Assumed by MHR Geer – Spotlight

Long and Short Reviews welcomes MHR Geer who is celebrating the recent release of Assumed.

When her friend Sandy asks for help, Anne Wilson leaves her small, lonely life in Miami for the picturesque island of Saint Martin. But as soon as she arrives, Sandy is murdered, and her death exposes lies: an alias, a secret past, stolen money. Suspected of murder and trapped on the island, Anne is shocked when a cryptic message arrives:

Find the money. Take it and run.

She follows Sandy’s trail of obscure clues, desperate for proof of her innocence and must decide if she can trust the two men who offer help-the dark, mysterious Brit or the American with a wide grin and a pickup truck. When memories resurface-dark truths she’d rather leave buried and forgotten, her past becomes intertwined with her present.

Her only way forward is to face her own secrets.

Enjoy an Excerpt

A constant stream of jubilant holiday-goers jostled my suitcase as I paced the arrivals gate, but Sandy’s mobile went to voicemail a fourth time. I hung up without leaving another message and strolled past the baggage carousel. Again.

“Where are you, Sandy?” I muttered under my breath.

A man in a white Panama hat vacated a bench, and I collapsed onto the cold metal and hugged the handle of my suitcase. The other passengers exchanged greetings and gathered their baggage, and the automatic door slid open with a swoosh to receive them. Every time the door opened, humid air blasted my face.

The man in the white hat reappeared but saw me and turned away, presumably to find a bench without a slouching, scowling American. I raised my shoulders from a slump and crossed my legs.

“What now, Anne?” I asked myself, tapping the screen of my phone and resisting the urge to check the time.

A young boy, about five years old, wandered over and climbed onto the bench next to me. We exchanged nervous smiles. Couples and families regrouped near the door, and I watched their faces, expecting someone to claim the boy, but the door opened and closed, over and over, and he remained.

I was just about to ask where the boy’s parents were when a tall woman entered and rushed toward us, shouting in French. Her profile was dark against the bright sunlight outside, and her long hair swirled in the vortex of the doorway. The boy pressed against me, and I almost wrapped my arm around him, but the door closed, and she smoothed her hair back into place.
She pulled the boy from the bench, gripping his arms with long, slender fingers. I couldn’t understand her words, but her reprimand was clear. Her green eyes flashed with fear and anger. She blamed me for his disappearance. I shrugged, trying to remember how to apologize in French. Je suis desole? But I was unsure of the words, so I didn’t say anything, and she didn’t wait for my explanation.

He left with her, his little hand firmly inside hers, and when the door opened and whipped her hair back into the air, the boy turned back to me with a smile. I waved.

And then I was alone again.

I jumped when my phone buzzed.

Sorry, Sandy texted. Can’t make it. Take a taxi to 16 Rue de l’Aile Perdue.

I stared at the text and considered purchasing a ticket for a return flight, but my phone buzzed again with a second text.

Please, Anne.

I squared my shoulders and pulled on my sunglasses. Then I walked through the whoosh of the doorway and into the sunlight.

The taxi line had already thinned; it took only a few minutes before a lively man ushered me into the back of a bright green sedan. The driver offered a brusque “Welcome to Saint Martin,” and turned up her radio. Taxi code for no talking. Fine with me.

We sped through narrow streets, dangerously close to sunburned tourists wandering street markets. Stalls spilled out from under a rainbow of awnings, hawking loud shirts and oversized beach towels. The air was thick with cardamom and curry, mixed with the yeasty smell of a patisserie. My stomach rumbled. In my rush to make the early morning flight, I’d skipped breakfast.
We left town and traveled up and down winding roads that cut into the hillsides. The villas grew larger and farther apart and then disappeared into thick foliage behind security gates. I caught occasional glimpses of dirt lanes and even fewer paved driveways. When the driver pulled off the road, I leaned out the window to watch the tops of towering palm trees lining a long gravel driveway. We stopped on a cobbled motor court in front of a massive house.

I stared up at the imposing facade from within the safety of the taxi before I bravely stepped into the blazing sun. I thought there must be some mistake, but before I could say anything, the taxi drove away. Why had Sandy sent me to a dismal mansion and not to one of the dazzling resorts I’d passed?

Beyond the house, the sea stretched to the horizon. Sunlight reflected off the water, awakening childhood fantasies of pirate ships and mermaid tails. But the hot sun quickly melted the daydream, and I retreated into the shadow of the mansion.

Up close, the house was shabby and weather-beaten. Peeling gray paint revealed a history of more colorful choices. The porch railing leaned at a precarious angle, and as I cautiously climbed the rotting steps, the wood complained but held, and I reached the front door and knocked. The sound echoed within the house, but only silence followed. I knocked again, louder, and waited. Nothing.

“Now what?” I asked the house.

The house ignored me, but a piece of paper stuck between two floorboards fluttered in the ocean breeze. I stepped over and picked it up. She’d left a note—an inconsiderate welcome, even for Sandy. I exhaled loudly and unfolded the scrap of paper.

