Thirteen Steps to the Cellar by Teresa Matthews

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Blurb:

There were thirteen steps to the cellar. They were steep and they were narrow—but was a fall down them enough to have caused the twenty-seven deep lacerations to her aunt’s head?

Callie Harris travels from her home in Alabama to her aunt’s former mansion in Maine to unravel the haunting forty-year-old mystery of Dr. Laverne Harris Doss’ brutal death.

Why wasn’t a murder weapon found? Was her uncle justly convicted of the killing? Was his mistress involved? Or was the murderer the bearded stranger rumored to have arrived by train that night?

In the charming town of Richmond, located on the banks of Maine’s historic Kennebec River, Callie uncovers the community’s darkest secrets—a botched police investigation, a betrayed widow’s lie, a dead woman’s blackmail, and a wealthy philanthropist’s shame. The web of intrigue extends far beyond Callie’s suspicions and its connection to her personal story pierces her to the core.

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Extract:

A man hovered over the crumpled body of the woman at the bottom of the cellar stairs. An awful, guttural sound forced its way up from deep in her lungs. A cavernous head gash bled profusely, the blood pooling, forming a red halo around her auburn hair. Her glassy, fixed eyes looked up at Callie, pleading for help. I must stop the bleeding, Callie cried. She hurried down the stairs, her feet heavy, her heart pounding. Why can’t I breathe? Why can’t I reach her? Why won’t my feet move faster? She was only steps from her aunt when the grimacing man turned toward her, then looked back to Laverne and raised his hand for a final blow.

Callie awoke with a start. Sitting on the side of the bed, she ran her hand across her forehead to feel the perspiration. Since the funeral, she’d endured recurring dreams about both her father and deceased aunt. It’d been two weeks, and still, she couldn’t shake the nightmares.

She looked at the bedside clock. In an hour, she had a scheduled meeting with her brothers. Wanting to arrive a few minutes early, she dressed, skipped breakfast, and drove to her vacant childhood home.

A heaviness surrounded Callie as she unlocked the front door and walked into the quiet house. Turning on lights, she paused in the family room. For a moment, she imagined she could hear pots rattling in the kitchen. She turned her head to one side to listen to the ghostly strains of her mother singing her favorite hymn. In her mind, Callie could see her father sitting in his recliner, reading the newspaper with his feet propped up. Her two brothers were roughhousing as they came through the door, all sweaty and dirty from playing football in the front yard. So many memories

Walking down the hall, she opened the linen closet where years ago she’d found the newspaper article about her aunt. I didn’t know Laverne, yet I can’t seem to get her out of my head. Reaching under the sheets on the top shelf, she slid her hand side to side across the cedar boards. She checked the remaining shelves, then closed the door. Empty-handed, she wandered into her father’s bedroom.

On an impulse, she walked to the dresser and opened the bottom drawer to see several sets of folded pajamas. Beneath was a sheaf of papers. With her heart fluttering, she pulled out the stack and took a seat in the nearby chair.

Carefully unfolding the papers, she spread open a section of the Boston Globe. Front and center was her Aunt Laverne’s photo. With anticipation, she read the ensuing article. It confirmed her aunt’s body had been found in the cellar of her Richmond, Maine home. It established the brutality of her death. Otherwise, not many details were divulged. Sighing, Callie folded the newspaper back into its original four creases.

Sitting beside his empty bed, Callie attempted to remember every word her father had uttered about her Aunt Laverne.

About the Author:

Teresa Mathews is a graduate of The University of South Alabama. She’s a member of the Mobile Writers Guild and serves on the Board of Directors for the Alabama Nursery and Landscape Association.An avid gardener and artist, she has multiple book covers to her credit. Several years ago after visiting the site of her real-life aunt’s murder, Teresa discovered another passion–storytelling. Although inspired by an actual tragedy, Thirteen Steps to the Cellar is fiction.

Raised on the Gulf Coast, Teresa, her husband, and son now live on a farm with a second home on the sparkling white sands of Fort Morgan, Alabama.

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My Husband’s Sin by Mary Bradford – an extract #tirgearrtuesday #contemporary #fiction

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Blurb:

In the weeks following Lillian Taylor’s burial, her four loving adult children assemble for the reading of her will. For the grieving youngest sibling, Lacey, life is about to come crashing down as a deep secret is revealed. The fall-out affects every member and they struggle to regain the happy family unit they once shared. Each of the siblings, take the reader on a journey as they try to come to terms and learn to handle this huge revelation.

