I am thrilled to have been invited to participate in the “Death & Damages” box set anthology with a stable of talented bestselling authors like the one you are about to meet.
These amazing writers have graciously agreed to let my blog readers share in an exclusive interview AND get a sneak peek at the book they have contributed to the Death & Damages box set – 25 stories for 99 cents!
Today, we sit down with Angela Sanders, author of Never Again.
DAN: Tell my readers briefly about the story you are contributing to the Death & Damages anthology:
What inspired this story?
How long of a piece is it?
Tell me a little bit about you. Where do you do your writing?
What does writing success look like to you?
Of course, I want to sell books, but true success is getting into the hearts and minds of a loyal reader base. I want them to crave my next book. I love hearing from them, and I respond to all of my emails.
I recently became an International Bestselling author, and I will say… I about fell outta my chair. I so was not expecting that! I can’t thank my readers and my co-author enough. That was a great feeling as well. The emails and comments in our group about our book was just… WOW. Brought tears to my eyes…
Do you ever collaborate with others?
Tell me a little bit about your process. What is the path from idea to finished story? Do you use critique partners? Do you have a favorite editor?
My process… Well, it’s probably a bit unorthodox. My first series came to me in a dream. And the first book wouldn’t even be published if not for Joanna Mazurkiewicz making me do it. I didn’t want to. 🙂 I was terrified! Then, the next thing I know, I can’t stop writing my series. And a spin-off series happened. These characters speak to me like old friends, and they fight over who gets the next story. They’re crazy, and I can’t take them anywhere! I swear!
I started out with a small plotline, and it exploded from my mind after that. I used to be what authors call a “pantser.” Then, thanks to Rebecca Hamilton’s teaching and mentoring, I learned how to plot a book and actually write from a freakin’ plotline. Who knew??? I mean, plot to finish! Not start with an idea and roll with it. Plotted the entire thing and then wrote the book. Amazing how that works. 🙂 I’m still a pantser, but I’m a converted plotter, too. Rebecca helped me to see the error of my ways. My co-author and I wrote almost 70K words in seven days! I’m a believer.
What do you do for your cover? It’s always hard to find a good cover. How do you find yours, or the artwork?
What about your blurb and tagline? What is your process for arriving at a really killer tagline and then a blurb that makes readers want to buy the book?
* EXCLUSIVE SNEAK PEEK *
She fought to leave her past behind her, but for Charlotte, there is no escape.
New Orleans Homicide Detective, Charlotte Pierce, was on the hunt for a sadistic serial killer who was known for slicing his prey, when she nearly became his ninth victim.
In an effort to leave her past behind her, she walked away from her profession to start a new life, until a copycat killer hit too close to home.
Now Charlotte must work with the department to find the killer and put this nightmare to rest once and for all, but that means facing her demons, and reliving the trauma she’s tried so hard to forget.
When people close to her start dying, she knows she’s going to be next. Charlotte refuses to be another victim. She won’t let it happen.
I felt the cold slice of a knife as it slid down my left cheek, yet I refused to cry out. I wasn’t going to allow that sick bastard the pleasure of seeing a hint of emotion pass across my face. Chained to a dank basement wall—the only light shone from a small bulb dangling from the middle of the ceiling—I could almost make out the evil glint in his eyes as he took pleasure in torturing me.
“My dearest Charlotte, your detective colleagues will never find you here. You’re all alone.” My captor’s beady brown eyes roamed over my body, and then he ripped my blouse open, exposing my flesh.
I remained silent, determined not to give in to his taunts. Little did he know, I’d called for backup before I entered the premises. Francis Medley—wanted serial killer—and I just happened to be first on the scene once we learned of his location. It was by chance that I was off duty and had heard it called over the radio. My thoughts had raced immediately, thinking this would be it—we were finally taking the sadistic monster down for good. In my haste, and error in judgment, I went it alone without waiting for my partner.
