Blog Tour & Giveaway: Bones To Pick by Linda Lovely

On Tour October 16 – December 16, 2017

Bones To Pick by Linda Lovely

Genre: Humorous Cozy Mystery
Published by: Henery Press
Publication Date: Oct. 24, 2017
Number of Pages: 266
ISBN: 9781635112597
Series: Brie Hooker Mystery, #1
Get Your Copy of Bones To Pick by Linda Lovely at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads

Living on a farm with four hundred goats and a cantankerous carnivore isn’t among vegan chef Brie Hooker’s list of lifetime ambitions. But she can’t walk away from her Aunt Eva, who needs help operating her dairy.

Once she calls her aunt’s goat farm home, grisly discoveries offer ample inducements for Brie to employ her entire vocabulary of cheese-and-meat curses. The troubles begin when the farm’s pot-bellied pig unearths the skull of Eva’s husband, who disappeared years back. The sheriff, kin to the deceased, sets out to pin the murder on Eva. He doesn’t reckon on Brie’s resolve to prove her aunt’s innocence. Death threats, ruinous pedicures, psychic shenanigans, and biker bar fisticuffs won’t stop Brie from unmasking the killer, even when romantic befuddlement throws her a curve.

 

Read an excerpt

ONE

Hello, I’m Brie, and I’m a vegan.

It sounds like I’m introducing myself at a Vegetarians Anonymous meeting. But, trust me, there aren’t enough vegetarians in Ardon County, South Carolina, to make a circle much less hold a meeting.

Give yourself ten points if you already know vegans are even pickier than vegetarians. We forgo meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. But we’re big on cashews, walnuts, and almonds. All nuts are good nuts. Appropriate with my family.

Family. That’s why I put my career as a vegan chef on hold to live and work in Ardon, a strong contender for the South’s carnivore-and- grease capital. My current job? I help tend four hundred goats, make verboten cheese, and gather eggs I’ll never poach. Most mornings when Aunt Eva rousts me before the roosters, I roll my eyes and mutter.

Still, I can’t complain. I had a choice. Sort of. Blame it on the pig—Tammy the Pig—for sticking her snout in our family business.

 

I’d consorted with vegans and vegetarians for too long. I seriously underestimated how much cholesterol meat eaters could snarf down at a good old-fashioned wake. Actually, I wasn’t sure this wake was “old fashioned,” but it was exactly how Aunt Lilly would have planned her own send-off—if she’d had the chance. Ten days ago, the feisty sixty- two-year-old had a toddler’s curiosity and a twenty-year-old’s appetite for adventure. Her death was a total shock.

I glanced at Aunt Lilly’s epitaph hanging behind the picnic buffet. She’d penned it years back. Her twin, Aunt Eva, found it in Lilly’s desk and reprinted it in eighty-point type.

 

“There once was a farmer named Lilly

Who never liked anything frilly,

She tended her goats,

Sowed a few wild oats,

And said grieving her death would be silly.”

 

In a nod to Lilly’s spirit, Aunt Eva planned today’s wake complete with fiddling, hooch, goo-gogs of goat cheese, and the whole panoply of Southern fixins—mounds of country ham, fried chicken, barbecue, and mac-and-cheese awash in butter. Every veggie dish came dressed with bacon crumbles, drippings, or cream of mushroom soup.

Not a morsel fit for a vegan. Eva’s revenge. I’d made the mistake of saying I didn’t want to lose her, too, and hinted she’d live longer if she cut back on cholesterol. Not my smartest move. The name of her farm? Udderly Kidding Dairy. Cheese and eggs had been Eva’s meal ticket for decades.

My innocent observation launched a war. Whenever I opened the refrigerator, I’d find a new message. This morning a Post-it on my dish of blueberries advised: The choline in eggs may enhance brain development and memory—as a vegan you probably forgot.

Smoke from the barbeque pit permeated the air as I replenished another platter of shredded pork on the buffet. My mouth watered and I teetered on the verge of drooling. While I was a dedicated vegan, my olfactory senses were still programmed “Genus Carnivorous.” My stomach growled—loudly. Time to thwart its betrayal with the veggies and hummus dip I’d stashed in self-defense.

I’d just stuck a juicy carrot in my mouth when a large hand squeezed my shoulder.

“Brie, honey, you’ve been working nonstop,” Dad said. “Take a break. Mom’s on her way. We can play caterers. The food’s prepared. No risks associated with our cooking.”

I choked on my carrot and sputtered. “Good thing. Do you even remember the last time Mom turned on an oven?”

Dad smiled. “Can’t recall. Maybe when you were a baby? But, hey, we’re wizards at takeout and microwaves.”

His smile faltered. I caught him staring at Aunt Lilly’s epitaph. “Still can’t believe Lilly’s gone.” He attempted a smile. “Knowing her sense of humor, we’re lucky she didn’t open that epitaph with ‘There once was a lass from Nantucket.’”

I’d never seen Dad so sad. Lilly’s unexpected death stunned him to his core. He adored his older sisters.

Mom appeared at his side and wrapped an arm around his waist. She loved her sisters-in-law, too, though she complained my childless aunts spoiled me beyond repair.

Of course, Lilly’s passing hit Eva the hardest. A fresh boatload of tears threatened as I thought about the aunt left behind. I figured my tear reservoir had dried up after days of crying. Wrong. The tragedy—a texting teenager smashing head-on into Lilly’s car—provoked a week- long family weep-a-thon. It ended when Eva ordered us to cease and desist.

“This isn’t what Lilly would want,” she declared. “We’re gonna throw a wake. One big, honking party.”

Which explained the fifty-plus crowd of friends and neighbors milling about the farm, tapping their feet to fiddlin’, and consuming enough calories to sustain the populace of a small principality for a week.

I hugged Dad. “Thanks. I could use a break. I’ll find Eva. See how she’s doing.”

I spotted her near a flower garden filled with cheery jonquils. It looked like a spring painting. Unfortunately, the cold March wind that billowed Eva’s scarlet poncho argued the blooms were false advertising. The weatherman predicted the thermometer would struggle to reach the mid-forties today.

My aunt’s build was what I’d call sturdy, yet Eva seemed to sway in the gusty breeze as she chatted with Billy Jackson, the good ol’ boy farrier who shod her mule. Though my parents pretended otherwise, we all knew Billy slept under Eva’s crazy quilt at least two nights a week.

I nodded at the couple. Well, actually, the foursome. Brenda, the farm’s spoiled pet goat, and Kai, Udderly’s lead Border collie, were competing with Billy for my aunt’s attention.

“Mom and Dad are watching the buffet,” I said. “Thought I’d see if you need me to do anything. Are you expecting more folks?”

“No.” Eva reached down and tickled the tiny black goat’s shaggy head. “Imagine everyone who’s coming is here by now. They’ll start clearing out soon. Chow down and run. Can’t blame ’em. Especially the idiot women who thought they ought to wear dresses. That biting wind’s gotta be whistling up their drawers.”

Billy grinned as he looked Eva up and down. Her choice of wake attire—poncho, black pants, and work boots—surprised no one, and would have delighted Lilly.

“Do you even own a dress?” Billy laughed. “You’re one to talk.” Eva gave his baggy plaid suit and clip-on bowtie the stink eye. “I suppose you claim that gristle on your chin is needed to steady your fiddle.”

He kissed Eva’s cheek. “Yep, that’s it. Time to rejoin my fellow fiddlers, but first I have a hankering to take a turn at the Magic Moonshine tent.”

“You do that. Maybe the ’shine will improve your playing. It’ll definitely make you sound better to your listening audience. After enough of that corn liquor even my singing could win applause.”

A dark-haired stranger usurped Billy’s place, bending low to plant a kiss on the white curls that sprang from my aunt’s head like wood shavings. Wow.

They stacked handsome tall when they built him. Had to be at least six-four.

Even minus an introduction, I figured this tall glass of sweet tea had to be Paint, the legendary owner of Magic Moonshine. Sunlight glinted off hair the blue-black of expensive velvet. Deep dimples. Rakish smile.

I’d spent days sobbing, and my libido apparently was saying “enough”—time to rejoin the living. If this bad boy were any more alive, he’d be required to wear a “Danger High Voltage” sign. Of course, Aunt Lilly wouldn’t mind. She’d probably rent us a room.

I ventured a glance and found him smiling at me. My boots were suddenly fascinating. Never stare at shiny objects with the potential to hypnotize. I refused to fall under another playboy’s spell.

“How’s my best gal?” he asked, hugging Eva. “Best for this minute, right?” my aunt challenged. “I bet my niece will be your best gal before I finish the introductions.” Eva put a hand on my shoulder. “Paint, this young whippersnapper is Brie Hooker, my favorite niece. ’Course, she’s my only niece. Brie, it’s with great trepidation that I introduce you to David Paynter, better known as Paint, unrepentant moonshiner and heartbreaker.”

Eva subjected Paint to her pretend badass stare, a sure sign he was one of her favorite sparring partners. “Don’t you go messing with Brie, or I’ll bury you down yonder with Mark, once I nail his hide.”

Paint laughed, a deep, rumbling chuckle. He turned toward me and bowed like Rhett Butler reincarnated.

“Pleased to meet you, Brie. That puzzled look tells me you haven’t met Mark, the wily coyote that harasses Eva’s goats. She’s wasted at least six boxes of buckshot trying to scare him off. Me? I’ll gladly risk her shotgun to make your acquaintance. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Eva gave Paint a shove. “Well, if that’s the case, go on. Give Brie a shot of your peach moonshine. It’s pretty good.”

“Peach moonshine it is,” he said and took my arm. A second later, he tightened his grip and pulled me to the right. “Better watch your step. You almost messed up those pretty boots.”

He pointed at a fresh pile of fragrant poop, steaming in the brisk air inches from my suede boots. “Thanks,” I mumbled. Still holding my arm, he steered me over uneven ground to a clear path. “Eva says you’re staying with her. Hope you don’t have to leave for a while. Your aunt’s a fine lady, and it’s going to be mighty hard on her once this flock of well-wishers flies off.”

His baritone sent vibrations rippling through my body. My brain ordered me to ignore the tingling that remained in places it didn’t belong.

He smiled. “Eva and Lilly spoke about you so often I feel like we’re already friends. ’Course head-shaking accompanied some of their comments. They said you’d need to serve plenty of my moonshine if you ever opened a vegan B&B in Ardon County. Here abouts it’s considered unpatriotic to serve eats that haven’t been baptized in a vat of lard. Vegetables are optional; meat, mandatory.”

Uh, oh. I always gave relatives and friends a free pass on good- natured kidding. But a stranger? This man was poking fun at my profession, yet my hackles—smoothed by the hunk’s lopsided grin— managed only a faint bristle.

Back away. Pronto.

Discovering my ex-fiancé, Jack, was boffing not one, but two co-workers the entire two years we were engaged made me highly allergic to lady-killers. Paint was most definitely a member of that tribe.

“What can I say? I’m a rebel,” I replied. “It’s my life’s ambition to convince finger-lickin’, fried-chicken lovers that life without meat, butter, eggs, and cheese does not involve a descent into the nine circles of hell.”

Paint released me, then raised his hand to brush a wayward curl from my forehead. His flirting seemed to be congenital.

“If you’re as feisty as your aunt claims, why don’t you take me on as a challenge? I do eat tomatoes—fried green ones, anyway—and I’m open to sampling other members of the vegetable kingdom. So long as they don’t get between me and my meat. Anyway, welcome to the Carolina foothills. Time to pour some white lightning. It’s smoother than you might expect.”

And so are you. Too smooth for me.

That’s when we heard the screams.

TWO

Paint zoomed off like a Clemson running back, hurtling toward the screams—human, not goat. I managed to stay within a few yards of him, slipping and sliding as my suede boots unwittingly smooshed a doggie deposit. Udderly’s guardian dogs, five Great Pyrenees, were large enough to saddle, and their poop piles rivaled cow paddies.

I reached the barn, panting, with a stitch in my right side. I stopped to catch my breath. Hallelujah. I braced my palm against the weathered barn siding.

Ouch. Harpooned by a jagged splinter. Blood oozed from the sensitive pad below my right thumb. I stared at the inch-plus spear. Paint had kept running. He was no longer in sight.

The screams stopped. An accident? A heart attack? I hustled around the corner of the barn. A little girl sobbed in the cleared area behind Udderly’s retail sales cabin. I recognized Jenny, a rambunctious five-year-old from a nearby farm. Her mother knelt beside her, stroking her hair.

No child had produced the operatic screams we’d heard. Maybe Jenny’s mother was the screamer. But the farm wife didn’t seem the hysterical type. On prior visits to Udderly, I’d stopped at the roadside stand where she sold her family’s produce. Right now the woman’s face looked redder than one of her Early Girl tomatoes. Was the flush brought on by some danger—a goat butting her daughter, a snake slithering near the little girl?

I walked closer. Then I saw it. A skull poked through the red clay. Soil had tinted the bone an absurd pink.

I gasped. The sizeable cranium looked human. I spotted the grave digger, or should I say re-digger. Udderly’s newest addition, a Vietnamese potbellied pig named Tammy, hunkered in a nearby puddle. Tiny cloven hoof marks led to and from the excavation. Tell-tale red mud dappled her dainty twitching snout. The pig’s hundred-pound body quivered as her porcine gaze roved the audience she’d attracted.

A man squatted beside Tammy, speaking to the swine in soothing, almost musical tones. Pigs were dang smart and sensitive. Aunt Eva told me it was easy to hurt their feelings. The fellow stroking Tammy’s grimy head must’ve been convinced she was one sensitive swine.

“It’s okay,” he repeated. “The lady wasn’t screaming at you, Tammy.”

Tammy snorted, lowered her head, and squeezed her eyes shut. The pig-whisperer gave the swine a final scratch and stood, freeing gangly limbs from his pretzel-like crouch. Mud caked the cuffs and knees of his khaki pants. Didn’t seem to bother him one iota.

The mother shepherded her little girl away from the disturbing scene, and Paint knelt to examine the skeletal remains. “Looks like piggy uncovered more than she bargained for.” He glanced at Muddy Cuffs. “Andy, you’re a vet. Animal or human?”

“Human.” Andy didn’t hesitate. “But all that’s left is bone. Had to have been buried a good while. Yet Tammy’s rooting scratched only inches below the surface. If a settler dug this grave, it was mighty shallow.”

“Probably didn’t start that way.” I pointed to a depression that began uphill near the retail cabin. “This wash has deepened a lot since my aunts built their store and the excavation diverted water away from the cabin. The runoff’s been nibbling away at the ground.”

Mom, Dad, and Aunt Eva joined the group eyeballing the skull. Eva looked peaked, almost ill. I felt a slight panic at the shift in her normally jolly appearance. I thought of my aunts as forces of nature. Unflappable. Indestructible. I’d lost one, and the other suddenly looked fragile. Finding a corpse on her property the same day she bid her twin goodbye had hit her hard.

Dad cocked his head. “Could be a Cherokee burial site. Or maybe a previous farmer buried a loved one and the grave marker got lost. Homestead burials have always been legal in South Carolina. Still are.”

For once, the idea of finding a corpse in an unexpected location didn’t prompt a gleeful chuckle from my dad, Dr. Howard Hooker. Though he was a professor of horticulture at Clemson University by day, he was an aspiring murder mystery author by night. Every time we went for a car ride, Dad made a game of searching the landscape for spots “just perfect” for disposing of bodies. So far, a dense patch of kudzu in a deep ravine topped his picks. “Kudzu grows so fast any flesh peeking through would disappear in a day.”

Good thing Dad confined his commentary to family outings. We knew the corpses in question weren’t real.

Mom whipped out her smartphone. “I’ll call Judge Glenn. It’s Sunday, but he always answers his cell. He’ll know who to call. I’m assuming the Ardon County Sheriff’s Department.”

Dad nodded. “Probably, but I bet SLED—the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division—will take over. The locals don’t have forensic specialists.”

Mom rolled her eyes. “You spend way too much time with your Sisters in Crime.”

It amused Mom that Dad’s enthusiasm for his literary genre earned him the presidency of the Upstate South Carolina Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

Mom didn’t fool with fictional crime. Too busy with the real thing. As the City of Clemson’s attorney, she kept a bevy of lawyers, judges, and city and university cops on speed dial. However, Udderly Kidding wasn’t in the same county as Clemson so it sat outside her domain.

“Judge Glenn, this is Iris Hooker. I’m at the Udderly Kidding Dairy in Ardon. An animal here unearthed a skull. We think it’s human, but not recent. Should we call the sheriff?”

Mom nodded and made occasional I-get-it noises while she clamped the cell to her ear.

“Could you ask them to keep their arrival quiet? Better yet, could they wait until after four? About fifty folks are here for my sister-in- law’s wake. I don’t want to turn her farewell into a circus.”

A minute later, Mom murmured her thanks and pocketed her cell. “The judge agrees an old skull doesn’t warrant sirens or flashing lights. He’ll ask the Ardon County Sheriff, Robbie Jones, to come by after four. Since I’m an officer of the court, his honor just requested that I keep people and animals clear of the area until the sheriff arrives.”

Andy stood. “Paint, help me bring some hay bales from the barn. We can stack them to cordon off the area.”

