ACTS OF MALICE, a Lavender Raines/Mac “Mackey” Mackenzie Novel ~ Cover Reveal

AOM CoverDetective Story, murder mystery, national security

Heroine Lavender Raines and hero Mac “Mackey” Mackenzie are polar opposites. Thought not a holiday novel, per se, ACTS OF MALICE has Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s scenes that will touch your heart, make you gasp, have you laughing, or all three.

ACTS OF MALICE IN A NUT SHELL…

ACTS OF MALICE:  A taut and compelling classic murder mystery with a national security underlying theme. Interpersonal relationships, greed, dry humor. Unrequited Love. Uplifting.

Lavender Raines gets the ‘doorbell ring’ no wife ever wants to get. Her husband has been brutally murdered, and the FBI is more secretive than helpful. The problem is, his body was found in Caracas when she thought his business trip had taken him to New Orleans.

Mackenzie just opened a second beach resort-town restaurant, this one in Ribault Beach, Florida…but now the clandestine security organization that from-time-to-time sends him on covert missions wants him to find Lavender’s husband’s killers.

Forces from within the “Deep State” have shaped circumstances that will alter the course of both their lives. Then a local man is murdered. Mackey is emotionally shut down about his life, but protective of others. Lavender is a pillar of strength in her family, but distrusting of Mackey and guarded around him. Can they find common ground amidst this treachery and turmoil?GreenStar Burst

Excerpt:

Chapter Five

Lavender Raines

Yawning, my mother entered the kitchen with a lazy, graceful sway. She tightened her fuchsia kimono-style bathrobe and headed for the coffee maker. “I didn’t sleep well at all last night.”

I placed my coffee mug on the kitchen table and swiveled in my chair to face her. “Was the guestroom bed uncomfortable?”

“Well … no, Darling, not really.” She waved, limp-wristed, as if she were shushing me. “I need to get some coffee in me.”

“On the counter. Help yourself.”

She poured coffee into a mug. “I simply can’t understand why George’s parents didn’t fly in to attend his memorial service.”

If I cared for hard liquor, which I didn’t, I might want a shot in my coffee before long. “Mother, you know Marianne has early onset dementia. Henry doesn’t want her to be told George is gone. Besides they recently moved into an assisted living apartment in Seattle and are still settling in.” The fact was neither of his parents had any idea their son’s death certificate and funeral papers had been falsified to make it appear he’d died while visiting them. I went along with this charade because I had no idea who was behind George’s murder, or why. I was afraid for Kendall’s safety, as well as my own and my mother’s.

“Yes, yes, of course.” She added two percent milk and artificial sweetener to her mug and stirred.

“What a pretty bathrobe.” I hoped to change the topic of conversation.

She brought her mug to the table and sat opposite me. “This old thing? I got it several years ago at this marvelous little shop when your father and I were in Santa Barbara. Now he’s gone, and George is gone. It’s just us three girls.” She tilted her head and slid her fingers through her highlighted, chin length hair.

Hard liquor was looking better and better. I slipped my hand behind my neck and scooped my hair out from under my knit robe that had seen better days. “Mother, we’ll be fine. You’ll see. We girls will pull through.”

She ran her French manicured index finger around the rim of her mug. “I want more for you and Kendall than pulling through. Really, dear, this house is not in good shape. You should sell it and come live with me in Virginia Beach.”

I stifled a gasp at the same time that Kendall lurched into the kitchen. “Sell the house? No, never. This is Dad’s house. We have to keep it.”

I stood and hurried over to her. “Honey, Grandma was just thinking out loud.”

“Kendall, darling, it isn’t ladylike to eavesdrop.” My mother’s sing-song rhythm was light, with a softness to it.

Kendall pouted. “I wasn’t eavesdropping. I was coming into the kitchen to get coffee.”

I sat down at the table and kept to myself that I’d also been unable to sleep. In the wee hours, selling the house had very briefly crossed my mind. “The house does have a few projects still left to be done. George finished the living room, dining room, and kitchen. Only the bedrooms need a little cosmetic touch-up.”

