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Archive for September, 2015

Stone Cold Case

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Stone Cold Case (Rock Shop Mystery – 2) by Catherine Dilts

5 stars

(Excerpt from Goodreads) Rock shop owner Morgan Iverson’s discovery of human remains reopens a cold case and unhealed wounds in a Colorado mountain town, while her find of a rare gemstone sparks a dangerous treasure hunt.

Fifteen years ago, prom queen Carlee Kruger vanished. When Carlee’s mother asks Morgan to investigate her death, the clues seem as convoluted as the coils on a fossilized ammonite. The local newspaper editor joins the hunt to uncover the past, while the rock shop’s mascot donkeys and an elderly cowboy chase after a Sasquatch look-alike. Whoever knows what happened to Carlee will do anything to keep the truth buried.

While on a field trip to learn more about geology, Morgan stumbles upon a skeleton guarded by a strange Mountain Man. This body leads to a cold case two years ago when a high school girl, Carlee disappears. Morgan is asked to look into Carlee’s murder by her mother. But this is not the only strange things going on. There is also a hunt for Sasquatch and a Mountain Man terrorizing the town. It also seems that those that have a connection to Carlee’s disappearance are finding themselves in perilous situations.

I really like cozy mysteries and Stone Cold Case is no exception. Morgan is a great lead character that you can’t help but like and you can’t help but like her after her brother dumps the rock shop on her and leaves the country. I loved Golden Springs. It’s a small town with the usual small town crowd and politics.

The story was great, there were a lot of things going on so I was a little lost at the beginning but it all came together beautifully at the end. I have to say that the touch of romance added to the story.

Although this is the second book in the series, you can easily read it as a stand-alone. If you like mysteries, look no further. The Rock Shop Mystery series is one that you have to check out.

To purchase Stone Cold Case, or for more information on the Rock Shop Mystery series, make sure to check out Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, and Catherine Dilt’s website.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Witches Protection Program Virtual Book Tour Banner

Witches Protection Program by Michael Phillip Cash

 

Paperback: 238 pages

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (May 14, 2015)

ISBN-10: 1511411341

ISBN-13: 978-1511411349

SYNOPSIS:

Wes Rockville, a disgraced law enforcement agent, is given one last chance to prove himself and save his career when he’s reassigned to a 232 year old secret government organization. The Witches Protection Program. His first assignment: uncover a billion-dollar cosmetics company’s diabolical plan of using witchcraft for global domination, while protecting its heiress Morgan Pendragon from her aunt’s evil deeds.

Reluctantly paired with veteran witch protector, Alastair Verne, Wes must learn to believe in both witches and himself. Filled with adventure, suspense and a rousing good time, Michael Phillip Cash creates a tongue-in-cheek alternate reality where witches cast spells and wreak havoc in modern day New York City.

WHAT READERS ARE SAYING ABOUT “WITCHES PROTECTION PROGRAM”

“Badges and broomsticks collide in ‘Witches Protection Program’, a fast-paced, lighthearted piece of crime fiction with a supernatural twist from screenwriter and novelist Michael Phillip Cash…With its lively characters, quickly moving plot, and amusing dialogue, ‘Witches Protection Program’ is a great summer choice, ideal for beach or poolside reading, and with elements of romance, action, crime, and fantasy, there’s a little something for everyone to enjoy.” – Foreword Reviews

“Wes is a fascinating protagonist…The short, action-laden novel speeds past nuances from developing characters’ relationships, but Cash does leave room for a couple of surprises. The story’s case is more or less wrapped up by the end, with a lingering impression that this could be the first of many to come…Cleverly offbeat, often cheeky, and loads of fun.” – Kirkus Reviews

PURCHASE LINKS:

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Michael Phillip Cash is an award-winning screenwriter and novelist. He’s written ten books including the best-selling Brood X, Stillwell, The Flip, The After House, The Hanging Tree, Witches Protection Program, Pokergeist and Battle for Darracia series.

Michael resides on the North Shore of Long Island. He writes full-time with his screaming kids in the background.

CONNECT WITH THE AUTHOR:

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Time & Fate

 

 

Purchase on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1glZrMX

Maya has barely returned home from India before she is off again to Eastern Europe to hunt a demon serial killer. With her powers growing stronger, Maya must learn to how to handle them and to truly accept herself.

When danger develops for Nik and his father, Maya must find a way to protect them. There is unrest in the underworld and the people responsible are those that Maya never expected. (or – The underworld is in the middle of a civil war and those responsible for the unrest are those that Maya never expected.)

Saving the world is something that Maya isn’t fully prepared for.

 

Haven’t started the Hand of Kali Series yet?

Purchase on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1J7rZQY

Normal people sneak out to a party and have fun. Maya Rao ends the evening by incinerating the guy who attacks her.

Nik Lucas, sexy, new in town and totally forbidden, happens to walk in on her. Normal guys would run for the hills. Nik knows a whole lot more than he’s telling.
Maya doesn’t believe the gods are real, doesn’t waste her time with mere mythology. But when gods, goddesses, demons and hellhounds become the new normal and wielding the fire of the goddess Kali becomes her new skill, she must decide what it is she really believes.

Can Maya accept that normal is something she will never be because it isn’t normal to be …
The Hand of Kali.

About T.G. Ayer

Website Facebook Twitter

I have been a writer since I was old enough to recognize that reading was a doorway into my imagination. Books were my best friends, my escape, my haven. I am essentially a recluse and am blessed with a husband who has left me for golf. It’s a fair trade as I have left him for writing. We are both passionate supporters of each others loves – it works wonderfully…

My heart is currently broken in two. One half resides in South Africa where my old roots still remain, and my heart still longs for the endless beaches and the smell of moist soil after a summer downpour. The other half of me has been transplanted to the island of New Zealand. A land of green, pure beauty that truly inspires. And because I am so torn between these two lands – I shall forever remain crosseyed.

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Spinner

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Spinner by Michael J. Bowler

(Excerpt from Goodreads) Fifteen-year-old Alex is a “spinner.” His friends are “dummies.” Two clandestine groups of humans want his power. And an ancient evil is stalking him. If people weren’t being murdered, Alex might laugh at how his life turned into a horror movie overnight.

In a wheelchair since birth, his freakish ability has gotten him kicked out of ten foster homes since the age of four. Now saddled with a sadistic housemother who uses his spinning to heal the kids she physically abuses, Alex and his misfit group of learning disabled classmates are the only ones who can solve the mystery of his birth before more people meet a gruesome end.

They need to find out who murdered their beloved teacher, and why the hot young substitute acts like she’s flirting with them. Then there’s the mysterious medallion that seems to have unleashed something malevolent, and an ancient prophecy suggesting Alex has the power to destroy humanity.

The boys break into homes, dig up graves, elude kidnappers, fight for their lives against feral cats, and ultimately confront an evil as old as humankind. Friendships are tested, secrets uncovered, love spoken, and destiny revealed.

The kid who’s always been a loner will finally learn the value of friends, family, and loyalty.

If he survives…

Michael J Bowler Author

Michael J. Bowler

Michael J. Bowler is an award-winning author of eight novels––A Boy and His Dragon, A Matter of Time (Silver Medalist from Reader’s Favorite), and The Knight Cycle, comprised of five books: Children of the Knight (Gold Award Winner in the Wishing Shelf Book Awards), Running Through A Dark Place, There Is No Fear, And The Children Shall Lead, Once Upon A Time In America, and Spinner.

He grew up in San Rafael, California, and majored in English and Theatre at Santa Clara University. He went on to earn a master’s in film production from Loyola Marymount University, a teaching credential in English from LMU, and another master’s in Special Education from Cal State University Dominguez Hills.

He acted as producer, writer, and/or director on several ultra-low-budget horror films, including “Fatal Images,” “Club Dead,” and “Things II.”

He taught high school in Hawthorne, California for twenty-five years, both in general education and to students with learning disabilities, in subjects ranging from English and Strength Training to Algebra, Biology, and Yearbook.

He has also been a volunteer Big Brother to eight different boys with the Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters program and a thirty-year volunteer within the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles.

He has been honored as Probation Volunteer of the Year, YMCA Volunteer of the Year, California Big Brother of the Year, and 2000 National Big Brother of the Year. The “National” honor allowed him and three of his Little Brothers to visit the White House and meet the president in the Oval Office.

He is currently working on a sequel to Spinner.His goal as a YA author is for teens to experience empowerment and hope; to see themselves in his diverse characters; to read about kids who face real-life challenges; and to see how kids like them can remain decent people in an indecent world.

* Spinner won Honorable Mention in Young Adult Books of 2015 from the San Francisco Book Festival.

spinner bannerReview

5 stars

Alex is a foster kid that had been through ten foster homes. He is currently stuck in one with an abusive foster mother. The worst part is that he is a spinner, which means he has the ability to heal and his foster mother knows it. She forces Alex to heal the beatings that she hands out to the other kids.

School is not any better. Because he is in a wheelchair he is considered special needs and is put in the special needs class. That in itself leads to bullying and abuse from fellow students. But things get weird when his teacher is murdered and there is something wrong with the substitute teacher.

Things start getting exciting when an ancient evil is awakened and it is up to Alex and his friends to stop it. They are going to have lots of adventures and thrills before this is over. Alex is also going to learn more about his past and why everyone is after him.

This is a great story. Alex and his friends are not your typical heroes but they are the right people to prevent evil from taking over. I felt so bad for Alex, he is in such a crappy situation. I loved all the dummies. They knew what they had to do and no matter the challenges they kept fighting.

Spinner is a great young adult story that everyone will like. It’s a great story for those that face bullying and can encourage those that are not popular to embrace this. Spinner is a book for any age.

To purchase Spinner, or for more information, make sure to check out Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, and Michael J. Bowler’s website.

TourButtonI received this book for free from Sage’s Blog Tours in exchange for an honest review.

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On the Hillwilla Road

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On the Hillwilla Road by Melanie Forde

5 stars

(Excerpt from Goodreads) In Hillwilla, Beatrice Desmond, a former Bostonian Ivy Leaguer, found herself in midlife on a llama farm in remote West Virginia. Clara Buckhalter, a troubled young girl, drew Beatrice out of her lonely existence. Now, Clara attends a different school at Beatrice’s urging, and finds herself involved with two new friends who are confusing and intimidating yet caring. Beatrice’s tantalizing friendship and romance with the dashing, wealthy, and extremely handsome Tanner Fordyce discover new and deeper connections—though they continue to spar and infuriate each other. And Beatrice’s farm—replete with temperamental llamas; Ralph, her loyal English setter; and the occasional wild critter—further serves as an oasis of refuge and healing. This sequel explores how such disparate individuals can grow to need and depend on one another, even as Beatrice finds herself confronted with a new, life-altering choice.

Beatrice has grown accustomed to Clara living with her, for the most part. She is very unsure of herself and constantly frets that she is not a good role model for Clara. Clara is now attending school at Marlboro Academy for Girls and is unsure of the new people around her that seem to have an air of money. If that was not enough to keep Clara uneasy then her family trouble are not going to help.

Clara’s mother is uprooted after her step-father is arrested. Then there is her father, Mike that has a new girlfriend and is ready to start a family. Clara’s other family members try to make her feel at home with Thanksgiving and Christmas but then there is a rift between them and Beatrice. That old blood is still having trouble accepting Beatrice even after she continually proves herself to them. But things are going to get tougher for both Beatrice and Clara, thankfully they have each others.

I loved Hillwilla, Beatrice, and Clara. I couldn’t wait to read On the Hillwilla Road. Beatrice is still considered and outsider and is trying to find ground without offending the locals. Clara is trying to find her way and is so confused. But she is a great kid and you can’t help but encourage her. I really like how Beatrice and Tanner are getting closer; I just wanted to slap both of them at times for being so dense and difficult.

This is a great story and follow up to Hillwilla. Make sure to check it out.

To purchase On the Hillwilla Road, or for more information on the series, make sure to check out Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, and Melanie Forde’s website.

I received On the Hillwilla Road for free from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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HALO: Last Light

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HALO: Last Light

It is 2553, and the three-decade long Covenant War that defined a generation has suddenly drawn to a close. Yet, in the remotest parts of human space, tensions remain that threaten to overflow into another full-scale conflict. Beneath the surface of the planet Gao lies a vast cavern system renowned for its therapeutic effects and rumored miraculous cures. But now Gao natives are turning up brutally murdered down there—violent acts that happen to coincide with the recent arrival of a UNSC research battalion protected by Spartan Blue Team, led by the renowned Spartan-II Fred-104.

Maverick detective Veta Lopis of the Gao Ministry of Protection is only trying to do her job as the Special Inspector assigned to catch a serial killer—one who is possibly hiding within the Spartan ranks—but she never anticipates the situation spiraling out of control into an all-out crisis. When Gao is revealed to harbor ancient Forerunner technology that could solidify the UNSC’s military supremacy for centuries to come, Insurrection loyalists within the planetary government will do anything—even align with a vicious faction of what remains of the Covenant—to ensure that never happens…

Troy Denning

Author

Troy Denning is the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Tatooine Ghost and Star Wars: The New Jedi Order: Star by Star, as well as Waterdeep, Pages of Pain, Beyond the High Road, The Summoning, and many other novels. A former game designer and editor, he lives with his wife in Wisconsin.

Excerpt

Chapter 12

0832 hours, July 2, 2553 (military calendar)

Crime Scene Charlie, 104 meters belowground,

Montero Cave System,

Campos Wilderness District, Planet Gao, Cordoba System

Special Inspector Veta Lopis had been raised to hate and fear everything about the United Nations Space Command, from its sheer might and criminal war practices to the murderous thugs it called Spartans. So it was only natural to assume that the serial killer stalking the Montero Cave System might be one of the power-armored hulks riding through the darkness with her now. Certainly, the MO fit: the victims had all sustained injuries consistent with a large, mechanically enhanced attacker—injuries such as crushed bones and disjoined limbs, ruptured organs and collapsed skulls.

But good investigators did not let their personal bias influence their thinking. They gathered evidence and weighed facts, and they let the theory of the crime build itself.

So Veta would do what she always did. She would study the victims and establish a timeline for all eight murders, then check it against the known locations of everyone in her suspect pool. She would catalog the weaknesses and habits of the remaining subjects and use that knowledge to put pressure on the perpetrator. Most of all, she would be patient and persistent, and she would keep pushing until the killer revealed himself.

And if that killer turned out to be a towering Spartan in four hundred kilos of Mjolnir armor, Veta would do what she always did.

She would take him down.

The cavern floor began to descend more steeply, then the whine of the electric engines deepened as the rubber-tired Tunnel Weasel changed gears to keep from picking up speed. A moment later, the little tram entered a broad gallery illuminated by the platinum glow of work lamps. Like the rest of Montero Cave System, the gallery was hot, humid, and filled with mineral vapors, but its beautiful flowstone walls were bathed in a cold blue light that made them resemble frozen waterfalls.

As the Tunnel Weasel came to a stop, a trio of UNSC marines in black BDUs emerged from the shadows and approached. They exchanged salutes with a UNSC major seated next to Veta, then an older marine with bushy gray brows stepped forward to report.

“Area secure, Major.”

“Thank you, Sergeant.” The slender officer at Veta’s side was Ira Halal, a black-haired, blue-eyed major sent by the UNSC Judge Advocate General’s Corps to help investigate the murders. So far, he struck Veta as dedicated, intelligent, and reluctant to cooperate. “Any unexpected visitors?”

“Sir, none that we detected.” The sergeant glanced around the perimeter of the gallery, then added, “But the conditions down here wreak havoc with our motion sensors, and twenty-two pas- sages open into this gallery. We couldn’t watch them all every minute.”

Halal nodded. “Of course not,” he said. “It was a long shot, anyway. I don’t think this UNSUB is likely to return to the scene.”

The sergeant frowned. “UNSUB, sir?”

“Unknown Subject of Investigation,” Veta clarified. She stepped out of the passenger compartment. “And I want to check those passages, Major.”

Halal turned to her. “To what purpose?”

“To look for evidence, of course.” Veta paused, reminding herself to play nice, then added, “I like to be thorough.”

Halal did not quite roll his eyes. “Our resources are limited, Inspector Lopis—and so is our time. I suggest we focus on the crime scene and not waste our assets chasing phantoms.”

“I don’t chase phantoms, Major Halal.” Veta stepped close. “I catch killers. Quite a lot of them, actually.”

Halal held her gaze a moment, then smirked. “As you wish, Inspector. We’ll do this your way.”

He ordered the marines back to their posts, then turned toward the Tunnel Weasel, where Veta’s four-member field team was unloading equipment from the third car. On the side of the car, the image of a stylized tree fern sprouted from the letters MVC— the logo of the Montero Vitality Center, from which the UNSC had commandeered the tram.

Watching over Veta’s team were three Spartans in their famous Mjolnir armor. With their blocky helmets and titanium-alloy outer shells, the trio looked more like war robots than human beings— and from what Veta had read about their exploits in the public record, that might be close to the truth. There hadn’t been enough detail for her profiler to suggest how their personalities might have been impacted by such a steady diet of fierce combat, but Veta suspected it wouldn’t be good.

Halal fixed his gaze on the Spartan leader. “Lieutenant, have one of your Spartans secure the adjoining passages and report any evidence of observation—”

“Actually, my team will be inspecting the passages,” Veta interrupted. Whether Halal was trying to hide something or simply did not realize how often serial killers returned to the scene, she could not say. But either way, she was not about to trust any part of the investigation to him or the UNSC. “You’re welcome to send an observer, if you like.”

“Inspector Lopis, these caverns are under military control,” Halal said. “And Spartans are well-trained observers.”

“But they’re not homicide investigators,” Veta said. “And military control didn’t stop our killer from murdering at least eight people down here. Since those people happen to be Gao citizens and these caves happen to be located on Gao, their murders fall under the jurisdiction of the Gao Ministry of Protection—which makes this my investigation.”

Veta paused for emphasis, then continued, “As I said, Major, you’re welcome to send an observer.”

Halal sighed. “We’ll send a guard.” He did not even bother to look at Veta as he spoke. “The last thing I need is to lose someone from your team, too.”

“Too?” Veta asked. “Has the UNSC been losing people?” “That’s not what I meant,” Halal said quickly. “It’s just procedure, in case the UNSUB is trying to keep an eye on the investigation.”

“You just told the sergeant that you didn’t think our UNSUB was likely to return to the scene.”

Halal shrugged. “I could be wrong.” He turned away, as though intent on watching Veta’s team unload their gear. “As I said, it’s just procedure.”

Halal was lying, of course, and it seemed to Veta that he was worried about something even more dangerous than their UNSUB. But she could not imagine what that might be. The Montero Cave System was the most-visited natural wonder on Gao, a vast labyrinth of interconnected caverns spread beneath a thou- sand square kilometers of jungle. It had an untold number of access points, including thirty-eight major entrances operated by villages and private spas, and until the killings began, thousands of tourists had entered the caverns each month without encountering anything more hostile than a flight of irritated saurios.

It would have been easy to blame the UNSC and look no further, but the truth was that strange things had been happening in the Montero region for a while. Two and a half months ago, a rare temblor had shaken the entire region, leveling two villages and damaging several spas. Shortly afterward, tourists began to emerge from the caverns miraculously cured of lifelong ailments and terminal illnesses. The newsmongers quickly substantiated the claims, and sick people began to flood into the caves hoping for their own miracles.

Then, a month after the quake, a UNSC task force entered the Cordoba Star System and “requested” permission to conduct research in the caverns. The common assumption was that ONI— the UNSC’s notorious Office of Naval Intelligence—wanted to investigate the miracle cures. Gao’s anti-centralization government denied the request. The task force insisted, and after a tense negotiation, President Aponte reluctantly granted permission to land a small research team.

The “small” team turned into an entire battalion, which promptly occupied the region’s most elegant spa and declared the entire cave system off-limits to everyone else. Predictably, the order inflamed Gao’s fiercely independent citizens, and local guides began to sneak people into the caverns via hundreds of unmapped entrances. For a couple of weeks, the two sides pretended to ignore each other.

Then tourists began to go missing or turn up dead. Suspicion quickly fell on the UNSC, and sales-hungry newsmongers began to press for a harsh response. President Aponte had no choice. He instructed the Ministry of Protection to investigate, then publicly ordered the UNSC to cooperate. To everyone’s surprise, the UNSC commander responded by proposing a joint inquiry.

That had been two days ago. Now, here Veta was, inspecting the first of a long chain of compromised crime scenes with a counterpart who seemed to take her for some ditz who could be intimidated by an air of assumed authority.

Veta stepped into Halal’s line of sight. “Don’t hold back on me, Major,” she said. “It’s a mistake. A serious one.”

Halal finally turned back to her. “Mistake, Inspector?” he asked. “As I recall, I’ve granted every request you’ve made.”

“They’re not requests,” Veta said. “And if you expect me to believe this is some kind of research battalion, you’re a fool. The UNSC is fighting something down here. And you’re so afraid of it that you brought a squad of Spartans to protect us.”

The Spartan leader stepped over to join them. “Ma’am, the 717th Xeno-Materials Exploitation Battalion is a research battalion.” His voice was crisp and deep, even over his helmet speaker. “But even scientific units can find themselves in combat. There are always enemies.”

Veta turned and craned her neck to look up at the Spartan. Standing well over two meters tall in his Mjolnir armor, he was distinguishable from his two female subordinates by the color of his pale blue armor and slightly bulkier shape. It would be difficult to read his reactions beneath all that equipment, but if he wastrying to cover for the UNSC—or even just Halal—Veta wanted to know why.

“Let me see if I have this straight,” she said. “The 717th is just an innocent research battalion that’s under attack . . . by what? Cave monsters?” She shook her head. “I’m sorry, but I just don’t believe that, Spartan . . . which one are you again?”

“Fred-104, ma’am. And I don’t particularly care what you believe.” He pointed toward her investigative team. “But it’s my job to protect your people, and I don’t want anyone killed on my watch. If you’ll point out who will be inspecting the passages, I’ll send an escort along to provide security.”

Veta stared up at him for a moment, trying to see through the glare on his faceplate so she could get a read on his expression, but it was no use. The reflective coating seemed designed to prevent anyone from seeing the human face inside a Spartan’s helmet.

After a moment, Veta waved her second-in-command over. “Senola, take a look into the passages around here. See if anyone has been keeping an eye on the crime scene.”

Senola glanced around the cavern perimeter. “Sure, boss.” A green-eyed matron with long blond hair tucked into the hood of her white coveralls, Senola Lurone was a Ministry of Protection veteran fifteen years Veta’s senior. “It might take a while.”

Veta shrugged. “It has to be done.” She let her gaze slide toward Fred. “And you’ll have an escort. Fred-104 here seems to think we could be attacked any moment.”

Senola held Veta’s eyes just long enough to confirm she had taken the hint, then asked, “Really?” She turned to the Spartan. “Who are you worried about, Fred? Maybe you think the Insurrection is starting up again?”

“That’s ridiculous,” Halal interjected. “Gao may have sided with the insurrectionists in the past, but the civil war is over— and no one is going to send a Spartan fireteam to stand garrison against a bunch of disobedient tourists.”

Veta had to give Halal credit. He had recognized Senola’s play and cut her off before she had a chance to put Fred off balance, and now Veta was left wondering whether the major had been trying to protect Fred or some other secret. Either way, it suggested Halal was here as much to manage the situation as he was to catch a killer, and that told her something about the UNSC’s worst fears.

It told her a lot.

Veta looked back to Senola. “Tell Cirilo to use spiders on this one, then go have a look at those passages. I’ll have the major show me around the crime scene.”

Senola confirmed the order with a nod, then Fred took her over to introduce her to the Spartan who would be escorting her.

“Your techs use spiders?” Halal asked, watching the pair depart.

“Trace evidence bots,” Veta explained. “They look like little spiders and crawl all over everything. By the time they’re finished, we’ll have a three-dimensional map of every fiber, skin cell, print, track, and speck of DNA in this place.”

“I see,” Halal said. “Very efficient.” “Not really.”

Veta wasn’t about to detail the technology’s weakness for anyone from the UNSC, but the spiders were expensive and slow. Each single-use pod cost more than her salary for a year, and a scene the size of this one could take a full week to process.

Fred returned and assumed a position behind Veta and Halal, and Halal led the way toward a pair of high-backed benches about twenty paces ahead.

“Any chance we have a vid or photos of the bodies in situ?” Veta asked.

Halal shook his head. “Sorry. I only arrived a few days ago myself. Prior to that, I’m afraid Battalion was treating civilian deaths as collateral damage.”

“Collateral to what? Nobody’s at war here.” Veta made a point of looking over her shoulder at Fred. “Are they, Fred?”

“If we were fighting a war here,” Fred said, “you’d know it.” “But you’re here for a reason,” Veta pressed. “As Major Halal said, they don’t send Spartans to stand garrison against tourists.” “I can’t comment on our mission.” Fred’s faceplate shifted toward Halal. “That would violate security directive Foxtrot Tango Angel 7012.”

“That’s understood,” Halal said. “But your mission does not involve hostilities against Gao civilians. You can confirm that much, Spartan.”

Fred remained silent for a moment, then finally dipped his helmet in acknowledgment. “Yes, sir, I can confirm that.”

“Thank you,” Halal said. They reached the benches and stopped, and he pointed. “The initial attack occurred here.”

Located directly opposite each other, the two benches faced a hissing steam vent—one of the thousands that permeated the Montero caverns. A pair of freestanding lamps lay shattered on the cavern floor. A third bench lay about three meters away, toppled onto its back and bent at the middle.

Veta ignored the scene and turned to Fred. “I’m sure you realize how convenient your security directive sounds.”

“Convenient, ma’am?” Fred cocked his helmet to the side. “In what way?”

“If you can’t tell me who you’re fighting, it’s hard to rule them out as the killer,” Veta said. “So I must assume that you’re keeping me in doubt to protect yourself. I have no choice.”

“Conclude what you want, ma’am,” Fred said. “But you’re misrepresenting what I said.”

“I don’t believe I am.”

“I didn’t say we were fighting anyone,” Fred said. “I said I couldn’t comment on our mission. There’s a difference.”

“The fact that civilian deaths were classified as collateral damage implies armed conflict,” Veta said. “The fact that you sent a Spartan along to guard Senola implies a threat. Stop playing semantics and give me a straight answer.”

Fred’s faceplate turned away from her. “I’m not at liberty to do that, Inspector.”

“Fred is very careful about security,” Halal said, stepping between Veta and the Spartan. “But I assure you, he’s not trying to protect himself or anyone else on Blue Team. Spartans don’t kill for fun, Inspector Lopis.”

Veta studied Halal for a moment, wondering if he realized his attempts to shield Fred only made the Spartan look more suspect, then said, “I’m sure you understand why I can’t simply take your word for that, Major.” She turned back to the benches and activated her handlamp, then began to inspect the area for signs of struggle. “I don’t see any blood here. Where exactly was the body found?”

Halal spoke to a tacpad strapped to his forearm. “Wendell?” “Ready to proceed, Major,” the tacpad replied.

The tinny voice belonged to the battalion’s artificial intelligence—or rather, the small aspect of Wendell’s consciousness installed in Halal’s tacpad. Veta did not have a full understanding of the capabilities and limits of UNSC AIs, but from what she had observed earlier, Wendell had a similar presence in nearly every piece of battalion equipment capable of hosting a software subroutine.

“Crime Scene Charlie is more expansive and complicated than the others we’ll be visiting,” Wendell began. “As you can see, the initial confrontation occurred here at the vent area itself, but the actual attack . . .”

Knowing she would have a chance to study Wendell’s report at length later, Veta shut the AI’s voice out of her thoughts and began to examine the scene on her own. The floor in this area of the cavern was primarily a concrete tram-path flanked by packed mud, but the benches had been bolted into a small paving-stone circle, which surrounded the natural steam vent. The legs of the missing bench had been snapped off at the bolts, suggesting it had been removed by a single quick, powerful jerk.

Veta crouched down and began to examine the stone pad. She still saw no sign of blood, but there were a couple of faint smears that suggested shoes spinning around. She turned away from the missing bench, then used her handlamp to follow a faint trail of footprints off the pad. The trail was easier to follow over the packed mud floor, and Veta could see that it had been made by two different pairs of shoes. The trail split twenty paces later, with the larger set of tracks turning down the length of the gallery and the smaller set continuing toward the wall.

Veta followed the second trail by the wall. In this area, the stalactites hung so low that many joined with stalagmites to create a cage of thin-waisted columns. In front of this cage lay a large circle of disturbed mud. There were no obvious bloodstains in the mud or on the formation itself. But several columns had been snapped off to punch a hole into the cage.

Veta shined her lamp through the gap and found a stony gray floor marked by eight pale scratch marks. She knew better than to jump to conclusions, but the suggestion was obvious: someone had been clawing at the ground as they were dragged back into the gallery. Scattered across the stone were a few dark dots that resembled blood spatter.

A crisp, speaker-modulated voice sounded behind Veta. “Something wrong, Inspector?”

“Yes,” Veta said. Though she hadn’t heard the Spartan coming up behind her, she managed to avoid drawing the sidearm that her hand was now grasping. “You might want to announce yourself before sneaking up on me.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Fred-104 replied. If the Spartan noticed the hand on her pistol grip, it was impossible to tell—as usual, his expression remained hidden behind the faceplate of his helmet. He simply waved back toward the toppled bench, where Halal stood looking in their direction. “Wendell and the major are waiting to continue the briefing.”

“Of course they are.” Veta activated her headset, then pointed her handlamp upward and spoke into her throat mic. “Cirilo, do you see where I am?”

“Yeah, Veta, I see you.”

“I’m dropping a card. Take a casting of the print next to it.” Veta shined her lamp on the Spartan’s boots. “We’ll need it to identify which tracks belong to Fred-104.”

There was a short pause as Cirilo considered the instruction, then he said, “Got it.”

“Good.” Veta pulled a numbered evidence card from her cargo pants and placed it next to the Spartan’s boot. “Make sure the spiders give this area a careful sweep, the works.”

“You know it, mama.”

Veta deactivated her mic and started back toward Halal.

“Mama?” Fred asked, catching up to her. “You don’t look old enough to be his mother.”

Veta smiled. “As in ‘hot mama,’ ” she explained. “Cirilo can be a flirt.”

“I see.” Fred was silent for a moment, then asked, “And it doesn’t bother you?”

Veta shrugged. “He knows who the boss is.” It occurred to her that there was only one way Fred could have heard Cirilo’s side of the conversation. She glanced up at the Spartan, then tapped her ear. “You’re monitoring our network?”

“Wendell is patching in your signal,” Fred confirmed. “It’s for your own security, of course.”

“Your AI is very thoughtful,” Veta said. “I feel safer already.” Fred dipped his helmet. “Glad to hear it, ma’am.”

They reached the toppled bench and joined Halal, who was looking back toward the evidence card Veta had left standing on the cavern floor. “Find something over there?”

“Maybe,” Veta said. “We’ll know more after Cirilo and his people work their magic. If there’s anything to find, they will.”

“Inspector Lopis, may I suggest you reconsider the allocation of resources?” Wendell asked, speaking from the tacpad strapped to Halal’s arm. “The patrol found Charlie Victim on the opposite side of the gallery, exactly sixteen meters from the toppled bench. The evidence supports Sergeant Boyle’s notation quite clearly.”

“I’m sure it does,” Veta said. “But I’m looking for more than evidence of the murder. I’m looking for clues—and mistakes.”

“Mistakes?” Halal asked. “I thought I made it clear that these sites haven’t been processed as crime scenes. Until my arrival, Battalion wasn’t even classifying—”

“You misunderstand me, Major,” Veta said. “It’s not your mistakes I’m looking for. It’s the killer’s—and this is where we’ll find them.”

Available for Purchase September 15, 2015

Amazon     Barnes and Noble    Goodreads     Simon and Schuster

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Vampire Vic 2: Morbius Reborn

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Vampires walk among us. Appraising our houses, policing our neighborhoods, crossing our borders. We understand there will be biting and an occasional conversion. These are small sacrifices for the sexy thrill. We do worry about vampires popping up in positions of power. They are evolved, difficult to slay, not as sexy. A backlash grows; but are we far too late?

Victor Thetherson is nearly cured. The treatment buries the charisma and confidence that only vampirism seems able to resurrect, and snuffs his rekindled love affair with ex-wife Barbara. Victor can’t trust himself as a vampire and doesn’t want to live with himself otherwise.

Eugene Foreman dispenses wisdom on his Sage Slayer site, offs vamps when convenient, and romances Victor and Barbara’s daughter, Amberly. His sensei, the Civil War Soldier, begs Eugene to slay Victor before he realizes his deadly inheritance.

Victor versus Eugene, round two in an ancient war. With Morbius Reborn, our time at the top of the food chain is coming to an end.

Harris-and-Gray

Harris Gray combines the writing talents of duo Allan Harris and Jason Gray. Together, they have written three novels, two screenplays, a Christmas play and a collection of stories from Jason’s younger days. An early version of their novel Java Man was a finalist in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers contest. Allan is a former guest columnist for The Denver Post and Jason owns Crowfoot Valley Coffee and Crowbar, land of rumor and embellishment.

Their collaboration began in Jason’s coffee shop. Allan wrote and eavesdropped as Jason entertained his customers. One day, Allan found a little yellow notepad waiting for him, crammed to the margins with Jason’s exploits. Allan typed them, touched them up, and called it good; but Jason had other ideas. As their tales converged and became inseparable, Harris Gray emerged. While the two couldn’t be more different in how they think and write, Harris says, “There is something wonderful and incredibly cohesive when we create a story together.” In Gray’s words, “We’re something less than Sybil and more than Siamese twins.

Q&A with Harris Gray

Can you describe Vampire Vic in 10 words or less?

Jekyll & Hyde, if Robert Louis Stevenson went bigger, and funnier. Or, Nick Hornby doing Carrie.

How did you go about creating Vic, and making him so relatable to readers in all walks of life?

Sometimes when we’re together we drink beer. It’s okay, it’s a write-off. So we were writing it off one afternoon and marveling at the Twilight craze and wondering, “How do we cash in on that?” On the spot (beer #2), we dreamed up a world of handsome, chivalrous vampire dudes and sultry vampire slayer babes having steamy yet wholesome relations that send a mixed but overall positive message to today’s teenagers.

By beer #3, we realized we don’t know handsome, chivalrous or sultry. And that teenagers generally mock us. “Write what you know” blurred into write what you are, and by the end of beer #4, we had created a balding, overweight accounting manager vampire who gets queasy at the sight of blood.

Vampire Vic2: Morbius Reborn continues the story of Vic Thetherson and his very interesting

circumstances. For those who haven’t read book one yet, can you catch them up?

In Book One, Victor Thetherson is a fat, balding, accounting manager vampire. Too polite to bite, Victor drinks expired blood bank blood and gets walked on, at home by his ex-wife and at the office by his slacking staff. Then he bites his admin, Nikki.

To his relief, Nikki does not turn. Better yet, she begins to arrange ‘dates’ for Victor – a sort of Renfield meets eHarmony – where he is able to get a fresh supply of blood without permanently harming his victims. He transforms, kicking ass at work, intriguing his ex-wife Barbara, and becoming the man he always knew he could be.

Readers also meet young Eugene the Vampire Slayer. To get to Victor, Eugene woos daughter Amberly. His slaying attempts are spectacular failures. A mysterious Civil War Soldier promises to teach Eugene how to destroy Victor.

In eastern Europe, Victor discovers that his unique form of vampirism comes with a heavy burden. Victor is willing to pay this price for the rewards he has gained through his transformation…but then a vampire attack on his family brings home the monstrousness of his curse. Devastated, Victor commits to a cure offered by his buddy Tripp and his fellow scientists at the Longevity Labs.

Why will fans of Vampire Vic want to come back for more in Morbius Reborn? What do

you think will most surprise them about the second book in the trilogy?

In Morbius Reborn, the stakes are raised. Ha ha! That is such a terrible vampire joke! And nothing like the humor in the book. But it’s true. Like the rest of the world, you have been lulled into complacency, accepting that vampires are simply an entertaining diversion. But now they are popping up in positions of power. And they are evolved and nearly impossible to slay—no stake through the heart for these vamps. Each has a unique, hidden Achilles heel.

Meanwhile, Victor and Barbara’s relationship grows ever more tumultuous as Victor struggles with his curse. Eugene cashes in on his slayer fame and falls in love with their daughter Amberly. As the vampire menace grows, it becomes clear that Victor and Eugene haven’t simply crossed paths; the ancient origins of Victor’s curse and Eugene’s talent for slaying have put them on a collision course, with Amberly at the intersection.

You mentioned Eugene is cashing in on his slayer fame. Can you tell us a bit more about Slayer Investments?

That’s Eugene the Vampire Slayer’s money-making gambit. We entreat you to steer clear of that site, it is a gateway to pyramid schemes that would make Ponzi blush. A total money trap. Unless you get in near the top.

You’ve been a writing duo for over 10 years. Writing a book alone is quite the feat. Can you tell us how you manage to accomplish this as a team?

Usually over beer (and always after a lot of caffeine), we find the tale we want to tell, and then each of us dives in and starts writing chapters. We’ll exchange those chapters, and then realize the story is not exactly the way each of us envisioned.

That is a very creative process. We’ll edit each other’s chapters and hand them back, and write new chapters inspired by what the other guy has written. We’ll read the edits to our chapters and throw wall-shaking fits. How dare he change my poetic pearls of wisdom!?! Then we’ll calm down and realize, Wait a second, that guy is onto something! With each write, swap, edit and wail, the characters grow and their stories become more entertaining.

One half of Harris Gray owns a coffee shop – Crowfoot Valley Coffee. Do you ever troll upon

unsuspecting customers for character influence – and if so, do any of them know about it?

We steal Jason’s customers’ lives all the time. We want them to see themselves in our books. Although this can occasionally be mentally damaging for them. When a customer charges into the coffee shop and says, “Tell me I’m not so-and-so,” we’ll deny on each of our mothers’ good reputations that there is any resemblance whatsoever. If that fails, we will each blame the other guy, and his mother if necessary. That’s the beauty of being a writing duo.

We know this is a trilogy – so what’s next for Vic, Eugene, and the rest of your characters in the third and final chapter?

The final chapter of the VV trilogy puts 17-year-old Amberly at the confluence of good and evil, and forces Vic and Eugene into a slaying partnership. This is Batman and Robin, if they wanted to kill each other and neither could agree who gets to be Batman.

Victor continues to seek his best self. We joked earlier, but this is why Vic is relatable. He yearns to be his wife’s hero. Vampirism seems to be the answer; but how do you tell opportunity from temptation? And does taking that shortcut ever become a necessity?

In Morbius Reborn, readers begin to see the world through Barbara’s and Amberly’s eyes. This continues in the third book. Barbara yearns to be passionately in love with Victor, and to protect Amberly. She sees a time coming when she is going to have to choose. In the middle of the escalating human-vampire conflict, Amberly suddenly finds her place in the world, and seizes the opportunity to make a difference.

VVIII is all about choices. And bloodsucking and slaying, 16th century Romania, furries, imprecise drone strikes and that famous scene in the apple barrel. We have an entertaining ending planned for everyone.

Review

Vic is almost done with his treatments. He doesn’t want to be the vampire that he was. Unfortunately all the things he had going for him as a vampire are now disappearing. But since he didn’t trust himself as a vampire, Vic is willing to deal with this. Sadly, Eugene is back and doesn’t care that Vic is trying to stop being a vampire.

Eugene is back. While still giving sage advice and killing vampires, he is encouraged by his mentor to stop Vic before Vic realizes that power that he has inherited. Let’s see how that is going to work while he is still seeing Amberly. Let’s hope Vic can win round two with Eugene and stop being the vampire he is afraid of.

You can’t help feeling for the poor guy. But he is still having trouble being a vampire and trying to do what he can to stop. Sadly everything that he had is now gone since that part of him is gone. All of the altercations with Eugene just make this book.

I loved Vampire Vic and couldn’t wait to see what Vic gets himself into in this book. You can’t help but cheer for Vic and laugh at everything that goes wrong for the poor guy. Make sure to check out Vampire Vic 1 & 2.

To purchase Vampire Vic 2: Morbius Reborn, or for more information on this series, make sure to check out Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, and Harris Gray’s website.

I received this book for free from the publisher Roger Charlie in exchange for an honest review.

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