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.


Exclusive Excerpt: Evan Sent by J.P. Bowie

Evan Sent by J.P. Bowie


Fiction and reality become intertwined when a young movie actor playing the role of a detective finds himself in a real-life drama that threatens to bring a sudden end to his career.

Evan Ericson is young and beautiful, a former fashion model and a gifted actor. When he is offered the role of a detective in a new film noir indie movie, he jumps at the chance, certain that this is his opportunity to leave behind the notoriety of appearing in porn movies and his dependence on drugs.

Mark Henderson is an out-of-work actor searching for his big break. When, by sheer chance, he lands a part in a new indie movie, he can’t believe his luck. Nor can he believe it when he meets Evan Ericson. Sparks fly at their first encounter. When rehearsing their roles, Mark’s world is rocked by Evan’s kiss and a new Hollywood romance is born.

But things thought long buried in the past have a nasty habit of rearing their ugly heads, and being stalked and threatened by a manic drug dealer is not something either Evan or Mark envisaged in their future together. Will Hollywood magic be enough to keep them safe or will Evan’s bad-boy reputation tear them apart?


Evan has helped out a one-time friend by giving him enough money to go home and escape the clutches of a loan syndicate. Now Evan is being threatened by this same syndicate and he calls on Dave Franklin and LAPD cop for help…


Evan jerked his head toward the studio door, where the silhouette of a large figure was framed in the doorway. Dave…let’s hope this is good news. “Hey, Dave.”

He waved and hurried over to his friend from his modeling days. Tall, broad-shouldered, his dark-brown hair now lightly streaked with gray, Dave Franklin was still an imposing presence. He caught Evan up in a bear hug and kissed him on the forehead.

“You look even better than I remember,” he said, holding Evan at arm’s-length, his gaze sweeping over Evan’s face and body. “Why did I ever let you go?”

Evan laughed. “You were married to your job, if I recall.”

“And you were traipsing all over the world. Well, it’s good to see you. I’m glad you called me. Where’s your friend?”

Looking around, Evan spotted Mark talking to one of the sound techs but watching him and Dave at the same time. “Hey, Mark…when you’re done, come meet Dave.” Mark crossed the studio floor and approached them, a nervous expression on his face.

“Dave, this is my boyfriend, Mark Henderson.” Evan took Mark’s arm and drew him in close. He watched as the men shook hands, and Mark seemed to relax under Dave’s broad smile.

“Good to meet you, Mark. Sorry about the circumstances, but chances are I’d never have heard from Evan if there wasn’t some kind of problem.”

Evan tried not to feel guilty at Dave’s words. “We’ve talked…but you’re right, Dave, I’m terrible at keeping in touch, but it’s good to see you.”

“Is there somewhere we can talk in private?”

Mark gestured at the corridor that led to the break room. “There’s no one taking a break right now. We can use the room while it’s empty.”

“Good enough.” Dave followed them as they led the way past the camera and sound equipment. “So, this is where it all happens. I’ve never seem a movie in progress before.”

“You should stay and see Evan in his next scene,” Mark said. “We can ask Charles if it’s okay that you watch him in action.”

“That’d be great.” They entered the break room and sat at one of the tables.  “So, here’s the deal.” Dave kept his voice low even though they were the only ones in the room. “Castro wants fifty thousand—you don’t have it, but you can offer him a helluva lot more.”

Evan stared at him in surprise. “I can?”

“Yep. You can offer him fifty thousand dollars’ worth of cocaine, which on the street will rake in five, six times as much. And if I’m right about the punk, he’ll leap at the chance to acquire that much blow.”

“But where the hell would I find that amount of coke?”

Dave grinned. “Oh, we have some lying around. Okay, I’ve talked with the chief, and with your help we’re going to put together a sting operation. This is how it will work. You will call Castro and make the offer. Sound very nervous. You’re an actor, so you can do it. Make him believe you managed to acquire the coke by devious means, which of course you cannot divulge to him. He won’t question you too much, but he will be suspicious of the quality. He’s gonna want to check it out. You will have to meet with him face to face.”

