Tuesday, January 31, 2023

#Review - No Safe Place by Robin Mahle #Mystery

Series: Detective Rebecca Ellis # 1
Format: Kindle, 310 pages
Release Date: January 15, 2023
Publisher:  Inkubator Books
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Genre: Mystery

What she discovered will be the death of her.

Detective Rebecca Ellis has some big shoes to fill. Her father was the legendary detective, Hank Ellis, now retired from the Bangor Police Department. Emerging from his shadow hasn’t been easy.

So when she’s assigned to work with new hire, Detective Euan McCallister, Ellis is determined to keep their investigation right on track.

The explosive fire in a church parking lot looks straightforward at first. Claire Allen, a volunteer at the church, burned to death in her car. But then Ellis discovers the seat belt had been rigged, trapping Claire in the inferno. This was no accident. It was murder.

Why was Claire at the church that night? Who would want her dead? In the race to find the truth, Ellis unearths a horrifying secret that takes the investigation into very dangerous territory.

Soon, Ellis will learn that in the search for this particular killer, there is no safe place.

No Safe Space is the first installment in author Robin Mahle's Detective Rebecca Ellis series. Detective Rebecca Ellis of the Bangor Criminal Investigation Division has some big shoes to fill. Her father was the legendary detective, Hank Ellis, now retired from the Bangor Police Department. Emerging from his shadow hasn’t been easy. Especially when her boss idolized her father. Especially with a brother who resents her. Her new partner, Detective Euan McCallister, has some issues of his own that brought him from Boston to Bangor, Maine.

The explosive fire in a church parking lot looks straightforward at first. Claire Allen, a volunteer at the church, burned to death in her car. But, at closer inspection, Ellis discovers the seat belt has been rigged, trapping Claire in the inferno. This was no accident. It was murder. What's even more bizarre is that Claire may have known her attacker. The questions begin: Why was Claire at the church that night? Who would want her dead?

As Claire and Euan investigate further, the numerous possibilities of who would commit murder and why get longer, and longer. The first suspect is always the husband. Scott Allen, a banker, has an alibi, but there is still some suspicion. He also was having an affair with someone in the church. Having an affair is always at the top of the list when police are looking for motives and opportunity. The other prime suspects are Jeff Harwick, the young pastor, and Pastor Zeke (Ezekiel) Townsend, the lead pastor. 

To make matter worse, someone decides that Ellis is getting too close to the truth, so she becomes a target of the killer. With much pressure to close the case, Ellis and McCallister must put together the missing pieces of the puzzle. From embezzlement, corruption, murder, and fraud, to child pornography. There are a lots of suspicions but they need proof to tie together this murder and get a conviction. In the race to find the truth, Ellis unearths a horrifying secret that takes the investigation into very dangerous territory. A horrifying truth that might bring an entire church congregation to ruins if the secret is exposed.

Ellis has had an interesting life Even though she's been a cop for 10 years, her name along makes people expect more from her. She's flawed and her life hasn't exactly been easy. She was involved in an event when she was 12 and lost her mother. That event has been an issue between her and her step-brother Carter as well as her own father who fails to see what's right in front of him. He is an ongoing source of her problems between her and her dad. I would love to know what the real reason behind Euan's departure from Boston, but I am giving the author latitude since this is the first installment in the series.

Monday, January 30, 2023

#Review - Lightlark by Alex Aster #Fantasy #YA

Series: The Lightlark Saga # 1
Format: Hardcover, 384 pages
Release Date: August 23, 2022
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Dark Fantasy

Welcome to the Centennial.

Every 100 years, the island of Lightlark appears to host the Centennial, a deadly game that only the rulers of six realms are invited to play. The invitation is a summons—a call to embrace victory and ruin, baubles and blood. The Centennial offers the six rulers one final chance to break the curses that have plagued their realms for centuries. Each ruler has something to hide. Each realm’s curse is uniquely wicked. To destroy the curses, one ruler must die.

Isla Crown is the young ruler of Wildling—a realm of temptresses cursed to kill anyone they fall in love with. They are feared and despised, and are counting on Isla to end their suffering by succeeding at the Centennial.

To survive, Isla must lie, cheat, and betray…even as love complicates everything.

Lightlark is the first installment in author Alex Aster's The Lightlark Saga. 500 years ago, curses were placed on the six realms - Wildling, Starling, Moonling, Skyling, Sunling, and Nightshade - limiting their powers and blighting each realm in specific and horrifying ways. Every 100 years, a Centennial takes place on the Island of Lightlark where each of the 6 leaders of each realm is given the chance to break the curse. The catch? A prophecy states that a rulers line must come to an end in order for the curses to break.   

Isla Crown is the leader of the Wildings. She will face off against Azul of the Skyling, Cleo of the Moonling, Celeste of the Starling, Grimshaw of the Nightshade, and Oro, the King of the Lightlark who has been around since the beginning. Relationships blur and hearts are tested as each ruler fights for the survival of not only themselves, but their peoples as well. This year, unknown to the other contestants, Isla and Celeste have made a bargain to work together to find an artifact called the Bondbreaker that may break the curse. 

The first 50 something percent of the book covers the first 50 days of the Centennial, and there are so many scenes of the characters just showing off. That's kind of the point of some trials, but during them nothing truly important happens. Then the 3 teams are brought together and a bit of a surprise, Isla is teamed up with Oro to find something of significance while her friend Celeste teams up with another. This search for an artifact lasts a long time. In between, Isla seems to be infatuated with Grim of Nightshade, and then there's Cleo who seems to want to kill her every chance she gets.

Isla isn't a kick ass take names character. She was sheltered by people who raised her. She has no powers like her people which makes her vulnerable to other rulers who know that one of them must die in order for the curse to be stopped. There are two characters Azul and Cleo who spend 90% off page and have nothing to give to the story. As the trial chugs to its conclusion, there's a betrayal, as well as a I did not see that coming romantic interlude that kind of came out of nowhere. 

In some ways, this book could be considered a standalone except for the fact that one of the 6 seems to have an agenda, and that agenda apparently calls for a sequel. The author has also posted that this book is apparently going to be written for a movie by those who made the Twilight movies. We shall see. 

Friday, January 27, 2023

#Review - When the Crow's Away by Auralee Wallace #Mystery #Cozy

Series: Evenfall Witches B&B Mystery # 2
Format: Mass Market, 304 pages
Release Date: April 5, 2022
Publisher: Berkley Books
Source: Library
Genre: Cozy Mystery / Supernatural

The ghost of a recently deceased chocolatier believes he was murdered, and it's up to young witch Brynn Warren to use her magical gifts and old-fashioned sleuthing skills to find out how he really met his bitter end in this enchanting new Evenfall Witches B&B Mystery.

