Saturday, May 18, 2019

FEATURED AUTHOR: KATE YOUNG



ABOUT THE BOOK


Life has always been sweet on Georgia’s Peach Cove Island, but a case of murder has Marygene Brown down in the pits . . .
 


For generations, the women of the Brown family on Peach Cove Island have been known for their Southern sass and sweet homemade desserts at their beloved Peach Diner. Since their mother's passing two years ago, Marygene has been stuck in Atlanta while her sister Jena Lynn has been running the family business. Now Marygene has left her husband and returned to her hometown, where she can almost feel Mama's presence.



But all is not peachy back home. Marygene has barely tied on an apron when a diner regular drops dead at the counter. When it turns out the old man's been poisoned, Jena Lynn is led away in handcuffs and the family eatery is closed. Now, to save her sister and the diner, Marygene must find the real killer. With some startling assistance from her Mama's spirit, Marygene will be serving up a special order of just desserts . . .



Includes Seven Recipes from Marygene’s Kitchen!



Book Details:


Title: Southern Sass and Killer Cravings


Author: Kate Young


Genre: Cozy mystery


Series: Marygene Brown Mysteries


Publish date: Publisher: Kensington (May 28, 2019)


Print length: 368 pages






   


LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT WITH KATE YOUNG


A few of your favorite things:
good cookware and kitchen gadgets (Le Creuset, Green Pans, KitchenAid Mixer, Instant Pot, and Silpat Mats): book collection; and photo albums.
Things you need to throw out: I declutter often, so as of this moment not much. I probably could use a closet clean out. 


Things you need in order to write: coffee, my Mac and noise canceling Bose headphones.
Things that hamper your writing: three kids (hence the Bose headphones). Love ‘em anyway. lol. 

Easiest thing about being a writer: writing.


Hardest thing about being a writer: marketing.

Things you never want to run out of: coffee, dark chocolate, and fixings for a great charcuterie or cheese board.
Things you wish you’d never bought: food dehydrator (don’t ask. lol).

Favorite foods: Mexican, Italian, and good ole Southern Chicken Fried Chicken with lots of white gravy.
Things that make you want to throw up: anchovies.

Favorite music or song: anything from country to pop.
Music that make your ears bleed: not a fan of rap.

Favorite beverage: coffee.

Something that gives you a pickle face: bad coffee.

Something you’re really good at: cooking. Being in the kitchen makes my heart sing. 

Something you’re really bad at: organization. You don’t want to see the inside my kitchen cabinets.



Last best thing you ate: oh my, that’s a tough one. Hmm. Lobster ravioli with truffle butter.
Last thing you regret eating: Probably the Lobster ravioli with truffle butter. I have a love/hate relationship with amazing food. I love it too much sometimes.

Things you’d walk a mile for: a great Italian cream cake.
Things that make you want to run screaming from the room: public speaking terrifies me. I can do it, but if I ponder it too long beforehand, I’m tempted to run screaming from the room. Lol.

Things you always put in your books: strong female leads
.
Things you never put in your books: explicit sex and graphic violence will never make it into my cozies.

Things to say to an author: I love your book, and I’ve reviewed it everywhere! 

Things to say to an author if you want to be fictionally killed off in their next book: Can’t think of a thing.

Favorite places you’ve been: Ireland.
Places you never want to go to again: Haven’t been there yet.

Favorite books: mysteries, thrillers, historical, and some fantasy
.
Books you would ban: none. I don’t believe books should be banned.

Favorite things to do: reading, traveling, sun bathing, anything out doors with the fam. 

Things you’d run through a fire wearing gasoline pants to get out of doing: again, public speaking.

Things that make you happy: a clean house; spending time with friends and family; beach reading; and really good food.

Things that drive you crazy: clutter.

Best thing you’ve ever done: having a family. Love my hubby and kiddos. 

Biggest mistake: hmm. Back in my catering days, I got in a hurry and stacked a wedding cake warm . . . Big crumbling mistake . . .


BOOK TRAILER








ABOUT THE AUTHOR 



Kate Young writes Southern mystery novels. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and the Guppy Chapter. Kate lives in a small town in Georgia with her husband, three kids, and Shih Tzu. When she is not writing her own books, she’s reading or cooking.

Connect with Kate:
Website  |  Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Goodreads

Buy the book:
Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble









The author is hosting a pre-order contest!


Click on the link to fill out the form and enter the giveaway. Pre-orders of Southern Sass and Killer Cravings purchased before May 28 will be eligible.


* Grand Prize Winner receives a gorgeous Coach Avenue Tote and Coach wristlet pictured below (value $450) and a $100 gift card to either Amazon or B&N.
​​* 2 Runners up will receive a $10 gift card to either Amazon or B&N and an autographed paperback copy of Southern Sass and Killer Cravings.

Winners will be notified via email and on social media with a pinned post on Kate's fan page, so make sure you like and are following her on Facebook.


Thursday, May 16, 2019

FEATURED AUTHOR: A.S. FENICHEL




ABOUT THE BOOK


Can a broken engagement ignite the spark of true love?
 


Sylvia Dowder had almost made it to the altar when her fiancé unexpectedly became a viscount, and dropped her like a stale crumpet to make a more “suitable” match. Though Sylvia’s heart has been crushed, her spirit has not. She puts her wits and social savvy to use as a secret gossip columnist—and as the Everton Domestic Society’s party planner to the ton. Luckily, she’s not in danger of ever falling for an aristocrat again . . . 


Especially not one like Anthony Braighton, Earl of Grafton. Raised in America, Anthony sees no reason to marry when he can enjoy all the perks of being an eligible earl. Determined to convince his family he doesn’t need a wife, he hires Sylvia to act as hostess and decorator for upcoming parties. Yet Sylvia is as adept at captivating his interest as she is at beautifying his home. And despite this Everton lady’s aversion to titled men, some attractions can’t be denied—and love rarely does go where it’s told . . .


Book Details:


Title: A Lady’s Virtue


Author’s name: A.S. Fenichel


Genre: Regency Historical Romance


Series: Everton Domestic Society


Publisher: Kensington Books/Lyrical Press (March 19, 2019)


Print length: 225 pages


On tour with: Pump Up Your Book







   

LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT WITH A.S. FENICHEL


A few of your favorite things: my husband, my cat, my phone, a nice purse, my books.
Things you need to throw out: old books (let’s say donate), clothes that don’t fit, old stacks of research papers. 


Things you need in order to write: my computer, scrap paper, an expired day planner for plotting, my current day planner for scheduling.
Things that hamper your writing: my phone, social media, drama on SM, my sweet husband. 


Things you love about writing: the blank page before I write the first word; creating a world and developing a great story in that worldl the voices in my head.
Things you hate about writing: the stress of finding a publisher, the first round of editing, the point in every book where I doubt myself.

Things you never want to run out of: wine, coffee, chocolate.
Things you wish you’d never bought: fancy wine glasses, the brown dishes, chocolate.


Words that describe you: tenacious, passionate, smart.
Words that describe you but you wish they didn’t: loud, shy, middle-aged.

Favorite foods: anything Italian, spinach, cucumbers, steak, cheese, chocolate.
Things that make you want to throw up: beets, raw tomatoes, kale.

Favorite beverage: wine, water, tea, coffee.

Something that gives you a pickle face: Kombucha.

Favorite smell: lilacs. 

Something that makes you hold your nose: any kind of musty smell.

Things you always put in your books: empowered women.

Things you never put in your books: domination shown in a positive light.

Things to say to an author: a specific thing you liked in the book.

Things to say to an author if you want to be fictionally killed off in their next book: “You should write my story, it would be better than anything you can dream up.”

Favorite places you’ve been: Italy.

Places you never want to go to again: Chicago in winter.

Favorite things to do: cook.

Things you’d run through a fire wearing gasoline pants to get out of doing: dust.

Things that make you happy: my cat, finding new treasures for my house. 

Things that drive you crazy: the news, gossip.

Most daring thing you’ve ever done: ziplining.

Something you chickened out from doing: rollercoaster.



EXCERPT FROM A LADY'S VIRTUE


Late again, Sylvia Dowder ran down the stairs at the Everton Domestic Society as if her skirts were on fire. It was impossible to read her handwritten pages while moving at such a pace, but she needed to send her article to the Weekly Whisper’s editor before the day was out. She’d been late last month and nearly lost her post at the newspaper.
At the bottom of the stairs, she noted her failure to sign the article. Quill in hand, she dripped ink on her brown skirt, leaned on the banister and scribbled Mable Tattler at the bottom. She would ask Gray to have  a footman carry it to Free Market Square. Jumping down the last step brought her up against a wall that toppled her to the floor.
Stunned, she lay still with her papers strewn around her and the light from the transom windows blocked by whatever had felled her.
A masculine, ungloved hand reached toward her. “I’m terribly sorry, miss. Entirely my fault. Are you hurt?” His accent was strange, American perhaps. Having no gloves on, she was hesitant to touch him, but there was no help for it. She couldn’t remain on her back like a turtle. The warmth of his skin traveled up her arm, and her cheeks heated. His fingers were strong and rough. This was no gentleman’s hand. She stood as he eased her to her feet. “Not at all,” she said. “I was distracted.”
He towered over her. At her full height of barely over five feet, she craned her neck and was frozen by the most stunning pair of golden eyes, olive skin and full lips. She blinked to focus on the whole rather than the parts. “Anthony Braighton?”
He bowed over her hand, which he still held firmly in his. “Lady Serena or Sylvia? I’m afraid I don’t know.”
The mention of her twin’s name brought reality crashing back on Sylvia. She pulled her hand back and made a curtsy. “A common mistake, sir. I am Sylvia Dowder. My sister is still living at home.”
Cocking his head, he gawked at her. “And you are now living here at Everton House, Miss Dowder?”
“I have joined the Society.” While he seemed only curious, it still rubbed her wrong, and she forced herself not to defend her decisions. Anthony Braighton was just a rich gentleman from America. His opinion didn’t mean anything.
“Because of Lord March?” The problem with Americans was they said exactly what they thought rather than keeping a conversation polite. Sylvia bit down on the inside of her cheek. The last thing she wanted was to recount the demise of her engagement to Hunter Gautier, the current Viscount of March. She had been so close to the altar before disaster struck. No. She wouldn’t think about that anymore. “My reasons are not your concern, Mr. Braighton. If you’ll excuse me, I have to see the butler.” His eyes were wide. “Have I been rude, Miss Dowder? I assure you, it was not my intention. I only meant to convey that March’s treatment of you was abominable and no one blames you.”
Despite his effort to make things better, his mention of what everyone in London knew of her life and failure only exacerbated her mortification. Still, she could see he was sincere, if mistaken. “There is no harm, Mr. Braighton. I am uninjured.”
“I am pleased to hear that. It seems I have a bad habit of offending the English with regularity.” His smile created the most charming dimple in his left cheek, and his eyes sparkled with mischief.
If she were honest, she did not mind looking at Anthony Braighton.
Best not to be too honest. “I am made of tougher stuff than most.” “Indeed.” That dimple deepened, and he raised an eyebrow. Looking at the pages in her hand, he said, “I’m keeping you from something. Forgive me. I was on my way to see Lady Jane Everton.”
Curiosity over what troubles might bring a rich young man to the Everton Domestic Society warred with her need to have her article delivered to her editor before her deadline passed. Her training as a lady won the battle. She gestured toward the hallway, which led behind the stairs. “Lady Jane’s office is the first door on the right.”
“Thank you, Miss Dowder. Very nice to see you again.”
“And you, Mr. Braighton. If you will excuse me.”
He bowed, and she rushed from the foyer to find Gray, the Evertons’ aging butler.

