The 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 ($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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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.
Voracious 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
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“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?”
“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.”
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.
Human sacrifice and an impending apocalypse sure can throw a wrench in the holiday season.
Ruler of Demons ($13.95, 214 pp., ISBN: 978-1-60381-905-3), by Scott A. Lerner, is the sequel to the urban fantasy thriller, Cocaine Zombies, which won a Bronze medal in the 2012 IPPY Awards.
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“There are exciting twists in the fast-placed plot that raise the stakes for our heroes. Ruler of Demons doesn’t feel like a horror story, but there’s strong tension and entertaining banter throughout the book. It’s the only novel about demons, mutilation, and the apocalypse that can potentially leave a smile on the reader’s face.”
—Brian Bandell for the New York Journal of Books
“A FUN book! The main character has a really cool sense of humor (even if he is a lawyer) and even when he is about to get killed he doesn’t completely lose it. The book does have its dark side but on the whole it is the sort of book you should read when the weather is bad and you need cheering up ….The mystery part of the story was really well done too. You really don’t know right up till the end exactly how it will go. Every time I thought I had it figured out…some other thing got thrown in to shake things up.” Read more ….
—Simple Wyrdings Blog
“The novel is jam-packed with details from TV and movie references to mouth-watering descriptions of local cuisine. Lerner has a keen eye for the world his characters inhabit making it come alive for the reader in all three dimensions. Overall, the mystery aspect is intriguing, but it’s the banter between Sam and Bob that holds the book together.” Read more ….
—Carol Robart, The Plot Thickens Blog
“Ruler of Demons is well written, with plenty of humor and plenty of adventure and Lerner’s cast of characters are intriguing and intelligent. Readers who like a bit of weirdness and darkness in their reading (kind of like my oldest son!) will adore this.” Read more ….
—Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
“Sam’s a fun character who inhabits a world full of them. Their interactions are natural and entertaining and the tension builds nicely as the book progresses. I found myself anxious to see how it all turned out and ended up reading it in a day. I recommend this for anyone who likes a good mystery with religious overtones.” Read more ….
—Jamie White’s Culture Shock Blog
“One of the best techniques in this thriller is the pace. Your heart will race. But you won’t have a heart attack, because the author is skilled in breaking up the pace with humor. Sam’s and Bob’s banter will make you laugh. Sometimes you have to stop and think, and then you’ll guffaw…. They’re clever, witty, and likeable. I think everyone will enjoy this story. You won’t figure it out. You won’t expect any of the twists the characters find themselves going through. You won’t want the world to end.” Read more ….
—The One True Faith Blog
“The changes in location help place the novel in the religious and historical framework that Lerner constructs. An archeological site in Israel grounds the story in antiquity. A French farmhouse built on the remnants of a Catholic church adds a spiritual element. The rooftop of a Chicago skyscraper brings things back to the modern threat that evil poses complete with an elaborately constructed altar. All of these settings combine with a protagonist who is more of a suburban atheist than anything else. Sam’s belief in logic and living in the now directly opposes the nature of the crimes he’s trying to solve, giving the book an added sense of tension as the reader is forced to look at things from the outside in…. RULER OF DEMONS might not be bursting with peace on earth and yuletide cheer, but for the murder mystery fan who gravitates toward the macabre, it makes the perfect stocking stuffer.” Read more ….
“What pulled me in about this novel were the characters. Sam and Bob have a great friendship. I loved how Bob always started about food, and how Sam managed to stay calm, no matter what. Their inside jokes made me feel connected to them. Sam was a bit of an average Joe, which made him all the more intriguing when he’s thrown in the world of the supernatural. He’s just a regular guy, and now he’s dealing with all this stuff he knows next to nothing about, all because of that one time he fought evil and won. The way they manage to keep being lighthearted, even in the face of danger, made this book unique …. All in all, a great, enjoyable read.”
—Majanka, I Heart Reading Blog
Only eleven shopping days till Christmas. And less than a week to save the world.
Three nuns—in Chicago, Paris, and Jerusalem—have been killed in a religious ritual. The choice of victims and the macabre details of their deaths indicate that someone is following a recipe provided on an ancient text—a recipe to unleash the forces of hell on earth. The final sacrifice must occur on the Winter Solstice.
Samuel Roberts, a small-town attorney in Urbana, Illinois, knows a bit about the supernatural, having triumphed at least once over the forces of evil. Thanks to a friend who is aware of Sam’s little known previous efforts on behalf of mankind, Sam is hired by a big Chicago law firm to take on a sensitive case. His mission? Nothing less than halting the impending apocalypse.
Sam and his good buddy Bob travel first to Jerusalem then Paris in a desperate race to save mankind.
Says the author, “Whenever the world goes through massive change there are individuals and groups who believe the world is coming to an end. What better time than now for a tale about the end of times? With my fiction, I always try to tap into people’s pre-existing fears. Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam all reference demons. Demons go beyond religion, appearing in myths and folk tales. I also wanted to take Sam out of Urbana, Illinois, and challenge him outside his comfort zone, let him grow as a person. This is not a book about religion. It is about fear and the ultimate evil. It deals with some dark ideas without losing its sense of humor.”
Author and attorney Scott A. Lerner resides in Champaign, Illinois. He obtained his undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and went on to obtain his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign. He is currently a sole practitioner in Champaign, Illinois. The majority of his law practice focuses on the fields of Criminal law and Family Law. Mr. Lerner lives with his wife, their two children, and their cat Fern. Lerner collects unusual antiques and enjoys gardening, traveling, reading fiction and going to the movies. You can find Scott online at Scottlerner.camelpress.com.
Keep Reading for an excerpt:
I turned the knob to my front door to find it unlocked. I don’t always remember to lock my door so I was not overly alarmed. On the other hand the dead bird combined with the unlocked door did put me on edge. Since my last supernatural entanglement, I had begun to leave a Louisville Slugger in the umbrella rack by the door.
I slowly opened the door. Nothing appeared out of place, but I grabbed the bat and slowly made my way through each room of my house. I found no sign of intruders.
I decided it was safe and put the bat back where I had stashed it. It was almost seven-thirty and I had still not eaten. Not to be critical, but the wake could have used some snacks and Irish whiskey.
I thought about cooking some traditional Irish delicacy in honor of Mrs. O’Neill but the closest thing I had in the kitchen was a year-old box of Lucky Charms. I kept meaning to get to that. My fear of refrigerators had mostly dissipated over the last year, and I decided to risk a roast beef sandwich. I opened the crisper bin and gathered a container of roast beef, some sliced sharp cheddar cheese, and some Grey Poupon mustard.
