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What Meets the Eye by Alex Kenna Banner

What Meets the Eye

by Alex Kenna

January 9 – February 3, 2023 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

What Meets the Eye by Alex Kenna

From debut author Alex Kenna comes a pulse-pounding tapestry of secrets, retribution, and greed for fans of Jeffrey Archer.

Kate Myles was a promising Los Angeles police detective, until an accident and opioid addiction blew up her family and destroyed her career. Struggling to rebuild her life, Kate decides to try her hand at private detective work—but she gets much more than she bargained for when she takes on the case of a celebrated painter found dead in a downtown loft.

When Margot Starling’s body was found, the cause of death was assumed to be suicide. Despite her beauty, talent, and fame, she struggled with a host of demons. But as Kate digs deeper, she learns that Margot had a growing list of powerful enemies—among them a shady art dealer who had been selling forged works by Margot. Kate soon uncovers a dirty trail that leads straight into the heart of the city’s deadly underworld.

Margot died for her art—and if Kate doesn’t tread lightly, she could be the next to get brushed out.

Praise for What Meets the Eye:

“[An] impressive debut . . . Sara Paretsky fans will be pleased.”

Publishers Weekly

“Alex Kenna is the real deal, a true talent. Her prose is stunningly eloquent and characterization masterful.”

Crime Fiction Critic

“A righteous, painful debut. More, please.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Dragging the world of high art down into the muck of Los Angeles’ criminal underbelly, Alex Kenna has created an engaging mystery buoyed by the heart of its heroine, Kate Myles. Trying to win against stacked decks in her professional and personal lives, Myles’ resilience and hustle makes her an easy hero to stand up and cheer for.”

James Queally, author of the Russel Avery novels and Los Angeles Times crime reporter

“With the sure hand of an old master, Alex Kenna’s debut blurs the line between catharsis and crime in this gritty and nimble noir mystery. When a routine investigation into the apparent suicide of art superstar Margot Starling becomes anything but, down-on-her-luck PI Kate Myles must square herself up for the fight of her life or lose it all. Entertaining and provocative, What Meets the Eye reminds us that truth often comes with a price tag much higher—and deadlier—than anything Sotheby’s could ever hope to fetch at auction.”

Katie Lattari, author of Dark Things I Adore

“Kenna gives us the LA crime story we want—a fronded, sun-beaten carousel of depravity and murder, all laced up with tight plotting, sharply hewn characters, and a gripping, original story.”

Joseph Schneider, author of the Tully Jarsdel Mysteries

“A suspicious death dismissed as suicide leads PI Kate Myles deep into a web of blackmail and deceit, set against an intriguing backdrop of shady dealings in the art world. An all too human character, Kate is determined to piece together the wreckage of her life and career, and salvage her fractured relationship with her daughter. With clever twists & turns, and a host of convincing suspects along the way, the plot delivers a satisfying ending, but leaves us with tantalizing hints of more to come from Kate…”

Julie Cameron, author of Nameless Acts of Cruelty

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: December 2022
Number of Pages: 288
ISBN: 9781639101849 (ISBN10: 1639101845)
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | BookShop.org | Goodreads | Penguin Random House

Read an excerpt:

Prologue

Six Months Ago – Margot

All week long, I’d felt a fire in my belly. The spirit passed through me like lightning, brushes flying from wet canvas to wet canvas. Cooking was a waste of time, so I ordered takeout and drank whiskey. Sleep was out of the question. I cranked up the music and worked to the beat. Sometimes I sang along, dripping globs of color onto the floor. The paint went on smooth, like buttery icing. After a while, my brushes stayed in their jar and my fingers danced across the canvas. No bristles between skin and cloth.

Soon the images came alive. I’d been studying the Spanish greats: Velasquez, Goya, Zurbaran, Ribera. For them, it was all about bottomless darks with hints of warm, mellow light. I took a break from bold colors, indulging in white and yellow ochre on burnt sienna. The effect was sinister but mesmerizing. One after another, my hands pulled ghostly figures out of a dark void.

I finally passed out around dawn on Thursday, just as the birds were starting to chatter. When I woke, it was midafternoon, and the magic was gone. My mouth tasted of bile and I felt like someone had scooped out my eyeballs and punched me in the sockets.

I wandered into the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. One of Goya’s haggard witches stared back at me. My skin was the color of rice pudding. There were purple half-moons under my eyes and a cadmium streak in my hair. I picked at my nail beds, filled with Prussian blue. The thought of cleaning them was exhausting so I didn’t bother.

My stomach let out a growl and I stumbled over to the fridge. Nothing inside was fresh enough to tempt me. I turned to a soggy takeout container on the kitchen table. The waxed cardboard had partially melted, and a puddle of sauce oozed onto the table. A dead fruit fly was trapped inside the congealed orange liquid like a mosquito in amber. I pulled a half-eaten egg roll off last night’s dinner plate and popped it in my mouth. At least it was still crispy.

After lunch-breakfast-dinner, I had an edible and downed a pot of coffee. I tried to get back to work, but the electricity was gone. The images that were so alive last night now looked dull and mannered. A self-portrait smirked at me. I’d given myself a pouty red mouth like an Instagram twat and artificial jolly-rancher-green eyes. It was pathetic. The last desperate cry of a lonely train wreck nearing forty. I felt worthless. I should go jump off a bridge or wander onto the freeway.

I lay on the couch for what must have been hours, binge watching some show about British aristocrats and their servants. Thank God I wasn’t born in nineteenth century England. You can’t be a British lady if you’re a mouthy alcoholic who screws half the landed gentry. I would’ve done worse as a servant. I can barely fry an egg and half the time I’m too paralyzed by my own shit to get out of bed. I’d end up as a consumptive whore blowing sailors for my supper in a London tenement.

The curtains were drawn, and eventually light stopped leaking in from the window edges. I usually do better when the sun goes down. But nightfall didn’t bring me a second wind. It made me feel worse. I poured myself another drink and lit a cigarette.

My cell kept blowing up with a number I didn’t recognize. I’d had this phone for six months and never transferred my contacts over from the last one. Now my caller ID served as a kind of litmus test. If someone hadn’t reached out in half a year, they weren’t worth my time. I let it go to voicemail and turned back to the aristocrats. The only decent one was dead now. This show was making me tired.

There was a knock on the door. Probably the neighbor coming to tell me her baby couldn’t sleep because I make use of my electronics. I ignored it, took a swig of whiskey, and lit another cigarette.

Then whoever it was started pounding. “Margot, open up,” said a loud baritone. The voice was familiar, but I couldn’t place it. His tone had an edge of desperation. Could it be that cop from last week? A wave of dread flowed through me. My hands started shaking and a clump of ash fell on the couch. If I kept very still, maybe he’d think I wasn’t home and go away. No, the TV was too loud. He knew I was in here.

I tiptoed over to the keyhole and gasped. My drink flew from my hand and shattered, coating the floor in alcohol and shards of glass.

***

Excerpt from What Meets the Eye by Alex Kenna. Copyright 2022 by Alex Kenna. Reproduced with permission from Alex Kenna. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Alex Kenna

Alex Kenna is a lawyer, writer, and amateur painter based in Los Angeles. Before law school, Alex studied painting and art history. She also worked as a freelance culture writer and sold art in a gallery. Originally from Washington DC, Alex lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son, and giant schnauzer, Zelda. When she’s not writing Alex can be found exploring Southern California, toddler-wrangling, and playing string instruments badly.

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AlexKenna.com
Goodreads
Twitter – @AlexKenna9
Facebook

 

 

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Painted to Death
Sarah Vernon
Publication date: January 10th 2023
Genres: Adult, Cozy Mystery

Sam Green is an art student with some pretty creative habits when it comes to solving mysteries, in this new series from author and artist Sarah Vernon. It’s the coldest part of a Boston winter when her friend Catherine is found dead in the painting studios one evening. The police are quick to rule her death a suicide, but Sam knows that something doesn’t seem right. Despite the protests of her friends Rebecca and Stephanie (although — happily — with the help of her crush Arun), Sam starts to poke around the old art department building. Peering into the dark corners of studios and underneath piles of musty art supplies, Sam soon uncovers some surprising suspects and motives behind Catherine’s death, in an art department simmering with artistic jealousy, resentment, and more relationship drama than a daytime talk show could handle. The only question is, will Sam be able to find out who killed Catherine before that person finds Sam?

Goodreads / Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Kobo

EXCERPT:

It was a dark and stormy night. Yeah, for real. That’s how I’m starting, because why mess with what works?

Also, it really was dark and stormy the night this all started, the wind bursting in through all the tiny cracks around the old, barely insulated windows of our triple-decker apartment. I say started, but this was actually a couple of weeks after Catherine had died. I just thought I’d start right in the middle of it, because we all know the worst Agatha Christies are the ones where Poirot doesn’t even come into it until page seventy-five, and you have to first get through hours and hours of slow English family drama, or worse, a bumbling English inspector.

We were huddled in the living room, with Benny on the floor leaning against the coffee table, and Rebecca, Mel, and me on the couches, mugs of mulled wine steaming in our hands. We would have all preferred to be outside smoking, the distraction of a cigarette easing the conversation, but there’s that dark and stormy night again. Plus, our landlord had recently made it harder to disarm the smoke alarm, so no more smoking inside either.

So here we were, trying to have a casual conversation about a topic that defies casual conversation. Mel – the kind of roommate we weren’t quite close to yet, who still attached herself to any kind of group activity at our apartment – was trying hard to make everyone smile, telling unfunny jokes and keeping the wine topped up. Rebecca had taken the comforting aunt approach, keeping her hand on Benny’s shoulder while he told us about his afternoon.

“I just feel like they weren’t even asking the right questions,” he was saying. “It’s like, the cops didn’t ask about her family much at all – what kind of mood she had been in. All they wanted to know was things like, did she have a boyfriend?” Rebecca tutted and leaned down to pat his back. “I mean, what is this, twenty years ago? Do they still only go for the boyfriend?” Benny frowned into his cup, the steam blurring his glasses.

In fairness, people are still most often killed by their immediate loved ones. And twenty years ago is not all that long ago. But forgive Benny’s nearsightedness; in fairness, at twenty-two, it was essentially a lifetime to him.

“What did you tell them?” Mel wanted to know.

Rebecca and I shot her a sharp look, but she was innocently fiddling with her hair, short and newly dyed lavender, and wouldn’t meet our eyes. Benny had called us as soon as the police had finished interviewing him, desperate for our company and already on his way over. We had all agreed it would be best not to ask for specifics, but Mel was apparently determined to be as annoying as ever.

“Obviously the truth,” Benny replied. “That she had dated a few different people so far this year, but none was particularly serious. And really,” he continued indignantly, “even if someone had been a serious boyfriend, how can they actually think that proves anything? All that shows, I think, is how easy it was to love her.”

Benny’s chin dropped to his chest and Rebecca was immediately on the floor next to him, her arm around his back. I swear she actually said, “There, there.”

“Sam, maybe you can get out some extra blankets? Benny, why don’t you just spend the night here, on the couch?” Rebecca looked at me expectantly.

“Of course,” I said, a clap of thunder accentuating my voice. “It’s way too stormy out for you to go anywhere, anyway.” I got up, dragging Mel with me. “Mel, help me get the blankets down.”

She followed me, obviously reluctantly, out into the hall. I opened the door to the hall closet, still holding onto her arm.

“Sam, what’s up? Let go of me,” she whined. I rolled my eyes.

“What was all that back there?” I hissed. “We agreed we weren’t going to ask him for specifics. Benny’s been through enough as it is – we don’t have to make him relive everything.”

Her eyes grew wide, an expression of innocence we were familiar with, as Mel always proclaimed that she was never the one who left dirty dishes out or forgot to buy toilet paper. It was frankly gross that she would try to pull the same crap here, in the middle of a murder investigation.

“Sorry, I didn’t think it was prying just to ask what he answered to one question,” she said, still in her most exasperating whine. “And come on, Sam, it’s not like you’re not curious. Benny was her best friend. Basically her brother! Who else is going to know what’s really going on?”

“But you don’t need to know what’s going on,” I said, reaching up to the top shelf for an extra quilt. “If the police want to call you up and tell you everything they’ve found out in the past two weeks, they’ll do that. You don’t have to ask Benny for the recap.” I pushed the quilt into her arms, turning back for sheets.

“Fine,” Mel said. “I’m sorry. But for the record, I’ve heard you and Rebecca whispering. I know I’m not the only one who wants answers.” This last word she delivered in a true crime podcast-perfect whisper.

Author Bio:

Sarah Vernon is an author and artist based in Massachusetts, where she writes the Triple-Decker Mystery Series.

Website / Goodreads / Instagram


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1 Last Betrayal by Valerie J Brooks Banner

1 Last Betrayal

by Valerie J Brooks

November 14 – December 9, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

1 Last Betrayal by Valerie Brooks

A complicated history. A deadly future. Can one woman survive another deep dive into the rotten underbelly of crime?

Angeline Porter craves a return to normalcy. But when the former criminal defense attorney receives an alarming text, she races in desperation to Florida only to find a ransacked apartment, a poisoned dog, and a missing half-sister. Determined to rescue her sibling, she follows a trail of shockingly incriminating clues and plunges into a life-or-death fight with the Boston mob.

Taking advantage of old ties with a charming FBI agent and trying to outsmart a violent syndicate boss with powerful federal connections, Angeline and dubious allies begin tracking down the kidnappers… until she uncovers a supposed protector’s crafty deception. And while a nefarious rogue agent, a long-lost relative, and a possibly corrupt cop close in, the gutsy woman makes the risky decision to go it alone.

Is her headlong race to save her sister about to zip her into a body bag?

1 Last Betrayal is the suspense-laden third book in the Angeline Porter Trilogy of femmes-noir thrillers. If you like bold heroines, riveting twists, and balancing on the knife’s edge, then you’ll love Valerie J. Brooks’ gritty descent into the underworld.

Praise for 1 Last Betrayal:

“Steeped in suspense, chilling encounters, and shocking twists, Brooks drops us into the dark underbelly of organized crime, and we love her for it.”

Heather Gudenkauf, New York Times bestselling author of The Weight of Silence and The Over

“A twisty plot, great locations, and a gutsy protagonist you’ll root for all the way. A fabulous finale to a sophisticated series that can also be enjoyed as a stand-alone title.”

Kaira Rouda, USA Today and Amazon Charts bestselling author

“A seductive, intricately twisted suspense-thriller that’s nearly impossible to put down… get ready for a wild ride with plenty of suspense, action, and shocking surprises”

Kevin O’Brien, New York Times Bestselling Author of The Night She Disappeared

Don’t Miss the Book Trailer for 1 Last Betrayal:

Book Details:

Genre: Crime Thriller
Published by: Black Leather Jacket Press
Publication Date: September 2022
Number of Pages: 298
ISBN: 9781732373242
Series:The Angeline Porter Trilogy, Book 3
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple | BookShop | IndieBound | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1

If I ever get out of this alive, I’m going to have a tattoo needled on my arm like others of my generation. Of what I don’t know. But if I’m alive, I’ll be able to make a decision then. I’m throwing off the conservative persona I once had as a criminal defense lawyer. My sister Sophie would be saying, “It’s about time.”

From Portland, Oregon, I’d hopped a red-eye and was on my way to Hollywood, Florida. I was back in the game and in the right headspace, ready to bring down the Boston mob once and for all while protecting Bibi, my sister Sophie’s twin. Bibi needed me. She was tough, but this mob had a new and younger crime boss. Talia “Shawn” Diamandis. She didn’t play by the old-fashioned rules of mobsters.

Like the rest of the world, there was no honor anymore among thieves, whether they be members of gangs, political parties, or religious sects. There was no “one for all and all for one.” That only happened in the movies. So, to energize my fighting spirit, I put on my headphones, pulled up “Rebel Yell,” one of Sophie’s old favorites, and put it on repeat. We used to jump up and down to that song in her living room—but that was before the mob.

Yes, I was back in the game, but I wasn’t happy that I had to leave my dog Tempest again. How I’d ever come to love a dog that much, I’ll never know. Maybe I relate to her being a rescue. More probable is how much we’ve been through together.

The plane dropped and bumped, almost spilling my coffee. The pilot announced that we were hitting some turbulence and to keep our seatbelts fastened. I shook my head. What did he know about turbulence?

Then the plane bucked and dropped hard, causing a few people to swear and the flight attendant to grab onto a seat. A child cried. I took a deep breath. The plane continued to buck and weave back and forth. Finally, it leveled out and a collective sigh went up from the passengers. My phone was clutched in my hand. It remained silent.

