Author: Casee

Sunday Spotlight: Say Goodbye by Karen Rose

Posted September 19, 2021 by Casee in Features, Giveaways | 1 Comment

Sunday Spotlight is a feature we began in 2016. This year we’re spotlighting our favorite books, old and new. We’ll be raving about the books we love and being total fangirls. You’ve been warned. 🙂

Sunday Spotlight: Say Goodbye by Karen RoseSay Goodbye by Karen Rose
Series: Sacramento #3
Also in this series: Say You're Sorry (Sacramento, #1)
Publisher: Penguin, Berkley
Publication Date: August 3, 2021
Genres: Romantic Suspense
Pages: 640
Add It: Goodreads
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice | Google Play Books
Series Rating: five-stars

Eden faces a final reckoning when the cult's past victims hunt them down in this explosive, high-stakes thriller in the Sacramento series from New York Times bestselling author Karen Rose.

For decades, Eden has remained hidden in the remote wilds of the Pacific Northwest, “Pastor” keeping his cult's followers in thrall for his personal profit and sexual pleasures. But the Founding Elders are splintering, and Pastor's surrogate son DJ is scheming to make it all his own.

When two of Eden's newest members send out a cry for help, it reaches FBI Special Agent Tom Hunter, whose friend and fellow FBI Special Agent Gideon Reynolds and his sister, Mercy, are themselves escapees of the Eden cult, targeted by the Founding Elders who want them silenced forever. The three have vowed to find the cult and bring it down, and now, they finally have a solid lead.

Neutralizing Eden’s threat will save captive members and ensure Tom’s new friends can live without fear. But when his best friend, ex-Army combat medic Liza Barkley, joins the case, it puts her life—and their blossoming love—in danger. With everything they hold dear in the balance, Tom and Liza, together with Gideon and Mercy, must end Eden once and for all.

Excerpt

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA
WEDNESDAY, MAY 24, 8:45 A.M.

“Well?”

Special Agent Tom Hunter looked over his shoulder, unsurprised to see Special Agent in Charge Molina standing in the doorway of his office. He’d expected the visit from the SAC of the FBI’s Sacramento field office. Today was her first day back after the attack that had left her injured and several other agents dead. She looked paler than nor‑ mal and tired. But determined.

He automatically rose, because his mother had raised him right.

This put him more than a foot taller than his boss, which made her look up with an irritated glare. At six‑six, he towered over almost ev‑ eryone in the Bureau, which was a new experience. He’d been average height during his three years with the NBA. Shorter, in fact, than many of the men he’d met on the court. He hunched his shoulders a bit to offset the difference, but Molina’s glare did not soften.

As her chin lifted, her dark eyes bored into him. “What do you know?” she demanded.

Tom gave her a warm smile. “Good morning.” The woman wasn’t the coldhearted beast she wanted everyone to think she was. He’d watched her manage two crises in the past few months, and while she was quick‑witted, with razor‑sharp focus and an even sharper tongue, she did care. He suspected she might care too much and fought not to let it show.

He knew the type. He’d been raised by a wickedly smart group of women. His mother’s friends were cops, social workers, and attorneys. When pressure was high and risk to humans they cared for even higher, they’d pasted on the same face Molina wore right now.

He held out the chair next to his desk, motioning her to sit.

She shot him a dark scowl but took the seat, tugging at the jacket of her suit unnecessarily. No fabric worn by Tara Molina would have the nerve to wrinkle.

“I know a lot of things about a lot of things,” he said, retaking his seat as he answered her question. “But I’m assuming you’re specifically referring to Eden.”

The cult he’d been actively seeking since mid‑April. The cult that’d provided a hiding place for vicious killers for the past thirty years. Vicious killers who had abused two of the people who, in a short period of time, had become Tom’s friends. Both Gideon Reynolds and his sister Mercy Callahan had been children when they’d escaped Eden, but both were scarred for life, physically and emotionally.

Because the killers hadn’t simply hidden in Eden. They’d thrived there, starting a cult that condoned—no, encouraged—the rape of twelve‑year‑old girls by middle‑aged men, calling it “marriage.” They condoned the rape of thirteen‑year‑old boys, calling it an “apprenticeship.”

Gideon and Mercy had been only two of their victims.

“Yes. I’m talking about Eden.” Molina rolled her eyes. “And here everyone said you were some wunderkind,” she drawled, but her tone was light. Almost teasing.

“I don’t know about that,” Tom muttered, his cheeks heating. He was good at what he did—specifically hacking. He was very good at what he did, in fact.

