A sharp pain jabbed Rebecca Kincaid’s side, and she sucked in a breath. Her hand fell to the hard swell of her belly, rubbing gently. Round ligament pain, she figured, just one of the many joys of being pregnant.
“Chillax, kiddo,” she said to the baby dancing inside her as the pain subsided.
Smiling to herself, she glanced around to see if anyone else was close enough to hear. Some people called you crazy for talking to yourself in public. She caught the eye of a redhead standing beside a stack of Diaper Genies. Dressed in blue jeans and a red flannel coat, the woman smiled. She looked to be in her mid-twenties, older than Becky, but not as old as some of the women in her prenatal classes. The woman’s gaze strayed to the strained buttons around Becky’s baby bump.
“When are you due?”
“Two more weeks and counting.” She grimaced. Being this big, nothing was comfortable. Her back ached, her hips hurt, and even sleeping was hard.
The woman smiled sympathetically. “I know, right? I felt the same way when I was pregnant, like I was Sigourney Weaver in that Alien movie with a little monster just dying to get out.”
“I know what you mean,” Becky said, breaking eye contact.
Truthfully, she hated that movie. Violent and gory. Comparing a baby to a bloodthirsty alien tearing its way out of its mother’s womb, well, that was kind of sick. She was much more of a romantic-comedy kind of girl.
“I have a toddler at home,” the woman said. “Seems like just yesterday I was in maternity clothes, though.”
Becky faked a laugh and turned down an aisle, away from the stranger.
"Patchell perfectly captures the complexity of human nature." ~ Quiet Fury Books
"Another pulse-pounding thrill ride to save innocents while chasing bad guys. I love these characters, they are continuing to change and grow in believable ways." Amazon Reviewer
"This is an excellent story about murder, deception, and mental illness. The characters are interesting, believable, and well developed." ~ Amazon Reviewer
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Friday, November 23rd 1888
Doctor J. Watson to Sherlock Holmes Esq:
Here, as requested, is the first of my journal entries made last evening, detailing the events and our involvement in what must surely be our most grisly case yet. I believe at least one of the dailies is running with the headline 'Jack the Ripper', which I think is mere sensationalism, however, history will demand the truth...
Having been brought up to date in the brougham by the effervescent Sherlock Holmes, he and I made our way to Whitechapel. I began to list some aspects of the crimes reported via our friend Lestrade, Mr Lungcutter the police surgeon and constables Armstrong & Miller (first on the scene at the most recent murder). There have so far been five murders - including the two last night - and various items were found at each murder scene. These items include:
A bucket and spade left near the corpse
A quantity of porridge in the victim's breast pocket
A lock of hair tied round the victim's ring finger
The words - yore neckst - written in porridge across the victim's chest.
Several incisions have been made to the bodies of all the victims, leading Lestrade to believe the murders may have been committed by a crazed doctor. In fact, Lestrade even questioned me, albeit briefly, as to my whereabouts on the dates in question and is satisfied (thank God) that I am not a suspect. He is currently questioning several hundred Doctors to ascertain their movements.
We arrived at Jones the Butchers Yard and were able to inspect the murder scene. Holmes spent several minutes lying prostrate on the ground, examining the cobbles for evidence. Though the police claimed to have been quite thorough, Holmes discovered a quantity of what he suspected might be French tobacco and two cigar stubs bearing a royal crest.
My old war wound is playing up, so I shall continue this narrative in due course.
Lightning ripped across the northern California sky, then splintered down through the rain and disappeared behind our neighbor’s house. Letting the door slam shut behind me, I ran away from the warmth of our porch light into the darkness of our backyard. My mom would’ve killed me if she’d caught me outside that late at night. Especially in a thunderstorm, and on the night before my fifteenth birthday, with the big party she had planned for tomorrow. But I had to get out of the house before I fell asleep and they came for me. And they were coming!
A gust of wind blew my hair against my face. I swiped it out of my eyes just in time to see a plastic lawn chair tumbling through the air. I covered my head with both arms, but a leg of the chair smashed against my elbow. Ouch!
I dropped onto the wet grass, pulled my knees into my chest, and rocked nervously back and forth. Water soaked up through my nightgown and my underwear, making me shiver.
None of these things mattered, though. Because something far worse was happening inside my head. A memory of me as a little girl, on the night my grandpa Dahlen disappeared from his cottage, was trying to claw its way into my consciousness. And I didn’t want to think about that night. Ever.
Still, I couldn’t stop it, which didn’t make sense. I was awake, and outside, where I was supposed to be safe, yet the aliens from my dreams were somehow messing with my thoughts, rearranging things, trying to make me think about that night! But how?
And why? It happened eight years ago, and my grandpa was dead now.
Although, before he disappeared, he’d—
No! Stop, Courtney! I yelled at myself.
I bit my fingernail and took a deep breath, hoping to calm down.
No luck. I was remembering the musty old-books smell from my grandpa’s bookcase. Butterflies rushed into my stomach and I sprang to my feet.
“All right. Is that what you want me to do?” I shouted into the rainy darkness. “Remember my grandpa? What happened that night? If I do that, then will you leave me alone?”
I wiped the rain from my eyes, and suddenly it was like I was right there, in the cottage. His notebook sat on the plaid couch, opened to a map he’d drawn of the ancient wormholes linking the alien world to our own.
I stumbled backward over a tree root and my butt hit the ground; my head clunked against an even bigger root. Oww! I started to sit up. But suddenly the memory I’d been running from took over the screen in my mind. I fell back into the wet grass and watched the scene unfold as if I were seven years old again, right there in the cottage.
It was raining outside, and the air smelled like old, musty books and burnt hamburgers. I glanced over at my grandpa Dahlen. He was busy in the kitchen, forking ears of corn out of a pot of boiling water. Standing tiptoe on the comfy reading chair, I reached up to the bookcase and ran my fingers along the dials of what he called his ham-radio/alien-transport machine.
“Courtney!” Grandpa stared at me over his steamed-up glasses.
“Fine.” I plopped down on the reading chair and crossed my arms over my chest. Then I lowered my eyes. Blood was seeping through my shirt again from earlier in the day, when my grandpa’s nun friend had stopped by with a guy with a tattoo gun. They’d come to give me a tattoo. I hadn’t wanted a tattoo! But my grandpa had told me it was important, and the way he’d said it, I’d believed him. So now I had a blue mark on my rib cage that looked like four dead bugs arranged in a square.
“So tell me this, Grandpa,” I said. “If these aliens who visit you are really your friends, then why do they make you keep everything secret?”
He turned away from the steaming pot and eyed me with suspicion. “Because people are frightened of what they don’t understand. And frightened people can be dangerous, Courtney,” he said. “Now come sit down for dinner.”
I slipped into a wobbly kitchen chair, rested my elbows on the wooden table, and stared down at my burnt ham- burger. “Mom doesn’t believe in aliens, so does that make her dangerous?” I asked.
Grandpa chuckled. “Your mother is only interested in facts and evidence. Even when she was a child, she had no tolerance for intangibles. Or even comic books, for that matter. Can you imagine?” He set a plate of corn on the cob in the center of the table, then sat down across from me. “But dangerous? No. I think we’re safe from her.” He flashed me a wink.
I winked back. People always told me that I shared his silvery-blue eyes. Hearing someone say it would make my mom cringe, though, because she thought Grandpa was crazy. And the last thing she wanted was for me to turn out like him. But she and my dad were spending the weekend with their old law school friends on Lake Tahoe, so they’d dropped me off with Grandpa on their way.
“Well, if these alien things are real living creatures, then did God make them?” I asked. “Or are they just imaginary?”
I smiled proudly. I was about to finally get the truth from him.
“How’s your burger?” he asked.
“But you didn’t answer—”I started to protest, when a bang on the front door made me jump.
My grandpa ran over and covered his ham-radio/alien-transport machine with an afghan.
More quick pounding! Grandpa shoved his notebook under the couch.
I tried to read his expression, to see if he was frightened or just cleaning up, but he wouldn’t look at me. He rushed to the door and glanced through the peephole, and I held my breath.
When he unlocked the door, three men barged into the cottage.
I immediately recognized them as professor friends of my grandpa’s from when he’d taught at Berkeley. But what were they doing out here at night? I mean, hadn’t they heard of cellphones?
They stared over at me. “Hello, Courtney,” said one, a tall man with a thick beard and black suitcoat.
I shot my grandpa a pleading look, like Make them go away. But he quickly shook his head. I stomped into the guest bedroom and slammed the door.
“They’re coming,” one of the men whispered, loud enough for me to hear. He sounded worried. Which made me worry. About what, though, I wasn’t quite sure.
I bit my thumbnail, and it tasted like wormy dirt from the woodpile. Gross! I wiped my mouth with the bottom of my shirt.
“She’s not safe,” another man said.
Not safe? I froze. “She”? As in me? My heart started racing, and suddenly I couldn’t get enough air into my lungs.
I grabbed the black metal latch of the window next to me and opened it. The chirr-chirr of crickets filled the bedroom, and I breathed in the smell of wet leaves. Pressing my face against the screen, I glanced up at my grandpa’s ham radio tower, standing tall along the side of the house. The siren on top of it glistened with rain under the silvery moon. It would sound off if any bad guys snuck into the backyard and tried to mess with my grandpa’s things. Or that’s what he’d told me, anyway.
Suddenly a familiar shiver trickled down my neck. Oh wow!
I turned away from the window and locked eyes with Astra. “Nice of you to show up,” I said.
She was a few years older than me. Like eleven, maybe. She was sitting cross-legged on the floor next to the closet; her eyes shone bright green against her pale skin and black hair. She bit into her plump bottom lip, which meant she was worried about me. “You think I’m going to climb out the window and run away?” I asked her.
She didn’t answer. For an imaginary friend, she wasn’t very talkative. But she seemed to show up whenever I was in trouble. And there was no getting rid of her; our minds were connected. My grandpa said she was probably a real person somewhere, and that we shared consciousness because we came from the same bloodline. As crazy as the idea seemed, I liked to think that there might be someone real out there who would understand me if we ever crossed paths. Most people just thought I was weird like my grandpa.
“I’m glad you’re here,” I told Astra.
Outside my door, I could hear the men pacing around on the creaky wooden floor boards.
“When?” my grandpa asked.
“We don’t know,” another man said.
I didn’t like the sound of that. My stomach tightened with nerves. I sat down on my bed and rocked back and forth, staring at Astra.
“You’re crying,” she said. Or I could hear her voice in my head, anyway.
“No I’m not.” I swiped my cheek. Then I looked down at the spot of blood on my shirt. “I got a tattoo,” I said, trying to change the subject.
A siren wailed outside. The alarm! I jumped up, turned toward the window. But the bedroom door burst open behind me. I spun back around, and my grandpa stood in the doorway.
“Grandpa! What’s happening?” I started toward him. He quickly shook his head and then pressed his finger to his lips: Stay quiet.
Grandpa looked scared. And he was never scared. My heart pounded against my rib cage. Astra was gone. This was bad.
Bright light lit up my grandpa’s face. It was coming through the window behind me. Oh no! I whipped around to see who was there, and someone grabbed me from inside the room.
I started to scream, but a hand covered my mouth. My feet lifted off the floor. Frantically I twisted my head around to see who it was, but I was being dragged backward, down the hall, into the bathroom. Kicking at the bathroom wall, I bit into the hand covering my mouth, and for a second my head was free. I whirled around to see my grandpa, his finger gushing blood from where my teeth had cut into his skin.
“Grandpa? What are you doing?”
He whispered something in my ear. Then he lifted me up, ignoring my flailing legs.
The next thing I knew, I was underwater. Screaming!
THE MANCINI SAGA. A family of six close Italian siblings each has a compelling story of romance, danger and mystery that could tear them apart or bring them together.
What if you escaped from a cult and found yourself alone on the streets of NYC.
Twenty-seven-year-old detective Carlo Mancini is your average do-good kind-of-guy with an insatiable appetite for justice. However, Carlo has one personal setback: his inability to let a senseless crime become a cold case. His obsession to uphold the law has led him on a ten-year, dead-end search for the infamous IOU thief.
Twenty-six-year-old Mia Baker lives a normal life: a quaint apartment overlooking Central Park, cherished friends, and Pirate, her one-eyed cat. To most people, Mia’s life seems perfect; but to Mia, that couldn’t be further from the truth—especially when her disturbing past comes back to haunt her.
When Detective Mancini bangs on Mia’s front door, he has no idea he will soon unravel some disturbing truths about himself, and the woman in front of him. One chance encounter can destroy the very fabric of their woven lives when Carlo realizes reality is not always black and white…
. . . Especially when secrets are involved.
When Garry’s mother dies, he’s devastated. It’s not only her death, but her last words to him. He embarks on a search to uncover the truth. What follows is a dangerous journey. A journey full of unforeseen pitfalls, which could ultimately put both his life, and the lives of his whole family in jeopardy.
I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.
A lifetime ago, a young naval aviator took the Oath. Tom McGuire, now a San Francisco PD Homicide Inspector, hadn’t thought about the Oath in years. That was all about to change.
A famous San Francisco newspaper columnist has been murdered. Some would say “executed”. Shot through the head, her arms tied behind her, knotted together from shoulder to wrist.
McGuire feels an eerie chill of recognition. After being shot down over North Vietnam, he suffered seven years as a Prisoner of War in the infamous Hanoi Hilton, enduring rope torture many times – his arms tied in exactly the same way.
A lifetime ago, another young naval aviator took that Oath. He also was shot down over North Vietnam, and joined McGuire as a POW in Hanoi. Almost forty years later, their lives were about to intersect once again.
This time with explosive consequences.
How could it have come this far? She had sworn it would never happen again, and yet here she was, climbing the stairs into the open air at the top of the building. It was nighttime, cool, still, and starlit. She followed, hand trapped in his—if she could only find some strength, pull him down and watch him
tumble to the landing, she could step over him and go home and forget. She was here, she told herself, of her own free will. This would be the last time, and it would be easy to say so.
They stepped out onto the roof. He put his arm around her, nuzzled his face in her hair, and then led her toward the wall at the perimeter. He leaned her against it and moved up behind her, close, his face in her neck as she looked out over the blazing lights of Westwood. They were directly up two flights from her apartment, fourteen stories from street level. His arms crossed in front of her and his hands cupped her breasts under her robe. How did this happen? I despise this person! Yet she shifted her shoulders to accommodate his embrace from behind. She had liked him once. With reservations, yes, but he had been so charming.
He had helped her when, without even knowing it, she most needed help. She felt his left hand slide down past her belly, grazing the soft hair with his fingertips. He placed his right foot between her feet, prompting her to set them farther apart. A finger curved and found its mark—she gasped and realized she was moist, betrayed by her own body as it reacted, as if in pleasure, in spite of her feelings.
Her hair was still wet from a bath. He liked her freshly bathed for these sessions. Our little times together, he called them. As if they were lovers, but without the love. She concentrated on the rough texture of the stucco wall. He withdrew his hands and turned her around, then lifted her so that she sat on the wall. This is the last time, you son of a bitch.
Absentmindedly, she placed her hands on his shoulders as he parted her robe and bent to brush his lips high against the inside of her thigh. The wall was narrow and uncomfortable to sit on. Behind her, LA’s affluent Westside stretched all the way to the ocean. It had all seemed so thrilling when he first brought her up here—the danger, the craziness of it—she had convulsed in orgasm before falling into the safety of his arms and weeping in relief.
Now she felt nothing, not even fear. Just an odd detachment, like staring out a window into the rain, or waiting in a long line at the market. Soon she would simulate an orgasm so that it could all be over.
There was a pressure at her stomach and she felt herself tilting backward. It happened so suddenly she lost hold of his shoulders, and now she felt the sharp points of the stucco scrape the backs of her calves.
Falling, she thought of her brother, Jeff, and the time he saved her life. They were teenagers, bodysurfing at Santa Monica Beach, and he plucked her out of the ocean after a wave tumbled her for so long she thought her feet would never find the sandy bottom. Her last thought before she hit the ground was of the man on the roof. How clear, how perfectly clear, that everything they had done together had always pointed relentlessly toward this.
Jeffrey Fenner found out about his sister’s death while waiting for a plane to take him home. By the time he arrived at San Francisco Airport it was almost midnight, and now he had to decide between a nearby hotel and the redeye special. He needed a drink but the airport lounge was closed. He opted for the flight back to LA. He bought his ticket and headed for the men’s room. Locked in a stall, he sat on the toilet seat and put his briefcase on his knees. There was over an hour to wait, plus forty minutes on the plane, then the taxi ride home meant another forty minutes—it all added up to at least a half-gram of coke required for the duration. He opened the briefcase and pulled out a bank deposit bag, inserted the key into the lock, and pulled the zipper. Inside were a variety of neatly labeled vials and plastic bags. He located the bag marked “personal” and the orange vial that said “Valium.” From the bag he pulled a flake of soapy white crystal the size of his thumbnail.
Resealing the bag, he took out two Valiums, placing one in his mouth and the other in his pocket. He fished in his left shoe in the hollow of his arch and located a small amber glass vial. Using the vial, he mashed the piece of cocaine into powder and scooped it onto his driver’s license, which he then bent into a curve as he tapped the powder into the mouth of the vial. When the vial was full, he capped it and replaced it in his shoe. He transferred the rest of the coke on his license to the back of his left hand and lifted it to his nostril, inhaling sharply.
Refreshed, he closed up his briefcase, checked his nostrils in the mirror, and went back out to the lobby. The lighting was grim and everything looked dingy. The people had an equally grim look, as though lost or sentenced to an endless purgatory for travelers. It occurred to him that he hadn’t eaten in a long time.
In the middle of the lounge was a fast food stand. He joined a line of ten or twelve people who stood, zombie-like and silent, waiting for a Middle Eastern-looking guy with a red-and-white striped cap and matching apron to microwave a new batch of chilidogs. The food looked plastic, like the permanent display meals at a cheap chain restaurant.
He stared ahead and listened until the sounds around him merged into an abstract buzz. He looked forward to getting back home, although in fact he wouldn’t be going home; he had to stop by Rich’s place first and make a delivery. At least he could relax, have a drink, while they weighed product and did the math. Then he could finally go home and go to sleep. Sleep—he hadn’t slept in three days.
Muscles in his leg twitched with exhaustion and toxins; he felt creaky and brittle, cranky, jumpy, and increasingly sour. From the background of babble, one particular noise seemed to be demanding attention. It had a red flag on it, like a loud knock in the middle of the night.
“You are wanting something, sir? We have veddy good chilidog. You are wanting how many chilidog?” He found that he was at the counter, oblivious to how he had arrived there. In a moment of panic he realized his hands were empty; he looked down and saw his briefcase on the floor, locked between his ankles.
“Two.” He held up two fingers to verify. The guy handed him a pair of paper boats containing long lumps covered with something that looked like steaming dog food. Jeff paid, scooped up his briefcase, and turned away.
The food was ugly, but he was surprised at how good it smelled. He devoured both dogs, wolflike, sitting in the row of hard plastic seats farthest from the other waiting passengers. Afterward, he headed back to the men’s room to wash his hands. It was large and very bright, but vacant, so he took a quick blast from the cap of the amber vial. There was still some time to kill, so he pulled out his cell phone and thumbed Rich’s number.
“Hello?” Rich’s girlfriend answered on the first ring.
“Hey Lilah, it’s Jeff.” His voice echoed weirdly in the bathroom stall.
“Where are you? Rich waited, but he had to go out.”
“I’m at the airport in San Francisco. Things got a little hung up but I’ll be there by two thirty.
Think Rich’ll be back?”
“I haven’t been able to reach him. Are you still coming by?” He pictured her, with her high cheekbones and pouty little mouth. Her crazy mess of hair. They had been friends for years, but someone else was always in the way. He went to a concession stand and bought mints and a paper, then went to sit by the terminal at Gate 5, where Southwest Airline Flight #3714 would be leaving for Los Angeles at 12:10 a.m.
It was in the Metro section of the LA Times:
SUICIDE IN WESTWOOD
Twenty-eight-year-old Marilyn Fenner, a research assistant at UCLA, was found dead Monday morning, apparently after jumping from her twelfth-floor balcony.
Shit, he thought, no way.
They live among us. We know they are there. No government can control them; no authority can stop them. Some are evil. Some are good. All are powerful. They inhabit our myths and fairy tales. But what if they were real, the witches, wizards, and fairy godmothers? What if they were called "adepts" and an ancient evil stalks them? An assassination attempt on the head of the American Meta Association guild sends adept Peter Branton looking for who wants him and his leader dead. Finding the beautiful, shape-shifting assassin leads him to his real enemy, an enemy that is much worse and much more dangerous: living gods of Atlantis. Branton must team with up with his would-be killer and a mysterious warrior to defeat the gods of strife that are intent on starting a war that could devastate all mankind.
Approaching the boulder, Tempest jerked his head up in alarm. He pawed the turf and snorted. “What’s wrong?” Donovan trusted an animal’s instinct for danger. His eyes roamed the rocks with his hand poised over the hilt of his sword. A black shape moved out from behind the boulder. Donovan dismounted and held Tempest steady.
It was not a wolf of earthly variety, but Donovan’s mind labeled the creature a “wolf” in honor of the animal it most resembled. The lean well-muscled canine body looked similar to its cousin. The head looked long and narrow with alert golden eyes and pricked ears that shifted with each new sound. The eyes displayed an intelligent depth of expression.
He noticed a marked difference between this wolf and its earthly cousin. The creature stood on its hind legs, easily the height of a healthy grizzly bear. Although it was more slender than a bear, its muscled limbs looked formidable. With almost scientific detachment, Donovan noticed elongated front paws as the wolf extracted a deadly blade from a sheath strapped to its rib cage, a challenge on any world.
Donovan met the wolf’s steady gaze, his thoughts racing. An intelligent species, this wolf looked ready to fight. What rotten luck! I wish I could communicate. How can I avoid bloodshed?
“Greetings friend,” he said in a nervous croak.
The sound caused the animal to shift its stance. Donovan thought he saw curiosity in the alert eyes. If any creature on this world had the right to be called king, this regal animal was the one.
We accept acknowledgment of our superiority and spare your life. The message formed inside Donovan’s head, not in words, but mental impressions that he translated into words.
The wolf sheathed his blade and “spoke” again. We are Kriegen, leader of the Forest Guardians. The wolf lowered his body to all fours. Donovan sat—a fortunate choice as he later learned since a standing position offered challenge. To avoid battle a weaker creature observed a subservient posture.
At first, Simon thought he was dreaming, but as the banging became louder and more persistent he realised it was coming from the door to his flat. He fumbled at his bedside table, knocked over his alarm clock, and when he had righted it the luminous green dial told him it was two o’clock in the morning.
“All right!” he shouted, pulling on his dressing gown as he went through the sitting room. He yanked open the door to see Clive, the articled clerk who occupied the rooms on the ground floor. He, too, was attired in a dressing gown, this of a radiant green silk, which he modestly held tight at the neck in a bony fist against his bird-like throat. “Yes?” Simon said perfunctorily.
Clive rolled his eyes and said in a deliberate voice, “Mr Trevanion, there’s a telephone call for you. I think it’s a woman. Very upset.”
Simon pushed his hair out of his eyes. “Right,” he said, making towards the stairs.
“It is the early hours of the morning, Mr Trevanion,” complained Clive levelly as he followed him down. Simon didn’t respond.
When he reached the ground floor he picked up the telephone and said, “Hello? Simon Trevanion here.”
Clive swept past his turned back towards his quarters. “Well, really!” he said as he closed the door.
There was near silence on the end of the line but for a soft sobbing. All he could identify was that it was the sound of a woman. “Hello,” he repeated.
“Oh, Simon!” came the instantly recognisable voice of Sybil Buxton.
“Sybil? What’s happened? Are you hurt? Is Perry all right?”
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Tastes Like Murder (Cookies & Chance Mystery #1) by Catherine Bruns Narrator: Karen Rose Ritcher Series: Cookies & Chance Mystery #1 Published by Gemma Halliday