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COVID-19: WHAT THRILLERS CAN TEACH US ABOUT OUR NEXT CHAPTER

In the wake of 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security gave some select thriller writers a mission: conceive the next big attack on the country. We’ll never know how prescient the project, called “Red Cell,” actually turned out to be. We do know, though, that while thriller writers may not be able to predict future, our work is based on anticipating it. And that’s just what any number of bestselling authors did in penning books centered on pandemics and their aftermaths.

Let’s start with the granddaddy of them all, Michal Crichton’s seminal The Andromeda Strain which imagines an alien microbe with the potential to wipe out mankind. The five scientists assigned to Scoop Mission Control as part of Project Wildfire dissect the killer organism with the best technology afforded by 1969 standards, only to learn once they thought they’d figured everything out, the microbe mutated leaving them at wit’s end and back at the starting line. As John Timmer wrote for Ars Technica on May 5, “When COVID-19 made the jump into humans late last year, it was remarkably well adapted to spread among us. But that doesn’t mean things couldn’t get worse, as the virus will undoubtedly pick up new mutations as its population expands, some of which might make it more dangerous to humans. In fact, a draft paper recently posted online claimed to have evidence that a more infectious strain of COVID-19 had already evolved.” Meaning things could get worse still, much worse. And, some would say, they have already with the discovery of the fatal inflammatory disease suddenly showing up in children with the disease, along with the very real possibility it will become airborne.

Taking that a step further, in Children of Men, P. D. James envisions a desperately dark world in which adults have lost the capacity to reproduce. Though no explanation is ever given, some sort of microbe here too is the most likely suspect, giving rise to a totalitarian state that seizes power with civilization on the verge of collapse. Sound familiar? As the New York Times reported on March 30, “In Hungary, the prime minister can now rule by decree. In Britain, ministers have what a critic called ‘eye-watering’ power to detain people and close borders. Israel’s prime minister has shut down courts and begun an intrusive surveillance of citizens. Chile has sent the military to public squares once occupied by protesters. Bolivia has postponed elections.”

In Stephen King’s The Stand, meanwhile, a world ravaged by the “Captain Tripps” virus turns to tribalism with the forces of Mother Abigail warring against the Las Vegas-based minions of the demonic Randall Flagg, the so-called “Walkin’ Dude.” In that respect, COVID-19’s widening of our nation’s already deep social and economic divisions, with even the reopening issue the subject of deep partisan divide. To that point, writing for the Social Sciences Research Council on April 23, president of the Social Science Research Council Alondra Nelson posed, “What should be our prevailing theory of society after pandemic intervention breaks what we thought we knew about economy, governance, and expertise, and confirms what we know, but failed to address about social inequality?”

The fatalist worlds envisioned by Richard Matheson in I am Legend and Max Brooks in World War Z go The Stand one better by presaging a societal breakdown on an epic level with survivors fighting for what’s left of their lives against vampires and zombies respectively. Those monsters are actually metaphors in the micro for the total collapse of civilization in the macro. “Complex societies are social structures which are susceptible to collapse because complexity increases vulnerability,” Major General SG Vombatkere wrote for the Decann Herald on March 25. “When a sub-system in a complex system breaks down, it can be ‘repaired’ to restore the system’s normal functioning. Simultaneous breakdown of multiple sub-systems can become critical, necessitating resuscitation measures. It is analogous to multiple-organ failure in a human body—beyond a point, resuscitation in intensive care fails.”

Which brings us to Emily St. John Mendel’s award-winning Station Eleven, a book that picks up in the aftermath of a virus that has wiped out 99% of the world’s population. That’s a body count at least on par with any of the previous books and maybe the most bludgeoning of them all. The difference? The book serves up optimism for mankind’s future in the form of a traveling, minstrel-like band of actors striving to return a degree of normalcy to the lives of the survivors they come across. To that point, “There is no minimizing the horrors of the Black Death,” wrote David Rothkopf for USA Today on March 30. “But for those who lived through it, survival demanded innovation and adaptation. We do not face anything so severe. But we do know that throughout history, serious crises resulted in innovation born of the optimism that somehow society would live on and ultimately recover.”

Of all these fictional scenarios, Station Eleven serves up the most likely one we are destined to experience in the wake of COVID-19. History has taught as much, trumping fiction when it comes to the overarching theme of the general goodness of man. Even in I am Legend, scientist Robert Neville’s cure for the virus works. The Stand features Mother Abigail’s forces ultimate triumph over Randall Flagg’s. And Children of Men evolves into a dystopic celebration of life from which mankind is destined to survive, providing one antidote above all others that can beat the coronavirus:

Hope.

Jon Land is the USA Today bestselling author of more than 40 thrillers, five of which deal with pandemics. His next, “Strong from the Heart,” publishes on July 28.

 

Strong From The Heart by Jon Land Banner

 

 

Strong from the Heart

by Jon Land

on Tour August 17 – September 18, 2020

Synopsis:

Strong from the Heart by Jon Land

Caitlin Strong wages her own personal war on drugs against the true power behind the illicit opioid trade in Strong from the Heart, the blistering and relentless 11th installment in Jon Land’s award-winning series.

The drug crisis hits home for fifth generation Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong when the son of her outlaw lover Cort Wesley Masters nearly dies from an opioid overdose. On top of that, she’s dealing with the inexplicable tragedy of a small Texas town where all the residents died in a single night.

When Caitlin realizes that these two pursuits are intrinsically connected, she finds herself following a trail that will take her to the truth behind the crisis that claimed 75,000 lives last year. Just in time, since the same force that has taken over the opiate trade has even more deadly intentions in mind, specifically the murder of tens of millions in pursuit of their even more nefarious goals.

The power base she’s up against―comprised of politicians and Big Pharma, along with corrupt doctors and drug distributors―has successfully beaten back all threats in the past. But they’ve never had to deal with the likes of Caitlin Strong before and have no idea what’s in store when the guns of Texas come calling.

At the root of the conspiracy lies a cabal nestled within the highest corridors of power that’s determined to destroy all threats posed to them. Caitlin and Cort Wesley may have finally met their match, finding themselves isolated and ostracized with nowhere to turn, even as they strive to remain strong from the heart.

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller

Published by: Forge Books

Publication Date: July 28, 2020

Number of Pages: 368

ISBN: 0765384701 (ISBN13: 9780765384706)

