FOLLOWING TWENTY-FIVE YEARS flying every kind of attack helicopter the Army has to offer, Joelene Stonehouse returns to a civilian world she barely recognizes. But sitting home alone painting pictures of horses and cows doesn’t cut it. Following a life of danger and excitement, what’s a warrior to do?

So her sister sets her up as a kind of independent courier / transporter for an alliance of East Coast import / export operators. Now equipped with a set of hot wheels and a tight schedule, she’s off — no questions asked . . .

Then her world comes apart, sending Joelene on the warpath again — which is just the way she likes it.



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FREEE sample!

 – 1


WAY BACK THERE, flashing lights — a kaleidoscope of crazy dancing reds and blues — are closing like a rocket.

“Oh, shit! It’s the cops! Gettin’ stopped out here simply won’t do, girl. No way,” says Joelene.

So she punches it.

Her ride — all made up special with custom state-of-the-art suspension, wheels, tires, engine — can outrun anything!

“You dunno who you’re messin’ with.”

The flashing lights recede.

“Ah-hah! Chase is on now, sonny-boy.”

She cracks a wide smile. One-twenty-five and climbing. Small dips in the road punch her in the gut. Weightless one instant. Whamo! the next. Needle cranks past one-forty-five. Outside’s a streaking blur.

She checks her side mirror. Hello, heee’s back!

“Whoa, baby!” she shouts. ”Time to light the candle.”

Joelene slips on a pair of night-vision goggles and cuts off the headlights. Everything turns green. Next she flips a special switch and stomps hard on the accelerator.


KAPOW!  From way behind the cop sees twenty-five feet of angry flame lashing back. And this time she really is gone, but for the heady scent of burned, spent kerosene.

Joelene’s flying now! Not like the old days in her Black Hawks and Apaches during her repeated tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Only . . . Only . . . Oh-oh, hang on!

Fuck me! Dude’s still coming.

Red and blue flashers close  from behind, until . . . until . . . oh no! His headlights bounce crazy in her rearview mirror.

Fuck! He’s off the road for sure. And . . . Oh, fucking no! What’ve I done?


JOELENE BRAKES HARD, broadslides, whips a neat one-eighty in time to see a tower of flame geysering into the night sky.

“Oh, Christ, he’s burning!”

Her body jerks as triple-shots of adrenaline slam her bloodstream.

Hmmm, that good old one-two punch. Oh, baby. It’s pucker time now.

Control! Control! Control! The mantra screams in her head as she jams her foot to the floor. She rockets back down the road, tires screaming, to discover yet another horror she’s created.



CLOSING ONTO THE wreckage, none of it looks good. The patrol car’s rolled and flipped. Doors gone. Hood, too. Fuel tank corking off. She jumps out, fire extinguisher in hand. Races into the blazing inferno. He’s still strapped in, head flopped onto his chest, seat back ripping with fire. Raging tongues of flame snap at her. She lets loose with the extinguisher. Hoses her way in, fogging a narrow path to the burning vehicle.

She tries to grab him, but her hands feel like they’re melting. She reaches in again and again. Her fourth attempt frees his seat belt. She has only one chance to drag him out of there and she’ll need both hands to do it. Dropping the extinguisher, she grabs his leather jacket and pulls with all her might. Immediately, the flames are upon her like a nest of blazing hornets. Unable to turn him loose, she flails at her burning hair with the sleeves of her fine red-leather jacket, which is now rapidly turning into char. She ducks her head, scrunches her eyes. In one last gasp, she pounds backward against the earth for what seems like forever until, losing her footing, the two of them collapse in a smoldering heap.

Right then the trooper’s eyes pop open. He’s looking straight at her, through her.

“Least I haven’t killed him . . . yet.”


 – 2


VINCENT “VINNY” DI STEFANO is getting a royal ass-chewing from his Uncle Rollo — Rolando Di Stefano — the one from over in Jersey. Yeah, that one. Rollo is a distant relative of the Trajanus family, who control the action in Manhattan and Miami. Nephew Vinny has just flown into town following a harrowing escapade that took him from Chicago, across Canada and ended in the mountains of Montana. In short, Vinny has just screwed the proverbial pooch. Fucked up everything. Least that’s Uncle Rollo’s take on it.