“Good idea.” Paint stood, and the two men strode off. No needless chitchat. They appeared to be best buds.

I tugged Dad’s sleeve, nodded toward his sister, and whispered, “I think Aunt Eva should sit down. Let’s get her to one of the front porch rockers.”

Dad walked over and draped an arm around his sister’s shoulders. “Eva, let’s sit a while so folks can find you to pay their respects. This skeleton is old news. Not our worry.”

Eva’s lips trembled. “No, Brother. I feel it in my own bones. It’s that son-of-a-bitch Jed Watson come back to haunt me.”

THREE

Jed Watson? The man Eva married in college? The man who vanished a few years later?

Dad’s eyebrows shot up. “Eva, that’s nonsense. That dirtbag ran off forty years back. You’re letting your imagination run wild.”

Eva straightened. “Some crime novelist you are. You know darn well any skeleton unearthed on my property would have something to do with that nasty worm. Nobody wished that sorry excuse for a man dead more than me.”

“Calm down. Don’t spout off and give the sheriff some harebrained notion that pile of bones is Jed,” Dad said. “No profit in fueling gossip or dredging up ancient history. Authorities may have ruled Jed dead, but I always figured that no-good varmint was still alive five states over, most likely beating the stuffing out of some other poor woman.”

Wow. I knew Eva took her maiden name back after they declared her husband dead, but I’d never heard a speck of the unsavory backstory. Dad liked to tell family tales, including ones about long- dead scoundrels. Guess this history wasn’t ancient enough.

Curiosity made me eager to ask a whole passel of none-of-my- business questions, though I felt some justification about poking my nose here. I’d known Eva my entire life. So how come this was the first I’d heard of a mystery surrounding Jed’s disappearance? Was Dad truly worried the sheriff might suspect Eva?

I was dying to play twenty questions. Too bad it wasn’t the time or place.

I smiled at my aunt. “Why don’t I get some of Paint’s brew to settle our nerves? Eva, you like that apple pie flavor, right?”

“Yes, thanks, dear.”

“Good idea, Brie,” Dad added. “I’ll take a toot of Paint’s blackberry hooch. Eva’s not the only one who could use a belt. We’ll greet folks from those rockers. Better than standing like mannequins in a receiving line. And there’s a lot less risk of falling down if we get a little tipsy.”

Aunt Eva ignored Dad’s jest. She looked haunted, lost in memory. A very bad memory.

I hurried to the small tent where Magic Moonshine dispensed free libations. A buxom young lass smiled as she poured shine into miniature Mason jars lined up behind four flavor signs: Apple Pie, Blackberry, Peach, and White Lightnin’.

“What can I do you for, honey?” the busty server purred. I’m still an Iowa girl at heart, but, like my transplanted aunts and parents, I’ve learned not to take offense when strangers of both sexes and all ages call me honey, darlin’, and sweetie. My high school social studies teacher urged us to appreciate foreign customs and cultures. I may not be in Rome, but I’m definitely in Ardon County.

I smiled at Miss Sugarmouth. The top four buttons of her blouse were undone. The way her bosoms oozed over the top, I seriously doubted those buttons had ever met their respective buttonholes. No mystery why Paint hired her. Couldn’t blame him or her. Today’s male mourners would enjoy a dash of cleavage with their shine, and she’d rake in lots more tips.

“Sweetie, do you have a tray I can use to take drinks to the folks on the porch?”

The devil still made me add the “sweetie” when I addressed Miss Sugarmouth. She didn’t bat an eyelash. Probably too weighed down with mascara.

“Sure thing, honey.” I winced when the tray slid over the wood sliver firmly embedded in my palm. Suck it up. No time for minor surgery.

As I walked toward Eva’s cabin, crunching noises advertised some late arrivals ambling down the gravel road. On the porch, Dad and Eva had settled into a rhythm, shaking hands with friends and neighbors and accepting sympathy pats. Hard to hug someone in a rocker.

I handed miniature glass jars to Eva and Dad before offering drinks to the folks who’d already run the gauntlet of the sit-down receiving line. Then I tiptoed behind Dad’s rocker.

“I’ll see if Mom wants anything and check back later to see how you and Eva are doing.”

“Thanks, honey.” He kissed my cheek. I returned to Paint’s moonshine stand and picked up a second drink tray, gingerly hoisting it to avoid bumping my skewered palm. Balancing the drinks, I picked my way across the rutted ground to what I worried might be a crime scene.

Mom perched between Paint and Andy atop the double row of hay bales stacked to keep the grisly discovery out of sight. The five-foot-two height on Mom’s driver’s license was a stretch. At five-four, I had her by at least three, maybe four, inches. My mother’s build was tiny as well as short—a flat-chested size two. I couldn’t recall ever being able to squeeze into her doll-size clothes. My build came courtesy of the females on Dad’s side of the family. Compact but curvy. No possibility of going braless in polite society.

Mom’s delicate appearance often confounded the troublemakers she prosecuted for the city. Too often the accused took one look at Iris Hooker and figured they’d hire some hulking male lawyer to walk all over the little lady in court.

Big mistake. The bullies often reaped unexpected rewards—a costly mélange of jail time, fines, and community service.

Mom spotted my tray-wobbling approach. “Are these Paint’s concoctions?”

I nodded. “Well, Daughter, sip nice and slow. Someday I may file charges against Magic Moonshine. Paint’s shine is often an accomplice when Clemson tailgaters pull stunts that land them in front of a judge.”

Paint lifted his glass in a salute. “Can I help it if all our flavors go down easy?”

Mom turned back to me. “Have you met these, ahem, gentlemen?”

I suddenly felt shy as my gaze flicked between the two males. “I met Paint earlier. This is my first chance to say hi to Andy. I’m Brie Hooker. You must be the veterinarian Aunt Eva’s always talking about.”

Andy rose to his feet. “Andy Green. Pleased to meet you, ma’am. Your aunts were my very first customers when I opened my practice.”

He waved a hand at Tammy, the now demure pig, wallowing a goodly distance away. “I’m really sorry Tammy picked today to root up these bones. I feel partly to blame. Talked your aunts into adopting Miss Piggy. It aggravates me how folks can’t resist buying potbellied pigs as pets when they’re adorable babies, but have no qualms about abandoning them once they start to grow.”

Andy’s outstretched hand awaited my handshake. I held up my palm to display my injury. “Gotta take a rain check on a handshake. Unfortunately, I already shook hands with the barn.”

Andy gently turned up my palm. “I’ll fix you right up, if you don’t mind a vet doing surgery. Give me a minute to wash up and meet me at my truck. Can’t miss it. A double-cab GMC that kinda looks like aliens crash landed an aluminum spaceship in the truck bed. I’m parked by the milking barn.”

As Andy loped off toward the retail shop’s comfort station, Paint called after him. “Sneaky way to hold hands with a pretty lady.”

Andy glanced over his shoulder and grinned. “You’re just mad you didn’t think of it first.”

Paint chuckled and focused his hundred-watt grin on me. “Bet my white lightning could disinfect that sliver. Sure you don’t want me to do the honors?”

I couldn’t help but laugh. “Somehow I doubt honor has anything to do with it.”

The moonshiner faked an injured look. Mom rolled her eyes. “Heaven help me—and you, Brie. Not sure you’re safe with the wildlife that frequents this farm. Forget those coyotes that worry Eva, I’m talking wolves.” She looked toward the porch. “How’s Eva holding up?”

“Better.” I wanted to grill Mom about Jed Watson, but I needed to do so in private. “Guess I should steel myself for surgery.” I took a Mason jar from the tray I’d set on a hay bale. “Down the hatch.” My healthy swallow blazed a burning trail from throat to belly. Before I could stop myself, I sputtered.

“Shut your mouth,” Paint said. Yowzer. My eyes watered, and my throat spasmed. I coughed. “What?”

“Shut your mouth. Oxygen fuels the burn. You need to take a swallow then close your mouth. None of this sipping stuff.”

“Now you tell me.” I choked. Mom laughed. “That’s the best strategy I’ve heard yet to shut Brie up.”

I wiped at the tears running down my cheeks. “Your moonshine packs more punch than my five-alarm Thai stir fry.”

Paint’s eyebrows rose. “My shine is smooth, once you get used to it. You want a little fire in your gut. Keeps life interesting.”

A little too interesting. I’d been at Udderly Kidding Dairy just over a week, and I already felt like a spinning top with a dangerous wobble.

***

Excerpt from Bones To Pick by Linda Lovely. Copyright © 2017 by Linda Lovely. Reproduced with permission from Linda Lovely. All rights reserved.