Series: A Caitlin Strong Novel, #11

Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER 1 San Antonio, Texas Caitlin Strong pushed her way through the gaggle of reporters and bystanders clustered before the barricade set up just inside the lobby of the Canyon Ridge Elementary School building. “Look,” she heard somebody say, “the Texas Rangers are here!” She’d focused her attention on the six men wearing black camo pants and windbreakers labeled I-C-E in big letters on the back, glaring at her from the entrance to the school to which they’d clearly been prevented from entering. She pictured several more Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents stationed at additional exits in case their quarries tried to make a run for it. “We didn’t call the Rangers,” snarled a bald man, the nametag he was required to wear reading ORLEANS. “No, sir,” Caitlin told him, “that would’ve been the school principal. She told Dispatch you’d come here to collect some of her students.” She let her gaze drift to a windowless black truck that looked like a reconfigured SWAT transport vehicle. “Just following orders, Ranger. Doing our job just like you.” “My job is to keep the peace, sir.” “Ours too, so I’m going to assume you’re going to assist our efforts, given that we’re on the same side here.” “What side would that be?” Orleans snarled again, seeming to pump air into a head Caitlin figure might’ve been confused for a basketball. “United States government, ma’am.” “I work for Texas, sir, and the principal told me all the kids you came for were born on Lone Star soil.” “That’s for a court to decide.” “Maybe. And, you’re right, the both of us are here because we’ve got a job to do and I respect that, sir, I truly do. My problem is it’s never right in my mind for adults to involve children in somebody else’s mess.” Canyon Ridge Elementary was located on Stone Oak Parkway, part of San Antonio’s North East Independent School district and featured a comfortable mix of Caucasian and Hispanic students in keeping with the city’s general demographics. The building featured a rounded arch entry where Caitlin could see any number of faces, both child and adult, pressed against the glass. She also glimpsed a heavy chain looped through the double doors to prevent entry, although numerous chairs, boxes, and what looked like an overturned cafeteria table had been piled into place as well. Caitlin pictured similar chains and barricades barring entry at any of the other doors as well, the eyes of both children and adults alike gaping with hope at her arrival through the glass. “As a Texas Ranger,” Orleans responded finally, “you enjoy a degree of discretion I don’t have. I wish I did, but I don’t. And as long as I don’t, I’ve got orders to follow and that’s where my discretion begins and ends.” “Where are you from, sir?” “Not around here, that’s for sure. Does it matter?” “That ICE is about to take six US citizens, all under the age of ten, into custody matters a lot,” Caitlin told him. “Some might even call it kidnapping.” “Did you really just say that?” “Like I said, I’m only trying to keep the peace. Exercise that discretion you mentioned.” “It’s not your jurisdiction.” “San Antonio was still part of Texas last time I checked.” Orleans’ spine stiffened, making him look taller. “Not today, as far as you’re concerned. You don’t want to push this any farther than you already have, Ranger, believe me.” “It’s about the law, sir—you just said that too. See, the Texas Rangers maintain no Intergovernmental Service Agreement with ICE; neither does the city of San Antonio. And, according to the city’s detainer agreement, a local police officer has to be present whenever you’re staging a raid. And I don’t currently see an officer on site.” “That’s because this isn’t a raid.” “What would you call it then?” Orleans’ face was getting red, taking on the look of sunbaked skin. “There’s a local inside the building now.” “Right, the school resource officer. What was his name again?” Orleans worked his mouth around, as if he were chewing the inside of his cheeks. Caitlin cast her gaze toward the pair of black, unmarked Humvees that must’ve brought the ICE officials here. “You got assault rifles stored in those trucks, sir?” “Never know when you might need them.” “Sure, against fourth graders wielding spitballs. Report I got said those and the fifth graders helped barricade the doors.” “So arrest them and let us do our jobs,” Orleans sneered, his shoulders seeming to widen within the bonds of his flak jacket. “Be glad to, once you produce the official paperwork that brought you this far.” “We can give you the names of the students we’re here to detain, Ranger.” “What about warrants, court orders, something that passes for official?” Orleans shook his head. “Not necessary.” “It is for me.” Caitlin took a step closer to him, watching his gaze dip to the SIG Sauer 9-millimeter pistol holstered to her belt. “Don’t make me the bad guy here, Ranger. I’m doing my job, just like you. You may not like it, all these protesters might not like it, but I don’t suppose they’d disobey the orders of their superiors any more than I can.” “I know you don’t make the rules, sir, and I respect that, to the point where I have a suggestion: Why don’t you stand down and give me a chance to fetch the kids you’re after from inside before somebody gets hurt?” A skeptical Orleans nodded stiffly. “Sounds like you’ve come to your senses, Ranger.” “Never lost them, sir. You’re right about orders and mine were to diffuse the situation through whatever means necessary. That’s what I’m trying to do here. The lawyers can sort things out from that point.” Orleans hedged a bit. “I didn’t figure something like this fell under Ranger domain.” “This is Texas, sir. Everything falls under our domain. In this case, we can make that work to your advantage.” Orleans nodded, his expression dour. “The doors were already chained and barricaded when we got here, Ranger. That means somebody tipped the school off we were coming, even fed them the names of the kids we were coming to pick up.” “It wasn’t the Rangers,” Caitlin assured him. “No, but somebody in the Department of Public Safety must’ve been behind the leak after we informed them of our intentions as a courtesy.” “That’s a separate issue you need to take up with DPS, sir. For now, how about we dial things back a few notches so the two of us can just do our jobs?” “That sounds good to me, Ranger. The United States government thanks you for your support.” Caitlin stopped halfway to the school entrance beneath the curved archway and looked back. “Don’t confuse what I’m doing with support, Agent Orleans. When things go from bad to worse, blood often gets spilled. What do you say we do our best to keep the street dry today?” CHAPTER 2 San Antonio, Texas Caitlin watched the school’s principal, Mariana Alonzo, unfasten the chains after enough of the makeshift barricade had been removed to allow one of the entry doors to open. “Thanks for coming, Ranger,” Alonzo greeted, locking the chain back into place. “I’m sure your sister would have preferred intervening herself, ma’am.” Alonzo swallowed hard. “Did you mean what you said out there, that you’re going to deliver the kids to ICE?” “I also said I was here to diffuse the situation through any means necessary.” Mariana’s Alonzo’s sister Conseulo was a former San Antonio police captain and deputy chief currently climbing the law enforcement ladder at the Department of Public Safety in Austin. She’d called Caitlin immediately after first getting word of ICE’s pending arrival at Canyon Ridge Elementary, though not before alerting her sister to what was coming. “All six of these kids are honor students, Ranger,” the school principal noted. “This kind of thing would be just as wrong even if they weren’t, ma’am. I imagine your sister believed that more than anyone. I’m surprised she didn’t come here herself, instead of calling me.” Now, an hour after that call, the sister of DPS’s Deputy Police Commissioner was looking at Caitlin with the same hope she’d glimpsed on the faces of the kids pressed against the glass. “She wanted to,” Principal Alonzo said, “but I wasn’t about to let her throw her career away. Then she told me she had another idea. Nobody messes with the Texas Rangers, right?” “Your sister and I go back a ways, ma’am,” Caitlin told her, not bothering to add that not all their interactions had been positive. Alonzo steered Caitlin away from the throng of children unable to take their eyes off her badge and gun to a corner of the hall. They stopped beneath an air conditioning baffle blowing bursts of frigid air. “What now, Ranger?” “Where are the children, ma’am?” “In my office,” Alonzo said, tilting her gaze toward an open door through which Caitlin spotted a pair of school secretaries busy fielding a nonstop flurry of phone calls behind their desks. “Be nice to keep as much of a lid on this as possible.” Caitlin weighed her options. “That lid got blown off when your sister called me in on this. I don’t figure on ICE breaking down the doors, but they’ll wait us out for as long as it takes. Means we need to find a way to take these kids out of their reach.” “Is that even possible?” “I’ve got a couple of ideas.” *** “You want to do what?” D. W. Tepper, captain of Ranger Company G, blared over the phone. Caitlin pictured him reaching for a cigarette. “You heard me, Captain.” “Well, that’s a new one, anyway.” “First time for everything.” “Our necks better be made of Silly Putty, if we’re going to stick them out this far.” “Not the first time for that at all. And put down the Marlboro, D.W.” “Jeeze, Ranger, what are you, psychic now, like that seven-foot Venezuelan giant of yours?” “Speaking of Colonel Paz . . .” CHAPTER 3 San Antonio, Texas Twenty minutes and another phone call later, Caitlin inspected the three-page document Principal Mariana Alonzo had printed off an email attachment she’d just received. “You Rangers sure work fast,” she complimented. “Always been our way,” Caitlin told her, folding the document in thirds so the proper section was face out, “long before there was any such thing as email or even electricity.” “You ever wonder what it was like ranging in those days?” “Strongs have been Rangers almost as long as there’s been a Texas. I never really had to wonder, since I’ve heard all the stories about their exploits.” “I’ve heard of your grandfather, your father too.” “Well, ma’am, my great-grandad William Ray and my great-great-grandad Steeldust Jack had their share of adventures too.” “I’d love to have you back some time to talk about that history to our students.” “Let’s take care of the ones I came here about today first,” Caitlin said, pocketing the now tri-folded set of pages. *** “You sure about this, Ranger?” Mariana Alonzo said to Caitlin, after bringing the six students from Canyon Ridge Elementary that ICE officers had come to collect from her office to the main lobby, just out of sight from the barricaded entrance. Caitlin ran her hand through the hair of a trembling girl who looked all of ten years old, then used a tissue to wipe the tear stains from the cheeks of a boy who was all of nine. “As sure as I am that if we don’t do something fast, ICE might breach the building.” “What happens then?” “This is still Texas and I’m still a Texas Ranger, ma’am. Just ask your sister.” “I did, after she told me you were coming.” “What’d she say?” “To stay out of your way. That everything I’d heard was true.” Caitlin bristled. “I wouldn’t put much stock in those stories. The press is prone to exaggeration.” Alonzo nodded. “She told me you’d say that too.” Caitlin felt the boy whose cheeks she’d swiped clean tug at her sleeve. “Are you going to save us from the bad men?” She knelt so they were eye-to-eye and laid her hands on his shoulders. “What’s your name, son?” “Diego. I’m scared.” “Well, Diego, let me show you what happens to men who scare little kids.” *** The bald ICE agent named Orleans smirked when Caitlin emerged from the school entrance with the six children ICE had come to collect in tow, school principal Mariana Alonzo bringing up the rear. Cameras clacked and whirred, as she brushed aside microphones thrust in her face. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?” Orleans said, once Caitlin reached him, her charges gathered protectively behind her. “Good thing you came to your senses. If it makes you feel any better, I hate this part of the job as much as anybody.” “I hope that’s the case, Agent, I truly do.” Caitlin eased the document Captain Tepper had just emailed from her pocket. “Because this is a duly executed warrant naming these six children as material witnesses to a crime, subject to protection by the Texas Rangers until such time they are called to testify.” Orleans started to turn red. Caitlin could feel the heat radiating through his uniform, dragging an odor that reminded her of a gym bag with yesterday’s dank workout clothes still stuffed inside. “You lied to me, Ranger.” “No, I didn’t, sir. I told you I was here to diffuse the situation and that’s what I’m doing. I said I’d fetch the kids from inside before somebody got hurt, and that’s exactly what I did.” “You mean, nobody’s been hurt yet, Ranger.” With that, Orleans snatched the warrant from her grasp. “This is bullshit and you know it,” he said, having barely regarded it. “That’s not for either of us to say, sir. It’s for a court to decide now.” “You want to tell me what crime exactly these six suspects are material witness to?” “Did you just call them suspects?” “Answer my question, Ranger.” “I’m not at liberty to say, sir. It’s a confidential investigation.” Orleans turned his gaze on the imposing group of five armed men dressed in black tactical garb behind him, then looked back at Caitlin and smirked again. “So you think we’re just going to let you parade these subjects past us all by yourself? You really think we’re going to just back down and stand aside?” The blistering roar of an engine almost drowned out his last words, as an extended cab pickup truck riding massive tires tore onto the scene and spun to a halt between the ICE agents and their Humvees. The springs recoiled, as a huge figure with a pair of M4 assault rifles shouldered behind him emerged from the cab, towering over those he passed, including the men with I-C-E embroidered on their jackets. “This is Colonel Guillermo Paz,” Caitlin told Orleans, “an agent of Homeland Security, just like you, sir. He’s going to help me parade these ‘suspects’ past you.” *** “Colonel Gee!” a first-grade boy beamed, coming up only to Paz’s waist as he hugged him tight before Paz could lift him into the backseat of his truck. “You remember me from pre-school?” “Of course I do, Marcus.” “Do you still work there?” “No, I moved on. I do that a lot. Learn what I can from a place and then try another.” “I miss you, Colonel Gee. You never finished the story of what you did to those bad men who tried to hurt you when you went home for your mommy’s funeral.” “They’re not alive anymore, Marcus.” “Really?” Paz fixed his gaze on the ICE agents who’d edged closer, weighing their options. “It’s what happens to bad men.” *** “Thank you, Colonel,” Caitlin said through the window, eyes even with Paz’s in the driver’s seat. “’The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better.’” “Robert Kennedy?” Paz’s eyes widened. “I’m impressed, Ranger.” “Just a lucky guess.” “Edward Bulwer-Lytton didn’t believe in luck. He called it a fancy name for being always at the ready when needed.” “Describes the two of us pretty well, I suppose.” Caitlin looked at the four kids squeezed into the big pickup’s backseat, Diego and Marcus in the front staring wide-eyed at the giant behind the wheel. “You know where to take them.” Paz cast his gaze back toward the ICE agents, frozen in place fifteen feet away with scowls plastered across their expressions. “And if they follow?” “They won’t get very far,” Caitlin told him. “Principal Alonzo yanked out the valve stems on their tires while we were loading the kids.” *** Caitlin’s phone rang with a call from Captain Tepper, just as Guillermo Paz was driving off and the ICE agents were discovering their flat tires. “Now who’s psychic, Captain?” she greeted. “Kids are safe and I didn’t even have to shoot anybody.” “Good thing you saved your bullets, Ranger, ‘cause there’s somewhere else you need to be right now. A town in the desert called Camino Pass, formerly with a population of two hundred and eighty-eight according to the last census.” “Formerly?” “Looks like they’re all dead, Ranger. Each and every one of them.” *** Excerpt from Strong from the Heart by Jon Land. Copyright 2020 by Jon Land. Reproduced with permission from Jon Land. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Jon Land

