Monthly Archives: August 2016

Excerpt Reveal: THE STRANGER, by Anna del Mar

the2bstranger2bfinal2bcoverTitle: The Stranger

Genre: Romantic suspense

Author: Anna del Mar

Website: www.annadelmar.com

Publisher: Carina Press

Purchase on Amazon

When her sister runs away with a guy she met on the internet, a warmth-loving Miami architect chases her reckless sibling to Alaska and finds her life in danger from more than the elements. Only a stranger, a wounded warrior who is also Alaskan tycoon with a quarreling family as complicated as her own and no time for a lady in distress—let alone one who has a secret bound to get her into big trouble—can save her from disaster. Together, two strangers from different worlds and opposite spectrums of the thermometer must unravel the intrigues that threaten their lives to chase after a new dream, in majestic Alaska.

Amazon    Carina Press    BN    Kobo     Google Play

Short Excerpt/First Kiss:

“I think we’d be better off accepting what’s happening here.”

“And that is…?”

“That I want to kiss you.” I hit the point of no return. “And that you want me to kiss you.”

Her voice was a hoarse whisper. “It’s not true.”

“It’s true and you know it.” I ran my thumb over the soft expanse of her cheek. “So I propose that I kiss you now and get it out of the way. One kiss. Then we go to sleep and I mean just that, sleep, together, on my bed.” I held my breath. “What do you think? Is it too much to ask?”

She opened her mouth and closed it. A storm brewed in her eyes. She wasn’t sure. I knew it was a long shot, but I wasn’t one to hold back for fear of failure. Her nostrils widened, taking in my scent as if sniffing for danger. The seconds ticked by, minutes, hours, centuries. And then…surprise. She nodded ever so slightly.

I didn’t wait for her to change her mind. I kissed her, a connection that my body celebrated with fireworks. I put my arms around her waist and tasted her lips, her tongue, her breath. Glory. My body resonated with the memories of our night together.

I kissed her, as I’d wanted to do for two days, and the kiss confirmed that the connection that tugged on my senses was real. I held her face between my hands and kissed her some more until we were both out of breath and I hovered at the edge of no return. I made a huge effort to climb out of a very steep drop before I screwed everything up.

“Christ,” I rasped when I finally managed to tear my lips from hers.

Her breath came in short gasps, her eyes sparkled and her face flushed as if she had overexerted herself.

“Hell, I could kiss you all night.” I tucked a strand of hair behind her ear before letting go. “But this little taste of you is going to last me ’til morning.” Body screaming in protest, I took a step back. “Now go in there, get in bed, and don’t be scared. Okay? I’ll be along shortly.”

Her lips wavered, then a new smile birthed in her eyes and spread to her face, a mischievous grin that turned those luscious lips up at the corners and warned of all kinds of trouble.

She leaned into my space and, approaching me slowly, delivered her own kiss to my lips. The kiss was like an arctic wallop, but scalding; like a blow to the senses, but soft. Her tongue swiped a little taste of me. I gasped when she cut me off without warning, leaving me reeling, rock hard and without a trace of oxygen flowing to my lungs.

“Erickson?” she said before she sauntered off. “I don’t think you understand.”

“Understand what?”

She halted at the threshold and looked over her shoulder. “I’m not scared of you anymore,” she said. “I’m scared of me when I’m with you.”

 

Long Excerpt: Complete Chapter One

 

Trouble welcomed me to Alaska. It ambushed me in the guise of an invisible patch of black ice that launched my car spinning into a triple Lutz. I pumped my brakes. Nothing. My rental careened over the ditch and bounced down the steep ravine. The rocks pummeling the undercarriage rattled my brain. I was distantly aware that the shriek piercing my eardrums came from my throat. My headlights illuminated the spruce that materialized before me, down to the huge, corrugated trunk that collided with the hood, bringing my involuntary detour to a jarring stop.

Silence. Only the sound of my ragged breath and my pulse, pounding in my temples, interrupted the atmospheric quiet. I pried my fingers from the wheel and stared at my shaking hands. They flickered in and out of focus until I managed to even out my breaths.

The good news? I was alive and, although the wreck had probably relocated some of my internal organs, nothing seemed broken. The bad news? The air bag hadn’t gone off and pain throbbed in my thigh and somewhere behind my ear. Crap. I’d come to Alaska to find my wayward sister, but my search had hit a major snag. Time to figure out how bad of a snag it was.

My hand was still quaking as I reached into my purse and found my cell. Zero bars. I groaned. What was the point of technology if it never worked when you needed it most? I snatched my purse and pulled on the door handle. The door refused to open. I scooted across to the other seat and opened the passenger side door, grateful to crawl out in one piece.

The cold hit me like a slap to the face. My nostrils flared and my lungs ached with the arctic wallop. To a tropical gal like me, the air smelled as though someone had stuffed a live Christmas tree in the freezer. Delicate snowflakes floated in the air like tiny speckles of silver. This was the first time I’d seen snow in real life. It was pretty, kind of magical really, but the cold crawled under my skin, stiffened my muscles and clung to my bones. I pulled my hood over my head. Had it been this cold when my plane landed in Anchorage?

My wrecked rental was wedged between the slope and the spruce like a deflated accordion. I had no prayer of backing it up the hill. I tackled the ravine, scrambling on all fours, and followed the wheel ruts up the slippery incline. It wasn’t easy. I wore a narrow pencil skirt under my Burberry trench coat, and a pair of four-inch heels I now wished I’d never bought.

It served me right for allowing my stepmother to choose my outfit for the Darius project presentation. Louise was a sucker for shoes—the taller, the better. Note to self: never again relinquish your feet to someone else’s sense of fashion when it’s you—and you alone—who has to suffer the resulting torture.

I’m not sure how long it took me to climb back to the road, but by the time I reached the top, my toes had gone numb, my hands ached and my fingertips had turned white. The road I’d been driving on looked totally benign, not like the camouflaged skating rink that had hurled my vehicle into the ravine.

I clapped my hands together to warm them up. The sound echoed for miles around me. Stuck in the Alaskan wilderness. Unreal. It was an unlikely predicament for a gal who’d much rather be at the beach. Shark attack? Sure, it wouldn’t surprise me if that ended up being part of my obituary. But frozen alive? Only if it involved a freak accident in Publix’s frozen food section.

