Thursday teaser: Avengers of Blood

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This week’s mystery excerpt comes from the bestselling novel

By Gae-Lynn Woods

CASS WORKED STEADILY, PAUSING only to haul broken sections of cabinet to the backyard and toss them on a growing burn pile. The air conditioner had been off since she and Bruce started work early this morning, and the summer heat built as the day wore on, bringing a sticky humidity that caused the dust and grit from their demolition project to hang nearly motionless in the air. Cass stopped to wipe the sweat from her face and take a swig of cold water. It had taken the better part of the day to remove most of the wall and base cabinets from the kitchen, leaving only one cabinet squatting in the corner.

She had no complaint; sweat was her salvation. The physical work cleared her mind and her fears about the future wept out through her pores. She could forget about Mitch Stone and the pain she’d endured since that devastating night in the spring. Her dreams were still riddled with the image of his face as she’d seen it through the small window in the ICU door — pale, motionless, devoid of life. The phantom scent of a burning building caught her at the most improbable of times and alternate outcomes to that night played continuously through her mind. It had been over six weeks since she’d been suspended — the banishment, she called it — from the police department, and even though she’d found solace in hard labor and power tools, doubt over the outcome of the Firearm Discharge Board review had taken a toll.

Cass finished her water and slid the crowbar between the countertop and cabinet, jammed it home, and levered the top up. It sprang free with a shriek. Cass turned at a giggle to find a tiny ballerina watching.

“Hey, Auntie Cass.”

Cass put the crowbar inside the cabinet and smiled at her niece. Phoebe was swathed in pink, from her ballet slippers and seashell pale tights and tutu, to her fuchsia leotard. Cass wiped the dust from a seat at the scuffed kitchen table and lifted the five-year-old to the chair. “You look gorgeous. What are you up to?”

“Going to jazz class.”

“Why are you wearing your ballet outfit?”

“I’m a princess, Auntie Cass, and this is my gown.”

“Oh,” Cass said, as Harry entered, guilt on his face.

“Can you take her?”

“Sure. What’s up?”

Harry pulled gingerly on the refrigerator’s duct-taped handle. He removed a pitcher of orange juice and poured glasses for them. “Do you remember the Martins?”

“Of course.”

“We’re working for them and they’re not happy with what the interior designer is planning.” He glanced down at Phoebe, but the little girl was bobbing her head to an internal rhythm, oblivious to the fact that the interior designer was her mother.

“Why don’t they talk to her?”

“Drama.”

“Ah.” Harry and his estranged wife Carly shared an architectural and design business and were known for their innovation. Carly also had a well-deserved reputation as a diva, and the firm had lost several clients over her refusal to change her designs to suit the client’s wishes.

“I need to smooth things over and knock the designer off her high horse. Can you take Feebs to town?”

“Sure,” Cass said, glancing down at her filthy clothes. “When?”

“Class starts at seven-thirty.” Harry leaned down to kiss his daughter’s head. “I’ll pick her up. Thanks, Cass.”

She looked at the dusty kitchen clock as the screen door slammed shut. An hour and a half to go. “Okay Feebs, what’s next?”

“Supper.”

“Right.” Cass ran a finger along the stove top and looked at the grit it gathered. “I’m not cooking tonight.”

“Uncle Bruce always cooks.”

“Good point. How about a burger from Chubby’s?”

“And a chocolate shake?”

Cass considered the fallout that would arise from the inevitable spatter on Phoebe’s pink ballet outfit, and decided that Carly’s wrath was well worth the price of retaining favorite aunt status. Even if it cost Cass a new leotard and tutu. “It’s not Chubby’s without a shake.” She touched her tangled hair. “I need a shower. Want to come upstairs and watch TV while I get ready?”

The little girl nodded and pulled a sparkling tiara from behind her back. “Mommy won’t let me wear it outside ’cause I might lose it. But it’s okay if I’m with you, right Auntie Cass?”

Cass recognized the crown Carly had received when she was named Fire Ant Queen years ago. It was a tacky thing made of paste jewels that formed hearts and something meant to resemble a fire ant. Her heart warmed at Phoebe’s transcendent grin as she settled the shiny crescent on her niece’s head, and she wondered only briefly how much a new tiara would cost.

About Avengers of Blood

A deadly game of cat and mouse is playing out in Forney County…

Detective Cass Elliot is still on suspension after killing a fellow officer and Sheriff Hoffner refuses to sign her release papers. But when four people are murdered in one night, one with the exceptional brutality of a lynching, the Medical Examiner side-steps Hoffner to hire Cass and loan her to Forney County’s overstretched police department.

As Cass and her partner investigate, they realize that three of the murders were committed by the same person but find no connection between the victims. Their frustration intensifies when another victim survives and disappears instead of coming to the police.

Sheriff Hoffner is frantic about anonymous letters claiming one of his star officers is dirty, and Cass suspects a link to the current crimes. The pieces fall together when she uncovers the true identity of the man who was lynched, revealing connections between the victims, the killer, and an unpunished crime committed nearly fifty years ago.

Meet the author

mystery author Gae-Lynn Woods

Gae-Lynn Woods is a Texan mystery writer who has traveled the world, lived overseas, and come back home. She and her husband, British jazz guitarist Martyn Popey, share a ranch in East Texas with a herd of Black Angus cattle, one very cranky donkey, and The Dude, a rescue kitty with attitude.

Visit Gae-Lynn’s

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Meet the Author Monday: Gae-Lynn Woods

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This week, BestSelling Reads presents Gae-Lynn Woods, an author who lives in East Texas.

Tell the readers about the books you’ve written.

I have written three books, and I’m hard at work on novel number four.

All my books are mysteries set in a small town in East Texas. The first two, The Devil of Light and Avengers of Blood, are part of the Cass Elliot Crime Series. The third, A Case of Sour Grapes, is a companion novel to the series, featuring Cass’s best friend, Maxine Leverman. My fourth book is a return to the Cass Elliot series.

How have the main characters developed or changed over the course of the series?

I had the vaguest idea of the characters who would inhabit Forney County when I started writing The Devil of Light and have loved getting to know them. Cass grows considerably over the series, from a damaged woman unsure of her place in the world, to a confident detective hunting for the man who hurt her, and perhaps many other women. I try to highlight a character in each book, because I love learning about them. In Avengers of Blood, we find out how Officer Ernie Munk lost his daughter years ago, and how that event continues to impact his career and his life.

How has your style changed over that same period?

I am a fan of long books with twisty plots. Greg Iles, Stephen King, Elizabeth George, Justin Cronin—I love the way their books allow for character and story development. My first two novels are long, with Avengers of Blood running to almost 600 pages, and the stories themselves are dark and twisty. I decided I wanted a different feel to Maxine Leverman’s first novel, so it’s written in the first person and is a much tighter and lighter read. The mystery is still intense, but Maxine’s approach to it is impulsive and at times, comical. The next novel in the Cass Elliot series is headed right back to those intertwined plots and original length, but I’m looking forward to writing another novel from Maxine’s perspective.

Has the way your write, or the process, evolved?

I’m a complete pantser and as much as I would like to o-u-t-l-i-n-e, even thinking the “o” word shuts my creativity down. I start a story with a general idea of the conflict and a glimpse of how the story ends, then write and see where events and my characters take me.

What about the way you create characters or build worlds?

Because my novels are set in in the same small town, many of the characters overlap from one novel to the next. That’s the way it is in small towns: everybody knows everybody else, and all their business! I know very little about my characters when they show up during the course of a book, and learning about them as I write is part of the fun. I keep notes about almost all characters, even the most minor, updating them as the books develop. I’ve had the pleasure of traveling to many countries, and meeting so many people gives me great ideas for character traits and development.

Is there a particular place or time you like to write?

My preference is to write first thing in the morning, before the day has a chance to interrupt me. But life is a bit unpredictable right now, so I write whenever I find time.

I do most of my writing at home in our study, but I spend a lot of time at gigs and rehearsals with my husband. Earphones and music are crucial to my writing process. I’ve written in coffee shops and restaurants, stuffed in dusty backstage corners or dressing rooms, and sitting cross-legged in airport hallways. I’m outside a music store now, waiting in the car for my husband to pick up a guitar. I’ve got a mobile desk on my lap and Freddie Mercury in my ears. Life is good.

Get to know Gae-Lynn Woods

Gae-Lynn Woods is a Texan who has traveled the world, lived overseas, and come back home. She and her husband, British jazz guitarist Martyn Popey, share a ranch in East Texas with a herd of Black Angus cattle, one very cranky donkey, and The Dude, a rescue kitty with attitude.

When she’s not playing the roadie, tending to cows, fixing fence, or digging post holes, Gae-Lynn is working on the next Cass Elliot novel and the next Companion Novel featuring Maxine Leverman, Cass’ best friend.

Gae-Lynn can be found:

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