Saturday, December 3, 2022

The Great Chocolate Scam by Sally Berneathy

$3.99

Amazon

Finally Rick has agreed to sign the divorce papers and give Lindsay her freedom! She is sitting in her lawyer’s office waiting for him when she gets the call.

Rick is dead. Murdered by a bomb that blew up his car in his own driveway.

Lindsay is his sole heir. Or is she? She’s never met any of Rick’s family. Though he told her various conflicting stories about them, she came to believe they didn’t exist, that Rick was an alien stranded here when the mother ship left without him. But then Rick’s mother and two brothers show up followed by a woman who claims to be his ex-wife and a boy she claims is Rick’s son. Everyone except Lindsay wants to inherit Rick’s estate. What’s so valuable that someone killed for it and is ready to kill again?

Come for the Cookie Dough Cheesecake Bars, stay for the murder, mayhem and fun!


Review:

An absolute laugh out loud cozy mystery. Sally Berneathy is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. Not only are her characters amazing, but the story is written in such a way, that it could be real. I think The Great Chocolate Scam is the best of the series so far. I laughed so many times and there were lots of scenes with my favorite character, Fred. I highly recommend this book to anyone that wants a good laugh, enjoys cozy mysteries, and loves chocolate. The recipes at the end of the book are simply to die for.


Thursday, December 1, 2022

Melody's Six: Brotherhood Protectors World by Regan Black

$3.99 or FREE for Kindle Unlimited Subscribers

Amazon

As a Special Forces soldier, Dean Turner gave everything he had to the missions and his teams. When Hank Patterson recruits him into the Athena Project, Dean throws himself into the private protection service with that same focus. After all, there’s no one waiting for him at home since his ex-wife betrayed him on every level.

Dean knows marriage is not for him. He’s better off alone. Functions best that way.

Except when it comes to his Athena Project partner, Melody Boyd. This former CIA agent is professional, talented, and as dedicated to helping others as Dean. He’s tamped down his burning attraction to her from day one—always putting their missions first.

But when a former enemy targets Mel, Dean makes her the priority. He’ll do whatever it takes to keep her safe. Even becoming her undercover husband.

If you crave sexy, adrenaline-fueled romantic suspense, you’ll love Mel’s Six by USA Today bestseller Regan Black!
 

Chapter 1

“Slowly open your eyes. Pause here for one more deep breath…”

Melody Boyd tuned out the soothing voice and soft mellow music as the yoga instructor wrapped up the video class. Relaxation pose was a good thing, but she was feeling refreshed and raring to go, mentally and physically. Reaching over, she exited the app and closed her laptop. “Hey, Mel—”

At the sound of her partner’s voice, Mel rolled to her feet, blotting the sweat from her face and neck as she gave him a smile.

Dean Turner leaned a muscled shoulder against the door frame, a grin on his striking face. “Am I interrupting?”

“You know you’re not.” She swung her arms wide and up, then stretched side to side. “Just finished and feeling great.”

His electric blue gaze skimmed over her in that quick-assessing way he had. Standing tall, he made the most of each and every one of his six-foot, two inches. “And you’re recharged to a hundred percent.” He stepped forward and offered her a bottle of water.

“You know me so well.” Right down to knowing she’d be here at the apartment complex fitness center for yoga today. She looped the towel over her neck and indulged in a long drink. “What brings you by?”

Her partner had a military service record full of awards and accolades and yet somehow, he always managed to give off a carefree, easygoing vibe. Still, she recognized that undercurrent of energy, that eagerness to take on another challenge, because she was wired the same way.

She and Dean had met at a training retreat when her career had been at a crossroads. After giving the CIA her heart and mind and very best effort, she needed a change. The retreat had been the right call at the right time and she would always be grateful. Not only had she gone into business with her four like-minded girlfriends, she’d been partnered with Dean. Together, as a team of two, they worked cases for the new Athena Project.

A uniquely equipped group under the umbrella of Hank Patterson’s Brotherhood Protectors, they were led by Beck Morrissey who partnered with Roman McClain. The other teams were comprised of her the partnerships of Victoria and Logan, Cygny and Leo, and Fay and Walker.

Each assignment was an exciting challenge, whether it was up close recon, protection details, or the occasional undercover gig. With their combined expertise and enthusiasm, the Athena Project teams had an excellent success rate. Mel and Dean had worked a wide variety of assignments in recent months and while she trusted him with her life, it troubled her that she didn’t have a better understanding of the man under the stunning exterior.

Though he chatted and shared with her—nothing better to do on stakeouts—it always seemed to be surface-level stuff. She knew he’d grown up in Illinois, was a star athlete in high school—no surprise—and that he hated peaches for reasons he couldn’t explain. Since leaving the CIA, she discovered how much she loved being an open book, speaking her mind, and sharing her opinions without fear of fallout.

Throughout her career, she’d worked with military men and women from different backgrounds. No one served as long as Dean had in Special Operations without gathering a few scars, inside and out. But she’d seen him in nothing but gym shorts. His body was flawless. Nothing they’d gone up against in the field made him flinch. Once in a while, she caught a shadow of sadness or wariness in his gaze, but she didn’t press. She’d spent enough time with operators down range to respect his boundaries.

Still, being curious by nature, she frequently wondered if she should try harder to draw him out. Probably better not to rush it. Besides, there was no need. They communicated just fine on and off the job and the way things were going with the Athena Project, they would be together for a long time.

Scooping a hand through his dark brown hair, he tipped his head to the door. “Beck has something new for us. I’ll drive.”

“Give me ten minutes to freshen up.”

“You’re a girl.” He backed up a step. “Take fifteen.” On a low laugh, he dodged the towel she threw at him, and darted down the hallway.

“Woman!” She retrieved the towel and headed for the dressing room. He knew she didn’t need any extra time. Her ever-present backpack was always stocked with clean clothes and essential toiletries. Being prepared was one habit that hadn’t changed since her departure from the CIA for a civilian career.

Her neighbors at the apartment complex saw Mel as a thirty-something remote-work professional with flexible hours who’d come to Fool’s Gold for the small community and outdoor life. Plenty of truth in there and leaning into that role kept everyone safe.

Dressed in dark jeans, her favorite short boots and a lavender turtleneck sweater under a shearling vest, she slid into the passenger seat of Dean’s black pickup truck with a full five minutes to spare.

While he drove, she brushed her hair and gathered it up into a high ponytail, fluffing the curls a bit.

Dean chuckled as she carefully applied mascara while he was stopped at a traffic light.

She finished and closed the tube, dropping it into her bag. “What?”

“I don’t know. It’s a little strange to see you doing girly-girl things.”

“Woman.” Mel gave him a long stare. “Last chance to pull your foot out of your mouth,” she warned. Sure, they’d done remote surveillance requiring tactical field gear. But he’d also seen her in a slinky cocktail dress, a bikini on one particularly memorable recon mission, and a very feminine business suit right down to the pencil skirt and sky-high heels.

“Come on. You’re primping,” he said, defending his observation. “For a trip to the office? That seems overboard.”

Deliberately, she pulled out her lip gloss and made a production of applying it. “My use of cosmetics cannot possibly be a shock to you.”

“I just rarely see the process. That’s all. The end result is always impressive. And lovely,” he added quickly.

“Seven out of ten for the save,” she allowed, making him laugh.

He turned up the road toward Lost Valley Ranch, where the Athena Project was headquartered along with the Colorado division of Hank Patterson’s Brotherhood Protectors.

It was a gorgeous September day and she soaked it in. Up here, sunny skies and a balmy breeze could shift into a snowstorm in an instant if the mountains were in the mood. She loved the unpredictability. Kept her sharp.

Dean passed the Watering Hole bar on his way to the lodge. A retired Marine, Dan “Gunny” Tate, owned both the lodge and the bar. He kept both operations running smoothly with the help of his daughter, RJ, her husband Jake Cogburn, and the rest of the growing team. At any given time, if they weren’t on assignment, Brotherhood Protectors and Athena Project personnel could be found helping with anything from cleaning horse stalls to tending bar or prepping lodge rooms for guests.

For Mel, those frequent change-ups were perfect and though Dean hadn’t said the words, she was sure he felt the same way. She’d learned he wasn’t the kind of man who indulged in much idle time.

“Any hints about the assignment?” She zipped her backpack and pulled it onto her lap as he pulled into the parking area near the lodge.

This was their pattern. They’d each take a guess about what they’d be asked to do. The one who came closest to the actual assignment bought the other a coffee for the planning session.

He put the truck in Park and cut the engine. His fingertips tapped a beat on the steering wheel. “You first.”

“I think it’ll be something straightforward this time.” She snapped her fingers. “Recovering weapons from a survivalist camp.” There were plenty of those in the area.

“Not a chance.” His lips twitched. “That wouldn’t require lip gloss.”

“Ha, ha.” She pursed her lips in an exaggerated kissy face, complete with smooching sounds. The man could tease like a champ, but he never seriously implied her sole purpose was to be the eye candy in their partnership.

If anyone earned that designation, it would be him. She’d lost track of the times he’d been hit on when they were out, either on an operation or while hanging out with their new friends and teammates.

He reached for the door and she stalled him, resting a hand on his arm. “You have to guess. It’s tradition.”

His eyebrows gathered over his straight nose. “I say we’re headed to the Springs to protect a visiting politician.”

Mel slumped back into the seat. “You’re probably right.”

“Why the long face? We’re good at that.”

True. “I know, I know.”

“You just want to shoot someone.”

She sighed. He knew her too well. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had any cause.”

“Poor, Mel.” He winked at her. “Only one way to find out who pays for coffee.” He bolted from the truck, his long stride carrying him toward the lodge.

