Posts Tagged ‘romantic suspense’
Guarding Suzannah, the first book in my Serve and Protect Series, is currently free! It’s featured today on Free Kindle Books & Tips, an excellent site to learn about free and bargain books.This is a great time to try the series for free. If you like it you can go on the check out Books 2 and 3.
And here’s a little known fact – my Montlake romantic suspense Fatal Hearts, while not strictly a part of the series, is set in the Serve and Protect world. If you’ve already read the series, you can revisit some of the key characters in Fatal Hearts.
So what’s the last series you discovered by getting the first book in the series free? The best series you discovered that way?
With the launch of my newest Montlake romantic suspense FATAL HEARTS just a few days away, I thought I’d post an excerpt. Since you can read the first pages at Amazon with the Look Inside feature, I’m going to post something from a little further on in the book. If you’ve read the blurb, you’ll know that Toronto Police Detective Boyd McBride has come to Fredericton, New Brunswick, to look into the death of his identical twin Josh, who was conducting his own investigation into their birth parents. Although this is a single title book and not part of my Serve and Protect series, it is set square in the middle of that Serve and Protect world, complete with roles, large and small, from characters you’ll remember from that series, if you’ve read it.
C h a p t e r 2
Boyd signed in at police HQ almost two hours later. It had taken an hour to get the slim medical file from the records department, which he counted as a minor miracle. That kind of request often took days, if not longer. Twenty minutes for lunch while he took an unrewarding cruise through the hospital records, which were very minimal, and another half hour to get out of the busy hospital parking lot and downtown. Ten minutes after that, Detective Ray Morgan strode across the police station lobby toward him.
If Boyd hadn’t met the guy already, he wouldn’t have pegged him for a cop. He’d probably have figured him for a lawyer, given the setting. For starters, that custom tailored suit looked like it belonged on a model, as did that hundred-dollar haircut. Morgan was early to midthirties by Boyd’s estimation, but it was hard to say with guys like that. The first time they’d met, Boyd had been ready to write him off as a dandified lightweight. But that was before the guy got close enough for him to get a look at his eyes and the deep grooves on either side of his mouth. That and the handshake convinced him there was a real cop under the elegant packaging after all.
“Detective McBride,” he said, his voice as smooth and perfectly pitched as the rest of him. “Sorry to keep you waiting. Took me a while to get off the phone.”
“Morgan.” Boyd stood and grasped the other man’s outstretched hand. “Thanks for agreeing to meet with me.”
Morgan led him back to the detectives’ bull pen. This was Boyd’s second visit, but it struck him again how small it was. A mind-blowing thought, considering that this detective squad was the sum total for the whole city. Of course, there were more citizens in the city of Toronto than in the whole province of New Brunswick. A whole hell of a lot more. So it made sense that it would be small.
For his brother’s sake, he hoped small didn’t translate into ill equipped. Or, worse, incompetent.
They passed several desks, some manned, some empty, but all stacked high with paper and files and sticky notes and colored phone messages. The organized chaos made him feel right at home. A detective with a phone pressed to his ear nodded at them as they passed without missing a beat of his conversation. When they reached Morgan’s desk, Boyd sat in the chair Morgan indicated.
“Coffee?” Morgan offered.
“No, thanks. I’m good.
Morgan gave a wry smile. “Good decision,” he conceded. After taking his suit jacket off and carefully draping it over the back of an empty chair, he took a seat. Then he reached into a drawer of his desk and withdrew a folder, which Boyd assumed to be Josh’s.
Boyd’s gaze fell on the file on the desk between them. “So, what can you tell me about my brother’s death?”
“Since we last talked on the phone? Very little more. I told you the coroner found no obvious problems with your brother’s heart?”
“You did. And if I understand what you told me, that’s not common, but it’s not unheard of either. What was the stat you gave me? Up to five percent of sudden cardiac arrest victims display no discernible anatomic problems on autopsy?”
“Correct. The forensic toxicology report is probably still weeks away.”
Boyd raised an eyebrow. “Weeks?”
“You know the drill, McBride. They test for probably three hundred substances. And you know there are new experimental drugs being introduced all the time and new designer crap hitting the streets. It takes time to test for all that stuff. And then if they find something, the result has to be replicated independently. If we find there was foul play, this shit has to hold up in court.”
“I know. I’m just . . . anxious.”
“We do have the hospital’s standard tox screen, as I’ve already reported, so the really obvious ones—alcohol, cocaine, yada yada—can probably be safely eliminated.”
Boyd wanted to say the illegal stuff could be eliminated without the benefit of testing, because this was Josh they were talking about, dammit. The man barely even took the occasional Advil. But he knew all too well that drugs sometimes wound up in a vic’s system through no conscious choice of their own. Just ask all the roofied girls he’d talked to in ERs while a forensic nurse prepared to give them a sexual assault kit. Boyd drew a deep breath and exhaled slowly.
“We’re also waiting for the genetic tests the coroner’s office ordered.” Morgan’s eyes were sympathetic. “Maybe those results will shed more light.”
“Right.” He dragged a hand over his face. “So, what kind of wait are we talking about for the genetics? Weeks? Months?”
“Months would be my guess. The backlog is hellish.”
Boyd nodded his understanding. He’d had to explain similar delays to many a bereaved mother or father or wife who’d just wanted to understand what had happened to their loved one.
“Maybe my results will come back first.”
“You had genetic testing done on yourself?”
“After what happened with Josh, I had everything done. I’ve been imaged, had ECGs, EEGs, cardiac ultrasound, stress tests. I’ve worn a Holter monitor for forty-eight hours. They couldn’t find even a whiff of abnormality, with the electrical system or otherwise.”
“Interesting.” Morgan scribbled a note and put it in the folder.
Boyd gestured to the file. “Any chance I can get a copy of that?”
“The file?” Morgan snorted. “You’re welcome to look at it, but I can’t be giving out copies. Which I think you knew before you asked. But I’ll keep you abreast of developments. Like I said on the phone, I’m happy to do another sit-down with you further down the line, if it seems like it would be useful.”
“I guess that’ll have to be good enough.”
The other detective’s handsome features hardened. “I’ve already assured you that when I get toxicology back, you’ll know about it. When I have the genetics report, you’ll hear from me. Short of deputizing you and handing you the case, I don’t know what more I can do.”
“Sorry.” Boyd held up his hands in a conciliatory gesture. The man was right. And the last thing Boyd wanted to do was piss off best window into Josh’s case. “I know you’re bending over backwards here. I didn’t mean to imply otherwise. I’m just—”
“I know.” Some of the ice went out of Morgan’s eyes. “Don’t sweat it.”
Boyd cleared his throat. “Look, I know you told me a lot of this stuff on the phone, and I appreciate that. I really do. But can walk me through the timeline again? I just need to understand what happened.”
Something stirred in Morgan’s eyes now. Pity, he realized. Ordinarily, that would sting. Nobody pitied Boyd McBride. But under the circumstances, he’d take it. Take it and exploit it if he could.
Anything to find out the truth about Josh’s death.
You can pre-order Fatal Hearts, or wait to snag it when it releases on August 19.
I’m happy to say I now have a cover for my upcoming (08/19/14 – Montlake Romance) romantic suspense, Fatal Hearts. What do you think?
The book is available for pre-order on Amazon.
And here’s the back cover copy:
The reports stated Josh McBride’s death was from sudden cardiac arrest, but homicide detective Boyd McBride can’t shake the idea that his identical twin brother’s death was somehow connected to his search for the adopted boys’ birth parents. Josh must have been close to the truth … and it cost him his life.
When Boyd comes to medical resident Hayden Walsh’s ER looking for answers, she agrees to help with his investigation because Josh was a friend. As unnerved as she is by her attraction to the detective, she knows it will be impossible to avoid romantic entanglement … and the mess that comes with it.
