A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments and often have guest bloggers. All our authors can be contacted separately, too, using their own social media links.

We find our genre delightfully, dangerously, and deliciously exciting - join us here, if you do too!

NOTE: the blog is currently dormant but please enjoy the posts we're keeping online.

Julie Moffet . Cathy Perkins . Jean Harrington . Daryl Anderson . Nico Rosso . Maureen A Miller . Sandy Parks . Lisa Q Mathews . Sharon Calvin . Lynne Connolly . Janis Patterson . Vanessa Keir . Tonya Kappes . Julie Rowe . Joni M Fisher . Leslie Langtry

Monday, May 30, 2016

Happy Memorial Day

I realized when I started writing this blog that my date had fallen on Memorial Day, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to talk about it. 

First and foremost, my thoughts and thanks go out to all those who have lost their lives while defending our country. Though I don't write military heroes, I love reading them. One of my favorite authors is queen of military romance and she's done an amazing job of shining a light on their courage and selflessness. (I'm talking about Suzanne Brockmann. Her Troubleshooter series is like non other I've ever read.)

To those of you who have lost loved ones as they defended our country, my heart goes out to you. My dad and uncle both served in WWII and both survived to live very long lives, but my neighbor wasn't as lucky with her son who served in the Vietnam War. It's devastating to lose a loved one, but probably even harder when it happens in the military because the possibility is there from the beginning and that fear is always in the back of the mind. 

I hope everyone takes some time to remember what Memorial Day is really all about. It's not only honoring the fallen men and women who have defended our nation, but it's understanding that their sacrifice is why we are free today.

If you've lost someone or know someone who has, please share their name and a little history to help remember and commemorate. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

"The Harder I work, the Luckier I get"

Welcome to an occasional series of guest bloggers.
Today our visitor is Charlie Cochrane, the well-known and award-winning author, notably of the Cambridge Fellows series of historical mysteries.

