This is IT!
The culmination of Shannon Baker and my 30-ish-day, 24-ish stop Double Booked blog tour. Woof. We are so tired that we have hired monkeys to type for us. Fortunately, they are smart monkeys and there is little typing involved here because all we need to do is sit back and watch as Kate Fox, star of Shannon Baker’s Stripped Bare (releases today!) and Salem Wiley, protagonist of Jess Lourey’s Salem’s Cipher (also releases today! Smell that hot ink), serendipitously meet across books, on an airplane headed to Virginia.
“I have to use the bathroom.”
The woman from Nebraska stood to let Salem pass. The red-eye flight Lu had booked for her was surprisingly full. The bathroom line was three deep. Salem was okay with that. It gave her time to uncramp her legs. She thought about all she had to do—land, rent a car, buy gear, follow the coordinates, crack Beale’s vault, fly back to San Francisco to hand over to Agent Stone what they’d found—and how little time she had to accomplish everything.
I settled back on the rough fabric and stared across the empty seat to clouds outside the window. Flying to Richmond was a fool’s errand if ever there was. I figured Carly would be long gone before I got there. Still I had to try.
I unclenched my fists and tried to relax. I wasn’t the only one with problems. The woman next to me seemed to be wrestling with her own. She’d given me a strained smile when I sat, even ventured a little conversation, but it felt like maybe she pushed herself into it, like she ought to. She told me her name and I was about to give her mine but the flight attendant piped up with his safety spiel before I got it out.
Funny name. Salem. She probably had a story, guess we all do. She didn’t seem interested in sharing and I didn’t feel inclined to get into my pile of woes with a stranger I’d never see again.
The man in front of Salem turned, smiled. He wore sunglasses. She didn’t smile back. Something about him made her uncomfortable. Was it his smell? But if he had an odor, it was too mild to pick out on the plane. His face appeared pleasant enough around the metal rims of the sunglasses. She didn’t recognize him. She looked away, but he didn’t.
“Been to Virginia before?” His voice rumbled just above a whisper. A couple sleeping in the seats next to him shifted, the woman pulling the thin airplane blanket closer to her.
Is he really picking me up on an airplane? Salem shook her head and looked away. She hoped he’d get the hint. Did it bother her that he was wearing sunglasses at night, in the air?
He nodded and turned back toward the bathroom door accordioning open. A woman squeezed out and another sardined in. The line was now down to two, plus Salem. The man in sunglasses returned his attention to her.
“Where in Richmond are you going?”
A whispering voice chilled me, even though I shouldn’t have heard it above the swirl of conversation and roar of the engine. I twisted to see Salem giving the stink-eye to a guy who looked as wrong as a badger in the chicken shed.
Salem felt trapped. She wanted to be polite, but his attention was making her uncomfortable. Her body language should have made that clear, but she gave it one more shot, shrugging by way of an answer.
The guy was a certifiable creep and Salem seemed shaky, but I hated to jump into the fray, like some Lone Ranger. Salem had given a clear signal for him to back off, so she’d be fine.
That must have registered loud and clear, finally, because he turned away from her. Thirty seconds later, though, he turned back, his lower lip trembling. “I’m just trying to make conversation, you know? I don’t know if you think you’re too good to talk to me, or what, but I think I deserve some decent human interaction here.”
First the sunglasses and the voice like a rattlesnake, now upping the sleaze factor. My gut tensed but, I held back. I didn’t even know Salem. She might be black belt for all I know. And I’m not in the saving game. Except for Carly. And any of my other brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, or just about anybody in the whole damned Sandhills. My list was long enough.
Every one of Salem’s fears came crowding back in. She felt terrible for making him feel bad. She opened her mouth to speak, but found the woman from Nebraska, a stranger she’d made only cursory conversation with, at her side.
With the list so long, what was one more. “All right, cowboy, why don’t you use the bathroom at the front of the plane?”
Not okay, none of it. A five-hour drive to Denver to catch a flight in a desperate race to find Carly when I knew she was long gone. And then compensating by trying to rescue Salem. But it wouldn’t make me feel any better. I stared at Salem, asking her silently if she needed me.
“Really, it’s fine.” She appreciated the woman’s reaction, but she didn’t want a scene. She certainly didn’t want to make this man mad. They were going to be stuck on this plane together. “You can sit down. I’m okay. He’s going to leave me alone, and everything will be all right.”
The woman glanced at her, tossed an angry glare at the man, then nodded and shuffled back to her seat.
I slumped into my seat, my face burning. I had all the self-control of a six month old black lab. Too bad there were millions of ways to make a fool out of myself because I seemed determined to try them all.
