Fantasy, Romantic Fantasy
Release Date: February 13, 2019
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Adventurous American nurse Samantha Winters is on a study abroad program in Australia. But after one perfect night with a handsome stranger, she finds herself with child. Intrigued with an elderly patient's tales of a local creek where pregnant women drown themselves, Sam agrees to help end the curse.
Historian James Campbell keeps a vigilant watch on his family's haunted land, hoping to prevent more deaths. A loner in his personal life, he's stunned to discover his grandmother's nurse is the one woman he can't forget.
Sam is a believer. James is a skeptic. With the legend's anniversary looming closer, the two work together to solve the mystery of Crying Girl Creek. Amid the tangles of secrets and lies Sam has a secret of her own: James is the father of her baby. And he doesn't want children..
James Campbell knew what to expect. A breeze whipped up against the cloudless blue sky, and soon turned into a wild wind that tore through the canyon carved into the Broken Back Range. It chilled him to the bone, even though the noonday sun beat upon his shoulders.
“Steady.” He held tight to the reins with one hand and stroked the horse’s neck. “Good boy, Blaze.”
The skin on the back of his neck prickled, and the hair on his arms stood like a tangle of spider legs. The wind abated as swiftly as it had started. He stared toward the canyon. New South Wales had suffered an extreme drought, hell, for that matter so had most of Australia.
His dog whimpered.
“Ruby, come on, girl.” He patted his thigh to encourage the pup. She was barely a year old. An Australian kelpie, chocolate brown with a hint of red, and while she enjoyed being out here at the creek instead of the apartment, he understood there were many new things that created some nervousness. Hell, even he had to shake off a chill. He ran a hand inside his shirt. Sweat clung to chest hair. The sweat of fear? Nah, the legend was based on rumor, and the bloody thing kept alive by the curious.
Ruby slunk through the tall, dry grass.
“That’s good. There’s nothing to fear.”
With binoculars raised, he scanned the banks of the creek. The normally still water rippled like someone had skipped a rock into its midst. The sounds—moans that whispered through the grass and rustled the fronds of the willow trees—had been soft today, like a mother crooning to a baby.
Stuff it. Those sounds were purely scientific. They happened when the coastal breezes met the heat of the valley and channeled through the narrow gully. He turned the chestnut gelding, pushed back the brim of the Akubra, and wiped his brow. Binoculars dangled from their strap and bounced against his chest as he headed for the stables. He took off Blaze’s saddle and tossed it over the stall door, rubbed him down, then released him to the lower paddock.
Whatever the hell is going on here, it will be okay. It has to be.
He ambled across the dry land toward the old house, kicking at the red dirt with the tips of his boots. Inside, he pulled a bottle of water from the ancient refrigerator and strode to the front verandah. He loved Crying Girl Creek, but there had been difficult days. So much loss over the years, and that weakened a man. He sat in Grandma’s old rocker. Memories he needed to dig into, things that might help him heal, flooded his senses. After the anniversary of the legend, then he’d give them some thought.
About the Author
Robena Grant is Australian by birth but resides in Southern California. She has two adult children, enjoys reading, swimming, friends, simple dinners, a glass of wine, a board game, and heaven forbid…karaoke! Travel has always been her greatest love. France, Australia, Italy, England, and Scotland have featured in her stories. She often chooses a setting that has captured her senses through travel.
Chandler Hill Inn Series, Book 1
Date Published:February 13, 2019
Publisher: Wild Quail Publishing
In 1970, Violet Hawkins’ only wish at eighteen is to escape her life in the Dayton, Ohio, foster-care system and make her way to the west coast to enjoy a mellow life and find the love she’s been missing all her life. She makes it to San Francisco, but soon learns she needs a job if she’s to live properly. A kind, young man named Kenton Chandler offers her a sandwich and a job at his father’s inn and vineyards. With nothing to lose, Lettie takes him up on his offer and begins a whole new life in the Willamette Valley, Oregon. She immediately falls in love with the land and is fascinated with the idea of growing grapes in order to make wines. She, Kenton, and Rafe Lopez become friends as she learns about running the small inn on the property.
At the same time she marries Kenton, a stroke kills his father. And then before she can tell Kenton she’s pregnant, he dies in an automobile accident. Heartbroken and burdened with the gift of the Chandler Hill Inn and Winery, she’s left with the task of making them a success. Struggling to raise a child alone while working to grow the business, Lettie makes a shocking discovery that changes everything.
Some people’s lives unfold in the most unusual ways.
In 1970, the only things Violet Hawkins wanted for her eighteenth birthday were to escape the Dayton, Ohio, foster-care system in which she’d been raised and to make her way to San Francisco. There, she hoped to enjoy a mellow lifestyle and find the love that had always been absent in her life.
Though she made it to San Francisco easily enough, she soon discovered she couldn’t afford a clean, safe place in which to settle down. At first, it hadn’t seemed to matter. Caught up in the excitement and freedom of living in a large city where free love and openness to so many things reigned, she almost forgot about eating and sleeping. One couch, one futon was as good as any other as long as grass or other drugs were available, and others didn’t mind giving her a place to sleep. But after spending four months there, the dollars she’d carefully saved, which had seemed so many in Dayton, were nothing but a mere pittance in a city where decent living was too expensive for her. She took to wandering the streets with her backpack until she came upon a friendly group willing to give her a sleeping space inside or a bite to eat.
One June day, feeling discouraged, she’d just sunk down onto the steps outside a row house when a young man emerged.
He smiled down at her. “Tired?”
She was more than tired. She was exhausted and hungry. “Looking for work. I need to eat.”
He gave her a long, steady, blue-eyed look. “What’s your name?”
“Violet Hawkins. But call me Lettie.”
His eyebrows shot up. “With all that red hair, no flowery name for you?”
She shook her head. She’d always hated both her hair and her name. The red in her hair was a faded color, almost pink, and the name Violet indicated a delicate flower. She’d never had the luxury of being the least bit frail.
He sat down beside her and studied her. “You don’t look like the hippie type. What are you doing in a place like this?”
“On my eighteenth birthday, I left Dayton, Ohio, to come here. It sounded like a great plan—all this freedom.”
“How long have you been here?”
“Four months. I thought it would be different. I don’t know … easier, maybe.”
