#BlogTour #HarlequinTradePublishingBlogTour @htp_books / #Excerpt : Good Husbands #GoodHusbands – Cate Ray @CateRaywriter @HarperCollins @parkrowbooks @septemberbooks

– ‘The Magic of Wor(l)ds’ blog is a hobby, reviews and other bookish stuff on this site are done for free. –

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Today I’m on the ‘Good Husbands’ blogtour, organized by Harlequin Trade Publishing Blog Tour.
To promote this book I have an excerpt, but before I let you read it first some ‘basic’ information.

About the Author :

author photo_Cate Ray_credit_Paolo FerlaCate Ray is an author of four previous novels of suspense published in the UK under the name Cath Weeks. She was named an Author to Watch by Elle magazine. She lives in Bath with her family.

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Synopsis :

author photo_Cate Ray_credit_Paolo FerlaThree wives, one letter, and an explosive secret that will change everything.
He said, she said. Who do you believe?
Jessica, Stephanie and Priyanka are complete strangers, but they have one thing in common: they’ve each received a letter accusing their husbands of committing a sexual assault more than two decades prior. Is the accusation true or is there more to the story? It was a secret that remained buried for years.
With their worlds suddenly turned upside down, they don’t know who to trust—a complete stranger or the men they love and built their lives with. The three women come together to embark on a hunt for the truth, but they are hardly prepared for what they will discover. Who is the victim, and will justice ultimately be served?

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Excerpt :

Jess

I’m one hundred percent average, said no one ever. Yet that’s what most of us are, myself included. I know the sum of my parts and it equals ordinary and there’s no shame in that. In fact, it’s a strength. My parents were ordinary too and as their only child they raised me to respect being a leaf on a tree, a grain of sand on the beach. You get the picture. But it doesn’t mean being insignificant, anonymous. It means being part of a community, a tribe, a cause greater than yourself.
I realise this kind of thinking isn’t very now. The idea of being average scares my girls to death. I wouldn’t accuse them of it outright, yet it’s probably in their DNA too and at some point, they’ll have to confront it. Mediocrity isn’t something they can deal with and perhaps that’s where we’re going wrong because ordinary is what gets you through. Ordinary is noble, life-affirming. It’s the heart of humanity and somehow, we’ve forgotten that.
And then the letter arrives and I know as soon as I read it that I’m going to have to re-think everything. Because I’m fairly sure that ordinary people don’t get letters like this.
It’s the first day of autumn and I don’t know if it’s actually colder or whether I’m imagining it, as though a door closed yesterday on summer and a chillier one opened, but I’m definitely feeling it today. The tip of my nose is icy and I would get a hot water bottle for my lap, only I’m leaving the house in twenty minutes.
I’m meeting Duane Dee, my favourite sculptor—the only sculptor—on my client list and anything could happen. You never know what you’re going to get with artists, which is why I like working with them. They’re up and down but more than that, they’re honest. I’ve never known a profession like it. My artists talk about integrity and authenticity all the time and I lap it up. I love that the men don’t shave for meetings, the women don’t dye their greys, no one bothers ironing anything.
The investors are another sort altogether. People who buy and sell art are very different from those who create it. I know whose company I prefer, but I keep that to myself because even I know not to bite the hand that feeds me.
Max thinks it’s funny that I work for Moon & Co—he calls them the Moonies—even though he was the one who got me the job. He knows everyone in Bath because he grew up here, whereas I’m originally from the East End, London. I’ve been living here for twenty years and it still makes me laugh that locals think it’s urban, even though I can see cows from our bathroom window.
I’ve just got enough time for a quick look at Facebook. I don’t know why I do it to myself, but sometimes I feel that if I don’t keep up, I’ll be left behind. Which is odd because it’s not as if it’s a race, is it, being human?
I’m forty-six years old and still looking for friends. I’m pretty sure I won’t find them here in this endless scroll of happy images. People work so hard to make themselves look perfect, it’s hard not to try to find faults. I don’t enjoy it. It makes me feel bitchy but still I return and peek.
I glance at the time: ten minutes until I have to go. Outside, red leaves are hanging on the trees as though they’ve gone rusty and can’t move. There’s no wind today, the air completely still.
Duane Dee doesn’t use social media. He thinks the tech companies are using us to get rich and that it’s odd I’m willing to be a pawn in Silicon Valley because I strike him as militant.
It’s probably because I still have a slight East End accent, which can sound blunt, tough, but I like to think of it more as plain-talking. My late Dad used to say that the EastEnders wore their hearts of gold on their sleeves. A firefighter all his life, he believed in helping people out, especially along our street of identical terrace houses where no one could set themselves apart.
Enough of Facebook. I shut it down, telling it I won’t be back, knowing I will. And then I gather my things, ready to take off.
In the hallway, I sit on the stairs to put on my trainers, wondering when I started dressing like a teenager, and that’s when the postman comes. There’s only one small piece of mail, which slips in like a piece of confetti, drifting to the mat. I pick it up with interest because it’s handwritten and I can’t think when I last received one of those.
Then it’s out of my mind because I’m locking up and putting on my puffa jacket as I walk to the car. And then I’m driving to town—the sun a pale wedge of lemon above me—running through what to say to Duane Dee.
Is he well? Is he pushing himself too hard? Is he sleeping enough? He always looks chronically tired.
I ask too many questions. Intrusive. That’s the little bit of feedback my boss always gives me. Jess, here’s some feedback you didn’t ask for…
When people say you’re intrusive, assertive or direct, they’re basically telling you to be quiet. Are men given feedback like that? I don’t know. But I’m thinking about this as I enter the Sicilian café which is my personal preference and not Duane’s. Whenever he chooses, we end up somewhere too dark to see our food, sitting on tasselled mats.
The service here is very good. Within seconds of my sitting down, the waitress hands me a menu even though I always have an Americano and an almond pastry.
Glancing in the wall mirror beside me, I note that my expression is severe. A semi-friend told me recently that I carry a lot of tension in my face. It was a bit passive aggressive of her to say so, but I know what she means. I have bony cheekbones and thin lips that can look mean if I’m not careful.
So, I’ve been making an effort lately to smile more, worry less and unclench my hands. I also tend to tap my teeth together and I’m doing that now in time to the café music as I wait for Duane.
And then I remember the letter.
It takes me several minutes to find it, as well as my read¬ing glasses. Since hitting my mid-forties, I misplace things all the time. I normally ask myself, where would I have put it? And it’s never there.
The letter is in the front compartment of the rucksack which I haven’t used for so long, there are crumbs and bits of foil in there from the primary school-run. Flicking the crumbs off the envelope, I examine the handwriting, feeling a pang of nostalgia at the idea of someone putting pen to paper just for me.
The writing is tiny and in capitals, internet code for shouting, but in this case is more like whispering. Something about it gives me the sense that it’s trying its hardest not to offend or take up too much space. I have to prise the paper out of the envelope, where it’s wedged, folded into eighths.
THURS 1ST OCTOBER
DEAR JESSICA,
I HOPE YOU’RE SITTING DOWN TO READ THIS AND THAT YOU’RE ALONE.
THIS IS SO DIFFICULT. YOU WOULDN’T BELIEVE HOW OFTEN I IMAGINED TALKING TO YOU, BUT I DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO GO ABOUT IT. AND NOW IT’S TOO LATE.
For what? I check the postmark on the envelope: Monday 5th October, 5pm. That was last night. Shifting uneasily in my seat, I turn over the letter to see who sent it: Holly Waite.
I’VE KNOWN FOR SOME TIME THAT I WON’T MAKE OLD BONES, BUT NOW IT’S URGENT AND I’VE ONLY GOT A FEW DAYS LEFT. SO, I’LL JUST COME OUT WITH IT.
ON 22ND DECEMBER 1990, MY MUM NICOLA WAITE WAS RAPED BY 3 MEN IN THE MONTAGUE CLUB, BATH. THE MEN WERE ANDREW LAWLEY, DANIEL BROOKE AND MAXIMILIAN JACKSON.
MY MUM FELL PREGNANT WITH ME. SHE ASKED THE MEN FOR HELP, BUT THEY DIDN’T WANT TO BE INVOLVED. SHE NEVER RECOVERED FROM WHAT HAPPENED AND DIED 9 YEARS AGO OF AN ACCIDENTAL OVERDOSE.
EVERYTHING I OWN IS AT STONE’S STORAGE, UNIT 21, 156 CLEVEDON ROAD. IF YOU GO TO THEM, THEY’LL GIVE YOU THE KEY. YOU’RE WELCOME TO ANYTHING. I HAVE NO ONE ELSE TO LEAVE IT TO.
WE NEVER KNEW WHO MY FATHER WAS. SO, I’M ALSO WRITING TO:
PRIYANKA LAWLEY. 32 WALDEN WAY, HIGH LANE, BATH.
STEPHANIE BROOKE, 7 SOUTH AVENUE, BATH.
I’M SORRY TO DO THIS. I KNOW IT’LL BE A SHOCK, BUT I COULDN’T GO WITHOUT TELLING YOU. YOUR HUSBANDS WENT UNPUNISHED, WALKING AWAY COMPLETELY FREE. I ALWAYS HOPED THAT ONE DAY I’D SEE JUSTICE DONE, BUT I COULDN’T THINK OF A WAY TO DO THAT WITHOUT DESTROYING MORE LIVES.
NOW THAT I’M OUT OF TIME, I CAN SEE THAT IT WASN’T MY CHOICE TO MAKE. SO, I’M PASSING IT OVER TO YOU, TELLING YOU WHAT YOU SHOULD HAVE KNOWN FROM THE START. IT ALWAYS FELT SO PERSONAL, BUT IT WASN’T, NOT REALLY. YOU CAN’T DRAW A LINE WHERE ONE LIFE STARTS AND AN-OTHER BEGINS.
ONCE AGAIN, I’M SORRY.
I HOPE YOU DO THE RIGHT THING.
YOURS TRULY,
HOLLY WAITE X
The kiss throws me the most. I stare at it. It’s like she’s trying to add a softener, after making the worst possible accusation.
I read the letter again, my eye lingering on Maximilian Jackson. No one ever calls Max that. It doesn’t even sound like him.
“Jess?” I glance up to see Duane standing there, untying his Aztec scarf, clay stains on his jumper. “Alright, darlin’?”
I can’t pull out a smile for him. I’m not great at hiding my emotions. It’s one of the things Max has always loved about me and I like it about myself too. Yet suddenly, it feels like an impairment; a liability even.
Slipping the letter into my bag, I stand up robotically and we exchange kisses. He smells of autumn air and his cheek as it brushes mine is so cold it makes me shiver. “Hi, Duane.”
We sit down and Duane scans a menu before tossing it aside. “Who am I kidding? I’m gonna get the calzoni. I always get the calzoni.”
“So…how are you?” I manage to ask. “How’s the new project going?” I sound uptight, formal. I clench my hands, trying to stop them from trembling.
The waitress takes our order. And then I sit rigidly in my chair, listening as Duane describes his latest creation—how it embodies technoculture, hyperreality, paranoia.
When the coffees arrive, I drink mine too quickly and burn my tongue.
“You OK?” He cocks his head at me.
No, I’m not. How could I be?
“Actually, I just need to pop to the ladies. Could you excuse me a minute?”
Out in the restroom, I stand with my hands against the sink, trying to breathe, feeling dizzy. Closing my eyes, I see Maximilian Jackson again in that tiny handwriting.
It’s not Max. It’s some sort of mistake. Holly Waite…whoever that is…is wrong. And perhaps, dead.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt happy before to hear of someone’s demise, but as I open my eyes it occurs to me that if this woman is deceased then there’s no one present to make any accusations.
I return to the table, where Duane is tucking into his calzoni, a thread of cheese hanging from his lip. Normally I wouldn’t hesitate to tell him, or anyone, so they could set themselves straight.
But something strange happens and I just sit there, silent, watching the thread dangle as he chews and talks. It seems to me that I don’t know who I am. Or more to the point, who my husband is.

Excerpted from Good Husbands by Cate Ray, © 2022 by Cate Ray, used with permission from Park Row Books/HarperCollins.

The Magic of Wor(l)ds

#MiniBlogBlitz #RachelsRandomResources @rararesources / #GuestPost : The Viking She Would Have Married – Lucy Morris @LMorris_Author @MillsandBoon @HarlequinBooks

– ‘The Magic of Wor(l)ds’ blog is a hobby, reviews and other bookish stuff on this site are done for free. –

The Viking She Would Have Married

Today I’m on the ‘The Viking She Would Have Married’ blogtour, organized by Rachel’s Random Resources.
To promote this book I have a guest post, but before I let you read it first some ‘basic’ information.

About the Author :

The Viking She Would Have Married LucyMorrisHeadshots20211019_0040Lucy Morris has always been obsessed with myths and legends. Her books blend sweeping romance with vivid worldbuilding to whisk you away to another time and place filled with adventure. Expect passion, drama and vibrant characters.
Lucy lives in Essex, UK, with her husband, two children, and two cats. She has a massively sweet tooth and loves Terry’s Chocolate Oranges and Irn-Bru. In her spare time she likes to explore castles with her family, or drink bubbly with her friends.

