Tuesday, June 30, 2020

✱✱Book Review✱✱ The Dilemma by B. A. Paris


The Dilemma
by B. A. Paris


A woman's birthday party takes a dark turn in a poignant, heart-stopping new novel from the reigning queen of suspense, NYT and USA Today bestselling author of Behind Closed Doors, The Breakdown, and Bring Me Back.

“A heartbreaking page-turner that will have you up at night reading just one more chapter.” —Catherine Steadman, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Something in the Water

“The phenomenal B. A. Paris has done it again! I devoured The Dilemma in one sitting—it grabbed me from the very first page and wouldn’t let go until I’d finished. Secrets, guilt, shame and heartbreak—this story has it all in spades.”—Sandie JonesNew York Times bestselling author of The Other Woman

Knowing the truth will destroy her. Keeping it secret will destroy him.

It’s Livia’s 40th birthday, and her husband Adam is throwing her the party of a lifetime to make up for the wedding they never had. Everyone she loves will be there, except her daughter Marnie, who’s studying abroad. But Livia is secretly glad Marnie won’t be there.

Livia has recently uncovered a secret about their daughter which, if revealed, will shake the foundation of their family to its core. She needs to tell Adam, but she’s waiting until the party is over so they can have this last happy time together.

Adam, meanwhile, has his own surprise for Livia: he’s arranged for Marnie to secretly fly back for the party. But before Marnie arrives, Adam hears some terrible news. Now he too is faced with a dilemma: Does he share what he's learned with his wife? Is hiding the truth the same as telling a lie? And how far are Adam and Livia willing to go to protect the ones they love—and give each other a last few hours of happiness?
Goodreads          BookBub


Momma Says: 1 star ⭐

So, The Dilemma. I think this is going to be one of those love it or hate it books, and unfortunately, I find myself firmly in the latter category. Part of that may be due to the fact that I was looking for one thing and found another. All the hype would lead one to believe that this is a thriller, psychological women's fiction, domestic thriller... I'm sure you can see where I'm going. The problem is I didn't find anything even remotely thriller-like in this book. Domestic drama would be more like it, but it's not a particularly good one. Honestly, I was bored more often than not, and when I wasn't bored, I wanted to shake the daylights out of Livia and Adam both. I don't know if that was the author's intention or not, but these characters seriously drove me nuts. The story is very repetitive, and the whole thing relies on a lack of communication. And I'm just gonna say it - if a 40-year old woman is so wrapped up in herself that all she cares about is having a fabulous birthday party, she deserves nothing less than to have it a little spoiled. Maybe that's harsh, but really, grow up already. I did push through to the end, hoping for something to warrant all the hype, something to justify the time spent reading this book. Nope, it just wasn't happening. This ended up being a thoroughly disappointing book made even more so with its ending. I've heard great things about this author, but this book is totally underwhelming. 

❃❃ARC provided by NetGalley and St. Martin's Press


Summer Shorts Tour and Giveaway



Summer Shorts

A Sizzling Summer Set of Sixteen Short Stories from the New York Times and USA Today award-winning authors of The Authors’ Billboard:
Mimi Barbour, Melinda De Ross, J.L. Saint, Cynthia Cooke, Angela Stevens, Susanne Matthews, Josie Riviera, Katy Walters, Nancy Radke, Susan Jean Ricci, Dani Haviland, Rebecca York, Rachelle Ayala, Aileen Fish, Stacy Eaton, Taylor Lee

From sweet to spicy, and contemporary to suspenseful, these sixteen Summer Short Stories will be sure to heat up your heart and help you escape reality in a blaze of fun, drama, and romance.

Sixteen NY Times & USA Today popular authors have put together these delightful novellas to give you that spurt of entertainment you can often finish in one sitting. These Summertime stories will delight the romance lover until the sun sets in a blaze of glory.

NEW! Mimi Barbour – Her Hero – Her puppy will drown if the stranger can’t save her! USA Today and NY Times Best Selling Author

NEW! Melinda De Ross – Summer Neighbors– A summer vacation, an inherited house, a sexy neighbor. Should be the formula for the perfect summer…Right? USA Today Bestselling Author

Jennifer St. Giles writing as J. L. Saint – What Didn’t Happen in Vegas – What didn’t happen in Vegas could cost Eric and Holly everything. USA Today Bestselling Author

NEW! Cynthia Cooke – All I Want Is You – He will not lose – the deal or his heart.

NEW! Angela Stevens – Catching Robert – When the adorable Maggie orders a chocolate sundae from Robert Chase, the ice cream is not the only thing to melt. Amazon International Bestselling Author.

NEW! Susanne Matthews – Tequila Sunrise – The peppers in Mexico aren’t the only things too hot to handle. Award winning author

NEW! Josie Riviera – A Chocolate-Box Summer Breeze – Will Emily and Joe be able to find their happily-ever-after in a forgotten summer breeze? USA Today Bestselling Author

NEW! Katy Walters – The Billionaire and the Librarian – Would this unreasonable match be spectacular or a dud? USA Today Bestselling Author

Nancy Radke – The Stubbornest Girl in the Valley – Stubborn ladies hang onto the men they love. USA Today Bestselling Author

NEW! Susan Jean Ricci – Row with Me – Learning a new sport isn’t easy when the couple involved have questionable skills in kayaking and relationships. USA Today Bestselling Author

NEW! Dani Haviland – Kidnapped! He’d get her back…at any cost. USA Today Bestselling Author

Rebecca York – Hot and Dangerous – Summer Idyll turns to terror. USA Today Bestselling Author

NEW! Rachelle Ayala – Bad Boys for Hire: Roni – Roni ordered hits for the cartel, but can she kill the disabled firefighter whose ex hires her? USA Today Bestselling Author

Aileen Fish – Marni – Can a cowboy and a librarian turn a week’s vacation into the love of a lifetime? USA Today Bestselling Author

NEW! Stacy Eaton – Finding Love on the Summer Surf – Will a magical weekend of memories drift away with the ocean waves? USA Today Bestselling Author

NEW! Taylor Lee – Heatstroke – Would the Native American doctor allow any man to make her believe she deserved love? Especially him? USA Today Bestselling Author



Find out more about the authors of the Authors’ Billboard here: https://authorsbillboard.com/our-authors/


**Only .99 cents!!**


Follow the tour HERE for special content and a giveaway!
$50 Amazon





Express Pursuit Tour and Giveaway



Express Pursuit 
by Caroline Beauregard 
Genre: Romantic Thriller 


Follow Mara Ellington's trip across Europe riding the Orient-Express where she suddenly gets entangled in a complicated terrorist attack threat.

As she rushed down London’s Victoria Station, feisty Air Traffic Controller Mara Ellington fought her apprehensions about this journey. It was no longer the trip of a lifetime she had dreamed about with her best friend. Instead, fate had turned this exciting adventure into a lonely voyage to honour her deathbed’s wish. After arriving at the train’s platform, a strange incident will leave her baffled but not as much as her unexpected confrontation with Counter-Terrorist Agent Drake Steinfield who has also boarded the legendary Orient-Express, on a mission to thwart a terrorist threat.

The sexy and tenacious agent is on the tail of an elusive Al-Qaeda Extremist leader who has planned a string of massive explosions along the train’s route. Additionally, he may be using the tourist as a pawn in his schemes and according to the CT agent, this makes her his best lead to stop him. Mara and Steinfield will need to join their forces and race against the terrorist’s deadline to prevent these massive tragedies, if they can put aside their clashing personalities and growing attraction. What destiny awaits them down the line of this Express Pursuit? 

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Chapter 1 (complete):


CHAPTER 1

August 25th, 2017, London, Victoria Station, Morning

I never go back on my word because a promise is a promise. But still, rushing to catch a vintage Express train instead of using a modern aircraft seemed ludicrous to me. Granted, I wasn’t laughing last night when my New York to London flight took off with a ninety-minute delay.

Like a maniac, I ran across London’s Victoria Station, afraid that I’d be too late to reach Platform No. 2 in time for my departure. I caught my breath for a second and glimpsed at the legendary train up ahead, painted in milk-chocolate brown and custard gold. Further up, the stationmaster, in full livery, waited for the passengers to complete their boarding procedures. At a small temporary desk, over which stood a banner reading Venice Simplon Orient Express, a steward was greeting the last incoming travelers for the VSOE while handing out glasses of champagne. I, Mara Ellington, was about to embark on a trip across Europe aboard one of the most illustrious trains in history.

I resumed my sprint, racing past the different gates. Platform No.2, along with Platform No.1, stood at the extreme end of the station. As I approached, my eyes began to sting and water. After a couple of useless blinks, I had to stop again as my throat also became irritated, as if I had been running at a breakneck speed for hours. The pause allowed me to rummage for my ticket in my overstuffed Chanel purse, but my eyes burned like hell now. I lifted my head and wrinkled my nose from the strong acrid smell coming from a white cloud of smoke spreading on the nearby platform about fifty feet away.

The noise level in the station moved up a couple of decibels as I got closer to my destination. A moment later, dozens of travellers were running in all directions, some coughing and crouching. The chaos was denser up ahead at the front of the platform. By now, whistles and automated alarms were ringing all around the platform. I didn’t have time to examine the scene further as something forceful yanked me down from behind.

The impact reverberated in my skull when I hit the concrete floor and within seconds, a sharp pain detonated in the back of my head as dark spots flashed in front of me. Did I black out? I couldn’t be sure, but my eyes struggled to focus.

The hard surface of the concrete offered no comfort to my aching head and stiff back. What in the world had hit me? It appeared that I was the only one to have been a victim to this invisible earthquake, judging by my quick survey of my surroundings. The white cloud at the next platform had dissipated. Dozens of uniformed security men arrived, running and barking orders.

Everything happened so fast and l still had no clue what I was doing on the floor.

I took a visual inventory of my body parts, checking for visible injuries. I lay sprawled with my left knee up while my other leg was stretched out at an awkward angle. The slit of my skirt had ripped further up, revealing the full length of my thigh. I pushed the now messy tangles off my flushed face. At least I wasn’t bleeding. There was nothing graceful about my fall. I kept looking around to see what had hit me. My purse's contents, scattered everywhere around me, had likely flown out during the fall. My carry-on had tipped on the floor. As I turned my head the other way, I saw a man crouched beside me. His turned down face was hidden by the hat, sunglasses and bandana he wore over his nose. I couldn’t discern much of his cast down face. Following the direction of his eyes, I caught a pair of hairy hands and a flash of silver, but before I could make any sense of what I saw he was already up and running away toward the exits. Had he stolen anything from me?

Hey! Wait! Stop!” I croaked, unable to yell louder because my throat still burned from the scratch of the pungent smoke. I coughed several times and tried to get up to run after the likely thief, but a fit a dizziness prevented me.

This whole situation was beyond crazy. Had the smoke been caused by a fire or had a bomb exploded? I struggled to get up again, pulling down my skirt while straightening myself up. Upon sitting upright, I checked my head, sliding my fingers over the painful small lump forming on the back of my skull. Ouch. A steward rushed in my direction but someone else got to me first.

Dressed in black from head to toe, the approaching man reached me with a swift grace and leaned over me. Definitely eye candy. Mid thirties, tousled brown hair, and a light stubble on his jaw. He was sporting a rugged sophistication typical of publicity shots for Gentlemen’s Quarterly magazine.

"Are you hurt, Miss?" He frowned with an unusual pair of green eyes.

"No, I don't think so, but I think someone may have robbed me. I caught him hovering over my purse for a second but he ran out when I called after him.”

He studied me from top to bottom, like a doctor assessing a patient for injuries. Satisfied with his findings, his frown morphed into another kind of expression. This one had nothing professional about it. A slow grin eased his well-defined jaw, a hint of the mischievous nature hiding behind his features. I could have sworn that he was giving me a quick overall glance as if assessing my figure!

The man certainly had an imposing presence. Measuring, I’d say, six foot one, with a lean but athletic build, he gave a commanding presence despite the laid-back attitude he had first shown. Not what one would call a beefcake, but he sure exhibited an aura of strength and determination. The easiness with which he could shift from a devil-may-care feline grace to a calculating predator disconcerted me. My primal instincts warmed me against his magnetic animal charm. I hated to admit it, but I was ill equipped to deal with such a potent combination.

Did you see what he looked like? Which way did he go?” he asked, his attitude now turned all businesslike.

Gray trench coat, baseball cap and a bandana over his nose. He ran off toward the exits before I could stop him,” I said.

The handsome man turned and scanned the area, but it was already too late. Likely, the mystery man with the bandana must be far away by now.

Here, let me help you...Miss?” He bent, handing me with precise dexterity all the items from my purse that had flown down on the floor.

Ellington, Mara Ellington.” With haste, I stuffed the items back into my purse. When he handed me my wallet, I opened every section to take an inventory.

Anything missing?” A brief look of concern creased his brow.

By this time, a security officer was arriving in my direction while an army of other ones where bringing order back on Platform No.1.

I frowned, closing my wallet. No, there is nothing missing.”

Now, I should have been relieved, but I was not. This incident was beyond strange. Someone must have pushed me down. This couldn’t be an accident. But if it was not to rob me, what was this about? I scanned the crowd in case I spotted the man I thought was running away, but it was in vain. There wastoo much commotion with the chaos going on in the next platform and whoever he was, he must have used the disruption to disappear quickly.

Did you see the man running away from me?”

No, I'm sorry, I was busy helping the team of security agents by Platform No.1.”

What happened over there?” I pointed my chin in that direction.

It’s still under investigation, but it looks like someone threw a tear gas bomb.”

He leaned over, offering me help to get up. His large hands were strong and sure, but the contact of his skin shot a flash of tingling electricity through me. He lifted me without the least bit of effort although my legs were still unsteady. His tall and solid frame exceeded my height by a good six inches.

He ran his right hand along the back of my head. Maybe you should have yourself check out by the paramedics over there.” He jutted his head toward Platform No. 1. You might have a concussion.”

His proximity sped my heart rate and flushed me with erratic heat waves followed by cold sweats. Let's stay calm, I reminded myself.

No. I think I’ll be fine.”

Well, have a safe trip, miss,” he said, extending his hand. His eyes bore into mine as if he was looking for something. Under different circumstances, I might have looked for an 

excuse to prolong the conversation, but I couldn’t find anything smart to say as my mind remained still half dumb from my fall.

I stared at his outstretched hand and mumbled a stupid Thanks for your help, sir.”

No problem, and stay out of trouble.” He winked, flashing me a killer smile before leaving to rejoin the team of security agents and police force busy with the nearby commotion. Because he wore no uniform, I gathered he wasn’t part of either group, but still his attitude hinted he might be someone working on official business here. That’s it. That’s what I should have asked him about, but it was too late; he was already out of ear shot.

Perhaps I was suffering from a distorted imagination because I had been half knocked out, but the moment his warm fingers left my hand, I almost missed their contact on my flesh for some inexplicable reason. I dismissed the fleeting sensation.

I must have been jittery from the accumulated stress built over these last few weeks. To start, three weeks ago my lifelong best friend and confidant, Josie, who was supposed to accompany me on this trip, had passed away as a result of a car accident. I felt responsible for her death because I’m the one who had been driving that fateful night. There was not a single day that passed since when I did not feel the snaking tightness of remorse. I didn’t want to go on this journey alone, feeling sorry for myself, but she made me promise, before she died, to go on with this trip as planned. I guess she thought it would give me time to get over another failed relationship and give me the occasion to travel.

Two months ago I had caught my boyfriend cheating on me. Could this get any worse? Josie always complained that as an air traffic controller, I insured the safety of thousands of airline passengers daily, but the irony is that I seldom traveled myself. At least, when I arrived at my final destination, I’d get to reunite with my globe trotter elder sister Sylvia whom I hadn’t seen for two years.

As I walked along the side of the train glancing through its windows, I noticed that almost everyone had already boarded. Most travellers were darting looks toward Platform No.1 as disorder still reigned in the station. Like me, they must have been wondering if they would be asked to disembark and evacuate the train station.

A sophisticated socialite, in her sixties, judging by her Botox-filled face, readjusted her fox fur stole as she stepped out of the wagon-lit car. Poor animal; he hung from her shoulders like a flat roadkill. She had a quick word with the young steward, who was still waiting for me to go on board. She smiled with compassion in my direction. However, on reflection, her arched pencil traced eyebrows betrayed more a look of impatience as a tight calculated smile completed the studied poise. That was the cue for the steward to take a few steps in my direction.

I darted a last look at the handsome man who had helped me. He was busy discussing with what appeared to be a SWAT team who had arrived on the other platform. He was pointing at different members of the security team of the train as if giving them orders and directions. Now and then, he tilted his head to the side and touched his ear with his index finger to listen better to whoever was talking to him in his Bluetooth earpiece. During that time, the public announcement speaker called for the final boarding for the VSOE. The loud whistle of the train almost made me jump out of my skin. As if I wasn’t on edge enough, I leaped up with the sudden pressure release from the bottom of the car stationed beside me.

I had not boarded yet, and if I didn’t hurry, I’d miss the train. Get a grip, Mara, I chastised myself. To make matters worse, Mrs. Nosy Fox Stole” was now peering at me with full attention only a short distance away. No doubt she had seen my tumble. The young steward, supervising the boarding of the tardy passengers, slid another glance my way.

Miss, I have received the authorization by the train station security team to finalize the boarding. Please allow me to show you to your cabin,” said the young and eager steward.

As I reached my assigned seat situated in the Phoenix car, I remained perplexed about that teargas bomb. Since the train station was not evacuated, I would think it was because it must have been an isolated event. Perhaps even a prank. The gentleman with unforgettable green eyes was the platform about fifty feet away and turned at this moment in my direction, branding a permanent image in my memory.

"Welcome aboard, I hope youll enjoy your journey,” greeted the steward while helping me put my carry-on up on the luggage rack. His sharp royal blue uniform was trimmed with gold buttons and trimming. It even included a golden VSOE logo embroidered badge.

With a sigh, I half collapsed on the plush upholstered sofa and only admired the shiny polished intricate woodwork of the cabin’s cherry wood panels with mild interest. My nose detected a faint mixture of wood polishing wax and the delicate aroma of fresh-cut flowers from a dainty silver vase decorating a small folding table by the window. These elegant touches, aimed for the sophisticated travellers, should have enthralled or at least relaxed me, but I couldn’t appreciate the rich appointments of the fabled train and this magical moment because my thoughts kept drifting elsewhere.

What had happened on the platform before boarding? Shaking my head, it occurred to me that maybe I shouldn’t dwell too much on the incident and instead focus on the refined atmosphere of this compartment, straight out of the Golden Age of fine traveling. This made my unusual encounters appear rather absurd now even if I couldn’t dismiss it all together. Who was this stranger who had fled from me at the station? Why did his behavior seem so peculiar? Was this a rioter who had decided to go for a quick steal during the commotion on the platform? My thoughts replayed my meeting with the handsome man from the station on a non-stop loop. Like involuntary flashbacks assaulting my mind, I kept seeing his forest green eyes assessing me. His virile scent had stirred something strange in me. He had not worn a police or security officer uniform, but his tone had sounded business like and official when he said under investigation” and someone threw a tear gas bomb”. I assumed he worked with the official local authority or security agents.

I wouldn’t say the events on the platform left me uneasy and worried, because I don't do emotional. I always pride myself on being considered quite a level-headed person, a fast decision maker and a no nonsense kind of woman. At least, that’s what the guys say about me at the John F. Kennedy Airport control tower. Because I juggle over fifty aircrafts per hour in my designated space area, there is no room for sentimentality when I’m dealing with thousands of lives that depend on the efficiency and safety of my split-second decisions.

But then again, I had made the wrong decision that disastrous night a little over three weeks ago. That split second decision had cost my best childhood friend her life because of my fault. I would never forgive myself for offering to drive her fancy vintage Porsche for the first time. I didn’t want her to take the wheel. She had had too much to drink. Instead of calling a taxi, I had to be so helpful and take charge of the situation. That was until our encounter with an out of control ten wheeled truck. While I came out with nothing more than a few scratches and bruises, she died the following day from internal injuries and post-operative complications.

So here I was, miserable and gripped with an uncontrollable guilt over Josie’s death when I was supposed to be enjoying the trip of a lifetime with my best friend. I could only hope that my promise to go ahead with this journey gave her some measure of comfort.

Now, after my delayed flight, arriving in London’s Victoria station in the middle of a tear gas bomb attack and being thrown to the floor, I was even less enthused by the prospect of this journey.

I stepped out of my cabin to familiarize myself with the train. Strolling down the hallway, I crossed some of my fellow passengers milling about.

Their attires, from casual chic to downright eccentric, suggested they hailed from the middle to upper class of society. Most traveled in pairs except for Mrs. Nosy Fox Stole, who seemed to travel alone. The spitting image of an old movie star who had had too many facelifts. Acted like one too. I spotted a few couples of honeymooners or lovebirds who couldn't keep their eyes or hands off each other. I scanned the station from a window in the narrow wood paneled corridor, getting lost in the sight of the now returning usual hustle and bustle of the crowd moving in different directions to catch their own trains. A black spot in the back of the scenery on the other side of Platform No. 2 attracted my attention. Against my better judgment, I focused on the dark-clad figure in the distance.

The train departed with a smooth but slow start. As we began to roll out of the station, I spotted Mr. Jungle eyes through the windowhis eyes indeed had a fascinating leafy green iridescence about them. He was in deep discussion with two police officers. He was touching his ear piece again to hear better since the station was noisy at this time of day. He pointed toward this train. The security staff turned to face my carriage. No, that's not it. They were looking ... at me. Why? I wish I had asked him his name. In hindsight, his attitude had seemed official, even if laid-back.

So what if this trip was off to a bad start? As we rolled out of the station, I was almost positive that my inauspicious start wouldn’t be the preview for the rest of trip. It might even turn out to be something funny to write about. I returned to my cabin and pulled my spring bound travel journal out of my carry-on and laid it on the seat beside me but left it there as I lacked inspiration to record my rocky start. My heart and eyes filled with a surge of sadness. It was a gift from Josie along with the Chanel purse she had given me on my last birthday in view of this trip. The metallic sound of the rolling wheels on the tracks gradually increased their rhythm. On Platform No. 1, now a fair distance away from my window, things appeared to have settled. The paramedics still helped a few people. I gathered that it was not some kind of major terrorist attack. Otherwise, I they would have surely evacuated the station. Still, had I not been afraid to miss my train, I would have liked to have gone there and offer help to the dozens of people who had been indisposed by the gas.

I reverted my eyes to the journal on the seat with its antique world map on the cover. Oh, Josie. My mind returned to that intensive care room three weeks ago.

***

"Mara, don’t you cancel the trip; it doesn’t make sense." Josie inhaled another ragged breath through her nasal tube. I know the trip was my idea, but I really think you need to go on with our plan, now more than ever. Just imagine that I'll be there with you. Do it for me, Mara. Please.”

She had every type of tube coming in and out of her; oxygen tube, a drainage tube, a catheter, several intravenous lines, along with a cardiac monitor. She had sustained major internal injuries, and the prognosis was poor.

"Josie, come on. That’s ridiculous. I won't enjoy the trip if I'm mourn— if you're not there. You know me. I'm into planes and modernity, not slow trains crowded with fans of Agatha Christie novels."

"Listen, Mara, there is nothing much I can do at this point except think”—she paused for a moment to catch her breath— “and I think you need to take this trip. Can’t explain it, but you know what they say? It's not the destination that counts; it’s the journey.”

Josie was always good at manipulating me, and she managed to do it again despite being shattered by the accident.

"Ok. Ok. I'll do it,” I relented, defeated.

"You'd better. Now get out of here and start packing. I’ll phone you tonight,” she promised. She never called, but her mother did, with the heart-breaking news.

***

The outskirts of London were blurry when I realized I had been crying. Josie had been like a sister to me. Better than a sister, in fact. As a result of being eight years older, my sister Sylvia was hardly ever home when I was a kid. As soon as she graduated from college, she left to travel around the world, chasing scoops as a foreign correspondent for a well known TV news channel.

Josie, bless her soul, had helped me through thick and thin. She’d been my rock through the trials of adolescence and later with the challenges and perks of facing adulthood. Being a loner, I did not easily make friends so now that she was gone, who would I turn to?

My recent bad luck with my last relationship was a fiasco I had not foreseen. But then again, whenever I ended up being attracted to a man, either I had misread their intention or I was told I was too independent, which left me wondering what I did wrong. Repeatedly.

I took out my pocket edition of Murder on the Orient-Express by Agatha Christie. I had started to read it earlier on the plane. This was another promise I'd made to Josie after much pestering on her part. She was such a fan of the classic Who done it’ book. I seldom had the patience to be at the mercy of authors who tease their captive readers into a guessing game until the last page.

But unlike me, Josie devoured those fiction pieces with an insatiable appetite. Actually, the whole trip idea had revolved around her love for this murder mystery novel. Ok, I'll admit it, I was also now curious to know what all the fuss was about.

***

During this time at Victoria station, Drake Steinfield, an FBI Counter-terrorist special agent working in association with Interpol, was in a heated phone discussion with his colleague and friend, Agent Jeff Thornhill. The latter worked at the Headquarters of Operations, an FBI International Office Division in New York.

"No, I’m still waiting for London’s forensics to analyze the tear gas grenade for fingerprints, but there is something else. Someone on Platform No. 2 may have deliberately thrown a woman on the ground to make it look like a robbery. She confirmed that none of her personal items were missing. The man was already too far away for me to attempt a pursuit, but something’s not adding up here.”

You could have delegated,” said Jeff.

No. I didn’t have time with the incident taking place on the next platform. Maybe it’s just a hunch, but could you get me a profile ASAP. Mara Ellington, about 27 years old, Caucasian. Likely unmarried. Educated, American accent. Booked Sleeping Car No. 3504; I got confirmation from the train master. I need maximum info on this passenger.”

Where is she heading?” asked Jeff.

Paris, Gare du Nord and Gare de l'Est. Notify the authorities along that route too. Increase security levels in both train stations. Ok, talk to you later," Drake said before hanging up.

He ran a nervous hand through his dark walnut colored hair, exasperated. He'd been planning this mission for eight months, and there was no excuse for any glitch to happen. But regardless of all the precautions Drake had taken since he’d been following the notorious Al-Qaeda Islamic extremist and his web of followers, the criminal escaped his vigilance. When will we nail this man and bring him to justice? In addition to being on top of the list of the most wanted terrorists in Europe and the United States, he kept evading his traps, despite the most elaborated plans to dismantle his organization. This failure to bring down Omar Ahmed Rachid had, in Drake’s eyes, discredited his other accomplishments as far as his other terrorist captures. The notorious man was his target, and he had managed, yet again, to slip right through his fingers.

Drake counted on this mission to advance his career and stop the activities of this criminal. How many lives were still in danger because he had failed to catch him? He didn't know if he was more angry at the elusive terrorist or at himself for losing his best chance to neutralize one of the most vicious leaders of an extremist Al Queda branch.

There was something amiss with this botched mission at Victoria Station, but a tear gas grenade and no bomb? That didn’t make sense unless his usual source had been wrong about Rachid intending to make his attack in this Station. He would not dwell on the twisted mind of Rachid, who was likely finding the irony of the situation more than amusing.

Rachid, as usual, ran a well-oiled organization. Drake’s instinct was telling him the tear gas grenade was just a diversion, but to what? The authorities still combed Victoria station in case he had left any bombing devices that had not yet been found. But then again, the eel was an astute plotter who liked to innovate with the way he conducted his attacks. But why the sloppy job this time? It made little sense.

His thoughts reverted to the petite strawberry blonde damsel in distress he had helped at the station. Her whole story about a clumsy tourist or a mugger who stole nothing from her remained in the back of his mind, making him uneasy. Ok, he had felt a strange connection when he helped her up. Despite her obvious embarrassment, she had an air of confidence, and he had not been immune to her large blue-gray eyes and cute freckles. But still, that whole incident with her fall was drilling in the back of his head like a dentists tool.

Come on, Steinfield, don’t let a nice pair of legs and a hazy duo of striking liquid sapphires distract you, he scolded himself. When she stared at him with trusting eyes, his usual solid emotional guards had quivered for a fleeting moment. Maybe his problem was that he hadn't been around women for a while.

His last casual affair had ended over a year ago when he’d been on an extended mission in Syria. It finished on a sour note. He had no right to complain. Jamila had been kindhearted and accommodating, although he’d never made her promises regarding a serious relationship. Commitment never mixed well with the erratic lifestyle he led. What kind of woman would be interested in someone who seldom spent more than a few weeks in the same place? Most of his relationships never survived his constant traveling and unpredictable schedule. On the rare occasion that the lady was willing to stick around, he’d taken matters into his hands. Better to cut her loose to avoid useless suffering on her part. Her part, he repeated to make sure he didn’t confuse as to whose benefit the break-ups were intended for. This was the life he chose, with all its perks and drawbacks. But with ten years behind him as a special agent, he wasn't positive this lifestyle excited him anymore. He used to get off on the next chance to catch and destroy criminal organizations before they could do any damage. He’d vied for the occasion to nail his enemy, the man involved in the destruction of his family, once and for all.

With hindsight, he concluded that out of these ten years on the Counter-terrorist Force, he’d spent six living for the perfect opportunity to ferret out Rachid. But once he’d caught him, what would he do afterward? He was not ready to admit that past that point, he had given little thought about what he wanted to do. However, lately, he’d surprised himself envying his colleague Jeff’s life. The latter, on more than one occasion, bragged about the joy his family brought him. In response, most of the time, Drake made a smart remark about his friend’s too tamed lifestyle. But these past few months, for some inexplicable reason, his mind kept reverting to his partner’s often blissful facial expression whenever he talked about his wife and kids.

There was no point pounding on that question as long as his nemesis was alive and running free. 



Book Trailer 







Caroline Beauregard (1964-) was born in Montreal, Quebec. After her nursing degree, she obtained a Bachelor in Anthropology, an MA in Medieval studies, another MA in History of Arts before continuing on to do Phd level courses in History and Comparative literature. She has over 35 years of experience as has a Health Care Professional in geriatrics and works as Health and Wellness Manager in a Senior Residence. A seasoned travel, she loves to write about her trips in her travel journals. Express Pursuit, a romantic thriller, is her debut novel. She lives in Montreal with her husband and two Siamese cats. 






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Nightmasters Blitz



Doubles Talk Book 1

General Fantasy

Date Published: June 30

Publisher: Acorn Publishing

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Kelgan Defthand is used to being top dog at the Academy of Magic where he is Senior Apprentice Mage. Compared to his peers, he’s faster, more skillful, and well aware of it, but when he finds himself beset by fearful voices that come in the night, his confidence is shaken.

Adding to his worries, Kelgan is summoned to the headmaster, Sargal’s presence; it looks like he’s really in trouble. But to his bewilderment, he finds he’s being sent on a “mission” with two very hostile-seeming aristocratic twins, Neroma and Nevander Di Nerrill.

Upon embarking on this mission with the twins, Kelgan soon realizes the world outside the cloistered Academy is a bit different than he imagined. First of all, there seems to be women doing magic! Secondly, he’s not the only one hearing voices.

Following a strange compulsion, Kelgan and the Di Nerrills find themselves seeking out the source of the voices, hoping to put an end to it.

The fateful journey tests Kelgan’s underdeveloped skills to the limit, and could come at an unbearable cost to both to him and his companions. Once Kelgan accepts the challenge of Magehood, there’s no going back.


Excerpt 


The work went swiftly. Two flame-throwers—in spite of the concerned voices, Ezrael insisted on being one of the carriers. “Cain’t do better, I jes’ stand and let ’er rip.”

And two drones. Cal looked far from satisfied, but Kelgan assured him they would work for recon, as well as something else. He refused to explain the something.

“Crows, you want to use crows?”

“They’re smart, and I’ve placed a homing spell on them.”

“What’s the plan?”

“Don’t have one.”

Cal groaned. “It’s going to be like the tavern owner. We just walk in and say, ‘We’re back to save the world.’”

“Yep.”

O

Cal shook his head in wonder. “They even shook our hands.”

Kelgan repressed a giggle. “Just a touch of persuasion.”

“You spelled them.”

“As I said, just a touch.”

“I keep forgetting you’re not me.”

Kelgan eyed him quizzically. “That was an ‘interesting’ thing to say.”

Cal shifted his feet, looking uncomfortable. “Let’s get busy.”

Laden with their hastily assembled equipment, they rejoined the rest of the group, who paid them no attention. So busy with their toys, the two had completely missed the combined outward gaze of the others. Turning their heads, they followed the line of sight and drew in simultaneous breaths. The enemy, who had evidently watched all, was well ahead of them. The red-and-black army stood at the ready—seeming to number in the thousands. Knowing that could simply be illusion did not reassure them. At the forefront hovered the sorcerers, wearing robes that trailed off behind them into mist and gave them the appearance of black thunderclouds. Kelgan was sure that was no illusion.

“Uh,” he said stupidly.

Only Neroma responded, swinging her head in their direction just a bit. “They wait.”

The fur of her voice blanketed him for a moment, leaving him short of breath.

He shook his head to clear it, saying, “Well, let’s not disappoint them.”

Without another word, he directed a concentrated blast of energy to the first rows of the army. Those turned out to be real, at least, as they transmogrified into twinkling atoms, which then fell like raindrops onto the now-scorched earth.

A gasp arose from the facing soldiers. For a moment, they quailed visibly. The brief flash of triumph Kelgan allowed himself was cut short by the nearly instantaneous return blast from the younger sorcerer.

Even aided by Neroma and Nevander, Kelgan barely managed to divert the energy back onto the facing army, thereby taking out another two or three rows.

No time to be cocky, he thought, that was nearly fatal.

He fired off another blast. This time the opposition was ready—as one, the soldiers dropped to their knees, and the energy sailed over their heads to knock off a corner of the gloomy castle.

However, they failed to notice Cal, who was now in command of his deadly flamethrower. A low charge, directed just above the ground, caught the red-and-blackers by another unpleasant surprise. Closing his eyes to the charred corpses that now littered the ground, he paused only when he had to refuel.

Too easy, again, too easy, too easy, beat in Kelgan’s head like a drum solo. He glanced behind him. Ez was slumped over the now empty goat-cart, and Teri was staring in horror at the now empty uniform of her sister, Cenci.


 About the Author

Recently retired from a job as a university professor, and looking for a diversion in sunny Southern California, Loran Holt did what any Southern California does – took up writing, of course. Feeling that sword and sorcery fitted her personality admirably, she set her sights on that genre. Nightmasters is the result, and her first work of published fiction, but she is already the published author of two books on the Silent Film era, with a third on the way. Recently

 

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