Salem stopped herself short of apologizing to the man in sunglasses, just, and shoved her hands in her pockets. She wished she had a phone to look at.
The bathroom door opened again and places were traded. The man in sunglasses was next in line. Salem was glad she wouldn’t have to stand next to him much longer.
“You never said where in Richmond you were going,” he said, without turning.
Her breath caught. Really? She opened her mouth to say something to him directly then snapped it shut. The plane ride was almost over. She could keep her peace until they landed. Besides, the man wasn’t even looking at her.
That voice! He was at her again, like a dog after a bone. I tried not to listen.
Then he did. He turned. She saw her own face reflected in his lenses, upside down and tiny. “Northern Richmond is pretty this time of year. Are you visiting friends?”
She didn’t know what exactly it was about the interaction that dug up, dusted off, and pushed her fuck it button after all these years, and especially after the last five days. Maybe it was his simpering aggressiveness, his shaming of her for not doing his bidding, the way he’d ignored all of her nonverbals. Maybe it was that she realized she’d gone without Ativan for four days, and that she was surviving. Better than surviving. Probably accumulated stress had something to do with it, too, but suddenly, she found herself caring much more about her own comfort than his. “You’re being a dick.”
Something inside me busted, like a cinch that had been on too tight, and I took a breath like I hadn’t since I’d raced to Denver. Salem was taking control. She didn’t need me to protect her. Carly and Salem, two women who could take care of themselves. Without my help. Salem had asked me to back off, Carly had done the same. Mom would spout something about the universe giving me messages. Maybe I’d tell her about this bit of serendipity after I caught the first flight west.
He jerked as if she’d hit him. “What?”
“I clearly don’t want to talk to you, and you won’t let it go, so fuck you. Fuck you for thinking I have to speak with you because we’re both standing in line and fuck you for your creepy sunglasses on a plane. I will stand in this line until it’s my turn, I will not talk to you, and you will respect that.”
“Let ‘er buck,” I muttered just loud enough to be heard.
Salem realized her chest was moving up and down rapidly, her heart racing. She’d heard the Nebraska woman’s words, knew she wasn’t alone. She waited for the man to react. He opened and closed his mouth. Time unspooled at a snail’s pace. He finally responded, sort of. He pushed past her and returned to his seat four rows ahead of hers. She waited until the bathroom door opened, went in, and slid the lock closed.
She leaned against the bathroom door, laughing quietly.
There may have been tears mixed in.
I gave Salem a grin when she sat back down. We might only have an hour left of the flight, but I thought it might be enough time to share a story or two. “Kate Fox, Grand County Sheriff. I’m glad to meet you.”
Salem took it. “It’s been a heckuva week for me. You?”
Uff da, now I not only want to read Shannon’s new book, I want to write a book with her! Dang that woman can spin a story.
Thank you so much to Dru Ann for hosting us, for those of you who have followed us across this massive, cross-country blog tour, and for any of you who have stumbled in today. We are so happy to share the news of our simultaneous book release today here, on the blog of one of our dear friends and one of the mystery community’s biggest supporters.
In celebration and out of thanks to you all, I am giving away a copy of Salem’s Cipher and Shannon is giving away Stripped Bare. Tell us which two mystery protagonists you’d most like to have a chance meeting, or leave a comment for a chance to win. Shannon and I are also going to bring in award-winning and bestselling authors to join in on the conversation below, so keep checking back to see what’s up!
About the authors
Jessica (Jess) Lourey is best known for her critically-acclaimed Murder-by-Month mysteries, which have earned multiple starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist, the latter calling her writing “a splendid mix of humor and suspense.” She is a tenured professor of creative writing and sociology, a recipient of The Loft’s 2014 Excellence in Teaching fellowship, and leads interactive writing workshops all over the world. Salem’s Cipher, the first in her thrilling Witch Hunt Series, hits stores September 2016. You can find out more at www.jessicalourey.com, or check her out on Facebook or Twitter.
Shannon Baker writes the Kate Fox mystery series. Stripped Bare, the first in the series, features a sheriff in rural Nebraska and has been called Longmire meets The Good Wife. Baker also writes the Nora Abbott Mystery Series, a fast-paced mix of murder, environmental issues and Hopi Indians published by Midnight Ink. Baker was voted Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2104 Writer of the Year. She writes from the Colorado Rockies to the Nebraska Sandhills, the peaks of Flagstaff and the deserts of Tucson. Visit her at www.Shannon-Baker.com.
All comments are welcomed.
Giveaway: The giveaway will end September 8, 2016 at 12 AM EST and US entries only, please. Good luck everyone!