Spotlight: For Better and Worse by Margot Hunt

On their first date back in law school, Natalie and Will Clarke bonded over drinks, dinner and whether they could get away with murder. Now married, they’ll put the latter to the test when an unchecked danger in their community places their son in jeopardy. Working as a criminal defense attorney, Nat refuses to rely on the broken legal system to keep her family safe. She knows that if you want justice…you have to get it yourself.

Shocked to discover Nat’s taken matters into her own hands, Will has no choice but to dirty his, also. His family is in way too deep to back down now. He’s just not sure he recognizes the woman he married. Nat’s always been fiercely protective, but never this ruthless or calculating. With the police poking holes in their airtight plan, what will be the first to fall apart: their scandalous secret—or their marriage?

Excerpt

I hadn’t known it at the time, but it was the last normal weekend of my life.

If I had known what was coming, I might have chosen to spend those days differently. I wouldn’t have wasted time cleaning out the refrigerator, for example, or spent that hour running to nowhere on the treadmill at the gym. But no matter what was looming, I still wouldn’t have missed our family’s weekly trip to the beach on that beautiful Sunday in late February.

It was one of the best parts about living in our small seaside Florida town of Shoreham. Most of the rest of the country was digging out from under the most recent snow storm and shivering through frigid temperatures, and we were enjoying perfect beach weather. Not too hot, not too cold.

“Come on, you guys,” Charlie yelled over his shoulder, as he thumped up the wooden boardwalk that led from the parking lot to the beach. He was leading our dog, Rocket, on a blue nylon leash, and the black dog trotted after him, his favorite ratty tennis ball clenched in his teeth.The boardwalk sloped crookedly over the dunes, winding through overgrown sea grape shrubs, and they were both soon out of my sight.

“I guess he’s not waiting for us,” I commented.

Will was pulling our beach chairs and assorted gear out from the back of our SUV.

“Do you want me to carry the beach bag?” he asked.

“No, I’ve got it.” I heaved the bag up onto my shoulder.

“Are you sure? That thing weighs a ton.”

“I said I’ve got it.” I headed toward the boardwalk, Will trailing after me. We’d started the tradition of going to the beach every Sunday morning that the weather allowed, no matter what my trial schedule looked like, or how busy Will was at the office, when Charlie was still a toddler. Back then, Charlie’s favorite beach activity was to stand at the shoreline, and play tag with the water as it rolled in. He’d run from it, giggling and screeching when it reached his plump little feet. The memory always made me smile, especially now that Charlie was eleven, and his baby years had disappeared into the mist, never to return.

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About the Author

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Margot Hunt is the pseudonym of a bestselling writer of twelve previous novels. Her work has been praised by Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist and Kirkus Reviews. BEST FRIENDS FOREVER is her first psychological thriller.

Connect with Margot: Website | Facebook | Twitter

Spotlight: Christmas Secrets by Donna Hatch




Donna Hatch is the author of the best-selling “Rogue Hearts Series,” and a winner of writing awards such as The Golden Quill and the International Digital Award. A hopeless romantic and adventurer at heart, she discovered her writing passion at the tender age of 8 and has been listening to those voices ever since. She has become a sought-after workshop presenter, and also juggles freelance editing, multiple volunteer positions, and most of all, her six children (seven, counting her husband). A native of Arizona who recently transplanted to the Pacific Northwest, she and her husband of over twenty years are living proof that there really is a happily ever after.


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A stolen Christmas kiss leaves them bewildered and breathless. A charming rogue-turned-vicar, Will wants to prove that he left his rakish days behind him, but an accidental kiss changes all his plans. His secret could bring them together...or divide them forever. 

Holly has two Christmas wishes this year; finally earn her mother's approval by gaining the notice of a handsome earl, and learn the identity of the stranger who gave her a heart-shattering kiss...even if that stranger is the resident Christmas ghost.










Top Ten List:

1.     I adore cats–kittens are even more fun.
2.     Claustrophia is one of my biggest challenges.
3.     My favorite sports are water sports. I love swimming, boating, wake surfing, rowing around on a canoe, and simply walking along the beach of an ocean or lake.
4.     I enjoy horseback riding and hope someday to take lessons so I can learn how to do it well. I'd also love to learn how to ride side saddle.
5.     One of my favorite ways to have a good time with friends is having a tea party. I also love to play board games and card games.
6.     Due to moves in my childhood, I attended 9 different schools including 3 junior high schools. Being the new kid isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
7.     I love chocolate. Chocolate has seen me through many brutal revisions. But please hold the dark chocolate--in most cases, it's too chalky and bitter. I love MILK chocolate, with or without caramel, and with or without nuts. Mmmmm. Salted caramel is a very close second.
8.     My favorite color is blue scruffy shade of blue is beautiful. I also adore pink but there are a lot of ugly shades of pink so I'm pickier on that one.
9.     Though I'm not a real gardener, I love flowers, and I find it rewarding to plan and then carry out ways to add color to my yard.

10.I love to dance--any kind--but most especially ballet and ballroom. I would dance every day if I could.




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Spotlight: The Spirit of Christmas by Lauraine Henderson




Lauraine Henderson lives with her husband, dog and cat on 68 acres of woodland 40 miles north of Portland, Oregon. After growing up in Oregon, they moved their family of three children to Utah. From there they moved to Hawaii and Arizona, finally coming back to Oregon in 2015. Their three children, two girls and a boy are all grown and live across the United States. 

After being a professional bookkeeper for over twenty years, she turned her hobby of writing into her first published novel in 2016. She loves to write inspirational romance and romantic comedy and hopes her readers will be both entertained and uplifted by her stories. When she’s not writing, she’s working her way through online university, loves to paint (watercolors, oils, and acrylics), sew, knit, crochet, make beaded jewelry, and read (of course!).






George Stone can’t wait for the Christmas season to be over and his employees, especially his executive assistant, Kathryn Gleason, focused once again on their work. When a missing report requires George to stop in at Kathryn’s parents’ home the day before Christmas Eve, he ends up as an unexpected guest. Between the haunting journals of his late grandfather and the unsettling dream of an unhappy future, George is swept away by the magic of Kathryn’s charm and her family’s love. 


Will the Spirit of Christmas show George the happiness he’s missing and will Kathryn’s warmth and beauty melt his cold heart?







Top Ten List:

10 Fun Facts About Me:

1.     Besides being a writer, I’m also an artist. I enjoy painting with watercolors, oils, and acrylics.
2.     I’m a knitter. I knit by hand, but also on a knitting machine.
3.     I’ve sewn three wedding dresses.
4.     I’ve moved 30 times in my life.
5.     I read almost every evening and finish an average of 4-5 books per week.
6.     I’m more afraid of someone walking behind me up and down the stairs than lighting professional, commercial fireworks (which I’ve done many times).
7.     When I snap my fingers on both hands at the same time, I can’t get the snaps to sync.
8.     I conquered a lifelong fear of being underwater and I am now a certified scuba diver.
9.     When I laugh really hard, I almost stop breathing.

10.I’m secretly very competitive.




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Spotlight: Clearcut by Jack Mahoney

Clearcut
Jack Mahoney
Publication date: December 6th 2018
Genres: Adult, Mystery, Thriller

Adrian Cervantes’s Ranger squad was betrayed and ambushed in Iraq, sent to deliver an embezzled payoff to a man who didn’t exist. The lone survivor, Cervantes went AWOL, returning to the States to distribute his purloined cash to the families of his squad. But it’s not as simple as leaving a check in the mailbox. Every family he visits has their own troubles. Law enforcement hunts him at every turn. And Cervantes’s need to see justice done earns him plenty of enemies.

Cervantes’s first stop is the fading lumber town of Cullinan, WA. His plans to visit the Quinones family are complicated by the death of the father and the suspicions of the widow. Teaming up with a local lawyer, Cervantes uncovers enough questions to cast doubt that the father’s death was a drunken accident. But his investigation puts him in the sights of local bruisers, crooked cops, and the real power behind the lumber mill. In the end, Cervantes discovers a conspiracy that’s robbing Cullinan of its livelihood, and he puts it to rest the only way he knows how.

