Sunday, March 18, 2018



From the bestselling author of The Devil’s Necktie and Blond Cargo comes the latest title in the Jack Bertolino series.

Retired inspector Jack Bertolino straddles two perilous worlds. Known for his impeccable police work, Jack has also done a priceless favor for an infamous Mafia Don: he saved the gangster’s kidnapped daughter from being sold into the sex trade and brought her safely home.

In Jack’s line of work, he can’t help but have friends—and enemies—on both sides of the law.

So when FBI agent Luke Hunter goes missing after a deep undercover assignment with that same mob boss, the FBI calls Jack in looking for a favor. With his connections and skills, Jack’s the only man for the job: find Luke Hunter, dead or alive.

The mobster operates an illegal gambling yacht in international waters off of Southern California, and when Luke went missing, so did half a million dollars of the mob’s money. As Jack dives into the case, he’ll learn the true mystery isn’t the agent’s disappearance, but something far more ominous . . .

The Fourth Gunman is a sizzling action-packed thriller that will keep you turning pages until the explosive finale.


Title: The Fourth Gunman

Author: John Lansing

Genre: Crime/thriller

Series: Jack Bertolino

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (March 6, 2018)

Page count: 352 pages

Touring with: Partners in Crime Book Tours


A few of your favorite things: My art collection. I’ve been collecting for years, and many of my favorite pieces were created by friends.
Things you need to throw out:
Old tapes from my acting days that I’m never going to transfer to digital or view again.

Things you need in order to write: I need a great pen, a clean yellow pad, a computer, a good story idea, and my dog, Lucky, at my feet.
Things that hamper your writing: A cluttered office. I need things to be clean and orderly to relax into my process.

Things you love about writing: Getting caught up in the moment. Being in the groove. Getting to a place where the words are flowing and my characters are leading the way.
Things you hate about writing: There’s nothing I really hate about writing. But, I do hate being interrupted by telemarketer’s phone calls when I’m in the zone.

Hardest thing about being a writer: Handling the business side of the publishing industry. So much of the marketing of your book lands directly at the writer’s feet. You have to get serious about growing your social media sites or you’ll be left behind.
Easiest thing about being a writer: Walking the dog, pouring a cup of coffee, sitting down at my desk, and diving back into my story.

Things you love about where you live: I can park my car and not drive out of the garage again for three days. All necessities are within walking distance of my loft.
Things that make you want to move: Living in a community where I’m not in total control of decisions made about my building.

Things you never want to run out of: Red Wine.
Things you wish you’d never bought: Frozen pizza.

Words that describe you: Tenacious. Loyal.
Words that describe you but you wish they didn’t: Controlling. I really like to fix things and people. It’s a trait that’s not always appreciated.

Favorite foods: I cook Italian, and my meatballs and marinara sauce are a cut above. I learned my cooking skills at the elbow of my Aunt Marie and Uncle Chip, on the Italian side of my family.
Things that make you want to throw up: Ratatouille. Stewed zucchini makes me ill.

Last best thing you ate: Shrimp Scampi with a side of Spaghetti Aglio E Olio at La Vecchia, on Main Street, in Santa Monica.
Last thing you regret eating: Way, too many Victor Benes butter cookies after a big Thanksgiving, turkey meal.

Things you’d walk a mile for: My girlfriend.
Things that make you want to run screaming from the room: Being cornered at a party and barraged with small talk.

Things you always put in your books: My heart and soul.
Things you never put in your books: Anything but my best effort.



Luke Hunter sat hunched over a tight built-in desk in the cabin of a weathered thirty-six-foot catamaran docked in Marina del Rey. His fingers flew over the keyboard of a MacBook Pro. There had been one amber sconce illuminating the cabin before he broke in to the vessel, but now the laptop computer was throwing more light than he was comfortable with. At two a.m., all was quiet on the dock, but Luke was running late and still had another stop to make before he could call it a night.

Luke’s hair was short, brown, and unruly, his Italian eyes smoky, his beard dark and in need of a shave. His angular face was set with determination as he slipped a flash drive into the computer, tapped a few keys, and hit Copy, hoping to make short work of his theft.

The cabin was teak, and brass, and well worn. Rolled navigational charts littered the cramped workspace but didn’t intrude on the comfortable living quarters and the bunk that occupied the bow of the catamaran.

Luke spun in the chair, unraveled specific charts on the bed, snapped photos with his iPhone, and stowed the maps back where he’d found them. He had a theory as to why so many of the charts were focused on the waters in and around the Farallon Islands, off the coast of San Francisco, and hoped the computer files would corroborate his suspicions.

He took pictures of the scuba tanks, masks, flippers, speargun, and weight belts that were stowed aft. The galley was diminutive but efficient. A few potted succulents and fresh herbs on a shelf above the sink lent a feminine touch to the nautical surroundings. Nothing of interest there.

Luke heard the screech of the rusted security gate that led from the parking lot to the yachts and immediately shut down the computer, pocketed the flash drive, and closed the lid, tamping out the light.

He hoped it was just another liveaboard moored at the same dock, returning home after a night on the town. But he spun in place, laced his hands behind his head, and stretched out his legs, facing the teak steps that led from the stern into the cabin, ready to talk his way out of a dicey spot if necessary. It would be uncomfortable but doable. He set his face into a gotcha grin, ready to go on the offensive. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d been caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

The boat rocked slightly, the slippered footfalls nearly silent as a woman made her descent into the body of the vessel. Silk drawstring pants hugged her willowy frame as she stepped off the wooden stairway and seemed to suck all the air out of the cabin.

Roxy Donnelly had straight red hair that kissed her collarbone and parted in the middle, and a light feathering of freckles on her cheeks and chest. Her hazel eyes bore in to Luke’s, assessing the situation. She came to a conclusion and—without speaking—told him everything a man wanted to hear from a woman.

Roxy was backlit, her figure silhouetted in a diaphanous white blouse. Luke could see she was braless, and his heart quickened. Her nipples rippled the fabric, and sparks spread to Luke’s chest and down to his groin. As he became aroused, he found himself at a loss for words. No mafioso cracking wise, only deep breathing trying to hide his visceral reaction to the danger of her unexpected arrival. The cabin seemed to become tighter still, if that was possible, until Roxy broke the silence.

“I knew you were smarter than you looked.” If she was aware that Luke had raided her computer, she gave no indication or surprise at his presence. “You saw the schedule, Trent’s on call.”

She stepped closer and Luke found himself on his feet. “I made the schedule,” he said.

Roxy stepped so close their noses touched. He could feel her breath. The light scent of perfume was intoxicating. She reached down and touched his erection, stoking the fire. “I know what you drink, but I don’t know how you like it.”

“Any way you serve it,” Luke said, his voice deep, throaty, and bedroom. He knew he should hit the road but stood transfixed.

Roxy took his hand, squeezed it, and led him to the queen-size bunk in the rear of the cabin. “Get comfortable.”

She stepped into the galley, poured two glasses of Scotch, neat, kicked off her slipper shoes, and glided barefoot to the bed, handing Luke his drink. They clinked and each took a deep sip, never breaking eye contact.

Roxy set her glass down, slowly unbuttoned her blouse, and shrugged out of it, revealing sheer perfection. A dancer’s body. Compact upright breasts, a narrow sculpted waist, and a sapphire-pierced belly button. She tossed the blouse onto the chair Luke had been sitting in, leaned over him, and unbuckled his belt more roughly than he would have expected.

Luke might have received a reality check, but by the time his cell phone buzzed in his pants pocket, they were hanging over the chair.

