Excerpt: Rescue You

 

RESCUE YOU

Author: Elysia Whisler  

ISBN: 9780778310082

Publication Date: October 27, 2020

Publisher: MIRA Books

One

Constance slammed on her brakes. Steam rose from the street as rain gurgled through the ditches. She killed the engine, stepped into the pattering droplets and scanned the shoulder of the road. Nothing there but the remains of a goose carcass. “Where are you, boy?” Constance gave a low whistle. 

It hadn’t been her imagination. The picked-over goose only made her more certain she’d seen a dog, weaving through the foggy afternoon air like a phantom. A lost dog, with his head bent against the rain as he loped along the muddy ditch. 

Constance whistled again. Silence, but for the sound of rain hitting the trees that lined the road. “Maybe I’m just tired.” She’d done a lot of massages today, which made her feel wrung out. Constance almost ducked back into the van, but halted. 

There he was: a white face with brown patches, peeking at her from behind a bush. “Hey, boy.” Constance squatted down, making herself smaller, less threatening. The dog watched, motionless. Constance drew a biscuit from her coat, briefly recalling the cashier’s amusement at the grocery store today when she’d emptied her pockets on the counter, searching for her keys. Five dog biscuits had been in the pile with her phone, a used tissue and the grocery list. 

“Dog mom, huh?” the elderly cashier had said.

 “Something like that.” More like dog aunt, to all of the rescues at Pittie Place. Her sister, Sunny, had quite the brood. 

Constance laid the biscuit near her foot and waited. A moment later, the bush rustled and the dog approached. He had short hair and big shoulders. He got only as close as he needed to, then stretched his neck out for the prize. As he gingerly took the biscuit, Constance noted a droopy abdomen and swollen nipples, like a miniature cow.

 So. He was a she. Constance inched toward her. The dog held on to the biscuit, but reared back. Constance extended her fist, slowly, so the mom could smell her. “You got puppies somewhere?” 

The dog whimpered, but crunched up the biscuit.

 “Where are your puppies?” 

The dog whimpered again. Her legs shook. Her fur was muddy, feet caked with dirt. She had blood on her muzzle— probably from the dead goose. By her size and coloring, Constance decided she was a pit bull. 

Constance rose up, patted her thigh and headed toward her van. She slid open the side door, grabbed a blanket and spread it out, but when she turned around, the dog was several yards away. Her brown-and-white head was low as she wandered beneath a streetlamp, the embodiment of despair in the drizzle that danced through the light. 

Constance followed, slipping on the leaves that clogged the drainage ditch. The dog glanced once over her shoulder, but her pace didn’t quicken. Constance decided her calm demeanor was working, keeping the dog from fleeing. And let’s be honest: the biscuit hadn’t hurt. Chances were, the dog would be happy to have more as soon as she got wherever she was going. “Let’s see where you’re headed, then. Show me if you’ve got a home.” 

Constance followed her across the road, around the curve and down the narrow lane. Frogs popped like happy corn all over the slick street, but the chill of the oncoming winter slithered through Constance’s blood. 

She followed the dog for a good quarter mile. Even before she hooked a left down the unpaved road hidden behind the trees, Constance had figured out that the mama was headed to one of the handful of empty places that sat decomposing on the hundred or so acres the Matteri family owned. Constance paused only long enough to squelch the sizzle of anger that bubbled up inside before she pressed on, determined to know if the dog was a stray or a neglected mother from Janice Matteri’s puppy mill. 

Constance took the same turn and watched as the dog neared the abandoned house up ahead. Nobody had lived there in years. It was only a matter of time before it became condemned. The dog bypassed the crumbling porch of the old colonial and went around back. Constance knew little daylight was left, and she hadn’t brought a flashlight. She broke into a trot, clutched her coat tighter around her and didn’t slow until the dog came back into view. Constance followed her, her heart thumping harder with each step. 

The dog passed the rusted chain-link fence and disappeared over a rise in the property, near an old shed so overgrown with trees it was only recognizable by a pale red door. Just as she reached the hill, Constance heard a squeak. The sort of high-pitched noise that echoes from everywhere and nowhere all at once. Another squeak came. And another. She crested the hill and saw the dog slink inside the shed door. Constance got to the shed and pushed inside. The dog had reached her destination: a battered old mattress, three shades of brown, lying a few feet inside. The mewls, now loud and hungry, came from a shredded section of the mattress.

 Constance narrowed her eyes. At first, she counted only two bobbing, brown heads, but as she drew closer there was a third. Then a fourth. The last one didn’t move nearly as much, just sort of waded on his stomach. The puppies had cocoa-colored fur and black muzzles. Eyes open. The ones that moved didn’t really walk, just stumbled into each other, like drunks. Mama dog curled around them and they all wiggled toward her abdomen. 