The investigation uncovers dangerous secrets, and Boyd and Hayden’s passion ignites. Only they can keep each other safe from a threat that lurks inside a life-long mystery.
Saving Grace, Book 2 in my Serve and Protect Series, is currently free. It’s enjoying very good reviews (4.4 stars on 485 reviews), which is a relief! Sometimes when you make a book free, lots of people who wouldn’t otherwise read a romantic suspense will pick it up, and quite often they give it two or three stars because it’s not to their taste. Basically, they dislike it for conforming to a genre they don’t like in the first place. But for some reason, I haven’t had very many of those types of reviews. What I do get are reviews that begin, “I didn’t expect to like this book…” I love that!
I should note that while this is Book 2 in the series, it stands alone very nicely. They all do. But as always, there’s something to be said for reading books in order. That way, when you glimpse secondary characters, you already know a lot about them.
Oh, and Saving Grace is currently featured in Kindle Books and Tips, one of my favorite newsletters for learning about free and bargain Kindle books. Check it out. http://bit.ly/1p4w8Mu
I am so pumped today to play host to Vanessa Kelly. Vanessa is one-half of the husband-and-wife writing team, V.K. Sykes. She’s also a writing pal, a fellow Canadian, and a fellow Rock*It Reads author. Vanessa and her hubby Randy Sykes have a brand new sports romance out, this one an awesome romantic suspense. Take it away, Vanessa!
VANESSA KELLY: Hi, Norah! Thanks so much for helping me celebrate the release of my new VK Sykes romantic suspense, Lethal Confessions.
When my hubby and I were brainstorming characters for Lethal Confessions, we decided we wanted our heroine to be a fish-out-of-water. The setting for the story is the world of minor league baseball in Palm Beach County, Florida. We knew our heroine would be a homicide detective, and we knew she would be smart enough and tough enough to fit into that demanding environment. But we also wanted her to be something of an outsider.
So we made Amy Robitaille a transplanted Francophone from Quebec who emigrated with her parents from Montreal to Palm Beach when she was a young teenager. Amy hated the move to Florida, but over the years she eventually came to embrace her new country. But she never forgot her beloved Quebec, or completely gave up thinking in French. It was a lot of fun to put her in situations with the tough alpha males—some of them good old boys—who work with her in the Homicide Unit.
The brutal murder of her twin sister drove Amy Robitaille into a career as a homicide detective for Palm Beach County. When a serial killer targets the wives of local baseball players, Amy has more than just a professional interest at stake—her only surviving sister fits the profile of the other victims. Amy’s hell-bent on catching the killer, not only to protect her sister but to destroy the demons haunting her since the death of her twin.
Baseball star and former soldier Luke Beckett has just retired from the game and is looking to move on with his life. When he’s asked to consult on the serial killer case for the local police, he finds the challenge he needs—despite the objections of lead detective Amy Robitaille. But Luke has no intention of backing away from the job and every intention of getting to know the intriguing detective.
Amy has no time to babysit a celebrity consultant while trying to catch a serial killer. But Luke is not the man she assumed him to be and he threatens to become a powerful distraction. That’s the last thing she needs, especially when the killer starts closing in on her family. But without Luke’s help, Amy stands to lose everything.
Here’s a little snippet of Amy—the first meet with the hero, former pro baseball player, Luke Beckett.
The tall, broad-shouldered man strode through the double sliding doors of the hospital as if he owned the place, and suddenly Amy Robitaille felt like she was sixteen again. Back home in Montreal with her girlfriends. She didn’t much care for the feeling and almost stumbled over her own feet in surprise.
Luke Beckett. The last time she’d seen the man in the flesh had been when her girlfriends had dragged her to a late season Montreal Expos baseball game to moon over him. Le Grand Luc, the player soon to be named rookie of the year, already darling of the team’s faithful, and heartthrob to practically every silly female in Quebec.
Amy almost laughed. Could it really be fifteen years ago? She felt like she’d aged a half-century in the meantime. But the years had treated Beckett with an easy hand. He was still as hot as the twenty-two year old superstar whose talent and ambition had overshadowed even Montreal’s hockey stars for a few years. Maybe even hotter. Maturity sat well on his lean, handsome features.
As he strode through the lobby in her general direction, she automatically gave him a quick scan. She was used to working with big men—tall, burly cops who threw off guy hormones like a wet dog shakes off water. But Beckett, as big as he was, had more than size and GQ looks. He had the smooth grace of the gifted athlete. And, deep inside, in a place she kept under lock and key, something responded to all that masculine perfection and power, sending a flush of unwelcome heat purring through her body.
Beckett glanced her way, catching her undoubtedly startled expression and the brief hitch in her step. Then he dropped his eyes to the gun and badge on her belt. He veered toward her, his mouth lifting in a dazzling smile that froze her in her tracks.
Amy didn’t want to stop. She had no desire to speak to Luke Beckett, however famous or handsome he might be.
But Beckett clearly had her in his sights. He strolled up to her, assuming, no doubt, that a lowly police detective, especially one of the female variety, would welcome a brief brush with greatness.
“Ma’am, I just thought I’d say hello,” he said in a seductive southern drawl. “I talk to a lot of police officers here at the hospital, but we haven’t met before. I’m Luke Beckett.” He stuck out his hand, a mitt big enough to engulf both of hers. He clearly thought she’d recognized him, and he was right.
Reluctantly, her hand came forward and disappeared into his oversized paw. “Detective Amy Robitaille.” She inwardly cursed the catch in her voice.
He must have heard it, too, because his smile kicked up a notch. He tilted his head, looking curious, and a lock of black hair feathered across his forehead.
Calice, this guy is good. Maybe he practiced in front of a mirror.
“Roh-bi-tie…” He drew the syllables out in a lazy cadence, one she felt down the backs of her legs. “With that name and that accent, I’d guess you’re from Montreal. Did you recognize me from up there?” His dark eyes seemed to laugh at her. “I sure did love that town.”
“And Montreal loved you right back,” Amy said, starting to inch around him. “Yes, I grew up there.”
Beckett shifted a little. Not enough to block her path, but enough to make it clear he wanted to continue the conversation.
She repressed a groan. Beckett reminded her of Gabe Labrash, though admittedly her ex-boyfriend wasn’t as poster handsome as the man standing in front of her. Gabe had taught her the dangers of getting involved with a pro athlete, but that wasn’t a good enough reason to be flat-out rude to a stranger.
His eyes flicked down over her chest to the ID card on her belt. “Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, right?”
“You have sharp eyes,” she said.
“I recognized the colors and the logo right away.” He cleared his throat. “Est-ce que tu viens à l’hôpital souvent?”
Amy gave a reluctant smile at his decent stab at French. His use of the familiar “tu” was a little forward, but she decided not to use the stiff “vous” in response. “C’est beau, ton débit. Tu parles français pas mal,” she said, and then switched back to English. “I’m impressed. Your accent isn’t half bad.”
He shook his head. “I used to speak a fair bit of French, but now I’m rusty as hell. I left Montreal nine years ago, and I haven’t kept it up.”
Amy nodded, knowing how easy it was to lose your French in southern Florida. Sure, there were thousands of Quebec expatriates and snowbirds there, and you could buy La Presse in some Fort Lauderdale convenience stores. But English was too dominant to allow most people to preserve their native language and pass it down. She’d managed, but only through iron will and fanatical determination to spend every vacation in Quebec since her family had forced her to leave. But her younger sister, Marie-Louise, had already lost some of her fluency, and M.L.’s little boy would probably be barely functional in French.
“It’s hard to maintain a language in a foreign environment,” she said, beginning to enjoy the conversation.
Beckett shifted closer. It was an easy, fluid movement, but one which brought her native sense of caution flooding back.
“Are you visiting someone here, Detective?” he asked. “Or working a case?”
Amy cast a pointed look toward the hospital exit. “I dropped in to see a ten year-old girl. A bystander caught in the middle of a double homicide shootout last week. She was transferred down here for follow-up surgery. I was just checking to see how she was doing.”
