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In the Shadow of a Hoax
Maci Aurora
(Fareview Fairytales, #2)
Publication date: January 24th 2023
Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Romance

In the Kingdom of Kaloma, a woman is forced to rely on a man to “keep her” and is forbidden from maintaining anything of her own. It’s the law.

In the remote village of Sevens, at the northernmost point of the kingdom, there lives a family with four daughters and a son, toiling day in and day out together, hopeful a treaty with the boarding kingdom of Jast might change things.

When one daughter—at risk of being imprisoned for fighting back—hides away in the Whitling Woods. She stumbles upon a dying man and despite the risk to herself, chooses to save him. Only who he is has the power to change everything…

Tarley Fareview, idealistic and stubborn, does what she can to support herself in spite of an unjust Kaloma law. When she fights back after being attacked, she flees into the woods disguised as a boy. While in hiding, she discovers a dying man and must decide if she risks her life to save him. Unable to walk away, Tarley chooses to intervene and works to save the stranger, only little does she know that by doing so she’ll also risk the heart she promised herself she’d never give to anyone.

When the Crown Prince of Jast, Lachlan Nikolas—forced by the king to attend treaty negotiations with the kingdom of Kaloma in disguise—is attacked, his horse bolts, and they both careen over a cliff, falling to their deaths in a raging river below. Only, miracle of miracles, Lachlan doesn’t perish, and instead is given a second chance at life, but at a price. When he wakes, he’s not only been stripped of his clothes but also his identity. Saved by a strange woman—in a terrible disguise because she looks nothing like a boy—Lachlan must learn very quickly how to survive in a world where he isn’t a prince anymore and with zero skills other than his entitlement and his charm. Unsure who to trust, Lachlan must reinvent himself, learn how to survive, open his heart to discover the truth about worthiness, and discover what it means to sacrifice one’s self for true love.

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SNEAK PEEK:

It was nearing sunrise on the fifth day. The twilight teasing the flap of the tent. The birds were only beginning to sing, and though the music of the birds waking and the river beyond were usually her salve to get her moving, her eyes were so heavy, and her body weighted with exhaustion. Her mind and senses lulled toward sleep by the sound of Ollie’s clear breathing and the song of the birds, so she shut her eyes.

Just for a moment, she told herself. Ollie’s safe. I’ll rest. Just for a moment, she thought and slipped into the rest of the darkness.

“Tarley?”

She stretched her body, uncurling it, and basking in the gloriousness of warmth and rest. Her hand dropped against something unforgiving, her head pressed against a wall. She moaned, disoriented, and grabbed hold of the mound under her quilt trying to figure out what had crawled into bed with her.

“I’ve always enjoyed a good fondling, but I prefer it being reciprocal.”

Tarley’s eyes snapped open at the foreign sound—a man’s voice with just the hint of an accent with which she wasn’t familiar. Skin. That’s what her eyes focused on. Lots of it. An arm. A shoulder. A scruffy jaw in need of a shave as she raised her gaze. Full lips arched with a smile, the bottom slightly fuller though the pronounced arches of the upper. He was grinning, and his eyes—a myriad of colors—were darkened with a ring of deep green at the edges.

Realizing she was flush against him, holding him, Tarley jerked back, scrambling to the opposite side of the ten, only there wasn’t enough room to maneuver. She regretted the quick movement, her body protesting with aches and pains of not enough sleep.

“Ollie. I–” She couldn’t meet his gaze.

“You were asleep.”

Her cheeks heated realizing she’d been holding him in her sleep. Holding onto him the night she’d been trying to save him flashed in her mind reminding her she’d held him before. To save him, she snapped at her inner self.

Her eyes danced across the quilt until she found the bravery to meet his gaze.


Author Bio:

Romance author.

Lover of stories.

Maci Aurora has been writing stories since she was a child. When she was eleven, she fell in love with reading Sunfire Historical Romances about girls who made a difference in their lives and still fell in love. In high school, a friend introduced her to Lavyrle Spencer and Judith McNaught, and from there, her writing journey was cemented in telling stories about love. Having already published many novels (all of which are threaded with romance as upper YA and New Adult titles) under the pen name, CL Walters, Maci Aurora wanted to write stories that offered the same attention to story and characters but with additional steam.

Maci writes in Hawaiʻi where she lives with her husband, their children, and their fur-babies.

Website / Instagram / Newsletter


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Nunzio's Way by Nick Chiarkas Banner

Nunzio’s Way

by Nick Chiarkas

October 24-November 18, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

Nunzio's Way by Nick Chiarkas

“In this city, you can have anything you want if you kill the right four people.” ~ Nunzio Sabino

In Weepers (Book 1), Angelo and his gang, with a bit of help from his beloved “uncle” Nunzio Sabino, defeated the notorious Satan’s Knights. Now, in this standalone sequel to Weepers, it’s 1960 and Nunzio is still the most powerful organized crime boss in New York City, protecting what’s his with political schemes and ‘business’ deals.

Against this backdrop of Mafia turf wars, local gang battles, and political power-plays in the mayoral election, the bodies begin stacking up. An unlikely assassin arrives fresh from Naples after killing a top member of the Camorra to avenge the murder of her family. She blends seamlessly into the neighborhood and with the focus on the threat from the Satan’s Knights, no one suspects that Angelo’s father and Nunzio are next on her hit list. Nunzio has lived his entire life by the mantra; Be a fox when there are traps and a lion when there are wolves. Will Nunzio be a lion in time?

Praise for Nick Chiarkas:

“Writers are always told, ‘Write what you know.’ Nick Chiarkas knows New York, organized crime, and how to write an engaging story. Nunzio’s Way is gritty and thoroughly gripping.”