I placed them on the kitchen table. I was about to retrieve the sourdough bread from the bread box when something caught my attention. In the middle of the table was a silver pocket watch case. I do have a number of watches, but I don’t store them in the kitchen. I also don’t own a pocket watch.
I picked up the case. On the front was an engraving of three stalks of wheat. The kernels where plated in gold. Behind the wheat was a large cross, also in gold.
Yellow guilloche enamel covered the entire back side. The engraving there looked to be of a small shield with a sword behind it. The hilt of the sword had two cross guards. Above the shield, a hat with long tassels framed the sword and shield. There was a tiny hallmark on the neck of the case of Minerva as well as a small diamond with initials inside that had been mostly rubbed away. I could tell there were two letters but I could only identify an “S.”
This case was expensive and well made. If it had been left here by a robber, then they didn’t fully understand their job. I sat down and pushed the button attached to the neck of the case. When the case opened, I immediately recognized my error; this was not a watch case but a pyx—the silver case priests hold the host in.
I understand that the host is supposed to transform into the body of Christ once ingested, but not until it is placed in the mouth. Inside the case was a puddle of blood. The blood surrounded the tip of a severed tongue like a tiny moat.
Some evil force was trying to get me to lose weight by making it so I would never enter this room again. Then and there I decided I would rather dine out for the rest of my life than risk facing another body part in my kitchen.
Then I noticed something else. Like a Satanic fortune cookie, there was a tiny note inside the pyx, under the tongue. The note was written in brown script as though it was penned using a fountain pen and left out in the sun for a generation. It read, “Silence is Golden.”
I had been sitting in stunned silence for a golden moment when the telephone rang.
Miss Billings Treads the Boards ($14.95, 266 pp., ISBN: 978-1-60381-915-2) is Camel Press’ third reprint of a Carla Kelly regency romance. First published in 1993, the novel features a gentlewoman who joins an acting troupe during a time when stage acting was considered scandalous. Camel has also reprinted Ms. Kelly’s first novel, the historical romance Daughter of Fortune, as well as a new title, The Double Cross, the first of the Spanish Brand series, set in the Spanish Colony of New Mexico.
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On Feb. 1, 2014, Camel Press will release Miss Milton Speaks her Mind. With This Ring and Mrs. McVinnie’s London Season will also be released in 2014. Miss Whittier Makes a List and Miss Chartley’s Guided Tour are already available.
Ms. 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.
Ms. 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.” Wrote Library Journal has called her “one of the most respected Regency writers.”
Cynical, lazy Lord Grayson is coerced into delivering a message to lovely Katherine Billings, whose late father frittered away a fortune on artwork. All his purchases were forgeries, save one, which—if sold—would offer Kate a modest living. Meanwhile, Kate has bowed to necessity and set off for Wakefield to become a governess. Gently reared, she has no plans to become a scandalous actress, but Things Happen.
Injured by a highwayman hired by his greedy nephew, Lord Grayson staggers to a barn where a play is in progress. There he sees Kate, playing a small role. Through a mishap, she has ended up in Wickfield, not Wakefield, and is performing with the Bladesworth Traveling Company, an acting troupe.
What’s a lazy and cynical marquis to do? Using his everyday name, Lord Grayson—Hal Hampton—joins the troupe, partly to protect himself from his nephew, but mostly to get to know Kate better. They both fall under the spell of the impecunious but talented Bladesworths. A charming French émigré, a single-minded Bow Street Runner, and love round out a summer where the repertory includes deception, faux marriage, the law, and enough unsavory characters to suit any would-be Shakespeare. After all, the play’s the thing.
Says Kelly, “The inspiration for Miss Billings Treads the Boards came from my husband. Before he retired, he was director of theater at several universities around the United States. His job, yes, but this meant that we all lived and breathed theatre, up to and including making costumes and acting in some of his productions. My own interest in history compelled me to look back a few centuries to English repertory theatre in the early 1800s. This was an era when the living was precarious, and actors were held in ill-repute—a perfect time to write about. England has long nurtured its repertory theatrical troupes that continue to tread the boards in regional theatres throughout the country. With that knowledge, it wasn’t too hard to imagine the Bladesworth Traveling Company. The result was Miss Billings Treads the Boards. And Billings, itself? I have a lot of relatives in and around Billings, Montana.”
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. You can find Carla online at www.CarlaKellyAuthor.com.
Keep reading for an excerpt:
When Lord Grayson regained consciousness, he found himself facedown on the wagon bed, staring at a pile of wooden swords next to bony, skeletal toes. He closed his eyes again, declaring to himself, “When I open them, I will be in bed at Half Moon Street.”
He opened one eye and then the other, but the view was still swords and toes. He lay where he was, unable to summon the energy to roll over and constricted by the narrow space. His head throbbed like a species apart, pounding like a pile driver on the back of his neck. With some effort he worked his hand up to his head, feeling again the furrow caused by Wilding’s bullet. The wound was crusted with dried blood.
His hand traveled to the back of his neck, where the pile driver was working the hardest, and came away wet with his blood. As he lay there contemplating this new ruin to his head, he remembered a woman with a remarkable bosom. Surely not, he thought. He remembered that she was small and could not possibly have had the strength to deliver the blow that was even now making him queasier by the minute. She must have struck me with something, he concluded. God, what a woman. I hope I do not see her again until I feel better.
Grunting softly, Henry eased himself up. He sat absolutely still until the nausea went away and then leaned back carefully against the pile of old clothing. He thought at first that he would leave the wagon before anyone returned, but he could not. He ached everywhere, and even the tiniest shifting of position made the hairs rise on his back.
As he sat considering his situation, he heard a great wave of applause from the barn. What is going on in that place, he asked himself. It couldn’t be a cockfight. People didn’t applaud like that at cockfights, at least, not the ones he had attended. His hand went to the back of his neck again. And rarely did women with blunt objects and magnificent bosoms frequent such low business. He sighed and resigned himself to whatever fate awaited, sorry that he had taken off his riding coat, now that the night was cooler, and grateful that he still had his wallet in his pocket. Surely he could buy his way out of any trouble.
In a few moments he heard the sound of people leaving the barn. They talked among themselves in low tones, with an occasional burst of laughter. In another moment the light from a candle thrust in his face made him squint and try to cover his eyes.
“Ods bodkins,” boomed out a hearty voice that made his head throb even harder. “Whatever did you catch here, Kate?”
“Oh, please talk softer,” he begged. “My head is killing me.
