Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Available Now: Scathed by Sue Coletta

On a picturesque fall morning in Grafton County, New Hampshire, a brutal murder rocks the small town of Alexandria. In the backyard of a weekend getaway cabin, a dead woman is posed in red-satin, with two full-bloomed roses in place of eyes.

In her hand, a mysterious envelope addressed to Sheriff Niko Quintano. Inside, Paradox vows to kill again if his riddle isn’t solved within 24 hours.

With so little time and not enough manpower, Niko asks his wife for help. But Crime Writer Sage Quintano is dealing with her own private nightmare. Not only did she find massive amounts of blood on the mountain where she and her family reside, but a phone call from the past threatens her future—the creepy mechanical voice of John Doe, the serial killer who murdered her twin sister.

Together, can Niko and Sage solve the riddle in time to save the next victim? Or will the killer win this deadly game of survival?

• • •

October 16, 2008
6:00 a.m.

The unknown shattered my reality. Before entering hospital room 339, I rapped my knuckles on the doorframe. A gentle tap, tap, tap so I wouldn’t startle my husband. “Pup, it’s me.” Deep inhale, and I pushed open the door, with Noah straddled on my hip.

My heart collided with my ribcage.

Niko lay in the hospital bed, the sheet coin-tight across his chest. Clear tubing ran to intravenous medication, hanging by a metal pole, to clear bags secured to the bed frame, below the thin mattress. Five or six tubes in total. His pallid color worsened when he reached for me, his strong fingers grasping air, urging us closer. The fingers that soothed my pain with one touch, the hand I held as we recited our wedding vows—twice. Those very fingers weaved with mine for the last two decades, through agony, through despair, through sorrow, through excitement, through endless days and passion-filled nights. The man in that bed possessed the ability to wash away my darkest fears. Yet, in that moment, the hand that reached for me didn’t look like Niko’s. Its skin was mottled, gray, ill.

Frozen in place, I gaped at his suffering.

“This is not your fault,” he claimed. “Please don’t blame yourself, babe.” Balls of white cornered his dry, colorless lips. “I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

Tears flooded my eyes, my vision clouding more and more with each soul-crushing second that crawled by. “What’re you saying? I don’t understand.”

“Don’t let our son forget me. Promise me.”

“Don’t talk like that.” I rushed to his side, pressed my lips to his forehead, sheathed in sweat. “You’re gonna be fine, pup. You’re the strongest man I know.”

“I love you, Sage Quintano. From the first day you strutted into the Hilltop Steakhouse, wavy hair cascading down your back, to this moment right here, right now, I’ve been helplessly, desperately, in love with you. Always remember that, remember me.”

“Pup, I don’t understand.” I cried harder, my chest heaving so heavily, I struggled for each and every breath. Noah wailed, too. At twenty months old, he was too young to grasp the severity of Niko’s words, but he sure sensed something wasn’t right. “Talk to me. Please,” I begged. “Tell me how and why you’re here. Who did this to you?”

“You’ll find love again, as much as it pains me to say. Consider this my blessing to move forward. I can’t bear to think of you, Noah, and the kids living alone in that big house.”

“Stop talking like that. I don’t want another love. I want you, pup.”

A slight grin arched beneath his straggly goatee, glints of silver more prominent in his dark hair than ever before. “I know you do, babe.”

When he forced the second grin, albeit weaker, the charade didn’t fool me. My husband feared the worst. What happened in the hours after he dropped me off? If Paradox were responsible for Niko’s grave condition, maybe there was a riddle that pointed to a clue to reverse the effect.

“This can’t be the end; it just can’t be. I’ll never make it without you. Hang on. Please, pup.”

“That might be out of my control,” he countered. “Remember how deeply I love you guys. You’re my whole world, my everything. Thank you for so many blissful years together, years I didn’t always deserve. I haven’t always been the best husband, especially when it came to recognizing your fears. Why didn’t I listen?” His warm, caramel-colored eyes rolled closed. From under his thick lashes, tears trickled down to the pillow. “I’m … so … tired.”

