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Lia

 He leans against the wall beside Barnes & Noble, a three-dimensional shadow in the dimming light of the mall. His black hoodie conceals his face, yet I feel as if he’s watching us – watching me. I imagine his eyes as dark as his clothing, his glare villainous.

My heart pounds as though I have reason to fear him. It’s ridiculous, really. Probably the result of a day run long and an evening sure to run short.

The rapid click of my heels on the tile flooring seems to echo through the rarely-empty space. Most shoppers have left for the night, but a few stragglers remain, likely those in a last-minute rush. Like me. I glance at the narrow-banded watch on my wrist, gold hands ticking over a shimmering pearl face.

Eight fifty-three. Seven minutes until closing time.

John shuffles beside me, smirking as he notices my panicked glance at the watch. “I bought you that thing so you’d be on time once in a while. Clearly, it didn’t help.”

I’d have been late whether I knew what time it was or not. I couldn’t bring myself to leave work until I knew that Jailyn Adams would be safe and cared for. Six years old, so small, heartbroken. She’d have received the best of care with or without me, but I was there when her world fell apart. The least I could do was stay with her until her temporary guardian arrived.

It’s the part of my job I hate most, having to pull a child from their home. Regardless of what they’ve been through – in Jailyn’s case, a world of serious neglect blurred in a fog of drug abuse – it’s the only life they know. I wanted to be a Social Worker to do good for others, but in that moment, when pure fear and agony pours from those little bodies, it feels like the worst of wrongs.

John nudges me with his elbow, a smirk still on his face. “What? No comeback?”

Every night I’m thankful to come home to my husband, to the twinkle in his eyes and quick wit that never fails to clear my head of a difficult day. Lately, I need it more than ever. Confusion and self-doubt cloud every decision I attempt to make, encircling me in a stifling ring of anxiety. It’s a far cry from the confidence I once possessed, but also a necessary evil. Some mistakes shouldn’t be made in the first place, yet alone repeated.

Trust your gut, always.

Never again.

I grab John’s hand and pull. “Less talking, more walking. We’ve got to hurry.”

Despite the warmth of my husband’s hand and the July heat still clinging to my skin from outside, a shiver curls up my spine. The mall lighting seems to dim, eerily dark in the absence of music, chatter, and hundreds of bodies passing through. It puts even more of a rush in my step, a subconscious need to get out of here.

Or maybe it’s the creep outside the bookstore causing me to feel the need to flee. Why is he wearing a hoodie on such a hot day, anyhow? I glance over my shoulder, hoping to see that he’s gone and relax, but he still stands there, his shadowed face pointing in my direction. I can’t tell whether he has facial hair or not, a narrow or round face, or if his skin is light or dark.

Stop it, Lia. It’s nothing.

But can I be sure? I don’t know anything about him. His wife or girlfriend could’ve just left him for another man, pushing him to seek revenge. Maybe I remind him of her or John of her lover. Maybe he knows who I am, or at least, where I work. He may have recently had a child removed. He could be a mental hospital escapee, a sociopath set on stalking, if not murdering the first person he sees. Me.

The possibilities seem endless, flitting through my mind in a blurring whir.

What I don’t consider is the most likely scenario of all: He is only standing there, oblivious to my existence.

“Would’ve been silly to buy the shoes at the same time as the dress,” John says. “Can’t you just wear black or something?”

Without slowing my pace, I shoot him a glance. “The dress is pink Champaign. Black would look ridiculous. Leila will notice if the shade is off, yet alone the color. She wants her day to be perfect.” My sister is ever the perfectionist, bordering on OCD.

John keeps my pace, but rolls his eyes.

I speak before he has the chance. “Besides, it’s a wedding, not a funeral.”

“Matter of perception,” he says. “The poor sap getting stuck with Leila might beg to differ.”

I nudge his elbow, shoot him my shocked face, the wide-eyed, O-shaped mouth, I-can’t-believe-you-just-said-that look. The truth is, he’s right. We don’t refer to her as Princess Leila for nothing.

I swing in the door of Frivolous Footwear, the shop Leila insisted would have the shoes I’m looking for. Of course, that was a few months ago, when I was supposed to get them.

“I confirmed it. They have a store right in Duluth and the shoes are in stock.”