Excerpt from by A.S. Fenichel.  Copyright © 2018 by A.S. Fenichel. Reproduced with permission from A.S. Fenichel. All rights reserved.





ABOUT THE AUTHOR 

A.S. Fenichel gave up a successful IT career in New York City to follow her husband to Texas and pursue her lifelong dream of being a professional writer. She's never looked back. 



A.S. adores writing stories filled with love, passion, desire, magic, and maybe a little mayhem tossed in for good measure. Books have always been her perfect escape, and she still relishes diving into one and staying up all night to finish a good story.



Originally from New York, she grew up in New Jersey, and now lives in Missouri with her real life hero, her wonderful husband. When not reading or writing she enjoys cooking, travel, history, and puttering in her garden.





Connect with the author:

Website  |  Blog  |  Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Goodreads

Buy the book:
Amazon   |  Barnes & Noble  |  Book Bub


Tuesday, May 14, 2019

FEATURED AUTHOR: LINDA LOVELY




ABOUT THE BOOK


Vegan Brie Hooker lives and works with her feisty Aunt Eva at Udderly Kidding Dairy, a hop, skip, and jump away from South Carolina’s Clemson University. Brie’s fun farm outreach attempt backfires when religious extremists decide goat yoga is a form of devil worship. 



Believing one of the zealots might be persuaded to see reason, Brie’s free-wheeling friend Mollye convinces her they should call on the young woman. Big mistake. 



Picketers at Udderly’s gates soon become the least of Brie’s troubles. Not only is she accused of murder, she worries the death might actually be her fault. Danger mounts when an old family friend’s visit ensnares Brie in a high-stakes feud between a U.S. Supreme Court nominee and the woman determined to expose his secrets. 



In her personal life, Brie’s still torn between the town’s two most eligible bachelors. While she’s edging toward a decision, she must first survive a cunning killer adept at crafting murders that look like tragic accidents. 



Will Brie be another “accident” victim? Pay a visit to Udderly Kidding Dairy and find out!


Book Details:


Title: Bad Pick


Author: Linda Lovely


Genre: Cozy mystery


Series: Brie Hooker mystery series, book #3


Publisher: Henery Press (April 16, 2019)


Print length: 274 pages

On tour with: Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours







   


LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT INTERVIEW WITH LINDA LOVELY


A few of your favorite things: books by my favorite mystery/suspense/thriller authors; photos of family and friends that spark memories; my plain gold wedding ring; the sweet-smelling tea olives we planted in our yard.
Things you need to throw out: clothes I’ll never fit into again; decades old computer and paper files; a bowling ball and snow skis, both unused for more than 30 years.


Things you need in order to write: a computer and relative quiet.
Things that hamper your writing: nuisance phone calls.


Easiest thing about being a writer: writing. 

Hardest thing about being a writer: getting discovered in a crowded marketplace; earning a living as a full-time writer.


Words that describe you: optimistic; active imagination; determined; stubborn.
Words that describe you but you wish they didn’t: overweight; slow to let go of grudges.

Favorite foods: almost any pasta dish—lasagna, Fettuccini, stuffed shells . . . turkey and all the fixings that are part of our Thanksgiving menu, and, of course, anything chocolate.
Things that make you want to throw up: okra and other vegetables cooked until they’re mush.

Something you’re really good at: editing other people’s copy; interviewing experts; internet research.

Something you’re really bad at: backing up a car; keeping my temper when I feel someone is exaggerating, lying, or falsely accusing others to try to get their way.  


People you consider as heroes: good mediators who are able to listen to all sides and suggest compromise solutions. The friends and family who put up with all of my foibles.

People with a big L on their foreheads: self-righteous hypocrites, braggarts, bullies (physical or verbal).

Things you always put in your books: smart women; love (for family and/or the opposite sex), and romance. Love and/or romance can increase the stakes when loved ones are in peril. Romantic interests also tell readers a lot about the values and principles of my heroines—and sometimes give insight into their weaknesses.
Things you never put in your books: Gratuitous violence and gore. I prefer to use other vehicles to communicate a villain’s psychosis, lack of empathy, and rage. There’s no need to describe in detail how he/she is torturing someone or every blow a hero/heroine or other victim suffers for the reader to grasp what’s happening. 

Best thing you’ve ever done: Married my husband, who, for more than four decades, has always supported my professional decisions and encouraged me to do what makes me happy.

Biggest mistake: My husband and I once bought a direct mail advertising franchise. The business wasn’t anything like I thought it would be. It’s the only job I ever had that prompted me to cry. Nonetheless, our brief stint in that business taught us skills that served us well in the years to follow.


EXCERPT FROM BAD PICK

ONE

“How many people did you con into trying this goat yoga?” Aunt Eva asked as she slapped two strips of cold bacon in a skillet.
“No conning needed,” I answered. “Everyone’s looking forward to the class.”
“You sure goat yoga’s a good idea?”
I laughed. “I’m sure. People love it. Admittedly, a sense of humor’s required, but it’s caught on all across the country. Why don’t you join the fun? Class starts at three. We don’t have many Sunday customers this time of year. We’ll probably have the farm to ourselves by then. You up for some downward-facing dog?”
“No.” Eva harrumphed. “Don’t go insulting our noble dogs. Bad enough you’ll expose our baby goats to human pretzels. It’s bound to confuse the poor kids. Won’t know which human end is supposed to be up. They’ll think all us two-legged beings are bonkers. So who’s coming?”
“Jayla, our yoga instructor, wanted to limit the trial class to four students so it’s just Mollye, Fara, Mimi, and me.”
I pulled out a bag of frozen blueberries I’d picked at the Happy Berry Farm last summer. While Udderly Kidding Dairy, my home for the past seven months, boasted dozens of blueberry bushes, our four-hundred goats called first dibs on the fruit.
“Oh, and Paint’s shooting video to promote the class,” I added.
Aunt Eva chuckled as she flipped her sizzling bacon strips. “Not a hardship for Paint, videoing young ladies in nothing but skivvies and tutus.”
I glanced heavenward. “We don’t wear tutus. Our workout clothes show less skin than you do on the Fourth of July.”
Eva cocked an eyebrow. “Could be you’re helping Paint select babes for the weeks he’s not your designated beau.”
I opened the cupboard and grabbed a microwave packet of steel-cut oatmeal. “Paint sees a variety of ladies when we’re not dating, and he knows everyone in this class. No behind-the-camera scouting required.”
“Maybe, but as far as I know, he hasn’t seen any of them with their ankles up around their ears.”
“And he won’t today.”
“If you say so, but I swear my old bones creak just looking at some of those yoga contortions.”
Eva cracked two eggs in the hot bacon grease, while I used our microwave—a new kitchen addition—to thaw my frozen berries and heat the oats. My usual February morning fare. At Udderly, we didn’t chow down until the morning chores were done. That meant I was starved and in dire need of a caffeine injection.
Eva glanced over. “So how’s that boyfriend-for-a-week plan working? Who’s ahead in the Brie Hooker heart throb race? Any close calls on the clothing discard clause?”
I smiled. “Paint and Andy try to outdo each other in dreaming up ways to initiate a striptease. Despite their enterprising efforts, the nude- default clause remains unchallenged.”
Last November, I’d agreed to this bizarre boyfriend pact with Andy Green, our veterinarian, and David “Paint” Paynter, an entrepreneurial moonshiner. Though strongly attracted to both thirty-four-year-old hunks, I’d sworn I’d date neither. Didn’t want to lose them as friends or come between them. They’d been best buds for thirty years, practically since they left diapers.
The boys came up with an alternative. I’d date Paint one week, Andy the next, until either I selected a fulltime beau, one of them opted out, or a ridiculous nudity clause kicked in. If I disrobed on any date, the magician who assisted in making my clothes disappear would win by default. Both men swore the arrangement would not affect their friendship.
Me? I felt like I’d been locked in a chastity belt. Foreplay’s a lot less fun when there’s no after.
“You know it can’t last, don’t you?” Aunt Eva asked, giving voice to my own misgivings.
“Yep, I do. But like today’s sunny warmth—way too early for mid- February—I’ll enjoy it while I can.”

