I am thrilled to be partnering with Hanover Square Press to bring you my stop on the book blog tour for Before the Devil Fell by Neil Olson .
About the book :
“Equal parts engaging and creepy, this twisty tale deftly examines how secrets and regret can continue to reverberate through generations. A suspenseful story that examines how families haunt each other in life and death; possibly too creepy for late-night reading.” —Kirkus Reviews
Will Connor returns to his hometown, a village north of Boston, to care for his injured mother. He’s kept his distance from the town since high school, but once home he finds himself reexamining a horrific incident that took place during one of his mother’s “spirit circles.” His mother had embraced the hippie generation’s fascination with New Age and the arcane, but the unexpected death of a close friend put an end to the meetings of the modern-day coven.
Or did it?
As Will looks deeper into his family’s history he discovers that her practices weren’t so much a passing fad but the latest link in a long tradition of New England witchcraft, which still seems to hold a strange power over the town. Will hopes that unearthing the facts about the death will put his questions to rest, but there are those willing to resort to violence to keep those secrets buried.
Miss W’s review:
5 stars from Miss W!!!!
I really enjoyed Before the Devil Fell. This is the perfect read for halloween and fall. This book has everything, the occult, secrets, witchcraft, magic and a suspenseful mystery that I won’t soon forget.
The setting is a small New England town and was perfectly described down to each chilling detail. I have lived in New England my whole life so the accuracy of the setting quite impressed me.
The characters were complex and well fleshed out.
A great read that I highly recommend.
Order your copy of The Devil Fell here !
Thank you to Hanover Square Press I have a copy of Before the Devil Fell to give away to one lucky follower! Comment below and let me know if you have read any books about magic or witchcraft to be entered to win! I will pick a winner on October 31, 2019.
Until the next chapter,
I am excited to be partnering with MIRA publishing to bring you my stop on the Blog Tour for A Girl Named Anna by Lizzy Barber.
About the Book:
For cult mystery aficionados…
A Girl named Anna by Lizzy Barber is a compulsive suspense about two teens girls: one lives in the shadow of her abducted sister, the other is desperate to uncover the sinister truth behind her strange and reclusive upbringing. In their frantic search for answers, both become dangerously enmeshed in a frightening international conspiracy with a powerful and corrupt religious group at its center.
Miss W’s Review:
5 Stars from Miss W!!!!!!
I really loved this debut novel by Lizzy Barber.
I really enjoyed that the narrative was written from two perspectives, Anna and Rosie whose story revealed itself in alternating chapters. The reader knew more than Anna and Rosie and I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the story to catch up to what was in my mind.
This is such a well written book that is expertly paced with a perfectly timed progression.
The characters were complex, complicated and well fleshed out which I really appreciate.
I loved the twists and turns and especially the ending. Read the epilogue!
This is a compelling read and honestly cannot believe this is a debut author.
I highly recommend this book.
Publication Date: 9/3/19
Get your copy HERE!
I mentioned a GIVEAWAY!
Thank you to MIRA for providing a paperback of A Girl Named Anna to one LUCKY follower.
Just drop a comment below to be entered to win and I will pick a winner on 10/20/19!
Until the next chapter,
I am thrilled to be partnering with Park Row books and sharing with you my stop on the book blog tour for The Stranger Inside by Lisa Unger.
Park Row Books • Hardcover/eBook • PUB DATE: September 17, 2019
About the Book:
Even good people are drawn to do evil things … Twelve-year-old Rain Winter narrowly escaped an abduction while walking to a friend’s house. Her two best friends, Tess and Hank, were not as lucky. Tess never came home, and Hank was held in captivity before managing to escape. Their abductor was sent to prison but years later was released. Then someone delivered real justice–and killed him in cold blood.
Now Rain is living the perfect suburban life, her dark childhood buried deep. She spends her days as a stay-at-home mom, having put aside her career as a hard-hitting journalist to care for her infant daughter. But when another brutal murderer who escaped justice is found dead, Rain is unexpectedly drawn into the case. Eerie similarities to the murder of her friends’ abductor force Rain to revisit memories she’s worked hard to leave behind. Is there a vigilante at work? Who is the next target? Why can’t Rain just let it go?
Introducing one of the most compelling and original killers in crime fiction today, Lisa Unger takes readers deep inside the minds of both perpetrator and victim, blurring the lines between right and wrong, crime and justice, and showing that sometimes people deserve what comes to them.
Miss W’s Review:
5 Stars from Miss W!!!!
I will start out by saying I have read every single one of Lisa Unger’s books. She is one of my favorite authors. She never disappoints in her story telling. The Stranger Inside took me on a roller coaster ride that I never wanted to get off.
The story is well written. I enjoy the writing style portraying different points of view through 12 year old Laraine and Hank. I thought that I knew what direction the story was going in and then BOOM an incredible twist that changed the trajectory of the whole story.
The characters are so well developed and fleshed out. The author has an extreme talent for writing characters in such a way that you understand their thoughts before you even read the words on the page.
Without giving anything away, the end was SHOCKING , the ultimate twist.
I highly recommend The Stranger Inside by Lisa Unger.
I am clearly not the only one that LOVED this book !
Praise for the Stranger Inside:
“This complex psychological thriller digs deep into the layers of trauma that linger
long after a terrible crime.”—Kirkus, STARRED review
“Unger’s well-honed craft shows in her unmasking the avenger early on and
using the reveal to ratchet up suspense.”—Publishers Weekly
“A delicious path of fear, lies, and long-awaited justice, with an
ending that will leave jaws dropping.”—Booklist
“A darkly thrilling tale of survival and obsession. Lisa Unger never disappoints.”
—Riley Sager, bestselling author of Lock Every Door
About the Author:
Lisa Unger is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author
of seventeen novels, including THE STRANGER INSIDE. With
millions of readers worldwide and novels published in twenty-six
languages, Lisa Unger is widely regarded as a master of suspense. In
2019, she received two Edgar Award nominations, an honor held by
only a few writers including Ruth Rendell and Agatha Christie. The
Edgar-nominated Under My Skin is also a finalist for the prestigious
Hammett Prize. And the original short story The Sleep Tight Motel is a
#1 bestselling single.
Click here to buy your copy of The Stranger Inside by Lisa Unger.
I would love to know if you have read Lisa Unger before. Drop me a comment.
Until the next chapter,
A Dash of Christmas
By Samantha Chase
Publication Date 9/24/2019
I am such a romance junkie and I love christmas stories. I am thrilled to partner with Sourcebooks Casablanca to bring you Miss W’s stop on the book blog tour for A Dash of Christmas by Samantha Chase.