She scrambled out of the truck, rushing to catch up. They reached the office side by side, and he held the door for her as they went down the stairs to the basement headquarters.

“Perfect timing.” Beck was all smiles as they walked in. She closed the laptop on the desk and turned her chair to face them.

Hank had struck an agreement with Gunny to rent the space and outfit it according to the Brotherhood Protectors needs. He’d spared no expense making sure Jake, head of the Colorado division, was fully equipped for success. Previously only used as storage, now the basement was a state-of-the-art office, complete with an array of computers for communication and research, space for potential clients to visit comfortably, all the gear a team might need, and a fully-stocked armory discreetly hidden behind a locked door.

Personally, Mel loved the setup. It was the best intel bunker she’d ever worked in and she no longer worried about any co-worker agendas or motives. Though she’d come for the business opportunity and challenge, the peace and serenity of the lodge and the surrounding area offered a lovely counterpoint.

As the business teams grew, RJ and her best friend JoJo started making girl-power nights a regular event. They all gathered at the lodge when there was room, or at one of the other homes in the area. Location didn’t matter, whoever was available showed up for some no-men-allowed time to relax, chat, and yes, wear lip gloss if they so desired.

Last month they’d gotten together at Clint and Avery Manning’s place and Avery had taught them how to play Euchre. The card game was fast and fun, though the rules sounded more like nonsense until she’d gotten the hang of it. She and RJ had been paired up and ended up winning the impromptu tournament, though Mel still wasn’t sure how.

“Glad to see you both,” Beck said. “I’ve got something unique lined up for you.”

“Hope it’s more than long-distance recon.” Dean tipped his head toward Mel. “She wants to shoot someone,” he joked.

Beck’s eyebrows arched and she pressed her lips together, suppressing her amusement. “Sorry to disappoint you, Mel. I don’t think guns will be part of the equation this time. We’ve received a referral from the Guardian Agency.”

“Never heard of them,” Dean said.

Mel shrugged. “Neither have I.”

Beck stilled. “They’re an exclusive private protection group based in Chicago with cooperative connections to the Brotherhood Protectors,” she explained. “It was their analyst, Claudia Mitchell, who sent this case our way.”

Oh. Mel knew Claudia. The woman’s reputation for analysis and finding people lingered in the CIA even all these years after her departure. Mel hadn’t known where she’d landed but she wasn’t too surprised Claudia had a connection to Hank Patterson.

“What does she need?”

“A movie studio has requested extra security for an advance party scouting locations for a new project. The Guardian Agency has worked with the studio before, but knowing about our new setup here, Claudia thought we should take this one.”

“Have a seat.” Beck turned back to her computer and a moment later the assignment details filled a large monitor. “Names, roles, you know the drill. You’re going in as drone operators this time.”

“Neil Spalding?” Mel was impressed. He was currently one of Hollywood’s most-requested directors, having been at the helm for several blockbusters as well as acclaimed documentaries in recent years.

“Heard he didn’t like taking advice during that military introspective he did in Afghanistan,” Dean muttered.

“I’m confident the two of you can manage him.”

“Of course, we can.” As Mel committed to memory the names and faces of the rest of Spalding’s party, she sensed Dean’s increasing tension. That was far more unsettling than learning Claudia had sent a case to Beck. As soon as they were out of here, she wanted an explanation. Dean was always so even-keel, his feelings or opinions on a target were irrelevant. She couldn’t see anything new in this assignment overview. They went undercover, just the two of them, all the time. Small, mobile, two-person teams were the central advantage of the Athena Project.

Beck highlighted another section of the overview. “The scouting itinerary is packed tight, starting as soon as they land this afternoon.”

“Garden of the Gods at sunset,” she noted. “That’ll be fun.”

“If he’s scared enough to hire extra security, he should’ve stayed in California,” Dean grumbled.

Grim wasn’t his norm. Oh, the man could be serious, disgruntled on occasion, but something was way off. To her, everything indicated a typical operation. “Maybe there’s concern about a mole or movie studio espionage.” The joke fell flat and Dean’s blue eyes turned down-right stormy.

She thought extra security was a smart idea in this area. Not just because it kept her employed. The mountains around Fool’s Gold were gorgeous. And treacherous, with multiple factors beyond the obvious risks of the rugged terrain and quickly changing weather. Abandoned mines, working mines, wary ranchers, and groups who wanted to stay off the radar for one reason or another made it all too easy for strangers to stumble into trouble.

Sneaking another look at Dean, there was no ignoring the hard set of his shoulders or his rigid stance, legs braced wide. Beck would pick up on those same indicators and Mel was not prepared to have their partnership questioned.

Her tone light, as if she couldn’t see his distress, she returned to the cover story. “Look, we aren’t strangers on this one.” She could successfully pretend not to know him, but it was easier for her when they worked an assignment as a couple.

