Snowdrops in Summer, by Helen Duggan: Three Friends, Through Thick and Thin

snowdropsLisa, Claire, and Toni don’t have much, but they do have each other.

In Snowdrops in Summer ($15.95, 330 pp., ISBN: 978-1-60381-272-6), a work of women’s fiction by Helen Duggan, three friends who start a detective agency soon find themselves out of their depth.

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4 Stars: “Snowdrops In Summer doesn’t seem to mean anything as far as the story goes, then the last few chapters bring the title into the foreground. The conclusion isn’t anything I imagined would happen. It brings a little sad along with a little joyful ending to a very entertaining story. I hope the author decides to write another women’s fiction book as I will be looking for one.”  Read more….

—Diana Smith for Romance Junkies

“What a great book. Helen Duggan shows what true friendship is all about. I know I have several very close friends that would do anything for me as I would for them. Helen Duggan combines friendship, family and humor into this story line. I have never read any of Helen Duggan’s books, but would not hesitate to read another one. I also loved how Helen Duggan shows how friends can call each other out, and still remain close friends. Another great read for the summer. Pick this book up, relax and enjoy.”  Read more….

—Sharon Salituro for Fresh Fiction

“In Snowdrops in Summer, Helen Duggan tells a beautiful story of the sustaining and essential nature of friendship between women. Three women face the challenges of single motherhood, romance, and financial woes with one another to count on for laughs, sympathy, and support. At turns funny, poignant, and tragic, this novel is a celebration of the enduring ties of friendship no matter what life may bring down the road.” —Maureen O’Leary, author of The Ghost Daughter

“Entertaining and written with heart, Snowdrops in Summer is about abiding friendship between three very different women struggling to make a go of their lives in a tiny Welsh village. This novel will remind you that in fiction, as in real life, it is love and loyalty that binds people together through thick and thin. After reading this, I’m planning to buy a plane ticket to Wales.” —Robin Strachan, author of Designing Hearts

“Whatever happens, we’ll always be heart friends.”

For “heart” friends Angelica, Lisa, and Claire, nothing has ever come easily. With little money and worse luck, they soldier on as best they can in the small village of Newton, edging the South Wales valleys.

Angelica has no trouble attracting men, but it’s a woman she wants, and she’s unlikely to meet her in her job as manager of a café. Lisa and Claire are single mothers. Lisa supports twin teenage daughters and cleans the local police station while carrying on with dishy policeman Niall, chained to a Catholic wife who won’t divorce him. Claire’s son Justin is a budding hoodlum, one false step away from prison. Sweet but ineffectual Claire is afraid to lay down the law for Justin and too cowed by life to believe any man will ever want her.

Then comes the chance they’ve been waiting for: their well-to-do friend Mags hires them to do a bit of detecting, which leads to more profitable ventures. At first it’s all a lark, as they stumble onto the truth, despite their lack of experience. But flying blind is no way to run a business. Be that as it may, in the face of the ultimate challenge, their friendship remains steadfast.

Says the author, “I believe friendship to be one of the strongest forces on the planet, invoking a selfless devotion and a love that transcends time. And so my three heroines were born. I wanted to show the strength these women have, how they support each other through good and bad times, no matter what sacrifice is required.”

Helen Duggan and her husband live on top of a mountain in Wales. Her body of work includes erotic romances published by Fanny Press under the pen name, Ellen March. Snowdrops in Summer is the first of her books to be published under her real name. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

“I’ll try and have a chat with your lad, maybe get him to see sense?”

Claire’s smile was brilliant in its intensity. “Oh, that would be great, Lisa! And maybe Angelica could talk to him as well, if you think she wouldn’t mind.” Her voice was husky with emotion.

“I’m sure she wouldn’t,” laughed Lisa, knowing how Angelica hated kids. “See you later.”

Lisa sighed and followed the tracks of her friend as she ambled down the road. She wished she could help her. But a gut instinct warned her it was too late.

Lisa arrived at the large desk where the duty sergeant slouched in his chair, his dark-trousered legs crossed, black boots gleaming, eyes closed.

“Hi, Pete,” shouted Lisa, thudding the desk with her hand.

The burly man almost fell off his chair. “Heck, you nearly gave me a flaming heart attack,” he moaned. His huge eyebrows bobbed up and down like caterpillars undulating across his pale forehead.

“Well, wake up then. You’re overpaid if that’s all you’ve got to do,” teased Lisa. She knew how it wound him up.

“Oi, less of your lip,” he growled, but his pale blue eyes twinkled mischievously. “I’d like to see you do my job.”

“Yeah, and I’d like to see you do mine,” countered Lisa, her eyes dropping to his large belly straining against the buttons of his top. “You might shift a bit of that.”

“There’s nothing wrong with something to grab hold of,” he laughed good-naturedly, enjoying the banter.

“Whatever,” said Lisa, already walking away towards the cleaner’s cupboard.

She stooped down to empty his bin, raising a brow at the amount of sweet wrappers. She held back a smile as he shuffled a pile of papers. Moving to the adjacent desk, Lisa rubbed in soft beeswax, crinkling her nose at the scent filling the room.

Moving on, she continued down the corridor, disappearing into various rooms. The chores were tedious, but the job was easy and paid the bills.

The sweat trickled down her chest in rivulets as Lisa leaned over the large desk in the empty room. Her hand swept in circular motions over the grained mahogany surface. She was so engrossed, she failed to hear the door open and close with a gentle click.

A pair of arms snaked round her waist, pulling her backwards.

“What on earth …!” she shouted before spinning round and finding herself staring into the depths of Niall’s fathomless eyes, smouldering in their intensity.

“I’ve missed you,” he whispered. His dark head dipped to nuzzle her neck, just the spot where it dipped to her shoulder.

The Assassins’ First Date, by J.A. Kazimer: A “Date” Lands Professional Killers in Hot Water with Lots of Steam

assassins_dateThe target was dead by dessert, but not in the way they’d planned. Someone had turned the tables on Ben and Six.

In The Assassins’ First Date ($11.95, 108 pp., ISBN: 978-1-60381-327-3), by J.A. Kazimer, killer-team Ben and “Six” go on an elegant working “date” where nothing proceeds as planned, forcing them to match wits with the clever killer of the vicious arms dealer they were assigned to assassinate.

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The Assassins’ First Date is the prequel romantic suspense novella in the Assassins series, which began with The Assassin’s Heart. The Assassin’s Kiss will follow on August 15, 2016, featuring Six and Ben’s colleague Nate.

Six and Ben’s story is continued in The Assassin’s Heart, which was awarded 4 1/2 Stars (Top Pick/Gold) by RT Magazine: “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.”

Benjamin Miller and Hannah “Six” Winslow have a date, but no one’s going to “get lucky,” at least not in the common sense of the phrase. The partners kill bad guys for a secret government organization known as OPS. And although they are dining at an elegant restaurant, their goal, and that of fellow assassin Nate Taylor, is to assassinate a dangerous arms dealer.

“The target” dies early in the evening, though not by the hand of any of the three assassins. His death by poison means yet another assassin got to him first, one who did not leave any obvious clues. In fact nothing is as it seems. Have they been betrayed by OPS? Is the mysterious assassin lingering in their midst, waiting to pick them off? Ben, Six, and Nate have just a few hours to solve the mystery, using only their wits and whatever evidence they can gather by cell from Nate’s analyst H. But Ben and Six are unusually distracted by each others’ sexy-date personas. With no one but Nate in top form, the slippery outside assassin may put them all on ice.

J.A. Kazimer lives in Denver, CO. She has a master’s degree in forensic psychology and has been both a bartender and a private investigator. She is the author of several other novels and series, including The Deadly Ever After series, F***ed Up Fairytales, and the Wilde Crimes series. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Ben paused before answering, “The target has two bodyguards. Mossad, by the look of them.”

Nate nodded again. Mossad agents were hardcore. Men and women willing to kill and die for the job—just like the two assassins plotting to kill their client. Nate had identified the Mossad agents right off by the way they held themselves—backs ramrod straight, eyes cold and watchful. Taking them out wouldn’t be easy.

He smiled in anticipation.

“I’ll draw them off,” Ben said. Nate’s smile broadened. That was so like his fellow assassin. The guy always tried to protect his team. He would always be the first in. It was what made him great, but one day it would be his downfall.

Or the downfall of his partner, Six.

The way Ben watched her when she wasn’t looking spoke volumes. He wondered if they were sleeping together. Probably not. Sleeping with his partner wasn’t Ben’s style. He focused too much on the job. A pity, in Nate’s opinion. If Hannah were his partner ….

“Once they’re clear, Six will take out the target,” Ben was saying. Nate nodded. He didn’t doubt Hannah’s skills, not in the least. Neither did Ben, but Nate could hear the underlying stress in his co-worker’s voice. This wasn’t an easy target. Mario LeCena was a hell of a dangerous man. A stone-cold killer.

“Oh, and Nate,” Ben said with a quick grin, “try not to get shot. Again,” he said, referring to when Nate took a bullet a few months ago. “I hate having to fill out all that paperwork.”

* * *

Ben took a deep breath as he slipped through the men’s room door and into the main restaurant. The rattling of plates and the clinking of glassware filled the air, as did the scent of fifty-dollar steaks and thousand-dollar Scotch. He maneuvered past waiters carrying trays laden with mouth-watering signature dishes.

