certainly had my heart pounding, and I can’t wait to see how their relationship evolves in book two, especially since Jordan’s left wondering if he’s being completely honest with her about his actions. But throwing more obstacles in their way only seems to bring these two closer together.”  Read more ….

—Connie Char, The Character Connection

“It was a treat reading about warm and sunny Arizona while toiling through an extremely long and cold winter. Between the desert heat and the sparks flying off of Jordan and Eddie, this book definitely made me feel all tingly inside.”  Read more ….

—City Girl Who Loves to Read

“I found this to be an adventure filled romp, sometimes a dangerous endeavor when it comes to solving this crime. As the investigation goes on, you are taken deeper into the mystery of it all. Smith and Steffens keep you guessing at every turn. If you like a thrilling suspense novel with a steamy romantic twist, you will definitely enjoy this book.”  Read more ….

—Tribute Books Mama

Jordan Welsh and Eddie Marino, Scottsdale private eyes, are hired to find out who’s stealing from the Moon & Stars Children’s Foundation. Foundation employees are suspected, but just as the pieces start falling into place, Jordan discovers a hidden agenda that puts her in the crosshairs of a crime lord. Who can she trust?

Everyone has a dangerous secret, and the bodies are piling up. Even her partner, Eddie Marino, has a dark and mysterious past. Does she dare act on their attraction? Will it destroy their partnership?

The two have landed in a hornets’ nest. Nothing to do now but stir it up.

“Jean and I met via Desert Sleuths’ Sisters in Crime,” says co-author Sally J. Smith. “We had been friends for a while when one day, over coffee, we had the idea of writing together. Scottsdale, home of the rich and famous as well as the calculating and criminal, is the perfect setting for the Jordan Welsh and Eddie Marino Novels. A newspaper article about embezzled funds from a local charity delivered the plot idea for Stealing the Moon & Stars. We work together side-by-side, word-by-word, literally finishing each others’ sentences. Laughter and sarcasm abound during writing sessions, with occasional disagreements, sometimes involving right crosses or karate-ninja moves. Partners in crime have never had it so good.”

Arizona native Sally J. Smith lives in Scottsdale with her husband. She stays busy at her chosen professions of writing (novels, short stories, and articles) and freelance editing. Other works include The Ghost Wore Polyester. Jean Steffens also lives in Scottsdale with her family. Her published work includes “The Night Before Christmas” in the Desert Sleuths Sisters in Crime Anthology, How Not to Survive the Holidays. Both authors are members of Romance Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. Click here to find Sally and Jean online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

To cool her jets and keep him from seeing the burning spots on her cheeks, she wandered over to an abstract acrylic on his wall. “New painting?”

“Mmm,” he mumbled. “You like it?”

“Yes, I do.” She headed back to his desk. “Great splash of color. Intense. It figures.”

He pulled the laptop around and flipped up the top. “It figures? How’s that? I assume you want me to burgle my way into this, as usual.”

“If you please.” She answered his last question first. “Well, you like intense art because you’re an intense person.”

He raised his eyes from the keyboard. “You think I’m intense?”

She was compelled to look away from his laser-like stare. I rest my case.

“Sometimes,” she lied.

He went back to work on the laptop and chuckled under his breath. “Intense, huh? Nah. I’m such a softy, especially where you’re concerned, angel.”

“You know my name’s not ‘Angel,’ Mr. Marino.”

“And you know my name’s not Mr. Marino. We gonna get in trouble hacking this hardware?”

“Afraid not.”

“Oh darn. That takes away all the fun.”

“I didn’t mean to ruin your day.”

“You could never do that. Just hearing your voice perks me right up.”

While Jordan watched him work, she imagined herself slinking over, grabbing him by the shirtfront and planting a kiss that would make his ears smoke.

The computer beeped several times.

“How’s it going?” Her voice sounded husky, even to her.

“Slow.”

She paced but stopped in her tracks when he exclaimed, “Bingo!”

He spun the laptop back around. The desktop was open and active. “His middle name and birthday. Not very imaginative. It looks like there are a bunch of deleted files. You want them?”

“Deleted? Can you get them?”

“Forget who you’re talking to, darling? I’m the magic man. No problemo.” He pulled a small external hard drive from the bottom drawer of his desk and hooked it to the laptop. “Just give me a second.”

Jordan watched, marveling at the speed and competence of his invasive attack.

Eddie had worked as a Special Ops cryptologist in the military. He never talked about it. Every time she asked him about any of his cyber miracles, he said, “If I told you my secrets, gorgeous, I’d have to kill you. Wouldn’t that be a shame?”

Yes sir, cryptic. That was Eddie Marino all right, but his skills certainly came in handy. At times like this, for instance.

“You’re a genius. Thanks! This could give us the break we need.”

She leaned across the desk and gave him a peck on the cheek. The kiss was innocent enough, just a spontaneous display of thanks and affection.

The response she got was totally unexpected.

Eddie latched onto her arm and got to his feet so their faces were on the same level and thrillingly close. “Have dinner with me tonight.”

Jordan was surprised. “Dinner?”

“Yes. I’ll pick you up at eight.”

“Tonight?”

He’d thrown her off balance.

“Dinner?” she asked.

“Sure. Why?”

At that very instant Eddie’s office door flew open and banged against the wall.

Before she could draw a breath, Eddie yanked her to the floor, threw himself on top of her and pulled his gun.

She twisted her head. The FedEx deliveryman quaked against the wall, three packages on the floor in front of him.

She looked at Eddie. “Overreact much?”

Sticks & Stones, by R. Franklin James: When Words Can Kill

sticks_stonesIn Sticks & Stones ($14.95, 264 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-919-0), by R. Franklin James, a woman’s efforts to clear the name of her murdered friend put her own life in danger.

Sticks & Stones is the second mystery in a series featuring amateur sleuth and paralegal, Hollis Morgan. Next Up: Return of the Fallen Angels Book Club. The series began with The Fallen Angels Book Club.

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4 Stars: “A fast paced mystery with lots going on…. I really liked the human touches…. Hollis finds a box of letters written to the dead woman in her probate case and I learned a lot about Hollis from the way in which she reacted to the letters. She goes way beyond what was required for her job to see that the outcome of the case is what it should be. Hollis also comes in contact with a young man named Vince, ‘a revering addict on the other side of withdrawals.’ Hollis buys him lunch several times and when he asks her why she is being so nice, she answers, ‘Because I could.’ Readers are sure to be captured by this plot-twisting, exciting mystery. It is a real page turner and I certainly am going to keep reading this series.”  Read more ….

—Cyclamen, Long and Short Reviews

“Who knew a simple nursery rhyme could be so dangerous? Someone knows. Someone has all the answers Hollis seeks. You’ll want to keep turning the pages to see if Hollis survives long enough to uncover the truth.”

