Friday, March 22, 2019

"Small Town Hearts" by Lillie Vale


REVIEW and GIVEAWAY
Small Town Hearts
by Lillie Vale

Small Town Hearts by Lillie Vale

Small Town Hearts by Lillie Vale is currently on tour with Xpresso Book Tours. The tour stops here today for my review, an excerpt, and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.


Description
Fresh out of high school, Babe Vogel should be thrilled to have the whole summer at her fingertips. She loves living in her lighthouse home in the sleepy Maine beach town of Oar’s Rest and being a barista at the Busy Bean, but she’s totally freaking out about how her life will change when her two best friends go to college in the fall. And when a reckless kiss causes all three of them to break up, she may lose them a lot sooner. On top of that, her ex-girlfriend is back in town, bringing with her a slew of memories, both good and bad.
And then there’s Levi Keller, the cute artist who’s spending all his free time at the coffee shop where she works. Levi’s from out of town, and even though Babe knows better than to fall for a tourist who will leave when summer ends, she can’t stop herself from wanting to know him. Can Babe keep her distance, or will she break the one rule she’s always had - to never fall for a summer boy?


Excerpt
An hour before closing time, a stranger walked into the Busy Bean.
Next to me, Lucy dumped coffee grounds in the recycling bin. She bent over, flicking wet grounds off her fingers. “Hey, Babe, can you—”
“I’ve got it,” I said, grabbing my notepad from the counter, already on my way. The new guy was cute. If our new seasonal waitress had been out here, she would have tried to get to him first.
The boy hovered awkwardly near one of the corner tables. He was tall and lithe, with mussed brown hair that was on the side of gold, and a blue polo that brought out his eyes.
“Is anywhere fine?”
“Yeah,” I said, gesturing to the available seating. “I can take your order here if you’re ready or you can just come up later, if you need a few minutes.”
Mystery Boy chose a table that came from a home and garden center, chipped mosaics of stone in the face of a woman on the circular surface. The chair he sat on was wrought-iron and from a different patio set, the green seat plump and gleaming with the sheen of new leather.
He glanced at the chalk menu on the wall behind the counter. A smile bloomed over his face. “Nice art.”
I followed his gaze. Lucy alternated between neat capitals and loopy lettering to advertise the regular items and the day’s specials. Her daisy-chain border was in neon yellow, and some of the flowers had faces.
“Yeah, my friend’s a regular Matisse,” I joked.
The boy laughed, a rich, velvety sound, like the decadent filling inside a chocolate truffle.
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]


Praise for the Book
Small Town Hearts by Lillie Vale is a queer small-town romance that will give you major butterflies.” ~ Bustle
“A wistful, lingering romance. The best kind of summer love story - filled with characters that make you wish you could hang out forever in their small East Coast haven. I loved it!” ~ Aminah Mae Safi, author of Not the Girls You're Looking For
“It is a story of summer romance, friendship, breakups, baking, art, beaches and sandcastles. You will fall in love with Babe and Levi and would instantly want to visit Oar’s Rest. ... You absolutely need this amazing summery contemporary in your life.” ~ Flipping Through the Pages
“The writing is beautiful. The story is genuine. The characters reach out to you. In the world full of clichés, here's to one of my favorite book which defied them.” ~ Ojas, Swoon Reader
“The town of Oar's Rest sounds so real and the landscape of sand, sea, and small town life is painted with masterful brush strokes... I was hooked from the first page ... This is a story to be cherished and read over and over.” ~ AimeDelay, Swoon Reader

My Review
I received this book in return for an honest review.


By Lynda Dickson
It’s the summer after high school graduation in the small beachside holiday town of Oar’s Rest. Babe has been looking forward to spending it with her best friend Penny and Penny’s boyfriend Chad. Babe knows things will change when they start college, she just wasn’t expecting it to happen so quickly. First, a misunderstanding leads to her losing both of her friends. Then Levi, the cute customer at the coffee shop where she works, catches her attention - but she knows better than to date a summer boy after what happened to her mother. And, finally, her ex shows up and starts making waves. It’s not quite the summer Babe was expecting. But it might just turn out to be even better.
It took a while to get the drift of this book, as I couldn’t tell who the narrator was or even what sex they were for half of the first chapter. In addition, it felt like I had missed a previous book, as we are thrown into the story and given very little background information. For example, it’s not explained how two recent high school graduates have their own homes (Babe the lighthouse and Penny the houseboat) until about a quarter of the way in. The chapters are very long, and the book is extremely long overall for a young adult novel, although it’s probably technically new adult (but without the explicit sex). There’s a lot of unnecessary detail throughout, but it all adds to the atmosphere. The book is extremely well-written, with near-perfect editing, and littered with gorgeous seaside similes and metaphors. Sights, sounds, tastes, and smells are evocatively portrayed, and I loved the descriptions of the food, so much so that I was disappointed there was no recipe at the end. Perhaps an accompanying cookbook is in order? 
By the end, you’ll want to visit this town and meet all of its inhabitants. An impressive debut.
Warnings: coarse language, underage drinking, sexual references, LGBT themes, drug use.

Some of My Favorite Lines
“… I wasn’t that girl anymore. That was what no one told you about the road not taken. You can’t go back to the start of something that was never yours to begin with. Sometimes you just had to deal with taking the wrong exit ramp.”
“Hearts were fickle things, always willing to beat for the exact wrong person.”
“… she was right. People who had hit their friend quotient tended not to look outside the equation.”
“He was just another memory waiting to happen.”
“Success, or anything, really, doesn’t come with a pushpin. You can’t just stick a destination into a map and think there’s just the one route that gets you there. And if you wind up right back where you started . . . well, that’s okay, too. We get to come back from our mistakes.”
“Beginnings could be scary, and there was always a chance that the ending wouldn’t be pretty, but the middle was what made it all worth it.”
“‘This feels—I’ve never—’ I couldn’t even articulate it. ‘God, I’ve lost the ability to word.’”

About the Author
Lillie Vale
Lillie Vale, upon discovering she could not be one of Santa’s elves or attend Hogwarts, decided to become a writer to create a little magic of her own. Enjoying the romantic and eerie in equal measure, she’s probably always writing a book where the main characters kiss or kill. Born in Mumbai, she has lived in many US states and now resides in an Indiana college town where the corn whispers and no one has a clue that she is actually the long-lost caps lock queen. Small Town Hearts is her debut novel.



Giveaway
Enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win a print copy of Small Town Hearts by Lillie Vale (US only).

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Thursday, March 21, 2019

"The Next to Last Mistake" by Amalie Jahn


EXCERPT and GIVEAWAY
The Next to Last Mistake
by Amalie Jahn

The Next to Last Mistake by Amalie Jahn

The Next to Last Mistake by Amalie Jahn is currently on tour with Goddess Fish Promotions. The tour stops here today for an excerpt and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.


Description
Tess Goodwin’s life in rural Iowa is sheltered and uncomplicated. Although she chooses to spend most of her free time playing chess with her best friend Zander, the farm-boy from next door, her skills as a bovine midwife and tractor mechanic ensure that she fits in with the other kids at East Chester High. But when her veteran father reenlists in the Army, moving her family halfway across the country to North Carolina, Tess is forced out of her comfort zone into a world she knows nothing about.
Tess approaches the move as she would a new game of chess, plotting her course through the unfamiliar reality of her new life. While heeding Zander’s long-distance advice for making new friends and strategizing a means to endure her dad’s imminent deployment to the Middle East, she quickly discovers how ill-equipped she is to navigate the societal challenges she encounters and becomes convinced she’ll never fit in with the students at her new school.
When Leonetta Jackson is assigned as her mentor, she becomes Tess’s unexpected guide through the winding labyrinth of cultural disparities between them, sparking a tentative friendship and challenging Tess to confront her reluctant nature. As the pieces move across the board of her upended life, will Tess find the acceptance she so desperately desires?

Excerpt
I’m almost asleep, barely conscious of drifting off, when I’m startled by a noise outside my window. Before I have a chance to turn on the light and investigate, the sash slides open and someone steps into my room.
I hope beyond all hope I’m not dreaming.
“Zander?” I ask, not wondering if it’s him but why he’s here.
He’s all the way in the room now, standing at the foot of my bed. “Did I wake you?” he whispers.
“No,” I tell him. He blows into his hands, and I lift my blankets, inviting him under the covers to warm up.
“It’s colder than a polar bear’s butt out there.” He snuggles against me in my tiny twin bed like we’re still six-year-olds, camping outside in each other’s backyards. I wrap my arms around him, and he settles against my shoulder. “You left your own party.”
“It wasn’t really my party,” I say. “More New Year’s than anything else.”
“The cake was good. Red velvet. You would’ve liked it.”
There’s so much I want to say. Apologies I want to give. Promises I want to make. But the words are jumbled around in my head, and I’m afraid if I speak everything will come out all wrong.
“I didn’t have anyone to kiss at the ball drop,” he says eventually, and I wonder if whatever was in his Solo cup has gone to his head.
“Tina and Claire were there.”
He chuckles grimly and his voice turns serious. “We’ve been together every New Year’s since we were babies, you know that?” His words settle over me, and I strain under the weight of them. Heavier still is the burden of what he doesn’t say: And this might have been our last.
“I’m sorry,” I say, feeling the need to explain, “but it was so cold and I knew my dad was gonna need help with the herd and…”
He rolls over to face me, placing a finger over my lips. “It’s okay, Tess. I get it. It’s been hard being around each other for the past few weeks. I didn’t realize the anticipation of you leaving was gonna suck so bad. I didn’t know how horrible I was at long goodbyes.” Now he’s the one who’s apologizing. “I guess I didn’t know what else to do. I figured this day might be easier for both of us…”
“If you left me before I had the chance to leave you?”
“Something like that.” He sighs. “It wasn’t intentional. I guess I’ve been sorta messed up in my own head, thinking about not having you around. You’re the best part of my days.”
I blink back tears I don’t realize are already spilling down my cheeks. His admission is true for me as well—something we’ve always taken for granted.
“It’s only eighteen months, then we’ll both graduate and head to college together like we always planned. You and me. It’s not that long, right?”
“It’s not that long,” he agrees. “But it’ll never be the same, not having you right next door.”
His body is relaxed against mine, and I’m reminded of all the nights we spent together growing up, head to foot and back to back, me teasing him for his stinky feet and him making fun of my retainer. “Maybe someone better will move in here,” I laugh between sniffles. “Some Victoria’s Secret supermodel, schlepping around manure in waders and a thong.”
He chuckles, too, and I imagine him smiling in the darkness. “As tempting as she sounds, I still wouldn’t willingly trade you for her.”
There’s something unspoken in his words, a tiny invitation across a boundary we’ve never crossed. But I can’t cross it now. I won’t. There’s no reason to take something painful and make it complicated as well.
“I should go to sleep,” I tell him. “We’re leaving after the morning milking, and I gotta be alert enough to drive.”
He stirs under the covers and his warmth leaves my side. As he stands over me, silhouetted in the moonlight cascading through my window, I hear him sigh. Then, he leans down to place a kiss on my forehead like a father tucking in his child.
“Bye,” I say.
“Bye.”
“Love ya.”
“Love ya back.”
And then he’s gone, back through the window out into the night. I assume, in the wake of our farewell, it’s going to take me hours to fall asleep, but the next thing I know my alarm is going off, and it’s time to slide the chessboard of my past life on to the shelf and begin another match.
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]


Praise for the Book
“This book stole my ENTIRE HEART. I loved everything about it.” ~ Mikayla Tewksbury
The Next to Last Mistake by Amalie Jahn will have readers considering their own lives through a bittersweet lens as they work through feelings of security, happiness, separation, loss, and inequality, among others. Jahn has written a story that will resonate with readers of all ages …” ~ Beth Rodgers
“A great read for any teen...and any adult who finds him/herself in unfamiliar territory. I highly recommend this book!!” ~ Christina Chisholm
The Next to Last Mistake is a quick, but meaningful, deep read that is not only good for the heart, but the soul as well. Make this a must!” ~ Jennifer H.
“I can say without fail that this will be one of my favorite books of the year. It's brilliant, with moments that will warm your heart, uplift you, tear you down, educate you, comfort you, and make you want to hug every loved one you have. It will stay with you LONG after you read the final word.” ~ Patrick Hodges


About the Author
Amalie Jahn
Amalie Jahn is a USA Today bestselling author of more than 8 young adult novels, including The Next to Last Mistake, her latest release (Light Messages Publishing 2019).
Amalie is the recipient of the Literary Classics Seal of Approval and the Readers' Favorite Gold Medal for her debut novel, The Clay Lion. She is a contributing blogger with the Huffington Post and Southern Writers Magazine, as well as a TED speaker, human rights advocate, and active promoter of kindness. She lives in the United States with her husband, two children, and three overfed cats.
When she's not at the computer coaxing characters into submission, you can find Amalie swimming laps, cycling, or running on the treadmill, probably training for her next triathlon. She hates pairing socks and loves avocados. She is also very happy time travel does not yet exist.