Constance knelt down next to the mattress and watched the suckling puppies. She decided they were about two weeks old. The air in the shed smelled of sour milk, poop and urine. She dug out another biscuit and reached, slowly, her hand in a fist to protect her fingers, her gaze on the mama for any sign she was upset, such as pinned ears, bared teeth or a raised ridge of fur down the back. The energy around the mom and her pups was calm, to the point of exhausted. Constance had certainly helped with enough of Sunny’s dogs over the years to know. She offered the biscuit and the mom took it. With her mouth busy, Constance carefully touched the smallest puppy, who shook so hard the tremble came from deep inside, beneath his skin and fur, straight from his bones. 

Constance rose slowly and did a quick search of the vicinity for more puppies, which turned up nothing but trash, vermin and an old orange crate, which she brought over to the mattress. 

Now to see if Mom was going to accept help.

 Though daylight was precious, Constance waited until the pups were done suckling before she offered a third treat. “Let’s go back to my place,” Constance said as Mom accepted the biscuit. “My sister has a rescue for critters, just like you. And I help her all the time. You’ll be safe there. Does that sound okay?”

 While Mama crunched, Constance reached for the two pups closest to her and, keeping an eye on Mom the whole time, she lifted them and settled them in the crate. Mom’s chewing quickened, so Constance acted fast, lifting the last two pups swiftly but carefully. She rose to her feet, crate in her arms. The mother dog was on her feet almost ahead of her, pointing her muzzle at the crate and whining.

 Constance knew the mom would follow her anywhere she took those pups, but she also lacked any signs of aggression, almost as though she knew that this was their only chance. Or as Pete, owner of Canine Warriors and Constance’s longtime childhood friend, would put it, “You just got something about you, Cici. Everybody trusts you. People. Dogs. The damn Devil himself.” 

Constance headed back to her van, chasing the sunset. As expected, the mother followed. Once to the vehicle, Constance opened the van and set the crate full of pups next to the blanket she’d spread out earlier. The mama dog leaped in after them. 

Constance slid the door closed, settled behind the steering wheel and let out a great sigh. Mission accomplished. She edged down the long, lonely road. The rain pattered on the windshield and the scent of dirty puppies hit her nose. She’d take them home tonight and get them settled in, see how they reacted to a new environment, then text Sunny in the morning. Constance had worked with enough dogs, and people, to know that introducing another new person this evening was bad news. Let Mama get used to Constance first, and get some good food and rest, before she was moved to Pittie Place. 

Tonight, at least, this girl and her babies belonged with Constance. 

 

Excerpted from Rescue You by Elysia Whisler Copyright © Elysia Whisler. Published by MIRA Books.


About the author:

Elysia Whisler was raised in Texas, Italy, Alaska, Mississippi, Nebraska, Hawai’i and Virginia, in true military fashion. Her nomadic life has made storytelling a compulsion from a young age. 

She doubles as a mother, a massage therapist and a CrossFit trainer and is dedicated to portraying strong women, both in life and in her works. She lives in Virginia with her family, including her large brood of cat and dog rescues, who vastly outnumber the humans.


Book summary:

She needs a fresh start. He’s got scars that haven’t healed. With the help of some rescue dogs, they’ll discover that everyone deserves a chance at happiness.

After a year of heartbreak and loss, the only thing keeping Constance afloat is the dog rescue she works at with her sister, Sunny. Desperate for a change, Constance impulsively joins a new gym, even though it seems impossibly hard, and despite the gym’s prickly owner.

Rhett Santos keeps his gym as a refuge for his former-military brothers and to sweat out his own issues. He’s ready to let the funny redhead join, but unprepared for the way she wiggles past his hard-won defenses.

When their dog rescue is threatened, the sisters fight to protect it. And they need all the help they can get. As Rhett and Constance slowly open up to each other, they’ll find that no one is past rescuing; what they need is the right person—or dog—to save them.

BUY LINKS:



 

Lies, Lies, Lies (Excerpt)

Lies, Lies, Lies by Adele Parks

Published:  August 2020 – MIRA

E-galley courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley

Book Summary:

LIES LIES LIES (MIRA Trade Paperback; August 4, 2020; $17.99) centers on the story of Simon and Daisy Barnes. To the outside world, Simon and Daisy look like they have a perfect life. They have jobs they love, an angelic, talented daughter, a tight group of friends… and they have secrets too. Secrets that will find their way to the light, one way or the other.

Daisy and Simon spent almost a decade hoping for the child that fate cruelly seemed to keep from them. It wasn’t until, with their marriage nearly in shambles and Daisy driven to desperation, little Millie was born. Perfect in every way, healing the Barnes family into a happy unit of three. Ever indulgent Simon hopes for one more miracle, one more baby. But his doctor’s visit shatters the illusion of the family he holds so dear.

Now, Simon has turned to the bottle to deal with his revelation and Daisy is trying to keep both of their secrets from spilling outside of their home. But Daisy’s silence and Simon’s habit begin to build until they set off a catastrophic chain of events that will destroy life as they know it.


Prologue

May 1976

Simon was six years old when he first tasted beer.

He was bathed and ready for bed wearing soft pyjamas, even though it was light outside; still early. Other kids were in the street, playing on their bikes, kicking a football. He could hear them through the open window, although he couldn’t see them because the blinds were closed. His daddy didn’t like the evening light glaring on the TV screen, his mummy didn’t like the neighbours looking in; keeping the room dark was something they agreed on.