After spending months unable to use her powers, Brynn Warren is once again using her gift and working at her family's bed-and-breakfast. Her heart is full, and although one of her aunts wonders if it might be a little more full with a bit of romance in her life, Brynn is certain that finding love again is not in her future. In fact, she can’t imagine anyone being more certain of anything…except for maybe, the recently deceased Mortimer Sweete. He’s certain he’s been murdered, and he wants Brynn’s help to bring his killer to justice.
Mort is positive he knows who killed him: his business partner's wife, Cookie, who had been trying to get them to sell the candy shop for months. But Brynn doesn't share his conviction. After all, the coroner ruled his death natural causes, and Mort did have health problems in life. But with Cookie putting up a For Sale sign for the shop already, Brynn knows she can't just let it go. 
Trying to solve a might-be murder while attempting to stop her aunt from meddling in her personal life seems like a recipe for disaster. If Brynn wants to bring Mort's spirit peace, she'll have to rely on all her skills—both magical and mundane—to uncover the truth.

When the Crow's Away, by Auralee Wallace, is the second installment in the authors Evenfall Witches B&B Mystery series. For four hundred years, the Warren witches have used their magic to quietly help the citizens of the sleepy New England town of Evenfall thrive. There's never been a problem they couldn't handle. Then a new case is dropped in their laps.The ghost of a recently deceased chocolatier named Mortimore Sweete believes he was murdered, and it's up to young witch Brynn Warren, who is a witch of the dead, to use her magical gifts and old-fashioned sleuthing skills to find out how he really met his bitter end.
Mort is positive he knows who killed him: his business partner's wife, Cookie, who had been trying to get them to sell the candy shop for months. But Brynn doesn't share his conviction. After all, the coroner ruled his death natural causes, and Mort did have health problems in life. But with Cookie putting up a For Sale sign for the shop already, Brynn knows she can't just let it go. Despite the magic at her disposal, Brynn will heavily rely on traditional mystery-solving methods as well as the constant badgering by Mort and his refusal to speak to his widowed wife.
Prior to Mort's arrival, Brynn had been feeling as though something was about to happen that would once again test the mettle of the of the Warren witches. In fact, it seems as though Aunt Izzy (who is a kitchen witch) and Aunt Evanora (who is a garden witch) were pushing Brynn to get out in the world, and find happiness. Even Dog, the annoying Crow, tries to get Brynn out of her funk. There's even Nixie the young woman with blood of a witch hunter who is pushing Brynn into teaching her a spell. And, Gideon, who like Brynn lost his fiancee when she was involved in a car crash with Brynn's parents.
There is an intriguing development at the end of the book which ends on a cliffhanger after Brynn finds that her powers are acting strangely. Could it be the new person in town? The next book ought to be very interesting. The murder mystery in this book was rather intriguing, and the so called villain may not be who you think it is. As with most cozy mysteries, the characters in this book range from the utterly crazy, to raving lunatics, and that's just Brynn's Aunt's who want the best for Brynn, but tend to go way, way overboard! Of course, the next door neighbor is more than he seems which I won't spoil.


Chapter 1

Pink and peach clouds, fiery in the sun's dying rays, rolled slowly across the baby blue sky. A riot of birdsong rang out from the trees as a gentle breeze twirled fluffy seedpods in the air. Spring had finally come to Evenfall, Connecticut.

"I just love this time of year," the woman beside me said. "That feeling of warm sunlight on your face. The sight of all the flowers popping up their sleepy heads. The smell of rich, fresh earth bursting with new life." She sighed happily. "Isn't it just magical?"

"I've never cared for it."

I darted a look over to the woman seated on my other side, doing my best to suppress a smile. Some things never changed. While my aunt Izzy tended to see the very best in everyone and everything, my aunt Nora, well, she made an art form out of being perpetually unimpressed.

Then there was me. I was right in the middle. Literally.

I was seated between the two of them on the back porch of our family's Queen Anne tower house, Ivywood Hollow Bed and Breakfast. My aunts had suggested we come outside to enjoy the spectacular sunset. It was hard to say if we were succeeding in that particular goal just yet.

"But it's spring," Izzy persisted. "What is there not to like about spring?"

"Quite a bit actually," Nora said, flashing her long, crimson fingernails in the air. "Where should I begin? The sun is blinding in the early morning hours. You can't work in the garden without getting completely covered in mud. And then there is all this nonstop twittering." She cast a disapproving glance at the trees.

In fairness, she was more of an autumn person.

Izzy sat up in her seat. "Well, all that may be true, but-"

"Then there's the people," Nora went on, not quite through with her rant. She propped an elbow on the armrest of her chair and pointed at us. "Everyone behaves so nonsensically this time of year. They're practically overflowing with hope and excitement. And for what? A mild breeze and a bit of sunshine? Ridiculous." Suddenly a bluebird swooped in out of nowhere and landed on Nora's finger. She blinked at it. "You, my tiny feathered friend, are only proving my point."

The bird twittered prettily, then flew away.

"But, Nora," Izzy said with a nervous laugh, "wasn't it your idea for us to come out here to enjoy all that spring has to offer?"

"Oh no, Sister. Don't you dare try to pin this on me."

I frowned. Pin what on who now?

Izzy huffed a breath. "I knew I shouldn't have included you in this." Her eyes widened when she caught me looking at her. "In this viewing of the sunset," she added awkwardly before looking back at Nora. "You haven't liked spring since high school. Wasn't it your junior year when-"

"Absolutely nothing happened." Nora pulled down her oversized black sunglasses to give her sister a ferocious look. "And I do not hate spring." She pushed her sunglasses back up and laid her forearms delicately on the armrests of her chair. "I simply think it's overrated."

Izzy held up her hands in defeat.

"Wait, what are we talking about?" I asked, finally getting a word in. There was clearly a great deal being communicated under the surface here. I had a lot of questions, but I opted to start with, "What happened junior year?"

"Absolutely nothing," Nora repeated in a clipped tone.

I twirled my long black braid between my fingers as I looked back and forth between my aunts.

The two of them painted a contrasting picture. Nora was looking rather elegant this evening-if not a touch severe-in her black silk jumpsuit. She had her fiery red hair twisted up into a tight bun on the top of her head, accentuating her long neck and perfect posture. Izzy, in comparison, appeared fresh and sweet in her pink floral dress with ruffled hem. Her strawberry blond hair sat loose and curling about her shoulders, wavering charmingly in the breeze.

I had to admit I felt a bit shabby in my wrap sweater and jersey leggings. But, in fairness, no one had told me I needed to dress for the occasion. Not that this was an occasion. We were just taking in the sunset. At least I thought that's what we were doing. Suddenly I wasn't so sure.

"Why are we even talking about spring? Or unremarkable junior years?" Nora asked grumpily. "I thought we were supposed to be out here talking about Brynn?"

And there it was. I should have known.

I gripped the armrests of my wingback rattan chair to force myself up into a less relaxed posture. "And what is it exactly about me that needs discussion?"

"I have no idea what your aunt is talking about," Izzy said, forcing an overly bright smile. "Have you tried the tea, darling?" She reached for a cut glass mug. "It's a ginger and jasmine mix. I flavored it with honey, cloves, orange slices, blackberries, and just a touch of red pepper for heat."

I eyed the tall pitcher filled with amber liquid, sparkling in the slanted rays of the setting sun. Beside it sat a plate covered in freshly baked tarts with ruby-colored filling.

"They're raspberry," Izzy prodded, following my gaze. "Your favorite."