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Synopsis :

The Viking She Would Have Married LucyMorrisHeadshots20211019_0040In close quarters…
With the Viking she’d loved and lost
With her family fallen on hard times, Valda’s forced to join the crew on Halfdan Ulfsson’s merchant ship as he sets sail on the treacherous silk route. But this handsome jarl’s son is the man she’d planned to wed until his bitter betrayal. Knowing she can never trust him, she must focus on saving her sisters…and not the intense connection that still burns between them!

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Guest Post :

I am so excited about my next book release, ‘The Viking She Would Have Married’.
It’s the first in a trilogy focusing on the love stories of three shieldmaiden sisters, called Valda, Brynhild, and Helga. It’s also my first ever series! I was nervous about writing three books so closely entwined, but when I focused on each sister’s unique love story it actually became quite straightforward. Although I’ve used a good portion of my notebooks writing and rewriting the timelines, as two of the books happen simultaneously, and it’s tricky to keep everything clear in my head!
I’m so glad I chose to write about three shieldmaidens, they are such strong and fascinating women. I’ve wanted to write a Lagertha style character ever since I first saw Katheryn Winnick play her so beautifully in Vikings. Lagertha is first mentioned in the sagas as one of the wives of Ragnar Lodbrok, although in the sagas he wins her hand in marriage by fighting off a bear as well as other animals guarding her home! Some sources confirm she was a ruler or Norway, whilst others believe she is an amalgamation of legends.
Many archaeologists have argued the idea of ‘real’ female warriors in Vikings times as fanciful. Dismissing it as modern feminist values trying to be imposed on historical facts…
Interestingly, a warrior grave was found in Birka where for many years archaeologists were firmly agreed it was the grave of a fierce warrior and possibly a king. Two horses, armor, and weaponry were found in the grave goods, including a board game known to represent military strategy. Most agreed that the person, if not a king, was definitely an important military leader.

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All archaeologists were in agreement…Until modern DNA evidence revealed the Birka warrior to be a woman. Then some archaeologists started to shy away from their earlier conclusions, suggesting she was actually just a woman of importance in the area, and the weaponry didn’t signify her to be a military leader after all.
I, personally, would argue their own biases had caused them to dismiss the historical facts…but I’m no archaeologist so what do I know?
Regardless, the Birka warrior has inspired me to write about three shieldmaiden sisters and you might recognise the first one…
Valda was a side character in ‘A Nun for the Viking Warrior’, and many of my readers were sad to see Valda leave the story.
But I had plans for Valda – not least an epic adventure along the silk route to modern day Istanbul!
After reading ‘The River Kings’ by Dr Cat Jarman I was inspired to write a story following the Viking age journey from the Baltic to Miklagard (also known as Constantinople). It’s a surprising and perilous journey, crossing the Baltic, and then traveling down the rivers of Russia and eastern Europe into the black sea.
A fascinating journey that involves rapids, nomadic war bands, as well as countless political and cultural hurdles to overcome. Valda and Halfdan are the bravest and most capable couple I’ve written so far. It was a joy to write their second chance love story.
If I were to describe it, I would call it ‘Persuasion with Longships’, except the heroine is more than capable of sailing away with her lover from the very start!
Afterall, why should men have all the fun?

#BlogTour #HarlequinTradePublishingBlogTour @htp_books / #Excerpt : Never Coming Home #NeverComingHome – Hannah Mary McKinnon @HannahMMcKinnon @MIRAEditors @HarperCollins @HarlequinBooks

– ‘The Magic of Wor(l)ds’ blog is a hobby, reviews and other bookish stuff on this site are done for free. –

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Today I’m on the ‘Never Coming Home’ blogtour, organized by Harlequin Trade Publishing Blog Tour.
To promote this book I have an excerpt, but before I let you read it first some ‘basic’ information.

About the Author :

Hannah Mary McKinnon author photoHannah Mary McKinnon was born in the UK, grew up in Switzerland and moved to Canada in 2010. After a successful career in recruitment, she quit the corporate world in favor of writing, and is now the author of The Neighbors, Her Secret Son, Sister Dear and You Will Remember Me. She lives in Oakville, Ontario, with her husband and three sons, and is delighted by her twenty-second commute.

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Synopsis :

Title: Never Coming Home
Author: Hannah Mary McKinnon
ISBN: 9780778386100
Publication Date: May 24, 2022
Publisher: MIRA Books

2021-11-17 NCH coverFirst comes love. Then comes murder.
Lucas Forester didn’t hate his wife. Michelle was brilliant, sophisticated and beautiful. Sure, she had extravagant spending habits, that petty attitude, a total disregard for anyone below her status. But she also had a lot to offer. Most notably: wealth that only the one percent could comprehend.
For years, Lucas has been honing a flawless plan to inherit Michelle’s fortune. Unfortunately, it involves taking a hit out on her.
Every track is covered, no trace left behind, and now Lucas plays the grieving husband so well he deserves an award. But when a shocking photo and cryptic note show up on his doorstep, Lucas goes from hunter to prey.
Someone is on to him. And they’re closing in.
Told with dark wit and a sharply feminist sensibility, Never Coming Home is a terrifying tale of duplicity that will have you side-eyeing your spouse as you dash to the breathtaking end.

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Excerpt :

1
SUNDAY

The steady noise from the antique French carriage clock on the mantelpiece had somehow amplified itself, a rhythmic tick-tick, tick-tick, which usually went unnoticed. After I’d been sitting in the same position and holding my ailing mother-in-law’s hand for almost an hour, the incessant clicking had long wormed its way deep into my brain where it grated on my nerves, stirring up fantasies of hammers, bent copper coils, and shattered glass.
Nora looked considerably worse than when I’d visited her earlier this week. She was propped up in bed, surrounded by a multitude of pillows. She’d lost more weight, something her pre-illness slender physique couldn’t afford. Her bones jutted out like rocks on a cliff, turning a kiss on the cheek into an extreme sport in which you might lose an eye. The ghostly hue on her face resembled the kids who’d come dressed up as ghouls for Halloween a few days ago, emphasizing the dark circles that had transformed her eyes into mini sinkholes. It wasn’t clear how much time she had left. I was no medical professional, but we could all tell it wouldn’t be long. When she’d shared her doctor’s diagnosis with me barely three weeks ago, they’d estimated around two months, but at the rate of Nora’s decline, it wouldn’t have come as a surprise if it turned out to be a matter of days.
Ovarian cancer. As a thirty-two-year-old Englishman who wasn’t yet half Nora’s age I’d had no idea it was dubbed the silent killer but now understood why. Despite the considerable wealth and social notoriety Nora enjoyed in the upscale and picturesque town of Chelmswood on the outskirts of Boston, by the time she’d seen someone because of a bad back and they’d worked out what was going on, her vital organs were under siege. The disease was a formidable opponent, the stealthiest of snipers, destroying her from the inside out before she had any indication something was wrong.
A shame, truly, because Nora was the only one in the Ward family I actually liked. I wouldn’t have sat here this long with my arse going numb for my father-in-law’s benefit, that’s for sure. Given half the chance I’d have smothered him with a pillow while the nurse wasn’t looking. But not Nora. She was kindhearted, gentle. The type of person who quietly gave time and money to multiple causes and charities without expecting a single accolade in return. Sometimes I imagined my mother would’ve been like Nora, had she survived, and fleetingly wondered what might have become of me if she hadn’t died so young, if I’d have grown up to be a good person.
I gradually pulled my hand away from Nora’s and reached for my phone, decided on playing a game or two of backgammon until she woke up. The app had thrashed me the last three rounds and I was due, but Nora’s fingers twitched before I made my first move. I studied her brow, which seemed furrowed in pain even as she slept. Not for the first time I hoped the Grim Reaper would stake his or her claim sooner rather than later. If I were death, I’d be swift, efficient, and merciful, not prescribe a drawn-out, painful process during which body, mind, or both, wasted away. People shouldn’t be made to suffer as they died. Not all of them, anyway.
“Lucas?”
I jumped as Diane, Nora’s nurse and my neighbor, put a hand on my shoulder. She’d only left the room for a couple of minutes but always wore those soft-soled shoes when she worked, which meant I never heard her coming until she was next to me. Kind of sneaky, when I thought about it, and I decided I wouldn’t sit with my back to the door again.
As she walked past, the air filled with the distinctive medicinal scent of hand sanitizer and antiseptic. I hated that smell. Too many bad memories I couldn’t shake. Diane set a glass of water on the bedside table, checked Nora’s vitals, and turned around. Hands on hips, she peered down at me from her six-foot frame, her tight dark curls bouncing alongside her jawbone like a set of tiny corkscrews.
“You can go home now. I’ll take the evening from here.” Regardless of her amicable delivery, there was no mistaking the instruction, but she still added, “Get some rest. God knows you look like you need it.”
“Thanks a lot,” I replied with mock indignation. “You sure know how to flatter a guy.”
Diane cocked her head to one side, folded her arms, and gave me another long stare, which to anyone else would’ve been intimidating. “How long since you slept? I mean properly.”
I waved a hand. “It’s only seven o’clock.”
“Yeah, I guess given the circumstances I wouldn’t want to be home alone, either.”
I looked away. “That’s not what this is about. I’ll wait until Nora wakes up again. I want to say goodbye. You know, in case she…” My voice cracked a little on the last word and I feigned a cough as I pressed the heels of my palms over my eyes.
“She won’t,” Diane whispered. “Not tonight. Trust me. She’s not ready to go.”
I knew Diane had worked in hospice for two decades and had seen more than her fair share of people taking their last breaths. If she said Nora wouldn’t die tonight, then Nora would still be here in the morning.
“I’ll leave in a bit. After she wakes up.”
Diane let out a resigned sigh and sat down in the chair on the opposite side of the bed. A comfortable silence settled between us despite the fact we didn’t know each other very well. I’d first met Diane and her wife Karina, who were both in their forties, when they’d struck up a conversation with me and my wife Michelle as we’d moved into our house on the other side of Chelmswood almost three years prior. Something about garbage days and recycling rules, I think. The mundane discussion could’ve led to a multitude of drinks, shared meals, and the swapping of embarrassing childhood stories, except we were all what Michelle had called busy professionals with (quote) hectic work schedules that make forging new friendships difficult. My Captain Subtext translated her comment as can’t be bothered and, consequently, the four of us had never made the transition from neighbors to close friends.
Aside from the occasional holiday party invitation or looking after each other’s places whenever we were away—picking up the mail, watering the plants, that kind of thing—we only saw each other in passing. Nevertheless, Karina regularly left a Welcome Back note on our kitchen counter along with flowers from their garden and a bottle of wine. Not one to be outdone on anything, Michelle reciprocated, except she’d always chosen more elaborate bouquets and fancier booze. My wife’s silent little pissing contests, which I’d pretended to be too dense to notice, had irked me to hell and back, but when Nora fell ill and Diane had been assigned as one of her nurses, I’d been relieved it was someone I knew and trusted.
“I’m sorry this is happening to you,” Diane said, rescuing me from the spousal memories. “It’s not fair. I mean, it’s never fair, obviously, but on top of what you’re going through with Michelle. I can’t imagine. It’s so awful…”
I acknowledged the rest of the words she left hanging in the air with a nod. There was nothing left to say about my wife’s situation we hadn’t already discussed, rediscussed, dissected, reconstructed, and pulled apart all over again. We’d not solved the mystery of her whereabouts or found more clues. Nothing new, helpful or hopeful, anyway. We never would.
Silence descended upon us again, the gaudy carriage clock ticking away, reviving the images of me with hammer in hand until the doorbell masked the sound.
“I’ll go,” Diane muttered, and before I had the chance to stand, she left the room and pulled the door shut. I couldn’t help wondering if her swift departure was because she needed to escape from me, the man who’d used her supportive shoulder almost daily for the past month. I decided to tone it down a little. Nobody wanted to be around an overdramatic, constant crybaby regardless of their circumstances.
I listened for voices but couldn’t hear any despite my leaning toward the door and craning my neck. I couldn’t risk moving in case Nora woke up. Her body was failing, but her mind remained sharp as a box of tacks. She’d wonder what I was up to if she saw my ear pressed against the mahogany panel. Solid mahogany. The best money could buy thanks to the Ward family’s three-generations-old construction empire. No cheap building materials in this house, as my father-in-law had pointed out when he’d first given me the tour of the six bedrooms, four reception rooms, indoor and outdoor kitchens (never mind the abhorrent freezing Boston winters), and what could only be described as grounds because yard implied it was manageable with a push-along mower.
“Only the best for my family,” Gideon had said in his characteristic rumbly, pompous way as he’d knocked back another glass of Laphroaig, the broad East Coast accent he worked hard to hide making more of a reappearance with each gluttonous glug. “No MDF, vinyl or laminate garbage, thank you. That’s not what I’m about. Not at all.”
It’s in the houses you build for others, I’d thought as I’d grunted an inaudible reply he no doubt mistook for agreement because people rarely contradicted him. As I raised my glass of scotch, I didn’t mention the council flats I grew up in on what Gideon dismissed as the lesser side of the pond, or the multiple times Dad and I had been kicked out of our dingy digs because he couldn’t pay the rent, and we’d ended up on the streets. My childhood had been vastly different to my wife’s, and I imagined the pleasure I’d find in watching Gideon’s eyes bulge as I described the squalor I’d lived in, and he realized my background was worlds away from the shiny and elitist version I’d led everyone to believe was the truth. I pictured myself laughing as he understood his perfect daughter had married so far beneath her, she may as well have pulled me up from the dirt like a carrot, and not the expensive organic kind.
Of course, I hadn’t told him anything. I’d taken another swig of the scotch I loathed, but otherwise kept my mouth shut. As satisfying as it would’ve been, my father-in-law knowing the truth about my background had never been part of my long-term agenda. In any case, and despite Gideon’s efforts, things were working to plan. Better than. The smug bastard was dead.
And he wasn’t the only one.