Right in Duluth. Where I work. Where John’s office is. Not where I live, though. Once we’re finished here, it will be another forty-five minutes before I can kick off my shoes and relish in the comfort of home.

At the office they ask why John and I don’t move into the city – the state, for that matter – and save the daily commute. I wouldn’t give up my small town, northern Wisconsin home on the shores of Sandy Lake for any amount of convenience. Other people visit the quaint town for a summer getaway, but for us it’s like we’re on vacation every time we return home.

John laughs. “You know I’m just kidding. I’m sure Leila’s last two husbands were the problem, not her.”

I spot a row of pumps and head down the aisle, bright and soft colors mingling into a brilliant rainbow of footwear. My head shoots right to left, my eyes searching for the right shade. I don’t let it slow my comeback, though. “They could say the same for us.”

He shrugs. “Second marriage for both of us. Not third. There’s a difference.”

The vibe in the shop is more unnerving than in the corridor, the small space abandoned of all shoppers except for us, half of the overhead lights turned off as if to emphasize that I need to hurry up and get out.

A girl with a name badge pinned to her shirt peers down the aisle and runs a hand through her dark hair. I do a double take, verify that it isn’t my own daughter looking at me. This girl’s complexion is a bit darker than Kara’s and she looks younger, but the way she holds her head – slightly high, a likeable confidence – with long hair sweeping her shoulders, she could be my daughter.

I once had hair like that, a shiny coffee mane absent of the gray that would eventually dull its appearance. Thank God for hair dye and the salon. If only the other signs of age would be as easy to cover.

The girl steps into the aisle. “Is there something I can help you with? My boss is getting ready to close up.”

I glance at my watch again. Five minutes. “I’ll be out in plenty of time.” I reach for my purse, pry it open, pull out a silky swatch, and hold it out to her. “I’m looking for something in this color.”

The girl bites her lip. “I think we have…” She glances over her shoulder, then turns and walks away from me. “Over here.”

I follow her into the next aisle and spot three potential matches lined beside each other, darkest to lightest. I take the swatch back from her and hold it against each of the shoes. Same shade, but too dark. Still too dark, but close. A shade off and too light.

“Carlee?” A voice calls from the front of the store.

The girl turns her head, then looks back at me. “We really need to close now. Can…”

“Is this all of them?” I ask before she has a chance to ask me to leave.

She nods, so I grab the closest match to my dress. Leila will have to get over it. It’s enough that I agreed to suffer the humiliation of squeezing my menopausal belly into a much-too-tight dress. Besides, as her three-time maid of honor, I matched perfectly the first two times. So I’m a little off this time.

Mom would get a kick out of it, this unspoken stand I’m taking against Leila. If she could join us. If she was in her right mind. If the doctors didn’t think she’d now have more bad days than good thanks to the dementia devouring her brain.

The thought causes my throat to constrict, the all too familiar emotion choking off my breath. Mom may be physically alive, but the presence of body cannot replace the presence of heart and mind. She doesn’t speak lately, doesn’t even seem to hear. I miss the sound of her voice, even when she wasn’t sure which of her daughters I was or if I was her daughter at all.

I swallow to open my throat and hand the shoe to Carlee. “Could you see if you have these in an eight? I’ll try them on fast and be out of your way.”

The girl bites her lip again, but nods, rushing toward the back of the store. I sit on a plush bench along the wall and slip my shoe off, readying myself for when the shoes arrive.

I look around, taking in the children’s shoes in the aisle beside me. Little girls’ shoes. Like Jailyn would wear. Her face flashes in my mind, red cheeks, puffy eyes, streaming tears that will haunt me long after they’ve dried.

It attacks me again, that churning in my stomach, increasing heart rate, and cold sweat beading on my skin. If I was wrong, if Jailyn’s circumstances weren’t what I thought them to be…

I take a deep breath, blink the images away. I wasn’t wrong. I couldn’t have been. The physical evidence removed by police proves it. This time.

John stands in front of me, hands stuffed in the pockets of his black dress pants. His royal blue button-up shirt brings out the brilliance of his eyes, the gray streaks in his dark hair complementing the distinguished appearance. He looks every part of the pharmaceutical scientist that he is, save the crooked smirk on his face.