The tough lines of his face softened a bit. “Poor kid. What’s her name? I’ll drop by.”
Amy hesitated, caught off guard by his offer. “Tanesha Malone. That…that would be nice of you.”
He flashed another devastating grin. “No problem. I’ll make sure I catch her.”
“I guess you’re doing one of those celebrity visits,” Amy said, thinking back to all the times she’d seen athletes, actors, and politicians make whirlwind tours of children’s hospitals.
Beckett’s smile faded. “Not really.” He suddenly sounded cool.
Shut your big mouth, Amy. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to give offense.”
He actually looked kind of pissed. “That’s okay. I just don’t like to be stereotyped.”
She started to back away, hating that her self-assurance seemed to be taking a perplexing nose dive. Thank you, Luke Beckett. “I understand. Well, if you’ll excuse me—”
“Before you go,” he interrupted. “I recognized your ID because a good friend of mine heads up the Violent Crimes Division at the Sheriff’s Office. Kellen Cramer. You must know him.”
Amy knew Kellen Cramer, all right. Her boss, captain and commander of the division that included her Homicide Unit. Talk about a small world. And not in a good way.
She dredged up a smile. “Of course. I’ll mention to him that I ran into you, Mr. Beckett.” She kept backing away. “Have a good day.”
Beckett raised his eyebrows, his gaze latching onto her with a sharp return of interest. Sexual interest, by the look of it. But she didn’t stick around long enough to give him a chance to reply. Every cop instinct she possessed shrieked that Luke Beckett was capable of weaving a web and capturing a victim in the time it took to drink a cup of coffee.
Amy simply refused to play fly to Luke Beckett’s spider. Not after Gabe Labrash. She wouldn’t make that mistake twice.
What’s your favorite type of heroine in romantic suspense novels? One person who comments will win a copy of my award-winning VK Sykes anthology, The Philadelphia Patriots.
Thank you so much for sharing with us, Vanessa! If I didn’t already own the book, I’d be off to snag it after reading that snippet.
Okay, it’s comment time! On the line is that awesome box set which contains the three novels, Fastball, Hardball and Bigger Than Beckham.
I am so excited to have New York Times bestselling author Christy Reece in the house today! You know how you scurry around and dust and polish and fret over every little thing when someone special is coming? That’s how I feel to have Christy here. (Sweeps up stuff previously swept under carpet.) Christy is a bestseller for good reason. Her Last Chance Rescue Series is the bomb! Simply put, she rocks. She also writes a completely different (but still awesome!) brand of romantic suspense as Ella Grace.
Take it away, Christy!
CHRISTY REECE: Thanks so much for inviting me over, Norah. I don’t get a lot of visitors to my office–even the hubby cautiously sticks his head in and asks if it’s safe. LOL It can get scary in here sometimes.
These photos were taken long after a deadline and a major office cleaning. It rarely looks like this but I couldn’t bear for you to see just how bad it can get. You’ll get a little taste of my disorganization when you see my stash of books. Seriously need more bookshelves!
The recliner is my writing chair…I’ve written most of my books here. My office is on the second floor of my house and the chair sits beside the window so I get numerous squirrels playing on the roof to distract and entertain me.
Most of my close-up work, like copyedits and galleys, are done at my desk. The manuscript on the corner is Midnight Secrets and the cover flat beside it is for inspirational purposes only. The picture on the wall above my desk is of a young couple saying goodbye at a train station. It was a gift from hubby and I love it! I’ve made up numerous stories in my head about this couple and why they’re saying goodbye. I’d love to write a story about them someday.
Behind my chair is my printer and beside it are all of my published books, along with my Romantic Times Reviewers Choice award for Last Chance and my Daphne Award for Sweet Justice. More inspiration to help me when I’m struggling with words. The bookshelf is filled with mostly reference books, along with hardbacks of some of my favorite authors.
Above the bookshelf is a saying so appropriate for a romance writer: ‘All because two people fell in love.” Isn’t that a lovely saying? Below the frame, you’ll see lots of different knickknacks, including a rubber chicken in a bikini named Agatha. Doesn’t every writer have one of these?
This sign hangs over my door as a reminder of my ultimate goal as I write.
So Many Books! See how disorganized I really am? Yikes it’s a mess!
This is Blossom who for 13 1/2 years was my best friend, office manager, and muse. I lost her in December and still struggle to work without her. She was a tiny precious tyrant and the perfect writing companion.
This is Prissy (Pea-Pot-Pie) who has interviewed numerous times to be my office manager. However her need for frequent breaks and a treat every few minutes earned her an indefinite suspension. She’s also a drama queen. One of those in the office is quite enough.
This is Boney the Cat who has interviewed several times also. She’s actually a good little worker but has a tendency to walk on my keyboard and type her own words. So far I’ve not been able to interpret the language.
I am considering hiring her as a watch cat though.
The job position is still open but I have three more fur-kids who are anxious to interview. They declined to have their photos taken, citing privacy concerns. LOL Got a feeling I have three divas on my hands.
And that’s my little corner of my writing world.
Thanks again Norah for the chance to share!
Thank you, Christy! And you had me sniffling about Blossom. Although she looks nothing like my homely mongrel Bandicoot who warmed my feet for 11.5 years, she reminds me very strongly of him. And LOL about the job applicants! That’s a tough position to fill, but I’m betting on Prissy to step up. Or she’ll train you, more likely. In my experience, cats are unsuited to managing authors, with our delicate egos. (My cat is looking disdainfully at me from inches away as I type this, whilst my dog is exuding approval from her cushion by my desk. Just sayin’.)
Okay, on to the winning! Christy has kindly offered the following giveways: A signed copy of MIDNIGHT SECRETS (by her equally awesome alter ego, Ella Grace) and a digital copy of CHANCES ARE. (This book has an UNHEARD OF average star review rating of 4.8 on 62 reviews at Amazon. That blows my mind!)
AT THE STROKE OF MIDNIGHT, THE HEAT BEGINS
On a hot southern night, with a storm on the horizon, a family is shattered. Three beautiful daughters—Savannah, Samantha, and Sabrina Wilde—go on with their lives, each significantly changed, as they bear the memory of the murder-suicide that killed their parents. For years, they have stayed away from Midnight, Alabama. Until Midnight calls them home.
Savannah is the first one back, when a grueling case in Nashville leads the young prosecutor to seek shelter in the quiet of the once grand Wilde mansion. But when she finds letters casting doubt on her family’s dark, shameful past, she realizes that peace in Midnight is a shallow façade and sinister secrets lurk beneath the surface. Zach Tanner, once the town’s bad boy, is now the new police chief and still has a wild hold over her. Zach can feel it, too, but he hurt Savannah once. As teenagers, they broke every rule together. Now it’s his job to keep her safe, even though he isn’t sure who her enemies are—or which ones might be his own.
She is his dream come true. He is her nightmare.
Angela Delvecchio has always dreamed of being an LCR field operative. As LCR’s main researcher, she’s helped rescue victims, but always from the sidelines. Until now. Last Chance Rescue has been asked to assist the authorities in apprehending a serial killer terrorizing London. Angela knows this is her time and her mission.
After the murder of his wife, Jake Mallory stopped believing in anything good. Now, as an operative for Last Chance Rescue, he’s found a new purpose but he’ll never let his guard down again. The beautiful and much too vulnerable Angela is a temptation like no other—one he dare not take. Hearing that she’s going to be an operative is a surprise, but Jake is stunned to learn her first assignment will be to bait and trap the Red Rose killer. Assigned to be her partner, Jake knows he wouldn’t have it any other way. He failed the last woman he cared about…he won’t fail Angela.
Angela thought going undercover as an exotic dancer would be the toughest part of the job, and Jake thought keeping his hands off his partner would be his biggest challenge. They were both wrong. Taught to expect the unexpected, Angela faces events she never anticipated and Jake must allow the unthinkable. Now it’s a fight for survival because evil has more than one face and to stay alive, death may be the only option.
