Blindsided by Marguerite Ashton

Marguerite Ashton
(The Forgotten Daughter, #1)
Publication date: July 13th 2020
Genres: Mystery, Thriller, Young Adult

Diagnosed with depression, Lexi Archer prefers to continue outpatient treatment. But someone else has other plans.

BlindSided tells the story of Lexi Archer, an eighteen-year-old woman who wakes up in a hospital bed, handcuffed to the rail, and realizes she doesn’t remember what happened the night before.

After being released from the hospital, Lexi’s transferred to the Milwaukee County Jail, where she’s informed about her pending charges for first-degree murder.

Intent on proving she’s innocent, Lexi places a phone call to her stepsister asking for her help. As Lexi gets closer to the truth, she unravels ugly secrets about her dead mother that will change her life forever.

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With me, my troubles ran deep. So deep that no matter how much I prayed, everything seemed to remain the same. Trouble followed me no matter where I went. Better yet, the situations surrounding my life keep getting worse. I’m convinced it’ll take more than just prayer.

      When everything started years ago, I knew I wanted to be set free. A friend of mine whose past almost mirrored my own mentioned emancipation. Upon doing my research online, I learned if I filed, I had the option of filing for partial or total separation from my parents. However, depending on my case, my parents might still have some financial responsibility for me.

      What I did know was that I didn’t want to be emancipated from my dad. I just wanted out from under my mom’s thumb. A thumb that she used to pin me down and manipulate me by any means necessary. Making me feel worthless and as if my feelings didn’t matter. I was afraid of my mother.

My psychologist diagnosed me with borderline personality disorder and PTSD; Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to the trauma I’d endured during the divorce and while in momma’s care.

      Things weren’t made any easier for me when my dad lost his fifty-fifty placement, and primary custody was given to my mother. The worst mistake the court could have made. The problem was I didn’t realize it until it was too late.

      I’d been a part of making sure that my father no longer had shared placement.

      Do I regret the part I played?


      Don’t get me wrong. Mom wasn’t all bad. During my younger years, I remember seeing her sweet smile when she stroked my dark curly hair as she told me how much she loved me. What child doesn’t yearn to be loved by her parents? Especially, a daughter with low self-esteem.

      It was me who helped Mom to tear down my dad. The same man who spent Sundays after church in his yard, tending to his lawn and chatting with the neighbors.


Author Bio:

When Marguerite Ashton was in her twenties, she took up acting but realized she preferred to work behind the camera, writing crime fiction. A few years later, she married an IT Geek and settled down with her role as wife, mom, and writer!

Her blog, Criminal Lines: Settled Writer Past 40 is her outlet while building dollhouses and plotting out her next book.

Marguerite lives in Wisconsin and enjoys RVing.

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Nothing Ever Happens Here by Mar Preston

About the Book

A trio of IT thieves dig in deep under the radar in a California mountain village to divert a truck shipment to sell on the black market in China. Holly Seabright, Village patrol chief and animal activist, is pulled into a high-tech heist of a rare cancer drug for children. Distracted by burglaries, and her best friend’s decision to become a dominatrix, Holly struggles to calm the Facebook-fueled anxiety that is setting neighbor against neighbor in this isolated town with one road in, one road out.

The murder of a popular dump worker and a rich Chinese tech marketer, people Holly knows, must connect? But how? Murder is the business of Holly’s boyfriend, the sheriff’s detective who could use her help but is too proud to take it. Despite his allergies, he is still pushing Holly to move in with all her cats. Where does he fit in her crowded life? How does Holly run a department, flee with her own animals and then rescued horses during a wildland fire?

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Russ DeMarco knew he’d found his man when he saw Gerald Mencken prying the top off a Tupperware sandwich container, sniffing the contents, and pulling a Thermos from a refrigerated bag. Ah, bringing his lunch and saving money. Mencken set up his laptop in front of him, giving anyone who approached his corner table an icy stare of discouragement. A skilled hacker, Russ already knew Gerald had medical debts; he was passed over for promotion. Russ figured he’d be open to his plan. Like Gerald, Russ’s career as an IT specialist at a national freight forwarding company was stalled. Nearing thirty, and in lifetime competition with his brothers, it was time to take the risk. But he needed someone like Gerald to make it happen.

Russ sat down at the table opposite Gerald with a swagger of confidence. They were an unlikely match, Russ tanned and sinewy, Gerald, fat and pasty pale. Russ ignored the noontime buzz of the cafeteria at a pharmaceutical manufacturing company in Los Angeles. Nobody was looking at them.

“I’ve got an idea,” Russ said.

“Who are you?” Gerald growled.

Russ handed him a business card from a well-known freight shipping company. He read IT Security and the name Russ DeMarco.

Gerald looked at it, turned it over, and shrugged. “Do I know you from somewhere?”

“Not yet. But I know a lot about you.”

“Yeah? I don’t talk to people I don’t know,” Gerald said, pulling the screen down on his laptop, packing away his lunch in the refrigerated bag, and stiffly getting to his feet.

Russ toned down the smile. He was a shrewd judge of people, especially the ones under pressure. Besides, Gerald had two ways to interpret the invitation.

“You have access to cargo shipments by truck. I can access — and change — schedules and drivers and destinations.” He carefully enunciated each word. “You ever heard of pharmaceutical shipments diverted, trucks getting out of the GeoFence and turning up missing?”

Gerald gave Russ a pale stare. “I could report you.”

“You didn’t ask me what else I know about you.” Russ leaned forward and took the business card from Gerald’s hand. “Maybe you will. Maybe you won’t. There’s a bar in the hotel at Sunset and the 405 on the way home. Meet me there at seven tonight.”

“You live in the mountains?”

“I do,” Russ said, bringing up the smile. “Just like you.”

That was the beginning. Russ’s job was to plug the weak spots an able thief could exploit to snatch cargo from a loaded semi. No one was better placed to pull off a major cargo heist. He had tested his plan, a simple one, a few palettes off the back of a truck, and it worked. To make it lucrative enough for a heist big enough for the risk, he needed partners.