A woman screamed, and a wine glass shattered on a nearby table. Ben froze, his eyes searching the restaurant. He shuddered. He couldn’t pinpoint the problem. Not just yet. Not until his gaze fell on his partner, straddling the target in a roomful of terrified witnesses.

Homicide in the House, by Colleen J. Shogan: A Killer Profits from a Capitol Hill Shutdown

HomicideWhen the government shuts down, D.C. becomes a ghost town. A perfect opportunity to get away with murder. Not on Kit’s watch.

Homicide in the House ($14.95, 258 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-333-4), by Colleen J. Shogan, is the second Washington Whodunit: a cozy mystery series set in Washington, D.C., and featuring amateur sleuth Kit Marshall.

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Stabbing in the Senate and Homicide in the House are both being distributed by Epicenter Press/Aftershocks Media. Wholesale customers, contact

“A solid choice for political junkies and readers of ­Maggie ­Sefton, Fred Hunter, and Mike Lawson.” Read more….
—Library Journal

“Shogan’s solid second Washington, D.C. (after 2015’s Stabbing in the Senate) finds congressional staffer Kit Marshall serving as legislative director to North Carolina freshman Representative Maeve Dixon, a middle-of-the-road Democrat. On the eve of a government shutdown over the budget, Jack Drysdale, the Speaker of the House’s top aide, tries to persuade Dixon to toe the party line, but he ends up in a very public confrontation with her instead. When Drysdale turns up dead in the Capitol rotunda the next day, Dixon becomes the prime suspect in his murder. With the threat of Dixon’s arrest imminent, Marshall begins to look for alternative suspects, who include Gareth Pressler, a senior aide for the Sergeant of Arms; Drysdale’s spouse, Jordon Macintyre; and anonymous blogger Hill Rat. Shogan does a good job depicting the creaky, squeaky wheels of government, and Marshall plays politics and sleuth with equal dexterity in this capital Capitol Hill mystery.”

—Publishers Weekly, April 18, 2016

4 Stars: “The gang is together again in this exceptional murder mystery as Kit, her friend Meg, boyfriend Doug and rescue dog Clarence collectively work to solve the crime. Each distinctive personality shines as they bring the case to a close. Be prepared for another adventure.”

—RT Magazine

“This whodunit is well plotted and intriguing. The characters are believable and real even if the action is far removed for me. The humor and wit really elevate this read. I recommend it to cozy lovers that enjoy political subterfuge and those that do not. If you are looking for a great, can’t put it down book, look no further than Homicide in the House.”  Read more….

—Andra W for The Open Book Society

“Author Colleen J. Shogan has penned yet another riveting mystery set into a national political framework and continues to prove herself to be a master of the genre. A deftly crafted read from first page to last, and certain to be an enduringly popular addition to community library Mystery/Suspense collections.”  Read more….

—Able Greenspan, MBR Bookwatch: July 2016

Homicide in the House is a fast-paced fun read, with an original concept. Author Colleen J. Shogan’s education and work experience ensure that the details are factual, and fascinating to readers without inside-the-Beltway knowledge. There are plot twists every so often to keep the readers on their toes. The suspense at the end of the book—WOW! What a climax!…. Homicide in the House is amazing. I was hooked from the first sentence, and read it in only two days. I recommend Homicide in the House to all fans of cozy mysteries. I think it will particularly appeal to anyone who prefers fictional political shenanigans over the real ones in the news lately.”  Read more….

—Jane Reads

“A well-written mystery, with some political info mixed in to build the setting without bogging down the story. There is an excellent cast, some humor, some drama, and an edge of danger…. An excellent read for any mystery or chick-lit fan.”  Read more….

—Sarah E. Bradley for InD’Tale Magazine

“Colleen Shogan has done it again! 5 stars to Homicide in the House. I enjoy this series so much because of the wonderful characters and storyline. I love how the author describes Washington DC and the ins and outs of our government. I have not had the pleasure of visiting DC but really want to after reading this series. The author does a great job making her characters believable.”  Read more….

—Penny M. for Cozy Mystery Book Reviews

“I absolutely loved this whodunit that could have been ripped from the headlines!…. I like Kit, she is smart, thinks before she jumps, and she know Washington. She is much more confident in this story. Kit lives with her boyfriend and they have an adorable pepperoni loving dog named Clarence. He has a big funny part in this story…. Great characters, chilling twists and action filled moments almost had smoke coming out of my Kindle Fire. I read the story all in one sitting and was actually sorry it had to end.”  Read more….

—Escape with Dollycas

Homicide in the House is an exciting whodunit that made turning each page a thrill. Starting with a government shutdown, and dealing with murder, politics, personal agendas, and relationships, this second installment in the series is an action filled, suspenseful read, that will keep you on the edge of your seat all the way to the exciting reveal!” Read more….

—Lisa K’s Book Reviews

“Even though this doesn’t fit the traditional format of a cozy mystery in a small town, the community in the congress has all of the facets of one. Colorful characters, gossip mills, romance, intrigue and of course, murder…. I enjoyed Homicide in the House and can’t wait to read the first book in the series, Stabbing in the Senate.”  Read more….

—Teresa Trent, Cozy Mystery Writer

“Kit is a great cozy sleuth. The mystery is well-written and had enough twists and turns to keep me guessing. I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys smart, fast-paced cozies (especially those with a non-traditional setting/theme). This is a series that I look forward to following.”  Read more….

—Brooke Blogs

“This book is fast-paced, well-written, fun to read, and has an unanticipated murderer. The plot was tightly woven with numerous twists and turns that leave the reader guessing. I highly recommend this book for cozy mystery readers as well as those who appreciate political intrigue.”  Read more….

—Carla Loves to Read Blog

Kit Marshall has bounced back from her first brush with the law, when she was suspected of murdering her senator boss. Now she is working for a freshman congresswoman, Maeve Dixon, a young Gulf War veteran representing North Carolina. It’s February, and Kit is feeling out of sorts. A government shutdown has just been announced, wreaking havoc on the Hill, and Dan, Dixon’s chief of staff and Kit’s supervisor, is an inexperienced lightweight flying blind. Then there’s Kit’s distracted live-in boyfriend, Doug, who doesn’t seem any closer to popping the question. Kit’s best friend Meg is up to her eyeballs with her new beau and oversight committee job, and Clarence the beagle mix will certainly not win Capitol Canine if Meg has to campaign for him all by herself.

Bad as things are now, they are about to get much worse. Early one morning Representative Dixon is caught standing over the corpse of Jack Drysdale, the Speaker of the House’s top staffer, a man she argued with in front of the press the day before. The murder weapon was the Speaker’s gavel. This item was entrusted to Dixon at the time, leading the police to believe they’ve found their killer. To save her job, Kit must clear her boss’s name, and quickly. Dixon’s career may be over if the police declare her a suspect or an anonymous blogger known as Hill Rat breaks the story. Solving this murder will test Kit’s courage and all her fledgling powers of deduction as she roams a spooky, sparsely populated Capitol Hill looking for clues and sounding out suspects.

Says Shogan, “Kit Marshall has crossed to the other side of the Capitol in Homicide in the House. Her personal and professional lives have gotten more complicated, and so has the mystery she’s tasked to solve. The eerily deserted buildings during the 2013 government shutdown provided me with a perfect setting for murder. Luckily, Kit is never alone. Trevor, Meg, Doug, and Clarence are back again to make sure our favorite congressional staffer turned amateur sleuth finds the killer before time runs out.”

Colleen J. Shogan is a senior executive at the Library of Congress. She is a former Senate staffer who started reading mysteries at the age of six. Previously the Deputy Director of the Congressional Research Service, Colleen also teaches government at Georgetown University. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Drysdale fixed me with a hard stare. The frustration on his face implied he didn’t appreciate a non-committal answer from a low-level congressional staffer. But after a few seconds, he relented. With a friendly grin, he asked, “Isn’t your dog in the Capitol Canine contest?”

He’d caught me off guard with such an abrupt change in mood and topic. I narrowed my eyes in distrust. “Yes. His name is Clarence.”

“I love dogs, and I’m sure you want Clarence to do well in the contest. You know, my dog won Capitol Canine a few years ago.”

“I didn’t know that. Congratulations.” Where was this headed?

“Capitol Canine is about who you know. And I know a ton of people who would be happy to vote for Clarence. Maybe we can become better friends if we join forces?” He followed up his offer with a sexy wink.

Had I just been propositioned to sell my boss’s vote for a Clarence victory in the Capitol Canine contest? A direct approach was often best. “Are you trying to trade support for the Speaker’s shutdown plan for votes in a dog popularity contest?”

“Don’t be so literal, Kit. We’re colleagues, and I’m simply trying to help you out.”

After a long moment of silence, I decided to throw him a bone—no pun intended. “Maybe I can give you an answer on the Speaker’s proposal in a week? I’ll have to check with my chief of staff about the conversations he’s having with the voters in the district.”

Apparently, Jack didn’t appreciate my version of a compromise. The sexy Bruce Wayne smile disappeared instantly, and his face contorted in anger. Raising his voice, he growled, “Check with your chief of staff? This is useless. I need to make sure the Speaker seals this deal.”

Jack stormed out of the office, and I followed him down the corridor until he entered the Speaker’s private suite. I was gutsy, but marching uninvited into the supreme leader office space was beyond my pay grade.

I didn’t want to return to the uncomfortable wooden bench in the hallway with the gatekeeper wondering why Drysdale had dismissed me. Instead, I took a seat next to the reporters in the outside waiting room. I had a clear view of the Speaker’s suite across the hallway so I’d see Maeve when she emerged from her meeting. I’d stuck to our plan. Had Maeve held firm? I’d find out soon enough.

Smartphones are great time wasters. I fiddled with various apps as I waited. The next level of “Angry Birds” was within my grasp when I heard footsteps and voices across the hallway. I got up and stood in the doorway to greet my boss.

From the look on her face, she was not pleased. She charged like a linebacker to the exit of the Speaker’s lair with Jack Drysdale on her heels.

“Stop, Congresswoman Dixon. You’re not listening to reason!” From behind, Drysdale placed his hand on Maeve’s left shoulder in an attempt to prevent her from leaving the suite.

Maeve had impressive reflexes. She turned her body toward him and grabbed his wrist with her right hand. “Don’t touch me! Is this how the Speaker’s staff treat members of the House?” Her voice was loud and filled with vitriol.

The gaggle of reporters who had been relaxing inside the anteroom trailed behind me. This was better than a boring pen and pad session. One of them murmured, “I think that’s Dixon from North Carolina.”

This was not a good development, but Maeve didn’t know that the press had a front row seat to her implosion.

The Trade List by R. Franklin James: A Frantic Search for a Dangerous List

trade_listThe Trade List ($14.95, 250 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-219-1) is book 4 in a mystery/suspense series by R. Franklin James featuring Hollis Morgan, a young attorney whose past as a pardoned white-collar ex-con makes her a magnet for trouble. A woman dies trying to pass on a list of money launderers to Hollis. Now Hollis is the target.

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“The Trade List’s two story lines are strong, detailed, with plenty of twists to keep readers turning pages. The unique concept of the Fallen Angels Book Club provides continuity and shows growth in her characters as they look into real life mysteries. A strong use of details throughout the book gives readers a feeling they are a part of the story. Although readers can start with any of the books in the series, some may want to start at the beginning, or catch up at a later date, to fill in the background of this interesting and fulfilling mystery.”  Read more….

—Edie Dykeman, Reader, Writer, Reviewer

“I love it when a story captivates and has me completely engrossed in all that are bound by the pages of a book. What a way to start with a tease here and there and then bam, the plot thickens into a fast-paced and action-packed drama that quickly became a page turner. I liked the tone of the narrative and how each scene blends from one chapter to the other, taking me deeper into all the facets in the storytelling. With skilled resources, the author does a great job of taking me along on this ride with enough suspense and intrigue to keep me moving forwards.”  Read more….

—Dru’s Book Musings

The Hollis Morgan Mystery series began with The Fallen Angels Book Club and continued with Sticks & Stones and The Return of the Fallen Angels Book Club.

“The two storylines are well fleshed out and Hollis is a character that you can’t help but feel close to. The Return Of The Fallen Angels Book Club is well crafted; the writing is top-notch.”


Sticks and Stones: “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.”

—Long and Short Reviews

The Fallen Angels Book Club: “This book is full of murder, mystery and of course mayhem. Thoroughly entertaining and a fast read, I can’t wait for the next book in the series. Excellent debut novel, Ms. James!”

—Nook Users’ Book Club

Hollis Morgan has come a long way since serving time for her ex-husband’s white-collar crimes. After receiving a state pardon, she is now a probate attorney at the Bay Area firm where she began as a paralegal. In a case close to home, her manager, George Ravel, inherits a fortune from his newly found birth mother, but her dead husband’s heirs are overcome with greed, not grief. They are determined to discredit her will and deny her natural son even one cent of the millions they believe should belong to their father’s estate.

George asks Hollis to handle the case, but her attention is divided. A dead woman has been discovered with Hollis’s business card—one that dates back to Hollis’s years on parole. The police don’t believe Hollis’s claim that she never met Olivia Shur. As it turns out, she did know the woman, only under another name. At the time of her death, Olivia Shur possessed a list that could end the careers and lives of several public officials and prominent businessmen. Copies of the list exist. Someone believes Hollis has one of them and will go to any extreme to obtain it.

To protect her friends and stay alive, Hollis turns to her ex-con buddies from the Fallen Angels Book Club. In this case, there are too many people on both sides of the law who are determined to see her stopped.

Says James, “The premise for The Trade List originated with a real-life crime case arising out of the 2008 financial crisis and the immunity given bank executives. Hollis is evolving as a character. No longer defensive about her past, she’s smart, confident and courageous.”

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:

Hollis was still smiling to herself as she waited in the police station lobby for Silva to call her back into his office. To make sure she was on time, she had driven straight there from Berkeley. Silva came to the double glass doors and waved her into a long hallway. They entered an interview room and sat across from each other.

Silva handed her a computerized report. “Your contact list.”

“Thank you.” She put the pages in her tote. “What were you able to find out?”

“This is an ongoing investigation, and I can’t discuss details, but we agree with you that there may be something to the message,” he said in a flat voice, his hands folded together on the table.

A shudder went through Hollis.

“Ah … what kind of something? I mean, am I in danger?”

“Is there a reason why you should be?”

Hollis was starting to feel irritated. She wasn’t willing to play guessing games with Robocop. “No, there isn’t. Look, did you find out anything or not?”

His demeanor relaxed. “You’re right. I’ll cut to the chase.” He picked up a pad of paper and read his notes. “Seven numbers were flagged in our screening net. Four belonged to your book club members, two are from phones with current service, and one is from a toss-away phone.”

She blinked. “Wow, that’s pretty good for just twenty-four hours.”

“Maybe you won’t have to write us off after all.” He wasn’t smiling, but his eyes had a teasing gleam. He looked at his notes. “Here’s where it gets tedious. We’re still going to follow up with all screened calls, but the toss-away we can’t do much about. We’re just going to have to wait for him to contact you again.” He glanced up when he heard her stifle a groan.

Hollis grinned sheepishly. “I just dread the thought of getting another one of these messages.”

Silva paused, assessing her. “Unfortunately, unless you do, or until we discover a victim, there is little more we can do here. This whole thing could be something completely innocent.”

She shrugged. “All right then, I guess I won’t take up any more of your time.”

“At this point all we can do is wait.”

“Great.” Hollis stood by the door and looked at him glumly. “Wait for a murder.”

Bygones, by Lisa K. Nielsen: A Unexpected Homecoming

bygonesLexi planned to settle her father’s estate and rush back to the city. She didn’t bargain on the pull of the past, including a blazing-hot guy named Joe.

Bygones ($15.95, 290 pp., ISBN: 978-1-60381-329-7), is a contemporary romance with elements of suspense by Lisa K. Nielsen. When her father dies, a young doctor returns home, where she finds both romance and danger.

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“Full of sexy banter and menacing intrigue…. Nielsen uses the braided narrative to keep the romance moving and the mystery compelling. Her characters are likable and believable, whether they are swapping classic novels or bonding over take-out. The novel is well paced, moving quickly into the dual conflict of romance and suspense.… Nielsen creates a small-town vibe where the ghosts of high school still haunt, gossip, and interfere. Fans of contemporary romance mixed with a mystery subplot will be happily sated with Bygones.”

—Camille-Yvette Welsch for ForeWord Reviews

“Lexi and Joe have tremendous depth and deep affections for one another. One can’t help but cheer for this couple, losing themselves in the fantasy of their two worlds colliding. With red hot romance and suspense that never wavers, Bygones is an exciting story that will leave one breathless until the very end!”  Keeping reading….

—Chantel Hardge for InD’Tale Magazine

“If you’re looking for a sweet escape with the perfect touch of sizzle, look no further. Part romance, part mystery, part psychological exploration of the voyage into adulthood, Bygones reminds readers that tragic events can have a silver lining and love is the greatest gift around.”

—Elena Hartwell, author of the Eddie Shoes Mystery series

Dr. Alexandra Hadley would prefer to leave small town life behind forever, but her father’s death forces her hand. In his will, he has left her his medical practice and Georgian-style mansion, and it is up to her to hire a new doctor and settle his estate. Fresh out of medical school, Lexi is happily settled in Chicago, doing research in tandem with her boyfriend. Brian, fifteen years older with impressive credentials and sophisticated tastes, has no interest in visiting her birthplace of Glenmore, Illinois.

Lexi soon discovers that home has its attractions, the first being the handsome contractor Joe Manning, her secret crush in high school. Seeing patients is also surprisingly satisfying. When Joe offers to remodel her father’s den, Lexi jumps at the chance to erase sad memories and become better acquainted with her gorgeous handyman. Even as the charms of Glenmore draw her in, a series of break-ins at her father’s house make her fear for her safety. Is the intruder searching for something other than valuables? And how determined is the culprit? Lexi finds her fragile happiness at risk, including her newfound love for Joe Manning.

Says the author, “I think everyone who has grown up and left their hometown wonders what it would be like to return as an adult, to function as a member of the community—especially if our imaginations are allowed to run wild. This is my ‘what if’ story.”

Lisa K. Nielsen was born and raised in West Dundee, Illinois, a small town forty-five miles northwest of Chicago. She graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in zoology, then studied to be a physician’s assistant in Iowa City. For many years now, she has worked in the field of urology, which allows her time to write and read. She e-published her first novel, At Second Sight, in August 2013. Lisa loves to travel is a long-suffering fan of all the Chicago sports teams. She also enjoys cooking, baking, and spending time with her dog. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

“Wait a minute. I thought you were dating that dumb jock quarterback.”

“Kevin Whatley? Yeah, I was, but we broke up right before New Year’s. He was pissed because I wouldn’t sleep with him.”

Joe nodded solemnly. “He must have loved you very much.”

Lexi laughed and lightly punched him on the shoulder. “So, do you remember Amy Rodgers’ New Year’s Eve party?”

Joe stroked his chin thoughtfully. “Amy Rodgers … New Year’s Eve ….” He snapped his fingers. “Yes, Amy Rodgers’ New Year’s Eve party!”

Lexi rolled her eyes. “Okay, shut up. Well, Kevin was there and being an asshole, so I decided to piss him off by making out with you.”

Joe’s brow furrowed. “Was I at this party? Because I’m pretty sure I would have remembered making out with you.”

“You were there, but every time I saw you, you headed off in the other direction. You totally blew me off.”

“Well, that’s not how I remember it. I would have taken you up on your offer, but steroid boy Kevin would have beaten the shit out of me.”

Lexi laughed again. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had so much fun. “Oh, God. Please. You don’t even remember.”

“No, I do. I do remember.”

“Joe, it’s fine. You don’t have to humor me.”

Joe inched closer to her. “I’m not humoring you. And I can prove it.”

“Yeah? How?”

Joe closed his eyes for a moment. “You were wearing these tight black jeans with high-heeled boots.” He opened his eyes. “And this slinky sleeveless top that was all shiny and sparkly.”

Lexi gasped and covered her mouth with her hand.

“And your blonde hair was all long and sexy and sleek, and you had some glittery stuff in it.”

Lexi flattened her palm on his chest. “Oh my God. You do remember.”

“Of course I do. I sorta had a crush on you too.”

Her breath caught as Joe’s eyes flashed. His chest was warm and firm beneath her palm. “No way.”

Joe leaned in and whispered, “Way.”

Lexi was mesmerized by his lips as they moved in on hers, feeling helpless to stop him. Not really wanting to stop him. He kissed her softly, his lips burning hot. She melted under them as he cupped the back of her head and stroked his tongue inside her mouth. Lexi moaned with need, her body tingling, surprised at her reaction. The last time she’d been instantly aroused by a kiss was … never.

Stroking her fingers up his chest, she wrapped her arm around his neck and kissed him back. Their tongues tangled as they moved closer together. Her skin was hot and tight where Joe clutched her hip. What is going on with me? This never happened when she was with Brian. Oh, God! Brian!

Lexi tore her lips away from Joe’s. She moved her hand back to his chest, this time to gently push him away. “Joe, I can’t—”

“It’s okay. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.”

Lexi met his gaze, her heart pounding. “No, it’s my fault. I shouldn’t have kissed you back. It’s just that … I’m seeing someone.”

Breach of Ethics, by Sharon St. George: A Hospital’s Code of Ethics Muddies a Murder Case

breach-of-ethicsBreach of Ethics ($16.95, 342 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-227-6) is the third book in a mystery series featuring forensic librarian Aimee Machado and set in Northern California. When Aimee’s boss is implicated in the murder of a doctor, Aimee tries to find out whether he was killed because of his womanizing or his official recommendation involving custody of a child prodigy patient.

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4 Stars: “Once again this author brings to life an enthralling mystery with a fine attention to detail and delightful background on the main character’s family members. The mystery itself is a fascinating series of twists and turns. The bit of insight into the training of llamas is enjoyable.”

—RT Magazine

“Another riveting mystery from the pen of Sharon St. George, Breach of Ethics clearly demonstrates the author’s total mastery of the genre. Very highly recommended for community library Mystery/Suspense collections.”  Read more….

—Jack Mason for Midwest Book Review

“The characters are all unique and each claim your attention. Breach Of Ethics is a clever murder mystery, 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. Ms. St. George has provided us with an action-filled thriller.” Read more….

—Vic’s Media Room

Forensic librarian Aimee Machado has a new title: Director of Ethical Affairs. At other hospitals this position might be dull: not at Timbergate Medical Center in Northern California. Armed with impressive jujitsu skills, Aimee breaks up a fist fight during a meeting and soon finds herself embroiled in yet another murder investigation. Dr. Gavin Lowe, one of the combatants in the dust-up, is found shot dead in the office of his adversary, Aimee’s boss Jared Quinn. The security cameras did not detect the killer coming or going. Were they tampered with? The police believe Quinn did the deed, but Aimee is unconvinced. She was present when the two men made their peace; unfortunately, there were no other witnesses. Is Aimee a suspect?

At the time of his death, Dr. Lowe was treating ten-year-old piano prodigy Natasha Korba for appendicitis and malnutrition, a byproduct of her stepfather Abel Gailworth’s cult of veganism. Natasha’s grandfather Hector Korba, president of the hospital’s governing board, is fighting for custody. Was the killing prompted by the custody battle? Or did Dr. Lowe’s wandering eye seal his fate?

Aimee’s on-and-off-again boyfriend Nick, her friend Cleo, and her charming brother Harry are on hand to help uncover the truth. What they discover only poses more questions. Meanwhile the killer is fully aware of their investigations, once again putting Aimee in mortal danger.

Says St. George, “Several years ago, when I worked as the coordinator of Medical Staff Services for an acute care hospital, I was particularly interested in the Ethics Committee. The burden placed on its members seemed more onerous than in the other peer review committees. They weren’t just weighing statistics, complications, and outcomes. When two ‘right’ choices were considered, the Ethics Committee members were sometimes forced to approve only one. It was as if they were being asked to ‘play God.’ I searched my mind for a story revolving around this dilemma, and Breach of Ethics was the result.”

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:

“You are Miss Machado, aren’t you?” Hector Korba said. The distance of twenty feet from the library entrance to my desk seemed to shrink under his long strides.

“Yes, Mr. Korba. What can I do for you?” I stood up, which only put me at eye level with his chest and brought to mind David and Goliath. Some powerful men don’t look the part, but that was not the case with Korba.

“You know about my granddaughter?” His voice, a deep bass, rumbled from low in his chest.

“Yes, I’m so sorry Natasha is ill.” I gestured toward the visitor’s chair next to my desk. “Would you like to sit?”

He gave the chair an appraising look, probably wondering if it would support his weight, and said, “I prefer to stand, thank you. But please be seated if you wish.”

I didn’t wish. I was already looking up at the man. Any higher and I’d develop a kink in my neck. Curiosity about his visit burned deep. He didn’t take long to get to the point.

“You are the keeper of Ethics Committee files. Is that right?”

“That’s right.” Where was he going with this? No place I wanted to go. I had already gone rounds with Quinn and Dr. Snyder about the minutes; now I had to refuse to discuss them with the president of TMC’s governing board.

“I want to read your minutes. I want to see what they say about my Natasha.” His Natasha. No beating around the bush. Natasha belonged to him. In his mind, she was not her mother’s child, and certainly not her stepfather’s.

Korba’s demand forced me into a gray area. Like Quinn, Korba was an ex-officio member of the Ethics Committee, and I wasn’t sure his status allowed him access to the minutes. This situation was even more problematic. Protocol had dictated that he be excluded from the meeting because of his relationship to the patient whose case was being discussed. Until I could get an opinion from Cleo—or failing that, from our legal counsel—I was not going to let him see the minutes.

I hesitated, praying silently for a convenient interruption—a phone call, another patron walking in, a slight stroke. His, not mine. But he loomed over me as if his wish were my command.

“There’s a problem,” I said. “I’m still learning the protocols involved in meetings and their minutes, particularly as they apply to a situation like yours.”

“Situation? What situation?” He folded his arms across his broad chest.

“You were absent from that meeting due to a conflict of interest. I’m afraid I can’t give you access to the minutes just yet.” He glowered at me. I tried not to flinch. “Mr. Korba, I’ll have to contact the committee chair. If she gives me an okay, I’ll let you know right away.”

“Miss Machado, you do realize I will hear them read at the next Ethics Committee meeting, so what is the problem?”

“But Ethics Committee meets only as needed. It could be a few months before we have another meeting. In the meantime, this situation is still ongoing and very sensitive because of Dr. Lowe’s death, and I don’t want to—”

“All right, enough. I understand.” Korba surprised me by smiling. The smile was a little creepy on a face as large as his, with bold features that seemed carved from granite, but apparently he intended to back off, at least temporarily.

“You know Natasha’s father is dead. My Darius gave his life to protect others.”

“Yes, I’m so sorry for your loss.”

“My wife is gone, too. Her heart was weak. A year ago, it stopped. Natasha is all I have now. Her mother, my former daughter-in-law, is under the spell of that huckster, Gailworth.” He worked his mouth as if the name left a foul taste.

“I’ll call Dr. Snyder about the minutes, Mr. Korba. If she tells me you may see them, I will let you know.” I maintained eye contact, hoping to convince him that was my best offer.

“Do as you must,” he said, “but take a word of advice. If you wish to succeed in life, you must learn your job well enough to make your own decisions.” With that, he strode out of the library. I felt the floor shake with each of his Goliath steps. I called Dr. Snyder’s office immediately, leaving a request for a callback with her office manager.

One Dead, Two to Go, by Elena Hartwell: A Private Eye Gets in Over Her Head

one_deadOne Dead, Two to Go ($14.95, 240 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-311-2), by debut novelist and established playwright Elena Hartwell, launches a new series: the Eddie Shoes Mysteries, set in Bellingham, Washington. Private Investigator Eddie Shoes takes on mobsters, hucksters, her ex, and her mother as she searches Bellingham for her missing client.

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** Also available in audiobook **

4 Stars: “Hartwell has created quite a winner in the unique and clever Eddie Shoes, and this first case features not only a twisting, turning, fast-paced plot, but also a number of nuanced, quirky relationships, making for a story that is fun and increasingly absorbing, especially as readers learn more about this headstrong heroine’s past…. This is a clever and well-paced mystery that will have plenty of readers eager for the next installment.”  Read more….

—Bridget Keown for RT Magazine

“Mystery, murder and mayhem collide in this intriguing new series! An original, well written gum-shoe, readers will find an easy ebb and flow of sequences with just enough mystery to keep them guessing. From their strained past to their bumbling investigation skills, this quirky combination of a mother-daughter reunion turned crime-fighting duo will captivate readers.… Avid Alphabet series connoisseurs should flock to this kick-off series.”  Read more….

—Roberta Gordon for InD’Tale Magazine

“I thought that this was a thoroughly enjoyable story, well written with fresh and interesting characters, hopefully this is the first of a nice long series…. Moira Driscoll was an excellent choice for this book, she gave each character a distinctive and easily identifiable voice. I thought she captured Eddies character perfectly, lively and feisty when appropriate, I especially appreciated how she conveyed all the hidden undercurrents of emotion in the relationship between Eddie and Chava. An all round high quality production.” (Review of the audiobook. Read more ….)


“Oh, Eddie/Elena—please don’t stop. You’ve got me hooked, snooked, and ready for another long and lovely rain-drenched mystery-reading night from the pitch-perfect pavement-pounding Eddie Shoes.”

—Carew Papritz, author of the award-winning bestseller, The Legacy Letters

“One Dead, Two To Go is smart, page-turning fun, with the most feisty and likable P.I. since Kinsey Millhone. Looking for your next favorite detective series? Look no further.”

—Deb Caletti, National Book Award finalist and author of He’s Gone

“Private eye Eddie Shoes and her cardsharp mother plunge the reader into a tale of fractured relationships, mayhem, and thrills. I look forward to the next Eddie Shoes adventure!”

—Deborah Turrell Atkinson, author of the Storm Kayama Mysteries

“Elena Hartwell doesn’t just burst onto the scene with this clever mystery novel—she kicks the door in and holds the reader at gunpoint.”

—Peter Clines, Award-winning author of The Fold and the Ex-Heroes series.

“Attention mystery fans hungering for the good stuff: One Dead, Two to Go is a full course buffet. Infidelity, murder, and kidnapping are all on the menu, but the main course is Eddie Shoes (great name!), who is an engaging, resourceful, and tough female P.I. Throw in her poker-playing, Mafia-connected, breaking-and-entering mother Chava and a pot-boiler of a plot, and I finished this book with a full belly, yet starving for more Eddie Shoes adventures. The writing is cinematic and vivid, the characters well-drawn, but the dynamic between Eddie and Chava, which reminded me fondly of Cagney and Lacey, is what makes the story. Fans of the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich should definitely check out One Dead, Two to Go. Recommended.”

—Max Everhart, author of the Eli Sharpe Mystery series

“Playwright Elena Hartwell mines her glorious dramatic talent in a debut novel called ONE DEAD, TWO TO GO, where Eddie (Edwina) Shoes, a Bellingham P.I., solves the double crimes of money-laundering and murder with dedicated detective work, done with subtle sleuth’s irony—and the expert help of Chava, her humorous, clever, light-fingered, poker-playing Mom.”

—Robert J Ray, author of eight Murdock mysteries and the Weekend Novelist’s guides to writing

“Eddie Shoes is not just any PI. She operates out of Bellingham, tucked up in a cool, misty corner of Washington, not a place known to be a hotbed of trouble. Trouble finds her nonetheless. Hired to do surveillance on a cheating husband, she soon encounters a dead body and missing persons and steps into a maze of danger that includes the suspicious client who may or may not be a double-dealing grifter. Unlike the standard-issue PI, Eddie seems allergic to guns and violence and worries about a bad haircut as much as the stalking danger. Funny, clever, and full of grabbing plot twists, Elena Hartwell’s One Dead, Two To Go, the debut novel in her Eddie Shoes series, takes the mystery lover into unexpected territory, including the introduction of Chava, the intrepid mother who is kicked out of Vegas by the Mob and shows up uninvited on Eddie’s doorstep. This is a fast, memorable and entertaining read. Warning: you’ll want more.”

—Scott Driscoll, author of Better You Go Home

“Where One Dead, Two to Go triumphs is in its endearing heroine. In Eddie Shoes, we have a character who is smart and sassy and doesn’t make a big deal about herself, but who lights up the pages.”

—Bharti Kirchner, author of ten books, including her latest, Goddess of Fire: A Novel

“ ‘So I shot Karl.’ With those words, Elena Hartwell’s sleuth, Eddie Shoes, gets her ritual initiation into the bloody world of the PI. Eddie is a fascinating character and One Dead, Two to Go, is a polished first novel. Eddie is a study in 21st Century feminism wrapped in Northwest Gortex and Ms Hartwell is a terrific writer with fine control of the genre, an ear for sharp dialogue, and a smart mouth that makes her work a pleasure to read: ‘I finished the slideshow by adding the pictures of her husband pulling up in front and then him leaving a few hours later along with the shots of the mistress kissing him goodbye. The guy really did have great hair.’ I look forward to the next Eddie Shoes mystery. You will too.”

—Jack Remick, author of the California Quartet series and co-author, The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery

“With a good supporting cast, good conversations (especially Eddie’s internal dialogue) and a comfortable tone, this was an enjoyable read and I can’t wait to read the next book with Eddie, Chava and the gang.”

—Dru’s Book Musings

Private Investigator Edwina “Eddie Shoes” Schultz’s most recent job has her parked outside a seedy Bellingham hotel, photographing her quarry as he kisses his mistress goodbye. This is the last anyone will see of the woman … alive. Her body is later found dumped in an abandoned building. Eddie’s client, Kendra Hallings, disappears soon after. Eddie hates to be stiffed for her fee, but she has to wonder if Kendra could be in trouble too. Or is she the killer?

Eddie usually balks at matters requiring a gun, but before she knows it, she is knee-deep in dangerous company, spurred on by her card-counting adrenaline-junkie mother who has shown up on her doorstep fresh from the shenanigans that got her kicked out of Vegas. Chava is only sixteen years older than Eddie and sadly lacking in parenting skills. Her unique areas of expertise, however, prove to be helpful in ways Eddie can’t deny, making it hard to stop Chava from tagging along.

Also investigating the homicide is Detective Chance Parker, new to Bellingham’s Major Crimes unit but no stranger to Eddie. Their history as a couple back in Seattle is one more kink in a chain of complications, making Eddie’s case more frustrating and perilous with each tick of the clock.

Says Hartwell, “I always start from character. Eddie Shoes came to me by way of my husband. He made up the name one day when we were on a road trip. I got intrigued. Who was this Eddie Shoes? Was that the name her parents gave her? She had to be a private eye, but what was she like? Those questions got me started writing One Dead, Two to Go. I found myself really enjoying Eddie’s company. She’s quirky and flawed and I love her sense of humor. It didn’t take long for me to realize her sidekick was going to be her mother Chava. Chava takes risks her daughter doesn’t, which I thought was interesting. What kind of woman would produce a daughter like Eddie Shoes? I found myself as embroiled in their dynamic as the mystery itself. Those are the kinds of stories I like best, equal attention to plot and character, so that’s what I’ve striven to write. Currently working on the second book in the series, I continue to enjoy spending time with Eddie, and I hope readers do too.”

Elena Hartwell’s writing career began in the theater, where she also worked as a director, designer, producer, and educator. Productions of her scripts have been performed around the U.S. and abroad, with some of her plays are available through Indie Theater Now and New York Theatre Experience, Inc. She lives in North Bend, Washington, with her husband. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

The loud pounding shouldn’t have come as a surprise. After all, the police weren’t used to people slamming doors in their faces, and that’s who I’d just locked out of my office.

“Eddie? What the—? Open the door.” Chance Parker’s voice hadn’t changed. It was still low, but carried a weight to it like every word he spoke mattered. I leaned against the glass with the hope my heart wouldn’t leap out of my chest and splatter on the ground at my, or worse yet his, feet.

The next rap was a knuckle on the glass, instead of the wood frame of the door. The sharp sound of it pulled me out of my panic, and I wrenched the door back open. Just like ripping off a bandage, best to get it over with quick.

“Sorry about that. I thought I heard the phone ring,” I said, my response inexplicable even to myself.

The woman with Chance looked at me like I might be certifiable; he just looked amused. I’m not sure which expression annoyed me more.

“Mind if we come in? We have a few questions for you,” Chance said, though it was clear he wasn’t going to take no for an answer. The “we” included Detective Kate Jarek, who introduced herself and said, “I understand you two know each other.”

“We do,” I said, looking to Chance to see if he planned to fill me in on what he’d told her about our history.

Chance rubbed the side of his cheek as if checking for stubble. It was an action I remembered well—an unconscious gesture he made when he didn’t know exactly how he wanted to respond. Chance was careful with his words, as if they were valuable and he might accidentally drop one he couldn’t afford to lose.

“Down in Seattle,” he said. His eyes held mine, and for an instant I thought he might say more. Something was there in the softness of his gaze, but that brief moment of connection passed and he glossed over a complicated relationship with that single sentence.

I told myself he couldn’t do anything else. Even if it might have felt good to hear he forgave me, now wasn’t the time.

Maybe we could see each other again soon. Alone. And I could find a way to make amends.

“Come on in,” I said, standing aside to let the two of them through the door. I shut it behind them, taking a deep breath before I turned around to face them.

Chance began to pace, his nervous energy filling the room. From the way he averted his gaze from the two of us, I could tell his mind was now focused solely on whatever brought him to my door. I respected that about him. His attention would be directed at you for a moment—intense, all consuming—then he’d turn outward again, as his work took precedence.

Chance was taller than Kate by at least six inches. I could look him in the eye if I were wearing tall shoes, so he stood just over six feet. His hair was brown, but if we were outside, sunlight would glint off red highlights. His eyes were the color of dark chocolate—that satiny look it took on when you melted it on the stove to make some delicious, fattening dessert you knew you shouldn’t eat but couldn’t help yourself from making.

“What can I do for you?” I asked, curious about why a Seattle detective—and my old flame—had appeared on my doorstep up here in Bellingham.

“We’ve got some questions about Deirdre Fox,” Kate said.

That certainly threw me for a loop. I don’t know what I thought they might question me about, but Deirdre Fox wasn’t even in the top ten.

“Okay,” I said, wanting to see where their questions would lead.

“Were you following her or working for her?” Chance asked, confusing me even further.

“Neither,” I said, which was technically true.

“Care to explain this?” Kate handed me a photo that looked like a still picture taken from a video surveillance camera. It wasn’t very high quality, but it was good enough to identify me in my Subaru taking pictures with my telephoto lens. I could tell from the background it was from my stakeout at Hallings’ dealership.

“Why would you think I was tailing Deirdre?” Maybe the woman had filed a report she was being stalked and my name had come up as the stalker.

Maybe I wasn’t as stealthy as I thought.

“Because she turned up dead this morning,” Chance said, carefully gauging my reaction. Shock kept me quiet and he continued, “In recreating her final day, we scanned the videotapes from her place of business, looking for anything unusual. Then you showed up.” Chance tilted his head in that way he had, eyes narrowed, reading your every move, like a cat getting ready to pounce.

Dead?” I repeated, trying to absorb the fact that someone I saw yesterday in her lingerie was no longer breathing.

Ed, Not Eddie, by Max Everhart: A Promising Female Pitcher is Marked for Murder

Ed_not_eddieEd, Not Eddie ($14.95, 252 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-943-5) is the third book in Max Everhart’s mystery/suspense series featuring Eli Sharpe, a former baseball player turned detective. When a young pitcher receives an anonymous death threat, Eli is hired by her father to investigate and receives unexpected help from a long-lost love.

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“With well-developed characters that are colorful and unique, this enjoyable story has a solid plot that flows smoothly and seamlessly from scene to scene, pulling one in as it entertains…. Rich with a well-written story line, vivid descriptions, wit, and smart, snappy dialogue, this intriguing mystery will appeal to readers of many genres and is a welcome addition to any collection.”  Read more….

—Janna Shay for InD’Tale Magazine

Ed, Not Eddie is the best written of the Eli Sharpe mysteries. There are strong characters with an intriguing plot. Best of all the narrative flows smoothly. Pages glide by. It has the potential to be a break through book for Everhart…. Eli has become of my favourite 21st century sleuths. Everhart’s series is the best mystery baseball series I have read since the Kate Henry mysteries of the late Alison Gordon.”  Read more….

—Bill Selnes for Mysteries and More

“This is an excellent read and the author’s characters are very real; in particular, Eli Sharpe and his friend Ernest Carpenter. Readers will enjoy the plot, and root for Eli to discover the criminal before a more serious crime occurs.”

—Mary Lignor, Professional Librarian and Co-Owner of The Write Companion for Suspense Magazine

5 Stars: “Fast-paced, exciting and filled with twists and turns…. Everhart’s characters are complex and authentic, especially Sharpe and his mentor and friend, Ernest Carpenter, but the author makes each and every character seen in this compelling and gritty story stand out in full relief. The plot is first-rate, and I particularly enjoyed the ongoing references to the fictional private eye Jim Rockford and the classic noir mystery writers. Then there’s Ed, the main star of the entire tale, whose story reads like a psychological thriller; one that I’ll be puzzling over for some time. I had a marvelous time reading this book and intend to catch up with the previous books in the series. Ed, Not Eddie is most highly recommended.”  Read more….

—Jack Magnus for Readers’ Favorite

“Max Everhart writes a great story with the twists and turns required for a solid mystery, but the home run in Ed, Not Eddie is his ability to craft dynamite characters. From the wisecracking protagonist Eli Sharpe to the walk-on characters with only a single line, Everhart invents a unique voice for everyone. The small town of Cook, South Carolina, and its division III College, are abuzz with the potentially history-making Ed Leviner. But becoming the first woman to pitch for the majors isn’t the only obstacle dogging Ed (never call her Eddie!). First, she has to live through the big game at the school. Hired to find out if the death threats to Ed are real, Eli soon finds himself embroiled in all the complications of a small town. Sex, drugs, corruption, and baseball make their way into a plot that keeps you guessing. If this is your first foray into the Eli Sharpe mystery series, Ed, Not Eddie will have you scrambling to catch up with books one and two.”

—Elena Hartwell, author of the Eddie Shoes Mystery series

“Former shortstop Eli Sharpe may have struck out in his brief stint as a major leaguer with the Devil Rays, but reinvented as private investigator Eli Sharpe, he touches all the bases in this thriller which will have you sitting on the edge of the bleachers. Sharpe goes extra innings to stop an assassin from permanently retiring a top female prospect before she ever has a chance to take the mound. Another winner from author Max Everhart. Highly recommended!”

—E. Michael Helms, author of the Mac McClellan Mystery series

Ed Leviner is a hot prospect for the Major Leagues, a young pitcher who’s broken every record. She’s also a tough young woman who hates to be called Eddie. And someone in the idyllic Southern town of Cook, South Carolina, has threatened to kill her if she pitches in Wednesday’s game.

It’s Sunday morning, which doesn’t give private eye and ex-ballplayer Eli Sharpe much time to identify the source of these threats. Ed has lots of admirers but few friends and several enemies and detractors in this conservative community. Then there’s her feuding divorced parents, her spurned tutor, a disgraced coach turned evangelical minister, and the local sheriff, a bully whose son is one of Ed’s discarded boyfriends.

Though local law enforcement is oddly unhelpful, Eli is not alone in his search for answers. The TV news team covering the protests is headed up a beautiful anchorwoman from Eli’s past. Is she on his side or not? As usual, Eli is busy raising hackles in a town where there’s more than one mad dog in disguise.

Says Everhart, “A couple of years ago I read an article about Chelsea Baker, a female knuckleball pitcher from Florida who was pitching no-hitter after no-hitter against the boys in her little league. Turned out, she was taught how to throw the pitch by Joe Niekro, a former MLB great. I thought that was kind of cool, so I decided to write a story about a woman knuckleball pitcher who was poised to be drafted into the big leagues.”

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 checked his Seiko. Twelve thirty-three. Practice had been over for half an hour, and the field was empty. The coaches and MLB scouts and media were nowhere to be seen, and her teammates, Eli was sure, were back at the dorms already, playing videogames, or cramming for a chemistry exam, or sneaking in a post-practice beer.

But not Ed Leviner.

Here she was doing bleacher stairs with no shoes on. In full sweats. In eighty-five degree heat. While some nut case was out there threatening to kill her. Eli knew from being around great baseball players for years that it wasn’t money or fame that motivated them. At least those weren’t the primary factors. In fact, motivation, as best Eli could tell, didn’t really factor into the equation. No, it was about biology. There was something inside the great players Eli had met, something at a cellular level, a mutation in their DNA, a genetic quirk that caused them to train endlessly. It was instinct, pure and profound and intangible, and like all true sports fans, Eli recognized that instinct in Ed, that capacity for greatness, and he envied her for it. He’d had the talent at one time, no doubt, but it never occurred to him to train on his days off. And he sure as hell wouldn’t have sprinted up and down, up and down bleachers unless contractually obligated to do so.

Eli glanced around again. No sign of the deputy Sheriff Hege had assigned to watch out for Ed. Curious.

“Seven!” She punched the sign harder this time.

Eli walked through the first base side dugout, crunching sunflower seed shells under foot. He walked onto the field, hoping she’d see him and stop running.

But she didn’t stop.

“Winners never do,” Eli said to himself, his envy morphing slowly into admiration. He waited another ten minutes during which time she didn’t look up once. She just kept pumping her legs up and down, kept punching the advertisement at the top of the stairs and calling out numbers. Eight … ten … twelve ….

Finally she yelled “Twenty!” She punched the advertisement a final time and interlaced her hands behind her head, sucking in large quantities of oxygen.

Eli was waiting for her when she got to the bottom of the bleachers. He straightened the lapels of his jacket and greeted her.

“I’ve read about you,” she said, still catching her breath. “You’re Eli Sharpe, the ballplayer.”

“Ex-ballplayer, actually. I’m a private detective now. Your detective, in fact.”

“I don’t need one.”

“Your father disagrees.”

“Leland is an idiot.” No anger. Just a statement. Eli filed that away as she tossed the sweaty cap onto the bottom bleacher, bent at the waist, and touched her bare toes. An impressive feat, especially for a six-foot-tall woman in sweats.

Deadly Dunes, by E. Michael Helms: Two Fatal “Accidents” Put a Florida PI on Alert

deadly_dunesDeadly Dunes ($14.95, 228 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-347-1) is the third book in a mystery/suspense series by E. Michael Helms set in the Florida Panhandle. Private eye Mac McClellan investigates the death of a young archaeologist whose recent discovery threatens to shut down a planned multi-million dollar Florida bayside community development.

“Helms has a good character in Mac…. A solid hardboiled series.” —Booklist

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Recent Interviews with E. Michael Helms:

Maggie Thom’s Blog

“This story is addictive and an easy one to get lost in as the reader continues to turn pages. The characters are well drawn, the even pace builds tension, and the ending satisfies. The author is adept at creating settings and has an eye for detail giving one the feeling they are a part of the landscape.” Read more….

—Edie Dykeman, BellaOnline mystery reviewer

Deadly Dunes is a fabulous whodunit, written in first person narrative—think Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe—a la classic hardboiled, detective movie style. The writing is nearly flawless, with a nice arc and plausible storylines …. A story that comes highly recommended!” Read more….

—Lori Leger for InD’Tale Magazine

“Another deftly crafted mystery/suspense masterpiece from author E. Michael Helms, Deadly Dunes is the third title in his outstanding Mac McClellan Mystery series. Very highly recommended reading action/adventure mystery buffs, Deadly Dunes is certain to be an enduringly popular addition to community library collections.” Read more….

—Carson’s Bookshelf, The Midwest Book Review Reviewer’s Bookwatch

“Helms returns to the world of Mac McClellan with the same solid writing and captivating mystery that I’ve come to expect from him, but with an added twist this time that made the tale even more captivating for me. I enjoyed the mix of history with the mystery. The aura that permeated the tale was both inviting and suspenseful. Helms has created a work of art, backed up by the beautiful scenery of the area in which he set this novel…. This was a good, clean mystery that had me on my toes from page 1 to the very end. The enjoyable writing style backed up the solid plot to create a novel that mystery lovers will have a ball with.”  Read more….

—Pure Jonel: Confessions of a bibliophile

“Michael Helms has done it again! In this engrossing, nonstop action adventure, Mac McClellan investigates treasure hunters, greedy developers, and even greedier heirs.”

—Connie di Marco, author of the Zodiac Mysteries and (as Connie Archer) author of the national bestselling Soup Lover’s Mysteries

Deadly Dunes, the new Mac McClellan mystery by ex-Marine E. Michael Helms, chews up the landscape in the Florida Panhandle—a phone call, a meeting, the sleuth’s first case, the first corpse, the heat build-up of the killer-quest—where suspects and victims play musical beds in the sticky heat of a Florida summer. The Florida panhandle is a terrific locale for a crime tale. The action is well-paced and the military interlude—where the sleuth shoots photos of a cheating ex-Army husband—is wrought with precision. With this addition to the series, a talented story-teller sings his song.”

—Robert J. Ray, author of the Matt Murdock Murder Mysteries

“E. Michael Helms has the perfect blend of action, suspense and mystery that is sure to grab anyone who like a semi-hard-boiled PI tale. Great dialogue, along with detailed scenes set the mood for every page.”

—Dianne Bylo, Tome Tender Reviews

“Third in the Mac McClellan Mystery series, Deadly Dunes pours across the page with all the heat of a Southern summer night. Determined to make it as a private investigator, E Michael Helms’s retired Marine uses sharp wits and a military background to solve a deadly crime. Balancing life and death on the edge of his KA-BAR combat blade, Mac confronts a colorful host of characters, all of whom lie, cheat, and steal their way onto his list of suspects. But who is setting up whom? And which version of the deceased is the one Mac should believe? Intent on untangling the complex web of relationships to uncover the truth about a mysterious death, Mac still finds time to track down a cheating husband and discover a little ancient treasure in the sand. Add in a sexy locale, exotic dancers, and more twists and turns than salt water taffy on a pulling machine, this clever whodunit is the perfect getaway, a great beach read that includes the actual beach.”

—Elena Hartwell, author of One Dead, Two to Go

“This is a great mystery. I didn’t know who did it until the end because there are a lot of potential killers for many different reasons. There is a lot of action and you can’t help but liking Mac. Mac is a true down home hero. I couldn’t put this book down until the wee hours of the morning. I f you are looking for a great mystery full of thrills and chills I recommend you check out Deadly Dunes.”  Read more….

—J. Bronder Book Review

5 Stars: “Deadly Dunes is a sleuth mystery with good action and suspense. The story is an interesting one that sees its main character and narrator, Mac, constantly forgetting his P.I. training and resorting to doing things in his own amateurish way. I think the dialogue is witty and I like Mac’s dry sense of humor that seemed to irk some characters…. E. Michael Helms writes well and I want to read other books from his Mac McClellan Mystery series, whose protagonist is compelling.”  Read more….

—Michelle Stanley for Readers’ Favorite Reviews

5 Stars: “Author E. Michael Helms knocks it out of the park with his latest addition to the Mac McClellan Mystery Series. Deadly Dunes is a fast-paced mystery with a colorful cast of characters and a well-developed plot that will keep you guessing. Full of witty dialogue and nail-biting suspense, readers will be captivated as they follow along with Mac, from sandy beaches to gritty nightclubs, as he investigates an intriguing trail of clues that will have you reading well into the night. Highly recommended for fans of crime, mystery, and suspense, Deadly Dunes is an entertaining read that is hard to put down.”  Read more….

—Epic Book Quest

“Like a complex stew, there are many layers to Deadly Dunes, the third installment in the highly-entertaining Mac McClellan series…[A] solid mystery with plenty of red herrings and double-crossings to keep the reader guessing until the end. Highly Recommended.”

—Max Everhart, author of the Eli Sharpe Mysteries

“Interesting, enjoyable and engaging. Plenty to like here—decent story, likable main characters, action, humour and a decent resolution. Plenty of legs in Helms’ Mac McClellan yet.”  Read more….

—Col’s Criminal Library

The first Mac McClellan mystery, Deadly Catch, was named Library Journal’s Mystery of the Month and received a starred review: “This debut will resonate with retired military, boomers, and crime fiction fans. Helms’s love of setting and engaging first-person narrative suggest a winning new series is underway.” The second book in the series, Deadly Ruse, won the 2015 RONE Award, sponsored by InD’tale Magazine, for Best Mystery.

Hours after hiring Mac McClellan to investigate the supposed suicide of her archaeologist brother, single-mom Jessie dies in a car accident. Jessie had just showed Mac artifacts and a copy of a map Jake found, items that indicate Hernando de Soto and his explorers might have camped on Five Mile Island during the winter of 1539-1540. Studying the map, Mac determines the site lies in the middle of a planned resort, The Dunes. Declaring the area an historic site could shut the project down. Suspicions aroused, he forges ahead, even though he no longer has a paying client.

Everywhere Mac turns, greed abounds, and no one he interviews seems innocent, even Jessie’s closest friends the Deckers, who have adopted her teenage daughter. Ron Decker’s construction company is building the Dunes, and he is heavily invested in its success. Then there is the oily son and ex-stripper wife of an old curmudgeon who won’t sell the one lot the project still needs to acquire. Jake’s estranged wife Laurel had plenty to gain from his death, and as Mac continues to dig, he begins to wonder if Jessie herself had more at stake than he was led to believe.

No one is happy about Mac’s persistence, and someone is unhappy enough to crash his truck and frame him for yet another murder. But Mac isn’t giving up, no matter what the cost.

Says Helms, “Several years ago my wife and I were enjoying a day at Seaside, Florida, on the beautiful Gulf of Mexico. Seaside was a new and quaint iconic village featuring homes and cottages built around a bustling ‘downtown’ square offering fine and casual dining, food markets, and specialty shops. While enjoying the ambiance of the planned community, I asked myself a question common to all writers: ‘What if?’ What if something of historic significance had been discovered during the early phases of Seaside’s construction? Could it have brought the multi-million dollar project to a halt, potentially bringing ruin to investors who had staked their future on the success of the venture? What lengths might someone be willing to go to make sure the discovery never came to light? Murder, perhaps? I deposited that ‘What if?’ in my memory bank, where it simmered until Mac McClellan reminded me it would make an intriguing story line for his next case, Deadly Dunes.

E. Michael Helms grew up in Panama City, Florida. His memoir about serving in the Marines as a rifleman during some of the heaviest fighting of the Vietnam War, The Proud Bastards, remains in print after twenty-five years, and he recently published a fictional sequel, The Private War of Corporal Henson. A longtime Civil War buff, Helms is also the author of the historical saga, Of Blood and Brothers. Helms lives in South Carolina with his wife Karen. Click here to go to visit Michael online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

“I’m gonna back her up about halfway out and tie off to a stump,” he said. “How long you reckon to be?”

“No longer than it takes,” I said, grabbing the Bounty Hunter in my right hand and using the left to grip the starboard gunnel as I stepped over the side into knee-deep water. I sloshed ashore as Jerry backed the boat into deeper water. After turning to give him a quick wave, I scrambled up the steep bank using handholds of coarse grass to pull against and trying my damndest to avoid a fistful of sandspurs.

By the time I crested the dunes, Jerry had already tied the boat off and was casting a stingray grub into the Stumps for flounder. I took a quick glance around. Nobody seemed to be stirring, so keeping a wary eye out for diamondback rattlers, I worked my way inland for about twenty yards.

During our meeting at Panama Joe’s, Jessie had mentioned that her brother found the artifacts near the bay overlooking what appeared to be a dead forest sticking out of the water. That had to be the Stumps, and most likely the location of the Spaniards’ winter fort, if it had existed. But there was no telling how far out into the bay the small forested peninsula had extended during de Soto’s time. My guess was the main part of the fort was now under several feet of water. From my front pocket, I pulled the map Jessie had given me of what during the 16th century was a seven-mile-long peninsula. I took it out of the protective Ziploc bag. After studying it a minute or so, I slipped it back in the bag and back in my shorts pocket.

My plan was to start inland and work my way in a crisscross pattern toward the bay. Not being familiar with the metal detector, and knowing I was looking for iron objects as well as coins, I turned the discrimination knob low and the sensitivity setting to about midrange and pressed the “All Metal” display. With those settings I’d probably come across a lot of trash, but it was my best shot at finding something worthwhile.

Sweeping the coil back and forth, I almost immediately picked up several beeps of different tones. I pinpointed the object as best I could, then dropped to one knee, pulled the garden trowel I’d borrowed from Kate from my back pocket, and dug into the sand. A few seconds later I flipped up the rim of an old drink can that predated all-aluminum cans.

The next ten or fifteen minutes produced nothing but pull tabs, rusted cans, and other junk. Finally the detector let out a beep different from the ones I’d been hearing. Digging down about four or five inches, I heard the trowel strike something solid and metallic. My adrenaline rushed as I lifted a coin with a trowel-full of sand. Brushing the coin clean, I saw it was an Indian Head penny in rough condition, dated either 1903 or 1908. It was no 16th-century Spanish coin, but what the hell, I figured it had to be worth at least a few cents. The trip wouldn’t be a total loss.

The wind was picking up, and the thunder was getting louder by the minute. Deciding my chances would probably be better closer to the bay, I hurried in that direction. Jerry and I had to motor back to St. George, and I damn sure didn’t want to do it while fighting a gale. About ten feet from the edge where the dunes began to slope downward to the bay the detector cut loose again. I dropped to both knees and began digging. I dug about a foot deep and came up empty, so I passed the coil over the pile of sand I’d excavated to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. Nothing.

I kept digging for another six or eight inches and then an object hit the pile and slid down a couple of inches. At first I thought it was an old bracelet someone had lost years ago. Closer inspection proved it to be several small rusted oblong or circular loops linked tightly together, forming a patch-like object a couple of inches long and maybe an inch and a half wide. I had no idea what it was, but I slipped it into my pocket. You never know.

A few feet away the Bounty Hunter beeped again. Down and digging, I soon turned up a similar object, although this one was a little smaller in length. I dropped it in my pocket with the other one as a voice called out, “Hey, you!”

Oops. I turned and saw a tall lanky man with bushy hair approaching from about fifty yards away. He wore a tan shirt and trousers and a brown ball cap. It wasn’t a county sheriff’s uniform, but I had no intentions of hanging around long enough to find out who the guy worked for.

I scrambled to my feet and trotted toward the ledge as a shot rang out. The SOB was shooting at me, at least in my general direction. I hit the deck, cradling the detector in both arms. Low crawling to the dune wall, I went over head first. I spit out a mouthful of sand and tried to let loose a warning whistle to Jerry, but I doubt you could’ve heard it five feet away.

Turning feet-first, I slid on down the slope and hit the beach running. Jerry had the boat waiting a few feet off the shoreline. I high-stepped through the swallows. Tossing the detector into the boat, I grabbed the bow and pushed for all I was worth. Jerry gunned the motor in reverse. I hung on until I managed to pull myself aboard and flop onto the deck.

“Turn this thing around and get the hell out of here!” I shouted, but Jerry was way ahead of the game. We were thirty or forty yards past the end of the Stumps when another shot rang out, barely discernable above the roar of the Merc 50. By then I was more pissed than scared, and if the Bounty Hunter was an M16 I would’ve had that chicken-shit wannabe cop hugging Mother Earth for all he was worth.

King’s Ransom, by Bestselling Author Mary Daheim: A Royalist Thief Woos a Rebellious Puritan

King's_RansomKing’s Ransom ($14.95, 234 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-367-9) is a reprint of an early historical romance by bestselling author Mary Daheim. Originally published in 1990, King’s Ransom opens in the year 1658, when Oliver Cromwell presided over England’s Commonwealth. A high-born Puritan girl falls for a dashing highwayman whose booty is helping to fund the restoration of the Stuarts to the throne of England.

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“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

Camel Press has reprinted several of Mary’s other early historical romances: Reunion (formerly Pride’s Captive), The Royal Mile (Love’s Pirate), Gosford’s Daughter (Passion’s Triumph), and Destiny’s Dawn. The remaining titles, Improbable Eden and Gypsy Baron, will be released before the end of 2016.

As a ten-year-old girl, Honor Dale watched in horror as her Puritan parents were slaughtered by Royalists. Now nineteen, she is the ward of her uncle, Oliver Cromwell, who rules England as Protector of the Commonwealth. En route to visit her powerful uncle, Honor loses her family’s jewels to the notorious Captain Hood, who steals to fund Charles Stuart’s restoration to the throne. She despises the highwayman’s cause but can’t help responding to his ardent kiss.

Despite the loss of her inheritance, all goes well for Honor under her uncle’s Protectorate, including her betrothal to handsome Sir Tyler Vail. But after Cromwell’s death, the Protectorate founders in the inept hands of his son. Worse yet for Honor, she’s jilted by her fiancé and has become a ward of the sanctimonious Gouges at their towering ivy-covered manor house, Creepers. Honor bridles at their oppressive lifestyle, especially after again crossing paths with Captain Hood. It dawns on her that his vendetta against the Puritans is every bit as justified as hers against the Royalists. What’s more, her spirited nature is far better suited to the dashing highwayman than the bovine Uriah Gouge, who is being foisted upon her as a husband.

But what is Captain Hood’s true nature? Is he a charming, adventurous rake or a desperate nobleman fired by idealism? The Protectorate is toppling and the Royalists are prepared to do battle to put Charles Stuart on the throne. Honor can trust her heart to an outlaw lover, but she can’t prevent him from risking his life for the Royalist cause.

Says the author, “By my fifth historical romance, I felt I was in a 1500s rut. I needed to expand my writing horizons and my knowledge of history. I took the logical step and set what would become King’s Ransom in the middle of the seventeenth century. Of course that meant doing research. Lots of research, because I can’t write a book about a time or a place without feeling as if I’d be at home in that setting and that era. Does that sound fanciful? Maybe. But it works for me. I hope it works for you, too, when you meet Puritan Honor Dale and Royalist Captain Hood. They find themselves at odds when it comes to politics, but like-minded when it comes to love. That’s another thing I learned about the seventeenth century: The heart knows no time or place. And though I don’t know about you, I find that very reassuring.”

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:

“I intend to ask many things of you,” he said, the rugged face hovering over hers. “For now I beg but two. Were you Yorkshire born and bred?”

The question was so unexpected that Honor was caught off guard. “Yes,” she answered simply. “Near Ingleton. But,” she went on bitterly, “the house no longer stands.”

Hood’s grip tightened in her hair, causing her to wince. His features tensed and his skin darkened. “Irony,” he whispered bitterly, “all is not vanity but irony.”

She wanted to ask what he meant, but she held back. For some strange, elusive reason, she feared his answer. Or maybe it was that she knew he had some terrible tale to tell that would arouse her sympathy and blunt her determination to best him in the matter of her dowry. To her relief, he seemed to have regained his aplomb, though he still had his hand entwined in her hair. “The second favor should cause us both less pain,” he said, his mouth twisted into the hint of a smile.

She had forgotten about the other request and started to inquire as to what it might be when his kiss stole words—and breath—away. This was not like Tyler Vail’s bloodless, pristine kisses but a slow, measured assault on her senses that made Honor dizzy. She felt his other arm go round her, pressing her against his chest, while the hand that had stroked her hair now caressed the nape of her neck.

The proper thing to do, of course, was to struggle, to rain blows upon this importunate fraud, to kick and fight and surely to scream. But Captain Hood seemed to render her will useless. Instead of fending him off, she discovered that her arms had slipped around him, that her mouth was yielding to his probing tongue, that she was utterly helpless in his embrace. The revelation should have been humiliating, but was instead delicious.

He drew away, just far enough to see her face, the shimmering dark eyes under gold-tipped lashes, the flush across her cheekbones, the inviting mouth still slightly open.

“I want you,” he said simply in that low voice, which wasn’t quite as calm as usual. “But not now, not until you’re well.” His hand strayed to the opening of her collar, but at last Honor jerked back. Her brain was in chaos. She needed time to order her thoughts. The man was ten times as bold as he had any right to be.

Yet, she thought, as away from his touch the excitement in her blood cooled, his very conceit should play nicely into her hands. “You take advantage of my helplessness,” she accused him, but there was no bite in the words. “You also play upon my generous nature. Any other maid would have raised an alarm.”

“No, not really.” He spoke seriously but then broke into an engaging smile. “Most maids are very kindhearted. I always marvel at their bountiful natures.”

Honor’s eyes sparked and she had to look away; Captain Hood was on the brink of going too far. “You mock me, sir. You would toy with my affections yet make light of my feelings.” Having gotten her temper under control, she risked gazing at him head-on. “For shame, Captain! To think I dared defend you!”