“It’s your fault we’re here,” I bite out before he can comment. “If you hadn’t booked such an early flight, I’d be able to take care of this in the morning.”

He laughs, points to himself. “My fault? Would you rather drive to Florida?”

I press my lips into a line to suppress a smile. We have this humor in our relationship, a way that seems to make everything, even a late night shoe emergency, seem fun. It’s such a far cry from my last marriage, every moment so serious, tense.

John shakes his head, bends down, kisses me. “Fine, I’ll take the blame this time.” He kisses me again. “But only because you’re cute when you’re crazy.”

I feel the tension bleed from me, the effect of his warm lips. “You call this crazy?”

He shrugs. “Well, not as crazy as Leila.” He wrinkles his brow. “Tell me again why we’re going to this wedding?”

I play-slap his arm. For the past two weeks he’s been making up forgotten business meetings, unheard of illnesses, and a variety of appointments to get out going with me. I only waved him off. He may not admit it, but the truth is that he’d never send me off to deal with Bridezilla on my own. He too supportive for that. He’s my rock, the one person I know I can always count on for anything. “Because she’s my sister. Whether I like it or not.”

“Could be worse,” he says. “At least Mitch isn’t going with us.” His voice lowers, the pain of a father-son argument bleeding through.

I tip my head, unsure of what to say. I know how much it hurts John to have his only child angry with him. They’re usually so close, practically inseparable. There’s more to it, though, and I know this is what John worries about. Although I won’t admit it to John, I’m a little worried, too.

John sits next to me, exhaling slowly, deflating. “I’ve never seen him so mad.”

I’ve seen Mitch this mad before, even angrier. John has seen it, too. He just doesn’t want to allow himself to remember those days, the unwarranted outbursts, Mitch locking himself in his room, the constant fear over his safety and unspoken musings over ours.

But that was a long time ago. Mitch is a different person now, confident, sweet, stable. He’s just…off. Today. A one-time thing, surely.

John shakes his head. “He ran to Maggie, for Christ’s sake! He never does that.”

Maggie. The woman who gave birth to Mitch. That’s where her parenting ended.

I rest my hand on his thigh and squeeze. “He’s a smart, good boy. He’ll get over it. Everything will be…”

A loud bang echoes from within the mall.

John jumps from the bench and looks toward the front of the store, his back to me. Voices echo off the walls, angry shouts. Then another bang.

John spins back to me. “A gun.” He grabs my hand, pulls me to my feet and toward the back of the store, one shoe on, the other still resting on the floor beside the bench. I limp, lopsided without the other heel. He keeps me close to him, maneuvering through rows of shoes to the counter.

A woman around my age, her hair rolled into a neat, loose bun appears from behind the counter and I guess that she’s the boss, the one in a hurry to close. Her gaze shoots to the front of the store.

Another series of bangs, loud, echoing, one right after another.

“Back here!” The woman says as she runs behind the counter. John follows, pulling me into a storage room lined with metal shelving and boxes.

Bang. Bang, bang.

Closer this time.

John guides me to the corner of the room, behind a shelf of shoe boxes that towers over my head. He leans against the wall, pulls me close to him, wrapping his arms around me as if to shield me from the spray of bullets somewhere outside of the store.

He must feel the way my heart pounds, throbbing against the wall of my chest. “It’ll be okay,” he whispers in my ear. “Whatever is happening is out there.” He nods toward the store exit. “We’re safe.”

I nod, chew on my lip. What he says makes sense, but then why don’t I feel safe?

The answer crashes in on me, an image recreated from moments ago: The man in the hoodie.

Is he to blame for this? Were there others posted throughout the mall, all dressed in black, waiting to strike? Maybe I’d been right to fear him, a psychic voice in my head warning me.

The next bang is even closer, possibly right outside of the store. I whimper slightly, turn and bury my face in John’s chest, try to find comfort in the familiar scent of his cologne. He squeezes me tighter.

My head dizzies with my racing heart, my ears ringing, but not loudly enough to drown the sound of approaching footsteps.

“John!” I whisper, but it comes out in panicked shrill.

He holds his finger to his lips. “Shh.” He gently pulls me to the floor, both of us crouching as if reducing our height will make us invisible to the madmen out there. The cold, damp concrete seeps through the thin fabric of my dress, chilling my skin.

The steps grow closer, louder.

The next bang slices through my ears as if the bullet has pierced my head.

I pinch my eyes shut, squeeze John’s arm. The footsteps don’t stop. John rises slightly, wrapping my body with his own, shielding me.

The footsteps pause, a false moment of relief.

“Back here.” The voice is deep, like a roll of thunder.

Despite my terror, I can’t help wondering who he is looking for. Carlee? The owner? Maybe they had reason to close the store in a hurry. Or maybe it’s just another sign of a world gone bad. Another shooting, more innocent lives lost.

I hold my breath, pray that mine isn’t one of them.

The next bang I feel as much as hear, vibrations shooting through me as if I’d been the one to pull the trigger. I peer out from beneath John’s elbow, see a pair of black clad feet nearing. They stop, the toes awkwardly pointing inward, pigeon-like.

Another bang. Then two more.

John’s body slumps, pinning me beneath him. A sticky, warm liquid dribbles onto my cheek. I want to scream, but I can’t even breathe.

Coming May 18th, 2019!
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What’s Next?

Coming May 18, 2019

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I’m your lover and your best friend.

We share a life, but do you know who I am?

It’s supposed to be a quick stop at the mall, a last minute errand. To Lia Drake, it doesn’t feel right from the start. Maybe it’s the eerie silence as closing time looms. Maybe it’s the hooded stranger watching her every move. Or maybe she’s just on edge after an emotionally draining day at her job with Child Protective Services.

But within minutes, gunfire peppers the hallways, sending Lia and her husband, John, cowering in a storeroom. Hiding does little good. Footsteps near. Gunshots explode. John’s lifeless body pins Lia to the floor.

Overwhelmed with grief, Lia assumes it’s another random act of violence until police suggest that John had been their target. It doesn’t make sense. John is easy going, funny, and genuinely kind-hearted. She can’t think of anyone who doesn’t like him, yet alone someone who would to see him dead.

But Lia has demons in her closet that could be to blame.

A quest for answers reveals more than Lia bargained for. Every new detail exposes a suspect with motive to kill. Worse, those details paint an unrecognizable picture of John, revealing a side to him she knew nothing about.

Lia’s desperation lands her in a race for time with John’s increasingly restless killer. It could be a complete stranger, or someone she trusts. If she doesn’t figure it out soon, she’ll become their next victim.

Check back next week for sneak peek at the first chapter!

PLEDGE OF ASHES by Amy Sevan – 5 of 5 stars

Pledge of Ashes (Rise Series Book 1) by [Sevan, Amy]

Oh, how I loved this book!

Let me start by saying that this is not my typical genre. I have hard time connecting to characters and settings that I don’t believe, or can’t trick myself into believing could be real. I know I’m in the minority, as fantasy is a hugely popular genre, but I say this to emphasize the power this book had over me.

Sydney Hoven is not your typical character. She’s a strong, sarcastic, rough-around-the-edges woman – usually a fool proof recipe for an unlikeable character. Admittedly, she is somewhat unlikeable, but the author’s superb character development skills make her so relatable, it took little time to empathize with her. Chapter after chapter we delve a little deeper into the makings of this complex character until we can’t help but to cheer her on during every step of her bizarre journey.

Speaking of characters, oh Devon… I’m not the swooning type, but this guy turned me into a swooning puddle of mush. He’s such a strong, charming, and vivid character that I found myself hoping and praying he could be real and that he’d show up on my doorstep. (Don’t tell my husband that.)

A psychic storyline is always intriguing, but what sets this book apart is Syd’s insistence on abandoning her powers. She just wants a normal life and it seems she’s taking steps in the right direction…until she meets Devon.

Hunky, sexy, far too tempting Devon.

As a testament to Syd’s strength, she does quite the job resisting this total package man.

The kicker is that he isn’t just any hunky, sexy, far too tempting guy. No. He’s an angel sent to protect Syd and help her hone the powers she’s so desperate to lay to rest. Her refusal would have dire consequences for all of humanity, giving Hell victory over Heaven.

A few surprise twists and a lot of action coupled with all of the above make this book a winner, but what really drew me into a story so unlike what I usually read is the incredible attention to Syd’s character. Layer after layer, she becomes so incredibly real I can feel her scars and trust me, this poor girl has plenty.

Needless to say, I can’t wait for the next book in the series. Hands down, 5 of 5 stars! Actually, can I give it a 6? What the heck. 6 of 5 stars!

Book Tour, Giveaway & Excerpt – SUGAR LANE Vol. 1 by Harlow Hayes

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Women’s fiction/Suspense
Date Published: November 19, 2018
Publisher: Harlow Hayes Books
 
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The night of Christmas Eve changes everything for Rhema Clark, a 36-year-old housewife living on quiet Sugar Lane. One day she is hosting a birthday party for her 9-year-old son, Julian, the next she is watching her neighborhood become the backdrop for the perfect murder.
To gain power, Rhema inserts herself into the lives of the residents of Sugar Lane. She knows they have secrets, but none of them run deeper than her own. On the outside she is a kind and caring neighbor, but on the inside, something sinister lurks beneath. The media storm surrounding this murder could destroy her secret life and expose her for what she is.
But will her lust for power override her desire to keep her secrets?
About the Author

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Harlow Hayes was born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana and is the author of fiction and non-fiction books. She has always had a passion for writing and storytelling in its many forms. When she’s not immersed in her writing, she enjoys reading both fiction and non-fiction, watching classic movies, and listening to jazz with her dad. She is the author of 27 Revelations and You Got to Believe: A Guide to Managing Negative Influences and Expectations As You Prepare to Self-publish Your Book.
She currently lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Contact Links
Excerpt:

“Please wait! I have another coupon,” said the woman standing in the checkout line, rummaging through her purse. “I’m so sorry,” she said, looking back at Rhema and the ten other people that stood in line behind her.

Rhema stood calm, but internally, she raged. The sound of the registers opening and closing was beginning to overwhelm her senses, and a pounding headache was eating at her brain. She reached into her purse and grabbed an Excedrin. Christmas was a week away, and a store trip that should have taken fifteen minutes had now become forty. She had fought her way through the aisles with her shopping cart, her list crumpled in hand. She felt the sweat dripping from her back as she hurried past the lackadaisical shoppers blocking the aisleways. Now the checkout line was backed up.

“It’s all right. I’m in no hurry at all,” she said, sarcasm dripping from her lips. She wanted to strangle the woman. The woman should have had what she needed, out and ready to go before she got to the front of the line. They had all been standing there so long she thought she could see wrinkles forming on her hands. Rhema stared hard at the woman, taking particular notice of her pregnant belly. Four little hooligans ran around her, pulling items from the checkout shelves. One ran back and forth through the exit doors, blocking exiting shoppers.

Rhema had seen them earlier, running and screaming up and down every aisle, terrorizing the last-minute shoppers, making demands. Rhema smiled inside, knowing that she would never be that woman, who she figured to be a halfwit. That was the only excuse for allowing her children to walk all over her. She was one of the stupid ones, letting everyone else run their lives. Rhema had made up her mind: She hated her.

Rhema looked into her cart and saw the condensation around her tub of ice cream. It was melting, and she couldn’t stand melted ice cream.

Take the tub and throw it at the woman’s head. The thought made her feel better while she waited. Her mind ran through the list of things she had to do. She had been roped into doing so much that now she was the stupid woman. It was the holidays, and she wondered why people thought that she didn’t have better things to do with her time. She had been pressured into helping her neighbor with her oldest daughter’s wedding and the younger one’s graduation party after getting ambushed one morning in her driveway on the way to the mailbox. Mrs. Kelly, struggling to get a rug into her car, had asked Rhema for help. Rhema had seen her struggling, but she’d hoped that her presence had gone unnoticed.

“Rhema, I’m so glad to see you. Could you come help me with this?” Mrs. Kelly asked.

Rhema walked over to help, but she resented her asking. Her husband, David, was the only reason she was being so nice. David had just scolded her the day before for not being friendly to the neighbors.

“Why do you have to act so cold?” he’d asked. “I like this house and this neighborhood for Julian, and I don’t want to have to pick up and leave because you’re acting weird and can’t make any friends.”

Rhema didn’t like him either, or that’s what she told herself anyway. I am only staying for Julian. That was what she believed. The truth was something else. Deep down, she loved David, and even on their worst days, he was the best in bed, and that was hard for Rhema to give up, so she stayed.

“I can help the next customer here!” a cashier yelled out. Rhema was next, but a handful of people with fewer items at the end of the line beat her to it. Her face turned red as she squeezed the handle of her shopping cart, knuckles white. She was ready to ram the woman in front of her, and her children.

“Here it is!” the woman shouted. The people in line sighed in relief.

Rhema placed her items on the conveyor belt and took her money out of her purse. She was elated. It was finally her turn. She had stood in line so long, feet hurting in her six-inch boots and needing to pee, but it would have to wait; public restrooms weren’t appealing to her. But at least relief was coming soon. It was the only thing keeping her going. She looked up from her wallet, and her smile went back to a frown. Standing at the register was the store manager and the cashier.

“Sorry, ma’am, we have to change out the drawers.”

Rhema burned with anger, furious at the delay. She imagined jumping the counter and stabbing the man in the eye with her car keys.

When she finished at checkout, she rushed to her car. Feet throbbing, she loaded the groceries, fighting the frigid cold. Her mind ran nonstop as more things were added to her to-do list. The wedding, the graduation party, and then there was Christmas, but today was Julian’s birthday, and after nine o’clock that was one thing that she could scratch off of her list. There was a moment of peace as the cold wind flickered past her face. Rhema reached into the shopping cart to grab the last bag. When she picked it up to place it in the back, she heard the ruffling rip of the plastic bag, and the container of ice cream fell out and splattered on the ground, covering her three-hundred-dollar boots in chocolate vanilla swirl.

“Fuck!” she screamed, stomping her feet like a child as the sludge of dirty half-melted snow and ice cream splattered further up her boots. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!”

“Hey! Watch your mouth. My children don’t need to hear that filthy language,” a woman on the other side of the parking aisle scolded.

Rhema turned to see a woman ushering her brood of children down the parking aisle, noses snotty and red, their bodies so layered with winter clothing they looked like miniature Michelin men.

“I swear, the nerve of some people. Using filthy language like that in public. What a disgrace.”

“What’s wrong with her, Mommy?” one of the smaller children asked.

“Don’t pay her any mind, honey. Just trash.”

She stared at Rhema with scorn, as if she were untouchable, but Rhema knew different. Everyone was touchable. People with money had a false sense of security. They believed that they could say anything to anyone and get away with numerous slights and outright disrespect toward people they believed were less than them. She was an entitled woman, just like the woman in line. They could do and say whatever they wanted because their money allowed it. Rhema remembered looking down at their rings as she shopped, their hands glistening on the cart handles. Three- and four-carat diamond rings, sparkling, screaming their status in the world. Rhema looked down at her own ring, just as large in size, but she knew that she was nothing like them.

She had ice cream on her boots, and she had to pee. Rhema knew she couldn’t threaten the woman’s safety, but she could make her uncomfortable. She pulled her hands up from her sides and felt an amazing sense of power as she used her two long, slim middle fingers give the woman something that she wasn’t expecting. The woman gasped and pushed her children on toward the store, and Rhema stomped what she could of the ice cream off of her boots and got into her car.

She sat there for a moment, collecting her bearings. Looking in the rearview mirror, she saw that she had left the shopping cart sitting behind her SUV. Another delay. She wanted to ram it into the car of the woman that reprimanded her. Reaching for the car door, she got an idea and stopped. Popping the hatch open, she grabbed her wallet, stepped out, and walked to the trunk.

Behind the mound of groceries was David’s hunting bag. Rhema reached over the shopping bags and grabbed it. As she unzipped it, her body tingled with excitement. She reached in, grabbing the large Buck hunting knife that rested at the bottom. She slipped the knife in her boot and closed the hatch, gripping the shopping cart and her wallet. She walked over to the cart return, right next to the car of the reprimander. Rhema pushed the cart into the crammed space and walked closer to the woman’s 2016 Range Rover. She fumbled with her Gucci wallet in her hand and let it fall into the greasy slushlike snow.

Rhema looked around to make sure there were no eyes on her. She bent down to pick it up, and once she was down and out of view, she slid the Buck knife out of her boot, removed it from its sleeve, and stabbed it into the back driver’s side tire. As the air slowly deflated, a smile stretched across Rhema’s face. She placed the knife back in its sleeve and stuffed it back into her boot before standing. She wiped the water from her wallet, walked back to her car, and drove home.