We hope you enjoy these posts as well as our usual fare!

~~~the Not Your Usual Suspects team~~~

People can’t buy your book if they don’t know it exists. (Well, thank you, Charlie, for stating the bleeding obvious.) I’ve come across several authors - no names, no pack drill - over the years who don’t seem to grasp that simple fact. They write their book, it gets published, then they wait for their royalty statements and wonder why sales are so low. The simple fact is that, for the majority of authors, they have to make an active and effective contribution towards their book’s marketing and that’s not just in our genre, it’s across the breadth of genres. You might say some authors are lucky, but I subscribe to golfer Gary Player’s viewpoint, when he said, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

There’s a checklist of basic things (apart from the usual blog, website, Facebook, etc) which cost us nothing but a bit of time, that every author should make sure they have in place. Amazon author pages for a start, with biog and links - at least for the country the author lives in and for It also doesn’t take a lot of effort to have your blog, twitter, whatever, linked to automatically cross post there. Same applies to your page on Goodreads. And don’t make assumptions that these pages work automatically or by fairy dust. You’ll need to check that all your books are listed on amazon on your author page, especially if you’re in an anthology, and that your Goodreads page is linked to the books you wrote. It won’t happen on its own. There are other opportunities for one time setup, low maintenance online presence, such as Authorgraph, none of which are not technically difficult. Let’s face it, if I can do it, anybody can.

Now, you might say, “But, Charlie, I’ve got all that going, and I’m on twitter and Facebook and all the usual suspects,” (see what I did there?) “Now what?”

To which I'd reply that I think we’re just scratching the surface of the great world of book readers. There is no denying that the core of our genre - our loyal readers of LGBT books - is what supports us and keeps us going. Without them there’d be no business. But there are other potential readers out there. People who loved “The Song of Achilles” would adore Elin Gregory’s “Alike as Two Bees”, and viewers who swooned at Jack and Ianto might like the science fiction books by Blaine Arden or Anna Butler or Becky Black and the rest. And it’s not just that crossover. Readers who like historical fiction in general might enjoy Elin’s books for the settings, as cosy mystery fans would - I hope - enjoy my Cambridge Fellows or Lindenshaw mystery series for the crime element.

So how do we get our books in front of that wider audience? Well, if I had the answer to that entirely sussed, I’d be writing this from my beach house at Provincetown, but I can offer some ideas.

Think wider with your promotion - all aspects of it, not just where you send new release notifications. Do you only promote on sites with an LGBT flavour? What about the other genre elements? Let’s consider historicals as an example, although this applies to other types of book. Are you blogging about them in places where the focus is on the history bit of the story? Could you try to get your work reviewed on a site like the Historical Novel Society? Could you enter their awards? Could you join the organisation as an author, or find other places where you could network with authors/readers who share the non-LGBT “tags” for your book? Are there events you could attend (or better still be on a panel) that relate to that non-LGBT bit? Could you get together with local historical novelists and put on a panel at a local library or nearby literary festival?

There are lots of opportunities out there, and clearly we all need to pick and choose because our time is limited, as are our resources, and we’ll have to try and work out what will be cost/time effective for us as individuals. What works for one author may not work for another. I’d certainly recommend you make yourself marketable. What on earth do you mean by that, Charlie, you daft old thing? Well, we can all think of authors who have got themselves a bit of a reputation for being spiky, for always stirring up trouble. Likewise we can think of people who are a bit unreliable, who never do what they promise. There will be occasions they miss out on offers to do things because their reputation precedes them.

Be reliable, be pleasant, be the sort of person people want to work with!

Biog and links:

As Charlie Cochrane couldn’t be trusted to do any of her jobs of choice—like managing a rugby team—she writes. Her favourite genre is gay fiction, sometimes historical (sometimes hysterical) and usually with a mystery thrown into the mix.

She’s a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Mystery People, and International Thriller Writers Inc., with titles published by Carina, Samhain, Bold Strokes Books, Lethe, MLR, and Riptide. She regularly appears with The Deadly Dames and is on the organising team for UK Meet.

To sign up for her newsletter, email her at, or catch her at:

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

I'm an anomaly. I freely admit it. Unlike everyone else I know, I rarely travel. Exotic places around the globe have never been graced with my esteemed presence. Other than an occasional writer's conference, you will rarely see my eyeballs outside of the town where I live.
But writers write about places other than where they live, right? If I only wrote about the town where I live, trust me, most of you would be bored out of your minds. There's not a whole lot shaking around here.