About the Author:MHR Geer was born in California but grew up in the Midwest. She attended the University of California, Santa Barbara to study Physics. After school, she moved to Ventura, CA and started a small bookkeeping business. She lives with her two sons and her unicorn husband (because he’s a magical creature).

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Unleashing Your Inner Muse by Dan Padavona – Guest Blog and Giveaway

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Dan Padavona will be awarding a $25 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

Unleashing Your Inner Muse

Athletes often speak about entering the zone and tapping peak performance when the match is on the line. To reach the zone, these high performers develop strength, endurance, and sport-specific skills. Notice no athlete ever says she trained by sitting in Starbucks, waiting for inspiration to hit.

Unleashing your inner muse is the creative’s version of entering the zone. You won’t get there by waiting for the right words or story arc to strike you lightning from the sky. The muse shows itself when you’re operating at your peak, and you won’t reach your peak without daily vigorous training.
That’s why most writers never complete that novel they’ve been talking about, or if they do, they fail to take the next step and graduate from newbie to accomplished.

Writing is hard work. Just as athletes train their bodies, so too must authors train their minds. If you write a few days a week, or worse yet a few days a month, you’re not putting in enough effort to tap your muse. Would you expect to become an Olympian by running on treadmill twice a month?

Stephen King puts it simply. ”If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

There are no shortcuts. Several studies of the most successful company leaders show CEOs read an average of 60 books a year. Why of all professions would writers not have this prerequisite for success?

If you want to unleash your inner muse, begin reading widely and often, including books outside your genre. Write every day (or at least five days a week) for no less than 45 minutes to establish a healthy habit, and don’t let yourself stray.

The muse won’t show up automatically, but if you put forth consistent effort, she’ll appear when least expected and infuse your chapters with magic.

Every mind holds a secret. Some are more deadly than others.

Nightshade County Sheriff Thomas Shepherd is a successful model for every law enforcement officer with autism. He leads an idyllic life in his uncle’s old home along Wolf Lake and is planning to marry private investigator Chelsey Byrd.

But when a star athlete’s girlfriend disappears while camping, everyone blames the boyfriend. He’s volatile and dangerous. Did he murder the girl and bury her in the woods?

The sheriff’s gut tells him there’s more to the story than the boyfriend is willing to admit. The more he digs into the case, the more he worries someone is hiding a dark secret.

Is the boy a killer? Or is he the next victim?

Enjoy an Excerpt

McKenzie Ossman twirled a length of blond hair around her finger and took in the stars. Here, five miles beyond Kane Grove’s city lights, the sky was a frozen portrait of fireworks. She shivered against the chill and puffed out a condensation cloud, the cold already deep enough to penetrate her bones. By morning, frost would cover the landscape.

She accepted the bottle of Jack Daniels from Marshall and sipped. This was a terrible idea. As much as she wanted to get him away from the pressures of Kane Grove University and the constant attention he received from being a future NFL draft selection, she didn’t like it when he drank. Hazel-skinned, strong, body painted with tattoos, he was a Greek god when he was sober. But lately he’d taken to drinking too often. He changed after the alcohol hit his bloodstream, turning angry and short-fused, a bomb ready to blow.

Then there was the problem of getting back to campus on his motorcycle. She couldn’t trust him to drive buzzed. Sometimes he pushed the motorcycle past eighty in the dark, her arms wrapped around his waist, Marshall one wrong move from disaster.

Marshall Prisco was the proverbial diamond in the rough. Few small college football players attracted professional scouts, yet dozens attended Kane Grove football games for the chance to see him play. A senior wide receiver, he was unstoppable on the field, too fast and strong for the poor fools tasked with covering him.

McKenzie sipped from the bottle and winced when the alcohol burned her throat. Marshall held out his hand, and she wasn’t sure she should give the bottle back to him.

About the Author:Dan Padavona is the author of The Wolf Lake series, The Logan and Scarlett series, Darkwater Cove, The Scarlett Bell thriller series, and The Thomas Shepherd Mysteries. Many of his novels rank in the top-10 in Amazon’s thriller and mystery categories. He is a husband, a parent, and proud member of the International Thriller Writers Organization.

When he’s not writing, Dan enjoys photography, biking, weightlifting, and storm chasing. Dan has videotaped tornadoes from New York to Oklahoma and Texas and was nearly swept up by a strong twister outside Sweetwater, Texas. A self-proclaimed ice cream and gelato lover, Dan admits to spending too much time in the gym, compensating for his questionable nutritional decisions.

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Winter Blogfest: Marilyn M. Baron

This post is part of Long and Short Reviews’ Winter Blogfest. Leave a comment for a chance to win an audiobook copy of The Case of the Missing Botticelli.

Give the Gift of Reading this Holiday Season by Marilyn Baron

Spring, summer, fall or winter, instilling the joy of reading in a child is always in season. I have two granddaughters and I’m determined that both of them grow up to be readers.