“Summer Silva, get your act together,” I said out loud to break the eerie silence. My father hadn’t clung to a capsized raft for three days in the Florida Straits in order for me to die on my first day in Alaska.

I straightened my coat, shoved my hands into my pockets, and began to walk. A layer of slush-covered ice crackled beneath my heels. Crap. My feet slid every which way and my legs wobbled. Steady, Silva. I could handle the unwieldy shoes…on firm, unfrozen ground. The only ice I’d ever dealt with came out in little cubes from the automated dispenser in the freezer door.

Five minutes later, the cold skewered me and not a single car had made an appearance. I leaned into the bitter wind. I wasn’t made of sugar and spice. I was tough, and I meant to get out of this one, but I was majorly pissed. I was so going to give Tammy a piece of my mind when I found her.

I envisioned my sister lying on a white pelt in front of a roaring fireplace. I mouthed off into the deepening darkness. I was the levelheaded one. I was the one who always followed the rules, cleaned up the messes, did the responsible thing. And yet, right now, I was the one freezing my ass off on a desolate Alaskan road.

The headlights caught me by surprise. They sprang out from behind the curve and pierced the dusk. I waved my hands to flag down the speeding vehicle. As it got closer, I made out a Ford F-450 Super Duty, black as night, the type that would’ve made my truck-obsessed sister drool with envy. The truck drove right by me before the taillights lit up and it skidded to a stop, then accelerated in reverse.

The window whirred down to reveal the warmth and comfort of the softly illuminated cab. The leather-scented, heated air wafted from the window and teased my frozen senses. A man sat at the wheel, enveloped in a black thermal jacket that I would’ve gladly traded a thousand bucks for, on the spot. His face might have been handsome, if it hadn’t been distorted by the scowl that wilted my poor attempt at a smile.

He more or less growled. “Who the hell put you up to this?”

“Excuse me?” I clutched my hood against a sudden burst of wind.

“You better come clean right now,” he bit out in a tone that matched the frosty temperature. “A name. I want to know who the hell hired you and what you were expected to do.”

“Hired me?”

“Don’t play dumb with me.” He eyed me like a wolf eyed a meal. “Who was it? Was it someone related to me? I swear, if you don’t tell me this goddamn minute, you’re going to be sorry.”

I stared at the man in the cab, unable to comprehend his rage. What on earth was he talking about? The fury blazing in his striking amber eyes frightened me. As it was, I was so cold I couldn’t think, let alone make sense of what he was saying. I rubbed the sore spot behind my ear. Maybe I’d hit my head harder than I thought. Maybe this was a dream or a nightmare. Oh, God. My stomach clenched. I really hoped I was awake. I shoved my hand up my sleeve and pinched my arm. It hurt. In fact, a lot of me was either throbbing or aching. A good sign, yes?

“Well?” he said. “Are you going to speak up or are you dumb, deaf, and mute?”

“Um, no.” I rubbed my arms. “I usually have a lot to say. It’s just that…well…I’m cold and you—I’m really sorry to have to tell you—but you sound like a crazy person.”

He launched another blistering glower in my direction. “For the last time,” he said, his tone intractable, “who the hell put you up to this?”

“Nobody,” I said. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. My car skidded off the road and I’ve got no cell reception.”

“Your car?” He looked up and down the road. “I don’t see a car. Where is it?”

“Back there somewhere.” I’m not sure whether my treacherous heels slid on the ice or if fatigue did me in, but my feet went out from under me and, though I clung to the window, I landed on my knees. “Ow,” I might have said aloud.

“What the hell?”

I let go of the window and my dignity at the same time. I surrendered to the elements and settled precariously on the frosty ground. The cold iced my shins, traveled up to my core, and chilled my spine. I was about to pass out from exhaustion. I’d been up for over seventy-two hours. On top of that, I was suffering from a bad case of jet lag. If all of that wasn’t enough, the wreck had jarred my senses. I wasn’t in good shape and I knew it.

But I couldn’t allow myself to go unconscious. No, sir, no way in hell. I knew the risks of passing out in front of a stranger too well. I just needed a moment to gather my strength, defrost myself and get my act together. I leaned my forehead on the door and, basking in the warmth radiating from the undercarriage, forced myself to stay alert. Surely, I could get some help, the crazy man would go on his merry way, and I could move on to finish what I’d come to do.

The engine quit. The truck quaked with the slam of a door. Angry steps crunched on the road. A pair of hiking boots parked by my side. I looked up and cringed. The man’s scowl pummeled me. From my perspective on the ground, he soared above me, tall and imposing, a giant really. His knees cracked when he crouched next to me.

“Did Alex hire you?” he said. “Alex Erickson?”

“Who?”

“Are you telling me you don’t know who Alex Erickson is?”

“I don’t.”

His breath came out in angry puffs that condensed in the air. “Do you know who I am?”

“No clue,” I said. “Am I supposed to know?”

“You tell me.” He looked like he was about to spit fire. “If no one put you up to this, then what the hell are you doing out here in the middle of nowhere?”

“Not taking a walk in the park, that’s for sure.”

My throat made this weird noise, a cross between a sob and a giggle, a sound that combined confusion with hilarity, fear with absurdity. But I wasn’t going to cry. No freaking way. I wasn’t going to panic either. The part of me that felt utterly ridiculous kneeling on the frozen pavement in the middle of nowhere won out. I pressed my hand over my mouth, but the quiet giggles leaked out anyway.

The man rubbed the back of his neck and frowned, a dip of full eyebrows that screamed vexation. “Do you think this is funny?”

“Funny?” I couldn’t stop giggling. “No, not funny, more like hilarious.”

“Jesus Christ.” He raked his fingers through his longish hair, leaving a bunch of straight, flaxen strands in disarray. He didn’t know what to make of me, but he sure knew how to scowl.

The shivering, combined with his radioactive glower, stifled my giggle attack. I forced myself to pay attention. Determination whetted the man’s features and set the line of his jaw into a straight angle. A shade of stubble covered the lower half of his face, imbuing him with a golden glow that echoed the gleam in his eye, but there was nothing soft in his stare, not a hint of humor or friendliness.

