Release Blitz & Excerpt: Plenty of Fish in the Sicilian Sea + Giveaway

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Plenty of Fish in the Sicilian Sea
by Stefania Hartley

Heat Rating: Simmering

Sexometer: 1
Word Count: 43,630
Book Length: SHORT NOVEL
Pages: 179
Genres: CHICK LIT, COMEDY AND HUMOUR, CONTEMPORARY, EROTIC ROMANCE, THRILLERS AND SUSPENSE

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Book Description

 

Sicilian marine biologist Serena Ingotta has never understood men, but when she uncovers a mafia factory polluting the sea, it only adds to the things that confuse her.

Twenty-four-year-old Sicilian scientist Serena Ingotta has always misunderstood men, from her workaholic anti-mafia judge father to the Catholic seminarian she’s hopelessly in love with. Interning in a marine biology lab alongside her irritating colleague Enrico, she discovers an illegal polluting factory that is possibly connected with the mafia.

When it turns out that their boss is going to cover up the story, she publicly denounces him at a science conference and gets expelled from the lab. Alone and ostracized, Serena’s attempts to find love and expose the factory seem to be failing epically until she finally realizes that everything she has been searching for was just under her nose.

Reader advisory: This book contains instances of minors with firearms.

Excerpt

Serena jangled the lab keys inside her bag and smiled. The cheerful clink told her that, even without a salary, a job description or a coat peg, she belonged there. The sound echoed in the silent corridor. There was no tapping of wooden soles, no irritated voices, no whispered gossip at that time in the morning. There was just her, the pickled coelacanths and the embalmed, startled pufferfish to greet her through the glass cabinets.

She stuck the key into the lab door and tried to turn it, but it was already unlocked. Strange… I’m usually the first in. As she opened the door, she found the tall green shutters gaping open and a gust of wind slammed the windows shut with a tinkling of glass.

“Hi, Sery!”

“Enrico?” He was perched on his stool, hunched over the wooden workbench with his grubby lab coat unbuttoned, as attractive as the Hunchback of Notre Dame. He straightened, turned toward her and blinked as if he were only just waking up. He usually turned up around ten o’clock. “How come you’re here so early?”

“Just to spook you. No, not really. I just suddenly thought, Shit, we have to finish our research by the end of the week, and I freaked out. Are you freaked out too?”

“A bit. Mostly about your sudden interest in our work. I thought I’d never get any help from you.”

He smiled. “I’m here to the rescue, baby.” He thrust a fist in the air, and Serena groaned inwardly. He was even wearing a Superman T-shirt.

She took off her motorbike helmet and put it down on the floor under the coat pegs. “Maybe we’ll get our own pegs after the conference.”

He shook his head. Coat pegs were for staff, not unpaid interns. “I wouldn’t hold my breath, Sery. We’re out of filter paper and we can’t order more until next year’s funding arrives. I don’t think either of us is getting a job here anytime soon.”

“Hold on. If we’re out of filter paper, what are you using for filtering?” she asked, pointing to the funnel dripping a red liquid into a conical flask on their workbench.

“Hand towels.” He grinned.

She clutched her head. “You can’t do that! No wonder our results—”

“Just joking.” He grinned, winking. “I’ve cut the discs in half so we have enough. If you pour carefully, they do the job just fine.”

“Please, don’t make a joke like that again. Not now.” They only had until Friday to persuade their boss to submit their research to the upcoming Marine Biology Conference. If they presented their research at the conference, they could put it on their CVs and maybe they’d get a research bursary or—if dreams ever came true—a permanent research position. Two years of unpaid work in Schettino’s lab would not have been in vain. “Right. Let’s get to work.”

By the time Giovanna and Titti arrived after dropping their kids off at school, Serena and Enrico had dissected the fish samples, isolated the gill tissues and filtered the extracts. Giovanna and Titti were research associates—with coat pegs, name badges and monthly salaries—but they were too nice for Serena to wish that they accidentally cut their own heads off while dissecting a fish so that she could have their jobs.

Cornetti to see us through today,” Giovanna announced, putting down a parcel wrapped with the paper from the café downstairs on a nearby bench. The heavenly buttery scent of the Italian croissants temporarily flushed the smell of the fish samples from the room. Yes, Giovanna is definitely too lovely to hate.

“Shall we have a break?” Enrico suggested hopefully.

“I want to see the spectrophotometer’s results first, but you can,” Serena said.

Enrico hesitated but picked up a cuvette with fish juice instead of a cornetto with custard and walked over to the spectrophotometer in the far corner of the room. Enrico called out the machine’s readings and Serena entered them into her laptop.

“How are things going here?” Professor Schettino suddenly appeared behind them. The boss never arrived before eleven o’clock. He must be early because of the conference deadline.

“We’re getting together the last results,” Enrico said confidently.

“Great. I want to see all your results by lunchtime.”

“Sure.”

After that deadline was issued, the cornetti weren’t mentioned anymore.

Just before midday, Schettino shouted from his office, “Enrico, Serena, are you done?”

They looked at each other. “Almost!” Enrico called back.

It was a very early ‘lunchtime’ for Italy. They entered the last few results into their table and clicked on the button that would create a curve of best fit. But what came out was not a curve by any standard.

“I’ve calibrated the machine three times!” Enrico protested, waving his arm in the air.

“I don’t think our results are wrong. The repeats are very close to each other.”

“Then why does our data make no sense?”

“It does make sense. Negative results disprove the hypothesis.”

Enrico twisted his mouth. “Negative results aren’t exciting enough to be presented at a conference.”

“Schettino will agree that science doesn’t have to be sensational. Come… Let’s show him.” She got up with her laptop and marched to Schettino’s office-cave. Enrico followed her. “Here are our results,” she announced, putting her laptop down on their boss’ desk, which was scattered with printouts crossed through and scribbled on in red pen. Enrico stopped on the threshold and leaned against the door jamb.

Schettino adjusted his reading glasses, put down the red pen and looked intently at the graph. “Ah,” he said, pushing his wheelie chair back and dropping his glasses to look intently at Serena.

Serena waited for a more comprehensive comment, possibly with some indication of his appreciation.

“So, what’s your conclusion?” he asked, shrugging.

“That there’s no correlation between heavy metal concentration in fish and distance from the shore.”

Enrico stepped into the room. “We’ve calibrated the instruments before every batch of measurements, we’ve repeated each reading at least three times and…we’ve worn gloves.”

“Uhm”—Schettino pursed his lips—“perhaps you need to plot against depth instead of distance from the shore.”

“Why? What’s wrong with our results as they are?” This was not how she had imagined the conversation would go.

“Not impressive enough to go to a conference. The selection committee won’t give you even a five-minute slot to present it. Nobody is interested in you having an idea and proving that it was wrong, Serena. I don’t care what you plot your results against, so long as you find a correlation of some sort. Otherwise, I won’t submit your work to the conference. It’s as simple as that.” He stood up, which made him a lot taller than her—but not Enrico.

“But the submission deadline is on Friday,” Enrico protested.

“You don’t have to come to this conference. There’ll be many others.”

But we’ve worked for two years with the promise of being allowed to submit to this conference.

“We’ll turn the research around by Friday.”

Schettino smiled. “I’m looking forward to seeing it.”

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About the Author

Stefania Hartley

Stefania Hartley, also known as The Sicilian Mama, was born in Sicily and immediately started growing, but not very much. She left her sunny island after falling head over heels in love with an Englishman, and she’s lived all over the world with him and their three children.

Having finally learnt English, she enjoyed it so much that she started writing stories and nobody has been able to stop her since. She loves to write about hot and sunny places like her native Sicily, and she especially likes it when people fall in love.

Her short stories have been longlisted, commended and won prizes. Plenty of Fish in the Sicilian Sea is her second novel, after Sun, Stars and Limoncello.

You can find out more about Stefania on her website, and on the Sicilian Mama’s Blog. You can also listen to Stefania’s podcast.

Giveaway

Enter to win a fabulous gift package and a FREE Stefania Hartley romance book!

Stefania Hartley’s Plenty of Fish in the Sicilian Sea

STEFANIA HARTLEY IS GIVING AWAY THIS FABULOUS PRIZE TO ONE LUCKY WINNER. ENTER HERE FOR YOUR CHANCE TO WIN A LOVELY GIFT PACKAGE AND GRAB YOUR FREE STEFANIA HARTLEY ROMANCE BOOK! Notice: This competition ends on 26th January 2021 at 5pm GMT. Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.

Book Blitz & Excerpt: The Heavenly Hazelnut Murder + Giveaway

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The Heavenly Hazelnut Murder

by CC Dragon

General Release Date: 5th January 2021

Heat Rating: Simmering
Format: EBOOK
ISBN: 978-1-83943-403-7
Sexometer: 1
Word Count: 54,935
Language: English
Book Length: NOVEL
Pages: 216
Genres: COMEDY AND HUMOUR, CONTEMPORARY, CRIME AND MYSTERY, SWEET ROMANCE

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Book Description

Everyone has secrets…even a pastor.

Life had been back to normal in Sweet Grove, with smoothie sales up and murders down to zero. With Gran’s shop doing well, Belle helps her best friend by tending bar at the Honey Buckle whenever needed. Belle tries her best to like Pastor Luke, who she’s been dating for the last few weeks, but when she finds out he’s been less than genuine, things end badly. Their break-up is epic gossip all around the small town.

When the pastor turns up dead, people rush to suspect her. Apparently, their fight about her spending so much time in a bar was overheard. Belle knows she didn’t do it, but who would kill a pastor? Who else would have a motive? With the handsome but romantically complicated sheriff asking her a lot of questions, Belle decides she needs to get to the bottom of it ASAP.

This had better be the last murder in Sweet Grove, or Belle’s amateur sleuthing might become a habit…

Reader advisory: This book contains references to parental abandonment, off-page murder and brief references to domestic abuse and infidelity.

Excerpt

“Harry!” I shouted across the back of the Honey Buckle bar. “Keg change now, please!”

One of Katie’s brothers gave me a thumbs up and went to the back.

“Busy?” Lurlene teased as she nursed a margarita.

“As a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest, thanks for your concern,” I replied to my old high school nemesis. She and I had an uneasy truce, or she was being fake-nice. Sometimes it was hard to tell. In the south, people were nice when they were insulting a person to their face.

She smiled and glanced at my hands as I set down fresh coasters. “I could fix up your nails. A nice French tip or something. Clean but to actually show you’re a lady.”

“Thanks, but I do too much baking with Gran. I can’t risk any chips coming off in the dough,” I replied.

“Wear gloves. That’s how real places prep food. Yuck,” Lurlene said.

“Everything we do is homemade to the highest standards. Gran is a clean freak and you know it. But gloves are a good idea,” I admitted. “We use them at the shop, of course, but a lot is made at home.”

Katie sighed. “This is cute, you two actually talking nice for a minute, and we’re all happy you started cosmetology school, Lurlene, but Belle has customers. She’s here to work. Get yourself a life.”

Lurlene glared at Katie. That wasn’t normal for Katie at all. She got firm when needed with people who overindulged, but she’d never snap at paying customers. Maybe I was just off today?

“Sorry, it’s hard to be nice to customers and be efficient. We were cackling like hens. Where’s Martha?” I asked Katie. I had a degree in hospitality but the small town south had its own rules about being nice. I missed the city for the anonymity and the money. Still, Gran had had a few spells and needed someone around. My parents had run off after I was born, and my grandfather was dead, so it was down to me. I’d never minded being an only child before and I loved Gran to bits, but it’d be nice to have someone to share the pressure with—to run options with. But no, there was just me.

Martha, another friend from high school, was working tonight too. Katie pointed to the tables of thirsty patrons and I caught a glimpse of Martha in the crowd. “She’s got the tables now. You’ve got new guys at the bar. Keep ’em coming.”

