Thursday, January 31, 2013

Spotlight - Flappers, Flasks and Foul Play by Ellen Mansoor Collier

NEW ADULT Jazz Age Mystery
Title: Flappers, Flasks, and Foul Play
Author: Ellen Mansoor Collier

Flappers Flasks and Foul Play

Date Published: July 2012 

"Boardwalk Empire" meets "The Great Gatsby" in this soft-boiled historical mystery, inspired by actual events. Rival gangs fight over booze and bars during Prohibition in 1920s Galveston: the "Sin City of the Southwest." Jazz Cross, a 21-year-old society reporter, feels caught between two clashing cultures: the seedy speakeasy underworld and the snooty social circles she covers in the Galveston Gazette. 

During a night out with her best friend, Jazz witnesses a bar fight at the Oasis--a speakeasy secretly owned by her black-sheep half-brother, Sammy Cook. But when a big-shot banker with a hidden past collapses there and later dies, she suspects foul play. Was it an accident or a mob hit?

Soon handsome young Prohibition Agent James Burton raids the Oasis, threatening to shut it down if Sammy doesn't talk. Suspicious, he pursues Jazz but, despite her mixed feelings, she refuses to rat on Sammy. As turf wars escalate between two real-life Galveston gangs, Sammy is accused of murder. Jazz must risk her life and career to find the killer, exposing the dark side of Galveston's glittering society.


Why in the world was Fed Agent Burton here? Everyone stopped working to watch him make his grand entrance. People don't usually parade around in a newsroom: They sort of shuffle or stumble or stomp—unless a story's really hot, then they'll run. I felt like running away too, but I stayed glued to my chair, pretending to work, my heart racing.

Burton seemed to enjoy the attention as he headed my way. He was hard to ignore: Standing before me, all six feet-plus of golden skin and hair, he towered over my desk. Looking up, I noticed the curious eyes watching us in the too-quiet newsroom. The reporters stopped typing, fingers poised over keys, hoping for a scoop. My boss stared with unabashed interest.

"To what do I owe this disturbance?" I adjusted my cloche cap, acting nonchalant.

He grinned at me, then looked around the suddenly still office. "I need to ask you a few questions. Can we go somewhere private?"

"What do you want?" I put on a brave face so the newsboys wouldn't see me sweat.

Burton scanned the hushed room. "You really want to discuss it here, out in public?"

He had a point. Did I want the whole staff listening in on my private conversation? He probably wanted to discuss Sammy, who was no one else's business.

"Let's go outside," I agreed. Head down, I followed him past a leering Hank, feeling like a naughty kid going to the principal's office.

Nathan entered the newsroom, a camera slung over his shoulder, stopping to stare at Burton. "Jazz, is everything jake?"

"Everything's berries." I smiled to pacify him but, I admit, I had the jitters.

"I remember him. Your boyfriend?" Burton seemed amused.

"He's the staff photographer." I ignored his crack. "And a good friend."

Outside, I felt safe among the throng of people and automobiles passing by in a rush. The hustle and bustle of the streets and sidewalks seemed almost comforting. I looked around for Golliwog, our resident stray cat, but she must have been making her daily rounds for scraps.

"How was lunch?" In broad daylight, Burton didn't seem quite as menacing or intimidating. Besides, a group of hard-boiled reporters peered out the newsroom, spying on us.

"Fine." I covered my growling stomach. "What brings you here?"

"Sorry to barge in that way." He smiled, tugging on his hat. "But I had to get your attention. You wouldn't give me the time of day the other night."

"Can you blame me? A raid isn't exactly the best way to meet new people."

"I think we got off on the wrong foot." He stuck his hands in his pockets, jingling some change. "Perhaps we can talk over dinner, instead of standing out here on the sidewalk?"

"Dinner?" Was he serious? "Just like that?" I snapped my fingers. "You waltz in as if you owned the place—like you did at the Oasis—and expect me to dine out with you, a total stranger, because of your badge? You've got a lot of nerve, mister."

"I wouldn't be a Prohibition agent if I didn't." He looked smug. "How about tonight?"

Ellen Mansoor Collier

Author Bio

Ellen Mansoor Collier is a Houston-based freelance magazine writer whose articles and essays have been published in several national magazines including: FAMILY CIRCLE, MODERN BRIDE, GLAMOUR, BIOGRAPHY, COSMOPOLITAN, COUNTRY ACCENTS, PLAYGIRL, etc. Several of her short stories (both mystery and romance) have appeared in WOMAN'S WORLD.

A flapper at heart, she’s the owner of DECODAME, specializing in Deco to retro vintage items ( Formerly she's worked as a magazine editor/writer, and in advertising sales and public relations. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Magazine Journalism. During college, she once worked as a cocktail waitress, a short-lived experience since she was clueless about cocktails. Flappers, Flasks and Foul Play is her first novel, inspired by real people and places. Currently, she’s working on the sequel.

"When you grow up in Houston, Galveston becomes like a second home. I had no idea this sleepy beach town had such a wild and colorful past until I began doing research, and became fascinated by the legends and stories of the 1920s. I love the glamour and excitement of The Jazz Age, but Prohibition was also such a dark and dangerous time in American history. Jazz isn’t a debutante or socialite, she’s a reporter caught in between the two halves of Galveston society, struggling to do the right thing despite all the temptations and decadence of the era."

“Boardwalk Empire" meets "The Great Gatsby" in this soft-boiled historical mystery, set during Prohibition in 1920s Galveston: the "Sin City of the Southwest."
Links to Buy

Pre-Release Spotlight - The Earl Is Mine by Kieran Kramer

The Earl is Mine
by Kieran Kramer

House of Brady, Book 2 

Publisher: St. Martin's 

Release Date: Feb 26, 2013

ISBN: 978-1250009890

Book Description:


Handsome, charismatic, and on the verge of becoming a successful architect, Gregory Sherwood, Lord Westdale, could have just about any woman he wants. So why rush to marry? So far there’s been only one woman he’s considered his ideal match. But that was before she had a secret affair with his best friend…with the help of an unwitting accomplice named Lady Pippa Harrington.