A great rumble of laughter from the man holding the candle washed over him. “It’s no wonder, m’boy. You’ve been crowned with a candlestick.” The man sniffed Henry’s shirt-front. “Well, you don’t appear to have been drinking. Let me give you a hand up.”
Before he could protest, the giant of a man lifted him to his feet. Henry’s knees buckled under him, and he sagged to the floor. Helplessly he waved the man away. “Please just leave me alone and let me die in peace.”
But the giant wouldn’t leave him alone. The man whistled. “Kate, there’s blood all over his shirt.” The man called to others. “Let this be a warning to anyone who tries to bother Miss Billings.”
One Dog Too Many ($14.95, 292 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-967-1) is a cozy mystery by Lia Farrell about the murder of a scrappy young woman who manages country music performers in Tennessee. This is the first book in a series featuring amateur detective and dog whisperer, Mae December. Coming in 2014: Two Dogs Lie Sleeping.
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“The author has worked carefully on the setting so that I really did feel as if I were a part of this rural town and I could picture the scenes as well as the people. Character interactions and the descriptions of daily life definitely ring true, and the characters seem to be very real. Fans of the cozy mystery will certainly enjoy adding Mae December to their list of charming detectives.” Read more ….
–Long and Short Reviews
“A lively tale with plenty of twists, turns, and unexpected situations to satisfy the most ardent cozy mystery lover. The story is told in several voices, including Mae, Sheriff Ben, and Detective Wayne, with Mae’s best friend Tammy piping in occasionally, giving the tale several viewpoints of the mystery. Farrell’s additional cast of characters are fun folks to get to know, and the setting of the Tennessee countryside is charming. Animal lovers will enjoy the interaction with Mae’s kennel customers, and fans of whodunnits will love figuring out the intriguing plot as the story moves along …. A fine introduction to what promises to be an exciting series to follow.” Read more ….
—Sharon Galligar Chance, Fresh Fiction
“The story is a combination of police procedural, rocky romance (at least two of them), and a stroll through the world of dogs. Even for readers who don’t find canines especially appealing, this novel—written by a mother/daughter pair—still has its charm. The plot is fairly straightforward, the major protagonists are believable, and the perpetrator’s motives are quite understandable.” Read more ….
—John A. Broussard, I Love a Mystery
“A tidy little mystery peppered with likeable characters, interesting back stories, and lots of canine lore. One Dog Too Many is an entertaining book to read on a lazy day.”
—Mary Marks, The New York Journal of Books
5 Thumbs Up: “What a great start to a series. This debut novel contains exactly all the right ingredients needed to make a perfect cozy mystery…. Through a crisp writing style the authors bring their characters not only to life, but has them serving sweet iced tea to the reader as they progress through this book, and in this way it I found it very easy to connect with them and establish a relationship; even their gossip made me feel included in their everyday lives.” Read more …..
—Cate Agosta, Cate’s Book Nut Hut
“With an equal mix of charm and intrigue, Lia Farrell has created a twisty tale of murder and wagging tails.”
—Jane Cleland, author of The Josie Prescott Antiques Mysteries
“Dog lovers and cozy mystery fans alike will be charmed by this first book in an exciting new series featuring Tennessee dog breeder Mae December. One Dog Too Many gets off to a fast start as the Lia Farrell writing team pulls the reader into a dog-gone good tale of murder set in the beauty of the Middle Tennessee countryside.”
—Marie Moore, author of the Sidney Marsh Mysteries
“Lia Farrell has created a strong debut mystery in One Dog Too Many. The plot is intricate, the characters well-developed, and the setting charming. Dog-lovers and mystery fans alike will enjoy this fast-moving tail … um, tale.”
—Jennie Bentley, USA Today bestselling author of the Fatal Fixer Upper series
Mae December runs a successful dog boarding business in Tennessee. When her neighbor, Ruby Mead-Allison, fails to pick up her unruly Pomeranian from Mae’s kennel, Mae pokes around and discovers the woman’s body. It is clad in one red boot, and there is a vehicle counting cord wrapped around its neck.
While delving into the mystery of Ruby’s death, Mae encounters handsome Sheriff Ben Bradley. Together they find no shortage of suspects. Ruby was standing in the way of a project that would widen the road and make the area safer. Was she killed by an angry neighbor? Her estranged husband? Her disinherited brother? The sheriff may not appreciate Mae’s amateur detecting, but he does respond to her as a woman. Meanwhile the murderer thinks it’s time to put a permanent stop to Mae’s meddling.
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.
Says Lyn, “Skimming the Sunday paper together, we found an article about a heated legal battle over the widening of a nearby country road. The Highway Commissioner was working to widen and improve the road, but one resident was fighting the project and had filed numerous lawsuits to stop the action, creating lots of controversy and friction. It occurred to us that the real life situation would make an interesting backdrop for a murder mystery.”
Keeping reading for an excerpt:
“Sheriff, I’m not considered a suspect, am I? I’d be the last person to wish Ruby dead. You know I only wanted to get Elvis out of here and back to her.”
“So you said. Elvis isn’t much of an alibi, though. I’d like to see him, by the way. Is he in the kennel?”
“Actually, Patrick let him out last night and he didn’t come back. He’s the dog I was out looking for earlier.”
“Elvis is missing?”
“Yes, he’s missing, but hopefully not for long. He’s a tough little dog and he’s fast. I’m sure he’ll be back soon. Patrick will tell you the same thing.”
The sheriff looked frustrated. Mae quietly added some fresh coffee to his cup and glanced enquiringly at Deputy Phelps, who shook his head. Mae turned her attention back to the sheriff.
“Miss December, let me read this to you, please. It’s what I have in my notes from our conversations. ‘On March eighteenth, Mae December (of fifteen oh nine Little Chapel Road) went to Ruby Mead-Allison’s house in hopes of finding her at home. She planned to return Ms. Mead-Allison’s dog that she was boarding. She noted a red boot in the flowerbed by the rear of the house, put the boot in her tote bag and brought it to the sheriff’s office.’ Did you do anything else while you were there?”
“Well, I set her mailbox back up on the post—it was down in the ditch. Oh, and it was empty. Ruby must have gotten home before yesterday and picked up her mail. I also peeked in the garage window and opened the side door. Her car was there. Did I mention that she drove herself to the airport? When I saw her car, I knew she’d returned from her vacation.”
“All right, I’ll add that. ‘On March nineteenth, Mae December walked her dogs around eight fifteen a.m. when Mr. Jack Ryan approached, without his dog.’ ” He paused. “Tell me what happened then.”