Excerpted from Never Coming Home by Hannah Mary McKinnon. Copyright © 2022 by Hannah Mary McKinnon. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

The Magic of Wor(l)ds

#BlogTour #HarlequinTradePublishingBlogTour @htp_books / #Excerpt : On A Quiet Street #OnAQuietStreet – Seraphina Nova Glass @SeraphinaNova @HarperCollins @HarlequinBooks

– ‘The Magic of Wor(l)ds’ blog is a hobby, reviews and other bookish stuff on this site are done for free. –

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Today I’m on the ‘On A Quiet Street’ blogtour, organized by Harlequin Trade Publishing Blog Tour.
To promote this book I have an excerpt, but before I let you read it first some ‘basic’ information.

About the Author :

Seraphina Nova Headshots Jan 2019Seraphina Nova Glass is a professor and playwright-in-residence at the University of Texas, Arlington, where she teaches film studies and playwriting. She holds an MFA in playwriting from Smith College, and she’s also a screenwriter and award-winning playwright. Seraphina has traveled the world using theatre and film as a teaching tool, living in South Africa, Guam and Kenya as a volunteer teacher, AIDS relief worker, and documentary filmmaker.

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Synopsis :

Title: On A Quiet Street
Author: Seraphina Nova Glass
ISBN: 9781525899751
Publication Date: May 17, 2022
Publisher: Graydon House Books

Seraphina Nova Glass author photo - verticalA simple arrangement. A web of deceit with shocking consequences.
Welcome to Brighton Hills: an exclusive, gated community set against the stunning backdrop of the Oregon coast. Home to doctors, lawyers, judges–all the most upstanding members of society. Nothing ever goes wrong here. Right?
Cora’s husband, Finn, is a cheater. She knows it; she just needs to prove it. She’s tired of being the nagging, suspicious wife who analyzes her husband’s every move. She needs to catch him in the act. And what better way to do that than to set him up for a fall?
Paige has nothing to lose. After she lost her only child in a hit-and-run last year, her life fell apart: her marriage has imploded, she finds herself screaming at baristas and mail carriers, and she’s so convinced Caleb’s death wasn’t an accident that she’s secretly spying on all everyone in Brighton Hills so she can find the murderer. So it’s easy for her to entrap Finn and prove what kind of man he really is.
But Paige and Cora are about to discover far more than a cheating husband. What starts as a little agreement between friends sets into motion a series of events neither of them could have ever predicted, and that exposes the deep fault lines in Brighton Hills. Especially concerning their mysterious new neighbor, Georgia, a beautiful recluse who has deep, dark secrets of her own…

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Excerpt :

ONE
Paige

Paige stands, watering her marigolds in the front yard and marvels at how ugly they are. The sweet-potato-orange flowers remind her of a couch from the 1970s, and she suddenly hates them. She crouches down, ready to rip them from their roots, wondering why she ever planted such an ugly thing next to her pristine Russian sage, and then the memory steals her breath. The church Mother’s Day picnic when Caleb was in the sixth grade. Some moron had let the potato salad sit too long in the sun, and Caleb got food poisoning. All the kids got to pick a flower plant to give to their moms, and even though Caleb was puking mayonnaise, he insisted on going over to pick his flower to give her. He was so proud to hand it to her in its little plastic pot, and she said they’d plant it in the yard and they’d always have his special marigolds to look at. How could she have forgotten?
She feels tears rise in her throat but swallows them down. Her dachshund, Christopher, waddles over and noses her arm: he always senses when she’s going to cry, which is almost all the time since Caleb died. She kisses his head and looks at her now-beautiful marigolds. She’s interrupted by the kid who de-livers the newspaper as he rides his bike into the cul-de-sac and tosses a rolled-up paper, hitting little Christopher on his back.
“Are you a fucking psychopath?” Paige screams, jumping to her feet and hurling the paper back at the kid, which hits him in the head and knocks him off his bike.
“What the hell is wrong with you, lady?” he yells back, scrambling to gather himself and pick up his bike.
“What’s wrong with me? You tried to kill my dog. Why don’t you watch what the fuck you’re doing?”
His face contorts, and he tries to pedal away, but Paige grabs the garden hose and sprays him down until he’s out of reach. “Little monster!” she yells after him.
Thirty minutes later, the police ring her doorbell, but Paige doesn’t answer. She sits in the back garden, drinking coffee out of a lopsided clay mug with the word Mom carved into it by little fingers. She strokes Christopher’s head and examines the ivy climbing up the brick of the garage and wonders if it’s bad for the foundation. When she hears the ring again, she hollers at them.
“I’m not getting up for you people. If you need to talk to me, I’m back here.” She enjoys making them squeeze around the side of the house and hopes they rub up against the poi-son oak on their way.
“Morning, Mrs. Moretti,” one of the officers says. It’s the girl cop, Hernandez. Then the white guy chimes in. She hates him. Miller. Of course they sent Miller with his creepy mustache. He looks more like a child molester than a cop, she thinks. How does anyone take him seriously?
“We received a complaint,” he says.
“Oh, ya did, did ya? You guys actually looking into cases these days? Actually following up on shit?” Paige says, still petting the dog and not looking at them.
“You assaulted a fifteen-year-old? Come on.”
“Oh, I did no such thing,” she snaps.
Hernandez sits across from Paige. “You wanna tell us what d id happen, then?”
“Are you planning on arresting me if I don’t?” she asks, and the two officers give each other a silent look she can’t read.
“His parents don’t want to press charges so…”
Paige doesn’t say anything. They don’t have to tell her it’s because they pity her.
“But, Paige,” Miller says, “we can’t keep coming out here for this sort of thing.”
“Good,” Paige says firmly. “Maybe it will free you up to do your real job and find out who killed my son.” Hernandez stands.
“Again, you know we aren’t the detectives on the—” But before Hernandez can finish, Paige interrupts, not wanting to hear the excuses.
“And maybe go charge the idiot kid for trying to kill my dog. How about that?”
Paige stands and goes inside, not waiting for a response. She hears them mumble something to one another and make their way out. She can’t restrain herself or force herself to be kind. She used to be kind, but now, it’s as though her brain has been rewired. Defensiveness inhabits the place where empathy used to live. The uniforms of the cops trigger her, too; it reminds her of that night, the red, flashing lights a nightmarish strobe from a movie scene. A horror movie, not real life. It can’t be her real life. She still can’t accept that.
The uniforms spoke, saying condescending things, pulling her away, calling her ma’am, and asking stupid questions. Now, when she sees them, it brings up regrets. She doesn’t know why this happens, but the uniforms bring her back to that night, and it makes her long for the chance to do all the things she never did with Caleb and mourn over the times they did have. It forces fragments of memories to materialize, like when he was six, he wanted a My Little Pony named Star Prancer. It was pink with purple flowers in its mane, and she didn’t let him have it because she thought she was protecting him from being made fun of at school. Now, the memory fills her with self-reproach.
She tries not to think about the time she fell asleep on the couch watching Rugrats with him when he was just a toddler and woke up to his screaming because he’d fallen off the couch and hit his head on the coffee table. He was okay, but it could have been worse. He could have put his finger in an outlet, pushed on the window screen and fallen to his death from the second floor, drunk the bleach under the sink! When this memory comes, she has to quickly stand up and busy herself, push out a heavy breath, and shake off the shame it brings. He could have died from her negligence that afternoon. She never told Grant. She told Cora once, who said every parent has a moment like that, it’s life. People fall asleep. But Paige has never forgiven herself. She loved Caleb more than life, and now the doubt and little moments of regret push into her thoughts and render her miserable and anxious all the time.
She didn’t stay home like Cora, she practically lived at the restaurant. She ran it for years. Caleb grew up doing his homework in the kitchen break room and helping wipe down tables and hand out menus. He seemed to love it. He didn’t watch TV all afternoon after school, he talked to new people, learned skills. But did she only tell herself that to alleviate the guilt? Would he have thrived more if he had had a more nor mal day-to-day? When he clung to her leg that first day of preschool, should she have forced him to go? Should he have let him change his college major so many times? Had he been happy? Had she done right by him?
And why was there a gun at the scene? Was he in trouble, and she didn’t know? Did he have friends she didn’t know about? He’d told her everything, she thought. They were close. Weren’t they?
As she approaches the kitchen window to put her mug down, she sees Grant pulling up outside. She can see him shaking his head at the sight of the cops before he even gets out of the car.
He doesn’t mention the police when he comes in. He silently pours himself a cup of coffee and finds Paige back out in the garden, where she has scurried to upon seeing him. He hands her a copy of the Times after removing the crossword puzzle for himself and then peers at it over his glasses.
He doesn’t speak until Christopher comes to greet him, and then he says, “Who wants a pocket cookie?” and takes a small dog biscuit from his shirt pocket and smiles down at little Christopher, who devours it.
This is how it’s been for the many months since Grant and Paige suffered insurmountable loss. It might be possible to get through it to the other side, but maybe not together, Paige said to Grant one night after one of many arguments about how they should cope. Grant wanted to sit in his old, leather recliner in the downstairs family room and stare into the wood-burning fireplace, Christopher at his feet, drinking a scotch and absorbing the quiet and stillness.
Paige, on the other hand, wanted to scream at everyone she met. She wanted to abuse the police for not finding who was responsible for the hit-and-run. She wanted to spend her days posting flyers offering a reward to anyone with information, even though she knew only eight percent of hit-and-runs are ever solved. When the world didn’t respond the way she needed, she stopped helping run the small restaurant they owned so she could just hole up at home and shout at Jeopardy! and paper boys. She needed to take up space and be loud. They each couldn’t stand how the other was mourning, so finally, Grant moved into the small apartment above their little Italian place, Moretti’s, and gave Paige the space she needed to take up.
Now—almost a year since the tragic day—Grant still comes over every Sunday to make sure the take-out boxes are picked up and the trash is taken out, that she’s taking care of herself and the house isn’t falling apart. And to kiss her on the cheek before he leaves and tell her he loves her. He doesn’t make observations or suggestions, just benign comments about the recent news headlines or the new baked mostaccioli special at the restaurant.
She sees him spot the pair of binoculars on the small table next to her Adirondack chair. She doesn’t need to lie and say she’s bird-watching or some nonsense. He knows she thinks one of the neighbors killed her son. She’s sure of it. It’s a gated community, and very few people come in and out who don’t live here. Especially that late at night. The entrance camera was conveniently disabled that night, so that makes her think it wasn’t an accident but planned. There was a gun next to Caleb’s body, but it wasn’t fired, and there was no gunshot wound. Something was very wrong with this scenario, and if the po-lice won’t prove homicide, she’s going to uncover which of her bastard neighbors had a motive.
She has repeated all of this to Grant a thousand times, and he used to implore her to try to focus on work or take a vacation—anything but obsess—and to warn her that she was destroying her health and their relationship, but he stopped responding to this sort of conspiracy-theory talk months ago.
“What’s the latest?” is all he asks, looking away from the binoculars and back to his crossword. She gives a dismissive wave of her hand, a sort of I know you don’t really want to hear about it gesture. Then, after a few moments, she says, “Danny Howell at 6758. He hasn’t driven his Mercedes in months.” She gives Grant a triumphant look, but he doesn’t appear to be following.
“Okay,” he says, filling in the word ostrich.
“So I broke into his garage to see what the deal was, and there’s a dent in his bumper.”
“You broke in?” he asks, concerned. She knows the How-ells have five vehicles, and the dent could be from a myriad of causes over the last year, but she won’t let it go.
“Yes, and it’s a good thing I did. I’m gonna go back and take photos. See if the police can tell if it looks like he might have hit a person.” She knows there is a sad desperation in her voice as she works herself up. “You think they can tell that? Like if the dent were a pole from a drive-through, they could see paint or the scratches or something, right? I bet they can tell.”
“It’s worth a shot,” he says, and she knows what he wants to say, also knows he won’t waste words telling her not to break into the garage a second time for photos. He changes the subject.
“I’m looking for someone to help out at the restaurant a few days a week—mostly just a piano player for the dinner crowd—but I could use a little bookkeeping and scheduling, too,” he says, and Paige knows it’s a soft attempt to distract her, but she doesn’t bite.
“Oh, well, good luck. I hope you find someone,” she says, and they stare off into the backyard trees.
“The ivy is looking robust,” he comments after a few minutes of silence.
“You think it’s hurting the foundation?” she asks.
“Nah,” he says, and he reaches over and places his hand over hers on the arm of her chair for a few moments before getting up to go. On his way out, he kisses her on the cheek, tells her he loves her. Then he loads the dishwasher and takes out the trash before heading to his car. She watches him reluctantly leaving, knowing that he wishes he could stay, that things were different.
When Paige hears the sound of Grant’s motor fade as he turns out of the front gate, she imagines herself calling him on his cell and telling him to come back and pick her up, that she’ll come to Moretti’s with him and do all the scheduling and books, that she’ll learn to play the piano just so she can make him happy. And, after all the patrons leave for the night, they’ll share bottles of Chianti on checkered tablecloths in a dimly lit back booth. They’ll eat linguini and clams and have a Lady and the Tramp moment, and they will be happy again.
Paige does not do this. She goes into the living room and closes the drapes Grant opened, blocking out the sunlight, then she crawls under a bunched-up duvet on the couch that smells like sour milk, and she begs for sleep.