Giveaway
Enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win a $20 Amazon or B&N gift card.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

"His Hand in the Storm" by Ritu Sethi


FREE plus EXCERPT
His Hand in the Storm
(Chief Inspector Gray James Murder Mystery Book 1)
by Ritu Sethi

His Hand in the Storm (Chief Inspector Gray James Murder Mystery Book 1) by Ritu Sethi

His Hand in the Storm is the first book in the Chief Inspector Gray James Murder Mystery series by Ritu Sethi. Make sure you grab your FREE copy. Also available: Kill Me Why?.


His Hand in the Storm is currently on tour with Reading Addiction Book Tours. The tour stops here today for an excerpt. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.


Description
His team believes he’s calm and Zen. His boss finds him obsessive. Suspects think him gorgeous but dangerous. They’re all right.
Chief Inspector Gray James is sculpting the remembered likeness of his small son when he receives the call – a faceless corpse is found hanging by the choppy river, swirls of snow and sand rolling like tumbleweeds.
Montreal glitters: the cobbled streets slippery with ice, and the mighty St. Lawrence jetting eastward past the city. One by one, someone is killing the founders of a booming medical tech startup – propelling Gray into a downward spiral that shatters his hard-earned peace, that risks his very life, that threatens to force him to care and face what he has shunned all along: his hand in the storm.
From the prize-winning author comes a psychological, page-turning mystery with all the elements one needs on a rainy night: a complex murder, a noble yet haunted detective, and an evocative setting to sink into.

Excerpt
April 1, 5:30 am
More numbing pain.
At precisely five-thirty am on April the first, Chief Inspector Gray James tucked his cold hands into his pockets, straightened his spine, and looked up.
He breathed out through his nose, warm breath fogging the air as if surging out of a dragon and tried to dispel the mingled hints of flesh, cherry blossoms, and the raw, living scent of the river.
The drumming of his heart resonated deep in his chest – brought on more by intellectual excitement than by any visceral reaction to murder. Because of this, Gray accepted an atavistic personal truth.
He needed this case like he’d needed the one prior, and the one before that. That someone had to die to facilitate this objectionable fix bothered him, but he’d give audience to that later. Much later.
A car backfired on le Chemin Bord Ouest, running east-west along Montreal’s urban beach park. A second later, silence ensued, save the grievous howling of a keen eastwardly wind, and the creak of nylon against wood, back and forth, and back and forth.
Heavy boots tromping through the snow and slush came up from behind. A man approached. Tall, but not as tall as Gray, his cord pants and rumpled tweed conveyed the aura of an absent-minded professor, yet the shrewd eyes – not malicious, but not categorically beneficent either – corrected that impression.
Forensic Pathologist John Seymour looked up at the body hanging from the branch of a grand oak, gave it the eye and said, “Well, I can tell you one thing right off.”
“What’s that?”
“You wouldn’t be caught dead in that suit.”
Gray sighed. “What do you suggest? That I refer the victim to my tailor?” To which Seymour shrugged and got to work.
With every creak of the rope biting into the bough, Gray half-expected the swinging shoes to brush the snow-laden grass; each time the cap-toed oxfords narrowly missed. A grease stain marked the bony protrusion of the left white sock (with a corresponding scuff on the heel – from being dragged?), above which the crumpled brown wool-blend fabric of the pants and ill-fitting jacket rippled in the wind – like the white-tipped surface of the river beyond.
Dawn cast a blue light on the water and snow. A damp cold sank through Gray’s coat and into his bones. Amazing how the usually peaceful beach park took on a menacing air: the St. Lawrence choppier than usual, swirls of sand and snow rolling like tumbleweeds, the sky heavy and low. But a children’s playground lay behind the hanging body, and its red swings, bright yellow slide, and empty wading pool offered a marked contrast to the swaying corpse.
With every flash, Scene of Crime Officers photographed the body and documented what remained: only an exposed skull, framed by sparse hair on top, ears on either side, and a wrinkly neck puckered in a noose. A red silk tie under the hangman’s knot accentuated the complete absence of blood. Blood would have been preferable. The features were stripped to the bone, with eroded teeth set in a perpetual grin as if the skull were enjoying a joke at everyone’s expense.
“White male in his early fifties,” Seymour said. “Well off, by the look of him. Only small bits of tissue left on the cheekbones, lips, and around the eyes. Notice the distinctive gap between the two front teeth.”
That could help with identification.
The custom ringtone on Gray’s cell played “She’s Always a Woman.” Why was she calling him so soon? He stabbed the phone and tucked it back into his cashmere coat pocket before circling the body several times.
“What killed him?” Gray asked.
“The facial trauma preceded the hanging.”
That much was obvious since the rope wasn’t eaten away like the face.
“We can’t know the cause of death until I get him on the slab,” Seymour said. “And before you ask, the time of death is hard to say. Parts of him are already frozen. Maybe four to seven hours ago. I’ll have a better window after I’ve checked the stomach contents and what’s left of the eyes.”
Seymour crouched and felt the victim’s knees and lower legs. “Rigor mortis has set in, probably sped up by the cold.” He rotated the stiff ankles. “Look at these tiny feet. Can’t have been too popular with the ladies.”
Gray closed his eyes and counted to five.
All around, professionals bustled gathering evidence, clearing onlookers and photographing the scene. The park lay sandwiched between the beach and parking lot leading to the main road. On one side, the river flowed eastward in a blue-gray haze, blurring the line between water and sky. On the other, traffic going into downtown Montreal grew heavier by the minute. The road led to his neighborhood, where Victorian and Edwardian homes, bistros, and cafés crunched together for ten hipster-infused blocks.
This park held memories of weekends spent with his wife and son. A lifetime ago. Why did it have to happen here, of all places?
“Did some kind of acid cause the burns, Doctor?”
“Yeah. Parts of the eyes are still there. Almost as if they were left for last. I wonder why.”
Gray could think of a reason but didn’t elaborate.
A gust of wind swung the corpse’s legs sideways, narrowly missing an officer’s head.
“What the hell.” Seymour grabbed the ankles. “The sooner we cut him down, the better.”
Which couldn’t be soon enough. Gray bent down and held the lower legs. He gripped the ankle awkwardly with his right thumb and little finger, the middle three immobile these last three years since the accident, and a snake-like scar running from his palm to his wrist blanched from the cold.
Despite his hanging on tight, the corpse danced in the wind. “Don’t rush on my account, Doctor.”
Finally, attendants cut the victim down and laid him on a stretcher. Seymour hunched over, his blond hair parting in the breeze, revealing a pink, flaky scalp, the grinning corpse powerless to refuse examination.
“Definitely acid,” Seymour said. “Going to be hard for you to trace, since it’s so easy to get. Impure sulphuric acid’s available at any mechanic shop. You find the purer kind in pharmaceuticals.” He flashed a penlight into the facial crevices and probed them with a long, needle-like instrument.
The victim couldn’t feel it, but each stab and scrape made Gray flinch. “Must you do that?”
“Look at these chipped bones,” Seymour said. “Here, next to the supraorbital foramen, and here on the left zygomatic arch. They’re edged off, not dissolved by acid.”
“Torture, right?”
“Could be.”
Gray paced his next six words: “Was he alive for the acid?”
“I’m going to have to brush up on vitriolage. If he were, he’d have breathed it in, and we’d see scarring in the esophagus, nostrils, and lungs.”
Looking around at the flat, deserted beach park, the ropy ebb and flow of the water, Gray said, “He didn’t die here, did he?”
“No. From what I can see, livor mortis indicates he probably died sitting and was strung up later. I’ll let you know after all his clothes are off.” Seymour pushed himself up with his hands, his knees popping like the report of a firearm. “What could the poor bastard have done to deserve this?”
Gray didn’t answer. As someone guilty of the greatest sin of all, he considered himself wholly unqualified to make any such judgment.
His cell played “She’s Always a Woman,” again, and he pulled it out. Images from the previous night played in his mind: her hands flat on the mattress, his palm encircling her belly from behind. And those unexpectedly strong martinis she’d made earlier.
Putting away the phone, he spoke brusquely. “When will you have something ready?”
“Preliminary report probably later today. And I’ll send remnants of the acid for analysis to determine the type and grade.”
As the body was carried to a van and Seymour followed, second-in-command Lieutenant Vivienne Caron approached Gray carrying two cappuccinos from a nearby Italian cafe. Wonderful steam rose from the opened lids, and the dark, nutty aroma drifted forward, the first hint of comfort on this bleak morning.
Her chocolate brown eyes exuded warmth – eyes both direct and shy, their color perfectly matching her short, straight tresses now whipping about in the wind and framing gentle features.
“Chief Inspector.” She addressed him formally, despite their longstanding friendship. The sound of her nearly perfect English was pleasant and familiar, beautifully accented with the musical intonation characteristic of certain Québecois.
Even though she held the coffee before his left hand; he grasped it awkwardly with his right.
“Don’t spill any on that thousand-dollar suit,” she said.
It made him gag. “Why do you always add so much sugar?”
“Because I know that with a juicy case to solve, you’ll be too busy to eat or sleep.”
A moment of silence passed between them, pregnant with history he didn’t want exhumed.
“I have to make sure you’re okay,” she said. “Even if you refuse to... She was my best friend.”
He placed a hand on her shoulder. “You live with Sita’s ghost more than I do. Enough time has passed for me.”
“Maybe. It’s changed you.”
“For the worse?”
Vivienne stilled, her mouth open. “Non. For the better. That’s the problem.”
Her eyes were warm yet partly adversarial. He saw it as the conflicting desire for wanting him to be okay, but not to leave her to grieve alone. She’d once told him the same trauma that had disillusioned her had enlightened him.
“It doesn’t matter what happens,” he whispered.
“Doesn’t matter?” Her voice took on an edge.
“As long as you can control your reactions – it doesn’t matter. Freedom comes from living in grays – no black; no white. No convenient polarities.”
Her eyes pierced his, but he knew, out of respect, she wouldn’t directly say what she thought; that he oscillated between Zen and obsession, contentment and blackness.
She shuffled her feet. “I don’t know how you made that leap, after the tragedy.”
“The worst thing that could ever happen to me has happened. After that, I can either fear everything or nothing – I have nothing left to lose.”
Vivienne didn’t reply.
What right had he to preach when he still experienced unguarded moments which filled his insides with quicksand as that malignant though raced through his mind: what do I do now? How do I fill this day and twenty years of interminable days when everything is for nothing? When this life feels surreal, dissociated as though I’m on a foreign planet with strangers.
Those moments often occurred when he didn’t have a case; they occurred before sleep and drove his nightly obsession.
“Living in Gray?” Vivienne shook her pretty head. “I believe in good and evil.”
“Then where do I fall? Or will you make excuses for me?”
“Non. I won’t make excuses for you. “
Her eyes hooded over; she took a step back. A door slammed between them, again.
“No cell phone, no ID,” she said. “Any footprints or tracks are covered by snow.”
“Let’s have someone check with the occupants of the hospital rooms facing the river.”
Westborough Hospital sat directly across the road. A magnificent feat of engineering, its four glass-walled buildings were connected by skyways. It had taken twenty years of fundraising to build (with its founding director recently fleeing to Nicaragua under allegations of embezzling some of those funds) and took up several square blocks.
Gray forced down the coffee. Already, warmth and caffeine coursed through his system, bringing life to his numb toes tucked inside the slush-soaked loafers. “Did you check with missing persons?”
“Only one recent report matches. Norman Everett of Rosedale Avenue in Upper Westmount. He’s only been gone since last night and reported missing by his step-son, Simon Everett. And of note, Norman’s a doctor at Westborough Hospital.”
Gray’s head shot up. “Missing since last night, and works at this particular hospital? The timing’s perfect. Give me his details. I’ll do the interview myself while you finish up here.”
“D’accord.”
She handed over the number, and he made the call to Norman Everett’s house, reaching the missing man’s wife, Gabrielle.
Before Vivienne could go, a Scene of Crime Officer jumped forward and handed Gray a transparent evidence bag.
“Found this by the tree over there, Chief.”
“How recent?”
“It lay just under the snow. The city cleaned this area recently; hardly any debris around.”
Gray thanked him and looked down at the four by six-inch identity badge, examined the photo, and read the identifying details, gripping it tight enough that his fist blanched. The image blurred for the briefest second before clearing.
Vivienne rubbed her hands together. “What’s wrong?”
He didn’t trust his voice yet. A shoal of uncertainties flooded his chest. The case suddenly became more raw, more urgent, but he’d handle it. He always did. Gray unclenched his jaw and fingers, and handed her the evidence bag.
“The killer?” she asked.
“A witness.”
“Look at that ID. Look what it says. You can’t be sure.”
“Yes, I can.” His tone came out harsher than he’d intended. He could guess her next words, and he’d deserve them. Does anything matter, now? Will you be able to control your reactions? But she didn’t say it. Didn’t point out the one circumstance that sliced his calm with the efficiency of a scalpel. Instead, she met his eyes in a gentle embrace before moving farther up the beach.
Bells sounded from St. Francis, the eighteenth-century cathedral up the road for the Angelus prayer. Quebec had the largest Catholic population in the country, and maybe as a result, the lowest church attendance and marriage rate. But the familiar ringing comforted and smoothed the sharp edges of his morning.
Gray left the cordoned off area, crossed the breadth of the beach park, and headed to the attached parking lot and his car; the black metallic exterior gleamed in the distance.
At one time, the Audi S5 had consumed a substantial chunk of his detective’s salary, but he hadn’t cared. Memories of countless family road trips lay etched within its metal frame.
Still twenty feet away, he pressed the automatic start to warm the engine, just as Seymour summoned him from behind.
The doctor jogged over sporting a wry smile, breath steaming in the cold air, and his long coat flapping. Behind him, the van carrying the body left the parking lot.
“I forgot to ask you earlier – about your next expedition,” Seymour said. “Mind having some company?”
“I failed last time,” Gray said. “Or hadn’t you heard?”
“A fourteen-hundred-kilometer trek to the South Pole, on foot, is hardly a failure.”
“It is if you can’t make the journey back. Anyway–”
A boom drowned out his words. The earth shook, and air blasted towards them, throwing Gray to the ground onto his right shoulder, pain searing up his arm. Chunks of metal and debris flew from the newly obliterated Audi in every direction, denting nearby cars and clanging against the pavement. A puff of smoke shot upward, chasing the flames, leaving the smell of burning rubber and metal hanging in a thick cloud – while cars on the nearby road screeched to a sudden halt. The fire swayed as though alive, angry arms flailing and crackling, spitting sparks in all directions.
“What the hell!” Seymour lay in the snow, his mouth open, his arm up to ward off the scorching heat.
Gray’s car lay mutilated, the black paint graying as it burned. People jumped out of their vehicles to take a look. Vivienne and some officers ran towards him, their feet pounding on the asphalt.
“Someone is damn pissed off at you,” Seymour said, eying his own dented Mercedes. He turned to Gray. “What did you do?”
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]


