How Far Would You Go to Be Reunited with the Person You Love?

Today’s excerpt is from Angels at Midnight, originally published in 1989. The ebook will be available via Amazon at a special promotional price 9/25/16-10/1/16:

 

Angels at Midnight Complete

 

New York City, July 1987

The penthouse was in darkness. Out on the terrace, a man and a woman, dressed in loose-fitting black overalls, prepared to make an unauthorized entrance. The woman, holding a large canvas rucksack, looked on as her partner ran a gloved hand expertly along the frame of the large glass door until he found what he was looking for: the wire con­nected to the burglar alarm. He reached into the rucksack and took out a pair of pliers and a long section of wire with an alligator clip on each end. Turning his attention to the alarm once again, he traced the wire to its source, moving slowly, deliberately. He stripped the wire and attached one of the alligator clips to the alarm. As he used the pliers to cut the wire, the woman tensed, an involuntary reaction, as if she expected the alarm to go off. When it didn’t, her entire body sagged with relief. Why did it still bother her? she wondered. After all the times they had been through this in the past few months, shouldn’t she be used to it? Shouldn’t she be convinced that he knew what he was do­ing, that nothing would go wrong? She kept thinking of something he had told her when she first entered into this devil’s bargain with him: one wrong move could be their last. He had said it himself. She looked at him, still amazed by how cool he was, how confident. Now he was taking a small glass cutter from the sack. Carefully, he cut a small hole in the glass, just large enough to allow him to reach inside and release the lock.

“Thank God that’s over,” she breathed as he slid the door open and stepped inside.

He turned to look at her, the strong, angular planes of his face shadowed in the moonlight, a lock of his thick, dark brown hair falling across his forehead. “Unfortunately,” he said in a low, deep voice, “this is only the beginning.”

He took two pairs of infrared goggles from the pocket of his overalls and gave her a pair. He slipped his on and gestured for her to do the same. As she pulled them down over her face and adjusted them on the bridge of her nose, she looked around. The room was suddenly bathed in an eerie red glow, but now it was possible for them to see the infrared beams of light crisscrossing throughout the room, deadly beams that would have been invisible without the goggles, beams that would instantly set off the electronic security system the minute they sensed the change in tem­perature that would occur when they passed through the invisible light. She stood in the doorway, looking at her partner questioningly as he appraised the situation.

“It’s impossible, isn’t it,” she muttered.

He shook his head. “Not impossible—just difficult.” He turned to face her. “Shall we?”

“You must be crazy!” she gasped. “There’s no way—”

“You’re wrong,” he said quietly. “There’s always a way. You should know that by now.”

She hesitated for only a moment. “You really think we can pull it off?”

He grinned. “There’s only one way we’re going to find out, isn’t there?”

She took a deep breath, then nodded reluctantly.

They moved cautiously yet swiftly through the room, dodging the beams by crawling under some, jumping over others, finally making their way to the wall safe that was concealed behind a priceless Matisse in an alcove at the opposite end of the room. She watched as he let the beam of bright light from his large flashlight play on the painting for a few moments. Then he passed the flashlight to her and took the painting down from the wall, turned it over, and placed it face down on the floor. He cut it from its frame, rolled up the vellum, and handed it to her. She put it in the rucksack. He looked up at her and nodded toward the safe. “Let’s get to it.”

As she held the flashlight, focusing the light on the safe, they saw that a series of buttons replaced the traditional round combination dial. He went to the rucksack again, producing a small, rectangular device resembling a pocket calculator with a long wire attached to it. He connected the free end of the wire to the safe just beneath the panel of buttons with a soft, pliable substance he jokingly referred to as Silly Putty. He switched it on, and the digital display began to flash wildly as the device methodically sought out the combination. Swiftly, he opened the safe and swept its contents into the sack his accomplice held open for him. Then he closed the safe again, disconnected his equipment, and hastily stuffed it into the large rucksack, slipping his arms through the heavy straps that secured it to his back.

“Let’s get the hell out of here,” he told her as he pulled the goggles down over his eyes again.

Dodging the beams again, they made their way back to the terrace. As they prepared to make their escape, she looked apprehensively at the heavy cable strung from the terrace to the roof of another skyscraper several hundred feet away, the same cable on which they had entered. Though she had done this countless times in the past few months, and knew this particular cable to be safe, she doubted she would ever really get used to doing this sort of thing. She could not imagine ever being comfortable with the idea of her life literally hanging by a thread, five hun­dred feet above the ground. She leaned over the railing and stared down at the glittering lights of midtown Manhattan below. Normally, she would have found the view spectacu­lar, but now all she could think of was the danger. One wrong move could be your last. His words echoed through her mind. One wrong move could be fatal.

“Come on!” he urged, perching himself on the railing. He swung his long legs over the side as casually as if he were getting out of bed, and grasped a heavy metal loop attached to the cable. Using his body weight to propel him, he swung forward forcefully, a motion that sent him sailing through the night, speeding toward the other building.

She studied the cable for a moment, thinking about some­thing he’d told her the first time she used the cable: My life happens to mean a great deal to me . . . when I string a cable, it’s so safe you could sail a baby on it. She took a deep breath and climbed onto the rail, moving with the natural grace of a dancer. The wind whipped her long, dark hair about her face as she gripped the loop and launched herself forward. Now, as she sailed through the darkness like some night bird in flight, those old familiar doubts and questions flashed through her mind: When did it all begin to go wrong? she asked herself. When did the world as she knew it begin to fall apart?

And how had she ended up here—doing this?

An Empire of Secrets

Since Creativia is currently running a special promotion for my first novel, Alexander’s Empire (originally published by Berkley Books as Dance of the Gods back in 1988), today’s excerpt will be from that novel. It started out to be a psychological drama about a man who discovers he’s not who he believes himself to be, his fate altered by a tragic accident–but having been written and published in the 1980s, it was also heavily influenced by that time: glitz, glamour, greed and ambition. I chose the protagonist’s name, Alexander, because he was a Greek conqueror like Alexander the Great, but a conqueror of a very different world: international business….

7

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

New York City, December 1986.

A light snow was falling. Up and down Fifth Avenue the windows of all the fabulous shops—Cartier, Saks, Tiffany & Co., Van Cleef & Arpels, Harry Winston, Gucci, Bergdorf Goodman, Steuben Glass—glittered with magnificent holiday treasures that beckoned shoppers to come inside. The sounds of honking horns filled the air as a river of pedestrians—shoppers laden with brightly wrapped Christmas packages, office workers gratefully calling it a day, wide-eyed tourists eagerly taking in the sights, and the usual assortment of street vendors—flooded the streets, resembling a scene from the Exodus. Traffic was bumper to bumper as buses, taxis, and chauffeured limousines jockeyed for positions along the thoroughfare.

Huddled in the back of one of those limousines, Meredith drew her Russian lynx coat around herself for warmth, but it did no good. The chill was deep within her bones, and it had nothing to do with the weather. Inside the limousine it was warm . . . but Meredith was numb with a fear she could not put into words. Normally, she would have been glad the day was over, glad to be going home, but tonight nothing gave her comfort. She felt as though her whole world was about to come crashing down around her, and there was nothing she could do to prevent it.

Tonight Meredith was oblivious of the pulsing excitement that was so much a part of life in Manhattan. She glanced absently at the shop windows, having suddenly lost her Christmas spirit. She peered through the window as the limo inched its way toward its destination. On the west side of the avenue, nestled between Forty-eighth and Fiftieth streets, was the sprawling community of skyscrapers, plazas, stores, and cafés known as Rockefeller Center. “As solid as seven million dollars,” Alexander had once told her. Alexander. Meredith was usually eager to get home and spend a quiet evening with her husband, but now she found herself glad he was not going to be there when she arrived. Alexander was in Paris on business, and Meredith was grateful. He knew her too well; he would have recognized her tension immediately. He would have known that something was wrong. Meredith wasn’t sure that this was something she could share with him. Not yet.

The limousine slowed to a stop in front of the Olympic Tower at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty-first Street. The chauffeur opened the door for her, and as Meredith stepped out into the cold night air, the wind whipped her long blond hair around her face. She paused for a moment to gaze up at the building, a magnificent bronze jewel rising into the twilight sky. Fifty-two stories of pure opulence, fit for a king. As she made her way toward it, the liveried doorman, poised at the entrance like a member of the Praetorian Guard, smiled and held the door for her. She nodded absently to him and headed across the red-carpeted lobby toward the elevators. She rang for the elevator impatiently, repeatedly. Hurry, she thought anxiously. Please . . . hurry.

“Is something wrong, Mrs. Kirakis?”

