Throw the Key – Check out chapter 2!

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It’s almost that time again! Release day for this second baby of mine is this Saturday, October 6 2018. Chapter one has already made the rounds, so here is a peek at chapter two. I hope you enjoy!

Chapter Two

7:30 p.m.

Tension jabbed Eric Bradley’s shoulders and neck like flaming swords as he gripped the yoke of his Piper Lance. Even at top speed, it couldn’t fly fast enough.

They know.

That phone call from a stranger hadn’t lasted five seconds, but had the power to change the rest of his life. Maybe it already had. He had no way of knowing.

Eric tipped his head from side to side, stretching his neck. He should’ve stayed in bed. It was the second life-changing call that day.

Eric glanced at the gold wrist watch Jenna had given him for his thirtieth birthday. Pink gold, she called it. It didn’t look pink to him. Golden hands ticked across the chocolate face. Seven-thirty. If he maintained this speed, he’d be home around nine o’clock.

It wasn’t soon enough. He needed to get his family, make a run to Chicago – something else he’d have to explain to Jenna – and be out of town before dark. Did darkness really matter, though? In the movies, the bad guys seemed to strike beneath pitch-blacks skies. But this was no movie.

Eric scooted forward in his seat as if the extra inch would get him home faster. His khaki shorts slid over the white leather, but his sweat-dampened thighs pinched with the movement. The hum of the aircraft reverberated in his ears. Maybe the bad guys wouldn’t wait. Maybe they’d already struck.

Eric pressed his lips together and glanced at the photo taped to the instrument panel, a snapshot from Halloween, almost a year ago. Emma wore a frilly pink princess gown, her blonde hair styled in fluffy curls. Jack dressed as a cowboy, half of his face hidden beneath the over-sized hat. Behind them, Jenna smiled widely, gathering the kids in her arms, her hazel eyes sparkling back at him.

After the photo had been taken, Jack jumped up and down, tugging on Eric’s pants. “We go! We go!” Despite the biting wind and occasional slap of a wet snowflake, he and Jenna had paraded the kids door to door though the neighborhood, Jenna nestling against Eric each time they stopped for the kids to collect their treats.

Eric could smell the scent of her perfume and feel the warmth of her skin just thinking about it. Her smile glowed as she tipped her head up and joked, “Tell me again why we had kids?” But he knew she loved those kids as much as he loved her. Things had been good then. Better than good.

Eric looked away from his smiling family in the photo. If anything happened to them, it would be his fault. He never should’ve gotten involved, should’ve minded his own business. But, how could he have known it would be this dangerous? Besides, he couldn’t ignore it. Those people needed him.

That last encounter ran through his mind, a single phrase repeating like a scratched album. “He got to them. They’ve been threatened. Stay away.”

He could picture the dim lighting, see that desperate face.

Eric glanced out the window beside him. Anything to distract himself. The setting sun cast splashes of amber, gold, and brilliant orange over Lake Michigan, the scene a mockery of the funnel cloud his life had spun into.

He bit back the thought, didn’t want to further jinx himself. Storms were in the forecast for that night. He had to hope they’d hold out long enough for him to get his family to safety.

He shifted his gaze to the passenger seat, eyes landing on his flight log book. He scanned the thin carpeting on the floor, looked back out the window. The images hadn’t changed outside of the plane and they hadn’t changed in his mind either. That face, those silent pleas.

Eric had left just a few hours before the call came. He’d been so close, the situation almost under control. Had the phone call he made been answered, he would’ve already taken care of it. Instead, they were trying to take care of him.

Eric looked over the instrument panel and out the windshield. As far as he could see, nothing but water, grayish blue highlighted in orange hues. He squinted at the horizon like it was a window capable of revealing everything important to him, show him everything was okay. He slid a little closer to the yoke.

He muttered a curse under his breath. He’d forgotten to tell Jenna to pack their passports. He’d have to remember that when he got home. Something told him that this time, she would appreciate his rustic, Canadian cabin. It would be the perfect hideout.

Eric gazed out the window again, but didn’t see the vast lake as his plane glided over it, slicing through the humidity. Instead, his mind flashed home. He could picture Jenna scrambling through the house, a panicked mess. If only he could’ve given her more information, but he couldn’t take the chance. Their home phone, his cell, even Jenna’s cell could’ve been manipulated.

At least he knew that she’d taken his warning seriously. Her frantic tone and insistence for answers made that clear. He just hoped she’d stayed afraid enough to follow everything he’d told her to do. She needed to listen to him, just this once, regardless of the terms they’d been on.

The all too familiar ache gnawed at his insides. Jenna didn’t understand. She’d be even less willing to try to understand after this. When he left the house that morning, he knew his return would push Jenna further away. He would have no choice but to tell her. She’d see soon enough. But this on top of it…

She definitely wouldn’t understand.

A shake of the aircraft jerked Eric from his thoughts.

The engine sputtered.

He glanced at the gages. His RPM was dropping.

Another sputter.

His seat rattled before the engine silenced.

Eric reached for the overhead panel, flipped the ignition knob to its original position and then back to start. Nothing happened.

He flipped on his auxiliary power, watched the gauges, and tried to start the engine again. His fuel level had dropped dangerously low. It didn’t make sense. Despite his rush, he had topped off both fuel tanks before leaving Traverse City.

He pulled up on the yoke to maintain altitude, switched fuel tanks and tried to start the plane again. The engine stammered and slowly came to life.