Pippa may not have acted in her old friend Gregory’s best interests, but she’s always believed that the heart sets its own rules. This is why Pippa must escape her arranged marriage–fast–by fleeing to Paris, where she hopes to pursue her artistic passions. To do so, Pippa will need all the help she can get–from Gregory, the one man she isn’t sure she can trust…or resist….

Excerpt (Source: Kieran Kramer's Website)

The figure who slid into the Earl of Westdale’s coat every morning wasn’t happy. His name was Gregory Sherwood, and he had everything a man could want. But like a prisoner who can’t bask in a beautiful day outside his barred window, Gregory couldn’t enjoy his family, his wealth, or his title.

He was the legitimate heir to the Marquess of Brady.

But he wasn’t his son.

And he was doomed to a lifetime of lies.

“You know Mother meant for us to save those pieces for the women we’re to marry,” his brother Peter said in the light Irish accent all three Sherwood boys shared. He peered over Gregory’s shoulder as he sorted through a small chest on his dresser and pulled out a silk box. In it was a ruby ring their late mother Nora had left him in her will. “Are you going to propose?”

Gregory stopped his search and glared at his younger brother. “What do you think?”

“Really?” Peter gave a short laugh. “You’re jesting, aren’t you? Marriage is a long time.”

A very long time.

But then Gregory remembered sweet, shy Eliza last night, how he’d known exactly what he was doing when he laid her down on a sofa in an out-of-the-way sitting room at a Mayfair mansion during the height of a masquerade ball and slipped up her gown. Her parents had been throwing her at him for years, so it wasn’t as if the seduction would take her by surprise. She’d given a virginal cry when he’d first entered her, and there was the moment right before she’d peaked, her slender legs wrapped around his back, her hips arching upward while she sighed softly against his neck.

He’d felt more than his usual pleasure when he released his seed into her. There would be no turning back. Eliza was a lady. The knowledge that he’d do right by her had focused him, had cast away the shadows for just a moment. She’d be the beginning of a life he created on his own, not one that had been thrust upon him–as blessed as it had been, as grateful as he was for what he clearly didn’t deserve.

“But why tie yourself down now?” Peter asked him. “You’re much too young.”

“Mind your own business.” Gregory strode past his brother and brushed shoulders with him, just hard enough to drive the message home. He tucked the small box in an inner pocket of his jacket, adjusted his cravat, and left the bedchamber, a cavernous oblong space almost like a hunting box bunk room. Father had designed it when the boys were small, and Gregory still shared it with his two brothers when he was home.

“I’m coming with you,” said Peter, and followed him out the front door.

“Go away,” Gregory told him.

“No. I’m not going to let you do this without a fight. This is serious, Gregory. You can’t give away Mother’s ring so easily.”

On the pavement, Gregory whirled around. “So easily? Do you think that little of me? Or the woman to whom I’ll present this symbol of my devotion?”

“Devotion? Is that the same thing as love?”

“Go away, Peter. You know nothing of love.” Not that Gregory truly knew anything of the romantic kind, either. He couldn’t begin to guess whether his mother and the marquess, the only father he’d ever known, had been in love. And if they had, did it count–when one of them was keeping a secret from the other?

But Father and Caroline, his second wife, whom Gregory called Mama the way his three stepsisters did, were most certainly in love, even after a decade of being together. And while he was glad of it, they were awfully in each other’s pockets.

The thought of such intimacy at the soul level made Gregory’s cravat feel tight. He’d be faithful to Eliza, and they’d no doubt meet regularly between the sheets—she had a sweet, welcoming nature and wouldn’t deny him his conjugal rights, he was sure—but as for staring into each other’s eyes and sharing dreams, hopes, and all that balderdash…

Well, no. A monolithic no, actually.

It was his duty to take a wife to secure the Brady line. But a part of him would never, ever belong to the House of Brady. That part that would remain undutiful. Would seek illicit pleasure. Would work desperately hard to forget his impossible position—that he belonged nowhere.

That part would take a mistress and leave his gentle, dutiful wife at home.

His brother huffed. “You’re not ready.”

“I am ready,” Gregory uttered low. “I don’t take this step lightly. I’ve put a great deal of thought into the matter.”

And he had, for a man whose attention was drawn more to other things: his interest in design; his sporting life; politics and gaming; and his more mundane duties as heir, which Father and Mama were anxious for him to take up. And then there was his constant need to play a role—to hide the ugliness that was his secret. Some nights, he went to bed exhausted from its weight.

Peter’s pupils were wide and black, his mouth thin. “You haven’t considered this enough. Not nearly.”

“Wait a minute.” Gregory moved closer, his chest up to his brother’s. “Are you implying that Eliza isn’t worthy of my regard?”

Peter didn’t back away. “I’m not implying anything. I’m coming right out and saying you’re too besotted to see straight.”

“I will never be besotted, Peter, by any woman.”

“Then explain why you look so feverish searching for that ring? I could have shot a pistol next to your ear, and you wouldn’t have turned to look. If that’s not besotted—“

“You don’t trust me,” Gregory said, feeling the irony of his words.

“Not about this, no.” Peter’s tone was firm. “You don’t value that ring the way you should, and I’m glad Mother’s not here to see what you’re doing with it.”

“I’ve had it with you and your insults.” Gregory pushed him hard on the shoulder. Peter flinched but didn’t lose his footing. “Come on, little brother.” Little half brother. “Show me what you’ve got besides words.”

“Forget it.” Peter stared at him, his eyes flat and hard. “Go ahead with your stupidity. See if I care. You’ll regret it later.”

He spun on his heels and stalked off.

Gregory stared after him, annoyed that he’d succumbed to childish temper. Here he was, feeling man enough to marry Eliza. And yet Peter had managed to put a damper on the day.

If someone could so easily do that, how strong was his commitment, really?

He pushed the thought aside as ridiculous. Even apart from the fact that marriage was now a real necessity, he could easily see himself marrying Eliza. Her pedigree was impeccable. She was a good conversationalist and a pleasure to look at. And she accepted him at face value, which was imperative in a bride.

If he was on the young side, then so be it. His friends would get over their pique—and they’d damn well better get over any amusement—if they wanted to continue calling themselves his friends.
He walked the several blocks to his intended’s house with a purposeful stride. Every step he got closer, the muscles in his thighs, his calves, and his belly grew more tense. So proposing marriage was hell on even the most self-assured man, he was discovering. What would she say when he gave her the ring?

What would he say?

Dear God, he hadn’t even thought of practicing a speech. Being cast adrift without a map at a young age had given him practice navigating an uncertain world. He raced his best races when he handled the reins loosely, when he didn’t analyze every curve in the road. And his finest work as a new architect had all been done when he’d acted upon inspiration, the kind that grabbed him mid-sentence while sitting in a café on the street. Or came to him in a dream. Or seemed to unfold as he was sketching, not knowing exactly in which direction he was pointed.

One benefit of losing his mother, his father, and his entire identity in a day: Life couldn’t throw anything at Gregory he couldn’t handle.

He rang the bell, sure at least of his welcome. The family appeared to approve of him—even the butler–as well they should. He was heir to a marquess. Of what could they disapprove?

He intended to ask Eliza to marry him first—a secret, intimate proposal that would take her by surprise, as all properly romantic gestures should; he owed her that—and then he’d play the usual societal game and request an audience with her father, which would be a matter of course. After her father’s approval was won, Gregory would pretend to ask her to marry him for the first time in Lord Baird’s library—but he and Eliza would know otherwise.

“Lord and Lady Baird are out. Lady Eliza’s in the back garden,” the butler informed him before Gregory could even ask. “She’s showing Lord Morgan and Lady Pippa Harrington her mother’s roses.” An invisible mantle came down at the mention of Pippa. Not her. “May I take your cane and hat?”

“Thank you.” Gregory concealed his annoyance at being thrown off kilter and handed the cane and hat over.

The silk box burned a hole in his pocket, but he’d have to delay the big moment. Dougal could be got rid of easily, but Pippa was another story. Gregory saw her once a year at a birthday dinner for her great-uncle Bertie, his godfather, in Devon, and had done so since he was eight—old enough to travel alone without crying–and she was three. She was rarely in Town, so he couldn’t simply fob her off. And prying her loose from her old friend Eliza might be difficult, as well.

Nevertheless, he’d get rid of the two interlopers—and they wouldn’t even know they’d been dismissed. He’d use the effortless charm that came straight from his mother—and not Father, as everyone assumed–to convince them they were leaving of their own accord.

“The quickest way is through the billiard room,” the butler said, indicating the route with a sure hand.

Gregory strode through the house and out one of the French doors onto a small pebbled path.

There came Pippa, striding toward him, her face slightly flushed. She’d never be able to sneak into a room with that fiery Titian hair. And she always wore at least one thing that was unusual. Today, it was a dramatic yellow-gold velvet spencer with tight sleeves that ended in large cuffs with outrageously large emerald paste buttons. Beneath it was a simple ivory muslin frock. There was no bonnet in evidence, but that wasn’t a surprise.

She was like Mother, who’d never shown the smallest regard for whether anyone approved of her. Of course, Gregory knew now that his mother’s insouciant manner had been an act. She had cared what people thought. Very much so.

“Swear you won’t tell our secret, Gregory.” Mother cradled his head on her frail chest and stroked his curls. “It would only hurt your father’s feelings and embarrass the family. But I had to tell you, darling, else I can’t fly. I can’t fly straight to Heaven as I know you want me to do.”
“I swear, Mother. I’ll never tell. Never.”

Lucky him, helping his mother to Heaven. Thirteen, he’d been, and he’d lived in his own sort of hell ever since.

“Gregory?” Pippa glowed as usual. She wore the same broad smile he’d seen the day she’d come into her great-uncle’s house from the moor with her two front teeth missing, a smudge of dirt decorating her nose, and a field mouse cupped in her hands, a birthday gift for Bertie. “You’re looking straight through me–as if I were a ghost.”

“You’re the furthest thing from one,” he said smoothly.

And he meant what he said. She was more alive than anyone he knew, which was why he couldn’t help being suspicious of her.

Did people like Pippa and his mother ever consider what their private joys did to other people? What price the rest of the world paid for their adventures?

Since Mother’s death, Gregory had ceased joining Pippa in their annual childish high jinx–he was always called Captain, and she was Lieutenant; their crabapple wars were legendary—and he’d refused to spend time with her exploring the dramatic fells of Dartmoor, claiming to prefer his godfather’s library.

But that was a lie.

He simply didn’t want to be around her—a girl with bright eyes and a ready laugh and an earnest readiness to conquer the world.

“What’s wrong, Gregory?” she’d asked him in Bertie’s library once. Out of the blue, when he’d been quietly perusing the shelves. She’d stood at the door, her head cocked to the side like a robin’s.
“Nothing,” he’d told her. He’d been sixteen. She’d been eleven.

She did the same thing several other years as well, the last time occurring when he’d just graduated from Oxford.

“What is it?” she’d said over dinner, when Bertie’s attention has been diverted by Pippa’s mother and obnoxious second husband.

“None of your business,” he’d said quietly. It was the first time he’d ever admitted to anyone that anything was wrong. “Don’t ask again.”

Small tears had formed in her eyes, and she’d looked away, at a candle flame wavering on its wick on the mantel.

Since that night, nothing else had been said.

Thank God.

Everywhere else, he was Gregory, the successful, sociable eldest son of the Marquess and Marchioness of Brady. But there was no hiding from Pippa, who seemed to read him as well as she did the sky and the moor she so loved. She sensed his misery. His darkness. It pressed against his polite smiles, made it difficult for him to maintain his façade as the London wit, the ambitious young architect, and the substantial heir.

Now he lifted her gloved hand to his mouth and brushed a polite kiss across her knuckles. “It’s a rare thing to see you in Town, my lady. And a distinct pleasure to see you so soon after Bertie’s birthday. How is he? Aside from the fact that he’s—“

“Older?” There was a twinkle in her eyes.

“Yes, older.” She had a clever way of handling awkward moments.

Of handling him.

“My uncle’s very well, thank you.” Her grin was demure. Knowing. She was well aware that he avoided her. “Mother and I wanted him to come to the Danvers-Tremont wedding, too, but you know Uncle Bertie. He’s determined that the next wedding he attends must be my own.”

To Gregory, was the unspoken conclusion to that sentence, they both knew.

“So you are here for the wedding festivities, I see,” he said.


“With Lady Eliza?”

“Yes, actually.”

“Old schoolmates always have much to talk about.”

“And weddings only add to the conversation,” she said, the merest flash of discomfiture crossing her face.

Or was it heartbreak? Gregory somehow doubted it. The groom was a bland, boring aristocrat, not Pippa’s type at all, he should think.

And then he realized. Perhaps she wanted rid of him, too. “I’m sorry,” he said immediately, feeling foolish. “I’m preventing you from leaving. Perhaps you plan to stop by the new exhibit at the British Museum?”

She wasn’t a ribbons or baubles sort of girl, he knew. But surely the exotic animal exhibit would tempt her.

“I’ve already been,” she said, “and it was fascinating. No, my lord, I’m in no rush to leave Eliza’s. I’m enjoying my chat with you.” Although when she smiled this time, it seemed to take her some effort. “I was just going to retrieve my reticule in the drawing room. I brought a bit of charcoal and a small pad of paper—I wanted to sketch the back of the house.”

“That’s interesting.” He fought to suppress any impatience in his tone.

“I’m exploring a new hobby.” She looked to the right and left—as if they had company—and leaned toward him. “Making sugar sculptures.”


Dimples peeked out, and she nodded vigorously. “I’m mad for them. Garden scenes with tiny temples and shepherdesses, gilded horses, fanciful flowers, woven baskets. So when I visit a place I like”—she lifted a hand to encompass the garden and the house—“I sketch it. In case someday I’ll want to reproduce it as part of a pastoral scene for a dessert table.”

He looked all around him. Eliza’s house was the most boring edifice he’d ever seen. An imposing structure with stark and unimaginative lines, it sat like a fat salt box on the kitchen counter. The gardens weren’t much more interesting, either, with nary a fanciful thought put into their design.

“It is lovely back here,” he lied. “Shall I fetch your reticule for you?”

She stole another glance around the garden and blushed. “Oh, no, thank you, although—“ She hesitated, and that awkwardness came between them once more. “Would you like to accompany me? I could catch you up on all Uncle Bertie’s theaters. The newest one recently opened in Bristol.”

“Of course.” He opened the door to the billiards room again. And as he listened to her, something began to niggle at him. It wasn’t anything particularly important. But it was a matter of slight curiosity: What was Dougal doing here? He’d had the occasional dance with Eliza at various balls, spoken with her at soirees, and said hello to her if they met up in the park when she was in Gregory’s curricle. But other than that, they were mere acquaintances.

In the drawing room, Gregory was distracted when Pippa removed her gloves, placed them by a modest straw bonnet lying carelessly on top of the pianoforte, and retrieved the charcoal and pad of paper from her reticule. Her movements were sure and capable.

Eliza had delicate, tapered fingers. Last night, they’d felt like butterflies on his back.

Pippa’s hands were entirely different, and seeing how ordinary they looked gave him a slight sympathy toward her. She might know her way around a moor, but in more polished company, she didn’t have the élan of his Eliza.

Then again, who did? Eliza, demure as she was, ruled the ranks of young ladies out in society. But she did it with an understated elegance that charmed all those who came in contact with her.

“So are you staying with Lady Eliza?” he asked.

They began to make their way through the house back to the gardens.

“No.” Pippa paused by the billiard table. “Mother, Mr. Trickle, and I are at the Grillon Hotel. I escaped to see Eliza this morning. She told me it was her only opportunity. She’s very popular. I don’t know how she manages her schedule.”

Gregory could swear she saw her fingers clutch the charcoal stick and pad tighter.

Something wasn’t right. She swallowed oddly.

“All you all right?” Gregory leaned toward her, and smelled lavender in her hair. “Shall I get you some water?”

“Oh, no, indeed, but thank you,” she said in a tone that was overly polite, and somewhat distant at that. She sounded as though he were a stranger.

He knew they only saw each other once a year, but he was certainly was no stranger. And it was he who usually acted cool—not her. It was an odd feeling.

Pippa didn’t dislike any person.

He suddenly didn’t want to be the first.

He threw open the billiards room door again, and they walked back outside. “Forgive me for prying, but I wonder what brought Dougal here today?”

She glided smoothly ahead of him on the narrow path. “I’ve no idea,” she said over her shoulder. “He and Eliza must know each other.”

“They must,” he agreed.

Where were they?

Pippa paused to take in the view of a lush hydrangea. “Those colors are so beautiful, aren’t they?”

“They are.” Although to Gregory the hydrangea was no more worthy of a compliment than any other hydrangea he’d ever seen.

Impatience to see Eliza gripped him, and he had to strive to remember to loosen his fingers, let them hang at his sides, and relax his jaw.

Pippa looked up at him with bright eyes, hazel turned green against the backdrop of garden shrubbery. “It’s odd seeing you away from Uncle Bertie’s.”

She was nothing if not frank.

“It is,” he said, and it was. It felt wrong somehow. Perhaps that was what accounted for his unease. Seeing Pippa in the wrong place. And sensing her nervousness.

That was it.

She seemed hesitant to move.

He’d be glad to take the lead. With one deft move, he sidestepped her on the path. “If you’d like to sketch, there’s a bench right there you might have missed, three hydrangeas over.” He pointed to the east. “I’ll find Dougal and Lady Eliza.”

“Very well.” Her voice was a little thin.

He sensed that she didn’t dislike him, after all, which brought a feeling of relief followed swiftly by guilt: he was too hard on her. Much too hard. It wasn’t her fault that she was free, more free than anyone he’d ever known, even as society—and Uncle Bertie, in particular–shackled her to the usual expectations.

How had she done that, anyway? Learned to live within her bonds so well?