John DeDakis, award-winning Novelist and former editor for CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer”

Book Details:

Genre: Crime Thriller / Historical
Published by: HenschelHAUS Publishing
Publication Date: October 2022
Number of Pages: 261
ISBN: 978159595-908-6
Series: Weepers, #2
Book Links: Amazon | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

PROLOGUE

For those who have read Weepers a while ago, and for those who have not read Weepers, here is a brief description of Nunzio Sabino, as told by Father Joe to Father Casimiro (Father Cas) in Weepers.

***

“In 1920… Caffè Fiora was the Baling Hook, a tough bar owned by an ex-longshoreman, Stanley Marco, and his wife Sylvia—who was every bit as tough as Stan. The place was decorated with nets, anchors, and baling hooks hanging all over the walls. It had a long bar and small tables.”

“Sounds charming,” Father Casimiro said sarcastically.

“In a strange way, it was. The booze was good. The food was tolerable. And the dancers were okay—that is, except for one. Fiora Ventosa was a delicate breeze in a cigar-filled room. And when she danced, the room dropped silent. She was sensational.”

“A stripper?”

“Not completely, more burlesque. The dancers would take off this or that but never stripped completely. Each night of the week featured a different dancer. Fiora danced on Tuesday nights. And Nunzio fell in love with her.”

“How old was he?”

“Thirteen. We were all kids about the same age. There were five of us—me, Nunzio, Pompeo—Anna’s father—

George, and Nick. We would sneak in every Tuesday night. Sylvia knew, but let it slide.”

“Did Fiora know how Nunzio—”

“Probably. She would sometimes sit with us after her show. Thinking back, she probably thought it was cute, and compared to the rest of the clientele, we were safe, adoring fans. We would sit there and Nunzio would be transfixed. She was seventeen and Nunzio figured a four-year difference wasn’t that much. So, after watching her dance every Tuesday for seven or eight months, on the third Tuesday in January 1920, Nunzio decided to tell Fiora he wanted to marry her. Seems silly now, but back then…what did we know? Anyway, Nunzio had to work late, so we waited for him and then we beat it over to the Hook.”

Father Casimiro loved these stories. They gave him a history, like he belonged to the neighborhood. “Did he tell her?”

“When we got to the Hook, Stan was shoving everyone out of the place, telling them to go home. Somebody, I don’t know who, said, ‘You kids better not go in there tonight.’ We pushed our way in against everybody leaving. There were several overturned tables and a couple of people standing around looking down.”

“Looking down?” Father Casimiro dodged several kids running along the sidewalk.

“Sylvia was sitting on the floor crying. Fiora was lying on the floor, covered by a large flannel shirt. Her head in Sylvia’s lap. Stan was arguing with a big guy they called the Bear. He was six- foot-six and must have weighed in at over three hundred pounds. He was a foreman on the docks and a neighborhood bully. The Bear stood there in a T-shirt and said to Stan, ‘Don’t you say nothing, you hear me? Nothing.’ Sylvia shouted up at the Bear, ‘You sonofabitch, you killed this little girl.’”

“What? She was dead? He killed her? Why?”

“The drunken Bear wanted to see more skin. He yanked her off the dance floor. She fought and he broke her neck.” Father Joe lit a cigarette and handed the pack to Father Casimiro.

Father Casimiro lit a cigarette and took a long drag. “Poor girl.” Cigarette smoke escaped with the words. He handed the pack back to Father Joe. “Nunzio must have been devastated. You all, just kids, must have been—”

“It was the only time I ever saw Nunzio cry. Ever. It was the most heart-rending, profound sadness I ever witnessed. Nunzio dropped to his knees and touched her face. Meanwhile, the Bear was standing over Sylvia with his two buddies, one on either side of him, and he said to Stan, ‘The girl’s trash; nobody’s gonna miss her. So, you and your wife keep your mouths shut.’ He reached down and grabbed his shirt off Fiora and started to put it on.

He continued, “That was when I noticed that Nunzio was missing. And then I heard the scream. It didn’t sound human. It was pain and fury. It was Nunzio, and he was in midair—he jumped from the top of the bar behind the Bear. In each hand, he gripped a baling hook—he had taken them off the wall. He looked like an eagle screaming in for the kill. The Bear’s arms were halfway in his shirt sleeves when the points of the heavy hooks pierced his deltoid muscles from behind. The hooks hit both shoulders and sunk behind his collarbone.”

“Dear God,” Father Casimiro shivered as he imagined the pain of a thick steel hook sinking into his shoulder muscle.

“The Bear roared and swung from side to side. Nunzio held on tight to the hooks, his legs flying from left to right, back and forth. The Bear’s arms were pinned halfway in his shirt. He kept trying to grab Nunzio’s legs. But with each movement, the hooks sank deeper.”

Father Casimiro was no longer aware of the people pushing past him, some smiling and nodding. The musty beer and sawdust of the Baling Hook filled his senses. He imagined the blood spurting from the hooks, and a thirteen-year-old boy hanging on—fortified by rage. Father Casimiro smoked and listened. “What about the Bear’s friends?”

“The two of them grabbed at Nunzio, and that’s when we—all four of us—jumped in. I was a pretty good boxer by then, and Pompeo was always a strong kid. Nick pulled a knife, and George grabbed another baling hook off the wall. The Bear’s buddies ran out of the place; they weren’t up for the fight. After that, the only ones in the Hook were Stan, Sylvia, the Bear, Fiora, and us. The Bear started spinning and coughing up blood. Nunzio just held on. We were trying to get them apart. But the Bear kept spinning, knocking over tables. And Nunzio was like a cape flying from the Bear’s shoulders.

“Then, finally, the Bear dropped to his knees, straight down, his arms dead, draped at his sides. As the Bear fell forward, Nunzio pulled on the hooks. The Bear growled and then whimpered as his face cracked the wooden floor. All the time, Nunzio held onto the hooks—pulling. He let go when the Bear rolled over on his back—hooks still buried in his shoulders. He looked straight up at Nunzio.”