 

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OUR LITTLE LIES by Sue Watson – 3 of 5 Stars

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Nobody is perfect, especially not Marianne’s husband, Simon, the surgical whiz and object of every woman’s desires. On the outside, Marianne has it all – a beautiful home, 3 wonderful children, Simon’s love and adoration. Behind closed doors, well, let’s just say that nothing is what it seems.

OUR LITTLE LIES is heartbreaking story of emotional abuse, deception, and the people caught up in the games of one man’s ego trip. I found myself able to connect to the characters, buy into the premise of the plot, and turning the pages in hopes that this horrible man would get what he deserves.

While I enjoyed the read, a few issues kept me from fully falling captive to the story.

For the first half of the book I was frustrated by repetition, the incredibly weak nature of the protagonist (not to mention her blindness) and the slow-ish pacing of events. I felt that more time was spent declaring Simon’s greatness than moving the story forward. As it turns out, this is for good reason as it plays into the protagonist’s mental state, however a better view of that early on would’ve saved the frustration.

It’s obvious from the start that Simon isn’t who he seems. That in itself isn’t a problem, but I had a hard time understanding what all these other women see in him. I think that maybe if Simon’s mistreatment of Marianne had been held off until a little later in the book and we could’ve spent more time seeing how wonderful he was to her early in their relationship, I could’ve developed that image of awesomeness that had every woman and their mother swooning. I would have liked to believe for a bit that just maybe Simon wasn’t the problem.

The pace really picked up after the 50% mark and Marianne blossomed from weak and helpless to a picture of strength, determination, and vengeance. I found myself cheering for her and hoping that her efforts would expose the true Simon. I could drum up sympathy for Marianne instead of screaming at her in my head, but even more for her step-daughter, Sophie. I felt for that poor girl from the start and loved that Marianne cared just as much for Sophie as she did her biological sons.

I was certain I had the final twist figured out, but Ms. Watson proved me way off base! I love it when that happens, but I had a difficult time believing this one. Not because it seems impossible, but because the prior pages seemed to be lacking the kind of foreshadowing needed to make it all ring true. A few more hints throughout could have created a dynamic punch.

I may have been able to make sense of it and accept it, but the story fell apart after that, slipping into a long expose from the culprit in a delivery that didn’t match the character. The who, what, when, where, why, and how came out, but felt like an info dump to get the story over with.

Overall, I did enjoy the read, but felt like too many issues took away the wow factor.

 

 

Book Tour & Giveaway – DEATH OPENS A DOOR by Mikel J. Wilson, Mouring Dove Mysteries Book 2

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Mourning Dove Mysteries, Book 2
Mystery
Date Published: October 19, 2018
Publisher: Acorn Publishing
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Emory Rome is back in DEATH OPENS A WINDOW, Book 2 of the Mourning Dove Mysteries and the follow-up to the national bestseller MURDER ON THE LAKE OF FIRE.
As he struggles with the consequences of his last case, Emory must unravel the inexplicable death of a federal employee in a Knoxville high-rise. But while the reticent investigator is mired in a deep pool of suspects – from an old mountain witch to the powerful Tennessee Valley Authority – he misses a greater danger creeping from the shadows. The man in the ski mask returns to reveal himself, and the shocking crime of someone close is unearthed.

About the Author

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Bestselling mystery and science fiction author Mikel J. Wilson draws on his Southern roots for the Mourning Dove Mysteries, a series of novels featuring bizarre murders in the Smoky Mountains region of Tennessee. Building on the success of the first book in the series, Wilson continues his “no guns or knives” philosophy for murder as he delves deeper into the lives of the characters and their evolving dynamics.

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THE SILENT SISTER by Shalini Boland – 3.5 of 5 Stars

The Silent Sister: A gripping psychological thriller with a nailbiting twist

My first Shalani Boland read made me an instant fan and subsequent reads only reinforced that. I love her fast-paced, hold-your-breath style and ability to suck me into her stories quickly and keep hold.

I’m a little torn with THE SILENT SISTER. Was it good? Oh yes! Did it keep me reading? Yes, again! Did it have all the elements of a great psychological thriller? Absolutely!

So why the low-ish rating? I just didn’t feel that the quality was on par with other books I’ve read from this author.

We start out fairly one-dimensional, meaning that the entire focus of the story is the letter that mysteriously shows up in the protagonist’s home. I felt that any other aspects of the characters’ lives, while present, were so brushed over that they just didn’t have enough of an impact to properly flesh the story out. Hand in hand with that, when we did veer away from the letter, it felt forced back into the story with on and off, unnatural references to it.

I don’t mind staying with the main problem of the story from page 1. In fact, I prefer that over unnecessary build up. I’d much rather have other elements of the characters’ lives sprinkled among a suspenseful story. In this particular case, though, there just wasn’t enough happening to warrant it.

In my opinion, the book overall felt like an early-ish draft rather than a finished book, and I say this because this is exactly how my books feel before those last rounds of editing. I have to wonder if Ms. Boland isn’t receiving the level of editing she once did. If this was one of her earlier novels, I’d assume that her skills weren’t fully developed yet, but it’s pretty recent and on the heels of other very well done works, which leads me to believe it’s not so much the author, but the editor(s). Unfortunately, this happens quite often, especially if an author is bringing in the sales.

The story itself was gripping and I found Lizzy, the protagonist, easy to connect with. There were more than a few potential suspects – a sign of great story set-up – and the few I alternately honed in on as potential culprits turned out to be innocent. Always a good thing to be caught by surprise, however….

A surprise ending was definitely present, but while I LOVED the twist in the epilogue, the ending chapters preceding that left me a little frustrated. I felt that for the culprit to be realistic, a little more needed to be included early in the story to make it all feel plausible when revealed. (I know that’s really vague, but I don’t want to give anything away!)

Still, I found THE SILENT SISTER very much worth the read. I’d give the story 5 stars, but the editing 1 or 2. For Goodreads’ purposes, I’m rounding up because I just can’t bear to give this author less than 4 stars, especially when I suspect editing to be the problem.

 

After Nightfall by A.J. Banner – 5 of 5 Stars

After Nightfall

A.J. Banner is quickly becoming a favorite for me. I absolutely loved the vibrant setting, edge of your seat suspense, and character depth in THE TWILIGHT WIFE. While I know better than to keep my expectations high for subsequent releases, I couldn’t get the thrill out of my mind and held the bar high for AFTER NIGHTFALL. I was not disappointed!

Once again, Banner delivers a setting that comes alive to all the senses. Broken branches and scuff marks atop a sharp cliff make my knees weak at the thought, a dead body on the beach gives me chills even without the detail of the cool, early morning air, and the oceanside location brings the taste of sale to my tongue. Add in a powerful mystery and nail-biting suspense, and we have a winner.

For me, THE TWILIGHT WIFE was so good that I didn’t mind that the ending was rather predictable and I thoroughly expected the same for AFTER NIGHTFALL. Throughout the book I felt certain I had it figured out (and was confident in it based on THE TWILIGHT WIFE), but the author completely fooled me with a series of twists I didn’t see coming. Even better, they held true to the story, which is something that many suspense novels seem to be lacking these days.

Highly recommended!

It’s Pub Day!!

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Jenna Bradley knows she needs to be afraid, she just doesn’t know what she should be afraid of. An evening phone call from her husband, Eric, rattles her to the core. “I’m coming to get you and the kids. We have to go away for a while.”

 No explanation, just a few orders laced in panic.

 Jenna can only assume that as a reporter, Eric has exposed the wrong people. It’s only a guess. The distance between them grows every day, Eric living his life, Jenna living hers. She doesn’t know what he’s been working on any more than she knows where he went that morning. If only the gunmen holding her and her children hostage believed that.

 Eric has the answers Jenna seeks, but when the engine of his private plane stalls over Lake Michigan, his desperation to get home and whisk his family to safety takes a back seat to a seemingly futile struggle to survive.   

 Federal inmate, Kurt McElroy has answers too, but heavy prison monitoring prevents him from sending a clear warning, not to mention getting the help he needs. The private prison he’s been contracted to is as corrupt as they come, but that corruption reaches beyond the prison walls to officials with everything to lose.  

 Jenna fears it’s her family that will lose, namely their lives. The clock is ticking. The gunmen are growing restless. Can she find an escape before it’s too late?

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