“I spoke to him about his ankle, which he thought might be sprained, and I walked him home. Then I went past the place where I saw him originally and started calling his dog, Toast.”
He smiled. “There are an awful lot of dogs in this case.”
She nodded absently, still upset at recounting her discovery of Ruby’s body.
“What happened next?”
“I kept calling Toast. I found her near a small grove of trees. When I got close enough, I noticed she was in a full point position.”
“Okay, and this grove of trees that the dog was pointing to is near the road you live on, but about thirty yards off the road, correct? It was actually on Ruby’s property?”
“Yes, right. I went to see what she was pointing at and noticed something red at the base of one of the trees.” She stopped, overcome with nausea.
“Go on. What happened then?”
“Just a minute.” Mae went to the refrigerator and took out a pitcher of fruit tea. She poured a glass and added ice. She stood and looked out her window for a moment, seeing the lush spring morning that contrasted starkly with Ruby’s demise. She took a few deep breaths to compose herself before she turned back to the sheriff.
“When I got over to the trees, I saw a red boot. The boot was on a foot. Ruby’s foot.”
Keeping Secrets ($14.95, 294 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-947-3), the second book in the Laurel and Helen New York Mystery series, which began with Telling Lies. Coming in 2014, The Hard Way. After discovering that her fiancé is lying about his identity, a woman goes missing, prompting magazine editor Laurel Imperiole and PI Helen McCorkendale to investigate. As they uncover a collaboration between the mob and the banking industry, they find their own lives in danger.
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“Cathi Stoler blends suspense and human drama effortlessly in Keeping Secrets. She explores a very real problem in a dramatic and exciting way that will leave readers gasping for breath and wondering where the plot will take them next.” Read more ….
—Kait Provost, I Love a Mystery
“It’s said that books can’t be judged by covers, and the characters in Cathi Stoler’s Keeping Secrets are all more than they seem. And in New York, a city fast and grand enough for anyone to reinvent themselves, it seems identity theft is epidemic. Stoler knows Manhattan and, in this, her second novel, she has her characters, who live and love on that improbable island, well in hand. Those secrets will out.”
—David Simon, Author of Treme & The Wire
“With precise writing and a knowing eye, Cathi Stoler depicts Manhattan’s exclusive clubs, trendy restaurants, and upscale shops, and then, secret by secret, reveals a terrifying underside. No one is safe, least of all Laurel Imperiole and Helen McCorkendale, who must employ all of their considerable courage and savvy to survive. Keeping Secrets keeps you hooked to the very end.”
—Kevin Egan, author of Midnight
“A smart modern mystery with an appealing heroine that I would love to have for a friend.”
—Laura Joh Rowland, author of The Shogun’s Daughter
“Cathi Stoler nails the hip, downtown NY scene in Keeping Secrets, a fun, breezy suspense novel that asks the question How well do we really know those closest to us? When a journalist receives a series of emails too intriguing to ignore it sets her on a path that’s dangerous for the sender—and for herself. Luckily, she’s aided by a smart, female PI and a fashionista best friend who’ll make sure she’s trim and well-dressed as she gets the story and tracks down the truth about two mysterious men. A strong new entry in the series.”
—Rosemary Harris, Anthony and Agatha finalist and author of Pushing Up Daisies and The Bitches of Brooklyn
“It’s great to read a contemporary mystery with two strong female leads who are friends without being sidekicks. Cathi Stoler writes about the problems faced by modern women sympathetically, but in a way that also reminds us that certain dilemmas are timeless. The burgeoning love triangle between Laurel, Matt, and Aaron, for example, is echoed in Helen’s navigation of her own tricky relationships with Mike and Joe. The romances are just as colorful as the mysteries unraveled here, and just as satisfyingly resolved.” Read more ….
—Doreen Sheridan, CriminalElement.com
Laurel Imperiole, a reporter for New York’s Women Now magazine, has just received a series of emails from Anne Ellsworth, a young woman in fear for her life. Anne has discovered that her fiancé has several aliases and is terrified of what he will do if he finds out. Laurel, who empathizes with Anne, sees an opportunity to rescue her and write a story on hidden identities that will help her readers avoid similar predicaments. Helen McCorkendale, a private eye and close friend, agrees to investigate both Anne’s fiancé, David, and Laurel’s banker boyfriend, Matt. Laurel had planned to use Matt as the good guy in the story—the one with nothing to hide—but Anne’s situation and Matt’s sudden strange behavior are making her paranoid.
Soon Helen and Laurel find that they have stirred up a hornet’s nest buzzing with vengeful Mafiosi, greedy bankers, and dirty politicians. In desperation they turn to Aaron Gerrard, Laurel’s ex-boyfriend and head of New York’s Identity Theft Squad, for advice. Aaron, who has never forgiven Laurel for “betraying” him by concealing information important to one of his cases, reluctantly agrees to help.
The women discover that everything is connected, and everyone has something to hide. Will the secrets Laurel and Helen disclose keep them alive or seal their fates?
Says Stoler, “I decided to write Keeping Secrets after seeing news story after news story about identity theft and people taking over other people’s lives. It seemed like the problem had reached epidemic proportions and that few understood how to protect themselves from becoming victims. I wondered about motivation. Was it money, which is a theme I explored, or something else, such as simply wanting to leave their own lives behind? How would this actually affect a significant other, someone who had no inkling that the person they loved was a fraud?”
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. Other than novels, Cathi has 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:
Helen grabbed her purse, fished out her keys and walked to the street. She checked her watch and figured there’d be enough time for a really quick look around one of the many thrift shops in the area. She loved having so many to choose from between Twenty-third Street and Thirtieth Street, and checked them out on a regular basis. She also often stopped in at the New York Works Thrift Shop and Yesterday, both close to her Twenty-third Street office. They’re a great source for my disguise closet. Best of all, it never costs me a fortune.
At Yesterday, there was a gently worn navy blue uniform jacket. It had great possibilities. She could add a Verizon or Time Warner Cable TV logo on the front pocket and pass for one of their workers. With a clipboard or utility bag in hand, Helen could instantly gain access to almost any building in the city. After scooping up a few scarves and a big straw hat, she was on her way.
I’m starving. It must be all this poking around to find new disguises. Enough shopping, I need food. Her stomach rumbled in noisy agreement. She walked the few blocks uptown, toward Leonardo, her favorite gourmet shop in the neighborhood. As she entered the shop, the wonderful smells of cheese, bread, pasta and fruit made her mouth water.
“Ciao, Franco,” she said.