I’m already making inroads with the 1 ½-year-old. I read to her all the time. She knows how to “turn the page,” and if I ask her to get a specific book, she can pick it out and bring it to me. She picks out a book for her parents to read her every night at bedtime. Our favorite book to read together is “Hippos Go Berserk,” by Sandra Boynton. My husband bought her a stuffed hippo and when she visits us the first thing she does is head for the special place I keep the hippo and the book, and we read together. Her parents take her to the library for story time and got her a library card. We’ve come full circle. I remember when my mother took me to get my first library card. It opened doors to a world of reading and sparked my imagination.

My other grandchild is only three months old but it’s never too young to read to them.

When it came time for their baby showers, we requested books instead of cards and both grandchildren have bookshelves full of wonderful books.

They’re too young to read my books but I became inspired to be an author when I read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series. Maybe my books will inspire my grandchildren to become writers. I hope so.

Reading can provide a lifetime of learning and enjoyment. Giving a child the gift of reading is the greatest gift you can give the children in your life this holiday season.

In this cozy mystery, American art history major Hadley Evans joins an art detective agency in Florence, Italy, working for Massimo Domingo, once a major player, now the ‘Inspector Clouseau’ of the art world. Determined to save the flailing agency and prove her worth, Hadley and her sexy Carabinieri boyfriend, Luca Ferrari, take on a mysterious client behind her boss’s back. Hot on the trail of a missing masterpiece, they discover a hidden cache of stolen Nazi art in a Venetian villa and encounter an enemy with a link to an evil past.

Marilyn Baron writes in a variety of genres from women’s fiction to historical romantic thrillers and romantic suspense to paranormal/fantasy and cozy mysteries. She’s received writing awards in Single Title, Suspense Romance, Novel with Strong Romantic Elements and Paranormal/Fantasy Romance. She was also The Finalist in the 2017 Georgia Author of the Year Awards (GAYA) in the Romance Category for her novel, Stumble Stones, and The Finalist for the 2018 GAYA Awards in the Romance category for her novel, The Alibi. Her latest novel, The Case of the Missing Botticelli: A Massimo Domingo Mystery, released January 24, 2022, is her 28th work of fiction. Book 3 of the series, The Case of the Forgotten Fragonard, will be released in 2023 by The Wild Rose Press, Inc. A public relations consultant in Atlanta, Marilyn is past chair and current member of Roswell Reads (a one-city, one read program) and serves on the Atlanta Authors Series Committee. To find out more about what Marilyn writes, visit her website at:

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Winter Blogfest: Lori L. Robinett


This post is part of Long and Short Reviews’ Winter Blogfest. Leave a comment for a chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card.

Ways to Celebrate The Holidays: No Expectations by Lori L. Robinett

The holidays . . . a time filled with a home bursting at the seams with family, with festive decorations throughout the house, a table laden with turkey and all the trimmings, and happy music floating through the air.

But that perfect image we see on television, the movies, and social media isn’t the reality for everyone and sometimes we get caught up in comparing ourselves to unfair expectations.

In my own case, my stepdaughter is pulled in many directions at the holidays, trying to make time for us, her mom and her husband, her significant other’s mom, and her significant other’s dad and his significant other. Additionally, our daughter estranged herself two years ago, leaving us to nurture a relationship with her now-ex-husband and our granddaughter. Our situation isn’t unusual – blended families are pretty common these days. That means the holidays aren’t the picture-perfect vision of family and togetherness we’re led to believe is normal. My mantra is “No expectations!” – and that mantra has allowed me to accept what is and live in the moment, enjoying the journey.

Besides blended families, many people find themselves either alone at the holidays or with a smaller family than in the past.

So, what does that mean? How do we deal with these not-so-perfect holidays?

Simple – we find joy in the little things. Here are a few things to try if you find yourself dealing with a blended family or a smaller-than-in-the-past family:

Create a new tradition. My husband and I started taking my parents out on Christmas Eve several years ago. We usually have pizza together, then drive around and look at the holiday lights. It’s always fun to find those little gems – like the house waaaaayout in the country that has gone all out (and I do mean ALL out) to create a festive display. (see the pic – that house is in the middle of nowhere!)

Buy or make an Advent Calendar. This year, I bought myself a puzzle advent calendar, with holiday-themed puzzles that I hope to put together throughout the month of December. I’m also making myself an alcoholic Advent Calendar (I’m really excited about this one, but it took some planning throughout the year). I saved 25 Pringles cans, then wrapped them in holiday paper and glued them into a pyramid shape. Throughout the year, I occasionally bought single beers, wines, or champagne and socked them away. I’m going to put the singles in the Pringles cans and each night, I’m going to surprise myself with a drink. I’m thinking about making my 3-year-old granddaughter a book Advent calendar for bedtime.

Listen to music. Listen to holiday music. It never fails to brighten my mood.

Watch holiday movies. Go all-in and watch all the sappy Hallmark movies. Stream your favorite movies and buy them if you can’t find them streaming. My two faves are Christmas Vacation and Love, Actually. Oh, and by the way, Die Hard is totally a Christmas movie!

Splurge on good coffee (or tea). Bonus points if you make it at home.