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Author Bio

Linda Lovely

Over the past five years, hundreds of mystery/thriller writers have met Linda Lovely at check-in for the annual Writers’ Police Academy, which she helps organize. Lovely finds writing pure fiction isn’t a huge stretch given the years she’s spent penning PR and ad copy. She writes a blend of mystery and humor, chuckling as she plots to “disappear” the types of characters who most annoy her. Quite satisfying plus there’s no need to pester relatives for bail. Her newest series offers good-natured salutes to both her vegan family doctor and her cheese-addicted kin. She served as president of her local Sisters in Crime chapter for five years and belongs to International Thriller Writers and Romance Writers of America.

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Tour Participants

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Countdown to Halloween Blitz Day 6: Chasing Shadows by Bernadette Marie

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Bestselling Author Bernadette Marie is known for building families readers want to be part of. Her series The Keller Family has graced bestseller charts since its release in 2011. Since then she has authored and published over thirty books. The married mother of five sons promises romances with a Happily Ever After always…and says she can write it because she lives it.
 
 
Connect with the Author here: 
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~ YouTube ~ Pinterest ~xxx 

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Someone has decided to become the moral compass for the women in town, and now they’re turning up dead. It will be up to Detective Lacy Pratt to find their killer before her relationship with Declan Matthews, brother to one of the victims, marks her as a target.
 
 

 

~ B&N ~ Kobo ~ Gum ~

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Snippet

Shadows darkened the path. Branches hovered above him, some with lingering leaves, others bare.
“Taking a stroll, Matthews?” Lacy’s voice cut through the quiet. He turned to see her walking toward him, her hands in the pockets of her black jacket.
“Trying to clear my head.”
“And this is where you chose?” she asked as she came to stand next to him.
“I have more good memories here than bad ones.”
A smile formed on her lips, though it didn’t match her eyes, which were dark and tired. “I assume when you grew up here, there weren’t as many people on this path running.”
He shook his head. “Lot more trees, less traffic. It was secluded.”
Reaching her hand out to him, she touched his arm. “I remember.”
Declan slid a glance to her hand. “What a time, huh?”
She moved her hand down until it gripped his. “You might not believe it, but I think of it fondly. It was hard to settle in here, to move on from what happened to my family. You helped me settle, Matthews.”

 

He felt that unraveling feeling move over him again, with her hand holding his. Perhaps that’s what caused him to pull her to him, embracing her tightly as he warded off the rush of pain that attacked him.
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To view our blog schedule and follow along with this tour visit our Official Event page 
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a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Book Blitz & Giveaway: Pistols and Poplin by Kirsten Osbourne

 

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USA Today bestselling author Kirsten Osbourne knows how to write romance. Each book is an experience that transplants the reader, indulging them in decadence, intense emotion and sweeping love.
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Hailing from the state of Wisconsin, she has lived in Texas for over thirty years as a mother, writer, and wife. Married to the love of her life for more than fifteen years, she knows that true love exists and shares that vision with the world.
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She writes contemporary and historical romance as well and also ventures into the realm of paranormal romance. She invites you to join her in her world of fantasy, love, and make believe, no matter the location, where there is always a happily ever after at the end.

 

Connect with the Author here: 

Facebook ~ Goodreads ~ Amazon ~

 

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Amelia C. Adams is the author of twenty-five sweet Western romance novels, the mother of four children, and the eater of chocolate cake and tacos. Many tacos. Too many tacos to count. Because cheese. And meat. Meat and cheese.
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She has hit the Amazon bestseller list three times and has the screenshots to prove it. Even though she’s only been publishing Westerns for two years, she plans to do it forever and ever, or until the cows come home, whichever happens first. She credits her own pioneer heritage for this new interest, and is glad that she doesn’t have to wear twelve petticoats to be considered modest. 

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Connect with the Author here: 


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Peggy L Henderson is an award-winning, best-selling western historical and time travel romance author of the Yellowstone Romance Series, Second Chances Time Travel Romance Series, Teton Romance Trilogy, and the Blemished Brides and Wilderness Brides Western Historical Romance Series. When she’s not writing about Yellowstone, the Tetons, or the old west, she’s out hiking the trails, spending time with her family and pets, or catching up on much-needed sleep. She is happily married to her high school sweetheart. Along with her husband and two sons, she makes her home in Southern California. 

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Connect with the Author here: 
Facebook ~ Blog ~ Amazon ~



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Carra Copelin is an award winning and Amazon Best Selling Author in contemporary and historical romances but, unlike so many other authors, didn’t write from childhood or read long into the night beneath the covers with a flashlight. She found romance novels as an adult. After reading about a million, she discovered numerous people residing in her head, all looking for a way onto the printed page.
Texas.

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Carra and her hero live in North Central Texas, in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex where they enjoy family and their three beautiful grandchildren. In addition to writing and researching with her fabulous critique partners, she enjoys playing Bridge, working on crochet projects, and tracking down relatives through genealogy.    
Connect with the Author here: 

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A transplanted Scot, Margery now lives on a lake in Canada.
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Although she grew up as far away from the old west as possible, she’s always had a love affair with the men and women who settled the untamed land west of the Mississippi.
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Glued to TV westerns like Maverick, Rawhide and Gunsmoke, and reading stories
of Annie Oakley, Roy Rogers and Rin Tin Tin, it was only natural that when she started writing, she wrote what she loved to watch and read. When she’s not writing or travelling in search of the perfect setting for her next novel, you can usually find her wielding a pair of knitting needles or a pool cue.
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Connect with the Author here: 
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“Five brand-new sweet Western novellas by five of your favorite authors!

Continue reading

Blog Tour & Giveaway: Bear’s Shadow by Desiree L. Scott

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Bear’s Shadow
Vendetta Series Book 2
by Desiree L. Scott
Genre: Paranormal Romance
 
Nikki Calhoun is on the run, fueled by terror of the shadowy world she had
married into. Desperate to survive and nowhere to hide, Nikki turns
to the wolf shifter pack of her childhood but it’s hard for her to
trust anyone, even the people closest to her.
 
Enforcer and bear-shifter Bret Axel receives a call from his cousin who
manages his Portland nightclub about suspicious activity. After
obtaining the approval of his Alpha, he travels to Portland. Two
nights later, screams of a woman shatter the silence of the dock and
with the help of his cousin, they save her from being killed.
A twisted tale of hunter and prey, two worlds collide as Bret falls for
the human and then struggles to convince her that they are meant to
be together. It’s up to him and the Crescent Ice Pack to get to the
bottom of the brutal acts of one man. Will Nikki survive the wrath of
her estranged husband or will the murky world of Edward Calhoun
destroy her and any who try to help?
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I have been writing since I was sixteen years old and love to write
both horror and romantic suspense. I think there have been many
influences within my life that has set me on the path that I can not
help but walk. A few of those names consist of Karen Rose, Lisa
Gardener, Nora Roberts, Cynthia Eden, Catherine Anderson, Laura
Griffin, Andrea Kane, and Lisa Jackson, just to name a few. This list
by no means defines by own writing but they have indeed influenced my
desire to live outside of my own world and to create the thrill of my
dreams. I live on 40 + acres in the SHOW ME state with my six year
old daughter, with the wonderful addition of four dogs and a handful
of chickens. The weather is unpredictable, but the surrounding beauty
of the country helps my creativity as I sit on my top deck with my
laptop and coffee close by.
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for exclusive content and a giveaway!
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Countdown to Halloween Blitz Day 5: Kate Empowered by Cindy M. Hogan

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Cindy M. Hogan is a bestselling author of young adult suspense and action and adventure novels that always have a dash of clean romance. After her first series, The Watched Series, skyrocketed her to number one, she hasn’t let up and now has over 20 novels to her name.
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She’s always on the move and never sits down to write, instead she walks and talks into a recorder and lets her computer transcribe her words. If she isn’t writing or editing, she’s teaching, gardening or doing crafts. You’ll always find her listening to an audiobook while working in her park-like yard,
cooking or baking something delicious. She dreams to someday have a German style bakery with a cute to-go window for Gelato.
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Cindy loves to create and her most prized creation is her two amazing daughters, and she secretly wishes they were teenagers again. She loves to be home, but her husband is a die-hard traveler and takes her family around the world. During her travels, she finds an endless supply of story ideas, characters and settings, walking away with either a suntan or jetlag.
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Her contagious laughter is the cure to almost anything. To read a novel of hers is to see a piece of Cindy, as she puts her all into every novel she writes.
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To stay up to date on all things Cindy M. Hogan, join her book group HERE.

