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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Blog Tour: Excerpt from Light Years From Home by Mike Chen

 


Mike Chen
On Sale Date: January 25, 2022
9780778311737
Hardcover
MIRA Books
$27.99 USD
352 pages
 
Back again with his trademark "sci fi with feelings," Mike Chen brings us a Space Opera/Family Drama mash-up. When Jakob Shao reappears after fifteen missing years, he brings turmoil to his sisters, Kass and Evie, and intergalactic war on his heels.
 
Every family has issues. Most can't blame them on extraterrestrials.
 
Fifteen years ago while on a family camping trip, Jakob Shao and his father vanished. His father turned up a few days later, dehydrated and confused, but convinced that they'd been abducted by aliens. Jakob remained missing.
 
The Shao sisters, Kass and Evie, dealt with the disappearance end ensuing fallout in very different ways. Kass over the years stepped up to be the rock of the family: carving a successful path for herself, looking after the family home, and becoming her mother's caregiver when she starts to suffer from dementia. Evie took her father's side, going all in on UFO conspiracy theories, and giving up her other passions to pursue the possible truth of life outside our planet. And always looking for Jakob.
 
When atmospheric readings from Evie's network of contacts indicate a disturbance event just like the night of the abduction, she heads back home. Because Jakob is back. He's changed, and the sisters aren't sure what to think. But one thing is certain -- the tensions between the siblings haven't changed at all. Jakob, Kass and Evie are going to have to grow up and sort out their differences, and fast. Because the FBI is after Jakob, and possibly an entire alien armada, too.


Chapter 1

Jakob


Everything in front of Jakob Shao was dark.

His eyes adjusted after several seconds, turning the void into a black sheet laced with brilliant white dots, countless stars coming into focus.  Jakob raised a finger and poked at the nothingness, only to feel a magnetic pushback from deflective impulses. Force fields, really, as Jakob still used the Earth terminology brought from a childhood of movies and comic books. Whatever they were called, they kept the vacuum of space from sucking him out, freezing him, possibly imploding him. 

The atmosphere dock of the Awakened ship wasn’t much more welcoming than deep space. It didn’t help that he stood barefoot and nearly naked, only an ill-fitting cloth halfway between a burlap sack and a poncho draped over him. The Awakened probably used it more to maintain their hostage’s body temperature than comfort, and definitely not for fashion. But where were his captors?

Where was anyone?

Then a voice called out.

A familiar voice, a not-human one that strained to yell his name in a vocalization that came halfway between a crow’s caw and an electronic blip. The implanted chips between Seven Bells soldiers constantly translated for species, but nothing came through here. Something must have burned out the chip, leaving only natural expression, a human word forced into alien physiology.

It called Jakob’s name.

Jakob ran to the voice, tracing the sound while rumbles vibrated the floor. Spigots of steam and gaseous vapor burst onto him, and his bare feet crunched on jagged debris. He turned a corner and though different lights flashed and fluctuated through the dim space, he saw a familiar figure.

Henry.

The unmistakable silhouette of curling horns and humanoid frame of Henry’s native species stood out against beams of light, and Jakob called out. “Henry!”—The simplest name he could assign to his friend given the physically impossible way of pronouncing their culture’s names. A harsh draft blew dust in his face, fragments hitting his bare shoulders as he charged forward. “Henry! We need to go right—”

Except Henry would not be able to go anywhere.

Stripped of his standard armor and clothing, his friend’s set of eight eyes all focused on him, their face angling away. One arm reached out to Jakob, straining to move. 

The other remained frozen, a statue pose as the crystallization took over, organic matter gradually desiccating from the bottom up. Jakob paused, slowly putting together what it all meant.

Jakob was in the Seven Bells first wave of defense, but his power-armor mech had been damaged and he was captured in space. Henry was to lead the second wave, an on-the-ground defense squad that took advantage of his native planetary knowledge.

They must have failed. Which meant Henry’s homeworld had fallen to the Awakened, their technology analyzed and usurped, their population and wildlife crystalized to be used as building material.

Jakob took his friend’s hand, a pincer-like claw with small sensory tentacles in the palm. “I’m so sorry. So sorry,” Jakob said repeatedly, taking far too much time given the exploding craft around him. Henry’s shoulder froze, body crystalizing from elbow to forearm to claws until the whole appendage stiffened and the sensory tentacles stopped moving. Jakob leaned forward as an invisible weight suddenly pushed in on his skull, a pressure from the center outward.  He looked at Henry, only their head and neck remaining, eyes closed, but tilted his way. 

