Force by Deana Birch – Spotlight and Giveaway

Long and Short Reviews welcomes Deana Birch who is celebrating the recent release of Force, the fourth book in the Covington Heights Crew series. Enter the Rafflecopter for the chance to win a $50.00 First for Romance Gift Card!

Scarred pasts haunt bright futures.

A reformed hitman tries to right the wrongs of his dark past by saving a stranger from the clutches of a stalker.

Francis Ricci is a cold-blooded assassin. Correction…was a cold-blooded assassin. Now he’s legit—and, to be fair, it’s a good life. As the head of a top private security company, he’s gone from killing softly to protecting fiercely—especially all things family. So, when his sister-in-law finds a nanny but there’s not enough info for a background check, it’s him who hops on a plane to investigate the potential guard of the littlest Riccis.

Small-town girl Megan Walsh is ready to run away from a sad life and a serious stalker. She gets just that chance when Mr. Tall, Dark and Mysterious offers to take her to New York without a trace. Being a nanny might not be her dream job, but it’s a hop, skip and a jump away from her dream city…and just around the corner from her best-kept secret.

The intimacy of hotel rooms confirms a mutual attraction and, despite all arrows pointing to it being a horrible idea for them to date, Megan and Frankie’s relationship plows ahead. But scarred pasts haunt bright futures. And when the demons come calling, the couple will be forced to choose between who they want to be and who they truly are.

Reader advisory: This book contains violence against women, kidnapping, murder and stalking. It is best read in order as part of a series.

Enjoy an Excerpt

I parked my baby-blue Porsche in my brother Leo’s cobblestone driveway. He’d bought one of those huge historic homes and made everything inside modern. I thought it was flashy and a bit of a way to gloat about how much money we were making, but he’d done it to make his girls happy. Besides, who was I to judge? My apartment overlooking the East River was just as over the top.

In truth, I loved that Fiona and Violet had given Leo the shove back to putting his family first. His friend Anton had taken too much of his loyalty over the years. I was glad it was focused back where it belonged. I rang the bell for Sunday dinner with my favorite bottle of Tignanello cradled in my arms like the treasure that she was.

The door swung open, and Leo rolled his eyes. “Thank God you’re here. Can you please explain to my very pregnant and very stubborn wife that she can’t just hire a nanny after one Facetime because they ‘bonded’.” He air-quoted the last word, which was a mistake, because Fiona noticed it right away and stomped over. I had no idea how she moved so gracefully with her massive belly.

“I like her. She has a degree in early education. She’ll be great for Vi and the twins. Plus, I’m the one who will be spending time with her. It’s my opinion that matters.”

I scanned the entryway for any signs of my Aunt Chezzie, the dog or any damn neutral ally, but found none.

Leo made way for me to enter then turned to his wife. “Fi, I’m just saying let me do a background check. It will take twenty-four hours.” Calmer, and with a smile, he continued, “Then—if everything checks out—we can offer her the position.”

I leaned over and gave Fiona a kiss on the cheek. “You look great. How you feeling?”

She narrowed her eyes. “Don’t do that, Francis Ricci. Don’t change the topic for his sake. But thank you…and I’m exhausted. Chezzie came early and took Violet to the beach, so I napped then hired a nanny.” She grinned at Leo, whose nostrils flared as he reached for the bottle.

“Nice,” he said as he read the label. Then, to his wife, “You gotta give me twenty-four hours. I can’t let a stranger into our house—our life—without at least running her social security number. Come on.” With his free hand he tucked a strand of her long, brown hair behind her ear. “It’s just to keep you safe. You know that.”

Fiona frowned, but Leo’s soft tone had worked its charm. “Fine. But you have to promise not to be biased against something stupid like bad credit. That was me three years ago. There are people out there who just need a break.” The little lift of her eyebrows and tilt of her head emphasized that she wouldn’t budge on her final point. My sister-in-law was clear on many things. One, her house had to be immaculate at all times. It was how she respected the wealth she was experiencing. Two, Sunday dinners were mandatory. And three, she always remembered where she came from.

Leo cut his eyes over to me in a ‘see what I’m dealing with here’ glance. And I did—not that I would admit it in front of her. But we had to at least run a credit check on the new nanny.

I pointed my thumb to the door. “I have my laptop in the car. I can run her details while we eat then have a look after. You’ll get your answer tonight like that.”

Fiona smiled but Leo scrunched his face like he’d smelled something foul.

He shook his head down the hall to the kitchen and mumbled, “Always gotta be the hero.”

It wasn’t far from the truth. Since Leo and I had changed the direction of our lives, I’d gotten a lot of satisfaction from doing the right thing. But it was odd to let a talent go to waste. Not that I’d enjoyed killing people, but I was just so damn good at it. Our father had been an outstanding teacher. It was fucked up—we were fucked up—but there had been a perverse pride in a job well done, another unsolved murder. With our new roles of keeping people safe, the feeling wasn’t the same. It was somehow status quo.

Fiona mouthed a ‘thank you’ and reminded me that I had work to do then quietly clapped her hands to the kitchen where she kissed her husband. His annoyed stance from before melted like chocolate on a hot day. It was pretty fucking disgusting how happy they were, especially since I’d failed—yet again—to find a spark with the last woman I’d gone on a date with. Chezzie had told me I was ‘emotionally unavailable’. To me, that sounded like a bullshit label to make a man feel guilty about not wanting to talk about stupid shit. Maybe my standards were too high. I’d seen what Leo had. I wasn’t sure I deserved the same thing, but I wouldn’t take any less.

