“Partnership in Peril” – Excerpt from SIGHT UNSEEN (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow)

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What happens when you bring together the best independent forensic lab in the country, one of the leading pathologists and criminal profilers in the world, and a Federal agent with a very unique skill set, and a gun loaded with Slayer bullets?

Welcome to Witch Hollow!

When a wealthy philanthropist is found dead in a locked room, with no apparent cause of death beyond the faint scent of incense, Dr. Faith MacKenzie and her team have their work cut out for them. As the case starts to go cold, she’ll be forced to turn to a man with abilities in which she can’t bring herself to believe, and credentials that leave her no choice but to accept the possibility he might just be on the level.

 

“Partnership in Peril” — Excerpt from SIGHT UNSEEN (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow, Book 1) 

Where was Jonathan? He left to take a phone call, yesterday, and promptly disappeared. She hadn’t heard from him in nearly twenty-four hours, and with the recent arrival of bodies from Allegheny, Monongahela and Wayne National Forests and cryptic messages their arrival was “per Agent Caulder’s approval,” she was steadily going from concerned to pissed off. No one said what bodies came into her lab except her. Even worse, Jonathan sent Linda photographs of the dump sites, but couldn’t be bothered to extend Faith the courtesy of alerting her the bodies were coming, let alone get her approval for the transfer. Damn it, there were procedures to follow!

She frowned as she leaned closer and carefully sniffed the discolored patch of cloth stuck to the most recent body. “Where did Agent Caulder say they found these bodies?”

“That one was buried along the river bank near where you dredged up Carol-Ann, according to the Forest Service on-scene notes.” Linda glanced up from her sketch, and made a face. “Do you have to smell them, like that?”

“That’s not right.” Faith lifted one decomposing hand, turning it over to study the palm.

“I agree.” Linda blinked when Faith looked up at her in confusion. “Oh, you meant where the body was found, right? My mistake.”

“I’m no geologist, but this soil doesn’t look consistent with the samples I took from where Carol-Ann was found.” She peeled off one glove to retrieve her cell phone and hit speed dial, tapping one foot impatiently until Sandy picked up the other end. “I need you in autopsy, to take some samples. We need a soil analysis on the new arrivals.”

“I’ll be right there.”

As she hung up, she turned to find Linda studying her with a concerned expression.

“What do you think is going on, Faith?”

Faith’s gaze fixed on the body, and she sealed her lips grimly over her suspicions. She only knew two things for certain, right now. This victim was never buried near the Monongahela, and Jonathan Caulder was up to something. What she didn’t know was what. But she intended to find out.

“Laurel’s on her way in. When she gets here, tell her I need drawers four through nine sanitized, and pre-autopsy films taken on all the new arrivals before she puts them in the cooler. But she’s not to clean them or do anything else until Sandy collects soil and Mark goes over them for trace.”

Linda frowned. “Where are you going?”

“To find out just what the hell the FBI’s up to, and why they think they can commandeer my lab.”

Look out for the release of SIGHT UNSEEN, and the beginning of a brand new series from critically acclaimed Suspense author Esther Mitchell, coming October 11, 2016 from Desert Breeze Publishing!

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“Deals with the Devil” – Excerpt from BODY OF EVIDENCE (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow)

BoEWhat happens when you bring together the best independent forensic lab in the country, one of the leading pathologists and criminal profilers in the world, and a Federal agent with a very unique skill set, and a gun loaded with Slayer bullets?

Welcome to Witch Hollow!

When kidnapping turns to murder, the hunt could turn from dangerous to deadly for Dr. Faith MacKenzie and her team. A four-year-old cold serial kidnapping cold case is red-hot again, with fresh bodies turning up at a ten-year-old crime scene, and the daughter of a wealthy Witch Hollow family is abducted in broad daylight. Now, time is running out for Elizabeth Prescott, and the price of failure could also mean the life of a man Faith’s partner seems strangely determined is innocent.