“Pup?” I shook him by the shoulder. “Pup?” My gaze shot to Noah, still bundled in my arms, and I fell to my knees, hands held in prayer around our son. “Dear God, no. You can’t take my husband. Not now. We’ve just begun this beautiful new chapter. It can’t end yet. Please, I’ll do anything.” Noah bawled with me as I rose. I pressed an open hand to my husband’s chest. “Fight harder. Don’t you dare give up. Fight for us.” Sweeping my hair around one ear, I lowered my cheek to his heart.

Thump … thump … thump.

Dr. Rollinsford strode up behind me and rested a supportive hand on my back. “Mrs. Quintano, may we talk?”

Without turning around, I said, “Only if you’ll give us hope. Otherwise, save your bullshit condolences for someone else. We don’t need ‘em.” I whirled around. “How did he wind up here? He was fine earlier. Maybe a little rundown, but nothing to indicate his life was in danger. Was he poisoned? Shot? Stabbed? I can’t tell what’s wrong with all these tubes.”

“Let’s go back to my office so Sheriff Quintano can rest.”

“No, dammit.” I stomped my foot. “I’m not leaving him. Whatever you need to tell me, you can say right here.”

With the saddest eyes I’ve ever had the misfortune of witnessing, he started slow. “Your husband ran into trouble earlier today when …” His words trailed off, his voice muffled by my devastation. The doctor’s lips moved, but I was trapped inside my own head, silently pleading with God, begging for mercy. If my husband died, I’d never recover. Not ever.

• • •

Sue Coletta is a member of Mystery Writers Of America and Sisters In Crime. She lives in northern New Hampshire with her husband and four-legged baby. If you catch her strolling on the beach or roaming the rural backroads don't be surprised if she stops to chat with you about her books or her two beautiful granddaughters. Just don't ever call her Grandma.

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Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Available Now: Love Begins at 40 by Ann Burnett

Ann Burnett



(99c through Sunday the 22nd)
Maisie McLelland spent ten years building up McLelland Events in Glasgow and has just bought a holiday home in the relaxing small seaside town of Largs on the west coast of Scotland. She immediately befriends her elderly neighbour, the widow of a local fisherman.

When Elizabeth is in need of rescue, Maisie steps in to help. Elizabeth’s grateful son, teacher and lifeboatman, James, takes Maisie to dinner to show his appreciation. Maisie’s not looking for a relationship, and neither is James, as he’s still reeling from the loss of his son. They’re both surprised at the instant connection.

Over time, Maisie and James become friends and their closeness continues pulling them toward each other until emotion leads to intimacy. She agrees to help with the organisation of a Vilking Festival he is planning in the town.

But as Maisie approaches her 40th birthday, tragedy strikes a double blow, and she’s forced to make some important decisions about what she really wants from life.

• • •

‘What on earth have I done?’ she exclaimed as she looked about the half-empty room. This was not what she had planned, what she had looked forward to, what she had imagined in the evenings when the TV programmes were boring and she was sitting at home in her flat in Glasgow.

Where was the wee, whitewashed Highland cottage nestling into the glen, the purple heather-tinged mountains rising all around? Where was the burbling burn to supply fresh, clear water? The black-faced sheep munching close by? The sound of the distant bagpipes drifting through the quiet air? Her bolt hole, where she could escape when the pressures of her work in Glasgow became too much?

Maisie McLelland was 39, a successful businesswoman in Glasgow, with no ties and a bucket-list of what she wanted to achieve before she hit 40. Buying a second home, where she could go to relax away from the bustling city, was top priority. In fact, it was her only priority.

But here she was in another flat – smaller even than her Glasgow one – empty apart from a load of flatpack furniture piled high in the bedroom, and a sofa and two chairs wrapped in plastic sheeting in the lounge. She’d gone ahead and bought the property, despite the fact that it in no way resembled her long-held dreams of a Highland cottage far away from everyone and surrounded by hills.

Instead, this was an ordinary one-bedroom apartment, with magnolia-painted walls and a beige carpet throughout. The kitchen and bathroom were new, and white, and clean, and efficient. Nothing out of the ordinary; in fact, all very, very ordinary. Yet she’d known she had to buy it from the first moment she stepped out onto the balcony attached to the lounge.

‘Maisie McClelland,’ she had said to herself. ‘This is your idea of paradise. This is your dream.’

It was the breathtaking view that had sold the flat to her. Two flights up, she looked west across the glittering waters of the Firth of Clyde to the islands of Great and Wee Cumbrae, with the Isle of Bute behind, and further down the coast, the bulk of the Isle of Arran. Scotland in miniature, the adverts called Arran, with its mountain range at one end, and progressing gently down to rolling green fields at the other. She made a mental note to visit it one day, along with the other islands across the bay.

As she stood there, the sun was beginning its descent, and its rays bathed the islands in a golden light as they rose out of the sea. It was like no other view she had ever seen, and its beauty took her breath away.

So, there and then, she’d bought it. And now she was moving in. Except that all the furniture still had to be assembled.

Maisie wandered through to the bedroom and stared at the boxes, the packages, the pile of which would be her furniture and accessories, whenever she managed to put it all together. She’d got somewhat carried away on her visit to the large Swedish superstore in Glasgow where she’d bought it all, forgetting that most of it would have to be assembled.

First, though, a coffee would sustain her. But where was the coffee machine she had purchased, with a supply of coffee capsules? She raked through various boxes and bags, unearthing a couple of prints she’d thought would brighten up the plain walls, a large glass vase, and a magazine rack. But no sign of the coffee machine. She remembered, too, that she didn’t have any fresh milk or sugar. It might be easier to head out and find a place to sit while she gathered her strength.

Grabbing her coat, she marched out of the flat and pressed the button for the lift. And waited. And waited. Just then, the door of one of the other flats opened and a man came out, shouting ‘Cheerio!’ A large bear of a man, tall and muscular, with thick fair hair and an equally thick fair beard, and wearing a set of overalls. He was carrying a toolbox, and as Maisie spotted it, an idea struck her.

She smiled broadly at him as he approached the lift that had just arrived.

By the time they reached the ground floor, he had introduced himself as James Paterson and they had agreed he would come back the next day and, for a suitable payment, assemble all her furniture.

• • •

Ann Burnett was born in Scotland where she now lives but has travelled extensively and lived in Canada and Australia.

She has published short stories, articles and children’s stories, as well as writing a novel, Loving Mother, as part of her Masters in Creative Writing. She is an experienced Creative Writing tutor and adjudicator for the Scottish Association of Writers.

Her short stories have been published in New Writing Scotland, Glasgow University Creative Writing anthologies, My Weekly, That’s Life (Australia), Woman's Weekly and the Weekly News. Her collection of short stories, Take a Leaf out of My Book, is available on Amazon.

Her memoir, illustrated with her father's photos, A Scottish Childhood, Growing up a Baby Boomer has just been published.

But perhaps she is best remembered for writing Postman Pat stories for a children's comic every week for five years. A labour of love indeed!

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Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Available Now: Misfortune of Time by Christy Nicholas

Druid's Brooch, #6
Christy Nicholas



(99c through Sunday the 15th)
In 11th century Ireland, Étaín must hide her pagan magic from her pious Christian priest husband, Airtre. She wants to escape his physical abuse, but she must stay to protect their grandson, Maelan. Over many lifetimes, she has learned how to endure her own pain, but Maelan is young and vulnerable.

When Airtre's paranoia and jealousy spiral out of control, Étaín has no choice but to escape in the night with little more than the clothing on her back, leaving a trusted friend to protect Maelan.

This is not the first lifetime Étaín has fled, and she knows how to survive. But when her past comes back to haunt her, she must make decisions that may result in disaster for her, her grandson, and everyone she loves.

• • •

Cluain Mhic Nóis, early spring, 1055AD

Étaín peered into the cauldron, sniffed the savory aroma of lamb stew, thyme and dill, and added a pinch of pepper. Just a few more minutes and the pot would be ready to swivel off the hearth fire. She tucked an escaped strand of gray hair behind her ear and stirred the stew with the long wooden spoon. With a practiced hand, she filled a small bowl with cream to set outside for the Faeries, careful to hide it where no one would notice. Then she turned her attention to the oat flatbread. She grew anxious in case her husband, Airtre, returned home before she completed her tasks.

A drip, drip, drip made her turn just as she placed the bread on the cooking hearth. She scanned the thatch of the large roundhouse, searching for the telltale dark spot which might betray the leak. She finally spied the culprit, directly above the eating area. With a muttered curse, she shoved and wrestled the heavy wooden table under the leak.

After wiping the damp from her brow, she climbed and stretched, standing on tiptoes to reach the soaked thatch. Étaín pushed daub into the thatch, but the patch would never hold. Still, the patch should serve until morning. She’d do a proper repair when the rain slowed.

Slowed, not stopped. The rain never seemed to stop in the spring.

The faint odor of char sent panic through her blood and made Étaín scramble down from the table to rescue the bread. She pulled back the cloth and grimaced. Airtre would not be pleased. Still, he hadn’t yet come home from the abbey. The other night he hadn’t even come home until much later, but he’d offered no explanation. Perhaps she had time to make another loaf. She usually kept more dough resting in the cool room. The new loaf would be tarragon rather than chervil, but Airtre liked both.

Étaín dusted her hands on her apron, pulled an oiled hood over her head, and hurried past the herb garden. Several round storage structures ringed the south corner of their courtyard, filled with tools and supplies. She rummaged through her herb supplies and found three turnips to mash as well as her precious salt box. A little sweet cream, butter and sorrel, and those would make a nice dish for the side if the new flatbread didn’t bake in time.

She had just returned to the hearth when she heard the horse outside.

Stones and crows, he’s home early. She scrambled to scrape the burnt bread out of her iron pan, burning her hand on the still-sizzling metal.

Étaín had long since learned not to curse out loud, but a grunt of frustration still escaped her lips, knowing her husband hadn’t come in yet. After closing her eyes tight against the painful burn, she plunged her hand into the cold water bucket by the door.

She concentrated on her heirloom brooch and pulled time back a few moments. While she couldn’t use the magic longer without serious illness, a few moments should be enough. Still, a wave of nausea swept over her as she grabbed a scrap of rag to pull the pan out of the oven and saved her hands this time. A sound at the door made her whirl back to her chores.

When Airtre entered the roundhouse, he shook the rain off his oiled cloak and cursed. “Étaín! Pissmires and spiders, what have you done all day? This place is a mess. Is something burning?”

She turned to him after swallowing her distress, her head bowed. “I apologize, husband. I found a leak…”

He stood with his arms crossed on his stocky chest. “A leak? A leak? I don’t care about a leak! What did you ruin, woman? I swear, for someone reputed to be an excellent cook, you are damned clumsy with food, and wasteful at that.”

She busied herself with cleaning the hearth and putting things right. First, she wrapped the new dough in a burdock leaf and placed the package in the warm coals. Then she shoved the table back into its proper place. She rubbed at the scrapes the legs made on the flagstones, but Airtre was busy changing into a dry léine. Hopefully, he would not notice the damage until they wore away.

• • •

Christy Nicholas, also known as Green Dragon, has her hands in many crafts, including digital art, beaded jewelry, writing, and photography. In real life, she's a CPA, but having grown up with art all around her (her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother are/were all artists), it sort of infected her, as it were. She loves to draw and to create things. She says it's more of an obsession than a hobby. She likes looking up into the sky and seeing a beautiful sunset, or seeing a fragrant blossom or a dramatic seaside. She takes a picture or creates a piece of jewelry as her way of sharing this serenity, this joy, this beauty with others. Sometimes this sharing requires explanation – and thus she writes. Combine this love of beauty with a bit of financial sense and you get an art business. She does local art and craft shows, as well as sending her art to various science fiction conventions throughout the country and abroad.

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