 

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Connect with the Author here: 
 ~ Website ~ Amazon ~ Blog
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The Mafia has a stranglehold on everything Kate loves, and Kate is  etermined to end it. First they claimed her father, then destroyed her mother. The guy Kate cares for most is as much a prisoner as the family who raised her. And now, after all she’s lost, the Mafia wants to recruit her. But Kate has had enough. As long as the Mafia exists, she and her loved ones will live and die in fear, cowering under a dark, all-encompassing power. That leaves Kate with little choice. With the help of her Mafia-boss grandmother and a desperate wish for freedom, Kate must risk everyone she loves—and everything she is—to become the weapon that will take the Mafia down once and for all. If you like thought provoking, action-filled novels, you will love the latest  action/adventure hit Kate Empowered by Cindy M. Hogan. Buy Kate Empowered to continue the addicting Code of Silence Series and enter the chilling and gripping world of the Mafia

 

 

~ Amazon CA

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Snippet
Kate continued to look at herself in the mirror, shifting uncomfortably as the two women talked. The whole  situation reminded her too much of training with Veronica for Marconi’s club. Kate had been terrible at it, at least in the beginning, though she had started catching on near the end. There wouldn’t be time to acclimate this time. She’d be expected to perform right from the get-go. A single mistake would get her killed and then what good was everything she’d done? She would expose the whole family and get a lot of other people killed too. She’d been a fool to think she could do this. Some people were made to be heroic, like her grandma, Bruno, Pascal, Abramo, and Mario—but not her. But she couldn’t totally give up. She had to see justice done. Maybe there was a way she could help behind the scenes. Help someone else be the hero. 
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Blog Tour & Giveaway: I Stole His Car by Jessica Frances

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I Stole His Car
Love At First Crime #1
by Jessica Frances
Genre: Adult Romantic Suspense
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She stole his car, so he stole her heart…

I saw something I never should have seen.
I took something they wanted back.
I was desperate.
Alone.
Hunted.
So, I did something I never would have normally done.
I stole a car.
Not just any car.
His car.
Now I have no choice but to trust him.
Only he can help me get out of this mess.
Then, when we both become hunted,
And when feelings begin to complicate things,
Can I still count on his protection?
Can I trust what is happening between us to be real?
Because, as some people say: there is nothing quite like love at first …
crime.
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Then Zander’s gaze turns back to me, and I don’t feel so warm and fuzzy toward him anymore. Instead, I feel as though I’m facing a judge and ready to hear the verdict on just how many years I’m about to be thrown in jail.

“You stole my car,” he growls.

“Yes.” No point denying it.

“You kidnapped my twelve-year-old brother.”

“Technically, yes. However, I wasn’t aware he was in the car at the time,” I pathetically try to defend my actions.

“You came back, though, even after I told you I was calling the police.” His stance is stern, but I see the same expression of curiosity that I saw earlier in Van.

“Yes.” I glance around again, waiting to see the flashing lights of a police car approaching in the distance. Instead, I see a lone officer in uniform approaching us.

I don’t recognize him as one of Brian’s friends, but that doesn’t mean he won’t hand me over to him.

I barely even got to enjoy my freedom away from Brian. Well, it technically wasn’t freedom since I was chased the entire time.

Why can’t I just catch a break?

I can’t stop myself from stepping away from the young officer, my body back to being tense and shaky. I hate that this feels normal to me now. It never used to be. Now it feels strange to feel relaxed.

“What’s wrong?” Van asks me, his concern sweet.

“Excuse me, but did I just hear you accuse this woman of stealing your car?” the officer asks, swinging his hand to rest on his side arm in what looks like a reflex.

Silence falls over us. Van looks as panicked as I feel. I can’t read Zander’s face, but he hasn’t confirmed the man’s words. That gives me a small amount of hope. Maybe he is the most forgiving man in the world.

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Jessica Frances is an Australian author who currently resides in South
Australia. She is an avid reader and loves to write. She works
full-time as a baker, so writing is her hobby done when she has the
time.
When she is not writing, you can find her reading, napping or
watching excessive amounts of TV.
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Follow the tour HERE
for exclusive excerpts and a giveaway!
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Blog Tour & Giveaway: Issaura’s Claws by Katharine Wibell

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Issaura’s Claws
Incarn Saga Book 1
by Katharine Wibell
Genre: YA Fantasy
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According to legend, when the world was young, the goddess Issaura appeared
among men. Those who treated her with kindness received the gift of
the gods—the ability to transform into an animal form. This was a
great honor but one that separated this race from other humans.
Before Issaura departed the mortal realm, she promised to return if
her people were ever at the point of destruction.

Now a threat is rising from a land across the mists of the ocean, a
threat that will push this race to the brink of extinction.
Responding to the call to war, seventeen-year-old Lluava heads off to
find her destiny, one that will carve her name in history.”
The Kingdom of Elysia consists of two races: the dominant race of humans
and the native race of Theriomorphs who can shift into animal form.
Although law dictates equal treatment, they neither like nor trust
each other. Now brutal and ruthless Raiders are approaching; there is
only one chance to defeat them. An army must be raised and trained.
An army where each human will be paired with a Theriomorph partner.
An army that must fight as one to defeat their common enemy.
Women are not warriors. However, Lluava is not like other women – human
or Theriomorph. Her animal form is a magnificent beast whose power
and fury she must learn to control. Although Lluava endures intense
physical training and strives to overcome the doubts of the male
recruits, she faces an unexpected adversary in the commanding general
who seeks to break both her spirit and her body.
At the paring ceremony, Lluava is humbled when presented with a unique
and ancient weapon. Yet she becomes distraught and angry when her
human partner is revealed. If they fail to trust each other, the
consequences will be devastating. Death and destruction are on the
horizon and time is running out.
The Incarn Saga is a young adult fantasy series inspired by ancient
myths, filled with fast-paced action and adventure, and enriched by
an understanding of animal behavior that defines the shape-shifting
Theriomorphs.
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‘…People shouted and screamed around her. Lluava heard nothing, saw nothing but the beast of a man before her. The great brute pushed his body close to hers. She smelled the stagnant breath that whistled through smokeweed-stained teeth. Bits of moldy bread were tangled in his amber beard. Spraying tainted saliva on her, the man stepped backward just far enough to slam the handle of his ax into her chest. She tumbled to the ground.

Coughing from the cloud of dust that rose around her, Lluava struggled to stand upright.  She had only a moment’s warning; a glint of polished metal swung at her, and she dove to her left into the tall reeds, hoping the thick grass would shield her. The man used his razor-sharp weapon like a scythe, chopping a swath through the grass. Spotting her, he took aim and threw his ax. Once again Lluava caught the blade with the Claws but was knocked down by the force of his strike.

All she could do was stare at the man looming over her. His face was devoid of emotion as he raised his weapon to deliver the death blow. Suddenly, red liquid oozed from his lips, dripping onto his amber beard. He looked down, an amazed expression on his face, at the bloody tip of a sword protruding through his chest. The ax fell to the ground as the dead Raider slid off the iron blade.

Varren, his clothes peppered with red, stood behind the slain man’s body. Grabbing Lluava’s arm, he pulled her to her feet and rushed her back to the now fast-moving troops. In formation, the group headed toward Durog at speed. The attack had made it clear that there was no time to waste.

Despite its hectic pace, the march back to Durog gave Lluava a chance to reflect. For the first time in a long while, she doubted the choices she had made. War meant death and blood and carnage. Was she capable of inflicting such pain? Would she be able to take a life when she needed to? Could she live with herself if she did? Could she survive if she didn’t? Could she have killed the Raider who had attacked her? As these questions and more hurtled through her mind, the realization of what she was expected to do, of what she must do, appalled and sickened her…’

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Katharine Wibell’s lifelong interest in mythology includes epic poetry like
the Odyssey, Ramayana, Beowulf, and the Nibelungenlied. In addition,
she is interested in all things animal whether training dogs,
apprenticing at a children’s zoo, or caring for injured animals as
a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. After receiving degrees from
Mercer University in both art and psychology with an emphasis in
animal behavior, Wibell moved to New Orleans with her dog, Alli, to
kick start her career as an artist and a writer. Her first literary
works blend her knowledge of the animal world with the world of high
fantasy.
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for exclusive excerpts, guest posts and a giveaway!
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Blog Tour & Giveaway: A Journey Within by J. Mitchel Baker

The giveaway below is only for this blog so you have a great chance of winning!

Publisher: Artistic Origins (April 30, 2017)
Category: Memoir, Adventure, Inspirational
Tour dates: Oct-Nov, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-940385-05-1
ASIN: B071YRHTY4
Available in Print & ebook, 181 pages

The true story of a simple man who has spent his life working amidst the quiet embrace of nature and her animals. Despite the happy normalcy, his soul calls out to him through a series of visions urging him to search for the higher design in his life. His inner voice beckons him out into the wilderness, away from all that he knows and understands, to find the higher meaning of himself.

After nearly a decade of stubborn denial, he removes his self-imposed blindfolds to embark on what is to become his personal journey into the unknown.What he finds will forever change his life.

Instead of meaning, he finds a tempest. Finding courage through his animals he forges onward in search of his own truth.  Is there a greater universal design for each of us? Or is there only chaos and confusion? Your answer lies within, if only you dare to take the journey.

 A Journey Within highlights the duality between both the physical and the spiritual.  It carries a message of courage and inspiration to connect with life and the inner-self, taking the road less traveled, and living authentically.

 

Praise Journey Within by J. Mitchel Baker

“A good book. A REALLY good book. The author has a way with words. He has you thinking you are right there with him. I enjoyed the adventure Mr. Baker. Thank you!  It reminded me somewhat of “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. It all goes back to, or starts with, “Why do bad things happen to Good People”? I’ve been trying to figure that out myself. I’ve read so many books in an effort to find an answer that I agree with. Some ideas make sense, some do not. I truly hope Mr. Bakers’ journey (s) help him find the answer.”-Kindle Customer

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Excerpt

Preparing for the inevitable, I readjust the slack in the reins with my hands. My heart is pounding through my chest. Sound no longer registers to my ears. No longer can I see peripherally, only an intense focus onto Shake’s neck and head. Firming my hold on the reins, I pull the leather ever so slightly back, feeling Shake shift his weight to his hip. As he leans back, I quickly snap the thin band across his neck for the turn, simultaneously pressing my boot heel into his off shoulder for added urgency. He responds with motion as my eyes close. The movement stops. Opening my eyes, I find myself facing the other direction. He has successfully completed a half-circle spin off his hip.

Breathing a massive sigh of relief, I turn to find a single pivot point which has left an embedded circular hoof print in the dirt. Leaning forward, I place my hand upon his neck and visualize a warm embrace. One by one, each of the other men turn their horses in the same manner. To watch a horse spin in place is to witness pure poetry in motion. Has Shake known this move all along? Had he assessed the ground around him and instinctively known this is what he needed to do? Or had he seen the video playing in my head at that moment? Either way I am filled with the joy of being alive to help find our way up to the top from here, instead of from the bottom.

Backtracking to our original spot at the base of the cliff, we are left again searching for a sign. Fanning out to widen the search area, we can still see no tree markers or cairns to indicate a trail. Our three main directions of advance are impossible to pass, leaving us all nonplussed and confused on how to proceed.

Quietly, Walker directs his horse up the steep slope rising above us that, upon reaching the end, will put him in direct contact with the vertical wall. His way is barricaded by large deadfall across the climb. I watch in amazement as Walker coerces and guides his red sorrel horse over and around the obstacles without ever losing his momentum up the steep slope. Arriving at the top he announces a small cairn lies there at his feet, beyond any sightline for those of us downhill. A truly inspiring example of esprit-de-corps crowned by his moment of glory.

Glynn spurs his horse to start him up the slope next. His paint, with resounding objection to what lies ahead and a defiant “hell no”, rears up on his hind legs. Deciding to walk, Glynn dismounts and says he will meet us at the base of the cliff shortly.

Arriving at the base of the cliff next to Walker, I realize quickly we have both settled onto a small ledge which is too small for two horses to fit comfortably. I have inadvertently placed myself between Walker and the trail, leaving Walker cornered on an edge. Before a warning can be shouted back to the guys below I can hear Ty already thundering up the slope toward us. The moment is unraveling quickly. We are a heartbeat away from a game of king of the mountain where nobody wins. I need to move right now.

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About the AuthorJourney Within by J. Mitchel Baker

Mitchel Baker is a graduate of Texas A&M University, living in San Antonio with his family. He has dedicated his life to ranching and managing natural resources, and continues to be a student of all things visceral. He is currently working on his sequel to A Journey Within as he stumbles awkwardly toward a higher consciousness.

Website: www.jmitchelbaker.com

Buy Journey Within by J. Mitchel Baker

Amazon

 

Follow the Tour

Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus Oct 16 Interview & Giveaway

Jessica JBronder Book Reviews Oct 17 Review

Rebecca Paperback Writer Oct 18 Excerpt

Dawn Bound 2 Escape Oct 19 Excerpt  & Giveaway

Megan Mommy’s Memorandum Oct 20 Review & Excerpt

Raymond Amazon Reviewer Oct 23 Review

Katy Amazon Reviewer Oct 24 Review

Leonide Leonide Martin Blog Nov 6 Review & Guest Post

Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus Nov 29 Review

*This schedule is subject to change

 

Giveaway

The giveaway for this tour is for one winner’s choice of print or ebook. Print is only open to the U.S., ebook is available worldwide.

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

The Amazon purchase link in this post is an affiliate link. Purchasing through it helps sustain Bound 2 Escape.

Blog Tour & Giveaway: The Grand by Dennis D. Wilson

On Tour October 1-31, 2017

The Grand by Dennis D. Wilson

Genre: Crime Thriller
Published by: Water Street Press
Publication Date: December 2016
Number of Pages: 304
ISBN: 978-1-62134-330-1 (ASIN: B01N682LXW)
Purchase Links: Amazon 🔗 | Kindle 🔗 | Barnes & Noble 🔗 | Goodreads 🔗

Chicago cop Dean Wister takes a forced vacation when he is on the brink of a breakdown after the death of his wife. During his summer solstice in Jackson Hole, where he met her years before, he is called in to consult by local police when a notorious Chicago mobster is found dead in the Snake River. Dean’s investigation threatens to uncover the secrets of a group of memorable suspects, ranging from rich tycoons to modern day cowboys, and threatens to derail the Presidential prospects of the Senator from Wyoming. As Dean follows the leads from Wyoming to Chicago to Washington D.C., he also struggles to cope with the personal loss that threatens his mental stability, as the nocturnal visits from his deceased wife suppress his will to let her go and make him question his purpose in life. The climactic scenes contain reveals the reader will never see coming. A funny, romantic, sexy, roller coaster thriller.

 

Excerpt

 

THE FIRST TIME Dean Wister had visited the Tetons was twelve years ago, the summer before his senior year in college. Although he said it was adventure he was looking for, it was escape that he was really seeking when he answered an ad to guide for one of the rafting companies that run whitewater trips down the Snake River, just south of Teton National Park. It was a grueling twenty-four-hour drive from his home in Chicago to Jackson Hole, the mountain town at the foot of the spectacular Teton Range, and the route that he was taking, I-90 across Illinois, Wisconsin, and South Dakota, was one of the most monotonous and boring stretches of highway across America. Hour after hour he would stare at the road between truck stops, trying to keep alert for the highway patrol and the erratic driving of drowsy long-distance truckers. He tried listening to music and audio books, but his mind wouldn’t let him focus. Lately, he had a lot of trouble focusing. He’d once tried meditation, taking a Transcendental Meditation workshop with his wife, Sara, but meditation wasn’t for him. His mind would inevitably wander from the rhythm of his breathing to some problem from work that he was trying to solve. Dean had always been more of a ruminator than a meditator. And so he ruminated for hour after hour. He ruminated about all that had happened over the last twelve years. He ruminated about the horror of the last year. And he ruminated about what the future might, or more importantly, might not, hold.

That first trip had also been a time of transition for him. His mother died after his freshman year in high school, and his dad was killed in a work accident at the lumber yard just before Dean started college. As an only child he had led a solitary existence growing up, but by the time he left for college he was officially an orphan, no parents to cheer him as the starting safety on the University of Illinois football team, and no siblings to share the empty and confused feelings of losing the only responsible adults he had ever known. His hometown of Summersville, West Virginia, was near the banks of the Gauley River, one of the most famous whitewater-rafting rivers in the East, and the gray, small-minded, and cruel little town resembled what Mayberry may have looked like if Andy hadn’t been born. Until he was seventeen, Dean had never met a college graduate outside of a classroom, and growing up with his nose stuck in a book most of the time, his peers, and even most of the adults he knew, looked down on his habit as a sign of either homosexuality, laziness, or both. Maybe it was resentment for not living the fantastic and interesting life of the characters in the books that he read, or maybe it was the bullying that he experienced from his literature-averse peers, or maybe it was his sense of insecurity and inferiority from his hillbilly background, or maybe it was just his nature— for whatever reason, there was a well of anger deep inside of Dean.

The bullying stopped the first time he stepped on a football field. He loved to play defense, and putting the hammer to the ball carrier or receiver was equally pleasurable to him, whether in practice or during an actual game. He loved the rush of power he felt when a body crushed beneath him as he delivered the blow. As he would take aim at his target coming across the field, he imagined his body as a sledge hammer and he would launch himself, helmet first, at his opponents, relishing the pain he received nearly as much as the pain he delivered. As his scrawny adolescent body matured into a six-foot, one-hundred-ninety-pound defensive back, his football hits became ever more fearsome, and attracted the attention of a recruiter for the University of Illinois. Football would end for him upon college graduation for, as a pro scout told him, “Son, you sure have the meanness for pro football, but not the speed.” But that was all right; football had served its purpose.

