Thursday, October 21, 2021

#Spotlight: Shadowfalcon by F. Lockhaven and M.A. Owens #giveaway #Ya #sci-fi #bookseries

 


Shadowfalcon

PanTech Chronicles Book 1

Genre: YA SciFi DystopianShadowfal


They’re oppressed and made to suffer. Will a monstrous twist of fate fly her into an unforeseen destiny?

Seventeen-year-old veterinarian Taylor despises the dictatorial corporation that oversees their lives. With its ruthless philosophy that adversity makes one stronger, she’s leery of her mother’s devotion to the organization. And when they enforce that principle by releasing a deadly beast on her village, the young woman’s animal-handling skills put her in mortal danger.

Working with a soldier who disagrees with PanTech’s policy, she battles the frightening threat to her home. But with his acts considered treason, Taylor and the new friend she’s falling for may find their solution was more lethal than the problem.

Can the heroic teenager survive long enough to take a stand against tyranny?

Shadowfalcon is the high-energy first book in the PanTech Chronicles YA dystopian series. If you like determined heroines, thought-provoking concepts, and intriguing visions of the future, then you’ll love F. Lockhaven & M.A. Owens’s suspenseful adventure.

Buy Shadowfalcon to spread freedom’s wings today!


Goodreads * Amazon


 

F. Lockhaven uses several pen names to cover several of her favorite genres. She loves to read fantasy, paranormal, mysteries, and so much more.

Under the name Grace Lockhaven, she has written Quest Chasers and The Ghosts of Ian Stanley.

She has been working as well under F. Lockhaven, which is fantasy for teen and young adults.

Her favorite fantasy series are Harry Potter, Cirque Du Freak, and Spooksville.

She loves coming up with stories about witches and wizards, mythical gods, dragons, vampires, ghosts and demons.

Her favorite hobbies are reading, hiking, exercising, drawing and watching humorous anime with her family.

How did she meet the man of her life, Thomas Lockhaven?

She was working as a personal trainer on the first floor of the gym. Thomas heard her laugh from the third floor, and he just had to find out who that laugh belonged to. It took him weeks to find her, but he finally heard her laugh again while he was on the same floor.


Website 


M.A. Owens lives in rural Virginia with his wife, daughter, and a bunch of dogs and cats. When not writing, you may find him reading, sucked into a computer game, or lost in the Appalachian wilderness.



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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The Ghost of Thorwald Place by Helen Power #giveaway #spotlight #thrillers #supernatural



Book Details:

Genre: Thriller/Supernatural
Published by: CamCat Books
Publication Date: October 5th 2021
Number of Pages: 368
ISBN: 0744301432 (ISBN13: 9780744301434)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | 

Synopsis:


Trust No One. Especially your neighbors.

Rachel Drake is on the run from the man who killed her husband. She never leaves her safe haven in an anonymous doorman building, until one night a phone call sends her running. On her way to the garage, she is murdered in the elevator. But her story doesn't end there.

She finds herself in the afterlife, tethered to her death spot, her reach tied to the adjacent apartments. As she rides the elevator up and down, the lives of the residents intertwine. Every one of them has a dark secret. An aging trophy wife whose husband strays. A surgeon guarding a locked room. A TV medium who may be a fraud. An ordinary man with a mysterious hobby.

Compelled to spend eternity observing her neighbors, she realizes that any one of them could be her killer.

And then, her best friend shows up to investigate her murder.

Praise for The Ghosts of Thorwald Place:

“[An] enticing debut . . . Distinctive characters complement the original plot. Power is off to a promising start.” —Publishers Weekly

“A creative, compulsively readable mystery—haunted by strange entities and told from the unique perspective of a ghost. I couldn’t put it down.” —Jo Kaplan, author of It Will Just Be Us


Read an excerpt:

Chapter 3

It takes forever for someone to find my body. At six, the elevator is called to the fourth floor, and an early riser greets the sight of my body with a shrill scream. He stumbles backward, clutching his briefcase to his chest. I get the impression that he’s never discovered a grisly crime scene before. I, on the other hand, am enveloped in the cool indifference that seems to accompany death.

He staggers back to his apartment, shrieking hysterically all the way. Several of his neighbors rush out into the hall. Each person is in various stages of undress. A pregnant woman wearing a silk bathrobe and only one slipper. A man whose face is coated in shaving cream, save for a single bare strip down his left cheek. The look of horror on their faces would have been amusing if I were in the mood for dark humor. The elevator doors slide shut, and I am launched to another floor, where I startle another early commuter. The elevator doors close on the stunned woman’s face, lurching toward its next stop. I’m destined for repetition. Perhaps this is hell.

The police finally arrive, call the elevator to the ground floor, and put it out of service. I have now informally met a quarter of the building’s occupants, which is more than I met in the two years I lived here. A handful of police officers form a perimeter, trying to block the sight of my corpse from the prying eyes of my nosey neighbors. I hover by the elevator door as forensic investigators get to work examining my corpse. I try not to watch—disgusted by the sight of my limp body, which is coated in blood that has begun to cake—but the process is mesmerizing. The flash of cameras, the murmur of voices, and the hypnotic movement of pencils as they scribble in pristine, white notebooks. The forensic experts step gingerly around the scene, careful not to disturb anything, as they scrutinize my body from all angles. As they work, I can’t stop staring at my face. My eyes are still open and glazed over with a milky white sheen. My skin is nearly white, a shocking contrast to the deep crimson gash across my neck. My lips are parted in a soundless scream. A forensic investigator in a white bodysuit steps in front of me, cutting off my view. Relief floods through me, and I turn away before the sight of my own corpse enthralls me once again. I know I gained consciousness only minutes after my death, because blood was still dripping where the arterial spray arched across the walls, looking as if an artist had decided to add a splash of color to the monochromatic gray. I was reluctant to leave my body, but I had no idea what else to do. I had no moment of shock, no moment of revelation where I realized I was dead. I knew it from the instant I opened my eyes and saw the world from the other side. A world which looks different in death. Everything is a little grayer, a little faded. Voices and sounds have a slight echo. It’s as though I’m experiencing everything through a thin film—some indescribable substance that separates the world of the living from mine.

But why am I still here? My body has been found; the police are clearly investigating. It won’t take long for them to figure out it was he who killed me. I leave the elevator and glance around the lobby. I don’t see any obvious doorways or bright lights to follow. How will I know where to go? I bite back the pang of disappointment when I realize that none of my lost loved ones are here to welcome me. No husband. No parents. No Grumpelstiltskin, my childhood dog. Where are they, and how do I find my way to them?

I’m self-aware enough to know that I’ve always feared the unknown, and it’s obvious that this hasn’t changed in death. Instead of searching for my escape, I stay locked in place, eyes glued to the crime scene investigators. After what feels like an eternity, the medical examiner deposits my body into a black bag and wheels it out of the building. I begin to follow. Maybe if I slip back into my body, I’ll awaken, and everyone will laugh, like this was all just one big misunderstanding.

I’ll spend the rest of my days wearing a scarf, elegantly positioned to hide my gaping neck wound, like the girl in that urban legend.

I slam into an invisible wall about a dozen feet from the elevator. Slightly disoriented, I shake my head. I press forward.

Again, I’m stopped by an imperceptible force. I reach out, and my hand flattens midair. I run my hand along this invisible barrier, but it seems to run as high as I can reach and down to the marble floor.

I follow the barrier, tracing my hand along it. It cuts across the entire lobby, but not in a straight line. It’s slightly curved. Beyond the wall, I can see the medical examiner exit the building with my body, leaving my soul behind. I slam a hand against the invisible wall once again, but there’s no give.

My attention is drawn by the sound of a familiar grating voice. Elias Strickland, the concierge, is speaking with a police officer who looks like he’s desperate to leave. The invisible wall can wait. I approach the pair to eavesdrop.

“We have excellent security here,” Elias says. His perpetually nasal voice is exacerbated by the tears that stream down his face. “How could this have happened? My residents will want an explanation immediately.”

“We have someone reviewing the security footage of the exits. If the killer left the building, we’ll have them on film,” the police officer says.

If they left the building? Are you saying they might still be here?” Elias tugs at his cheap tie.

The killer might still be in the building. I look around and notice for the first time that the residents aren’t allowed to simply leave. Police officers guard the front door, questioning each individual before they allow them to go to work or to the spa or to do whatever they think is more important than mourning my death.

“What can you tell me about the victim? Ms. Rachel Anne Drake?” the police officer asks.

“Well . . .” Elias runs a hand through his thinning, brown hair. “She is—was—an odd one. She rarely spoke to anyone. She kept to herself. I think I was her only friend in the building.”

I stare at him, just now realizing that the tears streaming down his face are for me. I feel a pang of guilt. I’ve never considered us “friends.” I interact with him once every few weeks—only when I have mail to pick up or complaints about the security guards.

Elias continues, “She even had her groceries delivered. I haven’t seen her leave the building in months.”

The police officer suddenly looks interested. He pulls a small, wire-bound notebook from his pocket and uncaps his pen.

“Do you think it’s possible that she may have been hiding from someone?”

“Possibly . . . She was always really interested in the security in the building. Like that was the main reason why she moved here, not the fabulous party room or the services I provide as concierge.” I wince in pity as he says the word with a dreadful French accent. He should have picked a line of work that he could pronounce.

“Did she have any visitors?”

“There was a man who used to come around, but I haven’t seen him in a few months,” Elias says. At the police officer’s prompting, he continues on to describe him. I realize he’s talking about Luke.

The police officer asks a few follow-up questions, and I’m surprised by just how much Elias knows. He knows the date and time of my weekly grocery deliveries, that once every couple of weeks I’ll treat myself to pizza delivered from the greasy place down the street, and that I get a haul of books delivered every time BMV Books has a sale.

“Well, if you think of anything else, please contact us immediately.” I peer over the police officer’s shoulder to look at the scribbles in his notebook, but he’s used a shorthand that I can’t decipher.

A nearly identical police officer emerges from the security office holding a flash drive. He glances at the concierge, then turns to his partner and begins speaking rapid French.

“The video doesn’t show anybody leaving the building between one and two this morning. But apparently, there was a power outage for about five minutes, and the killer could have left during that window.”

“No! That power outage happened before I died. The power came back, and then he killed me.” I blink and glance around. I hadn’t thought I’d be able to speak.

It makes no difference. Neither police officer reacts to the sound of my voice. I look at Elias, but he’s watching the officers intently. I turn my attention to the rest of the people milling about, but none of them seem to have heard me either. But I’m not yet discouraged.

I approach the pot-bellied man standing the closest to the crime scene tape. He cranes his neck to see into the elevator.

“THERE’S NOTHING TO SEE HERE!” I shout into his face. He doesn’t react. I try to shake him, but my hands fall through his fleshy body. I feel nothing—no chill, no warmth—as I slide my hands through him. I examine his face, but it’s clear that he doesn’t sense me in the slightest.

I strategically progress through the lobby, shouting at each bystander, attempting to reach them through any means.

I try everything I can remember having seen in movies about ghosts—from waving my hands through their heads to shouting obscenities in their ears. No one reacts. No one so much as shivers.

I’m angry, disappointed, and beginning to feel helpless. I brace myself, preparing to do my calming breathing technique, but there are no symptoms of a panic attack. My body is overcome by the numbness of being incorporeal. I could get used to this. I suppose I’ll have to.

I glance around, noticing that the police officers have long gone, and they’ve been replaced by a cleaning crew of four burly men who are crammed into the elevator. They’ve already bleached the walls in an attempt to remove all trace of my messy execution. The lobby is nearly empty now. Only Elias stands at his station, compulsively wringing his hands in between fielding calls from curious residents and the media.

I survey the expansive, high-ceilinged lobby. Unlike the rest of the building, it was designed with the sole purpose of impressing visitors. The floors are marble, polished to near perfection. The wallpaper is a pale blue with gold foil accents in the shape of falling leaves. A hefty, ornate clock is the only decoration on the stretch of the wall across from the front desk. There are two wing chairs and a sofa positioned underneath it. It serves as a sort of waiting area, though in my two years living in this building, I’ve never seen a single person sitting out here.

I can only access half of the lobby, so I need to find a way around this invisible barrier. I approach the elevator and look down the hall to the right. I tentatively step through the wall. I’m in the guest suite that’s reserved for visitors of building residents. The bed is neatly made, with the corners of the bedspread tucked tightly. There’s a lounge area sparsely decorated with cool tones. A gray, leather couch is angled toward an impressively-sized TV.

The room is windowless, but a single painting of a blue sky over a grassy field hangs on the wall opposite the door, creating the illusion of something beyond.

I stride across the plain gray rug and easily pass through this wall as well. I’m in the ground-level parking garage, which is located below the building. I continue to walk until I slam against the barrier. It doesn’t hurt, but it’s disorienting.

I place my hand on the barrier and follow it around until I reach the wall twenty feet from where I entered. The barrier is clearly circular. Is it meant to keep me contained? I shake my head at that thought, then I continue to follow the barrier through the wall, out of the garage, and into the library.

With gorgeous oak-paneled walls and towering bookshelves, the building’s library is quite a sight to behold. The leather couches look comfortable, with antique copper lamps strategically positioned between them. I’ve been down here several times over the last two years, but I never dawdle. I usually grab a handful of books and hurry back upstairs to the safety of my apartment, where I can actually relax and enjoy my reading.

I walk through the room divider into the “party” area. The dim overhead lights reveal a bar in the corner, which is framed by tall mirrors, making the room seem larger than it actually is. I scan the rest of the room. Circular tables are set up around a polished dance floor. I quickly hit another barrier only a few feet into the room.

I follow this barrier, clockwise, until I’ve made an entire lap of the enclosure. I was right. It is a circle. There are no breaks or gaps in the wall; nothing I can slip through to escape. What is this barrier? Who put it here? I have so many questions and no one to answer them.

Back in the lobby, the cleaning crew has finished their sterilization of the elevator. A starchy-looking woman stands in Elias’ face, complaining loudly about the inconvenience of having only one operating elevator. I’m glad that my death is nothing more than a disruption to her “busy” life. Shouldn’t she be disturbed that a brutal murder occurred hours ago in that very elevator? That the killer hasn’t even been caught? Hell, she should be worried that it’s haunted.

She spins on her heel and leaves a bedraggled Elias in her wake. She scowls at the cleaners, who are gathering their supplies and politely averting their eyes from her shrewd gaze. She presses the elevator button and boards the other one, which was already idling on this floor. She didn’t even have to wait five seconds. I’d love to see what a convenient elevator experience is like for her.

After she’s left, Elias tips the cleaners and reactivates the elevator. The doors slide shut, as if sealing my fate.

A man in snug jogging shorts strolls into the building, salutes Elias, and heads to the elevators. Elias nods and returns to his station. I decide to head over toward him to see what exactly he keeps behind the desk. It lies just beyond the invisible wall, so I might be able to see what he always stares at so intently on his computer.

Just as I reach the edge of the invisible barrier, a powerful sensation of vertigo overcomes me. My skin begins to crawl. I stare down at my arms in astonishment. My entire body is vaporizing, shredding into a million pieces, wisps of flesh fading into the world around me. I squeeze my eyes shut tightly, willing the end to come quickly.

***

Excerpt from The Ghosts of Thorwald Place by Helen Power. Copyright 2021 by Helen Power. Reproduced with permission from CamCat Books. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:



Helen Power is obsessed with ghosts. She spends her free time watching paranormal investigation TV shows, hanging out in cemeteries, and telling anyone who’ll listen about her paranormal experiences. She is a librarian living in Saskatoon, Canada, and has several short story publications, including ones in Suspense Magazine and Dark Helix Press’s Canada 150 anthology, “Futuristic Canada”. The Ghosts of Thorwald Place is her first novel.

Catch Up With Our Author:
HelenPower.ca 

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This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Helen Power & CatCam Publishing. There will be Five (6) winners for this tour. Each of the winners will each receive 1 print ARC edition of The Ghosts of Thorwald Place by Helen Power (US, Canada, and UK shipping addresses Only). The giveaway begins on October 1 and ends on November 2, 2021. Void where prohibited.

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Monday, October 18, 2021

#Review: How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg #death #humor #CountdowntoHalloween2021 #middlegradeup




Synopsis: 

Over the course of history men and women have lived and died. In fact, getting sick and dying can be a big, ugly mess-especially before the modern medical care that we all enjoy today. How They Croaked relays all the gory details of how nineteen world figures gave up the ghost. 


My review:

I am not usually not one for explicit horror and this book is not it. I am just going to tell you that up front if you think it is. However, the beginning introduction has a warning and it should be adhered to. The book says, " If you don't have the guts for gore, do not read this book." They mean it and I will explain why. The reason I picked up this book to begin with is the title humored me. So, I suppose I am a little bit morbid.

This book outlines 19 people who most all of us are familiar with beginning with King Tut. Yes, they are all real people.  The book gives a bit of background on all of the characters: who they were, how they came to power, how they lived, and how they died. Nothing is held back in this book and it can be rather gory. Well, you were warned!

An example would be (without spoiling), is King Tut. We all know that he died at the very young age of 19; but do you know how they prepared his body? Well, let me tell you. The book tells in graphic details right down to certain parts being stuffed in jars. Eww...

At the end of descriptions, a follow up page is written. Some, like King Tut again link to mummies, others like Pocahontas, links to people she knew, her nickname, etc. One character leads to simple sign language. Hmm...read the book to find out who that is.

Fascinating stuff!

I have to not the illustrator, Kevin O'Malley. His illustrations only enhanced a terrific book. Each chapter was introduced with a humorous look at each person. The illustrations were all done in black and white but are a funny take on what could be a very gory book.

I would want to say this is for adults only but truthfully, it is not. This book is aimed for the reluctant reader from middle school on. Kids eat this morbid stuff up and if they can read it, all the better.

I actually loved this book and giving it 5 pumpkins!

Disclosure: I purchased a copy of this book for my own collections. The views here are 100% my own and may differ from yours. ~Michelle



Thursday, October 14, 2021

#Review: Otis and the Scarecrow by Loren Long #picture books


 

My review:

Otis is a sweet old tractor that seemingly gets along with everyone. He plays games with the farm animals when all is quiet on the farm. They all like the game "silence" to see who can be silent the longest. Otis always wins.

However, one day a scarecrow shows up out in the pumpkin patch. He never talks to anyone and is always got a mean face and just stares. Everybody leaves him alone.

Nobody seems to like him until Otis decides to befriend him with the same game he plays with the animals. Hmm...I wonder who wins this time?

As picture books go, this one is illustrated wonderfully. The Fall colors of oranges. yellows, reds and browns are prevalent throughout. The pictures are bold and the reader can certainly insert themselves on a pumpkin farm.

Like many picture books though, the sentences are repetitive. This may throw off an older reading child as this is targeted for reading ages 3-7 but is clearly for preschoolers up to 4-5. The story is not overly as wonderful as the illustrations are but I think young kids would love it. 

I would love to see the story expanded a bit maybe even by some magic of Fall the scarecrow comes alive and befriends them all.  

For the reasons I stated above, I give this book three pumpkins.

Disclosure: I purchased a copy of this book for my own collections. The view expressed here are 100% my own and may differ from yours.  ~Michelle

About the author:

Loren Long

I grew up in Lexington, Kentucky in the 1970’s. We had no artists of any kind in the family. We didn’t know any artists. I liked sports, especially baseball. My mother read to me a lot. But I have to admit, my favorite subject in school was gym class. I also liked to draw. My parents encouraged me to keep drawing.


Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Murder With Strings Attached by Mark Reutlinger #giveaway #Humor #mysteries #spotlight

 


Murder With Strings Attached

Genre: Humorous Mystery 



Sometimes even the most carefully conceived burglary can take an unexpected turn. Florence Palmer has her eye on concert violinist Aaron Levy's priceless violin. Unfortunately, she finds it's already been stolen. Her surprise doubles when the virtuoso she'd planned to burgle offers to hire her to help him steal it back. But they're not the only ones looking for the missing violin. When Flo inadvertently becomes the prime suspect in a case of murder, she and Aaron need to clear her name. Will they find the real killer and get the violin back to its rightful owner without anyone else, especially themselves, being killed?


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Mark Reutlinger is the author of the novels "Made in China," "Murder with Strings Attached," and the "Mrs. Kaplan" cozy mystery series, as well as "Sister-in-Law" under the pen name M. R. Morgan. He is a professor of law emeritus at Seattle University. Born in San Francisco, Mark graduated from UC Berkeley and now lives with his wife, Analee, in University Place, Washington. When not reading or writing, Mark enjoys tennis, biking, playing the clarinet (in the Tacoma Concert Band), sports cars, and various arts and crafts. He doesn't know where he finds time for it all.


Website 


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Tuesday, October 12, 2021

#Spotlight: Seeker's Core by K.M. Jenkins #giveaway #YA #Fantasy #bookseries

 


The Seeker's Core

Half Blood Academy Book 1

A Children of Chaos Novel

In a universe governed by gods, darkness awakens and demigods are called.

Two journeys.

Two planets.

Lennox walks a path that separates her from her family. But allies along the way bring her to her destined fate.

Becca seeks to advance knowledge in the medical field. Fate has other plans in store when she stumbles upon long forgotten ruins.

Two demigods walk different paths on separate planets. Will they find each other before it’s too late or will fate change their lives forever? The journey of a universe forever changed begins right here.


K.M. Jenkins is a published best selling speculative fiction author who writes epic battles, forbidden romance, and tales of fantasy and adventure. She has a big love for the fantasy genre and loves dragons above all creatures. When she is not writing, you will find her running her business as a cover artist at KJ Magical Designs, LLC and chasing her twin boys around the house. Between the three she has epic battles throughout the day and nothing ever gets boring.


Website 



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Monday, October 11, 2021

Mercy Creek by M.E. Browning #giveaway #mysteries



Mercy Creek

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


Synopsis:

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

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

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

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


Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why?”

“It makes them more valuable.”

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

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

“But he didn’t make those boots.”

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

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

“What do you know about fashion?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twenty minutes later, Marisa was gone.

#

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

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

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

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

Near the end of the row, Lena stopped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s some cow.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He edged closer. “I like them quiet.”

#

Jo ran.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The knife splashed into the creek near the bank.

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

 

 

Author Bio:


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

Catch Up With M.E. Browning:
MEBrowning.com
Goodreads

 

 


 

 

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