“Ciao, Signorina, Helen. What can I get for you today?” Franco, the young man behind the cheese counter with a smile on his face, knife in hand, was ready to slice off a chunk of whatever struck her fancy.
“I’ll take a piccolo piece of Pecorino Pienza,” Helen separated her thumb and index finger about two inches, to show him how much. It was her favorite: a delicate, flavorful cheese made in the tiny Italian town for which it was named. “I’ll also have some Prosciutto di Parma and a good loaf of your Tuscan semolina. Grazie.”
Adding a bag of hazelnut biscotti for good measure, she checked out. I must have been Italian in my last life. All those Italiani living the good life in Tuscany, Lombardi, and Emilia Romagna had it made when it came to the food department.
Then there are those Italian men; she shook her head, thinking of her last two relationships, and her burgeoning one with Mike Imperiole. The problem was that too many of them had a, “I must be treated like an Italian Prince” thing going on, thanks to mothers who doted on them from infancy into adulthood—or quasi-adulthood as it often turned out. Well, she couldn’t put Mike in that category. He seemed to be past all that and appreciated her for the smart, independent woman she was … except when he thought she was doing something he considered too dangerous, which was about fifty percent of the time. She loved spending time with him as long as they didn’t talk about her work.
Laughing at the irony, Helen took in one last deep breath of the aroma of cheese, prosciutto and bread to sustain her for the short walk home, then ambled toward the corner. I’ll have a delicious lunch in my garden, do some Internet searches and phone work for my regular clients, then meet with Laurel, all before tailing Ralphie. What a life!
Helen thought back to when she had decided to become a private investigator. She had attended a seminar on a lark while studying at NYU, doing post-graduate work in sociology. The guest speaker, a representative of the Holmes Detective Agency, made his job sound a lot more interesting than the dry, human behavior courses she was taking, or the counseling job she’d considered accepting while completing her master’s degree. Helen realized sociology and detective work had elements in common, such as understanding different personalities and modes of behavior, and she liked the idea of blending the two.
After the detective’s presentation, she joined the laughing group that had gathered around him to ask more questions. He made it seem like detective work was fun and Helen took his card.
As Helen could now tell anyone interested in the profession, it was a lot of things—exciting, intriguing, dangerous, exhausting and financially rewarding. But fun? Not exactly. Today, with everything going on, she felt like a top spinning out of control, its string wound tighter and tighter before being tossed to the ground with a really hard flip of the wrist.
Breathe. Slow down. Everything will get done when it gets done. Good advice, especially on a beautiful day like today, but hard to follow when there’s so much to do. Helen neared the corner and was about to cross the avenue when a black Lincoln with tinted windows ran the light, flew across Thirtieth Street and headed straight for her. She tried to step back, but with her groceries and thrift shop purchases in her arms, her balance was off. As the car accelerated, she began to pinwheel forward.
She had just managed to straighten up and move back a few inches when the car’s side mirror caught her arm and sent her packages flying. She landed hard on the sidewalk and struggled to catch her breath as the people around her stared. “Are you okay?” A young woman, clutching a large artist’s portfolio to her chest, looked stricken.
“Did you see that?” A man in a denim jacket knelt beside her and reached for her arm, offering his help.
“Yo, lady, you gotta be more careful!” A young boy whizzed by on his skateboard, tossing advice over his shoulder.
Everyone talked to her in that excited mix of outrage and entitlement New Yorkers used for every unexpected occasion.
Looking up from the ground, Helen felt she was bobbing back and forth in a sea of legs, arms, and faces. She peered through a gap in the limbs of the people surrounding her and caught a glimpse of the runaway car. It sped around the corner, right tail light blinking as it took the turn with tires screeching. Helen’s arm throbbed, and her carefully chosen lunch was scattered all over the sidewalk. The people around her helped her stand, but she struggled to feel steady on the concrete. A cold chill ran down her spine. She was sure there were Jersey tags on the big Lincoln.
Looking for your BSI fix as you wait for the latest episode in the From the Files of the BSI series? In coming months Camel Press will be releasing several novellas featuring standalone episodes in the history of the Bureau of Supernatural Investigation. The first is “Oil’s Not Well in Odessa.” These will eventually be published in one volume, but for now they are only available on Amazon at the low cost of $.99.
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A year or two after the end of World War II, decorated hero Murph is adrift in Odessa, Texas, plagued by nightmares of the battlefield as he drums up the courage to tell a buddy’s wife about her husband’s death. At a diner he overhears two roughnecks discussing the evil that haunts their oil rig. Having witnessed horrors beyond human understanding in Germany, he believes the men’s fears are well-founded and sets out to investigate.
At the McLean Rig he meets Laney, an agent for a secret branch of the U.S. government, The BSI (Bureau of Supernatural Investigation). Laney’s colleagues are trapped in the caverns below the rig and there’s no time to wait for backup. Laney tries to warn Murph away but in the end has no choice but to accept his offer of help.
The beings Murph encounters below the surface of the earth will test the limits of his courage, imagination, and sanity.
“Oil’s Not Well in Odessa” is the first novelette in the “From the Files of the BSI” series, which to date includes three full-length novels. A fourth, Chicago, The Windigo City, will be released in January of 2014.
A Secondhand Murder ($14.95, 260 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-935-0), is a cozy mystery by Lesley A. Diehl about a consignment shop owner in rural Florida who finds her own life in danger after a customer is knifed to death in one of her store’s fitting rooms.
A Secondhand Murder is the first book in a new mystery series featuring amateur sleuth, Eve Appel. Lesley has five other published mysteries: A Deadly Draught, Poisoned Pairings, Dumpster Dying, Angel Sleuth, and Grilled, Chilled, and Killed.
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“Lesley A Diehl is a very clever writer. Most of the time I can figure out the murderer in a book but this one kept me guessing right until the end.” Read more ….
—Sharon Salituro, Fresh Fiction Reviews
“Fun from Page one! …. Not only is A Secondhand Murder filled to the brim with entertaining characters, but the mystery contained in its page is also well crafted. Everyone, even Eve, seemed to have some sort of secret. I enjoyed peeling back all the layers of this story as I tried to figure out what was related to the murder and what wasn’t. I absolutely enjoyed reading A Secondhand Murder. The web of murder and deceit is well spun, but the characters Ms. Diehl has created are truly the shining stars of this book. Anyone looking for a laugh out loud, fast paced mystery would do well to pick up A Secondhand Murder today.” Read more ….
–Long and Short Reviews
“A full cast of zany and dangerous characters makes this cozy mystery a fun read. With laugh out loud scenes and some scary moments, this book is so hard to put down and when the end did come, I found myself wondering what madcap adventure awaits the reader in the next book. I loved it!!” Read more ….
