Archive for February, 2013
My guest today is the absolutely fascinating Mia Marlowe. An award-winning author who writes wonderful historical romances for multiple publishing houses, Mia is also a classically trained soprano who won the District Metropolitan Opera Auditions and has shared a stage with Placido Domingo! If that’s not fascinating, I don’t know what is! I have long been a fan not only of her books, but of her character. I admire Mia so much for giving back to the writing community. One way she does that is with her “Red Pencil Thursdays” on her blog. She has used the feature to to provide fresh perspective to many an author who volunteered to have a piece of writing critiqued. As she describes it, it is a chance for the author to think in new directions about their work in progress, as well as to give readers a peek behind the curtain into some writerly issues. And at the end of the day, an author who helps other authors is my kind of author.
With that introduction, I’ll hand you over to Mia.
MIA MARLOWE: Thanks for having me here on Workspace Wednesday, Norah. What a fun idea! However, I don’t have a fancy office to show off. You see, I’m a condo dweller here in New England. While that makes for pleasant times during the winter when we don’t have to shovel and glorious springs and summers enjoying the lush landscaping around our building without pulling a single weed, it also means “itty, bitty living spaces.”
My workspace is a recliner. It sits in a corner of my bedroom. As you can see from this photo, I have writing buddies. Mack and Harry love to snuggle, one on either side of me serving as furry armrests, while I type away on my laptop. For active little dogs, they demonstrate a remarkable ability to lie perfectly still while the keys are clicking. They also give me an excuse to knock off every now and then and take a walk around the park outside our building. Sometimes, I do my best dialogue writing in my head while Harry and Mack are making the world safe from squirrels.
Of course, having pets means wear and tear. One recent casualty in the Harry vs Anything Chewable War was my beloved thesaurus. My friend Marcy says he chews books because he associates them with me and wants to feel closer to me. By that reasoning, he also wants to be closer to the wood worker who shaped the spindles in my dining room chairs. Fortunately, Harry seems to be outgrowing the chewy phase.
One of the best things about my writing space is the view from my window. We are situated on the Mystic River (which you can see here in semi-frozen glory). There are flocks of swans and Canada geese that eye each other warily from across the open water, like rival gangs marking out their turf. In summer, the river is alive with boat traffic and early morning scullers. When I get stuck on a scene, a few minutes of river gazing helps me center myself and dive back into my story.
Thanks for letting me share a bit of my life with your readers, Norah. In closing, I’d like to ask your readers what sort of view they have from their home? Is there anything there that comforts or inspires you? Leave a comment and you’ll be entered in the random drawing for a Kindle version of my newest release, Stroke of Genius. I’ll also be giving away an advance reading copy of One Night with a Rake (coming June 4, 2013) to a second lucky winner.
CAN AN ARTISTIC GENIUS . . .
Crispin Hawke, a brilliant sculptor, is revered by the ton. His works are celebrated in every fashionable parlor. And tales of his fiery bed skills whispered behind every fashionable fan.
TRANSFORM AN AWKWARD HEIRESS . . .
Grace Makepeace is determined to wed a titled lord, but her Bostonian bluntness leaves much to be desired among the well-heeled London crowd. So to gain their acceptance, she commissions the incomparable Crispin Hawke—and asks for love lessons on the side.
INTO THE MOST SOUGHT-AFTER ORIGINAL . . .
Crispin agrees to school Grace in flirting and the delights of the flesh. But when she catches the eye of a marquess, he realizes he’s done his job a little too well. And suddenly he knows Grace is the one masterpiece he cannot bear to be parted from.
WITHOUT FALLING FOR HER HIMSELF?
Claim your Genius today!
Thank you, Mia! I’m marveling at your tiny writing space! Mainly because I would have expected someone with your limitless imagination and boundless enthusiasm would need more room to … I don’t know … sprawl. That’s why I love doing this feature. I’m so often surprised!
Okay, folks, it’s comment time. Tell us about your favorite view from a room in your house, and what it means to you or how it inspires you.
Excerpt from Nightfall
Copyright © 2011 Norah Wilson
AIDEN AFFLACK HUMMED to himself as he lifted the brass doorknocker to summon St. Cloud Police Chief Weldon Michaels to the front door of his Carrington Place residence. Rapping twice, he stepped back.
What was that tune running through his head? It had been with him since he’d risen this evening.
Queens of the Stone Age? Un-uh.
Collective Soul? Yeah, yeah, that was it. Definitely. He cricked his neck one way, then the other and felt the satisfying crack. Ooh, I’m feeling better now.
The curtain in the bay window twitched, but Aiden feigned obliviousness. From inside, he clearly heard Michaels jam a clip into an automatic weapon. Aiden rolled his eyes. Nobody trusted anyone anymore.
“Who are you and what do you want?”
The voice came through the door. A very cautious man indeed.
“I’m a friend of your wife’s,” Aiden called. “Well, more a friend of a friend, actually, but I have a personal message for you, from her.”
“Nice try. Now move on, before I call the cops.”
Aiden thought about knocking the door in. It was solid oak with a good deadbolt on it, but it could have been made from cardboard and paperclips for all the challenge it would present. On the other hand, there was no reason to get messy.
He cleared his throat, did his best to summon a puzzled tone. “Well, hell, I thought you were the cops. Do I have the wrong address? I’m looking for Chief Weldon Michaels. Got a message for him from his wife Lucy. Pretty woman, ’bout an inch over five feet, brown hair and eyes? Oh, and a real cute little daughter. What’s her name?Devon? Any of this sounding familiar?”