Excerpted from On A Quiet Street by Seraphina Nova Glass, Copyright © 2022 by Seraphina Nova Glass. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

The Magic of Wor(l)ds

#BlogTour #RachelsRandomResources @rararesources / #QandAs : Escaping With Her Saxon Enemy – Sarah Rodi @sarahrodiedits @MillsandBoon @HarlequinBooks

– ‘The Magic of Wor(l)ds’ blog is a hobby, reviews and other bookish stuff on this site are done for free. –

Escaping With Her Saxon Enemy

Today I’m on the ‘Escaping With Her Saxon Enemy’ blogtour, organized by Rachel’s Random Resources.
To promote this book I have a Q&As post, but before I let you read it first some ‘basic’ information.

About the Author :

M8aqSiwV_400x400Sarah Rodi has always been a hopeless romantic. She grew up watching old, romantic movies recommended by her grandad, or devouring love stories from the local library. Sarah lives in the village of Cookham in Berkshire, where she enjoys walking along the River Thames with her husband, her two daughters and their dog. She has been a magazine journalist for over 20 years, but it has been her lifelong dream to write romance for Mills & Boon. Sarah believes everyone deserves to find their happy ever after.

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Synopsis :

M8aqSiwV_400x400Her tempting enemy
is a chink in her armour!
Viking shield maiden, Svea Ivarsson, would far rather face Saxon warriors than be on the run with the fiercely captivating Lord Ashford Stanton, protector to the Saxon King. Reaching Ash’s family castle, Svea must swap her chainmail for life as a Lady. She can wield a sword like an expert, but no training has prepared her for craving the touch of her greatest enemy…

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Q&A :

Hi

First of all thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions, I really appreciate it. Here we go! 🙂

Can you, for those who don’t know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
I’m Sarah Rodi, I’m 41, married to Chris and we have two girls. I’ve worked on magazines for 20 years, sourcing, writing and editing stories, but I’ve wanted to write romance for Mills & Boon for even longer than that! It’s always been a passion of mine. Over the years, I’ve joined the RNA New Writers’ Scheme, been on various writing retreats, kept on submitting and pitched to the Mills & Boon Editors at the RNA Annual Conference… and in 2021, they accepted my first book, The Viking’s Stolen Princess. This month, my second book, Escaping With Her Saxon Enemy, is out.

Which books did/do you love to read as a child/now as a grown-up?
I still love reading Mills & Boon Modern and Historical romances – you can’t beat them. You know what you’re going to get, and you experience that feeling of falling in love when you read them. As a young adult I loved the Making Out series by Katherine Applegate – and I’ve saved them all for when my girls are older. Maybe I’ll read them again too!

Is there a writer whose brain you would love to pick for advice? Who would that be and why?
Sharon Kendrick. She has written over 100 books for Mills & Boon and I would love to do the same. I’d also love to speak to Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the musical Hamilton. Have you seen it? It’s incredible. It really speaks to you. I’d love to understand how he went about learning the history, writing the words, getting the emotion in there…
Jane Austen too – as she had the best characters and ideas, didn’t she?

If you could, which fictional character (from your own book(s) or someone else’s) would you like to invite for tea and why?
I would love to have my heroine, Svea, in Escaping With Her Saxon Enemy, over for tea. The name Svea is of Scandinavian origin and means ‘spear’. This was apt, as my Viking shield maiden’s feisty personality smashes everyone’s ideas of how a woman should look and behave. Her non-conformity in terms of how she dresses and how she acts, in addition to her prowess on the battlefield, makes her a character to aspire to, and one who becomes more complex as the truth about her past unravels…
I also have a major crush on the Icelandic actor who plays Sigtryggr in The Last Kingdom… he can come to tea any time!

Do you have some rituals or habits whilst writing?
I work full time on magazines, so my writing time is in the evenings after I’ve put my two girls to bed. I switch on the kettle and pour myself a nice cup of coffee and open up a large bar of Cadbury Dairy Milk. I like to read over what I wrote the night before, to get me back into the story, before starting to write. I also light my wax melt burner and use the Devonwick Viking scent… it helps to get me in the mood!

Where do you come up with your idea(s)? Do people in your life need to be worried? 😉
My characters aren’t based on real people, but a turn of phrase or the way someone moves or reacts can inspire a thought, or a characteristic for my characters and my story. I did fall in love with Brand and Ash, the heroes in my first two books, – and perhaps there are elements in Anne and Svea, the heroines, that are like me. I guess you can’t help but put some of your personality into them. I like visiting historical places, such as Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, Lindisfarne in Northumberland or Viking Bay in Kent for research.

Are you a plotter or do you go with the flow, as a pantser?
I like to know the outline of my story before I begin and where it’s going, but that’s about as far as it goes. When I start to write, that’s when the characters take on a mind of their own and the ideas really start to flow, so I guess I do pant my way through my books, especially the raunchy bits!

Can you give novice writers some tips (do’s/don’ts)?
Never give up, despite any rejections you might get. Every “no” comes with useful feedback, helping you become a better writer. Go on as many courses as you can, join writing groups and talk to people, join the RNA, apply for their New Writers’ Scheme and don’t miss the conference. Always make time to write. Enjoy the journey and adventure you’re having trying to achieve your goal.

What are your future plans as an author?
My second novel, Escaping With Her Saxon Enemy, is out this month. I’ve just written book number three and submitted it to my editor, which will be out later in the year, and I’m about to start number four. The dream has always been to write for Mills & Boon and I should love to continue to do so.

Last, but not least : Can you give my readers one teaser from your book, which is featured here on my blog, please?

‘So, what do you think?’ he asked, giving her a playful nudge.
‘Of what?’
He pointed to the sea. ‘A late-night swim.’
‘What?’ She laughed nervously.
‘You can swim, can’t you?’ he asked, goading her.
‘Of course I can,’ she said. ‘Actually, I’ve wanted to swim since we got here, but I wasn’t sure if it was the done thing here in Braewood. In Kald, we swim all the time.’
‘Well, you’ll be pleased to know we do too.’
‘Even at this time of night?’
He shrugged. ‘We need to wash all this flour off. And at least no one else will be around to see. We’ll have the place to ourselves.’
When they reached the sand Ash began to pull off his boots, and then his tunic. He stopped when he realised Svea was just standing there, her eyes wide, staring at his large muscled chest, chewing on her bottom lip. A look of confusion crossed her face, and he stilled. Was he making her uncomfortable? That was the last thing he wanted to do. He’d thought they were having fun. He’d thought they both needed this. But perhaps his large body was off-putting—especially covered in its tapestry of scars.
‘I can’t swim in this dress. I’ll sink!’ she said, turning her attention away from him and focusing on her skirts.
Well, she wasn’t saying she didn’t want to go in…
He looked her up and down and realised she was right. She could go in naked, but he had a feeling she wouldn’t agree to that.
‘Here,’ he said, passing her his discarded tunic. ‘Put this on.’
She gripped the material tight, holding it to her chest. She still wasn’t sure, and he wanted to
reassure her.
‘It’s just a swim, Svea.’
‘Then turn around,’ she said, and he grinned.
He had known she wasn’t one to shirk a challenge.
So he did as he was told, even though they were cloaked in the late-night darkness, so he could barely see her anyway. He listened as she tussled with her gown, and then heard it drop to the sand. The response in his groin was instant. Damn. What he wouldn’t give to turn around, stride over to her and take her bare body in his arms. But he knew he mustn’t. He had said it was to be ‘just a swim’ and
he would stick to his word.
He knew he had to take this slowly. He couldn’t be sure what Crowe had done, or just how badly it
had affected her. It made him feel sick, just thinking about that man laying his hands on her. He guessed he had caused her some serious damage, given the way she held herself, the way she behaved, and he needed to build her trust—especially where her body was concerned.
‘Ready,’ she said, stalking past him and running into the water.
The material of his tunic barely reached the top of her thighs, and the sight made him harder. He followed her, laughing. The thought dawned on him that he would follow her anywhere…

Isn’t that a great reason to pick up this book and to find out more?!
Thanks once again for this lovely interview, Sarah Rodi.

The Magic of Wor(l)ds

P.S. Are you an author (or publisher) who also wants a FREE interview like this? You can always contact me via e-mail!

#BlogTour #HarlequinTradePublishingBlogTour @htp_books / #Excerpt : The Wrong Victim #TheWrongVictim – Allison Brennan @Allison_Brennan @MIRAEditors @HarlequinBooks

– ‘The Magic of Wor(l)ds’ blog is a hobby, reviews and other bookish stuff on this site are done for free. –

Today I’m on the ‘The Wrong Victim’ blogtour, organized by Harlequin Trade Publishing Blog Tour.
To promote this book I have an excerpt, but before I let you read it first some ‘basic’ information.

About the Author :

Allison Brennan - photo credit Brittan DoddAllison Brennan is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of over thirty novels. She has been nominated for Best Paperback Original Thriller by International Thriller Writers and the Daphne du Maurier Award. A former consultant in the California State Legislature, Allison lives in Arizona with her husband, five kids and assorted pets.

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Synopsis :

Title: The Wrong Victim
Author: Allison Brennan
Sale Date: April 26, 2022
ISBN: 9780778312307
Price: $26.99 USD (Hardcover)
Pages: 464

Allison Brennan - photo credit Brittan DoddA bomb explodes on a sunset charter cruise out of Friday Harbor at the height of tourist season and kills everyone on board. Now this fishing and boating community is in shock and asking who would commit such a heinous crime—the largest act of mass murder in the history of the San Juan Islands.
Was the explosion an act of domestic terrorism, or was one of the dead the primary target? That is the first question Special Agent Matt Costa, Detective Kara Quinn, and the rest of the FBI team need to answer, but they have few clues and no witnesses.
Accused of putting profits before people after leaking fuel endangered an environmentally sensitive preserve, the West End Charter company may itself have been the target. As Matt and his team get closer to answers, they find one of their own caught in the crosshairs of a determined killer.

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Excerpt :

CHAPTER ONE

A killer walked among the peaceful community of Friday Harbor and retired FBI Agent Neil Devereaux couldn’t do one damn thing about it because he had no evidence.
Most cops had at least one case that haunted them long after the day they turned in their badge and retired. For Neil, that obsession was a cold case that his former law enforcement colleagues believed was closed. Not only closed, but not a double homicide at all—simply a tragic accident.
Neil knew they’d got it wrong; he just couldn’t prove it. He hadn’t been able to prove it thirteen years ago, and he couldn’t prove it now.
But he was close.
He knew that the two college boys didn’t drown “by accident;” they were murdered. He had a suspect and he’d even figured out why the boys had been targeted.
Knowing who and why meant nothing. He needed hard evidence. Hell, he’d settle for any evidence. All his theory got him was the FBI file on the deaths sent by an old friend, and the ear of a detective on the mainland who would be willing to investigate if Neil found more.
“I can’t open a closed death investigation without evidence, buddy.”
He would have said the same thing if he was in the same position.
Confronting the suspected killer would be dangerous, even for an experienced investigator like him. This wasn’t an Agatha Christie novel like his mother used to read, where he could bring the suspect and others into a room and run through the facts—only to have the killer jump up and confess.
Neil couldn’t stand to think that anyone might get away with such a brazen murder spree, sparked by revenge and deep bitterness. It’s why he couldn’t let it go, and why he felt for the first time that he was close…close to hard evidence that would compel a new investigation.
He was tired of being placated by the people he used to work with.
He’d spent so long following dead ends that he’d lost valuable time—and with time, the detailed memories of those who might still remember something about that fateful weekend. It was only the last year that Neil had turned his attention to other students at the university and realized the most likely suspect was living here, on San Juan Island, right under his nose.
All this was on his mind when he boarded the Water Lily, his favorite yacht in the West End Charter fleet. He went through his safety checklist, wondering why Cal McKinnon, the deckhand assigned to this sunset cruise, wasn’t already there.
If he wasn’t preoccupied with murder and irritated at Cal, Neil may have noticed the small hole in the bow of the ship, right above the water line, with fishing line coming out of it, taut in the water.

*

“I’m sorry. It’s last minute, I know,” Cal said to Kyle Richards in the clubhouse of West End Charter. “But I really need to talk to Jamie right away.”
“It’s that serious?” asked his longtime friend Kyle.
“I cannot lose her over this. I just can’t. I love her. We’re getting married.”
At least he hoped they were still getting married. Two months ago Jamie finally set a wedding date for the last Saturday in September—the fifth anniversary of their first date. And now this whole thing was a mess, and if Cal didn’t fix it now, he’d never be able to fix it.
You already blew it. You blew it five years ago. You should have told her the truth then!
“Alright then, go,” Kyle said. “I’ll take the cruise. I need the extra money, anyway. But you owe me—it’s Friday night. I had a date.”
Cal clapped Kyle on the back. “I definitely owe you, I’ll take your next crappy shift.”
“Better, give me your next corporate party boat.” Corporate parties on the largest yacht in their fleet had automatic eighteen percent tips added to the bill, which was split between a typical four-man crew in addition to salary. Plus, high-end parties often paid extra. Drunk rich people could become very generous with their pocket cash.
“You got it—it’s next Saturday night, the Fourth of July—so we good?”
Kyle gave him a high five, then left for the dock.
Cal clocked out and started for home. He passed a group of sign-carrying protesters and rolled his eyes.
West End Charter: Profit Over Protection
Protect Fish Not Profits!
Hey Hey Ho Ho Ted Colfax has to go!
Jeez, when would these people just stop? West End Charter had done nearly everything they wanted over the last two years—and then some—but it was never good enough.
Fortunately, the large crowds of protesters that started after the West End accident had dwindled over the last two years from hundreds to a half dozen. Maybe because they got bored, or maybe because West End fixed the problem with their older fleet, Cal didn’t know. But these few remaining were truly radical, and Cal hoped they didn’t cause any problems for the company over the lucrative Fourth of July holiday weekend.
He drove around them and headed home. He had more important things to deal with than this group of misfits.
Cal lived just outside of Friday Harbor with Jamie and their daughter. It was a small house, but all his, his savings covering the down payment after he left the Coast Guard six years ago. But it was Jamie who made the two-bedroom cottage a real home. She’d made curtains for the windows; put up cheery pictures that brightened even the grayest Washington day; and most recently, she’d framed some of Hazel’s colorful artwork for the kitchen nook he’d added on with Kyle’s help last summer.
He’d wanted to put Jamie on the deed when she moved in with him, but she wanted to go slower than that. He wanted to marry her, but she’d had a bad breakup with her longtime boyfriend before they met and was still struggling with the mind games her ex used to play on her. If that bastard ever set foot back on the island, Cal would beat him senseless.
But the ex was far out of the picture, living down in California, and Cal loved Jamie, so he respected her wishes not to pressure her into marriage. When she found out she was pregnant, he asked her to marry him again—she said yes but wanted to wait.
“There’s no rush. I love you, Cal, but I don’t want to get married just because I’m pregnant.”
He would move heaven and earth for Jamie and Hazel—why didn’t she know that?
That’s why when she finally settled on a date, confirmed it with invitations and an announcement in the San Juan Island newspaper, that he thought it would be smooth sailing.
And then she left.
As soon as he got home, he packed an overnight bag while trying to reach Jamie. She didn’t answer her cell phone. More than likely, there was no reception. Service was sketchy on the west side of the island.
He left another message.
“Jamie, we need to talk. I’m sorry, believe me I’m sorry. I love you. I love Hazel. I just want to talk and work this out. I’m coming to see you tonight, okay? Please call me.”
He was so frustrated. Not at Jamie—well, maybe a little because she’d taken off this morning for her dad’s place without even telling him. Just left him a note on the bathroom mirror.
Cal,
I need time to think. Give me a couple days, okay? I love you, but right now I just need a little perspective.
Jamie.
Cal didn’t like the “but” part. What was there to think about? He loved her. They had a life together. Jamie and their little girl Hazel meant everything to him. They were getting married in three months!
He’d given her all day to think and now they needed to talk. Jamie had a bad habit of remaining silent when she was upset, thanks to that prick she’d dated before Cal. Cal much preferred her to get angry, to yell at him, to say exactly how she felt, then they could move on.
He jumped in his old pickup truck and headed west, praying he could salvage his family, the only thing he truly cared about. Failure was not an option.

*

That night Kyle clocked in and told the staff supervisor, Gloria, that Cal was sick, and he was taking the sunset cruise for him.
“Are you lying to me?” Gloria asked, looking over the top of her glasses at him.
“No, well, I mean, he’s not sick sick.” Dammit, Kyle had always been a piss-poor liar. “But he and Jamie had a fight, I guess, and he wants to fix it.”
“Alright, I’ll talk to Cal tomorrow. Don’t you go lying for him.”
“Don’t get him in trouble, Gloria.”
She sighed, took off her large glasses and cleaned them on her cotton shirt. “I like Cal as much as everyone, I’m not going to jam him up, but he should have come to me. I’ll bet he gave you his slot on the Fourth, didn’t he?”
Kyle grinned. Gloria had worked for West End longer than Kyle had been alive. They couldn’t operate without her.
“Eight people total. A party of four and two parties of two.” Gloria handed him the clipboard with the information of those who had registered for tonight’s sunset cruise. “Four bottles of champagne, a case of water, and cheese and fruit trays are onboard. You have one minute.”
“Thanks Gloria!” He ran down the dock to the Water Lily. He texted his boyfriend as he ran.
Hey, taking Cal’s shift, docking at 10—want to meet up then?
He sent the message and almost ran into a group who were already standing at the docks. Two men, two women, drinks in hand from the West End Club bar, in to-go cups.
“Can we board?” the tallest of the four asked.
“Give me one minute. What group are you with?”
“Nava Software.”
Kyle looked at his watch. Technically boarding started in five minutes; they’d be pushing off in twenty.
“I need to get approval from the captain.” He smiled and jumped over the gate. He found Neil Devereaux on the bridge, reading weather reports.
“You’re late,” Neil said without looking up.
“Sorry, Skipper. Cal called in sick.”
Neil looked at him. “Oh, Kyle, I didn’t know it was you. I was expecting Cal.”
“He called out. Everything okay?” Neil didn’t look like his usual chipper self.
“I had a rough day.”
Rough day? Neil was a retired federal agent and got to pick any shift he wanted. Everyone liked him. If he didn’t want to work, he didn’t. He had a pension and didn’t even have to work but said once that he’d be bored if he didn’t have something to do. He spent most of his free time fishing or hanging out at the Fish & Brew. Kyle thought he was pretty cool for a Boomer.
“Your kids okay?” he asked.
Neil looked surprised at the question. “Yes, of course. Why?”
“You said you had a rough day—I just remember you talking about how one of your kids was deployed or something.”
He nodded with a half smile. “Good memory. Jill is doing great. She’s on base in Japan, a mechanic. She loves it. And Eric is good, just works too much at the hospital. Thanks for asking.”
“Four guests are waiting to board—is it okay?”
“There’s always someone early, isn’t there?”
“Better early than late,” Kyle said, parroting something that Neil often said to the crew.
Neil laughed, and Kyle was glad he was able to take the skipper’s mind off whatever was bothering him.
“Go ahead, let them on—rear deck only. Check the lines, supplies, and emergency gear, okay? No food or drink until we pass the marker.”
“Got it.”
Kyle slid down the ladder as his phone vibrated. It was Adam.
F&B only place open that late—meet at the club and we’ll walk over, k?
He responded with a thumbs-up emoji and a heart, then smiled at the group of four. “Come aboard!”

*

Madelyn Jeffries sat on the toilet—not because she had to pee, but because she didn’t want to go on this cruise, not even for only three hours. She didn’t want to smile and play nice with Tina Marshall just because Pierce wanted to discuss business with Tina’s husband Vince.
She hated Tina. That woman would do anything to make her miserable. All because Pierce had fallen in love with her, Madelyn Cordell, a smart girl from the wrong side of the tracks in Tacoma.
Pierce didn’t understand. He tried, God bless him, but he didn’t. He was from another generation. He understood sex and chivalry and generosity and respect. He was the sweetest man she’d ever met. But he didn’t understand female interactions.
“I know you and Tina had somewhat of a rivalry when we met. But sweetheart, I fell in love with you. There’s no reason for you to be insecure.”
She wasn’t insecure. She and Pierce had something special, something that no one else could understand. Even she didn’t completely understand how she fell so head over heels for a man older than her deadbeat father. Oh, there was probably some psychologist out there who had any number of theories, but all Madelyn knew was that she and Pierce were right.
But Tina made her see red.
Tina, on top of this pregnancy—a pregnancy Madelyn had wanted to keep quiet, between her and Pierce, until she was showing. But somehow Pierce’s kids had found out last week, and they went ballistic.
They were the reason she and Pierce decided to get away for a long weekend. Last night had been wonderful and romantic and exactly what she needed. Then at brunch this morning they ran into Tina and Vince who were on a “vacation” after their honeymoon.
Madelyn didn’t doubt that Tina had found out she was here and planned this. There was no doubt in her mind that Tina had come to put a wedge between her and Pierce. After five years, why couldn’t she just leave her alone?
Just seeing Tina brought back the fearful, insecure girl Madelyn used to be, and she didn’t want that. She loved her life, she loved her husband, and above all she loved the baby inside her.
She flushed the toilet and stepped out of the stall.
Tina stood there by the sink, lips freshly coated with bloodred.
Madelyn stepped around her and washed her hands.
“Vince took me to Paris for our honeymoon for two glorious weeks,” said Tina.
Madelyn didn’t respond.
“I heard that you went to Montana.” Tina giggled a fake, frivolous laugh.
It was true. They’d spent a month in the Centennial Valley for their honeymoon, in a beautiful lodge owned by Pierce. They went horseback riding, hiking, had picnics, and she even learned how to fish—Pierce wanted to teach her, and she found that she enjoyed it. Fishing was relaxing and wholesome, something she’d never considered before. It had been the best month of her life.
But she wasn’t sharing that with Madelyn. Her time with Pierce was private. It was sacred.
She dried her hands and said, “Excuse me.”
“You think you’ve changed, but you haven’t. You’re still the little bug-eyed girl who followed me around for years. I taught you how to walk, I taught you how to attract men, I taught you how to dress and talk and act like you were somebody. If it wasn’t for me, you would never have met Pierce Jeffries. And you took him from me.”
“The boat leaves in five minutes.” Madelyn desperately wanted to get away from Tina.
“Vince and Pierce are going into business together. We’ll be spending a lot of time together, you and me. You would do well to drop the holier-than-thou act and accept the fact that I am back in your life and I’m not going anywhere.”
Madelyn stared at Tina. Once she’d been in awe of the girl, a year older than she was, who always seemed to get what she wanted. Tina was bold, she was beautiful, she was driven.
But she would never be satisfied. Did she even love Vince Marshall? Or had she married him because of the money and status he could give her?
Madelyn hated that when she first met Pierce she had thought he was her ticket out of poverty and menial jobs. She hated that she had followed Tina’s advice on how to seduce an older man.
Madelyn had fallen in love with Pierce, not because he was rich or powerful or for what he could give her. She loved him because he was kind and compassionate. She loved him because he saw her as she was and loved her anyway. But when he proposed to her, she’d fallen apart. She’d told him that she loved him, but she could never marry him because everything she was had been built on a lie—how she got her job at the country club, now they first met, how she had targeted him because he was wealthy and single. She would never forgive herself; how could he? His marriage proposal had been romantic and beautiful—he’d taken her to the bench where they first had a conversation, along the water of Puget Sound. But she ran away, ashamed.
He’d found her, she’d told him everything, the entire truth about who she was—a poor girl from a poor neighborhood who pretended to be worldly and sophisticated to attract men.
He said he loved her even more.
“I knew, Madelyn, from the beginning. But more, I see you, inside and out, and that’s the woman I love.”
Madelyn stared at her onetime friend. “Tina, you would do well to mind your p’s and q’s, because if I tell Pierce to back off, he’ll back off.”
She sounded a lot more confident than she felt. When it came to business, Pierce would listen to her, but he deferred to his oldest son, who worked closely with him. And Madelyn had never given him an ultimatum. She’d never told him what to do about business. She’d never have considered it, except for Tina.
Tina scowled.
Madelyn passed by her, then snipped, “By the way, nice boob job.”
She left, the confrontation draining her. She didn’t want to do this cruise. She didn’t want to go head-to-head with Tina for the next three hours.
She didn’t want to use the baby as an excuse…but desperate times and all that.
Pierce was waiting for her on the dock, talking to Vince Marshall.
“Would you excuse us for one moment, Vince?” she said politely.
“Of course, I’ll catch up with Tina and meet you on the boat.”
She smiled and nodded as he walked back to the harbormaster’s building.
“What is it, love?” Concerned, worried, about her.
“I thought morning sickness was only in the morning. I’m sorry—I fear if I get on that boat, I’ll be ill again. I don’t want to embarrass you.”
“Nonsense,” he said. He took her hand, kissed it. “You will never embarrass me.” He put their joined hands on her stomach. The warmth and affection in his eyes made her fall in love with him again. She felt like she loved Pierce a little more every day. “I can meet with Vince tomorrow. I’ll go back to the house with you.”
“This business meeting is important to you, isn’t it?”
“It might be.”
“Then go. Enjoy it. I can get home myself. Isn’t that what Ubers are for?”
“A sunset is not as pretty without the woman I love holding my hand.”
She wanted him home with her, but this was best. They had separate lives, at least in business; she didn’t want to pressure him in any way, just because she detested Tina. “I will wait up for you.”
He leaned over and kissed her. Gently. As if she would break. “Take good care of the woman I love, Bump,” he said to her stomach.
She melted, kissed him again, then turned and walked back down the dock, fighting an overwhelming urge to go back and ask Pierce to come home with her.
But she wouldn’t do it. It was silly and childish. Instead, she would go home, read a good book, and prepare a light meal for when Pierce came home. Then she would make love to her husband and put her past—and that hideous leech Tina Marshall—firmly out of her mind.