Jon Land is the USA Today bestselling author of fifty-two books, including eleven featuring Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong. The critically acclaimed series has won more than a dozen awards, including the 2019 International Book Award for Best Thriller for Strong as Steel. He also writes the CAPITAL CRIMES series and received the 2019 Rhode Island Authors Legacy Award for his lifetime of literary achievements. A graduate of Brown University, Land lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

 

 

Catch Up With Jon Land On: JonLandBooks.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

 

Tour Participants:

Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!

08/12 Interview @ Blog Talk Radio

08/12 Review @ Just Reviews

08/17 Guest post @ BooksChatter

08/17 Review @ Book Reviews From an Avid Reader

08/17 Showcase @ Tome Tender

08/18 Review @ The Book Divas Reads

08/18 Showcase @ Our Town Book Reviews

08/19 Guest post @ 411 ON BOOKS, AUTHORS, AND PUBLISHING NEWS

08/20 Showcase @ the bookworm lodge

08/21 Review @ The Book Connection

08/23 Showcase @ EienCafe

08/24 Interview @ Quiet Fury Books

08/25 Showcase @ The Pulp and Mystery Shelf

08/27 Showcase @ Eclectic Moods

08/31 Review @ Nesies Place

09/01 Review @ sunny island breezes

09/02 Guest post @ Thoughts in Progress

09/03 Interview/showcase @ CMash Reads

09/07 Showcase @ Im All About Books

09/10 Interview @ Reading A Page Turner

09/14 Review @ Lynchburg Mama

09/15 Showcase @ Sylv. net

09/16 Review @ A Room Without Books is Empty

09/17 Review @ Celticladys Reviews

 

 

Enter To Win!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Jon Land. There will be five (5) winners of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card each. The giveaway begins on August 17, 2020 and runs through September 20, 2020. Void where prohibited.

 

 

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

 

Carnal Knowledge

by Rachael Tamayo

on Tour July 11 – August 14, 2020

Synopsis:

Carnal Knowledge by Rachael Tamayo

What do you do when you know you’re on a serial killer’s hit list?

Six women are dead, and Wren Addison is the next victim on the SMS Killer’s list—or so she’s been told after waking in a pool of blood with no memory of the events that have transpired.

Newly separated and struggling to start her life over after her husband’s infidelity, Wren tries to remember what happened to her, but nothing is adding up as more horrors unfold around her. With her life on a timer and the murderer taunting her, she realizes there is nothing typical about this serial killer.

Wren is pushed to the edge as she dances between knowing she’s likely to die and fighting to be the first to survive. As the truth starts to emerge, she rises to the challenge and decides not to go down without a fight.

 

Someone is going to die, and she’s determined it won’t be her.