“Both bathrooms need a complete renovation. The master bath is very outdated. Really, Darling, there’s not even a hint of open concept. With your talent in home décor, you should know that.” My mother wriggled her nose.

“Grandma, you make it sound like Daddy didn’t provide a good place for us to live.”

“Kendall, darling, I’m expressing my feelings. Would you like me to be dishonest with you and your mother?”

Kendall smacked her mug on the countertop, and liquid sloshed over its brim. She ignored it. “Daddy’s memorial service was only yesterday. So, Grandma, I don’t mean to be rude, but if you can’t put him in a good light, don’t say anything.”

She rushed out of the room, her eyes brimming with tears.

Lavender Raines, Afternoon 

A walk along the waterfront might calm my jangled nerves. I’d been a walking enthusiast for years and had been known to go for miles. Sunrise Boulevard wasn’t that far away and was a lovely stroll along the beach.

I slipped into and tied my running shoes. Did I need a sweater? I checked my phone for the weather report. High seventies. No sweater. I’d be exerting myself, and that would keep me warm enough. I slipped the phone into the diminutive leather bag slung across my body.

After a slow trot to the end of our driveway, I turned and inspected the house. A white concrete ranch on residential Catalina Street with a large picture window, a dark-blue front door, and a couple of palm trees in front. We lived in a respectable neighborhood. George had wanted the house. After growing up in the sizable two-story colonial with a pool I thought of as the house my father bought for my mother, I would’ve preferred a three-bedroom townhouse. Still, George, Kendall, and I had been happy here. So, why had I felt so defensive during my mother’s manipulative harangue, feeling almost as if our house was a hovel?

While walking along Sunrise Boulevard at a leisurely pace, the blahs of self-recrimination had set in and settled. When I pulled my gaze up from the sidewalk, I realized I’d turned the corner onto Mystic Drive. I found myself standing before Funky Boutiking and immediately felt a bit better. The quaint shop sat behind the graceful yet casual Blue Dolphin Boutique Hotel.

Ribault Beach benefited from naturally occurring, softly rolling dunes which somewhat protected the city during fierce storms. Sunrise Boulevard, one of the city’s major thoroughfares ran north and south along the beach. At its southernmost end, a small concrete and steel bridge crossed a short expanse of ocean to Cannoner Island.

“Such a funny shape.” I placed my flattened hand over my sunglasses to block out the hot sun and stepped to the side, trying to get a better view of the small island. Not used to talking to myself, a giggle bubbled up. Then I giggled again. “Looks like my feet brought me here for a reason.”

Recalling the often-told tale charmed me. French Huguenot settlers in the mid-1500s gave the island that name because its seaward end rose higher out of the ocean than its landward end. They thought it resembled a cannon. Of course, the name had long since lost its French spelling and pronunciation– and Ribault Beach had also lost its French pronunciation.

I turned toward the pale yellow 1950s bungalow that was Funky Boutiking and placed my foot on the first step. Should I go in? “I don’t want to be a burden.” This talking to myself was weird.

The house rested on a foundation of concrete blocks two-feet-high with spaces between them which would allow a rushing storm surge to pass underneath. The bungalow sported a craftsman-style stone porch with concrete steps and blue painted wooden pillars. It was a sturdy little structure.

I held onto the railing and walked up the steps and onto the porch which displayed outdoor and indoor pieces of furniture for sale. I continued into the store.

Abigail Hunter stood at the front counter, behind the register, worry reflected in her eyes.

A well-dressed, thirty-something man on the opposite side of the wooden counter faced her. Randall Creston, another of George’s distant relatives. He hadn’t come to the memorial service. He and his family lived in Crescent Beach, just north of our city. We hadn’t seen him or heard from him for so long, all memory of him had escaped me, until now.

He slapped his hand on the counter. “You and your sister are two stubborn old ladies.”

Abigail winced but still managed a thin smile. “It’s probably true we’re set in our ways.”