At least he looked clean and groomed, unlike the rugged, hygiene-challenged bunch I’d met in the back-to-back episodes of Alaska’s Bush Men I’d binge-watched on the plane. Alaska had never been on my long list of places I wanted to visit, and after watching the show, I’d questioned my sister’s sanity along with that of people who lived away from even the most basic human comforts. Now I wondered about this surly stranger too, the first off-the-grid Alaskan I’d met.

“Is your cell working?” I said. “Could you please call the police?”

“There’s no reception on this stretch of road.” The copper-hued eyes probed my face. “If you really need help, I’m all you’ve got.”

Great. Just great. The world whirled around me. I steadied myself against the truck. Three days ago, I’d been in the middle of the most important presentation of my professional life when Louise had called to tell me about my stepsister, Tammy. I’d already been short of sleep and high on stress, but since then, I’d been on the go, trying to get to Alaska.

The earth beneath my knees shifted again. I tightened my grip on the truck and took a deep breath. I wasn’t one to fall apart so easily. To bad weather , a brave face , my father used to say, quoting an old Spanish proverb. I might be out of my comfort zone, but I hadn’t given up on my pride just yet. I straightened my coat and, balancing carefully on one knee, planted one foot first, then the other. I rose slowly from the iffy crouch.

“Oops!” My heels skidded in opposite directions. I fell, bounced on my butt, and ended up sprawled on the ground all over again, rear smarting from the impact. I cursed under my breath.

“Dammit.” The man hooked his hands under my arms, lifted me up, and set me upright. “There. Do you think you can stand on your own?”

“Maybe,” I mumbled, rubbing my ass. My legs buckled, but I steadied myself on the truck and willed my feet to stick to the ground.

“You’re shivering.” He opened the car door. “Get in.”

“No, thank you.” Even if I was freezing, there were rules about cars and strangers. “Can you please call for Roadside Assistance?”

The man actually scoffed. “No reception, remember?” He eyed me impatiently. “Lady, you do know that there’s a storm barreling down on south central Alaska, right?”

“The clerk at the airport did mention that.”

“But did he mention that anytime now, a Bering Sea superstorm is expected to bring blizzard conditions with winds in excess of sixty miles an hour?”

“Yeah, no.” I swallowed a dry gulp. “He didn’t put it quite as bad as that.”

“It’s going to get a hell of a lot colder,” the man said. “Emergency services went on lockdown about fifteen minutes ago.”

Fabulous, just fabulous.

“What I’m trying to tell you,” he explained in a strained tone obviously intended for the dimwits among us, “is that—assuming you’re not a trap—I’m your only option at the moment. So get in the damn truck, before you freeze your ass off.”

Dressed in his black jacket and blue jeans, glinting with all that gold in his eyes and hair, he looked perfectly normal. Minus the scowl, he might have even been good looking. But his bad temper and my flash-frozen brain made for a bad combination. Plus, there was a good chance he was more than paranoid and grouchy. Maybe he was off the grid in more ways than one.

“Look,” he said. “I’ve had a long day and I’m in a shitty mood.”

I rolled my eyes. “No kidding.”

“I wasn’t expecting this. You. Whatever.”

I perched my fist on my hip. “Do you think I was expecting you?”

“Just get in, okay?” He gestured to the cab. “I want to get indoors before the storm hits.”

“Oh, I don’t know.” I considered both, the brawny guy and his burly truck. “Where I come from, hitchhiking is dangerous.”

“Too bad,” he said. “In Alaska hitchhiking is a common form of transportation.”

“As far as I know, you could be a serial killer.”

“So could you.” He held the door open for me. “And my risk is higher than yours since, according to the Discovery Channel, female serial killers have been proven to be more dangerous than male serial killers.”

I’d either met my match or found the only other person in the world who watched as much Discovery Channel as I did.

“Get the hell in,” he said impatiently. “We’re running out of time.”

The weather was getting colder. The wind had picked up and the snow fell in bigger, wetter chunks. I was shivering violently, but still, I hesitated.

“Can you please take me to the nearest gas station or hotel?” I said, trying to keep my voice from quavering.

“The nearest gas station is sixty-five miles that way.” He stuck out his thumb and pointed behind him. “The nearest motel is seventy-eight miles in the opposite direction. There’s no time to get there. My cabin is close by and I have the full intention of being there by the time the storm hits in…” he paused to look at his watch, “…anytime now.”

The mention of the word “cabin” did nothing to appease my fears. I’d seen plenty of “cabins” in my reality show marathon. I didn’t want to spend a moment—let alone hours—chewing on squirrel parts in a rustic shelter without heat, electricity, or plumbing, especially in the company of a pissed-off guy whose actions so far put the strange in stranger.

“What is it going to be?” he said. “I’m willing to play the female killer odds if you decide you don’t want to turn into an icicle. It’s your choice, but I’m hauling ass right now.”

What’s the use of choices when one has none?

I said a little prayer, shuffled on the ice and, balancing carefully on my unwieldy heels, climbed into the front seat. He helped me up, shut the door, and walked around the truck. My head began to hurt, pangs of pain stabbing behind my eyes. Not good.

The man climbed in next to me in the cab. “Strap in.”

He switched on the ignition, pressed on the pedal and accelerated down the icy track as if truck skating was an X Games signature event and he was going for the gold. My knuckles tightened around the door handle. I bit down on my lips, but the backseat driver in me was out of control. Whether he was a serial killer or not was irrelevant. We were both going to die today.

He glanced in my direction. “You got a name?”

“Yes.” I pressed my frozen fingertips against the heating vent, reveling in the blessed heat.

“Well?” he said in that demanding tone of his.

I stared at him, mystified by his persistent state of grouchiness. “Well what?”

“Are you going to tell me what your name is or what?”

“Oh.” I was close to frozen stupid. “My name is Summer, Summer Silva.”

“Summer in Alaska?” He stared at me for an instant, then burst out into quiet laughter. “You’re a little late. Summer arrived in Alaska just in time to meet winter.”

Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I hadn’t slept in a while, but yeah, no. He wasn’t going to laugh at my expense. I narrowed my eyes on him.