“You’re not upset?” he said, a statement of fact.

“You should’ve called first, but it was inevitable. It was perfect the first time. We work too hard for no pleasure. Roll over, I’m good with my hands.”

No argument from Luke, who pulled off his gray crewneck and tossed it on the chair. He eased onto his stomach carefully because he was sporting a blazing hard-on.

Roxy was fully engaged. She lit a candle, then raked his back with her fingernails, the brief contact from her nipples as she leaned over him burning a trail from his neck down to his waist. As she straddled Luke, he felt her heat and let out a husky groan.

Roxy started on his lower back and slowly worked her way up his spine, compressing with thumbs and forefingers every third vertebrae until she reached his neck.

“You are good,” he murmured.

By the time Luke realized cold steel was pressed against the back of his head and not her thumbs, he was dead.

The explosion of the hammer striking the .22 round in her derringer created a blinding electric flash behind Luke’s eyes. The bullet rattled around his skull, tearing up brain matter, until his world turned pitch-black.

Roxy jumped off the bed, grabbed a plastic garbage bag out of the galley, pulled it over Luke’s head, and cinched it around his neck to catch any blood evidence. She picked up her cell and hit Speed Dial.

“Trent. We’ve got a situation,” and Roxy gave him the rapid-fire shorthand version while she rifled through Luke’s pants and billfold, her voice devoid of emotion. Her body vibrated uncontrollably as adrenaline coursed through her nervous system. She dropped Luke’s keys and willed her hands to stop shaking as she placed his cell phone and the flash drive next to her laptop. “I’ll clean things up on the home front, you keep your ears open and get a feel for the play at your end. Stay on shift—Shut the fuck up and let me talk!” And then in a tight whisper, “I killed a man, okay? I’ve had better nights. Okay, okay, but only text if you sense movement in our direction.” Roxy was unraveling. “You won’t hear from me again until, until, shit, Trent, until I call you.”

Roxy snapped out the light and walked over to the door and tried to still her breathing as she sucked in the thick sea air and listened for any movement on the dock. Water lapping against hulls and nylon lines clanking on aluminum masts were the only early-morning sounds. If not for the dead body lying on her bunk, it would almost be peaceful.

Roxy got down on her hands and knees and scrabbled around until she came up with the keys she’d dropped. She sat on the edge of the bed and made a mental list of what she had to accomplish. Sucked in a breath, nodded, and went into action.

Roxy pulled the duvet cover over Luke’s body and changed into jeans and black T-shirt and black running shoes. She grabbed a pair of thin cotton gloves and shrugged into Trent’s oversize black hoodie.

She rifled through the junk drawer and pulled out a roll of blue painter’s tape, took a credit card and the cash out of Luke’s wallet and added it to her own, and ran out of the catamaran, locking the door behind her.


Roxy pulled the hood over her red hair and slipped on the gloves as she ran up the dock and out through the chain-link security gate.

There was a smattering of cars in the lot, and Roxy started hitting the button on the remote-entry key for Luke’s car but got no response. She knew Luke drove a black Camaro but was at a loss. She spun in place and felt like she was going to explode. She turned off the emotion, knowing that if she didn’t fly right, she was as good as dead.

She jogged over to the next lot that was half full and tried the key again. Nothing. Roxy fought to suck down the bile and panic that threatened to overwhelm her. She ran up and down three rows of cars. Still nothing. She pounded toward the apartment complex across the street.

Roxy heard the ding before she found the car.

Luke had parked in the open lot that serviced the channel on the other side of the road. Mercury-vapor security lamps provided ambient light. Roxy checked the license plate and went to work.

She pulled out the tape and ripped off a small strip, turning a 1 into a 7. She tore off two smaller strips and changed a second 1 to a 4. She repeated the task on the front plate and dove, flattening herself on the rocky macadam surface, as a car drove up the street.

A black-and-white rolled onto the lot, its tires crackling over the uneven surface. The cop car did a silent drive past her aisle, slowed, then moved up to the far end of the lot, turned left, and back out onto the street.

Time seemed to stand still, but the pounding of Roxy’s heart reminded her that the clock was ticking and daylight would be her enemy. She grabbed a handful of dirt from the ground and wiped it onto the license plate with one eye peeled for the cop car. She did the same with the rear plate, obscuring some of her handiwork. After the cop car made his final pass down the street and disappeared onto the main drag, Roxy jumped behind the wheel of the Camaro, adjusted the seat and mirror, put on a pair of dark glasses, and rumbled out of the parking lot.


It took sixteen minutes to get from the marina to long-term parking at LAX. The black Camaro had black-tinted windows, and when Roxy pulled into the lot, hit the button, grabbed a ticket, and waited for the electronic arm to rise, she had her hood pulled tight, her dark sunglasses in place, and her head tilted down. If there had been a security camera at play, all it would’ve recorded was the top of a dark hoodie.

The lot was huge. Roxy motored to the far end and parked between two large SUVs that all but swallowed Luke’s low-slung muscle car. She checked the glove compartment to see if there was anything worth taking, or revealing as to Luke’s true purpose, snooping in the wrong place at the wrong time. She found the car’s registration and proof of insurance and pocketed the documents in the hope that it might slow the inquiry sure to follow. She hit the button that opened the trunk, readjusted the driver’s seat, locked the doors, and exited the vehicle.

A salmon glow pulsed above the horizon, a warm-up for the main event. The adrenaline had worn off, and Roxy was so tired she could have slept standing up. What she saw when she looked in the trunk got her heart pounding and her head spinning again. A large leather satchel on wheels, filled with cash. More cash than Roxy had ever seen in her twenty-seven years on God’s planet. It was Mafia money. The weekend’s take from the illegal gambling yacht where she bartended. She zippered the bag and slammed the trunk shut. She didn’t need any more heat than she’d already generated.

Roxy took a few steps away, spun back, opened the trunk, grabbed the satchel, and started wheeling it down the long row of cars toward the shuttle that arrived every fifteen minutes. She’d take the short ride to Tom Bradley International Terminal, where she planned on using Luke’s credit card at a McDonald’s to create a paper trail.

Inherent problems were created by taking the Mafia’s money, but leaving it would have been a major fuckup. A man on the run would never leave without the cash.


Two black stretch limos roared into the parking lot at Long Beach Shoreline Marina, adjacent to the Bella Fortuna. Doors flew open, and eight men exited the vehicles, ran across the lot, and pounded up the yacht’s gangplank, disappearing into the body of the luxury craft.

A somber Tony-the-Man stood at the railing on the main deck and looked down as Vincent Cardona stepped out of the lead car and walked slowly up the gangplank. The two men locked eyes for what seemed to Tony like an eternity before Cardona boarded the ship.

Heads would roll, and Tony instinctively rubbed his neck— his was at the top of the list.


The yellow cab let Roxy off at the Admiralty Club in Marina del Rey. She paid the driver with cash and waited until he was gone before walking next door to the Killer Shrimp Diner, where she was a regular and knew the kitchen was open twenty-four/seven. She peeled off her sunglasses, pulled the hood back, and shook out her startling red hair.

Roxy forced herself to eat scrambled eggs, bacon, and buttered toast, generating an alibi with her own credit card receipt. She paid up and rolled the satchel, laden with cash, down the sidewalk and the half-mile trek to her catamaran as the sun breached the Santa Monica Mountains behind her.


Twenty-four hours had passed since the death of Luke Hunter, and the weather had turned nasty. The sea was whitecapped, the crescent moon blanketed by a thick marine layer. A perfect night for what Roxy and Trent had to accomplish.

