Tag Archives: thriller

The Story behind ‘A Hidden Element,’ by Donna Galanti

?????????????????????????????????????????????My experience and my fascination with mental powers fueled the writing of my characters in my paranormal suspense novel, A Hidden Element. Several characters have mind powers: telekinesis, mind control, healing. All have different perspectives on using them: one to feel all-powerful, one to sacrifice and help others, one to find belonging, one to save her family.

Charlie, a teenager, has difficulty controlling his power to move objects until Adrian brings him into his fold and shapes his power to be used to control others. Laura has given up her powers to provide her son with a normal life, until she is faced with rescuing him from the evil that brainwashes him and she must use her powers once again for good and evil. And Caleb uses his healing powers to save others, but can never free himself from his own prison of pain.

So what exactly is telekinesis? It’s the action of mind over matter, in which objects are caused to move as a result of mental concentration upon them. Is it science or fraud? Akin to seeing spirits or not? And if one believes in ghosts are they inclined to believe in other paranormal phenomenon too, like telekinesis?

Another term grew from telekinesis: psychokinesis. PK, as it’s known, encompasses a wider group of mental force phenomena that telekinesis now falls under. Did you know that PK Parties were a cultural fad in the 1980s? Groups of people were guided through rituals and chants to awaken metal-bending powers, or perhaps it was just another excuse for a party! Either way, you can read about it from PK party founder, Jack Houck. Real or fake? You decide.

Ouija boards were also a PK fad. When I was eleven years old a friend and I channeled an “evil spirit” through the board who levitated the ouija’s movable indicator. The spirit told us to find a boulder in the woods with an “X” on it where we would find hidden green treasure. We found the boulder but the only green treasure we found was the angry, green icy flow of the raging creek that nearly swept us away that February day. That was my last attempt to play with a ouija board! Read about more of my paranormal experiences as a child here.

Most scientists believe that the existence of telekinesis has not been convincingly demonstrated. I’m not sure what I believe, but I do think there are amazing discoveries about how the brain works to still be found. I do know I will never touch a ouija board again.

I believe we can do so much more with our brain powers. What do you believe?

********************

ABOUT A HIDDEN ELEMENT… NOW AN AMAZON BESTSELLER!:

Evil lurks within…

When Caleb Madroc is used against his will as part of his father’s plan to breed a secret community and infiltrate society with their unique powers, he vows to save his oppressed people and the two children kept from him. Seven years later, Laura and Ben Fieldstone’s son is abducted, and they are forced to trust a madman’s son who puts his life on the line to save them all. The enemy’s desire to own them—or destroy them—leads to a survival showdown. Laura and Ben must risk everything to defeat a new nemesis that wants to rule the world with their son, and Caleb may be their only hope—if he survives. But must he sacrifice what he most desires to do so?

PRAISE FOR A HIDDEN ELEMENT:

“Chilling and dark…a twisty journey into another world.” —J.T. Ellison, New York Times bestselling author of When Shadows Fall

“Fascinating…a haunting story…”—Rebecca Cantrell, New York Times bestselling author of The World Beneath

“Will keep you up long past your bedtime…a pulse-pounding read.”—Allan Leverone, New York Times and USA Todaybestselling author of Final Vector

Galanti,DonnaABOUT DONNA:

Donna Galanti writes murder and mystery with a dash of steam as well as middle grade adventure fiction. She is the author of books 1 and 2 in the paranormal suspense Element Trilogy, A Human Element and A Hidden Element, the short story collection The Dark Inside, and Joshua and The Lightning Road (Books 1 and 2, 2015). She’s lived from England as a child, to Hawaii as a U.S. Navy photographer. She now lives in Pennsylvania with her family in an old farmhouse. It has lots of writing nooks, fireplaces, and stink bugs, but she’s still wishing for a castle again—preferably with ghosts.

Website: www.ElementTrilogy.com
Blog: http://www.elementtrilogy.com/blog/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/DonnaGalanti
Facebook: www.facebook.com/DonnaGalantiAuthor
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5767306.Donna_Galanti

BUY THE ELEMENT TRILOGY BOOKS:
Purchase Book 2 in the Element Trilogy, A Hidden Element: http://amzn.to/1p1YD1o

Purchase Book 1 in the Element Trilogy, A Human Element: http://amzn.to/1mNcyCO
ON SALE NOW FOR JUST $.99cents!

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Profile: Donna Galanti, Author of ‘A Human Element’

Donna Galanti writes murder and mystery as well as middle grade adventure fiction. She is an International Thriller Writers Debut Author of the paranormal suspense novel A Human Element, the short story collection The Dark Inside, and the forthcoming Joshua and The Lightning Road.

Galanti, Donna 2An avid reader as a child, Galanti grew up in a nurturing environment, immersed in books such as The Hobbit,Little House in the Big Woods,The Island of the Blue Dolphins, My Side of The Mountain, Call of the Wild andWhite Fang. “My favorite author was Roald Dahl and my favorite book of his was Danny the Champion of the World,” says Galanti, whose dark imagination ran wild from the start.

From her early years in England to her later work in Hawaii as a U.S. Navy photographer, Galanti always dreamed of becoming an author. She wrote her first murder mystery screenplay at the tender age of seven. She had a career in writing for marketing and communications and ran her own resume writing service, but it wasn’t until her mother died five years ago that she began writing novels out of her grief. Eventually, that grief turned to peace, when she fully realized what it was she truly loved to do: becoming a storyteller. In addition to being a full-time author, Galanti also works part time as a freelance copywriter for an advertising agency.

“I write from the dark side with a glimpse of hope. I am drawn to writing the hero’s journey – more so the tormented hero, and tormented villain. I enjoy creating empathy for both by blurring the lines between good and evil,” states the author, whose first two books in The Element Trilogy, A Human Element and A Hidden Element (Imajin Books, August 2014) are both full of murder and mystery with a dash of steam, and both have their own tormented hero and villain. “I slay my own demons through my writing – and I highly recommend it!” she says.

A Human Element, just released by Imajin Books, is the thrilling, unrelenting page-turner story of Laura Armstrong. Her friends and family members are being murdered and, despite her unique healing powers, she can do nothing to stop it. Determined to find the killer, she follows her visions to the site of a crashed meteorite in her hometown, where she eventually unravels a terrifying secret that binds her to the killer.

The book has already garnered excellent praise from New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Maberry and international bestselling author M.J. Rose.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00067]Galanti lives in an old farmhouse – sadly, with no ghosts – with many fireplaces where she often curls up to create her page-turners. Other times she works in her office overlooking the woods. Throughout the year she meets weekly with a women’s writing group at a café where they write together and share advice and their success stories.

“When I am creating a new book I love to sit outdoors overlooking the woods with a pen and notebook and handwrite my ideas. My thoughts are slowed down this way as my brain connects to pen in hand, and it opens my mind up to brainstorm,” says the author, describing her creative process. “There is nothing more freeing creatively to journal story ideas and throw all sorts of ‘what if?’ questions out there to find the kernel of a good story you want to pursue. Then I create character worksheets and type up a ten page synopsis of the book. I do all this before I write that first word of the story. And I always create a title first! It’s what drives my inspiration for the story.”

Galanti began writing A Human Element seventeen years ago from a vision she had while driving to work one day. She wrote two chapters and shelved them for over a decade. When she finally decided to continue the story, she wrote Monday through Friday from 4:30am to 6:30am. After seven months she typed THE END.

All writers have their stronger and weaker points, and for this author, revision is her favorite process. That’s where she can make her story shine. “Knowing how important this process is has been one of my strong points,” she says. “There are many layers to a story to be found after you write that first draft, and that’s what I love to do: peel back the layers.” One area she struggled in for a long time was to slow down her writing. She can be a very fast writer, creating pages and pages of words that often would need to be trimmed down. She has since then learned to slow down her writing and craft her words with care as she writes them, so she doesn’t have to spend so much time on revision.

In an era when small presses, the good, the bad and the ugly, abound, Galanti’s experience has been nothing but positive. “My experience with Imajin Books has been amazing!” she says of her Canadian-based publisher. “Imajin Books is dedicated to working with me to help my books succeed. The owner, Cheryl Kaye Tardif, is a bestselling author in her own right.” Imajin Books was very responsive and provided in-depth editorial guidance as well as marketing plans, not to mention fantastic book cover designs. The publishing industry is notorious for being slow-moving, but in the case of The Element Trilogy, Imajin Books made the process quick and efficient.

As with many authors, Galanti finds starting a new book most challenging. The first blank page can be a scary thing, until the story takes over, propelling your main character into his new unbalanced world toward the ultimate end. However, being an author can be extremely rewarding. “When it comes to readers, there is nothing more thrilling than reading wonderful reviews about your book that you spent months, or years, creating and shaping,” she says. “It’s from that private place in your heart, where you love the most – and hurt the most – that you pour out pages to show the world. And it’s all worthwhile when you discover that others have been touched by your story, just as you were touched while you were writing it. Second, it’s rewarding to pay it forward to up-and-coming authors. There is a wonderful feeling that comes from speaking to writers about your publishing journey and sharing advice and techniques on how to find success as an author, and hope that they do.”

Galanti is currently working on the idea for the third and final book in The Element Trilogy called, A Healing Element, and gearing up to release book 2, A Hidden Element, on August 28th. A native of upstate New York, the author now lives in Southeastern Pennsylvania with her family in an old farmhouse. It has lots of writing nooks, fireplaces, and stink bugs, but she’s still wishing for a castle—preferably with ghosts.

Connect with the author on Facebook Twitter and her Blog.

This profile was originally published in Blogcritics

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First Chapter Reveal: THREADING THE NEEDLE, by Gabriel Valjan

ThreadingtheNeedle_3D-523x600Title: Threading the Needle

Author: Gabriel Valjan

Publisher: Winter Goose Publishing

Genre: Mystery/suspense

Purchase THREADING THE NEEDLE on Amazon / B&N

Milan. Bianca’s curiosity gets a young university student murdered, but not before he gives her a file that details a secret weapon under development with defense contractor Adastra. Guilt may drive her to find justice for the slain Charlie Brooks, but she is warned by the mysterious Loki to stay away from this case that runs deep with conspiracy. Bianca must find a way to uncover government secrets and corporate alliances without returning Italy to one of its darkest hours, the decades of daily terrorism known as the “Years of Lead.”

ROMA SERIES: Book 3

Threading the Needle

-Gabriel Valjan

L’Italia è l’antica terra del dubbio.

Italy is the ancient homeland of doubt.

—Massimo D’Azeglio

1

 

This was a bad idea from the start.

Isidore Farrugia sat in a car, watching Bianca from across Via Manzoni. He was off-duty, out of his jurisdiction, and doing the best and worst of all possible things: doing a favor for a friend.

But his gut was telling him this was a bad, bad idea.

She said that she had to meet someone with information, someone who wanted to meet her in person. Not good. Bianca had explained that in the past her drop-offs were anonymous and in public places. A postal box. A newsstand. Never face to face. The ideal was through the computer. Remote and anonymous.