Extract:

JULY

Lacey fled the Sherman and Jones Solicitors’ office in turmoil, only pausing to catch her breath before descending the cold solid steps. The appalling words kept ringing in her ears. How the bloody hell could a mother do this to her child? A bitch, that’s what she was. Lacey should have trusted her instinct all through the years.

The pleasant July day was lost on her. Without thinking further, she sought solace in the bar further down the street. In the dimly-lit pub she was the only woman.

Lacey Turner didn’t drink alcohol this early, but placed in front of her now was a double vodka with bitter lemon. Taking the glass in her trembling hand, she drank swiftly. The sour liquid made her shake her head. God, it was unpleasant. In one corner, two elderly men were sipping their stouts. Another up at the bar was reading the day’s paper.

The barman came over to where she sat and smiled. “A tough morning so far then?” He wiped down the glass-topped table and replaced some beer mats with fresh un-tattered ones.

Lacey didn’t reply. She couldn’t. The shock of this morning’s events was still gripping her tight. Christ, her life had been turned upside down in the stroke of a pen. Her hands still shook.

Looking the barman up and down, she acknowledged he was kind of cute. If times were different, she might even flirt with him; his tight black t-shirt groaned across his chest, but she didn’t have time to daydream. Reality had her gripped in its cold heartless hand.

“Can I have another?” Lacey called out to the bar attendant as he moved on to wiping down other tables. He nodded and went to the bar to get her fresh drink.

Her mind was swimming with horrible thoughts of her mother. Dear Lord, she mustn’t think like that any more. She was Lillian, not Mother. Where do you start to pick up the pieces of your life after something like that? Her mobile phone rang: it was Sally. Lacey snapped at it, turning it off in one quick touch. Bloody family. Her bloody family!

The fresh glass was placed in front of her. He seemed to linger for a moment, waiting for Lacey to make eye contact. She really did not want his company but he wasn’t going anywhere, judging by his stance before her. She looked up at him. Yep, definitely cute.

“You could try talking. This will only lead to a headache and misery.” The guy smiled encouragingly, but all she did was stare back at him, confusion and anger in her eyes. Throwing a twenty on the table, she stood up and paused.

“Maybe misery is what I deserve.”

Her taupe Guess handbag and caramel jacket hung on the chair. She shoved the bag onto her shoulder, took her jacket, and walked out. Kind, attractive barmen were not what she wanted. She desired space and freedom to take in and assimilate the horrible rotten words that she’d heard today. Who would believe it? Who would have thought when she’d wakened this morning at seven, that five hours later her life would have crashed down around her? With her mind troubled, she wandered without direction through the busy streets.

Lacey’s world had stopped, yet around her cars passed by beeping their irritation with the slow traffic, people pushed and chatted without a concern for the young woman in their midst. She strolled along, not fully noticing life around her. Those words, those poisonous words, kept swirling in her mind. The look of horror on her siblings’ faces would be etched on her memory forever. She couldn’t face them right now. What must they think of her?

“Watch it.” The woman grunted at Lacey.

“Sorry.” Lacey didn’t know what she was apologising for, but it startled her into realising she needed to get home. It would be safe there.

Picture of Mary T Bradford

Meet the author:

Mary T Bradford has been writing mainly short stories for a number of years now and has enjoyed success with her fiction in many magazines, newspapers and anthologies both in Ireland and abroad. It was because of this success, Mary took the plunge and self published her first collection titled, A Baker’s Dozen (2012) and is available in both print and e-book format from Amazon and other sites. She decided to tackle a novel when one of her stories kept getting longer and the word count continued to climb and so ended up with My Husbands Sin. She has also branched out into writing plays and has seen her work shortlisted and performed.

When taking a break from writing and reading Mary loves to crochet or cross-stitch, crafts in general interest her. Living in County Cork, Ireland, she is married and is a mother of four children. Having overcome open heart surgery in 2008, Mary made the decision to dedicate more time to her writing as her children were almost raised and were starting to spread their wings. Family is important to her and her writing often reflects the ups and downs of life that all families go through daily.

Connect with Mary through any of the links on this page and that is something else Mary enjoys, chatting with people!

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One Night in Portland by Angelique Migliore

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Blurb:

Bridges traverse worlds.

Army Captain and surgeon, Finn O’Grady, returns from a field training exercise exhausted and defeated; two soldiers were injured in an accident and one didn’t make it home.

