Saturday, December 20, 2014

Spotlight Author of the Week: GJ Walker-Smith

Wife, mother, writer, wanderer.Lives near the beach in Western Australia.Author of YA novels The Wishes Series.Saving Wishes (book 1) iBooks Best Of 2013 Breakout Book Of The Year AU & NZ.

Stalk GJ: 
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6935697.G_J_Walker_Smith
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/gjwalkersmith
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/gjwalkersmith
Website:  www.gjwalkersmith.com

Saving Wishes is FREE

For Charli Blake, being seventeen is a tough gig. 
She's been branded a troublemaker, her reputation is in tatters and she's stuck in Pipers Cove, a speck of a town on the coast of Tasmania.  Thankfully, it's temporary. Her lifelong dream of travelling the world is just months away from becoming reality. All she has to do is ride out the last few months of high school, which is easier said than done thanks to a trio of mean girls known as The Beautifuls. 
When Adam Décarie arrives in town, all the way from New York, life takes an unexpected turn. His arrival sets off a chain of events that alters her life forever, convincing her of one thing. Fate brought him to her.  Saving Wishes is the story of a girl who doesn't quite fit the life she's living, and the boy who helps her realise why. 

Purchase Links:
iBooks  https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/saving-wishes/id648553980?mt=11
Amazon US http://amzn.com/B00BEJC9E6
Amazon UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00BEJC9E6
Amazon AU http://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B00BEJC9E6
Barnes & Noble bit.ly/1uF0TNQ

Second Hearts
Charli Blake's high tolerance for risk doesn't always work in her favour.  After a year of living out her dream of travelling the world, the sunny West African village of Kaimte would be her last stop.  She's bound for New York, in search of the boy she'd let go of long ago.   For Charli, nothing has changed. She's travelled thousands of miles but hasn't moved an inch. Adam Décarie still means everything to her.  But reality soon hits hard.  For Adam, everything has changed.  Memories of the best love she's ever known is all she has left, until Charli makes a shocking discovery. None of it had ever been real in the first place. 

Purchase Links:
iBooks  https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/second-hearts/id670748343?mt=11
Amazon US http://amzn.com/B00C6BF22M
Amazon UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00C6BF22M
Amazon AU http://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B00C6BF22M
Barnes & Noble bit.ly/1mFfRlJ

Sand Jewels
Gabrielle Décarie was over arrogant men – but that didn’t mean she couldn’t have a little fun with one.  When she took a chance on Alex Blake, it was supposed to be a one-night deal.  He was too cocky, too flirty and too complicated. 

Sand Jewels is the story of why she fell madly in love with him anyway. 

Purchase Links:
iBooks https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/sand-jewels/id724662687?mt=11
Amazon US http://amzn.com/B00HCH227S
Amazon UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00HCH227S
Amazon AU http://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B00HCH227S  
Barnes & Noble bit.ly/1l19WU1

Storm Shells
Storm Shells is the final chapter in the story of Adam and Charli....The only way to move forward was to go back to the very beginning…. After three miserable weeks without Charli, Adam makes the decision to follow her, desperately hoping to find a way of following through on his promise of a happy ending.  He finds her back in Pipers Cove, healing her broken heart by spending time with the one person who never lets her down.  Both know nothing has changed. They're desperately in love, hopelessly stuck in limbo, and unable to find common ground.  When fate offers them a chance at a different kind of ending, it’s a one-shot deal. Running with it means changing their plans – something neither of them has ever been willing to do before, even for each other. 

Just as one begins to find their way, the other completely loses direction – and neither of them realise that time is running out. 

Purchase Links:
iBooks  https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/storm-shells/id687615493?mt=11
Amazon US http://amzn.com/B00GL47TK8
Amazon UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00GL47TK8
Amazon AU http://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B00GL47TK8
Barnes & Noble bit.ly/1fRkLZG  

Secret North
Ryan Décarie could literally charm the pants off anyone. It was his biggest talent and his biggest downfall.  When he crosses paths with Bente Denison five long years after breaking her heart, sparks fly.  Trying to convince her that he’s finally ready for something more serious isn’t easy – and the reason why is simple.  He’s never had anything serious. 

Totally clueless when it comes to meaningful relationships, Ryan’s in dire need of guidance, and it comes from the most unlikely source imaginable – his four-year-old niece, Bridget. 

Purchase Links:
iBooks https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/secret-north/id795193428?mt=11
Amazon US http://amzn.com/B00K2MXYGI
Amazon UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00K2MXYGI
Amazon AU http://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B00K2MXYGI
Barnes & Noble bit.ly/1iuzFQq

Silver Dawn
After five long years of waiting, Gabrielle and Alex’s most longed-for wish is about to come true. Their baby son is due any day, and Gabi has everything planned down the last detail.  Alex has never been one for making plans. He’s a firm believer in fate, trusting that on any given day, things are exactly how they’re supposed to be.  When Gabrielle’s plans go awry at the last minute, both are thrown for a loop.  Trying to hold his family together soon takes a toll on Alex. When his once unbreakable connection to Gabrielle begins to slip, his faith in fate is stretched to the limit.  Charli has been waiting to meet her baby brother for months. When the call finally comes, she jumps on the first flight out of New York and heads home for a surprise visit.  Little does she know, her treasured family is at breaking point.  Bonding with her brother comes easily. Maintaining the tight bond she’s always shared with her father is harder to do. 

Purchase Links:
iBooks https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/silver-dawn/id874980503?mt=11 
Amazon: https://amzn.com/B00LKND0V2
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/1u4Z5OR

Star Promise (pre-order)
After three blissful years of living in Pipers Cove, Adam and Charli head back to the bright lights of New York.  Taking on a position at a Manhattan gallery turns out to be Charli’s dream job, but just a few weeks after starting at his father’s firm, Adam realises that practising law is his worst nightmare.  Biding his time is the plan. Charli has wanderlust in her soul and he’s hopeful that sooner or later, she’ll want to go home.  Riding it out isn’t hard. They’re as close as they’ve ever been and every spare minute is spent hanging out with their precious little girl.  Life is good – until it’s not.
When fate throws them one nasty curveball after another, Charli’s confidence is shattered and her heart is broken. After weeks of trying to make sense of the grief she’s feeling, both realise she’s out of her depth.  Getting out of Dodge is Charli’s preferred MO and she doesn’t disappoint, finally deciding that it’s time to leave New York.  Returning to Pipers Cove is not the quick fix they were hoping for.  Some things just can’t be mended, and the way she deals with that is going to change everything.