TWO

Jayla Johnson, our tall, willowy teacher waved as she walked toward me. Had to admit Paint would get an eyeful watching her stretch every which way. He was male, and Jayla was a stunner. As a shorty—I’m five four—I’d always envied long-legged ladies like Jayla. Somehow those extra inches made them look cool and sophisticated.
Luckily, Jayla wasn’t in the running to join Paint’s off-week harem. She was happily married to one of Clemson University’s football coaches and had a darling three-year-old son.
“Do we have a plan B?” Jayla glanced up at the Carolina blue sky. “It’s really warm for February, but the ground’s too muddy to put our mats down in a pasture. After five minutes, we’d look like we’d been mud wrestling.”
“Agreed. It’d be a shame to get that outfit muddy.” Jayla looked like an Oreo cookie, her ebony skin a sharp contrast to her snowy outfit. “I did warn you baby goats aren’t potty-trained, didn’t I? Accidents can happen.” “Not to worry.” Jayla smiled. “My laundry room has one whole shelf devoted to stain removers for husband-son accidents. So where are we setting up?”
“The horse barn. Plenty of room and it will be easier to keep Curly, Moe, and Larry contained.”
“Who?”
“Curly, Moe, and Larry are the baby goats—five-day-old triplets. We named the kids after The Three Stooges. Full of energetic hijinks. They’re also super cuddly.”
We turned as Mollye Camp’s psychedelic van crunched down the gravel drive. Her van’s midnight blue paint job served as a backdrop for a galaxy of glittering stars, a super-sized harvest moon, and a broom-riding witch. Moll, my best friend since childhood, was a gifted potter who sold her creations along with an eclectic hodgepodge of homeopathic remedies, herbs, and astrological doodads in her Starry Skies shop.
Moll jangled as she hopped down from her ride. She adored jewelry and had more piercings than a rapper. A vibrant purple streak adorned her white-blonde hair. She chose a new neon hue every month.
Mollye hustled over. “Who we waiting for?”
“Mimi and Fara,” I answered. “We’re keeping the group small for the test run. Paint’s shooting video.”
Mollye checked the amount of cleavage revealed by her scoop-necked purple top and inspected the seams of her orange leggings as they meandered south of her shorts. “Glad I didn’t wear anything too revealing. Don’t want folks thinking I’d participate in some racy video.”
Mimi and Fara’s arrival cut short Jayla’s and my eye rolls. Racy might not be Mollye’s middle name, but outrageous could be. I loved Mollye and her adventurous spirit though it sometimes landed me in hot water. Okay, in one case, freezing water.
With rolled mats tucked under their arms, the class newcomers looked like an odd couple. Mimi, who’d emigrated from Vietnam at age two, stood four feet nine on tiptoe, while Fara, a busty blonde with long braids, topped out at five ten. Mimi was a pharmacist; Fara grew up in her family’s funeral parlor and was now the town’s youngest funeral director.
Hard for this class to be more diverse. Paint would enjoy himself. “Hey, Fara, you boxing anyone up today?” Mollye joked.
“Maybe you after class,” the funeral director quipped. “You want the deluxe mahogany coffin or a pine box? I’m thinking you and Brie have used up eight of your nine lives. Better not exert yourselves today.”
Jayla clapped her hands. “Now children. Snarky is not the proper frame of mind for yoga. Think serenity. We want to clear our minds, be one with nature.”
I chuckled at the good-natured kidding. “Follow me to our classroom. We have the horse barn to ourselves. The smell alone will remind you we’re one with nature. I evicted Rita and Hank. They’re grazing in the pasture. Figured Lilly’s mule and Eva’s horse were more inclined to nicker than meditate.”
“Where are the goats in this goat yoga?” Fara asked.
“Eva will bring Curly, Moe, and Larry in after we start. We need to leave the barn door open for the light. Jim, our Border collie, will keep the little goat Houdinis from escaping.”
The triplets’ antics drove Jim nuts. Yesterday Moe pranced on top of a picnic table for five minutes taunting the poor herd dog. Jim ran circles around the table, barking in protest, unable to figure out how to nudge Moe back to her pen. After we placed our mats, Jayla led us through a series of simple warm-up stretches and breathing exercises. I’d been an avid runner and swimmer for years, but yoga was a new pursuit. I was pleasantly surprised to find its emphasis on breathing and mindfulness and its practiced movements helped me shed stress and fall asleep faster.
Believe me, falling asleep quickly is a prized skill for anyone required to rise before the sun. At Udderly, one of my jobs appeared to be waking the roosters.
Jayla announced the cat pose. I knelt on my mat and set my arms to provide four-point support. Then I arched my back like cats do when threatened. I lowered my head, giving my neck muscles a pleasant stretch.
“Looking good, ladies.” With my head down I heard the man’s voice before I saw him.
“Don’t mind me,” the newcomer continued. “I’m gonna wander around and take photos.”
The sexy baritone belonged to Paint. It should be outlawed.
“Have fun, kids—human and goat.” Eva laughed as she let the baby goats loose in the barn. Moe immediately darted under my arched back, executed a one-eighty, and raced back again as if she were playing a game of London Bridge.
My concentration faltered as Curly discovered she had easy access to one of my earlobes and began to nibble with her lips. It tickled.
Fara broke out laughing as Larry scrambled up her arched back and danced a little jig on his newly discovered perch.
“I’ve got a miniature geisha doing a four-footed massage.” Fara giggled. “Actually feels kind of good, though very strange.”
“No talking,” Jayla admonished. “Concentrate on your breathing, your muscles. Be one with nature.”
Paint hooted. “Nature’s winning.”
Paint obviously felt he was exempt from Jayla’s no-talking reprimand. The instructor began laughing, too. Moe had curled her body around Jayla’s legs as she attempted to hold the Big Toe pose.
We were all bent in half, butts in the air, when a loud voice brayed, “Oh dear God, save us. They are bowing to the devil, mocking the Lord Jesus by thrusting their bottoms at heaven above.”

THREE

What the feta?
I snapped around to see who was calling us devil worshippers. Was this a joke?
Flipping out of downward dog, I body slammed the mat. A second after hitting the plastic, a furry comedian bounced against my side. Curly shook her head as she attempted an impressive four-legged hop. She’d taken my tumble to the ground as an invitation to play. The little goat butted my side again.
“Lord Jesus, help us keep these devil worshippers from claiming more souls!” the stranger bellowed.
I was flabbergasted. No other word for it. Then my shock morphed into anger. Who did this woman think she was, calling us devil worshippers? Who invited her to our private workout? How did she even find out about it?
The plump leader held a super-sized wooden cross before her as if she were fending off a clutch of vampires. I figured her for mid-fifties. Gray streaks wound through her mousy brown hair. Light glinting off oversized spectacles lent her the look of an alien with round yellow bug eyes.
Two cross-carrying acolytes hovered about a foot behind her.
Were these people serious? I felt the blood rush to my cheeks. My heartbeat raced. Angry? You betcha.
I almost yelled one of my old-time favorite curses. Years back, I cleaned up my salty language for dear old Mom. As a vegan, processed- meat-and-cheese exclamations had become my exclamatory substitutes. But Cruddy corndogs! didn’t quite express my outrage.
Mollye, closest to the barn door, marched toward the scowling leader. “Susan, what in blazes do you think you’re doing?” she growled. “I got a restraining order to keep you and your looney-tune zealots off my property. Now you’re following me?”
“I didn’t know you’d be here,” the intruder raged, “though I’m not surprised. Goat yoga! What blasphemy. At church this morning, one of our faithful told me you were planning this abomination. I prayed on it, and decided we had to stop the spread of this evil in Ardon County.”
She waved her cross at us. “In the name of the Father and the Son we demand—”
“You need to leave,” Paint spoke through gritted teeth. “The only evil here is you.”
Susan closed her eyes and rocked back and forth on her heels. “You are Satan’s handmaidens duping people into believing Baphomet goat worship is fun.”
Susan’s diatribe was accompanied by a murmur of “Amen, Sister, Amen” from her backups. The sidekicks still wore church-go-to-meeting dresses, nylons, and heels. They kept sneaking peeks at the ground. Worried their high heels might sink in goat doo-doo during their barnyard sortie?
One of the acolytes looked to be Susan’s age; the other much younger, about my age.
“Knights Templar worshipped Baphomet as a deity.” Susan’s tone changed. Her words flowed in a singsong chant. “These monsters with their snake eyes are his descendants.”
“Are you nuts?” Jayla broke in. “How can you think these adorable babies are evil?”
Susan’s rant hadn’t cowed my friends.
The harpy wasn’t deterred. “Open your eyes. The Satanic goat is a source of evil.” Her yellow bug eyes flashed at each of us in turn. “You worship the Devil. We won’t allow your sickness to infect the pious people of Ardon County.”
Aunt Eva appeared in the barn door carrying two pails of goat milk. “You’re trespassing and you’re scaring the baby goats.”
My aunt’s face flamed red.
“We’ll leave,” Susan said. “But this isn’t over. We will fight to the death for the soul of Ardon County. Goat yoga will not corrupt our world.”
Curly made a break for it. The tiny kid ran pell-mell toward the barn door, which happened to be a few feet beyond where the intruding trio stood. Susan screeched. Did she really believe the Devil inhabited the itty- bitty creature?
The woman raised her leg to kick Curly.
Eva flung both buckets of goat milk, drenching Susan. The white liquid plastered her beehive hairdo to her scalp and her puffy blouse to her chest.
Oh my, was she really wearing a flaming red teddy under her prim white cotton?
A laugh bubbled up. I laughed so hard I doubled over.
Susan shrieked like a storm-warning siren and ran. Though only a few drops of goat’s milk spattered her companions, they caterwauled like they’d been doused with acid as they scurried after their leader.
The entire Udderly Kidding Dairy crew exploded in laughter.
Eva halted her hee-haws long enough to imitate a cackling witch. “You’ve been baptized with the milk of Baaa-Phooey. Your souls belong to us!”
Susan spun when she reached a shiny Chevy van. “You’ll pay for this!” she yelled. “Laugh all you want. You’ll see Hell sooner than you thought.”
I quit laughing as abruptly as I’d started. It was Susan’s tone not her words that gave me the heebie-jeebies. We’d embarrassed the woman. Humiliated her. Perhaps she’d started this protest as some form of ecclesiastical theater, art for show, a way to rally the troops.
Now it was personal. Susan had been scorned.
***
Excerpt from Bad Pick by Linda Lovely. Copyright © 2019 by Linda Lovely. Reproduced with permission from Linda Lovely. All rights reserved.




