The Return of The Unicorn’s Daughter

Recently, I released my 1990 novel, A Time for Legends, as an ebook under its original title (the one I gave it!), The Unicorn’s Daughter. This week, the paperback edition will make its first appearance at Amazon and Create Space. I decided last year that I would bring back some of the characters from my Berkley backlist and connect them to characters in my current Messiah Project series, which started with Chasing the Wind.

It made sense to team The Unicorn’s Daughter, Jamie Lynde, with Chasing the Wind‘s Phillip Darcy, since both are photojournalists. Here’s an excerpt from the as-yet-untitled novel….

***

Jaime

I am my father’s daughter. Not always a good thing, unfortunately.

You know how everyone remembers where they were when certain events took place–the Kennedy assassination (I was in the second grade, having a boring day in class); the Challenger explosion (I was searching for my father in Europe–in Paris, to be specific) and 9/11 (I was on assignment in China–if I gave you the details, I’d have to kill you). I remember where I was the day I was recruited, the day I was invited to join the family business, so to speak.

I was at my father’s funeral. July 15, 2002. Long Island, New York.

It was the first time I’d seen him in seven years. In spite of the bond between us, my father’s other life still came first with him. Why? I don’t know. I guess Dad was just who he was, and change wasn’t an option. I knew he loved me, but sometimes that wasn’t enough.

Back in the early days of the spy game, during World War II, my father was known as Unicorn. It was the perfect codename. He was like that mythical creature–a legend, but one whose existence had never been proven. He was to intelligence gathering what Pavorotti is to opera, what Springsteen is to rock: a superstar. The guys at Langley were going to miss him. Then some idiot got the bright idea to fill the gap by hiring his daughter. I have his DNA, so maybe, they figured, I would be enough like him to fill the void.

I was standing alone by the coffin, looking down at Dad, wishing we hadn’t been robbed of so many years together. Wishing I could turn back time. I had so many regrets….

“Jaime, I’m sorry.”

I glanced to my left and saw him–Harry Warner, my dad’s former boss at the Agency. I had to struggle to be cordial to him. He was, after all, the man who had kept my father and me apart for all those years. I wanted to ask him if he was sorry he’d taken my father away from me…sorry he’d put both of our lives in danger…or just sorry he’d lost one of his best operatives.

I just nodded. “Yes, I know.” I didn’t look at him. I didn’t have the stomach for it.

“I realize this isn’t the time, but we need to talk,” he went on.

I still didn’t look up. “About what?” I asked. Did my father have personal effects, an insurance policy or something else at the CIA that I didn’t know about? Couldn’t it wait?

“I have a proposition for you.”

I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard. I turned to stare at him, my temper growing like a fire in my gut. “A what?” I asked, incredulous.

“Please–people are staring,” he said in a low, pleading tone.

“Good. At least I’m not the only one who can’t believe this is happening here, now. It’s a funeral, for crying out loud.”

“At least hear me out, will you?” He gave me his business card. “Call me. Please.”

I shoved the card into my pocket. “Maybe,” I said. I was irritated as hell. I wanted to tell him to leave. I wanted to tell him I couldn’t possibly be interested in anything he had in mind. But at that moment, I could only think about one thing.

Saying goodbye to my father. For the last time.

***

I didn’t give Harry Warner another thought until late that night. I returned home from the funeral…home, to the house at Sea Cliff, the house where I’d grown up. The house was full of ghosts, and now there would be one more. I picked up the framed photo of my father and me that sat on the mantle. It was taken when I was five. I was happy then…too young to understand why my father was away so often…why my mentally ill mother couldn’t love me…why two strangers claimed to be my aunt and uncle.

Dad…I’m going to miss you, I thought. You weren’t around for most of my life, and still I feel the loss.

I put it down and reached for the photo next to it. My ex-husband. Nicholas and I had been divorced almost five years, but I still loved him. He was now the US Ambassador to France…back where we first met, fifteen years ago. I wondered if he ever thought about those days. I did. We both put our lives on the line when we made that journey from France to Libya to find my father. Nicholas was willing to risk his life for me then. What changed? Who changed? Me? Nicholas? Both of us?

I wished I knew….

***

Propelled by the ghosts of the past, I found myself in Langley two days later. There I was, parked outside the CIA complex, as if I could just walk up and announce myself. Sure…they were probably observing me on closed-circuit cameras at that very moment. I dug into my bag and fished out the card Harry Warner had given me at the funeral, then called him on my car phone. He answered on the first ring.

“Good morning, Jaime.”

He knew it was me? Of course he did. “Good morning, Mr. Warner.” I wondered if they could monitor my heart rate as well, because it was racing at that moment. “I’ve been thinking about your, uh, offer–“

“Excellent, but shouldn’t we discuss this face-to-face?” he asked. “Come inside. Someone will bring you to my office.”

I don’t know what I expected when I entered–a bunch of agents with guns drawn, maybe–but the people looked pretty normal. Suits, for the most part. Oh, I’m fairly certain they were all armed, but nobody drew anything.

Harry Warner was alone in his office. I was too distracted to be impressed by my surroundings. Don’t ask me what it looked like; I don’t remember. My escort left us, closing the door as he did so. We dispensed with small talk. “What, exactly, do you want from me?” I asked.

“A replacement for your father.”

I thought he was joking. He wasn’t.

“I’m not my father,” I said.

“You did an impressive job of finding him in Libya,” he reminded me. As if I needed to be reminded. I’m not on to be intimidated, but I felt acutely uncomfortable there. I wished I hadn’t come. It was a waste of time anyway.

“And then he left me again.”

Warner was quiet for a moment. It wasn’t something he could dispute, after all. Finally, he asked, “Why are you a photojournalist, Jaime?”

I considered that for a moment. “Because I’m good at it. Because I enjoy it.”

“Precisely. And that was why your father did what he did,” he said. “He was good at it, and he enjoyed the challenge.”

“More than he enjoyed being with his only child?”

James Lynde was no desk jockey,” he said. “The idea of a regular nine-to-five job would never have worked for him. He would have been miserable, and that would have made him a bad father.”

So I grew up without him.” I loved my father, but I won’t deny I was not happy when he didn’t return to the States with Nicholas and me after we found him in Tripoli—the night of the US air strike. We almost didn’t make it out alive.

“Why did your marriage end?” Warner asked then.

What business was that of his? I fumbled for the response. “Because I was away too much. Because of my work–”

I saw then where the conversation was going. “I’m not my father. I’m no spy,” I maintained.

“You could be. You have the traits that made your father good at his profession,” he insisted.

I tried to laugh at that, but it came out sounding phony. “Unlike my father, I have no desire to put my life on the line on a daily basis,” I told him.

Your father was a hero,” he said. “He served his country above and beyond the call of duty.”

Yeah.” How could I forget?

We could use someone like you,” he went on. “You’re smart, resourceful, daring, and you have the perfect cover as a photojournalist.”

And my ex-husband happens to be the Ambassador to France,” I said.

That doesn’t hurt.”

It won’t help, either,” I said, standing up. “Nicholas Kendall and I haven’t spoken in five years. But then, I’m guessing you already know that.”

I do,” he admitted. “I also know that you would both like to get back together.”

That surprised me. Nicholas felt the same way? How could he know that? Was he just bluffing? “Where do you get that information?” I asked.

He was evasive. “A reliable source.”

I should have known.” I paused. “It’s been interesting, Mr. Warner, but–”

You used to call me Uncle Harry,” he reminded me.

Yeah. That was before I knew you weren’t really my uncle.” I started for the door, wanting only to get out of there.

Think about it, Jamie. At least consider it.”

I’ll think about it.” It was the truth. I doubted I’d be able to think about much else. Except Nicholas. Was Warner telling the truth? Did Nicholas want the same thing I wanted?

***

I don’t know how many times I picked up the phone in the next twenty-four hours, tempted to call my ex-husband. I wanted to know, needed to know, if he really did feel the same way I did. I always stopped short of actually placing the call. I’ve never been shy, but it would be too painful to tell Nicholas how I really felt, only to discover he didn’t feel the same way.

I was leaving on an assignment. I was headed for Rome in the morning. At least that would keep my mind off my personal problems. Too bad it didn’t help during the night, when I was lying awake thinking about my ex-husband, about the day we called it quits….

Again?” Nicholas asked. “You just got home!”

I know,” I said, not happy that I had to leave again so soon. “This was unexpected–”

Do you realize we’ve only been together ninety days out of the past 365?” he asked. “This is why we don’t have children—we’re never together long enough for you to get pregnant!”

I was packing my bag as we argued. “I want to start a family as much as you do,” I told him. It was the truth. My biological clock was not only ticking, the alarm was going off every hour on the hour. If I didn’t get pregnant soon, it would be too late for us.

Then do something about it,” he challenged me. “Take time off. Take a year off. We don’t need the money.”

It’s not about the money,” I said. “I love what I do.” He already knew that. I loved my work. Did I love it too much?

More than you love me?”

I turned to face him. “That’s not fair.”

Isn’t it?” he asked. “Isn’t this why you’ve been angry at your father ever since we left him in Germany? Because he chose his work over you?”

It’s not the same.”

It’s exactly the same,” he argued.

I zipped my bag and looked at my watch. “We’ll work this out when I get back,” I told him.

His expression was cold. “I won’t be here when you get back,” was all he said.

He wasn’t.

***

Well, if it isn’t El Diablo.”

There was only one person who had ever called me that. Phillip Darcy. And it was like the proverbial pot calling the kettle black. He was the devil in disguise, according to the women in his life.

And it wasn’t even a good disguise.

Darcy was a good-looking man—he reminded me of Harrison Ford, right down to the tattered fedora he always wore. He was a man women would find sexy at any age. He was smart, bold, and talented. Trouble was, he knew it.

Yes, I knew Phillip Darcy well. Everybody in photojournalism knew Darcy. Nobody ever called him Phillip. Or if they did, none of them lived to tell about it. Darcy was something of a legend in our profession. He’d been banned from six countries–at last count–and had been thrown in jail so many times, his editor had established a bail fund for him.

I’d crossed paths with him on several occasions. Usually when we were after the same shot. Now, we were at JFK Airport, waiting for the same flight, as it happened. “If anyone would know the devil on sight, it would be you,” I said, dropping my carryon on the floor as I settled into a chair and waited for the call to board. If I ignored him, he might go away….

He sat down next to me. He obviously wasn’t going away. “So you’re going to Rome too?”

Too?”

Just can’t stay away from me, can you?” he teased.

I can’t get away from you,” I corrected.

Aw, come on—you love me. Admit it.”

I looked at him out of the corner of my eye. “I’m a woman, Darcy,” I said. “As a female, I’m obligated to hate you, remember? All women hate you eventually.”

He grinned. “My mother didn’t hate me.”

I gave a little laugh. “Are you sure about that?”

Only women who have been married to me or have lived with me actually hate me,” he insisted.

He was telling the truth. There was a rumor—unconfirmed, of course—that one of his exes, an FBI agent, had tried to shoot him. When she kicked him out, she boxed up all of his belongings and called Goodwill. He barely got there ahead of the truck.

A woman had to be a complete fool to get involved with Darcy.

You’re single now,” he was saying. “Maybe while in Rome–”

Forget it, Darcy,” I cut him off. “I know you far too well to ever fall into your trap.”

Because I turned him down—repeatedly–he would never stop trying. Rejection was a blow to his ego he simply couldn’t handle.

Face it, El Diablo—people like us just aren’t cut out for family life,” he said, leaning back as far as the rigid airport seating would allow, pulling his fedora low over his brow.

People like us?”

Photojournalists. Reporters. Media folk.”

Isn’t that a stereotype?” I asked, amused by his generalization.

You and I are both divorced,” he pointed out. “I’ve got three strikes.”

Maybe we’re just unlovable,” I suggested, only half-joking. I was starting to wonder.

Wife number three left me because I don’t want any more kids,” he said then. “Do you and the Ambassador have any kids?”

Two,” I said, digging into my bag for my wallet. I took out a photo of my two English bulldogs. The only thing Nicholas and I fought over in the divorce.

Darcy pushed the brim of his hat back a little and looked at it, then at me. “No offense, babe, but them’s the ugliest kids I’ve ever seen,” he joked. “They must look like Daddy. They sure as hell don’t look like you. What’s their names?”

Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin,” I told him. “That’s Bill on the left, Boris on the right.”

He sat up again, laughing out loud. “You named them after Clinton and Yeltsin?”

The names fit,” I said, taking the photo back from him and returning it and my wallet to my bag. “Boris drinks nonstop and Bill humps everything in sight.”

Who got custody?” he asked.

We finally agreed on joint custody,” I said, but I was away so much, they spent most of the time with Nicholas. Then he moved to Paris, and they came to live with me. Now, I have a live-in sitter.”

You have a nanny for the dogs?” he laughed.

Dog sitter, idiot.”

At that moment the announcement came over the PA: “Flight 287 for Rome will now begin boarding….”

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Beishir Books Welcomes Mark R. Hunter

While I do battle with the evil blogsquatter Desi Jumiati, I have  a guest blogger. Mark R. Hunter is part of a rare breed: a man who writers romance.  That’s right–romance. Nicholas S;parks isn’t the only one of his kind!  So…Mark, the floor–uh, blog–is yours!

***

Yeah, I’m a male romance writer. I’m out and I’m proud!

Okay, so I insist on calling my stories “romantic comedy”, because it sounds so much more … mainstream. Like humor is my beard. But isn’t writing supposed to be all about being new and original? Shouldn’t I, then, loudly proclaim my entry into the girl’s writing club? The truth is there have always been male romance writers, just as there have always been female, say, science fiction writers. SF had James Tiptree Jr, C.L. Moore, D.C. Fontana, C.J. Cherryh, Andre Norton, Marion Zimmer Bradley – well, I thought they were all guys, when I thought about it at all.

In honor of them I thought about taking on a penname of M.R. Hunter, but that would make me Mr. Hunter, which would just give the whole thing away.

About 98% of romance novels are written by females, which makes sense considering 90% of romance readers is female. However, this leaves 2% of romances written by guys – and with over 7,000 new romance novels published every year, that becomes a fair number. As opposed to a fair sex number.

I, of course, chose to write romance due to my commitment to equal rights and feelings of …

Oh, who am I kidding?

I started out writing science fiction. Fantasy, really, since my very first story as a preteen was an adventure to the Land of Oz. In my teens I was all about SF, usually including either great space battles or much violence and sex, or all of the above. Then I became interested in firefighting and started mixing the space opera with great sagas of blaze battling derring-do.

My firefighting tales always contained a large percentage of female firefighters, even though this was the early 80’s and the concept was still foreign to many people. Why? Because I liked women, that’s why. My main character, as is common with teenage writers, was basically me, and me liked to be around woman. (He was a dull, dull character … be assured you’ll never see him.)

Then I started a humor column and got married (to a woman, so there’s a pattern) – and no, I’m not interested in being psychoanalyzed to see if there’s a connection.

When you write 52 columns a year, you learn two important things: To meet deadlines, and to find material everywhere. I found my mom’s old 70’s romance novels, with the bodice ripping and the character names like Brock, Dex, and Hyde. Suffice it to say that I savaged the genre, because that’s what humor writers do. (I’ve since turned my attention to politicians, lawyers, and criminals, but I repeat myself.)

But I was married – and my wife loved romance novels. No, the column’s not the reason she divorced me. I assume.

She challenged me: Had I read a romance recently? No, I had not: I was going by the memory of seeing five year old romances that my mother had laying around the house ten years ago. So I picked up a few new ones, and discovered they’d changed for the better – modernized in every way, no longer with old fashioned characters or cookie-cutter plots. They were no longer confined to any requirements other than a happy ending, and sometimes not even that.

Then my former wife said: “You know, nearly half of all novels being published are romances.”

That got my attention.

Don’t get me wrong: If you try to write a genre just to make money, you’re doomed to failure – the reader can tell. I’d read dozens of them before I decided to take a crack at writing one, and even then I poured through two books on writing romance first. The third one I wrote, Storm Chaser, sold to the small publisher Whiskey Creek Press. It’s perhaps ironic that I was long divorced by then.

I like writing romance – excuse me, romantic comedies – and I plan to keep doing so. Just the same, I plan to keep writing in other genres too, even if that upsets some future agent or publisher. My new short story collection, Storm Chaser Shorts, is – you may have guessed this – based on the characters from Storm Chaser, but the stories themselves cover several different genres. They’re pure humor, action-adventure, drama, and one that turns out to be fantasy (and which calls back to my original Land of Oz story).

So someday you’ll see firefighting stories from me, space opera, humor, post-apocalyptical fun, and maybe even that long promised Oz story. And romance.

Because I’m not a romance writer: I’m a writer. And I’m proud.

 

 

Mark Hunter’s first novel, Storm Chaser, was published in June, 2011 by Whiskey Creek Press. WCP also published his collection of short stories, Storm Chaser Shorts, in June, 2012. Mark has also appeared in My Funny Valentine, a humor collection by various writers and artists.

In addition to his full time job as a Noble County Sheriff’s Department dispatcher, Mark is a newspaper writer whose humor column is carried in three local newspapers; a 30 year veteran volunteer firefighter; and a volunteer writer for a few local non-profits. When asked if there’s any stress in his life he laughs hysterically.

Mark can be reached through his website, www.markrhunter.com, and his works can be purchased at the publisher’s website, www.whiskeycreekpress.com, or on Amazon athttp://www.amazon.com/Mark-R-Hunter/e/B0058CL6OO .