Read. Allow yourself at least half an hour before bed to curl up in your favorite chair in front of a roaring fire (or a favorite candle) while reading a holiday-themed book throughout the holiday season. I like to mix mine up – a romance, then a mystery. This is a great way to remind yourself to slow down and enjoy life.

Read to others. Take one of those holiday-themed books to a local nursing home and offer to read to residents. This is even better than audiobooks, because having a real, live person sitting next to a resident is a gift in and of itself.

The most important thing to remember is that the holidays are about celebration and gratitude. Open yourself to the simple joys that are sometimes missed in the pursuit of the ‘gram-worthy holiday images. You may well find a new tradition that means the world to you!

This fun cozy mystery features a “colorful display of Christmas suspense and intrigue” perfect for lovers of true crime and mysteries.

Jessica Barker blogs about true crime for an online magazine. But blogging for others is far from her dream job. Someday, she wants her own true crime podcast.

While working one night, Jess witnesses her next-door neighbor in distress and Jess is the only one who seems to care. When the cops dismiss her as a bothersome true crime reporter with an overactive imagination, Jess must delve into the life of her mysterious neighbors, Rory and John Regan – with hints at embezzlement and gambling – before Rory ends up dead.

Lori L. Robinett introduces a new series about the adventures of an aspiring podcaster that will appeal to fans of true crime and cozy mysteries.

Lori L. Robinett writes mysteries and contemporary western romance. She also mentors aspiring writers in her online school, WriteScouts. She lives in central Missouri with her husband on a small hobby farm, maintained for the comfort and enjoyment of their Beagle and Snorkie, and two rescue cats.

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Winter Blogfest: Wendy Kendall

This post is part of Long and Short Reviews’ Winter Blogfest. Leave a comment for a chance to win a digital copy of the winner’s choice of either of my holiday books – Snow Kiss Cookies To Die For OR Heart of Christmas Cookies and Dreams. 

The Origins of Secret Santa by Wendy Kendall


How wonderfully cozy to surprise someone with a gift for the holidays, and how jolly when you’re playing secret Santa. Have you ever played?

Often it’s a game for a group of people. Everyone draws a name to secretly determine who they will give a gift to. Sometimes each Santa’s identity is revealed after gifts are opened, or often the giver remains anonymous.

How did this tradition ever get started?

It’s a game played in many different countries. In the United Kingdom a similar game is called Kris Kringle, in Ireland it’s Kris Kindle. In Germany it’s called Wichteln and the delightful giver isn’t a Santa but a goblin or elf. In Scandinavia it’s called Julklapp. In this game the gifts are left at people’s houses. With a knock at the door, the giver leaves a package and gleefully runs off to watch from afar the delighted receiver’s surprise.

In America, the beginnings of this modern, sweet tradition are often attributed to a man whose identity was not revealed until 2006. For more than 25 years, philanthropist Larry Dean Stewart gave anonymous gifts of $100 bills to people in Kansas. He did the same for New Yorkers after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The idea spread like Christmas lights through communities. Secret Santa became another wonderful way to light up someone’s winter season.

And here’s another heartwarming gift of this holiday tradition, the giver is as delighted as the receiver. You don’t have to pull someone’s name out of a drawing to become a secret Santa. Your anonymous gifts over the holidays spread great cheer, and the real Santa is happy for the help. The more the merrier.

For my In Purse-Suit mystery series, first in the series – Kat Out of the Bag, Katherine Watson purse designer and amateur sleuth likes to gift purses year ’round. Some wonderful things can be gifted inside a woman’s handbag too. Sometimes what’s inside a purse can lead to a mystery, a very cozy mystery indeed.

This holiday season Desiree, teacher at Bayside’s elementary school and one of Katherine Watson’s friends, starts a fun secret Santa game for her first grade class. Danger hits for Desiree when someone leaves her creepy secret Santa gifts and threatens to reveal themselves soon. Time is ticking before class is out for the holidays and Desiree’s threatening stalker may strike with deadly force. Desiree has several suspects, including her romantic new love Leo who is on the school’s maintenance staff. While the children learn the wonderful lesson of kindness in giving, Desiree is on the edge of her seat. Who is threatening her? And is Leo The One, or The Stalker.

Holidays are a great time for surprises, and what’s more surprising than a cozy mystery? Follow the clues for enjoying a beautiful holiday season. Wishing you and yours the brightest of holidays, and holiday reads.


First grade teacher Desiree Tucker is on the brink of winter holidays with her new, romantic boyfriend when danger encroaches on her joy. Ominous, untraceable texts buzz on her cell phone. Terrifying secret Santa gifts show up for her in the classroom. As the stalker moves closer to the prey, Desiree doesn’t know who she can trust. Her charming new man is a prime suspect. Is he a deadly stalker? If not him, who? What can she learn from the legend of the snow kiss cookie? Just when she’s starting to believe in magic again, she finds herself fighting for her life.


