Thursday, July 17, 2014

Letter of Gratitude

As recently shared on my Facebook Author Page, the reason I write is two-fold. One, not only is it my passion, but to know that I can touch people with my words, that I can provide a temporary escape, either from stress or pain, that touches me on an immense spiritual level that nothing else can even come close to. Thank you for choosing me and letting me into your world.
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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Excerpt from Family is Murder, The Unexpected #SampleSunday


Excerpt from Family is Murder, Chapter 1:

THE BRUNETTE CAME INTO THE coffee shop, clutching her purse to her chest and staggering along at a fast pace. She wasn’t heavy-set, by any means, but her ankles seemed to have the tendency to buckle, telling Sara that, despite being in her late forties to early fifties, she didn’t have much experience walking in high heels. The woman spotted them, and Sara smiled, doing her best to put the woman at ease.

She and Sean had decided upon a local Starbucks as the meeting place to conduct interviews for a live-in maid. They had been in their new house for a week and the basic upkeep took time they’d rather spend elsewhere. One example was Sara still hadn’t taken cooking lessons and she knew Sean wasn’t impressed by her existing culinary skills, judging by the way he’d fill his mouth and expel the sentiment, yum. He was trying to appease her.

“Hello? Mrs. and Mrs. McKinley?” The woman didn’t seem to pass Sean a second’s glance but kept her eyes glued to Sara.

“Please, Sara and Sean.” She gestured toward him then turned back to the woman. “You’re Angela?”

“Yes.” Angela shook Sara’s hand, but took a seat without reaching for Sean’s. As she sat, Angela ran a hand along the back of her skirt, her eyes never leaving Sara.

Sara smiled to suppress her uncomfortable feeling. “Tell us about yourself.”

“Oh, yes, I’m from Maine. Augusta.”

“Such a coincidence. I was born there.”

Angela didn’t say anything. Her eyes now drifted to Sean, but flicked back to the table.

Sara glanced at Sean, back to Angela. “So, I take it you have experience with keeping a house?” She had the resume in front of her but preferred to have all the candidates say it in their own words.

“Absolutely.” Angela threw in a brief smile that didn’t touch her eyes. “As you can tell, I’ve been around a bit. This year will mark my forty-eighth birthday.”

“Well, happy birthday.”

Angela’s eyes dropped to the table and lifted back up a few seconds later. “The last family I cleaned for was many years ago. What is it you want me to do for you?”

Sara thought back to their ad—was it not clear enough? She and Sean had gone over the details and had decided to sum up the responsibilities under the title house manager. Basically, they required someone to maintain the interior and to oversee other things that would need organizing on the property, such as pool and lawn maintenance.

“We need someone who’s good with everything,” Sean said. “We need a cook, a cleaner—ideally, someone who can handle all aspects of running a household.”

“Yes, well, I have that. I even had a child.” Angela glanced quickly at Sean.

“Very nice.” Sara’s tendency was to sympathize with people and relate to them, but Sean had told her that when it came to something like this, she had to distance herself. While she didn’t need to think of herself as above anyone, for a healthy work environment, their employee couldn’t feel they were best friends either. It could lead to problems down the road.

She looked at the resume that Angela had submitted and took an aspect from it. “It says here that you worked as a tutor for a couple years with a family in New York City.”

“Yes.” Angela’s eyes were flitting about the Starbucks, not resting on anyone, or anything, longer than a half a second. Her aura had escalated from uneasiness to jitteriness.

Sara glanced at Sean. She could tell by his eyes that he’d noticed the odd behavior as well. “Is today a good time?” Sara asked.

“Uh-huh.” Angela ran a quaking hand down her cheek, and let her arm return to her lap. She looked Sara in the eyes. “You’re so beautiful.”

The entire scenario should have had Sara asking their guest to leave, but there was something about this woman, but what, exactly, Sara didn’t know.

Sean went to get up, but Sara held her arm out.

Angela’s eyes shot to him, and then went back to Sara. “I lied.”

“You—”

The woman siphoned her bottom lip through her teeth and shook her head. “I’m not who you think I am. You’re here to meet someone to interview I take it. I just played along to get close to you. See, I need to talk to you.”

The current swirling in the woman’s eyes was electric—Sara couldn’t effectively read her.

Sean put a hand on Sara’s knee and she knew that he was about to step in and ask this woman, whoever she was, to leave.

“Why would you need to talk to me?” Sara asked. For some reason, this woman’s energy had Sara’s heart speeding up.

“Because my real name is Leslie Summers.”

“I’m still not sure what—”

“I’m your mother.”

Want to read more? You can download your copy from any of the following retailers:
Amazon
Amazon Universal Link
Barnes & Noble
iTunes
Kobo
Inktera

Thursday, July 10, 2014

New Release - Family is Murder


I'm excited to announce the release of Family is Murder, the 5th episode in the McKinley Mysteries.

Here's the overview:

The search for a maid results in a mess.
When a woman shows up and claims to be Sara’s birth mother, it pits Sara and Sean against each other. Sara opens her heart and wants to believe the woman, but Sean is suspicious of her true identity and motive. After all, there are billions at stake. But when the woman goes missing and a dead body turns up, they both start to question the truth.
Led by Sara’s intuition, they pursue all possible leads and soon realize they may have welcomed a killer into their home.


You can download it in print, or in eBook from the following retailers:

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Past Catches Up When the Mob Asks for One, Final Favor #SampleSunday

Excerpt from Assassination of a Dignitary, Chapter 1

Detroit, Michigan
Thursday, June 3rd, 3:50 p.m.
THEY SAY THE PAST HAS A way of catching up with you.  Mine was in my living room when I came home. 
Christian Russo, son of the Italian Mafia Don, Pietro Russo, sat on my sofa making himself comfortable.  The side table had a glass of amber liquid sitting on it.  He raised it for a sip.
The clock read three fifty.  Brenda would be home with the kids soon.  I hadn’t seen the man in fifteen years. 
“What are you doing here?”
“Now is that any way to greet an old friend?”  His Italian accent laced each word.
I couldn’t show the man fear.  This is what he wanted.  He craved a reaction.  He always had.  “If I saw one before me, I may greet him differently.”
“Oh.” A fake pout had his lips pinched together only a second.  He put the drink down and placed a hand over his heart.  He laughed when it touched the silk of his silver jacket.  “If only I had feelings, Hunter.  Maybe you’d hurt mine.”  Silence fell between us like a cloak.  I stood in front of him.  He studied my face.  “Sit.”
“Get out of my house, Christian.”
“Sit!” His voice rose, and he straightened his posture as he barked the command. 
I sat.  I wanted to stretch my leg, one over the other, but didn’t want to appear too comfortable either.  I kept myself leaning slightly forward, apprehensive this would give the impression I was eager to hear what he would say. 
“We have a job for you,” he continued.
“I don’t do this anymore.”
“Tsk. Tsk.”  He raised a finger to his lips.  “You don’t interrupt me.”
“But, I don’t…”  I let my words trail off into non-existence based on the reflection in his eyes.  I wasn’t the type who could take a life for a wad of cash anymore.  I had too much to lose, too much to live for.
“Pays one hundred k.  Half up front.”
“I’m doing fine.  I have been—”
He dropped a wad of cash on the table between us.  I knew from the banding it was ten thousand.
“How can you be fine?  After you turn your back on The Family?  Surely you must miss us.”
I missed the pay check, the one that padded my bank account with thousands at regular intervals, but not the control they held over me.
“Seriously, there must still be fire in you.”  Christian’s mouth lifted, slightly to the left as it always did when he schemed manipulation.
His eyes contained more evil than had been there the better part of two decades ago.  In all honesty, I was shocked to see that he was the one the Don sent to me.  Christian was more hurt than Pietro when I turned my back on The Family. 
My eyes scanned my living room, settling only briefly on the family photographs, on the children’s school portraits.  My eyes came back to Christian.  “Like I said, I don’t do that anymore.  I wouldn’t even know how to—”
“Fire a gun.”  Christian finished my sentence and cocked his head to the side.  “You should know better than to lie to me.  Want to try again?”
When I was offered a permanent role in The Family’s business, I had declined.  I saw my way out and took it.  There were times the nightmares of what I had done would slither back into the darkness of night, but I worked to shutter them out.  I justified my actions as responding to directions.  It was nothing personal.  A kill never was.  I reminded myself they were marks, not individuals.  But over the years I had never lost the love for firing a gun.  The fall of the hammer and the slight kickback as the bullet exited the chamber.
“I know you go to the gun range.”  Christian took another sip of what looked to be my scotch.
I pointed a finger at him.  Many men would not dare to.  “Don’t follow me.”
“You tell me what to do now?  Things changed, yes?”  Christian laughed.  “I believe every Thursday afternoon.  I trust that’s why you’re home now and not at the office.”
How closely had he been watching me?  In fact in such an economy, I was fortunate not only to have a job but to own a modest accounting practice.  I chose the career hoping the rumors were true; accountants lead uneventful lives.  I looked at the clock.  Within fifteen minutes, my family would be walking through the door.  My eyes went back to the cash on the table.
“How does it pay you Hunter?”
“I’m not that person anymore.”  My last name improvised as my nickname among the Russos.  They viewed it as evidence of a life calling.  I was predestined to be their hitman.
“You always will be to me.”  Christian reached into a jacket pocket and pulled out a cell phone.  His eyes were on me.  “Disappointing.”
“Why me?”  I didn’t know the details yet, but wasn’t sure I wanted to.
Christian leaned forward and appeared more comfortable than I was, at this moment, in my own home.  “You’re close to her.  You can make this happen.”
“Who?”
Christian smirked.  “The Governor of Michigan, of course.  Marian Behler.”  He leaned back into the sofa.
My heart beat as a piston in a chamber.  It felt ready to explode. 
Governor Behler was a client of mine at the firm.  Christian obviously knew this just as he knew my whereabouts on Thursday afternoons and my active fascination with guns.  “I didn’t think you killed dignitaries.”
“An exception has been made.”
My last kill was over fifteen years ago; it may as well have been a lifetime.  But when I had been at my finest, I excelled both at close range and sniper hits.  The versatility made me a valuable asset.   “Pietro Russo ordered this hit?”  I knew I was being arrogant, and even courageously stupid, questioning Christian’s authority but the directive was hard to believe.
“You used to call him Pops.”  Christian didn’t react the way I had expected, but that was partially what was frightening about the man.  He had always been unpredictable.
“My life is different now.” I had to stop staring at the clock, but my eyes kept drifting there. 
“Different, good?  Different, bad?”
I owed him no explanation for the direction my life took or an assessment on its fulfillment.
“We used to be close, you and I.  We can be again.”
“Did Pietro Russo order this hit?”  I repeated my question.
“Why else would I be here?”  He held out his cell phone.  “Want to speak to him yourself?”
My stomach tossed.  One normally didn’t leave the Italians without there being recompense.  I seemed to have been an exception to the rule.  Now I wondered if the smooth transition had been afforded me because of the service I had offered and could possibly again.
“I can dial the number for you.”
“Why her?”  Behler was the first female to serve as Governor in the state of Michigan.
Christian laughed.  He lifted the glass to his lips but lowered his arm again.  He rested it on the sofa arm.  “You know we don’t answer those questions.  Yet she must know where her death is coming from.  And, to the media it must appear as an assassination.”
“So you want it to take place from a distance, or close range?”  I asked for clarity.  His words seemed to contradict each other, know where her death is coming from, yet it must appear as an assassination.
“A statement must be made.”
“In-her-face-personal then?  And you want the last words she hears to be—”
“From Pietro Russo.”
“From Pietro Russo?”  The woman must have wronged the man on a personal level.  For all of my past close range kills, they would know where their fate came from, but the Don was never explicitly named.  My thoughts were on my wife and the kids.  I couldn’t risk their lives being caught up in this vortex.  My wife, my parents, no one knew about my past.  While I preferred it stay buried there, it might not be an option.
“So what will it be? One hundred thou richer or—” Christian stopped talking as he exchanged his drink for a nearby family portrait.  “You have a nice family.”
“Don’t even think of hurting them.”  My jaw tightened, the familiar adrenaline rush surged through my blood stream.
“It’s not a threat, Hunter.”  His calm voice conflicted with his words.  “If you don’t do this, it will be more than that.”  Christian rose to his feet.  “You have until tomorrow morning, 9:00 a.m., to decide.  After that, I can’t answer for what happens.”
“You son of a bitch!”  I rose to my feet and came at him fast. 
Christian turned.  The barrel of a .38 was pointed at my abdomen.  “Don’t think I won’t kill you just because you’re a friend.  I can get new friends.”
I wanted to tell him to find a new one for this mission, but with the wildfire in the man’s eyes I needed to back down from the confrontation.  I put my hands up in surrender and slowly took a step back.
“Smart, Hunter.  It would be a shame to lose you.  I want her dead within the week.”
“The week?”  Just when I didn’t think my heart could pump faster, or the adrenaline provide more of a high, it exceeded on both counts.  I glanced at the clock.  Brenda and the kids.  “If I do this—”
“You’re out for good.”
“I heard that fifteen years ago.”
Christian laughed and finally retracted his gun and placed it inside his jacket pocket.  “You have no reason to trust us.  Keep that in mind.”  He stopped at the door, his hand on the knob, and spoke facing it.  “The clock’s ticking Hunter.  Say hi to the family for me.”
With him gone, I felt violated.  He had been inside my house, my home that I shared with my family.  They could know nothing about this.  They would know nothing of it. 
The clock read four ten.  I had about seventeen hours to let Christian know what I decided, but did I really have an option?  It was either kill or be killed.  I knew too much now.  Christian had seen to that.  I scooped the wad of cash from the table and fanned it.  The smell of money lodged up my nose as nostalgia.  I tucked it into a pant pocket causing it to visibly bulge.
I poured myself a few shots of single malt and swigged it back in a couple mouthfuls.  As the alcohol started to work, my mind assessed the situation.  It recalled my past life in detail, the people, the blood, the locations, the intensity I would feel every time I took a life.  In a way, it was the type of rush I hadn’t experienced since.  I wouldn’t dare say I missed it, but as the vague recollections transformed to shape, I knew I was capable of doing it again.
The directions were simple:  kill the Governor.
But I wasn’t that man anymore, and this was different.  Governor Behler was my client.  I was her accountant.  We had grown close.  Brenda and I had even been to her house for dinner before. 
As the alcohol soothed me, I remembered that Behler had mentioned something about an upcoming trip to Niagara Falls, New York.  I looked at my watch for the date.  Next weekend I believe.  I needed to get downtown to the office.
The front door opened.  Yvonne, my fourteen year old daughter was the first one through it.  “You don’t understand!” 
She closed the door on her mother who came in behind her.  “Get back here young lady!”  Brenda cast me a passing glance as she went down the hallway after our daughter.  “I told you not to skip anymore classes.”
“You don’t understand!” 
Another door slammed and Brenda returned to me with anger brimming in her eyes.  “That girl needs to be disciplined, Ray.  She can’t go on talking to me like that…”  Her words paused as her eyes went to the glass on the side table.  “Speak to her.”
Max, our ten year old, walked through the room carrying a backpack that looked like it would tip him over backwards.  He waved at me on the way by.
“Ray, are you listening to me?”  Brenda’s eyes darted from the bar cart to the glass in my hand and back to the table.  “You’re drinking?  And you had someone over?”
I just nodded.  To say I had an old friend drop by would be a lie.  And, if she didn’t like the afternoon drink, she really wouldn’t like what I had to say next.  “I’ll need to go back to the office later tonight.”

Want to read more? Assassination of a Dignitary is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and Scribd.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Swimming with the Dolphins #SampleSunday


Excerpt from Vacation is Murder, Chapter 4:

THE PLACE WAS LARGER THAN Sean had expected. A huge section of sea was fenced off and dolphins were jumping and performing as nature would dictate, but there weren’t any tourists in the water at this point. There was also a pen with a shark, as well as separate areas for seals and manatees.
Signs located near the change rooms announced bicycle rentals were available for riding around the island.
They were directed to a counter to get a life jacket and then separated into teams of six to eight and each group was assigned a trainer. A Canadian couple, William and Ann Bolder, joined them.
Sara slipped her jacket on and zipped it up. “What was the weather like when you left home?”
“It was minus twenty-five with a wind chill that made it feel like minus forty.” Ann looked at William, his face contorting as he did the conversion from Celsius to Fahrenheit.
“That would be minus thirteen for you guys.”
“And you probably have lots of snow, eh.” Earl bumped his shoulder into his wife’s.
Catherine shot him a glare and moved a few steps away. “Never mind him. He thinks he’s funny.”
Both Canadians were smiling but didn’t seem to be too engaged in the interaction and turned around to watch the marine life.
Earl crossed his arms. “I am funny. You just don’t appreciate my sense of humor.”
Ever since Earl downed a couple cocktails, his awkward nature had transformed to irritating. Sean wouldn’t verbalize his feelings to Sara, as he didn’t want any negativity to dampen the enjoyment of the day. Instead, he asked, “Are you ready?”
“Yes, this is so exciting, Sean. To think, just weeks ago, we were at work.” Her voice rose in volume with each word.
Earl stood with his hands on his hips, legs about twelve inches apart. “You want to talk about business, Mr. McKinley. What about you and the Mrs.?”
“Oh.” Sara looked at him.
“We’re in between occupations currently.”
Sara touched Sean’s arm and her energy read, good save.
“Whoa, and you’re on vacation. Nice.”
“Mr. Spencer,” he mimicked Earl’s formal address, “there must be some mystery to us.”
A tanned man of about five-five came over and garnered the group’s attention, including the Bolders. “My name is Alejandro. I’ll be your trainer today.” He paused to insert a sincere-looking smile. “Have any of you ever swam with dolphins before?”
The Bolders put their hands up and accompanied it with a verbal chorus. “We have.”
“Excellent. Was it here?”
Ann Bolder was smiling. “Yes, one year ago.”
“Welcome back.”
“Gracias.”
Alejandro bobbed his head. “You’ve all got your life jackets on, I see.” He inspected them. “You all look good. All right, follow me.”
“Look!” Sara stopped walking and pointed at three dolphins racing through the water. They came up together and jumped in the air. “They’re so beautiful I’m going to cry.”
“I left my handkerchiefs in the locker, darling, but I’m willing to kiss your tears away.”
“Aw.”
The expression slipped from Ann Bolder, and Sean broke eye contact from Sara for a second to smile at her. Most women were the same. They loved romantic gestures.
They walked a few more steps and Sara’s feet grounded to the deck again. She pulled back on Sean’s arm. “I’m not sure I can do this.”
The rest of the group slowed their pace and Alejandro came over. “Is everything all right, miss?”
“It’s Mrs. McKinley.”
Alejandro hitched his brows at Sean, not seeming to care if Sara saw the gesture or its implication. “You have no need to worry. They are like dogs of the sea.”
Sara snickered and then it grew into a full laugh, drawing Alejandro’s attention further to her, while Sean kept a close eye on him.
“Did you hear what he said, Sean? Dogs of the sea.”
“Well, they’re certainly a little larger than a dog, aren’t they?” Sean cocked his head.
“Yes, but they are gentle. They won’t hurt you.” Alejandro traced his hand down Sara’s arm.
She stepped back, nodded, and smiled pleasantly, but tucked into Sean’s side. “I’ll be fine.”
“You will, darling.” Sean kissed her forehead.

Want to read more? Vacation is Murder is the 2nd installment in the McKinley Mystery Series. It's available in print and eBook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, Inktera, and Scribd

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Focus - 4 Steps

The word focus harnesses unlimited potential. Its execution is so powerful that kings have forged empires, masterpieces were created and legacies were left for the next generation.  This five-letter word has changed the course of history and continues to. The best part is that each of us have the ability to utilize its influence in, and over, our life.

These days establishing clear focus can prove a real challenge. Obligations come at us from every angle that we become inundated and feel overwhelmed. In addition to the necessities of life, we have our passions and desires. How can we fit everything in?

Again, focus comes into play.

If we make a workable schedule, this allows us to stay focused on what needs to be done. For example, as an author, if we lay out a release schedule at the start of the year, we can break this down into small increments of time and know what we have to do, and when, in order to reach our targets.

A good question is, how do we make a workable schedule? You have to be realistic about what needs to be done, and what you want to do. You know the proverb about Jack? All work and no play....

Even once we have a schedule, it’s so easy to get distracted. Sometimes distractions are things we create or pursue, sometimes they come at us without warning. While there isn’t too much we can do when things require our urgent attention, in order to reach our goals, we wouldn’t want to create diversions. When we’ve set aside time for something, we would keep our focus on that alone. “There is a time for everything under the sun…,” a Bible verse.

See, the thing with focus is it doesn’t require a strict regimen.  True focus will bring us back into alignment with our goals and aspirations. Note, though, that focus doesn’t mean a lack of flexibility.

Focus pairs well with determination. If we have both in our arsenal, there won’t be much of anything that can stop us and that’s saying a lot. Life is unpredictable and we’re deceiving ourselves to think otherwise. There also is no such thing as control. Control is an illusion. The sooner we all learn that lesson, the better off we’ll be.

So in re-cap, establish focus in these ways:

Step 1
Decide what you want and when you want it.

Step 2
Create a breathable schedule that includes time for both work and pleasure.

Step 3
Focus on one thing at a time.

Step 4

Allow for flexibility.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Rat Pack or ACDC? #SampleSunday of Silent Graves

Excerpt from Silent Graves:

Chapter 2

Woodbridge, Virginia
September, Tuesday morning

A couple months had passed, but I was still getting used to sleeping alone. Most mornings I would roll on my left side, open my eyes, and expect Deb to be lying there. Every time I did this, it met with the same result. I was alone.

The mornings were hard to take. At night my mind was usually preoccupied with the day’s events, a current case, or the complicated relationship that existed between Paige and me. We had just closed a case a few days ago, and it was easier to let go of that than the continuing innuendos that remained, as fissures, beneath the surface of our relationship. I loved her, in a way, but not on the level she required. She acted as if everything was fine, but I knew—I sensed—it wasn’t.

I rolled over and faced the clock. Five a.m.

I returned to my back and stared at the ceiling. It was hard adapting to the early mornings, but these days I usually beat the alarm. Even on days off, my body would wake me.

ACDC’s Thunderstruck came on, and, at the same time, my cell vibrated on the nightstand. I rolled over again and sat up. It wasn’t like I would be getting more sleep anyhow.

“Rise and shine, Kid.”

I rubbed a hand across my brow. Even though I had earned being called by name from Supervisory Special Agent Jack Harper, periodically old habits would resurface and, with it, the nicknames. “What’s up?”

“What’s up? Am I some friend now? I’m your boss.”

“I’ll save professional for office hours.” I said the sardonic statement with a grin I’m sure he didn’t miss. In this career, there was no such thing as set hours.

“Come in straight to the meeting room today. We’ve got a new case.”

“Sure.”

“What’s that noise in the background? Have you been partying all night?”

I hit the button and turned it off. “It’s ACDC, classic rock.”

“Well, it’s not music. Music is—”

“I know—The Rat Pack, Natalie Cole, Michael Bublé.”

“Don’t knock it, Kid, and there’s nothing wrong with Michael.”

Yeah, I suppose, if you’re good with the crooner music in the first place.

“See you soon,” I said.

“Don’t be late.”

I rolled my eyes, wishing the expression weren’t lost on the walls of my bedroom, yet thankful he couldn’t witness it, or I might be searching for a new job.

I rose from the bed and flicked on the stereo, turning up Nickelback’s Burn it to the Ground until the glass in this old house rattled. I loved this song, and loud was the way I preferred it.

I had an hour to make it to the office. I wrapped my hands and wrists with tape, and then started beating on the heavy bag I had installed in the bedroom. Deb never would have let it happen, but I didn’t have her to worry about anymore.

With each impact, I let it go—the stress, the anger, the frustration, the lack of control. The physical movement drained the negative and infused me with the positive.

Adrenaline pumped through me, and I embraced it, as I roundhouse kicked the bag. It swung on its chains. I reset the bag and had at it again.

The song changed to the next on the playlist—Poison’s Nothing But a Good Time.

Damn. Now this was music.

I uppercut and jabbed at the bag mercilessly, going at it as if sucking its life force.

Thirty minutes later, sweating profusely, I headed for the shower. There was no better way to start the day. In a matter of minutes, I’d be facing the next monster to cross paths with the FBI.


Want to read more? Silent Graves is available for download from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, and Scribd.
It is also available in print.