Exclusive Cover Reveal + Excerpt: Layover - Vilma Iris | Lifestyle Blogger

This post contains affiliate links, meaning I’ll receive a small commission should you purchase using those links. All opinions expressed are my own. I receive no compensation for reviews.

Exclusive Cover Reveal + Excerpt: Layover

Exclusive Cover Reveal + Excerpt: Layover

I’m so excited to share the striking cover of David Bell’s upcoming thriller, LAYOVER. With this latest, Bell imparts a story that began with an accidental meeting and takes a man on a dangerous journey rife with deceit and secrets, chasing a woman on the run. Told in his “domestic noir” style, this is a great novel for suspense readers. While the book is not out until next July, you can get a sneak peek below!

❮ PRE-ORDER NOW ❯

  • About Layover

    In this high concept psychological suspense novel from the USA Today bestselling author of Somebody’s Daughter, a chance meeting with a woman in an airport sends a man on a pulse-pounding quest for the truth…     

    Joshua Fields takes the same flights every week for work. His life is a series of departures and arrivals, hotels and airports. During yet another layover, Joshua meets Morgan, a beautiful stranger with whom he feels an immediate connection. When it’s time for their flights, Morgan gets up to leave, leans over and passionately kisses Joshua, lamenting that they’ll never see each other again.

    As Morgan slips away, Joshua is left feeling confused by what just happened between them. That’s when he looks up and is shocked to see Morgan’s face flashing on a nearby TV screen. He’s even more shocked when he learns the reason why—Morgan is a missing person.

    What follows is a whirlwind, fast-paced journey filled with lies, deceit, and secrets to discover the truth about why Morgan is on the run. But when he finally thinks every mystery is solved, another rears its head, and Joshua’s worst enemy may be his own assumptions about those around him…

  • Prologue

    The nurse opened the curtain around my bed and said there was somebody who wanted to see me.

    I tried to read the look on her face. She cut her eyes away from mine, busying herself with the chart that hung on the wall, and then asking me to lean forward so she could examine the back of my head. She wore a colorful smock decorated with Disney characters, and when she came close I caught a whiff of cigarette smoke clinging to her clothes. It almost made me gag.

    “Everything looks good,” she said, her voice flat. Her shoes squeaked against the floor. “How’s the pain?”

    “Throbbing mostly,” I said.

    “That’s not surprising,” she said. “You have a mild concussion. You’re lucky it wasn’t worse. Most people who get hit the way you were end up with staples in their scalp.”

    “Who wants to see me?” I asked. Each word required effort, like I was pushing them out of my mouth.

    I pieced together the previous few hours from the fragments of my concussed memory. The amusement park. My face in the rich, damp earth. A cop standing over me, shining a light in my eyes, snapping his fingers like I was a fighter down for the count. And then the ambulance ride to the hospital, winding through the county roads, nausea rising with each turn and bump.

    I knew I was in Wyckoff, Kentucky, the little college town ninety minutes northwest of Nashville. And I knew what I’d come there for.

    And who I’d come there for.

    And I knew no one else in town, so if someone wanted to see me . . .

    Could it be . . . Morgan? Coming to check on me?

    The nurse slipped out through the privacy curtain that surrounded my bed. I heard the sounds of the emergency room around me. The chatter of doctors and nurses. A machine beeping nearby, tracking the rhythm of someone’s beating heart.

    On the other side of the curtain, a man’s hoarse voice muttered in response to a doctor’s questions. “No, sir. No, sir. I wasn’t drinking. No, sir.”

    The lights above me were bright, making me squint. I needed to use the bathroom, the pressure in my bladder increasing. And a wave of nausea swept through me again, roiling my stomach like a rising tide.

    Then a woman pushed aside the curtain the nurse had just exited through. She wore a business suit—tan pants and jacket, a white shirt. She held an iPhone, and the overhead lights flashed off the gold badge clipped to her belt. The glinting hurt my eyes, and I turned away, wishing I could bury my face in the stiff pillow that supported my head.

    “Mr. Fields?” she asked. “Joshua Fields?”

    “That’s me,” I said, eyes squeezed shut. It felt like a strange statement, announcing my own identity to a stranger. But did I really know who I was anymore?

    “How are you feeling?” she asked. She cocked her head, one corner of her mouth lifting. She had a friendly face with big, sympathetic eyes, but her voice was strong, each word landing with certainty and force.

    “My head hurts.” I looked down. The blanket came up to my chest, and I appeared to be wearing a flimsy hospital gown with a strange geometric pattern on it. I wasn’t even sure if I still had my boxers on. “And I don’t know where my clothes are.”

    “They’ll give those back when the time comes,” she said. “I’m Detective Kimberly Givens with the Laurel Falls police. We spoke on the phone earlier. You remember that, right? I need to ask you some questions, and they’re fairly urgent. Do you think you’re up for that right now?”

    It didn’t sound like a question. My heart started to thump at a rate that matched my racing heart. If I’d been hooked up to one of those machines that monitored my pulse, I suspect it would have beeped like a video game. Detective Givens lifted one eyebrow, and that gesture served as a repetition of her question.

    Was I up for that right now?

    Did I have a choice?

    “Can you dim the lights?” I asked. “Maybe this overhead one can be turned off.”

    The detective looked around on the wall for a moment and flicked a switch with her index finger.

    Instant relief. The lower wattage recessed lights in the room provided gentler illumination. I breathed easier, stopped squinting.

    “Better?” she asked.

    “Yes.” My mouth felt like I’d been chewing felt. I looked around for a drink but saw none. No way that nurse was coming back while the detective was with me.

    “Do you know how you ended up here?” Givens asked. “Do you remember where we found you?”

    I closed my eyes again, saw a replay of the same images. The amusement park . . . my face in the dirt . . . the cop shining a flashlight in my face . . . the ambulance ride . . .

    Hey, buddy. Hey, buddy. Are you with us? Can you hear me?

    “Somebody hit me,” I said. “I think.”

    “You weren’t alone out there, were you?” she asked.

    “No.”

    “There was another man on the ground near you. Someone had hit him. Likely more than once. Do you remember that?”

    I looked down. Even in the dimmed light, I could see my right hand resting on the white blanket. My knuckles were scraped and raw like they’d been dragged across concrete. I felt a sharp ache like I’d punched a rock. I didn’t try to slide my hand under the covers. Givens followed my gaze, staring right at the scraped knuckles, and her eyebrows rose again.

    “Is he okay?” I asked.

    Givens held my gaze for a moment, and then she said, “Who else was out there with you?”

    My lips were as cracked as crumbling plaster. I ran my tongue over them, trying to generate some moisture.

    “Mr. Fields? Who else was out there with you?”

    I held her gaze and didn’t blink. “You must know who.”

    “Tell me where she went,” she said.

    “I don’t know.”

    “Here’s what happened,” she said. “The police arrive at the scene. We find two unconscious men. Both with hands that look like they’ve been in a fight. Oh, and did I mention . . .” She paused so long I thought she was finished speaking. She drew out the moment, holding her words back, letting me stew. But then she said, “You know, we found other evidence out there as well. Very interesting evidence.”

    “What things?” I asked, my voice cracking like my lips.

    She chose not to tell me. “So what can we conclude, Joshua? You’re the only one left to explain it all.”

    For the first time in my life, I wondered if I needed a lawyer.

    So I remained quiet.

    “Tell me, Joshua. It’s time.”

    The machine kept beeping. A siren rose and fell in the distance.

    “You’re not going to tell me how that man is doing?” I asked.

    “I really don’t know. But if you start to answer my questions, I can see what I can find out.” She took a step closer to the bed. “See, I bet you’re the kind of guy who wouldn’t want to wonder how that man is doing. Especially if you’re the one who hurt him. You’re a nice guy, right? Not the kind who gets involved in crimes like this. Right?”

    The pain at the back of my head came back in a rush. Even with the lights dimmed, I felt the need to squint. But I couldn’t pull the covers over my head and I couldn’t walk out, not with a detective standing over me. Not without any clothes. I had no idea where my car was. I was very far from home.

    And alone.

    I was in over my head. And the hole was likely getting deeper.

    “Morgan Reynolds, Joshua,” Givens said. “Tell me how you met her. Tell me the whole story.”

    I sighed. I was tired. And I hurt.

    “It began at the airport, during a layover . . .”

     

    Part I

    Chapter One

    We ended up next to each other in the airport gift shop.

    Fate. Chance. Randomness.

    I passed through Atlanta at least once a week, almost every week, heading for another city to take care of the same customers I’d been working with for five years. I arrived and left on the same flights, always the same times. One week I might fly to St. Louis, the next to Dallas or Little Rock.

    On that Tuesday I was heading to Tampa.

    I travelled all over the eastern third of the country. There was a never-ending blandness and sterility to the concourses and planes. On more than one occasion, I’d found myself in an airport, walking briskly down the terminal, and couldn’t recall exactly which city I was in or where I was heading. I slept better in hotels than in my own apartment.

    But that Tuesday, the day I met Morgan, something different happened. That day something put the two of us right next to each other.

    I’d been working in commercial real estate development for five years, ever since I graduated from college. My life felt like an endless merry-go-round. I’d hopped on when my dad helped me get the job, and the carousel had been spinning since then. Everything around me had blurred.

    My apartment.

    My friends.

    My life.

    I passed through airport gates across the country, handed over my tickets, thanked the flight attendants and pilots. I didn’t notice faces anymore. I didn’t connect with the people I passed in my travels. We transacted things. Business. Commerce. Money. I bounced along with the rest of them like cattle in a chute.

    My dad always told me to keep my cards close to the vest when negotiating. I’d taken that advice too much to heart. I’d started doing it everywhere.

    But then she ended up in line next to me in the gift shop.

    I wouldn’t have noticed except she almost dropped her purse.

    Something rustled and shuffled behind me. When I turned to look, she made a sudden movement, lunging to catch the leather bag before it fell, but her iPhone tumbled to the floor, bounding and ending up next to my shoe. Since she was clutching the bag with both hands, I bent down and picked the phone up.

    “Good thing you have a case,” I said.

    Her left hand shook as she took the phone back.

    Nervous flyer?

    But she didn’t thank me. I couldn’t say I blamed her, since I’d been tuning my fellow travellers out for years. I’d adopted a glassy-eyed stare, a cold, determined look that warded off conversation.

    But when she took her phone back, I really noticed her. The shaking hand—the vulnerability—somehow slipped past my defenses.

    I looked right at her.

    She wore her dark brown hair in a loose ponytail that hung below a tan bucket hat with a red band. Her eyes and a good portion of her face were covered by oversized sunglasses I knew she’d had to have taken off before she got through security.

    She was almost as tall as I am—a couple of inches under six feet—and wore black leggings, black running shoes, and a gray lycra hoodie. She had a carry-on over one shoulder and clutched the purse against her body. Her flushed cheeks looked delicate, the skin nearly flawless. We appeared to be the same age, mid-twenties.

    She looked away from me as I studied her. At least she seemed to be looking away from me, as much as I could tell with the sunglasses on.

    Some hold-up occurred ahead of us, drawing my attention back to the front of the line. An elderly man wearing clunky shoes with his pants hiked up almost to his chest started arguing about the price he was charged for his newspaper. He felt like he’d been asked to pay five cents too many. The cashier listened with a strained look on her face.

    I almost reached into my pocket to get the nickel, but I hadn’t carried loose change with me since I was a kid.