“He was still alive?” Father Casimiro gasped.

“Only for a moment or two. Nunzio wasn’t finished, but Stan grabbed him and said, ‘He’s gone. You kids get out of here so we can clean up.’ Nunzio never fell in love again.”

“Did she have any family?” Father Casimiro asked, flicking his cigarette into the gutter. “I mean, Fiora.”

“Fiora was fifteen and pregnant with Natale when she arrived in New York from Genoa. The Cherry Street Settlement took her in and after Natale was born, they got her a room with Sylvia and Stan, who hired Fiora to tend bar and dance on Tuesday nights. Fiora Ventosa was born on the third Tuesday in March and seventeen years later died on the third Tuesday in January, and her only family was two- year-old Natale Ventosa. No one ever knew who the father was. Natale was raised by Sylvia and Stan.”

“What about the police and the Bear’s friends?”

“No police—Stan fixed that. But the Bear’s pals came after Nunzio. The five of us were inseparable. Nunzio was, is, a born leader. Battle after battle, victory after victory, we quickly gained a reputation. Eventually other guys wanted to join our gang. By sixteen, Nunzio was the most powerful gang leader in the city. When he was twenty, he bought the Baling Hook.”

“He bought it?”

“Stan had passed away a couple of years earlier, so Nunzio turned it into a pretty good restaurant—no dancing—and re-named it Caffè Fiora. He sent Sylvia money every month to cover Natale’s financial needs. He paid Sylvia more than she ever dreamed to run the restaurant. When Sylvia died in ’51, Nunzio gave the restaurant to Natale.”

“So, you became a priest to …”

“The battles we won were hard fought and people were killed. We all…I killed,” Father Joe confessed. “At nineteen, I decided to become a priest and devote my life to saving as many kids in these neighborhoods as I could in return for God’s forgiveness. We have an uneasy relationship—I’m certain God doesn’t always agree with my methods, and I have some questions for Him as well. But I’m sticking to the deal.”

“What about the other kids? Did they stay in the gang?”

“No. Pompeo is a foreman at the meat market, Nick became a cop, and George is a foreman on the docks. But on the third Tuesday of each month, the five of us go back there, just like when we were thirteen, but now it’s the Caffè Fiora—and we play poker in the back room and talk about how fast time passes.”

“Does Natale know?”

“Sylvia told her the whole story. Natale loves Nunzio like a father,” Father Joe said as he and Father Casimiro passed Columbus Park and made a left from Mulberry Street onto Worth Street. “This is the end of Little Italy.”

As they reached St. Joachim’s, Father Casimiro said, “I think I’ll walk over to the Settlement. You want to come with?”

“Come with?” Father Joe teased. “Sure, I can use the exercise.”

“Does Nunzio ever worry about some ambitious hooligan wanting to take over? Or is that just in the movies?”

“Hooligan?” Father Joe smiled. “Nunzio is the top lion. He is constantly watched by the ambitious and the aggrieved. He can’t show weakness. He can’t let a single insult—especially a public one—go unchecked. Continued leadership requires constant vigilance and no margin of error. None.”

“Sounds stressful.”

“It is. The only time Nunzio can relax—really be himself, joke around—is with us, the kids who grew up with him, on the third Tuesday of the month.”

CHAPTER ONE

“The right four people”

“Pal, in this city, you can have anything you want if you kill the right four people.”

“Nunzio, we don’t have to kill –”

“We? Me and you, De?” Nunzio leaned back, a gesture as intimidating as a knife to the throat when it came from Nunzio Sabino, the most powerful crime boss in the city.

Nunzio sat at his private table with his attorney, Declan Ardan, in the dusk-lit Caffè Fiora on Grand Street in Little Italy. On the walls, ropes, hooks, and paintings of Genoa’s seaport, honored the birthplace of the owner’s mother, Fiora, her dark eyes still vigilant from the portrait above Nunzio’s table. The Caffè was quiet on this rainy St. Patrick’s Day. Two of Nunzio’s men sat at a nearby table. The guy who had come with Declan sat hunched over coffee near the entrance.

“No, I mean, nobody has to get killed; talk to your guys at Tammany. They respect –”

“You still got that scar,” Nunzio said. It’s bad enough in court; there, I do what he says. But not at my table. Since we were kids, this mameluke was a bully. I can’t give him an inch. Not an inch. “What about my guys?”

De touched the scar above his left eye. “Doolin said the Italians run everything now. He said, ‘If anyone can pull strings…’”

“Before you start pinning medals on my ass,” Nunzio signaled to a waiter. “Arturo, bring me and ‘Deadshot’ here a couple of espressos and Natale’s little cakes.”

“All I’m saying is–”

“Marone, you’re still talkin’?”

“All I want – ”

“I know what you want. You wanna be mayor.” Nunzio lit a Camel and tossed the pack on the table while exhaling through his nose like a dragon. “Listen to me, Brian Doolin is a piantagrane, a troublemaker. For an upfront payment he sells you a dream. Then when it doesn’t come true it was always somebody else’s fault. Like you, that time when we were kids, and you told me Eddie Fialco sounded on my mother. It was bullshit, you just wanted me to beat him up. You’re a piantagrane, like Doolin. It works for you in court, but Doolin just likes to cause trouble. Look, you got a kid who wants to go to college for a grand, your kid’s in. But mayor, forse si forse no?”

“So, maybe a chance?”

“Maybe.”

De stroked his scar absentmindedly. “You gave me this when we were kids.”

“It makes you look like a tough guy.”

“I once asked Joe why you hit me with that rock.”

“It was a brick,” Nunzio said.

“Joe said it was to save my life. I still don’t get it.” “You don’t have to.”

“But Joe was there.”