The result of Wendy Kendall’s passion for purses, mystery and romance is the intriguing In Purse-Suit Mysteries. Kat Out of the Bag introduces Katherine Watson purse designer/sleuth. As Kat moves from designer bags to body bags, she’s uncovering clues to a murder. The prequel, Purse-Stachio Makes A Splash delves into a chilling cold case. Finalist for Best Romantic Suspense at Killer Nashville, Snow Kiss Cookies To Die For creates a tangle of mystery and love and raises suspicions about Desiree’s romantic new sweetheart, Leo. A summer read that will keep you on the edge of your beach towel, Cherry Shakes In The Park blends danger, divas, and frothy delights. And ribbons of love run through Wendy’s newest book, Heart of Christmas Cookies and Dreams. Wendy enjoys investigating the Pacific Northwest life, and she leaves a trail of her own clues as a blogger, YouTube podcaster, speaker, project manager, and syndicated columnist.

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Winter Blogfest: C.H. Lyn

This post is part of Long and Short Reviews’ Winter Blogfest. Leave a comment for a chance to win a $50 gift card to Barnes and Noble or Amazon, reader’s choice!

Preparing for Christmas by C.H. Lyn

For the past five years or so, my husband has struggled to hold Christmas at bay. He enjoys Thanksgiving and believes the decorations should stay away until after that fateful turkey day. As for me, while I’m not one for having reindeer up for sale before Halloween ends, I definitely prefer putting up Christmas decorations to baking pumpkin pie.

We’ve settled on something of a truce. I’m ready. Prepared for a bombardment of garland, lights, and tinsel. Black Friday doesn’t mean shopping in my house. It means decorations galore. It means hauling the tree out of the garage and carefully handing the kids ornaments they won’t easily destroy. It means candy canes everywhere, peppermint hot chocolate for the kids (peppermint mochas for me), and the beginning of the true holiday baking season.

My Gran used to make tins full of homemade candy every year. Caramels, fudge, butterscotch, cookies, brownies, blondies… you name it, she’d have it in a tin. We would go together, handing them out to her friends a few weeks before Christmas. It’s one of my most cherished memories.

That being said, I’m not about to spend seventy hours baking homemade candy. She was retired and didn’t have toddlers running around the house. I stick to a simple set of recipes, a few favorites that I enjoy sharing with the neighbors (and eating).

My eldest child is 4 this year. She fully understands the concept of this winter holiday, and is anxious to wrap the presents we’ve already picked out, bake with mommy, and have family visit. Both kids are also pretty psyched about the possibility of snow and a sledding filled Christmas Day.

It’s early November as I write this. The sky is blue, no snow clouds visible on the horizon. I’ve left out the gourds, and other fall themed decorations that aren’t specifically Halloweeny. I’ll wait, somewhat patiently, until Thanksgiving night to pull from the boxes in my garage. It is the truce, after all. And yet, I can’t help the grin as I think of the tiny colorful Christmas tree my youngest asked me to buy at the store the other day. It’s on the top shelf in their bedroom, out of sight unless you’re looking for it. A small decoration only the girls and I know about… promising a lovely holiday season.


International travel means international danger.

Lacey Devaine is a four-year veteran of a spy ring which fronts as an exclusive escort service, Miss Belle’s Travel Guides. Maintaining her cover is Lacey’s number one priority to protect the integrity of the operation she works for.

While on assignment in Tokyo, a nosy newspaper reporter threatens to blow the lid off a scandal that will put dozens of innocent lives at risk. To protect her cover, Miss Belle is called in to act on intelligence Lacey has uncovered.

Can these beautiful, intelligent, and deadly women complete this assignment in time and emerge unscathed? Or will this mission be their last?

C.H. Lyn live in Colorado with her husband, two little girls, and a massive German Shepherd. She enjoys the mountains and trails Colorado has to offer, especially the easier ones she doesn’t have to carry the kids on. She loves to write, and finds time for it while the kids play and after they’ve gone to bed. She is working on more Miss Belle’s Travel Guides books, as well as several projects for Kindle Vella. She can be found on almost all social media platforms

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Buy the book at Tirgearr Publishing — note: this book is 99c during the blogfest!

Winter Blogfest: Michael Preston

This post is part of Long and Short Reviews’ Winter Blogfest. Leave a comment for a chance to win a digital copy of my book Ticket to Paradise for one lucky winner.

Christmas at Grandma’s Farm by Michael Preston

The holidays are here, and of course that brings up many memories of times past when I was a kid growing up in the 60’s. I especially remember Christmas at grandma’s farm in Ohio. She was a widow, living in a large brick house built in the early 1800’s by Quakers. Originally, it had no indoor plumbing. There was an outhouse in the backyard where the early inhabitants would go to do their business, but when grandma bought the place, she converted one closet upstairs into a bathroom. The water pressure was terrible. It would take fifteen minutes to fill up the bathtub.

There were several wells from which water could be hand pumped for cooking and washing. I still remember the delicious taste of the cold water I would drink right from the pump. Grandma kept the pumps even after the indoor plumbing was installed. My cousins and I would play with them for hours, and eventually we would all be soaked.