As always, all you have to do is comment for a chance to win one of these great prizes. And trust me, if you haven’t read Christy Reece yet, this will be a true prize.
Let the commenting begin!
I have a treat for you today – the awesome Kathy Altman. Kathy writes contemporary romance, romantic suspense, and (in her words) “the occasional ode to chocolate”. She’s published by Harlequin Superromance, and contributes to USA Today’s “Happy Ever After” blog. And she does this on top of her day job as a computer programmer for the Air Force. (Told you she was awesome. She’s not just a Super woman, she’s a superwoman!)
Take it away, Kathy!
KATHY ALTMAN: I’m so happy to be hanging out today with the fabulous Norah Wilson! She’s ultra-talented and uber-generous, and I’m hoping some of her romantic suspense savvy will rub off on me.
At the same time, I can’t help but wonder why I thought it would be a good idea to invite readers into my writing space. Said space tends to be…dusty. And, shall we say, less than tidy. The disorder is usually easy for me to ignore, until the whole post-a-photo thing comes up. Although really, I should be celebrating rather than cringing, because not only do I get to visit with Norah and her peeps, but after some mad action with a dust cloth, a trashcan and the vacuum cleaner, I get a clean workspace! For a day or two, anyway…
But I’ll ’fess up and show you the reality first. So here’s my writing space in all its dust-ridden glory, tucked into the corner of my bedroom. Note the comfy, sturdy, high-dollar office chair. Yeah, I hurt its feelings on a regular basis by choosing to kick back with my laptop in a recliner in the opposite corner.
The stack of books on the far left of the desk are releases I’m getting ready to read and review. I always feel so special when I receive an Advanced Reader’s Copy! The gorgeous lavender mirror leaning up against the file cabinet (because I haven’t decided where to hang it yet) was made by fellow Superromance author Jeannie Watt, and it reminds me that everyone has hidden talents. Some are better hidden than others. Like my flair for speaking Italian and scoring free trips to Venice. Still waiting for those to make an appearance. Here’s a closer view of some of my favorite items:
The ceramic cat sits on top of the filing cabinet. My critique partner, suspense author Toni Anderson, gave that to me for Christmas the year my sweetie and I lost two of our kitties. No way you can look at that little guy and not smile. Beside it is my special Happy Ever After mug, a gift from USA Today blog curator Joyce Lamb. The perfectly pink message reminds me why I write. The timer helps make sure that I do. The paperweight keeps me going when I want to slap the laptop closed (it reads “Never Never Never Quit”). And that magnificent, tumbled rock-encrusted candle holder prompts me to remember that it’s not all about the writing—my nephew Stephen made that for me, so of course it brings to mind all the fun times we’ve had together, and how I’d better hurry up and have some more before he turns 13 and doesn’t want anything to do with me.
When I feel the need to stand (which isn’t anywhere near as often as it should be), I perch my laptop on top of the television in the den and type away. How handy, that I can watch Gilligan’s Island reruns while I type! (Just kidding. I wouldn’t get any work done that way, right? Although there are always exceptions. Like Castle. And Leverage. Maybe Person of Interest. And let’s not forget Rizzoli & Isles or Army Wives or…well, you get the picture.)
Relocating to the den means walking past my inspiration wall. Stephen painted this when he was nearly five, and when I asked him what he planned to call his masterpiece, he answered promptly, “The Promised Land.” Great name, right?! Every time I walk this hallway, I admire his creativity and energy and allow myself to ponder—why isn’t this kid selling paintings so I can write full-time?
Behold the view from my bedroom window. If you look closely, you can see a kitty under the willow tree. Peaceful scene, isn’t it? It’s also deceptively alluring. Believe me, I’ve tried the whole up-against-a-tree thing. Okay, that sounds naughty but what I mean is, I’ve tried writing outside. Sitting at the base of a tree, bellying up to a bistro table on the deck, kicking back in a webbed lounge chair in the shade—all epic fails. Ants, mosquitoes, sunburn and moss stains on your jeans are unpleasant enough. No doubt you’ve already attempted to balance both a laptop and a cat in your lap? How about when the cat is longhaired and your arms and legs are bare and it’s ninety degrees outside and you’re sweating enough for five people? You end up looking like Sasquatch and nothing but a shower can cure that itchy feeling. Which provides the perfect excuse for going back inside.
This is what my desk looked like the ninety seconds it was clean. So much for that!
Thank you so much for hosting me today, Norah! And to anyone who might like a copy of my recent release, Staying at Joe’s, please leave a comment. I’ll pick two names at random to receive either a digital or softcopy version. Thanks, everyone! I appreciate your being here today!
Thank you for the tour, Kathy! That was a blast. BTW, I have also tried the outdoor writing, and it was a bust for me too.
To learn more about Kathy, find her online here:
Okay, to the fun stuff! Giving away two copies of Kathy’s book. It’s hot off the press – just published yesterday! As ever, comment for your chance to win. Here’s a blurb.
A deal she can’t refuse!
Allison Kincaid can make a great sales pitch. But showing up at Joe Gallahan’s motel asking for a favor is her toughest challenge yet. A year ago they were more than just colleagues at a big PR firm. When work came between them, Joe put the blame on Allison…and his opinion hasn’t changed.
She’s shocked, however, when Joe agrees to help. Even though she doesn’t love his terms, she accepts them because she’ll get what she needs. If striking a deal with him means donning a pair of coveralls and swinging a hammer, so be it. Working side by side with Joe again, they might be able to repair the past. They just might get a second chance, too!
This is a very special Workspace Wednesday for me. Kate Kelly is a writing buddy from way back. We basically learned to write together in a small critique group. Kate and I later went on to final in the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart ® contest in the same year (2001), each with our own manuscript, and each story was a romantic suspense with a cowboy at its center. Kate has since self-published a number of her fabulous romantic suspense stories, and she also writes contemporary romance for Harlequin Superromance. If you haven’t read a Kate Kelly novel yet, you should treat yourself. She has an amazing voice!
Take it away, Kate!
KATE KELLY: Okay, before you come into my closet, er…office, there’s something I have to tell you. Like most things in my life, it’s a work-in-progress. My real life hero is building our new house around me, and I get to make choices, like do I want my custom-built desk or do I want a door on the bathroom. So, yeah, no doors on the bathroom. <kidding>
So come on into my office.
Norah said she didn’t want a complete photo album of my office, so you probably can’t see the cool stuff on my desk like the tiny Buddha that’s no bigger than my smallest fingernail. Or the gorgeous cranberry coloured pottery bowl my daughter-in-law made for me. It’s filled with cool rocks and shells. And, ahem, my Daphne du Maurier pewter bookmark I received for placing 1st once upon a time.
Check out how tall my desk is. It might not be pretty, but I love being able to stand up later in the day to work, and I’m told standing is better for you than sitting. The desk has a hydraulic lift, and with one press of the button it can go up, and down, and up, and down. I don’t play with it. Much.
There’s more stuff to see in the office but because the room is so small, it’s impossible to take a picture that includes everything. Unless Norah lets me send the photo album, of course.
The best feature of my office, and the reason I never feel crowded is the view out my big window. Some days the view looks like this.
And sometimes like this.
People often ask me if the view distracts me, and the answer is on occasion. But don’t your best ideas come to you when you least expect them?
Currently I’m working on the third book in my series, Stolen Hearts. The first book is about an art thief, the second an art forger, and the third book, a jewelry thief. The research for these books is absolutely fascinating. Out of Control is a free novella that introduces some of the recurring characters in the series.
And I’m excited to have a Harlequin Super Romance coming out in September, When Adam Came To Town.
Chance Spencer, doesn’t steal. Not anymore.