“I’ll be back again, and we’ll continue this conversation. I have an appointment in less than twenty minutes.” He turned on his heel and stalked off.

His shoulder nearly brushed against mine as he left. He grunted and nodded. “Good day.”

“Good … day.” I turned and watched him rush out the door, not sure if he recognized me.

When I turned back, Abigail clasped and unclasped her hands.

I walked up to the register. “Are you all right? Wasn’t that Randall Creston?”

“Our cousin Randall, the lawyer. He helps with our finances, such as they are.”

Olivia peeked out from the behind a display toward the back of the store. The sizable bungalow accommodated a small two-bedroom apartment in the back and sat on a half-acre lot. “Is he gone?” She noticed me and rushed over. “Lavender, I’m so glad to see you. I just put on water for tea. Would you like to join us?”

“Thank you, that would make my day.”

The kettle whistled, and the petite woman spun around and hurried to the back.

I returned my attention to Abigail, wondering if I’d just witnessed elder abuse, or perhaps intimidation. “This is none of my business, but it seemed as if Olivia was trying to avoid ‘cousin’ Randall’. I made quotation marks in the air with my fingers.

“Lavender, honey, you have your own troubles. Come sit and have tea with us.” Abigail walked toward an alcove to the side of the front counter.

I sat on the cushioned bench built into the alcove. “Abigail, you and Olivia are my husband’s family. If you’re having any problems, you can come to me.”

Abigail settled her long frame into the seat of an upholstered chair. It was positioned to one side of a small coffee table. “You’re sweet, just like Georgie.”

Olivia bustled in carrying a tray which she placed on the coffee table. “You’ll have to add milk and sugar to your taste. Please help yourself to home-baked oatmeal cookies.” She sat in an upholstered chair on the other side of the coffee table in front of the alcove.

I added a splash of milk to my tea, and then took a cookie which I rested in a napkin on my lap. “Olivia, Randall Creston nearly collided with me as he rushed out.”

She rolled her eyes and mixed two heaping spoons of sugar into her tea. “He’s a very busy man. His clients are the cream of the crop in Ribault Beach. He wouldn’t even come here otherwise, except for this business deal he’s all worked up about.”

“You and Abigail are also his clients?” I sipped my tea.

Olivia shifted in her seat. “We’re his poor church-mouse relatives. His charity account.”

 

ACTS OF MALICE IS NOW ON PRE-ORDER ON AMAZON

NIKE N. CHILLEMI’S AUTHOR PAGE ON AMAZON

 

Christmas Under Wraps (Mullet Harbor Book 1) by Fay Lamb ~ a review

Christmas Under Wraps

Romance, Humor, Christmas

This is such an engaging Christmas story. The cast of quirky, sometimes baffling townsfolk living in Mullet Harbor pull you right in.

English Professor Christian Abrams and his nephew Dylan are on the run and wind up in Mullet Harbor, a unique hamlet in the Florida everglades. Chris is broke, out of gas, and has a child to feed. This is when he meets sweet and compassionate local school teacher Kaylee McFarland who talks him into staying in Mullet Harbor at least until after Christmas. That’s when it starts to get interesting…and when Chris learns the townsfolk really do take care of each other and they rely on their faith.

We meet Herb, the mayor who wears flip-flops…and Abigail, the shy town baker who flits around like a hummingbird. Then throw in a Cajun sheriff not afraid to take a chance on a good man. Stir in a delightful little girl named Sophie who’s had more than her share of sorrow in her short life. Could the icing on the top be a Christmas miracle? Perhaps more than one.

This is a fun, delightful read…a romp through the swamp. There’s also an alligator named Abercrombie.

Purchase On Amazon

Fireworks Show ~ at Evangel Temple

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My energetic, fun friend Deborah Williams knows almost everything that’s going on in Jacksonville. Well, almost everything that would be of interest to her group of friends (a bunch of seasoned gals to like to kick back, but also want a few laughs now and then).

So, she told me about the pre-holiday fireworks display at Evangel Temple [5755 Ramona Blvd. Jacksonville, FL 32205]. I said, “Yippee doodle, let’s go.” And we did.