*

Jamie already regretted leaving Friday Harbor.
She listened to Cal’s message twice, then deleted it and cleaned up after dinner. Hazel was watching her half hour of PAW Patrol before bath, books, and bed.
Her dad’s remote house near Rogue Harbor was on the opposite side of the island from where they lived. Peaceful, quiet, what she thought she needed, especially since her dad wasn’t here. He was an airline pilot and had a condo in Seattle that he lived in more often than not, coming up here only when he had more than two days off in a row.
She left because she was hurt. She had every right to be hurt, dammit! But now that she was here, she wondered if she’d made a mistake.
Cal hadn’t technically cheated on her. But he also hadn’t told her that his ex-girlfriend was living on the island, not until the woman befriended her. She wouldn’t have thought twice about it except for the fact that Cal had hidden it from her.
She had a bad habit of running away from any hint of approaching drama. She hated conflict and would avoid it at all costs. Her mother was drama personified. How many times had young Jamie run to her dad’s house to get away from her mother’s bullshit? Finally when she was fifteen she permanently moved in with her dad, changed schools, and her mother didn’t say squat.
“You should have stayed and talked it out,” she mumbled to herself as she dried the dishes. The only bad thing about her dad’s place was that there was no dishwasher.
But Cal was coming to see her tonight. He didn’t run away from conflict. She wanted to fix this but didn’t know how because she was hurt. But he had to work, so she figured she had a few hours to think everything through. To know the right thing to do.
“Just tell him. Tell him how you feel.”
Her phone buzzed and at first she thought it was an Amber Alert, because it was an odd sound.
Instead, it was an emergency alert from the San Juan Island Sheriff’s Office.
19:07 SJSO ALERT! VESSEL EXPLOSION ONE MILE OUT FROM FRIDAY HARBOR, INJURIES UNKNOWN. ALL VESSELS AVOID FRIDAY HARBOR UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE.
Her stomach flipped and she grabbed the counter when a wave of dizziness washed over her.
She turned on the small television in the kitchen and switched to the local news. She watched in horror as the news anchor reported that a West End Charter yacht had exploded after leaving for a sunset cruise. He confirmed that it was the Water Lily and did not know at this time if there were survivors. Search and rescue crews were already out on the water, and authorities advised all vessels to dock immediately.
Cal had been scheduled to work the Water Lily tonight.
Hazel laughed at something silly on PAW Patrol. Jamie caught her breath, then suddenly tears fell. How could—? No. Not Cal. She loved him and even if they had problems, he loved Hazel more than anything in the world. He was the best father she could have hoped for. Hazel wasn’t planned, but she was loved so much, and Cal had made it clear that he was sticking, from the very beginning. How could she forget that? How could she have forgotten that Cal had never made her feel inadequate, he’d never hurt her, he always told her she could do anything she wanted? He was always there for her…when she was bedridden with Hazel for two months. When she broke her wrist and Hazel was still nursing, he held the baby to her breast every four hours. Changed every diaper. He sang to Hazel, read her books, giggled with her in makeshift blanket forts when thunder scared her.
And now he was gone.
There could be survivors. You have to go.
She couldn’t bring Hazel to the dock. The search, the sirens, the fear that filled the town. It would terrify the three-year-old.
But she couldn’t stay here. Cal needed her—injured or not, he needed her and she loved him. It was as simple as that. Rena would watch Hazel so Jamie could find Cal, make sure he was okay.
“Hazel, we’re going home.”
“I wanna sleep at Grandpa’s!”
“I forgot to feed Tabby.” Tabby was a stray cat who had adopted their carport on cold or rainy nights. He wouldn’t come into the house, and only on rare occasions would let Jamie pet him, but she’d started feeding him. Hazel had of course named him after a cat on her favorite show.
“Oh, Mommy! We gotta go rescue Tabby!”
And just like that, Hazel was ready.
Please, God, please please please please make Cal okay.

*

Ashley Dunlap didn’t like lying to her sister, but Whitney couldn’t keep a secret to save her life, and if Whitney said one word to their dad about Ashley’s involvement with Island Protectors, she’d be grounded until she graduated—and maybe even longer.
“We’re going to be late,” Whitney said.
“Dad will understand,” Ashley said, looking through the long lens of her camera at the West End Charter boat leaving port. She snapped a couple pictures, though they were too far away to see anything.
She was just one of several monitors who were keeping close tabs on West End boats in the hopes that they would catch them breaking the law. West End may have been able to convince most people in town that they had cleaned up their act, and some even believed their claims that the leakage two years ago was an accident, but as the founder of IP Donna Bell said time and time again, companies always put profit over people. And just because they hadn’t caught them breaking the law didn’t mean that they weren’t breaking the law. It was IP who documented the faulty fuel tanks two years ago that leaked their nasty fuel all over the coast. Who knows how many fish died because of their crimes? How long it would take the ecosystem to recover?
“Ash, Dad said not a minute past eight, and it’s already seven thirty. It’s going to take us thirty minutes just to dock and secure the boat.”
“It’s a beautiful evening,” Ashley said, turning her camera away from the Water Lily and toward the shore. Another boat was preparing to leave, but the largest yacht in the fleet—The Tempest—was already out with a group of fifty whale watching west of the island in the Haro Strait. Bobby and his brother were out that way, monitoring The Tempest.
Ashley was frustrated. They just didn’t have people who cared enough to take the time to monitor West End. There were only about eight or nine of them who were willing to spend all their free time standing up to West End, tracking their boats, making sure they were obeying the rules.
Everyone else just took West End’s word for it.
Whitney sighed. “I could tell Dad the sail snagged.”
“You can’t lie to save your life, sis,” Ashley said. “We’ll just tell him the truth. It’s a beautiful night and we got distracted by the beauty of the islands.”
Whitney laughed, then smiled. “It is pretty, isn’t it? Think those pictures are going to turn out? It’s getting a little choppy.”
“Some of them might,” she said.
Ashley turned her camera back to the Water Lily. The charter was still going only five knots as they left the harbor. She snapped a few pictures, saw that Neil Devereaux was piloting today. She liked Neil—he spent a lot of time at the Fish & Brew talking to her dad and anyone else who came in. He’d only lived here for a couple years, but he seemed like a native of the small community. She’d talked to him about the pollution problem from West End, and he kept saying that West End fixed the problem with the old tanks and he’d seen nothing to suggest that they had other problems or cut corners on the repairs. He told her he would look around, and if anything was wrong, he’d bring it to the Colfax family’s attention.
But could she believe him? Did he really care or was he just trying to get her to go away and leave West End alone?
Neil looked over at their sailboat, and both she and Whitney waved. He blew the horn and waved back.
A breeze rattled the sail, and Whitney grabbed the beam. “Shit!” she said.
Ashley put her camera back in its case and caught the rope dangling from the mast. “You good, Whit?”
“Yeah, it just slipped. Beautiful scenery is distracting. I got it.”
Whitney bent down to secure the line, and Ashley turned back toward the Water Lily as it passed the one-mile marker and picked up speed.
The bow shook so hard she thought they might have hit something, then a fireball erupted, shot into the air along with wood and—oh, God, people!—bright orange, then black smoke billowed from the Water Lily. The stern kept moving forward, the boat in two pieces—the front destroyed, the back collapsing.
Whitney screamed and Ashley stared. She saw a body in the water among the debris. The flames went out almost immediately, but the smoke filled the area.
“We have to help them,” Ashley said. “Whitney—”
Then a second explosion sent a shock wave toward their sailboat and it was all they could do to keep from going under themselves. Sirens on the shore sounded the alarm, and Ashley and Whitney headed back to the harbor as the sheriff’s rescue boats went toward the disaster.
Taking a final look back, Ashley pulled out her camera and took more pictures. If West End was to blame for this, Ashley would make sure they paid. Neil was a friend, a good man, like a grandfather to her. He…he couldn’t have survived. Could he?
She stared at the smoking boat, split in two.
No. She didn’t see how anyone survived that.
Tears streamed down her face and as soon as she and Whitney were docked, she hugged her sister tight.
I’ll get them, Neil. I promise you, I’ll prove that West End cut corners and killed you and everyone else.

Excerpted from The Wrong Victim by Allison Brennan, Copyright © 2022 by Allison Brennan. Published by MIRA Books.

The Magic of Wor(l)ds

#PublicationDayPush #RachelsRandomResources @rararesources / #PromoPost : Secrets Behind The Billionaire’s Return – Rachael Stewart @rach_b52 @MillsandBoon @HarlequinBooks

– ‘The Magic of Wor(l)ds’ blog is a hobby, reviews and other bookish stuff on this site are done for free. –

Secrets Behind The Billionaire's Return

Today I’m on the ‘Secrets Behind The Billionaire’s Return’ blogtour, organized by Rachel’s Random Resources.
To promote this book I have a some ‘basic’ information for you.

About the Author :

2pVWigawRachael Stewart adores conjuring up stories for the readers of Harlequin Mills & Boon and Deep Desires Press, with tales varying from the heartwarmingly romantic to the wildly erotic.
She’s been writing since she could put pen to paper as the stacks of scrawled on A4 sheets in her loft will attest to, and the lovingly bound short stories that her father would run off at work and proudly share out with his colleagues. Thinking it was a pipe dream to be published one day, she pursued a sensible career in business but she was really play-acting, achieving the appropriate degree and spending many years in the corporate world where she never truly belonged. Always happiest when she was sat at her laptop in the quiet hours tapping out a story or two. And so here she is, a published author, her full-time pleasure, a dream come true.
A Welsh lass at heart, she now lives in Yorkshire with her husband and three children, and if she’s not glued to her laptop, she’s wrapped up in them or enjoying the great outdoors seeking out inspiration.

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Synopsis :

Secrets Behind The Billionaire's ReturnFind out what happens when a billionaire returns to Felicity’s life in book one of Rachael Stewart’s new duet, Claiming the Ferrington Empire, from Harlequin Romance.
The man she never forgot…
The feelings she never lost…
Sixteen years ago, Felicity fell in love with the boy from Ferrington Manor. But their affair was short-lived when Sebastian vanished and she was left with the secret consequence of their love. Now he’s back and his return sends shock waves through Felicity! Will the revelations about Sebastian’s departure be enough for Felicity to succumb to the feelings that still draw her to him?

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Win 4 x Signed Rachael Stewart Paperbacks and more (Open Int)
Prize Contains:
4 x Signed paperbacks:
• Tempted by the Tycoon’s Proposal
• Surprise Reunion with His Cinderella
• Beauty And The Reclusive Millionaire
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Giveaway Secrets Behind Bil Return

*Terms and Conditions – Worldwide entries welcome. Please enter using the Rafflecopter box below. The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then I reserve the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time I will delete the data. I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

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The Magic of Wor(l)ds

#BlogTour #HarlequinTradePublishingBlogTour @htp_books / #Excerpt : Mrs. England #MrsEngland – Stacey Halls @stacey_halls @MIRAEditors @HarlequinBooks

– ‘The Magic of Wor(l)ds’ blog is a hobby, reviews and other bookish stuff on this site are done for free. –

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Today I’m on the ‘Mrs. England’ blogtour, organized by Harlequin Trade Publishing Blog Tour.
To promote this book I have an excerpt, but before I let you read it first some ‘basic’ information.

About the Author :

Stacey Halls B&W author photo credit Ollie GroveStacey Halls grew up in Rossendale, Lancashire. She studied journalism at the University of Central Lancashire and has written for publications including the Guardian, Stylist, Psychologies, the Independent, the Sun and Fabulous. Both of her first two novels, The Familiars and The Lost Orphan, were Sunday Times bestsellers, Mrs England is her third novel.

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Synopsis :

Title: Mrs. England
Author: Stacey Halls
ISBN: 9780778386315
Publication Date: April 12, 2022
Publisher: MIRA

Mrs. England - final cover

From the bestselling author of The Familiars and The Foundling comes Stacey Halls’ most compelling and ambitious novel to date.
‘Something’s not right here.’
I was aware of Mr Booth’s eyes on me, and he seemed to hold his breath. ‘What do you mean?’
‘In the house. With the family.’
West Yorkshire, 1904. When newly graduated nurse Ruby May takes a position looking after the children of Charles and Lilian England, a wealthy couple from a powerful dynasty of mill owners, she hopes it will be the fresh start she needs. But as she adapts to life at the isolated Hardcastle House, it becomes clear there’s something not quite right about the beautiful, mysterious Mrs England.
Distant and withdrawn, Lilian shows little interest in her children or charming husband, and is far from the ‘angel of the house’ Ruby was expecting. As the warm, vivacious Charles welcomes Ruby into the family, a series of strange events forces her to question everything she thought she knew. Ostracised by the servants and feeling increasingly uneasy, Ruby must face her demons in order to prevent history from repeating itself. After all, there’s no such thing as the perfect family – and she should know.
Simmering with slow-burning menace, Mrs England is a portrait of an Edwardian marriage, weaving an enthralling story of men and women, power and control, courage, truth and the very darkest deception. Set against the atmospheric West Yorkshire landscape, Stacey Halls’ third novel proves her one of the most exciting and compelling new storytellers of our times.