—Kathleen Kelly, Celtic Lady’s Reviews
“I’ll have to personally recommend this book to all of friends who love cozies. It’s a great mystery, with a little suspense, a little romance, some slapstick, and most of all, characters who feel like family. I read it in one sitting. Is it one sitting if you stop to put another log on the fire, pour a tall glass of apple pie vodka and let the dogs out? At any rate, I didn’t want to stop reading, and stayed up late to finish. It was worth it.” Read more ….
—Ryder Islington, author of Ultimate Justice
“Thrift with a murderous twist … vivid Florida setting with lots of suspense and humor.”
—Kathleen Delaney, author of the Ellen McKenzie Mystery Series
“Author Lesley A. Diehl blends humor and suspense into a delightful tale of intrigue. Diehl has created likable, realistic characters that will have you laughing as you try to guess who the killer is. A Secondhand Murder flows at a steady pace with some interesting twists along the way. The setting is inviting and the story will draw you in.” Read more ….
—Mason Canyon, Thoughts in Progress Blog
“An extremely fun and wickedly entertaining cozy mystery. The quirky characters and the complex entanglements each of them have with the deceased and the protagonist is the best part of the book. The author creates a well-plotted, light-hearted mystery that has some really good laugh out loud scenes. Cozy mystery lovers will thoroughly enjoy A Secondhand Murder; it is an outstanding read from beginning to end.” Read more ….
—Robin T. for Manic Readers
“Humor, adventure, mystery and romance are all blended together to make this a fun few hours of reading. The book kept me guessing until the end—I kept changing my mind about who the killer was and I guessed wrong. LOL—This was a good thing. I enjoyed this one. This is the first book in the series and it’s already off to a great start.” Read more ….
—Yvonne, Socrates Book Review
“[A Secondhand Murder] will delight you. It has a little bit of everything that you want in a murder/mystery, complete with romance!” Read more ….
–Mary Bearden, Mary’s Cup of Tea
“I am absolutely in love with this story. Lesley Diehl has created such a fun character in Eve Appel! She was funny, sassy and smart. She’s a great protagonist. The story has a great mystery and there’s so many different things going on that I was definitely surprised by the ending. I love a good mystery dashed with humor.”
“I really enjoyed the page turning action that even involved getting help from a Mob boss. The story was complex but very easy to follow. The quirky characters including Eve lead the reader through lots of excitement…. I wholeheartedly recommend this cozy for all cozy mystery readers.” Read more….
“There were so many characters that I really enjoyed everyone from Eve’s crazy ex-husband Jerry to Alex the Private Investigator to her grandmother and grandfather. They all had their quirks that I loved. Definitely a great new refreshing series that I can’t wait to read more when the author writes more!” Read more ….
Spunky and outspoken Eve Appel moves from Connecticut to rural Florida intent on starting a new life, free of drama, and more importantly, her soon-to-be ex-husband. The rural Florida town of Sabal Bay, situated only an hour from West Palm, proves to be the perfect spot for her consignment store. Thanks to the recent economic downturn, Florida’s society matrons need a place to discreetly sell their stuff and pick up expensive-looking bargains. But Eve’s life, and her business with it, is turned upside down when a wealthy customer is found stabbed to death in a fitting room.
As accusations fly and business slows, Eve decides to take matters into her own hands. With the help of an unlikely bunch of friends—including her estranged ex, her best friend, a handsome private eye, and a charming mafia don—she struggles to find answers and save lives. Through a maze of distorted half-truths, dramatic cover-ups, and unrequited passions, Eve learns just how far the wealthy will go to regain what they have lost.
Says Diehl, “Where I live in Florida there is no high end shopping, so I thought Eve Appel’s consignment shop might bring it to rural Florida by selling designer clothes previously owned by West Palm society matrons. Eve was a natural for me. I learned my love of secondhand merchandise from my grandmother and reworked my aunt’s clothes for my own use even though she was six foot and I was only five three. Frugal is in our family DNA. I still get more excited about finding a bargain at a consignment shop or yard sale than I do buying new. Department stores hate me.”
Lesley A. Diehl retired from her life as a professor of psychology and reclaimed her country roots by moving to a small cottage in the Butternut River Valley in upstate New York. In the winter she migrates to old Florida—cowboys, scrub palmetto, and open fields of grazing cattle, a place where spurs still jingle in the post office. Back north, she devotes her afternoons to writing and, when the sun sets, relaxing on the bank of her trout stream, sipping tea or a local microbrew. You can find Lesley online here.
Read on for an excerpt:
It was still early so I strode back into the restaurant, indicated to the hostess I wanted a booth and ordered the breakfast buffet. Anger paired with disbelief gave me a hearty appetite. Returning to my booth after loading my plate with eggs, bacon, pancakes, pastries and a slice of toast, I noticed someone had joined me for breakfast. He was seated with his back to me as I approached the booth but I recognized the sun-streaked hair curling over his collar. My favorite PI. I almost dropped my plate.
“Hi.” I tried for nonchalant but sounded more like a hormone-addled teenager.
“Saw you come in. I guess you had an early morning chitchat with the local gendarmes.”
“To be continued this afternoon at the station.”
“Fingerprints?” He stirred a packet of sugar into his coffee.
“Nope.” The tingle in my tummy was more than simple hunger for food. I tried to satisfy it by stuffing a large forkful of pancake into my mouth. I nodded and swallowed. “Like anyone would be dumb enough to leave their prints.”
“Certainly, we know you’re smart.”
“I had no reason to kill Mrs. Sanders. That would be like killing the golden goose.”
“You didn’t like her very much, did you?”
I dropped my fork on the plate. “What do you mean? I hardly knew the woman.”
“So you say, but my sources indicate that’s not the whole story.” He stared at me. Last night I thought those azure eyes looked inviting. Now they looked more like ice. He smiled.
“You said you were investigating Mrs. Sanders. Sounds like you’re trying to nose into my affairs. Why?”
“Don’t get mad. I’m not accusing you of murder, you know.” He took a sip of coffee.
“I’m not mad.” I was a little miffed, peeved even, but not really mad. Okay, I was mad.
“Oh yes you are, and when you get angry, you stick your chin out and turn your head ever so slightly to the right. Your cheek twitches, probably from clenching your teeth. Did you know that?”
I had lost my appetite. I grabbed my purse and slid out of the booth. “I don’t recall inviting you to join me for breakfast. I just remembered I have an important appointment.”