He got to his feet. “How about I fix you a sandwich, and then I’ll tell you about a job, if you want it. It’s at a vineyard in Oregon. I’m heading there later today.”
Her glance slid over his well-built body, rugged facial features, and clean, shoulder-length, light-brown hair. He didn’t fit into the usual crowd she’d been with, which made her cautious. “Who are you? And why would you do this for me?”
“Kenton Chandler.” His lips curved into the same warm smile he’d given her earlier. “I’m heading to Oregon, and, frankly, I could use the company. Keeps me from falling asleep.”
“Yeah? And what is this vineyard?”
He shrugged. “A couple of years ago, my dad bought a small inn with 75 acres in the Willamette Valley south of Portland. He’s planted most of the land with grapes. He doesn’t know that much about making wine and wants me to learn. That’s why I’m in San Francisco. I’ve been working at a vineyard in Napa Valley just north of here, learning the ropes.” He grinned. “Or maybe I should say, learning the vines.”
“What kind of sandwich?” she asked, warming toward him and his wacky humor. Her stomach rumbled loud enough for them both to hear it.
“How does ham and Swiss sound?” he said, giving her a knowing look.
“Okay.” Lettie didn’t want him to think she couldn’t manage on her own. That was dangerous. She’d learned it the hard way, fighting off a guy who thought he could have her just because he gave her a puff of weed. She’d been careful ever since to stay away from situations and guys like that.
“Well?” He waved her toward the door.
Lettie checked to see if others were within hearing range if she needed them. Plenty of people were hanging around nearby. Thinking it was safe, Lettie climbed the stairs behind Kenton. He didn’t know about the knife tucked into one of the pockets of her jeans.
Inside, she found the same kind of contrast between this clean house and others she’d been in. It wasn’t sparkling clean, but it was tidier than most.
He led her into the kitchen. “Sit down. It’ll only take me a minute to make your sandwich.” He handed her a glass of water. “Mustard? Mayo?”
“Both,” she replied primly, sitting down at a small pine table in the eating area of the room.
She sat quietly, becoming uncomfortable with the idea that he was waiting on her. She wasn’t used to such a gesture. She was usually the one waiting on others both in her foster home and at the church where she’d spent hours each week attending services and events with her foster family. Thinking of them now, a shiver raced across her shoulders like a frightened centipede. It had been her experience that supposedly outstanding members of a church weren’t always kind to those they’d taken into foster care primarily for the money.
“Ready!” said Kenton, jarring her out of thoughts of the past. He placed a plate with the sandwich in front of her and took a seat opposite her.
She lifted the sandwich to her face and inhaled the aroma of the ham. Keeping her eyes on Kenton, she bit into the bread, savoring the taste of fresh food.
He beamed at her with satisfaction when she quickly took another bite.
“Who lives here? Lettie asked.
“A friend of mine,” said Kenton. His gaze remained on her. “You don’t look eighteen.”
She swallowed, and her breath puffed out with dismay. “But I am.”
“And you’re not into drugs and all the free-love stuff everyone talks about?”
Lettie shook her head. “Not really. I tried weed a couple of times, but it wasn’t for me.” Her strict upbringing had had a greater influence on her than she’d thought.
“Good. Like I said, if you want to ride to Oregon with me, there’s a job waiting for you at the Chandler Hill Inn. We’re looking for help. It would be a lot better than walking the streets of Haight-Ashbury. Safer too.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “And if I don’t like it?”
He shrugged. “You can leave. One of the staff recently left for L.A. That’s why my father called me to ask if I knew anyone who could come and work there. You’re my only choice.”
Lettie’s heart pounded with hope. Acting as nonchalant as she could, she said, “Sounds like something I’d like to try.”
The ride to Oregon was mostly quiet as an easy camaraderie continued between them. Kenton answered any questions she had about him, the inn, and the way he thought about things. Lettie was surprised to learn he hadn’t joined in a lot of the anti-war protests.
“My best friend died in ’Nam. He believed in serving our country. I want to honor him,” he said to Lettie.
“A boy in my high school was drafted. His parents weren’t happy about it.”
“Well, if I’m drafted, I’m going,” Kenton said. “I don’t want to, but I will. I don’t really have a choice.”
As they talked, they agreed that John Wayne was great in the movie True Grit.
“And I love the Beatles,” said Lettie.
“Yeah, me too. Too bad they just broke up.”
“And what about the new group, The Jackson 5?” Lettie said.
“They’re great. And I like Simon and Garfunkel and their music too.”
At one point, Lettie turned to Kenton. “Sometimes you seem so serious, like an old man. How old are you, anyway?”
He gave her a sheepish look. “Twenty-two.”
They shared a laugh, and in that moment, Lettie knew she’d found a person with whom she could be herself.
Lettie woke to someone shaking her shoulder. She stared into the blue-gray eyes of a stranger and stiffened.
“Lettie, we’re here,” said a male voice.
As she came fully awake, she realized Kenton was talking to her.
“Here at Chandler Hill?” she asked, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
She looked out through the windshield of the Ford Pinto and gaped at the huge, white-clapboard house sitting on the top of a knoll like a queen overlooking her realm.
Lettie scrambled out of the car and stood gazing at the clean lines of the two-story building. Across the front, four windows offset by green shutters were lined up with identical windows below. Beneath a small, protective, curved roof, glass panels bracketed a wide front door, welcoming guests. To one side, a two-story wing had been added to the house.
Green, leafy bushes offset by an assortment of colorful flowers she didn’t recognize softened the front of the building. As she walked closer, she realized between the main house and the addition a small, stone patio and private garden had been installed.
“Come on in,” said Kenton. “There’s a beautiful view from the back porch.”
Feeling as if she were Alice in a different kind of Wonderland, Lettie entered the house. As she tiptoed behind Kenton, her gaze darted from the polished surfaces of furniture to gilt-edged mirrors to a massive floral bouquet sitting on a large dining-room table. It all seemed so grand.
Kenton led her to a wide porch lining the back of the house. Observing the rolling land before her and, in the distance, the hills crouching in deepening colors of green, Lettie’s breath caught. The sun was rising, spreading a gold topping on the hills like icing on cake.
Lettie smiled and answered, “I’ve never seen anything so beautiful, so peaceful.”
At the sound of footsteps behind her, she whirled around.