They looked delicious. I could practically feel the flaky crust breaking apart in my mouth. But we both knew those weren't just any old tarts. I pinned my aunt in my gaze. Her eyes widened again, this time to unparalleled levels of innocence. It was pretty adorable. But I wasn't about to be distracted by her cuteness. "Izzy? What is going on?"

"Oh, just tell her why you've dragged us out here," Nora said with an exasperated sigh. "I'm about to spontaneously combust in all this golden sunlight."

"Are you sure you don't want to try the tea first, darling? Or the tarts?" Izzy asked hopefully.

I raised an eyebrow. "I think I'll wait."

My aunt sighed, then cleared her throat. "This wasn't quite how I wanted to bring the subject up," she said, cutting her sister a look. "But, well, Brynn, your aunt and I have noticed that you seem distracted lately. Like something might be bothering you."

Was that all this was about? I chuckled with relief.

"And Izzy here has a theory on what that something might be," Nora said with a sniff. "She also has some ideas about how to fix it."

My chuckle died a swift death. My aunts speculating on my well-being was always disconcerting, but the idea of their fixing any of my theoretical problems was downright terrifying. Time to nip this in the bud. "You don't have to come up with any theories. Or ways to fix anything." I stared off into the endless sky beyond the sorbet-colored clouds. "And you don't have to worry. I know I've been a bit distracted lately, but I promise you it's nothing."

"What's nothing?" Nora asked sharply.

I could feel her studying me, but I kept my gaze on the sky. "It's hard to explain, but I've had this funny feeling lately. I think it's the changing of the seasons. Spring fever maybe."

In fairness, I could see why my aunts might be concerned. A few days ago, I had been kneading dough with Izzy, and she had caught me staring off into space. I had been quite still for several minutes without realizing it. Then a day or two after that, I may have snipped the side of my finger with gardening sheers helping Nora trim the dead branches off of a rosebush. It was a little strange. I wasn't normally so careless. When the feeling came on, it was like I had to stop everything I was doing, still all my senses, in order to pick up on whatever it was. It was like listening for a soft noise somewhere in the distance. Or trying to catch a faint scent on the breeze. It almost felt like something might be coming. But the funny thing was, as soon as I did focus on the sensation, the feeling would disappear, like it had never existed at all. Again, I had chalked it up to the season. What is spring if not the feeling of anticipation? I was sure it was nothing to worry about.

I knew my aunts might have a bit of trouble with that though. They had raised me since the age of five after my parents died in a car accident. Worrying was a part of their job description, even if I was now over thirty.

I didn't have to look at Nora to feel her gaze narrow in on me. "Spring fever? Since when do you suffer from spring fever?" The tone in her voice made it sound like we were talking about malaria or maybe West Nile virus. "Are you sure this strange feeling of yours doesn't have something to do with your work?"

"Or maybe something else?" Izzy asked sweetly, clutching her hands to her chest. Stars above, what was going on with her? She was practically batting her eyelashes at me.

I gave her a look that spoke to the fact that I thought she might be a touch dangerous, then said, "I don't know. Maybe."

"You are not doing a very good job of explaining yourself," Nora said.

I let out an exasperated grunt. "Because there's nothing much to explain. I just keep getting this feeling like something is about to happen, but then nothing ever does. Really, you guys don't need to worry." As if on cue, a warm breeze gusted by, making the trees whisper. I eased back against my chair. Hopefully we could let this conversation go now and just enjoy the evening.

"But what is it exactly you think is about to happen?"

I groaned. Loudly. "I don't know. That's what I'm trying to tell you. Oh! Look! Bunny!" I pointed at a small cottontail hopping across the lawn. I darted glances at both my aunts to see if they had spotted it too. But no, they were both still focused on me with matching expressions of concern. "What? Now we don't like bunnies?"

"They eat my vegetables," Nora replied. "Don't change the subject. You do realize that we Warren women are not ones to ignore feelings. Have you spoken to your uncle about this?"

"No, I haven't told Gideon anything. There's no reason to. It's nothing. I'm sure of it." I really was sure. The whole thing was silly. But at least I was getting some tarts out of it. I reached for the biggest one on the plate, picked it up, and took my long-awaited bite. Chills rushed over my body. It was beyond good. Sweet. Tart. Buttery. It was also, funnily enough, quite relaxing, and encouraging, and dare I say, prodding. Like suddenly I had the urge to give up all my secrets.

I shot Izzy a look.

She smiled and scratched the back of her neck.

"Why didn't you guys just ask me what was going on?" I mumbled, bringing a hand up to cover my mouth. "You didn't have to plan this elaborate ruse." Truth be told, though, I already knew why. Not that long ago I had gone through the darkest period of my life, and I hadn't shared much of anything with my family, but I had come a long way since then. They knew that.

"We didn't know how you would react, darling. You can be quite private."

I swallowed hard and wiped the crumbs from my mouth and then my lap. "Okay, well, next time just talk to me." I held my hands up. "Really. I have nothing to hide." I turned my palms inward, looking at the crumbs all over my fingers, then quickly grabbed a napkin. "Now, tell me. What was your theory on what was bothering me?"

"It's nothing," Izzy said, shaking her head so quickly it almost looked like a shudder.

I was about to interrogate her further but was distracted by a young couple entering the garden from the side gate. They were newlyweds spending a couple of days at the B&B. Neither one had spotted us yet. They only had eyes for each other.

"They are so sweet together," Izzy mused, a dreamy look coming over her face.

My chest tightened.

They were so sweet together, and so much in love. It was impossible not to see it. It was in every gesture, the way the distance between them closed when they entered a room, the look in their eyes when they said each other's names, even in the way they held hands. It was precious. Truly precious. I had been in love like that once.

"Ridiculous," Nora muttered.

I smiled.

We watched the couple in silence for a little while before Izzy asked, "Don't you think they're sweet together, Brynn?"

I shot up in my seat. Wait a minute.

"What?" Izzy asked nervously. "What is it?"

"Did you know those two would be out here? Is that what you really wanted to talk about? Love?" I was using the same tone to speak about love that Nora had used when she was talking about spring.

Izzy's hand flew to her chest. "Brynn, do you really think I would be so conniving as to have that sweet young couple involved in some sort of scheme?"

"Hello!" the young man called out to her with a friendly wave. "Did we come at the right time?"

Nora laughed. Actually, it was more of a cackle.

Izzy smiled weakly. "Yes, just in time for the sunset. Lovely, isn't it?" She sank back into her chair. "Nora is so much better at conniving."

"I'll take that as a compliment," her sister replied, turning her face to the sun.

"Listen," I said in a much gentler tone, "I can see what it is you're trying to do here, and I know you mean well, but you are way off base."

I watched the newlywed husband lower a branch from our magnolia tree for his wife to see up close. Just as it neared her sightline, I heard Nora whisper something under her breath, and one of the pink buds swirled open, much to the couple's delight.

When Nora caught me looking at her, she shrugged and rolled her eyes.

"But, darling," Izzy said, stealing back my attention. "It has been some time now. Isn't there a part of you that misses it?"