Jakob knew what to do, what Henry wanted. It was the way their species passed on generational knowledge during final moments. 

He let Henry in.

And several seconds later, Jakob absorbed information, secrets, devastation, all of the things that Henry saw and felt while Jakob had been captured. And a number. 

A sixteen-digit number that could change everything.

“Go,” Henry managed in their unearthly voice before the crystalization process inched upward, eventually taking over their entire head with a sparkly dead texture.

Then his friend collapsed, their transformed body falling apart like a sand castle imploding under its own wait. Henry's remains scattered, spilling everywhere and getting between Jakob's toes. When he turned, he felt the grind beneath his feet.

But there was no time to mourn or be disgusted. He needed to go. But where?


Jakob sprinted, checking all corners and hallways. But whatever had happened before he came to had caused the ship to be evacuated, mostly ransacked of anything useful. At a hanger bay, his captured half-wrecked mech sat, stripped of any useful tools. The only thing intact was a decryptor—a tool for espionage. Not escape.

That wouldn’t help here, though he grabbed the device anyway—technically, a neural encryptor/decryptor—and looked for a way out. In the corner, a holographic interface flickered on and off. 

That just might do it. 

A closer look had Jakob laughing at his luck: the half-functioning interface was the ship's compressed-matter transporter system, something he was familiar with since the Seven Bells regularly scavenged them from downed Awakened craft. He craned his neck up at the too-tall interface next to him, fingers flying over controls he understood just enough to operate. It hummed to life, a low vibration nearly eclipsed by the ongoing rumbles of various decks exploding above him. A white glow signified it was ready to fire him across space. 

Him—and the knowledge he'd stolen. 

But what destination would provide safety until the Seven Bells recovered him?

A star chart glowed in front of him, and the vast pool of space lay at his fingertips. One of those tiny dots represented a chance. He just had to figure out which one—fast.

Jakob scanned the possibilities, already tensing for the brutal gauntlet of compressed matter transport: an invisible bubble sealing around the body, then throttling it through a newly generated wormhole that collapsed upon exit. He needed somewhere safe, somewhere primitive that the Awakened would completely overlook. Only then could he track his fleet without putting them in danger. Solar system upon solar system whirred in front of him, the options coming and going until he paused at one choice.

One obvious, hilarious, completely impossible choice.

Earth. The place he’d departed fifteen years ago. 

Jakob zoomed in on the image, examining its projected rotation. Pure dumb luck handed him a win here; they were passing through within three light years, perfectly within the edge of the transporter’s radius. The holographic light pulsed, indicating the system was ready to go. 

But what if the Awakened chased him, captured him again? He could hide his body, yet his mind still represented a risk: specifically, the device implanted in his head that connected to the Seven Bells command fleet, activated only when speaking the right words. The Awakened were known for torturing to the point of unconsciousness, trying to pry secrets that might tip the war one way or another, except he’d been trained to protect the activation phrase with his life.

His life for the entire fleet’s life.

But did the Awakened have other ways to extract that information, something more strategic than pain? If they tracked him down, could they try some type of mental probe or memory scanner?

Jakob turned to think, his bare foot kicking against a smooth object that suddenly caught his attention. 

The decryptor he salvaged—a basketball-sized device that could scramble certain parts of his memory. A way to blank out the activation phrase from his mind, guaranteeing its safety—and thus, the fleet’s safety—in any situation   until the Seven Bells located him.  Jakob calculated the risks. As one of the Seven Bells’ leading engineers, patching up damaged equipment in the heat of battle was standard procedure. But scrambling and patching up his own mind? 

There was a first time for everything.

Jakob held the decryptor to his forehead, pressing it firmly and thinking as hard as he could about the specific phrase to activate the skull implant’s emergency communications signal. A very quick, very sharp zap hit him, and with it, scrambled that memory, now unlockable solely with this very device. 

 But he suddenly realized that if the zap’s blast radius scrambled tangential memories, he might lose more: what had happened, what he needed, his whole mission. Jakob’s eyes darted around, searching the broken space for something that might provide a way to give himself tangible backup clues.

The pipes on the walls.