Dean’s nostrils flared. “Nope. We’re husband and wife.” He tilted his head until his neck cracked. “Drone operators who are married,” he added through clenched teeth. “We join up and travel with the director and his team. Five to seven days expected.”

“With a possible extension,” Beck said.

Dean huffed.

A week hiking and traveling through the area sounded like fun to Mel. Or it would be as soon as her partner dropped the foul attitude. “Well, I’m game. Anything in particular we need to know about the movie business?”

“Not particularly,” Beck replied. “Take your cues on that from Spalding, but remember to keep your eyes on more than the terrain, since no specific threat has been identified.”

“Got it.” Mel bounded her knees, ready to get moving.

“As drone operators we should have a good view of any potential trouble,” Dean said, sounding more like himself. “Should be easy enough to keep the scouting group safe if we can take turns piloting.” He pointed to the screen. “Says everyone will carry cameras.”

“Even better,” Mel said, her normal enthusiasm rising once more. “As locals, I assume we could be called upon to liaison with landowners as needed.”

Dean shrugged. “You and I can schmooze with the best of them.”

“I’ve emailed all of these details to you both as well.” Beck slid a thick envelope closer to Mel. “Your cover IDs, matching credit cards, and some cash.”

Dean’s head bent over his phone. “Mel, look at the schedule,” he snapped.

“Give me a second.” She’d been separating the contents of the envelope for him. “If this is how you behave now that we’re married—” His head whipped up. The look he sent her was so dark, so tortured, she forgot what she’d been saying.

Oh, crap. She’d inadvertently stomped on an exposed nerve. Never her intention. She respected Dean, cared about his welfare in the field and as a friend. He was her partner and she trusted him with her life. She was well aware the man had feelings, even if he didn’t share them often. Or ever.

The questions racing through her head would wait. This wasn’t the time or place to dig herself out of her misstep. “When do we start?” she asked Beck.

“You’ll meet up with the advance party at the Colorado Springs airport this afternoon,” Beck explained. “They’ll be arriving on a private jet. No one knows anything about the two of you beyond the cover resum├ęs the studio passed onto the director.”

“Spalding has no idea?” Dean whistled.

Mel knew exactly what he was thinking, because she was thinking it too. The studio wasn’t one hundred percent confident in the group.

“He believes you’re local experts, hired for this particular job,” Beck confirmed. “The studio is technically our client.”

They’d succeeded in assignments that weren’t clear-cut before. “Got it.” Mel pushed to her feet.

Dean followed suit. “We’ll be back in a week or so,” Dean said, his voice rough as gravel. He stalked toward the stairs and out of the office.

Mel scooped up the cash and cards he’d left behind, stuffing it back in the envelope.

Beck arched an eyebrow. “You two okay?”

For the first time in their partnership, Mel wasn’t so sure. “We’re fine.” Whatever had set him off, she was confident in their mutual professionalism. “I’ll send daily updates.”

“Hang on,” Beck walked to the supply closet and opened a slim drawer under one of the counters. “You probably want silicone wedding bands for this.”

“Good point.” They hadn’t needed wedding bands before, but it was a typical expectation and would underscore the cover story. Proving Athena Project covered all their bases, Beck pulled up a file on her phone with ring sizes. Mel chose matching wedding bands in a dark gray color, tucking both into her pocket.

“I’d rather stick with our personal weapons for this,” Mel said. “In a small, mobile group anything more powerful is likely to get noticed at the wrong time.”

“Agreed.” Beck folded her arms. “If anything changes, we’re close enough to offer backup.”

“Thanks.” She gave Beck a quick hug goodbye and headed out.

Hurrying up the steps, Mel considered Dean’s mood and how best to pull him out of it. They had to be “on” in just a few hours. Her crack about marriage had clearly upset him and she had to make sure that wouldn’t be a problem while they were working.

Almost all of their missions involved them playing a couple at some point. Walking hand in hand through a park, appearing completely lost in each other while actually conducting surveillance.

But this would be their first time pretending to be a married couple. Maintaining appearances twenty-four-seven amid a small group of strangers. For five to seven days. Lots of room for error in that kind of scenario.

If she dwelled on it, she’d start freaking out herself. Not gonna happen.

She’d found that one of the best parts of this partnership was the balance. The things that bugged her—spiders for example—he handled. And the things that bugged him… well this was the first obvious one. She was ready to step up.

Rushing out onto the front porch, she discovered her partner wasn’t waiting at the truck. She looked around, tamping down the unfamiliar worry. Dean had never been anything but solid. Where had he gone?

Shouting would only draw more attention and Beck was already concerned. Following her intuition, Mel turned away from the barns and circled to the back of the lodge.

And there he was, stomping up the slope.

 

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Guardian Angel by Linda Wisdom

$3.99

Amazon

The lady in command—a graduate of Annapolis—beautiful Alex Page had put a career in Naval Intelligence and a bitter marriage behind her. Now, as security chief of a major firm, her main charge was guarding the body of its dashing president.