As the days would go by and it would get closer and closer to Christmas, I monitored the weather forecasts daily. We lived a good hour’s drive away from grandma’s house. My worst nightmare was there would be a big storm the day before Christmas, making the roads impassable, and we could not go to grandma’s house. This meant missing out on presents and seeing my cousins. This was the only time all year we would all be together.

Our family tree was not huge. I had only five cousins, plus my younger brother and sister. You can imagine the excitement when we were all in the same room. While the adults sat and talked in the living room, we were running all over that old house, sliding down the banister on our stomachs, playing hide and go seek, and eating everything in sight. Grandma was an excellent cook, and she would make popcorn balls for all of us kids to eat. There would always be a huge turkey dinner with all the trimmings, which we would woof down quickly, because as soon as dinner was over, it would be time to open presents!

I hope all of you out there have memories of past Christmas gatherings which were as joyful as mine. If you’re stumped for a last-minute gift, my book Ticket to Paradise could fill that void.

Merry Christmas!

Art Garcia, a small-time drug dealer, is always looking for his ticket to paradise, the one thing that will make all his problems go away. Angela, his sociopathic sister, couldn’t care less about her brother. Abused as children, their twisted lives are going in different directions until greed brings them together in a perilous venture.

Their partnership ends suddenly when Angela is found dead after a rainstorm, buried in a massive mudslide. Detectives Ron Jackson and Mary Ann McDonald take the case when an autopsy reveals someone shot Angela dead before the mudslide. While searching for her killer, the detectives discover that eight children under Angela’s protection, vanished without a trace. As suspects die, the detectives race to find Art; the only one left alive who knows what happened to the children.

Art finally has his ticket to paradise, a winning lotto ticket. But cashing it will provide the detectives with a motive for the murder of his sister. Torn between greed and the fear of prison, his situation grows more and more desperate.

I am a freelance writer with a background in telecommunications and appraising. “Ticket to Paradise” is my first novel. When I am not writing, I like to amuse myself by creating mounds of sawdust in my wood shop, or visiting a country I have always wanted to see.

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All Signs Point to Murder by Connie di Marco – Spotlight and Giveaway

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Connie di Marco will be awarding a $20 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

Rob Ramer was the perfect husband until he committed the ultimate family faux pas—he shot his sister-in-law to death. Believing himself under attack by an intruder in his home, he fired back. But when evidence is discovered that Rob’s wife, Brooke, was plotting his murder, Brooke is charged with conspiracy in her sister’s death. Geneva, a third sister, is desperate for answers and seeks the help of her friend, San Francisco astrologer Julia Bonatti. Geneva’s lost one sister and now it seems she’ll lose the other. Was this a murder plot or just a terrible accident? Julia vows to find the answer in the stars.

Enjoy an Excerpt

The same headlights stayed behind me for several blocks, remaining about two car lengths behind. I’m very careful about locking my car doors, especially at night. I look over my shoulder when getting into my car too. I clicked the door locks again for good measure. Two cars passed me in the next lane, but the car behind remained at the same distance. When the next light turned green, I accelerated quickly and kept my speed up for the next few blocks, hoping a police cruiser wasn’t waiting in an alleyway speed trap to ticket me. The car following matched my speed. Why would anyone be trailing me, and if so, how long had I been followed?

I cast my mind back, trying to remember if I had noticed anything outside Macao or earlier. No one had been around. I hadn’t seen any cars pulling out behind me. But then, it was the last thing on my mind. I was only intent on meeting Tony.

After the next light, I slowed to a crawl, watching to see if the driver would become impatient and pass me. Again, the car matched my speed. A chill ran down my spine. Someone was definitely following me and they didn’t care if I knew.

I quickly reviewed my options. I had no intention of leading a stranger to my apartment. Of course, after my wallet was left open with my exposed driver’s license that night in Moira’s apartment, my follower, if he were the same person who attacked me, would already know where I lived. I nixed the idea of heading for my grandmother’s house. I didn’t want to bring any trouble to her doorstep, nor to Gale’s. Even so, that would involve driving back toward Russian Hill. I could return to Cheryl’s but didn’t like the thought of being unprotected on a deserted downtown street when I got out of my car. Whoever he, or she, was, I had to lose them. On the off chance they didn’t know where I lived, I had no intention of leading them to my apartment.

When I reached Divisadero, I turned left and headed for a neighborhood that I knew was a warren of intertwining streets. I made a fast turn heading west on Turk and an even faster right on Baker, leading me up Terra Vista. By now I was too frightened to even look in the rear view mirror. I raced up Terra Vista and took the corner on two wheels. I didn’t see car lights behind me as I turned the corner, only the ambient glow of headlights down the hill. I drove halfway down the block and spotted a long driveway leading to a garage at the rear of a house. I pulled down the driveway and parked behind the house. I doused my headlights and turned off the engine. My hands were sweating and my heart was pounding.

