Harlequin Mystery/ Thriller Blog Tour: Where I Left Her by Amber Garza @ambermg1 @HarlequinBooks @Harlequin #mystery #thriller #blogtour

WHERE I LEFT HER
Author: Amber Garza
ISBN: 9780778332060
Publication Date: August 24, 2021
Publisher: MIRA Books

Where to Buy:


BookShop.org
Harlequin
Barnes & Noble
Amazon
Books-A-Million
Powell’s

Contact Amber:


Author Website
Twitter: @ambermg1
Instagram: @AmberGarzaAuthor
Facebook: @AmberGarzaAuthor
Goodreads

About the Author:

Amber Garza has had a passion for the written word since she was a child making books out of notebook paper and staples. Her hobbies include reading and singing. Coffee and wine are her drinks of choice (not necessarily in that order). She writes while blaring music, and talks about her characters like they’re real people. She lives with her husband and two kids in Folsom, California.

About the Book:

From the author of WHEN I WAS YOU comes a spine-tingling new thriller about a mother’s worst nightmare come true, when she goes to pick up her daughter from a sleepover, and she’s nowhere to be found.

Whitney had some misgivings when she dropped her increasingly moody teenage daughter off for a sleepover last night. She’s never met the friend’s parents, and usually she’d go in, but Amelia clearly wasn’t going to let something so humiliating happen, so instead she waved to her daughter before pulling away from the cute little house with the rosebushes in front.

But when she goes back to get her, an elderly couple answers the door–Amelia and her friend are nowhere to be found, and this couple swears she’s at the wrong house. As Whitney searches for Amelia, she uncovers a trail of secrets and lies her daughter has told her–from Finsta accounts to rumors of a secret relationship. Does she really even know this girl she’s raised, and can she find her before it’s too late?

Excerpt:

1
FRIDAY, 5:00 P.M.
DROP-OFF

WHITNEY WANTED TO get rid of her daughter.
How awful is that?
Not forever, of course, but for the night. She was weary of the sixteen-year-old attitude. The rolling of eyes, stomping of feet, the judging glances and biting remarks.
That’s why she wasn’t paying as much attention as she should’ve been when dropping Amelia off at Lauren’s. Her mind was back in their apartment, her butt planted on the couch, bare feet propped on the table, a pint of ice cream in her lap.
“The destination is on your right.” She turned the steering wheel, following the instructions given by the disembodied voice of the GPS in her daughter’s phone. Amelia held it up, giving the illusion that her palm was talking. The house in front of them was nondescript. A tract home, painted tan with beige trim, a cream door, two large windows overlooking the narrow front walkway. The only thing that set it apart from the others was the row of rosebushes lining the left perimeter of the yard, scarlet red petals and thorny, jagged stems.

Whitney pulled her car over, tires hugging the curb.
Amelia hopped out the minute her mother’s foot pressed down on the brakes, as if she was desperate to be free of her.
“You sure this is her house?” Whitney asked.
Amelia shrugged, glancing down at her phone and then back up. “This is the address she gave me.” Her tone was impatient, irritated. That’s how she’d been lately. Distant and moody. Everything her mom said and did annoyed her.
Originally, she’d planned to walk Amelia up to the front door and meet Lauren’s mom. But on the way over here, Amelia had begged her not to do that, pointing out that she was no longer a little girl.
As much as Whitney hated to admit it, she could see her point. Amelia was sixteen. As soon as she finished her driver’s training and passed her test, she’d be driving on her own and then Whitney wouldn’t even have the option of dropping her off at her friend’s. It was time she learned to let go, loosen the death grip a little.
Instead of following her daughter, Whitney stayed inside the car, watching through the smudged glass of the passenger-side window. Amelia’s dark hair swished down her spine as she sped to the front door. When she reached it, she readjusted the blue overnight bag that was secured on her shoulder while lifting her other hand to knock.
Lauren appeared in the doorway, flashing a smile at Amelia. She wore a pink headband that made her look much younger than seventeen. Amelia peered over her shoulder before stepping forward, her lips curling at the corners as she threw her mom another wave. It was the largest grin Whitney had gotten in days, and she welcomed it, grabbed hold of it and then gave it back.
After watching them both disappear inside, Whitney pulled away from the curb. Without even looking in the rearview mirror, she sped toward her night of freedom, dreaming of a couch to herself and a movie Amelia couldn’t make fun of.