I'm a voracious armchair traveler, though. Through the magic of books, I've visited many places around the world. I've been to some of the most exotic locales on earth without leaving the comforts of home.

I've walked on the beaches in Hawaii, my toes curling in the black sands while the crystal blue waters lap gently, each wave curls against the shore. The trade winds blow a soothing breeze, and the scent of hibiscus and plumeria fill the air.

I've strolled along the Champs-Elysees in Paris, smelled the freshly baked bread and pastries. Jumped back as reckless drivers sped through the streets and dined at sidewalk cafes across from my love on a romantic getaway for two, while sipping champagne and sharing intimate moments.
I've visited the pyramids in Egypt. Slalomed down the Alps. Gone deep sea fishing off the Florida Keys.

Good writers transport me (and hopefully you, too) to places we might otherwise never see through the magic of their words. They bring alive the sounds, scents and tastes of every element, so much so that if you were to close your eyes for just a moment, you'd find yourself transported deep within the pages of the story—feel as though you are right there with the hero and heroine—experiencing every nuance of their surroundings.

This is what I try to bring to life when I'm writing. My romantic suspense books are set in and around New Orleans, Louisiana. The French Quarter. The Big Easy. Just hearing the name of the place evokes preconceived notions of what it's like. I want you to hear the Cajun and Creole dialect in the words. Feel the energy of the crowds on Bourbon Street at night. Experience the joy and excitement of Mardi Gras. Smell the spicy jambalaya so hot and fresh it makes your mouth water for the first bite.

So, the next time wanderlust strikes and you can't physically get away on some tropical escape—step within the pages of a book and fly away.

Kathy Ivan is busy writing her next New Orleans based romantic suspense, and wishing she was there. Her current release, Sex, Lies and Apple Pies released yesterday as part of the Summer Heat box set and is on sale for release week for $.99 at most e-book retailers.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Redeemable Characters

Broken, hurt, angry. We’ve all been there. Those are emotions we can all relate to. While I try not to make decisions while in a state of emotional upheaval, sometimes that's hard to avoid. But the extreme choices, the ones that would cause a person to seek retribution or exact vengeance or put someone in danger... Those, I reserve for my characters. Exploring the "what ifs" is part of the fun of being a writer.

That must be why characters who tend toward the extremes, who seem irredeemable—and then redeeming them—is so appealing to writers and readers. In my Redemption Club series, I enjoyed exploring heroes and heroines who didn’t always display the most heroic traits. We all have our skills, our strengths, and those usually stem from our life experiences. 

But what if your experiences weren’t primarily positive? What if you were raised on a ranch, off the grid, among anti-government rebels? Or by parents who ran con games for a living? Or by a father who was wanted for running a secret, underground crime ring? How would these influence your behavior and worldview? 

I enjoy exploring how what others may perceive as weaknesses can become strengths. How the gun-for-hire heroine uses her survival skills to hunt an evil man. How the ex-con artist uses her experience in manipulating people in order to set up a sting and take down a bad guy. Or how the daughter of an infamous crime boss finally learns who she can trust (the hero, of course!) to help bring down her father.

What characters have you enjoyed reading about lately? Have any of them surprised you, using a tarnished past, perhaps, to save the day?

RAISING THE STAKES (Redemption Club, Book 3)

At Global Security Solutions, Devlin Grimm is more accustomed to playing bodyguard than kidnapper. However, when the beautiful and untouchable Ivy Stone enters his office with a strange request, it’s like a gift from the heavens. She could be the key to finally taking down the notorious Redemption Club. However vulnerable and enticing she appears, Dev suspects the woman has secrets, and she may well be manipulating him. Will Ivy be the source of his salvation or his demise?

Victor del Fuego seeks one thing—to destroy Robert Stone. And there’s no better way to crush a man who’s intent on leaving a legacy than to use his own daughter against him. But when the men face off, with Ivy caught in the middle, there’s more at stake than anyone realizes—including Ivy and Dev’s newfound love.

iBooks  |  Kindle  |  Kobo |  (& more e-tailers to come!)


Anne Marie has always been fascinated by people—inside and out—which led to degrees in Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, and Counseling.  Her passion for understanding the human race is now satisfied by her roles as mother, wife, daughter, sister, and award-winning author of romantic suspense.  

She writes to reclaim her sanity.

Find ways to connect with Anne Marie at There, sign up for her newsletter to receive the latest information regarding books, appearances, and giveaways.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Google Maps

As a writer, Google Maps Street View has become my best friend. In a scene from my currebnt romantic suspense, DUSK, my heroine was walking across Tower Bridge in London, where she needed to look up at the overhead tourist walkway linking the two towers. There was always the option of purchasing an airline ticket to London, hopping on the Underground, and walking halfway across the bridge so that I could see what she would see. Or, there was the less expensive alternative of Google Maps Street View.

I have repeatedly used this tool in writing. Not always for something as extravagant as a romp across the pond. I've used it for nearby intersections, admittedly people-watching. There are times where I need to see public buildings from a three-dimensional perspective.  What do my characters see when they cross a specific street? If my muse isn't cooperating these 'visuals' assist. 

Alas, I sometimes digress. It has become an obsessive game (flagrant waste of time) to try and spot the Google car in window reflections.

Then there is Maureen, the adventurer, who has visited the base camp at Mount Everest, walked across Sydney Harbor, and stood on top of Table Mountain in Capetown. Yes, I get addicted to traveling via this technology.

Sometimes as writers we have to be resourceful. We can't always hop on a plane and visit every country our eccentric characters want to take us to. I have even started tinkering with Google Cardboard for a complete virtual experience!

Are any of you Google Street View addicts?

The BLUE-LINK series are all standalone books


Sophie Diem's boss has skipped town, abandoning their counseling firm and taking her investment money with him. As she seeks to rebuild her professional career she is distressed by the appearance of a stranger. The man keeps to the shadows, but he is definitely stalking her. In an attempt to flee him she accepts a job London. Surely crossing the Atlantic would be enough to deter her Shadow. 

Glenn Barber is a desperate man. He sorely wants answers. The man that can supply them has gone missing, though. Now all Glenn can do is go after the next best thing, the man's former employee, Sophie Diem. 

Sophie is shocked to spot her shadow in London. What she learns is that Glenn, the Shadow, is not a stalker, but rather her only protection. As her attraction to Glenn grows, together they conspire to locate her former boss and stop him before he can harm others.

"The sexual tension with Sophie and The Shadow was off the charts. Overall, the book had it all: romance, suspense and humor." 

"I loved this book. The characters were strong and the suspense was just right."

On sale now for $0.99!


A mysterious footlocker washes up on Livvy McKay's shore. Minutes after recovering it she is assaulted by an intruder. Wounded and unable to give chase, she is startled by a knock at the front door. A stranger is looking to rent a boat from her business, McKAY'S CHARTERS. Livvy doesn't believe in coincidences. Especially when the stranger is wearing black−just like her assailant. 

Jack Morell is a desperate man. After receiving a cryptic phone call from his uncle−a call spiked with the sound of gunfire in the background, he is frantic to locate his uncle's missing ship. Warned to use discretion, Jack opts to rent a boat from McKAY'S CHARTERS for his search. 

Together, Jack and Livvy uncover the contents of the footlocker and now they are being hunted. 

Someone doesn't want the world to know what is in that trunk. Someone who is well-connected. 

Unable to trust the authorities, Jack and Livvy have only each other. Will it be enough to survive the Atlantic's frigid clutch? 

On sale now for $0.99!


As a young girl, Amanda Newton witnessed the brutal murder of her parents. As an adult she is targeted by their murderer.

Beautiful. Reserved. Mysterious. Amanda Newton, the CEO of BLUE-LINK epitomizes control with her adept handling of the global company. But that control is threatened with a series of attacks against her.

Ray Gordon, a former Navy SEAL is looking to open his own security firm. One more contracting job with BLUE-LINK would complete the funding. When he is hired to protect Amanda Newton, the Ice Queen herself, he never bargained on falling for her.

Amanda has something her attacker wants. He has waited over twenty years to claim it, and he will destroy anyone close to her to get it. 

...but he's met his match in Ray Gordon.


Find out more about Maureen at

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

Have you ever heard “I woulda won the final round of Jeopardy!” or Marlin Brando’s “I coulda been a contender” from On the Waterfront, or from a mid-level manager complaining “I’m not as successful as I shoulda been.”

Do the woulda Coulda Shouldas plague you? Then do something about it!

My husband and I were at dinner with a number of pilots and I discovered how they would often hide what they did for a living when out of town at a bar. Instead of saying they flew an airliner or freight planes, they would say they “drove a bus” (passenger flights) or “drove an eighteen wheeler for UPS" (flying freight) because they got tired of hearing “I always wanted to learn how to fly” from total strangers who would then attach themselves to the pilot as if they were now best friends.

My husband (a general aviation pilot) said he counters the “I always wanted to fly” claims with “No you didn’t, or you would have.”

I will confess I met my husband back when I too thought I wanted to learn to fly. My mother suggested I talk with him since he was a pilot and could give me advice. I’ve enjoyed almost forty years of flying with him because I kept the pilot and ditched the idea of learning to fly.

But I didn’t give up on learning how to fly until I tried it. I went through ground school and passed the written exam, then took several flying lessons. While I discovered I loved flying I also found I didn’t want the responsibility of flying myself. So no “I always wanted to learn to fly” regrets for me.

The conversation about learning to fly reminded me of the number of times non-writers tell me how they always wanted to write a novel. My pat answer is “Then why don’t you?” Of course I then get to hear a litany of excuses as to why they haven’t or more likely can’t write a novel.

Yet the biggest complaint people express when they are old and near death is the regrets they have for the things they didn’t do. I call this the Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda syndrome.

My challenge to you is at least make a real effort tackling one of your Woulda Coulda Shouldas. Maybe you have written a novel, or twenty, but you always wanted to try your hand at a western, or historical, or fill in the blank. Do it! You may discover it wasn’t as fulfilling as you’d imagined and you can take it off both your regret list and your Woulda Coulda Shoulda list. Or maybe you discover a whole new genre you want to write in. It’s never too late to discover a new passion, a new opportunity to replace a Woulda Coulda Shoulda with an “I did it!” 

But don't stop there. Now that you know you can do something you've always wanted to do, look around and discover a new challenge, a new frontier to explore. Who knows, maybe you'll learn to fly and write a book about it!

So, do you have any Woulda Coulda Shouldas you want to tackle?

Monday, May 16, 2016

Where There's Smoke


I'm not sure there is a more dreaded word in the writerly vocabulary. Some writers get panicky over Writer's Block, but block just means you took a wrong turn somewhere and you need to shift into reverse and find your way back to the road. Maybe there's a problem with the current project or maybe the current project IS the problem, but either way, Writer's Block is fixable.

Burn-out means there is no more road.

And your engine is smoking.

And the landscape around you is on fire.

A few years ago--about five years ago, in fact--I burned out. I had to cancel a slew of projects--in some cases it meant actually paying back advances. It was disastrous. I tried to be, well, not upbeat. It's hard to be upbeat about failing to meet commitments, having to repay money you've already spent, and disappointing your fans. But I tried to be pragmatic about it. Tried to look at it as a positive thing. I was pretty sure (though in my heart of hearts not absolutely positive) that I would be able to write again if I just gave myself time to refill the creative well.

So I took a sabbatical and used that time to do exactly that. I spent time with family and friends, I put a healthy schedule into place that included not eating at my desk, ending the work day at five-ish, taking vacations and even not writing every weekend. All those things helped once I got back to work, but getting back to work took a really long time. It took the full year. And while I read a lot and watched documentaries and movies and got out and about...I mostly worked during that year because a lot of my previously published work reverted to me right about then. And I was investigating translations and audio and print. All those little revenue streams kept me financially afloat during the time that I was not producing new fiction.

Since that time I've been pretty careful, pretty watchful to make sure that I did not get into trouble again. So imagine my surprise when I realized a couple of weeks ago that I was teetering once more on the edge of burn-out.

How could this be? I was working a reasonable (fairly reasonable) schedule, I was taking time out for family and friends, I took vacations and even traveled. Okay, I was falling back into the pattern of mostly working late into the evening and on weekends, I was committing to too many projects, and I was starting to panic over all the stuff there wasn't time to deal with (career planning, marketing strategies, new and additional revenue streams...)

The good news is this time I recognized the symptoms. I could have forced my through the current project but it would likely have been the final project of the year--and maybe the final project for next year as well. Instead, I faced facts and, as embarrassing as it was, told my publisher what was happening. Happily I got an extension, but even if the project had been cancelled it would be have been better than being creatively paralyzed for the foreseeable future.

Money will be tight because my financial health is built on that 90-120 day cycle we all live and die by now. But better that money is tight than having the bank cut me off entirely--and that's what we risk when we repeatedly overdraw from our creative resources.

The most important asset we have as writers is our creative energy. At all costs that energy has to be protected and nurtured. It means getting out of your head and into the real world on a regular basis. It means taking care of your physical health--get off your butt!--and it means preserving your sanity by not spending too much time on social media. There are a lot of variables in a writing career and some things can be fudged and some things can be faked, but the one thing we writers cannot do without are the words.

When we lose the words, the story stops. And when the stories stop, that is truly The End.

Now -- before you're in trouble -- is the time to take stock of your creative resources. How tired are you? How much effort do you put into replenishing that creative well? Do you have a career game plan that doesn't involve constantly producing new books to stay afloat?

Friday, May 13, 2016

Searching for a miracle!

I have no kids to tend to and no day job so, in theory, I could get out of bed and spend the whole day writing. Isn’t theory a wonderful concept?

It seems there’s always something to do that puts paid to that little notion. Today has been a typical day. I took the dogs for their early morning walk then decided to take the young dog into the town for a meander for an hour (he’s nervous around people so we’re doing lots of positive training). I came home, fed said dogs and then remembered that, while I was in town, I was supposed to pick up a prescription. I drove back, only to be told that it wasn’t ready. I came home, had breakfast, washed dishes and had a quick tidy up, then returned for the prescription. I came home with the prescription, made a coffee, and remembered that I had a birthday card that simply had to be mailed today. I wrote that, spent an age hunting through scraps of paper for the recipient’s new address and, yes, drove back into town to mail it. Then, as the sun is shining (such a rarity in the UK), I decided to wash a couple of my waterproof coats and let them drip dry in the sunshine. Thinking of sunshine reminded me that we’re having a few days holiday next week so I made a quick list of things to pack while they were on my mind. 

By this time, my stomach was reminding me it was lunchtime.

I had lunch, switched on the computer to check Facebook and Twitter start writing and - guess what - I saw a reminder that it was my turn for a blog post.

What ideas do I have for a blog post? None. Zilch. Sweet FA.

It occurred to me while I was flapping around in my busy but pointless way that, in the days when I did have a day job, I was at my office desk at 9 am latest and didn’t leave until 5 pm at the earliest. And, more surprising, everything - all those pesky little errands - got done AND I found time to write. 

I can’t believe the days are getting shorter, it simply feels as if I only get three hours in a day. No, the problem is with me. I have become totally, utterly, hopelessly disorganised.

So, dear readers, I’m begging for your help - or looking for a miracle. Exactly how do you manage to organise your lives? Any tips you're willing to share?

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A little help, please?

So, I’ve just finished a novel. The first draft, anyway. And I’m not sure what I have. So I'm turning to you, Gentle Reader. Below is the first chapter. What’s your sense of the story’s genre?


The house dominated the crest of a knoll, aloof from its neighbors, its roof a sharp line against the darkening sky. It stood near the end of a street that had still been farmland ten years ago. Streetlights illuminated a series of wide, shallow, cement steps that led from the sidewalk up the grassy, slightly overgrown lawn to a walkway that in turn led to a wooden stairway and a porch running the length of the house. A recently-painted white railing contrasted with the dark field stones that sided the house. The posts supporting the narrow roof over the porch were squared off, and wider at the bottom than at the top. Two dormers jutted from the roof, their windows dark with the fading day. The front door was thick wood, light-colored, with an ornate brass knocker centered beneath the thick, beveled glass insert. The doorknob matched the knocker.
A sign planted in the middle of the lawn proclaimed that the house was for rent via Albans Realty.
Standing on the walkway, Ash took it all in while the realtor, Maddie Bowen, waited patiently on the porch.
Other houses lined the street, each with its own style, some bigger but most smaller. Cars filled the driveways and lights gleamed from windows. Dinner time smells floated on the cool wind that blew red and yellow leaves around the lawns and sidewalks. The houses were set apart from the one on the hill, as if shying away.
Would those people be able to hear screaming from the house on the hill? Would they come running?
“Pretty grand, isn’t it?” said Maddie. She wore black pants, sensible brown leather flats and a heavy red plaid car coat over a white turtleneck, her “showing” outfit. She was always the one to show this house to prospective renters. David, her partner, didn’t like setting foot in it. She had no idea why. The house was a hundred years old, with beautiful lines and in a great location. The owner had completely renovated it, then decided to use it as a rental property instead of living in it.
Not that she blamed him.
“Come on,” she said cheerfully. “Let’s get out of the wind.” With a determined step, she turned to the front door.
She tried to strike just the right balance of enthusiasm and professionalism, although really, the chances of this girl renting the house—any house—were pretty damned slim. Still, you never knew.
Ash nodded, even though the realtor had turned her back, and followed more slowly, adjusting her leather backpack. Inside were all her important papers—new birth certificate, driver’s licence, passport—and her important numbers: safety deposit box number, bank account numbers, her lawyer’s phone number, and the pre-paid cell phone. The backpack came with her wherever she went.
From those dormer windows, she would see anyone coming up the road. Her battered Volvo would stand out in this settled, affluent neighborhood of new Nissans and Hondas, but maybe she could park it around the back.
She would stand out, too, a young woman alone on a street full of families.
She reached the steps, where Maddie Bowen waited for her, and followed the middle-aged woman’s gaze. It wasn’t totally dark yet, but the sun had set a while ago and all the lights in Albans proper spread through the long, shallow trench of the Ottawa River Valley. A smile flitted across Ash’s face at the sight.
Most of the people on this street probably worked in Ottawa, commuting the hour there and back by train. During the day, most of these houses would be empty.
Nobody would hear screaming during the day.
Next to her, Maddie Bowen suddenly shivered as the wind picked up. Without a word, they both turned toward the dark house. It surprised Ash that the realtor hadn’t made sure the lights were on to greet them. Wasn’t that Realty 101?
Maddie climbed the porch steps and unlocked the doorknob, speaking over her shoulder.
“Sorry about the lights,” she said. “I sent someone by to turn everything on earlier today, but clearly they forgot.” Damn it, Dave. He could at least have turned on the porch light.
Maddie got the door open and stepped inside. She flipped the porch light on and Ash blinked in the sudden brightness.
“Come on in,” said Maddie, taking Ash by the arm and leading her through the doorway. The girl was skin and bones, for Pete’s sake. She looked like a waif.
Warm light flooded the wide entrance hall and Ash stood in silence, staring. To her right was an open room with a stone fireplace and a tall ceiling. A tufted black leather couch faced the fireplace, while mismatched club chairs huddled closer to the fireplace, facing each other across an oval glass coffee table resting on a rug patterned in blue and silver. Paintings hung on the wall, but she couldn’t tell what they depicted since the entrance light didn’t reach that far into the room.
The place smelled… sterile. As if someone came in once a month to dust but otherwise, no one had lived here for a long time.
“This way,” said Maddie, leading her down the hallway toward the back of the house. On the left, across from the living room, was another room, closed off with French doors. It looked like it might contain a desk. Halfway to the kitchen, they passed a wide staircase with black wooden steps and white risers. Maddie flicked on the lights as she passed but swept right through into the dining room and kitchen.
“Gas range, quartz counter tops, glass-tiled backsplash, counter and stools, big table,” Maddie rattled off as she strode through the dining room to a pair of French doors. She opened them and stepped out onto a large deck. “Come on out,” she invited. “I don’t want to turn on the lights until you see this.”
Ash obediently stepped out next to her and a small gasp escaped her.
“Yes, indeed,” said Maddie with satisfaction. This was why she liked showing the house at night.
The view of the valley Ash had glimpsed at the front of the house was in full glory here. A swath of darkness immediately below her gave way to an expanse of lights, mirrored above by the stars just beginning to emerge in the night sky.
“You can’t see it now,” Maddie continued, “but just below your house, at the bottom of the hill is the river.”
Ash noted her judicious use of “your” but let it go. She hadn’t even seen all of it, but she liked the house. Still, it wasn’t as if she was planning to buy it. She just wanted to rent it for a few months while she figured out her next move. Albans seemed like a good place to stop. It was big enough to hide in but still had a small town feel.
She took a deep breath of the cold air, breathing in the scents of cooking, and wet leaves, and faintly, sawdust. For a moment, her throat closed up as tears threatened. It smelled like home, the home she used to have when Mom and Dad were still alive.
“Let’s go upstairs,” said Maddie, oblivious to Ash’s reaction. They headed back inside, through the dining room and past a small powder room across from the stairs. They climbed the steps, turning at a small landing. Upstairs were four bedrooms, three of them smaller and sharing a bathroom, and the fourth slightly bigger, with a small ensuite. All the rooms had mouldings, deep window seats and mullioned windows.
All of the rooms—the entire house—seemed to be fully furnished.
“Of course,” said Maddie once they returned to the entrance, “you would need to see the house in daylight, but when you mentioned you were looking for a house to rent, I immediately thought of this one.” Because it was the only rental she had on the books.
Maddie kept the smile plastered on her face, but she was beginning to suspect that the girl was wasting her time. She looked eighteen, for crying out loud. She couldn’t afford this place, even at the rock bottom monthly rental it was going for.
Ash saw the look in Maddie Bowen’s eyes. She knew that she looked younger than twenty-four. Sometimes that was an advantage, but mostly, it led people to discount her, or worse, patronize her.
“Why is the rent so low? What’s wrong with it?”
Maddie shook her head. She hadn’t expected the question. Most people didn’t ask. “Absolutely nothing,” she said firmly. “The rental market is a little depressed right now, and this is a big house, bigger than most people need.”
Ash looked around one last time, taking in the light wood floors, the cream walls with warm wood trim, the faint smell of cedar and mothballs. It was bigger than she needed, too.
“How long has it been empty?” she asked.
For the first time, Maddie hesitated. “Seven months,” she admitted. She revised her estimate of the girl’s age upward.
Ash looked at the realtor. Seven months was a long time.
As Maddie reached inside for the door handle, Ash gave the interior a last look. Maddie had turned off the lights in the kitchen and hallway, but in the light spilling inside from the porch she glimpsed a shapeless shadow at the foot of the stairs just before Maddie pulled the door closed.

Okay, that’s the beginning. What do you think?

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