Annie Reed has been called a master short story writer. She's a multiple Derringer nominee, received a Silver Honorable Mention from Writers of the Future, and has appeared in back to back issues of The Mysterious Bookshop Presents The Best Mystery Stories of the Year (for 2022 and 2023) as well as Best American Mystery and Suspense 2023. Her stories are featured regularly in Pulphouse Fiction Magazine and Mystery, Crime and Mayhem. Her short fiction has also been selected for inclusion in English language study materials for Japanese college entrance exams.

A prolific, versatile, and award-winning writer, her longer works include the crime novels Road of No Return, A Death in Cumberland, and Paper Bullets, and her space opera series Gray Lady Rising and Gray Lady's Revenge, co-authored with mega-bestselling writer Robert Jeschonek. She also writes under the pen names Kris Sparks and Liz McKnight.

She lives in northern Nevada and can be found on the web at, on Facebook as annie.reed.142.

Road of No Return by Annie Reed

Nick spent a lot of years staying off the grid. He worked dead-end jobs for cash. Lived under a name that wasn't his own and avoided relationships at all costs. He worked hard to stay off everyone's radar until a random act of kindness blows his carefully constructed life apart.

Fifteen years ago, Nick James did the right thing. He reported a crime. But doing the right thing came with a terrible price: the loss of everything and everyone he held dear.

Now Nick works as a bartender at a sleezy Las Vegas strip club, friendless and alone. Until the night he rescues an innocent kitten that someone threw away like trash.

That single act of kindness soon snowballs out of control, and Nick finds himself on a collision course with the one person he's been hiding from all these years. A violent ex-cop with mob connections who vowed to take Nick down.

Never in his worst nightmares did Nick imagine he'd be on the run with a small kitten and a woman he barely knows. In order for all of them to survive, Nick must do something he never thought he'd do. Turn the tables on his pursuer. Come out of the shadows to become the hunter instead of the hunted. All he needs is a little luck on his side.

But luck can be a fickle lady, especially in a town like Las Vegas.

Annie's short mystery stories have appeared in numerous year's best volumes, including "Little City Blues" in Mysterious Bookshop Presents The Best Mystery Stories of the Year 2022, "The Promise" in Mysterious Bookshop Presents The Best Mystery Stories of the Year 2023, and "The Blood-Red Leaves of Autumn" in Best American Mystery and Suspense 2023. She's a multiple Derringer award finalist and has received a Silver Honorable Mention award from the Writers of the Future.


For the second year in a row, Annie Reed will have a story in the Mysterious Bookshop's Best Mystery Stories of the Year. And she'll also have a story in this year's Best American Mystery and Suspense Stories as well. Lucky for us, she's giving us an exclusive mystery novella, featuring a cat and crime and all those things Annie excels at. This one is worth the price of the bundle all by itself. – Kristine Kathryn Rusch



  • "Annie is a master short fiction writer."

    – Kristine Kathryn Rusch, award-winning editor and writer of The Retrieval Artist series
  • "Annie Reed is a regular in Pulphouse Fiction Magazine and you can understand why with

    this original take on comic and science fiction conventions."

    – Dean Wesley Smith, editor, SNOT-NOSED ALIENS (discussing “Blue-Eyed Bombshell”)
  • "Annie's writing is magic, seriously."

    – Robert J. McCarter, author of A Ghost’s Memoir series
  • "You can't go wrong with Annie Reed. Her deftly-crafted tales—with characters as memorable as the stories themselves—far surpass most of what's out there."

    – Michael J. Totten, author of Resurrection



Nick James didn't expect the dumpster to yell at him.

Part of his job working nights at a strip club a few blocks away from the famous Las Vegas Strip was taking out the trash. He didn't mind. He spent most of his time behind the bar, mixing watered-down, over-priced drinks. Taking out the trash gave him a few minutes of relatively fresh nighttime air free of cigarette smoke, overbearing cologne, and the sweat stink of the customers, most of whom didn't care if anyone saw exactly how aroused they were.

