Friday, June 24, 2022

Read an Excerpt from The Courage to Dare (The Man in the Arena Book 1) by Taylor Lee

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•The sole survivor of a special ops mission he led, the grievously injured commander goes back to Northern Minnesota trying to find a reason to live--other than drinking himself to death

•Not a good option for the newly elected Sheriff of a busy county…

•She’s a medical doctor from India. He dismisses her traditional methods as quackery. But as much as he tries, he can’t dismiss her.

Chapter 1

The blaring notes of Dierks Bentley and Lady Antebellum threatened to drown out the raucous crowd overflowing the town’s hottest Friday night hangout. At the chorus of hearty
greetings echoing across the noisy bar, Luke looked up to see his cousin Nate Stryker striding toward him. The tall, blond, shaggy-haired detective could have fucking been Moses the way the crowd at Kieran’s Pub parted to let him through. Nate was the hometown hero revered as much for his badass antics as he was for his national reputation as the toughest and most respected cop the town--or the state--had ever produced. Luke studied his empty glass thinking, with a
grimace, that the only person in their inauspicious town who was more famous, make that infamous, was himself. Responding to each of the enthusiastic greetings from his admiring peers, Nate made his way to Luke’s table. Grabbing the back of a chair as he strode by, Nate jerked the chair into place and wedged it next to Luke’s, clasping Luke’s shoulder as he plunked himself down.
Waving to the eager barmaid who was gazing sparkly-eyed at the Blond Adonis, Nate
signaled for a drink. Luke nodded to the flustered waitress indicating that he wanted a refill, and
met his cousin’s eyes. Nate was the picture of bonhomie, hollering out to the noisy patrons,
giving the trash talk as good as he got. But it was clear to Luke that his fearsome cousin and
lifelong best friend had something on his mind besides joining the gang of cops and firefighters
out for a well-deserved celebration after a week in the trenches. It didn’t take a clairvoyant to see
the concern in Nate’s knowing green eyes.
After their drinks had been delivered and the sophisticated conversation at the nearby
tables had reverted back to who was humping whom, Nate shoved his chair closer to Luke’s.
Moving forward he signaled to the others at the table that he wanted to speak privately with his
cousin. Allowing a frown to cross his face, Luke didn’t duck.
“Okay, Detective Stryker, why don’t you say whatever has that tree trunk stuck up your
ass, so that I can get back to enjoying my whisky?”
True to form, Nate cut to the chase, his voice dropping to a level for Luke’s ears only.

“Look Man, you think I don’t see how you’re struggling?”
Luke snorted, “Maybe you shouldn’t have worked so hard to get me the fucking job I
have. Hell, without it I could be sitting on my dock with a fishing rod in my lap and a bottle of
rot gut by my side.”
“Thought that’s what you do most of the day anyhow.” Nate’s trademark grin softened
the barb.
Luke shrugged. “I’d like to. But the job you insisted on foisting on me has a way of
fucking up my downtime.” He added sourly, “As you well know, Detective.”
Nate’s voice was uncharacteristically serious. “Look Luke, I know you’ve tried every
kind of physical therapy known to man. Seen every specialist I’ve dragged you to. I’m
impressed as hell at everything you’ve done to deal with the shit you got handed.”
When Luke grimaced and started to object, Nate held up his hand to interrupt him.
“Hear me out, Bro.” He paused as if considering, then said in a conspiratorial voice.
“Strange as it sounds, I’ve got a woman you should see.”
Luke chortled. “Well, a little pussy is as good as any medicine I’m taking now. What
does she look like?”
Nate tossed him a good natured grin confirming that he appreciated Luke’s smart-assed
rejoinder.
“Damn good looking. But it’s more than that. She’s a healer.”
Luke reeled back in his chair and snorted in disgust. “Oh Christ. That’s all I need. Some
woo woo medicine man in skirts.”
Nat leaned forward, his serious expression contorted with concern.
“No, Man. She’s a doctor--an M.D. But she’s also a pain specialist--into alternative
medicine, creative stuff. She does acupuncture among other things.”
Luke guffawed. “Great. Just what I‘ve been looking for, Nate. So you’re saying that if I
let some babe turn me into a fucking pin cushion and give me tofu enemas, I might forget about
the pain that’s driving me bat-shit?”
Nate fished into his pocket and handed Luke a business card.
“Look, Luke… all I’m asking is that you go see her. If you don’t like what she has to
say, don’t go back.”
Luke took the card reluctantly and peered at it through narrowed eyes.

Seeing the name, Avajli Patel, he whistled. “Middle Eastern? In ChicadiafuckingFalls?”
Nate shrugged as though the unusual name was as common as Swenson in their Northern
Minnesota burg. “East Indian. From Mumbai. Her family heads up a big clinic there. She’s the
real deal, buddy.”
Forging ahead not allowing Luke to interrupt, Nate’s sincerity was palpable. He pointed
at the address on the card. “Her office is over on Elm, two doors down from the Co-op.” When
Luke sneered derisively, Nate shrugged, acknowledging the connection to the vegetarian hangout
that was a running joke with their redneck crowd.
“Look, man, all I can tell you is that Ava’s booked with patients from eight in the
morning until six at night, every damn day. That’s how much people like and respect her.”
When Luke shook his head and stuffed the card in his jeans, Nate persisted. “Listen up,
Bro. Ava is a friend of mine, and, more importantly, she’s a friend of Erin’s. Ava agreed to stay
late tonight so she could evaluate you because Erin asked her to. I told her you’d stop by.”
Nate’s eyes narrowed and a frown creased his brow.
“Don’t embarrass me, buddy. Erin will have my ass if you blow this off.”
Luke didn’t hide his annoyance. Using Erin was a low blow and Nate knew it. The fucker
knew he’d never refuse a request from Erin. Like everyone else, Luke adored Nate’s beautiful,
gentle wife who just happened to be seven months pregnant with Luke’s niece or nephew.
“Nothing like putting me in a box, Bro.” He glared at his smiling cousin. “Think I don’t
know your real game, asshole? If I go see your little witch doctor tonight, I might start drinking
an hour later than usual.”
Nate shot a disgusted look at Luke’s empty glass. “Well if that was my motive, Bro,
looks like I failed.”

~~~

Ava glanced at her watch and huffed a frustrated sigh. It was nearly nine o’clock, making
it over fourteen hours since she’d arrived at her office. She couldn’t say that Nate Stryker hadn’t
warned her. Taking the doctor out of earshot of Erin, Nate had confided to Ava that it was
unlikely that his cousin would come to see her but asked that she at least give him a chance to
see if he could browbeat Luke into it.
Ava might have been tempted to turn the lights off and head home if it wasn’t for the fact
that Erin and Nate had virtually adopted her. Their endorsement sent a clear message to the

provincial town that the “Indian” doctor with the funny name was under the protection of none
other than Detective Stryker himself. Without question, she owed her thriving practice to the
Strykers. More than that, their friendship had convinced her that it was possible to set up shop in
an area that clearly needed her expertise but was suspicious of outsiders--particularly those with
a different skin tone and a decidedly "foreign" demeanor.
Glancing again at her watch, Ava decided that friendship or not, she’d give the
recalcitrant man five more minutes and then, God help her, a bubble bath was waiting in her
comfy cabin by the lake. It was the first “home” she’d ever owned and just thinking about the
contemporary log structure with the huge windows looking out on the lake filled her with pride
and anticipation.
After forcing herself to complete the charts on her last five patients, Ava looked up to see
the big hand on the clock march steadily past the twelve and sighed in relief. As much as she
would have loved to do a favor for Erin and Nate, the idea of getting home before 10 o'clock was
intoxicating. Loosening the clip holding her long, black hair in a professional upsweep, she let
the shiny curtain fall over her shoulders, a sure signal to the rest of her body that Dr. Patel was
about to bail. Rubbing her aching neck and shoulders she sighed in anticipation at the thought of
easing her tired body into a tub of fragrant bubbles laced with her favorite essential oils. Smiling
to herself, she decided she might even open a bottle of wine and celebrate. Given her schedule,
getting in bed before midnight was a luxury worth celebrating.
Just as she was ready to lock up, Ava heard footsteps coming up the wooden walkway
shooting her luxurious images of a quiet night to hell. With a sigh she drew on her professional
cloak, preparing to meet what she was sure, at best, was a reluctant patient. Knowing that neither
she nor her prospective patient wanted to be here didn’t help. Hearing him before she saw him,
the hitch in the man’s step was obvious to Ava’s trained ear. Detective Stryker was right: His
cousin was living day to day in pain. In seconds her disappointment at another late night was
replaced by professional curiosity. Skilled pain specialist that she was, the snag in Luke’s gait
and the way that he dragged one foot, almost imperceptibly, behind himself caught Ava’s
attention. She nodded with a measure of satisfaction. Even though he didn’t want to be here,
Nate’s cousin was in trouble. The kind of trouble she could do something about—if he'd let her.
Ava later congratulated herself that the first thing she noticed about Luke Lang were the
deep lines etched around his eyes and mouth. The kind of grooves she saw all too often in her

patients. Chronic pain could do that. Carve divots in the face of even a relatively young man.
Knowing a little of his history, the pained etchings didn’t surprise her. They troubled her but
she’d expected them. What she didn’t expect was the rest of him. In retrospect, Ava chided
herself, she shouldn’t have been blindsided. After all, his cousin Nate Stryker was an 11 on a
10-point stud scale. And the younger brother--Connor Lang--the dark-haired bear of a man who
was the Captain at the CF Fire Department was no slouch.
But Luke Lang? Until the moment she met him, all Ava knew about the highly decorated
former Army Colonel was that he’d been the sole survivor in a heinous wartime tragedy and that
his mind was as wounded as his body. And according to his worried family he was living in pain
and could go off the deep end at any moment. What no one had told her was that her would-be
patient was at least 6 feet 4 inches tall even after he removed his cream colored Stetson and
prepared to knock on her door. The absence of the cowboy hat revealed an unruly shock of black
hair, a strong, chiseled jaw and extraordinary dark gray, brooding eyes. What Ava didn’t
acknowledge until later when she was alone and could relive those first unguarded moments was
that Luke Lang might be the most devilishly handsome and, surely one of the sexiest, men she’d
ever laid eyes on.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Read an Excerpt From Deadly Chocolate Addiction by Sally Berneathy

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A chocoholic comes to Death by Chocolate, eats Lindsay’s desserts and intimidates her ex, Rickhead. The mysterious man is her new best friend. She gives him a complimentary box of desserts.

After he’s gone, she finds a small brass key under his plate. Surely he’ll return for more chocolate and the key. But he’s murdered, and the Death by Chocolate box leads police to Lindsay.

Is his death connected to the blonde in four-inch heels who demands to talk to Lindsay about her relationship with the woman’s husband?

Who is her husband? Fred? For all Lindsay knows, he could be married, could be a bigamist or even a trigamist. He is an over-achiever.

Lindsay’s life is spinning out of control with lots of questions and no answers.

Is the key a clue to the murder? What does it hide that makes it important enough for someone to kill Lindsay to get it?

Excerpt:


A woman in tight designer blue jeans and a low cut red silk blouse strode in. She was beautiful, so beautiful several people—especially men—stopped eating and stared at her. She paused and looked around as if appreciating the effect she had on people. People of the male variety. Her blue gaze—a gaze brilliant enough to put Rick’s contacts to shame—settled on me.
She strode across the room in my direction, her blond hair swaying smoothly on her shoulders with each step. She was about Paula’s size, but the four inch heels on her boots made her appear taller and unnaturally thin, as if a bite of chocolate had never crossed those collagen-enhanced lips. With the heels and her Triple D boobs, I was impressed she didn’t tip over.
There were no empty stools. She pushed between two male customers. They didn’t complain.
“May I help you?” I asked.
Her collagen curled upward in a phony smile. “You must be Lindsay.”
I wasn’t admitting to anything, not even my name, without a lawyer or two present. “We’re full. Can I get you a to-go order?”
The short, balding man on her left slid off his stool, leaving his chicken salad sandwich half-eaten. “You can have my seat, ma’am.”
“Thank you,” she purred, “but I’m not staying.”
Thank goodness for small favors.
A woman at the far end of the counter waved. I hurried down to her. With her medium brown hair and tailored business suit, she was much easier on the eyes than the artificially enhanced Victoria’s Secret model wannabe who insisted I must be Lindsay.
“Would you like some dessert?” I asked the normal woman.
“I would. Can you tell me about the Chocolate, Chocolate and More Chocolate Cake?”
“I’d be happy to. I start with a very moist—”
“Lindsay, we need to talk about your relationship with my husband.” Victoria’s Secret had a low-pitched voice with sharp edges that cut through all the conversation in the room.
I stopped in mid-sentence and thought of the married men I had relationships with. There was my mother’s husband…my father. Unless my sedate father had gone crazy and become a bigamist with very bad taste in women, that wasn’t the right husband.
Trent was single.
Although I know nothing of King Henry’s past, he’s the wrong species for her.
Fred—ah, Fred. For all I know of his past, he could be married. He could be a bigamist or even a trigamist. He is an over-achiever. 

Friday, June 17, 2022

Read an Excerpt from Fire and Ice: Bridge Novella by Taylor Lee - FREEBIE!

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Praise for Fire and Ice…

Riveting 38,000 word Novella Sequel to Bestselling Sizzling Romantic Suspense “Trial by Fire”.

“When a multi-million dollar development is hit by what looks like arson, Detective Nate Stryker calls in a Bomb and Arson expert. But Lt. Annika Nilsson lights a few bombs of her own from the moment she comes on the scene.” Action Junkie

“I loved Sam Carter in Trial by Fire. Great to see him take the lead in this terrific love story. Annika is beautiful, complicated and a first rate cop. She built the shell around herself for good reason. No wonder it took a man of Sam’s caliber to break through her shell.” J. John

“Taylor Lee does again! Great characters! Snappy, outrageous dialogue! Terrific interplay among all the cops especially Sam and the badass Nate. Plus one of the steamiest and most touching love stories I’ve read.” David Adams, author, Samsara

OVERVIEW

•They call her the Ice Princess; blond, beautiful and cold as Ice.

•The sexy police commander turns up the heat and proves that Fire does melt Ice.

•When the tough cop’s “go it alone attitude” almost gets her and others killed, she’s forced to reconsider.

Excerpt:

“Looks like you got competition, hotshot! We got another wannabe coming to Chicadia Falls to soak up all my wisdom. It’s a fucking miracle they haven’t drained me dry. This one’s coming up from the Cities.”

Glancing around the conference table, his gaze landing on Sam, Nate sighed in mock dismay.

“I guess I should be honored that every jackass in the country thinks I am as good as I am. They’re all fighting to finagle their hot house violets into my tender loving care.”

Sam allowed a slight smile to quirk his lips.  The idea of Detective Nate Stryker, the badass cop whose national reputation for arrogance was as strong as his closed-case rate, having anyone in his ‘tender loving care’ was worth a full-out guffaw. 

But Nate’s announcement wasn’t surprising. Cops all over the country were shaking their mentor trees begging for an inside track into the Northern Minnesota police department. The CFPD had become a nationwide sensation. For one reason—and one reason only. Lead detective and Deputy Police Chief Nate Stryker.

Nate’s rock star looks, smart mouth and 1000 watt grin were as familiar on television as Magnum PI or Jim Rockford. In the last year, two headline murders replete with sex, gore and even a world famous lingerie model aka murderer, had made Nate Stryker the “go-to” guy for every Fox News or CNN newshound looking for a snappy quote.

Sam had set his sights on Stryker long before the media discovered the green-eyed, sharp tongued wonder. As the youngest commander in the LAPD and a phenomenon in his own right, Sam used his star-studded connections to wrangle a sabbatical with Nate. Sam was on a fast track to become police chief and wanted field experience with the acknowledged super star to burnish his already gleaming resume. That Nate ruled from the incongruously named burg Chicadia Falls, MN made his magnetic draw all the more remarkable. After two months of caustic banter and a murder case that would go down in police history, Sam’s respect and regard for Nate had grown exponentially. In addition, against all odds--given their competitive personalities, he and Nate became friends. Something neither of them did lightly or often.

In response to Nate’s rhetorical question Sam stifled a smart remark and asked nonchalantly, “Are the wannabe’s nepotistic credentials as strong as mine?”

Nate snorted. “Stronger, hotshot.  This time it’s my relatives who are doing the finagling.”

Acknowledging the interested squints from the team convened for the morning briefing, Nate ran his hands through his collar length sun streaked hair.

“Yeah, this time it’s my cuz, Connor—Deputy Chief, Chicadia Falls Fire Department. Says he has a bead on a fire inspector who could help us out. Connor’s convinced that the Lakeside Estates fires are arson. Now you guys all know my worrying cousin thinks when the sun shines it means that rain is on the way, but I agree with his assessment on Lakeside. One fire -- likely an accident. But, two? Brand new upscale houses? Burned to the ground? At a new build development that is being picketed by the Tribes and the enviro nuts? Hell, even to me that looks suspicious.”

Ignoring Nate’s scowl at the oozing cherry-filled Bismark in his meaty hand, Charlie Hanson brushed the doughnut crumbs off his chin and chugged on his coffee.

“Who’s Connor bringin’ in, Nate? Whoever it is, it can’t hurt. As long as it’s a body. I know the fire department is as fuckin’ crazy as we are. Christ, the resorts are overrun with damn tourists out for a drunken weekend on the lakes. And, given the fire danger, Old Smokey the Bear’s gotta think someone’s squeezin’ his dick with a pair of pliers. If that ain’t enough to break us, we got the 4th of July coming up. Damn, with Mac and Dan at Ripley doing their two week guard training, we can use all the help we can get. Any chance the wannabe is a gen-u-wine fire inspector?”

Glancing over at the sergeant who had been working the fires, Charlie added, “Nothing against you, Baker, but fires ain’t necessarily your specialty. And if it is arson, we need someone who knows what the fuck he’s doing.”

Garrett Baker scowled. “Fuck you, Hanson.  All you do is keep the fucking schedule. You try dealing with all those goddamned do-gooders and see if you’ve got time to even go to the fucking fire site, much less figure out how it started.”

Nate looked from his frontline Lieutenant who kept the assignment schedule sane to the sergeant whose florid face had darkened ominously at the putdown.

 “Pull it back, Baker. Don’t think for a minute I don’t know you’re in an impossible spot. But Charlie’s right. This calls for an experienced fire investigator. Connor’s guy seems like the real deal. Best of all, he’s a cop. A lieutenant at that.  Heads up the Minneapolis PD Bomb and Arson Squad. He’s gotta know his ass from a hand grenade if he’s made it that far under Jack Rolfson.  Rolfson’s a tougher son of a bitch than I am. Course rather than trying to help us out, it could be a big fat joke.  Jack wanting to foist off a trouble maker just to see me squirm. But you know damn well, all my charming cousin Connor has to do is flash that choir-boy smile and the devil himself would give up his last pitchfork to help him out. Come to think of it that’s as good a description of Rolfson as I can think of. ” 

Charlie nodded at Nate then winked at Sam. “Think a winning smile just might be a family trait, Sam?  Ever seen anyone else who just has to grin to make the rest of us willing to cough up our last nut to be helpful?”

Nate chortled.  “Yeah, right, Hanson. I smile and you jump? Hell, the only way I can get you to do what I ask is to take away all your crap junk food. Which reminds me, I ordered one of those Toledo scales, like the one they use on ‘Who’s the Biggest Loser?’ The kind that flash your weight around the room in three foot high numerals. And just so you know Charlie, I’m about to implement a serious fitness program…”

Amid the groans that interrupted Nate’s threat and sure-to-come lecture about the dangers facing out-of-shape cops, Connor’s voice drifted from the hallway. “The team is in here, Lieutenant Nilsson.” 

Stepping to the side, a big grin on his handsome face, Connor ushered his guest into the room.

“They’re expecting you, Lieutenant. Aren’t you, fellows?”

Later, Sam grinned thinking about Connor’s intentionally blasé introduction of the visiting fire expert. From the stunned expressions of the men around the table staring at the figure standing in the doorway, the last thing any of them expected was the cop who followed Connor into the conference room. A can of C4 couldn’t have achieved a more explosive reaction.

Connor Lang was impressive by any standard. Several inches shorter than his six foot four inch cousin, Connor made up for his measly six foot height in breadth. Even at thirty years old, he looked like the college wrestling all-star he’d been. His dark brown almost black neatly trimmed hair and flashing gray eyes contrasted with his cousin Nate’s dirt-blond surfer-dude look. Lately, Sam noted that the clean cut Connor had begun to cautiously assume some of his cousin’s bad boy trademarks even allowing an occasional second day beard shadow to sprout. The one thing both cousins shared was a grin that lit up a room and had both men and women angling for ways to get that light to shine their way.

But Connor could have been riding a unicycle stark naked for all the attention he got. Not so, the apparition behind him. The young woman was wearing a silvery grey tailored pant suit.  The cropped, fitted jacket flared slightly at her waist revealing the seductive curve of her hips. The slim cut trousers emphasized long legs and a heart shaped ass that brought every man at the table to attention. No doubt her abbreviated suit coat hid a shoulder holster and perhaps a back sheathe, but it was unlikely any of the gaping men got past the front of her jacket that swelled impressively in critical areas. 

As sensational as her body was—and it was runway worthy, it was her face and hair that stole Sam’s breath. He remembered being awed by Michael Corder’s Snow Queen Ballet at the London Coliseum. The vision who casually entered the institutionally bland conference room at the Chicadia Falls police station could just as well have flitted across a glittering stage of ice and snow. Her skin was pale, almost translucent. A faint rosy flush tinted her cheeks and her full lips glistened with that glossy goop women wore that drove men crazy. Her large, wide spaced eyes were violet colored—more purple than blue. Dark brows and a sweep of dark lashes contrasted sharply with the lush blond hair that fell in a myriad of platinum streaked waves past her shoulders. Sam knew that in a lifetime peopled with memorable creatures of the female persuasion, he had never seen a more beautiful woman.

Nate’s sharp whistle and exclamation spoke for the group.

“Well, I’ll be dammed.”

Connor quirked a wry brow.

“I venture to say that’s a given, cuz.”

Nate slowly shook his head and huffed out a low chuckle.

“Damn, Connor. Why does this keep happening to me?  First you spring Erin, spelled e.r.i.n. on me.” Nodding at Sam, he growled, “Then the Chief launches “Hollywood” here into my life and now you calmly introduce this…this…vision as Lt. Nilsson? The MPD Bomb and Arson Squad leader? Tell me you’re kidding!”

Connor turned with a grin to the young woman whose lips were curved in a tentative smile.

“Annika, Lt. Nilsson to the rest of you, in case you didn’t recognize him from his numerous television appearances and magazine cover stories, this scruffy looking guy in the blue jeans and t-shirt is the infamous Detective Nate Stryker. Nate runs this little operation. His greatest claim to fame is that he is my bad boy cousin and somehow convinced the second most gorgeous woman in the world to fall in love with him—the most gorgeous, being my wife.”

Connor grinned at her and added with a wink, “As of today, I think I better add a third woman to that rarified group.”

A consenting murmur from the awed men at the table confirmed the group agreed with him.

Charlie Hanson managed to close his mouth long enough to choke on his coffee. His voice mimicked the wonder on his facial expression.

“Fuckin’-A, if I didn’t know better, I’d a thought Connor had dug up that blond babe, that tennis player on television.  You know… that Anna Corna…Anna Cornucopia…”

The hoots of laughter from the gang at the table, brought a flush of red to the Lieutenant’s ruddy face.

Nate grinned.

“Uh, Charlie, I think you might be referring to Anna Kournikova.”

Sam saw Nate wrestling with the notion of rescuing his lieutenant but the devastating twinkle in the irrepressible smart ass’s eyes confirmed that as usual Nate wouldn’t hold back. Instead he waded into the deep water.

“Come to think of it, Charlie, ‘cornucopia’ isn’t far off.  Uh… bodacious baskets...cornucopia…  Yeah, I can see where you might have gotten confused…”

A chorus of guffaws and snickers followed Nate’s intentionally shocking taunt.

Connor jumped in, turning a cold eye on Nate and Charlie, although he couldn’t hide the smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.

“Annika, please forgive my outrageous cousin and his cohorts. They don’t get out of their cage much and Nate banned out of hand anything resembling a human resources department. The one good thing is that no one’s ever brought a harassment suit against them. No one except the Mayor, of course, but he backed off when Nate threatened to go after his daughter. Or was it his wife, cuz?”

Nate grinned and clapped Connor on the back.

“Now, now, Connor. That’s ancient history. Don’t you try and scare off Lt. Nilsson.  We need her.  Ask Sergeant Baker.  Garrett’s been stuck as the de facto fire inspector and we’re just too damned short-handed to give him the time to do a decent job of investigating these recent fires. So, Lieutenant, my cousin is correct.  We don’t get out much and you’ll have to overlook my atrocious manners and those of some members of my team.”

He included Charlie in his sweeping nod around the room.

Sam had been the object of too many racially charged jokes, even good natured ones like Nate threw his way on a regular basis, not to pay attention to the quiet woman’s reaction to what he knew must be the norm for her. What else could she expect in a male-dominated profession that kept its sanity with outrageous language and equally offensive humor? It was the lifeblood of every precinct he’d worked in. The juice that kept their engines stoked, ready for action.  The on-going hazing allowed the adrenalin junkies that filled the perilous ranks to blow off steam. There was nothing these dangerous men and women who put their lives on the line every day of the week liked better than thumbing their collective noses at the politically correct establishment. Sam knew the only place that was worse than the police was the military and Special Ops was the baddest of the bad. He ought to know. He’d survived them all with his sense of humor and pride intact. The greater the danger, the more testosterone laden the mission, the more outrageous the humorous bomb throwing. But the politically incorrect wit was even handed, an equal opportunity attack. No one minority or sex escaped -- or was overly targeted. At least in the good departments.  The ones run by wise men like Nate and his cousin Connor.  And like Sam, on his own turf.

Sam was surprised at the concern he felt watching the lieutenant’s reaction. A stab of protectiveness caught him off guard. To his practiced gaze Lt. Nilsson looked fragile, vulnerable. Her lip trembled and a flash of what could have been pain streaked through her eyes.  But as though liquid steel from an unknown source stiffened her spine, her expression quickly hardened. Although her voice was low, almost sweet, her words weren’t. Wisely ignoring Nate, she chose to focus her barb on Charlie.

“I know the feeling, Lt. Hanson. Whenever I meet a black man or an unreformed rock star or a fifty year old white man, I’m struck by the fact that once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. You know, the way all blonds look alike to you.”

Charlie’s flush deepened but he managed a good natured salute and a small bow which Annika acknowledged with a smile.

Once again, Nate spoke for the group.

“Touché, Lieutenant. On behalf of Sam, the black guy who frankly doesn’t look like any  black guy I’ve met, only the ones I’ve seen on television or in the movies, or my self-declared redneck buddy, or myself who’s as far from a rock star as you’ll ever meet, may I welcome you to our incorrigible group. Should you choose to become one of us, I can assure you that our ill begotten humor only gets worse the longer we’re on duty and the farther away we are from an ice-cold long neck.”

Annika smiled at the imposing man who was grinning at her but she didn’t miss the careful scrutiny underlying his grin.  Stryker was measuring her, seeing if she could take it. Take the ribbing certain to come her way. Like a good leader he was testing her. To see if she could handle his proudly outrageous group. God knows she should be able to. She’d had years of practice. She tipped up her chin and gave him a cool smile that must have reassured him because he winked at her, a welcoming gesture. Damn, the famous detective was as gorgeous as advertised. Like everyone in the state, Annika had seen Detective Stryker on television so often he was familiar, not surprising. Only he was more striking in person, if possible.

Who did surprise her was the tall black man standing off to the side. He must be Sam Carter, the upstart commander from the LAPD that Connor told her about. The guy that every police gossip rag identified as an up and coming Chief of Police at the prestigious LAPD. The fact that he couldn’t be more than early to mid-thirties at the most was shocking. His warm brown skin complimented his black curly closely cropped hair. But it was his features that stopped her cold. They spoke to a mixed heritage. African for sure, but his skin was a warm caramel color signally a racial mix. The slight tilt of his flashing black eyes hinted at an Asian influence. His high cheekbones were chiseled, fine. A scruff of neatly trimmed facial hair decorated his strong chin and full, inviting lips made him simply the most gorgeous man she’d ever seen.

Annika’s incipient interest that had sent sparks of tantalizing energy through her starved body quickly died when she replayed the rest of the gossip she’d heard and remembered exactly who he was. The stunning man who was studying her with a quizzical, hard to decipher expression, was none other than the son of the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court. He was as removed from the life she’d led than if she’d been hatched on an inferior planet and had three heads. Even acknowledging that fact, Annika couldn’t squelch her disappointment. Damn. Commander Samuel D. Carter might just be the sexiest man she’d ever seen in her life.

 Only when Detective Stryker frowned at her did she realize he’d been talking to her. Dragging her gaze away from Commander Carter, Annika tried to remember what Nate had asked her.

 Stryker must have seen her confusion because a knowing smile tweaked his lips.

“I wanted to introduce you to the real rock star here, Lieutenant. This is Sam Carter. Sam’s a commander in the Los Angeles PD. He’s hanging out with me for a couple of months to see how the big dogs do it. We call him by a number of names: ‘Hollywood’ being the most descriptive, ‘hotshot’ being the most apt. Surprisingly, I also call him my friend.”

 Sam Carter’s dark eyes twinkled as he reached for her hand. His grin had all of the wattage of Nate’s and then some.

“You’ll soon know that no matter how outrageous the Detective acts or speaks you’ll never meet a finer cop or, a finer man, for that matter.  Welcome to the looney bin they call Chicadia Falls, Lieutenant. I’m grateful to welcome a fellow traveler. We aliens need to stick together.”

Annika swore she felt sparks when he squeezed her hand. She prayed that the heat flooding her cheeks wasn’t noticeable. The knowing smile the two gorgeous men exchanged confirmed she’d prayed in vain.


 

 

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Fatal Chocolate Obsession (Death by Chocolate Book 5) by Sally Berneathy

$3.99

Amazon

A bouquet of roses, a bottle of wine, a crystal butterfly…and a dead man in the alley behind Death by Chocolate. Gifts for Lindsay, left in the middle of the night.

Is her ex-husband Rick between girlfriends and pursuing her again? Did he leave the roses and wine? He has done the out-of-season Santa Claus thing before. But when the crystal butterfly appears, Rick is in the hospital after a brutal attack leaves him near death.

If not Rick, then who? Is it someone she sees every day? The tall man who refuses to look her in the eye? The short man who looks her in the eye too long? The skinny man with crossed eyes who might or might not be looking her in the eye?

As the body count rises, Lindsay begins to see danger everywhere. Lindsay, Fred and Trent must catch this psycho stalker before someone else dies. Not bad enough he kills people. He also murders the English language in the horrible poems he leaves for her.

Butterflies are free and so are we.
Come fly away with me for all eternity.
I’ll shelter you from harm,
and always keep you safe and warm.
Anyone who troubles thee
will feel the wrath of me.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Hide In Plain Sight by Linda Wisdom

$3.99

Amazon

WELCOME BACK, STRANGER

Former U.S. Marshal Riley Cooper had come back to protect her. Three years ago Jenna Welles had been forced to leave the man she loved to enter the witness protection program alone, but now the criminals had found her. And this time, Jenna vowed to entrust only her life to Riley—not her heart.

Riley had always known he and Jenna were totally wrong for each other. She viewed the world through rose-colored glasses; he saw it in black and white. But after seeing the strong beautiful woman she'd become, Riley was doing some rethinking. Because this time, he had no intention of saying goodbye again!

Monday, June 13, 2022

Read Chapter 1 of The Chase by Mary Hagen

$1.99

Amazon

Life hangs in the balance when four women on a backpacking trip are attacked by four convicts running from the law. To survive, they must outsmart the men. To do so, they take an alternate route away from the trail and head for a distant mountain pass leaving back backpacks behind. Without their survival gear, they know they cannot survive.  In spite of the risks, Tannya Hudson returns to their campsite to retrieve whatever she can find and to find Cindy, one of the backpackers who is missing.  The convicts return to the camp and make plans to catch the women. Tanya barely escapes. In spite of her efforts to hide her tracks, the convicts pick up her trail and follow as she climbs to meet her fellow hikers. Will the women meet? Will they outrun the men? Will they survive in dismal weather conditions or will they die?  The Chase begins.

 

Reluctantly, Greg Moore backed his Jeep out of his carport. His terrifying dream about Tanya Hudson and her backpacking trip stayed with him as he drove toward Julie's house. The premonition that something bad was going to happen to Tanya and her three friends never left him. How could he, a civil engineer who dealt in concrete facts, not dreams, reveal his misgivings? He laughed. The dream was real, and he couldn’t put it out of his mind.

He loved Tanya, had from the moment he met her and could not bear the thought of something happening to her. It was his fault that Tanya broke off their relationship, but his marriage and subsequent divorce from Andrea had been painful. He was not ready to make another permanent relationship. Marriage terrified him, but Tanya would not agree to anything else. She chose to remain friends because of his refusal to agree to a permanent commitment. What was he thinking? Tanya was not Andrea.

The premonition haunted him at the intersections, as the sun rising in the east turned the sky a vivid orange and red, at the dark clouds gathering in the west. Blood came to his mind. He could not reveal to anyone his misgivings. Certainly not Tanya. It was only a dream, a stupid nightmare.

He braked at a stoplight, impatiently tapping his fingers on the steering wheel as he waited for the light to change. The dawn accentuated his feelings of gloom. The light changed from red to green and he drove forward, the inner fear never ebbing from his mind.

At the time he met Tanya, he believed he never could fall in love again.  Tanya was the most beautiful woman he knew. Just thinking about her filled him with desire and a love so deep it hurt. She was opposite in every way from the women he usually chose - small, blonde, and blue-eyed, who were dependent on him to make decisions and to take the lead in planning activities like Andrea. Andrea wanted more of everything, money, fun, and adoration from every man she met.

Tanya was tall, independent, with beautiful black hair and eyes. More importantly, she challenged him, his beliefs, and his ideas in ways he did not think possible. Life was never dull with her. She was a free spirit. He did not want her to change even if she did not believe him.

Tanya's words echoed in his ears over their last dinner when she announced the end of their relationship. "You're a macho prude."

Greg smiled to himself. He liked the sound of her voice, the almond shape of her eyes that radiated sparks of light, her high cheekbones, the shape of her mouth. He knew he had blown the relationship. Because of him, it was on hold. Friends, he thought, I can't deal with just being a friend, but at least, he would see her. Could he watch her date someone else? He knew the answer.

His motives in the beginning had been to bring the tall, aloof beauty to his bed, seduce her and drop her. In a short time, he realized she excited and challenged him in ways akin to the feelings he had when he climbed a 5.11 pitch on a mountain or conquered a difficult peak. He had the same anticipatory anxiety every time he thought about meeting Tanya. It was with him now as he drove to pick up Cindy and Rebecca Kerr and Julie Johnson, but it was mixed with dread and concern.

He and Tanya clashed over many things but, in time, Tanya subdued him and changed his mind on several issues about women but never his desire to seduce her. She refused any sexual relationship, demanding a deeper commitment from him than he was willing to give. Look where it had gotten him.

 He loved Tanya but something in him made him want to conquer her first. Their mutual stubbornness, mostly his, was about to break them apart but he could not give up his need to dominate her, first. Stupid, he admonished himself.

As much as he wanted, he could not reveal his premonition, his misgivings, his fears that something disastrous was going to happen on their trip. It was foolish on his part, but the most he could bring himself to do was to call Tanya and say, "The weather's going to change. You could be caught in rain or snow."

Tanya refused, laughing at him as she replied, "You know by now a little wet weather has never stopped the four of us."

Greg called Rebecca and Julie to ask them to reconsider their trip to no avail. In the end, he agreed to drive them to the trailhead and to pick them up at the end of their trip. He would see Tanya, be near her, but the reason he had offered to drive them was with the hope he could persuade her to change her mind.

The light was on above Julie's front door. Greg pulled into her driveway. Steve, Julie's husband, opened the door before Greg was out of his vehicle.

"Julies got her stuff in the garage. I'll be out to load her gear in a second."

People have happy marriages, Greg thought. He only needed to look at Steve and Julie. They had been married five years and still acted like newlyweds in spite of their differences. Julie was like Tanya. They both enjoyed camping, hiking, climbing, and working together on outdoor projects. Steve did not care if he ever went camping except during hunting season. They gave each other space to pursue their interests.

Greg knew he and Tanya would do the same. Why then, could he not marry her? Why couldn’t she agree to a live together with a commitment? Greg clacked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. He had no answer.

Steve and Greg helped Julie stash her backpack into his SUV. Steve wished Julie a safe trip, kissed her a lingering goodbye until Greg interrupted, “Hey, we’ve got to pick up the others.”

Steve slammed the car door, gave Julie another kiss, and waved them on. Greg drove toward Rebecca's house. She and her daughter, Cindy, were on the porch waiting.

“That girl is well-endowed for an eighteen-year-old. She looks more like someone twenty,” Greg said as he turned into the driveway.

"I hope the disagreements between Cindy and Rebecca don’t upset our trip,” Julie said, “Rebecca’s expectations of Cindy are almost impossible. No wonder the poor kid resents her. She absolutely insisted Cindy go with us.”

“This is a farewell trip for Cindy before she’s off to college. Good thing,” Greg said.

“I know.” Julie paused. “I can’t understand the two of you.”

Greg glanced at Julie. “Changing the subject?” Greg stopped the motor.

“When are you and Tanya going to stop playing this little game of friendship and get back together?” Julie asked. “She’s my best friend. I hate to see her hurt by you or anyone for that matter.”

Greg shrugged his shoulders. He opened the door and climbed out of the SUV. “Jim must still be asleep, lucky dog,” Greg said.

“Who needs him? Rebecca manages everything. Now that’s catty of me. Rebecca’s my friend,” Julie said.

The sullen expression worn by Cindy announced her displeasure over the backpack. Greg relieved her of one pack and shoved it into the space behind the seat.

"You look unhappy," he said.

"You know Cindy," Rebecca said. "She's never happy at the beginning of one of our trips. She'll cheer up as we get into it."

Greg caught the hostile glance Cindy gave her mother. He sympathized with her co-workers, and her friends, except Tanya and Julie. For ten years, she had worked as office manager in their consulting business. They considered Rebecca the reason their business succeeded, but Tanya could work with anyone without conflict.

Julie stepped out of the car to let Rebecca and Cindy into the back seat. Cindy barely acknowledged her greeting as she buckled her seat belt.

As they drove away from the Kerr home, the inner fears surfaced in Greg's mind to plague him the remainder of the distance to Tanya's house. He could not stop them. He had even risked Steve's teasing and tried to convince him that he should discourage the trip.

A bolt of lightning flashed above the mountains to the west. "You know, the weather gets better in a few days. Why not wait?" he said.

"You still at it, Greg? You might as well give up. We're packed and moving. Wet weather isn't going to hold us up. Besides, you know as well as we, the weathermen are wrong half the time with their mountain forecasts. The mountains make their own weather," Rebecca said.

"I'd be in favor," Cindy said. "I don't even want to go on this dumb trip, and I wouldn't if it wasn't for Tanya and Julie."

"We're going to miss you when you leave for college,” Julie said in an effort to appease Cindy.

The sun appeared briefly on the eastern horizon under the clouds as Greg parked in front of Tanya's townhouse. Before he could open his door, Tanya came out of her house with her pack and her miniature poodle, Figwort, named for the plant family Greg knew Tanya loved. Figwort pranced ahead of Tanya furiously wagging his tail and ran to Greg.

"Hey, old buddy, miss me?" Greg stooped to the dog's level to pet him. Figwort licked his face and gave Greg a smile showing his canine teeth. "At least, you still love me."

He opened the back door of the SUV and said, "I’ll take that pack.” He removed the straps from Tanya’s shoulders, restraining the desire he had to hold her. Her hair, braided and tied with strips of leather, smelled fresh and clean, surfacing his feelings of loss and misery.

He took a deep breath to control his emotions. "Ouch. What’ve you got in this pack, the kitchen sink? It weighs a ton. Are you sure you’re going to be able to meet me in six days?"

Tanya's laugh sent stabs of discouragement through him and shredded his insides. If only he could talk her out of this trip.

"I decided to take my rope and a few carabineers just in case we need them for a river crossing or as a climbing aid on one of our side trips."

"Thought you were going to just backpack, not climb." Greg struggled to keep his feeling of anxiety out of his voice, the dream sharp in his mind. He put her pack in his vehicle and slammed the door. "I've missed you," he said as he held open the right door.

Tanya said nothing. A cloud blotted out the sun and a black chill enveloped him.

Figwort jumped into the front seat of the SUV. He wagged his tail at the three women sitting in the back seat.

"Hi, everyone. I decided to take Figwort. Hope you don't mind but when I took him to the kennel, he looked at me with such a pitiful expression, I couldn't leave him."

"Come, Figwort, sit on my lap," Cindy called. "I don't care. I love Figwort. I just wish I could have a dog, but you know Mom. She's Mrs. Neat, Neat, Neat. No animals at our place. They might dirty her floor."