–I Love a Mystery Reviews

“Sticks & Stones is a great read, a fun legal mystery about a great researcher who really knows her stuff. Holly is in fact more than a researcher, she’s really quite the detective too …. I enjoyed reading the book, the plot moved at a fast pace, and Hollis was a great character that is easy to like. There was even a light romance, which did not overpower the plot.”  Read more ….

–Mystery Sequels

“Sticks and Stones can break my bones ….” Despite what the old children’s rhyme says, words can cause grievous harm. A lesson ex-con Hollis Morgan, a casualty of her deceased ex-husband’s white collar crimes, knows all too well. Now she hopes to clear the name of a friend accused of libel by philanthropist Dorian Fields, a man whose charitable giving looks a lot like money-laundering. Only problem: the evidence has disappeared and her friend Catherine is found dead. A suicide, they say, although that is quickly disproved. Hollis’ friend was murdered.

Catherine was writing an article about Fields for a tabloid. Hollis and attorney Mark Haddan convince the magazine to let them carry on with the libel defense, but they have fewer than 60 days to prove Catherine’s exposé was well-founded. In the meantime Hollis has other distractions, such as awaiting the results of the bar exam. Now that she has received an official pardon, she is free to pursue her dreams of moving up in the world from paralegal to attorney. She is also helping to settle the estate of Margaret Koch, a rich client of the law firm who died leaving no heirs. And then there are the two men vying for her attention—one a police detective, the other a private eye.

Normally Hollis trusts her built-in lie detector, but in this case, too many people are lying for too many reasons. One of them is not only a liar, but a killer.

Says James, “The germ of this story came from an actual libel case. An article that ran in a supermarket tabloid recounted the exploits of a well-known personality who had sued the tabloid and forced it to print a retraction. The story itself was fairly scandalous and I imagined, since the apology didn’t appear until months later, that all types of personal damage had been done in the interim. I wondered how much insurance a tabloid would need to protect itself. And Sticks & Stones was born.”

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:

Less than an hour later an unmarked car pulled up behind a police vehicle. Hollis could only imagine what her new neighbors were saying. She went to open the door.

“Hello, Ms. Morgan.”

Hollis stepped back in surprise and then felt a smile creep over her face.

“Why, Detective Faber, since when does homicide show up for a San Lucian burglary?” Hollis moved aside so he and the female officer behind him could enter.

He motioned to the officer. “Officer Vega is here to get your information. I just heard your address come across the radio. I was in the area and I thought—”

“You thought you would drop by,” Hollis said. She glanced around the room. “Well, I can assure you I’m usually a much better housekeeper than this.”

He stepped into the room and gave her a sympathetic look.

Officer Vega had already slipped on blue disposable gloves and was walking around with a small notebook. She stopped in front of the large desk in the dining room that had been emptied.

“How long were you out of the house?” she asked.

Hollis sighed. “I just got home from work. I was gone most of the day. I actually came home early.”

Vega looked into the kitchen. “You’ll need to make a list of anything you find missing and get it to us as soon as you can.”

Faber walked through the condo, went upstairs and returned to the living room. “I’m not convinced this was a burglary. I think they were looking for something in particular.”

Vega’s eyebrow lifted.

Hollis was taken aback. “Why would you say that?”

He pointed to the floor. “Only papers, books, folders are thrown around. All your electronics are still here. The stuff that’s easy for a real burglar to fence.” He walked into the kitchen and using a pencil, poked at her computer. “Why take the time to destroy your laptop?”

Vega stood in the hall doorway. “It would help if we could take it with us. Was there something important on it?”

Hollis shook her head. “Not really, mostly just class downloads and my study pages for the bar exam.”

Vega picked up the laptop and put it in a large folded plastic bag she pulled from her back pocket. “I’m going to head back to the precinct and write up a report. You can check online in forty-eight hours. You’ll need it for insurance purposes.” She handed Hollis her business card.

“Officer, I have a few more questions for Ms. Morgan,” Faber said. “I’ll meet you back at the station.”

Vega nodded and left.

Faber frowned. “Ms. Morgan, do you have any idea who might have done this?”

“Could you please call me Hollis?” She righted one of the dining room chairs and sat. “No, I don’t know anyone who would care enough about my law school notes and monthly bills to break into my home.”

“Is there a friend you can stay with or someone who can stay with you?”

Hollis shook her head. “No, there’s just me. I’ll be okay.” She sat on her shaking hand.

If Faber noticed, he didn’t say anything. He rubbed his hand over his head. “Okay, all right. Vega will take it from here.” He walked over to the front door. “Actually, there’s another reason I came in on this. I … I bought these tickets to see Yo-Yo Ma on Sunday. I know it’s short notice, but I just got them today and the only person I could think of to ask to go with me was you.”

Hollis looked up to the ceiling.

“Detec—”

“John, call me John.” He laughed.

His laugh caught her off guard. It was surprisingly contagious.

“John, I adore Yo-Yo Ma, and I would really like to go with you—”

“But.”

Hollis nodded. “But someone else already asked me.”

“Already asked you to hear Yo-Yo Ma?”

“I know. What a coincidence!” Hollis slapped her thigh. “I don’t have a date for six … never mind.” She blushed.

John laughed. “Look, maybe some other time then.”

“I would really, really like that. Please ask me again.” Hollis said in what she hoped was her most earnest voice.

He looked her in the eyes and said, “You can count on it.”

After the detective was gone, Hollis just sat, dejected, in the middle of the room. Taking a breath, she started to put the sofa pillows back in place. She didn’t usually cry, but she felt tears were just a few eye-blinks away. Pulling her thick hair back into a ponytail, she began to return books and CDs to their places on the shelves. Who would want to burgle her? She exhaled a long sigh and replaced the dining room chairs around the table.

It took the rest of the evening to return her condo to a semblance of order. She wiped her kitchen counters down with disinfectant and vacuumed the carpets twice.

A folded piece of paper under one of the corners of the living room throw rug caught her eye. It looked like binder paper—the type a child would use in school. It was folded several times until it was about one-inch square. She opened it carefully. She didn’t watch much TV, but enough to know there might be fingerprints.

She froze. It contained her name and address.

John was right, this wasn’t a random crime. She had something someone wanted, but what?

The Hard Way, by Cathi Stoler: Death by Diamond Dust

hard_wayThe Hard Way ($14.95, 280 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-949-7), by Cathi Stoler, is the third book in the Laurel and Helen New York Mystery series, which began with Telling Lies and continued with Keeping Secrets. A free getaway to Vegas turns ugly when the contest winner is murdered.

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Follow The Hard Way blog tour, July 4-29, 2014.

“The scenes in this book are colorful, taking place in Las Vegas and New York. Yet when the changes occur, the writer does it so easily that readers have no problem following the tale as they ‘view’ both locales leading up to a super-terrific ending. Enjoy!”