Vegas had a well-earned reputation as Sin City, but these days it was in the midst of trying to upgrade its image. New casinos were being built at breakneck speed, all glitz and glamour, but some neighborhoods, like the one surrounding the strip club, still reeked of sleaze and backroom deals, especially at night when the glare from the Strip couldn't quite dispel the stark shadows of the city's past.

The strip club was the perfect place for a man like Nick to lose himself. Nobody paid attention to the bartender as long as the drinks kept coming. All eyes were on the dancers.

He took a deep breath, letting his ears recover from the same bump and grind music he heard every night. After midnight the air had a chill to it, something tourists didn't expect. Nick was warm enough thanks to the flannel shirts he wore at work over a plain black t-shirt. The boss kept the air conditioning in the club cranked up high to make the dancers more alluring, he said. Nick figured he was one of the few men in Vegas who wore flannel even during the height of the summer months.

Raucous cries and hoots and the sound of drivers leaning on their horns came from the direction of the Strip. Wedding party, or maybe a bachelor party, or possibly some other celebration fueled by too much alcohol and a lot of available credit left on someone's card.

When was the last time he'd been out drinking with a few buddies? Fifteen years ago? Maybe twenty? He'd never made any real friends here, just acquaintances. His choice but it still stung.

This was his life now. He thought he'd come to terms with it, but every now and then he longed for something different. Something in the same zip code as normal.

He was about to heave the heavy black garbage bag he'd lugged out the club's back door into the dumpster when a thin, yelping cry came from inside.

Not human, it was the sound of an animal in distress, and a young one at that, crying for help from a world that just didn't care.

Nick peered over the side of the battered dumpster.

In the middle of the mounds of trash that had baked to a stinking mess during the day sat a kitten. All big blue eyes—frightened eyes—that glittered in the light from the parking lot and fuzzy black fur that almost blended in with the black trash bags already in the dumpster. The only things that stood out were the patches of white fur around the kitten's nose and mouth. That mouth opened wide as it let out another yelp when it spotted him.

"How'd you get in there?" Nick muttered.

But he knew. Someone threw the kitten out just like trash. Didn't want the problem or the noise or just didn't give a fuck, and they figured what better place than a dumpster on the seedy side of the Strip.

Most people didn't seem to give a fuck anymore. He didn't want to think about the sort of person who could have done this. People who threw animals away were the kind of people who'd have no problem killing someone. Or watching while someone else did. Nick was well acquainted with the type.

He knew what he was going to do before he even hoisted himself up and over the side of the dumpster.

He wasn't a big man, average height and weight—a wiry little shit, the boss called him, but then again Chubs lived up to his name, and every guy who wasn't pushing two-fifty was a little shit in Chubs' book. Nick let himself down gently on the heaps of garbage inside the dumpster. At least most of the trash was in bags. He didn't let himself look too hard at the stuff that wasn't.

The dumpster stank to high heaven and made Nick glad he hadn't eaten dinner yet. He never did on nights he was working. In Vegas there was always someplace open where he could grab a bite to eat when three o'clock in the morning rolled around and he was out the door for the night.

He thought the kitten might run away from him, but it just sat on its garbage bag yelping at him. It was probably starving, but at least it had the good sense not to eat anything in the dumpster.

He picked it up with one hand. It fit neatly in his palm, its little kitten legs, claws out, hanging between his fingers and scrabbling for footing that wasn't there.

It was so thin. Nick could feel each of its tiny ribs as it shivered in his hand. He was no expert on cats, but it didn't look old enough to be away from its mother.

He brought the kitten close against his chest, cradling it with his other hand. It latched onto his shirt, claws sinking into the flannel as it climbed up the shirt until it burrowed its face against his neck, right below the scruffy not-quite-there beard that covered his chin. Its fur only smelled slightly of garbage. It couldn't have been in the dumpster all that long, just long enough to scare the crap out of it.

He stroked the back of the kitten's head with a gentle fingertip, and it quit crying and made a sound that wasn't quite a purr.