Proud, aloof, an absolute professional, Alex had no interest in protecting Jared Templeton from the exquisite society women who assaulted his magnificent body by night—no interest in challenging the Sydney Sorceress or the South Seas Siren—until, without warning, the climate changed. Suddenly the man who moved through women like a shark through shoals of fish launched a calculated attack on her senses. And Alex, master of self-defense, could no longer guarantee the safety of her own heart.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Dream of Me This Christmas Eve by L.A. Sartor

Dream Of Me This Christmas Eve is the 4th book in the Star Light ~ Star Bright
Christmas Romance series. And was written because my readers clamored for Caro,
Brice’s sister we heard him talking about in Forever Yours This New Year’s Night.
I always listen to my readers! You also meet Maximillian Henderson III who might be
stuffy with such a name, but wild child Caro works on that. 

They both have plans and dreams, and long distance romance plays no part in
them. Or does it?


After creating the perfect wedding for her brother, Caroline Young wonders if her promise to stay in Boulder, Colorado, through Christmas was a mistake. After all, her award-winning float-design business is in California, and being idle isn’t in her vocabulary. Then her brother convinces her to help his friend during her stay.


Maximillian Henderson III is in a bind. His law office is opening in its new location in two weeks and his designer has come down with the flu. In desperation he enlists Caro’s help, and then is more than a little leery when she totally revamps the design plans.


As they work together to beat the deadline, Max not only admires her innovative design, he can’t ignore the vibrancy Caro brings into his black and white world of law. If only she didn’t have one foot out the door.


Dream Of Me This Christmas Eve is the fourth book in the Star Light ~ Star Bright series
set in the charming town of Boulder, Colorado. If you enjoy holiday romances with
characters who face seemingly impossible obstacles, in a series where characters
you’ve grown to love make reappearances, then this book will you believing in the
magic of a Christmas star and smiling at the evidence that dreams do come true.


Buy Dream Of Me This Christmas Eve for a cozy read, filled with the joy of the holiday
and the magic of first love.

Links:

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3ERxhbp
Apple: https://books.apple.com/us/book/dream-of-me-this-christmas-eve/id1444487499?ls=1
Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/dream-of-me-this-christmas-eve
Nook: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/dream-of-me-this-christmas-eve-la-sartor/1129943428?ean=2940161897454

 

About L. A. Sartor

I started writing as a child, really. A few things happened on the way to becoming a published author … specifically, a junior high school teacher who told me I couldn’t write because I didn’t want to study grammar…

That English teacher stopped my writing for years.  But the muse couldn’t be denied, and eventually I wrote, a lot, some of it award winning. However, I wasn’t really making a career from any of this.

My husband told me repeatedly that independent publishing was becoming a valid way to publish a novel. I didn’t believe him even after he showed me several Wall Street Journal articles. I thought indie meant vanity press. 

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I started pursuing this direction seriously, hit the keyboard, learned a litany of new things and published my first novel. My second book became a bestseller, and I’m absolutely on the right course in my life.

Please come visit me at www.lasartor.com, see my books, find my social media links, and sign up for my mailing list. I have a gift I’ve specifically created for my new email subscribers. And remember, you can email me at Leslie@LeslieSartor.com

 

You can also find me at:

Facebook Author Page

Twitter

BookBub

YouTube Channel

Goodreads

 

Monday, November 28, 2022

Suspects & Suitors (A Skullduggery Inn Cozy Read Book 3) by Kathy Carmichael

$2.99 or FREE for Kindle Unlimited Subscribers

Amazon 

 
A Novella. Amateur sleuth and owner of the Skullduggery Inn, Amy Sands, is up to her elbows in anonymous Valentine’s suitors. Problem is, one of them is threatening her life.

Skullduggery Inn Cozy Reads:
Mayhem on the Winterland Express
My Favorite Corpse
Suspects & Suitors
Something Borrowed, Something Deadly

About Kathy's first mystery novel, Diary of a Confessions Queen:
Booklist *Starred Review* "Carmichael (Hot Flash, 2009) has created a thrilling whodunit in her trademark sassy, breezy style. Readers will enjoy her unique blend of humor and suspense." ~ Shelley Mosley

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Enjoy an Excerpt from Murder, Lies and Chocolate by Sally Berneathy

$2.99

Amazon

USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR
Book 2 of the Death by Chocolate Series.

Rodney Bradford comes into Lindsay's restaurant, offers to buy her small house for double its value, eats her brownies, and drops dead on the sidewalk in front. Then someone breaks into her house and tries to dig up her basement. Next her almost-ex-husband offers to sign the divorce papers, but only if she'll give him her small, old house and take his big, new house instead.

Suddenly everybody wants Lindsay's house. Is there oil under the basement, plans to bring the railroad through, pirate treasure buried in the basement? A second break-in occurs and causes her cat, King Henry, to launch into full attack mode, taking a few chunks out of the intruder.

Lindsay enlists the aid of her enigmatic neighbor, Fred, to help solve the mystery while trying to keep her police detective boyfriend, Trent, from getting in their way with his insistence on all those silly cop rules.

On the positive side, sales skyrocket for the special dessert Lindsay calls Murdered Man's Brownies. Prisoners, murderers, crazy relatives and strippers are all part of the chaos in this second book of the Death by Chocolate series.

BONUS! Chocolate recipes at the end of the book. Poison optional.


Chapter One



“Are you out of your freaking mind? No, you cannot have my house.” I spoke the words through gritted teeth to keep myself from shouting since it was noon and my small restaurant, Death by Chocolate, was packed. I didn’t want my customers to hear me screaming at my almost-ex-husband. Might ruin their appetite for dessert. I had no doubt Rick deliberately chose that setting so I wouldn’t yell at him.
“Lindsay, you’d have to be crazy to pass up a deal like this.” Rick leaned across the counter and gave me his most engaging, most insincere real estate salesman smile. “You’ll get almost twice what that old place is worth, and I’ll sign the divorce papers the minute you sign the Contract for Sale.”
Rick knew how to work me. He’d convinced me to marry him in the first place and now he’d delayed our divorce for almost a year. Every time I got a court date, he got a continuance. I really, really wanted him to sign those papers and I certainly could have used the extra money, but I’ve learned not to trust a Rick bearing gifts. He was up to something. Had he discovered my house had oil under the basement? Was the railroad scheduled to come through? I was pretty sure those things only happened in old movies, but I was equally sure this deal would have some money in it for Rick, more than was in it for me.
“Do you not see that I’m busy right now? Go away.” I turned to the man who’d taken a seat on the stool next to where Rick stood. “What can I get for you, sir? Our special today is a ham sandwich and a piece of Sinful Chocolate Cake.”
“I’m not leaving,” Rick said. “I’m meeting my client here. Throw a little business your way. We’ll be at that table in the corner in case you change your mind. Give it some thought.” He smiled and winked as he walked across the room.
Had I really once thought that smile was sexy?
Paula Roberts, my best friend and co-worker, was waiting tables while I took care of the counter. That meant she’d have to deal with him. Not that I wished Rick on her, but better her than me. At least he was a good tipper, especially when he was with a client. The old impress.
For the next hour I focused on serving sandwiches and chocolate goodies and tried to ignore Rick. I did notice that an older male joined him. Probably really was a real client. I’d expected him to bring in his latest bimbo. Excuse me…I mean, his latest girlfriend.
The man was likely the client who wanted to buy my house since he and Rick kept looking at me.
When Rick and I split up he moved his bimbo-of-the-month, Muffy, into the big home we once shared, and I moved into one of our small rental properties in the Kansas City suburb of Pleasant Grove. I wasn’t happy about it at the time, but I’d since become quite fond of that house. It has character and personality as well as great neighbors. Paula and her son, Zach, live on one side with my OCD computer nerd friend, Fred Sommers, on the other.
True, with as much money as Rick was offering, I could buy the vacant house across the street and fix it up, thus retaining my neighbors. That was just one of the many reasons I didn’t trust the whole deal. Why would anybody offer that much more than the house was worth? I did not for one minute believe Rick’s story that his client’s grandparents had lived in the house and he wanted it for sentimental value. What a crock.
The lunch crowd began to thin, and I noticed Rick and his client still sitting at the corner table. Across the room Paula cleared the dirty dishes off the table next to them and exchanged a raised-eyebrow look with me. I repressed a sigh as I handed the last lady at the bar a to-go bag with half a dozen gluten-free chocolate chip cookies. Rick was obviously planning to wait until everybody was gone then ambush me. He didn’t like not getting his way. That’s why our divorce was still pending. He didn’t want it, and if he didn’t want something, he’d figure a way to stop that something from happening.
A few months before he had kicked Muffy out and decided he wanted me back in. By that time I’d recovered from the temporary insanity that had induced me to marry him in the first place and got a cat instead. That cat loves my house. Make that, our house. King Henry took ownership the day he moved in.
The last customer left the counter. Besides Rick and his buddy, only one other table remained occupied. An older man and a younger woman sat there, nibbling on their cookies, talking softly and laughing. Probably married but not to each other.
Paula took her load of dishes to the kitchen then returned to where I stood behind the cash register. After her evil ex-husband was sent to prison last fall, she quit coloring her blonde hair brown and came out of hiding, but she still wore her self-appointed uniform of long sleeves and ankle-length skirts to hide the scars he’d left. I’d worn the same uniform for a while to make her feel comfortable but had recently gone back to jeans and white shirts. I’d tripped on those long skirts too many times.
“They didn’t order anything except desert, and Rick gave me a twenty dollar tip,” she said. “Watch your back.”
“He wants my house.”
“What?” Her eyes widened in surprise. “He made you take that house so he could keep the big one!”
“Shhh. Here they come.”
“I’ll just step into the kitchen and eavesdrop.” Paula vanished into the back room.
