Excerpt: PORTRAIT OF A CONSPIRACY by Donna Russo Morin

Excerpt from PORTRAIT OF A CONSPIRACY by Donna Russo Morin

Viviana stood near the front of the congregation beside the Conte and Contessa, for once as enthralled with Fiammetta’s rank as Fiammetta always had been. She forgot any and all earlier concerns; her slippered feet—her best pair, though worn—tapped upon patterned marble, her thumbs twirled around in the clasp of her hands. It was the best attempt at quiet reverence she could manage within the multitude of distractions.

The Gothic vaults of the central nave towered above, guarded by the columns and round arches of ancient Rome, so high only birds could reach its apex, set aglow by the sweet light streaming in through the mammoth clerestory windows. It was a cave of wonders built by the hand of man, a hand guided by God.

Viviana aimed her eyes forward, on the priest standing in wait, small and encapsulated within the chancel and the cupola over it.

“Where is our Lapaccia?” Fiammetta leaned close to whisper, and Viviana could merely shrug in ignorance. They had planned to be together on this special occasion but the woman and her son were nowhere in sight.

Mass was often no more than an excuse to see and be seen, but never before had Viviana witnessed so many watching so many others. Yes, it was Ascension Day and with a cardinal coming to celebrate it at that. Still, the congregation appeared incongruently heavy with men…well-dressed, well-outfitted, standing side by side, and yet apart.

A metal hinge creaked; Viviana blinked as sunlight and the Medici brothers burst through the door. The chorus struck a rousing chord as if to sing their praises and not those of God. Both brothers accompanied the cardinal to his seat beneath the cupola. Viviana lowered her head as the priests began their parade of blessing, thuribles clacking, releasing the spicy scent of the incense that did little to mask the odor of so many bodies packed side by side.

The brothers separated, each taking the head of one side of the congregation, as far apart and as far forward as they could, Lorenzo to the left, Giuliano to just a few rows before Viviana. She wondered if perhaps they separated to discourage contrast of one so powerful and one so beautiful. With them and their group, the church filled— dignitaries, nobles, clergy, and dashing soldiers; Viviana tried not to stare at the luminaries but failed. A few she recognized as those she had seen approach with the Medici contingent, malcontent slick upon their faces, shrouded in a disquiet out of sorts with such a hallowed place.

Many congregants marveled at the sight of the Medici brothers and their guests. Viviana felt it too, their magnetism. But at the glimpse of one of the men among them, at the tall, thin man most simply called da Vinci, her breath became a shallow, elusive thing. Her emulation of the artist bordered on obsession, regardless of the salacious rumors that swirled around him like a storm.

Movement snatched her attention. Archbishop Salviati, the hem of his rich purple cappa magna slapping at his ankles, scampered down the far aisle on his short legs. Viviana turned rudely from the altar—eyes wide, brows high—following the clergyman hurrying past the ranks. Oh, over there now—an equally disruptive sight.

Messer Jacopo de’ Pazzi, the presiding patriarch of the powerful family, yanked her gaze to the right as he too rushed from the cathedral, and out the opposite door.

Viviana looked round, forehead creased, wide blue eyes beseeching; had none of the other congregants seen what she had, did they not find it baffling? True, she was not so familiar with Mass among esteemed patrons, but none considered such displays of disrespect normal. Did they?

“Bene dictam, adscrí ptam, ra tam, rationábilem, acceptabilém fácere dignéris.”

Viviana pinned her gaze forward, shaking her head softly to set aside and away all confusing thoughts, for the priest was making the sign of the cross, three times, over the great chalice. The Consecration had begun, the blessing of the body and blood of Christ. In this moment, she often found the greatest connection to Jesus.

Today it was not to be.

The bell rang, the host was elevated, and…

“HERE, TRAITOR!”

The scream tore through the church, a shrieking, evil explosion. Viviana’s breath faltered, her heart hammered. Directly in front of her, directly beside Giuliano de’ Medici, a mad man came to life. He was not alone.

“Look out!” Viviana screeched and pointed at the daggers raised high. Just as the priest upon the altar raised the host, the shiny steel flashed in her gaze, the flaying weapon intent upon spreading pure madness. Downward they plunged.

Viviana’s world turned blood-red.

PORTRAIT OF A CONSPIRACY by Donna Russo Morin

Book One

Portrait of a Conspiracy

Da Vinci’s Disciples

One murder ignites the powder keg that consumes a Florence under the iron rule of the powerful Medici family. Amidst the chaos, five women and one legendary artist weave together a dangerous plot that could bring peace, or get them all killed.

Seeking to wrest power, members of the Pazzi family drew their blades in a church and slew the beloved Giuliano. But Lorenzo de’ Medici survives, and seeks revenge on everyone involved, plunging the city into a murderous chaos. Bodies are dragged through the streets, and no one is safe.

Five women steal away to a church to ply their craft in secret. Viviana, Fiammetta, Isabetta, Natasia, and Mattea are painters, not allowed to be public with their skill, but freed from the restrictions in their lives by their art. When a sixth member of their group, Lapaccia, goes missing, and is rumored to have stolen a much sought after painting before she vanished, the women must venture out into the dangerous streets to find their friend. They will have help from one of the most renowned painters of their era―the peaceful and kind Leonardo Da Vinci.

It is under his tutelage that they will flourish as artists, and with his access that they will infiltrate some of the highest, most secretive places in Florence, unraveling one conspiracy as they build another in its place.

Historical fiction at its finest, Donna Russo Morin begins a series of Da Vinci’s disciples with a novel both vibrant and absorbing, perfect for the readers of Sarah Dunant.

Suspense | Mystery Historical [Diversion Books, On Sale: May 10, 2016, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781682300602 / eISBN: 9781682300596]

Women Painters, Conspiracy and Murder Star in This View of 15th-Century Florence

Interview with Tristan Gallagher, hero from VERNAL by Randi Cooley Wilson

Tristan Gallagher walks into the room and stops when he notices me. I turn to face him and he raises an eyebrow, before his gaze slides to the photo I’m clutching of Serena St. Michael and him. Casually, I place it back on the fireplace mantel.

*clears throat*“You have a lovely home here in the woodland realm. It’s log-cabin chic.”

TG: small smile tugs at his lips*“Log-cabin-chic? That’s a new way to describe it.”

Tristan hands me a mug off coffee and motions toward the couch. I take a seat and wait for him to sit across from me. He doesn’t. Instead, he sits next to me invading my personal space. The smell of spice and citrus hits me and I almost ask him to leave Serena and marry me.

TG: *smirks in a knowing way* “Shall we get started?”

I stare. It’s hard not to. He’s hot. *clears throat* “Um. Yes. Let’s get started.”

Character Interview

Do you have a nickname?

TG: “Nope.”

I notice you have this sexy scar on your upper lip. How did you get it?