"Of course I miss it. I miss him. The two can't be separated for me." That was the simple truth of it. I had lost my husband, Adam, to an undiagnosed congenital heart defect almost two years ago. It was a devastating loss. In truth, it had nearly killed me, but I had come a long way since then. I gave my aunt what I hoped was a reassuring smile. "But I can miss those things without feeling like my life is missing something. I am at peace with where I am now. I've had the greatest love anyone could ask for. And even though that part of my life is over, I'm grateful to have had it." I meant the words deeply. It wasn't something I had ever articulated out loud, but I was glad I finally had so that my aunts could understand.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

#Review - Fallen Creed by Alex Kava #Mystery #Suspense

Series: Ryder Creed # 7
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
Release Date: March 15, 2022
Publisher: Prairie Wind Publishing
Source: Library
Genre: Mystery / Suspense

K9 handler, Ryder Creed and his scent dog, Grace, return to Nebraska to join FBI Agent Maggie O'Dell on the same task force that helped rescue his sister Brodie a year ago. But their job is interrupted when a rural Postal carrier finds a black plastic bag discarded in a grassy roadside ditch.

What's inside is shocking to even these seasoned investigators.

Just that morning a young woman has gone missing. Is her disappearance connected? Did she run away? Or was she taken? And is it only a matter of time before she ends up in a roadside ditch?

Ryder agrees to search for her, but an early snowstorm threatens to replace the warm fall temperatures. His scent dog, Grace has never worked in cold, snowy conditions.

The snow blurs the landscape and grinds life to a halt. As Maggie O'Dell searches for answers about the victim, she uncovers a cold-blooded, ruthless killer who has murdered before. By the time Maggie realizes no one has heard from or seen Ryder since before the snow began to fall, she fears he and Grace may have walked into the killer's path.

Fallen Creed is the Seventh installment in author Alex Kava's Ryder Creed series. This book story once again returns to Nebraska where our main characters are trying to take down a sex trafficking operation, only to put one of the characters life in jeopardy when they get caught up in a dangerous game.

Key Characters: Ryder Creed, ex-marine turned K9 rescue dog trainer who along with Hannah Washington, opened K9 Crimescents in the Florida panhandle. Ryder is never far from his favorite dog, Grace, a Jack Russell Terrier who has preternatural abilities. Ryder is also recovering from events in the previous novel. FBI Agent Maggie O'Dell returns, and at this point, she's pretty much became a series regular. I think we finally get our answers to whether Maggie and Ryder are going to be romantically connected or not.

Brodie Creed is still dealing with her PTSD after being kidnapped, and kept like an animal, but she's trying hard to fit into Ryder's business and even has her dog and cat she takes everywhere. Jason Seaver is another handler who works for Ryder and Hannah. He and Brodie travel from Florida to Nebraska when things go badly for Ryder and Grace. Libby Holmes is a mystery girl who has lots of secrets. She's on the run from a man known as David Ruben who is the worst kind of villain. He uses women, and then tosses them away and he has a beef with Libby. 

The Story: K9 handler, Ryder Creed and his scent dog, Grace, travel from their home base in Florida to Nebraska to pay back a favor to Special Investigator Tommy Pakula. FBI Agent Maggie O'Dell is also there working on human trafficking that helped rescue Ryder's sister Brodie a year ago. But their job is interrupted when a rural Postal carrier finds a black plastic bag discarded in a grassy roadside ditch. What's inside is shocking to even these seasoned investigators. While working one case, they begin to look for a missing girl who has been staying with the local sheriff and his wife. All in the middle of a big snowstorm. Ryder and Grace soon find themselves badly hurt, and missing which forces Maggie, Jason, Brodie and their support to search for Ryder before it's too late. 

Thoughts: I have read this series from the beginning. I have read all of Maggie's books from the beginning. I don't think that I have read a series where the author puts her main characters in trouble for no reason whatsoever. This book hits on an important topic; human trafficking. The villain is a bad dude, and the girls he kidnaps fall into the category of being victims of Stockholm syndrome. These girls will do anything to impress him, which leads to doing sickening things, which unfortunately, ends up with Ryder getting caught in the crossfire. One of the girls, Libby Holmes, tried to escape, only to encounter Ryder and Grace. Libby perhaps was manipulated, but I think that she made her own bed and now should pay for her actions. I think the author has finally made her choice when it comes to making Ryder and Maggie a couple. I hope so. I also think that Brodie is going to grow even more if and when this series progresses.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

#Review - Trail of Dead by Melissa F. Olson #Fantasy

Series: Scarlett Bernard # 2
Format: Kindle, 310 pages
Release Date: June 4, 2013
Publisher: 47North
Source: Kindle
Genre: Urban Fantasy

As a null, Scarlett Bernard possesses a rare ability to counteract the supernatural by instantly neutralizing spells and magical forces. For years she has used her gift to scrub crime scenes of any magical traces, helping the powerful paranormal communities of Los Angeles stay hidden. But after LAPD detective Jesse Cruz discovered Scarlett’s secret, he made a bargain with her: solve a particularly grisly murder case, and he would stay silent about the city’s unearthly underworld.

Now two dead witches are found a few days before Christmas, and Scarlett is once again strong-armed into assisting the investigation. She soon finds a connection between the murders and her own former mentor, Olivia, a null who mysteriously turned into a vampire and who harbors her own sinister agenda. Now Scarlett must revisit her painful past to find Olivia—unless the blood-drenched present claims her life first.

Trail of Dead is the second installment in author Melissa F. Olson's Scarlett Bernard series. This is also the second book in the authors Old World series which will eventually include Lex Luther. As the story opens, Scarlett has been away in NYC getting a bit of a lesson on what it means to be a null in the Old World. Any supernatural be it werewolf, vampire, or witch, automatically loses their magic when they are around Scarlett and turns human again. But Scarlett's biggest challenge may be the one person who knows her the best; Olivia.

When two witches belonging to Kirsten's coven are found dead, Scarlett teams up with Detective Jesse Cruz to find the culprit. Then it is discovered that two humans may have also been murdered as a possible lure for Scarlett. She soon finds a connection between the grisly murders and her former estranged mentor, Olivia, a null who has mysteriously turned into a vampire who harbors a sinister agenda. With the threat of Olivia targeting her friends, and her estranged brother, Scarlett decides to go on the offensive only to find herself between a rock and a hard place.

If you haven't read Dead Spot yet, I kindly suggest that you do. Scarlett was trained by Olivia to clean up supernatural scenes so that local cops don't discover that there are more than just humans living in the area. While Jesse learned a valuable lesson about the Old World and dealing with people like Dashiell, Will Carlin, and Kirsten Harms-Dickerson, he has no idea what Scarlett has been through since Olivia did some mind numbing things to pretty much brainwash her into being the perfect student. In fact, he's pretty angry to know that Scarlett is caught in something big. 

Told by Scarlett and Jesse’s point of view, the book offers insight into both their thoughts and motives. We learn more about Scarlett’s past including what really happened to Olivia as well as Scarlett's own parents, and why she seems to now be targeting those she once helped. One of the more twisted aspects of this story is that yes, the supernatural are dangerous, and can kill without a thought, and yes, Scarlett owes a bit of revenge on the woman that took everything away from her, but it is the relationship Scarlett has with Eli as well as Jesse. 

For me, I have an understanding already of what is to come in future novels, but don't let me stop you from reading the rest of this first trilogy as well as the rest of the Old World series including Lex Luther's books. The heroine is imperfect and occasionally has doubts about what she's doing. She's easily manipulated by Dashiell because he could kill her in a New York minute. Except for being a null of some great ability, she isn't one who is going to kick your ass if you cross her. I honestly blame Olivia for her inter-personal issues that she has in choosing who to let her heart out to. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

#Review - City of Nightmares by Rebecca Schaeffer #YA #Fantasy

Series: City of Nightmares # 1
Format: Hardcover, 384 pages
Release Date: January 10, 2023
Publisher: Clarion Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy

Gotham meets Strange the Dreamer in this thrilling young adult fantasy that is "so much fun and readers will stay up all night to finish it" (Kirkus, starred review), nineteen-year-old Ness is a cowardly girl who finds herself at the center of a criminal syndicate conspiracy, in a city where crooked politicians and sinister cults reign and dreaming means waking up as your worst nightmare.

Ever since her sister became a man-eating spider and slaughtered her way through town, nineteen-year-old Ness has been terrified—terrified of some other Nightmare murdering her, and terrified of ending up like her sister. Because in Newham, the city that never sleeps, dreaming means waking up as your worst fear.

Whether that means becoming a Nightmare that’s monstrous only in appearance, to transforming into a twisted, unrecognizable creature that terrorizes the city, no one is safe. Ness will do anything to avoid becoming another victim, even if that means lying low among the Friends of the Restful Soul, a questionable organization that may or may not be a cult.

But being a member of maybe-cult has a price. In order to prove herself, Ness cons her way into what’s supposed to be a simple job for the organization—only for it to blow up in her face. Literally. Tangled up in the aftermath of an explosive assassination, now Ness and the only other survivor—a Nightmare boy who Ness suspects is planning to eat her—must find their way back to Newham and uncover the sinister truth behind the attack, even as the horrors of her past loom ominously near. 

City of Nightmares, by author Rebecca Schaeffer, is part one of a two part duology that is planned by the publisher. Set in the city of Newham, where criminal syndicates and sinister cults reign and dreaming means turning into your worst nightmare, the worldbuilding here is fresh and exciting. Like the vampires and monstrous Nightmares that roam Newham, readers will find much to sink their teeth into. This book is being marketed as Gotham meets Strange the Dreamer. 

In this world, people are turning into nightmares in their sleep. Some have gone as far as to take nightmare trauma therapy as well as taking drugs called Helomine to ensure they don't sleep. 19-year-old Vanessa (Ness) Near lost her family when her sister turned into a deadly monster, and went on a killing spree. Ness ended up with the Friends of the Restful Souls. Ness is terrified of all Nightmares, even though not all of them are mindless. She lives in a tiny room provided by the Friends of the Restful Soul, which basically is like the Salvation Army. 

Everyone calls it a cult, but as long as they let Ness stay, she doesn't care. Because she's afraid of nightmares, she's a liability. Thankfully her roommate, Priya, a Nightmare hunter in training, often keeps Ness out of trouble. To prove herself, she agrees to go on a mail run to a resort on Patton Island. But, before she can finish the job, the ship explodes and the only survivors are her and a vampire named Cy who saves her life. Though he saves her life, she's still terrified of him until she learns whether or not he is going to attempt to bite her

Soon thereafter, Ness and Cy learn that the ships explosion wasn't an accident, and now there are assassins after Ness in order to silence them from talking. Ness soon digs into who brought the bomb on board and why, and the only people she can now trust are the boy who saved her, and Priya, the girl who is supposed to be joining the Nightmare Division group which has a whole lot of secrets of their own. Oh, and let's not forget the powerful mayor who has her own man eating pterodactyl or the fact that Ness meets an actual Nightmare who becomes extremely curious about her.

One thing this story has going for itself is that it doesn't take itself seriously. There's a bunch of dark comedy and Ness isn't your typical heroine who wants to save the world by somehow suddenly having strange and unusual powers to defeat the horrible nightmares. Nope, she's just a girl who got a bad rap as a child after her sister's episode, and has been living in fear that the same thing could happen to her. Plus, having Cy and Priya around let's her become someone she can actually like. 

Monday, January 23, 2023

#Review - Don't Open the Door by Allison Brennan #Thriller #Suspense

Series: Regan Merritt Series (#2)
Format: Mass Market, 416 pages
Release Date: January 24, 2023
Publisher: MIRA
Source: Publisher
Genre: Thrillers / Suspense

New York Times bestselling author Allison Brennan's suspenseful new mass market original about a shocking home invasion murder of a young boy, and its tragic aftermath, as his grieving parents search for the truth about who committed such a craven act as they seek justice for their son.

How do you survive the loss of your only child? Former US Marshal Regan Merritt felt she had to resign her position after the shocking murder of her ten-year-old son Chase in their suburban Virginia home. Her husband Grant Warwick, a lawyer at a big corporate firm, immediately blamed Regan’s line of work as a marshal. But to Regan this theory never made sense. Unable to reconcile their grief, and full of recriminations against each other, the two separated, then quickly divorced, and Regan moved back to her hometown of Flagstaff Arizona.

Now she is back in Virginia after receiving a call from her former boss, Tommy, who continued to investigate Chase’s death when the case was dropped after the alleged murder suspect was killed in prison. Regan is stunned to discover that Tommy is now dead too. Regan reaches out to Grant to see what more he might have recently learned, and he nervously arranges for them to have dinner at an old haunt out of town. Then is a no show.

All along Regan has suspected Chase’s murder might have more to do with Grant’s work that her own. His firm handles legal matters for some high profile but questionable clients. With Grant now missing, the stakes seem even higher to uncover the real culprit. Regan must rely on all her resources to find Grant and stop the carnage, and to expose the truth behind their son’s tragic murder— then be sure justice is served.

Don't Open the Door, by author Allison Brennan, is the second installment in the authors Reagan Merritt series. US Marshal Tommy Grange, Reagan Merritt's former partner, was on an unauthorized investigation into what happened to Reagan's 10-year-old son Chase that saw her quit the Marshal service, and leave for Arizona to be with her father, a retired Sheriff. Tommy believed that he had evidence that her son was mistakenly killed, and that he wasn't the intended target that day. Before he could lay out his plans to his boss, he was assassinated and all evidence disappears.

Over the past 9 months, former US Marshal Reagan has been avoiding facing the death of her son Chase, until she gets a voice message from her ex co-worker and friend Tommy Grange. A message that claimed that he knew who had her son killed. After learning about Tommy's death, Even though Reagan saw Tommy weeks ago, she learns that Tommy reopened a case into the murder of Chase which her ex-husband Grant Warwick blamed on her and her job. Also, it's apparent that Tommy was talking to Grant before his murder. 

Regan felt she had to resign her position as a US Marshal after the shocking murder of Chase in their suburban Virginia home while she was on a job. Being blamed for her son's murder by her own husband never made any sense. But, unable to reconcile their grief, and full of recriminations against each other, Reagan and Grant separated, then quickly divorced, and Regan moved back to her hometown of Flagstaff Arizona where she got involved in the Sorority Murders. Tommy's investigation has apparently opened a can of worms. 

Reagan, with a push from her friend at the US Marshal's service, discovers that key players in the case of her son's death are either dead, or holding vital information. Including Grant who has moved on from Reagan and found a new girlfriend who works with him at his law firm. After reaching out for Grant to find out what he told Tommy, Grant gets cold feet and doesn't seem to want to talk about what he thinks he now knows. Regan has always suspected that Chase’s murder might have more to do with Grant’s work rather than her own but now the feeling is growing. 

Grant's firm handles legal matters for some high profile but questionable clients who would do anything to bury information that could ruin a persons life, or reputations. When's Grant's new lover is murdered, Grant becomes the prime suspect. Reagan must rely on all her resources to stop the carnage before yet another innocent life is taken while exposing the truth behind their son’s tragic murder. Readers are lead through is a mystery involving her ex-husband, his law practice and partner, a senator, a bank robbery gone awry and the FBI who has a mole and making things difficult. This is a story that will keep you on your toes. It moves from Reagan, to Grant, to an assassin who is very very good at his job. The surprises keep coming right to the final chapter.  

Friday, January 20, 2023

#Review - One Girl in All the World by Kendare Blake #YA #Paranormal

Series: Buffy: The Next Generation # 2
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
Release Date: January 31, 2023
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Paranormal, Occult & Supernatural

Into every generation, a slayer is born. One girl in all the world . . . sort of.

Frankie Rosenberg is the world's first slayer-witch, but she doesn't have that slay-life balance figured out just yet. She's still reeling from the deadly explosion at the annual slayer retreat—and new evidence that some slayers may have survived. And while she's defeated her first Big Bad, Frankie soon realizes it was just a warm-up act. Bigger, badder forces of evil are just getting started.

The Hellmouth has been reawakened and its calling old friends home. Portals are opening between Sunnydale and other dimensions. And the Scooby Gang has too many demons to contend with—real, metaphorical, and sometimes absurdly hot.

Then an oracle warns of a new foe on its way: the Darkness. Could this be what attacked the slayers? And is it coming for Frankie?

One Girl in All the World is the second installment in author Kendare Blake's In Every Generation series. 16 year old Frankie Rosenberg, daughter of the infamous Willow, the witch who almost destroyed the world, is the first witch-slayer in history thanks to the devastating events that happened in Halifax prior to the first installment. Frankie and her new "Scooby Gang," Hailey Larsson, sister of the slayer Vi Larsson, Sigmund, a sage demon, Jake, born werewolf, plus Willow, Spike, and Oz, are trying to not only train Frankie into what it means to be a slayer, but to protect the school and population of New Sunnydale.

Meanwhile, thanks to Dawn and Xavier, the investigation into what happened in Halifax is still ongoing and the mystery is getting deeper and deeper, as well as who was responsible for attacking Buffy and her fellow slayers. On a kind of goofy moment, it appears as though Frankie is doing a sort of census to see where certain supernaturals are coming from before slaying them. But the tip of the iceberg is straight ahead. Something has reawakened the Hellmouth―and is calling old friends home. Someone is performing demon magic in the shadows, opening portals between dimensions. 

And a demon oracle warns Frankie of a new evil on its way: the Darkness. Pushing the envelope just a little bit more, Vi Larsson returns, but is that a good thing, or a bad thing? Vi’s return not only throws Frankie and Hailey’s budding friendship into flux, but it perhaps leads to answers as to what readers need to know about the missing slayers. We also have a surprise arrival of almost all enemies that Buffy and her gang once faced when she first became the slayer thanks to an intentional play by another enemy who wants to unleash hell on New Sunnydale. 

Plus? The one plus in all of this is that Grimloch has returned to town and seems to have become Frankie's guardian. Grim also would love to know what happened in Nova Scotia since the slayer he loved is also missing. If you are a fan of the show, you will probably remember all of them. Then there is the arrival of Sarafina, mother of Sigmund, who also has a connection to Willow. Sorry, not Sorry, but I’m not a big fan of Grim as love interest. There’s something about his age and previous relationship with an older slayer that makes his interest in Frankie less believable and a bit creep and if Grim finds his missing slayer, what's going to happen?

I would love to continue this series, especially since we are getting closer to the answers as to whether or not the author will stab Buffy in the back, or will she make a surprise appearance. This may or may not be a mild spoiler, I really like this development in the mystery of who targeted the slayers in Halifax. It makes a lot of sense in the context of the series mythology. Buffy has always been a show that talks about power corrupting.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

#Review - The Hunter by Jennifer Herrera #Thrillers #Psychological

Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
Release Date: January 10, 2023
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Source: Publisher
Genre: Thrillers / Psychological

After reckless behavior costs NYPD detective Leigh O’Donnell her job and her marriage, she returns with her four-year-old daughter to her beautiful hometown of Copper Falls, Ohio. Leigh had stayed away for more than a decade—even though her brother and a trio of loving uncles still call it home—because, while the town may seem idyllic, something rotten lies at its core. Three men in town have drowned in what Leigh suspects to be a triple homicide. She hopes that by finding out who killed them, she just might get her life back on course.

Headstrong and intuitive, Leigh isn’t afraid to face a killer, but she has to do more than that to discover the truth about what happened to those men. She must unravel a web of secrets going back generations, and, in doing so, plumb the darkness within herself.

Perfect for fans of Mare of Easttown, this taut debut is a haunting look at how the search for truth often leads back to the most unlikely of places.

The Hunter is the debut novel by author Jennifer Herrera. Leigh O’Donnell, former NYPD detective, has lost her job due to a poor choice. Her husband, NYPD Police Captain Eric Walker and her commanding officer, was the one who had to suspend her and then the two separated and divorced. When her brother Ronan calls and tells Leigh she has a job at the Copper Falls, Ohio, Police Department, she resists until he admits three dead bodies have been found. 
All the men were the same age. 25. Curiously, these weren't the first three dead bodies to be found in Leigh's former hometown which she left 14 years ago. Leigh decides to take her four-year-old daughter Simone to Copper Falls where her brother and three uncles (Bear, Eamon & Frankie) live. Something is very wrong in the town-and Leigh can't put her finger on it but it's somehow connected to the falls, where three young men were just found dead. 
She accompanies her brother on home visits-even though she doesn't understand why- as she starts to untangle what happened to the three men. Everyone in this town has a secret, including Ronan, and the Chief of Police, and Leigh is determined to pull them out. But the more she investigates, the more it seems as though something insidious--and possibly mystical--might be at work.Were these drownings at the waterfall truly an odd coincidence...or is there something lurking in the dank and mysterious caves below? 
To make things more twisted, Mason Vogel, a journalist, and someone who was in love with Leigh, is also back in town trying to make a name for himself. He is known for stirring up trouble, and then walking away. Will history repeat itself? One of the things that hangs over this story is the incident that ended up getting Leigh suspended without any future in the NYPD. Leigh also worries needlessly that her daughter is different from other white people in Copper Falls and therefore will face discrimination.
All the while, Leigh is pining the loss of the love of her life - her husband back in New York - who appears to have moved on with someone else. But he has a few of his own secrets that Leigh was too busy feeling sorry for herself to pay attention. There is a bit of a paranormal feel to the story, especially when Leigh gets digging into what really is happening in the town, and then there is the surprise as to who the killer is, and what they were involved in. I will say this. If you like Law and Order, you'll likely enjoy this story as well.

Thursday, November 2

I would not have pulled the trigger.

It was just after ten when I tuned the boxy police scanners to their stations. I set the Bearcat to cover Precincts 1, 5, and 7. The HomePatrol would hit Precincts 20 and 24. I tuned the Whistler to listen in on Precincts 19 and 23.

I lined them up on the marble coffee table next to the picture of Simone on Eric's shoulders at the Bronx Zoo. The photo of me in dress blues, shaking the police commissioner's hand. My leather holster, empty now, yet clinging to the shape of its old duty, its new regrets.

On the windowpane, I watched the same scene that played out a thousand times each day, like the jumbled pieces of a puzzle I was sure would never fit. A hand that was my hand reaching for my sidearm. My Glock aimed at my partner's head. A thumb that was my thumb cranking back the hammer. My voice, a command: Don't move.

I would not have pulled the trigger.

I knew this like I knew my own name. What I didn't know was why I had done it, why I had blown up my life for the sake of a perp who was caught hours after I helped him get away. This was three, maybe four, minutes of my life. Yet, like an explosion, it had devastated everything.

I turned up the volumes on the scanners until they hurt my ears. I closed my eyes. I waited for the static to drown out my noise.

On the north block of Seventy-Ninth at Columbus, an officer called in a Level 1. Shots fired. Dispatch sent an Emergency Service Unit for an evidence search.

At the Port Authority, a man was struck by a northbound A Train. A robbery. A traffic accident. A suspicious vehicle on Fifty-Seventh and Lex. But no homicides. I sat on the sofa that still carried Eric's musk and wool scent. I sipped water like I had a reason to be sober. But there were no homicides.

On other nights, when a Signal 7 had come through, I would piece together enough of the scene to interrupt my regularly scheduled spiraling. A woman killed in her apartment was usually a domestic. A man killed in the park was a mugging gone awry. Shot in a vehicle meant gang violence. Sometimes drugs. After a while, these images would blot out the memory of how I'd ruined everything. Finally, I could sleep.

But not tonight.

It was close to midnight when my cell buzzed. It was my little brother. He'd already tried me three times this week. Each time I felt a little guiltier for not answering. If he really needed me, I told myself, he'd text.

As I waited for voicemail to pick up yet again, outside my window, the video-arcade lights of the Empire State Building shifted from blue to red. I used to love their predictability, the way they could surprise me. Now as they blurred against the rain, all I felt was an overwhelming sense of the city's indifference to me, even after all I'd done to keep it safe.

I swiped to answer the call.

"Leigh? It's me, Ronan."

"I know who it is," I said, my voice a little hoarse. "Your name comes up on my phone."

"I know, but it's polite. Hey, sorry to call so late. I've been trying to reach you. Did you get my messages?"

I assured my brother that, yes, I'd gotten his voicemails, which had all said, unhelpfully, Call me back. Yes, I was fine. I was Busy Evaluating My Options. I was Reassessing and Regrouping. I was Planning Next Steps. I was the same as every other time he'd called over the past six months, still trying to imagine the future, still stuck trying to decode the past.

"I'm sorry, Leigh." Over the line, a pause like an axe swinging. "And Eric? Are you guys still separated?"

"I knew it was coming," I replied. By which I meant, I hadn't seen it coming at all.
I stood up too fast, stumbling. I strode past the uncluttered living room, cavernous now with Eric's things gone, and into the galley kitchen, where it was always dark, always wet smelling. I started opening a bottle of wine with the corkscrew I'd left out after I'd put my four-year-old to bed. I never started drinking until after she was down. I pretended this made me virtuous.

"You know, Leigh," Ronan said, "we would hire you."

The cork popped, loud like a safety disengaging. It jolted my gut. We, as in the Copper Falls Police Department. We as in the tiny police force housed in the stone building just off the main street. In winter, they hung Christmas lights. On the Fourth of July, they had a booth for twisting balloons into hats. I said, "I can't ask you to do that."

"You don't have to. That's why I've been calling. It's already done."

"What do you mean it's already done?" I pulled the screw from the cork. "You're just asking me now."
"I cleared it with the chief. Leigh, you're hired."
"Ronan." The corkscrew clattered against the bowl of the sink. "I didn't ask for this."
"Hey, calm down. It's no big deal. You're my sister, right? It's my job to help." As Ronan spoke, I pulled a glass from the open shelving. I filled it to its brim. The glug was loud, like a drain emptying into a sewer. But if Ronan heard, he didn't say. In my family, alcohol was believed to disinfect even psychological wounds. In this, we were all devout.

I stood at the counter. I held the glass to my lips. "Does your chief even know why I was suspended?"

"He didn't ask so I figure he doesn't care."

I went back to the living room. I shook my head. I swallowed another mouthful of wine.

"I'm telling you, Leigh, he loves the idea. A big-city cop? On his squad? Plus, we don't have any women."

"So I'd be a quota hire?"

"Is that any worse than being hired because you're my sister?"

I eased onto the sofa in front of the window. I placed my glass on the arm.

"Come on," Ronan said. There was a smile in his voice that begged me to reciprocate. "Don't you miss it? Even a little?"

It'd been fourteen years since I'd stepped foot in the place I'd grown up. Yet I could conjure its image as effortlessly as if I'd just left: sunset oaks that arched over the drive leading up to the old house. Knobby balustrades like turrets surrounding the porch. Wide, wooden stairs that bent with every step. In the distance, the waterfall, the creek. Everywhere, the scent of water.

I pictured the rooms-all those rooms-cathedral height and embellished with decorative woodwork. Ceilings stamped in tin. The house was beautiful from a distance. Yet even in my memory, even after all these years, I could still sense it. That residue that could never be washed away, like stains after a flood. The water recedes and you paint over its marks. Yet still the mold grows. It will always grow. You will always be sick from it if you stay inside that house.

"That's a generous offer." I rubbed the warmth back into my skin. "Please, extend my thanks."

Ronan made a sound like a tire deflating. In the background, the floor groaned. "You didn't even think about it."

"I did think about it. But I'm not going to uproot my life."

"Your roots are here, Leigh. We're here. Me. The uncles. The town. Everybody. Would it be so bad? Coming back?"

Before me, raindrops raced. Behind them, new ones wove down their tracks. I wished for lightning, for the bray of thunder. Outside, there were only sirens. Their urgency. Their rush. They faded as they sped away.

"Look," Ronan said.

I took a drink.

"I know you're some big-time detective. I know small-town policing isn't, like, on your vision board or anything."

"I don't have a vision board."

"But before you turn us down, please just remember one thing."

I stared at the callus on my trigger finger. It had turned yellow, the way leaves change color before they fall.

"Here, at least, we look after our own."

The slap was not subtle. But it was also deserved. I had, after all, abandoned my family to become a soldier in a faceless city. I had put my trust in people who weren't my own. Really Leigh, I could hear him thinking, in a city like that, what did you expect?
I looked away from the police scanners, toward the tunnel of my kitchen, gray scale now, cast in darkness. "What would I even do there?" I was just humoring him. I needed him to see for himself this wouldn't work. "I'm a detective," I said, "not a beat cop. There's no major crime."