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Excerpt :

London, 1904

I took Georgina the usual way home, east through Kensington Gardens toward Hyde Park. She had fallen asleep with a fistful of daisies, and I pushed the pram along the bridleway, nodding at the other nurses. Her shoes nudged the end of the cushioned carriage; she would soon outgrow it, and I felt a distant stab of mourning for the baby she had been. She could sit up herself now, which she did on fine days with the hood folded down; she loved to see the Household Cavalry with their piped uniforms and plumed hats, and ladies would put down their parasols to admire her.
I crouched to retrieve a woolen bear lying on the sand be¬side a pram. The baby’s nurse sat on a bench reading a novel and had not noticed. Behind her a tangle of small boys tore about the grass, bashing one another with sticks.
“Oh, thank you,” the nurse said as I passed her the bear. She took in my uniform, distinct from the other nurses’, designed to set Norlanders apart from the rest: beneath a smart brown cloak I wore a fawn drill dress with a white cambric apron edged with lace. At my throat a frothy cream tie completed the summer uniform. In winter we wore light blue serge, and all year round we did our heavy work in pink galatea, clean¬ing the nursery and making up fires.
“I wish she went off like that,” said the nurse. She nodded at the occupant of her pram: a slim, serious-looking child a little older than Georgina, who glared at me from beneath a white sun hat. “How old?”
“She’s seventeen months,” I replied.
“And look at her lovely curls. It’s a shame this one’s hair’s so straight. She pulls out her rags when I put them in.”
“You could try setting them when she’s asleep. If you wet the rags first, it’ll dry like that.”
The nurse brightened. “That’s an idea.”
I said goodbye and she returned to her book. We passed through Albert Gate, where black stags stood guard on the park railings, and I smiled at the old woman who sold wind¬mills and toy balloons. The windmills waited rigidly in their crates for a breeze to stir them that August afternoon, and the woman spun one half-heartedly. She never smiled back, but I supposed I looked much the same to her as all the other nurses. We flocked to the park after lunch with our charges, occu¬pying the lawns and benches, spreading blankets on the grass, feeding the ducks and pushing prams through the rose gardens. An hour or two later we’d pass her again, heading home for naps and paste sandwiches before taking the children down¬stairs to see their parents.
Georgina was the only child of Audrey and Dennis Rad¬lett, though Mrs. Radlett was expecting again. I’d laundered Georgina’s linens in readiness and circled cots in catalogues to show Mrs. Radlett; Georgina would still be in hers when the baby came. The new arrival excited me, though I was yet to find a monthly nurse for feeding, and the prospect of shar¬ing my nursery even for a few weeks caused a distant flutter of anxiety. For the top floor of number six Perivale Gardens was my kingdom, my domain: my office, schoolroom and workshop. Sometimes it was a tearoom, if Georgina wished to give her toys refreshment; occasionally it was a jungle, and the two of us would crawl on our knees on the carpet, hunt-ing for lions and tigers.
Georgina’s hand opened, causing the daisies to scatter over her blanket, and deftly I swept them up and put them in my pocket. On the nursery windowsill I’d arranged in jars the f lowers we’d picked in the park, and I was teaching Georgina their names. Georgina already had an impressive vocabulary, quietly absorbing as I pointed at plates and spoons and toys and stamps. “Tag!” she’d declared one afternoon a few weeks ago, straining out of her pram to point at the Albert Gate stags. I’d felt a rush of pride and love for this cheerful, confident little girl, who everybody adored when they met, and who reflected adoration back at them.
On Knightsbridge, motorcars growled past carriages and choked the road with fumes. I glanced about at the redbrick apartment buildings, the hot potato man, the green Bayswater omnibus and the Chinese laundryman unloading fresh linen from his cart. Crossing sweepers stepped aside for ladies in wide hats on their way home from department stores, tailed by their maids laden with boxes. Perivale Gardens was a large, quiet square a few minutes from the busy thoroughfare. A score of houses stood around an oblong lawn, guarded by black iron railings and planted with cedars and rhododendrons. The Radlett home was tall and stuccoed, with smooth white columns flanking a glossy black door. At the top was the nursery, which overlooked the long and sunny garden, and the neighbors’ gar¬dens either side. The Bowlers next door kept hens, and some¬times let Georgina collect the eggs.
The hall was empty and silent, and I carried Georgina up¬stairs, where she allowed me to remove her cream leather shoes and settled in her cot with a sigh. I closed the blinds and pulled the curtains, glancing into the street for a moment and see¬ing the butcher’s boy on his rounds with his basket. He went down some steps and a kitchen maid examined its contents at the door, piling packets into the crook of her elbow. My father did his rounds with Damson, our docile pony, A. May, High Class Fruiterer & Greengrocer painted in large white letters on the side of his cart. My brothers and I would fight over who sat at the reins with him as he steered us through the streets, waving at people. “You take the reins, Rhubarb,” he would say, putting them in my hands.
I closed the curtains.
At half past three, Ellen brought me a ham roll and a pot of tea, and I gave her a copy of Young Woman I’d read and a penny dreadful I hadn’t. I took a seat at the table beneath the window to eat, looking about to see what needed dusting; in summer, within hours of my morning clean, a thin layer of grime drifted in through the window and coated everything. On the bookshelf, the golden letters of my testimonial book winked from the black spine. On graduation day, the Norland Institute principal, Miss Simpson—who we fondly called Sim— handed them out from a gleaming stack. The books contained everything we would need for our fledgling careers, from uni¬form materials to blank pages for references. My photograph was pasted in the front, larger than I would have liked; I ap¬peared stern and unsmiling, one hand resting nervously on the table beside me. At the end of my three-month probation, Mrs. Radlett had marked my needlework very good, punctu¬ality excellent, neatness excellent, cleanliness excellent, order excellent, temper excellent, tact with visitors very good, tact with children excellent, tact with servants very good, power of amusing children excellent, power of managing children excel¬lent and general capability excellent. I was awarded my certifi¬cate in the autumn and kept it inside my trunk. Some nurses had sent theirs home for their parents to frame, but I imagined handing it to my mother, could picture her bemusement that there was such a thing as a certificate for caring for children.
I’d finished my roll and begun tidying when there was a light knock at the door. “Come in, Ellen,” I called, moving the miniature globe an inch to the right and setting its equa¬tor. There was no reply.
“Mrs. Radlett!” I straightened at once. She was a young mistress, only a few years older than me at twenty-three or-four, and so gentle and feminine. A wide smile was the nat¬ural shape her mouth took, and pretty gowns and gleaming brooches showed her plump figure and creamy skin to its ad¬vantage. Her hair was the color of toffee cooling on the stove, and she wore it in all the latest styles copied from magazines. My own hair was thin and dark and would not be coaxed to any height. My skin turned brown easily, and since the Nor¬land hat offered no shade, I took care to keep out of the sun.
“Good afternoon, Nurse May,” said Mrs. Radlett. She was good-natured and liked to tease; one of her favorite games was playacting at being grand and proper, though the joke was slightly lost on me. “Would you join me in the parlor when you have a moment?”
“Of course, ma’am, I’ll come now. Miss Georgina’s having her nap.”
I followed her into the house. The downstairs was far re¬moved from my own quiet story, with its own rules and codes and timings, from which I was happily exempt. Nurses were not servants, existing in that tricky place between domestic and family, belonging to neither. Sim warned us it could be a lonely profession: friendless, she had called it. But I’d been friendless most of my life, and found only joy in the busy hours, and peace in the quiet ones. Every morning I took Georgina to the din¬ing room, every evening to the drawing room, where Mr. and Mrs. Radlett devoted an hour to entertaining her before sup¬per. Mr. Radlett played the piano while Mrs. Radlett danced with her daughter, lifting her into the air and guiding her fat feet around the carpet. They were as delighted to see her as if they’d been away a week, and sometimes Georgina sobbed as I carried her back to her nursery, reaching backward for her mama. “Up the wooden hill and down Sheet Lane,” I would murmur as we climbed the stairs, and by the time the nurs¬ery door was closed she had often forgotten her anguish. She sucked her thumb when she was tired, and I always removed it from her sleep-soaked mouth when Mrs. Radlett came to kiss her good-night.
The parlor was at the front of the house, seldom used and stuffy in summer, with the windows fastened to keep out the dust from the street. The blinds were closed against the heat, and the lace curtain hung flat against them. The Radletts’ house was tastefully decorated and filled with antiques; the mistress even had her own library. As a couple they were intel¬lectual and political. They entertained often and friends called frequently at the house, filling it with cigar smoke and leaving sticky rings of sherry on the sideboards, decorating the hat stand with feathers and ribbons, like a strange tree of exotic birds. In the eaves of the building there was little to disturb me, but occasionally Mrs. Radlett asked me to bring Georgina down to kiss and pass around before bed. She always deferred to me, and was politely inquisitive about her daughter’s diet and rou¬tine; there was no doubt whatsoever who was in charge.
“Do sit down,” she said now. I took a seat in a stuffed arm¬chair beside a potted fern.
“I have some thrilling news.” Mrs. Radlett placed a hand on her rounded stomach. She had recently begun to show beneath her waistband, and Ellen had let out her skirts. “I’ve been long¬ing to tell you for weeks, but Mr. Radlett forbade me until it was all agreed and finalized, which it was last night, so now I can share it with you.”
I felt a glimmer of excitement and straightened my apron.

Excerpted from Mrs. England by Stacey Halls, Copyright © 2022 by Stacey Halls. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

The Magic of Wor(l)ds

#BlogTour #HarlequinTradePublishingBlogTour @htp_books / #Excerpt : Crimson Summer #CrimsonSummer – Heather Graham @heathergraham @MIRAEditors @HarlequinBooks

– ‘The Magic of Wor(l)ds’ blog is a hobby, reviews and other bookish stuff on this site are done for free. –

Today I’m on the ‘Crimson Summer’ blogtour, organized by Harlequin Trade Publishing Blog Tour.
To promote this book I have an excerpt, but before I let you read it first some ‘basic’ information.

About the Author :

Heather Graham 2020 credit Marti CornNew York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author Heather Graham has written more than a hundred novels. She’s a winner of the RWA’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Thriller Writers’ Silver Bullet. She is an active member of International Thriller Writers and Mystery Writers of America. For more information, check out her website, TheOriginalHeatherGraham.com, or find Heather on Facebook.

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Synopsis :

Title: Crimson Summer
Author: Heather Graham
ISBN: 9780778311829
Publication Date: April 5, 2022
Publisher: MIRA Books

Heather Graham 2020 credit Marti CornFrom New York Times bestselling author Heather Graham, suspense following agents from the FBI and Florida Department of Law Enforcement as they investigate a series of murders linked to conspiracy theorists and doomsday cults.
Just when FDLE agent Amy Larson thought she’d wrapped up her most chilling case, she was delivered a red toy horse–a not-so-subtle taunt from a Doomsday cult that she and FBI agent Hunter Forrest hoped they’d taken down. A apparent turf war in Seminole territory in North Florida is the scene of a bloody massacre, and the blame seems to lie with drug cartels out of South America. The trail will take the pair on a cross-country hunt, and deep into a world of conspiracy theories, greed and privilege, where a powerful, hidden group is trying to create civil unrest through violence.

