Exit Strategy, the latest thriller by Linda L. Richards
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Exit Strategy by Linda L. Richards
A shattered life. A killer for hire. Can she stop?
Her assignments were always to kill someone. That’s what a hitman—or hitwoman—is paid to do, and that is what she does. Then comes a surprise assignment—keep someone alive!
She is hired to protect Virginia Martin, the stunning and brilliant chief technology officer of a hot startup with an innovation that will change the world. This new job catches her at a time in her life when she’s hanging on by a thread. Despair and hopelessness—now more intense than she’d felt after the tragic loss of her family—led her to abruptly launch this career. But over time, the life of a hired killer is decimating her spirit and she keeps thinking of ending her life.
She’s confused about the “why” of her new assignment but she addresses her mission as she always does, with skill and stealth, determined to keep this young CTO alive in the midst of the twinned worlds of innovation and high finance.
Some people have to die as she discharges her responsibly to protect this superstar woman amid the crumbling worlds of money and future technical wonders.
The spirit of an assassin—and her nameless dog—permeates this struggle to help a young woman as powerful forces build to deny her.
Fans of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Dexter will love Exit Strategy.
To purchase Exit Strategy, click on any of the following links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads
Published by: Oceanview Publishing
Publication Date: May 17th 2022
Number of Pages: 320
ISBN: 1608094227 (ISBN13: 9781608094226)
Guest Post by Linda L. Richards
ITTBC — In the Time Before Covid — I was traveling a lot. Like really a lot. I had three homes. Vancouver, Canada. Paso Robles, California. And Phoenix, Arizona. I never had so many shoes! Lots of shoes to deal with all of the challenges of my multi-faceted lifestyle. I could make it sound tiring, but I have to be honest: it was awesome. I liked it a lot.
In that period, I was often on a plane. And many of the flights would be hops. Vancouver to San Francisco to San Luis Obispo. Or Vancouver to Dallas (the made no sense to me, but still) to Phoenix. And I’d always be on deadline. And I’d always be working on a book.
I noticed this: if I had a notebook out, and a pen, no one would make me put it away. Like, if I was working on my laptop, I’d have to stow it for a while. But my notebook? No. I could just keep on going. And so, after a couple of decades of writing books on my computer, I started working in longhand. And something magical happened. I found myself able to get to the place I needed to go much more easily than I could on my computer, especially in an era where social media or other even dumber things might pull my attention. With my notebook out, and my pen in hand I discovered I could sink back into my story in a heartbeat. And just stay there. It seemed like a more pure and direct connection.
All of that feels like magic, but it is not. Plenty of studies have now been done about the way our brains respond to the words we write on the page versus those we tap on our devices. I’ll let you do the Googling, but when you do, you will see there is no debate: there are a lot of advantages to writing in longhand, and very few for doing it the other way around.
So I have written the first drafts of my last four novels almost entirely in longhand. It looks like this: my full manuscript is in a Google doc, accessible from any of my devices in the cloud. I sit down with very little idea of what I am going to write that day. I have a quick look at my Google doc to see where I left off, get pen and paper in front of me and… begin. No self-judgment is allowed. None is necessary, because I know I’ll be skating past this material again when I transcribe it later or on the following day.
Not every line is golden. Not every thread is the one I maybe should have followed. But the connection with my mind seems to me to be more direct. Is it more work? Okay… maybe? Because everyone knows that a big part of writing is rewriting and with this method, I’ve set myself to do a lot of rewriting right off the hop.
Like almost everything about writing, none of this will work for everyone. But it’s certainly been working for me. The other up-side: you never have to take a break to recharge your device. Your notebook and pen are ever ready to go.
Excerpt Exit Strategy by Linda L. Richards
He proves to be a genial companion. I’d never doubted that he would. Across the table from him in a romantic restaurant, I can see his pale eyes are sparked with amber. Or is it gold? Maybe it depends on your perspective. A trick of the light.
So much of life, I’ve found, are those things: perspective and also light. Or maybe that’s saying exactly the same thing.
He tells me he’s in “finance,” a term that is vague enough to accommodate a whole range of activities. I’ve done some research, though, and I know he is a hedge fund manager; that his apartment in this town is a playpen: weekends only. I know he is based in the City and that he flies down here for the occasional weekend, especially since his divorce, which was messy. He doesn’t say that: “messy.” But when he briefly skates over that episode of his life—the period of time in which “we” became “me” —he makes a face that is unpleasant, like he’s got a bad taste in his mouth. I let it ride. Where we are going, it won’t make a difference.