A tall, gray-haired man with striking features similar to Kenton’s said, “Welcome home, son.”
They shook hands, and then the older gentleman turned to her. “And who is this?”
Shy, she stared at the man who seemed so familiar to her.
Kenton nudged Lettie.
Minding her manners, Lettie held out her hand as she’d been taught. “Lettie Hawkins. I’ve come for a job.” A niggling feeling kept her eyes on him longer than necessary. When she could no longer stop herself, she blurted, “Aren’t you Rex Chandler, the movie star?”
He smiled. “Yes, I am. But I’ve changed professions.”
Lettie held back a chuckle of delight. A friend’s mother had privately adored him.
“Why don’t the two of you come into the kitchen,” said Rex. “Mrs. Morley will want to talk to Lettie, and I need to talk to you, Kenton.”
As Lettie followed the men into the kitchen, a woman hurried toward them, crying, “Kenton! Kenton! You’re home at last!”
Laughing, Kenton allowed the woman to hug him. “You’d think I’ve been gone a year, Mrs. Morley.”
“You almost were,” she said, smiling and pinching his cheek. “And look at you! More handsome than ever.”
Looking as if he couldn’t wait for her to focus her attention elsewhere, Kenton said, “Mrs. Morley, I’d like you to meet Lettie Hawkins. She’s here for a job.”
Mrs. Morley’s gaze settled on Lettie. “So, you like to work?”
“She likes to eat,” said Kenton, bringing a smile to Mrs. Morley’s full face.
“By the looks of it, Lettie, you could use more food,” said Mrs. Morley. “Let’s you and I talk about what kind of jobs you could do around here. I’m short-handed at the moment.”
Kenton and Rex left the kitchen.
Mrs. Morley waved Lettie over to a desk in a small alcove in the kitchen. After lowering her considerable bulk into a chair, Mrs. Morley faced her. Her green eyes exuded kindness as she studied Lettie. Her gray-streaked brown hair was pulled back from her face and banded together in a ponytail, giving Lettie a good look at her pleasing features.
“Have a seat, dear.”
Lettie sat in the chair indicated for her and clutched her hands. After seeing the small inn and the beautiful countryside, she desperately wanted the job.
“Where are you from, Lettie? And why in the world do you want to work here in the country? I’d think a pretty, young girl like you would want to be in a city having fun.”
Lettie paused, unsure how to answer her. She’d thought she’d like living in the city, being free to do whatever she wanted. But after four months of doing just that, the excitement had worn off. She liked to know where she was going to sleep at night and when she’d next eat.
“Maybe I’m just a country girl at heart,” she answered lamely. Her two best friends at home would scoff at her, but right now, that’s how she felt.
“Well, that’s what you’ll be if you stay on. A lot of activity is taking place around here, what with people buying up turkey farms and the like, turning them into vineyards, but it is country. I hope it always will be.” She leaned forward. “Know anything about cooking? Cleaning?”
“Yes,” said Lettie. “I used to do both in my foster home. I was the oldest of eight kids there.”
“Eight? My land, that’s a lot of kids to take in,” said Mrs. Morley.
“It’s a lot of money,” Lettie said, unable to hide her disgust. “That’s why they did it.”
“I see,” said Mrs. Morley, studying her. “So how long have you been on your own?”
“Four months,” she replied. “I was in San Francisco when I met Kenton.”
“Such a good, young man. I’ve known him for a while now,” Mrs. Morley sighed with affection. “You’re lucky he found you. Why don’t we start in housekeeping, see how it goes, and then maybe you can give me a hand in the kitchen.”
“Okay,” Lettie said, jumping to her feet. “Where should I put my things? I need to get them from the car.”
Mrs. Morley gave her an approving look. “I like your eagerness. Let me show you to your room and then I’ll give you a tour.”
The north half of the front of the house consisted of a large, paneled dining room she’d seen earlier. The long mahogany table that sat in the middle of the room held seats for twelve. A summer flower arrangement consisted of pink roses and pink hydrangeas interspersed with white daisies and sat in a cut-glass vase in the middle of the table. Along one wall, above a service counter, an open cupboard made of dark wood stored coffee mugs, extra wine goblets, and water glasses. A coffee maker and a burner holding a pot of hot water sat on the marble counter. A bowl of sugar, a pitcher of cream, and a dish of lemon slices were displayed nearby. At the other end of the counter, a large plate of homemade, chocolate-chip cookies invited guests to take one.
“How many guests do you usually have?” Lettie asked.
“We have six guest rooms, so we have as many as twelve people for the breakfast we serve. During the day, people come and go on their own, tasting wine at nearby vineyards or sightseeing. We offer a simple dinner to those not wishing to travel to restaurants at night.” A look of pride crossed Mrs. Morley’s face. “Sometimes my husband, Pat, grills out, or Rita Lopez cooks up Mexican food. Guests like these homestyle meals. In fact, we’re becoming known for them.”
Lettie’s mouth watered. It all sounded so good.
Mrs. Morley led her to a sideboard, opened its drawers, and gave her a smile. “Let’s see how well you polish silver.”
Later, after being shown how, Lettie was working on the silverware when Kenton walked into the kitchen.
“Well? Are you going to stay?” he asked.
“Yes,” Lettie said with determination. The whole time she’d been cleaning the silver she’d been able to gaze at the rolling hills outside. This, she’d decided, is where she wanted to be. It felt so right.
About the Author
Judith Keim was born and raised in Elmira, New York, and now makes her home in Idaho with her husband and their two dachshunds, Winston and Wally, and other members of her family.
Growing up, books were always present being read, ready to go back to the library, or about to be discovered. Information from the books was shared in general conversation, giving all of us in the family wealth of knowledge and a lot of imagination. Perhaps that is why I was drawn to the idea of writing stories early on. I particularly love to write novels about women who face unexpected challenges and meet them with strength.
A hybrid author who both has a publisher and who self-publishes, Ms. Keim writes heart-warming stories of strong women who face challenges and find love and happiness along the way. Her books are based, in part, on many of the places she's lived or visited and on the interesting people she's met, creating believable characters and realistic settings her many, loyal readers love.
Date Published: Dec 22, 2018
A MAN COPES ANY WAY HE CAN AFTER KILLING HIS ONLY SON.
His team believes he’s calm and Zen. His boss finds him obsessive. Suspects think him gorgeous but dangerous. They’re all right.
Chief Inspector Gray James is sculpting the remembered likeness of his small son when he receives the call – a faceless corpse is found hanging by the choppy river, swirls of snow and sand rolling like tumbleweeds.
Montreal glitters: the cobbled streets slippery with ice, and the mighty St. Lawrence jetting eastward past the city. One by one, someone is killing the founders of a booming medical tech startup – propelling Gray into a downward spiral that shatters his hard-earned peace, that risks his very life, that threatens to force him to care and face what he has shunned all along: his hand in the storm.
From the prize-winning author comes a psychological, page-turning mystery with all the elements one needs on a rainy night: a complex murder, a noble yet haunted detective, and an evocative setting to sink into.
April 1, 5:30 am
MORE NUMBING PAIN.
At precisely five-thirty am on April the first, Chief Inspector Gray James tucked his cold hands into his pockets, straightened his spine, and looked up.
He breathed out through his nose, warm breath fogging the air as if surging out of a dragon and tried to dispel the mingled hints of flesh, cherry blossoms, and the raw, living scent of the river.
The drumming of his heart resonated deep in his chest – brought on more by intellectual excitement than by any visceral reaction to murder. Because of this, Gray accepted an atavistic personal truth.
He needed this case like he’d needed the one prior, and the one before that. That someone had to die to facilitate this objectionable fix bothered him, but he’d give audience to that later. Much later.
A car backfired on le Chemin Bord Ouest, running east-west along Montreal’s urban beach park. A second later, silence ensued, save the grievous howling of a keen eastwardly wind, and the creak of nylon against wood, back and forth, and back and forth.
Heavy boots tromping through the snow and slush came up from behind. A man approached. Tall, but not as tall as Gray, his cord pants and rumpled tweed conveyed the aura of an absent-minded professor, yet the shrewd eyes – not malicious, but not categorically beneficent either – corrected that impression.
Forensic Pathologist John Seymour looked up at the body hanging from the branch of a grand oak, gave it the eye and said, “Well, I can tell you one thing right off.”
“You wouldn’t be caught dead in that suit.”
Gray sighed. “What do you suggest? That I refer the victim to my tailor?” To which Seymour shrugged and got to work.
With every creak of the rope biting into the bough, Gray half-expected the swinging shoes to brush the snow-laden grass; each time the cap-toed oxfords narrowly missed. A grease stain marked the bony protrusion of the left white sock (with a corresponding scuff on the heel – from being dragged?), above which the crumpled brown wool-blend fabric of the pants and ill-fitting jacket rippled in the wind – like the white-tipped surface of the river beyond.
Dawn cast a blue light on the water and snow. A damp cold sank through Gray’s coat and into his bones. Amazing how the usually peaceful beach park took on a menacing air: the St. Lawrence choppier than usual, swirls of sand and snow rolling like tumbleweeds, the sky heavy and low. But a children’s playground lay behind the hanging body, and its red swings, bright yellow slide, and empty wading pool offered a marked contrast to the swaying corpse.
With every flash, Scene of Crime Officers photographed the body and documented what remained: only an exposed skull, framed by sparse hair on top, ears on either side, and a wrinkly neck puckered in a noose. A red silk tie under the hangman’s knot accentuated the complete absence of blood. Blood would have been preferable. The features were stripped to the bone, with eroded teeth set in a perpetual grin as if the skull were enjoying a joke at everyone’s expense.
“White male in his early fifties,” Seymour said. “Well off, by the look of him. Only small bits of tissue left on the cheekbones, lips, and around the eyes. Notice the distinctive gap between the two front teeth.”
That could help with identification.
The custom ringtone on Gray’s cell played “She’s Always a Woman.” Why was she calling him so soon? He stabbed the phone and tucked it back into his cashmere coat pocket before circling the body several times.
“What killed him?” Gray asked.
“The facial trauma preceded the hanging.”
That much was obvious since the rope wasn’t eaten away like the face.
“We can’t know the cause of death until I get him on the slab,” Seymour said. “And before you ask, the time of death is hard to say. Parts of him are already frozen. Maybe four to seven hours ago. I’ll have a better window after I’ve checked the stomach contents and what’s left of the eyes.”
Seymour crouched and felt the victim’s knees and lower legs. “Rigor mortis has set in, probably sped up by the cold.” He rotated the stiff ankles. “Look at these tiny feet. Can’t have been too popular with the ladies.”
Gray closed his eyes and counted to five.
All around, professionals bustled gathering evidence, clearing onlookers and photographing the scene. The park lay sandwiched between the beach and parking lot leading to the main road. On one side, the river flowed eastward in a blue-gray haze, blurring the line between water and sky. On the other, traffic going into downtown Montreal grew heavier by the minute. The road led to his neighborhood, where Victorian and Edwardian homes, bistros, and cafés crunched together for ten hipster-infused blocks.
This park held memories of weekends spent with his wife and son. A lifetime ago. Why did it have to happen here, of all places?
“Did some kind of acid cause the burns, Doctor?”
“Yeah. Parts of the eyes are still there. Almost as if they were left for last. I wonder why.”
Gray could think of a reason but didn’t elaborate.
A gust of wind swung the corpse’s legs sideways, narrowly missing an officer’s head.
“What the hell.” Seymour grabbed the ankles. “The sooner we cut him down, the better.”
Which couldn’t be soon enough. Gray bent down and held the lower legs. He gripped the ankle awkwardly with his right thumb and little finger, the middle three immobile these last three years since the accident, and a snake-like scar running from his palm to his wrist blanched from the cold.
Despite his hanging on tight, the corpse danced in the wind. “Don’t rush on my account, Doctor.”
Finally, attendants cut the victim down and laid him on a stretcher. Seymour hunched over, his blond hair parting in the breeze, revealing a pink, flaky scalp, the grinning corpse powerless to refuse examination.
“Definitely acid,” Seymour said. “Going to be hard for you to trace, since it’s so easy to get. Impure sulphuric acid’s available at any mechanic shop. You find the purer kind in pharmaceuticals.” He flashed a penlight into the facial crevices and probed them with a long, needle-like instrument.
The victim couldn’t feel it, but each stab and scrape made Gray flinch. “Must you do that?”
“Look at these chipped bones,” Seymour said. “Here, next to the supraorbital foramen, and here on the left zygomatic arch. They’re edged off, not dissolved by acid.”
Gray paced his next six words: “Was he alive for the acid?”
“I’m going to have to brush up on vitriolage. If he were, he’d have breathed it in, and we’d see scarring in the esophagus, nostrils, and lungs.”
Looking around at the flat, deserted beach park, the ropy ebb and flow of the water, Gray said, “He didn’t die here, did he?”
“No. From what I can see, livor mortis indicates he probably died sitting and was strung up later. I’ll let you know after all his clothes are off.” Seymour pushed himself up with his hands, his knees popping like the report of a firearm. “What could the poor bastard have done to deserve this?”
Gray didn’t answer. As someone guilty of the greatest sin of all, he considered himself wholly unqualified to make any such judgment.
His cell played “She’s Always a Woman,” again, and he pulled it out. Images from the previous night played in his mind: her hands flat on the mattress, his palm encircling her belly from behind. And those unexpectedly strong martinis she’d made earlier.
Putting away the phone, he spoke brusquely. “When will you have something ready?”
“Preliminary report probably later today. And I’ll send remnants of the acid for analysis to determine the type and grade.”
As the body was carried to a van and Seymour followed, second-in-command Lieutenant Vivienne Caron approached Gray carrying two cappuccinos from a nearby Italian cafe. Wonderful steam rose from the opened lids, and the dark, nutty aroma drifted forward, the first hint of comfort on this bleak morning.
Her chocolate brown eyes exuded warmth – eyes both direct and shy, their color perfectly matching her short, straight tresses now whipping about in the wind and framing gentle features.
“Chief Inspector.” She addressed him formally, despite their longstanding friendship. The sound of her nearly perfect English was pleasant and familiar, beautifully accented with the musical intonation characteristic of certain Québecois.
Even though she held the coffee before his left hand; he grasped it awkwardly with his right.
“Don’t spill any on that thousand-dollar suit,” she said.
It made him gag. “Why do you always add so much sugar?”
“Because I know that with a juicy case to solve, you’ll be too busy to eat or sleep.”
A moment of silence passed between them, pregnant with history he didn’t want exhumed.
“I have to make sure you’re okay,” she said. “Even if you refuse to... She was my best friend.”
He placed a hand on her shoulder. “You live with Sita’s ghost more than I do. Enough time has passed for me.”
“Maybe. It’s changed you.”
“For the worse?”
Vivienne stilled, her mouth open. “Non. For the better. That’s the problem.”
Her eyes were warm yet partly adversarial. He saw it as the conflicting desire for wanting him to be okay, but not to leave her to grieve alone. She’d once told him the same trauma that had disillusioned her had enlightened him.
“It doesn’t matter what happens,” he whispered.
“Doesn’t matter?” Her voice took on an edge.
“As long as you can control your reactions – it doesn’t matter. Freedom comes from living in grays – no black; no white. No convenient polarities.”
Her eyes pierced his, but he knew, out of respect, she wouldn’t directly say what she thought; that he oscillated between Zen and obsession, contentment and blackness.
She shuffled her feet. “I don’t know how you made that leap, after the tragedy.”
“The worst thing that could ever happen to me has happened. After that, I can either fear everything or nothing – I have nothing left to lose.”
Vivienne didn’t reply.
What right had he to preach when he still experienced unguarded moments which filled his insides with quicksand as that malignant though raced through his mind: what do I do now? How do I fill this day and twenty years of interminable days when everything is for nothing? When this life feels surreal, dissociated as though I’m on a foreign planet with strangers.
Those moments often occurred when he didn’t have a case; they occurred before sleep and drove his nightly obsession.
“Living in Gray?” Vivienne shook her pretty head. “I believe in good and evil.”
“Then where do I fall? Or will you make excuses for me?”
“Non. I won’t make excuses for you. “
Her eyes hooded over; she took a step back. A door slammed between them, again.
“No cell phone, no ID,” she said. “Any footprints or tracks are covered by snow.”
“Let’s have someone check with the occupants of the hospital rooms facing the river.”
Westborough Hospital sat directly across the road. A magnificent feat of engineering, its four glass-walled buildings were connected by skyways. It had taken twenty years of fundraising to build (with its founding director recently fleeing to Nicaragua under allegations of embezzling some of those funds) and took up several square blocks.
Gray forced down the coffee. Already, warmth and caffeine coursed through his system, bringing life to his numb toes tucked inside the slush-soaked loafers. “Did you check with missing persons?”
“Only one recent report matches. Norman Everett of Rosedale Avenue in Upper Westmount. He’s only been gone since last night and reported missing by his step-son, Simon Everett. And of note, Norman’s a doctor at Westborough Hospital.”
Gray’s head shot up. “Missing since last night, and works at this particular hospital? The timing’s perfect. Give me his details. I’ll do the interview myself while you finish up here.”
She handed over the number, and he made the call to Norman Everett’s house, reaching the missing man’s wife, Gabrielle.
Before Vivienne could go, a Scene of Crime Officer jumped forward and handed Gray a transparent evidence bag.
“Found this by the tree over there, Chief.”
“It lay just under the snow. The city cleaned this area recently; hardly any debris around.”
Gray thanked him and looked down at the four by six-inch identity badge, examined the photo, and read the identifying details, gripping it tight enough that his fist blanched. The image blurred for the briefest second before clearing.
Vivienne rubbed her hands together. “What’s wrong?”
He didn’t trust his voice yet. A shoal of uncertainties flooded his chest. The case suddenly became more raw, more urgent, but he’d handle it. He always did. Gray unclenched his jaw and fingers, and handed her the evidence bag.
“The killer?” she asked.
“Look at that ID. Look what it says. You can’t be sure.”
“Yes, I can.” His tone came out harsher than he’d intended. He could guess her next words, and he’d deserve them. Does anything matter, now? Will you be able to control your reactions? But she didn’t say it. Didn’t point out the one circumstance that sliced his calm with the efficiency of a scalpel. Instead, she met his eyes in a gentle embrace before moving farther up the beach.
Bells sounded from St. Francis, the eighteenth-century cathedral up the road for the Angelus prayer. Quebec had the largest Catholic population in the country, and maybe as a result, the lowest church attendance and marriage rate. But the familiar ringing comforted and smoothed the sharp edges of his morning.