Book Details:

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Published by: Tangled Tree Publishing

Publication Date: July 11th 2020

Number of Pages: 301

ISBN: 9781922359124

Series: A Deadly Sins Novel, #2 || Stands Alone

Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

 

Read an excerpt:

You really don’t know how you feel about some things until they happen to you. You can guess. You can pretend you’d be strong, that you’d stand on the rooftops and shout your indignation as you shake your fist to the skies, but those are only guesses. Hopes. What we think we know about ourselves. They say no one ever really knows anyone. I think it’d be a safe bet to say that we don’t really know ourselves either. You think you do. The “Oh, I’d never do that! Look at how she’s acting. If I were in her shoes….” but you don’t. No one does. I said the same things to myself when I walked out on my husband, Ricky, months ago. Those thoughts went through my head as I closed the door behind me for what I told myself was the last time. I wouldn’t let myself cry as I said goodbye to him, only feeling the first tears fall when I heard the click behind me, the locking of the door to what used to be our home together. When he didn’t chase me and beg me to stay. I wept in that moment, wondering how much pain a person could take. Over the days that followed, it faded into something more akin to numbness as I found an apartment and got a new checking account. As I arranged to find movers to get my things while he was at work, all while thanking God that we had no children. Now I find myself in that place once more, though for an altogether different reason. Something has happened to me, something that leaves my body sore and my head feeling as if I have a hangover. These are the moments that tell you who you really are, leaving you exposed to your own darkness. I found that out about myself. No one ever imagines themselves in this position. You’re not prepared. No amount of self-defense can prepare you for the shock that is the next morning, waking up in a bloody mess, knowing you’ve been sexually assaulted. I can’t even say it out loud. I won’t. I refuse to do it. It makes it real, and I don’t want it to be real. I want it to be some horrible nightmare that I can wake up from. But it’s not. It’s the middle of the night. I’m sitting on the floor of my shower, the water finally not running pink anymore. My face feels puffy from crying as I carefully wash the wounds, the soap burning. I wince and then stand up before the water turns cold. Sitting here won’t accomplish anything. I look down at the mark on my left breast, swollen and purple. The definite outline of teeth, broken skin, tender to touch. It’s not the only place I’m hurting, but it’s the only one I can easily see. The only one I can’t really hide from. It’s a slap in the face, a calling card from someone I can’t remember. A face that won’t ever haunt my dreams. So, what do I do now? It’s about 4:00 a.m. Do I call someone? The police? My friend Lily? My husband? Maybe Alex? Surely she would believe me. I blink away tears, dipping my head back into the hot spray to wash the blood out of my hair. No, I won’t tell anyone. It’s too embarrassing. Too humiliating. This big foreboding thing happened to me. What they warned us all about. My drink was tampered with, and someone hurt me. I broke the rules, and I got this for it. I should have listened, I suppose. I feel sick knowing what someone did to me while I was asleep. Or was I? Maybe I did fight and just can’t remember. I’d fight, surely. I wouldn’t just lie there and take it, right? The thought gives me some minimal sliver of peace, like passing through the eye of the hurricane—you know it’s not real, not the end, but you relish it just the same. By the time I get out of the shower, I realize I haven’t really slept. My alarm will go off at seven for work so I can catch the bus and be on time for the morning meeting. I could get three hours of sleep before that, maybe. I shut off the water, suddenly a bit afraid. Knowing someone was here gives me the creeps. Makes me wish I’d gotten that gun Ricky tried so hard to get me to agree to, the one I refused. I wouldn’t give in, fearing some horrible accident. He kept his locked up, and I never bothered to learn to shoot. He begged to teach me, tried to get me to hold his Glock to “get the feel of it.” Nope. Now I regret it. In the months I’ve lived here, I haven’t been afraid to be on my own until now. Someone got to me. I’m without defense in my own home. *** Excerpt from Carnal Knowledge by Rachael Tamayo. Copyright 2020 by Rachael Tamayo. Reproduced with permission from Tangled Tree Publishing. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Rachael Tamayo

International Amazon bestselling author Rachael Tamayo is a former 911 emergency operator and police dispatcher. After twelve years in those dark depths, she’s gained a unique insight into mental illness, human behaviour, and the general darkness of humanity that she likes to weave into her books. A formerly exclusive romance author tried her hand at thrillers in her award-winning novel, “Crazy Love,” and loved it so much that she decided not to turn back. Born and raised in Texas, Rachael lives in the Houston area with her husband of almost fifteen years, and their two young children.

Catch Up With Rachael Tamayo: RachaelTamayoWrites.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

 

Tour Participants:

Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!

07/11 Guest post @ The Book Divas Reads

07/13 Interview @ BooksChatter

07/14 Review @ The World As I See It

07/15 Interview @ CMash Reads

07/16 Showcase @ delightfullybooked

07/17 Review @ Books with Bircky

07/20 Showcase @ the bookworm lodge

07/23 Guest post @ Its Raining Books

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Relative Silence

by Carrie Stuart Parks

on Tour July 13 – August 14, 2020

Synopsis:

Relative Silence by Carrie Stuart Parks

A powerful family with lots of secrets. A forensic artist with his own tragedies. And a hurricane drawing bearing down on their private island.

Fifteen years ago Piper Boone’s only child died in a boating accident, and Piper’s almost perfect life came to an end too. After living through a divorce and losing her job, she retreats to Curlew Island and her childhood home—a secluded mansion for the politically powerful Boone family, who are practically American royalty.

But Piper’s desire to become a recluse is shattered when a mass shooter opens fire and kills three women at a café where Piper is having lunch. The crisis puts her family in the spotlight by dredging up rumors of the so-called Curlew Island Curse, which whispers say has taken the lives of several members of the Boone family, including Piper’s father and sister.

Forensic artist Tucker Landry also survives the shooting and is tasked with the job of sketching a portrait of the shooter with Piper. They forge a bond over their shared love of movies and tragic pasts. But when police discover a connection between the shooting and two more murders on Curlew Island, they face a more terrible lineup of suspects than they could have imagined: Piper’s family.

Unraveling the family’s true history will be the key to Piper’s survival—or her certain death.

Book Details:

Genre: Suspense

Published by: Thomas Nelson

Publication Date: July 14th 2020

Number of Pages: 336

ISBN:0785226184 (ISBN13: 9780785226185)

Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Prologue

Curlew Island, South Carolina Fifteen years ago The piercing scream ripped up my spine. I dropped the spatula and spun. My almost-three-year-old daughter, Dove, stood at the door to the kitchen and held out her favorite toy, a tattered stuffed bunny she’d named Piggy. Piggy’s ear was hanging by a thread with stuffing protruding from the opening. “Mommy,” she sobbed. “P-P-Piggy’s hurt.” I turned off the blender. I’d told Mildred, the housekeeper, I was going to make dessert and was elbow-deep in half-whipped meringue for the banana pudding now cooling next to me. “Come here, Dove, and let Mommy see.” Still crying, Dove launched herself at me. I lifted her and checked my watch. No one was at the family’s Curlew Island home at the moment except my husband, Ashlee. He’d said he would look after Dove while I did some cooking. Yet here she was with a damaged toy and in need of comfort, while he, as usual, was absent. “Sweetheart, Mommy will have to fix Piggy in a little bit. Where’s Daddy?” She shook her head. Her sobbing settled into hiccups and loud sniffles. Shifting her to my hip, I caught sight of movement in the foyer. “Ashlee?” The front door clicked shut. Still holding Dove, I charged through the house and opened the front door. Ashlee was just climbing into a golf cart, the only transportation on the island. “Just where did you think you were going? You’re supposed to be watching Dove.” “Don’t give me a hard time, Piper.” His face was pale with beads of sweat on his forehead. “I have an errand to run on the mainland. Mildred can watch Dove.” “Mildred’s getting groceries and I’m cooking. Take Dove with you. You don’t spend nearly enough time with your only child.” “Look, Piper, this is important and I don’t—” “So’s your daughter. Or maybe we should all go to the mainland together if something is that important. Better yet, you finish dessert and I’ll get to play with Dove.” I was heartily tired of Ashlee’s constant racing off to “something important.” His work as head of marketing at the family business, Boone Industries, was stressful and kept him busy, but this was getting ridiculous. He took out a handkerchief and swabbed his sweaty brow. “N-no. I’ll take her.” Dove had relaxed against my shoulder. “She’s overdue for her nap, and the boat always puts her fast asleep. Just be sure to put her life jacket on. There are snacks on the boat if she gets hungry.” Ashlee opened his mouth, then shut it. A vein pounded in his forehead. “Dove, sweetie,” I said. “Go for a boat ride with your daddy. I’ll take care of Piggy, okay?” She nodded under my chin and allowed me to hand her over to Ashlee. “Will you be long?” “As long as I need to be.” Without another word he got into the cart and drove toward the dock. The late October day was pleasantly warm, and although Dove wore a white T-shirt and short skirt, she could always crawl under a blanket in the saloon if the boat ride was too cool. I took poor Piggy back into the kitchen and placed her on the end of the counter, hoping the meringue was salvageable. I topped the banana pudding, stuck the dessert into the oven, set the timer, and moved to Dove’s room to change the sheets. Finishing just as the pudding was ready, I placed it on the counter to cool. After washing the dishes and cleaning the kitchen, I still had laundry to do. How could I be washing more clothes than we’d packed? Once a year the entire family would gather on the private island for a stockholders’ meeting and retreat, joining the year-round staff. I’d like to say that seeing my family together in this beautiful paradise was a special treat. Unfortunately, I was closer to the housekeeper than to my own mother. At least the beach was sandy, the ocean refreshing, and the house spectacular and spacious. Dove, of course, was perfect. And Ashlee? Back to the laundry. After shifting a load from the washer to the dryer, I made my way past the workout and sewing room toward the kitchen. Could a rabbit ear be repaired on a sewing machine? Ha! I didn’t even know how to thread a bobbin. I found Mildred in the kitchen, checking a store receipt. “I didn’t know you’d returned. Do you need help with the groceries?” “Already done.” “Then I timed my offer perfectly. Do you know how to thread a bobbin?” “Have you been out in the sun too long?” “It’s a rabbit-ear question.” “Next time wear a hat.” I grinned at the older woman. “To thread a bobbin?” “You are the oddest child,” she muttered, then nodded at my banana pudding. “But you do make the most beautiful desserts.” We busied ourselves preparing dinner. The stockholders’ meeting was tomorrow, and the remaining members of the family would arrive tonight. “Strange,” Mildred said after the pot roast had been placed in the oven. “What?” “I’d have thought everyone would be here by now.” I glanced at my watch. Ashlee and Dove had been gone for five hours. Dove would be starving. “I’m sure—” The phone rang. “That’s probably them now.” I picked up the receiver. “Boone residence.” “Piper!” It was my older brother, Tern. “Oh, Piper, I’m . . . I’m at the hospital. It’s Ashlee.” I squeezed the receiver tighter. “What’s going on? Is Dove okay?” Tern groaned. I reached for Mildred. She took my hand, then put her arm around me to keep my knees from buckling. “Tern? Tern!” Tern didn’t answer. A male voice took over. “Mrs. Piper Yates? This is Officer Stan Gragg of the Marion Inlet Police. There’s been an incident involving your husband. He was attacked on the dock and your family’s yacht was stolen. He’ll be fine, but we’re having the doctor check him out—” “What about my daughter, Dove?” I tried to keep my voice under control, but the words came out shrill. “We believe she was still on the boat. I’m afraid she’s missing.” Chapter 1 Marion Inlet, South Carolina Present Day I couldn’t breathe. A man’s weight across my body crushed me to the sidewalk. The grit of the cement and shattered glass dug into my cheek. My ears rang with the craack, craack of gunfire and the screams of the wounded. A thousand bees stung my ankle. I kept my eyes tightly shut. If I opened them, I knew I’d see the sightless gaze of my friend Ami, stretched out beside me. Even with my eyes closed, I could still see Ami’s face. I should be the one lying dead. I tried to cover my ears. “Don’t move.” The man’s voice whispered in my ear, his breath stirring my hair. I froze. A final craack! The man jerked. The shooting stopped. Like the eye of a hurricane, silence. Then the screaming resumed. In the distance, a siren, then a second. The man didn’t move. My shoulder felt warm. Something wet slithered around my neck. In spite of the man’s warning, I inched my hand upward and touched my shoulder. I opened my eyes and looked at my fingers. Blood. Adrenaline shot through my body. I was boxed in, closed off. My claustrophobia took over, shoving aside my fear of the gunman. I shoved upward, shifting the man sideways. He groaned. Sliding from underneath him, I had a chance to see who’d knocked me from my chair and covered me with his body when the gunman opened fire. He was about my age—midthirties—dressed in a light-tan cotton sports jacket and bloody jeans. His gray-white skin contrasted sharply with his shaggy black hair. He opened his eyes briefly, revealing ultramarine-blue irises, before closing them again. Blood streamed from a gash on his forehead. More blood pooled around his right leg. I was breathing with fast, hiccupping breaths. I wanted to put my hands over my ears to block the screaming, but they were covered in blood. Maybe this is a movie. Patriot Games. Harrison Ford . . . No. Movies don’t smell. What year was Patriot Games made? I couldn’t remember. The distant sirens grew overwhelming, then stopped. Police officers, guns drawn, swarmed the overturned chairs and tables of the outdoor café. Swiftly they checked the motionless dead, the sobbing survivors, the wailing injured. “Help! Here! Over here!” I waved my arm to get someone’s attention. Sliding closer, I lifted my protector’s head onto my lap, smearing his cheeks with blood. Wait. Was his head supposed to be below his heart? “Please help me!” A female officer raced over. “He’s shot.” I cradled his head in my lap. “Hurry. Please hurry and get help.” The officer spoke into the mic on her shoulder. “Dispatch? Where are those ambulances?” The reply was a jumble of words and static. “Okay, ma’am,” the officer said to me. “Stay calm. The ambulances are on their way. I need you to put your hand on your husband’s leg and apply pressure to slow the bleeding—” Her mic squawked again. “Ten-four,” she said. “I’ll be right back.” “He’s not my—” The officer raced off before I could finish. “Husband,” I whispered. I pressed a trembling hand on the man’s injury. Please, God, don’t let him die like this. He moaned but didn’t open his eyes. Another officer, this time male, came over. “Are you injured? You’re covered in blood.” “It’s his. At least I think it’s his.” Was I hurt? I didn’t like this movie. It was filmed all shiny. Everyone moved in slow motion. “Did you see the gunman?” “Briefly.” He nodded, then waved his hand to get someone’s attention. An EMT appeared and crouched beside me. “Are you okay?” His voice was distant and slow. “Laady, aarre yoouu ooookaaaaaayy?” “Y-yes, I think so. He’s . . .” My vision narrowed. Blackness lapped around my brain. “Lunch . . . we were having lun—” The blackness took over. *** I opened my eyes. Above me was a green canvas umbrella. Did I have an umbrella in my bedroom? I didn’t think so. What a strange dream. My bed was hard. And gritty. And smelled of fried fish mixed with . . . the pungent stench of body fluids. Turning my head, I blinked to make sense of what I was seeing. Overturned tables, chairs, a purse. Golden brown with the letter C forming a pattern. Coach purse. My purse. Spattered by a shattered bowl of creamy shrimp and grits. Not my bed. Not a dream. Not a movie. Sound finally registered. Talking, more sirens. Yelled directions. I slowly pushed up to a sitting position. Uniformed officers were corralling witnesses, and EMTs were treating the wounded. Next to me was a pool of blood. The man—Harrison Ford? No, he was an actor. The man who’d saved me was gone. When I looked the other way, Ami came into focus. Her eyes were open, looking beyond me. Beyond this life. A pool of her blood had reached the puddle from the man’s injury. All my senses had returned, but I still felt . . . detached. Should I make a list? Write down what happened and make everything neat and tidy? I’d been having lunch. At a café. A gunman opened fire. That’s right. And my friend . . . I reached over and took Ami’s hand. The warmth had already left it. She wore coral nail polish and an engagement ring. Did we talk about her engagement? A giant lump in my throat made it difficult to swallow. She’s so still. Just a few minutes ago she was animatedly talking to me, like Téa Leoni in Spanglish. 