“That would be …?” He also stood.
“That would be none of your business.”
I stalked out of the restaurant, then remembered as I approached my car that I had forgotten to pay my bill. Damn. Now I’d have to go back in there and face him again. I gritted my teeth, stuck out my chin and slammed through the door. He turned from the counter, credit card in hand.
“Don’t worry about it. I got it. Your treat next time.”
“There won’t be a next time.” I spun around and pushed open the door. By the time he reached his car, I was already starting my engine, wondering what the man knew about Mrs. Sanders and me.
Maddie’s Choice ($14.95, 274 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-959-6) is a contemporary romance by Joyce Zeller about an author with writer’s block who finds inspiration and a renewed sense of purpose after she inherits part of a cattle ranch in Arkansas.
** Click the Cover Image to Order the 5×8 Trade Paperback Online **
**The eBook version of Maddie’s Choice is currently only available on Kindle**
Click here to follow the Maddie’s Choice blog tour.
“The tension and anger simmer below the surface but the attraction sizzles off the pages in this unforgettable story of love and courage. If you are a fan of Westerns, packed full of action you will enjoy this work. The Romance aficionado will find the heartbeat of the story holding them hostage even as mayhem breaks loose, cementing a set of feelings long denied. Zeller has given us a romance with teeth and put it in a setting full of possibilities and excitement. The characters are not without flaw and the interaction of people and events take you there, among them.” Read more
–Leslie, Tic-Toc: Book Reviews and General Observations
“This is one of those books that you stay up late reading because you just can’t let go of the characters and the story …. I loved to read how they each came out of their comfort zone to see if love is possible. You never know what you will find if you just open yourself up. I highly recommend this book and give it a 5 out of 5.” Read more ….
—Gina’s Library of Reviews
“I enjoyed every minute of reading this novel. Zeller’s characters, both main and secondary, are interesting and lively, the plot is fast moving and features a mystery as well as romance, and who could resist a chocolate-loving bull as a hero! I would love to see more stories featuring some of the secondary characters from this story—like with the hunky Australian former mercenary solider—just food for thought Joyce! I highly recommend this charming novel!” Read more ….
–Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
“A delightful romance with likeable, fallible characters that quickly engage the reader. One of the biggest positives of this novel is the author’s development of both the leading male and female characters. Often in romance novels there is a tendency to have a very well developed female character reacting to a dark, mysterious stranger. That’s not the case here. Although Gideon is certainly sexy enough, his character is well rounded and contains enough human elements to make him truly vulnerable and likeable. Another pitfall in many romances is plot twists and turns that can become distracting from the primary romantic plot. Maddie’s Choice
does enlist the use of a mystery of stolen cattle and drug running, but the additional plot lines serve well to develop the romantic plot line and further engage the reader and do not undermine the romance. As an avid romance reader, I don’t mind telling you that I finished this entire book in one setting and would be delighted to read additional books by this author.” Read more ….
–Erika, Prey Species Blog
“This book is great! I enjoyed the idea of it being a writer who learns to deal with life and finds herself so fixed on her books, she forgets to have an outside life. It will get you hooked on the idea of the story, and the storyline keeps you interested.” Read more ….
—Sara Martin, Lost Island of Book Reviews
“An enjoyable read. I thought the characters were interesting and kept me engaged. Maddie and Gideon are both looking for the same thing, they just don’t know it yet. At the ranch, they both find a family and a home. Gideon is a war hero who has major PTSD. While I was surprised that the character wasn’t seeking help for it, given his intense episodes, I thought the subject was handled pretty realistically. I liked Maddie’s little excerpts of the romance novel she was writing. It was cool to get a glimpse inside the mind of a writer. I do recommend the book. With romance, cattle thieves, and a big chocolate loving bull nicknamed baby, how can you go wrong?”
–From the TBR Pile
“Another incredible romance novel …. I enjoyed the story very much! It was sweet, passionate, a true ‘southern’ life story, and chock full of amazing characters.” Read more ….
“Wow!!! This was a great book…. Thinking it would be a good idea to get away from the city for a while Maddie sets off to places unknown, at least to her. There she meets the sexy, yet damaged vet Gideon …. The chemistry between them is so strong that it could burn a hole in the moon. This book was well written …. The story flowed and was easy to picture in your mind, the details were so vivid that they jumped right off of the page. This was the tale of two broken people who met and realized they had the power to save not only themselves but each other if only they did it together. You fell in love with these characters easily, they sucked you in and held on tight. Ms. Zeller is truly a master at her craft. This is a book I would recommend to any and everyone.” Read more ….
—La ‘Tia Mullins, The BoOki3 Blog
“Maddie’s Choice is a love story, a story of forgiveness, and a look at what really matters and the choices that we make. The more I read, the more I was drawn in and I ended up staying up late to finish …. an enjoyable read and a sweet romance.” Read more ….
–Bea’s Book Nook
“I was quickly caught up in the story and I highly recommend Maddie’s Choice!” Read more ….
–The Bibliophilic Book Blog
“A heart-warming story, Maddie’s Choice is one of those books that will make its way deep into your heart. Wound with such emotion, Joyce has created a story that definitely captures the reader’s interest. We’re thrust in Maddie’s turbulent world as she tries to make sense of who and what she is. The character’s plights are certainly believable, and the feelings injected throughout the story pour off the page. I enjoyed the story very much, and look forward to more of Joyce’s stories soon enough.” Read more ….
—Lissette E. Manning’s Blog
“Zeller has written an intriguing Western-themed, contemporary love story, blending well-defined, wounded characters–from two different worlds–mired in the pull and tug of romance. Zeller also weaves in a suspenseful subplot regarding the harrowing struggles of a beef cattle farm in financial crisis.” Read more ….
—Kathleen Gerard, Reading Between the Lines Blogspot
“This was a sweet romance. Maddie is a great main character; she had to overcome quite a bit to open herself up to the possibility of love. All of the characters were easy to connect with and you’ll find this book difficult to put down. This was a heartwarming story with a mystery in the background.” Read more ….
—Inspirations by Simone Blogspot
“What a thrill ride from start to finish! From a suggestive knock at the bedroom door to the flashbacks of war torn Afghanistan, this is a story that delivers on all fronts.” Read more ….
—Carol Robart, The Plot Thickens Blog
“From the small town diner to the indistinguishable dirt roads, the book’s sense of place really anchors it allowing the characters room to breathe and grow. The wide open fields, the lofty barn, the studio apartment – all add up in seducing the reader into taking an authentic jaunt through rural America.” Read more ….
