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Hotline to Heaven
cover artwork by John Heebink.

 

 

"Hotline To Heaven" introduces you to God's Fan Club--the grandest scam this side of heaven!! Mix a lovable bunko artist with a beautiful, unworldly Salvation Army lassie and laugh yourself silly trying to figure out what's going to happen next.

 

Chapter Excerpt

 

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List Price: $4.95 USD ebook

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Reviews

 

Hotline to Heaven

romantic comedy

 

Darrell Bain

 

To my mother, who asked for a romance. Sorry, mom--I got carried away.

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

It was the Christmas season, but Ed "Boilerroom" Tanner was having trouble getting into the spirit. His last trip to Las Vegas had a lot to do with that. It was hard for him to feel Christmassy when his bank account was as flat as an anemic tapeworm. He ambled slowly along the sidewalks of downtown Houston, shoulders slouched, with no particular destination in mind. He avoided bumping into the throngs of shoppers and lunch-hour pedestrians as he automatically scanned the passing faces, looking for that hint of innocence and gullibility that might be suborned into donating enough cash for another stake, or at least enough for a place to sleep tonight. He knew the look well, having made his living from it all his life, or at least since leaving home. It never occurred to him that perhaps he carried that same countenance on his own features when he was flush. He ascribed his losses in Vegas to pure bad luck, never supposing that the apparent accidental meeting with the bimbo there had been set up by his erstwhile partner after they'd concluded their last scheme.

Ed's thoughts drifted back to that operation as he walked, idly jingling the few quarters in his pockets against each other. It had gone well at first. Scrappie Brown had provided the new mailing lists they worked from and the up-front financing needed to get started, using his expertise to run the swindle and supervise the phone operators. Like most of his operations, it worked beautifully. There was something deep in human nature that always made a certain number of contacts respond favorably to the idea of a free lunch or low-cost aluminum siding where you never have to paint again. In this case, the free award had been title to plots of land in the piney woods of east Texas in return for title search fees. The awards were legitimate enough, though a little after the fact, something the operators never disclosed. The initial income from prize recipients was used to purchase a number of useless swampy acres with a small down payment. An itinerant out of work landsman was induced to cursorily survey and subdivide the land into ranchettes, then follow up letters were used to solicit more money in the form of joint attorney's fees. Those still responding were preyed on again for assessments supposedly going for maintenance, lawn and garden care. They really did hire a gardener, although he spent more time fishing in lower levels of the acreage than mowing it. It was only one form of a timeless scam. Once money was invested in the free prize, the recipients generally hung in there, thinking each new payment would be their last.

It had been a good operation, well thought out and almost legitimate. It was the letters that got them in trouble. Damn it, they should have stuck to phones. There were so many Boiler Rooms operating in the country that it might have been years before the feds got around to them if they had just stuck to that, but no, Scrappie had to get greedy.

Ed conveniently forgot that he had gone right along with Scrappie, hoping to parlay the scam into a big enough boodle to think of getting out of phone solicitation and back into more direct swindles. He missed the direct human contact of first gaining a sucker's confidence then abusing it, like coaxing a reluctant kitten into jumping at a twitching string then jerking it away.

Actually, the final payout from the bogus property scam hadn't been that bad. After the postal inspectors began nosing around, they conveniently declared bankruptcy, took the agreed upon kickback from the attorney to whom they had funneled most of the money, and headed for Las Vegas in high good humor, ready to play a little before starting over in some other city far removed from Tulsa. Houston had seemed like a good bet. It was thriving again, having recovered from the great oil bust of the eighties. He made his reservations and bought his airline ticket before beginning to play. Sometimes it paid to have an escape hatch ready, just in case he got caught slipping an extra ace or his own dice into a game, something he was loath to do unless absolutely necessary. He did maintain some standards.

That hadn't been the problem this time. Ed thought about it and smiled ruefully. That little bimbo! She had looked as innocent as a Barbie Doll, and turned out to be as rapacious as a hungry shark beneath that bubbly exterior. He still couldn't quite figure out just how she had induced him to bring his whole nut with him that last night, just in case he needed to back up a big bet, but by that time the pull of his gonads had eclipsed his good sense. When he cashed out, he never suspected a thing when she offered to redeposit his whole wad with the cashier while he went back to the room.

"Go ahead and get yourself a nice hot shower and order us an extra bottle of champagne so you'll be all ready for me when I get there," she said.

Six hours later, he finished the last of the champagne by himself and went to bed by himself. He didn't even try to get dressed and go looking for her, knowing in his drunken misery it would have been useless. The next morning he checked his luggage at the Southwestern Airline terminal and headed for Houston.

Ed continued to muse and walk, wishing that the last of his money spent the previous night in the hotel bar on a likely looking old biddy had paid off, but it turned out that she had to go back to New York that same night and was evidently just amusing herself with the attentions of the good-looking younger man until it was time to leave for the airport. Now he really was broke. Unless something turned up, he was going to have to cash in the one remaining night he had paid for at the hotel just to raise enough money to eat. Where he would sleep and store his luggage, he didn't know.

As he drifted east along Louisiana Avenue it seemed that every likely spot sported a Salvation Army Santa Claus, ringing a bell to draw attention to the big iron pot of money he guarded. As Ed approached a major intersection, there was another one. This Santa was accompanied by a young woman shaking a tambourine. Ed didn't see her at first. He felt of the quarters in his pocket, wondering whether to toss one in the pot, just for luck. He had kind feelings for the Salvation Army, having accepted their overnight hospitality on occasion, though only as a last resort. He didn't mind the bare furnishings of their missions nor the stale pastries and weak coffee they sent vagrants off into the mornings with; it was the praying over the recipients of their largess he could hardly abide. Nevertheless, he had to admit they were always there when he needed them. The thought cemented his decision. A spare coin wouldn't get him prayed over. He pulled a quarter from his pocket and tossed it into the pot, wishing at the same time he owned the heap of bills and coins it joined.

"Thank you, sir." The voice was pure honey, as light and sweet as a chord from an angel's harp.

Ed's eyes tracked up to the source of the voice. He beheld a young woman with a face as beautifully sweet and saintly as the voice, framed by golden wavy hair falling to the shoulders of her uniform dress. Below the shoulders rose high young breasts, pushing tautly at her blouse as if they were straining to be let free. Ed looked no further. So much unsullied beauty above the waist would almost have to be accompanied by matching pulchritude below. If she ran a mission, he wouldn't mind being prayed over.

"You're welcome, ma'am," he said. "I only wish I could give more, but that was the last quarter to my name." Almost immediately, he wished he hadn't told the lie, even though it was very near to the truth. Why, he couldn't say. In his business, lies came to his lips as easily as Vodka to a Russian's.

"Why, how generous of you, then. God will surely reward you," the young woman said, taking full notice of Ed for the first time. She beheld a slim, medium-tall man who appeared to be in his early thirties, dressed in a conservative gray, expensive looking suit. A breeze tousled his wavy dark hair and caused a lock of it to fall to his forehead. She thought it a very nice forehead, the better to go with his pleasant, even-featured face and alert brown eyes.

"Yes, I'm sure He will," Ed said. "Perhaps He will help me find a place to sleep tonight." It was just idle chatter, meant to keep her talking and him in her presence for a few moments. He couldn't help staring at the angelic face. Yes, it was innocent and probably gullible, but he had learned that when those characteristics were associated with religion, there was seldom enough money to go with them to make tricking them out of it worth his while. He wondered why such a beauty was working for the Salvation Army. Didn't she realize what she had?

"God cares for the homeless, as you must surely know. If all else fails, come to us tonight. Our mission is on Alabama street, three blocks over and one down." She smiled, causing faint dimples to appear, making her look as refreshingly pure as a teenage girl in her first prom gown. Her intentions were pure, but inside, she felt a little tug of attraction toward the attractive, well-dressed stranger, a pull that had induced the invitation. His appearance was far removed from the usual homeless males she dealt with, or any other male, for that matter. A strict Pentecostal upbringing combined with an education at an all girls school left her vulnerable. She felt color rising to her cheeks and dropped her gaze, hurriedly bringing it back up after it descended to the level of Ed's pants.

Ed couldn't help it. He felt the same strange attraction and his body was responding like a well-trained soldier on maneuvers. He tried to picture cold showers and freezing blizzards, but his mind insisted on remaining in concert with his groin. He said, "If I should have to look for help tonight, should I ask for you?"

"Why yes, you could, though it isn't strictly necessary. I'm sister Violet. Violet Smith."

"My name is B--" Ed faked a cough, then backed up. Damn it, why had he ever let himself be saddled with that nickname? "--Ed Tanner. I'm very pleased to meet you." A passerby dropped a bill into the pot, jostling him closer to Violet. He didn't mind a bit, though he wondered what on earth he thought he was doing. He had as much business coming on to this angelic creature as a peasant did sitting down to dinner with a king.

Apparently someone else thought the same. Santa stopped ringing his bell and stared suspiciously at him. Ed managed a guilty, little-boy smile. He shuffled his feet in a good imitation of a farm boy facing a preacher who suspected him of using haylofts in more ways than as a repository for cattle food. "Sorry," he said. "I'm keeping you from your business. Nice meeting you, Miss Smith." He held out his hand.

Violet took it. She felt her fingers tingling and wondered what on earth she thought she was doing. She had as much business responding to a strange man at least ten years her senior as Judas did to throw a friendly arm around Jesus before the crucifixion. "It was good to meet you, too, Mr. Tanner. I'm sure God will help you find a place to stay tonight."

"Yes, I'm sure He will," Ed said. "Goodbye." He almost said goodbye for now. Whether God was helping or not, he already knew where he was going to be spending the night. He walked away with his shoulders back, slouch gone.

Behind him, Santa remonstrated, "You really shouldn't get quite so familiar with strange men, sister."

"I'm sorry, deacon. He seemed so nice, and he did say he gave us his last cent."

"So he did. Well, let's get back to work." He rang his bell at passersby while Violet tried to keep in tune with her tambourine, but her thoughts shifted to her past encounters with the male species. There hadn't been many. Her parents hadn't allowed her to begin dating until she was seventeen and then only under strictly supervised conditions. The one time before high school graduation she had been alone with a boy had been singularly unimpressive. His attempts to kiss her were clumsy and groping and the peck she had finally allowed only inspired him to try for more. She didn't allow it, though some wrestling and finally a rush from the room was necessary before he gave up.

Violet didn't think she was a prude. She wondered about sex as much as any virgin ever had, but had had little more opportunity than a cloistered nun to put wonderment into practice. Not, she thought, that I ever would before marriage. Perhaps if her parents hadn't died together in a car crash only a year ago, they might have begun allowing her more freedom to meet interesting and eligible men after graduation, but it hadn't happened that way. They had died, leaving her destitute. Somewhere along the way, her father had made a will, leaving all his worldly possessions to the Salvation Army. In appreciation of the windfall, they had cared for her since, giving her a job and a place to sleep. Violet appreciated the care, though sometimes she wondered if it wouldn't be better if she got out on her own rather than living as she had the last year in a sparsely furnished room at the mission and helping the Army with their Holy work. Somehow, though, she had never quite gained the courage to make the break. Thinking of it made her feel guilty, as if by leaving, she would be abandoning God's work, perhaps even deviating from His plan for her, whatever it's ultimate goal. She pushed the thought away. It was replaced almost immediately by a picture of Ed Tanner's boyish face and politely shuffling feet. Maybe God intended for him to play a role in her life. She laughed inwardly at the thought. What an idea!

***

Ed headed back toward his hotel to cash in his remaining day and collect his luggage. He no longer scanned the faces of pedestrians on the crowded sidewalks, but his mind was busy. The talk about God with Violet Smith had brought on a tingling awareness of something as yet undefined, stirring just beneath conscious thought. He knew the feeling well; it was as if bells were trying to ring in his mind while their clappers were still dampened, or like a pacing animal in a zoo, looking for an exit from its cage. Whenever he felt this sensation of buried thoughts, like a pot nearing the boiling point, it eventually resulted in a grand new idea. He didn't know what would come to the surface this time, but he knew it had something to do with God. Religion? The Salvation Army? Or was it just his imagination working overtime, stimulated by his response to Violet? No, he knew the feeling too well. Before long, a day or two at most, a word, a phrase, a sign of some kind would act as a catalyst and bring the idea to the surface where he would refine it, give it definition and being and finally he would turn it into action. His stride became more buoyant, knowing that before long he would be back into a moneymaking scheme of some kind, hopefully one that didn't involve too much work and was only moderately dishonest.

 

 

Hotline to Heaven Copyright © 2001. Darrell Bain. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.

 

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Author Bio

Darrell Bain is the author of more than three dozen books, in many genres, running the gamut from humor to mystery and science fiction to humorous non-fiction. For the last several years he has concentrated on humor and science fiction, both short fiction, and suspense thrillers.

Darrell served thirteen years in the military as a medic and his two years in Vietnam formed the basis for his first published novel, Medics Wild. Darrell has been writing off and on all his life but really got serious about it only after the advent of computers. He purchased his first one in 1989 and has been writing furiously ever since.

While Darrell was working as a lab manager at a hospital in Texas, he met his wife Betty. He trapped her under a mistletoe sprig and they were married a year later. Darrell and Betty owned and operated a Christmas tree farm in East Texas for many years. It became the subject and backdrop for some of his humorous stories and books.

TTB titles:
Alien Infection
Doggie Biscuit!
Hotline to Heaven
Laughing All the Way
Life on Santa Claus Lane
Medics Wild
Robyn's Rock, collection of short stories
Rogue Program, sequel to Savage Survival
Samantha's Talent with Robyn Pass
Savage Survival
Shadow Worlds with Barbara M. Hodges
Space Trails
Strange Valley
Tales from a Christmas Tree Farm
The Focus Factor with Gerald Mills
The Melanin Apocalypse
Warp Point

Series
Human By Choice with Travis 'Doc' Taylor. Book 1 Cresperian series.
The Y Factor with Stephanie Osborn. Book 2 Cresperian series
The Cresperian Alliance with Stephanie Osborn. Book 3 Cresperian series.

Post War Dinosaur Blues - Book 1 of the Williard Bros. Series
Bigfoot Crazy - Book 2 of the Williard Bros. Series

Author web site.

 

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To order this book:
Format: PDF, HTML, Palm
    Payment Method
PayPal -or- credit card -or- Apple iBookstore; BN.com; Kindle; Kobo Books; OmniLit
List Price: $4.95 USD ebook

 
Format: Trade Paperback
    Available at
Amazon;  Bamm.com;  Barnes & Noble;  Borders;  other Bookstores
List Price: $16.50 trade paperback

 

  Reviews

Hotline to Heaven rolls with laughter, ripples with righteous indignation, rings with charm, ropes the imagination, and begs forgiveness.

Violet is so pleased to see the handsome man she met that afternoon appear in the line to the shelter. She watches beneath her lashes as he moves closer to the door. When the shelter is filled and she sees him being turned away she jumps up and pleads with Captain Wilshire to make room for the man. After all, he donated the last of his money to the cause.

Ed is so charming and helpful. When he feels called to do God's work, Violet is more than willing to contribute her savings and leave the smothering protection of Captain Wilshire and her duties for the Salvation Army to work with him to spread God's word.

Ed "Boilerroom" Tanner is having a bit of trouble getting into the Christmas spirit. His luck stayed with him on a quick trip to Vegas after his last scam, until he fell for a scheme the bimbo Scrappie introduced him to and was left with nothing but his plane ticket to Houston and some pocket change. So what was he doing tossing some of the last of that pocket change into the Salvation Army Santa's pot?

An angel. The woman enthusiastically shaking the tambourine next to Santa had to be an angel. Even in the worn clothing of the Salvation Army uniform she is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. Those shining blue eyes radiate innocence and purity and piety. "Boilerroom" is getting ideas.

She is the answer to filling his pockets again, the answer to his prayers. Who wouldn't want to be in "God's Fan Club," especially with the angelic Miss Violet Smith praying for answers to their prayers? The responses are immediate and plentiful. This is the big one for Tanner. But will it be worth it when he falls from his angel's grace?

Bain's characters march across the pages to his fast paced drumbeat to conquer and charm, despite their very human faults and foibles. Hotline to Heaven is a story peppered with the special wit and humor author Darrell Bain fans have come to expect, and spiced with the unexpected that is sure to have new readers joining the fan club.

Reviewed by Charlene Austin © Sept. 2004 for Writers and Readers Network
 



Darrell Bain pushes the envelope of plausibility in this lighthearted, entertaining tale of a con artist and the woman who steals his heart. HOTLINE TO HEAVEN is the story of a con artist who falls victim to his own weaknesses in this humorous tale of love and duplicity.

Ed Tanner .....drops a quarter into the Salvation Armyís coffers and meets the beautiful, extremely innocent Violet. Soon he finds his way to the Salvation Armyís shelter, and into the heart of Violet.

Despite otherís protests, Violet invests her life savings in Edís new scheme. While she believes heís sincere, Ed has a brilliant idea to line his pockets yet again. He starts Godís Fan Club with Violet at the forefront, looking like an angel. He isnít, however, prepared for his heart to be swept away by the innocent.

Ed introduces Violet to the simple things of life such as pretty clothes, jewelry and alcohol. Soon she finds herself swept away on the publicity and excitement of her new life, completely unaware that the man she loves is planning to leave her high and dry.

While Violetís innocence is almost unbelievable, the sharp contrast she provides to the Edís world provides the reader with sparkling entertainment. The book is a quick read, with a wonderfully deft voice that leaves the reader quite satisfied by the end. Darrell Bainís cast of characters and fun plot will have the reader looking for more of his work!

Reviewed by Cindy Penn, Senior Editor of Word Weaving.
 



A tale of a lovable rogue. Ed Tanner meets Violet Smith, a Salvation Army sister and the sparks begin to fly. Not only is he attracted to this angel but a scam forms in his mind. He cons the beautiful but utterly innocent Violet into helping him build a fan club for God. The biggest scam this side of hell. Only problem is, Ed falls in love with Violet as he turns her from the cloistered world where she lives into his world of never knowing where the next dollar comes from. A delightful and funny tale of corruption, fraud and deceit mixed in with love, innocence and faith. Bain has written an excellent book with real-to-life characters and twists and turns that keep you wanting to read until you reach the satisfying end.

Reviewed by Iris Leach for Sharpwriter.com.
 



Ed Tanner was a scam expert. After Ed and his attorney partners, Al and Ruthie, closed up their last phone scam, Ed went to Las Vegas and lost it all. It was December and when he came upon a Santa ringing a bell for the Salvation Army, he dropped in one of his last quarters. That was when he met Violet Smith, who was Santa's helper.

Violet had lived a very sheltered life. She lived at the same Salvation Army in which she worked. Instant attraction sparked between the two. Knowing he had only the clothes on his back, Violet offered Ed rest at the shelter. While there, he came up with the idea of his next scam, God's Fan Club.

Violet used her small life savings when Ed received his calling from God for them to begin a club in His name. Elijah Wilshire, Captain Mission Director, tried to talk Violet out of it, but she believed Ed really did have a calling. The club was an over night success! Money poured in! But Ed knew soon that he, Al, and Ruthie would have to divide the money and run. (A good scam never lasted long.) The problem was that Ed had fallen in love with Violet.

Violet really was as innocent as she sounded! It was hard for me to swallow just how gullible she was made out to be! However, the plot was great and the story flowed very well. On a personal note: I wish it had ended differently. BUT that is only MY opinion. The ending it has is good and I still have the satisfaction that I love to have when I end a great novel. I consider this a good read and intend to keep it for future rereading! --

Reviewed by Detra Fitch for Huntressreviews.com.
 



Ed Tanner, aka "Boilerroom", is between scams. Heís a good con artist, good enough that he usually has time between jobs to enjoy the fruits of other peopleís labors. Unfortunately, he has a weakness for women, and the redhead with whom he chose to celebrate his latest success ran off with his take. He needs an idea for another scam fast, and more immediately, he needs dinner.

He takes advantage of the hospitality of the local Salvation Army shelter and meets Violet Smith, a wide-eyed innocent straight out of a girlís boarding school who is now under the sheltered protection of the Army deacon, a family friend. Violet has a pure faith in God, the face of an angel and the body of Lileth. Ed knows she is the key to his next scam as surely as surely as Jesus knew Judas would sell him out.

Making up a story mostly based on truth, that he has put his trust and bank account in the hands of the wrong woman, Ed manages to get a temporary job helping out in the shelter. It is when he is playing Santa Claus, helping ring the bell with Sister Violet, that it comes to him. Godís Fan Club, the perfect scam. People join the club for a nominal fee to have their letters answered by God through the closest thing to God on earth, Violet Smith.

Ed knows the public will accept anything if it is delivered through a physically perfect package, a package for which he himself has a dangerous appreciation. He knows abandoning Violet when the scam is up will be the hardest thing heís ever done. Heís fallen for her as easily as any mark heís ever hustled.

Darrell Bain, a humor writer whose first book focused on he and his wifeís adventures while operating a Christmas tree farm (Life On Santa Claus Lane), wrote Hotline To Heaven in response to his motherís complaint of "You never write romance!"

While he makes a commendable attempt to please his mother, this is definitely more of a humor piece than a romance. His tongue-in-cheek approach will be appreciated more by the male than the female reader. I enjoyed its incorrigible hero, the wide-eyed, luscious Violet and the suspense of seeing how it would play out for them in the end. Can he win the girl, save the scam and come out on top? Which leopard will change its spots in the end?

Reviewed by Joey Hill for Stateport Pilot News Southport, NC.
 



What happens when you cross the poster child for Scams-R-Us with Snow White? Well, Darrell Bain gives his readers a perfect example in his book HOTLINE TO HEAVEN. Ed Tanner is down on his luck. He's narrowly escaped criminal prosecution for his last scam bilking people from their hard earned money. And to top it all off, poetic justice has played her hand when a Las Vegas bimbo bilks him of his last dollars. He's now wandering the streets, looking for a free place to lay his head for the night.

Sister Violet Smith is a bell ringer for the Salvation Army. She's as pure as the driven snow and to Ed Tanner, must be the last virgin on the face of the earth. But her angelic face and glowing purity pierce his heart. He decides to stay at the Salvation Army and even tricks them into letting him stay a few days in exchange for dishwashing in order that he can get to know Violet Smith.

Violet has led a tragic life. She was raised by missionaries and schooled in all girls' schools. Her parents were tragically killed the year before. As they left all their worldly possessions to the Salvation Army, Violet suddenly became an orphan and penniless. The Salvation Army takes her as their employee in exchange for working for them. Violet has never been around men and had no idea how to handle herself with such a sinful prospect. Violet had saved all her earnings since the Salvation Army had paid all her living expenses.

It doesn't take long for Ed to convince Violet that he has a calling and she's included in that calling. He's to start God's Fan Club. And she's to be a spokesperson for this fan club. However, he didn't expect to fall in love with her! Throughout the startup of this club and the ensuing events, Mr. Bain gives his readers a glimpse into human greed, innocence turned wanton and jealousy at those that have. Ed shows his creativeness in thinking up new scams and in keeping one step ahead of the law.

Violet, although innocent, learns the joys of life, how to be a woman and stumbles on to how to perpetuate her own scams.

His style of writing includes lots of dialogue and a quick pace to the story. I thoroughly enjoyed this story and laughed at times so hard the family wondered what in the world I was crying over and hated to see the end. Hopefully Mr. Bain will continue with other misadventures of Ed and Violet. This book is my ticket into the Darrell Bain fan club!

Reviewed by Jan Crow for Sime~Gen Reviews.
 



Violet Smith is a complete innocent, brought up by a strict family and attending an all girl's school, she sees the good in everyone and after being orphaned, works for the local Salvation Army in Houston. She is just the front Ed Tanner needs for his latest scam.

Ed Tanner has been a scam artist for as long as he can remember. He's a natural extracting money from gullible people, keeping everything just this side of legal. When he meets Violet, down on his luck after being scammed himself, the greatest idea forms in his mind.

No-one would suspect Violet of being anything other than she appears, a young woman with the face and the heart of an angel. Telling her has been called by God, Ed reveals what his plan is. A fan club for God!

At first, Violet is a little sceptical, but soon comes to agree that God must have planned for them to meet and she agrees to use her meagre life savings to start the fan club. Violet will be God's "spokesperson", praying over the letters received and replying. Of course, only those who send in their "membership dues" will get an answer.

It takes off quicker than either of them could have imagined but then complications ensue, for nowhere in his plans had Ed ever thought he would fall in love.

...it was an enjoyable book and quite different from any I've read before. You're left on tenterhooks the whole time wondering if Violet will ever figure out that Ed is scamming all these people and wonder what she will do if she ever does find out. Will she stick by him or regret that she ever met the con-man?

You'll have to read the book to find out.

Reviewed by Annette Gisby, author of Drowning Rapunzel and Shadows of the Rose.

 

 

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