SATURDAY, 10:00 A.M.
SEVENTEEN HOURS AFTER DROP-OFF

Whitney had been up for hours, and still hadn’t heard from Amelia. Last night was restful. Quiet. Peaceful. All the things Whitney had wanted it to be. Much needed. But this morning she was suffering from a serious case of mom guilt. She missed her daughter. Was anxious for her to come home, attitude and all. Unlocking her phone, she shot her a quick text: Ready for me to pick you up?
Even after several minutes, no response came. Not that she was shocked. When Amelia had friends over, they stayed up all night giggling and talking. No matter how many times Whitney would remind them to keep it down, within minutes their muffled voices would return, drifting through the adjoining bedroom wall. Most likely, she’d done the same at Lauren’s and they were both still asleep.
The house smelled like Saturday morning—coffee, creamer, maple syrup.
French toast had been a weekend tradition for years. When Amelia was little, she’d wake up early and bound into her mom’s bedroom, eager for breakfast. But lately it seemed Whitney ate alone more often than not. Even when Amelia was home, there was no guarantee she’d join her. Amelia lived in her room, earbuds perpetually plugged in her ears, as if she’d grown another extremity. Still, Whitney couldn’t bring herself to stop the tradition altogether. The French toast would get eaten, even if it took a couple of days. Whitney didn’t mind leftovers, anyway. Not that she had many this morning. She’d gone for an extra-long jog and had been ravenous.
After cleaning up the kitchen, Whitney went back into her phone and clicked on the Snapchat app. Amelia may have been quiet around the house lately, but she had no problem sharing her life with the rest of the world. Whitney expected to be greeted by smiling selfies of her and Lauren, maybe some photos of the food they were eating, proof to all the other teenagers on social media that they were having a blast on their Friday night together. But nothing had been posted on her story in the last twenty-four hours.
With slick fingertips, Whitney closed out of Snapchat and checked Instagram. Nothing there either. A chill brushed over her neck, causing the hairs to stand on end. She shook the feeling away with an abrupt jerk of her head. Whitney had always been like this. Anxious. A worrier, especially when it came to Amelia. Perpetually thinking the worst. Amelia hated it. So had her ex-husband. It was one of the many things they fought about. And it was probably one of many reasons why Dan had ended up marrying that sunny, smiling, high-pitched preschool teacher. If Whitney had to take a guess, she’d say there were no skeletons in Miss Karen’s closet. No past indiscretions she was afraid of coming to light. No monsters from her past lurking around the corner.
No secret buried inside, so deep the roots had become invisible.
When Dan married Karen, Whitney remembered thinking how he had succeeded in finding someone completely opposite from her, just like he said he would. It didn’t take him long either. He’d met Karen less than a year after they’d split up. He and Karen were friends for a while, and then dated for several years before marrying.
That was how he always defended it.
We were friends first.
We took it slow.
But that was never the point. He should have made Amelia his priority. Whitney hadn’t dated at all while Amelia was growing up—she’d only started within the last couple of years. Once Amelia hit high school and started having a life of her own, Whitney figured it was time she did too.
Leaning against the counter, she stared out the kitchen window. There wasn’t a view. The window overlooked the apartment across the way. A man stood in his kitchen, his back to Whitney as he drank coffee. His build vaguely reminded Whitney of Jay, and it made her smile.
Going into her last text thread with him, she typed, I miss you.
Then she bit her lip. Too forward? Too soon?
They’d been dating for a couple of months, and he’d only been on an overnight business trip. He was returning later today. She didn’t want to come on too strong.
Backspace. Delete. She tried again: Hope your trip was good.
Too formal?
Whitney paused, thinking.
Why am I making this so hard?
She really liked Jay. That was the problem. He was the first guy in a long time she felt hopeful about. Usually by month two of dating someone, the red flags popped up and her interest waned. That hadn’t happened yet with Jay.
Turns out, she didn’t need to stress over what to text. Jay beat her to it.
Boarding the plane now. Will call you when I’m back, he texted.
Sounds good, she responded.
It was 10:30. There were a million things on the agenda today and waiting around for Amelia wasn’t one of them.
After hitting the grocery store and Target, Whitney swung by Lauren’s, using the memory of how they’d gotten there yesterday as her guide. It was a little tricky, since she hadn’t paid enough attention to Amelia’s directions yesterday, but after a few minutes of circling the neighborhood, she came upon a familiar street and turned on it. A couple of houses in, she recognized the rosebushes.
It had been well over an hour since she’d sent the last text to Amelia. Although there hadn’t been any response yet, Whitney was sure she was up by now. Probably hoping to buy more time with her friend.
Whitney had gotten Amelia a bag of gummy worms. She pulled it out of one of the grocery bags. It crinkled as she set it on the passenger seat. Amelia probably wouldn’t even eat them. Certainly, they didn’t fit within the parameters of her latest diet, but, still, Whitney couldn’t resist. Whitney’s habit of picking up treats at the store had started back when Amelia was a toddler, when she’d surprised her with a bag of cookies one afternoon when picking her up from preschool. Whitney would never forget how wide Amelia’s eyes got, how broad her smile became as she clutched the little bag. A lot of things may have changed between them over the past few years, but Whitney didn’t want that to be one of them.
After getting out of the car, she slipped the key ring around her finger and walked up the front walkway, flip-flops slapping on the pavement. It was a warm, spring day. Kids played outside a few houses down. A lawnmower kicked on. A couple rode their bikes past, bright neon helmets bouncing up and down like beach balls bobbing in the waves. Amelia used to love to ride bikes. For a while, it had been a weekend tradition. Whitney couldn’t remember the last time they’d hit the trails together, but she made a note to ask her about it. Most likely her answer would be a big resounding no, coupled with the same cringey, horrified look she had whenever Whitney suggested they hang out. Still, it was worth a shot. Sometimes Amelia surprised her with a yes, reminding Whitney of the girl she used to be before the teenage monster took over.
When Whitney reached the door, she lifted her hand to knock the same way she’d watched Amelia do the day before. A minute passed and no one answered. That funny feeling returned, but she shoved it down, feeling silly.
She knocked again, this time so hard it stung her knuckles. The girls were probably listening to music or something. Or maybe they were in the backyard. It was a nice day. Ears perked, she listened for the sound of her daughter’s voice or of music playing inside. Hearing neither of those, she frowned.
Finally, Whitney caught the hint of footsteps inside.
The door creaked open, an older woman peering out, eyebrows raised. She looked to be in her late sixties, maybe early seventies.
Whitney was taken aback. She’d never met Lauren’s mom, but there was no way this was her. Maybe Lauren’s grandparents lived with them. Recently, Whitney had watched a news report about how the cost of living had gone up, causing multigenerational homes to become a growing trend. And Lauren had mentioned that her parents were divorced. Whitney knew firsthand how financially taxing it was to raise a child alone.
“Hi, I’m Whitney. Amelia’s mom.” Smiling, Whitney jutted out her hand.
But the elderly woman just stared at it, not saying a word. She glanced over her shoulder where a man around her same age stood. He furrowed his brows and stepped forward. Whitney’s body tensed.
Maybe she’s got dementia or Alzheimer’s or something. Whitney caught the old man’s eyes. “Hi, I’m Amelia’s mom. She spent the night here.”
“Nope. Not here.” Shaking his head, he came closer. “You must have the wrong house. They all kinda look the same in this neighborhood.”
Whitney glanced around. Hadn’t she thought the same thing yesterday? She must’ve turned down the wrong street or something.
Face warming, she backed away from the door. “I’m so sorry to have bothered you.”
“No bother at all,” the man said, and the woman offered a kind smile.
Whitney turned on her heels and made her way back to the car. She turned on the ignition and pulled away from the curb. The couple had already disappeared inside. Whitney drove to the main street and turned right. When she came up on another street, she turned onto it. The man was right. There were lots of houses that looked like theirs. She pulled up in front of one, scanning the yard.
Nope. No roses.
That’s what had set the other house apart. The one she dropped Amelia off at.
She moved farther down the street, carefully looking to the right and to the left, searching for a one-story house, roses lining the perimeter. Coming up empty, she swung the car around. Maybe her mistake had been turning right at the main street.
Backtracking, this time Whitney turned left.
This street was almost identical to the other two she’d just been down. Same tract homes. Manicured lawns. Shuttered windows. A sea of tan paint and beige trim. The odd red door or colorful lawn art. But, again, no roses. At least, not in the correct spot.
Turning onto another street, she finally found it. The simple house. The roses lining the side.
After parking in front, she leaped out and hurried to the front door. It was answered after only a couple of knocks.
She gasped, taking in the elderly man standing in the doorway. The same one she’d just spoken to a few moments ago.
Oh, my God.
She’d ended up right back where she’d started. As she backed away from the door, apologizing profusely, she took in the shuttered windows, the manicured lawn, the roses lining the perimeter of the yard. Peering back at her car, she envisioned Amelia in the front seat holding her phone, the voice of the GPS speaking in her palm.
There was almost no doubt in Whitney’s mind—this was where she’d left her.

Excerpted from Where I Left Her by Amber Garza, Copyright © 2021 by Amber Garza. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

Harlequin Mystery/Thriller Blog Tour: Such a Good Wife by Seraphina Nova Glass @seraphinanovaglass @HarlequinBooks @Harlequin

SUCH A GOOD WIFE
Author: Seraphina Nova Glass
ISBN: 9781525896019
Publication Date: August 10, 2021
Publisher: Graydon House Books

Where to Buy:


BookShop.org
Harlequin
Barnes & Noble
Amazon
Books-A-Million
Powell’s

Contact Seraphina:


Author Website
Twitter: @SeraphinaNova
Facebook: Seraphina Nova Glass: Author
Goodreads

About the Author:

Seraphina Nova Glass is a professor and playwright-in-residence at the University of Texas, Arlington, where she teaches film studies and playwriting. She holds an MFA in playwriting from Smith College, and she’s also a screenwriter and award-winning playwright. Seraphina has traveled the world using theatre and film as a teaching tool, living in South Africa, Guam and Kenya as a volunteer teacher, AIDS relief worker, and documentary filmmaker.

About the Book:

From the author of Someone’s Listening comes another thriller that will leave you breathless, about a housewife implicated in a murder investigation, perfect for fans of The Last House Guest and Someone We Know.

Melanie Hale has the perfect life. Her husband, Collin, is a loving and supportive partner and she loves their small-town home just outside of New Orleans. She doesn’t mind (too much) that she’s given up her career dreams to care for her two beautiful children. It’s all worth it.

So why, when she joins a writers’ group for fledgling novelists, does she embark on a steamy affair with Luke, a local bestselling author who gives a talk during the group? Why does she go back to Luke again and again, when she knows it’s wrong?

And then Luke is found dead, and Mel knows she was the last person to see him alive. Now, she not only has to keep the affair a secret, but somehow avoid being implicated in Luke’s death. But who would want to kill him? And if Mel finds the truth, will she be next? What follows is a sinister cat-and-mouse game that will leave readers guessing until the very last page.

Excerpt:

Two
Before

I can pinpoint the day that set everything in motion. Gillian Baker, one block over, holds a book club at her house once a week. Reluctantly, and at her insistence, I finally decided to join. I squeezed a cylinder of cookie dough out of its plastic tube, cut it into disks and put a tray of the artificial-tasting dough in the oven so I had something to bring and pass off as my own. Collin thought the book club idea was great and might inspire me. I told him it’s just a kid-free night for the neighborhood wives so they can drink wine and make vapid, uninformed comments on great literature, but he still thought I would be in my element and should give it a try.
I was going to be a scholar once upon a time, but I dropped out of my master’s program when we learned about Bennett’s condition. I wasn’t forced to stay home, but we decided it made sense. It was for the best, and even better than a degree, because I could write books from home and still pursue that dream. What a gift! All the time in the world to write the great American novel. Except I haven’t written any books, have I? What the hell do I really have to say anyway? Life has gone out of its way to ignore me in many regards. Shelby Fitch two doors down was in the peace corps in freaking Guatemala for two years before she married into this neighborhood. She should write the book.
What will my topics be? “Mom cleans up kid’s barf during carpool.”
“Mom waits half a day for dishwasher repair guy, and guess what? He never shows.”
“Mom tries a Peppa Pig cake recipe from Pinterest, but it looks like deranged farm swine with a phallic nose and makes son cry.” I have nothing to say. The other day I thought I’d get serious again and try to really sit and brainstorm some ideas. I ended up watching videos of people getting hurt on backyard trampolines and a solid hour of baby goats jumping around in onesies. So, I guess maybe at least getting my mind back into the literary world can’t hurt.
At my dressing table, I pulled my hair back and slipped on some dangly earrings. It was my first time out of yoga pants that week, and it felt nice. I applied lip gloss and pressed my lips together; I could hear the chaos begin in the background. The oven was beeping nonstop, beckoning Collin to take out the premade dinner he’d been heating up for the kids, but he was arguing with Ben about a video game he refused to turn off. He still had to make a plate for Claire and help the kids with homework after dinner, and Ralph, our elderly basset hound, was barking excessively at something outside, raising the tension in the room. I felt guilty leaving, but when I appeared in the front hall in a sundress, Collin lit up and gave me a kiss, telling me he had it under control. I knew he ultimately did. It’s not rocket science, it’s just exhausting and emotionally bloodsucking, and he’d already had a twelve-hour day of anxiety at work.
I kissed the top of Ben’s head and said goodbye to Rachel, who was paying no attention, and then I walked out the front door. I carried the plate of cookies and a copy of The Catcher in the Rye as I walked across the street. They were trying too hard, trying to be literary. Why not just choose Fifty Shades or a cozy mystery? When Rachel had to read this book for English, she called it a turd with covers. I, on the other hand, spent hours making meticulous notes so I could be sure to make comments that were sharp and poignant. I rehearse them in my head as I walk.
I was the last to arrive; there were a few other moms from the block already there. We all did the obligatory cheek kisses. Gillian’s living room looked like she was hosting a dinner party rather than a book club. Chardonnay was chilling in ice on the kitchen island next to a spread of food that could have come from a Vegas buffet. I wished I could hide my pathetic tube cookies.
“Wow, Gill. Did you do all this?” I asked, impressed.
“Oh, hell no. Are you kidding? It’s catered, silly.”
I can’t believe she’s had her book club catered. Everyone has wine and something fancy on a toothpick in their hands. She put my sad cookies next to the beautiful chiffon cake on the island, and I was mortified. There was cling wrap over them for God’s sake—on a Spider-Man paper plate left over from Ben’s last birthday. Kill me.
She poured me a glass, pretending not to think anything of my trashy offering, and I walked carefully over her white rug as we made our way into the sitting room. Of course she has a “sitting room.” It’s a bright space in the front of the house with vaulted ceilings and a blingy chandelier. We all perched on the edges of pale furniture. I never did quite know how to feel about these women. They’ve welcomed me so warmly, but they sometimes seem like a foreign species to me. Yes, I live in this neighborhood too, but it’s because of Collin’s success, not anything I’ve done. I guess they can probably say the same. I still feel sort of like an imposter. I don’t lean into it the way they seem to.
I didn’t intend to stay home, of course, but I still feel like I was destined for a career, never dependent on anyone else. It’s not that I feel dependent on Collin. That’s not the right word. What we have is ours. The way I contribute is something he could never handle, but I guess I don’t take it for granted the way they seem to. Gillian was constantly remodeling her house and upgrading things that you’d think it impossible to upgrade. She had a stunning outdoor kitchen next to a pool that appears damn near Olympic-sized. It was even highlighted in the local home tour magazine. One day she gutted the whole thing because she wanted the pool to be teardrop-shaped instead. And here I am using Groupons for my facials.
Even that sounds indulgent. Facials. I grew up in a doublewide trailer in Lafayette with a mother who worked the night shift at the hospital and an alcoholic father who spent his days quiet and glassy-eyed on the front porch, staring at some invisible thing, lost in another time. It will never feel right to buy five-hundred-dollar shoes or drive a luxury car, although I’d never want to lose the safety of it and I’m grateful my children will never have to struggle the way I did. This comfort is for them. This safety is for them. That’s the bottom line, so I brushed away the negative thoughts.
Tammy commented on Gillian’s bracelet. She held Gillian’s wrist, examining it. Everyone oohed and aahed as Gillian explained that it was an early birthday gift from Robert and she had to get it insured. I have never understood charm bracelets. An ugly soccer ball hangs off of her silver chain, but I made my face look delighted along with the others. After we settled in, I assumed the small talk was over and we’d dig into a great piece of literature. Kid-free, wine-lubricated, I was ready.
“Oh my God, you guys, did you see Bethany Burena at Leah’s wedding?” Karen asked. There was mocking laughter. I’d been at that wedding, but I didn’t know what they were referring to, so I stayed quiet. Liz chimed in.
“God, it looked like someone stuffed a couple honey-baked hams into the back of her dress.”
“And the worst part is she did that on purpose,” Tammy said, placing her glass of wine on an end table so she could use her hands to talk. “That ain’t too much buttercream, y’all!” Then she held her hands to her mouth and pretended to whisper sideways. “Although did you see her shoveling it in at the cake table?”
“She had those babies implanted,” Karen agreed.
“No!” Gillian gasped.
“Yep. Ass implants. Ass-plants.” Everyone roared with laughter. I forced a chuckle so I didn’t stand out. I hated these people, I realized right in that moment. I longed to leave. I could fake a headache, or check in at home and say there’s a problem with Ben, I thought. Why didn’t I? Why do I need their approval? Karen kept the gossip going.
“That’s not as bad as Alice. She brought the guy who cleans her pool to the wedding!
“What do you mean?” Liz asked.
“As a date.”
“No!”
“Scandal much?” Tammy was delighted she had everyone in hysterics.
“Alice Berg?” I asked, not understanding the social sin she’d committed. “Isn’t she single—like, divorced, I thought.”
“Yeah, but she brought The. Pool. Guy. Sad.”
“So sad,” Karen echoed.
“Desperate,” Liz added. She noticed the book in my hands. “What’s that?”
“What do you mean? It’s the book,” I said with a lighthearted scoff.
“Oh, Mel. I’m so sorry I didn’t mention it, I guess I thought everyone just sort of got it—especially since the book was something so random,” Gillian said.
“Got what?”
“We don’t, like, read it. We just need an excuse to get rid of the kids and hubbies for one night. I think we deserve at least that?” she said, glancing around for allies.
“Damn right we do.” Liz held her wine up and gulped it down, a sort of toast to herself. “You didn’t read it, did you?” I didn’t answer. I felt like an idiot. I was joking when I said it was an excuse to drink and have a night away. I was at least half joking. I thought that I may have found a few kindred spirits, perhaps—that they were at least making a half-assed attempt at self-betterment.
“I just skimmed it,” I said.
I was probably visibly blushing, so I picked a strawberry carved into a rose shape from the table and picked at it.
“Mel has a master’s in literature. Did y’all know that?” Gillian said, maybe in an attempt to redeem herself from indirectly embarrassing me.
“Oh my gosh, smarty-smart pants. Look at you.” Karen swatted my leg and smiled, supportively. I wanted the attention off me as soon as possible, so I didn’t correct her and say that it was creative writing…and that I never finished the degree.
“You should give me the name of your caterer,” I said, picking up a skewer of chicken and taking a bite. “I was gonna do a thing for Collin’s birthday. Maybe a trip, but if we stay in town we’ll have people to the house.” The subject is officially changed. Her eyes lit up.
“Oh my gosh, I have their card. I told them they should pay me for how many referrals I’m getting for them. Their almond torte is totally to die for. Seriously. If you don’t do a cake, maybe mini tortes.”
“Oh, cute!” Liz said.
We talked about mini tortes, whose phone carrier is the worst, Karen’s daughter’s (nonexistent) modeling career and Botox for the next two hours until I walked home unsteadily with my plate of cookies that Gillian gracefully sent home with me. I had to laugh a little at the idea that they met weekly, like they’d read that much. Made sense now. I tossed The Catcher in the Rye in Brianna Cunningham’s garbage can, which she’d failed to pull back into the garage (Tammy actually made mention of that particular oversight earlier in the evening), and I didn’t know if the crushing disappointment of the evening was worse than going back home to Claire’s bedpan and the mounting stress of teen angst and Ben’s moods. I wished I could just sit in the Cunninghams’ yard, drunk for a little while, but someone would see, and it would be discussed at some other neighbor’s book club.
The temperate dusk air was dense with mosquitoes and the chatter of crickets. I took my time walking back. When I approached our house, I saw Collin in an orange rectangle of warm kitchen light. He was washing dishes, sort of, but mostly looking past the kitchen island at the TV in the living room. I concentrated on appearing more sober than I was as I entered the kitchen. I sat at the table, pulling off my shoes, and he offered me a glass of wine.
“No, thanks.” I got up and filled a plastic Bob the Builder cup under the tap, then sat on a counter stool. He pulled one up next to me.
“Was it fun?” he asked, hopefully, wanting me to find an outlet—some joy in my life while things are so tough. I didn’t know if I should tell him the truth or make him happy, so I went down the middle.
“It was okay.”
“Just okay?”
“Eh. Not exactly the literary minds I was hoping to connect with.”
“I’m sorry.” He squeezed my hand. “I took Ben to pick out a new chapter book at Classics tonight.”
“Oh fun. What did he pick out?” I asked, thinking Collin was changing the subject.
He handed me a little postcard advert. “There’s a writers’ group starting next week.”
I looked over the glossy square and it had details welcoming any local writers to join the weekly Thursday group to workshop their writing. Before I could dismiss the assertion that I’m a “writer,” he pointed to the bullet point that stated “all levels welcome.” It was so incredibly sweet that he brought this for me, not only to encourage me in pursuing something I care about, but was also willing to hold down the fort every Thursday. I kissed him.
“That’s very thoughtful of you.”
“But?” he asked, anticipating a “no,” but I didn’t have a reason to say no. I mean, except that I had no writing to present to the group. I could write a critical essay on The Catcher in the Rye. That was about it. It sounded thrilling though. Maybe some accountability and pressure would be just what I needed. I glanced past Collin into the living room and saw Bennett asleep in front of WWE SmackDown! on the TV. I gave Collin a look.
“Well, he’s asleep, isn’t he?” he defended himself. Ismiled and shook my head, pressing my thumb into the crumbs on his plate and tasting the remnants of the cookies I left behind for the kids to eat.
“I guess I can try it,” I said, standing and rinsing the plate. Words I’d give anything to take back.

Excerpted from Such A Good Wife by Seraphina Nova Glass, Copyright © 2021 by Seraphina Nova Glass. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.

Inkyard YA Blog Tour: The Right Side of Reckless by Whitney D. Grandison @whitney_dg @melanin_ya @InkyardPress


Whitney D. Grandison
On Sale Date: July 13, 2021
9781335402486
Hardcover
$18.99 USD
Ages 13 And Up
416 pages

About the Book:


When a bad boy in need of a second chance meets a good girl who is off limits, sparks fly and forbidden friendship forms in this edgy own-voices romance, perfect for fans of Katie McGarry and Kristina Forest.

They were supposed to ignore each other and respect that fine line between them…

Guillermo Lozano is getting a fresh start. New town, new school, and no more reckless behavior. He’s done his time, and now he needs to right his wrongs. But when his work at the local community center throws him in the path of the one girl who is off limits, friendship sparks…and maybe more.

Regan London needs a fresh perspective. The pressure to stay in her “perfect” relationship and be the good girl all the time has worn her down. But when the walls start to cave in and she finds unexpected understanding from the boy her parents warned about, she can’t ignore her feelings anymore.

The disapproval is instant. Being together might just get Guillermo sent away. But when it comes to the heart, sometimes you have to break the rules and be a little bit reckless…

About the Author:


Whitney is dedicated to telling stories about teens of color and teens in difficult but relatable situations. Some of her works can be found on Wattpad, one of the largest online story sharing platforms, where she has acquired over 30,000 followers and an audience of over fifteen million dedicated readers. Outside of writing, she is a lover of Korean dramas, all things John Hughes, and horror films. Whitney currently lives in Akron, Ohio. She is the author of A Love Hate Thing and The Right Side of Reckless. Visit Whitney’s website http://www.whitneydgrandison.com and follow her on Twitter @whitney_dg and Instagram @wheadee.

Contact Witney:


Author website: http://www.whitneydgrandison.com
Twitter: @whitney_dg
Instagram: @wheadee

Where to Buy:


Bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/books/the-right-side-of-reckless/9781335402486?aid=12206
Indiebound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781335402486?aff=bcba
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-right-side-of-reckless-whitney-d-grandison/1137425924 Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Right-Side-Reckless-Whitney-Grandison/dp/1335402489/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=
Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Whitney_D_Grandison_The_Right_Side_of_Reckless?id=G6_0DwAAQBAJ
Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/the-right-side-of-reckless
Apple Books: https://books.apple.com/us/book/the-right-side-of-reckless/id1526009376

Extract:

Guillermo


Fresh off the plane and I was already making trouble.
The security guard was staring at me like I was some type of criminal. He stood across from us as we came out of the gate into the terminal at the Akron-Canton Airport, and as soon as he caught eye contact with me, his brows pushed down and knitted together. His hand breezed over the Taser gun on his utility belt, while he stuck out his broad chest.
Sizing him up, I knew I could take him. He wasn’t that big. But with the way my mother was looking at me, I knew it was better to ignore him.
He probably thought I was trouble. I was trouble…at least, I was before.
“Keep walking, Memo,” my father said, shoving his carryon bag into my spine.
I stole a final glance at the security guard. He was still glaring at me.
Pendejo.
Like the diligent son I was now trying to be, I obeyed my father and kept moving, catching my younger sister, Yesenia, shrinking beside me.
Jostling through the airport, we made our way to the baggage claim, gathered our bags, and prepared to leave. Upon heading toward the exit, I was surprised to see Mr. Security Guard by the door. The glare was still on his face, but this time, he was shooting his dark steely gaze at some other guy.
Guess it isn’t just me. For once.
I was used to this type of judgment.
The car service my father had arranged was waiting outside. Our driver was standing in front of a Honda Pilot, holding up a sign with our last name stamped on it.
My father quickly introduced our family before helping the man stow our luggage in the vehicle. At my attempt to help, my father shooed me away.
Having no choice, I handed him my bag, and then I got in the middle row beside my mother and sister.
“It’s going to be okay, Memo, don’t worry.” Yesenia reached out and squeezed my hand gently.
I averted my gaze out the window, not seeing things her way.
“You should listen to your sister, she’s right,” my mother said.
Once the driver and my father finished packing the trunk, the driver took the wheel while my father sat in the passenger seat.
As soon as we were on the road, my father faced me with a serious look. “We’re back now, Guillermo, and things aren’t going to be like before. Understand?”
“It won’t happen again,” I said.
My father grimaced, as if he doubted me. With my mass of screwups, I didn’t blame him. “Don’t forget to call your probation officer first thing in the morning.” He spoke with bitter disappointment laced in every word. “Remember, if you mess this up, it’s back to jail for you.”
I gritted my teeth. Back to juvie? Fuck that. “I know.”
Two weeks in Mexico and nothing had changed.
They still hadn’t forgiven me for what happened back in March. Hadn’t even mentioned it to the relatives we’d just visited. I couldn’t blame them. Unlike the times before, I had fucked up royally.
I stared outside for the remainder of the drive. Summer had slipped away while I was locked up. Now fall was here, a new season, a new beginning. It was seven fifteen at night, the sky above us a reddish orange as the sun sank lower on the horizon. Soon, the leaves on the trees would match.
We got off the highway and began to pass closing businesses as streetlights flickered on. I watched all this, trying to feel a sense of rebirth. A piece of optimism.
It didn’t come.
While I was…away, my parents had packed up our house and sold it. They had purchased a new place on the east side of Akron and made it clear we were moving on from the past up north.
Less than thirty minutes later, the driver pulled in to a subdivision called Briar Pointe. A subdivision, as in row upon row of houses that looked exactly alike, as in too bland and boring, unlike the neighborhood we’d lived in before.
A late-night jogger breezed by, her blond ponytail swishing behind her, and I raised a brow. Where we’d come from wasn’t exactly dangerous, but nobody ran, especially at night.
The driver came to a stop in front of a medium-size two-story house complete with an attached two-car garage. I gazed at my new home. It was my clean slate, my second chance— or more like my last.
We all vacated the car and grabbed our bags from the trunk.
My mother gathered the house keys and took the lead to the front door with Yesenia and me behind her. My father tipped the driver, and the man drove off.
After I got home from juvie, and before our sudden trip to Mexico, my family and I had only begun unpacking here. Now it was almost the second week of September, and Yesenia and I had missed the first week of school.
After spending spring in and out of court and a lovely ninety-day stay at a detention center, where I’d caught up on all the schoolwork I’d missed, I would be serving my probation in a new part of the city with a fresh start. However, it was beginning to appear as though there was no moving forward as far as my parents were concerned.
They no longer looked at me as their son, but as a petty criminal and a burden.
And given that in the morning I would meet with my parole officer, I couldn’t blame them. I was newly seventeen and already the Patron Saint of Fuckups who couldn’t be trusted, as far as they knew.
“Guillermo.” My father spoke softly behind me as we entered the house and Yesenia and my mother disappeared down the foyer around a corner.
I didn’t face him. There were only so many times I could see that look in his eyes. “Yes?”
“In the garage, now.”
I turned and found him already making his way to the door that led into the garage. Each step I took after him felt heavier than the first, my anxiety causing sweat to bead down my back.
Inside the garage, my father stood back, waiting for me.
I barely glanced at him before my gaze landed on the two vehicles. One, my mother’s silver Acura, and the other, a dark blue Charger. The shiny, vibrant paint made its beauty stand out.
My father cleared his throat. “Matt knew a guy who could restore it, and it took some bargainin’, but it’s yours.”
Another glance from him to the car, and I realized what this was and what this meant. Back in the day, when my father’s brother, my tío Mateo, still lived in Akron, he used to keep this beat-up old Charger in his driveway. Tía Jacki used to complain about it, but Mateo wouldn’t part with it, swore it was a project in the making. Whenever I was bored, I’d climb in behind the wheel and pretend to drive it, pretend I owned the road, pretend to be as cool as Tío Matt.
Fast forward to today, and gone were those rust-stained doors, replaced with a solid body and fresh paint. Even the inside was new. I leaned over to gape through the passenger window. The black seating and updated system had me grinning like a fool.
Tío Mateo lived in Columbus now, but the gesture wasn’t missed. I faced my father, my smile instantly slipping away at the sight of his stoic face. “Thank you, both of you.”
My father gave me a stiff nod. “I just don’t want to be responsible for driving you around. Keys are on the hook by the door.”
During the whole ordeal, my mother had attempted sympathy, but not once had my father offered any. The moment I was released from juvie, they shielded Yesenia from me and started keepin’ a close eye on us, as if my bad seed would catch on.
“I shouldn’t have to reiterate that this is a new start. You will not be in contact with any of your old friends. Especially that girl,” my father ordered. “You will go to school, complete your required community service, meet with your probation officer, and stay out of trouble. Do you hear me?”
My fists balled at my sides. “Yes, sir.”
“And…” He paused, as if thinking of more things to add to his list of demands. “Get a haircut.”
To this I didn’t reply. He’d been after the length of my hair since freshman year. Now that I was a junior, you’d think he’d let it go. I would admit, my wavy hair combined with my facial hair did make me look rough around the edges. The judge had taken one look at me and scowled. No wonder that security guard at the airport had kept his eye on me.
“Your mother’s going to order some food. Go put away your bag and come down,” my father said.
Dinner with my family was often eaten in loud silence.
I would pass.
“I’m not hungry,” I told him.
He didn’t fight me on it as he went to join my mother and sister.
Home sweet home.
With a heavy sigh, I raked a hand through my chin-length hair and headed up to my room. I was out, I was somewhere new, and I had a car. I couldn’t fuck up, not again. Hearing my mom up one night crying—that had hung heavy on my heart for weeks.
This move was my chance to prove that I could evolve.
There were no ifs, ands, or maybes. I was going to do better.

