Archive for the ‘Xpresso Tours’ Category

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?

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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.

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Copper Waters
Marlene M. Bell
(Annalisse, #4)
Publication date: December 5th 2022
Genres: Adult, Crime, Mystery

A rural New Zealand vacation turns poisonous.

Antiquities expert Annalisse Drury and tycoon Alec Zavos are at an impasse in their relationship when Alec refuses to clear up a paternity issue with an ex-lover.

Frustrated with his avoidance when their future is at stake, Annalisse accepts an invitation from an acquaintance to fly to New Zealand—hoping to escape the recent turbulence in her life.

But even Annalisse’s cottage idyll on the family sheep farm isn’t immune to intrigue.

Alec sends a mutual friend and detective, Bill Drake, to follow her, and a local resident who accompanies them from the Christchurch airport dies mysteriously soon after. A second violent death finds Annalisse and Bill at odds with the official investigations.

The local police want to close both cases as quickly as possible—without unearthing the town’s dirty secrets.

As she and Bill pursue their own leads at serious cost, the dual mysteries force Annalisse to question everything she thought she knew about family ties, politics, and the art of small-town betrayal.

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EXCERPT:

“Nothing’s sinking in.” I pass the note to Alec and prepare myself. “Would you mind reading it aloud?”

“She and Ethan traveled together.” He gazes at me.

“Okay, we’d considered that.”

“Kate has business to conclude in New Zealand before she returns to New York. She asks me not to mention this to you until she arrives in the States but didn’t give a reason. Kate says she’ll meet you in person when she’s ready.”

“Seriously? Where does she plan to live? With me in Greenwich? The Goshen farm could be sold by now. Does she mention Jeremy finding her another place?”

Alec scans the page randomly. “No, she didn’t.”

I scratch my scalp and shake my head. “Then my sheep station trip to New Zealand is perfect timing. I have to leave now and see if I can catch her before she skips out. Ethan must know where Kate is. If it’s all the same, we’ll hang on to the tickets for our April trip, and I’ll buy my own way for this flight.” Tugging at my sweatshirt with clammy hands, I take the note from Alec and sail it into the flames, watching paper crinkle and burn on the log.

He steps forward, his chiseled profile gawking at the fire in disbelief.

“Were you ever going to tell me about Kate’s message?” A sob chokes my windpipe. “If it weren’t for Ethan’s invite, I doubt that we’d be talking about Kate.”

“Babe, I thought by staying neutral…” He twists his lips and looks at his shoes. “Seeing your reaction now; it was a mistake not to tell you.”

“That totally blows.” I ball my hands into fists. “More like you were afraid that I’d run down there to find her.” I’m mad enough to send smoke signals, so I take slower, calming breaths.

“If I’d told you… Yeah, I worried you’d run off. The ordeal in Italy, then Peter Gregory terrorizing you, and Helga has had barely enough time to settle around here. Your safety doesn’t include encouraging you to hop on a plane to another country so soon after a trauma like that. Waiting for Kate’s return felt right to me. At some point, I hope you’ll see things from my side. Kate put me in the middle, but it’s you I worry about.”

Willing myself to relax, I take his hand to get him to focus on me instead of the floor. “I know that.”

Peter Gregory, an old coworker from my past job at another gallery, is responsible for a young woman’s murder in Lecce, near the Mediterranean Sea on Italy’s eastern shore. Alec and I went to Southern Italy for a working vacation that spun us into solving more than one homicide in order for Alec to sell his dad’s Signorile Corporation, a sports car company.

“After a shower, I’ll give your mom a call from the car on the way home. I might have trouble getting a flight out on the spur of the moment, but if I do, I hope you’ll help me.”

“Anna, we should discuss this.” He catches my wrist. “I’d like to go along. Say the word, and I’m on that plane with you. Allow what’s happened with Kate to simmer. You might feel differently in the morning.”

Grasping Kate’s locket beneath my shirt, I slide the chain over my head and cup Alec’s hand, dropping the necklace there.

“Hold on to my locket while I’m gone. It’s the most precious thing I own. That way, you’ll know I’m coming back to you.” On my tiptoes, our salty kiss calls a loneliness— In a flash, two people are about to have a hemisphere drifting between them from outside influences that want to manipulate us. “Gen will be here to see Noah in a few hours, and you have him until Sunday. Let me go, Alec, and please wait for me at Brookehaven. I have to make this trip by myself. If there’s the slightest chance that Kate’s with Ethan or he knows where she is, I have to go. I’ve already lost precious time.” I start for the drawing room doors and remember something left undone. “Oh, and sorry for the sticky mess in your stable office.”

In a dead run, I’m biting a quivering lip. On the way to Alec’s bedroom suite, I send Chase a text to hold Ethan’s box and note for me at the gallery. True to form, Kate shoves us all out of our comfort zones, where I’m certain to find a disaster waiting for me to book a ticket to New Zealand in a mad rush.

Author Bio:

Marlene M. Bell is an award-winning writer and acclaimed artist as well as a photographer. Her sheep landscapes grace the covers of Sheep!, The Shepherd, Ranch & Rural Living and Sheep Industry News, to name a few.

Her catalog Ewephoric began in 1985 out of her desire to locate personalized sheep stationery. She rarely found sheep products through catalogs and set out to design them herself. Ewephoric gifts may be ordered online or request a catalog at TexasSheep.com.

Marlene and her husband, Gregg reside in beautiful East Texas on a wooded ranch with their dreadfully spoiled horned Dorset sheep, a large Maremma guard dog named, Tia, along with Hollywood, Leo and Squeaks, the cats that believe they rule the household—and do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SNEAK PEEK:

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

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

“Tarley?”

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

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

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

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

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

“You were asleep.”

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

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


Author Bio:

Romance author.

Lover of stories.

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

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

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