“Deals with the Devil” — Excerpt from BODY OF EVIDENCE (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow, Book 6) —

Faith pushed open the heavy, steel door to the abandoned garage warily, shining her flashlight into the dark interior. Her heart thudded harshly against her ribs, and she struggled to keep her breathing slow and even. She knew coming here alone wasn’t a smart idea, but she didn’t have a choice. She didn’t run the statistics for survival in her head – she didn’t want to know how much danger she was in.

“Hello?” She called into the darkness, uncertain who she was supposed to meet, or what she’d find, here. She didn’t want to think she’d been lured her to discover Elizabeth Prescott’s dead body any more than she wanted to contemplate whether she was walking into her own death. She had to stay focused on what she did know, and the only clue she had was that someone claimed to know what happened to Elizabeth.

No one answered her, and Faith steeled herself, then pushed the door open even further, until the sparse street lights filtered into the building ahead of her. Then, with a resolute breath, Faith took a cautious step inside the building, swinging her flashlight in a wide arc, illuminating empty garage bays full of stagnant, algae-filled water, stacks of tires that looked like they’d been slowly rotting away since Katrina, and electrical fixtures that could probably double as electrocution devices, if there was even still a current running to them. Hisses and chittering noises in the dark told her the only inhabitants were probably local wildlife – none of which she was particularly wild about meeting – though an eerie sense she wasn’t alone crawled along her spine.

“Anyone here?”

“Are you alone?” Rasped a breathy voice from the shadows beyond where Faith’s flashlight could reach, sending another shiver down her spine. She was reminded of the Prescott crypt, and the strange, ominous presence of Marie Prescott.

“Yes,” she managed, careful to keep her voice calm and unafraid. She needed to keep the upper hand, and that meant showing no fear.

“Good.” The voice, stronger and deeper, suddenly came from directly behind her, and the heavy door slammed shut. Faith jumped, her self-reminder about showing no fear fleeing as a shadow loomed over her, and her flashlight went out, plunging the room into pitch dark. Then, before she could draw another breath – never mind move – a large hand closed around her throat, and she was tossed across the room, to bounce off a stack of tires and drop to the floor with enough force her head impacted the concrete, and the darkness swam before her eyes, closing in around her with suffocating speed. As heavy, rubber objects – the tires, most likely – pelted down on her, drawing groans of pain with each impact, one final thought sparked through her mind. At least she slipped Jonathan the note. Even if she died here, someone would find her. Jonathan would avenge her.

“Lights in the Night” – Excerpt from FROM THE SKY (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow)

WH14 From the SkyWhat happens when you bring together the best independent forensic lab in the country, one of the leading pathologists and criminal profilers in the world, and a Federal agent with a very unique skill set, and a gun loaded with Slayer bullets?

Welcome to Witch Hollow!

When two planes that shouldn’t have been anywhere near each other collide in the middle of the night sky, the FAA suspects terrorism. But when they turn their investigation over to the FBI, the evidence lands the case with the Bureau’s resident expert on the bizarre, and the highly-trained experts at the Bunker. Can they unravel the clues, without reaching beyond the boundaries of Earth?

 

“Lights in the Night” – Excerpt from FROM THE SKY (Guardians, Inc.: Witch Hollow, Book 14) –

 

“It’s irrational to think that a race of beings intelligent enough to figure out how to break not only their own planet’s gravitational pull, but also the boundaries of their star system, and travel light years to get to ours, would be the least bit interested in examining or communicating with a few culturally and politically insignificant individuals, out of the whole planet.”

Joyce propped her head on her hand, where she sat at Faith’s lab table, watching her friend pace. “Faith, we specialize in cases most of the scientific world dismisses as little more than fairy tales. What’s ‘rational,’ anymore?”

“Okay,” Jonathan straightened from where he sat on the edge of Faith’s desk. “Let’s just assume, for the moment, Mac’s right. There are plenty of completely terrestrial explanations for the accident. Let’s focus on those, unless we discover otherwise. What’ve we got, Mac?”