Quilt artist, Lee-Lee Song, storms out of a date with yet another good Asian boy her parents have set up only to run smack into Finn.

Their worlds—which could not be further apart—collide on a street corner in downtown Portland, and neither is in a hurry to return to their own realities. Finn craves the distraction of Lee-Lee’s creative and colorful world. Lee-Lee wants a man who is one hundred eighty degrees away from her parents’ choices.

As Lee-Lee and Finn venture together across the many bridges of Portland and share their favorite places around the city, they grow more attracted and closer.

Will this special day together force Lee-Lee and Finn back into their own worlds, or will they build one more bridge in Portland—one to each other?

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Extract:

Lee-Lee

Swelling? Oh, I was swelling all right.

In all the wrong places. Or the right places. As soon as this blue-eyed hottie’s large hand skimmed up the back of my bare thigh, my brain dropped straight down to the gutter. I couldn’t remember the last time a touch seared my skin with such electricity—if ever. My mind drew a complete blank, so naturally, my mouth filled the void with words.

I kept my head down, pretending to look at my knee as I gathered my thoughts. The giant pack I had tripped over lay on the ground a few steps away. Camouflage: it matched his uniform. Since when did Portland have soldiers just standing out on the streets? That was the job of the hippies.

Lifting my head, I smiled at the soldier. “Do you need a ride somewhere?”

Confusion blanketed his face, and he slowly shook his head. “Why would you ask me that?”

“You look a bit like someone just dumped you here. Can I take you somewhere?” His concern for my knee already told me he deserved better than to be abandoned on the sidewalk. Time alone with a hot stranger probably wasn’t the smartest idea, but after eight weeks of boring dates with Jae and a dry spell for over a year before that, my body said it wasn’t the worst idea, either.

His rust-colored eyebrows furrowed as he considered my offer. His very handsome face grew thoughtful, and its intensity ramped up several notches. “How about I drive you home and properly examine your knee? Maybe even ice it for a little while and then check your patella?”

“I think it’s only scraped; I’ll be fine. See?” I placed my foot back on the ground and put my weight on it. A small moan escaped my throat before I could capture it.

“That’s what I thought.” He tossed his giant pack onto his back as if it weighed nothing and secured it on each shoulder. “Where’s your car, ma’am?” Done with my objections, his blue eyes bored into mine.

Did I really want to argue with this man who was concerned over my scraped knee when guys like Jae weren’t even concerned for my future happiness? No, I didn’t. “Only a couple of spaces up, actually.”

“Do you need me to carry you?” He held his arms out.

“Ha!” I blurted. “You have no idea how much I weigh.”

Not one of his muscles budged, but he visually pored over all of my curves thoroughly enough to make my cheeks warm. “Not a lot from the looks of things. Not to mention, you have no idea how much I can carry.”

My cheeks grew even warmer as I stepped out of my comfort zone and boldly returned the investigation of this soldier: his outstretched arms, wide chest, rigid torso, and thighs the size of tree trunks. He was the farthest thing from my parents’ choices, and he looked delicious. “Tempting, but I’m not that hurt.”

He dropped one arm and crooked the other for me to take.

The caring gesture warmed me more than the sun did right then. I couldn’t argue with such a sweet display of gentlemanly affection, either.

About the Author:

While in her third year of French at high school, Angelique was forced to journal every day. Never the lover of her own personal diaries, she instead rewrote Romeo and Juliet, en Françias. Except that Romeo was a duck-billed platypus, and Juliet was a strawberry. It was a doomed, albeit deliciously sweet, relationship from the start.Long before that, Angelique wrote and performed ridiculously caddy commercials in grade school with her best friend Shannon. Ever the optimist, she believes the best is yet to come, sharing a meal is the quickest route to peace, and love conquers all. Although she was born and raised in the paradise that is the Emerald Coast of the Florida Panhandle, not traveling has never been an option for Angelique.

Today, Angelique writes character-driven love stories of various heat levels in settings from Earth to the nearest Black Hole which range from the Cosmic past to the Inter-galactic future. She also loves rugby. And champagne. With fresh raspberries, if you please.

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So Much It Hurts By Dellani Oakes – an extract #tirgearrtuesday #romance

ISBN: 9781370737581
ASIN: B075KN2CZZ
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Blurb:

Alone in the big city, Pia Donovan is feeling rather lost when she finally arrives at the majestic, old hotel in the downtown area. Flynn Chancellor and his roommate, Yancy Fredrick, take an interest in Pia, introducing her to their city. Pia seems to have found her niche, and has made friends with the welcoming residents in the old hotel.

