Friday’s Feature with Deena Alexander

Today I’m talking with debut Love Inspired Suspense author, Deena Alexander. Please be sure to comment here or on my social media posts for a chance to win a copy of Crime Scene Connection. Deena is giving away 3 copies!! Lucky winners can choose from paperback or e-book. Winners will be contacted Friday, January 15th. (Winners must be in the U.S.)

Welcome, Deena! Let’s get started.

Deena’s Sunroom

We all have our favorite place to write. Can you describe your writing space?

When we moved to Florida, my husband told me to design an office and he’d build it for me. I am so blessed that he is incredibly supportive of my writing. My middle son is working on writing a children’s book, and my youngest is being home-schooled, so I wanted a desk with three work stations, so we could all work together. I have a whiteboard hanging in front of my desk that I use as a story board, and a wall of cubbies for supplies. It’s perfect for me. And when I need quiet time to reflect on what I’m writing, I usually sit in my sunroom. I love the view and often see a variety of wildlife, which is nice from inside.

Deena’s Writing Space

If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?

The best advice anyone ever gave me was just sit down and write your book. It won’t be perfect, but it doesn’t matter. You will make changes every time you read through it, but you can’t get anywhere if you don’t write that first rough draft. I re-wrote Crime Scene Connection at least four or five times before it was contracted. The second piece of advice would be, jump at every opportunity to learn about writing.

What does a day in the life of an author look like for you?nWhat is your writing schedule like?

Ideally, I get up and write first thing in the morning. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way. Since my youngest is now home schooled, I usually work with him for a few hours first, then work on some plotting or my story board. After that, I go through and answer any emails I have, do any edits I’m working on, then finally settle down to write. It’s not unusual for me to write in the middle of the night, since I rarely sleep.

If you could do anything else, what would it be?

If I could do anything other than writing, it would be teaching dance, which I did for more than twenty years. I loved working with kids, and I often miss it.

What is your favorite genre of books to read?

I love romantic suspense and cozy mysteries.

Thank you for being here, Deena.

Thank you so much for having me. I’ve enjoyed visiting!

Crime Scene Connection

Deena’s debut novel, Crime Scene Connection is out now. Continue reading for a free chapter excerpt.

Her writing was fiction,

until a killer made the danger very real…

A serial killer’s imitating crime scenes from Addison Keller’s bestselling novel, determined to make her the final victim. But with former police officer Jace Montana and his dog at her side, Addison might just be able to unmask the murderer. With time running out as the killer closes in, she must confront her past and unravel long-buried secrets…and hope they can all escape with their lives.

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“No. Oh no.” Addison Keller scrolled past picture after picture, fear choking her. Oh, God, please don’t let this be happening again.

“What’s wrong?”

She jumped at her agent’s voice and fumbled the phone. “Uh…”

No way could she tell Ron about the email. He was already freaked out enough about the death threats she’d received. “Nothing. Just upset about all of this.”

“Stay where you are. I’ll be there within the hour.”

“No, Ron…wait. I—”

“Listen to me, Addison. This isn’t a joke. I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but a news reporter has already made the connection to you, and the police can’t be far behind. They’ve already questioned you once, about the last murder, do you really want to deal with them again?” The pitch of Ron’s voice increased with the volume.

She scrolled back up to the first image. The email contained twelve photos. In the first two, the victim—if Addison allowed herself to think of the victim as a woman, she’d lose her battle against nausea—was still alive. The other ten had been taken after she was killed, the crime scene all too familiar, since Addison had created it in her novel.

“Ron, I don’t—”

“I’m already in the car, but even in the middle of the night, with no traffic, it’ll still take me an hour to get there.” His heavy breathing faded in and out over the spotty cell phone connection. He muttered something unintelligible. “I’ll never understand why you insist on living all the way out on Long Island.”

She ran a shaky fingertip over the woman’s hair on the computer screen. The same long dark hair as the rest of the victims Addison had conjured up. Guilt hammered her. If she hadn’t written that book, the killer might never have chosen these victims.

“Throw some stuff together. We’ll put you in a hotel somewhere if you don’t want to stay with me.” He ended the call without waiting for a response.

“No, no, no.” Without taking her eyes from the laptop screen, she tossed the phone onto the bed, wrapped her arms around herself and doubled over, tears stinging her eyes. She blinked them back. Crying wouldn’t help. She had to calm down, had to think. Had to remember what had happened when—No. She slammed the door on the memories trying to surface. Remembering her past wouldn’t help. It would only make this nightmare real.

She squinted and pulled the laptop closer. The attention to detail in the photos laid out the crime scene exactly as she’d imagined it. She had no doubt the murder weapon, a small handgun, would be found under the overturned kitchen chair. Right where she had placed it in her book.

