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Forge Books to Cozy Up With this Winter!

Winter is coming.

As the weather gets chilly and the sun sets earlier, this is the perfect time to curl up under a warm blanket with a good book! Forge has an amazing lineup coming out this winter that are perfect for cozying up with on those blustery, cold days. So if you’re on the hunt for stories that will keep you hooked from start to finish, here’s a list of upcoming books you should definitely add to your TBR!


Love, Clancy (TPB) by W. Bruce Cameron

Love, Clancy

From W. Bruce Cameron, the internationally bestselling author of A Dog’s Purpose and A Dog’s Way Home, comes Love, Clancy: Diary of a Good Dog, a deeply moving story with a brand-new cast of characters, including one very good dog.

Coming 1.2.24!

Deep Freeze by Michael C. Grumley

Deep FreezeFrom the bestselling author of the Breakthrough series: In his next near-future thriller, Michael C. Grumley explores humanity’s thirst for immortality—at any cost…

“A fast-paced juggernaut of a story, where revelations pile upon revelations, building to a stunning conclusion that will leave readers clamoring for more.” —James Rollins, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Sigma Force series

Coming 1.9.24!

One Wrong Word by Hank Phillippi Ryan

One Wrong Word

Gossip. Lies. Rumors. Words like that can hurt you. And Arden knows the reality. Sometimes one wrong word can kill.

A heart-racing new psychological thriller from USA Today bestselling and multiple award-winning author, Hank Phillippi Ryan.

Coming 2.6.24!

Such a Lovely Family by Aggie Blum Thompson

Such a Lovely Family

The cherry blossoms are in full bloom in Washington, D.C., and the Calhouns are in the midst of hosting their annual party to celebrate the best of the spring season. With a house full of friends, neighbors, and their beloved three adult children, the Calhouns are expecting another picture-perfect event. But a brutal murder in the middle of the celebration transforms the yearly gathering into a homicide scene, and all the guests into suspects.

Coming 3.12.24!

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Excerpt Reveal: Vamp by Loren D. Estleman

VampVamp is a hot new Valentino mystery by Loren D. Estleman, the master of the hard-boiled detective novel and recipient of the Private Eye Writers of America Lifetime Achievement Award.

Renowned film detective Valentino is on a quest to help restore The Comet, an extinct drive-in movie theater, and his trail leads him to Leo Kalishnikov, who requests a favor first—rid him of a blackmailer from his shady past, and he’ll gladly hand over the money that The Comet needs.

With only an uncashed check for a clue, Valentino embarks on a treacherous path to save not only The Comet but the last remaining print of the 1917 film Cleopatra, which has been lost for over a century. The film is somewhere in Los Angeles, and Valentino is willing to risk it all to find it. He must navigate the shady underbelly of Hollywood once more, in a dangerous adventure that threatens not only his career—but his life.

Vamp will be available on November 7th, 2023. Please enjoy the following excerpt!


CHAPTER ONE

One foot over the threshold of her condominium, Harriet Johansen leaned back to confirm the number on the door.

“I thought I got off the elevator on four by mistake,” she said. “My neighbor there scrubs biochemical labs for a living.

Valentino grinned. “I just tidied up a little.”

She looked around. The hours she spent working with the LAPD forensics team hadn’t trained her in housekeeping. She was a minimalist by necessity, furnishing her home in Spartan fashion: There wasn’t a knickknack or a throw rug or a decorative pillow in the place. You could sweep it out with a leafblower. Nevertheless, stale air, gray film, and garments shed in a hurry had managed to breed and multiply like rabbits—or more accurately, dust bunnies. Unavoidable neglect was the cause, and the arrival of a roommate with more time on his hands the cure. The flat smelled of Febreze and Lemon Pledge and shone as bright as new chrome.

She looked down at her feet. “I own a carpet shampooer?”

“I rented it. I churned up enough popcorn kernels to stock the concession stand in the Oracle for a year.”

“If I knew I was going to live with Howard Hughes, I’d have told you to check into a Motel Six.”

He took off his apron and used it to wipe his hands. “You’re not pleased.”

“I don’t mind so much that you’re Felix Unger as the suggestion that I’m Oscar Madison. I put in more hours at work on a regular basis than you did even when you were up to your neck in asbestos and horsehair plaster in your theater. When there’s a gang uprising in East L.A., I only stop by to change clothes before I go back to opening up cadavers.”

“I know that. Since you won’t let me help out with the mortgage, making myself useful is the next best thing. I didn’t reorganize the kitchen,” he added quickly. “I know how important it is to you to know your way around.”

“I couldn’t care less if the potato masher’s where the sieve should be. Little Caesar feeds me most of the time.” She shrugged out of her jacket, made a move to toss it on the sofa, then stopped and folded it over her arm. “Just tell me you didn’t change anything in the bathroom.”

“I was afraid to touch the jars and bottles. I don’t know what half that stuff is for.”

“No, and you never will, if we ever decide to cohabit permanently. I prefer to be a woman of mystery.”

Their living arrangement was temporary. The Oracle, the old motion-picture palace Valentino had been restoring through the last three presidential administrations, was undergoing yet more construction to build a proper bathroom onto the projection booth he used as a living quarters. Previously, he’d freshened up in one of the customers’ rest rooms; but technological advances had allowed him to replace the ancient gravity-operated water heater in the utility room next door to the booth with a state-of-the-art unit in the basement and install facilities on the floor where he slept.

It had turned out to be a not-so-mini-reunion with the civic and construction migraines that had accompanied the original project. That situation had been exacerbated by a megalomaniac theater designer, a crooked building inspector, and a series of murders to solve—on amateur detective Valentino’s part, not professional Harriet’s.

He stepped forward, holding out a hand. She gave him the jacket with her police ID clipped to it. He opened the closet, hung it up, and shut the door before she could see how he’d rearranged everything by color and season. “Does a steady diet of pizza mean you’d rather pass on lasagna?”

She sniffed the air. “That doesn’t smell like Stouffer’s.”

“Sue me. My grandmother was half Italian.”

“My great-grandmother was Cherokee; you know, the tribe where when the woman got fed up, she piled all her husband’s belongings outside the lodge and that was the end of the relationship. Let that be a lesson to you.” She smiled and went up on tiptoe to kiss him. “I’m starving.”

“Good. I made enough for a regiment. I should explain my grandmother ran a restaurant. She couldn’t cook for any group fewer than a hundred.” He pulled her chair out from the cloth-covered dining table and held it for her.

They’d finished the salad and he was dishing up the entrée when a tinny orchestra started playing “Saturday Night at the Movies.” Valentino said, “That’s mine.”

“No kidding.” Harriet’s ring tone was the elevator song that had come with her phone.

He got out his and looked at the screen. “Dinky Schwartz. I haven’t heard from him since my sophomore year.”

“I’m sure there’s a cute story behind how he got the nickname.”

“It’s on his birth certificate.” He excused himself and answered.

Still famished, she tuned out the “How-are-you-and-what-have-you-been-up-to” portion of the conversation and dove into her lasagna, washing it down with a California rosé. She glanced up during the hemming-and-hawing on Valentino’s end. Finally he said, “Dinky, I don’t know. I can’t promise anything. I’ll get back to you.”

He punched out, frowning at the object in his hand as if it were a jury summons. “You’re in danger of reestablishing your relationship with Little Caesar,” he said, looking up.

“A funeral?”

“Worse. Dinky’s bought a movie theater and he wants me to help restore it.”


Click below to pre-order your copy of Vamp, available November 7th, 2023!

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Excerpt Reveal: Up on the Woof Top by Spencer Quinn

Up on the Woof TopChet the dog, “the most lovable narrator in all of crime fiction” (Boston Globe) and his human partner Bernie Little find themselves high in the mountains this holiday season to help Dame Ariadne Carlisle, a renowned author of bestselling Christmas mysteries, find Rudy, her lead reindeer and good luck charm, who has gone missing.

At Kringle Ranch, Dame Ariadne’s expansive mountain spread, Chet discovers that he is not fond of reindeer. But the case turns out to be about much more than reindeer after Dame Ariadne’s personal assistant takes a long fall into Devil’s Purse, a deep mountain gorge. When our duo discovers that someone very close to Dame Ariadne was murdered in that same spot decades earlier, they start looking into that long ago unsolved crime.

But as they reach into the past, the past is also reaching out for them. Can they unlock the secrets of Dame Ariadne’s life before they too end up at the bottom of the gorge? Is Rudy somehow the key?

Up on the Woof Top will be available on October 17th, 2023. Please enjoy the following excerpt!


CHAPTER ONE

Uh-oh.

Most perps turn out to be reasonable in the end. They know, for example, the moment a case is closed, namely when I grab them by the pant leg. Pant leg grabbing is one of my specialties at the Little Detective Agency, Little on account of that’s my partner Bernie’s last name. Do I even have a last name? I’ve never heard it, but if there’s a change, I’ll let you know. Till then just think of me as Chet, pure and simple.

Maybe you’re wondering, but Chet, what about the unreasonable perps? I hope so, because that was exactly where I was headed with that uh-oh. Right now, we had a couple of unreasonable perps on our hands, although I myself have no hands, don’t need hands, and wouldn’t even know what to do with them. These unreasonable perps were the Burger boys, two brothers who’d hijacked a beer truck, now wrecked at the bottom of a box canyon they’d sped into in the hope of getting away from us—getting away in a wobbly truck from me and Bernie tailing them in the Beast, our brand-new, very old Porsche, can you imagine? A truck, by the way, that actually must have been hauling something unbeerlike, so unmistakably peanut oil from the aroma now hanging in the still air.

“What’s that stink?” said a Burger brother, the one Bernie called Hammy. The Burger brothers did not look alike. Hammy was short and skinny with big round eyes. The other one, Cheesy, I believe, was huge with little slit eyes.

“I don’t smell nothin’,” Cheesy said. “And who cares? This is our chance, you moron.”

Cheesy didn’t smell the peanut oil? How astonishing was that? Every time you think you’ve hit bottom when it comes to what the human nose can’t do they take it down another notch. There was nothing else to smell besides peanut oil, even for me who smells everything! I was about to feel sorry for them, or at least for Cheesy, when Hammy said, “Chance for what?”

“For hightailin’ it—what else?” Cheesy said. “He’ll be back any minute.”

Possibly I should have mentioned that I was alone with Hammy and Cheesy, Bernie having climbed up to higher ground where maybe his phone would work and he could call into Valley PD. Was there room in the Beast for me, Bernie, Hammy, and Cheesy? Maybe just for me, Bernie, and Hammy, but we couldn’t leave Cheesy out here in the desert all by his lonesome, his wrists cuffed in the pretty red, white, and blue plastic cuffs we used, just one of those touches that makes the Little Detective Agency what it is. The point I’m making is that Valley PD needed to come out here with the paddy wagon. I peered at the trail Bernie had followed up the canyon wall, a trail that took a sharp turn high up there, vanishing behind a jumble of red rocks, and didn’t see him. But Hammy and Cheesy hightailing it, Bernie or no Bernie, was off the table. Hadn’t the Burger brothers been grabbed by the pant leg, first Cheesy and then Hammy? The case was closed.

But Hammy and Cheesy weren’t getting it. They’d gone from sitting peacefully on the ground to a sort of grunting struggle to stand, not so easy with their hands behind their backs. Cheesy, despite being so enormous, was the first one up, a bit of a surprise to me. Then came a bigger surprise. He leaned over Hammy, chomped down on the collar of Hammy’s shirt, and hoisted him up. Wow! A first in terms of what the human mouth is capable of, and I’ve been in the business for a long time.

“Let’s go,” Cheesy said.

“What about the dog?” said Hammy.

“No problem. If it comes close give it the boot, good and hard.”

Excuse me?

Not long after that, Hammy and Cheesy were sitting nice and comfy on the ground and we were back to being buddies. I admit that their pant legs were no longer what you might call blood free, but the amount wasn’t worth mentioning, hardly noticeable.

Bernie returned soon after, gave us all a close look.

“Was there a problem?”

None that I recalled, and Hammy and Cheesy were shaking their heads, the rhythm identical.

“But we were thinking you might cut us a break,” Cheesy said.

“Why would I want to do that?” said Bernie.

Hammy snapped his fingers, a human thing for when they get a sudden idea, but amazing he could do it with his hands cuffed behind his back. “Isn’t it Christmas time?”

“Next week, maybe?” said Cheesy. “Wednesday? Thursday?”

“Friday?” said Hammy.

They gazed up at Bernie, eyes open wide in a hopeful look like they were—oh my goodness!—begging. Didn’t they know begging is a no-no? Also, Bernie had no treats on him. I keep close track of things like that.

“Do I look like Santa?” Bernie said, this whole little back and forth ending in total confusion, at least for me. But Valley PD arrived soon after, along with a nice lady from the peanut oil company, who gave Bernie a check. And we hadn’t even been working the case, not until Hammy and Cheesy almost ran us off the road. What a day! The only problem was Bernie, sticking that check in the chest pocket of his Hawaiian shirt, the one with the dancing tubas. We’d had problems with checks and chest pockets in the past. I barked this low rumbly bark I have. Bernie got a look on his face, like he’d remembered something, and he transferred the check to the front pocket of his jeans, where it was nice and safe. If he wanted to think he’d done that remembering all by himself that was fine with me. Anything Bernie did was fine with me.

We’ve had Porsches in our career, maybe not out the ying-yang, but close. I can’t tell you the actual number because going past two is an issue, but I can see all those lovely rides in my mind. The first one went off a cliff, then the one with the martini glass decals got blown up, or was that the one that ended up in a snowy treetop? It’s hard to keep track. We have busy lives, me and Bernie. Here’s the takeaway: all our Porsches have been old ones fixed up by Nixon Panero, our car guy, and the one we were in now, Bernie behind the wheel and me sitting tall in the shotgun seat—the breeze, not too hot at this time of year, ruffling my fur—was the oldest and best. It’s all wavy black and white stripes, like a squad car rippling its muscles, Bernie says— who else talks like my Bernie?—and he calls it the Beast, on account of what’s under the hood. Bottom line—if you’re ever getting chased by us, just pull over. Whoa! I myself am black and white, specifically black with one white ear. And . . . and I can be something of a beast myself! Wow! For a moment I thought I knew all there was to know. Then the moment passed and I felt better.

“Something on your mind, big guy?”

Nope. Not a thing. Bernie looked at me. I looked at him right back. What a beautiful sight! Just his eyebrows, for example, not the namby-pamby kind of eyebrows you see all too often but eyebrows, amigo, that can’t be missed. On top of that, Bernie’s eyebrows have a language all their own. Right now, they were saying, Chet, you’re something else. I placed my paw on his knee. We sped up, somewhat alarmingly, especially since we seemed to be bumper to bumper on the airport freeway, but Bernie hit the brakes and we were good. He laughed. Bernie’s got the best laugh in the world. You can’t miss it, and a woman in the next lane didn’t. She glanced over, frowning at first, and then not.

Soon after that we were rolling down Mesquite Road, our street, the nicest in the Valley except for all the ones where the rich folks live. We pulled into our driveway and what was this? Action next door at the Parsons’s house?

There hadn’t been much in the way of action at the Parsons’s house for some time. Mr. and Mrs. Parsons were old and not doing well, especially her. As for Iggy, my best pal, the Parsonses had never been able to figure out their electric fence—even though Bernie had checked it out and found it was working perfectly— so Iggy didn’t get out much anymore. Mostly I just saw him through the tall window in their front hall, but he wasn’t there now. Instead he was outside. They were all outside, Mrs. Parsons in her wheelchair and Mr. Parsons guiding the wheelchair with one hand and holding onto Iggy’s leash with the other. Do I need to mention that Iggy was straining against that leash with everything he had in his tiny body, his amazingly long tongue flopping all over the place, and the look in his eyes at its craziest? I don’t think so. You were probably picturing that already, plus the high-pitched yip-yip-yipping. But maybe you missed the little detail of Iggy’s collar, not his normal plain collar but his Christmas collar with flashing red and green lights. The Parsons had bought one for me, too—this was sometime back—but I do not wear flashing light collars. I have black leather for dress up and gator skin for everyday, the story of me and a gator name of Iko and our trip to bayou country way too long to even start on. In the here and now, as Bernie likes to say, we had a taxi parked in the Parsons’s driveway and a taxi driver standing on the lawn, not in a good mood.

“The wheelchair? Plus that yapping little mutt?”

“We’re prepared to pay extra,” said Mr. Parsons.

“Yeah? Two hundred dollars extra?”

By that time, we were out of the car and strolling over.

“Hi, Daniel,” Bernie said. “Where are you headed?”

Mr. Parsons turned to us, stumbling just a bit. Bernie took Iggy’s leash in that smooth way he has, and Iggy went quiet.

“Oh, hi, Bernie,” Mr. Parsons said, somewhat out of breath. “We’re going to a book signing.”

“Where?”

“Bookville. Dame Ariadne Carlisle is Edna’s favorite author.”

“She’s so wonderful, Bernie,” Mrs. Parsons said. “Have you read her?”

“Not to my knowledge,” Bernie said.

“What luck for you! Imagine all the pleasure you’ve got in store. She’s written ninety-nine novels, each one better than the last and all of them with Christmas themes.”

“Oh,” said Bernie.

“Hey!” said the taxi driver. “What am I? A potted plant?”

Bernie turned to him. I turned my nose to him, if that makes sense. Somewhat plantish, certainly, but in a special way you smell a lot in these parts, a combo of garlic plus weed plus mint mouth wash. Here’s an interesting little fact: the mixture is never exactly the same. In short, I knew this guy.

And so did Bernie. “Two Bricks?” he said.

Ah, yes. Orlando “Two Bricks” Short, who’d had a scheme involving counterfeit watches, very good counterfeits if I remember right, except that he’d spelled a word—possibly Rolex— wrong on every one.

Two Bricks took a step back, raising his hands like Bernie was about to draw down on him. What a crazy idea! We weren’t even carrying, plus we never draw down first on anyone. Still, I was suddenly in the mood for the .38 Special. Bernie can shoot spinning dimes out of the air, a lovely way to spend an afternoon.

“I ain’t done nothin’, Bernie,” Two Bricks said. “I’m the most straight up dude in the whole Valley nowadays. Like, actually boring.”

“Perfect,” said Bernie. “So I assume you’re going to drive this very nice couple to Bookville for the meter fare plus a boringly moderate tip. Chet and I will follow, with Iggy here in the back.”

Some things in life start out nicely and then have a nasty twist at the end. This was one of those. Iggy on the little shelf in back? Iggy had never ridden in the Beast. The only member of the nation within—as Bernie calls me and my kind—who had was me. Why couldn’t it stay that way? Was it possible to occupy both the shotgun seat and the little shelf? Why was this even—

“Ch—et?” said Bernie, in this way he has of saying Chet.

First time in a bookstore! The smells! I didn’t even know where to begin. There were all kinds of human smells, which is what you get in crowd situations, and Bookville was packed with humans sitting on card table chairs and standing against the walls. No kids, though, so some of the most interesting smells were missing. Crowds are always better when kids are in them, if you want my opinion, and not just in the smell department. But forget all that. The most interesting smell—apart from the fact that a family of snakes seemed to be living under the floor—came from the bookshelves. So many books! Their smell was wonderful, somewhat like a very dry forest but a cozy, indoor one, if that makes sense, which it probably does not.

Even though there didn’t seem to be room for us, meaning me, Bernie, and Mr. and Mrs. Parsons plus Iggy in her lap, a bookstore worker spotted her and wheeled her to a special section off to the side but up front, so that was where we all ended up, in our own little row with a good view of what I believe is called the podium. I know that from the time Bernie gave the keynote speech at the Great Western Private Eye Association conference. Everyone just loved his talk, although most of the audience had to leave early, probably for family emergencies.

A thin little guy wearing two sets of glasses, one in the normal place and the other on top of his head, was at the podium, speaking softly and reading from a note card.

“Merry, um, Christmas, Hanukkah, and uh, holidays.” He looked up. “Only six book shopping days to go! Heh, heh.” He glanced around, perhaps expecting some sort of reaction, but none came. His gaze returned to the note card. “The Universal Encyclopedia of Christmas calls our guest today ‘the greatest Christmas writer since Dickens.’ And the Reader’s Bible of All Things Mystery says ‘no one writes them any twistier’ than her. So now it’s my, um, pleasure, to introduce or, ah, to welcome to Bookville for the very first time, making her last appearance before Christmas this year—” He looked up and blinked once or twice, “—the loveliest—I mean most beloved author in the whole wide world, Dame Ariadne Carlisle! Let’s give a big . . .”

But the audience was already clapping and cheering. Out from behind a curtain that looked a little like a bedsheet strode a woman who smelled lovely, kind of like one of those long boxes with flowers inside at the first moment someone opens it. She glanced at the thin little guy on her way to the podium and in a low voice said, “Dame as in fame not dame as in scram.”

The thin little guy turned white, but she didn’t notice. Had anyone else heard? Maybe only him and me, him because he was so close and me because, well, I’m me. Meanwhile, I’d left out the most important thing, namely the quality of her voice, kind of like that giant violin humans play between their legs— the name escaping me at the moment—but souped up, so rich and powerful, with a—uh-oh—catlike purr at the core.

Two uh-ohs in one day? That was when I began to worry.


Click below to pre-order your copy of Up on the Woof Top, available October 17th, 2023!

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Forge Characters & Classic Cocktails

By Ariana Carpentieri:

With the weekend right in front of us, it’s time to get cozy with a good book and wind down from the week with a drink! And in light of the upcoming October 10th release of the dazzling new mystery The Bell in the Fog by Lev AC Rosen, we’re pairing Forge characters with cocktails. Main character Andy Mills is no stranger when it comes to bars and classy drinks. So if any of these delicious cocktails strike your fancy, be sure to give them a try!


Andy Mills, Mint Julep – The Bell in the Fog by Lev AC Rosen

Mint Julep cocktail with mint garnish in a copper cup

Missing people. Violent strangers. Scandalous photos. An old flame showing up out of the blue. Andy Mills clearly has his work cut out for him. He frequents many bars in The Bell in the Fog as he tries to solve a mystery that’s also tied to his past. While he doesn’t do much drinking on the job, this scene from the book features a perfect cocktail to pair with his character:

“He smiles and mixes something up, crushing leaves into ice, and making him smell like mint. I watch his arms as he turns the muddler, muscles swelling as they fill out his sleeves. He sets the drink down in front of me. ‘Mint julep. It won’t make you forget, but I think it’ll help you sleep through this when you head upstairs.’”

This mint julep recipe is sure to be just as refreshing as reading this historical mystery is!

Sasha Severn, Honey Mojito Cocktail – The Last Beekeeper by Julie Carrick Dalton

A glass of Mojito With Honey garnish with mint leaves and lime wedges

Julie Carrick Dalton’s The Last Beekeeper is a celebration of found family, an exploration of truth versus power, and the triumph of hope in the face of despair. In this beautiful ode to the natural world, Sasha witnesses the impossible: She sees a honey bee, presumed extinct. With bees comes honey, so I think this honey mojito cocktail will BEE the star of the show. This drink is pleasing to the pallet and might even give you a little BUZZ!

Maggie Mae Brightwell, Espresso Martini – At the Coffee Shop of Curiosities by Heather Webber

hand holding the stem of an espresso martini cocktail

Maggie Mae Brightwell is a bundle of energy as she runs Magpie’s, Driftwood’s coffee and curiosity shop, where there’s magic to be found in pairing the old with the new. But lurking under her cheerful exterior is a painful truth—keeping busy is the best way to distract herself. With ‘Coffee Shop’ literally in the title and all of Maggie’s wonderful energy, I think a coffee-themed drink with a caffeine-infused jolt of alcohol would work best here! Give this espresso martini cocktail recipe a try (from personal experience I can say this drink is definitely an excellent choice and tastes delicious!)

Mrs. Plansky, Long Island Iced Tea – Mrs. Plansky’s Revenge by Spencer Quinn

Long Island Iced Tea

It’s no secret that Mrs. Planksy is a sweet but strong old woman. She’s got a lot on her plate and is determined to get her life back after everything was unjustly stolen from her. I think a drink that’s sweet, but also packs a punch, would be a perfect fit for Mrs. Plansky. So I’d say a Long Island Iced Tea is the way to go! This is especially a perfect fit if you’re holding on to the last moments of summer before fall officially starts!

Katie Kuhlmann, Old Fashioned – A Good Family by Matt Goldman

bourbon old fashioned

Katie Kuhlmann’s marriage is falling apart. But she has a secure job, her children are healthy, and her house, a new construction in the prestigious Country Club neighborhood of Edina, Minnesota, is beautiful. She can almost ignore the way her husband, Jack, has been acting–constantly checking his phone, not going to work, disappearing from the house only to show up again without explanation. Outwardly, they have a seemingly perfect home life and are a good family with everything in order…but secrets are often hidden behind closed doors. So I think a classic, staple cocktail like an old fashioned would be the perfect fit. After all, a perfect ‘all-American’ family is a pretty ‘old fashioned’ notion!

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Excerpt Reveal: Valley of Refuge by John Teschner

Valley of RefugeIn this high-stakes, character-driven thriller, a Hawaiian family must decide the future of their ancestral land when a tech billionaire decides he wants it for himself, and won’t take no for an answer.

What would you do if you. . .

. . .were offered an obscene amount of money for your family’s ancestral land? For Nalani and her mother, the money that could change their lives—at the sacrifice of everything they believe—is a double edged blade, and they’re not sure they can trust the secretive tech billionaire holding it out to them as if it were an olive branch. But what happens when a man with unlimited wealth is given an answer he doesn’t want to hear?

. . .woke up on a plane en route to a tiny Hawaiian island, with no memory of who you are or why you’re there? Janice, whose only clues are the passport in her pocket, and a locked phone with increasingly alarming text alerts about a situation she may or may not be part of, barely knows where to start. Navigating an unfamiliar place, and her own unfamiliar mind, Janice seeks to discover who she is, and answer the question of why she is here, and exactly whose side is she on?

As plans are set in motion that carry them down dangerous and unexpected paths, all involved must decide just how far they are willing to go to reach their goals, before turning back is no longer an option.

Valley of Refuge will be available on October 3rd, 2023. Please enjoy the following excerpt!


CHAPTER ONE

The bassline vibrated the walls of the hallway. She was leaving the bathroom, adjusting the hem of her shirt self-consciously. Had she forgotten a zipper? How much had she had to drink?

Why was it so bright?

She had to shoulder her way through the crowd. People gave her dirty looks. They weren’t dressed for the club. They wore uniforms, or joggers with hoodies, or shorts with ugly patterned shirts. But beyond them, she could see the oval doorway that led to the wide-open space of the dance floor.

They were talking about her, their voices barely audible above the noise. It would feel so good, to make it to that high, bright space and have room to move.

And to be with her, the woman dancing with her eyes shut.

She was in a dream, she knew that. But she wanted so badly to be back on the dance floor. No reality could be more important than that. She was pushing more frantically now. But the harder she pushed, the more they pushed back. Someone was shouting in her face. She craned her head to find the exit, to be anywhere but in this bright, narrow hallway.

She opened her eyes.

“Ma’am!” A wild-eyed woman was practically in her lap. She tried to kick but hit something hard, and pain exploded in her shin.

“Ms. Diaz!”

Her name?

The woman was wearing a uniform. A cop? A nurse?

She looked up and saw two circles dancing in and out of focus in an oddly low and curving ceiling. To her left, a portal, beyond it, blue.

She was on an airplane.

There were two other flight attendants standing in the aisle. And two men, one Black, one white. Big men.

She was on an airplane. And there was a problem. She was the problem.

She closed her eyes and held up her hands. “Okay,” she said. “Okay.”

“Ma’am, there is a team of emergency responders waiting for us at the airport. They want to know, have you taken any drugs or medications?”

She began to answer. Opened her mouth. Shut it. Tried again.

“What’s my name?”

The flight attendant glanced back at her colleagues.

“Your name is Janice. Janice Diaz. According to your boarding pass.”

“How did I get here?”

“Just like everyone else, ma’am. You boarded in Seattle.”

“And where are we landing?”

“LIH. Lihue Airport. Hawaii.”

Janice Diaz leaned back. “That sounds nice.”

The flight attendant stepped back into the aisle, whispered to her coworkers.

“Ms. Diaz, what is the last thing you remember?”

She almost told her about the woman on the dance floor. Then she pictured the Seattle airport. Escalators and empty glass hallways. She knew it well. She tried filling it with people. Faceless, hurrying bodies. She tried to remember the bench she’d chosen at the gate, where she’d bought coffee, the line for security. There was nothing there. Her mind was clear and bright.

She took a deep breath, waited for the never-ending stream of images and mental chatter that constituted who she was.

She took another breath.

“Ma’am?” The flight attendant was in the seat beside her. “I’m going to sit right here until we land.”

Without thinking, Janice Diaz clasped the flight attendant’s hand. “Am I all right?”

“Oh, honey.” The woman lifted a strand of hair from her face. One fingertip brushed her forehead, and the full arc of her skull fluoresced with pain. “I don’t think so.”


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Excerpt Reveal: The Murder of Andrew Johnson by Burt Solomon

The Murder of Andrew JohnsonThe next John Hay historical thriller from award-winning political journalist Burt Solomon, this time focused on one of America’s most controversial presidents: Andrew Johnson.

Andrew Johnson was called The Great Commoner, appealing to the masses, loathing the establishment and anyone he deemed elitist. Once Johnson made an enemy, you became his enemy for life. He saw insults where none were intended and personal loyalty meant everything…and his devoted fans would follow him into the depths of Hell. He was also the first U.S. president to be impeached.

Time however waits for no man and even the Famous (or Infamous) must leave this world eventually. But when a man has as many enemies as the Devil, what death could really be a natural one? From political opponents to most of his own family, the suspects are endless, and the truth not really wanted. John Hay, lawyer, sometimes governmental bureaucrat, and now journeyman investigative reporter, is set on finding that truth. And it may wind up killing him.

The Murder of Andrew Johnson will be available on October 3rd, 2023. Please enjoy the following excerpt!


CHAPTER ONE

Saturday, July 31, 1875

I’ll confess that I’d longed for a son—what new daddy doesn’t?—but I wouldn’t swap a bare-knuckled champion-to-be for the tiny girl who was smiling and squirming in Clara’s arms. Helen was four and a half months old, and she still had a sweetness I could smell halfway across the room. She started to squeal.

“Your turn,” Clara said.

“I’m not good at this,” I protested.

“Neither was I.”

She had a point, although I didn’t say so. I unbent from my burgundy bergère and reached across and took Helen into my arms. I began to rock her. The squealing ceased.

Clara beamed at me. She was nice enough not to tease.

“So, when’s the next one?” I said, surprising myself.

“I would imagine that is partly up to you,” Clara replied.

For a young woman reared on Millionaires’ Row, in this prim and proper age, Clara could be astonishingly frank about the practicalities of life. We were sitting in her father’s library, the rosewood shelves full of books with uncracked spines, in his Italianate mansion on suave and stately Euclid avenue, in Cleveland. This was where any American should aspire to live, even (or especially) if the money wasn’t his own. Mine wasn’t. I couldn’t help but hear the hammering next door, from the workmen building my new house. I mean our house—Clara’s and little Helen’s and mine. Actually, I mean his house, my father-in-law’s, Amasa Stone’s. It was his wedding gift, and naturally it came with conditions. We had left New York behind, after my five happy years at the Tribune, and had been nesting under Amasa’s (pardon me, Mr. Stone’s) roof for eight weeks, four days, and . . . let me think . . . thirteen and a half hours now. But who’s counting?

I worried that I’d made a deal with the devil. Not that Amasa Stone was a devil. He generally meant well, in a hard-nosed way, putting his own interests first. But that’s what people do, particularly self-made millionaires in a world that worships wealth, so I tried to keep my expectations low and my disappointments to a minimum. With mixed success, I might add. My job henceforth was to administer Amasa’s investments, in railroads and steel mills, in oil refining and banks, in stocks and silver, after the financial panic of ’seventy-three had nearly ruined him. (Not even Clara knew that.) My position, vaguely drawn, put me under Amasa’s thumb as well as his roof. But the work itself didn’t sound terribly taxing, and I figured that having my father-in-law finance our bread crusts would give me time to write my half of the epic biography of Lincoln that Nicolay and I had pondered ad nauseam over late-night brandies. Here, something was always in the larder, even if I didn’t know what a larder was. How lucky was I, at what I hoped was a tolerable cost in self-respect. Everything in life had its pluses and minuses, its benefits and costs—wasn’t that so? The goal was to unbalance them rightly.

Moving to Cleveland, not incidentally, made Clara happy, which she hadn’t been in New York. She was too reserved, too sensible—too pure of heart, if I may exaggerate, although not by a lot—to fit in comfortably in the East. I looked across at her. The baby had taken nothing from her health or good looks. She was the kindest person I’d ever known, but it was a kindness backed by steel. She had an unruffled sort of face, unlined, not delicate but handsome, with unapologetic cheeks and a determined chin. Her hair was braided loosely into a bun, and her dark sparkling eyes could peer inside you without seeming to try. There was nothing flimsy about her; her bosom was ample enough to hide in. She was twenty-five years old, to my thirty-six, yet she was sturdy and serene—and content—in a way I could only dream of. Clara was without guile. I had enough for the both of us.

Helen was wriggling again. I was ready to restore her to her mother’s embrace when there was a knock at the door, too deferential for Amasa. The butler entered. He was a black gentleman with a fringe of white hair around a lived-in face. He carried a silver platter on his fingertips as if he were a waiter at Delmonico’s.

“For you, sir,” he said.

A yellow envelope lay on the platter. Across the top, Gothic script announced:

Western Union Telegraph

Amasa owned a chunk of that, too. Scrawled underneath:

Mr. John Hay, Esq.

I could guess who had sent it—Whitelaw Reid, who had been my nominal boss and boon companion at the New-York Tribune. The Esquire was his idea of a jab.

I handed Helen back to Clara and used my bone-handled pocketknife to slit open the envelope.

My dear Hay, Andrew Johnson died this morning in Elizabethton, wilds of East Tennessee. The most hated man in America. Can you go? Reid

Can I? My wife and daughter would fare just fine without me, and my father-in-law would sputter at my gallivanting and then acquiesce. Occasionally I needed to do something absurd.

_____________

I caught the noon train south, toward Columbus. No trouble with the reservations, not when your father-in-law is a director of the railroad and of four or five others. I had a compartment to myself. It was paneled in mahogany, curtained in silk, upholstered in velvet, trimmed in ebony and gold, carpeted in a tapestry caressing my feet—a testament to what my pal Clemens has dubbed the Gilded Age. But what, pray tell, was wrong with gilded?

The conductor brought me the Columbus newspapers. The printers’ strike in Kentucky, the anthracite coal miners’ strike in Pennsylvania, the weavers’ strike in Massachusetts, the shoe cutters’ strike in New York— what on earth was the world coming to? I tried not to feel nostalgic for the blood and terror of civil war. At least right and wrong had seemed clear then, and the imperatives were obvious to all. Things were different now. I was a Republican to the bone, but I pined for the days when Labor hadn’t loathed Capital, and capitalism hadn’t been running amok. Its titans reigned as tyrants greedier than tsars. Vanderbilt was buying up railroads—Amasa’s, among others—and a Clevelander named Rockefeller was busy cornering the market in oil refining. This much was clear: The pastoral America was passing. The horse’s or ox’s pace was giving way to the bustle of rail. Industry, enterprise, expansion, ambition, acquisitiveness, extravagance, ostentation—anything worth doing was worth overdoing.

Below the front-page dispatches on the Missouri floods and the latest in the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher’s sensational trial for adultery, The Dispatch ran a short item:

Andy Johnson’s Apoplexy.

GREENEVILLE, TENN., July 31—Ex-President Johnson received a very severe stroke of paralysis at 4 o’clock on Wednesday at his daughter’s residence in Carter county. Feeling has been partially restored to his left side. He speaks intelligently, and hopes are entertained of his recovery.

Old news.

I tried to picture the dear departed. Physically, ol’ Andy had a presence. He was of solid build, with a massive head, a jut-jawed face, piercing eyes, thick hair to his earlobes. He was invariably clad in the style of the old statesmen, in doeskin trousers and a black broadcloth coat. I had never seen the man smile. The last time I had seen him at all (not counting the half hour he had hovered by Lincoln’s deathbed during that awful, awful night), he was drunk. That was on the fourth day of March in ’sixty-five, at the inauguration for Lincoln’s second term as president and ol’ Andy’s first as vice president. Before the ceremony started, he had gulped down a tumbler of whisky—blaming his unfinished recovery from typhoid fever—and then another and, as he was leaving to be sworn in, yet a third. (I had this on good authority, from Hannibal Hamlin, the man whose job he took.) He was sozzled when he delivered his inaugural address, ranting at the cabinet, lionizing “the people,” embarrassing everyone in sight, possibly including himself, until Hamlin prevailed on him to stop. Lincoln forgave him—of course!—but I am a lesser soul.

I stared out of the window awhile. The hills near Cleveland had slipped behind us, and the land lay as flat as a windless sea. Wood fences that used to be white surrounded fields of wheat and corn, strewn with red barns (red paint was the cheapest) and silos and stables. Once upon a time, or so I’d heard, a squirrel could scamper from the Atlantic shoreline clear to Ohio without touching the ground. But ever since the lumbermen had given way to farmers, those days were gone.

In Columbus, I picked up the evening newspapers, which had caught up with the ex-president’s fate. In The Cincinnati Daily Star:

Death of Andy Johnson.

GREENEVILLE, TENN., July 31—Senator Johnson, after a perceptible improvement last night, began again to sink a little after midnight, and died at fifteen minutes of three o’clock this morning.

I had felt fortunate to miss most of his presidency, which an assassin’s bullet began. What an unworthy successor to the Great Emancipator! Soon after Lincoln was martyred, I sailed to Europe, taking up leisurely diplomatic posts in our embassies in Paris, Vienna, and Madrid, so I followed Johnson’s failures at a distance. That was close enough. Granted, he didn’t smoke or swear or steal, so far as I knew, and I had never seen him spit (although I’m not alleging he didn’t). He told fewer lies in a month than most politicians spoke before breakfast. Those were his good points, overwhelmed by the bad. He was a vindictive man and a worse president, a bully and a demagogue who considered compromise a sin and never forgave a slight. He bungled Reconstruction—undermining the Freedmen’s Bureau, reneging on the promise of forty acres to emancipated slaves, pardoning Confederates, restoring the slavocracy to its former glory. He earned the unprecedented humiliation of getting impeached and, after his debacle of a presidency, slumped home to Tennessee. Yet even then, he refused to accept disgrace. Twice, he lost bids for Congress, but just this past winter, by the slimmest of margins, on the fifty-fourth ballot, the Tennessee legislature sent him back to Washington as a United States senator. Vindication at last!

Only now he was dead, the most hated man in America. He had divided a nation that longed for unity. He had been venomous toward his enemies, real and imagined, and had coarsened the civic discourse, wielding a truncheon in place of Lincoln’s scalpel. Who on earth would go to his funeral? Would anyone?

Ah, this was the story I would write for the Tribune.

A cow outside my window flapped his dewlap in my direction, undoubtedly meant as a salute. I returned to The Daily Star.

OBITUARY.

Andrew Johnson was born at Raleigh, N.C., December 29th, 1808, and was, consequently, nearly 67 years of age . . .

Most of his story I already knew. He was born into poverty in North Carolina, and his daddy drowned while rescuing two rich men when Andy was three years old. Lacking even a day of schooling, Andy was indentured at age ten to a tailor, before running away. He returned only to guide his mama and stepfather west, across the Appalachians, a blind pony pulling their cart of possessions. In East Tennessee, the rugged land of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone, he began his political ascent, from alderman to mayor to legislator to governor to congressman to U.S. senator. He was a Democrat who idolized his namesake Andrew Jackson, Tennessee’s most famous son. Yet when the Southern states declared their independence, Johnson—alone among the Southern senators—opposed secession and refused to quit his seat. Accordingly, when the Union Army conquered Tennessee, Johnson was named as the state’s military governor and then, in the election of ’sixtyfour, as Lincoln’s running mate. The voters catapulted ol’ Andy into a vice presidency that was destined to last only forty-two days.

Maybe I was thinking about the stumbling pony because somehow I dozed off. Next I knew, the train was jolting to a halt, and the conductor was swinging a lantern and shouting, “Cincinnati!”

After a quick, unappetizing dinner in the depot of boiled mutton and a blotchy potato, I boarded the Knoxville train. Within seconds, I learned more than I wanted to know about the war’s impact on the nation’s railroads. I was consigned to a rickety car with streaked windows and straightback seats, wondering how in blazes I would ever get to sleep.

The porter was a sinewy young negro who belonged on a football field, if the college boys would have him. He must have noticed my look of puzzlement, because he chuckled in a kindly way and asked about my destination.

“Hope you be a patient man,” he said when I told him.

“Not usually,” I replied.

“You not from here, suh.”

It wasn’t a question. “From Illinois, growing up,” I said. “Now from Cleveland.” I left out Providence, Washington City, European capitals, and New York, the places where I’d most felt at home.

“You been South before, suh?”

“Not much.”

“It’s a different world down here, suh.”

“I like different worlds,” I said.

He pursed his lips and managed not to smile. “Some Ah do,” he said, “and some Ah don’t.”

“How long to Knoxville?”

“Five hours and thirty-seven minutes.”

“You sure of that?” I joshed.

This time he did smile, showing a gold front tooth. He explained that most of the railroad lines running north to south hadn’t been rebuilt since the war and hadn’t been any great shakes before then.

“Isn’t this an era of good feeling between North and South?” I said.

He smiled again as if I were joking, which I was. I inquired if I might purchase some bourbon or rye.

“Ah could oblige.”

It didn’t take him long, and the bourbon wasn’t bad. It warmed my chest and calmed my internals. The porter also brought two pillows and a tartan blanket that no varmints had used for their bedding.

When I turned and stared out the window, my reflection stared back. I can’t say that I looked my most debonair. My dark hair, center parted, lay too flat on my ghostly white head, which made my ears stick out. My face was too thin, my chin too insignificant, my features a trifle too delicate. Should I grow a beard to match my raffish mustache? I wet my fingers to tame my eyebrows. I looked tired as hell. I was tired as hell.

I took two deep breaths (I had learned this in the boxing ring) and braved another look at myself. Better. I was probably my severest critic—and my greatest admirer. I was pretty sure I spied the daredevil look in my eye, although I was possibly seeing it from the inside. I tried my crookedest smile, which lent a certain dash to my countenance. I had to acknowledge that women seemed not to mind it, including Clara. It would do. It would have to.

I reached for The Daily Star beside me. The flimsy newspaper had fallen open to page two, home to the editorials—my domain at the Tribune. It was a job I loved but for which I was only fitfully suited. I do not like to blame, and I mortally hate to praise. This editorial did neither.

Death of Ex-President Andrew Johnson.

The people of the United States will be astonished and shocked to hear of the death of ex-President Andrew Johnson, of Tennessee. Until last Wednesday he was in the full vigor of health. Now he had passed from among us in the most unexpected manner . . .

The word wedged in my craw. Unexpected.


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Excerpt Reveal: The Bell in the Fog by Lev AC Rosen

The Bell in the FogThe Bell in the Fog, a dazzling historical mystery by Lev AC Rosen, asks—once you have finally found a family, how far would you go to prove yourself to them?

San Francisco, 1952. Detective Evander “Andy” Mills has started a new life for himself as a private detective—but his business hasn’t exactly taken off. It turns out that word spreads fast when you have a bad reputation, and no one in the queer community trusts him enough to ask an ex-cop for help.

When James, an old flame from the war who had mysteriously disappeared, arrives in his offices above the Ruby, Andy wants to kick him out. But the job seems to be a simple case of blackmail, and Andy’s debts are piling up. He agrees to investigate, despite everything it stirs up.

The case will take him back to the shadowy, closeted world of the Navy, and then out into the gay bars of the city, where the past rises up to meet him, like the swell of the ocean under a warship. Missing people, violent strangers, and scandalous photos that could destroy lives are a whirlpool around him, and Andy better make sense of it all before someone pulls him under for good.

The Bell in the Fog will be available on October 10th, 2023. Please enjoy the following excerpt!


CHAPTER ONE

There’s a crowd at the bar when I get inside, but I hang back, alone, and watch. There’s a bucket swinging in my hand, rusted tin, filled with pinkish water, and my hands are dyed red. They match the walls of the Ruby, though it’s so packed tonight, you can barely see the diamond wallpaper through the crowd. A constant hum of people talking over one another fills the room, pierced by a loud laugh here and there, like the church organ shrieking over the choir.

A few people stare at me—I don’t know if it’s the bucket or just knowing who I am, but they don’t say anything. They look away, quick, back at a friend, or the stage, where the band plays “It’s No Sin,” the female impersonator’s voice struggling to be heard.

People are dancing anyway, hands clasped, bodies close, men with men, women with women, some men with women, even. I haven’t seen a mixed gay bar since the war, when women needed men to escort them in. All colors of people, too. Elsie has really gotten word out that the Ruby is the most welcoming queer bar in San Francisco.

Except maybe for me. News has trickled out about me, too— the gay PI with the office above the Ruby—but with it so has my past, and no one at a gay bar wants to get too close to a cop, even if he was kicked off the force for being caught in one. Especially not when he’s holding a bucket of what looks like blood.

I push my way through the people who won’t look at me, trying to be delicate, making sure the bucket doesn’t spill, and walk over to the bar. Gene is pouring out drinks with steady hands that were trained for the scalpel before someone sent photos of him and a beau to his medical school. He looks gorgeous in the light. He glows. I know I should probably try talking to him more. But our kiss was months ago, and I was broken and bloody and glad to be alive. Since then, whenever I’ve gotten up the nerve to talk to him, he’s smiled and laughed, same as he has with any other customer.

He looks down at the bucket I’m holding, and frowns.

“Need the sink?” he asks.

“If that’s all right. I’m afraid I’ll spill it if I try to bring it upstairs.”

He moves to the left, making space for me, and I squeeze in next to him. Our shoulders touch and for a moment I think of asking him to dance, what that would be like, being out on the floor with him, shoulder to shoulder, arms around his waist. Like I belonged, I think. Like I was home.

I pour the red water out, and it sloshes loudly into the sink.

“That’s not blood, is it?” a patron asks, watching. He’s drunk enough to talk to me.

“Paint,” I say. “Someone wrote some not-nice things on the building a few weeks back. No one else had time yet, so I washed it off.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be a detective?”

I shrug, not sure how to answer. The motion tilts the bucket a little harder and the last of the red water splashes back on me, hitting me in the face. The patron laughs as Gene hands me a towel.

“He is a detective,” Gene says, as I wipe my face off, hiding my smile. I hand the towel back to him.

“Thanks,” I say, and go to wash my hands off, too. I scrub, and the paint won’t shift. My hands stay stained.

“Want a drink?” Gene asks.

“No,” I say. “Thanks.” I stand next to him a moment longer until he reaches past me to get a bottle and I realize I’m in the way.

I leave the bucket under the sink where it belongs and retreat to an empty table away from the bar. Gene shoots me a look when I get there, but I can’t read it—maybe he’s confused about my not wanting a drink. I try not to order drinks. Elsie said they’d be on the house, but considering I’m not bringing in much money, like she hoped I would, I’d rather not drain her cash and her liquor. I’m supposed to be paying her a percentage of my earnings from cases, but cases aren’t exactly pouring in. As a cop, they used to find me; now . . . I’m not sure how to get them. I wait in my office most nights, and sometimes someone will walk in, but most nights it’s empty, so I come down here, and stand to the side, hoping that’ll drum up business somehow. Tonight I at least got to make myself useful when one of the cocktail waitresses mentioned the graffiti. At least I cleaned up something.

Elsie sits down next to me. “Oh, will you just ask him out already?” she says, lighting a cigarette. She’s in a blue suit turned nearly purple from all the red light bouncing off the walls. Large ruby earrings sparkle from the shadows of her bob.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean it’s been months of you two making baby eyes at each other and nothing happening. If you don’t do something soon, he’s going to assume you’re not interested in him. It’s nearly October already, Andy, get to it if you want to ring in ’53 with him.”

“I don’t . . .” I shake my head and look back at him. He’s laughing at something a guy at the bar said. Maybe I’ve been making eyes at him, but has he really been making eyes at me, or just staring at my stare? “How would I even do that?”

“What?” Elsie blows out a smoke ring. “What do you mean?”

“I mean . . .” I don’t know what I mean. Two women, one in a suit, dance past us.

She sighs. “You just go up to him and ask him if he wants to get a drink.”

“He works at a bar.”

“Somewhere else.” Elsie shrugs.

“But—”

“Elsie, Stan is trying to sneak another number into his set.”

I look up at Lee, the showgirl who’s interrupted us, and check for lipstick; deep red tonight. She’s in a yellow halter-neck dress that sets off her cool onyx skin, and a black wig that’s tied back in a bun with a large yellow flower. She sees me staring, and winks. I’ve met a lot of the showgirls and -boys in passing, but Lee has been the closest to welcoming. She told me flat out that when she’s got the lipstick on, to call her miss, and when it comes off, to call him sir, and if I did that, we’d be pals. Easy enough to check. I don’t want to mess it up and have the friendliest face in the hallway, maybe the whole city, stop talking to me.

“Oy vey,” Elsie says, looking at the stage, where Stan, the female impersonator, is readying the mic for another number. “I’ll take care of it.”

“Sorry, Andy,” Lee says, “didn’t mean to steal her away.”

“It’s fine,” I say, as Elsie stands.

“You have a fella waiting in your office, by the way. Nice shoulders.”

“Sad or angry?” I ask. Those are the two types I get. Sad men, wondering if their boyfriends are cheating on them, and angry men, convinced their boyfriends are cheating on them. Cheap work, tailing men meeting other men, or going home to the wives they haven’t told anyone about, but I can’t be picky. I’m new at this, and I need to bring in whatever I can.

“Not sure.” Lee shakes her head. “I think he came up through the garage, though.” The ground floor under the club is a garage with an entrance in the alley. There’s parking down there; my car, Elsie’s, some others—but with it being out of the way and a bouncer in the stairwell keeping an eye out for the cops, it’s an easy way up to my office without even setting foot in the club.

“Better get to work, then,” Elsie says, walking away, “and ask him out.” She glances meaningfully over at Gene.

“Ask who out?” Lee asks, grinning at me. “You finally find a boy you like, Andy? It better not be Stan.”

“No,” I say quickly. “It’s . . . something else. Thanks, Lee. Sorry I won’t get to hear you sing. I’ll try to get down before your set is over.”

“You’ll hear me through the floorboards, honey,” she says, walking after Elsie, her hips swaying. Gene’s eyes flicker to mine for a moment as I pass the bar, or maybe I imagine it, and he’s just staring at a drink as he pours it. I can talk to him later. Leaving a client waiting means they have time to reconsider and walk out. Elsie hasn’t set an expiration date on this little experiment of having an in-house detective, but I must seem like a bad idea by now. I bring in enough to feed myself, sure, but her percentage is much lower than the value of renting me the space, and we both know it. How long before she decides my office and apartment were better before, as storerooms for booze?

I have to shove through the crowds, and by the time I get halfway upstairs to my office, I can hear Lee singing “How High the Moon.” The floor above the club is just a hallway from one elevator to stairs, with dark purple walls, and lined with doors, most of them open. The two closest to the elevator are my office and apartment, respectively, but the other four are the dressing rooms, doors always thrown open, the hallway bustling with performers and musicians and sometimes waitresses here on break, or fans coming to leave flowers for their favorite performers. People laugh and talk as loudly as downstairs as they paint on makeup or fake mustaches, zip up dresses, button vests. At first, the chaos worried me, but it actually feels like home, the same sort of clamor as working at the police station, only now I’m not looking over my shoulder to see if they’re realizing the truth about me.

Right now, the hall is filled with white feathers slowly floating down through the air and scattered on the floor like flower petals after a thunderstorm. I glance into one of the dressing rooms and see Walter trying to squeeze into a white dress that’s covered in feathers. Sarah, already in a full tuxedo, is trying to pull up the zipper for him, but it’s not going, and he hops up and down, hoping to make it fit, shedding feathers as he does.

“It fit last week,” he says.

“You got fat this week.”

In the next room, two female impersonators are peeling off their makeup, cackling at a joke I didn’t hear. A male impersonator is leaning against the wall, smoking. When I nod, she nods back, which is something. They never nodded back the first few months I was here. Even if they’re coming to terms with my old life, they don’t love that I’m suddenly living and working next door. Clients don’t love it, either. Even with a covert way up here, the way people gossip, you need to be careful.

But I’m the only queer detective in town, so some of them still risk it. Even when I’m not here, someone always tells me if a client shows up. It’s still uncommon enough it’s noteworthy. Not that the cases are. I’d thought I could do something here, maybe make up for who I was. But all I do is follow people, tell people who love them their secrets. I’m not helping out the way I wanted. No one even trusts me enough to ask me when they’re in real trouble. Why would they?

Elsie had the door redone when I moved in, amethyst investigations stenciled in dark purple. I don’t love the name, but I get why she chose it—being affiliated with the Ruby, being another of Elsie’s gems—it means I’m trustworthy, like the Ruby is. Most welcoming gay club in San Francisco, most welcoming gay PI, too. In theory anyway. Certainly not everyone is buying it, though, or I’d have more business. I wonder who’s desperate or angry enough to come see me tonight.

There’s a man sitting in the chair that faces my desk. His back is to me, but I can see he’s blond, broad shouldered, tall. I close the door with a click and he turns around.

Oh.

The recognition hits like an anchor that’s dropped too fast, crashing into the seabed, into both of us, sand flying up, fish fleeing, a heavy thud, and a scar on the ocean floor.

He looks just as shocked as I feel. Well, at least that’s two of us.

“I didn’t realize it would be you,” he says, almost apologetically. He stands up. “I can go. I mean, I should go.”

I think about letting him. He can drift out the door like smoke and I can go back to thinking of him as a sour memory. But I can’t be turning down clients. And . . . I want to know. What happened.

I shake my head. “No, sit down. If you’re here, there’s not many other places you can go, right?”

“Sure, but—”

“James. Don’t worry. I can help.”

I make my face calm, professional, even smile a little, though it kills me, and I go around to my side of the desk. He looks almost the same, even though it’s been seven years. He has gray creeping in at his sideburns, but is still shockingly handsome, with a square jaw and bright blue eyes that not even the dark circles can hide.

“So,” he says after a moment, and I realize he’s been looking at me the way I’ve been looking at him, finding all the changes, all the things that stayed the same. “Been a while, huh?”

I stare at him. I don’t know what to say to that. He’s the one who vanished. A faint whiff of him comes across the desk. Pine, the ocean. Just like he used to smell. For a moment, it’s like the lines in his forehead and the grays vanish, and it’s just us again, like when we were alone on base, or in the sonar cabin of the Bell, all our crewmates somewhere else. Just dim light, him, me, the sway of the ocean, our hands and bodies. He used to hold me tight when the ship really rocked. Kiss my earlobe.

I realize I haven’t said anything, and so does he. “You look well,” he says, smiling. He never could handle the silence. He always had to fill it with a grin or a joke or his mouth on mine.

“Thank you,” I say. And as I get used to this—the two of us together again—I suddenly realize there’s another presence.

“You ever hear from Helen?” he asks, as if sensing it, too.

I shake my head. “Not for years.”

Helen had been the third of our motley crew—a member of WAVES, the navy women’s auxiliary. Never went on a ship, but worked at Treasure Island, as a driver. After James vanished, though, we couldn’t make the friendship work, just the two of us. The crater he left in our lives with his sudden disappearance, with us not knowing what had happened—it was so big, too terrifying to keep sidestepping. But I don’t tell him all that. He doesn’t get to know what he left behind.

Lee’s voice comes through the floor, just like she promised, but it’s muffled, the lyrics unclear. Just the sound of a voice, and music, too foggy to have any real meaning.

“Why don’t we talk about why you’re here,” I say.

“Yeah. That’s probably better than dwelling on the past.”

“Sure,” I say. “Better than that.”

He swallows. He was barely prepared to do this, and then it was a swell of old memories that came in the door. I almost feel for him. But then I remember his bed on base, right next to mine, but empty one morning. Perfectly made. His luggage gone. His locker door hanging open, nothing inside. Not even a letter. Just emptiness waiting to be filled with fear and questions: Had they caught him? Was I next?

“I’m up for a promotion,” he says finally. “Rear admiral, lower half.”

“Oh,” I say, trying not to look like I was just slapped across the face. “Congratulations. I didn’t realize you’d stayed in the navy.”

“Well, yeah,” he says, tilting his head, confused. He used to do that a lot. “That’s why I—” He stops himself. “After the thing with the spy, the brass noticed me.”

I nod. He knew a little German from his grandmother. He’d never told anyone that—knowing German was suspicious during the war—but he overheard some supposed tourists speaking it on base, trying to get something to the mainland, and he’d reported it. He’d stumbled onto a spy, stopped a Nazi plot. But there was barely time to celebrate—the Bell left for Okinawa, our first real action since we’d enlisted, aside from escorting ships between San Francisco and Pearl Harbor.

We didn’t get back until the end of ’45. We spent our days looking for enemy subs and clearing out underwater mines around the coast—I ran the sonar, searching, and James was the captain’s secretary. But we’d known each other before that. We’d come through training together. We were always together.

His eyes look the same now. He stares at me, waiting for a reaction.

“I remember,” I say finally.

He nods, and takes out a cigarette case from his jacket pocket, offers me one, which I take. We tap our cigarettes on the desk almost in unison and then he takes out a lighter and brings it to his cigarette. Then, without even looking at me, without hesitating, he leans over the desk and lights mine, his fingers close to my mouth. I don’t even realize how intimate it is until it’s over. Old habits, memories our bodies haven’t gotten rid of, the way alcoholics undo themselves drinking any glass put in front of them without realizing.

“Well . . .” he says, and blows smoke out between his lips in a long gust, “after that, I was on officer track. Worked hard. Kept my nose clean, y’know?”

“A change for you, then?”

He laughs, but it’s sad. “Yes, well. That was the point. I mean . . . we all knew it wasn’t going to last. The . . . openness. Right? The moment we took Okinawa I knew. The rules were going to change back as soon as we won the war.” James always knew when the party was over. When to leave the bar before the raid, when to not go out at all. He said it felt like a thermometer, and the mercury was fun, release, going up up up . . . you had to leave before it hit the top. People like us, we only get our fun in doses, like junkies. Too much and you’re dead.

“Just one of your feelings?” I ask.

He nods, cigarette smoke swirling around him at the gesture, like a frame around his portrait. “After we got back it was boiling. We’d gotten away with so much. Not every homosexual, I know. But you and me, we were lucky, Captain Teller didn’t care much as long as we were good at our jobs. Some captains would have had us court-martialed just for the way we smiled at each other. With the war over, guys leaving, the navy bringing in those new shrinks to study us . . . it was time to go. No more fun for a while.” He looks at me, a little sad, and then up at the ceiling. “Anyway, that’s where I am today. Captain.”

“That’s fast,” I say. “You must have really loved the job.”

He doesn’t wince at that, and I’m not sure he was supposed to. “Well, a lot of guys left after the war, and I’d already been to college. And I’m good at it, too. I always told you I would be if they’d given me a chance. And now there’s this rear admiral spot. My name is being tossed around, now that Michaelson is retiring.”

He pauses, takes a hit off his cigarette.

“Except?” I ask. “Someone make the captain spill about us?”

“Oh, no, I don’t think . . . I mean, no one really remembers me then. I restarted. I was posted in the Atlantic until I made captain two years ago.” He chuckles, low and familiar. “People call me Jim now. And with you gone . . .”

“Sure,” I say, inhaling on my own cigarette. It’s bitter.

“But there are some photos. More recent ones.”

“I thought you said you kept your nose clean.”

“I did. I do. But you know how it is, Andy. You go weeks, months, and you start to feel . . .”

“Yeah,” I say, remembering how it felt at the station, the nights I was off duty and felt like I barely existed. “It doesn’t feel like that if you’re more open about things, for what it’s worth.” I decide I don’t like the cigarette and twist it out in the ashtray on my desk. I haven’t kissed anyone since Gene but I don’t feel that ache, that loneliness like I used to. I haven’t needed to shove myself against another man just to feel my own skin.

“Well . . . that must be nice,” James says. He looks around my office and I follow his eyes: coatrack, desk, ashtray, pens, paper. On a shelf are some books my friend Pat lent me. I keep it discreet in here. Nothing personal. Still feels odd to have him looking around, like he might find something.

“I never got married, you know,” he says, turning back to me. “I didn’t want to do that to a woman, unless she was in on it. I suppose I could have asked Helen, but . . .”

“But that would have been even more trouble,” I say.

“Yeah, she was always trouble.” He smiles, inhales on his cigarette.

She’d recognized us from base, and come up to us one night at a gay bar, fearless, to offer us a ride next time we were headed out—provided we escorted her in. The gay bars were more mixed then, men and women, and it suited us all to pair off, for appearances. But we got close. She was funny, flinty, wild both in a car and out of it, always going for the girls with boyfriends, husbands, diving out a back window when he came home. She’d pick us up from our hotel at the time we’d agreed, her blouse still half-unbuttoned from having to run.

“So the photos?” I ask, suddenly missing her more than I missed him. She didn’t vanish. I let her slip away.

“Yeah, right.” He nods, then puts the cigarette out. “Me and a professional. Not someone I picked up in a park or anything, not some punk looking to roll me. He’s a fairy I see sometimes. Discreet. But then these photos came the other day. Not from him, I don’t think. They’re not signed. Tells me to leave ten grand in a locker Wednesday or else they get sent to the admirals. I’ll get dishonorably discharged, maybe court-martialed.” His voice is getting higher, reedier. “Andy, I don’t have that kind of money. What am I supposed to do?”

“Why are you so sure it’s not from the hooker?” I ask.

“Danny’s a good guy. And I pay him well enough—why turn on me now?”

“He could need a payday—could be he’s being blackmailed himself. Or he’s moving, or just got tired of it and decided to cash out. Could be he only just got a camera.”

“I don’t think he—”

“What, another feeling?”

“I’ve never been wrong.” He crosses his legs and starts rubbing his hand on his knee, like he’s polishing something. His nervous tic. “Though I haven’t been able to get in touch with him, either.”

“Okay. You have the photos?”

“Do you really want to see them?” We lock eyes and I think about it. I don’t.

“Do you know where they were taken?”

“Yeah. A hotel I use. Fake name, and he comes up later, we don’t go in together. And the hotel never asks questions.”

“What’s the hotel?”

“It’s on California, just east of Pacific Heights.”

“Okay, but what’s it called? I’m going to have to go there.”

He looks away, won’t meet my eyes. “The Belltower.”

A laugh rips out of me like a knife.

“It just seemed like a good sign.”

“Sure,” I say. “You know what room they were taken in?”

“I always ask for the same one. High up enough there aren’t other buildings out the window. Room 608.”

I start jotting down notes. “And how did you meet, exactly? Did he have a madam or handler?”

“No, no, he was on his own. I met him at a bar—not a queer one. But he spotted me anyway, y’know, like we used to do with—” He stops. The past keeps pouring out of him, and he knows he’s going to choke on it.

“You have a phone number, and address?”

“Just his phone number.” He rattles it off, and I write that down, too.

“All right,” I say.

“So you’ll take the case?”

“I’ll do what I can. I’m fifty bucks a day, plus expenses.” It’s higher than I usually charge. I’m entitled to some pettiness.

“Fine,” he says. “But I need the photos—the negatives, too—by Wednesday or else . . .”

“I can’t make any promises. But five days should be enough time. And if it’s not, I can watch the locker, find out who’s blackmailing you, get the money back.”

“I don’t have money like that, I can’t even get it together.”

He looks so sad for a moment, so scared, I feel a need to protect him. To hold him. He must be so desperate if he came here—a club where setting foot inside could get him fired if anyone saw. Then I remember that I felt the same way when he vanished, terrified that I would be next. The pity fades.

“We’ll figure something out if it comes to that. But let me poke around first. Could just be Danny, desperate, and I can scare him off. All right?”

“Yeah . . . yeah.” He takes a deep breath, goes to take out his cigarette case again, then stops. “You always looked out for me, Andy. I guess this is . . . just like old times.”

“It’s not, James.”

“Maybe it could be?” he asks, standing. He takes the pen out of my hand and writes a phone number on the pad. He bends his body over the corner of the desk to write, and without the furniture between us, I can smell him clearly, feel him. Touch him if I wanted. There’s a spot on his spine where if I ran my fingers, he would melt. I could take him to my room across the hall, better than the cheap motels we used. It would be easy, I think. He wants me to. The memories are like magnets, trying to snap our bodies back together.

He drops the pen. I look up at him. I think for a moment he’s going to kiss me, and I don’t know if I want him to or not.

“I’ll be in touch,” I say.

“I don’t know if I’m glad or terrified that it ended up being you,” he says softly.

“Only queer detective in town.”

“I know. People talk about it. But I never thought . . . What did you do? After?”

“I left. I became a cop. That didn’t work. Here I am.”

“Do you hate me?”

He stares at me, narrowing his eyes a little, willing an answer out of me, but I don’t know if he wants a yes or no. Below us, Lee is singing another song: “That Old Black Magic.” The music rises up like perfume.

“Not anymore, James. It’s been seven years. We don’t even know each other.”

It’s a lie. He knows it’s a lie as well as he knows me. Or some version of me. Some version of me that’s already reaching up, hungry mouth first.

But that version of me isn’t here, not now. We stare at each other a moment longer. Then he turns and goes.I sit alone in my office long enough I hear the music downstairs end, and a little while after that the door creaks open and Lee peeks in.

“I thought you’d be back down at the bar to hear me sing.”

“Oh.” I look up. “I’m sorry, Lee. I heard you through the floor. You sounded great.”

“You okay? I saw the light on, but the door is open. You don’t usually just wait in here alone.”

“I . . . The client,” I say, looking up at her. “I knew him. Ages ago. In the war.”

“Never knew he was gay?”

I laugh. “I knew.”

“Ex-boyfriend, then?”

We never called each other that. Hearing the word now feels cheap to describe what we were. I shake my head. “I don’t know.”

“Well . . . you take the case?”

“I gotta earn my keep.”

She steps in and sits down opposite me. When Lee was first so nice to me, I thought maybe she had a crush, but over the months, I’ve realized that’s not it. She likes my job. Always asks me questions about the cases, even throws out theories. The attraction isn’t me, it’s the office.

“So what kind of job?”

“Blackmail.”

“Oh.” She raises her eyebrows. “You have one of those before?”

“No. But I didn’t tell him that.” I crack a smile. “Charged him twice my usual rate.”

She laughs. “Leads?”

“The man he was with, the hotel he was at.”

“Exciting.” She slowly takes off her wig.

“We’ll see.”

“All right,” she says. “You sure you’re okay?”

“Sure, sure,” I say, waving her off. “It was just . . . seeing a ghost, you know?”

“Oh, I know all about that,” she says, standing up. “Plenty of my ghosts waltz into this place every night. But”—she smiles—“there was a very nice-looking man at the bar tonight. So I’m going to go take off my lipstick and put on a suit and see if he wants to dance with me. Even if it is to Stan’s singing. You should come down.”

“I will,” I say. “Just give me a few.”

She shrugs and walks out of the office. I stay there for a while longer, breathing in the smell of pine and the ocean.


Click below to pre-order your copy of The Bell in the Fog, available 10.10.23!

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Forge’s Fall Lineup!

Autumn will be here before you know it, which means we have a slew of new books coming your way! It’s (almost) time to don your flannel shirts, order your pumpkin spice lattes, and snuggle up under a cozy blanket as you crack open all the books Forge has to offer this fall.


One Blood by Denene Millner

One Blood

Join New York Times bestselling author Denene Millner as she explores the lives of three generations of women tied together by love, hope, dreams, ambition…and family secrets in this epic novel. Potent, poetic, powerful, told with deep love, and spanning from the Great Migration to the civil unrest of the 1960s to the quest for women’s equality in early 2000s, Denene Millner’s beautifully wrought novel explores three women’s intimate, and often complicated, struggle with what it truly means to be to be family.

Coming 9.05.23!

A Winter’s Rime by Carol Dunbar

A Winter's Rime

A harrowing and emotional novel set in rural Wisconsin—A Winter’s Rime explores the impact of generational trauma, and one woman’s journey to find peace and healing from the violence of her past. A story about sisterhood and second chances, A Winter’s Rime looks to nature to find what it can teach us about bearing hardship and expanding our capacity to forgive—not just others, but ourselves.

Coming 9.12.2023!

Valley of Refuge by John Teschner

Valley of Refuge

In this high-stakes, character-driven thriller, a Hawaiian family must decide the future of their ancestral land when a tech billionaire decides he wants it for himself, and won’t take no for an answer.

Coming 10.03.2023!

The Murder of Andrew Johnson by Burt Solomon

The Murder of Andrew Johnson

The next John Hay historical thriller from award-winning political journalist Burt Solomon, this time focused on one of America’s most controversial presidents: Andrew Johnson.

Coming 10.03.2023!

The Bell in the Fog by Lev AC Rosen

The Bell in the Fog

The Bell in the Fog, a dazzling historical mystery by Lev AC Rosen, asks—once you have finally found a family, how far would you go to prove yourself to them?

Coming 10.10.23!

Up on the Woof Top by Spencer Quinn

Up on the Woof Top

Chet the dog, “the most lovable narrator in all of crime fiction” (Boston Globe) and his human partner Bernie Little find themselves high in the mountains this holiday season to help Dame Ariadne Carlisle, a renowned author of bestselling Christmas mysteries, find Rudy, her lead reindeer and good luck charm, who has gone missing.

Coming 1o.17.23!

Vamp by Loren D. Estleman

VampVamp is a hot new Valentino mystery by Loren D. Estleman, the master of the hard-boiled detective novel and recipient of the Private Eye Writers of America Lifetime Achievement Award.

Coming 11.7.23!

Assassin’s Mark by Ward Larsen

Assassin's Mark

USA Today bestselling author Ward Larsen’s globe-trotting, hard-hitting assassin, David Slaton, returns for another breathless adventure, Assassin’s Mark.

Coming 11.28.23!

And in Trade Paperback:

Project Namahana by John Teschner

Project Namahana

John Teschner’s Project Namahana takes you from Midwestern, glass-walled, corporate offices, over the Pacific and across the island of Kaua‘i; from seemingly idyllic beaches and mountainous inland jungles to the face of Mount Namahana; all the while, exploring the question of how corporate executives could be responsible for evil things without, presumably, being evil themselves.

Coming 9.05.23!

Lavender House by Lev AC Rosen

Lavender House

A “Best Of” Book From: Amazon * Buzzfeed * Rainbow Reading * Library Journal * CrimeReads * BookPage * Book Riot * Autostraddle

When your existence is a crime, everything you do is criminal, and the gates of Lavender House can’t lock out the real world forever. Running a soap empire can be a dirty business.

Coming 9.12.23!

The Picture Bride by Lee Geum-yi; translated by An Seonjae

The Picture Bride

Winner of the Nautilus Award for Historical Fiction.

“Lee Geum-yi has a gift for taking little-known embers of history and transforming them into moving, compelling, and uplifting stories. The Picture Bride is the ultimate story of the power of friendshipa must read!” Heather Morris, #1 New York Times bestselling author

Coming 1o.10.23!

An Irish Country Girl by Patrick Taylor

An Irish Country Girl

An Irish Country Girl is another captivating tale by Patrick Taylor, a true Irish storyteller, from the beloved Irish Country series.

Coming 11.14.23!

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Excerpt Reveal: A Winter’s Rime by Carol Dunbar

A Winter's RimeA harrowing and emotional novel set in rural Wisconsin—A Winter’s Rime explores the impact of generational trauma, and one woman’s journey to find peace and healing from the violence of her past.

Mallory Moe is a twenty-five-year-old veteran Army mechanic, living with her girlfriend, Andrea, and working overnights at a gas station store while figuring out what’s next. Andrea’s off-grid cabin provides a perfect sanctuary for Mallory, a synesthete with a hypersensitivity to sound that can trigger flashbacks from her childhood.

The getaway that’s largely abandoned during the off season starts out idyllic, until Andrea’s once-loving behavior turns controlling and abusive, and Mallory once again finds herself not wanting to go home. After a particularly disturbing altercation, Mallory escapes into the subzero night and stumbles into Shay, a teenage girl, injured and asking for help. But it isn’t long before she realizes that Shay isn’t the only one who needs saving.

A story about sisterhood and second chances, A Winter’s Rime looks to nature to find what it can teach us about bearing hardship and expanding our capacity to forgive—not just others, but ourselves.

A Winter’s Rime will be available on September 12th, 2023. Please enjoy the following excerpt!


CHAPTER ONE

During the winter of her twenty-fifth year, Mallory Moe lived in a cabin in the woods with a woman named Andrea and worked overnights at a gas station store. Her shifts at the Speed Stop rotated— 1400 until midnight, 2200 until dawn, or 0500 until the middle of the afternoon. She either left in the dark or returned in the dark to walk the dog around the frozen lake. She never knew what day of the week it was, whether morning or afternoon, day or night. She only knew that she needed to avoid being home.

Mallory had never been in a romantic relationship with another woman before, and it had been working out fine, until the government shutdown meant that Andrea was always around. It was a small cabin, a dark winter.

Mallory clipped the leash to the dog and pulled on her gloves, but Andrea had one of those fiddly leashes—a protracting reel with buttons and levers.

“You already walked her this morning,” Andrea said, and Mallory jumped.

“Yeah.” She’d thought that Andrea was on the couch, watching television. “But I’ll just take her out again.”

“She doesn’t need to go out again.”

Baily’s little toenails clicked on the linoleum.

“I think she does,” Mallory said. “I don’t mind.” She bungled through the back door, coat unzipped, hat jammed on her head, the protracting wheel spinning out as Baily zipped down the decking stairs.

When they’d first met, Mallory had been subletting a bedroom in her coworker’s house in the bar district of Sterling, the blue-collar town on the Wisconsin side of the bridge. It had been the easiest thing, requiring the least amount of effort. But city buses rumbled along, the air smelled of cigarettes, and once, after working all night, Mallory had come home to see a woman peeing on the sidewalk. Her situation now was much better. The only place that made any sense to her was the woods. She needed to live someplace remote, without people and noise, where she could figure out her life. But ever since the government shutdown Andrea had been glued to the TV that blasted sound throughout the house—people gunned down in synagogues, in schools; stories of climate change, the end of life as we know it; bombs exploding in the streets.

Mallory pulled up her hood and stuffed her gloved hands in the pockets of her coat. They headed out down the middle of Riley Ridge Road, paved and plowed, but snow-covered and streaked with sand. From behind them, out on the back deck, the drone of the generator faded. She felt loosed from the center of herself, her muscles corded and tight. Above her a nearly whole moon rose in a sky amply pierced by starlight.

Baily trotted out front, a mystery terrier the size of a fuzzy slipper, with a red sweater and two ears alert on the top of her head. Her claws crepitated on the snowpack, collar jingling in the icy air. Usually they went about half a mile, until the road branched off and met up with another one. Normally, before the shutdown, Mallory would turn them around at that point to go back to the cabin, where it was warm. But lately, she’d been taking that branch because it looped around the lake, and sometimes, she lingered in front of the house of Landon James.

Landon, the only other full-time resident that winter at Mire Lake, split his own firewood and drove a banana-yellow truck. His house sat by the side of the road that looped around the lake, more than a mile and a half away. Once a week he came into the Speed Stop for his generator fuel and often the two of them would talk.

Mallory slowed and held out her hand. The last of a snowfall meandered down. Flakes tumbling out from a clear night sky glinted uncertainly, directionless, now that the source that had created them had moved on.

The last time Mallory had seen her sister and mom, they’d had a fight. That had been four years ago, the month before Mallory shipped out to Kuwait. She’d served a total of seven years in the army, joining at the age of eighteen, and that June she had come home. No one had been there. Her sister Laurel was living with their mom in Upstate New York and attending a private university. Her dad was someplace in the desert looking for Jesus. Mallory had been back six months—no, seven months now, she realized—but she still hadn’t talked to any of them.

She veered to the right, taking the loop around the lake. Her boots creaked across the snowpack. She was not going to be one of those people who blamed every bad thing that happened to them on their parents. It wasn’t their fault she didn’t feel safe. It wasn’t their fault she could never afford a place like this on her own. And anyway, things with Andrea weren’t that bad.

“Once upon a time in the deepest darkest woods,” her mother used to say, when she and her sister were young, and they would squeal with delight, beg her to tell them the deepest darkest bedtime stories. But those stories were just for fun. The people in them didn’t act upon their deepest darkest thoughts, things always worked out, and nobody got hurt. They worried about things, what they feared they or others might do. But those things were never done. So, what scared them, then, what they only ever truly feared, was in the deepest darkest parts of their minds. It didn’t get let out because it was never real.

Or it was never real because it didn’t get let out.

That winter during her twenty-fifth year, something had been let out. Mallory could feel it in her gut, a disturbance that wouldn’t go away. She heard about it from the news stories on the television that relentlessly played. People were acting on their darkest thoughts and doing things that, previously, they would never have done.

Mallory didn’t know how to talk to Andrea about what was going on between them. She didn’t know how to explain it, other than to say that it was her fault. Something was wrong with her—a character defect, a moral weakness. She wasn’t just afraid of what Andrea would do; Mallory had begun to fear who she was whenever the two of them were alone. Images flashed through her head—memories, arguments, loud percussive sounds, and, more recently, her fight with Andrea.

They came fast around the bend, Baily leading the way, with the frozen lake to their left and the light of Landon’s cabin straight ahead. Snow piled thick on his roof, his generator silent. A column of chimney smoke rose straight into the frigid air.

The brash, throaty bark of a dog broke into the night. Mallory startled and jumped, flinging out both hands and losing the leash. She dipped and picked it up, scooping little Baily into her arms and bringing her up to her chest.

“Shh shh, girl, it’s all right,” Mallory said, whispering into the dog’s ear. It was Landon’s German shepherd barking outside, a large dog that was never on a leash, and although she didn’t think he would hurt Baily, Mallory didn’t want her to be afraid. The little dog shivered and whimpered in her arms. The sound of the barking whipcracked through the night.

“Odin! Get back here! Odin!” Landon called from inside his house, the light from his open back door splashing into the woods. He was a hundred feet away, but in the cold stillness it sounded as though he were right there. Mallory lifted her face. “That’s a good boy,” he said to his dog. A hundred points of touch tingled in the soft skin under Mallory’s chin. “Back inside now, old friend. There you go. That’s a good dog.”

Tingles rippling under her jaw as if feathers stroked her there, and her face softened, her eyes closed. The air seemed to bloom with the scent of fresh bread, and it made her want to cry, this feeling. Landon wasn’t baking bread—unless of course he was. But she always got the feeling, as she called it, whenever she heard his voice. It was just the way her brain worked. Some voices didn’t affect her— she felt nothing and didn’t know why. Other voices came on so strong they activated multiple senses at once, like the wires of her brain had gotten crossed somehow. They had a name for it: auditory-tactile synesthesia. Sound touched her skin.

Her grandfather had been the one who explained it to her. He had synesthesia, too, after he came back from the war. She had his name, Mallory. German for “war counselor,” French for “unlucky one.”

From behind Landon’s house came the soft thump of a closing door. Mallory opened her eyes. With Landon, it was more than just the feeling. It was the way he said things, the kindness in his voice. She had never heard a man talk the way he did.

It had stopped snowing.

Baily wriggled in her arms and Mallory set her back down.

“What is it, Baily Bales?”

The little dog stood alert and questioning at the end of her leash.

“Did that scare you?” Mallory asked, removing a glove. “Are you cold? We should go.” The lever on the protracting reel had gotten stuck, and the little dog watched, then yanked the leash, slipping it from Mallory’s grip as she wickedly ran off.

“You little shit!” Mallory hissed under her breath. The clunky protracting reel bounced out along the white tongue of the road and Mallory launched into a run, her hood falling back, the ends of her bloodred hair bouncing under a black beanie hat.

The loop ended when it met back up with Riley Ridge Road, and Mallory could no longer see Baily. She heard the little dog barking, the splinters of sound echoing in the night. Mallory jogged to the left instead of going right, which would have taken them back to the cabin. Up ahead in the moonlight, the silhouette of Baily quivered.

Car parts scattered across the road caught Mallory’s attention first. Particles of iridescence shimmered over the broken bits—reflector lights, plastic bumper shards. “You are a bad dog.” Mallory dipped and swiped up the leash, breathing hard, lungs burning from the cold. The breath vapors rising from her mouth had formed ice in her lashes and brows. Baily yipped and hopped, hoarfrost clinging to the fur around her face.

A large brown mass lay across the road. A stillborn silence hung over the scene. Mallory never saw other cars out this far, out past the lake, and she’d never been on this section of Riley Ridge Road. This area was remote, Mire Lake not connected to the grid. Was somebody else staying there? Maybe for the weekend?

She wondered this, but it was only a fleeting thought. The deer was still breathing. A doe gurgling blood, eyes two glimmering slits. The muscle of her tongue hung limp and helpless from the side of her mouth, the fumes of her breath weakly white and forming tiny fronds of ice. Her legs were tangled below her body, disfigured with planks of protruding bone, the hooves shiny as summer plums.

A jolt fired through Mallory’s body.

The memory played involuntarily in her head, a memory from childhood, and she could hear him and smell him like he was there. “Come on then,” Dad said, home from Iraq for the holidays. “You want to go hunting so bad, wake up your sister up and get dressed.” He moved through the dark of the house with a headlamp strapped to his head, his body lean and fit. She always admired the decisiveness of his movements, coiled and crisp. Whenever he did something, he did it right, and if he said he’d do something, it got done.

Laurel was eight then, which made Mallory twelve, although both girls were the same height. Bits of cereal still floated in their bowls as they hurried out to their father’s waiting truck, rifles slung across their backs, exhaust curdling in the night.

They parked on the side of a county road and trekked out to the deer blind. Two sisters bundled together in a predawn stillness, crouched in a cheek-to-stock weld. Mallory wore an eye patch, a present from her father, to help align her sight—she never could wink or close just one eye. A slow-motion snow fell, the flakes tiny and iridescent in the limpid air. A quiet so still, she could hear the snow land with faint tick-ticks on the scraps of dried leaves.

A deer stepped timidly into the clearing.

Slender ears twitched and turned, she stepped forward, and in that movement, as if by secret signal, two smaller deer followed, creeping out from the duff. A mother and her young.

One for each of us, her father’s look said.

The crack of gunshot. The blood invading snow. Mallory hadn’t even known she was screaming until her sister punched her in the chest. “You ruined it, Mallory!” she said. “Why do you always have to ruin everything!”

Back on Riley Ridge Road, Mallory climbed over the crest of snow plowed in the ditch to tie the little dog to a tree. Taking a knee close behind the deer, she removed a glove, and sliding the knife from her boot, she thrust it quick and deep into the throat, wrenching it crosswise until two fountains of blood drained and light faded from the doe’s eyes. Then, placing a thumb on the smooth plank of the glabella, she offered up an acknowledgment to the spirit passing, the way her friend Ottara had taught her when they served together in Kuwait.

She had cried all weekend after that hunt with her dad, not coming out of her room, staying in bed. She hadn’t understood it, what hunting required. She’d begged to go because she wanted to be part of things, to have an experience with her dad, but it had devastated her, the thought of those two motherless deer. They’d tracked that mother doe for hours, her dad’s bullet missing the lungs because she had cried and always, she cried. She was too sensitive, everyone said.

Wiping the blade clean, Mallory replaced her glove and stood. Breath vapors fumed around her face and she could smell herself— fight or flight, the scent of fear. It was an odor that had followed her from childhood, a smell that was real and pungent and able— somehow—to escape the mask of deodorant. She kicked at the car parts, knocking them off the side of the road. Her breath came shallow and fast, and saliva coated her tongue with the viscosity of blood.

“Tell her to quit being a pussy.” She’d heard them arguing about her, later that night, her dad’s voice coming through the thin bedroom walls. “She’s weak,” he said. “No mental fortitude.” Venison was good meat, and deer were rats on legs.

A front bumper, the socket of a headlight, and what looked like the gray cover to a side fender—those she picked up and hauled off, tossing them into the woods.

The deer lay with her head facing the trees. Mallory lifted the back legs and pulled. The joints popped, part of the body stuck to the road. She yanked harder, ripping the fur as she tore it from the frozen ground. Walking backwards and averting her eyes, she dragged the deer, leaving behind a slick smear, the slosh and gurgle of fluids and the rank smell. She pulled it onto the snow piled in the ditch off the side of the road and left it there to get picked at by the crows.


Click below to pre-order your copy of A Winter’s Rime, available 9.12.23!

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Big Magic and The Argument I had with my Main Character by Carol Dunbar

A Winter's RimeA harrowing and emotional novel set in rural Wisconsin—A Winter’s Rime explores the impact of generational trauma, and one woman’s journey to find peace and healing from the violence of her past.

Mallory Moe is a twenty-five-year-old veteran Army mechanic, living with her girlfriend, Andrea, and working overnights at a gas station store while figuring out what’s next. Andrea’s off-grid cabin provides a perfect sanctuary for Mallory, a synesthete with a hypersensitivity to sound that can trigger flashbacks from her childhood.

The getaway that’s largely abandoned during the off season starts out idyllic, until Andrea’s once-loving behavior turns controlling and abusive, and Mallory once again finds herself not wanting to go home. After a particularly disturbing altercation, Mallory escapes into the subzero night and stumbles into Shay, a teenage girl, injured and asking for help. But it isn’t long before she realizes that Shay isn’t the only one who needs saving.

A story about sisterhood and second chances, A Winter’s Rime looks to nature to find what it can teach us about bearing hardship and expanding our capacity to forgive—not just others, but ourselves.

Carol Dunbar is the author of the critically acclaimed novels, The Net Beneath Us—winner of the Wisconsin Writers: Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award, and A Winter’s Rime. Read below to see the inspiration behind her upcoming book, finding the voice of her main character, and how she discovered the best way to tell her story!


By Carol Dunbar:

The idea for my second novel dropped into my head whole and perfect like an egg; at its center glowed the yolk of my personal experience with trauma and what I was still trying to understand.

Most of that first draft I wrote by hand in journals: the process felt intimate, confessional, and propulsive. My main character Mallory came through very strong for me. She was ready to tell her story; as a writer, I felt ready to receive it. It was a magical partnership.

Then, we got into an argument about the right way to tell her story.

In her book about the creative process, Big Magic, author Elizabeth Gilbert writes about how ideas swirl around us begging for attention until we agree to take them on and make them manifest. I totally truck with that. I was 30,000 words into an entirely different novel when this story took hold. I knew I had to write it, and I knew I had to write it now.

The plot centers around Mallory Moe, an army veteran returning home after serving overseas, who is going through a quarter-life crisis. She can’t sleep, she’s in a bad relationship, and she hasn’t talked to anyone in her family in four years. To avoid being home she goes on long walks after working overnight shifts at a gas station store. One night, she runs into Shay, a teenage girl who is injured and asking for help. Shay is in even worse shape than Mallory, and in trying to help her, Mallory is finally motivated to confront the violence of her past.

For guidance on how to tell this story, I looked to Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton. I thought her fiction-as-memoir style would work well for Mallory’s story of healing, and I studied the opening chapters of Lucy Barton, breaking them down beat by beat. I typed out the entire first draft of A Winter’s Rime in first person, using Mallory’s voice. I printed out that draft and put it away for six weeks.

When I went back and read, it didn’t work.

First person was the wrong voice for the story because it was Mallory who was undergoing the transformation. She didn’t yet have the self-awareness for those moments of self-discovery. I needed third person for its distance and ability to navigate and weave the past and present narratives.

My next draft I wrote in third person, and everyone in my writing group was like, “Woah, what did you do? This is so much better.” It worked, but I kept getting these strong nudges from Mallory. Sometimes when writing I would slip into first person, and this was very confusing to me. I thought I had the voice wrong, so I hit the pause button and started experimenting again.

I tested out second-person, using the epistolary style that Ocean Vuong so artfully employed in On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. It has this propulsive quality to it—he’s absolutely driven to understand what happened to him and his mother; Mallory is absolutely trying to understand what happened to her. For several weeks I played around with writing the book as a letter from Mallory to Shay, but that also resulted in another failure.

I went to a three-day workshop taught by Diane Wilson, author of The Seed Keeper. I told her about my struggle with how to tell this story, and she suggested I try using a rotating first-person voice. I had used a rotating third-person voice in my first novel, The Net Beneath Us, and I loved being able to view the same event through the eyes of multiple characters. The next morning, I eagerly dove into the exercise that Wilson had taught us.

Using the full name of another main character in my novel, I closed my eyes and said the words, “Noah Quakenbush, tell me your story.” Then I listened, ready to write. And it was really funny because he would not talk to me. I heard nothing but birds chirping from outside. Everybody clammed up, none of my characters would talk, and I got the sense that they were afraid to talk. This was Mallory’s story, and they knew it.

Okay, fine, I thought. I can get on board with that, but as the writer, I needed to find a voice structure that worked for the book.

In No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy used both first and third-person voices. I studied that, then did an entirely new treatment of the novel, using the third-person voice for the main driving action of the story, with italicized first-person passages where the healed Mallory got to talk, sharing her insights. When my agent read it, she didn’t like those italicized passages. None of my readers did—they got in the way of the plot’s momentum, and messy Mallory was way more interesting.

It felt to me like I was in a wrestling match with my main character and I didn’t know how to make both of us happy.

At an author event with Elizabeth Strout, I asked her how she knew that first-person was the right voice for her Lucy Barton novels. She told me, “Voice is the golden thread that I follow when writing. I trust it implicitly.” Those words gave me the balls to press on and trust my crazy process.

What I found was the monologue. Instead of recounting what happened to Mallory as a backstory scene, I used first-person monologues in present-action scenes, where Mallory is finally able to tell her story for the first time. She can only do this once she meets Shay, and that makes their scenes so much more powerful. It was very moving to me, to hear a survivor talk after years of not being able to talk.

Finally, Mallory and I were in agreement.

I’m really glad I trusted my instincts and kept searching for the right way to tell this story. I do believe there is something to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, that as writers we are “neither slave to inspiration nor its masters, but something far more interesting—its partner.”


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