His mummy didn’t like a lot of things: wasted food, messy bedrooms, Daddy driving too fast, his sister throwing a tantrum in public. Mummy liked ‘having standards’. He didn’t know what that meant, exactly. There was a standard-bearer at Cubs; he was a big boy and got to wave the flag at the front of the parade, but his mummy didn’t have a flag, so it was unclear. What was clear was that she didn’t like him to be in the street after six o’clock. She thought it was common. He wasn’t sure what common was either, something to do with having fun. She bathed him straight after tea and made him put on pyjamas, so that he couldn’t sneak outside.

He didn’t know what his daddy didn’t like, just what he did like. His daddy was always thirsty and liked a drink. When he was thirsty he was grumpy and when he had a drink, he laughed a lot. His daddy was an accountant and like to count in lots of different ways: “a swift one’, “a cold one’, and ‘one more for the road’. Sometimes Simon though his daddy was lying when he said he was an accountant; most likely, he was a pirate or a wizard. He said to people, “Pick your poison’, which sounded like something pirates might say, and he liked to drink, “the hair of a dog’ in the morning at the weekends, which was definitely a spell. Simon asked his mummy about it once and she told him to stop being silly and never to say those silly things outside the house.

He had been playing with his Etch A Sketch, which was only two months old and was a birthday present. Having seen it advertised on TV, Simon had begged for it, but it was disappointing. Just two silly knobs making lines that went up and down, side to side. Limited. Boring. He was bored. The furniture in the room was organised so all of it was pointing at the TV which was blaring but not interesting. The news. His parents liked watching the news, but he didn’t. His father was nursing a can of the grown ups’ pop that Simon was never allowed. The pop that smelt like nothing else, fruity and dark and tempting.

“Can I have a sip?” he asked.

“Don’t be silly, Simon,” his mother interjected. “You’re far too young. Beer is for daddies.” He thought she said ‘daddies’, but she might have said ‘baddies’.

His father put the can to his lips, glared at his mother, cold. A look that said, “Shut up woman, this is man’s business.” His mother had blushed, looked away as though she couldn’t stand to watch, but she held her tongue. Perhaps she thought the bitterness wouldn’t be to his taste, that one sip would put him off. He didn’t like the taste. But he enjoyed the collusion. He didn’t know that word then, but he instinctively understood the thrill. He and his daddy drinking grown ups’ pop! His father had looked satisfied when he swallowed back the first mouthful, then pushed for a second. He looked almost proud. Simon tasted the aluminium can, the snappy biting bitter bubbles and it lit a fuse.

After that, in the mornings, Simon would sometimes get up early, before Mummy or Daddy or his little sister, and he’d dash around the house before school, tidying up. He’d open the curtains, empty the ashtrays, clear away the discarded cans. Invariably his mother went to bed before his father. Perhaps she didn’t want to have to watch him drink himself into a stupor every night, perhaps she hoped denying him an audience might take away some of the fun for him, some of the need. She never saw just how bad the place looked by the time his father staggered upstairs to bed. Simon knew it was important that she didn’t see that particular brand of chaos.

Occasionally there would be a small amount of beer left in one of the cans. Simon would slurp it back. He found he liked the flat, forbidden, taste just as much as the fizzy hit of fresh beer. He’d throw open a window, so the cigarette smoke and the secrets could drift away. When his mother came downstairs, she would smile at him and thank him for tidying up.

“You’re a good boy, Simon,” she’d say with some relief. And no idea.

When there weren’t dregs to be slugged, he sometimes opened a new can. Threw half of it down his throat before eating his breakfast. His father never kept count.

Some people say their favourite smell is freshly baked bread, others say coffee or a campfire. From a very young age, few scents could pop Simon’s nerve endings like the scent of beer.

The promise of it.

 

Excerpted from Lies Lies Lies by Adele Parks, Copyright © 2020 by Adele Parks. 

Published by MIRA Books


Author Bio: 

Adele Parks was born in Teesside, North-East England. Her first novel, Playing Away, was published in 2000 and since then she’s had seventeen international bestsellers, translated into twenty-six languages, including I Invited Her In. She’s been an Ambassador for The Reading Agency and a judge for the Costa. She’s lived in Italy, Botswana and London, and is now settled in Guildford, Surrey, with her husband, teenage son and cat.

photo credit:  Sekkides

Social links:

Buy links:

 

LIES LIES LIES

Author: Adele Parks

ISBN: 9780778360889

Publication Date: August 4, 2020

Publisher: MIRA Books


 

 

The Kids Are Gonna Ask (excerpt)

The Kids Are Gonna Ask by Gretchen Anthony

Published:  July 28, 2020 – Park Row

Content courtesy of the publisher 

Description:

A whip-smart, entertaining novel about twin siblings who become a national phenomenon after launching a podcast to find the biological father they never knew.