Silence for a few heartbeats. “What kind of message?”
“She wants to come home, but before she can see her way clear to doing that, we need to have ourselves a talk.”
Another pause, then the sound of the deadbolt retracting. The door cracked open, and Weldon Michaels peered out past a security chain.
God save me from fools. Growling, Aiden pushed the door open. The hardware anchoring the security chain tore free from the wall. Before Michaels could cry out, Aiden stepped inside and closed the door behind him. In the next heartbeat, he seized Michaels’ right wrist and squeezed until the other man screamed and dropped the pistol he held. It hit the hardwood floor with a clatter but didn’t discharge.
“A gun?” Aiden released the other man’s hand. “Now I ask you, what kind of a greeting is that?”
Michaels — clearly a slow learner — reached for a second weapon jammed into the waistband at the small of his back. Before he could get to it, Aiden had Michaels face down on the floor with his right hand way closer to his right shoulder blade than God ever intended it to go.
“Jesus, my arm. You’re breaking it!”
“Not even close. You develop a feel for these things,” he said conversationally. “It’s sort of like braking when you’re driving on ice. You gotta find the threshold.”
“No, my shoulder! It’s gonna pop! I swear to God!”
Aiden reefed Michaels arm a half inch higher, eliciting a scream, followed by a stream of curses.
“See? Still plenty of play. It’s a feel thing. Now are you gonna behave yourself if I let you up?”
“Christ, yes! I’ll do whatever you say.”
“Atta boy.” Aiden helped the other man to his feet. “Now, let’s go plug the code into the alarm, shall we? And don’t fuck with me. If the alarm company or the cops call in a minute to ask if everything’s okay, things will be very much not okay for you. Understood?”
Aiden “helped” Michaels to the alarm panel, where he keyed in a five-digit number. The winking red light went out.
“Good man. Now we’re going to need your handcuffs. I know they can’t be far away, since you laid hands on that pistol fast enough. So be a darling and let’s go fetch them.”
Michaels swore again.
“I know, I know. It’s gotta sting, getting cuffed with your own bracelets, but look at it this way: they’ll be a helluva lot more comfortable than the alternative if you force me to improvise.”
Michaels sagged. “In that drawer.”
A minute later, Chief Weldon Michaels sat cuffed in one of his own kitchen chairs, a sturdy-looking oak proposition. Michaels somehow managed to look both scared and pissed at the same time.
Aiden took a seat at the table, placing both guns — one retrieved from beneath the telephone table in the entryway and the other from the small of Michaels’ back — on the gleaming wood surface. “Okay, Weldon — may I call you Weldon? — we need to talk.”
Michaels glared back. “You’re wasting your time. I don’t keep anything of value of here, at least nothing portable enough to carry off. And damn you, you’ve already scored both my guns. I suggest you just let yourself out and get while the getting’s good.”
“You think I was bullshitting earlier, don’t you? You think I was feeding you a line about your wife to get inside?” Aiden leaned back in his chair and kicked his feet up to rest on the table. “That’s rich.”
Fear flashed in the other man’s eyes, which he quickly attempted to hide with bravado. “Look, mister, if you have a message for me, let’s get on with it.”
“If you’re gonna call me mister, you might as well make it Mr. Afflack. Or Aiden, if you prefer.”
Another flash of fear. Aiden could almost hear the wheels turning in Michaels’ head. He’s shown me his face, given me his name. There can only be one reason for that…
“Not to worry, Weldy. I think I’ll call you Weldy.”
Michaels tensed. Testing the cuffs and the strength of the chair’s spindles, no doubt.
Aiden sighed. “For Chrissakes, I’m not planning to kill you. I’m just going to spend the night here chatting, much like we are right now.”
Michaels blinked. “Spend the night?”
“Forgive me. It’s probably horribly uncomfortable with those cuffs on. Let me just deal with these nasty guns. Then I’ll take the bracelets off so we can talk all civilized-like.”
Aiden picked up the SIG 9mm with his left hand, grasped the barrel with his right. Closing his eyes, he slid his hand up and down the barrel a few times to attune his mind to the metal. Then he bent it effortlessly.
Aiden placed the ruined pistol back on the table, picked up the .22 and repeated the process on the gun’s short barrel.
“What the … how’d you do that?”
Aiden shrugged. “A parlor trick. You should see what I can do with a dinner fork.” He stood and extracted the handcuff key from the pocket of his worn jeans. “Now, about those cuffs…”
Michaels shrank back.
Aiden lifted his eyebrows. “What? You’d prefer to keep them on after all?”
The other man collected himself, embarrassment staining his cheeks. “Of course not. Please remove them.”
As soon as his hands were free, Michaels immediately started massaging his sore right shoulder.
“Ah, yes, the shoulder. Sorry about that.” Aiden gave him his best aw shucks smile. “But I couldn’t have you putting bullet holes in me, could I?”
Michaels said nothing, but the stiffness in his face spoke volumes. Good. Get brave, you miserable little wife-beating worm. Get angry. Give me a reason to hurt you again.
Michaels cleared his throat. “So, this message from my wife?”
“She wants to come back toSt. Cloud. In fact, she’d like to move back into this very house, seeing as she put so much sweat equity into it.” Aiden glanced around at the tastefully appointed kitchen. “I must say she did a great job.”
“Of course she can come home. That’s all I’ve wanted since she left.”