The first time his dad had taken him along to run the rapids of the Gauley he was only nine years old, but after that he was addicted to the river. Working as a gofer for one of the rafting companies, imagining himself as one of the cocky swaggering guides, he would do anything to be near the river. The owner of the company took a liking to him, and broke the rules to put him on as a guide at sixteen. He worked on the Gauley through high school and college. But, with the death of his father, West Virginia held too many painful memories; he needed to get away. He heard from some fellow guides that the Snake River in Wyoming, south of Jackson, could be fun. Sure, its mostly Class 2 and 3 rapids were nothing compared to the Gauley, but he had always wanted to see the Rockies, and it was about as far away from West Virginia as he could imagine. That summer on the Snake, in the Tetons, revealed another side that he didn’t know he had. He learned how to cap that well of anger, to regulate the flow, to use it instead of letting it use him, and for the next decade was able to let it out only when his job demanded it. He discovered that there was another well, an untapped well, within him. A well of love and sweetness, of kindness and generosity. And the auger that tapped that well was Sara.

He’d just sent some food back at the Pioneer Grill, the coffee shop in Jackson Lake Lodge in Teton National Park. His order of sautéed Rocky Mountain rainbow trout appeared on his plate as buffalo meatloaf. His anger rising at this inexcusable display of disrespect and incompetence, he called over the pretty blonde server and pointed at the food in front of him. “Miss, do you think you would recognize a Rocky Mountain rainbow trout if you saw one?” She’d looked first at the gravy-smothered brown glob, and then directly into his twisted angry face, and behind her best smile said, “Apparently not, but I can recognize an asshole when I see one.”

Dean was overmatched by the spunky girl with eyes of a deeper blue than the summer skies over the Grand Tetons, and he fell in love on the spot. They laughed at the story forever, and she still called him “meatloaf asshole” on occasion, either when she was feeling especially fond or, more often, particularly annoyed with him. She loved to tease him and ridicule his quirks, calling him “schizo” for the many paradoxical elements in his personality: jock/ intellectual, hot head/ sentimentalist, loner/ showoff. But when she would call him “schizo” and flash him her irresistible smile, it would always soften his mood, and he was able to laugh at himself.

As a trust-fund baby of a power couple in Chicago’s legal community, Sara’s suburban childhood was exactly the opposite of Dean’s. Her bookworm ways were admired by her parents, friends, and her community. The vivacious blond with the sharp wit and the ability to fit in with every social group was a psych major at the University of Chicago, less than a two-hour drive up the interstate from Champaign if you are a hormone-crazed college boy, more like three hours for everyone else. Her well of anger was only a fraction of Dean’s and reserved exclusively for bullies and people who abused children, animals, and the less fortunate. But if you happened to occupy that territory, her fierceness could make even Dean flinch.

When he thought of their first summer, it played back in his head like some film made from a Nicolas Sparks novel. As he watched the movie, alone in the theater seat of his Jeep Cherokee, he smiled at the “meet cute” first scene in the coffee shop, marveled at the on-location, awe-inspiring backdrops of the Snake and the Tetons, was moved to tears by the scene where he makes love to Sara for the first time. And he couldn’t criticize the filmmaker’s decision to leave every sex scene of the summer in the movie. There they are making love on the window seat in the tiny apartment shared by Dean and his four other river rat roommates. There they are making love after a picnic at Schwabacher’s landing, the Tetons reflected like a painting in the beaver pond. And there they are on their last day of the summer, on a picnic in the alpine meadow they had discovered on their long hike into the mountains. The meadow they had named “Sara’s Meadow.” The meadow where Dean proposed. The meadow they pledged to return to each year on their anniversary. They talked of it often, and relived the moment every year on that special day. But they never came back. Life, and careers, and bullshit got in the way.

Careers included the single-minded ambition they shared. Dean’s resulted in a meteoric rise to detective in the Chicago Police Department and, after being handpicked to join the Midwest Organized Crime Task Force as the only local police detective among FBI and ATF agents, his days and weeks became an unending blur of clues, criminals, and cases. Sara’s graduate degree at Northwestern led to a tenure track appointment at Loyola University. But tenure track meant running never-ending, back-to-back-to-back marathons of teaching, research, and publishing. Their career ambitions allowed no room for children, or travel, or a return to Sara’s Meadow.

And then, over the last year, came the bullshit. Dean was working eighty-hour weeks on a high-profile case involving government and police corruption, and many of the Chicago cops whom he considered friends turned away from him. And then, just when they thought they were getting close to breaking the case, the investigation was shut down and he was reassigned. He was exhausted, disappointed, stressed, and his friends treated him like a traitor.

And then there was Sara. She had been diagnosed with cancer just as Dean began the investigation from hell. After her initial treatment, she received a clean report, and he was too preoccupied to notice when she continued to lose weight. A check-up a few months later showed that the cancer had returned. The rebound was aggressive, additional treatment failed to stop the spread, and she continued to get weaker and weaker in spite of what she would call “frequent invitations for happy hour cancer cocktails with my oncologist.” She even made up names for the cocktails based on the side effects she would experience afterward. There was the Diarrhea Daiquiri, the Migraine Martini, and the Vomit-rita. No subject was out of bounds for her wicked and irreverent sense of humor. Once, when she was bedridden near the end, Dean asked her how she was feeling, and in her best Sally Field Mama Gump imitation, she said “Well, Forrest, I’ve got the cancer.”

Dean wanted to take a leave to stay at Sara’s bedside, but she made up her mind that that was not an option. And when Sara made up her mind about something, he had learned to let her have her way. So Dean was relegated to spending every hour that he wasn’t working by her side, holding her close, imagining how they would live their lives differently when she was well.
The night she died, she asked him to describe that day in Sara’s Meadow. And when he finished, she said, “Promise we can go there when I get well. Will you take me there next summer?” He nodded, unable to speak. She slept peacefully that night for the first time in quite a while, and in the morning she was gone.

Strangely, although she was the center of his universe, the only person that he could say he ever truly loved, he showed little emotion when she died. He didn’t cry. He felt almost as if he were an outside observer of these terrible events. He experienced only numbness. An unrelenting, withering numbness. A numbness interrupted only by random bursts of anger that disturbed even the hardened cops he worked with. Dean was not unaware of his problem, and tried to channel the anger by hooking up with Manny Cohen, a mixed martial arts coach and self-proclaimed king of “Jew-Jitsu”. He loved the physicality of the MMA bouts, and that the jiu-jitsu moves he learned permitted him to disable much bigger and stronger fighters, even if he was on the ground being pummeled. He justified the training as part of his law-enforcement skills, but he knew what it was really about— the ability to inflict some of the horrible hurt he was feeling on others.

The changes in Dean since Sara’s death were most troubling to his boss, Carlos Alvarez. Carlos had been crushed when, on the verge of busting a Chicago mob guy who had both political and police connections, which evidently reached all the way to Washington, the whole operation had been shut down. In his heart, he knew it was those same connections he was investigating that had defeated him. He looked at Dean and watched one of the most competitive spirits he had ever known flicker out, starved for the oxygen that Sara could no longer supply. The case they had put their hearts and souls into for the last year was ripped out of their hands and Dean, who normally would be just as pissed off as he was, seemed to be only going through the motions.

But the most disturbing problem, as far as he was concerned, was Dean’s refusal to mourn Sara. Carlos watched as Dean’s isolation became extreme, and he refused all offers to talk or socialize. Dean’s robotic demeanor and increasingly unpredictable violent outbursts were scaring him. When Carlos sent him to meet with the psychologist assigned to their department, he refused to cooperate. He insisted that he was fine. But Carlos knew he wasn’t fine. He saw a man on the brink of a breakdown and finally decided that drastic action was needed to rescue the man from himself. One morning he walked into Dean’s office and handed him a letter worded as an authorization, which was actually an order, to take a three-month leave of absence.

“But where will I go? What will I do?” Dean said, seemingly incapable of entertaining any change to his barely functional routine. Carlos looked toward the picture on his desk, the one taken twelve years earlier. It showed Dean standing on a whitewater raft. Sara was sitting in the boat looking up at him with a combination of love and lust in her eyes. In the background, the grandeur of the Tetons loomed. “You have to get out of town. You have to get away from here, from all this. And I know where I would go if I had no obligations and three months off. I’ve been envying that picture since the day you moved in here.”

What his boss didn’t know, and what Dean couldn’t tell him, or anyone else for that matter, was the real reason that he wouldn’t see the psychologist— something that would make him seem crazy to outsiders. Hell, he often had that thought about himself. Not every evening, but maybe two or three nights a week, he would spend the night with Sara. He would wake up a couple of hours after he went to sleep, and she would be there, sitting in the chair next to his bed. He would get up, and they would talk just like they used to, about everything, what was happening in his life and in his job, or what was going on in the news. They would make love, and it was every bit as passionate and real as before she was sick. When he would wake up in the morning, she would be gone. At first, he tried to convince himself that it was all a dream, until one night he washed the sheets before he went to bed, and the next morning her perfume lingered on the bedding. She was really there, and she was as real as anything he had ever experienced.

He had nothing against psychologists. He had seen a therapist in college after a particularly hard break-up and had found it very helpful. In fact, he visited that same therapist when Carlos was pushing him to see the department shrink— he wasn’t about to have his craziness officially certified to his employer. And his own therapist confirmed what he instinctively knew himself. “Your hallucinations of your dead wife will go away when you allow yourself to fully mourn her.” But that was exactly the problem. Her very real apparition was the only tangible thing he had left of her. Her visits were the only thing that let him get through the day, that kept him from becoming totally out of control, and he wasn’t going to let anyone take that away from him. He was determined to hold on to whatever was left of her, for as long as he could.

Sara was the one that convinced him to take the trip. She told him during one of their nocturnal visits that he could use the time off; that she knew he was stressed out. He agreed on one condition. That she would come with him. She gave him her mischievous smile, the one that had captured him that first day in the coffee shop, and said, “That’s not a problem. I’m not going without sex for three months. And the ghosts here are too creepy to sleep with.”

That first summer twelve years ago, he had come into town from the south, getting off I-80 west of Rock Springs, approaching Jackson via Alpine and driving up through the Snake River canyon so that he could view the whitewater section he would be working. Wyoming is mostly high plains except for the northwestern part, which is an endless vista of scrub grass, prickly pear, sage brush, with occasional red-rock battleships and gargoyles. On that first trip he was able to view the Wind River Range in the distance outside his window, but he didn’t really get a good view of the Teton Range until he reached the outskirts of the town of Jackson. This time he had decided to take the Northern route via I-90, because he wanted to see the Black Hills, one of the few topographic areas of interest that is easily accessible from the interstate. So he was not really prepared for what happened when his Jeep rounded the bend on Route 26, east of Teton National Park, and he looked west. The fragrance hit him first. He had the windows in his Jeep rolled down and, as the road increased in elevation, the air turned cooler and became infused with snow runoff blended into mountain streams and the bouquet of lodgepole pine forests to form the unique perfume that his unconscious associated with his first summer there. He was looking down for a station on the radio when he felt the jolt, as if a switch was flipped in his brain, and when he turned his face back to the road, the windshield was suddenly and magically filled with the panorama of the majestic purple, snow-tipped peaks of the mountain range that symbolized all that had been true and pure in his life. All that was lost and would never ever return. The image struck him like a bullet in his chest, sucking all the air from his body. The next thing he knew, he was out of his car, on the side of the road, on his knees, gasping for air, heaving, sobbing. “Oh, Sara. My sweet, sweet, Sara.”

***

Excerpt from The Grand by Dennis D. Wilson. Copyright © 2017 by Dennis D. Wilson. Reproduced with permission from Dennis D. Wilson. All rights reserved.

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Author Bio

Dennis D. Wilson

After a career working in an international consulting firm and as a financial executive with two public companies, Dennis D. Wilson returns to the roots he established as a high school literature and writing teacher at the beginning of his career. For his debut novel, he draws upon his experiences from his hometown of Chicago, his years living, working, hiking and climbing in Jackson Hole, and secrets gleaned from time spent in corporate boardrooms to craft a political crime thriller straight from today’s headlines. Dennis lives in suburban Chicago with his wife Paula and Black Lab Jenny, but spends as much time as he can looking for adventure in the mountains and riding his motorcycle.

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Blog Tour & Giveaway: Avenging Kiss by Karen Tjebben

 

Psychological Romantic/Suspense

Date Published:  December 2016

  

Some sins cannot be forgiven. Those must be avenged.

When Aditya Chopra stumbled upon the decimated camp, she vowed to hunt down the men who killed her sister. The stench of burnt flesh and the taste of death in the air haunt her dreams and power her lust for vengeance. She will show no mercy.

The men of Savage Security served their country. They’d done their time in the sandbox and now enjoy their peaceful lives in the States, far from the death and mayhem of war. Will living in peace blind them to the dangerous threat that’s poised to strike?

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Excerpt

Logan pushed his cart around an endcap and started down another aisle. He stopped suddenly when he saw her, the woman from the bar. She looked just as good standing in the aisle in yoga pants as she had last night in her dress. She held jars of spaghetti sauce and was clearly debating between the brands.

Was it kismet that she stood in his grocery store the day after spotting her at the bar? He inhaled and worked out his plan as he approached.

“That one has a stronger garlic flavor.” Logan pointed to one of the jars in her hands. “The other one’s sweeter.”

Aditya turned her head to look over her shoulder at the man talking to her about pasta sauce. She liked what she saw. “Really?” she asked, raising an eyebrow. She didn’t hide that she was checking him out. She made it obvious as her eyes raked over his body. He was cute, and he probably knew it. He had that ‘guy next door’ look about him, but his body was clearly more fit than the average Joe. “How lucky for me that I ran into a spaghetti sauce connoisseur.”

Her smile and the flirty lilt in her voice nearly undid him. She was flirting back. He could work with that. “Logan Murphy.” He held out his hand, and when her feminine fingers smoothed across his, his manhood took notice.

“Aditya Chopra,” she replied. She held up the jar in her left hand and waved it. “Garlic can be so off-putting.” She set the jar back on the shelf and eyed him again. “I prefer sweet and smooth.” She knew her lips eased into a natural smile. Spending time with this man could end up being very pleasurable.

Sweet and smooth, that was exactly how he saw her. She didn’t hide her sweet curves, and Logan had a feeling she’d be smooth under his touch. “I think I saw you last night.” Had she noticed him?

“At The Grill House?” she asked. Her eyebrows rose in recognition. “I thought you looked familiar.” She rested one arm on the shopping cart and took a more relaxed stance.

“A few men offered to buy you a drink, but you refused,” he stated. He was determined to find out if she was dating someone before he got too invested in this flirtation.

Her eyes sparkled as she understood his statement for what it was. A fishing expedition. “I was supposed to meet a friend, but he never showed,” she said with a shrug. A smart woman lets a man think she has other potential suitors. It activated some sort of primal need in men to hunt and claim what they wanted.

Logan wanted to sink his hands into the dark spiraling curls that hung below her shoulders and press his lips against hers.  Her beauty mysteriously called to him, like some siren captivating unsuspecting men. He’d watched her all night at The Grill House. He wasn’t going to waste this opportunity. “If you’re hungry, I make lasagna that will melt in your mouth.” He knew he’d melt in her mouth.

Her lips curved into a smile as her dark brown eyes shimmered with playfulness. “Lasagna, huh?” She inhaled deeply and caught his subtle glance at her chest. She knew she was smaller than a lot of women, but a man had never not enjoyed being with her. She understood that how one used their assets was more important than size…

“So,” she began, “I could bring a salad,” she paused and one side of her lips rose in a tempting smile, “or dessert?”

Logan liked the way she said dessert. Like it was something filled with possibilities that she planned to savor and enjoy. “Either would be fine.”

“Hmm,” she eyed him as she nibbled on her lip. “I don’t make a habit of going to strange men’s homes.”

“Then you’re in luck. I’m not strange.” He casually shrugged his shoulders. “You can text my address to a BFF if that makes you more comfortable.” Was that the phrase women used? “That way she’ll know where you are. I promise… I’m safe.” He pressed his hand to his chest.

“Said the spider to the fly.” She set the jar of sauce in her cart. “Curious though,” she already knew that she’d go, but she still wanted to flirt a little to see his reaction. “What makes you so sure that you’ll be safe with me?” She cocked her head to the side and maintained eye contact.

He knew far too well how a tiny woman could destroy a man. There was no sufficient armor to protect the heart. “I have a feeling you’re worth the risk.”

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About the Author

Karen Tjebben lives in central North Carolina with her wonderful husband, twin daughters, and two hamsters. When her girls left for kindergarten, Karen discovered that she needed to fill her days with something, and that was the beginning of her writing career. She loves to create worlds filled with unique characters that she hopes will delight and raise goose bumps on her readers. In her free time, she enjoys traveling with her husband and seeing the world through her daughters’ eyes.

 

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