Unable to tear her gaze from the screen, she fumbled a hand across the nightstand, knocking over her tea in search of the remote. When her fingers closed around it, she pulled it back and turned on the TV. Breaking News jumped off the screen, slamming into her. She turned up the volume.

“Details are just starting to emerge on the murder that took place earlier tonight in the exclusive suburb…” Yellow crime scene tape stretched across a lawn, and cops moved in and out of the house, creating a beehive of activity.

She tuned out the rest and hit the button to turn off the TV. It didn’t matter. She could, no doubt, describe the exact layout of the kitchen in the house pictured on the screen—even what wasn’t visible in the photographs included with the email.

It was only a matter of time before the police knocked on her door. Again. Only this time, that arrogant detective might do more than just glare at her with suspicion darkening his eyes. This time, he’d most likely arrest her.

A creak tore her attention from the computer screen. It was a sound she knew all too well. The third step had always creaked like that.

And the killer had already made it clear he was coming for her in his previous email. No way was she waiting around to give him a target.

She flung the blanket back, toppling the computer to the side, and launched herself from the bed. No time to get changed. She stuffed her feet into the UGG boots she’d toed off when she came upstairs. Where’d her cell phone go? No idea. Forget it.

She shoved the second-story window open, praying fervently it wouldn’t squeak, swung her legs over, gripped the ledge, then dropped to the ground. Ten feet. That was all the ground she had to cover before the thick woods would swallow her up. She ran. The pounding of her heart and the blood rushing through her head merged together, the thunderous noise drowning out any sounds of possible pursuit.

When she reached the woods, she slid as quietly as possible into the darkness, trying not to disturb the dense underbrush. Leaves crunched beneath her feet, and she fought desperately against the urge to flee. Bumbling through the woods in the dark on the carpet of fallen leaves would only draw the intruder’s attention. Instead, she slipped into the deepest shadows, with a desperate prayer the darkness would conceal her presence and the stranger would leave.

She pressed her back against a huge oak tree, then bent at the waist and braced her hands on her knees. Her chest ached, and she finally dared to take a breath. The salty scent of the sea, usually comforting, only fueled her nausea. She slapped a hand over her nose and mouth. Vomiting now would be a death sentence.

When she’d regained some semblance of control, Addison turned to face the tree. She pressed her forehead against the cool, damp bark. This can’t be happening. Except, it was happening. And if she couldn’t find a way to stop it, she was going to be the final victim of a deranged killer. Heaving in one more deep breath and holding it, Addison peeked around the tree, scraping her forehead on the rough trunk. She winced at the sting.

She couldn’t say for sure the shape silhouetted in her bedroom window was a man, but the broad shoulders gave a distinctly masculine appearance. A shiver crawled up her spine. Whoever it was didn’t seem to be in any hurry to follow her, ignoring the open window she’d obviously escaped through to focus on something in the room.

If it was the police in the house, she should probably go back and talk to them. And say what, that she was responsible for the murder of the woman who died earlier? Just like she was responsible for the woman who was killed last week. And the woman who’d be killed next week and every week thereafter until…

No. She couldn’t go back. Police officers were probably not in the habit of sneaking into people’s houses unannounced, in the wee hours of the morning. And there was a distinct possibility the killer was a cop—or, at the very least, someone close to the investigation. Someone who could be framing her right now while she cowered behind a tree watching him. Oh, please, Lord, help me get out of here alive.

She turned to flee and barreled straight into a broad chest. Her heart stopped and a vise gripped her lungs and squeezed hard.

A large hand covered her mouth before she could let loose the scream welling in her lungs. The man’s hot breath bathed her neck when he whispered, “Please, don’t scream. I’m here to help.”

She nodded, giving up any hope of escaping his grasp.

“We have to get out of here. Now.”

At least that was something they could agree on.

“I’m going to take my hand off your mouth and release you. Please, don’t scream.”

Heaving in a deep, shaky breath through her nose, she held his gaze and nodded again. Shadows concealed his eyes. Who was he? Cop? Accomplice? Murderer? Maybe he was just a good citizen who’d seen her climb out the window while he was prowling the neighborhood dressed all in black, had guessed she was in trouble, and come to her rescue. Yeah, right. She closed her eyes and let her head fall back against the tree.

He released his hold.

The instant his hand left her, she whirled to flee.

He caught her arm and leaned close. “You’re going to get us both killed.”

She chanced a quick glance over her shoulder. The dim light filling her bedroom window was gone, leaving the room in complete darkness. Panic gripped her. Where’d the intruder go?

Her stranger guided her against the tree, angling his body between her and anyone who might enter the woods from the direction of the house. “Connor Bynes sent me.”

Connor? She didn’t know her sister’s husband, but she thought he was in the military or something. Not a cop. That she knew for sure. It didn’t make sense. “Why?”

“I’ll explain later. Somewhere safer.” He surveyed the yard and the house and glanced over his shoulder at the route through the woods her mind begged him to take. Returning his gaze to the yard, he backed away and pulled a handgun from the small of his back, then pressed a finger to his lips.

Like she’d really talk right now.

Keeping the gun aimed past the tree toward the yard, he backed a few steps deeper into the woods and gestured her toward him.

Trust him or not? Was he the answer to her desperate plea for help, or was he a threat? None of this made sense, but neither did standing there waiting for a killer to find her.

A crash broke the unnatural silence of the night, followed by the barking of the neighbor’s Rottweiler.

Addison dropped to a crouch and studied the yard. Moonlight spilled through the trees, the soft sea breeze rippling the leaves and sending shadows skittering across the small patch of back lawn. Hopefully, the motion would be enough to cover their movements as they fled. A deepening shadow at the back of the house caught her attention. Someone?

She only hesitated another second, her gaze focused on the man standing before her, perfectly still, as if he had all night. This wasn’t the time for life-and-death decisions. Once she was somewhere safer, where she could think more clearly, she’d decide what to do. She stood and crept toward him, careful to tread lightly on the dead leaves, every crunch spearing her with a new pang of fear.

He turned and led her deeper into the woods. How on earth did he walk so quietly?

She struggled to keep him in sight and still watch where she was going. A twig beneath her foot snapped, the crack echoing through the night. She froze.

“Go.” With the need for stealth blown, he gestured her ahead of him. “Run.”

A blast of gunfire split the night, the thud of bullets tearing through the brush way too close.

She ran.

A grunt at her back made her pause, a barely perceptible hesitation, but her stranger propelled her forward as he returned fire.

Branches clutched her pajama sleeves, tore the thin fabric, scratched her arms and back, and caught in her hair. Still, she ran, the sound of her stranger’s harsh breaths keeping pace just behind her oddly comforting. The next shot brought a sharp sting as a piece of bark ricocheted into her cheek.

About Deena

Deena Alexander

Deena grew up in a small town on the south shore of eastern Long Island, where she met and married her high school sweetheart. She recently relocated to Florida with her husband, three kids, son-in-law, and four dogs. Now she enjoys long walks in nature all year long, despite the occasional alligator or snake she sometimes encounters. Deena’s love for writing developed when her youngest son was born and didn’t sleep through the night, and she now works full time as a writer and a freelance editor.

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Friday’s Feature with Gina Stinson

Do you ever wonder if you’re the only one struggling to keep your head up?

Today I have a special feature for you. I mostly share books by Christian fiction authors, but today I am honored to be able to share a nonfiction book with you. I don’t know how 2020 has been treating you, but I know as an author and full-time first grade teacher, I am S-T-R-E-S-S-E-D OUT. Between trying to find time to work on my next book, virtual teaching and face to face teaching at the same time, I’m finding it harder to find my peace. My coworkers are feeling the same way, so unfortunately, I know it’s not just me. The only thing keeping me going is the word of God. Reading devotions, scripture, and talking to God about the stresses of life helps me find my peace. His promise that He is in control when I feel like things are out of control calms my fears and anxiety. That’s why I am so excited to share this book with you today.

Today’s feature author, Gina Stinson, has written a wonderful book of devotions to help us reclaim our peace. She’s also been gracious enough to write a special devotion for me to share with you here today. If 2020 is taking your peace, it’s time to Reclaim it!

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Hope for Wherever

Times are tough. Let’s face it, we’ve been trying to look at the glass half full, the bright side and the positives for about eight months now, and things are not getting back to normal. I remember in March thinking some extra family time will be nice. Now eight months later, although I still love my family dearly, I’m thinking how much longer before the next grocery pickup, when I can ride the thirty minutes alone in the car. Please tell me I am not alone.

The truth is, waiting for this time to pass is difficult and uncertain. Our children and teachers are in changing rhythms at school. Navigating uncharted territories, weary from changes and complexities others don’t understand, has many ready to give up. Small business owners who are struggling to keep their doors open are wondering if the struggle is even worth it. And our homes, some are not thriving. Abuse, hot tempers, financial woes and frustrations abound.

And we are wrestling with fears:

What if this is not the worst?

What if my child gets sick?

What if I can’t visit my parents in the hospital?

What if I lose my job?

What if I run out of money?

These are not small fears. These are real and people are struggling.

But there is hope. Big hope.