“Ah, but there’s a catch, Weldy. You can’t stay.”
Michaels made a choking sound, but quickly found his voice. “She thinks I’m just going to clear out of town?”
“That would be ideal, but no, I don’t think she expects that. It will be sufficient if you leave this house and never darken the door again.”
Michaels started to bluster that he owned the goddamned place and no one could put him out of it, yadda, yadda, yadda.
“Save it,” Aiden commanded. “You see, I know what you did to her, Weldy.”
A pause. “I don’t know what she told you, but—”
“You systematically isolated her from her friends and pressured her into quitting work. Then, when you got her where you wanted her, you escalated the abuse. You terrorized her, Weldy. You threatened the life of her child if she tried to leave you. Is any of this sounding familiar? No? Well how about this: you used your position and power to convince her that escape was impossible.”
Michaels leapt up, his face wreathed in fury. “You don’t know the first fucking thing about my family.”
Aiden swung his feet to the floor, but remained in his chair. “Oh, I know quite a bit, Chief Michaels. For instance, I know you’ve been abusing the police resources at your fingertips to search for her, ensuring she had to stay on the run, unable to stay anywhere for any length of time. I know she’s terrified for her life and that of her daughter.”
“If she’d just—”
“Shut up, Weldy, and listen. I’m the messenger, and the message is that it’s over. She’s coming back, and you, my friend, are going to become the most obliging, most accommodating, most respectful ex-husband on the face of the planet. Oh, and you’ll relinquish any rights to the child.”
“Fuck you.” Powered by rage, Michaels gripped the table’s edge and overturned it, then bolted for the door.
Grinning, Aiden swept the table away as if it were constructed of matchsticks and gave chase, overtaking his quarry in a blur of speed. By the time Michaels reached the door, Aiden lounged against it, the picture of indolence.
Michaels’ face suddenly looked like it was stretched too tightly across the underlying bones. Shock did that to some people. With others, their faces went slack, as though—
“Who are you?” Michaels rasped. “Dear God, what are you?”
Aiden allowed his smile to spread, noting the precise moment when Michaels caught the first glimpse of his grossly elongated cuspids. This time, Michaels’ face slackened.
“I’m glad you asked.”
* * *
Sam Shea burrowed deeper into her denim jacket and shifted her legs yet again. The August night was soft, and three hours ago she would have called it warm. Now, however, dew was beginning to form on the blades of grass around her. Only the patch beneath her butt and outstretched legs remained dry as she sat propped against the base of a gargoyle statue.
Yes, a frickin’ cement gargoyle. Unfortunately, she didn’t have a lot of choices about where to pitch her tripod. It was the only spot in the vicinity where she could get far enough away from the ubiquitous streetlights to see even the brightest stars in the sky. Rural shoots were so much easier.
Of course, it was anybody’s guess what she was here to capture. It might have nothing to do with celestial bodies. On the other hand, what else could it be?
Well, okay, ninety minutes ago, she’d have laid bets that she was here for an electrical storm. The flashes of lightning had started to the south, illuminating the suburban landscape in an eerie purplish light. Counting the seconds between flash and boom, she tracked the storm from nearly ten miles off. She’d pack up and head for the car when it reached six miles, the safety zone. No photo was worth getting killed for, especially when she could get a decent shot from the relative safety of her rented Acura. But the storm had veered off at the last moment, making a retreat to the car unnecessary.
So if it wasn’t a fantabulous light show, what the heck had drawn her here?
For the first time in a very long time, she wondered if her vision had let her down. Right place maybe, but the wrong time? Or maybe there was another Carrington Place in St. Cloud, and she’d camped at the wrong one. But what were the chances of that in a city of just over 100,000 people? Of course, maybe there was another Carrington Place in an entirely different St. Cloud.
Except she knew she wasn’t wrong. She was never wrong. She’d thought so once, six years ago. After five hours of nothing more dramatic than the occasional distant meteor streaking across the night sky, she’d given up her post in disgust and gone back to the dubious comfort of her motel bed. The next morning, she’d found the local coffee shop abuzz about the dishwasher-sized meteorite that had crashed to earth in a pasture eight miles out of town. The same pasture where she’d abandoned her vigil at 4:00 am. If she hadn’t bailed out, it would have made a hell of a photo.
No, she wasn’t wrong. Despite the boredom of the past few hours, the raw energy that had drawn her here still persisted. Something was going to happen here, dammit.
For the umpteenth time tonight, she flicked on her hand-held infrared spotlight, lifted her infrared binoculars to her eyes and did a ground-level scan. Two houses down, a skunk made its leisurely way across the front lawn, oblivious of the surveillance. Nothing else stirred. With a sigh, she lowered her binoculars and flicked the light off.
No light show in the sky. Nothing interesting on the ground.
She leaned back again, wriggled her butt into a more comfortable position and glanced up at the leering griffin’s massive head. “Don’t let me nod off, okay? I’d hate to miss the fireworks. Or whatever we’re going to have.”
Predictably, the griffin made no reply.
“Okay, be like that,” she muttered. “See if I—”
The sound of a door closing — specifically, the door of the two-story house directly across the street — cut short her one-sided conversation with the gargoyle. Automatically, she reached for the floodlight and the binoculars.
There! A man — rendered slightly greenish, thanks to the infrared technology — gliding out the flagstone driveway.