Life seems perfect, until one weekend when everything changes forever.

Extract:

Sweet, sultry music poured from the open second-story windows as Pia walked across the pitted, uneven ground. Scattered with puddles and trash, it wasn’t a very inviting aspect. The old, grand hotel building loomed above her, intimidating in the dusky light after sunset. Sighing, she forged ahead, dragging her rolling suitcase after her. It bumped into a particularly deep hole and caught. Yanking, she lost her balance and teetered to the right.

“Watch out!” Strong hands caught her, setting her on her feet. The same hands lifted her suitcase. “You all right, little lady?”

Pia wasn’t sure she liked being called a little lady by any man, but when she turned to look at him, she decided he had the right to. He was at least six foot three, maybe taller. She, a petite five three, was indeed a little lady. He flashed a brilliant smile at her.

“You’re the newbie.” He extended his hand. “Flynn Chancellor. Welcome to the fold.”

“Pia Donovan. Thank you. How does this work, exactly?”

“Didn’t get orientation?” He tugged her suitcase, ushering Pia inside.

“Sort of? They told me to report here this afternoon, but I took the wrong bus and ended up on the way to Maryville. I got as far as Walnut Street and finally figured out I was in the wrong spot.”

“Ooh, not a place for a lady of your delicate sensibilities to be.”

“Yeah, tell me about it. The driver wouldn’t let me out on the street. He dropped me at a satellite station and told me the right bus to take back.”

“That was nice of him.”

“He said he has a granddaughter my age. He wouldn’t set her loose to the wolves.”

Flynn chuckled. “Apt. I grew up in that area. It ain’t pretty.” He opened the door for her, letting her walk under his arm. It was an easy fit. “Where are you from, Pia Donovan?”

“Out of state. I moved here from Nebraska. Outside Kearney.”

“No kidding? What brings you up here?”

“I got a scholarship to City University.”

“In?”

He opened a set of inner doors which led into a large, open area. To the right and left there were arched doorways which had once led to reception and lobby areas. They were now full of cast-off furniture and crowds of men and women, all about her age. Every ethnic blend imaginable greeted her small-town Nebraska eyes.

“Music.”

“We’ve got several music majors here. I’ll show you around, if you want.”

“I’d like that, thank you. How do I get settled?”

“We talk to Amita.” He pointed to the desk area. It had formerly been the receptionist’s desk — a tall, dark wooden structure that wrapped around like a bar.

“When was this place built?”

“Early 1900s.”

“And they’re tearing it down?”

“No. It will, eventually, be renovated.”

She nodded, looking around her at the early elegance of the place. It sported dark wood wainscoting, light walls, brass wall sconces. This was in stark contrast with the battered linoleum laid over the original hardwood floors, holes in the walls, and pieces of plywood over missing glass panes.

“You wouldn’t know to look at it, but it was a showplace in its time. Celebrities from all over the world visited. It was built by one of the founding families, so they will never tear it down.”

“It’s still got a stateliness to it, doesn’t it?”

“It does,” he agreed.

No one was at the desk, but he leaned over and called through an open doorway. “Oi, Amita! Found our newbie!”
A tall, mocha-skinned woman with wildly curly hair came out, wiping her hands on a dish towel. “Hi! You must be Pia. I’m Amita, I’m the resident manager. We expected you ages ago.”

“I got lost.”

“Ended up on Walnut Street,” Flynn added.

“Oh, my God! And lived to tell about it!”

Flynn chuckled and leaned against the tall desk, hands in pockets. Pia had a moment to take in details she hadn’t noticed outside in the dusk. He was broad-shouldered, with dancing green eyes. His chestnut colored hair was nearly to his shoulders, thick and straight, covered by a faded black fedora. Steel gauges, about the size of a quarter, stretched each earlobe. His arms were covered by intricate tattoos, forming sleeves from the wrist up. His shirtsleeves were rolled just past his elbows. Rusty black pants, which looked as if they had seen better days, dangled from colorful suspenders. His huge feet were covered in clunky, leather boots. Every piece of clothing was spattered with different colors of paint.

“You’ll be in the Ambassador Suite,” Amita said with a grin, handing over a registration card for Pia to sign.