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Excerpt :

Prologue

The sun was out, inching its way up in the sky, casting golden rays and creating a beautiful display of color over the shading mangroves and cypress growing richly in the area. The sunlight touched on the streams running throughout the Everglades, the great “River of Grass” stretching over two hundred acres in southern and central portions of Florida, creating a glittering glow of nature.
The sky was gold and red at the horizon, and brilliantly blue above, with only a few soft puffs of clouds littered about. Diamonds and crystals seemed to float on the water.
Such beauty. Such peace.
Then there was the crime scene.
The bodies lay strewn and drenched with blood. The rich, natural earth hues of the Everglades were caught in a surreal image, greens and browns spattered liberally with the color red as if an angry child had swung a sopping paint-brush around.
Aidan Cypress had never understood why the mocking-bird had been made Florida’s state bird—not when it seemed that vultures ruled the skies overhead. Never more so than today.
Now, as he stood overlooking the scene with his crew and special agents from the FDLE, trying to control the crime scene against the circling vultures, Aidan couldn’t help but wonder just what had happened and why it had happened this way—and grit his teeth knowing there would be speculation.
Stooping down by the body of a man Aidan believed to be in his midthirties—with dark hair, olive complexion, possibly six feet in height, medium build—he noted the shaft of an arrow protruding from the man’s gut.
All the dead had been killed with arrows, hatchets, axes and knives. Because whoever had done this had apparently tried to make it look like a historical Native American rampage.
Except the killers hadn’t begun to understand there were differences in the weaponry and customs between the nations and tribes of the indigenous peoples across the country.
In South Florida, the dead man’s coloring could mean many things; Aidan himself was a member of the Seminole tribe of Florida, though somewhere in his lineage, some-one had been white—most probably from northern Europe originally. He had a bronze complexion, thick, straight hair that was almost ebony…and green eyes.
South Florida was home to those who had come from Cuba, Central and South America and probably every island out there. The area was truly a giant melting pot. That’s how his family had begun. In a way, history had created the Seminole tribe because there had been a time when settlers had called any indigenous person in Florida a Seminole.
But while the killers had tried to make this look like a massacre of old, the dead men were not Seminole. They were, Aidan believed, Latino. He could see tattoos on the lower arms of a few of the dead who had been wearing T-shirts; a single word was visible in the artwork on the man in front of him—Hermandad.
Spanish for “Brotherhood.”
“What the hell happened here, Aidan?”
Aidan looked up to see that John Schultz—Special Agent John Schultz, Florida Department of Law Enforcement—was standing by his side.
John went on. “It’s like a scene out of an old cowboys and Indians movie!”
Aidan stared at John as he rose, bristling—and yet he knew what it looked like at first glance.
“Quaking aspen,” Aidan said.
“Quaking aspen?” John repeated blankly.
“It’s not native to this area. Look at the arrow. That wasn’t made by any Seminole, Miccosukee or other Florida Native American. That is a western wood.”
“Yeah, well, things travel these days.”
Aidan shook his head. He liked John and respected him. The older agent was experienced, a few years shy of retirement. The tall, gray-haired man had recently suffered a heart attack, had taken the prescribed time off and come back to the field. They’d worked together dozens of times before. He could be abrasive—he had a sometimes-unhappy tendency to say what he thought, before thinking it through.
A few years back John had been partnered with a young woman named Amy Larson. It had taken John a long time to accept her age—and the fact she was female. Once he’d realized her value, though, he’d become her strongest supporter.
But Amy wasn’t here today.
And Aidan missed her. She softened John’s rough edges.
She was still on holiday somewhere with Hunter Forrest, the FBI agent she’d started dating. They were off on an island enjoying exotic breezes and one another’s company minus all the blood and mayhem.
Aidan stopped lamenting the absence of his favorite FDLE agent and waved away a giant vulture trying to hone in on a nearby body.
Half of the corpses were already missing eyes and bits and pieces of skin and soft tissue.
Aidan sighed and looked around. There were twenty bodies, all of them male, between the ages of twenty and forty, he estimated.
Because he’d noted the tattoos on a few of them, and using his own years of experience, he theorized the dead were members of a gang. Florida had many such gangs. Most were recruits from the various drug cartels, resolved to hold dominion over their territories.
He looked at John, trying to be patient, understanding and professional enough to control his temper. “You know, you may be the special agent, but I’m the forensics expert, and this was not something perpetrated by any of the Florida tribes—or any tribe anywhere. I can guarantee you no one sent out a war party to slaughter some gang members. Someone tried—ridiculously—to make this look like some Natives did this.”
“Hey, sorry, you’re right. Forgive me—just…look around!” John said quickly and sincerely. “It’s just at first sight…well, I mean—wow. You’re right. I’m sorry.”
The apology was earnest. “Okay. Let’s figure out what really happened.”
The corpses were in something of a clearing right by a natural stream making its way through hammocks thick with cypress trees and mangroves and all kinds of underbrush.
While the area was customarily filled with many birds—herons, cranes, falcons, hawks and more—it was the vultures who had staked out a claim. The bodies lay with arrows and axes protruding from their heads, guts or chests, as if they’d fought in a bloody battle. And now they succumbed to decay on the damp and redolent earth.
John followed Aidan’s gaze and winced. “It’s a mess. Okay, well…all right. I’m going to go over and interview the man who found this.”
“Jimmy Osceola,” Aidan said. “He’s been fishing this little area all his life, and he does tours. Two birds with one stone. Members of his family work with him and all of them fish and take tourists out here. He has a great little place right off I-75. It’s called Fresh Catch, and his catch is about as fresh as it gets. Catfish. He’s a good guy, John.”
“I believe you. But we’re going to need a break here—you and your team have to find something for me to go on.”
Aidan stared at him, gloved hands unclenching at his sides. John was rough around the edges and said whatever came to mind, but he was a good cop.
He’d be hell-bent on finding out just what had gone on here.
Aidan told him what he’d heard. “Jimmy was out with a boatload of tourists—they’re right over there. See—two couples, a kid who just started at FIU and two middle-aged women. The first officers on the scene made sure they all stayed. Go talk to them. They look like they came upon a bloodbath—oh, wait, they did.”
John arched a brow to him and said, “Yeah. I got it.”
He headed off to talk to Jimmy Osceola and the group with him.
Aidan studied the crime scene again, as a whole.
First, what the hell had all these men been doing out here? A few of them looked to have been wearing suits; most were in T-shirts and jeans.
The few bodies he had noted—not touching any of them, that was the medical examiner’s purview—seemed to bear that same tattoo. Hermandad.
That meant a gang of enforcers in his mind, and he was sure it was a good guess.
Had a big drug deal been planned?
They were on state land, but it was state land traveled only by the local tribes who knew it. The park service rangers also came through, and the occasional tourist who arranged for a special excursion into the wilds.
Bird-watchers, often enough.
All they’d see today, however, would be the vultures.
“Aidan.”
He heard his name spoken by a quiet female voice and he swung around.
Amy Larson was not enjoying an exotic island vacation.
She was standing just feet from him, having carefully avoided stepping on any of the bodies, pools of blood or possible evidence. She was in a navy pantsuit, white cotton shirt and serviceable black sneakers—obviously back to work.
No matter how all-business her wardrobe, Amy had blue-crystal eyes that displayed empathy and caring. She was great at both assuring witnesses and staring down suspects.
“What are you doing here, Amy?” Aidan asked her. “You’re supposed to be sunbathing somewhere, playing in the surf with Hunter.”
“I was.”
“So what happened?”
“It was great. Champagne, chocolates, sun, surf, sand…” She sighed.
“And?”
“And a little red horse—like the one from last month’s crime scene—delivered right to the room,” she said.

Excerpted from Crimson Summer by Heather Graham, Copyright © 2022 by Heather Graham Pozzessere. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

The Magic of Wor(l)ds

#BlogTour #HarlequinTradePublishingBlogTour @htp_books / #Excerpt : The Lying Club #TheLyingClub – Annie Ward @_Annie_Ward @parkrowbooks @HarlequinBooks

– ‘The Magic of Wor(l)ds’ blog is a hobby, reviews and other bookish stuff on this site are done for free. –

618-HTP-Banner---WINTER-READS-for-Google-Form

Today I’m on the ‘The Lying Club’ blogtour, organized by Harlequin Trade Publishing Blog Tour.
To promote this book I have an excerpt, but before I let you read it first some ‘basic’ information.

About the Author :

Annie Ward credit Josiah RichardsAnnie Ward is the author of Beautiful Bad. She has a BA in English literature from UCLA and an MFA in screenwriting from the American Film Institute. Her first short screenplay, Strange Habit, starring Adam Scott, was an official selection of the Sundance Film Festival and the Grand Jury Award winner at the Aspen Film Festival. She has received a Fulbright scholarship and an Escape to Create artist residency. She lives in Kansas with her family.

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Synopsis :

Title: The Lying Club
Author: Annie Ward
ISBN: 9780778389408
Publication Date: March 22, 2022
Publisher: Park Row Books

9780778389408_SMP_FCA tangled web of lies draws together three women in this explosive thriller of revenge, murder and shocking secrets

At an elite private school nestled in the Colorado mountains, Natalie, an office assistant, dreams of having a life like the school moms she deals with every day. Women like Brooke—a gorgeous heiress, ferociously loving mother and serial cheater—and Asha, an overprotective mom who suspects her husband of having an affair. Their fates are bound by the handsome assistant athletic director Nicholas, whom Natalie loves, Brooke wants and Asha needs.
But when two bodies are carried out of the school one morning, it seems the tension between mothers and daughters, rival lovers, and the haves and have-nots has shattered the surface of this isolated, affluent town—where people stop at nothing to get what they want.

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Excerpt :

Prologue

THE NECKTIE OF her ex was still clasped in her hand when Natalie woke. Her head was pounding, and her mouth tasted bad, like she’d fallen into bed without brushing her teeth. She had a horrible, cloudy feeling that she’d done something regrettable, but in that moment, she couldn’t remember what it was.
She wasn’t at home. Instead, she was upright, a seat belt crossing her chest. In front of her was the windshield of her own car, coated in a sheet of frost, and her I LOVE COLORADO! key chain was dangling from the ignition.
Natalie realized then that she’d blacked out. It had happened before, when she was much younger, and the memory of that awful awakening hit her with an electrifying jolt. After a frantic inspection, she concluded that all her clothes were on and nothing seemed torn or altered. She slipped the tie into her coat pocket.
Yanking the rearview mirror toward her face, she saw that her hazel eyes were huge, the pupils tiny pinpoints, and her mascara was smudged. A chapped crack ran down the bottom of her lower lip, but there were no other bruises or cuts. It didn’t appear that she’d crashed into a building or a tree. There were no sirens.
She rolled down her window, and a thin wall of ice collapsed into the car, dampening her plaid skirt. It was almost dark outside.
Work. She was at work. Across the snowy parking lot, she could see the back door to the east wing of the private school where she was an administrative assistant in the front office.
Pulling on her stocking cap and opening the car door, Natalie noticed footprints, slightly softened by snowfall, leading from her car to the rear exit of the school’s gym. Another set of identical prints returned from the door to the car, but not in a straight line. They zigzagged, and there was a large compression in the snow, just about the size of a small person like her. Gingerly, she lowered one boot into the first of the prints to make sure it was a match. It was. It seemed likely that the body-shaped spot in the snow was an indication that she’d fallen, and a quick pat down of her coat confirmed that it was wet.
Natalie stepped out of her car and squinted into the wind. Her legs felt weak, as if she’d just returned from one of her longer runs.
She retraced her own tracks, leading to the school. The sky was changing color from a grayish stormy dusk to night, and it struck Natalie, who loved art, that the swirling white flurries between her and the stars resembled a monochrome Van Gogh painting. Snow-capped peaks surrounded her on all sides. Down the mountain was the town center. Lights twinkled. Houses, vacation condos, and old-timey shops were piled like Christmas gifts on top of one another alongside a dark and twisting river.
The heavy back door was ajar. When she tugged on it, it groaned, scraped, and opened. Heart pounding, she went in.
During school hours, the sports pavilion would have been filled with the sound of bouncing basketballs, laughter, whistles, and sneakers squeaking on the gym floor. Now, there was distant, droning pop music playing up on the mezzanine, but no one was singing along or dropping weights to the floor with a crash.
Natalie walked with slow, hesitant steps over to the double doors that opened onto the basketball courts.
Normally those doors stood propped open by gray rubber wedges. Now they were closed, but each had a rectangular window. Natalie curled her hand and made a cup for her eyes.
It took a second to see anything at all. The court was dim, aglow only from the small green emergency lights situated over the doors and in the corners of the room. Her eyes were adjusting. Something was there.
She jumped away from the door as if the glass had burned her skin. Her hands flew up to cover her mouth. A scream almost escaped, but she stopped it in her throat with a choking noise.
Not far from the door was what looked like a crumpled pile of clothes and broken body parts, motionless in the middle of a spreading pool of blood.
What the hell did I do?

The security lights in the Falcon Academy parking lot flickered. It was early Monday morning and still dark. A beat-up Pathfinder left tracks in the snow as it swerved into a spot re-served for employees.
Harry Doyle climbed out and used his heel to squelch a cigarette into the ground. He grabbed a battered baseball cap from the dashboard and plopped it on his head, holding down what little was left of his hair. After slamming the driver’s door shut, he looked up at the sky, which was turning pink and orange to the east. An enormous blanket of fluffy white covered the parking lot. Last night had been the first big storm of the season, and some parents would call their kids in sick so they could hit the slopes with their friends.
The sixty-eight-year-old custodian shuffled towards the rear entrance of the sports pavilion. The automatic fluorescents in the back hallway glowed a sickly yellow. He hummed as he plodded down the hall to the boys’ changing room, where he put his lunch and jacket away in his locker before going to the storage closet. Harry grabbed the fiberglass handle of the deluxe wet mop and hauled it, and the bucket, out into the corridor toward the basketball courts. Pushing past the double doors, he activated all nine light switches with a swipe of his hand. The bulky, caged gymnasium overheads burst to life with a buzz.
“What the hell?” he exclaimed, dropping the mop.
The handle clattered against the maple wood planks. “Oh dear God.” The words came out strangled.
Harry scrambled for his phone in a zippered compartment of his slacks.
“Hello?” he managed to say, after dialing 911. He was having trouble breathing. “The Falcon Academy. Off Highway 70. Just west of Blackswift. Oh Jesus. Jesus Mary and Joseph. We need help. There’s a lot of blood.”

Excerpted from The Lying Club by Annie Ward, Copyright © 2022 by Annie Ward. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

The Magic of Wor(l)ds