Pre-order Links:
PREORDER iBooks https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/star-promise/id866906890?mt=11  
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/1AuSvWs

Book Blog Tour: In Your Eyes by Diana Nixon

In Your Eyes

Follow the tour on FACEBOOK:

Book Blurb:
My life has never been perfect. I lost, I lied, I cried. But there was one thing that I thought would stay with me forever — my love…
Adrian was my everything. The day he died, I died with him. It was like being caught up in a nightmare, with no reason to keep breathing, with nothing to hold on to.
But one day, everything changed.  I didn’t know I was lost until the moment Nic found me. He made me laugh, he made me feel, he made me believe that I could love again. I thought I would never feel alive, but then I looked into his eyes and I was lost. Only this time, it was not a nightmare swallowing me, but a beautiful dream coming true.
Just when I thought there was no hope for tomorrow, my heart found a reason to beat faster…

Excerpt (Nic’s POV)
“Hey, Nic, will you close the workshop?” Dan asked a few hours later, when he was about to leave, and I was the only person still working in the room.
“Sure, no problem.”
“If Emily comes to leave the bike, tell her to leave the keys in my office.”
So he wasn’t going to wait for her? If she were his girlfriend, he surely would wait for her, right? At least, I would.
“Okay,” I said, trying to sound and seem as indifferent as possible. I still didn’t know what kind of relationship Daniel and Emily had, so I should probably hold my horses.
I didn’t have anything else to do, but I still hesitated leaving and going home. By the way, now the oldest bike ever belonged to me. It was Daniel’s gratitude for my help in saving him from the useless piece of metal that took up too much space. It looked different now. After I got my first paycheck, I bought a can of black paint and made it look like a brand new bike. I had another bike as well, a bright-red Ducati 1098. It was one of the things that I took with me when I left my parents’ house. I just couldn’t leave without it. It was my dream come true, and the only so-called date that I had never cheated on. I didn’t ride it much recently. First, because I had a lot of work to do and not as much time for riding, and second, because I didn’t want anyone to see that I had a bike that probably costed more than they would earn in a year. Only Daniel was allowed to ride different bikes every day. But he was the boss, and I was just a guy who needed a job.
I looked at my watch and it showed half past ten at night. I was as tired as hell, so I thought that no matter how much I wanted to see Emily again, I need rest, sleep, and food more than that.
When I was about to lock the doors, I heard the sound of a bike roaring behind me. I turned around, and there she was, sitting on a yellow bike, contrasting with her black outfit. She took off the helmet, running one hand through her hair, and smiled at me.
“Sorry, I must have lost the track of time,” she said, coming over to me. “I guess Daniel is not here?”
“No, he’s not.” I kept staring at her, as if she were the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Well, maybe she was… “But he said you can leave the keys in his office.”
“Oh, okay. I hope he didn’t make you stay here to wait for me, did he?”
“Actually, I wanted to wait for you.”
Her expression darkened. “What for?” She asked in a cold voice.
“Just wanted to see you again,” I said the words before I could think twice about the huge mistake I might be making. After all, she could still be someone’s, maybe even Daniel’s girlfriend.
“Which means your mission is accomplished.” She grabbed the keys from my hands and said, “You can go home now, I will lock the doors.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you or anything.”
“No offence taken. I just don’t like guys who think they can have any girl they want.”
“What makes you think that I’m one of them?”
She looked at me from head to toe, then crossed her arms and said, “Because you are sure that women should fall down to their feet and worship the ground to walk on. You are handsome, and I bet you know it, and use it quite often. But a nice face and good-looking ass don’t make you the almighty.”
I laughed. “Damn true, but I don’t belong to the kind of guys you’ve just described.” Or maybe I did, but she didn’t need to know that.

Author BIO:
Diana Nixon is a bestselling author of Nevermore Press. She was born in Minsk, Belarus. She has a Master of Law Degree and speaks several foreign languages, including English, Spanish and Polish. Diana's writing career started with a fantasy novel, named Love Lines. For now, Diana has 11 published books, including one short story and a book of poems.

Release Blitz: Nix & Scotlyn: The Wedding by Tess Oliver





The Custom Culture guys, Nix, Clutch, Dray and Rett, are back for one final novel, and you're invited!

Nix Pierce has been in love with Scotlyn James since long before he met her, and now he wants to spend the rest of his life with her. But is Scotlyn ready?



Buy Links





About Author

I write romance for young adult, new adult and those of us past the ‘new’ stage. My stories take place anywhere from 19th century England to 21st century California. And you can count on a super alpha in each book.

Tess Oliver is the USA Today and New York Times bestselling author of the Custom Culture Series. She lives in sunny California with her husband, kids and a herd of spoiled pets.
Author Links

