Saturday, December 31, 2022

Guns, Wives and Chocolate by Sally Berneathy


Barnes & Noble

Book 7 in USA Today Bestselling series, Death by Chocolate

Lindsay hosts a welcome home party for a drug dealer’s release from prison. What could possibly go wrong?

Soon Lindsay’s back yard is filled with felons, loud music, and smoke from various kinds of cigarettes.

Lindsay’s ex’s ex, Grace, arrives with her young son and her new husband, Chuck. They are moving in across the street.

Chuck is murdered.

Then his other wife calls.

Wait…his other wife?

Can things get worse?


Friday, December 30, 2022

Death in Stopover by Mary Hagen



Roger Miller's death is declared a suicide.

Beth Hansen, former assistant deputy to the county sheriff, now has her own private detective agency. 

Roger's parents hire her to prove Roger was murdered. 

Probing into his death leads Beth into a discovery of evil she can not believe. 

Soon, her life is in danger. Every move she makes could end up her last.

Survival or becoming a missing person is in the hands of another. Her choices are limited. Will she survive? 

Chapter One

 I'm still living in Stopover, the one place I don't want to live, but my husband of two years, Hal Hansen, is now the sheriff of our county and I will live anywhere he wants. That's the way love goes, at least for me. When CJ was sheriff, I was a deputy, but because of nepotism rules of our local laws I can no longer work in the office. Not doing anything bored me out of my skin, so I opened the Stopover Independent Detective Agency.

Hal laughed, saying Stopover was too small and I'd never have any business. Ha-ha. Even I was surprised at the number of husbands and wives wanting me to find out about the activities of their husbands or wives. In addition, I work part-time for our monthly newspaper.

Jean Rand is the editor and owner and we get along super well. She likes my dog Chip, and he likes her. In fact, so much I sometimes am a little jealous. He is my dog. Most of our news is written by the two of us about such things as Making the Grade in High School, local sports – football, basketball, wrestling, track. You get the point. To keep up subscriptions, we, also, have a column on who's having a bridge party, or a dinner, or out-of-town guests, and thein of course, what's going on at the senior citizen center. We're always glad to get free articles. By the time our paper goes to press, we'll have ten or twelve pages plus advertisements I've sold to local businesses.

Not much of any importance ever happens in our small community, but we've had a few changes. Hemp has become a money producer for our farmers. The county raised enough money to buy Anna Sullivan's large home, so the sheriff's department has a new location. In addition, Hal has two deputies and a secretary. Surprises never end.

When I arrived early at Stopover News, Jean greeted me with an order that nearly knocked my socks off.

"We've got a possible murder," she said.

"What? Who told you that?"

"No one. I heard the rumor at Milly's."

My mouth dropped open.

"A dead body was found this morning next to his car on the east side of the reservoir. Get out there and find out what you can. Your husband will be a great source of information, since you have an in."

A few years back, a couple of our prominent influential citizens, or so everyone thought, were murdered. I never expected another one to occur. I grabbed my camera and Chip.

"Leave Chip with me," Jean offered. "You'll get more done. This will be a special edition for us."

I started out the door. Chip loves to ride. He pushed me aside and ran for my Jeep. I ran after him. He decided to play "catch me if you can" and it took a few minutes before I stepped on his leash and had him. We had a tug-of-war to the inside of the office where Jean sat with a bone in her hand. That was too much temptation for Chip and I was on my way.

When I arrived at the scene, Hal and his two deputies, the highway patrolman, and coroner Jim Black, who also happened to be our local veterinarian, were on the scene. Standing next to Roger's Ford van, was our funeral director, Godwin Bellamy. Hank Wright, one of the county's biggest landholders, was talking with Hal.

Yellow tape surrounded the area. A crowd of people stood outside the marked area. By crowd, I should say five individuals, was enough to call them a crowd. With my camera hanging from my neck, I marched past them, ducked under the yellow tape and peered over Hal's shoulder. He glanced at me with a scowl.

"Ron, get her out of here," Hal order one of his new deputies who had to be four or five years younger than me.

Can you imagine? This was my dearly beloved. I protested. Hal didn't even react to my words as I was unceremoniously led under the tape to join the crowd. I knew all of them. They had questions.

"Did you see who it was?"

"Was he murdered?"

"What do you know? We have another murder."

"How long has he been here?"

"Why would someone murder him?

"No." I answered. I stood with them, hoping I might catch something in their chatter. With one ear on the conversation, I took some photos of the crime scene although the other new deputy, Burt Reese was already doing so. The body lay face up and sprawled on his back with a pistol next to his left hand. When Reese moved aside, I noticed the victim had a beard, didn't appear to tall, and was thick through the middle. Squinting my eyes, I tried to identify who it was but could not from where I stood. I'd study my photos at the office. Maybe, I could identify him then.

I continued nosing around the area outside the marked-off section. Who knew what I might find? While I did, I fumed at Hal. He should have let me have information for the paper. Didn't he care about supporting me in my career? I am his wife, after all.

As I made ever widening circles outside the yellow tape, I snatched glances of the corpse and took additional photos, that is until Hal put a stop to what I was doing.

