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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.

Discover more about Jodé, her work, and sign up for her newsletter at:
www.JodeMillman.com
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LinkedIn
BookBub – @JodeMillmanAuthor
Instagram – @jodewrites
Twitter – @worldseats
Facebook – @JodeSusanMillmanAuthor

 

 

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Fallout

by Carrie Stuart Parks

September 12 – October 7, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

Fallout by Carrie Stuart Parks

Her carefully crafted life is about to be demolished.

After a difficult childhood, Samantha Williams craves simplicity: jigsaw puzzles, lectures at the library, and the students she adores in her role as an elementary art teacher in the dusty farming community of LaCrosse, Washington.

But when an SUV crashes into the school where she teaches, her entire world is upended. She manages to keep all of the children safe, but her car isn’t so lucky. Oddly, her purse—containing her driver’s license, credit cards, and other identification—is missing from the wreckage.

After authorities discover that the driver in the school accident was shot seconds before the crash, Samantha quickly becomes entangled in increasingly strange events that have her looking over her shoulder.

Samantha has long tried to forget the tragedy of her past, but the twisting maze she discovers between the murdered driver, a deadly secret government project, and an abandoned town can’t be ignored. Those involved are determined to keep these secrets buried, and they’ll use any means necessary to stop Samantha’s search for truth.

Praise for Fallout:

“An intriguing story based on events around a part of Washington. Tight timeline with tons of action. Twists and turns that will keep readers engaged and guessing. I enjoyed this book and recommend it to those who want a whisper of romance included with the mystery.”

Book Details:

Genre: Suspense
Published by: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: September 13th 2022
Number of Pages: 336
ISBN: 0785239855 (ISBN13: 9780785239857)
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | ChristianBook | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Prologue

Hanford, Washington
November 23, 1988

The November wind blew across the almost-barren plain, attempting to leach any warmth from the man’s black wool coat. He pulled the woolen balaclava higher on his nose and wished he’d worn goggles. The wind raised icy tears that blurred his vision.

Snow clung to the scant protection offered by basalt outcroppings and meager shrubs.

The moon provided weedy light, enough to avoid the sagebrush and tumbleweeds, but not enough to reveal the ground squirrels’ burrows. He’d fallen twice.

He paused for a moment to check his compass. He figured he’d covered about six of the eight miles. There was little chance he’d be detected. He’d approached the area by boat on the Columbia River, which flowed down the eastern side of the remote facility in South Central Washington State. Though the site was massive—570 square miles—the roads were heavily patrolled. After all, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation was the largest producer of postwar nuclear weapons.

Hanford’s creation of the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, had provided the turning point in World War II. Afterward, the plant morphed into a Cold War arsenal against the Soviet Union until the last nuclear reactor finally shut down just a year ago.

He’d chosen the date carefully—Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving. All the staff and workers would have left early in preparation for the holidays. Only a minimal number of employees would be working, and they’d not be inclined to venture into the frigid night.

Though he’d been on the Hanford Site since he’d left the river, his goal was the Hanford Tank Farms. The tanks held 53 million gallons of the highest-level radioactive waste found in the United States. He would be targeting the SY Tank Farm, three double-shelled waste storage units built between 1974 and 1976, located at the 200 West site. The tanks at this location were each capable of holding 1.16 million gallons of nuclear waste.

He shifted the backpack slightly. The bomb, made with C-4, was safe enough from his jostling cross-country run. It took a detonator to set off the explosion, which he’d rig once the materials were in place.

The tanks themselves were built of one-foot-thick reinforced steel and concrete and had been buried under eight feet of dirt, but the hydrogen from the slurry had built up in these particular tanks to dangerous levels. He didn’t need to reach the tanks themselves, only disable the exhaust vent and the temperature thermocouple assembly. He knew no maintenance work was going on around the tanks that might create a spark or heat, so chance of discovery was extremely slim.

He paused for a moment to catch his breath. He’d paddled down the treacherous icy river, then jogged for miles, but his fury fueled his drive. In February of 1986, the Department of Energy had released nineteen thousand pages of documents describing the declassified history of the Hanford operations. Hints of a darker truth were written between the lines, and more evidence came out in the batch of documents released the following year. Everyone else would have missed it, but he’d been able to piece the sequence of events together.

They’d grown rich while he’d been discarded like so much trash.

Now was his time to get even.

He’d use the threat of the bomb to force the acknowledgment of their role and his own innocence. Anything less than the possibility of a Chernobyl-size disaster would lead to a governmental cover up.

A massive press conference. Facts and figures. Undeniable evidence.

In the meantime, he’d personally take care of those directly responsible.

He increased his pace. Soon now.

He knew this part of the facility well.

He found the location he’d identified before, knelt beside the various ports, detectors, and vents, and swiftly assembled the parts according to the bomb-maker’s directions. All that was left was the trigger mechanism. He’d placed it in a secure box inside his backpack.

The box was gone.

He ran his hands over the backpack again. Then again. Then a third time. It was gone. Did I forget to pack it? No. It was here in this backpack when he’d left home.

He broke out in a clammy sweat and rocked back on his heels. How could this have happened? Where had it dropped out? Could it be back in the boat? Somewhere on the ground between here and the river’s edge? Separated from him when he fell?

Calm down. He had a backup. Even if he didn’t find the trigger, all it would take is a reasonable-sized explosion on the surface to start the process.

If it took the rest of his miserable life, he’d carry out his plan. They wouldn’t get away with it. Not this time.

One

September 2015

Bam! Bam! An engine roared, growing louder, closer.

I glanced up from the shading technique I was demonstrating for my elementary-school art class.

A black Suburban was barreling across the parking lot directly at my classroom.

“Run!” I screamed.

The children didn’t hesitate, bolting for the door. I shoved the last boy outside toward the gym just as the Suburban smashed into the side of the building and plowed into the room. The portable classroom moved with a screech. Desks, chairs, books, glass, and chunks of the wall and ceiling exploded in a cacophony of sound and movement. Metal fragments, shattered glass, and hunks of wood pelted me. I found myself outside next to the gym doors, not knowing how I got there. I curled up and covered my head, praying nothing would crash down on me.

Hissssssssss. The stench of an overheated engine and hot rubber made me gag.

The crushed front of the Suburban had shoved the classroom into a covered storage shed before punching through the opposite wall. Fluids hissed and dripped from under the smashed hood, right beside me. The shed had collapsed onto the SUV.

I was shaking so hard I didn’t think I could get my legs to work. The children.

Don’t worry about the children. Someone will help them. Someone will help me. I just needed to stay put. I’m safe here.

But they wouldn’t respond to someone calling to them. I taught them to be cautious.

If I move, the roof will come down on me. I’ll be crushed. Stay put and be safe. Someone will come for me.

But my students are frightened. I need to help them. Heavenly Father, help me.

I placed my hands on the ground. White powder drifted down on my head. Carefully I crawled away from the SUV.

The beam shifted, sliding sideways.

My crawl became a scramble.

The beam shrieked as it slid across the metal desk holding it up.

I plunged, then rolled away.

The roof of the shed slammed against the ground, sending up more dust and powder.

Leaning against the school, I waited until I could catch my breath. The glass in the door to the gym beside me had shattered. I couldn’t see anything of the driver. I slipped through the frame, wincing at the stabs of pain from the hurtled projectiles.

Ahead of me was a second door leading to the front of the school. A quick glance into the gym showed it empty. I was pretty sure the children had raced through both sets of doors, scattered, and found safety. I’d trained my class of first-through-third graders on what to do in case of an emergency or active shooter. The school board had rolled their eyes at me, assuring me that this was covered in the student handbook and that school shootings wouldn’t happen in a sleepy farming community like LaCrosse, Washington, population 330.

I’d finally convinced them. They allowed the drills and the self-defense class I offered on Tuesday evenings.

Fortunately, my art class was an after-school event, and the rest of the school was essentially empty. We met in a portable building because some of the classrooms were under repair for water damage.

I staggered outside. Mr. Parsons, the school maintenance man, rushed over to me.

“Samantha? Sam? Miss Williams? Are you all right? You’re bleeding. What happened?”

“Help me find the children first.”

“They’re fine. They ran as you taught them.” We looked around the manicured lawns in front of the school buildings.

“Olly olly oxen free!” I called out, voice shaking. I cleared my throat and tried again. “Olly olly oxen free!”

Slowly my class emerged from their hiding places. I counted them as they appeared. Please, Lord . . . Five, six, seven, eight . . . nine. All present and accounted for. My stomach tightened on what could have happened, would have happened, if even one of them had paused to ask, Why run?

“Aren’t you supposed to just say ‘all clear’?” Mr. Parsons asked.

“I know the handbook says that, but anyone could access the emergency plans and use them against the children.”

Several of the children had tear streaks running down their faces, but as soon as they caught sight of me, they started to giggle.

“Miss Williams, you’re all white!”

“You have stuff all over you!”

“You should see yourself!”

I looked down. I was indeed covered in a white powder, probably from the recently installed smashed Sheetrock and insulation. “Oh my. It looks like I’ve turned into the magical snowman.”

“Nooo!” The giggles grew louder. “It’s not winter!”

I bent forward to be on eye level with most of them. “Maybe I’ve become Belle, the white Great Pyrenees from Belle and Sebastien?

“That’s a dog.” The giggles became high-pitched laughter.

I grinned at them. “How about Casper, the friendly ghost?”

The kids were now laughing so hard they couldn’t answer for a moment. Finally Bethany gasped out, “You’re not dead.”

Thank You, Lord. I straightened. “Well then, if I’m not a snowman, dog, or ghost, I must be Miss Williams, and you know what that means.” As they eagerly lined up, I said, “‘I am not afraid of storms . . .’”

“‘For I am learning how to sail my ship,’” the children finished.

Leave it to children’s books. As they approached me, each one gave me a sign as to what type of interaction they wanted. Hands out to the side, a hug. Hand held up in the air, a high five. Closed hand, a fist bump. Right hand sideways, a handshake.

They all wanted hugs.

So did I.

Bethany was the last in line. I tried not to hug her the longest. Teachers aren’t supposed to have favorites.

The school buildings rested on a hill facing the town park. The wail of sirens and stream of cars and trucks announced the arrival of help and parents. I moved my small huddle of children around to the front toward the parking lot so their folks could find them. The parents, once reunited with their son or daughter, peppered me with questions.

“What happened?”

“Was anyone hurt?”

“Was that a drunk driver?”

“Are you okay?”

As I stumbled through various versions of “I don’t know,” a deputy from the Whitman County Sheriff’s Department strolled over. He had to be at least six foot three inches tall, with silver hair, thick black eyebrows, and dark brown eyes that looked like they’d ferret out the facts of any case. He smelled of cigarettes. His name tag said R. Adams. “Ma’am. Looks like you were in the building when the accident happened.”

“Yes. Is the driver—”

“Come with me.” He had a slight New York accent. We walked to the gym, then around to the back side where the accident happened. I had to trot to keep up with him.

“Do you know if the driver is okay?”

His long stride covered a lot of ground. “We don’t know yet.”

The raised gravel parking area near the gym was filling with the LaCrosse ambulance, volunteer fire department, and sheriff’s department vehicles. People were rushing around like ants in a disturbed mound. The Suburban was completely buried under the collapsed roof, and a large group of men and women were working to clear the debris.

Deputy Adams led me to the ambulance where an EMT waited. “Are you hurt?”

“I don’t think—”

“You have a cut on your head.” The EMT had me sit while he checked me over.

Deputy Adams kept an eye on the rescue efforts as he pulled out a small notebook. “You got all the children out safely?”

I winced as the EMT removed a sliver of glass from my hairline. “By the grace of God, yes. They’re all on their way home.”

He nodded and gave me a slight smile, softening his face. “Absolutely. How many people were in the SUV?”

“I don’t know.” I told him about what sounded like gunfire and the sound of an engine and getting the children clear of the room. I left out my cowering in the debris.

“Gunfire? Are you sure?”

“It could have been backfire.”

He looked around, then motioned for an officer to come over. They spoke for a few moments before the man left.

I glanced over at the gathered first responders, parents, and neighbors. What if—

“When did you first see the SUV?” Deputy Adams asked.

I pointed. “He, or whoever was driving, must have come up either First or Hill Avenue, crossed this lot, then shot straight into the building.”

A farmer drove up on a John Deere tractor and began lifting larger chunks of rubble with the bucket.

After the deputy took my name, address, and phone number, he handed me a business card. “I’ll be contacting you soon for your statement. You might want to head home as soon as possible. We want to clear the area.” He strolled away.

More people had arrived and pitched in to free the SUV and its occupants. A truck with a Miller Construction sign on the side parked next to us. Men in hard hats, work boots, and lime-green safety vests got out and set to work.

A pregnant woman in her thirties with long, dark hair pulled into a french braid drifted over and hovered nearby. When the EMT finished putting a bandage on my head and moved away, she approached me. “Hi. I’m Mary Thompson. I overheard you talking to that deputy. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”

“I guess. You’re a reporter?”

“No. Copywriter for a medical company in Spokane.” She rolled her eyes. “Boooooring. You’re Samantha Williams?”

I nodded.

“Well, Samantha—”

“Call me Sam.”

She grinned. “Sam then. You saved all those children. You’re so brave. I would have been scared out of my mind.”

Warmth burned up my neck and across my cheeks. “I . . . ah . . . so . . . um . . . what brought you to LaCrosse from Spokane?” I stood. “That’s 86.9 miles from here.”

“I was already here.”

An officer started herding the onlookers away from the crash. “Move on, folks. Nothing for you to do here.”

“Come on,” Mary grabbed my elbow and pulled me into the shade under a tree.

My brain was buzzing from the adrenaline and all the activity. “I’m sorry. I’m a little—”

“I bet you are. I guess I should start at the beginning. I’m following the story about the body they found last week. And the one they just found.” She waved her hand at the construction workers.

“Bodies?” I knew I was out of touch with the news. I didn’t own a television, computer, or phone. “What bodies? Wait . . . I’m not sure I want to know.” My legs started to buckle.

“Let me help you.” Mary grabbed my arm and helped me sit on a patch of grass. She sat next to me. “Can I get you something or—”

“No, I’ll be fine. Just a little woozy.”

“Take your time.”

Most of the onlookers had now moved around to the front of the school. With nothing to see, they started wandering back to their homes or cars.

She cleared her throat. “So do you want to talk about what just happened or—”

“No. You go ahead. You said there was a body . . . or was it two? Here at the school?”

“No, of course not. I followed someone to here and . . .” She paused at my expression. “I’m not weird or a stalker.” She twisted her lips. “As you can see, I’m pregnant. The baby’s father, my husband, Mike, disappeared two months ago. I reported it to the police but they’re not doing anything. I mean, he could be dead!”

I blinked at her. “Why would you think that?”

“Mike had—I guess you’d call it a wild streak. He had . . . questionable friends. Some issues with drugs in the past, stuff like that.” She absently rubbed her stomach. “I thought the baby would . . . redirect him.” She looked at me. “He’s a good man, just impulsive. And he’d never leave me. Not now. Not without telling me . . . something.”

I took a deep breath. The shaking threatened to start again. “So you thought one of the bodies—”

“Could be Mike.” She swiped a hand across her eyes. “That deputy.” She pointed to Deputy Adams. “I was told he was the investigator on the case. I’ve been following him around trying to get him to talk to me, but he says it’s an active case and won’t talk about it. I followed him here to the school earlier—he has kids here that he was picking up—and was giving it one last go around.”

“Did you find out anything?”

“No. Not yet.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a leather-bound notebook. “I keep track of everything.” She flipped it open and fanned the pages, displaying a mass of tightly written notes. “I won’t give up until I know for sure.”

***

Excerpt from Fallout by Carrie Stuart Parks. Copyright 2022 by Carrie Stuart Parks. Reproduced with permission from Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Carrie Stuart Parks

Carrie Stuart Parks is a Christy, multiple Carol, and Inspy Award–winning author. She was a 2019 finalist in the Daphne du Maurier Award for excellence in mainstream mystery/suspense and has won numerous awards for her fine art as well. An internationally known forensic artist, she travels with her husband, Rick, across the US and Canada teaching courses in forensic art to law-enforcement professionals. The author/illustrator of numerous books on drawing and painting, Carrie continues to create dramatic watercolors from her studio in the mountains of Idaho.

Catch Up With Carrie Stuart Parks:
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Facebook – @CarrieStuartParksAuthor

 

 

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Autumn Chaos
Olena Nikitin
(Season’s War, #1)
Publication date: September 1st 2022
Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Romance

A mystery of a monster on the rampage ignites the passionate love triangle between a witch and two warriors with a help of a mysterious cat.

After ten years of peaceful solitude, exiled-mage-turned-village-witch, Lady Inanuan of Thorn, has her life turned upside down when a half-dead warrior is dumped on her doorstep. Soon she learns that no good deed goes unpunished in the Black Forest—not even if your friend is Leshy, the Forest God himself.

Expelled from her position as a court mage for her sharp tongue, Ina’s had ten years to learn how to survive in a harsh environment. The forbidden healing she performs links her life energy with her unexpected guest Marcach, captain of the guards, and Ren, his best friend, a traveller from lands so far away that many consider them a myth.

With unnatural monsters on the loose and unrest in the capital, everything points toward rebellion, and clues that both men discover indicate Ina’s involvement. Ina learns her magic is not what it seems, and her past comes back to haunt her.
An old mistake will see her dragged back to the court and thrown right into the middle of the political struggle. To make things worse, her heart succumbs not to just one man but two, and each expects the worst of her.

Will the woman who does not believe in love be able to choose? And can she clear her name and learn to control the Chaos before it burns the kingdom down?

Goodreads / Amazon

EXCERPT:

Taking the life distraught her, but Ina didn’t have the time to think about it. The noise of the fight led to the entrance of another room. Well, the wreck of one, at least. Mar was there, struggling with three opponents that attacked him simultaneously. He was working hard with his axe and dagger. The weapons glided through the air in precise cuts, wounding the monsters. Ina’s hand closed on the peridot, and she drew on its power, deeper and deeper. Her sorrow turned to anger at the sight of the troll smashing heavy fists into Mar’s chest. Whips of pure fire coiled around her, animated by Chaos magic. Anger and Chaos poured into the stone, and a torrent flooded back, shaping the whips into vipers, beautiful and deadly, as Ina lashed them at the troll. Coils of destruction shot out, slamming into the attacking creature. The beast roared and turned to the source of the pain.

***

The light glowing in Mar’s eyes flared, feasting on Ina, magnificent in her magic. His beautiful distraction gave him the perfect opportunity again. His axe cleaved through the air, crushing one dog’s head, killing it instantly. Ina held her ground, her fire vipers lashing at the troll, leaving deep gashes of burnt tissue behind. The beast leapt backwards, trying to avoid the pain, but Mar was there to stop it. This formidable display of Ina’s magic terrified the remaining canine to turn tail and run, whimpering into the darkness.

“Ina, stop!” shouted Mar as he ducked to avoid a strike from the vipers, and Ina lowered her hands, letting the energy dissipate in the air. Again, the monstrous troll turned back to her, giving Mar the opening he needed. His axe rose high and cleaved its collar bone so deeply that he could see the heart pulsing through the gap. Then, with a final stab of the dagger, it was stopped dead.

The beast landed on the floor with a heavy thud, and without glancing at it, Mar ran to his woman. In the light of her pulsar, he saw she was crying, her body and hair coated with blood and fluid, his heart aching at her pain.

“Are you… wounded?” He asked and felt immense relief when she shook her head. There was something in his spitfire’s posture that held him back. “What happened back there?”

Ina shook her head and walked toward the exit, and her silence worried him more than he was willing to admit.


Author Bio:

Olena Nikitin is our pen name. We are an enthusiastic couple of writers who are fascinated by the fantasy/paranormal romance genre and decided to write a book we would love to read

Behind the Pen name:

Olga – is Polish, armed with a wicked sense of humour and typical Slavic pessimism she is the wicked witch from the East. She has written stories since childhood, initially mostly about her work. As an emergency physician, she always has a story to tell and often not much time to write.

Mark is a typical English gentleman whose charm, refined taste and an impressive collection of books were tempting enough to make Olga leave her homeland. Don’t tease him too much; this man has an impressive sword collection and he knows how to use it. He also can fix everything, including Polish syntax in English writing.

See more on our website: http://www.olenanikitin.uk

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