Without Rules by Andrew Field @AFwithoutrules @damppebbles #blogtour #extract #damppebblesblogtours #WithoutRules

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Without Rules by Andrew Field! My thanks to Emma at damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to join. I have an extract to share with you today but first, here is what you need to know about Without Rules.

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Author : Andrew Field
Title : Without Rules
Pages : 288
Publisher : Boomslang
Publication date : October 15, 2018

aboutthebook

When a professional hitman turns up at Candy’s World to hide, China Mackie discovers her plan to flee from her abusive father has tragically backfired. A gruesome bloodbath has left four people dead on the streets of a northern city centre on a cold wet Sunday morning. China knows she’s next to die. Unless she is more ruthless than everyone else. She must improvise fast. Seduce her father’s assassin. Plead her case so he helps her escape in a fight to the death where rules don’t matter but the consequences do.

extract

1: China

China ran and she ran and she ran, a lung-busting pace quelled the anxiety inside her. She pushed herself, punished her body and distracted her mind before her guests arrived at Candy’s World. They were already waiting, two wet and cold men huddled outside her front door. China had been running since Karl and Jenny Grant took Rose to room 203 at the Paradise Hills resort. 

“I am coming,” she shouted. 

She removed the chain, undid the door’s deadlocks, dried herself with a towel. Her two unwanted guests bypassed her as if she was invisible. Normally goat boys barely disguised their urge to download on her software. She noticed the stench of excrement overpowered large pans of chilli and bolognese simmering on her Aga. Switchblade Eddie in badly stained jeans was the culprit. He grabbed a bottle of Lynchburg, Tennessee’s finest sour mash, filled a lead crystal tumbler and swigged from the bottle. 

“You want a slug, catch,” said Eddie. 

He chucked the Jack Daniels towards the stranger, who made no attempt to catch. As it smashed the stranger looked at her. She noticed ice cold clear blue eyes. China was big on eyes, the windows to the soul if you looked deep and hard enough.

“Drink is the first and last refuge of the gutless. I’ll take that as an offer of a friendly drink rather than an unwise act of aggression,” said the stranger. “Think you need to go home.” 

“Wanker,” said Eddie. He hurled the tumbler at the floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the resort golf course. The tumbler shattered, the window stayed intact. 

China stepped back. She didn’t want to get hurt in the crossfire. She had seen Switchblade Eddie kick the unconscious further into unconsciousness out of sheer spite too many times. 

“When you’ve finished your tantrum close the door behind you,” said the stranger as he switched on a twenty-four hour news channel. 

All three watched the scrolling newsflash: city centre shooting incident, unconfirmed police reports say four people dead.  

“Four,” the stranger said to himself. “Four, the fourth?”

“Jak, we need to call Chip,” said Eddie, his voice timid after his outburst. 

“You still here?” asked Jak.

“Got to keep him in the picture.”  

“Can’t he watch TV like the rest of us?” 

China glanced at the huge two-way mirrors that dominated the massive open plan ground floor. Unseen CCTV cameras recorded every movement, every word.  

A mobile rang. 

“China, I believe our friends have finally arrived. Entertain them until darkness falls,” said Chip.  

“Shall I fuck them?” 

Jak noticed her when the ‘fuck’ word was aired. He turned from the TV screen, gave her the once over, like she was a second hand motor on its last legs. He wasn’t the first to view her as white trash and would not be the last. She eyed him up too, although she did not want a fuck buddy. China lusted after a white stallion man to ride to her and Rose’s rescue, a hero not intimidated by Chip and his cronies. 

“No need to be so crude, I was thinking of a cup of tea, a slice of cake, maybe brunch,” said Chip. “Ask Eddie and Jak if their Christian DeVeres’ mission was successful?”

“Yes, your man is toast.”

“A total fuck up, Jimmy’s bloody dead. Saw it with my own eyes. Jesus, Chip. A fucking nightmare,” said Switchblade Eddie as he opened a second bottle of Jack D.

“The man lost his head.”  

She heard a snort from Chip. He didn’t give a toss about Jimmy Doyle’s death. Or Christian DeVeres who habitually hung around her kitchen for the last six months as he cooked the books and cleaned dirty money while Rose played, danced and skipped. 

What unpredictable madness had taken place? Chip had lost the plot. He ranted at her. “No more cock ups. Stay put until collection. No calls. No contacts with anyone. Understand China? You’re responsible for them two. Tell them and get their approval.”

She did as she was told on automatic pilot. They nodded imperceptibly.

“I’ve got to go China, fucking them might be a good idea. Stop them killing each other. Better still, let them fight. Save us a lot of bother,” said Chip before he cut the call.  

“You two better behave or I’ll give you both a spanking.” 

They ignored her, the two of them less than a dozen paces apart. Eddie produced a blade, eight inches of Sheffield cold steel, clasped in his right hand. 

Jak looked nonplussed. “You as good at maths as your brother was at riding a motorcycle? What happened to the shooter?” He took off his jacket and black t-shirt, pulled off black boots, unbuttoned 501 black jeans, stood there almost naked in CK boxers. “These will need washing and drying. Did you count? How many bullets left? How fast are you Eddie? Faster than a Black Talon bullet?” 

Eddie backed off towards the door, away from Jak. 

“Chip said stay put.” 

“Open the door,” said Jak. He watched Switchblade Eddie pull on the JD. “Put the knife down, unless your mum wants a two-for-one funeral deal.”

A single loud sob from Eddie broke the tension. 

Bizarrely, China felt sorry for him, if sorrow and hatred were complementary emotions, like anxiety and fear. She didn’t know. She was an emotional cripple herself. Only Rose kept her sane. 

“You’re not having my blade you cunt,” cried Eddie. Jak’s intensity had reduced him to tears. 

She opened the door. He glided out into the cold and the wet. She slammed the door shut. China looked over at Jak to see what happened next. She searched for the words to make the right impression. He took the decision away from her, pointed to his dirty laundry, pulled out a pistol from his jacket. 

“One bullet left. We only had five. He made the right choice. Put my clothes in the wash. Now about this fuck?”

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If this extract has you wanting more, then Without Rules will be available to buy on Monday, October 15th.

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Andrew Field’s Online BookstoreGoodreads

abouttheauthor

Andrew lives, works and plays in Manchester, England, Europe, with his partner, Catherine. He has been a trade journalist in Southampton in his youth. He owned a PR agency in the nineties and early noughties and is now an independent PR, marketing and publishing consultant looking forward to the challenge of becoming the story with the publication of Without Rules.

Author links : Facebook | Twitter | Website

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The Spy’s Gamble by Howard Kaplan @kaplanhow #blogtour #TheSpysGamble #extract #excerpt #LoveBooksGroupTours

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for The Spy’s Gamble by Howard Kaplan! My thanks to Kelly Lacey at Love Books Group Tours for the invitation to join and for providing me with the extract I’ll be sharing with you, right after I tell you what the book is all about.

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Author : Howard Kaplan
Title : The Spy’s Gamble
Series : The Jerusalem Spy Series
Pages : 262
Publisher : n/a
Publication date : June 8, 2018

aboutthebook

When the Israeli Prime Minister boards a new stealth submarine in Norfolk, Virginia intending a celebratory ride and the sub vanishes, it sets in motion a suspenseful story that intertwines the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a story of what could be.

Shai Shaham—an Israeli intelligence officer—contacts old friend and adversary Ramzy Awwad—a former PLO intelligence officer and one of the great writers of his people—for help in locating the missing prime minister. But can they trust each other? Can their friendship withstand the turbulent political landscape?

Eli Bardin—an agent who is feeling the strain of being away from his wife and children for so long in the field—is also tasked to contact Ramzy for the help in finding the missing sub. It seems the Russian have great interest in the technology, and he must locate the prime minister…because losing him is a national calamity that threatens to upset a delicate political balance in the most terrifying ways.

extract

Eli kept the increasing toll of being away so much from his family deeply buried, even from himself. Often of late, the anxiety he had not known since high school and his twenties ran through him like a quiet unease so familiar that at first he hardly noticed it. He was not sure if the current free-floating nervousness was worry about his country’s future, a weariness from fighting a battle that these days seemed to carry his country further from peace, or a desire to do something different with his life.

A religious soul, Eli had stopped believing in God for reasons he refused to discuss. It had opened a small but painful rift with his religious father that Eli wanted to close but did not know how because his abandoning faith was a deeply personal and firm decision. When home, he followed tradition and studied Talmud, the vast compendium of ancient Jewish law, though he was an atheist. His attachment to the Jewish people ran through his every fibre, something gleaned from his father’s life and work, which were uniquely inseparable. Eli disliked alcohol and cigarettes, though it didn’t bother him to partake in either if his cover required it. What he loved was challenging himself, particularly parking in impossibly tight spaces and remembering long passages of a target’s words verbatim. He sensed that he made little impression at parties until he started talking with his quiet erudition and natural warmth. He felt calm and comfortable when busy or with people, where he was often funny, absorbed too from his father. He was bothered that recently the anxiousness had begun creeping in when he was alone with his thoughts. Before heading from New York to Washington, he had their file on CIA agent James Collins emailed to him.

Ten years out from Oberlin College, Collins had imagined himself working in legal aid in public housing keeping with Oberlin’s bona fides. A private liberal arts college, students regularly left Oberlin’s small yet sprawling campus in the Ohio countryside for the Peace Corps and other service. CIA recruiters never made the trek to Oberlin, as they did to Yale, but Collins, who had Ivy SAT scores and state college grades but interviewed better than about everyone, was introduced to Langley by his banker father, a Yale alumnus, after Collins, who was inherently restless, tired of working as a legal aid assistant in New Orleans for $35,000 a year. Collins had a great time, however, playing the guitar at small, dingy French Quarter clubs, where he made sure to enjoy the music and the women equally. Any Oberlin student could take classes in the renown Conservatory at the edge of the entrance grass quad. Students too could rent original Picasso, Chagall, Matisse and other such works for five dollars a semester from their art museum to grace dorm walls, a program begun in 1940, that had yet to have a work irrevocably beer-soaked.

Collins smashed through life creating havoc he was eager to apologize profusely for, and then repeat, and had sidestepped the art rental program, afraid he’d be the one to destroy a painting in one of his fits of rage. Instead, he found it wiser, when a freshman, to avail himself of jazz guitar lessons from a Conservatory female junior, for which they both received elective credit. Collins impatiently waited until three-quarters of the semester were over to sleep with her lest the lessons be impacted by his propensity to bolt post seduction. She was a greater virtuoso in the practice room than the bedroom, so he had been in a hurry to return to scouring the campus performance cafes.

“You got to Washington fast,” Collins said, shifting into playing Elliot Smith’s “Miss Misery.”

“Very, because I was already here. Advance team for our prime minister’s christening ride aboard his new nuclear sub.” Eli knew Israel had five German-built submarines, but this purchase was of a new class of American stealth submersibles.

“Bad timing that two of your crewmen were plowed through.”

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If this wee teaser has left you wanting more, then The Spy’s Gamble is available to buy!

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Bookdepository | Goodreads

abouttheauthor

HOWARD KAPLAN, a native of Los Angeles, has lived in Israel and traveled extensively through Lebanon, Syria and Egypt.

At the age of 21, he was sent on a mission into the Soviet Union to smuggle a dissident’s manuscript on microfilm to London. His first trip was a success. On his second trip, he transferred a manuscript to the Dutch Ambassador inside his Moscow embassy. A week later, he was arrested in Khartiv in the Ukraine and interrogated for two days there and then two days in Moscow, before being expelled from the USSR. The KGB had picked him up for meeting dissidents and did not know about the manuscript transfers.

He holds a BA in Middle East History from UC Berkeley and an MA in Philosophy of Education from UCLA. He is the author of five novels.

DAMASCUS COVER is now a major motion picture starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Sir John Hurt and Olivia Thirlby.

Author links : Twitter

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Deceive and Defend by Marilyn Cohen de Villiers @MarilynCohendeV @annecater #blogtour #extract #excerpt #SilvermanSaga #RandomThingsTours

Today, it is my pleasure to close down the blog tour for Deceive and Defend by Marilyn Cohen de Villiers. My thanks to Anne Cater for the invite and for the extract I’ll be sharing with you, right after I tell you more about this third instalment in the Silverman Saga series.

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Author : Marilyn Cohen de Villiers
Title : Deceive and Defend
Series : Silverman Saga #3
Pages : 338
Publisher : Mapolaje Publishers
Publication date : June 13, 2018

aboutthebook

Like a pebble dropped in a pond, the effects of two deaths—one in the Johannesburg home of the wealthy Silverman family; the second, hundreds of kilometres away on a Free State farm—ripple across South Africa and the world, irrevocably changing the lives of four people:

Tracy Jacobs who desperately wants journalism’s highest laurels… and also yearns for love. Now she must choose between saving her career or defending her chance of happiness;

Aviva Silverman who wants nothing more than to live happily ever after with her adored new family. Now she must place it all at risk to defend the family she left behind;

Carol Aronowitz, dedicated social worker who prides herself on her professionalism . Now she must find a way to defend herself against clear evidence of incompetence that has had disasterous consequences; and

Yair Silverman, Aviva’s twin brother, who stands to lose everything as he takes a drastic decision to deceive everyone.

Set against the backdrop of South Africa’s post-Mandela decline, Deceive and Defend is as current and thought provoking as today’s headlines.

extract

Tracy ignored her mother’s barrage and hurtled into the bathroom. She tore off her pyjamas, turned the shower on full blast, and stepped into the still icy torrent. The water would warm up eventually but her heart, her body would remain frozen. She just knew it. She had died inside. She stood motionless as her tears washed down the drain.

It was all too much. First Yair. Then this. It wasn’t fair. It just wasn’t fucking fair. She had worked so damn hard on that story. Lepalake had promised her… he had promised that he would phone her the next time he was in Johannesburg and… and he had! That phone call that Duduzile had so kindly offered to take just as she was leaving the office yesterday – that had to have been Peter Lepalake. And instead of Duduzile calling her back, the bitch had kept the story for herself – and Mafuta had obviously helped her, filling in some of the blanks from the things Tracy had told him over the weeks she had spent working on the story. Damn him. At least she hadn’t filed her story about Yair and Tiffany. It would have seemed so petty, such a nothing story, in comparison to Peter Lepalake. Mafuta and Duduzile would have made her life a misery—more of a misery—if she had given in to her spiteful temptation. They’d be saying she was only capable of stupid gossip, not real news.

Hammering on the bathroom door startled her.

‘Your news editor’s on the phone. Can you speak to him or will you call him back?’ Maxine shouted.

‘Tell him I’ll phone him,’ Tracy said and poured some shampoo into her hand to lather into her hair. Mafuta could wait. He probably just wanted to explain why he had given her story to his mistress. Maybe. Mafuta never explained anything to anyone. Ever. Too bad. He’d just have to wait until she was ready to speak to him about whatever he wanted. She wasn’t supposed to be on duty until 9am… he could fucking wait. 

Tracy rinsed her hair, massaged in a liberal amount of conditioner, shaved her legs, rinsed off the conditioner, switched off the water, stepped out of the shower, wrapped herself in her threadbare towel and padded down the passage to her bedroom.

Her cellphone was ringing as she stepped through the door. She picked it up. Mafuta. 

Her finger hovered over the red icon – but she couldn’t bring herself to cut her news editor off.

‘Hello Prince.’

‘TT, what the fuck has taken you so long. I told your mother to tell you to call me back urgently. And when I say urgently, I mean immediately. Not a fucking half hour later.’

‘Sorry. I was washing my hair. I supposed you wanted to tell me about Peter Lepalake. Don’t worry. I’ve read Duduzile’s story. It’s full of mistakes. Why didn’t you call me when he phoned? I was still in the building.’

‘And let you screw it up again? You couldn’t get the story, Duduzile did – end of story. Anyway, I’m giving you a new story and I hope you don’t fuck this up too. Mpho’s police contacts called him this morning, early. Something has happened at Alan Silverman’s house. Police and ambulances are on their way. Or are probably there already, as you should have been if you hadn’t been fucking washing your fucking hair.’

Tracy sat down heavily on the bed, her hand shaking.

‘What’s happened?’

‘It may be nothing more serious than a house robbery or a hijacking. But Mpho says there could be some fatalities so it may be something worthwhile – more death in the cursed Silverman mansion type of thing. Just get over there. I’d send Mpho but you know the family so, for once in your useless little life, get me a fucking story I can use.’ 

Tracy stared at her phone, willing it to ring, willing it to be Yair telling her that he was okay, that everything was okay. But the phone stayed stubbornly, ominously silent. 

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Has this wee teaser left you wanting more? Then why not grab yourself a copy as Deceive and Defend is available to buy!

Amazon US | Amazon UK | KoboGoodreads

abouttheauthor

I was born and raised in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs, the youngest daughter of an extraordinarily ordinary, happy, stable, traditional (rather than observant) Jewish family. After matriculating at Northview High School, I went to Rhodes University in Grahamstown where I served on the SRC, competed (badly) in synchronised swimming and completed a B. Journalism degree. This was followed by a “totally useless” – according to my parents – English Honours (first class), also at Rhodes.

With the dawning of the turbulent 1980s, I started my career as a reporter on a daily newspaper, working first in the news and later, the finance departments. During this period, I interviewed, among others, Frank Sinatra, Jeffrey Archer, Eugene Terre’blanche and Desmond Tutu. I caught crocodiles; avoided rocks and tear smoke canisters in various South African townships; stayed awake through interminable city council meetings and criminal and civil court cases – and learned to interpret balance sheets.

I also married my news editor, Poen de Villiers and, despite all the odds against us coming as we did from totally different backgrounds, we remained happily married for 32 years and three days. Poen passed away as a result of diabetes complications on 15 March, 2015.

After the birth of our two daughters, I ‘crossed over’ into Public Relations with its regular hours and predictability.  My writing – articles, media releases, opinion and thought leadership pieces and so on – was published regularly in newspapers and other media, usually under someone else’s by-line. But after more than 20 years, I decided the time had come to go it alone. I now work as a freelance wordsmith which (theoretically) gives me more time to focus on what I love best – writing fiction.

So why, after a lifetime of writing non-fiction, did I decide to try my hand at fiction? The catalyst was the unexpected death of a childhood friend and colleague in 2012. This spurred me to take stock of my life, to think about what I had achieved.  A few months later, I decided to try and write a novel. This turned out to be A Beautiful Family which was published in July 2014.  The fiction bug had bitten, and my second novel, When Time Fails, was launched in September 2015. Now, the third and final novel in the Silverman Saga Trilogy, Deceive and Defend, is launching in June 2018… and novel number 4 is percolating in my head.

Author links : Facebook | Twitter | Website

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Keep You Safe by Rona Halsall @RonaHalsallAuth @bookouture #extract #blogtour #KeepYouSafe

Happy Friday and welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Keep You Safe by Rona Halsall! My thanks to Noelle Holten at Bookouture for the invitation and the extract that I’ll be sharing with you today, right after I tell you what the book is all about.

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Author : Rona Halsall
Title : Keep You Safe
Pages : 363
Publisher : Bookouture
Publication date : August 17, 2018

aboutthebook

What if trying to protect your child only put them in danger?

Natalie is desperate to find her little boy. It has been more than three years since she saw Harry. Three long years in prison for a crime she knows she didn’t commit.

But her husband believed the police, and took their son.

Who has gone to such great lengths to destroy Natalie’s life? Everyone she once trusted – friends, family, everyone close to her – what secrets do they hide?

If Natalie finds the truth, will she get Harry back, or lose him forever?

extract

Chapter  One

Now

Natalie  sits  on  a  metal  bench  on  the  top  deck  of  the  ferry,  watching the  mountains  of  the  Lake  District  glide  past.  She  wonders  what her  son  looks  like.  Has  his  hair  darkened,  his  face  thinned  out? They  change  so  quickly  when  they’re  young  and  she  has  nothing to  go  on,  not  a  single  picture  since  he  was  a  baby.

She’ll  know  soon  enough,  she  thinks,  with  a  shiver  of  nerves, uncertain  of  what  lies  ahead  but  sure  that  she’ll  risk  everything to  have  him  with  her  again.  She  wraps  her  arms  around  her  chest and  imagines  that  it’s  her  child  that  she’s  hugging.  She  can  almost feel  his  hair  against  her  face,  his  breath  tickling  her  neck  and  she hugs  tighter,  fingers  feeling  the  bones  of  her  ribcage,  even  through two  layers  of  clothing.

 What  if  things  go  wrong?

Her  jaw  tightens,  and  she  knows  that  she  can’t  let  herself  dwell  on the  idea,  not  for  a  moment.  Confidence  is  the  key  to  success.  She  has to  believe  her  plan  is  possible,  has  to  have  faith  in  herself.  After  all, she’s  not  the  same  woman  she  was  three  years  ago,  before  she  went to  prison.  Her  anger  is  carved  into  her  heart,  is  part  of  who  she  is now  and  she’s  a  little  scared  of  what  she’s  capable  of  when  pushed to  her  limit.  If  it’s  happened  once,  it  can  happen  again,  can’t  it?

She  shivers  and  wraps  her  fleece  a  little  tighter  round  her  body. Prison  was  a  place  full  of  raw  emotions,  a  place  where  it  was impossible  to  relax,  where  people  played  mind  games,  bullied  and manipulated  to  get  what  they  wanted.  Or  just  to  pass  the  time.

Fear  lurked  in  every  dark  corner,  every  sudden  noise,  every  scream. And  fear  is  an  emotion  that  doesn’t  disappear  overnight.  It  has to unwind  itself,  loosen  its  tendrils  until  you  can  ease  yourself  out  of  its  grasp  and  finally  step  away.  That’s  what  she  hopes  will  happen, and  soon,  because  living  on  adrenaline  is  exhausting,  draining  the life  out  of  her  with  the  effort  of  keeping  safe.

On  the  upside,  she  knows  how  to  fight  now,  which  would be  a  surprise  to  everyone  who  knew  her  before.  She  can  throw  a proper  punch,  knows  which  parts  of  the  anatomy  require  a  kick,  a stomp  or  a  jab,  where  the  main  pressure  points  lie,  and  even  how to  use  everyday  things  as  lethal  weapons.  Spoons  to  gouge  eyes, toothbrushes  to  jab,  pens  to  stab,  shoes  to  batter  and  smack.  She’s seen  it  all.  Even  clothing  can  be  dangerous.

It’s  true  to  say  that  she’s  learned  self-defence  from  some  pretty ferocious  women,  uncompromising  in  their  methods  when  it comes  to  protecting  themselves  and  their  families.  She  liked  some of  them.  Admired  them  for  their  resilience  and  sheer  determination to  survive.  And  then  there  was  Katya.

Her  body  gives  an  involuntary  shudder.

She  hugs  herself  harder,  shakes  the  idea  of  violence  from  her mind.  Anyway,  physical  skills  are  not  the  most  important  for  the task  ahead.  She  needs  to  meld  situations  to  her  advantage,  engineer possibilities,  mess  with  people’s  plans.  What’s  going  to  be  really important  is  the  art  of  cunning.  And  the  certainty  that  she  will  do whatever  it  takes  to  be  with  her  son  Harry  again.  No  questions, no  doubts,  no  hesitation. She  sits  back  in  her  seat,  unwraps  her  arms  and  stretches  out her  fingers.

 Relax,  relax, she  tells  herself.

 I  can  do  this. 

As  long  as  she  can  stay  calm,  keep  her  mind  focused  and  not  let  anger  take control.  She  imagines  Harry  as  a  four-year-old  boy  instead  of  the baby  she  knew.  His  hair  will  be  brown  like  hers,  she  thinks,  rather than  the  dark  blond  of  his  father.  His  eyes,  she  knows,  are  wide apart  and  hazel.  And  his  face?  She  prefers  the  idea  that  it  is  oval, like  hers  rather  than  square  like  his  father’s.  His  nose,  of  course, will  still  be  a  little  button  of  a  thing,  covered  in  freckles  that  spread across  his  cheeks,  just  like  the  pictures  of  her  when  she  was  a  child.

Days,  weeks,  maybe  months  of  her  life  have  gone  into  building up  this  mental  picture  of  her  child.  A  child  she  doesn’t  know.  In  the absence  of  photos,  she’s  used  magazines  to  find  pictures  of  children and  build  them  into  a  likeness  of  her  little  boy.  She’s  invented  a voice  for  him,  a  laugh,  a  smile,  even  his  own  set  of  mannerisms.

Likes  and  dislikes.  Now  the  image  is  so  strong,  so  certain,  that she  can  conjure  him  at  will  into  her  daydreams.  And  as  she  closes her  eyes,  she  can  feel  his  little  fingers  holding  her  hand,  hear  his excited  voice  telling  her  stories  about  his  day,  his  life,  what  he dreams  about.  And  questions!  So  many  questions.  She  imagines picnics,  playing  on  the  swings,  the  roundabouts,  helping  him  scale the  climbing  frame.  A  seed  of  joy  germinates  in  her  heart  as  she allows  herself  to  create  a  future  that  almost  seems  real.

 Soon  it  will  be  real.

In  another  place,  where  her  past  can’t  find  her  and  she  can  start  again.

A  smile  creeps  onto  her  lips  and  expands  into  a  proper  grin, stretching  muscles  that  haven’t  been  used  for  quite  some  time.  It’s a  forgotten  feeling;  this  bubbling  in  her  stomach,  lightness  in  her shoulders,  laughter  in  her  throat.  The  movement  of  the  ferry,  as it  rolls  gently  from  side  to  side,  is  a  weird  but  pleasant  sensation, reminding  her  of  fairground  rides  when  she  was  a  little  kid,  when life  was  simple.  She  sighs.  Is  it  possible  that  life  can  be  fun  again?…

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If you’ve enjoyed this teaser chapter of Keep You Safe, you can buy your copy now!

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Kobo | Goodreads

abouttheauthor

Rona’s debut psychological thriller, Keep You Safe is out on 17th August and her second novel will be out in November 2018.

Rona lives on the Isle of Man with her husband, two dogs and three guinea pigs. She has been a bookworm since she was a child and now she’s actually creating stories of her own, which still feels like a dream come true.

She is an outdoorsy person and loves stomping up a mountain, walking the coastal paths and exploring the wonderful beaches on the Island while she’s plotting how to kill off her next victim. She also makes sure she deletes her Google history on a regular basis, because… well, you can’t be too careful when you spend your life researching new and ingenious ways for people to die.

She has three children and two step-children who are now grown up and leading varied and interesting lives, which provides plenty of ideas for new stories!

Author links : Facebook | Twitter

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11 Missed Calls by Elisabeth Carpenter @LibbyCPT @AvonBooksUK @Sabah_K #blogtour #excerpt #extract

It’s a real pleasure to welcome you all to my stop on the blog tour for 11 Missed Calls by Elisabeth Carpenter. My thanks to Sabah Khan at Avon for the invitation to join and for providing me with the extract I’ll be sharing with you today. But first, here is what this book is all about.

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Author : Elisabeth Carpenter
Title : 11 Missed Calls
Pages : 384
Publisher : Avon UK
Publication date : July 26, 2018

aboutthebook

Here are two things I know about my mother:

1. She had dark hair, like mine.

2. She wasn’t very happy at the end.

Anna has always believed that her mother, Debbie, died 30 years ago on the night she disappeared.

But when her father gets a strange note, she realises that she’s never been told the full story of what happened that night on the cliff.

Confused and upset, Anna turns to her husband Jack – but when she finds a love letter from another woman in his wallet, she realises there’s no-one left to help her, least of all her family.

And then a body is found…

extract

I wait until Sophie has gone to bed before I mention Debbie. I didn’t want to confuse her by talking about another grandmother – who she thinks has passed away. How am I going to explain to her that Debbie is alive after all?

‘Don’t get your hopes up,’ says Jack − words I have heard many times − while he pours himself a glass of white wine.

‘I’m not,’ I say. ‘But the woman behind the counter said photos usually come out well, even after all that time.’

I grab my laptop and take it into the living room. I still don’t know what to say in my reply to Debbie. It is too important to just fire off a few words when I have a whole lifetime to write about. She won’t be expecting a message from me, but I doubt Monica or Dad have replied yet. They would have told me if they had, though I’m not sure of anything these days.

‘Just ask to meet,’ says Jack, reading my mind. ‘You don’t have to write an essay. If she is who she says she is, then you’ll find out soon enough.’

Perhaps it is as simple as that. There is a tiny part of me – self-preservation, again – that tells me not to give too much away in an email. She must earn the right to hear my news. The least she could do is meet me.

I click on the email forwarded by Dad. I already know her words off by heart, but I still read it. ‘The memories of shells and sweet things …’ No one else could know about that.

I type out the reply before I can think about it, and press send.

I look up and flinch. Jack is standing just centimetres away from me.

He laughs.

‘You were off in dreamland then.’ He hands me a piece of paper. ‘These are a few of the private investigators we use at work. The other partners hire them to find people for court summonses. One of them might be able to help if you don’t get a reply. Tell them to charge it to my account.’

‘What makes you think she won’t reply?’ I say. He shrugs. I look at the list. ‘So, are these PIs like Magnum?’

‘Er, no. Unfortunately not. They’re more likely to drive a Volvo estate than a Ferrari.’ He laughs at his own joke.

I settle back into the sofa. Some names to research; it makes me feel useful. I’ve never spoken to a private investigator before; they must lead such exciting lives.

‘They’ll probably jump at the chance of this job,’ says Jack. ‘They’re usually sitting in a car for eight hours at a time, pissing into a coke bottle.’

‘Oh.’

‘I’m just nipping down to the shop for more wine. Tough case at the moment.’

‘But it’s Friday night.’

‘If I can get this done, I can relax for the rest of the weekend.’

‘You can’t drive – you’ve already had a glass.’

He tuts. ‘I’m walking to the offy on the corner.’

It’s what I hoped he’d say.

As soon as I hear the front door shut, I race up the two flights of stairs to Jack’s office in the loft. Tough case, my arse. He’s a conveyancing solicitor, not a human rights lawyer.

There’s no door to open – the whole of the loft is his work space. Three walls are hidden by bookcases filled with leather-bound books I’m certain he’s never read, and sports trophies from his university days. There’s a sofa bed to the left and a large mahogany desk under the roof window. The blue screen of his laptop is reflected in the skylight. If I’m quick enough, the screensaver won’t have kicked in yet. He’s protective over his passwords.

I slide onto his chair. His Facebook account is open. I click on the messages tab, but there are none. Not even the link to our old house for sale that I sent him last week. I check the archive folder. Still nothing. I must have at least fifty messages archived in mine. He must have deleted every one. Who does that? Especially someone who professes to hardly ever use Facebook.

Francesca was the name of the woman who signed her name at the bottom of the letter. I go to his friends list, my hands shaking. Jack might only be minutes from walking through the door.

He only has fifty-nine friends. She’s not hard to find. I could have looked on his friends list from my account. Francesca King. Even her name sounds glamorous. She has long chestnut-coloured hair and her photo looks professionally taken. I click on her profile, and jot down everything I can see in her About section. Partner at Gerald & Co, Winckley Square, Preston. She works across town from Jack. I want to look through her posts and photos, but I don’t have time.

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If you too would like to find out if Jack is having an affair and what the private investigator will unearth, then 11 Missed Calls is now available to buy!

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Bookdepository | Kobo | Wordery | Goodreads

abouttheauthor

Elisabeth (Libby) Carpenter won a Northern Writers New Fiction Award (2016) and was longlisted for Yeovil Literary Prize (2015 & 2016) and MsLexia Women’s Novel award (2015).

Elisabeth lives in Preston, Lancashire with her family. She loves the north of England, setting most of her stories in the area – including the novel she is writing at the moment.

Author links : Twitter

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Playing With Death by Simon Scarrow & Lee Francis @SimonScarrow @headlinepg @annecater #blogtour #excerpt #RandomThingsTours

It’s a pleasure to welcome you all to my stop on the blog tour for Playing With Death by Simon Scarrow and Lee Francis! My thanks to Anne Cater for the invitation to join and for the extract I’ll be sharing with you, right after I tell you what the book is all about.

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Author : Simon Scarrow
Title : Playing With Death
Pages : 400
Publisher : Headline
Publication date : July 26, 2018

aboutthebook

A UNEXPLAINED DEATH

The discovery of a horribly mutilated corpse launches FBI Agent Rose Blake into a puzzling investigation. The victim was alone at home with no signs of forced entry. Who – or what – burnt him to death?

THE GAME BEGINS

Strips of rubber melted to the body emerge as evidence that the victim was wearing The Skin, an innovation that takes users deep into a virtual world.

ESCAPE OR DIE…

When a body with identical wounds is discovered, Rose realises that in the darkest corners of the Dark Web, a brutal killer is playing a deadly game. A game with no rules – and no mercy. To stop it, Rose must play too…

extract

1

Seven months later
September

Rose is in the kitchen, peeling the cellophane from the tray of snacks. The scars on her hand have virtually disappeared. It’s been a cold day and she is wearing a thin wool sweater over her black pants. She takes a sip from her wine glass as she considers the arrangement on the tray and then moves a few of the sushi wraps so that the layout is neatly symmetrical. Outside, in the dining room, she can hear the voices of her husband, sister and father. Jeff ’s voice is deep, but loud, as he holds forth with an amusing tale of the latest scandal breaking on the Hill. The others listen in silence and then there is laughter.

Rose smiles. She loves him and she loves the fact that Jeff is popular. It allows her to bask in the satisfaction that he chose her for his wife when she felt he could have done better for himself. She still feels it, which is why she is determined to give him no reason to regret what she sees as his mistake. And why wouldn’t other women want Jeff for themselves? He is tall and athletic with a full head of light brown hair, almost blond, with a ready smile and devastating charm. He is intelligent and has a job with prestige, even if the salary is not in the big league. Jeff is taking a sabbatical from San Francisco State University to serve as social media adviser to Democratic senator Chris Keller, who is fighting to keep his seat in the Senate in Washington. If Jeff is on the winning side then he may go all the way with Keller. She is pleased at the thought that the best is yet to come for her husband. All going well, he might one day work at the White House.

The future of her own career is a source of less optimism.

Thirty-nine years old – three years younger than Jeff – she knows that the time she took off work to have their son, Robbie, and raise him through infancy until school age meant that she lost vital years of experience and seniority that pushed her promotion prospects back. Then there was the Koenig case . . . But there’s really no contest when she weighs up her love of her job against her love for her son. Her family comes first.

‘Rose, you about done out there?’ Jeff calls. ‘You’ve got three in here ready to sign up to Anorexics Anonymous.’

There is more laughter and Rose joins in, picking up the tray and crossing the kitchen before pushing the door open with her shoulder. The room beyond is large, and the walls are panelled, like many of the early-twentieth-century properties in the neighbourhood. Their house on Oak Avenue is in a pleasant, leafy suburb with views over San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge on the skyline.

Places have been set either side of the table. Opposite Rose’s seat is Jeff, grinning at her as he winks through his neat frameless glasses. Sitting next to him is Rose’s sister Scarlet, and next to her is their father, Harry Carson.

Scarlet, thirty-three, is short, with dark dyed copper hair and a voluptuous figure. The younger, more reckless, sister has recently divorced and is enjoying her new-found single status, especially as her oleaginous weasel of an attorney gouged her former husband for every available cent. She still works as a real-estate agent though. She is good with people and is skilled at closing deals. She tops her wine glass for the third time that evening, grabs her smartphone and takes a picture of herself posing with the wine glass.

‘Gotta get that on the ’gram,’ she says, before cropping the picture and applying a filter so her skin looks smoother. She slides the smartphone onto the table. Rose is concerned about her obsession with social media and has, on more than one occasion, asked her to limit her screen time in the presence of family.

Their father, seventy-two, a retired master sergeant from the marine corps, has salt and pepper hair. He sits quietly and Rose wonders if he is thinking about her mother, who disappeared without trace many years ago. It’s an open wound in the family, but one too painful to discuss. Harry is listening politely to Jeff, whose politics he does not share but has learned to tolerate for his daughter’s sake. There’s something about Harry’s expression that concerns Rose. A listlessness. He’s starting to forget things and is confused from time to time, and she hopes that he is not starting the slide into senility.

‘At last!’ Jeff pretends to gasp. ‘You had me worried there, girl. Thought you were gorging on the dainties and leaving the rest of us to starve.’

Scarlet shakes her head. ‘Hope the main course isn’t delayed the same way. Man, I’m hungry.’

‘You always are,’ says Harry, slipping her a fatherly wink.

Rose sets the tray down in the middle of the table and takes her seat. Her guests don’t wait to be asked and begin to eat. Scarlet reaches for a second snack as she glances at Rose.

‘So, Ro’, how’s business? Catch any more bad guys lately?’

Rose shrugs. ‘You know how it is. Ninety per cent paperwork, ten per cent TV reality show where we get to chase guys down dark alleys with guns and flashlights.’

‘Really?’ Scarlet arches a plucked eyebrow. ‘How about Mulder and Scully? They solved The X-Files case yet?’

‘Old joke, Scar. Don’t go there.’
‘So tell me, seriously. What’s new at the Bureau?’
She’s referring to the failed case that nearly cost Rose her life, that burned her out, that some of her colleagues had even quit the Bureau over. Shane Koenig. The serial killer who had been preying on women and a handful of men across the West Coast, videoing their deaths. One of the vlogging news sites, ‘The Gab’, had named him the Backwoods Butcher, which got picked up by the TV networks, leading to a surge in audience figures.

Rose is reluctant to say anything. Koenig slipped through their fingers and there has been no sign of him since. The grisly human remains recovered from the cabin and the video files on his laptop prove beyond doubt that Koenig is the Backwoods Butcher. And now he’s out there, Rose reflects bitterly, waiting for the right time to resume his serial killer career.

The online and press fallout had been vitriolic – the FBI Twitter feed is still a target for internet trolls lamenting the Bureau’s failure, and hers. But luckily her superior, Special Agent Flora Baptiste, stepped in. After a fairly ineffective psychological debrief, Baptiste had eased Rose’s workload for the last few months. From time to time Rose still mentors undercover agents in training, and with additional therapy on the quiet, she has just about made it work. She glances at Jeff, imploring him not to say anything about it. He smiles before reaching for the wine bottle and topping up the glasses. Scarlet leans forward.

‘Oh, come on, Rose. What’s the latest?’

For the last six months Koenig seemed to have been wiped from the face of the earth. All manner of surveillance had been running, including facial recognition, licence plates, GPS tracking, IP searches, but the task force had drawn a blank, despite intense pressure from the media and relatives of the victims. They’d even asked one of the technology giants to hack a cellphone recovered from the cabin, but the corporation denied their request and increased their encryption instead. The FBI’s Cyber team had tried to crack it, but they were unsuccessful.

There had been a chance to take him down. But Rose had blown it. She had taken her shot at Koenig and missed. She briefly closes her eyes, trying to shut out the rest of the thorny memory.

Sometimes, the monster wins.

Harry shifts in his seat. ‘Scarlet, please, maybe your sister doesn’t want to talk about all this.’

‘Oh, come on, Dad. Rose is a pro. She can handle it.’

Rose rolls her eyes at Scarlet. ‘If you must know, we found out what he was doing with the body parts. They were trophies. He’d store them in secret locations, burying them and then auctioning them online to the highest bidder. When the money was paid he’d release the geotag coordinates.’

Scarlet’s eyes open wide. ‘That’s gross . . .’

‘We didn’t release the details, but the media still got to hear about it somehow and . . . Well, I’m sure you’ve seen the stories. How Koenig used to keep the mutilated genitalia and other body parts. In jars, with printouts of their profile pictures on the outside. We found and confiscated what was left, but most of the buyers were clever and masked their IPs. As for the rest of the remains of his victims, he ate them. That enough detail for you?’

Scarlet lowers her half-eaten finger of seaweed and rice. ‘Oh God . . .’
‘Nice, Rose. Thanks for the overshare,’ says Jeff.
‘She asked.’
Rose feels a ripple of anxiety, which she quells by picking up the wine bottle. A figure emerges from the den at the other end of the living room. The light sensor detects his presence and a lamp fades into life, bathing the boy in its warm glow.

Harry raises his glass. ‘Robbie! How’s my boy?’

The youth walks across the room and stands at the end of the table. He is fourteen, and tall for his age. He has Jeff’s good looks except for his acne and the glasses. But there’s something missing in his expression. He returns the smiles of the adults around the table and then nods to Harry. ‘I’m fine, Grandpa . . . How are you?’

‘Just swell. How’s school?’

Robbie looks to his mother. Rose feels a sudden surge of concern for her son and quickly steps in. ‘He’s doing well. Top of the class in math and science. We’re very proud of him.’

Rose turns to her husband. He surreptitiously sends a text, sliding his smartphone away, something he has been doing more and more frequently of late.

‘Surely that can wait?’ she asks with a tight smile. ‘You’re at home now. Your time belongs to the family.’

‘If only it was that simple. But you know how it is. We don’t work nine to five. The campaign runs 24/7, and we have to run with it.’

‘Huh . . .’ Rose glances at her watch. ‘Anyway, who are you texting at this hour?’
‘Oh . . . my assistant. Pandora’s printing some notes for tomorrow.’
‘She’s the one I met at the last fundraiser? Dark hair. Young.’
Jeff nods. ‘That’s her.’

His eyes meet hers with a hint of challenge and she decides not to pursue the matter right now.

Harry chuckles. ‘Boy, how things have changed. Time was when your home was your own and no one could bother you once you closed the front door. Now they can get you anytime, anywhere. You’ll all be screwed up in the head if the world carries on this way, I tell you.’

‘Hear, hear,’ Rose says, smiling.
Scarlet checks her smartphone.
‘Oooh, my pic’s got sixteen likes.’ She scrolls down.

‘He looks cute. See?’ She holds up the phone to reveal a cheesy shot of a slick-haired guy in a business suit, tanned and expensively dentured. She reads the profile. ‘Oh no, he likes jazz. Sorry, babe.’ She flicks the profile away.

‘Harsh,’ Jeff says. ‘I mean, Rose likes country music, but I still married her. No one’s perfect.’

‘Well with this I can find Mr Perfect.’

There’s a single electronic tone from Rose’s smartphone and she reaches into her jacket pocket and takes it out. She reads the message on the screen and stands up.

‘Excuse me for a moment.’
‘Trouble?’ Jeff frowns. ‘At this time of night?’
‘Criminals don’t work nine to five,’ Rose replies. ‘Or haven’t you heard about that?’
There’s laughter as Rose retreats to the kitchen and hits the quick-dial button. A deep female voice coughs before speaking.

‘Baptiste.’
‘I got the message,’ says Rose. ‘What’s up?’
‘Hey, sugar, there’s something I want you to take a look at. There’s been a fire in Palo Alto. Possible arson. One person dead. Happened a few hours back. Local PD are handling it. Or were, until we got the call.’

‘Who from? I mean, since when did the Bureau deal with this kind of thing? Arson? Suspected arson? What’s that got to do with us?’

‘Normally? Nothing. But this isn’t exactly normal.’ ‘What do you mean?’
‘You’ll see for yourself when you get there. I’m on the scene now and I’ll send you the address soon as I hang up. Get there as fast as you can.’

‘Now? Tonight?’
‘Yes, tonight,’ Baptiste replies testily.
‘But I’ve got my family here. At dinner. Can’t it wait until morning?’
‘No chance. This has come down from the top.’ Baptiste lowers her voice slightly. ‘Seems that someone at the Defense Department has requested our assistance.’

‘Defense?’ Rose feels a twinge of anxiety. ‘But this isn’t their jurisdiction, any more than it’s ours.’

‘Technically, no,’ Baptiste admits. ‘But someone at the Pentagon has asked for our help, so we’re to head up the case with our experience, our labs. Seems there’s a computer angle to it – that’s where Defense comes into it. In any case, Palo Alto PD hasn’t got the budget for this kind of investigation.’

Rose sighs. It is true local police forces are undermanned and struggling to deal with the rising tide of crime. Civil offences and minor crimes are all but overlooked, and many forces have ceased to even investigate them. The amount of technology-related crime has soared in recent years, everything from bitter ex-partners posting intimate pictures online to fraud on a massive scale, but departmental budgets including the Bureau’s have not increased to cope.

Baptiste continues. ‘What I have been told is that the vic has recently been accused of stealing defence contractor secrets, which is our jurisdiction. Defense want a tight lid on it. I don’t know any more than that. We’ve just been given the word and told to deal with it, like now. And now I’m telling you. So you better skip from soup to nuts in five and get in your car. They want our best agents on the case and you’re still my best agent.’

Rose sighs. She owes Baptiste.
‘All right.’
‘That’s my girl. You can get to the scene in forty-five minutes. Make it forty.’ Her faintly husky smoker’s voice softens: ‘Sorry to get you at home . . . but I really need you to take a look at this, while it’s hot, so to speak. This isn’t your usual murder scene.’

‘Murder? I thought you said it was arson?’

‘Feels like murder to me. It could be just a damn fire, but the DoD wants to be sure. At any rate, this one’s unusual, and then some. Christ . . . It’s a fucking mess. I’ve never seen anything quite like this before. Our forensics guys are already on the road.’ There’s a brief pause. ‘Hope you haven’t eaten anything tonight.’

The line goes dead. Rose bites back on her frustration and anger before she thumbs the off button and thrusts the smartphone back in her pocket. She takes a deep breath and leaves the kitchen. Maybe a new case is what she needs, so she can let Koenig go.

‘Guys, I gotta run.’
‘Right now?’ Jeff asks, his soft voice hardening.
‘Sorry, honey. It happens. You’ll have to take over. The salmon is in the oven. Sauce in the microwave. Make sure Robbie gets to bed before ten thirty and no games after ten.’

He nods.

Rose hurriedly kisses her son, her sister and Harry. Jeff cranes his neck to kiss her on the lips but Rose deflects his kiss onto her left cheek. His texting to Pandora has been very regular lately. It’s hard to avoid being suspicious.

‘See you later, guys.’
‘Be careful,’ Jeff calls after her.

There’s a locked desk in the hall. Rose slips her key in,opens a shallow drawer and picks up her badge and the Glock 22 .40 cal in its holster. She pockets the badge and tucks the holster clip over her belt. Her palm presses against the cold metal grip of the gun so it hangs neatly over her right hip.

As soon as she steps outside she is no longer a mother and wife. She’s Bureau through and through. It’s a trick she has made herself learn. You can’t mix two different worlds at once, not without fucking them up. That’s one thing Rose holds on to. By the time she reverses her navy Changan out into the street, the dinner party is a distant memory. She feels a familiar quickening of her heartbeat as she drives towards the crime scene and the gravelly voice of Baptiste echoes inside her head.

It’s the uneasy tone that troubles Rose. Baptiste had served fifteen years before Rose joined her team. There was nothing that she had not seen in that time, and nothing unsettled her.

Well, almost nothing.

Rose remembers the aftermath at the cabin, when Koenig had escaped. She had noticed Baptiste sitting alone on a felled log, facing away, in a moment of private reflection. She seemed to be crying. Rose drew back, knowing she’d witnessed a rare, intimate moment for her boss, but Baptiste had looked up and seen her. She’d wiped her face and fixed it into a frown as she stood up. They’d never spoken about it then, or since.

As Rose drives towards Palo Alto, she wonders: what could possibly have unsettled Baptiste tonight?

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If you’d like to read more about Rose and The Backwoods Butcher, you can as Playing With Death is available to buy!

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Goodreads

abouttheauthor

Simon Scarrow

Simon Scarrow is a Sunday Times No. 1 bestselling author. After a childhood spent travelling the world, he pursued his great love of history as a teacher, before becoming a full-time writer. His Roman soldier heroes Cato and Macro made their debut in 2000 in UNDER THE EAGLE, and have subsequently appeared in many bestsellers in the Eagles of the Empire series, including CENTURION, INVICTUS and DAY OF THE CAESARS.

Simon Scarrow is also the author of a quartet of novels about the lives of the Duke of Wellington and Napoleon Bonaparte, YOUNG BLOODS, THE GENERALS, FIRE AND SWORD and THE FIELDS OF DEATH; a novel about the 1565 Siege of Malta, SWORD & SCIMITAR; HEARTS OF STONE, set in Greece during the Second World War; and PLAYING WITH DEATH, a contemporary thriller written with Lee Francis. He also wrote the novels ARENA and INVADER with T. J. Andrews.

For exciting news, extracts and exclusive content from Simon visit www.simonscarrow.co.uk, follow him on Twitter @SimonScarrow or like his author page on Facebook/OfficialSimonScarrow

Lee Francis

Lee Francis worked for several years in the world of film, TV and advertising as a script reader and assistant director on major productions such as Harry Potter, The Woman In Black and Spooks. He has a BA First Class in Film Studies. He enjoys travelling, running, gaming and listening to cheesy techno. He has travelled the USA, New Zealand, China and Europe.

PLAYING WITH DEATH, written with his former lecturer Simon Scarrow is his first novel. It is published in the UK by Headline and foreign sales around the world have already begun.

For exciting news, extracts and exclusive content from Lee visit www.leefrancisauthor.com, follow him on Twitter @leefrancis or like his author page on Facebook/leefrancisauthor

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07292018_playing

Kill For Me by Tom Wood @TheTomWood @millieseaward #Sphere #blogtour #excerpt #KillForMe

It’s a pleasure to welcome you all to my stop on the blog tour for Kill For Me by Tom Wood! My thanks to Millie Seaward for the invitation to join and for providing the excerpt I’ll be sharing with you today. First, here is what Kill For Me is all about.

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Author : Tom Wood
Title : Kill For Me
Series : Victor the Assassin #8
Pages : 480
Publisher : Sphere
Publication date : July 26, 2018

aboutthebook

Victor is the killer who always delivers…for the right price. And Heloise Espinosa, patron of Guatemala’s largest cartel, is ready and willing to pay him just that to eliminate the competition–her sister. Heloise has been battling Maria for control of the cartel in an endless and bloody war. Now Victor decides who survives. An easy job if it weren’t for the sudden target on his back.

Victor’s not the only one on the hunt. Someone else has Maria in their crosshairs and will do anything to get the kill. In the middle of cartel territory with enemies closing in from all sides, Victor must decide where to put the bullet before one is placed in his head. His only chance at survival is to team up with the one person who may be as deadly as he is…

extract

The beach was white sand, stretched in a crescent around the bay. Dark waves lapped against the shore as feral dogs foraged along the water’s edge, searching for scraps left by backpackers. On the furthest spur of sand two wild horses ran back and forth in some ritual Victor couldn’t hope to comprehend.

The seller he was meeting called himself Jairo. He was old and tanned, short and hairy. He had a beard that rose to his cheekbones, pure white and bushy. His shirt was opened to his sternum, revealing a thatch of colourless chest hair. Gold neck chains gleamed from among the curls. His eyebrows were still black, and almost met in the middle. He smelled of rum, else local aguardiente – Victor hadn’t spent enough time in Guatemala to be able to differentiate between them by scent alone.

The last of the sun was disappearing over the horizon, but the heat of the day remained. Victor’s clothes were lightweight and loose, pushed taut against him by the breeze. It came from the east, from out across the Caribbean Sea, somehow cool and warm at the same time.

Jairo was from across the border in Honduras, and he dressed like a bum. His shirt was dotted with grease stains from a couple of days’ worth of messy eating. Threadbare denim shorts hung to his knees. The legs that protruded from the shorts were thin and weak. He wore rubber sandals that revealed the skin of his heels was cracked and split. He had tattoos on his forearms. They were too old and faded, and his skin too tan, for Victor to make out what they portrayed. He was no international arms trafficker. He was no Vladimir Kasakov. He was no Georg, even. He was just a small-time gun runner. He was just a man in possession of an expensive rifle. How he came across the weapon, Georg hadn’t passed on to Victor, and Jairo hadn’t offered its history. He hadn’t even wanted to show it to Victor without seeing the money

‘I check the weapon is in good condition,’ Victor had said. ‘Then you get to see the cash.’

Jairo shook his head. ‘That’s not how this works.’

They spoke in English, because Victor didn’t want Jairo to know he spoke Spanish as well as he did. Better, even.

‘It works how I say it works.’

Jairo was silent. He glanced at the wild horses.

‘Don’t forget that you want to sell the gun more than I want to buy it. I can walk away at any point and keep my money. You’ll still have a rifle you don’t want.’

Jairo thought for a while. He didn’t blink a lot, but he rubbed one palm with the other thumb.

He shrugged. ‘Okay, you can check it. Make sure it’s legit.’

He was nervous while Victor did. He couldn’t stop moving He couldn’t stop fidgeting. If he wasn’t shuffling his weight, he was rubbing his palms together. If he wasn’t rolling his shoulders, he was scratching the back of his neck. Victor took in all the tell-tale signs and acted as if he didn’t see them, as if he didn’t understand. He wanted to buy time. He wanted to assess the situation.

The Accuracy International AX50 was a big piece of engineering. It came in a case made from toughened military-grade polymer large enough to hide a person inside – dismembered, but doable. Victor had squeezed bodies into less. Inside the case, thick foam rubber encased the component parts, isolated and identifiable to Victor’s gaze. He checked each part in turn, acknowledging that every one was as it should be, as expected. Accessories came in a separate compartment, and were, like the weapon itself, all good. Too good.

He kept his thoughts to himself for the moment, still assessing. Jairo was growing even edgier, because in the dim light he couldn’t see Victor’s eyes in the shadow of the khaki cap and he couldn’t read the expression beneath.

‘What do you think?’ Jairo asked when he couldn’t stand the silence any longer. ‘You like it?’

‘It’s beautiful,’ Victor said.

Jairo was picking something from his teeth. ‘You gonna buy?’

Victor kept his gaze on the rifle. ‘How much do you want for it?’

‘A hundred thousand is the price agreed by the middleman. You have the cash? You buy?’

The rifle retailed for a fraction of that, even with all the accessories, but there was a heavy premium on black-market weapons. Jairo was adding a considerable premium to that premium, but for such a weapon it was a seller’s market. If Victor wasn’t prepared to overpay he was never going to be able to acquire what he needed. Whatever he had said, he wanted the gun more than Jairo wanted to sell it.

He rubbed the gun oil from his fingers. ‘Where did you get the weapon?’

Jairo shrugged and adjusted his footing. ‘What does it matter? I’m not gonna ask you where you got your money from. You brought it, yes? In your truck?’

Victor nodded.

He had his pickup parked where the sand dunes became prickled with long grass. Jairo’s own vehicle – another pickup – was parked on the beach itself, out in the open as agreed. Victor had arrived early, but Jairo had been earlier. He had been drinking. There was a sheen to his skin and a glaze to his eyes.

‘Let me see it.’

Victor shut the case and thumbed the catches. He dragged it from the load bed of Jairo’s pickup. Even for Victor’s strength, it was heavy. The rifle alone weighed almost twenty kilos. He carried it in his left hand. He led Jairo to his truck. Led, because Jairo didn’t move fast. He followed at a slow pace. In part because his stride was short like his height; in part because he had poor footwear for traversing sand; in part because of all the nerves.

‘A hundred grand is a lot of money,’ Victor said as they walked, ‘even for a weapon like this. Black-market rates are black-market rates, I get that, but this rifle is brand new. There’s still packing grease on the components. Someone tried to wipe it away, but you can’t do that. You have to use it. You have to get it dirty first. You have to put it together and fire rounds and strip it apart again and scrub and clean and oil it. Then you get rid of the packing grease. Good try all the same.’

Jairo acted confused. ‘What does it matter if it’s brand new? You’re getting a good deal.’

‘That’s my point. The price is too good, black-market rates and all, for a brand-new weapon. This has never been used. It’s mint in the box. So, where did you get it?’

Jairo shrugged. ‘I don’t own the gun,’ he explained. ‘I’m only the seller.’

The light was fading fast and the blue pickup Victor had bought for cash looked almost black. He set the heavy case down in the load bed and dragged forth a sports bag. He shoved it into Jairo’s waiting grip and ripped open a packet of beef jerky from a container of supplies.

‘Want some?’ He offered the packet to Jairo.

Jairo glanced up. ‘Looks disgusting.’

Victor shrugged as he chewed. More for him.

Jairo wasn’t hungry. He was wasting no time, unzipping the sports bag and peering inside, smiling when he saw the bundles of American dollars.

‘You know,’ Victor said after swallowing, ‘at first I wondered if you were part of a sting operation. A non-proliferation thing. That’s always the biggest risk when buying this kind of hardware. I figured there could be binoculars and cameras on me, officials and cops waiting out of sight behind the dunes, ready to rush in when I showed the money. Until then, I’d committed no crime. So, I was weighing up my odds, wondering if they had a clear shot of my features, wondering what repercussions I would face further down the line. Just because I had committed no crime didn’t mean there wouldn’t be fallout. A man like me can’t afford to be on someone’s radar.’

Jairo was half listening, because he had noticed something about the bag. He reached inside.

‘All those nerves you had,’ Victor continued. ‘I figured they had you over a barrel, and you’d get them off if you gave up your buyer. Me. But then I found the packing grease. No way an official sting operation would use brand-new weaponry like that. No way they could get hold of it, even to lure out an utterly deplorable person such as myself. They would use what they had, what they had confiscated. So, this has to be something else. I overthought it. The simplest explanation is usually the right one.’

Jairo pushed his hand deep into the bag, drawing out one of the thick bundles of cash. They appeared to be straps of hundred-dollar bills, a hundred bills per strap, secured with a rubber band. Jairo peeled back the first bill to see that the rest were nothing more than rectangular pieces of blank paper.

‘No, no, no,’ Jairo muttered.

‘You didn’t think I would bring a hundred grand in cash to make a deal in the middle of nowhere, did you? That’s how you get yourself killed.’

‘You’ve made a huge mistake.’

Victor said, ‘When I’ve already made so many, why stop now?’

‘You don’t know who you’re dealing with.’

Victor’s tone was wistful. ‘If only the reverse were true, Jairo, we could save ourselves an awful lot of inevitable unpleasantness.’

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Uh, oh. I don’t know about you but me thinks Jairo may have landed himself into a spot of bother there. If you’d like to read more, Kill For Me will be published tomorrow!

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Kobo | Goodreads

abouttheauthor

Tom was born in Burton Upon Trent in Staffordshire, England, and now lives in London.

He is the author of THE HUNTER, BAD LUCK IN BERLIN and THE ENEMY.

Tom’s books are known by different titles in some countries so please be careful when purchasing.

Author links : Goodreads | Twitter | Website

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The Backstreets of Purgatory by Helen Taylor @TaylorHelen_M @unbounders @annecater #blogtour #RandomThingsTours #extract

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for The Backstreets of Purgatory by Helen Taylor!

Huge apologies to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours and to the author for posting this a day late.

I have an extract to share with you all but first, here is what the book is all about.

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Author : Helen Taylor
Title : The Backstreets of Purgatory
Pages : 496
Publisher : Unbound
Publication date : July 12, 2018

aboutthebook

Finn Garvie’s life is one spectacular mess. He spends most of his time fannying around a makeshift Glasgow studio, failing to paint his degree portfolio, while his girlfriend Lizzi treats him like one of her psychology patients, and his best friend Rob is convinced that the tattoos he designs are the height of artistic achievement.

To top it all, Finn is worried that some stinking bastard is hanging around, spying on him, laughing at his cock-ups and eating his leftover curry. Fortunately, he has plenty of techniques to distract him – tackling the church hall renovations with the help of his alcoholic neighbour; pining after Kassia, the splendidly stroppy au-pair; and re-reading that book on Caravaggio, his all-time hero.

Things take a turn for the strange when he finally encounters the person who’s been bugging him, and it seems to be none other than Caravaggio himself…

extract

Boy Peeling a Fruit

At much the same time as Finn was admiring young Davy’s nude torso at the Art School, across town, in a side street two up from Partick Cross, Tuesday McLaughlin was attempting to gain entry to a tattoo parlour that was owned by Finn’s best mate. The shop belonged to Rob Stevenson, a detail to which Tuesday was, for the moment, happily oblivious, intent as she was on finding a lawful way into the premises. The trouble was, from where she was standing, it didn’t look too promising. The sign quite clearly stated the place was open for another hour, but it was closed, no ques- tion. For about the seventh time, Tuesday rattled the locked door and, when it still wouldn’t open, shoved her face up against the window.

The shop was full of stuff she’d have been happy to offload given different circumstances: shelves lined with old medicine bottles and volumes of faded red and green hardbacks; a round mirror speckled with  age that would definitely make good money down the antique market; and, on the counter, gleaming under the protection of a fingerprint-free glass case, a set of brass weighing scales of a quality any dealer would happily pawn their weans for. But, as far as Tuesday could make out, if you were talking actual living breathing life, there was less than what you’d find in your average coffin-dodgers’ coach trip. The only hope of someone who might be able to do the business was the limp skeleton hanging from a scaffold by a screw in its baldy head who appeared to be guarding the till, or the baby alligator perched on top of the stationery cupboard with glassy eyes and a stupid grin on its face. Strictly, Tuesday knew she couldn’t complain if the shop was dead – it was the whole morbid thing it had going on that had made her choose it in the first place – but, frankly, if the sign said open, it should bloody well be open.

Frustrated, she rattled the door again. The lock was pretty flimsy, barely holding. If she still had her old ways about her, she might have considered it worth booting the door in and having a run-in with the skinny bloke at the till, if only for the scrap metal value of the chemical balance. Instead, as she left, she gave the door a half-hearted kick for old times’ sake, and immediately regretted it when she stubbed her middle toe. Once the numbness had passed, it started throbbing like a tadger.

She was hopping on the white line halfway across the main road, waiting for a break in the traffic, when she heard a shout.

‘Hey, missus.’ Rob was waving to her from under a streetlight at the corner of the side street. A big bloke with a shaved head and tats on his face was Tuesday’s take. Nobody she knew. Although with his steel toecaps and pumped-up muscles, she clocked him for the type who reckoned he was hard.

‘Aye, you with the skinny pins. Are you coming in or what?’

Rush-hour traffic was passing either side, coughing out blue exhaust fumes around her. Tuesday shook her head. She’d lost the motivation. The shut-up shop had floored her. Whatever the opposite of psyched-up, that was her. Psyched-down or something. It would be easier to dis- appear into the going-home crowd.

‘Nah, you missed your chance, doll.’

Mind made up, Tuesday waved Rob off, but before she managed to dive through the oncoming traffic, a black BMW came speeding up the main road. The driver was playing with his mobile, steering one-handed, swerving all over the place. For a second, Tuesday swithered on the mid- line, too late to make the dash. She couldn’t believe it. He was practically on top of her and he hadn’t seen a bone in her body. Fuck that. She wasn’t having it. She held her ground and pumped her bunched fist from her forehead. Dickhead. The car missed her by a sliver. The driver beeped, leaving his hand on the klax – a wanker’s lesson in road safety – and, as the car passed, the sound dropped a semi- tone and faded into the traffic hum.

‘You okay?’

‘Aye, fucking peachy,’ Tuesday said, even though she wasn’t. It did her head in, these fancy tossers who thought they were entitled to make her invisible because they lived inside their fuel-injection, leather-trimmed lives. But even though the near-miss had left her shaky, there was no way she was admitting as much to a bloke who wore his denims that tight.

‘Come on. I’ve put the kettle on.’

Tuesday pulled a face and crossed back over, following Rob past the overflowing bins in the darkened side street. At the shop, he waited for her, holding open the door.

‘Milk and three sugars,’ Tuesday said, as rudely as she could. She may have been quarter his size but it didn’t mean she wasn’t capable of opening a door. Not that she was one of those feminist nut-jobs who got offended by basic man- ners, but this chivalry business annoyed the tits off her. In normal life, the only time a man held open a door for her was when the door in question was attached to a police van.

She was still working out how best to slag him off when Rob bowed elaborately and offered her his arm. ‘Would the young lady care to enter my humble premises?’

Tuesday shoved his arm out of the way and pushed past him. ‘If you don’t mind me saying, pal, that’s no fucking normal.’

He laughed and followed her in.

Close up the shop looked even better than it had through the window. Tuesday glanced around, taking it all in. Pretty phenomenal. Without intending to, she let out a low whis- tle. Front of house, a computer and music speakers were the only evidence of the twenty-first century. Otherwise, the place was entirely kitted out as a Victorian consulting room, complete with microscopes, anatomy charts and pickled specimens. There was a waiting area under the window lit with pretend oil lamps, a travelling trunk in place of a table, and through the half-open door at the back of the shop, she could have sworn it was a full-on operating theatre walled by the industrial white glazed tiles familiar from the back courts of warehouses and workshops all around the city.

‘Some place,’ she said, unzipping her puffer jacket. ‘Lots of bottles.’

‘Indeed,’ Rob said. ‘As you can see, we have products to meet your every requirement. From the benign’ – he indi- cated a tin of Beecham’s Pills, another of Allenburys Throat Pastilles – ‘to – I hesitate to say ridiculous – let’s say safe-in- the-correct-hands . . .’ His hand swept past thick bottles with ground-glass stoppers and peeling labels. Tuesday had to strain to read names. Aquae camphorae, saltpetre.

‘. . . to the outright-hazardous-to-human-health.’ Mercurous chloride, belladonna.

‘Are thae ones poison too?’ Arsenic, she knew.

He frowned. ‘Well spotted. I’m probably meant to keep them behind bars. I ought to find out.’

‘Aye, you ought to,’ Tuesday sneered. He was doing that thing they did at the day centre. Feigning idiocy to get down to your level.

After a microsecond of hesitation, Rob finished his tour. ‘Finally, the favourite of poets and physicians alike . . .’ He made it sound like a big pronouncement, a fanfare, like Tuesday would guess what was coming before he said it.

‘Eh?’

‘Laudanum.’

Tuesday gawped as blankly as her irritation would allow. ‘Opium for the upper class,’ Rob clarified.

In response, Tuesday flashed him a look of contempt and pointed out that the bottle was empty.

He grinned at her inanely. ‘Aye, well at least I cannae get done for possession.’

The line of chat was boring her already, so to liven things up she asked why Rob had pickled his dick. Puzzled, he glanced over to see what she was talking about. ‘You mean the eel? I bought it in a supermarket in France when I bought the calf’s brain.’ He nodded at a jellied mushroom  in a jar. ‘It’s amazing what you can buy in the pre-packed aisle over there.’

‘I’ll take your word for it.’ In the last few years, the fur- thest Tuesday had been from Partick was the Underground station at Govan.

‘I’m no sure, though, that bunging it in neat formalde- hyde will stop it rotting.’ Rob lifted the specimen jar off the shelf and wiped the dust on its shoulders with a cloth from under the desk. The liquid around the jelly brain was snot- thick. ‘Maybe I should’ve consulted a taxidermist.’

‘Aye, mebbe you should’ve,’ Tuesday said, and wandered over to the travelling trunk to pick up one of the folders scattered on it.

‘I’m thinking about a tattoo,’ she said finally. ‘Well, you’ve come to the right place.’

Riled, she spun round, ready to match whatever aggro came her way. But straight off she registered Rob wasn’t taking the piss. He was nervous, she realised. She was making him nervous. She was beginning to wonder if, in fact, she had come to the right place.

Casually, she flicked through the folder. ‘These all yours?’ ‘Indeed. By my own dark hand.’ He did a weird thing with his fingers. ‘No kidding.’

‘Aye. Rule number one. Original artwork only.’ ‘No bad.’

‘Thanks.’ Under his tattoos, Rob blushed. Tuesday snig- gered. How awkward. The bloke clearly fancied himself as an artist. In what even to her was obvious as an abysmal effort to gloss past, Rob took the folder and opened the inside cover. The price list was stuck to the plastic. ‘It’s by the hour. A wee one will take an hour, max hour and a half. Big ones can take anything up to five or six. Longer for colour.’

Tuesday nodded. It was pricier than she had anticipated. ‘When can we start?’

‘Rule number two. First appointments strictly consults only. Don’t want to jeopardise my stats.’

She just looked at him. He laughed. Nervously.

‘My cadaver rate. It’s exceptionally low. If I don’t think someone’s up to it, I scare them off deliberately.’

‘Cadaver rate?’

‘You know, the jessies who take a whitey at the sight of a needle.’

‘Right.’

‘Talking of cadavers and the like, did you meet Lister?’ ‘The skelly? Aye.’ Tuesday didn’t like the way Rob was looking at her, kind of squinty-eyed and troubled, even as he held out the skeleton’s bony hand to shake hers. Sud- denly, she panicked that he was going to refuse her.

But all he said was, ‘We  know each other,  right?’

Tuesday breathed a sigh of relief. ‘To be honest, doll, I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen you before in my puff.’ She would have remembered. He had near enough a menagerie swimming, running, crawling around his neck, up his jaw, on to his cheek. ‘It’d be hard to forget a face like that.’

‘Fair point,’ he said. ‘I’m Rob, by the way. Short for Robin. But you knew that already, I take it, or you wouldna’ve come in fancy dress.’

She laughed. ‘Fuck off.’ The funny thing was, he wasn’t that far off. The red puffer jacket had been her latest Oxfam steal and the leggings belonged to the Somali lassie who did the cleaning in the B&B and who changed into her work overalls in the reception toilets. The boots were her own. Discount sheepskin, tide-marked and losing their glue.

‘What I usually do is give the client a tour of the treat- ment room, get them to read over the health questionnaire and consent form, and then we work up some designs together. Gie’s two secs to finish the autoclave check and we can get on to it. Don’t let anyone else in.’ Rob locked the front door. Before he disappeared through the back, he gawked at her again. ‘I swear I know you. Those cheek- bones. Unmistakable. You could chib someone.’

Tuesday chucked the folder back on to the trunk. There was something majorly warped, she reckoned – something your mother probably would have warned you against if she hadn’t been a junkie waste of space with not a drop of maternal instinct – about being locked in a shop full of poison with a guy six foot four and built like a brick shit- house. But if anyone was crapping it, it certainly wasn’t her. While Rob sorted whatever it was he had to do through the back, Tuesday decided to make herself comfy. The choice of seating was laid out in front of her like the kind of cheap personality test they were keen on at the clinic. The window seat padded with charcoal velvet cushions was obviously the easy option. Beside that, there was an antique oak and leather study chair which had the air of being the boss’s and which she reckoned it would be sensible to avoid if Rob was the one inflicting the pain later, or an old- fashioned wicker and wooden invalid’s chair with foldable foot rests and a stick to steer it. She chose the wheelchair.

No contest.

Rob came back a few minutes later with his desk diary. ‘Okay, what are we looking at? See anything you like?’

Tuesday flattened a scrap of paper she’d pulled from her coat pocket and handed it over. Rob studied it.

‘Ah, the midge. Diminutive scourge of the Highlands and unwitting accomplice of the nationalists. The few foolhardy tourists who brave the badlands rarely repeat their mistake. Nectar running in their English blood, I reckon. Unlike the acerbic locals.’

Tuesday rolled her eyes. ‘You’re a freak, doll. D’you know that?’

‘All your own work?’

‘What gave it away?’ She’d torn it from a textbook in the nature section in the library.

‘Only I usually—’

‘You gonnae do it or what?’

‘The thing is . . . okay, maybe this once, but don’t let on to the masses. Where d’you want it?’

Tuesday scrabbled to pull off her coat and pushed up the sleeve of her sweatshirt. ‘Here.’

Livid tracks radiated up her arm from the scarred veins at the crook of her elbow. She stared at him, daring him to challenge her. To her surprise, he didn’t flinch.

He opened the diary. ‘What about next week? Early Monday?’

‘Listen, doll,’ she said, ‘I’m no being funny, but I’m here now.’

Rob stroked his chin. ‘True enough. Still an hour or two to torture before beer time.’ He pulled out a printed sheet from the back of the binder and passed it to her. ‘Is there anything I should know?’

The whole time she studied the form – following the words with her fingertip, mouthing them silently – she could feel Rob’s eyes on her. When she reached the bottom of the page, she flung it back to him. ‘I’m no HIV, if that’s what you’re on about.’

‘Fair enough. Sign here.’

She scribbled her signature. He twisted his neck to read  it upside down.

‘Tuesday. Tuesday McLaughlin.’ He was grinning, laugh- ing, rubbing the back of his shaved head in surprise. ‘I was right. I do know you. It’s me. Rob Stevenson. I . . . we . . . were in your class at primary. Jed – Gerrard – my brother. Twins. Remember? Athletics club in secondary. We used to pal around together. Bloody hell. I cannae believe it. Tuesday McLaughlin.’

It was pretty astounding how quickly a perfectly reason- able idea could take on a hideous new shape. ‘You know what?’ Tuesday said, scrambling to her feet. ‘Something came up.’ The consent form fluttered to the floor.

‘Hey, hey. You’re no going, are you? Don’t go. Hey.

Come on.’

But there was no way she was hanging about. She snatched up her coat and hurdled the travelling trunk.

‘I wouldna’ve had you down for bottling it.’

‘Fuck off,’ Tuesday said, jiggling the key in the lock. ‘I’m no bottling it.’

‘If you say so.’

‘Aye, I fucking say so.’ She was pissed off now.

Rob unlocked the door and stepped outside. He was chuckling to himself.

‘What’s so funny?’ Tuesday could smell fireworks and burning Catholics on the winter air.

‘I was terrified of you when I was a nipper.’

‘So you should’ve been. You and your brother? Soft as.’ Even in primary, Tuesday was harder than the twins. And wilder. By the time they were teenagers, she was already pretty much a legend, her name earnt by the inability ever to make it to school on the first day of the week. While Rob and his brother and their mates spent their Saturday nights innocently getting bevved on Tennent’s lager (and leching over the less-than-appetising Lager Lovelies that decorated the tins in those medieval times), Tuesday was moving in altogether different circles, getting spannered on acid and vodka in weekend binges that lasted beyond Sunday and put to shame even the Jimmy-Choo-and-fake-tan brigade that hung out those days at the Arches and had slag fights in the street overlooked by police who’d been advised not to inter- vene unless they were wearing stab vests.

Rob grinned at her. ‘What do you say? Mates’ rates?’

She shrugged and went back in, making out like she was doing him a favour. He offered her whisky from his special stock through the back, but she went for tea, loading it with sugar from sachets that had come from the café up the road and, as there was no sign of a spoon, stirred it with the top end of the Biro she’d used to sign the form. Once she was settled back in the wheelchair, she blew on her tea, watching Rob over the top of the mug. He was peeling an apple with an army knife. The peel unravelled in a single spiral.

‘Are you some kinda weirdo health freak, by the way?’ ‘Aye,’ Rob said mildly, dangling the peel into his mouth. ‘Still into all that fitness malarkey?’

‘Aye.’ He cut slices from the apple. Ate them off the knife blade. ‘Yourself?’

‘Don’t be fucking stupid.’

The running club was probably the last place they had seen each other. Tuesday’s one and only attempt at a legitim- ate extra-curricular activity. In the winter, they’d run the laughably named cross-country through the schemes round Knightswood and the Drum, getting abuse from the local kids who were after their Adidas three stripes and cagoules. And in the summer, endless laps round the playing field while Campbell Spence sat in his camping chair, feet up on his cold box, thumb on his stopwatch.

‘Cannon Balls Spence, remember him?’ Rob said, reading her mind. ‘He had a thing for you.’

‘Course he did. I was the  talent.’

‘Whatever happened to Tuesday McLaughlin?’ he said, starting on a second apple. ‘You left the party early, did you no?’

‘Like anyone gave a fuck.’

Tuesday sipped her tea. Rob crunched on his apple slices.

The wicker chair squeaked underneath her.

‘Gie’s a break,’ Rob said eventually. ‘Twenty years is a lifetime ago.’

‘Eighteen,’ Tuesday said. She’d been counting.

‘Eighteen, eh? You’ve no changed.’

Tuesday bit the edge of her mug. The soft git probably meant it as a compliment. ‘Cannae say the same about you, Slimster. What’s the story? Anything new? Girlfriend? Boy- friend?’

Lister jiggled almost imperceptibly in the air current. Tuesday could feel the dust settling on the poison bottles, the calf brain decomposing in its tank. The baby gator gave a rictus grin.

‘Nah, nothing to speak of,’ Rob said sheepishly. ‘So, are we gonnae do this thing or what?

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If this extract has tickled your fancy, then you can go grab yourself a copy of The Backstreets of Purgatory right now!

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Kobo | Goodreads

abouttheauthor

Helen Taylor is a writer living in France. The Backstreets of Purgatory is her first book.

Author link : Twitter

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Needle Song by Russell Day @rfdaze @fahrenheitpress @damppebbles #blogtour #extract #damppebblesblogtours

It’s a real pleasure to welcome you all to my stop on the blog tour for Needle Song by Russell Day today! My thanks to Emma Welton for the invitation to join. I have an extract to share with you all but first, here is what the book is all about.

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Author : Russell Day
Title : Needle Song
Pages : 380
Publisher : Fahrenheit Press
Publication date : April 28, 2018

aboutthebook

Spending the night with a beautiful woman would be a good alibi, if the body in the next room wasn’t her husband.

Doc Slidesmith has a habit of knowing things he shouldn’t. He knows the woman Chris Rudjer meets online is married. He knows the adult fun she’s looking for is likely to be short lived. And when her husband’s killed, he knows Chris Rudjer didn’t do it.

Only trouble is the police disagree and no one wants to waste time investigating an open and shut case.

No one except Doc.

Using lies, blackmail and a loaded pack of Tarot cards, Doc sets about looking for the truth – but the more truth he finds, the less he thinks his friend is going to like it.

extract

Mornington Crescent

I took a long route home, telling myself it was a nice evening for a ride and that the tension across my shoulders was stiffness from work. Funny the lies we tell only ourselves. I lived about three miles from the shop but managed to put fifteen on the clock before arriving.

The house, my father’s, was in the middle of an old terrace. Not classic, just old, one of a row, each one as bland as the next. High-density living, neighbours sleeping a brick’s width apart and not knowing each other’s names. North London in a nutshell.

Dad was sat on the stairs about a third of the way up. He didn’t claim to be stuck but his laboured breathing implied a story to be told.

“Hello,” I said. Dad took a couple of heroic gasps but decided the effort of speech was too great and weakly raised a hand, his opening move. “You alright?” I asked it as a greeting rather than an enquiry, subtle difference.

Dad decided his next move quickly and chose badly. He could have gone for the sympathy or pity play. Instead he went for martyrdom, suffering in silence. He held a hand up again and added a brave nod. A man in distress but too proud to let on. I took it at face value and walked straight past him to the kitchen, which was a minor victory to me, at least I think it was. The rules for the game dad played were as clear as those of Mornington Crescent.

The kitchen smelt stale, dad didn’t believe in opening windows and a good number of food-smeared plates and a pair of pans waited for attention. I let them wait a bit longer. I went to the front room and sat facing the over-size television, the blaring screen was the only thing the room hadn’t sucked the colour from. Dad came in and made his way to his armchair, sat in it with has much effort as he could. He’d given up on the heavy breathing, conceding a point to me. I had no doubt there’d be a counter play at some stage but I told myself I wasn’t worried. Funny the lies we tell only ourselves.

“You had any dinner?” I asked, bellowed, over the TV.

Dad walked right into it.

“Not really.” Voice just the right side of accusatory.

I nodded and, without looking away from the screen said, “Load of washing up in the sink.”

Bang, I got another point, won a few blessed minutes of peace. Dad broke the silence with a master stroke.

“Your girlfriend rang. I told her you were out.”

I nodded, left the room, went upstairs to the bathroom and stood clutching the side of the bath until my knuckles hurt. When I trusted myself to sit with dad again, I asked what she’d wanted. Without looking away from the screen, he shrugged.

“Asked for you. I told her you were out.”

I unclenched my fists with an effort and left the room again. Game, set and match to dad.

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If this teaser has left you wanting more, you’re in luck as Needle Song is available to buy from the following links!

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Fahrenheit Press Shop | Goodreads

abouttheauthor

Russell Day was born in 1966 and grew up in Harlesden, NW10 – a geographic region searching for an alibi. From an early age it was clear the only things he cared about were motorcycles, tattoos and writing. At a later stage he added family life to his list of interests and now lives with his wife and two children. He’s still in London, but has moved south of the river for the milder climate.

Although he only writes crime fiction Russ doesn’t consider his work restricted. ‘As long as there have been people there has been crime, as long as there are people there will be crime.’ That attitude leaves a lot of scope for settings and characters. One of the first short stories he had published, The Second Rat and the Automatic Nun, was a double-cross story set in a world where the church had taken over policing. In his first novel, Needle Song, an amateur detective employs logic, psychology and a loaded pack of tarot cards to investigate a death.

Russ often tells people he seldom smiles due to nerve damage, sustained when his jaw was broken. In fact, this is a total fabrication and his family will tell you he’s has always been a miserable bastard.

Author links : Twitter

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Safe Houses by Dan Fesperman @DanFesperman @AAKnopf @crimebythebook #blogtour #extract

It’s a pleasure to join the blog tour for Safe Houses by Dan Fesperman today! My thanks to Abby Endler at Knopf for the invitation to join and for providing the fab extract I’ll be sharing with you, right after I tell you what Safe Houses is all about.

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Author : Dan Fesperman
Title : Safe Houses
Pages : 416
Publisher : Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date : July 3, 2018

aboutthebook

West Berlin, 1979. Helen Abell oversees the CIA’s network of safe houses, rare havens for field agents and case officers amidst the dangerous milieu of a city in the grips of the Cold War. Helen’s world is upended when, during her routine inspection of an agency property, she overhears a meeting between two people unfamiliar to her speaking a coded language that hints at shadowy realities far beyond her comprehension. Before the day is out, she witnesses a second unauthorized encounter, one that will place her in the sightlines of the most ruthless and powerful man at the agency. Her attempts to expose the dark truths about what she has witnessed will bring about repercussions that reach across decades and continents into the present day, when, in a farm town in Maryland, a young man is arrested for the double murder of his parents, and his sister takes it upon herself to find out why he did it.

extract

Chapter 1

Berlin, 1979

The older man sat down at the kitchen table in the back of the safe house and recited the words for a second time. His monotone made it sound like a lesson, or maybe an incantation— some spell he was trying to cast over his listener:

“To swim the pond you must forsake the bay. You may touch the lake, but you must never submerge, and you must always return to the pond.”

The younger man, with his arms crossed, nodded.

“And the zoo?”
“Dry. To all of us, anyway. The pond is also dry, to the zookeeper.”

A pause, a wheezing intake of breath. “All of their people believe it to be long since drained, and its waters shall forever be invisible. Except of course to those of us with special eyewear. And that’s what we’re offering, if you’re interested.”

“Eyewear?”
“So to speak. A new way of seeing. And access, opportunity. More than you’ve ever dreamed of.”

The older man poured some whiskey. He swallowed and set down the glass sharply, like he was knocking for entry.

“You don’t understand a word of it, do you?”
“Some of it. Not all.”
“We’re inviting you in. But before that can happen we have to dry you off.”
“From my swim in the bay?”
“Of course.”

The younger man frowned and shuffled his feet. But the tilt of his head, the narrowing of his eyes, betrayed heightened interest. He uncrossed his arms and spoke again.

“First you have to tell me more.”
“No. First you have to tell me the route you took to get here.”
“Just like you said.”
“You were alone? No shadows, start to finish?”
“You saw the finish. There was no one at the start, either.”
“Positive? Even on the S- Bahn?”
“I took every precaution. The route was clean. I have done this before, you know.”

A long pause, followed by another gurgle of whiskey, a second knock of the glass.

“Come here, then.” The wheeze, yet again. “Sit down.”

The younger man took a step forward and then stopped, as if something else had just occurred to him.

“What if it’s no sale? This isn’t one of those things where if you tell me then you have to kill me, is it?”

The older man laughed, choppy notes from an old accordion.

“Come. Have a drink.”
“Was that a yes or no?”

“It wasn’t a yes-no question. Sit down and I’ll explain. People are dying out there, Lewis. They’re drowning with no one in the whole damn bay to save them, and you can change that overnight. As that Polish girl of yours likes to say, time’s a- wasting.”

“How do you know about her?”
“Rule one, Lewis. Always assume we know more than you think.”

Upstairs, in the room with the equipment, Helen Abell took note of the name “Lewis” as she leaned forward on stocking feet, straining to listen through the headset. A cryptonym, no doubt, but something about it was familiar. He wasn’t part of Berlin station— or, as the old-timers still called it, the Berlin Operations Base, or BOB—but maybe she had come across his name in a memo, or the cable traffic.

For the next few seconds all she heard was the sound of the younger man’s footsteps crossing the kitchen floor—clop, clop, clop, as loud as a Clydesdale— and the scrape of a chair as he sat at the table. It made her recall his polished black shoes, clunky, like the ones the East Germans wore.

The men had arrived a few minutes earlier. Helen had peeked out the window the moment she heard the rattle of a key in the lock, and she’d spotted them on the doorstep out front. Unexpected visitors, and neither looked familiar. But the mention of “Lewis” was a thread she could work with.

The wheels of the tape recorder kept turning, twin planets in rotation, absorbing every word. She was afraid to move lest the floor creak, giving her away. Too late to announce her presence. Was she wrong to leave the recorder on? To be listening at all? Probably. Undoubtedly. The whole thing was almost certainly way above her clearance. But she’d never heard any conversation like it.

From her brief observation she’d discerned that both men carried themselves with an air of competence and seniority—experienced hands in a special order, one which she aspired to join. It was like eavesdropping on a conversation of the gods. Nonetheless, she was off-limits and it was time to bow out. She should switch off the recorder, remove the headphones, and quietly wait for them to leave.

With a sigh, she reached for the off switch.

Then the needles flicked on the dials as the younger man spoke, and her hand stopped in midair. He’d lowered his voice, and Helen, unable to help herself, squinted in concentration to make out the words.

“Do the effies know?”
“Not a thing, or not since Jack kicked the bucket in ’72.”
“Jack? You mean . . . ?”
“Of course.”
“He was a friend?”
“Of a sort. The enemy of my enemy, that whole business. Last of his kind. Here, drink up.”

A splash of whiskey, then silence.

Helen was transfixed. What in the hell were they talking about? The effies. The zoo. The pond, the bay, and the lake. And now a reference to a former power figure named Jack— probably another cryptonym. Everything about the conversation was baffling, and not just because she didn’t know the lingo.

For starters, why speak in code? The whole point of a safe house was to make you feel secure enough to dispense with the mumbo jumbo. You kicked back, put your feet up, traded all the secrets you wanted in the plainest possible language. Safely, and with absolute confidence. That’s how she’d rigged these houses, four of them in all across the zones and neighborhoods of West Berlin, available at any given moment for privileged access and secret consultation. Each house was clean, unobtrusive, and practically soundproofed against the curiosity of neighbors, due mostly to her own efforts during the past year.

She was particularly proud of the job she’d done at this location, a crumbling brick townhouse a block south of Alt-Moabit. She had labored zealously to craft the most secure possible environment for the Company’s case officers and their agents, or for whoever else among their friends might temporarily need shelter from the cold and lonely hazards of their profession.

Why, then, this strange collection of buzzwords? Unless it wasn’t so much a code as a special language— and, yes, there was a difference—an exclusive lexicon for some obscure fraternity of operatives. Perhaps for someone with a higher security clearance this would be no mystery at all.

She also wondered how the men had gotten a key. Helen knew the identities of all six key holders for this house. Someone had given them a key without telling her. That in itself was a serious breach of security.

In addition, the meeting was unscheduled. When people wanted to use one of her facilities—okay, one of the Agency’s facilities—the rules said they were supposed to provide at least six hours’ notice, so she could ensure that no one else would barge in on them, and that conditions would be welcoming and ready. Before she took over, embarrassing run-ins and overlaps had been infrequent but not at all unheard of, a state of affairs that the chief of station had seemed to accept as an occupational hazard. Helen had taken pains to eliminate such snafus. It was all in the details— controlling the leaseholders, managing traffic, making the places easy to use, clean, and functional.

She had carefully vetted the current cover tenant for this house, a Pan Am stewardess with Agency connections whose work schedule meant she was home only on Wednesdays and Sundays, and even on those days could clear the premises at a moment’s notice.

There were contingencies for unannounced meetings, of course, and also for use by operatives and agents who weren’t regular customers. Espionage emergencies were hardly uncommon in Berlin. But the meeting Helen was hearing downstairs had none of the snap or crackle of an urgent rendezvous.

This chat was unrushed, collegial, and despite the age difference she suspected that these men were on roughly equal footing, meaning it probably wasn’t a meeting between a case officer and his local agent. Their English was flawless, no trace of a foreign accent. They were either American or very practiced at pretending to be American.

Of course, technically speaking, Helen wasn’t supposed to be there, either. That was the rub, and the reason for her deathly silence. Unbeknownst to the Agency, she had begun making surprise weekly inspections of her four properties. It was the most efficient way to uncover shabby upkeep and lax practices. She kept the visits off the books or they wouldn’t have worked. Yet another way in which she went the extra mile, a trait she’d become known for since her arrival in Berlin fourteen months earlier.

The job certainly hadn’t been her top choice. Not even close. She’d always suspected that the chief of station, a randy old mossback named Ladd Herrington, made the assignment to demean her, to put her in her place.

“You’re only twenty-three?” he’d said on that first day, peeping above the frames of reading glasses as he pawed through her file. His eyes wandered quickly from her face to her breasts, where he let them rest long enough to make her uncomfortable.

“You do know you’d be happier as an analyst, don’t you? In the long term, anyway. Much better prospects for advancement. For marriage, too, although perhaps that doesn’t interest you. Here, on the other hand . . .”

He flapped a hand dismissively, as if they were assessing her chances of discovering a new comet, or of recruiting Leonid Brezhnev as a double agent. Analyst. The default assignment for any Agency female, except the ones exiled to records, or to some other “special branch” of this or that department as long as it was well behind the scenes.

Hardly any made it into the field. Nonetheless, there she’d been, arriving on Herrington’s doorstep with only two years of experience for a posting to the city that had defined the Cold War, and he’d responded by slotting her in a position that until then had been largely clerical, staffed by someone two steps below her pay grade. To make it sound less offensive, or perhaps to heighten the joke, he’d come up with a new title: Chief of Administration for Logistics, Property and Personnel Branch, Berlin Station.

Helen had sulked for a week before deciding to make the most of it. She explored and then exploited the job’s opportunities, which turned out to be more expansive than anyone had realized. She revetted the tenants, rescouted the locations. Finding all of them lacking, she replaced them several months ahead of the usual rotation. She tightened hiring practices for support staff, upgraded the facilities at minimal cost, and instituted greater accountability among users. Overlaps and screwups disappeared, as did the mice and bedbugs. Complaints from field men dwindled. She made connections, widened her niche, found a lover, and settled in to Berlin’s cold, grim majesty with a sardonic viewpoint worthy of a lifer.

And now, here she was, caught in the middle of one of her surprise inspections, silent and still and, for the moment, trapped upstairs on a gray October Monday at mid- afternoon as she wondered what the hell she’d stumbled onto.

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Well, I don’t know about you but I’m very intrigued! If you are as well and you’d like to read more, Safe Houses is available to buy!

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abouttheauthor

Dan Fesperman’s travels as a writer have taken him to thirty countries and three war zones. Lie in the Dark won the Crime Writers’ Association of Britain’s John Creasey Memorial Dagger Award for best first crime novel, The Small Boat of Great Sorrows won their Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award for best thriller, and The Prisoner of Guantánamo won the Dashiell Hammett Award from the International Association of Crime Writers. He lives in Baltimore.

Author links : Twitter

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