The fact that he still hadn’t found the cult’s compound after months of searching left him thoroughly irked. But they had made progress.

“I got into their offshore bank account,” Tom stated. Which, under most circumstances, would have been cause for congratulations and maybe even a promotion. Or a prison sentence, if he hadn’t been work‑ ing for the good guys. Either way, it had been damn difficult to do.

“You did that three weeks ago,” Molina stated flatly, popping any hope he might have had for an attaboy. “My temporary replacement briefed me weekly. What have you learned about Eden recently?”

Tom could only imagine what Molina’s temporary replacement

had told her. He and Agent Raeburn had not gotten along well at all. “From their bank account, not much,” he admitted. “No money’s been moved either in or out, not since they pulled all of Ephraim’s money out of his personal account and back into the main Eden cof‑ fers, three days before he was killed.”

It was Molina’s turn to grimace. “I must say that I hate the sound of that man’s name. All of his names,” she added bitterly.

Ephraim Burton, a Founding Elder of the Eden cult, had been born Harry Franklin, under which name he’d earned a record as a bank robber and murderer, before going into hiding thirty years ago. Bur‑ ton had other aliases that had allowed him to mingle in the real world during the times he left Eden.

Which wouldn’t be happening ever again, because Burton was dead. Tom wished that he’d been the one to do the honors, but one of the other cult elders had killed Ephraim Burton, possibly to keep him from telling the FBI of Eden’s whereabouts. A lot of people had died in connection to Eden. The stakes were high. Its bank accounts held in excess of fifty million dollars.

It was more likely, though, that the other elder had killed Ephraim to keep him from spilling the biggest secret—that two of the cult’s runaways hadn’t died trying to escape but had been living free for more than ten years.

Gideon and his sister, Mercy, had been abused by Eden in their youth but were fighting back now, helping the FBI track down Eden and end it, once and for all. Tom respected the siblings more than he could say.

“I put an alert on the offshore accounts,” Tom said. “If they move any money, we’ll know.”

“But they haven’t yet.”

“Not yet. However, someone resembling DJ Belmont did withdraw some cash from a different bank account outside Mt. Shasta an hour after Ephraim Burton was shot.”

“Belmont?” Molina hissed, anger flashing in her eyes.

Belmont was second‑in‑command to Eden’s leader, a charismatic man known only as “Pastor” to his followers. Luckily the FBI had learned a bit more than that. Pastor’s name prior to his starting the Eden cult had been Herbert Hampton. Prior to that he’d been Benton Travis, serving a sentence in a federal penitentiary for forgery and bank fraud.

They knew the identities of the cult leaders. They just didn’t know where the cult was. It was a small community that moved around re‑ mote sections of Northern California, and they were clever at evading detection.

Belmont was more than Pastor’s second‑in‑command, though— assuming he was still alive. He was a dangerous, ruthless, alarmingly competent killer who’d taken out five federal agents, most of them SWAT. He’d also fired the bullet that had taken Molina out of commission for the past month, so her reaction to his name was understandable.

Tom pulled up a file on his computer, then turned the screen to show her the photos taken from surveillance cameras. “The resolution of the bank’s drive‑through camera is good, but he was wearing a bandana over his face, sunglasses, and a cap with a wide brim. Facial recognition couldn’t pick up anything useful. The body type and size fit Belmont’s description, though.”

“If he didn’t withdraw cash from Eden’s offshore account, which account was it?”

Tom gave her a sideways glance. “I thought you got weekly briefings from Agent Raeburn.”

Molina’s eyes narrowed. “I did. I want to hear your version.” Tom managed to hide his wince. “My version?”

“Yes,” Molina said coolly. “Agent Raeburn’s version was less than satisfactory.”

Well, damn. “I figured as much,” Tom muttered. “He’s . . . well, he’s not very flexible.”

Her brows lifted. “He is a damn good agent.” Careful, careful. “Never said he wasn’t.” “You thought it.”

Tom pursed his lips, unsure if Molina was amused or upset. It was often hard to tell. But of course he’d thought it. Raeburn was by‑the‑ book to a fault and left no wiggle room for the humanity of any situation. He wasn’t going to say that out loud, though. He was aware that Molina knew he bent the rules every now and then.

He had, in fact, bent the rules often since his first day on the job. Which seemed like it had been a year ago, even though it had only been five months. There was something about Gideon Reynolds and Mercy Callahan that made him want to help them, to ease their fears—even when he technically wasn’t supposed to. But the brother and sister had been through too much abuse.

Tom knew abuse. He still bore the scars from his own biological father’s cruelty. He knew heartache, far more recently. He knew that sometimes rules needed to be bent or even broken in order to do the right thing.

But he also knew that if he wanted to continue helping Gideon and Mercy, he’d need to toe Molina’s line. Or appear to, at least. Which meant not badmouthing her temporary replacement, who was still technically his direct supervisor.

He bent his mouth into a smile that was convincing because he’d practiced making it so—a side benefit of heartache. People didn’t ask you questions if you smiled and looked happy.

“The account Belmont withdrew money from at the ATM was an individual checking account in the name of John Smith,” he said, shifting them back on topic. “Assuming this is him in the photo, he withdrew the cash about ninety minutes after he fled the scene at Dunsmuir.”

DJ Belmont’s shooting spree in the forest two hundred miles to the north had left five bodies on the ground that day—the FBI SWAT members and a special agent named Schumacher. Molina had been lucky. Her injuries at Belmont’s hand had “only” hospitalized her for a week and required physical therapy for three more.

Unfortunately, Belmont had also taken out Ephraim Burton that day. They’d hoped that Burton might have led them to Eden, to the people who lived under Pastor’s authoritarian rule.

The adults who’d followed Pastor had perhaps been misled, but they’d made their choice. The children of Eden, however, had not chosen and many were being abused every single day.

But federal agents hadn’t been Belmont’s only victims that day. Tom pointed at the ATM photo. “Belmont was driving an old box truck that was later reported stolen by the surviving family of an itinerant farm picker. He was shot in the head twice with Agent Schumacher’s service weapon.”

“So he didn’t shoot Schumacher from afar, like he did us.” From a tree, far enough away that the SWAT team hadn’t been able to locate him before he’d shot them all. Far enough away to reveal Belmont’s impressive, albeit terrifying, sniper skills. “He took her weapon after he killed her.” Molina swallowed hard. “She was a good agent. A good person.”

“I know. He killed the picker, stole his truck, and hasn’t been seen or heard from since.”

“Maybe Belmont’s dead,” Molina said hopefully. “Maybe.”

She studied him. “You don’t think so, though.”

“I don’t know,” Tom said truthfully. “We can’t assume it, though. He wanted to kill Mercy and Gideon that day. If he is alive, he has too much at stake not to try again.”

“You’re right that we can’t assume. Did the picker’s truck have GPS?” “It didn’t. It was twenty‑five years old.” Tom had to draw a breath, the memory of the man’s grieving family still clear enough to make his chest ache. He’d accompanied Agent Raeburn to inform the victim’s wife and five kids. It had been his first time delivering such news, and Raeburn hadn’t been overly sympathetic. Tom figured that was how the man coped, which might be better than the nightmares that still plagued his own sleep. “The family was poor. The truck was all they owned.”

Molina was quiet a beat longer than necessary. “Agent Raeburn said that the family received a gift from an anonymous benefactor a few days later, through their parish priest.”

Tom didn’t blink. That the money had come from his own bank account was a fact he was not prepared to admit. “I hadn’t heard that,” he said mildly. And he hadn’t actually heard it, so technically he wasn’t lying.

“Raeburn said the amount was enough for them to live on for several months, plus a bit more than their funeral expenses.”

He could feel his skin itching, like Molina could see his every secret. But still he didn’t blink. He knew he couldn’t replace every victim’s losses, but he could help that family. So he had. It hadn’t made a dent in his bank account, flush after his three years in the NBA. Being able to help people like that was one of the best things his time as a professional basketball player had done for him. He’d never planned to make the NBA a career, always knowing he’d join the Bureau, but he’d been young and better than decent on the court. It had seemed a shame to waste the talent he’d been given—or his earnings. He’d donated a fair bit and saved the rest.

He was grateful for those years, even if after his fiancée’s death he hadn’t had the heart for it anymore and had retired early. Now he kept his tone bland. “That was a nice thing for someone to do.”

Molina rolled her eyes, but her tone was almost sweet. “Don’t make it a habit, Tom.”

He blinked, unprepared for her use of his first name. “Make what a habit?”

She shook her head. “You know, when I was told I was getting a hacker rookie, straight out of the Academy, I was not happy. When I found out you were a former pro athlete, I was unhappier still. I didn’t have the time to train an agent wet behind the ears. Or one with an ego the size of Texas.”

Tom frowned. “I have an ego the size of Texas?”

“No. I assumed that you would, but I was pleasantly surprised on that score.” One side of her mouth lifted. “I’m glad you’re here. If only so I can toughen up that soft heart of yours so you make it to retirement. I’m not kidding, Agent Hunter.”

Tom bit back his own smile. “So noted, ma’am.”

Sacramento

Giveaway Alert

We’re giving one lucky winner their choice of one of our Sunday Spotlight books. Use the widget below to enter for one of this month’s features.

Sunday Spotlight: September 2021

Are you as excited for this release as we are? Let us know how excited you are and what other books you’re looking forward to this year!

About Karen Rose

Internationally bestselling, RITA-award winning, author Karen Rose was born and raised in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC. She met her husband, Martin, on a blind date when they were seventeen and after they both graduated from the University of Maryland, (Karen with a degree in Chemical Engineering) they moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. Karen worked as an engineer for a large consumer goods company, earning two patents, but as Karen says, “scenes were roiling in my head and I couldn't concentrate on my job so I started writing them down. I started out writing for fun, and soon found I was hooked.”

Her debut suspense novel, DON'T TELL, was released in July, 2003. Since then, she has published more than fifteen novels and two novellas. Her twenty-second novel, SAY YOU'RE SORRY, will be released in 2019.

Karen's books have appeared on the bestseller lists of the New York Times, USA Today, London's Sunday Times, and Germany's der Spiegel (#1), and the Irish Times, as well as lists in South Africa(#1) and Australia!
​​
Her novels, I'M WATCHING YOU and SILENT SCREAM, received the Romance Writers of America's RITA award for Best Romantic Suspense for 2005 and 2011. Five of her other books have been RITA finalists. To date, her books have been translated into more than twenty languages.

A former high school teacher of chemistry and physics, Karen lives in Florida with her husband of more than twenty years, two dogs, and a cat.


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What Are You Reading? (580)

Posted September 17, 2021 by Casee in Features | 3 Comments

Casee

My reading hasn’t been stellar this week, which is pretty disappointing. I’ve been reading Tin Queen (Tin Gypsies #6) by Devney Perry for two weeks. It’s not that it’s not good, it’s that I just haven’t been reading.

I’m listening to the Hidden Legacy series by Ilona Andrews. I adore this series on audio.

Holly

I finished Whiteout by Adriana Anders. I really enjoyed the survival aspects of the book, but it lost me in the second half. Then I read Battle with Fire by K.F. Breene, the final book in the Demon Days, Vampire Nights series. I really enjoyed the series as a whole and this book in particular. It was a lovely conclusion to the series. I attempted to read Stranded and Spellbound by Jenna Collett, the third book in the Ever Dark, Ever Deadly series, which features various fairytale retellings. Unfortunately the premise didn’t work for me and I DNF’d it pretty early on. I went on to read – and really enjoy – the fourth book, Shatter the Dark.

I decided to go back and finish the Dark Planet Warriors series by Anna Carven. I am currently reading Electric Heart and I plan to pick up Darkside Blues next. I haven’t decided if I’m going to read the last book in the series, Brilliant Starlight. Abbey and Tarak aren’t my favorite couple and book 8 returns to them. I think I’ll wait and see how I feel after I finish Electric Heart.

What are you reading this week? Any new favorites or books that drove you crazy? Share!


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Review: Ryan by Jessica Gadziala

Posted September 15, 2021 by Casee in Reviews | 0 Comments

Review: Ryan by Jessica GadzialaReviewer: Casee
Ryan by Jessica Gadziala
Series: Mallick Brothers #2
Also in this series: Shane
Publisher: Self-Published
Publication Date: February 2, 2017
Format: eBook
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Point-of-View: First Person
Cliffhanger: View Spoiler »
Content Warning: View Spoiler »
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 241
Add It: Goodreads
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice | Google Play Books
four-stars
Series Rating: four-stars

RYAN

She was perfect: Sweet, smart, awkwardly adorable, and beautiful as hell. The only problem was: she was terrified to leave her apartment. And, apparently, she had somehow gotten herself wrapped up with some pretty bad guys to boot.

DUSTY

He was perfect: He was a living, breathing, walking, talking statue come to life. But when would a man like that ever want to be with a woman who was too anxious to even walk into the hallway? Let alone go on a date with him. Or meet the family he was so close with. That being said, he seemed interested for some reason. So obviously, he was just as crazy as I was. On top of that whole confusion situation, something was going on with my business partners. And things were about to go straight to hell…

* For possible triggers, please visit: http://www.jessicagadziala.com/trigge...

When it comes to the family’s loanshark business, Ryan is the numbers guy. If someone doesn’t pay their loan, Ryan is the first enforcer. After that it goes to Mark, then Shane, and finally Eli. Ryan keeps the books for their legal & illegal businesses. He’s a bit of a workaholic.

Dusty is housebound. Not because she wants to be, but because she has severe agoraphobia and anxiety. It was heart wrenching to read. Dusty wasn’t always afraid to go outside; it was something that happened gradually over time. When she meets her new neighbor while standing in the doorway to her apartment, she wishes she could be different. But men & relationships are not in the cards for Dusty.

Ryan is enchanted with his beautiful neighbor. She’s lived in his building for quite some time & he had never gotten a glimpse of her. After meeting her, he wants more. He doesn’t understand Dusty’s issues at first, though they are front & center when Ryan has to get Dusty out of the building due to a fire.

Ryan & Dusty got to know each other over time. After he saves her and bodily carries her down the stairs, she is wrecked. It was the first time she had gone outside in years. Instead of trying to fix it, Ryan tries to understand. He gives Dusty the space she needs without giving her space at all.

As someone with anxiety, I am very picky when it comes to reading about someone with anxiety. Usually there is something that makes me say “That’s wrong” or “That doesn’t happen”. Not so with Gadziala. She wrote Dusty’s problems so well. There is no quick fix for anxiety or agoraphobia.

The best part of this book was seeing Dusty’s growth. She knows that her life is never going to go back to the way it was. Ryan handles Dusty’s issues with such patience and care. Ryan doesn’t try to change Dusty. He accepts her fully for who she is. I loved that about him. He was very patient and kind. Ryan knew that they would never have what is deemed a “normal” relationship, but he wants to try.

This book was very well written & an amazing addition to the Mallick Brothers series. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series though I’m sure I’ll be sad when it ends.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Mallick Brothers

four-stars


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Review: Shane by Jessica Gadziala

Posted September 13, 2021 by Casee in Reviews | 0 Comments

Review: Shane by Jessica GadzialaReviewer: Casee
Shane by Jessica Gadziala
Series: Mallick Brothers #1
Also in this series: Ryan
Publisher: Self-Published
Publication Date: September 10, 2016
Format: eBook
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Point-of-View: Alternating First Person
Cliffhanger: View Spoiler »
Content Warning: View Spoiler »
Genres: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 235
Add It: Goodreads
Reading Challenges: Casee's 2021 Goodreads Challenge
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice | Google Play Books
four-stars
Series Rating: four-stars

I was just supposed to be laying low, keeping my head down, staying out of trouble.

And "trouble" was exactly what Shane freaking Mallick was. Knee-cap breaker, loan shark enforcer, panty-dropper. Trouble with a capital T.

And the absolute last thing I needed in my life...

Lea is on the run from her past. She’s living in a dump just trying to stay under the radar. When she lands in Navesink Bank, she doesn’t know what she’s going to do with herself. She does know that she needs a job. When she finds a job posting for a phone sex operator, she decides that it’s exactly the job for her. Her boss, Fiona Mallick, is delighted with Lea. She knows her stuff when it comes to sex & she has a sexy as all get out voice. Then she has a run in with Shane Mallick, Fee’s brother-in-law. And her life changes in ways she doesn’t expect it.

Shane knows Lea is running from something and he’s determined to find out what it is. Everything about Lea turns out to be everything he wants in a woman, but both their pasts may come back to haunt them. Shane is a loanshark enforcer for his family. When someone doesn’t pay up, there is an order in which they try to collect what is owed to them. Shane’s brother Ryan, who is a peacekeeper goes first & tries to reason with them. If that doesn’t work, Mark goes to shake them down. If that doesn’t work, Shane goes in and beats some ass. Shane is definitely an anti-hero. I think all the Mallick brothers are.

When Leah’s past ends up in Navesink Bank, Shane will do anything to protect her. Knowing about her past and what she is endured has make Shane resolute in keeping her in his life. He will do anything for Lea including and up to committing murder. Anti-hero though he was, he was a great character. I loved how he treated Lea. He knew what she had gone through but he didn’t treat her like a fragile flower. I loved that. He also had some great advice for Lea.

“If you put a frog into a pot of boiling water, the fucker will jump right back out. It knows it’s wrong, it hurts, it will kill him. But if you put him in a pot and slowly raise it up to boiling, he’ll stay. That’s what abuse is like. You might not even notice it’s happening at first. You’d brush it off as him having a bad day, you pissing him off. But then it starts getting worse in small ways until you’re in so deep and you’re so hot and your skin is peeling and you don’t know if you even remember you can jump anymore. That doesn’t make you weak. You got out of that shit, baby. That makes you stronger, a lot stronger, I think, than you even realize.”

I loved Shane since I first read about him in Reign. I think this story was well written & very engaging.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Mallick Brothers

four-stars


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