I closed my eyes and leaned my head back. Why hadn’t Bibi texted me? Maybe, hopefully, she’d fallen asleep. Bibi and I had been talking and texting for the past twenty-four hours about Shawn and what to do about her. But what did you do with a mob boss telling you that you were part of her “organization” whether you liked it or not? As my sweet, dead husband Hank would have said, Bibi was in “deep shit.” I knew what that deep shit was like. I’d been in it for a few years.

Shawn sure had cojones. She’d already broken into Bibi’s apartment—and in broad daylight. What I found frightening was how thoroughly Shawn had prepared. She knew about Otto, Bibi’s dog, a dog that should have scared the daylights out of her. But Shawn had fed him a treat while telling Bibi that there would be a meeting of the three partners, and Bibi was expected to join them. Join them, as in becoming one of the partners.

My main question was “Why?” Why would Shawn take such a risk as to get into Bibi’s apartment just to tell her that she was expected to make this meeting? She could have met her in the lobby. I had a hunch: Shawn needed to know the layout of the apartment and get friendly with the dog. She planned on breaking into the place again. Again, the question was Why?

Bibi reported the “break-in” to management, a report was filed, and the police notified. Security camera footage was watched. But nothing seemed amiss. Shawn never showed her face and seemed to enter the apartment no problem, so she could have had a duplicate keycard. Nothing suspicious. Bibi was pissed because the police said she must have given Shawn a card. As I said to Bibi, a large wad of cash would have bought a duplicate from someone in the hotel or was there some type of master keycard?

My phone dinged, and I jumped. It dinged with two more messages. It was Bibi.

I’m in danger. I’m not paranoid! Otto keeps growling. There are footsteps outside my door and muffled voices.

I didn’t tell you this before, but I found incriminating evidence against the mob in Betty’s stuff. I created a safe place for it. You’ll figure it out.

If something happens to me, promise you’ll take care of Otto. You know what he’s like. He’s sweet and needs his ugly striped afghan. He also knows a lot.

I reread the texts. Fuck! It was 4:02 a.m., and we wouldn’t land for another two hours. I texted back.

Don’t answer the door, Bibi. Don’t let anyone in. Call the police.

I tried to stay calm. Footsteps and voices didn’t necessarily mean anything. Maybe it was nothing more than late-night revelers or an assignation. Yet my heart raced. Shawn had been there once. Why not again? I texted another message and tried to convince myself that she would text back and say it was nothing. Had Otto barked at the noise? He wasn’t much of a barker, more of a growler. He was a big gentle brute the size of a Shetland pony, but there’s only so much a dog could do against greedy criminals who were willing to kill people, never mind dogs. But Shawn had already made friends with him. OK, what else? Bibi carried a gun. Good. But you had to be willing to shoot to kill. I knew very few good people capable of that, even in a life-or-death situation.

I sent another text.

Do you still have your gun? Load and keep it handy.

A text came in. I almost dropped my phone.

It was my lawyer. I ignored him.

I squirmed in my seat. Why hadn’t Bibi told me about the incriminating evidence before? What had she planned on doing with it? I chewed a cuticle. Maybe she didn’t really trust me.

Being trapped on a plane made it impossible to do anything. I had to keep my wits about me though. Did Shawn know about the incriminating evidence? I doubted it. My bet was on Shawn targeting Bibi’s inheritances—two huge estates and all the assets. What a rat’s nest of relationships! Bibi’s godmother, Betty Snayer, had been the crime boss of this mob until she died trying to kill me in Kauai. But before that, Betty had taken in a young, homeless, talented black girl, my half-sister Bibi, and given her a life in the arts. Then Betty had fallen for Shawn, at the time a streetwise, ragged, coke snorter who had addicted Betty to sex and white powder. That left Bibi adrift as to Betty’s affections. So, there I was with a new half-sister who didn’t know I’d killed her sainted godmother. What a mess.

The first-class flight attendant leaned over the empty seat next to me. “Anything I can get you, Ms. Porter?” She smiled with her bright red lips, her eyes sparkling behind her cat-eye glasses.

“Scotch, please. A double.”

I wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans. After sending another message to Bibi, I waited. Again, nothing. Finally, resigned, I set the cell on the empty seat next to me, and when my drink came, I tried not to knock it back, but that was impossible.

Maybe Bibi had called the cops, but I doubted it. I knew she didn’t trust the FBI. Being African American, she probably didn’t trust the cops either, especially after they did nothing to follow up on Shawn. I rubbed my chest, drew in some air, and let it go. Sophie often scolded me, saying I held my breath when stressed. Taking advice from my dead sister? Better late than never.

I pushed up the window cover. The bright light made me wince. Below, the ocean bordered the serpentine edge of land. Lakes littered the middle of the state. The pilot announced we were flying over Orlando and Disney World. People oohed and aahed.

On the seat next to me, I found my notebook and pen under the New York Times, and as I flipped open the notebook, my hand trembled. I’d always been pretty good at compartmentalizing, something I found necessary as a lawyer, but it was getting more difficult. I needed to keep my mind busy until I was off the plane and could make calls. I wondered where Gerard was. I figured from our conversations that he was back undercover with the mob. When I told him I was heading to Florida to help Bibi, he told me not to and was upset when I wouldn’t back down. When he realized I wouldn’t change my mind, he said he’d meet me there. Fine.

I made a fist, squeezed, then shook out my hand, needing to write something down, maybe work through what I knew and come up with a plan of sorts. Since my law school days, I’d written to-do lists, observations, even lists of conjectures and theories about people and cases. It kept me focused. It also helped me solve dilemmas, and even, at times, find something that wasn’t immediately apparent. Clients were told to keep a journal of every move they made, with dates and times, plus anything that could help their case. People were unaware of the evidentiary heft a written journal provided when entered into court records. I’d won several cases on the written word alone when the opposition had what I called a wormy case.

But what to write?

The scotch had warmed its way down to my body, and I could feel my nerves relaxing, my brain focusing. I tapped the pen against my lower teeth. Going back to the beginning with Shawn, I wondered why Betty had been interested in her? Bibi said it was cocaine-fueled sex. I believed that. Betty was older and not a looker, so it could have been the excitement and ego boost. I believed Bibi when she said Betty took Bibi in because she saw her talent and wanted to support her. Being a cynic at heart, I figured Betty had done that to make herself feel good. I’m sure it made her look good to her wealthy patron friends. Bibi was beautiful too—a dark version of Sophie—dizygotic twins from different fathers. So that would give Betty even more cred for being inclusive. A great way to get grants for her non-profit art ventures.

There I go again—the cynic.

The flight attendant swooped in and removed my cold coffee. I ordered another scotch, a single this time, thinking about Gerard, my FBI special agent pain-in-the-ass contact. In the beginning, he’d suspected Bibi was another one of Betty’s lovers. Men. They always think sex is involved. Sometimes it was. I could attest to that.

So how had Shawn become the crime boss of Betty’s mob? Maybe Betty had put her in charge when she went to Kauai. I know that Betty was using heavily by the time she came to the island. She was in Kauai, doing a godmotherly thing—setting up a hit on Bibi’s brother who hated Bibi. Bibi was adopted and the parents favored her over their flaky son. Her brother lived communally on Kauai and dressed as the grim reaper to get peoples’ attention about climate change. So, he didn’t fit his parents’ mold. Bibi, however, was the golden child, always thankful for everything they did for her. But they died before the will was changed, and the brother inherited the bulk. Hating Bibi, he gave her nothing. Betty figured she’d get rid of the brother so Bibi would inherit. At least Betty felt she was protecting Bibi. I wonder if Shawn had put that idea into Betty’s head, thinking Bibi would eventually bring in even more assets to the “organization.”

When I met Betty in Kauai, I didn’t know I had a sister named Bibi. I didn’t know a lot of things. I was hiding out from the mob. They wanted the millions my sister Sophie stole. But Betty knew who I was. I was the one who had killed one of her partners—in self-defense. But that didn’t matter to her. She must have been overjoyed to think she could take care of two marks on the same trip.

I had to assume that Shawn took over the crime boss position when Betty and her bodyguard never made it back to Boston. Gerard and I thought Shawn was a minor character, one of those people who target the wealthy to live luxuriously for a while, snort coke all day, then when things go dumpster, they disappear. She fooled us.

Plus, I had to remember she was a good actor. Shawn had gone from messed-up street urchin to high couture. What really bothered me was her telling Bibi that she laundered the money for the mob. True? Or was that a way to entrap Bibi? If Bibi knew that, she’d be vulnerable if she didn’t join the mob. Shawn was smart, no matter her motive.

I sipped my second scotch. If I kept in lawyer mode, I could keep my shit together. So, who was Shawn? Did she have a police record? What was her M.O.? I’d lost the connection with Snoop, my hacker, just as she was going to tell me what she found on Shawn. I haven’t heard from her since, and that’s not good.

Shawn might be a psychopath, but she had to be a strategist, someone with patience, someone who had planned her ascent with the crime group. This was conjecture, but her actions pointed to it.

This felt good, building a case, listing all the possibilities, hopefully tracing them to their logical conclusion either with evidence or what I’d discovered in the process.

I listed questions about “Shawn the Strategist”:

  • Getting Betty hooked on cocaine: loosens the tongue, makes her vulnerable
  • Reason for admitting money laundering: trap Bibi into the gang; something else?
  • Need background check on her: laundering takes guts, know-how, and connections
  • Has Shawn already taken Bibi somewhere? Under guise of meeting?
  • How much does Bibi know about Betty?
  • Maybe Shawn knows more about Bibi than I do

I suspected that Bibi couldn’t live in Betty’s house all that time and not notice any illegal activities. But Bibi seemed to have no idea, and as she said, she’d been fully engaged in school, her art, and her friends.

The plane’s engine noise changed. We were approaching Fort Lauderdale. I slipped on my shoes and buttoned my military-style jacket, readying myself for landing. I’d dressed with a casual elegance so people would take me seriously but not authoritatively as with a suit. Instead of perfume or aftershave, the cabin smelled like a locker room, and I hoped I didn’t smell that way. I thought of how Gerard would smell when I met him. As if reading my mind, Gerard sent me a message.

I’ll get to The Circ before you. Meet you in the residency lobby.

Between my teeth, I hissed, “Asshole.” He’d insisted on meeting me in Florida, but I told him to do nothing until I got there. That was like pissing in the wind with him.

I finished the scotch. I couldn’t get off the plane fast enough.

The pilot came on the intercom and gave the usual instructions, telling everyone to take their seats, buckle up, seats upright, tray in position. The flight attendant quickly gathered up all the bottles and glasses. I snapped my tray into place, gathered up everything on the empty seat, and threw them in my satchel, something I’d bought because it was more like a briefcase but not a briefcase. The flight attendant had just buckled herself in when the plane dropped like a trap door had opened. Someone squealed. A kid cried. Then the plane leveled off.

With my heart in my throat, I forced my mind back to Bibi and Betty. From everything I knew, Betty wanted Bibi to devote herself to being an artist. What if Betty had recognized Shawn’s killer instinct and started grooming her to take over the business?

I checked my cell one more time. Nothing from Bibi.

The plane headed toward the landing strip. I held the notebook against my chest. As a defense attorney, I’d met many criminals and could usually sniff out the liars. Bibi’s panicky text from Florida was not something easy to fake. But I had no body language to go with this to assure me she was being straight with me.

Far too many unknowns.

I sat back, closed my eyes, and prepared for landing.

***

Excerpt from 1 Last Betrayal by Valerie J Brooks. Copyright 2022 by Valerie J Brooks. Reproduced with permission from Valerie J Brooks. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Valerie J Brooks

Multi-award-winning author Valerie J. Brooks is the author of the Angeline Porter trilogy, femmes-noir thrillers starring a badass disbarred attorney.

NYTimes bestselling author Kevin O’Brien called her second novel TAINTED TIMES 2 “… a real nail-biter from first page to the last.” Heather Gudenkauf, NYT bestselling author of THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE and THE OVERNIGHT GUEST calls Brooks the Queen of the Femmes-noir Thriller and says her upcoming 3rd novel 1 LAST BETRAYAL is “explosive” and “Brooks drops us into the dark underbelly of organized crime, and we love her for it.”

Brooks is a member of Sisters in Crime. Her awards include an Elizabeth George Foundation grant and five writing residencies. She teaches workshops and classes on writing noir and creating plot twists. Brooks found her love of thrillers as a teen after turning in a hitman to the FBI.

She lives in Oregon with her husband, Dan Connors and their Havanese pooch Stevie Nicks.

Catch Up With Valerie J Brooks:
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Twitter – @ValinParis
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