Whatever liquid they contained might be as good as ink.

He grabbed jagged shrapnel off the floor and smashed the line, neon blue dripping out. It didn’t produce steam or eat through the floor. Good enough. His finger stung a little under the viscous liquid, and with it, he wrote words on his exposed skin. 

SIGNAL. WEAPON.

Dizziness and nausea struck as details blurred out of existence, and Jakob knew disorientation would hit soon enough. He held the decryptor close, hugging it while activating the scan sequence of the transporter. A thin beam of light trickled over him, a tingle crawling over his skin while the transporter calculated the shape and strength of its protective bubble. It nearly finished when sparks flew from the far side of the room, another shake knocking him off balance.

“Shit, shit, shit,” he said while reinitiating the scan, uttering Earth curses that still stayed with him. The scanning beam re-appeared, only to stop halfway down his body. He tried again and then again, but each time, it refused to move past the decryptor.

Jakob squinted at the repeated message on the transporter’s interface, but without the supporting communications tech from Seven Bells on him, it was incomprehensible. He looked at the decryptor in his hand, then back at the interface, then over at the message.

Maybe that was it. Jakob with the device might be too much. 

He set the decryptor on the floor and retargeted the scan beam. Several seconds later, a planetary image indicated a target destination. The decryptor shot off across space, a simple white flash as it vanished.

He’d have to find it. But what if the decryptor's memory fallout erased those details? What if the transporter veered him off course on his own journey? How would he even know where to start?

Jakob turned back to the holographic map; the decryptor had been sent somewhere on the west coast of the North American continent. The Bay Area. Images flashed through his mind, faces surfacing after so many years of disconnecting from that life. 

Mom. Dad. Kassie. Evie.

Home. 

Such a word felt weightless, devoid of any meaning now. But it gave a shorthand to the decryptor’s location. 

He jabbed his finger into the smashed pipeline, dipping into enough alien goo to write  one more message. GO HOME, he wrote across his left shoulder. That would point him in the right direction, no matter where on Earth he started.

Jakob took in a deep breath, then hit the controls again on the transporter. The beam returned, scanning him up and down. Seconds passed and the air changed, like he was encased in a layer of plastic— pressurized energy protecting him across the vacuum of space. Around him, various hums and vibrations indicated the system would activate in moments. 

The room shook as a hole tore open in the ceiling, fire and shrapnel showering him. 

“Weapon. Signal. Go home.” He told himself, repeating the words. If all the writing dissolved or washed off, he could try to remember these few words. He readied himself, and only now did he notice bits of crystalline sand stuck to his legs and feet. Nausea hit Jakob, but whether it came from the decryptor process or seeing Henry’s remains, he wasn't sure. Fists formed with tight fingers and tensed arms, and he forced himself to picture Henry's crumbling body, a reminder of why he needed to do this.

“Weapon. Signal.” 

He had to make it to Earth safely. He had to retrieve the decryptor and contact the fleet.

Because he wasn’t just a Seven Bells soldier trying to find a way back. Those sixteen digits Henry had chiseled into his mind would win the war.

He just needed to tell them first.

“Go home.”


Excerpted from Light Years from Home by Mike Chen, Copyright © 2022 by Mike Chen. Published by MIRA Books. 




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Photo credit:
Amanda Chen

Mike Chen is the author of the award-nominated Here And Now And Then and featured in Star Wars: From A Certain Point Of View—The Empire Strikes Back. He has covered geek culture for sites such as Tor.com, The Mary Sue, and StarTrek.com and used to cover the NHL for Fox Sport and other outlets. A member of SFWA, Mike lives in the Bay Area with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals.
 
SOCIAL LINKS:
Author website: https://www.mikechenbooks.com/ 
Twitter: @mikechenwriter
Instagram: @mikechenwriter
 
 

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Review: The Doomsday Mother by John Glatt

Author: John Glatt
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: January 2022

In The Doomsday Mother, bestselling true crime author John Glatt tells the twisted tale of Lori Vallow, accused of having her two children murdered to start a new life with her new husband, doomsday prepper Chad Daybell.

At first, the residents of Kauai Beach Resort took little notice of their new neighbors. The glamorous blonde and her tall husband fit the image of the ritzy gated community. The couple seemed to keep to themselves—until the police knocked on their door with a search warrant. Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell had fled to Hawaii in the midst of being investigated for the disappearance of Lori’s children back in Idaho—Tylee and JJ—who hadn’t been seen alive in five months.

