31 October 2021

Ruin (Bastard Billionaires #2) by @rt_writes

 

 


She’s royal. She’s his best friend’s little sister. She hates him!

Princess Lena Heinrickson wants to shed her Party Girl image. Desperately.
So, she runs away from her royal obligations and finds solace in anonymity.
She doesn’t count on the world’s best tracker hunting her down at the request of her Royal Brothers...Shane McRae, the man who destroyed her heart, after a brief fling in Paris.
Now, with her very life on the line, Lena has to pretend she’s not crumbling inside.
All while trying to not fall for the most forbidden and broken man on the planet – her bodyguard.
Former soldier and current billionaire for hire, Shane has too many ghosts haunting his dreams.
The one ghost he can’t forget is Princess Lena – the most famous woman on the planet.
Now all grown up, more guarded than ever, and still as enchanting as she’d been when they first met.
Tasked with protecting her from a terrible danger, Shane knows the smart thing to do would be to keep it strictly professional.
Especially, since his own demons rear their heads to torment him.
But, his desires threaten to overtake his common sense. The path to his certain Ruin lies in Lena’s arms. Most of all, he wants it almost as much as he’s afraid of it…


Book Links:
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Read an Excerpt from Ruin (Billionaire Bastards #2)


“I stay up nights thinking of ways to tease you.” He was deadpan in delivery but sweetly, sexily earnest.
“You know what?” She went on her toes because she couldn’t stand one more second of not kissing him.

“So do I,” she whispered against his lips.

Their kiss was deep, slow, sugary as honey twined in molasses, their hearts beat as one even as he stooped low to accommodate the differences in their height. His tongue sucked on hers, as if he was tasting a rare sweet delicacy, made just for him and her inside were slick with wet and wanting.

Already anticipating how this night might end…

His eyes opened, lush green and filled with enough fire to melt her in the middle of the small, private park they’d discovered on this midnight picnic. “I think I might love you.”

Lena’s heart stuttered. Then beat faster, surer than it ever had.

She wanted to say, me too. Me first. From the second I saw you. But I’m scared because I lose everyone I love, one way or another and losing you will hurt till the end of time.

She let her fingers wander down to his zipper, found rock-hard evidence of his desire.

She smiled and caressed it while she whispered in his hot ear what exactly she wanted to do to him.

“I think I’ll go down on my knees. The grass is soft, isn’t it? And we’re alone tonight. No useless guards. And you opened that bottle of Krug I hate so I might as well put it to some good fucking use…”

She sucked on his lobe, pulled at the tender bottom with her teeth. Felt his erection leap into her palm. “Would you like to know how champagne and you taste on my tongue?”


About the Author:

Hi, I’m Aarti V Raman aka Writer Gal. I have been a former journalist, editor, and even a sometime-teacher before I plunged into my dream job. That of being a full-time writer.
In fact, my three favorite words are ‘happily ever after.’
This comes in handy as I primarily write bestselling contemporary romantic women’s fiction, which is all about living happily, after going through some hard times.
My more notable works include the Geeks of Caltech and Royals of StellangÄrd series, Something Old, Something New, More Than You Want, and The Perfect Fake among others. My chicklit family drama, The Worst Daughter Ever, has been picked up for screen adaptation.
I always love to hang with you, my dear reader friend. I’ve created Writer Gal’s Reader Pals on Facebook for this reason and I hope to see you there.
If not, I’m there on all social media but I’m most active on Instagram

Aarti on the Web:
Newsletter * Facebook * Instagram * Twitter 



30 October 2021

Bash by Mike Bartos

 


Suspense, Thriller

Published: October 2021

Publisher: Franklin Ridge Publishing


Ash Roper, Afghanistan combat veteran, is now a writer and tabloid publisher in Charleston, SC. The nearby Blakemore Anderson State Hospital (BASH) for the criminally insane, is offering up a rich variety of potentially juicy stories including an escaped murderer, an assaultive patient released by a jury, the violent murder of a staff member, and illicit drugs finding their way through the barbed wire perimeter of BASH.

Ash decides to investigate from the inside, but through a series of unforeseen circumstances, ends up trapped in the hospital as a patient. Ash's headstrong wife Sally J, her lawyer buddy and former lover Roswell, and Doc Kerrigan, a hard drinking hospital psychiatrist, take on the system to try and spring Ash. The romantic and legal sparks fly inside and outside of BASH as a hurricane draws a bead on the South Carolina Low Country. A roadside cafe owner, a charming weather forecaster, a meth cooking biker, a crooked cop, a homicide detective, battling lawyers, and a variety of incompetent bureaucrats cross paths in this engaging and dramatic adventure.




About the Author

Mike Bartos is a psychiatrist and writer living in Chapel Hill North Carolina. "BASH" takes place in the lyrical South Carolina Low country, which is also the setting for his other novel, "Finding Lorena".


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29 October 2021

As Above So Below by Jennifer D. Bokal

 

 

Paranormal Romance, Seasoned Romance, Holiday Romance, Adventure Romance

Release Date: October 20, 2021

Publisher: The Wild Rose Press


A search for information about his grandfather's mysterious death leads Army physician, Carter Balan, to the town of Ancient Oaks.

Fiona Moon has a secret. Her magical abilities have been fading since her 40th birthday and with Halloween only a week away, the witch fears that her powers are gone for good.

When Carter walks into her bookshop, Fiona knows exactly who he is—the first boy she ever kissed. Carter has no memory of Fiona or the fact he comes from a long line of vampire hunters. When a vampire is discovered in the woods Fiona and Carter must work together to destroy the creature. Can Carter recover his stolen memories before it's too late? Will he accept his family history and pick up where his grandfather left off? Can Fiona find a way to harness her powers and save the town?




Excerpt

We have a visitor,” said Lana. “He’s handsome and a mortal.”

Mortal?” Fiona rose to her feet. “No way. The spell that hides Ancient Oaks is too strong.”

Lana pulled Fiona to the window. A set of wings were tucked into the fairy’s back. “See.”

Standing on the sidewalk, a man looked at the bookstore. His gaze drifted to Fiona, who gawked at him from the window. Smiling, he gave a small wave. As if a thousand butterflies had been let loose, her middle filled with fluttering.

Was there something about the man?

Does he look familiar to you?” Fiona asked Lana. “No, but I can be his new best friend.”

The man strode through the bookshop’s door and

Fiona’s fingers began to tingle.

May I help you?” she asked.

And if she can’t,” Lana interjected. “I can.”

The man had the good manners to laugh, not leer. “I

visited Ancient Oaks years ago with my grandfather.” He inhaled. “He met with people in this store. I know it’s a long shot, but would anyone remember him?”

Her interest was piqued. “What’s your grandfather’s name?”

Rupert Balan.”

The frenzied fluttering in her belly ceased. If this man was the grandson of Rupert Balan, it meant one thing. The man was Carter Balan—the first boy Fiona ever kissed.


About the Author

Jennifer D. Bokal penned her first book at age eight. An early lover of the written word, she decided to follow her passion and become a full-time writer. From then on, she didn't look back. She earned a master of arts in creative writing from Wilkes University and became a member of the Romance Writers of America and International Thriller Writers. She has authored several short stories, novellas and poems. Winner of the Sexy Scribbler in 2015, Jennifer is the author of the Ancient World Historical series the Champions of Rome and the Harlequin Romantic Suspense series, Rocky Mountain Justice and the connected series, Rocky Mountain Justice: Wyoming Nights. Jennifer is the author of Coltons Secret History, Book 3 in the Coltons of Kansas series and Coltons Internal Affair, Book 9 in the Coltons of Grave Gulch series—also from Harlequin Romantic Suspense. Happily married to her own Alpha Male for more 25 years, she enjoys writing stories that explore the wonders of love. Jen and her manly husband live in upstate New York with their three beautiful daughters, two very spoiled dogs, and a kitten that aspires to one day become a Chihuahua.


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28 October 2021

Daring the Duke by Charlie Lane

 

The Debutante Dares Series, Book One

Historical Romance, Regency Romance

Date Published: October 28, 2021

Publisher: WOLF Publishing



In this Regency romance by Charlie Lane, a London season of scandalous dares forces a lady and her duke to see that perfect isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.


A redheaded bluestocking in desperate need of a wealthy husband.

A handsome duke looking for the perfect duchess.

And a dare that shows that opposites may not only attract but can be so much more.


Lady Tabitha Hampton has the memory of an elephant. Her sharp brain locks everything away tight as a trunk in an attic. But this talent fails to help the twenty-seven-year-old bluestocking attract the attention of a single wealthy suitor. And she needs one. With three sisters of marriageable age, a sickly father, and a series of bad investments draining their dowries, Tabitha’s marriage could save or ruin her entire family.


The Duke of Collingford needs a wife, but not just any one will do. Arthur’s future duchess must be perfect in every way—fair of face, impeccable manners, with enough social influence to impact his parliamentary projects. When he joins the whirl of the London season, the duke finds an insufferable, redheaded wallflower instead.


Tabitha insists she can be the perfect duchess, if he’ll only give her the chance. Arthur agrees to test her abilities, but she tests his control. And one taste of her lips is enough to make him embrace chaos.


Opposites may attract, but can they cooperate? Or will they lose everything, including their hearts?



About The Author

Charlie Lane traded in academic databases and scholarly journals for writing steamy Regency romcoms like the ones she’s always loved to read. Her favorite authors are Jane Austen (who else?), Toni Morrison, William Blake, Julia Quinn, and Maya Rodale.

Charlie writes unique stories with unconventional characters who push against the rigid restrictions of their society. Officially, Charlie has a Ph.D. in literature with a focus on the nineteenth-century novel and children’s literature and answers to Professor. Unofficially, she’s a high-flying circus-obsessed acrobat, with an emphasis on two-tail silks and answers to Muscles Magee. She lives with her own Colonel Brandon, two little dudes, and a furry fella in East Tennessee.


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27 October 2021

Handle with Care by Anita Verebes

 

Contemporary Romance/Erotic Romance

Date Published: 07-23-2021



What would you do if you had twenty minutes alone with your idol?

Gemma Fox is a self-confessed unlucky-in-love geek treating herself to a weekend at a pop-culture convention on Australia’s sunny Gold Coast.

Drawn there by the temptation of seeing her celebrity crush, Everett Rhodes, the last thing she expects is to wind up trapped in an elevator with him. Parting ways, Gemma has no reason to suspect that their paths will cross again. After all, he’s a celebrity. She’s just a fan who lives on the other side of the planet.

Besides, her life is not a rom-com. (At least, that’s what she keeps telling herself.)

However, life has other plans. And Everett -stupidly charming, frustratingly handsome Everett- is hard to resist.

But when things get complicated, Gemma and Everett are both faced with the same dilemma:

How can they make things work when they live in completely separate worlds?


About the Author

Anita (A.N.) Verebes is a daydreamer, writer, and author of the debut romance novel ‘Handle With Care’.

As a professional civil marriage celebrant, Anita makes a living telling other people’s love stories and celebrating real romance! Also armed with a Bachelor of Education (Secondary), Anita is a qualified -but not practising- High School English teacher who loves to read anything she can get her hands on, including fanfiction. (And, yes, she’s written her fair share of that, too.)

Living directly between Queensland’s sunny Gold and Sunshine coasts, Anita spends her days exploring the Great South East with her husband and their two rambunctious sons. When at home, she’s also a slave to two cats and one very spoilt Great Dane X.


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26 October 2021

Winter Storm by Ellie Gray

 

Romantic Suspense

Date Published: 11-17-2021

Publisher: The Wild Rose Press


photo add-to-goodreads-button_zpsc7b3c634.png


Willow Daniels has a heart of gold and is willing to help anyone who needs it. When she helps Ethan McCormick one snowy night, she may have made the biggest mistake of her life. Trapped by a winter storm in a tiny North Yorkshire village, Willow is forced to re-evaluate everything she believes in and wonders if anyone is truly who they seem.

Fate may have brought her to Ethan, but as danger closes in, she must draw on strengths she never knew she possessed in order to protect the man she has grown to love.

Protection—not only against Ethan's worst enemy but also against himself


Excerpt

When the traffic light turned red, Willow Daniels pulled the car to a halt on the lonely side street and gripped the steering wheel hard. Briefly closing her eyes in frustration, she silently cursed herself at being utterly lost. A simple wrong turn after leaving the train station led to mounting confusion as she endeavoured to navigate her way through the streets of York city center in the dark. Getting into the wrong lane, then reading street signs too late led to further, and now obvious, wrong turns. She found herself well outside the center, and in the middle of what appeared to be an industrial estate. Deserted at this late hour of the evening, the streets were empty, with no one around to ask for directions. And now the occasional, drifting wisps of snow had evolved into a steady fall of large flakes, swirling, and glistening in the soft glow of the streetlights.

Willow blew out a long breath; everything was fine, she just needed to pull over somewhere, get out her phone and use the satnav function to find her way home. As the light turned green, she eased the car forward, aware of the thickening layer of snow covering the tarmac, and not wanting the car to skid on the slippery surface.

Could have turned in there…and there,” she muttered, as she saw the potential pull in opportunities too late. “Oh, for heaven’s sake, Willow, just turn in somewhere!”

Shaking her head at her indecision, she saw what looked like a carpark at the front of a large warehouse, and flicked the indicator switch on before pulling in through the gap in the low wall surrounding the building. She left the engine idling and sat back in her seat, flexing her shoulders to ease her tension as she stared through the windscreen. The festive tunes on the radio, and the snowflakes drifting down unhurriedly from the sky soothed her frustration.

It was an industrial scene, with low, squat functional buildings lining the road, and taller but equally non-descript warehouses stretching out behind them. But the harsh, straight lines of the buildings were softened by the dim light, and Willow imagined an artist might capture this scene with a moody, slightly out of focus composition of grays and yellows, brush strokes recreating the shadows on the walls and lending an element of interest to the otherwise dull concrete.

A frown creased her forehead. If this snow continued or got any heavier, there was a risk she might not make it back. Reaching into the back seat, Willow took the phone from her bag and tapped in her password.

The next moment, the car rocked as something slammed into the passenger side of the car with a loud thud. She jumped, dropping the phone in surprise when the door was flung open and someone threw himself onto the passenger seat.

Momentarily startled, she stared at the man before finally finding her voice. “Hey, what do you think you’re doing?”

The stranger ignored her and turned to look over his shoulder. He pulled the car door shut as he shoved a duffel bag into the back seat. “Drive.”

What? No, get out of my car.” The cheek of the man; this clearly wasn’t simply someone who had got into the car thinking she was someone else.

He turned on her with an explicit curse. “I said drive!”

Surprise and disbelief turned to fear, and Willow fumbled to unclip her seatbelt. Strong fingers curled around her upper arm, preventing from moving as she reached for the door lever. In the dim light, she saw the gun pointing at her stomach and drew in a strangled breath, barely able to believe what she was seeing.

The wing mirror on the passenger door suddenly shattered in an explosion of glass shards. The stranger ducked, releasing his grip on her arm. He swore, shifting once again to look over his shoulder, his eyes gleaming in the lamplight as he turned his head. “For God’s sake, drive!”


About the Author

I love to write heartwarming, contemporary romance, and romantic suspense novels, with characters I really want my readers to engage with. I live in the beautiful East Riding of Yorkshire in the UK and, although I work full-time in the public sector, my favourite pastime, when not writing, is wandering around old stately homes and castles, or sitting at a pavement cafĂ© in the sun and watching the world go by – always on the lookout for something that might spark the idea for my next novel.


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25 October 2021

Hearts, Homes & Holidays - Romance Anthology

 

 


A Sweet Romance Charity Anthology Filled with Family, Friends & Faith

Sweet Romance

Date Published: October 19, 2021



Family Ever After

Longing hearts, loving homes, and lively holidays combine in this Romantique Treasury. This warm-hearted anthology combines friends, families, and faith as hope blossoms in the lives of orphaned children.


ADOPTED IN ARKANSAS

Socialite Emily Simpson feels out of place. So, when Emily consults her aunt, Lachele suggests she use Matchrimony to find a husband. For farmer Derrick Bobo, he hopes an arranged marriage will give him a better chance of gaining custody of his autistic nephew, Zach. Can Emily adjust to a farm wife’s lifestyle? And more importantly, how will she deal with a boy on the spectrum?


A HOME FOR CHRISTMAS

Madeline Collier finds solace in charity work and fundraising for a local children’s home. Peter Townsend moves west from Philadelphia to escape his past and begin a new life. When an idea is planted for an orphan’s possible future, Madeline realizes she needs help. Can Maddie persuade Peter to commit to a marriage of convenience and, in so doing, help her give a child a forever home?


A NEW FAMILY

Eliot Graveney fought his entire life to be seen as the equal of those around him, but a flash of fire enters his world in the shape of heiress Marianne Daltrey. And Eliot’s life will never be the same. Can Eliot outsmart a wealthy man to help Marianne get her inheritance? Will he lose his heart in the process?


FOREVER FAMILY

Susan Vuichard is committed to making sure no child is forgotten in the foster system, which means opening her family farm to three sisters that have nowhere else to go. Richard Petra still suffers from a tragic loss, but sparks fly when he finds his high school sweetheart. Can this group somehow become a forever family?


JUST LIKE CHRISTMAS MORNING

Anna Beckett has a soulless job at Gallagher Industries. When she becomes a volunteer cuddler, holding the sickest babies in the neonatal unit, Anna begins to realize there’s more to life than work. Thrust into a Santa Claus suit at the children’s hospital, Jack Gallagher is surprised to recognize the accountant from work. Can they overcome their misguided perceptions to form a lasting bond?


KANDIE KISSES

Frazzled by a hectic lifestyle, Rachel Boulton has no choice but to rearrange her priorities when a surprise gift is left for her at work. With the help of her secret crush, Mick Polenz, can Rachel meet the overwhelming needs of this special delivery, or will she lose the greatest joy she’s ever known to the demands of unfulfilled ambitions?


LONG TO BELONG

Mark Diamond has never had a family of his own, but being on the spectrum makes relationships extra complicated - until Katie Reed, owner of the Bountiful Blueberry Coffee Shop, stole his heart faster than an underpriced IPO offering. For Katie, her shy beau has been as yummy as a dandelion-cocoa latte, but can they handle each other’s situation, or will their dreams be thrown out like yesterday’s brew?


MACY’S GIFT

Macy Williams loves her career as a photojournalist, but when her brother and sister-in-law die, Macy is drawn back to her small hometown to handle their estate. Cord Adams is surprised by his deceased friend’s choice of guardian. He only met Macy once, and the meeting was anything but cordial. Can two strong-willed individuals set aside their differences for the good of two young girls?


NOT PART OF OUR EVENING PLANS

As one of the couples who found love at River’s End Ranch, Jace and Dinky Cunningham struggle with the loss of their dreams for a family; but, circumstances can shift in a split second. Dare they hope this change of plans will bring them everything their hearts desire?

Proceeds from this collection of inspiring stories will benefit special-needs adoption grants through Reece’s Rainbow.



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Michele Brouder

Nancy Fraser

T.C. Hester

Jean Jacobsen

Caroline Lee

Kirsten Osbourne

Rose Pearson

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24 October 2021

Mercy Creek by M.E. Browning

 

Mercy Creek by M.E. Browning Banner

Mercy Creek

by M.E. Browning

October 11 - November 5, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

Mercy Creek by M.E. Browning

In an idyllic Colorado town, a young girl goes missing—and the trail leads into the heart and mind of a remorseless killer.

The late summer heat in Echo Valley, Colorado turns lush greenery into a tinder dry landscape. When a young girl mysteriously disappears, long buried grudges rekindle. Of the two Flores girls, Marisa was the one people pegged for trouble. Her younger sister, Lena, was the quiet daughter, dutiful and diligent—right until the moment she vanished.

Detective Jo Wyatt is convinced the eleven-year-old girl didn’t run away and that a more sinister reason lurks behind her disappearance. For Jo, the case is personal, reaching far back into her past. But as she mines Lena’s fractured family life, she unearths a cache of secrets and half-lies that paints a darker picture.

As the evidence mounts, so do the suspects, and when a witness steps forward with a shocking new revelation, Jo is forced to confront her doubts, and her worst fears. Now, it’s just a matter of time before the truth is revealed—or the killer makes another deadly move.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: October 12th 2021
Number of Pages: 288
ISBN: 1643857622 (ISBN13: 9781643857626)
Series: A Jo Wyatt Mystery, Book 2 || Each mystery in the A Jo Wyatt Mystery series is a stand alone novel.
Purchase Links: Penguin Random House | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

Everyone had a story from that night. Some saw a man, others saw a girl, still others saw nothing at all but didn’t want to squander the opportunity to be part of something larger than themselves. To varying degrees, they were all wrong. Only two people knew the full truth.

That Saturday, visitors to the county fair clustered in the dappled shade cast by carnival rides and rested on hay bales scattered like afterthoughts between games of chance and food booths, the soles of their shoes sticky with ice cream drips and spilled sodas.

Detective Jo Wyatt stepped into the shadow of the Hall of Mirrors to watch the crowd. She grabbed the collar of her uniform and pumped it a few times in a futile attempt to push cooler air between her ballistic vest and sweat-sodden T-shirt.

The Echo Valley Fair marked the end of summer, but even now, as the relentless Colorado sun dipped, heat rose in waves around bare ankles and stroller wheels as families retreated toward the parking lots. An older crowd began to creep in, prowling the midway. The beer garden overflowed.

Within minutes the sun dropped behind the valley walls and the fairground lights flickered to life, their wan orange glow a beacon to moths confused by the strobing brightness of rides and games. Calliope music and the midway’s technopop collided in a crazed mishmash of notes so loud they echoed in Jo’s chest. She raised the volume of her radio.

The day shift officers had clocked out having handled nothing more pressing than a man locked out of his car and an allegation of unfair judging flung by the second-place winner of the bake-off.

Jo gauged the teeming crowd of unfamiliar faces. Tonight would be different.

#

Carnival music was creepy, Lena decided. Each ride had its own weird tune and it all seemed to crash against her with equal force, following her no matter where she went.

The guys in the booths were louder than they had been earlier, more aggressive, calling out, trying to get her to part with her tickets. Some of the guys roamed, jumping out at people, flicking cards and making jokes she didn’t understand while smiling at her older sister.

Marisa tossed her hair. Smiled back. Sometimes they let her play for free.

“Let’s go back to the livestock pavilion,” Lena said.

“Quit being such a baby.” Marisa glanced over her shoulder at the guy running the shooting gallery booth and tossed her hair. Again.

Lena rolled her eyes and wondered how long it would be before her sister ditched her.

“Hold up a sec.” Marisa tugged at the hem of her skintight skirt and flopped down on a hay bale.

She’d been wearing pants when they’d left the house. The big purse she always carried probably hid an entire wardrobe Momma knew nothing about. Lena wondered if the missing key to grandma’s car was tucked in there too.

Marisa unzipped one of her boots and pulled up her thin sock.

Lena pointed. “What happened to the bottom of your boot?”

Her sister ran her finger along the arch. “I painted it red.”

“Why?”

“It makes them more valuable.”

“Since when does coloring the bottom of your shoes make them more valuable?”

Marisa’s eyes lit up in a way that happened whenever she spoke about clothes or how she was going to hit it big in Hollywood someday. “In Paris there’s this guy who designs shoes and all of them have red soles. He’s the only one allowed to do that. It’s his thing.”

“But he didn’t make those boots.”

“All the famous women wear his shoes.” She waved to someone in the crowd.

“You’re not famous and you bought them at Payless.”

“What do you know about fashion?”

“I know enough not to paint the bottom of my boots to make them look like someone else made them.”

Marisa shoved her foot into her boot and yanked the zipper closed. “You bought your boots from the co-op.” She handed Lena her cell phone.

“You should have bought yours there, too.” Lena dutifully pointed the lens at her sister.

“Take a couple this time.” Marisa leaned back on her hands and arched her back, her hair nearly brushing the hay bale, and the expression on her face pouty like the girls in the magazines she was always looking at.

Lena snapped several photos and held out the phone. “All those high heels are good for is punching holes in the ground.”

“Oh, Lena.” Marisa’s voice dropped as if she was sharing a secret. “If you ever looked up from your animals long enough, you’d see there’s so much more to the world.” Her thumbs rapidly tapped the tiny keyboard of her phone.

In the center of the midway, a carnival guy held a long-handled mallet and called out to people as they passed by. He was older—somewhere in his twenties—and wore a tank top. Green and blue tattoos covered his arms and his biceps bulged as he pointed the oversized hammer at the tower behind him. It looked like a giant thermometer with numbers running along one edge, and High Striker spelled out on the other.

“Come on, men. There’s no easier way to impress the ladies.” He grabbed the mallet and tapped the plate. “You just have to find the proper motivation if you want to get it up…” He pointed with his chin to the top of the game and paused dramatically. “There.” He craned his neck and leered at Marisa. Lena wondered if he was looking up her sister’s skirt. “What happens later is up to you.”

Never breaking eye contact, he took a mighty swing. The puck raced up the tower, setting off a rainbow of lights and whistles before it smashed into the bell at the top. He winked in their direction. “Score.”

Twenty minutes later, Marisa was gone.

#

Lena gave up looking for her sister and returned to the livestock pavilion. Marisa could keep her music and crowds and stupid friends.

Only a few people still wandered around the dimly lit livestock pavilion. The fireworks would start soon and most people headed for the excitement outside, a world away from the comforting sound of animals snuffling and pawing at their bedding.

Marisa was probably hanging out near the river with her friends, drinking beer. Maybe smoking a cigarette or even a joint. Doing things she didn’t think her baby sister knew about.

Lena walked through an aisle stacked with poultry and rabbit cages. The pens holding goats, swine, and sheep took up the middle. At the back of the pavilion stretched a long row of three-sided cattle stalls. The smells of straw, grain, and animals replaced the gross smell of deep-fried candy bars and churros that had clogged her throat on the midway.

Near the end of the row, Lena stopped.

“Hey there, Bluebell.” Technically, he was number twenty-four, like his ear tag said. Her father didn’t believe in naming livestock, but to her, he’d always be Bluebell—even after she sold him at the auction to be slaughtered. Just because that was his fate didn’t mean he shouldn’t have a name to be remembered by. She remembered them all.

She patted his hip and slid her hand along his spine so he wouldn’t shy as she moved into the stall. She double-checked the halter, pausing to scratch his forehead. A piece of straw swirled in his water bucket and she fished it out. The cold water cooled her hot skin.

“You did good today. Sorry I won’t be spending the night with you, but Papa got called out to Dawson’s ranch to stitch up some mare.”

He swished his tail and it struck the rail with a metallic ring.

“Don’t get yourself all riled. I’ll be back tomorrow before you know it.”

If she hadn’t been showing Bluebell this afternoon, she’d have gone with her father. Her sutures had really improved this summer and were almost as neat as his. No one would guess they’d been made by an eleven-year-old. If nothing else, she could have helped keep the horse calm.

Instead, she’d go home with Marisa and spend the night at Momma’s. She wondered if Marisa would show up before the 4-H leader called lights out in the pavilion or if Lena would have to walk to her mom’s house by herself in the dark.

She reached down and jiggled the feed pan to smooth out the grain that Bluebell had pushed to the edges.

“That’s some cow.”

The male voice startled them both and Bluebell stomped his rear hoof. Lena peered over the Hereford’s withers. At first all she saw were the tattoos. An ugly monster head with a gaping mouth and snake tongue seem to snap at her. It was the carny from the High Striker standing at the edge of the stall.

“It’s a steer,” she stuttered. “And my sister isn’t here.”

“Not your sister I wanted to talk to.” He swayed a bit as he moved into the stall, like when her mother drank too much wine and tried to hide it.

Lena ducked under Bluebell’s throat and came up on the other side. She looked around the pavilion, now empty of people.

“Suspect they’re all out waiting on the fireworks,” he said.

The first boom echoed through the space. Several sheep bleated their disapproval and Bluebell jerked against his halter.

“Shhhh, now.” Lena reached her hand down and scratched his chest. “All that racket’s just some stupid fireworks.”

“Nothing to worry about,” the man added. He had the same look in his eyes that Papa’s border collie got right before he cut off the escape route of a runaway cow.

A bigger boom thundered through the pavilion. Halter clips clanged against the rails as uneasy cattle shuffled in their stalls. Her own legs shook as she sidled toward Bluebell’s rear.

He matched her steps. “What’s a little thing like you doing in here all by yourself?”

“My father will be back any minute.” Her voice shook.

He smiled, baring his teeth. “I’ll be sure to introduce myself when he arrives.”

A series of explosions, sharp as gunfire, erupted outside. Somewhere a cow lowed. Several more joined in, their voices pitiful with fear.

“You’re upsetting my steer. You need to leave.”

“Oh, your cow’s just fine. I think it’s you that’s scared.”

He spoke with the same low voice that Lena used with injured animals. The one she used right before she did something she knew would hurt but had to be done.

“You’re a pretty little thing,” he crooned. “Nice and quiet.”

Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. She stood frozen. A warm trickle started down her leg, and the wet spot expanded on her jeans.

He edged closer. “I like them quiet.”

#

Jo ran.

The suspect veered off the sidewalk and slid down the hillside toward the creek.

She plunged off the side of the embankment, sliding through dirt and duff, closing the distance. She keyed her shoulder mic. “Entering the creek, heading west toward the Animas. I need someone on the River Trail.”

Narrow-leaf cottonwood and willows shimmered silver in the moonlight and wove a thicket of branches along the water, herding the suspect toward the cobbled stream bed.

Jo splashed into the ankle-deep water. Close enough now to almost touch.

Her lungs burned. With a final burst of speed, she lunged. Shoved his shoulder while he was mid-stride.

The man sprawled into the creek. Rolled onto his feet with a bellow. A knife in his hand.

Without thinking, she’d drawn her gun. “Drop it!”

Flashlight beams sliced the foliage. Snapping branches and crashing footsteps marked the other officers’ progress as they neared. Estes shouted Jo’s name. Her eyes never left the man standing just feet away.

“Over here!” She focused on the man’s shoulder, watching for the twitch that would telegraph his intentions. “You need to drop the knife. Now.” Her voice rose above the burble of the stream. “Or things are going to get a whole lot worse for you tonight.”

She shifted her weight to her front leg and carefully shuffled her rear foot until she found firmer footing and settled into a more stable shooting stance. “Drop the knife.” She aimed center mass. Drew a deep breath, willed her heart to slow.

The knife splashed into the creek near the bank.

“On your right.” Estes broke through the brush beside her.

“Get down on your knees,” Jo ordered. “Hands behind your head.”

“It’s my friend’s truck,” the man said.

Jo holstered her gun and moved forward while Estes covered her. She gripped his fingers and bowed the suspect backward, keeping him off balance while she searched him for weapons, then cuffed him.

“Not according to the owner.” She double-locked the cuffs while Estes radioed dispatch they had one in custody.

An explosion above the treetops made Jo flinch. Fireworks slashed the darkness and burst into balls of purple and green and dazzling white that sparkled briefly, then disappeared.

***

Excerpt from Mercy Creek by M.E. Browning. Copyright 2021 by M.E. Browning. Reproduced with permission from M.E. Browning. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

M.E. Browning

M.E. Browning writes the Colorado Book Award-winning Jo Wyatt Mysteries and the Agatha-nominated and award-winning Mer Cavallo Mysteries (as Micki Browning). Micki also writes short stories and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in dive magazines, anthologies, mystery magazines, and textbooks. An FBI National Academy graduate, Micki worked in municipal law enforcement for more than two decades and retired as a captain before turning to a life of crime… fiction.

Catch Up With M.E. Browning:
MEBrowning.com
Goodreads
BookBub
Instagram - @mickibrowning
Twitter - @MickiBrowning
Facebook - @MickiBrowningAuthor

 

 

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