Rollo lurks in front of his big desk, staring down at his nephew. Behind them in the semi-darkness, Rollo’s crew slouches, all grinning and elbowing each other, anxious to watch Vinny squirm.

“Ya miss ya target. Get yaself shot up. And poor little Mario killed. Good job, kid.”

“Okay,” Vinny pleads. “So I didn’ get the bitch, Uncle Rollo. Ya think it shoulda been easy, huh? C’mon. She’s already whacked out the heads of three families . . . huh? And she done it all by herself. Know what I’m sayin’ here? So’s I’m thinkin’ . . .”

“Vinny!” Rollo interrupts.

‘Cept Vinny just keeps right on with his yammering.

“Vinny! HEY! Shut-the-fuck-up for five seconds . . . and calm-the-fuck down. Ya unnerstan’ me? Do’ya? Huh?”

Rollo’s really pissed now. Sweat popping out on his bald head, spittle spraying all over. But mostly he’s pissed at himself ’cause he’s just lost it and got all whiney in front of his crew. Ain’t gonna change nuthin’ anyhow. And now he’s made this look like it’s all his own fault, just for putting Vinny on the job in the first place . . . given that Vinny wasn’t ready and never would be.

Vinny made his so-called bones a while back. By now he should be running his own crew and earning for the family. Only Vinny wants no part of that mundane management stuff. It’s more than obvious to everybody that Vinny will never be any kinda businessman. Vinny’s a knucklehead, into the heavy lifting, the wet work. Sees himself a major piece of work. And he’d be real good at it, were it not that he hasn’t enough sense to get outta the fuckin’ rain. Sure, he’s got no problem dropping the hammer on some poor schlub. Long as it’s something simple, like walking up and popping a guy in the head. He’s good with that. Only we’re not talkin’ simple targets here. No. Here we’re talking about hard targets — real hard targets.

So, truth is Rollo never shoulda sent Vinny . . . like anywhere. Now Vinny has left loose ends all over the place. Actually, it’s to Vinny’s credit that he was able to track his targets from Chicago, then clear across Canada and finally shoot it out with them in the mountains of Montana during a blizzard. It was only misfortune that Vinny’s impetuous young cousin Mario managed to take one in the head and tumble off a cliff to be finished off by a hungry grizzly bear. Stuff happens inna mountains. Whaddaya gonna do? Also it’s to Vinny’s credit that he did nail the girl’s old uncle.

“Yunno, Uncle Rollo, please.  Least I took out that old fucker. Yunno, bitch’s ancient, old fucking uncle, or whatever. That’s gotta be worth somethin’. Huh?”

Rollo makes a face. Looks like he’s gonna spit. “Yeah, okay, kid. But show a little respect heah. That ancient, old fuck, as you put it, was at one time the best inna bidness. Hell, Vanya was probably the best evah.”

Rollo shakes his head, turns back to his desk, picks a half-smoked cigar out of the ashtray.

“Now that Vanya was pushin’ ninety and half blind, you manage to pop him. So fuckin’ what? You wanna parade or somethin’?”

Rollo lights the cigar. Blows smoke all over Vinny.

Vinny spreads his arms, says, “I dunno . . . whaddaya want me to do? Fuckin’ guy’s still dead. Yunno?”

Vinny has a hard time containing himself. He’s never been good accepting criticism. Now that Rollo’s blistered him in front of the entire crew, he’s about to explode. Vinny’s head jerks. He glances back at Rollo’s crew and clenches his fists.

“Look, Rollo. So how come you’re the fuckin’ expert all’s a sudden? Yunno? There was only the four of us up there at the time . . . Well, three actually, seein’ as Mario’d already bought it.”

Rollo casts Vinny a severe look. It’s enough to shut him up.

“Just you never mind, Vinny. I am the fuckin’ expert here, ’cause I say I am the fuckin’ expert here. I know the things I know . . . which is why I am the boss . . . and why you ain’t.”

Rollo chomps down on his cigar. Puffs and puffs. Stares down at Vinny. SLAMS his hand down onto his big desk. Just the right spot so it’s louder than a thunderclap. Everybody jumps.