A perfect night to dump a body.

Trent was piloting the catamaran, heading south toward the San Pedro Channel and powered by the auxiliary engine. He knew the depth of the basin was good for at least 2,250 feet. He’d studied the charts, set the GPS, and they were just a few minutes from their destination.

Trent looked right at home, almost regal, standing behind the wheel of the craft that bucked, rolled, and cut through the waves, never veering off course. He was a Saudi national and a U.S. citizen, raised in the States from the age of eight, so he had no discernible accent. He was twenty-eight years old, with a boyish open face, a buffed physique, a swarthy complexion, buzz-cut brown hair, and gray eyes that could set Roxy’s heart thrumming. A finely inked tiger ran the length of one muscled forearm, the tattooed claws drawing red blood.

Roxy stepped out of the cabin and carefully made her way behind him, wrapped her arms around his six-pack, and leaned her cheek against his back, trying to still the beating of her heart.

Trent gave her hand a firm squeeze before grabbing the wheel with both hands. “You’re a brave woman, Roxy,” he shouted over his shoulder, fighting the howling wind. “A warrior.”

The moment he announced they were approaching their destination, the GPS system gave off a shrill cry. The night was black; there were no other boats in the area, no container ships navigating the channel. It was time to get to work. He shut off the engine, locked the wheel, and lowered himself into the cabin, followed by Roxy.

Luke, head still covered with the plastic garbage bag, was dressed in nothing but his briefs. He’d been rolled onto the cabin floor; his body lay on top of the duvet cover.

Trent grabbed two fifty-pound diving belts from their scuba gear and carried them up to the main deck. Roxy handed a twenty-five-pounder through the hatch. Trent ran back down, wrapped Luke’s body tightly in the blanket, and, with Roxy’s help, dragged his deadweight up the stairs and onto the aft deck behind the wheelhouse.

Trent pulled back the duvet and fastened one belt, cinched it tight around Luke’s waist, and then made short work of the second. He grabbed the twenty-five-pound belt, wrapped it twice around Luke’s neck, and secured it. Postmortem lividity had turned Luke’s back, buttocks, and legs a blackish-purple where the blood had settled.

Trent pulled the duvet taut, rolling Luke’s body over, and ripped a cut from top to bottom on the garbage bag so it would disengage after splashdown and be dragged out to sea. He worried it might fill with air as the corpse decomposed, and drag the body to the surface.

Roxy steeled herself as she looked down at Luke. His face was bone-white, his eyes devoid of color, just a thick opaque film. If there was one life lesson she had learned from her father, it was to meet trouble head-on. Never roll over, never look back, and never run. She swallowed her rising bile and choked, “Do it.”

Trent grabbed both ends of the blanket and muscled Luke’s body with 125 pounds of lead weights off the stern of the catamaran, tossing the duvet into the chop behind him.

Roxy and Trent stood shoulder to shoulder as they watched Luke float for a second and then slip below the water’s surface; they were confident he was permanently buried at sea and they could move forward with their plan.


Day One

Retired Inspector Jack Bertolino was sitting in the nosebleed seats at Klein Field at Sunken Diamond, Stanford University’s baseball stadium, in Northern California. The sun was blinding, the sky ultra-blue, the wisp of cirrus clouds as white as cotton. The old-growth pepper trees surrounding the field swayed in the light breeze carrying the scent of eucalyptus and fresh-mowed grass, taking some of the heat off the early-September afternoon.

Jack had his eyes closed behind his Ray-Bans, taking in the sounds of the college baseball game, now in the eighth inning, being played in the stadium below. His hair was dark brown verging on black, with strands of silver feathering the temples, and worn long enough to threaten his collar. His angular face was weathered from years doing undercover narcotics work on the streets of NYC, and his tan only served to accentuate the scars from hard-fought battles. A bump on his otherwise straight Roman nose, a gift from a crack dealer, buffered some of Jack’s innate intensity. At six-two and big-boned, Jack had a tight fit in the stadium seating, but the sound of the hard ball slamming into leather, the crack of the bat, the umpire’s barked calls, and the emotion of the crowd made it a perfect day. Took him back to his youth playing the game on Staten Island, where he had raised his son, Chris.

There was a chance Chris was going to pitch for the first time since the attempt on his life that had shattered his throwing arm nine months earlier. Jack wouldn’t have missed seeing his son in action again for the world. It hadn’t been an easy recovery for the young man, physically or mentally, and Jack tried to keep his own emotions in check. He didn’t want his heavy feelings to pull Chris down.

Jack was jolted out of his reverie as a trim man wearing a light-weight gray suit and dark aviator sunglasses, with zero body fat and white brush-cut hair, banged against his knees as he moved down the aisle, finally dropping into the seat directly to Jack’s right.

An attractive, serious woman wearing an equally professional gray pantsuit, with a jacket cut large enough to accommodate her shoulder rig and 9mm, made her way up his aisle. There was something about a woman and a gun that was a turn-on for Jack. Or maybe it was her shoulder-length auburn hair that shone as bright as her mirrored sunglasses. She head-tossed her hair off her face as she took the seat to Jack’s left, feigning interest in the game.

Jack wasn’t surprised by the untimely visit; he had made the feds on his flight from LAX and been waiting for them to play their hand.

“To what do I deserve the honor?” he said, his eyes lasered on the game as the Ohio State Buckeyes headed for the bench and the Stanford Cardinals ran onto the field. Chris had been in the bullpen warming up for the past twenty minutes but remained sidelined; the game was tied three to three at the top of the ninth, and it seemed unlikely he’d be called to play.

“I couldn’t do it,” the female FBI agent said, her eyes never leaving the field. Jack didn’t respond, so she continued, “Come to the game if it were my kid. Too much pressure.” Her voice carried an easy strength, and she wasn’t going to be deterred by his silence. “Especially with all your boy has been through,” letting Jack know he had no secrets from the FBI.

Ohio pounded a ball toward the left-field fence. The batter shot by first and was held up on second by the third-base coach.

It never surprised Jack how much the government knew about civilians’ lives, but his son was sacrosanct. And he knew if he spoke right away, he might not be able to control his growing anger at the personal violation.

The male agent, picking up on Jack’s energy, took off his glasses and proffered his hand. “Special Agent Ted Flannery.” He looked to be pushing fifty but had the body and vigor of a thirty-year-old. “Sorry for the intrusion, Jack, but we’ve come to ask for your help.” Flannery’s hand hung in midair until it became clear Jack wasn’t going to respond. Undaunted, the agent went on, “You’ve had a good relationship with the FBI throughout your career, Jack, and beyond. It’s been duly noted and appreciated, and because of your recent history, you’re in a unique position to be of service.”

“What do you need?” Jack asked, giving away nothing.

“Vincent Cardona,” the female agent said, answering his question. “You visited his home in Beverly Hills on the seventh of May. You were on Cardona’s payroll, hired to find his daughter, Angelica Marie, who’d been kidnapped. An altercation occurred. You slammed Cardona up against the wall, Peter Maniacci drew down on you, and Cardona’s cousin Frankie, with two other gunmen on his heels, ran out of the kitchen, ready to shoot you dead if ordered.”

“You wired the house?” Jack asked.

“Cardona’s too smart for that. He does a sweep once a week. No . . .” She paused for effect. “The fourth gunman was an FBI agent.”

The level of intensity in her tone wasn’t lost on Jack. She had referred to her agent in the past tense, but there was something more. Something unspoken, Jack thought.

Ohio thundered a ball over the fence for a two-run homer. Jack’s body tensed as the coach walked onto the field, huddled with the pitcher and catcher, and signaled toward the sidelines.

Chris Bertolino, number 11, ran out onto the mound and tossed a few back and forth with the catcher as the field was cleared and the game resumed. At six-two, Chris was as tall as Jack, but lean and rangy with sandy brown hair, a gift from his mother’s side of the family.

Jack raised his hand to his lips, and the feds let him concentrate on the game. They knew Bertolino wasn’t a man who could be pressured, and understood the personal significance of this moment.

Chris sucked in a deep breath, nodded to the catcher, and unloaded. His first pitch flew high on the outside. Ball one.

His second pitch went wide. Ball two.

The third pitch was hit. A sizzling line drive caught by the shortstop. First out.

The catcher walked out to the mound, whispered a few words to Chris, and resumed his position behind home plate.

Chris nodded, his game face on. If nerves were at play, he showed nothing to his opponent. He wound up and fired a fast-ball. Strike one. He denied the first two signals from the catcher and threw a second blistering pitch. Strike two. The crowd in the stands started to get loud. Chris tossed a slider, wide. The batter reached, fanned for the ball, and came up empty. Strike three.

The stadium erupted as the second batter stepped into the dugout and tossed his helmet in disgust.

The crowd started chanting and Jack’s stomach tightened. The lanky Buckeye leadoff batter made a big show of whipping his bat to loosen up before flashing a dead eye toward Chris, hocking a loogie onto the red clay, and stepping up to the plate.

Chris smoked a fastball.

The batter swung and made contact. The ball took a short hop and was plucked up by the second baseman, who threw Ohio out at first.

The crowd leaped to its feet as Chris led the team off the field, having stopped the flow of blood.

Jack let out a long, even breath, trying to slow his beating heart.

Chris never made it to bat. The first three Stanford starters were struck out in succession.

Stanford lost the game five to three, but it was a personal triumph for Chris, and Jack wished he were alone to savor the moment.

“I’ve got to get down to my boy,” he said to the female agent, who seemed to be in charge.

“Our agent disappeared three weeks ago,” she said, clearly un-willing to relinquish the moment. “He was deep undercover, and we believe he was on to something major. He never checked in, never filed a final report.”

“You should call in the cops.”

“We won’t jeopardize the case we’ve built against Vincent Cardona.”

“I’ve been down that rabbit hole,” Jack said, ending their impromptu meeting. “Don’t want anything to do with the man.” He stepped past the woman.

“Jack,” she said. The undercurrent in her voice, a sadness, struck a chord and turned him in place. She reached out with her card and looked up to lock eyes with him. “Liz Hunter. Think about it, Jack, and call me. Any time.” And then, “We could use your help.”
Agent Hunter wore light makeup on her clear tanned skin. She couldn’t have been over thirty, but her wide forehead was etched with fine worry lines. The hazards of the job, Jack decided. Her cheekbones were high and strong, her figure athletic, her slender, elegant neck tilted slightly to make her point. Jack found himself wondering what her eyes looked like.

“Why should I get involved?”

“The missing agent is my brother.”

Jack nodded, took the card, turned, and made his way down the steep concrete steps toward the Cardinals locker room.


Excerpt from The Fourth Gunman by John Lansing.  Copyright © 2017 by John Lansing. Reproduced with permission from John Lansing. All rights reserved.


Best-selling author John Lansing started his career as an actor in New York City. He spent a year at the Royale Theatre performing the lead in the Broadway production of Grease before putting together a rock ‘n’ roll band and playing the iconic club CBGB.

Lansing closed up his Tribeca loft and headed for the West Coast where he landed a co-starring role in George Lucas’ More American Graffiti, and guest-starred on numerous television shows.

During his fifteen-year writing career, Lansing wrote and produced Walker Texas Ranger, co-wrote two CBS Movies of the Week, and co-executive produced the ABC series Scoundrels.

John’s first book was Good Cop Bad Money, a true crime tome he co-wrote with former NYPD Inspector Glen Morisano.

The Devil’s Necktie, his first Jack Bertolino novel, became a best seller on Barnes & Noble and hit #1 in Amazon’s Kindle store in the Crime Fiction genre.

Jack Bertolino returns in John’s fourth novel, The Fourth Gunman.

A native of Long Island, John now resides in Los Angeles.

Connect with John:
Website  |  Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Goodreads 

Buy the book:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Google Play | IndieBound | iTunes | Kobo | Simon & Schuster


The Devil’s Necktie (Jack Bertolino, Book 1)
Blond Cargo (Jack Bertolino, Book 2)
Dead Is Dead (Jack Bertolino, Book 3)

The Test

Good Cop, Bad Money

Friday, March 16, 2018



When mobsters frame her aunt, one psychic dives headfirst into a criminal conspiracy.
Mary Catherine, MC for short, inherited her family’s psychic abilities and a knack for trouble. When her fortune-telling aunt is accused of murdering a Russian mobster and refuses to defend herself by revealing what she saw in a card reading, it’s up to MC to divine the truth.

But if MC isn’t careful, she could end up sharing a jail cell with her aunt … or swimming with the fishes.

The Russian and Aunt Sophia is a madcap cozy mystery novella that could only take place in Florida. If you like surreal plots, well-rounded characters, and quirky comedy, then you’ll love Rita Moreau’s psychic whodunit.

Dive into The Russian and Aunt Sophia to solve a clairvoyant mystery today!

Book Details:

Book title: The Russian & Aunt Sophia, (A Mary Catherine Mahoney Mystery Novella)

Author: Rita Moreau

Genre: Cozy mystery, Novella #1

Self Published (January 16, 2018)

Print Length: 77 pages
Touring with: Great Escapes Book Tours


“My name is Sister Hildegard. I am the mother superior of the Order of the Sisters of Saint Anthony. Saint Anthony is the saint you pray to when you have lost something (or you are lost). My order contains a secret society of nuns who are psychic, including me. It comes in handy when Saint Anthony is busy, and trust me, he is busy.”


Sister, how did you first meet Rita?

Through my childhood friend, Sophia. Sophia is her aunt.  We were told she had a knack at finding things. Part of it her training with the IRS and part of it her DNA. She is a reluctant psychic. We were desperate since we had lost a very old jewel which some say contained supernatural powers. We ordered her to find it, and she did (eventually).

Want to dish about Rita?
She is easily scared by nuns but then who isn’t?

Good point. Why do you think that your life has ended up being in a book?
The author attended the play, Late Night Catechism and found out that nuns are not supported by the Catholic Church. We’re on our own.  She then visited her high school nuns, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in Cincinnati, and they told her about the audit of Catholic nuns by the Vatican.  She decided to weave all that into her third book Feisty Nuns.

Tell us about your favorite scene in the book. 

In chapter 11 when we were all in the back seat of Limo Louie’s Cadillac Fleetwood and on the way to Jennifer’s party. We had fun drinking shots out of little red solo cups and comparing our outfits.

Did you have a hard time convincing Rita to write any particular scenes for you?
No, she pretty much obeys my every command. She is a product of parochial schools just like her protagonist, Mary Catherine.

What do you like to do when you are not being actively read somewhere? 
Sit and meditate in the Garden of Saint Hildegard which sits on our convent property.

Do have any secret aspirations that your author doesn’t know about?

I’d love to see the author’s books made into a movie.

If you had a free day with no responsibilities and your only mission was to enjoy yourself, what would you do?

Take a Zumba class.

What impression do you make on people when they first meet you?
I scare them. I am very tall, and I wear my habit unlike modern nuns who wear everyday clothes.
How about after they've known you for a while?
After they have known me for awhile I still scare them.

