Thursday, February 22, 2018

Punishment by Scott J. Holliday ~ Excerpt



Do you want to know what it’s like to die, to kill, to really fear for your life? Then get hooked…

Detroit-based homicide detective John Barnes has seen it all—literally. Thanks to a technologically advanced machine, detectives have access to the memories of the living, the dying, and the recently dead. But extracting victims’ experiences firsthand and personally reliving everything up to the final, brutal moments of their lives—the sights, the sounds, the scents, the pain—is also the punishment reserved for the criminals themselves.

Barnes has had enough. Enough of the memories that aren’t his. Enough of the horror. Enough of the voices inside his head that were never meant to take root…until a masked serial killer known as Calavera strikes a little too close to home.

Now, with Calavera on the loose, Barnes is ready to reconnect, risking his life—and his sanity. Because in the mind of this serial killer, there is one secret even Barnes has yet to see…










Chapter 1

Detroit homicide detective John Barnes sat in an unmarked sedan, squeezing a fifth of bourbon by the neck. He stared through the wind­shield at the closed gas station where his vehicle was parked. It was dark outside. The food mart was full of shadowy shapes outlined by the glow from the pop coolers and coffee machines. The Open sign just inside the plate glass was a formation of dead bulbs. Barnes closed his eyes. He dropped his forehead to the steering wheel and rubbed a hand over his scalp, now bristling with a few days’ growth. The cooling engine clicked and hissed. An uninvited vision came to the detective then—a Vitruvian Man test pattern, overlaid with the words Please Stand By. The test pattern was reminiscent of an old television station experiencing technical difficulties, but instead of an Indian head, there was da Vinci’s ideal form. He heard a female voice from inside his mind: “Prepare for transmission.”
Barnes chuckled, flipped the door handle, and stumbled out of the car, catching the frame to stop his fall. The bourbon in his guts sloshed in time with what remained in the fifth. He wore a leather jacket over a button-down shirt and tie, a shoulder holster containing a .45-caliber Glock, black pants, and black boots. His badge hung from a chain around his neck. It rested heavily against his chest bone. He took a pull from the bottle, swallowed the burn, and looked up the darkened street. Just beyond the gas station was Calvary Junction—the three-way intersection of Eight Mile Road, a Canadian Pacific railway crossing, and the Rouge River laughing through a culvert beneath the two. Thesilhouetted hardwoods and evergreens of Whitehall Forest, which lay beyond the junction and spread out for miles, looked like black smog rising from the earth. The station added gasoline to the odors of ozone and red cedar in the air. As a boy, Barnes had loved that gasoline scent. He spread his arms now and breathed it in, expanding his chest and filling his lungs.
The candy-striped barrier arms at the railroad crossing stood straight up. They swayed in the wind like the jousting poles of medieval knights, frozen in near confrontation. A few feet down the tracks, three short white crosses stood in a semicircle, the middle one slightly taller and set back from the other two. Their bases were littered with decaying flowers, their perpendicular arms tattooed with the names of the dead. The roadside crosses memorialized those lost at the junction over the years—some by car, some by train, a few by water. Their formation gave the intersection its de facto name. The junction had once been home to temporary tripod wreaths and crosses in all directions, but the city had removed them and set up these three permanent memorials, declaring them sufficient. People now used Magic Markers to commemorate their loved ones in list format.
Barnes tossed his bottle toward the crosses. It landed with a pop and shattered at their feet. He stood still until he smelled the spilled bour­bon wafting back toward him, until the river’s laughter was drowned out by a sound like rising wind.
The train.
The asphalt beneath Barnes’s feet began to shiver. He pulled a rub­ber coin purse from his jacket pocket. There was a Batman logo on the purse’s outside, six quarters inside. It was the kind of purse you could squeeze and its mouth would open like a gasping fish—the kind pre­ferred by kids and old men. Barnes hefted the purse as though testing its weight. He clenched it inside a fist as the railroad crossing came alive. A bell sounded like someone hammering steel—ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding. Red lights blinked. The barrier arms fell to horizontal with mechanical efficiency. The rising-wind sound turned into that of a thousand galloping horses.
Barnes moved toward the tracks. The asphalt went from shivering to quaking as he stepped around the near barrier arm. His soles crunched cinders on his way toward the steel rails gleaming with reflected moon­light. He stopped between the tracks, both feet on a wooden tie, and faced the oncoming train. The cold air made icicles in his nose. It cooled his chest. The crossing’s blinkers turned the scene red, then dark, and then red again until the train cleared the bend a quarter mile off and the light from its front lamps washed the blinkers’ glow away.
His cell phone buzzed against his leg. The thought of answering it made him laugh out loud. What message could matter now? Still, his fist opened and retrieved the phone from his pocket.
He flinched when the train sounded its horn in three blasts. The first two were quick ear-shattering bursts. The third was a sustained scream, long and loud enough to jangle bones. The train’s silhouette grew larger behind the lamplight. Shafts of white moved up and spread out over the tracks and the nearby trees. The light intensified from a candle to a flashlight to an interrogation beam until it was splashing Calvary Junction like an atomic-bomb blast. Detective Barnes squinted and shielded his eyes. His breathing had turned erratic. He gritted his teeth and forced his shielding hand away from his eyes, balling it into a fist. The cinders between the ties at his feet began to rattle and hop. He lowered his head and prepared for the damage.
His thumb clicked on the cell phone. In the blinding light, and with his eyes turned down, he could barely make out the words on the screen:
Calavera, again. 1124 Kensington St.
Barnes stepped off the tracks.
The train screamed by, clacking and grinding and sending leaves up into a frenzied wind. The barrier arms rippled as though the jousting knights had just clanged them off each other’s shields.
Barnes pocketed his phone and moved outside the barrier. He turned back and watched the train pass. Its wind was strong and cold. It carried the scents of steel and smoke. Bits of emerging morning light blinked between the boxcars like he was watching a spinning zoetrope. He was taken back to a moment, some twenty years before, when he stood in the same spot as a twelve-year-old boy. The back wheel of his BMX bike had spun where he’d thrown it down. He’d peered through the gaps between the passing cars then, just as now, hoping to catch a glimpse of his ten-year-old brother, Ricky, on the other side, one sneaker on a pedal, one on the ground, waiting for the train to pass.
After the last car rolled by, the first sliver of sun peeled up from the horizon beyond the edge of the forest. Airborne leaves spun as they fell back toward the ground in pendulant motions. The blinkers ceased and the clanging bell fell silent. The candy-striped barrier arms moved back up. The train’s fading Doppler effect was bullied aside by the river’s rush.
A voice cut through the morning. “Whatcha doing out there, pal?”
Barnes turned to find an elderly man standing in the gas-station doorway, a silver key ring in his hand. Blue coveralls. His voice was nasal and full of distrust. No doubt years of stick-up jobs and local kids snatching candy bars had justified the old guy’s razor-cut eyes. Without moving from the doorway, he yanked a small chain beyond the glass, and the Open sign came alive in blue-and-red blinks. He flicked on the interior lights to confirm that the store offered slushies, chips, and little jars of mayonnaise and peanut butter you might take camping. A soda-fountain machine stood where there had once been two arcade cabinets.
Barnes called over to him. “How long to make coffee?”

