When is a Facepalm Not a Bad Thing?

Answer: When the solution to your problem has been right there in front of you all along.

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It took Collin and me ten years to write Chasing the Wind. The idea was conceived in spring 1998 and the book was originally published in May 2008. In between, there were multiple changes, revisions and rewrites, until the finished book bore little resemblance to the early drafts. It was frustrating at times, but I’m happy with it.

One of the cuts that were necessary involved the storyline of two characters, Alex Stewart and Robyn Cantwell. I loved the characters and decided the sequel, An Army of Angels, would focus on them…but it didn’t take long to discover that I hadn’t really thought it out. As secondary characters, they worked…but was there enough for a standalone novel?

I’ve been wrestling with that problem since 2008. I knew how their story started, I knew how it would end, but I didn’t know how they would get from A to Z. I didn’t want to give up, but I just couldn’t figure it out. I’ve shelved it at least half a dozen times. I even considered turning it into a romantic comedy after plotting a series of comedies featuring Robyn’s five brothers.

Nothing worked.

I tried serializing their story, along with stories involving characters from four of my previous novels, on a separate blog. It didn’t work.

Then, at 3:00 this morning, the solution presented itself. Most of my best ideas come at the most inconvenient times, so it’s not really that much of a surprise.

I’ve wanted to write shorter novels ever since I discovered James Patterson’s Book Shots. If you’re not familiar with them, they’re novels that average 150 pages, fast-paced, perfect for readers like myself with chronically short attention spans. I realized that the format would be ideal for continuing the story Collin and I started in Chasing the Wind. It would be the perfect way to move back and forth through all of the characters’ stories and still stick to the timeline.

Now to find out if it’s going to work….

Coming in for a Landing…But Where’s the Rest of the Squadron?

I once told a fellow author I was going to take flying lessons as research for a book (that was never written, as it happens, because my agent didn’t find the idea glamorous enough). The fellow author’s response: “Just when we thought it was safe to go back in the air.”

I should probably point out that this comment was made in the early ’90s, when air travel was still fun.

Anyway, I’m not flying now. Not even as a passenger. By “landing,” I was referring to Creativia’s landing pages for my books. So far, only two are up and running. I’m guessing they’re doing this in alphabetical order, as the first one up was Alexander’s Empire and now we have Angels at Midnight. To check them out, just click on the links. And while you’re at it, check out my author page at their site. (They haven’t yet added my latest release, Ms. Maxwell and Son, to my bibliography.)

Angels at Midnight Complete

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When I decided to reissue my backlist books, I had a choice to make. These books, with the exception of Chasing the Wind and Final Hours, had all been written and published in the late 1980s-early 1990s. That was a time when the most popular fiction was either historical romance (not my cup of tea) or glamorous, suspenseful contemporary romance. Today, the market is decidedly different. On one hand, I really wanted the old books to be available on a permanent basis, even if they didn’t gain many new readers. Om the other, I felt an urge to rewrite all of the old stuff, not just to make it more relevant to today’s readers, but in the case of Alexander’s Empire to satisfy my need to finally publish the story I’d wanted to write from the start.

If I were writing them today? Alexander’s Empire would still involve wealth and power–to a degree. But it would be, at its heart, the story of a man who discovers he’s not who he’s always believed himself to be, that his present life was created out of a tragedy that destroyed several lives. It would focus on his inability to trust, to love, and his search for answers.

As for Angels at Midnight, again, there would be less glamour and more of a modern “MacGuyver meets Robin Hood” story. Ashley might still be a celebrated artist, but Collin wouldn’t be an oilman’s heir. He’d be someone who was one of many cheated by a ruthless employer. He’d be more high tech than he was back in the ’80s. And there would be more fencing. Those were my favorite parts of the original.

That’s what might have been….

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?

The Ghost and…Mrs. Butz?

