Murder Most Deserving

Murder Most Deserving Cover art
Part of the Lacetown Murder Mysteries series:

An acoustic music festival comes to Lacetown, and with it, another dead body—this one found at Fleishman’s Funeral Home. Michael recuses himself from the autopsy, handing the job over to his arch-nemesis from a neighboring county.

Luckily Michael and local hairstylist Jazz are closer than ever. Between a trio of funerals, a blowout BBQ, and a couple of trips on Beulah, Jazz’s beloved scooter, Michael and Jazz do some sleuthing of their own. With the first gruesome murder still fresh in their memories, they can’t help but wonder if notorious murderer and famous author Russell Withingham might be targeting them from jail, where he’s awaiting trial.

The festival, however, brings in a veritable lineup of potential killers, including a familiar—and most unwelcome—figure from their past. As the murderer circles ever closer to Jazz and Michael, Sheriff Musgrave is quick to remind them that everyone’s a suspect until Sheriff Musgrave says they’re not!

Dread of Night

Something big is prowling the woods around Parson’s Hollow, and Demetrius Singleton is afraid it’s another wolfman. The sudden arrival of Cody’s niece, Summer, and the strange behavior of Demetrius’ Aunt Amelia distract the two newlyweds from investigating until they learn some people have gone missing and others have been violently murdered. Demetrius and Cody now realize they are the only two with enough experience to stop whatever lurks in the woods.

Refusing to believe in a paranormal entity, Deputy Lucia Durant calls in a State Police sergeant, and Cody and Demetrius are surprised to find it’s Hap Blanchard, an officer they’ve worked with before who’s more open to paranormal possibilities. Soon, Demetrius, Cody, Lucia, and Hap are joined by a number of familiar friends who help them race the countdown to the next full moon and solve their most deadly and personal case yet.

Excerpt:

“Okay, so we have a lot to do, and we’re going to need some fuel to do it," Demetrius said. "What’d you two find for dinner?”

Cody exchanged a look with Summer. “Ketchup surprise.”

“Didn’t you two just go shopping?” Demmy said.

“You guys eat out a lot,” Summer said. “Do you ever cook?”

“Sometimes,” Cody said. “When we’re not hunting monsters.” He stood up and said, “Let’s get our fancy clothes on and go to Antonio’s.”

“What?” Demmy looked surprised. “Did you win the lottery or something?”

“Nope. Just think we should treat ourselves once in a while.”

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“Is it like Margie’s?” Summer asked, looking at him suspiciously. “Is Antonio Margie’s brother or something?”

“Antonio’s is the nicest restaurant in town,” Demmy said.

“Tablecloths and cloth napkins and glass goblets for water.”

“Won’t Margie miss you?”

“If you want, we could stay here and you could make us all dinner,” Cody said.

“Antonio’s sounds nice.”

“I thought you might see it that way.”

“Back to Parson’s Pines afterward?” Demmy asked. “Check on Felicia?”

Summer got up from the table and ran toward the guest room. “I’ll get changed! Do I need to wear long pants for such a fancy restaurant?”

“We’ve created a monster hunting monster,” Cody said.

“Let’s hope she doesn’t get a taste for it,” Demmy said, giving him a quick kiss before walking to the bedroom to change.

A note taped on the inside of Antonio’s glass door read: Sorry, closed due to family emergency.

“That sounds ominous,” Demmy said.

Cody had been thinking along the same lines. “How old is good ol’ Antonio?”

Demmy shrugged. “Not sure. We don’t eat here often enough to really know him.”

“Correction,” Cody said, “we don’t make enough money to be able to eat here often enough to really know him.”

Demmy grinned. “I stand corrected.”

That grin helped Cody feel a bit better in spite of everything. It let him know things probably weren’t as bad as they seemed. Yet.

He turned away from Antonio’s door and stopped at the sight of Summer standing just behind him with her arms crossed and a sulky expression.

“I take it we’re going to Margie’s again?” she said.

“In case you hadn’t noticed, there aren’t a lot of options here in town,” Cody said.

“Have you considered going to another town?”

Cody frowned. “Why would we do that?”

“Ugh.” Summer turned toward Margie’s Diner, several storefronts away. “I put on long pants for this.”

COLLAPSE

Murder Most Lovely

Lacetown Murder Mysteries: Case One

Book Cover: Murder Most Lovely
Part of the Lacetown Murder Mysteries series:

A killer at a small-town literary festival. Bumbling drug dealers. A kidnapped cat. Starting a romance among all this chaos might be the death of them.

Michael Fleishman is excited to meet his favorite mystery writer, Russell Withingham, at Lacetown’s Literary Fest. He is not expecting to cross paths with sexy hairdresser Jasper “Jazz” Dilworth—or become embroiled in a real-life mystery. As Lacetown’s only mortician and the county coroner, Michael is called to his first murder scene and is shocked to recognize the victim—Russell’s young lover.

Jazz only wanted to confront his ex, Russell, over his cheating. Instead, he meets the adorably awkward Michael and becomes a murder suspect. Soon Jazz is teaming up with Michael to clear his name. Along the way, they are helped and hindered by Michael’s sassy assistant, Kitty, the grumpy Sheriff Musgrave, Russell’s creepy PR rep, Norbert, and Michael’s lothario grandfather, who likes his manhattans strong and his women saucy. And of course, Mr. Pickles Furryton the Third….

Excerpt:

Michael adjusted his bag on his shoulder and tried to keep his umbrella from poking the lady’s in front of him. Fleishman Funeral Home only had gigantic golf umbrellas for services, and he was glad for it when the rain picked up and a gust blew mist onto his glasses. He shoved them into his front shirt pocket, knowing there would be no use keeping them clean until he was inside.

“Shit, I thought this rain was supposed to let up this afternoon,” a deep masculine voice from behind him said.

Michael turned and drew up short.

“Whoa there, pal. You could take an eye out with that thing.”

For a heartbeat Michael froze and stared. The man had a long face and wheat-colored hair swept back from a low brow and into a ponytail. Eyes the color of cognac had just enough sparkle to make Michael smile and conjure thoughts of mischief and long summer romances.

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And you’re staring at him like a ninny!

Michael hastily stepped back to avoid poking the gorgeous man in the eye with his umbrella. “Oh, I’m sorry.”

“Hey, watch it,” the lady in front of him snapped. “You’re soaking me!”

Michael jumped when he realized his big umbrella had slipped beneath hers and was funneling water right onto her.

“Oh, I’m terribly sorry,” he said at once, stepping back the other way.

“Whoa, whoa,” Ponytail Guy said again, reaching up to take hold of the eye-level pin on Michael’s umbrella. “How about I just join you?” And then he stepped under the huge umbrella with Michael.

“Oh, yeah, sure,” Michael managed, squirming a little. “There’s plenty of room.”

The man used both hands to brush a few wayward strands of blond hair off his face, his tanned skin glistening from the rain. He wore a ring on a long well-manicured index finger. Smiling, he held out a hand. “I’m Jazz Dilworth.”

What a strange name. Sounds like something in a mystery novel.

He quickly shook the proffered hand. “Michael Fleishman.”

Jazz flipped a thumb behind him. “I work across the street at Misty’s Makeover Palace.” He furrowed tidy brows. “Fleishman, like the funeral parlor?”

“Yes, the same.”

“Eew,” the lady in front of him said with a distinct Valley girl attitude.

Michael maintained his polite mortician smile. Sadly, he was used to the reaction. Hence his lackluster love life.

Expecting Jazz to make some equally grossed-out remark and leave the shelter of the umbrella, Michael looked back at him.

But Jazz was smiling, his white teeth radiant and even. “That explains the planet-sized umbrella. Only ever see those at funerals and on golf courses.”

Michael’s facial muscles softened, and the smile he gave Jazz was more genuine, relaxed. “Yes, they come in handy.”

Jazz grinned. “I bet they do.”

This man was gorgeous. He had to be younger than Michael. But more importantly, he had the potential for being gay since he was a hairdresser. Well aware of his stereotyping, Michael was nonetheless hopeful. He wasn’t the best flirt, but sharing an umbrella with an attractive man in front of a bar acting as a makeshift bookstore felt like the opening of a romcom, so he was ready to give it the ol’ college try.