“That’s quite the glare.” He suppressed another round of laughter. “I didn’t mean to be rude.”

“Well, you are rude, a lot rude in fact, accusing me of God knows what and acting like a total jerk.”

“Sorry,” he said. “It’s just that… Summer in Alaska.” His lips twitched. “You’ve got to admit. It’s pretty damn good.”

“Are you drunk?” I said. “Because if you are, maybe I should be doing the driving. I imagine they’ve got laws in Alaska, including some about drinking and driving?”

“You’re turning out to be a piece of work,” he said, smirking. “Bossy too, for someone riding in my goddamn truck. Here I am, doing you a favor, not letting you freeze off your pretty little stuck-up ass and yet you’re being a smartass and giving me attitude.”

“Are you for real?” He had a lot of nerve calling me a smartass. “You’re not exactly attitude free yourself.”

“And yes,” he added, ignoring my comment, “we do have some laws here in Alaska, although not nearly as many as they’ve got in the lower forty-eight. As to your question, nope, I’m not drunk, haven’t had a drop all day. Should’ve, but didn’t.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I mean that if there was ever a good day for drinking, today was it.” He stomped on the clutch and shifted gears. “But no, unfortunately, I’m not drunk. That and the shitty day probably explain why you’re getting a double dose of sarcasm.”

“Sorry about your shitty day,” I said. “But you need to mellow out. Do you always go around trying to bully people into doing whatever you want?”

“Pretty much.” He flashed what could’ve been a semi-contrite glance in my direction. “Look, I apologize for my lack of manners.” He offered his hand. “My name is Seth, Seth Erickson.”

I shook his hand, mostly because, sarcasm aside, he was making an effort to be civil. Plus, he was a fellow Discovery Channel watcher. His hold was firm, hot, and supremely comforting to my fingers. My entire body wanted to shrink into his grip if only to bask in his radiant heat. My fingertips tripped against the unusual texture at the bottom of his hand. I spotted a patch of mangled skin scarring his palm, crawling up his wrist and disappearing into his sleeve. He caught me looking and covered most of the scar with a self-conscious tug of his sleeve.

“You’ve got some icy fingers there.” He tapped on the console’s screen and punched up the temperature of my heated seat. “Tuck them under your thigh. Trust me. It’s the quickest way to warm up those puppies.”

He was right. Trapped between the heat of my body and the seat, my fingers began to thaw.

“Where the hell are you from?” he asked. “Miami.”

“Ah.” He smirked. “That explains it.”

“Explains what?”

“Your inability to cope with ice. And the outfit.”

I looked down at myself. “What’s wrong with my outfit?”

“No gloves, hat, boots, or a proper coat,” he said. “When I first saw you I thought you were either crazy or—well—you know.”

“No, I don’t know.”

“I thought maybe you were a plant, someone looking for attention, or more specifically, my attention.”

I stared at him for a full thirty seconds, unable to figure out what he meant. “What are you talking about?”

“Nobody in their right mind out here wears skirts and high heels on the roads, except the occasional call girl, playing a pre-ordered role or meeting a very specific customer…”

“Oh no you didn’t.” What was wrong with this man? “You thought I was a whore?”

“I couldn’t see beneath the coat…”

“Are you like…freaking insane?”

He cleared his throat. “It was probably the heels that gave me the wrong impression…”

“You’re out of your mind, you know that?” I snapped. “First you think your family is out to get you. Then you think I’m…what? A prostitute? Which implies that you think someone in your family was going to set you up with a…Jesus!” I rubbed my temples, wishing that I’d never come to Alaska and also that I’d ditched those damn shoes. “I really want to go home.”

“Don’t get upset.” His eyes betrayed a hint of concern. “I would’ve bought the look if I’d seen you down in, say, Ketchikan getting down from one of them fancy cruises. For future reference, Alaska 101: dress warm, keep dry, stay warm. That coat might look fine for a fall afternoon on Fifth Avenue, but in Alaska? It’ll kill you faster than a dip in the Bering Sea.”

Great. Advice from Mr. Sunshine himself. His condescending tone annoyed the hell out of me. “Okay, fine, maybe I’m not properly dressed for the weather, but that’s only because I had no time to plan for this trip. I’m not as stupid as you’re making me out to be.”

“No offense,” he said, “but all the tourists are gone. What the hell is someone like you doing all the way out here at the end of September?”

“It’s kind of a long story.”

“I don’t know why,” he muttered, “but I’m itching to hear it.”

“If you must know,” I said, “my sister ran away with a guy she met on the internet. He’s from Alaska and I came to find her.”

He flashed me a skeptical look. “Is your sister stupid?”

“No,” I said, but at times like these, I wondered. “Tammy is just…impulsive.”

“Has she done stuff like this before?”

“Well, yeah, but it’s not really her fault.”

“What do you mean it’s not her fault?”

“She struggles with bipolar disorder.”

“Hey, lady, Summer—right?” he said. “There’s no excuse for stupidity. I’ve met people with all kinds of injuries and disorders who know better than to run away with a stranger they met on the internet.”

“I know, but Tammy is…”

My cell rang to the tune of chirping birds. Reception. I had reception! I groped through my purse until I found the phone.

“You might get a minute or two if you’re lucky,” Seth cautioned. “After that, nothing for a while.”

My tepid fingers fumbled over the keypad, accidentally hitting the speaker in the process. “Hello?”

“Did you find Tammy?” Louise’s voice blared in her best Brooklyn accent, shrill, loud, and capable of busting an eardrum or two. “Where is she? Is she okay?”

“Calm down.” I tried to turn off the speaker but my stiff fingers succeeded only at increasing the volume. “I’m on my way to find her now. There might be an itsy-bitsy delay. The weather is not cooperating, but don’t worry, I’ll find her.”

“Are you locked in a fancy hotel room?” Louise demanded. “You won’t find Tammy from behind a bolted door.”

“Of course not.” Louise could be such a witch when she was anxious. “I promised you I’d find Tammy and I will.”

“I sure hope you’re not enjoying room service while your sister is gone and I’m here, suffering, imagining all the terrible things she could be going through…”

“Please, don’t be a drama queen,” I said. “We don’t have any evidence to suggest that Tammy is in immediate danger.”