None of them could forget Loki. None of them had forgotten Rendition.

Bianca wouldn’t say what the information was and when Farrugia asked, all she said was that her contact was a man. He didn’t ask her how she knew. Farrugia knew better than to expect a straight answer from a woman. The female brain was wired differently, processing nuances below masculine capability, and the female heart was attuned to the unknown frequency of feminine intuition.

She ordered something from her table outside.

Nobody seemed suspicious.

The waiter delivered her drink. She had ordered something sweet. Rabarbaro? Women and their sweet drinks.

Two university-age kids were sizing her up for flirtation.

Her contact, she said, did not know what she looked like. If this someone was expecting an American in jeans or some gaudy ensemble that American women thought was fashion, then he would be in for a surprise. Bianca fit into Milan with her Aspesi turtleneck, Alessandra Colombo leather jacket with the rose-accent, ruffle fringe, and a pair of Tod’s. He saw that she sensed the two amateur Casanovas, turned her head and dismissed them. Quite remarkable, since she was wearing sunglasses.

That must be him.

Definitely an American. Down the block, about to turn the corner onto Via Manzoni.

He was walking fast, hands in pockets. No messenger bag, no bag at all, so maybe this wasn’t him, despite what Farrugia’s gut was saying. A few meters behind him, two other men followed. Matching camel jackets, matching haircuts. The man in front peered over his shoulder.

This must be him. Farrugia knew that worried expression.

Bianca hadn’t seen him yet. No time to call her cell. Her contact was early-twenties, handsome with a nice navy jacket, although from the looks of him he’d had little sleep for a few nights. He glanced again over his shoulder.

The other two behind him picked up their pace. It was definitely him.

This was a bad idea from the start.

Farrugia opened up the car door. The car was a small rental and climbing in was like putting a sardine back into the metal tin. No typical American could fit in that automobile, and he knew the stubborn strip of fat around his midsection was what made his extraction an act for Houdini or Chaplin. The next risk was crossing the street and not getting killed by a real car or grazed by an angry Vespa.

The two tails on Bianca’s man had that experienced stalking gait. Several notches up from street vermin. Farrugia was thinking contract killers, possibly with a military background. Hair was short and they weren’t neo-Nazis. They were lean, looked foreign, and moved with precision. A career soldier’s walk was never erased from neurological memory. Their jackets were relatively short, so that might mean no shotgun, unless one of them had a sawed-off for the maximum amount of spray while his partner had the handgun for the final shot, usually to the head. Farrugia thought all of this in the seconds it took to negotiate one car horn and one silent obscenity from behind fast-moving glass.

He was on the divider in the middle of Via Manzoni when Bianca saw him.

She stood up and both their eyes drifted to the fast-walking man. Farrugia had hoped she wouldn’t do that. That is, stand up. Everybody knew everybody now.

The two men were almost there. His Beretta Raffica was ready.

The contact walked up to her, turned her shoulders so her back was to his two trackers. Air-kiss to her right cheek, air-kiss to her left. Pause. His hands slid down her hips. He said something to her, kissed her on the lips, then ran inside Bar Gadda.

What the . . .

The two in pursuit graduated from walk to run. They got into the bar before the door closed. Farrugia unzipped his jacket and withdrew his gun. Instinct. He didn’t think about the traffic after the divider. He ran. There was a squeal of rubber. Farrugia realized that he still had functional legs when he reached the pavement’s gray flagstones. Horns blared behind him, but he focused on the commotion inside the bar in front of him.

He slid through the door, eyes searching, and out of reflex said, “Stay calm. I am Commissario Isidore Farrugia.” The customers couldn’t have cared less once they saw the Beretta. Their eyes and a few of their arms pointed the way out back. With his adrenaline flowing as it was, he wouldn’t remember much of what he saw, but would always remember the old lady crossing herself and calling upon the saints and the Virgin. He did the same in his mind.

A restaurant kitchen was always a well-lit trap for a confrontation. Cops and bad guys. Rats or roaches and the health inspector. Illegals and Immigration Services. The Albanians and the Romanians made way for him and pointed. The broken plates crinkled as he stepped on the shards. The chef looked scared with a huge knife in his hand. Farrugia was trying not to look frightened with the pistol in his. Almost thirty years as a cop, pension calculations and the whisper of mortality moved through his head. The Beretta had two settings: three-round burst or single fire. His was set to single fire, and each round would count.

Ahead he spotted the streak of navy blue and then camel. Hunted and hunter. Then the metallic slam of the back door flung open to crash against a hard wall. There was some indistinct yelling. Farrugia’s eyes took it all in while he calmed his heart down with deep belly breaths and moved through the kitchen. His belt was tight. He promised himself that he would lose the stomach if he lived through the day.

The busboy on Farrugia’s right said, “Vicolo cieco.”

Dead end. That door would make him an easy target for two potentially armed men on the other side. He approached the door. He peeked through the sliver of light, since the door had returned home on its hinges. The busboy was right. A wall a few meters to the left, a large, fragrant metal dumpster against it, left you with no choice but a hard right turn and a fast run down an indeterminate alley out to Via Manzoni.

The American didn’t know that. He had turned left. Arms and legs appeared and Farrugia heard pleading.

The saints might not help him, but the Virgin had always been kind. He gripped the gun, breathed in, and trusted his eyes and trigger finger to think for him. In through the door and outside.

Too late.

Man One fired a single shot into the American’s chest. Man Two fired the headshot. Farrugia faced two automatics now turned on him, and the only thing he could do was resort to his lame academy training.

“Police. Put your weapons down.”

In this two-against-one dialogue their likely reply is to shoot him, knowing that at his fastest he could wound only one of them.

A choked siren, the screech of one blue-and-white cop car, its silent blue twirling lights now blocked the alley from Via Manzoni. Farrugia saw the first man’s eyes look leftward again. No weapons had gone down. No concession. Farrugia was the apex of the triangle with his gun, and these two were the base angles pointing theirs at him. Unequal . . . unlikely he’d survive if they shoot.

The car doors down the alley opened and closed. There was a squelch of walkie-talkie exchange. The siren lights played like a rave-party color on the walls.

Farrugia repeated himself. “Weapons down.”

Another leftward look. The second man lowered his gun. Farrugia almost breathed.

The gun went off.

The first man had shot the second in the head and, as Farrugia was about to step forward and pull his trigger, put the barrel into his own mouth.

The two cops walking down the alley stopped when the shot went off.

 

Four gunshots can have a way of ruining a drink. Four.

The orange zest, the hypnotic cardamom and the other curatives in Bianca’s drink suddenly turned sour. Two shots might be a matter of syntax, like a judicious comma and then the full-stop period. Or they could be a call-and-response exchange. But the second set of shots, Farrugia, her contact, and two suspects made four men.

One of those shots may have been for Farrugia.

She had to know before the other cops came. There were already sirens in the distance, she couldn’t tell whose. Here in Milan, ambulances and police cars sounded the same to her, like the European starling with their “nee-nah nee-nah” through the ancient streets. But within minutes Via Manzoni would be covered with screaming sirens, the smell of rubber, bright lights, a cacophony of voices, a multitude of colors, and every type of police, from authoritative uniform to the suited support staff to process the crime. There would be tape to cordon off the bodies, tape to section off each part of the bar and the path to the denouement in the alley, and tape to identify the section where the witnesses had been herded off for questioning.

She was worried about witnesses recalling the American embracing a woman. She was worried whether any surveillance cameras in the shops or on top of the traffic lights might have recorded Farrugia’s transit across the street, his momentary interest in the future victim. She was worried whether any surveillance cameras had captured her.

But she was most worried about Farrugia.

Down the street, a man in an eco-fluorescent uniform and ear protection was spray-cleaning the sidewalk with pressurized water from his l’agevolatore, a moveable, jointed steel arm on top of a truck. A policeman ran down the street and asked him to stop his work. The streets can remain dirty for a few more hours for the sake of preserving the crime scene. The imposing l’agevolatore stopped. The water stopped. Everything stopped.

She had to move.

Navy-blue cars with red pinstripes—the carabinieri—began to arrive as she cut through the crowd. She expected to see women making the sign of the cross and men bypassing the five wounds of Christ to simply kiss their thumbs as a way of kissing the Cross of Christ and acknowledging death. She had seen Italian-Americans do that thousands of times back home. Not here in Milan. She heard murmurs of inquiry, exchanges of speculation, and the confident assertion from someone that three men were dead. She flowed with the crowd to the open mouth of the alley, her head bowed in respect.

She saw Farrugia.

He was speaking to someone from the Omicidi, the Homicide Squad. He was visibly unnerved, but unharmed. She surprised herself by saying, “Thank God.”

There’s was a smaller crowd moving out of an old-style carrelli on Line One, a street tram like the ones in San Francisco. The street was blocked off at both ends.

She needed to call Dante.

She decided on the nearby metro, the Montenapoleone stop. That would lead her anywhere that was away from the noise, away from detection. She would have a chance to think, collect, and determine what was on the jump-key he had slipped into her pocket during that surprise kiss.

She would never forget that—not so much for the kiss, or that he was handsome and kissed well. But that he was young, terribly young, and now dead.

 

Threading the Needle
COPYRIGHT © 2013 by Gabriel Valjan
Excerpt appears courtesy of Winter Goose Publishing

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Read-a-Chapter: Strings, by Allison M. Dickson

Read a Chapter is *NEW* added feature at As the Pages Turn! Here you’ll be able to read the first chapters of books of all genres to see if you like them before you buy them. Today we are featuring the horror/suspense thriller, Strings, by Allison M. Dickson. Enjoy!

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Strings_Cover_253x391

Title: Strings

Genre: Horror/Suspense/Thriller

Author: Allison M. Dickson

Publisher: Hobbes End Publishing

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Allison M. Dickson presents a chilling tale of entrapment and greed. Do you have freedom? Do you have control? After four years of turning tricks in a mob-run New York brothel to pay off a debt, Nina is ready to go back to a quiet life in Iowa. Just one more client and the whole nightmare will be behind her, but this last trick turns into a battle for her soul. Meanwhile, the brothel’s sadistic Madam has been hiding away money in order to move up in her family’s organization, and she only wants the half million dollars the reclusive millionaire pays for the girls. But her driver Ramón has other ideas, making off with the money left behind when Nina’s last trick goes unexpectedly awry. The theft comes at a great cost to the Madam, setting off a horrific chain of events that changes them all. The hooker. The driver. The Madam. All of them on a collision course to a place where only madness holds sway. Who is pulling your Strings?

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Chapter 1

Junior

Lady Ballas stroked her pregnant belly as she stirred Hank’s dinner, hoping the smell of beef stew would finally draw her husband out of his study. He had been cooped up in there two weeks now. Not his worst streak yet, but certainly his second-worst. Only once in those fourteen days had he opened the door to snatch one of the dozens of food trays she left out in the hallway. She brought up five trays a day. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snacks, and all of it had gone to waste except one lone meal, a bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. She could imagine the amount of agony he’d gone through convincing himself to take it, not only to expose himself to the “bad air” outside his refuge, but also to eat food that had been swimming in it. He’d been on the verge of starving to death no doubt, but with just enough self-preservation left to override the madness eating away at him like a child slowly licking the icing off a cupcake before devouring it all the way down to its soft and spongy center.

Two Sundays ago, she’d been making their breakfast of poached eggs and toast when she heard the heavy maple door slam shut upstairs. She didn’t stop her cooking or even flinch. All the signs of Hank’s condition spiraling out of control again had been there for the last week. They were difficult to miss after twelve years of marriage. It always started with the constant washing of his hands until his knuckles bled and the pads of his fingers cracked open. Then the size of the laundry piles would grow from small hills into mountains as he made frequent clothing changes—six, sometimes seven, different suits and shirts and pairs of socks and underwear a day. He would also spend longer spells working from home instead of going into his office at the new Twin Towers in Manhattan. She could hear him wearing a faded path onto the heavy Oriental rug up in that cursed study as he paced back and forth, barking orders either into the phone or just to himself, which never failed to chill her bones.

There were subtler signs too, like the way his eyes flitted around the room when he spoke to her, as if he were chasing an invisible fly, or the agitation in his voice when she asked if he might like to join her on an afternoon walk and get a little fresh air. All those clues and more would build up day after day like the crescendo of a dreadful symphony until it reached its final note, the percussive slam of that office door. Silence would then flood their big, empty house and she would settle down to spend the next several days living in a void, alone but for the errant kicks and tumbles of her unborn child as she rocked herself to sleep in the newly furnished nursery.

Sometimes the reasons for Hank’s spells varied. Lady sometimes thought they coincided with the state of the bond and oil markets that comprised the bulk of their wealth. Even though she didn’t consider herself an expert in commodities, she’d come from good stock. Her father taught her how to read the newspapers and the quarterly statements that came in the mail when she was a girl. Although Hank never approved of her meddling in such matters, she nonetheless knew things were going quite well for their little trading company right now. Lady had a feeling this particular spell, the worst yet, was due to something else entirely, and it gave her a hard kick right now to remind her of its presence. She patted her swollen belly, which she rubbed with cocoa butter every night before bed.

“There there, little one. All is well.”

The baby would be here in just a month or so, and though he would never admit such a thing aloud, Hank was terrified. And it wasn’t just about potentially passing on his peculiar malady. He was also concerned with all the urine, feces, vomit, and slobber babies brought to the table. His once peaceful and immaculate abode was about to become a toxic waste dump. Lady was prepared for this and had hired the perfect nanny to assist her, a gorgeous Indian woman named Kali who exuded maternal peace and professionalism. After meeting with several candidates throughout the week, Kali was the only one who seemed truly prepared for the task, who would treat their baby like a prince, or a princess if Lady’s deep intuition was wrong. It took some convincing, to say the least. Hank didn’t want to hire a nanny at all. In fact, he tried putting his foot down about the matter in his classic blustery style two months ago when he came home to find her conducting interviews.

“I can’t believe you would consider this without consulting me first. We’ll raise our own child, and that’s final!”

But Lady wouldn’t have it. “You either let me hire a nanny to help us, or you hire someone to help you. If you don’t like that, Hank, I’ll just take the baby to my father’s and let his maid help me out.” And maybe I won’t come back either was on the tail end of that, at least in her mind, but it turned out she didn’t need to say it. Hank didn’t hate anyone on this earth but the one who had walked her down the aisle at their wedding. The two men had been professional rivals since the day Lady brought Hank home to meet him, and Hank would rather die than let old Louis McGinnis get the upper-hand.

Cajoled into submission, a rare place for Hank when he wasn’t fresh off one of his episodes, he sat down and patted her hand. “All right then, dear. You hire your help. But she doesn’t come within a hundred feet of that study when I’m in it. You tell her I have bad migraines and I can’t be disturbed. Is that clear?”

She thought so. With Kali’s help, their lives would be infinitely better and easier. Hank would never have to live in fear of his own son, and Lady would be free and clear to help her husband when his episodes came on.

After removing the rolls from the oven, she gingerly placed two of them on a plate with a pat of butter on top of each. Then she ladled out a large bowl of the stew, added a flourish of freshly chopped herbs, and set it on the tray beside the bread. Next to that she added a tall glass of milk, a tumbler of iced tea with mint, and a wedge of the apple pie she’d baked earlier that morning. The sight of the meal, Hank’s favorite since the first days of their marriage, made her own stomach gurgle, and she hoped it would work this time. It was normally her ace in the hole, the one that coaxed him to emerge most often. She tried putting it out for him late last week, but it had been too soon. She’d acted hastily, that was all. But it was with good reason. What if the baby came early and he was still in there? Even with Kali’s help, she still needed Hank. He was her rock, the reason for everything. And after all the times she had been there for him, it was time for him to return the favor. If he missed the birth of his child, she would be most displeased. The stew would work this time, she was sure of it. Men were like dowsing rods for food. It just took the right meal at the right time.

Careful to balance the heavy tray with her already off-kilter center of gravity, she carried it from the kitchen, down the long hallway, and up the winding staircase leading to Hank’s study, second door on the right. The climb was arduous for a woman in her condition, but being her husband’s part-time nursemaid kept her in good shape. Every morning, afternoon, and evening, she would carry fresh food up and then later in the evening, she would return that same food, cold and congealed, to the kitchen in which she’d cooked it. Steaming and juicy meat had become cold jerky, gravies and broths had either skinned over or gelatinized, bread fresh from the oven had grown stale and lackluster. Along with each morning meal, she left him a fresh pitcher of wash water with a basin, an unopened bar of soap, a new toothbrush with baking soda, and a razor with shave cream. She couldn’t bear the idea of her husband growing filthy, even though that’s what he did every time he locked himself away, convinced his own waste was better than the germs outside. Hank would rationalize that even in their packages the hygiene products were contaminated somehow, just like the food. Long ago, before she knew better, she tried reasoning with him that if the air and the food and everything else outside his study were poisoned, she would be dead by now, but he had an answer for that too: “You weren’t born defective like me, Lady. My skin is full of a billion tiny holes. It lets all the bad things in.”

They’d been through half a dozen doctors, all the latest and greatest in medications and psychotherapy, including shock therapy. They stopped short of a lobotomy, because Hank was worried it would leave him unable to function and provide, just as the medications had for the short time he took them. He also worried his secret would get out; there had already been rumors at the office of nervous breakdowns and possible mania. To Hank, reputation and appearances took precedence over almost everything, which explained why he permitted no one else to enter the house during his spells. There would be no doctors or nurses, not even Carla the housekeeper, who came by twice a week to help with the laundry and the vacuuming, or Barton, their driver and groundskeeper. And most certainly not Kali, who would be living here in the house the day after the baby came.

Lady had grown used to lying to the help, usually saying she and Hank were having a spontaneous holiday in Martha’s Vineyard or the Hamptons and all time off would be paid. It was doubtful they bought the lies after awhile, but they were professionals and never raised a fuss about it. She hoped Kali would be as elegant about the situation, should she come to find out about Hank’s condition.

Over the years, Lady studied nurse’s textbooks and other manuals on caregiving in order to be as helpful to her husband as possible after he emerged from one of his episodes. She learned how to help him to the bathroom, to take his rectal temperature and other vital signs, to deliver the proper nutrition, and help with calisthenics to build up his strength again. Hank had even rigged up a series of ropes and pulleys around the house in order to make it easier for her to move him around until he regained his strength. He would also use them himself when she was unavailable. After a couple of weeks, he was usually functional again. It was a team effort.

It wasn’t always this bad, of course. If it were, Lady was sure she would have called for her father to swoop in and rescue her years ago. These little fits were like rare blizzards they weathered together in secret. She wouldn’t be pregnant right now with Hank’s child otherwise. Perhaps this was as bad as it would ever get, Hank getting this out of his system once and for all, giving birth to this demon of his in much the same way she would be giving birth to their son in just a few weeks. When Hank Junior entered the world, things would be different. Good, even. She intended to see it that way and no other.

Lady set down the tray outside the door and knocked, her heart full of hope. “Hank? I made your favorite, darling. Beef stew.”

No answer. He was likely asleep. He wouldn’t have energy for much else by this point.

She knocked again, this time a little harder, and proceeded to wait amid the other untouched trays she’d brought up this morning. One with an omelet turned to rubber, another with a now limp BLT sandwich and potato chips. And still the untouched soap and water. He probably smelled like a grave by now. Still no sign of life from inside the study. Now that was a little odd. Questions started filtering into her mind.

Wasn’t it getting a bit worse every time? Weren’t the episodes becoming longer and a bit more frequent, his overall condition weaker? He was like a rubber band stretched out too many times and no longer able to assume its original shape. When he came out last time after nearly a month, he was withered down to skin-covered bone. His heartbeat, weak and uncertain, reminded Lady of a terrified little bird, flutter-flutter-flutter.  She’d been nearly three months pregnant at that point and still fighting awful morning sickness, but she worked feverishly to bring him around, first administering a tiny pill of nitroglycerin and then spending several painstaking hours giving him sips of water and broth. At that point, she was about to give up and call their doctor. Hank didn’t need light nursing. He needed a hospital and IV fluids. But Hank, who knew her better than anybody and could almost read her thoughts, grabbed her by the wrist with his bird-like talon of a hand, the grip stronger than his overall frailty suggested. His eyes reminded her of eggs sizzling on a hot sidewalk.

“No doctors. Remember our promise, Lady. Remember.”

He squeezed her wrist until it hurt and she finally nodded, understanding if he had the strength to do that maybe he wasn’t as close to death as she thought. He recovered, eventually, but she told herself that was the last time she was going to let him have his way about things. They’d made a promise, but promises could be broken after a certain point. If he came out of the room this time in the same condition or worse, she was going to call the hospital and have them send an ambulance. If he had a problem with it, he could get up and come after her. She was too damn big and unwieldy with this belly of hers to be Super Nurse this time.

She gave the door another knock, firmer this time. “Hank? Come on, now. At least grunt if you can hear me.” Lady pressed her ear to the door, trying to detect even the faintest movement or shuffle. Nothing.

A phantom voice, almost taunting, rose up in her mind: He’s dead.

No. Absolutely not. Hank’s silence wasn’t all that unusual. After twelve years of marriage and nearly twice that number of these odd episodes, she’d seen and dealt with far worse than him ignoring her when she knocked. Like when he would go into one of his ranting spells, screaming obscenities so bald and disgusting she was convinced her otherwise sweet and gregarious husband had been possessed by a devil. Years later some of those words still haunted her. Go away, bitch! I’ll stab your cunt!

And then there was the time he opened the door and threw a bottle of his urine in her face. Worse than the tangy warmth of her husband’s warm piss going up her nose and running down her cheeks was the wild and almost menacing look in his eyes. That hadn’t been her husband, she was certain. Her Hank never would have done something so . . . vile. But what could he be doing behind that door right now? She didn’t want him to be angry with her for knocking again, but his silence was beginning to worry her.

A sharp cramp drew her belly taut and she braced herself against the door to keep from doubling over. No. Not now. Please not right now. “Hush, little baby,” she murmured and rubbed her hardening belly. The pain wrapped around her like a hot cummerbund and she fell against the door. She started pounding with both fists. “Hank! Please open the door! The baby . . . I think he’s coming.”

A distinct shuffling came from inside the study and her mind brightened. Oh thank God! I couldn’t coax him out with stew or just plain begging, but at least he’ll react for the birth of his son. The lock disengaged from the inside and the heavy maple door opened a crack to reveal candlelight and a distinct but familiar odor of sweat and bodily waste. But she couldn’t see Hank in there. A trickle of fear dripped down from her heart and burned in her gut. Another contraction followed, but she felt it only distantly compared to her mounting worry.

“Hank? What are you doing in there?”

A shaky whisper issued through the crack. “Come in, darling. Come see what I’ve done. It’s glorious.”

But she didn’t want to go in there. Hank had never invited her into his study like this, and she couldn’t blame him. It would be like inviting someone into the darkest corner of your mind, where every passing thought of murder and revenge and madness gathered like dust bunnies with teeth. “Sweetie, not now. I need you to come out. The baby—”

“Fuck the baby! Come in here now!” His voice cracked under the strain. Then, softly, almost a whimper: “Please, Lady. I need you.”

Lady’s world broke into prisms as the tears spilled over. He’s lost it, she thought. Gone mad. It had only been a matter of time. The doctors all warned them it might come to this one day if he didn’t get the lobotomy or stay on the medication, but neither of them wanted to listen or believe. They thought they could manage it, and they’d done quite well at it for a while. She had to call the doctors, though. Hank’s first, then hers. Oh, this was not how she wanted things. Not at all.

She backed away from the door and hit something that grunted. Lady shouted and turned around to see Kali standing there in a sari the color of blood. Another contraction rushed forward, and this one obliterated all shock at seeing the nanny she’d hired, unexpected. Uninvited. She felt a pop and warm fluid gushed down her legs, pattering on the expensive rug.

“Kali, help me!” she cried, no longer questioning why the woman was there, only needing the help of someone who hadn’t gone crazy.

“Do not worry, Mrs. Ballas. Your husband called me here. I will care for your son.”

“What? Called you? I don’t understand. He—”

Another contraction doubled her over. The pain was constant now and excruciating. World-eating. She had no idea it would hurt this badly, or that it would make her unable to truly grasp the horrible implications in Kali’s words. I will care for your son. What did that mean? Had the whole world gone mad or was it just her?

“Take me to the hospital, Kali. He’s coming. I can feel it.”

Kali’s eyes, which had been so warm at their meeting, were now like unyielding black stone. “There is no time. We must do it here.” She took Lady by the wrists and started guiding her toward Hank’s office, pushing the door open to reveal the menagerie of lit candles on nearly every horizontal surface. Terror was an icicle through her belly. “What are you doing? Kali, no!”

Another contraction. This one buckled her knees, making her certain her stomach was going to split down the middle like a rotten melon. She hit the rug, immediately smelling piss. A lot of it. The sensation of dampness on her hands soon followed and she realized this was Hank’s toilet. He’d been peeing on the carpet like an untrained animal for days. This was not like him. Not at all. Hank had never been so . . . unsanitary. What she saw next, however, obliterated all other thoughts, even the pain, at least briefly. Illuminated by candlelight were the ropes, presumably from the pulleys Hank had installed to help her lift and move him when he was too weak to help himself. He’d strung them up near the ceiling, from wall to wall like a web. He hung from the middle of the network by his ankles, swinging back and forth. Naked, emaciated, and pale like an albino spider.

“Hank? My God, what is this? What happened?”

“I found the source of all the filth, darling. The floor! I no longer have to touch it! Isn’t that wonderful? I’ve never felt more free!” He spread his arms open, letting out a harsh cacophony of laughter that echoed off the wooden walls and belied the presence of any sanity.

The next contraction was like an ax to the gut and she fell forward as if praying to Allah, pressing her forehead into the urine-soaked rug. She had never before experienced labor, but instinctively knew there was something more to this pain. Something dangerous. More warm fluid ran down her legs and she felt something stick into her neck, like a bee sting. She looked up to see Kali holding a syringe.

“What is that?” Already she felt her body going limp and numb. The pain of her labor was still there, but growing further away as whatever drug Kali had injected her with went quickly to her brain.

“Something to dull your pain, dear,” she said.

Kali gently rolled her over onto her back and she was greeted by the sight of her husband’s face hanging several feet above hers. His eyes were glassy and insane and hungry. The drugs did nothing to alleviate the stench of his waste or her fear of that leering grin gleaming in the candlelight. Lady’s mind began to detach like a blimp from its mooring.

“You are bleeding very heavily, Lady. We must move fast.”

This couldn’t be happening. Her baby coming too soon, maybe even dying, her husband no longer her husband, barely even human by the look of him. “No, get my doctor! Call an ambulance. I need a hospital.” Her tongue felt thick and stupid in her mouth. The words fell off it like logs.

“There is too much blood. Neither you nor the baby would make it,” Kali said. The crimson sari hooded the woman’s face, but Lady could see the whites of her eyes with their coal irises, and they were not the warm, maternal ones from the nanny interview. They were cold and driven, like those of a woman whose long laid plans were on the verge of fruition. “We must take him out right away.”

“Yes, cut it out! Release the filth! Release it!” Hank cried. Or at least the ghoul that used to be Hank.

Lady heard a metallic scrape and a shiny blade gleamed in the dimness, but Kali’s movement was too swift and Lady’s medicated brain was too slow to make a connection between the blade and the woman’s intentions until the eight-inches of curved steel came back up again lacquered with blood. And then, finally, the pain flooded in, overriding the drugs and bringing the certainty that her belly had been ripped apart and set ablaze. The agony made the contractions seem almost quaint. Every system in her body began misfiring. Her vision doubled and then trebled, her ears began to ring, and her skin flushed with the jabs of a million searing needle points as Kali dug around inside her for what felt like hours but must have only been minutes. The pain was so enormous, even with the drugs, it seemed almost separate from her, like a vivid nightmare she was watching happen to someone else. Perhaps all the stress was bringing on a hallucination. And the laughing, pendulous ghoul overhead . . . it couldn’t be Hank. He must have left his study earlier, perhaps to get some fresh air, and this loon slipped in through the window.

But even then she didn’t realize the truth of the agony, the horrible and oh-so-personal robbery taking place, until the room filled with the high-pitched squeals of what could only be her baby.

“It is a boy, Lady. Congratulations,” said Kali, her voice shaking.

He was tiny and so very thin and pale in the woman’s hands. A gooey mixture of blood and amniotic fluid dripped from his gangly white limbs. Something was wrong with him. Lady could sense it not only in the way the child’s skin seemed gelatinous and translucent, or how his tiny ears came to points, or the way his skull looked lumpy and badly formed. It was in Kali’s face, dawning with horror as she glanced down at the newborn.

“What is it?” Lady heard herself ask, though from a distance as the world began to gray around the edges. She was no longer cognizant of her own body being butchered open. Her mind was on her child. “What’s wrong with him? What’s wrong with my baby?”

Slow regret and terror filled Kali’s eyes. “I . . . I’m so sorry, Mrs. Ballas.” She turned the child around so Lady could look upon his face. Terror sucked the air from her lungs and reality shrank to the size of a pinpoint as she screamed at the thing—no, the monster—that had been living in her womb all these months.

“What is it? Oh my dear God what is it?” The abomination began to scream too as Hank screeched more laughter overhead. The eye is so huge, she thought, and it was the last clear thought Lady had as she grabbed onto the encroaching darkness like a life raft and let it carry her away to oblivion.

 

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First Chapter Reveal: The Guilty by Vincent Zandri

The GuiltyTitle: The Guilty
Author: Vincent Zandri
Publisher: StoneGate Ink
Genre: Thriller
Pages: 465
Format: Ebook
Language: English

Purchase at AMAZON

Jack Marconi is back. In The Guilty, Jack finds himself investigating a local restaurateur who’s not only obsessed with the sexy, dark romance novel, Fifty Shades of Grey, he’s accused of attempting to murder his school teacher girlfriend. As the now brain-damaged young woman begins recalling events of that fateful winter night when she was allegedly pushed down the front exterior stairs of a West Albany mansion, she becomes the target of the angry foodie/sex-obsessed boyfriend once again. Only this time, he’s cooking up a plot to keep her silenced forever.

In the Beginning…

…she falls for him as fast and hard as a plane crash. He has that devastatingly immediate effect on her, and she swallows up everything about him, like a woman dying of an incurable thirst. 

But then, he is so different from her now, ex-husband.

This man…this ambitious young man…he is so different from the tight, pit-in-the-chest-loneliness relationship she’s endured for six long years. This man isn’t at all like the man she married. This man is kind with his words, caring in his actions, tender with his touch. When he makes love to her, he does so unselfishly and with a power so focused on she and she alone, it takes her breath away.

There are other wonderful things about him.

He is kind to her little boy. He’s the kind of man to buy the little guy a train set for no reason at all other than it’s a beautiful sunny Sunday. He plays with the boy. Cowboys and Indians. Reads with the boy. Carts him off to the movies. Shares Happy Meals with him. In some cases, he is more dad than his real dad.

He is exceptionally handsome, in possession of the deepest green eyes she’s ever before seen on a man. A tall, slim but not skinny, muscular build, and thick, wavy, red/blond hair that just screams for her to run her hands through it. She considers herself an attractive young woman with her shoulder-length brunette hair and deep-set brown eyes. But not deserving of a man with his out-of-this-world looks. She feels blessed.

Unlike her ex, who is a writer, time to him is not a commodity or something to be greedily horded. His generosity and selflessness seems to know no bounds, as if God placed him on this earth for she and she alone.

It’s the same when it comes to money.

He’s taken her places her husband couldn’t begin to afford. Weekends at the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York City. A full week in Paris. Deep sea fishing and nude sunbathing in Aruba. Dinner at the most expensive restaurants, and shopping at the best stores. Garnet Hill, West Elm, Bloomingdales, Prada…He even bought her a new car. A fire engine red Volvo station wagon which he claimed would be a safer ride for she and her little boy than her five year old Toyota Carolla.

For the thirty-eight year old grammar school teacher, he is like a green-eyed dream come true. A knight in pure shining armor who has rescued her from a life of never quite making ends meet, from a husband who chooses career over family, from days filled with boredom and nights chilled by despair. For the first time ever, she has snagged the man of her dreams and she is not about to let go. She will do anything for him.

Anything.

But then things change.

Not in a dramatic, earth shattering way. But subtly. He begins to ask her to do things for him. Things that surprise her when they come out of his mouth. Especially when he asks her to do them with a smile on his face.

That. Smile.

She’s never before heard of people doing the things he’s talking about. Correction…she’s heard of them before, but only if she’s happened to see them on late night cable TV or read about them in some shady, bestselling erotica novel. But then, the things he’s talking about are worse than those things. They involve other things besides human flesh on human flesh. They involve tools of wood, glass, leather and steel. They involve chants and pain and spirits summoned from anywhere but heaven. He doesn’t demand for her to do these things with him. He merely asks her to explore the idea of them with him. To explore the possibilities. To explore the depths of her sensuality. In a word, he feels the need and the want to share her.

She feels at once shocked and afraid. But then she feels confusion too. She reasons with herself that perhaps he is just being playful. Deviant, but playful. That there is no harm in what he is suggesting. She’s an adult and so is he. So long as it happens amongst consenting adults, what harm can come of it? Still, she resists.

But he keeps asking her to share herself. Day after day. Night after night. He never lets up. Her beautiful man, he is determined.

Other changes begin to occur.

Physical changes.

His already thin physique becomes thinner, more veiny, his muscles more pronounced. The retinas in his striking green eyes always seem to be dilated now. As if he were secretly experimenting with some new drug or drugs. He rarely trims his fingernails, preferring now to grow them out like claws. And his teeth: He’s doing things with his teeth. Having his incisors sharpened so that when he opens his mouth, he resembles a vampire.

The changes cause more and more anxiety in her. But she chooses to ignore it. He is still so kind to her. To her boy. So loving and protecting. She doesn’t want to ruin what they’ve built together. She doesn’t want to break the spell. She decides to keep her mouth shut and carry on like her life is all wine and roses.

Then one day he reveals a secret.

He takes her by the hand, leads her downs the stairs into the basement. There he reveals a hidden room.

The. Room.

He reveals the room to her and all the room contains.

It makes her dizzy at first. So dizzy she thinks she might pass out. There are the four windowless, red-painted walls, the concrete floor with the drain positioned in the middle, the strange devices hanging on metal hooks, the video cameras, the lights, and the strangest thing of all: a large, heavy wood, spinning wheel balanced atop a ball bearing-topped pilaster. A wooden wheel with four heavy leather straps attached to it that can accompany a fully grown human being. Standing inside the door opening, she feels as if she is looking into a medieval dungeon.

“I had this constructed for us,” he whispers. “Because I love you.”

Her knees grow weak, her legs wobbly.

She fears she will faint.

But then he takes her into his strong arms and smiles that smile. That’s when he tells her wants to show her something else. Something very special. Releasing her he raises up the sleeve on his right arm to reveal a long, white, gauze bandage held in place with strips of white surgical tape. Reaching out with his left hand, he slowly, tenderly, peels away the bandage. What he exposes is as shockingly wonderful as that room is shockingly frightening.

It’s a new tattoo.

But not just any tattoo.

This tattoo contains no artistic rendering. No red hearts with arrows piercing them. No Indian heads. No tribal insignias, wings, crosses, dragons, stars, or angels. This tattoo contains only a name.

SARAH…inked in deep black, with rich scarlet droplets of blood dripping from each letter.

For her, the tattoo isn’t just decorative body paint. It is instead a declaration of the purest love. The tattoo means he is declaring his devotion and his love for all eternity.

“You don’t have to do this if you don’t want,” he says, his blue eyes shifting from her, to the sex room, and back to her. “I’ll understand completely. If you like, I can close up the secret room for good.”

She slowly turns away from him, focuses on the heavy wood wheel, and as much as it pains her to even contemplate being strapped to it with other people watching…watching and doing things to her and themselves…she can’t help but begin to feel a hint of excitement beginning to run through her veins and between her legs. It’s as if in the revelation of this basement space, along with her lover’s new tattoo, a tiny door inside her has been pried open. The room and all it contains, might still bring out the fear in her, but her love and desire for him is so much stronger.

“If it will please you,” she whispers, “I will do it for you.”

With that, he once more takes her into his arms, holds her hard against his chest, his hands forming tight, angry fists, his sharpened incisors biting down into his lip, piercing the flesh, drawing blood.

“Till death do us part,” he whispers into her ear.          

Chapter One

Harold Sanders didn’t look like a world renowned architect who was said to be richer than God. He looked more like the grand master or head priest for one of those new, pray-for-profit, storefront Christian churches you see springing up all over the suburbs these days.

But then what the hell did I know?

I was neither world renowned nor was I rich and I only believed in God when it was convenient. Like when someone had the business end of a pistol barrel pressed up against the back of my head for instance.

I guess, in some ways, not being rich or famous made me feel sort of sad, but in other ways provided me with an odd sense of comfort. As if in all my anonymity and humble earnings was planted a kind of peace and, dare I say it, Zen. Who wants to be rich anyway and not have to work for a living? I wouldn’t know what the hell to do with myself.

I was still trying to convince myself that it would suck to be rich and failing miserably at it when Harold Sanders crossed his long thin legs and cleared his throat. Not like it required clearing. More like he was insisting upon my undivided attention without having to actually ask for it. And considering he was the only other person occupying the room besides myself, and knowing how deep his pockets must be, I gave it to him.

“Naturally, I’ve done some checking up on you, Mr. Marconi,” he said with a tight-lipped smile, his tone patronizing. Like an elementary school principal to a newly arrived fifth grade transfer. For a brief instant, I felt like reaching across my desk and backhanding that smile right off his cleanly shaved face. But then I once more reminded myself of those deep pockets.

We were sitting in my first floor converted warehouse office space/apartment with the door shut and the view of a sunbaked Sherman Street looking positively magnificent through the old floor-to-ceiling, wire-reinforced, warehouse windows. It hadn’t rained all summer long and what had originally been termed a “temporary dry spell” by the Albany meteorologists had evolved into a full blown drought, complete with a lawn watering moratorium and hefty fines or, even jail time, for those who broke them. It was so hot and dry in the city that the drug dealers who almost always hung outside my front door rarely bothered coming out during the overheated daytime hours. A situation which must have pleased the very rich and very accomplished Mr. Sanders upon his arrival to my downtown address in his brand new black BMW convertible.

“Please call me, Keeper,” I said while painting on my best shiny happy smile. “All my friends and enemies do.”

“You survived the Attica uprising as I understand it,” he said, re-crossing his legs. Like I said, he dressed himself in the manner of a new wave priest or maybe even a successful pop culture artist like Richard Prince. But not poorly. If I had to guess I would say his black leather lace-up boots, matching black gabardine slacks, and cotton blend T-shirt didn’t originate from the local Gap outlet. More like a high-end clothier in Florence, Italy. The same place he would have purchased his round, tortoise shell eyeglasses, and maybe even the same place his thick, shoulder-length salt and pepper hair was coiffed. I tend to notice these things since giving up the prison warden life to become a laminated license-carrying private dick.

I leaned back in my swivel chair, locked my hands together at the knuckles, brought them around the back of my head for a head-rest.

“I was just a kid fresh out of high school. A brand new corrections officer. Attica was the largest American versus American slaughter since the Civil War. Not counting the abominable Indian wars of course, which were much worse. From a genocidal point of view.”

He smiled. Probably because I’d somehow managed to use the words abominable and genocidal in the same sentence.

“Why so young?” he asked.

“I didn’t feel the college path was right for me, and I definitely didn’t want to go to Viet Nam, so my dad pulled some strings.”

Sanders smiled, like we were both a part of the same old boy crony circuit of which I most definitely was not. What I didn’t tell him is that I would go on to score an undergrad degree in English. Took me six years of night classes, but I got through it.

“Sometimes it pays to have parents who can afford us a proper start in life, even if that start is on the nice side of a set of iron prison bars.”

“My dad was a construction worker,” I said. “He used to get drunk and lose at poker to the guards from Coxsackie Correctional.”

Sanders smile melted into a sour puss, like he’d just farted by mistake. Made one wonder if he was as liberal as he appeared. Or maybe he just liked to portray himself as a liberal.

“Just as well,” he said. “Both my lawyer and the Albany police force spoke highly of you. Said you were a fine prison supervisor and now you are a very competent and very mature private detective.”

“Awe shucks. Now you’re embarrassing me.”

“They also said you were a bit of a jokester.”

“You mean like a wise ass.”

“Yes, indeed. Must be a requirement in your profession.”

“You have no idea,” I said, bringing my hand around and adjusting the ball knot on my tie so that it hung Lou Grant low under my white, open-necked button-down. “So how can I be of service today?”

He reached down towards his black booted feet, took hold of a leather briefcase that didn’t have a handle or a shoulder strap. He flipped open the fine leather lid and slid out a collection of newspaper clippings bound together with an alligator clip. He handed them to me from across the desk. I leaned forward, reached my hand over the desk and took them from him.

“You’ve no doubt heard about my daughter, Sarah, and her recent troubles,” he said. “Troubles with her fiancée, the restaurateur, Robert David, Jr.”

I knew that if I told him I had not heard about his daughter’s troubles that he would find me ill informed, and therefore no longer a candidate for whatever job he wanted me to take on. So, considering his expensive tastes and the fact that he might consider laying a hefty retainer on me, I played along.

“I’m sorry,” I said, taking a bit of a gamble. “I know how hard things must be for you as of late.”

“Thank you,” he said, genuinely pleased with my reaction. Score one for Keeper Marconi, former English major.

While we were quiet for a reflective moment, I did my best to speed read the first couple of graphs on the top-most clipping which bore the headline: MANNY’S OWNER UNDER INVESTIAGTION IN FIANCEE HEAD INJURY CASE. It was about Sarah Levy, now divorced from the local writer, Michael Levy. Seems she’d taken up with the aforementioned young restaurant owner and gotten herself into some trouble which culminated in her landing in the Memorial Medical Center in a coma after suffering severe head injuries.

Truth be known, I had indeed heard about this case after all. It made the local vine not necessarily because of Sarah’s injuries, which were very bad, but because of the suspicious nature under which they might have been sustained on the property of one of Albany’s richest and most eligible bachelors.

“You think Robert David Jr. hurt your daughter on purpose?” I posed to Sanders.

He nodded.

“The young man claims that she slipped on the ice outside his West Albany home at two in the morning. Which would be a fine explanation had he immediately called 911. She was unconscious and bleeding from a ruptured cranial cap for God’s sakes.”

Ruptured cranial cap…

“But he didn’t,” I said, staring down at the photo of the happy couple that was published along with the top-most article. He was young and clean looking, with wavy if not curly reddish/blond hair and striking, if not spooky green eyes. She was also bright-eyed, her brunette hair long and lush and parted neatly over her left eye which was brown. The two reeked of optimism and youth, even if the paper cited David’s age as forty one and Sarah’s as thirty eight. Not exactly the youth of the world but then, love is a many splendored thing. Until the splendor spoils. Or in this case, splits it head open.

“Why didn’t he call 911?” I said.

“I wouldn’t be sitting here if I knew that.”

“Who have you been speaking to at the APD?”

“A detective by the name of, Nick Miller. While they have obvious evidence of a violent event, they have no leads or evidence of a violent crime having been committed. See how that works, Mr. Marconi? On top of all that, the Davids are exercising their 5th Amendment right, which means they have the right to remain silent. That’s exactly why he suggested I contact you.”

“So I can do his work for him,” I said, not without a grin.

“Perhaps that is a secondary motive on Detective Miller’s part. As I understand it, the police force is over-extended these days and the wealthy Davids rather generous in their annual police benevolence contributions.”

“I’m shocked that you’d suggest the Davids purchase their own particular brand of Albany law and order.”

He re-crossed his legs again. Did it with class and more than a little bit of joie de vivre.

I sat back in my swivel chair again. Did it with blue collar toughness and cynicism. Keeper the hard-ass gumshoe.

“Your daughter is recovering from her injuries?” I pressed.

“She is currently in Valley View Rehabilitation Center in Schenectady. She has no short term memory nor any recollection of the event which occurred nearly six months ago now.”

“Is she still engaged to Mr. David?”

“They have since ended their engagement,” he said, his Adams apple bobbing up and down in his neck.

“Who ended it?”

“The young man did. It was the polite thing to do. Under the circumstances.”

“In other words, you’re suing the shit out of him.”

More bobbing of the Adams apple along with some rapid eye blinking. I’d definitely stepped on the architect’s exposed nerve endings.

“Yes, I’ve entered into a civil suit with him.”

“How much you going after?” I said, leaning back up against my desk, grabbing hold of a Bic ballpoint, jotting down the words, “law” and “suit” in neat Keeper Marconi scribble. Felt good putting that English degree to work.

“Forty million,” he said, with all the casualness of a man revealing the score on a Yankees/Red Sox double-header.

“I see,” I said. “Your lawyer’s name?”

“I don’t think–”

I slapped the pen down, raised up my head, my brown eyes locked with his bespectacled gray/blue eyes.

“Look, Mr. Sanders,” I said, “if we’re going to work together, we have to get something straight right off the bat. I’m going to have to trust you and you’re going to have to trust me. I’m going to be asking a lot of personal questions of you, your wife, your grandmother if you got one. I might even interrogate the family dog. For sure I’m even going to interview your daughter for what it’s worth. But the point is, when I ask you a question, I expect a straight answer and I expect it immediately. Got it?”

He swallowed something. It looked like fear or respect or both. I went with both.

“My lawyer’s name is Terry Kindler,” he said. “And I don’t have a dog at present.”

I sat up straight, picked the pen back up, jotted down the name “Kindler” even though I’d personally known the litigator for years. Marconi the conscientious.

“I’m going to need to talk with Kindler right away. Miller too. In the meantime, you have any theories as to what happened on that cold night in February? The love birds been fighting? They not been getting along the way the soon to be betrothed should?”

“I believe Robert David Jr. hit my daughter over the head many times with a blunt object and did so in a heavily inebriated state. He then tried to cover it up by saying she fell on the ice.”

“Why was she trying to leave at two in the morning on a cold winter’s night? She have children from her first marriage?”

“A sweet little boy, Sam. But he was staying with his father.”

“The novelist,” I said.

“Yes, the novelist. I suspect she was leaving because they were fighting. Robert has himself one heck of a temper.”

“That so?”

“Yes, it is so. A devilish temper. I believe he hit her and nearly killed her. But instead of calling 911, what does he do? He calls his father, Robert Sr., who drives to the house, stuffs my daughter into the back seat of his car and then proceeds to the emergency room not at the more capable Albany Medical Center, but to a smaller, very incapable hospital on the outskirts of town.”

“Memorial Medical Center,” I say. “North Albany.”

“Indeed.”

“Stinks,” I said.

“Overwhelmingly,” he said. “Positively pungent.” The way he pronounced “pungent” was with a hard G. An English major notices these things.

“Two hundred per day, plus expenses. Under normal circumstances, I request a retainer of twenty-five hundred. I consider these normal circumstances.”

His eyes went wide, but only for a brief second.

“Seems a little…excessive.”

“Not if you’re a world famous architect who makes millions and who’s looking for forty million more.”

We both chewed on that for a while, staring one another down from across my desk. Until he slowly grew a smile, obviously interpreting my crack as a compliment masked in sarcasm. He cocked his head forward as if he was going to have to be good with my prices or else hit the bricks.

“Get what you pay for I suppose,” he said, reaching into leather satchel, pulling out his checkbook and a genuine Mont Blanc pen.

“Money sings like an angel, Mr. Sanders,” I said, “and I love to listen to those angels.”

He wrote out the check, leaned forward, set it onto my desk beside the newspaper clippings. Then he stood back up.

I got up, came around the desk. I asked him for a card. He found one in his wallet and handed it to me.

“My cell is on there. Call me day or night. I’m not travelling right now, so you can find me either at my Albany office or at my home in Bethlehem just outside the city.”

I didn’t need for him to explain where the little town of Bethlehem was located. I knew it as a rich suburban haven filled with upwardly mobile and liberally educated white people like Sanders. I took a quick glance at the card.

Sanders Architects, Engineers, and Interior Designers. Offices in Albany, New York City, and Hong Kong. I thought about my own humble business. Marconi Private Detective Services. Office inside a formerly abandoned Sherman Street warehouse in downtown Albany, where the locals sold cocaine and ecstasy right outside my front solid metal door. But I wasn’t complaining. At least it was all mine. My little kingdom on this big blue bitter earth.

I stuffed the card into the interior pocket of my blue blazer, my hand brushing up against the butt of my shoulder-holstered Colt .45, model 1911.

“I’ll be in touch,” I said.

He held out his hand. I took it in mine and squeezed. Soft, thin, sweaty…Maybe even metro-sexually sweaty.

“Oh my,” he said. “You must work out.”

“I train with weights and run.”

“How often?”

“Everyday.”

“Explains your exceptional shape for a man having solidly reached his middle years.”

“I try and I still feel like I’m twenty one.”

“Keep trying,” he smiled, releasing my hand. “We don’t get any younger.”

“Not unless India is right about reincarnation.”

I was still staring down at the perspiration Harold Sanders left behind on the palm of my hand as he casually exited my office.

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Filed under First Chapter Reveals

Read-a-Chapter: BLACK WATER, by Rosemary McCracken

Read a Chapter is *NEW* added feature at As the Pages Turn! Here you’ll be able to read the first chapters of books of all genres to see if you like them before you buy them. Today we are featuring the suspense thriller, BLACK WATER, by Rosemary McCracken. Enjoy!

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Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00071]

BLACK WATER by Rosemary McCracken

A Pat Tierney Mystery – book 2
Suspense/Thriller
How strong is a mother’s love?
When Pat Tierney’s daughter, Tracy, asks her to help find Tracy’s partner, Jamie Collins, their mother-daughter relationship is stretched to the limits. Pat heads out to cottage country where an elderly man, who killed Jamie’s sister in an impaired driving accident ten years ago, has perished in a suspicious fire. Unfortunately, Jamie is the prime suspect.
Pat takes charge at the new branch her investment firm has opened in the seemingly idyllic community where Jamie grew up, and her search for Tracy’s missing sweetheart takes her through a maze of fraud, drugs, bikers and murder.
Once again, Pat proves that family can always count on her.
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PROLOGUE

I killed her sister. Can she forgive me?

Lyle gripped the wheel of the black minivan. Beside him, Ross was yakking about the AA meeting they’d just attended.

Will she help me?

A thaw earlier that week had left the highway clear, but the temperature had plummeted the night before. The minivan’s heater was cranked up full blast.

“Crazy weather,” Ross said. “One day, you figure it’s time to dig out the summer clothes, next day it’s colder than a witch’s tit. Must be all that global warming crap.”

Lyle sneezed and reached for a tissue in the box on his lap.

“Bless you,” Ross said.

“Fine thing to come down with a cold today,” Lyle grumbled.

“Yeah, like the missus was sayin’…”

Lyle tuned out Ross as they approached Braeloch. Told the Collins girl I was sorry. But that weren’t enough for her. Wouldn’t let it be. Told her I’d sic the law on her. She backed off then.

Lyle pulled up in front of Ross’s bungalow. “Here you go.”

“Thanks. Be seein’ you next week, then.” Ross stepped out the van and gave a wave. “Take care of that cold.”

Lyle gave him a curt nod and drove back to the highway. He glanced at the dashboard clock. Almost nine. He’d made it back in good time from the six o’clock meeting.

Wish Ross wouldn’t talk so much, but he’s all right. Thank God for the AA fellas. Got me through the worst of it. Confession with Father Brisebois set me square with the Lord, but it wasn’t the same as goin’ over it with the guys. Father, he’s a good man but he don’t understand how the devil can live in a bottle. Pull you in and suck out your soul. The boys do, though. They been there.

Lyle slowed down as his headlights picked out the edge of his driveway.

She should’ve got the letter by now. She’s gotta understand. She’s gotta help me stop this thief from taking from good folks like Pearl. She’s a big-shot lawyer now, so to catch a thief, that’s her job.

He braked suddenly as he pulled into the driveway. He blinked and stared through the windshield.

The garage door was open.

No way. That sucker was down when I left. Gettin’ old but I ain’t senile.

He rolled down his window and stuck his head out. He squinted as he tried to see into the depths of the garage where the headlight beams didn’t reach. Tools on the tool rack, snow blower, lawnmower. All in their proper places as far as he could tell.

“Anyone in there? Show yourself if you know what’s good fer ya!”

He sneezed and reached for another tissue. Just what I need. Damn punks! He rolled up the window and pulled into the garage.

He heard a metallic clatter behind him as he got out of the minivan. He gasped as the wooden garage door slammed down with a thud. He made his way cautiously toward it in the pitch-black garage.

“Hey!” He pounded on the garage door. “Hey!”

He groped to find the chain for the overhead ceiling light and yanked it. In the bulb’s dim glow, he saw a large stain on the floor.

What the…

He touched the walls. Damp.

He held his fingertips against his nose. Gasoline. With my cold, I couldn’t smell it. The place is soaked in it.

He staggered as pain shot through him. He clutched his chest and bent over. Then he straightened, breathing deeply.

He heard a whoosh as he lurched toward the garage door. Flames licked its bottom and side edges. He fumbled for the metal handle then jerked his hand away when he found it. It was hot.

He groped in his jacket pockets, pulled out a pair of gloves and groaned. Wool. No insulation. No leather palms.

He slipped them on but he needed something more for protection. A rag. If I get it around the glove, maybe I can grab the handle.

He stumbled and reached out to the wall on his right. Gotta be one around here. If I could just…

He spilled the contents of a plastic storage box on the floor. Half-full paint and varnish cans clanked as they hit the concrete. No rags.

Flames danced on the door and surged up the walls. He groped for the van’s door handle and pulled himself inside. s1 Get her started. Maybe I can crash through.

He fumbled for his key and stuck it into the ignition. He was about to start the engine when he gagged, clutched his chest and gasped in pain.

He slumped against the steering wheel, unable to lift his hand to the ignition. He knew that when the flames hit the gas tank, the minivan would become a fireball.

Lord, please make it quick.

CHAPTER ONE 

I was chilled to the bone when I got home that evening. An Arctic air mass from Nunavut had moved into central Ontario and held the city of Toronto in a deep freeze. Cars refused to start. Streetcars broke down all over the city. Pedestrians hurried along in down-filled coats with scarves over their faces.

If spring was on its way, there was no sign of it that Friday in March.

Maxie, our golden retriever, greeted me at the door with a rapturous dance. She wanted to play, but I was in no mood for games. A note on the kitchen counter told me Laura had taken her for a walk before she headed out to a party to celebrate the beginning of winter break.

I crumpled up the note. Thank goodness for that! The last thing I wanted to do was walk a dog in sub-zero weather. Or make dinner. Tommy, my youngest, was with his grandmother that night so I had the evening to myself.

On the way to the phone to check voicemail, the hall mirror told me I looked as bedraggled as I felt. Shoulders slumped, mouth a thin slash across my tense face, short blonde hair stuck out like a scarecrow’s. I looked every one of my forty-seven years. Maybe even a few more.

I pressed the button on the phone to activate unheard voicemail. “Good afternoon. This is Detective Inspector Stewart Foster of the Ontario Provincial Police. I’m trying to reach Tracy Tierney.”

I swallowed back the panic that was rising inside me. What did the police want with my daughter?

“Ms. Tierney, we need to speak with you as soon as possible,” the message continued. “I’m in Toronto today. Please give me a call at…”

I jotted down the phone number on a notepad, pressed a button to save the message and hung up.

Is Tracy in trouble? I took a deep breath and tried to stay calm. The police wanted to speak to her, so she was alive and well. Nothing had happened to her. The call had something to do with her work. The year before, Tracy had finished law school and she was articling at a Bay Street firm. She must have asked the police for information. I needed to give her the message.

Tracy had moved out four weeks before, which was why I was feeling down. She was twenty-four years old, and I was all for her setting up a home of her own. It was how she’d left that bothered me.

The front door opened and a familiar voice called out, “Mom! You home?”

My heart did a flip-flop and I hurried into the hall.

Tracy had on her good black coat and a red cloche hat, and her cheeks were rosy from the cold. She held a casserole dish in her hands. She gave me a tentative smile.

I blinked back tears and studied my firstborn. Pretty, heart-shaped face. Serious brown eyes—my late husband Michael’s eyes. I moved toward her, my arms outstretched. “Tracy, honey…”

She set down the dish on the deacon’s bench and gave me a hug. “I missed you, Mom.”

I wrapped my arms around her. Tracy is a petite girl. My younger daughter, Laura, towers over her.

I didn’t want to let her go, but she pulled back. She took off her hat and shook her head. Wavy brown hair fell around her face. She picked up the dish on the bench. “Cassoulet. Jamie made it the other night. Have you eaten dinner?”

I moved away at the mention of Jamie—Jamie Collins, a lawyer at the firm where Tracy was spending her articling year. The woman my daughter had moved in with.

“Mom, we need to talk.” She led the way into the kitchen.

I remembered the phone message from the police. “What’s wrong?” I asked as I followed her.

“It’s Jamie. Something’s happened to her.”

I was relieved that Tracy was all right. But as I looked at her troubled face, it hit me that this wasn’t just a friend who was in trouble. Jamie was the special person in my daughter’s life. Her partner. “What’s happened?”

She sat down at the table and fixed her eyes on me. “On Wednesday, Jamie got a letter from a guy called Lyle Critchley. Made her really upset.”

“Something to do with her work?”

“No. Jamie knew Critchley up north, where she grew up. Near Braeloch, one of those towns in cottage country.”

“I didn’t know she’s from up there.”

“How would you?” Her voice rose in irritation. “You haven’t spent any time with her.”

 

I looked up from my computer and saw Tracy and a striking woman with burgundy hair in the doorway to my office

“Mom, can we come in?”

“Of course.” I got out of my chair as they came into the room.

Tracy took the woman’s hand. “Mom, I want you to meet Jamie. Jamie Collins.”

I took a step back. My daughter had been talking about Jamie for weeks. I’d assumed Jamie was a man.

Jamie held out a hand to me. “Tracy thought it was time we met.”

I took her hand and looked at Tracy. She had a smile on her face.

My head was reeling. “Yes, well, I…” I struggled to find the right words.

Just then, Rose, my administrative assistant, came to the door. “Keith Kulas on the line, Pat.”

My CEO. I dropped Jamie’s hand and reached for the phone. Keith’s call would give me time to adjust to this bombshell. “I have to take this.”

The smile left Tracy’s face and she stiffened. “We’ll leave you to it, then.” She took Jamie’s arm. They walked out of the office without turning back.

My heart sank as I watched them leave.

I tried to make amends. Later that afternoon, I phoned Tracy, hoping to get a second chance. “Honey, please don’t be mad. I had to take the call. It was important.”

“More important than your daughter and her future?” she asked.

“Of course not. It’s just…”

“Just what?”

Just too much to take in at the moment. I didn’t say anything.

“Mom?” Tracy’s voice rose in a mixture of anger and sorrow. “Say something.”

The call had been a mistake. I should have waited, tried to get my mind¯my emotions¯around Tracy and Jamie.

“Mom? Are you still there?”

“Goodbye,” I whispered.

“Wait! Mom¯”

I placed the receiver in the cradle and began to cry.

I had no inkling of Tracy’s orientation. I’d always considered myself a champion of diversity—religious, racial and sexual. My business partner and friend, Stéphane Pratt, is openly gay. I have gay and lesbian clients. But it’s easy to be open-minded until your kid comes out.

Three days after their visit to my office, Tracy moved into Jamies condo. I threw myself into my work. I didn’t tell my friends about Tracy. I didn’t tell Devon, the man in my life. I hoped my daughter would get over her infatuation. At night, I tossed and turned in bed, sometimes crying into my pillow.

What had I done wrong? 

“Listen to me, Mom,” Tracy said. “I’m talking to you.”

I looked at her. She was right. I hadn’t given Jamie a chance. Sure, I phoned my daughter every couple of days to see how she was, but I called her at the office. I either got her voicemail-my messages went unanswered-or a curt response that she had to run off to an “important meeting.”

“Ten years ago, Lyle Critchley killed Jamie’s younger sister.”

That got my attention.

“Drunk driving. Her family never forgave him.”

I stared at her. I’d have trouble forgiving someone who’d mowed down one of my girls.

“And then, out of nowhere, he writes Jamie this letter. He wanted her help.”

“Legal help?”

“I’m not sure. She’d run the letter through the shredder by the time I got home. She was that mad at him.”

“I don’t blame her.”

Tracy looked surprised, then pleased. She seemed to relax a little. “She spent the rest of the evening on the computer. Yesterday morning, she called me at work and asked to borrow my car.”

“She was going to see Lyle?”

“I don’t know. She said she’d tell me all about it that evening, but she never came home and she hasn’t called. She doesn’t answer her cell. She didn’t take her laptop with her, but I’ve sent her emails because she’s probably hit an Internet café. She hasn’t answered them. And I found a voicemail at home tonight from someone at her office who wanted to know if she was feeling better. She must’ve called in sick.”

Her eyes grew large. “Mom, I watched the news when I got home today. There was a fire near Braeloch last night. Lyle Critchley was killed in it. The police found traces of an accelerant. They’re calling it a murder.”

I gripped Tracy’s hand—hard. That was why the police had called her. Jamie had taken the Honda Civic that was registered in Tracy’s name.

“She has your car,” I said.

She pulled her hand away. “So? She doesn’t have a car. Jamie’s a greenie. Walks and bikes wherever she can.”

“There’s a voicemail for you from505 the OPP. Maybe they found your car and traced it to this address and phone number.”

She went over to the phone and listened to the message. “They want to talk to me.”

She turned to face me. “What if they’ve arrested Jamie? She and her family hated Lyle. But, Mom, she didn’t…Jamie wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

“You’d better call them.”

Tracy went to the phone, and I let Maxie out on the back deck. When I returned to the kitchen, she was leaving a voicemail message giving the number at the condo and her cell phone number.

“I’ll heat up Jamie’s cassoulet,” I said when she got off the phone. “Vegetarian?” I assumed the environmentally conscious Jamie wouldn’t eat meat.

Tracy gave me a little smile. “Of course. Beans, carrots, tomatoes. It’s good.”

First I’d heard that she liked vegetarian fare. But then I hadn’t done a very good job of keeping up with her life, had I?

She sat down at the kitchen table. “Look, I handled it badly. I shouldn’t have sprung Jamie on you at your office. I should have sat down with you and told you about us.”

I turned on the microwave and sat down across from her.

She reached over and took my hand. “For a long time, I was pretty confused. I didn’t even come out to myself until my first year at law school. But I’ve come to terms with who I am.” She smiled. “And now it’s wonderful to have Jamie in my life.”

She squeezed my hand. “The old Tracy was unhappy because she was keeping a secret from you.”

And I’d thought we had no secrets. I love my girls and I don’t want them to keep things from me.

Something inside me shifted. I had to show Tracy that I was worthy of her trust. I decided that I’d get to know Jamie. If she was the one for Tracy, I’d stand by her choice.

“You’ve talked to Laura?” I asked.

“She’s cool. Thinks I’m crazy not to be hot for guys, but it’s my life, she says.”

I had to smile at that. Laura had been boy-crazy since she was twelve.

Tracy touched my cheek. “Mom, I’m out. It’s official. Do you good to talk to a friend¯or two.”

My eyes started to tear up. Then the doorbell rang.

Through the front window I saw two men in overcoats on the porch. Both were tall and poised with apparent military bearing. A cold blast of air hit me when I opened the door. I pulled up the collar of my suit jacket. “Yes?”

1505″Ontario Provincial Police,” the older of the two men said with a pronounced Scottish burr. He was in his late fifties, with a gray moustache and gray eyes sinking into the folds of skin around them. He showed me his badge. “I’m Detective Inspector Stewart Foster and this is Detective Lew Anders. We’re looking for Tracy Tierney.”

“I’m Tracy Tierney,” my daughter said behind me.

“We have some questions to ask you. May we come in?”

 

Tracy was the first to speak when we were seated in the family room. “What’s this about?” she asked.

Foster fixed his eyes on her. “Your car was found in Braeloch this morning.”

I studied his face for a sign of what was coming, but he kept it neutral.

“Can you account for your whereabouts around nine last night?” he asked.

Tracy paused. “I got home at seven-thirty. I ate dinner then I watched some television.”

Anders, a big, fair-haired man with a ruddy complexion, wrote this down in his notebook.

“You were home, too?” Foster asked me.

“Yes,” I replied.

“I wasn’t here,” Tracy said. “This is my mother’s home. I was at my place downtown.”

“Tracy moved in with a friend a few weeks ago,” I said. “They have a condo on The Esplanade.”

He frowned. “The address on your car registration is here.”

Tracy made a face. “I haven’t got around to changing it,” she mumbled.

I flashed her my no-nonsense look. Tracy is a lawyer. She should have done the paperwork.

“Was anyone with you last night?” he asked her.

“No. I was alone all evening.”

“A man died in a fire in his garage last night,” he said. “Outside the town of Braeloch in Glencoe Highlands Township. A car similar to yours was seen on his property earlier in the day. Can someone confirm that you were in Toronto last night?”

Tracy was thinking hard. “I was at the office till seven with a couple of lawyers. How long would it take me to get to Braeloch? Three hours? And I’d be caught in traffic leaving the city. I couldn’t be there by nine.”

“Then how did your car get to the parking lot in Braeloch?” he asked.

She just looked at him. The foolish girl was trying to cover up for Jamie.

“You have no idea how your car found its way to Braeloch?” he asked.

She looked down at her hands.

I’d had enough. My daughter was being treated as a suspect in a murder investigation. “Tracy lent her car to a friend yesterday.”

She shot daggers at me with her glare. Foster sat up straighter on the sofa.

“Who is this friend?” he wanted to know.

She didn’t reply.

“Ms. Tierney, we can charge you with obstructing a murder investigation. I will repeat my question. Who did you lend your car to yesterday?”

“Jamie Collins,” she said.

“And where can we reach Mr. Collins?”

“Ms. Collins.” She looked at him defiantly. “Jamie’s the woman I live with. My partner.”

“Is Ms. Collins at home right now?” he asked without missing a beat.

“I haven’t seen her since yesterday morning.” Her voice broke in mid-sentence.

Foster paused for a few moments. “Describe Ms. Collins.”

“Jamie has red hair,” she said. “Burgundy, I guess you’d call it.”

Foster nodded at Anders who scribbled in his notebook.

“Tell them about the letter,” I said.

If Tracy’s look could have killed, I would have been six feet under. Foster nodded at Anders again.

“What about this letter, Ms. Tierney?”

She didn’t answer for a few moments. “Jamie got a letter from Lyle Critchley,” she said slowly. “He wanted her help.”

“What kind of help?”

“I don’t know. She’d put the letter through the shredder before I got in, and she spent the rest of the night on her computer.”

“What day did this letter arrive?” Foster asked.

“Wednesday.”

“And she drove up north in your car on Thursday?”

“Jamie called me at work yesterday and asked if she could use my car. She didn’t say where she was going.”

“You don’t know where she is?”

“I told you I haven’t spoken to her since yesterday morning. But I’ll try the condo now.”

She picked up the cordless phone on the end table and hit some buttons. “No one’s answering.”

Anders took down the address of the condo, Tracy’s phone numbers and the names of the colleagues she was with on Thursday afternoon. He told her that forensics would check out her car, and she could pick it up at police headquarters in Orillia in a few days.

“And we’ll need to take a look at Ms. Collins’s home computers,” Foster said.

“Right now?” Tracy asked. “I was about to have dinner with my mother.”

“The sooner the better,” Anders said. “This is a murder investigation.”

Foster looked at his watch. “We’ll meet you in your condo lobby at nine.”

At the door, he handed Tracy his card. “Don’t leave Toronto without letting us know.”

When the door closed behind them, Tracy turned to me. Anger flashed in her eyes. “Now you’ve done it!”

I opened my mouth to protest when she spat out, “You’ve had it in for Jamie since you met her. So you told them she took my car and you told them about Lyle’s letter.”

“Tracy—”

“They’ll charge her with killing him.”

She held her hands over her face. I tried to put my arms around her, but she pushed me away. “We should have gotten married, then I wouldn’t have to testify against her. We’ve been talking about it. We thought maybe this summer.”

Marriage? That was news to me, but I’d been completely out of the loop. I gripped her elbow and led her back to the kitchen where I sat her down at the table. I pulled up a chair beside her.

“We had to tell the officers who drove your car up there,” I said. “You know that. And it will all work out. I’m sure it was a coincidence that Jamie went up there on the day Lyle was killed. She’ll turn up, and she’ll tell them where she was and who she was with.”

But my brave words belied my thoughts. Anger and other strong emotions can provoke anyone into a violent act. Even someone who wouldn’t hurt a fly.

“I’m going to Braeloch,” Tracy said through her tears.

“Tracy, the officers told you not to leave city without telling them.”

“I don’t care.”

“And even if they gave you the go-ahead, they’d follow every move you made. They’d think you’d lead them to Jamie.”

She brushed away her tears with the back of her hand. “But they wouldn’t follow you. Mom, will you go up there and look for her? Tomorrow’s Saturday. You’d have the weekend to find out what’s going on. I’ll come over tomorrow morning and stay here with Tommy.”

I was about to say that if I found Jamie, I had no idea what I could do to help her. But Tracy’s pleading eyes were cutting me to my very soul. I had to let her know that she could count on me. Any time. Like right now. It was important that I restore my daughter’s faith in me.

I nodded. “I’ll see what I can do.”

 

I gave Jamie’s cassoulet a few more minutes in the microwave. While the dish was spinning, Tracy phoned Jamie’s mother in Braeloch and told her that I’d come by her home late the next morning. Veronica Collins said she hadn’t heard from her daughter in more than a week.

When we sat down at the table, neither of us felt like eating. “Jamie went to see Lyle about something he told her in that letter,” Tracy said, her eyes wide with concern. “So whoever killed him would want her out of the way, too.”

I’d been thinking along those lines, but I didn’t want to add to her worries. I told her the killer probably didn’t know about the letter. “And whatever Lyle told Jamie might have nothing to do with why he was killed.”

She didn’t buy that. “She knows way too much.”

“She’s dropped out of sight to check up on what Lyle told her.”

“Maybe. And thanks to you, the police are looking for her.” She gave me a sidelong glance. “And when they find out about the feud between the Collins family and Lyle—”

“Feud?”

“There were a lot of bad feelings.”

Of course there were. He killed the Collins girl.

“When they do, they won’t look any farther for Lyle’s killer.”

We were going around in circles. “We don’t know that,” I said. “They may have several irons in the fire by now.”

I pushed my chair back from the table. “I’ll drive you over to the condo.”

 

“What’s Veronica like?” I asked Tracy when we were in the car.

“I’ve never met her. Tonight was the first time I spoke to her.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. Tracy had talked about marriage, but she’d never met her intended’s family.

“Jamie doesn’t go back to Braeloch much. Says it brings back memories of her sister…and Lyle. She took Veronica to New York this Christmas.”

“At some point, you’ll have to meet her.”

“I guess. We’ll probably drive up there this summer.”

On your honeymoon? 

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Read-a-Chapter: BLOOD MOON, by Alexandra Sokoloff

Read a Chapter is *NEW* added feature at As the Pages Turn! Here you’ll be able to read the first chapters of books of all genres to see if you like them before you buy them. Today we are featuring the thriller, Blood Moon, by Alexandra Sokoloff. Enjoy!

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Blood Moon.jpg 250 x 375

Book II of the Huntress/FBI Thrillers

Twenty-five years have passed since a savage killer terrorized California, massacring three ordinary families before disappearing without a trace.

The haunted child who was the only surviving victim of his rampage is now wanted by the FBI for brutal crimes of her own, and Special Agent Matthew Roarke is on an interstate manhunt for her, despite his conflicted sympathies for her history and motives.

But when his search for her unearths evidence of new family slayings, the dangerous woman Roarke seeks – and wants – may be his only hope of preventing another bloodbath.

Purchase BLOOD MOON

Amazon US / Amazon UK / Amazon DE

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Chapter One

 The dark concrete corridor stretched out before him, smelling of blood and semen and terror.

Roarke had been here before, these stinking hellholes, cellblock rooms barely big enough for a mattress and bed stand. Twenty-five girls to a block, locked in the rooms and drugged to the gills, servicing twenty-five to forty men a day, twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Not just ordinary johns tonight: it was a new shipment, private party for the traffickers themselves.

He could hear the shallow breathing of the agents surrounding him, feel the warmth of bodies: four men before him, three in back, encased in camouflage body armor and hoisting riot shields, brandishing an entire armory. Somewhere down the hall there was sobbing, a young girl’s cries. “Mátame. Por favor, mátame.”

Kill me. Please kill me.

The number one man gestured the signal and the team shot forward in formation, then peeled off in a fluid dance, odd men to the right, even men to the left, kicking through doors, shouting: “FBI, drop your weapon! Face down on the floor!” Elsewhere in the corridor, shots blasting, more screaming, heavy thuds and the jangle of cuffs as men were wrestled to the floor.

Roarke covered the agent ahead of him until the tiny room was secure, bad guy kissing concrete. Roarke looked once at the terrified teenage girl cowering naked on the filthy mattress, and said “Es terminado.” It’s over. Then he moved out the door, leading with his Glock, down the corridor, past doorways open to similar scenes of hell.

He kicked open the next closed door and burst in—

A man with his pants half off turned with an enormous, ugly AK 47. Roarke shot twice, straight into his center mass. The man’s chest opened, blooming red, and his body went down, jerking as if tasered.

Roarke stood, his heart booming crazily in his chest.

And then, though the trafficker was as dead as a person could get, Roarke followed procedure and turned the corpse over to cuff him.

As he straightened he saw the girl, tiny and frozen, huddled on the floor against the mattress, her back pressed into the wall, her eyes wide and glazed with fear. This one twelve or thirteen years old at most, dressed in nothing but a cheap, stained camisole. Roarke felt a wave of primal anger he was able to suppress only by telling himself he must not frighten this child any further.

 “Estás seguro,” he told her in the softest voice he could muster through the adrenaline raging thorugh his bloodstream. You are safe. Although he wondered if any of the girls who walked out of this place, this night, would ever feel safe again.

There was movement behind him and he twisted around… to see Special Agent Damien Epps in the doorway. Tall, dark, lithe, and righteously pissed.

“All clear,” Epps reported. His whole body was tense. “Ten of the fucks in custody, three —”

He paused as he glanced down at the dead man at Roarke’s feet. “Four dead.” And his face and body were suddenly tense in a different way. “Nice shooting,” he added.

Roarke felt the jab. He had twelve years of Bureau service and before two weeks ago, he had never killed in the line of duty. The man at his feet was his third since then.

He gave Epps a warning look, nodding at the girl huddled against the wall. He wanted to help her up, give her the shirt under his vest, but he figured she wouldn’t be wanting any man near her for a very, very long time. “Social Services?” he asked Epps quietly. They had social workers waiting in vans outside to take the rescued girls to hospitals and on to a shelter that specialized in support for trafficking victims.

“On their way in,” Epps said.

Roarke spoke directly to the girl. “Mujeres vienen. Usted se va a la casa.” Women are coming. You are going home.

The girl didn’t move, didn’t acknowledge him. He stood for a moment, helpless, knowing he was not the one to help her. He moved to follow Epps out. And then he stopped, his eyes coming to rest on the bed stand.

Just above the gouged surface of the table there was a small drawing on the wall. Roarke stepped closer… to look down at a figure scratched in the concrete, a crude skeleton wearing a flowery crown. Scraps of food and torn bits of lace were laid carefully in front of it.

Epps was staring, too, stopped in the doorway. “What is it?”

“An altar,” Roarke said. “To Santa Muerte.” Lady Death, Holy Death, protector of the lost.

He looked at the girl, still and silent on the floor, with her old and wary eyes, and wondered if somehow her prayer had been answered and the saint had intervened.

 

 

 

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