Francis had left a calling card on all eight female victims: a diamond-shaped strip of flesh, expertly cut from their abdomen—death by asphyxiation—but not without torture. Their bodies were left with multiple lacerations—some with their tongues removed—but always, the same calling card. He’d escaped us for nine months, but we’d finally gotten a break on his latest victim, Tracy Harlan. He had been sloppy and left a small trace of DNA.
At twenty-seven, I’d been working for the New Orleans Homicide Unit for only a year, finally working my way up and earning my detective badge. It was something I had always wanted to do since witnessing my parents’ brutal murder at the age of seven. I was bounced around from foster home to foster home, until at the age of ten, a wonderful family, Dan and Leanne Pierce, had adopted me. From then on, they made sure I had the best of everything, making up for the childhood that had been stolen from me.
Francis [AS1] had taken me down with a blow to the head, removing my service weapon, just after I’d deemed the front room secure. He had been hiding in a makeshift secret passageway that I hadn’t noticed—rookie mistake. Now, I was hanging by chains, experiencing a taste of what his earlier victims had before he’d murdered them.
My heart beat frantically in my chest. To say I was scared to death would have been an understatement. When I’d been investigating the murders, I’d always tried to put myself in the victims’ shoes in order to get into the mind of the serial killer—feel what he was feeling: the motive, the connection. Now, I was experiencing it firsthand.
The blade slid down my stomach, making a deep cut, and I couldn’t help but wince. “Scream, little bird. No one can hear you.” His eyes lit up with something that looked like desire, and it sickened me to the core.
This bastard needed to die a long and painful death. Screw the justice system. If I were to break free, I was going to kill him myself, so he could never hurt another living soul. I’d ask for forgiveness later. And where the hell was my backup?
Francis grabbed my hair, yanking my head back so I would look at him. My blue eyes were cold as ice. He held the steel blade close to my cheek. Just as he was about to slice the corner of my mouth, I spat in his face.
Slamming my head against the concrete wall, he released his grip from my coal-black hair. “You’ll pay dearly for that, bitch.”
I glared back defiantly, still not saying a word. Let him come near me again. I had a will of steel—one he could not break.
Rushing toward me with his blade raised high, Francis was clearly aiming to bring it down on my head, but I jerked away just in time, then brought up my knee, crushing his balls. Take that, fucker.
He fell to the concrete floor, and I heard the clang of the knife. Panicking, I searched for it in the dimly lit basement, but the only thing I could see was a toolbelt with metal flaying instruments, lying across a long wooden table situated in the middle of the room. I gulped down my fear and said a quick prayer that maybe, just maybe, he wouldn’t get up. How had I not noticed that godforsaken torture table before?
Francis was moaning when he lifted himself from the floor. “Want to play it rough, do you? Let’s play a game.” He limped over to the torture table from hell, and I felt my heart nearly gallop out of my chest. If my backup didn’t arrive soon, I would surely be his next victim. How damn long did it take? It was midnight for God’s sake!
I watched as he stroked his knives one-by-one, like they were some kind of precious toys, and felt the urge to vomit. Hot tears were threatening to spill, but I held them back. There was no way in hell I was going to allow that piece of shit to see me cry.
With a sneer, Francis turned around holding a serrated blade in his right hand. “This will work perfectly.” He strode toward me in what seemed like slow motion. My mouth became dry, knowing what was to come. I wasn’t sure if I could maintain my silence any longer once that knife carved into my skin.
I yanked and pulled on my chains, but I was secured tightly to the wall with very little slack. The only part of my body that I could move freely was my torso and legs. If I was going to die, I was going down with one hell of fight. I bucked wildly the closer he came, and the only sound I could hear was the clanging of the chains that held me, and his maniacal laughter.
“Come any closer, and I promise you, I will kill you,” I growled, lunging forward, my tone deep and deadly.
“Music to my ears.” He continued to advance slowly as if stalking his prey. “Keep singing, little bird.”
I shut my mouth, knowing he was getting his rocks off. I decided to wait until he was close enough to make my next move.
Without warning, I felt searing pain in my right leg—the son of a bitch had thrown the knife and hit his target. I held back my cry, throwing my head against the wall. Sweat was dripping down my face. I knew I was losing a lot of blood; my vision became blurred, and dizziness washed over me. Then I felt a whoosh as the knife was ripped from my body, and I sank to the floor with only chains holding me upright.
Another strike, this time in my left arm. Darkness ebbed my vision, and the last thing I saw was the face of evil, masked behind beady brown eyes and long, greasy brown hair, then nothingness.
Six Weeks Earlier
“Hey, Mamma.” I kissed her on the cheek, taking a seat at the oak wood kitchen table situated in front of a bay window overlooking the spacious backyard.
Today was Sunday, and we were supposed to be having our regularly scheduled breakfast, but Mom seemed off, and there was no food on the table. Her blue eyes were red rimmed, and her normally perfectly coifed blonde hair was somewhat disheveled.
Tears slid down her face, streaking what looked like last night’s makeup. “Charlotte, I have something I want to speak with you about.” She took a deep breath and sighed. “You know the young girl your team found the other night, Ginger Walters?”
I nodded but didn’t interrupt. I wondered where my dad was. Mom was a wreck. She was always so calm and collected; I’d never seen her in such a state.
“Before your father and I adopted you, we used to babysit Ginger. I’ve known her since she was born.” Mom swiped an errant tear from her face, then looked down at her hands. “I’d lost touch with her and her mother over the years, but when I saw the news reports, I knew it was Ginger right away. Her face hasn’t changed.” She reached over and clasped my hand. “I’m scared for you, honey. This killer is murdering innocent young women your age.”
“Mamma, I’m sorry about Ginger. I know you’re worried”—I squeezed her hand tight—“but we have the best detectives in New Orleans on the case. We’re getting close. I can feel it.”
Mom stood from her seat to pour us each a cup of coffee. She handed me a cup and then sat back down with a worried expression. “Your father isn’t taking any chances. He’s looking into an alarm system as we speak. I really think it’s best if you stay with us for a while—”
“Mom,” I cut her off. “I’m twenty-seven years old, and I’m working this case. I’ve done nothing but eat, sleep, and breathe it. I’m not sure why you’re so worried; you know I can protect myself.”
“I know.” She looked past me and glanced out of the window into the backyard. “Do you remember much about your life before you came to us?”
I swallowed hard. Yes, I did, but I didn’t like to discuss it. “Yeah, a little.” I took a sip of my coffee as horrific memories of my birthparents’ murder flashed before my eyes. Faint sounds of gunshots rang in my ears, and I closed my eyes to wash away the ghosts of my past.
“You were so young and had seen so much for a child your age. I made a promise to myself then that I would always protect you and keep you from harm’s way.” She turned to look at me with a small smile. “I’m proud of the woman you’ve become, Charlotte, although I worry for you each and every day. The life of a homicide detective… You have no idea what that feels like.”
“Mom,” I attempted to interrupt her.
She held up her hand. “No, let me finish.”
“It’s a mother’s instinct to protect her child. That never goes away; it doesn’t matter if you’re ten or fifty. I never wanted this kind of life for you, but after what you lived through, I always knew this would be your path.
“Then to learn about Ginger’s death. She lived in this neighborhood, did you know that?” She wiped the tears from her face, but they continued to fall.
“Yes, Mamma.” I wasn’t sure where she was going with this, but I knew I had to let her finish. She was distraught.
“She could have been you, Charlotte. That’s all I can think about. She could have been you.” Mom lost what was left of her composure and broke down into heaving sobs.
I couldn’t take anymore and stood to hug her. She was breaking my heart. Something was telling me there was more to the story, but I didn’t have the heart to ask. She would tell me when she was ready.
“I’m okay, Mamma. I’m right here, and I’m not going anywhere. Look at me.” I tilted her tear-streaked face, so we were eye level. “I’m trained for homicide. I promise you, we will do everything we can to find this sick piece of crap.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of, Char. I don’t want you doing this anymore. Your father and I are so worried, we can’t even sleep,” she said through a sob. “We thought maybe it was a coincidence, but now, we’re not so sure.”
My hackles rose. “What are you talking about? What coincidence?”
Mom straightened in her chair and stared at me pointedly. “I didn’t want to say anything, but after Ginger, it’s all just too much. We’ve been receiving threatening phone calls by unknown numbers, and just two days ago, the neighbor’s cat was left on our back porch with its throat slit.” Her hands began to tremble slightly.
My eyes bulged, and my heart nearly stopped. “What? Why haven’t you called the police? Why didn’t you tell me? Mom, this is serious shit!” I couldn’t believe she would keep this to herself. What the hell kind of sicko does something like that? Kills a cat? The fu—
“Charlotte, must you use that kind of language? For heaven’s sake.” She eyed me with the “Mom look.” “We just thought it was a bunch of kids fooling around. We talked with a few of our neighbors, and they’d been getting the same harassing phone calls. We didn’t think it was a big deal. But then the cat and Ginger…” She trailed off, shaking her head.
“This isn’t something you just overlook, Mom. It could be serious. I’m going to have someone take a look at your call records. Did you happen to write down the time of these phone calls, or remember what was said?”
“It’s been happening over the past several weeks. I can’t be sure, but the calls always came in around eight p.m., and always from an unknown number. The caller’s voice was tampered with or something.” She waved her hand around her head in dismissal. “It sounded automated. He would say things like, ‘watch your back old lady,’ or ask obscene questions. I just hung up on him. He was vile.”
“Did Dad ever answer the phone?” I was livid. I would find out who was threatening my parents. I also wondered if this had anything to do with Ginger as Mom suspected. It wasn’t very likely, but something to look into, at least the threatening phone calls.
“No, you know how he is. He never answers the phone.” She rolled her eyes. “Would you like some more coffee?”
Good grief. We were talking about harassing phone calls and a dead cat on her doorstep, and she was asking about coffee. I now understood why she was so worried about me, but why wasn’t she more worried about herself? None of this made any sense.
“Sure. Thanks, Mamma.”
She set a fresh cup of black coffee in front of me, and I took a sip. “How much longer until Dad gets home?”
“Who knows with him? He’ll probably stake out every security system in Jefferson Parish.” She smiled knowingly. “Sorry about breakfast. I’ve just been a mess, and I needed to talk to you about all of this. I feel better now that you know. Promise me you’ll be careful, Charlotte.”
“I will, Mamma. But you need to be careful, too. I’m gonna see if we can find a link in those phone calls. Not sure about the cat, but I’d venture to guess it might be the same person or persons. If it’s a bunch of kids, they’re probably serial killers in the making.” I visibly shuddered at the thought.
“All right, Char. Thank you. I love you, honey.” She leaned over and kissed my cheek. “Just be careful. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.”
“Will do, Mamma. I need to run. Tell Dad I love him, and I’ll see him later.” I stood from the table and put my coffee mug in the sink.
She walked me to the door and hugged me goodbye. I waved one last time from my black unmarked police cruiser, and then took the drive toward the station.
When I walked through the bullpen, it was crazy as usual. Phones were ringing, the smell of burnt coffee wafted through the air, and florescent lights flickered, casting shadows along the old wood-paneled walls. I walked to my desk and tossed my coat over the back of my chair, then fired up my computer.
Today was my day off, but after what Mom had told me, I decided to pull her phone records. I thought just maybe I might get lucky and find something out of the ordinary. I’d asked Mom to call me once my dad had the new security system installed; I wanted complete access to it just in case.
Sergeant Jeff Belafonte rested his hip on the corner of my desk. “What are you doing here? I thought you were off today.”
I didn’t look up from my computer. “I am.”
“Okay. Anything I can help you with?”
I could feel his eyes boring a hole into my head, so I looked up into his chestnut-colored eyes. “As a matter of fact, yes. I went to visit my mom today. And it could be nothing, but I’d like for you to look into these phone records for me. She and her neighbors have been receiving threatening calls, ones she neglected to tell me or the police about.” I handed him the list I’d just printed with incoming phone calls made in the past month. “All phone calls take place around eight p.m. from an unknown number. Is there any way you can work with our data team and see if anything can be drawn from this list?” He nodded and took the list. “Mom also mentioned something about a possible connection to Ginger Walters; she used to babysit her before I came along.”
Sergeant Belafonte eyed me curiously. “What do you think? Is there a connection?”
Damn, if I had time to date, and if he weren’t a coworker, Jeff would definitely be my type.
Standing at six feet four inches tall, Jeff Belafonte had dark brown hair, light brown skin, square jaw, and sky-blue eyes with just a touch of green, resting above a symmetrical nose and full kissable lips. His hard body couldn’t be missed by the way it filled out his crisp uniform. This was why I tried not to look at him. I needed to keep my mind on the job, and it was not easy when he talked to me in his slow Southern drawl.
Mind out of gutter. Now.
I cleared my throat and the cobwebs from my head. “I don’t know, but we can never be too sure. My mom was really upset, and this just pushes me over the edge. We have to find that son of a bitch before he murders his next victim.” I squeezed my fists together under my desk, thinking about what had happened, feeling my blood boil. My earlier thoughts of Jeff went out the window. “Ginger lived in my parents’ neighborhood; this much we know. My mom is devastated, and now it’s personal. I’m not sleeping until we find this prick.”
“Understood. I’ll see what I can do on my end. Look over the case files again and go to the white board. I’ll meet you there in a few. Maybe we’re missing something.”
I grabbed the case files from my desk and went to the break room to pour myself a cup of coffee that looked like mud, and probably tasted like burnt coffee grounds. I took a sip—it did—but caffeine was caffeine and burnt mud would have to do for now.
I stood before the white board, looking at the photos of all seven victims, and my stomach dropped when I saw the wreck that was left of Ginger Walters. My mother knew her. In my mind, I knew I had to separate myself and look at each victim with a technical eye: What had I missed? Was there anything that could lead us to the identity of the killer? Instead, I continued to look at Ginger and think about my mom and dad. Who was harassing them? Was any of this connected? I knew I needed to get a grip, or I wouldn’t be able to do my job.
Shaking my hands out to the side and taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes, then began to focus on what I did know.
Like pieces of a puzzle forming in my mind, I glanced at the faces of all the women, and their lifeless bodies; how they were killed and put on display, then cut with precision. Two victims had their tongues cut out and placed near their left ear, both, exactly the same.
Why were these two different from the others? The diamond-shaped wound on their abdomens held the same calling card as the other victims. These women must have done something the killer deemed untrustworthy; he’d made it personal. I closed my eyes, concentrating on the similarities and anything that might be hidden from the human eye, a code of sorts.
The deep lacerations were still on the left side of their faces. Their tongues had been strategically placed near their left ear.
What does the left side signify?
The common word, left, comes from the Latin word, sinister…
Were the lacerations on the left side of their faces a missing piece of the puzzle we’d yet to put together?
Sinister… Foreboding… An impression that something harmful or evil would happen or be spoken.
Speak, hear… Tongue, ear… Connection… Did he know the victims?
Something was beginning to click when Jeff walked into the situation room, startling me from my thoughts. “Dammit! You scared the shit out of me.”
“Sorry, Detective.” He smiled a crooked smile, enjoying my flushed face. He seriously needed to stop.
“Did you find anything?” I smoothed my sweaty hands over my black slacks and grabbed my cup of now-cold coffee.
“Not yet, but we have time. It looks like the calls were made from a burner phone. Not surprising.”
I huffed in frustration. “Who the hell would do something like that? I mean, prank calls and a dead cat? It’s freakin’ sadistic and creepy. My main concern is, what if the same thing was happening to Ginger, since she lived in the same neighborhood?” I set my mug on the table. “Do we have her phone records yet?”
“Yep. Cindy just got them.” He placed the files on the table and took a seat. “I thought we could look them over together, if you don’t mind.”
Of course I minded. Damn. “No, it’s fine. Maybe we’ll find a link, if not, at least I know my dad’s getting a security system.”