Faith moved around the desk, and her fingers flew over the computer keyboard. “The information sent over by the FAA from the black box and CVR on the initiating craft rules out any mechanical, electrical, or pilot error issues. According to the FAA, the last radio call to the ground was garbled, but something about the pilot being blinded by some kind of sudden light source.”

Jonathan settled back, flipping open his notebook. “Eyewitnesses told crash investigators they saw ‘weird, flashing lights’ just prior to the crash, too. One person described it as ‘fireworks without the sound’ and others claimed it was more like strobe lights.”

“So,” Joyce looked between them, one brow raised in query, “if it’s not a UFO, just what the hell is it?”

 

“Dedication” — Excerpt from TRACE OF INNOCENCE (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow)

ToIWhat happens when you bring together the best independent forensic lab in the country, one of the leading pathologists and criminal profilers in the world, and a Federal agent with a very unique skill set, and a gun loaded with Slayer bullets?

Welcome to Witch Hollow!

A decade-old cold case is about to get brand new life. Only problem is, the prime suspect has no criminal history, and swears she had nothing to do with the murder. When she convinces one of Faith’s team to help her, the future of the entire lab hangs in the balance. If the evidence proves them wrong, everything they’ve worked for could come crashing down.

“Dedication” — Excerpt from TRACE OF INNOCENCE (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow, Book #4) —

“How’s it going, Joyce?” He smiled at the redhead currently frowning at her computer screen. “Where’s Mac?”

Joyce rolled her eyes, then returned her attention to the screen. “Autopsy, where else? We got a possible suicide in, earlier this evening, and you know Faith. It’s going to be another long night. Lucky me, I got stuck with babysitting detail.”

Jonathan’s lips quirked up in a half-smile. It didn’t take him long after he started working with the Bunker crew to figure out Joyce covered concern with sarcasm and sass. He didn’t blame her for being concerned, though he wasn’t about to admit to anyone how concerned he was. Mac would have his head, if she found out. “She does take dedication to the extreme, doesn’t she?”

Joyce looked up at him, then, and her gaze assessed him, before a sad smile twitched at her lips. “Like a dog with a fresh bone. But,” she sighed, and shook her head. “I can’t really blame her. She moved back here to take care of her father, and stayed because her uncle made it clear he needed her here. He even built and funded this facility for her, to keep her close. But now that Ramsey’s gone, and with her only living family on another continent, the Bunker and her work are all she has left. Faith needs someone to need her, and whether she admits it or not, she sees each of these victims as needing her. This gives her purpose.”

Something he’d already figured out for himself, and hearing Joyce confirm his assessment wasn’t the relief he imagined. Mac spent all her time focusing on other people’s needs so she could avoid her own life. He was glad her team was so dedicated to her. Mac needed friends who understood her drive. He already knew most of the Law Enforcement community she dealt with thought she was overbearing and a step shy of terrifying. More than a few probably thought she was crazy, too. Having him in her corner probably didn’t help her reputation any, either. He was well aware most of his colleagues at the FBI thought he lost the plot a long time ago. They just didn’t say anything, because no matter how insane they thought him, they respected his case closure and conviction rate. Results spoke volumes. Still, it didn’t halt the whispers. And those whispers were what brought him out to the Bunker, tonight.

He sighed. “Thanks, Joyce. You can go on home. I’ve got this.”

Her eyes widened in momentary surprise, before understanding dawned, and she heaved a sigh. “I know what that means. And, for the record, I think you’re both nuts.”

He shrugged and headed down the short hallway toward the autopsy room. He couldn’t argue with Joyce’s assessment. There were times he questioned his own sanity.