“Find your sister!” Louise’s voice flickered in and out of range. “Find her! I don’t care what you have to do, just do it…”

The phone lost all its bars again and the call dropped. The narrow reception zone had ended. Part of me was grateful for the reprieve. The other part knew I was cut off again. The headache throbbing behind my eye intensified. The sights blurred before me.

“Hey,” Seth said. “You okay?”

“Fine.” I dropped my cell in my purse and straightened my back, fighting the exhaustion.

“Who was that very loud woman?”

“My stepmother.”

“Is she right in the head?”

“She’s just worried about Tammy.”

“Something’s not adding up here.” He rubbed his wide back against the seat like a great big bison scratching against a tree. “Your sister’s an idiot. Your stepmother demands that you drop everything and go chase her. Your family? Sounds like a major clusterfuck.”

“Look who’s talking.” I sniffed. “My family may be a little different, but we love each other. We don’t hire people to try to set each other up. Sure, we can be loud and a tad dramatic on occasion, but honestly? Your family sounds a million times more screwed up than mine.”

His mouth twisted into the sarcastic smirk he favored. “You might have a point there.”

“Yeah, you bet I do.” I leaned back on the headrest. After a two-day journey, a three-hour drive, and a car wreck, I felt as if someone had taken a bat to me.

“You’re looking very sleepy there,” he said. “Talk to me. Are you all right?”

“I’ll live,” I mumbled, rubbing the knot behind my ear.

“Are you hurt?” He turned on the cabin lights and leaned over to inspect my head as he continued to drive. “Is that a bruise behind your ear? Hell, I didn’t notice before.” The truck swerved in the road. “Did you hit your head when your car went off the road? Are you sure you’re all right?”

“Just concentrate on driving straight, please.” I inched away from his touch and switched the cabin lights off. “I’m a little tired, that’s all. I haven’t slept for a few days.”

“A few days? That’s not good.” He groped behind the seat, opened the top of a small cooler and, after grabbing a bottle, handed it over to me. “Here you go.”

“No, thanks.” I wasn’t about add alcohol to my troubles.

“It’s not for drinking.” He pressed the cold bottle to the side of my head. “It’s to keep the swelling down.”

“Oh.” I took the bottle from him and held it against the lump.

“Hang on tight,” he said. “That’s a real nice handcrafted lager. I wouldn’t want it to go to waste.”

“Got it,” I said. “Hanging on to the brew over here.”

He smiled, a genuine, eye-lightening grin that eased the angles on his face and radiated charm and warmth. Could a guy who smiled like that really be a jerk or a serial killer?

The world around us turned into a white maelstrom. The wind wrestled with the truck. The road became invisible under a new layer of snow. Seth geared down and kept his eyes on the road as we negotiated some hairy turns and the road’s deteriorating conditions. In all my twenty-nine years of life, I’d never seen weather like this.

“We’re not beating the storm, are we?”

“This is just the beginning.” He tilted his head and surveyed the sky. “It’s going to get bad soon, thirteen hours of very nasty wind, snow, and ice.”

My timing sucked. “And I thought this was bad.”

“This is nothing.” He slowed down to maneuver over a bridge. “I don’t suppose you get blizzards in Miami. But don’t worry, we’re almost there.”

“Goody,” I mumbled.

I knew my chances of getting to a hotel tonight were nil, but I needed to keep it together, at least until we got to the cabin. With a little luck, it might be a two-room cabin, with a door and a lock between me and the rest of the place. A door chain would be nice, but I could always improvise.

I eyed the man riding next to me. Maybe under all that hubris, he’d turn out to be a decent human being. After all, he had stopped to help me. I toyed with the idea of giving him a quick rundown of my condition, but my hackles went up. No way. He was a stranger and a guy and maybe even a little off, with all that paranoia. I knew from experience what would happen if I warned him. No need to add premeditation to humiliation.

All of a sudden, my vision narrowed. My thoughts slowed down to a crawl. My body slacked and my eyelids slammed over my eyes like hurricane shutters. I ran out of time and energy at the same moment. Oh, crap. I knew exactly what was happening to me.

“Hey, Summer.” Seth’s voice came from far away. “We’re almost there.” He shook me softly. “Wake up. Stick with me, girl.”

I had no time to explain. “Make sure you lock the door,” I mumbled, before I conked out.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Romantic Suspense, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Chapter reveal: Write to Die, by Charles Rosenberg

cover-2Title: Write to Die

Author: Charles Rosenberg

Publication Date:  July 26, 2016

Category:   Mystery/Thriller

Formats:  Trade Paper, ISBN:  978- 1503937611, $15.95,  Kindle, $3.99

Page Count:   498 (approximately)

Publisher:   Thomas & Mercer

Publicity Contact:  Maryglenn McCombs  (615) 297-9875 maryglenn@maryglenn.com

Book description: Hollywood’s latest blockbuster is all set to premiere—until a faded superstar claims the script was stolen from her. To defend the studio, in steps the Harold Firm, one of Los Angeles’s top entertainment litigation firms and as much a part of the glamorous scene as the studios themselves. As a newly minted partner, it’s Rory Calburton’s case, and his career, to win or lose. But the seemingly tame civil trial turns lethal when Rory stumbles upon the strangled body of his client’s general counsel. And the ties that bind in Hollywood constrict even tighter when the founder of the Harold Firm is implicated in the murder. Rory is certain the plagiarism and murder cases are somehow connected, and with the help of new associate Sarah Gold—who’s just finished clerking for the chief justice—he’s determined to get answers. Will finding out who really wrote the script lead them to the mastermind of the real-life murder?

Chapter 1

SUNDAY

The story began when his phone rang.

He struggled out of a deep Sunday morning sleep, fumbled the phone to his ear, got out “Hello” and heard a deep voice say, “Rory, Joe Stanton. I need to see you.”

“Joe, I just saw you on Friday.”

“Well, so what? I need you again. My office. Five o’clock.”

Rory wanted to say, “It’s Sunday, and I have plans.” But he knew he had no real choice. Joe’s studio, TheSun/TheMoon/TheStars, was his firm’s largest client. Joe was the general counsel—the guy who distributed all of the litigation work on which Rory’s law firm feasted. But even as he stifled his real thoughts and said, “Okay, see you there,” he realized Stanton had already hung up.