TG: *shifts uncomfortably* “Years ago, during a coronation, I was running through a dark forest and an angry tree branch reached out and cut my lip. The scar is what is left of the wound.”

What did you think of Serena St. Michael when you first met her?

TG: *eyes shift to the photo on the mantel* “I thought she was beautiful and free spirited.”

Do you love her?

TG: “It’s complicated.”

If you had to make me a meal right now, without going to the store, what would you find in your refrigerator to feed us?

TG: “Um. Unless my housekeeper was here, most likely cold cereal and expired milk.”

What’s the one thing you’re afraid of losing?

TG: “Serena.”

What makes you laugh out loud?

TG: “Corny jokes. Like, what did the ice cream say to the sprinkles?”

“What?”

TG: “I’ve got you covered.”

“That’s funny.”

TG: “Right?”

I understand Gage Gallagher is your father. How do you feel about that?

TG: *expression falls* “I don’t feel anything about it.”

What would you like readers to know about The Royal Protector Academy series?

TG: “For them, it’s just a story. For me, it’s the world I live in. I might not always make the right decisions or act accordingly, but I have my reasons for everything.”

What’s the one thing you want out of life that you don’t think you can have? Why can’t you have it?

TG: “Love. Simply because I’m not worthy.”

VERNAL by Randi Cooley Wilson

Royal Protector Academy #1

Vernal

Serena has a bright future etched in stone.
Tristan has a dark past that haunts him.
Together, they have a love that can never be.

Sheltered, and unable to escape her bloodline, Serena St. Michael has spent the last two years training at the Royal Protector Academy. Struggling with a dark past, Tristan Gallagher’s current assignment is to protect a lifetime of secrets. One chance encounter will change everything. Serena must decide if she will follow her heart, forsaking all she’s ever known and risking a future worse than non-existence. Tristan will break every rule to save Serena, even if he can’t keep her. In their world of darkness, one love will ignite an ancient war. When pasts collide with the present, and secrets are revealed, will love be enough? Or will one lie destroy it all?

When you’ve hidden behind a mask for so long, would you reveal yourself for love? Vernal, the first novel in The Royal Protector Academy series is a dangerously exciting and darkly romantic tale that will take your breath away.

Romance Erotica Sensual [UNKNOWN, On Sale: June 24, 2016, e-Book, ISBN: 2940152864090 / eISBN: 9781311296283]

About Randi Cooley Wilson

Randi Cooley Wilson

Randi Cooley Wilson is a bestselling author of paranormal, urban fantasy, and contemporary romance books. Randi was born and raised in Massachusetts where she attended Bridgewater State University and graduated with a degree in Communication Studies. After graduation she moved to California where she lived happily bathed in sunshine and warm weather for fifteen years. Randi makes stuff up, devours romance books, drinks lots of wine and coffee, and has a slight addiction to bracelets. She currently resides in Massachusetts with her daughter and husband.

Royal Protector Academy | The Revelation

WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | GOODREADS

EXCERPT: The Dead Don’t Bleed by David Krugler

THE DEAD DON’T BLEED by David Krugler: Chapter 1

The alleys of Washington, D.C., are unlike those of any other city. Small carriage houses, one after another, abut the cobbled or clay backways. Within certain long, wide blocks, the alleys intersect, creating labyrinths as complex as a casbah. Here the two-story dwellings—woodframed and sorely in need of paint—pitch and lean, like a drunk who has stood up too fast. Stray cats slink along weed-choked walls, the stench of shit wafts from outhouses. Residents slump in rickety chairs and makeshift benches, drinking, throwing dice, sleeping. Here and there, scattered signs of neighborly pride. A vegetable garden tucked away, a whitewashed fence, a woman scrubbing her two-step stoop. Washingtonians who live streetside rarely venture into these slums pocketed dark and dank between the city and the capital. Why would they?

“Maybe rolled?” suggested Terrance. His listless tone could hardly hold up the question mark.

“Here?” I flicked my hand at the open windows of the dilapidated houses lining the alley south of M Street and west of Second Street, SE. Two young Negro boys watched us from a corner yard, thumbs hooked shyly at the corners of their mouths. Curtains fell back from an elderly Negro woman at a sill. Though it was 1 a.m., I doubted any of the alley dwellers were still asleep, but other than the two boys, no one had come outside.

“Maybe it happened in one of these houses. He fights back, the buck pulls a gun—he and the whore drag him out front and hightail it.”

I turned to the Detective Sergeant from the Metropolitan Police Department. He stood a few feet away, his brim pulled low.

“Any prostitution here?” I asked. “Robberies?”

He exhaled cigarette smoke, shook his head.

Terrance and I looked down at the body.

“He didn’t go easy,” said Terrance.

On that he was right. Lieutenant junior grade Logan Skerrill, U.S.N., had fought hard. A deep scratch, congealed, swept down his cheek from his left eye. Blood matted his scalp and encrusted his nostrils, another cut slashed his chin. Torn shirt cuff, his pants smudged and scuffed. He had been a handsome man. Dark, curly hair, a little long in the front. Aquiline nose, jawline like a cutter’s prow. Six feet tall, maybe. Slim, but strong. Would take an even stronger, or very reckless, man to bring down Skerrill.

“Why go to the trouble to beat up a man you’re gonna shoot?”

I looked at the reddish brown stain across Skerrill’s shirt.

“S’why we know this wasn’t a two-bit con or robbery,” I answered Terrance. “Someone wanted to hurt him first.”

“Tough break. A month more, maybe, to this war, and he gets it back home in an alley.”

The police photographer, a plump middle-aged man with a florid, sweat-slicked face, watched us expectantly. He had knotted his tie too high, his charcoal gray suit was wrinkled.

“How much longer you think?” I asked.

“Not long.” He shifted the bulky Leica in his arms. “Ten more minutes, probably.”

Terrance and I stepped back from the body. The photographer leaned slightly over Skerrill’s feet and pointed the camera down, at the chest wound. Ka-plunk. The flash sounded like a billiard ball dropping fast and hard into a pocket. The light burst turned the body’s face a brilliant white and, for an instant, lit every crack, crevice, and gap in the alley cobblestones. The failure of the eyelids to clench shut was unsettling, and one pupil was larger and rounder than the other. I walked over to the police detective, a man named Durkin. A few years older than me, gray eyes, ruddy face traced with acne scars, reddish brown hair.

“Takes awhile,” I commented, tipping my head at the photographer. Now he was standing close to the splayed fingers of Skerrill’s left hand, which lay palm-side up.

“Yeah.” Durkin seemed to give further reply careful consideration first. “He’s good, though,” he finally said.

“Maybe you could measure when he’s done.”