We pored over page after page of freakin’ phone records until we found it—the link. Dammit! Mom was right. An unknown number had been calling Ginger for weeks, almost immediately after calling my parents. I didn’t believe in coincidences. Now, I just had to find out who that damn burner phone belonged to.
I went home for the night, still mulling over the connection between the severed tongues and the word “sinister.” Something in my gut told me this was the missing piece we’d been looking for; the killer had deviated, and it was quite possible he knew those two victims.
What had the women said that caused him to remove their tongues? Was it biblical in reference, or just a sick twisted game he was playing to throw us off track? The right side was typically in reference to the “right hand of God.” Yet the killer had chosen the left. Was it possible he was acting out his vengeance toward God in an attempt to play God himself? Did something happen in his past to make him feel slighted by God?
Maybe we were looking at this from the wrong angle. We could be looking for someone who thought the church, or God had forsaken him.
The diamond-shaped pattern came to mind. What was its significance? Immortality, or the semblance of nature, encouraging the aspect of truth and trust… Was that it? Were the calling cards his own wacked out brand of immortality, seeking out truth, reveling in his victims’ death?
Untrustworthy… The tongues being removed. There was a link between the two; I just had to put them together.
Another freakin’ body. My partner called me at two a.m., and I lost my shit. I thought for sure we were on our way to locating the serial killer, but no. He’d struck again, and this time, right under our noses. I was pissed. I’d done nothing but work my ass off and had barely slept, trying to piece everything together. I thought for sure I’d found the connection, working tirelessly to link the killer to all seven victims. I was closing in fast—I had leads—or so I’d thought. Now this? Another murder, and I felt responsible.
Pulling into Audubon Park, my stomach clenched. I walked slowly toward the line of uniformed officers and slid under the crime scene tape after presenting my badge. My partner, Greg, was already there waiting for me with the ME. The woman’s body had been staged on a park bench near the waterfront under a large oak tree.
“Hey, Char,” Greg greeted me, then proceeded to give me the run-down.
I watched as the ME carefully looked over each laceration, while the forensic team took pictures of anything they deemed evidentiary. All I could see was her—the exact same calling card—everything I’d been working hard to prevent from happening again. My heart thudded in my chest, and I felt like I was about to explode. What could I have done to stop this? It was as if the killer knew we were onto him, and this was all some sort of game. This woman’s death was my fault. I couldn’t breathe.
About The Author:
Gang, please join me in thanking Angela for sharing her authorly insights with us.
Click HERE to order your copy of Death & Damages TODAY and read the rest of Never Again when it is released in the Death & Damages boxed set!
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Danger lurks around every corner as these courageous cops, adventurous agents, and daring detectives hunt for the answers to stop the crimes by vicious killers.
But what if the damage is already done?
Inside these pages, you’ll find 25 adventures full of captivating conundrums, hair-raising homicides, and suspenseful secrets from today’s USA Today & Wall Street Journal bestselling and award-winning authors.
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Fans of Lee Child, James Patterson, Gillian Flynn, Paula Hawkins, and John Grisham will devour these puzzling mysteries and gripping thrillers.
Including Stories From…
- New York Times bestselling author Patricia Loofbourrow
- USA Today bestselling author Pauline Creeden
- USA Today bestselling author John Ling
- Award-Winning author Alexa Padgett
- Siera London
- USA Today bestselling author Shereen Vedam
- Multi-Award-Winning author, Deborah Shlian
- USA Today bestselling author Kelly Hashway
- USA Today bestselling author JB Michaels
- Maggie Carpenter
- USA Today bestselling author Tiana Laveen
- Angela Sanders
- Award-Winning author Karen M. Bryson
- Aime Austin
- Lisa B. Thomas
- USA Today bestselling author Fiona Quinn
- Kerry J Donovan
- Jane Blythe
- Bestselling author Dan Alatorre
- USA Today bestselling authors Muffy Wilson and Dariel Raye
- Ja’Nese Dixon
- USA Today bestselling author Terry Keys
- Bill Hargenrader
- Wall Street Journal bestselling author Judith Lucci
- Award-Winning author Maria Grazia Swan