She turned, startled. One of the concierges, easily recognized by his familiar dress uniform—brown slacks, blue-gray jacket, waistcoat, and white satin bow tie—stood behind her, a look of concern on his face. “Are you all right, Mrs. Kirakis?” he asked, trying to be helpful.

She managed a weak smile. “Yes . . . I’m just a bit tired, that’s all,” she assured him. “It’s been a long day. I’m glad to finally be home.”

He smiled. “Your husband arrived about an hour ago,” he told her as he held the elevator for her.

Meredith swung around to face him, unable to hide her surprise. “My husband? Are you sure?”

He nodded. “Yes, ma’am,” he said. “No mistake. I went up in the elevator with him myself.”

“Thank you,” she said as the doors closed slowly and the car began its ascent. She leaned back against the wall, trembling. She wondered why Alexander was back from Paris so soon. What could have happened? What else could possibly go wrong now?

He was waiting for her when she let herself into their apartment. He came to her and embraced her gently. “I hoped you would not be late,” he said as he released her.

“Did everything go all right in Paris?” she asked as she took off her coat.

“Of course. Why do you ask?”

“I don’t know. It’s just that lately we seem to be living in the eye of a hurricane. I can’t help wondering what’s going to happen next,” she admitted wearily. “I thought maybe whatever you went there for fell through or something . . .”

“It could not have turned out better.” He studied her for a moment, his black eyes narrowing suspiciously. “Perhaps you should tell me what is bothering you.”

“Me?” Her laugh was, mirthless. “Overwork, that’s all. Nobody’s told Harv Petersen that slavery’s been abolished.”

“Your work? You are sure that’s all?”

“Scout’s honor,” she said, making her voice light. “I’ve got a splitting headache. I think I might lie down for a while before dinner. Do you mind?”

He shook his head. He didn’t believe her for a minute and she knew it. She was grateful that he was not pressing her to tell him more than she had already. She had not been lying about the headache, however, feeling the familiar throbbing pain in her right temple. She kissed Alexander again and retreated to their bedroom before he decided to question her further.

As she lay in the darkness, she tried not to think about it, but it was impossible. She had thought of nothing else since the special messenger had arrived at her office with it that morning. There had been no letter, nothing to identify its sender—just a photocopy of a legal document that needed no explanation. Its message had been only too clear. Not knowing who sent it bothered Meredith most. It meant that someone knew the truth, someone who could turn it into a dangerous weapon. Meredith sat up and switched on the bedside lamp. She removed the envelope from her oversize shoulder bag as carefully as if she were defusing a bomb. A bomb would not have frightened her as much. She removed the paper from the envelope and stared at it for a long time. How was she going to break this to Alexander? she asked herself for the hundredth time that day. How could she ever make him understand? Would he believe her when she told him that she had no idea who had sent this?

That single piece of paper, in the wrong hands, could destroy them.

 

ONE

 

Los Angeles, July 1979.

Meredith Courtney, a newscaster for television station KXLA, parked her car across the street from the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and glanced at her watch. Nine forty-five. Good. She was early. She peered into her rearview mirror and ran a comb through her thick, ash-blond hair. She checked her makeup automatically, a habit she’d picked up after a fellow newscaster once told her she looked overdone on camera. She twisted around in her seat and noticed that the KXLA mobile production van was pulling up behind her. Her cameraman had arrived. She got out of the car and waved to Brian as he began unloading his equipment. He grinned when he saw her.

“Hi, lady,” he greeted her cheerfully. “They got you workin’ early today. It ain’t even noon yet!”

She smiled. “We can’t all be night owls, now, can we?” she teased. “You’ve been spoiled, doing the nightside spot with Harry Jacobs.”

“Who is this guy, anyway?” Brian asked as they crossed Wilshire Boulevard together. “A foreign diplomat or something?”

“Constantine Kirakis?” Meredith laughed aloud at the thought. “Where have you been, Brian? He’s only one of the richest men in the world. You’ve really never heard of him?”

The cameraman shrugged. “I guess I’ve led a pretty sheltered life up until now.”

“You must have,” Meredith agreed, amused. “For the record, Constantine Kirakis is an honest-to-goodness Greek tycoon—ships, oil, diamond mines, the whole package. His is a classic rags-to-riches story if there ever was one: the poor boy from the wrong side of the tracks who built an empire with nothing but his own ambitions.”

“So he is news.”

“Definitely.” Heads turned as Meredith crossed the lobby of the Beverly Wilshire, but she did not notice. She was accustomed to being recognized on her home turf. After all, she knew she was in a highly visible profession. It had never occurred to her that she would have been noticed regardless of her profession. Meredith was a striking woman, slender, bronzed, with the kind of delicate, perfect features and wide blue eyes that made magazine covers, and a magnificent long mane of tousled blond hair. She was a genuine California golden girl.

Meredith maneuvered her way into the jammed banquet room and found a seat, while Brian looked for a suitable location that would give him a clear, unobstructed view of the podium from which Kirakis would be speaking. While Brian knew nothing of Constantine Kirakis, he knew that this tape was important to Meredith, and that was all he needed to know. Meredith Courtney, he knew from past experience, was a perfectionist who insisted upon total commitment and professionalism from all who worked with her. Brian knew she would be hell to get along with if this latest project turned out to be less than perfect. He made some minor adjustments and waited for her signal.

As Constantine Kirakis was introduced, Meredith dug into her shoulder bag for a thick steno pad and a handful of pencils. She took notes in rapid shorthand, thankful she’d taken the time to learn it. Her notes would help her later, when she prepared the material for broadcast. She had already thought of different things she wanted to mention about her subject on the air, and this assured her that nothing would be forgotten. She motioned to Brian, indicating that she wanted a closeup. Constantine Kirakis was an impressive man, something she wanted to convey to the viewers who would see this tape on the eleven o’clock news. She wanted them to feel the power and authority behind his forceful gestures, in his strong voice speaking heavily accented English. She wanted them to sense everything she experienced as she sat there in the crowded banquet room. He was a giant of a man, she noticed now—tall and powerfully built, an imposing figure in his black suit, which created a sharp contrast to his reddened, windburned face and his shockingly white hair and mustache.

He must have been handsome as a younger man, Meredith thought.

As the conference dragged on, Meredith began to feel as though she had wasted her time in coming. She was annoyed by the way the reporters from Shipping News were dominating the conference, obviously viewing this as the perfect opportunity to question Kirakis about tonnage, cargo rates, sea routes, and the issue of shipping versus air freight. Her viewers would not be interested in those topics; they would want to know about the Kirakis Corporation’s many projects now under way in the United States, projects that would mean hundreds, even thousands of jobs. They were interested in the fabulous diamond and emerald choker, reportedly worth over two million dollars, that Kirakis had given his wife Melina for their fiftieth wedding anniversary. They wanted to know about Kirakis’s son, Alexander, the heir apparent to the Kirakis empire, the Casanova of the jet set, whose romantic adventures made gossip columns all over the world. At the rate things were going now, Meredith thought dismally, she might have to scrap the idea of showing the Kirakis tape at all.

At eleven forty-five, a Kirakis PR aide interrupted the conference, suggesting they all adjourn to La Bella Fontana, the hotel’s restaurant, for lunch. Maybe if she could manage to be seated next to him at lunch . . . that would be perfect! As the group filed out of the banquet room, she stopped to give Brian some last-minute instructions before sending him back to the station. They would not be allowed to tape in La Bella Fontana—she wouldn’t even ask—but if she could just talk to Kirakis, maybe they could return later and tape an interview in his suite.

Much to her disappointment, the reporters from Shipping News beat her to it. They’re like a bunch of hungry vultures, she thought irritably as she headed for an empty table. Distracted by this latest upset, she collided with a man headed in the same direction. “I’m sorry, I didn’t—”

The man she’d bumped into was not one of her fellow reporters. He was tall, at least six feet two, dressed in a suit that probably cost a small fortune. He was dark, with sharp, symmetrical features and the most incredible eyes she had ever seen. They were so dark they appeared to have no pupils. His hair was also dark, neatly styled, falling in a deep wave across his forehead. When he smiled at her, his eyes glowed like polished onyx.

“I’m Alexander Kirakis,” he introduced himself. His voice was deep, resonant, with only a slight accent—not at all like his father’s.

“I’m Meredith Courtney—KXLA News,” she said. She stared at him like an idiot, unable to stop herself.

“A reporter?” he asked, somewhat amused. “I would never have guessed. You are far too lovely to be anything except perhaps a model or an actress.”

She smiled. “Do I detect a bit of chauvinism?” she asked.

“On my part? Never!” He laughed, a deep, husky laugh. “You must forgive me . . . I have been brought up to observe certain old-world traditions—”

She raised a hand. “No need to explain. Apology accepted, Mr. Kirakis.”

