Hi guys! We have Cordelia Kingsbridge visiting today with her new release Kill Game, Cordelia shares a brilliant guest post with us, a great excerpt and a fantastic giveaway, so check out the post and leave a comment to enter the giveaway! <3 ~Pixie~
Homicide detective Levi Abrams is barely holding his life together. He’s reeling from the fallout of a fatal shooting, and his relationship with his boyfriend is crumbling. The last thing he’s prepared for is a serial killer stalking the streets of Las Vegas. Or how he keeps getting thrown into the path of annoyingly charming bounty hunter Dominic Russo.
Dominic likes his life free of complications. That means no tangling with cops—especially prickly, uptight detectives. But when he stumbles across one of the Seven of Spades’s horrifying crime scenes, he can’t let go, despite Levi’s warnings to stay away.
The Seven of Spades is ruthless and always two moves ahead. Worst of all, they’ve taken a dangerously personal interest in Levi and Dominic. Forced to trust each other, the two men race to discover the killer’s identity, revealing hidden truths along the way and sparking a bond neither man expected. But that may not be enough to protect them.
This killer likes to play games, and the deck is not stacked in Levi and Dominic’s favor.
by Cordelia Kingsbridge
There are multiple terms for repeated problematic gambling that causes significant problems or distress: pathological gambling (the old DSM IV-TR diagnosis that is no longer used), gambling disorder (the newer official DSM-V diagnosis), gambling addiction, problem gambling, and more. In Kill Game, Dominic identifies most with the term compulsive gambling.
As I was conceptualizing the series, I knew from the beginning that Levi’s series-long internal struggle, his arc of personal development, would center around his battle with anger management. I had a harder time figuring out what Dominic’s demon was. Nothing felt quite right when I weighed it against my concept of his personality and background. I could sense there was a heavy weight there, a character-defining challenge lurking just out of sight, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. And until I did, I couldn’t get his character to gel.
In retrospect, it seems odd that it took me so long to figure out he was in recovery for compulsive gambling, seeing as the series is set in Las Vegas. But problematic gambling is so often misunderstood, minimized, and overlooked in Western culture that it simply didn’t occur to me at first.
When I was in graduate school for social work, one of the adjunct professors in the department had a private practice that specialized in treating gambling disorders. She taught a class called “Models of Intervention”, and she always used gambling patients as case studies and examples for every model. When I began to consider writing a character struggling with those same issues, my old notes and materials from that class were where I started. I would never have thought they’d come into use this way years later!
I also dove back into the journals in the field, catching up on the most recent research on gambling disorders from perspectives in social work, psychology, and psychiatry. The most important aspect of my research, however, was reading stories from real-life people who were dealing with problematic gambling – their highs, their lows, their reasons for gambling, their motivations for entering recovery, their triggers for relapse.
My goal with the Seven of Spades series is to portray Dominic’s struggle with compulsive gambling in an authentic and respectful manner, while also hopefully shedding light on an issue that’s often ignored. Many people have difficulty accepting a medical model for behavioral addictions, but just like abuse and dependence on alcohol or other substances, gambling disorder is a complex health problem deserving of proper treatment and maintenance.
If you or someone you know has a problem with gambling, the National Council on Problem Gambling has a 24-hour hotline that can help: 1-800-522-4700.
“Are you going to say it, or am I?” Martine asked.
Levi sighed, studying the body in front of them. Phillip Dreyer was sitting upright in his fancy ergonomic office chair, his forearms propped on his broad mahogany desk as if welcoming a client—though the image was somewhat spoiled by the way his head lolled back and to one side, his throat slit from ear to ear in a gaping arc. Blood soaked the front of his designer suit and pooled at the edge of the desk.
His eyes were still open.
“It’s possible that we have a serial killer on our hands,” Levi said.
Martine immediately took up the position of devil’s advocate. “Two bodies with similar MOs doesn’t mean a serial killer. It’s not even technically a pattern.” Her accent was pure Flatbush, with none of the lingering Haitian lilt from her childhood that shone through when she was excited.
Levi moved closer to the desk. Out of habit, he kept his hands in his pockets, though he was already wearing nitrile gloves.
All around him, the spacious office was abuzz with activity: uniformed officers chatting at the door, the photographer snapping shots from every angle, crime scene investigators trawling the room in the grid pattern they’d established. Levi ignored it all, focused on one detail in particular.
Peeking out from the breast pocket of Dreyer’s jacket, spattered with dripping blood but still legible, was a single playing card—the seven of spades.
Coming around the side of the desk, Levi saw that the bloody pocket square which had originally resided in Dreyer’s pocket had been dropped carelessly on the floor next to him. He noted its position and turned back toward Martine. “Seven of spades. Same as Billy Campbell.”