The death of Thomas and Savannah McClair’s mother turns their world upside down. Raised to be fiercely curious by their grandmother Maggie, the twins become determined to learn the identity of their biological father. And when their mission goes viral, an eccentric producer offers them a dream platform: a fully sponsored podcast called The Kids Are Gonna Ask. To discover the truth, Thomas and Savannah begin interviewing people from their mother’s past and are shocked when the podcast ignites in popularity. As the attention mounts, they get caught in a national debate they never asked for—but nothing compares to the mayhem that ensues when they find him.

Cleverly constructed, emotionally perceptive and sharply funny, The Kids Are Gonna Ask is a rollicking coming-of-age story and a moving exploration of all the ways we can go from lost to found.


Excerpted from The Kids Are Gonna Ask by Gretchen Anthony © 2020 by Gretchen Anthony, used with permission by Park Row Books.

JULY

The house had become an aquarium—one side tank, the other, fingerprint-smeared glass—with Thomas McClair on the inside looking out. There had been a dozen protests outside their home in less than a week, all for the McClairs to—what, enjoy? Critique? Reject? There was no making sense of it. 

Tonight, Thomas pulled his desk chair up to the window and kicked his feet onto the sill. He’d been too anxious to eat dinner, but his mind apparently hadn’t notified his stomach, which now growled and cramped. He was seventeen. He could swallow a whole pizza and wash it down with a half-gallon of milk, then go back for more, especially being an athlete. But that was before. 

Before the podcast, before the secrets, before the wave of national attention. Now he was just a screwup with a group of strangers swarming the parkway across the street from his house because he’d practically invited them to come. 

He deserved to feel awful. 

The McClairs had been locked in the house for a week, leaving Thomas short of both entertainment and sanity. He had no choice but to watch the show unfolding outside. Stuck in his beige bedroom, with the Foo Fighters at Wembley poster and the Pinewood Derby blue ribbons, overlooking the front lawn and the driveway and the hand-me-down Volvo neither he nor Savannah had driven since last week. There they stood—a crowd of milling strangers, all vying for the McClairs’ attention. All these people with their causes. Some who came to help or ogle. More who came to hate. 

Thomas brought his face almost to the glass and tried to figure out the newly assembling crowd. Earlier that day, out of all the attention seekers, one guy in particular had stood out. He wore black jeans, black boots, a black beanie—a massive amount of clothing for the kind of day where you could see the summer heat curling up from the pavement—and a black T-shirt that screamed WHO’S PAYING YOU? in pink neon. He also held a leash attached to a life-size German shepherd plushy toy. 

Some of the demonstrators had gone home for the night, only to be replaced by a candlelight vigil. And a capella singing. There were only about a dozen people in the group, all women, except for two tall guys in the back lending their baritones to a standard rotation of hymns. “Amazing Grace” first, followed by “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” Now they were into a song Thomas didn’t know, but the longer he listened, he figured hundred-to-one odds that the lyrics consisted of no more than three words, repeated over and over. They hit the last note and raised their candles high above their heads. By daaaaaaaaaaaayyyy. 

“No more,” he begged into the glass. “I can’t take any more.” 

A week. Of this. 

Of protests, rallies and news crews with their vans and satellites and microphones. 

Of his sister, Savannah, locked in her room, refusing to speak to him. 

Of his grandmother Maggie in hers, sick with worry. 

Of finding—then losing—his biodad, the missing piece of his mother’s story. And his own. 

Thomas was left to deal with it all. Because he’d started it. And because he was a finisher. And most of all, because it wasn’t over yet.


About the author

GRETCHEN ANTHONY is the author of Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners, which was a Midwestern Connections Pick and a best books pick by Amazon, BookBub, PopSugar, and the New York Post. Her work has been featured in The Washington Post, Medium, and The Write Life, among others. She lives in Minneapolis with her family.

photo credit: M. Brian Hartz

 

Social Links:

Author website:  https://www.gretchenanthony.com/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/45297823-the-kids-are-gonna-ask

Twitter: https://twitter.com/granthony

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gretchenanthony.writer/


Buy Links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Kids-Are-Gonna-Ask-Novel/dp/077830874X

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-kids-are-gonna-ask-gretchen-anthony/1131329819

IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780778308744

Books-A-Million: https://www.booksamillion.com/p/Kids-Gonna-Ask/Gretchen-Anthony/9780778308744?id=7941582454467&_ga=2.251093830.1162369720.1594158248-529522754.1594158248#

AppleBooks: https://books.apple.com/us/book/the-kids-are-gonna-ask/id1460789878

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Gretchen_Anthony_The_Kids_Are_Gonna_Ask?id=siOYDwAAQBAJ

 

THE KIDS ARE GONNA ASK

By Gretchen Anthony

On Sale: July 28, 2020 

Park Row Books

CONTEMPORARY FICTION/Mothers &Children/Family/FictionSatire/Humorous American Literarure

978-0778308744; 077830874X

$17.99 USD

416 pages



 

Murder at the Mill by MB Shaw: Excerpt and US Giveaway

Description:

Iris Grey rents a quaint cottage in a picture-perfect Hampshire village, looking to escape from her crumbling marriage. She is drawn to the neighboring Wetherby family, and is commissioned to paint a portrait of Dominic Wetherby, a celebrated crime writer.