But only for a moment, not long enough to feel the relief.

Eric drifted through the air in eerie silence, thousands of feet above the water. Now what? His threw his hand to the overhead panel and desperately cranked on the knob, but no matter how many times he tried, he couldn’t restart the engine.

He hit the yoke with his fist.

They know.

Sweat beaded on his forehead. He couldn’t think about that, had to focus on the plane. He knew what to do. He’d logged thousands of flight hours. A lifeless engine didn’t have to be a death sentence. He could travel a long distance just by gliding.

Eric searched the instrument panel for his altitude. Eight thousand feet. Rule of thumb, multiply altitude by five to determine minimum gliding distance.

He’d make it at least 40,000 feet before the plane came down. About eight miles.

Eric gawked at the horizon, the moisture sucked from his mouth as if a dental vacuum lay inside. A flash of lightening streaked in the distance.

Eight miles.

He was at least twelve miles from shore.

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Upcoming Blog Tour Schedule!

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 Virtual Book Tour Schedule 2018

October 8 – RABT Book Tours – Kick Off

October 9 – Nana’s Book Reviews – Excerpt

October 10 – Laurie’s Thoughts and Reviews – Guest Post

October 11 – Book Reviews by Virginia Lee – Spotlight

October 12 – Mythical Books – Excerpt

October 13 – Coffee and Books – Spotlight 

October 14 – The Avid Reader – Interview

October 15 – Book Addict – Spotlight

October 16 – The Bookworm Lodge – Spotlight

October 17 – Bound 2 Escape – Spotlight

October 18 – Book Lover Blog – Review

October 19 – Just Books – Excerpt

October 20 – Jazzy’s Book Reviews – Spotlight

October 21 – Truly Trendy – Excerpt

October 22 –  Tea Time and Books – Spotlight

October 23 – Book Junkie Mom – Review

October 24 – T’s Stuff – Spotlight

October 25 – Beach Bound Books – Excerpt

October 26 – A Life Through Books – Interview

October 27 –Silver Dagger Scriptorium – Spotlight 

October 28 –  Momma Says to Read or Not to Read – Spotlight

October 29 – Novel News Network – Review

October 30 – Cheeky Pee Reads and Reviews – Review

October 31 –  Musings of a Reader – Spotlight

November 1 – Texas Book Nook – Review

November 2 – RABT Reviews – Wrap Up

Review – AN UNWANTED GUEST, by Shari Lapena, 3 of 5 stars

An Unwanted Guest

I know better than to judge a book by the cover, but this one just seemed to scream, “read me!” In part, it was Shari Lapena’s name. After THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR, she became a must read. Another part was, no doubt, the depiction of that house in a snowstorm. For me, mother nature’s wrath is the perfect complement to any suspense-filled mystery. The added hurdle of a hurricane, tornado, massive earthquake, volcanic eruption, ice or dust storm, etc. grabs my attention every time.

Maybe I went into it with preconceived notions or maybe I was just off, but I had a hard time getting into this one. The large cast of point of view characters coupled with short sections for each of them made it difficult for me to connect with them and ultimately lose myself in their stories. It didn’t help that the writing felt somewhat simplistic and passive.

That is not to say that it’s a bad book – it’s a good mystery and worth the read – it just wasn’t quite what I expected. I anticipated a strong psychological thriller and instead found this to be strictly murder mystery.

The mystery was well presented, but I felt that the story would have benefited from the twists and turns of strong merging storylines. The characters certainly had their individual issues to contend with, but the progression and ultimately the punch of those issues didn’t have the power to explosively collide with the main plot. All the elements were there, but the excessive number of characters kept me from getting deep enough into their personal struggles to feel the effects. Had I remained in the heads of just a few, I suspect I would feel differently.

I did absolutely love the final twist at the end, and that particular storyline is the exception to the above. I don’t want to give it away, but lets just say that right or wrong, I found myself not only surprised, but also thoroughly satisfied with it.

Overall, I found AN UNWANTED GUEST to be a good book, just not quite what I expected given the author’s previous works.

Excerpt from THROW THE KEY

Paperback Cover

(Available October 6, 2018)

Chapter One

August 5, 7:00 p.m.

My husband didn’t even greet me when I answered the phone. “I’m coming to get you and the kids.” He sounded rushed, almost panicked, and his deep voice squeaked as if puberty had returned.

My three-year-old son sat on the kitchen floor in front of me, banging on a stainless steel pot with a wooden spoon. I pulled my cell from my mouth and cupped it with my hand. “Please be quiet, Jack. Mommy is on the phone.”

He kept beating the pot, his head jerking from side to side as he belted out a made-up song. “I want to play all da-a-ay, I want to play all day…”

Cute as could be with big chocolate eyes, smooth cherubic cheeks, and dark hair the shade of his eyes. Picture perfect, actually, the kind of child on television and in magazines. But if he had been my first, I probably wouldn’t have had Emma, so quiet and poised, the exact opposite of her brother. Thank goodness. As much as I love the little guy, I never could have kept up with two of him.

I plugged a finger in my ear, paced to the French doors, pulled them open, and stepped onto the cobblestone patio off the kitchen. “Eric? Sorry, Jack is…”

“Jenna, just listen.” Prickles stung my skin, tiny pins jabbing my flesh. “We need to go away. For a while.” His words were clipped, the steadiness in his voice forced.

“What? Why? What is wrong?”

Eric paused. “I need you to pack everything we’re going to need for the next couple weeks or so. Whatever you can fit into four suitcases. No more.”

“A couple weeks? I can’t. Lucy…” Even though I quit my job as a speech pathologist a few years ago, I continued to work with Lucy a few times a week. She needed me in so many ways. I couldn’t just leave her, especially without having a chance to talk to her about it first. She’d be heartbroken, has already suffered through more than any child should know.

“I’m sorry. We have to.” He didn’t sound sorry. If anything, he sounded like the Eric I’ve come to know lately. To the point. Distracted. Disinterested. A far cry from the man I married.

I could hear my own breath huffing over the line. “Why?”

Another pause, short this time. “Lock the doors and the windows. Turn on the security system. Stay in the house and keep the kids with you. Don’t talk to anyone. Do you understand?”

Why wouldn’t he answer my question? “Eric, you have to tell me what’s going on. You can’t just…”

“I’m sorry. Really. Lock up, turn the security system on, and pack.”

“But…”

“I’m in the Lance, getting ready for take-off.”

His plane? Had we grown so far apart that I didn’t know my own husband left in an airplane that morning?

Then again, he hadn’t known where I’d gone either.

I tried to think, picture the morning, but it blurred with every other day, the goodbyes ranging from a half-hearted kiss on the cheek to the distant click of a door. I didn’t allow myself to think too far back, remember the long, warm kisses, loving embraces, and playful touches.

“I’ll be home in a couple hours. Be ready. Stay inside until I get there. Don’t even come out to the hangar.”

The hangar was so close, right across the street. “Eric…”

He hung up.

I stood on the cobblestone with the phone still pressed to my ear. My heart pulsed in my throat, constricting it, allowing only wisps of oxygen through. I stared past the patio, the potted geraniums, and the fire pit into the forest.

Lock the doors and windows…don’t talk to anyone.

A violent shudder rattled my body. I scanned the forest twice. Was someone lurking in the shelter of the trees? I didn’t know who or what to be afraid of – or why I should be afraid at all – yet I felt cold despite the sticky August air.

Eric, should’ve given me an explanation, a clue, anything.

With a silent gasp, I jerked the phone from my ear and examined it as if I expected a rabid creature to slither from beneath the screen. Maybe Eric didn’t explain because he couldn’t. Maybe he feared our phones were bugged.

The phone felt like fire in my hands, scorching my skin, driving me to toss it across the yard and get the device and whoever may have been listening as far away as possible. I didn’t do it, though, tried to calm my mind, think logically, breathe.

My cell was always with me. Except for Eric and the kids, no one could’ve done anything to it. I allowed my arm to relax at my side, the phone still in my hand. If anyone’s phone was bugged, it was Eric’s.

I checked the forest again. I didn’t see anything, just the soft shadows of evening settling over the foliage. If anyone was out there, they couldn’t be too far. The wooded land only ran so deep before butting up to the Newman’s property. It gave us enough privacy and distance, but they were close enough that I never felt alone. Until now. Miles seemed to stretch between my home and the nearest soul. I swallowed hard, looked to the ground but even the yard took on a life of its own, breathing in hushed tones.

I shot my gaze next door. Greg Callaghan, an old friend of my father’s, lived beyond a row of Arborvitaes and through a patch of mature maples. At night I could see bits of light poking through the branches, but it was still too bright out. Was he home? Could I call out if I needed him?

Don’t talk to anyone.

But why?

I stood alone on my corner lot, a row of green to my left and forested outcroppings to my right. Prime property for Chicago’s North Shore, but it suddenly felt like an island, its natives on the hunt for me.

I chewed on my lip, the deep green of the forest fading, images blurring together like a Monet.

Realization pulsed through me, an electric zing through my veins.

Eric had mentioned that he was onto a major story that would give his career a boost. He bragged that it would take him from suburban reporter to the Chicago Tribune. Had he uncovered something that put him in danger? More specifically, had he uncovered something that put the kids and me in danger?

I glanced behind me, through the French doors that led to the kitchen. I could still hear the muffled banging of wood on steel, Jack’s squeaky voice filling the void between strikes.

Jack and Emma. Why was I standing out here staring into the woods?

I strode toward the glass, catching my reflection. Just those few minutes in the humid air had managed to wilt my hair, the brown mass lifeless. I pulled the door open, stepped inside, locked the door behind me, and set my phone on the counter.

“I want to play all da-a-ay…” Jack sang at the top his lungs, accompanied by his makeshift drum. I walked over to him and squatted beside him onto the Brazilian cherry flooring, my legs weak and my hands trembling.

It didn’t matter that I knelt right in front of him, he bellowed as if he needed the volume for me to hear. The banging of the pot throbbed behind my eyes. I reached for the wooden spoon and lifted it from his chubby hand. “Okay, that’s enough for now, buddy.”

His mouth puffed into a frown, his dark hair slightly disheveled from swinging his head about. I ran my hand over it to smooth it. “But I want to play all day.” He crossed his arms.

I cleared my throat, hoping to steady my voice. “I need you to help me with something, okay?”

“Help with what, Mama?” He looked down at the pot still propped between his legs.

I slid the spoon across the floor behind me, pulled my hands together in a shaky steeple, and forced a wide smile. “We’re going to go on a trip!” I didn’t mean for my voice to slip, but it did.

Jack didn’t seem to notice. He cocked his head. “A trip?”

“Yes, a vacation. Daddy is on his way home to pick us up in his plane. We’re going to leave tonight.”

Jack smiled widely and pushed himself to his feet, kicking the pot aside. “Tonight?”

“Yep, tonight!”

He jumped up and down and clapped his hands. He tugged on my hand as if to pull me from the floor. “We tell Emma?”

My fake smile started to hurt my cheeks and the deep breaths did little to calm my heart rate. I didn’t want the kids to sense a problem. There was no point in causing them panic. “Sure.”

Jack tipped his head to the side, his deep brown eyes studying me, so warm and caring despite his young age. He inherited that compassionate gaze from Eric. I could only hope that it wouldn’t fade from my son like it had my husband.

Jack’s smile straightened. “Mama sad?”

I blinked. My eyes stung and a tear slipped onto my cheek. I hadn’t even noticed it there, had been too busy avoiding hyperventilation. I squeezed Jack. “Of course not. We’re going on a trip!”

Jack smiled and jumped. “Tell Emma!”

I got up off the floor. “Yes, let’s go tell Emma. I just have to check a few things first.” I picked up the pot and spoon, absently setting them on the counter beside a vase full of yellow roses. The kind of flowers Eric used to bring me. The flowers I now bought myself.

I allowed myself a precious second to take in the cheerful petals, relish in the peace of the sight. Yellow roses had been my favorite as far back as I could remember, symbolizing everything beautiful and right about the world. That’s how I saw them, what the brilliant petals and deep perfume aroma meant to me.

It also meant something else to me, something entirely opposite of peace. Sadness. Loss. Grief. Yellow roses had been mom’s favorite, too.

“I could really use you now, Mom,” I muttered under my breath. How I longed for her calm manner, comforting smile, and encouraging words.

But all I had was my three-year-old, his precious face staring up at me, trusting me to take care of him, keep him safe. I held my hand out to him. “Come with me.”

Jack grabbed on tightly and toddled beside me in more of a dance than a walk. “I’m going on a tri-i-ip. I’m going on a trip.” His voice boomed as loudly as before.

I moved as quickly as I could with Jack bopping beside me. I checked the window over the kitchen sink. Locked. I stepped past the cherry cabinets to the sliding patio door at the other end of the kitchen. Not locked. I flipped the lock, tested it, and made my way to the family room, past a family portrait taken just after Emma’s birth. Eric had insisted on that photo. He’d been so excited to have a family started and wanted the moment preserved.

I steadied my hands to flip the lock on the family room window, Jack’s song still bouncing between the walls, piercing my temples. I suspected a story at the root of Eric’s call, but I wasn’t sure if he told me what he’d been working on. He could’ve shared every detail and I would’ve simply nodded, my eyes not meeting his, too many other things rushing through my mind. He brought it on himself when he didn’t put his family first. He said I didn’t get it, but it was Eric who would never understand.

Jack drifted from my side, pulling my arm as we approached the living room window. His song stopped as he looked from the television to the couch. I tugged him, hoping the motion would be enough to get his focus back.

I checked the latches on the windows, and moved toward the dining room. With a jerk, Jack pulled his hand from mine, his bare feet pattering over the carpeting, carrying him back to the window. “Jack…come on.” I walked over to him, reached for his hand. “We have to pack.”

He pressed his nose against the window, his finger pointing. “I want my ball.”

I looked out the window. On the opposite side of the sidewalk, Jack’s large red ball sat beneath the branch of a bush.

“Not now. We have to hurry.”

He wiggled away from me, his feet stomping, cheeks reddening. “I want it!”

I didn’t have time for a tantrum. Lock the doors and windows. Turn on the security system. “Daddy is going to be here soon. We have to pack your things.”

“I wanna pack my ball!”

“It won’t fit in your suitcase, but if you’re good, maybe we can grab it on the way out.” I reached for Jack, but he squirmed away and ran toward the foyer. “Jack!” I called, taking off after him. My heart beat faster, harder. I didn’t know what lurked around each corner, yet alone beyond the doors.

At the front door, Jack twisted the knob with both hands. I scooped him up and propped him on my hip, despite his kicking feet and blood curdling shriek. “Do you want to go on the trip?” My words rattled as they escaped my throat.

Jack nodded back at me, his arms crossed, eyebrows knit. Another expression of Eric’s, this one much too recently familiar.

“Then you need to stay with me. Do you understand?”

He surrendered with a grumpy nod.

I bounced him slightly. “Okay, good. Let’s finish up down here so we can go tell Emma.”

I backtracked to the library and then made my way through the dining room, the television room, and back to the foyer. Still three more rooms to go, and it was only the first floor. I loved this big house. It had been a second home to my dad before he signed it over to us because of lack of use. I loved it so much that I kept it over his mansion after he died. Suddenly it seemed too big, as if there was no way I’d make it to every room in time.

But in time for what?

I moved faster, hefting Jack higher on my hip as I headed for the staircase. He started singing again, his mouth much too close to my ear. Song or no song, I was not going to set him down again. I grasped the banister and headed up the stairs. My feet moved in a labored jog, my memory attempting the same. What had Eric been working on?

The danger could be over something else, though. It didn’t have to be a story. My pace slowed, my legs heavy, rubbery. Could Eric have been involved in… What? Eric was as straight-laced as me, maybe more. But he had been gone a lot lately. I wouldn’t have known where he was. I didn’t even know he’d left in his plane this morning.

Thoughts buzzed through my mind like a swarm of bees in a shaken hive. I thought of an angered mistress’ spouse, a vengeful reader who thought Eric portrayed them in bad light, even possible involvement in a drug ring.

I continued up the stairs, Jack’s feet bouncing against my thigh, his weight burning my arms. Nothing criminal fit Eric, but I couldn’t be sure he wasn’t having an affair. The thought made me cringe, betrayal, loss, and even guilt colliding in my heart. It wasn’t the first time it crossed my mind.

I bit my lip, didn’t want to think about it. I doubted it had anything to do with the danger we faced, anyhow. That was what I needed answers to.

I paused and shifted Jack to my other hip.  It had to be a story and it angered me to even think about it. Eric didn’t need to work. We had the inheritance from my high-profile, defense attorney father to live off of. He could’ve spent his days doing the things he loved, actually living like I tried to do. Instead he insisted on working.

“I need to make my own way, Jen.”

Whatever.

I understood the need to do something worthwhile. I did that too, continued as a speech pathologist in a very part time, volunteer capacity. I had satisfaction and freedom, a balanced life that Eric was suddenly jerking me away from as if I had no responsibilities at all. Lucy needed me. I couldn’t just disappear.

I really needed to focus, get up the stairs.

“I’m going on a tri-i-ip.”

At the top of the stairs, I gently turned Jack’s face to mine and put my finger to my lips. “Shh, you’re going to ruin the surprise for Emma.”

Jack threw his hand over his mouth and nodded dramatically, his eyes wide.

I rounded the balcony and headed to the master bedroom. I’d finish locking the windows upstairs before I went to Emma’s room. At seven-years-old, my examination of the house would cause her to suspect something that Jack wouldn’t. The French doors in my bedroom leading to a small balcony had been left unlocked, so I flipped the lock into place.

I moved quickly through each bedroom, but in the guest room I stopped so suddenly it caused Jack to tense. The window hung all the way open. I know I hadn’t opened it. The air conditioning had been on for the past week and there was no way I’d have given the excessive humidity an inlet. Jack couldn’t have opened it. The window was over the bed. He would’ve had to have climbed onto it to reach the window and the comforter sat undisturbed. Emma couldn’t reach either.

I glanced over my shoulder, shifted my eyes fast enough to make me dizzy. Had someone slipped into the house?

Jack started singing again, sending my heart into my throat. I held my free hand to my chest. “Jack, the surprise,” I reminded him, once again raising my finger to my lips.

“Oops!” He slapped his hand over his mouth.

I stepped closer to the bed, hefting Jack higher on my hip as I examined the cream colored carpeting and nightstand near the window. Nothing seemed out of place and the carpet still looked freshly vacuumed. I squinted, inspecting the window. The screen was locked in place. I reached up, slapped the window shut and secured the latch. No one could’ve come in. If they had, I’d at least have seen a footprint. Maybe Eric had opened it before I last vacuumed and I didn’t notice.

The logic did nothing to calm me.

I stepped into the hallway and made my way to Emma’s room, wishing my hands would steady before I got to her. Surely, she’d notice.

I tapped on Emma’s bedroom door and then slowly pushed it open. She rested against a pillow on her bed, her fingers sliding over a tablet. Princess, the white Persian kitten we’d given her for her birthday, snuggled on her lap. Emma looked at me as we stepped inside.

I set Jack down and he ran over to her and jumped on the bed. “Emma, we’re going on a trip! Daddy’s coming to pick us up right now!” Startled, Princess hissed and then jumped to the floor.

Emma started to reach for the cat, but turned to me, her smile wide and eyes shining. “Really, Mom?”

I tried to act excited and hoped the red had faded from my eyes. “Yes, really!”

Emma sat up straight and held her hands together, her shoulder-length blonde hair bobbing. “Where are we going?”

Good question. Just play the game, Jenna. “I have no idea. Daddy said it was a surprise!”

Emma squealed. “Maybe Disney World?” She’d wanted to return to the happiest place on earth since we left there two years earlier. Jack would have no memory of the trip, having been just a year old and spending the week in a stroller. We’d planned to return there someday, but I doubted Eric was whisking us off to any such place now. By the way he sounded on the phone, I pictured a secret hideaway in the middle of nowhere.

I cocked my head. “Well, I don’t know about that. Wherever it is, I’m sure we’ll have fun.”

“Can Princess come?”

Another good question. If I couldn’t talk to anyone, how could I arrange for someone to take care of the cat? We couldn’t just leave her here for two weeks. I nodded to Emma. “I don’t see why not.” Eric wouldn’t be pleased, but I didn’t care.

“Yay!” Emma slipped from her bed to the floor, straightened her pink flowered t-shirt, and gingerly limped toward the kitten. “Did you hear that, Princess? We’re going on a trip and you get to come, too!” It triggered another round of song from Jack.

“Okay, Jack. Enough. We know.”

He smirked at me.

Emma ambled toward me, dragging her left leg. Her hip always bothered her most after she’d been still for a while. So many tests and Irritable Hip was the only diagnosis the doctors could come up with. Nothing seemed to be wrong with her. They said she’d outgrow it. I hoped it would happen soon. She’d been dealing with it for five years now.

“Okay,” I said, holding my hands up to get their attention. “I need both of you to listen carefully. Daddy is planning on being here in just a couple hours. We need to pack fast.”

Jack ran for the door. “Where are you going, buddy?”

“To pack my stuff.”

Keep the kids with you.

I waved my hand, motioning for him to come back. “Let’s make this fun. Why don’t we take turns helping each other pack?”

“I wanna go first!” Jack squealed.

I glanced at Emma. She rolled her eyes, more hazel than brown like mine. “Just let him, Mom.” She leaned into me, held her hand next to her mouth as she whispered, “Maybe then he’ll shut up.”

I nodded and winked at her. “Okay, Jack gets to go first.” I still needed the luggage from the basement storage room. I also had to flip on the security system from the panel in the master bedroom, but I couldn’t do that until I knew that everything was locked in the basement. I should’ve thought to check that before coming up here.

“Before we can help Jack pack, we need to go downstairs to get our suitcases. Why don’t you both come help me.” I turned to Emma and took a glimpse at her leg. She might not be ready for a trip down the stairs.

I glanced to the window and then back to my daughter. “Do you think your hip is okay or should we wait a minute?”

Emma walked back and forth across her room a few times. “I’m okay.”

“You must have been up recently?” She never moved quickly this soon. It could take up to an hour before she felt capable of taking the stairs.

Emma nodded, squeezing Princess in her arms. She followed behind me with Jack marching behind both of us. I moved slowly in case Emma had problems. She gripped the railing, taking each step slowly, favoring her hip while hugging Princess to her chest.

I paused. I could’ve left her in her room, let her walk it off for a bit while I checked the basement. Jack could have stayed with her, too. I’d be able to move faster on my own, make sure the house was as secure as I could make it. We weren’t too far down to turn back.

But, I thought of the open guest bedroom window. It was better that they stayed with me. Just in case.

I moved slowly down the stairs, allowing Emma time to recover after each step. We made our way to the main floor and then down a second flight of stairs to the finished basement. We passed through the recreation room, past the air hockey table, and to the storage room. I flipped the light and quickly retrieved our bags.

Jack took his own suitcase, and Emma reached for hers with her free hand. Princess dangled from her other arm, seemingly oblivious to her position. I closed the door to the storage room, both kids behind me. “I just need to check the locks down here. Gotta make sure everything is locked up tight before we leave.”

When I felt confident that every lock was latched, we made our way back up to Jack’s room. “Okay, Jack, pick out your favorite clothes. As many as you can fit into your bag.”

I paused, looking at my kids. The security system still had to be turned on, but I couldn’t let Emma see that. She’d know something wasn’t right. I normally only turned it on before I went to bed or when we left the house, if I remembered to turn it on at all.

There was a panel in my bedroom at the other end of the hallway. I’d be fast. I’d been through the whole house and no one was here. “I just have to check on something, okay?”

Jack didn’t answer. He scrambled to his dresser, tossing aside different shirts in search of his favorites, his song beginning again.

Emma plugged her ears. “Mom, can you tell him to stop?” She dropped onto the bed with her kitten.

“Jack,” I held a finger over my lips. “Let’s do this quietly, okay?”

“Okay,” he whispered loudly. In the same loud whisper, he resumed singing.

Emma rolled her eyes. At least it was a little less annoying. I stepped across the hall toward my bedroom. I’d move fast. I knew I had to. Despite my rush, I welcomed the break from the kids, the moment to stop my fake smile and excited words.

As I stepped into my room, the anxiety bled from me. My heart pounded as if I’d just run a marathon and my breathing returned to quick gasps. My arms hurt from my efforts to keep them from shaking in front of the kids so for the moment, I let them go, watched them tremble at my sides.

That moment was all I would have. I stepped to the wall beside my closet, searched the security panel, selected the right setting, and punched in the code. Now I just had to keep Jack and Emma away from the windows and doors. Easier said than done, especially without scaring them.

Despite the four windows in my bedroom, it began to darken in the eerie orange sunset. An amber glow highlighted the down comforter on my bed. Just that morning, I’d woken beneath it with Eric by my side, each of us in a hurry to get away from the other. At least, I assumed he couldn’t wait to get away from me. If that wasn’t the case, whoever called him at the crack of dawn must have convinced him otherwise.

It took little to separate us, so unlike when we first met in a creative writing course at Northwestern. Back then, we looked for every excuse to spend our free time together.

“Do you have some time to help me with a stanza tonight?” I’d ask him, really just wanting to be with him, but also enjoying the inspiration for my poetry.

He never declined and it wasn’t like I had to ask often. Eric usually beat me to it. “Coffee tonight? My plot is weak and it would really help to bounce it off you.”

We fell for each other fast and hard, each of us no longer needing an excuse to spend time with the other. Now, it felt as if nothing could keep us together.

I looked away from the bed. It was time to get back to the kids and play calm again.

I paused. Silence. Jack was never quiet for long.

The next sound I heard was my heart pulsing in my ears.

I sprang for the door to get to my kids, but stopped with a start.

A rumble.

And then a shrilling scream. “Mama!”

Jack.

© Copyright 2018 Christine Barfknecht, All Rights Reserved

I Will Never Leave You by S.M. Thayer – 2 of 5 Stars

I Will Never Leave You by [Thayer, S. M.]

I typically avoid Kindle First books, but this one had an interesting hook.

Banking heiress Trish and her husband, James, seem to have it all, from a lavish lifestyle to a historic mansion in the nation’s capital. The only thing that’s missing to make their family complete is a baby, so when Trish holds Anne Elise in her arms for the first time, it’s no surprise that she falls deeply in love. There’s just one problem: Trish isn’t the mother.

The baby belongs to Laurel, James’s young mistress. And more than that, James and Laurel want to start a new life together—despite an ironclad prenup standing in their way. When Trish becomes dangerously obsessed with making Laurel’s baby her own, the lovers’ plan to break James’s marriage quickly goes awry. How far is each of them willing to go for happiness?

Sounds twisted, right? It most definitely is.

I originally didn’t download the book, sticking by my theory that Kindle First books are a waste of time. I kept thinking about it, though, and wondering why a woman would 1) want to stay with a man who had an affair and fathered a child with his long term mistress and 2) would want to raise the child. I gave in and decided to give it a read.

From the start, it’s clear that we’re not dealing with typical characters. This is one screwed up bunch. Trish is a very rich, shallow woman who is obviously missing a few too many brain cells. Her husband, James, takes her to the hospital to meet his newborn daughter, but as far as he knows, Trish isn’t aware that he has a mistress yet alone a baby. Until they arrive at the hospital, Trish doesn’t even know where they’re going, yet as soon as she sees the baby she’s instantly in love. There is no screaming at her two-timing hubby, no argument, no nothing…except her desperation to keep her husband. This might be easier to buy if Trish had a strong history of abandonment, but the history she does have is brushed over and minimal.

James/Jimmy/Jim works in finance and seems to like spending money more than anything. He’s basically an in-over-his-head-with-debt thug who hides behind his wife’s money. Supposedly he’s charismatic, but I have difficulty seeing charisma in anyone who gives his wife such big news by way of show and tell. “Meet my kid. Oh yeah, and that’s my mistress. Could you divorce me so that I get half of your money?” Seriously? And, right in front of his wife he calls his mistress honey, darling, etc. Why didn’t someone give him a kick to the groin right then and there? But no one does. Instead he becomes the object of two women’s desperate attempts to win him over for keeps.

I do have to say that for James’ character, I did find it clever that the author referred to him as Jim in his own POV chapters (just plain old Jim, nothing special about him), James in Trish’s POV (making him sound better, more sophisticated than he is) and Jimmy (a directionless man-child) in Laurel’s POV. Each version of his name suited what each character thought/wanted him to be. I don’t know if this was intentional, but it worked very well.

Finally there is Laurel, who is about as dumb as they come. On the night of their daughter’s birth, Jimmy goes home to his wife even though he promised to stay with Laurel, yet she’s still convinced that he will divorce Trish and marry her. She’s been with him long enough to carry a baby, but has no idea where he lives. She believes this poor excuse for a man is going to fix her screwed up life, which includes paying off her huge student loan debt with money she doesn’t realize he doesn’t have. It just goes on and on.

I found myself irritated by Laurel calling the baby Zerena and James & Trish calling her Anne Elise. At first, it effectively showed that Laurel and Jimmy are nowhere near on the same page, but after that it got old. It was especially annoying near the end when all of a sudden Laurel starts referring to the baby as Anne Elise without acknowledgement of the switch. Enough was stated earlier in the book that I can surmise the reason for it, but I really felt like I wanted some explanation from Laurel at the time she shifted gears. I actually thought it was a mistake until the reference continued.

Messed up characters can be a good thing in a book. Often they’re interesting and fun. Even unlikeable characters work, as long as the reader can feel empathy. I felt that these characters were just plain unlikeable and was only able to feel something for the poor little baby.

I’m not going to get into the plot. With these three holding the reins, you can imagine it’s a train wreck. Again, not necessarily a bad thing…if it makes sense. There were just too many things that didn’t make sense to me and so many details that were inaccurate to the point where I caught myself saying “really?!” out loud. For example, a newborn baby does not giggle. Period. Expanding on it by saying how the baby giggles at the funny faces made at her only make it more ridiculous. Overall, I felt that the book lacked the tiny bits of realism it needed to ground the reader and make us believe that it could be real.

Despite some comments I’ve read, I do think the writing itself was good. There were times when it felt old fashioned to me, but that is a personal preference only.

I did finish the book and it did have entertainment value for me. I can’t in good conscious recommend it, but I did find enough enjoyment to make it worth the read.

 

What readers are saying about APPLE OF MY EYE

Paperback JPEG

“This was a very enjoyable read for what I needed. I was in a mood for something mysterious and twisted, and got exactly that.
The intricate twists and turns together with Barfknecht’s amazing mind and ability to strategize keeps the reader guessing as the story slowly unravels and the villains and motives become clear.
I liked this book on so many levels and I do recommend it.”
– Bailey E., Texas Book Nook

“There is a great balance between the Suspense and Mystery. I found myself guessing the whole way through, and being wrong quite a bit I loved the added benefit of the mind bending psychological elements.