“Which is creepy,” she said, “but let’s not jump to conclusions.”
“Most killers don’t leave calling cards.”
“They might if they wanted to disguise their motivation and put the cops on the wrong trail.”
He nodded. “You think one person had reason to kill both men?” No apparent connection sprang to mind. Besides being middle-aged white men—and the eerie similarities of their crime scenes—Dreyer and Campbell had nothing in common. Dreyer had been a highly successful wealth management advisor at the prestigious Skyline Financial Services; Campbell had been a lowlife bar rat who’d weaseled his way out of multiple charges for domestic violence and drug possession. They’d inhabited entirely different worlds.
“Maybe. Statistically, it’s more likely than them being targeted by a serial killer.”
They’d kept the playing card from Campbell’s homicide under tight wraps, so unless there was a leak in the department and an in-the-know copycat, both men had been killed by the same person. Levi hoped the murders were personally motivated; that would make the killer a hell of a lot easier to catch.
He stood directly behind Dreyer’s body, his eyes roving over the chair and desk. The coroner investigator hadn’t arrived yet, but Levi had seen enough crime scenes in his four years as a homicide detective to estimate the time of death at around two to three hours prior. Throat slit from behind, death from massive blood loss . . .
Martine frowned, leaning forward to study the corpse from the opposite side. Her short, springy finger coils fell into her eyes, and she shook them back impatiently. “No signs of a struggle.”
He’d just been thinking the same thing. He turned around in a slow circle to take in the room as a whole.
It was a gorgeous office, the back wall consisting of floor-to-ceiling windows with a fantastic view of the glittering Las Vegas Strip twenty-five stories below. Dreyer had positioned his desk in the center of the wall, his chair only a few feet from the glass. The sole entrance to the office was the door all the way on the other side, at a slight diagonal to the desk and across a wide expanse of polished hardwood flooring.
Conclusion: little room for the killer to stand behind Dreyer, and no way for them to approach without giving him plenty of warning. Yet it didn’t seem that Dreyer had even gotten out of his chair. Levi would have to take a closer look once he was allowed to move the body, but he couldn’t see any defensive wounds on the man’s arms or hands, either.
“Killer took him by surprise?” Levi said dubiously.
“How many people do you trust to stand behind you while you’re sitting down?”
Few enough to count on one hand and have fingers left over. He continued his circuit of the desk.
Everything on the desk’s surface was in perfect order—Dreyer hadn’t grabbed for anything, either to defend himself against the attack or in a panic after he’d taken a blade to the throat. Of course, the killer could have rearranged the scene to their satisfaction after Dreyer had died, but in that case, the blood spatter would be telling a different story.
The story Levi read here was that Dreyer had sat obediently still while someone had cut his throat, and then had continued sitting still while he’d bled out. Why?
A crystal tumbler sat a few inches from Dreyer’s right hand, filled with a small amount of amber liquid. Levi’s eyes narrowed.
“Campbell was high when he died, right?” he asked Martine.
“Yeah, on all kinds of shit. I think it was pretty unusual for him to not be high, though.”
“What was he on, exactly?”
She withdrew a notepad from her inner jacket pocket and flipped through it. “Methamphetamines, trace amounts of oxycodone and Adderall, some marijuana thrown in there for good measure, and . . .” She made a thoughtful noise. “Ketamine. Lots of it.”
Her eyes met Levi’s, and then they both looked at the glass on the desk.
Ketamine was a dissociative drug, and at a high enough dose, it could put a user into a trance, even induce temporary paralysis. A person fucked up on enough ketamine wouldn’t be able to fight back against an assailant, which was one of the several reasons it was sometimes used to facilitate date rape.
Campbell had been a habitual drug user, so his toxicology report hadn’t raised any red flags. If Dreyer tested positive for ketamine as well, though—that would be a strong connection, and a solid lead.
Levi waved to one of the crime scene investigators. She stopped what she was doing and hurried over at once.
“Yes, Detective Abrams?”
“When you process the desk, please make sure you take special care with the glass. I need toxicology reports on both the remaining liquid and any residue inside the glass itself. Fingerprints, too.”
“Of course, sir.” The technician jotted down a note for herself before returning to her colleagues.
“So, here’s my question,” Martine said as Levi rejoined her in front of the desk. “If you know you’re gonna murder somebody and you go to all the trouble of drugging them, why not just kill them with an overdose?”
“They wanted to slit his throat,” he said quietly. “Killing someone with drugs isn’t the same as killing them with a knife. There’s no visceral, hands-on satisfaction. No blood. No thrill.”
