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​Promo Tour for Rescue Flight & Operation Firestorm by Carl A. Sparks

Title: Rescue Flight
Author: Carl A. Sparks
Genre: Adult, Suspense Thriller
Published: April 5, 2013

Carley Downs has been mistakenly abducted by the Guatemalan drug cartel. Not realizing they have the first daughter to the United States in their possession, the cartel contemplates the fate of Carley and her friends.

Matthew McWain, former U.S. Marine Corps Force Recon, a highly decorated pilot and expert on “snatch and grab” operations, has been requested to conduct a rescue operation to fly Carley out of Guatemala. Matthew quickly discovers time is running out before the cartel delivers Carley into the hands of a notoriously brutal Iranian terrorist who will certainly recognize her. Matthew knows he has to locate the president’s daughter before the exchange is made. If not, he will be in for the fight of his life preventing the Iranian madman from taking Carley out of the country!

“This author has got something going! I love high adventure books, and this one was great. Thumbs up Mr. Sparks. Keep them coming!!” ~ Amazon Customer – 5 stars“A smart film agent would be busy putting this author and his book under contact! Truly believe the author has just introduced his readers to the next all-American heroes. Certainly I am looking forward to the sequel and I WILL buy a hardback copy.” ~ Amazon Customer – 5 stars

“Never a dull moment, no story-stalling ‘relationship’ sidebars, just the constant nail-biting action of our unlikely team of heroes. “ ~ Amazon Customer – 5 stars

Rescue Flight Prologue © Carl A. Sparks 2013


30 Miles North of Cobán
Carley Downs seldom had doubts about her decisions.  But now as she sat along the dusty roadside, wiping sweat and grime from the back of her neck and running the soaked bandana through her tangled hair, the thought ever so briefly crossed her mind.  She had taken refuge in the shade but the scorching mid-morning sun peeking through the trees merely added to the oppressive humidity.  If there was anything good to be said about their current predicament it would be the absence of that damp fetid smell and fewer insects since they’d begun climbing up the winding road from the jungle floor.
“Why did I ever let you talk me into coming down to this gosh awful place?” Carley asked her female companion sitting beside her.  The two shared a large flat rock a good 40 feet down the road from their broken down vehicle. There was a large outcropping of boulders along this stretch of road that seemed to keep the indigenous oak and cedar trees from growing no larger than the live oaks back home in northern Arizona.  Carley grew up on a ranch where she spent far more time climbing trees and doing tom-boy stuff than being a little girl, grease up to her elbows from keeping her grandpa’s antique tractor running, helping her mom mucking out the stables or brushing one of the horses. Always being a little gutsy probably led her to this day.
“Yeah, right,” Jordan Scott answered with a glimmer of a smile in her eyes, “as if anyone ever talked Carley Downs into anything.”
“Well, you could have tried a little harder,” Carley laughed, reaching down for a stick to draw squiggles in the powdery dirt.  Just as quickly growing impatient, she threw the stick over the far side of the road where it dropped a couple hundred feet down the steep bank.  She let out a big sigh.   It was far too quiet, too desolate on this hot dusty road.  She was angry at herself for letting the missionary guys talk her into taking the back roads loaded with ruts like her grandma’s old washboard instead of the paved highway.  Carley had an equal say as to which routes they would take, but they’d convinced her this shortcut would save many miles and cut the driving time by an hour.  Obviously that wasn’t working.
“How long does it take to change a stinking tire, anyway?” Carley asked, resting her elbows on her knees and staring up the road where their three male companions fussed over the vehicle in the hot sun.  
“Too darn long, considering it’s the third flat and only two spares.”  Jordan tried to put a good spin on it, but failed miserably.
It was a beat up 1974 Land Cruiser, two-tone gray with rusty dents in both front fenders and a hole in the muffler that made it sound like a Sherman tank while smoking up the interior so that even with all the windows down it was pretty obnoxious.  The vehicle had seen better days and was now a major source of irritation for the entire team.    The 4X4 had somehow taken them north to the Petén region near San Benito, and nearly every Mayan village and wide spot in the road in between over the past several weeks.  They were now on the way back to their base of operations in Cobán to resupply and for a little down-time before heading out again.  So far on this trip they had two blown radiator hoses, a water pump and now the third flat tire.  If Carley didn’t know better, she’d assume her dad was somehow behind all the bad luck. 
That thought amused her, and she smiled as she remembered the agitated furl of his brow when he’d finally learned she had taken this assignment.  Very much like the look he’d given her when she had first informed him she was joining the Peace Corps.  She’d always been his little “free spirit” so he knew better than to try talking her out of it then, but telling him about this assignment would have been an entirely different story and she knew better than to give him an advanced warning.  Her daddy succeeded at everything he did, from ranching to business to politics, and, by golly, she was of the same stubborn stock as he.  Her decision to become a medical doctor had been a great source of pride for her dad, but he had been mildly disappointed by her insistence to transfer from his old alma mater at Arizona State University to complete her medical schooling at UCLA.  But her insistence on doing some of her resident work in the Peace Corps was the last thing her father expected.  No one saw that coming.  Why couldn’t she be a little more stable and predictable like her older brother?  Was his first response.
The assignment was a one-year contract promising nearly a full range of medical cases she could handle – and plenty of them.  It sounded a lot more adventurous than cooped up in some hospital.  Besides, nowhere in the States could Carley get this kind of experience as quickly.  If it worked out as she figured, she just might stay with the Peace Corps.  Wouldn’t that pretty well send the famous Harlan Downs into apoplexy?
Jordan Scott was the second half of the medical team and had proven to be a capable assistant to Carley. Even though she’d not had formal nurse training, the limited emergency medical training she’d received seemed sufficient enough for her to pass as a doctor’s assistant, especially to the eyes of an untrained observer.  The two women hadn’t started out as close friends, but after being close companions for the two years that Jordan had been part of the protection detail for Carley their fondness for one another had grown out of mutual respect. 
The two were alike in some ways, yet a complete contrast.   Anyone who knew the family said the 28 year old Carley Downs was a dead ringer for her paternal grandmother, a petite full-blooded Navajo; a very stunning woman whose Indian name was Doli, which meant “Bluebird” in Navajo.  Carley had the same smooth bronze skin, delicate features, prominent cheekbones and a slight aquiline nose.  Her distinguishing feature however, was striking pale blue eyes like the color of ice water, yet filled with warmth and compassion; eyes produced by genes so strong it reached back through generations of Grandma Downs’ ancestors.  Her shoulder length raven black hair was shorter than Grandma Downs and Carley preferred to wear it in a ponytail, just as Grandma Doli did when she didn’t have it braided into pigtails.
Jordan Scott, a few inches taller at 5 feet 8 inches and a few years older, wore her auburn hair short, her hazel eyes had dozens of tiny gold specks that seemed to sparkle in the sunlight.  Both women were slender and athletic, serious outdoor people.
The three men rounding out the five-person Peace Corps team were Christian missionaries, non-denominational except for Carley’s favorite, a huge man named Paul Moore.  Moore was a strong Southern Baptist from Sedalia, Missouri.  His personality set him apart from the others, serious when the situation dictated, humorous in the face of adversity, and always with a positive outlook.   Even now with everyone drenched in sweat, complaining of the ever-present heat and humidity, only Paul Moore could make jokes about how the stench of their combined body odor had managed to kill every living creature in a five-mile radius.  It was hard for Carley to picture Moore as a missionary, yet she had seen him in action, showing such great compassion as he taught the word of God among the poor villagers, or holding a screaming mother in his massive arms, comforting her while Carley fought so hard to keep the woman’s child from dying.  The man was an incredible tower of strength, both physically and emotionally.  
Carley observed him now, his shirt off, sweat streaking down his powerful shoulders and chest, muscles bulging as he lifted one end of the Land Cruiser completely off the ground while the other two guys wedged the jack under the rear axle.  She could easily visualize him on the gridiron where he had reportedly made a pretty decent living in the NFL as a defensive end till a blown knee took him out of the game.  The athletes she knew would have complained bitterly and probably blame everyone for their ended career, but Moore had told her in a gentle voice, his soft brown eyes watering, that it was merely God’s way of telling him he’d been denying his Savior’s calling far too long. 
The group had accomplished some amazing things over the past weeks and Carley was more than satisfied.  In her opinion each member of the team complimented the other in their respective tasks; with the added bonus of it being a pretty fun group to be with.
Carley turned to face Jordan and was suddenly startled, causing her to grab Jordan’s arm. Above them, crouched on top of the rocks not ten feet away sat one of the locals. Her breath caught in her chest, eyes riveted upon the man.  The imagine Carley had was someone right out of Francisco “Poncho” Villa days, with the bandolier across his barrel chest and unruly tufts of black and gray hair poking out from under his wide hat. He was wearing green camo fatigues and had a large belly hanging over his belt; his beard was stained with tobacco juice.  
Carley’s sudden fright caused Jordan to jerk around, and the very first thing Jordan noticed was the AK-47 assault rifle in the man’s hands, the muzzle pointing up in the air with the stock resting on one leg, his finger was on the trigger.   They’d been warned about banditos who sometimes frequented the back roads for easy prey, but there was something far too confident and sinister in his stare to identify him as a bandit.  
“Hey, señoritas, I theenk maybe the sun be too hot for your pretty soft skin, eh?”  His English was broken and heavily accented and the yellow, tobacco-stained teeth, several missing in the front, added to his menacing appearance.  The men working on the Land Cruiser quickly turned with a look of shock and concern on their faces.
“Who are you and what do you want?” Jordan demanded, feeling Carley’s grip tighten on her arm, her nails digging in. 
“Its okay Carley just stay calm,” Jordan said in a low voice.  I’ve got to take control of this situation.
At first it appeared the man was alone, but suddenly another appeared at his side.  This one was dressed nearly the same but was much younger and even more menacing with a maniacal glare to his dark eyes.  Jordan glanced back at their vehicle where she’d left her shoulder bag.  She could see the green quilted bag on the rear seat through the open door and was thinking of a way to get to it, just as a third man appeared from around the front of the Land Cruiser.  Both of the newcomers had AK-47’s like the first, aimed directly at the missionaries.
The appearance of his two cohorts caused Toothless to throw his head back and roar with laughter.  He spit a load of tobacco juice right at Jordan, part of the wad spilling onto his scraggly beard, and said, “That’s right, pretty señorita, I theenk it is good idea if everyone do exactly as I say and no one will geet hurt.”  His voice laced with contempt, his smile turned into a sneer.
“So what is it you want from us?” Jordan asked again. “We have no money with us. We are headed back to Cobán because our supplies are nearly gone…”
“Jordan, I’ll take care of this,” Paul Moore said.  He took a step forward before being gruffly motioned back by the man standing next to Toothless.
“I talk to ze pretty señorita, señor, so pleeze do not interrupt again,” Toothless said. He then turned back to Jordan, “We are not interested in your money, pretty señorita.”
“Okay, then, what is it you want from us?”
“You, pretty señorita! I theenk maybe I take all of you with me,” Toothless’s grin went ear to ear before breaking out in roaring laughter.
“That’s not gonna happen, mister…” Paul Moore took two steps forward, his fists clinched, and the man next to toothless opened fire.  A three-shot burst from the automatic rifle sent the missionary flying backward onto the ground; he lay motionless, the dry earth turned red with blood.
Carley jumped from the sudden gunshots and screamed, clutching Jordan’s arm to her as she began to whimper.  The other two missionaries stood still, shocked, their eyes darting back and forth to their friend lying in a growing pool of his own blood, then to Toothless and the insane man who had shot their brother in Christ.
“WHY DID YOU DO THAT?” Jordan screamed. “This is a man of God!  He meant you no harm!”  Jordan would give anything if she could get closer to the bandit leader, better still if she could get to her bag. She touched the sat phone on her waist.
Old Toothless saw Jordan’s movement and immediately reached out and snatched the phone from her belt.   He said with a mean scowl on his face, “Now if everyone do as I say maybe that won’t happen again.”  He softened into his big grin and added, “Now, everyone, we be on our way!”
Carley recovered from her initial shock, jumped up and bounded toward the bleeding missionary.
“Stop!” Toothless growled
“GO TO HELL!  You barbaric worthless pile of dog crap! This man needs help,” Carley yelled over her shoulder, taking two more steps before another three-round burst blasted into the sky. Carley froze in her tracks.
“I tell you to stop, pretty señorita.  The next shot will not go in air. Now back up or else.”  Toothless leveled his assault rifle at Carley’s midsection.
Carley remained frozen, defiant, glaring at the bandit.
“Carley, come here,” said Jordan. Her voice was soft but filled with authority, convincing Carley to move back to Jordan’s side. Tears streamed down her cheeks.
Jordan glanced again at her bag in the SUV, but she saw the man behind the missionaries collecting their personal things.  What will happen when they discover a nurse carrying a .40 caliber Glock 23 pistol?  She trembled with the thought.
Washington, DC
Within the hour the United Sates Secret Service was buzzing over an undetermined threat to Caduceus.

Title: Operation Firestorm
Author: Carl A. Sparks
Genre: Adult, Suspense Thriller
Published: January 16, 2016

America is under attack! The horrifying fear of Islamic terrorists invading the United States has come to reality.

Former U.S. Marine Recon aviator Matthew McWain Matt must locate Ahmad Hassam’s secret headquarters before the master terrorist turns his trained warriors and suicide bombers loose on American civilians in a diabolical plan of brutal attacks.

It’s a race against time when Matt discovers the attacks are only a diversion. The real threat behind Operation Firestorm is a catastrophic plot that will devastate the nation.
Matthew is torn between duty and allegiance to his family when he learns Hassam has a very personal agenda.

“The characters are strong – well developed. It is easy to feel comfortable and at ease with old friends. Operation Firestorm will grip you and keep you reading.” ~ Amazon Customer – 5 stars“So glad I found this book’s author. Operation Firestorm is a Class A book.” ~ Amazon Customer – 5 stars

“Absolutely a non stop riveting action book. Was absolutely fantastic in the twist and turns in the action making you wonder what was going to happen next. I cannot wait till the next one comes out.” ~ Amazon Customer – 5 stars

Operation Firestorm Prologue © Carl A. Sparks 2016


U.S. Capitol
Washington, D.C.
Juan Alvarez nervously checked his watch for the third time in the past few minutes. He tried not to be too obvious so JD, the rookie officer he had requested today, would not take notice.
Two minutes, fifteen seconds
Alvarez was a wreck. He was only thirty-eight, but the lines etched in his face made him look ten years older. His once glossy black hair was dull and hints of gray lined his temples.  He was at least thirty pounds overweight and developing a noticeable paunch around the midsection. His olive complexion had an almost gray pallor.  Alvarez promised himself that if he lived through this ordeal, he would start eating right and working out again.
He was sweating beneath his winter uniform and he prayed to Allah that the perspiration would not show on his face. That would be a dead give-away of his nervousness. He looked up and caught his subordinate watching him. He smiled and then glanced again at his watch again.
One minute, forty-five seconds …
Alvarez glanced across the marble floor in time to see another tour come through the large glass doors from the Capitol Visitors Center east entrance.  The group would funnel through the security lane staffed by Alvarez and JD and pass by the metal detector before placing briefcases and other carry-in items onto the X-Ray conveyor.  Alvarez managed to turn the alarm function to the security system off without JD noticing. 
Thirty seconds…
This was going to work out great, he hoped!  Alvarez pushed back his rising anxiety, offered a smile to the approaching tour group, and began delivering the required greeting that visitors to the U.S. Capitol expected from the Capitol Police.
Zero time!
The noise behind him was right on schedule and Alvarez smiled to himself. The raucous teenagers coming down the cordoned section next to the east wall created the perfect distraction, which caused JD to focus on those coming into the Capitol, not those exiting the building, all according to plan.  As the large school group spilled out of the rotunda into the Visitors Center and on to the line of yellow buses waiting alongside the curb at the east entrance, JD failed to notice several of the departing visitors were a lot less bulky under their down-filled coats than when they entered the Capitol two hours before. 
Not all in the noisy group were high school students.  The field trip had been
infiltrated as they entered the Visitors Center by seven young men who could easily pass
as teenagers.   With their dark hair color and skin and learned mannerisms, they also
passed for Hispanics, like Alvarez had been doing for a really long time.          
It would be very unlikely that Juan Alvarez would have become a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Capitol Police should anyone have discovered his real name, Rahimi Musa. Even more unlikely would he have been promoted to the rank of sergeant, in charge of south wing security for the Capitol, and setting the day-shift staffing schedule. 
Alvarez had purposely scheduled the rookie, JD, to be on the entrance security checkpoint with him today. He also purposely scheduled Adolofo Mena, aka Saeed Jalil, to the security checkpoint on the second floor, south wing, at the House Chamber gallery. 
No one had a clue that Alvarez and Mena were sleeper agents.
As Alvarez watched the young men leave, he noted how well they intermingled with the large group of students, ignoring his scrutiny as they were trained to do.  Alvarez allowed himself another smile and let his nervous jitters melt away.
Today was dress rehearsal. Alvarez and Mena would collect the left-behind items when they went on break. But in two weeks it would be for real. They would have no need to retrieve the left-behind items.  In two weeks only four of the young terrorists would be leaving with the school group, instead of all seven.
Mall of America
Bloomington, Minnesota
One of the largest indoor shopping malls in the United States is the Mall of America,
located in Bloomington, Minnesota.  The shopping mega-giant is visited by nearly 40
million shoppers annually and contains over 4 million square feet of retail space on 4 floors; plus an incredible 7-acre amusement park on the bottom floor known as Nickelodeon Universe, a 300 foot curved tube known as the Sea Life Aquarium, and a themed food court.  The second floor was principally noted for hundreds of shops of every variety, while the third and fourth floors boasted several more large food courts, a number of elegant restaurants for fine dining, and a few nightclubs for dancing and informal activities.
The place was virtually a city within a city.
It was also a target.
Mustafa Kalil set the timer on his stop watch as he entered through the main door at a brisk pace.  Close on his heels were four more team members, all carrying backpacks, all laughing and cutting up. To the aging security guard standing near the railing inside the main lobby they were just another group of young hooligans playing grab-ass and acting stupid.
Without being too obvious, Kalil sized up the guard.  He knew there were approximately thirty-five guards in and around the mall this time of day, employees of the private security company contracted by the mall.  Each guard was armed with a Glock handgun, taser, mace, radio and handcuffs.  Undoubtedly, a few would consider themselves to be super cops and carried a second gun strapped to an ankle. Earlier visits confirmed the guards were neither extra vigilant nor overly suspicious. They were obviously instructed to smile a lot and be helpful ambassadors to mall visitors.  Dealing with shoplifting pretty much summed up their police powers.  As far as Kalil knew, none
wore protective body armor.  That might pay huge dividends on the next visit.
Kalil and his group headed straight for the escalators, laughing and pointing
excitedly as they descended to the lower level. Once there, they split up, each proceeding to his designated location within the amusement park complex and, of course, a predetermined place to deposit their backpacks for maximum affect.
Today the backpacks were filled only with books and each man would carry his pack out as he left the premises.  When they return the backpacks would be extremely lethal, and would be left behind as the men departed individually by a different escalator.
Kalil knew his team was not alone.  They had discussed and rehearsed the operation with two other groups, over and over again, pouring through volumes of building plans and blueprints.  A total of fifteen terrorists were inside the Mall of America at that precise moment.  The other groups entered using separate side entrances and had their own specific level within the gigantic structure in which to leave their deadly cargo.  And just like Kalil and his team, they too were part of today’s dress rehearsal.
The operation went smoothly, efficiently, and exactly as Kalil and the other team leaders had been told it would.  In precisely 17 minutes, he saw the last member of his team exit the main entrance and dash toward the parking lot. Kalil smiled as he pressed the button on his stopwatch and his cell phone vibrated. Each team was reporting in.
They would celebrate tonight. In two weeks they would return for the live
Grand Palace
Branson, Missouri
Local entertainers and business leaders branded it America as it should be! Branson, Missouri, the heartland of America. The live music capital of the United States; located, most assuredly, in the heart of the Bible Belt.  A vacation Mecca where visitors were assured of wholesome family entertainment and where the name of God and Jesus Christ were spoken reverently and unashamedly. Where the Red, White and, Blue waved proudly as each of the nearly 100 live daily shows celebrated America’s veterans during every performance.
Branson, a town of 10,000 residents and upwards of 60,000 daily visitors, continued to be one of the top ten destinations in America year after year. Seven million visitors annually traveled to the modern marvel located in the rich Ozark Mountains in southwest Missouri to see the diverse and modern entertainment venues.  It was a place to totally relax, to be inexorably detached from the pressures of life, and feel completely safe.
The Grand Palace was the largest of the live entertainment theaters with over 4,000 seats. The Palace, located on the main strip known as Country Music Boulevard, was a huge, white colonnaded structure, with a wide, covered veranda. The enormous lobby with twin spiral staircases and exquisite golden chandeliers elicited an initial impression of an old southern plantation, but inside the large auditorium was state-
of-the-art theater technology. 
The theater had fallen on hard times some years back and the beautiful chandeliers had remained dark for many seasons. A few attempts had failed to rekindle the grand dame of Branson, but lady luck finally smiled favorably on the great icon. A complete restoration was nearing completion.  In two short weeks the theater would come alive with lights and laughter.  Harmonious strains of music would drift out to the refurbished lobby where the polished lighted chandeliers would once again welcome guests and visitors.
Work inside the theater was at fever pitch as the grand opening grew closer. Rehearsal for entertainers collided with stage hands hustling to learn set changes. Musicians attempting the first round of sound checks struggled to overcome the cacophony of power saws, pounding hammers, and clamoring construction workers.
High on the catwalks directly above the stage, Antonio Morales finalized the continuity tests on the wiring looms.  The thirty-two year-old lighting technician worked alone in the tight space, coordinating his progress via handheld radio with the technical supervisor in the control booth located at the rear of the theater.  Little did the supervisor know that Tony Morales’ real name was Hashim Sarhan. He also did not know Morales/Sarhan was stringing an additional set of wires and a series of limit switches to the wiring loom that controlled the cluster of moveable wash lights affixed to a single bar. 
During dress rehearsal, scheduled in just two short weeks, Sarhan would once again be on the catwalk. This time he would be installing a separate apparatus to each of
the ten canned LED lights for simultaneous operation.
Sarhan leaned back to admire his handiwork and gazed down at the chaos on the
lighted stage as he fumbled for a pack of cigarettes in his shirt pocket. 
“I’m gonna take my break up here,” he spoke into the walkie-talkie. He had
learned to fake his accent perfectly.
“Okay, but no smoking up there,” the supervisor replied harshly.
“Yeah, right.” The owners were adamant about no smoking inside the theater, but
forty feet up on the catwalk who would be the wiser?  He lit up and sucked in a lung full of smoke while picturing ten simultaneous explosions bouncing off the acoustic inner walls of the theater.  He could almost hear the horrified screams and wailing. He envisioned the panic and hysteria as people trampled one another while fighting blindly for exits in the darkened, smoke filled theater. The image brought a sinister smile to his lips. He would show them America as it should be!
Sarhan took another drag from the cigarette and reflected on his four roommates. Today they would be acting like tourists while quietly scouting their specific individual target areas. It is best he had not allowed himself to become too close to them. Odds were, they would not survive beyond the first hour of the initial attack.
He stubbed out his cigarette on the metal grating and bent over the wiring loom with one last thought of his companions. No, they were not technically savvy like him. They were foot soldiers. Highly trained, to be sure, very good marksmen, but still just foot soldiers. They would be locked into a pivotal battle at ground zero with maybe a dozen law enforcement agencies breathing down their necks while he would be miles from Branson when the event started.

Carl A. Sparks is grateful for the privilege of being a career firefighter for 42-years. He is also a commercial pilot and certified flight instructor. Carl lives in Branson, Missouri with his lovely wife, Sue. They have a son and daughter and five perfect grandchildren. Teaching his son and one granddaughter to fly are some of God’s many blessings. Besides flying, writing and reading, he enjoys spending time with his family and traveling.

Operation Firestorm is his second published works with fiction, though there have been five previous attempts over the years while puttering with the keyboard in what he describes as a highly undisciplined manner. He is now at work on his third book, The Kinsman.

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Semblance of Guilt Blog Tour

About the Book

Ellen Davis’s husband left her for another woman. Post-divorce, she’s trying to reassert her independence and lands a job as a reporter for her local newspaper. One of her assignments is covering weekly items on the police blotter, which is how she gets to know Lieutenant Pete Sakura—a handsome, witty Japanese- American Ellen is drawn to immediately.

Another of Ellen’s assignments is interviewing for the paper’s “Around The Town” column, and in this capacity, she meets Graham and Sophia Clarke, newcomers to the community. He’s an administrator at Columbia; she’s his beautiful Greek wife. Ellen and Sophia become fast friends, so it comes as a great shock when Sophia ends up dead.

Sophia Clarke is found murdered, and to all appearances, Ellen is the last person to have seen her alive. When Ellen’s fingerprints are found on the murder weapon, she’s arrested, and evidence steadily mounts against her. Ellen takes matters into her own hands as her romantic feelings for Pete intensify. Closing this case could either save Ellen or lead to her destruction.


After navigating past the desks, she knocked on the door of the cubicle. No response. The second, more deliberate, rap was answered with an impatient “Come!”Ellen entered the office and was somewhat taken aback by the sight of an attractive Asian man in shirt-sleeves awkwardly poised by the side of his desk, arms out, legs spread one behind the other, the front one slightly bent, the rear rigidly locked. He looked, she thought, as if he were trying to keep his balance on a skateboard. His attention was fixed on an open book sitting at the edge of his desk. “Give me a second,” he said testily, without taking his eyes off the book and at the same time adjusting the position of his front foot to a more pigeon-toed angle.

“I won’t ask what you’re doing,” Ellen said.

“Smart.” There was a sound of raised voices coming from the outer room. “The door!”

She closed it. “However, maybe you’d like to know what I’m doing?”

He ignored her question. “Damn, I’m not getting it.” He glanced up. “Do me a favor, take a look at number fifty and tell me what the hell is wrong here.”

Ellen approached the desk and peered down at the open book. A two-page spread of photographs showed a man in what looked like an usher’s uniform demonstrating a series of exercises. “Is this tai chi?”

“This is a pain in the ass. Could you look at the picture, tell me where I’m off, please?”

“‘Fair Lady works at Shuttles,’” she read aloud. She looked up from the page at him then back down again. “I see where you are. Figure fifty-A. It says: ‘Elbow bent, your right hand comes to your center line, fingers pinched together…’” She looked up. “For starters, your fingers aren’t pinched together.”

“Just hold the book up so I can see it from a better angle, okay?”

She held the book, show-and-tell style. He went through a variety of disconnected motions, clearly becoming more frustrated. “Shit.”

Ellen had formed a perception of the Japanese male as meditative, controlled, mysterious, soft-spoken, one who quietly went about transcending the material world while politely manipulating it. She had never realized she harbored this fully defined and fallacious stereotype until that moment, as she was looking at what appeared to be its antithesis. “If your phone rings, should I answer it?”

“Forget it.” He dropped the pose, took the book from her and put it back on the desk. “I’m all out of sync.”

“Now I’ll ask. What are you doing?”

“Getting my goddamn yin and yang together. My doctor tells me I have an ulcer and prescribes pills, but I don’t like pills. I’m taking up the eastern approach.”

“But isn’t tai chi Chinese?”

“Yeah, so?”

“‘Sakura’ sounds like a Japanese name.”

“Let me ask you a question. You ever eat chow mein?”

“Well, yes.”

“I rest my case.” He waved her toward the chair on the other side of the desk and dropped down into his own. “Sit.”

She remained on her feet. “I’m Ellen Davis. I was told you had the data for the Chronicle’s ‘Blotter’ column. I’m just here to collect it.”

He threw up a hand. “What’s the point of that column? All it does is stigmatize the poor saps who appear in it. There’s no investigation of circumstances, no disclaimers stating charges could be erroneous. Just a cold-blooded list of citations.”

“It’s supposed to serve as a deterrent,” she said without conviction. “Actually, I don’t particularly like the column myself, but I don’t make up the rules. I’m sorry I messed up your exercise routine. May I have the material, please?”

She became aware of herself as an unattached, uncompromised individual as she once was at Penn. She sensed the boundaries of her being as clearly as she felt the hem of her knit dress pull tightly against her legs with each step she took. It was as if she had never been married, had instead dressed for an interview and walked straight out of west Philadelphia into Morningside Heights.

Mid-block between 109 and 108 Streets, as she was passing a shoe store and scanning the view across the way, her attention was drawn to the bright blue awning of Charlie’s Snack Bar. At that moment the door to the restaurant opened, and a tall young woman with cropped red hair and wearing a tight black turtleneck sweater, clingy black pants and black cowboy boots, stepped out into the daylight. The girl stood aside to allow the man behind her to pass, and as he emerged completely into the sunlight, Ellen recognized Graham. She was about to hail him, when he took a step toward the redhead and Ellen realized he was with her. Unable to tear her focus from the scene or insinuate herself into it, she backed up into the shadow cast by the overhanging eave of the shoe store.

While Graham snapped down and adjusted the removable sun-visors of his eyeglasses, the young woman reached into the breast pocket of his blazer, drew out a pair of sunglasses he must have been holding for her, and put them on, in the process grazing her breasts against his left elbow. The act defined them as intimate friends, yet the distance springing up between them immediately afterward seemed devised to refute it. They stood apart talking to each other, their postures stiff and formal, their not touching as conspicuous as an open embrace.

Ellen watched them as her years at Penn were sucked into a black hole, and all she could remember was her husband Kevin dropping the bomb, telling her he was leaving her. Watching Graham and the redhead across the street was like catching the discovery scene she had missed, seeing it replayed for her benefit, like a burlesque in which she was both captive audience and object of scorn.

Almost at once she felt a connection with Sophia.

Sophia pulled her hands away and struck out at Ellen in one continuous movement, throwing herself off balance and stumbling sideways. She stared in horror at the gouge one of her nails had made on Ellen’s chest, and Ellen, stunned by the violence and not yet feeling the pain, gazed in disbelief at the drop of blood tracking toward the scalloped edge of her white satin bustier.

“Go—get out of here,” Sophia rasped. “I’m afraid what I might do to you. Get out, get out.”

The blood trickled onto the rim of smooth white fabric, forming a small, irregular stain. Ellen looked up at Sophia. The woman she thought she knew had become a trapped animal, her eyes wary-wild.

A sharp pain from the nick in her chest jolted her from her numbing inertia. She moved quickly from the room, feeling the tears coming, holding them back, postponing them as she ran silently down the hall. She descended the steps with blazing deliberation, her pace quick and even, her focus on reaching the door and disappearing into the sheltering night. She could feel her eyes, static-wide in bewildered alarm, betraying her attempt to appear in total control. Still, she focused straight ahead, concentrating on her goal, hearing Anna calling her name but moving through the sound, pacing herself to simulate haste without flight as she sliced through the clear zone of the foyer and pushed open the storm door. Midway across the porch she collided with an incoming guest, all pearls and black silk, the woman’s staccatoed “Shit!” like a gunshot in an open field of combat.

Picking up speed, she hurtled down the bluestone drive, anticipating the sound of the engine starting up even before she could spot her car.


Tuesday, March 13. First day in court. The jury sat knit-browed and entranced, leaning forward so as not to miss a word, not yet settled in their role of deliberative body. To Ellen, they looked as if they’d been caught off guard at the supermarket, a rainbow assortment of shoppers rounded up one afternoon and transported to a box at the opera, best seats in the house.

Ellen sat in a heavy, slat-back chair drawn up close to a long oak table. She was wearing a gray suit and paisley print blouse because Rosenthal had told her to wear something conservative but not somber. The skirt buckled and slid around her waist every time she moved because in the last two months she’d lost ten pounds from under-eating and over-exercising. As she’d taken her seat in the courtroom, she’d snagged her pantyhose on a rough spot on the table leg and felt the rip crawl up her leg, making her feel exposed to the prying eyes in the room. She’d been unable to choose earrings that morning, vacillating between small and large, shiny and dull, gold and silver, fixating on this final aspect of her attire as if she could determine the decision of the jury by choosing the politically correct objects to hang on her earlobes. When Rosenthal blew his car horn in the driveway she’d grabbed for familiarity, the small gold hoops, before allowing herself to be whisked off to the mind-boggling unknown.

Sitting next to her at the oak table, “Try to relax,” Rosenthal whispered in her ear, leaning toward and away from her in one smooth, condensed motion.

Ellen sat back in the chair, her rigid spine meeting hard wood, the word “relax” banned from her body’s vocabulary. Through an impromptu technique of auto-suggestion and deep breathing, she was barely managing to bring under control the strangulating tension in her neck and the explosive blood-humming in her ears. It was not her lawyer’s fault she hadn’t been prepared for Mark Gilbert’s speech. Rosenthal had described the prosecutor’s meticulous approach, but there was no way he could have prepared her for the immediacy of the event: the way Gilbert cocked his left hip as he stood facing the jury; how his dark eyes seemed to glow from some deep passion or conviction; how he flashed her alternating looks of consternation and pity; how he stressed syllables unexpectedly, so that his words jumped against the wall of her chest—“enter the room,” “points of the scissors,” “homicidal violence”; how his brow suddenly furrowed as he reminded the jury—“You and I, we represent the People. We have been charged not to avenge a wrong, but to deliver justice.”


“Come up to the bedroom.”


“Stay the night.”


“Hurry.” She wanted to be taken on the spot, jammed against the table or pinned to the floor, but delay would set the act apart. She could foresee it, her first experience of absolute exposure—the loss of her true virginity on her sex-worn bed. The chaste and devilish nuances of amazing contradiction lifted the event to the peak of desire. He was one step behind her, holding on to her hand as they climbed the staircase. She was aware of every footfall, every breath, every sound of this outwardly conventional drama. She led him down the hall, almost turning in at the wrong doorway, almost forgetting where she slept, his presence casting an aura of unfamiliarity on the surroundings. He caught her hesitation and uttered a short, nervous laugh, sharing her bewilderment.

As they entered her bedroom, it seemed to lose all connection to her past, as if it had come into existence at that very moment just to harbor them.

In rapt silence they helped each other with the shedding of clothes, marveling at the unhurried pace of the ritual, as if their bodies had agreed to temper urgency with curiosity.

They lay on the white comforter, barely disturbing it in their intent exploration, the upheavals taking place inwardly, while over audacious globes and rises and along newly accessible furrows, their fingers, lips, tongues concentrated movement in targeted pressures, exacting exquisite modulations of sensation from each focal point.


Semblance of Guilt can be purchased at:
Barnes and Noble


runs July 1-30, 2016 

Prices/Formats: 99¢ $3.99 ebook, $21.99 paperback, $39.95 hardcover
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 328
Release: April 5, 2016
Publisher: Archway
ISBN: 9781480827851
Click to add to your Goodreads list.“A determined amateur detective who’ll garner fans with her refusal to either back down or give up.” –Kirkus Reviews


About the Author

Claudia Riess, a Vassar graduate, has worked in the editorial departments of The New Yorker and Holt Rinehart and Winston. On her first novel, Reclining Nude, Oliver Sacks, M.D. commented: “exquisite—and delicate.” Her second, art suspense Stolen Light earned: “complex and intriguing” —Kirkus Review

Links to connect with Claudia:
Web Site
Blog Tour Site

About the Giveaway

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Spotlight Tour for Bridgetown High by Paul W. West

Title: Bridgetown High
Author: Paul W. West
Genre: Young Adult, Detective Romance
Published: October 6, 2015
Published By: Limitless Publishing LLC
Seventeen year old Mark Wilkerson has no memory of the fiery crash that killed his family on the Carquinez Bridge…

Living with his grandmother and burdened with guilt, Mark vows to find the hit-and-run driver and take his revenge. The only detail he remembers is round taillights swerving in front of his family’s car, and he’s shocked when he notices the car of the high school’s bully, Jeff Marino, has identical taillights—and a suspicious dent.

Now he wants revenge more than ever…

Jeff believes Mark is an anti-Vietnam War activist like his cousin Gary—and despises him for it. To make matters worse, when Jeff’s girlfriend Genie Lombardi dumps him for Mark, it kicks Jeff’s hatred for him to a dangerous new level.

Lies and threats escalate, until drugs and a shocking death send Jeff over the edge, and his campaign to get Genie back any way he can turns violent.
When Mark’s memory begins to return, it leads to a terrifying confrontation.
Will he finally prove the identity of the guilty driver? Or will he and Genie become one more tragedy associated with the Carquinez Bridge?


If Mark Wilkerson had to listen to any more of that morbid organ music, he was going to throw up. A migraine beat against his temples, and tears rolled down his cheeks as he stood propped against his crutches, his dislocated shoulder aching. Through bleary eyes, he viewed the three closed coffins at the front of the viewing parlor. Gold glitter on white satin ribbons across the caskets read, “Devoted Father,” “Loving Mother,” and “Baby Sister – Sabrina.” She was only six.
Ornate floral arrangements surrounded the closed caskets, their florist shop fragrance adding to Mark’s migraine. He ran his hand across the smooth surface of his mother’s coffin; fingered the satin ribbon. She was in there, at least what was left of her, but he would never see her again. Never again would he feel the warm touch of her lips on his cheek when she kissed him good night.
His weepy eyes abruptly gushed with tears. What happened? He still wondered, shaking his head. Even though he’d somehow survived the accident, he still didn’t know anything about it. All he knew was what the County Sheriff’s deputy and the doctor at the hospital had told him that he and his family had been in a tragic, fiery accident on the Carquinez Bridge on Christmas Eve.
The doctor also told him his memory would probably return, but it could take some time. He’d called it “dissociative amnesia,” whatever that was. He said it was often caused by severe emotional trauma.
Mark’s grandmother, Emily Wilkerson, told him he’d performed with the family at a rest home earlier that night, but he couldn’t remember that either. He felt, more than remembered his father had been angry about something. Then there was Amanda Bonfili. What happened on their date? Or did they have a date? He just couldn’t remember.
Mark moved to his father’s casket. How could he live without him? His dad had been his greatest inspiration, his best friend. He looked down at the casket as his tears rolled. How could he live with the guilt of knowing their last words may have been spoken in anger? He’d never even had a chance to say I’m sorry, if he’d done something wrong or even good-bye. Somehow, he felt he might have been at least partly responsible for the accident. “Forgive me, dad.” His cries escaped his lips in a whisper, “for whatever I did. I’m sorry.” Tears stung his eyes and he wiped them on his sports jacket sleeve.
He wished he could see his family just one last time, but the undertaker had told him their bodies were too charred. The thought horrified him, and Mark agreed it would be better to remember them as he’d last seen them alive.
At least his sister, Amy, was being spared the funeral ordeal. But she was still in a coma and her condition was serious. The doctors said she could have brain damage if she survived. That sounded worse than his amnesia.
The accident had only been three days ago, and tomorrow, after the funeral, the coffins would be lowered into the cold ground. Is that all there is to life? Mark wondered, To live your life, then be discarded like some trash. Hanging his head, he wished he could have died in their place, or at least with them. How Amy and he had survived was a mystery.
Moving to Sabrina’s casket, he laid his forehead against her tiny coffin. “Dear God! Please make this go away. Make them come back.” But even as he prayed, he knew God couldn’t make that happen, assuming He was even real. After all, why would an all-powerful, loving God take away the people he loved most; his parents, and his six-year-old sister who had so much to live for, the family Amy and he needed?
Why? The question kept repeating over in his mind, as he wiped his eyes again. Why did his parents have to die, and of all people little Sabrina?
SABRINA! Mark wanted to shout, as if it would bring her back.
He missed his baby sister every bit as much as he missed his mother and father.
“Sabrina,” he whispered.
He would never see her again. Tears rolled down his cheeks as Mark thought of her charred little body inside the tiny coffin and the pain she must have endured in the fire. She didn’t deserve to die.
Mark felt a warm hand on his shoulder. Straightening with his crutches, he leaned into his grandmother’s arms. “Go ahead and cry,” she said. “It’s good to let it out.”
Mark leaned down and laid his cheek in the hollow of her neck. He could smell her sweet, old ladies perfume. “Why?” he asked. “Why didn’t God protect them? Why did He let Sabrina die and not me? She didn’t even get a chance to live her life.” He turned away and tightened his fists on the crutch’s handgrip.
He felt his grandmother’s warm fingers turn his chin. “Mark, I know this is hard for you. It’s hard for me too, and it will be hard on Amy when she comes home.” His grandmother choked on her words, then blotted her eyes with her hankie, “if she does. Son, we don’t always understand why He allows things like this to happen, but my mother always told me, ‘what we see today as a tragedy, we may look back at tomorrow as a blessing.’” Emily hugged him tighter and stroked his hair.
“A blessing? How can losing almost my entire family ever be a blessing?” Mark huffed and pulled away. His head throbbed even more. Then, looking back at his grandmother, he said, “If I ever find out who caused the accident, I swear… I’ll… I’ll kill him…. I promise that.”
“No, Mark. Don’t think like that. It was just that, an accident. You need to forgive them.”
“I can’t, Grandma. I just can’t.”

Paul West is a freelance writer and novelist. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Paul claims to be a “Prune Picker,” though he now makes his home in Taylorsville, Utah.

The rustic San Francisco Bay Area countryside, the quaint small town in which he grew up, and the colorful people who once lived there, have all teamed to fertilize his ever-churning mind with stories that are yearning to be told.

From his earliest days in high school, his English teachers saw some raw writing ability in him, both for fiction and non-fiction, and urged him to pursue his dream of being a writer. In college his creative writing professors also encouraged him to mold his ability into a talent.

After settling on a career as an environmental biologist, where he’s written numerous technical publications, the stories swarming through his mind kept crying to get out. So Paul began writing fiction, but only as a hobby at first. He has recently finished his first novel, BRIDGETOWN HIGH, and is working on his second. Paul intends to keep letting his stories out through future novels.

Paul is the originator and former moderator of a private critique known as “”The Writer’s Pen,”” a sub forum in the “”Authors by Design”” web site (now defunct). He is also a member of Query Tracker forum; and Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s forum; Utah Children’s Writers forum; among others. In addition to his writing, he and his wife, enjoy spending time with their four children and thirteen grandchildren, gardening, reading, traveling, and researching their family history.

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