I let myself out and grabbed my laptop from the small trunk then settled into Leo’s study. Fiona bounced in with a sheet of paper and handed it to me. “Here’s everything I know about her.”

There was no date of birth or social security number, just a small photo, a list of odd jobs and her education. Yeah, little brother, I see what you’re dealing with.

But there was contact information, a current employer and an address, so at least I had something.

I faked a smile to Fiona. “I’ll get started. Call me when it’s time to eat.”

“You’re the best. I appreciate this so much.” She rubbed her hand over her belly, smoothing the white sundress, then was gone in a whoosh.

Okay, Megan Walsh of small-town Iowa, let’s find your secrets.

I started with social media. If she were a drunken party girl, there would be proof. But none of the Megan Walshes matched her photo or location. What twenty-something didn’t want her face plastered everywhere so her friends could tell her how pretty she was?

Without a social security number, I couldn’t run her credit, and finding her date of birth without some kind of hint from a public profile would require me guessing what county she’d been born in and hacking into their records—something I would have hired an expert to do. I did manage to find a picture of her apartment building, which was small and ugly. That only made her poor, but what person trying to be a nanny would be wealthy, anyway?

After about an hour, I didn’t have much.

“Hey.” Leo leaned into the study. “Please tell me she’s a serial killer so I can be right just one damn time.”

“She’s not anything for the moment.” I held up the piece of paper Fiona had given me and waved it. “There’s not a lot here to go by.”

Leo scrubbed his face. “What am I gonna do? I can’t bring a stranger into our house. Shit. But dinner’s ready. Let’s eat.”

I closed my laptop and followed him down the hall to where Chezzie and Violet were already at the table with Fiona. Leo had grilled some sausages and a massive steak. Three of Chezzie’s best salads were in the middle of the table. I kissed my aunt and niece then sat opposite them.

“Uncle Frankie? Did you know that Nana’s secret to making salad was to rub the bowl with garlic first?”

“I did.” I winked and unfolded my napkin. I loved how Violet had blended perfectly into our family and made it her own. Chezzie had a way of highlighting all the positive sides of our past and keeping the dark secrets dead and buried where they belonged. I also appreciated the bond that my aunt had with Fiona’s little sister. She’d never been able to have children, and my father had made her boyfriends uncomfortable, at best. No one had been good enough for his little sister. Leo and I hadn’t been the only ones who’d suffered from his need to keep his family under his insistent thumb.

Fiona waited until everyone was served and we’d started eating before looking at me and saying, “So?”

“Sorry. Big nada for the moment. But the agency must have run a check on her, right?” I wiped my mouth and short beard with the cloth napkin.

“I think so.” Fiona cringed a little and Leo pounced.

“Fi, seriously?”

“I know. I’m sorry. But I liked her so much. She’s young and her dream is to live in New York.” Fiona’s whine was chipping away at my brother before our eyes. She continued, “And I need someone. Chezzie has a business to run. Those beautiful babies we made could come any day. I don’t want a snooty old lady looking down on me for how I change a diaper or swear in front of Violet. I want Megan.”

Leo closed his eyes and Chezzie shot me a glance to fix it, probably because she knew I could.

“I’ll fly out tomorrow. Leo, you stay close to home, and Jackson can handle the security detail solo for forty-eight hours. I will check out this Megan Walsh and report back. Happy?” I turned to Fiona and offered a small smile.

“Yes. Thank you.” Fiona beamed, Chezzie changed the subject and Leo discreetly flipped me off while pretending to scratch his ear.

As soon as dinner was finished, I excused myself to go home to prepare. I booked my plane ticket for the next day. For some ridiculous reason known only to the airline gods and their intelligent fuckery of how to make air travel the least enjoyable experience possible, I had to fly south to Charlotte in order to fly west to Iowa. That meant that my entire day would be wasted. But what was I going to do? Fiona had probably the closest thing to kids in her belly that I would ever have and was doing a stellar job of raising the little girl who had captured all our hearts. That bit of family, those Sunday dinners, they were the only things keeping me affixed to happy and normal. They were my reminder that my life had changed and needed to stay on its current path. There was no way I would lose them.

About the Author: Deana Birch was named after her father’s first love, who just so happened not to be her mother. Born and raised in the Midwest, she made stops in Los Angeles and New York before settling in Europe, where she lives with her own blue-eyed Happily Ever After. Her days are spent teaching yoga, playing tennis, ruining her children’s French homework, cleaning up dog vomit, writing her next book or reading someone else’s.

Newsletter | Website | Books + Main | Goodreads | First for Romance

Buy the book at your favorite online venue or First for Romance.

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Lie by Deana Birch – Spotlight and Giveaway

Long and Short Reviews welcomes Deana Birtch who is celebrating the recent release of Lie, the third book in the Covington Heights Crew series. Enter to win a fabulous gift package and get a FREE eBook from the author!

Piercing lies lead to brutal betrayals.

One bullet has taken everything from Anton Myers. Everything… His crew, his livelihood and any ounce of loyalty from his friends are all gone thanks to a tiny piece of lead. With no purpose and his mother pushing him into a lifestyle he never wanted, he’s the perfect storm of defiance and deceit.

Samantha Powers is a damn good liar. She can bend facts, sell half-truths, omit details and sugarcoat answers better than anyone in the city. She’s also the kind of woman who can motivate warriors to transcend into kings—and that’s exactly what she wants to do.

Their fast-paced relationship—fueled by raw lust and questionable motives—threatens Samantha’s credibility while Anton’s world crumbles around him. As an undeniable fact surfaces that could ruin them both, the only way out of their web of lies is a devastating truth.

Reader advisory: This book deals with drug use, cancer and the death of a parent. It may be best read as part of a series.

Enjoy an Excerpt

The ventilator rose like a stretched-out accordion then folded back down, forcing air into Anton Myers’ injured lungs. The beep, beep, beep of his heart rate was probably the only thing comforting his mother, who sat next to his hospital bed stroking her thumb over his battered knuckles.

In the few months that I’d gotten to know Sophia Myers, I’d learned that her strength and will far exceeded her tiny frame. Even in the face of tragedy, she was immaculately groomed and flawlessly presentable. She was cold, hard and serious. I admired her.

I stepped closer to the bed. With his eerie eyes closed, Anton’s power or anger or whatever it was that motivated him was less evident. He was just a shell of a man with a tube down his throat and an IV in his hand. It was as if his dangerous draw had floated away.

The sterile odor of alcohol lingered in the air from the hand sanitizer that the nurse had used when she’d checked his vitals minutes prior, and it only added to the cold room. Somehow, the orderly environment suited Sophia. Baking cookies and an apron sure didn’t.

My phone vibrated and I flipped my wrist to check the text message.


Someone had leaked the shooting to the press. It had already been hard enough to smooth over Sophia’s questionable past when my boss—the mayor of the city—had decided to marry her. But this? His new stepson involved in a gang-related shooting? It was a public relations nightmare.

My phone vibrated again, this time with Mayor Demsey’s name.

Sophia glanced at me as if she understood, and before I turned to walk out of the door, I offered her a tight, sympathetic smile. No matter what her past, I wouldn’t want her present.

I swiped the screen to answer, but instead of saying hello, I said, “I just saw. I’m leaving the hospital now.”

“Who the fuck would have leaked this?” Demsey yelled through the small speaker. His scratchy voice revealed his Long Island accent. The crass demeanor that came out when he was pissed was one of the few things he managed to keep hidden from the public.

His question was logical, but the answer was irrelevant. Lucky for my boss, I’d already played the game of ‘worst-case scenario’ over and over in my head for the previous twenty-four hours.

“I’ll call a presser and get in front of this. We can spin it. I’ll say he was robbed. In the meantime, avoid reporters. And don’t you dare ass-dial Mitch from The Times like you did last week. In fact, put your phone in your drawer once you hang up with me.” My heels clicked down the hall of the private hospital at a rhythmic pace. At the nurse’s station, an older, handsome man smiled at me and I rolled my eyes once I’d passed him. Unwanted flirty smiles from men always jabbed at a button in me that said because I was pretty, my intelligence was underestimated. That particular gentleman had ‘man-splainer’ written in bold above his raised eyebrows.

“Sam?” Demsey asked in a softer tone. “Don’t forget to call the chief and tell him what you’re going to say so we have a consistent message. Jack likes you way more than he does me, so it will be better… Actually, swing by to see him on your way back to the office. He’ll appreciate the personal touch.”

“On it.” The elevator doors rattled open. “Make this easy for me and keep your mouth shut, boss.” I swiped my phone off. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Demsey or his new family, because I did. He’d taken a chance on me as his spokesperson when I hadn’t exactly had a long list of celebrity clients banging down the door of my small public relations firm.

Before agreeing to the job, I’d heard about Demsey and his taste for the corrupt, but it didn’t bother me. I’d learned over the years that the line between flat-out lying to the public or dressing up facts to make whatever bad thing seem good was pretty damn blurry. My job depended on how I massaged the truth. Being one hundred percent honest was the only thing I was sure I’d never do.

It didn’t matter if I lied. It was how much.

Outside, I hailed a cab, and we battled the downtown traffic until I was at police headquarters. I flashed my identification badge at security and stepped through the metal detector. On the third floor, I smiled to the uniformed officers as I made my way through their cubicles to the corner office of Police Chief Jack Galaway.

Jack’s eyes were closed and he pinched the bridge of his nose with the phone against his ear. I wrapped my knuckles lightly on his door, causing him to look up. His frown switched to an easy grin and he waved me in.

I took the empty chair to the right and sat patiently as he ‘mmhmm-ed’ his way through the rest of the call. He spun his finger around in the universal sign that indicated he wanted the other person to wrap it up already, and I crossed my hands in my lap.

The walls of his office were lined with plaques and certificates with gold seals. Jack was a family man but specifically kept any sign of his personal life to himself. We’d never really believed in small talk. We were both direct in the interest of time, but I did know that he’d married his high-school sweetheart and he had two sons, both of whom were on the force. He was a good man, as good as he could be while he navigated a system and city that favored the depraved.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” he said when he’d hung up. “Why can’t my guys keep their dicks in their pants?” Jack frowned and the wrinkles in his clean-shaven face deepened. “You don’t look like you have good news either. Spit it out.”

“Anton Myers was shot two nights ago.” I re-crossed my ankles, and the movement caught his eyes. He liked to tease me about my shoe addiction. I was wearing a new pair of black heels and their red souls matched my red dress. Much like Sophia Myers, I, too, took a lot of care in how I presented myself. I never showed cleavage, my skirts always hit just above my knees and my nails were perfectly groomed and color-free. I wore makeup but it was subtle. My lips only saw red on Christmas or for parties.

Jack leaned back into his massive leather chair and swiveled. “First I’ve heard of it.”

“It was”—I shrugged and scrunched my nose—“cleaned up. But it’s about to break in the news. I’m going to do a presser this afternoon and claim he was robbed at gunpoint.”

He shook his head. “That’s bad for me.”

I knew Jack wouldn’t like my plan. It would be another unsolved crime and feed fear to the public, but that wouldn’t stop me. Plus, I knew the chief of police was a tit-for-tat kind of man.

“It will be good for your budget.” I stood and flattened out my dress. “You can refer all press to the mayor’s office.”

“Gee, thanks.”

Jack’s desk phone rang, and I headed for the door. “Hey, Sammie?”

I turned around. He had the receiver pressed into his chest under his badge.

“You may want to consider someone like Anton Myers would prefer the truth to your spin. You’re about to make one of the most dangerous gang members in our city a victim. He’s not going to like that—and neither will his crew.”

I gave exactly zero fucks about what Anton Myers would or wouldn’t like. I worked for the mayor, not him. Sophia had warned him to lie low. Getting shot by a rival gang? Not exactly my idea of exceeding his mother’s expectations. And his crew? There was nothing left of it. Any loyalty they’d had for their leader had been wiped away the second he’d fallen. Sophia had spoken to one of them and forbidden them from returning to their neighborhood, effectively disbanding the entire gang.

“Well, fortunately for me he’s mute and in a hospital bed. He doesn’t have a choice.” But the confidence in my voice wavered just a little. “I’ll email Debbie my statement before I go out.”

He nodded then barked, “What now?” into the phone. On the way down to the lobby, I mulled over his advice. So what if Anton woke up and was pissed about how I’d handled things? His life as he knew it was over. His mother had assured it. But the chief had a point. I could cut out the ‘robbed’ part.

Once out of police headquarters, I dialed my assistant. “Hey, Fanny, can you let the press know that I’ll be making a statement with limited questions at three o’clock?” I crossed the street with the crowd, the blue-and-white police cars all around us. As I approached city hall, Mitch from The Times came into view. His signature checked shirt stood out like a flashing sign that read ‘pain in my ass’.

“I’ve already gotten calls from six reporters.” Fanny’s tone held a little bit of a question.

“I’m coming up now but stay on the line. Fucking Mitch is downstairs.” I held the phone tight to my ear. “Tell me anything. Read me a menu or recite a damn poem if you have to. He won’t let me walk by without pestering me.”

Fanny let out a small laugh. “So I met this girl at a bar last night…”

Mitch’s eyes lit up like the Fourth of July when he spotted me. I quickened my pace and shook my head as I pointed to the phone and said, “Super important call.”

Fanny continued, “We totally hit it off. I was laughing and having the time of my life. Then it hit me like a bulldozer. She had long blonde hair, sun-kissed skin and a banging body.”

I climbed the stairs of City Hall with Mitch at my heel. “I’m so sorry to hear that.”

Mitch spouted questions but I ignored them. At the top of the stairs, I opened the massive door. I just had to get through security then I would be home free.

Fanny continued in my ear. It wasn’t the first time we’d faked a phone call. “She looked exactly like you. It freaked me out so hard that I literally stood straight up and walked out.”

“I’m at security. I’ll call you back.” I ended the call and placed my phone in a black plastic basket on the conveyor belt.

“Nice try,” Mitch said as he rolled his green eyes. “But my source tells me that Anton Myers was shot in the chest. Can you confirm?”

My job was to talk to the press. The cat was already out of the bag, and there was no putting its fuzzy ass back in. Information was fluid and it had to run both ways. Mitch was only doing his job, as annoying as it was. There were so many other things that he could have been reporting on. But sensationalizing the shooting of the mayor’s stepson was click bate and would get him seven more followers on social media. It would make his superiors happy, and if I just threw him a tiny crumb, he would stop.

I stepped toward the metal detector and set my shoulders. “I confirm.”

The crooked grin on Mitch’s face soured my stomach. “Thank you!” He spun around and left the building with a bit of pep in his step. Being the first one to get confirmation meant everyone else would use his story and say his name all day long.

I grabbed my phone, which was lighting up with notices of the confirmation I’d just given, and went upstairs to my office.

Fanny sat behind her immaculate desk and typed into her laptop. Her dark hair was down and her long bangs kissed the top of her eyebrows.

“Was that true? Did you fall for my doppelganger?” I walked over to our community fridge and grabbed a bottle of water.

“Sam…” She stopped typing and spun around on her chair to face me. “It was literally you. She even had great shoes. I may not recover from this.”

I grinned. The lighthearted banter was a refreshing break from my otherwise-stressful day. I stepped into my office and just before shutting the door deadpanned, “I think you have a crush on me.”

“Me and Mitch.”

“Eww.” I shivered, and when she faked offense, I said, “Not you…Mitch. Also, now that I think of it, maybe a little you too. You’re like my kid sister. Shame on you and your twisted mind, Fanny.” I tapped the door and forced an exhale out of my mouth. “Hold my calls. I have a statement to write.”

Three hours later, I stood at the mayor’s briefing podium with the statement that Demsey had approved and that I’d emailed to Debbie, the police chief’s assistant. I rubbed my lips together, spreading the freshly applied nude gloss even more, and waited for the room to fall silent. Three rows of reporters sat eagerly facing me as the local and national news cameras flanked the back and walls.


I adjusted the microphone and scanned the crowd of familiar faces. “Good afternoon. As I confirmed earlier, the mayor’s stepson, Anton Myers, was the victim of a shooting two nights ago. I’m happy to report that after a long touch-and-go surgery, he is resting and in stable condition. The mayor and his wife ask for your understanding for their need for privacy in this difficult time.”

The hands flew up for questions and I repeated my motto—reassure and deflect.

There were a few reporters I loathed less than others because I could always count on them to throw me a softball. I found one and called on her. “Stacey.”

“Thanks, Samantha. Do the police have any suspects? Do we know what happened?”

“As you know, I can’t comment on an ongoing investigation, but I have nothing but respect and confidence for our men and women in uniform.”

Mitch waggled his fingers and his eyes bulged. I skipped over him. Where was the guy from the local station who had winked at me the week before? Ah, yes. Middle center. “Steven.”

“Anton Myers is a convicted criminal. Was this gang-related?”

My throat tightened and I willed the heat in my chest to cool. “Ongoing investigation, but there’s no reason to start rumors about a man who was inches from losing his life.” I glared at Steven. He wouldn’t be getting called on again anytime soon.

Mitch was practically halfway out of his seat. Experience and poise kept my eyes from rolling.


“Thanks, Sam.”

Sam? Uh, no. It’s Samantha in this room, dipshit. We aren’t buddies.

He cleared his throat. “A source tells me that Anton was taken to the hospital by two men in suits and a gang member. Can you confirm?”

So his source was someone at the hospital. The director would be getting a massive earful from me…or Fanny. Fanny would actually be fantastic at bitching someone out. Then I could stay nice-ish.

“I don’t have those details, but I’ll try to find out and get back to you.” I closed my binder and addressed the room. “Listen, guys… I know it’s been a boring news week and we’re all a little hungry right now, but let’s not turn a victim of a violent crime into a criminal because he has some misdemeanors on his record from when he was barely eighteen.”

Someone scoffed but I wasn’t quick enough to catch who.

I narrowed my eyes, scolding them for their lack of empathy. “I’ll update you as soon as I can.” What I really meant was that I was going to brush this under the rug and try to get them to forget about it as soon as I could. That little nugget from Mitch about the men who’d brought him to the hospital was a nightmare for me and the police.

As I stepped away from the podium and exited the room, they all hollered questions at me—questions that weren’t that different from the ones ping-ponging in my own head. And with Anton still unconscious, I was walking the tightrope between what I could spin and what other information was out there.

Sophia had said she trusted the men who’d brought him in and that the rival gang had been “taken care of”. But it wasn’t the first-hand witnesses of the shooting who bothered me. It was the aftermath that had to be pieced together perfectly to sell a believable lie.

Fanny followed me down the corridor and it wasn’t until we were in our office that she said, “What the fuck is with the hospital?”

I paced in front of her desk. “Call them and take out all your sexual frustration on them. Fucking leaks.”

“On it.” She slid into her seat and wedged her phone between her ear and shoulder as she typed on her computer.

As much as listening to her would have been fun and I was sure I’d miss some fantastically creative insults, I needed silence to think. I closed the door to my office, only to have Sophia’s number pop up onto the screen of my phone.

“Hey, how is he?” I asked.

“He’s awake and…” Her calm tone was ominous. “Cranky. You’ve officially been summoned. He’s waiting—and not patiently either.”


About the Author: Deana Birch was named after her father’s first love, who just so happened not to be her mother. Born and raised in the Midwest, she made stops in Los Angeles and New York before settling in Europe, where she lives with her own blue-eyed Happily Ever After. Her days are spent teaching yoga, playing tennis, ruining her children’s French homework, cleaning up dog vomit, writing her next book or reading someone else’s.

Website | First for Romance | Goodreads

Buy at your favorite online venue or First for Romance.


Hack by Deana Birch – Spotlight and Giveaway

Long and Short Reviews welcomes Deana Birch who is celebrating the recent release of Hack. Enter to win a fabulous gift package and get a FREE eBook from the author!

An online criminal craves real-life danger, but her flawed instincts may cost her new crew everything.

Rafael Santos didn’t get the nickname ‘Goldie Locks’ for his shimmering blond curls. His hair is as black as his criminal heart. No, it’s his Midas touch. His ability to earn—coupled with a love for theft and technology—has gained him the coveted Number Two position in the Covington Heights crew. The problem is…after a murder that sent their regular clients packing, even his numbers are down. Now, finding new sources of illegal income is his number one priority.

Marigold Pfeifer is the fairy princess of online deceit. She can slip her computer viruses into a system at the blink of an eye and steal personal information in a twinkly flash. And that’s exactly what she does when screen name ‘GoldieLocks’ slides into her instant messenger. What’d he expect? A gift card?

But when the naïve hacker rides the train uptown to check out mysterious Covington Heights, she’s approached by the leader of the crew and forced to think fast on her feet. A hate-filled rivalry sparks between her and Rafael—and with it a deviously sinful attraction.

Will real-life criminals and the danger they breed be enough to wise up the goth-pixie with zero street smarts when she must navigate dark waters—or will her flawed instincts burn all she’s worked for to the ground?

Reader advisory: This book contains scenes of violence and drug use.

Enjoy an Excerpt


They gym we shared on the third floor in Covington Heights was haunted by the spirit of our former crew member Leo. I was sure of it. As I circled around the blue sparring mat trying to find my next move, I could almost hear him whisper in my ear.

Where’s the weakness?

The problem was that the man opposite me didn’t have very many soft spots and his steel-blue eyes were like the tip of his sword. They pierced before anything else. As he narrowed his gaze ever so slightly, he would land his next punch. His brick fist slammed into the cheekbone just below my left eye. Pain slapped the side of my face, but I wouldn’t let it spread to my ego. It wasn’t personal, that I knew. Anton was pissed and working out his frustrations. Hell, we all were.

“Ooo…” He jogged backward. “You okay there, Goldie Locks?” His fake sympathy was followed by a proud smile but he wouldn’t get any complaints or signs of weakness from me.

“You know I like it rough.” I winked and walked over to the small fridge at the back of the gym where my boy Jackson and I had started keeping ice packs. Shit happened. Anton wasn’t as good a teacher as Leo, but practicing was the only way to get better, stronger.

Since Leo’s abrupt departure, Anton had been a miserable prick. He’d turned into the crankiest bitch I’d ever seen. And he had a serious alpha complex. His physical dominance wasn’t only a reminder that he was a better fighter. It was the exclamation point that our asses belonged to him…or else.

Leo had gotten away with too much, and those who were still around were paying the price. I shot a knowing glance to Jackson, who looked away and continued to do his bicep curls on a bench near the door.

Anton wrapped a towel around his bare shoulders and said, “Jackson, meet me in fifteen at my place. Scooter’s bringing the numbers from Bradford South.”

I dug out the frozen bag of blue gel then sat on the side of the treadmill as I pressed it into my cheek—bitter cold relief for a festering wound of the bossman’s frustration. No one could spar like Leo. Message received. No one was going to be allowed to get away with the same disrespect. Got it. But penance for other people’s sins was getting old quick. Unfortunately, all was fair in crime and crews. Did I like taking a blow from time to time? Honestly? Yeah, I did. I wanted to be better, wanted to learn. I craved more respect and was plotting ways to get it.

Anton tipped up his chin and winked at me. It was his way of checking in. That was also part of his management technique or whatever-the-fuck way he kept us down but happy. Show the power first, then a hint of giving a shit. I’d seen it before. I actually didn’t mind it. The familiarity was somehow comforting.

“Let’s make some fucking money today.” Anton looked us over one last time before leaving, his glare emphasizing that it was a command, not a request.

I walked over to Jackson, my former roommate and literal partner in crime. We’d bonded over not having fucked-up families, just fucked-up circumstances, Xbox and both refusing to become adult enough to drink coffee. Plus, we liked the idea of belonging somewhere. And the money… We liked the money.

Jackson set the weights down on the gray concrete floor. “He needs to get laid.”

More like I needed to get laid. I’d given up on banging girls from our neighborhood. There was nothing interesting about being worshiped. Besides, they only did it in hopes of making their lives better. None of them really ever bothered to get to know me, not to mention that half of them were customers. That was more trouble than it was worth.

I shook my head. Anton had no problem there. “He needs to make more money.” It was true that since we’d knocked off Mac, who had been a regular patron at our backdoor gambling racket, attendance had gone down to zero. No one liked the idea of tempting Anton’s quick fuse and ending up in the river—not that we’d thrown Mac in the river, of course.

Lucky for us, the police had written off the Bradford murders as a drug deal gone wrong and hadn’t cared to search much further. Our sources at the precinct said there had been mild rumblings of it seeming like a professional hit because of the precision, but, in the end, it was a criminal-on-criminal crime and they tended not to waste too many resources on shit like that.

Jackson stood and put his hands on his hips. “What are you up to later? I’m moving my stuff to Lisa’s and could use a hand.”

“Aww. You all lonely and shit since I moved out?”

Jackson rolled his dark brown eyes. “Nah. I’m all horny and shit since she finally let me tap that ass. Besides, I like showing Junior what a stable woman looks like.” He held my gaze for a brief second.

There was no need to explain. I’d seen Jackson’s baby-mama Bridget at our bench in the courtyard too many times in the last month. Selling drugs was a lot less fun when it was to the mother of one of your favorite kids, which brought me full circle to the money problem. We were a small operation. Sure, we had gained territory since the Bradford Towers crew had taken the hit. But with the game numbers down, I was pretty sure that the money decline was tainting Anton’s mood more than the loss of his previous sidekick. The bossman wasn’t exactly sentimental.

I pressed the cool into my cheek. It had thawed a little and was losing its original stiffness. “I’m working on something…a new business venture. Just waiting on a contact.”

Jackson rubbed his jaw. Maybe he’d taken a couple of hits I hadn’t seen. “Well, get fuckin’ crackin’.” He gave me a little salute and was gone.

I reached for a hand towel and wiped the residual sweat off my arms and chest. I hadn’t always wanted to be a law-breaking shit who sold people poison. It was just that I’d been bored—bored in school, bored in life, bored everywhere except in my own head. There, everything spun. It was like other people’s brains were funnels catching raindrops and all the information came to one eventual stream of thought. Mine? A constant downpour where I wanted to see every single bead of water and analyze it. That was what my high school computer teacher had said, anyway. He’d also said that was why I would be great in IT. Yeah, that ‘career path’ had taken an odd but predictable turn.

Breaking into people’s computers calmed me—and had earned me my first trip to juvey. When I’d gotten out and met Anton… Well, it all just seemed like destiny. But Anton was hard, from his jawline to his inability to show compassion. I didn’t have that darkness inside. Not that it mattered… I’d made my choices. A life in a suit and a picket fence with a puppy wasn’t going to happen for me.

I left the gym and went across the hall to the apartment I’d shared with Anton since Leo had moved out. The spray of his shower echoed down the hall that led to his room. I headed in the opposite direction, crashed on my bed with a thud and reached for my laptop.

I logged in to my favorite online chat for hackers and it only took a second for my idol to send me a direct message. Bingo.

Majel213: Going live in five. Glad you finally decided to show up, Goldie.

As if I would miss it. Majel213 was my Internet spirit animal. I typed my response.

GoldieLocks: Highlight of my day. You know I’ve been itching to see what you’ve been scheming.

I always tried to up my nerd and downplay my street vibe whenever she and I chatted. The tech geek in me wanted her to respect my brains, as fucking stupid as that was. Online, I could be anybody. The idea of someone liking me for my intelligence was an out-of-body experience. In the six months since I’d found Majel213 and her wicked tutorials, we’d somehow become friends. Well, maybe not friends—but more than online strangers. It was just that we’d never actually seen each other. I’d never offered a profile pic in our chats and she did all her videos without showing her face.

I was sure that if she knew I was just some street criminal who’d never really carried out an impressive hack, I would lose the connection we’d built. And I needed her. Getting my hands on her malware was a way to keep my Midas touch.

The nickname ‘Goldie Locks’ had evolved over the years from ‘Golden Boy’, neither of which had anything to do with my hair. That was pitch black. It was because I was a good earner and I’d gotten the light-eye gene from my Brazilian heritage. The fact that the name had turned into a fairy-tale character didn’t bother me. In fact, when I’d first starting using it online, I’d catfished quite a few idiots.

Five minutes later, I clicked over to the 677CrackChat and logged in. Holy hell. Majel213’s raspy voice played over my thin speaker and she was transmitting dual screens.

“Meet Nathanial E. Tomjak. He lives in North Dakota, loves to fish and hunt. He’s new to all this because, quote, ‘my daughter finally convinced me to join the social media thingy.’ No one suspects he’s not a real person because his picture, which I photoshopped to change eye color, hair color, skin tone and age, is right here for all to see.”

She clicked on the picture and enlarged it to fit the screen. If she hadn’t said it was altered, I would have never guessed. Nathanial E. Tomjak was the epitome of a Midwestern retired grandpa, complete with triple chin, racing T-shirt and warm smile.

“So, Nate—I call him Nate—Nate was a creation of a profile after I had already found”—she clicked a couple of times and brought up a picture of Caroline Claussen—”this sweet, cat-loving mama.”

The kind face of an older woman replaced the screen. “Caroline works for the sheriff of Zapata Falls and is my number one target for malware.”

canada pharmacy viagra This is accomplished by writing a simple retrieval program that searches through every web site listed on a search engine to remove the spaces in order to come back to your original title. Suffering is seen with the low back is not always an effective method, it is commander viagra not very often performed. The activities will be monitored and even limited as buy viagra overnight Osteoporosis can allow fractures and breakage in bones. We need some element of humanity that allows us to build a picture of who we are female viagra pill and most “dense” of all our bodies. There was a slight East Coast accent in Majel213’s voice. Her pronunciation of ‘number’ sounded a little like a ‘numba’ and I let myself believe that one day I might meet my nerd crush face-to-face and she would be hot, which was stupid. Finding the sexy librarian type in real life who could live up to my fantasies was proving to be difficult. Also, the whole selling drugs to pay the rent never went over well with the smart girls I liked.

But Majel213? She was my perfect blend of intelligence and criminal. By her screen name, she was in camp Star Trek over Star Wars. Her clever and deviant behavior inspired my own. We were soulmates, I was sure—me and the other four hundred sixty-three dorks watching her show us the latest and sneakiest ways to crack, hack and hide.

I propped up the pillows behind me, workout stank be damned, laid a towel on my chest under my laptop and settled in. I was ready to learn everything she had to teach me.

And listen to her. Fuck, I loved the sound of her voice. It was low and seductive, but she was also funny. At the end of all her tutorials, she would say, “And change your fucking passwords, Geeks!” That usually led me to go around the apartment and do just that. My phone, Anton’s phone, Jackson’s phone when I’d lived with him, then all sites, all applications… I could spend half my day just doing what Majel213 told me.

And more than once, my own passwords had been changed to her fucking screen name. How I’d become a lovesick dork slash criminal was beyond my comprehension.

That sultry tone went on to describe how she’d found her target and worked backward. How creating a fake person was easy. Once she had the profile pic, the rest of what ‘he’ posted was either shares from propaganda that aligned with Caroline’s beliefs or pictures that he wasn’t in. ‘Nate’ had become friends with one of Caroline’s relatives through people who were more interested in having followers and like than caring if they actually knew the person.