“Jesus.” She was silent for a moment, chewing her lower lip in thought. “All right. So, you want to slit someone’s throat, but you drug them into a daze first because . . . you want to keep things nice and quiet, don’t want to risk them calling out for help or making enough noise to draw attention. Or because you can’t risk a struggle, because there’s a good chance you’d lose.”
“Perp could be smaller than the victim. Victims.”
“If this is a serial killer . . .”
Levi shook his head. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. You were right that two bodies isn’t enough evidence to float that theory. We need to work the personal connection angle first.”
All logic aside, though, he had a sick, uneasy feeling in his gut, born of experience and intuition. Judging by the expression on Martine’s face, she felt something similar.
Though he already knew the answer, he asked, “You want to stay here and run the crime scene, or interview the woman who found him?” Martine was a natural leader, comfortable in a position of command, whereas Levi preferred to work with people one-on-one.
“I’ll stay,” she said, and then added, “I’m not hauling my ass over to the CCDC this time of night.”
That last part was a surprise—there was no reason for a witness to have been taken to the Clark County Detention Center. “What’s she doing there?”
“Didn’t you hear? She assaulted one of the responding officers.”
Levi blinked. “What? Why?”
“She’s an Eastern European national—Ukrainian or something, is what I heard—and I guess she doesn’t trust cops much. One of the geniuses threatened to call ICE when she wouldn’t cooperate. She ran off, he chased her down, and she popped him right in the jaw.”
Rolling his eyes, Levi said, “Which officer was it?”
Martine grinned. “Take a wild guess.”
“Gibbs,” he said in disgust. Jonah Gibbs was an impulsive hothead with a big mouth and more balls than sense. “He’s going to get the department sued one of these days.”
“Well, maybe a nice big bruise will settle him down for a while.”
Levi glanced at his watch, calculating how long it would take him to wade through this mess at the CCDC before he was even able to interview the witness, and heaved a sigh. He’d already been on the tail end of a ten-hour shift when he’d been called out to this crime scene; he and Martine had worked the Campbell homicide, and when one of the uniforms had noticed the connection, they’d been assigned this case as well, even though they weren’t next in rotation on their squad.
“I can’t believe I had to cancel on Stanton again. He’s not going to be happy.”
Martine waved a dismissive hand. “He knows what it means to date a cop. Been doing it three years, hasn’t he? He’ll get over it.”
Levi didn’t respond. Lately, Stanton had been making more frequent and pointed comments about Levi’s long, irregular hours, about the danger he put himself in, and what those things meant for their future together. He’d been especially sensitive about it since—
“Detective Valcourt, do you have a moment?” said Fred, the crime scene photographer. He’d worked with the pair of them many times before, and didn’t have to ask to know that Martine was in charge.
Levi took the opportunity to say goodbye and make his exit. He signed out at the crime scene log maintained by the officers at the door, stripped off his gloves and booties, and headed down the plush hallway to the elevator bank at the center of the twenty-fifth floor, hitting the down button.
While he waited, he noticed a security camera perched up in one corner, giving it a panoramic view of the area outside the elevators and a good chunk of the hallway going in both directions. He pulled out his cell phone to text Martine.
Maybe they’d get lucky.
Read more at: https://riptidepublishing.com/titles/kill-game (just click the excerpt tab)
Seven of Spades series!
Las Vegas has never seen a serial killer like the Seven of Spades.
The self-styled vigilante is on a mission to cut down the wicked and treacherous, and Sin City has no shortage of targets for their bloody wrath. What happens in Vegas . . . ends with the Seven of Spades’s calling card on a grisly corpse.
Standing against the killer are Levi Abrams, a dedicated homicide detective locked in a constant struggle to restrain his own dark side, and bounty hunter Dominic Russo, a charming rogue with a heavy secret weighing on his shoulders.
The hunt for the Seven of Spades sends Levi and Dominic on a collision course, igniting a passionate relationship forged in conflict and sealed with blood. Together they’re stronger than the sum of their parts, but a wily, elusive serial killer isn’t the only threat that will strain their bond to the breaking point.
Ante up, because the Seven of Spades is all in. Are you?
Check out the Seven of Spades series!
Cordelia Kingsbridge has a master’s degree in social work from the University of Pittsburgh, but quickly discovered that direct practice in the field was not for her. Having written novels as a hobby throughout graduate school, she decided to turn her focus to writing as a full-time career. Now she explores her fascination with human behavior, motivation, and psychopathology through fiction. Her weaknesses include opposites-attract pairings and snarky banter.
Away from her desk, Cordelia is a fitness fanatic, and can be found strength training, cycling, and practicing Krav Maga. She lives in South Florida but spends most of her time indoors with the air conditioning on full blast!
Connect with Cordelia:
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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- Twitter: @c_kingsbridge
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