Exclusive Excerpt: Brownstone: A Jack Elliot Thriller (The Jack Elliot Series Book 1) by Dean Kutzler


The key to the world’s fate discovers a devastating secret that has been divinely hidden since the days of Genesis. As the centuries passed, what was once common knowledge of our ancient origins became purposefully hidden within the lies of clergy.

Jack Elliot–a journalist, living in Montréal–returns to his hometown of New York City to pay respect to his dying uncle. Jack soon learns foul play is at hand when he finally gets to visit dear Uncle Terry. The poor man has had a severe stroke, and, is struggling to talk to his favorite nephew.

Or, at least, that, is what Jack thinks.

Uncle Terry wasn’t struggling to talk to Jack, and, what happens next, sends Jack spiraling down a web of mystery. He gets more than he bargained for, on his trip home, when he finds himself entrenched in not one, but, two, murder cases, where he’s the prime suspect.

What Jack doesn’t know is that amidst all the murder, an organization created at the beginning of time has been patiently waiting for him to…ripen! They have big plans for Jack in this mystery and suspense filled book–plans that are tied back to the very beginning of mankind–and, if they find him, the world will be immeasurably changed most certainly not for the better.

What does a clandestine organization as old as creation want with Jack Elliot? Does Jack prove his innocence? Read the first book in the exciting new thriller series, Brownstone, and discover the true facts that will shock the world!


2000 B.C.E.

The Temple at Dusk…

SHE HELD IT tightly to her chest, as though her unwavering determination could fulfill her prophecy. There was a time when a mere nod of her head could send the will of men withering from her sight before the red locks of her hair fell back into place. That time has long passed; stepping aside until the day it shall reign again.

Her day.

No one saw her enter the temple, coveted under the moonless night like felt, shifting on black satin. The night breeze cool across her back as she slipped passed the entrance.

No one must see.

Once inside, she held her torch beside the iron sconce protruding from the wall and its flame burst and flickered to life. The smell of sulfur reassured her safe passage; she could not trust all the sconces to be lit. Where she needed to journey was deep within the temple and what she held was too important for her to fail.

They could not harm her, the wrongful pact had been sealed, but foul her plans they certainly could.

The passageway was dark. Her feet fell softly on the solid hewn stone, barely visible between the lengths of sconces despite her torch, as she made her way around the first turn. She stopped to relight the iron sconce there, like a beacon. The temple should be empty, but she had to be careful. It had to be done and no one could know.

Especially Him.

She hefted it closer to her chest, cradling it like a stolen newborn and thrust the torch higher as she ventured down the impossible steps. The steps her people built. The steps her people had died for, never having the privilege of their use. What He’d done to them went beyond any justification that existed in this world. Had she not been warned by the infernal source, her fate would have followed and everything would have been lost to this new world.

A world of inequality.

The steps were never-ending, like the heat of her rage. The sweat of her people has long since dried on these stones, no one left to be avenged. Their unjust fate has been hidden from the infancy of this new world. A veil of lies disguised within a deceitful beginning and set off on the heels of destruction. She could not set her plan of the ages into motion until this deed was done. She’d vowed her existence to the cause. The cause for the original beginning.

Her cause.

She finished walking down the never-ending steps, out onto a small landing made from a large block of finely hewn stone. Her face softened at the struggle her people must have had with such a quarry. The landing led down a shorter set of steps, allowing access into a room or branching off to the right, into another passageway. She gazed down that passageway and sorrow filled the perfection of her face. She no longer needed to travel down that path. She forced her gaze forward and squeezed it, yet tighter, to her chest. The memory of her people heavy with this burden she now carried. Once she’s finished, she’d never walk these corridors in this form again.

She trotted down the short set of steps with renewed purpose and entered the immense chamber. Time would be the true test for this room, but not in her time. Wasting not another second, she traversed the great expanse of the chamber to a doorway at the back. It was unfair, she thought, what she was about to do. Then rage once more bubbled up from beneath and chased the fleeting thought. How could she feel such emotion when her people had suffered such an unfair fate? Were they not innocent once, too?

She took one last look at the chamber before she drove her torch through the doorway and entered the passageway. She could not falter now. She could not blanch at the injustice she was about to serve. Sorrow may have filled her heart, but her innocence had been ripped away along with her people.

She glanced up at the hopeful seed-filled pots lining the ledge of the passage while she made her way down toward the sacred footbath. Seeds of such hope, dashed by the light of day. It wouldn’t seem possible, but darkness was their only chance. She left the pots behind along with the memories and continued down the passageway.

She could hear the trickling of the sacred footbath now. The sound as soothing on her nerves as sipping from a communal bowl filled with a strong batch of the bappir drink. She marveled at the lost ingenuity of her people in the construction of this bath. Freshwater ran continuously down from inside the temple walls, filling the stone basin at the bottom and back out, never drying up, nor ever flooding the temple.

She rested her torch alongside the clever stone chair built into the temple wall for this simple yet necessary pleasure, lest she be marked, but she would not release her charge from her grasp, not even for a mere second. For as easily as it was here it could vanish just as simply. The lengths of her struggle must not be in vain.

She gathered her Pala dress around her knees and stepped into the basin. Cool, crystal-pure water splashed over her feet, then flowed from sight beneath the stone and a purifying sensation washed over her, starting from deep within and radiated throughout each perfect pore.

She gently squeezed her eyes shut and sank down into the chair; letting the sin she was about to commit wash from her soul, along with the dirt from her unlikely feet. She no longer needed to play by His rules, but tempt fate she would not. That was beyond both of their control.

She enjoyed the silky purification for as long as time would allow, still bound by the laws of this world. Her task awaited her just in the next chamber.