He shrugged. “Yeah, okay.” Hands in his pockets, he walked slowly to the black Chrysler with the M.P.D. insignia on the door. Grit on the soles of his wingtips scraped audibly on the cobblestones. He leaned through the open passenger-side window to speak to the driver, a patrolman who hadn’t yet left the vehicle. Two other patrolmen stood by their squad car, chatting—no gawking bystanders to keep away tonight.

Terrance ambled up, nodded toward Durkin. “How’s our boy?”

“Unhappy. How much, hard to say.”

He nodded absently. “We’re gonna need to estimate time of death.”

“Me or you?”

“I’ll do it. You can do the blood.”

“Thanks a lot.” Grimacing.

He patted me on the shoulder. “Give you something to talk about at your high school reunion.”

“Lieutenant . . . ?” The photographer’s voice tapered off.

“Voigt,” I answered. “Lieutenant Voigt.”

“Yessir. I’m all through.”

Terrance and I returned to the body. The photographer smiled nervously. “About the prints, Lieutenant Voigt, should I—”

“Two sets,” I cut in. “Otherwise develop and log ’em like any other scene. We’ll get our prints from Detective Sergeant Durkin.”

“Thank you, sir.” He nodded and walked back to the patrol car, passing Durkin. After the photographer loaded his gear into the back seat and got in, the car pulled away, the headlights reflecting off dark windows.

Durkin was all business now. He strode to the body’s head and slipped a tape measure from his jacket pocket. He pointed to the alley dwelling behind me.

“We’ll start there.” He extended the tape end toward me. I tugged it with me to the house’s front wall, pressed it to the bricks. Durkin snapped the tape taut and jotted the distance in his notebook. We repeated this routine, neither of us speaking, from the feet of the corpse and on the other side. Durkin took other measurements as well: length of the body, which lay crumpled on its right side, legs slightly bent, both arms extended; the width of the blood pool beneath the abdomen; the distance from the alley mouth, which he paced off, counting his steps. He returned, flipped his notebook to a new page, and started sketching the scene. Terrance, crouched beside Skerrill’s left arm, shot me an annoyed look.

“We’re turning him,” he called loudly.

Durkin raised his head briefly, nodded, busied himself again with the notebook.

Terrance grasped Skerrill’s left shoulder and pulled, gently but firmly, and the slack, pliable body fell onto its back. Terrance slipped his hand under the arm for a moment. “Still warm. No rigor mortis.”

“So in the last few hours?”

He nodded and pointed to the dark pool of blood, now fully exposed. Looked at least twelve inches in diameter. “Try the pencil,” he said.

Gingerly, I dragged a pencil tip through the blood while Terrance held his flashlight. The track of the pencil remained on the surface of the pool.

“See how it’s dry around the edges?” he asked. “Been clotting two, three hours, I’d say.”

“This a lotta blood?”

“Depends on how many times he was shot. One thing for sure, he didn’t die right away.”

“How do you know?”

Terrance gestured at the stain covering the bricks and filling the mortar lines. “Because the dead don’t bleed.”

Crouched beside my partner and the body, I surveyed the alley. The two young boys were gone. This close to the ground, the shadows cast by the lone streetlight spilled across the alley like ink blots. Weeds, garbage, slum—if Logan Skerrill had been conscious when he fell to the bricks, his last view of this world wasn’t pretty.

I reached into the front left pocket of Skerrill’s chino trousers, found only a few coins and a book of matches. The back pocket was empty. Terrance checked his right pockets. No wallet, just a silver clip of cash, and Skerrill’s identification card.

“Traveling light,” Terrance murmured.

“Could’ve had a satchel or briefcase with him,” I suggested.

“Killed over it? Maybe.” He quickly counted the bills in the clip. “Thirty-two bucks—so not a robbery.”

Durkin leaned in. “What’d you find?”

Terrance showed him the clip and ID and said, “Change and matches too.”

Durkin scribbled this down. “So not a robbery.”

“No kidding,” Terrance replied flatly.

I stood up slowly. I had eight inches, easy, on Durkin—I gauged him at about five foot six. “How long till the wagon gets here?”

He peered past my left shoulder, as if the coroner was just now pulling into the alley. “I told them we’d be a while.”

“Then let’s start the canvass. Be sure to ask when they got home.” I pointed to the north side of the alley. “You can take those houses.”

He walked off, just slow enough to be noticeable. Terrance sighed heavily and rose to his feet, briskly swept dust from his trousers. “My clairvoyant powers have already told me what we’ll get.” He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples with his fore- and middle fingers. “Nah suh, didn’t see no’ hear nothin’,” he drawled.

He was right—we got nothing. No surprise. Half-a-dozen cops and two uniformed naval officers, all white, had descended on a Southeast alley in the middle of the night because a white man turned up dead. What’d we expect, a confession? Most of the Negroes muttered one or two-word replies. Did you hear men fighting? “Nah.” Shots? “Nah, suh.” When did you get home? “Don’ remember.”

“Think a colored cop might get something?” Terrance asked, exasperated, when we reached First Street. I shook my head.

Durkin finished a few minutes after us. The residents had stonewalled him, too. “That it?” he asked me.

“Your men looked for casings, right?”

“Nothing. Too dark.”

“So then we’re just waiting for the coroner.”

“Need me for that?”

Terrance suppressed a snort. “Hell, coroner shows up and there’s a body and no M.P.D.—he’ll think we did it.”

Durkin failed to hide his annoyance at letting himself be shown up. “I’ll check on the wagon.” He strode back to the remaining police car.

Terrance grinned broadly. “If I’m not mistaken, he wanted to leave us out here by our lonesome.”

“I’m sensing his spirit of wartime cooperation is fading as fast as the Nazis.”

“Wait’ll tomorrow when we ask for the photos. He’s just getting started.”

Terrance and I were investigators for the Office of Naval Intelligence, the O.N.I. A murder shouldn’t have come our way—we worked in B-7, the Sabotage, Espionage, and Countersubversion section. Terrance had been a cop in Pittsburgh before the war but he’d only been a detective for a few months before getting his Navy commission. And this was no ordinary killing, as we had just learned. Commander Burton Paslett, our section chief, had called us to his office at the Main Navy Building an hour earlier.

“Know that alley on the west side of the Navy Yard, runs alongside M?” he asked.

“No, sir,” I said. Terrance shook his head.

“You will soon.” Paslett leaned back in his wooden chair, the steel swivel creaking loudly. He was about fifty-five, his close-cropped hair almost fully grey. The years had padded his cheeks, added a dewlap beneath his chin, but the lean face of his youth was still visible.

“Not till the morning, right, sir?” Terrance asked slyly.

“It is morning.” He motioned us to sit. “Just got a call from the Chief of Detectives for D.C. Seems one of ours turned up dead there.”

“If he’s in an alley, he’s theirs,” I said.

“Any other alley, sure.”

Terrance and I exchanged confused looks. Then my partner exhaled loudly, reached in his jacket for cigarettes. “Somehow this alley is part of the Navy Yard.”

Nodding, Paslett said, “We bought the parcel between Second and First last year. All the homes are gone except the block along M and its alley houses. They’re due to be razed but it hasn’t happened yet.”

“M.P.D. knew all that, sir?” I asked.

No answer, his impatient look my rebuke. I should’ve noticed the bound folio of Sanborn Insurance maps and the oversized diagram of the Navy Yard on the corner of the desk.

“So why do we want this murder, sir?” Trying to redeem myself.

“Because of the victim, Lieutenant j.g. Logan Skerrill.” Paslett looked at me. “You knew him, didn’t you, Voigt?” A statement, not a question.

I blinked, my mouth open—Skerrill was the victim? I sure had known him, not as a friend, but as a fellow recruit. “Yessir, we went through the Funhouse together,” I answered Paslett. The Funhouse. Coney Island. The Carnival. All slang for the O.N.I.’s training program for undercover work. The facility, coincidentally located at the Navy Yard, was housed in an enormous aviation hangar and featured mock-ups of apartments, offices, and even a Hollywood-quality street stage to teach aspiring operatives how to pick locks, search rooms, and shadow marks.

Paslett asked, “How well did you get to know him?” Showing mild curiosity, but he must’ve studied my service jacket and Skerrill’s before summoning Terrance and me. Which meant the commander knew precisely when Skerrill and I were at the Funhouse, who our training officers had been, how much contact we’d had.

“I didn’t much care for him, sir, so I avoided him.”

“Why didn’t you like him?”

“He was too good, sir. A real natural. He coulda been a locksmith, the way he could get through doors, and he is—was—a natural-born actor. Put on covers as easily as hats.”

“His ratings sure showed that.”

“’Specially compared to Voigt’s, huh?” Terrance chipped in, grinning crookedly.

The commander shot him a look, but my partner was right.

“Lotta men get tight in the Funhouse,” Paslett said. A question, not a statement.

“Not us, sir. Sure, we’d end up in the mess together, we’d shoot the breeze there, maybe we went out with the boys a coupla nights.”

Maybe?” The commander squashed conditional answers like the rest of us smack cockroaches.

Did go out with him and the boys, sir. To Borland’s.”

Terrance chortled—Borland’s was a burlesque club off M Street, well known for serving bountiful cheesecake to bluejackets.

“Where you didn’t spend much time talking, you and Skerrill.”

“Nosir.”

“When you shot the breeze at mess, what’d you talk about?”

“I guess—I recall once we talked about how we came to join the Navy, sir.”

“And what do you recall about Skerrill’s answers?”

“He made a joke. Said he ran away to sea to go whaling but they don’t have whalers anymore. So he joined the Navy instead.”

“Made a lotta jokes, Skerrill?”

“Yessir. Another reason I didn’t like him. Everything came so easy to him, all seemed like a big joke to him.”

“You felt like he was laughing at the rest of you.”

I hadn’t thought about it that way, but the commander had pegged it. Rest of us, all clowns, to Skerrill. “Yessir.”

“Well, he sure ain’t laughing now,” Terrance remarked.

“Where was Skerrill assigned, sir?” I asked.

“OP-Sixteen-Z.” The Special Activities Branch. “This last year he liaised with Army intelligence. To give you an idea of what the director thinks of him, he posted him with the Bermuda Special.”

Terrance gave a low whistle. The “Bermuda Special” was the nickname for a cruise a destroyer had made from Newport News, Virginia, the previous October. Five officers from O.N.I., all Special Activities, had been detailed to the cruise, which the War Department had overseen. Usually when Army asks Navy to help carry its water, plenty spills along the way. Not this time. Word spread fast—gossip this, earn a long billet in the Aleutians. The vessel and crew, and whatever was aboard, had disappeared into the Atlantic and didn’t return for several weeks.

Paslett continued, “Before that, Skerrill helped run the Mexican op that flushed out mercury smugglers for the Japs.”

“What was he doing lately, sir?” I asked.

“Supposed to be running background on a couple of new Amtorg arrivals.” Amtorg was the Soviet Union’s trading company in the United States. Ever since we’d entered the war, the Soviets had seeded agents and spy contacts among Amtorg’s staff.

“Supposed to?” This from Terrance.

“Seems our Lieutenant Skerrill wasn’t his usual crackerjack self on this one. Spotty reports, no progress, kept raising doubts about his subjects.”

“He didn’t think they were spies,” I said.

“Right. But I have it from a good source that these two Reds were in it deep. So why did Skerrill suddenly go soft?”

“Blackmail?” I suggested.

Terrance nodded vigorously. “Bet he was a fairy, Reds sussed him out.”

Scowling, Paslett said, “Cross-checks usually found him tumbling out of some G-girl’s bed the next morning. Doesn’t sound like a swish to me.”

“You think Amtorg’s behind this, sir?” I asked.

Paslett thought for a moment. For the chief of an O.N.I. section, his office was modest. Had his share of citations, but none hung on the wall, just a photograph of him and his wife and daughters. His expansive desk was clean, orderly, polish reflecting the overhead light.

“Amtorg’s got balls, but they’re not stupid,” the commander said. “Murdering an O.N.I. lieutenant, that’s a shitstorm they don’t want.”

“So it’s not the commies, sir,” Terrance said carefully.

“I didn’t say that—I just said I didn’t think it was Amtorg.” He paused, we waited. “I’m gonna share something with you boys you gotta keep to yourselves. The Reds aren’t using Amtorg like they used to. Early on, sure, they shipped in spies like United Fruit brings in bananas. But it’s too obvious to keep that up. The Russian embassy and the N.K.V.D.”—Soviet secret police—“know we’re tracking every single Russian who comes in with Amtorg stamped on his visa. Now, does that mean the Reds are winding down their ops here? War’s about to end, they’re just gonna close up shop and go home?”

We knew better than to answer—when the commander got going on the Reds, best you wind your watch and settle in.

“So how are the Reds doing it now, how are they infiltrating? I just had a confab with Army SigInt—they picked up a helluva spike in the Russians’ cable traffic. They’re working round-the-clock on the code, no luck yet. Now I don’t think they’ll ever break it, but that’s not my point—fact that the cables are up fifty percent tells us something, doesn’t it?”

We nodded dutifully.

“So forget Amtorg,” Paslett finished. “Reds seeded new plants years ago, now they’re reaping bumper crops.”

“You think Skerrill was a Red spy, sir?” Terrance asked.

“I don’t know—yet. But I think Skerrill getting killed after going soft on Amtorg isn’t a coincidence. And you two are gonna find out if I’m right.”

“Sir, if I may . . . ?”

Paslett nodded curtly at me.

“If Skerrill was a Russian plant, wouldn’t him waffling on this Amtorg investigation be a dead giveaway? To keep his cover, he’d be gung-ho. Especially if Amtorg’s no longer the espionage front it was. Like you said, sir.”

