Book Releases

Blog Tour: This Earl of Mine by Kate Bateman

This Earl of Mine by Kate Bateman is now available!

Buy Link

Macmillan

Author Bio

Kate Bateman, (also writing as K. C. Bateman), is the #1 bestselling author of historical romances, including her RITA® nominated Renaissance romp, The Devil To Pay, and the novels in the Secrets & Spies series To Steal a HeartA Raven’s Heart, and A Counterfeit Heart. When not writing novels that feature feisty, intelligent heroines and sexy, snarky heroes you want to both strangle and kiss, Kate works as a fine art appraiser and on-screen antiques expert for several popular TV shows in the UK. She splits her time between Illinois and her native England. Follow her on Twitter to learn more.

About the Book

Introducing the Bow Street Bachelors—men who work undercover for London’s first official police force—and the women they serve to protect . . . and wed?

Shipping heiress Georgiana Caversteed is done with men who covet her purse more than her person. Even worse than the ton’s lecherous fortune hunters, however, is the cruel cousin determined to force Georgie into marriage. If only she could find a way to be . . . widowed? Georgie hatches a madcap scheme to wed a condemned criminal before he’s set to be executed. All she has to do is find an eligible bachelor in prison to marry her, and she’ll be free. What could possibly go wrong?

Benedict William Henry Wylde, scapegrace second son of the late Earl of Morcott and well-known rake, is in Newgate prison undercover, working for Bow Street. Georgie doesn’t realize who he is when she marries him—and she most certainly never expects to bump into her very-much-alive, and very handsome, husband of convenience at a society gathering weeks later. Soon Wylde finds himself courting his own wife, hoping to win her heart since he already has her hand. But how can this seductive rogue convince brazen, beautiful Georgie that he wants to be together . . . until actual death do they part?

Excerpt

Chapter 1.

London, March 1816.

There were worse places to find a husband than Newgate Prison.

Of course there were.

It was just that, at present, Georgie couldn’t think of any.

“Georgiana Caversteed, this is a terrible idea.” Georgie frowned at her burly companion, Pieter Smit,

as the nondescript carriage he’d summoned to convey them to London’s most notorious jail rocked toa halt on the cobbled street. The salt-weathered Dutchman always used her full name whenever hedisapproved of some- thing she was doing. Which was often.

“Your father would turn in his watery grave if he knew what you were about.”

That was undoubtedly true. Until three days ago, enlisting a husband from amongst the ranks ofLondon’s most dangerous criminals had not featured prominently on her list of life goals. But desperatetimes called for des- perate measures. Or, in this case, for a desperate felon about to be hanged. A felon she would marry before the night was through.

Georgie peered out into the rain-drizzled street, then up, up the near-windowless walls. They rose into the mist,five stories high, a vast expanse of brickwork, bleak and unpromising. A church bell tolled somewhere in the darkness, aforlorn clang like a death knell. Her stomach knotted with a grim sense of foreboding.

Was she really going to go through with this? It had seemed a good plan, in the safety of Grosvenor Square. Theperfect way to thwart Cousin Josiah once and for all. She stepped from the carriage, ducked her head against the rain,and followed Pieter under a vast arched gate. Her heart hammered at the audacity of what she planned. They’d taken thesame route as condemned prisoners  on the way to Tyburn tree, only in reverse. West to east, from the rarefied socialstrata of Mayfair through gradu- ally rougher and bleaker neighborhoods, Holborn and St. Giles, to this miserableplace where the dregs of humanity had been incarcerated. Georgie felt as if she were nearing her own execution.

She shook off the pervasive aura of doom and straight- ened her spine. This was her choice. However unpalat- able thenext few minutes might be, the alternative was far worse. Better a temporary marriage to a murderous, unwashedcriminal than a lifetime of misery with Josiah. They crossed the deserted outer courtyard, and Georgie cleared her throat,trying not to inhale the foul-smelling air that seeped from the very pores of the building. “You have it all arranged? They are expecting us?”

Pieter nodded. “Aye. I’ve greased the wheels with yer blunt, my girl. The proctor and the ordinary are both bent ascopper shillings. Used to having their palms greased, those two, the greedy bastards.”

Her father’s right-hand man had never minced words in front of her, and Georgie appreciated his bluntness. So few people in the ton ever said what they reallymeant. Pieter’s honesty was refreshing. He’d been her father’s man for twenty years before she’d even beenborn. A case of mumps had prevented him from accompanying William Caversteed on his last, fateful voyage, and Georgie had often thought that if Pieter had been with her father, maybe he’d still be alive. Little things like squalls, ship- wrecks, and attacks from Barbary pirates would be mere inconveniences to a man like Pieter Smit.

In the five years since Papa’s death, Pieter’s steadfast loyalty had been dedicated to William’s daughters,and Georgie loved the gruff, hulking manservant like a second father. He would see her through this madcapscheme— even if he disapproved.

She tugged the hood of her cloak down to stave off the drizzle. This place was filled with murderers,highway- men, forgers, and thieves. Poor wretches slated to die, or those “lucky” few whose sentences hadbeen commuted to transportation. Yet in her own way, she was equally desperate.

“You are sure that this man is to be hanged tomorrow?” Pieter nodded grimly as he rapped on a woodendoor.

“I am. A low sort he is, by all accounts.”

She shouldn’t ask, didn’t want to know too much about the man whose name she was purchasing. Aman whose death would spell her own freedom. She would be wed and widowed within twenty-four hours.

 

From This Earl of Mine by Kate Bateman. Copyright © 2019 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Publishing Group.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Releases

Blog Tour: The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

The Escape Room is now available!

Escape Room cover

Buy Link

https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250219671

Author Bio

MEGAN GOLDIN worked as a correspondent for Reuters and other media outlets where she covered war, peace, international terrorism and financial meltdowns in the Middle East and Asia. She is now based in Melbourne, Australia where she raises three sons and is a foster mum to Labrador puppies learning to be guide dogs. THE ESCAPE ROOM is her debut novel.

About the Escape Room

In Megan Goldin’s unforgettable debut, The Escape Room, four young Wall Street rising stars discover the price of ambition when an escape room challenge turns into a lethal game of revenge.

Welcome to the escape room. Your goal is simple. Get out alive.

In the lucrative world of finance, Vincent, Jules, Sylvie, and Sam are at the top of their game. They’ve mastered the art of the deal and celebrate their success in style—but a life of extreme luxury always comes at a cost.

Invited to participate in an escape room as a team-building exercise, the ferociously competitive co-workers crowd into the elevator of a high rise building, eager to prove themselves. But when the lights go off and the doors stay shut, it quickly becomes clear that this is no ordinary competition: they’re caught in a dangerous game of survival.

Trapped in the dark, the colleagues must put aside their bitter rivalries and work together to solve cryptic clues to break free. But as the game begins to reveal the team’s darkest secrets, they realize there’s a price to be paid for the terrible deeds they committed in their ruthless climb up the corporate ladder. As tempers fray, and the clues turn deadly, they must solve one final chilling puzzle: which one of them will kill in order to survive?

Excerpt

PROLOGUE

It was Miguel who called 911 at 4:07 a.m. on an icy Sunday morning. The young security guard spoke in an unsteady voice, fear disguised by cocky nonchalance.

Miguel had been an aspiring bodybuilder until he injured his back lifting boxes in a warehouse job and had to take night- shift work guarding a luxury office tower in the final stages of construction. He had a muscular physique, dark hair, and a cleft in his chin.

He was conducting a cursory inspection when a scream rang out. At first, he didn’t hear a thing. Hip- hop music blasted through the oversize headphones he wore as he swept his flashlight across the dark recesses of the lobby.

The beam flicked across the classical faces of reproduction Greek busts cast in metal and inset into niches in the walls. They evoked an eerie otherworldliness, which gave the place the aura of a mausoleum.

Miguel paused his music to search for a fresh play list of songs. It was then that he heard the tail end of a muffled scream.

The sound was so unexpected that he instinctively froze. It wasn’t the first time he’d heard strange noises at night, whether it was the screech of tomcats brawling or the whine of construction cranes buffeted by wind. Silence followed. Miguel chided himself for his childish reaction.

He pressed PLAY to listen to a new song and was immediately assaulted by the explosive beat of a tune doing the rounds at the dance clubs where he hung out with friends.

Still, something in the screech he’d heard a moment before rattled him enough for him to be extra diligent.

He bent down to check the lock of the revolving lobby door. It was bolted shut. He swept the flashlight across a pair of still escalators and then, above his head, across the glass- walled mezzanine floor that overlooked the lobby.

He checked behind the long reception desk of blond oak slats and noticed that a black chair was at an odd angle, as if someone had left in a hurry.

A stepladder was propped against a wall where the lobby café was being set up alongside a water fountain that was not yet functional. Plastic- wrapped café tables and chairs were piled up alongside it.

In the far corner, he shone his flashlight in the direction of an elaborate model of the building complex shown to prospective tenants by Realtors rushing to achieve occupancy targets in time for the building’s opening the following month.

 

The model detailed an ambitious master plan to turn an abandoned ware house district that had been a magnet for homeless people and addicts into a high- end financial and shopping precinct. The first tower was almost finished. A second was halfway through construction.

When Miguel turned around to face the elevator lobby, he was struck by something so incongruent that he pushed his headphones off his head and onto his shoulders.

The backlit green fluorescent light of an elevator switch flickered in the dark. It suggested that an elevator was in use. That was impossible, because he was the only person there.

In the sobriety of the silent echo that followed, he convinced himself once again that his vague sense of unease was the hallucination of a fatigued mind. There was nobody in the elevator for the simple reason that the only people on- site on weekends were the security
guards. Two per shift. Except to night, Miguel was the only one on duty.

When Stu had been a no- show for his shift, Miguel figured he’d manage alone. The construction site was fenced off with towering barbed- wire fences and a heavy- duty electric gate. Nobody came in or out until the shift ended.

In the four months he’d worked there, the only intruders he’d encountered were feral cats and rats scampering across construction equipment in the middle of the night. Nothing ever happened during the night shift.

That was what he liked about the job. He was able to study and sleep and still get paid. Sometimes he’d sleep for a couple of hours on the soft leather lobby sofa, which he found preferable to the lumpy stretcher in the portable office where the guards took turns resting
between patrols. The CCTV cameras hadn’t been hooked up yet, so he could still get away with it.

From the main access road, the complex looked completed. It had a driveway entry lined with young maples in planter boxes. The lobby had been fitted out and furnished to impress prospective tenants who came to view office space.

The second tower, facing the East River, looked unmistakably like a construction site. It was wrapped with scaffolding. Shipping containers storing building materials were arranged like colorful Lego blocks in a muddy field alongside idle bulldozers and a crane.

Miguel removed keys from his belt to open the side entrance to let himself out, when he heard a loud crack. It whipped through the lobby with an intensity that made his ears ring.

Two more cracks followed. They were unmistakably the sound of gunshots. He hit the ground and called 911. He was terrified the shooter was making his way to the lobby but cocky enough to cover his fear with bravado when he spoke.

“Something bad’s going down here.” He gave the 911 dispatcher the address. “You should get cops over here.”

Miguel figured from the skepticism in the dispatcher’s cool voice that his call was being given priority right below the doughnut run.

His heart thumped like a drum as he waited for the cops to arrive. You chicken shit, he berated himself as he took cover behind a sofa. He exhaled into his shirt to muffle the sound of his rapid breathing. He was afraid he would give away his position to the shooter.

A wave of relief washed over him when the lobby finally lit up with a hazy blue strobe as a police car pulled in at the taxi stand. Miguel went outside to meet the cops.

“What’s going on?” An older cop with a thick gut hanging over his belted pants emerged from the front passenger seat.

“Beats me,” said Miguel. “I heard a scream. Inside the building. Then I heard what I’m pretty sure were gunshots.”

“How many shots?” A younger cop came around the car to meet him, snapping a wad of gum in his mouth.

“Two, maybe three shots. Then nothing.”

“Is anyone else around?” The older cop’s expression was hidden under a thick gray mustache.

“They clear out the site on Friday night. No construction workers. No nobody. Except me. I’m the night guard.”

“Then what makes you think there’s a shooter?”

“I heard a loud crack. Sure sounded like a gunshot. Then two more. Came from somewhere up in the tower.”

“Maybe construction equipment fell? That possible?”

A faint thread of red suffused Miguel’s face as he contemplated the possibility that he’d panicked over nothing. They moved into the lobby to check things out, but he was feeling less confident than when he’d called 911. “I’m pretty sure they—” He stopped speaking as they
all heard the unmistakable sound of a descending elevator.

“I thought you said there was nobody here,” said the older cop.

“There isn’t.”

“Could have fooled me,” said the second cop. They moved through to the elevator lobby. A light above the elevator doors was flashing to indicate an elevator’s imminent arrival. “Someone’s here.”

“The building opens for business in a few weeks,” said Miguel. “Nobody’s supposed to be here.”

The cops drew their guns from their holsters and stood in front of the elevator doors in a shooting stance— slightly crouched, legs apart. One of the cops gestured furiously for Miguel to move out of the way. Miguel stepped back. He hovered near an abstract metal sculpture
set into the wall at the dead end of the elevator lobby.

A bell chimed. The elevator heaved as it arrived.

The doors parted with a slow hiss. Miguel swallowed hard as the gap widened. He strained to see what was going on. The cops were blocking his line of sight and he was at too sharp an angle to see much.

“Police,” shouted both cops in unison. “Put your weapon down.”

Miguel instinctively pressed himself against the wall. He flinched as the first round of bullets was fired. There were too many shots to count. His ears rang so badly, it took him a moment to realize the police had stopped firing. They’d lowered their weapons and were shouting something. He didn’t know what. He couldn’t hear a thing over the ringing in his ears.

Miguel saw the younger cop talk into his radio. The cop’s mouth opened and closed. Miguel couldn’t make out the words. Gradually, his hearing returned and he heard the tail end of a stream of NYPD jargon.

He couldn’t understand most of what was said. Something about “nonresponsive” and needing “a bus,” which he assumed meant an ambulance. Miguel watched a trickle of blood run along the marble floor until it formed a puddle. He edged closer. He glimpsed blood splatter on the wall of the elevator. He took one more step. Finally, he could see inside the elevator. He immediately regretted it. He’d never seen so much blood in all his life.

ONE

THE ELEVATOR

 

Thirty-four Hours Earlier

Vincent was the last to arrive. His dark overcoat flared behind him as he strode through the lobby. The other three were standing in an informal huddle by a leather sofa. They didn’t notice Vincent come in. They were on their phones, with their backs to the entrance, preoccupied with emails and silent contemplation as to why they had been called to a last-minute meeting on a Friday night at an out-of-the-way office building in the South Bronx.

Vincent observed them from a distance as he walked across the lobby toward them. Over the years, the four of them had spent more time together than apart. Vincent knew them almost better than he knew himself. He knew their secrets, and their lies. There were times when he could honestly say that he’d never despised anyone more than these three people. He suspected they all shared the sentiment. Yet they needed one another. Their fates had been joined together long before.

Sylvie’s face bore its usual expression, a few degrees short of a resting-bitch face. With her cover-girl looks and dark blond hair pinned in a topknot that drew attention to her green eyes, Sylvie looked like the catwalk model that she’d been when she was a teenager. She was irritated by being called to an unscheduled meeting when she had to pack for Paris, but she didn’t let it show on her face. She studiously kept a faint upward tilt to her lips. It was a practice drummed into her over many years working in a male-dominated profession. Men could snarl or look angry with impunity; women had to smile serenely regardless of the provocation.

To her right stood Sam, wearing a charcoal suit with a white shirt and a black tie. His stubble matched the dark blond of his closely cropped hair. His jaw twitched from the knot of anxiety in his guts. He’d felt stabbing pains ever since his wife, Kim, telephoned during the drive over. She was furious that he wouldn’t make the flight to Antigua because he was attending an unscheduled meeting. She hated the fact that his work always took precedence over her and the girls.

Jules stood slightly away from the other two, sucking on a peppermint candy to disguise the alcohol on his breath. He wore a suave burgundy-and-navy silk tie that made his Gypsy eyes burn with intensity. His dark hair was brushed back in the style of a fifties movie star. He usually drank vodka because it was odorless and didn’t make his face flush, but now his cheeks were ruddy in a tell-tale sign he’d been drinking. The minibar in his chauffeured car was out of vodka, so he’d had to make do with whiskey on the ride over. The empty bottles were still rattling around in his briefcase.

As they waited for their meeting, they all had the same paranoid notion that they’d been brought to a satellite office to be retrenched. Their careers would be assassinated silently, away from the watercooler gossips at the head office.

It was how they would have done it if the positions were reversed. A Friday-evening meeting at an out-of-the-way office, concluding with a retrenchment package and a nondisclosure agreement signed and sealed.

The firm was considering unprecedented layoffs, and they were acutely aware they had red targets on their backs. They said none of this to one another. They kept their eyes downcast as they worked on their phones, unaware they were the only ones in the lobby. Just as they hadn’t paid much mind to the cranes and construction fencing on their way in.

Sam checked his bank account while he waited. The negative balance made him queasy. He’d wiped out all the cash in his account that morning paying Kim’s credit-card bill. If he lost his job, then the floodgates would open. He could survive two to three months without work; after that, he’d have to sell assets. That alone would destroy him financially. He was leveraged to the hilt. Some of his assets were worth less now than when he’d bought them.

The last time Sam had received a credit-card bill that huge, he’d immediately lowered Kim’s credit limit. Kim found out when her payment for an eleven-thousand-dollar Hermès handbag was rejected at the Madison Avenue store in front of her friends. She was mortified. They had a huge blowup that night, and he reluctantly restored her credit limit. Now he paid all her bills without a word of complaint. Even if it meant taking out bridging loans. Even if it meant constantly feeling on the verge of a heart attack.

Sam knew that Kim spent money as much for attention as out of boredom. She complained that Sam was never around to help with the twins. He’d had to point out that they’d hired a maid to give her all the help she needed. Three maids, to be truthful. Three within the space of two years. The third had walked out in tears a week ago due to Kim’s erratic temper.

Kim was never satisfied with anything. If Sam gave Kim a platinum necklace, she wanted it in gold. If he took her to London, she wanted Paris. If he bought her a BMW, she wanted a Porsche.

Satisfying her unceasing demands was doable when his job prospects were good, but the firm had lost a major account, and since Christmas word had spread of an impending restructure. Everyone knew that was a euphemism for layoffs.

Sam never doubted that Kim would leave him if he couldn’t support her lifestyle anymore. She’d demand full custody of the girls and she’d raise them to hate him. Kim forgave most of his transgressions, she could even live with his infidelities, but she never forgave failure.

It was Sam who first heard the footsteps sounding through the vast lobby. The long, hurried strides of a man running late to a meeting. Sam swung around as their boss arrived. Vincent’s square jaw was tight and his broad shoulders were tense as he joined them without saying a word.

“You almost didn’t make it,” observed Sylvie.

“The traffic was terrible.” Vincent ran his hand over his overcoat pocket in the habit of a man who had recently stopped smoking. Instead of cigarettes, he took out a pair of glasses, which he put on to examine the message on his phone. “Are you all aware of the purpose of this meeting?”

“The email invite from HR wasn’t exactly brimming with information,” said Sam. “You said in your text message it was compulsory for us to attend. That it took precedence over everything else. Well, we’re all here. So maybe now you can enlighten us, Vincent. What’s so important that I had to delay my trip to Antigua?”

“Who here has done an escape-room challenge before?” Vincent asked.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Sam said. “I abandoned my wife on her dream vacation to participate in a team-building activity! This is bullshit, Vincent. It’s goddamn bullshit and you know it.”

“It will take an hour,” said Vincent calmly. “Next Friday is bonus day. I’m sure that we all agree that it’s smart to be on our best behavior before bonus day, especially in the current climate.”

“Let’s do it,” said Sylvie, sighing. Her flight to Paris was at midnight. She still had plenty of time to get home and pack. Vincent led them to a brightly lit elevator with its doors wide open. Inside were mirrored walls and an alabaster marble floor.

They stepped inside. The steel doors shut behind them before they could turn around.

 

TWO

SARA HALL

 

It’s remarkable what a Windsor knot divulges about a man. Richie’s Italian silk tie was a brash shade of red, with thin gold stripes running on a diagonal. It was the tie of a man whose arrogance was dwarfed only by his ego.

In truth, I didn’t need to look at his tie to know that Richie was a douche. The dead giveaway was that when I entered the interview room, a nervous smile on my pink matte painted lips, he didn’t bother to greet me. Or even to stand up from the leather chair where he sat and surveyed me as I entered the room.

While I categorized Richie as a first-class creep the moment I set eyes on him, I was acutely aware that I needed to impress him if I was to have any chance of getting the job. I introduced myself and reached out confidently to shake his hand. He shook my hand with a grip that was tighter than necessary—a reminder, perhaps, that he could crush my career aspirations as easily as he could break the bones in my delicate hand.

He introduced himself as Richard Worthington. The third, if you don’t mind. He had a two-hundred-dollar haircut, a custom shave, and hands that were softer than butter. He was in his late twenties, around five years older than I was.

When we were done shaking hands, Richie leaned back in his chair and surveyed me with a touch of amusement as I settled into my seat across the table.

“You can take off your jacket and relax,” he said. “We try to keep interviews informal here.”

I took off my jacket and left it folded over the back of the chair next to me as I wondered what he saw when he looked at me. Did he see a struggling business-school graduate with a newly minted MBA that didn’t appear to be worth the paper it was written on? Or was he perceptive enough to see an intelligent, accomplished young woman? Glossy brown hair cut to a professional shoulder length, serious gray eyes, wearing a brand-new designer suit she couldn’t afford and borrowed Louboutin shoes that were a half size too small and pinched her toes.

I took a deep breath and tried to project the poise and confidence necessary to show him that I was the best candidate. Finally I had a chance at getting my dream job on Wall Street. I would do everything that I could humanly do not to screw it up.

Richie wore a dark gray suit with a fitted white shirt. His cuff links were Hermès, arranged so that the H insignia was clearly visible. On his wrist was an Audemars Piguet watch, a thirty-grand piece that told everyone who cared that he was the very model of a Wall Street player.

Richie left me on the edge of my seat, waiting awkwardly, as he read over my résumé. Paper rustled as he scanned the neatly formatted sheets that summed up my life in two pages. I had the impression that he was looking at it for the first time. When he was done, he examined me over the top of the pages with the lascivious expression of a john sizing up girls at a Nevada whorehouse.

 

 

THREE

THE ELEVATOR

 

All the lights in the elevator turned off at once. It happened the moment the doors shut. One moment they were in a brightly lit elevator; the next they were in pitch- darkness. They were as good as blind, save for the weak fluorescent glow from a small display above the steel doors showing the floor number.

Jules stumbled toward the elevator control panel. He pressed the button to open the doors. The darkness was suffocating him. He had to get out. The elevator shot up before anything happened. The jolt was unexpected. Jules lost his footing and fell against the wall with a thud.

As the elevator accelerated upward, they assumed the lights would be restored at any moment. In every other respect, the elevator was working fine. It was ascending smoothly. The green display above the door was showing the changing floor numbers. There was no reason why it should be dark.

Without realizing it, they shifted toward one another, drawn together by a primordial fear of the dark and the unknown dangers that lurked within it. Jules fumbled for his phone and turned on the flashlight setting so that he could see what he was doing. He frantically pressed the buttons for upcoming floors. They didn’t appear to respond to the insistent pressure of his thumb.
“It’s probably an express,” explained Sylvie. “I saw a sign in the lobby that said something about the elevator running express until the seventieth floor.”

Jules pressed the button for the seventieth floor. And the seventy-first. And, for good measure, the seventy- second, as well. The buttons immediately lit up one after the other, each button backlit in green. Jules silently counted the remaining floors. All he could think about
was getting out.

He loosened his tie to alleviate the tightness in his chest. He’d never considered himself claustrophobic, but he’d had an issue with confined spaces ever since he was a child. He once left summer camp early, in hysterics after being accidentally locked in a toilet stall for a few minutes. His mother told the camp leader that his overreaction was due to a childhood trauma that left him somewhat claustrophobic and nervous in the dark.

“I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ll be taking the stairs on the way down,” Sam joked with fake nonchalance. “I’m not getting back into this hunk of junk again.”

“Maybe the firm is locking us up in here until we resign voluntarily,” Jules said drily. “It’ll save Stanhope a shitload of money.” He swallowed hard. The elevator was approaching the fortieth floor. They were halfway there. He had to hold it together for another thirty floors.