Stepping over the basin of the sacred footbath, she rose from the stone seat and collected her torch. As she plunged it through the doorway, the immaculate floor shimmered from the flickering flames, shadows growing both tall and short, as she gently padded on clean feet across the room to the corner.

Using the torch like a crutch, she knelt down, keeping her charge tight in her other arm, and angled the flame over the small sprout emerging from the stone floor. Its tiny leaves quivered in time with the flickering of light, and the first true smile since before her people’s fate, bloomed upon her perfect face like a desert blossom. She stared at the little sprout until her eyes grew cold and her smile wavered, and then fell flat.

It was time.

She pulled down heavy on the torch, the weight of her burden intolerable, and lifted herself from the corner. It began to pulse and radiate beneath her tight grasp, knowing its lengthy fate, as she walked away from the hopeful little sprout.

The altar was still warm, the sickeningly sweet scent of burnt flesh hung in the air, as she walked behind it. She glanced about the room to make sure no one had followed her.

Sidestepping the huge stone mural hanging above the altar, she reached up and gently depressed one of the stone blocks in the wall. It moved inward but an inch and muffled sounds of heavy stone wheels could be heard gently rolling behind the wall.

The rolling sounds ceased and the gigantic mural shifted a few feet to the right as pressure could be heard releasing from somewhere, revealing an empty space large enough for what she needed hidden from the world. Hidden, for a very long time to come.

She checked the room once more, then carefully placed the burden inside the secret space and touched the depressed stone.

As the stone raised flush with the wall, the mural slowly shifted back in place and more pressure was released.

The deed was done.

All that was left of her plan was time.

She tossed the torch into the altar and it blazed to life, flames nearly licking the stone ceiling. Once it died to a mere roar, her form appeared between the flames as she stood beneath the mural with both arms straight out from her sides.

She swung her empty palms down in front of her with a violent clap and shen-rings appeared in each. As she slowly raised them above her head her form withered, then fell to dust and the shen-rings disappeared.

Learn more about author Dean Kutzler and his novels; 



Exclusive Excerpt: The Excluded Exile (A Nick Williams Mystery Book 12) by Frank W Butterfield


Monday, February 21, 1955

Nick and Carter are Down Under in Sydney at summer’s end and are looking forward to finally having time to spend at the beach so Carter can get in some surfing while Nick works on his tan as a surf widow.

Everything is going to plan until they forget to make it look like they slept in both beds and are asked to leave their hotel. Fortunately, they’re able to rent a house in the Eastern Suburbs atop a cliff that is two hundred feet above the Pacific. The house is perfect, with new furniture, an ocean-facing sunroom, and a housekeeper.

But then it starts to rain. And a dead body turns up in the kitchen, clobbered with a cast-iron skillet.

The questions start piling up. Who cleaned up the blood after the body was removed? Whose car is that parked at the end of the street? Will they ever make it to the beach?

In the end, it’s another trans-Pacific adventure for Nick and Carter that leads home in a number of unexpected ways.


“Mrs. Tutwiler is my name. You must be Mr. Williams and Mr. Jones.” She looked at Tony and Christine briefly and then back at me. “I was told it was just the two of you.”

I nodded and extended my hand. She didn’t take it, keeping her arms folded. I said, “There’s just the two of us renting the house. Our friends are flying back to San Francisco tomorrow.”

She raised one eyebrow. “I don’t see how, unless you brought your own plane. The next flight to America doesn’t leave until Thursday.”

“As a matter of fact, I did bring my own plane. Mrs. Morris here”—I nodded at Christine—”is the wife of our pilot. And Mr. Kalama is an employee. They’re all flying back to the U.S. in the morning.”

“I see. I suppose you’ll be wanting a tour.”

Without waiting for a reply, she turned and walked through the living room, which was furnished in Danish Modern, and into the front room that looked out over the ocean. “This is the sunroom.” It had a single sofa, bookended by two small tables, facing the windows. A veritable jungle of potted plants of various sizes stood in front of the window but didn’t obscure the stunning view of the cliffs and the water in the distance.

Moving back into the living room, she said, “Lounge.”

I looked at Carter, who shrugged. We followed her back into a room with a dining table and six chairs, china cabinet, and kitchen pass-through.

“Dining room.”

Turning right, she led us into a hallway and made another right that led to a largish bedroom. “Your bedroom.” More Danish Modern. The large bed had a headboard that was comprised of a bookshelf with sliding doors. Matching nightstands on either side had matching elongated lamps. A bureau and a wardrobe, both made of a light teak, faced the bed. There was no bathroom.

Silently moving through us, she led us back down the hall to a second bedroom, smaller than the first, but decorated just the same. “Guest bedroom.”

Further down from that was the bathroom, which was smallish but not too small. Without entering, she said, “Bathroom.”

She then led us back into the dining room and stood in front of a swinging door. “Behind here is the kitchen and my own quarters. I’ll thank you not to disturb my private area.”

I nodded. “Of course, not.”

“Any questions?”

I looked at Carter who appeared to be stunned. Turning back to Mrs. Tutwiler, I said, “I don’t think so. There’s a real estate—”

“Yes. Mr. Willoughby. I phoned him when I saw you drive up. He should be here momentarily.”

We all stood there for a long moment in an uncomfortable silence.

To fill the void, Christine asked, “Have you worked here long?”

Mrs. Tutwiler offered a sour grin. Before she could reply, there was a knock at the door.

Pushing through us, Mrs. Tutwiler said, “Excuse me,” and made her way to the door.

Tony whispered, “Scary.”