About the Book:
With a dash of Christmas magic…
Two people who have spent most of their lives being rivals…
Learn a little something about following their hearts…
Carter Montgomery broke the family mold when he went to culinary school. Now a successful restaurateur, he’s at a crossroads: should he continue on his successful path or look for a new challenge? What he needs is time alone to think things through. But his matchmaking family has other ideas…
Emery Monaghan’s no-good fiancé has embroiled her in scandal and she needs a way out. When mentor Eliza Montgomery offers her a refuge, she’s relieved—until she realizes that the deal means rubbing elbows with Eliza’s son Carter—Emery’s childhood nemesis.
Miss W’s Review:
5 incredible stars from Miss W !!!!!!!!!
A Dash of Christmas is the last book in the Montgomery Brothers Series and what a perfect way to end the series. I absolutely fell in love with Emery and Carter and their chemistry. I really enjoyed reading the journey of these two characters on the road to their happily ever after. The characters are well developed and fleshed out. The story is multilayered and complex. I LOVED the ending and I felt like this final book brought the whole series full circle reading about the other family members newsletters before wrapping it up. Kudos to Samantha Chase for a fantastic book.
Be sure to check out the other books in this series:
The Montgomery Brothers series:
Wait for Me (Book 1)
Trust in Me (Book 2)
Stay With Me (Book 3)
More of Me (Book 4)
Return to You (Book 5)
Meant for You (Book 6)
I’ll Be There (Book 7)
Until There Was Us (Book 8)
Suddenly Mine (Book 9)
I am excited to be able to bring you an exclusive excerpt of A Dash of Christmas!!!
His voice was raw and it wasn’t hard to tell there was a battle waging within him. Normally, Emery enjoyed watching Carter squirm and struggle, but for some reason seeing him this emotional after a call with his mother affected her in a way she didn’t expect.
She felt compassion for him—a need to comfort him and tell him it was going to be all right.
She made her way toward him. “I think it would be best for everyone if I did. You didn’t deserve to be blindsided like this, and I’m sorry it happened this way. I truly believed you were aware of what was going on and you were coming here specifically to work on the book. I had no idea your trip here had nothing to do with it or that you were so against giving it more attention.”
Carter’s shoulders sagged a little. “At any other time…”
“I know,” she said softly, moving a little closer. “I get it. Hey, there isn’t anything I can do about whatever else you’re dealing with, but on this particular subject, I can. I’ll work with the files you sent your mother and I’ll make it into something closer to what she’s looking for, okay? And in the meantime, I’ll stay out of your way so you can have at least one night’s peace.”
They stood in silence for a long time, and as much as Emery wanted to pack and get out of his way, she couldn’t seem to make herself move. In all the years they had known one another, they had bickered and poked fun at each other and essentially gone out of their own way to make the other miserable. It was what they did. It was comfortable. But right now, she couldn’t think of a single snarky or antagonistic comment.
And that freaked her out.
Swallowing hard, she took a step back. And then another. Next thing she knew, she had spun and was walking back to her bedroom, mildly trembling. She went straight to her closet and pulled out her weekender bag. Knowing she wasn’t going to be going out or doing anything other than vegging in her hotel room, she walked over to her dresser and pulled out a couple of pairs of yoga pants, a few T-shirts, a pair of pajamas, and a pair of shorts and tossed them in the bag. Next, she opened her lingerie drawer and was pulling out a handful of panties when a large male hand closed over hers. Gasping with surprise, she turned and found herself face-to-face with Carter.
While they both held her panties.
Emery wanted to be outraged—or at the very least annoyed that he had invaded her space when she was clearly trying to be the bigger person here, but for some reason she couldn’t seem to make herself speak or react.
What was happening to her?
“This is crazy,” he said, his voice deep and low and borderline hypnotic.
So he felt it, too? This sudden, crazy pull toward one another? The change in the air around them?
“I already said I didn’t want you to go, Em,” he went on and that’s when she realized what he was talking about.
Forcing her gaze away, she carefully pulled her hand and underwear from his. “I think it’s for the best.” Then she moved away, tossing her garments in the weekender bag along with the rest of her clothes. For a few minutes, she busied herself collecting odds and ends—her laptop, her e-reader, her iPod—before going into the bathroom and grabbing her toothbrush, makeup, and brushes. Anything else she needed she’d get from housekeeping. When she walked back out into the bedroom, she found Carter sitting quietly on her bed.
And her weekender bag emptied.
Okay, now she was outraged.
“Seriously, Carter?” she cried. “Why can’t you just let me do this?”
He shrugged. “I already told you. It’s not necessary.”
“To me it is! There’s no reason for me to stay here. And, might I remind you, I’ve been a thorn in your side since we were kids!”
It pleased her that he paled a little at having his words thrown back at him.
“I would think you’d be thankful that I was leaving,” she said, hating the tremor in her voice. “One less thing for you to worry about.”
The curse that flew out of his mouth followed by a huff of annoyance didn’t really surprise her. This was them. This was the relationship they had. And honestly, she preferred this to the strained silence and whatever it was that she was feeling just minutes ago.
Carter stood and walked over until they were toe to toe. “What I said to my mother,” he began and then stopped. “What I mean is, that was said in the heat of the moment and really, it couldn’t have been news to you. I’ve been telling you that to your face since we were twelve.”
“Eleven, but…whatever,” she corrected and smirked when he growled with frustration.
“That! That right there is why I said it! Can’t you just let some things go?”
“Me?” she cried. “How about you? I was being the bigger person here! I was putting your feelings first, and where did that get me, huh? I should be in a cab on my way to a hotel with room service, but instead I’m here arguing with you again! Why couldn’t you just let me leave?”
They both instantly fell silent and Emery felt herself holding her breath while she waited for his answer.
“What’s the matter?” she finally asked. “Is it possible the arrogant Carter Montgomery has nothing to say for himself for the first time in his life?”
Yeah, she was taunting him, but…she needed to. Needed things to be like they always were. If she didn’t get them back on solid ground—back on the familiar turf of a lifelong rivalry—she wouldn’t know what to do. For years she’d been aware of Carter as a person. She couldn’t deal with suddenly being aware of him as a man.
When his only response was a slight tick in his jaw, she figured she’d poke the bear a little more. “Did you burn the sauce? Is that why we’re not eating yet? Or maybe you realized all that pretentious crap you bought was no better than grabbing a couple of slices from the pizzeria on the corner.” She noted he seemed to be almost inflating before her eyes—his posture straightened, his shoulders seemed to grow broader…
Go big or go home, right?