Tour Host OUAA

Blog Tour: The Charlotte Chronicles by Jen Frederick

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Meet Charlotte and Nathan!
ONLY $0.99
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/1AbzqEg

the charlotte chronicles cover.jpg

Charlotte and Nathan were supposed to be forever. They grew up together. Their families were intertwined. Charlotte was Nathan's first love. Nathan was Charlotte's first everything.
Until they weren't.
How do you hold on to the person you know in your heart you are supposed to be with when everything and everyone in the universe is telling you it's over?
How many times does a heart break?
When is enough…..enough?
How long is forever?
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But when I close my eyes, I can see him—and me. I can see me pressed up against the mirror in the bathroom, my hands making starfish prints as I brace myself against his thrusts. I can hear his harsh breathing, his commands to come, come now, Charlotte. There was that passage of time that felt endless when he was between my legs, licking me softly and leisurely as if there wasn’t anything in this world that gave him more pleasure than helping me find my own. I touch myself, but it’s useless. My body wants one thing: Nathan Jackson.
I’m on fire and the ache of want is so acute it’s like a knife in my chest. I’ve had multiple surgeries, chemo treatments, radiation but that’s nothing compared to what I feel now.
Time and distance had dulled my pain and that my desire and love for Nathan had actually started to ease only to be stoked into high, hot flames by his reappearance in my life.
He is the poison and the antidote.
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Jen Frederick lives with her husband, child, and one rambunctious dog.  She's been reading stories all her life but never imagined writing one of her own. Jen loves to hear from readers so drop her a line at jensfrederick@gmail.com.
Tiffany’s Knot Pendant Necklace




Review: Romancing Christmas 10 Love Stories To Spice Up The Holidays by Dale Mayer

Do you like your Christmas naughty or nice? From talking cats to hairless dogs, dashing doctors to scarred veterans, this boxed set from 10 of today's hottest romance authors will warm your heart even on the coldest night! [99c LIMITED Time Only]

Broken Protocols 3.5 by Dale Mayer, USA Today Bestselling Author
Dani and Charmin, her talking cat, were brought 200 years into the future to a world without Christmas. Nostalgic for holiday cheer, Dani yearns to celebrate, and Levi, her hunky future lover is just the guy to make it happen. How can he create Christmas in a world that no longer knows what a holiday is?

Shades of Holly by H. D. Thomson 
Murder with Mistletoe.
Enter Zach Howard, a man who's finally managed to get his life on track this holiday season, until that is, he comes across a pair of otherworldly sunglasses. They reveal scenes of a terrifying future. Holly, the one woman he's never stopped loving, is in danger of a psychopath. Zach's determined to fight for Holly, even at the risk of his own life. Do Christmas miracles and angels still exist?

Season For Love by Chantel Rhondeau
The specter of death tempered by beautiful miracles is all in a day's work for head nurse Tess Riggs and pediatric specialist Dr. Dash Brisson. But discovering Christmas is the season for love could be their biggest challenge yet.

Christmas Hope (2013 Golden Heart finalist) by Leslie Lynch 
Sam Bledsoe can barely keep food on the table, as well as his badly scarred face away from curious eyes. Free spirit Becca Sweet is pregnant--and down on her luck. With Christmas and a storm on the way, living in her car is no longer an option. Sam comes to Becca's rescue, but will hope lead to love, the most precious Christmas gift of all?

A Christmas Miracle (a 2014 Carolyn Reader's Choice winner) by Sandy Loyd
Megan Jenkins isn't looking forward to Christmas, a holiday that reminds her of what she had and lost, a husband who died right after Christmas, leaving her with a fatherless son to raise. On Christmas Eve, Megan experiences her own Christmas Miracle as she learns the true meaning of giving with the help of Kevin Murdock, a long-time friend who's always been there for her.

The Salty Carmel Christmas by Barbara Lohr
Nothing ever changes for Rachel Morgan in Paris, Indiana. But when she returns home for Christmas, a kiss from a soft-spoken guy with killer blue eyes makes her take a second look. Sometimes life can be like a salty Christmas carmel--sweet but with a tang you remember. Sometimes the boy you leave behind is the man you want forever.

Heating Up the Holidays by Marcia James
When Chris Spencer returns home with his daughter, he's not looking for a second chance with his first love. And the last thing Nicky Paxton needs at Christmas time is her high school heart-breaker. But thanks to a hairless dog and a lonely child, they might get their Christmas desires.

Insanity Claus by Carolyn Hughey
A widow of two years, Mallory Gardner is struggling to keep her business alive and her dysfunctional family together. Having two daughters, one who blames Mallory for her father's death is enough to test anyone's sanity. But when Arden J. Miller waltzes into town, he has other ideas--like capturing Mallory's heart. Will the holiday spirit sweep Mallory away and solve the unsolvable?

A Family for Christmas by Tallulah Grace
Erin Matthews returns home to find closure, but she soon discovers truths that change her life forever. Luke Simmons never expected to meet a woman who sparks fire in his soul, even as his heart is breaking. Together, they find healing, and the true spirit of Christmas, in the love of a patchwork family.

A Father for Christmas by Rachelle Ayala
Single mother Kelly Kennedy can't afford lavish gifts for her four-year-old daughter, Bree. Homeless veteran Tyler Manning doesn't believe he deserves a Merry Christmas. When Bree asks Santa for a father and picks Tyler, both Tyler and Kelly must believe in the power of love to give Bree her best Christmas ever.

Overall Rating:  4 Rockin’ ★★★★

Sleigh bells are jingling, Christmas Carols are playing and romance is in the air!  Come along on a winter  wonderland adventure.  An adventure filled with some of the hottest spicy love stories to help heat up your holidays. So snuggle down with a warm fire, a hot drink and one of the ten novellas offered by these outstanding authors.  Will you choose naughty or nice for your holiday read? Watch out, you may run into a talking cat, a hot doctor or even a Christmas Miracle!

A Christmas Miracle by Sandy Loyd

All things are possible if you only believe that it can happen!  Megan Jenkins has forgotten the true meaning of the season.  When she was left to raise her son alone, her outlook on the holidays changed.  The death of her husband two days after Christmas was devastating for Megan. It is hard to get into the spirit of the holidays when it reminds her of her husband’s death.  Kevin Murdock was a family friend and was an adopted part of their family. He was her husband Adam’s best friend.  His support and strength since Adams death was a source
of comfort to Megan and her son Ryan.  The anniversary of Adam’s death is just around the corner. Will Megan find peace? Maybe there is a Christmas Miracle just for her and she can learn to live again. Is there a way for her to once again see the true meaning of Christmas? Will her friend Kevin help to find it?

Would I recommend this collection: Yes! This is a scorching hot collection of romantic novellas for your holiday enjoyment.

Purchase Link:  http://amzn.com/B00OQO0JJ8

Release Day: Lane Changes by S.L. Ellis

Title: Lane Changes
Author: S.L. Ellis
Date of Publication: December 20th 2014

CASSIE CRUISE wants her life back as a kick-ass P. I.

Trouble is, she has zero credibility since bungling a case on reality TV. After a public tantrum, she slinks off to bury her head in the sandy beaches of Southwest Florida.
Just as she starts over as the owner of The Big Prick tattoo shop, a body is discovered in the trunk of her burning car. Cassie’s aware there are those who’d get in line for their turn to torch her car. But murder?
You don’t have to like her, but you damn well better respect her. And get out of her way—this is one case she intends to solve, with or without an audience.
Buy Links:

About S.L. Ellis

S.L. Ellis came from a small town in Michigan, and after a few decades of winter she was ready for a fresh start. A move to Florida and a few days on the beach improved her disposition a hundred-fold, and it was here that writing became more than a thought. Classes were taken, workshops worked, and a few books written. 

Ellis's short story "A Brush With Death" was published in Vol. 12 DARK TALES, a UK magazine and reviewed by: Vince A. Liaguno, Dark Scribe Magazine, Anthology Reviews: "A Brush with Death is a solid, at times poignant, chiller in which a dying woman--who knows death well after a lifetime of obsession--makes a deal with the Grim Reaper. Ellis's keen observations on aging and death are spot-on." Her short story "If the Shoe Fits" was accepted for publication in HARDLUCK STORIES for its final issue. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and ITW.


Maybe I wasn’t the best PI around, but none of my cases had been likely to get me killed—until now…

Lane grabbed my arm, pulled me in front of her, and shoved me toward the hallway.
“I can walk on my own.” I shrugged her hand off my shoulder. Everything my eyes landed on I measured for use as a weapon.
“Go sit.”
I walked to the lanai and flipped the light on. She flipped the light off and grabbed my hair to steer me toward the chair. The moon was huge, white, and in position with the tops of the palm trees. I blinked and slid my eyes toward the closed and barred sliding doors.
“How’d you get in?” I asked.
“Jimmied your side garage door. You really need a deadbolt on that if you’re not going to lock the inside door.”
“Well, shit.” I couldn’t believe I’d been so concerned with the sliding doors and not the side door. After all, it’s how I got in to her house.
“I’m sorry to have to do this,” she said and gave my hair an extra twist. “I just couldn’t think of a cleaner plan.”
“I could help. There are nicer plans. Maybe you didn’t give it enough thought?”
“You’re so weird all the time,” she said.
Moonlight radiated from the barrel of the revolver, a Ruger Single Six. I hid my panic while Lane backed in to the chair next to mine. She still had my hair in her hand, pulling out hair and stretching my scalp with each inch she moved. Tears came to my eyes, and then she let go of my hair.
“Do you think anyone would be surprised if you’re found floating in the pool?” Lane asked, once she situated in the chair and had the revolver aimed at me just so.

Bad things happened in threes. That was the thought that ran through my mind—right after holy shit.
This was number three.
A scorched breeze moved through the trio of Queen Palms situated in the side yard. I watched their fronds whisper and nod as if remarking on the scene in the street beneath them. An intermittent glow from the fire truck’s lights and the clunk and clang of firefighters putting away equipment underlined the quietness.
Just a few people continued to hang around and gawk. I searched the gawkers for familiar faces, wanting Vince, my fiancé, to appear, or if not him, then Janice, my friend and neighbor, would do.
No such luck. Instead, the only recognizable face was a neighbor, Sammy Porter and, when he walked up, he aimed a flashlight over and around the car. I watched with an anger I thought I had left back on the decaying streets of Detroit.
I’d moved here because I thought I could safely hide in this neighborhood of retirees, trimmed palm trees, screened-in swimming pools, and manicured St. Augustine grass. I’d done my homework, but it seemed pointless now. People were supposed to be safe here of all places. Wrong and wrong again. Apparently, it didn’t matter how aware you were, or where you lived, violence could creep up on you anytime and anywhere.
Sammy bent down near the trunk. “Hey, it’s still on fire back here, still got a fire here.” With the help of his flashlight, I saw a meandering spiral of black smoke escaping between the cracks of the trunk lid.
A sudden anxiety raced through my veins and, as if dipped in cement, heaviness weighed down my legs and arms. I wanted Sammy to go home and mind his own business. In fact, everyone should leave. It was my car someone had torched, my business, my loss.
“Get away from my car!” I yelled.
Sammy ignored me, but my yelling did get a firefighter’s attention. He grabbed a pry bar, elbowed Sammy aside, and popped open the trunk.
Sammy swallowed and then looked over at me. “Oh, my.”
The firefighters bent to get a closer look and, lured by the looks of horror on their faces, I went to the car.
Bile rose in my throat. Inside the trunk was a charred and still-smoldering body.
Oh my God.
The nose was completely gone and overall there wasn’t much flesh remaining on the face.
Oh. God.
Sucking in my breath, I turned away from the face, only to catch a view of the relatively undamaged organs behind the ribs and the incinerated flesh of the chest. Dizziness hit and I grabbed the outside edge of the blackened trunk to keep from falling face first into the charred body.
“Back away from the car.”
Turning toward the voice, I felt vindicated, thinking he was speaking to nosy Sammy, but no one else was near the car. Just me, bending over the trunk of a car—my car, as I had so recently and loudly reminded all—ogling, with no outward signs of repulsion at a barbequed human corpse. I shoved down the trunk hood, straightened up, and took a step back.