I turned and smiled at the new guys. “What’s your poison?”

“Four beers,” one ordered.

I popped open four bottles of beer.

“We wanted tap,” he said, like I was an idiot.

I grinned. “People in hell want ice water. Keg is dead. I’m waiting for a change. You want it now? Then you get the bottle. Next round will be tap.”

They grumbled, but I kept a smile plastered on my face. More complaining and they might get around half off, but I wasn’t giving it away because we were busy.

Martha walked up with a tray of empties. “Sorry, my ex called twice. Like he can’t watch his own kids for one night.”

Harry carried out a keg. “Make way, ladies. I’m here to rescue the bar.”

“How helpful.” Martha blushed.

“You could’ve checked the kegs before opening and been a real knight in shining armor,” I scolded.

“Have you met my sister? We’re going to waste the last five glasses in one keg because it’s close to change? That’s not how you make money,” Harry warned.

Katie poked me in the arm. “He’s right. Let him work, and you hit the blender. Girls’ night in the corner and they want another round of margaritas.”

“On it. Strawberry again?” I enjoyed the blended drinks. It felt like making smoothies at my own shop.

“Yep, then we’ll be out of strawberries, but they won’t care. If they want another round, switch them out to lime.” Katie waved it off and her many bangles jingled.

She looked like she should be running a bar. Always dressed like a cowgirl, Katie wore a tight T-shirt that promoted her establishment. Big jewelry and a big smile were part of her ensemble. Her family was a mishmash of a train wreck, like mine, so we’d been besties forever.

While Katie filled Martha’s orders for the tables, I blended up a bunch of frozen cocktails. Harry set up the keg and drew himself one.

I shot him a look. “Saw that. Not when you’re working.”

“Gotta test my work for quality.” He grinned. “It’s mostly foam, it’s for the customers. They’ll get a good pull.”

“Working okay?” I teased.

He nodded.

“Great. I think we’re stocked now up here, so take those dirty glasses with you to the back. Run a load of glasses, then we might need you bouncing. People seem to want a keg attached to their mouths.”

“You’re as bossy as my sister,” he said.

“I’m happy to run the dishwasher if you want to tend bar. Bouncing, that’s not me. I’m a tiny blonde. They’d just laugh at me.” I checked my image in the mirror behind the bar. My ponytail was still high and tight. Makeup was fine. I wore a Honey Buckle T-shirt, jeans and gym shoes with good support. What? No one saw my feet behind the bar. When I went out, I could rock heels like any good southern girl, but the right shoes for the right job…

“Fine. I don’t like dealing with people. I got a new job anyway. Day job,” Harry said.

“Congrats. But your sister needs you now and that’s what family is for.” I nudged the tray of empty glasses at him to clear.

He did and disappeared in the back.

I loaded the margaritas up on a fresh tray as Martha picked up another one ready for her tables. “He’s so nice,” Martha said.

“Harry? Yeah, a prince. He’ll want a hug for running the dishwasher. Need me to take these?” I asked.

“I’ll do it. You spill,” Katie cut in.

It was true. I’m not the best with a tray. When I tried to waitress once, I failed miserably and ended up working in coffee shops. “I slung coffee at Starbucks for years, but those cups generally had lids. Why does coffee always have a lid and alcohol so rarely does? Seems like people drinking booze would spill more,” I pondered.

Katie chuckled. “They spill it, they want more, so they’ll just buy more. Better for business not to have lids. Coffee people would just demand a free refill.”

“You really did find the perfect business to run,” I teased my best friend.

“Thanks. Gotta go introduce the band. Gus is sitting with them sometime tonight…hope that’s okay,” Katie said.

“Sure. I’ve been dating Luke for a few weeks. Gus is old news,” I said. Gus was the local sheriff who’d been flirting with me since he moved into town. Unfortunately, his past was more complicated than he’d let on. Everyone had a past, but if a man doesn’t ’fess up and the other woman still has the ring, it’s just too much drama for me. Even if the man was tall, handsome, musical and seemed good at heart.

Katie arched an eyebrow but headed off. As the band played, without Gus as of yet, the crowd calmed down to nurse their beverages instead of downing them like they were dying of thirst.

Martha and Katie made it to the bar and we restocked a bit before enjoying the music.

“What happened with Gus?” Martha asked.

“Nothing, I told you…we were solving a murder together. We also happened to run into his ex-fiancée at a dive bar. She gave him the ring back. Very weird. But I’m not looking for that sort of drama or a guy that fresh off of a super-serious relationship,” I said.

“You and Pastor Luke are a couple now? Rebound maybe, but it’ll never work,” Lurlene snarked.

“Oh, goodie, are we back to the mean girls thing?” I teased.

Lurlene shook her head. “I’m being nice here. See, people always think I’m being mean when I’m trying to be constructively kind and give them a heads-up on the rest of the world. How people really think. You’re too sweet and Katie is too polite to tell you, but the pastor isn’t going to get serious about someone with your history. Your past—it’s not your fault but it’s not a secret.”

“That’s a pretty crappy pastor,” Martha remarked then waved back at a table signaling her. “I’m going to make a round.”

“Thanks, Martha. Lurlene, quit it,” Katie warned.

“No, go on. A pastor is going to judge me for my parents running off after I was born and leaving me with Gran? They were young and clearly not ready to be parents. That’s not my fault. I was raised right by my grandparents,” I defended myself.

“That is all true. You even try extra hard to be a Goody Two-shoes, and he’s not going to judge you for their behavior…he’s going to judge you for yours. Running off to the big city alone,” she pointed out.

“Otherwise known as going to college,” I replied.

“Not all colleges are big-city ones. Plus you’re working in a bar. You’re simply not pastor’s wife material,” she said.

“We’re just dating! I’m not looking for a husband! Hey, has anyone seen Big Ed? I know I don’t work every night, but he was a regular and he’s been gone awhile.”

“He’s a long-haul trucker. He’ll be gone a week or so at a time. Then he’s home for a week or just a weekend. Give it a week or so and he’ll turn up—he always does.” Katie waved it off.

“Nice trying to dodge the topic. You’d be better off with a guy like Gus.” Lurlene winked.

Just then, Gus sat at the bar. “Are my ears burning?’

“Katie mentioned you’d be sitting in with the band. Guess you’re late,” I replied.

“Sitting in doesn’t mean their whole set. What’s this I hear about your grandmother letting the musicians park on her land?” he asked.

I lifted a shoulder. “She’s nice to people. They needed a place to park and I guess the trailer lots around town were full. That or the guys made too much noise.”

“Very charitable of her. Any trouble, you call me.” Luke appeared through the crowd like he’d been lurking and listening.

I did my best to mask my surprise. He sat on the other side of Lurlene and another guy sat next him. There was enough of a resemblance between them that I knew he had to be a cousin or some relation.

“Hey, what can I get you two?” I asked.

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About the Author

CC Dragon

A loyal Chicago girl who loves deep dish pizza, the Cubs, and The Lake, her close fam moved to TN so she ends up visiting the South more than she ever planned! CC Dragon is fascinated by the magical and paranormal as well as the quirks of the south. She loves creating characters who solve mysteries. A coffee and chocolate addict who loves fast cars, she’s still looking for a hero who likes to cook and clean…so she can write more!

Check out CC Dragon’s website and follow her on Instagram.

Giveaway

Enter to win a fabulous Goody Bag and a FREE CC Dragon mystery book!

CC Dragon’s The Heavenly Hazelnut Murder Giveaway

CC DRAGON IS GIVING AWAY THIS FABULOUS PRIZE TO ONE LUCKY WINNER. ENTER HERE FOR YOUR CHANCE TO WIN A LOVELY GOODIE BAG AND GRAB YOUR FREE CC DRAGON MYSTERY BOOK! Notice: This competition ends on 13th January 2021 at 5pm GMT. Competition hosted by Totally Entwined Group.