For years, Lori Vallow had lived a life of devotion to her children and her Mormon faith. But when her path crossed with Chad Daybell, a religious zealot who taught his followers how to prepare for the end-times, the tumultuous relationship transformed her into someone unrecognizable. As authorities searched for Lori’s children, they uncovered more suspicious deaths with links to both Lori and Chad, including the death of Lori’s third and fourth husbands, her brother, and Chad’s wife. In June 2020, the gruesome remains of JJ and Tylee were discovered on Chad’s property. In a shocking development, horrifying statements revealed that the couple’s fanatical beliefs had convinced them the children had become zombies.

Bestselling author and journalist John Glatt takes readers deeper into the devastating crimes of Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell in an attempt to unravel the lethal relationship of this doomsday couple.

The Doomsday Mother is a recent true crime book that tells the real life story of two evil people and the lives that they have forever changed.  I hadn't really known a lot about this case excerpt through snippets from the news and a Dateline episode.  I'm a big fan of true crime, so I had high hopes for this one.  

I thought the author did a fairly good job of laying out all of the facts of the case.  I liked the amount of background that he gave us on both Lori and Chad.  Up until this book, I hadn't known much about either person and how they got to this point in their life.  Clearly they are both deeply disturbed people who deserve everything they have coming to them. This case is one of the saddest and most twisted ones that I have ever read about.  Because of the pandemic, justice for JJ and Tylee has been postponed.  Hopefully soon, this family can get some closure.   I listened to the audiobook and thought it was well executed.  I do recommend this one.


Monday, January 24, 2022

Blog Tour: Excerpt from The Broken Tower by Kelly Braffet

 


Author: Kelly Braffet
On Sale Date: January 25, 2022
9780778331797
MIRA Books
Hardcover
$27.99 USD
480 pages
 
Death pulled them apart. The tower’s will pull them back together.
 
Judah the foundling has survived her own death, only to find herself in an unknown forest. Nearing a second death from exposure and exhaustion, she falls in with two vagabonds with their own mysterious pasts. Gavin and Elly, having been secretly spirited away to a deserted wilderness guildhall, are rescued in a raid, but soon find themselves surrounded by enemies, and in even more trouble. In New Highfall, the Seneschal has freed the captured Nali chieftain from prison only to force him to experiment with the creation of a new kind of bond. The Slonimi very much want to find Judah so that they can unbind the power held in the tower, even if that means sending their strongest, most ruthless Worker to dig Judah’s location out of Nate’s mind, and even if he doesn’t survive the process. All any of them want is to be left in peace. But now they all have only one choice: fight for their lives, or die.

 
BUY LINKS:
Oblong Books (signed copies!):
 
 
Here is a sneak peek:

PROLOGUE

THE MAGUS TRAPPED JUDAH AND GAVIN IN THE tower. He wanted her to kill Gavin, to accomplish something he called the Unbinding. And obviously she refused to do that, but the only other way out of the tower had been to jump. So she’d jumped: away from Gavin and the magus and their hands that tried to grab her, through the empty space where the tower wall had been sheared away long before she’d been born, and into the clear emptiness of midair.

Where she’d had time to look down to the brush at the bottom of the light well, contemplate what she’d done, and think, Oh, no.

Then she’d seen—felt?—an enormous flash of purple, and a bizarre sense of being emptied and filled at the same time. Faces flashed through her mind: the magus’s mother and an unfamiliar old woman with flinty eyes. Then everything was white and silent and nothing and peace.

Only gradually did she become aware once more of her own existence, of the actuality of a person named Judah. Eventually she remembered her body, and at some point later, that bodies usually wore clothes; and then she was wearing her gown from Elly and Gavin’s betrothal. The gown was the pale green of new grass, the loveliest thing she had ever owned. Experimentally, she thought feet and felt the dry crunch of leaves beneath her toes. Then she thought trees, and tall smooth trunks melted into view out of the mist. She decided she’d died in the jump after all, and death was a featureless span of white from which a person could form whatever they wanted. Which was an infinitely more pleasant afterlife than any she’d ever been promised or threatened with; who could complain?

She’d kept walking through the forest where she found herself, where a great many ferns grew no higher than her ankles, and round silver-white boulders broke through the soil like fish through water. When she’d first thought trees she’d been thinking of the orchard, where the trees were short and neatly pruned and the air smelled like cider. Here, it smelled like loam and something brackish that she could taste in the back of her throat but not quite identify, something that crept over her like winter fog. The leaves on the straight, white-barked trees had a bluish cast to them, as if chilled.

Barefoot, with her shoulders exposed in the elegant dress, she realized that she was cold, too. She tried thinking coat, envisioning Gavin’s quilted riding jacket, and then boots, picturing the ones she’d adopted from Theron and then lost in the pasture with Darid. Nothing happened. Whatever power she’d had to create in the white was gone. After a while, she realized that the taste in the back of her throat and the creeping chill meant snow. Further, she realized that regardless of what had happened to her when she’d leapt from the tower, regardless of where she’d landed, regardless of whether she was alive or not, and regardless of a dozen other factors that presented themselves in fairly short order—lack of fire, lack of food, lack of shelter—regardless of all of that, she was coatless and barefoot in a strange forest, which appeared, despite all theories to the contrary, to be real. And she was wearing a ball gown. And the snow was beginning to fall.

All of which led to one final realization: she was in trouble.

Excerpted from The Broken Tower by Kelly Braffet, Copyright © 2022 by Kelly Braffet. Published by MIRA Books.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Photo Credit:
Missy McLamb

Kelly Braffet is the author of The Unwilling, Save Yourself, Josie and Jack and Last Seen Leaving. Her writing has been published in the New York Times, Vulture.com, as well as The Fairy Tale Review, Post Road, and several anthologies. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University and currently lives in upstate New York.
 
Social Links:
Author website: https://www.kellybraffet.com/
Facebook: @kellybraffetfiction
Twitter: @KellyBraffet
 
 

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Spotlight: Excerpt from His Road to Redemption by Lisa Jordan

 

Author: Lisa Jordan 
Publisher: Love Inspired
Publication Date: December 2021

A veteran in need of a fresh start will get more than he bargained for…Veteran Micah Holland's scars go deeper than anyone knows. An inheritance from his mentor could be a new beginning—if he shares the inherited goat farm with fiercely independent Paige Watson. Now the only way they can keep the farm is to work together. But first Micah must prove he's a changed man to keep his dream and the woman he's falling for.

Buy Links:
 
Enjoy this excerpt:
 
“You’re an inspiration, Micah.” She stared at him, as if the intensity of her gaze could convince him.
“No, not even close. I’m just a guy who was stuck in the mud and was handed a shovel to dig his way out. Someone reached out and gave me a hand up. I want to do the same for others. Because of Phil and Ian, I had the break I needed to change. That’s why it’s important to stay on track with meeting our goals. A Hand Up isn’t a handout, but a second chance. Everyone deserves that. Now I can be the one to hand out a shovel.”
“But your compassion helps change lives. That’s evident by what you’re doing here.” She shrugged. “Who knows? Maybe God allowed you to go through everything you did so you’d be in a place to help someone else. Maybe you had to become homeless to understand their pain and give them the security they needed.”
Micah laughed, the tone a bit raw and ragged.
“Seems ironic that I had to lose an arm to give a hand up to others.”
“I’m sorry for everything you’ve gone through.” Paige reached for Micah’s hand and gave it a squeeze. “God has a purpose for you. For this house. And for the men who will be living here.” She tapped his chest. “And it started here. If you didn’t care, you wouldn’t have come home for Ian’s funeral. You wouldn’t be going through all this to get the transitional home set up. You wouldn’t be talking to men like Jerome, encouraging them to take the next step.”
And she wouldn’t need to guard her heart to keep from falling for Micah. Because he was right—they needed to stay on track to meet their goals. And she couldn’t lose sight of that, either, by doing something silly like falling for a man who had a hard time recognizing love in his own family.

Excerpt, HIS ROAD TO REDEMPTION by Lisa Jordan

 
 
About Lisa Jordan:

Heart, home and faith have always been important to Lisa Jordan, so writing stories with those elements come naturally. Happily married for over 30 years to her real-life hero, she and her husband have two grown sons. Lisa enjoys family time, good books, and creative time with friends. To learn more about her writing, visit www.lisajordanbooks.com.  
 

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Review: Dark Night by Paige Shelton

Author: Paige Shelton
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: December 2021

Dark Night is the third book in the gripping, atmospheric Alaska Wild series by beloved cozy author Paige Shelton, in which Beth is met with an unexpected visitor: her mom...

Winter is falling in the remote town of Benedict, Alaska, and with the cold comes an uninvited guest. The dreaded "census man," seemingly innocuous, is an unwelcome presence to those members of this secretive community who would prefer to keep their business to themselves. Meanwhile, thriller writer Beth Rivers has received her own unexpected visitor: her mother. The last Beth heard, Mill Rivers had gone underground in the lower forty-eight, in search of Beth’s kidnapper, and Beth can't help but be a little alarmed at her appearance: If Mill was able to track down her daughter, who knows who else might be able to?

Beth doesn't have time to ponder this for long, after a battered woman stumbles into the town bar one night, and her husband is found dead the next morning. Suspicions immediately turn to the census man, but when he, too, goes missing, everyone in Benedict—including the police chief—is suspected, and Beth and Mill must work to figure out what really happened.

Dark Night is the third book in the Alaska Wild Series.  I am reluctant to say that you can read this one as a stand alone.  On one hand, there is a separate mystery that is solely contained within this storyline.  However, there are spoilers for Beth's story that has spanned over the last three books and will into future books.  In each book so far, we have learned more about Beth and who her abductor was as well as more about her father's disappearance.  

The self contained mystery in this one wasn't easy to figure out.  There were a few twists that I didn't call.  Beth, as well, really kind of stumbles on the truth rather than figuring it out for herself.  But what I liked more was the information we learned about her father and her kidnapper.  That story is getting more and more convoluted.  I can't wait for the collusion to it.  

I really like Beth as a character.  She is a mystery writer and uses her experience as an aid to her grandfather when he was a sheriff to her advantage in solving mysteries.  She is very likable and pretty smart.  I have been enjoying watching her growing friendships with the townspeople. I also liked getting to spend more time with Beth's mother Mill in this one.  Her character  easy to like. Even though she, at first, comes across as not very loving or caring toward her daughter.  As you get to know her, you can see she really does love Beth and wants her safe.    I highly recommend this one was well as the rest of the series.  I look forward to the next one.
 

Friday, January 21, 2022

Blog Tour: Excerpt from The Ex-Husband by Karen Hamilton

 


Author: Karen Hamilton
ISBN: 9781525811609
Publication Date: January 18, 2022
Publisher: Graydon House

It’s an offer she can’t refuse…and can’t escape.
True: Charlotte has an unsavory past. She married the wrong man, got caught up in his con artist games, took what wasn’t hers. She got out, though: divorced Sam, started fresh.

False: She left him before things went too far. Nothing bad happened.

True: Sam is missing, and before he disappeared, he left cryptic messages about someone threatening him—someone who has been threatening Charlotte, too.

True: She’s on the straight and narrow, has accepted a job as a personal assistant for an engagement party on board a private luxury cruise ship, the Cleobella.

False: No one on board knows about her past, and she’s far away from anyone who means her harm.
As the Cleobella sails through its glittering destinations—the Bahamas, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago—increasingly sinister events haunt the guests, and the turquoise waves and sun-drenched beaches give way to something darker. Someone knows what Charlotte did. Is it the blushing bride? The seemingly placid mother-in-law? Or the mysterious heiress?

Someone knows, and someone wants revenge—before the ship reaches its final port.
 

THEN


Eighteen Months Ago

Barbados




A TIP-OFF. THAT COULD BE THE ONLY EXPLANATION.

Dreaded realization filtered through the rows of passengers and crew in the cruise terminal via mutters about delays intermingled with curiosity and general resignation at the inevitable holdup. Sickening dread roiled deep in my gut. Surreptitiously, I glanced back at the queue snaking behind me. Still no sign of Sam. Where was he?

The person in front of me took a step forward, pushing his backpack with a foot. Reluctantly, I followed.

Sam had only darted back to the ship to pick up his watch, carelessly left beside the basin in his cabin. It should have taken him fifteen minutes—twenty max. He had insisted that I save our place in the line to save time. Our flight to freedom was less than four hours away.

I messaged him.


Where the hell are you? Hurry up! I am nearly at the front of the line.


Well, not quite, but it was true enough. 


No reply.

Indecision kept me rooted to the spot. Sam would be annoyed if I lost our place. It would break one of our rules about blending in. Then again, neither of us was thinking straight. Our nerves were frayed. We were both tense after a wakeful night dissecting what had gone wrong, each of us blaming the other. But he left me with no choice. We always disembarked together. We had each other’s backs. Rule number one.

I tried to calm my fears. The upheaval wasn’t necessarily anything to do with us. I was too quick to jump to worst-case scenarios, usually after my conscience had given me a good poke. Sam and I excelled at slipping beneath the radar, despite his popularity.

In the corner of the vast, high-ceilinged building, portable air-conditioning units blasted out woefully inadequate cool air. My heart pounded so hard it almost hurt. Sweat slid down my spine. I stepped out of line and walked back in the direction of the ship. James, head of the ship’s security team, was standing by the exit. Relief. He would know where Sam was.

Strangely, James didn’t acknowledge or return my greeting. His manner was uncharacteristically off. No, he said. I couldn’t go back on board.

“But Sam should have been back by now,” I said. “He only went for something he’d forgotten.”

James shrugged.

“Just wait for him in line. He’ll show up. There’s nowhere else for him to go. This is the only exit.”

“What’s going on?” I said, trying to cajole James into thawing his attitude.

I opted for a friendly, neutral tone. And why not? We were colleagues, after all. Friends, companions. Equals, really.

“There are searches, from time to time.”

“Not that I’ve ever seen,” I said. “I hope it doesn’t hold us up. What is it? Drugs? Weapons?”


I smiled, safe in the knowledge that I was carrying neither.

“Get back in the line,” said James. “Wait for Sam there.”

I had no choice. As I turned, I saw Sam up ahead. He must have joined a different line. His bag was already being searched. How the hell had we missed each other? Why hadn’t he called me? Why did he go through without me?

There was nothing I could do but rejoin the queue and watch. I couldn’t read the expression of the person searching his bag, but the body language appeared at ease. Jolly, even. Everything felt off, badly wrong. Fragments of our heated conversation last night started piecing together. Just wait until I get hold of Sam, I thought. I would kill him for breaking our rules and putting me through all this extra stress.

I watched as Sam exited into the outside world. I could imagine the sun brushing his face as he inhaled the warmth of the Caribbean air. I distracted myself by dissecting the type of people they were pulling over. Lone travelers. Fresh, bubbling red rage at Sam rose. I called him. Straight to voice mail.

I was now among the stragglers, recognizing some of the faces. God, this was torture. I fought the urge to push to the front, explain about Sam and ask to be whisked through so that I could catch up with him, find out what the hell he was playing at. Breathe, breathe, breathe, I repeated over and over in my mind. I can do this. It’s all about playing the game.

A calmness descended over me as I was beckoned forward. One step after another, a neutral expression on my face. I could see the sun through the glass doors. No sign of Sam in the crowds beyond. I focused on the large brandy or whiskey I was going to order on the flight. I thought about the type of movie I would watch, a comedy or something light and easy to absorb. Or maybe I wouldn’t bother with any distractions at all. I could use the time to think.

Half a yard, then another. The man in front was pulled over to my right, with a brusque wave. A harmless-looking elderly couple was also summoned. Not me. Not yet. I was so nearly there. Please, God. I know I’ve made mistakes. I know I’ve made bad choices, but just let me keep walking and I will make amends.

“Miss?”

Shit.

“Yes?”

“Can you come over this way, please, and place your bags on the table?”

I smiled. “Yes, of course.”

Everything turned numb, as though this was happening to someone else. Invincibility was Sam’s superpower, not mine.

Victimless. That is what Sam and I had always said about the people we befriended. Relax, I told myself. They won’t find anything. I’d triple-checked, hadn’t I?

My bag felt unusually heavy as I lifted it up. It was still covered in hotel, airline and cruise stickers. Funny, the inconsequential things I focused on. Sam often told me to scrape them off. “Bland and anonymous is always best. The smallest of details can offer up rich clues to the wrong people.” He would know.

“Open your bags, please.”

“Sure.”

My mouth was dry. I rotated the combination on my lock: one, eight, eight, my birth date and month, a small act of rebellion when it came to Sam’s insistence never to do the obvious. It clicked open. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to lift the lid, to display my personal belongings ready for public inspection. It was humiliating.

The officer lost patience and did it for me. Time slowed as he unzipped the bag. Nestling on top of my favorite red blouse was something that, although familiar, didn’t belong to me.

Blind panic.

“That’s not mine.” I reached to grab it, to remove the emerald necklace from its nest among my possessions. Someone had put it there.


“Stand back, please.”

I felt the fresh horror rise inside me as two other customs officers walked over and peered at the necklace.

“I said it’s not mine. Someone has been in my bag.”

Stony faces, bland expressions, dismissive words.

I tried again.

“You need to go through the CCTV, check who entered our cabin. Someone planted this.”

I looked from face to face.

Still nothing.

I should’ve kept quiet. They’d already decided that I was guilty. A thief. Someone without rights.

Anger replaced fear as my privacy was violated. My swimwear, toiletries, underwear, shoes, travel guides, my Spanish-language course books, my costume jewelry, my every-bloody-thing was removed and examined by careless rubber-gloved hands.

A glimmer of hope ignited when their search concluded. All they had found was something that was such an obvious plant. The necklace rested on the side of the counter, taunting me. Not for the first time either. Magpie-like, the moment I had first spotted the emerald-and-diamond choker with a teardrop pendant, I longed to own it. Green was most definitely the color of envy.

“Come with us, please.”

I was shown to an interview room. I could hear a baby crying outside. Alone, without my belongings, I had time to piece things together. Grim reality, like a blast of icy water. I had been sacrificed, thrown under the bus. Sam knew. He’d been tipped off. Instead of saving the two of us, he’d chosen to save himself. “For better, for worse” clearly no longer applied. It was a final act of cruelty. A brutal end, regardless of how rocky our marriage had been. All that mattered was himself.

       Time spooled and distorted. I sat, trying to appear nonchalant, yet as outraged as an innocent could be, robbed of her freedom. I felt watched. The heat stifled me. I wanted to plunge into a cold pool, swim below the surface, somehow wash away the dirty feelings that threatened to swallow me whole.

Anger took over as I sat there. I wasn’t taking the rap—no way. As two police officers walked into the room, I was prepared to embrace my inner canary. Whatever it took. But it became clear I wouldn’t need to sing that day.

I was free to go. It had all been a terrible mistake. Huge apologies. Strange, but true. My belongings—even the necklace—were returned.

Outside, despite the heat of the midday sun, I wanted to run. I had got away with it. I was free. Except… I wasn’t.

I didn’t like the person I had become—hadn’t for a long time. Something needed to change. Sam’s customary reassurances that “all would be well” had been my elixir. It smoothed away fears and doubts, the ones my conscience tried in vain to shove to the forefront of my mind during the darkest hours. The sudden and horrible unraveling of our gilded situation was the result of arrogance. His and mine.

But for now, I had to put myself first. I walked toward the shade and sat on a bench beneath a palm tree. I had less than two hours to catch my flight, but I could still make it. I sent Sam a message.

Call me. ASAP.

Nothing.

I hailed a cab to take me from the cruise terminal to the airport, deciding to make one detour to a friend’s house en route. I wanted to hide my pot of gold somewhere safe.

As we drew into the airport, fear took hold again. What if I was making a mistake? In a daze, I checked in. The airline staff wouldn’t tell me if Sam had checked in too. I called him again even though I knew, deep down, that there wouldn’t be an answer. As I placed my bag down to go through the X-ray machine, I heard my phone beep. I had to wait more painful minutes while my bag passed through the checks before I could snatch up my phone and read it. Sam!

One word.

Sorry.

What the hell was he doing?

Sam’s empty plane seat taunted me all the way to London as I planned the things I was going to say and do when I next saw him. Because I would see him again. He wasn’t the only piece of unfinished business, because there was someone else I needed to track down too. The real owner of the necklace and the catalyst behind our downfall and the death of our marriage. 


Excerpted from The Ex-Husband by Karen Hamilton, Copyright © 2022 by Karen Hamilton. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.




Author Bio: 
 
Karen Hamilton spent her childhood in Angola, Zimbabwe, Belgium and Italy and worked as a flight attendant for many years. She has now put down roots in the UK to raise her three children with her husband and she also writes full time. Her books include The Perfect Girlfriend, The Last Wife, and The Ex-Husband, out January 2022.