A Scrapping Moment from Masked to Death

masked-to-death-cover-frontSince May is National Scrapbooking Month, I’m sharing a small scrapbooking moment from Masked to Death.

Excerpt:

Ronnie’s confession shook me. I felt off-kilter. A scrapbooking class was being held on deck six, so I headed there, needing to clear my mind while I figured out what to do. Scrapbooking calmed me and centered my spirit. I knew this trip would rev up some anxiety, so I bought a travel planner. It was more portable than a scrapbook, yet the same techniques were used for decorating it. Instead of pictures, words were the main focal point. I had brought colored pencils and an array of travel stickers for decorating the pages.

I spotted a crew member pushing a cart loaded down with cruise-themed scrapbooking supplies and followed. Other women and a few men joined our parade to the lounge area in the back of the ship.

“Find a spot while I set up.” The young woman began sorting through the packages of products and stacking them by theme onto a table.

I spotted Garrison sitting at a table in the back, flipping through a book. When I sat down, he closed the leather book about the size of an 8×8 album. The cover was embossed. I tried reading the script font, but he covered the writing with his forearm.

“Here to scrapbook or just looking for some peace and quiet to read?” I asked.

“I’ve wanted to learn some new techniques and now was the perfect time.”

“You and Bob didn’t have anything special planned for this morning?”

“Odessa stopped by this morning to tell Bob the captain wanted to meet with him.”

“About what?”

“I’d rather not know, so I kissed Bob goodbye and told him I’d be here. I’m sure it has something to do with John. I wonder where Ronnie is. She had said she’d meet me here.”

“When did you talk to her?” I doodled in my travel journal.

“At breakfast. Why?”

“Curious,” I said. “No other reason. She might have lost track of time or something unexpected came up.” The captain had issued a gag order. Ronnie said to stay quiet. And here I was blabbing—or almost blabbing, which was just as bad. “This probably isn’t the wedding you dreamed of.”

“The event meant more to Odessa than us, so we caved on pretty much everything. Our only sticking point was no alcohol at the event out of respect and love for Ted, and yet she had the champagne flowing freely, and now we also have John Roget to contend with. I’m not looking forward to him and Odessa coming face to face.”

“He’s stayed away so far.”

“That’s true. Maybe he only came to spend time with Claire and not to stop the wedding. John is a hard one to figure out.”

“He isn’t the only one.”

Garrison’s eyebrows rose. “Do tell.”

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Excerpt from Desert Ice by Janet Elizabeth Lynn and Will Zeilinger

In September 2016, I attended Bouchercon that was held in New Orleans. It was an amazing conference and city, I hope to go back one day as there were many places I didn’t get a chance to see. I was also able to get to know so many wonderful authors. One afternoon in one of the bar/lobby areas,I met Janet and we had a wonderful conversation about conferences, writing, and traveling. Today, I’m featuring an excerpt from her newest book and tomorrow come back by to read a little about 1950s Las Vegas.

desert-ice-front-cover-_webDESERT ICE

Excerpt

This was the first Veteran’s Day Parade I’d attended since I got back from Korea. Seems like a lifetime ago. Claire wanted to go every year, even offered to make it a family affair… I never took her up on it.

Standing at attention, I saluted as the color guard passed. Next came the tanks and trucks and I was transported back to my time in the Corps. A pretty young girl dressed in red, white, and blue approached me with a basket full of tin American flag lapel pins. She held one out to me. The paper tag attached to it read Veteran’s Day, November 1955, but my hands wouldn’t come out of my pockets.

“Here sir, take one, they’re free.”

I reluctantly pulled out my hand. She placed one in my palm, and smiled and turned away. The cadence of the drums sounded like artillery as a formation of jet fighters passed overhead. I was back in Korea on Jeju Island, snow, guns, bombs… I shut my eyes and clenched my fists.

A woman wearing a big hat bumped into me. “Oh, excuse me sir.”

Slowly I opened my hand. The sharp edges of the flag pin were stained with my blood but I didn’t feel a thing.

“You should get something for that hand,” she said.

I couldn’t move.

“Come.” She led me to a hot dog stand and handed me a couple of paper napkins.

I leaned against a chain link fence, wrapped the tin flag in a napkin and dropped it in my pocket. I looked down at my blood smeared hand, the one that took shrapnel at Jeju. My head spun. I leaned forward until my head rested on the fence. “Keep breathing,” I told myself.

“So you’re a vet,” the lady with the hat said. “Korea?”

I nodded.

She lit a cigarette. “Here.”