ABOUT THE AUTHOR 

Over the past five years, hundreds of mystery/thriller writers have met Linda Lovely at check-in for the annual Writers’ Police Academy, which she helps organize. Lovely finds writing pure fiction isn’t a huge stretch given the years she’s spent penning PR and ad copy. She writes a blend of mystery and humor, chuckling as she plots to “disappear” the types of characters who most annoy her. Quite satisfying, plus there’s no need to pester relatives for bail. Bad Pick is her eighth published novel. Bad Pick is the second book in her humorous Brie Hooker mystery series with Henery Press. She served as president of her local Sisters in Crime chapter for five years and belongs to International Thriller Writers and Romance Writers of America.



Connect with Linda:
Website  |  Blog  |  Facebook  |  Twitter Goodreads  |  Amazon 

Buy the book:

Amazon  | Barnes & Noble





Sunday, May 12, 2019

FEATURED AUTHOR: GRACE TOPPING




ABOUT THE BOOK


Laura Bishop just nabbed her first decorating commission—staging for sale a 19th-century mansion that hasn’t been updated for decades. But when a body falls from a laundry chute and lands at Laura’s feet, removing flowered wallpaper becomes the least of her duties.

To clear her young assistant of the murder and save her fledgling business, Laura’s determined to find the killer. Turns out it’s not as easy as renovating a manor home, especially with two handsome men complicating her mission: the police detective assigned to the case and the real estate agent trying to save the manse from foreclosure.

Worse still, the meddling of a horoscope-guided friend, a determined grandmother, and the local funeral director could get them all killed before Laura props the first pillow.


Book Details:

Title: Staging is Murder

Author: Grace Topping

Genre: Cozy mystery


Series: A Laura Bishop Mystery, book 1

Publisher: Henery Press (April 30, 2019)

Print length: 268 pages








GUEST POST BY GRACE TOPPING


Frequently, you’ll hear that setting is very important in a story. In Staging is Murder, the story opens at Vocaro’s Coffee Shop, and a number of important scenes are set there. Since the story is about a professional home stager and not a coffee shop owner, you might ask, why a coffee shop setting?

Vocaro’s serves as a crossroads in the Louiston community and becomes a vital part of the story. It’s a place where various characters in the book can interact without the meetings being contrived. My characters Laura Bishop and Nita Martino meet there each workday before heading to their respective jobs. It gives them the opportunity to exchange information about the murder investigation they are involved with. Without this place for them to meet naturally and catch up, as the author, I would have to have them talking on the phone or meeting at places that might require coordination.

The coffee shop also enables Laura to cross paths with other characters in the book that she wouldn’t ordinarily run into. For example, she runs into Monica Heller, her nemesis from her school days—someone she would love to avoid. We can see immediately that Monica is going to be an antagonist to Laura, and sure enough she becomes a continuing thorn in her side.

The coffee shop also serves as a place of employment for Tyrone Webster, a young college student who is a wealth of information about what is going on in the community—information that he collects working there and shares with Laura. Tyrone is a very personable young man, and people readily share information with him. He knows more about what is going on in town than the mayor. Since he works part time for Laura, the information he shares with her helps in her investigation of the murder of a local homeowner.

People stop at the coffee shop and sometimes stay for hours. Luigi Vocaro, the owner of the coffee shop, describes his shop as his customers’ “third” place—that place, following their home and worksite, where they can feel welcome, comfortable, and connected.

Come join us in Staging is Murder and discover what a pleasure it is to have a third place. Do you have a “third” place?




ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Grace Topping is a recovering technical writer and IT project manager, accustomed to writing lean, boring documents. Let loose to write fiction, she is now creating murder mysteries and killing off characters who remind her of some of the people she dealt with during her career. Fictional revenge is sweet. She’s using her experience helping friends stage their homes as inspiration for her Laura Bishop mystery series. The first book in the series, Staging is Murder, is about a woman starting a new career midlife as a home stager. Grace is the current vice president of the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime, and a member of the SINC Guppies and Mystery Writers of America. She lives with her husband in Northern Virginia.




Connect with Grace:

Website  |  Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Goodreads

Buy the book:
Amazon  |  Barnes and Noble 





Friday, May 10, 2019

FEATURED AUTHOR: VANESSA WESTERMANN




ABOUT THE BOOK


As a former bodyguard, it should be easy for Gary Fenris to kill, especially when the motive is revenge. But Gary has made two mistakes in his life. The first was letting the woman he loved die on his watch. The second was thinking vengeance could bring him peace.


Local bookstore owner and amateur lock pick Kate Rowan loves nothing more than a good mystery. Her curiosity soon leads her down a trail of blackmail, obsession and death. Despite the risk – or maybe because of it – Gary finds himself drawn to Kate. When danger strikes, Gary is forced to face the fact that he used love as an excuse for murder. And he's got one last score to settle.


Book Details:

Title: An Excuse For Murder

Author: Vanessa Westermann

Genre: Mystery, Romantic Suspense


Publisher: The Wild Rose Press (March 20, 2019)


Print length: 322 pages










IFs ANDs OR WHATs INTERVIEW WITH VANESSA WESTERMANN   


Ifs

If you could live in any time period which would it be?
The “Swinging Sixties,” because of the Beatles concerts, mini-skirts, and pop art . . .

If you could time travel for an infinite period of time, where would you go?
Hopefully I would be time travelling via the TARDIS with the Doctor and go on grand adventures. I would definitely make a stop at Virginia Woolf’s 1928 lectures given to women’s colleges at Cambridge University.


If you could meet any author for coffee, who would you like to meet and what would you talk about?
Jane Austen, so we could talk about Mr. Darcy.  Although, she might prefer to meet for tea . . .

If you could choose a fictional town to live in what would it be and from what book?
Broward Island, South Carolina from Carolyn Hart’s Death on Demand series, so that I could shop for books in Annie Laurence’s mystery bookstore and perhaps help her solve a crime.


If you could live anywhere in the world, where in the world would it be?
London, England so that I could go to the Victoria and Albert museum whenever I wanted to. The Mary Quant exhibit would be top of my list. And I’d love to have afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason’s.




Ands


5 things you need in order to write: caffeine, good music, a fountain pen and a notebook, and my laptop.

5 things you never want to run out of: tea, happiness, books, friends, and inspiration.
  
5 favorite foods: scones, grilled cheese sandwiches, salad, quiche, and fried rice.


5 things you always put in your books: a strong female protagonist, witty banter, a dead body, a hint of romance, and suspense.

5 favorite books: China Trade by S.J. Rozan, Faithful Place by Tana French, I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith, Mariana by Susanna Kearsley, and The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde.


Whats

What’s the most beautiful sound you’ve heard?
The sound of loons on a lake.

What’s your favorite ice cream?
Tiramisu gelato.

What’s your all-time favorite place you’ve visited? 


 















What’s your favorite quote?

“The trouble with real life is that you don't know whether you're the hero or just some nice chap who gets bumped off in chapter five to show what a rotter the villain is without anyone minding too much.” ― Sarah Caudwell, The Sirens Sang of Murder

What’s your favorite color?
Yellow.


What movie genre do you prefer: drama, comedy, action, adventure, thriller, or horror?
Comedy, but I also love a good action or adventure movie!


What smells remind you of your childhood?
Coppertone sunscreen, Freezie Popsicles, freshly sharpened pencils.

What’s your all-time favorite picture of yourself? 















What’s your latest recommendation for:

Food: the Bayview Original Burger from McSorley’s Saloon and Grill in Toronto, Canada.
Music: Kodaline.
Movie: Bohemian Raphsody.
Book: A Gilded Grave by Shelley Freydont.
TV: Chesapeake Shores, because Bree’s bookstore is wonderful.
Netflix/Amazon Prime: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.




ABOUT THE AUTHOR


As an avid reader and writer of crime fiction, Vanessa Westermann's ideal day would be spent plotting fictitious crimes. Vanessa is a former Arthur Ellis Awards judge, and has given a talk on the evolution of women's crime writing, at the Toronto Chapter of Sisters in Crime.



Vanessa's book review column entitled "Vanessa's Picks" was published in the monthly newsletter of a popular Toronto mystery-specialty bookstore from 2012 to 2016. The column was developed into a blog, featuring literary reviews and author interviews.



While living in Germany, she attained an M.A. in English Literature and went on to teach creative writing.



She currently lives in Canada and is working on her next novel, while drinking copious amounts of tea.



Connect with Vanessa:

Website  |   Twitter

Buy the book:
Amazon Barnes & Noble  |  Book Depository





Wednesday, May 8, 2019

FEATURED AUTHOR: LUCY BURDETTE




ABOUT THE BOOK 


Thanksgiving is nearly here, and Key West food critic Hayley Snow has just one more assignment to put to bed for Key Zest magazine before she gets to celebrate with her family and her police officer fiancé, Nathan Bransford. Then, just days later, wedding bells will ring―if death doesn’t toll first.

The sweet potatoes and stuffing will have to wait when Hayley picks up a distraught phone call from her friend, Analise Smith. On the last stop of a seafood tasting tour run by Analise, one of the customers collapsed―dead. With the police on the verge of shutting down the tour―and ruining Analise’s business―Hayley can hardly refuse her friend’s entreaties to investigate.

As if wedding jitters and family strife weren’t enough for Hayley to worry about, there’s crusty pastry chef Martha Hubbard, whose key lime pie may have been the murder weapon―but did she poison her own pie or was she framed? As the hours to Turkey Day tick away, the pressure cooker is on for Hayley to serve up the culprit on a silver platter in A Deadly Feast, national bestselling author Lucy Burdette’s taste-tempting ninth Key West Food Critic mystery.