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EXCERPT:

PROLOGUE

They were told to take care of the old man, but they weren’t told how, so they decided to have a little fun first.

There were three of them: Payden, the oldest at twenty-six, the acknowledged ringleader, slow to act but definitive; and the two Blaylock boys, Jimmy and Tommy, twenty-two and twenty, given to messing with each other if left untended, like a cigarette butt in a pile of dry leaves.

Even while they were waiting, in the muddy turnout across the lane from the roadhouse, they started fidgeting in the back seat of Payden’s truck. Jimmy accused Tommy of farting. Payden ignored it as long as he could until the squabbling turned to actual violence—the echoless smack of meat on bone, Tommy’s plaintive whine as he fought back—and he had to do something.

“Quit it,” he said. He had one of those deep, tired backwoods voices, the vowels hanging together. The Blaylock boys laid off.

About ten minutes later a rhombus of light cut across the roadhouse’s woodchip lot. A burst of classic rock followed it. Heavy footsteps chuffed across the chips: an irregular stride, weight shifting between worn Carhartt boots. Payden’s vantage point was narrow, just a gap between the thick pine trees at the end of the driveway, but it sounded like the old man. He raised a hand to get the Blaylocks’ attention, quieting them, forestalling a discussion over who’d stayed hot after they graduated that was about to turn into another fight.

It was the old man. He was walking heavily but not staggering. More tired than drunk, Payden guessed. A woman closer to Payden’s age trotted out after him. She caught the old man while he leaned against the doorframe of his Tacoma, one hand on his elbow.

He shrugged her off. Not angry, but weary. Payden, who’d spent two hours in a cramped Ford cab with the Blaylock brothers, almost sympathized. Then he blinked and shook his head, as if cleaning the emotion off the slate of his mind. Sympathy wouldn’t help.

The woman backed away, saying something else. The old man didn’t respond. Her body language cycled from hope, to reluctance, to defeat: hands dropping to her sides, shoulders slumping, turning her back to him as she walked back inside. The old man unlocked his truck and climbed in. In the pale glow of the dome light, Payden saw the old man slump back against the headrest. Sleeping another one off in the parking lot, he thought.

“Here we go,” Payden said.
The three of them got out of Payden’s truck, closing the doors softly at his direction. They crossed the tree-lined road. The night was thick with the smell of damp loam and sharp pine. Payden glanced back once, at the Blaylocks, but they were quiet and kept their hands to themselves. They might have been fuck-ups in every other aspect of their lives, but they could be relied on to follow a leader’s example.

Payden patted the heavy lump in his jacket pocket to keep it from swinging with his stride.

They approached the old man’s truck. Payden waved the Blaylocks around to the driver’s side. When they were in position, Payden opened the side door, pulled himself up via a meaty grip on the cabin roof, and slid into the front passenger seat. He shut the door quietly behind him.

The old man blinked out of his unconscious stupor. He stared at Payden, uncomprehending. Payden had been rehearsing this bit in his head—he had an opening line he was happy with—but for the moment he stared back. For the Blaylocks, the violence was the fun part. But for Payden, it was having someone in his power: that moment they surrendered, acknowledging that they no longer had a say in what was coming. Sometimes they begged, which was always nice.

The old man spoiled it. “The hell you doing …” He trailed off, wiping some spittle off his beard.

The dome light clicked off.

Well, let’s see how that opening line works, Payden thought. “You promised to give us a ride! Remember?”

The old man blinked, processing “us” for a second. He took in the Blaylocks, standing just outside his door. He said nothing, but his breathing grew shallower and quicker.

“Remember?” Payden’s plan didn’t hinge on the old man swallowing this line, but he wanted to try it out. He thought it was clever. “They’re closing up? Kicked us out? I told you we could go drink at my cousin’s cabin, maybe smoke a little. Just need you to give us a ride, is all.”

The old man’s soft chest rose and fell, a pulsing little flannel lump. He looked at Payden’s hands. “I haven’t said anything.”

Payden glanced toward the roadhouse. The old man’s truck faced the front corner. The nearer wall didn’t have any windows. Whoever was inside might see the truck if they went to the front door and stared at an oblique angle through the glass panel in the front, or if they opened the door all the way and poked their head out. But they’d be cleaning up now. Payden could hear the bass of the stereo echoing around the empty interior. The dishwasher would be running and mop water would be sloshing across the floor. They’d have bigger things to worry about than a regular sleeping one off.

“Keys,” Payden said.

The old man didn’t move. “I haven’t said anything.”

“That’s not what I fucking asked you.” He shoved the old man’s arm aside and fished in the pocket of his denim jacket. He took the keys out. He reached across the old man like he was some mute obstruction—a coat thrown over the seat, perhaps—and opened his door. Jimmy caught it and opened it the rest of the way.

Payden got out on his side and dragged the old man across the front bench so Jimmy could get in. The old man didn’t even put up a token fight. Payden watched him—his head limp, staring at his hands curled up in his lap—while Tommy came around and got in the passenger seat. The Blaylocks sandwiched the old man in the front.

“The switchback. Like we talked about.” Payden shut the door. Jimmy peeled out while Payden was still crossing the road. His heavy jacket pocket knocked against his hip bone while he jogged.

Payden got in his truck and followed the Blaylocks as they drove the old man down the road, down the winding tree-lined path that took them out of the hills. Having the Blaylocks out of his truck wasn’t the relief he thought it’d be. It was too quiet. Payden didn’t mind the quiet, but he needed something to set it against. He needed those two morons’ aimless squabbling to be quiet alongside, to be superior to.

They emerged from the trees, with the wall of the hill on one side and the few streetlights of Cullinan in the valley below. Payden wondered who else might be up at this hour. Other drunks like the old man, perhaps, and the businesses that served and cleaned up after them. Maybe one of the sheriff’s boys, circuiting the six-block downtown in his rattling cruiser. But Cullinan didn’t have much of a nightlife. Not that Payden worried about witnesses. He just liked moving around when no one else was.

Ahead, the old man’s truck jinked sharp, left to right. Brake lights flared. The truck pulled onto the shoulder, overlooking the valley.

Payden didn’t swear. Why disturb the quiet with cursing that no one else could hear? Instead, he pulled onto the shoulder about thirty yards behind the old man’s truck. He got out and approached on foot. He pressed one fist against the heavy jacket pocket on his right side.

Jimmy got out while Payden was still approaching. He looked down at himself, preoccupied with wiping something off his jacket. He didn’t seem to realize Payden was approaching until Payden drew within a foot, and even then he didn’t look up. “Son of a bitch,” he murmured.

Payden grabbed Jimmy’s shoulder. Jimmy stopped. Payden angled him forward. “The switchback.”

“I know, Payden, but son of a bitch got sick.” The epithet was slurred, its edges worn off from frequent use: suvvabitch.

“And you had to stop to clean up.”

“It’s all over my fuckin—” Jimmy looked down at his jacket. He let his hands flop to his sides.

“Because you wanted to look good? It’s important for something like this that you look good?”

The truck rocked on its springs. From the darkened truck cabin came a violent motion and the sound of a fist smacking flesh.

Swearing, Payden opened the driver’s door. Tommy wailed on the old man, brushing his arms aside with one hand and punching him sloppily with the other. The old man grunted, trying to stretch back and cocoon up at the same time. The result would’ve been comical, even to Payden, if it hadn’t been a complete waste of time.

Payden tried to reach past the old man to push Tommy off, but there wasn’t enough room in the cabin. The old man flailed, pushing Payden away, as if fearing assault from both flanks. Growling in frustration, Payden got out, jogged around the hood, and opened the door on Tommy’s side. He dragged Tommy out by the belt, tossing him to the muddy shoulder.

