Welcome to the sneak peeks countdown. With the third book of the new series, Backfire, soon to be released on December 12, I'll be posting some snippets from the story to whet your whistles :)
This book has been a long time in the making, so if you're still here, thanks for sticking through.
Some notes before we get to the good stuff... my first series, The Cardinal Series is all completed and available on Amazon Kindle Unlimited for free. It's also available for purchase. If you're interested in purchasing a hardcopy set of the first two books, The Cardinal Bird and Cardinal Caged, you can buy the first volume here. This volume is also available in the Kindle Unlimited store if you want to purchase or add to your ten-book Unlimited list to help free up a slot for another great book. I know I always have a hard time trying to cull my book limit. Get the Kindle version here. I've also bundled the second volume of the series to include Cardinal of Hope and The Cardinal Sin. That volume is available here for the Kindle version and the hardcopy version. The third and final volume with Cardinal Rose and The Red Cardinal will be available just as soon as I have a cover for it. I'll make sure to announce it on social media.
One more thing before the preview, I've got the fourth book of the series, In the Line of Fire, up on Amazon, so preorder your copy today!
Backfire, Book 3
An hour and a full roll of paper towels later, I carried the bagged refuse barefooted out to the back alley, hobbling for the dumpster when the slight frame of an elderly man, the neighboring shop’s owner, stepped outside.
His bushy white eyebrows rose in surprise, then in angular suspicion and disdain. “You got the whole town up in arms about you, girl. You ought to be ashamed of yourself, gallivanting around when you’re perfectly fine.”
“Hello, Harry,” I greeted, hating the subdued tone of my greeting, so I cleared my throat and put more force behind my words. Fake it until I make it. “How’s your store doing?”
Old Man Harry frowned. “That’s all you got to say for yourself? Yer curious ’bout how many hammers I sold since you vanished off the face of the Earth?”
Not really. It was freezing, and the flowy, gauzy outfit and lack of shoes did nothing to combat the chilly wind.
“Um, yes?” The reply dragged out into a question.
“Hmph. Well, I said it before, I’ll say it again. You ought to be—”
“Ashamed of myself.” I flashed a sarcastic thumbs-up and continued to the dumpster, dancing around to avoid cracked pavement or loose rocks. “Got it.”
Still, his surly nature represented him as aptly as his name, so the interaction served as a balm to my frayed soul even as I tuned out the lecture he was winding up for.
“Of course, Ol—Harry.”
At my near slip-up, he pointed a gnarled finger at my face. “Your daddy taught you some bad habits.”
My heart startled with a pause, chased by a deafening ba-dum, ba-dum, then my brain caught up, and I realized he wasn’t talking about my biological father but Papa—the one who called him Old Man Harry to his face with zero remorse.
“I agree,” I intoned.
“You get all that cheek from him, I reckon. Can’t possibly come from your mother, sweet as pie, that one.”
My eyebrows about disappeared to my hairline because in all my years living in the town, from birth to adulthood, I’d never, ever heard Old Man Harry refer to anyone in such a charitable way. It enticed my mind further from the fog. “If you say so.” Because my mom had just as much, if not more, cheek, though she hid it cleverly behind her serious demeanor and petite, ageless build.
“Where’d they scamper off to anyway? We haven’t seen hide nor hoof of them—not since they left for that cruise.”
Ah, so the story that’d laid the groundwork to lure my parents from their home had circulated, despite their abrupt, forced departure. I sent a quick prayer of thanks to my guys wherever they were. Right before I’d been snatched, Brien, ex-childhood friend and current supersecret spy—or whatever similar occupation since being part of a covert sect meant not divulging job details—had assured me they’d been collected and were safe and sound.
That’d been a pleasant reminder throughout rough times. Rossi had been unable to harm my parents like he’d threatened. In fact, the only real question mark haunting me continued to be Nolan. If he hadn’t listened and gone to meet up with my spies, uh, acquaintances, then he could have been dealt an atrocious fate courtesy of one ruthless Italian mob.
“Well, they liked their vacation so much that they extended it,” I offered. “They found a hut to rent a month at a time, and they have just been enjoying any kind of weather that’s not Stillwind.” I shot him a conspiratorial look. “You know how it is.”
“Still windy in Stillwind,” was his knee-jerk response, followed by a scowl.
Tourists had two reactions to hearing that standard reply—fascination for the quirky, picturesque setting or dawning fear that they’d managed to lose themselves in an isolated cult town.
“Well, the police were half tempted to file a missing person report on them too, what with the timing of them leaving so close to your disappearance.”
My eyebrows shot up in shock. “Wait, you’re saying that I’m a missing person?”
“You don’t seem to understand the rules of civilized society.” Was that what he thought of himself as, civilized? “Typical of your generation. Let me spell it out for you. In a place where people care about you—though why is beyond me—they notice when you just up and disappear without a word, and that’s doubly true for Stillwind, where you can’t blow yer nose without the old biddies down at the hair salon hearing about it. After an hour of information morphing in the gossip mill, you discover you’re dying of a terminal illness.”
That part of the news didn’t pose a misunderstanding. In fact, Old Man Harry’s anecdote had actually happened, so kudos to him for his accurate assessment of the busybody town. What surprised me was that neither Rossi nor Brien’s secret agency covered up my forced leave of absence. They’d maintained my parents’ ruse after all.
The longer I thought about it, the more a particular cop came to mind. He’d grown obsessed with the inconsistencies in my statements, one-thousand percent positive of my guilt.
Had that officer raised enough fuss that even Rossi’s inside officers couldn’t contain my disappearance before being required to take official action through the proper channels?
“Of course, that boy who constantly hangs around you like a dog in heat? He tried to explain your absence.” He had to be referencing Eli. As the chef and, to be honest, partner in all but name, he would have tried smoothing things over with the locals in the hopes of my eventual return. He’d always been optimistic in capital letters. “He claimed you had to go away for some fancy pants business degree. Even lauded about the fact he’d keep the place running in your stead.” He harrumphed, derision dripping from the unimpressed sound. “Lasted two weeks before he closed up shop and bailed.”
I just blinked at him. His statement contained so much information to unpack.
Why would the guys put Eli out in the open, all but taunting Rossi to act, when they’d kept my parents secreted away? Also, if Eli smoothed things over with the locals, what evidence had the obsessed cop dug up in contradiction to force a missing person report?
“You know that you left us all in the lurch, missy. Every storeowner on the square flagged in sales because of your absence, ’cept for the bar.” His hands settled on his hips. “So what is it?”
“What is what?”
“This grand excuse you have for bailing and leaving us to face the shit parade alone?”
I didn’t get a chance to explain as a large SUV pulled into the alley.
Noticing my distraction, Old Man Harry turned and squinted at the shiny silver tank. “That ain’t belong to nobody on this side of the street. You make some new friends while you were away bettering yer life?”
“None I’d introduce you to,” I murmured, squinting through the tint.
He glanced my way before focusing back on the approaching vehicle. “Stuck up bunch of liberal richie riches and their college degrees.”
“Sure, let’s go with that.” It sounded a hell of a lot better than murderous, psychotic criminals.
It could be Odysseus, or even Leo, but no. While the details of Leo’s car hid behind a misty haze, I recalled enough to know he hadn’t delivered me in anything so large.
“They are here for me, Harry, so you don’t have to wait up,” I told him, hoping he’d get out of the line of fire if Rossi had sent a squad to collect his fleeing toy.
“Had nothing more to say to you anyway. Not a hint of an apology from you. Ungrateful. Whole generation. College kids especially…” His grumbles trailed off as he left.
His back door snicked shut, and my shoulders relaxed a fraction as the cantankerous old man reached safety.
The SUV shifted from creeping forward into park.
I held my breath as the driver’s door popped open.
I hope you enjoyed it!!