"Lighten up, Cindy. I don't want us to be in constant disagreement on this trip. Think of Julie and Tanya if not me. They want you to have a good time."

Cindy hugged the poodle. "Sorry, guys.”

 

Tanya sat quietly, aware of Greg's after shave, her gift to him on his birthday, the warmth of his body, and the soft sound of his breathing. She missed him, felt lonely when he wasn't with her, but she was determined to end a relationship she saw stagnating. Her unhappiness weighed heavily on her mind when she was alone, and she had buried herself in her work to keep from thinking about him.

She had been burned once, and she was not about to let it happen again. Jack Egger had been her Mr. Right, who turned out to be Mr. Wrong. Lately, her relationship with Greg seemed headed in the same direction.

For months, she and Jack, her former lover, shared dinners, spoke of their futures, and planned joint holidays. Abruptly, he did not call. Finally, Tanya with reservations swallowed her pride and called Jack. His words cut her to the core. "I've met someone else." The real reason, Tanya realized, was that she was half Blackfoot, an orphan, and Jack’s parents were against his dating her.

She was not going to let that happen again. Difficult as it had been, she told Greg of her decision over dinner at Suhiro’s. He protested but refused to make a commitment. To bury her disappointment, she spent hours in the field on any project she could, and she vowed no one was going to destroy her hopes and dreams of the future, including Greg.

She smiled as she recalled his words. “Remain friends! I don't like that." It was his problem. He had to understand, she needed more than an ongoing affair. As a foster child, she had moved from house to house never knowing how long she would be in one place. Permanent friends and relationships were important to her.

The voices in the vehicle hummed around her, but she was only aware of Greg. She glanced at him. Something bothered him. The set of his jaw revealed his moods to her. Still, she had no right to ask.

Figwort jumped into Tanya's lap. Her breath caught in her throat as a blue Buick with four men passed them on a double line, blind curve. "Wow! That was stupid."

"A bunch of idiots," Greg responded. He slowed his SUV.

"I need to put my heart back in place after that," Julie said. "I do want to live.”

As Greg turned off the main highway and onto a narrow, one-lane road the same blue Buick roared past them. He shook his head. "They must have a death wish for themselves and someone else."

"Tanya, you haven't uttered a word this whole drive," Rebecca said.

"I've been mulling things over in my mind, trying to remember if I've forgotten anything," Tanya answered. She felt but did not see Greg's glance.

"Hope you're weighing the odds of having a miserable trip," he said.

Tanya chuckled. "It's not going to be miserable. We'll have perfect weather. Fall is a beautiful season to be out."

"Take a look above you. Those clouds are building. We can have terrible weather in September, the fall equinox."

"Come off it, Greg. We're going. You're as bad as Steve. He thinks I'm nuts every time I venture out in bad weather, but I actually like it," Julie said.

"I'll go home with you. I hate bad weather, and I hate being forced to go on backpacks," Cindy said. “Look at those black clouds. We’re going to be wet the whole trip. I’m already shivering. Come, Fig, sit on my lap and keep me warm.” The dog jumped over the seat and licked her face.

"Cindy, shut up," Rebecca ordered. "I'm tired of your constant complaining. You know you always have a good time once we’re on our way."

“Hang in there, Cindy. We’ll see to it you have fun. It won’t be the same without you around to keep us in tune with life,” Tanya said.

Greg stopped the SUV at the end of the road. "Sure you don't want to change your minds and wait a few days. Sky's pretty heavy," Greg said. He looked at Tanya, his eyes conveying a message to her she could not read. Her heart banged against her chest just being next to him, and she gulped to rein in her emotions. She turned away and went to the rear of the vehicle to reach for her pack. Figwort followed her.

One by one, Tanya handed packs to Julie who stacked them by the side of the SUV.

“I’m going to put my rain gear on top of my pack. I know I’ll need it before we’ve gone a hundred steps.” Cindy laid her pack on the ground, opened it, and scrounged around for her rain jacket and pants.

“Good idea,” Julie said. “Though, I hope we don’t have to wear them. I get so hot with mine on.”

“I’m optimistic. The weather’s going to clear,” Tanya said. She reached for her pack.

"Let me help you," Greg offered. His six-foot, two-inch height made her feel small even though he was only six inches taller than she. His arm around her as he helped her into her pack sent pulses of warmth through her veins, his nearness sending her heart racing. She gritted her teeth to keep from uttering words that would undo her vow to herself to end her ties with Greg.

Tanya slipped one arm and then the other into the straps. Before she could stop him, Greg pulled the belt around her waist and buckled it. His closeness brought her heart to her throat. She gulped to regain control of her emotions and took three backward steps. He looked into her eyes.

“Sure you want to make this trip?”  Do you have your cell phone?"

"No. Stop fretting.  You know, we don't take them on a backpack.  Half the time they don't work.” Tanya moved her shoulders from side to side to settle her pack and pulled the straps closer to her back. “Feels comfortable.” She moved her arms in a half circle.

Rebecca shouldered her pack and offered to help Cindy who brushed her aside. “I’m not helpless.”

“If everyone’s ready, we should hit the trail. Want to lead, Cindy, and set the pace? I’ll bring up the rear,” Tanya said.

"Have a good trip,” Greg said. "I'll see you in five days."

"We will. Thanks." Tanya hitched the waist belt of the pack tighter and turned up the trail, Figwort at her heels.

The cheerful voices of the women carried to him, but he could not rid himself of the remorsefulness that flooded through his mind and engulfed his body, leaving him deeply depressed as the dream returned.

A rag bundle of blue and red cloth lay at the base of a cliff. As he turned it over to examine it, he looked into unseeing eyes, Tanya's deep brown eyes, lifeless and vacant. A moan escaped him, but he uttered no words, no calling out for Tanya to come back. Greg shook his head to rid himself of the black memory, the dream of her fall so real. Still, the alarm and the fear pumped through his veins.

"Tanya," he whispered.

As though hearing him, she turned and waved.

 


 

 

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