For the Christian, who believes God’s Word holds the answers for today, just as it did 2,000 years ago, I find great hope in the words God has given us.

He will never leave us or forsake us. (Hebrews 13:5)

We can never be separated from his love. (Romans 8:31-39)

All God’s promises are true. (2 Corinthians 1:20)

God is able to deliver us. (Jeremiah 32:17)

He can heal our land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

God has this. We can trust him in the moment. In the middle of chaos, we can have hope and peace because we have Jesus. We are not alone. we are not separated from a loving God. We can cling to his promises. He is able to deliver us. It might not be how we imagined or planned it to happen, but God can be glorified through this. He can take these terrible moments that the enemy would like to use to destroy us, and God can reclaim them for our good.

Wherever you find yourself today, you can trust him. Politicians, doctors, co-workers and wanna-be forecasters can try to figure things out, but in the end, God is proving he is in control. We can trust him and his word to get us through these uncertain times.

Because…what if in these moments:

We learn to trust him more?

We learn to teach our children about a great big God?

We stop and enjoy the small things in life?

We appreciate those who take good care of others?

We learn to manage our money better?

We spend more time around the kitchen table with those we love?

We learn to go the extra mile?

We learn to care for our neighbors?

We focus on eternal things?

Friend, will we have lost so much in these moments or will we have learned that we can have hope and peace in the reclaimed moments and days?

About Gina

After years of living in fear and defeat, Gina Stinson is busy reclaiming every day for God’s glory. She is a pastor’s wife of 27 years and mom of two. Between family and ministry, she dabbles in gardening, crocheting and playing music on her second hand, baby grand piano. She writes true stories of God’s reclaiming power and is a storyteller for those who have overcome their circumstances and embraced God’s goodness.

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Friday’s Feature with Rhonda Starnes

Love Inspired author, Rhonda Starnes hit the Publisher’s Weekly Bestsellers List with her Debut novel, Rocky Mountain Revenge. Read more about her novel and find out about this new Love Inspired Author.

Rocky Mountain Revenge

To survive her deadly homecoming she’ll need to trust a man from her past…

Temporarily home to help at her family’s vet clinic, Grace Porter has no intentions of staying—but someone’s determined she won’t live long enough to leave. With both Grace and her sister in the crosshairs, her ex-boyfriend, Police Chief Evan Bradshaw, must protect them. But can the single dad lawman uncover the truth about why a killer’s out for vengeance before time runs out?

Read an excerpt of Rocky Mountain Revenge

A truck came speeding up behind them. He couldn’t be sure because they were out in the country and there weren’t any streetlights, but it looked a lot like the truck that had tried to push them into the oncoming train the night Chloe had been attacked. Evan sped up. He had to lose them before they reached the turnoff to the cabin.

Grace twisted in her seat to look out the rear window, but didn’t say a word.

Evan’s phone rang. He hit the answer button on the steering wheel. “Chief Bradshaw here.”

“We lost Avery Hebert.” Agent Ingalls’s voice sounded over the speaker.

Evan glanced at Grace, her eyes still focused on the vehicle tailing them. “I think we found him.”

“Where are you?” Ingalls asked.

“County Road 11. About fifteen miles north of the Flying V Ranch.”

Grace screamed, “He’s going to hit us!” She twisted around in her seat, facing the front as the truck rammed into the back of Evan’s vehicle. Metal crunched against metal, and his tires skidded on the wet pavement.

“Bradshaw, what’s happening?” Ingalls asked urgently.

“He’s trying to make us crash.” Tightening his grip on the steering wheel, Evan spared a brief glance at Grace. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. But how are we going to stop him?” She looked over her shoulder and then back to him again. “Can I hold the steering wheel, and you shoot his tires or something?”

“Don’t do anything reckless,” Ingalls yelled across the speakers. “We’ve notified the sheriff’s office, and I’m on my way.” The call went silent.

Evan sped up, putting a little distance between him and the truck, but the other driver soon closed the gap, ramming into them again. This time the impact shattered the back window, but Evan had been able to hold the Jeep steady without skidding.

Evan raced away again, driving dangerously fast on the wet road. His headlights flashed on a bright yellow diamond-shaped road sign, and an eerie, sinking feeling settled in the pit of his stomach. A quick glance in the rearview mirror showed the truck was still barreling down on them—and they were fast approaching the Hangman’s Noose curve.

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About Rhonda

Rhonda Starnes is a middle school language arts teacher who has dreamed of being a published author since she was in seventh grade. She lives in North Alabama with her husband, who she lovingly refers to as Mountain Man. They enjoy traveling and spending time with their children and grandchildren. Rhonda writes romantic suspense with rugged heroes and feisty heroines.

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