At the Wetherby’s Christmas Eve party, the mulled wine is in full flow – but so are tensions and rivalries among the guests. On Christmas Day, the youngest member of the Wetherby family, Lorcan, finds a body in the water. A tragic accident? Or a deadly crime?


Prologue

Christmas Day 2017

The sound of the water was deafening. This stretch of the River Itchen was narrow, little more than a stream in places, but it was deep, and the current was fast, causing the ancient waterwheel to churn and splash and creak with unexpected ferocity, like a battlefield’s roar. Somewhere in the distance, church bells were pealing, fighting theirway through the din. Five o’clock. As good a time to die as any.

Tying on the stone was easy, despite the darkness and the noise and the cold that numbed one’s fingers. Everything had been easy, in fact. All that fear, the stomach-souring anticipation of the act, had been for nothing in the end. Everything had gone exactly according to plan. So far, anyway. There was a symmetry to that, at least, the satisfaction of a job well done. One could even call it a pleasure of sorts.

Across the bitterly cold water, the lights of Mill House glowed warm and inviting. Through the sash windows of the Wetherbys’ grand draw- ing room, a Christmas tree twinkled. Gaudy and colourful, rising out of a shiny sea of discarded wrapping paper, torn from joyously opened gifts, it had clearly been decorated by children, as all Christmas trees should be.Few things in life were sadder than an ‘adult’ Christmas tree, tastefully decked out in themed colours. Where was the magic in that?

Not that it mattered anymore. Nothing mattered anymore.

The water was as cold as stone, cold enough to make one flinch. But only momentarily. It was time to let go. The river opened up eagerly to receive its Christmas gift, pulling it down into the familiar black depths with the cloying, greedy embrace of a lover.

Feet first. Then legs. Torso. Head.

Gone.

On the opposite bank of the river, a torchlight danced.
Lorcan Wetherby, youngest son of the celebrated author Dom Wetherby and his wife, Ariadne, had ventured outside to play with his Christmas presents: a Scooby-Doo flashlight and a motorised toy boat, his pride and joy. Lorcan could still feel the excitement of the afternoon, when his oldest brother Marcus had pulled the big parcel wrapped in holly-sprigged paper out from under the tree. Handing out Christmas presents one by one under the tree after lunch was a family tradition, prolonging both the agony and the ecstasy for generations of Wetherby children.

‘ “To Lorcan”,’ Marcus read aloud. ‘ “Merry Christmas and all our love, Mummy and Daddy.’”

Lorcan had torn at the paper like a puppy, emitting a squeal of pure delight when he saw it. Exactly like the one on TV.

‘Remoke control!’ He beamed at his mother. ‘It’s remoke control!’ Ariadne beamed back. She adored her son. ‘That’s right, darling.’ Waiting for his father to put the batteries in and set the boat up had been torture. But after inhaling two slices of Ariadne’s homemade Christmas cake so quickly Marcus could have sworn he saw marzipan chunks coming out of his little brother’s nose, the boat was finally ready and Lorcan had raced down the sloping lawn to the banks of the Itchen to play with it.

Dark had long since fallen. Recently Lorcan had felt afraid of the dark, and particularly of ‘ghosts’, which he saw constantly, hovering around every tree or lichen-covered wall. His father, Dom, blamed it on Scooby-Doo, a new obsession. His mother wasn’t so sure.

‘I wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss it. Maybe he’s really seeing something.’

‘Like what?’ Dom Wetherby frowned. ‘Things that go “bump” in the night?’

Ariadne smiled patiently. For a writer, Dominic could be terribly unimaginative at times. ‘This house is over four hundred years old, darling,’ she reminded him. ‘There may well be ghosts here. Children like Lorcan often see things other people don’t, or can’t. Maybe he’s just more attuned to the supernatural than we are.’

Attuned or not, Lorcan wasn’t afraid tonight. He had seen a ghost as it happened, less than an hour ago, moving through the woods, white and tall and looming. But the ghost hadn’t seen him. He was too busy with whatever he had in his hands. Besides, Lorcan had his Scooby-Doo torch, it was Christmas, and he was at home at the Mill with Mummy and Daddy. He was safe. Cocooned. It was like Mummy said: ‘Ghosts are only people, Lorcan. Ordinary people. It’s just that you’re seeing them in an extraordinary way.’ Lorcan wasn’t sure what that meant exactly, but it made him feel better.

Ghosts were people.
People, in Lorcan’s experience, were nice.
He played with his boat till his hands were so cold they hurt. The church bells rang. He counted them. One, two, three, four, five . . . six. Time to go in.

Crossing at the bridge safely, where his father had shown him, he reached down gingerly to pull his boat out of the reeds. Behind him, he could hear the waterwheel turning, the familiar sound of rushing water that was the soundtrack to his life. Lorcan Wetherby loved the river. He loved it like a person. He loved the waterwheel and the Mill. He loved his home. His family.