“Body Dump” – Excerpt from NIGHTSTALKER (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow)

When a body turns up in the middle of a National Forest with no visible evidence of how it got there, but clearly having been torn apart, the case is instantly handed over to Bunker team to investigate. And when as the body count starts mounting, the only evidence they uncover points to the impossible. Only, Faith and her team have already learned, when it comes to their cases, nothing is impossible.

Witch Hollow brings together a wide variety of my life-long fascinations, from forensics and anatomy to the paranormal and mythological.  Add in characters who have literally snagged not just my imagination and interest, but also my heart, and this is fast becoming one of my favorite series to write.

 

“Body Dump” – Excerpt from NIGHTSTALKER (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow) –

 

Linda lowered the camera from her eye with a frown.  “There aren’t any footprints.”

Faith glanced up. “What?”

“Footprints.” Linda gestured to the soft earth around them. “Aside from yours, mine, and Agent Caulder’s, there aren’t any footprints anywhere around here, and absolutely no tire treads. How did the killer get the body in here?”

Faith sighed inwardly as she realized Linda was right. Looking back down at the body, the sick certainty this was going to be another of Jonathan’s oddities clenched in her gut. “That’s not all that’s wrong with this scene.  The corpse has been mutilated, and the liver, spleen, and heart are a pulverized mess.” She poked around inside the torn-open abdominal cavity, and sat back on her heels with grim certainty. “And the posterior ribs and pelvis have been shattered.” She looked up at Linda again. “I don’t think he was dumped here. I think he was dropped here. From a considerable height, too.”

Linda looked up. “Passing plane, maybe?”

“Maybe.” Faith couldn’t help the doubtful tone of her own voice.  “If it was a low-flying, relatively slow plane. Anything higher than five thousand feet, and there’d be a lot more extensive trauma than this.”

“Like a biplane. Or a helicopter, maybe?”

Faith nodded. “We’ll have to test the hypothesis, but I hope you’re right.”

Linda snapped more pictures. “Why?”

“Because otherwise, I’m not sure I want to know what did this.”

 

 

“Missing Pieces” – Excerpt from BLOOD MOON (Witch Hollow)

This series began life around two decades ago, but when the first book was originally published, it was edited into a pale, awkward version of itself, and pretty much killed the series on the spot. I couldn’t see going on with any more books, at the time.

Now, I have the opportunity to share with you the story and characters I originally got to know and love. I’m hoping you’ll love them as much as I do. 🙂

When three bodies show up, all hanging from the same tree, in one of Pennsylvania’s oldest state forests, the Bunker crew is called in to investigate a possible ritual serial killing. What they’re about to discover, though, goes deeper than any cult, and could put them all in peril.

“Missing Pieces” – Excerpt from BLOOD MOON (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow)

He shook his head in wonder. She never ceased to surprise him. “You still don’t believe, do you? After all this time, you still don’t believe.”

“It’s not about what I believe.” She looked up at him in exasperation. “After everything I’ve seen since I first met you, I’d have to be an idiot to not accept the possibility there are things out there I can’t explain logically. I’m not an idiot. But I am a scientist, Jonathan. I have to approach every case from that angle, first. Statistically, it’s impossible that every case we have will involve the paranormal, no matter what your connections are.”

“Maybe, but it sure seems like we get an overwhelming number of the weird ones, doesn’t it?” He quipped sarcastically, earning himself an annoyed glare from the woman crouched beside the mutilated corpse. “Look, Mac, all I’m saying is, you don’t have to act like it’s an insult to consider all the possibilities.”

She didn’t respond, a frown marring her face that told him she wasn’t paying attention to a word he said. She bent closer to the body, her expression pinched in concentration as she reached one hand into the gaping abdominal wound on the corpse. There was a gag-inducing squelching sound he was certain couldn’t be normal, before Faith pulled her hand free and her gaze shot to him. The shock and fear in her blue eyes punched him hard in the gut.

“What is it, Mac?”

“There’s no liver.”

Okay, that couldn’t be good. “You’re sure?”

She glared at him again. “I’m a pathologist, Jonathan. I know where the liver is supposed to be.”

“Okay, stupid question. What do you think happened to it? Scavengers?”

She shook her head. “The body’s too undisturbed. I ruled out scavengers when we first got here. Besides, whoever or whatever did this removed his liver with clean, surgical precision. And I think he was still alive when they did it – there’s a lot of blood in the abdominal cavity. It’s early, but I’m calling cause of death as profuse internal bleeding from a severed hepatic artery.”

Jonathan’s gut roiled. This really wasn’t good. “And the only thing missing is his liver?”

Faith peeled off her bloody gloves as she rose to her feet. “Confirmation will have to wait until I’ve had a chance to perform a full autopsy, but so far it appears the only things missing are his skin and his liver.” She glanced his way. “Any idea who or what could do something like this?”

Did he ever.

“You don’t want to know,” he muttered, eyes closed. If he was right, they were all in some very deep shit, indeed, and he needed to talk to Damion. Fast.

“World On Fire” – Excerpt from UP IN FLAMES (Guardians, Inc – Witch Hollow)

Guardians, Inc. has, as a series, had a profound impact on me and where I see my writing going in the future. It started almost two decades ago, as a whimsical way to keep my writing muscle and creative process fresh and engaged. I really didn’t anticipate ever being published, either by a publisher or by myself. However, in the years I’ve been working on the project off and on, it’s grown from a writing exercise into a full-fledged series, with an additional two sub-series, so far. And some random books I had floating around out there, uncertain what I wanted to do with them, have found a home in this series, as well.

One of the sub-series I’m most enamored with and proud of is Witch Hollow, which takes one of Guardians’ investigators into the rural community of Witch Hollow, Pennsylvania, where an independent forensic lab known locally as the Bunker takes Guardians, Inc. to a whole new level, bringing forensics and the paranormal together in a way I wasn’t sure would work, but flowed together seamlessly.

“World on Fire” – Excerpt from UP IN FLAMES (Guardians, Inc: Witch Hollow, Book #2):

Faith jumped, her heart performing an impromptu series of somersaults in her chest, as something grabbed her shoulder. She blinked, surprised to find she’d dozed off at her desk, the crime scene photos spread out before her. Glancing to her right, she found Jonathan with one hand on her shoulder, his expression creased in concern.

“What’s happened?”

He straightened with an exasperated sigh. His gaze darted over her desk. “Have you been here all night, Mac?”

She shrugged. After their argument last night, she wasn’t about to admit to him she had. He already thought she was obsessed with her work. “What did you want, Caulder?”

Belatedly, she realized he held a file in his left hand. He dropped it on her desk, amidst the photos. “Tom sent this. He thought it might be connected to our case. I’m inclined to agree.”

She reached for the file. “Why?”

His hand landed on top of the file, holding it closed. “Mac…”

“I’ve been studying the thermal patterns, and I think Joyce is right – there’s something odd about them. I just can’t put the char and spall patterns we found in the warehouse together with the charring on the bodies. It’s like they were burned at two different temperatures. Only that doesn’t make any sense, if—“

“Faith.” His deliberate use of her given name yanked her attention to him in surprise. He never called her Faith. His eyes were intense, and there was no mistaking the worry there. “You need to go home. Take a break, think of something else. All you’ve done is work on the case, twenty-four-seven. You’ll drive yourself crazy.”

“You being the expert on crazy.” She nearly slapped her hands over her mouth in mortification the moment the words left her. The kindle of anger, and the hurt flickering across Jonathan’s face confirmed she crossed a line she was well-aware of. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have—“

Her apology died, unfinished, beneath the anger in his eyes. Glaring, he lifted his hand from the file and backed away with a cold, “I’ll leave you work.”

Before she could stop him, Jonathan turned on his heel and stalked from her office. Faith winced as the frosted glass of the window rattled beneath the force of the door slamming shut. She wished she could be certain he’d be back.