Leaning in, she said, “I bet you really don’t know how to make homemade pizza. At least not good homemade pizza.” She let out a devious little laugh. “Probably thought I would be too naive to know the difference. You probably could have served up one of my frozen pizzas and I wouldn’t know the difference.”
He was breaking molars now, no doubt.
“Not that it matters. I’ve got some microwave popcorn I can have for dinner, along with the last brownie. That’s the kind of stuff I can count on—and will probably be a lot more enjoyable.”
This time when Emery tried to move away, Carter’s large hand on her arm stopped her.
She had to hide her smile of satisfaction. “Problem?” she asked innocently.
“You’ve got a real smart mouth, Emery, but you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”
“Oh, really? Care to explain?”
But he shook his head. “As a matter of fact, no. I don’t.”
She shrugged. “Fine, whatever. Now, if you’ll excuse me, my dinner awaits.”
“If you so much as think of making popcorn for dinner, I’ll strangle you,” he said, tugging her closer.
When she leaned in until they were nose to nose, she said, “I dare you.”
“Such a smart mouth,” he said right before he claimed it.
Excerpted from A Dash of Christmas by Samantha Chase. © 2019 by Samantha Chase. Used with permission of the publisher, Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc. All rights reserved.
About the Author:
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Samantha Chase has published more than twenty romance novels, with over half a million copies sold.
Visit her at www.chasing-romance.com. She lives with her husband and their two sons in Wake Forest, North Carolina.
Praise for Samantha Chase:
“Utter rock star perfection. I dare you to stop reading until the end.”—Rachel Van Dyken, New York Times Bestselling Author, for One More Moment
“Chase’s three-dimensional characters leap off the page, encouraging readers to sit down, put their feet up, and enjoy…charming.”—Publishers Weekly for Until There Was Us
“Chase just gets better and better.”—Booklist
I know you must be ready to pick up your copy of A Dash of Christmas and be sure to subscribe to Samantha Chase’s newsletter!!!
I think I mentioned a GIVEAWAY!!!!!!
Thank you to Sourcebooks Casablanca for this fantastic giveaway!!!! Enter HERE!
Let me know what you think about this book! Have you read Samantha Chase before? I really enjoy this author A LOT!!!!
Until the next chapter,
I am thrilled to be partnering with St. Martin’s Press to bring you my stop on the blog tour for The Escape Room by Megan Goldin. This book blew me away and I am excited to share with you an author interview and an exclusive excerpt of the book and a GIVEAWAY!
About the Book:
In Megan Goldin’s unforgettable debut, The Escape Room, four young Wall Street rising stars discover the price of ambition when an escape room challenge turns into a lethal game of revenge.
Welcome to the escape room. Your goal is simple. Get out alive.
In the lucrative world of finance, Vincent, Jules, Sylvie, and Sam are at the top of their game. They’ve mastered the art of the deal and celebrate their success in style—but a life of extreme luxury always comes at a cost.
Invited to participate in an escape room as a team-building exercise, the ferociously competitive co-workers crowd into the elevator of a high rise building, eager to prove themselves. But when the lights go off and the doors stay shut, it quickly becomes clear that this is no ordinary competition: they’re caught in a dangerous game of survival.
Trapped in the dark, the colleagues must put aside their bitter rivalries and work together to solve cryptic clues to break free. But as the game begins to reveal the team’s darkest secrets, they realize there’s a price to be paid for the terrible deeds they committed in their ruthless climb up the corporate ladder. As tempers fray, and the clues turn deadly, they must solve one final chilling puzzle: which one of them will kill in order to survive?
Miss W’s Review:
5 STARS from Miss W !!!!!!
The Escape Room is one of the BEST thrillers I have read in 2019, and I read a lot of thrillers. This book was EXTREMELY hard to put down and I read it in one day. This is a fast paced, well written and intriguing story .
The narration alternates between two timelines, two settings and several points of view. HOLD ON, its going to be a bumpy ride. The backdrop for the story revolves around the extreme cutthroat world of investment banking and finance.
The author’s descriptive writing is so excellent I felt like I was trying to Escape the Elevator myself. I could not turn the pages fast enough.
There are so many secrets and lies , I was totally engrossed in every minute of this book.
I highly recommend this incredibly well written psychological thriller!
I have an exclusive excerpt from THE ESCAPE ROOM:
It was Miguel who called 911 at 4:07 a.m. on an icy Sunday morning. The young security guard spoke in an unsteady voice, fear disguised by cocky nonchalance.
Miguel had been an aspiring bodybuilder until he injured his back lifting boxes in a warehouse job and had to take night- shift work guarding a luxury office tower in the final stages of construction. He had a muscular physique, dark hair, and a cleft in his chin.
He was conducting a cursory inspection when a scream rang out. At first, he didn’t hear a thing. Hip- hop music blasted through the oversize headphones he wore as he swept his flashlight across the dark recesses of the lobby.
The beam flicked across the classical faces of reproduction Greek busts cast in metal and inset into niches in the walls. They evoked an eerie otherworldliness, which gave the place the aura of a mausoleum.
Miguel paused his music to search for a fresh play list of songs. It was then that he heard the tail end of a muffled scream.
The sound was so unexpected that he instinctively froze. It wasn’t the first time he’d heard strange noises at night, whether it was the screech of tomcats brawling or the whine of construction cranes buffeted by wind. Silence followed. Miguel chided himself for his childish reaction.
He pressed PLAY to listen to a new song and was immediately assaulted by the explosive beat of a tune doing the rounds at the dance clubs where he hung out with friends.
Still, something in the screech he’d heard a moment before rattled him enough for him to be extra diligent.
He bent down to check the lock of the revolving lobby door. It was bolted shut. He swept the flashlight across a pair of still escalators and then, above his head, across the glass- walled mezzanine floor that overlooked the lobby.
He checked behind the long reception desk of blond oak slats and noticed that a black chair was at an odd angle, as if someone had left in a hurry.
A stepladder was propped against a wall where the lobby café was being set up alongside a water fountain that was not yet functional. Plastic- wrapped café tables and chairs were piled up alongside it.
In the far corner, he shone his flashlight in the direction of an elaborate model of the building complex shown to prospective tenants by Realtors rushing to achieve occupancy targets in time for the building’s opening the following month.
The model detailed an ambitious master plan to turn an abandoned ware house district that had been a magnet for homeless people and addicts into a high- end financial and shopping precinct. The first tower was almost finished. A second was halfway through construction.
When Miguel turned around to face the elevator lobby, he was struck by something so incongruent that he pushed his headphones off his head and onto his shoulders.
The backlit green fluorescent light of an elevator switch flickered in the dark. It suggested that an elevator was in use. That was impossible, because he was the only person there.
In the sobriety of the silent echo that followed, he convinced himself once again that his vague sense of unease was the hallucination of a fatigued mind. There was nobody in the elevator for the simple reason that the only people on- site on weekends were the security
guards. Two per shift. Except to night, Miguel was the only one on duty.
When Stu had been a no- show for his shift, Miguel figured he’d manage alone. The construction site was fenced off with towering barbed- wire fences and a heavy- duty electric gate. Nobody came in or out until the shift ended.
In the four months he’d worked there, the only intruders he’d encountered were feral cats and rats scampering across construction equipment in the middle of the night. Nothing ever happened during the night shift.
That was what he liked about the job. He was able to study and sleep and still get paid. Sometimes he’d sleep for a couple of hours on the soft leather lobby sofa, which he found preferable to the lumpy stretcher in the portable office where the guards took turns resting
between patrols. The CCTV cameras hadn’t been hooked up yet, so he could still get away with it.
From the main access road, the complex looked completed. It had a driveway entry lined with young maples in planter boxes. The lobby had been fitted out and furnished to impress prospective tenants who came to view office space.
The second tower, facing the East River, looked unmistakably like a construction site. It was wrapped with scaffolding. Shipping containers storing building materials were arranged like colorful Lego blocks in a muddy field alongside idle bulldozers and a crane.
Miguel removed keys from his belt to open the side entrance to let himself out, when he heard a loud crack. It whipped through the lobby with an intensity that made his ears ring.
Two more cracks followed. They were unmistakably the sound of gunshots. He hit the ground and called 911. He was terrified the shooter was making his way to the lobby but cocky enough to cover his fear with bravado when he spoke.
“Something bad’s going down here.” He gave the 911 dispatcher the address. “You should get cops over here.”
Miguel figured from the skepticism in the dispatcher’s cool voice that his call was being given priority right below the doughnut run.
His heart thumped like a drum as he waited for the cops to arrive. You chicken shit, he berated himself as he took cover behind a sofa. He exhaled into his shirt to muffle the sound of his rapid breathing. He was afraid he would give away his position to the shooter.
A wave of relief washed over him when the lobby finally lit up with a hazy blue strobe as a police car pulled in at the taxi stand. Miguel went outside to meet the cops.
“What’s going on?” An older cop with a thick gut hanging over his belted pants emerged from the front passenger seat.
“Beats me,” said Miguel. “I heard a scream. Inside the building. Then I heard what I’m pretty sure were gunshots.”
“How many shots?” A younger cop came around the car to meet him, snapping a wad of gum in his mouth.
“Two, maybe three shots. Then nothing.”
“Is anyone else around?” The older cop’s expression was hidden under a thick gray mustache.
“They clear out the site on Friday night. No construction workers. No nobody. Except me. I’m the night guard.”
“Then what makes you think there’s a shooter?”
“I heard a loud crack. Sure sounded like a gunshot. Then two more. Came from somewhere up in the tower.”
“Maybe construction equipment fell? That possible?”
A faint thread of red suffused Miguel’s face as he contemplated the possibility that he’d panicked over nothing. They moved into the lobby to check things out, but he was feeling less confident than when he’d called 911. “I’m pretty sure they—” He stopped speaking as they
all heard the unmistakable sound of a descending elevator.
“I thought you said there was nobody here,” said the older cop.
“Could have fooled me,” said the second cop. They moved through to the elevator lobby. A light above the elevator doors was flashing to indicate an elevator’s imminent arrival. “Someone’s here.”
“The building opens for business in a few weeks,” said Miguel. “Nobody’s supposed to be here.”
The cops drew their guns from their holsters and stood in front of the elevator doors in a shooting stance— slightly crouched, legs apart. One of the cops gestured furiously for Miguel to move out of the way. Miguel stepped back. He hovered near an abstract metal sculpture
set into the wall at the dead end of the elevator lobby.
A bell chimed. The elevator heaved as it arrived.
The doors parted with a slow hiss. Miguel swallowed hard as the gap widened. He strained to see what was going on. The cops were blocking his line of sight and he was at too sharp an angle to see much.
“Police,” shouted both cops in unison. “Put your weapon down.”
Miguel instinctively pressed himself against the wall. He flinched as the first round of bullets was fired. There were too many shots to count. His ears rang so badly, it took him a moment to realize the police had stopped firing. They’d lowered their weapons and were shouting something. He didn’t know what. He couldn’t hear a thing over the ringing in his ears.
Miguel saw the younger cop talk into his radio. The cop’s mouth opened and closed. Miguel couldn’t make out the words. Gradually, his hearing returned and he heard the tail end of a stream of NYPD jargon.
He couldn’t understand most of what was said. Something about “nonresponsive” and needing “a bus,” which he assumed meant an ambulance. Miguel watched a trickle of blood run along the marble floor until it formed a puddle. He edged closer. He glimpsed blood splatter on the wall of the elevator. He took one more step. Finally, he could see inside the elevator. He immediately regretted it. He’d never seen so much blood in all his life.
Thirty-four Hours Earlier
Vincent was the last to arrive. His dark overcoat flared behind him as he strode through the lobby. The other three were standing in an informal huddle by a leather sofa. They didn’t notice Vincent come in. They were on their phones, with their backs to the entrance, preoccupied with emails and silent contemplation as to why they had been called to a last-minute meeting on a Friday night at an out-of-the-way office building in the South Bronx.
Vincent observed them from a distance as he walked across the lobby toward them. Over the years, the four of them had spent more time together than apart. Vincent knew them almost better than he knew himself. He knew their secrets, and their lies. There were times when he could honestly say that he’d never despised anyone more than these three people. He suspected they all shared the sentiment. Yet they needed one another. Their fates had been joined together long before.
Sylvie’s face bore its usual expression, a few degrees short of a resting-bitch face. With her cover-girl looks and dark blond hair pinned in a topknot that drew attention to her green eyes, Sylvie looked like the catwalk model that she’d been when she was a teenager. She was irritated by being called to an unscheduled meeting when she had to pack for Paris, but she didn’t let it show on her face. She studiously kept a faint upward tilt to her lips. It was a practice drummed into her over many years working in a male-dominated profession. Men could snarl or look angry with impunity; women had to smile serenely regardless of the provocation.
To her right stood Sam, wearing a charcoal suit with a white shirt and a black tie. His stubble matched the dark blond of his closely cropped hair. His jaw twitched from the knot of anxiety in his guts. He’d felt stabbing pains ever since his wife, Kim, telephoned during the drive over. She was furious that he wouldn’t make the flight to Antigua because he was attending an unscheduled meeting. She hated the fact that his work always took precedence over her and the girls.
Jules stood slightly away from the other two, sucking on a peppermint candy to disguise the alcohol on his breath. He wore a suave burgundy-and-navy silk tie that made his Gypsy eyes burn with intensity. His dark hair was brushed back in the style of a fifties movie star. He usually drank vodka because it was odorless and didn’t make his face flush, but now his cheeks were ruddy in a tell-tale sign he’d been drinking. The minibar in his chauffeured car was out of vodka, so he’d had to make do with whiskey on the ride over. The empty bottles were still rattling around in his briefcase.
As they waited for their meeting, they all had the same paranoid notion that they’d been brought to a satellite office to be retrenched. Their careers would be assassinated silently, away from the watercooler gossips at the head office.
It was how they would have done it if the positions were reversed. A Friday-evening meeting at an out-of-the-way office, concluding with a retrenchment package and a nondisclosure agreement signed and sealed.
The firm was considering unprecedented layoffs, and they were acutely aware they had red targets on their backs. They said none of this to one another. They kept their eyes downcast as they worked on their phones, unaware they were the only ones in the lobby. Just as they hadn’t paid much mind to the cranes and construction fencing on their way in.
Sam checked his bank account while he waited. The negative balance made him queasy. He’d wiped out all the cash in his account that morning paying Kim’s credit-card bill. If he lost his job, then the floodgates would open. He could survive two to three months without work; after that, he’d have to sell assets. That alone would destroy him financially. He was leveraged to the hilt. Some of his assets were worth less now than when he’d bought them.
The last time Sam had received a credit-card bill that huge, he’d immediately lowered Kim’s credit limit. Kim found out when her payment for an eleven-thousand-dollar Hermès handbag was rejected at the Madison Avenue store in front of her friends. She was mortified. They had a huge blowup that night, and he reluctantly restored her credit limit. Now he paid all her bills without a word of complaint. Even if it meant taking out bridging loans. Even if it meant constantly feeling on the verge of a heart attack.
Sam knew that Kim spent money as much for attention as out of boredom. She complained that Sam was never around to help with the twins. He’d had to point out that they’d hired a maid to give her all the help she needed. Three maids, to be truthful. Three within the space of two years. The third had walked out in tears a week ago due to Kim’s erratic temper.
Kim was never satisfied with anything. If Sam gave Kim a platinum necklace, she wanted it in gold. If he took her to London, she wanted Paris. If he bought her a BMW, she wanted a Porsche.
Satisfying her unceasing demands was doable when his job prospects were good, but the firm had lost a major account, and since Christmas word had spread of an impending restructure. Everyone knew that was a euphemism for layoffs.
Sam never doubted that Kim would leave him if he couldn’t support her lifestyle anymore. She’d demand full custody of the girls and she’d raise them to hate him. Kim forgave most of his transgressions, she could even live with his infidelities, but she never forgave failure.
It was Sam who first heard the footsteps sounding through the vast lobby. The long, hurried strides of a man running late to a meeting. Sam swung around as their boss arrived. Vincent’s square jaw was tight and his broad shoulders were tense as he joined them without saying a word.
“You almost didn’t make it,” observed Sylvie.
“The traffic was terrible.” Vincent ran his hand over his overcoat pocket in the habit of a man who had recently stopped smoking. Instead of cigarettes, he took out a pair of glasses, which he put on to examine the message on his phone. “Are you all aware of the purpose of this meeting?”
“The email invite from HR wasn’t exactly brimming with information,” said Sam. “You said in your text message it was compulsory for us to attend. That it took precedence over everything else. Well, we’re all here. So maybe now you can enlighten us, Vincent. What’s so important that I had to delay my trip to Antigua?”
“Who here has done an escape-room challenge before?” Vincent asked.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Sam said. “I abandoned my wife on her dream vacation to participate in a team-building activity! This is bullshit, Vincent. It’s goddamn bullshit and you know it.”
“It will take an hour,” said Vincent calmly. “Next Friday is bonus day. I’m sure that we all agree that it’s smart to be on our best behavior before bonus day, especially in the current climate.”
“Let’s do it,” said Sylvie, sighing. Her flight to Paris was at midnight. She still had plenty of time to get home and pack. Vincent led them to a brightly lit elevator with its doors wide open. Inside were mirrored walls and an alabaster marble floor.
They stepped inside. The steel doors shut behind them before they could turn around.
It’s remarkable what a Windsor knot divulges about a man. Richie’s Italian silk tie was a brash shade of red, with thin gold stripes running on a diagonal. It was the tie of a man whose arrogance was dwarfed only by his ego.
In truth, I didn’t need to look at his tie to know that Richie was a douche. The dead giveaway was that when I entered the interview room, a nervous smile on my pink matte painted lips, he didn’t bother to greet me. Or even to stand up from the leather chair where he sat and surveyed me as I entered the room.
While I categorized Richie as a first-class creep the moment I set eyes on him, I was acutely aware that I needed to impress him if I was to have any chance of getting the job. I introduced myself and reached out confidently to shake his hand. He shook my hand with a grip that was tighter than necessary—a reminder, perhaps, that he could crush my career aspirations as easily as he could break the bones in my delicate hand.
He introduced himself as Richard Worthington. The third, if you don’t mind. He had a two-hundred-dollar haircut, a custom shave, and hands that were softer than butter. He was in his late twenties, around five years older than I was.
When we were done shaking hands, Richie leaned back in his chair and surveyed me with a touch of amusement as I settled into my seat across the table.
“You can take off your jacket and relax,” he said. “We try to keep interviews informal here.”
I took off my jacket and left it folded over the back of the chair next to me as I wondered what he saw when he looked at me. Did he see a struggling business-school graduate with a newly minted MBA that didn’t appear to be worth the paper it was written on? Or was he perceptive enough to see an intelligent, accomplished young woman? Glossy brown hair cut to a professional shoulder length, serious gray eyes, wearing a brand-new designer suit she couldn’t afford and borrowed Louboutin shoes that were a half size too small and pinched her toes.
I took a deep breath and tried to project the poise and confidence necessary to show him that I was the best candidate. Finally I had a chance at getting my dream job on Wall Street. I would do everything that I could humanly do not to screw it up.
Richie wore a dark gray suit with a fitted white shirt. His cuff links were Hermès, arranged so that the H insignia was clearly visible. On his wrist was an Audemars Piguet watch, a thirty-grand piece that told everyone who cared that he was the very model of a Wall Street player.
Richie left me on the edge of my seat, waiting awkwardly, as he read over my résumé. Paper rustled as he scanned the neatly formatted sheets that summed up my life in two pages. I had the impression that he was looking at it for the first time. When he was done, he examined me over the top of the pages with the lascivious expression of a john sizing up girls at a Nevada whorehouse.
All the lights in the elevator turned off at once. It happened the moment the doors shut. One moment they were in a brightly lit elevator; the next they were in pitch- darkness. They were as good as blind, save for the weak fluorescent glow from a small display above the steel doors showing the floor number.
Jules stumbled toward the elevator control panel. He pressed the button to open the doors. The darkness was suffocating him. He had to get out. The elevator shot up before anything happened. The jolt was unexpected. Jules lost his footing and fell against the wall with a thud.
As the elevator accelerated upward, they assumed the lights would be restored at any moment. In every other respect, the elevator was working fine. It was ascending smoothly. The green display above the door was showing the changing floor numbers. There was no reason why it should be dark.
Without realizing it, they shifted toward one another, drawn together by a primordial fear of the dark and the unknown dangers that lurked within it. Jules fumbled for his phone and turned on the flashlight setting so that he could see what he was doing. He frantically pressed the buttons for upcoming floors. They didn’t appear to respond to the insistent pressure of his thumb.
“It’s probably an express,” explained Sylvie. “I saw a sign in the lobby that said something about the elevator running express until the seventieth floor.”
Jules pressed the button for the seventieth floor. And the seventy-first. And, for good measure, the seventy- second, as well. The buttons immediately lit up one after the other, each button backlit in green. Jules silently counted the remaining floors. All he could think about
was getting out.
He loosened his tie to alleviate the tightness in his chest. He’d never considered himself claustrophobic, but he’d had an issue with confined spaces ever since he was a child. He once left summer camp early, in hysterics after being accidentally locked in a toilet stall for a few minutes. His mother told the camp leader that his overreaction was due to a childhood trauma that left him somewhat claustrophobic and nervous in the dark.
“I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ll be taking the stairs on the way down,” Sam joked with fake nonchalance. “I’m not getting back into this hunk of junk again.”
“Maybe the firm is locking us up in here until we resign voluntarily,” Jules said drily. “It’ll save Stanhope a shitload of money.” He swallowed hard. The elevator was approaching the fortieth floor. They were halfway there. He had to hold it together for another thirty floors.
“It would be a mistake if the firm retrenched any of us,” said Vincent. “I told the executive team as much when we met earlier this week.” What Vincent didn’t mention was that several of the
leadership team had avoided looking at him during that meeting. That was when he knew the writing was on the wall.
“Why get rid of us? We’ve always made the firm plenty of money,” Sylvie said.
“Until lately,” Vincent said pointedly.
They’d failed to secure two major deals in a row. Those deals had both gone to a key competitor, who had inexplicably undercut them each time. It made them wonder whether their competitor had inside knowledge of their bids. The team’s revenue was lower than it had
been in years. For the first time ever, their jobs were vulnerable.
“Are we getting fired, Vincent?” Jules asked as the elevator continued rising. “Is that why we were summoned here? They must have told you something.”
“I got the same generic meeting invite that you all received,” Vincent responded. “It was only as I arrived that I received a text with instructions to bring you all up to the eightieth floor for an escape room challenge. The results of which, it said, would be used for ‘internal consultations about future staff planning.’ Make of that what you will.”
“Sounds like they want to see how we perform tonight before deciding what to do with us,” said Sylvie. “I’ve never done an escape room. What exactly are we supposed to do?”
“It’s straightforward,” said Sam. “You’re locked in a room and have to solve a series of clues to get out.”
“And on that basis they’re going to decide which of us to fire?” Jules asked Vincent in the dark.
“I doubt it,” Vincent said. “The firm doesn’t work that way.”
“Vincent’s right,” said Jules cynically. “Let’s take a more optimistic tack. Maybe they’re using our escape room performance to determine who to promote to Eric Miles’s job.” Eric had resigned before Christmas under something of a cloud. They’d heard rumors the firm was going to promote someone to the job internally. Such promotions were highly sought after. At a time when their jobs were in jeopardy, it offered one of them a potential career lifeline.
The green display above the door flashed the number 67. They had three more floors to go until the elevator finished the express part of the ride. The elevator slowed down and came to a stop on the seventieth floor. Jules exhaled in relief. He stepped forward in anticipation of the doors opening. They remained shut.
He pressed the open button on the control panel. Nothing happened. He pressed it again, holding it down for several seconds. The doors still didn’t budge. He pressed the button three times in quick succession. Nothing. Finally, in desperation, he pressed the red emergency button. There was no response.
“It’s not working,” he said.
They looked up at the panel above the door that displayed the floor numbers. It had an E on its screen. Error.
A small television monitor above the control panel turned on. At first, they didn’t think much of it. They expected to see cable news or a stock market update, the type of thing usually broadcast on elevator monitors.
It took a moment for their eyes to adjust to the brightness of the white television screen. After another moment, a message appeared in large black letters.
WELCOME TO THE ESCAPE
ROOM. YOUR GOAL IS SIMPLE.
GET OUT ALIVE.
From The Escape Room. Copyright © 2019 by Megan Goldin and reprinted with permission from St. Martin’s Press.
About the Author:
MEGAN GOLDIN worked as a correspondent for Reuters and other media outlets where she covered war, peace, international terrorism and financial meltdowns in the Middle East and Asia. She is now based in Melbourne, Australia where she raises three sons and is a foster mum to Labrador puppies learning to be guide dogs. THE ESCAPE ROOM is her debut novel.
Check out this great interview with Megan Goldin:
1. How did you become inspired to write The Escape Room?
There were a number of inspirations that led to me writing The Escape Room. First of all, I’d had my third baby and, for the first time since my working life began, I’d taken a year or so out of the workforce to be with him. When I started looking to go back to work, I interviewed for a job for which I should have been a serious candidate as my experience closely matched the job description and I’d done something similar before for a similar company. Instead, the interviewer ate snack food throughout the interview with, let’s just say, very bad table manners. He crunched particularly loudly every time that I spoke. I drew on this experience when I wrote about the job interview from hell that Sara Hall went through in The Escape Room. It made me feel powerless. I told friends about what happened and they shared with me their own horror stories in the workplace. It made me want to explore sexism in the workplace in my next novel. It also inspired the idea of a revenge theme. I liked the idea of someone who is beaten down by the system making a comeback.
Around that time I was also stuck in an elevator. I’d gone shopping with my kids. I had a cart full of food. The elevator stopped and the lights went off. It took a couple of minutes until we were able to get out but it was a dark, cold, and frightening couple of minutes in that elevator. I’d been thinking about a setting for this thriller revenge story that I had in mind. It struck me that the elevator was a perfect setting. I was fired up by the challenge of setting a novel in an elevator. It also served my purpose well. I wanted to put my characters in a pressure-cooker atmosphere where animosity would build as they learned each other’s secrets. An elevator was perfect.
2. What was your research process like when writing about the financial industry in the U.S?
When I research my books, I apply journalism skills acquired over the years. That means immersing myself in whatever information I can get ahold of. I read books, newspaper articles, elevator manuals, and even journal studies on human psychology. I also followed forums for investment bankers and others working in the financial industry and some of their social media feeds. I spoke with people who worked in the world of finance and also drew on material that I’d collected in the past. For example, there were big name investment banks in my previous office building and I’d often overhear bankers and brokers chatting in the elevator about their personal lives and work, or in my condominium building where many of them lived. I tend to write and research at the same time as I don’t plan my novels other than the story arc. As the story evolves on the pages while I write, I’ll stop writing for a few hours and branch out to research whatever might be relevant for the novel. In the case of The Escape Room, that included issues such as ‘game theory’ and things as mundane as technical manuals about elevator safety mechanisms and issues related to guns and ballistics. The research is one of the fun parts of writing a novel. I get to learn new things and it breaks up the intensity of writing.
3. Are there any authors that you most look up to?
There is an endless list of authors, from crime and thriller writers, to literary fiction, classics, and non-fiction. Now that I am writing myself, I tend to analyze other books as I read. I look at plot, structure, character, voice, and various other writing techniques. Even as a journalist, I always saw writing as a constant process of learning and refining. I think it’s a lifelong endeavor. Among my favorites is John le Carre. I consider his novels master classes in suspense writing and I often reread them. Yuval Noah Harari’s series, starting with Sapiens, was another inspiration behind The Escape Room, as I’d been reading it and watching Yarari’s lectures on Youtube. It made me look at office culture through a prism of evolutionary biology. Offices are a modern-day human habit and the backbiting office politics is really a case of survival of the fittest.
4. If The Escape Room was to become a movie, which actor or actress would you like to play some of the roles?
Well, a close friend just suggested Bradley Cooper for Vincent! Or perhaps Colin Farrell, Ryan Gosling or Jesse Eisenberg for Sam and Jules. As for actresses, maybe Jennifer Lawrence for Sylvie, or Anne Hathaway or Margot Robbie for Sara Hall. Lucy could be Emily Blunt.
5. Do you have any upcoming projects you’re working on?
I am working on my next book. It’s also a thriller and it addresses contemporary themes but it’s quite different from The Escape Room. I’m a little hesitant about how much to divulge at this point until it’s done.
6. Anything else you’d like to add?
I’m extremely touched by all the support and feedback that I’ve been getting from so many bloggers and reviewers who are passionate about The Escape Room and who love the characters. Thank you all so much.
Get your copy of the Escape Room HERE!
Thanks to St. Martin’s Press I have a beautiful hardcover copy of THE ESCAPE ROOM to giveaway to one of my followers. To be entered to win, please comment on this blog what your thoughts are about THE ESCAPE ROOM. US Residents Only. I will choose a winner on 8/15/2019! Good Luck.
Until the Next Chapter,
I am happy to bring you my stop on the Blog Tour for Ashes in A Coconut by Bo Kearns in Partnership with Suzy Approved Book Tours!
About The Book:
Publication Date: May 15, 2019
Moonshine Cove Publishing
To save her marriage, Laura Harrison accompanies her husband Jack to Indonesia where he is to take over as president of troubled bank; but when her premonitions become reality, events spin out of control. Laura expects their new home in Jakarta to be a romantic hideaway like something out of a classic Bogart movie. Instead she walks into a house of horrors. White sheets cover Gothic furnishings, and black garments hang in the closets. It’s as if the former occupants had fled from some danger. Despite feelings of doom, Laura is determined to make things work. At the local market she’s appalled to see a baby orangutan for sale, its mother having been killer by loggers. She resolves to save the endangered primates and their rainforest habitat. As Laura attempts to grow closer to her husband, they become at odds over his shady business dealings. And when his secrets and life of lies are revealed, Laura finds herself alone and responsible for her own destiny.
Miss W’s Review:
4 Stars from Miss W!
This Book is different than what I was expected and I really enjoyed this debut authors novel. I enjoyed that it took place in Indonesia . I embraced the characters, especially the protagonist Laura.
In Ashes in a Coconut Laura’s husband Jacks takes a new job , which is located in Indonesia and Laura must leave her very different life in NYC which sends them to Indonesia and Laura must leave her New York Home, job, and lifestyle.
This book has elements of superstition, rituals, marriage trials, and self discovery.
The plot was great and there is an element of corruption which takes the reader on a rollercoaster of a ride.
At its core, this is a romance, but much more than that.
I think readers of all genres will enjoy this story.
About The Author:
BO KEARNS, journalist and writer of fiction, is the author of Ashes in a Coconut, a novel set in Indonesia, where he lived for three years. He is a feature writer with Northbay biz magazine and the Sonoma Index-Tribune newspaper. His short stories have won awards—First Prize, Napa Valley College writing contest, Honorable Mention-Glimmer Train Fiction Open competition, and Finalist- Redwood Writers On the Edge genre competition. Other works have been published in the annual California Writers Club Literary Review, Napa Valley Writers First Press, The Red Wheelbarrow Literary Magazine and Sonoma: Stories of a Region and Its People. He is a UC Naturalist, beekeeper, avid hiker and active supporter of conservation causes. He lives in the wine country of Sonoma with his wife. Learn more at http://bokearns.com/.
Ashes in A Coconut is available now. Let me know what you think.
Until the Next Chapter,
I am pleased to be partnering with St. Martin Press and delighted to be on tour for The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister.
Publication Date: May 21, 2019
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
About the Book:
Erica Bauermeister, the national bestselling author of The School of Essential Ingredients, presents a moving and evocative coming-of-age novel about childhood stories, families lost and found, and how a fragrance conjures memories capable of shaping the course of our lives.
Emmeline lives an enchanted childhood on a remote island with her father, who teaches her about the natural world through her senses. What he won’t explain are the mysterious scents stored in the drawers that line the walls of their cabin, or the origin of the machine that creates them. As Emmeline grows, however, so too does her curiosity, until one day the unforeseen happens, and Emmeline is vaulted out into the real world–a place of love, betrayal, ambition, and revenge. To understand her past, Emmeline must unlock the clues to her identity, a quest that challenges the limits of her heart and imagination.
Lyrical and immersive, The Scent Keeper explores the provocative beauty of scent, the way it can reveal hidden truths, lead us to the person we seek, and even help us find our way back home.
About the Author:
Erica Bauermeister is the author of the bestselling novel The School of Essential Ingredients, Joy for Beginners, and The Lost Art of Mixing. She is also the co-author of the non-fiction works, 500 Great Books by Women: A Reader’s Guide and Let’s Hear It For the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14. She has a PhD in literature from the University of Washington, and has taught there and at Antioch University. She is a founding member of the Seattle7Writers and currently lives in Port Townsend, Washington.
Miss W’s Review:
First and foremost, I have to say that using scent as the main theme in a novel is unique and not easy to pull off. Not only does the author pull it off, but she does it brilliantly.
This book fascinated me and was packed with lyrical imagery. The author’s ability to describe scents so vividly the reader felt as if they could actually smell them. What I loved were the flawed characters and the secrets that unfolded during the course of the story.
This book is an extremely powerful book about love, family, trust, and our relationship with not only each other but the scents that surrounded the main character.
The Scent Keeper is thought provoking. Have you ever walked into a room and a scent enveloped you and instantly you were taken back to a different time and place? I have. That association between a scent and a memory or memories is prevalent and poignant and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment reading this novel.
Chapter 1 Sneak Peak:
Back before there was time, I lived with my father on an island, tucked away in an endless archipelago that reached up out of the cold salt water, hungry for air. Growing up in the midst of the rain and moss and ancient thick-barked trees, it was easy to forget that the vast majority of our island was underwater—descending down two, three, five hundred bone-chilling feet. Forever really, for you could never hold your breath long enough to get to the bottom.
Those islands were a place to run away, although I didn’t understand that at the time. I had nothing to run from and every reason to stay. My father was everything. I’ve heard people say that someone is their “whole world,” their eyes filled with stars. But my father was my world, in a way so literal it can still grab my thoughts, pick them up, and toss them around like driftwood in a storm.
Our cabin was set in a clearing at the center of the island. We were not the first to live there—those islands have a long history of runaways. Almost a century ago there were French fur trappers, with accents that lilted and danced. Loggers with mountainous shoulders, and fishermen who chased silver-backed salmon. Later came the draft dodgers, hiding from war. Hippies, dodging rules. The islands took them all in—the storms and the long, dark winters spat most out again. The beauty there was raw; it could kill as easily as it could astonish.
Our cabin had been built by the truest of runaways. He set up in a place where no one could find him and built his home from trees he felled himself. He spent forty years on the island, clearing space for a garden and planting an orchard. One autumn, however, he simply disappeared. Drowned, it was said. After that the cabin was empty for years until we arrived and found the apple trees, opened the door. Raised the population of the island to two.
I don’t remember arriving on the island myself; I was too young. I only remember living there. I remember the paths that wandered through those watchful trees, the odor of the dirt beneath our feet, as dark and complicated as fairy tales. I remember our one-room cabin, the big chair by the woodstove, and our collection of stories and science books. I remember the smell of wood smoke and pine pitch in my father’s beard as he read to me at night, and the ghostly aroma of the runaway’s pipe tobacco, an olfactory reminder that had sunk into the walls and never quite disappeared. I remember the way the rain seemed to talk to the roof as I fell asleep, and how the fire would snap and tell it to be quiet.
Most of all, I remember the drawers.
My father had begun building them when we moved into the cabin, and when he was done they lined our walls from floor to ceiling. The drawers were small things, their polished wooden fronts no bigger than my child-sized hands. They surrounded us like the forest and islands outside our door.
Each drawer contained a single small bottle, and inside each bottle was a piece of paper, rolled around itself like a secret. The glass stoppers of the bottles were sealed with different colored waxes—red in the top rows, green for those below. My father almost never opened the bottles.
“We need to keep them safe,” he said.
But I could hear the papers whispering inside the drawers.
Come find me.
“Please?” I’d ask, again and again.
Finally, he agreed. He took out a leather book filled with numbers and carefully added one to the list. Then he turned to the wall of drawers, pondering his choice.
“Up there,” I said, pointing up high to where the red-wax bottles lived. Stories always begin at the top of a page.
My father had built a ladder that slid along the wall, and I watched him climb it almost to the ceiling, reaching into a drawer and drawing out its bottle. When he was back on the ground, he carefully broke the seal. I could hear glass scritching against glass as he pulled out the stopper, then the rustle of the paper as he unrolled it into a plain, white square. He leaned in close, inhaling, then wrote another number in the book.
I meant to stay still, but I leaned forward, too. My father looked up and smiled, holding out the paper.
“Here,” he said. “Breathe in, but not too much. Let the smell introduce itself.”
I did as he said. I kept my chest tight and my breath shallow. I could feel the tendrils of a fragrance tickling the inside of my nose, slipping into the curls of my black hair. I could smell campfires made from a wood I didn’t recognize; dirt more parched than any I had ever known; moisture, ready to burst from clouds in a sky I’d never seen. It smelled like waiting.
“Now, breathe in deeply,” my father said.
I inhaled, and fell into the fragrance like Alice down the rabbit hole.
– – –
Later, after the bottle had been stoppered and sealed and put back in its drawer, I turned to my father. I could still smell the last of the fragrance lingering in the air.
“Tell me its story,” I asked him. “Please.”
“All right, little lark,” he said. He sat in the big chair and I nestled in next to him. The fire crackled in the woodstove; the world outside was still.
“Once upon a time, Emmeline . . .” he began, and his voice rolled around the rhyme of it as if the words were made of chocolate.
Once upon a time, Emmeline, there was a beautiful queen who was trapped in a great white castle. None of the big, bold knights could save her. “Bring me a smell that will break the walls,” she asked a brave young boy named Jack . . .
I listened, while the scents found their hiding places in the cracks in the floorboards, and the words of the story, and the rest of my life.
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Until the Next Chapter,