The boat was stuck. The spiky part at the bottom – the ‘keel’, Marcus had called it – had become entangled in something, some part of the cold, watery underworld of the Itchen. Lorcan tugged harder, but still it wouldn’t budge. Carefully setting down the remote-control handset next to him on the bridge to get a better grip, he tried again, with both hands this time, plunging his arms into the frigid water right up to the elbows. Leaning back, he pulled as hard as he could, his muscles burning with exertion as he yanked and twisted the precious boat, willing it to break free.

Beneath the surface, something snapped.

A small movement at first, then a bigger one, then in one great rush up came the boat, rising out of the water like the kraken. It was still heavy, still caught up in something, but Lorcan had hold of it now, the whole, beautiful vessel safe in his two strong hands. He sat back tri- umphant and exhausted. After a few deep breaths, he began to try to unwind the slimy strands still coiled round the boat’s bottom.

And then he saw it.
It wasn’t reeds that had wrapped themselves, vise-like, round the keel. It was hair.
Human hair.
Lorcan stared down in horror into the face of the corpse, its skin stretched tight and ghoulish from being pulled by the scalp. White, sightless eyes stared back at him.

Not even the sound of the river could drown out Lorcan’s screams.


About the author:

M.B Shaw is the pen-name of New York Times bestselling writer Tilly Bagshawe. A teenage single mother at 17, Tilly won a place at Cambridge University and took her baby daughter with her. She went on to enjoy a successful career before becoming a writer. As a journalist, Tilly contributed regularly to the Sunday Times, Daily Mail, and Evening Standard, before turning her hand to novels.

Tilly’s first book, ADORED, was a smash hit on both sides of the Atlantic, becoming an instant New York Times and Sunday Times bestseller. She now divides her time between the UK and America, writing her own books and the new series of Sidney Sheldon novels.



Advanced Praise for MURDER AT THE MILL and M.B. Shaw

“A rich, mystery debut… Tilly Bagshawe… makes a smooth transition to the world of puzzlers.”

—Kirkus Reviews Starred Review

“The principled, smart, and courageous Iris is bound to garner enthusiastic fans.”

—Publishers Weekly

“A most enjoyable and energetic cozy.”

—Booklist

“Complicated relationships create a strong backdrop for a complex mystery, and one hopes, the foundation for more books to come.”

—Library Journal

“Murder at the Mill by M. B. Shaw is a great sweeping adventure.

Ideal for holiday reading.”

—M. C. Beaton, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author

“M.B. Shaw has penned a wonderfully layered mystery with a multifaceted amateur sleuth, artist Iris Grey. Ms. Shaw’s English village setting made me feel like I was right there, and kept me reading until late into the night. I can’t wait to see where Iris Grey’s next artistic commission takes us.”

—Paige Shelton, New York Times bestselling author

“Be sure to start reading M.B. Shaw’s evocatively written mystery early in the day, or else you’ll be up late into the night—it’s that unputdownable.”

—Ellen Crosby, author of The Vineyard Victims

“A festering box of secrets, providing a Christmas cocktail of family lies and deliciously conceived murder.”

—Mandy Morton, author of The No. 2 Feline Detective Agency series

“A snowy Christmas in a country village, intriguing characters and a twisty-turny plot…I loved this book and couldn’t put it down. Fabulous!”

—Jill Mansell, International Bestselling Author

“A contemporary-set cosy crime novel that harks back to The Golden Age of detective fiction. Author Tilly Bagshawe writing under a pseudonym, introduces us to society portraitist Iris Grey whose Christmas country retreat is anything but when a body is found floating by the mill on Christmas Day, instead of tucking into turkey and all the trimmings, Iris finds herself caught up in all manner of sleuthing and intrigue.”

—Red Magazine

“A nice little slice of festive who dunnit – just right for cosy winter afternoons”

—Katherine Woodfine, author of The Sinclair’s Mysteries


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Excerpt/US Giveaway: Naughty on Ice by Maia Chance

Naughty On Ice by Maia Chance

Minotaur Books; on sale November 13, 2018; $26.99

Description:

When an anonymous Christmas card from Maple Hill, Vermont beckons the Discreet Retrieval Agency to recover an antique ring at a family gathering, of course Lola and Berta jump at the chance – after all, holiday business hasn’t been such exhilarating work, and their sweethearts Ralph and Jimmy have been on the back burner.

But no sooner do they find the ring on Great-Aunt Daphne Goddard’s arthritic finger than Mrs. Goddard drops dead from a poisoned glass of Negroni on ice – and the police show up to find the two red-handed with the ring. It’s clear that Lola and Berta were set up to be framed for the murder, and now the duo must uncover the secrets of Maple Hill in order to clear their name… or be thrown in the slammer. (publisher)


About the author:

MAIA CHANCE was a finalist for the 2004 Romance Writers of America
Golden Heart Award and is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of
Washington. She is writing her dissertation on nineteenth-century American literature. She is also the author of the Fairy Tale Fatal mystery series.