"Beth, would you please stay with the onlookers?" his voice was a command. I sent him a dirty look that was almost lost on him since he had returned to examining the area inside the tape. At supper time, he would get an earful from me and his unacceptable treatment of my actions.

When the corpse was removed, I returned to the newspaper office. Jean was visibly upset that I had not gotten any good news for our exclusive. Together we made copies of the photos I had and tried to pinpoint who he was but to no avail. Jean decided to run a special edition using five of my photos anyway with a story I was to write about my observations.

"Stretch your information a bit if you need to," she said. "The public has a right to know. You might encourage anyone who has information, come forward to us." She jabbed her fingers one by one on her desk as she spoke.

Before she had finished, I sat at my desk and had my computer turned on telling myself I was in a great position to investigate on my own. Wouldn't Hal be surprised if I beat him to discovering why the victim died if it was murder. We are the only source for local news in our county. I hit the first key so hard I made a series of the same letter on the screen and had to delete. I won't bother to tell you what I wrote. You can read it in the newspaper. I did end with… The name of anyone who has information about the victim, who he was, and how he was killed will be kept confidential by our newspaper staff.

Our staff meaning Jean and me, Pip Spencer who is our printer, and Reynalda Hauk who helps on delivery day distributing papers in the country. We do have a paid subscription list but we also deliver free papers for pick-up at our local grocery store, library, and restaurants.

Jean's husband died several years ago in a car accident leaving the paper to her. She's done a bang-up job running the paper ever since. She's fifty-years-old, has black hair with streaks of gray, thinly plucked eyebrows, and the most penetrating black eyes I've ever encountered. When she wants something, she can bore into the heart of your soul and get whatever she desires out of you. You're squirming with your chest so tight it's about to implode.

Her height, at almost six feet, and her angular body, help with her intimidation. I love her. She's my kind of woman and a role-model.

By the time I finished writing a one and a half page about my observations at the death scene plus a few imagined tweets here and there, Jean and Pip had the page set up using every photo I took and space for my story. Reynalda had arrived on the scene and was pacing the floor anxious to deliver our special edition

In the article, I had made comments about what I saw at the location: male, found on the east side of reservoir lying face up on his back, pistol near left hand.  Ford van nearby. I did some mind searching about the Ford van. The made-up time of death I added was pure speculation on my part. Key content was the pistol near his left hand and my description of his size and age. He was not overly tall, appeared medium build, Caucasian, between the age of 35 to 40 years old. I forgot to write about his clothing which I had noted at the scene was more adapted to life in town than on one of the farms or ranches – dress pants, white shirt, purple tie with white stars as the pattern, and city shoes.

After reading my account uttering the words as she did and marking changes, Jean bellowed, "Yes. Let's get this finished." There is something about a special edition –it's like the brain being super smart.

We were late shutting up shop, but full of satisfaction, almost ecstatic over what we had accomplished.

With the long days of summer, it was still daylight as I pulled into our driveway. Chip bounded out of the Jeep and dragged me to the front door. Hal must have heard us and opened the door. Chip jumped on him, his fore paws on his shoulders, licking his face. I smelled Italian spaghetti wafting from the kitchen. He makes the best ever and doesn't mind cooking. Thank goodness. I hate to cook.

We kissed and I went to the bathroom to wash and get ready for my job I had that night checking on the activities of Crystal Rowe's seventeen-year-old daughter who she thought was sneaking out of the house late at night.  A single mom, Crystal worried Tasha might be headed for trouble. Sounded like an easy job.

Bless my husband. He's special in my eyes. For dinner, he had made a multi lettuce, avocado, tomato, and cucumber, salad, and had Milly's homemade rolls to go with the main meal. When I sat, he gave me a kiss on the back of my neck. My skin tingled, and I thought I was going to slide onto the floor and drip like sticky tree sap. I was glad I hadn't told him I had an all-night job.

"I'm working tonight," he said as he spread a napkin on his lap.

Inwardly, I made a silent "Whew" sound. I wouldn't need to listen to his objections to my night work.

"Did you discover anything about the body?" I asked.

Holding his fork in midair, spaghetti wound around the tongs, his eyebrow arched, he gave me a pained look before saying, "You know I can't reveal any information about an on-going investigation."

I plastered a poker expression on my face. "Of course, you can't, but I thought you could give me a little non-essential tidbit, something I could use for the paper."

Hal didn't bother to answer me and we ate in silence. Finished with our meal, Hal pushed away from the table. "Hope you don't mind the clean-up. I don't know what time I'll get home."

"You'll likely beat me. I'm on a stake-out tonight."

"I wish you'd quit that. I worry something you don't expect might happen to you. Are you taking Chip?"

"No. You keep him with you. He's apt to bark and give me away."

"Hear that, Chip?"

Asleep on his rug, Chip opened one eye, closed it, and wagged his tail.

Darkness descended about nine-thirty. With my night vision glasses in the seat, I drove to Crystal's small nineteen fifties red brick house with white trim and shutters that looked exactly like an entire block of similar houses and parked behind a big cottonwood. Stake outs bore me right out of my skin and tonight was no exception. By twelve o'clock, every house was dark. I adjusted my night glasses and concentrated on Crystal's house and specifically on Tasha's bedroom window. Sure enough, at one o'clock – I checked my watch – she climbed out her window, landing on both feet before dashing along the hedge next to their driveway to the street. Within minutes, a new BMW two-door sports car pulled up next to her. When she opened the door, the interior light went on and I caught a glance of the man in the driver's seat. Forty-year-old Jerry Peters married to Belinda, father of two children. Oh, Oh. The old goat. Tasha was headed for heartbreak. I hoped nothing more serious. Her mother was wise in her suspicions.