***

Rory had been on the studio lot so frequently in the past few years that they had finally caved and given him a drive-on pass, something unheard of for outside lawyers. He flashed it at the guard gate—the security camera would later document that he drove through at 5:06 p.m.—and made his way, via the fake streets used to film cityscapes, to the oddly named Executive Office Structure. There were a few other cars around, but not many, and Rory amused himself by sliding into the slot reserved for the studio head.

Joe’s office was on the top floor, and Rory took the steps up, the better to add a little more exercise to his day. His bad knee always did better going up than down. It had surprised him that the entry door into the stairwell was unlocked and annoyed him that he was out of breath by the time he got to the top.

The door to Joe’s assistant’s office was wide open, and nobody was at the desk—amazing in itself because when Joe was in the office, an assistant was always there, too, day or night. The door to Joe’s own office was to the right of the assistant’s desk. It was closed.

Rory knocked. When there was no answer, he knocked again, louder, eased the door open and peeked around the edge. Joe was sitting in his leather chair, behind his over-large black granite desk, his body tilted slightly to the left. An ugly black-and-blue bruise spanned his neck from ear to ear, and his swollen tongue protruded from his mouth. Blood clotted in his hair.

What went through Rory’s head was remarkably rational, considering that his heart rate had accelerated to twice normal speed. If I go in there, I’ll get my fingerprints and probably my DNA all over everything. And the guy’s clearly dead, so I can’t help him.

He closed the door, but not all the way, called 911 on his cell, calmly reported the body and its location and waited. While he waited there in the assistant’s office, the door to Joe’s office swung entirely open again on its own. He wanted to turn away, but he had the odd feeling it was somehow disrespectful to the body to do that. So he just stared at it until suddenly a breeze, or something, slammed the door shut again.

The 911 call had apparently alerted studio security as well as the city’s emergency system, because within a few minutes a studio cop showed up, out of breath from running up the steps. Rory pointed to the door and tried to say “Dead,” but all that came out was a croak. He tried again and got the word out.

“Anyone else in there?”

“Don’t think so, but I’m not sure. I opened the door, but then it closed again on its own. The wind, maybe.”

The guard motioned him away, drew his gun, flattened himself to the wall beside the door and, while turning the doorknob with his spare hand, kicked the door wide open. Crouching slightly and holding the gun straight out in front of him, he cleared first the open doorway and then, moving inside, the space to each side of the door. Rory thought it a brave thing. If somebody had been inside with a gun or a knife, the guard could’ve bought the farm.

“The room’s clear,” the man said. Then, as if he had not yet really focused on the corpse in the chair, he added, “Oh my God.”

Rory heard the sirens as the police and paramedics arrived, and he watched LAPD uniforms stream out of the stairway, consult the studio guard and go through the same routine of clearing the room, guns drawn. Within ten minutes, there were six more people, including men and women wearing white coats with LAPD insignia stitched above the pockets. Suddenly, yellow crime scene tape was everywhere.

Rory heard the studio guard on his walkie-talkie telling the front gate, “Don’t let any media in here . . . No, nobody, even if they’ve got a pass . . . They’ll be coming soon, they’ve probably already heard about it on the police scanner. And post somebody on the walk-in gate on the back lot.”

A Detective Johnson, according to his name plate, a big African American guy who was actually taller than Rory’s own six foot five, and maybe heavier, too, emerged from Joe’s office wearing white booties and latex gloves. He peeled the gloves off and took out a small notebook. “You the guy who found him?”

“Yeah.”

“The other detectives will want to talk to you later. I’ll get the basics from you now.”

It didn’t take long. Rory answered that he didn’t know if Joe had any enemies, in part because he didn’t know the victim very well.

“Any idea why he wanted to meet with you?”

Rory shrugged. “I’m an outside entertainment lawyer representing the studio in a big copyright case. There’s a court hearing going on about it right now. Maybe he wanted to talk about that. But he didn’t say. Just said he wanted to see me today.”

“I see.”

“So, Detective,” Rory said, “is there any way he could have . . . choked himself, somehow? Is that possible?”

“Not unless you can strangle yourself and make the rope disappear afterward.”

“No sign of it?”

He shook his head. “It was good you didn’t go in there. A lot of people would have. How did you have the smarts not to?”

“A long time ago, I was a deputy DA. You learn stuff in that job.”

“And now you’re—what did you say? An entertainment lawyer?” Without waiting for Rory to confirm, he rolled on: “Hey, have you heard this one?”

Here we go, Rory thought. Even in the middle of a gruesome crime scene.

“What’s the difference between a dead lawyer and a dead armadillo in the road, Counselor?”

“I don’t know. What?”

“No skid marks in front of the lawyer.” He guffawed at his own joke.

Rory had been thinking up good responses to lawyer jokes for years. Maybe this wasn’t the time to try one out, but then again, maybe it was.

“That’s funny, Detective, but what about this one? How many clients does it take to screw in a light bulb?”

“Uh, I dunno.”

“Well, no one knows, because clients always call their lawyers to come over and help.”

“Huh?”

“It’s a client joke.”

“I gotta think about that one.”

“Yes. Do that. May I go now?”

“Yes.”

“You have my card. If any of the other detectives need to talk to me, please tell ’em to give me a call.”

“I expect they will.” He paused. “Say, do lawyers often tell each other client jokes?”

“Nope, but they should.”

Rory left Detective Johnson, walked back to his car in the parking lot and opened the door. Then he turned around and threw up on the asphalt, getting some on his pants. When he felt like it wasn’t going to happen again, he drove home, cleaned up and tried to eat something. But he wasn’t hungry. Then he tried to sleep but found it hard. He finally got up, rummaged in his medicine cabinet and found a bottle of Valium that an old girlfriend had left behind. He took one and fell into a troubled sleep.

 

Excerpted from WRITE TO DIE with permission of the publisher, Thomas & Mercer. Copyright 2016 (c) Charles Rosenberg. All rights reserved. 

