Monday, December 6, 2021

Book Blitz and Giveaway: The Magi Menagerie (The Magi Menagerie #1) by Kale Lawrence

Title: The Magi Menagerie
Series: The Magi Menagerie #1
Author: Kale Lawrence
Publisher: EnchantFire
Publication Date: September 7th 2021
Print Length: 345 pages
Genre: New Adult Historical Fantasy

~
Some stars aren’t meant to be followed.

For seventeen years, Ezra Newport and his parents were habitual immigrants, traveling from their Ottoman Empire home across 20th century Europe. As the Newports migrate to Belfast, Ireland, Ezra wants nothing more to settle into a consistent life and lay the foundation of his architectural dreams. But after a strange, mechanical bounty hunter murders his mother and prompts the disappearance of his father, Ezra discovers that his parents had actually been on the run. Now, their enemies are targeting him, and they won’t stop until he is dead.

In a moment of desperation, Ezra’s fate collides with the Third Order of the Magi, a secret society dedicated to using their supernatural powers to protect their communities. With increasing violence around the world, the Magi are fairly certain they know who’s behind the attacks on Ezra and his family since the same group could also be threatening their own existence.

Both Ezra and the Magi’s survival hinges on knowledge only Ezra’s father has and the key to saving them could be buried within history itself. In a race across continents and time, both Ezra and the Magi must secure an ancient Babylonian artifact before hell is unleashed on the world. And, against all odds, Ezra must decide where his allegiances truly lie, despite what is written in the stars.

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EXCERPT:
Jonas van der Campe awoke with a start. 

Heaving heavy breaths, his fingers fumbled for the key on the oil lamp mounted to the wall above his nightstand. Golden light bathed the bedroom in a soft essence, shedding a momentary sense of relief over his heightened nerves. 

"Just stay calm,” Jonas muttered to himself as he untangled his limbs from his bed linens. With every panicked heartbeat, vexation set in. He never had to talk himself down from a proper nightmare. As a child, perhaps. But as a thirty-year-old Magus? He was stronger than this. "Pull yourself together, now."

The horrific carnage of the train accident troubled him more than any dream typically would. Jonas could feel in his bones this nightmare was real. And it wasn’t the first time he had witnessed cruelty at the hands of the Watchers.

Without wasting a second, he pulled a robe around his night clothes and hurried from his cellar flat up three flights of stairs to the rooftop garden. The moment the glacial March air washed over his face, he sighed in relief and closed his eyes to bask in the clarity of daybreak.

"You’re certainly up early, Cousin," spoke the soothing voice of a young woman sitting underneath a vine-covered trellis. Still in her nightdress, Kierra McLarney’s bare feet grazed the rug beneath her as she allowed the swinging bench to sway in the morning breeze.

Jonas swallowed the trepidation forming in his throat.

Kierra waited for his reply but turned when silence answered instead. Her features morphed from complacent to uneasy.

"What’s wrong? Bad dreams?”

"The whole thing. Ghastly. All of it," he stammered, searching for his usual voice of reason. "Kierra, I feel the tides are shifting."

"How do you mean?" She motioned for him to join her on the bench. 

Jonas sank beside her and stared at the purple glow crowning the horizon. The images burned across his consciousness were not the only things troubling him. The timing—

God. The timing could not be any worse.

With worrisome storms brewing in his mind, Jonas reached into his robe pocket and retrieved a small logbook, right where he had left it after the previous evening’s stargazing. Flipping toward the centre, he ran a fingertip over the pages and froze, his fears confirmed by the hasty ink.

“What, Jonas?” Kierra asked, her features becoming increasingly troubled.

“The State of the Stars at the turn of the new year hinted at something concerning in our near future,” he summarised, his eyes racing across the penmanship. “When I observed the stars the evening of January first, I noted a strong planetary presence within Aquarius. Both Saturn and Mars battled for dominance within the Great Water Bearer.”

“Concerning, indeed,” Kierra admitted. Strands of light red hair obscured her face, rippled by the wind.

Jonas closed the book, his palm caressing the soft leather cover. Such disturbances within the Magi’s constellation suggested more than a mere harbinger. It sang of transformation, an irreversible shift in destiny. “It did not make sense then, but now…” his voice trailed off, battered by internal tempests. “We will undoubtedly find ourselves challenged by fiery aggression from our enemies. And I think I might have just witnessed the igniting spark.”

Kierra remained silent, anticipating his explanation.

"In my dreams, there was a boy," Jonas said, his voice distant.

"A boy? One of my students at the academy?"

"No. At least, not yet. He’s an immigrant,” Jonas recalled. “All I know is that he—or his family—are important to them. Beyond the usual means. I cannot explain it, but I know they are important to us, too. Crucial to the Magi’s existence. Right now, at this very moment in time."

Kierra’s eyebrows knitted together while she digested the information. "So, this is not just about the Order of Babylon?"

“Something even darker than that.”

Kierra hesitated as Jonas folded his hands together in nervous contemplation. "What should we do? Should we alert the Magi Administration?"

Jonas lowered his eyes from the horizon to the oil lamp sitting on the floor beside them, completely bewitched by the dancing flame. Even with the Gift to control fire, the flames taunted him with their flickering movements. It was far too similar to the ones he had just witnessed devouring a vulnerable passenger train only minutes before. Letting the scene dissolve into a fading echo, he met his younger cousin's gaze. 

"I shall send them a telegram this morning,” Jonas insisted, drawing his robe closer around himself for warmth. “We must wait for further instructions from the Council. They will know what to do.”

Despite the confidence in his voice, the flame inside the oil lamp teetered on the edge of extinction.
---
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Since the early age of 6, Kale Lawrence knew she either wanted to be an astronaut or an author. Obviously, the astronaut gig didn’t work out, so instead, Kale turned to fantastic fictional worlds. When Kale is not writing creatively, she works as a Marketing Manager at a pet product company, and pretends she’s an Olympic swimmer at the gym. She has also served as a board member for the South Dakota Writes organization.

In addition to books, Kale has lent her writing prowess to television, and her writing has been featured on nationwide PBS television programming, NBC newscasts, ABC newscasts, and the Travel Channel.

Kale currently lives in Sioux Falls, South Dakota with her feisty tortoiseshell calico cat, Emma Bug and sassy Siamese, Seattle Bean.

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GIVEAWAY:
Win a $25 Amazon gift card and a signed copy of The Magi Menagerie by Kale Lawrence!
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Book Blitz and Giveaway: Type X (Project W.A.R. #2) by M.A. Phipps

Title: Type X
Series: Project W.A.R. #2
Author: M.A. Phipps
Publisher: Shire-Hill Publications
Publication Date: March 26th 2021
Print Length: 291 pages
Genre: Young Adult Dystopian Thriller

~
Feared by many. Frightened of few. Torn between humanity and the monster she’s become.

When Wynter surrendered to the DSD two years ago, she thought she was protecting her friends. Lured by the promise of a cure, she hoped she might finally be rid of her devastating disease or, at least, be on the path to controlling it. But Dr. Richter was never interested in curing her.

With a collar around her neck keeping her unstable powers in check, Wynter is transformed into an unstoppable weapon. Compelled to do the State’s bidding, she kills without feeling, remembering nothing of the people she gave herself up to protect. Her only thought is to obey.

When a mission goes wrong, triggering suppressed memories, Wynter finds herself determined to piece together her past. But as she uncovers the truth, she realizes it’s no longer clear who the real enemy is, and with the threat of war looming, she must again make a choice. Can she escape her role in the impending destruction?

Or is she doomed to remain a monster forever?

TYPE X is the second book in the Project W. A. R. trilogy, which readers have compared to The Giver, Divergent, and The Hunger Games!

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EXCERPT:
A grunt resonates in the back of my throat as the toe of a boot kicks my legs out from beneath me. Wincing, I drop to my knees in the dirt. Through a scalding veil of tears, I stare down at the ground. How could I have allowed us to wind up like this? Why did I just sit by and do nothing?

Rough hands pin my arms behind my back, binding my wrists in thick, metal shackles. I don’t struggle because I already know from experience there’s only one sure-fire way out of this. One way to undo the mistakes—my mistakes—that got us into this mess in the first place.

That nagging voice of doubt returns, holding me still. What if using my power here results in the one outcome I’ve sacrificed so much to avoid? What if it endangers the very lives I allowed myself to become a weapon to protect?

My eyes dart between Ezra and Jenner as they’re both forced down onto their knees beside me. I could do it. I could save them. I could get us all out of here alive. But I also know that my plan could go horribly wrong. One wrong move, that’s all it would take. One split second of hesitation or miscalculation and they would be dead because of me.

Then again, if I do nothing at all, we all die now, on our knees in this field. When I look at it that way, the decision is easy.

