Monday, July 16, 2018


This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Mary will be awarding a $20 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

Andi’s step-mother is a real piece of work! But is Ruby a murderer?

Andi Anna Jones, so-so travel agent/amateur sleuth, puts aside her resentment of her father’s widow and books a 60th birthday cruise to Cancun for Ruby and three friends. Never does Andi imagine the cruise will lead to the murder of a has-been lounge singer—or that Ruby will be the main suspect.

Flirting with more than danger after arriving in Mexico, Andi connects with the charming local sheriff, Manual Rodriquez. After an embarrassing night involving the sheriff, too many margaritas, and a Mariachi band, a chance to check out an eyewitness to the murder leads her to Las Vegas.

In Vegas, a mysterious meeting in the Bodies Exhibition, a body preserving in the prep-room, and an evasive owner of a dance studio, give Andi clues to help Ruby. But when Andi is mercilessly drugged and locked in a storage room, she realizes dear old step-mom isn’t the only one in jeopardy.


“Tell me what’s going on. Slowly, and about fifty decibels lower. Why are you in jail?”

“Well, honey, I’m not sure. Oh, I know what they’re saying, but I didn’t do anything. I swear. Well, at least nothin’ I can remember. You see, it all started on the cruise ship dance floor, quite innocently, mind you.”

“What started?” I located my slippers and shuffled to the bathroom.

“As I was saying before you interrupted, it all started on the dance floor. You know, they play such romantic music on these cruises like, Shadow of Your Smile and Mandy. Oh, don’t you just love Manilow? Well, anyway, Lenny and I were having a lovely time, and he was obviously enamored, if you catch my drift.”

I knew this was a mistake. Still, I asked, “Lenny who?”

“Why, Lenny La Mour, of course!”

I drew a blank.

“Lenny La Mour,” Ruby huffed, “The famous Las Vegas performer? He’s the reason I picked this cruise. He had his own humongous nightclub and everything. Oh, Andi Anna, don’t tell me you’ve never heard of him. Why, women my age swoon at the sound of his voice. But, I suppose your generation only has eyes for that Bon Ami person.”

“Uh, are you, by any chance, talking about Bon Jovi?”

“Well, you know who I mean.”

Mary's publisher has a special promo going on Smashwords. Through July MM&M is half price. Here's the link:

About the Author

Author, Mary Cunningham, grew on the northern side of the Ohio River in Corydon, Indiana. Her first memories are of her dad’s original bedtime stories that no doubt inspired her imagination and love of a well-spun “yarn”.

Childhood experiences, and a recurring dream about a mysterious attic, inspired characters, Cynthia and Augusta Lee, for her award-winning middle-grade series, Cynthia's Attic. The setting is in her childhood home in Southern Indiana. Family stories and ancestors comprise the storylines. There are currently five books in the series: The Missing Locket, The Magic Medallion, Curse of the Bayou, The Magician’s Castle, and Legend of Lupin Woods.

Through a horrifying stint as a travel agent, the character, Andi Anna Jones, travel agent/amateur sleuth, inspired her latest adult mystery series. Book # 1, Margaritas, Mayhem & Murder was released Nov. 30, 2017. The author is currently writing Book # 2 of the series, along with another middle-grade series, The Adventures of Max and Maddie, a historical time-travel, and the biography of a former Army brat/University of Connecticut women’s basketball player who started a non-profit foundation to create scholarships for children of deployed veterans.

Cunningham is a member of The Georgia Reading Association, and the Carrollton Writers Guild.

When she gives her fingers a break from the keyboard, she enjoys golf, swimming and exploring the mountains of West Georgia where she makes her home with her husband and adopted, four-legged, furry daughter, Lucy.

Review Blurbs for Margaritas, Mayhem & Murder!

“If Evanovich's Stephanie Plum were a travel agent, she'd fit right in working this case alongside Andi, a wanna-be detective readers are sure to love.” —Regan Black, USA Today bestselling author of the Escape Club Heroes and Knight Traveler novels.

Margaritas, Mayhem & Murder...WOW. Snappy dialog, quirky characters, opens with a curious bang and yanked me through the pages. A fun, fantastic read. —Jean Rabe, USA Today Bestselling author, Piper Blackwell Mysteries.

“Grab a margarita and hold on tight; you're in for a wild ride.” —Karen MacInerney, Agatha Award nominee and author of the Dewberry Farms Mysteries

“Charming, lively, and unpredictable, Margaritas, Mayhem & Murder excels in a vivid story mystery fans will relish.”—Diane Donovan, Senior Editor Midwest Book Review

Purchase Margaritas, Mayhem & Murder:


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Friday, July 13, 2018


How superstitious are you? Does Friday the 13th leave you quaking in your shoes? 

I’m convinced even the most hardened of us have some superstitions. For instance, how many of use the expression “knock on wood” when we mention something good? That’s handed down from pagan groups who worshiped trees. Ancient Celts regarded trees as homes of certain spirits or gods.

Knock on wood
for good luck

A tree worshiper might have laid his hands on a tree when asking favor from the spirits that lived inside it or did so after good fortune as a show of gratitude. He is seeking protection against the anger and envy of the gods who dislike mortals bearing too much pride or who aren’t grateful.

A tree spirit

If a black cat crosses your path, do you have to turn around? Personally, I love black cats and have one to which I’m partial. (I started to say I own one, but of course one doesn’t own a cat, one is staff for a cat.)

Sebastian, our black cat
on what he views as his bed

Once when taking a neighbor somewhere a black cat crossed the road in front of us. The neighbor begged me to turn around and go the other way to avoid bad luck. I thought she was joking at first, but she was serious.

In our family, (more superstition) the number thirteen has been lucky on many occasions. Our eldest daughter was born on the thirteenth. She had a medical condition for which we found a solution on the thirteenth. Several other pieces of good fortune have occurred on the thirteenth.

My book THE TEXAN’S IRISH BRIDE includes many of the Irish bride’s superstitions. Researching them was interesting. If you haven’t read that book, I hope you will—it’s free on Amazon at

In the meantime, don’t worry about black cats crossing your path… um, knock on wood.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018


Don't miss the Rafflecopter giveaway at the end of the post!

The Hope of Azure Springs by Rachel Fordham

Seven years ago, orphaned and alone, Em finally arrived at a new home in Iowa after riding the orphan train. But secrets from her past haunt her, and her new life in the Western wilderness is a rough one. When her guardian is shot and killed, Em, now nineteen, finally has the chance to search for her long-lost sister, but she won't be able to do it alone.

For Azure Springs Sheriff Caleb Reynolds, securing justice for the waifish and injured Em is just part of his job. He's determined to solve every case put before him in order to impress his parents and make a name for himself. Caleb expects to succeed. What he doesn't expect is the hold this strange young woman will have on his heart.

Debut author Rachel Fordham invites historical romance readers to the charming town of Azure Springs, Iowa, where the people care deeply for one another and, sometimes, even fall in love.

Praise for The Hope of Azure Springs

“With unusual charm and warmth, Rachel Fordham opens the door to Azure Springs, a place as memorable as the people who inhabit it—namely the unique Em, a hero of a sheriff, and an assortment of heart-tugging, endearing townsfolk. A memorable story of faith, family, and happy endings!” ~Laura Frantz, author of The Lacemaker

“The Hope of Azure Springs is full of love and laughter, hope and happy endings. This delightful book about the resilience of the human spirit and the power of love will keep you turning pages until the very end. After you read Rachel Fordham’s satisfying story, you’ll want to give the world a hug.” ~Jennifer Beckstrand, author of A Courtship on Huckleberry Hill

“A tender story about loss, life, and the beauty that lies within each of us.” ~Stacy Henrie, USA Today bestselling author and RITA award finalist

“Authentic. Strong. Memorable. The Hope of Azure Springs and its refreshingly realistic heroine will remain in readers’ hearts long after they’ve reached the stirring conclusion. With eloquently drawn scenes that will tug at a reader’s heart and a beautifully redemptive love story, Rachel Fordham’s debut offers a tender look at the meaning of beauty and self-worth.” ~Joanna Politano, author of Lady Jayne Disappears

“As The Hope of Azure Springs unfolds, readers will find a well thought out and intricately put together love story about an uncommon heroine. Fans of Melissa Jagears and Jane Kirkpatrick will enjoy Rachel Fordham’s books now and for years to come.” ~Dawn Crandall, author of the award-winning series The Everstone Chronicles

Author Rachel Fordham

Rachel Fordham has long been fascinated by all things historical or in the words of her children “old stuff”. Often the historical trivia she discovers is woven into her children's bedtime tales. Despite her love for good stories she didn’t attempt writing a novel until her husband challenged her to do so (and now she’s so glad he did). Since that time she’s often been found typing or researching while her youngest child naps or frantically writing plot twists while she waits in the school pick-up line. In addition to her passion for storytelling, she enjoys reading, being outdoors and seeing new places. Rachel lives with her husband and children on an island in Washington state.


Blog Tour Schedule

July 9th
I Am A Reader - Spotlight
My Life. One Story at a Time. - Review
Cover Lover Book Review - Review
BookHounds - Spotlight
Susan Heim on Writing - Spotlight
Diana's Book Reviews - Spotlight

July 10th
Locks, Hooks and Books - Review
Literary Reflections Book Blog - Review
Literary Time Out - Review
Julie Coulter Bellon - Review
T's Stuff - Spotlight
Tianna Holley, Author - Spotlight

July 11th
Pause for Tales - Review
The Becca Files - Review
Why Not? Because I Said So! - Review
A Writer's Life - Spotlight
Hearts & Scribbles - Spotlight
Katie's Clean Book Collection - Spotlight
Min Reads and Reviews - Spotlight

July 12th
Simple Wyrdings - Review
Reviews by Room With Books - Review
Paulette's Papers - Spotlight
Here We Go Again Ready - Spotlight
FLY HIGH! - Spotlight

July 13th
Mythical Books - Spotlight
Bound 2 Escape - Spotlight
Stacking My Book Shelves! - Spotlight
Cassandra M's Place - Spotlight
Bookish Reviews by Denise Blogs - Spotlight

Blog Tour Giveaway

$25 Amazon Gift Code or $25 in Paypal Cash

Ends 7/24/18

Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an Gift Code or Paypal Cash. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader and sponsored by the author. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.

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Monday, July 09, 2018


Live, Love, Repeat
Milestones Book 1
JD Corbett

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Over the last 25 years, Liz Banner’s life has grown stagnant. Not that
she hasn’t loved being a stay-at-home wife and mother, but she
didn’t mean to lose herself in the process. And after surviving the
most challenging time in her life, Liz realizes that life is too
short, and second chances don’t come around very often.

With a milestone birthday approaching, Liz is determined to live a little.
And when her best friend, Anne, gifts her a ticket for a 10-day
luxury cruise, Liz decides it’s the perfect excuse to experience
new things, and just take some time to relax with some of her
favorite women. But her idea of a relaxing vacation gets thrown
overboard when a few surprise guests make an appearance and attempt
to win their way back into Liz’s heart. 

With a second chance at life…and love, turning 50 never felt better.

J. D. Corbett, author

Jen Drapp, who writes under the name of J.D. Corbett, was raised in
Charleston, South Carolina. As a girl, she was obsessed with learning
and reading about historical and fictional characters; one of her
favorites being Scarlett O'Hara. Jen has always loved writing,
whether it was short stories about made-up worlds or even essays for
school. She has recently had two contemporary romances published and
continues to learn and grow as an author. Jen currently lives in
Northern Virginia with her husband, daughter, and a 15-year old very fat cat.

Follow the tour HERE
for exclusive excerpts and a giveaway!

Friday, July 06, 2018


Don't miss the Rafflecopter giveaway at the end of the post!

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Date Published: 6-22-2018

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Still at the beginning of her career, investigative journalist Emilee Weathers is desperate for the perfect story and doesn’t care how she has to get it. When she’s asked to assist in a convicted serial killer’s appeal, it almost seems the perfect story has come banging at her door.

But not long after arriving to the mountain town of Pigeon Forge, Emilee discovers the body of another, more recent victim. With the body showing signatures of the already-convicted murderer, Emilee sets out to discover if she’s happened upon the work of a copycat, or if the real killer was ever even caught. The more she looks though, the murkier everything becomes. Police begin withholding information and the killer seems capable of going any length to protect his identity. On top of it all, when her investigations uncover the buried secrets of those closest to her, Emilee questions who it is she can and can’t trust in those mountains, if anyone at all.


Out front of the cabin, three cars sat; their headlights beaming and exhausts spewing hazy clouds of white. Casey and Skylar sat in the car at the front; Emilee and James behind them; and Morgan sat in the car in the back. She checked the time then pressed the horn twice. “Sebastian come on!”
Sebastian bolted out from the cabin and jumped into the passenger seat. “Sorry,” he said.
“What were you doing?” Morgan asked
“Just making sure everything was turned off.”
“But, you know I always do that.”
“I know. Just wanted to double check. You ready to rock and roll?” Sebastian called Casey. “Hey, you can go now… Yeah… Um, I don’t know. Shouldn’t be too bad but I guess we’ll see. Why? You don’t have to lead, you big baby. Morgan can… All right then, let’s go.” He hung up.
All three cars started rolling forward. A couple of minutes into it, Sebastian got a text message. “It’s from Casey.”
“He’s texting and driving?” Morgan said.
“Ha-ha, he said, This ain’t nothing! Guess he hasn’t realized we’re still on gravel.”
The three cars reached the end of the gravel road then stopped like they’d hit the edge of the world. After a moment, Morgan laid into the horn.
“Morgan,” Sebastian said.
“What? He’s not moving.”
“Give him a second. This is Casey, you know he’s skittish.”
Finally, Casey pulled out onto the asphalt road. Emilee and Morgan followed. From that point on, most of the drive was downhill, and the ice on those thin winding roads was worse than anyone had expected; certainly worse than anyone could’ve hoped for.
They made their way back down the mountain at a painstaking and sluggish pace, somehow creeping even slower around those tight turns. Morgan maintained control over the car and Sebastian seemed to be comfortable enough with her driving. He did seem to hold a concern elsewhere though as he grabbed his phone and called Emilee.
“Hey,” he said. “How’s everything up there? You making it okay?”
Emilee told him everything was fine so far and that the drive wasn’t as bad as she’d been expecting. But up ahead in that car, Emilee sat as stiff and straight as the spine of a hardback. With both hands, she gripped the steering wheel. Her fingers were coiled around it tighter than she knew.
“Did you know there are roughly 1,800 deaths annually due to iced roads?” James asked, laid back with his feet up on the dash.
“I don’t know why you know that but great.”
Emilee didn’t turn her eyes from the road for a second. They were already moving at a glacial pace, but Emilee couldn’t help feeling like she should be going even slower. She wasn’t used to driving in the slow, let alone the thin icy roads of a mountain. The black asphalt roads beneath the rays of her headlights held a sheen that glistened. Emilee would’ve thought they were just wet if it weren’t for the light dusting of snow on top. She knew not to touch her brakes, but the road leading to the upcoming turn was getting steep, and they were rolling faster than she wanted to go. Her foot started for the brake but stopped. She put it back over the gas and forced it to stay there, hovering. In the passenger seat, James sat on his phone, sniggering about something. He spoke to Emilee, but she didn’t hear him. Too much of her was focused on that icy road and her impulse to hit the brake.
James looked at the road ahead, then back at Emilee. He sneered. Then… “EMILEE!” he shouted.
Emilee jumped. Her foot hit the gas. The car shot forward. In reflex, she hit the brakes. The car began sliding, moving towards Casey’s quick. She took her foot off the brakes but the car was already moving too fast. Casey’s was coming up and she couldn’t stop. She stiffened her arms against the steering wheel, gripped it tight and squeezed her eyes shut.
A striking THUD that shook her. The impact brought her car to a stop. Behind her, Morgan was somehow able to stop perfectly. But ahead, Casey’s car was sliding down the road. His back lights lit up red as he hit the brakes, but the car kept going, shifting at an angle as it slid. The road turned but the car did not. Everyone watched as Casey’s car went off the road and hit an uneven spot on the snowy ground that brought them to an abrupt stop.
Emilee looked to James, breathing heavily. “What?”
“Why’d you scream my name?”
“Oh, just to see if you’d lose your shit.” He acknowledged Casey’s car angled down off the side of the road. “You did not disappoint.”
Emilee got out and carefully stood on the black ice. “Casey,” she shouted.
Behind, Sebastian got out as well.
The driver door to Casey’s car opened. Casey climbed from it and stood in the snow, glancing around. “Was that your plan all along?” he shouted up to Emilee and Sebastian. “Put me in front so you can try and kill me?”
Emilee smiled in relief that he was okay. But then that smile fell when she realized nobody would be going home that night. Just like that, they were stuck there in that cabin.