Mark shifted uncomfortably. “Won’t that be dangerous? Evan alone with a criminal?”

“Don’t worry, we’ll be there, only Castro can’t know about our involvement.”

“So, I meet with him, then what?” Evan asked, leaning forward in his seat.

“You’ll have a sample for him to check out. You’ll wear a wire. Any conversation you have with Castro or his cronies will be picked up by us and recorded as evidence. Don’t worry, wires are totally unnoticeable these days. Tiny, like a thread. Once he’s okay with the quality, he’ll arrange with you a time and place for the drop-off. You will hand the cocaine over, and that’s when we step in and arrest him. We figure once he’s out of the picture the rest of the cartel will dissolve. There might be somebody there who thinks he can become the kingpin, but that’ll be easier for us to deal with. Castro is the one we want, and from what I’ve heard about the guy, he might just sing about the rest of the thugs he’s involved with.”

Mark visibly shivered. “It still sounds dangerous to me.”

Dave nodded. “There is a danger factor, I won’t deny it. These guys are volatile, and Castro will be suspicious. It’s up to you, Evan, to come across scared enough to get them off your back. That you’ll do anything to be free of the debt. How d’you feel about this?”

Evan chuckled. “Well, I’ve got the scared part down perfect. I won’t have to act too hard to make them believe it.”

“Are you sure, Evan?” Mark asked. “About this, I mean? What if these guys are armed?”

“Oh, they will be,” Dave said grimly. “They don’t go anywhere without guns. So, yeah, there is a distinct possibility there will be a show of arms. But they’re not gonna shoot you, Evan. Castro will want the deal, I’m sure of it.”

“How sure?” Mark snapped.

“Sure as I am about anything to do with drug dealers. Number one, they are greedy. Money means everything to them, and a deal like this will look mighty sweet to Castro.” Dave paused and looked at Evan, a frown creasing his forehead. “Okay, now this has to be entirely your decision, Evan. I’ll understand if you don’t want to get involved. I won’t underestimate the danger aspect of it. All I can do is tell you that we will be with you every step of the way.”

“Okay, I’ll do it.” Evan smiled at Mark and took his hand. “I’m not gonna be on my own, babe. I’ll have LA’s finest at my back. It’ll be fine.”

The door swung open at that moment and two of the crew stepped inside. Dave stood and indicated with a jerk of his head that they should leave. Just then his cell phone rang.  “Franklin. Yeah? Okay, be right there. Sorry, guys.” He gave Evan and Mark a rueful look. “Have to take a rain check on watching the movie action. Gotta head into the precinct right away.”

“That sucks,” Evan said. “And here I was ready to show you my acting chops.”

Dave grinned. “Next time.” Evan and Mark walked him over to the exit. “I’ll be in touch once I get the details ironed out with the chief. If Castro calls again, tell him you’re working on a deal to get him his money. That’ll shut him up for a while.”

They said their goodbyes, then Mark dragged Evan into a dark corner of the studio and wrapped his arms around him. “I don’t want you to do this, Evan, I really don’t. Surely we can work this out without you having to put yourself in danger. We can get a loan, pay this Castro guy off and get on with our lives.”

Evan leaned into Mark’s embrace and nuzzled his throat. “I think there’s more to it than just paying off Dareck’s debt. What Dave is trying to do is put some bad guys out of business, and I’m all for that. A year and half ago I gave up drugs. It was tough. I wasn’t exactly an addict, but I came pretty close, and I saw, because of the company I kept, some really bad scenes. Guys strung out so bad they had to be taken to the ER. Some didn’t make it. During that time I had unprotected sex with men, and sometimes I had no clue who they even were. I was lucky. At the end of it all I was clear of STDs. I was broke, but I still considered myself lucky. I don’t judge people who get off on drugs, but a part of me wants to see guys like Miguel Castro shut down, put away for a nice long stretch, and the drugs he sells just that little bit harder to get.”

“So, this is like a crusade?” Mark frowned at him. “You want to put your life in danger in order to stop one drug dealer when there are a hundred more like him out there ready to take over his business? What about me, Evan? What about us? If anything happened to you now, I just don’t know what I’d do…”

“Nothing’s gonna happen to me, babe. Okay, I wasn’t going to admit this to you…” He caressed Mark’s face with is fingertips. His voice was low and rueful, although his gaze never moved from Mark’s as he explained. “I’ve been in something like this before, when I was younger. Not with the cops, just me and a friend who wanted to help a guy we knew being threatened by drug-dealing scum. We set a trap for them, pretending we were buyers and we…well, we beat the crap outta them. All those years of having to defend myself in foster care and the institution paid off, I guess. I wasn’t exactly a street fighter, but I knew some moves. I’d met Dave by that time and I called him when it was all over, and he took them in. This time Dave and a bunch of cops will be right there the whole time. If things get testy they’ll step in.”

“Just like that? This isn’t a movie, Evan, where it’s all planned out, choreographed, rehearsed. Things could go really wrong. These are real criminals we’re talking about.”

“I know that,” Evan said, more sharply than he had intended, and Mark stepped back from their embrace, his expression etched with worry. Evan immediately regretted his outburst. “Sorry…” He laid a light kiss on Mark’s lips. “It’ll be okay, sweetheart. I know this isn’t a movie, but Dave won’t go in without a solid plan. Castro and his men might be armed, but so will the cops—”

“That’s supposed to make me feel better?” Mark groaned. “What if you get caught in the crossfire?”

“Mark, come on, babe. You are looking at this as the worst possible scenario. Chances are Castro will go for the deal, I’ll back off and the police will take over.”

“You make it sound so easy, and I just know it won’t be.” Mark put his arms around Evan again and laid his head on Evan’s shoulder. “I won’t sleep a wink if you agree to go through with Dave’s plan.”

“I’ve already decided.”

Mark sighed. “I know you have. Damn you.”

“I love you.” Evan tilted Mark’s head toward him and kissed his lips gently. “Very much.”

Mark’s eyes brimmed with tears as he stared at Evan. “I love you too, even though I hate you at this moment.”

Exclusive Excerpt: The God Killer (Sheffield and Black Book 1) by Charles Alan Long


The first victim is hung in crucifixion position—a gash in his side and a wreath on his head. Homicide detectives Dylan Black and Vivienne Sheffield are baffled by strange words written in Scrabble tiles, the dead man’s discarded glass eye, and wolf hair left at the scene.

The victim’s neighbor, a college student and mythology buff named Trevor McDaniel, is convinced the victim is not meant to represent Jesus, as the detectives first concluded, but rather an ancient Viking god who was killed by a monstrous, mythical wolf.

Four months later, the second murder is even more bloody and bizarre. The killer has beheaded, speared, and partially mummified a woman. This time he has painted Egyptian hieroglyphs on the bedroom wall and left behind a man’s severed hand and seven scorpions.

Eager for publicity, the killer writes self-aggrandizing letters to reporter Aggie Rhodes and signs them Fenrir, the Wolf—naming himself after the mythical god killer. Soon Aggie realizes the madman is embedding messages about his crimes in the text, and she vows to beat the monster at his own game and end his reign of terror.

With the city’s citizens in a panic and few clues to go on, Black and Sheffield desperately search for answers with the aid of Trevor, Aggie, Chief Medical Examiner Nikolina Petkov, and friend and fellow officer Amadeo Perez. The investigation takes them from the zoo to the university to the morgue and even to a strip club. As the hunt progresses, Detective Black finds himself entangled in a secret relationship with Trevor—a relationship that just might alter the Wolf’s next move.

Can Black and Sheffield solve the Myth Murders before the Wolf kills again? Or has he already chosen one of them?

Chapter 1

While classic U2 played on the radio, Detective Dylan Black reviewed what he knew about the crime: white male, 58, lived alone, suspended in crucifixion position, gash in his side, wreath on his head, tortured. Like most U.S. cities, homicide was not uncommon in Normandy, Ohio, but ritualistic murder was a whole other game. This crime was unfamiliar territory for Black, who wasn’t entirely certain he was ready for the challenge.