Excerpted from The Right Side of Reckless by Whitney D. Grandison, Copyright © 2021 by Whitney Grandison. Published by Inkyard Press.

Harlequin Trade Publishing Mystery and Thriller Blog Tour: The House Guests by Emilie Richards. @EmilieRichards @HarlequinBooks @Harlequin

The House Guests : A Novel
Emilie Richards
On Sale Date: June 29, 2021
9780778331865
Trade Paperback
$16.99 USD
544 pages

About the Book:


USA Today bestselling author Emilie Richards returns with a fan-favorite story.

Teenage Savannah’s father passed away recently and she has been rebelling against her stepmother, Cassie, since. When she happens upon a pouch filled with cash in a parking lot with some new friends she’s trying to impress, she decides to keep it in an act of defiance. When Cassie learns of her crime after Savannah has already spent the money, and learns that the money belonged to a woman, Amber, who has since been evicted along with her teenage son Will because they couldn’t pay the rent after losing the pouch of money, she invites Amber and Will to move in with them. As they become involved in each other’s lives, the teenagers develop a friendship while the mothers do the same. But while Cassie is trying to figure out what happened to her husband in the months before he passed away – why he was becoming distant and draining the funds in their bank accounts, leaving them destitute upon his death – Amber is clearly trying to outrun something dark in her own past.

About the Author:


USA Today bestselling author Emilie Richards has written more than seventy novels. She has appeared on national television and been quoted in Reader’s Digest, right between Oprah and Thomas Jefferson.

Born in Bethesda, Maryland, and raised in St. Petersburg, Florida, Richards has been married for more than forty years to her college sweetheart. She splits her time between Florida and Western New York, where she is currently plotting her next novel.

Contact Emilie:


Author website: https://emilierichards.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authoremilierichards
Twitter: https://twitter.com/emilierichards
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/emilierichards/

Where to Buy:


Bookshop.org, Amazon, Amazon (Print), Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, Books-A-Million, Apple Books, Google Play, Kobo, Audible

Excerpt:

1

Amber Blair had spent most of her thirty-four years trying not to think about luck. Her daddy had told her there were only two kinds. Either you came into the world with the luck of the early bird or the early worm. The kind he’d been born with was obvious. Nothing that had gone wrong in all his years had to do with simply hanging around the edges of life, waiting for something good to fall in his lap. It was all about luck.
Her mother, tight-lipped and seething, had rarely voiced opinions. As a receptionist at the Halfway to Paradise motel, she had been too busy checking people in, and giving out room keys—and probably a little extra—to worry about luck.
Like most people, Amber had acquired something from both parents. She had inherited her father’s early worm luck, oddly coupled with her mother’s work ethic. Against tremendous odds she had scrambled to support herself and her son on her feet in restaurants, instead of on her back in cheap motels. Her mother had been remote and disinterested, but years of watching her determination to survive had helped.
“Haven’t seen you for a while.” The manager at the cash register of Things From the Springs greeted Amber with a wide smile. She was middle-aged and overweight, refreshingly unaware that spandex and sequins weren’t good choices for minimizing either. Her plastic nameplate read Ida, but Amber had never told Ida her own name, a habit she’d developed after leaving home at sixteen. Still, Ida never forgot a face.
“It has been a while,” Amber said.
“You feeling better?”
Amber wasn’t surprised that Ida remembered the day two months before when she had fainted facedown in the women’s clothing aisle, strawberry blond hair spread wide on a table stacked with shorts and T-shirts. The manager had insisted Amber go right to the hospital. Amber had thanked her, then headed to work instead. Three days later, though, she had seen a doctor after Will, her son, gazed at her in horror and announced that her green eyes were rimmed by an ominous yellow.
Of course, the news hadn’t been good. Hepatitis A had arrived with a flourish, and she had been so dehydrated that, despite all her protests, she’d been hospitalized for a day, a bill that had nearly sunk them.
Health insurance was a luxury she had never indulged in.
“Yes. Definitely better,” she said now. She didn’t add that she still tired easily or that she was struggling to regain the weight she’d lost. Jaundice, the colorful bonus, was finally gone, and she was back at work.
“You were caught up in that hepatitis thing, weren’t you? The one at that restaurant…” The manager snapped her fingers. “Electric something?”
“Dine Eclectic.”
“You closed for a while, right?”
Because two of the kitchen staff had also been infected, Dine Eclectic, the much promoted addition to restaurants in Tarpon Springs, Florida, had closed until health inspectors had given permission to reopen. Amber had been forbidden to go back to work until the jaundice and other symptoms disappeared. During most of the weeks of illness, she had been far too sick to work even if she’d wanted to. She certainly had needed to, because from an armchair in the apartment she shared with sixteen-year-old Will, she’d watched the savings she had so carefully hoarded dwindle to nothing.
“We’ve been open again for a while now,” she said. “We’ve passed all the inspections. The problem was an infected line cook. Luckily hepatitis A is almost never fatal.”
“I imagine the publicity wasn’t good for business.”
More customers arrived, and Amber headed for the rear of the store and the men’s section.
Things From the Springs was smaller than many thrift stores she’d frequented. They were loosely affiliated with a local children’s charity, and volunteers did much of the sorting and pricing.
She liked visiting Things because she could be in and out in less than an hour, often with vintage clothing she could cut and use for crafts to sell in her Etsy shop. An example was tucked securely in her purse today, a zipper pouch created from a brocade jacket and embroidered with the name of her landlord’s wife. It had turned out so well she posted a photo on her shop’s page, hoping to get orders for more.
The pouch bulged with money, mostly tips she had carefully collected to pay one of the two months of back rent she owed. Even after she’d showed her suspicious landlord a letter from the health department, he had begun eviction proceedings. She had managed to stave him off, promising to pay the first month today and the second in two weeks. She hoped the additional gift for his wife might make him feel better about his decision.
Her son had been more than patient during her months of unemployment. Will was a straight A student at the local high school and held down a part-time job stocking shelves at a local grocery store. He had taken on additional hours during her illness and brought home expired or damaged food that was destined for salvage stores or landfills. He had treated his quest like a treasure hunt and never wished out loud that his life was more like the easier ones of the other teens in his advanced placement classes.
Will wasn’t perfect. He was sometimes messy, sometimes oblivious, often determined his way was best, but they’d been a team, just the two of them, from the very beginning of his life. And Amber knew her son would do anything for her, just as she had done everything for him. Much more than Will knew.
Today if she had early bird luck, she was going to buy him a surprise. Things From the Springs had a special rack dedicated to sports teams, and there was always a good selection. She was hoping to find one with the pirate flag of Will’s favorite professional football team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. For the first time, her tips from the night before had been nearly as large as pre-hepatitis days, and she was hopeful she might be digging her way out of trouble. She would be happy just to pay rent on time, put a full tank of gas in the car and buy fresh food at the grocery store now and then.
Fifteen minutes later she was on her way back to the front of the now-empty store, a paper-thin but appropriately logoed T-shirt clutched under her arm. The size and price were right, and while Will wouldn’t get much wear before it fell apart, he would be delighted.
She was starting to feel lucky. Her landlord had begrudgingly given her a little time to settle their account. After everything she still had her job, and restaurant traffic showed signs of improving. Today she had just enough extra to buy the shirt.
“You found something,” Ida said. “I saw you heading to the back.”
“It’s for my son.” Amber laid the shirt on the long counter. “He’s a Bucs fan.”
“These have been going fast. Apparently, he’s not alone.” She rang up the amount as Amber reached down to unzip her purse.
Only the purse wasn’t zipped.
She spread it wide and peered inside. Without ceremony and with more than a touch of panic, she dumped the contents on the counter. Keys fell out. A pack of tissues. Her tiny coin purse, which held the extra money she hadn’t put into the zip purse destined for the landlord and his wife. Nothing else.
“Run into a problem?”
Amber gazed at the concerned woman’s face. “I had a zipper pouch in here, dark green silk, a name embroidered across it.”
Ida read her expression correctly. “Did you open your purse here in the store? Could the pouch have fallen out?”
Amber knew she’d had the zipper pouch when she left her apartment. She’d so carefully slipped it inside the purse. Surely she’d zipped it closed. She always did. She had lived in cities with pickpockets. But by now panic had obliterated all memories of the past hour.
“I had it when I left my house.”
“We’ll look together.” As Amber scraped her belongings back into her purse, the manager walked to the door, turned the lock and flipped the Closed sign. “That will buy us some time. We’ll find it.”
Half an hour later, though, they were still empty-handed. They’d looked under tables, sorted through all the shirts in the back, followed Amber’s route through the store four separate times peering at the ground.
“I’m so sorry,” Ida said. “But I have to unlock the front door. The high school lets out about now. They’ll start banging on the glass. I just know you’re going to find it somewhere. Your house or car maybe?”
Amber knew she wasn’t. The truth was a tight knot in her stomach, all too familiar. She’d been slapped down again. The landlord wouldn’t believe her, and who could blame him? He probably didn’t need the money right away, but he would be furious she’d lied to him.
She and Will would see that eviction notice after all.
“Thank you for helping me look.” Amber cleared her throat. “I don’t think I’ll buy the shirt.
“Why don’t I just let you have it?”
“No.” Amber took a breath and softened her tone. “But thank you.”
She followed the manager to the front door as she unlocked it. “You’ll let me know when you find it?” Ida asked.
Amber managed the tiniest of smiles. But in her mind she saw the early worm being swallowed, inch by wiggling inch. And somewhere, after the meal, a fat, happy robin was looking for more just like it.

Excerpted from The House Guests by Emilie Richards, Copyright © 2021 by Emilie Richards McGee. Published by MIRA Books.

Harlequin Trade Publishing Mystery/ Thriller Blog Tour: Local Woman Missing by Mary Kubica @MaryKubica #mystery #thriller

Local Woman Missing
Mary Kubica
On Sale Date: May 18, 2021
9780778389446, 0778389448
Hardcover
$27.99 USD, $34.99 CAD
Fiction / Thrillers / Psychological
352 pages

About the Book:


People don’t just disappear without a trace…Shelby Tebow is the first to go missing. Not long after, Meredith Dickey and her six-year-old daughter, Delilah, vanish just blocks away from where Shelby was last seen, striking fear into their once-peaceful community. Are these incidents connected? After an elusive search that yields more questions than answers, the case eventually goes cold.Now, eleven years later, Delilah shockingly returns. Everyone wants to know what happened to her, but no one is prepared for what they’ll find…In this smart and chilling thriller, master of suspense and New York Times bestselling author Mary Kubica takes domestic secrets to a whole new level, showing that some people will stop at nothing to keep the truth buried.

About the Author:


Mary Kubica is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of six novels, including THE GOOD GIRL, PRETTY BABY, DON’T YOU CRY, EVERY LAST LIE, WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT, and THE OTHER MRS. A former high school history teacher, Mary holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in History and American Literature. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two children. Her last novel THE OTHER MRS. was an instant New York Times bestseller; is coming soon to Netflix; was a LibraryReads pick for February 2020; praised by the New York Times; and highly recommended by Entertainment Weekly, People, The Week, Marie Claire, Bustle, HelloGiggles, Goodreads, PopSugar, BookRiot, HuffingtonPost, First for Women, Woman’s World, and more. Mary’s novels have been translated into over thirty languages and have sold over two million copies worldwide. She’s been described as “a helluva storyteller,” (Kirkus Reviews) and “a writer of vice-like control,” (Chicago Tribune), and her novels have been praised as “hypnotic” (People) and “thrilling and illuminating” (Los Angeles Times). LOCAL WOMAN MISSING is her seventh novel.

Contact Mary:


Website: https://marykubica.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MaryKubicaAuthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/MaryKubica
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/marykubica
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7392948.Mary_Kubica

Where to Buy:


Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Local-Woman-Missing-Mary-Kubica/dp/0778389448/
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/local-woman-missing-mary-kubica/1137387568
Bookshop: https://bookshop.org/books/local-woman-missing/9780778389446
IndieBound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780778389446
Libro.fm: https://libro.fm/audiobooks/9781488211690-local-woman-missing
Books-A-Million: https://www.booksamillion.com/p/Local-Woman-Missing/Mary-Kubica/9780778389446?id=8051055467945#
Target: https://www.target.com/p/local-woman-missing-by-mary-kubica-hardcover/-/A-81225904
Walmart: https://www.walmart.com/ip/Local-Woman-Missing-Original-ed-Hardcover-9780778389446/700252600
Indigo: https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/local-woman-missing-a-novel/9780778389446-item.html
Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/local-woman-missing
AppleBooks: https://books.apple.com/us/book/local-woman-missing/id1524947457
Google Play: https://www.google.com/books/edition/Local_Woman_Missing/sKazzQEACAAJ?hl=en

Extract:

MEREDITH
11 YEARS BEFORE
March
The text comes from a number I don’t know. It’s a 630 area code. Local. I’m in the bathroom with Leo as he soaks in the tub. He has his bath toys lined up on the edge of it and they’re taking turns swan diving into the now-lukewarm water. It used to be hot, too hot for Leo to get into. But he’s been in there for thirty minutes now playing with his octopus, his whale, his fish. He’s having a ball.
Meanwhile I’ve lost track of time. I have a client in the early stages of labor. We’re texting. Her husband wants to take her to the hospital. She thinks it’s too soon. Her contractions are six and a half minutes apart. She’s absolutely correct. It’s too soon. The hospital would just send her home, which is frustrating, not to mention a huge inconvenience for women in labor. And anyway, why labor at the hospital when you can labor in the comfort of your own home? First-time fathers always get skittish. It does their wives no good. By the time I get to them, more times than not, the woman in labor is the more calm of the two. I have to focus my attention on pacifying a nervous husband. It’s not what they’re paying me for.
I tell Leo one more minute until I shampoo his hair, and then fire off a quick text, suggesting my client have a snack to keep her energy up, herself nourished. I recommend a nap, if her body will let her. The night ahead will be long for all of us. Childbirth, especially when it comes to first-time moms, is a marathon, not a sprint.
Josh is home. He’s in the kitchen cleaning up from dinner while Delilah plays. Delilah’s due up next in the tub. By the time I leave, the bedtime ritual will be done or nearly done. I feel good about that, hating the times I leave Josh alone with so much to do.
I draw up my text and then hit Send. The reply is immediate, that all too familiar ping that comes to me at all hours of the day or night.
I glance down at the phone in my hand, expecting it’s my client with some conditioned reply. Thx.
Instead: I know what you did. I hope you die.
Beside the text is a picture of a grayish skull with large, black eye sockets and teeth. The symbol of death.
My muscles tense. My heart quickens. I feel thrown off. The small bathroom feels suddenly, overwhelmingly, oppressive. It’s steamy, moist, hot. I drop down to the toilet and have a seat on the lid. My pulse is loud, audible in my own ears. I stare at the words before me, wondering if I’ve misread. Certainly I’ve misread. Leo is asking, “Is it a minute, Mommy?” I hear his little voice, muff led by the ringing in my ears. But I’m so thrown by the cutthroat text that I can’t speak.
I glance at the phone again. I haven’t misread.
The text is not from my client in labor. It’s not from any client of mine whose name and number is stored in my phone. As far as I can tell, it’s not from anyone I know.
A wrong number, then, I think. Someone sent this to me by accident. It has to be. My first thought is to delete it, to pretend this never happened. To make it disappear. Out of sight, out of mind.
But then I think of whoever sent it just sending it again or sending something worse. I can’t imagine anything worse.
I decide to reply. I’m careful to keep it to the point, to not sound too judgy or fault-finding because maybe the intended recipient really did do something awful—stole money from a children’s cancer charity—and the text isn’t as egregious as it looks at first glance.
I text: You have the wrong number.
The response is quick.
I hope you rot in hell, Meredith.
The phone slips from my hand. I yelp. The phone lands on the navy blue bath mat, which absorbs the sound of its fall.
Meredith.
Whoever is sending these texts knows my name. The texts are meant for me.
A second later Josh knocks on the bathroom door. I spring from the toilet seat, and stretch down for the phone. The phone has fallen facedown. I turn it over. The text is still there on the screen, staring back at me.
Josh doesn’t wait to be let in. He opens the door and steps right inside. I slide the phone into the back pocket of my jeans before Josh has a chance to see.
“Hey,” he says, “how about you save some water for the fish.”
Leo complains to Josh that he is cold. “Well, let’s get you out of the bath,” Josh says, stretching down to help him out of the water.
“I need to wash him still,” I admit. Before me, Leo’s teeth chatter. There are goose bumps on his arm that I hadn’t noticed before. He is cold, and I feel suddenly guilty, though it’s mired in confusion and fear. I hadn’t been paying any attention to Leo. There is bathwater spilled all over the floor, but his hair is still bone-dry.
“You haven’t washed him?” Josh asks, and I know what he’s thinking: that in the time it took him to clear the kitchen table, wash pots and pans and wipe down the sinks, I did nothing. He isn’t angry or accusatory about it. Josh isn’t the type to get angry.
“I have a client in labor,” I say by means of explanation. “She keeps texting,” I say, telling Josh that I was just about to wash Leo. I drop to my knees beside the tub. I reach for the shampoo. In the back pocket of my jeans, the phone again pings. This time, I ignore it. I don’t want Josh to know what’s happening, not until I get a handle on it for myself.
Josh asks, “Aren’t you going to get that?” I say that it can wait. I focus on Leo, on scrubbing the shampoo onto his hair, but I’m anxious. I move too fast so that the shampoo suds get in his eye. I see it happening, but all I can think to do is wipe it from his forehead with my own soapy hands. It doesn’t help. It makes it worse.
Leo complains. Leo isn’t much of a complainer. He’s an easygoing kid. “Ow,” is all that he says, his tiny wet hands going to his eyes, though shampoo in the eye burns like hell.
“Does that sting, baby?” I ask, feeling contrite. But I’m bursting with nervous energy. There’s only one thought racing through my mind. I hope you rot in hell, Meredith.
Who would have sent that, and why? Whoever it is knows me. They know my name. They’re mad at me for something I’ve done. Mad enough to wish me dead. I don’t know anyone like that. I can’t think of anything I’ve done to upset someone enough that they’d want me dead.
I grab the wet washcloth draped over the edge of the tub. I try handing it to Leo, so that he can press it to his own eyes. But my hands shake as I do. I wind up dropping the washcloth into the bath. The tepid water rises up and splashes him in the eyes. This time he cries.
“Oh, buddy,” I say, “I’m so sorry, it slipped.”
But as I try again to grab it from the water and hand it to him, I drop the washcloth for a second time. I leave it where it is, letting Leo fish it out of the water and wipe his eyes for himself. Meanwhile Josh stands two feet behind, watching.
My phone pings again. Josh says, “Someone is really dying to talk to you.”
Dying. It’s all that I hear.
My back is to Josh, thank God. He can’t see the look on my face when he says it.
“What’s that?” I ask.
“Your client,” Josh says. I turn to him. He motions to my phone jutting out of my back pocket. “She really needs you. You should take it, Mer,” he says softly, accommodatingly, and only then do I think about my client in labor and feel guilty. What if it is her? What if her contractions are coming more quickly now and she does need me?
Josh says, “I can finish up with Leo while you get ready to go,” and I acquiesce, because I need to get out of here. I need to know if the texts coming to my phone are from my client or if they’re coming from someone else.
I rise up from the floor. I scoot past Josh in the door, brushing against him. His hand closes around my upper arm as I do, and he draws me in for a hug. “Everything okay?” he asks, and I say yes, fine, sounding too chipper even to my own ears. Everything is not okay.
“I’m just thinking about my client,” I say. “She’s had a stillbirth before, at thirty-two weeks. She never thought she’d get this far. Can you imagine that? Losing a baby at thirty-two weeks?”
Josh says no. His eyes move to Leo and he looks saddened by it. I feel guilty for the lie. It’s not this client but another who lost a baby at thirty-two weeks. When she told me about it, I was completely torn up. It took everything in me not to cry as she described for me the moment the doctor told her her baby didn’t have a heartbeat. Labor was later induced, and she had to push her dead baby out with only her mother by her side. Her husband was deployed at the time. After, she was snowed under by guilt. Was it her fault the baby died? A thousand times I held her hand and told her no. I’m not sure she ever believed me.
My lie has the desired effect. Josh stands down, and asks if I need help with anything before I leave. I say no, that I’m just going to change my clothes and go.
I step out of the bathroom. In the bedroom, I close the door. I grab my scrub bottoms and a long-sleeved T-shirt from my drawer. I lay them on the bed, but before I get dressed, I pull my phone out of my pocket. I take a deep breath and hold it in, summoning the courage to look. I wonder what waits there. More nasty threats? My heart hammers inside me. My knees shake.
I take a look. There are two messages waiting for me.
The first: Water broke. Contractions 5 min apart.
And then: Heading to hospital.—M.
I release my pent-up breath. The texts are from my client’s husband, sent from her phone. My legs nearly give in relief, and I drop down to the edge of the bed, forcing myself to breathe. I inhale long and deep. I hold it in until my lungs become uncomfortable. When I breathe out, I try and force away the tension.
But I can’t sit long because my client is advancing quickly. I need to go.

Excerpted from Local Woman Missing @ 2021 by Mary Kyrychenko, used with permission by Park Row Books.

Harlequin Trade Publishing Beach Reads 2021 Blog Tour: The Summer Seekers by Sarah Morgan. @HQNBooks @SarahMorgan_ #summer #sarahmorgan

THE SUMMER SEEKERS
Author: Sarah Morgan
ISBN: 9781335180926
Publication Date: 5/18/2021
Publisher: HQN Books

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About the Author:

USA Today bestselling author Sarah Morgan writes hot, happy, contemporary romance and women’s fiction, and her trademark humor and sensuality have gained her fans across the globe. Described as “a magician with words” by RT Book Reviews, she has sold more than eleven million copies of her books. She was nominated three years in succession for the prestigious RITA® Award from the Romance Writers of America and won the award three times: once in 2012 for Doukakis’s Apprentice, in 2013 for A Night of No Return and in 2017 for Miracle on 5th Avenue. She also won the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award in 2012 and has made numerous appearances in their Top Pick slot. As a child, Sarah dreamed of being a writer, and although she took a few interesting detours along the way, she is now living that dream. Sarah lives near London, England, with her husband and children, and when she isn’t reading or writing, she loves being outdoors, preferably on vacation so she can forget the house needs tidying.

About the Book:

Get swept into a summer of sunshine, soul-searching and shameless matchmaking with this delightfully bighearted road-trip adventure by USA TODAY bestselling author Sarah Morgan!Kathleen is eighty years old. After she has a run-in with an intruder, her daughter wants her to move into a residential home. But she’s not having any of it. What she craves—what she needs—is adventure.Liza is drowning in the daily stress of family life. The last thing she needs is her mother jetting off on a wild holiday, making Liza long for a solo summer of her own.Martha is having a quarter-life crisis. Unemployed, unloved and uninspired, she just can’t get her life together. But she knows something has to change.When Martha sees Kathleen’s advertisement for a driver and companion to share an epic road trip across America with, she decides this job might be the answer to her prayers. She’s not the world’s best driver, but anything has to be better than living with her parents. And traveling with a stranger? No problem. Anyway, how much trouble can one eighty-year-old woman be?As these women embark on the journey of a lifetime, they all discover it’s never too late to start over…

Excerpt:

1
Kathleen
It was the cup of milk that saved her. That and the salty bacon she’d fried for her supper many hours earlier, which had left her mouth dry.
If she hadn’t been thirsty—if she’d still been upstairs, sleeping on the ridiculously expensive mattress that had been her eightieth birthday gift to herself—she wouldn’t have been alerted to danger.
As it was, she’d been standing in front of the fridge, the milk carton in one hand and the cup in the other, when she’d heard a loud thump. The noise was out of place here in the leafy darkness of the English countryside, where the only sounds should have been the hoot of an owl and the occasional bleat of a sheep.
She put the glass down and turned her head, trying to locate the sound. The back door. Had she forgotten to lock it again?
The moon sent a ghostly gleam across the kitchen and she was grateful she hadn’t felt the need to turn the light on. That gave her some advantage, surely?
She put the milk back and closed the fridge door quietly, sure now that she was not alone in the house.
Moments earlier she’d been asleep. Not deeply asleep—that rarely happened these days—but drifting along on a tide of dreams. If someone had told her younger self that she’d still be dreaming and enjoying her adventures when she was eighty she would have been less afraid of aging. And it was impossible to forget that she was aging.
People said she was wonderful for her age, but most of the time she didn’t feel wonderful. The answers to her beloved crosswords floated just out of range. Names and faces refused to align at the right moment. She struggled to remember what she’d done the day before, although if she took herself back twenty years or more her mind was clear. And then there were the physical changes—her eyesight and hearing were still good, thankfully, but her joints hurt and her bones ached. Bending to feed the cat was a challenge. Climbing the stairs required more effort than she would have liked and was always undertaken with one hand on the rail just in case.
She’d never been the sort to live in a just in case sort of way.
Her daughter, Liza, wanted her to wear an alarm. One of those medical alert systems, with a button you could press in an emergency, but Kathleen refused. In her youth she’d traveled the world, before it was remotely fashionable to do so. She’d sacrificed safety for adventure without a second thought. Most days now she felt like a different person.
Losing friends didn’t help. One by one they fell by the wayside, taking with them shared memories of the past. A small part of her vanished with each loss. It had taken decades for her to understand that loneliness wasn’t a lack of people in your life, but a lack of people who knew and understood you.
She fought fiercely to retain some version of her old self—which was why she’d resisted Liza’s pleas that she remove the rug from the living room floor, stop using a step ladder to retrieve books from the highest shelves and leave a light on at night. Each compromise was another layer shaved from her independence, and losing her independence was her biggest fear.
Kathleen had always been the rebel in the family, and she was still the rebel—although she wasn’t sure that rebels were supposed to have shaking hands and a pounding heart.
She heard the sound of heavy footsteps. Someone was searching the house. For what, exactly? What treasures did they hope to find? And why weren’t they trying to at least disguise their presence?
Having resolutely ignored all suggestions that she might be vulnerable, she was now forced to acknowledge the possibility. Perhaps she shouldn’t have been so stubborn. How long would it have taken from pressing the alert button to the cavalry arriving?
In reality, the cavalry was Finn Cool, who lived three fields away. Finn was a musician, and he’d bought the property precisely because there were no immediate neighbors. His antics caused mutterings in the village. He had rowdy parties late into the night, attended by glamorous people from London who terrorized the locals by driving their flashy sports cars too fast down the narrow lanes. Someone had started a petition in the post office to ban the parties. There had been talk of drugs, and half-naked women, and it had all sounded like so much fun that Kathleen had been tempted to invite herself over. Rather that than a dull women’s group, where you were expected to bake and knit and swap recipes for banana bread.
Finn would be of no use to her in this moment of crisis. In all probability he’d either be in his studio, wearing headphones, or he’d be drunk. Either way, he wasn’t going to hear a cry for help.
Calling the police would mean walking through the kitchen and across the hall to the living room, where the phone was kept and she didn’t want to reveal her presence. Her family had bought her a mobile phone, but it was still in its box, unused. Her adventurous spirit didn’t extend to technology. She didn’t like the idea of a nameless faceless person tracking her every move.
There was another thump, louder this time, and Kathleen pressed her hand to her chest. She could feel the rapid pounding of her heart. At least it was still working. She should probably be grateful for that.
When she’d complained about wanting a little more adventure, this wasn’t what she’d had in mind. What could she do? She had no button to press, no phone with which to call for help, so she was going to have to handle this herself.
She could already hear Liza’s voice in her head: Mum, I warned you!
If she survived, she’d never hear the last of it.
Fear was replaced by anger. Because of this intruder she’d be branded Old and Vulnerable and forced to spend the rest of her days in a single room with minders who would cut up her food, speak in overly loud voices and help her to the bathroom. Life as she knew it would be over.
That was not going to happen.
She’d rather die at the hands of an intruder. At least her obituary would be interesting.
Better still, she would stay alive and prove herself capable of independent living.
She glanced quickly around the kitchen for a suitable weapon and spied the heavy black skillet she’d used to fry the bacon earlier.
She lifted it silently, gripping the handle tightly as she walked to the door that led from the kitchen to the hall. The tiles were cool under her feet—which, fortunately, were bare. No sound. Nothing to give her away. She had the advantage.
She could do this. Hadn’t she once fought off a mugger in the backstreets of Paris? True, she’d been a great deal younger then, but this time she had the advantage of surprise.
How many of them were there?
More than one would give her trouble.
Was it a professional job? Surely no professional would be this loud and clumsy. If it was kids hoping to steal her TV, they were in for a disappointment. Her grandchildren had been trying to persuade her to buy a “smart” TV, but why would she need such a thing? She was perfectly happy with the IQ of her current machine, thank you very much. Technology already made her feel foolish most of the time. She didn’t need it to be any smarter than it already was.
Perhaps they wouldn’t come into the kitchen. She could stay hidden away until they’d taken what they wanted and left.
They’d never know she was here.
They’d—
A floorboard squeaked close by. There wasn’t a crack or a creak in this house that she didn’t know. Someone was right outside the door.
Her knees turned liquid.
Oh Kathleen, Kathleen.
She closed both hands tightly round the handle of the skillet.
Why hadn’t she gone to self-defense classes instead of senior yoga? What use was the downward dog when what you needed was a guard dog?
A shadow moved into the room, and without allowing herself to think about what she was about to do she lifted the skillet and brought it down hard, the force of the blow driven by the weight of the object as much as her own strength. There was a thud and a vibration as it connected with his head.
“I’m so sorry—I mean—” Why was she apologizing? Ridiculous!
The man threw up an arm as he fell, a reflex action, and the movement sent the skillet back into Kathleen’s own head. Pain almost blinded her and she prepared herself to end her days right here, thus giving her daughter the opportunity to be right, when there was a loud thump and the man crumpled to the floor. There was a crack as his head hit the tiles.
Kathleen froze. Was that it, or was he suddenly going to spring to his feet and murder her?
No. Against all odds, she was still standing while her prowler lay inert at her feet. The smell of alcohol rose, and Kathleen wrinkled her nose.
Drunk.
Her heart was racing so fast she was worried that any moment now it might trip over itself and give up.
She held tightly to the skillet.
Did he have an accomplice?
She held her breath, braced for someone else to come racing through the door to investigate the noise, but there was only silence.
Gingerly she stepped toward the door and poked her head into the hall. It was empty.
It seemed the man had been alone.
Finally she risked a look at him.
He was lying still at her feet, big, bulky and dressed all in black. The mud on the edges of his trousers suggested he’d come across the fields at the back of the house. She couldn’t make out his features because he’d landed face-first, but blood oozed from a wound on his head and darkened her kitchen floor.
Feeling a little dizzy, Kathleen pressed her hand to her throbbing head.
What now? Was one supposed to administer first aid when one was the cause of the injury? Was that helpful or hypocritical? Or was he past first aid and every other type of aid?
She nudged his body with her bare foot, but there was no movement.
Had she killed him?
The enormity of it shook her.
If he was dead, then she was a murderer.
When Liza had expressed a desire to see her mother safely housed somewhere she could easily visit, presumably she hadn’t been thinking of prison.
Who was he? Did he have family? What had been his intention when he’d forcibly entered her home? Kathleen put the skillet down and forced her shaky limbs to carry her to the living room. Something tickled her cheek. Blood. Hers.
She picked up the phone and for the first time in her life dialed the emergency services.
Underneath the panic and the shock there was something that felt a lot like pride. It was a relief to discover she wasn’t as weak and defenseless as everyone seemed to think.
When a woman answered, Kathleen spoke clearly and without hesitation.
“There’s a body in my kitchen,” she said. “I assume you’ll want to come and remove it.”

Excerpted from The Summer Seekers by Sarah Morgan. Copyright © 2021 by Sarah Morgan. Published by HQN Books.