What's the worst thing that's happened in your life?
When the Vatican decided to audit our order because they decided nuns were out of line and were challenging the all-male priesthood. It pointed out the secondary role nuns, or for that matter women, play in the church. I learned you will get stronger if it doesn’t kill you first.

Tell us about your best friend.

Sister Matilda is short and petite but she carries herself with the same stature as someone as tall as I. She is a walking Wikipedia on any subject. She has a deep love of history. The nuns at the convent do their best to avoid her because it will lead to what they have dubbed: history time. God forbid you ask her a question by accident.

What are you most afraid of?

Flying insects.

What’s the best trait your author has given you?
Strength of character.
What’s the worst?
Impatience, especially with my friend Sister Matilda and her love of history time.

What’s Rita’s worst habit?

Cannot write fast enough. In today’s world an author needs to produce books quickly.

How do you feel about your life right now?
I worry for my order since we do not get any assistance from the Catholic Church. We are getting older, and there are no younger nuns to take our place. If we live long enough, we will run out of funds. They will separate us and send us to the old folk’s homes.

What aspect of Rita’s writing style do you like best? 
Her voice.

If your story were a movie, who would play you? 
Why, myself of course.

Describe the town where you live. 
Fish Camp, a small Florida town near State Road A1A.

Describe an average day in your life.
Busy, putting out fires.

What makes you stand out from any other characters in your genre?

I’m a nun and I’m very tall.

If you could be “adopted” by another writer, who would you choose?
Mary Higgins Clark.

Will you encourage Rita to write a sequel?
Yes. We need the money. She regularly donates funds from her book sales to the sisters.


Rita Moreau is the author of the Mary Catherine Mahoney Mystery series.

A workaholic by nature, upon retirement, Rita Moreau began work on her bucket list, writing a book. Traveling the national parks with her husband George in a vintage Bluebird motor home, (on George’s list), Rita completed her first novel, Bribing Saint Anthony. Back home she completed Nuns! Psychics! & Gypsies! OH! NO, Feisty Nuns and The Russian & Aunt Sophia. Rita and her husband live in a postcard called Florida where he has fun telling everyone he is the author’s husband.

When not writing, she joins PatZi Gil on the Joy on Paper radio program with Book Buzz Mysteries or you can find her teaching fitness classes and doing her best to keep busy. She loves connecting with readers.

Connect with Rita:

Website  |  Facebook  |  Radio  |  Goodreads  |  Amazon

Buy the book:

Wednesday, March 14, 2018



When the Deringer pistol that shot Abraham Lincoln is stolen and ends up in the hands of a Russian military general, covert agent Blake Deco is tasked by the FBI to head to the Balkans to recover the historical weapon. Meanwhile, the United States media is abuzz with news of the mysterious disappearance of Hollywood movie star, Goldie St. Helen. After Blake’s return from overseas, he receives a tip from a Mexican friend that a drug lord, obsessed with the beautiful actress, is holding her captive in Tijuana. With the help of a reluctant army friend, Blake mounts a daring rescue. What he doesn’t expect is to have feelings for Goldie—or that a killer is hunting them.

Book Details

Title: Gun Kiss

Author: Khaled Talib

Genre: Thriller 

Publisher: Imajin Books (December 1, 2017)

Paperback: 221 pages


A few of your favorite things: Shoes, pens, notebooks.
Things you need to throw out: Papers, files, old clothes.

Things you need in order to write:
A desktop computer, peace and quiet, the bird outside my window stop screaming.
Things that hamper your writing: The bird screaming, doorbells, and phone calls. 

Things you love about writing: When I finish a scene.
Things you hate about writing: When I get stuck at a scene or choosing the wrong word.

Hardest thing about being a writer: Rewriting and proof-reading
Easiest thing about being a writer: Finishing a draft.  

Things you love about where you live: Peace and quiet.
Things that make you want to move: When the bird comes around.

Things you never want to run out of: Printer ink.
Things you wish you’d never bought: A stupid painting that’s hanging on my bedroom wall. 

Words that describe you: Patient, generous and quiet.
Words that describe you but you wish they didn’t: Serious.

Favorite foods: Pizza, burger, and steaks.
Things that make you want to throw up: Insects as delicacies.

Favorite music or song: Anything and everything from Pop to Country.
Music that make your ears bleed: Opera.

Favorite beverage: Soda.
Something that gives you a pickle face: Tonic water.

Favorite smell: Lavender
Something that makes you hold your nose: Wine.

Something you’re really good at: Making hookah
Something you’re really bad at: Math

Something you wish you could do: Ski.
Something you wish you’d never learned to do: Make my bed.

Something you like to do: White river rafting
Something you wish you’d never done: Slamming into a glass door.

People you consider as heroes: Muhammad Ali, Erin Brockovich, J.K. Rowling. 

People with a big L on their foreheads: People who abuse their power. 

Last best thing you ate: Turkish baklava.

Last thing you regret eating: Packet noodle.

Things you’d walk a mile for: Help a person who is injured.
Things that make you want to run screaming from the room: A lizard on the wall.

Things you always put in your books: A sense of humor.

Things you never put in your books: Porn.

Things to say to an author: I love your book.
Things to say to an author if you want to be fictionally killed off in their next book: Can I get a free copy of your book?

Favorite places you’ve been: Pyramids of Giza, St.Moritz, Brighton, UK.

Places you never want to go to again: Parts of Singapore.

Biggest lie you’ve ever told: I’m an Interpol agent. 

A lie you wish you’d told: I’m a minor, I deserve the discount.

Read an in-depth interview with Khaled.


Born and raised in Singapore, Khaled is a former journalist with local and international exposure. His articles have been published and syndicated to newspapers worldwide, and his short stories have appeared in literary journals and magazines.

The author is a member of the Crime Writers Association and the International Thriller Writers. Khaled's novel Incognito won the Silver award for the AuthorsDB Book Cover Contest 2017.

Connect with Khaled:
Website  |  Facebook  |  Twitter 

Buy the book:
Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble

Monday, March 12, 2018



During the Spanish Civil War Frank Swiver and his college pal, Max Rabinowitz, both fall in love with Amanda Zingaro, but she and her father are shot by a local fascist strongman. Eleven years later in San Francisco in 1949, Frank, traumatized by the violence in Spain, has become a pacifist and makes a marginal living as a private eye. He is called into a murder case that the cops hope to write off as suicide. Max, who lost an eye in Spain but owes his life to Frank, becomes a public defender and asks Frank to help him build a defense for a Mexican accused of knifing a naked man in a hotel room. Max has also met a woman in the case who is a dead ringer for Amanda, the woman they thought they'd lost years ago in Spain. What’s going on?

Book Details:

Author’s name: Harley Mazuk

Book title: Last Puffs

Genre: Mystery/crime

Publisher: New Pulp Press, Jan. 2018

Page count: 293

Touring with: Pump Up Your Book!


A few of your favorite things:
My wine collection, my books.
Things you need to throw out: Old clothes that I haven’t worn in years

Things you need in order to write: Revisions are such a big part of my writing, that I really need my computer and word processing software in order to write.
Things that hamper your writing: Noise, such as TV programs playing in another room, chores—dishes, laundry, grocery shopping, bill paying, taxes (I’m retired, so those are my jobs)

Things you love about where you live: I live in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. I enjoy the safety and peace of the suburbs. I love the liberal politics of my county and of a majority of the state, and the quality of life. I was born in Ohio, but Maryland is now my home.
Things that make you want to move: The stifling heat and humidity of the summer, and the length of the hot season—it’s more than just a three-month summer. The unbelievable traffic congestion emanating from D.C. The high cost of living.

Favorite foods: French Fries and bacon.
Things that make you want to throw up: Eggnog.

Favorite music or song: I like most everything by the Beatles, Eric Clapton, or Pink Floyd. I’m also very fond of the Blues, especially old-fashioned Delta Blues, like by Muddy Waters or Robert Johnson.
Music that make your ears bleed: Music that blares out of cars next to you at the light with all their windows rolled down. 

Favorite smell: The smell of old roses
Something that makes you hold your nose: Milk past its date, freshly soiled diapers.

Something you’re really good at: Copy editing. Distance running—I have been a jogger since 1978. I’ve finished a couple marathons, and often did quite well in 10k races, though I don’t race anymore. 
Something you’re really bad at: Basketball. I have a vertical leap of about four inches, and I’ve never been much of a ball handler either.

Something you like to do: Go out on a cool sunny morning and run three miles
Something you wish you’d never done: Hit the wall with that rental car in Napoli.

Things you always put in your books: “Hammettisms”—elements generally found in the books and stories of Dashiell Hammett. They include vivid, larger-than-life characters, flavorful dialogue, detective-style descriptions of people, working class main character, a fat man, a Russian, drinking, slang, treacherous women. 

Things you never put in your books: Profanity.

Things to say to an author: I left a review of your book on Amazon.

Things to say to an author if you want to be fictionally killed off in their next book: I only gave your book one star.

Favorite places you’ve been: Rome, Italy, Cusco, Peru.

Places you never want to go to again: New Haven, Connecticut. I got arrested there for hitchhiking.

Favorite genre: Mystery, especially detective/private eye stories.

Books you would ban: See I almost didn’t answer that one because I’m not the sort who believes in banning books. But I could ban books by Harley Mazuk. Then perhaps they’d become underground best sellers.

Things that make you happy: I like running, drinking wine, reading, writing. They all make me happy.

Things that drive you crazy: Bad drivers. It’s dangerous out there!

The last thing you did for the first time: I just had my first cup of yogurt at the age of 69. Low-fat, vanilla.

Something you’ll never do again: Eat yogurt. Ha, ha. No, it was fine. I will never run another marathon.


Arag√≥n, Spain, March 1938 There’d been a dusting of fresh snow in the high ground during the night, and the captain wanted our squad, which was nine men, to relieve an outpost on the crest of a hill, just up above the tree line. Max Rabinowitz took point, and I followed, climbing steadily. It was a cold, quiet morning, and we talked between ourselves about the ’38 baseball season, and whether we’d be back in the States to see any games. “I would like to see Hank Greenberg and the Tigers play DiMaggio and the Yanks,” said Max. Max was dark-haired and rangy, and I always thought he looked a bit like Cary Grant, though now after a year in the field, there was nothing suave nor dapper in his appearance. “How about Ted Williams?” I said. “We’ve already seen DiMaggio play in San Francisco with the Seals.” “We saw Williams play with the Padres. Besides, he isn’t in the big leagues yet,” said Max. “Yeah, but the Red Sox signed him.” I walked along just off Max’s shoulder. I was about the same height as Max, six feet, six-one, a little thinner, and looked at least as scruffy that morning. I wore a burgundy scarf around my head and ears, under a dirty and battered grey fedora. I scanned the virgin snow ahead of us with heavy-lidded eyes. The wind was faint, just enough to pick up a feathery wisp of snow in spots and spin it around. “He’s only about 19. I think they’ll keep him down on the farm for ’38.” “I would like to see Bob Feller pitch to your boy Greenberg,” I told Max. Smitty came up between us. “Feller throws 100 miles an hour, and he strikes out more than one per inning.” “They say,” said Max, “he walks almost one an inning,” “Keeps ‘em loose up there,” said Smitty, who was from Cleveland. “Hundred mile an hour heat and nobody knows where it’s going.” As the three of us stepped out of the cover of the tree line, Smitty kind of hopped up on one leg and threw his arms out. I wondered what sort of a weird little dance that was; then I heard the automatic weapons fire coming down at us off the hill. It was a mechanical chatter, rather than gunpowder explosions, and the wind had blown the sound around the hills so that the bullets cut Smitty down before it had reached us. Branches near us started to snap off and tumble earthwards. Max hit the snow on his belly and rolled downhill to his right to get to cover behind a rock. I motioned for the others to get back into the trees, and dove into a low spot in the ground. When we could look up, we saw that the fascists had overrun the outpost we’d been climbing up to the ridge to relieve, and the firing was coming from there. We returned fire. I heard cries in Spanish from behind me, a curse in a low voice, then a high-pitched prayer. A potato-masher grenade came flipping end-over-end down the hill toward me. It seemed like slow motion. It hit a rock and bounced up. I could say a Hail Mary in about four seconds flat in those days, and I said one then. The grenade sailed over my head; I heard it explode, and felt a shower of dirt on my back. In front of me, Max was popping up and firing one round with his Springfield, then dropping behind the rock. I popped up and fired when he dropped down. I thought we were doing pretty well taking turns, but grenades kept arcing over our heads and bullets pinged into Max’s rock and raked the dirt beside me. Max tried lobbing one of his grenades towards the machine gun, but his throw was uphill, and he didn’t have an arm like DiMaggio. After a few minutes of this, I tried to aim and squeeze the trigger instead of popping off quick shots. Then I didn’t hear anyone behind us firing anymore. I looked around and saw Rocco and Pete sprawled in the grass. I called to a couple of the others. “Comrades…anyone…sound off.” Nada. “Frank, this is bad,” Max yelled to me. “I’d rather be facing Feller’s fastballs,” I told him. “Maybe it’s time for us to dust.” Then we heard an airplane motor. It grew louder, and the first plane, a Heinkel, zoomed over the ridge seconds later. Max had risen to his feet and was scrambling down the slope. He looked back over his shoulder at the plane just as a cannon shot from the aircraft hit the rock he’d been behind. The explosion flipped Max in mid-air and tossed him towards me. The ground under him ripped up and clods of dirt flew towards us. The scene faded to black, but for how long, I don’t know. When I opened my eyes, I was facing the sky but I smelled the forest floor, earth and leaves. Truffles, perhaps? Max was on top of me, limp, and it was quiet. No planes, no shooting. “Max,” I said, “we gotta get up. Get off me.” I felt my voice in my head, but couldn’t hear it in my ears. Max didn’t get up. I rolled him over next to me, and saw that his hat was gone. The top of his head and the right side of his face were a collage of blood and dirt. I shook him, and he gasped for breath, earth falling out of his nostrils. He was still alive. “Frank, Frank. I can’t see. I can’t see.” It didn’t sound like Max, but there was no one else there. “Easy, Max.” I tried to rinse some of the dirt, debris and blood off Max’s head with my canteen, then I ripped open a compress from my pack and put it over his forehead and eyes. I wrapped more dressing around his head to keep the bandage in place “Hold this on your face, man. Don’t try to open your eyes.” I was afraid his right eyeball was going to fall out. “Hold it tight.” Using the slope, I maneuvered him across my shoulder, head down in front of me, and struggled to my feet. I took off at a trot along the tree line. Our lines were behind us to the east but it looked like the whole damned fascist army was charging down from the outpost, headed that way, so I ran south. It was downhill and my momentum carried us. The going was easy, but I felt panic building in my gut so I tried to slow down. I slid on the snow, fell on my butt, and slammed into a tree and dropped Max. “Frank, where are you? Am I dyin’?” “I got you, Max. You caught some shrapnel in the head from that plane. Say an act of contrition or something.” “I’m a Jew, you idiot.” “Say it anyway.” I lifted the gauze off his forehead and looked under it. His wound didn’t appear to be deep, but the right eye was very bad, all blood and pulp, and the bone around it may have been shattered. “Press on this, Max.” I pressed the bandage back against his face and put his hand on it. I hoisted him over my shoulder again, and stepped off, forcing myself to keep my pace steady and not too fast. We went on till the sun was high in the sky. I didn’t fall again, but my ankles were burning, and my toes were pinched in my boots from going downhill. I stopped twice, and opened our bota. I washed my mouth out with the wine, a rustic red from Calatayud, then I cradled Max’s head and opened his mouth. I squirted the wine in, squeezing the leather skin, the way I’d squeezed the trigger of my rifle. Max coughed. He seemed only half-conscious. I carried Max down the hill and to the south, parallel to our lines, until we were deep in some woods. I was scared and it wasn’t easy, but I would have done anything for Max. We had been roommates and run around together at Berkeley. We fell out of touch when he went to law school, and I started drinking, trying to forget Cicilia. When Max re-connected with me in ’36, he tried to help me sober up and get back on my feet. I’d come around for a while, but always, I’d slip back into the abyss. Max was a red, even back in our student days. I hadn’t been serious about my politics then. One evening to keep me from drowning my demons, Max took me to a meeting about the Spanish Civil War and the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Before the night was over, we’d signed up to fight in Spain. Max didn’t have to. I think he did it to save me. Now I was going to save him. When the sun dropped behind the hills, the woods quickly grew dark. There was a smell of pines, and the footing was better—no snow or ice on the ground, which was hard and covered with dry pine needles. Under the background din of war, the roar of artillery and airplanes, I heard water down to my left. I turned towards it and a few minutes later, came to a stream, probably flowing south to the Ebro. It wasn’t night yet, but it was so dark under the tall trees, I would have walked into the stream without seeing it if not for the sound of the water rushing over the rocks. I put Max down on his back, head and shoulders downhill toward the stream. The blood had dried; the gauze was stuck to his head. I scooped up water with my hat and poured it on his face. The icy cold shocked him into consciousness—and panic and pain. “Morphine, Frank,” he moaned. “Gimme the morphine.” But I had used our morphine one night weeks ago on guard duty on a cold hillside. We did have a flask of Cardenal Mendoza Spanish Brandy, and I gave him some, then I drank. I rinsed his wound good and put a new bandage on it using Max’s kit this time. My legs felt weak and started to shake with cold or exhaustion. I don’t know if I could have stood up then if the Generalissimo had come down the hill waving his pistoles. We were down low, and there were some bare shrubs and young trees sheltering us on the uphill slope. I fought my exhaustion and tried to keep watch as long as I could. I had another swallow of brandy and pulled close to Max. My eyes closed, and I fell asleep.


Harley Mazuk was born in Cleveland, the last year that the Indians won the World Series. He majored in English literature at Hiram College in Ohio, and Elphinstone College, Bombay, India. Harley worked as a record salesman (vinyl) and later served the U.S. Government in Information Technology and in communications, where he honed his writing style as an editor and content provider for official web sites.

Retired now, he likes to write pulp fiction, mostly private eye stories, several of which have appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. His first full length novel, White with Fish, Red with Murder, was released in 2017, and his newest, Last Puffs, just came out in January 2018.

Harley’s other passions are his wife Anastasia, their two children, reading, running, Italian cars, California wine and peace.

Connect with Harley:
Website  |  Blog  |  Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Goodreads  

Buy the book:
Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Kobo 

Sunday, March 11, 2018



Pen Prado has a passion for cooking. Specifically, cooking her father's food in her father's restaurant. It's the heart of their immigrant neighborhood, a place where everyone belongs, and second chances are always on the menu. Except for Pen. Despite the fact that there's something almost magic about her food, her father can't imagine anything worse than her following in his footsteps. And when Pen confesses to keeping a secret from her family, he fires her, ensuring she never will.

Xander Amaro is undocumented but that doesn't stop Ignacio Prado from offering him a job at his restaurant. For Xander, it's a chance to make amends and to sever his toxic relationship with the druglord, El Cantil--a man whose been like a father to him since his own disappeared. Soon after, his mother abandoned him too, leaving behind a void that not even his abuelo can fill. Until he meets Pen.

Both seeking a place where they feel like they truly belong, they end up finding each other, and in the face of tremendous fear and self-doubt, they end up finding themselves.

Book Details:

Title: Pen & Xander
Author: Laekan Zea Kemp
Genre: Teen & Young Adult, contemporary romance

Publisher: Self-published, October 31, 2017

Paperback: 379 pages


The room empties until there’s no one left but a few people snoring. Pen stays put too, standing across from me. Her cheeks are flushed from the alcohol, her expression stoic.
“Should we call it a tie?” I say.
She slides a shot glass over to me. “There’s no such thing.”
“Okay…” I reach for the coin. “Call it.”
She calls heads. She wins.
I try to steady my voice. “Go easy on me.”
“Truth or dare.”
“Truth.” It’s the only game I want to play with her.
“Okay. Where are you from? Originally?”
I sigh, relieved. “Puebla. I moved here when I was twelve.”
“My turn,” she says, not wasting any time.
“Truth or Dare,” I counter.
“Truth.” The question immediately forms on my tongue—who are you…really?—but it’s too harsh, almost accusatory. I mull over the words again and finally settle on, “Are you really as brave as you seem?”
She doesn’t smile. “Yes. And no. Your turn.”
“Truth,” I say. “Are you as cool, calm, and collected as you seem?”
I huff out a laugh. “Sometimes.”
“And other times?”
The laugh slips from my lips. “I’m a fucking mess.”
“My turn.” I can’t tell if the abrupt back and forth is driven by her desire to reveal something about me or to be revealed herself. “Ask me another question.”
“Why did you drink before they could say who your brother…you know…?” Pen glances at the window seat where Chloe is asleep against the sill. She rolls, sensing our eyes, and Pen lures me onto the front porch. The breeze is warm, the night sky hidden behind grey clouds. I expect Pen to explain but instead she’s silent, proving once again that Chloe’s secrets, unlike everyone else’s, are safe with her. Beneath the light whistle of the wind, crickets chirping, I say, “You’re a good friend.”
She ignores the comment, sitting on the lid of an old paint can. “It’s your turn.”
I sit down next to her. “I’m ready.”
She narrows her eyes. “Okay, for all the marbles this one’s a two-parter. One truth and one dare.” She stares at the street, cheeks burning. When she faces me again mine are too. “Truth,” she breathes. “Do you want to kiss me?”
I don’t look away or even blink. “Yes.”
She doesn’t look away either. “Dare.” She swallows, leans in. “Do it.”
My hands move first, trusting that the only way to make them stop shaking is to press them to her skin. My thumbs graze her cheeks, fingers in her hair. It’s soft and she’s warm and for a long time I just look at her, closing the space centimeters at a time while I take in the lashes that are stuck together by mascara, the birthmark buried under her left eyebrow, the small dimple on her chin. I stare, sorting every piece into things that feel good and things that hurt like hell, into things I never want to forget and things I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure I never have to.
But before I have a chance to savor those first few breaths slipping between her lips, they’re pressed against mine, falling and climbing their way back up. I taste her lipstick, her tongue, and it makes me dizzy. Her hands are on my knees, pinning me there, and then they’re on my waist, on my shoulders, both of us gripping each other like we’re clinging to the edge of a cliff. Afraid of falling off. Or hoping that if we do, we’ll fall together.
Suddenly, Pen stops moving.
She stops breathing, my wild heartbeat the only sound.
I open my eyes and she’s not staring back. She’s staring at the street. At the car parked in front of Angel’s house, cigarette smoke slithering up from the open window, flesh and ink viper flexed against Jago’s forearm as he hangs it over the side of the door.
I’m on my feet and so is Pen. She shudders, angry, and unafraid. But I’m terrified. And not just of Jago seeing me here but of Jago seeing her. I don’t know how long he’s been watching us but I can tell by the way his mouth twitches that he knows who she is. To Ignacio Prado. To me.
The engine purrs as the car pulls forward. Just in time for Angel to step outside. For Jago to say hello to him too.
“Get inside, Pen.”
She straightens, shoulders heaving.
“No.” Her stare sharpens. She charges down the steps. “He’s not gonna fucking do this.” Z
Angel wrenches her back. “Are you out of your mind?”
My heart races.
“Stay away from us!” Pen shouts, trying to tear herself from Angel’s grasp. “Stay away from the restaurant. Fucking stay away!”
She seethes but the faster her breaths, the more transparent she becomes. Beneath the anger, beneath the shock, her eyes glisten with something like fear. And it’s all my fault.
Jago hangs his head back, a whistle cutting between his smile. He leans on the gas, letting the engine growl, and then he speeds off.
Pen glares until he rounds the corner and then she finally lets Chloe pull her inside. I stay put, afraid of facing Angel. I know Jago’s been following me and because I wasn’t being careful I led him right to Angel Prado’s house. To Pen. Her rage wasn’t directed at me but what she doesn’t know is that it should have been.
“I’m sorry, Angel. I didn’t mean for—”
“It’s not you,” Angel stops me. “It’s…” he shakes his head, “it’s not you.”


Laekan Zea Kemp is a writer and explorer extraordinaire who grew up in the flatlands of West Texas. She graduated from Texas Tech with a BA in Creative Writing and is the author of the multi-cultural New Adult novels The Things They Didn't Bury, Orphans of Paradise, Breathing Ghosts, and the Young Adult Paranormal series The Girl In Between. Pen & Xander, a contemporary romance, was released in October 2017.

Connect with Laekan:

Website  |  Blog Twitter  |  Goodreads 

Buy the book:

Friday, March 9, 2018



When Sydney Bonner overhears a fellow mah jongg player arguing on the phone with her husband, she realizes the couple’s “perfect marriage” isn’t all it appears to be. A few days later, the husband is found dead, his head bashed in. Fearing she’ll be considered the most likely suspect, the widow prevails upon Sydney and her three friends—Marianne, Kat and Micki—to find out who really killed him.

Though none of these four fun-loving, take-charge retirees has any training as detectives, the women agree to launch a secret investigation. As they dig under the happy veneer of their community’s social life, they find more than enough suspects, from shady ladies to resentful golf buddies, to keep them looking over their shoulders.

Could the murderer be lurking among the talent in a chaotic production put on by Sydney’s husband, who will do anything to keep busy in retirement? Could the sheriff, who may have more than a professional interest in chanteuse Kat, end up pinning the crime on the women instead? Each discovery during their investigations and their weekly mah jongg game keeps them running as they close in on the killer—but the killer may also be closing in on them.

Book Details:

Title: Craks in a Marriage (Mah Jongg Mysteries)

Author: Barbara Barrett

Genre: Cozy Mystery, 1st in series
Setting: Florida

Publisher: Self Published (February 6, 2018)

Print Length: 204 pages

Touring with: Great Escapes Book Tours


Retirement Pastimes

Unlike my other books, where my main characters have been in their thirties, when I started writing a cozy mystery, I wanted to write about people my own age, which I won’t reveal for purposes of ego, but since I’m retired, that gives you a general feel. Why write about what some might characterize as a bunch of “old fogies”? The short answer is that I find my peers fascinating. The longer response is in the paragraphs to follow.

A few months before I retired, I had the opportunity to consult a retirement coach, because until then, I hadn’t given much thought to what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. All I knew was that I finally had all the time in the world to write. But even the most dedicated author has to free up her brain from time to time, so once I walked out of my state agency for the last time, I surveyed all the activities available to me.

It helped to join a social group of seniors. It served as a sort of clearinghouse for information on local and regional things to do. Eating was high on my list, and they offered both monthly dinners and lunches at restaurants in the area. There was also tennis, walking groups, petanque, fishing trips, exercise class, gardening, art, etc.

One of the first things I tried was knitting. I’d learned the basics years before but was fortunate in having a friend who was an expert who could get me back on track. I started with washcloths, then branched out to scarves. Even finished two little caps for my grandchildren.

I also joined a book club. I try to stay current with the genres in which I write by reading romance novels and mysteries, but this was a chance to learn more about current literary fiction and nonfiction. Of course, it helped that we met for lunch at different restaurants around time. I already mentioned my interest in eating, didn’t I?

Then there was mah jongg. That had never occurred to me as a possible pastime when working on my retirement plan, but the chance arose, and it seemed like a great way to meet people. As it turned out, it has become a near addiction. I have learned two versions and now play twice weekly. I used this experience as the heart of my first cozy mystery series, aptly named the Mah Jongg Mystery series, which features four friends who play the game together in the fictional central Florida town of Serendipity Springs. I’ve included some of the activities cited above and others as background. For instance, a critical scene early in the book takes place at the monthly dinner of the social group, the Springers.

One of my favorite aspects of this first book is the struggle of one of the friends’ husband to adapt to his retirement. Though he won’t admit it, he misses the structure and feeling of achievement he received from his prior worklife, so he keeps finding new ways to stay occupied. In this book, he takes on a follies production spotlighting local performers. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the number of days a week he’s on the golf course.

The one thing I’ve learned about retirement pastimes is that there are as many available as we retirees can dream up. Only two things limit us: having the funds and the health to pursue them. But when you think about it, these are mostly the same pastimes of everyone. The only difference is that retirees have more time to actually enjoy them.


Barbara Barrett started reading mysteries when she was pregnant with her first child to keep her mind off things like her changing body and food cravings. When she’d devoured as many Agatha Christies as she could find, she branched out to English village cozies and Ellery Queen.

Later, to avoid a midlife crisis, she began writing fiction at night when she wasn’t at her day job as a human resources analyst for Iowa State Government. After releasing eleven full-length romance novels and one novella, she has returned to the cozy mystery genre, using one of her retirement pastimes, the game of mah jongg, as her inspiration. Not only has it been a great social outlet, it has also helped keep her mind active when not writing.

Craks in a Marriage, the first book in her “Mah Jongg Mystery” series, features four friends who seek the murderer of another mah jongg player’s husband before she is charged. None of the four is based on an actual person. Each is an amalgamation of several mah jongg friends with a lot of Barbara’s imagination thrown in for good measure. The four will continue to appear in future books in the series.

Anticipating the day when she would write her first mystery, she has been a member of the Mystery/Romantic Suspense chapter of Romance Writers of America for over a decade. She credits them with helping her hone her craft.

Barbara is married to a man she met her senior year of college. They have two grown children and eight grandchildren.

Now retired, she is a resident of Florida, although she spends her summers in Iowa, her home state. She earned her B.A. degree in History from the University of Iowa and her Master’s Degree in History from Drake University.

When not in front of her laptop creating her next story, she plays Mah Jongg, knits, and enjoys lunches with friends.

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