“Joe was with Pompeo and me and a bunch of us.

What were we, ten years old? We were cutting through the empty lot to school, and you – ”

“Okay, so I was taking kid’s lunch money. They all gave it up except you. You were the smallest kid, and you just said ‘No’.”

“And what did you say to me?”

“That’s what I don’t get; I just said, ‘okay, maybe next time’ and you hit me hard with a brick. I swear I was knocked out for a couple of minutes.”

“You said ‘maybe next time.’”

“Yeah, that’s all.”

“But you never asked me again.”

“I thought you were crazy. I followed you home one day. I figured if I saw where you lived, I would get a better read on you. I trailed you into the cellar of 57 Canon Street. I saw a little bed in one corner and a pile of banana crates by the door – the only things in that dirt floor cavernous space. You were shoveling coal into the furnace, which explained why you always had soot on you. I was about to say something when a spider the size of my face jumped out at me from the crates, and I beat it the hell out of there.”

“You followed me?”

“How could you have lived in that cellar?”

“Instead of where?”

“I don’t know. Maybe in…I don’t know. Didn’t some family take you in?”

“Yeah, the Sas family. Good people.”

“Anyway, I never asked you for money again.”

“If you had, I would’ve killed you. So, the brick saved your life.”

Declan nodded. “Yeah. Got it.”

Three years later, a hulking longshoreman people called “The Bear” wouldn’t be so lucky. He was the first man Nunzio killed. At the ripe age of 13, his life and the lives of four of his friends, changed forever.

Nunzio drifted back to his childhood. He was six years old when his mother and he moved from Naples to the Lower East Side. Alone after his mother died, he learned to survive in one of the most notorious neighborhoods in the city. Where the narrow, trash-lined streets and alleys weaved together decaying brownstone tenements with common toilets, one per floor. He shoveled coal and guarded the produce stored there by the ships docked off South Street, to pay for living in the cellar.

After school, Nunzio mostly walked the streets. He recalled the putrid smell of decomposing cats and dogs covered with a trembling blanket of insects, rats, and things he didn’t recognize. Lying in the gutter against the sidewalk on Pike Street was a horse, with old and fresh whip wounds, shrouded in a cloak of flying and crawling insects. Plenty of other horrors and hardships confronted him throughout his life, but when he closed his eyes, Nunzio saw the horse.

“I know you’re not here to talk about old times. Whadaya need?”

“Nunzio, no one is better than you with –”

“Christ, without the bullshit.”

De lowered his voice, “Tammany Hall is on the outs

with the mayor, and they’re scrambling to find a candidate to run against him. So, if you would tell them that you would be grateful if they would pick me…”

“You tellin’ me what to tell them? Forget about it. Anyway, I like the deputy mayor; he postponed the Brooklyn Bridge deal as a favor to me back in ’57.

“Nunzio, did I do something to piss you off? Is that why your guys searched us when we came in today?”

Chinatown was pushing towards Canal Street; the Russians were gaining a footprint in Brighten Beach. And Pepe, Nunzio’s driver, bodyguard, and right hand since forever, told him there were rumbles of a hit on Nunzio. Someone or some group was always waiting and watching. He knew, like bosses everywhere, that everyone under him thought they could do a better job and thought the boss never did enough for them. This felt different. Pepe had heard it from one of his spies in Satan’s Knights. Pepe would get more information.

But all Nunzio said was, “I’m a little cautious these days. You know how it is.”

“I’m your lawyer; you call me when you need help. Right?”

“I pay you top dollar. You complainin’?”

“No, I’m saying we help each other. We knew growing up here, the only choice was to be a gangster or a victim. No offense.”

“You believe that crap?” Nunzio shook his head. “What?”

“You can be whatever you wanna be.”

“I try to be straight, but you know – ”

“Who you kiddin‘?”

“The point is, we have to trust each other.” De took a long breath and looked wistful as his eyes landed on the painting of Fiora. “I came here with you to see her dance. She was 16 back then, with a two-year-old kid.”

“Seventeen,” Nunzio said, “and the kid’s name is Natale.”

“And you were 13 and asked Fiora to marry you in this Caffè. Am I right?”

“I never got the chance.”

***

Excerpt from NUNZIO’S WAY by NICK CHIARKAS. Copyright 2022 by Nicholas L. Chiarkas. Reproduced with permission from Nicholas L. Chiarkas. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Nicholas L. Chiarkas

Nick Chiarkas grew up in the Al Smith housing projects in the Two Bridges neighborhood on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

When he was in the fourth grade, his mother was told by the principal of PS-1 that, “Nick was unlikely to ever complete high school, so you must steer him toward a simple and secure vocation.” Instead, Nick became a writer, with a few stops along the way: a U.S. Army Paratrooper; a New York City Police Officer; the Deputy Chief Counsel for the President’s Commission on Organized Crime; and the Director of the Wisconsin State Public Defender Agency.

On the way to becoming an author, he picked up a Doctorate from Columbia University; a Law Degree from Temple University; and was a Pickett Fellow at Harvard. How many mothers are told their children are hopeless? How many kids with potential simply surrender to despair? That’s why Nick wrote Weepers and Nunzio’s Way— for them.

Catch Up With Our Author:
NickChiarkas.com
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BookBub – @AuthorNickChiarkas
Twitter – @chiarkas
Facebook – @NicholasChiarkasAuthor

 

 

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The Midnight Call by Jodé Millman Banner

The Midnight Call

by Jodé Millman

October 3 – November 18th, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

The Midnight Call by Jodé Millman

Who would ever suspect that their mentor, teacher, and friend was a cold-blooded killer? Jessie Martin didn’t—at least not until she answers the midnight call.