It turned out to be the quintessential Fourth of July celebration. Little kids ran around playing with sparkling toys their parents purchased at various booths on the church grounds. Some of the girls turned cartwheels. Deborah and I got steak hamburgers and fries from one of the food trucks in the parking area.

A pastor gave a sermon about freedom in Christ changing one’s life which was appropriate, I thought. There were worship songs and patriotic marches. The young lady who sang the Star Spangle Banner did a wonderful job. Whenever that song is sung, I always wonder if the singer will be able to hit the high notes. She did.

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Then they shot fireworks from the roof of the church. A totally professional extravaganza that seemed to go on and on thrilling everyone, especially the children

Evangel Church bills itself as a vibrant evangelical church in the heart of Jacksonville. They certainly lived up to that.

 

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Pre-Easter Cleaning ~ an Olde World tradition

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I’m a traditional kinda gal. Not that I follow a lot of proscribed traditions laid down by others. Although I do have some of those. Mostly, I’ve made up my own traditions. However, deep cleaning a house before Easter is an ancient, Olde World Christian tradition, going back to the 1st century Church. In fact, it goes back before that to the Old Testament and Passover cleaning rites and traditions.

Maybe it’s simply because as the days get longer and brighter, I notice the dust and cat hair in the corners. Oh, yeah…I have five cats. Used to be an animal rescuer in Brooklyn, but that’s a story for another time. Needless to say, the light of spring revealed dreaded CAT HAIR.

15 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses; ~ Exodus 12:15 [New American Standard Bible, NASB]

When Jewish women remove the leaven from their kitchens they also scrub and clean the kitchen thoroughly that not a single drop remains. Biblically, leaven symbolizes sin. For many Christians, this type of deep cleaning symbolizes the cleansing of the heart, mind, and soul.

In medieval Christian homes made of wood or stone, pre-Easter cleaning meant the doors were thrown open, the rushes that covered the floors were swept out and the walls and floors were scrubbed with lye-soap. Very little cleaning had been done all winter due to cold weather. This winter no-deep-cleaning rule was especially true in northern climates.

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I’ve never adhered to that olden-time winter no-deep-cleaning rule, not even when I lived up north. Then again, every house I knew of had heat and access to all manner of cleaning materials. So, each year, I’d do a thorough cleaning right before Thanksgiving to get ready for that day of thanks and also as preparation for Christmas. I put my Christmas decorations up the day after Thanksgiving. There’s no Black Friday for me (I really dislike that term, anyway). So, in my mind, the house must be really clean with Christmas decorations going up.  There is no scripture for that. But, since I’m a contemporary traditionalist I do make up my own traditions. There certainly is no scripture against that.

Proverbs 31: 27 ~ She carefully watches everything in her household
    and suffers nothing from laziness. [New Living Translation, NLT]

Spring cleaning is also a good time to get rid of some useless clutter. The Lord has been after me for a while to rid my house of objects with negative soul ties…that hostess gift I’ve kept out of respect given by a relative who didn’t care for my husband, that Christmas present given by an “old friend” who didn’t understand and frowned on my Christian faith and friends…OUT with those things! I’ve been saved for twenty-four years. So that tells you how long I’ve kept some of these things (pray for me). But “soul ties” is a subject for another blog article I hope I will one day get to write.

I’m not one of those who follows the steps proscribed in a cleaning blog or podcast, and certainly not if it comes from a strange religion or tradition. I use the word “strange” biblically. I don’t make a list of things I have to clean or de-clutter. I know what I have to do, I’ve been cleaning for many years. Got it down to a science by now.

Quoting from Second Fantasions: “Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work I go.”

Christmas Day ~ in northeast coastal Florida

IMG_2863After my daughter Vicky made a 117 course Christmas breakfast oozing with cream cheese, butter, and powdered sugar, as well as homemade sweetbread and fresh blueberries, we had to walk some of it off before dinner. Yes, we had seriously over indulged, thus we we had to intentionally burn some calories off. My body is the temple of the Living God, and I have to treat it as if it is.

