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This book is dedicated to my husband Larry, who has convinced himself I am brilliant, to my friend Belinda, who loved my story even though she is the toughest English teacher I know, and to my oldest, who is a great writer herself and has an eye for detail in proofing.

Singing River Publishing




Copyright © 2021 by Singing River Publishing

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the author, addressed “Attention: Permissions ” at


Florence, Alabama

First Edition



Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33



Theater seating was a macabre choice for a room used to witness an execution. Celia swallowed her nausea as she walked past several worn chairs, selecting one in the front row. The creaking of seats unfolding behind her was like scratches on a chalkboard. The closed curtains behind the glass were a muted pattern of maroon and navy blue, leftover from the 1990s.

Celia’s gaze dropped to the dark, sensible pumps she wore, willing the curtain to stay closed. Voices whispered behind her, but Celia listened to her breathing; she didn’t want to know what the voices were saying. The murders, the scandals, the stories, none of that mattered to Celia. Her friend was about to die.

Light falling over her shoes meant the curtains had opened. Look up, Celia thought. Look at her. Her gaze lifted just in time to see Natasha’s head turn toward her. The two women, one seated in front of the glass and one lying on the gurney behind the glass, barely nodded at each other.

An orderly stood over Natasha and inserted an intravenous line into her right arm.

Celia winced as her own right arm twitched.

She blinked and held her arm protectively as the same orderly walked to the opposite side of the gurney and inserted an additional line into Natasha’s left arm.

“The inmate has waived her right to a final statement.”

Natasha was still watching her. The actress smiled at Celia, and Celia mirrored her expression. When Natasha made a fist, Celia gripped the arm of her chair.

The fast-acting barbiturate came first. Its job was to render the inmate unconscious. Celia watched Natasha relax, and she looked away when the actress closed her eyes. She knew what came next – a paralytic, and then the poison. Someone behind a thin wall was pressing a series of pumps, and her friend would quietly suffer cardiac arrest.

In four counts, out four counts. Celia breathed robotically, watching the second-hand jerk slowly. With every movement, her heart rate accelerated, even as her friend’s heart slowed.

Four minutes after she closed her eyes, the physician and warden pronounced Natasha Bronlov dead from a lethal injection. The orderly disconnected the lines as the curtains began to close.

Not yet!

Celia pressed the glass as the room tilted. She swallowed bile and she was certain the others observing could hear the ringing in her ears.

“Can you stand?” Keith was beside her.

She nodded and allowed him to help her out of the creaky chair. They walked up the concrete steps and out the door.

“Are you okay?”

But Celia didn’t hear him. She was already stumbling toward the ladies’ room. She slammed the stall door and began retching as she bent over the toilet.

After the wave passed, Celia leaned against the stall door. There was no way she was sitting on the dirty floor in her suit. She bent over further, putting her head between her knees as she fought another wave. Except for the ringing in her ears, it was quiet.

That could have been me.

Chapter 1


I swear to God if that blowhard made me miss my flight...

Celia jogged to her gate, cursing the CEO she’d just interviewed, and was relieved to see that people were still boarding. As she flashed the attendant her boarding pass and headed down the jetway, her cell phone rang. It was her boss, John, micromanaging again.

“Celia Brockwell.”

“Hey, you on your way back yet? How was the interview? Did he cave?”

“I’m boarding the plane, John.”

“Good, so you got the story?”

“I always get the story. Can this wait? It’s been a long day.”

“Just checking,” he chuckled. “This is the biggest thing we’ve got this week.”

“It’s under control. You’ve got your lead story, and he’s gonna need more lawyers.”

“Good, as I said, you’re the biggest one we’ve got, as usual. I like to make sure.”

"I heard you the first time, John.” Celia rolled her eyes. "I've got it, John. Look, the flight attendant is walking this way. Cell phones have to be off now." Without waiting for an answer, she ended the call and dropped the phone into her briefcase.

“Don’t you hate these small planes?” The older lady beside her remarked. “No business class.”

“They aren’t built for comfort, that’s for sure.” Celia adjusted a small neck pillow.

“You’re smart, sleeping through takeoff. It always makes me nervous.” She rifled through her purse. “Gum? It keeps your ears from popping.”

“Thank you.” Celia took a piece.

As the attendant droned on about safety and oxygen masks, Celia tried a power nap. Dozing kept her anxiety at bay. Strange that she still felt it after a decade of flying.

“Takeoffs and landings are the worst,” she’d told a therapist years before.

“It’s because you aren’t in control.” That was the therapist’s 200-dollars-an-hour conclusion.

Celia glanced over at the older woman, who was engrossed in a book. Then she pulled out her tablet and opened her interview notes. As she listened to the interview recording, she began a loose outline for the article she would

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