Gray left the cordoned off area, crossed the breadth of the beach park, and headed to the attached parking lot and his car; the black metallic exterior gleamed in the distance.
At one time, the Audi S5 had consumed a substantial chunk of his detective’s salary, but he hadn’t cared. Memories of countless family road trips lay etched within its metal frame.
Still twenty feet away, he pressed the automatic start to warm the engine, just as Seymour summoned him from behind.
The doctor jogged over sporting a wry smile, breath steaming in the cold air, and his long coat flapping. Behind him, the van carrying the body left the parking lot.
“I forgot to ask you earlier – about your next expedition,” Seymour said. “Mind having some company?”
“I failed last time,” Gray said. “Or hadn’t you heard?”
“A fourteen-hundred-kilometer trek to the South Pole, on foot, is hardly a failure.”
“It is if you can’t make the journey back. Anyway–”
A boom drowned out his words. The earth shook, and air blasted towards them, throwing Gray to the ground onto his right shoulder, pain searing up his arm. Chunks of metal and debris flew from the newly obliterated Audi in every direction, denting nearby cars and clanging against the pavement. A puff of smoke shot upward, chasing the flames, leaving the smell of burning rubber and metal hanging in a thick cloud – while cars on the nearby road screeched to a sudden halt. The fire swayed as though alive, angry arms flailing and crackling, spitting sparks in all directions.
“What the hell!” Seymour lay in the snow, his mouth open, his arm up to ward off the scorching heat.
Gray’s car lay mutilated, the black paint graying as it burned. People jumped out of their vehicles to take a look. Vivienne and some officers ran towards him, their feet pounding on the asphalt.
“Someone is damn pissed off at you,” Seymour said, eying his own dented Mercedes. He turned to Gray. “What did you do?”
About the Author
A MYSTERY; A BEACH; A BEER: Ritu's favorite vacation day.
Ritu's first book, His Hand In the Storm has had nearly 50,000 downloads. It became an AMAZON BESTSELLER in the Kindle free store and was #1 in all its mystery categories. She needs coffee (her patch for Coca Cola), beaches, and murder mysteries to survive – not necessarily in that order. She won the Colorado Gold Award for the first in the Chief Inspector Gray James Murder Mystery Series, His Hand In the Storm. The book was also a Daphne du Maurier Suspense finalist.
She’s fulfilling her lifelong desire of becoming a mystery writer. Many thanks to all the readers who are making that possible.
Titles: Moonchild & Liberation
Author: Kate L Mary
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Futuristic Steampunk
Publisher: Twisted Press
Editor: Emily Teng
Kate L. Mary is an award-winning author of Adult, New Adult, and Young Adult fiction, ranging from Post-apocalyptic tales of the undead to Speculative Fiction and Contemporary Romance! Her YA book, When We Were Human, was a 2015 Children's Moonbeam Book Awards Silver Medal winner for Young Adult Fantasy/Sci-Fi Fiction, and a 2016 Readers' Favorite Gold Medal winner for Young Adult Science Fiction. Her book, Outliers, was a Top 10 Finalist in the 2018 Author Academy Awards for Sci-Fi/Fantasy Fiction, and a First Place Winner in the 2018 Kindle Book Awards for Sci-Fi/Fantasy Fiction.
Reader Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/KateLMaryReaders/
Title: Whisper Mama
Author: Linda â Haas Melchert
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Narrator: Talmadge Ragan
Audio Producer: The Audio Flow, LLC
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Linda Haas-Melchert is an author and artist residing in Anchorage, Alaska. Her professional background is filled with all things travel. First, a flight attendant, then an agent, a general manager, which soon evolved into a VP of Marketing position in wholesale for international travelers. After a seek for balance in a busy life bubbling over with work and family, Linda eventually circled back to her love of flying.
She's always known she would write a story. Realizing her first novel, Whisper Mama, has sparked her entrepreneurial spirit, so much so, that she's planning her second novel, Wing Girl, for release in 2020. Her entrepreneurial effort speaks to her philanthropic desires resulting in the creation of Whisper Mama Gives, whispermama.org; a feeder organization which works closely with nonprofits in support of children and families in counseling.
Her message to you: One step at a time; soon you'll be flying!
Note to Readers: This book contains detailed descriptions of sizzling passion only suitable for mature readers.
Outcasts Book 4
Publisher: Anything-but-Ordinary Books
Published: January 2019
Torrin’s simple mission is seriously complicated when he finds Arrista, a lovely Sarronti female, in need of rescue. The Sarronti resent the Outcasts and continually sabotage their efforts to build a settlement on the primitive planet. But Arrista isn’t just any Sarronti. She’s the personal servant of one of the most powerful Sarronti. The information Arrista can provide would be vitally important to the Outcasts, so Torrin is ordered to use their mutual attraction to question her.
Arrista has been taught to fear and mistrust the savage Outcasts, so why does she find Torrin so fascinating, so desirable? It’s not just his muscular body and rugged features. He is kinder and more protective than any male she has ever known. She is drawn to him by a force so compelling it leaves her no choice but surrender. She wants him, needs him, but can she trust him not to break her heart?
Note to Readers: This book contains detailed descriptions of sizzling passion only suitable for mature readers. Certain plot elements carry on from book to book. Though Assassin can be read as a standalone, it’s more fun to read the series in order.
Other Books in the Outcasts Series:
Outcasts, Book 1
Publisher: Anything-but-Ordinary Books
Published: April 2018
Genre: Sci-fi RomanceRestless and embittered by an abusive past, Arton the Heretic finds himself in a battle of wills with Lily, a gorgeous geneticist. She holds the key to the future of his people, but she was brought to this savage world against her will and that’s an insult she’ll not soon forget. Their attraction is instantaneous and intense, yet each has valid reasons for mistrusting the other. He wants her, is consumed with the need to claim her, but he can’t focus on the future until he deals with the past.
Outcasts, Book 2
Publisher: Anything-but-Ordinary Books
Published: June 28, 2018
Rex Dravon, a notorious smuggler, is one of the Outcasts’ most important allies. Many of the Outcasts’ philosophies and approaches to life in general appeal to him, but he’s hesitant to commit to any cause. Hoping to entice Rex into committing, Arton the Heretic, tells Rex that he is genetically compatible with one of the “captive brides”, a feisty blonde named Thea Cline.
Thea is still enraged that she was dragged from Earth without her permission, and she’s recovering from a horrendous tragedy. She sneaks aboard the Marauder hoping to steal a weapon. Instead she’s confronted by the ship’s handsome commander. She knows to be wary of Rex because of his reputation, but she’s instantly, and powerfully, drawn to him. His offer to help her escape comes a little too quickly and she fears he has ulterior motives. Is he simply hoping to lure her into his bed—a fate she’s not sure she’d mind—or is his motivation more nefarious?
Outcasts, Book 3
Publisher: Anything-but-Ordinary Books
Published: September 2018
Xorran, a famed tracker, is sent to find two human females kidnapped by the Outcasts’ enemy. His search seems futile until he encounters Sara and a feisty battle cat cub. He’s fascinated by the tiny animal, but feels an immediate and powerful connection with the wisecracking human.
Sara is still angry about being brought to the Outcasts’ planet without her permission, yet her stubbornness is no match for “the pull”. As they work together to rescue her friend, their passion flares ever hotter. Can Xorran prove to Sara that he wants more than a torrid affair? Now that he’s found a potential mate, he will settle for nothing less than forever.
Outcasts 4: Assassin
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Copyright © 2019 Cyndi Friberg
Torrin’s jaw dropped, and his heart lurched inside his chest. For one blissful moment, he was paralyzed by shock and primal need. A goddess stood before him naked, offering her perfect body to him. High round breasts, tiny waist and softly curved hips combined to form the personification of his wildest dreams. A small patch of hair above her mound was the same silvery blue as the shimmering hair on her head. Her legs were long and shapely, perfect to wrap around his waist while he thrust strong and steady between her thighs.
“I am willing to serve you, but I need to know what pleases you.”
Her soft, tremulous voice snapped him from his lust addled stupor. He forced his gaze back to her face as he pushed to his feet. His ocular scanners provided information on her biological functions, but he knew nothing about the Sarronti, had no idea if the readings were problematic or not.
Still, fear smelled like fear regardless of the species and facial expressions were nearly universal. Her pastel blue gaze followed his movements with a mixture of dread and hopelessness. Her bleak resignation tore at his heart, and he’d thought himself much too jaded to feel pity. It was obvious she’d done this before, offered her body out of obligation and fear.
He snatched the towel off the deck and wrapped it around her, inadvertently trapping her arms at her sides. “This is not why I brought you here. If we share pleasure, it will be because you want me just as much as I want you.”
About the Author
Cyndi Friberg has written about rock stars, vampires, and cat shifters, but she's currently focused on outer space. Her stories are fun, fast-paced, and seriously hot. She has made the USA Today Top 100, and every book in the Battle Born series landed on Amazon's Top 100. She is currently working on Outcasts, a spin-off series set in the Battle Born universe.
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Painting With Words: Poetry for a New Era
Publisher: Manor House Publishing
Published: November 2018
This collection of poems features six thematically distinct parts, displaying a full spectrum of human emotions, capturing the shared aspects of our experience. Each poem reflects how deeply the author has traveled into his personal experience to process its meaning. His poetry is incisive and devoid of redundant imagery that might obscure the truth, both the poetic and human one.
"With the multi-layered quality of the poems, Prattis takes the reader through the immensities of joy and pain, through the infinite and the mysterious. He dissects the dissonance of the modern world with the scalpel of his poetic musings, and describes the interflow between the human soul and the spirit of earth, paving his quest for spiritual evolution and higher meaning. Prattis’ poetry is a poetic narrative of our basest attributes as a species, our greed, and propensity toward savage violence, as well as our ability to love beyond the telling power of words. His verses awaken the sense of the infinite within us surging our hearts with the power of their message. They restore the possibility of the ancient dialogue between humans and nature, and most of all they restore a sense of optimism." Jana Begovic - Foreword
About the Author
A Poet, Global Traveler, Founder of Friends for Peace, Guru in India, Zen teacher and Spiritual Warrior for planetary care, peace and social justice. Ian presently lives in Ottawa, Canada and encourages people to find their true nature, so that humanity and the planet may be renewed. He mostly stays local to help turn the tide in his home city so that good things begin to happen spontaneously. He is an award winning author of seventeen books. His novel – Redemption – is being made into a movie. His poetry, memoirs, fiction, articles, blogs, and podcasts appear in a wide range of venues. Beneath the polished urban facade remains a part of human nature that few acknowledge because it is easier to deny the basic instincts that have kept us alive on unforgiving earth. Prattis bravely goes there in his outstanding literary work. A stone tossed into the waters of life.
The Cringle Cove Christmas Chronicles Sales Blitz with HJ Bellus, Kristen Luciani, Kate Benson, Michelle Dare, AD Justice and Victoria Renteria
Title: The Cringle Cove Christmas Chronicles
Genre: Holiday Romance
Publication Date: November 29th, 2018
Another winter means Christmas in Cringle Cove, the cozy resort town nestled in the mountains of Pennsylvania. My home.
It was never my dream to run my auntâs bed and breakfast, but itâs my reality. The only good thing about this time of year is that we shut down the bed and breakfast to celebrate our familyâs Christmas.
The town twinkles with the festive lights as the snow falls in a glistening blanket on the land. The cheer is in the air, and I find myself embracing the holiday spirit. Not even the stack of bills that keep piling up can ruin the joyful cheer.
That is until I collide into Roan McDaniels in the local coffee shop. The searing liquid that spills down my arm, is nothing compared to the ache in my heart.
Heâs back in town. The man who broke my heart so many years ago and he looks good. Damn good.
Little did I know I was in for a very unexpected gift.
HJ Bellus is a small town girl who loves the art of storytelling. When not making readers laugh or cry, she's a part-time livestock wrangler that can be found in the middle of Idaho, shot gunning a beer while listening to some Miranda Lambert on her Beats and rocking out in her boots.
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After my sister and I lost our parents, life has been up in the air. The only thing weâve been able to hold onto is our pact to spend every Christmas together, avoiding it like the plague.
Thatâs exactly what Iâm doing when a deliciously dimpled man introduces himself the first day I arrive in Cringle Cove.
Thereâs nothing wrong with making a friend, right?
Until our easy friendship turns into a hellacious crush and a favor bred from nightmares.