Suddenly suspected of stealing half a million dollars of original paintings, Chance can’t afford to have the FBI delve too closely into his covert past. When one agent in particular endeavors to put him behind bars, Chance coerces the real thief’s daughter, Sarah O’Sullivan, into helping him flush her wily father out of hiding. Both want him found. Sarah, to warn her father of Chance’s intent to turn him over to the FBI. Chance, to hopefully catch the thief red-handed. To succeed in capturing the thief Chance must keep Sarah close to him. But his plan quickly deteriorates when the stakes for his freedom soar. How can he ruthlessly use the woman with whom he’s falling in love?
Sarah O’Sullivan is also looking for her father, but for different reasons. With her best friend getting married, Sarah realizes she’s alone in the world and needs her family. That would be her father, who has been absent most of her boarding-school life. When Chance arrives in New York to inform her he’s going after her father, Sarah follows him to Canada, hoping to warn him before Chance or the FBI find him. But living in close proximity with Chance, Sarah soon starts falling in love with him. She struggles with her divided loyalties as the FBI and the local police close in for an arrest. Someone has to be arrested for the theft. Chance or her father?
Temptation moves in next door
Sylvie Carson has no idea what she’s going to do with the rest of her life! Artistically blocked, she hopes a prolonged stay in the seaside village she grew up in will help her get over this hump. But when Adam Hunter moves in next door, things only get more complicated, not less.
The artist in Sylvie is immediately intrigued by her new neighbor—the haunting lines of his face, the natural athleticism of his body. Maybe Adam is the muse she’s been looking for…but his shadowed eyes suggest he’s just one more person keeping secrets from her. Though Sylvie can’t deny that Adam inspires passion in her, the last thing she needs is a romance…right?
Thanks for having me, Norah. I love reading this blog and seeing other writers’ workspace.
Thank you Kate! And I can’t believe I’m seeing your new office for the first time in a photograph! I really need the actual tour. But thank you for joining me and giving us this virtual tour. Your view is stunning, as I’m sure readers will agree. Also, I see When Adam Comes to Town is available for pre-order on Amazon. Woot!
Okay, let the commenting commence. One lucky commenter will receive their choice of either the ebook of Sleight of Hand or a print copy of When Adam Comes to Town, available in September. Good luck!
Book 3 in the Serve and Protect Series
Copyright © 2010 Norah Wilson
Published by Norah Wilson
All rights reserved.
Derek Weaver ran a hand across his shaved head as he waited for the weekly call. His hand came away wet.
His eyes darted to the clock on the wall of his Union Street apartment — the nicest address he’d managed since being released from prison two years ago — then back to the silent satellite phone lying on the coffee table. He wished he could spark up another doobie, but the Big Guy would hear it in his voice. Bastard knew everything.
Cursing, he wiped away a fresh sheen of sweat before it could trickle down his face.
The phone rang. He lunged for it.
“Good evening, Mr. Weaver. I trust you have a promising report for me?”
The Big Guy was always polite. Formal, even. But Derek was no fool. He’d never met his boss, but he recognized the ruthlessness which underlay those soft, foreign-accented tones.
Derek closed his eyes. “I lost him.”
A chilling pause.
“I think perhaps you’d better explain.”
“He won’t do it.”
“Ah, but that’s where you are wrong, my young friend.”
“But he’s a straight arrow, sir. I’m not making a lotta headway with the usual tools.” Again, Derek cursed his luck. Trust him to run up against the only 18-year-old in the western world who wasn’t eager to be seduced with mega-doses of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.
“Of course he’s of sterling character. If just anyone could do the job, I’d simply have you do it.”
“But I can’t cross the border. Even if I could hide my convictions, they’d take one look at me and tear my car apart —”
“Precisely. Which is why you’ll have to bring our young man around to our way of thinking.”
“But I told you, he ain’t having no part of it.”
“Then you’ll just have to adopt new tactics, won’t you?”
“New tactics?” Distaste, the kind he’d thought he was long past feeling, rose in his throat like bile. “What kind of tactics?”
“Why, whatever tactics are required, of course. We have just three weeks left and no time to recruit a new candidate of such impeccable quality. There must be no — how do you say? — foul-ups. Are we clear, Mr. Weaver?”
Derek dug the fingers of his free hand into his knee. Hard. “Perfectly, sir.”
The line went dead. Derek closed the phone and hurled it to the other end of the sofa. Goddamn raghead! Piece-of-shit camel-jockey. By the time he exhausted his considerable lexicon of derogatory insults, his rage had passed and fear seeped in to take its place.
Shit. How’d he get himself into this mess?
He should run, dammit, and to hell with the mysterious boss he’d never laid eyes on.
But what would he do if he gave up this gig? All he knew was crime, and with his record, if he made one more appearance before Her Majesty, the judge would lock him up for a good long stretch. And Derek had good reason to want to avoid prison. Several of them, in fact. He’d gotten on the bus, sold out some cell-mates to shorten and sweeten his own stint. If he got sent up again, he just might find himself bunking down with a roommate who’d stick him with the sharpened point of a toothbrush first chance he got.
No, he couldn’t give this job up. It was his ticket out of here. All he had to do was stick to it long enough to see the big payday, then he could clear the hell out of town. Get right out of the country.
But how was he going to secure the kid’s cooperation?
He reached for the fattest of the joints lined up like little soldiers on the table’s glass surface. The answer would come to him. And if it didn’t, at least he’d be too stoned to be as scared as he knew he should be.
Constable Tommy Godsoe’s blood sang.
His breath rasped harshly in his ears as he pelted along the concrete sidewalk, but he wasn’t winded. Not yet. Not even close. Max, the four-year-old Belgian Malinois straining at the business end of the thirty-foot lead, lent Tommy extra speed. Even now, backup was falling further and further behind, but Tommy couldn’t check Max’s momentum or the dog would think he was being corrected.
Suddenly, at the mouth of an alleyway, Max slowed. Without conscious thought, Tommy took up the slack in the lead even as he studied the dog nosing the asphalt. The dog wheeled in a tight semi-circle, then turned away from the alley and shot off again down the sidewalk. Tommy fixed the location in his mind. Max had eliminated the alleyway as a direction of travel. Always had to remember the last negative sign. If they lost the trail further on up ahead, they could come back to this spot, so Max could pick up the scent again.
At the next alleyway, Max did the same check, but this time he bounded off down the narrow passageway. Tommy raced after him, his heart rate kicking up another notch.
Max cleared it in one leap, and Tommy vaulted over it right behind him. Over the sound of his own breathing, he heard backup in the mouth of the alley now. Good. No need to radio his location. He could save his breath for —
What the hell?
Tommy jerked awake, struggling up into a sitting position. The sheets, cool with sweat, pooled in his lap, and his heart pounded against his ribs as though he’d run a marathon.
Ah, Jesus wept. A dream. It was just a dream. He wasn’t a cop anymore. He wasn’t a dog handler. Bitterness, familiar as the pain in his hip, curdled his stomach.
A light tapping at his door.
“All right, all right, keep your shirt on.”
Throwing off the sheet, he swung his legs gingerly over the edge of the bed. He thought about scooping up the blue sweat pants from the floor and hauling them on over his boxers, but another peal of the doorbell dissuaded him. Grabbing his cane, he lurched to his feet and hobbled toward the living room, grimacing with every step.
Cripes, that’s what his doorbell sounded like? Something from a 50s Avon commercial? He’d lived here four years and couldn’t remember ever hearing his own doorbell. No doubt the ‘Beware of Dog’ sign had something to do with that. He and Max never stayed indoors when they could be outside, and they sure as hell never waited around for life to come to them.
The doorbell sounded again, and he wished he still had his service weapon. He’d happily put a round into that little speaker by the front door.
Reaching the door at last, he tore it open. “What?”
Paige Harmer took an instinctive step backward.
When she’d moved into this duplex last month, the other side had been vacant. The landlady’d said its occupant was in hospital recovering from surgery. But even after her neighbor had come home nearly two weeks ago, the unit next door had been unnaturally quiet. No visitors came or went, and no music thrummed through those walls. If it weren’t for the small bag of garbage that materialized at the curb beside hers every Tuesday morning, and the occasional muted sound of a television deep in the night, she’d have sworn the other apartment was deserted. Now, her neighbor stood framed in the doorway, wearing a pair of white boxers and a thunderous expression.
And oh, Christmas, he was most gorgeous thing she’d clapped eyes on in years, outside of a Calvin Klein ad.
Despite their current storminess, his eyes were blue as the July sky. Black hair, a startling contrast to his pale complexion, stood up in all directions, all the sexier for its dishevelment. Thick, black eyebrows slanted over those killer eyes. More dark hair crowned his chest in a liberal thatch, tapering to a thin line that arrowed out of sight beneath his boxers.
Runner, she thought. Endurance athlete. Just a hair over average height, with a leanness that shaded toward too thin. Yet the conformation of arms and chest disclosed enough wiry muscle to give the impression of power.
“Can I help you?”
Mister, if you can’t, there’s no help for me.
The thought barely had a chance to form before her internal censor roared to life. He was way too young for her to be ogling, for goodness sake. Hardly much older than Dillon, by the look of him.
There, that did it. Though he was clearly nowhere near as young as her son, the mental association was enough to clamp a firm leash on her imagination.
Unfortunately, the extra seconds it took to channel her thoughts in more pure directions didn’t go unnoticed. One thick eyebrow arched inquiringly, reminding her she hadn’t yet stated her purpose.
She felt a flush begin to climb her neck. No chance he’d miss that, either. Her skin was almost translucent, at least the stuff between the freckles. She lifted the foil-wrapped plate she held. “I thought you might like some dinner.”
He looked at the plate. “Thanks, but I’m not a big eater.”
“I can see that,” she said, injecting her tone with the same censorious note she might use with her son when he ignored his body’s nutritional needs. He shifted, and she finally noticed the cane, which he appeared to be leaning on pretty heavily. “Don’t worry. It’ll freeze nicely if you can’t handle it all right now.”
“Look, lady, that’s real nice of you, but —”
“I’ll just put it in the refrigerator for you, shall I?”
She angled sideways and slipped right past him before he could finish brushing her off. No way was she going back to her lonely unit to worry about Dillon. Not tonight.
“That way, I presume?” She indicated the direction the kitchen must be, if the place were laid out in the mirror image of hers.
“Uh … yeah.”
Seconds later, Paige stood in front of a white dinosaur of a refrigerator, a twin to the one that rattled and hummed in her own kitchen, right beside the commercial refrigeration unit she’d installed for her business. That’s where the similarity ended, she discovered, as she opened the refrigerator’s door.
Five bottles of beer, domestic. Some Chinese takeout cartons that bulged ominously as though approaching an explosive state. A drying chunk of cheddar cheese, circa 2008. A few bottles of condiments. No eggs, no dairy, no vegetables, no fruit.
Hearing him arrive at the kitchen door — the thumping of the cane on the linoleum-covered floor announced his progress — she glanced over at him.
“Is this the part where you tell me you’re really one of the undead and have no need of sustenance beyond human blood?”
He didn’t smile. If anything, he scowled more fiercely. “I’ve been meaning to get to the grocery store.”
“It must be hard.”
He followed the drift of her gaze. She could tell by the way his hand tightened on the cane’s handle.
His jaw hardened even further, if possible. “I manage.”
“Are you hungry? The food’s still hot.” She waggled the foil-wrapped plate temptingly. “Stuffed pork chops with mashed potatoes, glazed carrots and gingered parsnips.”
“It’s okay,” he said, after a split-second hesitation. “You can just put it in the fridge.”
Fat chance. She’d caught the fleeting look of indecision in his eye as she’d described what was under the foil. He was hungry, all right. “Aw, come on, sit down and eat. I need the distraction.”
Those cigar-thick eyebrows soared. “You want to stay and watch me eat?”
“Relax, fella. Nothing kinky. I just don’t want to go back over there yet. I’ve done two loads of laundry, vacuumed the carpet within an inch of its life, baked three cheese cakes and seven pies. I have nowhere to put any more baking and nothing left to clean. So if I go home now, I’ve got nothing left to do but worry about Dillon.”
Ah! A question. And she hadn’t even dragged it out of him. That was an improvement. “My son.”
“Where is he?”
She blew out her breath, lifting a strand of auburn hair off her face. “If I knew that, I wouldn’t be worried, would I? Or maybe I would, at that,” she amended, thinking about the hard-looking young man Dillon had been hanging with lately.
The sharpness of his tone drew her glance to his face. His eyebrows were drawn together again in a frown.
She shrugged. “He’s seventeen, almost eighteen. I can hardly describe him as missing every time he slams out of the house in a foul mood.”
That surprised him. She could see him doing the mental arithmetic, calculating her minimum age. That’s right, son. Old enough to be your mother, even if I don’t look it.
Okay, that was an exaggeration. A huge exaggeration. But older than him by quite a few years, she’d wager.
“Sit.” She pulled a tea towel off the oven door handle where it had been hung to dry after its last use and flopped it on the table as an impromptu place mat, then plunked the plate down on it. “I nuked the ceramic plate before dishing up the food so it would stay nice and warm.”
“I don’t even know your name.”
Way to go, Paige. Barge in and take over the man’s life without an introduction.
“Sorry.” She wiped her right hand on her jeans and extended it. “Paige Harmer. Your new neighbor.”
She regretted her gesture immediately, as he had to lurch forward to grasp her hand. He didn’t grimace, but she could feel the tension in his grip. Pain.
“I know.” At his enquiring look, she hastened to add, “Mrs. Graham mentioned your name.”
Paige had been impressed at how close-mouthed her landlady had been about her tenant’s private life. As a prospective new tenant, all Paige had needed to know was that her neighbor wasn’t a creepazoid. She’d found her landlady’s discretion commendable at the time, but now she couldn’t help but wish the other woman had been a little less discreet. For instance, what did Tom Godsoe do for a living? How had he sustained the injury that made crossing a room the grueling ordeal it appeared to be?
“Okay,” he said at last, “if I’m going to have an audience, I think I’d better get dressed.”
Not on my account.
Before something like that escaped her mouth, she averted her eyes from those square shoulders and lightly-muscled expanse of chest. “Take your time. I think I spotted some coffee beans and a grinder. I’ll just brew us a pot of java.”
“Be my guest,” he drawled, then turned and thumped away.
A smile tugging at her lips, Paige reached for the gourmet coffee beans.
A film of perspiration slicked Tommy’s brow before he’d made it halfway to his bedroom. Damned useless leg. He paused by the couch and leaned on the back of the hulking piece of furniture for a few seconds. Gritting his teeth against the white-hot shards of pain he knew would explode in his hip and lower back with each step, he resumed the trek to the bedroom.
Why hadn’t he given that crazy, wild-haired woman the boot? He wasn’t that hungry. He still had waffles in the freezer, and dry Fruit Loops were a perfectly adequate source of nutrition.
Yeah, right. The hospital food he’d subsisted on for so long was better than anything he had left in the cupboards. A pork chop and actual vegetables sounded like heaven. He only hoped the price of dinner wouldn’t be too high. She had the look of a hard customer to move along, if she wasn’t of a mind to go.
Of course, she’d never experienced Tommy’s post-injury brand of hospitality. He’d managed to chase off friends and fellow officers — no, make that ex fellow officers — even before he’d checked out early from the rehab center. Getting rid of one slip of a woman shouldn’t be too hard.
When he reached his bedroom, he sank down on the edge of the bed and cursed his trembling leg. Weak as a damn baby. It took another few minutes to drag the sweat pants on. By the time he’d located a t-shirt and pulled it over his head, his whole body was slicked with sweat. Pitiful. Completely done in by a twenty-foot walk.