 

Categories: Thriller, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Chapter reveal:WHISTLE BLOWER AND DOUBLE AGENTS, by Ruth J. Anderson

CoverTitleWHISTLE BLOWER AND DOUBLE AGENTS

Author: Ruth J. Anderson

Publisher: The Peppertree Press

Genre: Thriller/Espionage

Release date: July 2016

Purchase at Amazon and B&N

About the bookDuring a visit to the CIA on a safeguards inquiry, an Atomic Energy Commission nuclear scientist finds that the safeguards program of his agency was flawed and allowed for nuclear material to be stolen from within the nuclear plant and passed on to other countries.  Deeply alarmed, he reported this finding to the AEC, and later to the U.S. Congress and the President.  But when the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman falls in love with a beautiful female undercover CIA operative, what follows is a pulse-quickening, globe-spanning page turner that will leave readers wondering where truth ends and fiction begins—if at all…

CHAPTER 1

A loud persistent buzz of the telephone awakened Jim Miller

some time before six o’clock in the morning—a telephone used

strictly for official business. When it rang, it usually meant trouble.

His wife Nancy referred to it as the ‘hop’ line, because it was

the only time Jim moved swiftly from a lying-down position. He

preferred to waken slowly—dozing several times before greeting

the day.

“Good morning, Jim, hope I didn’t wake you,” the voice on the

other end teased.

“Good morning, Mr. President, nice of you to call and no, you

didn’t awaken me,” Jim lied.

“Lunch in my office today at noon?” The question was more of

a command than a query.

Jim Miller knew quite well, no one turned down an invitation

from the President of the United States.

“Yes, sir!” his enthusiastic answer met deaf ears as the telephone

went dead on the other end.

The brutal heat of a steamy summer day hit the black top of

the limousine like a hot torch touched to a metal instrument. Jim

turned his head slightly to observe the familiar white building to

his left as it came into view. Strangely enough, everyone referred

it as the ‘House’ even though its main purpose was business—the

business of politics. Through the ages, numerous families had

been sheltered here. Allegedly, the ghosts of many great men still

walked its halls, lingering in the darkness to observe the living.

Jim entered the White House and turned the corner leading to

the hall, which led to the Oval Office. It surprised and pleased

him to see George Keannealy standing in the doorway as if awaiting

his arrival. The tall, handsome man—young for an American

president—was exactly the same age as Jim. His laughing blue

eyes, permanently creased at the corners, complemented a wide

mouth always eager to smile. Impeccably dressed, he wore an

understated single-breasted gray suit, complemented by a dapper

white dress shirt with a striking dark rose silk tie sprinkled in a

fleur de lis pattern. His appearance bespoke of wealth and good

taste, while his boyishness depicted youth and energy.

In the deep pockets of his memories, Jim recalled how he had

first met George and his wife, Sarah, now the First Lady. Indeed,

Jim had known Sarah before George. In her late teens, she had

dated Jim’s roommate at West Point. As he thought back to those

days, he realized how indebted he was to Sarah, since she introduced

him to Nancy Forsythe, his wife. From high school on,

Nancy and Sarah had been close friends, attending the same prestigious

schools and parties.

When Jim and Nancy became seriously involved, Nancy’s ultra-

wealthy and society-conscious family opposed their engagement

at first. Her family owned a string of very fine department

stores, headquartered in New York City. Despite their ostentatious

background, Nancy did not come across as the average snobbish

debutante. Early in their courtship, she had seen in Jim the potential

to be a good husband, father, and a successful man. She

had carefully factored in her support and guidance to assure that

success. And had skillfully convinced her family he would make a

fine asset to the clan.

Although not beautiful by a model’s standard, Nancy certainly

would be considered pretty. Or perhaps ‘stylish’ would be a better

word to describe her. She wore her streaked blond hair pulled

back severely in a French twist—the fashion of the day. Ringlets,

slipping out across her delicate face, created an aura of sweet serenity.

Her good friend, Sarah, distinctly contrasted in personality

and looks to Nancy, a different breed altogether. In her early days

at Smith College, Sarah earned the name ‘party girl.’ Whenever

she could escape the confines of the staid old institution, she could

be found drinking, dancing, and sinning with the best or worst of

them. The dark-eyed, redheaded beauty had young men swarming

to her side, like honeybees to a savory hive. Her family, the

epitome of old money, handed the financial management of their

company to a slow-witted heir, who knew little about stocks and

bonds. Like all things old and neglected, the money soon began to

dry up and pass away.

Fortunately, during this financial deathwatch, Sarah approached

womanhood. Their adolescent daughter grew into a ravishing

beauty in both form and grace. In a last ditch attempt to salvage

their good name from the disgrace of poverty, the Lacroix family

gathered what was left of their substantial fortune and situated

her in one of the best schools in the country to mingle with the

wealthy and influential. Hopefully, she would find a rich husband,

one generous to a fault, who could not conceive of allowing his

wife’s family to languish in pauperism.

When Sarah married George Keannealy, it was the happiest day

of their lives. At last, her family was connected to the moneyed

gentry, if not by blood, by marriage. They hoped and prayed for

an early issue of this marriage. Children, after all, would bind the

families together once and for all.

In contrast, Jim’s family was about as middle-class as a suburban

Chicago family could be. His father had been a small town

lawyer, not particularly successful, who died from the ravages

of alcoholism when Jim was a teenager. An only child, Jim was

raised by a doting mother and grandfather. His mother worked

in a hospital as a nurse’s aide, while his grandfather, a widower,

held a minor position in the state government. He devoted his

spare time to the proper guidance and disciplining of his grandson,

whom he adored.

Growing up during the years before World War II, the young

boy became enthralled with the military. His grandfather encouraged

him. Pragmatic in his reasoning, he supported Jim’s desire

to enter the United States Military Academy at West Point, New

York. He accepted long ago that no financial way was available

for him to send his gifted grandson to an Ivy League college. West

Point would offer Jim a four-year college education, with a basic

curriculum stressing mathematics, science, and engineering.

Simultaneously, it would focus broadly on shaping his character

around the ideal of its motto—duty, honor, country. And that

pleased the old man very much. Over his mother’s protests, Jim

applied for, and was accepted into the military academy. Accepted

eagerly, considering the superiority of his grades and his outstanding

abilities on the football field. Always an overachiever, Jim excelled

at the Point, graduating second in his class.

