Monday, February 27, 2012

Interview with Laura Bickle, author of Embers; Sparks

Today we are chatting with Laura Bickle, author of Embers; Sparks: two paranormal / urban fantasy novels. Please be sure to leave a comment to win a copy of her books. Don't forget to leave your email address with your comment in the following format: parayournormalteam(at)gmail(dot)com

Now, for the interview...

Hey, Laura! Welcome. How about you tell us something about yourself that we can’t find on your site.

Hi! Thanks so much for hosting me today. The website doesn't mention that I currently work in a library, which is heaven for a book-lover. I also collect rubber duckies. As a hobby, I belly-dance. I don't dance well, but it's a fun change of routine that gets me out of my turtle-like shell.

You write YA and Adult. How do you make it work?

Central to both is my love of fantasy. I love asking the 'what if' questions: "What if the Oracle of Delphi survived to the modern day?" "What if we could really control dark energy?" "Would fire salamanders blow up microwave ovens?" The field's wide open to ask and answer those kinds of questions, to create a skeleton of a story and give it life.

Sometimes, a story comes out as a YA story, and sometimes it comes out as one for adults. My first YA book, THE HALLOWED ONES, was originally intended to be contemporary fantasy for adults. But it came out as a YA book, purely by accident. The character spoke in the voice of a young Amish woman facing the end of the world. I didn't want to tamper with her perspective.

My other books were squarely in the adult realm. DARK ORACLE and ROGUE ORACLE, by my alter ego, Alayna Williams, are about a criminal profiler who uses Tarot cards to solve crimes. EMBERS and SPARKS, which I wrote as Laura Bickle, are best described as "Ghostbusters in Detroit with dragons and arson."

An arson investigator and a ghost hunter, huh? What was some of the most interesting research you did and what would Google think of your searches? LOL!

It's a very good thing that no one looks at my library records! I've checked out books on arson, crime investigation, spontaneous human combustion...loads of fun!

For the Oracle books, the most interesting research I did was about Chernobyl for ROGUE ORACLE. My criminal profiler, Tara Sheridan, chases a serial killer who has roots in the Chernobyl disaster. That part of the story dug around in some old childhood fears. I was in elementary school at the time of the Chernobyl disaster, and I remember some of the images. I was a bystander's bystander...half a world away. But there was something supernaturally fearsome about that incident that lodged in my head, and I wanted to write about it. The more I researched, the more the hair on the back of my neck began to stand up.

So what are your views of ghosts and how does the “human bug zapper” idea work? (This would be the inner geek and paranormal investigator getting out again. LOL!)

Hee! The "human bug zapper" is Anya, my heroine from EMBERS and SPARKS. In EMBERS, Anya Kalinczyk is the rarest kind of psychic medium, a Lantern. Where other mediums allow spirits to use their hands and voices to communicate, Anya devours ghosts. It’s a talent she had no choice in - she’s always been a Lantern. And it comes in handy in her nocturnal work as a ghost hunter. But she wrestles with the costs.

The first cost is physical. Devouring a spirit leaves a burn, a scar, on her body. The second is psychological - Anya feels apart from ordinary humans, and can’t make a connection with her fellow ghost hunters. And the last one is spiritual. Anya wrestles with the idea of what happens to a ghost after she incinerates it. Does it go forward into an Afterworld? Or has she killed it entirely?

Tell us about your books, Embers!

By day, Anya Kalinczyk is an arson investigator for the Detroit Fire Department. By night, she's the rarest kind of spiritual medium, a Lantern. With the help of her fire salamander familiar, Sparky, and a ragtag group of ghost hunters, Anya chases down unseen threats to her city.

What’s something about your characters that your readers wouldn’t know after reading the book?

Sparky, Anya's fire salamander familiar, has had a long life and an interesting history. He's been a familiar for Joan of Arc and Van Helsing. He was also implicated in that Hindenburg disaster, but has never confessed.

What can you tell us about book 2?