About the Author

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Jordan Antonacci, Author
Jordan Antonacci is an HVAC Technician by day and blogger by night, working out of the hot, hot lands of Dallas, Texas. When he isn’t trying to avoid heat stroke, he can be found at his desk with an espresso, brewing up a new story or a post for his blog. Outside of writing, Jordan has a mild case of wanderlust. He enjoys road trips, cruises, and flights out to California to visit his family. His dream is to make a living with writing and visit every country the world has to offer.

Contact Links

Purchase Links

RABT Book Tours & PR

Wednesday, July 04, 2018


Happy Independence Day, America!

Don't miss the Rafflecopter giveaway at the end of the post!

The Mother-in-Law
Judy Moore

Genre: Suspense, Thriller

After a whirlwind romance, a young woman from California makes a rash
decision and marries a handsome Floridian after knowing him for only
one month. 

She gives up everything she knows to move cross countrv to live with her
new husband, a widower, and his five-year-old son. 

Everything seems idyllic until they arrive at her husband's oceanfront home, and
she meets her mother-in-law. There's something strange about the
woman and the mother/son relationship.

It's not long before her suspicions begin to overwhelm her as she becomes
ensnared in the secrets and lies of her new family. 


Victoria stepped out onto the patio, ambled around the pool, and stood at the gate, gazing out at the moonlit beach and listening to the waves crash against the shore. She inhaled the moist sea air and basked in the soft touch of the salty air against her skin.

The cool ocean air felt refreshing until she realized goose bumps had begun to appear on her arms and then across her entire body. Something was off, and it was giving her chills. She had a feeling that she wasn’t alone. A sixth sense told her that someone was watching her. Her body tensed, and she squinted out into the darkness.

Scanning the patio, she slowly turned around toward the house. Then she saw her, saw her silhouette, standing in the window staring down at her. Her mother-in-law didn’t move away from the window, didn’t wave, but just stood and stared down at Victoria. Victoria held her gaze for what seemed like at least a minute. Then, finally, the drape slid across the window, and her mother-in-law was gone.


Q: How do your stories & characters develop?

I start with the victim and the killer and the why. Then I start masking the killer and the why, and spread other storylines around the crime to confuse the reader and throw them off the trail. The key for me is keeping the reader interested. To bore them is the ultimate sin. I like setting a scene so the reader can feel and see each scene, but I’m going to do that fairly quickly. I can’t stand reading books where the author spends a page describing a tree. I think that’s self-indulgent of the writer and torture for the reader. I would never dream of doing that to someone who bought my book to have a pleasurable reading experience.

Q: What is your favorite genre to read & write?
I love to read and write mysteries, especially whodunits. I expect good dialogue and a lot of humor as well. That’s my goal when I write too. Down-to-earth characters who sometimes find themselves interacting with some pretty zany, unpredictable people. My books are always PG-rated. I'm no prude, but I don't like to read sex scenes and I certainly don't like to write them. I think that often they're just a distraction from the story line.

Q: Do you have a favorite author whose books you love to read?
I have a couple of favorite authors. Carl Hiaasen is probably the first. He’s so funny and so out there. What an imagination. And he actually lives in my new hometown, Vero Beach, Florida. The other is Michael Connelly who writes fabulous crime dramas, including the Harry Bosch detective novels and The Lincoln Lawyer series. They’re both Floridians and attended University of Florida’s journalism school where I went.

How did you come up with the title of your latest book, The Mother-in-Law?
I think there is high interest in the relationship between new spouses and their mothers-in-law. Will they get along? Will there be problems? Mothers-in-law often get a bad rap, usually unwarranted, but in this case, rightfully so. So I wanted to keep the title simple. I think the name The Mother-in-Law, along with the image I chose, portrays the mysterious nature of the book.

What is your approach to writing?
I write in a simple journalistic style. Grab the reader’s attention and hold on to it. Use quotes effectively and succinctly. Above all, don’t let the reader get bored. Keep the story interesting and keep it moving! The biggest challenges in writing mysteries is to give the readers enough clues without giving away the killer.

Why do you write what you write?
I grew up reading Agatha Christie and have always loved reading and watching mysteries. When I took an early retirement from my full-time editing job, I decided it was time to start writing mysteries myself. In the past few years, I’ve written three mystery novels and six novellas. The Mother-in-Law, a thriller, is my latest. Readers seem to really like it and it was fun to write. Murder in Vail is probably my favorite, a whodunit about a family home for the holidays who find themselves snowbound with a killer in their midst.

Judy Moore writes mystery novels and thrillers, as well as lighter family
fiction. She is a longtime news writer, editor, and magazine feature
writer, and has a master's degree in journalism. Her fiction and
nonfiction work has been published in numerous national publications,
and her novels are published by BTGN publishers. Her most recent
thriller, The Mother-in-Law, is a favorite with Amazon readers. A
lifelong Florida resident, she is a former tennis pro and sports
writer, so her stories sometimes have a sports backdrop.

the tour HERE
for exclusive excerpts, guest posts and a giveaway!

Monday, July 02, 2018


Don't miss the Rafflecopter giveaway at the end of the post!

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Christine Barfknecht
Psychological Suspense
Date Published: 08-04-2018

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Laurie Brandon isn’t crazy. It’s a bout of panic that has her muttering indecipherable sounds and crying out like a mad woman, an attack brought on by her infant daughter’s sudden disappearance from the town’s annual Apple Festival. Not insanity. She needs help to save Emily. Someone has to see that, do something.

But her recent history of psychosis coupled with witness claims that Emily was never at the festival with Laurie isn’t helping her credibility. Neither is recent suspension from her job as a school teacher over stability concerns. Perhaps most damaging, though, is Laurie’s insistence that her ex-husband, Jake, had something to do with the child’s disappearance. Any sane person knows a dead man can’t run off with a baby.

The town sheriff believes Laurie is, at best, unreliable and possibly something much worse. But Laurie knows what she saw. She knows other things, too, details too hard to believe and even harder to accept. Now, she needs to convince someone – anyone – that Emily is in danger before the sheriff locks Laurie away permanently.


Chapter One


September 18, 2018

I’m not crazy. I know what I saw.

With a wave of dizziness, I hunch forward, my head hanging low, my palms pressing against a cool, hard surface. The evening sky blackens before my eyes and the chill in the air raises goosebumps on my arms despite my fleece lined sweatshirt. I can’t think straight, can barely breathe.

The silhouette in the darkness…that posture, poised to take action…

I didn’t need to see a face. I’d know that stance anywhere. But it isn’t possible.

I chew on my lip, try to gnaw the panic away. It has to be possible. I saw with my own eyes.

I can’t just stand here and wait, need to do something, find help. No one will believe me, though. It’s hard enough for me to believe me. It won’t help that everyone seems to think I’m out of my mind.

A tingling sensation shoots through my head like a strike of lightning and heat spreads through my body, starting in my head and washing through my chest. My heart beats so fast I fear it will burst. I remind myself to breathe. It’s just a panic attack. I’ve had plenty before and right now, it’s no wonder. Soon it will be over. I’ll be back to normal, get help, make someone believe me. Someone will help. They have to.

Breathe in, one, two, three. Out, one, two, three.

A fog settles in my head, sprinkling over my mind like chalk dust. I find myself gasping, my heart racing faster and harder. This symptom is new. I blink, trying to focus on the brick surface of the street but it’s a blur. The dust is growing thicker, an eraser materializing, brushing over my mind and randomly choosing which memories to wipe away.

Not my memory. I must remember.

My palms slide farther over the surface of…a table, counter…I’m not sure, but it’s rough like a sheet of unfinished wood. I lean hunched over it, struggling to breathe as I peer beneath my arm to look behind me.

Emily. My sweet baby girl.

She sits in her stroller, kicking her feet and cooing at the plush doll in her chubby fist. Cold flushes her cheeks pink, but the fleece bonnet tied beneath her chin keeps her head warm.

She’s here. She’s safe. I think. I’m not entirely sure. The fog is getting thicker, her image waving in and out as if it may not be real. I have no way of knowing. In this state, I can’t trust my eyes.

Maybe I can’t trust what I saw before either.

No. That was different. Not panic induced. Real.

A high-pitched shrill slices my skull, piercing my eardrums before fading to a crackle. Light flashes, then dozens of white stars appear.

“Laurie?” A voice slices through the static.

I force myself to stand up straight and blink. Lights swim before a backdrop of blackness and voices echo around me. Screaming. But in a happy way. The scent of grease lingers in the air, mingling with a sweet and spicy smell, like sugared cinnamon.

The lights twirl and I blink again. A Tilt-a-Whirl spins, masses of people passing in front of it. My eyes are drawn to one man, not because I know him but because he looks like a marionette, his arms outstretched, pulled by strings. My gaze follows the threads to four little dogs, Teacup Pomeranians, the kind Jake would never let me have.

“Ankle biters. Useless yippers.” I hear the rage in his voice, the unwarranted anger I’d become accustomed to. “Food for real dogs, that’s what they are.” That’s my translation, the clean version with every other word removed.

“Laurie, are you okay?” That voice again, soft and feminine, though drowning in background music.

I bring my vision in, notice a woman standing on the opposite side of a counter before me. I know her, Rochelle, a good friend of my mother’s. Two pies sit on the counter between us and she holds a wad of bills in her hand. A cool breeze brushes my skin, whisking the aroma of the pies toward me. Apple.

A memory washes over me, replacing Rochelle’s current image with one of her in my mother’s kitchen from many years ago. I see Rochelle pressing dough into pie tins, hear my mother counting with me as I measure sugar and sprinkle it over a huge bowl of sliced apples. “One…two…”

I’m five years old and wearing my favorite apron. Mom made it for me, complete with an embroidered apple on the chest. In front of me mom’s apple shaped clock ticks on the wall. Except for Christmas it’s my favorite time of year, being with mom in the kitchen and baking pies for the festival.

I blink, focus on Rochelle. Present day Rochelle. I remember. The Apple Festival. I’m in a booth selling pies to support the school. I brought Emily. My friend, Josie, came too. I look beside me, but Josie isn’t there. She must have stepped away.

Rochelle is still staring at me, her eyes wrinkled with concern. I force a smile and straighten my back, pulling myself off the countertop. “I’m fine,” I tell her. “Just getting a migraine.” I can’t tell her the truth. Everything I love is already in jeopardy; Emily, my job. Thanks to Jake, rumors of my supposed insanity spread over town as quickly as softened butter over a slice of bread.

I’m fine. I am. Postpartum psychosis, the doctor called it. My-wife’s-an-effing-nut-case, Jake called it.

Ex-wife. Almost. He forgets that part.

As I blink my thoughts away and hone in on Rochelle, I can’t help wondering what she thinks of me. Does she believe I have a migraine or is she waiting for the right moment to make an emergency call to the mental hospital?

“You scared me for a minute there,” Rochelle says, handing me the bills in her hand. “Keep the change. For the school.”

I force another smile and take the bills from her, my hands trembling with the aftereffects of my attack. I’m still trying to get my bearings, breathe in and out, slow the hammering of my heart.

Rochelle hoists her purse on her shoulder, a huge tan bag that causes my shoulder to ache just looking at it. “You sure you’re all right?”

I nod and force my mind to focus. My name is Laurie Brandon. I’m a second grade teacher. I’m in Jackson, Ohio at the Apple Festival. My hometown. I glance at the surface of the street where the booth sits, the brick street confirming my location. A few blocks away, lights illuminate the water tower hovering over the town, painted red to resemble an apple and embellished in a green leaf with a pipe protruding from the top as the stem.

I live on Mountain Valley Road. My parents are Gary and Paula Barreau. Emily is nine months old.

My heart rate slows and my body relaxes, the routine stabilizing me. I take a deep, long breath. I’m okay. Everything is fine. I’ll call the doctor in the morning. The medication she gave me has been working well. It’s just the extreme stress, my psychopath-almost-ex-husband worsening my psychosis, if that makes sense.

I remember. There’s more. I let out a gasp.

“I can tend the booth for you if you want to head home to lie down,” Rochelle offers.

I don’t hear Emily behind me. It shouldn’t surprise me. I can barely hear Rochelle over the crooning country band a block down the street. Still, I spin on my heels to check on my daughter.

She isn’t there.

My eyes shoot left to right so fast the plywood walls of the booth seem to flail. Emily… She was there just a moment ago in her stroller, wasn’t she? I saw her. I looked behind me, under my arm… I thought she was there.

My heart races again, my stomach turns, fog swirls in my brain. I can’t help questioning myself, replaying the day through my mind to make certain I brought Emily with me. I picture Josie in the booth and Emily right behind us in her stroller, just like I saw her earlier.

It was today, wasn’t it? My breathing grows faster, intensifying the dizziness. I’m not sure. The fog needs more time to clear. I force a deep breath. In, one, two, three. Out, one, two, three.

“Laurie?” Rochelle’s voice jumbles with my thoughts.

I just need a moment to get through this and then everything will make sense. Maybe I’m remembering another day. It wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened.

In, one, two, three. Out, one, two, three.

But I spot something on the street. I lean in, force myself to study it, make sure of what I see.

There is no mistaking; it’s Emily’s soft pink doll. If she wasn’t here, where did the doll come from?

The next scream I hear rolling over the crowd is my own.

About the Author

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Christine Barfknecht has a passion for weaving the darkest bits of the human psyche into page-turning fiction. She’s been crafting stories since before she printed her first word and credits her overactive imagination to a lifelong love of reading. She seeks out books that keep her hiding beneath the covers at night or turning pages long after her eyes begin to cross, and strives for those qualities in her own writing.

Christine lives in rural Wisconsin with her husband, children, and pets where she is also a virtual bookkeeping entrepreneur. In addition to reading and writing, she enjoys gardening, crafts, time with family, and traveling. APPLE OF MY EYE is her debut novel.

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