Looking out from the sanctuary of his Lexus, Black surveyed the melee: three news channels vied for a story, an ambulance and four police cars were parked like flotsam at the end of the circle. Several officers stood talking rather than working, likely caught up in the gruesome details of the crime. Black didn’t see the chief medical examiner’s SUV, and he wondered if she’d even been notified yet. By now, officers should have strung yellow crime tape and started combing the crowd. This was clearly an unusual case, and the last thing the Normandy Police Department needed were accusations of carelessness and incompetence. Black wished his partner was here; but last he’d heard, the station said she couldn’t be reached. With a deep breath, he gathered his strength and stepped from the safety of the sedan into the balmy July air.

“Detective Black,” one reporter yelled, and the swarm of media turned his way. He squinted into the glare of lights. “Can you tell us about the victim?”

“Is it true he was tortured?” another asked.

“Do you have a suspect?” a third called out.

With a dismissive wave, Black continued his insistent stride toward the dead man’s apartment. Leaving reporters in his wake, he muttered, “No comment.” Then he said to Officer Ari Davis, who looked like a Scandinavian model, “Handle them. Give them the basics and no more.” Black patted the man’s chiseled cheek. “They love that face of yours.”

Black crossed the sidewalk and directed the show: He ordered two officers to string crime tape, two officers to interview neighbors, and the rest to search the nearby park. Once everyone was on task, Black entered the apartment building. Inside the entryway, he was surprised to find his partner, Vivienne Sheffield, talking with another officer.

“About time you got here,” she grumbled in jest.

“Was in the middle of washing my hair.” He ran his fingers through his short, black hair. “Thought you couldn’t be reached.”

“Yeah, well they got me, and I beat you here. Listen, this murder sounds like a real mess: bloody, violent, staged, and rife with symbolism.”

“Have you been in there?” Black asked.

She shook her head. “Was just about to enter. Ramsey was filling me in.” Officer Ramsey looked a little green around the edges, like he’d just seen his first brain surgery. “You can go, Ramsey. I’ll fill Detective Black in on the details.”

“Okay,” the officer responded, in an uncharacteristic quaver.

“Oh, and tell the techs to be ready to spend some time in there. And make sure the kid is okay.”

Ramsey nodded and then turned to flee.

“‘The kid’?” Black asked.

“Yeah. College student who found the vic. He’s pretty shaken up.”

“Where is he?”

“In Apartment C.” She gestured toward the door. “Right across from the dead guy’s.”

Sheffield’s blonde hair was styled in curls rather than harnessed into her customary ponytail, and she wore a full complement of makeup instead of her usual hint of eyeliner and lipstick. Vivienne Sheffield was an attractive woman, and tonight she looked a bit like a curvier Charlize Theron. Black animatedly looked his partner up and down, arched a brow and smiled.

“What?” Then she shook her head. “Don’t say it.” She ran her hands self-consciously down her fitted red dress. A self-confident woman in a world still dominated by testosterone, Sheffield suddenly wished her breasts weren’t so prominent and her gown didn’t accentuate her curves.

“At least you won’t be able to tell if you get blood on your dress,” he said. “You can go right back to your date.”

She socked him playfully on the arm. “Shut up.”

“I hope your date appreciates that dress. I’m jealous.”

Sheffield knew the latter statement wasn’t true, because Black had fumbled his opportunity. One night while working on a case, after long hours, some Szechuan chicken, a couple of drinks, and an unexpected touch of their hands, she had kissed her partner on the lips in the hope he would reciprocate. The kiss had felt wrong from the moment their lips touched. She apologized, he apologized, and then they talked it over briefly in clipped sentences. The discussion had ended with no closure, and the infamous kiss became their unspoken secret.

Dates were a rare commodity for Sheffield these days, but tonight’s lucky man was a manager named Bill something, who worked for the electric company, drove a Porsche, and filled out a suit nicely. Regrettably, she wanted to be here with Black more than she wanted to be at the opera with Bill something.

“Let’s go inside.” She handed Black latex gloves and paper booties.

As her partner entered the residence, Sheffield stealthily eyed him from the back. Medium height, stocky, with black hair and blue eyes, Dylan Black filled out his Levi jeans in a way that made her pulse race.

Everything in the dead man’s apartment had its place. Every line was sharp, crisp and even. Maybe a little OCD, Black thought. One wall of shelves was filled with books. Once he was close enough to read titles, whole categories were discernable: WWI, WWII, the Korean War, the Civil War. A vase of dying flowers served as the centerpiece on a heavy oak dining-room table. A bundle of mail was strewn across one end of the table like it had fallen from the sky. Magazines like National  Geographic and Newsweek lay haphazardly amid white envelopes. The air was frigid, a stark contrast to the oppressive summer heat outside. No signs of struggle were apparent in the large, open living space. However, the master bedroom told a much more disturbing and macabre story. Moving in slow motion, the detectives stepped into the room, allowing the horror to hit them gradually. The only sound was their paper booties on the hardwood floor.

“Jesus!” Sheffield gasped.

“Literally,” Black replied.

Lawrence Adams was suspended in crucifix position with one arm tied to each side of the bed’s wooden canopy. His head hung forward, and a wreath adorned his white, thinning hair. The bed’s gauze canopy had been removed and wrapped around the old man like a crude diaper. Bite marks covered his bruised and battered body, and a large gash in his side exposed tissue and bones. Staring at a bloody knife at the end of the bed, Sheffield bit her lower lip and wondered how long Adams had suffered before finally succumbing to his injuries.

“The perpetrator had control,” she stated. “This wasn’t an act of unrestrained rage. He toyed with him—maybe for hours.”

“He pierced his side and suspended him like Jesus,” Black said. “Is this supposed to look like a crucifixion?”

“There’s no wooden cross.”

“Maybe the psycho couldn’t make a cross, so he opted for the closest alternative, suspending him from the wooden canopy.”

“The killer must be a religious zealot.” Sheffield leaned her head back and shook her curls away from her face.

Black groaned. “Damn, I hate when religion is involved.”

“Isn’t this guy a bit old for Jesus?”

“But an older man is easier to control than a young guy. It’s probably more about the symbolism of the act than the physical similarities.”

“Is that supposed to be a crown of thorns?” She pointed to the victim’s head.

“Looks like shrubbery to me.”

The detectives moved about the room with investigative intent—opening drawers, checking under the bed, and looking in closets. Black found a King James Bible in the top dresser drawer and wondered if Adams had been targeted because of his faith. On the nightstand lay a bloody tooth that didn’t look human. Sheffield glanced at her partner and shook her head. Both surmised the killer had left the tooth as some kind of symbol, but neither had any idea what it meant. Next to the tooth was a Scrabble board with nonsense words written in game tiles: yggdrasil, sleipnir, vegtam, mimir, and fenrir. Black jotted the words on his notepad.

“Make sure they get a photo of this,” he said, to no one in particular. “I’m not too up on my Bible trivia. Maybe they’re anagrams. I bet our guy likes to play games.”

“He has feathers in his back!”

“What?” Black looked up to see two large, ebony feathers protruding from the victim’s shoulders. “Holy hell.” Neither detective knew what to make of this. They moved closer and peered up at Adams’s face.

“I think he’s missing an eye,” Sheffield proclaimed.

“Did Jesus lose an eye, or am I missing something here?”

Sheffield gently raised the dead man’s eyelid, and bloody ooze dripped onto her latex glove.

“Let’s bring the techs in.” Black looked in the mirror and caught his own somber expression.

“Does he have a cat?” Sheffield asked, pointing. “Is that cat hair on the bed?”

The two detectives leaned over and almost bumped heads. Black poked the hairs with a gloved finger.

“Looks like pet hair,” he observed.

“I’ll tell the techs about this.”


“Yeah, Dylan?”

“This one’s gonna be ugly.”

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