In SPARKS, Anya’s investigating a rash of spontaneous human combustion cases. With the help of the ghost hunters and a soul collector from the Underworld, she must track down the supernatural source of the fires and keep Sparky’s newly-hatched newts safe from a malicious psychic. 

Where can readers purchase your book?

I'm always thrilled when readers check out my books!

ROGUE ORACLE is available now from and Barnes & Noble.
SPARKS is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble
DARK ORACLE is available from and Barnes & Noble.
EMBERS is available from and Barnes & Noble.

May we read an excerpt from the book and can you provide it here?

:: From EMBERS by LAURA BICKLE (Pocket Books, 2010) ::

She stepped into the bathroom and clicked on the overhead light. The black-and-white retro tile gleamed. A collection of rubber duckies lined a shelf on one wall, grinning down at her with cartoon smiles. Anya turned the bathtub tap as hot as it would go, dropped a fistful of bath salts into the water. She plucked her favorite duck, a jaunty pirate with a plastic eye patch, from the collection and dropped him in the water. He spun in lazy circles under the faucet.

She peeled off her sticky, pickle-stained clothes and stuffed them in the washing machine in the bathroom closet. The chill rippled over her body as she measured detergent into the basin and set the water temperature to hot. When she'd moved in, Anya had the foresight to install an extra-large water heater. As a fire investigator, her work was always filthy and she didn't deny herself the luxury of as much hot water as she needed.

She paused, catching sight of her reflection in the mirror. Her light chestnut hair swung over her milky-pale shoulder which was studded with a constellation of beauty marks. Her fingers fluttered over her chest. Below the salamander collar that housed Sparky, a black char mark was burned into the flesh over her left breast. The wound didn't hurt. She knew it would eventually fade, like all the other exorcism burns, but it was a lingering reminder of the soul she'd devoured.

She stepped into the bath, wiggling her toes, feeling the warmth begin to radiate up her legs. She sank up to her neck in the water, massaging the hot water through her hair. The pirate duck bumped against her toes. She reached for a loofah and began to scrub hard, as if she could scrub the memory of the dead child away from her skin.

The sepulchral voice captured on the recorder buzzed in the back of her head, and her thoughts nipped at it:

"Sirrush is coming."

Her brow wrinkled. She'd never heard the name spoken aloud, only read it in books. Sirrush was an old term used for firedrakes and salamanders, a name used only in witches' ceremonial magic to draw down the element of fire. But the spirit's message seemed to be aimed at her and she chewed on it, tasting it for any flavor of a threat.

As the water cooled, Anya climbed out of the bath. She smelled no pickles or ash as she pulled the drain plug, just soap and a hint of jasmine from the bath salts. The pirate duck spiraled around the drain.

Anya toweled off, and pulled on her robe, decorated in a pattern of yellow cartoon ducks. Wet footprints on the shag rug in the hall trailed behind her. She paused in the hallway to turn up the thermostat, looking forward to the warmth of her bed. A simple futon piled high with blankets dominated the small bedroom. Anya couldn't bring herself to buy a second-hand bed. All beds were stained too much with the dreams of their prior owners.

Anya climbed under the blankets, sighing. She'd be able to get a couple of hours of sleep before her shift began. As she drowsed, the salamander collar warmed around her neck. Sparky unpeeled himself, slipped down to the floor. He padded across the floor to a large flannel dog bed placed against the wall. Resting in the bed was his favorite toy: a Gloworm. The stuffed toy was a flashlight ingeniously disguised in a cherubic plastic head and a caterpillar body. Since it ran on batteries, there was little electrical damage that Sparky could do to it that would result in a hazardous situation.

Sparky placed his paw on the Gloworm. It lit up. He removed his paw, and the light winked out. He cocked his head, watching it, then patted it again.




Anya scrunched her eyes shut against the blinking light. As much as he enjoyed biting ghosts and other ghoulies on the spiritual plane, Sparky could only directly affect two things in the physical world: energy and Anya. The toy had brought him many hours of delight. She'd placed it in the dog bed that he never used, hoping that Sparky could eventually be persuaded to sleep on his own in his own bed.

A whine emanated from the side of Anya's bed.

Anya opened one eye. Sparky's head peered over the mountain of covers. Anya groaned. She was too tired to try to Ferberize the salamander tonight.

She climbed out of bed, grabbed the Gloworm, and tossed it into her bed. Sparky climbed in, rooted under the blankets. He made himself comfortable, draped over one of Anya's hips. He cradled the Gloworm between his paws. Anya idly stroked his loose speckled skin and Sparky began to purr, a low vibration in the back of his ribs.

Sometimes, Anya wondered what it would have been like to have had Brian's warmth next to her. She'd seriously contemplated it in the past. But she didn't know how to explain sharing a bed with a familiar elemental spirit. While it was true that humans couldn't see Sparky, his presence could be sensed: fluctuations in temperature, static electricity, a sense of being watched. When Anya had taken lovers before, Sparky had not taken well to them. It was distracting to be in the act of making love to a man with a five-foot salamander sitting at the foot of the bed, head cocked, slapping his tail on the blankets. Sparky manifested at will, unpredictably. But he could always be trusted to always make an appearance whenever Anya was in the presence of spirits...or when the possibility for intimacy with a man presented itself....

But then again, maybe sex was overrated. Sparky's warm tail coiled around her ankles and he snored softly. At least, Sparky had good manners: he didn't fart, scratch himself, or have morning breath. He was rather like sleeping with an electric blanket. . . which was probably the best Anya could hope for at the present.

Curled in the warm embrace of the salamander cuddling his toy, Anya drifted to sleep

Links to the first chapters of all my books are available here:

Where can your readers connect with you on the web? (provide links)

I love to hear from readers!

My website is I keep a blog at I'm also on Facebook.And Twitter...@Laura_Bickle

Thanks so much for hosting me today!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Winner Announcement

Hey everyone. We wanted to announce the winner of A Stranger's Kiss by Roxy Burroughs. This week's winner is...

Shelia Seabrook!

Congratulations Shelia! We will notify Roxy that you're the winner. Please email us at parayournormalteam(at)gmail(dot)com so we can give her your email address.

Thanks to everyone who stopped in to read our interview with Roxy. Make sure you check out this week's interview with Shea Berkley and enter her giveaway!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Interview with Shea Berkley

Welcome back everyone. This week we're chatting with Shea Berkly, author of The Marked Son. Don't forget to leave a comment for your chance to win a copy of this great book! 

Shea, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
·         Well, I’m a writer. That’s kind of obvious, though, huh?
·         I like to brush my teeth. Nothing says hello better than minty fresh breath.
·         I like to be active. I’m slightly competitive. Okay… maybe slightly isn’t the correct word. I’m horrifyingly competitive. I like winning. I’m trying to be an adult about losing, so I stopped throwing temper tantrums last week. Seriously. It was time to let go of the behavior and move on in life. Plus my friends started chucking random household items at me. Hello! It’s only dodge ball when a ball is involved.
·         I’m an avid reader (all kinds of books).
·         Avid movie watcher (all kinds of movies).
·         Avid people watcher—in a non-creepy way (umm, at least I hope so).
·         I ride horses (used to train them).
·         I hate fish (as pets) but I love to eat fish (except salmon… salmon is gross, seriously).
·         I can eat pizza every day of the week and not get tired of it.
·         I believe chocolate should be part of the food pyramid (it is for me) and I drink far more cola (Coca Cola... not Pepsi... Coca Cola) than is reasonably healthy.
·         I usually take two showers a day (now to some that may seem extreme, but when I’m kickboxing, I sweat like a dude.
·         I’ve recently decided to train to be a ninja (cross my heart, I’m not messing around... well, most of the time I’m not).

Speed Answer Challenge:
LOL! Speed answer. That’s funny. I don’t do speed. Only in a small, standard European car found in movies like The Italian Job and Bourne Identity, but then I usually get pulled over by cops who are profiling innocent citizens who like to drive small, standard European cars ever-so-slightly over the speed limit. Never had a ticket, though. Boo-ya!

*Speeding is against the law and can lead to serious injury. I am in no way encouraging the dangerous, unlawful activity. I am personally trying to control said dangerous and unlawful activity by means of driving only an automatic. (so not fun, by the way)

(ahem) I will try my best to be as pithy as possible. I’m not kidding. I will try, but that doesn’t mean it will happen.

Favorite Band:
My favorite band changes constantly. It’s a mood thing. Right now, it’s NeedtoBreathe. Tomorrow it may very well be Red or Three Doors Down, or The Band Perry.

Make or Bake:
I’m not gonna lie. At first I didn’t understand what you meant and then it hit me. (the lightbulb over my head may be a little dim, but it still works) You’re talking crafts versus food. If anything is up against food, food usually wins. Bake, baby.

Coffee or Kool-Aid:
This is tricky. I love coffee, but it has to be the kind that has all that unhealthy junk in it that makes it palatable. Kool-aid is kinda my summer go to drink only if I want to chug something cold. So I’d have to say Coca Cola. Not Pepsi. Coca Cola. I know it wasn’t an option, but I’m being truthful here.

Favorite Place you Lived:
(eeek) I’ve lived all over the place and I will surely insult one of my friends if I don’t pick where they live. (waving you close to whisper) I miss San Antonio the most, in the I’m-not-picking-favorites sort of way.

Seriously, that was not a pick! I refuse to pick. Grrr.

Favorite Movie:
(hits head on desk) Why are you torturing me? It’s so hard to pick just one. (I know you can’t hear me, but there’s an impressive whine to my voice that’s Oscar worthy… or at the very least worth an Emmy) Okay, okay, okay. Gladiator. It’s my go to movie when I can’t find a movie I want to watch.

Goat or Lion:
Seriously? Baby goats=adorable. Grown goats=nasty/smelly/nuisances. But then I’m not too keen on being mauled by a lion so the goat definitely comes out the winner in this contest.

Walk or Bike:
Have you sat on a bike seat for more than 30 minutes? I can’t feel my hinny after 15. Pure torture. Walking is far more fun. You can stroll, trot, run, skip, sashay… the variety biped motion gives is all kinds of awesomeness when it’s not attached to pedals and wheels. Trust me on this one.

Tell us a bit about your book, The Marked Son.
Seventeen‐year‐old Dylan Kennedy always knew something was different about him, but until his mother abandoned him in the middle of Oregon with grandparents he’s never met, he had no idea what. 

When Dylan sees a girl in white in the woods behind his grandparents’ farm, he knows he’s seen her before…in his dreams. He’s felt her fear-- Heard her insistence that only he can save her world from an evil lord who uses magic and fear to feed his greed for power.

Unable to shake the unearthly pull to Kera, Dylan takes her hand. Either he’s completely insane or he’s about to have the adventure of his life, because where they’re going is full of creatures he’s only read about in horror stories. Worse, the human blood in his veins has Dylan marked for death…

Most people who read The Marked Son say the story is unique and has a lot of surprising twists and turns they never saw coming. It’s filled with magic, action, humor, romance, monsters and mayhem. Honestly, it’s just a fun, adventurous read that most anyone who loves to get lost in a fantastical story will love.

What inspired this story?

My inspiration is that I have a teenage boy living inside me. (giggle, snort) Naw, that’s not it.

My kids inspired me to write The Marked Son. I thought a story they could all read would keep them out of trouble. Sadly, they’re fast readers and quickly got back to their wicked ways.

*Any mention of my children being anything other than the literate, angelic, caring, well-behaved creatures that they are is the sole imagination of this author and not to be believed. They’re only wicked on Wednesdays. I don’t know why. They just are.