“Alexander,” he corrected.

“Alexander,” she repeated slowly.

Alexander Kirakis glanced back at the table where his father sat with four men from Shipping News. “You were hoping to join my father, were you not?”

She nodded. “Unfortunately, the sharks got there ahead of me.”

“This is most unfortunate for my father,” Alexander commented as he turned back to her. “He does not often have the opportunity to dine with a beautiful woman on these trips,” he said with a dazzling smile that made Meredith blush unexpectedly.

“Thank you, but—”

“I, on the other hand, never pass up such a promising opportunity,” he continued. “I would be honored if you would consider joining me, Meredith.”

“I’d like that,” she said without hesitation.

“Excellent.” He took her arm, and she felt an involuntary shudder course through her body. “Come, we’ll take one of the booths.” He guided her across the room to one of the curtained booths that afforded total privacy. “I prefer privacy whenever it can be found. It’s such a rarity for me these days,” he explained as they seated themselves. “I hope you do not object.”

“Not at all,” she said quickly. Meredith looked around. She had not been there in some time, and she’d forgotten just how splendid it was. The red velvet wall covering and the trickling fountain in the center of the room gave it an elegant atmosphere. There were flowers everywhere, literally everywhere. It felt as though they had been transported by magic to some artfully contrived hideaway in Europe, perhaps in Vienna or Budapest.

“It reminds me of a place I once stayed in Austria,” Alexander commented, almost as if he had read her mind. “Tell me—have you eaten here before?”

“Once or twice—it’s been a while,” Meredith admitted.

“The food—how is it?”

“Oh, it’s excellent,” she assured him. “There’s no place close by that can compare.”

“I’ll trust your judgment,” he said promptly.

She smiled. “I hope you’re not disappointed, then.” Maybe she would get that interview after all; surely no one could be closer to Kirakis than his own son. She glanced at the menu absently, aware that he was watching her. “I hope you’re enjoying your stay here in L.A.,” she said. The way he looked at her, she felt like a schoolgirl again.

“Definitely,” he answered with a suggestive smile. “Everything I’ve seen here so far is quite beautiful.”

Meredith blushed once more. “I’d think our smog would be hard to take. Where you come from—”

“Where I come from?” He laughed aloud. “I live in New York City!”

“But didn’t you grow up in Greece?”

“I did.” He paused. “I take it you’ve never been there.” “No. No, I haven’t.”

“Athens is very much like Los Angeles,” he told her. “As a matter of fact, it has often been referred to as Los Angeles with ruins. It has the smog, the same traffic tie-ups, the same throngs of tourists. It was once a lovely old city, but in recent years it has become very commercial.”

“I take it you don’t approve,” she concluded, suppressing a smile.

“No, I don’t,” he answered truthfully. “Athens has always been a city rich with history, with tradition. As it becomes more and more a tourist attraction, it loses its specialness. I find it quite sad.”

“Then life in New York hasn’t caused you to sever your ties with your Greek heritage?”

He looked at her, surprised. “Where would you get an idea like that?” he asked.

“Well, everybody knows you’ve lived in the States for almost thirteen years. And everybody knows your father is against it. Wouldn’t you say you’ve become somewhat Americanized?”

He smiled. “In some ways, perhaps. Though I tend to feel that one never completely escapes the influence of one’s family traditions. I have found that I still observe many of the customs I grew up with, no matter where I happen to be.”

The waiter came and took their order. Over lunch, Alexander talked about his parents and his childhood in Greece. He entertained her with anecdotes about the people and situations he had encountered in his travels as a senior vice-president of the Kirakis Corporation. Meredith found herself wondering if this could be the same man she’d read so much about. She saw none of the arrogant, self-centered playboy in this bright, witty, exceedingly charming man who now sat across from her, going out of his way to be cordial. But then, she reminded herself, that had to be part of his charm, part of the fascination he held for some of the most beautiful women in the world. Just this morning, she’d seen a photograph of him in the Los Angeles Times with his woman of the moment, Italian film star Francesca Correnti.

Alexander was honest with her when she asked about the possibility of getting an interview with his father. “We are leaving immediately after this press conference,” he told her. “Our jet is waiting for us at the airport. We will be flying back to New York this afternoon. I am sorry—I think Father might have enjoyed it tremendously.”

I guess it would be asking too much to pray for a heavy fog at the airport, Meredith thought dismally. “Maybe next time,” she said optimistically.

“If there is a next time,” Alexander said slowly. “Father does not come to the States often—not since I’ve taken over as head of our North American operations. In the past few years he has seldom traveled outside Greece. He’s becoming a bit of a recluse in his twilight years, I think.”

“Then maybe I could interview you the next time we meet,” she suggested.

He flashed her an easy grin. “You have my word on it,” he promised. “If and when we meet again, I’ll give you an interview.”

“I intend to hold you to it,” she warned him. As if I’m ever going to run into him like this again, she thought.

***

Alexander and Constantine Kirakis left the Beverly Wilshire that afternoon, flanked by the security guards the elder Kirakis insisted upon having wherever he went. A limousine waited to take them to the airport where their private jet was standing by. “You are sure you will not come back to Greece with me, Alexander?” Kirakis asked as the limo traveled south on the San Diego Freeway. “Your mother would be so pleased to see you.”

“You know it’s impossible for me to get away just now, Father,” Alexander said. “There’s so much I’m involved in at the moment, so many meetings—”

Kirakis looked at him crossly. “You are sure it is business that prevents you from coming home?” He shoved a copy of the Los Angeles Times at his son, folded back to show a photograph of Alexander with Francesca Correnti. “Or perhaps this lady is your reason?”

“Hardly,” Alexander responded indifferently. He knew that Francesca would be there, waiting for him, whenever he returned, no matter how long he stayed away. She was always there, always ready for him. There were times he found her devotion a bit suffocating, times he felt the need to get away from her for a while. He would have liked nothing better than to return to Greece for a week or two. He had not seen his mother in months, and he missed her terribly. She had not been well lately, and her doctors had advised her against making long trips, even by air. This had prevented her from visiting Alexander in New York as she’d done frequently in the past.

Kirakis scowled at the newspaper photograph. “I think you could have been more discreet, Alexander,” he said finally.

“That photograph was taken—”

“As you and the lady were entering the lobby of the Plaza—where she is presently staying,” Kirakis finished. “You could not be more blatant about this—arrangement —if you had taken out a full-page advertisement in The New York Times.”

“It is most difficult to be discreet, Father, when the paparazzi follow me everywhere,” Alexander said defensively. “I have almost no privacy these days.”

“That is because you have made yourself such a good target for these people,” Kirakis insisted, his displeasure apparent. “They know if they stay with you long enough, sooner or later you will do something worth photographing. Today it is Signorina Correnti. Who will it be next week—or next month? You have become a media celebrity, my son. Unfortunately, the publicity you have been getting is most unfavorable.”

“Am I being reprimanded, Father?” Alexander asked icily.

“Your mother and I do not approve of the way in which you conduct your private affairs, Alexander—we have made no secret of our feelings about that—but we are aware that we cannot live your life for you,” Kirakis said, choosing his words carefully. “We ask only that you try to be discreet about it. Your mother is quite sensitive about airing the family laundry, so to speak, in public.”

Alexander drew in his breath. “Very well. I shall try to honor your wishes,” he promised. “Now—may we discuss something else? I’m weary of the subject.”

“I am sure that you are,” Kirakis agreed. “But tell me one thing, Alexander—do you not ever give serious consideration to the prospect of getting married? Do you not ever contemplate having a family of your own—children?” There was genuine concern in his voice.

Alexander’s laugh was weak. “I’m not ready for marriage, Father—and I am certainly not ready to become a father,” he said. “And even if I were, I have yet to meet a woman I could consider a suitable wife.”

“When I was your age—” Kirakis began, annoyed.

“When you were my age, Father, you and Mother had been married for almost ten years. You had already established the Athena Shipping Company—which later became Athena Maritime—the flagship company of the Kirakis Corporation. Mother had had two miscarriages and was warned that she could die if she attempted a third pregnancy,” Alexander finished, ticking off the facts on the fingers of his left hand. “Yes, Father—I know our illustrious history by heart. I should. I memorized it as a child, much in the same way that other children memorize fairy tales.”

“You make light of it, Alexander, but it is your heritage —your legacy. When I am gone, you will be the sole heir to all that I have fought so hard to achieve,” Kirakis reminded him. “And like all empires, it must have heirs if it is to endure.”

Alexander turned to look at his father. “So this is why people have children, is it?” he asked with a touch of bitterness in his voice. “Tell me, Father—why do poor people have them? They have nothing to leave to them.”

“I am trying to be patient with you, Alexander, but you do not make it easy,” Kirakis said quietly, staring absently into the traffic as they approached the Los Angeles International Airport. “I assumed that you, above all, would understand. The corporation must always be run by a Kirakis. A Kirakis must always be its majority stockholder.”

“And where is this written, Father?” Alexander asked coldly.

“Ah, it is no use trying to talk to you!” Kirakis growled.

Alexander could be so unreasonable sometimes, he thought. Would he ever really be ready to fulfill his destiny as sole heir to the Kirakis empire?

 

It All Began with a Labor of Love….

As of August 31st, I’ve published my first new book in…how many years? I’ve lost track. That’s how long it’s been. Even I can’t remember!

maxwell

Special delivery!

Jack Spangler was a night owl and, snowstorm or no snowstorm, he didn’t appreciate being interrupted in the middle of his work to take his pregnant-and-alone neighbor Katie Maxwell to the hospital. But off he went, since the alternative was to deliver her baby right in his living room.

Things only got worse from there. Somehow he found himself mistaken for the nonexistent Mr. Maxwell and whisked into the delivery room to help young Jeremy into the world. He even found himself caring about the baby – not to mention Katie herself.

Living next door to a crying newborn was enough to make Jack crazy, but craziest of all, it looked as if making marriage – and instant fatherhood – a priority was the only way to stay sane.

 

MS MAXWELL AND SON cover

Actually, it’s not new. Creativia has now reissued my 1988 Silhouette Romance, Ms. Maxwell and Son, in ebook format, with an updated paperback to follow soon. It has a new cover, which I love. I wrote this novel on a bet. Seriously. The covers–the new one and the original–have an odd backstory. Both covers feature a couple holding a baby, but neither quite fit the descriptions I gave of the characters. The female protagonist, Katie, is a redhead. The male protagonist, Jack, is a rather scruffy-looking fellow inspired by Michael Douglas’ character in Romancing the Stone.

RomancingtheStone

When the book was originally published over twenty-five years ago, Silhouette’s art department sent me a form to complete, giving them all sorts of details about the character and the story. I was asked to describe the baby. Smartass that I am, I wrote, “a Cabbage Patch Kid.” My editor was quick to request (demand?) a correction. “Don’t tell them that,” she warned. “That’s what they’ll give you!”

CBK

Yeah, I guess I can see how that might not have turned out very well….

 

PS The book could use some reviews, so if anybody’s interested, give me a holler and I’ll send along the digital file. Good reviews–four or five stars–are preferred, but I’ve been in this crazy business too long to expect them all to be good, so guys, it’s open season on the author!

What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

Today’s excerpt is from my newly-reissued “sweet” romance, Ms. Maxwell and Son. It’s the story of an unexpected love between a pregnant and divorced cartoonist and her night owl musician neighbor, who ends up assisting in the delivery of her baby. Originally published by Harlequin Silhouette back in 1988, it’s been out of print for almost twenty years. Now, with a new cover, it has a second chance at publishing life….

maxwell

Chapter One

This is it. This is really it. The baby’s corning. The contractions were thirty minutes apart now, and still nothing more than a vague cramping sensation in the lower abdomen. I have plenty of time, Katie Maxwell thought, brushing a strand of her short, dark auburn hair off her forehead. She willed herself to remain calm. Plenty of time to get to the hospital. Plenty of time. She drew in a deep breath and tried to focus her attention on the comic strip she’d been working on, but without much success. Deadline or no deadline, she couldn’t think of anything but what was happening inside her own body.

It was about time. Her due date had come and gone almost two weeks ago with no indication that her baby had even considered making his debut in the outside world. Just like your father, Katie thought. She immediately pushed the thought from her mind. Mustn’t think of Michael now. Not now. Michael’s not your father…not in any way that really matters. He was just my husband. Was. The man who made me pregnant. That’s all.

She looked at her watch. She had to keep timing the pains. This couldn’t be false labor. It just couldn’t be. It had to be the real thing. She couldn’t wait another day. Not after having waited so long already.

Her obstetrician had told her to be patient, that first babies often arrived late. But everyone’s patience had its limits, and Katie’s was no exception. She’d waited eight months already…eight long months since she took the home pregnancy test that had changed her life so drastically.

She got up from her drawing board and walked across the room to the windows, her left hand gently massaging her aching back as she moved at a slow waddle. In the past few months she’d begun to feel like an unflattering cross between a duck and an elephant. It was snowing.

She had no idea how long it had been snowing…she hadn’t looked outside in hours. She’d been struggling to meet her deadline when the first contractions came at just past midnight. She hadn’t had the TV on, so she’d had no idea there was any inclement weather in the forecast. God, why did it have to snow tonight, of all nights? Normally Katie loved the Connecticut winters. The countryside that was verdant green in summer and rich with reds and golds in autumn was especially beautiful after a freshly fallen snow—before that special beauty was marred by the snowplows and salt and cinder trucks. Normally Katie looked forward to that first snowfall, but tonight it only meant trouble. It meant she wouldn’t be able to drive herself to the hospital as she’d planned. It meant she’d have to call for a taxi…or an ambulance.

She settled down on the overstuffed couch and waited for the next contraction. When they were fifteen minutes apart, she would call Dr. Rowen and leave for the hospital. She decided it would be safer to call an ambulance than take a chance on a taxi that might not arrive in time. Katie frowned. No wonder her mother kept insisting a baby needed two parents. One to do the heavy labor, and one to drive to the hospital in case of nasty weather, she thought wryly. At least I haven’t lost my sense of humor—yet.

Another pain came, this time more intense than the last. Katie caught her breath and checked her watch again. Twenty-five minutes apart. They were coming closer together. She lay back against the couch and sucked in her breath. Had she made the right decision? she wondered for the hundredth time in the course of her pregnancy. Not that she’d really had any other options. Michael had made the decision for her the same day she told him about the baby. Michael had never had any desire to be a father—he’d made that clear from the day they were married. Still, Katie had always hoped he’d change his mind. He hadn’t. If anything, he’d become more adamant in his refusal to even consider starting a family. She’d never had to worry about forgetting to take the pill—Michael always reminded her. She recalled now how he’d reacted to the news of her pregnancy….

“You’re supposed to be using birth control,” he said evenly as he went to the bar to pour himself a drink. As he’d put it, he was sure he was going to need one.

She watched him for a moment as he poured automatically. Just the right amounts of vodka and tonic, two ice cubes, never any more, never any less, and just a small twist of lime. He could almost make it in his sleep. It never varied. It was almost as though all the glasses were marked and the lime cut in precisely the same size pieces. Katie realized for the first time how annoying that was. She searched his handsome face for some sign of emotion, any emotion. There was none.

“I was—that is, I am,” she said finally. “Something must have gone wrong.” She gave a helpless shrug.

“Obviously.” He lifted the glass to his lips, his expression now as cold as the ice in his drink. He took a long swallow, slowly, as if taking time to consider the options. “How far along are you?”

“About six weeks.” He was taking an interest, anyway, Katie thought, however slight. It was a good sign. A beginning. But her hope had been short-lived.

“Well, thank God for that,” Michael said with relief in his voice.

“I don’t understand—” Katie began.

“At least it’s not too late.”

“For what?”

“An abortion, of course,” he said as he put down his glass, as if the decision had already been made.

“I have no intention of having an abortion, Michael,” she told him. “This pregnancy may not have been planned, but there’s no way I’ll terminate it.”

His smile was cold. “Don’t tell me it’s against that Irish Catholic heritage you’re so damn proud of,” he concluded.

“Heritage or not, I don’t believe in abortion,” she said tightly, her fists clenched in the folds of her full skirt. She was fighting to control her anger. “This is my child, and I have every intention of keeping him.”

“Then you’ll keep it alone,” he said with barely controlled anger in his voice. “I told you before we were married that having children was one subject that would not be open for discussion. I didn’t want children then, and I still don’t.”

“And that’s all that’s ever mattered to you, isn’t it—what you want!” Katie exploded. “What I might want doesn’t matter to you at all, does it?”

“If you were so set on a life of home and hearth and sticky fingers and runny noses, you should have married a family man, Kathleen,” he said acidly. “You knew my position on this before we were married.”

“Your position? My God, Michael, you make this sound like a legal debate!” she responded incredulously.

He looked at her calmly. “We had an agreement.”

“No, Michael, you had an agreement. I had a marriage—or I thought I did, anyway.” She was fighting to control the temper that was very much a part of her Irish heritage. “What I wanted never mattered to you. How I felt never mattered to you. I don’t know why it took me so long to realize that.”

“Then you’re determined to go through with this pregnancy?” he wanted to know.

“Yes. I am.”

He nodded slowly. “Fine,” he said finally. “Do you want to get the divorce, or shall I?”

“I think I’d better do it,” she said dispassionately. “As far as I know, pregnancy isn’t grounds for divorce in this state…but discovering I married a selfish jackass just might be.”

Katie’s thoughts returned to the present. Looking back on it now, she realized she shouldn’t have been surprised. Michael had never really liked children. She’d seen it when he was forced to be around her nieces and nephews for any length of time. He’d never showed any interest in even trying to learn to like them. He didn’t like children, didn’t want any of his own, and that was that.

At least he was honest about that much, she thought dismally. After the divorce she’d often wondered if he had ever really wanted to be a husband, either, or if marrying her had just been more convenient than having to go looking for someone to take care of his sexual needs when he felt the urge.

By three in the morning the snow had reached blizzard proportions and Katie’s contractions were fifteen minutes apart. Time to call the doctor. She picked up the phone on the table next to the couch and started to dial, realizing halfway through the number that the line was dead. “Oh, no,” she breathed, depressing the button on the cradle repeatedly, frantically. Nothing. The snow must have downed the lines.

Terrific, she thought. Now what? She searched her mind frantically for a possible alternative. She could have the baby right here, alone. She shook her head, dismissing that idea. She could just as easily fly to the moon on gossamer wings. Only as a last resort, she promised herself. Stay calm. She willed herself not to panic. It wouldn’t do any good. It might even make matters worse. Or would it? She remembered reading somewhere that anxiety could actually prolong labor. It might give her time to figure out how she was going to get to the hospital.

Good grief, what was she thinking of? Who in her right mind would actually want to prolong labor? The thoughts of a desperate woman, she decided. A very desperate woman. Who else in the building was home right now? she asked herself. Who might be able to help her? There were only six apartments in the converted Victorian manor. Two were vacant at the moment. Julie, her only real friend among the tenants, was away for the weekend.

“Don’t have that baby till I get back,” she’d told Katie jokingly as she was leaving yesterday.

“Don’t worry,” Katie had laughed. “I think he’s waiting for the spring thaw.”

I’d be happy if he’d just wait until morning—or at least until the phone’s working again, she thought now, ready to push the panic button. The Kellers, the elderly couple who lived upstairs, were off on one of those “Love Boat” type cruises. Even if they had been home, Mr. Keller was hardly physically up to a mad race to the hospital in this weather—and Mrs. Keller didn’t drive at all. The man who lived next door had just moved in two weeks ago. Katie had seen him on the stairs a couple of times, but knew nothing more about him than his name and the fact that he liked to play his piano in the middle of the night. She’d heard he was a real grouch, too. She considered her options, then got up off the couch.

It looked like the man in 2B was her only chance.

*****

Jack Spangler tapped out a tune on the keyboard, then paused long enough to scribble some illegible notes on a music sheet on top of the old, scarred piano. Had he taken the time to look in a mirror, he would have seen a face that looked as if it had been without sleep in at least a week, one that probably had not known a razor in almost as many days. He would have seen bloodshot eyes shadowed by the effects of too little sleep, and thick, dark brown hair in desperate need of a barber’s scissors. He would have seen a body that was just a little too thin from skipping too many meals. But he would not have cared, even if he had taken the time to make those observations. There was only one thing on his mind, and that was his music. He was not a dedicated composer; he was an obsessed one. When he was in the middle of a composition, it occupied his every waking thought and haunted his dreams. He lived and breathed music. It was his mistress, his tempestuous, demanding mistress, possessing his soul as no mortal woman ever could. And unlike a woman, his music would never leave him; it would always be with him, always be a part of him. When he was composing, the rest of the world ceased to exist. And that was the way he wanted it.

He raked a hand through his thick, dark hair and took a long swallow of the cold coffee in the mug that had left a ring on his completed sheet music, making a face at the unexpected bitter taste. Time to make fresh coffee. He got up from the piano and walked barefoot into the too small kitchenette, mug in hand. After dumping its contents into the sink, he rinsed the mug, then filled it with hot water from the tap. No point in wasting time boiling water, he thought. He opened a jar of instant coffee he kept on the counter and spooned three heaping tablespoons into the water, stirring it as he scanned the shelf overhead for the individually wrapped crackers he always pocketed in restaurants. Finding the packets in an old cracked mug, he took two. “Hungry, Sam?” he called out.

“Sam’s hungry,” a large white cockatoo responded from his perch in the living room. He spread his wings wide and ruffled his feathers as if to emphasize the point.

“You’ve been on your best behavior,” Jack decided aloud as he returned with the coffee and crackers. “I guess you’ve earned these.” Putting the mug down on the top of the piano, he unwrapped the crackers and offered one to the bird. Sam took the cracker in one claw and started to eat it.

“Where’re your manners, Sam?” Jack asked as if he were speaking to a child to whom he’d just given candy.

“Thank you, Jack,” Sam answered on cue, immediately returning his attention to the cracker.

“You’re welcome, Sam.” Jack sat down at the piano and started to play again, but was interrupted by the unexpected sound of someone knocking at the door. At first he thought he was hearing things. Nobody in this quiet, very normal neighborhood could possibly be out and about at this hour. He’d begun to think they all went to bed at sundown.

Then he heard it again. He glanced at the clock on the mantle. Who the hell could be knocking at this ungodly hour? He’d thought he was the only living soul in this part of Connecticut who kept graverobbers’ hours. He dragged himself off the bench again and crossed the room.

“Listen, whatever you’re selling, I’m not buying—” he stopped short as he pulled the door open.

The woman standing in the hall looked familiar, but he couldn’t place the face. She was short, with thick hair cut to frame her face like a glossy red cap, a delicate, heart-shaped face and dark green eyes. She was, he decided in the seconds he’d had to appraise her, quite attractive. She was also either very pregnant or a Weight Watchers dropout. Even under her bulky winter coat, he could tell that her stomach was quite large.

“I’m Katie Maxwell,” she told him, clearly upset about something. “I live next door.”

So that’s where I’ve seen her before. On the stairs, Jack thought.

“I need your help,” Katie was saying.

He gave her a puzzled look. “Lady, it’s three in the morning—” he started.

“I’m in labor. I need someone—I need you, that is, to drive me to the hospital,” she went on.

“Where’s your husband?” Tact had never been Jack Spangler’s strong suit.

“I don’t know, and I don’t really care,” Katie said crossly, shaking her head. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. I don’t have a husband—and right now, I don’t have any other way to get to the hospital. I can’t drive myself. Nobody else in the building is around, and I can’t call an ambulance because the phone lines are down.” She’d gotten it all out in one breath. Jack was still staring at her, bewildered.

“Will you help me?” she asked, almost pleading by now.

He hesitated for a moment, considering the alternatives. She could end up having her baby right there in his living room. He would have to deliver it. The thought of that made him feel a little anxious himself. “Yeah, okay,” he said finally, nodding in surrender. “Give me a minute to pull myself together, okay?” He dropped onto the couch and started pulling on his socks and boots. “You got a suitcase or anything?”

She nodded. “I’ll get it.”

He shook his head. “I’ll get it. Just tell me where it is.” In every TV sitcom he’d ever seen, they always rushed off without the suitcase and had to come back for it. He had no intention of coming back for anything.

Katie nodded. “It’s just inside my door, on the big chair.”

“Hey, good lookin’!” Sam squawked as Jack started looking for his coat.

“Shut up, bird!” he ordered as he walked out, closing the door behind him.

If You Like “The Blacklist”….

…you might like my 1990 novel, The Unicorn’s Daughter, originally published by Berkley Books as A Time for Legends, reissued last year by Creativia. Cover by Collin. The ebook is only $.99 now through August 31st!

The Unicorns Daughter eCover

From Publishers Weekly

Beishir ( Angels at Midnight ) pens a winner with this gripping thriller. Jaime Lynde’s father has been missing for 19 years, and when she learns of his covert career in the OSS and the CIA, she becomes convinced that he is alive and his whereabouts concealed for sinister reasons. The plot elements are familiar: obfuscating CIA operatives; an agent who vanishes into deep cover; an elaborate official cover story; and people who begin to die under mysterious circumstances. But Beishir’s galloping pace revitalizes these standbys, and she confidently builds to a revelatory and spellbinding finale. And in the midst of all the intrigue, a romance develops for Jaime–but the sex is more slow burn than Beishir’s trademark high sizzle, as if Beishir herself was too involved in the moves and countermoves of espionage to concentrate on bedroom dramas.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.

 

Friday Excerpt: Final Hours

I haven’t been spending nearly enough time on this blog for a while now, so I’m going to try something new: three posts each week, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Monday’s posts will be a mixed bag: upcoming promotional sales, excerpts of works in progress, writing/publishing anecdotes, whatever inspires me. Wednesdays will be all about recommendations–authors and books I love, favorite movies, etc. And Fridays will focus on excerpts of my already-published works. Today’s excerpt is from my novel Final Hours, originally published in 2009 and reissued by Creativia last year. Final Hours is the story of a man who’s made too many mistakes in his life, realizing too late what really matters….

Final Hours cover - newhttps://www.amazon.com/Final-Hours-Norma-Beishir-ebook/dp/B002EAZIS8/ref=la_B002BMF4CO_1_5_twi_kin_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1472135123&sr=1-5

 

ROME, 15 YEARS EARLIER

 

I will never forget that day. Everything changed for me in an instant. I changed. Irrevocably.

It was late morning. I’d had a room service breakfast in my suite, as I normally did when traveling on business. My business there concluded, I phoned Liz to let her know I would be flying home that day. The boys got on the phone to update me on their activities while I was away. The three of us laughed together and I told them I would see them soon. Soon thereafter, I went to the parking garage to get my car. To this day, I don’t know why I did that. Normally, I would have had a bellman take my luggage to the lobby and the valet would bring the car around for me. I liked being served. I liked having subordinates cater to me. I’d worked hard for my present station in life, and I always enjoyed the benefits of that station.

Back then, I was a man who left nothing to chance. Every minute of every day was planned ahead. I even chose the clothes I would wear the next day before retiring for the night. That wasn’t a difficult decision, now that I think about it. I had twenty tailored suits, black, gray or blue, never any other color; fifty shirts, always white; silk ties, solids or stripes; and fifteen pairs of black shoes, custom made, all identical. That was my uniform, and I never varied from it. I never varied from my routines…until that day.

If I had believed in fate back then, I’d think it had guided me, that I was in that garage to meet Kate.  If I could have done it all again, knowing what would happen, I would have still gone into the underground parking garage.

I remember walking toward the car when the ground started to vibrate beneath my feet. At first, it didn’t register. I didn’t even suspect an earthquake–until the building started to shudder violently. I tried to run, but didn’t make it to the exit. I vaguely remember falling.

Then everything went dark….

*****

“Can anybody hear me?” I shouted.

I was lying on the garage floor, surrounded by rubble. There was only concrete, twisted metal…and darkness. I couldn’t move my right leg. There was something on top of it. A chunk of the ceiling, I think. The air was thick with dust. It was difficult to breathe.

I choked as I tried to call out again. “Can anybody hear me?”

“Hold on.” A female voice, muffled. “I’m here, I’m trying to get to you.”

I could hear scraping sounds. She was moving debris to get through. “Are you hurt?” she called out.

“I think my leg is broken.”

“Don’t move.”

“No chance of that,” I assured her.

I’m not sure how long it took her to move the chunks of concrete enough to climb through, but my first glimpse of her was in the weak illumination of her flashlight. She was dirty and disheveled, a young woman wearing jeans and a T-shirt–and a very large backpack.

“Are you one of the rescuers?” I asked.

She gave a little laugh. “I wish.” She climbed over more debris to where I lay trapped. She paused for a moment to assess my situation, then attempted to push the concrete off me.

She wasn’t strong enough. She looked around. “I’ve got to find something to use as a lever,” she said, more to herself than to me.

I tried to remember where I was before the garage collapsed, what might be close by. “I think I saw an iron rod come through the ceiling when it started to break apart,” I told her. “I thought I was about to be impaled on the damn thing.”

She nodded. “That might work.”

It took her a while to locate it, moving chunks of concrete in the darkness. When she came back, she positioned the rod, then paused. “When I move this, you have to stay still,” she instructed. “If your leg is broken, I’ll have to put a splint on it.”

“Are you a doctor?” I asked.

She laughed again. “Two strikes. Three and you’re out,” she warned. I wondered how she could be so cheerful, under the circumstances. But then, some people used humor to deal with difficult or dangerous situations.

“You can’t penalize me for being curious,” I said. “It’s not every day I’m trapped in an earthquake and rescued by a beautiful woman.”

“You think I’m beautiful?” she asked, obviously finding my comment amusing. “Should I be looking for your guide dog, too?”

“I may not be able to see you well, under the circumstances,” I offered in my own defense, “but the image of you climbing through to me was the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen.”

“Right.” She made a third attempt to move the concrete off my leg. This time, she succeeded. I let out a groan as it shifted. “Are you all right?” she asked.

I nodded, then realized she couldn’t see me from where she stood. “I think so,” I gasped. The pain was excruciating.

She continued to work at moving the slab aside. Then she got on her knees and checked my leg, her fingers pressing along the bone. I winced. “It’s broken, all right,” she told me. “Let me see what I can find to make a temporary splint. We don’t know how long we’re going to be down here. The flesh isn’t broken, that’s one good thing. But movement could cause blood clots. That could be fatal.”

“Got any more good news for me?” I asked.

“If the rescue teams do eventually find us, they may not be able to bring in a gurney. You may have to be lifted upward. A splint will keep the bones stable until they can get you proper medical treatment,” she told me.

She dug around and found a smaller rod in the rubble and checked to make sure it wasn’t too long, then positioned it under my throbbing leg. She started looking around again.

“What do you need?” I asked.

“Tape, anything to secure it.” She paused, then dug into that backpack again. “Can you sit up?”

“I’ll try.” I made an effort, but couldn’t get upright on my own, so she helped me.

“We need this out of the way,” she said, tugging my coat off.

“Why?” I asked.

“I need your shirt.” She took out a large knife and bent over me. I figured she wasn’t going to kill me–she’d been trying too hard to save my life up to this point. Still, I was startled when she reached down and began cutting my shirt off.

“Really,” I said, “we just met.”

She shook her head, not amused. “I need this to tie the splint.”

“Use yours,” I suggested.

She made a face that I could discern, even in the semi-darkness. “Right. I’m not taking my shirt off,” she said. “But even if I did, you wouldn’t be able to do anything out of line.”

I managed a grin. “You might be surprised.”

Then she cut the leg of my pants off.

“If you want me, all you have to do is say so,” I told her. “No need to resort to this kinky shit.”

She ignored me, busy tying the splint to my leg. She rocked back on her heels and took a deep breath, wiping her brow with the back of her hand. “I think that’ll do for now,” she said.

“Thank you,” I said. It suddenly occurred to me that this woman didn’t know who I was or anything about me. It didn’t matter. She had come to my rescue simply because I was another human being in trouble. Not something I was accustomed to in the world I inhabited.

She was digging into that enormous backpack again. This time, she withdrew two bottles of water. She uncapped both and gave me one. I drank greedily, realizing how thirsty I was.

“Careful there,” she warned. “I’ve got six bottles. That’s three apiece. But we could be here a long time.”

“They’ll be looking for me,” I said confidently. “I own this hotel.”

She leaned back and laughed. “So you’re the cheap bastard who hired the lowest bidder to build this death trap with substandard materials.”

“When you put it that way….”

She was pragmatic about my revelation. “At least I have the good fortune to be trapped with a man everyone will be trying to find.” She raised her water bottle in a mock toast.

I raised my bottle to hers. “Here’s to the positive side of greed,” I said. “So we’re not complete strangers, I’m Jamie Randall.”

She shook my hand. “Kate McAllister,” she introduced herself.

I gestured toward the backpack. “I don’t suppose you have any food in there,” I said hopefully.

“Actually, I do. A couple of brown bag meals and some energy bars,” she said. “It could probably sustain the two of us for a couple of days, if we ration it.”

“You certainly came prepared,” I observed, grateful.

“Not for this,” she assured me with a dismissive wave of her hand. “I was headed out on a hike. I have a sleeping bag here somewhere. I was planning to spend tonight under the stars, not underground.”

“I was planning to be on a flight to New York,” I said with a sigh of resignation. “What do you do when you’re not saving lives?”

“I’m a freelance photographer,” she answered, blowing an errant strand of hair out of her face. “I was hoping to get some good nature shots, but I doubt I have any cameras left now. They were in the trunk of my rental. I saw it smashed just before I heard you calling for help.”

The only light in our concrete prison was that of her small flashlight. I tried to get a better look at her, but under the dirt and bruises, I could distinguish very little.

She rolled up my coat to serve as a pillow. I had a splitting headache and guessed I’d hit my head in the fall. She used her flashlight to check my pupils for dilation. “I’m no expert, but it looks okay,” she said, positioning the makeshift pillow behind my head. “You may have a concussion. Does that make you comfortable?”

“A little. Thanks.” I was impressed. She was certainly resourceful. “Where’d you learn these survival skills?”

“I’ve been in some difficult situations in my work,” she told me. “This is not my first earthquake.”

“It’s my first, and I hope it’s my last,” I grumbled.

I noticed the absence of a wedding ring on her finger. She wasn’t married. Men didn’t always wear a ring; women did. “I think I’m lying on a rock,” I complained, feeling a sharp stab in my back. I hoped it was a rock, anyway.

“Let me see.” She bent over to reach under me, and our bodies were pressed together for a moment. In that moment, I could see her eyes in the light. They were green, the dark green of a pine tree. Errant strands of dark auburn hair framed her face.

She pulled out a two-inch piece of concrete. “Here’s the culprit,” she said, tossing it over her shoulder.

I felt myself start to nod off. She nudged my shoulder. “Not a good idea,” she cautioned. “In case you do have a concussion, you have to stay awake.”

For how long? I wondered.

*****

After a while–it seemed like a few hours, but I’m not sure exactly how long it was–we struck up a conversation in earnest.

“Kate,” I said, starting with her name. “Is that short for Katherine or Kathleen?”

“It’s Kathleen, but nobody’s called me Kathleen in years.” She passed me a water bottle and watched me as I sipped. Then she took it back, recapped it, and set it aside. “What about you? You’re what–thirty-five?”

“Thirty-two.”

“And you still go by Jamie?”

“What’s wrong with that?” I wanted to know.

“It makes you sound like a kid,” she said. “That would be fine if you were an actor or a rock star or something like that, but you’re Mr. Big Shot Tycoon. Shouldn’t you be James?”

“I should be whatever I want to be, Kitty.

She laughed aloud. “Kitty?”

“From now on, I’m going to call you Kitty,” I decided.

“From now on–meaning until we’re rescued and go or separate ways, or until they finally find our remains?” she asked. rubbing her arms vigorously. “Is it just me, or is it getting cold in here?”

“It’s getting cold, all right,” I told her. “Take my jacket.”

“No. Keep that under your head,” she said. She went to the backpack again, searching for the aforementioned sleeping bag.

“What dont you have in that backpack?” I asked, amused.

“A way out of here,” she said, finally producing the sleeping bag. She went to my feet and worked the bag over my legs slowly, trying not to move my broken leg more than was necessary. “Raise up if you can.”

I managed to lift my body enough for her to draw the bag all the way up.

“Can’t have you going into shock, lying there shirtless in this cold.”

“Take my coat,” I told her again.

She shook her head. “I’m all right. My injuries are minor. You’re the one at risk.”

I reconsidered. “We can keep each other warm. Get in here with me,” I told her.

She gave me a suspicious look. “Can I trust you to behave yourself?”

“No.” I grinned. Then: “I’m joking. I’m a married man.”

“That doesn’t always mean anything.”

“I have never cheated on my wife,” I assured her. “Ever.”

“But then, she’s not here to verify that.”

It didn’t take her long to change her mind. She was so cold, she reluctantly surrendered and crawled into the sleeping bag with me. She was tense at first, but finally relaxed, resting her head against my bare chest. I wrapped my arms around her. “Better?” I asked.

“Much,” she admitted. “Definitely warmer.”

“If we make it out of here, I’ll replace your cameras,” I promised.

“You bet your ass you will.” Her tone was serious, but with her face pressed against me like that, I could feel the gentle vibration that told me she was giggling.

“Just in case you’re wondering, that’s not a rock,” I told her. “I am happy to see you.”

“Shut up, Randall, and get your hand off my butt.”

“That’s not your butt. Is it?”

“It is, and you’re getting a little too familiar with it.”

I smiled and reluctantly moved my hand up to the small of her back. Under normal circumstances, I would never have done such a thing. But there was nothing normal about our situation. There we were, trapped, not knowing if we’d get out of there alive or not, and for a moment, having that young woman lying there with me made me forget the danger we were facing.

It made me forget a lot of things.

*****

It seemed to me we’d been trapped there for an eternity. I’m not sure which was more painful–my broken leg or my head. Kate had two sandwiches in each brown bag. She cut them into small portions and gave me a piece, as well as a slice of apple. I can’t remember when a plain tuna sandwich and an apple tasted so good.

We couldn’t distinguish day from night down there. My watch would have told us the date, had it not been broken in the collapse.  To kill time, we talked about anything and everything. She told me she lived on Cape Cod. She had the ocean at her back door. I told her about my sons and managed to get my wallet from my pocket to show her a photograph.

“They look like you,” she observed, training the flashlight on the photo. “Do you also have a photo of your wife?”

I didn’t. I carried a dozen credit cards, my New York driver’s license and my international driver’s license, but only one photograph: my boys. “You’re not married?” I asked casually, wondering if, in the absence of a husband, she might have at least had a significant other. For some strange reason, I was hoping the answer would be no.

“No husband, no boyfriend, not even a dog,” she answered. “I’d really like to have the dog, but I travel too much. The poor thing would starve in my absence.”

“So let me get this straight. You’d like to have a dog, but not a husband?” I asked, amused.

She snorted. “Men are nothing but trouble,” she said, capping her water bottle.

I was pretty sure I was included in that statement.

She put her hand on my forehead. “No fever. That’s good.”

“Why would I have a fever?” I asked.

“You’ve got some nasty cuts there. They could become infected. You could also have internal injuries,” she said. She took a small packet from her pocket and tore it open. “It’s just a wet wipe,” she said as she started wiping my face. “You’re really dirty.”

“So much for making a good first impression,” I groaned. I found myself wanting to impress her.

“Yeah, you can give up trying to play Studly Do-Right,” she joked.

“You’re pretty grimy yourself,” I told her. Her T-shirt was torn in a way that gave me a glimpse of her cleavage. It was a very nice view, indeed. I found myself wondering what it would be like to–I had to stop myself from having such thoughts. Youre a married man, I mentally reprimanded myself. You cant have her.

What if we didn’t make it out alive? Would it matter of I’d been unfaithful just once? I told myself I would hate to leave this world having missed out on anything. I looked at Kate and tried to remember how long it had been since I’d been with a woman who made me feel the way she was making me feel right now….

“I’m used to it,” she said. “I get dirty all the time. This is probably a first for you.”

“You make me sound like a real wuss.” So much for a macho image.

“Not a wuss, just not used to getting dirty,” she said. “That shirt I cut to ribbons probably cost you a few hundred dollars. Tailored, I’ll bet.”

“Yeah.”

“A few thousand for the suit?”

“Right again.”

“And your car, wherever it is now, is probably a Mercedes or a BMW.”

“Ferrari,” I said, suddenly ashamed of the vehicle in which I’d taken such pride only a day before..

She shrugged. “I was close.” She looked upward. “I wonder how long it’s going to take them to find us?”

“I was on the ground level in the garage when it happened,” I recalled. “This is a ten-story hotel with three levels of parking.”

“It’s going to be a long wait,” she concluded.

*****

Having Kate there with me was the only thing that kept me going while we waited to be rescued. When we got cold, she’d get into the sleeping bag with me, pressing our bodies together for warmth. When she was awake, we talked. When she was asleep, I fantasized about her.

I’d never done that sort of thing before. I hadn’t married Liz for love, but I’d respected her enough to not seek my satisfaction elsewhere. Now, however, I couldn’t stop thinking about having sex with this young woman. Maybe it was the dangerous circumstances under which we met, in the beginning, anyway, but I would look at her, sleeping in my arms, and feel her soft, warm body against mine, and I would be overwhelmed by my body’s craving for her.

If only my leg weren’t broken….

From time to time, she would stick the flashlight in my face, checking my pupils. “How’s that headache?” she asked.

“Not so bad anymore.”

She stifled a yawn.

“You should get some sleep,” I urged her. “I’ll be all right.”

She nodded. “Maybe an hour or so.”

“I’ll be all right,” I repeated for emphasis.

“Promise me you won’t die and leave me alone down here,” she said. It was the first time she’d shown any sign of fear.

“I’ll do my best,” I promised.

She wriggled her way into the sleeping bag and went to sleep almost immediately, her head resting on my chest. I watched her sleep. She intrigued me, and not just sexually. I was accustomed to people who wanted something from me. She wanted nothing except to keep me alive.

I liked holding her like that. She was so soft and warm, and I was cold. I’d been cold for a long time, now that I thought about it. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d held a woman that way. Liz and I had never been an overly affectionate couple. I suppose it had much to do with our situation, but I felt a sudden, overwhelming need for affection, anywhere I could get it.

I wanted to know this woman in every way. I wanted to know everything about her. She was my lifeline, and for now, I was totally dependent upon her. Who was she in the real world? Where did she come from? What kind of life did she have outside this prison of ours?

I suspected she would, in the best of circumstances, be unimpressed by wealth, success or social position. In fact, in that real world she probably had nothing but disdain for my kind.

My kind. I was a poor kid from Boston who would have ended up a mechanic like my dad, had pure hatred not fueled my ambition. The expensive clothes, cars, homes…it was all a façade. Facing death had made me see with startling clarity what a phony I had become.

My thoughts were interrupted by the unmistakable sound of a jackhammer.  The rescue crews were close. Very close. I shook her gently. “Kitty,” I said in a low,  hoarse voice. “Kitty, wake up. I think our secret’s out. They’re coming!”

She opened her eyes, groggy. “What?”

“Listen. Jackhammers,” I told her. “They’re coming for us.”

She pulled herself upright. “Thank God.”

*****

Kate insisted the emergency techs take me out first. They lowered a stretcher into the opening they’d made, and she helped me onto it, making sure I was secure. I looked back at her as I was lifted upward, and saw her give me the thumbs-up sign.

When I emerged into the daylight, I had to close my eyes tightly at first. I’d been in darkness for so long, the brilliant midday was hard to take. Liz was there, waiting. She’d flown to Rome immediately when she heard about the quake. She ran alongside the stretcher now as they took me to a waiting ambulance. “I was so afraid,” she told me, clutching my hand. “If anything had happened to you–”

I wasn’t listening. I craned my neck, looking back, trying to make sure Kate had gotten out safely. I got a glimpse of her emerging from the hole and breathed a sigh of relief. I would not have survived down there without her.

She was my lifeline, and I didn’t want to let her go, even now that we’d been rescued.

Maybe Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks, After All

I recently wrote a review for a wonderful book, Sasha: A Very Special Dog Tale of a Very Special Epi-Dog by Brian L. Porter. If you love animals, especially dogs, this is a don’t miss book!

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The author asked that I also add the review to the book’s page at Amazon UK. It had never occurred to me that I could do that. I’d never even checked the pages for my own books at Amazon’s foreign sites! I’m the dummy from traditional publishing who was used to having the publisher do everything for me. I still have a lot to learn. A lot.

Anyway, I have a request for those of you fellow authors who have given my books those great reviews (William, Eve, Mari, Shelly…you all know who you are….). It’s easy to post reviews at Amazon UK, Australia, France, and all of the others (I’ve lost count of how many countries have Amazon sites now). Just log in with your Amazon US login info and paste your reviews in there. And if you have books I’ve reviewed, I’ll be doing the same for you. It shouldn’t take too long….

 

The Good, The Bad and the Really, Really Ugly….

I’m always amused when, upon hearing I’m an author, a new acquaintance responds with, “I might write a book myself.” As if it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. It’s not. Traditionally published authors have to put up with getting small percentages of royalties (if you even get that far), having to write at night while working at a full-time day job (I didn’t, but I lucked out–I had a really good agent), delivering a manuscript only to be told it will need extensive revisions and/or rewrites and holding your breath while you wait to see how good or bad the reviews and sale turn out to be. Self-published authors deal with a lot of criticism, not being taken seriously most of the time, and trying to write while also marketing their own work. No fun.

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In short, your ego can take a major beatdown, no matter which way you go.

I much prefer the new breed of publisher, like Creativia, my current publisher. I have full control over what I write…though what I’m “writing” for them at the moment is reissues of my backlist books, which means reformatting text lifted from the pages of the published books. I’m too lazy and too slow on the keyboard to retype them, and don’t have backups of the originals that are compatible with current technology. I’ve had mixed feelings about even bothering to republish the old books. They were originally published back in the ’80s and ’90s, and trends were quite different then. The five books originally published by Berkley–Dance of the Gods, Angels at Midnight, A Time for Legends, Solitaire and Luck of the Draw–were written and published at a time when the big, glitzy romance novel was king. Now, that’s not so popular. My nine series romances are a big question mark. Is that genre still selling?

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I don’t expect to have a second run at the bestseller lists with any of them. I’m content to have them reissued and maybe make modest sales while putting my chips, so to speak, on the newer works. Chasing the Wind (2008) and Final Hours (2009) are not exactly new, but definitely more recent. The latter was a gamble; I knew that when I wrote it. A male protagonist who’s an adulterer isn’t a hero by any stretch. Chasing the Wind, however, is the basis for what I hope will be a series. Time will tell. These days, it takes me much longer to write a book than it used to. Sometimes, I think my mind wandered and got lost!

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The worst part, I think, is working on a book for months or years and, nearing completion, discovering you got it all wrong and having to start over. This is what happened with Sam’s Story. It was a difficult book to write, because while Sam has been gone for over five years now, it’s painful for me to even think about him without tearing up. He was with us for almost all of his twenty-one years.

The first draft was too short. The second, I discovered, was too much of a downer. I wanted the story to be fun and uplifting. So a few days ago, I started over. I took a different approach and it seems to be working. The story is coming easily, flowing smoothly. For how long, I wonder?

Sams Story

Recently, I saw the cover for a foreign edition of Luck of the Draw on the internet. I was pleasantly surprised. I didn’t even know it had any foreign sales! I don’t remember signing a contract for it. I’ll have to check with my agent. I probably signed the contract and just forgot about it. That sort of thing happens more often than I care to admit. It wasn’t exactly my agent’s favorite of my books. If Berkley hadn’t given me a contract for an untitled, unknown fifth novel, I doubt my agent would ever have sent it to them. I’m surprised she sent it out to any foreign publishers. It’s more of an historical suspense novel than a glitzy romance.

I also discovered a review of Dance of the Gods that had been posted a few years ago. When a review starts with “I consider myself a connoiseur of bad romance novels…” you can be sure it’s not good news. But I wish I could find the link again. It was actually pretty funny. Like most established authors, I’ve learned to not take bad reviews personally. Nobody can please everyone all the time, and bad reviews are a fact of the author’s life. You deal with it and move on, if you want a career in this nutty business.

Some of us used to compare bad reviews to see who got the worst. And we cried all the way to the bank, as the saying goes.

Remember the ’90s? I do. That Was When I Took On an Alter Ego….

And I don’t mean a multiple personality. I mean a pseudonym.

Back in the last century (it does seem like it was that long ago!), I wrote at such a fast pace, my publisher–Berkley–was unable to keep up with me. Saying that, it really does feel like another lifetime. Anyway, I got restless, and was challenged by an editor–my agent’s former assistant–to try my hand at series romance. The result was nine romances published by Harlequin Silhouette. I regained the rights to five of them–one of which will soon be published again by Creativia. Harlequin retained the rights to the last four, three of which they reissued as ebooks. I mention them now because with Ms. Maxwell & Son in the pipeline, maybe, just maybe, I can generate some interest in these books and hopefully boost sales for what’s coming up….

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FAMILY SECRETS

Danielle Vine was stumped: she’s been left a huge sum of money but she didn’t know from who or why! She couldn’t accept her inheritance until she found out where it came from, so she hired gorgeous private eye Mitch Newman. Problem was she’d rather kiss the pragmatic man than listen to his ridiculous theories!

FAMILY MAN

Danielle’s case had Mitch tied up in knots! Not only did he know who left her that money, he also knew the truth would break her heart. He’d gotten too close to his beautiful client to hurt her now, but how could he keep her secrets to himself?

(Author’s Note: Not sure where that title came from. I can’t even remember what I originally titled it. Silhouette didn’t change many of my titles.)

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Divorcée Laura Westin Hasn’t Had a Date Since Ben, Her Ex, Proposed at the Senior Prom

Option One: Spend Saturday nights wondering what Ben’s doing.
Option Two: Spend Saturday nights “dating” an irresistible stranger on a computer network for singles.

Through aliases, Laura and the anonymous new man in her life “share” their every thought on love, marriage, divorce and dreams. Wiser—but wistful for Ben—Laura agrees to meet Mr. Maybe.

And guess who shows up for their date, shocked to see who is waiting for him?

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A LONG-LOST PROPOSAL

My dear,
I love you, and being apart from you has made me realize just how much I really need you. I hope you’ll be able to promise that I’ll be coming home to you. Say you’ll be my wife…
All my love always

Amy Barrington couldn’t believe her hopelessly romantic eyes. A fifty-year-old proposal her mother had never received. She just had to get these two long-lost lovebirds back together again—for the sake of true love! Now, if only she could convince cynical Brian Reynolds that his dear old dad and her lovely mother belonged together. And that nothing could be more romantic than a wedding—except a double wedding ceremony, of course….

The fourth novel, Miss Scrooge, is available in paperback, but Harlequin has yet to release the ebook. Not sure why. These books are all available at Amazon….