Then it had just been as simple as engaging on the same post by the mutual friend and boom! There was a direct line to her target. It required maintenance, but according to Majel213, that was part of the fun. The hard part, she said in the voice that had me wondering how ‘Rafael’ would sound if she whispered it all quiet and sultry next to my ear, was waiting for the day that Caroline would open her social media on her work computer. But, Majel213 wasn’t worried. Caroline had said that she hated texting on her phone and was much faster on a keyboard, so it was just a matter of finding a topic that would inspire Caroline to need to converse faster—like making Nate’s tabby cat ill.

Majel213 had a beautifully perverse brain.

She explained that once the application was opened in the office of the sheriff of Zapata Falls, because Majel213 had programmed a sneaky virus that shadowed the direct messenger, the malware would be on Caroline’s hard drive in thirty seconds. And that would translate to the entire town being held hostage by Majel213 until they paid their ransom in untraceable cryptocurrency.

And pay they would, she assured, because the counties, cities or whatever were insured…and the FBI would tell them to. Otherwise, all their systems stayed frozen and spun around in the never-ending computer circle of death.

And the real beauty? While they tried to figure out how to pay, she just kept stealing all their information. It was pretty customary malware shiftiness. She could get tax returns, social security numbers, backgrounds, criminal records and birth certificates then sell that to criminals like me. Majel213 just made it sound so much sexier than it probably was.

Internal man-dork sigh.

She also sold her out-of-date malware to us nerds who didn’t know how to code it as well as she did. The clever thief was always three steps ahead, and the improved versions of her viruses and programs were for her use only.

So it was that version—the latest and most dangerous—that I was sure I needed to make bank for the crew, not a malware program an average bad actor could use. Somehow, I was going to convince the normally selfish Majel213 to share her updated goods, and we would go from street criminals to an organized threat to society. I tingled all over just thinking about it.

Her scratchy voice rang out and woke me from my dream of living the calm, boring life of a closet criminal. “Change your fucking passwords, Geeks! Oh, and I’m taking questions for the next five minutes on message chat. Dick picks will result in a virus that sends it to your grandma, assholes.”

I shot up and clicked on our message window. Time to make a deal.

GoldieLocks: Brilliant as usual. How do I get my hands on your latest version?

Majel213: Thanks for watching. It’s always nice to have you there. The links are up.

I didn’t want those old, used-up links. I wanted the version she was hoarding for herself.

GoldieLocks: No, I mean the *real* latest version.

Majel213: Not for sale, sweetie. Sorry. You know that.

My internal ego liked the term of endearment so much that he convinced my brain it was for him. But I wasn’t giving up that easy.

GoldieLocks: Everything has a price.

It was a bold promise, considering we didn’t have a savings account with money piled up.

The ellipsis next to her name stayed for a minute like she was writing some long explanation. My heart raced and I drummed my fingers lightly over the keys without hitting hard enough to type.

Name your price, baby girl.

Oh, the money I could make for Anton. And I wouldn’t have to sit out on that fucking bench and watched addicts wither away with each sale I made. I could perch myself on the couch, post to social media then just wait to pounce. And getting the latest version of the malware would ensure it wasn’t tracible. It would be new and never have been used.

Majel213: Indeed it does. My apologies.

She added a winky face emoji and left the chat. Shit. I should have brought up cash. She was always talking about cryptocurrency, but cash was still king for criminals. I should have started with that. Next time. Next time I would lead with, “How much cash would it take?”

Fuck. Didn’t she know I needed that shit like…yesterday?

I closed my laptop and tossed it to the end of the bed. After a quick shower, I found Anton in a hovered meeting with Scooter at the island in the kitchen. The sour frown on his pale face was enough to know he didn’t like what he and Jackson had heard earlier. We needed money. I was the Golden Boy and he was relying on me to make good on my previous abilities to earn.

Working on it, boss.

“I’m headed down to the bench then I have to help with a thing. Later.”

I jogged down the stairs and out to the courtyard that connected the three buildings of Covington Heights. A small gathering of black jeans parted and Jackson stood, towering over us all. We man-hugged, the official sign that he was off duty and I was on.

His spot on the bench was still warm, and I draped my arms out, taking as much space as I could.

A new member of the crew caught my eye on the edge of the circle. He was a bit scrawny and had probably come from Bradford. More and more defectors were crossing into our territory. That particular one looked hungry as hell. Sometimes I wondered if the new recruits weren’t double agents. I reminded myself to keep my guard up at all times.

Maybe I would do a password sweep after dinner. Although, the skinny kids from the projects weren’t much of a threat to the technology that I used. Hell, they wouldn’t even know how to put a virus onto a computer.

Like Majel213… Using direct messaging to shadow…

Fucking fuck, fuck.

Mother of all fucks.

My pulse raced and I closed my eyes in horrid understanding. She’d broken into my fucking computer.

About the Author: Deana Birch was named after her father’s first love, who just so happened not to be her mother. Born and raised in the Midwest, she made stops in Los Angeles and New York before settling in Europe, where she lives with her own blue-eyed Happily Ever After. Her days are spent teaching yoga, playing tennis, ruining her children’s French homework, cleaning up dog vomit, writing her next book or reading someone else’s.

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