Tommy skidded back until he hit the crooked guardrail. He pressed himself against it to help himself up. He glared at Payden. “He got sick on me. All over my pants. Some of it got in my—”

Payden crossed the distance between them in two strides. The second stride turned into a right cross: foot planted, shoulder twitched forward, marble fist into porcelain jaw. It wasn’t a beatdown out of anger, as Tommy’s had been, though Payden was plenty angry. It was discipline.

Tommy’s knees buckled, pointing outward, and he slumped to the mud.

Payden went back to the truck. The old man propped himself up on his elbows and touched his face. He winced as he made contact with his busted lip, his reddened cheekbones. The numbness from his earlier drunk must have worn off.

Payden climbed into the cabin. “Hell.” He took a handkerchief from his back pocket and wiped the blood off the old man’s mouth. “How you feeling?”

The old man’s jaw shook as Payden pulled his hand away. “I haven’t told anyone. I won’t tell anyone.”

Payden nodded. “How’s the jaw? Go like this; does it click or anything?” He opened and closed his mouth like a nutcracker.

“Please.” The old man’s shoulders heaved. “Just … just let me …”

And that was what summoned Payden’s anger back: the sheer stupidity of that plea. Just let you what? Let you keep drinking yourself to death? Let you keep whining to anyone who’ll listen about how you caught a bad rap? What do you have to live for, anyway?

He reached back for his laden jacket pocket. “I’ve got something for you.”

“Payden, no.”

Payden pulled out a fifth of vodka. He unscrewed the cap with one hand. The other hand pulled the old man closer, sliding him across the vinyl bench.

“I haven’t told anyone. I’ll never t—”

With one massive hand, Payden pinched the old man’s nose shut and forced his head back. He forced the bottle between the man’s teeth and tipped it. The sharp varnish smell of cheap spirits filled the cabin. Payden tucked his chin to keep the old man’s flailing from scratching up his face.

The old man started sputtering and choking. Payden kept pouring. Much of the glugging vodka seeped down the old man’s jaw, soaking his shirt.

When the bottle was empty, Payden let go of the old man’s nose. The old man sat on the bench, arms limp at his sides, gasping for air. Payden got out and went to the guardrail, wiping the bottle down as he went. He flung it into the darkness and waited until he heard it land in some underbrush.

He went back around the front of the truck, nearer the road, where Jimmy was helping Tommy walk off that right cross. Jimmy looked up at Payden. His eyes were blank: not scared, not angry, not even questioning what had happened—just a pair of big empty saucers, waiting for Payden’s instructions to fill them.

“Go get your truck from the switchback,” Payden said.

“That’s like …” Jimmy turned, staring into the unlit distance, as if he might see a sign. “… like, two miles from here.”

Payden ignored the interruption. “Stay on the shoulder. If you see headlights, hit the deck. No one can see you out here, remember?”

Without waiting for further objections, Payden clambered back into the driver’s side. The old man hadn’t moved. His breathing had slowed a great deal, like a child about to fall asleep. But he wasn’t out yet. His head turned on his limp neck, and his watery gaze rested on Payden. His lips moved weakly, pulling back from the teeth. “D …” Flooded with cheap vodka and stinking of fear, he lacked the strength to finish. But Payden might have guessed what he was trying to say.

Don’t.

Payden put one hand on the old man’s jaw, the other on the crown of his head. He tilted the chin up, resting the head perpendicular to the spine. Then he took a deep breath and twisted sharply.

The crick-ack reverberated through the cabin.

Payden used his handkerchief to wipe down the steering wheel, console, and bench. He got the door handles, the door levers, and the little calf tongue that adjusted the rearview mirror. When he was satisfied, he pulled on the kitchen gloves he’d tucked inside his jacket earlier in the evening.

There was a narrow gap between the guardrails at the edge of the shoulder. A man would have to turn sideways and shimmy to get through it, and it would lead to nothing but a forty-degree decline and a long tumble through the underbrush. But it was wide enough that a man might stagger up to it and piss if he pulled over.

Payden slung the old man over his shoulder like a sack of laundry. He carried him to the gap in the guardrail. With one grunting heave—bend at the knees, deep breath, explode upward—he tossed the old man down the hill. There were a few moments of splintering branches and dislodged pine needles. Then silence.

Sighing, Payden turned and headed back to his own truck. He left the old man’s vehicle in the darkness behind him, the door open, the door alarm chiming into the night. He trudged uphill, feeling it in his calves, the adrenaline and anticipation wearing off. As much as he hated to admit it, the whole improvisation had stemmed from trying to have a little fun with the old man first. Next time—and Payden didn’t kid himself there wouldn’t be a next time—he’d dispense with the frivolities.

Author Bio:

Jack Mahoney lives on the North Shore of Massachusetts. When he's not practicing jiu-jitsu or catching up on crime thrillers, he's putting in work on the next Adrian Cervantes novel.

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Spotlight: The Shadows We Hide by Allen Eskens

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In the highly-anticipated sequel to the national bestseller The Life We Bury, Joe Talbert returns to investigate the murder of the father he never knew, and to reckon with his own family’s past.

Joe Talbert, Jr. has never once met his namesake. Now out of college, a cub reporter for the Associated Press in Minneapolis, he stumbles across a story describing the murder of a man named Joseph Talbert in a small town in southern Minnesota.

Full of curiosity about whether this man might be his father, Joe is shocked to find that none of the town’s residents have much to say about the dead man-other than that his death was long overdue. Joe discovers that the dead man was a loathsome lowlife who cheated his neighbors, threatened his daughter, and squandered his wife’s inheritance after she, too, passed away–an inheritance that may now be Joe’s.

Mired in uncertainty and plagued by his own devastated relationship with his mother, who is seeking to get back into her son’s life, Joe must put together the missing pieces of his family history– before his quest for discovery threatens to put him in a grave of his own.

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About the Author

Allen Eskens is the USA Today bestselling author of The Life We Bury, The Guise of Another, The Heavens May Fall, and The Deep Dark Descending. He is the recipient of the Barry Award, the Rosebud Award, Minnesota Book Award, and the Silver Falchion Award, and has been a finalist for the Edgar Award, the Thriller Award, and the Anthony Award. His debut novel, The Life We Bury, has been published in 21 languages and is being developed for a feature film. 

Eskens lives with his wife, Joely, in out-state Minnesota, where he was a criminal defense attorney for 25 years.

Spotlight: A Cowboy's Christmas Promise: A Whisper Creek Novel by Maggie McGinnis

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In a captivating novel spiced with holiday magic—perfect for fans of Rachel Gibson, Susan Mallery, and Molly O’Keefe—a rugged Montana man mends a Northeast girl’s jaded heart.
 
Boston veterinarian Hayley Scampini tends the city’s pampered pets but dreams of the rural life of a country vet. She’s single and determined to stay that way, convinced that love isn’t permanent enough to trust. Then a vacation to the Whisper Creek dude ranch introduces her to Daniel McKee, a sexy single dad who runs the kind of veterinary practice she aspires to—and rattles her conviction to keep men at a distance.
 
Managing a thriving practice, coping with the loss of his wife, and fighting a custody battle with his in-laws over his twin daughters, Daniel couldn’t be more overwhelmed. Hayley is a godsend, accompanying him in the field and winning over his girls. It doesn’t take Daniel long to realize he’s falling for this woman, hard and fast. So before Hayley returns to Boston, he extracts a promise: that she will return to Whisper Creek for Christmas. It’s the perfect time and place to show Hayley that the promise of a beautiful life together is something she can believe in.

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About the Author

Maggie McGinnis is the author of Taking a Chance, Meant to Be, Unlucky in Love, Once Upon a Cowboy, A Cowboy’s Christmas Promise, Accidental Cowgirl, and Driving Without a License, which was a finalist for Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart Award. A former high school English teacher, an accomplished musician, and a certified black belt, she lives in New England with her family.