Sunday, May 19, 2024

Pay Dirt by Sara Paretsky Book Review

About the Book:

V. I. Warshawski is famous for her cool under fire, her intelligence, her humor, her unflinching courage, and her love of good coffee. But even the strongest people sometimes need a break to recharge, so her friends send her to Kansas for a weekend of college basketball where Angela, one of her protégées, is playing. And that’s where trouble finds V.I.

Sabrina, one of Angela’s roommates, disappears and V.I. agrees to try to find her. Finding a missing person in a city where she knows few people and doesn’t have her trusted contacts is hard, but not as hard as the brutally negative reaction to the detective from some of the locals. When V.I. finds Sabrina close to death in a remote house, she lands herself in the FBI’s crosshairs and faces a violent online backlash. The men running the county’s opioid distribution are also not happy.

Discovering a dead body in the same house a few days later, V.I. is pitched headlong into a local land-use battle with roots going back to the Civil War. She finds that today’s combatants are just as willing as opponents in the 1860s to kill to settle their differences.

V.I.’s survival depends on keeping one step ahead of players in a game she never intended to play, before the clock runs down.

My Review:

It's been a while since I have read a Warshawski novel so I missed the traumatic event that has had such a huge impact on her. It was a little strange to read of her so unsure of herself. I missed the woman from previous novels.

I had an issue with the plot. I just could not believe a woman nearly dead from a drug overdose was found in a home with lots of drug paraphernalia around as well as a bloody blanket and the police did not search the house. That just did not ring true to me. I have to admit I skimmed a bit here and there to get to the next action scene.

I don't think this is the best effort from Paretsky. I have liked the Warshawski novels in the past and will keep looking for them.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

About the Author:

Called a "genius" by Lee Child and "one of the all time greats" by Karin Slaughter, Sara Paretsky transformed the role of women in the mystery world with her detective, V.I. Warshawski. V.I. is tough, feminine and vulnerable, but above all loyal to her friends and clients. Paretsky and Warshawski share a love of singing, Golden Retrievers and Italian reds. V.I. has escaped many near-death experiences, including drowning in Chicago's swamps (Blood Shot), falling down an elevator shaft (Burn Marks), and multiple attempts to shoot her down (Dead Land). Paretsky would have retired to the Umbrian Hills after one such event, but V.I. keeps coming back for more.

Paretsky's passion for social justice is reflected in her novels but also in her support for reproductive health and the welfare of women and children. She founded Sisters in Crime, an international organization that advocates for women in the mystery/thriller field. She is one of four living writers to earn both the Cartier Diamond Dagger from the British Crime Writers and Grand Master from the Mystery Writers of America. Find out more at

William Morrow, 400 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Saturday, May 18, 2024

N0 Tomorrows by Deb Gorman Blog Tour Book Review

About the Book

Book: No Tomorrows-A Novel for Today

Author: Deb Gorman

Genre: Women’s Contemporary Fiction

Release Date: September 23, 2023

Tour Dates: May 18 – May 31

By the time Thursday is over, Annie Lee is convinced God is telling her it’s her last day on earth.

Annie and her husband live in a small rural town in central Washington state—a place where almost nothing scary happens . . . until today. Hang on to her coattails as she navigates her tragic past, her frightening present, and her unknown future all in the space of twenty-four hours.

And ask yourself the same question posed to Annie: “What would I do today if I knew I’d die tomorrow?” Will your answer be the same one Annie discovers?

Click here to get your copy!

My Review

Gorman writes fiction that represents life realistically. This novel opens with family members arguing and contains lots of family drama and emotional turmoil. Those of us who grew up with an unsettled home life may have difficulty reading it. There are a number of potential trigger situations included in the novel too, such as the abduction of a child and a past rape.

There are many great lessons in this novel. For me, the best one was the transformation of Annie. I started out not liking her. I could not imagine having her for a friend, she was so agitated and demanding. But Gorman created Annie that way for a reason and I really like Annie's character transformation in the end.

This is an entertaining novel that deals with a short period of time in one woman's life. Annie deals with fears, present influence from past events, and even experiences spiritual warfare. Some say experience is the best teacher. It was certainly the way Annie learned to be the person God designed her to be.

My rating: 4/5 stars.


About the Author

Deb Gorman, owner of Debo Publishing, was born and raised in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She still lives in her hometown of Yakima, Washington, with her husband, Alan, and their very smart German Shepherd, Hoka. Deb is a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, cleverly disguised as a wife, mom, grandmom, and author. Her purpose is to connect with God’s most beautiful and clever creation, the human family, using the literary talent and imagination God gave her. Her prayer is that as she journeys with you, together you will discover encouragement and redemption in your most important relationships.

More from Deb

No Tomorrows-A Novel for Today came about because of a question I heard.

“What would you do today if you knew without a doubt you would die tomorrow?”

It’s an old question that’s been kicked around for decades, but when I seriously put my shoes into its footprints, I found I could not answer it with anything other than cliches. Those cliches, like “Eat chocolate all day”, or “Do that last thing on your bucket list” didn’t sit well with me. I wanted a real answer, one I could hang my hat on—as one character in the book says. I suspected that my readers want a real answer for themselves, too.

Annie Lee, a typical suburban mother of four, is confronted with that question, and spends a harrowing twenty-four hours navigating the answer for herself. In the uncertainty of our times, this question is particularly important for us to consider. Perhaps we’ll agree with Annie Lee’s answer.

Along with a book and a $50.00 Amazon card, the lucky winner will receive a custom-made No Tomorrows pen, created by my author friend, Steve Hooley, at, from Big Leaf Maple wood grown and harvested in the Pacific Northwest.

Blog Stops

Book Reviews From an Avid Reader, May 18

Gina Holder, Author and Blogger, May 19 (Author Interview)

Debbie’s Dusty Deliberations, May 20

Artistic Nobody, May 21 (Author Interview)

Lots of Helpers, May 21

Babbling Becky L’s Book Impressions, May 22

Texas Book-aholic, May 23

Locks, Hooks and Books, May 24

Truth and Grace Homeschool Academy, May 25

Where Crisis & Christ Collide, May 26 (Author Interview)

Happily Managing a Household of Boys, May 27

Divine Perspective, May 28

For the Love of Literature, May 29 (Author Interview)

Mary Hake, May 29

Pause for Tales, May 30

JESUS in the EVERYDAY, May 31


 To celebrate her tour, Deb is giving away the grand prize package of a copy of No Tomorrows, a $50 Amazon gift card, and a custom-made No Tomorrows pen!!

Be sure to comment on the blog stops for nine extra entries into the giveaway! Click the link below to enter.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Celebrate Lit. My comments are an independent and honest review. The rest of the copy of this post was provided by Celebrate Lit.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Lotus Girl by Helen Tworkov Book Review

About the Book:

From one of the central figures in Buddhism's introduction to the West and the founder of Tricycle magazine comes a brilliant memoir of forging one’s own path that Pico Iyer calls "unflinching" and "indispensable."

The daughter of an artist, Helen Tworkov grew up in the heady climate of the New York School of Abstract Expressionism; yet from an early age, she questioned the value of Western cultural norms. Her life was forever changed when she saw the iconic photo of Thich Quang Duc, the Vietnamese monk who, seated in meditation, set himself on fire to protest his government’s crackdown on the Buddhist clergy. Tworkov realized that radically different states of mind truly existed and were worth exploring. At the age of twenty-two, she set off for Japan, then traveled through Cambodia, India, and eventually to Tibetan refugee camps in Nepal.

Set against the arresting cultural backdrop of the sixties and their legacy, this intimate self-portrait depicts Tworkov's search for a true home as she interacts with renowned artists and spiritual luminaries including the Dalai Lama, Pema Chödrön, Joseph Goldstein, Bernie Glassman, Charles Mingus, Elizabeth Murray and Richard Serra.

Interweaving experience, research, and revelation, Helen Tworkov explores the relationship between Buddhist wisdom and American values, presenting a wholly unique look at the developing landscape of Buddhism in the West. Lotus Girl offers insight not only into Tworkov's own search for the truth, but into the ways each of us can better understand and transform ourselves.

My Review:

I appreciate this personal spiritual journey. Tworkov recounts growing up Jewish in Manhattan. Even at a young age she played mind games, exploring the mind in generating feelings and dictating experiences. At times she would disappear in the theater of her mind.

She made excursions into psychedelic drugs and made other attempts to manipulate the thoughts running through her head. She traveled to Japan, Cambodia, India and Nepal. She observed people's response to suffering in a Tibetan refugee camp.

Back in the United States, she experienced the unrest of the Vietnam War, marrying a draft dodger, living in Canada. After a miscarriage and depression, she was looking for a spiritual practice. She ultimately found a place in Buddhism as it helped reshape the experience of herself and the world, though her journey was rather rocky.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

About the Author:

Helen Tworkov 
is founding editor of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, the first and only independent Buddhist magazine, and author of Zen in America: Profiles of Five Teachers (North Point Press; 1989). She first encountered Buddhism in Asia in the 1960s and has studied in both the Zen and Tibetan traditions. Since 2006 she has been a student of the Kagyu and Nyingma Tibetan master Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, and has assisted him in the writing of In Love with the World: A Monk's Journey Through the Bardos of Living and Dying (Spiegel and Grau; 2019) and Turning Confusion into Clarity: A Guide to the Foundation Practices of Tibetan Buddhism (Shambhala Publications; 2014). Photo credit: Jeri Coppola

St. Martin's Essentials, 336 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Off the Air by Christina Estes Book Review

About the Book:

Jolene Garcia is a local TV reporter in Phoenix, Arizona, splitting her time between covering general assignments—anything from a monsoon storm to a newborn giraffe at the zoo—and special projects. Stories that take more time to research and produce. Stories that Jolene wants to tell.

When word gets out about a death at a radio station, Jolene and other journalists swarm the scene, intent on reporting the facts first. The body is soon identified as Larry Lemmon, a controversial talk show host, who died under suspicious circumstances. Jolene conducted his final interview, giving her and her station an advantage. But not for long.

As the story heats up, so does the competition. Jolene is determined to solve this murder. It’s an investigation that could make or break her career—if it doesn't break her first.

My Review:

This novel is more of a deep dive into the world of a television reporter than it is a mystery. While there is a bit of suspense near the end, it is not a suspenseful thriller. The plot pace is slow and I have to admit I skimmed some parts as I sought engaging action. While Jolene, the amateur sleuth, does solve the mystery in the end, the narrative by far centers around getting the breaking news report that results in high viewership. Jolene is much more concerned about getting the story than she is solving a mystery. I did not find her character really engaging.

This is a good novel for readers who would like to know more about the pressure for news sources to get top ratings as well as the role of social media in that pursuit. This is a decent fiction debut effort.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

About the Author:

Christina Estes is an award-winning reporter who has spent more than 20 years covering crime, public policy, and business in Phoenix, Arizona. Her reporting has been heard on National Public Radio (NPR) and appeared in the Arizona Republic, Arizona Business Gazette, and Phoenix Business Journal. Christina’s career inspired 
Off the Air, which won the Tony Hillerman Prize for Best First Mystery Set in the Southwest. Photo Credit: Lauren Gilger.

Macmillan, 320 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Monday, May 13, 2024

Praying With Jesus by Adriel Sanchez Book Review

About the Book:

In Praying with Jesus, Adriel Sanchez explores the most famous prayer in history, the Lord’s Prayer, and gets to the heart of each thing Jesus told his disciples to pray for. 

Using the Lord’s Prayer as a framework, he unlocks the mystery of prayer, helping readers understand what prayer is, how to navigate the challenges of prayer, and how to form a habit of prayer. Sanchez points the way to how the Lord’s Prayer helps us better grasp the essential truth that we are not meant to try to navigate life in our own strength and wisdom.

Readers will learn that the daily practice of praying based on the Lord’s Prayer transforms them—giving them insight into God’s purposes, bringing the presence of God into lives, and helping to unearth treasures of grace.

  • Considers some of the reasons behind an inconsistent prayer life and helps cultivate a consistent habit of prayer.
  • Guides readers into union with Christ that is only possible through the daily practice of praying with Jesus.
  • Each chapter ends with a prayer from the past, so readers can pray along with our family in Christ throughout the ages.
  • Includes a foreword by Michael Horton. 

You can watch the book trailer here.

My Review:

In the first part of this book, Sanchez explores what prayer is and some of the challenges we may encounter when we pray. The second part contains teaching on each of the petitions in The Lord's Prayer.

I like that Sanchez reminds us true prayer is from the heart. He cautions us to watch out for hypocrisy and superstition. He writes about the use of our bodies and what the different positions in prayer indicate. He cautions us to not just go through the motions. He also encourages us in the frequency of prayer and the use of aids, such as written prayers.

Communication is so important in relationships and this book helps us understand how to communicate with God from the heart using The Lord's Prayer as a framework. I like the addition of a written prayer from history at the end of each chapter. There are also exercises to incorporate the teaching in the chapter and discussion questions. This is a good book for new Christians looking for teaching on prayer and seasoned Christians looking to renew their prayer life. It would be a good choice for small groups.

My rating: 4/5 stars.


About the Author:

Adriel Sanchez, MA, is the pastor of North Park Presbyterian Church and host of Core Christianity Radio, a daily live Bible Q&A radio broadcast. He is the author of Praying with Jesus and has also been published in Christianity Today, Modern Reformation Magazine, Tabletalk Magazine, and Credo Magazine. He and his wife, Ysabel, live in San Diego with their five children.

New Growth Press, 144 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Blindspot by Maggie Smith Blog Tour Book Review



by Maggie Smith

April 29 - May 24, 2024 Virtual Book Tour


From the author of the award-winning Truth and Other Lies comes a gripping suspense novel about an ambitious prosecutor on the hunt for her sadistic stalker . . . only to be framed for murder when he turns up dead.

Rachel Matthews is used to stress—from the cutthroat world of the district attorney’s office to her escalating clashes with her teenage daughter. So when a stranger sends a lavish bouquet with a macabre message and leaves a disturbing video on her doorstep, she’s quick to act. Teaming up with an old classmate turned private investigator, she wades through old case files, searching for someone harboring a grudge. But before she has time to pinpoint a suspect, her stalker issues a demand—he wants money, lots of it, or he’ll hurt her daughter.

Desperate to protect her child, Rachel agrees but soon finds herself fleeing a bloody crime scene, fearful for her life. As evidence mounts against her, Rachel realizes it’s up to her to unmask the enemy behind this vendetta before it’s too late.

Fans of Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent, Julie Clark’s The Lies I Tell and Heather Chavez’ Before She Finds Me will embrace this taut tale of long-simmering revenge right up to its surprising and twisty climax.

My Review:

 This psychological thriller starts out with an opening scene that is captivating. Being arrested for a murder you know you did not commit is a nightmare that can only be cleared by finding the real murderer. That flashback at the beginning of the book made me very curious as to how Rachel came to be so accused. That drove the plot, understanding various relationships as the novel moves to the murder and the aftermath.

The mystery included several suspects and many red herrings. Smith did a good job of creating several characters as potential villains. There were a couple of twists at the end. One I did not see coming at all while the other I suspected from hints woven into the narrative.

Along with that driving murder mystery plot aspect is Rachel's own life. She juggles the pressure of career climbing with the responsibility as a single parent of raising her teenage daughter. There was a good balance of those three elements in the novel.

This is a good novel for readers who like a challenging plot construction as Rachel works to uncover who has gone to such lengths to frame her for murder. A well plotted mystery with a good bit of suspense near the end, I recommend this entertaining book.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Book Details:

Genre: Psychological Suspense
Published by: Puzzle Box Press
Publication Date: May 21, 2024
Number of Pages: 318
ISBN: 9798989677917
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

April 24, 2023, County Courthouse

The killer is sitting in this courtroom and it’s up to me to prove it.

It isn’t every day a murder this sensational happens in Milwaukee. Sure, we’ve had our share of drive-by shootings, domestic arguments that escalated, home invasions that turned deadly. And yes, there was that lurid trial a while back where the deranged sicko drugged, then ate his victims. That one landed our city in the national spotlight. A once in a lifetime case.

But this one’s right up there. Everyone involved is high profile. Which means it warrants the top guns. Which means my boss of nine years, Marcus Huntley, Deputy DA, is sitting first chair. I catch his eye and his expression confirms what I already know. This is the most important case of my career, and if the verdict goes south, any hope for that promotion goes right along with it.

But this isn’t only about winning for me. There’s a lot more at stake. Consequences I don’t dare think about or I’ll lose my nerve. Because even though the police are convinced this is an open and shut case, I know better.

I know they’ve arrested the wrong person.

Because I witnessed the murder. But for reasons I can’t reveal, I have to keep quiet. Only two people know the whole story and I’ve sworn them to secrecy.

I watch the crowd. Examine every person in detail. Who’s talking to whom, who’s staring at their lap, who’s looking around the room. Who’s fidgeting, adjusting their tie, or rummaging through their purse. Who looks bored and who looks agitated? But even though I’m an expert in spotting a tell, I’m coming up empty.

The electricity in the air ratchets up as the judge enters and the bailiff calls the case. I’ve been up most of the night, pacing the floor, rehearsing my lines, imagining how today would go. What to say and what not to say. What needs to happen so I can walk out of here satisfied.

Part of me wants to scream. Part of me wants to whimper. Part of me wants to rush out the door and never look back.

But I don’t do any of those things. Instead I steel my nerves and set aside the theatrics. A bead of sweat slithers down my spine as I stand to address the judge.

In an orange jumpsuit. And handcuffs.

“Rachel Elizabeth Matthews. You stand accused of first-degree intentional homicide.

How do you plead?”

“Not guilty, Your Honor,” I reply.


Excerpt from Blindspot by Maggie Smith. Copyright 2024 by Maggie F Smith. Reproduced with permission from Maggie Smith. All rights reserved.


Author Bio:

In a career that’s included work as a journalist, a psychologist, and the founder of a national art consulting company, Maggie Smith added novelist to her resume with the publication of her debut, Truth and Other Lies, a women’s fiction novel set in Chicago and released in March 2022 by Ten16 Press. It won NIEA’s Juror Grand Prize, the Star Award for Debut Fiction from Women’s Fiction Writers Association, Foreword INDIES Gold Metal for General Fiction, and was selected for the Women’s Book Association Great Group Reads.

In addition to her writing, Maggie hosts the weekly podcast Hear Us Roar (215+ episodes), blogs monthly for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and is Managing Editor for Chicago Writer’s Association Write City E-Zine. She resides in Milwaukee WI with her husband and her aging but still adorable sheltie. Her second novel, a psychological suspense called BLINDSPOT will be released in May 2024.

Catch Up With Maggie Smith:
BookBub - @MaggieSmithWriter
Instagram - @maggiesmithwrites
Threads - @maggiesmithwrites


Tour Participants:

Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and opportunities to WIN in the giveaway!

Click here to view Blindspot by Maggie Smith Tour Hosts


Don't Miss Your Chance to Win! Enter Today!

This is a giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Tours for Maggie Smith. See the widget for entry terms and conditions. Void where prohibited.



Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Tours

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Partners in Crime Book Tours. My comments are an independent and honest review. The rest of the copy of this post was provided by Partners in Crime Book Tours.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Saturday, May 11, 2024

Secondary Target by Angela Carlisle Blog Tour Book Review



by Angela Carlisle

May 6-17, 2024 Virtual Book Tour



A ruthless murderer. A deadly secret. An unbreakable love.

After the brutal murder of her mother and brother twelve years ago, Corina Roberts built a new life in Kentucky. But when strange things begin to happen, she is thrust into a perilous game of life and death. With nowhere else to turn, her best hope of survival depends on her ex-boyfriend, army veteran Bryce Jessup.

Recently returned from service, Bryce has every intention of staying away from Corina, but when threats close in around her, he isn't willing to leave her safety to chance. As their search for answers uncovers lethal secrets her detective father kept hidden, Bryce and Corina must untangle the mystery of the merciless killer intent on terrorizing and eliminating Corina's family before it's too late.

Praise for Secondary Target:

"A thrilling debut that pulled me in from the first scene and kept me enthralled until the final page."
LYNN H. BLACKBURN, bestselling and award-winning author

"Carlisle's debut is a fast-paced thrill ride."
JESSICA R. PATCH, award-winning author of The Garden Girls

"Angela Carlisle weaves action-packed suspense that keeps the reader turning pages."
LIZ BRADFORD, author of the Knoxville FBI series

"A riveting debut novel from Angela Carlisle guaranteed to intrigue you from page one to the very end."
JAIME JO WRIGHT, bestselling and award-winning author of Night Falls on Predicament Avenue

My Review:

 I enjoyed this debut mystery. I liked the character development. I became engaged with the main characters and wanted them to succeed in their uncovering the past and surviving in the present. There is a good faith message as Corina faces her disappointment in God and grows beyond it.

With respect to the mystery plot, there were plenty of red herrings. The villain reveal in this novel was certainly a twist and almost beyond belief. The denouement included additional information we readers did not know ahead of time. It wrapped up the mystery but I do wish the information would have been revealed during part of the investigation.

Nonetheless, this is a good debut effort. I like Carlisle's writing style, a good balance of character development, faith struggle and plot moving action. The second chance at a relationship made the romance aspect believable and well developed.

I liked this novel, the first in a series. I will be watching for the sequel.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Book Details:

Genre: Romantic Suspense
Published by: Bethany House Publishers
Publication Date: May 7, 2024
Number of Pages: 336
ISBN: 9780764242502 (ISBN10: 0764242504)
Series: The Secrets of Kincaid, Book 1
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | | Goodreads | Baker Book House

Read an excerpt:


Security alarms shattered the autumn morning’s tranquility.

The mechanical shrieks pierced Corina Roberts’s consciousness, dissipating any lingering fog of sleep.

Not again.

She threw back the covers and rolled from the bed, revolver drawn from the nightstand before her feet touched the polished oak floor. She shoved the holster into her pocket but didn’t bother searching for her phone. Her dad’s security system was configured exactly like her own and would send a notification to the police within thirty seconds of being triggered if they didn’t shut it off. Help would be here soon enough. In the meantime, she’d be prepared to protect herself if necessary.

As she reached for the bedroom door, her German shepherd howled, creating a dissonant chorus with the wailing alarm. Shivers chased themselves up her spine. Her hand tightened around the revolver’s rose--wood--and--steel grip, and a fraction of her tension melted away. The .38 Special LadySmith fit her hand perfectly.

Hopefully, she wouldn’t need it.

She sucked in a deep breath and glanced over her shoulder. “Houston. Quiet.”

The howling broke off abruptly, but agitation continued to radiate from him. Before she had the door fully open, he burst through it, nearly knocking her off--balance in the process.

She slipped into the darkened hallway after him and caught sight of her father already standing at the front door, his own gun held in a ready position as he peered out the peephole. He would have checked the security monitor as soon as the alarms started. Whatever triggered them must be somewhere along the front of the house. The bright glow of motion--sensing lights beyond his position confirmed it.

“What is it?” She raised her voice to be heard over the alarm.

“I don’t know yet. Stay back.” He didn’t look her direction as he crept from the peephole to the edge of a nearby window and parted the blinds with his finger. Seconds passed. They were well past the requisite thirty now. “Turn the alarm off.”

Keeping to the perimeter of the entryway, she did as he asked. Sudden silence engulfed the home, but her eardrums still pulsed with the electronic rhythm of the previous few moments.

She glanced at her dad, and he signaled her to wait. Together they listened, but no sound carried through the door. Whoever had set off the alarm had probably been frightened away. Or were they merely biding their time?

Her dad bent down until his lips were close to her ear. “I’m going out the back to have a look around.”

She latched onto his arm as he started to turn away. “Wait for the police, Dad.”

“If anyone’s still out there, the police will scare them off.”

“Then let them get scared off.” Her voice rose on the last words, and he pressed a finger to her lips.

“Shh. I know what I’m doing. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” He extracted himself from her grasp as he spoke.

Something akin to panic wrapped around her chest as he strode down the hallway. She had to stop him from doing something reckless. Something that could get him killed.

She followed him to the spare bedroom and found him unlocking a window. Even with the alarm off, he couldn’t use the back door without setting off the motion sensors. A window was his only option. But a window wouldn’t do much good if he needed to make a quick reentry.

“Don’t go out there, Dad.” Corina tried to still the slight tremble in her voice. She hated sounding weak, but more than that, she knew it would only feed her dad’s protective instincts.

“I need to, Corina.”

“Why? So you can play hero?” She refused to cringe at the implication of her words or take them back. Her dad didn’t play hero—-and they both knew it. But she never understood why he was always adamant about investigating threats on his own. Almost as if he didn’t trust the police to do their jobs.

He didn’t answer her. Just started easing the window upward. He wasn’t going to listen, so she said the first thing she could think of. “Fine. I’m going with you.”

Her wild shot hit its mark. Her dad stopped midmotion and turned back to face her. Even in the near darkness, she could see the steel in his gaze.

“No. You’re not. Stay here and keep Houston close.” Quiet finality rang in his words, but she lifted her chin in defiance, tamping the fear that threatened her control.

“I’m not a child, and if you’re going, so am I.”

“Corina, I know you’re not a child, but I don’t have time to argue with you. Stay. Here.” He fixed her with a look that had once made hardened criminals sweat.

She met it. Matched it. And waited.

The faint sound of a quickly approaching vehicle interrupted their glaring match and saved her further argument. The car stopped at their house, strobing lights announcing the police had arrived.

Her dad frowned and brushed past her to let them inside. He wasn’t happy, but he was safe. She’d stalled him long enough.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Corina leaned back against the wall as red and blue lights bounced around her. She slipped her revolver into her pocket holster, then clasped her arms across her chest to hide the trembling in her hands.

Buried memories surfaced, and she fought a wave of nausea. Not now. She clenched her fists and forced herself to focus on the present until the feeling subsided. She’d dwell on the past another day. Maybe.


Bryce Jessup’s hands stilled in the middle of his fifty--third rep. Police lights flashed outside his front window, and they weren’t just passing by. Not normal for sleepy Kincaid, Kentucky, especially at four in the morning. He lowered the barbell to its resting place and removed the headphones pumping upbeat music into his ears.

He tossed a towel around his neck before moving to peer outside. His heart skipped a beat at the sight of a cruiser parked across the street. Corina doesn’t live there anymore, he reminded himself. His sister had assured him of that.

Her father hadn’t moved, though.

Concern for the overly private man prompted him to step outside. He ignored the midforties temps and focused on the two officers from the local PD standing on the Robertses’ porch. With their backs to him, he couldn’t identify them. Truth was, he might not know them anyway. It had been several years since he’d spent more than a week or two in his hometown. Change in a small town might be stilted, but it was still inevitable.

Will Roberts stepped into view, leaving the door open behind him. Okay, so he was safe. Bryce held his breath, trying to hear the low voices, but he was too far away.

A flash of fur caught his eye as a familiar—-though now fully grown—-German shepherd pushed around Will to investigate the officers and the mess littered about the porch. A mess Bryce hadn’t noticed until now. He eyed the upturned trash can.

“Houston. Inside.” The command came from somewhere behind Will. The feminine voice was one Bryce knew all too well. His gaze settled on a shadow in the darkened doorway. His jaw tensed. So Corina was there after all. Why would Allye tell him she’d moved if she hadn’t?

When his mom had offered to rent him their old home upon his return from active duty, he’d put her off with excuses, not caring to voice the real reason behind his hesitation. Allye wasn’t fooled, though. At least she’d had the decency to wait until their mom was out of earshot before flatly informing him that Corina had moved. She hadn’t called him a coward, hadn’t even insinuated it. But he’d felt like one just the same as he took his mom up on her offer.

Now he just felt like a fool.

He truly intended to seek Corina out at some point—-try to make things right. But he had no intention of seeing her day after day in the neighborhood where they’d shared so many memories. That was asking too much.

Far too much. He cleared his throat, and Houston’s head shot up. Now you’ve done it, Jessup.

“Houston.” Corina’s call was slightly louder this time.

Houston glanced at the doorway. Back at Bryce. Back at the door-way. In an instant, he was off the porch and making a beeline for him. Bryce braced himself for the impact of paws against his chest. “Oof!” Houston had definitely grown since the last time he’d seen him.

He grunted and pushed the excited animal off him. “Down.” Without taking his eyes off the scene across the street, Bryce bent to ruffle the fur on the dog’s neck. “So you remember me, huh, boy?”

One of the officers turned, and he recognized Mike Broaddus, a senior member of their small department and one affectionately dubbed “Officer Mike” whether on or off duty. Although Mike was the type to keep a bag of candy in his patrol car just in case he had a chance to treat the neighborhood kids, he could also hold his own against any criminal likely to show up in this town.

As the man began walking toward him, Bryce straightened and pointed at the Robertses’ house. “Go home, Houston.” The dog sauntered off, taking his time but headed in the right direction.

“Well, if it isn’t Bryce Jessup. I’d heard you came back.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Glad to hear it.”

Bryce nodded, then gestured to the Robertses’ home. “Some excitement this morning?”

“Yeah.” Officer Mike scratched his head. “Something triggered his alarm system. You didn’t happen to see anything, did you?”

“Sorry, no. I was up but didn’t look outside until just now.”

“Figures. Eric’s taking a look around, but there’s no evidence anyone made it inside—-or even tried to, if you discount the alarms.” The man sighed. “I’d better get back over there.”

“You mind if I come with you?” Bryce could have kicked himself the instant the request popped out of his mouth.

Officer Mike quirked an eyebrow. “You and Corina back together?”

“No.” His lips firmed, and he was thankful for the darkness that hid the heat rising in his neck. Officer Mike and everyone else had been aware of their previous relationship. And why it ended.

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to hit on a touchy subject.”

Bryce waved him off. “Not touchy. That ship sailed a long time ago.” Five years ago next month to be exact.

“Understood.” Officer Mike turned away. “I suppose it won’t hurt. Just don’t touch anything.”

“Thanks.” Bryce followed the officer across the street, still trying to figure out why he’d asked to come. He paused at the edge of the Robertses’ porch and glanced at the still--open door. No Corina. He wasn’t sure whether he was more relieved or disappointed. As much as he dreaded their inevitable meeting, he couldn’t help wondering how the last five years had treated her.

Will had his back to him and didn’t seem to notice his presence, but the other cop who’d arrived with Mike caught his eye and nodded. Eric Thornton. Of all the guys he’d attended high school with, Eric was the last one Bryce would have expected to hang around Kincaid this long. Maybe things had changed even less than he’d thought.

Bryce returned the nod, then allowed his gaze to travel the area. Might as well be useful while he was here. His eyes landed again on the upturned trash can. This was garbage day, so it had probably been full—-hence the mess. But he saw nothing that should have set off the alarm. Nothing unless . . .

On a hunch, he circled the outside perimeter of the porch, paying careful attention to a muddy patch near one corner. Yep. There they were. He motioned to the men. “Hey, I have some footprints over here.”


Corina surveyed what she could of the front porch from her position just inside the doorway. It wasn’t much, and she couldn’t see the impressions Bryce Jessup was chuckling about, but a raccoon had apparently been a recent visitor.

Why is Bryce even here? She peeked around the corner and caught a glimpse of him in an undershirt and sweats. His shoulders were broader than she remembered. Her already racing heart hit the accelerator, and she promptly wrote it a speeding ticket. She’d prefer to revoke its license. The traitorous thing. Hoping he hadn’t noticed her, she ducked back out of sight.

Last she’d heard, Bryce was stationed out of the country. She tried to recall how long it had been since that news. Six months—a year, maybe? She shook her head. No matter. But it was strange that Allye, his sister and her semi--housemate, hadn’t mentioned his return. Not that Corina had asked about him, but if she’d known he was in town, she might have done things differently. Like schedule a vacation in Florida while her side of their duplex was being renovated instead of arranging to stay with her father.

“How likely is it for a raccoon to set off an alarm?” The skepticism in her dad’s voice pulled her attention back to the present.

Eric released a laugh so brief it was barely more than a breath. “I don’t know how likely it is, but it’s entirely possible. One broke into my attic through a loose window once and made it through more than one closed door in its search for food. They can turn a knob almost as easily as a human.”

And her dad’s system was purposely wired to respond to even the slightest provocation. He’d chosen the specifications with care.

“I still want to take a look around.” Her dad was clearly unwilling to pin their wake--up call on a woodland creature until he’d exhausted every other possibility. And as a former PI, he had to be part of the investigation.

“No problem. We’ll do the same.” Eric didn’t sound bothered by her dad’s interference. The local police were used to it by now.

Corina breathed a sigh of relief as the voices faded and the group moved to the backyard. Despite what her dad thought, she was convinced any other evidence would confirm the raccoon theory. It had all been a false alarm, as it always was.

Her dad would be fine.

She started to close the door, then realized Houston was still outside. Without a fenced--in front yard, she couldn’t leave him out there running loose. Why hadn’t he come when she called? Usually he was better behaved, but if there was a raccoon to track, there was no telling how far he’d go before coming home.

She muttered under her breath as she opened the hall closet and snatched a dark denim jacket from its hanger. Houston would choose to run off at a time like this. Without taking the time to retrieve socks, she slipped on a pair of boots and stomped outside.

And almost into Bryce’s muscular arms. Sidestepping to avoid him, she tripped over the garbage can lid. His reflexes saved her balance but not her pride.

“Sorry if I scared you,” Bryce said as she pulled away. A tight smile pulled at the corner of his mouth, hinting at the familiar dimple in his left cheek.

Straightening, she shoved her hands into her jacket pockets and ignored his comment. And the dimple. She wasn’t about to explain her reaction. “I’m looking for Houston. Have you seen him?”

The smile disappeared. “A few minutes ago, but he was headed this way.”

“Well, he didn’t come back inside.” She pushed past him, careful this time to avoid the obstacle course on the porch. Unsure which way to go once she reached the street, she paused beneath a tree and cupped her hands around her mouth. Just as quickly, she dropped them. It was still early. If any of the neighbors had managed to get back to sleep after the ruckus they’d caused, she didn’t want to wake them now by yelling her dog’s name. Again.

A whistle pierced the air, and she turned a sour look on Bryce.


Before she could say anything, she heard Houston’s bark—-immediately followed by the crack of a gunshot and a pained yelp.



Bryce tackled Corina as the cry tore from her lips. Covering her with his body, he scanned the area. At this hour, not even the faintest tinge of amber colored the horizon. Motion--sensing lights still shone on the Robertses’ house, but their glow didn’t penetrate this area of the yard. Good.

But that meant he couldn’t see anything close to them either. And he had no idea where the single shot had originated. Canine whimpering indicated its destination, though.

“Get. Off.” Corina struggled beneath him.

He shifted his weight so he wasn’t squashing her and received an elbow to the chest as thank--you. Corina’s only response to his grunt was to push him farther away and stand.

“Wait.” He grabbed her arm and pulled her back down.

“Houston’s out there,” she hissed.

“I know, and so is someone with a trigger--happy finger.”

She pursed her lips, then focused on something behind him. He turned to follow her gaze. Nothing more than darkened houses met his eyes, but Corina took advantage of his shifted attention. With a quick twist, she broke his grip on her arm and took off at a run.

He stood and puffed out a breath as he headed after her. They should have waited for Officer Mike and Eric to join them. That’s what he would have told her if she’d taken the time to listen. Now no one would know their position when they came to investigate.

It was too late for that now. He couldn’t let Corina go off alone with an active shooter on the loose. At least she had sense enough to keep to the shadows as she searched for her pet. With her dark clothing, only her long blond ponytail stood out against the blackness surrounding them.

When she disappeared around a bend in the road, Bryce quickened his pace to catch up and almost bowled her over when he made the turn himself. Crouching next to Houston under a dim streetlight, Corina murmured soothingly in the German shepherd’s ear. Her fingers probed his fur, searching for wounds.

Bryce ran his eyes over the dog, evaluating him as best he could in the light they had. Houston was standing—-shaky, but standing. And the blood on the pavement appeared to be minimal. Maybe he wasn’t hurt badly after all. Please, God. It would crush Corina to lose her dog.

“How is he?”

“I don’t know yet.”

Houston yelped as Corina moved to his back legs. Blood marked the hand she snatched back. “Found it,” she muttered.

“Can you tell how bad it is?”

She shook her head. “I think just a graze, but I can’t be sure in this light.” She yanked off her jacket and reached for the injured leg again. “Hold still, Houston.”

Bryce arrested her hand. “Wait. Use this.” He pulled the towel from his shoulders and offered it to her. He’d almost forgotten it was there.

She hesitated only a second before accepting it. With gentle quickness, she wrapped it around the wounded limb, securing the ends together with an elastic band pulled from her hair.

“Thanks.” She slipped back into her jacket. “Who would do this?” Disgust coated her words as she surveyed the surrounding houses. The homes of their longtime neighbors.

Bryce followed her gaze. Who indeed? And why? There weren’t many good reasons to fire a gun within city limits. Did the shooter hate dogs? Mistake Houston for a coyote? Or did he have something to hide? Like an attempted break--in.

Maybe they’d been too quick to blame everything on the foraging raccoon.

One thing he was sure of. Whoever it was hadn’t gone far in the last couple of minutes. The three of them needed to get out of the open. Besides, the cops would be searching for the shooter by now, maybe even calling in backup. And they didn’t know he and Corina had left the house. Dodging friendly fire was not something Bryce wanted to do ever again.

And as soon as Corina’s dad noticed her absence, he’d work himself into a protective frenzy. The man’s temper was volatile when it came to his daughter. That overbearing protectiveness was the only thing Bryce hadn’t missed after he and Corina broke up. He understood it to a degree—-he’d be protective himself if he had a daughter, especially one like Corina—-but Will took things a little too far.

They needed to get back. The sooner the better.

Bryce looked at Houston. “We need to get him back to the house and get a better look at that wound.”

“I know, but I’m not sure how well he can walk.” Corina reached into a pocket, then frowned. “And I don’t have my phone. You don’t happen to have yours, do you?”

Bryce shook his head. There had been no need to grab it before leaving the house. He hadn’t planned on going anywhere.

“Why don’t you head back and get my dad to drive up here and get us?”

And leave her alone in the meantime? Did she not realize the shooter might still be close by?

“I don’t think so.” Without waiting for a response, Bryce bent and lifted Houston onto his shoulders, taking care not to touch the wounded area. The dog whined but didn’t fight him. Good thing too. He wasn’t a small animal—-probably weighed close to eighty pounds. At least they only had a quarter mile or so to go.

Corina stood with him. As they turned back the way they’d come, a tingling feeling settled on his back—-the unmistakable sense of being watched.

He spun and stared into the darkness.

“What’s wrong?” Corina’s voice barely reached his ears. Her hand inched toward a slightly bulging pocket. Was she carrying? Probably.

He wished he were.

He shook his head and held his position a moment longer. Nothing moved, and only Houston’s heavy breathing disturbed the predawn quiet. But the feeling didn’t go away.

“Something’s off,” he finally said. “We need to go. Now.”

His jaw twitched as he turned his back to the potential threat and ushered Corina around the bend. Back toward the safety of her home. If he were alone and armed, he would investigate. But he wasn’t alone, nor did he own a gun. And he wasn’t foolish enough to walk around in the dark while the cops were searching for an active shooter.

He blew out a breath.

“You okay?” Corina asked, glancing at him.

“Fine.” He didn’t expound further. They didn’t have far to go now and were close enough to see the increased activity around Will’s property. A third police car had joined the pair already parked at the curb, and another was just pulling onto the opposite end of the street.

As they neared the house, a bright light suddenly switched on, partially blinding them.

“Freeze. Police.” Eric’s voice rang out from behind the light.

“It’s just us,” Bryce said, complying with the demand.

“Bryce? Corina?” Eric grunted and lowered his flashlight. “What are you doing wandering around? You could’ve gotten yourself shot.”

“Somebody shot Houston,” Corina blurted before Bryce had a chance to respond.

“Houston?” The officer turned his light to the dog, who still rested on Bryce’s shoulders. “How bad is it?”

“Leg wound. Probably not too bad, but he’ll need a vet to check him out.”

“Where’d you find him?”

“Up the road a bit. Let me drop him off, and I can show you.”

“All right.” Eric let them continue on to the house.

When they arrived, Corina held the front door open and directed him to place Houston on a towel in the large master bathroom.

“Thanks,” she murmured.

“You’re welcome.” He wanted to tell her how risky it had been to go after the animal, but watching her retrieve a first aid kit and tend to her pet, he didn’t have the heart to.

He headed for the porch, where Eric waited. As he exited the house, he heard a frantic voice behind him.

“Where have you been?”


Bryce winced and glanced over his shoulder at the nearly shouted words. The question hadn’t been aimed at him. The man was focused on the bathroom.

Bryce almost turned back to defend her actions, even though he didn’t agree with them, but it wouldn’t do any good. Corina was Will’s only living child, and she’d put herself in danger.

Eric caught his eye and gestured toward the road. “Show me.”

Bryce nodded, tuning out the argument behind him. Corina could hold her own. She always did.

Right now, it was more important for the police to figure out what happened this morning, and taking them to the spot they’d found Houston was the best thing he could do to help. The dog might have moved after the shot, but if he had, the police could follow the blood trail to find his original position. Then they could work on determining where the shot had come from.

And who fired it.


Excerpt from Secondary Target by Angela Carlisle. Copyright 2024 by Angela Carlisle. Reproduced with permission from Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group. All rights reserved.


Author Bio:

Angela Carlisle ( resides in the hills of northern Kentucky and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and The Christian PEN. Angela is an editor by day and prefers to spend her free time reading, baking, and drinking ridiculous quantities of hot tea. Her unpublished works have won awards in ACFW's Genesis and First Impressions contests and placed in the Daphne du Maurier contest. Her shorter fiction works, including the prize-winning flash-fiction piece "Mansion Murderer," have appeared in Splickety and Spark magazines.

Catch Up With Angela Carlisle:
Instagram - @angelacarlislewriter
Facebook - @AngelaCarlisle.Writer


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