It began as a typical interrogation.
“Your full name, please?”
“Cassandra Leah Cruise. You can call me Cassie.”
“Would you go over what happened tonight, Ms. Cruise?”
I knew this was the part where they were supposed to get a feel for whether I was guilty or innocent based on my behavior during questioning. Also, they would be aware of where I looked as they question me. My sister, Rachel—Sergeant Rachel Cruise—had told me all about interrogations before she was killed in the line of duty eighteen months ago.
“I don’t know what happened,” I said.
Looking at the paint-covered cement block walls of the interview room, I thought they were probably cool to the touch, and I wondered how odd it would seem if I stood and laid my forehead against the wall to soothe the ache radiating from behind my eyes. I decided on somewhere between odd and extremely odd. Looking away from the block wall, I gave my attention to the detectives in the room.
They both wore button-down shirts and khaki slacks, but that’s where the likeness ended. I zeroed in on the older detective. He was close to my forty-nine years and handsome in a rough kind of way. The tiredness of his eyes, the wrinkles in his shirt, and his old-style slicked back hair reminded me of the Detroit Homicide Bureau detectives I knew from a previous career. He caught me looking and returned my stare. Suddenly, I felt both homesick and needy and I shivered with another emotion I didn’t want to put a name to.
Running my hand through my purposely-shaggy auburn hair, I looked at the younger of the two. He appeared to be in his late twenties or early thirties. His slacks had a nice crease. He was well groomed, clean-shaven. He even had a style to his military-short hair.
“What’s your name?” I asked the young detective.
He scrunched his face and cleared his throat before answering. “Stephan. It’s Detective Lieutenant Craig Stephan,” he said.
I shot him a smile. “I’m Cassie.”
Stephan ignored the smile. “You have a charred body in the trunk of your car, and you don’t know what happened?”
“I don’t know how a body ended up in the trunk of my car.” I looked to the right. Per Rachel, when a person is remembering, they tend to look to the right. That’s because the right side of the brain is the memory area. If they look to the left, they’re lying. Or did I have it backward?
“It’s your car, isn’t it?” Detective Stephan asked, interrupting my thoughts.
“It is my car, but it’s not my body. I mean, I don’t know who the body is or how it got in the trunk.”
“We think you know,” Stephen insisted.
“I’ve told you I don’t know,” I said, again looking to the right.
The older detective put out his hand. “Detective Brick Winslow, County Sheriff’s Office.”
He shook my hand as a man should shake a woman’s hand. Warm and firm.
“For real? Your name is Brick?” I asked.
“You have to know my parents to understand,” he said.
I nodded. “I only know what I saw.”
“Okay. Tell us what you saw,” Detective Winslow said after releasing my hand.
“I was outside watching the firefighters with a few of the neighbors who were still hanging around.”
North Harbor’s Detective Stephan grimaced and rubbed his hand over the short, bristly hair on his head. “What’s that got to do with the body?”
Winslow held his hand up in Detective Stephan’s direction. “Just let her talk,” he said and then turned to me.
I again saw a tired, work worn, big city detective. Someone who seemed as out of place as I felt in this small Florida town. And I also saw a person who would likely understand parts of me that not many others could.
“Go ahead, Ms. Cruise.”
I nodded my appreciation to Detective Winslow before continuing, “So I decided I’d had enough and yelled, ‘Get away from my car!’”
“Having someone near your car bothered you?” Stephan asked.
“And?” he said.
“One of the firefighters popped open the trunk.” I folded my hands on the table in front of me and tried to find a way to describe a horribly burned body without having actually to see it in my mind’s eye.
Detective Stephan slumped down in his chair, letting his arms hang slackly alongside. “Ms. Cruise, come on, just tell us what happened.”
What a freaking whiner, I thought before responding. “Look, I’m trying, but I want you to understand this first because I think I know how it looked to others. It took me a few seconds to catch on to what I was seeing, and when it registered, I instinctively slammed the trunk. I wasn’t trying to hide anything.”
“The body…”
I took a deep gulp of air and looked longingly at the cement wall. “That body, what I saw, I’m not so sure I’ll ever stop seeing it.” Keeping my eyes fixed on the wall, I described in detail the charred corpse.
They were both quiet for a few seconds, but eventually they worked into the confrontation part of the interrogation. That was where they made accusatory statements regarding the suspect’s involvement and tried to raise the stress level.
“Come on. You know more than you’re saying. In fact, I personally think you skipped an important piece of the story,” Detective Stephan said.
“What piece? I didn’t skip anything,” I said.
“What about how and why you killed the person found in your trunk? How about that part of the story?” he asked.
“I’d like you to think about that. Why would anyone kill a person, put the body into the trunk of their car, and then light it on fire on their own street, in their own neighborhood? Bring all that attention to the body they’re supposedly trying to hide? Does that really make sense to you?” I asked.
“It’d make sense to a certain washed-up P.I. who made a fool of themselves on T.V. I mean maybe that washed up P.I. wanted to bring some attention back to themselves and—”
I cut him off with a sugary voice and fake smile. “You’ve just made it abundantly clear you’re a fucking moron.” The last thing I wanted to think about or hear about was the television show debacle.
“Why did you park the car on the street?” Detective Winslow asked, diverting the moron from saying anything in return.
“I fell asleep watching a movie and didn’t move it into my garage,” I said. This question raised my stress level, and I couldn’t stop myself from looking to the right three or four times in a row.
“Are you feeling okay?” Detective Winslow asked.
I nodded, filled my lungs with stale air, and let it out while trying to rid my mind of illogical feelings of guilt. So much for Rachel’s stupid interrogation tidbits.
Detective Winslow stared at me for a few seconds. “Okay, so normally you park in the garage? This time, just by coincidence you left it on the street.”
“Yes, that’s what happened.”
Winslow looked down at his pad of paper. “Tell me about the vehicle.”
“Like I said, it was my sister’s. It’s a 1997 Mercedes Benz 500SL Roadster, in great condition. I mean it was in great condition. I don’t know what else to tell you.”
“Okay. Go over again why you parked your car on the street and not in your garage.”
He nodded.
“Laziness, I guess.”
“That it?” he asked.
“Okay. No, that’s not it. Not all anyway. I mean, I had to pee.” I was suddenly embarrassed over the fact that I was embarrassed to talk about a normal body function.
“What the hell?” Detective Stephan said.
Turning toward Detective Winslow, I explained. “I gulped down a huge amount of iced tea while working at the shop and left in a cranky hurry. I ran some errands, and once I turned onto my street, I felt an overwhelming urgency. So I parked the car on the street, hopped around while trying to concentrate enough to get the bags of landscape rock I’d bought at Home Depot out of the trunk. I gave up halfway through and ran inside, barely making it to the bathroom in time. As I said earlier, I then grabbed an old movie from my collection and popped it in the player. Dead Ringer starring Bette Davis.”
“Who?” Detective Stephen asked.
Ignoring him, I said to Detective Winslow, “It’s what I do to relax. Anyway, about half way through I fell asleep on the couch. Not the fault of the movie, mind you. I was exhausted from the day. I never went out to move the car into the garage. I forgot about moving the car.”
Rachel would understand, wouldn’t she?
“No idea why someone would do this to your vehicle?”
“Nope, can’t think of one.”
Big. Fat. Lie. Probably many people would have stood in line for their turn to torch my car. I was not the world’s most careful driver, but more to the point I was not what you’d call a people person. I couldn’t play the games required to enjoy popularity. I didn’t like fluff. I didn’t like false emotions. I didn’t know how to change my so-called snotty, sarcastic ways. Therefore, people didn’t really like me. Most times I was okay with it.
“No idea who the dead person is?”
“No idea.”
Rachel’s description of the next step in an interrogation didn’t hold up either. Supposedly, it was something called theme development. They made up a story about why the suspect did the crime, hoping he would start filling in the missing spots, give reasons of his own, or blame the victim. Instead, it seemed both of the Detectives floundered and became stuck. They never got to the point where they were supposed to speak in soothing voices in hopes of lulling the suspect into a sense of false security, thus allowing them to confess. Eventually, I tired and asked to leave and, surprisingly, they let me go.
Detective Winslow asked if I wanted to call someone for a ride home. I said no, I could get myself home, even though I desperately wanted to call Vince. It was called biting off your nose to spite your face. I walked the mile home in the dark and the ninety-four degree heat and humidity as a personalized form of self-flagellation.
Inside the house, I tripped over my purse and key ring lying in the entryway, picked them up, tossed them on the dining table, and then phoned Vince. After allowing him the privilege of soothing me, I gained his promise to come over and comfort me.
I looked out my window at the now quiet neighborhood and felt a tenseness building between my shoulder blades. Turning away from the window, I picked up a magazine from a nearby pile and flung it across the room. And another. And another. Not stopping until I hit a framed painting on the far wall, knocking it to the floor with a crash.
Why? Who was the poor victim? Who did this? Why my car?
Rubbing the tears off my face, I returned to the window and watched as a dark sedan, lights off, crawled towards my house, almost coming to a stop in front of the new neighbor Lane’s house. The driver—from my window just a dark faceless shape—turned in my direction and then sped up, popped on the lights, and went on down the street out of the neighborhood.
Could be nothing, just a forgetful driver. The streetlights were in good repair and spaced evenly enough along the street. But now, everyone and everything came under suspicion. It was weird how something was inconsequential one day and then important and suspicious the next.
Damn, I’ll never have a car like that again.
As on almost any other day, I then heard the voice of my long-dead sister. “Uh-huh, tell me about it,” she said.
My failure to protect her now crispy and blackened Mercedes-Benz convertible overcame me. Another failure. Another public failure. I grabbed the partial pack of cigarettes I’d thrown in the trashcan under the kitchen sink earlier and lit one up with shaking hands.
This was a murder. Someone placed a body in my trunk, torched my car, and walked away as if the body was never a person, as if they hadn’t ever meant anything to anyone.
No one should walk away without paying for this.
One, two, three. Bad things always happened in threes.

The temperature inched up by a degree a minute. Lord have mercy, it’s summer in paradise. I sat and thought about the weeks and days before the incident, trying to figure out what, if anything, stood out. My conclusion was meeting the new neighbor, Lane Somers. That one typically normal thing stood out from all of the other mundane happenings.
I noticed her the moment she stepped out of her front door. From across the street, I could see she didn’t fit the neighborhood. I guessed her to be under thirty, which is about a forty-five-year gap from the fossilized fussbudgets making up eighty percent of the subdivision. She was tall and lissome with an unaffected elegance in her walk—a woman with an assured style.
She stood out in other ways, not only because she didn’t automatically reach for the handrail when she moved along her porch. Prior to her moving in, at forty-nine years, I was the youngest chick on the block. After much thought and planning, I purposely chose to live amongst a gaggle of WOOPs—well off older people—because I knew, statistically, only about one percent of persons aged sixty-five and older would be involved in violent crime. The stats were much different in my old neighborhood. Living here, statistically, I would be safe. I would be anonymous.
Safety and anonymity. Those were my reasons for moving here.
After hopping off the lawnmower, I bent down to brush off pieces of grass and dirt from my legs. As I straightened, I took in the whole picture. She looked like a young Grace Kelly. A shot of envy coursed through me and I had to remind myself that beauty was not a reason to be jealous. By my age, you should realize it was just an occurrence. An act of nature. That was what I told myself anyway.
“Cassie Cruise,” I said and put my hand out.
“Lane Somers.” She moved her hand to take mine and sent a light vanilla-citrus fragrance my way.
“Well, I’m here. Finally.” She sighed and leaned back on her heels. “It’s so exciting.”
“To move here?” I asked, at that time thinking, first glance should have showed her nothing exciting ever happened in this neighborhood. Unless she counted the occasional lawn watering schedule violation.
Her eyes flitted from the hibiscus bushes and day lilies growing along my walkway to the baskets of spider plants hanging between each columned section of the porch and back to me.
“It’s more than that,” she said.
“Oh, really? Why’s that?”
She tossed her head back and crossed her arms.
Something in her demeanor gave me pause. I tried concentrating on her face, hoping to discover some smidgen of her story.
“Do you have something in your eye?” she asked.
Embarrassed, I shook my head no and thought about explaining my theory of a person’s life story showing on their face, but she beat me to the punch.
“Think you can judge a book by its cover?” she asked.
“Somewhat. First impressions are telling, you know.”
“You have a point.” She looked me over, starting with my feet and ending at my face.
I’d felt as if I’d been busted and didn’t know what else to say. We both became silent, not looking each other in the eye.
The temperature inched up by a degree a minute. Lord have mercy, it’s summer in paradise.
The screwed up beginning of the screwed up investigation. . .

Janice let me off at my house. I stood outside and watched her until she disappeared inside her garage. I then walked over to Sammy Porter’s house.
He opened the door an inch and mushed his face into the opening. I could only see one of his eyes and half of his lips as he spoke. “I’m not sure you should be here, Miss Cassie.”
“Well, I’m probably considered a witness. You know, because of last night, an’ all,” he said.
I forced myself to look away from his moving lips. Watching half of a mouth speak through a crack felt freakishly hypnotic. “That’s what I’m here to talk about, Sammy. The fire and the body. Can I come in so we can talk?”
“Oh, no. Talking to you would most likely taint my testimony, an’ all,” he said.
“Testimony? Are you kidding me?” I asked.
“Discovering a dead body is no joking matter, Ms. Cruise,” Sammy said.
And then I understood. I was making light of his five minutes of glory.
“Sammy, testimony can’t be tainted if there’s no apprehended perpetrator. If there’s no perpetrator, there’s no case, thus, no testimony is tainted.” I deliberately combined nonsense and pseudo cop-speak in hopes it would either reassure or confuse him and get him talking to me. “I’m a P.I. anyway, so it’s okay. Please open your door,” I turned away again from the door crack before he answered.
“Ever heard of fruit of the poisonous tree?” he asked.
“Of course. I told you I’m a licensed private investigator.” I sort of knew what he was talking about. Regardless, it would take two minutes to look it up.
“I’m not so easily fooled. I know what you really do to earn a living these days,” Sammy said.
“Um, yes. Because I just told you,” I said, looking at the eye and lips in confusion.
“No. I’m talking about that immoral tattoo parlor, an’ all. Now, you need to go on home.” The lips had begun to take on their own personality.
“But, Sammy, I’m just trying to find out who put a body in my car and set it on fire.”
The lips disappeared and the door smacked shut.
As I turned to step down from his porch, I heard the door creak and before I could look back, I heard Sammy’s lips whisper, “Hussy.”
There was something about both men that made me wobbly-knee weak.

“It’s not about the number of friends. It’s about how guarded and afraid you’ve become.”
“I’m not afraid.”
“Yes, you are. You’re afraid of looking soft, or weak. I guess weak is a better word. But mostly you’re afraid to care about people.”
“I care, but caring doesn’t change the way people behave. And, as you said, it’s not about the number. Quality, not quantity, right?”
“Right. But there’s more to it. You don’t engage people in conversation. You interrogate them. You want them to answer all of your questions—they have to pass your test.”
“I don’t know any other way,” I said.
“You can keep a relationship casual and light for business purposes. You are a business owner now, you know. In my line of work, I have to do it every day. It’s all in the mindset. Keep it at surface level by engaging in easy going conversation and don’t invest yourself every time you meet someone new.”
“If what you’re telling me is some people are worth taking the time to get to know, then that means there are people who aren’t worth getting to know. I just shorten the process. If a person seems offended by my questions and has something to hide, then they avoid me. So instead of finding out the hard way, I find out right away. I haven’t wasted any of my time.”
“You can’t just force them to tell you everything all at once,” Vince said.
“I just want enough to figure out if they’re what they seem to be.”
“You didn’t behave that way when we met way back when.”
“I know, but I thought you were rich so it didn’t matter,” I said.
“I am rich.”
“Guess I know what I’m doing then, don’t I?”
“So you’re just after my money?”
“That’s something you should’ve asked yourself a long time ago, back before being with me became so addictive.”
“Uh-huh, Cassie, you think you’ve just proven a point, don’t you?”
“Well, you did. You’ve proven mine,” he said.
“Do you know you have gorgeous eyes? Then there’s your perfectly hairy chest. It’s yummy. Oh, and your feet. Did anyone ever tell you, you have the feet of a twenty year old?”
“It’s an old trick, but feel free to go on distracting me. That way you won’t have to tell me I’m right. Anyway, I’m asking you to lighten up on Lane, okay?”
His request seemed so unfair I could barely catch my breath. I felt surrounded by a gray cloud of failure. Had we changed so much that we no longer understood each other?  
“What is it you want from me Vince? What do you want from life?” I asked.
“What do you mean? I want to succeed. Retire early and live the good life. I thought we wanted the same things. That's why we're a couple, right?” Vince said.
I did my best to hide my disappointment, knowing I needed time to figure out its cause. “Right.”
Looking out the window the last few minutes before reaching the restaurant, I thought about the meaning of success. Perhaps that's where our problems began. We both wanted to succeed, but hadn't really discussed our definition of success.
At the restaurant, we sat at our usual table overlooking the beach during the time the movie-making industry calls magic hour, which really doesn’t last an hour. Nothing beautiful lasts forever and magic hour is no different. This is the time the sun sets, the light is perfect, the sky is reddish pink, and for approximately thirty minutes, everything looks amazing.
I decided to let go of the anger I’d felt about Vince and his request regarding Lane. I didn’t want anything between the evening and us.
We held hands across the table while staring out at the waves and sky. The sun was huge and red and, for a brief bit of time, I thought of the body in my car and the red paint splashed on the window of The Big Prick. They were both things an enraged person would do, and it felt very personal. Who would do that to me?
“Drinks anyone?” Amy, our usual server, asked. She had dark spiky hair with pink edges and a diamond stud in her right nostril. Nonetheless, her petite shape and perky attitude reminded me of Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday.
“It’s so good to see a happy couple,” she said.
I looked over at Vince and stuck out my tongue. He crossed his eyes. Amy groaned and held up her hand in an effort to stop us.
Vince gave his winning smile to Amy and caused her to blush.
“Seriously, you two are a great couple,” she said. “You wouldn’t believe the stuff we overhear. Sometimes the whole restaurant gets to hear, like a few days ago when this ‘Barbie’ and ‘Ken’ look-alike couple got into it. They came in all happy, looking and behaving as if their perfectly planned lives were just that. Perfect. And then we all got to see they’re just like everyone else.”
Amy shook her head and waved her hand in the air as if to rid herself of the memory. “Working here, I’ve figured out the people who try to appear perfect have the bigger problems out of the public eye.” She looked at Vince. “You know what I’m talking about, don’t you?” She looked at Vince.
“Yes, I know what you mean.” He crossed his arms over his chest and turned his head to look out the window.
For a guy who’d just lectured me about engaging in light conversation and not investing emotions, his body language was telling a different story. Although, I did appreciate how crossing his arms like that highlighted his tanned muscular biceps.
“Anyway, my bet is you two—” She pointed at Vince and me. “—will be hanging out ten years from now. I’ll be right back with your drinks.”
Something about the Barbie and Ken story had me thinking about Lane and her boyfriend Del. “Wait, Amy, I want to ask you—”
“Cassie, come on now. Let’s have a nice romantic dinner, okay?”
He used his smile on me. As much as I should be able to ignore it after all this time, I couldn’t.
I crossed my fingers. “Just wanted to know the dinner special, that’s all.”
“Oh, right.” He made a face at me and turned to Amy who waited quietly. “Just the drinks for now.”
I let it go when I looked across the room and noticed RJ sitting at a corner table, fiddling with his phone. He saw me looking and nodded. I looked around for the camera person. When I didn’t see him, I gave all my attention to Vince. I was determined to have an unstressed evening.
We did have a nice romantic dinner and the mood continued well into the night. To my relief the image of Detective Winslow only flashed briefly during the midst of it all. There was something about both men that made me wobbly-knee weak.
Sadly, history had proven, when it came to maintaining relationships, I was not to be trusted.