We headed for the public boat slip on a cove of the St. John’s River located at our local city park. Duval County is gorgeous in December. Here I’m with Sophie the Wonder Dog.

IMG_2872We sat on the dock and watched the sailboats, deep sea fishing boats, kayaks, paddle-boats, and jet skiers go by. Those jet skiers are hearty folk. Even though it’s Florida, the water is cold. I want to encourage those over 50, as well as “seasoned citizens” to get out and do. Go for it. Live life.

IMG_2869A nearby boat-slip…just beyond the dock.

Merry Christmas to all. The Savior was born over 2000 years ago in Bethlehem and He dwells with us. Emanuel, God with us.

May you all be blessed in the new year.

 

 

Christmas Eve 2018 ~ a merry time after loss

Vicky is doing a “sleeping beauty” this Christmas morning and I’ve been watching the Nashville Christmas Parade, followed by Kathy Lee and Hoda. It’s been a gentle and quiet Christmas morning which will end when Vic wakes up…the quiet part.IMG_2851

We had a sweet and fun Christmas Eve dinner last night at Miller’s Ale House on San Jose Boulevard, JAX. I was surprised at the number of families having their Christmas Eve meal in the restaurant. Many parents came from work, so it makes sense.  They were short staffed and the hostess was rushed but she insisted on taking this photo of us. A transplant from NYC, I’ve come to love and appreciate southern hospitality and warmth. It makes life so much easier.

Last night, the atmosphere hit the right note for us. We laughed and recalled Christmases past, but this time without pain and loss. We lost Joseph Dennis Chillemi, my husband and Vicky’s dad, in December three years ago. The last two Christmases have been bitter sweet for us.

This year, we’re having a merry little Christmas. I think this is the first Christmas since Joseph passed that Vic and I have felt real happiness and delight at Christmas. I’ve had joy in the Lord and peace at Christmas since my husband passed on December 8th three years ago. This year is the first one that I’ve experienced merriment. Yes, it’s turning out to be a truly merry Christmas for me.

For those who have lost a loved one, I know it will be a different Christmas, but I pray that even in that loss, those who mourn can allow the peace of Christmas to comfort.  There is a “spirit of Christmas.” For Christians, this is a deep and profound thing. NonChristians also feel what Christmas cards and media personalities often call ‘the Christmas spirit’. We don’t understand it, but this spirit seems to bring light and cut through the gloom, depression, and darkness globally.

So, even in your loss, I pray you let the true gentle spirit of Christmas wrap you in warmth.  God is with us, even in the deepest darkest valleys. “Ye, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death , Your rod and Your staff they comfort me.” [Psalm 23:4]

In our loss, especially at Christmas, the ‘shadow of death’ seems to envelop those who mourn. I had to tell myself for nearly three years, “It’s a shadow.” It’s not as powerful as it seems. It’s not forever. And this is a valley. It’s also not forever.” When I look at that Bible verse in times of sorrow, I think of God’s rod as His power…His power over death. Jesus conquered death. And His staff is like the staff of a shepherd. The Shepherd leads us onward in our sorrow on a journey out of the valley. It is a valley and it is a journey.

I often think, to honor the importance of the life of the loved one we lost, it should take time. It should be a journey. But God wants us to see that the valley has an end. We do come out and away from the shadow of death. And that also honors the life of the one/s we mourn. It also honors God, who wants us to reenter life fully.

And so, I wish you all a very merry Christmas filled with joy and blessings and a healthy and happy new year.

Nativity

 

A Hiding Place ~ for Christmas presents

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Beauty, what are you doing in my secret hiding place???

I don’t have to hide Christmas gifts from kids anymore, as mine are adults. However, I have to hide any present in a decorative gift bag from my cats. They love to climb inside bags and hide there, or tear them apart. So, I had a brilliant idea. They’d never find the bags inside the armoire. Would they?

 

 

 

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, ~ John 1:112 [New American Standard Bible – NASB]

Merry Christmas Everyone