Being a bright penny earned me a tight smile.

“Very good, lieutenant—guess you learned a thing or two at the Funhouse. Normally, yes, the plant would keep his cover at all costs. But I think something went wrong. Skerrill encountered someone he knew at Amtorg, and he panicked.”

“Sir, that shouldn’t happen,” Terrance put in. “Cells are supposed to be isolated, and no one’s better at that than the Russians.”

Paslett’s withering look caused my partner’s shoulders to slump an inch or two. “I did say something went wrong, didn’t I, Lieutenant Daley?”

“Yessir.”

“And for the record, we’re better at operational security than the Russians.”

“But sir, then who would want to murder Skerrill?” I put in.

“Jesus, you two—do I gotta fetch a towel so you can dry off behind your ears? If Skerrill panicked and exposed himself, the Reds would bump him off to keep all the other plants protected.” He thumped his desk. “Fifty percent increase in cable traffic! They’re not sending happy birthday wishes to Uncle Joe, goddammit. SigInt says most of that increase is outta the Russian embassy right here in D.C., and the consulate in New York’s a close second. The Reds are on to something big in our yard, and we’ve gotta find out pronto—before the war’s over.”

“Yessir,” we unisoned.

“Now, I want you to let the D.C. boys do their routine but never let ’em forget who’s in charge. I want you turning Skerrill’s life upside down for any connection to the Russians. If you don’t find one—and you damn well better look long and hard—then we’ll drop his murder back in the M.P.D.’s lap as fast as we snatched it away.”

“Sir, what if what we find takes us to the Bermuda Special?” I asked.

“If there are holes you need filled, I’ll fill them.” He glanced at his watch. “You need to get to the scene. Take this.” He slid Skerrill’s service jacket across the desk.

We stood up, I picked up the file, we turned to go.

Paslett spoke before we opened the door. “Sixteen-Z raised holy hell about us taking this. I had to call in a marker the director’s owed me for a while. A lot of fellas are going to be watching you close, sniffing around. But this needs to be our own little Bermuda Special, got it?”

We got it.

The coroner’s wagon arrived at the scene at 3 a.m. I helped the driver roll Skerrill onto a stretcher and load him up. Terrance told Durkin we’d call him later that day, after we got a little sleep and reviewed Skerrill’s records. Night sky just paling, wrens and robins stirring as I went home. I had a basement flat in a row house on Caroline Street, just off Fourteenth Street, in Northwest Washington. A friend of my pop’s, a sour German named Kleist, owned the house. Years ago, back in Chicago, Pop must have done something awful nice for Kleist, because he let me have the joint all to myself. In wartime Washington, your own place was as scarce as nylon stockings or copper pipes. Kleist glared at me every month when he collected the rent, like he was trying to eyeball me into three tenants and a lot more moolah.

A short set of cement stairs led to my door. Small front room, iron bars on the windows. Just one bedroom, long and narrow, parallel to a hallway leading to a galley kitchen and toilet with a shower stall. No stove, just a two-burner hotplate and a small icebox. Came with a fourth-hand sofa, battered easy chair, wobbly table, decent-enough bed.

Franklin D. barely lifted his head from his paws when I came in. A brown and white tabby, a stray I’d coaxed in from the alley colony to take care of the mice that scrabbled behind the walls at night. He was a decent mouser, though sometimes I had to leave his food bowl empty to motivate him. Tilted his head at my scratch, went back to sleep when I walked to the kitchen. I grabbed a beer from the icebox and double-popped the can with the opener dangling from a nail. After prying off my brogans, I stretched out on my mattress and stared at the roughly plastered ceiling.

Took a long pull of my beer. If I ran B-7, I’d let the M.P.D. keep this case lock, stock, and barrel. Hell, I’d never done police work. Just because the murder had occurred on property the Navy had a claim on didn’t mean O.N.I. had to take the case, even with the victim being an officer. Paslett’s instincts were good, but sometimes he got carried away. He saw Reds around every corner, and his paranoia had only deepened as the end of the war approached. There were a thousand and one reasons why Skerrill might have been killed on this particular night in late April 1945, and Paslett’s hunch that Skerrill might be a Russian plant looked like awful weak tea to me. But then, Paslett had Commander in front of his name; Terrance and I just had Lieutenant j.g.

I drained my beer and set the can on the floor. I suppose anxiety over investigating a murder with barely a clue as to how to go about it should’ve kept me awake, but during war, when you’re safely stateside, you don’t sacrifice what precious time you have for sleep to fret about the dead.

THE DEAD DON’T BLEED by David Krugler

The Dead Don't Bleed

In a gripping World War II mystery set in Washington, D.C., a young naval intelligence officer goes undercover to solve a murder and prevent the Soviets from stealing the secrets of America’s atomic bomb project.

Washington D.C., 1945. Victory in the war looms, but a new fear transfixes the wartime capital. Fear of communist spies and the atomic secrets they covet. When the corpse of a Navy Intelligence officer is found on a cobblestone back alley, Lt. Voigt is called in to investigate. It’s his first murder, but in the plot that he quickly begins unraveling, it won’t be his last. Pursuing crosses and double-crosses, Voigt goes undercover and the fragments he discovers (a defecting German physicist, a top secret lab in New Mexico, and Uranium-235) suggest something far larger than the usual spy v. spy shenanigans. Soon enough he’s in a race to identify the killer, to keep the bomb away from the Russians—and to keep ahead of his own secrets.

Mystery Historical [Pegasus, On Sale: June 7, 2016, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9781681771397 / eISBN: 9781681771830]

A 1945 Twisting, Turning Spy Story in Washington, D.C.

Final Clue with Nancy Bush!

This is the final clue in Nancy Bush’s own version of the Clue game. Post your best guess on her Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/nancybushauthor/, of how a chess game might be part of her July romantic thriller, THE KILLING GAME, and she’ll send the poster of her favorite guess not one but FIVE of her books!

THE KILLING GAME by Nancy Bush

Rafferty Family

The Killing Game

From New York Times bestselling author Nancy Bush comes a tense, intricately plotted novel of suspense, as one woman becomes the focus of a killer’s warped game of revenge and murder.

The Rules Are Simple:

It’s the ultimate test of strategy and skill. The killer chooses each opponent carefully, learning each one’s weaknesses. Every meticulously planned move is leading to a devastating checkmate. Because in this game, all the pretty pawns must die.

First You Play

Andi Wren is fighting to keep her late husband’s company safe from vindictive competitors. When she receives an ominous note, Little birds must fly, she turns to P.I. Luke Denton. But though Luke has personal reasons for wanting to take down Wren Development’s opponents, his investigation suggests this is deeper and far more dangerous than a business grudge.

Then You Die. . .

In a basement on the outskirts of town, police detectives unearth piles of skeletons. As they learn the shocking truth about each victim’s identity, their case collides with Andi’s, revealing a killer’s ruthless plot and a chilling, lethal endgame…

Romance Suspense | Suspense [Zebra, On Sale: July 1, 2016, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781420134667 / eISBN: 9781420134674]

Abigail Baker | Tattoos

Something about me, the author—I love tattoos because they tell a person’s story. History and archeaology shows us that humans have been wearing ink since we began writing words down. Long before the advent of scientific inquiry, humans had strong, possibly magical reasons for why they got tattoos. These marking identified them as members of certain clans or as healers or chiefs or as those seeking the healing powers from their ancestors. While the times have changed and people of today don’t necessarily believe their tattoos are magical, they still get them to tell a story about their own triumphs or losses or hopes or their history or familial connections.

The Deathmark series was born from the idea that tattoos can have good or bad magical properties. Perhaps that butterfly on your shoulder helped you heal a wound or that favorite quote kept you focused on your seemingly unachievable goal. But for anyone unfortunate enough to get a skull tattoo from Master Scrivener Ollie Dormier, they are set on the fastrack to their death.

The idea of Ollie’s job—tattooing death into unwitting humans—seems both an interesting and heartbreaking one. The job as a Scrivener becomes a real problem for an empathetic soul. Such is the case in Ollie’s story. She cares so much about saving lives instead of ending them, that she is willing to become a traitor to the business of death.

Add in some sexy, wise-cracking grim reapers to balance out Ollie’s awful job satisfaction and, well, you get the world of Styx.

One last thing about me. Some have asked if I wear a Deathmark. I have one (clearly it hasn’t done me in just yet) and I got it from a friend and highly talented artist named Jessica Weichers. Jess participates in P.INK, a program that provides tattoo inspiration and artist info to masectomy patients. If you’re in the St. Louis area, go check out her shop. I can assure you she isn’t a Scrivener, but rather a damn fine tattoo artist with a heart of gold.

Peace,

xAbigail

About Abigail Baker

Abigail Baker

Abigail Baker shares her home with a Siamese cat endearingly named “The Other Cat” and two rescued mutts with mundane human names that people think are cute. In addition to writing about rebellious heroines, she enjoys hiking, discovering craft beers, baking the perfect vanilla bean cupcake, and rock climbing (going as far as scaling 800 vertical feet to the summit of Devil’s Tower National Monument in 2013.).

Abigail won first place in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s 2010 Colorado Gold Writing Contest for Romance for THE BLOODSUCKER and first place in RWA’s Golden Network’s 2011 Golden Pen in Paranormal Romance for TATTOO OF YOUR NAME ACROSS MY SOUL (now THE REAPER’S KISS, Deathmark Book One). She regularly blogs about life observances, lives at the base of the Rocky Mountains, and can be easily found hiking any of Colorado’s best trails.

Deathmark

WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | TWITTER | GOODREADS | BLOG

THE REAPER’S SACRIFICE by Abigail Baker

Deathmark #2

The Reaper's Sacrifice

It’s been two years since I tried to overthrow Death…

Now, all I have to show for it is a life in exile without my lover and personal Grim Reaper, Brent Hume. He bargained his soul for my safety. If I could get him back, I would, but I don’t don’t have the first idea how. So I live for the night when Reaper’s bring nightmares to the living—and Brent visits me in mine. Doesn’t make for a good night’s sleep, but I’ll take what little of him I can get.

When Death comes calling, sending me into an old foe’s camp as a spy, my inner rebel awakens once more. If I play my cards right, I might improve upon my growing Master Scrivener powers and finally free Brent so that we can be together for good. I know he’ll do anything to keep me safe—even if it means I’ll never see him again. And that scares the Hell out of me.

Romance Paranormal | Fantasy Urban [Entangled Select, On Sale: June 27, 2016, e-Book, ISBN: 9781682811832 / eISBN: 9781633755871]

A Unique Connection Between Two Series

I’m pleased to be able to talk about the unique connection between my double release books today. TO CATCH A FALLEN SPY, Book 8 in my bestselling Brethren of the Coast series, released on June 28th, 2016, with THE BLACK MORASS, Book 1 in my brand new Pirates of the Coast series, releasing on July 5th. Readers can receive an exclusive gift, an autographed book trading card, with the purchase of either book. Those interested can claim their gift by visiting barbaradevlin.com.

What makes this double release so special, you might be wondering? The books converge with the villain in TO CATCH A FALLEN SPY. In TO CATCH A FALLEN SPY, Jean Marc Cavalier has a grudge to settle with the Brethren, which goes back to the first book in the series, ENTER THE BRETHREN. Elaine, the heroine of the story, sees something in Jean Marc that makes him reconsider his plans, and he opts for a different course at the last second. The epilogue sees Jean Marc given a chance at redemption, but he must survive a year of performing good deeds to win a pardon. THE BLACK MORASS is Jean Marc’s tale of redemption and love, and it kicks off my brand new pirate series, where not so chivalrous men seek a second chance at life and happiness.

Here is a special preview from TO CATCH A FALLEN SPY.

Secrets lurked in the shadows, beckoning as a welcomed friend for the undaunted. Unfettered by social conventions, the spotlight of which forced many a lord or a lady to conform to the expectations of others, the blackness functioned as a form of liberty, wherein revelers conducted their covert games without threat of discovery or retribution. It was in those dark spaces Lady Elaine Horatia Prescott found comfort and strength.

As the youngest member of a large, extended family comprised of spirited ladies with bold personalities and equally intrepid men, the famed Nautionnier Knights of the Brethren of the Coast, daring sea captains descended of the Templars, the warriors of the Crusades, she often hugged the background, taking pride in her ability to hide in plain sight. Searching for some sense of herself, something not influenced by the rich history of her ancestors or her colorful relations, she fought to construct her own identity on her terms.

What she had not expected was to find love.

With great care, she moved swift and sure as she approached her target, skulking amid the outskirts of the crowd that filled the Hawthorne’s ballroom, during the height of the Little Season. As she neared, he shifted, and she paused just shy of touching him and held her breath.

In one fail swoop, he pivoted, slipped an arm about her waist, pulled her into a corner, and bent to whisper in her ear. “Lady Elaine, you are the only person capable of sneaking up on me, and I am not sure I appreciate your skill.” Sir Ross Logan, the enigmatic head of the Counterintelligence Corps, brushed the crest of her flesh with his lips, she suspected not by accident, and her knees buckled. “Why do you not dance? Why do you not take your place among the ton, with the other debutantes? Do you not wish to snare a husband, marry, and have children?”

“On the contrary, I want all those things with someone of my choosing.” She cupped his cheek, and he retreated, much to her chagrin. “But I am here because you are here.”

“Elaine, you must stop this nonsense.” Now he withdrew and attempted to push her aside, but she resisted, even as her heart plummeted. And despite his complaints, he would not hazard courting attention, so she held her ground. “I am not the man for you.”

“How do you know that?” It was not the first time he rejected her, and she surmised it would not be the last. “Why will you not give us a chance at happiness?”

“Because I have nothing to give you but misery and regret.” As usual, Ross offered the same excuse.

“I disagree.” As usual, she would not be deterred. “And I will not yield my cause, no matter your protestations.”

“Neither will I.” To convey his position, he folded his arms, but he could never fool her. “Go back to your world of perfume and petticoats, as I have work to do, and I require no partner.”

TO CATCH A FALLEN SPY by Barbara Devlin

Brethren of the Coast #8

To Catch A Fallen Spy

Lady Elaine Prescott, the most timid member of the Brethren, has spent much of her time in the shadows, forever blending into the background. From her unconventional perspective, she studies people and their behavior, gleaning information most overlook, and she is content in her quiet little world. When her unusual habit puts her in the right place at the wrong moment, she witnesses a violent crime, and her life is threatened. To her dismay, Elaine finds herself in an unwelcomed spotlight and in need of a knight.

Sir Ross Logan is a master spy and the mysterious head of the covert Counterintelligence Corps. In dark spaces he lurks, scrutinizing those he is charged to defend, and it is an easy and uncomplicated existence for a man of many secrets. In the midst of a murder investigation, he is tasked with guarding a noblewoman, the gentle lady he has furtively admired for years. Young and unspoiled, she is everything he is not, and he vows to protect her. While he doubts not his ability to save her from a lethal villain, can Ross defend Elaine against himself?

Romance Historical [On Sale: June 28, 2016, e-Book, ISBN: 2940153167909 / eISBN: 9780996250979]

THE BLACK MORASS by Barbara Devlin

Pirates of the Coast #1

The Black Morass

Forever glancing over his shoulder, Jean Marc Cavalier is a ruthless pirate with the blood of countless souls on his hands and a price on his head, but he is a lonely man. In exchange for a chance at redemption, pardons for his crew, and a peaceful life, he accepts a pact that could result in liberty or death, if only he can survive the terms, but at least he will be free. When he rescues a young woman in distress, and vows to return her to her family, he is torn between his natural instincts born of violence and the honorable bargain he struck. What will Jean Marc choose?

En route to Jamaica to join her father, after her guardian dies, Lady Madalene Davies departs Boston in anticipation of a new life in a foreign land. When her ship is attacked and set afire, she is left for dead, until an unlikely savior comes to her aid. Brash and bawdy, her flawed hero defies the conventional ideal, as he is no knight in shining armor and seems forever intent on shocking her, yet she cannot resist the lure he presents. What happens when danger lurks in unexpected places, faith is broken, and Madalene must rely on Jean Marc to stay alive?

Romance Historical [On Sale: July 5, 2016, e-Book, ISBN: 2940153165813 / eISBN: 9780996250986]

Play Clue with Nancy Bush: Beware the Cliff!

Here’s Clue #9 in Nancy Bush’s version of the Clue game she’s playing on her Facebook page. What could possibly make this car soar off the cliff in her July romantic thriller, THE KILLING GAME? Post your best, creative guest on Nancy’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/nancybushauthor/, and she’ll send the poster of her favorite guess a made-in-Oregon gift.

THE KILLING GAME by Nancy Bush

Rafferty Family

The Killing Game

From New York Times bestselling author Nancy Bush comes a tense, intricately plotted novel of suspense, as one woman becomes the focus of a killer’s warped game of revenge and murder.

The Rules Are Simple:

It’s the ultimate test of strategy and skill. The killer chooses each opponent carefully, learning each one’s weaknesses. Every meticulously planned move is leading to a devastating checkmate. Because in this game, all the pretty pawns must die.

First You Play

Andi Wren is fighting to keep her late husband’s company safe from vindictive competitors. When she receives an ominous note, Little birds must fly, she turns to P.I. Luke Denton. But though Luke has personal reasons for wanting to take down Wren Development’s opponents, his investigation suggests this is deeper and far more dangerous than a business grudge.

Then You Die. . .

In a basement on the outskirts of town, police detectives unearth piles of skeletons. As they learn the shocking truth about each victim’s identity, their case collides with Andi’s, revealing a killer’s ruthless plot and a chilling, lethal endgame…

Romance Suspense | Suspense [Zebra, On Sale: July 1, 2016, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781420134667 / eISBN: 9781420134674]

Play Clue with Nancy Bush: Release Day Special!

Today Nancy Bush’s THE KILLING GAME is available online and in stores across the country.

To celebrate, Nancy’s playing her version of the game, Clue, on her Facebook page. All you have to do is guess how this picture might be part of the plot in this new romantic thriller. What message might be in that envelope? Post your guess on https://www.facebook.com/nancybushauthor/, and Nancy will send her favorite poster a fun gift from her home state of Oregon, where the book takes place.

THE KILLING GAME by Nancy Bush

Rafferty Family

The Killing Game

From New York Times bestselling author Nancy Bush comes a tense, intricately plotted novel of suspense, as one woman becomes the focus of a killer’s warped game of revenge and murder.

The Rules Are Simple:

It’s the ultimate test of strategy and skill. The killer chooses each opponent carefully, learning each one’s weaknesses. Every meticulously planned move is leading to a devastating checkmate. Because in this game, all the pretty pawns must die.

First You Play

Andi Wren is fighting to keep her late husband’s company safe from vindictive competitors. When she receives an ominous note, Little birds must fly, she turns to P.I. Luke Denton. But though Luke has personal reasons for wanting to take down Wren Development’s opponents, his investigation suggests this is deeper and far more dangerous than a business grudge.

Then You Die. . .

In a basement on the outskirts of town, police detectives unearth piles of skeletons. As they learn the shocking truth about each victim’s identity, their case collides with Andi’s, revealing a killer’s ruthless plot and a chilling, lethal endgame…

Romance Suspense | Suspense [Zebra, On Sale: July 1, 2016, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781420134667 / eISBN: 9781420134674]

MOJITOS WITH MERRY MEN Release Day Special!

Only 99¢ Today (e-Book)

Release Day special!
MOJITOS
WITH
MERRY MEN

by Marianne Mancusi

MOJITOS WITH MERRY MEN
Timeless in Love #2

Chrissie Hayward, NYC fashion photographer and thoroughly modern gal, has never been one to swoon over fairytales. So when a mysterious gypsy tells Chrissie that she is a “gentle soul who would tame an outlaw’s thirst for revenge,” she’s not totally convinced the woman isn’t a couple of beans short of a frapuccino. But when Chrissie finds herself suddenly transported back in time to rescue her crazy coworker Kat, she’s ready to believe anything is possible! If only she’d known she was going to meet her “true love,” a hottie in Sherwood Forest, Chrissie would have worn better shoes!

But it turns out Robin of Locksley, aka the real Robin Hood, isn’t exactly a Prince Charming. That bit about robbing the rich to feed the poor? He evidently hasn’t gotten the memo yet. In fact, he’s less a folk hero and more a brooding bad boy. Not to mention his not-so-merry men who are under the impression that Chrissie is actually a boy. I mean, sure, she’s not exactly stacked, but still! Nonetheless, Robin is loyal, brave, and handsome as sin. If Chrissie could just get him with the program, she knows she could right his wagon and get these boyz’n the wood to be heroes of the realm instead of twerps in tights. But if she’s not careful, Chrissie may find this prince of thieves stealing her heart…

Gemma Halliday Publishing, On Sale: June 28, 2016, e-Book / Paperback

Buy MOJITOS WITH MERRY MEN: Kindle | BN.com | iTunes/iBooks | Kobo | Amazon CA | Amazon UK | Amazon DE | Amazon FR


Timeless in Love

COCKTAILS IN CAMELOT

#1
Kindle | BN.com | iTunes/iBooks | Kobo

FLIRTINIS WITH FLAPPERS

#3
BN.com | iTunes/iBooks | Kobo

An Excerpt from TOUGH LUCK HERO

Colton West couldn’t remember the last time he had gotten blackout drunk. Maybe college? Maybe. It was hard to say if in those scenarios he had passed out because of the alcohol or because they were still awake at five in the morning after some ridiculous party.

Though at none of those ridiculous parties had he married anyone.

And, judging by the messages overflowing his phone, he had gotten married last night.

Which wouldn’t be that weird since yesterday was supposed to be his wedding day. The weird part about it was that he had married a bridesmaid. Not the bride.

And not just any bridesmaid.

Lydia Carpenter.

There were three other bridesmaids. All of whom he was more likely to get drunk and marry in Vegas than Lydia. Or at least, he would have thought so if asked prior to his hasty Vegas marriage.

Actually, had he been asked prior to his hasty Vegas marriage he would have said there was no way on earth he would ever get drunk and marry anyone spur of the moment. He was not a spur-of-the-moment kind of guy. Colton was a planner. Colton had never set one foot out of line.

After his older brother had taken off and completely abandoned the family, it had been up to Colton to establish himself as the likely heir to his father’s business. It had been up to him to be the son his father needed. And he had taken that duty very seriously.

Hell, the wedding yesterday was a prime example of that.

The wedding that had originally been scheduled, not the wedding that had ultimately taken place.

This was a nightmare. Unacceptable in every way.

So take it back.

It was the only thing to do. Unlike his brother, who had run when he didn’t want to deal with his life, and unlike his father, who had buried his mistakes, Colton would meet his head-on.

He looked up from his phone at his scowling—he winced—

“Well, I can honestly say this is the last situation I ever expected to find myself in,” he said.

“No way,” she said. “You do not get to look this annoyed about the situation. This is your fault.”

How is this my fault?”

“Granted my memory is questionable, but if I remember right, we were drinking in Ace’s. Then you were the one who suggested we go somewhere. You were the one who said you had the time off and wanted an escape. You are the one that facilitated the car to take us to the airport and said we needed to get a nonstop flight to somewhere that would be fun. And lo, we boarded a plane to Vegas.”

“At no point did you say no,” he said, wishing he could remember the events a little bit clearer. Maybe she had been hesitant. Maybe she had said no and he’d talked her into it.

But he was going to bluff his way straight through, dammit.

She folded her arms across her chest, crinkling the ridiculous lavender fabric of the bridesmaid dress she was wearing. One of Natalie’s choices. And honestly, he hadn’t cared. Not about the entire spectacle that she had put together with his mother from top to bottom. It hadn’t concerned him at all. The only thing that mattered to him was that Natalie was an appropriate choice. She’d been raised in a family like his. Highly visible in the community, with a lot of concern given to appearances. There were expectations placed on her as the daughter of the long-term mayor, and they matched the expectations placed on him. Plus, he was attracted to her. He liked her. A lot.

He’d liked her more before the wedding plans had started to get really intense. But, ultimately he had been confident in her as his choice of bride. So, the wedding had seemed like an incidental detail to him. Something that would have to take place to appease his mother, Natalie’s family and the populace of Copper Ridge, before he could get on with his life.

He hadn’t paid attention to things like bridesmaid dresses. And now he wondered if he hadn’t paid enough attention to Natalie, either. Well, obviously, since she had left him standing there at the altar without anything other than a quick apology text.

One line, obliterating a relationship that he had spent two years building. A relationship that was supposed to shore up the foundation of his life. And she’d just knocked it all down.

I can’t do this.

That was all she’d said. And he didn’t even get the message until later, after the ceremony that wasn’t. When he was already at Ace’s ordering the kind of hard liquor he never, ever drank in a public space. And definitely not to excess. Then Lydia had shown up.

Fast-forward a little bit—through scenes he couldn’t even remember—and here they were.

About TOUGH LUCK HERO

Tough Luck Hero

Can the golden boy of Copper Ridge, Oregon, get a second chance at happy-ever-after? 

Ranching heir Colton West knew his wedding would be the talk of the town. But he didn’t expect to get left at the altar—or to escape on the next flight to Vegas with Lydia Carpenter, the woman who gets under his skin like no one else. The only thing crazier than honeymooning with Lydia is waking up married to her. So why does he find himself entertaining his new wife’s desire to stay married—and fantasizing about a real wedding night?

As Copper Ridge’s prospective mayor, Lydia can’t risk a divorce scandal so close to election time. But pretending to be blissfully in love with her new husband is more confusing than she’d thought. For a man who’s always rubbed her the wrong way, Colton suddenly seems to know exactly what to do with his hands. And his lips. Now Lydia’s wildest mistake could turn out to be her luckiest move, if they’re both willing to take the ultimate gamble…

Buy TOUGH LUCK HERO: Amazon.com | Kindle
| BN.com | iTunes/iBooks | Kobo | Google Play | Powell’s Books | Books-A-Million | Indiebound | Amazon CA | Amazon UK | Amazon DE | Amazon FR

About Maisey Yates

Maisey Yates

USA Today Bestselling author Maisey lives in rural Oregon with her three children and her husband, whose chiseled jaw and arresting features continue to make her swoon. She feels the epic trek she takes several times a day from her office to her coffee maker is a true example of her pioneer spirit.

In 2009, at the age of twenty-three Maisey Yates sold her first book. Since then it’s been a whirlwind of sexy alpha males and happily ever afters, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. Maisey divides her writing time between dark, passionate category romances set just about everywhere on earth and light sexy contemporary romances set practically in her back yard. She believes that she clearly has the best job in the world.

Fifth Avenue | Copper Ridge | Deacons of Bourbon Street

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK