Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Poison Pen by Kate Aaron

Spring, 1949
All of Puddledown is excitedly preparing for the upcoming wedding of Helena Fairfax, the Viscount’s daughter, to Walter Evans, a farmer’s son. The unlikely love match is the talk of the town, but Hugo Wainwright and Tommy Granger are dealing with a distraction closer to home. Tommy’s family have announced their intention to visit.

Hugo wants nothing more than to impress his friend’s sister and mother, but Tommy’s brother-in-law, the Rev. Daniel Stone, makes it clear from the moment he arrives he has no time for Tommy. Hugo never considered himself a violent man, but Daniel’s constant dismissal of Tommy brings all his protective instincts to the surface.

Then the letters start arriving.

The community is torn apart as malicious notes are pushed through doors all over Puddledown, and when Hugo receives one, Tommy starts to panic. The police have no suspects, so it’s up to Hugo to expose the culprit before the wedding is ruined and Tommy’s family leave, perhaps never to return. Can he solve the mystery, or will the veiled threats of an anonymous stranger drive Hugo and Tommy apart forever?

I think what I loved most about this installment of the Puddletown Mysteries, was how Hugo and Tommy pretty much switched places in their relationship.  In The Dead Past and The Coward's Way, Tommy was more confident and outgoing but here we have Hugo stepping up and taking the lead.  I think a lot of that has to do with the visit from Tommy's family.  Most of us turn back the clock a little towards our childhood when we find ourselves with our parents, and here we have Tommy's mother, sister, and brother-in-law visiting Puddletown in The Poison Pen.  As for Daniel, the brother-in-law, he's quite a pill to swallow so I won't even begin to go there.  As for the mystery letters, it may not be murder but I found it just as intriguing because everyone has something they don't want others knowing, so it truly can be anyone wielding The Poison Pen.


Author Bio:
Kate Aaron lives in Cheshire, England with two dogs, a parrot, and a bearded dragon named Elvis.

She has the best of friends, the worst of enemies, and a mischievous muse with a passion for storytelling that doesn't know the difference between fact and fiction.

She holds a BA (Hons) in English Language and Literature, and an MA in Gender, Sexuality and Culture, and is an outspoken advocate for equal rights. When not hitting the campaign trail or doting slavishly on Elvis, she does what she does best – writes about men in love.


The Poison Pen #3

The Dead Past #1

The Coward's Way #1

Saturday's Series Spotlight: Inspector Raft by JS Cook

Willing Flesh #1
When a series of bizarre murders occur in London's notorious East End, Scotland Yard's Inspector Philemon Raft is called on to solve the crimes, but even he is powerless to explain why the victims are displayed in public places -- or why the killer insists on drilling burr holes in their skulls. With little to go on except the strange red dust found on the victims' palms, Raft must scour the city looking for an explanation. Aided only by his newly-appointed constable Freddie Crook, Raft's investigation takes him into London's most dark and dangerous places, where human predators wait to devour and destroy.

But Raft has an even bigger problem: a casual acquaintance is blackmailing him, and what she knows about his secrets could tear Raft's life to pieces.

Rag & Bone #2
Scotland Yard Inspector Philemon Raft arrives on the scene of a deadly fire in Whitechapel, only to find a much more sinister force at work, destroying lives with swift abandon - and a lunatic may help Raft capture the master criminal known only as "The Master."

Come to Dust #3
In the frigid winter of 1891, with the nation still reeling from the Barings bank crisis, Inspector Philemon Raft returns from an involuntary sabbatical, tasked with solving the kidnapping of highly placed peer Alice Dewberry. Thrust into a sordid underworld where the upper classes indulge in disreputable overseas investments designed to fatten their pocketbooks, Raft finds himself at loose ends without his companion, Constable Freddie Crook. Far from offering their help, the ton use every asset at their disposal to keep Raft from discovering the truth about hapless kidnap victim Alice Dewberry—who may not even exist.

Soon Raft discovers that his old nemesis, the workhouse master John Gallant, has returned to London. Gallant doesn’t say what he wants—but he knows enough to ruin Raft's career and even his life. Raft tries to solve the case with his usual strange insight, but there are other, darker forces at work. This is a frightened London: the London of Whitechapel, of Jack the Ripper, the London of poverty, dirt and despair, where a right turn down the wrong alley could earn Raft a swift trip to the morgue.

Come to Dust
AT NIGHT there were no bird sounds, no rain, and no far-off wash of Miramar’s sweet summer tide, and so he could think. He could ignore the disconsolate click of Maria’s beads and Alberto’s ceaseless questions, and he could be at peace with himself, at least for a little while.

SeΓ±or Fernando Peron Juan-MartΓ­n Perez de Cuellar was an uncommonly tall man with an uncommonly sad face; he held himself, his neighbors said, with the strength and bearing of a king. That bearing was evident now as he sat over a pile of crackling paper in his study, the door securely locked behind him. Maria and Alberto were both asleep—they had dismissed all the servants earlier that week, and the gardener was gone, long ago. There was, finally, no one to hear him.

He carefully opened the mahogany case and lifted out one of his grandfather’s dueling pistols. He cradled the gun in one hand, and with the other, he reverentially cleaned it, polishing its smooth surface with the same concentration that marked everything he did. He wiped the trigger last of all, and on this he spent the most time, because there could be no mistake. Nothing could be left undone; there was no room for error. There was, finally, nowhere left to go.

SeΓ±or Fernando Peron Juan-MartΓ­n Perez de Cuellar carefully cocked the pistol, put the barrel in his mouth, and blew his brains all over the wall.

Thousands of miles away, a dark-eyed man on a train bound for London woke with a start, a shout dying in his throat.

Chapter One
London, 1891
“THERE, THERE… the darling baby mustn’t carry on so… only three more, there’s a good girl.” The old woman gathered the fingernail parings and swept them into an envelope, which she then sealed with one or two broad swipes of her equally broad tongue, while the girl shivered and wept behind her. It was nearly noon and full daylight outside, but the room itself was dingy, the windows carefully painted over to obscure the view of Harley Street below. The old woman went muttering down the stairs, leaving the girl alone.

The girl, of course, said nothing; the half yard of dark fustian effectively stopped her mouth, just as the metal bracelets kept her hands and feet securely tethered to the chair. She watched the old woman go and struggled against the bonds noiselessly. The heels of her shoes drummed on the floor in frustration, and she started upright, soiled herself, and fainted.

When the bright light of the midday sun had faded, the old woman came back, wrinkling her nose against the stink. “You’ve been a very naughty girl, haven’t you?” She grabbed a fistful of the girl’s dark hair. “Shitting in your clothes. You’d think you were a whore, a shitty little whore.” She slammed her knuckles into the girl’s face. Miriam—for that was the girl’s name—screamed behind the gag, choking on the musty fabric and the smell of her own filth.

PHILEMON RAFT stepped off the lift and stood utterly motionless for a moment while the blood thundered in his veins. He was all right. He wasn’t going to faint or run shrieking or any of the other things that supposedly hysterical people did, if that’s what he was now. Freddie Crook, his constable and erstwhile lover, was still in Argentina. Raft still missed him horribly and didn’t foresee this changing anytime soon.

“An entire year, Freddie. Whatever shall I do with myself?” He had steeled himself not to linger by the dockside overlong—not to touch Freddie beyond a perfunctory hug and a pat on the back. Freddie had been in South America nearly a year, and even now, Raft often caught himself turning to say something to the constable, assuming Freddie would be at his elbow as he had been in the past.

“Well, Lord love us, if it isn’t Inspector Raft!” The great bulk of Pontius Doyle, resident morgue attendant and laboratory adept, emerged from a filing closet with a thick sheaf of paper in his hand. He stopped short of actually embracing Raft, and Raft was grateful. “It’s good to see you again, sir!”

Raft had taken an extended leave of absence after Freddie Crook’s departure. For several long months, he lost himself in the sort of desultory work that was usually the province of his friend, the resurrection man, Jeremy Hoare. He hired himself out as a consulting detective, mostly occupied with finding old ladies’ parasols and hatpins. He had imagined that a sabbatical would do much to restore his shattered nerves, but in truth, Raft had never been so bored in his life.

“Good to see you, Doyle.” Raft shook his hand with something like relief. “Where’s everyone got to? Don’t tell me the Ripper’s loose again?”

“Oh, they’re about. Sir George is having a meeting with them in the sergeants’ room. I suppose you’ve heard?”

Raft nodded. “Miriam Dewberry. Damned shame.” It was his habit to read the newspapers as soon as he got up in the morning, but it didn’t make the recent news any less shocking. Dewberry was about as high up as you could get in this country: from a very old family with very old money, Dewberry was a Peer and a Member of Parliament. To think that someone had the insolence to kidnap his daughter was something else entirely. “Do you think Sir George would mind if I…?”

“You know you’d be welcome to sit in,” Doyle said. “Sir George would appreciate your opinion.” He waved the sheaf of paper. “Afraid I’ve got to get back. You take care of yourself, sir.” He stepped into the lift Raft had just vacated and sank slowly and inexorably out of sight like a whale settling to the depths of the sea.

Raft navigated his way to the sergeants’ room and cracked open the door. At once, several heads turned in his direction. He recognized the fiery pate of Fred Abernathy, still as fat as ever, and the young constable called Cholmondely, and, of course, Sir George Endicott.

The latter waved him in. “Raft. Come in, come in. Have a seat. We were just discussing the Dewberry case.” The room was stuffed to capacity with men, some leaning against the far wall, others pressed into doorways. The radiator in the corner hissed and clanked, trying desperately to keep the January cold at bay. The room smelled of wet wool, leather, and sweat. Police Commissioner Sir George Endicott, fiery haired and diminutive, was holding court in the center of the room. Displayed on a board behind him were various accoutrements pertaining to the case: a scrap of handkerchief, some dried flowers, and what Raft assumed was a lock of Miriam Dewberry’s dark hair. It reminded him uncomfortably of the Ripper case, with its diverse assortment of hair and buttons and petticoat lace. Please God no one would find Miriam Dewberry eviscerated in a knacker’s yard in Whitechapel.

Abernathy pointed to an empty chair beside him. “Sit here, Raft.”

It was a bit unnerving to see Abernathy actually being civil for a change. Raft nodded and took a seat, reaching to loosen the buttons of his heavy overcoat. As a general rule, Raft despised winter and all its sloppy coldness, and resented having to wear quite so many layers of wool.

“Lord Dewberry’s daughter, Miriam, as I’ve said, vanished from a Knightsbridge tea dance. The girl was there one minute and gone the next.” It was now January 26—Raft wondered if there was truly any hope of finding the girl alive. Kidnap victims didn’t tend to last very long, especially if the ransom wasn’t forthcoming. “Despite an extensive search of major London districts, we have not been able to determine where the girl is being held.” Endicott’s gaze raked the room. “There have been no demands, for ransom or otherwise.”

There was a collective indrawn breath. Raft imagined a great many fleshy wheels grinding away in a collective brain. It would, he reflected, at least account for the smell of the place.

Cholmondely was the first to speak. “So they don’t intend to give her back? Is that it, sir?”

Endicott looked momentarily annoyed. “We hope not, er…?”

“Cholmondely, sir.” He was dreadfully young, not much more than twenty, with dark hair and the sort of wide, long-lashed blue eyes that made young girls sigh and police inspectors grit their teeth in frustration. Raft thought Cholmondely was probably the kind of young copper who made all the girls swoon, and that was about it. In a tight spot, he’d be more of a hindrance than a boon, and God help the senior policeman who ended up saddled with such a ridiculously pretty hobbyhorse.

“Cholmondely.” Endicott sighed. “I’m terribly sorry.” He glanced round at them. “Periodically, at what appear to be measured intervals, pieces of the girl are sent to her father—fingernail parings, clippings of her hair, and so on. These… offerings have escalated in the past few days. Yesterday we received what the coroner identified as shed skin, probably scraped from the soles of the feet, and earlier this morning a messenger boy delivered a small box containing a bloodstained rag. Thoughts, gentlemen?”

Raft considered the question while the others jostled for verbal position around Endicott.

“How long’s he been sending bits of her?” Roush, a ruddy-faced junior sergeant, shouted from the back of the room.

“The first piece appeared the morning after her disappearance—that would be January 3, Sergeant Roush, which makes it slightly more than three weeks.” Endicott ignored the collective tittering. “I realize your mathematics are rather weak.”

“Can’t be much left of her, then,” someone else said. Raft spotted a set of broad shoulders and a double chin: Constable Josiah Burley. Burley wasn’t one of the brightest lights Raft had ever met, but he had the sort of bulk and physical power that made him very useful in a tight situation.

“You can probably fit what’s left in a matchbox!” Roush again.

“That’ll do,” Endicott snapped. “This is hardly a time for levity. Another word out of you, Sergeant, and you’ll be directing omnibus traffic in Charing Cross, is that clear?”

“Clear, sir.” Roush was visibly sulking. “Sorry, sir.”

It was highly unusual for a kidnapper, no matter his motive, to dispense with a ransom demand. Cases with no ransom tended to end badly—with the victim’s death—in which case Miriam Dewberry was as good as gone. Unwittingly, he’d spoken aloud. “Perhaps….”

“Yes? Raft?” Endicott held up a hand in front of Abernathy. “You have something?”

“Well, sir, she’s been missing since nearly the first of the year, and still there’s been no communication from the girl’s kidnappers. If they aren’t after money, then why go to all this trouble to kidnap Lord Dewberry’s daughter? If they’ve taken her for other reasons—”

Abernathy interrupted. “Wait a minute. What other reasons?”

Raft suppressed a sigh. “White slavery, a maiden tribute, bizarre religious rituals. Don’t you read the newspapers, Fred? If they simply wanted a girl, why not snatch a prostitute? There’s plenty of doxies about in Whitechapel and elsewhere. They wouldn’t be missed. Why bother singling out the daughter of a lord?” Endicott came round to stand by Raft, and it was to him that Raft spoke now. “It makes no sense, sir. There’s more going on here, and we aren’t seeing it.”

Cholmondely’s hand was in the air, making him look like an overgrown schoolboy. “It’s a message. They took Miriam Dewberry because she’s Lord Dewberry’s daughter. It’s Dewberry they’re after.”

Good God, Raft thought. He has native intelligence after all, and he’s been wasted all this time down in the cells. “He’s right, sir.”

Cholmondely’s ears turned a glowing, vibrant red, like a pair of Chinese lanterns. “It just makes sense, is all.”

“Hmph.” The sound meant Endicott was thinking, something he did very well. “Raft, I want you reinstated as soon as possible, if you’re up to it.” He gestured at Cholmondely. “You—whatever your name is—”

“Cholmondely, sir.”

Sir George blinked. “Spell it?”

“C-H-O… er, L… M… you know.”

“Right. Cholmondely, you’re the constable assigned to Inspector Raft from now on. He will supervise you. You might want to wait in his office. Fifth floor, turn to your right off the lift, name’s on the door.” Endicott waved at the other inhabitants of the room. “Right, you men, off you go. I want Belgravia and Knightsbridge scoured, do you understand me? Scoured. Bring back anything that you think might be related to this case. Question anyone you see.”

Raft waited ’til the constable had gone. “Sir, I’m not sure I understand.”

Endicott tipped his head back as far as it could go. Now he was looking Raft in the eye. “What don’t you understand, Inspector?”

“Why is H Division investigating this, anyway? Begging your pardon, sir, but isn’t Knightsbridge a bit out of our purview? If you don’t mind me saying, I think this is one for the lads in Pimlico, not us.”

Endicott lowered his voice while the room emptied. “Lord Dewberry is… well, I know him. He asked that I direct this investigation and I have agreed to do so.”

“And you are assigning me to the Dewberry case, sir?”

“Yes, Inspector, that does indeed seem to be what I am doing.” Endicott cocked a bushy eyebrow at him and gathered up his folders. “Check in with the desk sergeant down below. Make sure he knows you’ve been reinstated.” He turned to go, paused, and turned back again. “I’m sorry about young Crook,” he said brusquely. “Damned shame about his illness.”

“Thank you, sir.” A year. It had been a year, but Raft felt the loss as keenly as if it had been yesterday. It was a tired old saying, to be sure, but one with a ring of truth. He and Freddie had agreed to tell Endicott that Freddie had gone to South America for his health—that he’d contracted some obscure fever that had in turn damaged his lungs, and a season in a warm, dry climate was essential. It was easier and more politic than telling Endicott the truth: Freddie had gone to Argentina to battle a laudanum addiction. “Respectfully, sir, about Constable Cholmondely.”

Endicott peered at him. “What about him?”

“He’s a bit… if I might say so, sir, he’s a bit green.” Amongst other things.

“Raft, I haven’t got time for this. Lord Dewberry’s daughter is missing and may be dead. I’ve got most of my men busy elsewhere. Nobody wants Constable Cholmondely, but he’s all I can spare right now, so he’s yours.”

“With respect, sir, I’m not really looking for a new partner—”

“With respect, Raft, I don’t give a toss.” Endicott moved quickly toward the lift.

Raft suppressed a sigh. “Does Cholmondely know how to make a pot of tea?” he asked.

“I believe coffee is his specialty,” Endicott said, stepping into the cage and closing the gate behind him. “His mother’s an American, so that should be right up your alley.” He peered at Raft. “Sure you’re up for this, Raft? I can assign someone else if you’d rather extend your sabbatical….”

“Quite sure, sir.” It was a bloody stupid question, but Raft wasn’t about to make his feelings known. Did Endicott think he’d shown up merely to renew acquaintance?

“I’ll arrange to have the Dewberry specimens brought to your office. Some of the lab chappies from down below have been taking a look at them.”

“Right, sir. Thank you.” Bloody laboratory wallahs had probably ruined all trace of usable evidence.

“I want results, Raft.” The lift jerked into motion, bearing Endicott away. “Dewberry is a friend of mine. Make this one work.”

Something dark and haggard drifted past the lift, a shaggy shape moving slowly on silent feet: the figure of a young man, his body drowned and bloated, spectral water streaming from his clothes.

You aren’t really here. You’re dead. You aren’t really here.

Raft closed his eyes and counted to twenty. When he opened them, Thomas Rennie’s ghost had gone.

THE FLAT that Jeremy Hoare—amateur detective, erstwhile solicitor, and resurrection man—shared with his partner, Dr. John Ponsonby, was crowded with the sort of odd specimens usually found in the dim corridors of some ivy-covered, foreign university. The sitting room was the sort of place where the casual visitor would find it impossible to swing a watch chain, let alone the putative cat, and the utter crush of dried beetles, scraps of paper, ledger books, filing boxes, and weird specimens preserved in spirits was truly suffocating.

“Well, I myself have always enjoyed the air in South America. There is something poetic about the wide expanses, the sea breezes, and the pampas grass. Pity you had to come back so soon, Mr. Gallant.” Jeremy Hoare perched on a leather chair, his long legs folded under him like the limbs of a praying mantis, and smiled thinly at the young man stretched out on his sofa. “Shall I ring for tea?”

“Please.” Gallant was not overly tall, but he was slender and well made, with the lean musculature of an athlete. His sardonic brown eyes gazed out at the world under a haircut so precise it appeared to have supernatural support, but there was nothing harmless or soothing in his person. He looked like a man who spent a great deal of his time scheming and dreaming of conquest and domination.

Hoare crossed to the fireplace and yanked on the bell cord; a disconsolate tinkling was heard downstairs. “Let us see how long it takes Mrs. Cadogan.” He took out his watch and flipped open the cover. “Yes, I had disagreed with Ponsonby when he first suggested that you come here. I felt it was too soon, but I can see that your time in the southern hemisphere has done us both the world of good.” There was a rap at the door, and Hoare plunged toward it and tugged enthusiastically at the knob. “Mrs. Cadogan!” He stood back as the landlady—a diminutive woman of late middle age—balanced a laden tea tray into the room. “You are an exemplar of punctuality.”

Her expression was singularly sweet until it fastened upon Hoare. “Mr. Hoare.” She set the tray down with a thump. “Your tea.” She smiled at Gallant, who obediently rolled to his feet. “It’s good to see you again, Mr. Gallant.” She inclined her head. “It is Gallant, correct?”

The man nodded. “It is. And thank you.”

Hoare settled himself on the sofa. “Miriam Dewberry,” he said.

“Damned shame,” Gallant replied, smirking. “Do you know what’s going on?”

“No more than you,” Hoare replied, and if there was some hidden meaning in his utterance, he was giving nothing away just now. “Do you know, sending you to Argentina was money well spent. I do so like being right, and my suspicions about corruption in the House of Lords have been nicely cemented by your little sojourn in the southern latitudes. It is always useful to have one’s informants perfectly placed.” He gestured toward the fireplace. “Draw your chair in close and tell me everything.”

MIRIAM DEWBERRY awoke in the dark, her ears straining, desperate to tell if the old woman was near. But the old woman was filthy and smelled horrible, and if she’d been in the room, Miriam would have known it. Even the darkness couldn’t hide that knowledge. Miriam shifted in her chair, testing her bonds. At night the metal bracelets were removed and replaced with cloth ties made from the same black fustian that was tied over the girl’s mouth. This was designed so she could sleep, even though she was never allowed to lie down. She had been in this room and in this chair for just about three weeks now. She knew this because every evening she scratched a small, parallel mark in the soft wood under her right hand, and she had so far made exactly twenty marks.

Apart from her keeper (who only spoke when it was absolutely necessary), she saw no one and received no news of the outside world. Her meals were brought on a tray by the old woman, who untied just one of her hands and stood guard over her while she ate and drank. Similarly, she was allowed to use the lavatory just twice daily, again with the old woman keeping watch.

“You’ve got nothing that I ain’t seen before,” the old woman had said with a cackle, “so don’t be worrying about your modesty now, Your Royal Highness.” It was humiliating to have to tend to one’s basest bodily needs in the presence of a stranger—especially one as belligerent as the old woman, who delighted in tormenting Miriam whenever she could.

It was quiet in the tiny room, and the usual street noises had died away to almost nothing. Very late at night, then, or early in the morning, Miriam thought, surely before daylight—not that she’d notice. The windows had been painted black to keep out both sunlight and the knowledge of the outside world. She pretended at hope and defiance (especially when the old woman was around), but in truth, she doubted if her father would ever come for her, especially now, when so much time had passed. Miriam was a clever girl and had the benefits of an excellent education, and so was under no illusions as to her fate. If her kidnappers didn’t receive what they wanted from Lord Dewberry, then they would kill her. It was as simple as that.

ALMOST AS soon as Raft arrived back at his lodgings, there was a tap at the door. He turned to see Mrs. Stringer bearing a tea tray agreeably covered in scones, clotted cream, and jam. “Mrs. Stringer, as always, you anticipate my every need.” He’d scarcely eaten since breakfasting at six: a greasy sandwich he’d bought from a sausage-vendor’s cart. It had been comprised, as far as he could tell, of poultry skin and curds, or something very like it. He’d been tasting it for hours.

“It’s not the same without him here, Inspector Raft.” Mrs. Stringer, in an uncharacteristic show of tenderness, poured his tea for him. “He is a lovely lad. I always said it of him.”

Raft kept his eyes on his teacup, his features deliberately neutral. “I appreciate all your hard work, Mrs. Stringer. This is a wonderful repast, quite wonderful.”

“Such a kind lad, a sweet-natured lad, he is.” Mrs. Stringer heaved a voluminous sigh and dabbed at her eyes. “Never an unkind word passes his lips.”

Raft’s jaw clenched. “Yes, thank you, Mrs. Stringer.” He was saved from further sentiment by the sound of footsteps on the stairs.

“Sorry to interrupt you at your breakfast, sir, right when you’re having a bite to eat, sir.” Cholmondely, red-cheeked and red-eared from the cold, filled the doorway like one of Blake’s visions. “Boss would like you back at the pile, so we’d best be going.”

Raft blinked at him. “I beg your pardon?”

Cholmondely shifted uncomfortably. “Sorry, sir. Sir George respectfully requests you back at the Yard as soon as you’re able. They’ve had another bit of that blower, and I daresay the lads’ll be kicking up a shine right about now.”

Raft flushed hot and cold. “What the devil are you talking about, man?”

“We’ve had another parcel in this morning’s post.” Without breaking his gaze, the constable rifled in his pocket and brought forth a toffee, which he popped into his mouth and began vigorously to chew. He reminded Raft of a horse with a fresh nosebag.

“The Dewberry case?” Raft asked.

Mrs. Stringer looked Cholmondely up and down, her expression not at all approving. “The what?” She turned to Raft. “What’s he talking about?”

“Yes, thank you for the tea, Mrs. Stringer.” Raft ushered Cholmondely into the room, ushered Mrs. Stringer out, and poured tea for the young constable. “How is your wife, Cholmondely?”

The constable chewed rhythmically. “She’s gone, sir. Daft bint took the kiddie and did a runner. Last I heard she was on the blob in Chelsea.”

Raft waited.

“She left me, sir. Been gone awhile now.” He shifted his big shoulders inside his constable’s tunic. “I’ve sworn off women, sir.”

Raft pressed a scone toward. “How very wise,” he murmured. “But why the patter, Constable?”

“Oh, you mean the cant, sir?” Cholmondely made to fish out another sweet but thought better of it. “Grew up in the East End, sir. Never got out of the habit.”

Brilliant, Raft thought. Not only is he young and preternaturally stupid, but incomprehensible as well. His morning was off to a grand start. “Now see here, er….”

“Cholmondely, sir.”

“See here, Cholmondely. I’d rather we had things out in the open.”

Cholmondely slopped cream over his scone and raised the jiggling mess to his mouth. “I understand you thinking I’m a bit flat, sir.”

Raft pressed a hand to his forehead. “Would you stop that?” He huffed out an irritated breath. “I’d rather make a clean breast, if you don’t mind.”

Cholmondely drew himself up. “Begging your pardon, sir, but I’ve got a bath in my lodgings and I use it every night!”

For God’s sake. “I didn’t ask Sir George for a constable.” Raft didn’t want to be harsh, but something about Cholmondely excited the impulse. “I certainly didn’t ask for you. I don’t want you. As soon as this case is over, I suggest you ask to be reassigned.” He shoved his plate away and lit a cigarette.

“Of course, sir. You’re thinking I’m a bit nickey.” His smile, when it came, illuminated his features. His eyes were very, very blue. “It’s quite all right, sir. I’m not to everybody’s taste, I understand that for certain sure, I do.”

“Well, that’s very… good of you, Constable.” Raft’s cigarette tasted like dirty ash, although he knew the tobacco was fresh enough. He crushed it out on the edge of his plate. “I appreciate that we could have this conversation.”

Cholmondely met Raft’s gaze over the table, and there was a funny little charge in the look. “I hope you don’t think I’m trying to replace Constable Crook. Er, while he’s away, sir.”

There it is, thought Raft, how very unsurprising. “I beg your pardon?” he hissed.

“Constable Crook is your particular friend. I do understand that. I’m not trying to be his replacement, sir.”

The skin of Raft’s face felt tight. “You do not speak of him,” he said. It came out as a cracked and tortured whisper. The upwelling of emotion shocked him: where had his usual continence gone?

“Sorry, sir, I only meant—”

“The subject is closed.” Silence fell between them like a heavy blanket.

“Begging your pardon, sir.” Cholmondely fished another toffee from his tunic and unwrapped it.

“We are going to start,” Raft said, after a moment, “by finding and questioning everyone who ever knew Miriam Dewberry.” He traced the edge of his fork with a shaking finger. Damn Cholmondely, anyway. “Find out where she went to school, when, and with whom. I want to know her habits, whether she did volunteer work, what her particular interest was in the Temperance League, and if she went about pinning blue ribbons on drunken sailors. I want to know where she purchased her clothes and who made her gowns, and the name of her milliner. She was at a Temperance Society dance when she disappeared—you can start with that.” He glanced sharply at Cholmondely. “Are you getting all this, or do I have to repeat it?”

Cholmondely scrubbed the remnants of scone from his face with a handkerchief and flipped through his notebook with practiced ease. “School, when and with whom, habits, volunteer work, ribbons, sailors, clothes, gowns, milliner, Temperance Society.” He glanced up at Raft. “Did I leave anything out, sir?” The question bore not the slightest hint of cheek, nor did Cholmondely’s tone, but Raft disliked him intently.

“I’ll be in my office,” Raft said. “You can go now.” A strange weal on his wrist had appeared a few months ago, in the form of a round, red ring. At first Raft thought he’d been bitten by some sort of insect or he’d contracted ringworm from any one of several filthy hovels he’d visited in the course of his duty, but the tiny red bead of flesh didn’t itch or scale and throbbed in time to the peculiar beat of his heart. Nothing serious, Ponsonby had said. Merely an aberration of his physicality, no cause for worry. That, and the appearance of one John Gallant, was sufficient to set his ever-active mind to near constant rumination.

Author Bio:
J.S. Cook was born in a tiny fishing village on the seacoast of Newfoundland. Her love of writing manifested itself early when her mother, impressed with the quality of a school assignment she'd written, sent it to the editor of the local paper - who published it. Since then she has written novels, short stories, novellas, plays, radio scripts and some really, really bad poetry. She has worked as a housekeeper, nanny, secretary, publisher, parliamentary editor and a university lecturer, although this last convinced her never to step foot inside a classroom again. She holds a B.A. (Honors) and an M.A. in English Language and Literature, and a B.Ed in Post-secondary education. She loves walking and once spent six hours walking the streets of Dublin, Ireland. She maintains she wasn't lost, just "looking around". She makes her home in St. John's, Newfoundland, with her husband of 26 years and her spoiled rotten 'dogter', Lola, who always gets her own way.


***Currently Willing Flesh & Rag&Bone
are temporarily unavailable on Amazon***
Willing Flesh #1

Rag & Bone #2

Come to Dust #3
B&N  /  KOBO  /  iTUNES  /  ARe

The Ruby Queen by Lori Beasley Bradley

Title: The Ruby Queen
Author: Lori Beasley Bradley
Series: The Soiled Dove Saga #1
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: February 13, 2015
Mattie Wallace is rejected by her family and her community when she refuses to marry one brother because she loved the other. She is labeled a trollop and run out of town when she runs away with the brother she loves. He backs out after one night together on the road and returns Mattie to her parents, who turn her out.

While on the road with her meager possessions and little money, she meets Roxana North, a woman in the Trade. Mattie is impressed with Roxie's confidence, independence, and her lovely wardrobe. She is also impressed with the fact that Roxie is making her way in the world without having her life dictated by a man. She has her own money, she can travel when and where she pleases without the accompaniment of a husband, father or brother. She is an independent woman of means. Mattie joins Roxie on her way to a new and profitable life in the West where women are few and men will pay for the company of those who are. They make their way to Abilene Kansas, a cow town where cowboys spend their money on whiskey and women.

Mattie learns the ways of the women in the Trade and the hazards of the west where she becomes The Ruby Queen.

 "Good job, Red," Roxie told her as she started to help her up.
     Mattie was surprised at the difference in size between the two men. When she thought about it though, men were no different from women. She had much larger breasts than her sister or her mother. It would stand to reason that different men would have different sized things.
    Mattie wiped her mouth on her sleeve and tried to rise to get back into her seat, but the coach was going over a rough patch in the road, bouncing around so much she almost fell into Oliver's lap. He caught her and helped her to sit.
    "Thank y... Thank you," she stammered, but was much too embarrassed to look the man in the eyes.
    "Oh, no, thank you, Miss Mattie." He took out another little cigar and lit it.
    "Here Red." Roxie handed her one of the rock candies. "It will help to get the taste out of your mouth."
    Mattie popped the candy, a peppermint into her mouth and let it do its job. She closed her eyes, leaned her head back on the seat, and wondered.
    How could I have just done such a horrendous thing? Maybe I just a filthy trollop after all.
    I'm going to have to make a living somehow. Aren't I? She and Walt had enjoyed one another and it hadn't been bad at all. This wasn't too terrible and the men paid them a dollar for it. Fifty cents had been the cost of this stage ride. Fifty cents would buy a basket full of dry goods at the mercantile, and fifty cents would buy enough cotton fabric to make a dress. With a dollar I could buy Momma a whole set of iron skillets.
    All of this ran through Mattie's mind as she felt the coach slowing to a stop. She heard the high-pitched squealing of water birds and smelled the aroma of fish. They must be at the ferry crossing.

Author Bio:
I was born and raised in a small town in rural southern Illinois. I have always had a love of reading, writing, and history. My first love was Gothic Romance, then Gothic Horror, in high school I read Dune and fell in love with Science Fiction, after high school I picked up a Darkover novel by Marion Zimmer Bradley and fell in love with Fantasy, now I read everything I can get my hands on by James Rollins or Steve Berry. As you can see, my reading has been all over the map. I would like to think that my writing has been inspired by them all.

I wrote and published my first novel, The Legend of the Swamp Witch, this summer. I am currently working on a project called The Soiled Dove Sagas about young women who find themselves making their livings as prostitutes in the 19th century Old West.
With my first book I realized, writing is not the hard part, Marketing is.

I have been struggling with different marketing techniques. Hopefully, I will find one that works very soon!


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Release Day Blitz: Mr. Right Now Volume 2 by HJ Bellus

Title: Mr. Right Now Volume 2
Author: HJ Bellus
Series: Made to Sin Men  #2
Genre: Erotic Romance
Release Date: April 11, 2015
Cover Design: Redbird Designs
Cover Photographers: Furious Fotog
Cover Model: Zac Smith
The Sterling brothers have marked LA with their sin. Dax finds himself fighting old demons. He lost count of the number of women he has entertained in LA, but then he sees the redhead who has been haunting his dreams for weeks.

When he happens to run into her again, he refuses to take no for an answer. Six weeks promised, and so many possibilities lying ahead of him. But can Dax keep out of trouble—and jail—long enough to enjoy it?

***This is a four-part erotic serial.- Not suitable for readers under 18.***

Mr. Right Now Vol. 1
Four Brothers
Dax Cole Eli Kam
One chain of night clubs...”Made To Sin”
They’ve been to Tampa, New York, and Atlanta leaving behind their signature and very sexy nightclubs. It’s time the boys bring their club to the West Coast. Their business life is intriguing, nightclub life is entertaining, but it’s the after party in the hotel where the sin really begins.

Dax, Cole, Eli, and Kam have no boundaries when it comes to their desires. Whatever they want, they get. The only rule is: there are no rules. Anything goes behind closed doors. No limits. The Made to Sin men are party boys who get what they want, and LA is their next target. Are you ready to party with the Made to Sin men?

Author Bio:
I'm just a simple girl who loves the country life.. .oh yeah! & a good corn dog! Throw in a little Vanilla Ice, and shits bound to get crazy! Be brave... -Loves country life & music -Gets the case of the "eff-its" often -Loves Big -Hurts Big -love corn dogs & candy.... & (sex & candaaay) -My heart is happy writing!!!


Volume 2

Volume 1
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Love at First Flight by Tess Woods

Title: Love at First Flight
Author: Tess Woods
Genre: Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Release Date: April 1, 2015
Publisher: HarperCollins
Looking back on it now, I can see it was instant. The second we locked eyes. Boom. Just like that. The me I had spent a lifetime perfecting began its disintegration from that moment. And despite the carnage it brought to all our lives, I still don’t regret it.

What would you risk to be with the love of your life? And what if your soul mate is the one who will destroy you?

Mel is living the dream. She’s a successful GP, married to a charming anaesthetist and raising a beautiful family in their plush home in Perth. But when she boards a flight to Melbourne, she meets Matt and her picture perfect Stepford life unravels as she falls in love for the first time ever.

What begins as a flirty conversation between strangers quickly develops into a hot and obsessive affair with disastrous consequences neither Mel nor Matt could have ever seen coming. Mel’s dream life turns into her worst nightmare.

Love at First Flight will take everything you believe about what true love is and spin it on its head.

What inspired you to write Love at First Flight?
I've always been inspired by the tragic love story, the story of great love that just can't be. My favourite book The Bridges of Madison County stayed with me years after reading it and played on my mind. Then I read Twilight and out of nowhere I had to write my own book. Before this I had never entertained the idea of writing. But the longing in Twilight and the knowing that the one you love is the one that is dangerous for you resonated with me and I just had to write about that. So with the themes of desire and danger, I wrote a book about a married mother, because I wanted to write of what I know. I wanted to bring the great love story into the world of the typical suburban mum who is chasing after kids, working and running a home. I wanted her to have that Romeo and Juliet moment. So I wrote 'Love at First Flight'.

Did you use real events/people from your own life as inspiration when writing Love at First Flight?
Hell yes! I really do believe you write what you know. Of course the novel is a novel, not a biography, and I credit my imagination for it, but I have definitely taken inspiration from events and people in my life.

It is no coincidence that Mel has long black hair and is a health professional who falls for a tall, dark, handsome and broody, moody physio. That’s me and my husband! But the great thing about writing is that I get to make Mel as hot as I like and morph her into someone as sexy as Angelina Jolie - hey, it’s my prerogative isn’t it? Matt’s parents are very much inspired by own mother and father in-law who lived out in the country on a sprawling property where we used to go to wind down from the city with them. Matt’s sister is a powerful human rights lawyer, just like two of my world-beating cousins. I even used my children’s names for characters - Tom, Lara and Lachlan. (Lara has a blink and you miss it part because I am saving her. I have big things planned for Lara in book two!)

And I incorporated many real life events into this fictional story. My husband and I tragically lost our third child Lachy at birth, my darling friend Jess committed suicide, my darling friend Julie fought a fierce battle with cancer and those stories and a few more events that shaped my life made it into the book. Writing was my counselling!

Also, I am inherently lazy so the fact that the story unfolds in Perth and Melbourne, the two cities I’ve lived in most of my life, is not by accident. The more you know, the less you research. Some writers thrive on research, me – not so much!

What is the best advice you were given for writing?
The wonderful writer Nikki Davies who assessed the manuscript in the early days, told me to imagine every scene as a scene on a stage. The curtain opens- What do you see? What should the audience feel? What are the actors saying and how do they move around? What expressions are on their faces and in their voices? Start the scene with an opening and end it with closure. Do this for every single scene in the book. Once I learnt to write in scene like this, my writing changed dramatically and it became more authentic and palpable.

More recently, when we were doing the copyedit of Love at First Flight, the brilliant author Dianne Blacklock taught me the concept of Chekhov’s gun, one of her favourite writing tips, which is now one of mine too. Chekhov himself advised, “Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there.” This helped cut a lot of excess junk from my writing which was clogging it up.

What is your favourite motivational phrase or quote?
Lisa Vanderpump said “Throw me to the wolves and I shall return leader of the pack.” I love that!

Pick one series and tell us why – Harry Potter, Twilight or The Hunger Games.
Twilight. Not even a competition in my mind. Edward- ugh, he kills me, he is so perfect!

Is it part of a series or is it a stand-alone novel?
It’s a stand alone book, however Mel’s son, Nick, becomes an adult and tells his story in my next book Flat White With One.

Name one of your all-time favourite books?
 The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller is my all-time favourite. The intense connection between Francesca and Robert Kincaid took my breath away and still does.
Who, or what, inspires you?
 I’m inspired by the people I am closest to, my family and my close friends. I use a lot of what goes on in our lives to inspire my writing. I’m inspired by stories of hope, stories of survival. I love the underdog.
What is your favourite movie that was based on a book?
Renee Zellweger made me fall in love with Bridget Jones even more so than when I read the book. Watching her squeeze into nanna sized knickers and make blue food was cinematic gold.
Name two of your favourite authors.
 That’s easy Maeve Binchy and Marian Keyes. I love these two Irish ladies so much!

Author Bio:
Tess Woods is a health professional who lives in Perth, Australia with one husband, two children, one dog and one cat who rules over all of them. Love at First Flight is her first novel. When she isn’t working or being a personal assistant to her kids, Tess enjoys reading and all kinds of grannyish pleasures like knitting, baking, drinking tea, watching Downton Abbey and tending to the veggie patch.

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