I waited until he was at the end of the block before starting my Jeep. He made a left-hand turn toward the main highway to the west of Stopover. Leaving my parking lights on, I followed, saw him turn on the frontage road that led to the three motels we had. He parked in the space for room 205 at Luxury Inn. One light went on. I stayed where I parked beyond the edge of the motel until they closed the door. Exiting my car, I sneaked over to the unit, but the drapes were drawn, giving me no chance to get photographs. Anyone could imagine what was about to take place. Making my way back to my vehicle, I wrote down the name of the motel, room number, his license plate, their time of departure from Crystal's, and time of arrival at the motel. With the task completed, I immediately called Crystal. She answered, her words punctuation by the sound of yawns." "Who is this?

"Me, Beth. I followed your daughter. You'd better get to Luxury Inn and check on Tasha."

"She's at Luxury Inn? I knew something was going on. I'll be right there."

"I'm parked under the big cottonwood just before the entryway."

At my vehicle, I poured coffee from my thermos and waited.  Once in a while, I have the satisfaction of knowing my work at Stopover Independent Detective Agency is worthwhile. Tonight, I could be saving Tasha from a sad outcome and Jerry might end up in jail for molesting an under-aged girl. It didn't take Crystal long to pull in behind me. She exited her car and closed the door quietly. I stepped out of mine.

"Let's go check my daughter," she said with a slight hiss. "Who's the bastard with her?"

"Jerry Peters."

"What? That scrawny bald-headed jerk. I can't see Tasha going for him. Which room?"

She beat me to the door and pounded hard enough to wake everyone. A light went on.

"Who's there? What do you want?" Jerry Peters called. I heard feet hit the floor and someone slam a door.

"You're blocking one of the parking spaces to the room next to you. You need to move your car." I couldn't think of any other story quick enough to get him to show himself.

 The door opened a crack. Crystal slammed against it sending Jerry to the floor as she marched in. I followed and aimed my camera to take pictures. Tasha came out of the bathroom fully clothed. "Mother."

Crystal grabbed her daughter's upper arm and dragged her toward the door. On the way, she stomped down hard on Jerry's back as he was attempting to get to his feet and flattened him on the floor. Tasha struggled against her mother's hold, saying, "But we love each other."

"Oh my god. He's old enough to be your father."

After the two had left, I suggested Jerry get dressed and then I slammed the door behind me and followed Crystal and Tasha. By the time I reached my Jeep, they had driven off. It was 2:24 a.m., by my Fitbit watch, and I added that to my notes. Jerry Peters exited the motel room. Before I started my vehicle, I watched him leave. With a feeling of satisfaction at getting several photographs, I drove home.

I beat Hal. After showering, I got into an empty bed and attempted to stay awake until he came in. It didn't work and I wasn't even aware when he climbed under the blankets next to me.

Tomorrow I would start my own newspaper investigation return it. She was determined to have it.


Thursday, December 29, 2022

Guarding Leah: Brotherhood Protectors World by Regan Black

$3.99 or FREE for Kindle Unlimited Subscribers


Some battles don’t have a winner--only survivors.

Wade Fielding turned tragedy into a career--going up against man and nature as a search and rescue specialist with the 10th Mountain Division. He and his team have saved countless lives through the years, yet the scars on his heart remain.

For Wade, joining the Brotherhood Protectors of West Yellowstone means a fresh start in brand new territory with unexpected challenges, both natural and man-made.

So why does the camaraderie leave him feeling more alone than ever?

When Leah Williams, a local wolf researcher, goes missing during a storm, Wade is tasked with her rescue. The trail leads him to a nearly-frozen woman who refuses to come in from the cold, despite the gunman trying to kill her to guard dangerous secrets.

Wade is fascinated by Leah’s determination to save wild wolves from an illegal breeder creating hybrids for an elusive buyer. Her courage and passion ignite his protective instincts as well as an unprecedented desire.

To rescue the wolves essential to the natural order and the captivating woman he’s falling for, Wade will push himself to the brink.

This time, he vows to do more than survive.

Chapter 1

It was murder, pure and simple. Her heart cracked, sorrow spilling through her entire body, leaving her stomach in knots and her hands balled into fists. Never easy to bear witness to a senseless death. Didn’t matter that the lifeless body was four-legged rather than human. Worse yet, this was murder compounded by kidnapping. 

As the hot lick of temper burned through her first layer of grief, Leah Williams silently vowed to find justice.  

She’d been working undercover in and around Yellowstone National Park for months in an effort to find and break up an exotic pet ring. The secretive, criminal team had stolen young wolves, selling them to people with more money than sense as unique pets and status symbols. That was dreadful enough, considering the ongoing struggle for healthy wolf conservation, but lately, new hybrid wolf-dogs had shown up in veterinarian offices across the country.  

The leads were wispy at best. As the days passed, Leah worried the case was slipping through her fingers. Most days she felt as if she were chasing ghosts and rumors that would never amount to justice for these beautiful animals. 

Experience had taught her how difficult it was to overcome rumors.  

Tears blurred her vision as she knelt beside the body of the dead wolf. Male, prime of his life. She swiped at her face. “I’ll find them, I promise.” And she would make them pay for this horrid, inexcusable destruction. 

People had all sorts of opinions about gray wolf conservation. For Leah, daughter of a veterinarian and an ecology professor, the bottom line was simple: healthy predators were essential for balance within every ecosystem. Incidents like this only twisted an already delicate issue and cast more shadows over the ongoing efforts to protect the wolves. 

She sniffed back another wave of tears and looked up at the hazy sky. Crying had to wait. Right now she needed clear vision to study the scene and, with luck, pick up a trail. There were prints all over, mature wolves along with the smaller tracks of younger pups. They had been ambushed as they came out of the trees. 

The dead male wouldn’t have led a training hunt alone, which meant it was likely other mature wolves were either wounded or had been taken along with the juveniles that fetched the highest prices for the poachers. The wolves didn’t know it, but Leah was their best chance of being reunited with the pack. 

It was a brazen person who shot and killed a GPS-collared wolf. The device was impossible to miss. The lure of the payout for the wolves clearly overrode all common sense. The brutality and greed of such a wasteful act scraped against everything Leah held dear.  

A cold wind pushed at her as she scanned the area, trying to get a sense of how the thieves had attacked this hunting party. In addition to tracking collars, the Yellowstone Heritage Research Center used trail cameras and drone flights to locate and track the wolf packs. A drone operating a regularly scheduled sweep of the area had spotted the dead wolf. Leah had volunteered to come investigate. 

She stalked back to where she’d left her ATV and pulled a camera from her supply kit. Documenting the scene took time and focus. There were tracks everywhere, including flattened areas where wolves must have sluggishly dropped from being hit with a tranquilizer. There was no sign of a dead animal laced with a sedative to lure the wolves here. For Leah that meant two shooters, minimum. One to kill, one to tranquilize. And how did they haul away the drugged wolves? 

Before fury could blind her, she forced herself to find any possible silver lining. At least the wolves stolen weren’t young pups. A few were surely young, but all were hearty. Every animal caught in this ambush was part of the greater pack. Each individual knew the rendezvous site and their place within the pack as a whole. And they would resume those places, those strong ties with the pack, once Leah rescued them. 

Bonus, she realized, the shooters were now stuck with the difficult task of moving the heavy, unconscious grown wolves. That would slow them down, giving her a welcome advantage. 

Leah cleared the emotion from her throat and chest before she radioed back to the research center. “I found the scene,” she said. “One wolf dead, possibly other adults injured. Wolf tracks lead southwest. I believe several wolves are gone.”  

“Gone?” Bobby Tremaine was on the other end of the radio and in that one word, she heard all the sorrow she felt pressing down onto her shoulders. “You mean killed?”  

“No,” Leah reported. “Taken. Stolen,” she clarified. “Only one wolf body is here at the scene. Very little scavenging so far.” 

Bobby swore. A graduate student, passionate about ecology conservation, he had joined the research team a few months before Leah. He had been operating the drone that spotted the downed wolf. “The crew was organized.” 

“Yes,” she confirmed. “They worked quickly. At least two of them, possibly more,” she added. “Though I haven’t sorted out the human tracks yet.” It made sense to her that the two shooters would’ve needed more help to move the wolves out so fast. The missing wolves probably weighed at least ninety pounds each. 

“Send pictures.” 

The flat, no-nonsense order from him made her smile. He wasn’t exactly her superior on the chain of command, but she understood the same need for justice pushed both of them. Bobby, along with pretty much everyone else in and around West Yellowstone, had been on her suspect list when she’d arrived. It hadn’t taken her long to rule him out, especially with an assist from one of the research and technology specialists her actual employers kept on the payroll. 

The Guardian Agency, a discreet personal protection and investigations service managed by the law firm of Gamble and Swann had reached out to her, giving her a fresh start when she’d hit rock bottom and been forced to give up her dream of becoming a veterinarian. The new career path had been an adjustment, but she liked the variety of the work and—finally—enjoyed the satisfaction of making a difference. 

Since becoming a protector, most of her cases involved watching over people, but she’d leapt at the chance to intervene on behalf of the wolves.  

Keeping her secrets had been easier than she’d anticipated as she adjusted and blended into the small town life of West Yellowstone. In general, the people were friendly without being too nosy and her cover story, thanks again to an agency specialist, was rock solid. 

“I will. And I’ll send them while I have a signal, before I move on,” she promised.  

“Move on? No,” Bobby protested. “You need to wait for backup.” 

Then what had been the point of her driving out here immediately? Of course, Bobby didn’t know that her interests, training, and orders went beyond her daily tasks at the center. 

“Don’t worry,” she said. “I’m only looking for any signs of a trail. I won’t go far.” 

“You’d better not. Weather is rolling your way,” Bobby warned. 

She studied the horizon, noticed the heavy gray clouds gathering. It was always a good day for snow in Yellowstone. “I’ll be careful.” 

Weather out here could shift in a blink. Her supply kit was stocked, she had the radio, and she knew how to protect herself from human and natural threats. 

The successful breeding and growth of this pack were a big win for conservation and the gray wolf population overall. She had to try and find the thieves, rescue the wolves. That was the first priority. Second was getting information. If she caught up with the thieves, caught them with the wolves, she’d have leverage that could get her to the next step of this operation. Even with the help from Guardian Agency researchers, they didn’t yet have a name or likely location for the cross-breeding operation. 

Rumors and ghosts. This was her best chance to change that. 

“Radio is on if you need me,” she told Bobby. But she was done discussing it. “Pictures on the way.”  

She clipped the radio back onto her belt and carefully walked another circuit of the scene. It wasn’t easy. There had been more snow overnight, and a few small scavengers taking advantage of the unexpected meal. At last, Leah found a boot print near one of the subtle depressions where a wolf had been knocked out. 

Oh, yeah. Taking more pictures, she spotted the bright pink tail piece of a tranquilizer dart. She photographed it carefully before she wrapped it to preserve any evidence and stowed it in her kit.  

“Bastards,” she grumbled. “You’ll pay,” she vowed to the big, wide open sky stretching overhead. 

Her protection assignments had taken her to several fascinating locations. She’d enjoyed herself, but she’d simply fallen in love with this unexpectedly rugged and beautiful part of the world. When she’d taken on this assignment it had been a pure rush of wonder and joy. Working in Yellowstone was a gift in and of itself. Her parents always joked that she thrived out in the wild. A “natural-born” animal lover and perpetual champion of the underdog. 

Beyond the ideal work-life balance she found in this area, she was eager to make inroads and take down the exotic pet ring. Making things right made her heart happy. 

Years ago, when she’d been in a pit of despair, if anyone had told her she’d eventually be passionate about a new career with one of the best protection agencies in the business, she would have laughed hysterically. 

All her life, Leah had believed she’d been destined to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a veterinarian. It was a lifestyle she understood, a commitment she respected and loved. Plans changed and, though the shifting trajectory had not been her idea and had been quite painful at the time, she appreciated this new opportunity.  

When she joined the Guardian Agency she never thought it would lead her to working with animals again. Protecting wolves instead of people was a unique situation, although the two went hand in hand despite the resistance to that truth. Nature conservation was vital to human survival. She was proud to have this time here alongside the people working toward a peaceful coexistence. 

And she was thankful for the chance, at last, to track down the selfish killers and thieves who were attacking the wolves of Yellowstone for profit. 

On her belt, her radio crackled.  

“Leah? Leah, if you can hear me you need to come back to town.” Bobby sounded almost panicked. “Whatever you’ve gathered, we’ll make do.” 

Leah shook her head. She wasn’t leaving until she had a basic direction, preferably a trail. The wolves needed her to persist. The sooner they were found, the sooner they could be reunited with the pack. 

“The weather is changing, Leah,” Bobby said. “You need to get back here.” 

“I think I’ve found the trail.” Not a lie. She was close to figuring out where they’d gone. “I need a few minutes to confirm.” 

“Leah. Listen to me.” 

“Notify the closest airports,” she said. “They’ll want to get out of the area fast.” The fastest way to move the animals, without keeping them sedated too long, would be by air.  

“Already done,” he confirmed. “Don’t ignore the real issue. You need to get back here or find shelter.” 

She caught herself before she snapped at him. He was being responsible, trying to help. She was the one pushing the envelope. “I’ll be safe, I promise.” 

When she was satisfied with her documentation, she uploaded the photos to the center’s cloud storage and then tucked the camera into her coat. The wind had changed, kicking up with a bit of bite. Walking to the ATV, she zipped her coat against the elements. Adjusting her cap and pulling on her gloves and hood, she sat down and studied the terrain.  

The thieves couldn’t have moved out in just any direction. Going back to West Yellowstone would be foolish unless they had someone waiting at the airport, ready to go. The tranquilizers would keep the wolves quiet for a time, but it would be impossible to hide the transfer of several large animals from a truck to a plane. Although the gateway town didn’t boast a huge population, people noticed when things were out of place. And moving wolves would stick out. 

She could make Bobby happy and go back and confirm for herself that the thieves weren’t at the West Yellowstone airport. With those dark snow-filled clouds rolling closer to town, it was unlikely that a plane would escape tonight. Another drone flight wasn’t going to happen until the weather passed. 

Since being assigned to this particular case, she’d taken every opportunity to hike and explore the area in and around the park. Her bosses, Gamble and Swann, were aware that breaking up this particular criminal endeavor would take time. That had been another factor in sending Leah. Other than parents she visited primarily on the holidays, she didn’t have deep roots or connections. After the fiasco in vet school, she didn’t want to create any. These days, she trusted only a handful of people. 

“A loner and happier for it” had been her motto these past few years. And this loner was ready to take down the team that had ambushed the pack. 

Gray wolves were amazing creatures. Predators and opportunists? Absolutely. Also a beautiful, essential part of the food chain and the health of this corner of the planet. Intelligent animals with an admirable survival instinct.  

She could relate to that focus on survival and the general plight of the wolves: being blamed for things that weren’t their fault. People were set in their opinions, many of them refusing to budge or open their minds to an opposing viewpoint. Leah expected the conservationists and ranchers would be butting heads over this until the end of time, unfortunately. 

The men preying on this pack were still close. Close enough to track and, hopefully, detain. 

What was the fastest path away from the crime scene? She wasn’t looking for the easiest route, just the option that gave the shooters room to escape.  

From her perch on the ATV, she examined the surrounding area. Recalling the drone footage, matching it with the ugly scene in front of her, she searched for the best line of sight for killing this wolf. He must have tried to defend the drugged wolves somehow. Maybe a tranquilizer failed. The wolf was in his prime and would’ve been a good candidate for the hybrid breeders. A shooter must have been covering the approach of the thieves collecting the animals once they’d succumbed to the tranquilizer.  

Starting the vehicle, she carefully advanced toward the treeline where the shooters must’ve been hiding, waiting for the pack to come through. The closest ridge was too far for a reliable shot with the ever-shifting winds out here. 

About one hundred yards east of the deadly ambush, she noticed something more than the boot prints closer to the scene. The flat slide resembled a toboggan track and had been cleverly used to hide most of the evidence of the shooters. Only a rare boot print remained uncovered, but now that she knew what she was looking for, she had an easy time trailing after them. 

She inched along following the path that became more evident as she reached the treeline. Two people, men based on the size of the boots, had worked hard maneuvering the heavy sleds through the trees.  

Stopping the ATV once more, she radioed back to update Bobby. “I’ve picked up the trail. They retreated east into the trees. Sedated wolves on sleds covered the tracks.” 

“So not headed to the airfield here in town,” Bobby said. 

“Not directly.” She wasn’t ready to rule out anything just yet. Two people couldn’t keep the sedated wolves indefinitely. There was a handoff point somewhere. A place they could load the wolves into some kind of vehicle to haul them out of the park. “I’m going to follow a bit more.” 

“Leah. The weather.” 

“It’s not here yet.” She didn’t want Bobby’s worry weighing her down. All her energy and focus had to be on the task ahead. “I’ve got this.” Leah couldn’t give up, not when she was this close to finally getting a photo or a name to connect with this dangerous crew.  

Her gaze returned to the evidence of the trail. Shoving her anger down deep, she headed into the trees after the thieves. Though it slowed her down, she paused frequently to take pictures and scan the area, listening for any threat. She couldn’t rule out the possibility that they’d left someone to guard the trail. She pressed forward, taking the calculated risk that the thieves would be more intent on getting away than protecting their exit.  

The little intel they’d gathered on the operation pointed to a small, discreet group. Maybe three or four people, probably men, working sporadically when called upon. They had one grainy photo of a man—white, mid-twenties, lanky, in a truck with stolen Montana plates—delivering a hybrid puppy to a family at a rest stop north of Des Moines, Iowa. 

Leah had been sure she’d seen a man bearing a striking resemblance to the grainy photo in West Yellowstone last week. So, no, she wasn’t giving up this chase. There was no telling when she’d be this close to such a valuable lead again. 

When her path was blocked by fallen trees, Leah parked the ATV. Taking the radio and a small pack that included her personal handgun, she followed on foot rather than move too far off the trail and lose it. 

Over the logs, moving slowly, the sound of her footsteps were swallowed by the soft, snow-covered ground. She peered up at the frosted white tree limbs tangled overhead. The drone wouldn’t have found a small ambush team in here unless they’d known exactly where to look.  

A loud crack shattered the eerie quiet. Leah jumped back, pressing close to a tree trunk as an icy limb crashed to the ground, kicking up a spray of stinging snow and debris.  

Dusting herself off, she took a breath and resumed her search.  

The next sound was the burst of gunfire. Leah dropped to the forest floor, scrambling to find cover as her heart pounded. 

“Make sure she’s dead!” a voice shouted. 

A moment later an engine rumbled to life in the distance. Leah held her breath, listening for any clue to the shooter’s position. Hearing him grumbling about the weather, she waited for an opening, no matter how slim. 

Then she ran.


Saturday, December 24, 2022

Enjoy an Excerpt from Deadly Chocolate Addiction by Sally Berneathy


Barnes & Noble

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?


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. 

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Defending Avery: Brotherhood Protectors World by Regan Black

$3.99 or FREE for Kindle Unlimited Subscribers


Former Special Forces operator, Clint Manning, along with the rest of Team Trojan, left his Army career for a new opportunity with the Colorado division of the Brotherhood Protectors. He enjoys the work, especially when he's sent to protect a woman he's been interested in. A woman desperate to keep her secrets buried.

Avery Tripp created her fresh start in Fool's Gold with a new name and a new profession. As a floral designer, she's found the perfect place to blend in and pretend she never made the unforgivable mistake that forced her into hiding. But a startling uptick in crime is the first clue that she's been found.

Before Avery can run, Clint reveals that he's been assigned to protect her. Although he claims he's interested in more than her security, she struggles with his 24/7 presence and the risks he's taking to keep her safe. Although she can't deny the heat of his kisses, the cold certainty that her past endangers him frightens her more.

With the threats creeping ever closer, Avery must believe in Clint's promises and skills or give up any hope of a full life where she can truly be herself with the man she loves.

If you like romantic suspense loaded with action, heart-pounding danger, and steamy passion, you'll love Defending Avery by USA Today bestseller Regan Black! 


Behind the bar, Clint Manning served drinks to a thirsty crowd in the Watering Hole near the Lost Valley Ranch. He chatted up customers as his mind wandered. His life had changed so much in the last few months. Still based in Colorado, no longer part of the Army.

He’d been in plenty of bars, dives, and pubs all over the world, but this place was special. Dan “Gunny” Tate and his daughter RJ had made this local hangout feel more friendly than any other place Clint could recall. The casual vibe at the bar and the teamwork involved as everyone pitched in whenever and wherever they were needed went a long way to heal the bitterness that had been dogging him since his forced career change.

Clint along with the rest of Team Trojan had been booted out of the 10th Special Forces Group at Fort Carson, forced to leave the Army, simply for doing the right thing. Bodie Jackson, Zeke Turner, Hale Foster, Stone Bishop, and Clint had all agreed to disagree with an order, knowing it would be their last action as Army soldiers. Didn’t help that the right thing had conflicted with their commander’s goals, but when push came to shove, they took the fall as a team.

Miserable as that mess had been, at least they all could look themselves in the mirror with pride and respect now that it was over. And somehow, they’d managed to land on their feet.

Former Navy SEAL Jake Cogburn had reached out to them, inviting them to a meeting at the Lost Valley Ranch to discuss a new career option. The five of them had come on out and met with Jake who was heading up the Colorado division of the Brotherhood Protectors, a security group founded by Hank Patterson, who’d also served as a Navy SEAL. Reluctantly, they decided as a team to hang around and see how things worked on the civilian side. Now, Clint considered it a privilege to take on private security cases for various clients, including those without the financial resources to pay the going rate.

It was the best possible outcome for him. His mom had died a few years back during a deployment and he didn’t have any family eagerly awaiting his military retirement. Here in Fool’s Gold he worked with new purpose alongside men he trusted with his life. And when he wasn’t on a security detail, he enjoyed pitching in here, making things easier on Gunny.

In the months since they’d left Ft. Carson behind, he’d helped his teammates through some dangerous situations and, to his surprise, watched his closest friends fall in love with some amazing women. He never would’ve imagined life could turn around so fast for any of them.

Jake walked in through the back door, limping slightly due to his prosthetic leg. “Clint, I need a minute.”

Clint followed his new boss outside. “What’s up?”

“I just got off the phone with Hank. He has connections with another private security group based in Chicago, the Guardian Agency.”

“Never heard of them.”

“They keep a real low profile,” Jake said. “Apparently, like us, they take on some unique personal security cases. A few years back, they helped the police protect a witness who testified against a robbery crew hitting several jewelry stores. Her testimony took down the operation, sent four men to prison.”

Clint folded his arms over his chest, listening intently for more details before he asked any questions. A Colorado Springs jewelry store had been robbed just last week.

“Hank’s friends in Chicago know the witness settled here in Fool’s Gold. Changed her name, appearance, and profession, but they’re concerned. Three of the four men in the original crew have been released. Rumors are circling that they’re looking for the witness. It might be nothing, but I’d like you to take this one.”

“Absolutely.” He was always eager for an assignment.

“You’ll need to keep an eye on her. Just a low-key observation detail. The last time she suspected trouble, she ran and it took a few months before the agency in Chicago tracked her here. They don’t want to lose her again.” Jake rubbed the back of his neck. “Now, if you see trouble while you’re observing her, feel free to loop her in.”

“And when do I start?”

“Tonight. The witness is Avery Tripp.”

“Sparrow’s friend?” Sparrow Oakley was a local sheriff’s deputy and Stone’s new girlfriend. She met Avery here at the Watering Hole for a beer after work at least once a week. In fact, they were sitting at the bar right now.

“The same,” Jake confirmed.

“Does Sparrow know anything about this?”

Jake shrugged. “Doubtful. I don’t want to ask in case it spooks Avery. Since she lives and works in town, we’ll move you to the casino hotel as a consultant for cover. That puts you much closer to her for the day to day.”

Avery could be in serious trouble if that crew was looking for retribution. “All right.”

Clint ignored the twitch between his shoulder blades at the necessary deception. He didn’t know her well, but he enjoyed her company and considered her a friend. He’d been thinking of asking her out on a date and now things were sticky.

“Great.” Jake clapped him on the shoulder. “I’ll send you an email with all the details I have. In the meantime, just be yourself.”

“You got it.” Clint returned to the bar as Jake headed back toward the lodge.

Inside, he filled drink orders, chatted with a few customers and tried not to stare at Avery as a rush of questions spun around in his head. Blond, average height, with subtle curves, she had the most fascinating hazel eyes that shifted closer to blue or green depending on what she wore.

Tonight, her moss green work shirt, printed with the logo for Laurel’s Florals flower shop on the sleeve, brought out the green in her eyes. It was tough to imagine her running in the same circle as criminals. He wanted to believe she’d been an innocent bystander, though he knew better than to leap to conclusions. Hopefully the email would give him a better picture.

“I need to close out,” she said when he stopped to ask if she wanted a second beer.

“Done already?” he asked.

She gave him an abbreviated nod, her blond hair falling forward to hide her face. His fingers twitched to tuck it back behind her ear. He was starting to wonder if she’d always been shy or if whatever she’d survived had forced her to develop this habit of hiding.

“I’m first in tomorrow while Laurel is on vacation.” Avery pulled on her coat and fished her car keys out of her purse.

“I’ll walk you out,” he offered.

Her eyes widened. “Oh, no thanks. You don’t have to do that.”

Half an hour ago, he sure didn’t, though he would’ve wanted to. Now it wasn’t an option, despite the fact that she was a capable, independent woman. He needed to get to know her better. Something about her reserved, almost shy, manner didn’t match the spark that appeared when she was hanging out with Sparrow and their girlfriends.

Of course, he might be reading way too much into every nuance after his conversation with Jake. Either way, his job was to keep watch over her.

He’d been around her enough to hear her hold her own in conversations about mining, horses, jewelry or the many trails that crisscrossed the area. And he’d heard through Sparrow that she baked the best cookies on the planet. He could find some common ground to make this less awkward for both of them.

“Part of the service,” he said. “You know how Gunny is.” He shot her a quick grin, then signaled Stone to take over the bartending duties for a few minutes. Everyone who joined the Brotherhood Protectors team learned the ins and outs of the Lost Valley Ranch and Watering Hole operations so they could help Gunny when they weren’t on assignment.

Guiding Avery toward the back door, he held it open for her. His mother had drilled courtesy and manners into him from the start. As the chilly November wind sliced through his flannel shirt, he wished he’d thought to grab his coat.

Beside him, Avery buttoned her coat and tucked her chin into the collar, her hands sliding deep into her pockets. Nerves, hiding, or just staying warm? She’d seemed jumpy recently, though she always relaxed after a few minutes of chatting with Sparrow or Casey.

He shortened his stride and matched his pace to hers. “How are things at work?” Lame opening, but it was the safest topic he could think of.

“Fine,” she replied, her voice muffled by the thick wool. “Things are good here?”

“Things are great,” he said. “I’m glad Jake brought us in. The job and the area have a lot to offer.”

“I agree. The views sucked me in right away.”

He knew she hiked with Sparrow and the other women and he’d heard her talking about spending time with the horses out at the Jones place. “What’s your favorite thing to do around here in your down time?”

She pulled out her keys when they reached her car. It was a sturdy compact SUV, ideal for managing the mountain roads. “My hours aren’t all that typical.”

That wasn’t what he’d asked at all, so he pressed. Just a little. For the assignment. He needed to learn as much about her as possible and fast. “Do you drink coffee?”

“Yes,” she replied warily.

Progress. “Do you get a morning break? How about I bring something over to you, if you’re on your own at the shop tomorrow.”

“Oh.” She glanced past him. “That would be nice. Timing always depends on the day’s orders, but after ten is usually a safe bet.” She looked toward the lights on the sign overhead, her lips curving slightly. “It’s snowing.”

Her soft, delighted smile made it easy to ignore the cold snowflakes on the back of his neck and falling into his collar.

“If you don’t want to drive back into town you can stay over. There’s plenty of room at the lodge.” Gunny and RJ always held a room or two in reserve for clients or new guys coming onto the Brotherhood Protectors team. “Or you can wait for me to follow you. I just moved into the Lucky Strike Hotel.”

Her gaze snapped back to his face. “What? Why?”

He could hardly tell her it was to stay closer to her. “I’m consulting on a few security upgrades at the casino,” he hedged. Lying wasn’t something he enjoyed, but there were times when it was necessary. This was one of those times. Jake had been clear that he wasn’t to say anything that might upset Avery and make her run.

“That sounds interesting.” Her brow furrowed. “There’s no need for anyone to go to all that trouble. I can make it home just fine.”

Just as she’d done every other night to this point. “Would you call me when you get there? Please. You know the roads can turn slick in a hurry up here.”

“You’re serious.”

She had no idea. The look on her face told him no one had expressed this level of concern for her in some time. The awareness annoyed him a great deal. Whatever had happened in Chicago, Avery was pleasant, if shy, and fun to talk to when she did open up. Suddenly, it didn’t matter who put him in her path or why. He was determined to make sure she knew people cared about her.

“Afraid so.” He held out his cell phone and waited. On willpower alone, he refused to show any reaction to the cold weather slipping under his clothing. At last, she made the exchange. He added his number to her contacts list while she did the same. “Be safe,” he said when she tucked the phone away once more.

“I will. And…” She seemed to struggle with some internal debate. “I will call as soon as I’m back to the apartment. Now do me a favor and get back inside before you freeze.”

“Sure thing.” He gave her a smile, feeling as if he’d just won a major victory.

When she got into her car, he stepped back, but he lingered close by while she started the car and let the engine warm up for a minute, then watched as she pulled out of the parking space, heading for town.

For a few seconds he considered following her anyway, but the team had an app that would let him track her phone without her knowledge. Ignoring the weather, he jogged up to the lodge, then headed to the basement headquarters to plug her number into that program.


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