High school and college football along with years of rigorous

training in the army, had kept Jim physically fit. Broad shoulders,

narrow hips, and muscular arms and legs fitted nicely on his 6 foot

3 body. He was more rugged looking than his friend, the president,

as a broken nose during some of his combatant situations on the

field saw to that. Nevertheless, he was polished in personality and

mannerism, and adroit in all of the formal niceties. Underneath

this diplomatic facade, however, was an aggressive nature that

could be called upon at will. Indeed, a complete change in character

and temperament could occur in precise seconds.

At the Pentagon, where he was stationed now, women found

him far more attractive than his wife could appreciate. Perhaps it

was the splendid military uniform—the high rank of a four-star

general—and the chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that

added to his presence.

While a great deal of Jim’s service had been abroad, where

his knowledge of several languages had been an asset to his military

career, he and Nancy had not lost track of George Keannealy

and his wife, Sarah. Indeed, whenever time and purpose allowed,

they visited each other in foreign lands or in the US, especially in

Connecticut, where George and Sarah had purchased an imposing

estate, which was linked with its own golf course, tennis courts,

swimming pool, and a small compact runway to accommodate a

private plane or helicopter.

“Lighten up! You don’t have to stand at attention here, particularly

behind closed doors. We’ve known each other far too long,

and I’m not about to be pretentious around you,” the president

chided. “And for god’s sake, call me George,” he smiled—that

wonderful smile that had ultimately won him the election. He

pointed abruptly to an overstuffed chair, upholstered in a striking

black-watch tartan. “Sit,” he said, “and let’s get down to business.”

Jim slid quickly into the comfortable chair designated for him.

Leaning forward, he eagerly anticipated what the president would

tell him, since he had not given him the slightest inkling over the

telephone. He knew it would be something important, otherwise,

George would not have asked him to the Oval Office solely for a

bite to eat.

Just as George started to speak, the door to his office swung

open, and an attractive female head announced “Lunch is here Mr.

President. Shall I send in the steward?”

“I’m famished,” replied George. “Bring it in.”

A small dark mahogany table in his office was opened to full

length and spread evenly with a crisp white-linen cloth. As the

table was set, Jim could not contain the laughter building inside

of him.

“Go ahead and laugh,” George said. “I’m still having my peanut

butter and jelly.”

Jim knew that at the president’s country estate, there had always

been peanut butter and jelly served with lunch and sometimes

breakfast. But it almost seemed bizarre to have it served

within the stateliness of the Oval Office. The meal consisted of all

the foods George liked—tuna fish salad and homemade vegetable

soup, and of course, the ever-present and important peanut butter

and jelly.

After lunch, George began to divulge what was on his mind.

“Jim, there are some openings at the Atomic Energy

Commission, and I’d like to nominate you for the chairmanship.”

His hand went to Jim’s shoulder to quiet him. “Now hear me out,”

he said firmly. “You have all the qualifications for the job. With

your background in engineering, you should be quickly confirmed

on the Hill. And, from a selfish standpoint, I also need someone I

can trust in that position.”

The president left the small dining table now; moving to the

French doors, which led to the White House residence and the

Rose Garden. The garden was in full bloom this time of year and

adorned in resplendent beauty. It was a catharsis to George and

he was often found there inhaling the peaceful quietude, particularly

during troublesome times when the burdens of the office laid

heavily upon his shoulders.

“I am flattered, George, that you would consider me for this

high position, and grateful for your trust in me,” Jim said, almost

reverently. He wondered privately, however, why he would be

pulled out of the Pentagon and moved to the AEC at a time when

disturbing forces in the Far East were becoming more and more of

a concern to peace in the world.

“That’s the key word, ‘trust’,” George said, as he continued to

stare out at the garden.

“I’ve chosen you to tackle a very grave and important problem

that has arisen in the nuclear industry. You see, there’s a nuclear

processing plant located in Axion, Pennsylvania, which has a

consistent and unexplained MUF in its accounting records … you

know what a MUF is, don’t you?” he asked.

“Yes, it stands for, Materials Unaccounted For,” Jim replied.

“That’s right,” the president interrupted, “and the MUF we are

talking about here appears to be a diversion of weapons’-grade

uranium, the kind from which you can make atomic bombs.” He

paused dramatically, and then continued, “A substantial amount is

missing from this plant. AEC officials are still checking, but I’m

told that, given the right circumstances, the amount of missing

material could equal several good-sized atomic bombs.”

“I presume the FBI and CIA are on board with this?” Jim asked.

“You can bet your sweet ass on that,” George replied, looking

at his watch. “As a matter of fact, the FBI director should be showing

up here any time. I want you to meet him.”

He turned from the garden scene before him, and walked briskly

across the red carpet etched with the great seal of the President

of the United States. He stopped abruptly when he reached his

desk, and his hand laid siege to the red authoritative telephone,

waiting there for his bidding.

“Has Herman arrived yet?” the president questioned annoyingly.

“Well, damn it, send him in,” he ordered.

The man who entered through the Oval Office portals had light

brown hair, graying at the temples, and cut very short all around.

He was obese, so when he walked, he waddled lazily like a duck

emerging from a pond. His 5 foot 7 inch frame struggled to balance

the excess poundage it was forced to carry. Thick black eyebrows,

that met in one long solid line above a small pug nose, was

as unkempt as his rumpled suit, but it was his black piercing eyes

that were the real focal point of his face.

After the usual introductions and handshakes, Herman Glover,

director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, slowly moved his

large mound of flesh to the unfortunate sofa that would be obliged

to hold it. He slid the well-worn, government-issued briefcase

down on the floor near his feet, and waited patiently for the president

to open the meeting.

“Jim, as soon as we can get you confirmed and into your new

position, Herman will be sending you several undercover FBI

agents to work with you. However, they will be reporting directly

to him.”

Herman Glover looked straight at Jim and grinned—a grin

not unlike the proverbial grin on the Cheshire cat in Alice in

Wonderland. If only he would disappear like the cat, thought Jim,

for in his gut, he knew Glover was not a man to be trusted.

 

Categories: Suspense, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: