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The Begonia Killer

by Jeff Bond

June 1-30, 2021 Tour

 

Synopsis:

The Begonia Killer by Jeff Bond

You know Molly McGill from her death-defying escapes in Anarchy of the Mice, book one of the Third Chance Enterprises series. Now ride along for her first standalone caper, The Begonia Killer.

When Martha Dodson hires McGill Investigators to look into an odd neighbor, Molly feels optimistic about the case — right up until Martha reveals her theory that Kent Kirkland, the neighbor, is holding two boys hostage in his papered-over upstairs bedroom.

Martha’s husband thinks she needs a hobby. Detective Art Judd, who Molly visits on her client’s behalf, sees no evidence worthy of devoting police resources.

But Molly feels a kinship with the Yancy Park housewife and bone-deep concern for the missing boys.

She forges ahead with the investigation, navigating her own headstrong kids, an unlikely romance with Detective Judd, and a suspect in Kent Kirkland every bit as terrifying as the supervillains she’s battled before alongside Quaid Rafferty and Durwood Oak Jones.

The Begonia Killer is not your grandparents’ cozy mystery.

 

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery — Cozy/Romance
Published by: Jeff Bond Books
Publication Date: June 1, 2021
Number of Pages: 195
ISBN: 1734622520 (ISBN-13 : 978-1734622522)
Series: Third Chance Enterprises, #3
Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

THE BEGONIA KILLER

By Jeff Bond

Chapter One

After twenty minutes on Martha Dodson’s couch, listening to her suspicions about the neighbor, I respected the woman. She was no idle snoop. She’d noticed his compulsive begonia care out the window while making lavender sachets from burlap scraps. She hadn’t even been aware of the papered-over bedroom above his garage until her postal carrier had commented.

I asked, “And the day he removed the begonias, how did you happen to see that?”

Martha set tea before me on a coaster, twisting the cup so its handle faced me. “Ziggy and I were out for a walk—he’d just done his business. I stood up to knot the bag…”

Her kindly face curdled, and I thought she might be remembering the product of Ziggy’s “business” until she finished, “Then we saw him start hacking, and scowling, and thrusting those clippers at his flowers.”

Her eyes, a pleasing hazel shade, darkened at the memory.

She added, “At his own flowers.”

I shifted my skirt, giving her a moment. “The begonias were in a mailbox planter?”

“Right by the street, yes. The whole incident happened just a few feet from passing cars, from the sidewalk where parents push babies in strollers.”

“Did he dispose of the mess afterward?”

“Immediately,” Martha said. “He looked at his clippers for a second—the blades were streaked with green from all those leaves and stems he’d destroyed—then he sort of recovered. He picked everything up and placed it in the yard-waste bin. Every last petal.”

“He sounds meticulous.”

“Extremely.”

I jotted Cleaned up begonia mess in my notebook.

Maybe because of my psychology background—I’m twelve credit-hours shy of a PhD—I like to start these introductory interviews by allowing clients time to just talk, open-ended. I want to know what they feel is important. Often this tells as much about them as it does about whatever they’re asking me to/ investigate.

Martha Dodson had talked about children first. Hers were in college. Did I have little ones? I’d waived my usual practice of withholding personal information and said yes, six and fourteen. She’d clapped and rubbed her hands. Wonderful! Where did they go to school?

Next we’d talked crafting. Martha liked to knit and make felt flowers for centerpieces, for vase arrangements, even to decorate shoes—that type of crafter whose creativity spills beyond the available mediums and fills a house, infusing every shelf and surface.

Only with this groundwork lain had she told me about the case itself, describing the various oddities of her neighbor three doors down, Kent Kirkland.

I was still waiting to hear the crux of her problem, the reason she wanted to hire McGill Investigators. (Full disclosure—although the name is plural, there’s only one investigator: Molly McGill. Me.)

“That sounds like an intense, visceral moment,” I said, squaring myself to Martha on the couch. “So has he done something to your flowers? Are you engaged in a dispute with him?”

Martha shook her head. Then, with perfect composure, she said, “I think he’s keeping a boy in the bedroom over his garage.”

I felt like somebody had blasted jets of freezing air into both my ears. The pen I’d been taking notes with tumbled from my hand to the carpet.

“Wait, keeping a boy?” I said.

“Yes.”

“Against his will? As in, kidnapping?”

Martha nodded.

I was having trouble reconciling this woman in front of me—cardigan sweater, hair in a layered crop—with the accusation she’d just uttered. We were sitting in a nice New Jersey neighborhood. Nicer than mine. We were drinking tea.

She said, “There might be two.”

Now my notebook dropped to the carpet.

“Two?” I said. “You think this man is holding two boys hostage?”

“I don’t know for sure,” she said. “If I knew for sure, I’d be over there breaking down the door myself. But I suspect it.”

She explained that a ten-year-old boy from the next town over had gone missing six months ago. The parents had been quoted as saying they “lost track of” their son. They hadn’t reported his disappearance until the evening after they’d last seen him.

“The mother told reporters he wanted a scooter for Christmas, one of those cute kick scooters.” Martha sniffled at the memory. “Guess what I saw the UPS driver drop off on Kent Kirkland’s porch two weeks ago?”

“A scooter,” I said.

Her eyes flashed. “A very large box from a company that makes scooters.”

Having retrieved my notebook, I jotted, box delivery (scooter?) . We talked a bit about this scooter company—which also made bikes, dehumidifiers, and air fryers.

Scooter or not, there remained about a million dots to be connected from this boy’s case, which I vaguely remembered from news reports, to Kent Kirkland.

I left the dots aside for now. “How do you get to two boys?”

“There was another missing boy, about the same age. During the summer.” Martha’s mouth moved in place like she was counting up how many jars of tomatoes she’d canned yesterday. “He lived close, too. That case was complicated because the parents had just divorced, and the dad—who was a native Venezuelan—had just moved back. People suspected him of taking the boy with him.”

“To Venezuela?”

“Yes. Apparently the State Department couldn’t get any answers.”

I nodded, not because I accepted all that she was telling me, but because there was no other polite response available.

Neither of us spoke. Our eyes drifted together down the street to Kent Kirkland’s two-story saltbox home. Pale yellow vinyl siding. Tall privacy fence. Three separate posted notices to “Please pick up after your pet.” Neighborhood Watch sign at the corner.

Finally, I said, “Look, Mrs. Dodson. Martha. Most of the cases we handle at McGill Investigators are domestic in nature. Straying husbands. Teenagers mixed up with the wrong crowd. I’m a mother myself, and I’ve been a wife. Twice.” I softened this disclosure with a smirk. “I generally take cases where my own life experiences can be brought to bear.”

“But that’s why I chose you.” Martha worried her hands in her lap. “Your website says, ‘Every case will be treated with dignity and discretion.’ That’s all I ask.”

I looked into her eyes and said, “Okay.”

She seemed to sense my reluctance and started, rushing, “Those bedroom windows are papered-over twenty-four hours a day! And the begonias, you didn’t see him destroy those begonias! I saw how he severed their stalks and shredded their root systems. You don’t do that to flowers you’ve tended for an entire season. Not if you’re a person of sound mind.”

“Gardening is more challenging for some than others. I love rhododendrons, but I can’t keep them alive. I over-water, I under-water. I plant them in the wrong spot.”

“Have you ever massacred them in a fit of rage?”

“No.” I smiled. “But I’ve wanted to.”

Martha couldn’t help returning the smile. But her eyes stayed on Kent Kirkland’s house.

I said, “Some men aren’t blessed with impulse control. Maybe he was a lousy gardener, he’d tried fertilizing and everything else, and the plants just refused to—”

“But he wasn’t a lousy gardener. He was excellent. I think he grew those begonias from seed. He wanted them to be perennials, is my theory, but we’re in zone seven—they’re annuals here. He couldn’t accept them dying off.”

Again, I was at a loss. I liked Martha Dodson. She had seemed like a reasonable person, right up until she’d started talking about kidnappings and Venezuela.

She scooted closer on the couch. “You didn’t see the rage, Miss McGill. I saw it. I saw him that day. He walked out of the garage with hand pruners, but he took one look at those begonias—leaves browning at the edges, stems tangled like green worms—and flipped out. He turned right around, put away the hand pruners and came back with clippers.”

She mimed viciously snapping a pair of clippers closed.

“Rage is one thing,” I said. “Kidnapping is another.”

“Of course,” Martha said. “That’s why I’d like to hire you: to figure out what he might be capable of.”

Her pupils seemed to pulse in place.

“I want to help you out, honestly.” I took her hand. “I do.”

“Is it money? I—I could pay you more. A little.”

Saying this, she seemed to linger on my jacket. I’d recently swapped out my boiled wool standby for this slightly flashier one, red leather with zippers. I had no great ambitions about an image upgrade; it’d just felt like time for a change.

“The fee we discussed will be sufficient,” I said. Martha had mentioned she was paying out of her own pocket, not from her and her husband’s joint account. “My concern is more about the substance of the case. It feels a bit outside my expertise.”

She clasped her hands at her waist. “Is it a question of danger? Do you not handle dangerous jobs?”

I balked. In fact, I’d done extremely dangerous jobs before, but only as part of Third Chance Enterprises, the freelance small-force, private arms team led by Quaid Rafferty and Durwood Oak Jones. We’d stopped an art heist in Italy. We’d saved the world from anarchist-hackers. Sometimes I can hardly believe our missions happened. They feel like half dream, half blockbuster movies starring me. Every couple years, just about the time I start thinking they really might be dreams, Quaid shows up again on my front porch.

“I don’t mind facing danger on a client’s behalf,” I said. “But McGill Investigators isn’t meant to replace the proper authorities. If you believe Mr. Kirkland is involved in these disappearances, your first stop should be the police.”

“Mm.” Martha’s face wilted, reminding me of those unlucky begonias. “Actually, it was.”

“You spoke with the police?”

She nodded. “Yes. Well, more of a front desk person. I told him exactly what I’ve been telling you today.”

“How did he respond?”

There was a floor loom beside the couch. Martha threaded her fingers through its empty spindles, seeming to need its feel.

“He said the department would ‘give the tip its due attention.’ Then on my way out, he asked if I’d ever read anything by J.D. Robb.”

“The mystery writer?” I asked.

“Right. He told me J.D. Robb was really Nora Roberts, the romance novelist. He said I should try them. He had a hunch I’d like them.”

My teeth were grinding.

I said, “Some men are idiots.”

Martha’s face eased gratefully. “Oh, my husband thinks the same. I’m a Yancy Park housewife with too much time on her hands. He says Kirkland’s just an odd duck. When I told him about the begonias, he got this confused expression and said, ‘What’s a perennial?’”

I could relate. My first husband had once handed me baking soda when I asked for cornstarch to thicken up an Italian beef sauce. The dish came out tasting like soap. After I traced back the mistake, he grumbled, “Ah, relax. They’re both white powders.”

As much as I probably should have, I couldn’t refuse Martha. Not after this conversation.

“I suppose I can do some poking around,” I said. “See if he, I don’t know, buys suspicious items at the grocery store. Or puts something in his garbage that might have come from a child.”

Martha lurched forward and clutched my hands like I’d just solved the case of Jack the Ripper.

“That would be amazing!” she cried. “Thank you so much! I know this seems far-fetched, but my instincts tell me something’s wrong at that house. If I didn’t follow through, if it turned out I was right and those little boys…”

She didn’t finish. I was glad.

CHAPTER TWO

The state of New Jersey offers private investigator licenses, but I’ve never gotten one. It doesn’t entitle you to much, and you have to put up two hundred and fifty dollars, plus a three-thousand-dollar “surety bond.” Besides the money, you’re supposed to have served five years as an investigator or police officer. Which I haven’t.

For all these reasons, my first stop after taking any case involving possible crimes is the local police station. Sometimes the police are impressed enough by what I tell them to assign their own personnel, usually some rookie detective or beat cop.

Other times, not.

“Begonias, huh?” said Detective Art Judd, lacing his fingers behind a head of bushy brown hair. “The ones with the thick, fluffy flower heads?”

“You’re thinking of chrysanthemums,” I said.

“Nnnno, I feel like it was begonias.”

“Not begonias. Maybe peonies?”

“Don’t think so,” he said. “I’m pretty sure the gal in the garden center said begonias.”

I was annoyed—one, at his stubborn ignorance of flowers, and two, that he’d segued so breezily off the subject of Kent Kirkland.

“The only other possibility with a thick, fluffy flower-head would be roses,” I said. “But if you don’t know what a rose looks like, you’re in trouble.”

Art Judd’s lips curled up below a mustache. “You could be right.”

I waited for him to return to Kirkland, to stand and pace about his sparsely decorated office, to offer some comment on the bizarre behavior I’d been describing for the last twenty minutes.

But he just looked at me.

Oh, I didn’t mind terribly being looked at. He was handsome enough in a best-bowler-on-his-Tuesday-night-league-team way. Broad sloping shoulders, large hand gestures that made the physical distance between our chairs feel shorter than it was.

I’d come for Martha Dodson, though.

“Leaving aside what is or isn’t a begonia,” I said, “how would you feel about checking into Kent Kirkland? Maybe sending an officer over to his house.”

He finally gave up his stare, kicking back from his metal desk with a sigh. “The department barely has enough black-and-whites to service the parking meters downtown.”

“I’m talking about missing boys. Not parking meters.”

“Point taken,” he said. “Why didn’t Mrs. Dodson come herself with this information?”

“She did. Your front desk person brushed her off.”

The detective looked past me into the precinct lobby. “They see a lot of nut jobs. You can’t go calling in the calvary every time someone comes in saying their neighbor hung the wrong curtains.”

“They aren’t curtains,” I said. “The windows are papered-over. Completely opaque.”

He rubbed his jaw. I thought he might be struggling to keep a straight face.

I continued with conviction I wasn’t sure I actually felt, “I saw it. It isn’t normal how he obscures that window. Martha thinks it’s weird, and it is weird.”

“Weird,” he said flatly. “Two votes for weird.”

“You put those Neighborhood Watch signs up, right?” In response to his slouch, I stood. “You encourage citizens to report anything out of the ordinary. When a citizen does so, the proper response would seem to be gratitude—or, at the very least, respect.”

This, either the words or my standing up, finally pierced the detective’s blithe manner.

“Okay, I give. You win.” His barrel chest rose and fell in a concessionary breath. “It’s true, with police work you never know which detail matters until it matters. Please apologize to Mrs. Dodson on behalf of the department. And I’ll be sure to have a word with Jimmie.”

He gestured to the lobby. “Kid’s been getting too big for his britches for a while now.”

I thanked him, and he ducked his head in return.

Then he said, “I suppose she thinks one of those boys being held is Calvin Witt.”

The boy whose parents had lost track of him.

“Yes,” I said. “The timing does fit.”

I considered mentioning the scooter, Calvin’s Christmas wish, but decided not to. We didn’t need to go down the rabbit hole of box shapes and labeling, and whether grown men rode scooters.

Detective Judd looked ponderously at the ceiling. I didn’t expect him to divulge information about a live case, but I thought if he knew something exculpatory—that Calvin Witt had been spotted in Florida, say—he might pass it along and save me some trouble.

“I hate to say this, but I honestly doubt young Calvin is among the living.” Art Judd smeared a hand through his mustache. “The father gambled online. Mom wanted out of the marriage, bad. She told anybody in her old sorority who’d pick up her call. Both of them methheads.”

“That’s disheartening,” I said. “So you think the parents…”

He nodded, reluctance heavy on his brow. “It’ll be a park, under some tree. Downstream on the banks of the Millstone. Pray to God I’m wrong.”

I matched his glum expression, both a genuine reaction and a professional tactic to encourage more disclosure. “Does the department have staff psychologists, people who study these dysfunctional family dynamics? Who’re qualified to unpack the facts?”

“Eh.” Art Judd flung out his arm. “You do this job long enough, you start recognizing patterns.”

This was a common reaction to the field of psychology: that it was just everyday observation masquerading as science, than anyone with a little horse sense could practice it.

I said, “Antipathy between spouses doesn’t predict antipathy toward the offspring, generally.”

The detective’s face glazed over like I’d just recited Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

“Perhaps I could conduct an interview,” I said. “As a private citizen, just to hear more background on Calvin?”

He chuckled out of his stupor. “Good try. You’re free to call as you like, but I don’t think the Witts are real receptive to interview requests now—with the exception of the paying sort.”

I crossed my legs, causing my skirt to shift higher up my knee. “Is there any further background you’d be able to share? You personally?”

His gaze did tick down, and he seemed to lose his first word under his tongue.

“Urb, I—I guess it’s all more or less leaked in the press anyway,” he said, and proceeded to give me the story—as the police understood it—of Calvin Witt.

Calvin had a lot to overcome. His parents, besides their drug and money problems, were morbidly obese, and had passed this along to Calvin. A social worker’s report found inadequate supplies of fresh fruit and lean proteins at the home. They’d basically raised him on McDonald’s and ice cream sandwiches. Calvin had learning and attention disorders. He started fights in school. His parents couldn’t account for huge swaths of his day, of his week even.

“They let him run like the junkyard dog,” Detective Judd said. “All we know about the night he disappeared, we got off the kid’s bus pass. Thankfully it’d been registered. We know he boarded a bus downtown, late.”

I opened my mouth to ask a follow-up.

“Before you get ideas,” he said, “no, the route didn’t pass anywhere near Martha Dodson’s neighborhood. We always crosscheck Yancy Park in these cases. That’s where the Ferguson place is.”

“Ferguson?”

“Yeah. Big rickety house, half falling over? Looks like the city dump. You shoulda passed it on the way.”

I shook my head.

“Well,” he continued, “that’s where the Fergusons live, crusty old married couple. Them and whatever riffraff needs a room. Plenty of crime there. Squalor. The neighbors keep trying to get it condemned.”

I definitely didn’t remember driving past a place like that. “Were there any witnesses who saw Calvin on the bus? Saw who he was with?”

“Nobody who’d talk.”

“Camera footage?”

The detective palmed his meaty elbow. “Have you seen the city’s transportation budget?”

I incorporated the new information, thinking about Kent Kirkland. He was single according to Martha. Mid-thirties. He worked from home—something to do with programming or web design, she thought.

Did he have a car? I’d noticed a two-car garage, but I hadn’t seen inside.

Did he go out socially? To bars? Or trivia nights?

Could he have ridden the bus downtown?

“Martha mentioned another case,” I said. “Last summer, I think it was. Another boy in the same vicinity?”

At first, Detective Judd only squinted.

I prompted, “There was some connection to Venezuela. The father was born there, maybe he—”

“Right, that Ramos kid!” Judd smacked his forehead. “How could I forget? Talk about red tape, my gosh. So he’s boy number two, is that it?”

I couldn’t very well answer “yes” to a question posed like that.

I simply repeated, “Martha mentioned the case.”

“Yep. That was a doozy.” As he remembered, he walked to a file cabinet and pulled open a drawer. “Real exercise in frustration.”

“There was trouble with the Venezuelan government?”

“And how.” He swelled his eyes, thumbing through manila folders, finally lifting out an overstuffed one. “I must’ve filled out fifty forms myself, no joke.”

He tossed the file on his desk. Documents slumped from the folder out across his computer keyboard.

I asked, “You never located the boy?”

“Not definitively. We had a witness put him with the paternal grandparents, the day before Dad put the whole crew on a plane.”

“Did you interview him?”

“Who?”

“The father.”

Detective Judd burbled his lips. “Nope. The Venezuelans stonewalled us—never could get him, not even on the horn. He told some website he had no clue where the kid was, but come on. They took him.”

I’d been following along with his account, understanding the logic and sequence—until this. I thought about Zach, my fourteen-year-old, and what lengths I would’ve gone to if he’d disappeared with his father.

“So you…stopped?” I said.

He stiffened. “We hit a brick wall, like I said.”

“Yes, but a boy had been taken from his mother. What did she say? Was she satisfied with the investigation?”

“No.” Judd’s mouth tightened under his mustache. His tone turned challenging. “Nobody’s satisfied when they don’t like the outcome.”

I tugged my skirt lower, covering my knee.

He continued, “I get fifty-some cases across my desk every week, Miss McGill. I don’t have the luxury of devoting my whole day to chasing crackpot theories just because somebody looks angry snipping their flowers.”

“Of course,” I said. “Which makes me the crackpot.”

He closed his eyes, as though summoning patience. “You seem like a nice lady. And look, I admit I’m a Neanderthal when it comes to matters—”

“‘Nice lady’ puts you dangerously close to pre-Neanderthal territory.”

He smiled. In the pause, two buttons began blinking on his phone.

“Pleasant as it’s been getting acquainted with you,” he said, “I can’t commit resources to this begonia guy. Just can’t. If you can pursue it without stepping over any legal boundaries, more power to you.”

I felt heat rising up my neck. I gathered my purse.

“I will pursue it. Two little boys’ welfare is on the line. Somebody needs to.”

He spread his arms wide, good-naturedly, stretching the collar of his shirt. “Hey, who better than you?”

The contents of the folder labeled Ramos were still strewn over his keyboard. “I don’t suppose I could borrow this file…”

“Official police documents?”

“Just for twenty minutes. Ten—I could flip through in the lobby, jot a few notes.”

He’d walked around his desk to show me out, and now he stopped, hands on hips, peering down at the file. The top paper had letterhead from the Venezuelan consulate.

I stepped closer to look with him, shoulder-to-shoulder. Our shoes bumped.

“Or even just this letter,” I said. “So I have the case number and contact information for the consulate. Surely there’s no harm in that?”

Detective Judd didn’t move his shoe. He smelled like bagels and coffee.

He placed his fingertip on the letter and pushed it my way.

“I can live with that.”

“Thanks,” I said, grinning, snatching the paper before he could reconsider.

CHAPTER THREE

I drove home through Yancy Park, thinking to get a second look at Kent Kirkland’s property. As I pulled into the subdivision, I noticed a dilapidated house up the hill, off to the west. It rose three stories and had bare-wood sides. Ragged blankets flapped over its attic windows.

The Ferguson place.

Somehow I’d missed it driving in from the other direction. Art Judd had been right: the place was an eyesore. Gutters dangled off the roof like spaghetti off a toddler’s abandoned plate. A refrigerator and TV were strewn about the dirt yard, both spilling their electronic guts.

I made a mental note to ask Martha Dodson about the property. I found it curious she suspected Kirkland instead of whoever lived in this rats’ den. Art Judd had mentioned crosschecking Yancy Park. Maybe the police had already been out and investigated to Martha’s satisfaction.

I kept driving to Martha and Kent Kirkland’s street. I slowed at the latter’s yard, peering over a rectangular yew hedge to a house that was the polar opposite of the Ferguson place. The paint job was immaculate. Gutters were not only fully affixed, but contained not a single leaf or twig. Trash bins were pulled around the side into a nook, out of sight.

***

Excerpt from The Begonia Killer by Jeff Bond. Copyright 2021 by Jeff Bond. Reproduced with permission from Jeff Bond. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Jeff Bond

Jeff Bond is an American author of popular fiction. A Kansas native and Yale graduate, he now lives in Michigan with his wife and two daughters. The Pinebox Vendetta received the gold medal in the 2020 Independent Publisher Book Awards, and the first two entries in the Third Chance Enterprises series — Anarchy of the Mice, Dear Durwood — were named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best 100 Indie Books of 2020.

 

 

 

Catch Up With Jeff Bond:
ThirdChanceStories.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @jeff_bond
Instagram – @jeffabond
Twitter – @jeffABond
Facebook – @jeffabondbooks

 

 

Tour Participants:

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06/01 Guest post @ Novels Alive
06/02 Review @ Book Reviews From an Avid Reader
06/02 Showcase @ Im All About Books
06/03 Guest post @ The Book Divas Reads
06/04 Review @ Booking With Janelle
06/05 Showcase @ nanasbookreviews
06/06 Showcase @ EienCafe
06/07 Showcase @ Archaeolibrarian – I Dig Good Books!
06/08 Review @ The Book Review Crew
06/09 Showcase @ 411 ON BOOKS, AUTHORS, AND PUBLISHING NEWS
06/09 Showcase @ Reading A Page Turner
06/12 Showcase @ Brooke Blogs
06/14 Showcase @ The Pulp and Mystery Shelf
06/15 Review @ Sunny Island Breezes
06/16 Review @ Nesies Place
06/17 Showcase @ Books, Ramblings, and Tea
06/18 Guest post @ BooksChatter
06/19 Review @ Books with Bircky
06/23 Showcase @ The Reading Frenzy
06/24 Interview/showcase @ CMash Reads
06/26 Review @ Scrapping&Playing
06/27 Showcase @ Celticladys Reviews
06/29 Review @ A Room Without Books is Empty
08/02 Interview Podcast @ BlogTalk Radio
08/02 Review @ Just Reviews
 

Enter the Giveaway:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Jeff Bond. There will be one (1) winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. The giveaway begins on June 1, 2021 and runs through July 2, 2021. Void where prohibited.

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Aftermath

May 10 – June 4, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

Aftermath by Terri Blackstock

This gripping new thriller from New York Times bestselling author Terri Blackstock will leave you on the edge of your seat.

A devastating explosion.

Three best friends are at the venue just to hear their favorite band . . . but only one of them makes it out alive.

A trunk full of planted evidence.

When police stop Dustin with a warrant to search his trunk, he knows it’s just a mistake. He’s former military and owns a security firm. But he’s horrified when they find explosives, and he can’t fathom how they got there.

An attorney who will risk it all for a friend.

Criminal attorney Jamie Powell was Dustin’s best friend growing up. They haven’t spoken since he left for basic training, but she’s the first one he thinks of when he’s arrested. Jamie knows she’s putting her career on the line by defending an accused terrorist, but she’d never abandon him. Someone is framing Dustin to take the fall for shocking acts of violence . . . but why?

Praise for Aftermath:

“In Aftermath, Terri Blackstock plumbs the depth of human emotion in the face of devastating tragedy, grief, and loss. Yet, she still manages to give readers her trademark suspenseful story, sweet romance, and hope for the future. From gut wrenching scenes in a cancer patient’s hospital room to seeing the world through the eyes of a young woman with a debilitating mental health disorder, Blackstock pulls no punches about human frailties. Does the end justify the means? Romantic suspense lovers won’t want to miss Aftermath.”
—Kelly Irvin, bestselling author

“Justice may be blind but that doesn’t keep it from facing mortal danger. In Aftermath, expert storyteller Terri Blackstock ratchets up the suspense in a novel that delivers on every level. Conflicts rage and loyalties are tested to the ultimate limit. Set aside plenty of time when you pick up this book—you’ll not to want to take a break.”
—Robert Whitlow, bestselling author

Book Details:

Genre: Suspense
Published by: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: May 11th 2021
Number of Pages: 320
ISBN: 0310348587 (ISBN13: 9780310348580)
Series: Aftermath is a stand-alone novel
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Christianbook | Goodreads

 

Read an excerpt:

Aftermath

Chapter One

Taylor Reid’s phone flashed as she snapped the selfie with her two friends, their heads touching and their backs to the stage. The shot from the third row, with the lead singer in the background and the three of them in the foreground, was perfect. No one would believe their seats were so close.

They turned around to face the band, dancing to the beat of the song they’d been listening to in the car on the way to Trudeau Hall.

Taylor quickly posted the pic, typing, “Ed Loran targets nonpoliticals for his rally with band Blue Fire. Worked on us!”

She put her phone on videotape and zoomed onto the stage.

“I don’t want it to end!” Desiree said in her ear.

“Me either!” Taylor yelled over the music.

“Maybe they’ll play again after his speech,” Mara shouted.

The song came to an end, and the crowd went crazy, begging for one more song before the band left the stage.

But an amplified voice filled the auditorium, cutting off the adulation. “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the next president of the United States, Ed Loran!”

The crowd sounded less enthusiastic as the band left the stage and Ed Loran, the Libertarian celebrity magnet, made his entrance. Taylor kept cheering and clapping, letting her enthusiasm for the band segue to him.

It happened just as the candidate took the stage. The deafening sound, like some confusing combination of gunshot and lightning bolt, a blast that blacked out the lights and knocked her to the ground. Smoke mushroomed. Screams crescendoed—shrieks of terror, wailing pain, shocking anguish . . . then sudden, gentle silence, as if she were underwater. A loud ringing in her ears filled the void.

She peered under the seats, choking for breath as dimmer lights flickered through the smoke. Even from here, she could see the fallout of whatever had happened. Blood pooling on the ground, people hunkering down as she was, feet running . . . What was happening? An explosion? A crash? She looked around and couldn’t see her friends.

She clawed her way up and looked over the seat. Smoke and fire billowed from the stage into the crowd, and heat wafted over her like some living force invading the room. Muffled, muted sounds competed with the ringing.

Get out! Now! She dropped back down and crawled under two rows of seats until she came to someone limp on the floor. She felt herself scream but couldn’t hear her own voice. Scrambling to her feet, she went to her left to get to the aisle, but her foot slipped on something wet. She grabbed the seat next to her to steady herself, then launched into the frantic crowd in the aisle. The room seemed to spin, people whizzing by, people under her, people above her, people broken and ripped and still . . . She stepped and fell, crawled and ran, tripped and kicked her way to the bottlenecked doorway, then fought her way through it.

The ringing in her ears faded as she tumbled downstairs, almost falling into the lobby below. The sound of crying, coughing, wretching, and the roaring sound of pounding feet turned up as if some divine finger had fiddled with the volume.

She set her sights on the glass doors to the outside and pushed forward, moving through people and past the security stations they’d stopped at on the way in. She made it to the door and burst out into the sunlight.

Fresh, cool air hit her like freedom, but at first her lungs rejected it like some poison meant to stop her. At the bottom of the steps, on the sidewalk, she bent over and coughed until she could breathe.

After a moment, the crowd pushed her along toward the parking garage until she remembered that her car wasn’t there. She had parked on the street, blocks away. She forced her way out of the flow of people and ran a block south. Where was it?

She turned the corner. Her car was here, on this block. Near the Atlanta Trust Bank. Wasn’t it? Or was it the next block?

Sweat slicked her skin until she found her silver Accord. There!

She ran to it and pulled her keys out of her pocket, wishing she hadn’t lost the key fob. Her hands trembled as she stuck the key into the passenger side lock and got the door open. She slipped inside on the driver’s side, locked it behind her. Instinctively, she slid down, her head hidden as if someone were coming after her.

What just happened?

One minute they’d been taking selfies and videotaping the band, and the next they were on the floor . . .

Where were Mara and Desiree? She hadn’t even looked for them! Should she go back for them?

No, that would be insane. She could smell the smoke and fire from here. They would know to come to the car when they got out.

Call the police!

She tried to steady her hands as she swiped her phone on.

“911, what is your—”

“An explosion!” she cut in, her voice hoarse. “At the Ed Loran rally at Trudeau Hall!”

“Where are you now?” the woman asked in a voice that was robotically calm.

“I got out. There’s fire . . . People are still in there. Please send ambulances!”

“Ma’am, did you see what exploded?”

“No . . . the stage area, I think. I don’t know where my friends are. Please . . . hurry!”

“We’ve already dispatched the fire department and police, ma’am.”

She heard sirens from a few blocks away and cut off the call. She raised up, looking over the dashboard for the flashing lights. She couldn’t see any, but the sirens grew louder.

She knelt on the floorboard, her knees on her floormat and her elbows on her seat, and texted Desiree.

I’m at the car. Where are you?

No answer. She switched to a recent thread with Mara and texted again.

Got out. At car waiting. Where are you?

Nothing.

She dictated a group text to both of them.

Are you all right?

They were probably running or deaf, fighting their way out like she had. She tried calling them, but Mara’s phone rang to voicemail. When Desiree’s phone did the same, she yelled, “Call me! I’m waiting at the car and I’m scared. Where are you?” She was sobbing when she ended the call.

***

Excerpt from Aftermath by Terri Blackstock. Copyright 2021 by Terri Blackstock. Reproduced with permission from Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Terri Blackstock

Terri Blackstock has sold over seven million books worldwide and is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. She has had over twenty-five years of success as a novelist. She’s the author of If I Run, If I’m Found, and If I Live, as well as such series as Cape Refuge, Newpointe 911, Moonlighters, and the Restoration series.

 

 

 

 

Visit her at:
www.TerriBlackstock.com
Goodreads
BookBub
Instagram – #terriblackstock
Twitter – #terriblackstock
Facebook – @tblackstock

 

 

Tour Participants:

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


05/10 Guest post @ Novels Alive
05/10 Review @ Fredas Voice
05/11 Guest post @ Books, Ramblings, and Tea
05/12 Guest post @ Author Elena Taylors Blog
05/12 Review @ Book Reviews From an Avid Reader
05/12 Showcase @ The Reading Frenzy
05/13 Review @ Beauty in the Binding
05/14 Review @ Archaeolibrarian – I Dig Good Books!
05/14 Review @ Margaret Yelton
05/15 Showcase @ nanasbookreviews
05/16 Interview @ A Blue Million Books
05/17 Review @ Lovemybooks2020
05/17 Review/showcase @ Totally Addicted to Reading
05/18 Review @ From the TBR Pile
05/19 Review @ Avonna Loves Genres
05/20 Review @ Savings in seconds
05/20 Showcase @ The Book Divas Reads
05/21 Review @ Kritters Ramblings
05/22 Showcase @ Brooke Blogs
05/23 Review @ Booking With Janelle
05/23 Showcase @ EienCafe
05/24 Showcase @ Inkwell Inspirations
05/25 Interview @ Quiet Fury Books
05/26 Review @ Nesies Place
05/26 Review @ Wall-to-wall Books
05/27 Showcase @ BooksChatter
05/27 Showcase @ Celticladys Reviews
05/28 Interview/showcase @ CMash Reads
05/28 Showcase @ Reading A Page Turner
05/29 Review @ Geauxgetlit
05/29 Review @ Splashes of Joy
05/30 Review @ One More Book To Read
05/31 Review @ Nikki H. Roses Book Reviews
06/01 Review @ Read Review Rejoice
06/01 Reviuew @ rozierreadsandwine
06/02 Review @ Jersey Girl Book Reviews
06/02 Showcase @ Im All About Books
06/03 Showcase @ 411 ON BOOKS, AUTHORS, AND PUBLISHING NEWS
06/04 Review @ Just Reviews
06/04 Review @ Spookys Maze Of Books

 

 

Giveaway:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Terri Blackstock & Thomas Nelson. There will be ONE (1) winner of one (1) physical copy of Aftermath (US Addresses only). The giveaway begins on May 10, 2021 and ends on June 5, 2021. Void where prohibited.

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Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

 

by Terri Blackstock

Beyond The Headlines by R.G. Belsky Banner

Beyond The Headlines

by R.G. Belsky

May 1-31, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

Beyond The Headlines by R.G. Belsky

She was a mega-celebrity—he was a billionaire businessman—now he’s dead—she’s in jail

Laurie Bateman was living the American dream. Since her arrival as an infant in the U.S. after the fall of Saigon, the pretty Vietnamese girl had gone on to become a supermodel, a successful actress, and, finally, the wife of one of the country’s top corporate dealmakers. That dream has now turned into a nightmare when she is arrested for the murder of her wealthy husband.

New York City TV journalist Clare Carlson does an emotional jailhouse interview in which Bateman proclaims her innocence—and becomes a cause celebre for women’s rights groups around the country.

At first sympathetic, then increasingly suspicious of Laurie Bateman and her story, Clare delves into a baffling mystery which has roots extending back nearly fifty years to the height of the Vietnam War.

Soon, there are more murders, more victims, and more questions as Clare struggles against dire evil forces to break the biggest story of her life.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
Published by: Oceanview Publishing
Publication Date: May 4th 2021
Number of Pages: 336
ISBN: 160809409X (ISBN13: 9781608094097)
Series: The Clare Carlson Mystery Series, 4 (This can be read as a stand alone mystery.)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

“Do you know who Laurie Bateman is?” my friend Janet Wood asked me.

“I do,” I said. “I also know who Lady Gaga is. And Angelina Jolie. And Ivanka Trump. I’m in the media, remember? That’s what we do in the media, we cover famous people. It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it.”

“Laurie Bateman hired me.”

“As an attorney?”

“Yes, as an attorney. That’s what I do, Clare.”

We were sitting in my office at Channel 10 News, the TV station in New York City where I work as news director. I should have known something was going on as soon as Janet showed up there. We usually met at Janet’s law office which is big, with panoramic views of midtown Manhattan, and a lot nicer than mine.

Janet never comes to see me at Channel 10 unless she has a reason.

I figured I was about to find out that reason.

It was early December and outside it was snowing, the first real storm of the winter. The snow started falling during the night, and by now it was covering the city with a powdery white blanket. Pretty soon the car exhausts and trucks would turn it into brown slush, but for now it was gorgeous. From the window next to my desk, the city had an eerie, almost unreal quality. Like something from a Norman Rockwell painting.

My outfit for the day was perfect for the snowy weather, too. I’d walked in wearing a turtleneck sweater, heavy corduroy slacks, a blue down jacket with a parka hood and white earmuffs, scarf and mittens. The ski bunny look. I felt like I should have a cup of hot chocolate in my hand.

“Why does Laurie Bateman need you as an attorney?” I asked Janet.

She hesitated for what seemed to be an inordinately long amount of time before answering.

“Are we talking off the record here?”

“Whatever you want, Janet.”

“I need your word on that.”

“C’mon, it’s me. Clare Carlson, your best friend in the world.”

She nodded.

“Laurie Bateman wants me to represent her in divorce proceedings.”

“Wow!”

“I thought you’d like that.”

“Is it too late to take back my ‘best friend in the world/ off-the-record’ promise?”

Janet smiled. Sort of.

“How much do you know about Laurie Bateman?” she asked me now.

I knew as much as the rest of the world, I suppose. Laurie Bateman seemed to have the American Dream going for her. Since coming to the U.S. as a baby with her family after the fall of Saigon in 1975, the pretty Vietnamese girl had grown up to become a top model, then a successful actress, and finally, the wife of one of the country’s top corporate deal makers. She had a fancy Manhattan townhouse, a limousine at her beck and call and her face had graced the covers of magazines like Vogue and People.

Her husband was Charles Hollister, who had become incredibly wealthy back in the ’70s as one of the pioneers of the burgeoning computer age. He was a kind of Steve Jobs of those early days, and he later expanded into all sorts of other industries—from media to pharmaceuticals to oil drilling and a lot more. He was listed as one of the ten wealthiest businessmen in America.

When Hollister married Laurie Bateman a few years ago, there were a lot of jokes about the big difference in age between the two—she was so much younger and so beautiful. Like the jokes people made about Rupert Murdoch with Wendy Deng and then Jerry Hall, his last two wives. People always assume that a younger and pretty woman like that is marrying for the money. But Laurie Bateman and Charles Hollister insisted they were in love, and they had consistently projected the public persona of a happily married couple in the media since their wedding.

Except it now appeared they weren’t so happily married.

“Is she trying to divorce him to get her hands on his money?” I asked.

“Actually, he’s trying to divorce her and stop her from getting her hands on any of his money.”

“So the bottom line here is this divorce is about money.”

“Always is.”

“Isn’t there a pre-nuptial agreement that would settle all this?”

“Yes and no.”

“Spoken like a true lawyer.”

“Yes, there is a pre-nup. But we don’t think it applies here. That’s because other factors in the marriage took place which could invalidate the terms of the pre-nup they agreed to and signed.”

“Okay.”

I waited.

“Such as?” I asked finally.

“For one thing, Charles Hollister has a mistress. A younger woman he’s been seeing.”

“Younger than Laurie Bateman?”

“Much younger. In her twenties.”

“Jeez! Hollister’s such an old man I have trouble imagining him being able to have sex with his wife, much less getting it up for a second woman on the side.”

“Her discovery that he was cheating on her, along with a lot of other reasons, have turned Laurie Bateman’s life into a nightmare—a living hell—behind the walls of the beautiful homes they live in. She’s kept quiet about it so far, protecting the happy couple image they’ve put on for the media. But now she wants to let the world know the truth. That’s where you come in, Clare.”

Aha, I thought to myself.

Now we’re getting down to it.

I was about to find out the real reason Janet was here.

“Laurie Bateman wants to go public with all this,” Janet said. “She wants to tell her story in the media. The true story of her marriage to Charles Hollister. We know Hollister is going to use his clout to try and smear her and make her look bad, so that’s why we want to get her version out quickly. What I’m talking about here is an exclusive interview with Laurie Bateman about all of this. Her talking about the divorce, the cheating—everything. And she wants you to do the interview with her.”

“Why me?”

“What do you mean?”

“Why not Gayle King? Or Savannah Guthrie? Or Barbara Walters or Katie Couric or Diane Sawyer or another big media name? I’m just the news director of a local TV station here.”

“She wants you, Clare. In fact, I think that’s the reason she hired me for her lawyer. She found out you and I were friends—and she’s hoping I can deliver you to her to do this interview on air with her.”

“I still don’t know why she wouldn’t want to go with someone really famous . . .”

“You’re famous too, Clare. You know that as well as I do. And that’s why she wants you. You’re as famous as any woman on the air right now.”

Janet was right about that.

I was famous.

It could have gone either way—I could have wound up being either famous or infamous because of what I did—but in the end I’d wound up as a media superstar all over again.

Just like I’d been when I won a Pulitzer Prize nearly twenty years ago for telling the story of legendary missing child Lucy Devlin—even though I didn’t tell the whole story then.

“Laurie Bateman’s life with Charles Hollister is a big lie,” Janet said to me. “Now she wants to tell the truth on air about all those lies she’s been hiding behind. Like you did when you finally told the truth on air about you and Lucy Devlin. That’s why she wants you to be the one who interviews her.”

I still wasn’t sure how I felt about all this new found fame I’d gotten from my Lucy Devlin story, but there was no question that if it got me this Laurie Bateman story . . . well, that would be a huge exclusive for me and the station.

“When can I meet her?” I asked Janet.

***

Excerpt from Beyond The Headlines by R.G. Belsky. Copyright 2021 by R.G. Belsky. Reproduced with permission from R.G. Belsky. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

R.G. Belsky

R. G. Belsky is an author of crime fiction and a journalist in New York City.

His new mystery, BEYOND THE HEADLINES, will be published in May 2021. It is the fourth in a series featuring Clare Carlson, the news director for a New York City TV station – and follows THE LAST SCOOP, published in 2020. The first Clare Carlson book, YESTERDAY’S NEWS, won the David Award at Deadly Ink for Best Mystery of 2018. The second Clare Carlson book, BELOW THE FOLD, was named Best Mystery 0f 2019 in the Foreword INDIES Awards.

He also is the author of two thrillers written under the pen name of Dana Perry – THE SILENT VICTIM (2019), THE GOLDEN GIRL (June, 2020) and HER OCEAN GRAVE (June 2021 – Bookouture).

Belsky previously wrote the Gil Malloy series – THE KENNEDY CONNECTION, SHOOTING FOR THE STARS and BLONDE ICE – about a newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News.
Belsky himself is a former managing editor at the Daily News and writes about the media from an extensive background in newspapers, magazines and TV/digital news. He has also been a top editor at the New York Post, Star magazine and NBC News.

His previous suspense/thriller novels include LOVERBOY and PLAYING DEAD. Belsky lives in New York City.

Catch Up With R.G. Belsky:
www.RGBelsky.com
Goodreads
BookBub – @dickb79983
Instagram – @dickbelsky
Twitter – @DickBel
Facebook – @RGBelsky

 

 

Tour Participants:

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

05/01 Review/showcase @ CMash Reads
05/02 Review @ Book Reviews From an Avid Reader
05/02 Review @ The World As I See It
05/03 Showcase @ nanasbookreviews
05/04 Interview via Podcast @ Blogtalk radio
05/04 Review @ Just Reviews
05/04 Review @ Nesies Place
05/05 Showcase @ One More Book To Read
05/05 Showcase @ Reading A Page Turner
05/06 Guest post/showcase @ Books, Ramblings, and Tea
05/06 Showcase @ The Bookwyrm
05/07 Guest post @ Read and Review
05/08 Review @ Jane Pettit Reviews
05/09 Review @ Author Elena Taylors Blog
05/10 Showcase @ Archaeolibrarian – I Dig Good Books!
05/11 Guest post @ Novels Alive
05/12 Review @ thrilledtoreadya
05/13 Review @ @ rozierreadsandwine
05/14 Interview @ Quiet Fury Books
05/18 Review @ sunny island breezes
05/18 Showcase @ Celticladys Reviews
05/19 Review @ Books and Zebras
05/20 Showcase @ Im Into Books
05/21 Interview @ BooksChatter
05/24 Review @ Jersey Girl Book Reviews
05/26 Showcase @ 411 ON BOOKS, AUTHORS, AND PUBLISHING NEWS
05/30 Review @ A Room Without Books is Empty

Giveaway:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for R.G. Belsky. There will be two (2) winners who will each receive one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. The giveaway begins on May 1, 2021 and ends on June 1, 2021. Void where prohibited.

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Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours