Enter to win a book in my Halloween “Favorite Monster” contest

Ghoul2Dear Reader,

I am SO into ghouls right now!

Some people are all about witches. Others are into ghosts. Still more are into skeletons.

But, hey: show me a ghoul that will make my skin crawl, and I am SO. THERE.

As long as I know it can't run after me.

I love this guy (above). Not that I'd leave my Martin for him, but, hey, he is adorable—as long as he's inanimate.

Scary things should never be real, but left to our imaginations.

OldManGhoulOnce, when our children were just three and five, we took them to a science museum that had an exhibit of animated dinosaurs. All were built to the scientifically-determined heights and colors. They made sounds that you'll remember from the movie, Jurrasic Park.

Delighted, our five-year-old son ran toward the dinosaurs. Our three-year-old daughter followed–

Until she saw a brontosaurus move. Immediately, she did an about-face, leaped into Martin's arms, and literally CLIMBED up his face, holding on for dear life.

What a difference a couple of years in age makes!

Calmly and quietly, Martin explained to her that they were just moving dolls. she peeked at them again. Seeing the joy expressed at the other children who were petting these animatronics, she allowed Martin to edge closer. From her perch, she reached down and petted one of the smaller creatures before smacking it on the nose, declaring, “Bad boy!”

White GhoulThe imagination is the scariest place of all.

Perception vs. reality. Fiction vs. fact. Surreal vs. real. Rightly or wrongly, we deal with assumptions every day, even in small ways—without really knowing the facts.

All the more reason to seek information—look, listen and ask questions—before jumping to conclusions.

In the latest Housewife Assassin book, Donna Craig also perceives ulterior motives that may or may not be real. She and her mission team must chase down the perpetrator assigned to carrying out seven assassination plots.

As always, I had a lot of fun putting our favorite femme fatale in some scary situations and writing her out of them.


Until you can get a copy, be sure to enter my contest for a $100 gift card from the bookstore of your choice. 
HA20 Launch Contest



Enter Button

All you have to do to enter is to write back to me with your monster preference: Ghoul, Witch, Ghost, or Skeleton—and why? No matter your answer, just entering will place you in a contest for a free copy of any of my books of your choice.

Halloween during Covid-19


Let's face it: Halloween is going to be different this year.

The one thing we look forward to—incredible costumes, scary masks, the parades of treat-seeking children—must take a back burner to something much scarier and truly deadly: the COVID pandemic.

I'll admit it: I LOVE IT.

And yes, I will miss it.

In my city, San Francisco—a town that loves dressing up and pretending, all the fun, both for adults (for example, the Castro district) and children (Pacific Heights) It helps that there are so many historical Gothic and Victorian homes! Halloween is officially limited to small gatherings and trick-or-treating is being discouraged. 

Still, folks have been out there decorating as if its 1991. Here, there are always people who have unlimited expense accounts for decorating. Here's an example that Martin and I discovered while walking our neighborhood, Pacific Heights. 

Yep, the picture above is really a two-story-tall skeleton. His shorter pals are glossy black and gold. Talk about fancy!

IMG_2979These heads are definitely more original. This is on a main artery of the city—Marina Boulevard. The home's owner made sure that the heads were large enough to be seen from a distance. I love how he's buried them in the ivy that climbs up his stairs, and even has some woven into the heads as hair. It truly stops you in your tracks!

I'll learn to live with it because I will always put safety over silliness. My life is not worth a few moments of monster madness.

This Halloween, I'm going to Halloween-at-Home by streaming a few movies. Here are my top five horror classics of all time ranked:

5: The Birds. It's Hitchcock at his peak—and that's saying a lot.

4: Deliverance. Talk about Hell on Earth! Burt Reynolds at his best!

3: Misery. One of my favorite screenwriters, William Goldman, took all the suspense in Stephen King's novel and ratcheted it up. Stellar performances by James Caan and Kathy Bates. I wince every time a see it (and every time someone tells me they are my Number One fan…)


2: Get Out. I literally felt doomed. Time will prove it to be a classic in the making.

1: The Shining. Stanely Kubrick did justice to this Stephen King classic. Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duval, embody a true sense of doom. As I watched it in the theatre, I had to look around the screen to remind myself I wasn't there.

Also, I've found some fun recipes for making some scary snacks for us to nosh while watching these. I'll share them with you next week after I've tested them out on the family.

(Trust me, I'm doing you a favor. Martin swears that any time I go into the kitchen, things get scary. News Flash: I ain't Donna Stone Craig.)

— Josie

HA20 Launch Contest


Chalk it up to love…


I love happy street art.

My break from writing is walking. In a city like San Francisco, invariably I look up because there is so much Victorian mansion eye candy to take in.

But sometimes, my gaze catches some wonderful sidewalk doodle.

It's September—a good five months from Valentine's Day—and yet, I found this beautiful heart on the street. The author in me knew there was a story here. I wanted to know: who is Shirley? Who loves her so much that they would declare it so proudly, so lovingly, on this street? (Perhaps, where she lives… Cue My Fair Lady…)

Is Shirley tickled that her beloved has professed these feelings for the whole world to see?

Is she, too, in love with her professed beloved?

I hope so. Such random acts of shared joy are what keeps a relationship alive.

We all need to know someone is thinking of us. That someone adores us.

Go ahead. Grab a piece of chalk and declare your love. It will be appreciated.



Little fires everywhere…


Which, now have turned into large, dangerous, life-threatening infernos—for those who live near them, and those brave men and women tasked with fighting them..

They are all over the state of California, decimating our forests, many of which are old-growth redwoods, some a thousand years old.

My dear friend Emily posted this photo a day ago. It is a smoke plume from a fire burning near the Sonoma Coast.  The color of the setting sun, reflected on the water, is caused by the smoke.

The fires are not just in Northern California. They are roiling through hills, forests and homes in Napa, Sonoma, Solano, Santa Cruz, Alameda, Marin, and Mendocino counties.

The fires were started by lightning, which we rarely see here. And because we get virtually no rain in the summer months our dry forests are always at risk.

Lives, livelihoods, wildlife, have also have been lost or endangered.

It’s been a hell of a year. Northern California did not need this icing on its 2020 crudcake.  🥺😢🥺

You can read about it here…


Samantha M. Bailey – WOMAN ON THE EDGE




In Samantha M. Bailey’s debut thriller WOMAN ON THE EDGE, a mother hands her infant daughter to a stranger before falling to her death in front of a subway train. That is, the woman given the child claims they've never met.

But there is enough evidence to prove otherwise. If she's lying, it's because she has a lot to gain: the child she's always wanted, AND access to the fortune the child will one day inherit.

In other words, WOMAN ON THE EDGE has all the right elements for a taut, breakneck domestic thriller.

Sam and I discuss how the concept for her novel came to her, and why the books plot hits home with so women.  And having personally known Sam since WOMAN ON THE EDGE began it’s journey to publication, if your an aspiring author seeking insights and  inspiration, our discussion on that process is one you won’t wanna miss.





1: No Purchase Necessary.

2: Listen to the podcast, then answer this question:

What is a topic in the book that resonates with readers who have been new mothers?

3: Send your answer to MailFromJosie@gmail.com

Put “Woman on the Edge Contest” in the subject line.

4: All CORRECT answers will be entered. 

5: Answers must be received no later than midnight PT, April 26, 2020.


CONGRATULATIONS  to  the WINNER of last month's Author Provocateur contest for Robert Dugoni's “A COLD CASE”:  Diana Herschberger

Flash Contest! Enter to win a copy of Andrée Belle’s “Queendom” album

unnamedIf you love jazz, you're in for a treat!

I'm gifting two copies of Los Angeles-based jazz singer Andrée Belle's latest album, QUEENDOM, between now and Wednesday, March 27, 2020.

All you have to do is email me at MailFromJosie(a)gmail.com








The Return to Queendom is a cosmic, soul, jazz record about transmuting our pain into lessons, expansion, healing, empowerment, and love. This record is an expression of hearthbreakthrouh, a proclamation of reclaiming one's power to create your own inner Queendom/Kingdom. We recorded the album in Earth Wind and Fire's old studio headquarters and the magic is palpable. Grateful that some of LA's finest musicians blessed the record with their gifts. My hope is that it penetrates your heart and inspires you to live your most passionate, creative, and authentic life – where love reigns supreme.


To get you even more excited, here's one of the songs on the album, performed live.

If you feel you can't wait for a contest to order it, you'll find it specially priced at $10, from Bandcamp.com RIGHT NOW.




Enter, and good luck!

By the way, you can read about my other contests, as well as freebies and bargain books, here…



Author Provocateur Interview: Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke

AP LizAndLisa2LBInsta
APPLE: bit.ly/2LilaBennettsAPApple

On my latest Author Provocateur podcast, I talk plot and process with dynamic duo, Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke, on their latest psychological thriller, The Two Lila Bennetts.

For good reason, the novel has been lauded by Authorlink as an imaginative and unpredictable story of modern life, the choices we make and their consequences.” BookTrib calls it  a “‘whose-doing-it’ masterpiece.”

And Publisher’s Weekly declares: “its flawless pacing will keep readers on the edge of their seats.”

I had the opportunity of talking to this bestselling dynamic author duo about the book’s plot and their creative process for weaving two voices into stories that keep readers turning the pages to see what will happen next.


1: Listen to Josie Brown's AUTHOR PROVOCATEUR podcast with Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke on any of these podcast networks,  here:

PODBEAN:  http://bit.ly/2LilaBennettsPB

APPLE: bit.ly/2LilaBennettsAPApple

SOUNDCLOUD: http://bit.ly/2LilaBennettsSC

2: Now, CORRECTLY ANSWER this question:
Who came up with the book's concept?

3: All entries must be received by midnight, Sunday, September 29, 2019.

4: A drawing for ALL CORRECT answers will take place on Monday, September 30, 2019. Winner will be contacted by Friday, October 5, 2019, and posted publicly here, on my website. 

Déjà vu …


Déjà is when you feel as if you're reliving a moment in your life.

This is one of my favorite Victorian homes. Every time I walk by it, I'm dumbstruck. 

It takes my breath away.

I imagine it as the perfect home for the heroine of my latest three-novel series, Extracurricular. In my imagination, she lives there with her husband, Daniel, who is a corporate attorney; and her three children—seventeen year-old high school seniors, Chuck and his sister, Charly; and their twelve year-old son, Noah.

Nothing in life is perfect. Usually, our imperfections are something we'd rather not showcase to the world. In many cases we'd rather not address them at all.

Or, perhaps we prefer to hide them.

They are our dirty little secrets. 

Audrey's secret goes back twenty-two years. Unfortunately, for her it as just resurfaced in the form of one of the twins' teachers, Egan Gable.

Egan was also once Audrey's instructor. She's recently discovered that he's back at her high school alma mater: Ashbury Academy, the private prep school founded by her mother, Lavinia.

Lavinia also has a secret, which she divulges to Audrey at the end of Extracurricular – Book 1. Keeping this secret for her mother is tearing Audrey apart because she has sworn she will never tell Daniel, let alone anyone else.

Ironically, Egan is an open book. He thinks nothing of baring his indiscretions in his novels.

In the excerpt below, from Extracurricular – Book 2,  Audrey reacts to the twins inquisition about Egan's novel.

(Spoiler alert: if you haven't read Book 1, I'd suggest you wait until you do…)

I hope you enjoy it. If you do, give Extracurricular a try.


EC Book1 Extracurricular / Book 1 (Signal Press
(Release Date: June 28, 2019)
BOOK 1 of an Episodic Series of 3 Books
Digital ISBN:978-1-970093-00-1
Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-970093-02-5

amazon-2-icon AppleBooks unnamed kobo-blue

It's your child's senior year. 

A private high school's reputation is at stake.
A math teacher refuses to grade his final exams on a curve. 
Students have only one more shot at the SAT before college applications are due. 
And a few desperate parents with much more money than brains are willing to do anything to get their children into Ivy League colleges.

And Audrey's dirty little secret will soon be the downfall of everyone and everything she holds dear: love, family, friends, and her private high school alma mater.

In EXTRACURRICULAR, a dark family secret leads to a college admissions cheating scandal at a private school, setting off a crisis of conscience for the parents, teachers, administrator and the students involved—and a catharsis for one couple about their marriage.

Extracurricular EC Book2 copy 2 Extracurricular/ Book 2

Release Date: Friday, September 20, 2019
Digital ISBN: 978-1-970093-06-3
Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-970093-04-9


Extracurricular – Book 2

You’ll never guess who we saw last night!” Tallulah’s voice boomed through Audrey’s car’s speaker.

Oh, no, Audrey thought.

There is no way I’ll allow the kids to hear this conversation.

“Can’t talk now, Tallulah! We’re driving to school!” So that Tallulah would take the hint, Audrey tooted the car horn, causing an elderly man strolling in the crosswalk with his teacup poodle, to bolt upright. He grabbed the dog, wrapping the pooch in his arms protectively.

As the tiny poodle yelped hysterically, the man raised his hand in a one-finger salute.

The kids burst out laughing.

“Oh, my God! Is everyone okay there?” Tallulah asked.

“Ma just scared the bejeezus out of some poor old guy, is all,” Chuck proclaimed. He tapped his mother on the shoulder  “Want to pull over so I can drive?”

“Charly scoffed, “Like heck! I’m the safest driver in the family—”

“No way!” Noah piped up. “It’s Dad by a long shot!”

“Tallulah, I’ll call you back.” The only thing good about the conversation was that it gave Audrey an excuse to hurry off the phone.

“Don’t bother, love! Just meet Bliss and me for lunch—Rose’s Cafe, one-ish! We’ve got to tell you how—”

Immediately, Audrey tapped her phone off the speaker.

“Mom…MOM! You’re passing the carpool line!” Through the rearview mirror, Audrey saw her youngest son smack his head with the palm of his hand. She skidded to a halt.

The car immediately behind her honked its horn.  She sped up again and swerved to the curve, just beyond the drop-off point. The teacher tasked as the carpool monitor gave her a scowl.

Audrey’s mea culpa was a wave.

She caught her youngest son’s eye in the rearview mirror. “You’ve made your point, sir. Now, give me a kiss before your walk of shame.”

Noah’s smack on the cheek was too quick for her to corral him for a kiss of her own.

Never mind, she thought. I’ve embarrassed him enough.

Anxious to find out what the twins thought of their seventh-period teacher, Audrey wracked her brain for some way to raise the subject. She need not have worried. Five minutes into the fifteen-minute ride from Noah’s school to theirs, Charly paused the twins’ usual verbal jousting to declare, “Hey, guess what, Mom? I’m going to try out for Debate Team. Our seventh-period teacher is the coach.”

Chuck scowled. “And that’s why I’m not.”

Audrey gripped the steering wheel so hard that her knuckles turned white.

“The teacher? Who is it again?” To her own ears, Audrey’s voice sounded like a squeak.

“His name is Egan. And he thinks he’s hot shit,” Chuck muttered.

“He’s not the only one. Everyone thinks he hot—especially Fawn,” Charly taunted. “In fact, she’s trying out for Debate Team too.”

Chuck’s jaw fell open. When he caught his mother’s eye in the mirror, he shut it and shrugged. “Then, maybe I will too,” he declared.

“Ha!” Charly crowed. “After how you sassed Egan on his very first day, what do you think your chances are of making it?”

“You…you got into an altercation with your teacher—on his very first day of school?”Audrey exclaimed.

This time, Chuck avoided the mirror and looked out his window instead. “I was asking Fawn something—”

“She squealed while Egan was making his point,” Charly corrected him.

Chuck retorted,  “Well, I proved to Mr. Big Shot Gable that you weren’t the only one in the class who could quote Shakespeare, Little Miss Show-Off.” To prove his point, Chuck nudged his mother. “You see, Mom? All those times you quoted the Bard to put me in my place finally paid off!”

This time, Audrey turned red. “Wow, I’m so proud,” she murmured sarcastically.

Chuck nodded vigorously. “Yeah, well you would have been if you’d seen his face.” Chuck slapped the back of Charly’s head. “Don’t worry, you’ll be the teacher’s pet in no time, just like you are in all your classes.”

The blush that crawled up Charly’s neck was not lost on Audrey. She felt as if the pit of her gut was on fire.

That’s why Charly wants to try out for Debate Team—to impress Egan. History is repeating itself.

I can’t let that happen.

Audrey glanced at Charly. “Honey, do you even have time for Debate Team? You have so many other extracurriculars! And almost all your courses this year are APs. Isn’t it more important to focus on your grades?” She took a deep breath, then added: “In fact, why don’t you drop Comp Lit and do something fun like… I don’t know, Glee maybe?”

Charly looked at her as if she’d lost her mind. “Glee? Are you kidding me?”

“She’s got a point there, Ma.”  Chuck exclaimed. “Haven’t you heard her sing?”

Charly turned to pound Chuck’s arm. He inched away just in time to avoid it.

“I will not be dropping out of the AP class I’ve waited two years to take,” Charly growled. “And as far as Debate Team goes, I’m not trying out just because it’ll quote-unquote look great on my college apps. I’m doing it because it’ll be fun. So if you want me to have more fun this year, mission accomplished.”

Audrey’s heart dropped into the pit of her stomach. Still, she nodded silently.

Don’t push it. Don’t make her suspect anything.

“And besides,” Charly continued, “don’t you want me to follow in your footsteps and lead the debate team to victory?”

“I?…Oh…well…” Audrey stammered. “How did you know about that?”

Charly rolled her eyes. “I saw the trophy in AA’s display case. There was an LA Times article attached. It said you, specifically, led the team to victory.” Charly grinned. “Mom, I get it: you’ve set the bar pretty high. But I’m going to do my best to beat your record.”

“To be frank, it was a team effort,” Audrey insisted. “And it was a lot of hard work, believe me. Yes, it was exhilarating—but for all the wrong reasons.

“Mom, since you already know the ropes, you can help me make the team too,” Chuck declared.

Audrey panicked. “But…Why would you even go out for it? Between basketball and baseball, don’t you have enough on your plate?”

Charly snorted. “Because of Fawn. He’s afraid he’ll lose her to Egan. At least, that’s how Fawn’s playing it.”

“She isn’t ‘playing’ anything,” Chuck shot back. He caught Audrey’s eye in the mirror. “I need an academic extracurricular. Something like that will look great on my college apps. Isn’t that what you keep telling me? So, you’ll help me—right?”

Chuck’s gaze said it all: You love me. Of course, you will.

How could she say no?

As far as Audrey was concerned, they couldn’t reach Ashbury Academy’s student drop-off queue soon enough. While their car idled in line, Charly’s peck on the cheek goodbye came with a question: “Since you were on Debate Team, you had Egan too, right?”

“‘Had’… him?” Audrey stammered.


“For Comp Lit. Isn’t that why you’re such a Shakespeare nerd?”

“Oh! Yes, of course! I mean, that one year Egan was here, I was in his class.”

“Then you must have been excited when his novel came out. It’s called Extracurricular.

“Everyone was.” Even to her own ears, Audrey sounded defensive. She turned her head to hide her frown.

“Do we have a copy in the house?”

“No…” Technically, she was right. Her copy was buried in the back of the closet of her old bedroom in Lavinia’s house.

“Oh,” Charly shrugged. “That’s okay. Zina thinks her mom may have a copy because he taught her too. If not, I’m sure there’s a copy in the school library.”

“Why do you want it? So that you can impress Egan by giving it a glowing review in class?” Ignoring his sister’s glare, Chuck grabbed his book bag. “Or do you just want to read the sex scenes?”

Charly’s eyes went wide. Turning to her mother, she asked, “Are there sex scenes Extracurricular?”

Audrey answer was a flushed face.

Chuck hooted with laughter. “Wow, Mom! Really? His porn is that hot?”

“I wouldn’t know,” Audrey huffed. “Frankly, I never opened it.”

I didn’t have to. Egan read it to me—along with an auditorium filled with others just as moved by his erotic fantasy of…


“I’m sure they’ll have a copy in the school library,” Charly reasoned.

Oh my God—she’s right!

Hearing the honks behind her, Audrey lurched the car forward before squealing to a halt in front of the school’s entrance. “Out, kiddos. Make your mama proud today!”

The twins took the hint and scrambled out of the car.

After pulling away from the curb, Audrey took the first parking space she could find. She waited for AA’s clock tower to chime the final bell announcing the start of the school day and then rushed through the campus to the library…

(c) 2019 Josie Brown. All rights reserved

Extracurricular: You can buy it today.


I used to hate pink book covers.

I felt they sent the wrong message: “This is a book for women only.”

Okay, yeah. Extracurricular is for women. 

Mothers who have sweated—or are sweating—their kids' path to college, or what they hope is a better life for their children.

And for girls—that is, young adult women—who have dreamed, or now dream about, college. Or those young women who are in college, and worked hard to get there—

But know others who may have gamed the system.

This book is for men too. Because men are also worried about how their children will be educated. They stay up late at nights worried that they won't be able to afford the college tuition for their children.

(And they will read it despite the pink hue of its cover.)

They too dream that their children will have a fair chance to earn a slot at the school of their choice.

But then there are parents who will commit fraud—take a “side door,” as it's called—but justify it because it's for their children.

In the three episodic novels that make up Extracurricular, you'll meet all sorts of parents and their kids. One—the protagonist, Audrey Thorpe—will have a shameful secret. Another, Egan Gable, will be the catalyst for the decisions she makes for herself and her loved ones. 

And all the characters you meet will have personal agendas—driven by pride, arrogance, or greed.

A few you'll cheer for, despite the battles they face. Others, you will hate because how they view their lives, and others whose lives they affect on a daily basis.

Nothing is black and white. Just like real life, there are a lot of variables that affect my characters' decisions, both right and wrong.

In other words, what you've come to expect from a Josie Brown book.

So, yes, a pink cover is right for the very first novel in the series, when, after meeting the FBI team that is leading the investigation, we leap back twenty-two years in the past, when the real story begins: a time of  youthful, exuberant innocence.

Where it ends up? Well, that’s the problem. You see, every deed, good or bad, has a catalyst that began in some ripple of time.

The second novel in the series sports a blue cover. It brings us back to the future, with darker times and more at stake. The last cover is a pale yellow, representing knowledge, or wisdom; the light after the storm.

Be duly warned: there will be many trials and tribulations before our characters get there.

If you've been reading my other blog posts about Extracurricular, you already know that this story has been percolating with me for quite some time now: eight years, in fact.

If you're wondering why, it too me so long to write, it's simply that I got sidelined with other fun characters and their stories. My housewife assassin, Donna Stone, for one, who gets even more complex with every book in her satiric series. And of course, my four lovely Totlandia ladies, (and one who was more difficult to love (ahem: BETTINA). And Ben Brinker and Maggie Vandergalen in The Candidate. 

Before Audrey and Egan, there were Hannah Fairchild and Louis Trollope in Hollywood Hunk; Nina Hart and Sam Godwin in Hollywood Whore; and Lyssa and Harry of Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives; and Katie Johnson and her husband, Alex, in The Baby Planner.

To an author, each story is a puzzle. Each character—every plot point—is just one piece that must fit perfectly with the others to make the story whole.

And now, finally, it's Audrey and Egan's turn. Their story is part comedy, some tragedy, and hopefully a journey that you'll enjoy all along the way. Since I initially concepted it, the world has gotten even more complex. Ironically, the issues they face in the novels—first as young adults, then with children of their own—reflect what we see happening now, as it pertains with college admissions and the lengths those with more money than brains will go to make sure their children get into “the right schools.”

And yes, the foibles of the parents caught up in the current scandals will be reflected in Extracurricular.

Sometimes, you can't make this stuff up. At least, together, we can laugh at it.

Thanks for taking a chance on my story.


Extracurricular-KindleExtracurricular / Book 1

Signal Press (Release Date: June 28, 2019)
BOOK 1 of an Episodic Series of 3 Books
Digital ISBN:978-1-970093-00-1
Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-970093-02-5

amazon-2-icon AppleBooks unnamed kobo-blue

It's your child's senior year. 
A private high school's reputation is at stake.
A math teacher refuses to grade his final exams on a curve. 
Students have only one more shot at the SAT before college applications are due. 
And a few desperate parents with much more money than brains are willing to do anything to get their children into Ivy League colleges.

And Audrey's dirty little secret will soon be the downfall of everyone and everything she holds dear: love, family, friends, and her private high school alma mater.

In EXTRACURRICULAR, a dark family secret leads to a college admissions cheating scandal at a private school, setting off a crisis of conscience for the parents, teachers, administrator and the students involved—and a catharsis for one couple about their marriage.





Extracurricular Excerpt: The Sting


I started writing Extracurricular eight years ago. As luck would have it, the recent college admissions cheating scandal made it a timely book to be launch this summer.

The scandal also gave me the impetus to expand the story into a three-book series. Whereas it was always going to be about about the consequence of a young lust that morphed into a three-year obsession and a twenty-two year-old secret, what sets its revelation in motion is a private school's involvement with the same illegal activities we're reading about now. 

As in real life, in this novel series, a few over-anxious parents will ruin not only their own lives, but that of the ones the loves they love most: their almost-adult children whose lives they feel they most micromanage as opposed to letting their children grow and mature through their own life experiences.

In the meantime, the reputations of school are also tarnished.

The excerpt above takes place during the middle of an FBI sting operation. In order to lessen her own jail sentence, a cooperating witness, nicknamed “Maleficent” by the agents because of imperious attitude, is recording two clients who interested in her “special attention” college counseling services.

Does it make it more palatable to readers that they are just as despicable as her? Throughout the book, that won't always be the case.

In Extracurricular, ego, desperation, insecurity, shame, lies, and lust play equal parts in 

Read the excerpt here, and then enter my contest, which has LOTS of goodies to win…


Extracurricular / Book 1

Signal Press (Release Date: June 28, 2019)
BOOK 1 of an Episodic Series of 3 Books
Digital ISBN:978-1-970093-00-1
Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-970093-02-5

amazon-2-icon AppleBooks unnamed kobo-blue

It's your child's senior year. 
A private high school's reputation is at stake.
A math teacher refuses to grade his final exams on a curve. 
Students have only one more shot at the SAT before college applications are due. 
And a few desperate parents with much more money than brains are willing to do anything to get their children into Ivy League colleges.

And Audrey's dirty little secret will soon be the downfall of everyone and everything she holds dear: love, family, friends, and her private high school alma mater.

In EXTRACURRICULAR, a dark family secret leads to a college admissions cheating scandal at a private school, setting off a crisis of conscience for the parents, teachers, administrator and the students involved—and a catharsis for one couple about their marriage.

Extracurricular Excerpt: What started it all.


So, what does it take to make you walk away from a relationship? Would the same event, perhaps, make you open your heart to someone else?

If you're seventeen, perhaps. 

If you're thirty-seven, maybe not. Unless weighted down with maturity,  nothing could stop a few flurries of desire from rolling down a sheer-faced mountain of impulse and becoming an avalanche of regret.  

If, twenty-two years ago, Extracurricular's protagonist, Audrey Thorpe, finds her boyfriend in flagrante delecto between SAT tests  That leaves her disgusted. It also leaves her vulnerable to any good looking, twenty-something who is distinguished enough to teach at her other's private high school—

Especially when he signals he's also attracted to her by flirting with her.


Until he finds out she's not even eighteen.

And, worse, yet, her mother will soon be his boss.

 Read the excerpt here, and then enter my contest, which has LOTS of goodies to win…


Extracurricular / Book 1

Signal Press (Release Date: June 28, 2019)
BOOK 1 of an Episodic Series of 3 Books
Digital ISBN:978-1-970093-00-1

Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-970093-02-5

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It's your child's senior year. 
A private high school's reputation is at stake.
A math teacher refuses to grade his final exams on a curve. 
Students have only one more shot at the SAT before college applications are due. 
And a few desperate parents with much more money than brains are willing to do anything to get their children into Ivy League colleges.

And Audrey's dirty little secret will soon be the downfall of everyone and everything she holds dear: love, family, friends, and her private high school alma mater.

In EXTRACURRICULAR, a dark family secret leads to a college admissions cheating scandal at a private school, setting off a crisis of conscience for the parents, teachers, administrator and the students involved—and a catharsis for one couple about their marriage.

The Odd Couple


One of the joys of writing a book is not only creating a backstory for your protagonists but also fully outlining your secondary characters. When I starting writing ExtracurricularI realized immediately that I could have fun with the FBI agents who are leading the investigation for the college admissions scandal: Lionel Polk and SallyAnne Jagger.

We meet them at the very beginning of the novel. Their interactions there show how such a seemingly Mutt-and-Jeff team can work in tandem by playing to each other's strengths. At the same time, this dynamic duo isn't immune to each other's weaknesses.

And, as you'll read in this excerpt, an chance exchange with one of the book's protagonists is the catalyst for acting on their mutual attraction.

But, before that can happen, they have to agree on one thing: that their key witness, a.k.a., Cooperating Witness 1, is a despicable character.

SallyAnne has already given her a nickname: Maleficent. Read the excerpt here and find out why…


Extracurricular / Book 1

Signal Press (Release Date: June 28, 2019)
BOOK 1 of an Episodic Series of 3 Books
Digital ISBN:978-1-970093-00-1

Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-970093-02-5

amazon-2-icon AppleBooks unnamed kobo-blue

It's your child's senior year. 
A private high school's reputation is at stake.
A math teacher refuses to grade his final exams on a curve. 
Students have only one more shot at the SAT before college applications are due. 
And a few desperate parents with much more money than brains are willing to do anything to get their children into Ivy League colleges.

And Audrey's dirty little secret will soon be the downfall of everyone and everything she holds dear: love, family, friends, and her private high school alma mater.

In EXTRACURRICULAR, a dark family secret leads to a college admissions cheating scandal at a private school, setting off a crisis of conscience for the parents, teachers, administrator and the students involved—and a catharsis for one couple about their marriage.

Debra Webb’s THE SECRETS WE BURY – Author Provocateur Podcast

ap DebWeb 1000 copy 2Podbean  SoundCloud 1632 ApplePodcasts

Today's guest is the prolific suspense novelist Debra Webb, a USA-Today and Publishers Weekly bestselling author with over one hundred and fifty books to her name.

Debra’s latest novel, THE SECRETS WE BURY, is the first in a new romantic suspense series whose protagonist, Dr. Rowan Dupont—formally Nashville Police Department’s forensic psychologist—also happens to be an undertaker’s daughter.

Rowan, who comes from the small town of Winchester TN, is haunted by the mysterious drowning death of her twin sister. Between her mother’s subsequent suicide and the recent murder of her father, returning to Winchester to run the funeral home feels fitting—even if it leaves her vulnerable to an obsessive serial killer.

Debra and I not only discussed her plotting and how her own past affects her writing, she also has sage advice to authors just starting out: “If what you write is what readers want to read, don't deviate from what works best for them—and for you.” 

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.

James Rollins – CRUCIBLE

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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 TheBigThrill.org

David Baldacci – Long Road to Mercy


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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 TheBigThrill.org