For International Pi Day, Donna’s Apple Pie Recipe

HA6 Pie recipe

Unlike me, my heroine, Donna Stone, is a consumate baker. Her apple pie is mentioned throughout the Housewife Assassin series.

In honor of International Pi Day, I'll share the filling recipe now with you (you're on your own for the crust):


  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/3 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 6 to 7 cups thinly sliced peeled tart apples
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 jigger of Triple Sec
  • Pastry for double-crust pie (9 inches)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 large egg white
  • Additional sugar


  • Sift together the sugars, flour and spices, then set aside in a small bowl. In a larger one, cover the apples with lemon juice and Triple Sec. (My MAGIC ingredient!). Add sugar to the the apples mixture and toss to coat.
  • Put your crust in the bottom of a 9-inch pie plate. Trim the edges evenly.
  • Pour in the apple mixture. Dollop with pats of butter.
  • Wrestle the remaining crust onto the top of pie over the filling. Seal it, and then trim extra crust before finally fluting the edges. Remember! Cut slits in the top of the crust.
  • Beat the egg whites until  they are foamy, then brush them over the pie crust.
  • Sprinkle the top with sugar (I prefer brown). Remember: cover edges, loosely, with foil.
  • Bake at 375° for 25-30 minutes.
  • Remove foil and bake until crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling—say, 20-25 minutes longer.
  • Cool on a wire rack.
  • And, yes, a jigger of Triple sec in your coffee will make it taste that much better

HAH Book 6 KBLBook Cover:

Signal Press
eBook: 9780989558839 ($4.99 US) / Trade Paperback: 9781942052159
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Donna must stop the assassinations of both US political parties' presidential candidates. But when she discovers she has a long-term vendetta with one of the targets, can she put aside her animosity long enough to save the candidate's life?



Donna must stop the assassinations of both US political parties' presidential candidates. But when she discovers she has a long-term vendetta with one of the targets, can she put aside her animosity long enough to save the candidate's life?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that politics is the second oldest profession—and that, sadly, it resembles the oldest profession in too many ways to count on a gentlewoman’s properly sheathed pinkies and toes.

Being the epitome of reticence and decorum, she must strive to stay out of politics at all costs—

Unless, heaven forbid, it is necessary to sully herself in the pursuit of liberty and justice for all.

But before trotting out onto the campaign trail, she must remind herself about the difference between a lady, a whore, and a politician: whereas both the whore and the politician will perform unseemly acts with the strangest of bedfellows for money (in the case of the politician, this is euphemistically called “campaign donations”), neither the lady nor the whore equates money with power because she holds all the power she needs in her dainty (if not always properly sheathed) pinky.

Speaking of strange bedfellows, the culinary combination of chocolate and peanut butter was popularized with the invention of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup back in 1928. This take on a pie version will have you crossing party lines to get a slice:

* * *

I lay on a large table, naked except for the sushi that has been placed strategically on and around my body.

It’s not a great look, but this doesn’t stop three Chinese diplomats (I use the term lightly; in truth, they are spies) from plucking raw fish wrapped in seaweed and rice, while staring at my naughty bits.

One of the city’s premiere sushi chefs slices and dices away at his workstation. Because his chef’s jacket and hat are insulated, he is oblivious to the cold air blowing in from a block of dry ice below the floorboards, which flows into a tube on the tabletop beneath me.

This is supposed to keep the sushi fresh. Unfortunately, it has also turned my lips blue and numbed my bum. Beneath parsley pasties, my nipples stand at attention, whetting the diners’ appetites for hanky-panky, if not nigiri-maki.

I’m in a private penthouse which crowns a sixty-story building on San Francisco’s Embarcadero, its stunningly romantic waterfront district. It is owned by one of the diners—Professor Hong Li, whose status as a world-renowned mathematician gives him the prestige he needs to hide in plain sight. My mission has me working undercover as a nyotaimori. In Japanese, the term means “female body platter,” but it is universally interpreted as “go ahead and cop a feel between bites of your dragon roll.”

The dining room’s other major attraction is its well-appointed vodka room—a large glass freezer in which hundreds of premium, obscure vodka bottles are stored at 28° Fahrenheit. Forget sake. If the way these guys have been blitzing themselves on the fermented potato juice enjoyed by their comrades to the near west is any indication, international relations with Russia are thawing at North Pole speed.

My geisha-like role demands that I lay here stock-still. I mustn’t shiver or move a muscle. This is particularly difficult whenever Li’s chopstick grazes a breast on its way to pick up yet another piece of gunkan-maki.

Either he needs lessons on how to hold his utensils, or he presumes I’m on the menu, too.

How do you say, “Be careful what you wish for” in Chinese? Will a jab in the jugular with a chopstick get my point across?

My mission’s team leader, Jack Craig, is located in the apartment directly below this suite, where he listens and watches the video bugs smuggled into the suite’s various air vents by tiny drones, just last night by our tech operative, Arnie Locklear. Jack must have guessed how annoyed I am with Li because he whispers through my concealed ear bud: “I guess it’s a bad pun to warn you to keep your cool.”

He’s right, of course. My reason for being here has nothing to do with the fantasies of these slobbering men, and everything to do with our country’s national security. Through its encryption circumvention project, Bullrun, the NSA learned that Chinese cyber-hackers have somehow pirated the Department of Defense’s secure satellite feed for its Middle Eastern battlefield data networks—the heart and soul of its network-centric warfare.

Experts predict the Chinese economy will reach one-hundred-twenty-three trillion dollars by the year 2040—or almost three times that of the entire world’s economy a mere decade ago. Now that China is building itself into a consumer nation, it is looking to curry favor with those who can help it with its skyrocketing oil demands—including the Iranians, with whom the old saying “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” is doubly true when it comes to the United States.

The mandate of my employer—a CIA-sanctioned black ops organization that goes by the name of Acme Industries—is to stop the hand-off of this very valuable intel before it leaves the country. But the Chinese are smart enough to go old school in the delivery process: hand-to-hand, as opposed to e-mail or texting.

For the past week, we’ve been trying to infiltrate Li’s sumptuous penthouse suite, to no avail. He has stayed holed up here the whole time. Body guards are posted outside the steel-enforced, double-door entry. Even the maid who cleans the suite has been vetted by the Chinese embassy employees, as are the well-paid escorts who sleep with Professor Li.

The word sleep doesn’t begin to describe what he does with these unlucky ladies. And the way he eyes me, I’ve no doubt he wants me to experience his bedside manner first-hand.

Should I be worried? Nah. I don’t have time. This dinner was our one and only chance to stop Li’s plot. And from the chatter we’re hearing in our targets’ native language, we realize time is running out. The handoff is supposed to take place at this meeting, but the guest of honor—the person who will be taking it out of the country—has yet to arrive.

I hope he shows up soon. Otherwise, I may be too frozen to stop him.

My only way to answer Jack’s warning is to sigh, ever so slightly. When I do, a slice of fatty tuna roll slides off my midriff and onto the table. Professor Li smirks and mutters, “Zuòwéi tā de dàtuǐ, tā de rǔfáng fēngmǎn. Hǎo yīgè biǎo, dàn wěidà de, dàng zuò'ài. Wǒ jiù zhīdào jīn wǎn shāo hòu, shì ma?”

The sushi chef in the corner must get the gist of Hong’s remark because his eyebrows roll to the ceiling. Abu Nagashahi, Acme’s translator on this mission, snickers.

“Don’t tell her,” Jack and our tech op, Arnie Locklear, warn him in unison.

After a long pause, Abu mumbles, “No kidding.”

Oh, really? And what nasty little aside could our supposedly diplomatic friend here have said to earn my desire to wring his neck with my frigid fingers?

Whatever it is, he is saved by the gong announcing the visitor we’ve all been waiting for.

The men leave the table for the private dining suite’s reception room. The rooms are separated by a solid glass wall. Despite closing the glass door behind them, the mirrored ceiling and walls allow me to watch along with my mission team as two workmen roll in a large, beautiful black lacquer box. It stands vertically, and has beautiful Chinese characters on the door.

Hong Li snaps his finger at the sushi chef—the universal language for “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll get the hell out of here.”

The man is no fool. He bows slightly and hurries out after the delivery men. The click of the door closing behind him sends a shiver up my spine.

“Stay perfectly still, Donna,” Jack murmurs. “It seems they’ve forgotten you’re there.

Easier said than done. The cold is tickling my nose. I hold my breath in the hope that I can keep from sneezing.

A man enters the room. He’s in his late thirties, with a full head of long, blond shoulder-length hair. He wears wire-framed glasses over his large brown eyes.

“Arnie, tilt the living room camera down and left, so that our facial recognition software gets a better look at him,” Jack whispers. “Donna, you’ve also got him in your line of sight. Can you turn your head, just a bit to the right?”

I do so, ever so slightly. Thank goodness all eyes are on the stranger, even those of the professor’s personal body guard, a hulk I’ve nicknamed King Kong. At six-foot-three-inches tall and over two-hundred pounds, should the occasion arise, it’ll be a challenge for me to take him. I mean, let’s face it—it’s not like I can hide my Glock under the pickled ginger garnish in my belly button.

If that time comes, failure is not an option—not if I want to walk my children into their new classrooms on the first day of school tomorrow.

Hong Li smiles at the man and gives him a slight bow. His two associates follow suit.

The Chinese spies smirk at the man’s hesitant, unsmiling nod in return.

I don’t like the feel of this.

“I presume you want to inspect my handiwork?” The man’s hushed question comes out in a stutter.

Li tempers his curiosity with a shrug. “Please, do us the honors.” His English mimics his guest’s Southern inflections.

The stranger purses his lips as he twists the latch on the door of the exquisitely painted box. Inside is a clay figure—an ancient Chinese warrior. With the push of a lever, the platform on which the statue sits rolls out.

His hosts are awed enough to murmur and clap.

“Wow! What exactly is that?” Arnie asks.

“It looks like one of China’s ancient terra-cotta warriors of X’ian,” Abu answers. “Back in the 1970s, while digging a well, a couple of farmers in the Shaanxi province unearthed a similar clay figurine. When all was said and done, eight-thousand of them were uncovered. They’d been buried in the necropolis of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. In fact, there’s an exhibit of them here, at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum.”

“So, how old do you think it is?” Jack wonders.

“Qin ruled around 209 BC, so it’s at least that old,” Abu responds. “But this one is a replica.”

“How do you know?” Jack asks.

“Because it’s the spitting image of Xi Jinping, China’s current president.”

Darned if he’s not right.

“Nailed him!” Arnie yells in my ear. “The dude who brought the box is the sculptor, Carolus Duran.”

I recognize that name, too. Known as “the Twenty-First Century’s Rodin,” Duran’s works can be seen in many great art institutions, including the National Gallery in Washington, London’s National Gallery, and the Met in New York.

“Your president should be quite pleased with the resemblance,” Duran declares.

“When will it be delivered?”

Duran glances down at his watch. “In half an hour, it is to be transported via train to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, along with the rest of the soldiers in the exhibit now at the Asian Art Museum, just in time for the presidential reception tomorrow evening.”

“President Xi will be honored to receive such a unique gift from your president.” Li’s smile is too wide to be genuine. “I presume you’ve done as I asked?”

Duran nods. “Yes, of course! I’ve hidden the secret compartment, here.” He points under the left arm of the soldier, which is raised slightly from the torso, as if it’s holding something. “There is an indentation, here. Press slightly, and it opens, like so.”

To prove his point, Duran presses a panel in the armor directly under the soldier’s armpit. Apparently he has pushed a spring lock because it appears to fall into the opening that has magically appeared. Duran’s hand disappears into the statue as far as his wrist. He shifts it slightly, and then pulls it out. The panel drops back into place, as if the clay has never moved.

“Excellent,” Li murmurs. “Now, we shall toast your masterpiece—and the release of your parents from our hospitality in Chengdu.”

Duran winces at Li’s joke at his expense.

“Arnie, what’s he referring to?” Jack asks.

Arnie’s research is fast and furious. “Apparently Duran’s folks disappeared about a month ago, while on a group tour of China. Chengdu is one of China’s largest cities inland—much too rainy and overcast to be a major tourist stop.”

“In other words, they were kidnapped as a way to coerce Duran to alter the statue for their needs,” Abu surmises.

“I have a bottle of Russo-Baltique, for just this occasion.” Li nods at one of his associates, whom I’ve nicknamed Snapped Fingers because that is exactly what will happen to him the next time his chubby paws grab at anything on me that isn’t wrapped in seaweed or rice. I call Li’s other toady Poked Eyes, because he seemed mesmerized by my Telly Savalas, and I’d like to alleviate him of that fixation.

“Donna, don’t move,” Jack warns me.

He’s preaching to the choir. I shut my eyes tightly before Snapped Fingers passes me on the way to the vodka room, knowing full well that Jack will warn me if I need to open them again.

“He’s found the bottle,” Jack whispers. “Okay, he’s walking out now … He’s gone. You can open your eyes.”

Arnie whistles. “That vodka is worth a million and a half dollars. The flask is solid gold, made from old coins from the turn of the last century!”

I watch as Duran adamantly shakes his head at his host’s offer. “No, really, I must be getting back. The museum’s curator and transportation director are expecting me to deliver the piece as soon as possible.”

Li’s smile hardens. “We will take care of its delivery.”

Duran’s eyes open wide. “But—but that would be considered most unconventional! The artist must always be present when our president commissions a welcoming gift, specifically for another head of state—”

Snapped Fingers pours the vodka into two glasses on the sideboard, and then places them on a tray. In no time, he is standing in front of the sculptor.

“They will understand that you’ve been called away early, to Los Angeles, to meet with your president,” Li’s tone is gentle, as if he’s talking to a child. “No one keeps great men waiting, am I right? Now, let us drink up.”

The fear doesn’t leave Duran’s face, even as he watches Li take one of the glasses. Finally, he takes the other glass from the tray; he raises it to his lips.

I would wager it’s a cocktail of succinylcholine—a paralytic agent—and potassium chloride, which stops the heart. As he falls backward, Snapped Fingers is ready to catch him, and ease him onto the floor.

Li takes something from his inside jacket pocket and places it into the statue’s hidden compartment.

“That’s it—the intel!” Jack declares. “The president won’t even know that he’s handing it over to President Xi, along with the statue.”

“And should word leak out, he’ll be disgraced,” Abu adds. “His detractors can use it to call for his impeachment, maybe even his resignation—or worse, call him a traitor, and ask that he be tried as such.”

Just as Poked Eyes wheels the box out the door, I let loose with a squeak of a sneeze.

“Oh … hell.” The dread in Jack’s voice tells me all I need to know: That slight movement caught the attention of Hong Li.

He waves at his bodyguard. “Take care of her.”

He’s out the door, too, with Snapped Fingers on his heels.

I am left with King Kong.

Jack shouts, “Hang on, Donna, I’m on my way.”

I’m hanging on, alright—to the far side of the table, which is now the only thing between King Kong and me. It’s too wide for him to reach over it, but the platters I throw at him bounce off, like beer caps in a pong game between two drunks.

He tilts the table on its side and rushes towards me, swatting off my kicks as if they’re raindrops until he’s got me backed up against the wall—really, against the chef’s workstation. He grabs one of my legs and jerks it up, so that I’m now flat on the countertop. He has one hand on my throat. He smiles when he sees my eyes grow big at the realization that he’s cutting off my oxygen with his broad thumb.

Gasping, I grasp at anything, and come up with a chopstick.

When I jab his eye, he howls and backs off. He hesitates only a second before yanking it out. A torrent of blood pours forth. I’m a mother of two tweens who play sports like kamikazes and their little sister does anything they say on a dare, so granted, I’m no stranger to blood, but this has my lunch climbing into my throat.

King Kong has me cornered in front of the door to the vodka freezer. He’s only six feet away and rushing right at me when I throw my last weapon—the chef’s Blue Steel Ao-ko Mioroshi Namiuchi knife.

The good news: as it hits his chest, it stops his forward momentum.

The bad news: when he falls over, it’s forward—and on top of me.

Even worse news: As I fall backward with him on top of me, the force of our weight pushes open the door to the freezer and propels me into it—

And clicks shut behind me.

I try shoving the door, but it won’t open. King Kong’s body is, quite literally, a dead weight blocking my only way out.

My situation is dire. I’m naked, I’m freezing, and for once I’m in no mood for a vodka martini.

Despite the fact that the glass wall between me and the dining suite is tempered and thick, I pray I can penetrate it somehow. Shivering, I stalk the room, looking for a way out of my predicament.

My eyes scan the backlit vodka case. Like the antique gold Russo-Baltique, all of the bottles in Hong Li’s personal stash are works of art. Belvedere’s bottle is encased in a glass bear. The Diva bottle is especially stunning: a clear cylinder with a tube of precious gems in the center.

But neither of those will give me what I need: freedom.

However, a bottle encrusted with diamonds may just do the trick.

There are several here. Oval Vodka’s bottle is covered in them, but unfortunately its shape plays off its name. The cask-like Alizé Vodka bottle is studded with pink crystals. I slam it against the edge of the table, and most of the crystals fall to the floor, so that’s of no help.

The next bottle I grab—a brand called Iordanov—is so embellished with diamonds that it glistens in the light. Holding it by its long neck, I once again whack the center table with all my might.

I’m left holding a piece of very expensive glass still encrusted with diamond crystals, where it counts most: around its jagged end.

By now the cold is getting to me. I can barely feel my fingers or toes, and my muscles ache. I drop to my knees against the wall with my homemade glasscutter, which I hold tightly as I etch a square in the glass. Here’s hoping it’s large enough for me to fit through, and that it’s not just the size I wish I were. (Note to self: pinch that inch, then get rid of it for good.)

I don’t have much strength, but still, I kick at the etched square. I hear it give way—

Then I pass out.

* * *

In my dream, I’m treading water in a steaming lake. My children Mary, Jeff, and Trisha paddle toward me. They welcome me with warm kisses, then they swim just out of reach. I shout for them to wait for me. Try as I might, I can’t move my hands or feet to follow, but rather I bob and float, dead-man style, with my head just slightly above the water line. Their way of cajoling me to follow is to promise to bring home great grades and be the best-behaved students in their classrooms this year.

In the distance, Jack shouts at me, too. It’s hard to make out what he’s saying because my teeth are chattering and the hot water is running, but it’s something to the effect of Abu she’s coming to, so turn the heat all the way up in the bedroom and Donna can you hear me and Tell Arnie to stay on Li’s tail and Donna, I love you, please don’t die on me.

“I won’t, I promise. I love you, too, Jack.” Did I say that out loud? Am I smiling? If not, then why do my lips hurt so much?

He must have heard me because I feel him slapping my face as he lifts me out of this nice warm bath. Still, I push his hand away because the air is chilly. But he picks me up anyway, and I’m too weak to fight him off. The next thing I feel are his hot tears on my cheek. My own tears glaze my eyes, but at least they no longer sting.

As he kisses them off my face, one of my eyelids flutters open, and I’m staring into the deep green eyes of the love of my life. There is so much I want to say—that I’m glad he got to me in time. That I never doubted he would.

And that I will never leave him, ever, even if it means haunting him for the rest of his life.

But of course, he knows this—which, is why, when I mutter, “What took you so long?” he covers his sigh of relief with a laugh.

He swaddles me in a large terry robe and lays me on the bed. “Taking down the guards was the easy part. It was the damn steel door that took a bit of finagling. We finally cut it open with one of Arnie’s new toys—a laser taser. It cut through the freezer wall, too. Good thing, because we never could have moved Li’s behemoth of a bodyguard.” He warms my fingers between his hands, then kisses each, gently.

“No mission is ever simple.” I lick my lips into a smile. I wonder if they’re still blue. “Jack, do we still have a lead on the statue?”

“Yes, but we’ve got some ground to cover. It took us almost an hour to relieve Li’s guards of their duty, shall we say. In the meantime, Arnie followed Li and the box. It’s been loaded onto an Amtrak Coast Starlight, along with the rest of the terra-cotta soldiers from the Asian Art Museum. They’re already on their way to the Getty, for POTUS’s private reception with Xi Jinping.”

I slide off the bed. When I try to stand up, my legs fold under me, like a newborn colt’s.

Jack grabs me by the waist. “Steady, doll. Seriously, Donna, maybe you should sit this one out.”

I shake my head. “Are you kidding? And miss my chance to save POTUS’s reputation? No way. Besides, who looks more fetching in chest candy, you or me?”

“At this point, anything you wear—including a robe—would be an improvement.”

Point well taken. I tie the robe demurely around my waist. “You need me to positively ID Li, and anyone else who may be obstructing the mission. We both know that. However, after what I’ve been through, I’ll be glad to let you do the heavy lifting.”

He shrugs. “My thoughts exactly.” He tosses me a black bodysuit, along with a wig, glasses, and a jacket. “If we hurry, we can catch the train before it reaches Oxnard.”

Not the most romantic invitation, but hey, I’ve had worse.

* * *

Apparently when Jack said we were to “catch the train,” he really meant it. Acme’s pilot, George Taylor, flies us into Oxnard Airport. From there, Abu drives us about thirteen miles north—on the portion of US 1 that is called Old Rincon Highway, which runs parallel to the elevated tracks, a place where the two are separated by just fifty feet.

Finally we veer into a small underpass just below the tracks.

Jack looks at his watch. “The train should be coming through in another ten minutes. It’s only going about twenty-three miles an hour. At that speed, we’ll hoist ourselves onto the car easily by shooting these guns,”—he pulls out an odd looking pistol—“which hold a retractable magnet tether, attached to your vest. Once you reel in the tether, the force of the magnetic suctions on your hand and foot gear will keep us on the car until we can reach the back door. Then you’ll break the lock with your laser taser, find the right statue, and grab the thumb drive. You’ll replace it with this one”—he tosses me a black thumb drive, and pockets an identical one—“which is filled with enough believable disinformation to satisfy our Chinese friends. Abu will shadow alongside, in the van, for as long as he’s got blacktop—at the most, five miles. But then the road disappears and the tracks are hugging a cliff along the Pacific. The next stop is Oxnard, so worst case scenario, we hang on until then.”

I give him a thumbs-up. “I get it—a fast in-and-out.”

He nods. “Abu will pick us up.” He tosses a duffle bag at me. “You’ll find infrared goggles in here, as well as a vest, and magnet-laced gloves and shoes. To secure them, twist slightly to the right. To release, press down and lift up, gently.”

I snap the locks on my right shoe then I test the magnet on the van’s metal floor. Yep, it holds tight as a gnat’s arse. “Do we know which car holds the statue?”

“Arnie saw them being loaded into the last three cars,” Abu explains. “Unfortunately, he doesn’t know exactly which one holds the Duran statue. Li is on the train, too, with a lady friend. They are in the very last passenger car, which is private, and apparently owned by a Chinese conglomerate. It was hooked onto the train at the very last minute. Arnie has changed into an Amtrak purser’s uniform, in case something goes wrong and we need an ‘official escort’ out of there.”

I nod. “So, we’ll have to check all three cars for it?”

“Unfortunately, yes. Hopefully, it will still be in its black box, so that we can find it quickly and jump off before it reaches its next stop, the Oxnard Amtrak station,” Jack continues. “We’ve got less than five miles of track to pull this off. Otherwise, we lose our ride back to the plane because the road disappears completely where the track runs along a cliff beside the ocean, before going inland and adjacent to the Pacific Coast Highway.”

“Then we should split up,” I suggest. “Each of us should take a car. If it isn’t in either, the one who finishes first can hit the third car.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Now that we’re suited up, Jack and I position ourselves in the bushes closest to the track.

“Five minutes to show time,” Abu murmurs into our ear buds. In fact, we can hear the train’s whistle off in the distance.

A minute later we spot its headlight. I’m relieved to see that Jack is right and it’s practically crawling down the track.

We wait as the passenger cars roll by. Finally we count off those containing cargo berths. The last car, just beyond, is the observation deck, which is painted in bright yellow. When the last three cargo berths are just a few seconds from us, Jack touches my arm. “You take the last, and I’ll take the middle, okay? We’ll rock-paper-scissor for the first. On three, okay? One, two … three!”

He shoots his magnet tether onto the side of middle of the three cars. When I do the same with the last one, I find myself being propelled through the air, like a spider on a wind-whipped tendril of its web.

I land on all fours on the side of the designated car. I reel in the tether and tuck the tether gun into my belt. Then I crawl slowly toward the back of the car, where I’ll use the laser taser to cut through the lock on the door.

Quickly, I dart through the rows of the cargo’s hull, searching for the black box, but it’s not here. Through my video lenses, Abu is double-checking the faces on all the terra-cotta statues, just to make sure I haven’t missed it somehow, but no.

“Dead end,” I shout.

“I’ve come up empty-handed, too,” Jack says. “Since I’m closer, I’m on my way to the next car. Get your exit strategy in place.”

I wait and listen for what I hope will be his imminent success. Jack’s off-key humming of Keith Urban’s We Were Us is supposed to mask the exertion and strain of crawling, carefully and slowly, from one car to the next. If I could, I’d cover my ears because yes, he is that bad. As it is, I’m hanging by a thread, ready to jump from my car.

“Step on it,” Abu warns him.

“I hear you,” Jack insists. “Okay, I’m in … and … no go.”

“Then he has it in the observation car with him. I’m closer, so I’m going to get it.”

“I’m right behind you,” Jack says.

“I’ll be out in a jiffy. Just get ready to jump.”

“I like your bravado.” Jack is joking. The concern in his voice is heard loud and clear, thanks to the echo inside the cargo area.

I know just how he feels.

* * *

The call girl is a screamer.

Works for me. She’s so loud that I can pick the lock of the observation car without them suspecting anything.

And there’s the object of my affection: the black lacquer box. Thank goodness it’s in the front of the suite, as opposed to through the arched doorway of the car’s bedroom compartment.

The woman has her back to me. As she tightens up on Professor Li, her thighs rise and fall in sync with the rocking train. His eyes are closed and his lips are pursed, as if he’s willing himself to hold out as long as possible.

You’re paying by the mile, so show her who’s boss, dude.

Silent as a ghost, I make my way over to the box. Where was the lever again? Oh yeah, on the right side. I pull it and the doors open, and the statue rolls forward.

I slip my hand under the statue’s right armpit and press it gently. Voilà, a tiny panel falls in. I slip my hand into it and pull out the thumb drive and put the fake one in its place.

I’ve just slipped our precious intel into a tiny inside pocket on the back of my jacket when the call girl asks, “Hey, where did she come from?”

I look up to see them both staring at me. Li’s eyes narrow as he realizes what I’ve just done. On the other hand, the call girl shakes her head angrily. “My service didn’t say anything about a three-way! That’ll cost you extra.”

He answers her with a slap that sends her reeling backward on the bed. It takes him only a second to flip her over. A set of handcuffs appear, seemingly out of nowhere. Wrenching her arms behind her back, he cuffs her wrists together.

“Hey, no one said anything about rough stuff!” Now that she’s face down, her pout is muffled by a pillow. “I’m not complaining. I’m just saying I’ll have to add it to your tab.”

Li isn’t listening to her. He’s already on his way to me, gun in hand.

I dodge his bullet, which ricochets off the suite’s metal wall and slams into a lamp, shattering its base. One of the larger shards flies toward him, nicking him in the neck. He curses in pain. Instinctively, he raises his left hand to staunch the bleeding.

That gives me all the time I need to hit him with a crescent kick, which knocks the gun out of his right hand. It skitters out the open door.

I’ve gotten as far as the threshold when he tackles me. Despite being face down, I kick furiously.

One of my feet must have hit the mark because he curses me, but still he doesn’t let go. Instead, he drags me to the open door. While one hand holds me in a chokehold, the other roams over my body, in search of the pocket that holds the thumb drive. It stops over my left breast, which he squeezes with a smile.

Copping a feel—again?

Totally unacceptable.

I bend my knee to give him a sharp back kick, with my heel, to his groin.

As he doubles over, I knock him out the door.

His scream echoes for several moments. When it’s not followed by the usual thud that accompanies bone meeting metal, I look out the door to see why not.

By now, the train is hugging the edge of the cliff that runs high above the Pacific Ocean. There is no beach, just surf slamming rocks.

The sun has already dipped below the horizon, but there is still enough light for me to see Professor Li’s broken body, bobbing in the surf like a buoy.

“Beautiful sunset, isn’t it?”

Jack is gazing down at me from the roof.

I smile up at him. “Always is, this time of year.”

By the time he has climbed down the rooftop ladder, Li’s body has slipped under the choppy surf for the very last time.

The call girl shouts, “Hey, where’s the party?”

Jack raises a brow. “Want to introduce me to your friend?”

“Not really,” I mutter. Still, I walk over and snap open her cufflinks. “So sorry, but all the fun and games are over. Our host has been permanently detained.”

She shrugs as she rubs her wrist. “That’ll be an extra thou, for the rough stuff.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

She gives me a look that implies I’m sorely out of touch with the demands for her stock in trade.

No, I’m just sore. I’ve been frozen, slammed up against a moving train, and almost choked to death.

I dismiss her with a wave of my hand. “Just put it on his tab, he won’t mind.”

She’s not hearing it. “Sorry, cash only,” she growls.

The last thing I need is a witness who can ID me. I peel out the right amount of C-notes and toss them her way.

Through my ear bud, I hear Abu and Arnie laughing raucously.

Jack murmurs, “Boy oh, boy. I can’t wait to see Ryan’s reaction to Donna’s petty cash receipt.”

Believe me, I wish I got paid extra for the rough stuff, too.

Maybe I’m in the wrong business.

Deborah Coonts – LUCKY CE SOIR

In the 10th novel in the Deborah Coonts’ series, LUCKY CE SOIR, Coont’s heroine, a fixer at the mythical and very posh Vegas Strip hotel, the Babylon, puts her business life on hold in order to meet the parents of her fiancé, the noted French chef Jean-Charles Boucle, only to stumble into a murder mystery that might destroy the Bouclet family’s reputation in the high-stakes industry of top-flight French wines.

Book 4 of the Housewife Assassin series is FREE Now!


Apple Books:

Barnes &Noble:


And in case you're wondering (thanks for asking, Linda!) each book is standalone (a different caper) albeit the lives of the characters move forward in each book, as it would in real life (personal ups and downs).

By the way: Book 1 is also free; and The Housewife Assassin's Killer 2-Book Set (the first two books in the series) is only $3.99, which is a dollar off the price of each other individual book in the series.

In other words, you've got every reason to play catch up now, so go for it!


😉 💖💖💖💖💖

BLAH! It’s raining. So here are five things you could be doing until it clears up.

It's been a non-stop rain deluge here and, frankly, it's depressing.

Worse yet, it makes me lazy.

I chide myself to get out of my doldrums and do something—anything—that will make me feel better. Here are five things I've come up with:

Clean A Closet1: Clean out a closet.
You no longer have an excuse. You can't use the fact that you'll get more exercise by walking, so dig in.

(By the way, this is not my closet…but it could be.

Ergo, those are not my legs…but they could be—if I took longer walks.)

Pie2: Bake a pie.
After your closet work out, you deserve some reward, am I right?

Pie fits the bill perfectly.
You may not have the right ingredients for your favorite.
That's okay. You're creative, so improvise! The smell wafting through your home will be great!

(By the way: this is not my pie.
But it could be…if my oven had more than one setting: burned.)

Call a Pal3: Call an old friend.
You've had every excuse to put this off. Well, now's the time. You'll feel good about it and so will the person at the other end of the line.

(By the way, this is not me. And not because I don't own a cell phone or because my hair doesn't coil lushly past my shoulders. I just don't have a window seat. However, if I had, I'd perch on it pertly, too!)

Read a Book

4: Read a book.
Admit it: this is what you really want to be doing anyway. With a cup of something hot beside you. Oh, and maybe a nice, warm piece of that pie you've just baked.

5: Cuddle.
Because you don't really want to get out of bed. Heck, it's too cold!
Time to warm things up before you can turn on that oven and make that pie (yeah, right, sure…)

Cuddle In Bed

By the way, this is not me—but it should be.

Whattya think, did I put this in the right order?

Is there something you'd like to add to this list? Hey, I'm all ears. All I'm doing is listening to the rain.


James Rollins – CRUCIBLE

AP Rollins Sq

Click Photo to Listen…

James Rollins has written enough bestselling novels to fill a tall bookcase. In most of them, a historical event, or artifact, is the catalyst for a modern-day catastrophe. Sometimes Rollins will find the perfect plot concept from reading an article. Sometimes it’s sparked from his travels. For his latest novel, CRUCIBLE, it came from a place that even surprised him. (You'll have to hear the interview to find out where.)

In CRUCIBLE, the Spanish Inquisition is the catalyst for a religious cult's modern-day witch hunt in the not-too-distant-future. Fair warning: should the events depicted in this novel come to pass and scientists soon develop an artificial intelligence capable of warp-speed learning capacity, fact will be much scarier than fiction.

Click here to read the feature article accompanying this podcast interview in

David Baldacci – Long Road to Mercy


Baldacci AP Square


According to internationally bestselling author David Baldacci, when you’ve written as many books as he has—ten series, or a total of thirty books, and counting; and another twelve stand-alone novels—there is one way to keep his writing razor-sharp: “Start from Square One: create a new character, a new series—a new world.”

With his latest novel, LONG ROAD TO MERCY, Baldacci has done just that. His new protagonist, female FBI agent Atlee Pine, must cover a desolate Far West outpost on her own. And although its size is intimidating—it includes Grand Canyon National Park—Atlee is strongly motivated to succeed. She sees it as a way to avenge the tragic death of her twin sister, Mercy, who was abducted by a serial killer when the girls were only six years old.

David and I talked about his process in creating new, complex characters and weaving real-time geopolitical incidents into a heart-pounding plot.

Click here to read the accompanying feature interview with David in


Lee Child – PAST TENSE

AP Lee Child FB

The iconic loner anti-hero, Jack Reacher, has made thriller writer Lee Child an internationally renowned author.

Child’s debut novel, Killing Floor—the first of 23 Reach books—won both the Anthony and the Barry awards for Best First Mystery.

The 9th novel, THE ENEMY, won both the Barry and the Nero awards for Best Novel and became a film starring Tom Cruise.

I interviewed Lee about the latest book in the series, PAST TENSE, in which a turn in the road takes Jack to his long-deceased father’s hometown, where the ghosts of his past aren’t necessarily dead and buried.

To read my print interview with Lee, click here to go to

Author Provocateur Interviews: Kristan Higgins




New York Times best-selling author Kristan Higgins’ eighteenth novel, GOOD LUCK WITH THAT, follows three women—best pals Emerson, Marley, and Georgia—whose lifetime battles with obesity were the bonds that brought them together. The death of one provides the catalyst for self-discovery, change, and acceptance for her friends.


Welcome to Author Provocateur Podcasts

AudioListener on Left

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you enjoy my author interviews, novel samples, and creative writing tips. 

To celebrate the Barbara Vey Reader Appreciation Weekend 2018which takes place on the weekend for Friday through Sunday, April 27—29, 2018—I interviewed some of the 50+ authors who will be attending.


Each author has such wonderful insights on what inspires them to write—and you'll certainly enjoy what they say about their latest novels and their writing process.

Josie Brown




Spring Has Sprung in Totlandia



Tot7 Shadow


 amazon-2-icon imgres copy 


I am very excited about this latest novel in the Totlandia series:
#7: The Twosies – Spring. 

Spring brings new life and emotional renewal. For the five women we love (and love to hate) in the Totlandia series, this gave me the perfect opportunity to ratchet up the drama.

The sixth episodic novel ended with a wedding, but also with a relationship in peril: that of Ally and Brady. In this latest episode, you'll discover how Brady’s quest to reunite Ally with her father may be the one thing that will tear their relationship apart. 

Also, in Book 6: the last scene left Bettina with a major dilemma: In Book 7, you'll find out if she succumbed to an easy fix for her problems, or if she embraces the challenge that may lead to the financial and emotional freedom she craves.


Please let your readers know of this contest!
And YES, you're welcomed to enter as well!

At the same time, Bettina’s mysterious disappearances are adding to Lorna’s anxieties to keep the club on an even keel up until she delivers her twins. Little does she know that a cruel trick by the power-hungry Kelly will curdle Lorna’s relationship with her mother-in-law, Eleanor;

As for Jade, she is given an opportunity of a lifetime to prove herself: both as an academic researcher, and as the perfect partner for her fiancé, Reggie. But will his assistant Samantha’s attentions come between them?

You'll also find out how far Jillian will go in fighting her former mother-in-law for custody of her deceased ex-husband’s infant child.

The good news: Caleb has taken to his new role as über-dad with gusto. The bad news: it’s causing trouble in the Pacific Heights Moms & Tots Club;


Thanks, Melissa Amster, of,
for allowing me to write about my Oscars experience!

As always, the Totlandia series is filled with tons of moms behaving badly! Spring finds the Top Moms in full revolt! They know that their only hope of getting out from under Bettina’s thumb is to secure the files filled with their dirty little secrets, hidden deep within a sculpture to be auctioned off with the rest of her possessions. 
Let the bidding begin!

— Josie












Spring Brings the Best Mama Drama Ever.



Tot7 Shadow


 amazon-2-icon imgres copy 


Dear Readers,

I am very excited about this latest novel in the Totlandia series: #7: The Twosies – Spring. 

Spring brings new life and emotional renewal. For the five women we love (and love to hate) in the Totlandia series, this gave me the perfect opportunity to ratchet up the drama.

The sixth episodic novel ended with a wedding, but also with a relationship in peril: that of Ally and Brady. In this latest episode, you'll discover how Brady’s quest to reunite Ally with her father may be the one thing that will tear their relationship apart. 

Also, in Book 6: the last scene left Bettina with a major dilemma: In Book 7, you'll find out if she succumbed to an easy fix for her problems, or if she embraces the challenge that may lead to the financial and emotional freedom she craves.

TargetDogBestAt the same time, Bettina’s mysterious disappearances are adding to Lorna’s anxieties to keep the club on an even keel up until she delivers her twins. Little does she know that a cruel trick by the power-hungry Kelly will curdle Lorna’s relationship with her mother-in-law, Eleanor;

As for Jade, she is given an opportunity of a lifetime to prove herself: both as an academic researcher, and as the perfect partner for her fiancé, Reggie. But will his assistant Samantha’s attentions come between them?

You'll also find out how far Jillian will go in fighting her former mother-in-law for custody of her deceased ex-husband’s infant child.

The good news: Caleb has taken to his new role as über-dad with gusto. The bad news: it’s causing trouble in the Pacific Heights Moms & Tots Club;

As always, the Totlandia series is filled with tons of moms behaving badly! Spring finds the Top Moms in full rev
olt! They know that their only hope of getting out from under Bettina’s thumb is to secure the files filled with their dirty little secrets, hidden deep within a sculpture to be auctioned off with the rest of her possessions. 
Let the bidding begin!

— Josie












Secret Santa and Funny Valentine Excerpt and Contest

SantaValentine Rules Page



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ONLY $3.99!

Housewife assassin Donna Stone must be more than just ready for her close-up if she’s to infiltrate a television reality show in order to stop the broadcast of a live terrorist attack.


Chaoxiang “Chucky” Chan joneses over three things: white-blonde blue-eyed kewpie doll pole dancers, Vancouver Canucks games (to which he has front row seats), and his $360,000 red Lamborghini Huracán.

Sadly, his car is in the shop getting some much-needed bodywork. It seems that its low-slung chassis ran over a fallen lamppost in the middle of the road. Chucky is the reason the lamppost was there in the first place. Cars seem to go bump in the night when you drink and drive while a stripper performs unmentionable acts.

Luckily, Chucky was wearing his seatbelt. However, the stripper’s bucket seat contortions left her with even more bodywork than the car’s. At least Chucky picked up her medical bills. She’ll always have a rod in her back, but the doctor assured her she’ll have a better nose than the one that got smashed when she was propelled through the windshield.

I’ve correctly guessed that Chucky would haunt Vancouver, Canada’s largest Lamborghini showroom in search of a replacement vehicle. And because my latest mission dictates that I be his replacement girlfriend, I got there a few minutes after him. To make it easy for him to see me in the role, today I wear a platinum blonde wig styled in a gamine cut. My contact lenses—really video feeds monitored by Ryan Clancy, my boss at the black-ops organization that employs me, Acme Corporation—are vivid blue. It’s also why I’m wearing a black push-up bra under my low-cut sheer white silk blouse, and a tight white mini-skirt with six-inch heels.

If you saw me, I wouldn’t blame you in the least if you thought my attire left nothing to the imagination. Bingo! That’s the point. To assure that Chucky gets it too, I sink into the passenger seat of a sleek black $1.9 million-dollar Lamborghini Centenarios roadster with my legs parted just wide enough that his imagination goes wild and his fifth appendage hardens. This is a predictable reaction since, as we circled each other in the showroom, he stared at my ass long enough to notice that there was no visible panty line.

I reward his smirk with a come-hither wink and a crooked index finger that invites him to join me.

My interest in Chucky has less to do with his bank account than that of his father’s: Huang Fu Chan just so happens to be China’s Minister of Natural Resources. During his administration, graft has boomed to new heights, thanks to too many collapsing mine shafts, and too few honest owners.

That is, until now. Chucky doesn’t know it yet, but Daddy Dearest disappeared about six hours ago. Acme’s guess is that he’s now the guest of the MSS—China’s espionage agency, the Ministry of State Security—and is being interrogated in some black site located deep in the Tian Shan Mountains. The lives of miners and the reputations of China’s current administration may be gone, but Huang Fu’s ill-gotten gains are an acceptable substitute.

Vancouver is bulging with fuerdai—superrich second generation trust-funders who, like Chucky, have no qualms spending their parents’ hard-stolen money on hot wheels and fast women, in that order.

Or is it the other way around? Not that it matters. In either case, today’s his lucky day.

When it comes to staying in his father’s good graces, Chucky’s sole responsibility is to hold onto the safety deposit box key that contains a list of the banks where Daddy has salted his cash stash. Chucky wears it on one of the silver chains around his neck, but not for long if I have my way.

Of course, at the same time, I won’t let him have his way with me.

After stealing the key, I’ll snatch the list from the safety deposit box so that Acme’s COMINT liaison, Emma Honeycutt, and our tech ops leader, Arnie Locklear, can hack the accounts. The CIA will then trade Huang Fu’s funds for a couple of Chinese-Americans who are being held as political prisoners.

After exchanging lascivious winks with me, Chucky saunters over to the car, leans in, and asks, “Want to go for a test drive?”

“Are you the salesman?” I purr. “Don’t count on me for your commission. In the club where I work, the tips aren’t that big.”

His chest puffs up. “I don’t sell ’em, I buy ’em.” To prove his point, he snaps his fingers at one of his two bodyguards. “Yo, Tong, grab the keys to this ride from the showroom manager.”

The goon shuffles off. A second later he returns with the key fob and tosses it to Chucky, who hops into the driver’s seat. Revving the engine, he asks, “Where to?”

I tweak his nipple under his skintight T-shirt. “Let’s hit the open road—say, up the coast? I know of a little cabin in the woods off the 99, right over Brunswick Beach.”

Chucky takes the requisite two-point-six seconds to prove the roadster can hit sixty miles-per-hour from zero.

We’re off.

We have a shadow: Chucky’s goon squad.

They have one too: my mission leader and main squeeze, Jack Craig. He follows in a nondescript black Lexus—a ubiquitous vehicle in well-heeled West Vancouver, and certainly not as ostentatious as the Lamborghini.

In case Jack loses us on the open road, Abu Nagashahi, another Acme operative, is several miles in front of us, in a white paneled van. Thankfully, the sluggish mid-day traffic over Lion’s Gate Bridge affords both cars excellent visual surveillance.

The whole time, Chucky won’t shut up. He rambles on and on about his assets and holdings, as if I’m a banker who can grant him a mortgage. No, it’s more like he’s got something to prove to a woman who isn’t acting at all impressed.

The babbling is to be expected. At every red light, he takes a hit of the cocaine in the vial dangling from the longest silver chain around his neck. It’s next to the one that holds the coveted safety deposit box key. Now and then I’m rewarded with a glimpse of it. I ache to jerk it off his neck and then shove him out the door into oncoming traffic, solving our problem in a quick and dirty way. But, no, I must follow Acme’s much more discrete plan for Chucky.

Traffic loosens up when we hit Highway 99 on the West Vancouver side of the bridge. Suddenly Chucky is doing his best to break the sound barrier—or at least achieve the speed claimed in the Lamborghini’s spec sheet: two-hundred-and-seventeen miles-per-hour.

Ten or so miles zip by us. In a flash, we’re as far north as Horseshoe Bay, where 99 becomes the appropriately named Sea-to-Sky Highway because of the way it clings to the cliff that winds its way around Howe Sound.

Can Jack keep up? I look in the side-view mirror to reassure myself that he can. Yes, he’s there, about a hundred yards behind us. Unfortunately, so are Tong and his buddy.

Suddenly, Chucky realizes I’m not paying attention to his boasts. Worse yet, I’m slapping away his groping hands. His eyes narrow as he blurts out, “Hey, um…how ’bout giving me some head?”

I snort. “What…are you kidding? So that I end up with a broken nose, like your last girlfriend?”

He looks over sharply, completely ignoring the fact that we’re weaving to and fro on hairpin curves. “Who told you that?”

I shrug. “Dude, it’s all over town. Sorry, but if I’m going to distract you, it’s going to be someplace we can both enjoy it”—I nod at the car with his bodyguards, now right on our heels—“but not with your cheering squad tagging along. What’s with the chaperones?”

“Haven’t you heard a word I’ve said, bee-hatch?” He takes his eyes off the road to lean in close. “I’m a very important guy! They come along to protect me.” He puts his hand between my thighs. “Look, sweet cheeks, if you make me happy, I’ll make you happy—”

He grabs me by my neck and shoves my head into his lap.

He figures out quickly that it was poor judgment on his part when I bite him—hard—on his thigh.

Chucky’s howl is cut off by the sound of glass breaking. A barrage of bullets shatters the rear window.

I duck onto the floor of the passenger seat.

Instinctively, Chucky looks behind us. As bullets hit his head, it explodes, sending skull fragments and brain matter in all directions.

When his body jerks in my direction, I see that his right eye is dangling from his optic nerve. His seatbelt holds him in place, but his foot has stiffened onto the accelerator.

I scream, “What the hell?”

Jack yells into my earbud, “Chucky’s bodyguards are shooting at the car!”

“Driver down!” I shout back.

The car is now racing along out of control. To take the wheel, I lean over his body and jerk it out of its counter-clockwise trajectory—

And off the road we go.

(c) 2016 Josie Brown. All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the publisher, Signal Press. (


What is the name of Chucky’s goon?


If you want, answer the TOTLANDIA question as well, and then




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ONLY $2.99

Winter’s chill isn’t just in the air. It also runs through the veins of all the women in the Pacific Heights Moms & Tots Club…


8:49 a.m.

Bettina Connaught Cross abhorred tardiness in any form, especially as it pertained to gatherings of the organization she’d founded: the Pacific Heights Moms & Tots Club.

The fact that she was already six minutes late to a very important meeting of the club’s Top Moms committee had her seething. Granted, her excuse was valid enough: she first had to walk her daughter, Lily, to kindergarten at the local public school, Lincoln Elementary.

They walked swiftly because the school was in the opposite direction from the Golden Gate Valley Library, where the meeting was taking place. Bettina would have given anything to have driven instead. But, because her deadbeat soon-to-be-ex-husband had embezzled from his financial clients and then skipped town, her car, along with all of their joint assets, had been seized by Federal agents. Despite providing information to the Justice Department investigator assigned to the case—Daniel Warwick—everything would be auctioned off in March.

A statue that held tremendous value to her was among the items seized. Documents containing scandalous secrets were concealed in its base. Bettina was using the files to blackmail the longest-serving members of the club’s Top Moms committee. It assured their votes on the club’s business would mirror hers, as opposed to siding with her sanctimonious co-Chief Executive Mom: her sister-in-law, Lorna.

It had been almost two months since she last heard from Daniel. If she were to be honest with herself, she’d have to admit she found him attractive. Although he’d been the epitome of legal and moral decorum, she thought he’d felt something for her too.

So why hadn’t she heard from him?

Because he was just using me to get to Art, she realized.

My God, get a grip on yourself! You’re acting like a bottom.

Angrily, without thinking she muttered, “My life is all a tangle.”

Lily frowned. “‘All a tangle’? Mummy, is that the same as, ‘O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive’?”

Bettina stopped short in order to stare at her daughter. “Where did you learn that?”

“From Professor Pudberry. It’s from an epic poem by…by…Sir Wally Somebody.”

Bettina rolled her eyes. “Sir Walter Scott wrote it. Why, pray tell, did he even mention it, since it isn’t Shakespeare?”

Lily’s nod came with a smile. “He was making a point—that it is often mistaken as a Shakespearean quote. I can see why. Weaving lies gets people into trouble in Romeo and Juliet and other Shakespeare plays.”

“Pudberry—ha!” Bettina declared, while trying hard not to frown. Now that she could no longer afford Botox injections, she was terrified at the thought of getting wrinkles and scaring her daughter.

Time for bangs, she thought miserably, a style that would do nothing for her except hide the evidence of her grief. And since she could no longer afford to go to her stylist, she’d have to cut them herself. Art’s abhorrent actions were enough to give her gray hair, but the thought of using color out of a bottle made her even angrier at her current situation—and at those who seemed to relish in her plight.

Including Reggie Pudberry.

The last time they’d seen him was after an ill-fated trip to the Ikea showroom in Emeryville. To assuage her horror at being recognized in such a downscale emporium so close to Oakland, she and Lily then stopped for lunch in Berkeley, only to run into one of the PHM&T Top Moms: Jade Pierce, who was also Reggie’s new girlfriend. From what Bettina could tell, Jade was spying on Reggie as he ate with his gorgeous teaching assistant. By shouting Jade’s name, Bettina made sure Reggie saw her too. Jade guessed rightly that Bettina was trying to embarrass her. Jade’s way to retaliate was to taunt her regarding some threat that another Top Mom, Kimberley Savitch, had made against Bettina—

Or perhaps Jade was threatening to tell Kimberley something? If so, what could that secret be?

As if reading her mind, Lily asked warily, “Is Oliver’s mommy—Mrs. Pierce—still mad at you?”

Cold dread ran through Bettina’s veins. The thought of Jade in cahoots with Kimberley had her hurrying down the street even faster, despite her very high heels. “Who, Jade? I don’t know. I guess I’ll find out today. We must hurry, Lily! I’ve got to get to the meeting!”

“Grandmother would have driven me to school—if you’d have asked her,” Lily gasped as they ran. “You should be nicer to her, Mummy. In fact, you should be nicer to everyone. Maybe they’ll finally start being nicer back to you.”

She told herself that she was too winded to answer. But in truth, for once Bettina was beginning to believe that her daughter might be right.

Not that she’d ever admit that to Lily.

“Mummy, why don’t you ride the bus there?”

Bettina blanched at the thought. “The Connaughts have never taken public transportation,” she sniffed.

“That’s what I told Uncle Matt. He laughed at me. Then he dared me to ride it with him.”

Bettina scowled. “Who does he think he is, putting you in danger like that? The minute I get home from my meeting, I’m calling him to give him a piece of my mind!”

“It wasn’t bad at all. In fact, it was fun. And it was quick. My friends at school ride it all the time. They say a bus shows up every few minutes.” She pointed west, toward the next block, Van Ness. “They catch it there. Won’t that take you just a few blocks from the library?”

Lily was right. The bus stopped near Green Street, ten blocks north. Bettina could get off there and walk three blocks to the library. The whole thing would take ten minutes, tops.

“It’s only two dollars and a quarter,” Lily insisted. A sudden insight shifted the look of misunderstanding on her face to sympathy. “Is it that you don’t have the money? It’s a shame you pack a lunch for me every day instead of giving me lunch money. Otherwise, I’d have given it back to you, Mummy. Really.”

“I have the two dollars, thank you very much,” Bettina huffed. The thought of Lily eating a public school lunch was galling enough; that her daughter would have given up her lunch money so that she could ride the bus made her heart break. Smoothing Lily’s hair, she muttered grudgingly, “I’ll…think about it.”

She’d do it, but she didn’t want Lily to know—or worse yet, for her to tell Eleanor or Matt. And certainly not Lorna. She’d never survive such embarrassment.

They reached the school door just as the final bell rang. The last students were streaming in. Lily’s teacher, Liz Vanderbilt, was just about to close the door when she spotted Lily running up to her. Bettina winced as Liz beckoned her over as well.

“I’m so happy I caught you,” Liz said with a smile. “I wanted to ask you a special favor.”

“What is it?” Bettina asked impatiently. “I running late—”

“I’ll make it quick. It seems we’ve lost our volunteer class mother. I was hoping you’d honor us and take on the task.”

“Class mother?” Bettina frowned. “I don’t know, Liz. I mean…I’ve got my hands full with the Pacific Heights Moms & Tots Club—”

“Oh? But…Lily mentioned you’d relinquished some of your duties there, now that Lily is in school.”

“She has,” Lily insisted. “My Aunt Lorna is now in charge.”

“No, I’m still in charge!” Bettina muttered in a low growl. “She’s just helping out.”

“Which is why you’d be perfect in the role—and the duties are simple, really,” Liz insisted. “You’ll accompany me on our one field trip every month, and encourage the other parents to participate too.”

Me—riding herd over a bunch of welfare mothers? Bettina recoiled at the thought. That will be the day! “Liz, to be honest, I really don’t think it’s a good match,” Bettina said coolly.

Liz shrugged. “Not a problem. I guessed it might have been a long shot, but Lily insisted you’d be just right for it because you’re such a renowned leader.” She held out her hand to the girl. “We had better get to class.”

Bettina bent to kiss Lily, then turned away before her daughter’s pleading gaze made her say something she’d later regret.

She waited just long enough to watch Lily and Liz walk halfway down the hall before running down the street again.

She got to the bus stop just as a bus was pulling out. The driver must have heard her shout because he stopped short.

She scurried up the bus’s steps. She fumbled in her purse until she found two one-dollar bills, but no quarters. He sighed loudly, but let her on anyway. He also handed her a slip of paper.

“What’s this?” she asked warily.

He stared at her as if she were an alien from another planet. “Bus pass. Allows you to ride any bus for the next few hours.”

She nodded and started down the aisle, but almost lost her footing as the bus lurched forward. Every seat was taken, so she held onto an overhead strap.

Noting her pregnancy, a man stood up to offer her his seat. She nodded gratefully and sat down—

But a quick sniff made her realize why the man’s decision wasn’t chivalrous at all. Her seatmate, an older gentleman, probably hadn’t bathed in a week or more. The old man, toothless, smiled at her. Then he lifted a flask from his tattered jacket and took a swig.

Oh, my God, Bettina thought, by the time I get to Green I’ll smell like a brewery!

Realizing that Bettina was staring at him, the man winked and nudged her with the flask. “Wanna drink?”

“Thank you, but I’ll pass,” she muttered, then held her breath to avoid the stench of booze and his body odor.

Bettina’s timing was perfect. A second later, the man let loose with a long, loud fart.

Bettina sat straight up, mortified. To her surprise, no one else on the bus had any reaction at all. They were too busy scrutinizing their cell phones. Are these people inhuman? Where is their sense of decorum? For that matter, where is their sense of smell? I must be in Purgatory!

“Was that me, or you?” The old man’s question to Bettina was loud enough that even the bus driver could hear him, all the way in the front.

The teens in the seat in front of them snickered as they exchanged glances.

“I won’t even dignify that with an answer,” Bettina hissed back.

The old man looked down into his lap. “Did you hear that, Jolly Roger? She thinks she’s better than us.”

Bettina mustered the courage to see what the man was talking to—hopefully, not something that should have been zipped up—and if so, then certainly snipped off for horrifying anyone with whom he came into contact.

To her relief, it wasn’t any part of his anatomy. To her horror, it was a large brown rat.

Her shrill scream sent the rat scurrying off. Bettina leapt up so quickly that she turned over her purse. She grabbed her belongings as quickly as she could before heading toward the front of the bus.

The rest of the ride seemed interminable. If passengers weren’t ringing for stops at every corner, the driver would still somehow miss the next traffic light.

Finally, they reached her stop. She leapt off and practically ran the three blocks to the library, all the while gulping in fresh air to offset the stench of her seatmate. If only it could whisk away the memory of him as well.

She thought she’d pass out before making it to the library’s side door, but she didn’t. I survived, she reasoned. With shoulders straightened and her head held high, she took a deep breath and walked through the door—

Until she smelled it.

Really, not it, but her. She smelled just like the rancid old man.

Just at that moment, all heads turned to her. It was too late to turn back.

She thought, God, I hate being poor! That will have to change.

The sooner the better.

(c) 2016 Josie Brown. All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the publisher, Signal Press. (


What is the name of the old man’s rat?

If you want, answer the question to


Good for any and all of Josie Brown's print books purchased at the 
Book Signing takes place Saturday, April 29, 2017, 3:30-4:30pm, 
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However, to be entered, you must CORRECTLY answer the question based on the excerpts of either of these two books:

For THE HOUSEWIFE ASSASSIN”S TERRORIST TV GUIDE: What is the name of Chucky’s goon?

FOR TOTLANDIA 6: (WINTER, THE TWOSIES): What is the name of the old man’s rat?

If the questions are answered INCORRECTLY, your name will NOT appear below. However, feel free to try again.

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HA10 GGDResearch for This Book
When plotting my novels, I ask myself the question, “Can this happen? Is it plausible?” 
Even the plotting of a light mystery starts with copious research, especially when the topic pertains to bioterrorism, biogenetics, and an industry as complex as agriculture. In my case, advance research for The Housewife Assassin’s Garden of Deadly Delights began with conversations with professionals in particular fields, as well as articles in professional journals and established newspapers.  
Here are some interesting facts that are stranger than fiction:
1. Can plants carry a virus harmful to humans?
Yes. Ebola is a perfect example. Fatalities from this filovirus can run anywhere from fifty to ninety percent. Deaths can happen within a week. The Marburg, Lassa and Machupo viruses can be harmful, and in some cases fatal. As of the time I write this, there are no vaccines for these viruses.
2. Can a virus cause cancer?
Yes. In the course of researching plot points for this novel, I stumbled upon a plant virus known as cytomegalovirus, or CMV, which causes a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer in humans, in conjunction with the patients' genetic markers. CMV is quick acting, and deadly. Whereas there is no vaccine as of yet, the Brain Tumor Society and the NIH are funding a study at Duke University in the hope of developing one.

4. Will swine eat humans?

Yes, there is a precedent. Recent incidents include a case in which an Italian mobster boasted of a rival’s death-by-swine on a phone call intercepted by local police. Another sad incident was that of a seventy-year-old Oregon farmer whose only remains were his dentures. Another incident took place in Romania, where a farmer’s wife was knocked unconscious and was  being devoured when her husband found her and pulled her out of the pig pen. She died in the hospital. (See the article links, below.)

4. As for whether cows attack humans…
A six-year four-state study proves it sometimes happens. In my scenario, I had the consumption of corn tainted with a virus that leads to brain cancer as further motivation.
5. Can a person get killed by getting tossed under a corn harvester?

In December 2014, a Canadian farmer was a recent fatality. This syndicated article notes that he was the third such fatality—that is, via farm equipment—in the area. 

Here's an OSHA report on various farm accidents, including two that include harvesters (one corn, one tobacco). I've also noted a report on farm equipment deaths in Canada for 2014 here.

Again, I look for plausibility. This is, after all, a work of fiction.  
Below you'll find some if the articles referred to here.

Swine Eating Humans

Yes, there is a precedent. Recent incidents include a case in which an Italian mobster boasted of a rival’s death-by-swine on a phone call intercepted by local police. Another sad incident was that of a seventy-year-old Oregon farmer who only remains were his dentures. Another incident took place in Romania, where a farmer’s wife was knocked unconscious and was  being devoured when her husband found her and pulled her out of the pig pen. She died in the hospital. 

Were the hogs starving when they encountered these people? Was foul play involved? In the last two scenarios, unless we were there, we will never know.
Still, these deaths makes my plot plausible, especially when I’ve added the tainted grain scenario that affects the brain of those animals who ate the corn. 

Italian Mobster Sleeps with the Pigs

Published on Nov 29, 2013 /ITN News / Ashley Fudge

Police made a particularly grim discovery in Italy after they realised a mobster boss had been eaten by pigs. The details were uncovered when officers intercepted a phone call from a man who boasted about being one of the killers. While listening in, they heard the man admit how much he enjoyed hearing Francesco Raccosta's screams. ‘Operazione Erinni' has been investigating the mafia in southern Italy and a long-running feud between the Bonarrigo-Mazzagatti-Polimeni and Ferraro-Raccosta syndicate. Police said the murder of Raccosta demonstrated the “utmost ruthlessness and cruelty” of the mafia clans.”


Oregon Farmer's Grisly Death by Swine / October 2012 / Brian Palmer

An Oregon farmer was eaten by his hogs on Wednesday. The 70-year-old Vietnam veteran had gone to feed the animals in the morning, and his family found his dentures and scattered remains in the hog pen several hours later. Authorities are trying to determine whether the pigs deliberately killed the man. 

Yes. Cattle kill approximately 22 Americans per year nationwide, and the animals deliberately attack their victims in 75 percent of those cases, according to a 2009 study. About one-third of bovine killers have a history of aggressive behavior. Swine likely kill fewer people than cattle do, but there are no reliable data on this question. The CDC’s mortality statistics group together all mammal attacks apart from those perpetrated by rodents, dogs, and humans. The death count in the mammal-attack category averages about 73 per year, including cattle-related mortalities.

There are, however, plenty of anecdotes suggesting that swine are willing and able to kill humans. British pigs seem to have a particularly aggressive streak. In 2006, a 650-pound swine pinned a Welsh farmer to a tractor and bit him until the victim’s wife scared the attacker off with a water hose. The same year, a pig foraging in England’s New Forest—a hunting ground where farmers pasture their swine—caused a horse to throw its rider, then mauled the prone woman.

Livestock display an alarming ability to coordinate their attacks. A herd of cattle circles up to confront a perceived threat, with their backsides in the center of the circle and their heads lowered. They may even paw the ground, like a bull facing a matador. Of the 21 cattle-related fatalities in the Plains states between 2003 and 2008, five involved multiple animals swarming the farmer. Pigs are also known to attack cooperatively. In 2007, a sow in Norfolk, England knocked a farmer off his feet, enabling the other pigs to bite the man.

If confronted by an agitated pig or cow, back away and get behind a barrier such as a tree. It also helps to carry a large stick as a weapon and to make yourself appear larger.

October 2, 2012 / New York Daily News, Erik Oritz

A family member of an Oregon pig farmer discovered his relative's body parts scattered across the pen — a gruesome find leaving authorities to believe it was a case of hog eats human.

A pathologist couldn’t immediately determine whether the pigs were the actual cause of 70-year-old Terry Garner’s death, but a forensic expert at the University of Oregon will conduct further tests, CBS affiliate KCBY reported Monday.

“What a way,” someone who answered the phone at Garner’s home told NBC News.

Investigators aren’t ruling out the possibility another person could have been involved.

“Due to the unusual circumstances, the Sheriff’s Office is investigating to determine if foul play may have resulted in the death of Mr. Garner,” District Attorney Paul Frasier told KCBY.

Garner was at his farm near rural Riverton last Wednesday, when a family member went looking for him, according to The Register-Guard.

Garner’s dentures were first spotted inside the hog enclosure, and then other random body parts were located — although most of him had already been devoured, the newspaper added.

The Coos County Sheriff’s Office has a couple of theories on what occurred: Garner could have suffered a medical emergency, such as a heart attack, leaving him in “a position where the hogs could consume him,” according to a statement.

In another scenario, the swine — weighing about 700 pounds each — may have knocked Garner down, overwhelming him before killing him, authorities said.

It’s unclear exactly how many pigs live on the farm, but police believe one of them had been aggressive toward Garner before.

Pigs are omnivorous, and have previously been known to feast on people.

The 56-year-old wife of a pig farmer in Romania was knocked unconscious and eaten in the animals’ sty, UPI reported in 2004.

Her ears, half her face and fingers had been ripped off, a doctor said.


Romanian Farmer's Wife Life and Limbs

March 5, 2004 /  UPI

BRASOV, Romania, March 5 (UPI) — A small farming town in Romania is reeling Friday after learning angry pigs knocked a farmer's wife unconscious and began eating her.

The Sun of London reported Irma Molnar, 56, somehow fell into the animals' sty in Brasov, and likely frightened them badly.

Her husband, Sandor, found her badly maimed and rushed her to a local hospital where she died.

“Her ears and half her face were missing. Her fingers had also been bitten off,” said Dr. Dan Grigorescue.

Her husband was sedated and vowed to destroy the pigs.

“I'll never breed such beasts again,” he said.



As for whether cows attack Humans…

This four-state study proves it sometimes happens. In my scenario, I add the motivation of consumption of corn tainted with a virus that leads to brain cancer:


3. Can a person get killed by getting tossed under a corn harvester?

In December 2014, a Canadian farmer was a recent fatality. This syndicated article notes that he was the third such fatality—that is, via farm equipment—in the area:

Dec 3, 2014 / QMI AGENCY / Toronto Sun

LONDON, Ont. — A 46-year-old man was killed after becoming trapped in a corn harvester early Tuesday.

Brian McConnell, of Bruce County, Ont., is the third farmer to die in farm machinery this harvest season in southwestern Ontario.

In a statement, police warn farmers to “work within their limits and always ensure they keep personal safety in mind.”

The labour ministry, the coroner's office and Ontario Provincial Police are all investigating McConnell's death.





My Research Notes for The Housewife Assassin’s Terrorist TV Guide

HAH 14 Terrorist TV Guide Final - 1400W
Signal Press
eBook: 9781942052609
Trade Paperback: 9781942052777

amazon-2-icon imgres copy  unnamed  kobo-blue


As with all my novels, The Housewife Assassin’s Terrorist TV Guide began with an alluring “what if” premise. Mine came when researching improvised explosive devices—also known as IEDs.

Made to go undetected, IEDs are used as roadside bombs in military theaters of operation. Others are hidden by terrorists in public places. Tragically, not only do these bomb attacks kill the perpetrator’s enemy, they also claim the lives of innocent victims, often in areas of the world already devastated by war.

That said, the particular article that drew my attention appeared in the UK Mirror. It’s title:

Breast Bombers: Doctors Trained to Plant Explosives Inside Chests of Female Suicide Bombers

This very brief feature claimed the United Kingdom’s intelligence agency, MI6, as its source. It also quoted a briefing paper from the United States’ National Security Agency.

Further research brought me to a BBC article on the same subject.

It sounded plausible. But, is it possible?

As of the publication date of this book, there have been several known cases of body cavity bombs—that is to say, bombs embedded or inserted into willing humans and (I presume, unwilling) animals.

As of this day, there have been no known reports of successful breast implanted bombs.

Ah, but, just the thought of such an audacious plan was a perfect story device for the Housewife Assassin series.

Thus, my plot challenge:

How could a jihadist cell make the most of its opportunity to terrorize Americans?

Right then and there, the idea of having this ominous act take place on television was born.

To make the scenario more enticing, the terrorist would seek out a show with a viewing audience that watched a live broadcast. And ideally, the show would have a device to create ongoing audience interest and support for its cast. For these reasons, I made it an unscripted reality program that chose everyday families that the audience could root for, or boo. (We all know a Penelope Bing, am I right?)

This would also give the terrorist a shot to infiltrate the show.

And yes, so could Donna and Jack.

Of course, bringing back Addison Montague (Book 7: The Housewife Assassin’s Hollywood Scream Play) as the show’s producer gave them a leg up—or so they hoped.

Now, couple this with the means to kill innocent victims in the most vicious of ways—planting a device that blows them up from the inside—and the terrorists can wound the American psyche as well.

The sacrifices we are willing to make for love—of self, mission, money, fame, and more—is the overriding theme of this book. It is what drives the contestants to try out and compete for a spot on the show; and why they are manipulated into doing and saying things to their neighbors and their loved ones—not to mention millions watching at home.

Unfortunately for Donna and Jack, this time their quest to uncover the terrorists puts them in the public eye: something all spies loathe in covert operations. The fact that it turns their children’s world upside down is, of course, equally upsetting.

Each of the competing families has something in their backstory to lead you to suspect them. And by keeping the terrorists’ plan of attack a secret until the show’s last episode, Donna and Jack never know who is their real suspect—

Until you do.

I hope you enjoyed this latest Housewife Assassin tale as much as I enjoyed writing it for you.

—Josie Brown