Quickly, she traded the binoculars for the tripod-mounted digital camera, flipping it to NightShot mode. A quick look through the viewfinder confirmed the target was out of range for the camera’s infrared illuminator. Dammit. She squeezed the trigger switch on the spotlight again, locked it in the on position, planted its legs in the soft earth and trained it on the adjacent driveway. This time when she found her subject through the viewfinder, her mouth went dry.
Dear God! If she could give the fiercest storm a corporeal human body, this is what it would look like. Beauty and violence, all rolled up in one gorgeous, terrible package.
God, what a face!
Hard zoom, focus, click.
Without conscious thought, habit took over as she snapped picture after picture.
She watched him draw out a cigarette and apply a flame to it. Fascinated, she watched him inhale deeply, remove the cigarette from between sensual lips, then exhale. Then he lifted his lids and looked directly into her camera lens.
Sam pulled back, shrinking closer to the gargoyle’s cold cement base. He can’t see me. Not from this distance. He’s standing in the light and I’m buried in shadow. And he sure as hell can’t see my spotlight.
Carefully, she leaned forward again to peer through the viewfinder. And there he was, still staring straight into the camera. And then — holy mother of God — he smiled at her. A knowing, toe-curling, sex-drenched smile.
She jerked back again, but this time, she failed to suppress a gasp. Not that it mattered, because he was gone. Vanished. She searched the sidewalks for his retreating form, but he’d melted away as completely as the smoke from his cigarette had dissipated in the night air.
She exhaled the lungful of air she’d been holding. Whew! That was … interesting.
But even more interesting was the dawning conviction that nothing more was going to happen here. As she sat there bringing her heartbeat under control, she realized that the muted anticipation that kept her rooted to this spot for half the night had dissipated. Interesting, indeed.
Well, no point hanging around now. She got to her knees and packed her gear. Before stowing the camera, she flipped back through the pictures she’d captured to make sure she hadn’t imagined the last minutes. She hadn’t There he was. Even frozen in greenish miniature, he emitted an improbable dynamism. She frowned. Could he be the force that had called her here? A shiver lifted the hairs on her arm. It didn’t seem very likely. Of course, the alternative to that scenario was that her vision had been just plain wrong, which was even less palatable than the thought that a man might have drawn her here.
Sighing, she shut off the camera and tucked it carefully in the carry tote. With a last glance around the empty streets, she headed for her car. Ten minutes in a hot shower and a few hours sleep on the pillow-top mattress at her hotel would fix her up. She’d figure this thing out in the morning.
* * *
An hour later, she turned on a lamp and crawled out of bed. The dream would just keep coming back if she didn’t write it down. She found a pen and hotel stationery and scribbled the words St. Cloud, riverbank under the bridge, tomorrow night. Call and postpone your flight!
There. Maybe now she could sleep.
Three hours later, after a poached egg and a cup of room-service coffee, Sam uploaded the images from her camera’s flash card onto her photo viewer, a task she would normally have done last night. Backup was critical in this business. But since she hadn’t captured anything saleable, she hadn’t bothered. Now, she breathed a sigh of relief when she saw confirmation that the upload was successful.
She paged quickly through the first few photos, which she’d taken merely to fine-tune her settings. The house across the street with its foot lighting, the row of streetlights marching west, the retaining wall behind her. Then she reached the first shot of the man.
Ugh. Monochromatic green. NightShot was useful for surreptitiously framing your shot, but you then had to switch modes to get a normal-looking color shot. Of course, that required using a visible flash, which in turn required her to be considerably closer to the subject. It was great for photographing small critters in darkness, but not so great for capturing people. It just wasn’t socially acceptable to creep up on a stranger and blast their night vision away with a blinding flash.
Especially this stranger.
She bent closer to the display to inspect her work. She’d zoomed in on the guy, but it was a full-body shot rather than tight to the face. He looked taller than she remembered, but the wide shoulders and narrow hips were the same, as was the longish, wavy hair. He wore what appeared to be a leather jacket over a dark shirt and dark pants.
She pulled back, feeling oddly disappointed.
He had the kind of body that would make any woman look twice, no question about it. But she just wasn’t feeling that same gut punch she’d felt last night. Guess she could chalk last night’s reaction up to jet-lagged giddiness and the late hour.
She toggled up the next photo, and oh, baby, there it was, that thrill low in the belly.
A high forehead pleated in a frown, and a straight nose. Several strands of curly blond hair spilled forward to graze high cheekbones, partially obscuring his eyes. At least, she thought his hair was blond. It was too pale to be otherwise. The light also illuminated lean cheeks, a strong chin and an unsmiling mouth. Beautiful. Stern. Forbidding.
She advanced the next photo, and sucked in her breath on a hiss.
His face was tilted toward her to better reveal a sinfully gorgeous male mouth, but that wasn’t what set her heart to pounding. It was his attitude of sharpened senses. She could swear he was scenting the night breeze through those flared nostrils, his head cocked to catch the slightest sound, eyes searching the darkness. She leapt out of her chair, overcome by the sensation that she was about to be discovered.
God, woman, get a grip. She snorted at her own panicked reaction. He couldn’t see her. Not now, and not last night, either. At most, he may have suspected he was being watched and played to a possible audience, but standing under the streetlight like that, looking into the deep shadows… No, there was no way he could have seen her.
She seated herself in front of the viewer again and toggled up the next photo. Despite being prepared this time, her heart still jolted in her chest.
He was looking straight at her!
And oh yeah, he’d known he had an audience. An appreciative audience. Unlikely as it seemed, he must have sensed her. Awareness was written there in his face, in the lift of an eyebrow and that sensual, full-lipped smile.