2004. See, I remembered the year that movie was made. Why couldn’t I remember Patriot Games? Why was I obsessing over movies now? And lists? Movies and lists are safe. My eyes burned, but no tears appeared. I hadn’t cried in more than fifteen years. “I’m so very sorry, m’friend. I . . .” I shook my head and placed Ami’s hand gently on the sidewalk. The shooting. The blood. My dead friend. It was all real. Looking away from her, I spotted the man being placed into an ambulance. He saved my life and I didn’t even know his name. I started to get to my feet. An EMT raced over and gently placed her hand on my shoulder, easing me back down. “Easy there. It won’t be much longer. We’re just getting the badly wounded off first—” “I’m fine,” I lied. “Harrison Ford—” “What?” You’re not in a movie. I pointed. “Um, that man, the one being put into the ambulance—who is he?” The woman looked in the direction I was pointing. “I don’t know.” She called to the EMTs loading the man. “Hey, guys, what hospital are you going to?” “Mercy.” The EMT glanced at me. “Got that?” “Thanks. Look, I’m not shot. I need to thank that man and make sure he’s going to be okay, then tell my family I’m not hurt.” I tried to stand again. “I promised I’d—” “Sorry, honey.” This time the EMT pushed me down. “But you’re not going anywhere right now. You passed out. We don’t know if you sustained a head injury. You have a lot of blood on you, and your ankle is cut. And that officer”—she jerked her head—“said you’re a potential eyewitness. He said you can’t leave.” “Please. I’m not injured—” “We’ll decide that.” The EMT signaled the officer. “She’s awake. We’ll be moving her soon.” The officer came over and squatted beside me. He looked to be in his early forties, lean and athletic. His name tag identified him as S. Gragg. “Miss Piper Boone? I’m Lieutenant Stan Gragg. I understand you may have seen the shooter.” His voice was soft and soothing. “You know my name.” “Yes, ma’am. Marion Inlet is a small town. Hard not to. And”—he looked away—“I was on the department here . . . before.” “Oh. I’m sorry. I didn’t recognize you.” “Long time ago.” “Yes. Mr. . . . Lieutenant Gragg, I have to cover her face. It’s not right, her just lying there.” I started to take off my jacket. The officer stopped me. “Now, Miss Boone, I know it doesn’t seem respectful to your friend, but this is a crime scene and we have to secure and preserve it until the crime-scene folks can process it.” He glanced over my shoulder. “Looks like your ride is here.” “Really, you’re making a big fuss. All those other people—” “Just being cautious.” He stood and stepped away. An EMT took his place. I grabbed my heavy, oversized purse and clutched it while they arranged for my transport to the hospital. The nearest medical center was normally a twenty-minute drive, but the ambulance cut the time in half. I was raced into a small room, placed on the examination table, questioned about my injuries, and prodded. They cleaned and bandaged my ankle. The last of the feeling of detachment left with the scrubbing of my ankle cut. That hurt. During one of the lulls when the doctor or nurse wasn’t tending to me, I pulled a notebook and pen from my purse and started a list. Look up the year Patriot Games was made. I stared at that a moment. That didn’t matter. It was a movie, and it had a bombing, not a café shooting. I drew a line through it. Call family and tell them I’m okay. Contact Ami’s parents and offer condolences. Take food to the house. Order flowers. Offer to help with funeral arrangements. Retrieve car. Lieutenant Gragg entered. “How are you doing?” “A few bumps—nothing really.” I looked down at my list. “Are you writing down what happened for me? Your statement?” “Oh. No. Making notes on what I need to do. You know. With Ami and all.” Heat rushed to my face. “Writing things down keeps me . . . sane.” “And Ami is . . . ?” “Oh, sorry, Ami Churchill. The woman I was having lunch with.” “I see. Maybe before you forget anything you could tell me what happened.” I nodded. “Okay.” The blood had dried on my jeans, blouse, and jacket. I breathed through my mouth to not take in the metallic odor. I just want to get out of these clothes. I bit my lip at the uncharitable thought. The blood was from the man who saved my life. Lieutenant Gragg took out a small notepad and pen, checked the time, jotted something down, then looked at me. “So let’s start at the beginning. Your full name is Piper Boone?” “Sandpiper Boone.” He raised his eyebrows. “Mother is an ornithologist, a bird-watcher. She named her children after birds.” “So that’s why your brother, the senator, is Tern?” “Yes. My sisters are Sparrow and Raven. I’m just happy Mother didn’t name me Albatross or Plover.” I smiled, then immediately looked down and tightened my lips. How could I make a joke when all those people were shot and Ami was still dead on the street? The police officer was taking the time to interview me when he had so much else to do, and all I could do was try to be funny. Unsuccessfully. He quietly handed me a tissue. “Take your time.” I took the tissue and crumpled it in my hand. “I’d agreed to meet Ami for lunch. I hadn’t seen her in years—since high school. Out of the blue, she called me up and asked to have lunch . . . I’m sorry, I’m not very organized in my thoughts right now.” The detached feeling was returning. “And you were eating lunch?” “Lunch. Yes. I mean no. We were finished. We were just talking and having a last glass of iced tea.” “You were sitting facing the street?” he asked. “No. I had my back to the street. Ami was facing me.” Lieutenant Gragg paused and looked up from his writing. “You indicated you saw the shooter. If your back was to the street, how did you see him?” “I . . . um . . . looked around when I smelled something . . . a homeless man. I caught a glimpse of the shooter then, but he wasn’t doing anything at that time. Later I could see his reflection in the window of the café. He’d moved behind me across the street and was watching the café. Something about him was . . . disturbing. I was about to mention him to Ami when he raised a rifle.” I started to tremble but dug my fingernails into my palms until it hurt. “Before I could say or do anything, the man at the next table grabbed me, threw me to the ground, and covered me with his body. Ami”—I took a deep breath—“Ami must have been one of the first people shot. She fell next to us as soon as the shooting started.” “What happened next? What did the man do?” “He saved my life.” “Yes, but physically, what was going on around you?” “I don’t know. I closed my eyes. I heard pop, pop, pop, screaming, the scraping of metal chairs and tables on the pavement, crashing dishes.” I took a shaky breath. “Would you know the shooter again if you saw him?” “I believe so, yes, if that would help you.” A nurse entered. “Almost done? We need the room.” “Almost.” The lieutenant gave her a quick smile. She gave a curt nod and left. “You said Ami was facing the street. Did she notice the man as well?” “No. She was trying on my straw hat and was asking me if it looked good on her.” “Piper! Thank the Lord you’re not hurt!” My brother, Tern, pushed into the room, followed by my mother, Caroline. Mother stopped as soon as she spotted me. “Oh, Piper! You’re covered in blood! How badly are you hurt?” “Okay, folks.” Lieutenant Gragg put his arm out to stop Tern. “We’re almost done here. She’s going to be fine. I need you to wait outside—” “Do you know who you’re talking to?” Tern’s face was white. “That’s my little sister.” “Yes, Senator Boone.” Lieutenant Gragg gently took Tern’s arm and turned him toward the door. “We’re taking good care of her.” “Not as good as her family. We’re here to take her home and get the best possible care for her.” “You will be able to, but we need to arrange for a forensic artist to meet with her as soon as possible—” “Please, everyone, I’m fine. I have a slight graze on my ankle. That’s all.” I gripped the table. It’s Ami who needs family right now. And those other poor people. I looked down and allowed my hair to partially cover my face until I could get some modicum of control over my expression. “Could I call you about the artist?” “Absolutely, Miss Boone.” A strong arm wrapped around me and pulled me to my feet. I recognized the cherry-vanilla aroma of Tern’s pipe tobacco. “Come on, little sis,” he whispered. “Everything else can wait. You need to get home.” “Tern!” my mother said. “She can’t go out in public looking like that.” “She’ll have to.” Tern propelled me from the room, down the hall, through a set of doors, and into a chaotic nightmare. Chapter 2 “Senator Boone!” Click, click, click. “Senator, look this way!” Click, click. The press was everywhere, yelling to get my brother’s attention, jamming microphones in my face, snapping digitals. “What do you have to say about today’s shooting?” I kept my head down and wished I still had my hat to help conceal my face. Around me were milling legs and shoes—oxfords, pumps, cross-trainers, and one pair of Chloé Rylee cutout open-toed boots. Beyond cute. I glanced up at the boot wearer. A porcelain-complexioned redhead swiftly took my photo. Rats. “Now that your own sister was shot, does this change your stance on gun control?” “My sister wasn’t shot—” “She’s covered in blood!” “Now then, ladies and gentlemen.” Tern gave my arm a squeeze. “Please stand back and let my little sister and mother through, then I’ll give you a statement.” The legs moved away. The press, particularly the female members, would be ecstatic for the chance to interview my strikingly handsome brother. And Tern knew how to use his good looks and charisma to charm even the most acerbic critic. Tern ushered Mother and me into the back seat of the family’s silver Lexus LX, placed my purse on the floor, then bent down to talk to us. “I’m having Joel drive you home. I’ll put in an appearance at the children’s hospital fund raiser, then leave as soon as I can.” He shut the door. Joel Christianson was the driver, handyman, and all-purpose help at the family estate on Curlew Island. He gave Tern a sketchy salute, put the car in gear, and slowly pulled out of the hospital parking lot. We drove up Highway 17 in silence. I rested my head against the car window. The blood, his blood, had stiffened on my jacket and blouse. Why did he risk his life saving me? I’m not worth the effort. I pulled out the list I’d started and added: Find out man’s name. Figure out how to thank him. Joel took the exit to the picturesque hamlet of Marion Inlet. When my grandparents moved here, the town was little more than a fishing village. A row of white storefronts and historic homes faced the main street, and a fishing fleet anchored in the small harbor. In 1989, Hurricane Hugo made landfall just south of Marion Inlet, uprooting ancient trees and tossing the shrimping boats around the town as if they were children’s toys. The locals rebuilt and now the town was booming again. Curlew Island, located less than a mile from the mainland, was almost entirely owned by the Boone family. It provided a seasonal home for vacations, retreats, and the annual family stockholders’ meeting in October. Normally the only permanent inhabitants were Joel and his wife, Mildred, the housekeeper. For the past year, I’d called the island home. I’d often said I was dying to leave. Today I’d almost gotten my wish. I shook my head at the grim thought. “What is it, Piper?” my mother asked. “I suspect it’s what’s called gallows humor.” “You always did have a strange sense of humor.” Mother patted me on the leg. This from a woman who named me after a bird known for eating critters it plucked from the mud. “Mmmm.” Mother brushed a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “Once we get to the house, you can take a shower and get cleaned up. I’m sure you’ll want to get out of those bloody clothes.” She gave a tiny shudder. “I’ll get Mildred to make you a pot of chamomile tea. She can add a spoonful of raw honey. Very calming. I’ll look up some organic pain medication so you can throw away those pills the doctor gave you.” She tapped her finger on her lips. “No. Don’t throw them away. That’s not safe. I’ll research how to dispose of them.” She gave me a slight smile. I stared out the window, ignoring the twinges of pain from my scrapes and rapidly forming bruises, and tried not to think about Ami lying next to me at the outdoor café. Nineteen ninety-two. That was the year Patriot Games was released. The SUV pulled in front of a small elevated house. The entire ground floor was open and served as a garage. The house was the original family home but had served as overflow guest quarters since my parents constructed the far larger house on Curlew Island. A day cruiser was tied up to the private dock waiting to transport the family to the island. Smaller boats, also owned by the family, were tied along one side. I tapped the driver on the shoulder. “Joel, can you see that Mother gets to Curlew safely? I need to take the car.” “Where are you going?” Mother asked. “Ami”—I gulped some air—“was one of the victims murdered today. I need to talk to her parents—” “The police will take care of that.” “Shouldn’t they hear about it from me? I was the reason she was at the restaurant.” I held up the list. “If not for me, she’d be alive. Now I need to make things right.” Mother patted my hand. “Really, Piper, you don’t know these people. You don’t know what they want or need right now. You need to let the family grieve in peace.” “But I could tell them what happened—” “What happened was that you were both in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now, I’m going out for my afternoon meditating session. I think you should join me. Let nature help you heal.” Joel opened the door beside Mother and helped her out. I remained in the SUV. “Come along, Piper.” Mother headed for the boat. “I need to get my car. It’s still parked near the restaurant. I’ll have Joel drive me over.” Mother stopped, turned, and looked at me. Her gaze flickered over to Joel. The message was clear. Don’t make a scene in front of the help. I sighed and looked down. A weight settled across my shoulders. “Give me your keys,” Joel whispered. “I’ll retrieve the car in a bit.” Opening my purse, I handed him my key chain, then slipped from the SUV and slowly followed Mother. I wish it had been me killed today. *** Tucker Landry opened his eyes. A nurse sitting behind a counter directly in front of him stood and walked over. “How are you doing?” “Where am I?” “Mercy Hospital. You got out of surgery and you’re in recovery. Do you have any pain?” “No. What happened?” “Do you remember getting shot?” Tucker closed his eyes. Flashes of memory slid across his mind. Lunch at an outdoor café. A beautiful woman at the next table. The thunderous staccato of gunfire. “Yes.” “The doctor will be by to talk to you soon.” “When can I get out of here?” She patted his hand. “Don’t be in such a rush. You lost a lot of blood.” A woman in green scrubs with her hair tucked into a surgical cap appeared next to him. “Welcome to the land of the living, Mr. Landry. I’m Dr. Rice. You are one lucky man.” “I don’t feel lucky.” “You are. The bullet that just grazed your head and struck you in the leg was a .223. Nasty business. A different angle and you’d be dead.” She tilted his head slightly upward and checked his forehead. “This will heal fine with just these butterfly bandages. They come off on their own in about ten days. Your leg injury will take longer. No broken bones, but I want you to keep weight off it so it has time to heal. You’ll be on crutches, which you’ll need to use even if you feel better.” She folded her arms. “I’d usually comment about the scar you’ll end up with, but I noticed you have quite a few all over your body.” He could hear the question in her comment. “I do, yes.” She waited another moment as if hoping he’d elaborate, then continued. “Now you need to rest and heal. I’ll be back when you’re settled in your room.” She walked away before Tucker could ask her any questions. Settled in my room? How long was he supposed to be in here? He had work to do. *** I sat in the boat’s aft holding my long hair to keep it from whipping across my face and watched the small town of Marion Inlet recede. I’d looked forward to having lunch with Ami. Now I was thinking about funeral plans and memorial wreaths. And blood. Think about something else. I could join Mother in meditation, but while she sat on a comfortable mat, I had to sit on the ground. All I ever got out of it was leg cramps, bug bites, and dirty pants. Maybe I could do a movie marathon. Lock myself in my room and not come out for a week. Would a week be enough to erase everything? What about the man who saved my life? Would he be around in a week? After Silva, the boat captain, tied up on the island dock, I headed straight to the house and my room, not willing to wait for one of the golf carts used as transportation. The two-story, elevated, low-country home had been designed to preserve the existing natural environment. A series of dunes separated the front of the house from the sandy beach. Except for a small partially enclosed foyer leading to the living quarters on the second floor, the space beneath the house was surrounded by lattice. Unlike the rest of the house, my bedroom didn’t have an indifferent, model-home look. Stacks of books covered most of the surfaces, and the built-in shelves sagged under the weight of more books and journals. I’d taken down the bird prints found on all the other bedroom walls and replaced them with a framed photograph of my father from a magazine piece about his art. Two movie posters flanked it. Next to a flat-screen television was a media storage unit holding my collection of classic movies. A half-packed suitcase sat open on a cedar chest, where it had rested for the last six months. I dropped my oversized purse onto a nautical-themed chair and dashed into the bathroom. I stared at my face in the mirror. Does it show? Everything else did. Every passing thought was clearly written on my features and reflected in my complexion. Does the presence of death etch into the face? A tightness around the mouth? Eyes narrowed, or worse, turning cold? After peeling off my bloody clothes, I stuffed them into a plastic garbage bag, then jammed the bag into the trash container. I’d never wear that outfit again. I didn’t even want to see it in my closet. My thick watch band on my left arm was clean, but the wide leather bracelet I wore on my right arm was crusted in blood. Sliding it off, I tried not to stare at the parallel raised white scars across my wrist. In the shower, I scrubbed my skin until it turned red. I washed my hair twice. The pink-tinged water eventually drained clear. My conservation-conscious mother would say I was using too much water, but today I didn’t care. Maybe today is my wake-up call. Once the stockholders’ meeting was over, in three days, I’d leave for good. Nothing held me to Curlew Island. Well, okay, free room and board. And a small rock cairn at the north end of the island. I just needed to pack the last of my things in the suitcase and arrange for my books, journals, and movie collection to be shipped to . . . Where? I stopped scouring my hands and leaned against the cool marble tiles. Maybe back to Atlanta? I could see if any jobs had opened up. Oh yeah. Who’d want to hire a washed-up, has-been editor from a now-defunct publishing house? Yet another failure in my mess of a life. Maybe I should look at someplace new, where no one knew me. It’s this stupid indecision that keeps my suitcase half packed. Leaving here was not a destination, only a decision. When I stepped from the shower wrapped in towels, Mildred was waiting for me. The older woman was slightly plump but solid, plain-faced but with a radiant smile that transformed it. She wore her long gray hair in a tight bun, and oversized tortoiseshell glasses mostly hid her hazel eyes. A floral print apron covered her blue-checked cotton housedress. “Child, I just thank the stars you weren’t killed today.” “Thank you, Mildred—” The words caught in my throat. “Let me look at you.” She lifted my chin and inspected my face. “It was bad, wasn’t it?” I didn’t have to answer. I could keep nothing from Mildred. My face would show it all, and she knew how to read it. She patted my cheek and let go. “Be strong.” “How did you hear about it?” I finally asked. “Is it on the news?” “Probably, but I wasn’t watching the news. Tern called after putting you and your mother in the car. He said you’d had a close call. Your mother sent some tea.” She glanced toward the Wedgwood tea set resting on a tray on the dresser. “That’s so thoughtful of both of you. Thank you.” I made a point of pouring a cup and taking a sip. I didn’t care much for tea but didn’t want to appear ungrateful. “I wouldn’t be here now if not for the man who saved my life.” Mildred raised her eyebrows. That’s one of the things I love about this woman—her quiet strength and serenity. And her intelligence. I gave Mildred a quick hug. “I think I’ll take a walk along the beach.” Her gaze darted to my wrist. “I’m okay. I . . . I need to be alone.” “You sound like Marlene Dietrich.” “Greta Garbo,” I said automatically. “Grand Hotel, 1932.” “The same year Jesse Owens won four gold medals in the Berlin Olympics?” “That was 1936 . . . Wait a minute! You knew that answer.” “Just testing you.” “Well then, ‘You want to know something, Leslie? If I live to be ninety, I will never figure you out.’ Giant, 1956. I just have to substitute ‘Mildred’ for ‘Leslie.’” “Same year your mother was born. Good year all around.” Mildred patted my cheek. “You’ll be fine.” She hesitated a moment. “Ashlee’s here.” Ashlee. My ex-husband of fourteen years. When we divorced, he’d stayed on at Boone Industries as head of sales. The only non–family member to have a financial interest in the company, he held on to the stocks he’d received when we married and once a year was present at the shareholders’ meeting. Although our divorce was amiable, or at least as civil as such things can be, I did my best to avoid him. “Duly noted.” “I’ve put him in his usual room at the far end of the house.” “Perfect.” Ashlee’s usual room was my sister Raven’s old bedroom. As she hadn’t shown up for any meetings in years, Ashlee took over the space. “He did mention he had something to tell you.” Mildred pursed her lips. My stomach churned. Somehow I knew it wouldn’t be good. “I see.” “And you got a call from Four Paws Rescue.” “Let me guess. A blind hamster? An elderly goat?” “A goose.” Her lips puckered in disapproval. “A goose? Who keeps a goose for a pet? Don’t answer that. What’s wrong with the goose?” “It needs medical attention. The owners kept it in a dog crate in the house. Walked it daily. Then they lost the lease on their home and had to surrender their pet.” Four Paws Rescue was another reason the free rent came in handy. My income from the family business always seemed to be needed elsewhere. “How much?” “They think two hundred would cover the vet and first month’s care.” I nodded. “Make me—” “A note to send a check. Already done. Now, what else can I do to help you?” Find me a job that pays well enough to live on and support all my two- and four-legged projects? “Nothing. No . . . wait. Could you call Mercy Hospital and see if they’ll release the name of the man who saved my life? Black hair. Blue eyes. About my age or a bit older.” “I can try. You know how such things can be.” “Thank you, Mildred. If that doesn’t work, I’ll ask Lieutenant Gragg to find out.” Mildred turned to leave, then turned back. “Gragg? Why does that name sound familiar?” “He said he was on the department . . . before.” “I see. Oh, before I forget. You also got a call from Joyce.” Joyce Mueller was our sole neighbor on the island. She kept a seasonal home on the northern end. “I posted it on the bulletin board in the kitchen, then figured you probably wouldn’t check for messages.” “Did she call because she heard—” “No. She called last night. She wanted to talk to you.” “Did she say what about?” “No. But there was something in her voice . . .” I raised my eyebrows. “Like . . . ?” “If I didn’t know better, I’d say she sounded scared.” *** The adventure continues in Relative Silence by Carrie Stuart Parks. *** Excerpt from Relative Silence by Carrie Stuart Parks. Copyright 2020 by Carrie Stuart Parks. Reproduced with permission from Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Carrie Stuart Parks

Carrie Stuart Parks is Christy, Carol, and Inspy award-winning author, an award-winning fine artist, and internationally known forensic artist. Along with her husband, Rick, she travels across the US and Canada teaching courses in forensic art to law enforcement as well as civilian participants. She has won numerous awards for career excellence. Carrie is a popular platform speaker, presenting a variety of topics from crime to creativity.

Catch Up With Carrie Stuart Parks: CarrieStuartParks.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Instagram, & Facebook!

 

 

Tour Participants:

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07/13 Guest post @ The Book Divas Reads

07/13 Review @ Book Reviews From an Avid Reader

07/14 Interview @ BooksChatter

07/15 Review @ From the TBR Pile

07/15 Showcase @ Our Town Book Reviews

07/16 Interview @ Reading A Page Turner

07/17 Showcase @ Book Reviews & More by Kathy

07/17 Showcase @ the bookworm lodge

07/18 Review @ Instagram -Love My Dane Dolly Blog – Sailor Girl Etc.

 07/20 Showcase @ Im Into Books

07/23 Showcase @ The Pulp and Mystery Shelf

07/26 Showcase @ EienCafe

07/28 Review @ Wall-to-wall books

07/29 Showcase @ CMash Reads

08/01 Review @ Nina_the_bookworm

08/02 Review @ The World As I See It

08/03 Interview @ Quiet Fury Books

08/04 Guest post @ Nesies Place

08/05 Guest post @ Avonna Loves Genres

08/05 Showcase @ 411 ON BOOKS, AUTHORS, AND PUBLISHING NEWS

08/06 Review @ Avonna Loves Genres

08/06 Review @ Booked on a Feeling

08/07 Review @ Jersey Girl Book Reviews

08/08 Review @ Lynchburg Mama

08/09 Review @ Buried Under Books

08/10 Review @ ebeeari

08/11 Review @ sunny island breezes

08/11 Review @ The Bookwyrm

08/12 Review @ A Room Without Books is Empty

08/13 Review @ Celticladys Reviews

08/14 Review @ Cover To Cover Cafe

 

 

Enter To Win!!:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Carrie Stuart Parks. There will be 1 winner of one (1) RELATIVE SILENCE by Carrie Stuart Parks (print). The giveaway begins on July 13, 2020 and runs through August 16, 2020. Open to U.S. addresses only. Void where prohibited.

 

 

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