—Mary Lignor, Suspense magazine

“Las Vegas, New York, designer duds, diamond thieves and—crucially—characters you care about make a killer combination. With crisp prose and gym-fit plotting, Stoler delivers a slice of the high life and its underbelly that keeps you turning those pages right to the tricky, tricky end.”

—Catriona McPherson, award-winning author of As She Left It and the Dandy Gilver series

“Flashy with underlying grit, just like diamond dust!”

—Laura K. Curtis, author of Twisted.

“Fast-paced, and lots of fun, The Hard Way is a Vegas tale that’s full of glamour and intrigue. I had a great time following Helen on her latest adventure.”

USA Today bestselling author Alison Gaylin

“The transitions between Las Vegas and New York are done smoothly and naturally, so there is no trouble following the flow of the action. The pacing is good, with never a slow moment. There are surprises around every corner, with mysteries within mysteries. Helen is a gutsy, smart PI and I felt her character was very well drawn. The murder mystery is complex and I didn’t solve it until nearly the end. The mystery surrounding the diamond was much easier to figure out in advance, but it was enjoyable to watch it all play out. Mystery lovers, especially those who enjoy a well-drawn setting, are sure to be captivated by this exciting adventure.”  Read more ….

–Long and Short Reviews

“There’s a lot of drama that unfolds once we get into the investigation of what is going on. I don’t want to say too much because this was a fun read and I want you to check it out as well! There is a lot going on but I didn’t find it difficult to keep track – even with it bouncing back from different sides of the country.  There also isn’t a drawn line of who is “good” and who is “bad”  – some seem to switch sides and some may be both – so how can Helen figure out who to trust and who not to trust while she tries to get to the bottom of this? Her life could be at stake! A quick and easy read – and a must read for anyone who loves a good murder mystery! A lot of twists and turns that kept me on my toes!”  Read more ….

–Concert Katie

Private Investigator Helen McCorkendale’s childhood friend, Jimmy Scanlan, has just opened January, the most lavish casino and hotel resort on the Las Vegas Strip. After attending the grand opening, Helen returns to New York and encourages her friend, Laurel Imperiole, Senior Editor at Women Now magazine, to create a get-away contest for readers offering a weekend at the hotel as the grand prize. The winner, Dawn Chapman, a jewelry store employee from Cincinnati, denies entering the contest and initially refuses the trip. Finally persuaded by Laurel to accept, she arrives at the hotel and nearly faints when she passes the hotel’s elite meeting rooms where the International Diamond Dealers Consortium is holding its annual meeting. She insists on returning home immediately.

Suspicious of her behavior, Jimmy visits her suite to encourage her to attend the Saturday afternoon pool party, saying she can leave on his private jet the next day. Later in the afternoon, he finds Chapman’s dead body by the pool. She’s been murdered—an unusual double poisoning by cyanide and diamond dust.

Dawn Chapman was not who she appeared to be, and therein lies a mystery. But to Helen and Laurel, the main task is to take Jimmy Scanlon off the suspect list and clear his name. Will their luck hold? Or will it be a crap shoot, as they roll the dice and do it ‘the hard way,’ going for doubles when the odds are against them. Losing may mean losing their lives.

Says Stoler, “Most of my writing is inspired by real life events and situations. One recent event that fascinated me was the brazen robberies being committed by a gang of European jewel thieves. Focusing on the biggest jewelers on the continent, the gang staged a series of dramatic robberies that netted them millions and millions of dollars. I imagined what it would be like to plan a fictitious heist with an incredibly valuable payoff—an almost priceless red diamond. And, what better place to set the story than in Las Vegas at a new luxury hotel hosting an International diamond convention?”

Cathi Stoler is a native New Yorker who has devoted much of her life to writing. After graduating from The Fashion Institute of Technology, she followed a career path from fashion copywriting to the world of advertising. There, she honed her skills as a Creative Director/Copywriter developing award-winning campaigns. Cathi has also published several short stories and posts regularly on the Women of Mystery blog. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America and a board member of the New York Chapter of Sisters in Crime. Click here to find Cathi online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

George Clooney leaned in closer and whispered in her ear. Droplets of water shimmered in his hair from the boat’s spray flying up from the clear blue water. The bright, Italian sun was high in the sky and slanted across the right side of his face, highlighting one chiseled cheekbone and a perfect white smile. Helen rested her hand gently on his sculptured chest and smiled lovingly up at him. She thought she’d died and gone to heaven. How lucky could one woman be? Motoring on Lake Como with this gorgeous man on such a beautiful day. If only the seagulls would stop cawing. They were making so much noise; it was hard to hear what George said. Such a racket.

Helen awoke with a start, heart pounding, the image of George Clooney slowly fading away. Her phone rang in her ear. She reached for it, still half in her dream, reluctant to let it go.

“Hello?” She inhaled deeply, trying to catch her breath.

“Helen, she’s dead! She’s been murdered.”

“Jimmy?” Helen sat bolt upright, recognizing her friend’s voice, the pleasant moments from her dream totally forgotten. “Is that you? What are you talking about? Who … who’s been murdered?” She eyed the clock on her bedside table. Three o’clock a.m., which meant it was midnight in Vegas. What the hell was going on?

“That Chapman woman.”

Fully awake now, she heard the anxiety in Jimmy’s voice loud and clear.

“Someone killed her … right at the pool, this … this afternoon … at the party. They … the police … they’ve been questioning me.” I had to tell them about her. How she won the magazine contest but didn’t want to come. That we got her to agree ….” Jimmy’s voice was rising and falling with each word. His anxiety was almost palpable, coming at her in waves over the phone.

“Are you at the police station? Are they holding you? Did you call Ben Hirschfield? He needs to be with you.” Helen scrambled out of bed and searched for clothes. If Jimmy hadn’t called his attorney, she’d do it.

“Ben’s with me. We’re not at the station. I’m back at the hotel. Jeez, what a nightmare.”

“Listen to me. Give me ten minutes to get downstairs and make some coffee and I’ll call you right back. Okay? Can you do that? Just wait until I get back to you. We’ll figure this out.”

“All right. Please hurry. This is bad, Helen, really bad.”

The Infinity Program, by Richard H. Hardy: A Quantum Computer Run Amok

infinity_programIf a computer told you it could save the world, would you believe it?

The Infinity Program ($13.95, 250 pp., ISBN: 978-1-60381-933-6), is a work of science fiction by debut novelist Richard H. Hardy.

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5 Stars: “Hardy is smart to use a sci-fi hook in order to discuss these crucial cultural issues. He draws readers in with an otherworldly premise that promises to entertain, while enlightening them about the challenges that people face in everyday life that are no less extraordinary or important than a super intelligent species looking to take over the earth. He mixes the mundane with the fantastical to maximum effect, causing readers to think with their minds and their hearts. Framed in this context, prejudice and intolerance are just as frightening as getting encapsulated in gelatinous slime or being resurrected by nanobots.” Read more ….