I shook my head. “No thanks.”

“Suit yourself.” She hung the cigarette in her mouth and took my hand. After she wiped the blood, she wrapped another napkin around my palm.

“Just a minute.” She disappeared into the crowd. I stepped back and rested against the chain-link, staring at the tops of the trees. She returned and handed me a cup of coffee. I don’t know why, but my hand shook when I reached for the cup.

“It was pretty tough over there.” Her large hat covered most of her face.

I nodded, “How would you know?”

“47th M.A.S.H., Ouijonbu.” She joined me against the chain link fence and sipped her coffee. There wasn’t much more to say. After a few moments I looked at her. “Jeju Island, 1948. We got caught up in the rebellion.”

She held out her gloved hand. “I’m Nancy.” Still hidden under her hat she said,, “Pleasure to see you again, Mr. Drake.”

I studied her. “Have we met before?”

“We have a mutual association with an Officer Graves of the LAPD.”

I spit out the coffee and threw the cup in the trash. “Did that ass send you to…?”

Nancy shook her head. “No, he didn’t.” She took out a jeweled compact, held it at an angle and looked behind her with the mirror. “I didn’t say I knew him. I said you and I had a mutual association.”

Still checking behind her, she whispered, “Meet me at Hollenbeck Park in Boyle Heights.”

Bio for Janet Elizabeth Lynn and Will Zeilinger

Published authors Janet Elizabeth Lynn and Will Zeilinger had been writing individually until they got together and wrote the SKYLAR DRAKE MURDER MYSTERY Series. These hard-boiled tales are based in old Hollywood of 1955.  Janet has published seven mystery novels and Will has three plus two short stories. Their world travels have sparked ideas for murder and crime stories. This creative couple is married and live in Southern California.

Janet was born in Queens, New York and raised in Long Island, until she was 12 years old. Her family escaped the freezing winters and hurricanes for the warmth and casual lifestyle of So. California. She has traveled to the far reach of the planet ending with new found friends and a basket of hotel shampoo and conditioner samples.

Will is from Omaha, Nebraska, living in Turkey for 10 years before returning to the states with his family ending up in So. California on their way to Samoa. Go figure.

Janet Elizabeth Lynn http://www.janetlynnauthor.com/

Will Zeilinger http://www.willzeilingerauthor.com/

National Craft Month: Cropped to Death Excerpt

I had hoped to have a crafting blog post ready for today but it’s been hectic at the office this week and my hours work hours needing shifting around, so I didn’t have time to finish making my project. This month, I’ve celebrating National Craft Month by alternating between different hobbies: scrapbooking, crocheting, and coloring. I had thought about chatting about my experience with making a photo book through Shutterfly, but as we don’t have the book yet (and I did a scrapbooking post last week) I thought it better to wait.

CROPPED front smSince Cropped to Death is currently on sale for 99 cents for the Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and iBooks, I thought I’d share an excerpt of Faith preparing for a beginning scrapbooking class–and she gets interrupted.

Excerpt: 

I headed into the paper racks, weaving through the reds and yellows to reach the browns. The hues ranged from sand to a brown so dark it could pass for black. What shade and texture should I use tonight?

A smoother paper worked better for beginners, as it was easier for tearing and for making other embellishments, but I had no idea the skill level of the women signed up for the contest class and mini crop. A texture cardstock added an extra dimension to the work and gave the beginning layout a little edge. If using it for a border, tearing the texture paper added a nice jagged effect with feathering detail.

Maybe a sheet of both styles using a monochromatic scheme. That worked. A deeper beige mixed with a sand almost white shade. Neutrals worked well with any photos. I’d take a look at the students’ pictures when they arrived and pull complementary colors showcased in the photos.

Time to pick embellishments. I gathered up sheets of letter stickers in a variety of fonts and colors for the layout titles. I stopped in front of the clear stamps and picked out an alphabet set. I’d buy the stamps and share them tonight with the class. Hopefully, they’d love them so much, the two attendees would want a set for themselves. To save some money, I’d go with standard neutral paint colors. If the croppers wanted a hue with a little more pop, they could purchase it.

The bell above the door jangled. I took the items out of the basket and arranged them in piles on the tables. Before the crop started, I wanted to check on the amount of choices offered for the class participants. I snapped my fingers. Items for the prize basket.

A shadow fell over me. I jerked upright, and the wind whooshed in my ears even though I was inside. This fear issue was getting annoying. I hated feeling vulnerable. Taking in a deep breath, my heart rate slowed to normal as I realized a new customer, not a stalker, entered into the store.

A dark-haired woman in her late teens hovered behind me. Two splotches of red bloomed on her cheeks and she stammered. “I was wondering if. Well, if you could…would you mind…”

I smiled and waved my hand over the products on the table. “It’s not too late to sign up for the crop tonight.”

She pushed a piece of paper toward me. “I was wondering if…”

I held my pleasant smile and waited.

“If I could… like… get…”

The smile strained my cheeks.

“Your autograph.”

“My what?” I kept my reaction in check, uncertain if amusement or anger was more appropriate.

“Aren’t you the owners’ granddaughter? The one mentioned in the paper?”

I went with anger. Before the scolding exploded from my mouth, the young woman turned and fled out the door. Why couldn’t the store reach celebrity status because of our awesome customer service rather than because of murder?

I hope everyone has a wonderful Easter weekend, and is able to enjoy their families and their hobbies.

 

National Craft Month: Fatal Brushstroke Excerpt

I hope everyone is enjoying National Craft Month as much as I am. Currently, I’m reading A Body in the Landscape by Larissa Reinhart, and this weekend I enjoyed three days of cropping at a local crop retreat sponsored by the Rotary Club. I was able to complete my daughter’s scrapbook album (a mix of pocket scrapbooking and traditional layouts) and also uploaded a bunch of pictures to Shutterfly and had them printed. I have two crops coming up in April and didn’t want to run out of photos to scrap at the events.

To continue with my monthly celebration of National Craft month is an brief excerpt from Fatal Brushstroke by Sybil Johnson.

fatal brushstrokeExcerpt: 

At home, too wired to sleep yet too tired to work, Rory pulled out the project Nora had given her and spread it out on the empty half of the kitchen table. Before painting on the final product, she wanted to practice the strokes spelling out Samantha’s name. She considered several styles of brush lettering, settling on one that was at the least elaborate end of the spectrum.

Rory drew guidelines on practice paper with a soft pencil, then loaded a flat brush with a fifty-fifty mixture of black acrylic paint and water. After painting the three strokes necessary to produce a capital S, she reviewed her work. She hadn’t lifted her brush quickly enough at the end of each stroke to produce the sharp edges she desired. She tried again, this time writing the full name several times, concentrating on correcting the strokes and keeping the spacing between the letters consistent. After covering two pages with the name, she gave up for the evening, still unhappy with the result. Her hands were too shaky from lack of sleep to produce the letters to her satisfaction.

Blurb:

A dead body in her garden and a homicide detective on her doorstep…

Computer programmer and tole painting enthusiast Aurora (Rory) Anderson doesn’t envision finding either when she steps outside to investigate the frenzied yipping coming from her own backyard. After all, she lives in Vista Beach, a quiet California beach community where violent crime is rare and murder even rarer.

Suspicion falls on Rory when the body buried in her flowerbed turns out to be someone she knows—her tole painting teacher, Hester Bouquet. Just two weeks before, Rory attended one of Hester’s weekend seminars, an unpleasant experience she vowed never to repeat. As evidence piles up against Rory, she embarks on a quest to identify the killer and clear her name. Can Rory unearth the truth before she encounters her own brush with death?

Right now, Fatal Brushstroke is on sale for 99 cents, and I don’t know how long the sale will last.

 

 

Crafting Excerpt from Hijack in Abstract by Larissa Reinhart

 

HIJACK frontPortraits: Making the Art Patron Happy with Cherry Tucker (and Larissa Reinhart)

My character Cherry Tucker would love National Craft Month. Although she’s a classically trained portrait artist, she also DIYs her clothes into works of art and likes to paint furniture (and anything else she can paint, embellish, or bedazzle).

Unfortunately, in her mysteries, she’s often too busy chasing down murderers and thieves to paint much. At least on the page. Off the page, when you’re not reading, she’s always painting, embellishing, and bedazzling. However, one of my favorite on-the-page painting scenes takes place in her third mystery, Hijack in Abstract. She’s been hired by a wealthy, Atlanta immigration lawyer to paint his portrait. She doesn’t think much of Rupert, but that never stops her from doing her job.

As she always says, “Always make the art patron happy. Even when you’ve found a dead man earlier that day.”

Hijack in Abstract, A Cherry Tucker Mystery #3

I returned to Rupert’s office. He had finished his phone call and paced before the Christmas tree.

“Where have you been, darling?” he asked. “I have some free time now. Let’s begin.”

“I’m going to start with some quick sketches,” I said, hurrying to the Christmas tree. “I’ll work at my easel. Feel free to talk and try different positions. Would you like to be seated or standing?”

Rupert turned to examine the Christmas tree. “Sitting will be more comfortable, but I will have better lines if I stand. Don’t you agree? And sitting might appear aggrandizing. Like I’m a king on a throne.”

I looked up at him from my squat before my tackle box. Rupert put a lot more thought into posing than anyone I ever met. “Whatever you want to do is fine with me. We can try both and you can look at my sketches before you decide.”

He strode to his desk and picked up his phone. “Miss David? Can you get the full length mirror from my dressing room and bring it in here?”

This was probably why Miss David hated me. My appearance caused her more work. A butler’s job is never done.

Grabbing a good piece of charcoal and my sketch pad, I placed both on my easel and set to work sketching Rupert as he fretted about his pose. I concentrated on getting his relative proportions before worrying about detail and composition. The head is amazingly symmetrical. Pupils are your center. You can actually draw a line from pupil to pupil and use that line to make a perfect square to help find the lines for the mouth and nose.

I find that aspect of the human face amazing. And I don’t even like geometry.

Once you understand the shape of a face, drawing becomes much simpler. However, everyone but super models have quirks to their symmetry. Those small faults had to be noted, too, without drawing too much attention to them. People with a crooked nose don’t want to see a crooked nose in their portrait. But the painting still has to honestly reflect their face. Tricky.

As I told Miss David, in order for a portrait to look realistic, it needs the personality of the sitter. Portraits are all about nuance, not geometry. A tilt to the head, an uplift at the corner of the mouth, or a slant in an eye’s gaze makes all the difference. Otherwise you end up with a robot face.

Or a paint by number project by Shawna Branson.

Miss David returned with the mirror. We set it up next to my easel so Rupert could pose himself as Father Businessman Christmas or whatever look he was going for. He tried standing, leaning, and sitting, then settled on standing.

“So how long has Miss David worked for you?” I waited to ask that question until she had left the room. The less Miss David talked, the more I wanted to know.

“A few years,” he picked a piece of lint off his suit jacket. “Do you think I should wear a black or blue suit?”

“Blue. It’ll pull out some of the colors from the tree decorations and work better with the undertones in your skin.”

I flipped a page in my sketchbook and worked on a close up of his small, bushy mustache. It would not do to have him looking like Hitler.

 

larissaA 2015 Georgia Author of the Year Best Mystery finalist, Larissa writes the Cherry Tucker Mystery series. The first in the series, PORTRAIT OF A DEAD GUY (2012), is a 2012 Daphne du Maurier finalist, 2012 The Emily finalist, and 2011 Dixie Kane Memorial winner. The sixth mystery, A COMPOSITION IN MURDER, is expected to release in 2016. Her family and Cairn Terrier, Biscuit, now live in Nagoya, Japan, but still call Georgia home. Visit her website, LarissaReinhart.com, find her chatting on FacebookInstagram, and Goodreads  or join her Facebook street team, The Mystery Minions.

Excerpt: Dying for Redemption

In celebration of Halloween, I’ve made my paranormal mystery Dying for Redemption free until November 1. This is a book that had come out with a small press in 2002. I received the right backs, reworked a few elements of the original story, than self-published it a few years ago. Dying for Redemption features Callous Demar, a murdered PI, who helps the other recently murdered solve their cases so they can rest. This is the first book in what I’ve always planned on turning into a series. The second book had been put on hold while I worked on other series. Next year, I hope to find some time to reenter the Working Shadow, Inc world and finish Dying for Perception.

dyingforredemption_smallExcerpt:

I preferred Limbo to what lay beyond, but that probably rested in the fact that my final greeter would more likely be Satan than Saint Peter. I also ran the risk of destroying my baby sister Jenny if I launched a search into the question that kept my soul rattling in the between. With over a half-century of attendance, Limbo edged out my time spent among the living.

I liked my job, sticking my nose into other people’s problems and business. I liked brushing away the dirt to set the truth free… or at least shaking up the lies to see if a semblance of fact shifted out of the muck. Invited, of course. Messing around in people’s lives—or deaths—without permission bordered on gossip. And dead men didn’t tell tales outside the pages of novels or politics.

Slow. The definition of today. Good for the living, bad for a restless spirit. No-eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth, haunting-for-a-murder philosophy to put into motion.

“Here are some potential clients.” My secretary, Ann, dropped a few sheets of paper onto my desk.

“You know my rules.” I pushed them away as I had every day since she floated into my office twenty-five years ago after answering the job placement ad I had posted with the Successful Dead Employment Agency for an assistant. I had explained that I needed a beautiful, leggy blonde to do filing, answer calls, and look beautiful. I later modified it to female, beautiful, leggy, and blonde, as Hallie, the owner of the agency, had a wicked sense of humor.

Ann filled all of my requirements. A reminder she repeated whenever I complained about her lack of listening and obeying skills. She said those were not listed in her job description.

She had found herself residing in Limbo after her boyfriend accidentally killed her on their first rock-climbing excursion together—something about a cable between him and her coming loose, but the one attaching him to the rock had been snugger than a bug in a rug, an excuse the court, but not Ann, bought. Revenge boiled in Ann’s soul, keeping her tied to the living world.

Fortunately, Ann cared about herself enough not to seek revenge. Dying is sometimes chosen on our behalf, but Hell is entirely up to us.

“We could expand our services into helping the newly dead have a smoother transition into the afterlife.” Ann batted her baby-blues. “You know, advertise our services.”

“We? Our?” I leaned back in the chair and ran my fingers through my still-thick dark hair as I rested my wingtips on the desk. Lack of aging was the greatest benefit of our predicament. I had stopped at thirty-five, and Ann at twenty. “Until they walk in, we don’t know if they have accepted their new phase of existence.”

“We can expand our services into helping them understand.”

I waved off her words. “Then I’d have to hire one of those shrinks.”

“You need to evolve, Calamar.” Ann rested one rounded hip on my desk.

The disadvantage in arguing with the dead was that threats didn’t work. Ann knew that I hated my given name. I swore I’d be dead before any woman ever uttered it. Calamar Louise Demar. My mother and father had fancied themselves poets. For some reason, they were never published.

“Callous, Anastasia.”

She eyed me like a hungry dog would a steak on a counter—one jump and a quick snap of the teeth, prey caught, then devoured whole.

“Ann.” The shortened name oozed from her throat. Hips swaying back and forth, she strutted out the door. The show finished with a toss of her pale locks over her shoulder and the flash of a victorious smile.

I waited a few minutes to make sure she wasn’t going to throw open the door and Ah-ha me. I pulled the sheets of paper toward me to acquaint myself with the new residents. Okay, Ann knew my plan. I refused to chase down clients, but I liked knowing who entered our world. There were a few people who deserved to spend eternity pondering their undeserved afterlife in Limbo.

The third entry caught my eye—Willow Flannery, thirty-two, an independently wealthy businesswoman, married four months, died in a car accident. The dame had left a nice sum of dough in her bank account for the grieving widower. Woman. I really needed to watch my nouns. She had driven her red BMW into a tree, causing her to fly through the windshield. Ouch. Neither status nor wealth saved a person, but a seatbelt could do the job. Common sense seemed to have passed her right by… or else a certain husband knew about cars and dabbled in a little tampering.

“I found her,” Ann crowed, throwing open my day.

Ann made up her own rules to suit the season, the day, the hour, or just her mood. Since the day she arrived, I had been trying to explain the difference between boss and secretary. She looked at me as one does a child; I was here for her to see and not hear. I let it slide. The other choice didn’t suit my fancy—alone for eternity. Most ghosts didn’t want to work. They wanted leisure.

And, Ann was easy on the eyes.

“Found who?” I know darn well who.

“Willow Flannery, the millionaire businesswoman whose husband happened to inherit her business when she died. Not to mention the sizable insurance.”

“How sizable?”

“One hundred million.”

I whistled. That kind of money could make a nun kill. “Besides the moola, any reason to believe it wasn’t her forgetting to look in front of her? Maybe she was…” I wiggled my fingers in the air.

“Texting.”

“That. Texting. Seems to be a bad habit with the living.”

“Brakes were cut.”

That raised suspicion. “Police have a hunch?”

“They believe the butler did it.”

I laughed. Ann eyeballed me again. I continued to voice my mirth. Fifty years later and police still fell for blaming the butler. I wondered how much cash exchanged bank accounts for the butler to accept the rap.

Sobering, I rested my crossed arms on my chest. “What does she know about being here?”

“She knows she died, but doesn’t understand why she’s in Limbo.”

“Heard that story before.” I let out a sigh and sat up, removing my cracked, brown leather shoes from the desk. A good detective never looked nonchalant when interviewing the recently killed. “Send her in… since she’s already in the reception area.”

Ann’s pearly whites flashed as she swung her hips, and then exited my private office. Didn’t matter the decade, women always wanted men to look, they just didn’t want men acting like they liked what they saw… unless the woman wanted that acknowledgement.

Willow Flannery glided into the room.

Take a note: Names can be deceiving.

Willow definition: graceful, tall, slender. Glide definition: move smoothly, effortlessly—think swan swimming across a pond. Of course, that was after the ugly duckling phase. Part two had to have part one in order for completion. This new entry into the afterlife proved everything had an exception.

Willow was raven-haired and well-rounded. If she was about four inches taller, she’d fill out nicely. Her hair hung straight down to her chin, the locks circling around her head like a cover for a beekeeper’s bonnet. A portion was cut out to leave her features exposed, an opening in a picture frame. Large gray eyes looked at me with no hint of wonderment, confusion, or even interest. She knew where she was and why. Confidence vibrated with every step. She was at home in her body, mind, and spirit.
And some SOB had sent her away from the living. I had to find out whom. She held her hand out to me. I stood and accepted the offering, allowing her fingers and palm to rest on top of mine.

I drew her hand toward my lips and kissed it. “Willow Flannery, I presume.”

She yanked her hand back quicker than it took a mosquito bite to itch. “You presume too much.”

Her voice was deep and raspy. Enticing, if not for the eyes that said I had treaded where I didn’t belong.

“I didn’t come to be assaulted.” Her eyes held a challenge.

“Assaulted?”

“You grabbed my hand.”

“I was saying hello.”

“By placing your lips uninvited on my hand?” Her eyes turned into tiny slits on her round face. “That is sexual harassment.”

Sexual? Harassment? What was the dame talking about? That was a quick, harmless kiss of greeting. I looked toward the door and saw Ann grinning in amusement.

“Listen, Ms. Flannery, there’s some mistake here. A peck on the hand doesn’t fall under assault.”

She looked around the room. I tried to see it through her eyes. The desk was a massive piece of faux oak, like the fabric chair and marred bookcases pressed against the wall behind it. Mismatched lamps stood in strategic corners. The only type of furniture I could afford when I lived remained my style of decorating… hand-me-down chic. My only upgrade was a nice cherry wood hat rack, polished to a high shine, where my collection of beloved fedoras hung with pride.

She nodded once, sat down in a threadbare chair, and crossed her legs, one rounded knee on top of the other. “I’m either in hell or purgatory.”

“Limbo,” Ann chimed from outside my office.

I walked over to the door. Casually, I stuck out my left foot and pressed it against the wooden door. A good shove and bang—right into the frame. And if luck existed, against the tip of the nose of Ann.

I pulled two notebooks from my jacket pocket, one black and one blue. The black one was for notes on cases; the blue was to write down the special phrases and ways of the new decade coming in. Kissing without asking is considered sexual harassment.

“So, this is the afterlife. For some reason, I expected something…” She paused and scanned the office. “More.”

“It’s a mimic of the world a person lived in, without the worry of dying. Everything is pretty generic here. The buildings, the scenery. The ghosts that stick around start to see their environment take on a sense of who they are.”

Her eyebrows rose and a smirk broke out on her face. “That explains your office.”

I liked the dame. Spunk. Fighting spirit.

“Can they see us?” She leaned forward, eyes displaying fascination with her new existence. “The living?”

“Some can. Some can’t because they don’t have the ability. Some refuse to acknowledge our existence, and there’s nothing we can do to force them to see.”

“Does that work in your favor or against it, Callous?”

I fought back a grin. “You’ve heard of me already.”

She rolled her eyes. “It’s on your door.”

Excerpt from Long Gone

Long Gone was one of the harder books for me to write in this series. In this book, the heroine isn’t running from her past, but from her present so I needed to be in her now as she struggled with her trauma. I tried to ensure to only give the details necessary for the story, I never want my writing to even hint that violence is being glorified.

In this fourth book of the New Beginnings series, Reporter Eve Darling has the story of lifetime, a candidate for governor and his brother connived a baby away from a teenage mom and plan on repeating it. Her boss won’t believe without a source. Eve isn’t willing to give up the first woman–herself. She turns to skip-tracer Alex Stratford to help locate the new intended victim.

Alex is stunned when Eve shows up and requests help. The woman who once accused him of murder now accuses another man of a crime. Having battled Eve’s mudslinging himself, and barely winning, Alex refuses.

Determined to bring the brothers to justice, Eve continues on her mission alone. When she’s attacked, Alex rushes to her aid–and a decision alters lives forever. Can a battered and disgraced Eve and a battle-scarred Alex ever feel worthy of love from another…or themselves?

LongGoneCoverArt72dpiExcerpt:

Eve sat on the twin-sized bed, knees drawn up to her chin. She barely remembered the drive from Clarksburg to Rockville, Maryland where the women’s shelter owned by the Stratfords was located. The large white two-story family style home with a four-car garage looked inviting and charming. Flowers lined the front walkway. Black shutters bracketed each window. The only thing hinting of the dual use of the family home was the large wooden fence surrounding the property and the intricate alarm inside.

A women’s shelter. Sunlight seeped through the window and played along the edge of the bed. Eve tightened her grasp around her legs, holding in a moan as aches and pain shoot through her with the simple movement. She never envisioned herself having to live in such a place. She thought herself stronger and smarter.

She agreed to stay at the Stratford’s place because she hadn’t the energy or ability to leave on her own. Brandon’s accomplice had stolen her purse and with it her car keys and wallet. Until it was found, or she had the health to return to Charleston, she had to rely on others.

The truth settled hard in her chest. Eve hated having to rely on anyone for anything. The last person she trusted with her heart and life broke it — then tried killing her. Maybe she did belong at the shelter, because even after Brandon stole her baby from her, she had thought about falling back into his arms.

Not smarter than everyone, are you? She deserved the reminder. The chiding. Judge herself as she judged others.

Her only possessions right now were the clothes on her back. Clothes Nathaniel bought her. Nausea churned her stomach. Her breath caught in her throat. She wanted them off her body. Now. She gripped the fabric, fingers twisting and turning on their own will.

The harsh sound of her breathing filled the room. She needed them off. Away from her. No wonder she couldn’t sleep last night. Nathaniel and Brandon had surrounded her. Stop. If she ripped the clothing, she had nothing to wear.

A knock sounded on the door. Taking in a steadying breath, she loosened her grip on the sweatshirt. Clothing couldn’t hurt her. Nathaniel couldn’t hurt her.

She was a fighter. Strong. Confident. No one would take anything away from her. She could get through this — would get through this event — all by herself. She’d show the Fallows they hadn’t made a victim out of her.

“Eve?” Angelina Stratford’s voice drifted through the close door.

Eve glanced over at the clock. Nine in the morning. She didn’t want to start the day when the night didn’t feel complete. She knew she dozed on and off a few times but never fell into a deep sleep. The images of Brandon kicking and hitting her had shown behind her closed eyelids.

Well, if she ever wanted to get out of there, she needed to stand on her own two feet and stop wallowing. Eve scooted off the bed and went to the door. Drawing in a deep breath, she stood straight and opened the door.

“How are you feeling this morning?” Angelina stood in the hallway.

“Sore.”

“Would you like some breakfast? I can bring something back for you. Usually everyone eats together but you still need your rest.”

Food. Eve hadn’t thought about food. Even now, she didn’t feel hungry though the last time she remembered eating was when the nurse had brought a lunch tray into her room. She didn’t recall what she ate, just taking bites of the food placed in front of her. She knew she had to eat in order to stay healthy. Get healthier.

“I don’t mind going to the dining room. I can walk.” The words sounded slurred because of her swollen mouth. Eve stepped out into the hall. She’d prove she was fine. Brandon might have hit her, but he hadn’t destroyed her. Made her afraid. She wasn’t at the shelter to hide out. She was there because she was a little sore to drive long distances at the moment. Before too long, she’d be out of there and right back at her job.

No one would silence her for long.

“Follow me.” Angelina smiled and started down the hall.

Eve found her feet rooted. What was wrong with her? She fisted her hands into the fabric at her thighs, preparing to walk herself like a puppet if necessary.

Angelina stopped and turned. She frowned. “Is something wrong?”

Eve swallowed the fear rising in her throat. “I don’t have anything else.”

“Of course, you’d like to change.” Angelina shook her head. “I can’t believe I’ve been so thoughtless. I don’t like parading around in the clothes I slept in, and it’s even one of our rules.”

“Rules?”

“Yes. I can tell you them over you eat or you can read them. I have a binder and vouchers for you. I planned on giving them to you after breakfast.”

Written rules and vouchers. Her stomach tightened. Eve wrapped an arm around her middle. “I’m sorry. I think I’d rather just eat in my room. I’m…”

Sympathy flashed on Angelina’s face. “Tired. I’m sure you are. Hospitals sometimes aren’t the best places for rest. I’ll bring you an outfit from the lending closet and you can pick out some more items later.”

“Is it all right if I took a shower?”

Angelina squeezed her hand. “No need to ask. While you’re here, consider our home your home. We got in so late, I forgot to tell you I placed towels and toiletries in a bathroom for you. It’s across the hall from your bedroom. No one else will be using it other than you so feel free to keep anything in there you’d like.”

“I don’t have anything.”

“We’ll fix that also.” Angelina patted her hand. “I’ll make you something to eat and put it in your room.”

“Thank you.”

A few minutes later, Angelina returned with a pair of soft grey yoga pants and a pink long-sleeved t-shirt in a soft cotton fabric. Eve carried the outfit to the bathroom, avoiding looking in the mirror. She felt more confident not knowing what her face looked like at the moment.

Quickly, she undressed, shoving the offending outfit into a corner underneath the sink. She’d burn them later. Her muscles ached from the simple task. After she showered and pulled on the comfortable outfit Angelina provided, Eve went back to her room.

Her stomach growled as the scent of bacon, blueberry pancakes and coffee wafted toward her. A good sign. A hot shower and a change of clothes made the world brighter.

“Looks like perfect timing.” Angelina carried a tray down the hall.

Eve opened the bedroom door.

Angelina paused. “Would you like me to put it on the desk?”

“Yes, thank you.”

Angelina settled the tray on the small desk. She pulled a wallet and a prepaid cell phone from a pocket of the sweater she wore. “This is for you. We like to make sure everyone has the ability to call us at any time and from anywhere. In the wallet are your vouchers. You have some for clothing, food and gas. We serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner here but sometimes the residents prefer something else. We have two sedans for resident’s use. There’s a sign up sheet in the office area, along with a schedule of group outings. Some of the ladies prefer shopping together rather than by themselves.”

Eve opened the wallet and flipped through the pieces of paper the size of regular dollar bills, and made out in different denominations with the category listed on them. Heat filled her face. The smell of the food now churned her stomach.

Was this how people on assistance felt?

She choked down the lump building in her throat. “The stores take these?”

“We do own a second-hand clothing boutique where you can use the vouchers and there’s also one independent grocery store who accepts them. If you’d rather shop elsewhere, we’ll exchange the vouchers for the cash before you go shopping. Just let me know and I’ll make sure to have the funds in the house. I don’t like having a lot of cash around.”

“Just you? Not Alex or your husband.”

Angelina shook her head. “No one here will ever have to ask a man for money or for a basic need, not even my husband or son. They are here to help so if there’s something you’d like, let them know otherwise you can come to me. I’m always available.”

“Is there a computer with wireless I can borrow while I’m here?”

Angelina pressed back a frown. “Usually we don’t loan out personal computers. There is a desk top in the family room and a laptop the children can use for schoolwork. Part of being here is so contact can be broken with those intent on harming us, and internet usage interferes in it.”

“The person who wanted to hurt me is dead.” A slip of anger entered her voice. A heavy, pulsating feeling bubbled in her chest, wanting to spew forth.

Angelina looked away. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Eve eased the door closed when Angelina left. Where had the rage come from and why at Angelina? Eve took a few bites then abandoned the delicious breakfast that created a boulder in her stomach.

Now what? She couldn’t live by mealtimes alone. She needed something to do. Her gaze rested on the phone on the nightstand.

Jack. She needed to let her boss know what was going on. He’d be wondering why she hadn’t shown up for work in days.

She snatched up the phone and called her boss’ direct line. He answered on the third ring.

“Jack Lawson, Editor-in-Chief.”

“It’s Eve.” Slurred words pushed out from her swollen lips.

“Have you been drinking?”

The harsh tone had her leaning away from the phone, as if Jack physically stuck her. She touched her mouth. “No. Beaten.”

“Let me guess, this call has something to do with your story.”

A flush flashed across her face while cold prickled her scalp. She had barely said anything and Jack already declared her a liar. “I was to meet Elizabeth Fallow. Instead Brandon showed up–”

“He was shot to death, Eve. Isn’t that enough for you? Do you really have to tarnish the man’s reputation?” Jack let out disgusted bark of a laugh. “The man’s brother is planning on entering politics. Did Brandon jilt you so bad you have to ruin Nathaniel?”

Who had talked to Jack? What had they told him? She shook her head even though Jack couldn’t see her. “I’m not ruining anyone. I’m telling you what happened to me. Brandon beat me. Tried to kill me. If someone hadn’t come to my rescue–”

“Eve, don’t. Please don’t.” Jack’s voice grew softer, weary.