He grabbed the pill bottle off the night stand, dumped two tablets into his palm and dry-swallowed them. His hip was gonna kill him tonight, for all this activity. Already, he pictured himself lying on the mattress in the dead of night, going quietly crazy while the pain radiated down to the soles of his feet.
Kitchen, he reminded himself. If he was going to sell his soul, or at least his privacy, for a home-cooked meal, he’d better get there before the food fossilized on the plate.
By the time he made it back to the kitchen, the crazy woman — Paige? — not only had a pot of coffee brewed, but she’d cleaned out his refrigerator as evidenced by the armload of inedible stuff she was dumping in the garbage can when he hobbled in.
She glanced up at him. “I hope you weren’t too attached to any of that stuff.”
“You cleaned my refrigerator?”
She grinned. “Couple more days, that stuff would have walked off on its own, anyway.”
As he lowered himself onto a chair, a laborious proposition in itself, she washed her hands under the tap and dried them on a clean towel she must have found in a drawer. Then she zoomed in on him again, removed the foil covering from his meal and rotated the plate so the meat was within easy reach. The delicious aroma that rose up from the hot meal was almost enough to take the edge off his irritation at her hovering solicitousness.
“I swear to God, if you pick up those utensils to cut my meat for me, I won’t be responsible for my actions.”
She started at his tone, and although she didn’t evacuate the physical space she occupied by his left shoulder, he felt her take a mental step backward. And she looked at him, really looked, which she’d managed not to do since she’d inventoried him in the doorway earlier. He met her gaze, keeping his expression flat. Best way to discourage sympathy, he’d found.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
He picked up his fork. “If I detect the merest whiff of pity from you, you’ll be taking that coffee to go, good deeds notwithstanding. Understood?”
She blinked at him in what appeared to be genuine disbelief. Her eyes were green, he noticed. Not the improbable green of those tinted contacts women wore, but a soft, mossy green.
“Mr. Godsoe, I assure you it hadn’t occurred to me to pity you. It was just the mother in me coming out.”
He stabbed a parsnip. “I don’t need a mother.”
“That’s going around, I guess. Neither does Dillon.”
She turned away to grab a mug, but not before he caught a glimpse of the worry lines creasing her forehead.
He went back to eating as she fixed her coffee. By the time she plunked down opposite him at the small pedestal table, her brow was smooth once more. He’d also devoured half the pork chop.
“This is wonderful,” he said around his food. “Where’d you learn to cook like this?”
“My fourth and final foster home. I finally figured out you had to bring value-added if you wanted to stay put.”
His question had been rhetorical; he certainly hadn’t expected an answer, let alone one like that. With her wide, inviting face, freckled complexion and burnished hair, she looked like apple pie and picket fences, not the product of an underfunded and overburdened child protection system.
Dammit. It was no concern of his who she was and where she came from. He had more than enough of his own problems to worry about. Instead of uttering one of the half-dozen questions that sprang to mind, he nodded and went back to his meal.
“Actually, I make my living cooking,” she said. “Desserts, specifically, for some of the nicer restaurants around town. Cheesecakes, pies, flans, tarts, you name it. Speaking of which, would you like a piece of lemon meringue pie? I could run home and get you one.”
Homemade lemon pie sounded great, but he wouldn’t send her out for it. “No, this is good.”
He felt her gaze on him as he used the last morsel of meat to mop up any lingering traces of juice from his plate.
“Please.” God, it felt good to have a hot meal inside him. He could almost forget the insistent throb of pain that was his constant companion.
Once again, almost.
She put a mug of steaming black coffee before him, along with a half-pint of cream and the bowl of lumpy sugar she must have found in his cupboard.
He shot her a look. “Where’d the cream come from?”
“I ran home and got it while you were changing. Eggs, too, and whole-wheat bread. Some dry cereal. A couple of bananas. Wish I’d thought of the pie.”
It was his turn to blink in disbelief. Until twenty minutes ago, he’d never laid eyes on her. Since then, she’d pushed her way into his home, fed him, cleaned his kitchen and done her level best to restock his cupboards.
“Okay, this must be the part where you smile disarmingly and tell me you’re some kind of Pacific Heights-type psycho and I’m never gonna get you to leave.”
A smile lifted the corner of her lips, making a dimple flash on the right side of her mouth. “I guess this wouldn’t be the time to confess that I really loved Michael Keaton’s tenant-from-hell character in that movie?”
Irritated with himself for noticing her mouth, he grated, “Dammit, I told you, I don’t want your pity, or your groceries. I let you in the door, and now you’re making yourself at home, digging through my cupboards —”
“Look, Tom — can I call you Tom? Tommy?” Without bothering to wait for a reply, she forged on. “I can see you don’t get around very well, whereas I do. Your cupboards were bare. Mine aren’t. No biggie. Heck, you can replace the groceries, if you feel that strongly about it.”
He scowled at her reasonable tone. “I just don’t want anyone feeling sorry for me. I’m doing fine, dammit.”
“I didn’t mean to imply you weren’t.” Her green eyes narrowed. “Do you have some tragic story I should know about?”
“Hardly.” He said it without hesitation, and just to prove how tragedy-free he was feeling, he lifted his coffee cup to his lips and took a sip.
“Good, because now wouldn’t be a good time to talk about it. It’d just ruin your digestion. Let’s talk about me instead.”
He choked on his coffee.
She turned those big eyes on him. “What? I thought we’d established you don’t want to talk about your accident or your surgery or whatever, so why not me? Or my suddenly difficult son.”
Why talk at all? He could plead a bone-deep agony in his hip and leg, which would be no lie. The pain pills hadn’t kicked in yet. Then he remembered the look on her face when she’d first mentioned her son.
She brightened. “Yes, Dillon.”
“What’s his problem?”
She shrugged, but it wasn’t the same nonchalant gesture she’d displayed before. This shrug spoke of helplessness.
“I wish I knew. We used to be really close, but now … his moods are so … changeable.”
“Not for another couple of weeks.”
“My point is, being surly and uncommunicative is par for the course.”
“I know. But he’s always been such a sweet kid.”
He watched her absently stroke her coffee mug. “Boys grow up.”
She shook her head. “That’s part of it, for sure. Maybe even the biggest part of it,” she allowed. “But he really didn’t want to make this move, or at least not as fast as we did. Consciously or not, he’s punishing me for disrupting our lives.” She chewed the inside of her lip a moment. “Maybe I should have postponed the move. But I’d already held off until he finished high school, and he’d have had to move somewhere in the fall anyway, for university, so I figured why not here, right?”
He realized she was looking at him as though she expected some kind of reaction. “UNB’s a good school. He’ll like it.”
She looked down into the depths of her coffee mug again. “Besides, I’d won a major contract that pretty much required me to relocate here. Not that he had to pick this university just because I was coming here. He’d been accepted by three different schools, and we could have stretched the budget to pay for residence, but this one really does have the best computer science program.”
What was he supposed to say? “I’ve heard very good things about it.”
“I know it was a wrench to leave his friends so soon after graduation, but I figured he could use the time to get to know the city, make a few friends here.”
Man, she’d obviously been over this ground a few times, rationalizing, regretting, second-guessing. He knew all about that. “His father around?”
Another shake of the head. “Not since Dillon was little.”
“Maybe he needs to connect with his dad.”
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he recognized that he’d slipped into problem-solving mode. Dammit, he wasn’t a cop anymore. And he sure as hell wasn’t a social worker.
“That’s not in the cards.”
He pushed back his own too-raw emotions. She clearly needed to talk to someone, and he’d been elected. What had she said? Oh, yeah. The kid’s dad was out of the picture. “Dead? Dillon’s father, I mean.”
“Deadbeat,” she corrected, lifting her gaze from her mug.
“What about Big Brothers?” He found himself looking away. “It’s a good program. A lot of kids from single-parent families benefit from the influence of a male role —”
She held up a hand to stop him. “You’re preaching to the converted, here. We were in the program for four years, until Dillon’s Big Brother moved to Halifax. Now, he thinks he’s too old for that kind of stuff.”