Q/A with S.L. Ellis

How did you come up with the idea for this story? When we moved to Florida, we stayed for a time in a subdivision full of retirees.  The neighbor across the way, however, was in her 30’s, blond, slim, and attractive. She just didn’t fit, which got me thinking about why she would move to a neighborhood of older people. Was she hiding from something or someone?  And, well, you get the picture…

Where do you find your inspiration?  I am inspired to write when I read. The better the book, the more I’m inspired and eager to write.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? I am easily distracted. Any shiny thing will get me going into another direction and I have to dig deep to find the will power to keep going and finish the story before beginning another.

What are your current projects?  I am working on the next in the Cassie Cruise, Private Investigator series, and I’m 30,000 words into a historical (late 1880’s – early 1900’s) novel with a strong, female protagonist. She has visions of gloom and doom and, as you might imagine, isn’t the most popular person in the village when her visions come true.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?  Just that people aren’t always what they seem to be.  They aren’t always what they present to the world.

Does music play any type of role in your writing? Music is an important part of my writing. I like to remind myself how few words make up the lyrics to most of the songs that I love. They tell a story and convey emotion in under 200 words. I strive to keep my writing tight while still telling the story.

Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your life?  Experiences are things (conversations, emotions, adventures, work) you’ve participated in and felt internally.

What books have influenced your life most? I loved and learned so much from a handful of biographies found in school libraries, but beyond those, any book written by Catherine Cookson, Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney, and Mary Stewart began my love of reading genre fiction.  

Are there any new authors that have grabbed your interest? It’s best to say “newly discovered authors” because my TBR pile/list is huge and an author may have been published for years before I get around to reading them.  Authors who’ve recently caught my interest and have become an obsession are Gillian Flynn, Elizabeth Hand, Ariana Franklin, Gil Adamson, and William Gay.

Can you share a little of your current work with us?

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?  I welcome all reviews.  How else will I learn and grow as a writer if I don’t listen to my readers?  I say all, but there is the one I’m not looking forward to reading.  I recently gave a memoir writer (who I’ll not name), an honest two star review and she wrote a response comment blaming it on a “tussle” we had in a forum.  I’m not looking forward to her “revenge” review only because I won’t allow myself to respond to it.  I have so many clever and snarky things to say to her, but won’t give her any more of my time and attention.

How can readers discover more about you and your work?  I have an author page on Facebook (facebook.com/slelliscassiecruise) and my website is www.cassiecruise.com.  The blog posts on the website are written in Cassie Cruise’s voice, but I write the book reviews that you’ll see on that site.

Do you have a special time to write? How is your day structured writing-wise? I write wherever and whenever I get a chance.  Sometimes it’s only a sentence or two, so my progress on most projects is at a snail’s pace.  

Why did you choose to write [genre] stories?  Genre stories are typically about characters and their actions, reactions, thoughts and behaviors.  That’s what interests me and that’s what I write.

What is for you the perfect book hero?  A flawed, tough-minded, person who’ll always stand on their own, but isn’t afraid to show their loyalty to their loved ones.

When you start a book, do you already have the whole story in your head or is it built progressively? I’m not a plotter.  I have key points written, but everything else occurs organically during the writing.

When and why did you begin writing?  In 1996, I began my attempts at writing as a way to understand everything I was feeling when a family member was convicted of a very serious crime.  The story was a failure as far as the writing, but I did come to terms with my feelings regarding the conviction.

When did you first consider yourself a writer? I needed (and still need) validation, so I didn’t really believe in my writing until I won a contest for a short story and it was published in an anthology.

List three books you have recently read and would recommend.  
1. Two Guys Detective Agency, Stephanie Bond
2.  Burial Rites, Hannah Kent
3. The Impossible Wish, Christine Nolfi

Tell us something that people would be surprised you know how to do.  Most people would be surprised to know I was afraid of driving an automobile and avoided getting a license for a long time, but purchased and taught myself to drive a motorcycle in a matter of days.
Will you write more about these characters? Lane Changes is the first in the Cassie Cruise, Private Investigator series. My hope is to write about Cassie, Janice, RJ, and Brick for a long time.