Praise for the Book
“A complicated murder with a number of suspects. The main character carries a burden which is slowly revealed. I couldn't figure out who the murderer was. A few sub-plots which added to the story. I think the book is well-organized and multi-layered characters. Highly recommend and a good read. Loved the little surprise at the very end and I hope it's addressed in the next book!” ~ Owl
“Characters are not surface personalities. They have been developed into real people types of several stripes - good and bad - odd ball included. The author has painted the scenes with a vivid brush that captures the moment and sets the mood. … a gripping story well told.” ~ Robert Krueger
“A thoroughly enjoyable read.” ~ PEB
“An exciting read, I kept guessing at the villain, but Ritu Sethi proved me wrong each time! Very enjoyable!” ~ Caroline Walken
“Keeps you on edge from start to finish. Shows how losing a child can mentally cripple you. A good read.” ~ Suzanne Carlson

About the Author
Ritu Sethi
A mystery; a beach; a beer: Ritu's favorite vacation day.
Ritu's first book, His Hand In the Storm has had nearly 50,000 downloads. It became an Amazon bestseller in the Kindle free store and was #1 in all its mystery categories. She needs coffee (her patch for Coca Cola), beaches, and murder mysteries to survive – not necessarily in that order. She won the Colorado Gold Award for the first in the Chief Inspector Gray James Murder Mystery series, His Hand in the Storm. The book was also a Daphne du Maurier Suspense finalist.
She’s fulfilling her lifelong desire of becoming a mystery writer. Many thanks to all the readers who are making that possible.

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