Photo credit: Fedora of Spectrum House Seattle


 

Excerpt:

Maple Hill, Vermont December 19, 1923

 

The circumstances, I do realize, were ghastly. A chunk was missing from the molasses layer cake on the kitchen table. A corpse lay, probably still warmish, out on the living room carpet. And I was aware that, having been caught in the act of removing a ruby ring from an elderly lady’s finger, my detecting partner, Berta Lundgren, and I looked as guilty as masked bandits in Tiffany’s.

The policeman, who had announced himself as Sergeant Peletier, stood over the kitchen table, wearing an Oho, what have we here? expression. “You’re the uninvited guests, I reckon,” he said. “Mrs. Lundgren and Mrs. Woodby?”

“We were invited,” Berta said coldly.

“That’s not what I was told,” Peletier said. He surveyed drunken Aunt Daphne, the ring, and the cake. “Having a bit of dessert with a side of jewel thieving, I see. Mighty funny thing to do right after your hostess has expired.”

“Aghamee do eshplain,” I said.

“I beg your pardon?” Peletier said.

I swallowed cake. “Allow me to explain,” I repeated.

This wasn’t the plan. The plan had been to retrieve the ring, pop it in the breadbox, slink out of the house, and skip town on the next train out.

“Yes,” Peletier said. “Please explain. Mrs. Goddard lies dead in the other room, and you’re here in the kitchen shimmying a ring off Mrs. Lyle’s finger?”

At the mention of her name, Aunt Daphne raised her champagne glass. “Cheers,” she crowed.

“I will explain,” Berta butted in. She was a rosy, gray-bunned lady of sixty-odd years who spoke with a faint Swedish accent and resembled a garden gnome. “What you see before you is a tried-and-true method for removing stuck rings from fingers—fingers, you understand, that have . . . expanded.”

We all regarded Aunt Daphne’s fingers, which, short and plump and swollen, resembled a litter of Dachshund puppies. The too-small ring had been maneuvered to just below the knuckle with Berta’s trick of looping embroidery thread under the ring, winding the thread tightly around the finger, and then unwinding the thread from the bottom. With each loop that was unwound, the ring edged up another millimeter. The downside was that it looked rather painful. However, Aunt Daphne, drinking champagne and shoveling cake with her free hand, had yet to complain. There really are no better painkillers than cake and booze.

“My mother always used butter to remove stuck rings,” Peletier said.

“A pound of butter wouldn’t get this thing off me,” Aunt Daphne said. “Believe me, I’ve tried it! This darned thing’s been stuck on my finger since the summer of 1919.”

“When you stole it,” I prompted.

“Stole it?” Aunt Daphne snickered, and with her free hand she lifted the glass of champagne to her lips and polished it off. “I never said that!”

“Yes, you did.” Panic zinged through me. I turned to look up at Peletier. “She stole it. She told us she did. In the summer of 1919. We have merely been, um, asked to remove it.”

“By Mrs. Lyle, here?” “Well, no. . . .”

“Sounds like thievery to me. And now, coincidentally, Mrs. Goddard is dead.”

My cheeks were growing hot. “As I said, Aunt Daphne stole the ring, and we are merely attempting to restore it to its rightful— Hold it. What are you suggesting? ‘Coincidentally’? Mrs. Goddard died of a heart attack, didn’t she? That’s what it appeared to—”

“Oh, no, no, no,” Peletier said. “It was poison.”

“Poison!”

“I smelled it on her breath. Cyanide. Likely in the cocktail she’d been drinking at the time of her death.”

“Are you certain?” I said. “I happened to notice she was drinking a Negroni. Those are made with Campari, you know, which itself is as bitter as poison—”

“‘Happened to notice,’ eh? Any chance you fixed it for her?” “No!”

Phooey. It had been Berta’s idea to carry on with the ring-retrieval job even after Judith Goddard had kicked the bucket about an hour earlier. Having nothing else to do while waiting for the authorities to turn up, we had conferred in the butler’s pantry amid the family silver. I had whispered that it was unseemly to filch a ring under the circumstances. Berta had whispered, “Oh no, we did not come all the way up here to the snowy wilds of Vermont for nothing, we are finishing the job.” I had conceded. Our train tickets had been costly.

Now I gave Berta a bug-eyed I told you so look.

She ignored it and busied herself with completing the ring removal.

“Oh, all right,” I said to Peletier with a sigh. “The jig is up. We’re private detectives—”

“Go along!” Peletier said. “Truly.”

“Ha-ha-ha!” Peletier slapped his thigh.

“Did you bring a card, Mrs. Woodby?” Berta asked. “No. You?”

Berta flicked Peletier a frosty look. “I did not expect to be asked to provide my credentials this evening. Ah! There. The ring is—” She wiggled it from Aunt Daphne’s fingertip. “—off.”

“You’re an angel of mercy,” Aunt Daphne said to Berta. “Thank you. My! Just look at the divot it left behind.” She massaged her finger, and then helped herself to more champagne.

“Buying that’s against the law, you know,” Peletier said, pointing to the champagne bottle.

“Oh, to Hell with your Eighteenth Amendment,” Aunt Daphne said. “It’s for the dogs. And politicians and church ladies.”

“Would you mind if I placed the ring in the breadbox?” Berta asked Aunt Daphne.

“Not at all. I never want to see that thing again.”

Berta went to put the ring in the metal breadbox on the counter—plink—and then sat back down.

Peletier pulled out one of the ladder-back chairs, sat, and extracted a notebook and pencil from inside his coat. He was small and wiry, with a flushed face, beady eyes, and tufting gray hair and eyebrows. He called to mind a disgruntled North Pole elf. His embroidered badge read Maple Hill, VT Police and featured a deer and a pine tree.

Cute.

“Start at the beginning,” he said.

In a tumbling back-and-forth, Berta and I explained to Peletier that we were private detectives with our own small agency in New York City.  How, last week, we’d received an invitation from an anonymous sender asking us to dinner at Goddard Farm, requesting that we retrieve a stolen ring, place it in the breadbox, and to subsequently expect payment in the mail. That we’d only arrived in Maple Hill earlier that afternoon, having taken the night train, and that we had rooms at the Old Mill Inn only for that evening. How Anonymous had not revealed him- or herself to us upon our arrival at Goddard Farm (really a mansion on a ridge above the village).

How we’d been gobsmacked when Judith Goddard went toes-up only fifteen minutes after our arrival.

“I understand that this was a family gathering to celebrate Mrs. Goddard’s recent engagement,” Peletier said. “How did you explain your appearance at a family affair?”

“Well, at first it was a bit awkward,” I said. Only Judith Goddard, her brother Roy, her aunt Daphne, Judith’s three adult children, her brand-new fiancé, and two servant women had been present in the house. “You know how it i—”

“We had no choice but to fabricate an explanation,” Berta interrupted. She was serenely sawing the molasses cake.

“They said that I invited them,” Aunt Daphne said. “That we’d met at a ladies’ poetry luncheon at the country club in Cleveland. I can’t remember much any more, of course, and poetry knocks me out cold, so I didn’t realize that they were lying—”

“Mrs. Woodby and I are innocent of any wrongdoing,” Berta said. “We were merely doing our job. Surely, Sergeant Peletier, you are able to understand that.”

Peletier snorted and stood. “Come down to the station tomorrow morning, and if you can show me this anonymous invitation of yours, maybe I’ll let you off the hook. Until then, don’t even think about leaving town. Good evening.” He left the kitchen, Aunt Daphne drifting after him with the champagne bottle.

Berta and I looked at each other across the collapsing cake. “Would it be absolutely unconscionable to leave right now?” I whispered.

“There has been a death in the family, Mrs. Woodby, and we are strangers. We should leave them to their grief.”

“Maybe there is something we could do to help—”

“There is nothing worse than having to speak with strangers when one’s heart is breaking.”

Honestly, I hadn’t gotten the impression that Judith Goddard’s demise was cracking anyone’s heart in two. Not even the heart of her fiancé-to-be. “They aren’t an especially happy family,” I said, “but I suppose none are. Happy families are a myth.”

“Nonsense. You must simply know one when you see it. They sometimes come in unusual forms. Now, come along. After we show the invitation to Sergeant Peletier in the morning, our hands will be washed clean of this terrible affair.”

I felt like an absolute gink as we sneaked to the entry hall to fetch our coats, hats, scarves, and gloves. We didn’t encounter any of the family or the servants, although voices rose and fell in distant rooms. We stepped out the front door into the night. Our breath billowed in the icy air. Berta bent her head into the wind and toddled toward our rented pickup truck, an REO Speedwagon with a boxy cab and wooden rails around the bed. She winched herself up into the passenger seat.

I followed, mincing like Comet or Cupid through the crunchy snow in my high heels. I took the hand crank from the cab floor, resuscitated the engine, climbed behind the wheel, flicked on the headlamps, and we were off.

“Oh, it is so very cold,” Berta said with a shiver. “As cold as I remember Sweden being when I was a girl, but I am no longer young.” I inched the truck down a steep, snow-packed road. Bristling black forest encroached from beyond the headlamp beams. I was accustomed to the glitter and hum of Manhattan. Nighttime in the countryside was giving me the jumps.

“I have a bad feeling about this,” I said.

“If you slip, steer into the slide. That is the only way to avoid a tailspin.”

“Not that. The murder.

“We will be on our way home tomorrow.” How I wished I could believe it.


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Excerpt: So Damn Lucky by Deborah Coonts

Click here to read Chapter One of

So Damn Lucky (on sale today!)

by Deborah Coonts

Author Bio
Deborah Coonts, 
author of So Damn Lucky, says her mother tells her she was born in Texas a very long time ago, though she’s not totally sure — her mother can’t be trusted. But she was definitely raised in Texas on barbeque, Mexican food and beer. She currently resides in Las Vegas, where family and friends tell her she can’t get into too much trouble. Silly people. Coonts has built her own business, practiced law, flown airplanes, written a humor column for a national magazine, and survived a teenager. She is the author of the Lucky O’Toole Las Vegas adventure series.

Her first book, Wanna Get Lucky?, was released in 2010.

For more information please visit http://www.deborahcoonts.com/, and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter