Sunday, July 31, 2022

Awaken Tour and Giveaway

 


Awaken

by Vanessa MacLellan

Genre: Dark Fantasy, Horror 


Balin stands between two great Powers. One will shatter his mind; the other will destroy his soul. Only one of them can save his people.

Fort Resonbirg, a Norse stronghold in the New World, is besieged by the evil sorcerer Ursulard the Dreamspinner. Though their fields are scorched and homes destroyed, the residents and refugees do not worry, because Fort Resonbirg is Awakened with the power to provide, protect, and grow. But not all is as it seems when a wall of impenetrable mist surrounds the fort, and within the mist hunts the dragon, Nidhogg. Nidhogg hungers for more than flesh and bone. It instills nightmares on its prey, feeding on fear and pain, inevitably taking lives.

Balin Tremore, a commoner bound for the militia but hoping to stay by his noble love's side, never expected to amount to grand things. When the great power of Cradleweaving is awakened within him, Balin unknowingly becomes the one person with the power to pierce the wall of mist and banish the deadly beast within before it destroys them all—if he can master the new power in time. But to master the power, he must sacrifice much. The question is, will it be his position, his Lady, or his very soul?

The Mist meets Nightmare on Elm Street in this classic tale of personal sacrifice. 



Vanessa MacLellan is a fantasy author born and raised in the farmlands of eastern Washington, works as an environmental engineer, and is an avid birder, naturalist and hiker living in Portland, Oregon. Her first novel, Three Great Lies, an Egyptian fantasy published by Hadley Rille Books.  She loves mythology and tries to slip it into every book she writes.  Her website is vanmaclellan.com.


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Saturday, July 30, 2022

✱✱Book Review✱✱ Blog Blitz: No Funny Business by Amanda Aksel

 

“Good sarcastic banter, discussions of top comedians and enough food descriptions to make me salivate.”—USA Today

Two down-on-their-luck comedians embark on a road tour and find more than a few good laughs on the way.


Olivia Vincent dreams of stand-up comedy stardom. Bustling around a busy Manhattan office by day and hustling from club to club by night, she can’t catch a break. Work is falling through the cracks, and after ditching a major client to make a performance, Olivia gets the boot.  

Determined to pursue her dreams, she snags an audition in Los Angeles for a coveted spot on late-night TV. But the only way to get there is to join seasoned stand-up Nick Leto on a cross-country road tour. She agrees on one condition—no funny business.

Icky comedy condos, tiny smoking nightclubs, and Nick’s incessant classic rock radio are a far cry from life on the Upper East Side. Reality sets in, and Olivia wonders if she can hack it in showbiz or if she’s just a hack. As Nick helps Olivia improve her act along the way, sparks begin to fly and ignite what they thought was an impossible flame. Maybe being stuck with Nick in a Jeep isn’t so bad. As long as it doesn’t get in the way of Olivia’s actual funny business.
Momma Says: 3 stars⭐⭐⭐
Snark and witty banter rule the day in No Funny Business, but considering the premise, I expected that. This is touted as a romantic comedy, but I'd say the emphasis is on the comedy. There's reference to Jerry and Elaine from Seinfeld, and Nick and Olivia do have that friends right on the edge of something more vibe as they get closer. The story isn't without its serious moments, but even those are tempered with a witty joke or a bit of banter. I can see this one working very well on the big screen with the humor and close proximity romance. If you liked the sarcasm and banter of Seinfeld, No Funny Business should be right up your alley. It's a quick read that was just right for whiling away a rainy day, and if you need a mood-lifter, this'll do the trick. 

Chapter One

 

Isn't life funny? Both ha-ha and strange. Lately I've been wondering exactly how I ended up with my tush glued to an ergonomic chair beneath migraine-instigating fluorescent lights, reviewing commercial real estate contracts and pretending I give a hoot. My glazed-over gaze falls on the tray of business cards behind my keyboard. If only they read my stage name, Olivia Vincent, with the title Stand-Up Comedian replacing my current one-Staff Attorney.

 

Because the thing is, there's nothing funny about drafting legally binding contracts. Sometimes I'm tempted to slip a joke in between the lines indebtedness secured hereby and successors thereto just to liven the damn thing up. It's all so serious. Stuffy. The enemies of humor.

 

Bzzz. Bzzz.

 

My phone vibrates on my desk against my heavily used coffee mug. It's Bernie, my booking agent, and at the moment, a very welcome disruption. "Hi, Bernie," I say, rebalancing my eyeglasses and distancing myself from my dreaded duties.

 

"Olivia, I got somethin' for ya," she spits out in her raspy Queens accent. Just the thing I need to escape my corporate punishment.

 

"Oh my god, Bernie. Your timing could not be better."

 

"How would you like a feature spot at Funnies?" Twenty minutes of stage time at my favorite downtown comedy club? Yes, please!

 

"That's a no-brainer. When is it?" I snatch my trusty yellow legal pad and jot down the words Funnies and feature in the margins next to the newly scribbled jokes I'm planning to workshop at an open mic tomorrow.

 

"In an hour but you'd need to be there at least fifteen minutes early. I know it's short notice but the guy bailed last minute. Can you make it happen?"

 

I glance at my watch, remembering that I'm supposed to be at a client dinner in an hour. Hmm, maybe Bernie's timing could be better. In the business of comedy, timing is truly essential. It's one of the first things I learned in comedy class. (And in case you're wondering, there are no squeaky red noses or banana peels involved-just a group of misfit jokesters.) It doesn't take long to grasp that when the timing is off, the punchline won't land, and the whole thing's a disaster. Because no matter what anyone says, there's only one reason a stand-up takes the stage. It's the reason we, the misfit jokesters, were put on this earth to begin with.

 

To make people laugh.

 

Oh, those glorious ha-ha-has, he-he-hes, and ho-ho-hos. Okay, maybe you only get the ho-ho-hos if Santa's taking up two chairs in the audience with sugar cookie crumbs scattered over his beard. The point is that no matter the shape, sound, cadence, or volume, we stand-ups love getting the laugh. In fact, I love it so much that I'm going to ditch that client dinner and claim my birthright.

 

"Of course I can. You know I'll take any stage time I can get."

 

"Thanks, Olivia," Bernie says. "I'll email you the details."

 

I end the call and silently thank the idiot who backed out at the eleventh hour.

 

Since I work as a full-time attorney at the law firm of Whitley, Bauer, Carey, and Klein, it hasn't been easy for a Texas transplant like me to catch my big comedy break. That's why I'm using the Jim Gaffigan plan. That's right-America's favorite pale comedian with the Hot Pockets bit. Don't we just love a famous funny guy with their wife jokes, sex quips, and wacky impressions? And every now and then, America will love a famous funny gal too. As long as she doesn't joke about menses. But she should because the word menses is hilarious.

 

Anyway, legend has it he worked his corporate job to support his family while pursuing stand-up until he hit the showbiz jackpot. I may not have a family to support, but judging by the size of my monthly student loan bill, you'd never know the difference. Funny (not ha-ha), since we all know laughter is in fact the best medicine. But do we, the comedians of the world, get the credit and compensation psychiatrists and physicians do for the endorphin-inducing, cortisol-reducing, calorie-burning service that we provide?

 

Uh, no.

 

As it stands, if I pursued comedy full-time, I'd be subjected to a steady diet of generic foam-cup ramen until I booked enough gigs to afford the name brand. Though, sometimes it seems like a fair trade-off when I've been sitting in a three-hour legal meeting and my ass cheeks are numb.

 

"Knock, knock," a friendly voice calls in sync with a couple taps on my doorframe. It's my best friend and roommate, Imani, dressed in a perfectly pressed ginger-colored jumpsuit complete with a popped collar and gold layered necklace. She tilts her head with a funny expression. "What's that goofy grin for?"

 

"I just hung up with Bernie. She snagged me a feature spot tonight."

 

"Oh, yeah? Don't you have a dinner meeting?" Sure, Imani and I work at the same firm but we're in different departments, so I wouldn't expect her to know my calendar so well.

 

"How'd you know that?"

 

She shrugs with a sweet innocence that rivals mine. "You mentioned it this morning. And since you have other plans, I wanted to come by and see if it's cool that I borrow your black stilettos. The ones with the gold ankle strap."

 

"My horny heels?" I can't help but smirk at the special shoe request. "Who you doin' tonight?" She's been working round the clock, pulling for a promotion at the firm, which doesn't leave a lot of time for sex and dating. An issue that plagues us both.

 

"No one. Just meeting a guy for a drink thing." Her gaze trails off as she swipes her glossed lip with the tip of her ring finger, showing off her new ombre manicure.

 

"What guy?" I could ask myself the same question but it would mean something completely different.

 

"Just a guy. I swear I'll tell you all the dirty details later if I can borrow your shoes."

 

"So there will be dirty details?" I press the issue.

 

"Liv! The shoes?"

 

"Sheez. Someone needs a little hoo-hoo in her hmm-hmm," I say under my breath.

 

"I heard that," she says. "And you're one to talk."


🞿🞿🞿🞿🞿

About the Author

Amanda Aksel is a West Coast transplant whose curiosity about people led her to earn a bachelor's degree in psychology. Instead of pursuing a career as a couples counselor, she wrote about one in her first novel.

✱✱Book Review✱✱ Blog Tour for Gena Showalter’s RUTHLESS

  

RUTHLESS by Gena Showalter Publisher: HQN Books


Forbidden. Powerful. Ruthless.

Micah the Unwilling, fae King of the Forgotten, can tame even the most violent of beasts. Forged on the battlefield, this iron-willed warrior considers his soldiers his family, and he will stop at nothing to reclaim their dispossessed land. Gearing for war with a sadistic enemy, he is disciplined and focused—until a feral beauty he encountered long ago wanders into his camp.

Viori de Aoibheall wields a terrifying ability to sing monsters to life. Having spent her childhood in a forest, raising herself and her frightening creations—the only friends she’s ever known—she’s ill prepared for the scarred royal and his fearsome brutality. Not to mention the ferocity of their connection and the carnality of his touch. But the real problem? Her brother is Micah’s greatest foe. And though the sensual king makes her burn, she must stop him, whatever the cost.


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Powell’s


Momma Says: 4 stars⭐⭐⭐⭐
Gena Showalter has created a fascinating world for the Immortal Enemies series, and as I typically suggest with any fantasy, I would advise starting with the first book to get all the layers of this world and its inhabitants. Speaking of, the characters are developed, and even though this is a fantasy world, they feel real. Obviously, they're quite colorful and not at all believable in most cases, but the author does a great job of making them feel believable. There's a good deal of angst in this one, and the story is a little dark, which works well for the storyline and characters. I'll stay away from the details, so I don't spoil anything. Suffice it to say that I enjoyed Ruthless and I'll be interested to see what this author does next. 

CHAPTER ONE

Not quite present day

Fifteen-year-old Micah spun slowly, his jaw slack. What is this place? Spears of lightning forked across a dark sky heavy with darker clouds. Glowing silvery orbs hung from tree branches, illuminating a forest clearing he wished he hadn’t discovered. The eeriness of it all boggled the mind.

From the outside, thick white fog had enveloped the interlocking trees set in a wide circle. From the inside, however, he had an unobstructed view of the dried blood that stained the bark—and the faces carved within. Fierce expressions projected everything from dread to malice, and he shuddered.

Someone had gone to great trouble to make the gnarled giants resemble belua. Monsters of unimaginable strength, somehow birthed from the elements themselves. Able to live and breathe and walk among fae.

Micah tightened his grip on a makeshift dagger—a twig he’d sharpened with his teeth and what remained of his nails.

Beady eyes seemed to track his every movement as he trod deeper into the clearing. A large, moss-covered stone with a wide base and a flat top occupied the center of the ring. An altar?

A chilled breeze blustered past, rousing goose bumps on his skin. Scanning… The vibrant moss provided the only foliage here. There were no animals or insects. No other life whatsoever.

Death reigned here.

A crack of thunder boomed, punctuating his thought, and he almost jumped out of his skin. The next lightning bolt charged the atmosphere; electric currents pricked his spine. Micah dragged in the scent of ash and… What was that? Sweetness itself? A unique fragrance brimming with all the glories of the Summer Court. Sunshine, flowers and citrus.

His mouth watered, and his empty stomach protested. When had he last eaten?

Twig at the ready, he approached the stone and gathered a fistful of moss. The first bite proved bitter, the second more so. But as the greenery settled in his stomach, some of his pains faded; he only desired more.

He shoveled another fistful into his mouth, then another and another, unable to slow himself. For over a year, he’d wandered the wastelands of Astaria alone. Originally, he’d traveled with his guardian. A great warrior named Erwen. A great man, period. He’d found baby Micah inside a basket, and saved him from being eaten by trolls.

He bit his tongue, tasting blood. Erwen had died in battle with a belua. A massive snow beast in the Winterlands.

Micah had expected to perish alongside his guardian. A part of him had hoped to die. How he’d loved Erwen, his sole companion—the only person willing to be near him.

Like his guardian, Micah was a chimera. A rare fae born with dual glamaras that were constantly at odds. The clash created a negative force field around them. Unwanted by fae and humans alike. Feared by everyone. Known for scarring—outward evidence of weakness and a badge of shame.

Chilly wind rattled branches. Lightning peppered the sky, spotlighting— Micah froze, his breath hitched. Were their limbs untangling? Had the one to his left narrowed its eyes?

An illusion?

Genuine belua? Had he stumbled into a nest?

He dropped the newest handful of moss, preparing to bolt. But, from the corner of his eye, he perceived an array of color. Smooth gold. Vivid pink. Gleaming scarlet. He meant to glance, nothing more. A quick peek to ensure no one sneaked up on him. Instead, he stared and reared back, his eyes going wide.

Was he seeing what he thought he was seeing? Surely not. And yet…

Maybe.

Heart jumping, he lurched closer to the stone. Sucked in a breath. A girl. A fae. Exquisite. She slept upon the slab, seemingly growing from the surface. Or from the forest itself.

Lightning flashed, there and gone, showcasing a smattering of freckles, pink cheeks and cherry lips that were bowed in the center. Other details hit him, throwing him for loop after loop. They might be the same age. Flawless skin the color of sunlight, vibrant with life. Delicate features usually only found on royalty. A plain gown too short and tight to cover the abundance of shapely curves.

Who was she? Why was she here? What color were her eyes?

Excitement arced through Micah. Would she mind being friends with a chimera?

A rolling rumble precipitated the first splatter of rain. Cold droplets splashed his cheeks, and he grinned. Let the liquid soak him. What did he care? He’d uncovered a treasure of unsurpassed value.

The rain deluged her, too, her gown becoming transparent. Trembling suddenly more pronounced, he reached out to brush droplets from her cheek.

A rustle sounded behind him, and he wheeled around, ready to defend his prize. Too late. A tree loomed before him, and the truth hit, hard.

Belua!” Hiding in plain sight.

A fat branch slammed into his head. He flew across the clearing, dropping his makeshift weapon when he crashed into another tree.

His lungs emptied. So dizzy. No time to recover. Another branch flung him in the opposite direction.

Ribs broke on impact, and agony seared him. Before he could rise, roots coiled around his ankle and attempted to eject him from the clearing. He clawed at the ground, determined to hold his position and shield the girl. Dirt and blood coated his tongue.

Bark scraped his spine. Limbs stabbed into different bones. Wheezing, fighting the urge to vomit, Micah rolled out of the way.

A limb pierced a vital organ, and an agonized scream burst from him. The pain! Then, suddenly, he was airborne, soaring across the expanse. When he landed, a world of darkness crackled open its jaw and swallowed him whole.

 

As Micah healed, he realized a startling truth. The monsters safeguarded the girl. They hadn’t attacked until he uncovered her. More than that, they hadn’t struck to kill him. Otherwise, he would be dead.

Why they guarded her—why they had shown him mercy—he didn’t know. But he wondered. Was little Red on that stone slab of her own volition or a captive?

There was one way to find out…

Micah returned to the clearing—to her—with a firm goal in mind. Befriend these belua. If he could join them, protect the girl until she awoke…

Was this a betrayal to Erwen and everything he’d stood for? Surely not. His guardian had lived by four rules.

Do no harm to the innocent. Protect what’s yours. Always do what’s right. Never be without a backup plan.

The sleeping beauty was vulnerable and in need of another fae. Just in case the trees held her against her will.

What better path to travel than keeping her safe?

Micah advanced on the creatures cautiously, both hands lifted. “You had every right to eject me,” he told them. In their minds, he’d committed a terrible offense. Touching a female without her willing consent. Or theirs. Now, he hoped to prove the innocence of his intentions. “I did your fair lady wrong. Allow me to present her with a gift of apology. And respect.” He revealed a red crystal he’d dug from the earth bright and early this morning. “So much respect.”

A prolonged hesitation followed his words, anticipation stealing his breath. Finally, the trees opened a doorway for him.

Giddy but remaining vigilant, he entered slowly, placed the present on a step leading to the altar and backed away. Rather than exit, he faced the largest of the bunch. “I mean her no harm, and I won’t touch her again. If you’ll let me, I’ll help you with her protection.”

He wasn’t immediately impaled, a good sign. Micah set up camp. As one week blended into another, the trees relaxed around him. As their tension faded, bright leaves budded, creating a vibrant paradise.

For the first time in Micah’s life, provision without price abounded. Various species of flowers, fruits and nuts flourished without cease, dropping from overburdened limbs.

Nourishment rained all hours. In offering or apology, he didn’t know which.

Morning and evening, he thanked his companions for the bounty. Never had Micah enjoyed such delicious meals. But…when will she awaken?

Fresh moss covered the girl, protecting her from sun, wind and rain. Her sweet scent magnified daily, coating the air; he considered every inhalation a precious gift.

How did she sleep so deeply? And why? For how long? Why did belua continue to protect her, no matter how much time passed?

Did she crave a friend? If the beautiful fae with freckles sought a fellow fae companion, shouldn’t he oblige her?

Longing gripped Micah. But you aren’t a fae, are you? Not exactly. He shifted in the bed he’d constructed with twigs and fallen hanks of moss. He just…he wanted to belong to someone. To be welcomed. Maybe even admired.

What did such affection even feel like? And what was the beauty’s name? Would she like his offerings? There were many.

Anytime a troll or centaur neared the clearing, Micah departed the ring to end the threat. He collected supplies left by the dead, amassing a treasure trove of weapons, dried meats, clothing, maps, coins and jewels. All for her. Well, mostly for her. He’d kept some of the clothing for himself, exchanging a filthy, tattered tunic and ripped leathers for higher quality garments. Even a cloak to help him hide the scars left by the tree attack.

Would she like him?

As he gathered an array of fruit for breakfast, he stole glances at her. For the first time, much of the moss withered, baring her fully. Morning sunlight lent her golden skin an otherworldly glow. Silken locks of auburn hair gleamed.

Curling black lashes cast spiky shadows over pinkened cheeks. Plump red lips with a bowed center and a stubborn chin added to her captivating allure.

The girl— Wait. Had that cherry mouth parted? Micah froze, every cell buzzing. Even the trees stilled, as if time suspended. Then…

A soft moan left her. The first sound she’d made since his arrival. Then she stretched her arms over her head.

He dropped the bundle in his arms, pink-and-red fruit thudding to the ground, rolling away. Startled by the noise, the girl jolted upright, auburn locks tumbling around her delicate shoulders. She blinked to orient herself.

His mind raced with a thousand thought fragments. Even more beautiful… jade eyes, brighter than the leaves…gown soon to tear apart at the seams…friend… Mine?

She turned, maneuvering her legs over the side of the bed. Standing. Stretching. As graceful as a swan he’d once spied in the Summer Court.

Micah stood in awe, utterly transfixed.

As if sensing him at last, she looked his way and gasped. Her mouth floundered open and closed, fright overtaking her expression.

He hurried to offer a reassurance. “I mean you no—”

A high-pierced scream burst from her. The most horrifying sound he’d ever heard. Sharp pains stabbed his brain, hot blood dripping from his ears. He slapped his palms over the blood-soaked shells, but it didn’t help.

The trees snapped to attention. In an instant, leaves wilted. Fruit dried up. The belua army lunged at him, and this time, they attacked to kill, stabbing and pummeling full force. Pain wracked him, each injury teaching him a new lesson in agony.

Deserve this. He’d foolishly shown favor to an enemy. Had thought to become friends with vessels of evil.

But the girl…

Will come back for her. The trees wouldn’t harm her. Even now, they kept her out of harm’s way. If she required freedom, Micah would free her. But first, he must survive.

He escaped the clearing, crawling out of range before collapsing in a beam of sunlight, eating dirt. Then the darkness came…

Excerpted from Ruthless by Gena Showalter. Copyright © 2022 by Gena Showalter. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.


Gena Showalter is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of over seventy books, including the acclaimed Lords of the Underworld series, the Gods of War series, the White Rabbit Chronicles, and the Forest of Good and Evil series. She writes sizzling paranormal romance, heartwarming contemporary romance, and unputdownable young adult novels, and lives in Oklahoma City with her family and menagerie of dogs. Visit her at GenaShowalter.com.

Author Website: https://genashowalter.com/

Facebook: Gena Showalter

Twitter: @genashowalter

Instagram: @genashowalter

Goodreads






✱✱Book Review✱✱ Blog Tour for Christina Dodd’s POINT LAST SEEN

 


 

POINT LAST SEEN Author: Christina Dodd Publisher: HQN Books

 

From
New York Times bestselling author Christina Dodd comes a brand new, standalone suspense about a reclusive artist who retrieves a seemingly dead woman from the Pacific Ocean...only to have her come back to life with no memory of what happened to her. With a strong female protagonist, a chilling villain, and twisty secrets that will keep you turning the pages. Perfect for fans of Lisa Jewell, Karin Slaughter and Sandra Brown, POINT LAST SEEN, will have readers keeping the lights on all night.

LIFE LAST SEEN

When you’ve already died, there should be nothing left to fear… When Adam Ramsdell pulls Elle’s half-frozen body from the surf on a lonely California beach, she has no memory of what her full name is and how she got those bruises ringing her throat.

GIRL LAST SEEN

Elle finds refuge in Adam’s home on the edge of Gothic, a remote village located between the steep lonely mountains and the raging Pacific Ocean. As flashes of her memory return, Elle faces a terrible truth—buried in her mind lurks a secret so dark it could get her killed.

POINT LAST SEEN

Everyone in Gothic seems to hide a dark past. Even Adam knows more than he will admit. Until Elle can unravel the truth, she doesn’t know who to trust, when to run and who else might be hurt when the killer who stalks her nightmares appears to finish what he started…



Momma Says: 4 stars⭐⭐⭐⭐
What a way to kick off a new series! And Christina Dodd has dreamt up a great little village that's perfect for some mystery and romance. It seems everybody has a secret in Gothic, so Adam and Elle fit right in. I liked this pair, which made them easy to root for, and since I can never resist a good mystery, I was all set with Point Last Seen. As much as I like romantic suspense, I enjoyed getting to know Gothic as much as I enjoyed the storyline. The village is practically a character in its own right, and it's filled with quirky characters I can't wait to see more of as the series progresses. Rather than give away the book's secrets - and there are plenty of secrets - I'll just sum it up by adding that this introduction to Christina Dodd's Gothic is everything I've come to expect from this author. It's romantic, it's suspenseful, and I'll be looking forward to my next visit to Gothic.

two

A Morning in February

Gothic, California

The storm off the Pacific had been brutal, a relentless night of cold rain and shrieking wind. Adam Ramsdell had spent the hours working, welding and polishing a tall, heavy, massive piece of sculpture, not hearing the wailing voices that lamented their own passing, not shuddering when he caught sight of his own face in the polished stainless steel. He sweated as he moved swiftly to capture the image he saw in his mind, a clawed monster rising from the deep: beautiful, deadly, dangerous.

And as always, when dawn broke, the storm moved on and he stepped away, he realized he had failed.

Impatient, he shoved the trolley that held the sculpture toward the wall. One of claws swiped his bare chest and proved to him he’d done one thing right: razor-sharp, it opened a long, thin gash in his skin. Blood oozed to the surface. He used his toe to lock the wheels on the trolley, securing the sculpture in case of the occasional California earth tremor.

Then with the swift efficiency of someone who had dealt with minor wounds, his own and others’, he found a clean towel and stanched the flow. Going into the tiny bathroom, he washed the site and used superglue to close the gash. The cut wasn’t deep; it would hold.

He tied on his running shoes and stepped outside into the short, bent, wet grass that covered his acreage. The rosemary hedge that grew at the edge of his front porch released its woody scent. The newly washed sunlight had burned away the fog, and Adam started running uphill toward town, determined to get breakfast, then come home to bed. Now that the sculpture was done and the storm had passed, he needed the bliss of oblivion, the moments of peace sleep could give him.

Yet every year as the Ides of March and the anniversary of his failure approached, nightmares tracked through his sleep and followed him into the light. They were never the same but always a variation on a theme: he had failed, and in two separate incidents, people had died…

The route was all uphill; nevertheless, each step was swift and precise. The sodden grasses bent beneath his running shoes. He never slipped; a man could die from a single slip. He’d always known that, but now, five years later, he knew it in ways he could never forget.

As he ran, he shed the weariness of a long night of cutting, grinding, hammering, polishing. He reached the asphalt and he lengthened his stride, increased his pace.

He ran past the cemetery where a woman knelt to take a chalk etching of a crumbling headstone, past the Gothic Museum run by local historian Freya Goodnight.

The Gothic General Store stood on the outside of the lowest curve of the road. Today the parking lot was empty, the rockers were unoccupied, and the store’s sixteen-year-old clerk lounged in the open door. “How you doing, Mr. Ramsdell?” she called.

He lifted his hand. “Hi, Tamalyn.”

She giggled.

Somehow, on the basis of him waving and remembering her name, she had fallen in love with him. He reminded himself that the dearth of male teens in the area left him little competition, but he could feel her watching him as he ran past the tiny hair salon where Daphne was cutting a local rancher’s hair in the outdoor barber chair.

His body urged him to slow to a walk, but he deliberately pushed himself.

Every time he took a turn, he looked up at Widow’s Peak, the rocky ridge that overshadowed the town, and the Tower, the edifice built by the Swedish silent-film star who in the early 1930s had bought land and created the town to her specifications.

At last he saw his destination, the Live Oak, a four-star restaurant in a one-star town. The three-story building stood at the corner of the highest hairpin turn and housed the eatery and three exclusive suites available for rent.

When Adam arrived he was gasping, sweating, holding his side. Since his return from the Amazon basin, he had never completely recovered his stamina.

Irksome.

At the corner of the building, he turned to look out at the view.

The vista was magnificent: spring-green slopes, wave-battered sea stacks, the ocean’s endless surges, and the horizon that stretched to eternity. During the Gothic jeep tour, Freya always told the tourists that from this point, if a person tripped and fell, that person could tumble all the way to the beach. Which was an exaggeration. Mostly.

Adam used the small towel hooked into his waistband to wipe the sweat off his face. Then disquiet began its slow crawl up his spine.

Someone had him under observation.

He glanced up the grassy hill toward the olive grove and stared. A glint, like someone stood in the trees’ shadows watching with binoculars. Watching him.

No. Not him. A peregrine falcon glided through the shredded clouds, and seagulls cawed and circled. Birders came from all over the word to view the richness of the Big Sur aviary life. As he watched, the glint disappeared. Perhaps the birder had spotted a tufted puffin. Adam felt an uncomfortable amount of relief in that: it showed a level of paranoia to imagine someone was watching him, but…

But. He had learned never to ignore his instincts. The hard way, of course.

He stepped into the restaurant doorway, and from across the restaurant he heard the loud snap of the continental waiter’s fingers and saw the properly suited Ludwig point at a small, isolated table in the back corner. Adam’s usual table.

Before Adam took a second step, he made an inventory of all possible entrances and exits, counted the number of occupants and assessed them as possible threats, and evaluated any available weapons. An old habit, it gave him peace of mind.

Three exits: front door, door to kitchen, door to the upper suites.

Mr. Kulshan sat by the windows, as was his wont. He liked the sun, and he lived to people-watch. Why not? He was in his midnineties. What else had he to do?

In the conference room, behind an open door, reserved for a business breakfast, was a long table with places set for twenty people.

A young couple, tourists by the look of them, held hands on the table and smiled into each other’s eyes.

Nice. Really nice to know young love still existed.

There, her back against the opposite wall, was an actress. Obviously an actress. She had possibly arrived for breakfast, or to stay in one of the suites. Celebrities visits happened often enough that most of the town was blasé, although the occasional scuffle with the paparazzi did lend interest to the village’s tranquil days.

She wasn’t pretty. Her face was too angular, her mouth too wide, her chin too determined. She was reading through a stack of papers and using a marker to highlight and a ballpoint to make notes… And she wore glasses. Not casual I need a little visual assistance glasses. These were Coke-bottle bottoms set in lime-green frames.

Interesting: Why had an actress not had laser surgery? Not that it mattered. Behind those glasses her brown eyes sparked with life, interest and humor, although he didn’t understand how someone could convey all that while never looking up. She had shampoo-commercial hair—long, dark, wavy, shining—and when she caught it in her hand and shoved it over one shoulder, he felt his breath catch.

A gravelly voice interrupted a moment that had gone on too long and revealed too clearly how Adam’s isolation had affected him. “Hey, you. Boy! Come here.” Mr. Kulshan beckoned. Mr. Kulshan, who had once been tall, sturdy and handsome. Then the jaws of old age had seized him, gnawed him down to a bent-shouldered, skinny old man.

Adam lifted a finger to Ludwig, indicating breakfast would have to wait.

Ludwig glowered. Maybe his name was suggestive, but the man looked like Ludwig van Beethoven: rough, wild, wavy hair, dark brooding eyes under bushy eyebrows, pouty lips, cleft in the chin. He seldom talked and never smiled. Most people were afraid of him.

Adam was not. He walked to Mr. Kulshan’s table and took a seat opposite the old man. “What can I do for you, sir?”

“Don’t call me sir. I told you, call me K.H.”

Adam didn’t call people by their first names. That encouraged friendliness.

“If you can’t do that, call me Kulshan.” With his fork, the old guy stabbed a lump of breaded something and handed it to Adam. “What do you think this is?”

Adam had traveled the world, learned to eat what was offered, so he took the fork, sniffed the lump and nibbled a corner. “I believe it’s fried sweetbread.”

Mr. Kulshan made a gagging noise. “My grandmother made us eat sweetbread.” He bit it off the end of the fork. “This isn’t as awful as hers.” With loathing, he said, “This is Frenchie food.”

“Señor Alfonso is Spanish.”

Mr. Kulshan ignored Adam for all he was worth. “Next thing you know, this Alfonso will be scraping snails off the sidewalk and calling it escargots.”

“Actually…” Adam caught the twinkle in Mr. Kulshan’s eyes and stood. “Fine. Pull my chain. I’m going to have breakfast.”

Mr. Kulshan caught his wrist. “Have you heard what Caltrans is doing about the washout?” He referred to the California Department of Transportation and their attempts to repair the Pacific Coast Highway and open it to traffic.

“No. What?”

“Nothing!” Mr. Kulshan cackled wildly, then nodded at the actress. “The girl. Isn’t she something? Built like a brick shithouse.”

Interested, Adam settled back into the chair. “Who is she?”

“Don’t you ever read People magazine? That’s Clarice Burbage. She’s set to star in the modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s…um…one of Shakespeare’s plays. Who cares? She’ll play a king. Or something. That’s the script she’s reading.”

Clarice looked up as if she’d heard them—which she had, because Mr. Kulshan wore hearing aids that didn’t work well enough to compensate for his hearing loss—and smiled and nodded genially.

Mr. Kulshan grinned at her. “Hi, Clarice. Loved you in Inferno!”

“Thank you, K.H.” She projected her voice so he could hear her.

Mr. Kulshan shot Adam a triumphant look that clearly said See? Clarice Burbage calls me by my first name.

The actress-distraction was why the two men were surprised when the door opened and a middle-aged, handsome, casually dressed woman with cropped red hair walked in.

Mr. Kulshan made a sound of disgust. “Her.”


Excerpted from Point Last Seen by Christina Dodd. Copyright © 2022 by Christina Dodd. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.




New York Times bestselling author Christina Dodd writes "edge-of-the-seat suspense" (Iris Johansen) with "brilliantly etched characters, polished writing, and unexpected flashes of sharp humor that are pure Dodd" (ALA Booklist). Her fifty-eight books have been called "scary, sexy, and smartly written" by Booklist and, much to her mother's delight, Dodd was once a clue in the Los Angeles Times crossword puzzle. Enter Christina's worlds and join her mailing list at www.christinadodd.com.


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