“Sounds elegant.”

Meet the author:

Dellani Oakes makes her home in Florida, but she grew up in Western Nebraska. Before that, she had lived in four other states. Since then, she has added two more, giving her a unique perspective on life. Always a people watcher, Dellani put that talent to use when she became an author.Bitten by the writing bug early in life, Dellani first pursued poetry as her medium of self-expression. Soon, she moved on the song parodies and then short stories and humorous essays. Once she got to high school, it became apparent that she needed to learn to spell when she got a paper back from her English teacher, “For content – A+. For mechanics – F.” That comment changed her life, forcing her to focus as much on how she said things as what she said.

Dellani took up writing full time when her youngest son started kindergarten in 2002. Since then, she has published four books. Her two romantic suspense novels are with Tirgearr Publishing, though she has an historical romance and sci-fi novel with another publisher. She has also contributed to several anthologies.

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Review: Grand Slam by Lily Harlem & Lucy Felthouse #bdsm #eroticromance

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Blurb (from Amazon):

He’s Master of more than just the tennis court…

California had seduced me with promises of a new life working at Los Carlos Tennis Academy. What I didn’t expect was the dark, brooding number one seed, Travis Connolly, resisting my help. He wasn’t interested in my psychology skills. Instead his attention was drawn to the edgy, sharper corners of my desires, proving that they existed, setting me challenges and driving me crazy to the point of combustion.

I’m the best tennis player in the world—officially—so why would I need a damn woman full of psychobabble to get me on form? Despite my irritation, however, I can’t resist pushing Marie Sherratt’s buttons even though doing that shows her the darkest shades of my lust, the parts of me I buried deep. So I set her a challenge, one she rises to, one that has me rising too, and before long my game relies on her calling the shots, hitting the target and bending to my will. One thing was certain, being not just master of the court, but also of Marie is seriously good for my soul.

heartheartheartheartheart

5-Star Review (on Amazon UK & Goodreads):

Yet again, another fabulous read by two fabulous authors! I love Lily and Lucy’s books, so combining the two is bound to be a recipe for success.

Grand Slam was a fairly quick read, and I finished the book in a couple of days. It was a slow burn as far as the BDSM side of things is concerned, with the main characters building up to a sizzling climax. But, this was perfect considering the inexperience of one character. It kept it natural and realistic unlike some other stories which dive straight into the kink.

Highly recommend this title for anyone who enjoys a hot romance. Ideal book for those who have never read a BDSM story before.

 

 

Racked by Sue Coletta

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Blurb:

It starts with an innocent stuffed animal. It ends in mind-numbing terror.

Five missing boys and an adult corpse found in the town’s water shed was only the beginning for Sage and Niko Quintano. After a hooded-stranger gives their son, Noah, a stuffed animal—the exact Christmas moose given to all the missing boys days before their abductions—their lives spiral downward into uncertainty.

Could Noah be the next boy to go missing?

As they piece together each cryptic clue, the future looks more and more grim. But what they soon discover blows everyone’s mind, the truth teetering on the unfathomable.

What does it all mean, and where do they go from here?

Extract:

Prologue

December 19, 2008
Friday
7:30 p.m.

In the vast openness of the snowmobile trails, solar-powered Christmas lights danced across pine needles on the branches I separated while the lanky silhouette of the serial predator tossed shovelfuls of dirty snow on a mound. Was he digging a fresh grave? My calf muscles jumping-jacked beneath my skin, begging me to run. But I couldn’t. Not yet.

A row of thin birch trees bowed over the makeshift grave, thin branches curled like the skeletal fingers of a demon protecting its prey. The overcast sky blurred the hazy moon into non-compliance, its glow hastened by gathering storm clouds.

Who did he plan to bury here? My gloved hand clawed at my throat.

Sweet Jesus, please tell me Noah’s still with Mrs. Falanga. All the saliva in my mouth dried to dust, my insides squirming, screaming for release. What if Childs left his post long enough for the serial predator to sneak past him? What if he murdered everyone in the house? What if he abducted my child after Mrs. Falanga tucked him in bed? She might not realize he was missing till dawn.

Beyond the tree, a flashlight balanced on its end, a smoldering yellow glow pointed toward the heavens. Cigarette smoke billowed through the haze. Hot ash tumbled into the darkness when he flicked the filter into the arctic December air.

I backed away from the tree.

Crunch.

My right heel froze on the pinecone.

The serial predator slung his portable spade over one shoulder and stalked toward me. “Hello?”

Male voice. Almost familiar. Where had I heard it before? Holding my breath, cramps squeezed my calf muscle as I crouched behind the conifer, flames tunneling down my sciatic nerve to my partially-raised foot, bent at such an angle mind-numbing pain riddled the whole right side of my leg.

The serial predator hustled back to the shallow grave, and I lowered my wet boot to the snow. The moment he turned his back, I nosedived toward the base of the tree trunk, slithering beneath the branches like a frightened garter snake. The snow piled around the bottom helped shield the top half of my body. I pulled my legs out of view. A glacial breeze swept across my wet hair, and I could not stop shivering, the icy snow soaking through my jeans and wool coat.

With one smooth motion, he swiped his flashlight off the snow and aimed the beam toward the pine tree. “Hello?”

After the blinding light struck my eyes, I would never be able to describe his face or any distinguishable features, the black hoodie masking his identity. He could be anyone. Or no one.

With both gloves covering my nose and mouth, I held back icy breath that threatened to reveal my hiding spot.
“Is someone there?”

A cylindrical sphere lasered through the pine needles, and I ducked, my bare cheek trembling against a clustered mass of icicles. Snow boots clomped around the tree, then stopped—inches from my face.

Dear God, don’t let him find me.

About the Author:

Member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers, Sue Coletta is a bestselling, award-winning crime writer of psychological thrillers and mysteries. Three years running, Feedspot awarded her Murder Blog as one of the Top 50 Crime Blogs on the Net. Sue’s also the communications manager for Forensic Science and the Serial Killer Project and a proud member of the Kill Zone, an award-winning writing blog where she posts every other Monday. When Sue’s not reading or writing, you can find her feeding peanuts to her beloved pet crows, who live free.

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Bloody Creek Murder by Susan Clayton-Goldner

BloodyCreekMurderbySusanClaytonGoldner500

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Blurb:

Five days after a tragic fall kills her 10-year-old son, Blair Bradshaw, an actress with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, is found dead. Her husband, Franklin Bradshaw, an esteemed criminal defense attorney, discovers her body. It is carefully displayed under her son’s tree house, among the flowers and other memorabilia left at the site of his death.

Franklin insists her death is a suicide brought on by the loss of their son. But Detective Radhauser finds evidence at the scene—bloody shoe prints on one of the rocks in the nearby creek, the careful way the body is arranged, and the fact that no weapon is found near her body—leads him to believe otherwise.

Was it grief that killed her? Or was it murder?

Extract:

Friday, May 4, 2001

Detective Winston Radhauser lunged the roan stallion in the round pen on their ranch in Ashland, Oregon—a thirty-two-acre paradise they’d named Graceland. Ashland was a Renaissance village set in the foothills of the Siskiyou mountains. It was most renowned for its diversity and its world-class Shakespeare Festival. The picturesque university town had surroundings so beautiful, visitors often called it God’s Country. After nearly a decade, Radhauser and his family called it home.

The bay stallion, Ameer, the Arabic name for prince, was a lean, spirited Arabian about fifteen hands high with four white feet and a blaze. Radhauser wanted to prove he’d learned a few things about horse training. He planned to saddle break the horse for Gracie. Ever since the cancer, diagnosed during her pregnancy with Jonathan, he was a bit over-protective of his wife and couldn’t imagine his world without Gracie and the kids. She’d come through chemo and radiation like the trooper she was. All signs pointed to a complete recovery. Still, he knew how fast his world could change, and he wasn’t about to let his guard down again.

At first, Ameer had reared and kicked until he worked up a sweat. But over the last few weeks, the stallion became accustomed to the halter and bridle and had even allowed the saddle blanket to stay on his back for an extended period of time.

Radhauser stopped lunging and draped the blanket over the subdued horse, added the saddle, then carefully tightened the cinch. The air around them was tinged with the smell of alfalfa from the dozens of bales he’d stored in the alcove behind the arena.

With the coat of molasses he’d put on the bit, the horse took it without a fight. He led Ameer over to the fence surrounding the pen, then climbed up the rails until he was higher than the saddle.

“Are you gonna ride him now, Daddy?” His six-year-old daughter, Lizzie, sat on the fence beside her mother. Just like Gracie, she wore a pair of denim jeans, red cowgirl boots, and a short-sleeved, red T-shirt with the Arabian Horse Association logo, a black sculptured horse head, on the front.

Outside the round pen, seventeen-month-old Jonathan sat playing with bristle blocks in a playpen set up under the shade of a big leaf maple tree.

“I suggest you lunge him with the saddle on for another ten minutes or so.” Gracie smiled and gave him one of her looks that said, Listen up. I know more about this than you.

Radhauser ignored her advice and slowly lowered himself into the saddle until his full weight was resting on it. But before he was firmly seated or could grab the saddle horn, Ameer reared and bucked. With his ears pinned back, he snorted and jerked his head, his black mane flying. His front legs lashed out, and his dark eyes were wide open like he’d been spooked.

The detective was tossed backward off the smooth leather saddle and landed with a thud on the sandy floor.

Gracie laughed.

Radhauser let out a sigh, stood and brushed off the seat of his jeans while Ameer bolted in circles around the fence line of the pen. His pride hurt more than his body.

“Better stick to what you know,” Gracie said. “You’re not exactly Bill Shoemaker.”

Shoemaker was one hell of a rider—an old-time jockey who held the world record of most professional wins for twenty-nine years. “I’m a foot and a half taller than he was and about a hundred pounds heavier. It puts me at a slight disadvantage.”

She gave him a knowing look. “Believing yourself invincible can be a handicap.”

“Daddy fell off the horse.” Lizzie covered her mouth and giggled. It came out in little bubbles, like water starting to boil.

Gracie slipped from the fence and walked slowly toward Ameer. “It’s okay, boy. You’re okay now.”

At the sound of her voice, the horse’s ears shot forward and he whinnied a greeting. Gracie Radhauser, the horse whisperer, took a carrot out of her back pocket.

Ameer moved closer to her. While he nibbled, she removed the bit and bridle, replaced it with a halter and led him around the pen.

When she passed Lizzie, still sitting on the fence, she squeezed the little girl’s leg. “Maybe Daddy needs a little more training.”

Lizzie giggled again—a sound Radhauser loved more than any other.

Even Jonathan got in on the fun. He scrambled to his feet, stood in his playpen, and clapped his hands. “Daddy go boom.”

As if on cue, Radhauser’s cell phone rang. He answered, relieved to discover it was his new partner, Maxine McBride.

“I know you’re on vacation. But any possibility you can help me out? Officer Corbin just called. He’s at a house over on Sand Creek Road. The husband suspects his wife committed suicide because of the recent death of their ten-year-old son, Tommy. But Corbin isn’t so sure and wants us to check things out. He thinks we may have a murder case. And from what I understand, it isn’t pretty. The victim is Blair Bradshaw. Apparently, she’s an actress with the Shakespeare Festival.”

“Nothing I’d rather do.” Radhauser wrote down the address and gate code. “Meet you there in ten minutes. And call Heron. You know how he likes to investigate the scene himself.”

Gracie continued to work Ameer, but glanced up at Radhauser and smiled. “Looks like you’ve been saved by the bell.”

He lifted his hands, palm side up. “What can I say? Murder calls. So, I’m off to do something I’m actually good at. But you be careful. That’s a stubborn one.”

She gave him a gratuitous smile. “Don’t worry. Ameer has met his match in me.”

And Radhauser knew she was right. Gracie was a far more skilled horse trainer than he’d ever be.

His daughter, always the diplomat, grinned. “You’re good at being my daddy.”

He ruffled her dark hair, releasing the smell of apple shampoo and sunshine. “Thanks, Lizzie girl. That makes me feel a lot better.”

About the Author:

Susan Clayton-Goldner was born in New Castle, Delaware and grew up with four brothers along the banks of the Delaware River. She is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Creative Writing Program and has been writing most of her life. Her novels have been finalists for The Hemingway Award, the Heeken Foundation Fellowship, the Writers Foundation and the Publishing On-line Contest. Susan won the National Writers’ Association Novel Award twice for unpublished novels and her poetry was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies, including Animals as Teachers and Healers, published by Ballantine Books, Our Mothers/Ourselves, by the Greenwood Publishing Group, The Hawaii Pacific Review-Best of a Decade, and New Millennium Writings. A collection of her poems, A Question of Mortality was released in 2014 by Wellstone Press. Prior to writing full time, Susan worked as the Director of Corporate Relations for University Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona.

Susan shares a life in Grants Pass, Oregon with her husband, Andreas, her fictional characters, and more books than one person could count.

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