Gerald’s company had a cancer treatment in production Russ had been following in the industry news. A major shipment was going out to Asia sometime this summer. Diverting that shipment off the back of the truck was a payoff that would set him up for years. He knew it could be done. And how.

He needed Gerald and one other partner who had Chinese connections.

Russ didn’t have friends he could casually sound out to see if they were interested. He woke up at night, ridden with anxiety, trying to think of somebody he could approach. Jerking off calmed him briefly, but it wasn’t enough. The pestering thoughts wound around him, making him forget all the problems sex caused him.

Maybe something would happen. Maybe it wouldn’t. Urgency throbbed in his chest like a worrying A-fib heartbeat. Soon. It had to be soon. He tossed the ID badge he’d dummied up into the trash on the way out. So much for the plant’s security.

About the Author

Mar Preston is the author of eight gritty police procedurals, five of them set in the Santa Monica Police Department against the backdrop of a glitzy beach city bristling with celebrity, international, and homeless crime. Her books might be described as quirky, more character than action-driven. Readers remember good characters more than chase scenes and explosions.

A second series takes place in a tranquil California mountain village, featuring a Sheriff’s detective from Bakersfield and his ally, the chief of the village patrol department. The third in the series is titled “Nothing Ever Happens Here.”

She distilled what she learned writing whodunits into a series of seven eBooks on the topic of “Writing Your First Mystery.”

She would like to tell you that she has a writing and blogging schedule that she adheres to rigidly, but this is also not true.

In 2019 she upended a 40-year hiatus in California, 20 of it in Pine Mountain Club, where “Nothing Ever Happens Here” is set, and returned to her roots in Ottawa, Canada. She has almost convinced herself she can stand the Canadian winter.

Website ~~ Facebook ~~ Instagram ~~ Twitter ~~ Goodreads ~~ BookBub


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Sister! by Thomas A. Burns Jr.

A Natalie McMasters Mystery, Book 7 

Crime Fiction

Date to be Published: Dec 5, 2022

Publisher: Tekrighter, LLC

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What do you do when you find out your twin sister is a stone-cold killer? Love her anyway!

Twentysomething detective Natalie McMasters comes face-to-face with the awesome power of money and privilege in her latest adventure. After she finds out that she has a twin sister who’s committed a heinous crime, her son Eduardo falls into the clutches of a perverted billionaire who plays with peoples lives for sport. Getting into his futuristic walled estate is a piece of cake, but getting out again is another matter entirely. While her friends and fam battle endless frustrations trying to convince the cops and the courts that Nattie and Eduardo are in deadly danger, she plays a risky game with a malignant narcissist, his venomous consort, and some unexpected houseguests, fighting for the souls of her sister and her son. How can she ever succeed against such impossible odds? The twisted ending packs a punch you won’t soon forget!

Sister! is the perfect read for fans of Karin Slaughter, Ruth Ware and Mary Kubica.


A man and a boy are kneeling in the center of an expansive emerald lawn behind a rambling, glass-walled A-frame mansion.

The man, solidly built with short blond hair, and dressed in a white t-shirt, camo pants and combat boots, is Danny Merkel, Natalie McMasters’s husband. The boy is Eduardo Ibáñez, the biological son of Lupe, Nattie’s wife, and he just turned ten last week. With his great shock of black hair and dark Latin eyes, he’s big for his age and could easily be mistaken for a sixth or seventh grader.

They are fussing over a small object on the ground, or rather, Danny fusses while Eduardo watches. Over his mother’s strenuous objections (she doesn’t want to spoil him), Danny bought him a birthday present—a drone, complete with a video camera that will transmit pictures back to a PC via the internet. Danny, nothing but a big kid himself, spent over $500 on the thing, though no one in the fam but him knows that. The only difference between men and boys is the size and the price of their toys.

The drone is remarkably compact—less then a foot long and only a few inches wide and deep. Danny extends four folding legs, equipped with propellors that tightly hug the sides of the body, then removes the protective cover from the camera and inserts a memory card in a slot near the front. He places the drone on the ground and retrieves the controller from its carrying case. It’s the size and weight of an overgrown cell phone. It opens into two parts to reveal a couple of fold-down joysticks on either side of a text screen, and a video screen that comprises the entire upper half. Danny presses and holds down a button on the lower half and both screens flicker, then flash to life.

Wow! You can program this thing’s flight path and time, maximum height, and it will automatically return to its launch point when the flight is over or the battery starts to weaken. It will fly for one hour before you have to replace the battery. Danny remembers the radio-controlled, gasoline powered airplane his dad got him when he was about Eduardo’s age. It took him about ten minutes to crash it into the house, earning him a terrific beating from the old man. The plane never flew again afterwards. That’s not going to happen with this drone—it’s even got sensors to warn it when it gets too close to an obstacle, and it will take control from a user flying it manually to avoid a wreck.

Danny looks at Eduardo’s handsome Latin features, the joyful smile the boy can’t help but wear, his dark eyes brimming with wonder. Even if Eddie was his own son, he could never lay hands on him like his dad did to him. Danny doesn’t even know if the drunken old b*** is still alive, and he cares less. On his eighteenth birthday, he walked out of the house and went straight to the Marines recruiting office, never to return.

“We’ll do one flight on automatic, just to be sure everything works,” says Danny. “Next, I’ll try a manual flight, then I’ll show you how to run it? Copy that?”

“Aye-aye, sir!” Danny has taught Eduardo well.

Danny sets the parameters on the screen, then hovers his finger over the start button. “Ready?” Eduardo nods enthusiastically. “In three. Two. One.”

“Go!” shouts the boy.

Danny hits the button and the propellors begin to spin, first vaporizing into an amorphous grey mass, then vanishing entirely. Holy s***! The thing is absolutely silent as it soars straight up into the powder-blue sky. Danny has set the height for 100 meters—by the time it reaches that altitude, it’s nearly impossible to see. It hovers a moment, then takes off in the direction that Danny set, away from the house. Too late, he realizes that it’s flying towards the sun, so now he can’t see it at all, then he remembers the video screen and presses the button on the controller to activate it. He and Eduardo are treated to a view of the green lawn rolling by below. Danny presses an arrow on the keyboard to change the direction of the camera, and the scene shifts to show the nearby woods rushing up under the craft. Reaching the trees, the drone changes direction by forty-five degrees and flies along the perimeter for a while, before executing a ninety-degree turn. Now it’s heading straight for the house, but it’s still high enough so there’s no danger of hitting it. Finally, when it’s above the circular drive in front, the little drone spins to complete the quadrilateral before returning to where it started. It’s suddenly back on the ground like it popped in through a wormhole—Danny and Eduardo never even saw it descend.

Danny kneels down in front of Eduardo, holding his arms above his head and his hands open. The boy enthusiastically slaps him ten.

“Ohmigod! Was that great or what?” Danny says.

Eduardo is so excited he can’t even get out the words to answer.

Danny flies the same route one more time, manually controlling the drone with the joysticks. It almost gets away from him over the woods, but when it comes too close to the trees, it immediately overrides his control and returns to a safe height. When he’s landing it, it again controls itself when it’s near the ground, touching down like a feather.

Danny is going over the programming procedure with Eduardo when the warm breeze brings a sweet spicy aroma to his nose. Both boys turn to see a short, raven-haired woman approaching from the direction of the house—it’s Lupe, Eduardo’s mom.

“Time to come inside,” she says. “We have to leave for Nattie’s graduation soon.”

Two voices ring out. “Awww, Mom!”

“Just one more flight! Please?” Eduardo whines.

“No. Eduardo, I want you in your room, doing your homework.” Her nose wrinkles and her eyes travel to Danny. “And Danny, you said you were going to take a shower before we go. I will not ride in that truck with you if you do not.”

Danny inspects his sodden t-shirt. “I am pretty ripe,” he agrees. “Look, Eddie, we’ll be home in time for a few more flights after supper. It is daylight savings, you know.”

Looking at the ground, Eduardo answers in a low voice, “Okay…” He casts a sidewise glare at his Mom, which Danny picks up on.

“Don’t be that way, Chief. We got all weekend to fly.” Eduardo manages a feeble grin. “You know I love you, right?” The grin becomes a smile again. “Go do what your mom says.”

About the Author

Thomas A. Burns Jr. writes the Natalie McMasters Mysteries from the small town of Wendell, North Carolina, where he lives with his wife and son, four cats and a Cardigan Welsh Corgi. He was born and grew up in New Jersey, attended Xavier High School in Manhattan, earned B.S degrees in Zoology and Microbiology at Michigan State University and a M.S. in Microbiology at North Carolina State University. As a kid, Tom started reading boys’ mystery series with the Hardy Boys, Ken Holt and Rick Brant, then graduated to the classic stories by authors such as A. Conan Doyle, Dorothy Sayers, John Dickson Carr, Erle Stanley Gardner and Rex Stout, to name a few. Tom has written fiction as a hobby all of his life, beginning with Man from U.N.C.L.E. stories in marble-backed copybooks in grade school. He built a career as technical, science and medical writer and editor for nearly thirty years in industry and government. Now that he’s a full-time novelist, he’s excited to publish his own mystery series, as well as writing stories about his second most favorite detective, Sherlock Holmes. Tom’s Holmes story, The Camberwell Poisoner, appeared in the March–June issue of The Strand Magazine in 2021. The sixth book in the Natalie McMasters Mysteries, Killers!, was released in September, 2021, and won the Silver Falchion award for best action/adventure book of 2021 at the Killer Nashville International Writers’ Conference. Tom has also written a Lovecraftian horror novel, The Legacy of the Unborn, under the pen name of Silas K. Hendersona sequel to H.P. Lovecrafts masterpiece At the Mountains of Madness. In addition to publishing the seventh Natalie McMasters Mystery, Sister!, he is currently working on a book of Sherlock Holmes stories.


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What Meets the Eye by Alex Kenna

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What Meets the Eye

by Alex Kenna

January 9 - February 3, 2023 Virtual Book Tour

What Meets the Eye by Alex Kenna

From debut author Alex Kenna comes a pulse-pounding tapestry of secrets, retribution, and greed for fans of Jeffrey Archer.
Margot died for her art—and if Kate doesn’t tread lightly, she could be the next to get brushed out.

Kate Myles was a promising Los Angeles police detective, until an accident and opioid addiction blew up her family and destroyed her career. Struggling to rebuild her life, Kate decides to try her hand at private detective work—but she gets much more than she bargained for when she takes on the case of a celebrated painter found dead in a downtown loft.

When Margot Starling’s body was found, the cause of death was assumed to be suicide. Despite her beauty, talent, and fame, she struggled with a host of demons. But as Kate digs deeper, she learns that Margot had a growing list of powerful enemies—among them a shady art dealer who had been selling forged works by Margot.

Kate soon uncovers a dirty trail that leads straight into the heart of the city’s deadly underworld.

Praise for What Meets the Eye:

"[An] impressive debut . . . Sara Paretsky fans will be pleased."

Publishers Weekly

"Alex Kenna is the real deal, a true talent. Her prose is stunningly eloquent and characterization masterful."

Crime Fiction Critic

"A righteous, painful debut. More, please."

Kirkus Reviews

"Dragging the world of high art down into the muck of Los Angeles' criminal underbelly, Alex Kenna has created an engaging mystery buoyed by the heart of its heroine, Kate Myles. Trying to win against stacked decks in her professional and personal lives, Myles' resilience and hustle makes her an easy hero to stand up and cheer for."

James Queally, author of the Russel Avery novels and Los Angeles Times crime reporter

"With the sure hand of an old master, Alex Kenna’s debut blurs the line between catharsis and crime in this gritty and nimble noir mystery. When a routine investigation into the apparent suicide of art superstar Margot Starling becomes anything but, down-on-her-luck PI Kate Myles must square herself up for the fight of her life or lose it all. Entertaining and provocative, What Meets the Eye reminds us that truth often comes with a price tag much higher—and deadlier—than anything Sotheby's could ever hope to fetch at auction."

Katie Lattari, author of Dark Things I Adore

"Kenna gives us the LA crime story we want—a fronded, sun-beaten carousel of depravity and murder, all laced up with tight plotting, sharply hewn characters, and a gripping, original story."

Joseph Schneider, author of the Tully Jarsdel Mysteries

"A suspicious death dismissed as suicide leads PI Kate Myles deep into a web of blackmail and deceit, set against an intriguing backdrop of shady dealings in the art world. An all too human character, Kate is determined to piece together the wreckage of her life and career, and salvage her fractured relationship with her daughter. With clever twists & turns, and a host of convincing suspects along the way, the plot delivers a satisfying ending, but leaves us with tantalizing hints of more to come from Kate…"

Julie Cameron, author of Nameless Acts of Cruelty

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: December 2022
Number of Pages: 288
ISBN: 9781639101849 (ISBN10: 1639101845)
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | | Goodreads | Penguin Random House

Read an excerpt:


Six Months Ago – Margot

All week long, I’d felt a fire in my belly. The spirit passed through me like lightning, brushes flying from wet canvas to wet canvas. Cooking was a waste of time, so I ordered takeout and drank whiskey. Sleep was out of the question. I cranked up the music and worked to the beat. Sometimes I sang along, dripping globs of color onto the floor. The paint went on smooth, like buttery icing. After a while, my brushes stayed in their jar and my fingers danced across the canvas. No bristles between skin and cloth.

Soon the images came alive. I’d been studying the Spanish greats: Velasquez, Goya, Zurbaran, Ribera. For them, it was all about bottomless darks with hints of warm, mellow light. I took a break from bold colors, indulging in white and yellow ochre on burnt sienna. The effect was sinister but mesmerizing. One after another, my hands pulled ghostly figures out of a dark void.

I finally passed out around dawn on Thursday, just as the birds were starting to chatter. When I woke, it was midafternoon, and the magic was gone. My mouth tasted of bile and I felt like someone had scooped out my eyeballs and punched me in the sockets.

I wandered into the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. One of Goya’s haggard witches stared back at me. My skin was the color of rice pudding. There were purple half-moons under my eyes and a cadmium streak in my hair. I picked at my nail beds, filled with Prussian blue. The thought of cleaning them was exhausting so I didn’t bother.

My stomach let out a growl and I stumbled over to the fridge. Nothing inside was fresh enough to tempt me. I turned to a soggy takeout container on the kitchen table. The waxed cardboard had partially melted, and a puddle of sauce oozed onto the table. A dead fruit fly was trapped inside the congealed orange liquid like a mosquito in amber. I pulled a half-eaten egg roll off last night’s dinner plate and popped it in my mouth. At least it was still crispy.

After lunch-breakfast-dinner, I had an edible and downed a pot of coffee. I tried to get back to work, but the electricity was gone. The images that were so alive last night now looked dull and mannered. A self-portrait smirked at me. I’d given myself a pouty red mouth like an Instagram twat and artificial jolly-rancher-green eyes. It was pathetic. The last desperate cry of a lonely train wreck nearing forty. I felt worthless. I should go jump off a bridge or wander onto the freeway.

I lay on the couch for what must have been hours, binge watching some show about British aristocrats and their servants. Thank God I wasn’t born in nineteenth century England. You can’t be a British lady if you’re a mouthy alcoholic who screws half the landed gentry. I would’ve done worse as a servant. I can barely fry an egg and half the time I’m too paralyzed by my own shit to get out of bed. I’d end up as a consumptive whore blowing sailors for my supper in a London tenement.

The curtains were drawn, and eventually light stopped leaking in from the window edges. I usually do better when the sun goes down. But nightfall didn’t bring me a second wind. It made me feel worse. I poured myself another drink and lit a cigarette.

My cell kept blowing up with a number I didn’t recognize. I’d had this phone for six months and never transferred my contacts over from the last one. Now my caller ID served as a kind of litmus test. If someone hadn’t reached out in half a year, they weren’t worth my time. I let it go to voicemail and turned back to the aristocrats. The only decent one was dead now. This show was making me tired.

There was a knock on the door. Probably the neighbor coming to tell me her baby couldn’t sleep because I make use of my electronics. I ignored it, took a swig of whiskey, and lit another cigarette.

Then whoever it was started pounding. “Margot, open up,” said a loud baritone. The voice was familiar, but I couldn’t place it. His tone had an edge of desperation. Could it be that cop from last week? A wave of dread flowed through me. My hands started shaking and a clump of ash fell on the couch. If I kept very still, maybe he’d think I wasn’t home and go away. No, the TV was too loud. He knew I was in here.

I tiptoed over to the keyhole and gasped. My drink flew from my hand and shattered, coating the floor in alcohol and shards of glass.


Excerpt from What Meets the Eye by Alex Kenna. Copyright 2022 by Alex Kenna. Reproduced with permission from Alex Kenna. All rights reserved.


Author Bio:

Alex Kenna

Alex Kenna is a lawyer, writer, and amateur painter based in Los Angeles. Before law school, Alex studied painting and art history. She also worked as a freelance culture writer and sold art in a gallery. Originally from Washington DC, Alex lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son, and giant schnauzer, Zelda. When she’s not writing Alex can be found exploring Southern California, toddler-wrangling, and playing string instruments badly.


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The Accidental Spy by David Gardner

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The Accidental Spy

by David Gardner

January 9 - February 3, 2023 Virtual Book Tour

The Accidental Spy by David Gardner

Harvey Hudson is an emotionally scarred, fifty-six-year-old history professor who has lost his job, his wife and his self-respect. In desperation, Harvey takes a high-tech job for which he is totally unqualified.

So he outsources it to India.

Then Harvey discovers that a Russian intelligence agency owns the outsourcing company and are using him to launch a cyberattack on the U.S. petroleum industry.

Harvey now finds himself in a world of trouble with the Russians and the FBI, and he has fallen in love with the woman from New Delhi who’s doing the job he’s outsourced—who might be a Russian agent.

The Accidental Spy Trailer:

Book Details:

Genre: Humorous Thriller with Literary Pretensions
Published by: Encircle Publications, LLC
Publication Date: November 2, 2022
Number of Pages: 274
ISBN: 9781645994206
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | | Goodreads | Encircle Publications

Read an excerpt:

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both.”
Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”

Spy: “A person employed by a governmental agency to obtain secret information on a hostile country.”
The Philips Dictionary of Espionage

Accidental Spy: “Some poor jerk dragged into a world of trouble.”
Harvey Hudson

Chapter 1: Bunny Ears

Summer, 2019

Harvey Hudson released the steering wheel and swatted at the blue balloon (“Congrats! You Did It!”) that was banging against the back of his head.

What was the ‘It’ for? Someone earned a law degree? Pulled off a bank heist? Successfully underwent potty training? All three?

One day before turning fifty-six, and here he was, delivering balloons. How had he let this happen to him?

He chewed on the last of the Skittles he’d swiped from a bulky candy basket attached to a red balloon shaped like a birthday cake. Too many sweets for some spoiled kid. He was doing the pudgy brat a favor. The Snickers bar was tempting. Maybe later.

Harvey reached across the front seat, grabbed a handful of candy bars from the Skittle-less basket ($149), and dropped them into its modest neighbor ($39). He often shifted candy from larger baskets to lesser ones. He thought of himself as the Robin Hood of balloon-delivery individuals.

He’d had just $87 in the bank a few weeks ago when he’d shambled past a help-wanted sign in the front window of the Rapid Rabbit Balloon Service. He paused and reread the sign. “Part-time Delivery Person Needed. Become a Rapid Rabbit!” Yeah, what the hell. He hurried inside before he came to his senses. He would have taken any gig—balloon-delivery specialist, male stripper, or get-away driver for a grizzled bank robber.

With his part-time job delivering balloons and his full-time work as a beginning technical writer, Harvey could just stay afloat. His ex-wife had cleaned him out.

He double-parked on a smart street of brick-front homes on Boston’s Beacon Hill. Hesitating, he clamped the hated bunny ears over his head and attached the spongy red nose. Sighing, he grabbed the $149 basket and, head down, ambled up the walkway and rang the bell. The balloon bobbed overhead, taunting him.

The woman who opened the door was a slim and pretty brunette in her fifties. She had a narrow face and large, dark eyes.

She was his boss at his day job.

Also his high school sweetheart.

Harvey wanted to disappear into the ground.

Margo took a step back. “Oh.”

Harvey pulled off the bulbous red nose and stuffed it into his shirt pocket. “Uh…this is where you live?”

Margo shook her head. “I’m here with my daughter for a birthday party.”

Harvey shifted from one foot to the other. “I’m…um…delivering balloons just for tonight to help out a buddy who had two wisdom teeth pulled this morning, a professor who lost his job the same time I did.”

Margo blinked twice.

“A sociologist,” Harvey added.

Margo gripped the edge of the door.

“Named Fred,” Harvey said.

Margo nodded.

“The guy took the job in desperation because he’s broke, recently divorced, and down on his luck,” Harvey said and realized he was describing himself.

He handed the basket to Margo.

Did she believe him? Probably not. Did the company have a rule against moonlighting? He’d soon find out.

Margo poked around inside the basket. “There’s too much candy in here.”

“At least there aren’t any Skittles.”

Margo selected a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. “I’ve moved tomorrow’s team meeting up to 10:00 A.M. Did you get my email?”

Harvey nodded.

Was that her way of telling him that moonlighters don’t get fired? He hoped so. He was pathetically unqualified as a technical writer, and his job was in jeopardy.

Harvey hated meetings. Sometimes he thought the software engineers asked him questions he couldn’t answer just to see him squirm. Many were kids in their twenties, making double his salary.

And he hated lying to Margo. At least he could be honest about one small thing. “Actually, this is my night gig. I’ve had it for a few weeks.”

Margo unwrapped the Reese’s, nipped off a corner, chewed and said, “Is that why I caught you asleep at your desk yesterday?”

No, it’s because the job is so goddamn boring. He shook his head. “I wasn’t sleeping. I have the habit of relaxing and closing my eyes whenever I’m searching for the perfect way to convey a particularly difficult concept to our worthy customers.”

“And snoring?”

Margo was smiling now. That same cute smile from high school. He remembered it from the time they’d sneaked a first kiss in the back row of calculus class. The girl he’d loved and lost.

She set the basket down and pulled a twenty from the side pocket of her slacks. “Um…would you…uh…accept a tip?”


She shoved the bill into his shirt pocket. “Yes, you will.”

Harvey shifted his weight to his left foot. A liar doesn’t deserve a $20 tip. At most, a few dimes and nickels, couch-cushion change.

Margo finished the peanut butter cup in silence.

He didn’t quite know what to say now.

Yes, he did know. He should tell her the truth.

He’d outsourced his job to India.

Was that illegal? Probably not. But highly unethical. Would she protect him after he’d confessed? Unlikely, which meant he would lose his job. But living a lie was exhausting and just plain wrong. She’d hired him and trusted him. She deserved better. He cleared his throat, once, twice, a third time. “Margo, there’s something I have to tell you. It seems I—“

“Is that the balloon guy?” a young woman called from inside the house.

“That’s my daughter,” Margo said and picked up the basket. A blue balloon bobbed on a string attached to the handle. “I’ll be right back.”

Harvey stood at the open door, trying to think of some way to soften his upcoming confession. Or maybe just blurt it out and get it over with?

“Happy birthday, Dad!”

The daughter’s voice again from inside.

“Candy and a kid’s balloon again this year! Are you trying to tell me something?”

The daughter laughed.

Harvey recognized the man’s voice.

Tucker Aldrich was the CEO of the company where Harvey worked. He was also Margo’s ex-husband and a first-class dickhead.

So, it meant the balloon and candy basket were for Tucker and not some child. Harvey was sorry he’d passed on the Snickers bar.

The hell with telling the truth.

Margo came back out, holding a glass of white wine. She leaned against the door frame. “What were you going to say earlier?”

“Uh…that you’re an over-tipper.”

“Only when the delivery person is a cute, curly-haired guy with a spongy red nose,” she said and sipped her wine. “Did I mention that the meeting’s moved to 10:00?”


Silence, then Margo said, “Well, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

She closed the door behind her.

Harvey stared at the bronze horsehead knocker. He wanted to rip it off. The door too. He in fact wanted to tear the whole damn building down on Tucker’s head.

Margo hadn’t forgotten that she’d told him about the meeting. Margo was incapable of forgetting. She was warning him to show up.

Team meetings were a nightmare. The scruffy programmers spoke computerese, argued over stuff Harvey didn’t understand, and gleefully pointed out errors in his documentation.

But way off in New Delhi, lovely Amaya understood, and with luck she might save his job.

Tomorrow’s meeting would make or break him.

Harvey shuffled down the walkway, his head lowered, his bunny ears slipping down his forehead. He’d been so shocked to see Margo that he’d forgotten to take them off. One of life’s bad moments.

Still, she had called him cute.

Yeah, sure. He was just hours from turning fifty-six, had found addional gray hairs while shaving that morning, and was thickening around the waist from too many Skittles and Snickers.

Harvey climbed into his car and slumped in the driver’s seat. He was angry with Tucker for stealing Margo and angry at Margo for not offering him a glass of wine. But most of all, Harvey was angry with himself for letting her see him in bunny ears.

When he’d first started making deliveries a few weeks earlier, he’d refused to wear them, then thought, what the hell? Doesn’t everyone at some time want to play the fool? There was no pressure to succeed, to show off, to one-up a colleague.

What if everyone from a prisoner sitting out a life term to the President of the United States had to set aside one day a year and play the fool, to go out in public wearing a spongy red nose and bunny ears?

What-Ifs and Whys had obsessed Harvey as a child, who from morning to night had trailed behind his father and mother and pestered them with questions. (What if there was a ladder to the Moon? What if everyone had four arms? Why is cousin Alice getting those bumps on her chest?)

Later, he would turn his pestering curiosity into a profession. He thought of himself as a ‘speculative historian.’ (What if the Allies had lost the Second World War? What if Caesar hadn’t crossed the Rubicon? What if no one had invented the computer?)

Harvey started the engine, reached over to tap the next address into the GPS, then leaned back.

Why humiliate himself like this? His ex-wife had always insisted he was punishing himself in guilt over his younger brother. Harvey denied this, but he knew she was right.

Enough. He had reached his lifetime quota of humiliation.

Here’s another What-If: What if he quit this goddamn job?

Harvey shut off the engine, climbed out of the car, went around back, and popped the trunk.

A dozen balloons bobbed on basket handles, aching to go free.

Harvey tied the spongy red nose to a balloon that read “Get Well Soon!” He cut it loose. Next, he liberated a black balloon picturing a racecar (“Turning Ten!”). Finally, he tied his rabbit ears to a cluster of white orbs trailing a banner that read, “Congrats, New Parents!” and set the bunch free.

He watched until the last of the balloons caught the breeze and disappeared into the night sky.

He slammed the trunk closed, climbed into his car, and right away started to fret. What if a balloon floated to the harbor for some sea creature to swallow (Headline: “Reckless Ex-Professor Kills Orca!”).

Just one more reason to be angry with himself.


Excerpt from The Accidental Spy by David Gardner. Copyright 2022 by David Gardner. Reproduced with permission from David Gardner. All rights reserved.



Author Bio:

David Gardner

David Gardner grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm, served in Army Special Forces and earned a Ph.D. in French from the University of Wisconsin. He has taught college and worked as a reporter and in the computer industry.

He coauthored three programming books for Prentice Hall, wrote dozens of travel articles as well as too many mind-numbing computer manuals before happily turning to fiction: "The Journalist: A Paranormal Thriller," "The Last Speaker of Skalwegian," and "The Accidental Spy" (all with Encircle Publications, LLC).

He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, Nancy, also a writer. He hikes, bikes, messes with astrophotography and plays the keyboard with no discernible talent whatsoever.

Catch Up With David Gardner:
BookBub - @davidagardner07
Instagram - @davidagardner07


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Pretty Evil by Zoe Rosi

Pretty Evil
Zoe Rosi
Publication date: January 17th 2023
Genres: Adult, Thriller

You’ve done a bad thing. She has you in her sights. Now you’re going to pay.

Meet Camilla Black: an affluent, respected, influential fashion magazine editor, who lives it up in her beautiful Mayfair apartment. But Camilla’s glamorous life is a lie. Behind her poised exterior beats the cold dark heart of a vigilante killer, a murderer hell-bent on wreaking vengeance upon bad men.

Camilla expects to get away with murder. She’s careful. And anyway, it’s worth the risk. She’s making the world a better place with each predator she kills. But when one of her victims’ bodies is unexpectedly found, his gruesome death is splashed all over the papers.

To make matters worse, she’s now being pursued by Detective Wheelan, a new addition to the Met with laser-sharp focus and a worrying habit of solving impossible crimes…

She knows she should stop, but she can’t. Some men just deserve to die. Will Camilla’s insatiable appetite for justice be her downfall, or can she outsmart the police?

Revised edition: Previously published as Predator, this edition of Pretty Evil includes editorial revisions.

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I pull the fire escape door open, scoop my eyeshadow palette off the ground and slip back inside. For a moment, I pause in the corridor and catch my breath. Adrenaline is surging through me. Rage. A normal woman would call the police at this point. But a normal woman would never have been paranoid enough in the first place to pretend to go to the toilet, only to sneak out of the fire escape and spy through a window to watch what her date does when he has five minutes alone with her drink. Nope. A normal woman would have gone to the loo, done a pee and topped up her lipstick. Or she’d have texted a friend about her hot date, feeling giddy with hope and excitement.

Now, let’s think about what would have happened to a normal woman.

A normal woman would have headed back to her date, smiling prettily, before sitting down and drinking her drugged drink. Then, a short while later, that normal woman would have started feeling far more drunk than she normally does after just a couple of drinks, but she’d probably blame herself. She’d wonder if maybe she’d drunk too much. Or maybe she’d blame herself for having not eaten earlier in the day because she didn’t want to look fat in her dress. Or maybe she’d blame herself because that’s just what she does; she blames herself. And then, just as she started to feel woozy and a bit confused, her date would take her outside for some fresh air and she’d be grateful to him. She’d think he was caring and responsible, when really, he was just whisking her out of sight, before she started to look less like she was drunk and more like she’d been drugged. And then the next thing she’d know, she’d be staggering into the back of a cab and her date would be asking her to tell the driver where she lived. And when she’d barely be able to get the words out and her date made a joke to the driver about how drunk she was, she’d feel small and embarrassed. And then she’d find herself slumping into her date’s open arms, flopping against his big manly body, and she’d feel grateful once more that this man was taking care of her and getting her home safe.

And then, once the taxi slowed down and she blinked her eyes open and found they’d pulled up outside her flat, she’d notice in a fleeting moment of clarity that when the driver asked for the fare, her date thrust two crisp ten-pound notes towards him in a weirdly premeditated move, as though he’d known this moment was going to happen all along. As though he’d had the cash lined up, the plan set, and she’d feel something. Something. But then she’d be staggering out of the taxi, even sloppier than when she got in, and her legs would be buckling, and she’d cling to her date for support, her make-up now smudged, her eyes half-closed, her hair messy.

She’d look a state and he’d ask her which flat was hers, and she’d walk with him to her front door, to the flat where she lives alone. To the place that’s full of books and cute knick-knacks from charity shops and colourful but inexpensive clothes. She’d unlock her front door, her hand sliding drunkenly over the lock, and she’d lead him into the place she’s been using as a base to try to get ahead in life, and then he’d look around, keen-eyed, until he spotted her bedroom and he’d draw her in.

And then all of a sudden he’d be in her bedroom and she wouldn’t be able to remember if she’d asked him back or not or quite how this happened, and it would all be moving so fast and her thoughts would be unable to keep up – they’d keep sliding away – and he’d be kissing her and she’d be unsure what was happening as he pulled off her dress and she’d wonder, did she ask for this? Does she want this? Has she been a ‘slut’ again? But the thoughts would be weak, they’d keep falling away and he’d be confident and he’d be certain and he’d be good-looking and he’d be pulling off her bra and taking off her knickers. He’d be pushing himself inside her.

The next day, he’d be gone by the time she woke up. She’d be blocked, unmatched, and she’d feel like such a state. She’d blame herself. She’d hate herself. She’d feel like a mess. She wouldn’t want to leave the house.

That normal woman used to be me. But I’m not normal any more.

I’m better now. I’m much better.

Author Bio:

Zoe Rosi has a background in journalism and copywriting. She worked as a reporter for local and national newspapers before moving into the fashion industry as a copywriter. Zoe had four romantic comedies published before writing her debut thriller. It was while working as a fashion copywriter that Zoe had the idea for Pretty Evil, which she describes as The Devil Wears Prada meets American Psycho.

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Body Snatched by Ana Diamond

About the Book

What’s worse than losing a body from a funeral home? Losing two. But mortician and amateur sleuth, Lily Reynolds has a hunch. The new visitor in town, Rick Drakon, may have charmed his way into her life but she’s not fooled by his smooth talking ways. Problem is, Rick is a long-time friend of Lily’s new husband, Detective James Rivers. While James is busy convincing her to look elsewhere, Lily embarks on a dangerous path toward uncovering the truth. Will this case come between the couple or will Lily find herself closer to evil than ever before?

~~ Books2Read ~~



Black River reminded James of one thing: murder.

Hidden in dense foliage, the river stretched out far beyond his view and also happened to be a perfect spot to dump a body. He had no doubt there had been many missing people over the years who wound up weighed down by rocks at the bottom of the river until their flesh disintegrated into nothing.

His boss, Donald Abrams had a bad habit of telling him about their worst cases, probably to freak him out. The sicko with the garden of people floating upright like weeds was particularly gruesome. The chills he got from that one made the hairs on his neck stand up. However, since Manorview’s crime rate was low, James wasn’t entirely sure if the stories were folklore or not.

“Congrats on your last case. I heard you’re a big boss detective now,” Rick said as he reeled in his empty line.

James impaled a worm on his hook and swung the line out into the water. “Thanks. I wouldn’t say big boss though. More like maybe I’ll get to keep my job.”

“Have you ever caught anything here?” Rick asked.

“No, but I hear there’s trout.”

And bodies.


About the Author

When Ana Diamond isn't writing about tough gals finding love in unexpected places, she’s at work by day in the medical field. She writes romantic cozy mystery novels with feisty strong women and alluring men who can’t resist them. Her books are fast paced, entertaining and heartfelt all at once.

Ana is a 2020 Tara Contest Finalist for Body Conscious and 2015 Melody of Love contest finalist. She lives in New York with her husband, two children and two needy but wildly entertaining kitty cats.

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Trip the Light Phantasmic (The Gothic Gwyn Mysteries, Book One) by Judith Sterling

About the Book

Gwyneth Camm has just inherited her great-aunt’s house in Salem, Massachusetts, along with an extensive collection of gothic romance novels. As a PhD student who prefers “serious” books, Gwyn has always avoided pulp fiction. Now, in honor of her beloved Aunt Ethel, she gives one of the gothics a try…and promptly falls asleep.

When she wakes, she finds herself inside the story, thrust by forces unknown into the heroine’s role. There’s magic afoot, and the only way back to her own life is to play her part and solve the mystery.

When fiction becomes fact, anything can happen…

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My right arm began to tingle. The sensation crept down to my fingers and up my neck to the right side of my face. Slowly, I turned my head in that direction. If I didn’t know better, I’d think…

“Aunt Ethel?”

I felt half-foolish, half-hopeful that she stood there beside me, vying with the material world for my attention. Had she slammed the door and moved the book?

I cleared my throat. “I don’t know if you’re actually here or I’m imagining things, but what’s the deal with this book?” A new thought hit me. “Don’t tell me you’re still trying to get me to read gothics, even in the afterlife.” Again, I shook my head. “Nah, that would be crazy.”

A delicate, floral scent filled my nostrils. Lavender! She’d always used lavender soap.

“Oh my God. Is it really you?” Hot tears pricked my eyes. “I miss you so much. I…” A lump formed in my throat, but I pushed through the emotion. “All right. Have it your way. If you’re so determined I read this, I’ll do it.”

I sniffled. The lavender scent was gone, as was the tingling sensation. She’d made her point, and I’d made a promise. Done and done. With book in hand, I settled onto the cushioned chair and heaved a weary sigh. “Only for you, Aunt Ethel.”

I inspected the back-cover copy. “Linda Brett had come to Thornehaven to do a job, but the old house harbored secrets…and murder.”

It had potential. More of the plot waited below, but I decided to ignore it and let said “secrets” unfold in their own time. A lion’s yawn escaped me as I flipped the book back over and opened it. According to the copyright page, Thornehaven was published in 1966. The musty smell and yellowed pages confirmed it.

Yawning again, I turned to the first page of the narrative. How much I read, I can’t recall, but no more than a few paragraphs. Fatigue set in fast, crossing my eyes and tempting me toward sleep.

The next thing I knew, I stood on a sloping lawn in front of a Gothic Revival mansion hewn from somber gray stone. The place was massive and imposing, with numerous turrets and classic Gothic tracery, and it perfectly matched the description I’d read moments before. According to the story, the expansive property sat on the Hudson River in upstate New York.

Is this a dream? If so, it was more vivid than any I’d ever experienced. The faint, smoky trace of a bonfire haunted the air. The trees flanking the property displayed the red, orange, and yellow leaves of fall. They flaunted their bright colors in seeming defiance of the leaden sky, rustling in the chill wind which grazed my cheeks and raised goose bumps on my legs.

My legs. Why are they colder than the rest of me? I looked down, and the answer was clear. Apart from two charcoal gray suitcases, one on either side, only pantyhose shielded my limbs, which were thinner than they should be.

Whose legs are those? And what the hell am I wearing? An open coat revealed a blue knit suit whose skirt fell just short of my knees, and I wore matching, low-heeled shoes. I was a walking—well, standing—tribute to the mid-1960s. Wait a minute. That’s what the protagonist wore in the book.

And what did she do next? She picked up her luggage and proceeded to the manor’s entrance. I might as well do the same.

The suitcases were heavy, more substantial than a dream should allow. What does she have in these things? Slabs of granite?

As I lumbered forward, the front door opened to reveal a tall, thin, thirty-something woman in a black dress. Her short, dark hair had petal-shaped layers, giving the overall “do” the semblance of an artichoke. She looked me up and down and attempted a smile, then abandoned the effort. “Miss Brett, I presume? Welcome to Thornehaven.”


About the Author

Judith Sterling is an award-winning author whose love of history and passion for the paranormal infuse everything she writes. Through gothic paranormal mystery (The Gothic Gwyn Mysteries), medieval/time travel romance (The Novels of Ravenwood) and young adult paranormal fantasy (the Guardians of Erin series), she loves to whisk readers away from their troubles and remind them of the hidden magic all around us.

Her nonfiction books, written under Judith Marshall, have been translated into multiple languages. She has an MA in linguistics and a BA in history, with a minor in British Studies. Born in that sauna called Florida, she craved cooler climes, and once the travel bug bit, she lived in England, Scotland, Sweden, Wisconsin, Virginia, and on the island of Nantucket. She currently lives in Salem, Massachusetts with her husband and their identical twin sons.

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Saturday Quote

This week's Saturday quote is from Stardust Trail by J. R. Sanders available on Amazon.

Detective Parrot Mystery Series by Saralyn Richard

About the Series

The Detective Parrott Mystery Series features police procedural mysteries set in Brandywine Valley, Pennsylvania, where many of America's wealthiest and most powerful elite own equestrian farms and country mansions. Detective Parrott, young, African-American, and an outsider, brings clear thinking and a strong moral compass to the job. He's determined to find the truth and right wrongs. Despite differences in background and experiences, Parrott's investigations of Brandywine's one percenters intertwine with his own life in remarkable and intriguing ways.

Available on Amazon


Thirteen friends gather for a birthday party weekend at a country mansion in remote Brandywine Valley. All are among the rich and powerful one percent. All hold grudges against billionaire playboy Preston Phillips. A snowstorm, an accident, and an illicit rendezvous later, someone is found dead in a fourth floor bedroom. Multiple award-winning page-turner, first in Detective Parrott series.

~~ Amazon ~~





The honeymoon's over for Detective Parrott and wife Tonya, when her military-induced PTSD flares up and spills over into his new case, the theft of valuable paintings from a Brandywine artist's studio. To make things worse, the artist's murder brings NYPD into the mix. Grudges, secrets, and an old-fashioned treasure hunt make this an award-winning and fun read.

~~ Amazon ~~





The beauty and serenity of Brandywine Valley crackles with tension when a wealthy widow's renovated barn explodes, and a disfigured corpse is found inside. Detective Parrott pulls out all the stops to identify the body and unearth the long-held secrets of the privileged and those who serve them. One of them is a dangerous killer, and even Parrott isn't safe.

~~ Amazon ~~ 

About the Author

Saralyn Richard is the author of award-winning mysteries that pull back the curtain on people in settings as diverse as elite country manor houses and disadvantaged urban high schools. An active member of International Thriller Writers and Mystery Writers of America, Saralyn teaches creative writing and literature. Her favorite thing about being an author is connecting with readers like you. Follow Saralyn and subscribe to her monthly newsletter at

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