Sam expelled her breath. “Well, aren’t you all that?”
The unknown man smiled back from the photo, his NightShot-glowing eyes maddeningly unreadable.
The word slid into her mind, making her lips tighten. Last night, she’d allowed herself to contemplate the idea that this man might be the force that drew her here. The idea was no more palatable in daylight than it was in the dark of night. To think she might have delayed her return to Sioux City after the Montreal gallery opening, extending her Canadian trip to come to St. Cloud, New Brunswick, to take a photo of a mere man?
No. No way. It didn’t bear thinking about. She’d been mistaken about the time and location, that’s all. There was a first time for everything, right? Besides, last night’s vision had rectified the mistake. She now had a very clear idea where she needed to be and when.
She toggled the cursor, but there were no more images. Sam moved backwards to the final picture, the one where she was sure he knew she watched him, and shivered.
Maybe she’d do a little research, for curiosity’s sake, starting with finding out who lived at that Carrington Place address she’d camped outside of last night. Maybe something would surface to explain why she’d been called there.
Four hours later, she had a fix on the owners, a couple by the name of Weldon and Lucy Michaels. A Local Google search revealed that Weldon was the chief of police here in St. Cloud, but turned up nothing on Lucy. Well, that let out anything nefarious going on inside that house, him being the chief of police and all.
She pushed thoughts of Michaels and his late night visitor to the back of her mind and turned her attention to preparing for tonight’s stakeout. After studying maps at the library, she drove unerringly to the downtown, parked in a parking garage, and set out on foot with her camera bag slung over her shoulder. A four-minute walk connected her with the riverfront walking trail, and another ten minutes put her practically in the shadow of the bridge. The grass was tall here, with a couple of distinct trails leading down the embankment toward the river. This was it. This was the place. She fished her digital out of her bag and took a couple of shots.
The sound of crunching gravel alerted Sam to the presence of another pedestrian. She glanced up to see a young man approaching from the west. As he neared, she noted industrial facial piercings and a faux-hawk.
She lifted a hand. “Excuse me, could I—”
“Sorry,” he said, side-stepping her. “I don’t pose for tourists.”
As if. Before she could correct his assumption, he’d walked on. She jogged to catch up.
“Hey, if I wanted to take your picture, I wouldn’t want to do it here. I’d want to do it in a studio, or at least with the proper lighting equipment to do you justice. But that’s not why I stopped you. I just have a question.”
He slowed. Apparently flattery worked. “Whatcha wanna know?”
“Those paths back there, the ones leading down to the river. What’s that all about?”
He shifted the bag he was carrying from one tattooed shoulder to the other. “Homeless.”
Sam felt the truth resonate inside. Yes, that fit with the feeling the dream had left her with. “Is anyone down there now?”
Judging by the look he gave her, she expected him to say, What am I? Kreskin?, but what actually emerged was, “Dunno. Maybe. Or maybe they’d be out hustling for handouts this time of day.”
Sam chewed the inside of her lip. “The police don’t object to them living down there?”
“The cops?” He snorted. “Don’t imagine they give a rat’s ass where they sleep at night, long as they’re outta sight. All they really care about is keepin’ the panhandlin’ under control.” He glanced up the trail, obviously wanting to be on his way.
“Thanks for your help.”
“No problem.” He hiked his bag up and walked off.
She lifted her camera and took a few shots before crossing the neatly mown green to the taller grasses. She picked the closest path, which also happened to be the most well-worn, and descended the embankment, pausing occasionally to take more pictures. Passing through a thin belt of trees, she emerged to find a hard-packed footpath paralleling the river’s edge.
The smell assailed her immediately. There was the usual pungent river smell that made you think of mud and fish and silt and organic rot, but underlying it was the unmistakable odor of human urine. Ugh. She snapped another picture.
She turned west and walked toward the bridge. Before she got twenty yards, she spotted the first makeshift shelters. Made from a mishmash of plywood, corrugated cardboard and blue plastic tarpaulins, the flimsy structures huddled just inside a thin belt of trees she’d just come through. No wonder none of this was visible from the walking path. For that matter, it probably wasn’t terribly visible from above either, save perhaps for a few flashes of blue through the canopy of leaves.
Briefly, she thought about following the path all the way to the bridge and out the other side of the copse of tree. The riverbank appeared to be deserted, but she couldn’t bring herself to go further. Deserted or not, there was something invasive and ugly about wandering past these squalid refuges like a sightseer, camera in hand. Plus, frankly she was scared. These people couldn’t or wouldn’t be integrated into normal society, often due to chronic mental illness. It was the same in cities all over North America. Bursting at the seams, psychiatric hospitals everywhere disgorged their long-term residents into their streets to make do the best they could.
She retraced her steps and continued west along the trail until she found another path in the tall grass. As she expected, it led down to the river, then back toward the treed area that concealed the tent community. Again, she ventured only far enough down the path to spy where flashes of blue tarp began to reappear. Though less plentiful on this side, she counted six structures, some of them no more than lean-tos.
She turned and looked west. Less than a mile away, tall condominium buildings and a handful of old brick office buildings rose up against the skyline. Sighing, she retraced her steps up the incline, through the tall grasses to the manicured green bisected by the graveled walking trail. Just like that, she was back in the shiny clean St. Cloud of the tourist brochures.
She turned back eastward and followed the trail for a hundred yards or so before veering off toward the concealing ribbon of brush and trees that shielded the shelters. A handy thing, that little green belt. It kept the homeless out of sight and out of mind for the tax-paying, job-holding, upstanding citizens ofSt. Cloud. That same invisibility kept the ire of the police off the backs of the vagrants.
She followed the tree line with difficulty. The grass here was knee deep, and without benefit of a beaten path, it conspired to trip her with every step. But just the other side of the bridge, she found what she was looking for — the perfect vantage point for surveilling the area later tonight.
Tucked just inside the tree line, it afforded enough cover for her, and offered the best view she was likely to get of the encampment below. Also ideal was the positioning of the streetlights on the four-lane bridge above and the towering light standard that illuminated the walking trail behind her. With any luck, there should be sufficient light to monitor goings on without having to constantly sweep the area with her infrared equipment. Likewise, it was close enough that she could step out of the tree line quickly if the commotion tonight turned out to be a light show in the sky.
Satisfied, she trekked the short distance back to her car. Just one more task and she could go back to her hotel and catch a few hours sleep. Stashing her equipment in the trunk of the rental, she walked half a block to Queen Street and found a payphone. She located the general number for the St. Cloud Police Department, plugged a quarter into the phone and dialed it.
When the receptionist answered, Sam instructed the woman to put her through to Chief Michaels, employing the tone she’d learned in her first year in business-for-self. The trick to obtaining cooperation was not to demand it, but rather to simply take that cooperation for granted. Faced with such easy, inherent authority, most people gave her exactly what she expected. The St. Cloud PD receptionist was no exception.
The phone rang twice in Michaels’ office before it was answered. “Chief Michaels,” a voice clipped. “Who am I talking to?”
“Good afternoon, Chief. I’m a reporter for—”
“Whoa. You can stop right there, lady. We have a communications officer who handles press inquiries. Call the switchboard again and they’ll route you—”
“You had a visitor last night. Is that right, Chief Michaels?”
A pause. “I’m going to transfer you to my personal line. Please hang on.”
She heard him make the transfer. Before his personal phone could manage a full ring-burst, he’d picked it up.
“Dammit, what more do you people want from me?”
“I’m sorry,” he said, rushing to fill the silence. “I’m just a little tense. The moving company is there right now, packing up my belongings. I’ll be out by nightfall, just like I said.”
Sam blinked, listening to his ragged breathing. What the devil was he talking about? Channeling that voice of authority again, she went fishing: “Very good. And the rest?”
“I won’t hurt her again, I swear it. I won’t even make contact. She can move back tomorrow. I’ll give her a divorce, full custody ofDevon, the house … whatever she wants.”
Holy crap! What had she stumbled into?
“Hello? Hello?” The chief’s voice rose on a note of panic. “Are you still there?”
“Relax, Chief. I’m still listening.”
“You have to believe me! I’ll never lay a hand on Lucy again. On either of them. God, I won’t even breathe in their direction. You’ll see. You can watch me as closely as you like.”
He’d been abusing his family? Bastard. “You can bet we’ll be watching,” she said in her silkiest voice. “Need I tell you what we think of recidivists?”
“No, ma’am. I’m sorry. Jesus … my ulcer. I have to go. I’m sorry.”
The line went dead. Slowly, Sam hung up the receiver. Well, well, wasn’t that interesting? Chief Michaels’ late-night visitor had been a friend of Mrs. Michaels. And a very persuasive one, by all appearances. What could he possibly have said or done to reduce the chief of police to the jabbering wreck she’d just talked to?
She thought about the photos back in her hotel room and the peculiar energy that had emanated from Michaels’ caller, and decided he was probably quite capable of decimating stronger men.
No matter. It was none of her concern. Michaels was still alive and well, and presumably newly embarked on the straight and narrow.
But who was the mystery caller? The estranged wife’s new boyfriend? Hired muscle? Some vigilante out to avenge victims of violence? Random whack-job?
Well, she wasn’t going to solve that mystery here, standing in a phone booth.
Correction — she wasn’t going to solve that mystery at all.
Stepping out of the phone booth, she headed for her rental and the promise of a nap back at her hotel room. She had to be fresh, had to focus on tonight. Whatever the reason she’d been called to St. Cloud, it would all become clear tonight.
Nightfall is available until February 27, 2013 at the price of just 99 cents, at these ebook retailers:
It’s a special pleasure to have Barbara Phinney here today. Barbara is one of my very first writing friends. She and I, along with a handful of other aspiring romance writers from the area, were long time critique partners and basically taught each other to write. And we’re still sharing, but these days it’s more industry news, indie wisdom and promotional tips.
BARBARA PHINNEY: Thank you, Norah!
There’s something dangerous in my office. Take a look at this picture. Yes, it’s cluttered. Yes, it looks like a very normal writer’s office. But in actuality there’s something very dangerous in it. No, I’m not talking about the fact that I write suspense, or the fact I like to murder a few characters every once in a while.
No I’m talking about that chair. The brown one, with the blue seat and the owl cushion. The one that just invites you to sit down on it, stretch your legs out and start talking to me.
That’s where the murder comes in. So many times I have been deep in a story, running with an idea and surfing on the wave of momentum, only to have my dear husband wander in, plunk himself down in that chair, and say, “I want you to Google something for me.”
Slowly, I turn and look at him, lethally. “I’m busy.”
“It’ll only take a minute.”
That’s when the murder starts.
Now in reality, this man who so brazenly enters my office has his own computer as seen below.