Late one August night, Jessie’s lifelong mentor and friend–and presently a popular, charismatic, and handsome high school teacher–Terrence Butterfield calls. He utters a startling admission: he’s killed someone. He pleads for Jessie’s help, so out of loyalty she rushes to his aid completely unaware that she’s risking her relationship, her career, and her life–and that of her unborn child–to help Terrence.

Does Jessie’s presence at Terrence’s home implicate her in the gruesome murder of the teenage boy found in the basement? Why does Terrence betray Jessie when he has a chance to exonerate her of all charges? Has he been a monster in disguise for all these years?

To reclaim her life and prove her innocence, Jessie must untangle the web of lies and reveal the shocking truths behind the homicide. The quest turns out to be the fight of her life: to preserve everything and everyone she holds dear.

Praise for The Midnight Call:

WINNER OF THE 2020 BRONZE IPPY AWARD, 2020 INDEPENDENT PUBLISHER BOOK AWARD FOR SUSPENSE/THRILLER AND THE 2020 AMERICAN FICTION AWARD FOR LEGAL THRILLER.

“A Must-Read”

USA Today Network

“The tricky legal maneuvering intrigues…Millman writes with verve.”

Publishers Weekly

“If you like courtroom battles, this legal thriller fits the bill!”

Chanticleer Reviews, Four Star Review. The Midnight Call won First Place in the 2014 CIBAs in the CLUE Awards

“An intriguing courtroom thriller.”

Top Shelf Magazine

“Friendship, insanity, the drama of a courtroom, with a touch of romance rounding out the narrative, will have readers struggling to answer the question: What happens after you answer that terrifying midnight call?”

Booktrib.com

Book Details:

Genre: Suspense, Thriller, Romantic Suspense
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: September 2022
Number of Pages: 400
Series: Queen City Crimes, Book 1
Book Links: Amazon

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

“I think I killed someone,” the man’s voice whispered across the phone lines.

“Terrence,” Jessie Martin’s voice croaked, husky with sleep. She’d know her mentor’s voice anywhere, anytime, even in the middle of the night. In the pitch darkness she bolted upright in bed and blinked the sleep out of her eyes. “What are you talking about?”

“I’ve done a terrible thing, committed a sin against God,” he said.

The anguish in his voice made the fine hairs on her skin prickle with fear, and her hand flew up with a desire to protect the baby tumbling around inside her swollen belly. Yet, it was the slow, quiet monotone of his voice that frightened Jessie even more than his confession. Her mentor usually had a confident, intense voice that commanded attention. Tonight, it was flat, as if he were no longer aware of reality.

“There’s blood everywhere.” Terrence’s hollow voice cracked. “He was just a boy… a boy. I don’t know how it happened. Oh my God, what have I done?”

Nothing was making any sense. Terrence Butterfield. Her mentor. Her teacher. Her friend. A killer? Impossible. But if what he said was true, the only way for her to help him was to remain cool and calm. She inhaled deeply to repress the panic crushing her chest and blew it out in a slow, cleansing breath as she’d learned in Lamaze class.

She turned toward Kyle’s side of the bed. Empty. She gripped his pillow in her fist. She’d find him in a moment.

“Terrence, how—what happened? Was there an accident?” She tried to control the tremor in her voice.

“No, it was not… an accident.”

Jessie tried to get him to talk, pushed him for more details. It wasn’t normal for Terrence to stay quiet for so long about anything. Ever. So his lengthy, heavy silence only intensified her unease over his vague confession about killing a kid. If she’d gone into criminal law instead of corporate law, the right questions would’ve rolled off her tongue. For now, she’d have to rely on the adrenaline rush and her instincts.

“Just tell me where you are,” Jessie demanded. “Whatever’s happened, I can help you.”

“I’m at home and… I have a gun. I can’t continue to live. I need to make peace with God.”

“Listen to me. Put the gun down.” Jessie’s mind raced. If Terrence had intended to kill himself he wouldn’t have called her. He wanted her to keep him alive. “There are people who love you. Your family, your students —we all love you.”

“I don’t know what to do. I’m so confused.”

“This is what you are going to do.” It felt odd commanding him, reversing the roles so that she was the mentor and he was the pupil. Hopefully, Terrence had enough wits about him to comply with her instructions, but there was no response except for the clicking of his tongue as he wheezed into the receiver. “Just put down the gun and call the police. Tell them there’s been an accident. Don’t say anything else. Are you with me? I’m on my way. I’ll be there in a few minutes. Please don’t do anything foolish. Promise me.”

The cell phone hung like a dead weight in Jessie’s hand as the line went dead. Moist palms stroked the curve of her child in a strong, circular motion. A tiny foot rose up to accept the caresses like a cat seeking to nuzzle, and once sated, the appendage receded into the depths of her womb.

Jessie thought there must be some mistake, but she knew what she’d heard. The stretched-thin quality of his voice convinced her that something was seriously wrong.

Kyle, her fiancé, hadn’t returned to their room, so she called out his name. No answer. Flinging back the covers, Jessie set her bare feet on the cold wood floor and ran toward the dresser.

Get dressed. Find Kyle. Go to Terrence. Before — She didn’t want to consider the possibilities.

“Kyle,” Jessie called out again, rifling through the drawers. Three shirts spilled out onto her feet. She grabbed a striped t-shirt and wriggled into it. It was a bit snug over her belly, but there was no time. She had to go. “Kyle!”

The bedroom door flew open with a crash and Kyle burst into the room, wild-eyed. “Is it the baby?”

“No, no, it’s not me, I’m fine, but we’ve got to go,” Jessie said, yanking on her sweatpants. “Terrence said that he’s killed someone and he’s going to kill himself.” She gathered her flyaway hair into a ponytail and hurried toward the bathroom door, but Kyle stepped in front of her blocking her path.

“You scared me half to death… and this was, yet again, about that old—I mean, about Terrence.”

Jessie flinched and jerked back, glaring at him.

“Let’s a take a second before you do anything crazy and discuss this.” Kyle paused. “Babe, as odd as he is, you don’t believe that Terrence killed anyone, do you?” He raised his eyebrows and cocked his head. When she didn’t respond, he added, “Just in case, why don’t we call the police and let them handle it?”

Jessie shook her head adamantly. “Kyle, there’s no time to get into this right now so please, call my dad. Have him call Terrence.” She shivered uncontrollably from the tension ricocheting through her body, her teeth chattering so violently she believed they’d shatter. “Ma-make him stay on the phone until we g-get there.”

“Come ‘ere.” His tone softened. Kyle encircled her in his arms and a tender hand reached down to embrace their child. She trembled, immune to the warmth of his touch and his soft, cajoling whispers in her ear. “You shouldn’t be running around in the middle of the night.”

“Sweetie, look, I’ve got to go and I’d appreciate it if you came along,” she said, disguising her fear with determination.

After four years together, Jessie knew that Kyle knew better than to argue with her; after all, she was a lawyer. A damn good one, and once she set her mind on something there was no stopping her. It was all part of her job. Her clients demanded it. But this was the first time the call had come before the arrest. And it was the first time the late night call had been from Terrence.

Kyle growled and released her, shaking his head in resignation. “I guess I can’t stop you, can I?” He stepped into the crumpled jeans lying on the floor, then zipped them up and was tugging a Yankees sweatshirt over his head when she disappeared into the bathroom. When she returned to the bedroom, it was empty.

Jessie discovered Kyle downstairs in the kitchen. He shoved his phone into his jean’s pocket and fiddled with her car keys with his free hand.

“Did you call my dad?”

Kyle nodded. “Ready? Come on, let’s go.”

She reached into the pocket of her hoodie and discovered her phone wasn’t there. “Damn, I must have left my phone upstairs. I’ll be right back.”

He twisted his mouth in a soured expression. “Okay. I’ll meet you in the car.”

As she returned upstairs, she tried to remember where she’d last seen her phone. She’d been in such a rush to get ready that she could have set it down anywhere in the bedroom or bathroom. She couldn’t believe she’d been so stupid, especially with Terrence’s life at stake.

Jessie entered her bedroom and gave the room a quick once-over. Her phone was nowhere in sight.

#

Several minutes later, Jessie slipped into the Jeep that was idling in the driveway. Kyle was anxiously tapping his fingers on the steering wheel.

“Sorry I took so long. My phone was under the nightstand. I must have knocked it there when I was getting dressed.”

Kyle grunted, threw the car into reverse, and backed out of the driveway.

Jessie’s eyes were drawn to the keychain dangling from her Jeep’s ignition. It contained the motley gray rabbit’s foot that Terrence had bagged on one of the many hunting trips with her father. They’d made an odd couple, her father and the younger teacher, but they had a lot in common, and they’d always come home with a kill or two. After one trip, Terrence had presented the token to her with great flourish on the night before she’d left for law school, attaching it to a Black’s Law Dictionary and a pound of Ethiopian coffee beans. Jessie had kept it with her always for good luck: during finals, the bar exam, and her job interviews. Whenever the fates needed an extra boost.

Now, the sight of the cherished charm made her shudder as it assumed a more grisly visage. She felt sorry for the little critter so brutally killed and felt a twinge of doubt as to whether she really knew the man who’d been on the other end of the line—the patient friend who’d spent his Saturday mornings laboring with her over her college admission essays, the charismatic bachelor who’d delivered yellow roses on her mother’s birthday, the popular high school teacher who’d brought history to life by dressing as Genghis Khan, George Washington, and Gandhi. And who, ever since she was a teenager, had been the keeper of her deepest secrets and dreams.

For Terrence’s sake, Jessie hoped that he’d been mistaken tonight. Otherwise, he’d need more than her rabbit’s foot to protect him.

Kyle screeched to a halt at the curb in front of Terrence’s home, and she glanced toward the small white clapboard ranch. While the neighboring houses were dark, Terrence’s house shone like a beacon among the Cape Cod cottages nestled along the quiet, tree-lined boulevard in Poughkeepsie, New York. In the humid August night, hazy lights blazed from every window, illuminating the well-manicured lawn and beds of roses and daylilies that she’d helped him plant more than a decade ago.

Terrence’s tall, lean silhouette was framed within the front bay window. He was speaking on the phone, presumably to her father. The front door stood ajar, inviting her to enter.

In the darkness, Jessie glimpsed two black and white cop cars creeping toward them from the opposite direction. With sirens silenced and headlights extinguished, the cars glided toward the far curb and parked. Bathed in the amber glow of the overhead street lamps, the officers were motionless inside their cars.

“Did you call the police?” Jessie asked.

Kyle didn’t answer. “What are they doing?” he whispered, as though the cops could hear.

Jessie eyed Kyle, but there were more pressing matters. “They’re probably waiting for back up. Come on. Let’s go.” She cocked the door handle, but Kyle grabbed her arm and squeezed. She glanced over at him, confused.

“You’re not going out there, Jessie.”

“This is Terrence’s life, Kyle.” Her voice trembled with conviction, fear, and the desire to help the one man she trusted and revered almost as much as her own father. Kyle never understood that before Terrence entered her life, she’d floundered in school. At best, she’d been a B student. Terrence’s energy and enthusiasm had ignited a spark inside her, instilling knowledge, values, and moral lessons that had helped her achieve her goal of law school. She’d had many teachers and professors over the years, and recognized the rarity of such a man. She was deeply grateful to Terrence but Kyle insisted that the man was a fraud.

Jessie started at the sudden sound of the patrol cars’ doors banging open like cannon fire. She blinked rapidly to dispel the horrible image unfolding in slow motion. A pair of officers emerged from each vehicle. They drew their guns and strode in the direction of Terrence’s house. Her eyes tracked them through the pools of streetlight dotting the avenue, knowing they were on a collision course with Terrence. She felt paralyzed, like during the surreal seconds before an automobile accident, and the powerlessness of skidding toward the unavoidable impact.

“Come on, Kyle.”

“Please stay in the car, at least until we know it’s safe.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Terrence won’t shoot us.” Instinctively, Jessie ran a hand over her belly, and in response to the baby’s sharp jab to her ribs, she yanked her arm free from Kyle’s hold. Opening the door, Jessie slid out of the Jeep and sprinted up the sidewalk toward the broad front steps with Kyle trailing on her heels.

“Stop! Police!” commanded a gravelly voice. “Hands up. Over your head, where we can see them.”

Jessie gasped, stopping in mid-stride. She froze in place, the toes of her sneakers flirting with the bottom step of the porch. Fumbling through the pitch darkness, she threaded her fingers in her fiancé’s. Kyle clasped them, tugged her close to his side, and slowly, they raised their joined hands into the air.

“Sir, I’m here to see Mr. Butterfield. I’m an attorney. He’s expecting me,” Jessie shouted. Judging from the cop’s voice, he was still a good fifty feet away. Far enough for her to make a mad dash for the front door. The door was so close, but Kyle’s grip tightened, digging her engagement ring into her flesh.

“Miss, don’t move,” the officer said. “Please remain where you are. For your own safety.”

“It’s all right, Jessica.” Terrence leaned against the doorjamb, swinging the screen door open to the night air. His voice sounded distant, otherworldly, and his fine-boned features were obscured by the night’s shadows. “Officers, please come in.”

The four police officers swarmed past them with their pistols aimed at the waiting figure. Two officers inched their way up the steps onto the front porch, while a few yards away, the other two covered them from the bottom step. As the team passed, Kyle stepped forward, shielding her from danger and obstructing her path to Terrence.

Terrence might need her, she thought, so she skirted around Kyle and waited and listened. She needed to be ready.

“Sir, are you Terrence Butterfield?” an officer asked.

“Yes.”

Jessie had instructed him to keep quiet and sensed that he was about to break the golden rule—never admit anything.

“We’re investigating a report about the discharging of a firearm at this address. Sir, do you have a weapon? Please show me your hands,” said an older officer with a pockmarked face, as he edged another step closer.

Terrence raised his hands over his head. In his right hand, he gripped an old-fashioned revolver, like Jessie had seen in the Westerns. “I think I have killed someone.”

“Terrence, stop talking!” Jessie exclaimed.

As long as Terrence kept his mouth shut, maybe she could salvage the situation. There had to be a reasonable explanation. Maybe there had been some horrible accident. Maybe he’d stood his ground against an intruder. Maybe he was drunk or stoned or he was hallucinating. She needed to know. To hear the truth from him.

“Sir, I’m Sergeant Mike Rossi and this is my partner, Officer Jen Macy.” Rossi crossed the threshold, while Macy signaled for the other team to spread out around the back of the house. Cautiously, Rossi inched his way toward Terrence. “Mr. Butterfield, please set the gun on the floor.”

Terrence’s trembling hand offered him the weapon.

Rossi stepped backward, looking startled by the movement, but keeping his gun steady, trained on his target. “Just do as I say. Put the gun down and place your hands on top of your head.”

“Please take it. I don’t want it.”

On the bottom porch step, Jessie balanced on her tiptoes, craning her neck to spy on the action through the screen door and windows. She held her breath as Terrence and Rossi eyed each other across the barrel of the shiny gun aimed point-blank at Terrence’s chest. Tension seized Terrence’s muscles, accentuating the slight tic along his jaw that appeared only when he felt threatened. It was a sign that he could attack with little provocation, something she’d witnessed more than once when he’d fended off troublemakers in his classroom.

Locked in a stalemate, Terrence and Rossi continued to glare at each other. Time seemed to stand still, interrupted only by the echoes of the midnight freight trains snaking along the banks of the Hudson River.

Jessie’s pulse thrummed in her ears as she watched, too terrified to move.

The seconds ticked by and then, suddenly as if his nerve had drained away, Terrence’s jaw slackened. He lowered his hand and set the weapon on the coffee table to his right. Then, he hung his head and cradled his temples with his hands.

“Drop to your knees,” Rossi shouted, backing Terrence away from the window so that both men vanished from sight.

Jessie inhaled, inviting humid, sweet air into her lungs, and steadied herself against the steps’ banister. “I should really be in there.” She edged her way up to the next step. “He needs me.”

“Let the police do their job, babe.” Kyle’s fingers clamped around her wrist like a vice. His eyes darted to her baby bump, and then they shifted, staring directly into her eyes, concern crinkling his brow.

Jessie’s gaze swung back toward the house, consumed with the frustration that a bizarre tableau was being played out only a few yards away. Helplessly, she listened to doors slamming, footsteps thundering through rooms, and snippets of conversations and commands drifting outside into the night. As hard as Jessie tried, she couldn’t hear Terrence or see him, and she prayed that he was holding up under the pressure. At least Terrence knew that she and Kyle were there for him and had his back.

Relief flooded her when Rossi herded Terrence back into view in the front hallway, but her chest tightened when a voice crackled over the two-way radio dangling from the officer’s belt.

“Sarge, can you read me? You need to see this… down here in the basement. Copy?”

A scowl hardened on Kyle’s face, and his fingers turned to steel bands squeezing her wrist past the point of pain. Jessie flinched, and he released her.

“Keep your eye on Butterfield,” Rossi said to Macy. “I’ll be right back.”

Jessie massaged the shelf of her belly as the baby’s angular limb stabbed deep into her chest cavity. She lowered herself to the dew-covered steps to ease the wooziness engulfing her like fog. The hour. The heat. The rush. It was all catching up with her.

She needed to shake it off. Stay alert and focused for Terrence. He’d always been there for her—the proms, graduations, fender benders, and panic attacks before the bar exam. Now, it was Jessie’s turn. She owed it to him, and herself, to unearth the truth.

“Terrence, we’re still here. Just do as they say,” Jessie blurted, hoping that the sound of her voice would give him the strength to carry on, although her grit was circling the drain.

“Let’s go.” Kyle loomed over her, his mouth pinched at the corners. “You can’t even stay on your feet. You’re tired and there’s nothing more you can do for him. Not tonight.” He offered her a hand.

Jessie glared at him with an anger that recharged her depleted battery. Kyle knew better. Once she committed to a cause, she never budged. “I’ve got to help him get this mess cleared up. There’s been a mistake.”

“A mistake? It looks to me like Terrence finally flipped out and killed somebody. But I can’t expect you to be objective about him. You wanted him to be our kid’s godfather.” Kyle paused, clenching and unclenching his fists. “You know, sometimes Terrence seems like a third party to our relationship.”

Kyle had a way of believing the worst whenever it came to Terrence. It never bothered her when Terrence called to chat about the latest movies or books he’d read or stopped by to watch a football game with Kyle. He was Terrence being Terrence, and she knew that there was no ulterior motive on his part. Ever since she’d been a kid, she and Terrence had been close, and over the years he’d done plenty for her. And she for him. He’d worn many hats in her life—friend, confidante, teacher, mentor, even an uncle—and Kyle had known that from the beginning but Kyle insisted that Terrence was taking advantage of their friendship by calling and popping in uninvited. Why couldn’t he acknowledge that each man had a special place in her life?

Low voices discussed the need to secure the crime scene and call the paramedics, the forensic team, the district attorney, and the medical examiner. Although criminal law was outside her wheelhouse, Jessie knew the working parts of a homicide investigation, so these whisperings confirmed her worst suspicions. First, there was a dead body or bodies somewhere in the house —probably the basement. And second, Terrence was implicated in the homicide.

Suddenly, the screen door swung open, and the dark figure of Terrence Butterfield emerged from the house in handcuffs shepherded by Rossi and Macy. With his head drooped forward against his chest and his limp arms shackled at the wrist, he shuffled across the whitewashed porch and down the entry steps.

Terrence drew closer and the veil of night shadow enshrouding his face and body revealed something much more sinister. His handsome face was smeared with glossy red liquid and his dark brown hair was clumped into a tangled mess. A rank stench, like rotten cabbage boiled in sulfur, emanated from the tattered, bloody shirt clinging to his chest. The smell of death on him hit her like a slap and grew worse with every step he took toward her.

Stifling a gag, Jessie garnered her strength and stepped into their path. She double-checked the name on his silver badge. “Officer Rossi, I know that you’ve got a job to do, but I do, too. Before you take Mr. Butterfield anywhere, I’m putting you on notice that he is not to be interrogated without my being present.” She cleared her throat. “And has he been read his rights?”

Rossi eyed her with contempt, as though insinuating that she had no right to question his actions or authority. “We can discuss that after Mr. Butterfield has been booked.”

“I think that we should discuss it now.” Jessie’s tone was insistent, hard.

Before they could respond, Terrence spoke up, “I believe that I’m entitled to speak with my attorney.”

“You can speak with her down at the station. Move along, Mr. Butterfield,” Macy said, shoving the captive’s shoulder. “Ma’am, please move out of the way.”

For a long moment, Jessie remained stationary, considering how far she could push the cops before she crossed the line. Her heart urged her to defy Rossi and speak with Terrence right then and there, yet her head warned her to follow the protocol. Strategically, the latter would be best for both of them.

“Not a word,” Jessie counseled him as she stepped aside. Terrence stopped before her and gently rested his cuffed hands on the round of her belly. She smiled and cupped her hands over his in reassurance. “Don’t worry. We’ll be right behind you.”

Gazing into his eyes, she searched for the truth, but instead, found cold, dead-fish eyes, and his dry, cracked lips were curled in a crooked, haunting smile. She shrank away from him, huddling against Kyle to steady her buckling knees.

The officers grabbed Terrence’s shoulder, ushered him toward their patrol car, and loaded him into the back seat. The engine started and with lights flashing and sirens blaring, the police car sped off into the night.

Nothing in her thirty years of life had prepared her for this moment. This tragedy.

Terrence’s life was in her hands. And in that instant, Jessie realized that she must follow her heart. She knew the kind, caring friend, teacher, and confidante that he’d been to her. She needed to disregard the blood, the stench, and the nagging worry that he was a cold-blooded killer. She’d prove him innocent. She owed him that.

As the police car taillights disappeared into the darkness, an undeniable dampness seeped onto Jessie’s abdomen. Her eyes widened in horror as she looked down at her sweatshirt. Beneath the Syracuse University logo, a grisly tattoo of handprints smeared across her belly. Jessie flipped over her quivering hands and stared at her palms, black and sticky with blood.

“Oh, my God.”

***

Excerpt from The Midnight Call by Jodé Millman. Copyright 2022 by Jodé Millman. Reproduced with permission from Jodé Millman. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Jodé Millman

Jodé Millman is the acclaimed author of HOOKER AVENUE and THE MIDNIGHT CALL, which won the Independent Press, American Fiction, and Independent Publisher Bronze IPPY Awards for Legal Thriller. She’s an attorney, a reviewer for Booktrib.com, the host/producer of The Backstage with the Bardavon podcast, and creator of The Writer’s Law. Jodé lives with her family in the Hudson Valley, where she is at work on the next installment of her “Queen City Crimes” series —novels inspired by true crimes in the region she calls home.

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