For the first time ever, Iâd kill for a Christmas miracle.
For someone who loves everything about the holidays, mine are sure getting off to a terrible start.
The worst part? I promised my ex I wouldnât tell a soul weâd ended things until weâre far away from Cringle Cove.
At least Iâm in the most festive town in the country.
If everything else goes to hell this week, Iâve got that.
Iâm hiding out in a coffee shop when I see Abby.
Sheâs awkward, sarcastic, and obviously miserable here.
Iâve never wanted anyone more.
Keep a promise to your ex in exchange for a happy holiday?
What the elf was I thinking?
What the Elf? is a multi-POV standalone with content intended for mature readers.Kate Benson was raised in Texas and currently resides in central Florida with her husband and their growing army of fur minions.She learned to read at the age of four and has been hooked ever since. She credits her passion for literature to her mother, her love of story-telling to her father and her unwavering faith in happily-ever-afterâs to her husband, Sean.Some of her favorite things include rainy days, loud music, superhero movies, hot tea and of course, lazy afternoons with a great book.To find out more about Kate, her work or to just say hello, she loves hearing from her readers and can be found on social media.
Benson's Book Babes (Fan Club/Readers Group):
It's Christmas in Cringle Cove. Somebody save me.
This place makes me crazy with all the decorations. But one thing makes being here even worse: my ex-boyfriend. In fact, he makes me regret ever leaving the house.
One wrong step and I fallâhard. Who's there to save me? None other than Max. Seeing him again brings back so many memories. One, in particular, brings tears to my eyesâthe day I ended us.
Heâs all I think about. All I see. And he wants me back.
However, returning to Max means choosing a road I never thought Iâd take again.
I always know when Shaineâs home on break from college. Every part of my being goes on high alert the second she enters Cringle Cove. She was once mine, but not anymore.
That is until I find her on the ground in pain. Ice happens.
With her suddenly near, I have to fight the constant urge to wrap my arms around her and kiss her. We arenât the same people we used to be.
We have a lot to work through. Hearts to mend. If Shaine is my Christmas gift, it'll be worth all the pain.
This will be one long week.
Michelle Dare is a romance author. Her stories range from sweet to sinful and from new adult to fantasy. There arenât enough hours in the day for her to write all of the story ideas in her head. When not writing or reading, sheâs a wife and mom living in eastern Pennsylvania. One day she hopes to be writing from a beach where she will never have to see snow or be cold again.
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This is my first trip home in nearly four years. I havenât been back for a very good reasonâand his name is Hunter Beckett.
My parents need my help over Christmas break, so Iâve agreed to return during the semester break against my better judgment.
Kisses under the mistletoe. Family pictures in front of the numerous decorations. Christmas in Cringle Cove is a magical time for everyone else who visitsâjust not for me.
Four long years away without a single glance backward. Iâm THISCLOSE to college graduation. One week around the chocolate-with-flecks-of-gold-eyed devil and Iâm THISCLOSE to giving in to him all over again.
Hunter should come with a warning label: MISTLETOE NOT REQUIRED.
A.D. Justice is the USA Today bestselling author of the Steele Security Series (Wicked Games, Wicked Ties, Wicked Nights, Wicked Intentions, Wicked Shadows), the Crazy Series (Crazy Maybe, Crazy Baby), the Dominic Powers series (Her Dom, Her Domâs Lesson), the Immortal Obsessions series (Immortal Envy) and a few stand-alone romance novels, such as Completely Captivated, Just One Summer, Envy, and Intent.
When sheâs not writing, sheâs spending time with her own alpha male character in their North Georgia mountain home. She is also an avid reader of romance novels, a master at procrastination, a chocolate sommelier, a twister of words, and speaks fluent sarcasm. An avid animal lover, A.D. Justice has three horses, one dog, and two cats.
While the primary focus of her books has been romantic suspense, she has expanded into different sub-genres of romance. Stay tuned to read what she has in store for you!
From USA Today Bestselling Author Kristen Luciani comes a holiday tale so sinfully sweet and sexy, it will have even the grumpiest, most bitter holiday grinch dancing joyfully under the mistletoe.
He made a promise.
He gave me a ring.
Then after planning the perfect future, he made a choiceâ¦to kick me out of his life.
Except, he never bothered to tell me.
I hate that Iâve spent the past five years comparing men to the one who shredded my heart.
I hate that he still has such a tight hold on me from across the Atlantic freaking Ocean.
And most of all, I hate that Iâm still in love with him.
Five years ago, I got on a plane.
It was the biggest mistake of my life.
I traded my dreams to escape my dark past.
I pushed aside the only family I ever knew.
I crushed the only girl Iâd ever loved, driving her into the arms of another manâmy best friend.
And now Iâm back to face everything I left behind.
Only Iâm too late.
Kristen Luciani is a USA Today bestselling author and momtrepreneur with a penchant for stilettos, Silicon Valley, plunging necklines and grapefruit martinis. As a deep-rooted romantic who prefers juicy drama to fill the lives of anyone other than her, she tried her hand at creating a world of enchantment, sensuality, and intrigue, finally uncovering her true passion. No pun intendedâ¦
He was an Olympic Gold Medalist.
She was his best friends sister.
Together, they started a love affair that would shock a nation.
Brooklyn Myles was returning to her hometown after college with no clear direction in lifeâbut she gets more than she bargained for when a cruel twist of fate sends her long-time crush calling.
Hayden Jaxon had a competitive snowboarding career, six gold medals, and women falling at his feetâexcept, it wasn't enough. He wanted more, and his heart wouldn't settle for anyone but her.
Can Brooklyn survive her brother's best friend? Or will she be another victim of his winter games?
Former Director of a major corporation, Victoria has spent most of her life inside of a book. When she wasnât reading, she was busy scribbling down stories of her own. Meeting her husband while he was in the United States Army, Victoria quickly adapted and learned the role of the military spouse.
After finishing her Business Management Degree in college, she spent years working in the corporate world where her writing quickly fell by the wayside. Finally, taking time away from the corporate world, Victoria has been able to dive into her stories and create a whole new world for you to live in. She now resides in the sunny Tampa, Florida area with her husband, son, and two amazing boxers. When she isnât writing you can find her on the beach or hiking. Maybe even writing on the beach.
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