“Are you a fan of the Brock Hammer novels too?” he asked, glad his glasses were in his pocket. Jazz stood so close, Michael didn’t even need them to clearly see his handsome face.

Jazz scoffed. “Used to be.”

“Oh.” Michael’s heart fell. So much for common interests. “Did you know this line is to meet the author?”

“I know, all right. The fucker’s been ducking my calls for weeks.”

Michael flinched at the man’s crass remark. “You know Russell Withingham?”

“Married to him,” Jazz said. “Separated.”

So he is gay…. Michael shook his head. “Wait, what?”

Those warm brown eyes met his, and Jazz smiled. “Separated,” he said again. “Permanently. He’s supposed to still be making my car payment, and I just got a call from the bank. He hasn’t made the last two payments.”

Michael didn’t know if he was more disappointed to find out his favorite author was a jerk, or excited to know the man under his umbrella was gay and single.

Well, possibly single.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Michael offered.

Jazz shrugged. “Nothing for you to be sorry for,” he quipped. “In fact, I should be thanking you for sharing your umbrella with me. Nothing worse than running into an ex with your hair all soaking wet, looking like a hot mess. I wanna be a vision when I tell him off. You know, make him regret losing me.”

Michael couldn’t help his involuntary head-to-toe sweep of Jazz’s body. He was a vision. Jazz carried some extra weight on him, but Michael liked men of a husky build. They seemed more solid and down-to-earth. Any man who would give up all the hunkiness Jazz had to offer had to be nuts.

COLLAPSE

By the Book

A Story Orgy Single

Lucas Pritchard knows every word in a book the moment he lays a hand on it. He knows every plot twist, surprise ending, and the conclusion of any quantum physics theorem. What he'd really like to do, however, is lay his hands on Kieran Brooker, the graduate assistant in his physics lab, and read what's inside his heart. When Lucas stumbles upon a written threat concerning the school, he and Kieran team up to track down the terrorist, and along the way uncover their shared feelings.

Kindred Spirits

A Salacious Single

Homicide Detective John Decker spends his nights cruising dark gay bars and his days tracking down killers. Because of this, he maintains a distance from men, though he longs to be with someone. And then one night he meets a handsome, pale man named Alexander Holt. Decker sees reflected in Alexander’s eyes his own world-weariness and invites the man back to his apartment. In the days following the encounter, Decker experiences vivid, erotic dreams about Alexander as he suffers from a sudden bout of what he thinks is the flu. But then the crazy homeless man outside his apartment accuses him of having been tainted by the Dark Master, and Decker notices strange marks on his throat. As the evidence of what Alexander truly is comes into focus, Decker realizes he’s gotten more than he expected from his kindred spirit.

The Battle of Iron Gulch

Town of Superstition: Book Three

The Battle of Iron Gulch cover art

A strange mining town in the shadow of a mountain.
A hidden enemy, dangerous and… hungry.

On their hunt for the missing dragon, Thaddeus and Teofil find themselves stuck in Iron Gulch, a mysterious town at the foot of Wraith Mountain. With no cash, their group’s only choice is to exchange chores for lodging at a local B & B.

As they explore the town, Thaddeus and Teofil soon discover some of Iron Gulch’s more eccentric residents might actually be dangerous. Snooping one night in the mines, they uncover the new and deadly enemy and a bloody battle breaks out in Iron Gulch.

Thaddeus’ magic is new and untested, but he’ll have to master his powers quickly to save the people of the town and the family he loves. When the dragon suddenly returns, the tide of battle takes a drastic and fatal turn that changes their lives forever.

Excerpt:

The fire crackled, and tiny sparks and embers spiraled up toward the velvety purple sky that stretched overhead. Something rustled in the grass a dozen or more feet away. Thaddeus got to his feet and Teofil stood alongside him.

“Did you hear that?” Thaddeus whispered.

“I did,” Teofil replied.

“Where’s your father?” Miriam asked, and when Thaddeus looked around, he found her and Astrid standing and looking off into the darkness as well.

A chill of fear went through him, leaving him as cold as if he’d swallowed water from the Wretched River. He was in motion before he realized it, sprinting out into the darkness that surrounded their small campfire. The grasses parted around him, the sounds of the tall blades like conspiratorial whispers.

“Dad?” Thaddeus called. Nathan did not answer, and so he tried again, a little louder, squinting into the dark.

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A warm glow suddenly appeared, revealing Teofil standing a few feet behind him, shoulders and expression tense. Then Thaddeus realized that Dulindir had followed him as well, his hair glowing with starlight and illuminating the immediate area.

“He was walking off in this direction the last I saw him,” Dulindir said and pointed.

A shout that sounded like his father prompted Thaddeus to break into a run.

“Dad!” Thaddeus shouted. “Where are you?”

“Thaddeus, wait!” Teofil called, and Thaddeus could hear him coming up behind. But Thaddeus could not wait. His father had been gravely ill just days before, grazed by a troll’s poison dart, and Thaddeus worried that Nathan might not be strong enough to fight off another threat.
In his panicked rush to find him, Thaddeus very nearly passed his father by. A rustling off to his left brought him to a stop, and then Dulindir stood beside him, illuminating the area. Nathan lay on his back, struggling with a small creature he was trying to pull off his chest.

The creature was small and dark in color. It had short but powerful-looking limbs, each of which appeared to end in hands tipped with claws. Spikes ran from the crown of its slightly flattened head and along its spine to a stubby tail.

“Dad!” Thaddeus exclaimed as Nathan struggled to keep the thing from biting his neck.

“Stay back!” Nathan shouted without looking at him.

“Goblin,” Dulindir said and looked over his shoulder as he pulled out his sword. “They are rarely alone.”

Frustration, fear, and anger seemed to collide within Thaddeus as he stood helplessly by, watching his father fight for his life. He clenched his fists and bit his lip as a warm tingle started within his chest. It traveled down his arms and seemed to pool in the palms of his hands, stinging slightly as it instilled within him the need to act, to move, to do something, anything.

Thaddeus thrust out his arms, fingers curled into claws as he released a shout of rage. The heat in his palms seemed to leap from his hands, directed right at the goblin. With a jolt the creature stopped struggling with Nathan and looked over its scaly shoulder to fix Thaddeus with a hostile look. It felt to Thaddeus as if he now held the goblin in his hands, even though he stood at least a dozen feet away. And the goblin seemed to be feeling Thaddeus’s touch as well, because it pulled out of Nathan’s grasp and turned to face him, still standing on his father and holding him in place.

When the goblin moved, it seemed to move within Thaddeus’s grip, and the sensation was so startling, and the feel of the creature so disgusting, Thaddeus reacted without thinking. He flung his arms to the side as if throwing it far away from him. To his astonishment the goblin was hurled off his father’s chest and sent spinning high into the air, an annoyed and surprised yelp fading away into the night.

The heat in Thaddeus’s palms cooled immediately, and he stood staring down at his hands. Dulindir, Teofil, and Nathan all stared at him as well, and then Nathan broke the stunned silence by falling flat on his back and laughing long and loud up at the night sky. After a moment, the rest of them followed suit. The laugh felt odd but refreshing to Thaddeus. He approached and reached down to help his father stand.

Nathan clapped a hand on Thaddeus’s shoulder and squeezed. “Apparently either you or someone you care about needs to be in danger for you to conjure magic.”

Thaddeus grinned and shrugged. “I guess so. Hopefully I can learn to do it without the danger.”

“We’ll work on that,” Nathan promised him.

“We should move back to the fire,” Dulindir said. He had his back to them and stood staring out at the grass, which was shifting quietly in the slight breeze. “Goblins rarely travel alone, especially this far from a mountain, and light hurts their eyes.”

Thaddeus helped Nathan pick up the wood he had dropped when the goblin attacked him, and they made their way back to the fire.

COLLAPSE

The Well of Tears

Town of Superstition: Book Two

A massive forest populated by creatures both dangerous and trustworthy.
A source of power stronger than anything previously known.

Far from his home in Superstition, Thaddeus Cane is in a race against dark forces to track down a dragon and break a curse.

Teofil, his neighbor and new boyfriend, accompanies him, bravely standing by his side and facing down dangers as they search for a place whispered of in legend. Along the way, Thaddeus feels the first stirrings of love, as well as the awakening of a power he never imagined possible. When old secrets are finally revealed, will his new-found family be strong enough to survive the devastating shock?

Excerpt:

“Long ago,” Astrid explained, “there came a great sickness that swept across the land. It infected those who lived in the forest and surrounding country, and it was quite deadly. Many died from it, and those who cared for their loved ones who were first infected caught it as well, until only a handful of survivors remained.”

“How awful,” Thaddeus said.

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“They never found out where it originated,” Astrid continued. “And so they buried all the bodies in a long pit, somewhere deep inside the forest. After many years, the infected blood from all of those bodies found its way into the soil and, finally, the roots of the trees around the grave. Those trees grew darker and twisted, and bore fruit that tasted vile and sour. The foul fruit attracted evil into the forest, and as time went on, the magical creatures who had survived the sickness left the forest and the darker beings took over. The gravesite has since been lost, and any who have gone in search of it have never returned.”

“Wow,” Thaddeus whispered. “That’s quite a story. And we have to go through this forest?”

“Just keep in mind that’s what it is,” Nathan said. “A story.”

“Suit yourself,” Astrid said. “But I’ve heard the story from more than one source.”

“You forgot the best part,” Fetter piped up.

“What do you mean?” Astrid asked, her voice edged with annoyance.

“About the well,” Fetter said.

Astrid sighed, and Thaddeus glanced back in time to see her roll her eyes. “You and that ridiculous well,” Astrid said.

“It’s the best part of the story!” Fetter nearly shouted.

“Keep your voices down, both of you,” Miriam scolded them gently. They all fell silent a moment, then Miriam said, “And you did leave out that part, Astrid.”

“See?” Fetter immediately said. “I told you!”

“Shut up!” Astrid snapped.

“Oh, for the love of geranium, both of you keep still!” Miriam said. She marched up to get between Astrid and Thaddeus and lowered her voice as she told the part of the story Astrid had skipped. “You see, the people who lived within the forest had no idea what was making their loved ones so sick. It could be something they were eating, or maybe the water they were drinking. To be safe, they dug a new well far outside their village. At first, the water they pulled up from this new well was cool, clear, and plentiful, but soon it dried up, with no explanation or reason. Those who still remained would gather at the edge of the well and lower the bucket with hopes of finding just a little bit of fresh water, but there was none to be had. They cried as they circled the well, so very thirsty and still heartbroken from the loss of their loved ones, and soon their tears filled it up, but that was too salty for them to drink, so they had to move away.”

Miriam gave a nod and adjusted her pack across her shoulders. “To this day, that well remains, somewhere deep within the Lost Forest, filled with the shimmering tears of a great number of magical beings. The magic contained within that Well of Tears is powerful indeed, because it’s the collected power of all of the enchanted creatures.”

“The Well of Tears?” Thaddeus whispered.

“That’s what they call it,” Fetter said from the back of the line. “Isn’t it a great name?”

Astrid made a disgusted sound. “It’s a horrible name. Ridiculous and romantic, and not even a good part of the story. No one’s ever seen it, and do you know how many tears it would take to fill a well? It’s not even possible!”

Thaddeus followed his father, who forged a path through the tall grass. As he walked, his thoughts strayed to a mass grave filled with the bones of magical beings surrounded by dark, twisted trees and a well filled with tears, and he wondered—not for the last time, he was sure—if he would ever stop being surprised by this strange new world he had discovered.

COLLAPSE

Swamped By Fear

Critter Catchers Book Three

While in Florida visiting Demetrius’s parents, best friends and business partners Cody and Demetrius realize their feelings for each other run deeper than just friendship. As they each struggle with emotions that promise to either detonate or deepen their relationship, Demetrius must also deal with his mother’s health issues. When a missing person’s case hits a little too close to home, the two tangle with a creature so frightening it’s scaring alligators out of the Everglades and into the swimming pools!

Excerpt:

“Hey Mr. Gator," Demetrius said as he dipped the end of the leaf net in the water and made some splashing sounds. "Let's get you out of there, okay? You've got to hate the chlorine, don't you? I bet it's messing up your eyes, isn't it?"

The alligator floated closer to the edge of the pool. Demetrius took a step back, extending his reach to keep the edge of the leaf net just above the water.

"Careful Demmy," Cody said in a calm, gentle voice.

"Yep, absolutely."

He knew alligators could move fast, but when the thing lunged at the leaf rake, as prepared as he thought he was, it still surprised him. The gator grabbed the leaf rake in its strong jaws and twisted as it dove beneath the water. Demetrius reacted without thinking and tightened his grip instead of releasing the rake. As the gator pulled the leaf rake under, it pulled Demetrius into the pool and under the water as well.

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Fear flared inside him, hot and suffocating. He remembered to release the leaf rake and struggled up to the surface. This section of the pool was ten feet deep, so he couldn't touch the bottom. Every moment he expected to feel the alligator's jaws clamp down on his foot or his leg and drag him underwater for good. Demetrius swam toward the pool's edge that seemed miles away instead of just a few feet. Cody was shouting something, but Demetrius couldn't make it out over the sound of his own panting breath and splashing water.

Something hit him in the back of the head and Demetrius screamed, thinking it was the alligator. But then he realized it was the life ring that Cody had thrown to him. He grabbed the ring to hold himself up and looked across the length of the pool as he reached out for the concrete edge. The alligator swam right for him, its snout creating a furrow through the water. Demetrius's heart pounded, and his breath came in short pants. He was never going to see how his mother's surgery went. He was never going to see his parents again. He was going to die with a whole list of things he had yet to do.

Cody was shouting his name over and over again, but Demetrius could not understand what he was saying. All he heard was the blood rushing in his ears and the sound of his own breathing. The alligator lifted its nose up out of the water and started to open its jaws. It was only a few feet from him now, and coming fast like a speedboat.

Demetrius pushed off from the wall, dragging the life ring along without thinking about it. The alligator missed him and hit the edge of the pool, sending a tidal wave of water out onto the deck. It thrashed its tail in anger. Demetrius did the sidestroke, heading for the shallow end of the pool as he kept the gator in sight, his left arm hooked through the life ring.

The alligator dove under the water and a sense of panic enveloped and consumed the fear inside him. The panic built on the fear, quadrupling then octupling it until it lived within him like some kind of invasive spirit, making it difficult for him to breathe.

Something tugged on the life ring, pulling him off his course and toward the side of the pool closest to the house. At that moment he felt the swell of displaced water behind him and it pushed him even closer to the house side of the pool. The alligator had surfaced right where he had been swimming, and if he hadn't been pulled out of the gator's path, it would have dragged him beneath the water and drowned him.

Cody crouched on the side of the pool, Hubert right behind him, both of them pulling on the rope tied to the life ring, dragging Demetrius through the water. Both men were shouting, but Demetrius still couldn't understand what they were saying as his heart pounded, his breath rasped in his throat, and the water sloshed around him. He touched the side of the pool and then reached up, feet kicking, stretching for the bottom but still unable to find it. How fucking deep was this pool, anyway? Then Cody had hold of his hands and lifted him out of the water and into his arms.

"I've got you," Cody said, holding him tight. "I've got you. You're safe."

Demetrius's heart pounded, and he could feel Cody's heart beating in time. They both had been frightened by his fall into the pool.

COLLAPSE

Screams of the Season

Critter Catchers Book Five

The holiday season pounces on Cody and Demetrius like one of the monsters they’ve tangled with. After their first time hosting Thanksgiving dinner as a couple, the two travel to Colorado to visit Cody's parents for Christmas. With all four of Cody's brothers expected as well, they're in for some pretty intense Bower family time.

When Cody's father drives his truck off the road and goes missing two days before Christmas, tensions run high within the Bower family. After Demetrius discovers some unusual clues at the scene of the accident, he and Cody suspect Greg Bower's disappearance might be tied to something more monstrous than icy roads. As often happens when the guys start working a case, some bizarre twists and turns leave Cody cursing monsters as he wonders if his parents' relationship is as solid as he's always believed.

In between samples of Cody’s brother’s primo cannabis product, the two deal with the rest of Cody's brothers, Christmas shopping with his nieces and nephews, a movie stuntman with a terrible sense of direction, and a police sergeant with some secrets of his own.

Excerpt:

Cody stopped and leaned against a hardwood tree to catch his breath and looked back. Demmy had paused as well, propping himself against a different tree as he panted. His face was red, and sweat stood out on his forehead just beneath his hat.

"This deep snow is hard to walk through," Demmy said.

"This may not have been my best idea."

"Better than trying to skateboard down my road by holding onto the back fender of my bike."

Cody chuckled and flexed his knee. "I still have the scars from those scrapes."

"I'm very aware of every one of your scars." Demmy grinned and waggled his eyebrows.

"If I weren't afraid of passing out trying to peel off all your layers, I'd be all over you right now."

"You say the sweetest things."

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Before Cody could suggest they turn back, he heard a sound. From Demmy's expression, he'd heard it too. Cody looked into the trees ahead of them. The sun was sinking fast, and the light played tricks with his eyes, making shadows seem to move. He held up a hand for Demmy to stay where he was and took three long, careful steps.

Something moved behind a tree about ten feet in front of him. It was tall and broad and looked like it was covered in hair.

Fucking hell. It could be a bear. Or Demmy might have been right about that footprint.

Cody started to look back at Demmy and motion for him to retreat, but the tall, broad, hairy figure moved. It faced away from them, shifting position as the muscles in its back flexed. It lifted its leg, pulling a massive foot out of the snow and planting it behind for better support.

And then it turned and looked over its shoulder right at him.

"Run!" Cody shouted.

He turned away from the thing and took off running. Demmy wasted no time asking what he'd seen. He had already turned and started running back the way they'd come.

Cody heard the thing rumble some kind of growl, and the sound urged him to move faster. Demmy was a few feet in front of him, high-stepping to clear the snow, both of them grunting and panting.

A mix of growls and snorts from behind sent shivers through him. He expected to feel a big hand grab his shoulder and spin him around, and then the thing would choke him until it crushed his neck.

How far had they walked away from the wider animal run? It felt like they had been trying to escape forever.

He risked a glance back, and his heart hammered even faster.

The thing was bounding after them, the fur around its face dusted with snow, highlighting the simian appearance. It reached out for him, but Cody was a few feet out of its reach.

"Faster!" Cody shouted.

Demmy looked back, his eyes big and his mouth a dark O of shock and exertion.

"What the fuck?" Demmy managed to shout between gasps.

"Just go!"

They burst out of the trees onto the animal run. Free of the thigh-deep snow, Demmy sprinted through the more widely-spaced pine trees and out into the open field. Cody was just a few feet behind him, and he could see people standing around the police cruisers in the gas station parking lot on the other side of the field.

He looked back and gasped with relief. The thing had not pursued them across the animal run. Cody could barely see its outline, glaring at him from behind a couple of trees.

Cody slowed a bit and managed to say, "Demmy… It's okay… It stopped."

Demmy looked back and then tripped over his own feet and went down on the snow. He reached Demmy and dropped to his knees beside him. They were both out of breath as they looked at each other.

"You okay?" Cody asked.

Demmy nodded. "Was it…?"

"Bigfoot? Most likely." Cody looked back, but the thing had moved back into the trees out of sight. "Fucking monsters."

COLLAPSE

The Devil of Pinesville

Critter Catchers Book Four

It's business as usual for Critter Catchers Demmy and Cody, with one pretty major change. Now, they're not only juggling their animal control business and decades of friendship, but the beginnings of a romance as well. Cody's always put a time limit on his past relationships, and he's certain he's going to mess things up with Demmy. For his part, Demmy is pretty sure Cody will, too. But trouble arrives in the form of one of Demmy's ex-boyfriends who contacts them about a case they might be able to handle in Pinesville, New Jersey. Sensing not just physical but romantic danger, Cody makes certain to accompany Demmy on the trip.

In Pinesville, they meet up with a handful of residents just as colorful, if not more so, than those in Parson's Hollow. And both are surprised to find they have some competition on this case, namely the Critter Ridders, a pair of very competitive women operating their own animal control business.

As the case intensifies, tempers flare and loyalties are tested, bringing Demmy and Cody to the point where they must decide if they're willing to save the business, their friendship, or their romance.

Excerpt:

Cody set the flashlight on the ground, beam pointed at two of the cages occupied by pacing skunks. He hefted the wet towels, one in each hand, as he looked for the one remaining skunk, of which there was no sign. "And the towels are going to keep their spray from getting out of the cage?"

"That's what the site claimed," Demmy said.

"Well, if it's on the internet, it must be true."

"Are you ready?"

"No."

They stood in place, towels in hand, flashlights on the ground and aimed at the cages.

"How about now?" Demmy asked.

"I'd like to know where that other skunk got off to."

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Barking erupted from behind them. It was frenzied and high-pitched, intermixed with shouts of surprise from Jugs. A string of harsh curses quickly followed, and the stink of skunk floated to them on the evening breeze. Moments later, Jugs rushed past them, eyes wide in the glow of their flashlights. His arms were stretched as far out as he could reach, and he held a frantically wriggling Enid Helen.

"She's hit!" Jugs shouted as he ran past. "It got her."

"Guess that answers my question," Cody said.

Demmy nodded. "Let's go."

Cody managed to drape a towel over the first cage with no problem. As he moved to the second cage, he stooped to pick up his flashlight and directed it toward the area of the yard where they'd been sitting. Jugs's lawn chair lay on its side, but there was no sign of the skunk.

With his attention diverted, Cody didn't realize how close he was to the next cage until his foot bumped against it. He cursed as he stumbled over it, the flashlight tumbling from his grip as he stretched out his hands to break his fall. A pungent stink exploded around him. He gagged and turned away to draw in a breath of fresh air as he scrambled to try and stand. His feet went out from under him and he fell flat on his stomach, face turned so he stared at the business end of the elusive skunk. He had just enough time to squeeze his eyes shut and turn his face away before he got blasted a second time.

"Shit!" Demmy shouted from somewhere nearby. "I got sprayed."

Cody kept his eyes closed and held his breath as he got to his hands and knees. He crawled blindly away from the skunks, lungs aching for fresh air. He ran into something and fell on top of it, rolling onto his side as he gasped for breath.

"What the fuck?" Demmy said from beneath him. "Oh, god. You… Skunks!"

Another blast of awful stink erupted around them. Cody's eyes burned and tears streamed down his face as he coughed and gagged, trying to catch his breath. Demmy squirmed beneath him, gagging as well, and suddenly Cody was rolled to the side. He got to his hands and knees and crawled a few feet away. The smell was everywhere, he couldn't get away from it. His nose and throat burned. It felt like steel wool had been packed into his lungs.

He gasped and drew in a deep breath. The searing odor filled his chest and his stomach twisted in revolt. Moments later, everything he'd eaten came up in a burning rush. He blurted out curses between each ugly clench of his gut until there was nothing left. Fuck, he hated throwing up.

A hand touched his back and ran slowly up and down his spine.

Demmy.

And from the lightness of his touch, Cody thought — hoped — that Demmy had forgiven him.

"I covered the three cages," Demmy said. "Can you stand?"

"I can't see anything," Cody said. "It got in my eyes."

"It's all over you. And pretty much all over me as well."

Demmy helped Cody to his feet and they moved away from the cages. The air cleared with each stumbling step, until they reached the chairs. A lingering cloud of skunk stink washed over them and Cody gagged again and went down on one knee.

"Shit." Demmy grunted as he tried to keep Cody on his feet. "This is where Enid Helen got sprayed. Over here. Come on."

Demmy directed Cody across the yard. After they'd staggered a distance from the chairs, Cody went down on his hands and knees. He could barely see his fingers splayed in the thick grass from the tears blurring his vision.

"Fuckin' skunks," Cody managed between coughing fits.

"Stay here," Demmy instructed. "I'll get the hose over here so you can wash your face and flush your eyes."

Cody put his forehead against the cool grass. He took deep, gulping breaths and kept his eyes squeezed shut as he muttered, "Fuckin' skunks."

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