Take a look at that. Isn’t that nice? A clean desk, a little water fountain and a brand-new notepad, even some fun little balloons I’ve received over the years. (Ignore the wire. I have a son who runs his Xbox from it.) What more could a husband, who doesn’t go on the computer very much, want? (We all know it’s my incredible generosity that allows him to have his own little corner of my office.)
So, no jury in the country would convict me of anything nasty when he has this nice little corner.
Moving on, I believe offices should reflect their users. They should be places filled with inspiring pictures, maps to dream over, knickknacks and collectibles that are precious only to that person, such as you see in this picture below.
You’ll find gift bells, empty and full bottles I’ve collected over the years, even the gourdhead birdhouse and childhood teddies. Under that Bolivian blanket is an ugly filing cabinet, frequented by my husband, hence his computer desk being so close to it.
There are very few things I would toss. Come to think of it, I would only dispose of that very dangerous chair but I won’t. After all, suspense writers need little incentive now and then, don’t they?
Barbara Phinney writes suspense, Christian (despite her murderous plots) romance and historicals, one of which is coming out in March, entitled Bound to the Warrior. She writes sci-fi and paranormal under the pen name of Georgina Lee, including a new Sherlock Holmes tale, Dead on her Feet.
Her latest book is a fun and lively twist on the Sherlock Holmes novellas, found here.
Thank you, Barbara! That was such fun! I got such a kick out of you DH asking you to stop what you’re doing to Google something, instead of going to his own work station. Because, you know, it would take TIME to fire up that other computer. HIS time. LOL! I think you’re right — no jury would convict! Not if there were any authors on it.
Okay, it’s comment time. And as an incentive, Barbara will give away a copy of her awesomely atmospheric romantic suspense, Hard Target, to one lucky winner, in the electronic format of their choice. So bring it with the comments!
Sgt. Dawna Atkinson has worked hard for her South American embassy posting. She’d also taken the blame for a shared indiscretion with her instructor, Tay Hastings. But when her embassy is bombed, she comes under the microscope all the more. Worse still, her unit sends Tay to search for any mistakes she’s making.
Things go from bad to worse when a sniper tries to eliminate both Dawna and Tay within hours of Tay’s arrival. As the investigation heats up, and danger lurks around every crowded corner, Dawna and Tay find their relationship is also heating up. And with a killer who can create bombs, use a sniper rifle, and poison the embassy staff, Dawna must set aside her hurt or risk many lives. And Tay must set aside the distrust deep within him.
What Dawna and Tay can’t set aside is their growing attraction. And that may just get them both killed.
My run of awesome Montlake Romance authors continues! This week it is my pleasure to welcome Barbara Longley. Barbara writes contemporary and paranormal romance. Her latest Montlake book, a contemporary romance titled Far From Perfect, sounded so delicious, I snagged it for my Kindle. I hoped to have read it by now, but life sort of got in the way. Welcome, Barbara!
Barbara Longley: First of all, I have to apologize because I’m a lousy photographer. I did try several shots, and this is the best. Sad. I know. This is where I work. I don’t own a desk. I have a laptop and an ottoman. Everything I need is close by, including my reference books.
Having an office is a relatively recent development for me, and all of the furniture is new except the futon. Yep. My office does occasionally turn back into a guest bedroom, which is what it has been since my two children flew the coop. Now that I’m writing under contract, and I have deadlines, I figured I’d better get more professional about my writing. It is really nice to have everything in once place. I feel so much more organized. I work a full time day job, so I really need to be organized. That’s my challenge this year—learning to manage the demands of my day job with the demands of my writing career. I’ve made my deadlines for both, so I’m getting it down. I do run into the occasional wall of overwhelmedness, though. And that’s when I take my little dog for a long walk, or watch a cheesy movie on the Hallmark channel.
I’ve included a picture of my writing buddy, Sophie, a basset hound/cocker spaniel mix. If she’s not snuggled up on the couch next to me, she’s gazing up at me as I write. I also have a cat named Fred. He also likes to keep my lap warm, which is tricky when I’m trying to write.
My October release with Montlake is a small town contemporary romance with military elements. Here’s the blurb:
FAR FROM PERFECT - Noah Langford narrowly survived the roadside bombing in Iraq that killed five of his men and took his leg, leaving him haunted by flashbacks and riddled with guilt. When his stepbrother Matt dies in a car accident, the loss feels like the final blow to Noah’s shattered soul. But then he learns about the girlfriend and baby Matt abandoned years earlier, and suddenly Noah has a new mission… Ceejay Lovejoy was nineteen and pregnant when her boyfriend walked out, disappearing from her life just like her parents did. Since that day, Ceejay has devoted herself to giving her daughter a better life, avoiding any man who could threaten that security—until the day Noah Langford shows up on her doorstep. His gentle spirit has an unexpected effect on Ceejay’s guarded heart, tempting her to take one last chance on love. But when a painful secret comes to light, it threatens to break the fragile bond growing between them…and to destroy a love powerful enough to heal them both.
The second book in the trilogy, THE DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES, is coming out April 23rd. Once lucky commenter will win a $10 gift card for Amazon, which will be delivered electronically. Thank you so much for stopping by.
Thank you, Barbara. That is one sweet dog. Sophie, I mean! The one on your cover is a different matter. That’s a whole lotta dog! Can’t wait to read the book. I love dogs in books.
Now, let the commenting begin!
I have the pleasure today of welcoming Coreene Callahan, a fellow Montlake author, to my blog for Workspace Wednesday. Coreene is one of the many people I hope to meet in person when I go to the RWA National conference in Atlanta this summer, after getting to know her on line. She’s just so incredibly poised and charming and cute on any video interview she’s ever done. And her books are awesome. (Hello? Dragons!)
Take it away, Coreene!
COREENE CALLAHAN: Hi Norah! Thanks so much for inviting me to visit your blog for Workplace Wednesday! It’s a great topic, one I never would have thought to talk about, because…heck, I spend every day here. It never occurred to me that people might be curious about where I create alternative worlds and write about the characters that make my stories come alive.
You might be surprised to find out that my office is not only the smallest room in the house (a tiny 9 by 10 foot room), but also nestled under the curve of my basement stairs. Literally. I’m not kidding. It doesn’t have a window. Isn’t fancy or light-filled. It’s only claim to fame is that houses the sump pump in one corner of the room and the water heater in the other (both hidden behind closet doors, thank goodness!).
Although, it doesn’t sound like much, I love it here. Humble meets homey, it’s like a beautifully appointed cave. And when I turn the corner into my office each morning, my imagination takes flight and stories come alive in the space.
I surround myself with the things I love. Books. Candles. Framed postcards that remind me of home. The picture behind my desk is a water scape. I grew up in a small town right on the water and spent a lot time on boats as a child. So the picture of the all boats in the harbor and pulled up on the beach is one of my favorites scenes.
I couldn’t resist including a picture of Carmen. He’s my parrot. All right, so he isn’t real, but…hey, he keeps me company every day. And for that I am hopelessly devoted to him!
As you’ve probably guessed by now, my favorite color is turquoise. No matter the hue (bold and beautiful or soft and sophisticated) I surround myself with it. Maybe because it reminds me of the water and the place grew up. I’m not sure of the why exactly, but I can’t get enough of it. No room feels right to me unless there is turquoise in it.
Here’s the view I see every morning while sitting at my desk. As you can see, my love of all things dragons is never far. I have a myriad of books about dragons and dragon myth. The wooden dragon box was a gift from my publisher upon releasing my debut novel, Fury of Fire (Dragonfury series, book 1). And beyond the edge of my desk? My plotting board. Each colorful Post-it represents a character and each square on the grid a chapter in the book I’m currently working on. It’s vague way to outline. One that affords me the luxury of allowing the story to evolve organically while giving me just enough direction to make sure I stay on track.
So there you have it…my humble, but pretty little office.
Thanks again for inviting me to be here today. I had a blast and hope you enjoyed a glimpse into my writing space. For more about the Dragonfury novels and Circle of Seven series, please visit my website www.CoreeneCallahan.com or visit me on my Facebook Author Page to keep up with all the latest news. I’m always glad to here from you!
Thanks for the tour, Coreene! Your space may be small, but it’s fabulous! And clearly it is blessed by the muse!
Okay, Coreene has a great giveaway for us today. She has two prizes, so we’ll award them to two different winners. They are: 1) a signed copy of Fury of Fire (Dragonfury Series, #1) and 2) a signed copy of Knight Awakened (Circle of Seven series). All you have to do to qualify for the draw is comment on this post. Say hey to Coreene. Let us know if you’ve read and loved one of her books, or just comment on her cozy writing space. Good luck to you all!
A clandestine race of half-dragon, half-humans known as dragon-shifters lives among us. Bastian, leader of the Nightfury dragon clan, is sworn to protect humankind at all costs. For him, honor and duty always come first. When the clan dictates he take a human mate to sire a son, he falters, aware that for a human to birth a dragon-shifter she must die. Myst, the woman given into his care, is the most extraordinary he’s ever met, and though he can’t bear the thought of harming her he is bound by duty.
Myst loves her life in the human world, but Bastian has captured her heart in an instant of electric connection. But Bastian and his warriors are in the middle of a deadly battle with the Razorback dragon-shifters, intent on killing every Nightfury clan member—and the humans they protect—the fate of their world and ours hangs in the balance.
An extraordinary blend of action, fantasy, and steamy romance, Fury of Fire brings to life a dangerous new world intertwined with the survival of humanity, all while exploring the meaning of honor and the nature of true love.
In AD 1331, warlord Vladimir Barbu seizes control of Transylvania. But in spite of his bloody triumph, his claim to the throne remains out of reach. The king of Hungary opposes his rule, the Transylvanian people despise his brutal ways, and the high priestess needed to crown him has vanished without a trace. But Barbu hasn’t come this far only to be thwarted by a woman. He unleashes his best hunters to track her down and bring her to him—dead or alive.
For Xavian Ramir, killing is the only life he has ever known. Torn from his family when he was a child, he was trained from an early age to be an elite assassin. But now he longs for something more, vowing to start anew after one last job. The bounty on his target’s head is enough to set him up for good—if he can resist the long-dead conscience that stirs to life when he meets his beautiful mark.
Afina Lazar never wanted to become high priestess, but the brutal murders of her beloved mother and sister leave her no choice. Now she is running for her life, desperate to protect the magical amulet entrusted to her care. But when Barbu’s assassin comes for her, she realizes her only chance of stopping the warlord’s rise to power is to convince this enigmatic—and handsome—hunter that she is more valuable alive than dead.
Dramatic and fast-paced, Knight Awakened is a stirring love story between two people searching for a second chance in a magical world of assassins, warlords, unearthly beasts, and nonstop adventure.