The plot was fast paced and flowed smoothly and the characters were those who I really liked reading about. They were interesting and compelling. ”

– The Indie Express
“This book keeps you guessing with every chapter. It is wonderfully suspenseful and keeps you on the edge of your seat through out the entire book. There were a few chapters that were so tense I had to stand while I was reading! If you are at all a fan of thrillers; you must check out this book, you will not be disappointed! I cannot wait for future books from this up and coming author.”
– Alicia H.
“A fast paced thriller. The characters are well developed and the plot and the subplots are interesting and keep you hooked till the last page.
An interesting and entertaining book.
Recommended!”
– Annarella
“This was a fast paced thriller that grabbed me and didn’t let me go! The characters and plot were well developed and the twists kept coming!”
– Cristie U.
“Laurie’s daughter is missing, and Laurie believes her husband took her. Her dead husband. I enjoyed reading this book, it wasn’t always an easy read, it deals with some tough stuff such as domestic violence and child abuse, but I think it was well written and kept me turning the page. You genuinely don’t know what is happening in the beginning, whether Laurie is crazy or not, but it comes together nicely in the end. I would definitely recommend this book. “
– S.K. G.
“More minor plots weave throughout the story: explosion at a house nearby, a kiddie porn ring has been thriving, Mark (fire investigator) and his wife Norma have problems, and Brad’s ex-wife is a “winner”.
Yet, as time goes on, these smaller plots weave into the main story and a lot ( some unexpected) becomes revealed to the reader. Although there are interwoven timelines, as well, they are not too much of a problem as in some books. The plots are clear and quite well thought out. Characters are well developed and timing of events spot-on. A fast read ! Very enjoyable!”
– Janice L.
There are story plots wrapped around sub lots to keep the reader intrigued and trying to guess where all the puzzle pieces fit. Brad is a firefighter, learning the ropes of being an arson investigator. He’s got an ex-wife who’s determined to keep his 6-year-old-son away from him. His boss, Mark, has his own problems. His daughter is missing.. but that’s something she’s been doing for a while. She’s involved with drugs and several people have seen her hanging around the neighborhood.
All these plots merge together to create a riveting mystery and a surprise ending.”
– Linda S.

Those Coveted Reviews

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Photo credit:  flyingnotscreaming.com

Waiting for reviews can drive an author bonkers.

Case in point: When APPLE OF MY EYE went live on NetGalley, I was a bundle of nerves. What if they don’t like my book? I’ll be ruined by one star ratings before I get my feet off the ground. What if they think it’s just okay? That’s not enough. What if they don’t want to read it at all and I’m stuck in the land of 0 reviews?

First off, I admit that I’m a bit of a worrier. I can give you the worst case scenario for pretty much anything in two seconds flat. So, take something as important to me as a book I’ve been dreaming of for years, and I’m bound to be extra maniacal.

Apple was on NetGalley for a whole two days when I started checking Goodreads obsessively. I felt I was exercising good control if I waited an hour between checks. Each time I held my breath as I waited for the screen to change, a picture of tension as if the results had the power to forever change my life.

I was really lucky in that my first review came within the first week the book was on NetGalley. It wasn’t what I’d hoped for, but it also wasn’t terrible. Everything the reviewer said was good, but in the end it was given 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3.

Ugh. I wanted a 5. I needed a 5. I wasn’t ruined, but I wasn’t saved either. What exactly was I? What did this mean? If I don’t get some fives soon… What if I’m just mediocre? If the next rating is lower…

Crazy, huh?

This is what happens to an author when a book is released into the world. Okay, maybe all authors don’t dangle this far over the edge of sanity, but I’d venture a guess that plenty do. Our books are our babies, created from a spark of idea and built on for months or even years. We love them and we want you to love them. For our books to succeed, we need you to love them.

To date, my obsessive worrying is unfounded. Apple is sitting at 4.33 stars on Goodreads, 4 stars on Barnes & Noble, and 4.5 stars on Amazon. Not too shabby.

Today my second novel, THROW THE KEY, hits NetGalley for it’s review term.  I’m far from confident, but I’m not a basket case either. This time, I’m taking the review process for what it really is. In reality, good or bad, reviews are a wonderful thing. They either affirm the work I’ve done or clue me in as to how I can do better for my readers next time. For readers, gone are the days when you have to depend solely on a killer description to know if a book will be worth your time. A glance at the reviews quickly lets you know if the hype is warranted. It’s a win-win for both reader and author.

I very much appreciate every review a reader takes the time give. If you’ve read and reviewed my work, thank you so much! If you read my work and haven’t left a review, I’d be grateful if you’d consider doing so.

 

What’s next?

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“Lock the doors and windows…don’t talk to anyone…keep the kids with you.”

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?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Preorder today!  Amazon    Barnes & Noble    Kobo    iBooks    Smashwords

 

 

THREE DAYS MISSING by Kimberly Belle – 4 of 5 stars

Three Days Missing: A Novel of Psychological Suspense by [Belle, Kimberly]
It’s a nightmare for any parent. When Kat Jenkins sends her young son, Ethan, on an overnight school trip, her biggest fear is that bully, Sammy Huntington, will torment her borderline-genius and somewhat awkward son. It’s her worst case scenario until police knock on the door in the middle of the night to tell her that Ethan is missing. He vanished. No one saw anything.

The high level of suspense kept me turning the pages! A variety of well developed characters brought to their knees by the unthinkable sucked me in immediately and never let go. Ms. Belle hooked me with THE MARRIAGE LIE and certainly didn’t disappoint with this psychological thriller.

I would have liked for the “why” of the story to come back to Kat and Ethan rather than the way it played out, but the disappointment was a small price to pay for the thrill of the ride.

I don’t want to go into to detail and spoil the ending, but I have to add that I absolutely loved the short chapter at the end. A revelation I didn’t see coming coupled with a deep sense of satisfaction wrapped the book up nicely.

All in all, a really great read!