“Lindsay, I’d like you to meet Rodney Bradford.”
The tall man with gray hair, acne-scarred skin and dark eyes wore a business suit, but he didn’t look like a business person…more like a member of the mob cleaned up for trial. He gave me a big smile and extended a large hand across the counter. “Good to meet you, Lindsay.”
I took his hand automatically. It was thick, hard and callused. He didn’t grip too tightly, didn’t hang on too long, didn’t do anything wrong, but something about him creeped me out. Maybe just because he was hanging with Rick. Or maybe it was something to do with the darkness that seemed to expand out from those eyes and surround the man.
Nah, that was silly. Probably just because he was hanging with Rick.
“Can we talk outside?” Bradford asked, his gaze shifting nervously around the restaurant, looking at the couple in the corner as if they might be spies.
“No,” I said. “The acoustics are just fine in here. Feel free to speak.”
“Lindsay.” Rick spoke my name as if it was a threat, but then he gave a big salesman smile. “Please?”
I considered the situation. Stand there and argue with a man whose ears were tuned to hear only his own words or go outside with the two of them, then run back inside and lock the door. “Fine.” I took a fortifying sip of my current Coke, set it on the counter and headed for the front door.
Outside I led them away from the door but still in the shade of my awning. It was a hot day. I stopped in front of the sign painted on my window, positioning myself directly beneath the words Death by and obscuring most of the word Chocolate. I figured that would make a nice picture, though Bradford was probably too dense to get it and Rick was too self-consumed.
“Rodney is interested in purchasing that little house you’re living in, the one you and I own,” Rick said, ramping up the wattage on his smile.
Jerk. Reminding me the house was still community property, that we were still legally—no, I can’t say the “m” word when it relates to Rick. We were still legally bound.
I smiled with the same degree of sincerity as he did. That would be…none. “You mean my home? I’m not interested in selling.”
“It would mean a whole lot to me,” Rodney said. “My grandparents used to live there. That house has got sentimental value.” He paused, blinked and seemed confused for a second. Was this guy sick? His tanned skin did look kind of pallid. He swallowed, recovered and continued. “I used to visit them when I was a boy. Some of the best memories of my life. Now they’re—” He lowered his gaze, and this time his pause was deliberate. Con job. I’d seen Rick do it too many times not to recognize it. “They’re in heaven, and I’d just like to be able to go to that old house, sleep in my old room, sit on the porch like we used to and remember the good times.”
I was sorry to hear the nice elderly couple Rick and I bought the house from was dead. They’d seemed healthy, looking forward to life in a retirement village. “The house across the street is for sale. You could buy it, get a pair of binoculars and sit on the porch every day looking at my house.”
“Lindsay!” Rick exclaimed.
Beads of sweat broke out on Rodney’s forehead. The temperature was in the 80s, but the shade was cool. Was my refusal freaking him out that bad? “I’ve got a little money,” he said. His voice suddenly sounded creaky. “I’ll pay you more than you’d get anywhere else just so I can have my dear old grandmother’s house.”
“I’m sorry. It’s not for sale. If you’ll excuse me, I don’t want to leave Paula with all the cleanup.”
I took a step toward the door.
Rodney cleared his throat. “Could I have a glass of water?”
A stalling tactic. I sighed. “Sure.”
I went inside.
Paula had come back from the kitchen to stand beside the door. “Don’t sell him your house.”
“Don’t worry.” I poured a glass of ice water and went back out, planning to hand it to the man then run inside while he was drinking.
He raised his head to look at me. His skin was really pale and his eyes had a shiny cast to them. Maybe this was more than frustration at being thwarted. My cookies had nuts. I hoped he wasn’t allergic. If he went into anaphylactic shock and died, it wouldn’t be good publicity for the diner.
He reached a hand toward the glass, his eyes rolled up in his head, he groaned and slowly crumpled to the sidewalk.
“Did you bring a drunk man into my restaurant?” I demanded of Rick, hoping that’s what it was. I didn’t need my place to be quarantined for an outbreak of malaria or shut down because my cookies made somebody sick.
Rick sank to the ground beside the man. Paula rushed out. The couple at the corner table stood and looked through the window. I held onto the glass of water as if it was a glass of Coke and prayed for a verdict of too many beers.
“Call 911!” Rick shouted.
I set the water on the sidewalk, fumbled in the pocket of my jeans for my cell phone and punched in the three ominous numbers.
Paula rose, her face pale, her expression solemn. “Lindsay, he’s dead.”
The couple exploded through the door and hauled butt out of there. They didn’t want to be seen on the ten o’clock news.
This was worse than getting sick. Heart attack? Nut allergies? Please, not poisoned chocolate again! “You don’t know that he’s dead,” I snapped. “You thought your husband was dead just because you shot him, but he was still alive.”
Rick stood. He’d lost his salesman's smile. Damn. That did not bode well.
Someone answered my phone call. “911. What is your emergency?”
I swallowed and spoke into the phone. “I think I just killed a man. I mean…my cookies killed a man. I mean—”
“He had the brownie,” Paula interrupted.
I didn’t correct the 911 lady. Cookies or brownies, a man had just died after eating my dessert. Even if it was a good old-fashioned heart attack, death and desserts just don’t go well together.


Friday, November 25, 2022

Nathan: Brotherhood Protectors World by Regan Black

$3.99 or FREE for Kindle Unlimited Subscribers

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When hope is lost, truth is blurred, and your life is on the line,
it’s time to call in the Guardian Agency...

From the privacy of her home office, computer genius Claudia Mitchell offers technical assistance for the bodyguards of the Guardian Agency. Whatever a protector needs, Claudia taps a few keys and makes it happen. When she receives a desperate call from her sister, Claudia can’t use cyberspace or assets to save her. For this case, Claudia has to take the lead. Afraid her secrets will jeopardize her perfect job, she reaches out to Hank Patterson’s Brotherhood Protectors for backup.

Nathan Jennings showed the world what being a hero looked like despite serving time in prison. His selfless actions earned him a place as a protector on the Guardian Agency team. Practically since day one, he’s fantasized about his tech assistant, Claudia, the woman with the sexy voice, quick wit, and razor-sharp mind. When she suddenly disappears and he is tasked with finding and protecting her, will his fantasy finally come true?

Author note: Previously published as Nothing to Lose, this novel has been updated and revised for your enjoyment.

Chapter One

Claudia Mitchell had her agency cell phone on her hip as she moved laundry from the washer to the dryer. If she was lucky, she’d complete the task before the device chimed with another incoming call. As a technical assistant to several protectors within the Guardian Agency, she was on call twenty-four/seven.
The work challenged her and kept her mind sharp, even on the slower days. Working from home gave her a perfect, flexible schedule and although she didn’t personally venture out into the field, she enjoyed living vicariously through the investigators who did. In her role as operational backup, she offered assistance behind the scenes on all kinds of cases from murder to missing persons. With the agency resources and the latest tools and electronic developments at her fingertips, she couldn’t imagine a more ideal career.
Agency protocol prevented her knowing anything beyond the names and cell phone numbers for the investigators she supported. From her perspective, that was one of the best perks. There were no office politics, no judgment in the break room about fashion, bad hair days, who was putting on weight, or who had gotten sloppy drunk at the company end-of-year party.
The only time she laid eyes on one of the protectors was when they were occasionally caught in the unflattering light of a security camera. Her boss knew she was more than capable of digging into the lives and histories of the protectors and the agency at large, but she’d signed an agreement that she wouldn’t snoop.
Only one investigator tested her resolve, but she refused to risk the perfect job because of her natural curiosity. Some things in life were better as a fantasy. She smiled to herself, thinking of how often the protectors teased her during cases, trying to pry out her personal details. It was a harmless game they all played. She’d become adept at evasion and fabrication, lessons she’d learned first in college and honed during her time with the CIA.
No one placed enough value on solitude anymore, Claudia thought as she hung up the few items that needed to air dry. Her task done, she turned into her small kitchen and refilled her bottle of water before returning to her desk. The background check she’d been assembling for one of the agency cases should be done by now.
At the sound of a ringing phone, she reached for the agency cell on her hip, then realized it was her personal cell phone. She raced for the device sitting in the charger. Only two people had that number: her boss and her sister, Diana. If either of them were using this number the sky must surely be falling somewhere.
Her sister’s name and cell number showed on the screen. She took a deep breath and said a quick prayer for patience as she answered.
“Oh, thank God,” her sister’s exclamation barely registered above a whisper. “Claudia, I’m in trouble.”
“What’s wrong?” She tried to keep the exasperation out of her voice. Diana’s definition of trouble rarely lined up with Claudia’s. It could be as simple as a flat tire. Or it could be a plea for another loan to launch her next can’t-miss career endeavor. Claudia had supported Diana during attempts to take the world by storm as an actress, model, and singer. Most recently she’d decided to turn her communications degree into a career as an investigative reporter, but she hadn’t shared the specifics with Claudia.
“I’m at home,” Diana said. “Sort of. North of town. You can trace my phone right?”
“Yes, but—”
“Do it quick before I have to turn it over to him.”
“Him who?” She sat down at her desk and started the trace. “What are you talking about?”
“House rule number one is no cell phones.” Diana groaned. “It’s complicated. Claudia, I’m so sorry. I followed a story and things went bad. Escalated. It’s big. You have to come help me. Please.”
Of course she had to help and, irritated or not, she would. Diana was the only family she had left.

 

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