—Nicole Langan, Scranton Book Examiner

“I was highly impressed with the storyline and the way everything played out. With ups and downs, a touch of romance, and a bunch of pig headed supporting characters, The Infinity Program by Richard H. Hardy is sure to please the high tech science fiction readers as well as the readers who are not so technically savvy.  In general, this novel was absolutely fantastic!  I am more than ready to see what Hardy comes up with next.”  Read more ….

—Jennifer Hass, BC (blogcritics), Room with Books Blog

“The Infinity Program proved to be a fantastic and captivating read, providing interesting and well rounded characters with a definitely relatable situation. Hardy’s work is well written, though potentially overwhelming for your non-tech speaking fellows, offering insight to those who both enjoy alien conspiracies and technology mixed into one. He pulls upon the idea that we are not alone in this universe, and definitely holds his own in the Science Fiction Genre. I highly recommend any science fiction lovers to give this book a try.”  Read more ….

–The Librarian Fatale

“I plowed through The Infinity Program, thoroughly enjoying it despite not understanding approximately 20% of the terminology…. It’s not so different from reading Dan Brown or Robert Ludlum …. Jubilant, self-indulgent mind candy. Enjoy!”

—S. Millinocket, Readers Lane

5 Stars: “With ups and downs, a touch of romance, and a bunch of pig headed supporting characters, The Infinity Program by Richard H. Hardy is sure to please the high tech science fiction readers as well as the readers who are not so technically savvy.  In general, this novel was absolutely fantastic!  I am more than ready to see what Hardy comes up with next.”  Read more ….

—Jennifer Hass, Blogcritics

This is definitely a nice book to read if you know about computers or like to read about aliens. There was a great balance and I felt as though I could understand all the computer “lingo”. Harry has no idea what he is unleashing. Will he be able to fix what he has done, or is it too late? I liked that Jon and Harry were friends, but not best friends. They were believable as coworkers. The ending was good. I also thought that the book was paced pretty good. I am giving this book a 4/5. – See more at: http://www.dealsharingaunt.blogspot.com/2014/07/the-infinity-program-by-richard-h-hardy.html#sthash.sRgaBU3p.dpuf

“This is definitely a nice book to read if you know about computers or like to read about aliens. There was a great balance and I felt as though I could understand all the computer ‘lingo.’ Harry has no idea what he is unleashing. Will he be able to fix what he has done, or is it too late? I liked that Jon and Harry were friends, but not best friends. They were believable as coworkers. The ending was good. I also thought that the book was paced pretty good. I am giving this book a 4/5.”  Read more ….

—Deal Sharing Aunt Blog

“Until close to the end, I wasn’t sure which way things were going to fall. This book reminded me of early science fiction stories…. Hardy did an excellent job of making the details accessible for a layperson…. I know next to nothing about [the programming world], and I was pulled into the story. So, it works for the layperson too…. a fun, light read.”

—Cora Foerstner, Exploring Speculative Fiction

This is definitely a nice book to read if you know about computers or like to read about aliens. There was a great balance and I felt as though I could understand all the computer “lingo”. Harry has no idea what he is unleashing. Will he be able to fix what he has done, or is it too late? I liked that Jon and Harry were friends, but not best friends. They were believable as coworkers. The ending was good. I also thought that the book was paced pretty good. I am giving this book a 4/5. – See more at: http://www.dealsharingaunt.blogspot.com/2014/07/the-infinity-program-by-richard-h-hardy.html#sthash.sRgaBU3p.dpuf

Jon Graeme and Harry Sale are unlikely friends. Harry is a world-class programmer, but his abrasive personality alienates co-workers. In contrast, Jon is a handsome and easy-going technical writer, the low man on the IT totem pole.

Sharing a love of nature, the men set out together, planning to go their separate ways—Jon on a hike and Harry, fly fishing. Three days later, Jon arrives at the rendezvous point, but his friend is nowhere in sight. When Jon finds Harry unconscious on the floor of a cave, Harry claims to have been lying there the entire time. But he is neither cold nor hungry. What Jon doesn’t know is that Harry fell into an underground cavern, where he came into contact with an alien quantum computer.

Back at work, Harry jettisons his regular tasks and concentrates exclusively on inventing new operating language to access the alien system. In the process he crashes his office’s Super Computer and is fired. Jon convinces the company to give Harry a second chance, arguing that the system he has invented will make them millions.

Jon has no idea what havoc Harry is about to unleash.

Says the author, “When I worked with programmers, I saw them blow up and walk out the door over a point in logic and react to criticism like a mother who had just been told that she had an ugly baby. I saw them working thirty-six hours straight, absolutely ecstatic when they had a breakthrough, or banging their heads against their desks when they failed. They were passionate, intense, and larger than life. I soon decided to write a book about them. Not the same people, of course, but imaginary characters filled with that intense passion and bubbling over with that odd mix of logic and irrationality.”

Richard H. Hardy was born in Glasgow, Scotland. His family later moved to England and then on to America. Most of Richard’s career has been in Hi Tech, where he was soon promoted from technical writer to Senior EDI Programmer, creating EDI maps and writing UNIX scripts and troubleshooting on AIX systems throughout the U.S. and Canada. The Infinity Program is Richard’s first published novel. He and his wife live in New Hampshire. Click here to find Richard online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

When Harry blinked his eyes open, he didn’t know where he was. He tried to recall where he had been and what had brought him here, but the effort only confused him. Not only did he not know where he was, but he also couldn’t recall who he was.

He grunted when he felt a sudden pressure against his genitals. Looking downward, he saw that his body was enveloped in an odd, greenish light. Some kind of mechanical arm was holding him up. Narrowing his eyes, he saw that the arm was attached to an amorphous, though vaguely pyramidal, shape. Suddenly, the metal arm began to move upward. He could see his feet lift from the floor as the steel arm swung in a short arc.

A driving spray of oily fluid pummeled his body. He opened his mouth to scream but could not. The bitter oil flooded into the back of his mouth and choked him, and he began to cough convulsively, kicking and struggling against the steel arm that held him. Seized by panic, he fought like a demon, throwing his arms out wildly and kicking against the steel harness. He barely noticed the minute sting of a small needle as it stabbed into his upper right thigh. In the next instant he went completely limp, engulfed by a rush of euphoria. He began to giggle foolishly. This is all just a crazy dream, he thought. A second later, he was asleep.

When consciousness returned, he lay in a prone position. As his eyes began to focus, he saw that his entire body was encapsulated in a clear, gelatinous material. A half-dozen ribbed plastic tubes were connected to his chest. He tried to follow them to their source, but they stretched into an unknown blackness.

The scene overwhelmed him and he could make no sense of it. I must be in an intensive care unit, he thought, and under heavy-duty drugs. But then he was struck by another realization: since he had woken, he had not taken so much as a single breath. He tried to breathe deeply and found that nothing happened; he could not even feel the movement of air into his lungs or the physical expansion of his chest. It was as though nothing was there. He was a disembodied entity, floating in gelatinous womb.

Am I dead?

He tried to move his hands and feet but could feel no sensation in his entire body, save for a thickening in the back of his throat. What had happened to him? The memory of falling and the recollection of his own screaming voice came rushing back.

Something to his left caught his eye. A vaguely familiar shape, pyramidal in form, glided toward him, its motion as smooth as a puck on ice. It had a single mechanical arm. Where had he seen it before? Attached to the end of the arm was the largest hypodermic needle he had ever seen. It was at least eight inches long. Harry’s eyes widened in terror and he tried to scream, but his vocal cords, like the rest of his body, would not respond. He felt the contact of the needle at the base of his neck penetrate upward toward his head. Time seemed to stretch into eternity before he slipped into merciful oblivion.

The Assassin’s Heart, by J.A. Kazimer: Professional Killers Torn Between Love and Duty

assassins_heartThe man who has a shot at winning her love may end up shooting her instead.

The Assassin’s Heart ($13.95, 250 pp., ISBN: 978-1-60381-975-6) is a work of romantic suspense by J.A. Kazimer about a female assassin who tries to quit the business, only to find that her ex-partner has been assigned to kill her.

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4 1/2 Stars (Top Pick/Gold): “Kazimer’s debut romantic suspense deserves a spot at the top of the genre. Not only is this novel sassy and fun, but the author’s research into the CIA and the life of an assassin is reflected in her work, making it not just a fabulous romantic suspense tale, but a fantastic work of fiction, period. Hannah ‘Six’ Winslow stands strongly on her own and has none of the characteristics of a damsel in distress–which makes this novel that much hotter and sensual.”

–Sarah Eisenbraun, RT Reviews

“Ms. Kazimer weaves a great tale and the reader will get thoroughly engrossed in the storyline. The characters are all well developed, and the edge of your seat suspense pulls the reader in.”

—Lindy Gomez, A Bookish Escape Blog

“A Deadly, exciting romance that keeps you reading: I started reading this and didn’t put it down till I was done. The Assassin’s Heart has mystery, intrigue, excitement and romance. It’s a fast paced story that is great for an afternoon with time to read.”  Read more ….

—Shellie Surles, Fresh Fiction

“A fast-paced, engaging novel, The Assassin’s Heart by Julie Kazimer draws you in with action, twists, and charm. Well written and riveting, this adventure/romance is a great escape with heat. Julie engages the reader in intrigue and physical attraction with real romance on an ever closer horizon. Not a hearts and flowers book, this gritty, sincere story is a fun read.”

—S.V. Farnsworth

When CIA assassin Hannah Winslow mistakenly kills the wrong man, she vows never to take another life. Unfortunately Hannah’s superiors believe the killing was intentional. Now Hannah is the target.

Hannah always knew it might come to this. Surprising her colleagues, she manages to disappear completely into a new, screamingly dull life, assuming a fake identity, shacking up with an overweight cat, and starting a new career as an ad executive.

Hannah’s past finally catches up with her at a company retreat in Hawaii, where her former partner Benjamin Miller has tracked her down. Is it a coincidence that assassination attempts on her life are now as common as rum, suntan lotion, and tiny umbrella drinks? What is the real reason for Ben’s presence? Will he be her savior or her assassin?

Says the author, “As a longtime fan of the romance genre, I’ve read hundreds of novels where the hero saves the heroine, and the day. While I enjoy these books, as a woman, I’ve always felt cheated somehow. Why couldn’t the hero and heroine work together to save each other? And The Assassin’s Heart was born. The main character isn’t a pushover. She’s a trained assassin capable of saving herself. The hero is just as skilled. Yet neither knows how to have a happily-ever-after.”

J.A. Kazimer lives in Denver, Colorado. Her other books include The Junkie Tales, The Body Dwellers, CURSES! A F***ed-Up Fairy Tale, Holy Socks & Dirtier Demons, Dope Sick: A Love Story, SHANK, and Froggy Style. When Kazimer isn’t looking for the perfect place to hide the bodies, she spends her time surrounded by cats with attitude and a little puppy named Killer. Other hobbies include murdering houseplants, kayaking, snowboarding, reading and theater. After years of slacking, she received a master’s degree in forensic psychology, mostly to fill an eight by ten blank space on her wall. In addition to studying the criminal mind, Kazimer spent a few years spilling drinks on people as a bartender and then wasted another few years stalking people while working as a private investigator in the Denver area. Click here to find her online.

Keep Reading for an excerpt:

Her eyes searched his face for any signs of betrayal or deceit. Finding none, she relaxed slightly, shaking her head at her own paranoia. Zach was nothing more than a frat boy turned surfing CEO. She couldn’t picture him with a weapon, let alone the cold calculation needed to kill. Briefly she recalled the hard glint in Ben’s steely eyes.

“I moved after college,” he said, bringing her back to the present. He smiled, his eyes intent on the riot of colors on the horizon. “San Diego will always be my home though. Nothing like waking up at dawn to surf and then heading in to the office.”

She smiled, liking this man in front of her. He was smart, funny, self-deprecating, and gorgeous. ‘Linda’ could fall for him. It would be so easy. One little kiss. Like the fairytales he could turn her into a real girl instead of a number.

A branch cracked nearby. She spun to face the danger, her fantasy vanishing in a wink. When nothing appeared from the brush, her heartbeat slowly returned to normal.

“Must be a bird,” he said with a laugh. “Don’t tell me my fearless marketing director is scared of a little birdy. Why, I’ve seen you facedown even the most daunting of ad copy.”

The way he said the words should’ve been charming, but to Six, they sounded almost patronizing. Damn, there went her fairytale life. Rather than tell him off, Linda gave a flirty squeal, much to Six’s dismay. She batted her eyelashes. “What if it wasn’t a bird, but a big, bad wolf?”

“My, what big teeth you have.” He smiled wider, pulling her into his muscular arms. He smelled of soap and man, and for a second, she allowed herself to feel the rush of chemical attraction. It had been so long since any man had touched her.

Not since Davis ….

His hands slid up her shoulders, pausing at the curve of her neck, pulling her into a kiss. Their lips met, softly at first. Not bad, she thought seconds before his tongue swept into her mouth. The kiss deepened, growing hotter as lava pulsed underneath their feet. Heat pooled low in her stomach. She wrapped her leg around his thigh, increasing the reckless energy between them.

It felt so good to be held, to feel the touch of another human being without questioning his motives. She wanted this feeling to last forever, to unfreeze the coldness locked in her heart. A coldness left by Davis’ death and Ben’s betrayal. The pain, anger, and sadness surrounding her feelings for Ben quickly cooled her ardor as she pictured her former partner and compared the man who held her in his arms to a man she might never forget or forgive.

Zach broke the kiss, his breath coming in short gasps. “Wow … ummm …I—”

Gunfire cracked.

Bits of bark from the tree next to the couple exploded, sending toothpick-sized shards into her skin. Acting on pure instinct, she wrapped her arms around Zach and dove off the steep rocky cliff.

The Royal Mile, a Historical Romance by Bestselling Author Mary Daheim

royal_mileThe Royal Mile ($18.95, 400 pages., ISBN:978-1-60381-855-1), a novel by Mary Daheim, is set in the time of Mary, Queen of Scots. A young girl left destitute by her father’s death meets a pirate in the service of the Queen.

The Royal Mile was originally published in 1983 under the title, 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 Magazine

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As her father lies on his deathbed, Dallas Cameron joins the crowd gathered at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh to witness the triumphant entrance of Mary Stuart into Scotland in 1561. On Dallas’ way home, she is rescued from a group of lecherous ruffians by a dashing stranger. Iain Fraser escorts her home where Dallas’ mortally ill father recognizes her savior’s name and tells him a secret he has never shared with anyone—the identity of Iain’s father.

Donald Cameron’s death leaves Dallas and her two sisters destitute. She tries to earn money by selling meat pies and family heirlooms, but her efforts are in vain. Taking pity on the poor lassie, Iain spares her further humiliation by giving her a loan. Later, she accidentally stumbles across his ship hidden in a cave and discovers that not only is Iain one of Queen Mary’s favorite courtiers, but he’s also a pirate. To ensure her silence, Iain agrees to marry her, but love isn’t part of their strange bargain. She gains respectability and security while he moves on to enjoy his freedom.

Iain’s dedication to Scotland and the Queen often takes him away from his wife, whose loyalty wavers during times of loneliness. As Dallas’ passion is awakened, she realizes that the only man she really loves is her lawful husband. But before they can attempt to heal the emotional wounds they have inflicted on each other, they must first find a way to survive the political and religious turmoil plaguing the dangerous court of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Says the author, “Almost 50 years ago, I spent three months in Europe with my cousin, Judy, and two of our friends. We visited Paris, London, Rome, Vienna—just about every major must-see place in Western Europe. They all lived up to expectations, but the city I fell in love with was Edinburgh. Of course all the other places I saw in Europe had plenty of their own history, but Edinburgh—especially the High Street or The Royal Mile as it’s known—reeked of it.”

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 Mary the Web.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Breathless from exertion and terror, Dallas was reduced to writhing helplessly in their grasp. They had passed the second row of houses on the hill when a voice that sounded oddly familiar called out behind them, “Kidnappers end up in the Tolbooth, you know.”

Drunk as the young revelers were, they recognized authority in that cool, almost casual tone. They stopped in their tracks, dumping Dallas unceremoniously onto the cobblestones. Struggling to her feet, she looked up to see that her savior was the dark man she had encountered near Holyrood Palace. He stood outlined against a whitewashed house, his hands at his hips, his head to one side.

“We—we’re handfasted,” blurted the redhead. “We’re just having a bit of fun, my mates and I.”

“Handfasted?” One dark wedge of eyebrow lifted. “No, I think not.” The man took a step forward, and though he moved indolently, there was something menacing in his attitude. His hands remained at his hips but the eyes of all four revelers fastened like magnets on the lethal-looking dirk shoved into the stranger’s belt. There was only the briefest hesitation before the four young men took to their heels and scuttled off down the wynd and into the sanctuary of the night.

Dallas had remained huddled against an iron railing while the brief exchange took place. She was still out of breath, her thick brown hair half-covered her face, and a wild trembling had overtaken her limbs. The dark man approached her and gently took her hand.

“You should not have stayed out so late without a proper escort, lassie,” he said reproachfully. “Unless,” he added with a glint of mockery in his hazel eyes, “it is to your profit to do so.”

Dallas pulled her shaking hand away and felt her spirits revive with a jolt. “Pox on you for such impertinence!” she railed. “I go where I please, and never has any man pestered me until this night.”

He lifted one shoulder in a gesture of indifference. “As you say. You live nearby?”

“Aye,” she muttered. The shaking had stopped and her hands worked at pulling the thick hair from her face.

“Then you won’t call out the watch if I walk the remaining distance with you to your door?” He saw a stormy look but went on before she could speak. “My name is Iain Fraser and I live close by, in Mungo Tennant’s former home. You know the house in Gosford’s Close?”

“Aye, it’s a beautiful place,” Dallas asserted, trying hard to keep a check on her emotional turmoil. “Though I’ve heard it said that Mungo Tennant had torture chambers in the cellar and engaged in strange doings to gain his wealth.”

Fraser shrugged. “He accumulated sufficient funds to take over the house when the monks were turned out.” He glanced at Dallas. “Why do you look so puzzled, lassie?”

“Your name—Fraser … why is it familiar to me?” But her thoughts were still muddled by the encounter with the drunken youths.

“It’s not an uncommon name, even this far from the Highlands,” Fraser said lightly.

Miss Milton Speaks Her Mind, by Carla Kelly: A Shy Woman Finds Her Voice

miss_miltonMiss Milton Speaks Her Mind ($14.95, 286 pp., ISBN: 978-1-60381-953-4) features a gentlewoman oppressed by her relatives who learns to stand up for herself. The regency romance was first published in 1998.

Carla Kelly is the recipient of two RITA Awards from Romance Writers of America for Best Regency of the Year; two Spur Awards from Western Writers of America; a Whitney Award for Best Romance Fiction, 2011; and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Romantic Times. Kelly’s Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand reprint was selected by Publishers Weekly as one of the top 5 romances in 2012.

“Even though Miss Milton Speaks Her Mind is darker than many of Ms Kelly’s other books, it is in no way depressing. There are flashes of humor all throughout the book especially in the ways Lord Denby’s servants treat Lady Carruthers. And when the local doctor treats Cecil for a bad case of hypochondria, you’ll laugh, trust me.  I have never given a book a rating this high, and I may never again. But Carla Kelly simply blew me away with this sublime story. Miss Milton Speaks Her Mind is an A+ book in every way. Carla Kelly, I stand in awe!  Read more ….

– Ellen Micheletti, All About Romance

“Kelly’s novel breathes fresh air into the romance genre by giving her heroine and hero pure hearts and deep secrets instead of a stereotypical third-party interloper.” Read more ….

–Historical Novel Society

“I whole-heartedly recommend Miss Milton, but I warn you not to expect it to parallel her previous books. Do expect it to be a moving and engrossing story you won’t soon forget.” Read more ….

–Lesley Dunlap, The Romance Reader

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

In 2014, Camel Press will also reprint With This Ring and Mrs. McVinnie’s London Season. Miss Whittier Makes a List, Miss Chartley’s Guided Tour, and Miss Billings Treads the Boards are already available. Camel released Book 1 of Carla’s all-new Spanish Brand series, The Double Cross, in August, 2013. The second book in this series will be published in the fall of 2014.

Carla Kelly is particularly celebrated for her regency romances. The Romance Reader has called her “the Grandmistress of the [Regency] genre.” According to Romantic Times, “Carla Kelly’s Regency Romances are always superb and a timeless delight.” Library Journal wrote, “one of the most respected Regency writers.”

Orphaned as a child, Miss Jane Milton lives to serve her Stover cousins, tending to their every need. Her beloved cousin Blair suffered a slow and painful death from wounds received at the Battle of Waterloo, and now, ten months later, Miss Milton feels utterly forlorn. Her one solace is caring for Lord Canfield’s orphaned son, Andrew, a sad boy dogged by rumors that he was conceived before Lord Canfield married his mother. Is the source of these rumors Miss Milton’s second cousin, the imperious Lady Carruthers, who seems determined to disinherit Andrew in favor of her own profligate son? If only Miss Milton could stand up to the horrid woman and her insults.

Miss Milton finds herself spending more and more time in the company of her neighbor, a handsome tradesman. Mr. Butterfield, said to “smell of the shop,” in fact smells deliciously of lavender. He has an encouraging effect on Miss Milton, helping her to understand that her world will not collapse if she learns to speak her mind.

As her regard for her neighbor grows, Miss Milton remains aware of the many reasons they cannot be together. Fifteen years older, Mr. Butterfield is dangerously liberal-minded and earns his fortune through hard work. And she, whose aristocratic relatives look down on men of his ilk, is an impoverished spinster, almost thirty years old. In truth, the real gulf between them lies in the many guilty secrets they and others seem determined to guard at all costs.

Says Kelly, “An historical novel should mirror the age in which it is set. It should also help readers see that history does not happen in a vacuum. Adding a touch of American Revolution to a British-set Regency was a bit of fun for me.”

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

Keep reading for an excerpt:

“Miss Milton, won’t you come inside until the rain lets up?” She had a ready excuse on her lips—it was late, she was expected at Stover Hall—and she would have delivered it, if she had not looked down at Mr. Butterworth’s feet.

He was wearing house slippers of such a virulent shade of lime green yarn that the colors almost spoke to her. “Sir, what on earth are you doing out here worrying about me, when your feet are … my goodness, Mr. Butterworth, but that is an … an exceptional color.”

He merely smiled and offered her his arm, and for some unaccountable reason, she took it. He will catch his death if I make him stand outside in the rain and argue about whether I should come inside, she rationalized as she let him hurry her along the lane toward the house. Heaven knows he is not a young man, even if he is not precisely old, either.

He did pause for a moment to raise up one slipper from the wet gravel of the lane. “My dear niece made these for me last Christmas. My sister teases me that they were only just Amanda’s practice piece, but I think them quite acceptable.”

“They are, indeed,” she replied, as she allowed herself to be led where she had never gone before. “Am I to assume that you saw me from your window and thought I needed rescuing so badly that you would risk a present from a niece?”

She had never thought herself a witty person, but Mr. Butterworth threw back his head and laughed, which meant that the umbrella went, too, and the rain pelted on her forehead again.

“Oh, I am a poor Sir Galahad, indeed, Miss Milton,” he said, when he straightened the umbrella. “But yes, that is it entirely.” She smiled at him, thinking that no one in England looked less like Sir Galahad than Scipio Africanus Butterworth. She thought he might have over forty years to his credit, but she could not be sure. She was not tall, but standing this close to Mr. Butterworth, she felt even shorter than usual. He was taller even than Lord Denby, and massive without being fat. He could have been intimidating, had his general demeanor been less kind. Years ago over dinner at Stover Hall, Blair had declared that the Almighty had obviously broken the mold with the mill owner. She thought that unfair, and so informed her cousin with a vehemence that surprised her.

She thought of that now, as she found herself being led up the Butterworth lane to the front door. He was directing some pleasantry to her, but all she could see was what she always saw about him: the brownest of eyes with their glance of utter enthusiasm belonging to a far younger man. He also looked so benign, a trait she had never much associated with the district’s general opinion of mill owners.

This perpetual air of good feeling had always amazed her about him and nothing had intervened in the ten years of their acquaintance to change that.

 

Chicago, The Windigo City, by Mark Everett Stone: Book 4 in the From the Files of the BSI Series

chicagoVoracious cannibals from Native American lore surface in the Windy City. Can BSI agent Canton Alsate keep humanity at the top of the food chain?

Chicago, The Windigo City ($14.95, 288 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-929-9), is Book 4 of Mark Everett Stone’s popular urban fantasy series featuring a super-agent employed by the Bureau of Supernatural Investigation. Next up: Omaha Stakes.

Chicago, The Windigo City is jam packed with action but the heart of the story is Kal’s love and concern for his girlfriend and his best friend …. An original and refreshing tale that leaves me wanting to know more about Kal, Jeanie, BB, and Canton. I look forward to reading the other books in the series.”  Read more ….

—Debbie Wiley, Fresh Fiction

** CLICK THE COVER IMAGE TO ORDER ONLINE **

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

“Urban fantasy infused with Native American legend takes an excursion into the bloody horror genre in this fast-paced, exciting story…. Tight prose, a meticulous plot, and good editing set this book apart from countless competitors …. Stone has written a novel difficult to put down. Endless tension along with well-implemented action make the reading experience a necessity, not an option. Even a jaded critic will shudder over descriptive passages that bring to life the ghastly crime scenes, and certain explanations may unsettle a few stomachs.”

–Julia Ann Charpentier, ForeWord Magazine

“Kal himself has grown considerably over the last 3 books, where has had defeated many nefarious plans to destroy humanity. This book, although still a novel from the BSI files and still involving Kal, brings to the forefront one of the series strongest supporting characters, Canton Asate, Kal’s best friend…. The book is split almost into two sections, the first is almost a getting to know everyone with lots of character-building which makes these characters more realistic as we get to find out more of their motivations for doing what they do. The second part is the actual case that Canton and Jeanie are working to solve, this doesn’t mean that the pace of the story ever feels like it slows…. I am looking forward to seeing where Mark Everett Stone will take these characters in future novels as the stories along with the characters have gone from strength to strength and I hope that this continues.”  Read more ….

—Michelle Herbert, Fantasy Book Review, UK

“Mark Everett Stone has hit another home run …. The Native American magic/folklore addition gives new insights into Canton’s character and puts an interesting twist in the world that Stone has so expertly crafted. The action is non-stop, and the magical/technical gadgets are incredibly imaginative. Fans of this series will not be disappointed. The BSI series remains one of my absolute favorites, and I’m looking forward to the next installment.”

—M. E. Franco, author of the Dion Series

Books in Motion has issued audiobooks of Mark’s first two BSI novels, Things to Do in Denver When You’re Un-Dead and What Happens in Vegas, Dies in Vegas.

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

Kal Hakala is the Bureau of Supernatural Investigation’s best agent, but even he needs a break after his last case, which brought him a hair’s breadth from death and killed the fiancée of his best friend, a Mescalero Apache agent named Canton Asate. Kal’s temporary desk-job is nothing less than leadership of the entire BSI. Now it is on his head to assemble teams of agents to fight the latest Supernatural incursions and man up if they fail.

Windigo spirits in Chicago are possessing human beings and transforming them into ravenous cannibals. Canton is the natural choice for a team leader because of his knowledge of Native American lore. Is Canton, a legend with a knife, ready to strike again, so soon after his fiancée’s death? What about Kal’s own girlfriend, Jeanie? Can he stand to put her in danger and beyond his protection? Kal is forced to use the BSI’s cutting-edge virtual reality system to see what makes them both tick. Will the experience of virtually living their lives afford him the will to send those he loves into danger? Can an emotionally damaged man who has never led a team and a woman who traveled through time from the 1940s make the cut?

For Kal, the choice isn’t easy, but for Canton and Jeanie, it could be deadly.

Says Stone, “I wanted to explore a wider, more complex world of the BSI with this book. Before it was just Kal, but I needed to flex my literary muscles with a character that wasn’t about the sarcasm. As for choosing Canton, I realized that he could have been just another Tonto-esqe cliché and needed to put that to rest by creating a personality similar to Kal’s, but wholly his own. I look forward to putting the two through their paces for a few more books.”

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

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Using the rectangular lens (dubbed a MagniGlass by Special Branch) I kept an eye on the three newcomers. The two cops were talking to the Fed cop with plenty of animated gesticulating and head bobbing. It looked intense, intense enough that I was able to walk a block, cross the railroad tracks and get within a few yards before the Fed caught sight of me.

“Stop right here!” he warned, hand moving to the weapon holstered under his suit jacket.

“Two fingers,” I said, holding up said digits and using them to pull my wallet from my back pocket. My ID shone in the parking lot halogens. “Special Agent Daniel Westmore, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.”

The dapper cop made a face. I could smell his cologne. Expensive, but he used far too much of it. “What the hell is ICE doing here?”

I smirked, replaced my wallet, and gave him a good hard look. Up close he was even better looking than I thought. Expensive salon cut hair to go along with his hideously expensive suit, which he wore far too well. A superior air coated his features like thick makeup. I’d known guys like that in high school, idiots who used to call me derogatory names because of my race. Perhaps he was different, but I wasn’t going to place any bets.

The Fed checked my ID. “Okay, Westmore,” he said in a curiously high, fluting voice. He passed the wallet back. “What are you doing here?”

I held out a hand. “I showed you mine; now show me yours.” My smile wasn’t seconded by my voice, which carried a definite edge. Alpha dogs sniffing each other, right?

The three offered their badges. “Right. Kevin Beinfort and Sara Mills of the Chicago PD and Special Agent Wesley Ng of the FBI. Good to meet you.”

Ng stared impassively, patient as a boulder, while Mills waited on Beinfort. It didn’t take long for the James Bond wannabe to ask, “Mind telling us why ICE is interested in Chicago PD and FBI business?”

“Manny Garces.”

“Who the hell is Manny Garces, Boss?” Jacobs sent.

Beinfort echoed the question.

“Manny Garces,” I began, warming up to the BS story I’d concocted while changing clothes, “is a former enforcer for the Gallegos Cartel in Mexico. Escaped from a mental institution three weeks ago and is believed to have fled north.”

“You think Garces is our doer?” Ng asked. “That he dumped those bones by the river and in the warehouse?”

I nodded. “Everything fits his MO, although stacking them all nice and tidy is new. This guy used to eat his enemies and leave their bones for their families to find. To say he’s a nut-job is to damn with faint praise. He is so far around the bend he can’t even see the bend anymore. I heard about the bones by the river and knew it had to be him.”

Okay, Boss,” Jo sent. “Got all that in the ICE database. As far as anyone is concerned, Manny Garces is a real, ex-Cartel, at-large cannibal in the U.S.”

Gotta love the Bureau, we have all the coolest toys and access to all the Alphabet Agencies.

“Why wasn’t the FBI informed?” Ng didn’t sound angry and by the look of it, he could teach rocks about inscrutability, but there was the slightest edge to his voice that spoke of great restraint.

“It’s what I’m doing now, isn’t it? The question is, what are you three doing out here in the middle of the night?” That’s what really fried my bacon. Why wouldn’t they meet in a nice office somewhere?

It was Ng who answered. “I asked them to.”

I waited.

He sighed. “Something about this case bothers me and I wanted to come here firsthand, pick their brains, get the lay of the land. Being at the scene helps me focus.”

“Which has me wondering,” Beinfort cut in. “Since this case hasn’t been turned over to the Feds, why all the interest?” His glare encompassed both Ng and myself equally. Mills merely stood by patiently, a small smile on her homely face. “This case belongs to Chicago PD, not FBI or ICE.”

Before Ng could answer, Beinfort raised his voice, staring over my shoulder. “Mister, go on now. There’s nothing here that concerns you.”

I swiveled my head in time to see an indigent—a short, stubby man with a graying, bushy beard and filthy clothes—walk toward us along the tracks. A bottle encased in a paper bag was clenched in one grimy fist and I could see, thanks to the nightvision, that his lips were parted in a smile of glee or madness. The rest of his face was obscured by a battered and grimy Cubs hat. Hmph … the Cubs. No accounting for taste.

“I done seen what shouldn’t be seen,” the bum crooned, his teeth surprisingly white. “I seen what no one should seen.” He gave an odd little twirl as he moved closer. His black Converse sneakers were torn and tattered to the point I could see his long, black toenails and the weeping sores on his feet.

Ng held up a hand, palm outward. “That’s close enough, sir. Turn around and go back where you came from, sir.”

“Back where I came from? Back where I came from?” gabbled the bum, dancing a jig on the rails with remarkable grace. “Tra-la-la! There is no back home for me! I is home right here, right now. Life is good, life is sweet, life is best with fresh meat!”

“Great, another rum bum,” muttered Beinfort, stepping toward the dancing indigent. “Listen, pal,” he said loudly. “This is police business. Move along.”

“What do you think I is doing? I is moving right along. Tee-hee! Fresh meat, so sweet, puts you right on your seat!”

“Jesus, pal. Get outta here!”

The bum was only a couple yards from the dapper Beinfort. “But I just got here! I think I’ll stay. Because the meat is so sweet!”

And the suddenly the bum was there, in Beinfort’s face, teeth flashing, mouth opening impossibly wide and arms, freakishly long arms, arms that extended so much farther than the sleeves on his filthy jacket, wrapped around the Lieutenant and there was a crunch and a slurping sound that reminded me of inhaling soup from a spoon and Beinfort screamed long and loud, a wail filled with anguish and rage. Blood, slick and black in my nightvision, sprayed into the air, an arterial spurt that coated the gobbling bum in coppery fluid.