“It would be a mistake if the firm retrenched any of us,” said Vincent. “I told the executive team as much when we met earlier this week.” What Vincent didn’t mention was that several of the
leadership team had avoided looking at him during that meeting. That was when he knew the writing was on the wall.
“Why get rid of us? We’ve always made the firm plenty of money,” Sylvie said.

“Until lately,” Vincent said pointedly.

They’d failed to secure two major deals in a row. Those deals had both gone to a key competitor, who had inexplicably undercut them each time. It made them wonder whether their competitor had inside knowledge of their bids. The team’s revenue was lower than it had
been in years. For the first time ever, their jobs were vulnerable.

“Are we getting fired, Vincent?” Jules asked as the elevator continued rising. “Is that why we were summoned here? They must have told you something.”

“I got the same generic meeting invite that you all received,” Vincent responded. “It was only as I arrived that I received a text with instructions to bring you all up to the eightieth floor for an escape room challenge. The results of which, it said, would be used for ‘internal consultations about future staff planning.’ Make of that what you will.”

“Sounds like they want to see how we perform tonight before deciding what to do with us,” said Sylvie. “I’ve never done an escape room. What exactly are we supposed to do?”

“It’s straightforward,” said Sam. “You’re locked in a room and have to solve a series of clues to get out.”

“And on that basis they’re going to decide which of us to fire?” Jules asked Vincent in the dark.

“I doubt it,” Vincent said. “The firm doesn’t work that way.”

“Vincent’s right,” said Jules cynically. “Let’s take a more optimistic tack. Maybe they’re using our escape room performance to determine who to promote to Eric Miles’s job.” Eric had resigned before Christmas under something of a cloud. They’d heard rumors the firm was going to promote someone to the job internally. Such promotions were highly sought after. At a time when their jobs were in jeopardy, it offered one of them a potential career lifeline.

The green display above the door flashed the number 67. They had three more floors to go until the elevator finished the express part of the ride. The elevator slowed down and came to a stop on the seventieth floor. Jules exhaled in relief. He stepped forward in anticipation of the doors opening. They remained shut.

He pressed the open button on the control panel. Nothing happened. He pressed it again, holding it down for several seconds. The doors still didn’t budge. He pressed the button three times in quick succession. Nothing. Finally, in desperation, he pressed the red emergency button. There was no response.

“It’s not working,” he said.

They looked up at the panel above the door that displayed the floor numbers. It had an E on its screen. Error.

A small television monitor above the control panel turned on. At first, they didn’t think much of it. They expected to see cable news or a stock market update, the type of thing usually broadcast on elevator monitors.

It took a moment for their eyes to adjust to the brightness of the white television screen. After another moment, a message appeared in large black letters.

 

WELCOME TO THE ESCAPE
ROOM. YOUR GOAL IS SIMPLE.
GET OUT ALIVE.

 

 

 

From The Escape Room. Copyright © 2019 by Megan Goldin and reprinted with permission from St. Martin’s Press.

 

Book Releases

Blog Tour: When a Lady Kisses a Scot

Meet the Author:

Award-winning author Tara Kingston writes historical romance laced with intrigue, danger, and adventures of the heart. A Southern-belle-out-of-water in a quaint northern town, she lives her own happily-ever-after with her real-life hero and a pair of deceptively innocent-looking cats. The mother of two sons, Tara’s a former librarian who first fell in love with the romance genre when she discovered her mother’s old-school romance paperbacks. When she’s not writing, reading, or burning dinner, Tara enjoys movie nights, traveling, cycling, hiking, DIY projects, and cheering on her favorite football team.
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About the Book:

Rose Fleming has been presumed dead for the last decade. It required leaving everything—and everyone—she loved behind, including MacAllister Campbell. But faking her death allowed her to stay safe until the threat posed by a mysterious villain had passed. Believing it’s finally safe again, she returns…and runs smack into the only man she ever loved.
But Rose was wrong and the stalker she escaped years ago still has her in his sights.
Ten years ago, Mac mourned the death of the woman he loved. It’s taken years to heal his heart only to discover that not only is Rose still alive, but still in grave danger. Mac can forgive Rose’s deception, but he’d never be able to forgive himself if he didn’t protect her from the evil still stalking her.
The only thing worse than losing her once would be losing her again… and he won’t let that happen.

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Excerpt:

It seemed a lifetime since MacAllister had walked out of her life.
But there was no mistaking him. Even after all these years, standing in the shadow of the Larkspear Theater on a gaslit night, she knew the shape of his face, the wave in his chestnut brown hair, and the subtle scent of soap and bergamot indelibly imprinted on her brain.
Questions flashed in his eyes, coupled with a clear sense of recognition. Had he seen through her pitiful attempt at camouflage—a coffee rinse liberally applied over her hair to dull its natural auburn hue and a netted veil on her hat to partially obscure her features?
MacAllister had always taken in the smallest of details. Pity that trait had not changed.
Well, there was nothing to be done about it now. At the moment, MacAllister Campbell’s powers of observation were the least of her worries.
“Are you all right, miss?” His question was bland, ordinary. Perhaps she was mistaken—perhaps he didn’t recognize her.
She gave a nod, then raised up on her tiptoes to peer over his shoulder. In the distance, a tall man with a shock of stringy black hair shoved his way through the crowd. A chill washed over her. So, he was following her. The man’s near-constant presence since she’d left the hotel on the Strand had not been a coincidence. Another minute or so and he’d be upon her.
Dear God. The nod had been a colossal lie.
She wasn’t all right.
Not at all.
If the bull of a man caught up with her, she might well join the ranks of the deceased again.
Only this time, it would not be a charade.
Suddenly, she knew what she had to do. She’d likely regret it. But at least she’d be alive.
Since she’d last seen MacAllister, she’d developed a talent for making good use of every resource. And now, she needed MacAllister—well, she needed a man—if only for a very short while.
“Darling.” She flashed a soft smile, curled a gloved hand over his forearm, and urged him away from the gas lamp’s hazy light. “I’m delighted I found you.”
His eyes narrowed. She thought he’d respond, but he didn’t. Had she actually left him speechless? It wasn’t easy to get the better of MacAllister. This might well be a first. The notion was oddly satisfying. Not that she had time to savor the experience.
Peeking over his shoulder again, she spotted the black-haired man. He’d muscled past a burly gent with a walrus mustache. Oh dear.
“Oh, I’ve missed you so.” Taking hold of MacAllister’s jacket lapels, she stepped close to his body. Ignoring the press of a button against her cheek, she buried her face against the tweed. “Hold me. Please.”
His arms enfolded her. “Do you intend to tell me what in blazes is going on?” His voice was low and husky, so familiar, even after all this time.
Glancing over his shoulder to scan the crowd behind him, she glimpsed a flash of her pursuer’s coal-black hair.
His sharp, indrawn breath betrayed the tension in his body. “Who are you looking for?”
“An old friend,” she whispered against his mouth. “I need you to do something…for me.”
“Tell me what you’re up to. I’ve no patience for games.”
Did you ever, MacAllister?
She clung to him like a drowning woman. “Please, hold me.”
To her relief, he played along.
Leaning closer, she lifted the netting on her hat, just enough to leave her eyes still veiled.
“This is no time for words.”
No time for hesitation.
He framed her face in his large, warm hands. “What is this about?”
“Stop talking and kiss me.”

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Travel

York – The Shambles

On our drive from London to Edinburgh, we stopped in the city of York. The city of York turned out to be a treasure trove from a historical perspective.

I’ll be covering our visit in several posts. Today, I’m starting with our walk through the Shambles. The day was cloudy and rainy but there were quite a number of tourists crowding into the narrow streets. The Shambles was where butchers would display meat for sale from hooks and shelves along the store fronts.

While in the area we ate at Ye Olde Starre Inne. Established in 1644, it’s York’s oldest inn. The inne would be easy to miss if not for the sign that spans the street to advertise its location. The sign was added by one of the previous landlords in 1792.

The atmosphere in the pub was cozy and I loved being inside a historic location warming up after being chilled by the rain. The food was delicious and we received excellent service. If we ever return to York, I would definitely love to visit this pub again.

Book Releases

Blog Tour: The Earl Next Door by Amelia Grey

The Earl Next Door by Amelia Grey is available!

Buy this book: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250217608

About the Author:

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author AMELIA GREY read her first romance book when she was thirteen and she’s been a devoted reader of love stories ever since. Her awards include the Booksellers Best, Aspen Gold, and the Golden Quill. Writing as Gloria Dale Skinner, she won the coveted Romantic Times Award for Love and Laughter and the prestigious Maggie Award. Her books have sold to many countries in Europe, Indonesia, Turkey, Russia, and most recently to Japan. Several of her books have also been featured in Doubleday and Rhapsody Book Clubs. Amelia is the author of over twenty-five books. She’s been happily married to her high school sweetheart for over thirty-five years and she lives on the beautiful gulf coast of Northwest Florida.

Website: http://www.ameliagrey.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AmeliaGreyBooks

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/491465.Amelia_Grey

SMP Romance Twitter: @SMPRomance or @heroesnhearts

SMP Romance Website: https://heroesandheartbreakers.com/

About The Earl Next Door:

What does a fiercely independent young widow really want? One determined suitor is about to find out…

When Adeline, Dowager Countess of Wake, learns of her husband’s sudden death, she realizes she’s free. At last, she can do, go, and be as she pleases. Finally, she can have the life she has always dreamed of. She doesn’t need, or want, to remarry. Especially not the supremely dashing future Marquis of Marksworth, who makes Adeline yearn for his desire…

Lord Lyonwood, son of a philandering marquis, will not be like his father. He wants to run his estates and watch them flourish—and find a wife who brings love to his life. When he meets spirited and self-reliant Adeline in a case of near-scandalous mistaken identity, Lyon feels he’s met his match. But Adeline isn’t interested in a marriage proposal. She will only accept becoming his lover—and Lyon finds it hard to refuse. Unless the fire of his passion can melt Adeline’s resolve…

Excerpt:

Perhaps he should have stated who he was when he first entered the drawing room, but he’d thought it wasn’t necessary. He was only too well aware of how many private pleasure houses were hidden among the cozy streets of respectable London and how easily and quietly they were established. He’d certainly availed himself of more than a few over the years, which was why he’d promised his aunt he’d deal with the one she believed was moving in next door to him and down the street from her.