He tells me funny, self-deprecating stories. I reflect that he is someone I would date—in another lifetime. If I dated. If I still had a heart.
“This is a fun first date,” he says in that moment, as though he has read my mind. His thick dark hair flops over his eye endearingly, and my heart gives a little flutter. I’d try to stop it, but I don’t hate the feeling. That flutter. It feels good, in this moment, to simply feel alive.
“Yesterday, Brett. Wasn’t that our first date?” I ask, more for interaction than anything real. Because, of course, the few moments on a rooftop we shared were not a date by any standard. Especially since I was trying to think how to kill him for part of that time. But he doesn’t know that, so maybe it doesn’t count?
“Nope,” he says firmly. “That was a meeting. This,” he indicates our wine and the delicate nibbles between us, “this is a date.”
“How does it end?” I ask pertly. Knowing the answer. Knowing he doesn’t. Wanting to know what he thinks.
He looks at me searchingly for a moment, then smiles raffishly, a certain boyish charm bubbling through. It’s a practiced look. He’s used that smile before, to good effect, I can tell. He’s probably done that his whole life. I don’t dislike him for any of that. It distresses me slightly that I don’t dislike him at all. It would be beneficial to me if I could find it in myself to dislike him.
“It ends well,” he says. A beat. And then: “It ends as it should.”
There is more conversation, just like that. An ancient dance.
After a while he excuses himself to go to the bathroom.
Once he’s out of sight, I slip a vial out of my purse. It contains a powder I made myself. Oleander flowers, dried, crushed and mixed with salt and a few strong spices, intended to cover the plant’s bitter taste. I don’t know how well those spices mask the taste. It’s not as though I can test it, and none of my customers have ever complained.
I quickly sprinkle some of this concoction judiciously on the food that remains. I do it using natural motions. Anyone watching would think I was eating. A little OCD, maybe, but it wouldn’t look anywhere close to what is true. I mix it quickly into the salsa, the guacamole. I salt the chips with it. Sprinkle it on what is left of the chicken wings. I don’t dust the calamari. I’d noted he hadn’t been eating that. It will give me a safe spot to nibble, not that I plan on needing much time to eat. All of this will happen quickly, my experience tells me that.
Before he returns, I have this moment of absolute indecision. I very nearly call out to a nearby server; have her clear the table. I’m not even super sure why I don’t. All of this is going well. Textbook. And yet, I have qualms. Why? He’s lovely of course, there’s that. But beyond the way he looks or how he looks at me. Not long ago, things had happened that had made me resolve to do my life in a different way. Then I’d gotten an assignment and instinct had more or less kicked in. And it was easy to reason around it and to rationalize: if not me, then someone else, right? There would always be some other person ready to do the job. Viewed in that light, there was no earthly reason for me not to do what I do.
I don’t call a server. And the moment passes.
He comes back looking refreshed, like he’s maybe splashed water on his face or combed his hair, which is behaving for now. Not, for the moment, flopping into his eyes. I figure he probably did both—splashed and combed. He looks good.
He smiles when his eyes meet mine. A 24-karat smile that lights his whole face. My heart gives a little bump. “Fuck,” I say. But it isn’t out loud.
He takes his seat and starts talking again, picking up where we left off. He is easy. Comfortable. But I’m having trouble tracking the conversation; my mind is elsewhere. I’m thinking about what my next steps will be. After. And does it matter what he says right now? Really? If it does, it won’t matter for long.
I try not to follow his actions. Try instead to listen to what he is saying. These words will be his last ones, I know that. And part of me thinks I should do him that courtesy. At least. The courtesy of attention. But it’s difficult to follow his words now. I watch one corn chip as he picks it up, dips it into salsa. I watch him consume it, and it feels like all of it is happening in slow motion. All the while I am listening to his words—I am! —participating in the conversation, not wanting to miss any cues. And wanting to honor the small amount of time he has left. It’s all I can do.
The chip is consumed. I detect no reaction to the bitterness, so that’s a plus. He picks up a chicken wing, swirls it in the blue cheese dip, which makes me realize that, in my haste, I’d missed an opportunity by skipping doctoring the dip. He consumes the wing while we talk; a slight sucking, the meat peeling gently off the bone, all the while, the words flow, though it doesn’t come off as rude. He seems adept at eating and talking so everything stays and sounds as it should.
I listen closely, interjecting as appropriate when I think it’s necessary, all the while watching for . . . signs. I detect nothing until another wing and several chips later. His eyes are suddenly glassy. Sweat stands on his forehead. His hands shake.
“Brett, are you all right?” I ask, but it is pure form. I know he is far from all right. All right no longer exists for him.
“I don’t know. I’ve never . . . never felt like this before.”
I give it another minute. A little less than that. I know it’s all we’ve got. I make the right sounds, the correct motions of my hand. Even when no one is watching, people are watching. Physically, I am unremarkable. A middle-aged woman, so some would say I am invisible, certainly there is nothing about my appearance that makes me stand out. But there will be a future, when questions are asked and people are perhaps looking for clues. I don’t want them to be looking for me.
When he collapses, face directly into salsa, I scream, as one does. Not bone chilling, but an alarmed scream. Our server trots over, clearly distressed. The manager is on her heels. All as expected: it’s pretty terrible for business when customers collapse into their food.
“My date . . . he’s . . . taken ill . . . I don’t know what to do” etcetera. All as one would expect. I don’t deviate from the script.
An ambulance is called. Paramedics arrive quickly. The manager has already pulled Brett from the salsa, but it’s clear he is not all right. They take him away, one of the paramedics offering to let me ride in the ambulance. I decline.
“I’ll follow you,” I say, heading for my rental. And I start out following, but a few blocks from the restaurant I make the turn I know will lead me to the freeway and then the airport. My bag is in the trunk and it’s all mapped out: I am ready to go.
With this moment in mind, I’d left a ballcap on the passenger seat before I entered the restaurant. It is emblazoned with the logo of a local team. While I drive, I push my hair into the cap and wiggle out of the jacket I know I’ll leave behind. These are simple changes—hat on, jacket off—but it will change my appearance enough. I don’t anticipate anyone will be looking for me, but I like to think forward. Just in case.
I have no way of knowing for sure what will happen to him, but I can guess. From the amount of food I watched him consume, I figure he’ll probably have a heart attack before he reaches the hospital and will likely arrive DOA. And at the age and heft of him, and with a high stress job, they will probably not test for poison. And the woman with him at the restaurant? I figure no one will be looking for a girl who doesn’t follow up on the date that ended in hell.
From there it all goes like it’s being managed by a metronome: tick tock, tick tock. Arrive at airport. Drop off rental car. Get through security. Get to plane while they’re boarding. Claim aisle seat at the back of the plane. Keep my eyes peeled for both watchers or people who might recognize me from the airport. But everything goes exactly as it should. No watchers this time. No one looking at me in ways I don’t understand. In fact, everything is perfect. Everything is exactly as it should be. Except.
Linda L Richards
Linda L. Richards is a journalist, photographer and the author of 15 books, including three series of novels featuring strong female protagonists.
She is the former publisher of Self-Counsel Press and the founder and publisher of January Magazine.
Linda’s 2021 novel, ENDINGS, was recently optioned by a major studio for series production.
To learn more about Linda, click on any of the following links: LindaLRichards.com, Goodreads, BookBub – @linda1841, Instagram – @lindalrichards, Twitter – @lindalrichards, Facebook – @lindalrichardsauthor & TikTok – @lindalrichards
Visit all the Stops on the Exit Strategy Tour!
05/16 Guest post @ The Book Divas Reads
05/17 Guest post @ Fredas Voice
05/18 Interview podcast @ Blog Talk Radio
05/18 Review @ Just Reviews
05/19 Showcase @ Books, Ramblings, and Tea
05/22 Showcase @ Nesies Place
05/24 Review @ Savings in Seconds
05/25 Review @ Elaine Sapp
05/31 Interview @ Quiet Fury Books
06/01 Review @ Waterside Kennels Mysteries
06/01 Showcase @ 411 ON BOOKS, AUTHORS, AND PUBLISHING NEWS
06/01 Showcase @ The Authors Harbor
06/02 Showcase @ Celticladys Reviews
06/03 Showcase @ Brooke Blogs
06/05 Guest post @ The Mystery of Writing
06/07 Review @ Pat Fayo Reviews
06/08 Review @ fundinmental
06/09 Review @ read_betweenthecovers
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Silver Falchion Award Finalist, Best Investigator 2020
Foreword INDIE Award Finalist, Best Mystery 2020
The Foundation of Plot, a Wait, Wait, Don’t Query (Yet!) guidebook. Out July 19.