Book Details: 


Book 
Title:  A Deadly Feast

Author’s name: Lucy Burdette


Genre: cozy culinary mystery


Series: Key West food critic mystery series, book  #9


Publish date: May 7, 2019


Publisher: Crooked Lane Books


Print length: 280 pages







   


LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT WITH LUCY BURDETTE


A few of your favorite things: books, cats, friends, homemade cakes.
Things you need to throw out: clothes I haven’t worn in years, food in the pantry more than seven years old (really, it’s still there!)


Things you need in order to write: coffee, an email check, silence, deadlines.
Things that hamper your writing: music, talking, traveling, errands
.

Things you love about writing: when the story comes together; new shiny ideas; finishing a book; people who read it; people who read it, love it, and post reviews; meeting readers; my writing pals.

Things you love about where you live: Water, palm trees, warm temperatures, good restaurants, interesting people, bookstores (all found in Key West).
Things you hate about writing:
slow slog through the middle!



Things you never want to run out of: when I find a food or condiment that I love and don’t think I will easily find again—I can become a hoarder. Examples: the Backyard Food Company’s candied jalapenos, True Made Veracha (vegetable sriracha), pasta from Eataly.
Things you wish you’d never bought: Several outfits hanging in my closet with price tags still attached—bought 20 years ago!


Words that describe you: dogged, relentless, kind, interested, intense.
Words that describe you but you wish they didn’t: impatient.

Favorite foods: yellow cake with mocha icing, spaghetti and meatballs, vegetable soup, cheese scones, caramel cake, oatmeal cookies.
Things that make you want to throw up: lamb, raw things with tentacles.

Something you wish you could do: I wish I had a great singing voice, either opera, Broadway or like Bonnie Raitt! I wish I could draw.
Something you wish you’d never learned to do: I can’t think of anything!

Things you’d walk a mile for: a café con leche at the Cuban Coffee Queen—I do this every day that I’m in Key West.
Things that make you want to run screaming from the room: liver and onions.

Things you always put in your books: see the first question! Cats, cakes, friends, psychology, food!

Things you never put in your books: violence on the page, sex unless it’s behind closed doors.

Favorite places you’ve been: Paris, Key West, Australia.

Places you never want to go to again: the New Jersey Turnpike, the 405 in Los Angeles.

Favorite books: mystery and women’s fiction
.
Books you would ban: books that feed on hate and misogyny.

Best thing you’ve ever done: marrying my husband
.
Biggest mistake: allowing my shy self to overcome confidence.



OTHER BOOKS BY LUCY BURDETTE


Death on the Menu

An Appetite for Murder

Death in Four Courses 

Topped Chef

Murder With Ganache
Death With All the Trimmings

Fatal Reservations



ABOUT THE AUTHOR 


Clinical psychologist Lucy Burdette has published 17 mysteries, including the latest in the Key West Food Critic mysteries,  A Deadly Feast. Her books and stories have been short-listed for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. She served as a past president of Sisters in Crime and lives with her husband and Tbone the cat in Key West Florida and Madison Connecticut.





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

Buy the book:
Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Bookbub 

Monday, May 6, 2019

FEATURED AUTHOR: DAVID BURNSWORTH




ABOUT THE BOOK


The award-winning diva, C, has got a big problem: someone wants her dead. A team of mercenaries attempts to gun her down in Kuala Lumpur. Lucky for her, Lowcountry Private Investigator, Blu Carraway, is already on the job there for a different client. Double-lucky for C, they make their move when she’s chit-chatting with him in a bar.

Unlucky for the mercenaries, four of them end up dead.

The hunt is on now for the mega-pop star. Where does she go to hide out? The sleepy islands around Charleston, South Carolina—Blu’s backyard. He’s already proven himself once, so C hires the Blu
Carraway Investigation Agency to protect her for real. The job takes Blu halfway around the world and several cities in between. The search for the truth reveals what could drive a person to want someone else dead.

And Blu Carraway ends up right in the way.



Book Details:


Title: Caught Up In It


Author’s name: David Burnsworth


Genre:  Mystery

Series: Blu Carraway, book 3


Publisher: Henery Press (April 23, 2019)


Print length: 285 pages

On tour with: Partners in Crime Book Tours




LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT WITH DAVID BURNSWORTH



Things you need in order to write: My laptop and about an hour.
Things that hamper your writing: Not being able to write every day when I’m in the middle of a story.


Things you love about writing: Typing out my story, talking with readers.
Things you hate about writing: Worrying about book sales.

Things you never want to run out of: Gasoline, water, air.
Things you wish you’d never bought: The car I had to sell within two weeks because the seats were so bad they wrecked my back for a month.


Favorite foods: BBQ, Italian, Mexican.
Things that make you want to throw up: Anything with heavy cream, although I like ice cream and milkshakes, so go figure. 

Favorite music or song: 80’s alternative.
Music that make your ears bleed: New age.

Favorite beverage: Black coffee or water
.
Something that gives you a pickle face: Pickle juice? I really don’t know.

Things you always put in your books: Animals, cool cars, music references, great cities. (Charleston, South Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia so far!) 

Things you never put in your books: Sewing, graphic sex, the “f” word.

Favorite places you’ve been: Wyoming, Maine, several cities in Germany.

Places you never want to go to again: A certain country in Asia.

Favorite genre: Mysteries!

Books you would ban: Mein Kampf.

The last thing you did for the first time: Zip lining.

Something you’ll never do again: Zip lining.




OTHER BOOKS BY DAVID BURNSWORTH


In It For The Money, Blu Carraway Mystery #1
Bad Time To Be In It, Blu Carraway Mystery #2