I only have one option.

Footsteps plod along the overgrown earth, pacing back and forth behind me. Three sets of tramping boots reverberate in my ears.

One armed guard per hostage, I note.

There were more than that when Nolan left us, but Quinn ordered the others to go on patrol. It shouldn’t surprise me that Nolan left the ex-Enforcer in charge of overseeing our executions. Quinn has hated me from the first moment we met. Of course, he would want the honor of slaying the monster himself.

Considering his motivation for joining PHOENIX, I wonder if his conscience is at all conflicted about gunning down unarmed hostages, or if he sees our deaths as just punishment for the crimes I committed on behalf of the State. He wouldn’t be wrong. I’ve done horrible things to protect the people I love and even worse things out of fear of what might happen if I didn’t. Every step I’ve taken, every move I’ve made, was selfish. I can own up to that.

But Ezra and Jenner… They shouldn’t die, not like this. They’ve done absolutely nothing wrong except love a broken girl who doesn’t deserve to be loved.

They shouldn’t have to pay the price for my sins.

I swallow the rising lump in my throat, asking myself the one looming question I’ve considered at least a thousand times before.

Can the future be changed?

If I had believed that it couldn’t, I wouldn’t have handed myself over to Richter two years ago. If I had thought the future was set in stone, I would’ve spent what little remaining time I had left with the two people in this world who mean everything to me. I wouldn’t have forced myself to forget them. I wouldn’t have allowed myself to inflict so many untold horrors on so many innocent people.

Even now, after everything I’ve been through, I have to believe I can still make things better.

Otherwise, what am I fighting for?
---
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
M. A. PHIPPS is an American author who resides near the ocean in picturesque Cornwall with her husband, daughter, and their Jack Russell, Milo. A lover of the written word, it has always been her dream to become a published author, and it is her hope to expand into multiple genres of fiction.


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GIVEAWAY:
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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Book Blitz and Giveaway: Yellowstone Wolf by Jaylee Austin

Title: Yellowstone Wolf
Author: Jaylee Austin
Publication Date: December 2nd 2021
Print Length: 168 pages
Genre: Paranormal Romance

~
Her assignment leads her into the wilderness—right back to the man who stole her heart.

Leslie Starr thought she’d left her past behind when she’d joined the Shifter Federal Bureau of Investigation. Unfortunately, the series of violent crimes she’s investigating in Wyoming appear to target her best friend Grace, head of the SFBI… and the sister of her ex-fiancĂ©, Roger.

Leslie’s never fit in with Roger’s wolf pack. She doesn’t do sweet, subservient, or small-town living. The fact that she still burns for Roger doesn’t help, especially now that he’s the alpha of his group and needs to claim a mate…

Roger Diego’s ranch near Jackson Hole is a safe haven for the Yellowstone Pack, and as their alpha, he’s expected to put their needs before his own—even when it means breaking his engagement to the woman he loves and embracing the life of a shifter over his human side.

When a dangerous criminal targets shifters in his area, Roger will do whatever he can to help catch them, including working with his captivating ex, Leslie. Roger knows Leslie is his mate and longs for her to submit to him, but he doubts she’d ever let any man claim her.

With his sister’s life on the line, they have to close this case—before their forbidden desires put the entire pack in danger.

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EXCERPT:
“Grace.” My voice rang out across the living room. “Why in the hell are you putting a city girl in the hills of Wyoming right in the middle of a shifter town? She’ll stand out like the plague. No one will accept her. They associate her with the press.”

“That’s why we need her. She’s objective and not afraid to ruffle feathers.”

“I think you’re making a big mistake.” Sticking a human investigator in the midst of predator wolves without protection caused a tremor to race along my spine. I’d intentionally kept her safe from my world. No one knew of my dual blood line except my father’s family, my three best friends, and my assistant Sharon. All the others knew me as Roger Diego, alpha of the Yellowstone wolf pack.

A pang of remorse shot through me. The regret of leaving behind the only woman I’d truly loved. Breaking up with her was the hardest thing I’d ever done, but I’d been right. No one in the pack would accept a human as an alpha’s mate because of the chance of having human children. I was expected to choose a wife before the end of the next lunar cycle. I feared that being so close to Leslie I wouldn’t be able to turn from her again and fulfill my obligations as pack alpha.

“If you’re finished, I’ll explain my reason for bringing the two of you together.” She braced herself in front of me, placing both hands on her hips.

“This better be good.” I poured myself two fingers of whiskey.

“First, we need to identify the two shifters accused of harming Sheila. Second, someone is purposely focusing our attention on the warlock coven and I want to know why.”

“Earlier you swore David was behind the killings.”

“I believe he might be, but too many puzzle pieces aren’t fitting together. Why blatantly make it obvious and draw us to the coven?”

“Why send Leslie?”

“Because she knows how to uncover a story. And believe me after we start peeling away the layers none of us will be the same.”

“Is this connected to you?”

“I believe so.”

“How do you know?”

“A gut feeling.”

No way would we find the rogue shifters if Leslie went in with blazing fire. The packs protect their own. “Grace the rogues could be anywhere.”

“That’s why you’re taking Leslie to the council where she’ll conveniently mention an interest in finding these men. They didn’t vanish off the face of the earth.”

When Norman abducted Grace last year, I investigated and found nothing. My instincts told me Grace was right. The men were probably in plain sight. “Cornered wolves will put Leslie at risk. If the men believe she means them harm, they’ll kill her.”

“Leslie will stir up interest. I leave it to you, Trent, and Seth to send out your betas and bring them to DC. Find the shifters now.”

“After three years these men could be anywhere. The case has gone cold.”

Grace touched my arm. “David wants the shifters. I want to know why. If we follow the trail, I bet this goes deeper than a couple of rogue wolves accused of a crime. I’d bet David is knee deep in the stench of things.”

“What’s your other reason for Leslie’s involvement?” I broke from her gaze and sat in the Victorian chair closest to the window.

“She still loves you.”
---
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
On any weekend you can find me surrounded by faeries, dragons, and angel figurines inspiring me with creative ideas. I live in Apple Valley, California and during the day I teach Language Arts. I inspire other young writers to reach for the stars and trust that they have a story to tell. Since childhood creating stories has always been a favorite hobby of mine. As an adult I'm grateful to write and share my thoughts with others. Happy reading and may the magic of life fill you with dreams of hope. Visit my website, Instagram page, and Pinterest to see update images of Tilly, my pug and I go on supernatural adventures.

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Book Blitz and Giveaway: What Happened to Coco by V.B. Furlong

Title: What Happened to Coco
Author: V.B. Furlong
Publisher: darkstroke books
Publication Date: December 4th 2021
Print Length: 255 pages
Genre: Young Adult Thriller

~
When a girl disappears, long-buried secrets resurface…

Coco is missing. Her room’s a mess, and her phone is left behind in her dorm at Lainsbury Hall School.

Ella, Coco’s childhood best friend, is desperate for her to return, although she knows that if she ever sees Coco again, there’ll be a lot of explaining to do.

Bea knows that her new group of friends attracts drama, and she thinks she has the last shred of common sense between them all. Only, if that was true, she would leave Genevieve, her toxic ex, well alone.

Conrad is confident that Coco will return safe and well. Only, the way his secrets are unravelling, he’s worried he won’t be when this is all over.

Harrison and Coco are the perfect couple. Everyone knows that. But looks can be misleading. Even the smartest boy in school can make a terrible mistake.

In order to navigate the web of secrets and lies that Coco leaves behind, her circle of friends needs to unravel a few of their own. But the question remains: What happened to Coco?

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EXCERPT:
Sat in one of the chairs before Mrs Hardy’s desk was a young policeman. He wore a solemn expression on his square-jawed face. His stubble was not the designer facial hair seen on actors or models. Instead, Ella felt it gave him an unkempt, dirty look. When she moved further into the room, Ella scrunched her nose at the aroma of coffee and stale cigarettes that clung to him.

“This is officer Hobbs,” Hardy said quietly.

“I’ll be having a short chat with you all today to find out anything that could help us. We need to hear an exact account of the last time you had any contact with Cordelia and any leads you think may give an indication of where she could be. Anything you think is relevant, please tell us now so we can find her as soon as we can. Do you understand?”

They all nodded. They were then told that they were to go into an adjoining meeting room separately. Ella was called first, and she felt her friends’ eyes on her back as she shuffled into the office. She was afraid, of what she wasn’t sure, maybe of being yelled at like they did on American cop shows, of slamming the desk and throwing curveballs at her, making her confused and messing up. She’d seen Making a Murderer.

She never really enjoyed true crime documentaries or conspiracy theories, but it was hard to be friends with Coco without being drawn into it and then listen to her ramble on for hours about how she always thought the brother seemed fishy, or maybe it was the maid, or about jet fuel and steel beams as though she was both a scientist and an engineer.

“Ella,” Hobbs said, sending a warm and inviting smile in Ella’s direction as he held the door open for her, but his yellowing teeth did nothing to ease her anxiety. She sat on an old wooden chair and Hobbs swept across the room in three swift strides. He slumped into the far comfier-looking chair across the table from Ella. This was the room that parents were called into, where expulsions and suspensions were issued as last resorts, thrown at students like cannonballs in a battle.

“So today I’m just going to ask you a couple of basic questions about… Coco you call her, yes? I understand you were close.” He produced a notebook and pen from his jacket. Ella nodded.

“How would you describe your relationship with her?” “She’s been my best friend since we were five.” “I see.” He nodded. “And is she known for being a bit...reckless? Does she always follow rules?”

“She’s careful. She wouldn’t go out at night without her phone and tell no one where she was,” Ella said, knowing to keep everything simple. Only answer the question asked, she thought, remembering again all those horrifying documentaries that followed people who were locked up for ten years for a crime they didn’t commit.

“She’s been found running around the school late at night with a Harrison Fletcher, though, hasn’t she?”

“Yeah, in school, accompanied by her boyfriend. Never outside, never alone. Never without her phone. We’d always known when she had done that too. She would tell us or post every second online like usual. She didn’t do that last night though, did she?”

“Did she mention anywhere she would want to go? Any parties? Maybe a secret boyfriend nearby?”

Ella bit back an unwelcome desire to laugh. “She barely keeps her tongue out of Harrison’s mouth for longer than two minutes as it is. She has no time to have a secret boyfriend. She goes to lessons, hangs out with us, or Harrison, and goes to bed. The five of us are nearly always together.”

“Okay…” he said, somewhat distracted as he scribbled away into his official-looking notebook. Ella wondered what she could have said to spur so much movement.
---
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
VB Furlong is a trainee lawyer and writer of young adult novels living in Berkshire, UK. She wrote her first “novel” at aged ten and has not stopped since then. Through her writing she aims to explore many of the issues she faced herself growing up, in the hopes that others facing the same issues feel some solidarity. Her friendships are a huge part of her life and consequently is a major theme in her writing, exploring the way in which we interact with each other, especially in difficult times.

Originally from Mumbles, Swansea, VB Furlong enjoys the sun and the sea, and walking her three dogs across the cliffs. These walks have offered her inspiration for many pieces of writing, including What Happened to Coco which she is excited to introduce as a coming of age boarding school thriller.

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GIVEAWAY:
Win a $10 Amazon gift card or an eBook of What Happened to Coco by V.B. Furlong!

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Saturday, December 4, 2021

Blog Tour and Giveaway - Scattered Legacy: Murder in Southern Italy (Analisse Series #3) by Marlene M. Bell

Scattered Legacy tour banner
Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Scattered Legacy: Murder in Southern Italy by Marlene M. Bell. This blog tour was organized by Lola's Blog Tours. On my stop, I have an excerpt from the book as well as a guest post full of mystery from the author. There's also the tour wide giveaway for a chance to win a prize worth over $200! Be sure to visit the other stops on the tour for more content. Enjoy!
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Scattered Legacy
Title: Scattered Legacy: Murder in Southern Italy
Series: Annalisse Series #3
Author: Marlene M. Bell
Publisher: Ewephoric Publishing
Publication Date: November 4th 2021
Print Length: 296 pages
Genre: Mystery, Suspense

~
To outsiders, the relationship between Manhattan antiquities assessor Annalisse Drury and sports car magnate Alec Zavos must look carefree and glamorous. In reality, it’s a love affair regularly punctuated by treasure hunting, action-packed adventure, and the occasional dead body.

When Alec schedules an overseas trip to show Annalisse his mother's birthplace in Bari, Italy, he squeezes in the high-stakes business of divesting his family’s international corporation. But things go terribly wrong as murder makes its familiar reappearance in their lives – and this time it’s Alec’s disgraced former CFO who’s the main suspect.

Accompanied by friend and detective Bill Drake, Annalisse and Alec find themselves embroiled in a behind-closed-doors conspiracy that threatens the reputation and legacy of Alec’s late father – linking him to embezzlement, extortion, and the dirty business of the Sicilian Mafia. The search for the truth sends the trio straight into riddles, secrets, and an historic set of rosary beads. Annalisse leads Alec toward a discovery that is unthinkable, and events that will change their futures forever.

Scattered Legacy is the third in Marlene M. Bell’s thrilling Annalisse series, which weaves romance, crime, and historical mystery into addictive tales to instantly captivate fans of TV show Bones or Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.

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BOOK TRAILER:
Watch the book trailer below or by clicking here!
 
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EXCERPT:
The reception area is completely empty, and there’s a smell like metal in damp dirt circulating overhead. Farther in, the ceiling fan is hovering on high speed, and the windows are open.

A dead body inside a warm office leaves an unmistakable odor behind, as did the body Ethan found inside the stall at Walker Farm. Decomp is one smell that sticks with you forever. Adding to the office creepiness, who chose the interior’s decor? We’re surrounded by limestone walls painted an ugly shade of ochre, slightly more yellow and definitely more unappealing than the building’s exterior. The rooms will need another coat of fresh paint to cover a harsh stench known to stick to the walls like cigarette tar does.

No one is nearby, not even the receptionist.

The office cubicles are silent but for a few flapping papers. Not a single desk phone is ringing. It’s like the office decided to have a fire drill midday, and the employees left their computers on and didn’t bother to close folders—open to anyone passing by. Frames holding pictures of sweethearts and children stand by as guardians for the people who are absent from their high-back swivel chairs.

Officer Raffa returns and mutters in heavy Italian brogue, “Il signore is waiting for his… avvocato difensore.” He points to the room with a closed door. “Come, Mr. Zavos. Your friends stay here.”

“Josh is in there waiting for his defense attorney. Back soon.” Alec touches my arm and looks at Bill, sending him a private message.

Alec’s led to a side office, and the solid door closes behind them.

“Is Alec signing autographs, or should I even worry about what’s going on in that room? Has Josh been here the entire time messing with evidence?” I ask Bill.

“Alec’s prepared for all contingencies. I’m surprised they haven’t taken Jennings down to the station by now.”

A few minutes later, Alec emerges by himself. “They weren’t going to allow us to talk to Josh, but I persuaded him. It shouldn’t be much longer.”

For what feels like an eternity, we sit in ladderback pine chairs with brown cushions while Alec keeps adjusting his watch. I don’t know what Alec had to promise the officer. Autographs are fine with me, but if he had to pay him off, I’d rather not know.

“I hope Brad is parked in the shade somewhere.” Alec looks at his watch for the eighth time in twenty minutes and turns to me. “Now that we’re here, they seem to be in no hurry to get rid of us. I’m sorry, Anna. Hold on a little longer.” His smile is an honest one full of regret.

I’ve heard the sentiment from him so often it doesn’t even register with my brain anymore. We both have a lot of work to do in the I-promise-to-do-better department.

The closed door at the back wall opens, and a guy pokes his head out, surveying the room. He’s fiftyish and, with his reading glasses, reminds me of Gen’s studious accountant.

Alec pivots, and his earlier smile vanishes.

“That’s Jennings,” Bill says quietly.

“Yes.” Alec waves to draw the man’s attention.

A confused Josh looks at us and then the floor as if he’s embarrassed. Eventually he settles his eyes on Alec. “I wasn’t sure you’d come. My attorney should be here soon. Come back to the conference room.”

Bill asks Alec, “Is it okay to go on ahead?”

Alec must have compensated the officer well to allow us entry this close to the crime scene.

“Let’s get this over with.” Alec seems queasy.

The three of us move through the aisle between desks and toward the room with a door left open for us. Josh has already gone inside. For someone who wants Alec’s help, he sure doesn’t appear happy or grateful for his effort. A huge effort. This had better not be Josh’s way of buying himself out of the woman’s death. The disgrace of being fired from Signorile after Pearce’s tragedy has to hurt his pride.

There’s news of a deadly virus moving through Europe, and the typical handshake is no longer being used between business execs.

Bill lifts his arm and catches himself. “Mr. Jennings? My name is Bill Drake, an associate of Mr. Zavos. You’ve asked to see him, and we also have some questions for you on another matter.”

“Wonderful.” The man in a sweaty, slept-in polo isn’t thrilled with us staring him down. There’s frost in the room as testosterone flies between glances. No one wants to be the first to break the sheet of ice forming around the presumed blue-eyed killer. Alec hasn’t made any assumptions yet until we talk to him, but Josh’s cool facade feels calculated to me. A superior to Alec, or something like that. For an innocent, I don’t like his peculiar behavior in the presence of a man who’s here to keep his neck from a noose.

“I asked to see Alec. Who are the rest of you?”

He’s behind a chair, using it as a shield to save himself from a CEO who wants to take his livelihood from him again. Or is it because he’s guilty of ending a woman’s life?

Alec pulls out the chair for me, and we all sit at the long conference table with a fancy letter F embellished in the center.

Josh’s temples bead with sweat, and he’s wringing his hands next to a wool felt fedora hat with a band. They seem to be popular in Italy. The guy’s bloodshot eyes and dark circles are sure signs of insomnia and stressing to the max. Wet ovals hang beneath the armpits of his beige shirt.

Alec’s unshakable gaze lands on Jennings, who abruptly turns away.

This meeting isn’t opening well.

Bill addresses Josh. “We don’t have a lot of time. Authorities aren’t thrilled with us questioning you, but they were… let’s say, swayed. Tell us what happened here?”

“She was tied and tortured in my office after I left night before last. I opened the building in the morning at seven and found her lying on her side, strapped to a chair and wrapped in wire near my desk. Lots of blood.” Josh holds a paper towel over his mouth, then uses it to wipe away perspiration. “When I left the building, she was in the conference room. I have no idea how she ended up in the office. Maybe the cat went in there.” He slides the fedora into his lap.

“Who is she?” Alec asks.

“Benita Alvarez.”
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OTHER BOOKS IN THE SERIES:
Stolen Obsession (Annalisse Series #1) by Marlene M. BellSpent Identity (Annalisse Series #2) by Marlene M. Bell
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Marlene M. Bell
“Mystery at a killing pace”

Marlene M. Bell is an award-winning writer, artist, and sheep breeder who resides in beautiful East Texas. Her renown sheep photographs grace the covers of many livestock magazines.

The third book in the Annalisse Series released in 2021. Scattered Legacy is an international mystery with light touches of romance. Stolen Obsession and Spent Identity, books one and two, received numerous awards including the Independent Press Award for Best Mystery in 2020. Her mysteries can be found on her website.

Marlene also writes children's books. Her first children's picture book, Mia and Nattie: One Great Team! is based on true events with Natalie from the Bell’s ranch. It's a touching story of compassion and love between a little girl and her lamb. Mia and Nattie is honored to be a Mom's Choice Gold Award winner.

Marlene shares her life with her husband and a few dreadfully spoiled horned Dorset sheep: a large Maremma guard dog named Tia, and cats, Hollywood, Leo, and Squeaks. The cats believe they rule the household—and do.

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GUEST POST:
- What true life mystery has me the most mystified?

When I met my husband, Gregg, in 1979, he was in the middle of a nasty divorce. They were in the process of selling the ranch they’d built together when oil prices were high and banks were loaning at a whopping 17% interest rate. No one could afford expensive homes in the Tracy, California area at that time. His soon-to-be-ex made outrageous personal charges, and her attorney letters were an everyday occurrence. It was a miserable three years for the man I dated.

When she left and filed for divorce, she also stripped their ranch of furniture and all that wasn’t tied down. Brought a moving truck home one day and took everything inside their home. A hateful thing to do. The neighbor had watched the van and told my husband this happened while he remained at work.

After we married, the old ranch finally sold—with a first mortgage, a second mortgage and my husband’s ex-wife and new husband carrying back the third note. Thankfully, we were out of that arrangement living on a small ranch of our own. (They later sold that third note for cash and lost half of the value!)

I was packing the kitchen drawers at the old ranch and found something interesting. One of the bottom drawers had condolence letters inside. While my husband packed from another room, I began to nose around the envelopes. It’s a terrible thing to read another person’s mail, but in this case, I made an exception. These were all addressed to my husband’s hellish ex-wife. I was surprised to find the drawer she’d missed, especially when I skimmed a few of the notes.

I asked my husband about her father. The notes pointed to his untimely death. I was shocked to learn that he had been a successful dentist in the bay area and had jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. I didn’t press further, and we gathered all of the cards and letters for the burn bin. The story left me with so many questions.

About ten years later, my husband mentioned that he’d heard his ex-wife’s father had reappeared in his home town. How intriguing! Had he faked his death because of debt? Did he run away to be with another woman, or man? I have to wonder why he couldn’t stay gone forever when he’d hatched the perfect escape plan. It mystifies me to this day.
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GIVEAWAY:
- One winner wins the grand prize, see details and picture below
Two winners: A signed copy of Scattered Legacy by Marlene M Bell

The grand prize contains the following items:
- One bag of Orecchiette Pasta made in Puglia Region of Italy (17.63 oz.)
- One new Valentina Leather Clutch Wallet – Two zippered compartments (color, cognac.) Measures 7 inches long by 4 ½ inches wide. In a Raised Leaf Pattern.
- Two Dark Chocolate Bars made in Italy by Baratti and Milano (70% chocolate) 2.64 oz each.
- One Annalisse Mysteries Flashlight (batteries not included. 2 C batteries required)
- One $50 Visa Card (NOT SHOWN.) Will be INCLUDED with prizes in the winner’s box.
- One personally Autographed Scattered Legacy book.
(US only. Prize value over $200.)

(All the Ups and Downs is not responsible for this giveaway, its entries, or the prizes. Lola's Blog Tours and Marlene M. Bell assume all responsibility for this giveaway.)



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Book Blitz and Giveaway: The Journey (Death Island #1) by Kelsey Ketch

Title: The Journey
Series: Death Island #1
Author: Kelsey Ketch
Publication Date: November 25th 2020
Print Length: 181 pages
Genre: New Adult Fantasy Adventure

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With her family name tainted by her great-grandfather’s crimes, Meriden Cummings could only dream of fleeing her oppressive life. Then she unearthed a piece of tanned skin, and her blood revealed an ancient map adorned with Mayan glyphs, launching her on the journey of a lifetime. However, she finds herself bound to the map, and there is a cost to her newfound freedom. One that will torment her mind as well as her soul.

After being shanghaied by pirates, Gregory Wilson escapes to a small English village where he runs into an obnoxious auburn-haired beauty. When he learns she is about to set sail on dangerous waters, he signs up to join her crew, hoping to defend her from the pirates seeking her great-grandfather’s treasure. But, will he be able to protect her from the ghost that haunts her or the curse running through her veins?

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iBooks * Kobo * Google Play

EXCERPT:
[Gregory]

I thought back to the night Baker had cornered us in the pub, rerunning every moment in my memory. “Meriden, there wasn’t any driver. The horse wandered into the alley on its own.” Though, I had to admit to myself, that seemed convenient.

“I know.” Her voice was barely audible. “But I saw him. His entire body is like my hand in my dreams, and his eyes are completely black.” She shivered, probably from a combination of her story and the cold breeze that whipped by. “And this wasn’t the first time. I’ve seen him in my village as well. I thought he was one of the Railings’ gardeners that died in the attack. Now, I think there’s something more to it. Like I’m either cursed or mental.”

God, she must’ve been terrified if she was confiding such things to me. “I doubt you’re either,” I told her. Yet something brought to mind what Baker had said.

“Her blood is cursed, Mr. Wilson. Tainted by her family’s greed. Much like your own.”

“When did you say you started seeing the ghost? Was it after the pirate attack?”

Meriden’s head shot up. “Yes, but not right after. I’d been out for weeks because . . .” She trailed off, momentarily. “Because of the map, which was created from my blood.”

By the look on Meriden’s face, she had drawn the same conclusion as I had. Bloody hell. Baker had been right. Her blood had been cursed, which was probably why she saw her veins turning black. I took the hand she kept rubbing and flipped her palm toward the starlight. Nothing visible, yet knowing it was there made me sick with grief. I pulled her trembling body closer and gently stroked her hair.

“Whatever this is, curse or otherwise, we solve it together. I promise.”

Meriden only nodded. Her mind focused on other things. I looked in the direction of the star she often wished upon, thinking of making a wish of my own—a wish that Baker was wrong—only to see a shadow in the distance.

“Meriden, toward the northeast.”

Meriden gazed over at the horizon. Without a word, she pulled a spyglass from a sack tied to the guardrail, extending it to its full length. “Frigate,” she said under her breath, then leaned over the rail to call into the night. “Sails!”
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Kelsey Ketch is a young-adult/new-adult author, who works as a Wildlife Biologist and Data Analyst. During her free time, she can often be found working on her latest work in progress. She also enjoys history, mythology, traveling, and reading.


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Facebook * Twitter * Instagram
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GIVEAWAY:
Win a $15 or a $10 Amazon gift card - two winners!

(All the Ups and Downs is not responsible for this giveaway, its entries, or the prize. Xpresso Book Tours assumes all responsibility for this giveaway.)

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