A tinge of hope spread through Ronan's voice. It made me feel sorry for him. "I can think of lots of major crimes. There was that family reunion. The one where everyone got burned alive? The FD says that was arson."

I knew what he was talking about. It was Copper Falls lore. "That was more than sixty years ago."

"Okay. Well. How about those guys who tried to cook up meth? Out in the Sticks?"

"I'm homicide," I said. "Dead bodies only."

Ronan was quiet for a long moment, so long in fact that I thought I'd finally ended the conversation. I expected him to say something too earnest, to add a You can't blame a guy for trying. Then the calls would stop. "Leigh," Ronan said. "There's something else."

"Unless it's a dead body, I don't care."

"It's not a dead body."

"Then I don't-"

"It's not one dead body." Ronan's voice sounded strange, reluctant. "It's three of them."

Friday, November 3

As Simone and I stepped through the gold, revolving doors of the entrance to Eric's building, the chill of autumn gave way to the sterile breath of indoor space. We reached the doormat, and my daughter stilled. She watched me with concern. That's when I realized I was holding my breath.

I worked to smile. I said, "Did you know armadillos have hair on their bellies?" I touched the stuffed armadillo in her hand. His name was Arnie, and she took him everywhere.

Simone brightened. "And did you know they eat worms?"

"That's funny. Because I heard they eat spiders." I used my fingers to imitate legs crawling up her shoulder. Simone giggled. I held her tiny hand in mine. I exhaled as we stepped across the parquet floor, toward the tall desk in the lobby.

The doorman wore a suit that was too big for his frame. He smelled of pepper and cologne. He said, "Your name?"

"Leigh O'Donnell. This is Simone Walker. We're here to see Eric Walker."

I always said this when I dropped off Simone. Yet the doorman, whichever one it was, always looked at me with condescending amusement, as if I were a tourist who'd asked for directions to Central Park. Eric had noticed this, too. Not just with doormen, but with witnesses, suspects, prosecutors, other cops. It was something about the way I spoke or how I dressed, or that my teeth were a little crooked in front. Yet even when I was new to police work, Eric had never underestimated me. Not ever. Not once.

The doorman replaced the receiver on the hook. "Mr. Walker is coming down."

"No," I said. "We go up."

"Mr. Walker was very clear. He asked that you wait."

"But this is his daughter. I'm his wife."

There it was again, that look. I felt the impending explanation of how lobbies worked, the invitation to sit on the sofa and enjoy the people watching of Madison Square Park.

I picked up my daughter. I started us toward the bank of elevators.

"It won't do you any good," the doorman said to my back. "I have to unlock them."

I posted us in front of a wide beveled mirror with a scrollwork frame. I was breathing deep now, trying to make myself calm. Simone wrapped her arms tighter around my neck. She held Arnie in the crook of her elbow. She said, "Say again. About the ball?"

I met my daughter's eyes. We were the spitting image of each other, Simone and I, just painted with different palettes. Whereas my skin was pale and pink, hers was dark and brown. My hair was light and wavy. Hers was brown and textured. I had green eyes and hers were the color of cherrywood. But I couldn't look at her and not see myself. I couldn't look at her and not see Eric. I said, "When armadillos get scared, they curl up into a ball. Their armor seals them shut. That way, no one can hurt them."

Simone cuddled Arnie as she hugged me tighter. I inhaled her shea butter scent. I felt sealed up. Yet I knew this particular armor had a chink.

Behind us, the elevator pinged. We turned, and the doors swept open. Then there he was. My husband.

Eric was six foot two, sturdy, with ropy muscles. He had the same dark skin as his daughter. The same cherrywood eyes. But whereas Simone's face was expressive and open, his was cool and guarded.

He came toward us wearing the smile he reserved for press conferences and people he didn't like. He said, "Hey there, baby." He wasn't speaking to me.

Simone reached for him. I let her weight release into his arms until mine were empty and his were full. I clasped my hands just to have something to do with them.

"I'll have her back Sunday night." Eric pressed the elevator button.

"I need her back tomorrow," I said.

The elevator chimed. He stepped into it. "Sunday. It's what we agreed."

I took a breath. Was I really doing this? "Tomorrow is when we leave for Ohio."

It was only then that Eric turned. Only then that his eyes met mine. A fire lit inside of me, out from my chest, up to my throat. Eric stepped out of the elevator. The door closed behind him. He worked his jaw. He said, "You didn't tell me you were taking a trip."

"It was just decided." I was electric under his gaze. "I want Simone to meet my family."

"You don't have any family."

"I don't have any parents." My father had died from a heart attack freshman year of high school. My mother had died less than a year later, from grief. "But I have family." The way I said it felt like a plea.

"Right." He evaluated my face. "And now it's important that you see them, even though you've never visited?"

"I’ve been busy," I said. "It doesn’t mean I don’t care."

In his eyes there was this flicker. Like I was a witness with inconsistencies he needed to bring to light. He did this sometimes, went from being my husband to being a Captain with the NYPD. He did it with the shift of cadences, with the tone of his voice. He did it and my pulse fired. I wanted to run my fingers underneath his clothes until that tension between us bucked and released.
“I’ll have her to you tomorrow morning.” Eric looked away. "When will she be back?"

"Two weeks. Maybe three."

His eyebrows lifted. "Three weeks?"

Eric asked Simone to play on the couch. After a beat, she scrambled away, Arnie in hand, bookbag bouncing. When she reached the lemon-yellow sofa in the corner of the lobby, Eric pinned me with his eyes.

"Why are you going to Ohio?"

"You said it yourself. I never visit."

"Why now?"

"I have time."

"Why else?"

I shrugged.

A sharp intake of breath. A voice like an explosion: "Leigh, please. Just tell me the truth.”"Eric held me with his eyes. Color was rising in his cheeks. It rose in mine. I didn’t take my eyes off him. He didn’t look away.

Push me. Keep pushing. Don’t ever stop.

At last, I said, "I am telling you the truth." What I meant was, I need to do this. What I meant was, This is how I right our course. What I meant was, Trust me. Please.

Eric inched closer. His skin had a chemical scent I didn’t recognize. I ignored it. He said, "Leigh, it’s backwater out there."

"You’re worried she won’t be safe?"

"Yes," he said. "I am."

We both looked at Simone. She was bouncing on the couch, preparing to stand. Eric was right to be concerned. The people in Copper Falls were all white. But it was also true that the people there didn’t care about anything but their own town and their own petty squabbles. They believed they weren’t racist because, in a place so white, race was irrelevant. I knew that wasn’t true. Race was always relevant. But I could shield Simone for three weeks. I said, "I grew her inside of me."

Eric brought his eyes to meet mine.

"I’d never let anything happen to her. Whatever else you think about me, you have to believe that."

The thing that passed between us was like that moment after sex, that moment when wanting gives way to relief. You know it’s only temporary but at least for now the throb of it is gone. A line split across Eric’s forehead. I wanted to skate my finger across it, to show him that I still knew him, that I still loved him, that I wasn’t done with our family yet.