“I’ll see you in a moment, my lady.”

She looked up, a flash of trepidation in her eyes. “Yes,” she whispered.

Good God, she wasn’t even trying anymore to hide it—she was worried about something, something that must be going on in amidst the flora and fauna.

But what?

He took long strides over the grass, abandoning the pebble path, and headed to the back of the garden, where a line of rose bushes stood like sweet sentinels surrounding a statue of Mars.

Where the deuce were Dougal and Eliza, anyhow? They didn’t really know each other well. They couldn’t—

And there they were.

Past Mars, on the right, behind a tree. Dougal had her up against the trunk, and he was kissing her deeply, his hand roving her waist and caressing her breast.

Eliza was like a different woman. Her hands clung to Dougal’s shoulders in a fierce grip. Her back was arched into him, as if she couldn’t get enough of his mouth.

She hadn’t been nearly as fervent in her response to Gregory. She hadn’t been passionate with him at all, truth be told.

For the second time in his life, he felt as though he’d been shot three times through the heart in rapid succession: The woman he’d come to claim as his bride had betrayed him. His best friend had, too. And so had Lady Pippa Harrington, who despite their differences shared a rare bond with him: they were both mutual survivors of Uncle Bertie’s annual birthday dinner.

He left the entangled lovers to their own devices and strode to the bench where Pippa was making lame sketch marks and snatched the pad from her hands. All that was there was a doodle of a heart with an arrow through it, and then of a face, a man with curly hair and distinctive brows—


Gregory tossed it on the bench beside her. “So much for you and your sugar sculptures.”

She stood, her face white, stricken. “I’m so sorry. But don’t despair. You can do anything you want. Go anywhere you want. Whereas I—“

He pulled her close. Her face was an inch from his, her breasts pressed against his jacket.

“Stop talking,” he told her in a low, dark voice.

She gulped and refused to take her eyes off his. He could feel her heart beating hard in her chest. Her eyes were so very green, and her lashes—those thick lashes….

And then he kissed her as if she’d had practice, but he knew she hadn’t. Not Pippa. She was as fresh as that morning air on the moor, as untried as a closed rose bud.

He was unrelenting, demanding more of her with every passing second.


And when he found her responding, moaning low in her throat when he pinned her in his embrace between his muscular thighs, he didn’t care that the hardness of his arousal butted into her belly, that after this kiss was over, he was done with her.

He took what he wanted, caressing her derriere and her waist with a possessive hand, plundering her mouth with the desperation of a man who was angry and alone.

A host of images paraded through his head: the ruby ring in his pocket; his dying mother’s whisper that his natural father, whom she wouldn’t name, had died long ago; the smiling faces of his family on Christmas morning, a holiday which had felt vaguely sad to him ever since he’d learned the truth; his friends at Oxford, laughing and drinking without a care in the world—


“No,” Pippa managed to gasp against his mouth, and slid out from under his arm. She stood there trembling. “You won’t use me like this. I’m sorry what’s happened, but it’s not my fault.”

The careless sound of a jaunty bird whistling on a branch nearby sounded oddly chilling. But fitting. There was no sunshine. Nor songs. Not really. They were a cover—like Pippa—for deceit. For wrong.

Gregory turned on his heels and strode toward the house.

“Gregory!” she called after him.

But he ignored her.

“Gregory!” she called again, this time from right behind him on the pebble path.

He shut the door to the billiards room in her face.

Then he strode through the house and took his cane and hat from the hall tree before the astonished butler could hand them over himself. He walked directly home, seeing nothing along the way.

Peter came in as he was packing a bag in the quiet of their bedchamber. “Where are you going?”

“The United States,” Gregory said, then reached into his pocket, removed the silk box containing their mother’s ring, and tossed it to him. “Keep it. I don’t want to see it again.”
Peter said nothing, just held the box in his hand.

Gregory went back to tossing cravats and shirts into his bag. “You knew, didn’t you?”

Peter still said nothing.

“You knew.” Gregory stood tall and stared down his brother. He was the fourth person to dupe him today.

“I suspected she was in love with Dougal. But I had no proof. I tried to warn you—“

“Out of my way.” Gregory grabbed his suitcase and stormed out of the room.

He didn’t belong here.

He didn’t belong anywhere.

Pippa was right. He could do anything he wanted, be anyplace he wanted. He was a novice architect, and while Father and Bertie had been the ones to turn him in that direction, it was up to him how far he wanted to go with it.

His first stop in America would be Federalist New England. He’d go next to the District of Columbia, followed by Jefferson’s Monticello in Virginia, and then perhaps further south to Charleston and Savannah and St. Augustine. After that, nothing was stopping him from going out West to see how Americans housed themselves and built their institutions—churches, schools, banks, mercantile shops—on the frontier.

Other than Peter, the only family member home at the moment was Mama. He’d already sent word to her that he was leaving imminently. At the front door with the carriage waiting, the marchioness embraced him as hard as she could. “I wish you could wait for your father—“

His father. Gregory never got used to the pain of hearing those words. It pressed on him now. He had to fight—fight—to hold it back.

“I can’t.” His voice was hoarse. It was so unlike him to reveal his true self to Mama or anyone in the family. He had to leave. For their sakes, too.

“Something terrible has happened.” Mother held tight to his arm. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” He ignored the hurt and confusion he saw in her eyes and put on his hat.

“Oh, Gregory. Don’t leave like this. Please. We love you, dearest.”

However high the wall of hurt between him and the world, the tenderness he saw on Mama’s face reminded him of his duty. He paused long enough to kiss her cheek. “I’ll write when I get there.”
He schooled his tone to sound reassuring. “Don’t worry about me.”

Then, without waiting for a reply, he jogged down the front steps of the house, onto the pavement, and into the carriage—without a backwards glance at the House of Brady.


I was sold with the cover....sigh....then I read the excerpt and knew I had to pre-order this book.  Don't forget to get your copy and check out the contest on Kieran's website

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Super Book Blast & Giveaway - Holding Off For A Hero by Gail MacMillan

Welcome to my stop on Gail MacMillan's Super Book Blast for Holding Off For A Hero.  Please make sure to leave a comment or question below to let her know you stopped by.  Gail will award two $5 Amazon GCs and three digital copies of "Lady and the Beast" to randomly drawn commenters during the tour.  You can follow her tour stops here, the more often you comment, the better your odds of winning.  


Holding Off For A Hero 
by Gail MacMillan

Release Date: October 16, 2012

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Length: 258 Pages

ISBN: 978-1612174396

Book Description:

Beautiful, vivacious Emma Prescott has a love-'em-and-leave-'em reputation. Fact is, Emma's holding off for a hero. When she moves to a cabin at wilderness Loon Lake and meets her one neighbor biology professor Frasier MacKenzie, he's still just another guy, even with his killer blue eyes and body that just won't quit...until he rescues her and her Pug from one danger after another. Then he definitely falls into hero territory. But the professor has no intention of filling the role of white knight in Emma's life. All he wants is to be rid of her and her annoying little dog so he can get on with his research. In fact, he's ordered to get rid of them whether he wants to or not. Looks like Emma may have to go on holding off for a hero...


The unmistakable screech made his breath clog in his throat. His body froze in midstride. The Panther! Dear God! Emma! Pulling his gun, he plunged into the darkening bush.

“Emma!” he yelled.


Her cry sent him charging forward. He rounded a small thicket to see her huddled against the trunk of a pine, the Pug clutched in her arms. Stalking toward her, bird-dog fashion, its belly dragging on the snow, was the Panther.

He raised the gun. His hand shuddered. No, please, God, not now! Taking aim, he fired. The report rocked the silence of the forest. The big cat screamed as the bullet whizzed inches over its head. Roaring, it whirled and vanished into the shadowy bush. The silence of the winter twilight returned. The hand holding the smoking gun dropped to his side, every ounce of strength drained.

“Thank God you missed.” Emma recovered her speech. “It would have been awful to have killed him.”

“Damn it, Emma…!”

“Well, if he hadn’t run away from that warning shot, you would have got him with the next one, right?”

“Right.” Her absolute confidence made him choke out the word. Still clutching the Pug, she suddenly sank down on her haunches in the snow.

“Frasier, I was so scared,” she hiccupped. 


AUTHOR Bio and Links:

Gail MacMillan is a three-time Maxwell Award Winning writer and author of 26 published books. A graduate of Queen's University, she lives in New Brunswick Canada with her husband and two dogs, Fancy a Little River Duck Dog and Bruiser the cover guy and hero of Holding Off For a Hero.

Gail's web site is


Don't forget to leave a comment or question below to let her know you stopped by.  Gail will award two $5 Amazon GCs and three digital copies of "Lady and the Beast" to randomly drawn commenters during the tour.  You can follow her tour stops here, the more often you comment, the better your odds of winning.  


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

TLC Virtual Book Review Tour - An Unmarked Grave by Charles Todd

An Unmarked Grave 
by Charles Todd
A Bess Crawford Mystery, Book 4

Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Release Date: January 2, 2013

Genre: Historical Mystery Thriller

ISBN: 978-0062015730

Book Description:  

In the spring of 1918, the Spanish flu epidemic spreads, killing millions of soldiers and civilians across the globe. Overwhelmed by the constant flow of wounded soldiers coming from the French front, battlefield nurse Bess Crawford must now contend with hundreds of influenza patients as well.

However, war and disease are not the only killers to strike. Bess discovers, concealed among the dead waiting for burial, the body of a murdered officer—a man who not only served in her father's former regiment but was also a family friend.

Before she can report the terrible news, Bess falls ill, the latest victim of the flu. By the time she recovers, the officer has been buried, and the only other person who saw the body has hanged himself. Or did he?

Using her father's connections in the military, Bess begins to piece together what little evidence she can find to unmask the elusive killer and see justice served. But she must be as vigilant as she is tenacious. With a determined killer on her heels, each move Bess makes could be her last.


Author Bio and Links: 

Charles and Caroline Todd are a mother and son writing team who live on the east coast of the United States. Caroline has a BA in English Literature and History, and a Masters in International Relations. Charles has a BA in Communication Studies with an emphasis on Business Management, and a culinary arts degree that means he can boil more than water. Caroline has been married (to the same man) for umpteen years, and Charles is divorced.

Charles and Caroline have a rich storytelling heritage. Both spent many evenings on the porch listening to their fathers and grandfathers reminisce. And a maternal grandmother told marvelous ghost stories. This tradition allows them to write with passion about events before their own time. And an uncle/great uncle who served as a flyer in WWI aroused an early interest in the Great War.

Author Website

Author's Facebook Page


My Review 

Set amidst the backdrop of World War I and the Spanish Influenza, a British nurse in France finds herself in danger as she investigates a suspicious death she is sure is in fact a murder.  A historical mystery or thriller, An Unmarked Grave, the fourth book in the Bess Crawford Mystery series by Charles Todd, captured my attention from the first page and never let go.  Well developed characters, historical accuracy and plenty of action brought World War I and the conditions in France to life for me in a way no textbook ever could.

The only child of a British Colonel and his wife, Elizabeth "Bess" Crawford has dedicated her life to serving wounded soldiers during World War I.  While lonely for her family, Bess's skill and training help her as the Spanish influenza has decimated both the troops and the medical community serving them.  When a trusted orderly brings her what he suspects is a case of foul play rather than death by illness, Bess intends to investigate.  Instead, falling victim to the influenza herself, Bess soon finds herself back in England recovered and having to convince her parents, and a possible love interest, that she's healthy and ready to return to duty.  

As Bess works at convincing others to let her return to what she considers her rightful duty, she discovers the trusted orderly has died under what she considers suspicious circumstances.  More determined than ever, Bess manages to get reassigned to duty and France, swears to her friends to stay safe, and vows to get to the truth.  I really enjoyed how the author introduced the numerous characters in this story and how they developed Bess' character.  A strong and intelligent woman by nature, she's not above asking for help when she needs it.  When her life is placed in danger, her resiliency and determination for justice to win is commendable.  

Will Bess be able to solve two murders before she becomes a victim herself?  I encourage you to read An Unmarked Grave to find out.  While the fourth book in the series, I was able to read this book on its own without difficulty and look forward to reading the previous books in the series.  This may have been my first reading of a Charles Todd book but it certainly won't be the last!  And if you're a fan of Downton Abbey - this is a series you won't want to miss. 

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Crowns  

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book as a part of a book tour in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

Virtual Book Tour - Smitten At First Sight by Marie Astor

Welcome to my stop on Marie Astor's Smitten At First Sight Virtual Excerpt Tour.  Please make sure to leave a comment or question below to let Marie know you stopped by.  You can follow Marie's tour here, the more often you comment the better your odds of winning Marie's terrific tour wide giveaway:

Marie will be awarding to five randomly drawn commenters at the end of the tour, one of the following five custom-designed jewelry prizes:

Prize 1: Blue quartz three strand necklace with sterling silver clasp
Prize 2: Jade and prehnite necklace
Prize 3:Green aventurine sterling silver earrings
Prize 4: Smoky quartz sterling silver earrings
Prize 5; Rose quartz sterling silver earrings


Smitten At First Sight
by Marie Astor

Publisher:  Marie Astor

Release Date: October 7, 2011


Buy Link:           Amazon 

Book Description:  

Maggie Robin has been dating the irresistibly good-looking, successful Jeffrey Preston for two years. But when Jeffrey proposes marriage a week after Maggie’s college graduation, she is no longer sure if she wants to marry a workaholic TV producer.

Maggie’s doubts culminate when during a ski trip to British Columbia, she meets Taylor Denton, a handsome, free-spirited big mountain skier who is the complete opposite of Jeffrey. It does not take Maggie long to realize that she has fallen in love with Taylor and she decides to break off her engagement with Jeffrey. But just when she thinks she has found the love of her life, an ill-fated misunderstanding tears Maggie and Taylor apart. 

A week later, Maggie is told that Taylor has died in a tragic ski accident; yet, her heart refuses to believe in Taylor’s death. When Maggie returns to Taylor’s native town, she learns that Taylor is indeed alive, but has been seriously injured. Resolved to bring her lover back to life Maggie stands by Taylor’s side, convincing him to embrace life again.

Exclusive Excerpt:

Maggie’s gaze traveled to a small, low-slung wooden building a few steps away from the Owl Lodge. The weathered construction looked more like a shed than a house; the sign atop the entrance read: Millie’s Bakery. She could certainly use a cup of coffee and a snack –in her hurry to start on her photography expedition, she had neglected to have breakfast and now she was paying for it with a grumbling stomach.

Maggie was just about to walk up to the counter when she noticed the back of the neon ski jacket and the blond ponytail that could only belong to Taylor Denton. Instantly, she made the move for the front door – Taylor was standing with his back to her, and if she hurried, she just might escape unnoticed.


So recognized Taylor immediately; for a moment she contemplated fleeing, but abandoned the option immediately as being over-the-top. Let’s not get crazy here, she thought, there’s no reason why I can’t have a civil conversation with him - just a friendly hello and goodbye and then I’ll be on my way.

“Taylor! I didn’t expect to see you here,” Maggie stammered, immediately cursing her ineptness – she was not supposed to expect seeing him at all - not here, not anywhere.

“I was just grabbing a cup of hot chocolate – it’s freezing up there today.”

What do you know, she thought, Mr. Tough Guy has a weakness for hot chocolate. Yes, it was certainly a cool day out, and to her annoyance, Maggie had to admit that Taylor looked even more handsome with his face all flushed from the frost.

“But what brings you to this neck of the woods? I thought you were staying all the way on the other side of the resort,” pressed Taylor.

“I am. I was just taking a walk,” Maggie said curtly, not wanting to go into details.

“Listen, about yesterday, I’d like to apologize for losing my cool – I had no business telling you off like that.”

She remained silent, unwilling to lend him a hand.

“It was a close call and I blew a fuse - I’m sorry.”

“I understand. You were right - it was thoughtless of me to follow you when you told everyone to stay back. Thanks again for saving Jeffrey’s life.” Oh God that came out lame, Maggie thought - she had to get out of there before she made a complete fool of herself. “Well, it was nice seeing you, but I really have to get back…”

“Can I buy you a cup of hot chocolate?”

To refuse would be rude, and she agreed.

Maggie took a seat while Taylor walked over to the counter. Aside from her and Taylor, the place only had a couple of customers, and Maggie got the prime table by the window with a view on the mountain.

A moment later, Taylor returned with two muffins and two steaming cups of hot chocolate.

“Cranberry muffins are my favorite,” said Maggie after she took a bite of her muffin.

“I can read minds.” Taylor grinned, taking a sip of his hot chocolate.

“You are good.”

“Actually, today is cranberry day – my grandmother owns the bakery, and she bakes most of the things on the menu. Every day is a different muffin day: blueberry on Mondays, orange on Tuesdays, then there’s raisin, apricot, cherry, poppy seed, and today is cranberry.”

“Your grandmother’s name is Millie?” asked Maggie in disbelief – Millie was an uncommon enough name, and in a small town like this…

“Yeah, why?”

“Is she a skier? I think I might have run into her several days ago on a ski lift.”

“She and grandpa did go over to ski the groomers over the weekend.”

“Is your grandfather’s name Phil?” asked Maggie, intrigued by the impossible coincidence.

Taylor nodded.

“It was them then – I chatted with your grandparents on a ski lift a few days back. They seemed like really nice people,” said Maggie, deciding to omit the fact that Millie had offered to introduce her to Taylor.

“They are, but of course I’m biased.” Taylor grinned. “And they are also great skiers. Back in the day my grandfather was a major big mountain skier, but now grandma insists that he is too old to risk skiing off-piste – he still sneaks in a run or two, though. He’s taught me everything I know. It’s because of him that I want to do the documentary…”

Maggie waited for Taylor to continue, but he halted, a surprised expression coming over his face.

“I think it’s your friend Bethany.” Taylor pointed to the window.

Maggie looked up and indeed it was Bethany standing next to the window, waving at them.

Bethany made her way inside. “Hello there! Fancy running into the two of you like this.”

“Hi, Bethany.” Taylor nodded.

“Maggie, what are you doing here?” Bethany took a seat next to Maggie.

“I was just taking a walk.” Maggie wracked her mind for an explanation, deciding that offense was the best defense. “What about yourself?”

Bethany’s eyes glinted, as though saying that the challenge was on. “Oh, I was on my way to book a ski lesson at the lodge, but now that I ran into you, Taylor, maybe you could help me out – would you be my guide?”

“I would, but I’ve cancelled all my tours until the documentary is completed. Yesterday was an exception as a personal favor to Jeffrey. There are plenty of experienced guides at the ski base. Now, ladies, if you’ll excuse me, there are a few things I have to check on at the lodge.” Taylor rose from his chair. “Have a good day. It’s been nice talking to you, Maggie.”

“Thanks for the muffin and the hot chocolate,” Maggie called over her shoulder as Taylor made his way to the exit. The guy sure was a roller coaster – one minute he was offering her a cup of hot chocolate and the next, he was taking off in a hurry.


AUTHOR Bio and Links: 

Marie Astor is the author of contemporary romance novels Lucky Charm, Smitten at First Sight, This Tangled Thing Called Love, romantic suspense novel, To Catch a Bad Guy, and a short story collection, A Dress in a Window.
If you would like to find out more about Marie’s books, please visit Marie at her website:
Amazon author page: 



Good Reads:


Additional Books by Marie

To Catch A Bad Guy                   Kindle

This Tangled Thing Called Love        Kindle 

Lucky Charm                                    Kindle 

A Dress In A Window (a collection of short stories about love, coincidences, and fate.)   Kindle 

Over The Mountain and Back (young adult fantasy adventure novel about a boy who takes his snowboard for a ride and finds himself in a magical, hidden world he never knew existed).  Kindle 


Don't forget to leave a comment or question below to let Marie know you stopped by.  You can follow Marie's tour here, the more often you comment the better your odds of winning Marie's terrific tour wide giveaway:

Marie will be awarding to five randomly drawn commenters at the end of the tour, one of the following five custom-designed jewelry prizes:

Prize 1: Blue quartz three strand necklace with sterling silver clasp
Prize 2: Jade and prehnite necklace
Prize 3:Green aventurine sterling silver earrings
Prize 4: Smoky quartz sterling silver earrings
Prize 5; Rose quartz sterling silver earrings

Monday, January 28, 2013

Book Review - Embers (Anya Kalinczyk #1) by Laura Bickle

Anya Kalinczyk #1
Pocket Juno Books
Mass Market Paperback, $7.99
ISBN: 978-1439167656
April 2010 

Buy Links:

Amazon       Barnes & Noble

Book Description: 

Unemployment, despair, anger--visible and invisible unrest feed the undercurrent of Detroit's unease. A city increasingly invaded by phantoms now faces a malevolent force that further stokes fear and chaos throughout the city.

Anya Kalinczyk spends her days as an arson investigator with the Detroit Fire Department, and her nights pursuing malicious spirits with a team of eccentric ghost hunters. Anya--who is the rarest type of psychic medium, a Lantern--suspects a supernatural arsonist is setting blazes to summon a fiery ancient entity that will leave the city in cinders. By Devil's Night, the spell will be complete, unless Anya--with the help of her salamander familiar and the paranormal investigating team --can stop it.

Anya's accustomed to danger and believes herself inured to loneliness and loss. But this time she's risking everything: her city, her soul, and a man who sees and accepts her for everything she is. Keeping all three safe will be the biggest challenge she's ever faced. 

My Review 

A woman with power she doesn't fully understand, a city on the brink of disaster and a ragtag assortment of paranormal investigators all play a part in Laura Bickle's Embers, the first book in her Anya Kalinczyk series.  A fan of paranormal novels for over 4 years, Ms. Bickle's story reminded me why I love this genre so much - the intricate world building with a flawed, strong heroine determined to rise above the challenge to save someone other than herself.  While the story moves a little slowly in the first few chapters;  the pace, action and mythology slowly take shape and race towards the end, with the characters taking me along for a wild roller coaster ride to the finish.

Detroit Arson investigator by day, paranormal investigator by night, Anya Kalinczyk's power as a "lantern" has always kept her separate.  Given a salamander (or Firedrake) named "Sparky" as a familiar by her mother, Anya has chosen only to pursue malignant, evil ghosts while leaving the benign and harmless ones alone.  When a series of fires erupts across the city, Anya finds her daytime job and her nighttime vocation crossing paths - it seems she's not the only "lantern" in town and the other one wants to sacrifice her city to awaken Sirrush, a sleeping dragon god.  

As Anya investigates the new fires and tries to distance herself from the paranormal, she finds herself caught between two colliding worlds.  Ms. Bickle did an excellent job portraying Anya's current emotional state - she's used to being alone and it's difficult for her to trust others - while at the same time slowly giving us Anya's history so we could travel along on the road with her.  Anya's fear and sense of self guilt have always played a part in keeping her distant even from those who could help.  

The secondary characters, from Anya's ghost hunting associates to her co-workers all play an important part in this book.  From Ciro, Katie and Brian, her ghost hunting associates who love her and are determined to help her grow both in her powers and a person, to Captain Marsh, her boss at work who values her input as an employee.  While there are two villains in this story, there's only one i wanted to see come to a violent end.  One of the villains, whose name I won't divulge because I don't want to give spoilers, is a sympathetic character who I felt truly sorry for at the end.

Will Anya be able to save Detroit from what's coming this Hell Night?  And will she finally be able to let her friends in?
You'll need to read Embers to find out.  Ms. Bickle did an excellent job creating a unique world with unique mythology and I can't wait to visit it again.  I'm really looking forward to reading Sparks next.  

My Rating:  4.5 out of 5 Crowns

FTC Disclosure:  I received a complimentary copy of this book as a part of a book tour in exchange for a fair and honest review.