    So I turned to the woman behind me again. The one who had dropped her phone and taken it back without thanking me. The one with the shaking hand. The one who had managed to pierce the Stoic determination I adopted when I travelled. It actually felt good to sense that small opening, to have the façade of cold impersonality cracked ever so slightly. That was a surprise.

    “We might be here a while,” I said, nodding toward the elderly man in front of us.

    The woman ignored me again. She opened her purse and started rooting around inside of it. Her movements seemed frantic, as though she thought she’d lost something.

    “I don’t think anything else fell out,” I said, trying to be helpful.

    She whipped her head up toward me. “What did you say?”

    Her voice came out sharp and possibly louder than she intended.

    “I’m sorry,” I said. “I was just saying . . . you look like you thought you lost something. When the purse fell.”

    She considered me for a moment from behind the glasses. Her mouth was small, the lips plump. A tiny beauty mark sat on her left cheek. A silly thought crossed my mind: She’s a celebrity. After all, we were in Atlanta, and they filmed a lot of movies there. I’d occasionally spotted celebrities in the airport, actors I recognized from TV shows. That explains the sunglasses. That’s why she’s so pretty.

    It looked like she was going to say something, but then she tucked her purse against her body, tossed the pack of gum in her hand back onto the display, and grunting with exasperation, turned and walked away.

     

    Chapter Two

    That should have been it.

    I should have gone on with my Tuesday layover routine—paid for the paperback thriller I’d picked up off the rack, stopped in the bathroom and swallowed another Xanax, headed to the bar for my pre-flight drink and maybe something to eat.

    But it didn’t work out that way.

    I did buy the book. It bore an embossed foil cover and the black, shadowy outline of a man who carried a gun and appeared to be running away, turning slightly to look over his shoulder. And I did hit the bathroom near my gate. My flight boarded in ninety minutes, so I had plenty of time to kill. I moved through the crowds on the concourse, dodging my fellow travelers and their heavy bags, their recalcitrant kids, the beeping courtesy carts ferrying the elderly and slow from one terminal to the other.

    It was all the same. Everywhere I went, always the same . . .

    Except . . .

    I found myself thinking about her as I walked. Her face—those full lips, those delicate cheeks. The beauty mark, the brown hair. Her shaking hand. Her apparent shock when I spoke. Her coldness toward me before she walked away. What did she think she’d lost that made her so frantic?

    My own love life had been floundering recently. Six months earlier, I’d broken up with Renee, who’d been my girlfriend for almost a year. I liked her quite a bit, although I’m not sure I loved her. We broke up because of that. And because I traveled so much and worked so many hours, leaving little time or energy for anything else.

    Renee and I had been talking off and on again, had even slept together one night two weeks earlier. But neither one of us seemed ready to jump into a full-on reconciliation. At least not yet. But the thought of being with Renee back in Chicago had started to sound more and more appealing to me. I was tired of being on the road, of sleeping in hotels and using tiny soaps and shampoos. I’d eaten too much room service, knew the names of none of my neighbors in my apartment building. The thought of being home seven nights a week, of having someone to come home to, of sharing a meal and conversation about the day just past or the week to come made my heart swell with anticipation.

    And then Renee texted me as I walked to the bathroom:

    Hey, guy, have a great trip!

    Was that all marriage was? A lifetime spent with someone who cared about whether you had a good flight or not? Someone who’d notice if you didn’t come home or check in when you were supposed to? Would that same person make sure you took your pills in old age? Would she make sure you didn’t eat foods that disagreed with you and bring you an antacid if you did?

    It was starting to sound pretty good.

    I stopped outside the bathroom door, tucked the book under my arm, and started to write back. An announcement came over the PA, telling someone they’d left their passport at the main security gate. The odor of baking cinnamon rolls and brewing coffee reached me from one of the restaurants, stirring a faint rumbling in my stomach. I hadn’t eaten before I left home that morning for my first flight from Chicago to Atlanta.

    Thanks! At the airport but—

    Then she came out of the bathroom. The woman from the gift shop.

    She still wore the hat and sunglasses, the carry-on over one shoulder, the purse in her left hand. But this time she froze in her tracks when she saw me. I stopped mid-text. It felt like our gazes locked, but I couldn’t be certain because I couldn’t see her eyes. But I saw the brown hair and the beauty mark and the long athletic body as our fellow travelers moved past us and around us, their suitcase wheels squeaking, their conversations creating an endless hum of human chatter.

    And what must she have thought of me? I wore a sport coat and a button down shirt. Khaki pants and lace up Oxford shoes. I looked like any other young shmuck going off to some boring, uninspiring job. Airports and planes and offices were full of them. A dime a dozen. What made me stand out? My kindness in picking up her phone? My gentle mocking of the elderly man and his five cents?

    She took two steps toward me, and her lips parted as though she was about to speak. But she didn’t. I put the phone away, sliding it into my inside jacket pocket. I’d get back to Renee later.

    For a brief moment, I wondered if the woman before me couldn’t hear well or was wearing headphones I couldn’t see. It would explain why the only thing she said to me in the gift shop had been, “What did you say?”

    Rather than scare her off again, I waited, making what I hoped was something close to eye contact.

    Finally she spoke.

    She said, “I’m sorry about before. I . . .”

    Again, I waited, hoping she’d finish the thought. But she didn’t.

    “What about before?” I asked.

    “I was distracted. My mind was somewhere else. So when you spoke to me, I was lost in my own head.”

    Her voice carried a tinge of hoarseness, as well as the trace of a Southern accent.

    I nodded, relieved to see she could hear me and that she didn’t seem to think I was a total creep who harassed strange women in airport gift shops.

    “I get it,” I said. “I get lost in my thoughts sometimes too. Especially before noon and especially in airports. About the only thing to do is think.”

    She nodded, as though she understood.

    I relaxed. We’d connected, even to a small degree.

    We could have gone our separate ways then, having reached an understanding and knowing that the hiccup in the gift shop line was nothing to worry about.

    Then I saw something in her hand, something that hadn’t been there before.

    “That’s a good one,” I said, pointing to it.

    “What’s that?” She looked down, saw the book in her hand as though she’d forgotten it was there. “Oh, this. Yeah, I was looking for something to pass the time.”

    “I read it last week, while I was flying.” Some of the details about the story came back to me. A woman who used to be a spy was being pressed back into service after a terrorist attack in Europe. “It moved really fast.”

    “Good. That’s what I need. Distraction.”

    She’s stopped speaking but didn’t move. She didn’t rush off or head for a gate.

    And I wanted to know what was behind those sunglasses. I really did.

    Maybe I wasn’t aware back then of how desperate I was to connect with someone, to share something on a deeper level. To be surprised by what someone else was thinking or doing. Or feeling.

    In the gift shop, the door had opened a crack. I wanted to kick it open even farther. I needed the fresh air, the bright light.

    “I’m sorry to interrupt,” she said. “You were texting someone—”

    “It’s early,” I said, ignoring her comment, “but I always get a drink before my flight or when I have a layover. Would you like to join me?”

    I pointed behind her in the direction of a little airport bar, something called the Keg ’n Craft. I’d stopped there many times for a beer or a sandwich or to watch a football game. I’d started thinking about a career change when one of the bartenders recognized me and began calling me by name.

    Again, I thought I’d overstepped. I’d pushed harder than I should.

    She looked behind her, and then glanced down at the Fitbit Surge on her wrist, checking the time. “My flight . . . I’ve got . . .”

    “If you’re in a hurry—”

    “You know what?” she said. “I shouldn’t, but I could really use a drink today, more than any other day.” She nodded, confirming her decision. “Let’s do it.”

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