Category Archives: Excerpts

At Any Cost – Chapter Two

As nice it had been to have a whirlpool in her hotel room, Michelle Andress – better known as The Hawk – much preferred the condo she was now renting. The bed was about the same size, but the rest of the appliances and electronics were much bigger and there was a lot to be said for a full-size refrigerator and a stove. The condo had been subletted to her furnished, and the quality of the furniture was second only to the view of the Loop she had when she looked out over the city.

She was rummaging around in the refrigerator when her phone rang from where she’d left it on the coffee table. Michelle took a beer from the bottom shelf and twisted it off as she went to answer it. She wasn’t particularly surprised to see that the name on the phone was “Private,” and she picked it up and put it to her ear.

“Hello?” Michelle was careful to keep her voice neutral as she spoke, not wanting to give away too much information until she knew who was on the other end.

“Is this the Hawk?”

“Who’s asking?” Michelle couldn’t quite place the voice so she erred on the side of caution and went with authoritative.

“It’s Martin Caiber,” he said, not hearing the tension in her voice. Michelle relaxed and held her phone between her cheek and shoulder as she twisted the top off the beer. “I wanted to thank you for the money you deposited this morning, and also ask you how you got my account number to do it.”

“Probably the same way you got my private phone number,” Michelle said, sitting back on the couch and putting her feet up. “It’s my business to find people, and you’re no different. Besides, the account was in your father’s name. If you’re going to do your business behind closed doors, you should probably use someone else’s name.” She sipped her beer and Martin laughed.

“I’m using Dad’s account because most of the business is under his name and it makes things easier.” She could hear a smile in his voice and couldn’t help smiling herself. “I was surprised that you really gave me twenty percent.”

“I said you were cute,” Michelle said playfully. “Was that it? You were just calling about the money?”

“Actually, no,” Martin replied. “Since you paid me, that must mean you finished your job. Does that mean you’re going back wherever you came from?”

“Not right away,” Michelle replied, taking another drink of her beer. “I’m between jobs and I like Chicago, so I thought I’d hang around for a little while. My work is mostly mobile, anyway. I can do the majority of it on my computer.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Martin said. “This might sound strange, but have you ever done any kind of bodyguard work?”

“Not per se,” Michelle said, frowning. “I have self-defense training and did some Krav Maga classes with my father, so I can handle myself. I also make sure I have a gun on me when I do any sort of confrontation but that’s just a perk of having my PI license. Why, do you need someone to watch out for you?”

“Right now I just need someone to come with me to a meeting at a casino,” Martin said. “But I am looking for a bodyguard and you’re at the top of my list.”

“I am?”

“Yeah. I don’t know if you realize it, but you’re pretty intimidating.” He sounded completely serious but Michelle couldn’t help laughing. “So is that a yes or a no?”

“Sure, I’ll help you out,” she said, setting aside her beer. “After all, you put it so nicely. When and where do you need me?”

“Can you meet me at the club where we met in about half an hour?”

“Right now?” Michelle looked at the clock on the wall and saw that it was two o’clock. “It’ll take me at least forty minutes to get dressed and get there from the Loop. I’m still trying to figure out the streets here.”

“That’s fine, they can wait. Just get here as soon as you can,” Martin said. “What’s this going to cost me, by the way?”

“Buy me dinner and it’ll be on the house,” Michelle said, getting up from the couch and walking into the bedroom. She hadn’t had much to unpack, but the few things that had been in her suitcases were in the closet and they gave it a sort of forlorn hotel-like look. “Someplace fancy, though. No White Castle or anything like that.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever actually been to a White Castle,” Martin said. “If you’re not from here, you probably haven’t heard of it but there’s a place called Cerise that’s pretty nice on the Mile. I think you’ll like it.”

“Sounds like a plan. I’ll throw on some clothes and be there as soon as I can.” Without bothering to say goodbye, Michelle hung up and tossed her phone on the bed. Since she never knew when a client might call she made sure her suits were always pressed, and she took one out of the closet and tossed it on the bed beside her phone while she considered her shirts.

The last person she had expected to call was Martin, but she was glad he had. When they’d parted a week earlier she had felt a little like she’d missed out on something, but now that she had the opportunity to spend some time with him and get to know him better she wasn’t going to turn it down. She’d never directly put herself in a situation where she might have had to fight someone but she had a feeling her father would be proud of her.

When she’d left the hotel room, Michelle had taken the vase of fire-tipped roses with her. She’d bought them on the spur of the moment at a grocery store and had put one in her lapel when she went to meet Martin on a whim. Now it seemed like a nice, professional touch – the kind that would make her look as if everyone else was completely beneath her – and she wanted to impress Martin just as much as she wanted to intimidate whoever they were going to be pushing around.

Michelle smirked as she took a red pinstriped shirt out of the closet and tossed it on top of her suit. She couldn’t believe that anyone would find her intimidating enough to be their bodyguard, especially the son of a Chicago mob boss. He really was cute, though, and she supposed she had hoped something like this would happen when she dropped twenty thousand dollars in his bank account. Once they got through with his meeting, she was going to have dinner with him; she just had to possibly threaten someone first.

“Be careful what you wish for, I guess,” she said to the roses as she took off her t-shirt and dropped it on the floor.

She dressed quickly, then ran a brush through her hair before snapping a bloom off of the roses and tucking it in her lapel with a smile. Pleased with her appearance, she took her gun off the table and tucked it into the back of her pants. Then she went downstairs and out to her car to be on her way.

Michelle had only seen Trees after dark, so she was somewhat surprised by how small the club seemed in the daytime. She parked in the same space she’d used the night before, paid the meter, and went in. Martin was sitting at the bar and he looked up as soon as the door opened. Even across the room Michelle saw him freeze and she was struck by a moment of self-consciousness as she tried to figure out why.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” she said instead. Martin recovered and smiled at her as he got up and put his phone in his pocket.

“You were faster than I expected,” he said, joining her at the door. When they’d met before he’d been sitting down, so Michelle was surprised to find that he was only a few inches taller than her. She only stood about 5’6” in her boots so she couldn’t have put him at more than 5’8”. Not particularly short, but not at all what she had expected either. “Come on, let’s get going. They’re not going to wait forever.”

“Right.” Michelle followed him out the back door and behind the club to where his car was parked. “Do you want me to drive? It’ll probably make you look powerful to have your bodyguard drive you to this meeting.”

“You think?”

“You haven’t been doing this very long, have you?” She held out her hand. “Keys, please. Your car is much nicer than mine.” Martin gave them to her and she got into the driver’s seat while he went to the passenger seat. “You can sit in the back if you want.”

“This whole thing is getting really weird really quickly,” Martin said, getting into the front seat and closing the door.

“So you’ve never had a bodyguard before?” Michelle turned the key and the engine rumbled to life.

“Of course not. Why would I have?” He reached forward and set the GPS to an address a few miles away. Michelle raised an eyebrow at him and he sighed. “Look—”

“So tell me more about where we’re going,” Michelle said, cutting him off. “How many guys are we looking at? Am I going to have to pull my gun?”

“I sure as hell hope not,” Martin said, looking slightly alarmed. “Before my dad died, he bought me some property and I’m building another nightclub on it. I’ve been trying to get some last-minute construction done and the contractors are trying to get more money out of me. If Dad was alive they wouldn’t be trying to screw me over, and I’m hoping having you there will make it look like I’m on his level.”

“I see,” Michelle said, nodding. “So you’re just a regular property owner being pressured by some shady contractors, and there’s nothing going on that might get me killed. It’s a good thing I don’t have any family in town.”

“No one’s going to try to kill you,” Martin said. “I just need it to look like I’ve got a bodyguard. I’ll explain more at that dinner I’m taking you to.”

“I look forward to it,” Michelle said. She nodded at a classy-looking building at the end of the block. “Looks like we’re here. I guess I’ll just park in front.” Martin didn’t reply so she pulled into the first empty parking space she saw and got out of the car before he could open his door so she could open it for him.

Michelle couldn’t help being a little on edge as she followed Martin into the half-finished club. She had a pretty good idea of the line of business Martin and his father were actually in, and she was almost certain that she was no match for a couple of mob enforcers. There was nothing she could do but trust that he knew what they were up against, and she was glad she had her gun on her.

“That’s them,” Martin said, indicating a pair of men leaning on the bar. In the interest of knowing what she was up against, Michelle sized them up as they approached. They didn’t seem like the kind of men who would threaten to break her fingers but looks could be deceiving. As soon as they saw Michelle and Martin, the two men pushed off the bar and met them in the middle of the room. “Nice to see you,” he said to the contractors. One of them eyed Michelle and Martin smiled. “This is Hawk. She’ll be joining us for the meeting.”

“What exactly are you planning that you felt it necessary to bring a bodyguard?” The larger of the two contractors looked at her suspiciously and Martin shrugged.

“Nothing in particular, Rich. I’ve discovered recently that it would be a good idea to have someone watching my back, and she’s one of the best,” he said. Michelle thought privately that he was going a bit far but she kept her face impassive and her arms folded over her chest. The contractors looked at her dubiously and she locked eyes with the bigger of the two until he looked away from her. “Let’s sit.” The men went to one of the booths that were still being installed and sat down while Michelle stood by Martin’s shoulder. He looked up at her. “There’s room for you too.”

“No thanks,” Michelle said, keeping her eyes on the contractors. “I’d rather stand.”

“Suit yourself,” the larger of the two said. “Now, let’s talk about the changes you wanted to make.”

Their talk turned to permits and installations, and Michelle let her eyes travel around the room that would, if these men could come to an agreement, soon be a club. It was larger than Trees, and the bar was central to the top floor. Steps led to an empty area below that looked as if it was made to be a dancefloor. Michelle could see that it would be a great place to dance and have a drink, and she hoped she would be around to see it. She felt a smile trying to surface and pushed it back down, turning her attention to Martin.

Even though she’d never met his father, she could tell that Martin had a long way to go before he measured up to him and the men he was speaking with knew it. Confident though he was, she doubted he was going to leave the room without paying something. All three men were smiling but she could feel the tension between them. Luckily, she didn’t feel that Martin was in danger, and when they shook hands across the table she began to relax.

“I’ll have the check over to you tomorrow,” Martin said. “Thank you for being reasonable about this.”

“I could say the same,” Rich said, standing up. He glanced over at Michelle. “See there? We didn’t even need to bring your bodyguard into it.” She didn’t reply to this, only kept her eyes on his until he cleared his throat. “In any case, we’ll look forward to seeing that payment. As a show of good faith, we’ll get started right away.”

“I appreciate it.” Martin stood up and turned to Michelle. “We’ll be on our way. I’ll be glad when this place is open and I don’t have five meetings a day.” She didn’t respond, only followed Martin toward the door. He smiled at her. “Have you ever had lobster Thermidor? Cerise has the best in the city.”

“No, I’ve never tried it,” Michelle said. “If you’re saying you’re going to buy me lobster, I’m happy to give it a shot.” Martin replied but she didn’t hear what he said, as the conversation the two contractors were having caught her attention. Michelle had been blessed since she was a girl with excellent hearing, and while it had saved her life on more than one occasion there were some things she hadn’t wanted to hear.

“I didn’t expect her,” the contractor whose name she hadn’t heard said. “I didn’t even know Caiber Junior had a bodyguard yet.”

“A woman bodyguard,” Rich snorted. “Guess he doesn’t trust himself around a male one, but I had no idea he even knew any women.” Michelle frowned and started to turn around to tell the man exactly what she thought about him but Martin grabbed her arm.

“Don’t bother,” he muttered. “I’m used to it.”

“You shouldn’t have to be,” Michelle said in an equally low voice. Behind them the contractors were laughing and it grated on Michelle’s nerves. She hadn’t heard what they said but a moment later she heard one of them use a slur that made Martin cringe. “Hang out for a second, will you?” Not waiting for him to tell her not to go over, she strode across the room and stood in front of the two men.

“I thought you’d be out the door by now,” Leon said. “Did you come over here to try and teach us a lesson?”

“Not at all,” Michelle said. “I never just try to do anything. Now I think you owe Mr. Caiber an apology.”

“Nothing to apologize for,” Leon said. “I was just saying what everyone already knows. I suppose you didn’t know you were working for a faggot.”

“Don’t use that disgusting word in front of me,” Michelle snarled. “Besides, whether he’s gay or straight isn’t any of your business.” She hoped she sounded tough in spite of the fact that her stomach had dropped like an elevator with a broken cable. He was gay. The one guy she’d liked enough in to flirt with wasn’t even interested in women.

“Let me guess, you’re a dyke. Guess you’re perfectly suited to one another.” Rich started laughing and his friend joined in, and Michelle took the opportunity to look them over. She could definitely take one of them but wasn’t sure she could fight them both. It had been years since her Krav Maga classes, and she was no doubt out of practice. Her best bet was to focus on the bigger one and hope that it would intimidate his friend. Michelle didn’t give him a chance to stop laughing before she stepped closer and drove her fist into his solar plexus. Rich doubled over, the wind escaping his lungs and giving Michelle a perfect target. She grabbed the sides of his head and brought it down onto her knee, and Rich crumpled to the ground with blood streaming out of his nose. Michelle turned her gaze onto the other man, who held his hands up in front of him.

“I’m sorry, lady. I don’t want any trouble,” he said.

“You really don’t,” Michelle said. She folded her arms over her chest. “I’ll accept your apology since you’re the only one conscious.” Aiming a kick at Rich as she went past him, she joined Martin at the door, where he was standing with his mouth slightly open. “I don’t know about you, but I’m starving.”

“Sure,” Martin managed, pushing the door open for her. “You, uh, you have some blood on your pants.”

“Do I?” Michelle groaned. “Would you mind if we swing by my house before we go to the restaurant? I want to put on some different pants.”

“I’ll do better than that,” Martin said with a grin. “They have some amazing shops on the Mile that are on the way to Cerise. How do you feel about Chanel?”

“I buy most of my clothes at Macy’s,” Michelle said, raising an eyebrow at him. Martin laughed and went around to the driver’s side, then took the keys from her hand. Shaking his head, he slid into the driver’s seat and turned on the car. Michelle hurried to the other side to get in. She wasn’t exactly sure what to say to him now. Flirting was obviously out of the question, but it was probably for the best. She’d never been good at it anyway, and now that she was out of practice she would have embarrassed them both.

“We should get you some shoes too,” Martin was saying, and Michelle looked out the window as they made their way down the street.

“Whatever you want,” she said, picking at the stain on her knee. “You’re the boss.”

Available at all retailers January 15, 2019 – preorder now for $0.99!

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07L2J1932

Nook, Kobo, Apple Books: http://books2read.com/BuyAtAnyCost

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At Any Cost – Chapter One

It was late, and all Martin Caiber could think about was how much he wanted to go home. Thankfully, he was almost finished with his business and he yawned as he leaned back in his chair to watch his father’s accountant writing figures in his ledger. Stacks of money, carefully banded together, lay on the table around them and the accountant was tallying them up as he moved them from the table to a black duffel bag. Martin didn’t want to look at them, but he couldn’t help it.

He’d grown up seeing stacks of cash on tables just like the one they were sitting at, but had never gotten used to it. Now that his father was gone, all of it belonged to him and every time he saw one, it was surreal.

“That’s all of it,” the accountant said, putting the last stack of money into a duffel bag as he closed the ledger. “Good take tonight. It’ll put you far enough into the black that you can afford that pay raise you want to give the bartenders.”

“Good,” Martin said. “They deserve it. I’ve seen some of the crap they put up with from drunks and tips don’t make up for half of it, even if the drunks do tip well.” He pulled the bag across the table and zipped it up, then handed it to one of the bouncers who was inexplicably wearing sunglasses at night. “Take this with you and make sure it goes into the private account.”

“Sure thing, boss,” the bouncer said, heading for the door. Martin sighed.

“And don’t call me that,” he called after the bouncer. He put his hands over his face and rubbed it as the accountant put his ledger in his briefcase. “Thanks, Bill.”

“You’re always welcome,” Bill said, zipping his bag. “I don’t know that I ever said it, but I’m so sorry about your dad. It was a lovely funeral and I appreciated the invitation.” Martin nodded and his accountant put on his jacket. “Have a good night, sir.”

“Thanks, I will.” Martin yawned again and leaned his head back to look up at the ceiling. The late nights he’d been putting in at the clubs were starting to catch up with him, and he closed his eyes for a second. He was going to have to get used to them if he wanted to take his father’s place but he still wasn’t sure he wanted to.

Martin stood up, ran his hand through the black hair he’d inherited from his father along with his thin frame and put his jacket on. He was starting to zip it up when one of the other bouncers came in. He was still wearing the earpiece he wore when he was working the door, and the black suit he was wearing marked him as one of the men who dealt with clubgoers.

“Sorry to catch you when you’re just about to leave,” the bouncer said. “There’s a woman here asking to see you.”

“A woman?” Martin didn’t want to talk to a woman, he only wanted to go home. Unfortunately there was no other option. His new duties included meeting with new people and directing them to whatever part of the organization could help them. “Does she look like a cop?”

“No, sir. She’s wearing a suit with a flower in it. If she’s a cop, she’s not on duty.”

“Fine, send her in,” Martin sighed. The bouncer nodded, then went back into the club proper. He took his jacket off and sat back down at the table. It was a good thing the money had been removed from it; the last thing he wanted was some strange woman getting ideas about stealing it. There was a glass of whiskey near his hand and he picked it up to take a drink. He was already tired but the buzz he’d gotten from his previous glass had worn off, so he figured he could stand another. Martin was just finishing his drink when the door opened again and a woman walked through it.

She was indeed wearing a suit, and Martin could tell with one look that it was a man’s suit that had been tailored for a woman. It was black and obviously expensive, and she was wearing a peacock blue shirt beneath it. In her buttonhole was a fire-tipped rose, and she wasn’t wearing a tie. The boots she was wearing had a low heel that tapped in an authoritative way as she crossed the floor toward him, and her dark brown hair was twisted into an updo behind her head. The effect of it all was that he was dealing with a woman who knew what she was doing, and exactly what she wanted from him. When her bright blue eyes met his hazel ones, Martin felt warmth spreading through her body. He didn’t just want to talk to her, he wanted to ask her out.

“Hi,” she said as she reached the table. “You must be Mr. Caiber.”

“I am,” Martin said, motioning to the chair. “Have a seat.” The woman nodded and pulled out the chair across from him. “What can I do for you?”

“A significant amount, I hope,” the woman said. “Forgive me for showing up so late, by the way. I’ve been driving for hours.”

“Oh? Where were you driving from?”

“Michigan. I just finished a job there and decided I’d take off as fast as I could.” She smiled and Martin wondered exactly what kind of work she did. “Anyway, it just so happens that I’m looking for someone and I was told that if I wanted to find something out about any underground activity, Barry Caiber was the one to ask.” The woman raked her eyes over him critically. “You’re a lot younger than I expected.”

“That’s because I’m not Barry, I’m his son. My father died about a week ago, I’m afraid, and I don’t have his connections just yet. I’ll help you however I can, though.” Martin offered his hand to her. “I’m Martin Caiber.”

“People call me the Hawk,” the woman said with a smile as she took his hand and shook it. “Either that or just Hawk. Nice to meet you.”

“You too,” Martin said, drawing back his hand. “What is it that you do?”

“I find people,” Hawk replied simply. She reached into the breast pocket of her jacket and withdrew a business card, which she handed to Martin. He looked down at it, scanning the plain white card with interest. Written in simple black type were the words The Hawk and a phone number with a Texas area code.

“So you need information. Mind if I ask what for?” He offered the card back to her and she held up a hand.

“Keep it. In case you ever need anything.” She smiled and leaned forward. “There’s a little girl missing from Texas, and her mother has hired me to find her. My information led me to Michigan, but I hit a dead end with a pair of train tickets to Chicago. Which is why I’m here.” Hawk hesitated a moment and Martin raised an eyebrow, indicating she should continue. “Eddie Brighton gave me your father’s name.”

“I see.” Martin looked down at her card again. “Best I can do is give you another name, I’m afraid.” He took out his phone and brought up his list of contacts. “I have an associate that was a friend of my father’s who can probably help you. From what I’ve heard, he can find anyone.” He looked up at Hawk. “I haven’t had a reason to try him out, though.”

“I’m happy to take any help you can offer,” Hawk said. “I don’t like to waste time when I’m looking for children. Finding them is particularly important to me.”

“Glad to hear it,” Martin said. He rummaged through his pockets until he found one of his own business cards. It was much more detailed than Hawk’s, with a colorful logo and a font that had been created for him, and he flipped it over to write a name and phone number on it. “Jimmy Hirakawa. He’s supposed to be the best.”

“That’s just because you hadn’t met me yet,” Hawk said with a wink. She took the card from him and tucked it into her breast pocket. “Thanks for your time.” It looked as if she was going to get up and Martin was struck by the feeling that he was never going to see her again.

“How about having a drink with me?” He was afraid his voice sounded desperate but either Hawk didn’t realize it or didn’t care, as she smiled at him and leaned back in her chair.

“Sure,” she said. “This is a nice club, you’ve probably got some top-notch booze.”

“Damn right I do,” Martin said. “Hey, Jessie, bring us a couple of Rey Sol Anejo,” he called out into the bar, and a woman’s voice replied with something he couldn’t quite hear.

“Rey Sol, huh?” Hawk smirked at him. “You must be trying to impress me.” She crossed her leg over her knee and Martin returned the smile.

“Is it working?” A woman with a ponytail and an undercut came in and set two glasses of crystal clear tequila on the table between them, along with a bottle of what appeared to be the same liquor.

“You know I was about to clock out, right?” Jessie’s tone of voice suggested that she was extremely put out by having to serve him, but she brightened when Hawk took a folded bill out of her inside pocket and held it out to her with two fingers. The number 50 was clearly visible and it was Martin’s turn to be impressed.

“For your trouble,” Hawk said. Jessie gave Martin a withering look, then left them alone with their drinks. “My dad always told me you should try never to piss off your bartender or your hairstylist.”

“Good advice,” Martin said, lifting his glass. “Welcome to town. Here’s to what’s hopefully the start of a new friendship.” Hawk raised her glass and clinked it against his, then tipped it up and drained her tequila in one drink.

“That’s really good,” she said, setting her empty glass on the table. “Definitely worth tipping well. Speaking of money,” she went on, “I suppose you get paid for giving me this information?”

“My dad would have insisted on it, but I’m not going to push the issue. I’d rather not interfere with anything that a kid’s life might depend on.” Martin finished off his own drink and nodded to the bottle. “Want another?”

“Why not? I’m just going to my hotel after this.” She set her glass down and Martin poured her another. “Of course I’m going to pay you, by the way. You’ll get your money when I get mine. How does ten percent of my fee sound?”

“Sounds fine to me.” He poured himself another bottle and raised his glass. Hawk did the same and smiled. “I’m not in any hurry.”

“It shouldn’t be long, once I find the girl.” She smiled at him and downed her tequila. Martin looked at her a little more closely as she did. With the outfit she was wearing, she looked like a stereotypical hitman and he smiled at her.

“So what are you going to do when you find them? With the kidnapper, I mean.”

“Let’s just hope for his sake that he comes quietly.” She set aside her glass. “I’d better get going. My legs are cramped after driving so long and my hotel room has a whirlpool.” Hawk stood up and buttoned her jacket. “Thanks for the drink. I don’t know when I’ll get to have Rey Sol again.”

“Anytime you want some, come back here. I’m usually back here dealing with business.” He got up from the table to see her out and she raised an eyebrow.

“Business, huh?” Martin knew what she was implying, and part of him wanted to tell her it wasn’t what she thought but he also knew that he wouldn’t be considering that if he hadn’t been so struck by her. “Whatever you say, Marty.” She walked briskly toward the door, then stopped and looked back at him with a smirk, holding the card up between her first and index fingers. “Maybe I’ll make it twenty percent because you’re so cute.”

At a loss for words, Martin stood and watched her disappear into the front of the club. Once she was gone, he dropped back into his chair and exhaled. The woman was a hurricane in a tailored suit but it didn’t stop him from wanting to talk to her again. It wasn’t just that she was beautiful, she was also obviously intelligent and focused on her goal, which made him think that even if he wanted to see more of her, she would be too busy for it. It was a shame, though. He’d been so focused on trying to keep his life and his father’s separate that he hadn’t let himself have much of a social life, and now that he’d come across someone he liked it seemed as if she wasn’t in the market for one of her own.

The two Reys had given him back his buzz but he didn’t want to stay around the club much longer, so he finished his whiskey and put on his jacket. He didn’t feel like driving home himself, so he stepped outside to catch a cab. Even at this time of night there were plenty driving around and he went to the curb to flag one down. He was looking down at his cell phone, thinking he should put Hawk’s number into it, and didn’t noticed the car headed for him until its headlights splashed over him.

The gray sedan jumped the curb just as Martin dove out of the way into the alley, stumbled, and fell headfirst into a pile of garbage bags. One of the bouncers ran toward him as the sedan pulled back into the street and drove off in a squeal of tires. Martin sat up, surrounded by bottles and things he would rather not think about, and put a hand to his head.

“Are you okay, Mr. Caiber?” The bouncer stood over him and offered a hand, which Martin took gratefully to help him off the ground.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Martin said. “Just a little shaken up.”

“That car was coming right for you,” the bouncer said, looking down the street in the direction the car had driven. “Any idea who it might have been?”

“Not in the least,” Martin said. He picked a squashed lime wedge off his jacket and tossed it on the ground. “I don’t want to deal with it right now, either. All I want to do is go home and take a shower.”

“Let me drive you then,” the bouncer said. He pulled the earpiece he was wearing out and stuck it in his jacket pocket. “It’s too dangerous for you to stand around out here waiting for a cab.”

“If you say so,” Martin said, glad for the offer. He followed the bouncer around the back of the building where there were a couple of parking spots for employees. His own car was in one of them but he walked past it. If he hadn’t been in any shape to drive after the drinks he’d had with Hawk, he definitely wasn’t now.

The bouncer unlocked the car and Martin got into the back seat and pulled the door shut, then leaned his head back against the leather and closed his eyes. This was getting out of hand. As much as he didn’t want to seem paranoid, there was no getting around the fact that it was the second time in a week that someone had tried to kill him.

Available at all retailers January 15, 2019 – preorder now for $0.99!

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07L2J1932

Nook, Kobo, Apple Books: http://books2read.com/BuyAtAnyCost

It’s Release Day for The Search for Sam!

RL_TheSearchForSam_EL_Medium

Today’s not just Tuesday, it’s the book birthday for my latest historical romance, The Search for Sam, part of the Enduring Legacy series! For the next month it will be available to buy on all platforms, possibly going into Kindle Unlimited after that. If you’ve forgotten what it’s all about (I know it’s been a while), here’s a reminder and another little excerpt.

Tilly Dallas and her grandmother Delphine live a quiet life creating herbal medicines and helping neighbors with their gift of Empathy, until Sam Beauvoir goes missing, the latest victim in a string of children’s disappearances.

Jacob Pierce, a talented detective tasked with finding the person behind these kidnappings, refuses to give up hope that he will be able to bring the children home alive. To do that, he’ll need Tilly’s help to convince the families of the missing children to trust him. 

Searching for Sam draws Jacob and Tilly closer, but she finds it hard to hide her power from him and harder still to admit her feelings. She’ll have to embrace a new power in the wake of tragedy if they want to find Sam and the other missing children before witch hunters succeed in putting an end to the legacy of another member of the Dalais family.

The Legacy’s Origin is still available for free on Amazon, so you can read a little more about the original Dalais siblings before you read my book. It’s really good, if a heartbreaker.


It seemed like no time had passed at all when Tilly was suddenly woken up by a knock at her door. She opened her eyes slowly and sat up with a yawn, then rubbed her face. It was no surprise that her hands came back with black streaks on them from her makeup, and she sighed when she turned to see similar marks on her pillow. As tired as she had been the night before, she should have at least used some cold cream before she got in bed.

“Come in,” she said. Her grandmother walked in with a breakfast tray, a smile on her face. Immediately Tilly could feel that it wasn’t entirely genuine and she tried to shrink away from the sudden surge of emotion. It was completely unsettling, this new power she had to feel other peoples’ emotions, but she couldn’t stop her grandmother’s worry and fear from crashing into her.

“Good morning, my darling,” Delphine Dallas said. “I thought perhaps you would like some breakfast in bed. I made your favorite, crepes with strawberries and cream.” She set the tray on Tilly’s lap and went to the window, where the curtains were drawn. She swept them open and Tilly put a hand over her eyes.

“What time is it?”

“It’s almost afternoon,” Delphine said. “I let you sleep in, you seemed to have needed it.”

“Thank you,” Tilly said, her eyes adjusting to the brightness. It wasn’t the first time she’d come in late, but her grandmother usually woke her up at the crack of dawn anyway to help tend the plants and pick herbs. She picked up her fork and knife and went to work on the crepes, even though her stomach was turning from the night before. Not just from her indulgences, she felt hungover from the sudden blast of a hundred personalities at once. She felt drained, as if she could go back to sleep and spend the rest of the day in bed. Delphine came to her bedside and sat down so she was facing Tilly.

“Tell me what happened last night. You looked as if you’d had an awful scare.”

Tilly took her time cutting off a piece of crepe and putting it in her mouth. She chewed it far more than necessary, avoiding her grandmother’s gaze as she did. When she couldn’t avoid it any longer, she looked up at her. She could feel that Delphine wouldn’t leave her alone until she told her what had happened so she took a deep breath.

“I was at a club, and a man asked me to go outside with him. When I did, he tried to hurt me.” She pushed a strawberry around her plate. “There was something strange, too. He said his family name used to be Friseal, as if it was supposed to frighten me. I don’t know anyone with that name, though. And he had engraving on his lighter that he said was his coat of arms. Do you know anything about that?” Now it was Delphine’s turn to look evasive and Tilly could feel indecision radiating from her. “Grandame,” she said as calmly as possible, “I can feel that you’re not telling me something.”

“You can?” Delphine turned to Tilly and met her gaze with her clear blue eyes. “I was waiting for something like this to happen. It doesn’t usually take this long, though.”

“What doesn’t?” Tilly looked confused and her grandmother reached out to touch her face, then unbuttoned her high-necked collar and pulled it aside. She turned her back to Tilly, and the girl frowned. At first she wasn’t sure what Delphine wanted her to see, but there was only one thing it could be. On the back of her left shoulder was a strawberry birthmark, round with a point on the lower left corner. Automatically Tilly’s hand went to the back of her own left shoulder. She’d seen the same mark on her own body all her life, but she’d never known her grandmother had the same one.

“Centuries ago our ancestors had three children. Each one had a birthmark similar to this one, only with the points in different places. Sorcha had one that looked like ours.” She got up from the bed and picked up Tilly’s journal from the dressing table, along with a fountain pen. She opened it to the back cover and drew a circle and triangle intertwined. “When her brother and sister’s marks were combined, they made the sign of Triùir Mhòra – the Magical Three.” She handed Tilly back the journal and the girl looked at the symbol.

“Triùir Mhòra,” Tilly repeated, trying to wrap her mouth around the words. “What does this have to do with me?”

“Our ancestor, Sorcha, had the ability to feel emotions. She could tell what a person, animal, even a plant was feeling at that moment. She was an empath,” Delphine said, taking her granddaughter’s hand. “Just like you.”

“Is that what happened to me?” Tilly’s eyes widened. “It was so sudden! One minute I was perfectly normal, the next I could feel what everyone in the club was feeling at the same time. I felt like I was going to be sick.”

“You’re still normal,” Delphine said gently. “This is normal for us. Our family was blessed with these powers and they’re a part of us. It’s who we are. Give it a little time and you wouldn’t want it any other way.”

“Our family? You have this power too, Grandame?” Tilly’s eyes widened and her grandmother nodded. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I planned to one day, when you were a bit more mature. As long as you were sneaking out to clubs and associating with strange men, I didn’t want to put our secret in your hands.” There was more than a touch of disapproval in her voice and Tilly’s face reddened. “Besides, I thought perhaps it had skipped your generation. It happens sometimes in such a long lineage. You bear the mark, so it was unlikely but not unheard of. Our ancestors passed their powers to their children but we’ve intermarried with others for hundreds of years so there are bound to be some who are, as you would say, normal.”

Tilly was quiet for a long moment. Her head was spinning from everything her grandmother had told her. If she hadn’t felt the rush of emotions the night before, she would have thought Delphine was having some fun at her expense. Now she had no alternative but to believe that she and her grandmother were witches. She gathered her thoughts and looked at Delphine.

“Were our ancestors really from France?”

“Not originally,” Delphine said. “Our three ancestors were from Scotland, but their families fled to France after they were killed by witch hunters.” She brushed a lock of hair behind Tilly’s ear. “Much like the one who tried to kill you last night. One of them was called Ellair Friseal.”

“That explains why he said I wouldn’t enslave anyone with my magic,” Tilly said. “I don’t understand, though. All I can do is feel emotions, I can’t influence people.” She frowned. “Can I?”

“Witch hunters have no idea how our magic works. They’re afraid of us, so they assume wild things about us and use them to make people as afraid as they are. The Dalais family has only ever used our powers for good.” Delphine smiled. “Don’t worry, my dearest. I’ll do my best to teach you how to use your power, and how to block it so you won’t be overwhelmed like last night. You must promise to be careful from now on, though. Understand?”

“Yes, Grandame.” Tilly looked down at her breakfast. She was still hungry but had never felt less like eating in her life.

“You don’t have to finish it if you don’t want to,” Delphine said, getting up from the bed. “You really should, though. After last night your body needs to recover. Just know that you are more special than you could have ever imagined, and that I love you with all my heart.”

“I love you too,” Tilly said, her eyes filling with tears. She blinked them back, then picked up her fork. She didn’t want to waste her grandmother’s beautiful breakfast, after all. Delphine paused at the bedroom door and turned back to her.

“We’ll be looking for a new place to live, of course. Now that we know witch hunters have found where we live, we can’t risk staying here.” She sighed. “Just when I finally got that moonflower to thrive, too. Those men are much more trouble than they’re worth.” She closed the door behind her and Tilly looked at herself in the mirror across the room.

A witch, she thought incredulously. I’m a real witch. Her grandmother had said that the Dalais family used their powers for good and she set aside her tray and got out of bed. She went to the dressing table and picked up the short black wig she donned when she went out at night. I won’t be needing this anymore, she said, dropping it into the trash on top of her torn dress. From now on, she was going to make her ancestors proud.

Buy on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07DT3SCVH/

Different format? Use this universal link: http://www.books2read.com/SearchForSam

An Excerpt from The Search For Sam

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Tuesday is the big day! The Search for Sam will finally be available to buy on all platforms! You can still preorder it and be one of the first to get your hands on it, but if you want a little taste before then, here’s a little excerpt from Chapter One.


“Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?” From the way the man was slurring his words, it was obvious that he had been drinking for a while. The woman at the table he was leaning on was young, much younger than the other women in the club, but it didn’t sway the drunk man at all.

“Maybe,” she said nonchalantly. “I’ve been to nearly every joint in the city at least once.” She gave him an appraising look. He was good-looking and she wanted to dance, but drunk men often didn’t make the best dance partners. It didn’t hurt to talk to him, though.

“What’s your name, sweetheart?”

“Dinah,” the woman said, deciding to take a chance on him. She wouldn’t have to talk to him long to know if he was too drunk to be interesting. The man smiled and pulled a chair away from a nearby table so he could sit across from her. She raised an eyebrow. “Yes, please, have a seat.”

“I’m Leonard,” he said, ignoring her sarcasm. “Nice to meet you, Dinah. You want something to drink?” Privately, Dinah thought that the last thing Leonard needed was another drink so she shook her head. “You sure? I’m buying.”

“No thanks,” Dinah said. She looked around the club, where men and women alike had drinks in their hands and cigarettes between their lips. Normally she would have joined them, but if Leonard was going to be any fun at all, she was going to have to put a lid on his drinking.

“Well, then, how about a cigarette and some fresh air?”

“Sure, that’s fine.” Dinah picked up her pocketbook and walked out the back door with the drunk man. There was a small fence around the edges of an alley and several trash cans in the corner. Dinah half-sat on one of them as the man took a pack of cigarettes from his pocket. “It’s quite nice out here tonight.”

“They’re packed in there like sardines tonight,” Leonard said. “It gets a little stuffy in there once everyone gets going.” He shook two cigarettes out and offered one to Dinah, who put it to her lips and waited for him to light it. Somehow she knew he would want to, and she didn’t mind. Sure enough, he took a lighter out of his jacket pocket and opened it up. She leaned forward and let him light her cigarette, then took it out of her mouth and exhaled.

“That’s nice,” she said, pointing to the lighter. “Is that silver?”

“It is,” Leonard said around his own cigarette as he lit it, cupping his hands around the flame. “It was my father’s.”

“He had good taste,” Dinah said, and Leonard held it up for her to get a better look. There was an ornate design engraved on it and her eyes widened. “That’s fabulous. Is it a shield?”

“It’s my family’s coat of arms,” Leonard said. “It’s been passed down from father to son for five hundred years. My last name’s Fraser,” he continued, dropping his lighter back into his pocket, “but it was originally Friseal.” He spoke these last words as if they should mean something to Dinah, but she didn’t understand. Leonard could tell she was confused and laughed in disbelief. “You don’t know?”

“Know what, exactly?”

“That’s just going to make it easier,” Leonard said. He threw his still-lit cigarette on the ground and walked toward her, an expression of triumph on his face. Dinah was still trying to figure out what was going on when a wave of heat washed over her. Suddenly she could feel the man’s intentions toward her, though she didn’t know how. It was as if he was made of pure malice, but also a sort of righteousness, and Dinah backed away from him.

“Get away from me,” she said, looking back quickly to see how close she was to the door. “Get away or I’ll scream!” Leonard ignored her words, advancing on her with a knife he’d taken out of his inside pocket. Dinah continued backing up, looking for a way to get out.

The only way away from this man was through the club, and the feelings of greed and evil intensified the closer he got. He’d stopped playing drunk and gotten down to his real business with her, and Dinah knew that if she stayed outside he would surely kill her. She realized that her own lit cigarette was still in her hand and an idea came to her. It was a long shot but it was all she had. Holding her breath, Dinah threw her cigarette at him, hoping it would burn him or at least distract him long enough for her to get away. Not waiting to see if it worked, she turned on her heel and ran up the stairs to the club. She’d no sooner put her foot on the middle step than she was jerked backward.

“You’re mine,” he growled from behind her, close enough that she could smell his sweat. “I’m not letting anyone else get you, and I’m not letting you enslave any more men with your magic.”

Dinah hadn’t the slightest idea what Leonard was talking about. She didn’t know anything about the magic he was speaking of, she just wanted to get away from him. Dinah pulled forward as hard as she possibly could and heard a rip as the strap of her dress tore. All that mattered to her was that she was free, and she ran up the steps and flung open the door to the club.

The moment she stepped through the door, Dinah was hit from all sides by flashes of emotion that could only be coming from the patrons of the club. They varied in intensity from vague interest to jealousy to passion so fiery that her cheeks reddened, and she pushed her way through the club as she was battered by the feelings of the people who had no idea she was trying to escape. Suddenly their voices were too loud, and their laughter seemed out of place. It was as if they were all screaming at her at once and Dinah pressed her hands to her ears to try and shut them out, but they just kept coming.

“Stop! Just stop,” she shouted, getting the attention of several people in the club. They looked at her with interest, and she could imagine how she looked, a crying young woman in a ripped dress screaming hysterically. The other patrons moved away from her as if she was carrying a contagious disease and Dinah took advantage of the path they made to run out the front door of the club. There was a man at the entrance and he grabbed Dinah’s arm. She got a feeling of intense concern from him, but the only thing she was interested in was getting as far from the club as possible.

“Hey, miss,” he said with a frown, “you okay?”

“I’m sorry, I’ve got to leave,” she said, looking back to see if Leonard was following her. She didn’t see him, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t close enough to grab her again and the unarmed man holding her arm wouldn’t be expecting the knife he was holding. She shook his arm off and ran down the deserted side street with his voice echoing after her.

“Miss! Don’t you want your coat?”

Dinah wasn’t sure how long she ran, only that her feet were screaming in protest when she recognized she was halfway home. She’d long since made it to a main street and she raised a hand to hail a cab. One stopped immediately and she got in with a smile.

“Thank you,” she said gratefully. “I need to get home as quickly as possible.” She moved to open her pocketbook and realized that she’d left it behind the club when she’d run away. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “I seem to have misplaced my pocketbook.” She reached for the door handle and felt a gentle pity coming from the driver.

“Don’t worry, miss. I’ll get you home safe, no charge.”

“Thank you,” Dinah repeated, a fresh wave of tears welling up in her eyes. A man who might or might not have been Leonard was coming out of the club but it didn’t matter. The taxi driver was pulling away from the curb, taking her to the place she knew would be safe. “My grandmother will pay your fare,” she said, brushing tears out of her eyes with the back of her hand.

“There’s no need, miss. You remind me of my little sister,” he said, looking back at her with a smile. “You’re awfully young to be out so late, though. If you don’t mind my saying so, you might stay safer if you keep closer to home.”

“Not at all,” Dinah said, trying her best to give him a smile. “I just may take your advice.” It wasn’t a lie. Leonard’s abrupt change from good-natured drunk to the man whose aim had been to kill her had frightened her. More than that, she didn’t know what had happened to her when she was running through the club. It was as if everyone’s emotions were vying for a place in her mind at once and it had left her feeling drained.

What was that? She leaned back on the seat. Were those really peoples’ emotions? The taxi driver had fallen silent and was paying attention to the road, and Dinah tentatively reached out to him in an attempt to see if she really was able to tell what he was feeling. A warm, protective sensation came over her and she felt a little more relaxed. Dinah supposed that part of it was knowing that the driver meant her no harm but she was glad of it anyway.

“We’re coming up on the junction,” he said, and she looked up at him with a genuine smile. This man truly wanted to help her. “Can you point me in the direction of your house?”

“Oh! Yes of course. Turn to the left here. Do you know where the herbalist is? The place with the greenhouse?” He nodded in reply and she sat back. “That’s where I live, over the shop.”

“Then let’s head over there.” The driver turned left and they were both silent again. Dinah was glad of this as well. She didn’t feel much like talking. In fact, she was having trouble keeping her eyes open. She managed to stay awake until the driver pulled up in front of the shop whose sign read simply ‘Botanic Experts.’ There was a light in the downstairs window, and as soon as Dinah stepped out of the taxi the door flew open.

“Good heavens, where have you been? I was so worried about you!” A woman roughly the same height as Dinah hurried down the path to the street. Her features marked her as a relative of the girl, but her long, braided hair was silver where Dinah’s was short and dark. Her sapphire blue eyes searched the girl’s face avidly. “Are you all right? What’s happened?” She reached over and picked up the torn shoulder strap that was lying on Dinah’s arm. “Something’s happened, I can feel that you’re upset.”

“Can we go inside, Grandame? I’m really not feeling well.”

“Yes, I know.” It wasn’t the first time her grandmother had said something to this effect. Dinah had always dismissed it as the old woman speaking as someone who knew her, but now she wondered if it had been something more. The woman she had called Grandame looked at the taxi driver. “Thank you for bringing my granddaughter home safely. May I offer you some tea?”

“No thanks, I’ve got to be headed back to find another fare before I go home,” he said, then yawned widely. “Excuse me. I’ve been up all night.”

“Then tea is what you need.” She took a small cloth bag out of the apron she was wearing and went to the car to hand it to the driver. “I was just about to box this up for the shop but I want you to have it instead. Drink it  and you’ll have plenty of energy. Do I owe you any money for the fare?”

“No ma’am. Just glad to see this young lady home safe.” He tipped the hat he was wearing to them both, then smiled and drove away. Grandame turned to Dinah, who felt like she was about to collapse from fatigue now that she had that luxury.

“Now, what happened?” Her Grandame’s voice was kind but she was too tired to explain, and her relief at being home with her grandmother was such that hot tears pricked the backs of her eyelids. The old woman looked at her kindly and smiled. “Come along, Mathilde, we should get you in the house and cleaned up. You can tell me what happened in the morning.” Dinah rubbed the tears out of her eyes with the heel of her hand again, realizing too late what she was probably doing to her eye makeup. I must look a fright.

“Don’t call me that. You know I hate that name.” She started toward the shop and her grandmother caught up to walk beside her.

“You should be proud of your name,” Grandame said with a shake of her head. “It’s one of the names passed down among the women in our family when we came here from France.” Her grandmother’s words were too close to the way Leonard had talked about his father’s lighter and a chill ran down her spine. Dinah was suddenly fully awake again and she looked at her grandmother, who was still talking about their distant relatives in France. “If I remember correctly, Mathilde was your mother’s favorite great-aunt. It would make her sad to know you were ashamed to share her name.”

“I’m not ashamed,” Dinah said irritably. “It’s just so old-fashioned.” It struck her then that she didn’t want people to refer to her as ‘Dinah’ anymore either, not when there was a man who was searching for her and trying to kill her. Her grandmother seemed to read her mind as she pushed the door to the shop open for her, and she smiled.

“What about Tilly?”

“Hmm,” Dinah said. It was much cuter than Mathilde, and it somehow gave her a feeling of calm, as if her mother was giving her approval. “All right,” she said with a smile as she went into the shop. “That sounds quite nice.”

“That’s more like it,” Grandame said, putting an arm around the girl as she led her up the stairs to the apartment they shared above their tiny shop. They were still establishing themselves in New York but it seemed now that they weren’t as welcome as Grandame had hoped. “Don’t you worry about a thing, dear,” she said. “Go on up to bed and we can talk more about it in the morning.” It sounded like an excellent idea to her granddaughter, and she went directly to her room and closed the door. Instead of going to bed immediately, she looked at herself in the mirror. Her dark eye makeup was indeed smeared across her face and the bobbed wig she was wearing was askew. More worrisome though was her torn dress and she tried to see if it could be repaired, then decided against it. The last thing she wanted was to remember that night, Leonard, or anything else.

She took off the wig, revealing reddish-brown hair hair in a tight bun, and settled it carefully on the stand on her vanity, then stripped off the dress and dropped it into the trash can. Too tired to fight with the sticky drawer of her dresser, she finished undressing and crawled into bed in her slip. Outside the door she could hear Grandame moving around and closed her eyes. All she wanted at that moment was to forget.

Preorder on Amazon here:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07DT3SCVH/

Want a different format? Use this universal link:

http://www.books2read.com/SearchForSam

The Legacy’s Origin is still available for free on Amazon, so you can read a little more about the original Dalais siblings before you read my book. It’s really good, if a heartbreaker.

Drowned History – Excerpt

img_7014Their footsteps were loud against the stone and the sound of water had become further away again, but the air had turned cool and damp. Water dripped from the unseen ceiling and pattered onto the ground. The echoing sound of the droplets and their steps made her think of the time she had gone into a cave behind a waterfall with her friends as a girl. Alice’s mind was taken over by the sounds of water and the sight of George holding a gun, so when her foot slipped on one of the steps she didn’t notice until she pitched forward with a cry of surprise.

“Alice!” Phillip reached forward and caught the back of her shirt as she fell, and Alice heard the fabric tear.

I just bought this shirt, she thought, realizing as she did how ridiculous it was. It didn’t stop her falling, though, and George turned toward the sound of Phillip’s voice to see Alice coming directly at him. He dropped the lantern and caught her in his arms, an action that pushed him off the edge of his own step. The lantern crashed on the stone floor beneath them and burst in a splintering of glass and metal, giving off one bright burst of light before being swallowed by the darkness. Alice hoped that when they hit the ground he wouldn’t land on the mess. The last thing she wanted was for him to get hurt again because she wasn’t paying attention.

George was under her, so when they hit the floor together he broke her fall. Alice lay in his arms for a moment, trying to decide if they were really all right before she got up. The worst thing that had happened to her was her ruined shirt but George was coughing and trying to catch his breath.

“Are you all right?” She sat up and got off him but didn’t stand, waiting instead to make sure he was going to be okay. George pressed a hand to his chest and nodded.

“Just got the wind knocked out of me,” he said.

“Thank you,” Alice said quietly, not wanting the others to hear what she was saying. She wanted to keep as much between her and George as possible. “You could have just let me fall.”

“I could’ve,” George said looking up at Phillip and Nadir, who were coming down as fast as caution would allow. “But I won’t.” The light of Nadir’s lantern reached them, throwing shadows onto George’s face and he smiled. “As you can see, I didn’t even lose my glasses.”

“Are you okay?” Phillip knelt down beside Alice and she nodded. “Thank God. I’m sorry about tearing your shirt, I thought I would be able to catch you.”

“It’s all right,” Alice said. “Thank you for trying, though. I can forgive the loss of one shirt.”

“I’ll buy you a new one when we get back to the States,” Phillip said. “Whatever kind you like.” His words touched Alice but she knew she couldn’t let him do it. She had felt his feelings for her growing the longer they spent together, and he was a sweet boy, but that was all he was to her. Before she could reply, George started to get up.

“Let me help you,” Alice said, shooting up from her place on the floor and offering George both of her hands the way she used to. He gave her a dubious look and for a moment she thought he was going to tell her not to be ridiculous and stand up himself. Instead he took her hands and let her put on the old charade. Alice didn’t know if he could see it but she was smiling hard enough that it hurt. “You’ve definitely put on weight.”

“Age will do that to a man,” George said, standing up as she took a step backward to pull him. “Happens to the best of us.”

“I should say so,” Alice said. “I know I—” Her words were cut off before she’d really gotten a chance to say them as the stones beneath the heel of her shoe crumbled away under her slight pressure. When she realized she was falling again, Alice immediately let go of George’s hands so she wouldn’t pull him down with her.

“Alice!” This time it was all three of the men shouting at her as she fell backward and the fact that their voices were echoing made her realize that they must have come into an open chamber. She couldn’t sense the floor or more steps coming up at her and it dawned on Alice that she was most likely falling to her death.

She could hear her companions shouting again and this time they seemed much further away. It was getting darker and cooler by the second as she fell away from their warmth and what little light was left to them with the one lantern. It looked like one of the fireflies she’d seen while she was playing outside in summer.

This is it, Alice thought. I’m really going to die. Rather than try to look into the darkness, Alice closed her eyes and stretched her arms out to her sides like wings. I wonder if it will hurt?

Thoughts warred and spun through her head; images of her parents and her friends, the work she did for the translation company, her mother’s noisy little dog. Mostly she thought about George and how happy she was that she’d gotten the chance to tell him that she loved him. She hoped he would be able to forget everything that had happened since they met again in Nadir’s office and remember the time they’d spent together in Surat, only this time he’d know how she felt.

I’m sorry, George, she thought as she finally felt something rushing up at her. For everything.

Alice clenched her teeth and braced herself as best she could for the impact, hoping that she would die right away and not suffer. She didn’t know how far she had fallen so it was impossible to tell, but she knew that it wasn’t a question of whether or not she would die, more of how painfully she would do so.

Then, to her surprise, Alice plunged into water so icy cold that it sent a shock through her body. It wasn’t at all what she expected and she opened her mouth to cry out but nothing came out. A moment later her heart stopped and everything was black.



Drowned History

Now on sale for $0.99 on Kindle, or free with Kindle Unlimited!

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07B9SDHKP

Paperbacks coming soon!

 

Only a Rogue Knows -Excerpt 

The thick curtains that covered the window in Cordelia Whittemore’s bedroom made it almost
impossible for any light to get through, and that suited her just fine. She didn’t want anyone to see her crying, especially a passing servant. She looked up, clutching her handkerchief, and the image of what she’d just seen came back into her head and started a fresh wave of tears.  

She’d trusted him, and he’d gone and done something like this. They’d hardly been married a month and now she had no idea what was she supposed to do with the rest of her life. Cordelia put her face in her hands. It felt as if she’d never stop crying. 

“Cordelia!” Her door burst open and Arthur came hurrying through, tucking his neatly pressed white shirt into his pants. “I’m so sorry, my dear, I didn’t intend for you to see that.” She looked away from him, hiding most of her face in shadow. She didn’t want him to see how upset she was, but the tears in her voice couldn’t be hidden. 

“How long has this been going on?

“Since long before we were married. I didn’t want you to find out this way.” Arthur took a step toward her and she stood up and moved further away. “I’m truly sorry.” Of this Cordelia had no doubt but she didn’t know how to forgive him for infidelity, much less infidelity of this sort.  

“I’m sure you are,” she said, recovering enough to put a note of ice in her voice. “What am I supposed to do now?”

“Don’t tell anyone,” he said, his voice almost pleading. “Please. It would kill my father.”

“You know I could divorce you for this,” Cordelia said, turning her back on him. “And the Court would allow it, as would the Church. It’s a mortal sin, Arthur.”

“I know, and I’m begging you not to. I never wanted to get married in the first place,” he said. “Father said that if I didn’t marry and give him an heir he would disown me. Once he dies, I’ll be Lord Whittemore and we won’t have to worry about him. You can divorce me then if you want.”

“And if he doesn’t die soon? What then?” Cordelia shook her head. “I can’t believe you would ask something like this of me.”

“I know,” Arthur said. “It’s not fair to you. There’s nothing else for it, though. If you want to ruin me, then by all means petition for a divorce. You’re right, no one would deny it to you and if that’s what you wish to do I won’t deny you.” He came around to where she was facing the wall, forcing Cordelia to look at him. She turned her face toward him, her jaw set in a way that she knew her own father would be proud of. 

“All right,” she said finally. “I’ll keep your secret, but at least keep your affairs out of the house. Find somewhere else to do it or I really will tell your father about it.”

“Yes, of course. Whatever you want.” Arthur leaned forward to kiss her on the cheek and she shrank away from him. She couldn’t bring herself to let him kiss her after seeing him with another man. Cheating aside, she’d brought up to believe that it was unnatural and she didn’t know how she’d be able to look at him after this. He didn’t try to kiss her again and she looked away, unable to believe she was agreeing to this. “Thank you, my darling. You won’t regret this. I’ll make sure you have everything you could ever desire.”

“Mm.” Cordelia kept her face turned away from his and he finally stepped away from her. 

“Well, I suppose I should go visit my father. He’ll be expecting me later but there’s nothing wrong with showing up earlier.”

Of course not, thought Cordelia. Unless you come home early and find your husband with another man.

“Be careful,” Cordelia said, trying not to sound irritable. Arthur paused for a moment, then
walked out of the room quickly, as if he was running away from her.  

Once he was gone and the door was closed, Cordelia went behind him and locked it. Then she went back to her place by the window where there was a handsome wooden rocker. She sat down and began to rock back and forth slowly. Her anger was dissipating, being replaced by a deep sadness. 

She’d brought the chair with her at her mother’s urging, and had been dreaming since she was a girl of sitting in the rocker and rocking her baby to sleep. Now that dream looked to have been shattered. If he wasn’t interested in her, then she didn’t know how they were going to have a baby. The only time they’d come close to making love was on their wedding night and it had taken quite a lot of effort. She’d attributed it to his being nervous and having had a lot to drink but now she knew better.  

Cordelia started to rock faster, focusing on the sliver of light that was coming through the crack in the curtains and not the image of her husband with another man on his knees in front of him. She didn’t know if she’d ever be able to get it out of her head. More tears threatened to fall and she tried to will them away. She’d have to deal with the staff before too long and she didn’t want it to look like she’d been crying. They were all so kind, they’d want to know what was going on and she didn’t want to have to lie to them.  

 It suddenly occurred to her that they may have known about this all along. Feeling betrayed by both her staff and her husband, Cordelia sighed heavily and leaned her head back against the chair. She was really stuck now. The longer she stayed in her marriage, the less likely it would be for her to be able to get a divorce. All she could do was hope for her father-in-law to die soon so she could get out of her marriage, and that made her feel even worse.  

I’m well and truly trapped now, she thought. I wish Father had never made this arrangement.

 Every Rogue’s Heart is available at Amazon for $2.99 from now until December! Buy it here or get it free with Kindle Unlimited.