“Whaaat? Ya fugedaboud dat alls a sudden, kid? I say what’s what. ME! And I say who does what. ME!” Rollo juts his big chin out in punctuation. “And I give my fuckin’ word to my own Uncle Trajanus. Tole him I’d take care uh this fuckin’ problem . . . that girl and her fuckin’ Uncle Stugots, or whatever. Said I’d clear our family name, considerin’ how the fuckin’ bitch took out poor Bruno and Jackie and Ralphie like she done. Ya unnerstan what I’m sayin’ to ya? Huh?”

Rollo raises his eyebrows. Eyes popping sparks.

“Yeah. Yeah, sure, Uncle Rollo. I got it. I know already. Kapeech?

Rollo flinches. Looks around the room. Puffs hard on his cigar.

“Look . . . don’t you start up with that old-school shit, kid. Ya don’ even speak the fuckin’ language fuh chrissakes.”

Vinny stares down at his feet, like he’s standing in a pool of shame. Caught out again. Don’t speak the fuckin’ language. Just another modern kid don’t know fuck-all about what it was like coming up the hard way with everything you owned out there on the line. Yeah, Vinny’d heard it all a thousand times.

Rollo walks in circles, both hands over his head. “Look, here’s what I want outta yas. So . . . pay attention. I want . . . YOU . . . to drag your sorry ass back up there, fuckin’ find her and I want  . . . YOU . . . to fuckin’ take her ass out.”

Rollo pauses. Staring daggers.

CAPISCE . . . kid?”

“Okay. Okay, Uncle Rollo. I’m sorry. Just consider it done . . . Really.”

“But hold on, kid. There’s somethin’ else.”

“Yeah?” Of course there’s always somethin’ else. Only Vinny’s got no idea what. ‘Cept he’s quite certain he’s not gonna like it.

“So this Avanti chick . . . Stonehouse my runner . . . one what rescued your sorry ass inna blizzard. Then takes ya to the doc and gets ya patched up . . . Fuck you say the doc was? Huh? Huh? A fuckin’ TAXIDERMIST? That what he was?”

Rollo’s guys in the background murmur and chuckle. Uncle Rollo can barely keep a straight face himself.

“Ya-yeah,” Vinny says. “Guy’d been a real doc one time. Yunno? ‘Fore he hadda problem. Got himself disbarred.”

“You idiot, not disbarred for chrissake. What I’m sayin’ is that it was YOU who left loose ends hangin’ out all over the fuckin’ place. You’re the one done that. Can ya unnerstan’ at lease that much? What ya done heah?”

Whaaat? Uncle Rollo, please. Ya gotta be kiddin’ me. You want I should take ’em ALL out?”

“Jeez. Well ain’t you the quick study? Almost had me fooled, kid.”

“C’mon, Rollo, she coulda left me to die out there freezin’.”

“So? Whaddaya sayin’ now, kid? So ya gotta soft heart. Even I can understan’ that much. And compassion’s good, yunno . . . most the time. But this here’s bidness, kid. Know what I’m sayin’?”

Vinny doesn’t speak. Just stares. He still doesn’t get it.

“Look, kid,” Rollo says. “Ya never hear uh witnesses? People that can place YOU at one location or another . . . and at some specific time? Whaddaya, some kinda stunade? You better wake the fuck up, you wanna be in this bidness. Am I gettin’ through to ya yet? Christ, you’re givin’ me a fuckin’ heart attack heah.”

“Okay, Rollo. Sure. Yeah. Yeah. You’re right. Absolutely you are. Ahhh, and I wasn’t thinkin’, yunno, like I shoulda. I get it. So, sure . . . yeah, I’ll take care uh everything. Okay?”

“Yeah, kid. You be sure an do just that . . . before I see yas next.” Rollo gives him one of his really hard looks. Kind says, “No excuses.”

Vinny looks back. Doesn’t reply. Just waits.

“So that’s it, kid,” says Rollo, his eyes popping sparks. “Now clear outta here. Go clean up ya bidness. Get everything straight. We don’t wanna be havin’ this conversation again. Yunno? So then . . . ya good with all that, kid? Huh?”

“Yeah, sure, Uncle Rollo. I’m good. So . . . ahhh . . . so I guess I’ll be seein’ yas then.”

“Sure, kid . . . but not if I see’s you first.” Now Rollo is all smiles.

That had been their little game from way back when Vinny was nothing but a little wiseacre running around in short pants and being a pain in everybody’s ass. Back then, Rollo had to stifle an overwhelming urge to smother the little shit with a a pillow. Strangely enough, that made him almost feel guilty. So he concocted this little thing where he’d say to the kid, “not if I see you first.” And meaning every bit of it, of course. Now with the kid a grown man, he’s become an even bigger pain in Rollo’s ass. And their little game of not if I see you first has taken a rather ominous ring. to it.


– 3


TWENTY-FIVE MILES SOUTH of the Canadian border and snow is falling like there’s no tomorrow. Visibility is zilch. Joelene’s vehicle is slipping and sliding all over the place. If she can just keep it rolling — fifteen MPH at best — she figures she’ll be safe and heading toward some measure of civilization and, hopefully, a nice hot meal. Then all at once there’s this guy standing at the side of the road with his hands up.

“Holy crap, what’s this idiot doin’ out here?” She slows and stops.

In her line of work, picking up passengers is no good. So what am a supposed to do? Guy’ll likely freeze to death. Looks injured, too.

He opens the passenger side door, stands there staring.

“So get in! Get in for Pete’s sake!”

He gets in. Closes the door. The howling wind and blowing snow protest as best they can.

“What’s happened to you, mister? Are ya okay? You look hurt”

“Nuh-no. Not hurt. Just ca-cold is all.”

“Look, I got hot coffee in a thermos. You want some. It’ll warm you up.”

“Oh, ah, yeah . . . thanks. Yeah. Thanks for stopping, yunno. I . . . uh, got stranded out there. That’s what happened. Sure glad you happened along.”

The guy picks up the thermos, unscrews the lid, pours some. Sips it down. “Oh, yeah. Mighty tasty. Whew.”

Now she gets a good long look at him. Wavy black hair. Dark eyes. Long lashes. Strong chin. Prominent nose. He’s big and solid.

And then it hits her like a ton of bricks.

“Why, I know you! Sure I do!”

The guy looks up, eyes wide. FEAR in capital letters etched across his face. “Wuh-what?” he says.

“Yeah, sure. Met you last month. You and your uncle . . . in New Jersey.”

“You’re kiddin’ me? How’s that even possible?”

“No, seriously, I did. You’re Vinny and your uncle is Rollo. Why I’ve been working for your family a coupla months now. I’m Joelene. I’m a driver . . . a courier . . . Yunno?”

“Oh, you’re right,” he says. “Must be my lucky day . . . or night. What’re the odds? But, yunno, I been hurt, actually. Pretty bad I think. Shot. She got me good a few times.” He opens his coat. Blood’s all over him.

“Oh, holy crap! I gotta get ya to a hospital quick.”

Nuh-no. Can’t do that. No hospital. No way.”

“But you’ll bleed to death.”

“No. I dunno. But not a hospital. They’ll call the cops on me for sure. And I can’t really explain these gunshot wounds. It’ll be a disaster once they find out who I am. How I’m connected. No. That can’t happen. No hospital. I’ll have to take my chances.”

“Yunno, Vinny, I do know of someone up here who can help. They gave me a list of places to go, yunno, should I need help. This doc’s worked for your family for years. Only he don’t have what you’d call a regular practice any more. ‘Cept now he works just for you . . . us . . . your family. Thing is, though, now the doc’s a taxidermist.”

“No way! A fuckin’ taxidermist! Get the fuck outta here.”

“Seriously. He’s down in Stryker. We can make it in an hour or so. But if you’re still losing lots of blood, that won’t work. You’ll have to go to a hospital or . . . or you’re gonna die, Vinny.”

“Yeah. Yeah. I hear ya, but turnin’ up in some hospital’s all I need. I’ll have cops all over me. In which case, I’m dead anyway. See. Or Uncle Rollo will kill me himself. He surely will.”

“Oh, God.”

“Yeah. I know. That’s about the size of it. So get movin’. We’re lucky, maybe we get a break with this fuckin’ storm.”


TWO HOURS LATER, Vinny’s passed out cold and they arrive in front of the taxidermist shop in Stryker. Joelene’s honking like crazy. Of course a place like this doesn’t exactly have an ER, and waking up the doc is like waking the dead. She drives around the building. Rams the car into the back door of the place. This gets a quick reaction, and a light comes on.

“Get out here quick,” Jolene hollers, while still laying on the horn.

Eventually, the back door opens and a face appears.

“C’mon, Doc, ya gotta help us here. I got Vinny Di Stefano here. He’s shot up real bad! He’s nearly dead.”

That does the trick and the doc’s on the run. Together they hoist Vinny and drag him into what passes for a surgery. Joelene’s frantic.

“You wait right here,” says the doc. “I might need you. Ain’t nobody else here but us.”

So Joelene waits and smokes and frets and waits some more. An hour later, the doc comes out.

“So he’s stabilized,” the doc says. “He’s gonna be fine. Oughta be conscious in another twenty minutes. Then you can go in and see him.”

“Okay, yeah sure, Doc. But I don’t need to see him. Yunno? I’m only the driver here. A simple courier for the family is all. And I really gotta be on my way. Yunno?”

“No! No! No! Fuck no! You’re not leaving him here with me. You’re gonna have to haul him outta here when he’s able to move. You gotta get him home somehow. You can’t just dump him and run off.”

“Well, Doc, I gotta very tight schedule. See. I ain’t got time to just stand around here. So how long before he can, yunno, leave?”

“He’ll be here a day or two. That should do it. Anyway you gotta stay here and help take care of him. I can’t do it by myself. I got other stuff to do.”

“What other stuff? You saying that fooling around with a bunch of stuffed animals is more important than making sure the nephew of a, a . . . yunno, don’t croak on your fuckin’ table here? How’ya think that’ll play out in New Jersey? Huh?”

“Nuh-no that’s not it at all. Suh-see, it’s impossible for me to do this alone. The time directly following a surgery like this is critical. You gotta help. He dies, it’s on you, too, sweetheart.”

“Shit! Well okay then. Guess I’ll be movin’ in . . . So Doc, you got anything to eat around here? I’m starving half to death.”

“Sure do. Got a big freezer full of some nice steaks.”

“Ewwww. I’ll bet ya do. Carcasses from all those poor dead animals you stuffed.” She smiles as she says this. “By the way, Doc, I’m Joelene . . . and I sure could use a cuppa hot coffee in the worst way.”

“Yeah, bet’cha could. C’mon upstairs.”


– 4 –


“SO VINNY, JUST WHAT the hell happened to ya up there in the mountains, anyway?”

“Oh, don’t ask.”

“Yeah, sorry. I just did.”

“Well, it was a big job. Tracked these fuckers clear ‘cross the continent. Yunno. Up by Lake Superior and then clear ‘cross fuckin’ Canada. They’re drivin’ like maniacs, but I was right on their tail. Was a really big deal, actually.”

“No kidding. Sounds pretty exciting.”

“Oh, yeah. Plenty of excitement with them two. Coupla different shootouts, too.”

“Oh, my. That pretty dangerous. How come your uncle would send you out there like that? You were almost killed.”

“Well . . . you see, that’s what I do. I don’t just spend my time sittin’ behind no desk eatin’ cannolis and shit. I’m out there workin’. Yunno what I’m sayin’?”

“Jeez. I had no idea. That’s pretty impressive . . . and dangerous, too!”

“Oh, yeah. Danger’s my middle name, yunno?”

“So you were chasin’ two of ‘em all by yourself?”

“Yeah, it was me pretty much. Had my little Cousin Mario along for the ride. Wanted to get in on the real action and all. But this was all my show.”

“Really? Who the heck were these two?”

“Was this woman . . . a serious hitter, if you can imagine that . . . and her decrepit old uncle. Some Chicago guy. Run an old bookstore. Yunno? Kinda store fulla smelly old books. I can’t see the attraction myself. But . . . anyway, this woman actually whacked out the heads of TWO families. Can you imagine? She sneaks in there, gets all cozy with ‘em, then when they’re least expectin’ it, she pops ‘em. Ain’t that some shit? She’s like some kinda Matta Hairy, know what I’m sayin’? Eveah heard a her?”

“Gosh, no.”

“So this is like an honor thing with me. Set everything straight. That’s why I wanted this piece ah work. Was a big success, too. Dropped the both of ‘em. Whaddaya think?”

“What I think, Vinny, is that it won’t be long you’ll be takin’ over everything. You’re a good guy to know.”

“Yeah, that’s fuh sure, honey. Well, I see we’re at the airport now. So I gotta scoot. But next time ya back in Jersey with a little time on ya hands, I’ll show ya the sights. Know what I’m sayin?”

“Oh, yes I do. And I’d really like that, too. So you have a good flight and I’ll be seein’ ya then.”

“Hey!” Vinny smiles, gives her a big wink. “Not if I see youse first!”

“HAHAHA! Yeah, That’s a good one. I’ll have to remember that. Fur sure.”

Joelene watches Vinny saunter into the airport terminal. Arms out to his sides. Shifting all that weight as he walks, like he’s King Fucking Kong. Giving everyone that hard New Jersey stare of his.

She pulls away from the curb. She’s lost so much time with all this bullshit. Now she gonna have to hustle to keep any semblance of a schedule. She takes one last look at Vinny, disappearing inside the terminal.

Whadda putz!




Joelene Stonehouse is something. From the mountains of Northwest Montana to the high desert of New Mexico, from New Jersey to California, this fast-paced thriller is exciting. For the first time in 25 years Joelene is out of the military and floundering. She misses the choppers she used to pilot and the adrenaline rush from flying in hot zones. Needing something to do she takes a job with her sister’s “family.” Now she’s a courier of sort who drives from one end of the country to another delivering vehicles to strange places under difficult deadlines.

She has no life. Then one good deed puts her in danger and she must figure out a way to save herself. A second good deed brings her someone she can trust. A third good deed puts her further in danger. The action is fast and the characters are memorable. Joelene is a strong woman who doesn’t hesitate to protect herself. This fast-paced thriller is exciting. The action is fast and the characters are memorable. Joelene is a strong woman who doesn’t hesitate to protect herself.



This is not the type of book I normally read, but I found it rip-roaring fun. The writing was cinematic, the language a great depiction of slang. I grew up in New Jersey where many of the characters are from, and I felt right at home with their Italian expressions and goombah comeraderie. The protagonist reminds me of a female Jack Reacher: ex-military, bold, fearless, flawed, but easier to relate to. It’s a quick read, full of twists, humor, a little sex, and a good setup for the sequel. I’ll be watching for that one.



I read AVANTI: A Joelene Stonehouse Thriller as part of a Goodreads Psychology Thriller book of the month selection. This is a quick gangster themed book. The heroine, Avanti, is a former military fighter helicopter pilot that gets involved with the New Jersey mafia as a driver. She happens upon a wounded Vinny, the nephew of a New jersey mob boss in Montana. Avanti covers the mob scene, comings and goings and interactions. A group of good people versus the evils of the New Jersey mafia. This book covers the typical voice of the New Jersey mafia and the author adds photos throughout the book that I found really interesting. The characters are believable and I found myself pulling for Joelene and her band of heroes as they battle a ruthless Vinny.



I have no idea how Adam James does it! Such a brilliant imagination – interesting characters, great location and believable plot – looking forward to more!



Would you run from the mob if they put a hit on you? Not Joelene! Right from the beginning, this story takes off full of action. Every chapter leads you on a hunt and chase. The main character, Joelene, doesn’t run from the mob chasing her . . . she runs toward them to end the attempt to take her out. The characters she encounters are believable and the dialect is great. You can actually see the story play out in your head as you read.

This was a fascinating idea for a story. Each setting was relevant and believable.



I liked the “in the moment” sense of the narrator’s voice, which immediately draws you into her action. I like how the technical details were slipped in to give the reader a sense of her expertise. This writer doesn’t make the mistake of explaining the reasons his character has competence and history—he suggests it by introducing technical clues while never breaking the action’s pace. That’s good. That’s strong. I like this.

I love the voice here. I love its narrative flow and the way it conveys an “in the moment” sense of being in the character’s shoes (or car, in this instance). I like the use of language. (For example, I liked how the writer uses “geysers” as a verb instead of choosing something more mundane, like “shot”).

Overall, I find this to be quite a strong first page. Well done, writer! 
First Page Critique: AVANTI, by Kathryn Lilley @ The Kill Zone (TKZ)






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