It’s Wednesday, so once again, I’m plugging the works of a fellow author. This week, it’s my longtime friend Shelly Arkon, who is currently recovering from an arm broken in three places because her new dog wanted an armadillo (don’t ask). Shelly’s done one novel–the first in a series she’s been working on. Secondhand Shoes is available on Amazon.

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What’s it all about? Check out this Amazon review from William Kendall:

Secondhand Shoes opens in an uneasy place, with the main character, Lila, an eighteen year old woman on her wedding day. Her bridal nerves are more than what might be expected; she’s marrying a man she barely knows and doesn’t particularly like, thanks to the pressure of her overbearing mother Babs. Lila has little say in the direction of her life, no respect at all from a mother who thinks that she’s crazy, a father living far away in exile, and a step-father who bows to his wife’s every demand and seems to have lost his spine. The only living person who seems to be on her side is her best friend Cynthia, and we can see this in her advice to run while she can.

Then there are the ghosts. Just like a long out of work former child actor who shall remain unnamed, Lila sees dead people. One of the ghosts in her life happens to be her paternal grandmother, who has little patience for her former daughter-in-law’s overbearing ways, and is at Lila’s side through much of the story. Gram is a force to be reckoned with, a mixture of common sense and great wariness about the threats that exist in the world, particularly where her granddaughter is concerned.

Lila’s ability isn’t appreciated by most people around her, let alone her mother, who won’t abide such nonsense. Instead Babs, who we learn has coerced her daughter into breaking off with a young man she did like, simply because of her own prejudice, has orchestrated a relationship with Max Butz (yes, that’s his name), a dirtbag of the first order who thinks that turning up in a orange polyester suit for his own wedding is perfectly acceptable. Max runs with a similar pack of criminal degenerates, has a father with anger management issues, and a religious zealot for a mother (with a few hidden secrets of her own). It doesn’t take long before the reader confirms that first impression: Max is a vicious bully with no respect at all for Lila, and nothing at all resembling scruples.

The story hinges on a decision Lila makes to take her life into her own hands, and it leads her into danger, both physical and supernatural. She has to confront her own fears and anxieties (fear of germs, insects, and other creepy crawlies plays big for this protagonist). She gets help along the way, from the living, the dead, and those who are, well, in between.

Shelly Arkon has done well with her first novel. She has a strong style, giving characters a voice that are distinctly their own, even minor characters who might only appear for a scene or two. And she pays attention to detail: scenes in a Southern swamp make the reader feel like they’re right there; the same applies to sequences in a truck, a roadside dive, or even in an afterlife of sorts. The style draws the reader right in, and gives the narrative a touch of authenticity. The same applies for when the story is set. This is firmly set in the Eighties, and cultural references of the time abound, small touches that firmly ground the story.

As mentioned, there’s a liberal dose of humour spread throughout the book. Some of it comes from the living characters, such as Lila herself (especially her paranoid germ phobias), Cynthia, or B.J., a trucker who turns up along the way. Much of it comes from the ghosts, particularly Gram, who is a wise sage capable of interacting with the world in a number of different ways; she can wreck havoc with electricity or make use of nature, and does so with regularity.

Characterization itself is the bedrock of the book, and this is the strength of the novel. I felt a particular dislike- and this shows the strength of the writing- for Babs, who comes across as a bully (including at times even physically) and a terrible mother. She’s overbearing, difficult, temperamental, and bigoted. She might be Lila’s mother, but at the same time, there’s a toxic quality to her that was close to home for me. I’ve known a couple of Babs, and these are the unpleasant sort of people you wish you’d never known

Max and his cronies and relatives are memorable, if unlikeable. In different ways, their personalities come across as real, and sleazy. At least in some ways, I expect real people have inspired them.

Cynthia is a strongly written character. She’s absolutely supportive of her friend, fierce and courageous when she needs to be, and willing to prod Lila along when she needs it.

Gram is the scene stealer of the book, a wise woman with heart. For a ghost, she’s more than lively, won’t take nonsense from people she doesn’t care for, and is protective of her granddaughter. She’s aware of the world in a way that those who are living can’t be aware of, including a lingering threat that might well be left for another novel.

The book is really about Lila’s journey. It takes her from being meek and submissive to making choices for herself, to finding her own strength and resolve. It’s understandable, given the way her mother is, that the character starts out as not wanting to rock the boat and refuse her mother’s wishes. Over time she’s gotten used to surviving what basically amounts to emotional abuse by just going along with everything her mother says. During the events of the book, Lila comes to terms with what it means to be an adult, to have to be responsible for her own decisions. It’s character growth, and it helps that we’re sympathetic towards her from the start.

Secondhand Shoes tells a story that is at times tense, at other times wry and mischevious. It wraps up the natural arc of the characters while leaving room for more, and provides its own good spin on the world of the paranormal. The pacing of the story keeps things moving along, and the characterization and attention to detail combine to make the book succeed.

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….

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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?

 

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.

Ask Yourself…What Do You Really Believe?

It’s promo time again!

This time, it’s Chasing the Wind. The ebook is just $.99 at Amazon now through July 19th.

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From the publisher:

Deep in the Sinai, archaeologist Lynne Raven seeks proof of the Exodus. She unearths an ancient text foretelling of a prophet, sent to defeat an approaching darkness. Her path soon crosses with that of Connor MacKenzie, an attractive yet distant geneticist.

Meanwhile, around the globe, children are being abducted at an alarming rate. All are between the ages of five and six. All are extraordinarily gifted. And all were conceived in vitro.

One thing connects them all—the truth about Connor MacKenzie.

Exploring the fine line between good and evil, Chasing the Wind is an outstanding novel about love, faith, and destiny in the modern age.

What Would You Do If You Knew The World Would End Tomorrow?

It’s ebook promotion time again! Only $.99 at Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Final-Hours-Second-Chance-Romance-ebook/dp/B002EAZIS8?ie=UTF8&qid=1468159600&ref_=la_B002BMF4CO_1_5_twi_kin_1&s=books&sr=1-5)….

 

Final Hours cover - new

Jamie Randall is the envy of his peers. He has a powerful job, a beautiful wife, and two doting sons. Yet Jamie can’t stop thinking about Kate, a free-spirited photographer who saved his life fifteen years earlier. Although drawn to each other, Jamie’s ambition and desire for the finer things in life kept them apart.

Now, trapped in an advantageous but loveless marriage, Jamie’s second brush with death brings him face-to-face with reality. Heading toward sure safety with his family, Jamie suddenly decides he must own up to his mistakes. But this choice comes with a hefty price: Will he chose survival with his family, or spend his final hours with his one true love?

From bestselling author Norma Beishir, Final Hours is a powerful story about love, regret, and the fragility of life.

 

 

Holding Out For a Hero? How About an Angel or Two?

My 1989 novel Angels at Midnight, is now on sale, today through July 11th. The ebook is just $.99 at Amazon ….

 

Angels at Midnight Completehttps://www.amazon.com/Angels-at-Midnight-Norma-Beishir-ebook/dp/B008JLF2SC?ie=UTF8&qid=1467725389&ref_=la_B002BMF4CO_1_4_twi_kin_1&s=books&sr=1-4

 

A Trip Back to the Age of “Dallas,” “Dynasty,” “Knots Landing” and “Falcon Crest”

It’s that time again. Another ebook promotion.

I considered updating my backlist books before reissuing them, but finally decided against it. I still hope to find a new audience for these old books, but really want to focus what little is left of my attention span to writing new books. It takes me a lot longer than it used to. This old gray mare really ain’t what she used to be (and yes, I know ain’t isn’t really a word).

So, while I try to finish the new stuff, here’s a special promotion price, now through Friday, for the ebook edition of Alexander’s Empire, my first published novel (originally published by Berkley as Dance of the Gods back in May 1988). If you’re interested, the promo is exclusive to Amazon!

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6/7/16: Hmmm…not bad for an old book….

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