Tommy gingerly shifted in his chair. “Again, he’s nearly eighteen. It’s natural for him to look to his peers rather than an adult.”
“I think he found something else to fill the void.”
Of course. “Girl, eh?”
She grimaced. “I wish.”
Whoops. “I see.”
“Oh, no! It’s not like that. Dillon dates girls. There’s just no one special.”
“You know, a lot of mothers might be glad there was no one special. I seem to remember my mother getting uneasy when I was that age and stuck on a girl.”
That drew a weak smile from her.
“Afraid one of those sweet young things was going to whisk her son off to the altar, was she?”
Shotgun marriage? There’d never been much chance of that. Not that an accidental pregnancy had been out of the question. He’d just been far too immature and self-involved for marriage, as had the girls he’d run with. His father would have just pulled out his checkbook. Of course, his father also would have given him a hearty thump on the back as though he’d finally done something praiseworthy. Well, at least this proves you’re not a queer.
“Something like that,” he muttered, taking a sip of his coffee. Lord, even her coffee was incredible. “So, if it’s not a girl, he must be hanging with a bad crowd.”
Her hand tightened on the handle of her mug. “Bingo.”
“It’s probably not that bad,” he offered. “Kids that age talk a good line of trash, but they’re not nearly as bad as they’d have the world believe. I’ve seen ’em fold pretty quick when —” Damn. Talking like a cop again. “What I mean is, it’s usually just posturing. He’ll grow out of it.”
She slanted him a look. “You don’t have kids, do you?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Adults.” She sighed and pushed back in her chair.
“He’s hanging around with adults. I only got a good look at one of them. He was relatively young, I suppose, but still a lot older than Dillon. Mid-twenties, probably, and way, way harder than my son, from the look of him.”
Tommy frowned. That kind of age differential usually spelled bad news. He could too easily picture unscrupulous adults feeding a troubled kid’s ego and thirst for attention until the kid was ripe for exploitation. Drug-dealing, auto theft, pornography, prostitution…. All the ugly possibilities flashed through his mind.
“And you think they’re up to … what?”
“No good,” she said darkly. “Although since I haven’t had an actual conversation with any of these men, I have to admit I’m basing that judgment entirely on prejudice and stereotypes. Which makes me feel like a total hypocrite, since it’s exactly the kind of thing I’ve tried to teach Dillon not to do.”
“Let me guess — shaved heads, baggy pants, shirts buttoned at the neck and open at the bottom, tattoos?”
“Not to mention the cold eyes. Oh, yes, and the chopped pick-up with the tinted windows, and the kind of stereo that sets off minor earthquakes with the bass notes when it drives by.”
The cynic in him said she’d probably nailed the demographic accurately, but he stayed silent.
“So?” She looked at him expectantly.
“So, what?” He shifted again, just a few millimeters, to ease the ache in his leg. The relief was exquisite. Unfortunately, it lasted about a tenth of a second, then started throbbing again.
“So, are you going to pat me on the head and tell me I’m being a paranoid, over-protective mother?”
“No,” he said. “No, I won’t do that.”
She sagged. “Damn. I was hoping you would. Hoping even harder that you could make me believe it.”
Their gazes locked for a few seconds, and Tommy felt an unexpected surge of sexual awareness rocket through him.
His first reaction was relief; he’d begun to think of his libido as KIA. Then the inappropriateness struck him. This was a distraught woman, a worried mother. A mother whose son, technically speaking, was old enough to make her a grandmother.
She jumped up and carried her cup to the sink, where she rinsed it and set it on the draining board. “Look,” she said, turning back to him. “I can see you’re in pain. You probably need to lie down or something. I’ll get out of your hair.”
“The leg’s gonna hurt no matter what. You don’t have to rush off, if you don’t want to.”
Christ, was that him talking? Had he just invited the original Velcro woman to stay?
Her green gaze caught and held his again. “Really?”
“Really,” he heard himself say. Oh, Lord, he must have taken too many of those pain pills.
“That’s very generous of you, especially after I pushed my way in here.”
“You did feed me.”
She tilted her head in an attitude of listening. “Looks like you’re off the hook. That must be Dillon now.”
He heard it too, the sound of a car’s engine. At the end of this cul-de-sac, just barely inside the city limits, they didn’t get much drive-by traffic. Good. The kid was home where he belonged, and now he could have his solitude back.
“Thanks for holding my hand,” she said, turning to pick up her plate. “No offense, but I hope it’ll be the last time.”
The latter was delivered with a wide smile, but he could see the tension and worry beneath it.
“Look, do you want me to talk to him or something?”
Oh, hell, where had that come from? She looked just as stunned by the offer as he was about making it.
“Thanks, but I don’t think so. I know my son. If I just spring you on him, it’ll be worse than if I just leave it alone.”
“Well, if you change your mind….”
She smiled at him again, and he was struck once more by a pang of desire, this one even stronger than the last.
She let herself out, and the sound of the door closing echoed behind her. For a split second, her absence felt like a hollowness, in his house and in his chest.
Damned lust. Now that the relief had passed, he almost wished he’d stayed dead that way. Didn’t he have enough aches without adding another?
Pulling himself to his feet, mainly by dint of his upper-body strength, he picked up his cane and clumped toward the bedroom. He’d almost reached his customary resting spot by the sofa when he heard the scream, shrill, female and clearly terrified.
Adrenaline ripped through his system like a shot of juice from a live electrical wire. He covered the distance to the door in a flash, with no sensation of pain. Endorphins. He’d pay for it later. Tearing the door open, he lurched out onto the step.
A hand still clamped to her mouth to stifle the scream she’d been unable to suppress, she swiveled her head toward Tommy’s voice. He stood on the steps outside his unit, looking like he was ready, willing and able to use his cane as a weapon, if need be.
“What it is? What’s the matter?”
She pointed to her doorstep.
“Jesus. What’s that?”
“I don’t know.” Her stomach did a sick little flip, but her voice was surprisingly steady. “But it’s dead and it seems to be minus its fur.”
He swore, then hobbled a few feet closer. “I take it that the car we heard wasn’t Dillon coming home?”
“Dillon’s car’s not home,” she replied, choosing her words carefully. These days, she couldn’t rule out anything where her son was concerned, even his participation in something as ugly as this. He’d closed himself off so completely from her. Not that she thought he’d lead something as gruesome as this, but he might go along for the ride, especially if he didn’t know in advance what the plan was.
“You’re welcome to call it in from my place,” he said, gesturing toward his unit. “Phone’s on the wall just inside the kitchen.”
Call the police? Without talking to Dillon?
“Ah, that’s okay.” She took a step backward, closer to her own doorstep. “Thanks for the offer, but I think I’ll just deal with this myself.”
“You’re making a mistake, Paige.”
His tone was quiet, without any detectable inflection, but it arrested her retreat in a way a forceful command might not have.
“What do you mean?”
“By not reporting this. You think you’re protecting your son, but if his new friends did this, with or without his involvement, you’d do better to tackle it head on. He needs to know that his choices have repercussions.”
He was right and she knew it, but it wasn’t that simple. Dillon was her son. He was all she had, and getting further away from her every day. She didn’t know how to guide him toward a better path without driving him to worse rebellion. Her frustration boiled up into anger.
“Who said I thought this has anything to do with Dillon?”
“So, you think it was what? Random sicko? Or maybe a customer who didn’t like your Tiramisu?”
She glared at him. “There’s no need for sarcasm.”
He sighed. “Okay, let’s say it has nothing to do with your son. All the more reason to call the cops right now. They might be able to get impressions from the car’s tires. Presuming somebody carried it to your doorstep, there could be footprint evidence. But that stuff is transitory. You have to act fast.”
She snorted. “You sound like a cop.”
“That’s because I am.”
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