Pocket Star has some great digital releases hitting stores today, and I have excerpts to share, as well as a giveaway for each title! Check out Pocket Star’s online community at XOXO After Dark.
APPREHENDED by Jan Burke
From the New York Times bestselling suspense author Jan Burke comes a brand-new e-short story with the added bonus of three short stories from the Eighteen anthology.
Apprehended is a mini-anthology containing a brand new short story from Jan Burke: "The Unacknowledged," which features the fan-favorite investigative reporter Irene Kelly, back in her journalism school days. Also included are three short stories from the previously published Eighteen: "Why Tonight," "A Fine Set of Teeth," and "A Man of My Stature."
Praise for Eighteen:
"Astonishing…wry…these stories are sure to delight." —New York Times bestselling author Jeffrey Deaver
"A delightful collection of page-turners. At turns chilling, funny, poignant—and always insightful. With these stories, Jan Burke’s at the top of her game." —New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Kellerman
I made sure we were alone. That was actually the hardest part. After realizing that no restaurant in the city would be free of people who might know Donna, I ended up inviting her over for dinner on a night when I knew Lydia had an evening class. Until two months earlier, Lydia and I had shared the place with another roommate, but she had married over the summer. We had been putting off finding another renter, but tonight I was glad for the lack of a potential eavesdropper, enjoying the emptiness and quiet that usually had me thinking that I was going to have to move back home again.
Donna and I made small talk until after I cleared the dishes. She seemed a little down. All the same, she was an easy person to talk to. I was fighting some very cynical thinking about that as I pulled out some photocopies I had made.
I had thought of going all Perry Mason on her ass, cross-examining her until she wept and admitted her crimes. I couldn’t do it. The truth is, I liked her.
“I had a special assignment given to me this week,” I said. “Do you know who Jack Corrigan is?”
She shook her head. My tone must have hardened, or my look, or—somehow I tipped her off that the nature of our little dinner party was about to change.
“Well, I suppose that doesn’t matter. I have a feeling that you do know who Cassie Chadwick was.”
She, who blushed so easily, turned pale. She looked at me with such desperation that, for a full minute, I wasn’t sure if she was going to cry, run away, or punch me. But she just nodded yes and looked down at her hands.
“If she hadn’t harmed so many people,” I said, “I could almost admire her cunning, not to mention her nerve. After running a number of other scams, she marries a naive doctor from Cleveland, just happens to convince him that they should visit New York at the same time a man from home is there—a man who is a high-society gossip in Cleveland. She asks that man to give her a carriage ride, and has him wait for her outside the home of Andrew Carnegie, a wealthy, confirmed bachelor. She goes into the house, comes out thirty minutes later, and—this part really interested me—trips as she’s getting into the carriage. Drops a promissory note for two million dollars—a note that appears to be signed by Andrew Carnegie, whom she blushingly claims is her father.”
She stayed silent.
“Too bad promissory notes aren’t what they used to be. Planning to borrow millions based on phony documents, and cause a bank or two to fail?”
“I didn’t think so.” I let the silence stretch for a time, then said, “Who told you about Cassie Chadwick?”
“Aunt Lou, my great aunt. She grew up hearing stories about her. Aunt Lou claimed to ‘admire her brass’ as she put it. Aunt Lou doesn’t think women ever get a fair shake in this world.”
“Is Donna Vynes your real name?”
“My married name, yes.” She was tracing patterns on the tablecloth with one of her perfect fingers, still not making eye contact.
“So you’re really a war widow?”
The finger stopped moving. She looked up at me. “Oh yes. And my mother is dead. John, my husband, sent home all of his pay—a little over a hundred and fifty dollars a month at first. It was up to about four hundred when he was killed. Just about everything he saved for us got spent on my mother’s medical needs. But John also bought some life insurance through the service. So I had ten thousand from that.”
“That’s where the seven thousand comes from?”
“Yes.” She sighed. “There was this neighbor of Aunt Lou’s in Cleveland. Her daughter was about my age. Despite all my other faults, I’m not like Eldon, so I won’t name her, if you don’t mind. Anyway, at the end of last semester, she dropped out of school here. Looking back on it now, I think she was just really homesick.
“But what she told me was . . . well, once we got to know each other, she said the reason she left was because Eldon Naff slept with her and then told the world about it. She said she had been working as an assistant for Mr. Langworthy, or rather to someone on his staff. She said it was Mr. Langworthy who fired her, mostly based on Eldon’s gossip. I don’t know if that’s true, but I learned a lot about Mr. Langworthy from her. Including the fact that in early September, he was going on a Mediterranean cruise.
“And I couldn’t help thinking about Mr. Carnegie and Mrs. Chadwick. Especially because I never knew my dad. My mother always said my father died while she was pregnant with me, but I think she was lying. Aunt Lou all but confirmed that my parents weren’t married. So I am illegitimate, just not the child of a rich man.”
After a long silence, she said, “God, I don’t know how you did it, but I’m glad you figured it out. It’s a relief.”
Link continuing the excerpt to XOXOAfterDark:
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TRIED by Jan Burke
With a brand-new short story featuring Tyler Hawthorne from The Messenger, plus three stories from Eighteen, this is the third of six e-short story collections from New York Times bestselling suspense author Jan Burke.
At this hour, although two other attendants roamed another part of the cemetery, Tyler and Shade were alone in this section of the hilly grounds. Suddenly Shade stiffened. His ears pitched forward and his hackles rose. He gave a low, soft growl.
Tyler came to a halt. Shade protected him, but the dog seldom growled at living beings.
In the next moment, the air was filled with what he at first took to be bats, then saw were small birds, of a type Tyler had never seen so far inland. “Mother Carey’s chickens,” he said, using the sailors’ name for them. Storm petrels. “What are they doing here?”
The birds fluttered above him, then a half dozen dropped to the ground before Shade in a small cluster. The scent of the sea rose strongly all about him, as if someone had transported him to the deck of a ship.
Shade stared hard at them as they cheeped frantically, then the dog relaxed into a sitting position.
The other petrels flew away. No sooner had they gone than the six before him were transformed into the ghostly figures of men.
They were forlorn creatures, gray-faced and looking exactly as what they must be, drowned men. Their uniforms proclaimed two as officers, the other four as sailors, all but one of the British navy.
Shade’s demeanor told him that these ghosts—unlike some others—would be no threat to him.
“May I be of help to you?” Tyler asked.
“Captain Hawthorne?” the senior officer asked.
“I believe the rank belongs more rightly to you,” Tyler said. “I was a captain in the British army many years ago, but I sold out after Waterloo.”
“Yes, sir,” the captain said, “I understand. If I may introduce myself to you, I am Captain Redding, formerly of the Royal Navy. Lost at sea in about your—your original time, sir.”
They exchanged bows.
“You are a Messenger?” Captain Redding asked.
“We are all men who drowned at sea. Many of those in the flock you called ‘Mother Carey’s chickens’ are indeed just that. We come from many nations, taken by that sea witch Mother Carey, yet death has made us all birds of a feather. Little birds tell other little birds news of those such as yourself, and speak of Shade as well.”
The dog gave a slight wag of his tail in acknowledgment.
The captain went on. “The midshipman we bring to you is an American. Hails from here in Buffalo. We approach you on his behalf.” He turned to the man. “Step forward, Midshipman Bailey, and tell the captain your story, for we’ve not much time left.”
“Aye, sir.” The midshipman gave Tyler a small bow. “Thank you, sir. If you would be so kind to visit my sister, who lies dying not far from here. In the asylum, sir. The good one. We’ve all of us in her family done her a grave injustice.” He looked down at his feet. “Many injustices.”
“When were you lost at sea?” Tyler asked gently.
“Eight years ago, sir, in ’63. In the War Between the States. Would have done more for my country if Zeb Nador hadn’t pushed me overboard in a storm.”
“Do you ask me to seek justice for you?”
“Not necessary for me, Nador’s in the county jail here and will face trial for murdering someone else. He’ll hang as well for that one as for what he did to me.”
Tyler was about to try to say something to comfort him, unsure what that might be, when one of the other men whispered, “Hurry!”
Midshipman Bailey nodded, then said, “Will you go to her, sir? Her name is Susannah. She needs you tonight. And if you’d tell her Andrew sent you to her, and that she was always the best of his sisters, and that he sees things clearer now, and hopes to one day rest at her side—”
“Hurry!” the captain ordered.
“Well, sir, I’d take it as a great kindness.”
“I would be honored to do so, Midshipman Bailey.”
“Thank you!” he said, and had no sooner whispered these words than all six men again transformed into small birds and rose from the ground. They circled in the air above him, where they were joined again by the larger flock. He had thought they would begin their long journey back to the sea, but they surprised him by surrounding him and the dog.
Quite clearly, he heard hundreds of voices whisper to him at once, “Storm’s coming!”
And they were gone.
Shade immediately headed toward the nearest gate at a brisk trot. He glanced back at Tyler in impatience. Tyler hurried to catch up.
“There is more than one asylum, you know. The closest is still under construction, which leaves Providence Lunatic Asylum and the Erie County Almshouse—”
It wasn’t hard to read the next look he received.
“I apologize. Yes, Sister Rosaline Brown’s would be the ‘good one.’ And of course you will know the way and of course you will be admitted, although large black dogs, as a rule . . .”
Shade wagged his tail.
Providence Lunatic Asylum was operated by the Sisters of Charity, who had previously established a hospital in Buffalo. They had arrived in the city just in time to deal with the early cholera epidemics and were considered heroes by many. In 1860, horrified by conditions in the Erie County Almshouse and Insane Asylum, Sister Rosaline Brown started the asylum, which attempted a more humane treatment of the insane.
The dog paused at the small building closest to the cemetery’s main gate. Tyler understood what he was meant to do. Hailing the man who was keeping watch, Tyler said, “A severe storm is coming. Please call the other men in.”
“Storm?” the man said, bewildered.
“Yes, it’s calm now, but I just saw a flock of storm petrels. Sea birds. The only reason they’d be this far inland is if a hurricane had blown them here.”
He bid the man a quick good night and wondered if he would heed the warning.
In the next moment the wind came up, and trees began to rustle and sway. Shade leaped into the gig Tyler had left tied at the gate. Tyler glanced over his shoulder and saw the watchman gather a large lantern, and soon heard him calling out to the others.
Link continuing the excerpt to XOXOAfterDark:
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CONVICTED by Jan Burke
From New York Times bestselling suspense author Jan Burke comes the fourth of six e-short story collections.
Convicted is a mini-anthology containing a brand-new short story, “The Anchorwoman” featuring a young Irene Kelly, plus three stories from the highly acclaimed Eighteen print anthology: “Revised Endings, “Devotion,” and “The Muse.” Jeffery Deaver, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Kill Room, praised Eighteen as “Astonishing…wry…these stories are sure to delight.” And New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Kellerman says, “A delightful collection of page-turners. At turns chilling, funny, poignant—and always insightful. With these stories, Jan Burke’s at the top of her game.”
“So at ten o’clock on Wednesday, five clowns—probably males—jumped out of a moving van parked in the alley behind your house and started singing ‘Oklahoma!’—do I have it right so far?”
“Did they seem to be looking up at you, singing it to you?”
She hesitated, then said, “I’m not sure. They glanced in my direction every now and then, but they didn’t stand still and serenade me. They moved around, danced, and did high kicks and cartwheels.”
“Then what happened?”
“They climbed back into the van and drove off.”
“Were they all in the cab, or were some riding in the back?”
“Two in the back.”
Illegal and dangerous.
“Did you see anything in the van itself? Furniture?”
“I didn’t get a good look at the back. The angle was wrong.”
I looked at my notes. What hadn’t I asked?
“What about the van itself—Bekins? Allied? North American?—what moving company?”
She was shaking her head before I finished. “Not a moving company. It was a rented van. Las Piernas Rentals.”
“Well—that’s a lucky break.”
“Local rental company with three locations, all within town. If it had been one of the nationals, the truck could have come from anywhere. License-plate number?”
“No, again, I couldn’t see it from that angle.”
“How big was the van?”
“Big. I don’t know.”
I tried to come up with vehicles to compare it with, which didn’t work with her, but when I got her to say how much of the Mickelsons’ house the van had blocked, I had a reasonable idea. Another idea struck me.
“Did you see a number on it? Most rental companies paint numbers on their trucks, to keep track of which ones they’re renting, I suppose.”
“I looked for one, but it had a big piece of paper taped over it—like butcher paper, maybe?”
I hesitated, telling myself that I needed to separate latenineteenth- century fiction from the present problem. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it out of my mind.
“Cokie, are there any banks or businesses on the other side of the alley?”
“There’s a row of homes, that’s all.”
“Anybody doing any kind of business out of a house that you know of?”
“I mean any kind of business. Any pot growers? Drug dealers?”
“No! We did have a problem when Auggie and Andrea Sands lived at the end of the cul-de-sac, but their mom kicked them out. That was about three years ago.”
“She kicked them out for selling drugs?” Lydia asked.
We had known the Sands twins in high school. Always in trouble.
“Kicked Auggie out for selling drugs, and Andrea for banging her boyfriend in the living room. Their mom came home early with a friend from work. Guess that was the last straw.”
“How did their mom find out that Auggie was dealing?”
“One of the neighbors told her.”
“No. I didn’t want to mess with those people.”
“Do Andrea and Auggie know you weren’t the one?”
She frowned. “They should. They have no reason to think I would tell on them.”
I exchanged a glance with Lydia and moved on.
“Anyone in the neighborhood angry with you?”
“You think singing clowns is a sign of aggression?”
“A possibility, anyway.”
She smiled. “I’m so glad you see it that way. My parents think it was something fun, as if I have a secret admirer. But it doesn’t feel that way to me. It seemed to me that someone wanted . . . well, to ridicule me.”
I bent my head over my notes and hoped my hair hid my blush. I certainly felt ashamed of my meaner thoughts about her.
“It seems crazy to think that,” she went on, “but . . . it didn’t make me happy, it made me feel as if I had been targeted, and someone went to a lot of trouble to do it. I’m a little scared by that. But I can’t think of anyone who would feel that mad at me. I get along with my neighbors. I’m one of the last young people still living on our street, and I try to help my older neighbors. I visit them. I run errands for them.”
A passage in “The Red-Headed League” came to mind:
“As a rule,” said Holmes, “the more bizarre a thing is the less mysterious
it proves to be. It is your commonplace, featureless crimes which are
really puzzling, just as a commonplace face is the most difficult to
Easy for him to say. But was there some commonplace crime hiding beneath all that clown makeup?
“Cokie, what would you normally be doing on a Wednesday morning at about that time?”
“Normally, I’d be playing canasta with the widows.”
“I hate to admit it, but I don’t understand.”
“You know, the card game.”
“Yes, I even know how to play it. Who are the widows?”
“Oh. Three of my neighbors. One day Mrs. Redmond—she’s across the street and one house down—mentioned to me how much she loved the canasta parties that used to be held on the
street. I talked to a couple of people about it, and long story short, we started playing canasta at her house on Wednesday mornings.”
“Who are the other players?”
“Just two, Mrs. Harding and Mrs. Lumfort.”
“Who knows that you do this?”
“Everyone on our street.”
“So because of the clowns, you arrived late?”
“No, we didn’t have a game that day. Mrs. Harding was . . . out of town. Mrs. Lumfort had a doctor’s appointment. Mrs. Redmond’s beautician had asked her to move her hair appointment to that morning, so because it was just going to be the two of us, she asked me if I’d mind just canceling. I told her it wasn’t a problem.”
“You hesitated about Mrs. Harding. What was going on with her?”
“Nothing. She went to a lawyer’s appointment with one of her granddaughters. Kayla just moved in with her.”
That name was vaguely familiar. Why did I know it?
“Kayla Harding?” Lydia asked. “My brother Gio used to date her.”
Gio was five years older than Lydia, and the list of girls he dated in high school was only slightly shorter than the list of female students in his graduating class. The fact that he hadn’t been burned in effigy years ago spoke to his abundant charm. Lydia claimed he genuinely cared about all of them, which seemed unlikely.
“Kayla ended up in prison, didn’t she?” Lydia went on. “Stole a car.”
“Yes,” Cokie said, “but she’s been out for a couple of weeks now.”
“Friend of yours?” I asked.
“No. I know her sister better than I know her.”
“Mindy,” Lydia said. “She’s our age.”
“Yes. I’m not close friends with Mindy, either. I just see her when she visits her grandmother.”
“Kind of a Goody-Two-Shoes, isn’t she?” I said.
“That can happen when you’re trying to show the world you aren’t like your troublemaking sister, right?” Lydia said.
Cokie and I shrugged.
“Think of your sister, Barbara,” Lydia said to me.
“I’d rather not,” I said.
“Mindy is Kayla’s half sister,” the ever-informative Cokie said. “Their father is on his third marriage. Widowed once, divorced once, and the third seems to be the charm. So Mindy
just claims that she’s ‘only’ a half sister when she gets annoyed at Kayla.”
“Told you she was a bitch,” I said.
“Not exactly,” Lydia said.
“Yeah, well . . .” I glanced at my watch. “We’ve got a couple of hours to try to find the Las Piernas Rentals location that rented out the van.”
I used the Yellow Pages in the phone book to get the three addresses and phone numbers of the rental places, then opened the Thomas Guide, a book of detailed maps of Los Angeles County that only a fool would try to live without. A lost fool.
Cokie readily agreed to come along with me, but Lydia, thinking of the discomfort associated with being the third person in a Karmann Ghia, opted out.
Link continuing the excerpt to XOXOAfterDark:
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