Lyon could now see that Lady Wake’s earlier perplexed expressions and her sense of outrage had flashed warning after warning, which he’d ignored. That the countess didn’t immediately engage him with welcoming smiles should have been a swift indication all wasn’t as it seemed, but he was already in an irritable state of mind when he arrived at her house and unwavering in his thoughts not to be persuaded from his mission by a tempting woman.

He’d returned home from a laborious meeting with his unprepared solicitor, wanting only to get ready for an evening at White’s so he could get caught up on the latest news and indulge in a game or two of billiards, a few hands of cards, and an expensive bottle of brandy. Instead, he’d come home to find his aunt in his drawing room wringing her hands in misery over the possibility of unmentionable women setting up a forbidden business in their quiet neighborhood. And insisting he must do something about it at once.

Given all that was put before him, including the countess’s attire, what else could he have possibly done other than assume she was a paid woman preparing to fulfill some lucky man’s fantasy for the evening?

“The mistake was mine. I thought this was the kind of house where a man is always free and welcome to come and go as he pleases without hindrance, and not have to reveal his name or wait around to be announced. If I had known you were a lady and not an angel of the evening, I wouldn’t have acted so freely.”

“An angel of the evening?” She puffed out a breath of exasperation. “What rubbish. Clever words or phrases won’t hide what you thought when you entered or how you spoke to me. Now that you know who I am, you are still free to speak to me as before.”

That she would suggest he continue to speak so openly with her surprised him and was downright refreshing. Most of the ladies he knew would have fainted when he made the remark about paying her fee for the evening and pray to never hear such a vile comment again.

“Nevertheless, I will give you the respect you deserve and watch my language now that I do know, my lady.”

He watched her breathing ease and calmness settle over her as they each assessed the situation. That her recovery was quick and solid was a testament to her strength.

“I heard you were out of Town when I moved into the neighborhood a few days ago,” she continued in a calm and confident voice.

“I returned last evening.”

“That doesn’t absolve your actions tonight. You should have checked with someone before you came charging over with uncivil actions, assumptions and untrue allegations.”

Lyon’s jaw clenched tighter. No doubt about that. He should have questioned his aunt more about her suspicions, but he wasn’t about to explain that to the countess and implicate his aunt and her friend. “I was reasonably certain I had good cause to act as I did.”

“But you didn’t.”

“No.” What else could he say?

“And earl or not, sir,” she added valiantly, “you are an ogre as I’ve found most of your ilk are.”

He couldn’t argue with that either.

“Before you go, I’d like to know what made you think this was a house of pleasure for men.”

Lyon shook his head slowly. She was unbelievable. Asking him to explain what she’d just slapped him for. He wasn’t going to get caught in that snare again. “I’d rather not say, my lady.”

“Of course you don’t want to, but you must. I need to know what caused you to act as you did. Others could make the same mistake.”

Something settled in Lyon’s chest. A feeling that he’d never had before. Lady Wake was no shy or simpering female. She was courageous, impassioned beyond belief, and probably too strong-willed for her own good.

That intrigued him. It made him want to answer her with candid freedom, but every fiber of his being as a gentleman warned against such talk with a proper lady.

Yet, after only a brief hesitation, he responded, “If you insist.”

“I do.”

“It was brought to my attention that there have been some peculiar things going on over here while I’ve been out of Town.”

“Peculiar?” Concern resurfaced in her expression. “What do you mean? There is no reason for us to stand on ceremony, my lord. We are quite familiar with each other now. Speak to me as you would a madam and tell me what made you think my home was a house of ill repute.”

“Very well. An abundance of deliveries of bed-chamber furniture going into the building behind this house.”

“Why would that be strange, sir?” she asked him crisply. “Beds are necessary for everyone.”

“And women coming and going at all hours of the day and night.”

“Ah, yes,” she said on a breathy sigh as the meaning of his words became clear to her and she relaxed once again. “Now I understand. Beds and women. What else is a man to think of other than pleasure?”

Lyon felt the only thing he could reasonably do at this point was lift his brows, and say, “For that I can offer no apology.”

“It’s true, there have been many beds delivered. The building behind this house is being furnished as a boarding school for girls, my lord. The women who have been seen coming and going will be their tutors. Currently, some of the women have different jobs they must return to each day. They are free to leave at whatever time they deem necessary to make their other duties and commitments.”

“A boarding school?” he repeated, wondering why the hell his aunt didn’t know that. She was usually one of the first to hear the latest gossip.

“Yes. So whatever tawdry vision you’d imagined would be taking place between these walls tonight or any other won’t be happening. My home is not what you thought it was, and anyone else who assumed the same will have to look elsewhere for his decadences.”

The countess opened the door for him.

Lyon felt his expression softening, his admiration growing. For a number of reasons, including the truth of her words, there was no repairing their inauspicious meeting.

He nodded without further words, turned, and walked out of her house.