Christine said, “I keep waiting for her to say, ‘These are Mrs. DeWinter’s things,’.”

Tony laughed. “Like Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca.”

Christine looked at me. “You’ll have to call this place Manderley.”

I frowned. “What are you two talking about?”

Tony grinned. “You never saw the movie Rebecca?”

I shook my head.

Tony looked at Carter who said, “Me, neither.”

Tony shrugged. “You two are too young. You’ll have to watch it some time. You’ll see what we mean.”

Right then, Mrs. Tutwiler announced, “Mr. Willoughby.” With that, she walked through us and into the kitchen.

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Exclusive Excerpt: Forever Haunt (The Jimmy McSwain Files Book 5) by Adam Carpenter


Fifteen years ago, NYPD officer Joseph McSwain, was gunned down while trying to stop a robbery. His murder was never solved. Until now.

For his son, Hell’s Kitchen private detective Jimmy McSwain, his father’s death has defined him, defied him, and denied him his chance at happiness. But the shooting death of a young officer named Denson Luke has re-ignited the investigation into the mysterious Blue Death conspiracy. Jimmy still must earn a living, so he cannot ignore a family in distress. New neighbors Carmen Ramirez and her young son, Sonny are clearly running from danger. Overnight, their case becomes one involving a missing father, a Chinese crime syndicate, and an abduction which threatens to overwhelm Jimmy’s mission of solving his father’s case. His relationship status with Frank Frisano on and off again, Jimmy tries to do double duty, jeopardizing his own safety. It’s only when another murder occurs that Jimmy finally finds the path that has eluded him. His investigation finally leads him back home, where a devastating family secret overshadows all he’s learned, and the cost to the McSwain family may never be repaid. Jimmy realizes the blood on his hands will forever haunt him.

Exclusive Excerpt:


Case file #101: THE FOREVER HAUNT

The past stared back at him, a ghost with glowing eyes. He hadn’t looked at these clothes in nearly a year’s time, not since last March, the anniversary of his father’s death. March 18th, mere hours after the entire family had celebrated a traditional, and for them—final–St. Patrick’s Day together. He wasn’t sure what hidden impulse had him withdrawing the plastic bag out of the back of his closet today, or why he was looking at ancient stains, rust colored and crusted, that too long ago bore the bright crimson of freshly spilled blood. A pair of faded jeans, a simple white T-shirt, dirty sneakers, the lone survivors of that awful day. His mother had thought she’d thrown them out. Except he had fetched them out of the dumpster in front of their building and never told her he kept them. Back then when a teen he’d been afraid to say so, fearful she would steal them away. Today, the soiled clothes served not as a reminder of the terrible unsolved crime because he didn’t need one, but instead was more of a talisman in this quest he’d sworn one day to complete. The clothes remained in the plastic, a transparent coffin.

He’d inched closer in the last year to finally adding the word SOLVED to the file, the one cold case that continued to deny him sleep. The case was labeled file 101 because it had been his first ever as a private investigator, he his first client. He’d redoubled his efforts in the past ten months, fresh, unexpected clues starting to fall into place. It was like he could taste a resolution, on his tongue and feel it in his heart, within his soul. Both words, forever and haunt, could at last be laid to rest beside his father.

A new year had at last arrived, and with it came a renewed sense of hope, of salvation, as it always did. Except this year was different, because it would be the fifteenth anniversary of the murder of Joseph McSwain, and the truth had been buried too long. Almost like the dropping of that sparkling, diamond-encrusted ball in Times Square, the anticipation of its descent offered up a sense that brightness filled the future. All you needed was an official countdown. Then you could cheer. Then you could celebrate triumph.

Now, though, distant stars dotted a clear night sky that was slipping into the brightening horizon. Morning was edging in, pushing out the past day, bringing sun-filled promise from the east. Wide-awake and restless, he stared at the window of his office, a studio apartment found on the second floor of a walk-up on Ninth Avenue and 46th Street. The time was approaching 4:30 in the morning, the city gone quiet. It was one of those rare times when Manhattan defied its hard-earned reputation. The bars were closed, people slept, the only signs of life coming from the occasional cabs passing by, empty. The lights on the roofs beamed like fallen stars.

Jimmy McSwain had been asleep but his pattern was interrupted, as it was most nights he stayed here. He easily fell asleep, usually around 1:00 a.m., only to awaken somewhere between four and five. He would then do case work, mostly the online research which only seemed to suck up valuable time during normal waking hours. He was between cases right now, which is when he usually turned to the Forever Haunt. He would take out the thickening file of fading memories and reread articles his lips knew all too well. Tonight he’d altered his routine, left the file in the closed drawer, and instead reached back and found the plastic bag of clothes.

It hadn’t happened far from here, the murder of his father. At the corner of Tenth Avenue and 47th Street, a block from the safety of home, an avenue from here. A nexus between his home life and his business, a perfect storm of tragedy and destiny. He should never have lost his father that day, not in that way. Imagine if Joseph McSwain had lived, where would Jimmy be now? Not awake, not being taunted by darkness that lived not only in the night sky but inside his heart. Morning would shun the night and bring the new day it always did. Not the same for what ached inside him, because the wound never did go away. He knew the feeling too well, especially with the anniversary looming. He could hear the loud blast of a gun just as much as he could the constant ticking of the clock. A countdown indeed, the sort that kept sleep at bay.