EXCERPT FROM CAUGHT UP IN IT

Chapter One

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Mid-July, Saturday late night
Blu Carraway, Private Investigator and sometimes, like at present, private security consultant, handed off his client to her boyfriend’s security team. In truth, there wasn’t an actual handoff. It was more of a formality since Jennifer Kincaid started seeing Mandel, the industrialist’s son. His security team was rivaled only by the Secret Service.
The exclusive club they were in had several levels, each with their own VIP list. Thanks to being a one-percenter and the aforementioned wealthy boyfriend, Ms. Kincaid was at the top of every list which meant Blu was at the top of every list. He parted the strings of beads hanging down as a curtain that was some decorator’s bad idea of kitsch and entered the innermost bar, a darkened room made up of marble, mahogany, gold, and leather— the best of materials.
The only other person in the room was the bartender, a pretty- boy type with short, styled hair, a trimmed beard, a starched white shirt with knife-edge creases, and a nod. He said, “What can I get you, Mr. Carraway?”
It had been a long thirty-six hours. The last batch of Millennials, those currently in their early twenties including his client, apparently did not sleep. Blu had been on the job the whole time along with Mandel’s team. Even with exclusive VIP lists, he did not trust his client’s protection to anyone else while in public places. Blu took a seat at the bar, the soft leather stool offering comfort for his tired glutes. “Black coffee—iced.”
“You got it.” This being the club in the city and Blu being on the list meant he could do pretty much whatever he wanted. Right now he wanted—needed—nicotine. As the bartender set a glass of chilled coffee in front of him, Blu pulled out his vape pen and took a few hits. The coffee and the vapor had been the two things keeping him going but he knew he was set to crash soon.
The bead curtains parted again and C walked in. Twenty-seven years old, shoulder length hair an unnatural shade of orange, various tattoos down her arms, and the prettiest face Blu had seen all evening, C was the reason he was at this particular club. Ms. Kincaid had talked her boyfriend into contracting C for a private show. As the girl whom Rolling Stone called the hottest act of the decade with Grammys and platinum albums, C was in high demand.
Here, this morning, at what Blu felt was the end of a hellacious run, the pop star was alone.
With a loud sigh she took the seat next to him. He was not really a fan of her music, some form of synth pop with a mixture of Arabian and Latin influence. He preferred eighties alternative and punk, but she had talent and a pretty face.
To the bartender, she said, “Get me a Guinness, Jesse.” Blu took another hit on his vape pen, realized he was staring, and stopped.
She said, “I saw you with Jennifer and Mandel. I’m Ariel.” C was her stage name. He shook her offered hand. “Blu.” Jesse the bartender set a pint of dark liquid in front of her with a perfect shamrock in the head.
Raising her glass, she said, “To new friends and quiet bars.” As he clinked her glass of stout with his iced coffee, Blu said, “To the end of a long night and a soft bed with my name on it.”
With a smile, she said, “We’re both on the job, aren’t we?” Something wasn’t right about the scene, and if Blu hadn’t been so exhausted he would have picked up on it sooner.
She was alone. Twenty million albums sold, two Grammys, and no personal security at the moment. She had a unit assigned to her. Blu knew the man in charge of her safety, didn’t like him, but thought he was competent. Except that he didn’t have her covered at the moment. It was not professional and left an opening for something bad to happen to C. With as much subtlety as he could muster, Blu checked to make sure he still had his Glock.
As he did that, a clipped sound came from the other side of the beads just before they parted around a suppressor, the kind screwed on the end of a firearm.
Blu had his Glock out and aimed. To Ariel, he said, “You better follow me.”
She saw the look in his eyes and did not question. Because the entrance covered by the beads faced the right side of the room, and he and Ariel were seated at the front, he had time to take Ariel’s hand and guide her to the other end of the massive wood bar. They ducked.
The suppressed automatic fired twice, bullets ricocheting off the bar’s marble surface.
Blu leaned out from the lower part of the bar, sighted in a figure in a black suit holding the gun, and fired. His Glock barked twice and the figure, a young Asian man, went down.
A second figure, another twentyish male, dove for cover on the other side of the bar.
Blu climbed onto the marble surface to give himself a better sightline.
Jesse the bartender lay on the floor behind the bar, two red holes in his chest. His eyes were open but not seeing anything anymore.
The second figure rose up. Blu saw him first and blew him away.
An alarm sounded from somewhere in the club. Hopping off the bar, Blu asked, “Where’s your security detail?” Ariel, obviously in shock by the blanched color of her already white skin and bloodshot eyes, shook her head. She sat on the floor.
This wasn’t good. “We need to move,” he said. “In case they have friends.”
“Friends?” she asked. “More guys with guns,” Blu said. With an arm around her waist, he lifted her up and guided her to the side door of the club, the one he’d seen on the architect drawings of the building when he’d scouted the place two days ago. He kept his gun pointed where he looked, glancing back periodically to watch their six.
Another alarm started blaring when he kicked the door open but he didn’t care. They needed to get out. Who knew how many of the gunmen there were?
Through the door, they found themselves in a narrow landing with stairs leading up and down from where they stood. Blu closed the door behind them and led her down, his gun pointed directly ahead. No one met them as they descended the stairs.
Blu pulled out his phone and hit redial. The call was answered with, “Yo, you on your way or what?”
“I need a car at the back entrance to the club. Now.”
“What? I thought Goldilocks left with the baby bear?” He didn’t have time for this. “Give me an E.T.A. Now.”
“Yeah, um, hold on.” What the hell? His team had been on point the whole day and a half. An hour off the clock and they fell apart?
The man came back on the line, “We’re on our way. I hope two is enough. Are we coming in hot?”
“Safeties off. Don’t shoot until I say otherwise.”
“E.T.A. ten minutes.”
“Roger.” Blu ended the call. At the bottom of the steps, Blu leaned Ariel against the wall and inched the door open, slipping his pistol out the slight opening as he got a read on the situation.
Two men with submachine guns stood guard facing the street along with a waiting van, its side doors open. They were all dressed like the two he’d capped upstairs–nice dark suits, ties, expensive shoes. He fired twice, taking them both out with single head shots.
The van took off down the street, its open doors swinging shut. Blu kicked the back door to the club fully open and unloaded his clip into the speeding vehicle as it bucked and bounced around a corner. When the magazine was empty, he ejected it and jammed in a full one.
He checked the street which was really an alley, saw no one else around, and slipped back inside the building. Sirens wailed in the distance.
Ariel still leaned against the wall. He put an arm around her and guided her to the exit, slipping the door open as before, training his pistol out first. He didn’t see anyone else around besides the two downed mercenaries with the machine guns.
The walkie talkie app on his phone chirped with, “We’re two blocks away.”
“I’m in the alley on the south side. I’ve got a female with me. Safeties still off. Four unfriendlies down. Maybe more around.”
“Roger that.” Thirty seconds later, a black Mercedes SUV charged around the corner and screeched to a stop in front of them.
The front passenger, a man with a military build, got out holding a submachine gun. He opened the back door.
Blu pushed Ariel inside the truck and dove in after her. The armed passenger jumped back in and the driver accelerated away.
The passenger, the one Blu had called on the phone, a man named Colton, said, “What the hell, Blu? I thought we were clear for the night?”
Blu peered out the back window. “So did I.”
“Who’s th—” Colton looked at Ariel and stopped himself. “You’re C. Jesus, Blu. What the hell is going on?”
“Not sure,” Blu said. “Get us to the compound and we’ll figure it out from there.”
The driver, a man named Brack Pelton who’d recently joined Blu’s team as a wheel man, knew to keep quiet. His skills as a mercenary were many, but they paled in comparison to his driving. He hustled the two-and-a-half-ton SUV through the back streets like an ace. Of course it helped that the truck was the AMG model with 600 horsepower.
Brack didn’t drink any more but Blu couldn’t say the same for Colton whose reflexes were not one-hundred-percent at the moment.
While they rode, Blu called the compound to give the new details. He didn’t begin to relax until they’d crossed the Klang River and were almost there. His client’s father, Adam Kincaid, had homes around the world. With his daughter spending more time here since she’d met the prince charming, he’d reinforced the barriers and increased the security detail. Blu had been contracted to make improvements and had complete authority.
Ariel seemed to come out of her shock. She looked over at Blu, then the men up front, and then back at Blu.
He said, “You’re okay. We’re going to Jennifer Kincaid’s house.”
“Can you take me to my hotel?”
“Where’s your security detail?” Blu asked. “I’d feel better handing you over to them.”
Looking down at her lap, she said, “I don’t know. I thought they were at the club.”
Blu said, “There wasn’t anyone left besides you, me, Jesse, and some of the wait staff.”
She looked up. “Jesse? Where is he? Is he okay?”
“Jesse didn’t make it.”
“Huh?” she asked. “They shot him.”
“Oh, God.” With that, she collapsed in her seat again.
---
The first traces of daybreak peeked out of a halo on the horizon as they arrived. The Kincaid compound was a bungalow in the hills just outside the city. Jennifer had wanted an apartment in town but Blu and her father felt it was safer here. The home sat on the top of a hill overlooking the city.
Pelton circled the fountain and eased to a stop at the entryway of the home.
Colton got out first and opened the rear door. Blu exited and then helped Ariel get out, her tight dress preventing her from too much mobility.
She looked around. “I still don’t know why I can’t go back to my hotel.”
Blu said, “Call Teller. Find out where the h—” He caught himself. “Find out when he can be here to collect you.”
Jack Teller was supposed to be her head of security. While Ariel made her call, Blu phoned Adam Kincaid and explained what had happened. The man had enough money to fix anything. Four dead mercenaries in a foreign country were no big deal. After Blu explained that Kincaid’s daughter was safe, he described the situation. Adam listened and then said he’d call back after he found out what the authorities were doing.
---
Jack Teller showed up at the Kincaid compound four hours later. Blu watched him exit an Audi SUV, all six-foot-five of himself, blond hair, blue eyes, and tanned muscle.
Blu met him at the door. Before he could speak, Teller said, “I don’t need you butting in on my job, Carraway.”
No “thank you for saving my client” or “I’m glad my client is alive.”
“Really,” Blu said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t see you in the room when the two mercs with suppressed automatics came in blasting.”
Teller scowled. It seemed to Blu that the man was somewhat embarrassed and was trying to save face, but this was a stupid way to do that.
“Where’s Ariel?” Blu motioned toward the sitting room just off of the entryway. The flooring and walls were stone and the ceilings stretched twelve feet at the lowest points. Their footsteps echoed as they walked.
Ariel, sitting on one of the leather couches and hugging a pillow, looked at Teller. Without saying a word, she stood up, tossed the pillow to the other end of the couch, and walked past her head of security.
Blu hadn’t known her very long, but he got the feeling she was not happy with the service she was being provided. He’d used the opportunity of waiting for Teller to hand her a business card earlier in case she felt the need to make a change.
Teller eyed Blu one last time and then followed his client outside.
Ariel was waiting at the SUV for someone to open the door for her.
That showed a couple of things. The first was she was letting Teller and his men know that they still had a job to do, and opening the door for her was part of it. The second was that she was telling them that she was still willing to submit to being in their care.
Blu had dealt with Teller before. He might do things differently than Blu, but he wasn’t known for being sloppy. Ariel should never have been alone in that club.
At the sight of the Audi SUV’s exit off the compound and the closing of the gate, Blu turned to Colton and Pelton.
“I’m taking a shower and hitting the sack. We are back on in six hours. I suggest you rest up.”
And with that, he retired to his room.

Chapter Two

Three days later, Wednesday, Barrier Lowcountry island south of Charleston, South Carolina, Residence of Blu Carraway
“I think it’s Colic. We need to get him to his feet.”
Blu Carraway didn’t look at the man who’d spoken to him. He kept his eyes on the magnificent creature lying two feet away from him in the shade by his house. The black horse was older than Blu recollected and he was sick.
The man, a local vet named Dick Campbell, knelt by the horse Blu had named Murder and listened to his breathing with a stethoscope.
The other horses stood close by. Dink and Doofus, normally on post by the front door awaiting treats, seemed to be making the rounds comforting the other members of their ragtag herd.
Blu wiped sweat from his brow. “This horse saved my life.” Without an ounce of condescension, the vet gave him a nod. For most of his life, Murder had chosen to live on the opposite side of the island. Blu’s nine acre plot, depending on the tide, had been the place they both called home. Murder had made it his in his own way, leading the rest of the herd of Carolina Marsh Tackeys.
Dick raised himself up. “He’s going to be tough to move, so we need to make him as comfortable as we can where he is. But we need to get him up. Keep him shaded and hydrated. I’ll come back with an I.V.”
Blu wanted Murder patrolling their island forever, not lying on his sickbed, which at the moment was a mixture of crushed shells and pine needles.
“If you want,” Dick said, “I can get a canopy set up.” Blu felt his head droop. An involuntary sigh came out. He shut his eyes and opened them. “Yeah, okay. That would be nice, Dick. Thanks. How do we get him up?”
“If he won’t stand on his own, we’ll have to lift him.” He put a hand on Blu’s shoulder. “Don’t worry. I have some friends who know what to do.”
The vet gave him another nod and walked toward his Suburban which was parked in front of the house.
Murder’s chest rose and fell. If Blu listened hard, he could hear how labored the animal’s breathing had become. This was not something expected. It seemed like yesterday, this horse led the rest in a stampede in front of the house, running from one end of the island to the other. So full of life.
And now this. “Hey, Blu?” Dick called from the tailgate of his truck. “Yeah?”
“One of my assistants is on his way with the canopy and liquids. Should be here within the hour. The sun won’t be on that side of the house until later so we have some time.”
Blu didn’t think Murder really had any time to spare. It wasn’t worth debating. Whatever’s going to happen was going to happen. And it really sucked eggs.
Blu said, “Thanks.” But he didn’t really mean it. At the moment, the rumble of a Harley Davidson could be heard in the distance and getting louder.
Mick Crome idled his way across the bridge and onto Blu’s island paradise. He swung the bike in a semicircle and stopped next to Blu’s four-year-old Nissan Xterra. Wearing his normal biker garb of a do-rag to keep his long hair under control and out of his face, aviator sunglasses, handlebar mustache, black T-shirt advertising a Harley dealership in Bangkok, ripped jeans, and biker boots, Crome looked at Murder and then at Blu.
“What the hell’s wrong with him?”
“Campbell thinks Colic. He’s going to get someone to lift him back onto his feet.”
Crome took out a vape pen and inhaled a lungful. On the exhale, he said, “I guess you told him money’s no object. Cause I’m gonna chip in whatever you need.”
This vet bill could go real high in a hurry and still not save the horse. Blu said, “Thanks.”
Crome put an arm on Blu’s shoulder. “I mean it. Whatever it takes.” Not knowing what else to do for the horse at the moment, and with Dink and Doofus and Sally, another horse from the herd, standing nearby keeping Murder company, Blu felt it was okay to step away.
As they turned to go into the house, the crunch of tires on the crushed shell drive stopped them. They waited to see who it was, Blu hoping and then not hoping it was Tess Ray, the woman in his life at the moment. She was great, but made him feel both younger and older at the same time.
It wasn’t Tess; at least it wasn’t Tess’s convertible Beetle. The grey sedan had rental practically stamped into the doors and the shock of orange hair on the driver confirmed it wasn’t Tess.
Crome said, “I could be wrong, but that looks a hell-of-a-lot like that pop star named C.”
“So it is,” Blu said, suddenly concerned because like the first time he’d met her there was no security detail present. She was alone. Ariel waved and pulled in next to Crome’s bike.
Blu and Crome waved back. “You listen to C?” Blu asked. “You get a look at her?” The biker said. “Remember those pictures?”
Of course. It had nothing to do with the two Grammys she’d earned and had everything to do with the nude photos leaked all over the internet a few months back.
“One question,” Crome said. “Why’s someone as famous as she is and worth thirty-million-bucks driving herself anywhere?”
“I’m guessing, once again, her security detail has come up short.”
“Once again?” Crome asked.
“Long story,” Blu said. “The short version is Jack Teller fell down on the job.”
“Teller? Really? He’s a tool, but I never thought he was incompetent.”
Ariel got out of her car, looked at the horses, and then at Blu and Crome. “I didn’t believe it when I heard you have an island in paradise with a bunch of horses.” She swatted at a mosquito.
Dink and Doofus did not leave Murder’s side. His illness had affected the whole island.
Blu approached her. “Nice to see you again. Um...”
“Why am I here?” she asked, flailing her arms at the full on parasite assault.
“Before you answer your own question, let’s get you some bug repellant.”
He led her, rather quickly, to his side porch, picking up a bottle of the good stuff. “Are you allergic to anything that might be in this?”
She swatted at her legs. “Spray me! Spray me!”
“Close your eyes,” he said. She did and he gave her a thorough dousing. Ariel breathed a sigh of relief. She had a few welts forming, but otherwise looked like she did the last time he’d seen her.
Crome cleared his throat. Blu said, “This is my business partner, Mick Crome.” Holding out a hand, Crome said, “It’s a pleasure.” She said, “I’m sorry but I don’t remember seeing you at the club. I was kinda out of it.”
“He wasn’t there,” Blu said. “Can I offer you something to drink?”
Crome said, “He’s got tap water and cold—I mean iced— coffee.”
“Anything’s fine,” she said. “What my partner’s trying to tell you,” Blu said, “is he’s got beer in his saddle bags.”
She looked at them. “You rode a horse?”
“Naw,” Crome said. He lifted the lid on one of the bags mounted on the side of his bike. In it were an insulated pouch of ice and some cans of beer.
She took the offered can, popped the top, and took a long drink. Crome said, “Honey, try not to make everything you do remind me of your videos.”
Risqué would be a polite way to describe them. Pornographic might be how a certain demographic labeled them. Either way, Crome seemed to enjoy thinking about them. She gave him a smile. “You’re cute.” He popped the top of one of his beers, tapped it to hers, said, “Here’s to your health,” and drank half of it down.
“Back to the question you asked yourself,” Blu said. “Why am I here?” She smiled. “Because I fired Jack.”
“He leave you high and dry or something?” Crome asked. She looked at Blu. “You didn’t tell him?”
“I was getting around to it,” he said. Not giving him the chance, Ariel said, “Your partner here saved my photogenic behind.”
Eyeing Blu, Crome said, “You don’t say?”
“He shot four men and got me to a safe house.” Blu said, “I meant to ask, where was Teller in all that?” She huffed, took a drink from her beer, and swallowed. “Said he thought I’d told him I didn’t need him anymore. I don’t remember saying that. All I remember is seeing Jesse lying in a pool of his own blood as you shot the second one with the gun. Say, what’s with that horse on the ground over there?”
“His name is Murder and he’s sick,” Blu said.
“He one of yours?” she asked. “In a way.” Crome said, “They sorta came with the island. Blu might be afraid to, but I’d call them family. We’re worried about Murder.”
Still looking at Murder lying on the ground, Ariel said, “That’s sad. Anything I can do to help?”
“I appreciate the offer.” Blu pulled out his vape pen and took a quick hit to calm his nerves. “My vet’s the best horse doctor in the lowcountry.”
“The what? Lowcountry? What’s that?”
“You’re standing in it. The low lands of South Carolina. Marsh and pluff mud and fill dirt. That’s what makes up most of Charleston County.”
“Yeah,” Crome said, swatting at a bug. “And parasites like Blu here.” She laughed. “And you, too?”
Crome bowed. “At your service, m’lady.” Blu took a last look at Murder and then motioned for them to sit on the chairs on the patio under the working ceiling fan. It was cooler than the inside which did not have air conditioning at the moment.
They sat. Blu and Crome watched Ariel. She said, “I guess I need to explain what I’m doing here.”
“Only if you want to,” Crome said. “We could always play a guessing game.”
As if ignoring him, she said, “Teller is no longer on my payroll.”
“Who’s managing your security then?” Blu asked. “You, I hope.” Crome said, “You mean you flew commercial from Malaysia, rented your own car, and drove yourself here all by yourself?”
She leaned in and gave him a blank look. “I can walk and chew gum at the same time as well.”
“What he’s doing a bad job of saying,” Blu said, “is that someone in your position puts themselves in danger when there is no plan accounting for risks.”
She sat back and took a breath. “Sorry. There are a lot of men in this business who enjoy cutting women down. I have a habit of not letting things go.”
Crome said, “Apology accepted. I can see you’re tough. But part of the reason me and Blu are in business is because there are some real pikers out there that tend to take things up a few notches. Wouldn’t want that to happen to you.”
“So you’ll take the job?” she asked. “What is the job?” Blu asked. “Handling my security.” Before Blu could say anything, but with thoughts of every reason his biker business partner would not want to have a long term commitment like this one, Crome said, “Hell yes.”
Blu blinked a few times. Then he said, “What is the timeframe you are looking for, here?”
“Permanent.” Holding up a hand, Crome said, “We talkin’ twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week?”
“Yes.” He looked at Blu. “I been looking for something a little more long term that our normal jobs. How about you?”
This coming from the man who vetoed a similar opportunity guarding a rich banker with six-figure paychecks for both of them and, frankly, a much easier task than trying to guard someone who books hundred-thousand-seat stadiums.
“No offense,” she said, “but I want Blu on point. He already proved he’s capable before I offered to pay.”
“Of course,” Crome said, and toked on his vape pen. The change in his demeanor was minor, but Blu could sense she inadvertently just threw Crome’s ego in a blender and hit the high- speed button.
Blu said, “We work with a few contractors, handpicked by us of course. But without knowing more specifics, I’m not sure I can tell you we’ll be able to handle the job.”
Brushing strands of orange hair off her face from the ocean breeze in the air, she said, “What do you want to know?”
“If we’re on the hook round the clock,” Blu said, “we need to see where you live, what your studio and tour schedules are, and where you spend your leisure time, if you have any.”
“Is that all?” she asked. “No,” Crome said, recovering from the brush off, “we need to know all of your friends and business associates. We like to do background checks on everyone.”
“You’re kidding,” she said. “I’m afraid not,” Blu said. “You mean Jack didn’t go through all of this with you?”
She said. “With him, I felt like luggage.” Blu inhaled a lungful of vapor, thought for a moment, exhaled, and then said, “How do you feel about handguns?”
“I don’t mind them,” she said. “But I’ve never shot one.”
“Reason I ask,” Blu said, “is because those guys meant business back at the club. We need to talk about them. And if you’re agreeable, I’d like Crome to take you to the range and teach you handgun safety and how to shoot.”
She looked at Crome as if to ask, “Him?” Blu said, “Crome’s rough around the edges—”
“Thanks a lot.”
“But,” Blu continued, “he’s the last person to pull a handgun in a fight which makes him the best instructor for you.”
As if finally getting what Blu was saying, Crome offered, “I’m more of a leg-breaker type.”
“I see.” It was clear she didn’t see or understand, but was going along with it. As Blu understood the situation, she was already here and asking for help. It would seem disingenuous for her to back out now, no matter how unsophisticated Blu Carraway Investigations appeared.
“Good,” Blu said. “Now, about those four men with guns.”
She sunk back in her chair. “I have no idea what they were after.” Blu got the feeling, and it wasn’t the first time with a client, that she was not telling the whole truth. Or at least as much as she knew. He said, “I’m told they were contract killers. Not exactly high end, but killers none-the-less.”
Kincaid had gotten the information from the local authorities back in Kuala Lumpur.
“Well I have no idea why they’d be after me.” Almost the same thing she’d said before. Blu wouldn’t get more out of her at the moment, but he would eventually. “Okay, then.” He turned to Crome. “Mick, why don’t you take her to Pop’s place and get her started on her training?”
“What are you going to do?” she asked. “There is a lot of work even before we review your schedule and lifestyle.”
“What about a contract or something?” she asked. “How about this,” Blu said. “We sign on for one week while we figure the situation out. If a lot more killers come knocking, Crome and I won’t be enough and I’ll have to refer you to a bigger shop.”

Chapter Three

Carraway Island south of Charleston, South Carolina
Crome sucked down vapor, wondering how this was all going to work. What started out as maybe something amusing and superficial had turned into a real job and not much of a fun one if you asked him. He thought someone with orange hair and a bunch of tats would be a little less formal when it came to rules and such. But apparently C was more than she appeared.
“Okay, Mr. Crome,” Ariel said, “I hadn’t planned on shooting guns today and probably am not dressed appropriately.”
“Nobody except the military, cops, crazies or hunters plans on shooting guns,” Crome said, “but I find their wardrobes lacking.”
She laughed. “A joker. Now I’m beginning to figure you out.”
“As far as your wardrobe,” he motioned to her t-shirt, vintage jeans, and Doc Martens, “it looks like you take lessons from Blu.”
“I was trying to travel incognito.” Her signature orange hair prevented her being incognito in any situation unless it was under a wig. Something to think about for later.
He said, “How about you hand me your car keys and I drive us to the range?”
“You’re not on my rental plan.” Again traces of formality and rules. “I think someone with your credit score wouldn’t need to worry about things like that,” he said. “But if it’ll make you feel better, Blu tells me we have a pretty hefty umbrella policy in case I blow off the wrong person’s head.”
“Still,” she said, giving him a smile that almost melted his guts, “I’d rather not risk it.”
Crome couldn’t believe it when she instead donned a ball cap, walked over, mounted his bike, raised the kick stand, and started it up.
Blu, who’d been silent through the whole exchange, laughed, patted Crome on the shoulder, and walked inside his house.
Blu listened as the rumble of the Harley’s engine dissipated in the distance.
---
The first call he made was to Brack Pelton, a local Charlestonian and the wheel man he’d used in Malaysia. Starting right now, Ariel would no longer drive herself anywhere. She was as safe as could be expected riding on the back of Crome’s bike, especially with no one the wiser that she was in town. While she was strikingly beautiful, she and Crome together looked the part of bikers, or something like that.
Pelton answered the call with, “Darcy doesn’t believe me that we had C in the car with us while on the job with Jennifer.”
“Listen, Brack,” Blu said. “The last thing I should be doing is giving marital advice. But I’d recommend you let her win this one.”
“Why’s that?”
“Because you can prove your point when you bring your lovely wife over to my house for dinner tonight.”
“Prove my point?” he asked. “What’s that supposed—wait a minute. She’s there isn’t she?”
“No.” It was a true statement. “Then how am I going to prove my point?”
“Crome took her to Pops’ range to teach her about handguns. They’ll be back for dinner.”
“Hot damn.”
“Helping you impress your wife wasn’t the goal of my call,” Blu said.
“Sorry. What can I do for you?”
“I’m not sure yet, but I think Crome and I are going to take over her personal security.”
“No kidding? You need a driver?”
“Yes, and may need a second home base if things go south here.”
“No problem,” he said. “How’s Murder?”
“Not well.”
“Man, I hate to hear that. Let me know if there is anything we can do for you there. Even if it’s to come and sit with him or whatever. We’re here, okay?”
“Thanks, Brack. Right now, plan on coming for dinner. In fact, can you have your restaurant cater it? I don’t normally keep much on hand and don’t have time to go shopping. I’m going to call my daughter. When Tess and Harmony get wind of it, the count’s eight.”
“We’ll take care of everything,” Brack said. “Darcy’s gonna love this. Thanks for thinking of us.”
“See you at six.” The call ended. With dinner now planned, Blu contacted Adam Kincaid. Unbeknownst to Crome, Blu had signed an extended contract with the Kincaids. The sole purpose was to watch Jennifer Kincaid when she traveled outside of the country, which happened every couple of months. More often now that she was dating Mandel. Blu thought she could do better, maybe someone who wasn’t afraid of actual work. Any kind of legitimate effort would suffice.
---
Crome congratulated himself on having the foresight to call ahead and ask for the private room. Ariel, or C, whichever name she went under, sold a bunch of albums with her picture on the cover. She’d also done a Super Bowl half-time show and a New Year’s Eve party with a wardrobe malfunction that was broadcast on a major network. There was no way she was going anywhere without being recognized, which brought up another thought—if she flew commercial, people already knew she was in town. That might cause some problems.
Plug It and Stuff It, the taxidermy and gun range Blu and Crome liked to use, had been around a long time. So had its owner, Pops. Crome dropped the kickstand next to a twenty-five-year-old F-150 with new Trump decals and faded “W” stickers on the tailgate.
Ariel read the faded wooden sign on the front door: “We can help you load it and shoot it. If your pistol still don’t fire right, see a doctor.”
“Whaddaya think?” he asked. She looked at the weathered and run-down building, the cracked asphalt parking lot that was mostly empty, and the surrounding buildings and lots that weren’t any better. “I love America.”
“Pops is good people,” Crome said. “You’ll see.”
“You don’t understand,” she said. “These are my people, too. My family runs a hunting lodge in Michigan. Their regulars work in the car factories.”
He felt like saying, “You ain’t in Kansas anymore, Dorothy,” but thought better of it. She had enough money to buy the rust belt, no matter how much she thought she was just like everyone else.
---
As Blu ended the conversation with Adam Kincaid, another call buzzed in. It was Tess. He and Tess were, well, he wasn’t sure what they were. Since leaving the now defunct Palmetto Pulse news organization, she had worked as an independent news correspondent along with her cohort, Harmony Childs. Tess spent most nights on his island home in his bed but was gone by dawn. There was none of the usual new romance rituals of “couldn’t wait to talk to you” or “just thinking of you” phone calls, jittery lunches, candlelight dinners, or bouquets of flowers. Okay, that last one was on him, but she didn’t have an office he could send them to and wasn’t home long enough to receive or enjoy them.
All that passed through the black hole that was his brain as the phone rattled and hummed with her number displayed on the screen. It was the middle of the afternoon and they weren’t working on a similar story—the only other reason they talked during the day.
He answered with, “Hey, Tess.” She said, “Didn’t you tell me you saved C’s life in Malaysia?”
“I did.”
“Well, there are several fan-selfie posts with her on a flight to Charleston. I wouldn’t be surprised if she was on her way to see you.” He wondered how many other people knew. “Um...”
“She’s already there, isn’t she?” Tess asked. “Not exactly.”
“Am I going to have to play twenty questions or are you going to give me the story.”
“She’s at the shooting range with Crome. He’s teaching her handgun safety. She came to town to contract me and Crome for her personal security.”
“No kidding?” Thinking fast, he said, “The Peltons are bringing dinner over tonight. Call Harmony and come over at six.”
“C is going to be at your house for dinner tonight.” She said it as if she were trying to convince herself it was the truth.
“That’s right.”
“Oh. My. God.” He thought he heard her give a slight squeal. It was times like this, and there weren’t that many of them, when he felt the other side of their twenty-year age difference. Most of the rest of the time he played catch-up, her being so much more mature.
“So you’ll be here?”
“Can I call Hope?” That one caught him off guard. He wasn’t used to—or better yet—didn’t expect Tess to want to have a relationship with Blu’s twenty-two-year-old daughter. “If you want.” It didn’t come out with a whole lot of confidence, but he hoped she didn’t notice. “Just don’t tell her who’s going to be here.”
“Great! See you tonight.” The call ended.
---
Crome watched Pops help Ariel reload the clip for the thirty-two he’d set her up to use. The old man was patient with her, almost grandfather-like, and she showed him respect that only came with good upbringing. At least, what Crome imagined good upbringing would do. He wouldn’t know for sure. His father walked out when he was nine and his mother worked two jobs just to keep the lights on. He pretty much grew up on his own.
Pops wore a ball cap with a confederate flag on the front, a red flannel shirt, and blue jeans and looked every bit of his seventy years. He was a Vietnam vet who chain-smoked cigarettes and Crome and Blu were like the sons he never had.
Ariel shoved the clip in, aimed at a fresh target twenty feet away, and put four holes center mass.
She clicked the safety on, turned to Pops, and said, “Yes!” Pops accepted the gun from her and put it on the table. She gave him a hug, almost knocking his hat off. When Crome and Ariel had entered through the front door, Pops’ ten-year-old granddaughter smiled from underneath a head of dark curly hair. She received her light-brown skin and African features from her father but she had Pops’ brown eyes. Crome wasn’t sure where the girl’s mother, Pops’ daughter, was.
Ariel had been a good sport and a better student than Crome would have thought. It helped that Pops became enamored with the young woman, taking a liking to her immediately, orange hair and all.
Crome thought he was going to have to do all the work, but all he had to do was carry a few boxes of thirty-two rounds to the private room where they were. After that, he was free to stand back and vape.
Pops lit a cigarette, inhaled, and blew out a puff of smoke. Ariel did not seem to mind. He said, “You sure are a good shot, young lady.” She curtsied. “Thank you, kind sir.” Pops ate it up. He had no clue how famous she was. His granddaughter, recognizing Ariel right away, squealed and tried to explain it to her grandfather but it all went over his confederate cap.
Crome said, “So what do we owe ya, Pops?” The old man scratched his five-o’clock shadow. “The thirty- two and three boxes of shells. How about Ms. Ariel signs a poster for my granddaughter? She seems to like your music.”
“I’ll be glad to,” Ariel said. “But we’re going to pay you for the pistol and bullets.”
“And the lane and instructions,” Crome said. “Hell,” Pops said, “it ain’t every day I got a celebrity in here. Donate some money to the V.F.W. and I’ll call it even.”
Ariel kissed his cheek. “You are too much.” Pops blushed for the tenth time. It seemed to Crome as if everyone but him was getting all the female attention. Blu walked into a room and women swooned. Pops gets a kiss from the artist of the year. And all Crome ever got was blown off.
What was the world coming to?
--
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***
Excerpt from Caught Up In It by David Burnsworth.  Copyright © 2019 by David Burnsworth. Reproduced with permission from David Burnsworth. All rights reserved.





ABOUT THE AUTHOR 

David Burnsworth became fascinated with the Deep South at a young age. After a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Tennessee and fifteen years in the corporate world, he made the decision to write a novel. Caught Up In It (April 2019, Henery Press) will be his sixth. Having lived on Charleston’s Sullivan’s Island for five years, the setting was a foregone conclusion. He and his wife call South Carolina home. 



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