Chapter 2



Barnes pulled up to 1124 Kensington Street just as the technicians were walking the machine out the front door. He swished black coffee in his mouth to mask the bourbon. The house was a cookie-cutter ranch. The neighborhood looked like a giant Play-Doh press had been used to squeeze out its houses through a home-shaped template, and then a car-shaped template for the base model sedans in the driveways. The only noticeable differences between the homes were their shutter colors. Barnes imagined a real estate woman with big teeth and too much lip­stick telling some sixties-era couple that—with their choice of shutter colors—they could individualize.
The shutters at 1124 Kensington were beige.
Barnes surveyed the neighbors’ homes. Blue shutters, green shutters, mauve shutters, and more beige. People stood on porches in their robes and slippers, T-shirts and pajama bottoms. Hands cupped mouths or necks, eyes were wide and dazed, some heads slowly shook. How many shocked faces had Barnes seen in his career? Hundreds? Thousands? They never changed. Murder and death were resistant to desensitization, which explained why the evening news always led with blood. Tell us the globe is boiling or the ozone is Swiss cheese, we’ll yawn and flip to The Big Bang Theory. But tell us someone ax-murdered our neighbor, and we’ll press “Pause” to toss a bag of popcorn in the microwave.
Yellow-and-black crime scene tape was stretched between a street lamp at the far edge of the yard and a hedge this side of the one-car garage. Barnes stooped while showing his badge to the uniformed offi­cer holding the tape not quite high enough for him to walk under.
The technicians were now in the driveway, prepping the machine to be loaded into the back of a van. “How much?” Barnes said, lifting his chin toward Warden, the machine’s lead tech.
“Maybe three minutes on the girl,” Warden said. “Could be pretty good.” He had raccoon eyes. His face was hatchet-shaped, his nostrils long against his nose. The way Warden looked and moved reminded Barnes of an ROUS—a rodent of unusual size. He always imagined Warden hiding in some alley when he wasn’t at work, snarling and waiting to attack pedestrians from a four-point stance. “Thirty seconds, tops, on the mother, and likely nothing but disjointed dreams on the father. Bad attachment—not much to work with.”
Barnes nodded. He’d sipped coffee as he listened, swished it around, swallowed. He watched as Warden and the other tech, an almond-skinned woman who appeared to be of Latin descent, packed up the machine. He’d never met her. She was young and mostly pretty. Her black hair was snatched back in a severe ponytail, her eyes a medium brown when caught by the morning light. Her tightened jaw muscles twitched as her hands moved quickly to their tasks. She was dressed to be taken seriously in a pantsuit that hid more than it revealed. Smart. Cut too close to the curves and they’ll throw you behind a desk and ask you to smile and make coffee while the men in leather chairs lean back for a better look at what their wives no longer have.
The machine was situated on a gurney-style cart with retractable legs. The technicians slid it into the van.
The machine. An assortment of dials and switches, tubes and suc­tion cups, and one IV needle. It reminded Barnes of an electroshock device straight from the early days of mental-health therapy, only this machine didn’t fry the brain—it pulled from one and pushed into another. Barnes didn’t fully understand the science behind it. Something to do with the cerebral cortex, with intercepting impulses traveling inside the hippocampus. Some impulses were memories, and somehow the machine was able to detect whether an impulse had come from memory or imagination. Even more impressive, the machine stitched memories together to represent them chronologically. It retrieved and stored memories from the living, the dying, and even the recently dead. Hook a different person to the machine and reverse the flow, and they’d relive the other person’s memories. The machine was invented and designed as a tool for investigative purposes, but announcing the technology had been like announcing fingerprinting. Then, criminals just shrugged their shoulders and pulled on gloves; now, practically all premeditated crimes were committed by men in masks.
All too predictably, criminal-justice applications were only the beginning for the machine. Its existence gave society a new underbelly, a new drug for a new millennium. Machines were stolen—warehouses robbed of their stock and delivery trucks stopped and relieved of their payloads like trains in the Old West. The machine’s technology was reverse engineered, the serum’s ingredients replicated. Homemade machines were illegally produced and sold. Black markets arose. A new form of crack house appeared on the American landscape—one with a good network connection. Celebrities began to sell their memories. Be a Kardashian for a day. To hell with Internet sex tapes—be the actor banging the starlet. Be the starlet getting banged. High-profile athletes soon joined in. Pummel your opponent. Get pummeled. Pitch a no-hitter. Score a touchdown. Dunk a basketball. B-level celebrities were right on their heels—porn stars, circus acts, street performers, daredevils—and it wasn’t long before everyday people saw the same monetary opportu­nities as celebrities. Get a promotion. Smoke crack. Shoot heroin. Get a tattoo. Eat all day and never gain weight. Want to know what it’s like to die?
The options didn’t end with recreation. Scientists were investigat­ing ways to medicate patients with other people’s memories or even their own taken from a happier time in their lives. A way to distract us from pain while under the knife or undergoing chemo. Militaries were looking at new ways to torture prisoners of war. The rich were conceiv­ing ways to live forever, collecting a lifetime of memories to pump into a host body after death.
And then there was punishment. Hundreds of machines were being used not just by police forces and homicide detectives for investigative purposes but also by prisons and mental-health systems for rehabilita­tion. At any moment in America, there were dozens of murderers, rap­ists, and domestic abusers having their crimes pumped into their skulls from their victims’ points of view. The feeling of a punch that breaks a nose, the sledgehammer impact and burn of a bullet, the indescrib­able feeling of one’s neck being opened like a zipper. They smelled the blood and cordite, felt the pheromones of fear. They heard the screams, the cries, the unanswered pleas for mercy. A Clockwork Orange had nothing on the machine, and Barnes had experienced all varieties of its punishments.
Barnes turned to find his partner, Big Billy Franklin, standing on the sidewalk in front of 1124 Kensington Street. Big was an appropri­ate term for the lieutenant detective. He’d been an offensive tackle at Wayne State, where he had majored in criminal justice. The NFL hadn’t come calling, so Big Billy had put his degree to use. He’d started out as a beat cop but soon applied his brain to the situation and made detec­tive. He was in his fifties now and still big—only slightly less muscular. The morning light threw a red hue on Franklin, making him look like a statue of unpainted clay. He nodded at the machine in the back of the van. “You two lovebirds will be together soon enough.”
The statement made Barnes’s needle-marked elbow pits tingle. His head ached, and his teeth rang with soreness, like they’d been struck by a tuning fork.
“We should have her ready in a few hours,” Warden said, his rodent head sticking out from the back of the van. He patted the machine lov­ingly, then winked and drew back inside, pulling the two doors closed behind him. Two uniforms stepped on the crime scene tape to force it under the tires as the van pulled away.
“What do we got?” Barnes said. He stepped in next to Franklin as they approached the home’s front doorway.
“You okay?” Franklin said.
“I’m fine.”
“Been drinking?”
No response.
Franklin shook his head, then nodded at the house. “Three dead.” He looked down at the small black notepad in his hand, flipped back a page. “The Wilsons. Dale; his wife, Andrea; daughter, Kerri. Father was hit first. In bed, probably still sleeping. Never saw it coming. Seems like the wife made it halfway across the bedroom but was dropped just short of the hallway. Spined. Might have seen something when she first woke up, might have turned over after she went down. After that, it was the back of the head.”
“And the girl?”
Franklin flipped forward a page. He drew a breath and sighed. “Found hiding in the closet, dragged into the hallway. Maybe awakened by the noise. She managed a scream. Neighbors say they heard it.”
“They dialed?”
“Yep.”
“We got ’em?”
“Yep. Flaherty took their statements. Don’t ask; they ain’t got nothin’ more.”
Barnes gripped the bridge of his nose. “We don’t know that.”
“Drink your coffee and investigate your scene,” Franklin said. He walked off the porch toward one of the uniforms at the crime scene border. “Wexler, let me know when the coroner boys arrive.”
Barnes entered the home. The coppery scent of blood was thick. Shit and piss, too—the final, inescapable indignity of death. There was mildew underneath it all, no doubt from a crawl space beneath the home. The small living room held two paisley-patterned couches set longways and facing each other like pews in a breakneck chapel. The wear patterns on the carpet indicated that the family hadn’t been into rearranging the furniture very often. The small room seemed to offer little choice. A flat-screen TV sat on a squat entertainment center against the far wall, bookended by knickknack shelves filled with por­celain owls, turtles, and doves. There was a giraffe with a broken neck superglued back together. Above that, there were dozens of collectible salt-and-pepper shakers—Tom and Jerry, Abbott and Costello, the sigils of Stark and Lannister. The walls were off-white and in need of a fresh coat. The electrical outlets were old two-prongers gone brown from decades of use, some with smoky burns on the drywall above them.
Barnes moved into the kitchen without looking down the home’s single hallway. There were voices and movement down there, flashbulbs popping.
The refrigerator was small with rounded edges and steel handles and brackets. Ancient. It was covered with Realtor and dentist mag­nets likely pulled from inside junk-mail envelopes with the weight and promise of something worth opening. No soap, unless you felt it was thrilling to know that Joe Lymon, your friendly neighborhood Realtor, was at your service! The magnets held down shopping lists, Christmas photos of other people’s families, and what Barnes assumed were young Kerri’s crayon drawings. He moved closer to see a calendar of Mrs. Macintyre’s Homework Schedule—Fifth Grade Math. The school year had just begun; only a couple of weeks’ worth of days had been X’d out. Near the bottom of the fridge there were colorful let­ter magnets. Most were in a jumbled mess, but several had been moved to form the phrase TOO LATE. The letters were coated in fingerprint powder.
The stove was electric and greasy. It smelled of fried burgers and pork and beans. Barnes opened a cupboard to find boxes of mac and cheese, bricks of ramen, cans of SpaghettiOs. The kitchen table was Formica over gold legs speckled with rust, a transplant from the seven­ties. The chairs around it were cracked-vinyl editions with duct-tape repair jobs. There was a sliding glass door with an old, useless lock that’d been replaced by a dowel rod laid on the tracks. The rod was now shattered. The glass door, wide open, led to a small patio outside—a ten-by-ten square of brick pavers holding up black iron chairs and a mesh-topped iron table missing the umbrella. The door’s white frame had already been dusted for prints. Near the base was a familiar dent in the frame from Calavera’s pickax. He’d entered a home this way at least once before, applying slow pressure on the door until the dowel rod cracked or, in the case of a metal rod, bent. The Wilsons’ dowel rod had been wooden—a hacked-off broom handle—and it had splintered down the middle like a tree struck by lightning.
The useless lock, combined with Calavera’s weapon of choice, had once been the biggest lead in these investigations. Former detective Tom Watkins, with Franklin before, and now Barnes and Franklin again, had followed up with a few hardware and home-improvement stores in the area, hoping to catch a break on a recent pickax purchase, but it had proved fruitless.
Barnes stepped outside and looked across the small backyard encir­cled by a cyclone fence. He imagined a man in a white Day of the Dead sugar-skull mask hopping the fence and creeping toward the home. The imagined man wore all black clothing down to the gloves. He stopped halfway through the yard and waved at Barnes with a tilted head before disappearing like a bad jump cut.
Barnes turned to go back inside but stopped when something on the ground caught his eye—a smear of green against one of the pavers. He bent down to find a leaf from a red cedar tree, some might call it a needle. It’d been smashed beneath a shoe. He scanned the morning skyline for cedars but only found an oak and a few maples. He picked up the leaf and bagged it.
A voice came from inside the house. “We good?”
“Yeah,” a second voice replied. “That should do it.”
Barnes moved back through the kitchen to the hallway mouth. He found the crime scene photographer packing his gear into a hard-sided suitcase with brushed-steel bindings. These guys weren’t paid or respected like they’d been before the machine had rendered them nearly redundant, and it seemed there was always a new guy replacing the one who had just quit. This one was so young Barnes wondered whether his balls had dropped yet. The other man in the hallway was Adrian Flaherty, a freckle-faced officer with a wide, flat forehead and a high-pitched voice. Barnes figured he was picked on as a kid, which seemed to have left handfuls of chips on his shoulders. His thumbs were hooked into his belt loops.
“What’s up, Barnes?” Flaherty said.
Barnes nodded.
The photographer moved out of the hallway to reveal the girl’s body. She was against the back wall, sitting up against a full-length mirror, eyes open. She was haloed by the fingerprint work on the walls and mirror above her head. Neat two-inch circles had been shaved into her temples where the machine’s suction cups had been attached. There was a pinhole in her arm where the needle had been inserted, the serum manually pumped through with an artificial heart. Some of the opaque white liquid dribbled out of the wound, mixing with the little girl’s blood as it traveled down her arm, turning the dark-red streaks to soft pink.
You might swear she was just taking a rest if not for the pickax stick­ing out her front. The weight of it was bending her slightly forward. Its long wooden handle was propped in the pool of blood that had spread out from between her legs. The thinner of the two blades had entered her body above the left clavicle, which was broken. The length of the pickax was buried deep in her organs. Barnes felt a tickle in his stom­ach where he imagined the ax’s end might be. She was holding a small flashlight in her stiff right hand.
“What do you think?” Flaherty said. He was chewing gum. When he spoke, Barnes could smell the flavor. Grape.
“I think you need to leave.”
Flaherty harrumphed. He crossed his arms over his chest, smacked at his gum. A sneer came to his face. “What’s the magic word?”
A male voice responded from within Barnes’s mind. “Tell him to go to hell.”
“Shhh,” Barnes thought. Bourbon rose up from his stomach. He closed his eyes and swallowed. His legs felt rubbery. He breathed deeply and tried to steady an internal plumb bob.
“The magic word is step off before I brain you.” Franklin had come back into the house and stepped into the hallway behind Barnes.
Flaherty harrumphed again; then he moved slowly toward them, chomping and eyeballing Barnes. He turned sideways to pass between the two detectives and said, “Watch your step, munky.”
“You’re beggin’ for it, son,” Franklin said, following Flaherty out the front door. He pulled the door mostly closed after them but stopped and looked back. A new cruiser was pulling up to the scene. Its spinning lights flashed behind Franklin’s head. “You sure you’re good?”
Barnes nodded.
“We haven’t found it yet.”
“I’ll find it. Hit the lights.”
Franklin flicked off the lights and closed the door. Barnes turned off the hallway light, leaving himself in darkness, just as Calavera would have been. He tucked his tie into the breast pocket of his button-down shirt and snapped on latex gloves, produced a voice recorder and a long, black flashlight. He held the flashlight overhand, club-style, clicked it on, and brought the small microphone to his lips. “The mirror isn’t cracked, which indicates the girl was placed against it gently. The flashlight may have been placed in her hand, postmortem.” He lit up the pictures lining the hallway walls. There were three people in each of them—a small, happy family in a variety of poses. Some of the frames were square, some rectangular, some oval, some metal, some wood. The girl would have grown up pretty. The father was marginally handsome, though balding, and the mother seemed a crumbling beauty. The three-person unit reminded Barnes of the short life he’d lived with just his parents before his little brother, Ricky, came onto the scene. He had only flash memories of those days—a soccer ball, autumn leaves, plaid pants—and there were only two pictures in the hallway of his childhood home with just Mom, Dad, and Johnny. They used to laugh about the story when, a few days after Ricky arrived, Johnny asked, “When are his parents picking him up?”
Barnes tilted each picture frame and looked behind, though he suspected he wouldn’t find the poem on the wall; the girl’s eyes weren’t pointed there. He stepped around the blood patterns on the carpet and shined his light into the house’s master bedroom. The father was as Franklin described—lying in bed with his head caved in. Save for his hands and feet and the pajamas he wore, the man was hardly recogniz­able as human. In some cases the crime scene was worse for Barnes than the real-time punishment the machine doled out. To be inside a person who opens their eyes a split second before the darkness of death is a blessing compared with witnessing the results of the pickax in still life.
Barnes spoke into his recorder. “The father was likely asleep when he got hit, but maybe he caught a glimpse. Don’t skip him.”
The wife was set up in the bed next to her husband, no doubt placed there postmortem; the pool of blood on the carpet in front of the bed trailed up to her final position. Her eyes were closed, making her look as though she’d fallen asleep sitting up. Her hands were crossed over her waist, and if not for the bald spots on her temples, she could have been patiently waiting at a doctor’s office or a tire-repair shop. Her face remained in decent condition, but the gore at the back of her head told the tale. Her pajamas were satin—green and lacy. Lingerie. Barnes felt a tinge of envy to believe that the couple had spent the last night of their lives having sex. A thought like that might once have disturbed him, made him wonder whether he was depraved, but now such thoughts were like wind gusts through a keyhole. Again into the recorder, “The poem won’t be in the bedroom; the wife’s eyes are closed.”
“It’s with the girl.” A female voice from within.
“Definitely.” A crack addict’s voice.
“Shhh.”
The bedroom had been dusted, and it could be explored later, if nec­essary. The first thing was to find the poem. Barnes turned back to the hallway. He stepped past the bathroom toward where the girl was sitting and shined his light into her bedroom. For a surreal moment he saw the shared bedroom of his youth—Bruce Lee posters on the walls, stacks of comics piled high in the corners, and a Nintendo connected to the old TV Mom and Dad had let the boys keep. Sometimes you had to blow into the Nintendo cartridge to make the game work. Barnes had the technique down—he’d put it into the slot and press it down just so. Ricky would close his eyes and clasp his hands together like a prayer, squinting hard over the spring and click of the clean connection. Barnes would tap the “Reset” button, smirk, and sock Ricky’s shoulder. “Ready for an ass-kicking?”
Barnes blinked and the room was once again Kerri Wilson’s. It was a testament to Justin Bieber as well as the difference between young girls and boys; here everything was neatly in its place, whereas the Barnes brothers’ bedroom had looked like a resale shop had barfed in it.
Barnes didn’t enter the room. He squatted next to the girl’s body in the hallway and tilted his head to match her angle. He lined up his flashlight beam to see what she might have been looking at. It struck him that he would soon be doing that very thing—seeing, through Kerri Wilson, the final moments of her life, feeling her pain, knowing her terror. A rattle came up from his chest and into his head. It nearly unmanned him, but he bit it back and refocused.
There.
Just beyond the girl’s feet, a tuft of carpet was sticking out from beneath the lacquered brown trim. The molding in that spot had been disturbed.

“Found it!”



Swoon Thursday ~ 2/22/18


Who doesn't LOVE a good swoon?!  We love them for sure!  Check out our swoon below and then add to the fun.

Post anything that made you swoon, past or present read.  Include the cover, blurb and links.  Please no spoilers.


From New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Kristen Ashley comes a new story in her Chaos series...

Rosalie Holloway put it all on the line for the Chaos Motorcycle Club.

Informing to Chaos on their rival club—her man’s club, Bounty—Rosalie knows the stakes. And she pays them when her man, who she was hoping to scare straight, finds out she’s betrayed him and he delivers her to his brothers to mete out their form of justice.

But really, Rosie has long been denying that, as she drifted away from her Bounty, she’s been falling in love with Everett “Snapper” Kavanagh, a Chaos brother. Snap is the biker-boy-next door with the snowy blue eyes, quiet confidence and sweet disposition who was supposed to keep her safe... and fell down on that job.

For Snapper, it’s always been Rosalie, from the first time he saw her at the Chaos Compound. He’s just been waiting for a clear shot. But he didn’t want to get it after his Rosie was left bleeding, beat down and broken by Bounty on a cement warehouse floor.

With Rosalie a casualty of an ongoing war, Snapper has to guide her to trust him, take a shot with him, build a them...

And fold his woman firmly in the family that is Chaos.

Note: Every 1001 Dark Nights novella is a standalone story. For new readers, it’s an introduction to an author’s world. And for fans, it’s a bonus book in the author’s series. We hope you'll enjoy each one as much as we do.




Swoon...



"But we're doin' this right, Rosie.  We're talkin' and we're gettin' shit straight because we're not just doin' this right, I'm doin' you right.  For years, you've had a rough ride, what's happened recently just the most recent.  You've been jacked around since your daddy died and I don't think either man meant to do you wrong but in the end they did.  And I'm the man who's gonna do you right, Rosalie.  With me, that rough ride is gonna end, baby.  (Page 110)

Definitely loving this one!  Gonna have to go buy the first book in the series and start devouring. 


That's our swoon this week!  What about you?  Leave us a comment & a link.



Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Judgment Road by Christine Feehan ~ Review

An outlaw motorcycle club sets up shop next door to Sea Haven in the dangerously sexy new series from #1 New York Times bestselling author Christine Feehan.


As the enforcer of the Torpedo Ink motorcycle club, Reaper lives for riding and fighting. He's a stone-cold killer who turns his wrath on those who deserve it. Feelings are a weakness he can't afford--until a gorgeous bartender gets under his skin...

Near Sea Haven, the small town of Caspar has given Anya Rafferty a new lease on life. And she's desperate to hold on to her job at the biker bar, even if the scariest member of the club seems to have it out for her. But Reaper's imposing presence and smoldering looks just ratchet up the heat.

Anya's touch is everything Reaper doesn't want--and it brands him to the bone. But when her secrets catch up to her, Reaper will have to choose between Anya and his club--his heart and his soul.






Two things you should know first before anything else.  First, this book is dark. Very dark.  The past for the members of the Torpedo Ink series is ugly and traumatic.  They make a lot of mistakes and need those who understand the reasons and work to help them overcome it.  It reeks of post traumatic syndrome.  So if you can't handle that kind of mistakes that people of that type of past make, I would skip this one.

Second, there is a paranormal aspect to this book.  The members have gifts.  But it's not the focus of the story.  They are a motorcycle club with a past that has bonded them together.  Their club names were earned by their gifts and they use those, without much comment, to defend the club.  It won't be talked about or even mentioned.  It just was.  So if you prefer more open paranormal, then you should skip this one.

This is a great book and a hard book.  I ached for the members of this club.  They had more than a hard upbringing.  They were abused and tortured.  Of course it makes them band together and become a group.  But don't expect them to be anywhere near normal.  Some of it is hard to read.  I had to take breaks when it was more than I could handle.  I was so glad that Anya was a tough girl willing to be there when the going was way past tough.  She was a shelter girl.  Raised on the streets and always had a plan of escape in mind.  She needed those plans through her life especially recently.  And her first reaction is always to run.  I liked her.  But when she stayed despite the pain of trying to help Reaper, I really loved her.

My heart goes out to Reaper.  He's clearly a motorcycle type used to giving orders and all.  But the pain he's experienced in his life?  It had me cheering for him anyway.  And Anya is definitely his angel.

There is so much to say about this book and so little I want to actually tell you.  It's a good that needs to be experienced.  As long as you're good with the darkness, then you need to experience it yourself.

A dark read but great read with a heavy measure of hot and heavy.  If that's your thing, give it a go.



                               





Shadow of the Forgotten by Mckenna Grey & Everly Archard ~ Excerpt & Giveaway


Today we have the blog tour for SHADOW OF THE FORGOTTEN by McKenna Grey & Everly Arcard. Check it out and grab your copy today!



Title: SHADOW OF THE FORGOTTEN

Author: McKenna Grey & Everly Archard

Genre: Romantic Suspense


About Shadow of the Forgotten:

From a quaint and unsuspecting town in northern Maine comes SHADOW OF THE FORGOTTEN, the second book in the Kyndall Family Thrillers, a contemporary romantic suspense series filled with gripping intrigue, riveting romance, and nonstop adventure. A woman preyed upon by corruption. Heather York’s investigative career with the U.S. Marshals Service is neither glamorous nor dangerous, but when she’s thrust to the precipice of an unexpected threat, she has no choice but to wonder if she was meant to be collateral damage or the intended victim. A man who won’t abandon her. At a luxury lakeside lodge in Maine, Jordan Kyndall’s plans to celebrate the wedding of his college roommate go awry before the happy couple has a chance to say “I do.” Jordan anticipated a good time with old friends. Instead, he stumbles upon a gruesome scene in the picturesque woods of the woman whose lifeless body unexpectedly stirs his protective nature. An obsession that could destroy them both. As the threat against them grows and the questions multiply, they’ll have to trust each other—and their feelings—if they’re going to survive.


Get Your Copy Today:

Shadow of the Forgotten – Book Two

Kindle ~ Paperback

Catch up on the Series:

Blade of Death – short prequel

Amazon | iBooks | B&N | Kobo | Google Play | Smashwords

The Dragon’s Staircase – Book One

Amazon | Paperback

Shadow of the Forgotten book trailer:

 


About McKenna Grey & Everly Archard:

McKenna Grey is the contemporary alter-ego of an award-winning historical romance and western author. Never one to limit her imagination, she ventured into the realm of contemporary romantic suspense and thrillers where she blends touches of romance with gripping adventure and mystery. She also writes sweet contemporary stories to break up the murder and mayhem. Visit www.mckennagrey.com to learn more.

Connect with McKenna Grey:

Website | Facebook |Amazon | YouTube | BookBub

  Everly Archard is the pseudonym of an award-winning paranormal and fantasy romance author. Her passion for romance with an edge led her to explore the world of romantic suspense. Visit www.everlyarchard.com to learn more.

Connect with Everyly Archard:

Website | Email


EXCERPT 

Jordan handed her his cell phone. “Why would your boss have called you?”
“He knew I came up here. Not where exactly but in Maine. He’s a smart guy and almost as protective of me as my aunt. He has the news running on a TV in the background no matter where he is. He would have called.”
“I know if I were him, or someone else close to you, I’d want to know you’re all right. Go ahead and call. I’ll step out to give you some privacy.”
“You don’t have to . . .” Heather faced him. “I don’t want to be alone right now.” She shrugged, a helpless and honest gesture.
“Then you won’t be.” When she didn’t start dialing, Jordan asked, “What’s wrong?”
“I’m trying to remember.” She rubbed the bridge of her nose in an attempt to waylay another headache. “I guess my brain got rocked more than I realized.”
Jordan rubbed a hand over her upper back. “The doctor said it’s going to take some time for everything to be clear again.”
“I know, but it’s pissing me off how someone could affect me this way. They took away my friends and now they’ve left me”—Heather tossed the phone on the bed—“powerless in my own head.”
Jordan turned her to face him. “Not powerless.” He lifted her chin until they stared at each other. “Never powerless. You lived, and that makes you one of the strongest people I know.”
She smiled, not realizing she still knew how. “You sound like my boss. When he tried teaching me self-defense, I explained to him why someone like me doesn’t face down the bad guys.”
Jordan put a few inches between them, his gaze questioning. “I should have asked sooner. What exactly do you do for a living, Heather?”
She picked up his phone from the bed now that some clarity had returned. Her finger hovered over the screen as she said, “I’m an investigator for the U.S. Marshals Service.”



 
Enter the Giveaway:
 

Waiting On Wednesday ~ 2/21/18


This is our version of Waiting on Wednesday but with more cuddles, books we can't wait to cuddle for various reasons.

What are we waiting on this week?  THIS!


She was this Montana Man's greatest temptation . . .
Alina Cooke--little sister of his two best friends--is the last woman DEA agent Jay Bennett should be waking up next to on the day of her brother's wedding. But their powerful attraction ignited a powder keg of desire, and their once simple friendship has just become impossibly complicated.

Alina's always been steady, focused, and lived on the safe side of life. Jay is totally devoted to his dangerous job. She knows a future with him will be filled with worry that one day he won't come home. She's done it with her brothers. She's not sure she can face that uncertainty with the man she loves. Yet being in his arms is a bad idea they keep repeating, again and again.

When Alina is run off the road, Jay fears his job has made her a target. But the threat in Alina's life is closer than they think. As the enemy gets more ruthless, Alina proves she's no easy target and Jay will do anything to bring them down. Because surviving and being together is the only thing that matters.



Coming August 28, 2018 from Avon


Why am I waiting?  I enjoy this author and this series looks really good!  You?
 




Image may contain: 1 person, textHistory is on repeat…

Seth never thought he’d have a future. But now he’s on the brink of having it all with Josie: A tomorrow. A family. A forever. And all that's standing between him and that forever is the Titans. If he helps Josie entomb them -- without killing them, a nearly impossible task for him -- everything he could ever want will be in reach. But he soon realizes that as a god, every little choice he makes can reshape the world for the better… or worse. And in meddling with the Titans, Seth may have just set into motion catastrophic consequences that will force the Olympians to enter the mortal realm and reshape the delicate balance of power that keeps the world from total collapse.

A price must be paid…

Entombing the Titans is Josie’s top priority. After all, it was what she was born to do. But the plans her father put into play to help her are no longer an option, and the odds she and Seth face in forging their own path are grim. The escalating violence between halfs and pures only increases the danger closing in on them and their friends. Josie knows their chances of succeeding in their task are slim at best -- and if they fail, they might lose everything. But she also knows she's not fighting just for herself -- she's fighting for the man she loves, for their future, for the world. Together with the Army of Awesome, Josie and Seth will face the unthinkable. And to win this war, the ultimate sacrifice must be made.

For the end is here and the Prophecy will be fulfilled….


Releases March 20th 2018!

Why am I waiting? Because it's the fourth and final installment in the Titan series! I've been waiting for this for a year!! And goodness knows JLA writes some killer finales, so my feelings are going to be all over the place and my heart is going to die and I'm going to love it so much. Ahhh, I'm so excited! PLUS, the release of The Prophecy means APOLLYCON. And y'all don't even want to get me STARTED on how pumped I am for that. *allllll of the flailing!!*


That's what we're waiting on this week! What do you think? What are you waiting on? Leave us a comment and link us up!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Reckless by Lex Martin ~ Release Blitz & Giveaway




Title: Reckless
Author: Lex Martin
Genre: Adult Contemporary Romance
 Release Date: February 20, 2018



Blurb

Tori…
For the record, I’m not going to hook up with my boss.

I'm a lot of things—a screwup, a basket case, a flunky. But when I take a nanny job to be near my pregnant sister, I swear to myself I’ll walk the straight and narrow, which means I cannot fall for my insanely hot boss.

I don't want to be tempted by that rugged rancher. By his chiseled muscles or southern charm or the way he snuggles his kids at bedtime. Ethan Carter won't get the key to my heart, no matter how much I want him. 

Ethan…
Between us, she's the last thing I need as I finalize my hellish divorce. 

What sane man trying to rebuild his life wants a hot nanny with long, sexy hair, curves for miles, and a smart mouth? A perfectly kissable, pouty mouth that I shouldn't notice.

My focus is on my kids and my ranch, not the insufferable siren who sleeps in the room next to mine. It doesn't matter that she wins over my kids in a heartbeat or runs my life better than I do. Tori Duran is the one woman I can't have and shouldn't want, no matter how much I crave her. 







Purchase Links

$2.99 for release week only!

AMAZON US / UK / CA / AU






Also Available


USA Today Bestseller

On SALE for the first time - 99c limited time only!

Shameless is a standalone featuring a different couple

AMAZON US / UK / CA / AU
B&N / KOBO / iBOOKS
GOOGLE PLAY





Author Bio

Lex writes contemporary romance, the sexy kind with lotsa angst, a whole lotta kissing, and the hot happily ever afters. When she's not writing, she lives a parallel life as an English teacher. She loves printing black and white photos, listening to music on vinyl, and getting lost in a great book. Bitten by wanderlust, she's lived all over the country but currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband and twin daughters.



Author Links




Stuck In Books Featured Releases & Giveaway





From Harlequin Books...

Welcome to Gold Valley, Oregon, where a rough-and-tumble rancher and the girl next door are about to learn that opposites attract

Olivia Logan has a plan: win back her ex by making him see what he’s missing. But first she needs to find a man who’s willing to play along. With his laid-back cowboy charm and knack for getting under her skin, Luke Hollister is an unlikely hero—but he wants her help convincing her father to sell him land, which means he needs her as much as she needs him.

Luke likes his life—and his women—uncomplicated. So why does good girl Olivia heat his blood like no one else? She’s always been off-limits, but the more time they spend as Gold Valley’s hottest new “couple,” the more real it’s starting to feel. Luke was supposed to help her win back another man…not keep her in his arms. But now that he has her there, he’s not sure he’ll ever let go.




Peril and passion on enemy seas…

Lottie Livingstone bears the weight of an island on her shoulders. Under threat of losing their home, she and her clan take to the seas to sell a shipload of illegal whiskey. When an attack leaves them vulnerable, she transforms from a maiden daughter to a clever warrior. For survival, she orchestrates the siege of a rival’s ship and now holds the devilish Scottish captain Aulay Mackenzie under her command.

Tied, captive and forced to watch a stunning siren commandeer the Mackenzie ship, Aulay burns with the desire to seize control—of the ship and Lottie. He has resigned himself to a life of solitude on the open seas, but her beauty tantalizes him like nothing has before. As authorities and enemies close in, he is torn between surrendering her to justice and defending her from assailants. He’ll lose her forever, unless he’s willing to sacrifice the unimaginable…









INT as long as you can receive a gift card




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