—City Girl Who Loves to Read Blog
“A bull hooked on chocolate plays the hero in this love story of two people struggling to restore their destroyed lives. Maddie’s Choice is a touching family story that will have readers laughing and crying simultaneously. Zeller has created flawed but sympathetic characters and a bucolic setting that will appeal to readers of all ages. A must read for anyone who has ever dreamed of living on a ranch. As Maddie is fond of reminding herself, ‘How hard can it be?’ ”
—Velda Brotherton, author of western historical romances
“The setting grabbed my attention almost as much as the characters did. Maddie’s New York and the Spartman ranch are both well drawn. When Maddie arrived in Arkansas I felt like I was there: the new places and people she encountered reminded me of towns and rural areas I’ve visited in America and Canada. Zeller has a flare for creating a very real setting and she convincingly portrays the life of a working ranch. Maddie’s Choice is a fast read, written in a simple, direct style. Readers who enjoy action packed romances will enjoy this story.” Read more ….
—Author and blogger Dianne Ascroft
“Joyce has walked the walk with her Western romance set on a cattle ranch. Good read!”
—Dusty Richards, Spur winning author of more than 120 western novels, many under the name, Josh Logan
“This is a book about life and it’s content is very explicit at times. It’s also about cattle rustling, drugs, and the way adults and kids go about getting what they want and need. I thought it was very well written. I give it a thumbs up.”
–Maryann Wakefield, author of A Gentle Sun Coming
Romance writer Maddie Taylor’s career is in trouble. Convinced that true love does not exist outside of her imagination, she can’t complete her current manuscript. When a friend, Jonah Spartman, dies and wills her half of his cattle ranch, she seizes the chance to leave New York City. There is one catch: in order to inherit she must stay in Arkansas for three months.
The other half of the ranch belongs to Gideon Spartman, Jonah’s grandson, a black-ops veteran whose humanity was torn from him in Afghanistan. Rugged and sexy, Gideon embodies the hero in Maddie’s current manuscript. He is far from happy to be sharing an inheritance that is rightfully his with a “gold-digging bimbo” and resents having to care for his two orphaned nephews. But Maddie senses the need behind Gideon’s rough and unwelcoming exterior. She must also contend with the two love-starved boys and an Angus bull who craves chocolate.
The ranch is hardly the safe haven Maddie expected. It is operating in the red, and the area is plagued with drug dealers and cattle rustlers. Maddie can return to her barren New York existence or stay and fight to save the ranch and win Gideon’s love. The choice is hers.
Says Zeller, “Maddie’s Choice features my favorite theme—that being human is a lonely business, but for everyone there is somebody to love. It’s a matter of finding them. There will always be kids and animals in my books, and always humor, because life without humor is unthinkable.”
Joyce Zeller has written articles for a magazine and a cooking column for a chain of suburban newspapers north of Chicago. She has written five books and published two, The Hidden History of Eureka Springs, and Accidental Alien, a work of science fiction, both available on Amazon. Her short story, “Love is a Seed,” is featured in Embrace: A Romance Collection, (2012 Goldmine Press). Click here to find Joyce’s website. You can find her blog here.
Keep reading for an excerpt:
Glancing up, he saw Maddie and Abe approaching at a near run. The urgency in her step, and that look on her face—a mix of worry and fear, like she expected trouble—alerted him.
He got the picture. Blabbermouth Mark was telling him something he wasn’t supposed to know until she got here to explain, because she didn’t think he’d approve. She was playing him. She was going to try to talk him into doing something she was sure he didn’t want to do. Damn. He was going to enjoy this, but it nettled him a little. Her opinion of him was pretty low if she thought he’d object to a birthday party for Abe. And why the hell should he care what she thought?
Because you want her, stupid. But to get her, she has to return the want. For sure, giving her a hard time isn’t going to get you anywhere.
Eyebrow raised, head cocked to one side, he watched through narrowed eyes as she slowed her pace to a saunter and replaced her worried look with a casual smile.
“Why, Gideon. What a nice surprise to find you here,” she said.
He stared without commenting, liking the little flicker of doubt in her expression.
“But Maddie,” Mark said, “you knew he was here. Remember we saw Uncle Gid’s truck outside?”
She glanced at Mark, clearly exasperated, not saying what Gideon knew was on the tip of her tongue.
Abe said it for her. “Shut up, Mark.”
Sighing, she gave Gideon a falsely sweet smile and fluttered her eyelashes. “I see that Mark told you about Abe’s birthday party.”
“What about it?” He wanted to laugh. He barely managed a glare.
She gazed at him, trying to hide her unease at his response. “Well, it was the funniest thing,” she said, brimming with false enthusiasm, waiting for him to smile in return.
Eyes narrowed, he studied her. His silence was making her fidget.
Damn, she had a beautiful mouth—that lower lip distended softly in a coaxing pout. He imagined taking it between his own lips and pulling on it gently. She’d taste as sweet as strawberries warmed by the sun. Her voice faded. He was lost in a sensual haze that would have him agreeing to anything as long as he could taste that mouth.
“Doris Potter and Genevra Wilson are going to do most of the planning, but I worry about where we’re going to put all those people. Is there some way we can set up tables?”
All those people? Tables? He tried to remember what she’d said, but he hadn’t heard a word. Alarmed, he demanded, “How many people have you invited?”
“Uh, well, I guess most of the town. Genevra said the Spartman barbecue was an annual tradition, perfect for Abe’s birthday party. It’s two weeks from today, but all we have to do is supply beer and sodas and the barbecued beef,” she said.
He stared at her, aghast. “Hell, Maddie, we can’t do this. There could be two hundred people here. Do you know what that would cost? We can’t afford a party like that right now. We’re low on cash this time of the year.”
Her hand was on his arm, patting it soothingly. Sparks of electricity shot along his flesh, clear to his brain, took an awesome bounce and shot toward his groin.
“I’ll pay for it, Gideon. The party is my idea, and I can easily afford it. It’s the least I can do. After all, we’re partners, aren’t we?”
Easily afford it? Irritated because he suspected, vaguely, that his manhood might have been insulted, he geared up to retaliate, but then he caught the cruelly disappointed expression on Abe’s face and changed course. If she wanted to pay for it, why not? How much money did she make, anyhow?
He’d almost accepted the idea when reality hit him. He couldn’t host a party for the whole town. He didn’t know shit about parties or where to begin. He’d make a damn fool of himself. Ask him to kill a man with his bare hands, lead a strike force, or take out a target with a rifle at a thousand yards—yeah, he could do that—but throw a party with the whole town looking on? God, no.