Actually, Dylan is a combination of a lot of guys I used to hang out with when I was growing up, so there isn’t one guy who can claim him. I wanted to create a rounded guy, one who was real, not a caricature of a guy. Dylan feels deeply, longs for acceptance, knows how to fight for what he wants and accepts that he might get hurt to reach his goals, but that’s okay because he knows from experience that nothing good ever comes without a sacrifice.

I did want to make him feel isolated without actually being completely alone and that meant giving him a mother who is less than motherly. But he still loves her, so I was tapping into the need we all have for family and acceptance. I also wanted to show that everyone has a purpose, and his is far more complex than what he ever dreamed possible. Honestly, Dylan is a complex guy, which believe it or not, most males are. They just hide behind their grunts and disgusting habits so no one can’t see they have a gooey center.

How did your characters find you?  
Huh. (thinks deeply… shrugs) I wish I knew. I start writing and they show up. Weird, but there it is.

How long have you been with your agent?
I’m not sure. No one told me I was supposed to keep track. More than two years. I think. Yeah, definitely more than two years, but less than ten.

What can you tell us about your next book?
My next book in the series is the continuation of Dylan and Kera’s story and the fight to free the Land of Teag. All sorts of craziness ensues and people get into major trouble. Some die. Some live. Some are happy. Some are miserable. I try to hit all the oohs and aahs that make reading an adventure.

My latest book is an Epic Fantasy called Torrein: Age of Fear which is available on Amazon.

What if the only hope of saving a magical world depended on an ordinary boy?

Taelyon is a land divided; its mortals distrust those different than them; its wizards live indifferent to the suffering of others to see the danger on their doorstep.  The battle for dominance is never far off, and death is a daily fear provoked by King Hcaon the Younger's inability to lead.

Torrein’s parents are powerful wizards, and Torrein's greatest fear is that he'll be denied the gift of magic.  When magic is denied him, he's chased from his own village by those he used to call friends.  Alone and wandering in a world he doesn't know, Torrein doesn't understand that his destiny is far greater than any he could have achieved if magic had been granted him. What plagues him is a desire he can't have - to be with his family and live his life in peace. 

Peace is not easily found in Taelyon.  The destiny Torrein fights lies in a prophecy soaked in blood.  To claim his rightful power, he must calm his fears and face those who want him and his people dead.  Everyone has been blinded to the real evil in their midst, and it will be a fight till the end of the age to reclaim Taelyon's freedom.  Though it's hard for him to accept, it’s up to Torrein to protect those who have been deceived, and to make sure the evil in their midst doesn't destroy them all. 

Where can readers purchase your book?
Get your copy of The Marked Son at: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books on Board | Diesel | Powell's | BAM | The Book Depository

May we read an excerpt from the book and can you provide it here?
The Marked Son by Shea Berkley

Nothing feels better than touching Kera. I hold her close, feeling her heart beat behind her ribs. The heat of her hands on my chest is impossible to ignore as I kiss her, teasing her lips, and ultimately torturing myself until my control is almost gone. I pull away, putting my forehead to hers, and silently count to ten. Counting to a hundred wouldn’t help. Holding her intensifies my feelings of recklessness.
I can’t let go.
I pick her up. You’d think her dress, with its yards of material would be a problem, but it isn’t. Not for her. She wraps her legs around my waist and rakes her hands through my hair. I place my head on her chest and close my eyes. The rapid beat of her heart matches my own. The scent that engulfs her is as heady as the feel of her in my arms.
“You smell like summer and—” I search for the word that describes the scent pulsing under her skin. It teases me with every breath and touch. Naming it is driving me insane. It’s one I haven’t smelled on her before, yet it’s a scent that’s all too familiar to me, like summer and… “—sadness.”
She captures my lips with hers and slowly slides down my body until her feet touch the floor. Our kiss deepens, her embrace turns desperate. Her kiss fills with misery. The room turns hot, too claustrophobic. I can’t think. I try pushing her away, but she clings to me. Her breathing quickens, and she shivers within my arms. I sense real fear in her. Though she protests, I finally manage to step free. One, two, three steps back, separate but still connected. I can’t stop staring at her, wanting her. She’s like…
A drug.

Where can your readers connect with you on the web?
I’m not really a media junkie, but I make an effort to get online every day at one of the following places: Facebook / / Goodreads / Twitter / Ruby-slippered Sisterhood

Monday, February 6, 2012

Interview with Roxy Burroughs, Author of A Stranger's Kiss

This week's interview with Roxy Burroughs. After you read the interview, be sure to check out how you can win the copy of her book, A Stranger's Kiss that she's giving away!

Roxy, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I started out as an actress. You may have even seen me in a couple of roles on TV. I'll include a link to a clip at the end, just so you can enjoy my 80s perm.

From there I started writing plays, mostly interactive murder mysteries for dinner theater. Then I graduated into novel writing.

I still act, on occasion. I still write plays. But, mostly, I sit in my office typing stories. Relaxing for me is a trip to the mountains with my husband, a bubble bath, and a great book.
Speed Answer Challenge:

Favorite Ice Cream: Butter Pecan. It was my dad’s favorite. And since he’s no longer here to enjoy it (God, I loved that guy), I order it now in his honor.
What was the last thing you baked? A lemon meringue pie for my father-in-law. My husband is SO jealous.
Lover or a Fighter: A lover, baby. All the way.
Top Place to Visit on Your Bucket List: New England, in a heartbeat. I’ve been through Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. Glorious. And old England. My mother was born in Cornwall, I’m a big fan of the Brontes, and would kill (pun intended) to do the Jack the Ripper tour.
Favorite Author: Oh, man. So many. My favorite book is To Kill a Mockingbird. Favorite author? A tossup between J. R. Ward and Joy Fielding. Holy two ends of the spectrum, Batman! I’ve read everything those ladies have written.
Nerd or Cheerleader: Total Nerd. At least, I’d thought so when I was in high school. Turned out when I met up with some classmates years after, I discovered I was considered cool because I was in all the plays and musicals. Who knew? I was “Glee” chic before my time.
Drive or Fly: I like being chauffeured. Merging and backing up are not my strong points. If we drive, my husband is behind the wheel so I can daydream. Love to fly! I chill, I doze, I read. Heaven.

Tell us a bit about your book, A Stranger’s Kiss.

It's a romantic suspense with a touch of the paranormal. My hero, Sam Hutchinson, is devastated by the murder of his son. Hoping to gain closure by learning more about the suspected killer, Sam traces the murderer's roots to Bandit Creek, Montana.

There, against a serene mountain backdrop, he finds Amy Tesher. Lies are Amy's camouflage, all fabricated to escape the secrets of her past. And to protect her eleven-year-old daughter, Renee, who is able to communicate with Sam's ghostly son.

Unaware of Sam's real mission, Amy takes him into her boarding house. Just as the serial killer returns, to claim Amy…and her daughter.

What inspired this story?

A Stranger’s Kiss is my stand-alone sequel to A Stanger’s Touch. The two stories run parallel so there's no need to read one to enjoy the other.
Sam is briefly mentioned in A Stranger's Touch. I wanted to pair him with someone equally damaged but dealing with it for the sake of her daughter.
How do you interact with your characters?

I spend a lot of time thinking about my story before I ever start writing. As I reflect on my characters, I get ideas about what they might do in a given situation. Usually, these notions come to me in the middle of the night, so I have a pen and notebook by the bed. I think that's because it's a subconscious process, at least for me. Once I'm distanced from the noise of the day—ringing telephones and countless errands to run—I can listen to the characters whispering their story in my ear.
How long have you been in the publishing industry? What’s your publishing story?

I was spoiled. I published the first book I ever wrote. It's about the ghosts (of course) that inhabit Heritage Park, a Calgary tourist attraction. From there, I wrote an award-winning short story that appeared in an anthology. Every play I've ever penned has been produced and I've now ventured forth with the fantastic group of writers who make up the Bandit Creek Books team.

What can you tell us about your next book?

I have yet another sequel planned for my "Strangers" line. And an urban fantasy coming soon, called Wolfen Time. I also have a short story available called Letting Go, about how a chance encounter helps a woman deal with the loss of her father.

Where can readers purchase your book?  

You can find all my titles on my Author Pages at Amazon and Smashwords.

May we read an excerpt from the book and can you provide it here?

You certainly may! The following scene is the first time Amy and Sam meet.
As Amy opened the front door, a chill wrapped around her, as if a blast of arctic wind had swooped in over the mountains. There, right outside her house, stood a man, arms folded across his chest as he leaned against a parked car.
Watching her.
Amy took a breath, willing her heart to pound a steady beat. Finding anyone on her doorstep, would have been a shock. She was a stranger here, hadn't been back to the secluded house in years. She had no friends in these parts, and now, no relatives. But this man was as out of place as any could be. Starting with the vehicle on which he was perched.
If the car was his, it was much too expensive for the neighborhood, and too posh for a mountain trek. Amy wasn't an expert on makes and models but the jaguar on the hood of the black sedan told her all she needed to know. And the flashy ride didn't match the man's attire. A nice enough charcoal suit, but the rumpled fabric shied away from his slim frame, as if he'd slept in a larger man's clothes.
A tangle of brown hair shadowed his eyes, dark stubble inked his jaw. He didn't look familiar, but over the years she'd learned to be cautious. Her mother had cultivated dangerous friends in this town.
Amy locked the door behind her, keys in her fist, the longest one poking out between her index and middle fingers, just how her aunt in Detroit had taught her. Ready for anything.
She marched down the front walk, her runners chomping at the fallen leaves in her path. As she approached, the man straightened and used his fingers to comb the hair from his eyes.
"Something I can do for you, sir?"
Now that she was closer, Amy took a good look at her visitor, opening the mental filing cabinet of her memories and pouring over the images she kept of her mother's Bandit Creek associates.
Jag Man was six feet or so, and on the older side of thirty. Other than his cheekbones, made prominent by the thinness of his face, his most noticeable feature was a pair of hazel eyes, more green than brown. One was highlighted by a fine scar that sliced through his brow. That and the five-o'clock shadow gave him an outdoorsy ruggedness. In spite of the unkempt packaging, he was a good-looking man. One she knew she hadn't met before.
But good looks didn't mean a good soul. Amy kept her keys ready in her fist.
"I need a place to stay." The voice came out in a low baritone – clear, melodic, and with complete confidence. The tone of a man used to getting his way.
Amy wondered who'd pointed him in her direction. No one local. Her grandmother had retired from the bed and breakfast business a few years before she died. Amy may not have visited, but she'd exchanged emails almost daily with her Nan to keep up with life at the old house – her grandmother's socializing, gardening, even what she had for lunch. If only Nan had mentioned she was ailing, Amy would have been on the next plane. But her grandmother was feisty and independent to the end. She died obliged to no one, in her own bed, surrounded by her collection of photographs and antiques, just the way she wanted it.
"Mrs. Turnbull runs a nice Bed and Breakfast further down the road–"
"Isn't this a B&B?" Now he was smiling, pouring on the charm like a salesman. Maybe he was one. At a car lot. That would explain the Jag.
"It used to be." Amy turned to view the wooden sign on the lawn, proclaiming as much, though the lettering had seen better days. Something else to fix. "We're closed for renovations."
The man drew a wallet from his back pocket. "I can pay cash," he told her, opening it. "Three hundred a night."
Amy shook her head, wondering what her grandmother would say about turning down good money. She knew what Nan had charged for a room, even one with a private bath, and it sure as hell wasn't that much.
The man thumbed through the bills. "Four hundred."
Did he expect caviar on his morning bagel? Strike the salesman angle. This guy definitely wasn't one. No haggling.
"Look, I'll give you three grand, up front, for the week. Whether I stay for the duration or not."
A giddy squeak welled up in Amy's throat. That was more money than she'd ever seen at one time. Cash like that could really help fix up the old house, pay off some bills she still owed in Detroit, and buy new books and clothes for Renee. Heck, even a few things for herself. With some left over for a rainy day. But she wasn't about to shelter a man she didn't know.
He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a gold case. "Here's my business card. Call my office. Check me out."
She'd already checked him out. Though on the lean side, she sensed a nice build. Maybe he'd been ill. Maybe his tailor had gone on vacation. Maybe she needed to focus on her problems and stop imagining what he looked like without that bulky suit.
"Go ahead. Take it."
Amy snapped back to attention, warmth creeping into her cheeks. The man was still offering his card.
She reached for it, her hand so close to his she felt the heat radiating from him, the pent-up energy. Something wasn't right with this guy. She'd lived by her wits long enough to trust her instincts and they were chattering to her now like a flock of magpies in the presence of a hungry hawk.
She took the card, anyway. Not that it meant much. She could print up a bunch of her own, declaring herself to be Michelle Obama, if she chose. And his office? The number could belong to his great aunt Sophie, coached to say whatever he wanted. Still, it was easier to agree. The sooner he was on his way, the sooner she could get back to work. She glanced at her watch. The hardware store, and the call, would have to wait until tomorrow.
"I'll phone in the morning. Have a good evening." She turned toward the house and made her way up the walk, examining the card.
Sam Hutchinson. Barrister.
She read the address. So Jag Man was a Calgary lawyer. At least now she knew how he got the car. But what was the guy doing here this time of year? It wasn't exactly the height of tourist season. Many of the family-run businesses were shut down for the winter.
"Excuse me, Miss."
She stopped and looked over her shoulder. "Yes, Mr. Hutchinson?"
The man's smile was designed to thaw the coldest jury during a January ice storm. "I didn't get your name."
Because she hadn't given it. But what would it hurt? It wasn't her real one. "Tesher. Amy Tesher."
"Thanks, Ms. Tesher." The car lights flashed as he made his way around to the driver's side. "See you tomorrow."
* * *
Sam knew he'd outstayed his welcome. When the woman turned back to him, she'd stepped forward, looking like she might refuse another visit. So he'd jumped in the car and sped off.
No wasn't an option.
He parked down another dirt road under a dead tree, hoping police didn't patrol the area. His presence would be difficult to explain, impossible to justify.
He reached over to the passenger seat, snapped opened the locks on his briefcase, and shuffled through the newspaper clippings. The first dated back fifteen years, articles from the old Cincinnati Post, the Atlanta Constitution, the Toronto Star, and Saskatoon's Star Phoenix.
All involved children. All of them dead. Boys, mostly, but with a few girls sprinkled in here and there. Fresh faces looked out at him, sadness behind their eyes, as if they'd known their fate before it happened.
He came to the most recent clippings last, Calgary newspapers documenting the latest victim.
Sam caressed the boy's picture, as if he could tousle the brown locks one more time. Of course, the black and white photo didn't show the color of Tommy's hair. It didn't reveal the freckles on his nose, or the multi-colored braces he wore to straighten a crooked incisor.
It didn't capture Tommy's screams, either. Or show how he'd suffered before his death.
Sam rested his head against the high seatback and closed his eyes, waiting for the queasiness to pass. He tried to remember the last time he'd eaten. And couldn't. Not that it mattered. He had more important things to do.
He pulled the lapels of his suit jacket around his neck and grabbed the scotch he'd purchased that afternoon. He ripped off the cap, keeping the bottle in its brown paper bag. No sense drawing more attention to himself.
The heady scent of scotch filled his car, oaky and rich. He took a swig, gritting his teeth as the amber liquid burned its way down his gullet. Sam hated the taste. But after a few more gulps, he wouldn't notice. The scotch would have done its job.
He shivered. The nights were getting cooler. At least the alcohol would keep him warm. Until he could convince Amy Tesher to open her house to him.
The first step in his plan.

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