I hadn’t imagined the black sedan following me. I had no idea what kind of car it was, only black, late model, could have been a Mercedes, a Cadillac, I honestly wouldn’t know the difference unless I saw an insignia. My engine made small metallic pinging sounds as it cooled. I waited but heard nothing. I carefully rolled down my window and listened. A glow from headlights highlighted the tall tree branches in the next yard. I heard a car moving slowly down the street. The motor was almost silent, but I could hear the crunching of dry leaves under tires. He was searching. I had temporarily lost him, but now I was trapped in a driveway behind a private home. I prayed no one in the house would turn on outside lights or do anything to signal my presence. How long would he cruise the street?

Ten minutes elapsed but it felt like an hour. I twisted in my seat and once again saw the same glow of headlights. Again I heard the crunching of leaves and small branches under tires. The car came to a stop directly in front of the driveway. Its headlights were fixed against the wall of the house next door.

My mouth was dry and I could barely swallow. If the driver found me, what would he do? What could I do? I could lean on the horn and hope to wake the occupants of the house. The arrogance of following me in such an overt manner was more frightening than an attempt to track me covertly. Was someone trying to discover where I lived, or did they already know? Did someone wish me harm or were they only trying to frighten me? If so, they were doing a damn good job of it.

My heart was racing. I closed my eyes and deliberately slowed my breathing and prayed. Then I heard an engine rev and tires squeal. The sedan barreled down the street as if angry to have lost me. I was too afraid to turn the car around and pull out. It could be a trick. He could be waiting at the foot of the hill. I was cold now and shivering. I wanted to be home in my own bed more than anything in the world. I had to take a chance. I turned on my parking lights and saw that the driveway continued on past the garages. A narrow space next to the last garage led to an alley behind the homes. I started the engine but left my headlights off. I followed the concrete path along the side of the garage and through the opening to the alleyway. It led to an intersecting street. At the corner, I hit the brakes and looked around carefully. Nothing moved. I glanced up at the street sign. Fortuna Street. I almost laughed with gratitude at the name. I wiped tears from my eyes and
took a deep breath. Following Fortuna I reached Turk again. No other cars were on the street. I turned west toward the Avenues keeping a lookout, but didn’t spot the black sedan again.

When I reached home, I pulled the car into the garage, made sure the heavy door was properly locked and climbed the back stairs to my kitchen. Wizard padded out to greet me. He tried to make a dash for the yard, but struggling to hold on to my purse and keys, I grabbed him at the last moment. I didn’t want him out this late at night, and I was too tired to have to call him in later. I reached down and closed the hatch on his kitty door before he could get free. He looked at me and uttered a low growl in his throat.

“No. Sorry. It’s been a rough day and a rougher night. You’re in.” I doled out a couple of kitty treats and dropped them in his plate. He attacked them at once. I turned off the kitchen light and in the dark, peeked out the living room windows to the street below. I saw no cars that seemed out of place. Then I walked down the stairway and shoved the bolt across the front door. Wizard eyed me strangely, sensing something was out of kilter. Upstairs, I shed my jacket and poured a glass of wine. The light on the answering machine was blinking. Gale had left a message reminding me of the open house on Sunday. Cheryl hadn’t spoken of it earlier and I suspected she might bail on the whole idea. Then I kicked off my shoes and shed my clothes. I slipped into my flannel pajamas, propped some extra pillows on the bed and settled in.

I thought about the couples I knew. Cheryl dealing with a divorce, Brooke in jail accused of planning her husband’s death, Moira dead, and forced to turn over information on her boyfriend to the police. David and Geneva seemed the only happy people in the world, in spite of their family difficulties. Only Gale was completely content as a single woman. Maybe I was better off in my alone state than I knew.

Wizard climbed onto my lap and started kneading the comforter furiously. Was Cheryl right? Was it was time to consider dating? The thought of it brought no joy. If someone told me to climb Mount Everest with no equipment, it would seem an easier prospect. But if I didn’t take a chance, I’d be a woman alone with her cat forever. I finished the wine, turned off the bedroom lamp and snuggled down under the comforter. I heard the foghorns in the distance as my eyes closed involuntarily.

About the Author:

Connie di Marco is the author of the Zodiac Mysteries featuring Julia Bonatti, a San Francisco astrologer who never thought murder would be part of her practice: The Madness of Mercury, All Signs Point to Murder, Tail of the Dragon, Serpent’s Doom and Enter a Wizard, Stage Left (a prequel e-book novella). Writing as Connie Archer, she is also the author of the national bestselling Soup Lover’s Mysteries from Penguin Random House. You can find her excerpts and recipes in The Cozy Cookbook and The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook. Connie is a member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Crime Writers Association (UK) and Sisters in Crime.

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Bloodstains and Candy Canes by Marla A. White – Spotlight and Giveaway

This stop is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Marla A. White will be awarding a $15 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

Attending a swanky cookie exchange is the last thing on veterinarian Dr. Mandy Brown’s holiday to-do list, but she agrees to help a friend out. The party comes to a screeching halt after a body turns up on the kitchen floor, a carving knife jutting out of his back.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Mandy comes face-to-face with Officer Dylan Shaw, a man she thought she was dating until he ghosted her. Tensions escalate as motives for murder come out of the pantry as fast as guests scarf down the pot-spiked brownies, making everything all the merrier.

Although the case seems open and shut, Mandy doesn’t believe the evidence. Can she and Dylan put their differences aside and find the real killer, or risk one of the bakers getting away with murder?

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“Call him.”

Dolores is right. Shaw once told me 911 calls are automatically routed to the Highway Patrol where they get sorted to the appropriate agency. If you know the local police number, you’ll get a faster response by calling them directly. But I also know the last person I want to see right now is Officer Dylan Shaw.

“Who cares?” I ask. “The dead guy isn’t going anywhere.”

Dee narrows her eyes and gives me an icy gaze. “No, but the killer is. The police need to get this place locked down fast if they’re going to have a shot at finding them.”

Well poop, I hadn’t thought of that. My head is too far up my own butt to think past my broken heart. “Fine, I’ll call him.”

She nods, pulling the sobbing Bethany under one arm and uses the other to guide, coerce and otherwise wrangle Agnes, the guests, and caterers alike back to the veranda. Very few people have the strength to refuse Dolores’ will of iron.

When everyone is gone, I slip into the den and grab my phone. Stomach lurching with dread, I hit the button for Shaw and wait the tension-filled five seconds as it rings once before he answers. “Hey Mandy, what’s up?”

His cheerful tone surprises me until irritation sweeps away the pleasure his voice brings. Does he not realize I’m mad at him for ghosting me? “This isn’t a social call, Shaw.”

About the Author: Marla White is a story analysis instructor at UCLA and writing coach who lives in Los Angeles. She graduated from the University of Kentucky where she took her first horseback riding lesson. After dabbling in hunters, barrel racing, and weekly trail rides, she fell hopelessly in love with the sport of eventing. She conquered Novice level before taking a break to pursue novel writing but hopes to return to the saddle some day soon. When she’s not writing, she’s out in the garden, hiking, putting together impossibly difficult puzzles, or (of course!) baking.

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Under the Cloud by B.R. Erlank – Spotlight and Giveaway

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. B.R. Erlank will be awarding a $25 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

They call themselves The Settlement Bureau. A faceless, soulless organization coercing individuals with threats to expose their improprieties and vulnerabilities. Inhumanely persistent, they’ve secretly driven hundreds of victims into bankruptcy, despair – and several even to suicide.

But when this organization tries to blackmail IT expert Terry Reynolds, they make a serious mistake. Terry is down on his luck. He is penniless, divorced and in a dead-end job. Yet, the abuse of his personal information stirs Terry out of his lethargy and he fights back. He embarks on a digital game of cat-and-mouse with the cold, calculating minds behind The Settlement Bureau – and in doing so, uncovers a sprawling criminal conspiracy.

Under The Cloud is a chillingly plausible new thriller by B.R. Erlank. With a plot ripped straight from the headlines, advance readers warn, “this book delivers a roller coaster ride right up to the final pages.”

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Charlie’s canine senses were on high alert. He growled and stared across the street. There was a commotion in the shadows of a tree. Then Terry heard a frail, plaintive voice, “No, no, leave me. That’s mine. Let go!”

Terry knew that voice; it was Joe. What sort of low-life attacks an old homeless man? There was a thud and a howl of pain. Charlie was the first to react; the dog raced across the street with Terry behind him. Under the streetlamp, Terry could make out the old man’s face, bleeding and distorted with fear, as he shouted, “You imbecile, you don’t know…”

The attacker was dressed in black and was at least six inches taller than Joe. The assailant pushed Joe hard, then his fist smashed into the old man’s face. Joe slumped against the tree, and the thug pulled back his fist for another punch.

Terry shouted, “Hey! Leave him!”

The man briefly turned and hesitated. Then, before he could plant the fist again, Charlie lunged and sank his teeth into the man’s wrist. The attacker cursed, and a knife appeared in his other hand. The blade glinted in the streetlight, and Charlie’s bark turned into a surprised yelp, then a whimper. The attacker ran.

For a split second, Terry’s rage commanded him to follow, but the sight of Joe and Charlie, both crumpled and bleeding, stopped him in his tracks. He knelt by the old man, whose face was smeared with blood, one eye beginning to swell. His breath was coming in desperate rasps.

About the Author: Boris Erlank grew up in Southern Africa. He has lived and worked in places as diverse as Luanda, Cape Town, Singapore and San Francisco. Boris recently gave up his job as Global Privacy Manager with a Fortune 100 company to focus on writing full-time.

He has an extensive background in IT, data privacy and cybersecurity, and has drawn on that experience to craft his latest novel, Under the Cloud. His previous novel, Catch You Later, is a murder mystery set in Cape Town.

Boris lives with his family and two dogs in the foothills of Mount Diablo, east of San Francisco. He likes to cycle and hike. “Those solitary pursuits give me time to dream up the characters and plots for my novels,” he says. Boris also enjoys choir singing, travel, and listening to audiobooks.

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