Jimmy released the faded curtain, closing out the waking city. Encased in his own world, he sat on the worn sofa, the bag of bloodied clothes keeping him company–his younger self still beside him. He leaned forward and instead grabbed the television remote. He flipped the power button, watched as the TV blared to life. He pressed the mute button, not ready for both sight and sound. The cable box always went directly to NY1, the 24-hour news channel in Manhattan. Time was four thirty-one, the early morning anchor detailing the “weather on the 1s.” It was going to be a normal February day, high of 37. He didn’t have much planned for the day. At night, he had promised his mother he would pick up a sub shift at the Calloway Theatre. Not his favorite job, ushering the people to their seats, but he did help in a pinch.

            Anything for Maggie McSwain.

            Including ultimately solving the murder of the only man she’d ever loved.

            On the screen Jimmy noticed video of a crime scene unfolding along one of Manhattan’s waterfronts. Emergency lights swirled in the background, adding garish red streaks to the night. The scenario grabbed his attention. He clicked on the sound, rewound to get the report from the start.

            “Breaking news now. Police have responded to a shooting that has taken place along the East River near 14th Street. Early reports have the NYPD harbor patrol retrieving a body from the river, but no other details have emerged yet. We are waiting for word from the officials on hand but until then we go now to our on-scene reporter, Jillian Jansen, who is standing by. Jillian, can you tell us the latest?”

            “Pat, police responded at about 3 a.m. to a call of shots fired on the pier here on the east side. We expect to hear from the responding precinct captain in a matter of minutes…wait, I see someone walking to a makeshift podium…it’s not the precinct captain but NYPD Commissioner Patrick Delaware himself. This is an interesting turn of events, which makes this incident a high priority. Let’s listen in.”

            Jimmy leaned in, as though doing so got him somehow closer to the action. He watched a distinguished, gray at the temples man of about sixty step up to the microphone. As someone who took careful notice of the activities of the NYPD, Jimmy knew Delaware’s florid face quite well, but it was the two men who flanked him that added to the unfolding intrigue. First, he recognized a one-time family friend, Lieutenant Lawrence Dean, and second, on the left side of the commish was another of his trusted lieutenants, Salvatore Frisano—who happened to be father to Francis X. Frisano, captain of the 10th Precinct in Chelsea and Jimmy’s current lover. Seeing such a high-powered press conference unfold had Jimmy wondering who the victim could be. He felt his heart racing quickly, anxiety winning out over curiosity.

            “Good morning, and it is an early one at that,” Commissioner Delaware began. “I stand here with a heavy heart, regret filling me as I report that one of our finest, Officer Denson Luke of the 10th Precinct, was found washed up along the waters of the East River at approximately 3:45 this morning. The circumstances surrounding his death remain a mystery, though I can confirm that it was neither a suicide nor an accidental drowning. Officer Luke was killed by a single gunshot to the forehead, and while an autopsy will be performed, we are treating this as not only a homicide but an execution of a man in blue. His brethren of the NYPD will devote all our waking hours to finding the perpetrator of this terrible crime. We will all know why Officer Denson Luke lost his life.”

            Jimmy felt like the past never stayed where it should, his life a constantly staged revival. The bloodied clothes served as a prop in a tragic play, the men at the podium the leads. Jimmy a mere spectator, the man who put people in their seats, just as he’d been during the days after his father’s murder. That was back when the police swore the same commitment as he’d just heard. No one gets away with killing an NYPD cop. Yet someone had, long ago. The police had come up empty back then, and who knew, perhaps they would now.

            Jimmy focused back on the television, where the Commissioner was still talking.

            “I have asked two of my trusted aides to form a task force to investigate this brutal crime, working in tandem with the 10th Precinct, where Officer Luke was assigned. Many of you know Lieutenant Lawrence Dean, who works within a special branch of our Internal Affairs bureau. And Lieutenant Salvatore Frisano, who has overseen many high-profile cases, though much of his investigative work is done behind the scenes. Together, these two dedicated men in blue will protect one of their own, even when—especially when—one cannot protect himself. Thank you. I wish us all better days ahead.”

            Jimmy sat there, stunned as the three powerful men in uniform broke from the podium. He absorbed what he’d just heard. The 10th Precinct was under Captain Frisano’s command, and now one of his officers was dead. His father heading up the task force. Jimmy thought about calling or texting Frisano, but what would he say, what comfort was there? Frisano was busy no doubt, perhaps even among those first responders assembled on the pier. He gazed at the screen to see if he could recognize anyone walking about but the camera then panned back to where the reporter stood. Jimmy listened in.

            “Pat, we just learned more details about the victim. Officer Luke was on the force for five years, and he leaves behind a wife and two young children. We will have more for you later. For now, I’m Jillian Jansen, live in Manhattan…”

            Jimmy pressed the power button and watched the image disappear. So easy to douse, just like a life. Everything was instant these days. Except pain. That didn’t disappear so quickly, if it ever did. Jimmy thought about Officer Luke, and he thought about the man’s family, who would wake up to the news of his death, if they hadn’t already been informed. Their lives were altered forever. Jimmy understood all too well.

            Crime never solved anything, not for the perp, not for the vic. It just did damage.

            Jimmy tossed the remote aside, wiped a tear from his eye as he retrieved the bag of soiled clothes from the sofa. Walking across the room, he opened the closet and set the bag on a high shelf. Out of sight, but never out of mind. He returned to the window and saw the first break of light on the horizon. He was grateful to see the hint of a new day, an orange glow of hope. Not everyone got to witness such radiance, and so few appreciated it.

            In truth, few appreciated their life. Not until death readied its final nail.

            Resolution was near. He could feel the tingle in his fingertips. Bring on the morning, that fresh start so many sought.

            Through another family’s pain, mourning, Jimmy McSwain had found new determination to finally close out his first case, no matter the circumstances, or consequences. He was going to bring the heat to this cold case.

            Case File #101: THE FOREVER HAUNT.

            Case Status: UNSOLVED


 Learn More about Adam Carpenter’s “Jimmy McSwain” mysteries; 



Exclusive Excerpt: The Sodden Sailor (A Nick Williams Mystery Book 11) by Frank W Butterfield


Sunday, February 6, 1955

It’s Sunday night and Nick has decided he wants to get back in the kitchen to make a couple of pans of lasagna for dinner, something he hasn’t done since he and Carter moved into the big pile of rocks on Nob Hill.

Captain Daniel O’Reilly, pilot of The Flirtatious Captain, is bringing a friend for dinner. Instead of his latest love interest, the captain introduces Nick and Carter to an old friend, a man who is on his last legs and who has a favor to ask: can Nick and Carter help him get his girl and her son out of Red China?

That’s where things begin but it’s far from where they end…


The sun had set when we headed out for dinner. We brought Captain O’Reilly and Murphy along with us. Since none of us knew where we were going, I stopped one of the bellboys and asked him about the place that Tony had said was at the end of the beach. He knew where it was and suggested we take a cab since it was after dark and we might get lost.

The cab driver dropped us off in front of an old wood-frame building that looked like it was falling apart. But there was some serious jazz coming from a jukebox inside and that immediately got Carter’s attention.

We walked in and found a mix of people and a lot of noise. No kids, which made sense. The place was more like a juke joint than a restaurant. Once I realized what kind of place it was, I relaxed a bit. There were couples in the life, here and there, but mostly it was either loud groups of sailors and marines in uniform or loud groups of fishermen or loud groups of women gathered together. They were all competing to be heard over the horn of Miles Davis. There was every color under the rainbow but one. The four of us stuck out like snowflakes.

Tony saw us, walked up, and hugged me. “Come on in.” He pulled me over to a table where a grinning Chinese man was holding an unlabeled beer bottle in one hand and chopsticks in the other. He was shoveling some sort of seafood into his mouth as fast as I’d ever seen anyone do.

“Lee, this is Nick.”

The man put down the chopsticks and the beer, swallowed, and wiped his hands on his grungy shirt. “How are ya, Nick?” He offered his hand, which I shook.

“Fine.” I pointed. “This is Carter. And Dan. And Johnny.” Everyone shook as Tony and I brought a couple of stools to the table.

“I didn’t know you’d be bringing friends.”

“They’re the reason we’re going to Hong Kong.” I had to shout to be heard.

Tony nodded. “Let’s eat and then we can all go for a walk on the beach and talk about whatever it is you’re doing.” Once again, I was struck by the hardness in his voice. I looked at his face and saw a grit and a determination I wasn’t expecting. I wondered about that.

. . .

Carter charmed a hamburger sandwich out of the cook by using his southern accent. The rest of us ate whatever Tony ordered for us. I had no idea what most of it was but one dish reminded me of the raw fish that John had made for us over on Kauai that was similar to a dish I’d had down in Mexico.

Lee pointed out that the food was a mix of different things: Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian, even Korean. I liked it all. The beer was a local brew that didn’t seem to have a name. All I knew was that it was cold and went down smooth.

I paid for dinner but it came to less than twenty for all us so I added another twenty and we made our way down to the water. Once we were twenty or thirty feet away from the place, I finally felt like I could talk in a normal voice. There were a few couples sitting on the sand and necking. We made our way past them and to a spot where there were picnic tables and sat around one of those. We’d each brought a fresh bottle of beer. Lee produced a bottle opener and passed it around.

“Who makes this?” I asked.

Tony replied, “It’s a place up near where we went today. Not really legal. But it sure is good.”

I nodded. “It sure is.”

Tony got right to the point. “I brought Lee out so you could meet him. I get the feeling that you have some job you’re doing in Hong Kong that might not be on the up-and-up.”

I nodded, surprised for a third time at his change in demeanor. I put up my hand. “Wait. Before we go on, what is this?”

I could see his white teeth in the dark as he grinned. “What’s what?”

Carter asked, “Yeah. What is this?”

Tony took a chug of his beer and shrugged.

Lee answered. “Tony used to do some work for the O.S.S.”

Murphy slammed his hand on the table. “That’s where I recognize you from, isn’t it?”

Tony laughed. “Sure. I know you from working in Chungking.”

Murphy added, “And Canton.”

Tony nodded but didn’t say anything.

I asked, “Did this involve the Nationalists?”

They both said, “Yes,” in unison. They laughed and clinked their bottles together.

I asked Lee, “What about you?”

Tony said, “You’ll never get any answers from him.”

Lee took a swig of his beer and said, “I did my work for the Kuomintang. Lotta good it did ’em, but I did.”

O’Reilly reached over and clinked his bottle against Lee’s. “God bless the generalissimo.”

“Hear, hear,” echoed the other three.

. . .

Once O’Reilly had laid out the plan, I added my latest ideas. After some back and forth about the feasibility of it all, I asked Tony and Lee, “Are you two in?”

They both nodded. Someone had started a bonfire on the beach and I could see their faces in the firelight. They both looked tough. More than I would have expected.

“How much?” asked Lee.

“A hundred a day plus all expenses.” I replied.

He nodded. “Sounds good. When do we leave?”

“At 7 in the morning from the airport. Tony knows the plane. Bring your black tie, if you have it.”

Lee laughed. “The one called The Flying Fireman?”

I nodded and looked at Carter who shrugged.

“You a fireman?” asked Lee.

“He used to be,” I answered. “Don’t you—”

Carter put his hand over my mouth and said, “Just enjoy it, Nick.” He took his hand away and kissed me. I just nodded in agreement.

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Exclusive Excerpt: Cottonmouths: A Novel by Kelly J Ford – Enter the Goodreads Giveaway!


This was Drear’s Bluff. Nothing bad happened here. People didn’t disappear.

College was supposed to be an escape for Emily Skinner. But after failing out of school, she’s left with no choice but to return to her small Arkansas hometown, a place run on gossip and good Christian values.

She’s not alone. Emily’s former best friend—and childhood crush—Jody Monroe is back with a baby. Emily can’t resist the opportunity to reconnect, despite the uncomfortable way things ended between them and her mom’s disapproval of their friendship. When Emily stumbles upon a meth lab on Jody’s property, she realizes just how far they’ve both fallen.

Emily intends to keep her distance from Jody, but when she’s kicked out of her house with no money and nowhere to go, a paying job as Jody’s live-in babysitter is hard to pass up. As they grow closer, Emily glimpses a future for the first time since coming home. She dismisses her worries; after all, Jody is a single mom. The meth lab is a means to an end. And besides, for Emily, Jody is the real drug.

But when Jody’s business partner goes missing, and the lies begin to pile up, Emily will learn just how far Jody is willing to go to save her own skin—and how much Emily herself has risked for the love of someone who may never truly love her back.



From behind, the woman standing with a guy next to the Love’s Truck Stop air pump looked like any other woman: long hair, too skinny, big purse, big sunglasses. But when the woman turned and smiled, Emily’s chest tightened and her insides tingled in a forgotten but familiar way. Rumors of Jody’s return had come as whispers around town, but until now Emily had lacked proof.

A warm breeze blew petroleum fumes and cigarette smoke into her face while she sought further confirmation of who she’d seen. Gas spilled onto her hand. Startled, she released the trigger on the pump and swiped her hand across her jeans. She sheltered her eyes from the sun to scan the parking lot. But the woman and the guy were gone.

Back on the highway, Emily tried to keep her mind as empty and barren as the farmland that rolled by. When that didn’t work, she turned up the radio and hit scan, unable to settle on the station offerings from the nearest town—country or Christian or the same four pop songs on repeat interspersed with commercials for pawn shops and car lots. Midway through the miles she punched the radio off and tried to tell herself that her new fast food job and her time at home were temporary, though she’d been back a month already. She hadn’t meant to apply for the job. She’d talked to the woman at the temp agency like her mom had suggested. The woman had responded the way Emily had expected: sorry, but they didn’t have anything for someone with her lack of professional experience. Best try fast food, the woman had said. The woman’s coworker had lifted her eyes, and Emily had detected smugness in her smile. Angry and wallowing in self-pity, she had asked for and filled out a job application during her value meal lunch at a restaurant she’d spotted on the way home. She hadn’t expected the manager to offer her a job—on the same day that she applied, after a rushed interview whose only purpose seemed to be to ensure she wasn’t a criminal. She had accepted. There was no choice.

Soon, though, she lied to the empty passenger seat, she’d get a call for a job she really wanted or some other professional job she didn’t really care for, but at least it would be a real job, something that could make a dent in student loan and credit card accounts that sat on the brink of default and whose balances kept her up at night. That sounded good until the CDs and candle holders and assorted junk drawer contents in the last moving box she couldn’t bring herself to remove from her car rattled in the back seat. If she took that last moving box inside her parents’ house, she feared she’d never leave Drear’s Bluff.

The dream of next week dissolved into the hot, stale air that surrounded her. She had sold her couch, her bed, her pots and pans. There was no need for those things now. Where she was headed, the cast iron skillet had been seasoned before she was born.

Her mom would cook the beans, potatoes, and cornbread the way her own mother had taught her. Dad would recite the Lord’s Prayer because it required no thought. And Emily would stare at her plate of food and let it go cold while pondering the headset and the cash register and the brown and blue uniform in her back seat, whose fibers still held its last tenant’s stench of fryer grease and body odor—items for a life she had not expected to return to when she left for college, for a job that would not have been offered to her at all had she not removed the name of the state university from her resume—though two years hardly called for its inclusion.

Two years in, after failing to meet the grade requirements to keep her partial scholarship and other financial aid, she’d quit. Six months after quitting, she’d gotten a call from her mom asking why they had received a student loan bill in the mail when she wasn’t supposed to graduate for at least two more years. Now, here she was. Back with debt for a degree she hadn’t earned.

As the road came into sight—the one that led to her childhood home, and her parents, and their accompanying disappointment in her—she drove past it, beyond the mile markers, in a direction she had not driven in years, led on by a thought formed in the parking lot of the truck stop with no idea what she would find once she got there.

Drear’s Bluff ’s main drag looked like every other small town. There were the necessities: a post office, a floral shop for homecomings and Valentine’s Days and birthdays and graduations, and the feed store. Here, the men were men and women were women. Roles were handed out and passed down like the matriarchs’ afghan quilts, biscuit recipes, and stories.

She slowed the car when she came to the Quik-a-Way gas station-slash-everything mart and roadside diner. Every Sunday for as long as the Quik-a-Way had been around, the old men sat at the counter, sipped their hot coffee, and waited for their wives to finish gossiping. They never tired of talk about the good old days, when the farms were theirs alone, no corporate middlemen to answer to, no undue rules and regulations. All the farmers, including Emily’s dad, would pull on their green John Deere hats and disappear behind storms of dirt that trailed their tractors. They prided themselves on eating their Cream of Wheat and tightening their belts and working hard like everyone in Drear’s Bluff had been taught. Folks liked to slap their knees and joke that there were only two classes of people in Drear’s Bluff: poor and dirt-poor. The poor weren’t really poor. They just liked to say they were. The dirt-poor were still dirt-poor but they liked to think they weren’t. And most of the working fields, the ones that paid for supper, were good and gone.

Out of habit, she spied the parking lot for familiar vehicles. She didn’t recognize any of them. These cars belonged to the current crop of seniors and juniors who were there to grab a burger or a Mountain Dew before they headed off to evening shifts at restaurants and stores in towns bigger than Drear’s Bluff. They didn’t know now, but in a year or two these kids might appreciate the simplicity and comfort of having somewhere to go every day that required no input, no guilt. You went to school. You ate lunch. You went home.

Once she left the highway and the outskirts of Drear’s Bluff behind, the smooth asphalt shifted to a rumble. She cursed the potholes in the dirt road, unearthed by thunderstorms and hardened into craters that destroyed tires. The branches hung low and thick with dust kicked up from what little traffic barreled down the deadend red clay road. The dust drifted into the car, coating the dashboard and causing her to sneeze. The soaring grain silos of Johnston’s farm came into view. Along with their farm, they kept a stable of horses that they sometimes rode in the Old Fort Days Rodeo Parade. The horses dotted the horizon. As she’d done as a child, Emily adjusted her gaze so that the sky and grass looked connected by the barbed wire fence with a Frankenstein stitch, so that a horse looked like it’d been caught on the metal thorn. She navigated her car farther into the deep recesses of woods, past roads without markers and faded No Hunting signs riddled with buckshot, past the entrance to Lee Creek, where countless teenagers had indulged in their first drink, smoke, kiss, and heartbreak.

Two pale, skinny, and shirtless teenage boys walked along the side, near a dry ditch. One of the boys held a shotgun. The other, a red plastic gas can. Their ATV had probably run out of gas while they were out in the woods shooting songbirds for sport. Emily slowed the car when she passed them. She lifted an index finger off the steering wheel for a one-finger wave. Two sets of dead eyes stared back at her, like the boys had been beat on a few too many times. They returned the gesture and disappeared in the car’s cloud of dust.

Her nerves pricked as she drew closer to that familiar plot of land. She came to the end of the road and paused at the faded black mailbox and the metal farm gate that stood wide open. Knots that had begun to cramp her gut told her to turn around, best to let some things lie, but a stronger current of curiosity and what ifs overtook her and she made the turn. Trees in desperate need of a trim scraped the sides of the car until she came to the clearing. Her heart drummed at the sight of the trees, the dirt drive that snaked up the hill, the chicken house, the uncut grass—all recognizable but unfamiliar.

She would have put the car in reverse and driven ten miles back to the highway, beyond the high school and the Quik-a-Way, back home, back from the past, shaking her head at the notions that had occupied her mind since she left the truck stop—but there was a witness. She leaned against the long metal panes of the chicken house and let a cigarette burn down in one hand while she gnawed on a fingernail of the other like it was sugar cane. Jody Monroe.

Adrenaline thrummed through Emily. She swallowed hard, tried to ease her mouth for speech. The rumors were true.

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Exclusive Excerpt: Idyll Threats (A Thomas Lynch Novel) by Stephanie Gayle


In the summer of 1997, Thomas Lynch arrives as the new chief of police in Idyll, Connecticut—a town where serious crimes can be counted on one hand. So no one is prepared when Cecilia North is found murdered on a golf course. By chance, Chief Lynch met her mere hours before she was killed. With that lead, the case should be a slam dunk. But there’s a problem. If Lynch tells his detectives about meeting the victim, he’ll reveal his greatest secret—he’s gay.

So Lynch works angles of the case on his own. Meanwhile, he must contend with pressure from the mayor to solve the crime before the town’s biggest tourist event begins, all while coping with the suspicions of his men, casual homophobia, and difficult memories of his former NYPD partner’s recent death.

As the case unfolds, Lynch realizes that small-town Idyll isn’t safe, especially for a man with secrets that threaten the thing he loves most—his job.



2230 HOURS

I didn’t make small talk, didn’t ask about anyone’s evening plans or even say goodnight. I snuck out the station’s rear exit; the metal door squeaky with humidity, got into my cruiser, and drove to a secluded road. I parked and sat, watching the darkness grow, swallowing one tree at a time. I’d driven to the woods to think. Or not to think. To be alone.

I did a lot of that.

An insect symphony played, all percussions. I didn’t like so many bugs so near. I was city-bred, used to roaches and the occasional mos- quito. Something pinged against my windshield. My hand went to my gun. Reflex. The action recalled last year’s report on gun deaths that I’d read earlier today. In 1996, only 55 cops in the U.S. died on the job from gun-related incidents. I bit my lower lip. In a year less likely to end in a police funeral, my partner, Rick, had beaten the odds. Been shot dead by a dealer. I could hear Rick in my head. “What can I say, buddy? I’m exceptional.”

A bug adhered itself to the passenger window, its fat body vibrating against the glass. To hell with this. I turned the key in the ignition. Time to go home.

He sped past my cruiser, his convertible’s top down. Doing 55 miles per hour, at least. I flipped on my lights and siren and cut a U-turn. The car fishtailed before the tires bit down. The frame shuddered as I lowered my foot. The driver slowed, then stopped his car. He stared ahead at the pocked road, hands on the wheel.

I approached slowly. You never know whether the guy you’ve stopped is an upright father of four or an anxious kidnapper. If he was the former, I didn’t want to scare him.

The crescent moon turned his gray hair silver. He turned toward me when I reached his door. Blue eyes. I’ve always been a sucker for blue eyes. “Sir?”

He started when I spoke. Not unusual. I’m a big guy with a deep voice.

“License and registration, please.”

He handed over both. His watch was a TAG Heuer. A real one. I’d seen the fakes sold on Canal Street. His name was Leo Wilton. Age forty-nine. Address in Ashford, CT. Thirty minutes east of here.

I considered running his plates. Screw it. Too much to hope he was a serial killer.

I returned his papers. “The speed limit on this road is 35 miles per hour.”

“That right?”

“Lot of wildlife out here. Deer. They do nasty things to cars.” Or so I’d heard. I’d been here seven months and not seen one. I suspected the locals invented things.

“Sure. Sorry ‘bout that.” He looked directly at me. Straight men don’t stare into each other’s eyes, unless they’re about to fight. This guy wasn’t angry. My body responded. My brain fought back. I was within town limits. I could be spotted. But it had been a long time since I’d scratched this itch. Five and a half months: a long winter, a stone cold spring, and a summer with no skin in it. I craved contact.

“You see a lot of action out here?” He waved his hand at the trees, their needles pointier, ominous at night.

“Action?” He was hitting on me. I hadn’t mistaken it. “Not exactly.” In this town, with its picket-fenced homes, action was unknown. Everyone here was hetero or doing his best to pretend to be. I gave him a small smile, just a quick pull of my lips. It was enough.

“You want to go somewhere?” he asked.

I chewed the smooth skin inside my cheek. I was off duty, but in uniform. A hell of a risk, but he looked nice in the moonlight, like a foil wrapped gift.

“There’s a place not far from here,” he said.

Had I known what would result from this encounter—the secrets, the lies— I would’ve gone home and slept alone, again. But murder doesn’t call ahead; warn you that it’s coming. And if it had, I wouldn’t have believed  it. In  this sleepy  town named  Idyll, murder  seemed impossible. So I walked, light-headed with lust, unaware that each step brought me closer to death and near destruction.

He led me to a disheveled shack I’d heard of but never seen. The cabin by Hought’s Pond was condemned. In New York, to be con- demned required one of three Cs: crack house, critters, or collapse. Here in Idyll, Connecticut, public disapproval was enough. The house, a shingled box, had a sunken porch, rotted roof, and windows shot out by teens with BB guns. Jack is a dooshbag was spray painted on the front door. Above the tag, a frayed No Trespassing sign dangled. This place was a blight in its postcard-perfect town. No wonder they’d con- demned it.

He gripped my shirt and tugged me down so my face was level with his. I stiffened all over. He smelled of peppermint, his lips thin and slick. He reached under my shirt, his fingers tickling my abs. “Some- one’s been working out.”

I grunted. We stomped up the creaking stairs in unsteady lock step. My cock throbbed, halfway between pain and pleasure. Our bodies bumped. “Ah,” I said. I nipped his neck. He held me closer. We crashed through the cabin door. My foot connected with a can. It rattled across the floor.


We jerked apart. A couple lay on the floor, half undressed. They reared back, as if struck. Near them, an oil lamp glowed. Too dim to warn this place was occupied. “You can’t come barging in here,” the girl said. She lifted her ass to wiggle into her jeans. Metal winked. Belly button ring. She was young. Twenty or so. Her hair a waterfall of brown. Her panties pink lace, a good girl’s version of sexy. She smelled fresh from the shower clean. But her tone and company told a different story. Even in the feeble light I saw her friend was daddy material. His hair thinning on top. He fumbled with his zipper and half-rolled to his side.

“Let’s go,” I said, but Leo crossed his arms. “Not so fast,” he said.

“Faster.” My lust had fled when I’d seen the couple. I touched his hand, but he yanked it back.

“You miss the no trespassing sign?” Leo raised his voice to fill the space.

The girl thrust her face forward. A white oval with red lips. Just kissed. Pretty, and angry. “This your cabin?” she asked. Her tone left no doubt she knew the answer.

“Stop arguing,” her friend said. He stabbed his arms into his jacket. “He could arrest you,” Leo said. He pointed to my badge.

The couple blinked. They hadn’t noticed my uniform. But now they stared, eyes on my badge. I inhaled. It hurt. A lifetime of work, burnt to ash. And for what? A quickie in a rotting cabin? The man got up from the floor and hurried past, hand to his face. Like a pedophile on a perp walk.

The girl looked smaller now, her eyes on the door. “Guess you don’t have any real criminals to chase, huh?” She shoved her feet in her sneakers, not bothering with the laces. As she stomped past I smelled coconut. The door smacked shut and bounced, the wood warped by damp.

“Why the fuck did you do that?” I said to Leo.


“Point out my badge. I’m not looking to advertise.”

He spread his arms wide. “Now we have the place to ourselves.” He smiled. I didn’t.

“You don’t bully people because you want a fuck. Got it?”

“Yes, sir.” He saluted.

“I’ll lead you to your car.” Make sure the bastard left town, and fast.

He snorted. “I can find it. I’ve been here before. This place isn’t a

secret.” He pointed at my badge again. “Except to you, I guess. Later,

Chief.” He stepped around a discarded condom. I let him go. He knew

my rank. From the cruiser and my badge. He could report me. Ruin me. If he hadn’t already.

Broken glass littered the floor. The space smelled of pond algae,

like corpses in advanced stages of decay. Multiple people had come here

for sex? Why? And how had I almost been among them? God, I was

like Rick. My dead partner. Risking my career for a stupid fix. Moonlight

shifted through the roof ’s holes. A pattern of spotlights played

on the sprouting floor. A cracked window shivered. In it, I saw myself,

a hulking dark shape. My badge glinted, the only bright thing in that

lonely space. I bent down and blew out the oil lamp flame.